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Dissing Death in Heaven

Image: Clara walks among gravestones.

Almost there. With only a Christmas "special" still to dread, the 2014 slog that was Doctor Who's 8th revived series has, mercifully, nearly come to a close (if not to a merciful close).

An an honest critic must give Steven Moffat his due. From Danny Pink's classroom tears in his introductory episode, to a payoff for television's Least Convincing Romance Ever, to the Doctor's query, "Am I a good man?", with which the series opened, at least this year, Moffat didn't drop any of the major plot points he raised during the series. (Well. Maybe one. Time will tell.) The answers were neither clever nor convincing, but at least they were provided.

Yes, that's faint praise; and probably too generous. For along with the answers, "Death in Heaven" slaps us with un-foreshadowed plot twists out of sketch-comedy satire, blatant emotional manipulation, a debate on moral philosophy whose sophistication would shame a class of 12 year-olds, and an entirely unwelcome appearance by a Magical Negro.

But tell us what you really think! I hear you cry. Of plots and themes and lies and agonies. Spoilers and cussing as usual. I think most of you know the drill by now.

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Throwing out the Doctor with the Dark Water

Image: Clara has regrets

"Dark Water," the 11th entry in a 12 episode series, trundles along with a certain amount of professional competence, but is very far from being good drama.

The episode bears almost all the flaws we have come to expect from Steven Moffat's latter oeuvre. A story with the density of rotten sea-ice that groans along at a glacial pace and tedious swaths of explanations that don't, actually, explain much at all.

The upside includes excellent performances by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman and, especially, from Michelle Gomez as the mysterious Missy.

Want more? Throwing out the Doctor with the dark water includes spoilers as per usual, including a couple of Big Reveals; click at your own risk if you haven't seen it yet.

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Doctor Who takes the A-Minus Train

Image: Clara raises a glass to the last hurrah. Screenshot from 'Mummy on the Orient Express'.

I know, I know. This series' ninth episode aired yesterday and here I am, posting about the 8th. I have no excuses, except that of "Life got in the way."

To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and missed me) I say, "Mea culpa and that I'll try to do better with 'Flatline'." To those who'd wondered where I'd gone (and hoped I'd stay away), I say only, "You can't get rid of me that easily! But if it's any consolation, my reappearance comes with a surprise: I quite liked 'Mummy on the Orient Express'!"

What a difference a good script makes.

I was all-too-ready to dislike "Mummy On the Orient Express" as much as I did last week's "Kill the Moon".

MOOE's title suggested only another tired homage to, or rip-off of, someone else's creation. But what do you know! MOOE was funny and intriguing (if poorly-directed), with a believable interpersonal drama and Peter Capaldi's best performance yet.

In just 45 minutes, Jamie Mathieson managed what Steven Moffat and his previous collaborators could not in seven episodes: to make Clara's doubts about the Doctor believable.

Was "Mummy on the Orient Express" a perfect episode? Not quite. But it was better than most and a lot better than we have become accustomed to in recent years.

As usual, my full review is spoilery. Not so usual, it is hardly angry at all (which might help to explain why I am so late in its delivery). Also not so usual, this might be the first time I find myself in fundamental disagreement with Patches365. Which kind of makes me wonder if I'm wrong.

Click here for Clara's Choice.

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Abort the moon!

Image: Screenshot of spiders - or is that giant bacteria? - on the moon? Screenshot from 'Kill the Moon'.

If Steven Moffat isn't trying to abort the program he has had under his control since 2010, at the very least it's clear that he doesn't care what happens to it once it grows up and moves out of his house.

"Kill the Moon" could be watched as a personal drama about the Doctor and Clara Oswald; it might be viewed as a girls' own adventure, with trouble-maker Courtney Woods finally given her chance to shine; or seen as a feminist fable, with three women — maiden, teacher, crone — deciding the fate of all humankind. Could. Might.

Other interpretations will no doubt be constructed; there are among Doctor Who's fandom those as creative as they are forgiving.

 

Transcripts R Us!

For those interested in the program's thematic debate, I confess I went to the trouble of transcribing the key minutes.

I don't know whether to apologize or to brag, but it is here if you want it.

