Doctor Who: quoth the raven nevermore

…our sign of parting, bird or fiend…

Once upon a Sunday dreary, I pondered an episode wearily for a blog quaint and curious. Yes, it was Face the Raven. As a single episode it had pathos, pretty nice world building details and special effects, it also had history and the start of a mystery.

It had familiar faces and the Doctor and Clara being themselves, together. However, there was only ever one direction this narrative was heading, and the reckless generosity and confidence of Clara’s decision, and the emotion and courage she demonstrated in facing the consequences, are undermined by a bunch of stuff.

Firstly…thanks to a few years devoted to death retcons: NONE OF US BELIEVE IT NOW WHEN A MAIN CHARACTER DIES. (Although I did appreciate The Doctor’s talk of the retcon drug: there are so few references to Torchwood these days.) Need I mention Rory, and then Amy, Clara as her alternates, Danny Pink, the Paternoster Gang, and River Song and also Rose’s Dad with his back up from another dimension? They die but aren’t gone.

If this story begins as a recovered memory adventure, then that is only a metaphor for all the characters who continue to disappear only to come back. Including the latest to die and live: Ashildir herself.  And not forgetting the actual apparent murder victim of this episode. She’s also not dead. (And blaming Rigsy? How tropy is that?)

Even other ravens are uneasy about facing Ashildir's Justice Death Sentence Raven.

Even other ravens are uneasy about casual time with Ashildir’s Justice Delivering Death Sentence Raven.

Of course, there’s a larger narrative at play here which undermines this story. It’s a false emergency because it is a set up. Clara, with her intention to save Rigsy, dies but didn’t have to. That feels deeply unfair, narratively speaking, for someone who’s been pretty crucial for stories for a few seasons.  And I say this even though this is the kind of death that actually happens all the time. People in life die midway through all kinds of adventures. Obviously, for Clara haters, this episode will be welcomed.  However, even for viewers accustomed to eternal returns, this is a full stop in the middle of a sentence and Clara was a better English teacher than that.

The lesson Clara the Teacher shows her class is the dangers of being The Doctor and imitating him. He spends his time saving the universe, and in doing so, has died many times, but he regenerates. Humans, if they live as recklessly and as generously, will pay a price too.

Dead but not: a never-ending story?

What this dead but not does is diminish the sacrifice, but also sets up expectations. Even with time travel shenanigans (in terms of meeting your dad after he dies, and naming your future daughter after your best friend, who is your daughter) having people return means, when they don’t or can’t, audiences feel cheated. And speaking of Rose, how many times did she cross dimensions when it was impossible? Yes it was love finding a way and enemies fracturing the universe, but still. If writers use words like death and impossible, things should really be dead or impossible.

If things are not really dead and not truly impossible FIND BETTER WORDS. I can suggest some, such as:  implausible, impractical, questionable, difficult, unknowable as well as suspended, comatose, disappeared, infected, absent. Perhaps Clara, as an English teacher, should have called herself the Implausible Girl, a side kick to Donna’s suggested Anomalous Doctor.

The Implausible Girl

Clara faces the raven with dignity, after a moving speech directed at saving The Doctor’s sanity and salving his conscience, but whether we like her or not (and many dislike her) we expect to see her next episode. And if you’ve seen the previews and articles regarding the next episode/s we will, in some way.

Actual death is also full of expectation because those the dead leave behind contain the seeds of this within. It is in our nature to just expect life to continue because it does, even though individuals don’t.

Story tellers dealing with life and death need to acknowledge the finality of death for the individual, despite all the SF in the world, and also give space for the reactions of the living, whether a character sacrifices herself to a Justice Smoke Tattoo Raven of Doom, or dies crossing the street.

At least it wasn't this.

At least it wasn’t Alternate Iteration Clara (actual height) running from the Bogey Owl.


