Planet of the Blog a Doctor Who group blog

Arc Watch: Doctor Who: “Boom”

In an explosive twist, a Steven Moffat episode turns out to be quite good.

  • Sweet Christmas Baby: The Ambulance struggles to explain Dr Who’s vitals because he’s a Time Lord, and a complex space-time event, which is quite common, as computer reactions to Dr Who go, but then the Ambulance, after calmly noting her name and that she’s over 3000 years old, has the same reaction to trying to analyse Ruby’s next of kin. Having invoked her origin story, snow once again appears out of nowhere — but this time, freezes in mid-air. Hard to tell if that’s relevant, or just a Moffatism — this happened before, very similarly, in Twice Upon a Time. 1I hadn’t noticed this — it’s Ash Taylor who I first saw make the observation that the snow freezing in mid-air had happened in a Steven Moffat-penned episode before.
  • The Pretenders: The Ambulance takes the name and symbolism of something that helps you, but it kills you. The casket AI pretends to be the person whose remains it’s attached to. We live in a blip of history where religions pretend not to be armies. The Villengard algorithm pretends there’s a war on for profit. Mundy and Canterbury both pretend not to like each other, and their delayed confession costs Canterbury his life. The line from the Philip Larkin poem “An Arundel Tomb” Dr Who quotes — “what will survive of us is love” — is not actually meant to be read the way he interprets it; the poem is actually quite sad.
  • Existence of Sunday Implies Existence of Mundy: The actor already announced to be playing a new companion in the 2025 series joins us here early, playing Anglican Marine Mundy Flynn. The connection between her and Ruby’s names is noted. (Worth noting: Varada Sethu didn’t know she’d be back, or a companion at all, until months later.)
    • Let’s evolve Theory Two: If Ruby Sunday is an experiment, engineered to be the perfect companion to infiltrate Dr Who’s TARDIS on behalf of the Trickster or their Brigade… No sensible scientist runs just the one experiment, right? I reckon Mundy Flynn is another experiment from whatever produced Ruby Sunday.
      Bonus thought: Ruby is very much in the Rose style of companion. But Mundy has major traits in common with Amy (a lost love,) Clara (an early appearance,) and Rita from The God Complex (doesn’t join the TARDIS even though you might consider her a prime candidate.) Keep an eye out, perhaps, for a character with a name like “Tuesday” who’s in the Chibnall style. (Which one’s the Wolverine to the other’s Deadpool?)
  • Still Figuring It Out: Dr Who is very energetic, can’t sit still, doesn’t let himself take more than two minutes to admire the dawn of Kastarion 3. Maybe he can be this version of himself again after his last face did the healing, but after making such a point of how self-destructive this is… We good here, Doc?
  • Calm Down, The Actress Is Just Called That: Susan Twist’s biggest role yet here, as the AI running the Ambulance.
    • I think that locks Theory Three down for me: I think she’s part of some kind of cosmic corrective, the spellcheck chasing down a typo. But has that cosmic corrective corrupted the Villengard algorithm, or is it the Villengard algorithm? Does it perceive Dr Who’s meddling as a threat to it in some way? Or is the Villengard stuff just another Moffatism, like so many things in this episode?
  • 1
    I hadn’t noticed this — it’s Ash Taylor who I first saw make the observation that the snow freezing in mid-air had happened in a Steven Moffat-penned episode before.

Arc Watch: Doctor Who: “Space Babies” and “The Devil’s Chord”

Aaand we’re back.

The Big Ones

These are the explicit arcs, the ones the show actively calls out as things that are happening.