I am not part of that wing. I don't want to "fix" the program with fanfic nor weave intricately-constructed academic analyses to fill in plot-holes and justify self-contradictions of character and story. All I want are stories that don't insult my intelligence.

Is that really so much to ask?

Apparently so. "Kill the Moon" offers as the basis of its plot a "physics" whose idiocy would have appalled Newton — or even Douglas Adams. To add insult to insult, "Kill the Moon" is an unsubtle morality tale pushing a political agenda that adds a kiloton of fuel to the idea that Steven Moffat is not exactly, shall we say, a feminist-friendly thinker.

In other words, Won't somebody think of the embryo?!? Angry words and spoilers — they all live behind the cut.

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Watching "Listen" (again)

Image: Detail of the Doctor at the new Tardis control console. Screenshot from 'Listen'.

The first time I watched "Listen", home after an 11-hour shift that followed an early rise, I wrote, "I definitely enjoyed it, definitely want to watch it again." I also wrote, "It sounds silly when I type it out, but [the story] gave me the shivers ..."

Well, hell. I did watch it again and now it seemed silly when I watched as well. There were no shivers to be found.

What was there was a mixed bag of an episode, combining Steven Moffat's still-effective skills at atmospheric scenes, with a show-runner's determined but mis-guided need to further place his singular stamp upon Doctor Who's cannon of mythology and back-story, and proof (as if any more were needed) that as a writer, he gives not a single damn for story-logic.

You don't have to read my review if you don't want your fun spoiled, you know. You really don't. Spoilers (in both senses of the term) ahoy!

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Listen (to me!)

Image: Clara ponders date and Doctor in the Tardis. Screenshot from 'Listen'.

I feel unesay.

Not because posting my inchoate, exhausted and half-drunk reactions to my first-watch of "Listen" makes me feel like an obsessive fan desperate to share his thoughts with all and sundry — although, clearly, that's what I am — but because I distrust the first reactions I so desperately want to share.

Yet here I am. Sharing my feelings instead of my thoughts, my knee's jerks rather than my practiced dance steps.

Steven Moffat has written an episode of Doctor Who that, on first viewing, I enjoyed quite a lot. I liked it. But — or should that be and so ...? — I feel uneasy. I am afraid of what judgement sober second thought may call down upon my first reactions.

So for now and for the record, those who care to read can find those first reactions here.

I liked it; what did you think? And do you think you're opinion will change when (if) you watch it again?

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The good, the bad and the Doctor

Image: The Doctor and the dalek. Screenshot from 'Into the Dalek'.

I feel dirty, like I awoke alone after a night of passion to realize my inamorata's clever words were lies, that her body had stained my sheets and her gentle caresses had left indelible, greasy streaks all over my body. Though I cannot deny the passions I had felt in the dark, with morning's light comes the fear that my wallet, and even my closet, may be empty.

I liked "Into the Dalek" when I watched it the first time. I really did. Even enjoyed it when I watched it a second time. Yet, when I began writing about it, started to think about what it was that had entertained me, the flaws shone ever brighter, like stars appearing one by one after the sun has slipped below the horizon.

"Into the Dalek" is the kind of episode that seduces with surface charms, then laughs at our pleasures, mocks our innocent hopes. Slick enough to entertain in the moment, the story shrivels under the the light of critical consideration.

Sorry, folks. I really thought this would be a positive review for a change. I was only when I began to write, and to really think about what I had watched, that I realized I had been fooled again. After all, The only good dalek ...

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Moffat's misogyny rales on

Image: The TARDIS lands by the River Thames outside of Parliament buildings in 19th Century London. Screenshot from 'Deep Breath'.

Doctor Who is blessed with a remarkable fandom.

Way back on the 12th of July, a black-and-white "screener" of the 8th series premiere, "Deep Breath" was released onto file-sharing sites, following a similar surreptitious (and — need I add? — thoroughly reprehensible!) release of the scripts of the first five episodes the week before. The Scot was out of the kilt, as it were, and anyone who wanted to could easily download a copy.