Perhaps, somewhere along the way, Doctor Who got it mixed up. Someone decided the normal ‘expecting to see deceased people in their usual situations’ became we have to bring them back. However, the Doctor was right years ago when he said bringing the dead to life would be horrific. Danny’s second death, caught as he was in a nightmare, was heroic and painful contrasted to his mundane first death, which was shocking and drove Clara’s motivations up until her own demise. Yet, Danny’s heroism was again undermined by his third extinction – and his renunciation of a return.  All I’m left thinking is: if Clara’s last words to save Ashildir and The Doctor are to remain meaningful, then she must remain dead.

Until we remember all the iterations of her, scattered along The Doctor’s timeline, in the past, and if in the past, then the future too.

Dreams all mortals dreamed before

All this death and back to life business just demonstrates The Doctor is a creation out of the same impetus that drives humans to follow religions (often featuring the dead that live), as well as belief in ghosts and other immortal beings. We want death not to be end. I’m not judging beliefs by the way, who amongst us doesn’t want our loved ones not dead? These beliefs are for the consolation of the living.  What I do know is while lives end, stories don’t. They are repeated, they are rewritten, they are subsumed under further stories, and unearthed at intervals to echo across time and space. They endure. When stone becomes dust if there is a voice to give utterance, then there will a story. No SF retcon will rewrite a life once it’s gone, but to remember a story, that’s something.

Of death and stories and Doctor Who we can say only this and nothing more.


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Hashtag Inspo NaNoWriMo

Life events, friends, experiences, reading, other entertainment, it all informs creative writing some how. Sometimes it is directly, sometimes it is more round about. In one short story I tried so hard to avoid depicting a life experience peculiar to me that it resonated quite closely with the experience of a friend. Oops. Thus, even if  you try to avoid life in writing, it will sneak in any way.

The skull belonged to an author who died waiting for customer service. True fact.

This skull depicted belonged to an author who died, was buried and disinterred waiting for customer service. True fact.

And then unto this writer it was delivered a Customer Service experience. Today I directly channelled my immense frustration and borderline hysteria into the horror aspects of the NaNo project I’m working on. It got very dark and had nothing to do with humans, customer (lack of) service or technology.

And yet, talk about catharsis.

Well probably Aristotle wasn’t talking about tech companies and their inability to communicate with their customers, even when they are in the communication business. However, at the moment I’ll take inspiration and doing something to feel better about this (ie writing) any day.


NaNo World Count: 20,500 words and counting. Behind and in the midst of the halfway there blues.

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Doctor Who: Eye Spy

I wonder if writer Mark Gatiss has a thing about sleep, what with this episode Sleep No More, but also Night Terrors with monsters in the dark and things that haunt us. And also, both have frames. Night Terrors had a cupboard containing the terror inside a flat, while Sleep No More has a story-teller constructing a narrative frame using what we are told is found footage.

Gatiss resorts to very familiar tropes (deserted space base, monster of the week, soldiers there to make up the body count). It even manages a Clara as Doctor joke with her getting to name the monster and The Doctor taking umbrage. I mean this episode couldn’t be more formulaic. At a pinch, the episode could be analogous to Firefly’s Bushwhacked, or the soldiers could be wearing red shirts. In fact, I don’t care so much about a Trek/Doctor Who crossover, because it’d be so predictably pretentious as Vulcan and Time Lord try to outsmart each other and the Starship Captain and Doctor try to out irresponsibly lead people into dangers they don’t understand…

What’d be so much cooler would be a Doctor Who Firefly mashup. Mal and The Doctor going head to head in a clash of egos only to have Zoe recognise the Doctor as a veteran and getting them to bond over their battle experiences. (An alive) Wash finally getting to meet a real alien, River meeting someone who understands her mental anguish, but also her abilities. Clara would flirt and baffle Jayne. Opportunities would be boundless.

Where was I….?

…All this is not the point. Gatiss gives us the comfort of familiar settings and (almost) stock characters, in order to better mess with how the story is presented. He is setting up, much like the narrator Rassmussen, our expectations so as to negate them as events unfold.