  • The Boss Is Not Rhetorical: More references to “The One Who Waits” and the Toymaker’s legions, and how those are definitely coming. Considering those legions include the Goblins from The Church on Ruby Road, I think this is less an organised force and more just, all these gods and fantasy creatures, they’re tied together by some kind of loose association with the Toymaker. They’re the Pantheon, and there’s a leader.
    • Theory One: What character archetype in RTD’s take on the show does a lot of Waiting? Jackie, a year, not knowing. Francine, a year, for a shot. Sylvia, for Donna, for so long. What if the One Who Waits is the Toymaker’s mum?
  • Sweet Christmas Baby: Ruby’s origin story is revisited, and the memory of it changes so the figure in the black robe now pointed ominously at Dr Who. This manifests, somehow, as the snow from the memory appearing on Baby Station Beta. The snow later reappears when the song in her soul at Abbey Road turns out to be Carol of the Bells. Maestro says a lot of ominous words about what this could mean.
    • Theory Two: Look, a black robe’s a black robe, but once you’ve got a creepy finger in there we’re all thinking of the Trickster, right? It’s a big late-RTD1 idea from SJA that even gets its fingers into Torchwood, the Trickster, and the Trickster’s Brigade, and it never really comes to any kind of apex before his first era ends. I think we’re all thinking of the Trickster.
      Another big idea from RTD1 that never really went anywhere, though it came out once in the form of the “red bicycle when you were 12” line before being abandoned, the script it was supposed to be revealed in being replaced by Boom Town: Rose was originally meant to be revealed to have been an experiment, either engineered or created to be the perfect companion.
      Every time this storyline comes up, it’s all I’m thinking about, and I think a version of that is what’s going on here — and let me connect this to Theory One — and the Trickster is Ruby’s mum, too.
  • The Mavity of the Situation: Ruby steps on a butterfly and instantly becomes a lizard person, the human race presumably having been supplanted by Rubathon Blue’s species. Dr Who flips a “butterfly compensation switch” to undo the butterfly effect. Presumably this would prevent something like “mavity” happening in the future, but “mavity” wasn’t undone — it still says it on the screen on Baby Station Beta, and afterwards, history is changed again in The Devil’s Chord, with Maestro’s interference causing all music since 1925 to have diminished, and Ruby’s 2024 to be long dead, all of which appears to be undone at the end, with There’s Always a Twist at the End seemingly reinserting the true history of music.
  • Ruins of the Fourth Wall: Multiple instances of characters breaking the fourth wall in The Devil’s Chord — Maestro and Dr Who’s jukebox playing the Doctor Who theme, “I thought that was non-diegetic,” Maestro generally, etcetera, all following on from the Toymaker’s eager winking and nodding at the camera for all of The Giggle. Who has this power? The Toymaker and Maestro, obviously, but Dr Who, too. What do they all have in common?
    The song There’s Always A Twist at the End is able to reinsert the true history of music because the walls of reality are still thin, like they were after the Toymaker was defeated. Murray Gold and several other notable music and dance people implausibly play themselves here. The walls are, in fact, so thin the song appears to give birth to Eurovision.
    If the walls of reality are thin, one of those walls is the fourth, and Doctor Who is about TV1It’s about a box that’s bigger on the inside and can show you anywhere, any time. That’s just TV., is Dr Who about to… I don’t know yet.
  • Calm Down, The Actress Is Just Called That: I’d already posted a mea culpa, but that’s Susan Twist in four out of the RTD2 era’s six episodes so far, almost acting as the era’s “Bad Wolf” or “Torchwood.” We’ve now seen Susan Twist portray, in order, Mrs Merridew, an unnamed concertgoer, Baby Station Beta comms officer Gina Scalzi, and an unnamed tea lady, always just kinda there, though The Devil’s Chord lingers on her longer than usual — the show is actively telling you to pay attention. She shouts out The Wicked Lady, a film in which a nobleman’s wife chooses to become a highwayman. She calls the lead “statuesque” when comparing herself to her.
    • (Developing) Theory Three: Crucially, in the form of Mrs Merridew, Susan Twist was present for the “mavity” moment, and now follows one of its instigators like a shadow, a whisper. Is she a side effect? The red line under the typo, a cosmic correction?

The Other Ones

  • Still Figuring It Out: “Is that who I am now?” is still a dominant question — Dr Who is surprised to find out he’s scared, more reluctant to jump into adventure. He says it’s because of the sound the Bogeyman makes in Space Babies, but the same terror — more terror, if anything — is visible on his face when he realises what he’s dealing with in The Devil’s Chord.
  • It’s About Timeless: Dr Who’s status as an adopted orphan is reiterated and continues to be explicitly connected with Ruby’s origin story.
  • The Pretenders: Jocelyn uses the NAN-E filter to pretend to merely be a voice assistant. Babies pretend to staff a space station. The Bogeyman is explicitly created to be a threat. Henry Abinger pretends to be human. Dr Who and Ruby pretend to work at Abbey Road. The Beatles pretend not to care about music even though they feel it deeply in their souls.
  • The State of the Home Planet: The wiping out of the Time Lords is meaningfully reframed as a “genocide” — a big word, a real word, a meaningful word — because that’s what it is, that’s what Dr Who is the sole survivor of.
  • Black Cats and Ladders at the Edge of the Universe: Maestro came into Dr Who’s universe when the Toymaker did, when the walls were thin after pouring salt at the edge of the universe, and then into 1925 when Timothy Drake plays the titular chord, which people believe to be the devil’s.
  • 1
    It’s about a box that’s bigger on the inside and can show you anywhere, any time. That’s just TV.

Arc Watch: 2023 Specials Novelisation Update, plus a correction

Well, alright, with the ideas from Arc Watch in mind, I’ve read through the novelisations of the 2023 anniversary specials, and come up with… exactly one and a half idea.

Outside of the usual narrative expansion — an hour of TV doesn’t tend to fill 120 – 200 pages of prose — the novelisations do sometimes shed some additional light on things we’re looking out for. They’re not1Don’t say canon. true to the continuity of the television series, and I don’t think we can use them for new arcs, new information, but I do think think there may occasionally be bits and bobs worth noting here.

The Star Beast

  • Gonkage: The novel includes some memos, articles, emails from characters on- and off-screen between chapters to fill in some details about the world of the story. One of these emails reads as follows.

    Leila.krishnam@senenet.co.ae

    18 November

    To: Rose Noble

    Re: Latest shipment

    Hey lovely Rose

    Just wanted to say the latest shipment of your toys has safely arrived in Abu Dhabi. Thank you for packing them so well.

    I’ll let you know how soon I need another shipment, though probably not until early in the New Year. Everyone here absolutely loves them, especially my friends in Fujairah and Dubai. Even my dad says to tell you that, and I quote, ‘Rose has an amazing, imaginative product that is unique.’ See, told you! Your designs are going down a treat and everyone is talking about them.

    Happy Christmas to you and your mum

    Leila x

    I think that’s good enough to close the book on Gonkage — the idea that there’s any mystery to the woman in Abu Dhabi buying Rose’s toys is clearly not something this book is thinking about.

The Giggle

  • The Mavity of the Situation: Even the Toymaker, who you might almost expect to be “above” that kind of change, refers to it as mavity in his narration.
  • While reflecting on her inability to ever talk about her job outside of work, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart recalls:

    Every now and then, she’d crack and start to talk about how she was brokering a fragile peace with the Earth’s Original Owners and she was losing sleep about how long it could be maintained. She’d start to explain it all — how the leader of a junta somewhere had broken into a nest to steal ancient weapons to finish a grubby civil war. How she’d had to attend a Silurian funeral then sit down with the leader of the nest and stop him from wiping out an entire country. The words just poured out of her and down the conversational sink. Awkward looks, coughs, nervous silences. ‘It’s a metaphor, isn’t it?’ someone would say. ‘Oh, you are clever, Kate!’

