Going Always – Writing and Doctor Who

So there has been plenty of time to think…in what seems to be a long running thing to write about writing and Doctor Who, because good TV, or even bad TV, takes a lot of effort to write. And regardless of what we write, we should bother to take note, especially in regards to dialogue, pacing, story strands and the use of symbolism/metaphor.

Loose ends

The entire season has been a metaphor about story strands and how they interact. Remembering that time can go in any direction, from the Dalek Asylum to the Doctor’s tomb, each story becomes about how stories and indeed life can unfold unevenly. Thus we see things first that we only understand later, for instance and it demonstrates how as writers we make decisions that we forget until we are forced to somehow fix them later, or rewrite entirely. And sometimes we write by making a leap of faith, hoping it won’t explode in our faces. With The Doctor’s tomb we have the ultimate metaphor for writing, re-writing, reading and fan interaction. It is a depiction of everywhere we have been with him through 50 years, and through the intervention of Clara, of everything fans are inspired do with that material – from cosplay to fan fiction and tumblr sites.

Clara stands for the audience who cheers, hides behind sofas and spends much time criticising and wanting. She is the reader – the clear seer – the one who clarifies – who can’t put the book down, or who rewrites endings, because must, because love, because Doctor. She is also the universal companion – made up of everyone who has been before, a bit like his grand-daughter, a bit awkward family like Amy, a bit reticent like Rory, a bit Sarah Jane and a bit Tegan because she is the everyone, with her myriad possible futures and pasts blown like a leaf on the wind (ah Wash). But Clara is also her own self, with a back story – another motherless child-woman, part Victorian-era nanny, part 21st century space adventurer. An individual happy in her individuality, just like everyone, special because of her ordinariness. 

Ghosts in the machine

As Clara understands from the perspective of the Doctor, everyone is dead. Or rather both alive and dead. Like Heisenberg’s cat. His perspective is from any and every perspective and so everyone (excepting those in inaccessible dimensions, like Pete’s World, and the Time War-ish), are accessible. Of course that is a lot of haunting and this is burdensome. As the Doctor knows from Army of Ghosts, any prospect of having the dead return is not necessarily a good thing.

JACKIE Just think of it, though. All the people we’ve lost. Our families coming back home. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?
DOCTOR: I think it’s horrific. Rose, give us a hand.

Why isn’t the dead returning a good thing? When you feel guilty or are actually responsible for a truckload of death, who wants a bunch of people back to accuse you?

WILF: Then kill him first.
DOCTOR: And that’s how the Master started. It’s not like I’m an innocent. I’ve taken lives. I got worse. I got clever. Manipulated people into taking their own.

But there are other ways, and the Doctor allows himself to witness how even attempting to commune with the dead can be healing. In Hide, Palmer hopes to say thank you to those who have died…

DOCTOR: Yes, but how does that man, that war hero, end up here in a lonely old house, looking for ghosts?
PALMER: Because I killed, and I caused to have killed. I sent young men and women to their deaths, but here I am, still alive and it does tend to haunt you. Living, after so much of the other thing.

All this means, is that when the Doctor is reunited with River, in her post-Library ghost form, in his own tomb, he now knows that it will both hurt him horrifically, and will heal him as well.

This River is more than just a way to assuage a debt to the past. She is the Ghost of the external world, a repository of wisdom and help, and there, as witness (much like the Library, which is her actual tomb). And for one more time to help him. The Doctor sees her because 1) he can see everything in the universe, which he once called his ‘backyard’ while his companions help him see specifics (as he once told Amy). And 2) Rory taught him that when one loves, one is always in communication.

Clara is a different kind of ghost. A Ghost of the Doctor’s interior world. By entering his tomb she reaches the ground of his consciousness alive and separate, because what is one more identity for a Timelord? Clara, as internal Ghost, is more than a witness, she has the power of direct intervention, she is an antibiotic to the Great Intelligence’s infection. She is does not possess a Timelord consciousness in her head like Donna (because lethal), more like she is in his consciousness, or his conscience, which is coeval to his time/line/wibbly/mishmash, or at least one more bit of it, like all his previous and future selves. And this explains the absence of her knowledge about that other non-Doctor. A true Freudian/Jungian Other.