I know they said bring out your dead, but I was merely resting my eyes for my scheduled five minutes a months. Sheesh.

I know they said bring out your dead, but I was merely resting my eyes for my scheduled five minutes per month. Sheesh.

This story made a point of at first demonstrating and then explaining the one of the biggest problems with found footage type stories – the unexpected mistaken perspective.  It looks like the soldiers have helmets with lights so we assume they are also filming the action they become a part of. Then Clara gains a perspective and we find out the soldiers don’t have cameras. The question is answered, apparently. But the flaws in the logic of the story are exposed with exposition, didactic-ing all over the shop. Writers spend years learning not to do this, but Gatiss just goes right on and gets The Doctor to state outright that none of this makes sense. He then has his narrator die, not once, but (apparently) twice and still crop up. We expect, these days that the dead in the Who Universe are often not dead for long (Rory, Ashildir, Clara, Captain Jack etc). But this was ridiculous, but also clever, because the first death was a feint, and while the second death was real, the video narration keeps his existence current – as it does for anyone ever recorded on film. So he continues a Who trope (back to life) but plays with it. Rassmussen’s survival is thus made all the more menacing than his delivery, and even his melodramatic set up at the start, reveals.

Ye Olde Morpheus Draft, available in vials from travelling sales folk the world over.

Ye Olde Waking Draft, available in vials from travelling sales folk the world over and just as safe as high-tech modern treatments.

Gatiss maintains the tension, even as the story undermines the trust we have in the narrative, which we are reminded is created by this Rassmussen. But the nature of any Who adventure is that we go with it. We trust it anyway, and suspend our disbelief. This is the idea Gatiss is playing with, while we learn we can’t trust Rassmussen, we still want to follow The Doctor and Clara. We are told we can’t watch by Rassmussen, but we want to and moreover, both Rassmussen and Mr Gatiss wants us to (for different reasons, obviously). We are thus enmeshed in the story and collude in our own demise. How often is a Who story responsible for our deaths?  This is the lure of contrariness. The more we are told no, the more we want it. And when we get it, it’s not what we expect.

Then, finally, our writer breaks the last rule and delivers us a dead-end – there is no resolution.  Yes, The Doctor destroys the Sandmen, but Clara is not ‘cured.’ We are left to ponder this as we are returned to Rassmussen’s video link. Even though we haven’t got what we wanted (all story strings tied up), Rassmussen has got what he wanted from us. We saw the video, we are infected. And there it ends. Viral video indeed.

Sleep No More breaks the fourth wall, this has happened a bit recently, with The Doctor, especially, talking directly to camera. I think it worked better in this scenario, because there’s a reason for it. We see not as some anonymous viewer, but as Clara, or the soldiers, or through perspectives of these Sandmen, and then we remember it is all the narrator’s doing. The story we see is not necessarily the truth. That’s probably more worrying than the sleep monsters, which are mainly ‘ick,’ although Rassmussen’s final moments were effective.

It was a change since the last story, which was epic enough to feel like an end of season episode. And now we find there will be a sequel to this, so the nightmare continues.

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The Man From Snowy River does not come from Detroit

In response to Southerly:

While I haven’t written about a suburb in Sydney, I do commend this article from Southerly’s blog. Specificity in writing is crucial. Part of the reason I set my fictions in certain real or historical places is because I’m somehow exploring what they mean to me. And if they mean something to me, perhaps I can give these meanings some kind of greater significance for potential readers, even if they’ve never heard of the places I’m trying to describe. They aren’t famous. Some of them are reasonably remote. But I do want to get the details correct. It’s why I emailed a government wetland ecologist from South Australia the other day (thanks again). Because perhaps the local, individual, even factual, lends credence to the entirely imaginary.

Also, they use more words;)

NaNoWriMo World Count: 16,500 (a bit behind).