    This goes on into a further reflection on the Sunnydalian tendency of Earth’s humanity to just… not really want to talk about the things that don’t add up, but I’ll be god-damned if this doesn’t feel like setup for the as yet officially unannounced UNIT spinoff The War Between the Land and the Sea, which, and I know I said the novelisations aren’t good for New Threads, I’m sure we’ll get more hints towards in due course. Let’s call this thread Original Owners.

A small correction

I said in the Arc Watch post for The Church on Ruby Road that I didn’t think Susan Twist, who’d played Mrs Merridew, also playing the woman in the crowd at Ruby’s gig meant anything. In the words of the released script:A WOMAN in the CROWD - a woman we’ve seen as Mrs Merridew in Special 2, a woman we’ll see a lot more of - YELLS: WOMAN: Give it some welly! TRUDY: All right, I said sorry! Okay?! WOMAN: Give’s a bit of Steeleye Span! Can you do Gaudete?I stand corrected. I still think the idea that it’s a twist to do with Susan just because she’s called Susan Twist is patently ludicrous, but let’s keep an eye out for Mrs Merridew going forward.

(I’ve just read three novels for this blog, so it’s not gonna be me, but if anyone wants to pick through the rest of the scripts to see if there’s anything interesting in there, go ahead and file your report with me.)

  • 1
    Don’t say canon.

Arc Watch: Doctor Who: “The Church on Ruby Road”

This one took a sec because of the holidays, but here it is, less than a week after the episode. I’ll do a rewatch and Arc Watch summary later this year.

Revolving Around Us

  • It’s About Timeless: Dr Who is open about being adopted, like Ruby, like Lulubelle. It informs the decisions he makes, and breaks his heart when talking to Carla after Ruby is erased. It makes him the Third Foundling, or, perhaps, the Original Foundling.
  • Sweet Christmas Baby: Ruby is adopted, having been left at a church in December 2004. Dr Who saves her from the Goblins going back for her after they fail to eat Lulubelle. Would the Goblins have gone after the Third Baby in this story, Dr Who, if they hadn’t been defeated? Dr Who chooses not to follow the person who leaves Ruby behind. Even Davina McCall can find no information about Ruby’s parents. Ruby now lives with Carla and Cherry, having been the first of Carla’s 33 foster children, and the only one to get adopted.
  • Lady of the Water: Alright, I think “who is Mrs Flood” is its own post, but I’d like to note two observations: One, Mrs Flood’s entire personality seems to change after Dr Who goes back to save baby Ruby. Two, her name is Mrs Flood. Flood. Like a river does.
  • The Pretenders: The Goblins pretend to be bad luck and clumsiness to generate the coincidences they feed on. Mrs Flood is clearly pretending to be just another neighbour. Carla pretends to be okay with her life after Ruby disappears.

Mytholore

  • Black Cats and Ladders at the Edge: The Goblins are fantastical creatures who ride the wave of time and feed on coincidence.
  • The Mavity of the Situation: All the mass and density and mavity is moved to the intelligent gloves. Dr Who meddles again, by going back and saving not just Ruby but also preventing Davina McCall from being killed by a Christmas tree. Did that change her phone call with Ruby?
  • Knowledge Lord: In his encounter with the cop, Dr Who does the thing he does with Gareth in the 1996 TV movie, except this time he backs it up with facts and explains how he got there.

 On the back foot

  • Not This Week: UNIT has no presence in this story (UNified Intelligence and Skyscraper-Building Taskforce) and neither does The Boss (The Boss Is Not Rhetorical) though the Goblins might retroactively be part of the One Who Waits or the Toymaker’s legions or something. The Goblins are fantastical, but not on the level of Guardians of the Playground. No meaningful update re: In Flux.
  • The Long Game: No updates on the state of Gallifrey (The State of the Home Planet) or Rose’s toy-buyer (Gonkage). I’d consider that last one ended, but we’ll see Rose again.

Not happening

  • Calm Down, The Actress Is Just Called That: A lot is being made of actress Susan Twist now having appeared as both Mrs Merridew in the mavity scene in Wild Blue Yonder and as an unnamed concertgoer at Ruby’s band’s gig in The Church on Ruby Road. I don’t think there’s anything meaningful going on here — sometimes actors just appear as different characters in the same show — and certainly, the idea that this is foreshadowing a twist to do with Susan is transparently ridiculous, humans seeing patterns that aren’t there.

A Doctor Who style guide for the future

Doctor Who is in flux, and so is the way we talk about Doctor Who. In what are already troubling times, how are we meant to tell the difference between “season 1,” “series 1,” “season 1,” “the first season,” and “the First Doctor”? Who even was the first one of that particular Time Lord? We no longer know.

For the record here: A style guide is nothing more than a list of stylistic preferences, typically institutional and typically self-enforced. I do not enforce it here, and I do not expect anyone to care, though you may find it helpful to kickstart a change in the way you talk. This is simply how I do things — your own preferences are likely to be different.

Who am I to write this? Well, I’ve only been talking this way for a decade, so you tell me, but I reckon this should be pretty futureproof by now.

Seasons and series and seasons

For some time, a certain section of fandom has been kind of attached to the distinction of, “seasons” are what Doctor Who (1963) had, “series” is what Doctor Who (2005) had. You may notice this distinction in most official sources — home media, Doctor Who Magazine, official websites — and more thorough fan reference works like the TARDIS Wiki typically follow suit. But it’s never been particularly rigidly enforced, and “season” vs “series” feels somewhat regional and/or down to personal preference, too — in conversation online, people will use these words interchangeably.