And yet, those of us who did encounter the samizdat seemed all to subscribe to a gentlefen's agreement that there would be no spoiling for those who preferred to wait for the final product in all its CGI glory. (At worst, some critics might have taken advantage of the incident to draft his (or her!) review ahead of time.)

Though I read a number of Who-related feeds, I didn't come across any unofficial spoilers, not even after the episode was aired in a number of movie theatres around the world. (I didn't look hard, but the point is, one would have had to look to be spoiled.)

Now, finally, the official broadcast is history and we're free to discuss that for which we've been waiting the better part of a year: a new season and a brand-new (if almost elderly) Doctor.

Was it worth it?

If you're able to forgive or justify its internal inconsistencies, tawdry fan-service, cheap laughs and a misogynist streak that holds on like a mysterious infection laughing at ever-stronger doses of antibiotics, well then, yes, I don't doubt for you it was.

If, on the other hand, you were hoping against hope for a story whose details and characterizations made sense and for a climax that didn't take from the show's companion every bit of agency she had, you will have been as disappointed as I was.

Read more/don't read more, it's up to you. But don't say I didn't warn you! In the world according to Steven Moffat, a woman without a man to tell her what to do is nothing ...

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Nobody suggested that I do the fandom meme, but I took note of it on (guess who!) Sabotabby's Livejournal some time ago and thought it might be fun. And maybe, again, a way to kickstart this blog. (And nobody wants to hear about how I-can't-power-off-my-mobile-and-I-think-it's-broken-and-I-haven't-even-finished-paying-for-it-yet do they?)

So fandoms.

Shit. First of all, I deny that I even have a fandom (singular), let alone more than one. Sure, I tend to write about Doctor Who a little more than most people, but I'm engaging in a critical dialogue with pop culture itself, damn it!

Or maybe not. Onwards.

To meme or not to meme? Your click will kill the cat - or not )

Your favourite film watched this year?

Short version: I hardly watched any full-length movies in 2013, and none of them were really good. )

Your favourite book read this year?

Think you can't be shocked? Think again! )

Your favourite album or song to listen to this year?

Old white guy and young Oriental woman, oh yeah! )

Your favourite TV show of the year?

The good, the bad and Jane Austen's revenge. )

Your biggest fandom disappointment of the year?

Do you really have to ask? )

Your TV boyfriend of the year?

It's kind of cheating, but I'm going with Troy and Abed from Community, even if I have to reach back to 2012 for examples of their awesomeness.

Your TV girlfriend of the year?

Last Tango's Nicola Walker as Caroline. Who knew I'd fall in love with a sheep farmer?

Your biggest squee moment of the year?

Cheating again. The best Doctor Who multi-doctor Episode of all time. Seriously. And it's in Spanish. (And I"m done, so I'll leave you with them.

Steven Moffat, take a fucking lesson. Please.

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Fanboy's triumph, viewers' tragedy

Screenshot from 'The Time of the Doctor', Doctor Who copyright 2013 BBC

I've said it before and will certainly say it again: there is a big danger in giving control of a venerable and much-loved popular fiction franchise to a writer who grew up reading or watching the stuff.

When a true fan takes the wheel of their beloved creation, it can become a toy, a gadget used to satisfy the writer's childish fantasies, not a vehicle for delivering stories to others.

The results tend to become ever-more convoluted and self-referential, leading to a slowly-dwindling audience of those hard-core fans who enjoy the nostalgic winks, the meta nods, while the general public starts to look elsewhere for its entertainment.

As for fans like me, who wants story and character to go along with the in-jokes and arcana, the result can be torture. We feel almost as if a person, someone we love, is being abused and yet helpless to do anything about it.

And so I keep watching (for those of you who have wondered): because I care, even though my caring has been so painful, so often, these past three years.

I'm sad to say that "The Time of the Doctor" was not what I was hoping to get for Christmas. Far from it. So be warned: My review is long, spoilerific, and laced with venom and vitriol (though also, I fancy, sweetened with a strong dose of pure Canadian maple syrup. And pictures. And arguably one paranoid fantasy).