The Man From Snowy River does not come from Detroit

by Felicity Castagna The writer John Gardner famously said that there are only two plots in fiction—a person goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. What he’s essentially pointing to here is…

Source: The Man From Snowy River does not come from Detroit

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Doctor Who: Doubling Trouble and Inverting Expectations

That speech from Zygon Inversion was epic in its ambitions, was it not? It was a just denouement to the story that began with The Doctor and Queen Elizabeth, in that it returned to where it stopped last time, in the UNIT black vault with Osgood, Kate Stewart, The Doctor and Clara. I appreciated the aesthetic call back to The Moment, with the Osgood boxes. Nice. And a nice third double. Two Osgoods, Clara and Bonnie and the two Osgood boxes.

For some perplexed or deflated by the fact this scenario ended with a monologue, I’d like to introduce them to the concept of diplomacy. It’s how people talk out their differences in order to avoid things like disputes which lead to hostile relations and even war. Without this crucial talking to each other, negotiating, compromising, rethinking, there would only be more war. I understand in drama, even family drama, violence can be an entertainment. However, this particular program has been a 10 year arc featuring The Doctor’s recovery from the mental and emotional anguish of The Time War. Of course he was never going to resort to a battle.

If you were expecting a fight instead of diplomacy, you're watching the wrong program.

If you were expecting a fight instead of diplomacy, you’re watching the wrong program.

Beyond this arc though, the program is *about* doing things smarter. Sometimes that is fixing things and other times it is by using the right words. This program demonstrates that intelligence (The Doctor) informed by compassion (Companions) can overcome almost anything. It makes those moments of actual violence more profound. Had Kate and the Zygon been in a different situation one of them would not be dead. In this exchange each of them ‘return to form.’ This is sad, but also nostalgic with Kate’s reference to ‘five rounds rapid‘. The Doctor maybe trying to show a way beyond war, but violence sadly remain an option and humans remain militaristic.

Of course this violence is also turned inward. The man begging only to live, to exist, but tortured by the knowledge of  the un-acceptance for his true identity was a profound a comment on current political and social issues as you can make within the limits of this family program. Tortured for being who you are, learning to hate yourself, being unable to express your identity, these are concepts that demonstrate common truths of the human condition. All done within 45 odd minutes of a British TV show about the adventures of a constantly travelling alien.

(Clara + Bonnie) – Bonnie + Osgood (- Osgood) + Bonnie X Osgood

Clara seems to be source of a lot of negativity regarding the last couple of series. I’ve read of her being accused of making the program less Doctor Who and more the Clara Who show. Others have found her characterisation flat. Both of these criticisms are invalid.

I will show you why.

Clara has undergone an arc. As Clara she began as a techno-useless nanny stuck in work limbo as she grieved the death of her mother. Gradually, through her experiences with The Doctor and encounters with a varied array of stuff from ridiculous to profound, she learned who she was, what she was capable of.  She learned she could overcome fears and win battles even as she battled to balance life and travel, a relationship and work, work and everything else. She became a quick study in how The Doctor operates and used his reasoning to solve problems (Flatline). She also used her teaching experience against alien robots. She harnessed her rage and grief to try to blackmail The Doctor and used all her innate compassion for children to comfort and teach The Doctor as a boy.

Like how dare women take up more than 33% of talking time on TV, it's not like they've ever ruled empires before.

How dare women take up more than 33% of talking time on TV, it’s not like they’ve ever ruled empires before.

I would also argue every time she has been upset has been entirely justified. Of course she was traumatised by regeneration, just as The Doctor was, but then Capaldi’s Doctor morphed into a jerk who insulted kids and forced people into situations where they had to make decisions while he withheld vital information (Kill the Moon). If Matt Smith’s Doctor sometimes patronised her it was odd, but he never treated badly. At least this season things have softened.  They are more of a team. They both know themselves and each other, better.

Another part of me suspects this negativity towards Clara is somehow rooted in sexism. As a character who becomes a teacher, she carries a certain amount of natural authority – all teachers simply must do this. I observed it when I lived with student teachers, they begin like the rest of us, but soon grow into the role they assume and then they rarely take a rest from it. The other thing about teachers is they like to talk. Clara has a way with words. I’ve argued this before, that her main attribute has been her ability to say the right thing at the right time. In this latest episode she does it again, through manipulating Bonnie to reach out to The Doctor via text.

