Knowing why we cry
I have been thinking about last week’s finale of Dr Who (or rather the last two weeks, it was a two parter). I know what you’re thinking: a) you sad git and b) what’s that got to do with crying?
Trust me. I am not a doctor.
The show has probably gone from iPlayer now, so if you still have not seen it then treat yourselves to the DVDs when they come out, because the last two episodes in particular are a story telling masterclass. “What?” I hear you cry, “SciFi giving a masterclass inanything. Don’t be an ass.” Let me explain. Hear be spoilers.
The crux of the story is that, for reasons too involved to get into here, The Doctor has been erased from history. His survival depends on feisty assistant Amy Pond being able to remember him at her wedding (The Doctor had already floated the notion that nothing istruly forgotten and that if you can remember someone you can bring them back). Let’s focus in three nifty elements of storytelling.
1. Near the end of each of the pair of episodes, Amy cries without comprehension, the first time because she is happy (her lost love is back, but she hasn’t quite worked it out yet) and the second because she is sad (someone is missing from her wedding). Framing and call-back.
2. As she cries, found-love Rory refers to “that old wedding saying”. Earlier, as the Doctor confronts his impending erasure, he tells the sleeping child Amy that when she wakes she will have parents (they too had been erased) and will remember him only as a story (“That’s OK, we’re all stories in the end.”). He says she will dream of the silly man who stole the magic box (“well, borrowed it really”), the box that is both big and small (a nice diversion, something every Who fan knows about the Tardis), that it is both ancient and modern and the most amazing blue.
At the wedding, as Amy’s memory begins to needle her she remembers, stands and yells that The Doctor is late for her wedding (a nice callback to a running joke from the first episode of the season). The Tardis begins to materialise and Rory asks “What’s that?”. Cue the old wedding saying (with belting delivery from Karen Gillan), and the Doctor is back (if you haven’t worked it out, I can’t help you).
Think about the sheer craft that went into setting up that one line. And there was nothing in the last 15 minutes of the series that had not been properly set up in Stephen Moffat’s storytelling (in sharp contrast to Russell T Davies’s somewhat ‘woo something out of the air’ approach to problem solving). Set-up and craft.
3. The trouble with SciFi fans is that they have a terrible habit of focussing on the Sci at the expense of the Fi, in practical terms meaning an over-obsession with plotting and puzzle solving at the expense of character and theme. The thing is that this episode (and indeed the whole season) wasn’t really about the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, although that was a hoot. It was about people and what we mean to each other, the ties that bind, what it is to miss somebody dreadfully, what it feels to have them back and how bloody marvellous it is when we absolutely refuse to give up on those we care about.
And then it ended with a wedding.
A storytelling masterclass.
But if you want further evidence that a vaguely daft kid-oriented SciFi show can explore deep things, then seek out Vincent and the Doctor (written by Richard Curtis) from earlier in the season. I challenge you to find a more sensitive, candid and exposition-free look at the absolute bastard that is depression in any genre, anywhere (with a a truly marvellous cameo by Bill Nighy). That it was also wholly appropriate for a young audience, once again shows the sheer craft of the story-telling.
I know writers who say they don’t like science fiction – and so don’t read it (or don’t like poetry, or Shakespeare…or whatever – not just SciFi). To me this is beyond comprehension. If you are serious about writing, want to understand it and get better at it, if you wish to understand why we cry, then you simply cannot afford to make casual assumptions about where you might not find inspiration.
Sad git out.