elisi: (Bill (dark))
[personal profile] elisi
Anyone thinking that Toby Whithouse is a terrible writer and this episode was rubbish - please note that this is my SECOND post… (First post here, please read that if you haven't already.)

Now, you may or may not know that I started out in the Buffy fandom. The reason I bring this up is that I think this three-parter was very Buffy-esque in how it used its ‘monsters’. Buffy always had a weekly monster which was a reflection and metaphorical manifestation of, the current problem. As I showed in my first post, the Monks are a Doctor-mirror in a lot of uncomfortable ways. But oh, that’s only one layer…

But before delving into the mirrors I shall delve into the morals.

Trolley Problem/What is ‘good’?

Within Lie of the Land there are two opposing moralities/world views. It’d be easy to divide them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but the show is cleverer than that.

On one side are the Monks and Missy, on the other the Doctor and Bill – except at the beginning, the Doctor speaks for the Monks. Here, allow me to demonstrate:

DOCTOR: Human society is stagnating. You've stopped moving forward. In fact, you're regressing.
BILL: This isn't exactly much better.
DOCTOR: It's safer.
BILL: Not so much for the people the Monks are killing.
DOCTOR: The Romans killed people and saved billions more from disease, war, famine and barbarism.

~~~

BILL: So you're saying I have to die.
MISSY: No. If you were just to die, everyone's false memories would have to fade, and that could take ages. It's actually better if you keep breathing, if your brain just keeps transmitting, well, nothing. That would blot out the residue false memories.
BILL: What would be left of me?
MISSY: You'd be a husk. Completely and irrevocably brain-dead. You couldn't even get on Celebrity Love Island.


They’re basically text book trolley problems.

The Doctor states that the Monks (despite their methods) are saving lives overall – which they undoubtedly are.

And Missy’s knowledge of how to break the Monk’s power is undoubtedly effective.

Both replies are somewhat ruthless, but they’re not objectively wrong.

The arguments then become personal:

BILL: […] the world was invaded by zombie Monks!
DOCTOR: And whose fault was that, huh? I didn't ask for my sight back. No, you took it upon yourself to ignore me, to do what you thought was best. All I can say is that we are lucky it was a benevolent race like the Monks, not the Daleks. Yes, I know the Monks are ruthless. I get that. Yes, they play with history and I'm not exactly thrilled about that. But they bring peace and order.

~~~

DOCTOR: Even if that was the truth, the fact that you're suggesting it shows there's been no change, no hope, no point. We don't sacrifice people. It's wrong, because it's easy.
MISSY: You know, back in the day, I'd burn an entire city to the ground just to see the pretty shapes the smoke made. I'm sorry your plus one doesn't get a happy ending, but, like it or not, I just saved this world because I want to change. Your version of good is not absolute. It's vain, arrogant and sentimental. If you're waiting for me to become all that, I'm going to be here for a long time yet.


And this is where it gets interesting.

The Doctor was willing to sacrifice himself to save the world – and Bill stopped him. However much the Doctor might laugh it off a few moments later (very uncomfortably for Bill & the viewers), there is definite truth in what he’s saying. How does Bill get to make that kind of decision about him? About the fate of the world?

But oh, isn’t that what he does himself all the time? Making decisions for others? “Trust me, I’m the Doctor…”

(In my previous post, I pulled up the moment when the Doctor removes Harriet Jones from office for defending her own planet. But she went against *his* morals.)

Missy sees right through it, and has no patience for it.

And the fact is, if the Doctor will work very hard to save the day, to find another way, but if he gets pushed far enough, he’ll snap either one way or the other.

In the case of the Time War, he initially went for the option above. Throw the child (Gallifrey) in the volcano to save the universe. (Yes, he found another way, but he was ready to do it, and lived for 400 years with the burden of having done it.)

In the case of Water of Mars or Hell Bent, he went the other way, saying ‘My will be done!’ and not caring whom he might be hurting in the process.

If you want labels, you could call the Doctor’s morals ‘Chaotic Good’, and Missy’s position here (and the Doctor’s when pretending to be working for the Monks) could be ‘Lawful Neutral’. (Definitions here.)

Interestingly, Missy/the Master can generally be described as ‘Neutral Evil’, meaning that the shift she/the Doctor are trying to achieve isn’t as monumental as you might initially think. Well, the Doctor evidently isn't happy with that shift, but Missy seems perfectly capable of intellectualizing it, even if the emotional work is proving hard.

Whether shifting from ‘What’s best for me’ to ‘What’s best for the common good’ will prove enough for the Doctor remains to be seen…

There is an interesting co-dependency going on with them. They are each other’s ‘confessor’, but there can be no forgiveness; just learning to living with the past and the pain.

