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14 July 2010 @ 01:58 pm
especially random Doctor Who thoughts  
I was thinking yesterday--and I don’t remember why, now, but one needs something to think about while one brushes one’s teeth, right?--about the differences between Moffat’s and RTD’s handling of technology.

In keeping with Moffat’s slightly old-fashioned representation of childhood, there’s not a ton of everyday technology in Moffat and Moffat-era episodes, and much of it tends to be basic plot-facilitating devices. In “The Eleventh Hour,” the Doctor needs a laptop to get in touch with some geniuses, and broadcasts a location for Prisoner Zero, but it’s purely to get us to the next stage of the episode. People react to the alien approach by taking pictures of it with their mobile phones, but this is largely to provide a contrast with Rory (♥), who’s taking pictures of Prisoner Zero. Moreover, there’s no real sense that they’re sending those pictures to anyone but friends and family--which is to say that at no point do we get an indication that the whole world knows about this event. (RTD, by contrast, would probably have indicated the size of the threat via newscasters showing footage of the Atraxi all over the world, as he did with the “ghosts” in “Army of Ghosts,” but more on that in a second.) The disturbances are picked up not by a 24-hour-news system, but by scientists in their labs. There are televisions in Moffat episodes, but they broadcast generic programming; the point of the TV in the Library episodes is that the little girl can watch what’s happening to Donna. RTD, by contrast, makes what’s on television an element in and of itself; he spoofs reality shows, incorporates “ghosts” into current programming, and has the Master watching the Teletubbies.

As a working hypothesis, I might be prepared to argue that Moffat is slightly more interested in technology, and RTD is actually much more interested in the media. (This fits in with the UK geography of the RTD era and that of the first full Moffat season; S1 through S4 have London, a media center, as their home base; Moffat has so far favored out-of-the-way villages like Leadworth--which is so divorced from communication with the outside world that its only post office is shut in the middle of the day--and the Welsh mining village in “The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood.”) And RTD has a conflicted relationship to it; he celebrates pop culture with direct references to celebrities and TV shows, and he casts “big” names like Kylie Minogue and Catherine Tate, but on the other hand, many of his villains are media-savvy and adept at using the media to control the populace. The Master is the most blatant example of this, with his press conferences and the Archangel network, and the way he feeds false news stories about Ten, Martha, and Jack to the media outlets, but a vein of this runs through all of his seasons: there’s Satellite Five, of course (both times), the Slitheen, and I might include Cassandra in both S1 and S2 as someone who knows how to manipulate the media for her own ends; S2 gives us direct media downloads into the brain and Torchwood’s Yvonne Hartman; S3 has Lazarus as well as the Master; and S4 has the nursemaid for the Adipose and the whole system set up on the “Planet of the Ood.” Moreover, RTD seems interested in media for its own sake more often than Moffat does: he uses news reports to establish the scale and immediacy of a crisis in “Aliens of London,” “The Christmas Invasion,” “Army of Ghosts,” and the Sontaran episodes, while “The Waters of Mars” sees what faeriemaiden aptly called “Future Wikipedia” as a way to convey large amounts of information/history at a glance. Information is portrayed as pre-packaged and manageable--even controllable, in the wrong hands.

Moffat (and the Moffat era) tends more often to use technology itself (rather than someone skilled at using it) as the villain or problem--although he also tends to make the malfunction or limitations of technology the real story: the nanogenes in “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances” are just trying to do what they’re programmed to do without recognizing that they have insufficient data; the same goes for the clockwork robots of “Girl in the Fireplace” and the self-repairing ship of “The Lodger.” The Library episodes, with their computer who is also a little girl, feature technology that does the best it can to “save” people--and if that can create horror (in the face of Miss Evangelista), it can also create something like grace: Charlotte Abigail Lux might not be alive in the world, but her existence continues, as do those of River and her crew. (There is, of course, an argument to be made that this is merely another type of horror, which is absolutely fair. I do think that the episode attempts to portray this as positive, especially in the case of River, where this is presented to us with the stirring voiceover that allows the Doctor to be a hero after all.) Information is withheld, secret, uncovered only with digging for it: the Doctor is not a code word chanted by an entire world, but a hidden blue diary or an Easter egg on select DVDs--or a little girl’s imaginary friend. The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey never actually learn why Reinette has been chosen by the clockwork robots. Billy Shipton is the only officer assigned to the Wester Drumlins case. Even once information has been obtained in these episodes, it’s still problematic: Sally Sparrow has to work out that the DVDs all belong to her, and worry about how the Doctor got all the information in the first place, while the Doctor has to set plans in motion that bear very slow fruit--and even now, River continues to warn the Doctor about “spoilers.”

This may go some way toward explaining why, despite some overt similarities between “Last of the Time Lords” and “The Big Bang,” they feel so different to me. Both Moffat and RTD have now put the entire world (or universe!) in danger in series finales; the difference is that in RTD-era episodes, everyone generally knows it--in part because they’re watching it on TV as it happens. In “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang,” there are only a handful of people who have any idea what’s going on. This allows the scale to be much smaller, despite the vast stakes: a story of one little girl wishing for her imaginary friend, rather than an entire world wishing for the Doctor.
 
 
 
viomisehuntviomisehunt on July 15th, 2010 12:57 am (UTC)
I always questioned the Doctor "saving" River by placing her essence in that Mother Earth outfit in the Matrix. From what we have seen of River, would this kind of "programmed" existence seem heaven or more hell or prison?

