The Art of Killing

**spoilers ahoy**


So, Face the Raven happened, and the general consensus seems to be that it was quite good even if you didn’t like Clara. To be honest, I think that Clara ended up doing pretty okay a lot of the time for someone who started literally as a plot device, but even if you disagree, her death worked.


Inasmuch as she’s had a consistent character (and god knows she hasn’t), her decision that she could deus-ex-machina the shit of a life-or-death situation fits very well. Plus, if you’ve always hated her  as someone often operating outside of narratives instead of as a character within them, then it makes even more sense. It’s like Clara always knew she was created from a Big Bang of crappy dramatism, so that’s what she generally brought to the stories, even if it didn’t really work. Imagine the last time you were in a large conversation and realised with horror that everyone had insight to contribute apart from you, so you said what seemed like the most relevant thing and everyone just stared. Much of the time that was Clara’s ‘companion-life’, and we were the ones staring, feeling bad for her but also wishing she’d go away so we could stop feeling bad for her, because it’s effort and we wanted to have a good time.


Yeah, she’s the 21st century Adric.


It’s probably best to follow the link if you don’t know about Adric and want further details, but suffice to say he was generally felt to exist on a spectrum from ‘unengaging’ to ‘piss-clown’. And then he died. Nobody specifically travelling in the TARDIS with the Doctor had died since the 60s (Katarina and Sara Kingdom), and even then their tenure was so short that the established show mythology sort of stumbles apologetically over them, so when you first watch his swansong episode it hits you like a pickaxe. However, once you watch Earthshock with that knowledge,  it changes from a hokey, plot-holey mess held together by cobwebs and unicorn dreams to a bunch of silly action serving a higher purpose – to basically sum up this poor guy that everyone just wants rid of, and give them, with sobriety and dramatic consistency, what they want.


In the link above, an unpopular companion goes to their death with their eyes open, knowing it’s a potentially awful idea, but totally reliant on their own talent and brilliance to save themselves – sound familiar?


The point of the comparison is that THIS, dramatists, is how you kill characters. They’ve got to die in a way that makes sense. It’s why colossal bodycounts or supporting characters created entirely to be tragic aren’t very moving. They’re the most basic representation of ‘how artists elicit sympathy’, with the hilarious consequence that it appears either cynically manipulative or the viewer disengages entirely and ends up enjoying it on a visceral level.


Earthshock and Face the Raven avoid this because they actually think about how the character is most likely to bring about their own downfall, and much as we might claim to enjoy watching this, we don’t. We don’t really enjoy watching another person destroyed by their personality, because that’s probably how we’re going to go out as well, and the only way to avoid/delay it is to properly examine ourselves and learn from mistakes and change, and that’s hard. Even if we succeed, fate might be capricious and grotesque, or we might end up so very stuck in the cleft stick of a world bigger than us that we simply don’t have the power to choose how we die. And then we’ll never know if we were right. Or brave.

Yes, I’m calling the whole forthcoming series of Doctor Who, and I’m doing it like THIS…

The football has started. Doctor Who is starting. Yes, I am doing my ‘season predictions’, based on this teaser list:

  1. Deep Breath

There will be obligatory fucking-about whilst Clara decides whether she can trust the new Doc or not. This, like all other episodes of its type (Robot, Castrovalva, The Twin Dilemma, Time and the Rani) will be a bit shit in retrospect. It will be pretty because Ben Wheatley is directing, but we will wish that Ben Wheatley had also written it.

Key scene: In a moment of crisis, Clara chooses to trust the new Doc because where would her entire personality be otherwise?

  1. Into the Dalek

A reassuring ‘post-new-Doc’ episode where we go ‘back to basics’ – the basics in this case being: rip off an old episode you think no one will remember (1977’s The Invisible Enemy); a familiar foe about whom you ask the same question you always ask (I, for one, predict the Dalek will be a Dalek); references to relevant 90s films that you think people will appreciate (here Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! and Innerspace) and therefore forgive that you can’t think of a new plot really.

Key scene: The Dalek makes a pithy observation about the Doc being e.g. a genocidal loon, which nobody bothers to follow up.

  1. Robots of Sherwood

Mark Gatiss realises he is running low on ‘old-adventure-TV-references-beloved-by-everyone’ and panics, resulting in him thinking everyone both remembers AND gives the remotest shit about 80s TV oddity Robin of Sherwood. Unable to back out, he hits the whimsy bottle far too hard and makes an episode that tries so hard to be loveable that you end up wanting to vomit down its throat until it drowns.

Key scene: Maid Marian being appallingly characterised, even by the standards of female characters in the series as a whole.

  1. Listen

Moffat bingo. A collection of leftover scenes from every episode he’s written so far. This is the one cynically intended to scare the kids, so the parents out there should take the necessary precautions for how hyperactive they’ll be. We will think ‘gosh, he’s writing a LOT of them, isn’t he?’ and wonder whether that’s a tacit admission that he’s generally quite bad at picking writers.

Key scene: A children’s toy is scary.

  1. Time Heist

As the title would suggest, it’s probably very contrived and has virtually nothing to do with the series arc, which actually suggests it might be quite good. Phrases such as ‘the bank of Karabraxos’ indicate that Steven Moffatt’s contempt for people who like sci-fi has reached a new peak.

Key scene: The Doc goes either up or down some stairs, gesturing with both arms at some wondrous CGI. They then enter a modest studio set where there are some people in robes.

  1. The Caretaker

The producers attempt to (re-)convince us that Clara is a rounded character by showing her coping with various things like some kind of ‘modern woman’. She then encounters some peril and has to be saved, so that we remember how active and interesting she is.

Key scene: Lots of jump-cuts at the start where Clara is ‘busy’. A child asks her if she wants any children. There is a pause. We never return to this question.

  1. Kill the Moon

Because Doctor Who has ‘done’ all everyday objects, it decides to make the moon scary, like, moonlight turns your head inside out or something. Hopefully this will be the one that maintains its air of mystery in a non-annoying way, but they might throw too many FX at it.

Key scene: The promised dilemma is solved with relative ease because Time Lord.

  1. Mummy on the Orient Express

The one that is SO MUCH FUN it needs a baffling time-based plot device to keep the tension going. Also so much attention was paid to the blurb that the expression ‘most deadliest’ was allowed to be published.

Key scene: Something that references a Hammer horror movie. Yes, that could be a lot of scenes.

  1. Flatline

Backup Clara episode to be used in case of emergencies. This apparently is an emergency.

Key scene: Clara reaching out away from some vortex/time shit/etc

10. In the Forest of the Night

Concept-rich, drama-lite episode written by a Proper Screenwriter, possibly to follow up Richard Curtis’ well-received, but alarmingly cack, ‘Vincent and the Doctor’. Nasty feeling this might just be a cuddly version of The Silurians, only with trees.

Key scene: The Doc presses his face against a tree and they have a humanitarian chat and reach an understanding and everything goes back to normal. Or maybe ‘only Clara can do it’ for some reason.

11. Dark Water / 12. Death in Heaven

Moffat end-of-series bingo. About ten minutes of actual plot and and a fuckton of vague doom-yness, with the occasional old-school rush of ‘oooh look, it’s a Zarbi!’. A plot device from an earlier episode turns up to fix everything. No, not Clara… although actually yeah, maybe Clara. Perhaps even River Song comes back again, in a misguided attempt to demonstrate Moffat’s feminist credentials.

Key scene: The 10-second recap of ‘Dark Water’ at the start of ‘Death in Heaven’ which makes more narrative sense than ‘Dark Water’ itself.