So, here we have a woman with the confidence of authority who can talk and make an argument. A woman who not only survives the death of her mother and partner, but thrives to hold her own (now) with Zygons and The Doctor alike. There should be more characters like her, not less.  The fact that some viewers find Clara so problematic illustrates more their own biases and expectations of women than any problem with the depiction of this character.

Look, it’s not your fault if you are finding dealing with women in programs like Who difficult. Women have been absent in film and television, and you’ve been unconsciously trained to see, listen and give more weight to men. Mainly because it’s almost always been like this. There remains programs with less women, or less women in speaking roles. In fact there are plenty of those:

The basics are that for every one female-speaking character in family-rated films (G, PG and PG-13), there are roughly three male characters; that crowd and group scenes in these films — live-action and animated — contain only 17 percent female characters; and that the ratio of male-female characters has been exactly the same since 1946.

This statistic demonstrates more though:

Geena Davis Institute for Gender In Media…argued this imbalance relates to and reinforces the way men perceive the actual number of women in any given room.

“If there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50,” she told NPR. “And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”

Thus, if Clara gets a mere third of the talking time, viewers will think she is taking over the program. And if she does actually get 50% of the airtime, no wonder people hate her, it’s like she’s pushed The Doctor out the door of the TARDIS entirely. Ohnoes!

I wonder, then, how these people coped with Clara and Osgood and Kate all at the same time, even if they were mostly formed a silent chorus of  support for The Doctor and the program as it strives to invert expectations.

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Ipso facto NaNoWriMo

I have put a lot of pressure on myself over a long to prove I am a writer, and to improve and to hone my craft while I sweat blood over the merest detail of a finely tuned short story. As my recent week full of rejected submissions demonstrates, this job is never done. Even if I’ve managed to convince myself any of the pieces I write is cooked and ready, the market is what it is. I am one of legion, clawing at the doors of journals, competitions and spaces and other publications to let my lil stories in from the cold.

Yes, one whole transit of the moon around the earth to complete 50,000 words of a draft.

Yes, one entire transit of the moon around the earth to complete 50,000 words of a draft.

With NaNoWriMo, though, it’s almost a relief to write under a different kind of pressure. There is just the word count. The rest of it is describing where these two characters I’ve created go, transcribing their interactions, and noting how they react to the experiences I lead them to. This happens even as I design and redesign the story around them. At the moment I’m not hunting down the perfect word for them, I’m slapping them all down and I’m finding much of what I’m doing is ok. But it’s a first draft. It doesn’t have to have the gossamer artistry of poetic truth coupled to the complex allusive depth of Great Art. Thank the Muses.

This draft can be average, or even worse. And that’s ok.

It might be a bit like painting a fresco. You have to do it fast and with a bit of confidence before the paint and the surface below it dries. To do that, and have it look a bit like you intend,  you need to understand the limits of the medium your working with and your own abilities, and still be willing to be there and attend to it. I have that. I got that in spades.

Overly dramatic illustration of my personal battle to overcome my inner critic. And also a handy indicator of what my actual project is like.

Dramatic illustration of my personal battle to overcome my inner critic. Also an indicator of theme of my actual project. No capes are harmed in it. 

Yet, it turns out I still undersell myself.  I can write, I’ve been published, I’ve had novelists tell me to my face I am a writer at workshops. I can write a thousand words on Doctor Who at the drop of an episode (or not even that much), but when it comes to trusting my skills to translate my imagination into a larger work….that muscle’s a bit atrophied. For reasons I don’t have to time explore here (cos deadline).

So, I keep telling myself – it just has to be ok. I don’t need to write how Leonardo Da Vinci painted. It just needs to be realised, perhaps like in clay, so I can come back in December and knead into shape, or burn it at midnight, whichever. I just have to quiet the inner critic who always demands better or not at all, and get those words down.