However, the observation that RTD is more interested in the effect of media than technology seems spot on. In Russell's universe technology exist as tools and the effectiveness depends on who is using it. In Sound of Drums, we see the Doctor and the Master chatting casually on cell phones as if this was they way they always communicated. The Doctor is quick to grab Martha's lap top before fleeing her apartment. Even advanced technology is matter of face as illustrated by the use of K-9 and Mister Smith on the Sarah Jane adventures. I have not seen the The Big Bang yet, but in Last of the Time Lords Martha story could be related more to Mary Magdeline witnessing the Ressurection, complete with Ten's Jesus Christ Superstar wedgie float across the set--without the Lord Weber score. From what I read and the few scenes I've seen of The Big Bang, Amy's role of story teller seems more like that of the little girl who refuses to drop her belief in Father Christmas. There is the scene in Stolen Earth/Journey's end where all the companions dial Martha's number Doctor and no one gets a busy signal or Martha's voice-mail. With Moffat, in the Eleventh hour all the world's leaders dial one phone number and the word, according to the Doctor is ZERO. I still wonder if that comparison was deliberate on Moffat's part.
tempestsarekind: a sort of fairytaletempestsarekind on July 15th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC)
That was one of the things I wondered about, too: the Doctor's actions are presented as positive, even heroic, but there's something rather terrifying about the idea, too.

From what I read and the few scenes I've seen of The Big Bang, Amy's role of story teller seems more like that of the little girl who refuses to drop her belief in Father Christmas.

I think that's pretty accurate; it's about belief, pure and simple, rather than the pseudo-technology of Ten working his way into the Archangel network. Moffat's handwave is more along the lines of "Amy has a special brain" than "this actually has a technological basis."
viomisehuntviomisehunt on July 15th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC)
Is Amy asked, as Martha, her family, everyone on the Valiant, and Jack are asked: to forget a holocaust, (and the heroism of people like Tom to resist) and forgive the monster who caused it?
Frankly this dodgy conclusion to Last of the Time Lord is what makes me view something like the Doctor's condemnation of that mother in the Hungry Earth/Cold Blood episode with crossed-eyes.
I'm not fond of the Doctor as some type of Galactic Ghandi/Jesus. I like the image Amy gives us in the Beast Below; a kind, sad old being who cannot walk past a crying child.
That was one of the things I wondered about, too: the Doctor's actions are presented as positive, even heroic, but there's something rather terrifying about the idea, too.

Creating a hero who owns a judgemental nature and role, especially when he doesn't exactly own up to or acknowledge his mistakes--ie Human Nature-- is simply not as attractive as the Doctor who learns through contact with humans and other beings.

Moffat's Father Christmas Image for the Doctor works for me. The Doctor, who has the tools to fights the monsters in the closet and under the bed, but is helpless to mend his own broken heart, or see beyond his own prejudices, and dogma let alone that of his loved ones and strangers, seems more approachable and beloved as Father Christmas/Superman, than a Messiah figure, but that's just me.

Moffat's handwave is more along the lines of "Amy has a special brain" than "this actually has a technological basis."
Is Amy's brain special because she is Amy, or because she is Amelia? You know the theories about the faith of a child, espeically a neglected child. Her needs are simple: she needs someone to deal with the scary crack in the wall-- and maybe someone to talk with her and believe her. Is it important that when her prayers/wish are answered that she gets the Raggedity Doctor who listens to and believes her about the scary crack? She can nuke her own breadfast, and beans and toast for lunch, wash-up and dress herself for school. But something is lacking, we know, because there is no parent, no one to give that nod of approval or encouragement when she brings home that gold star.



Edited at 2010-07-15 06:14 pm (UTC)
tempestsarekind: eleven and amytempestsarekind on July 15th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
Yeah. Forgiveness is certainly a virtue, but the implication that Ten has been waiting for twelve months *just* to say "I forgive you" and hug the Master, while the Master has been gleefully destroying a planet, just doesn't work for me. Especially not when this is playing out in front of people who have suffered so much for their association with the Doctor, and exit S3 with a weak chuckle or "Come with me, I really don't mind" (gee, thanks, I feel so loved!) in recompense.

I've found Eleven to be a lot more approachable--or maybe vulnerable is what I mean--despite the fact that he's also a lot more genuinely alien than Ten was. I love that Eleven makes mistakes and has to make up for them, rather than doing stuff that's frankly fairly appalling and never getting called on it by the narrative or the other characters in it. (Even Donna's "you need someone to stop you" gets reconfigured as "you need someone to stop you from committing suicide" by the way things play out in "Turn Left.") I love that he's kind, that he cares as much about one little girl, or Craig from "The Lodger," or Vincent Van Gogh, as about the whole universe.

I think Amy's brain is special because she's grown up next to the crack in time, but there's also an indication that it's her belief in the Doctor that's just as important.
Jay the Nerd Kid - Elitist Internet Royaltybewarethespork on July 15th, 2010 05:49 am (UTC)
This was amazing and fantastic and if you were to post it to metatardis I would love you to bits for it. ♥
tempestsarekind: martha jones is a startempestsarekind on July 15th, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'll do that, then. :)
viomisehuntviomisehunt on July 15th, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
Ditto to the praise of this article!
tempestsarekind: i love freema's bunny facetempestsarekind on July 15th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you!