On top of that, we’re now approaching a new, separate and distinct era of Doctor Who; the Moffat and Chibnall eras both referred to their first series as “series 1,” too, which never really stuck outside of internal production contexts, but it really sounds like the RTD2 era is gonna make it stick — the various official sites now refer to the televised show as existing in the three distinct Doctor Who (1963-1996), Doctor Who (2005-2023), and Doctor Who (2023–) incarnations.1We here at Planet of the Blog consider the 1996 TV move a distinct entry worth its own separation, but this is mostly because, let’s be honest, I– I just think about the 1996 TV movie a lot.

In addition, consider that TorchwoodThe Sarah Jane AdventuresClass, and various Big Finish ranges also have “first seasons.” But this is unlikely to cause confusion unless somebody is speaking just staggeringly sans any context at all.

  • BAD: I would at this present moment in time recommend avoiding referring to numbered seasons when you can.
  • FINE: Context is king2No gods, no masters. key. If you refer to “the fifth series” and the Matt Smith incarnation in the same breath, ain’t nobody gonna think you’re talking about The Web of Fear.
  • GOOD: “The 2005 season.” “The 1963-64 series.” “The 2023 specials and the 2024 season.” This is as clear as it gets.
    It may take some time for a writer or reader used to other ways of referring to them to connect the 20th broadcast run of the 1963 show to “the 1983 season,” but, well, internet search engines are free, and you should be providing context to your readers, anyway.

Doctor… which one?

I saw the writing on the wall when the show first introduced John Hurt as a previously unknown incarnation between the ones we then thought were the “Eighth” and “Ninth,” and with the “Tenth” one turning out to be two, the “Eleventh” thus actually being the thirteenth, and the numbered “Thirteenth” meeting a previously unknown incarnation from before the “First,” the water’s only gotten muddier.

Part of the problem is we largely don’t have diegetic, Watsonian ways of referring to the various versions of the show’s lead character. Sure, you can call, say, the one played by Patrick Troughton “the Cosmic Hobo,” or the one played by Christopher Eccleston “him with the ears,” but one, we don’t have good, clear and recgonisable3Which one is the “clown” again? in-universe phrasings for anywhere near all of them in that way, and two, that’s likely to be more opaque to readers — even inside fandom, never mind the Not-We4“Not-We” is what RTD called “viewers who aren’t fans” sometimes during his first tenure, mostly as a way to say, there’s knowledge We have, things We understand, that the “Not-We” do not. People sometimes feel it’s a weird thing to say, and for what it’s worth, I haven’t heard RTD actually say it in yonks. — than you’re likely to want the way you talk to be. The solution is simple.

  • BAD: “Nine.” “15.” “Tenny.” Just atrocious. Criminal. “The Eleventh Doctor” already isn’t anyone’s name, you don’t need to reduce it like a sauce on a boil. Have some self-respect. Think better of yourself than to speak like this.5I’m exaggerating slightly for effect — again, I can not tell you what to do. But I do actively dislike reading or hearing this.
  • FINE: That said, “the Fifteenth Doctor,” “the Thirteenth Doctor,” “the First Doctor,” “the War Doctor,” “the Fugitive Doctor” etcetera are all totally in common usage, obviously. It’s what the Wikipedia articles are called. People will know what you mean.
  • GOOD: “The Ncuti Gatwa incarnation.” “The Jodie Whittaker incarnation.” “The Hartnell incarnation.” “The Hurt incarnation,” “the Tom Baker incarnation,” “the Colin Baker incarnation,” “the Christopher Baker incarnation,” “the Jo Martin incarnation.” “The Rowan Atkinson incarnation.” Simple. Straightforward. None of what you’ve said or written will ever be invalidated

The Tennant Problem

Of course, this does come with a… problem, because David Tennant has now played four distinct incarnations:

  • The one Christopher Eccleston turned into at the end of the 2005 season.
  • The one David Tennant turned into at the end of the 2008 season.
  • The one who split off from the second David Tennant one in that same regeneration.
  • The one Jodie Whittaker turned into at the end of the 2022 specials.

At this time, I typically refer to these as follows:

  • “Tennant I,” or “the first Tennant incarnation.”
  • “Tennant II,” or “the second Tennant incarnation.”
  • “The Meta-Crisis incarnation.6The Turning of the Tide suggests he eventually settles on the name “Corin” but I would recommend against using that unless you’re certain your audience will know what that means.
  • “Tennant IV,” or “the Final Tennant incarnation.”

I think that’s all clear enough. But where does the Valeyard fit in, again?7Between the twelfth and final incarnations, which now could be just about anywhere, anywhen. Technically Jon Pertwee played an incarnation between the twelfth and final ones, too.