Word Count right now: 12.0000 words (on track).

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NaNo a GoGo

I’m making good progress towards that totally arbitrary 50,000 word deadline in November. So much so that I can make out what I’m trying to do with this novel project. It’s definitely becoming something more than I thought it would. Basically, I never presumed my first proper novel attempt would be a reflexive and literary Australian horror story. However, I recognise ideas come from everywhere and it was clearly time for this one as I was happening by.

If the pain of writing is such that you end up with a book, but also like this. Please get help. Stat.

If the pain of writing is such that you end up with a book, but also like this by December – please get help. Stat.

Most of all, this is fun. Not the sitting and typing so much as the thinking and seeing it take shape. This is my main message. Fun is not compulsory when writing, in fact nothing should be compulsory. There are no MUSTS in writing, but fun helps.

If you don’t enjoy it, why are you volunteering for this? It’s not like everyone has ever been guaranteed a bazillionty dollars for completing a book or a short story, most especially these days.

Lighten up, k? Write the story you want to read. While you’re doing this, don’t sabotage your efforts through a roll call of Protestant Worth Ethic guilt trips if you don’t live up to whatever self-imposed standard you’ve set for your self. Turn off the inner judge. Leave off the self loathing. In fact, stop focussing on yourself entirely. Be absorbed by the writing. I’ll say this again in case you skipped this bit:


Creating a world and peopling it and making and solving the conflicts between them is joyous. It’s like building sand castles without the sand and sand-flies and sunburn and tiny blue ringed octopi that dwell in nearby rock-pools that can kill you dead within minutes….

Where was I?

Fun and joy don’t mean not taking story telling seriously. I take writing immensely seriously. I’ve invested thousands of dollars and a decade or more of my non-working hours to this pursuit. I wouldn’t have done this if I hated every second. Yet, it is still, essentially, play.

Call that the spectre of all my person insecurities? I call that my Muse and today it cal talk to the hand, cos I don't need it.

You may say that’s the spectre of all my deep-seated personal insecurities. I call it my Muse. Today it can talk to the hand, cos I don’t need it.

That’s not to say I dance with glee every other hour either – 15 plus rejections this year and counting – not exactly feeling the love during these moments. But neither am I weeping into my soup. These are but sign posts that indicate I’m getting somewhere. Of course, I would welcome greater success: I am prepared with publication happy dances.

Also, I’m not immune to down days, but in the end, I’m still doing something I love, regardless of how many people see it, or how much I earn from it.

Life is fleeting and chances to do things you enjoy diminish. There are so many other things to really be concerned about, like the environment, the air we breathe, war and famine. Life and death and illness. Why needlessly add to the angst in the world by being conflicted about art or what you have written? If you need to know one thing, know this: art doesn’t need your suffering to exist.

Crowned NaNo winner, unfortunately unable to do the happy dance of publication because of notions of suffering.

Formal portrait of a crowned NaNo winner. Unfortunately unable to do the happy dance of publication due a severe bout of angst regarding the need for suffering while creating.

If National Novel Writing Month adds to your distress and only gives more life to your hang ups, it’s not for you. That’s ok, by the way. Work out your weaknesses and learn work arounds, or try to overcome them. Write how you need to write. After all this time, I know me and what I’m like as a writer. I like competition and goals. I often work to deadlines so am familiar with the feeling. I’m also aware that I like making starts, but find the middle bit the most difficult.

Because I know what I struggle with, I’ve worked how to do this: through the design of my project, which feels like several short stories strung together (but isn’t actually), and by distracting myself with Scrivener, and by absorbing all the advice I can find:) And by getting people to cheer me on.

All this doesn’t guarantee a NaNo ‘win’ but it helps my mental state and maintains my interest and momentun, so hopefully I’ll up with a novel length manuscript in the long run. And that’s a good a reason as any for doing this.

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