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Flawed redemption still a happy anniversary

 

Screenshot from 'The Day of the Doctor', Doctor Who copyright 2013 BBC

It was 1978 or 1979. I was in grade 8 and quite liked my home-room teacher. Mr. Pritchard also liked me, the bright, nerdly kid who had made the school's "newspaper" his own, contributing articles, editorials, cartoons — and (yes) even reviews.

One afternoon after class, as I watched over the Gestetner machine chunking out its blue mimeo pages and Mr. Pritchard watched over me, I mentioned I was looking forward to Saturday, when another episode of Doctor Who, this British television program I'd recently discovered, was going to be broadcast, right before the hockey game.

Mr. Pritchard looked up and laughed, his moustache bristling his delight. "Really!" he said, "Is that still on the air? I used to watch it when I was your age!" He was probably about 30 then, meaning I had barely been born when he was my age!

Learning of that long continuity delighted me as much as — and maybe more than — it did Mr. Pritchard. And now that 15 years of the program's history has become 50, and my personal continuity with it is twice what my teacher's was, the fact that Doctor Who is still on the air delights me even more.

All of which makes me doubly-pleased that the program's 50th anniversary episode, "The Day of the Doctor", exceeded my (admittedly, low) expectations by a wide margin. While not without some significant flaws, Steven Moffat's long-awaited 2013 series finale (of sorts; the upcoming Christmas special will probably mark the real series end, as well as the transition to the next) was a well-crafted entertainment, that balanced humour, drama and nostalgia and, even, pathos, without getting bogged down by the Enormous Anniversariness of it all.

Though some nonsensical elements demonstrated yet again Moffat's tendency to confuse plot with story and maguffin with plot, structurally, "The Day of the Doctor" was a happy anniversary present for this jaded and weary viewer.

Certainly it was the most entertaining multi-Doctor special to come down the pike since, well, forever. I really did laugh and I really did cry, on both first and second viewings — and it's been quite a while since a Moffat-scripted episode of Doctor Who hit me like that.

As usual, my full review is liberal with spoilers. And yes, I spend quite a lot of time exploring those "significant flaws". If you don't want your pleasure challenged, I recommend staying away; if you want in read on click here for The Day of the Doctor: The Bad, the Good, and the Meta.

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Nightmare In Tedium

Neil Gaiman channels Stephen Thompson

(Which is never a good thing)

Screenshot from 'Nightmare in Silver', Doctor Who copyright 2013 BBC

On more than one occasion, the writer Harlan Ellsion insisted his name be removed from a movie or television program and replaced with that of Cordwainer Bird in place of his own. He did it when he believed his script had been butchered: changed to the point where the on-screen result would in some way make him look bad. It was his way of "flipping the bird" at those who had ruined his work and, more, of protecting his own reputation as a screen-writer.

If Neil Gaiman doesn't have a pseudonym for similar circumstances, he should get one — and apply it retroactively to his sophomore entry as a screen-writer for Doctor Who.

"Nightmare in Silver" isn't the worst episode of this year's often-dreadful half-series (far from it) but it isn't very good, either.

It is almost inconceivable that the the writer of "The Doctor's Wife" (not to mention of the Sandman graphic novels) could have handed in a script as dramatically disjointed, as illogical and as frankly boring, as that which showed up on our television screens this past weekend. And surely, it wasn't Neil Gaiman who closed the episode with the appalling spectacle of the Doctor almost literally drooling as he ponders the sight of Clara in a skirt just "a little bit too tight".

A nightmare in silver? More like pewter, or even tin. Spoilers and snark, as usual.

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Patterns of abuse

Screenshot from, The Crimson Horror, Doctor Who copyright 2013 BBC

I know a lot of you enjoyed "The Crimson Horror" and, in comparison to the previous week's travesty, you had every right to.

Nevertheless, what you enjoyed was still pretty lousy television and I guarantee that, unless you make a real study of it, you won't remember a damned thing about it a year from now.

Don't believe me?

Read "Carry On Up the Tardis!" to find out why it was the idea of "The Crimson Horror" you liked, and not the show itself.

As usual, both plot- and fun-spoilers abound, so enter at your own risk.

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The contempt of the show-runner

The Hisotry of the Time War, screenshot, copyright BBC

An insult. A slap in the face. Or should I say, another insult, another slap in the face?