Miscellaneous

  • Canon: There’s no such thing. Never use words like “canonicity” or “canonical” if you can help it — these are but sticks with which people hit each other, and we are better than them. For more on this, see Paul Cornell’s 2007 essay “Canonicity in Doctor Who“. In addition, the idea of “validity” is language specific to the TARDIS Wikia and should not be used outside of this context.
  • The Master: Frankly, a fucking mess. Do whatever you can to provide context, then pray. The Dhawan incarnation comes after Missy, though, no matter how much wishing real hard you do.
  • Pronouns: When referring to a specific incarnation, use the pronouns you’d use for the actor playing them. When referring to the character as a whole, use either their most recently accurate pronouns or they/them.
  • Romana: People will know what you mean when you say “Romana I” and “Romana II,” but later Romanas are all over the place, and without a definitive third Romana, it may be best to simply refer to “the Mary Tamm Romana,” “the Lalla Ward Romana,” “the Juliet Landau Romana,” “the EDA Romana.”
  • The Timeless Child: Speaking of wishing real hard: The series of children’s faces we see as the various incarnations of the Timeless Child are clearly established to be the show’s lead character’s earliest faces, which are then clearly followed by the Jo Martin incarnation and the faces we see in the psychic battle in The Brain of Morbius. There really isn’t as much ambiguity to their placement as some people wish there was — they’re all before the Hartnell incarnation. To suggest otherwise makes you sound, at best, stubborn, at worst, foolish.
  • 1
    We here at Planet of the Blog consider the 1996 TV move a distinct entry worth its own separation, but this is mostly because, let’s be honest, I– I just think about the 1996 TV movie a lot.
  • 2
    No gods, no masters.
  • 3
    Which one is the “clown” again?
  • 4
    “Not-We” is what RTD called “viewers who aren’t fans” sometimes during his first tenure, mostly as a way to say, there’s knowledge We have, things We understand, that the “Not-We” do not. People sometimes feel it’s a weird thing to say, and for what it’s worth, I haven’t heard RTD actually say it in yonks.
  • 5
    I’m exaggerating slightly for effect — again, I can not tell you what to do. But I do actively dislike reading or hearing this.
  • 6
    The Turning of the Tide suggests he eventually settles on the name “Corin” but I would recommend against using that unless you’re certain your audience will know what that means.
  • 7
    Between the twelfth and final incarnations, which now could be just about anywhere, anywhen. Technically Jon Pertwee played an incarnation between the twelfth and final ones, too.

Arc Watch: Doctor Who: “The Giggle”

This post also appeared on my personal blog.

We take some money to the bank, but several bills are still left unpaid.

Resolved

  • Why The Long Face: We’ve said goodbye to the Final Tennant incarnation, and Donna’s suggestion that the face coming back and immediately finding her was because of Dr Who’s deep-rooted need “to come home” feels right and true to me, even if some details never quite get ironed out. Resolved.
  • Still Figuring It Out: The Final Tennant incarnation’s personality is clearly also a thread we can set aside, because, well, one, it’s really the same question as “why did the face come back,” and two, clearly we’re never gonna deal with it again, because that story is over. Resolved.
    My guess that the Gatwa incarnation’s personality was shining through has clearly been disproven — there was no trickery, the Final Tennant was simply a totally legitimate incarnation — but clearly the Gatwa incarnation’s personality is gonna be building on Final Tennant’s increased emotional openness. Love it.
  • Couldn’t Keep It In: Donna’s exposure to Dr Who’s mind and memories comes to a head with her using it simply to accurately back up the feeling that the time has come for Dr Who to take a break, and he does so. Resolved.

The World Around Us

  • UNified Intelligence and Skyscraper-Building Taskforce: If Dr Who accepts the Vlinx, the Zeedex, Mel’s lift off the Zingo, so must we, but it’s quite a lot, isn’t it. I, too, remember when this organisation was secret. Companions are offered high-paying jobs at least in part on the basis of who they are to Dr Who, though Donna does have to show off her Mad Skillz first.
  • In Flux and It’s About Timeless get another round of shoutouts. The Toymaker references the Flux as part of a meticulous stage performance on the subject of the death and destruction Dr Who leaves in their wake. Later, he says “I made a jigsaw out of your history. Did you like it?” suggesting he’s either responsible for or at least taking credit for Dr Who’s messy history and the recent revelations about the Timeless Child.
    The Flux is still a likely candidate for being “the new Time War.” Even if, after the Final Tennant incarnation, Dr Who no longer carries the trauma of it with them the way they did that of the Time War, it’s a good, cheap motivation for antagonists, and an interesting new flavour for the universe — the actual narrative effect of the Time War was fairly limited to large military forces like the Sontarans, and to groups with access to time travel, we never really felt it the way you’d imagine “half the universe has been destroyed” might be felt. Curious to see how the Flux is handled in the 2024 series.

Backseat Stories

  • The Boss Is Not Rhetorical: Clearly the One Who Waits and the Toymaker’s legions are the same story as the Boss, clearly this is setup for a larger wave of antagonists in the 2024 series and beyond. All of this is only maybe two or three steps above Bad Wolf-ing, but still, it’s an arc, something to look for.
  • Guardians of the Playground and Black Cats and Ladders at the Edge: The universe is defined as not just being subject to the rules of order and chaos but the rules of play, too. I wonder what all those gods we’re thinking about now make of the reduced size of the universe.
    We get direct shoutouts to the Gods of Ragnarok (The Greatest Show in the Galaxy,) to the Guardians of Time and Space (presumably the White and Black Guardians from the 1978-79 and 1983 seasons,) and the line “I gambled with God and made him a jack-in-the-box,” and then the revelation that the Master is trapped in the Toymaker’s gold tooth. Does the Toymaker consider the Master up there with those other entities?
    Being a science-fiction show, of course none of these entities are gods — but a god is simply the only thing we can call somebody — something — with an amount of power traditionally only described by mythology.
    Invoking a superstition slash game at the edge of the universe is allegedly what let the Toymaker in, but it sets a stage eager for gods and goblins, magic and myth.