His consciousness or rather the physical/particle manifestation of the Doctor’s life (space + time), is dangerous and amazing and the audience enters it when we watch the program. The companion has always been the way ‘into’ the Doctor’s world for the viewer and Clara’s journey into that manifestation is a literal en-action of what we all do as viewers: participate. Her survival of this is a given, because the audience  – we  – survive after an episode, even that one. Furthermore, on such a journey we should, in the Heroic Shamanic sense, be made better for it. The Doctor is certainly made better for Clara’s journey, and Clara is able to demonstrate she has transformed from scared and always dubious to the heroic woman of action – Soufflé Girl. In the same way the writer of every story hopes the reader is left better / happy / satisfied / wanting more /educated or something from the experience of reading  /seeing the story.

Doctor as Writer

In a symbolic way it’s dangerous for the Doctor to enter his tomb because that is technically breaking the fourth wall and saying out loud, hello, everyone watching at home, you’re watching a program. It again demonstrates that ‘everyone is a story in the end’ – in a literal sense, River is another entry in the Library, while Amelia/Amy is a writer who wrote her own life, the child heroine of her own books.

On another level the tomb is the writer saying, welcome to my brain: this is how it works and this is how much is in it. As each glowy line represents story strands past and future to be written; each adventure exists as a thing in progress, but is always an episode complete in itself.  And the Doctor as stand-in writer re-enters his finished story to save Clara, just like those writers every writer who can’t help but tinker with the manuscript – go back and fix – even when it’s published. No manuscript can ever be accused of being a fixed point.


What every writer does (unsaid) when they create (or continue) a world  is to invite people to enter their mind. It is not all of a writer’s mind/brain, but everything is in it, all the past, all the ideas about life and death, because everything a person is goes into writing.  We should remember this when we don’t like something we read or watch. And it is interesting watching the commentary on the new Doctor, how he is a middle age Scot who may end up playing the Doctor with a Scottish accent…just as Steven Moffat is a middle-aged Scot…you see my point? It’s not to say this is wrong, and when I hear actors say words in films of programs sometimes I do hear the writers – I hear RTD go on about ‘little shops’ in Doctor Who extras or Joss Whedon invent new words, like ‘Biebered’ and I know their characters are a part of who they are. And there is ego in writing, just as there is ego in the creation of anything. That’s ok too, in small doses. Mainly though, writing starts with language. Even amid all the visual information of TV and film, it begins by putting words together and making them alive. How people speak is how people should write, unless there is a very good reason otherwise, prithee.

Dream weaving

So amid all this deep metaphor for writing and stuff about post-modernistic audience as participatory co-creators, there is an Inception dream quality to the finale and perhaps to the entire season. Of course writers are immersed in culture, popular and otherwise, so on one level it is to be expected. However, in this case it not just for effect, there are further goals, such as to give something to those eidetic fans to trace so they can celebrate the 50 years of the program, what with all the old shots re-framed and references to episodes from 40 years ago. For example, the mention of his granddaughter and Tegan (and there are a heap more – look em up if you want, there’s a lots of sites explaining). With the Inception idea, it could be argued each level of the dream is a regeneration, with each reminder a ‘kick’ while Clara is Ariadne who rewrites/weaves the dream code for his survival. Timelord consciousness is just more complex because of exposure to the time vortex and alien biology. And sometimes writing is like that, a dream, an alternate reality we make up, as consolation, as aspiration, as hope, as distraction, as answers to questions or questions we need answering.

Inside jokes are the best jokes.

Inside jokes are the best jokes.

Truth and Conscience

But I think consciousness/conscience is the key to the 50th episode. I think the finale indicated it is about how the name he chose is the promise he made. This broken promise – and its absence from the story – these are at the core because it may reveal the ways in which they shaped his identity, including his PTSD, his selfishness and his ability to lie so convincingly to himself and others. It may in some sense stand for the writer’s promise – ‘to be true even if it didn’t happen’ – to get all Ken Kesey. Yet storytellers are often called liars, even Plato was doubtful of the benefits of making stuff up since we live in the ignorance of the Cave, by the glow of a candle/screen. Remember too that aren’t the best stories ‘lies breathed through silver’?

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