Sublime Screenplay – The Night of the Doctor by Steven Moffat

Well, that doesn’t happen very often does it? A little bit of TV history that was kept a total secret, was full of surprises, referenced a classic show’s history, sets up the 50th anniversary episode and ALL in 7 minutes. I came home last night to see my lovely twin advertising The Night of the Doctor on her Facebook page. As a semi-Whovian (I’m fairly obsessed by the current show and loved the Pertwee/Baker years of my childhood) I do get all fangirl when I see anything new and I’d been waiting for this minisode. But I wasn’t really expecting much, so clicked on the link thinking it would be a couple of minutes of teaser for next week. Oh boy was I wrong.

At this point if you haven’t seen it,  I would urge you to look away now. Or at least look away until you have had a chance to watch here. And then come back with the biggest smile on your face and scroll down to read on.

It started in familiar territory, a space ship out of control,  flown by a typical Nu-Who strong female, with the Tardis in quick pursuit. We are given a typical selction of silly Who jokes about needing a doctor, and then he arrives. Except, “it’s not the one you were expecting”, it is the legendary Paul McGann. Oh WOW. Steven Moffat & Paul McGann  played a total blinder here. Every obsessed fan has been wanting to see this ever since the TV film of 1996, It’s never happened. And  given how McGann has been so vigorous with his denials, we didn’t expect to see it happen. Yet there he was, instantly the Doctor, even though (unless you are a total Whovian and listen to the audios) most of us have barely seen him in the role. I didn’t even get a quarter of the way through the TV movie, but even I was screeching with delight. What a way to start.

I still thought at this point  we were going to have a bit of a light hearted romp, maybe a few other old doctors in the mix, particularly when McGann was wisecracking his way through the space ship, dragging what looked like a new companion, Cass, to the back. “Is the universe always like this?” she asks, “If you are lucky” he says, and we glow in the beginning of that new relationship. Except, in the cleverest twist of an always clever show, when they get to the back, and he tells her his TARDIS is bigger on the inside, instead of being amazed and delighted,  she backs away. A complete subversion of the rules of Who, and beautifully played out. For we’ve come upon the Doctor in the middle of the Time War, a major part of both Classic and Nu-Who. A war that started with the 4th Doctor, when the once genial Time Lords asked him to finish the Daleks before they began.(The very wonderful Genesis of the Daleks). In a very famous speech, the Doctor struggled then with the idea of committing genocide then, and yet a key part of the Nu-Who backstory is that he committed an even worse genocide in the end, killing not only the Daleks and his own people.

But in this minisode, the Doctor is at a point in his story, years from that decision and as far away from the Time War as he can be, at odds to point out that he is not joining in. To Cass, this doesn’t matter, he’s a Time Lord, they’re all evil, even the good ones.  “At least I’m not a Dalek,” he says, “These days, you can’t tell the difference,” she replies, before locking herself back in the ship, choosing death rather than to ally herself with his race. Again, a lovely reference to recent Who. The final episodes of the tenth doctor revealed just how bad the Time Lords had become and now we see someone demonstrating the truth of that in the starkest of ways.

We’ve seen the Doctor despair many times before, but this time, the horror of such a rejection literally fixes him to the spot. As a result he goes down with the ship, and they both die. That’s right he dies, he doesn’t regenerate he dies. This is no lighted jolly adventure at all. It’s as dark as Who gets.

Fortunately. he lands on Karn, a planet he has been to before. Another great reference to classic Who(I did have to check and it’s a fine Tom Baker story – The Brain of Morbius).  Luckily the mystical Sisterhood of Karn remember him and have an elixir to revive him. We cheer for a moment, till we realise they have a very terrible purpose in mind and they give him  four minutes to decide to help them. The Doctor has rejected his people and done what he can to help the Time War victims, but it is not enough. The Universe is being destroyed and only he can stop it. Presented with the inescapable fact, symbolised by Cass’ dead body, that the Time Lords and Daleks are equally evil, the sisters tell him he must get involved. He must take an elixir, regenerate and join the battle.  At first he rejects their position, but when he realises if he doesn’t act now, everyone will die he reluctantly accepts.  In doing so he has to stop being himself,  as there is no need for doctors now. He agrees to drink the elixir, taking a potion for “Warrior” before saying sorry and farewell to his former companions (again a nice touch for uber-fans, as it makes the Big Finish audio books canon) resulting in a painful regeneration (with another corny Moffat joke, knowing who’s coming next “Will it hurt?”).

And then he emerges, taking Cass’ soldier’s belt, and declares himself “Doctor No More.” Instead we see a glimpse of a young John Hurt. And since the incarnation of the War Doctor we met in the last episode was old and battle weary, we realise he is going to be fighting for a long time to come.