The Other Threads

  • The Pretenders: In addition to the previous two week’s big beats on this theme: The Toymaker appropriates German and French culture etc. like he did Chinese culture in The Celestial Toymaker. We all have internalised biases and bigotries, but who we are is what we let come out, the Giggle robbing us of that identity. Evil embedded in puppets embedded in all television, the thing we love being a cover for hatred. In the end, Dr Who gets to stop pretending to be okay. The line is never drawn this explicitly between them, but the Toymaker and Rose Noble, toymaker.
  • The Mavity of the Situation: No “mavity,” but there’s still a thread here of meddling in time and getting away with it — if all of the history of television had the Giggle in it, what might removing it retroactively do?

On the docket

  • No updates on the state of Gallifrey (The State of the Home Planet) or Rose’s toy-buyer (Gonkage).

Arc Watch: Doctor Who: “Wild Blue Yonder”

I love a bottle episode, I love a little creepy horror one. Is that good for Arc Watch? No. Low on arc stuff this week, I have no reason to believe the Not-things are anything but one-offs, but there’s still loads of stuff here. I clearly just needed time to get back into the swing of things.

The Bigger Picture

  • In Flux and It’s About Timeless: We pick up some of the detritus of the Chibnall era with an acknowledgement that, one, a significant part of the universe was destroyed in the Flux, and two, that Dr Who now no longer knows where they come from, doing more with the quite heavy emotional effect these things might have on Dr Who than the Chibnall era ever did.
    These acknowledgements come in the same scene and seem at first glance to serve more as a reminder of the current status quo than to make any kind of progress on them as ongoing issues, and there’s a real chance these are just the new “Time War” and “last of the Time Lords,”but I’ve put them on the docket anyway — if I were RTD I’d want to do something with them.
  • Why The Long Face: They don’t say it out loud, but speaking of the trauma of the Flux, perhaps there’s a reason for the face coming back in Dr Who trying to… you know, deal with the trauma of the Flux. The last time they had this face their personality and attitude were very much coming from trying to stop being the last one — to stop being the Survivor and to try living again. The sheer fucking scale of the Flux mirrors absolutely nothing if it doesn’t mirror the Time War. Maybe nobody is doing this. Perhaps the face is but a comfort face.

Character Arcs and Character Roundabouts

  • Still Figuring It Out: “Is that who I am now?” Dr Who again expresses much more open love and fondness for Donna than they would’ve ever been capable of the last time they had this face. They also notably express aesthetic attraction to a person of the same gender they currently are themselves, which I’m pretty sure is a first in a few ways. Is this the Gatwa incarnation’s personality shining through a face that doesn’t have it?
  • Couldn’t Keep It In: Donna clearly did get exposed to Dr Who’s history since she last saw them, though she denies at the end having meaningful access to the information contained therein. I suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle — she’d probably recognise, say, Bill, or the planet Akhaten, and emotionally she probably has some grasp on things like the Flux, because, well, it’s Donna, she’s savvy, but I’m willing to take her word for it that it feels like staring into an inferno. Probably does something to you to have or have had a window to that inferno in your head, though.
  • The Pretenders: The Meep pretends to be cute and harmless, and forces UNIT soldiers to serve a cause they don’t believe in. Donna is forced to live as a version of herself she shouldn’t be, and is infinitely better off for getting to stop, just like her daughter. The Not-things copy people but always let their true selves shine through. Dr Who… pretends to be okay, but you can tell they’re not. Even Destination: Skaro had that Kaled pretending to be good at his job. What might RTD, a queer man himself, be trying to say about what pretending to be something you’re not does to you? I reckon perhaps he doesn’t think it’s good for you.

The Little Things

  • The Mavity of the Situation: Dr Who creates the branding and final look of the Daleks in Destination: Skaro. Here, Donna invents the word “gravity,” which Isaac Newton mishears as “mavity.” Right now these are gags, but butterflies can stack.
  • Black Cats and Ladders at the Edge of the Universe: Speaking of stacking butterflies, an interesting idea in the way using a superstition like the salt-counting thing unsettles Dr Who here. Easy to connect back to the Wrarth Warriors knowing the Meep as almost mythological butchers, to Dr Who creating much of the branding around the Daleks, to “mavity.” Clearly that’s a thread that’s gonna take us to the Toymaker, but that’s the kind of thing you could spin whole seasons out of.
  • The State of the Home Planet: Gallifrey neither exists nor has it been destroyed — it’s just “complicated.” Like it’s in some sort of state of… hybrid flux.
  • Still on the docket: No updates on The Boss Is Not Rhetorical — the question is simply not brought up or even relevant, though the Not-things could of course turn out to have employers later, or something, I don’t know, probably not. No followup to UNified Intelligence and Skyscraper-Building Taskforce or Gonkage, either, because, well, UNIT and Rose don’t appear. Bottle episode, baby. But we’re keeping them on the docket.

Arc Watch: Doctor Who: “The Star Beast”

Oh, right, this is a thing we used to do.

The Big Ones

  • Why The Long Face: “Why did this face come back?” Such a specific way to phrase it that surely the answer must be very, very specific, too. In this episode, all we really get as answers go is, “destiny,” “to save Donna.” Everyone assumes it’s a ploy by the Toymaker, but that was never really his style — putting faces on people was more a Land of Fiction thing. (Obviously the face came back because everyone had fun livetweeting during the pandemic, but how would that translate to the screen?)
    I don’t think it’s the Toymaker, I don’t think it’s the Land of Fiction or any master thereof. You want the payoff to this to play emotionally — it shouldn’t just be “well the celebrity guest star did it.”
  • The Boss Is Not Rhetorical: “Wait until I tell the Boss!” The subtitles capitalise it and everything. But who’s the Meep’s the Boss? The obvious place we all immediately went to is, again, the Toymaker, but does the Toymaker have… flunkies now? He has toys he plays with, so if the Meep is in the pocket of Big Toy, “Boss” doesn’t seem like the relationship here.
    Plus, on the In-Vision Commentary, Tennant asks Collinson whether they know what that means yet, implying they didn’t while Tennant was actively involved in production. Perhaps the answer is in scenes that were shot much later.
    Really, all we have is the word “Boss” and set reports and casting announcements, so, a wild mass guess to the answer: Whoever Jinkx Monsoon is playing?1The rumour is the Terrible Zodin, but I dunno, is that where this is going? It doesn’t feel like that’s where this is going. Much of early days Arc Watch is gut-based.