What more is there to say? The whole of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who has been a long series of insults dressed up as Big Ideas, punctuated by apologies from the likes of Richard Curtis and Neil Gaiman.

But how long can we point to "Vincent and the Doctor" or "The Doctor's Wife" and tell ourselves that Steven Moffat actually cares about the cultural institution in his charge?

The truth is, we have become so used to terrible television that when the merely mediocre happens along, people like me nearly start preaching the second coming.

It's time we face the truth: Steven Moffat holds us, his audience, in utter contempt. Take as Exhibit 37, the latest mess of a program broadcast under the name of Doctor Who.

"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" begins with an implausible and arbitrary set-up and is propelled by a plot that works only through the unlikely stupidity of its guest characters, the even more unlikely (and dumb) decisions of its regulars and a resolution that re-uses — yet again! — one of Moffat's now tired and tiresome time-travel tropes — and which then cheats on its own rules. The BBC brain-trust ought to be ashamed to have allowed it to air.

My full review is behind this link, but be warned: I am not happy and sometimes I say so in language unfit for ears of the young and tender, or for eyes of work-mates reading over one's shoulder. Also, there are spoilers, as per normal.

Finally, if you want to suggest that I hate this show so much I shouldn't be reviewing it, you may be right. But I committed myself to seeing Series 7 through to the end, and so I will. But after that? If Steven Moffat is still in charge, I rather suspect I'll be done with the show for the duration. Those of you as sick of my opinions as I am sick of Steven Moffat's stories probably have more reason for hope than I do.

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"The Cold War" weds mediocrity with subtle brilliance

Jenna-Louise Coleman becoming a revelation

Jenna-Louise Coleman as Clara, screenshot detail.

April 19, 2013, OTTAWA — Late again, I know. Life and an episode of back-aches has kept me busy.

And more, I found it hard to find my focus on this episode. An entertaining tale on the surface, dig just a little bit and you find in the Mark Gatiss-penned "The Cold War" only another stop on Steven Moffat's Travelling Medicine Show of Intellectual Horrors.

An idiot plot, in other words.

But there was an upside, beyond the mere fact this episode made for the second in a row that managed at least to be an entertaining distraction on first viewing. That is, that Jenna-Louise Coleman is starting to look like the best regular actor to grace this series since maybe as far back as Christopher Eccleson's turn as the Ninth Doctor, and certainly since Catherine Tate played Donna Noble.

I know, I know, it's early days, and so I stand to be corrected, but so far Coleman is doing remarkable things with often ludicrous material. "Click here to read more, and to watch a video aide. Spoilers, as always. Links to my Series 7 reviews can be found at Edifice Rex Online.

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The Rings of Akhaten" is solid Doctor Who

Decent space opera fun is welcome tonic in a dismal era

The Rings of Akhaten, screenshot detail.

I really enjoyed this episode on my first viewing and, despite hearing from some quarters that it was awful — worse even than "The Bells of Saint John" — I liked it well enough the second time 'round, too. But then I've always had a preference for off-Earth adventures and have a fondness for space stations, so possibly I cut it more slack than I otherwise might.

In any case, "The Rings of Akhaten" suffers from special effects more ambitious than successful and, maybe, from a script that was cut down hard to make a two-part story into a single episode, but still managed some decent space opera fun, a welcome dollop of secular-humanist scepticism courtesy of the Doctor and our first chance to get to know Clara Oswald as more than just a mystery with a fetching smile, but as a genuine character.

For my full review, visit "Good news from the Rings, someplace (almost) awesome". Spoilers as per usual.

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No escaping the Tedium of the Daleks

It's not too far off a year since Doctor Who last graced our screens, the 2011 Christmas special. Which I know I watched, but about which I did not blog and of which now I remember precisely nothing at all — save that I found it dull but not outrageously offensive.

(Oh. Wait. As I typed the preceding, I began to recall that episode's companion of the hour. A woman, naturally, and one whose identify (correct me if I'm wrong) and whose heroism was entirely bound up in the fact of her motherhood. Hot mother or hot model, that's our Mr. Moffat. Ah well, onwards.)

