Doctor Who: 26th June • 27 June 2010 • The SnowBlog

Doctor Who: 26th June

Well, I very much enjoyed that. [spoilers ahead] For any budding screenwriters out there, Doctor Who Confidential provided one or two little tidbits of good info, courtesy of Steven Moffat. In a story riddled with out-of-sequence appearances by the Doctor you need a way to keep straight what's going on and, more fundamentally, to help the viewer understand the basic concept. You could add in another five minutes of explanations (=bad) or you could do it visually - and therefore subliminally/instinctively - with the simple addition of a fez and a mop. Very nice: it works, it only costs thruppence and it's suddenly more than paying for itself by generating all sorts of comedy moments that really enhanced the episode. In fact my feeling is that whenever you feel you're spending too long on exposition, or you're fretting that your audience won't follow your basic premise, there's always a more straightforward, more visual way to get the job done. (The mop-and-fez approach is actually part of a broader screenwriting trope that gives you lots of minor characters with weird names or one eye or some other exotic feature because they're going to crop up later and the audience needs to remember them. And if that trope doesn't already have a name, I'm going to propose the 'Fezmop'. Verb = 'to fezmop'.) Mr Moffat also expanded upon the gimmick of the Fezmop, claiming that the way to sell a very complicated idea is to let the audience get there first when it comes to figuring out what's going on. I don't think I necessarily buy that. I'd substitute a broader point, which is that when it comes to solving on-screen mysteries - including those mysteries where the plot itself is the thing you're intentionally being asked to make sense of - you have to judge the difficulty of the puzzle so that the on-screen resolution arrives in roughly the same time-frame as the audience working it out for themselves. Personally I would say that a lot of the time you want the story on-screen to get there first, so that it seems brilliant and unexpected, but the audience have to be halfway there already so that when they're shown the answer to the riddle they comprehend it and it clicks into place in a satisfying way. In fact, as a general rule, I'd say that on-screen mysteries must seem totally unexpected and simultaneously obvious with hindsight. The 'obvious with hindsight' part is important. It's why Twelve Angry Men is a brilliant film: because the audience have all the clues they need, they just don't realise it until the story reveals it. And it's why mumbling a bit of technobabble is a bad way to resolve a plot point: it should be something the audience could have guessed even though they didn't. Otherwise it's nowhere near as satisfying to watch.

Gratuitous picture of a Nile Penguin

This week there were plotholes, but by and large, this week's plotholes turned out to be there for a reason. Some formed important 'reveals' later on in the story - for instance I was fretting over why the death of *all* stars didn't involve our sun - did Moffat not know that our sun is a star like any other - but I needn't have worried. While other plotholes became cliffhangers: how did the Tardis come to explode? Tune in next season. I'm still wondering whether the answer to that last question will also tackle a couple of last week's niggles: how come all the Doctor's psychopathic, murderous enemies can come together as a cooperative team? And can all the evil races of the galaxy jump through time at will now? But possibly by the time those questions have been answered I won't care so much. And I'm sticking with what I said a few weeks ago: provided, as a viewer, you understand a story emotionally and the overall shape makes sense, purely logical niggles are less of a worry. It's only when we cling to the logic of a story because we're no longer following it intuitively on an emotional level that those niggles become major frustrations. The exception to that rule being any time a series contradicts itself: like when a story relies on an idea in order to move the plot along but later ignores that idea when it's inconvenient. It happens all the time in TV but it jars with the viewer because relying on an idea to solve a plot point is a way of telling the audience that it's important and might crop up again in the future, so remember it. Discarding the rule later is a little like stalling your car: it makes it clear to anyone watching that there's a novice at the wheel. Not entirely sure what to do with my early Saturday nights for the next ten months or so. But the idea that makes the most sense is probably to do some screenwriting.


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