The Small Ones

Who We Are
  • Still Figuring It Out: “Do I say things like that now?” Dr Who is still exploring their new personality. Clearly a big thing is that the vanity and egocentrism of the last time they had this face has cleared like bad acne, and their anguished cry of “Why did it have to be this?” when forced into a scenario not unlike the one that killed the last version of this face suggests that that well of emotion this face never would’ve been capable of before may be quite deep.
  • Couldn’t Keep It In: Much has been made of the ease with which Donna and Rose simply let go of the metacrisis energy. Is it that easy? Is that story over? Or is this just the start of its final chapter?
The World Around Us
  • UNified Intelligence and Skyscraper-Building Taskforce: Seriously, how is UNIT just fully back in business already again? I’m gonna assume this is just, let’s get this piece back on the board like usual and not worry about it too much, but there’s been quite a lot of shifting that kind of thing around a little too fast recently, and I wouldn’t mind if this one went somewhere.
  • Gonkage: Is Rose’s one customer in Abu Dhabi just one of those RTD background details, or something we should be keeping an eye on? Who would have reason to send money to Donna’s family? Or maybe, who would recognise what her toys were?
  • 1
    The rumour is the Terrible Zodin, but I dunno, is that where this is going? It doesn’t feel like that’s where this is going. Much of early days Arc Watch is gut-based.

“Then allow me to show you the future.” (Doctor Who: “Destination: Skaro”)

After a gruelling year-long hour trapped in the chaotic pages of Doctor Who Magazine‘s Liberation of the Daleks, Dr Who returns to the small screen by crashing into not just a lab on an obscure little backwater planet known to its inhabitants as Skaro — birthplace of the Daleks — but into his past, present, and future.

We have, of course, been here before. The crash itself is reminiscent of the Titanic slamming into the side of the TARDIS at the end of Last of the Time Lords, the gags remind of the banter from Time Crash mixed with the inspiring-the-famous-author gags from episodes like The Shakespeare Code. The way in which it fills in something we’ve never seen filled in on TV before even though non-televised Doctor Who has probably thoroughly covered the area, reminiscent of the way Sarah rattles off various companions’ fates in Death of the Doctor.

Speaking of contradictions…

Past

Davros is depicted in Destination: Skaro as an able-bodied man at a point in his history where, historically, he’s been depicted as a wheelchair user with a severely disfigured face and body. This is a change made not for budget or time reasons1Though I’m sure Julian Bleach doesn’t mind not having to have the whole face put on. but because, and this isn’t speculation because Russell T Davies says as much in the Unleashed behind the scenes featurette, it’s the Year of Luigi 2023 and the harmful, hurtful cliché of using disability and disfigurement as a shorthand for evil has, in short, got to go. This, Russell says, referring to how Davros is depicted here, is how we see Davros now.

There is some ambiguity in what he says and how — clearly he’s saying, as far as he and the current team are concerned, Davros will not again be portrayed like he was in the past. But does that mean a total reimagining of Davros even in the part of his history we’ve seen before, or just that we won’t see that part of his history again? It may be some time before we find out — another Dalek story is an inevitability, but another Davros story might not be coming along for a while.

Either way, the message is clear: What makes Davros scary is the fascist fanaticism that drives him to create the Daleks — and not his face or his wheelchair. And that implies… other things.

Present

Inevitably some of the kvetching online has included, why now and not in 2008? I can’t claim to know what was in Terry Nation’s heart when he created the character nearly half a century ago, or the hearts of anyone who’s contributed to the character since then. But I have a feeling I know Russell T Davies well enough to know that he just… wasn’t thinking about these things in 2008. Because, well, nobody involved who could’ve made this call was thinking about it in 2008. Nobody involved who could’ve made this call was thinking about it in 2012, 1975, or 2003, either. I’m really happy they’re having these conversations at Bad Wolf now.

When a silent film from 1924 employs, say, cannibal clichés to communicate that the island the characters have landed on is an easily recognisable dangerous situation, no matter how racist the effect of those clichés might then be in the Year of Luigi 2023, the intent at the time probably wasn’t to do a bunch of racism. They’re just using the toys that are in the toy box at the time. And those toys change as we wear them down, as we figure out they’re not equally fun for everyone.

Because the way we think about this stuff evolves constantly. It’s never too late to learn, to catch on, to say, the fun I’m having hurts you and it shouldn’t.

It’s never too late to fix your heart.2Or die.

Future

Obviously this 5-minute comedy scene is just a drop in a thousand buckets. It “counts,” if such a thing matters to you, but its primary purpose is to have some light fun with silly Dalek jokes during a charity fundraising broadcast. My mom liked it, thought it was funny. She’s not thinking about these things at all.

But I think it’s a terrific shot from the second RTD era’s starter pistol: Here we go. This is what matters to us. Nothing is sacred. Let’s go have fun — together.

  • 1
    Though I’m sure Julian Bleach doesn’t mind not having to have the whole face put on.
  • 2
    Or die.