Between that ostensible special then and the program's resumption now, I made the mistake of paying good money to see Moffat (et al)'s Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (which was only the second worst movie I have seen this year). So it comes as no surprise that "Asylum of the Daleks" shows no sign that Moffat has taken a remedial course in story-telling. Indeed, the new outing only provides further proof that Steven Moffat has forgotten everything there is to know about the basics of narrative fiction.

What Moffat does have is a strong command of the idea of story-telling, the parts that make up a story. But of story itself? Fuggedaboutit.

Does it sound as if I repeat myself? No doubt: I repeat myself. If that bothers you, please just pass on by. Otherwise, please click the link to (re)discover the moral vacuum at the heart of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. Spoilers within, of course.

 

ed_rex: (ace)

No escaping the Tedium of the Daleks

It's not too far off a year since Doctor Who last graced our screens, the 2011 Christmas special. Which I know I watched, but about which I did not blog and of which now I remember precisely nothing at all — save that I found it dull but not outrageously offensive. (Oh. Wait. As I typed the preceding, I began to recall that episode's companion of the hour. A woman, naturally, and one whose identify (correct me if I'm wrong) and whose heroism was entirely bound up in the fact of her motherhood. Hot mother or hot model, that's our Mr. Moffat. Ah well, onwards.)

Between that ostensible special then and the program's resumption now, I made the mistake of paying good money to see Moffat (et al)'s Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (which was only the second worst movie I have seen this year). So it comes as no surprise that "Asylum of the Daleks" shows no sign that Moffat has taken a remedial course in story-telling. Indeed, the new outing only provides further proof that Steven Moffat has forgotten everything there is to know about the basics of narrative fiction.

What Moffat does have is a strong command of the idea of story-telling, the parts that make up a story. But of story itself? Fuggedaboutit.

Does it sound as if I repeat myself? No doubt: I repeat myself. If that bothers you, please just pass on by. Otherwise, please click the link to (re)discover the moral vaccuum at the heart of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. Spoilers within, of course.

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The improbable plagiarist

Every so often a famous writer gets taken down for plagiarism. Usually it's something pretty blatant, words and concepts lifted almost verbatim from a well-known work, as if it had improbably never occurred to the culprit that he or she might get caught.

When they do get caught, they typically claim it was an accident, that they must have done it sub-consciously. And the rest of us wonder, How stupid do you think we are? Give us a break and just 'fess up!

But I am suddenly much more sympathetic to those claims than I once was.

In my ostensible leisure time this week, I've been working pretty hard on my response to The Wedding of River Song and, yesterday, had what I thought was a well-argued two thousand words merely in need of a little polishing.

Towards the end of it, I made reference to a review I wrote earlier this year. Decided to link to it. And, linking, re-read it.

Guess what? I had been plagiarizing myself.

It wasn't word-for-word, but it was close. It was was a dismaying, a frustrating and a scary discovery. I really do try to credit sources, to quote directly or to paraphrase with attribution — and here I was, ripping off my own work!

Honest go god, your Honour! It was all sub-conscious!.

And so it is that my review of The Wedding of River Song, now plagiarism-free (I hope!), is a lot shorter than I had expected it to be, with a very conscious link to that which I have written before. As usual, spoilers and snark below the icing ... of The Wedding Cake of River Song.

ed_rex: (ace)

Time gentlemen! Please!

Well, here we are. The last episode of Doctor Who's 2011 series has gone to air and I have it in a thermos, hoping to keep it warm while I scrabble to polish up my impressions of the penultimate episode, the unfortunately-titled Closing Time.

What can I say? I've been busy, then I fell sick, then I was sick and busy.

Truth to tell, I'm glad the series is coming to a close. It's no secret that Moffat's Who has not been my cup of tea and I suspect I am almost as weary of saying so as I am sure many of you are of hearing me say it.

So it is with considerable sadness, not glee, that I find myself forced to say that, while more slickly-written, Closing Time rivals the infamous pirate episode for badness.

You really don't need to read on if you don't want to. But if you do, you'll find the usual snark and spoilers, along with thoughts on racism, sexism and (of course) on good writing and bad. Time, gentlemen! Please!

July 2017

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