It probably helps to view the set-up more as a confession dial - a way to make peace with things. Except as we see in the final scene, pain is what Missy is finding, not peace. How will she cope in the end? Because their world views do not mesh very well, the Doctor’s morals often being quite fixed.

As Missy says, she won’t ever adopt his outlook - and there are a lot of contradictions in his approach.

Bill accepts Missy’s knowledge of the situation and what this means, but the Doctor flatout refuses to even consider letting Bill sacrifice herself. This comes back to bite him when Bill reverses their positions, tying him up to stop him from interfering. (Much like River did, in the Library.)

BILL: Goodbye, Doctor.
(She kisses him on the cheek.)
BILL: Thank you. God, it was worth it.


And in that last sentence lies the answer, I think. Or at least *an* answer.

The Doctor saves people, it’s part of how he defines himself. But as we saw with Clara, he can take it too far.

‘Duty of care’ is all well and good, but it can often mean dismissing other people’s agency.

The message to the Doctor in this episode/triptych might be one about his priorities: focusing too much on quantity of life is always going to be a problem for him. No matter what he does, they're going to die. More important to focus on quality (kindness). It's a different kind of saving people. Back around to the 'who will save your soul' idea.

And maybe that's it? The trolley problems will always be there. Reality is slippery and subjective and our perceptions prone to corruption. There will always be people controlling and controlled; who and how and the morality of that will always be a messy, uncertain struggle. But people's belief in each other (manifested through kindness) can be the anchor to who we are in the midst of all of that untamable morass.

It sits oddly amongst the rest of the story, a sideways kind of answer, although it fits well in a postmodern sense. And there is a sense that these questions can’t be answered - arguing over whose morality is superior won’t solve anything.

But kindness was the throughline in Eleven’s first season, and I am very happy we are circling back to it. Because it’s important. A kind word, or a good deed, can mean more than a hundred lectures. Or, to go back to the Catholic Church, let’s quote a saint:

Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.
St Francis of Assisi



All the Women Are One Woman

Tiresias, although a mere spectator and not indeed a “character,” is yet the most important personage in the poem, uniting all the rest. Just as the one-eyed merchant, seller of currants, melts into the Phoenician Sailor, and the latter is not wholly distinct from Ferdinand Prince of Naples, so all the women are one woman, and the two sexes meet in Tiresias. What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem.
From T.S.Eliot’s notes on The Waste Land

The Waste Land can be taken as a model of what Moffat is doing with Doctor Who (quick summary here), especially as concerns the women. (This doesn't mean they are all alike, but that they often perform the same role within the narrative.)

And this is why turning the Master female was a stroke of genius. We had the incredible Clara/Missy mirroring (and as said before - try to imagine Martha & the Master somehow mirroring each other, and you’ll see what a feat it is), and now we have Missy speaking River’s words in Extremis, and Bill not just talking to Missy in this episode, but also judging the Doctor...

First of all, let me pull out a screencap, and what it seems to echo.





The second one is from The Great Gatsby and shows the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg:

[They] are a pair of fading, bespectacled eyes painted on an old advertising billboard over the valley of ashes. They may represent God staring down upon and judging American society as a moral wasteland, though the novel never makes this point explicitly.

Missy’s eyes, looking down on our heroes from above, as she imparts her judgement on the Doctor’s morality in disembodied voice-over is very much the same thing.

Since Missy has crossed the gender boundary, from male to female, she can be seen as Tiresias: 'What Tiresias sees, in fact, is the substance of the poem.' That is to say, Tiresias sees this deadened sexual encounter, which is at the heart of the wasteland.

What Missy sees is the irresolvable conflict in the Doctor's morals which, as we've been saying, is the canker plaguing Moffat Who, the seemingly unfixable problem which keeps sending us down these spirals: how can the Doctor support the balance of life, which undeniably involves death, when he cannot bear to let people die?

ETA: From Before the Flood: DOCTOR: This isn't about saving me. I'm a dead man walking. I'm changing history to save Clara. And he goes even further in Hell Bent... (All the Doctors are one Doctor.)

So, here is another reason for locking Missy up - she is no longer an active player, but an observer who is removed from the action, and (due to her long and complex history and indepth knowledge of the Doctor) perfectly positioned to stand back and take a broader view of the situation.

Because she knows the origins of the ongoing crisis: the Doctor once threw the child into the volcano, in the worst possible way; he can't bear to do it anymore, and it's poisoning him.