Let’s pick some clickbait apart

The thing that’s got Doctor Who fandom in a tizzy today is this article from The Mirror, (archive.is link, if you’d rather not give them the traffic) a tabloid that, to be fair, does have a better track record than you’d typically ascribe to a tabloid. The article purports to claim that Paul McGann is set to reprise his incarnation of the show’s titular character in a spin-off — and I’m gonna pick the article apart line by line. Let’s just get into it. All blockquoted text from the Mirror article unless I indicate otherwise. Headline.

EXCLUSIVE: Paul McGann set to make comeback as the Eighth Doctor in new Doctor Who spin-off series.

Wow, exciting. That’d be cool, wouldn’t it. Don’t even need to read past the headline to get the gist — the claim is clear: The McGann incarnation will be back on your screen in multiple episodes. And it’s an exclusive, too! Nobody else has this information! Which makes sense, because there will in fact be: No information. Next, the lede.

The Doctor Who returns later this month with three specials celebrating the 60th anniversary with David Tennant back as the Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble and now Paul McCann is set to make his comeback too

First of all, the quality of the copyediting is fucking appalling here — “the Doctor Who,” “Paul McCann,” and have they run out of commas at The Mirror? But that aside, all we’ve got here is a basic restating of both information you already know — Doctor Who is indeed back later this month with three specials starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate — and then of the claim made by the headline. (Though I don’t know who Paul McCann is.) The same claim is restated once again by the opening line…

Paul McGann is set to make a comeback as the Eighth Doctor in a new Doctor Who spin-off series.

The 63-year-old actor had the keys to the TARDIS for the 1996 television film, a co-production between BBC Worldwide and Universal Studios, which was an attempt to revive the sci-fi show after it was cancelled in 1989.

His incarnation of the Time Lord built up a loyal fan base since due to the audio adventures he has voiced. He has had two just TV appearances in the 50th anniversary special and a cameo in Jodie Whittaker’s final outing The Power of the Doctor.

…and the next two paragraphs are broadly speaking accurate restatements of things you already know, too, though I’d argue he didn’t actually appear in the 50th anniversary special but in a webisode, but okay, close enough.

The show is about to enter a new era with Russell T Davies – the man who rebooted it in 2005 – at the helm and Disney co-producing with the BBC and spin-offs are being planned to increase the Whoniverse.

More established information. We know all this, and RTD was explicit about wanting to mirror the Star WarsMarvel model of a whole range of spinoffs even before he took back over, saying in 2021, in Doctor Who Magazine #579:

RUSSELL T DAVIES: There should be a Doctor Who channel now. You look at those Disney announcements, of all those new Star Wars and Marvel shows, you think, we should be sitting here announcing The Nyssa Adventures or The Return of Donna Noble, and you should have the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors together in a 10-part series. Genuinely.

After the announcement of his return he’s been more coy, but the sentiment is clearly still very much a driving force behind the new Whoniverse branding — if Tales from the TARDIS does anything, it’s signal that it’s all one big show, one big story. A McGann incarnation spinoff would not actually be that weird. But let’s get back to the article.

The spin offs will work in the same way that Disney created series for Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe that stream on Disney+.

Literally explicitly something he said in 2021, sure. Still, to be extremely clear: No new information at this point.

A source said: “Russell likes the idea of bringing back McGann with his own set of episodes in the TARDIS. Disney are on board as they want more original content and want to fully exploit the franchise as they know how big it could become.”

Alright, see, here’s what we’re clearly basing this entire article around, but, is this new information? “A source” could be anyone, that could be my grandfather, for all we know.1Both of them are dead.

“Russell likes the idea.” Sure, who wouldn’t? It’d be really cool to see Paul McGann get his real, proper due, right, the idea comes up in fandom all the time. But liking the idea isn’t six episodes on BBC One by winter next year.

“Disney are on board,” well, yes, they’re spending a lot of money, they generally seem to get along with the RTD2 team very well. I’m sure if RTD shows up with a spinoff premise that he’s excited about and thinks will work, Disney are on board.

Other possible spin-offs include a series on UNIT, the Earth based military wing that works with the Doctor to defend the planet and a villain anthology.

Oh, we’re already moving on from the McGann incarnation spinoff, huh? The UNIT spinoff has been widely rumoured for a long time now, and the modern incarnation of UNIT could probably sustain a spinoff, so, sure. And I hadn’t heard the “villain anthology” one before, but if you’re going as vague as “other possible spin-offs,” you could say just about anything. “Other possible spin-offs include a drama about Dr Who’s biscuit supplier, a Zygon police procedural with a psycho-sexual twist, and a film about Professor Prudeish from off The Time Warrior as he fights his care home in court.” Sure, Jan.

Doctor Who returns later this month with three specials celebrating the 60th anniversary with David Tennant back as the Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Noble. Ncuti Gatwa is then taking control of the TARDIS in 2024.

More restatement of known information, though, small correction, Gatwa actually takes over at Christmas this year.

Speaking in an interview recently, Paul said he would be interested, adding: “I finally got to be in an episode. The fans tell me that they hope there will be a chance of some more, that would be nice. I would be well up for it.”

Actor wouldn’t turn down followup to job they’re famous for. Some of them say they wouldn’t, some of them seem somewhat desperate for it, but it’s not an uncommon sentiment, is it. Certainly it doesn’t sound like a man who’s in active negotiations with the BBC.

A spokesman for Doctor Who declined to comment.

They would, wouldn’t they, the sneaky bastards.

So, in conclusion: The only actual new information in this entire article: An unnamed source claims “Russell [T Davies] likes the idea” of a McGann incarnation spinoff. …Yeah, man, I’m sure he does.

  • 1
    Both of them are dead.
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