Reader Poll Roundup: Series Nine Edition

Jan
06

When I drew my comparisons last year between Series Seven and Series Eight, I had to do a little handwaving because of the difference in the lengths of those series (thirteen and twelve episodes, respectively). For similar reasons, the switch between Doctors was difficult to quantify. This time I can draw more direct parallels as both the number of episodes and the current Doctor are the same between S8 and S9; S7 will also get a look-in.

Beginning with the average (mean) ratings of episodes, we see the usual ups and downs over the course of the series. To get the average rating for any given episode, each star rating (e.g., 5 stars) was multiplied by the number of votes it got, the results added, and the sum divided by the total number of votes. For Series Nine, we get the following:

 
Although there are some peaks and valleys (more on that later), we see that the ratings were fairly consistent throughout the series. Fully half of them fall within less than a third of a star of each other (from 3.45 to 3.75 stars).

If we rearrange the data to show how the episodes scored from highest to lowest, we can see the trend more clearly (note that the episodes are different colors between the above and below charts; apologies for the vagaries of my visualization software):

A Song of Comfort

Dec
30

Review of The Husbands of River Song
Warning: This review contains episode-specific spoilers and wild speculation about future episodes.

Christmas episodes are unusual creatures, trying to be all things to all viewers. There is the expectation that a large number of families, including those who don't regularly watch the show, will be tuning in. Thus, the episode should be easy to follow for those with little or no knowledge of the characters and ongoing storyline(s), and fun and cheerful for those making it part of their holiday celebrations.

At the same time, it has to be satisfying for those of us who follow the show regularly. If it's a complete toss-off, the production team risks alienating its core audience, which is also bad. Thus a Christmas special is a weird hybrid (see what I did there?) of fluff and substance that can be very difficult to execute.

As one might expect, then, there were parts of The Husbands of River Song (THORS—Ha! What an acronym!) that made me really happy and others that made me cringe a little. It's difficult even to generalize which was which. Most of the interpersonal bits were good, though some were not; most of the guest artist bits were pants, though some were not; most of the plot points were eyeroll-y, though some were not. You get the idea: par for the course.

On first viewing, though, I found the good bits outweighed the bad. Moffat's dialog was mostly rich in quotable one-liners, with the occasional battle-of-the-sexes comments that he seems to think are funny (but as far as I'm concerned almost never are). I took the lighthearted feel of a "romp" at face value that first time through, too, which meant that the guest cast (Greg Davies as King Hydroflax, Matt Lucas as Nardole (whom I kept mentally calling Unstoffe at first), and Phillip Rhys as Ramone) were all played at a just-right-for-the-occasion "panto" level of off-the-wall.

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Confession #97: I Love Being Fannish

Dec
23

With the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens this past weekend, there's been a frenzy of Star Wars fannishness around the Internet, with calls to avoid revealing spoilers interspersed with endless memes, think pieces, and quizzes. I consider myself a Star Wars fan (among many other fandoms), so all this felt normal to me.

Then I saw someone say something about how overwhelming it all was. Is this, the person wondered, how everyone else feels when we get all in a tizzy about the latest Doctor Who news du jour? The very idea turned them off so much they felt chagrined about participating in the hoopla in the past and talked of turning off all their social media accounts to avoid subjecting the rest of the world to such nonsense in the future.

I think this startled Who fan has taken the wrong lesson from the experience. There are two major classes of reactions one can have when presented with this sort of behavioral mirror: recoil or embrace. The former is the route my unfortunate acquaintance took, and springs from an exterior perspective. When seen from the outside, fannish behavior can appear irrational, overzealous, and occasionally even militant—in short: fanatical.

When one is confronted with another fandom's behavior for the first time, the intensity can be really frightening. That's true whether said fandom is based on a particular flavor of SFF like Who or Star Wars, on a video game franchise, on a sports team, or on any other Thing-someone-else-loves-but-about-which-you-don't-give-a-rat's-ass. This is why die-hard sports fans and SFF-convention-goers tend to give each other such serious side-eye. Each group is thinking, "it's normal for me to dress up and get rowdy about my team/my show, but those weirdos are incomprehensible!"

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Series Nine Retrospective

Dec
16

All through Series Nine, it felt like we were missing key elements of the overall story and wouldn't understand until it all wrapped up in the final episode. That often happens under Moffat's leadership, but this year—to me, anyway—felt particularly arc-heavy. Now that we've got that broader perspective, I wanted to go back and look more carefully at how it might influence our reading of earlier episodes.

The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar

We began on Skaro, bringing Davros, Daleks, and Missy all back on board. As the opening gambit, the first two-parter of the series had to introduce all sorts of ideas without letting on how many of them would come back later. In some cases the recurring elements were glaringly obvious (e.g., the Hybrid); in others it was more subtle (the way the Doctor can come up with a way to "win" and make complex calculations in a tiny fraction of a second). In still others, we got the sense that something might come back, but didn't get hammered over the head with it (the Confession Dial).

Already, too, we got the sense that Clara was nearly ready to fly solo. She's truly "taken the stabilizers off her bike" and acts like a Doctor substitute at UNIT. Rather than the beginning, this is the middle of her arc. Though she will continue to get ever more reckless, she's already short some reck here. Clara is more mature and self-sufficient even than last series, and the fact that her boyfriend is "still dead" (thanks for that, Missy) further reduces her need to give any fucks for her own safety.

Then there's Missy. We've been trained by her previous incarnations to think she would show up again later in any series she crops up in once. Yet after this, she scarpers and only returns in passing mention as the perpetrator of the Doctor/Clara pairing in the first place. (It's so very the Master/Missy's style to try to bring about an apocalypse just to get the Doctor to be her bestie again.) I'm counting that as a pleasant trope subversion.

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Rate All Episodes

Dec
09

I've re-opened all the reader polls for the S9 episodes in hopes of getting more votes, especially on some of the middle episodes, which didn't get very many at the time. Simply click on the "Older polls" link here or under the active poll to the right to see the list.

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