All in all, it is a tremendous piece of writing, acting, directing, beautifully produced (the sight of he spaceship crashing on Karn was wonderful, and shows how far the show has come from its early wobbly set days). A brilliant homage to the show past and present, revealing the heart-breaking end to the kind and caring 8th Doc and the painful beginning of the War Doc, and why his successors have kept it a secret. It stands both as a fine piece of screenplay and a wonderful homage to the fans, and a demonstration that when Steven Moffat is at the top of his game, there are very few people who can top him. Like his predecessor, Russell T Davies, Moffat gets a lot of unnecessary vitriol from the fans, but I have yet to find one criticism of this love letter to us all. So it’s I leave you with Moffat’s own words on the minisode  “I should probably learn to have a little more faith in the fact that what gets me excited as a sad, old fan will get other people excited as well”. It does Steven, it does. Thank you!!

"Lest We Forget"- An extract from "Echo Hall"

 
It being “Remembrance Sunday” I thought it was timely moment to share an extract from “Echo Hall” in which Joseph Clarkson, a former conscientious objector reflects on remembrance a few years after the end of World War 1:
 
“‘Lest we forget’. How often have heard those words in the last four years? Particularly at this time of remembrance. ‘Lest we forget.’ But what do we mean when we say them? Some would have us remember sacrifice, courage, struggle. And I wouldn’t disagree…we all know the soldiers who fought in the trenches were brave, that they suffered, that many of them still do. The generals and politicians who sent them into battle would argue that their suffering was not in vain. Those that fought, were injured or died, were acting in a greater good: “Dulce et Decorum est, pro patria mori.” – It is sweet and fitting to die for your country. Noble sentiments? Or as Wilfred Owen put it “The old lie?” He paused, adjusting his glasses so he could read his notes better, “I would argue that it is Owen we should listen to, not the governments who drive wars, the generals who run them. We should remember struggle, sacrifice, courage. Of course we should. But we should also remember that the war cost the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians on both sides, leaving twice that number wounded. We should remember that after four years of fighting in the most appalling of conditions, the British Army advanced less than a hundred miles. We should remember the sound of women weeping in the streets on Armistice Day. And we should ask ourselves what it was all for? Whether it was worth it?”

            “We’d all be speaking German if everyone thought like you.” A man called from the back of the hall. “How dare you disrespect their memories? They died to give you this freedom to spout your conchie nonsense.”

            “I mean no disrespect,” said Joseph placing his glasses on the lectern. “I am merely suggesting that perhaps the conflict might have been resolved without so much suffering and death.”

            “It’s all very well to have your principles, and very fine they are too,” said another, “But principles don’t stop soldiers with bayonets, soldiers do. Others were brave enough to do this. Why weren’t you?”

            Joseph was about to respond, when a different voice spoke, “I was at the Somme. I saw the waste of life there. I killed soldiers myself, I had to, to save myself. But I asked myself then, and I ask myself now, why? What was it for? I think Mr Clarkson is making a very important point.”

            “Thank you,” Joseph picked up his glasses and continued to speak,. “Lest we forget. I agree, we should not forget. We should never forget. We owe it to those who died, to those who survive and struggle now, not to do so. To remember that our leaders enticed us into a foolish, pointless war. That they preferred to suffer heavy losses on our side, than give up even a tiny inch of land. We should not forget. We must not. For the sake of our children, and our grandchildren, we cannot let the unjust peace carved at Versailles ferment into another conflict. We have to say never again. The world must find other ways to resolve its disputes. War is too crude, too bloody, too cruel a solution.”

