Friday, June 21, 2013

John Hurt? John Hurt Who?

THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE DOCTOR WHO SERIES 7 FINALE. DON'T SAY I DIDN'T WARN YOU.


'Oh, no! I feel a massive reveal coming up on my left!'
Like many of you, when it was revealed at the end of 'The Name of the Doctor' that John Hurt was going to be playing the Doctor, I was all like, WTF?!?!?  Let's review all the possibilties for what's going on here.

The 'Real' 9th Doctor
Probably the most popular  rumour going around says that Christopher Eccelston was actually the 10th Doctor, and that the Time Lord had a regeneration in between him and Paul McGann who actually did all the dirty work during the Time War. I don't much like this blantant rewriting of the continuity (as opposed to the whoops-it's-been-fifty-years-hey-you-try-to-remember-everything accidental type), but I have a feeling, given the prevalence of this theory and things John Hurt has actually said, that it might be true. However, if the current Doctor denies that, though they may be the same Time Lord, he isn't the Doctor, why was Hurt credited as 'The Doctor'?

The Doctor's Original Incarnation
Or at least a pre-Hartnell Doctor. It would be really interesting, wouldn't it, if William Hartnell was the first Doctor, but that he'd had other regenerations before that, especially if all his travelling through time and space was to attone for what the other(s) had done. 'Brain of Morbius' did imply that there were Doctors we hadn't seen, after all.

The Next Doctor
Now that we know Matt Smith is leaving, wouldn't it be amazing if they cast John Hurt as the next one?? Too much to hope for, though.

A Future Doctor
He could just be a possible future Doctor, and seeing him could potentially mess up his own time stream. However, the current Doctor's reaction suggests that there is a lot more to his dislike of the Hurt regeneration than just some wibbly wobbly timey wimeyness. Which leads me to....

A Potential Regeneration That the Doctor Does Not Want to Happen
Say the Doctor knows, through contact with him or others who know of him, that if a certain thing happens, then he will regenerate a certain way, and that will be bad. Very bad. The Doctor's apparent dislike of his Hurt regeneration could be because he's afraid that is what he will turn into. And who would the Doctor not like to become?

The Valeyard

'Look, it doesn't make sense to me, either, and it's my own plan!'
Yes, the guy from 'The Trial of a Time Lord' who tries to have the Doctor killed! The version of the Doctor that spins off of his final regeneration and is so evil even the Master fears him. They did drop a reference to him in 'The Name of the Doctor', after all...

A Valeyard-like Character
It would be a bit hard to explain what the Valeyard is doing back after he got trapped in the Matrix (not that one) at the end of 'Trial', but what if something similar happened when the 8th Doctor regenerated?  One version stayed the Doctor (Eccelston) and went around doing normal Doctor things, but the other version (Hurt) did all the ruthless stuff needed to destroy two civilizations and end the Time War. Well, I think it's interesting, anyway.

The Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey 9th Doctor
Christopher Eccelston is the 9th Doctor we know, but what if when the Great Intelligence went back into the Doctor's time stream, he messed things up, changed time, and this is the 9th Doctor that happened instead.  Based on some things John Hurt has said, I think this might even be more of a possibility than the whole Eccelston-is-really-the-10th thing. And, given that it actually deals with the consquences of messing with time, of the two options, I prefer this one.

Alternative Universe Doctor
Hurt could be the Doctor that could have happened had something else not happened. Like, since we're so hung up on him being the 9th Doctor, he could be the Doctor as he would have been had he not met Wose.  Or even had he not left Gallifrey in the first place.

Parallel Universe Doctor
Sounds the same but isn't. An alternative universe is a 'what if' universe, whereas parallel is one that runs along side and has slight (or major) variations on ours. Just like Pete's World has its Metacrisis Doctor, maybe there's another universe that has John Hurt as it's Doctor. However, running into a parallel version of oneself doesn't seem all that dangerous (see:  Mickey/Ricky), so why would our universe Doctor seem to dislike this one so much? And, if he were essentially a different Time Lord, what's he doing our Doctor's time stream?