White Wedding

“Hello.” His voice is rough, grizzled from sleep. I should have called a bit later, I know how he loves his Saturday morning lie-ins.
            “Dan – it’s me, Jen.”
            “Hey little sis, how are you?”
            “Fine. Actually, more than fine. I’ve got some news. Or should say, we’ve got some news. Ruth and I.”
            “Oh?” Dan sounds a little uncertain, as he often is when I mention Ruth’s name. But he’s my brother, and I love him, so I plough on, ignoring his hesitancy.
            “We’re getting married.”
            “What?”
            “We’re getting married. Going for the works, white wedding, big cake and a party. We want a bigparty. And I want you to give me away.”
            “What?”        
            “Ruth’s got her parents, I don’t. I have you. I want you to do it.” There is silence at the end of the phone.  “Dan?” Still silence. Then:”People like you don’t get married.”
            “What’s that supposed to mean?”
            “Lesbians, gays, whatever the correct term is these days.” His venom is startling. I thought we’d got over this.
            “Dan!”
            “Don’t get me wrong Jen, I’m happy for you. I really am. Ruth’s nice enough. I can see she makes you happy…” I say nothing.  He continues, now he has started, it’s clear he wants to get this off his chest. “It’s not right, though is it? Two women marrying each other. Marriage is for a man and a woman. It just doesn’t make sense otherwise.”
            I think of marshalling some arguments. About Equality. Justice. Love. But I can sense he is only just getting going. I don’t think I can bear it. So I hang up the phone and return to the living room where Ruth is Ruth, wise, compassionate, kind. But even she cannot alleviate this hurt. Not now, anyway. Dan is my only brother. His kids, my only family. If they turn their backs on me now, what will I become? I cannot explain this to Ruth entirely, Ruth who is so central to her parents and siblings,  so loved, so accepted.  She does her best, but she’s never known what this feels like: to be outside the fold, excluded from the love you believed would last. I thought Dan had got over this. Clearly, I was wrong.
            But, after a long run, through the puddled park, the yellow-orange leaves drifting about me like blossom, and a hot bath filled with rose-scented bubbles, I feel better. Sod Dan. Sod him. Ruth and I are getting married. The day we never thought possible is going to be ours. I set about planning with a vengeance.

*******

            “Auntie Jen?” The call wakes me at six,
            “Finn! What are you doing up so early?” It is unusual to say the least, and to be honest, I could have done with the extra hour in bed.

            “School trip to Germany. We’re leaving in a bit, but I had to call. When I found out. I had to.”

            “Found out what?”
            “About your wedding. I saw it on Facebook and asked Dad.”
            “Ah.”
            “He’s a tool, Auntie Jen. A total tool.”
            “I’d say respect your father, but on this…”
            “I’ll do it.”
            “What.”
            “Give you away.” My eyes prick with tears.
            “Won’t you get in trouble with your Dad?”
            “I won’t tell if you won’t.” I smile; I’ve always appreciated Finn’s rebellious streak, it reminds me of my own teenage naughtiness.
            “You’re on.”
            “Great. I know it’s cheesy, but I do love a white wedding.”
            “Who was that?” asks Ruth, sleepily as I hang up. I explain. “Thank God for the youth of today,” she says. I smile, the warmth stealing through me. She drifts back off to sleep, allowing me to lie and gaze, and gaze at her beautiful face. We are going to be married. I will have someone from my family to support me. I am content.

 *******

            On the morning of our wedding I wake alone, but I don’t mind. We’re embracing every aspect of the white wedding experience, including  traditional pre-wedding separation.  Now as I stretch out in the unfamiliar bed, I simultaneously long for her presence and am filled with excitement at the day ahead. I send her a text: Let’s get married today Her reply returns immediately:  It’s a date. I smile, and step into the shower.
            The morning is a whirlwind of activity. Angie, Flick and Sue arrive to help with hair, make-up and flowers. Last minute checks are made at the venue. Eddy arrives with salmon and champagne for a light lunch. Finn and his girlfriend Ally pitch up just as I’ve put the finishing touches to my dress.
            “Auntie Jen, you look gorgeous.” He gives me a kiss.
            “So do you.” The little boy I once babysat, has suddenly become, in top hat and tails, a handsome young man.  The others pile off to the hotel in two cars, and Finn and I are left alone.
            “How are you feeling?” he asks.
            “Nervous, happy, excited.” I don’t say that I wish his Dad was here. It’s brilliant he’s stepped up for me, but I wish he was Dan nonetheless. “Thanks for being here.”
            He squeezes my arm, “My pleasure,” and then looking at his watch,  “Shall we?”  We walk out to the waiting White Bentley, decorated with white ribbon, a bouquet of pink roses in the back. I am off to marry the woman I love – nothing else matters.
            The journey is short. We pull up outside the front of the red-brick hotel. The sun is glowing yellow in a bright blue sky. It’s a perfect day for it. We walk into the hallway, where Ruth is standing with her parents. I catch my breath. This is the first time I’ve seen her in her dress: it is a simple white silk that hugs are willowy figure and brings out the colour in her cheeks. She looks stunning. I blow her a kiss. She blows one back. The guests are already seated, and now it is time for Ruth to walk down the aisle ahead of me. I watch her glide to the front, conscious of how lucky I am. I am about to start my own walk with Finn, when someone taps me on the shoulder.
            “Hey little sister,” It is Dan. Unbelievably, it is Dan. “My job I think,” he says to Finn. I am about to protest, but Finn just grins and says, “Go for it.” Dan takes my arm.
            “Sorry. I’ve been a plonker.”
            “You have.”
            “Start again?” I look up at my big brother, seeing  the sincerity of his apology in his eyes. I look down the aisle where Ruth is waiting for me with the biggest smile on her face. I nod. It’s a nice day for it, after all.