The Metacrisis Regeneration
I've heard this theory a few times on the internet.  Matt Smith's Doctor actually dies, and so the Metacrisis Doctor comes back from Pete's World and regenerates into the next one.  However, given that the Doctor explicitly stated that Metacrisis Doctor can't regenerate, this is mostly wishful thinking by people who want more Tennant. Although, if you're going to mess with continuity, you might as well go all in....

But is it really Sylvester McCoy??
The Other
In some of the spin-off novels, it is said that Time Lord society was founded by Rassilon, Omega, and a mysterious person known only as 'The Other.' When the other two went mad with power (or something like that) The Other threw himself into the Matrix (again, not that one), and it is implied that, sometime in the future, he was re-loomed (apparently Time Lords can't have sex, they must be woven) as the Doctor. I doubt they would actually make John Hurt The Other, especially since if they did, fans would hunt Steven Moffat down with pitchforks.  Which they might do anyway, but still.

A Total Cop-out
Remember when it was announced that David Tennant would be leaving after the specials, and that the next Christmas special was going to be called 'The Next Doctor'? And the trailer had David Morrissey in it doing all sorts of Doctor-ish things? And we all thought 'OMG! David Morrissey is going to be the next Doctor!' And then it turned out he was just some bloke who thought he was the Doctor? Yeah, this. Honestly, I wouldn't put it past Moffat to make the whole 'Introducing John Hurt as the Doctor' thing an elaborate trick like this. I mean, we never did learn the Doctor's name during 'The Name of the Doctor', now, did we?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Ms Who? No Thank You

So now that it's been announced that Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who, everyone on the internet is trying to shout loud enough for Steven Moffat to hear who their choice for next Doctor is. Some of the loudest seem to be those asking for a woman--any woman--Doctor.

Well, I disagree. I'd prefer Doctor #12 to stay male. Let me explain before I have to go surrender my feminist card.

First of all, it's not what Doctor Who is. The story is about a lonely old man who picks up younger women (and the occasional younger man, which doesn't make it any less creepy), and they go off into time and space on an amazing adventure. He is a MALE character. That's who he is. If you changed the Doctor's gender, the dynamic of team TARDIS wouldn't be the same. Unfortunately, we still read certain gendered situations certain ways. We don't yet possess an understanding of gender that's nuanced enough to be able to swap them around easily. And so, there could be something analogous the the original premise, but it wouldn't be exactly the same. In a post-gender world, maybe, but today it would be a different show. 

Second, why would the Doctor suddenly become a woman if he's been a man eleven times now? Neil Gaiman, in the backstory he provided for the Corsair, has established that Time Lord regeneration can change genders, but what people are ignoring is that he/she could identify with and thus become different genders, whereas the Doctor we've seen strongly identifies himself as male. There really is no reason for the Doctor to become a woman. As the Doctor changed from Christopher Eccleston to David Tennant to Matt Smith the character developed, so for the next Doctor to be a woman there needs to be a good reason in the story for this to occur. Now, I have no doubt that a competent writer could create a plausible scenario in which in which the Doctor would have to change gender, but I am far too skeptical that such a change would be a gimmick, especially in light of how patchy the last half-series has been. A female Doctor is certainly something people would tune in to see. I also suspect that a female Doctor would be used to promote how clever, how revolutionary, how forward thinking and willing to listen to the fans (but only the ones shouting on Twitter) the production team is.

And this brings me to my third and most important point. Seriously, read this even if the stuff above has pissed you off. 

There should not be a woman Doctor until there is a woman head writer on Doctor Who.

Now, what I'm not saying is that men can't write female characters. Far from it. Moffat's women may come in four varieties (blonde, brunette, ginger, lizard), but plenty of men have written convincing, well-rounded women for Doctor Who.

No, a female Doctor merely disguises the fact that the production of Doctor Who has been predominantly male, more so since the show was revived in 2005. Since then, there have been four female executive producers of the show, but only two women have directed and one woman has written episodes. Furthermore, there hasn't been a single female writer on the show while Moffat has been in charge. And though the programme may have been launched by producer Verity Lambert, a woman has never served as head writer.

Until more women are given more senior roles in the creation of Doctor Who, a female Doctor would allow the production to call itself progressive while allowing such systemic inequality to continue. That is why we are not ready for a woman to play the Doctor. 

One day, maybe the Doctor will be a woman. Or non-white. (Anyone else find it odd that there hasn't been an equally vocal bunch calling for a Black Doctor?) But not at the expense of story. And not at the expense of those who need to be given more opportunities on Doctor Who.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Les Misérables

"Do you hear the people sing?/Singing the songs of angry men?/It is the music of the people/Who will not be slaves again!"

There have been many film and television adaptations of Victor Hugo's 1862 novel Les Misérables, but it has taken more than 30 years for the musical version to reach the screen.  It seems a long time since Les Mis, along with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, was the hit, long-running show everyone had to go see.  However, this is not to say that the story has lost its relevance.  Far from it.

For those of you living in a cultural vacuum, Les Misérables tells the story of Jean Valjean, unfairly imprisoned for 20 years for stealing a loaf of bread.  Valjean is released on parole, and, thanks to a bishop's mercy, resolves to become a better man.  He assumes a different name and becomes a successful businessman and kind mayor.  But the intrepid Inspector Javert, the embodiment of the law, catches up with Valjean just as he is about to adopt the impoverished Cosette as a promise to her dying mother.  The two flee to Paris, and, years later, Revolution (of the 1832 variety) is in the air and Cosette is all grown up.  Naturally, she falls in love with one of the student revolutionaries, and Valjean is torn between keeping her to himself--and safe, now that Javert's in town to put down the uprising--and letting her go.

This newest version of  Les Mis, like the West End musical on which it is based, covers most of Hugo's novel, but dwells longest on the Revolution, and understandably so, as it provides the richest material for conflict--and stirring music.  Furthermore, in 1980, when the original French concept album was released, the barricades of '68 could not have been far from people's minds.  Easy parallels can be drawn between the Revolutions of the 19th Century and various movements of the 1960s; likewise, as I watched the student revolutionaries being fired on by soldiers, I couldn't help but think of the Occupy movement.  Hugo's interest in redemption from sin therefore becomes redemption of another sort--redemption of failed revolutions, redeemed by the hope that in the future they will not fail.

Directed by Academy Award winner Tom Hooper, Les Misérables (2012), deserves most of the hype it's been getting, though as I was watching it I could never shake the feeling that it would have been much better on stage.  The vocal performances, however, were excellent.  Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe tap into their musical backgrounds to bring Valjean and Javert to life, and Anne Hathaway will probably receive an Oscar nomination from her small but power role as Cosette's mother Fantine.  Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were hilarious as the Thénardiers, and Daniel Huttlestone was cheeky and adorable as young Gavroche.  I wasn't too fond of Eddie Redmayne as Marius, not because his performance was bad, but because I kept thinking he'd be more suited to playing a privileged rapist/murder on Inspector Lewis than a student revolutionary.

Other than that, most of what I didn't care for in Les Misérables come from the source texts--both the novel and the play.  Musically speaking, I can't help compare it to the Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals that were its contemporaries.  Webber and his lyricists mastered turning even the most dry exposition into a catchy number; Les Mis, the English version, at least, has a lot of "I am singing what I am speaking" parts.  That being said, though, there are several memorable tunes--particularly "I Dreamed a Dream", "On My Own", and the above quoted "Do You Hear the People Sing?", which is even better in the original French.

My biggest issue with the story was Cosette and Marius.  Cosette suffers from Victorian Heroine Disease.  She's beautiful, virtuous, and BORING.  Men love her, but she doesn't seem to do anything other than being really sweet.  The more interesting women like Fantine and Éponine get killed off for their transgressions.  They don't get their happily ending like Cosette and Marius.  And that's another thing that bothered me:  as I was watching it, the ideological working of the narrative became very obvious.  The Revolution failed, and losing all those friends was sad, but only about one song's worth of sad.  Because the young hero goes back to his aristo granddad and marries the girl.  Who cares about the Revolution when there's a happily ever after!  And then Valjean dies and gets to go to heaven, where he joins everyone who died on the barricades--no more shooting, just singing!!

I'm not going to claim that the film--nor, indeed, the novel and the musical--doesn't offer alternative readings to this.  But part of the reason that I felt it would have been stronger on stage is the immediacy of the performance.  For the finale on stage, the singing actors are both dead--in the story--and alive in the presence of the living actor.  And so, there is hope for the future as they sing:

"Do you hear the people sing?/Say, do you hear the distant drums?/It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes!"