MASTER: “What did it feel like though? Two mighty civilisations, burning. Tell me. How did that feel?”
DOCTOR: “Stop it!”
MASTER: “You must have been like God.”
DOCTOR: “I’ve been alone ever since.”

The Sound of Drums

The Master relished the very idea of playing god, but it seems as if Missy now (judging by the final scene) is beginning to understand more of what the Doctor went through. (Remembering all the names...) The eventual outcome remains to be seen, but she is gaining all the tools she needs, that is for sure.

Because she is also River’s mouthpiece now - River who held the Doctor to the mark, reminding him of who and what he was supposed to be. Clara went on to fill that role, and now we have both Missy and Bill, each with their own perspective.

Missy’s is coolly detached, reminding the Doctor of the fact that his morals are not absolute.

And Bill… oh Bill.

She has had quite a gentle introduction to the Doctor’s world. He has taken her under his wing, and slowly taught her how to navigate all the issues, and who he is. ‘Slavery is wrong’ (even though the slave might turn out to be dangerous when freed), ‘We don’t abandon people who have called for help’ (even if we might end up in grave danger) and so on.

(The name you choose is like a promise. Never cruel or cowardly. Never give up, never give in.)

In their initial confrontation he is apparently no longer the man Bill knows him to be. The way he pushes her is deeply uncomfortable, especially as he pushes her towards actually shooting him, but she is judging him as surely as River, or Clara, or Missy:

‘You are not the Doctor!’

Or in other words:

‘You broke your promise!’

It’s a horrific moment - especially when knowing that the Doctor is deliberately pushing her towards it - but if we step back from it just a little, look at what she says:

BILL: I'm serious, Doctor. We'll think of something else. But you'd better tell me now, because if you help the Monks, then nothing will ever stop them. They'll be here for ever.
DOCTOR: It's not a trick, it's not a plan. I have joined the Monks. Whatever it takes, I'm going to save you from yourselves.


And then she shoots him.

But remember:

Good is good in the final hour, in the deepest pit without hope, without witness, without reward. Virtue is only virtue in extremis.

This is Bill ‘in Extremis’. Oh she was scared in the previous episode when she consented to the Monks taking over the world - but she made that decision built on hope. On the fact that she believed that the Doctor would save them all, if she saved him.

Here, she loses that. The Doctor states that he has joined the Monks, and she realises that no one will save Earth. She has spent half a year waiting to be saved, and the Doctor (ruthlessly) takes that away from her.

It reminds me (oddly, maybe) of this exchange:

CLARA: Can I have a stick too?
MISSY: Make your own stick.


The Doctor (whether or not that was his intention) teaches her that in the end, she has only herself.

And we see the results immediately. She joins in the discussions with Missy like an equal, absorbing the facts (and dealing with them far better than the Doctor does:

MISSY: No. If you were just to die, everyone's false memories would have to fade, and that could take ages. It's actually better if you keep breathing, if your brain just keeps transmitting, well, nothing. That would blot out the residue false memories.

Essentially: It’s a mindwipe. Which brings back the ending of The Pilot, and the Doctor very nearly wiping Bill’s mind, the only things stopping him being Bill’s ‘What if someone did it to you?’

Cue Clara’s theme... But Bill takes it on the chin. Accepts that she doomed the world, so she has to be the one to save it. The Doctor keeps bargaining, right up until the last moment, but Bill accepts her fate.

Stepping sideways, Bill's head!mum could be seen as analogous to the Doctor's relationship to his memories of Clara? Because the Doctor doesn't actually know who Clara was either.

And remember all of his talking to head!Clara in Heaven Sent?

So, we have alllll the mirrors, reflecting every which way. And now, Bill has finally stepped in and taken her place. She has both doomed and saved the world, she has held the Doctor to account and she has learned to trust herself.

"I need to know what is real," Bill said in Extremis.

In the end, it's not about physical reality, but about what you believe and know to be true, and Bill's love for her mother is real and strong enough to save the world.

'Only in darkness we are revealed' River said in her diary. I think we can all agree that in the darkness, Bill's love shone all the brighter.

(no subject)

Date: 14 June 2017 02:32 pm (UTC)
owlboy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] owlboy
i hate trolley problems but i like your metas.

(no subject)

Date: 15 June 2017 12:41 am (UTC)
owlboy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] owlboy
Seriously why do they call it that, it's a tram ffs

(no subject)

Date: 15 June 2017 11:51 am (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
Ah, the age-old dilemma: kill the baby, or kill the painstakingly stacked display of soup cans . . .

(no subject)

Date: 15 June 2017 11:51 am (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (Default)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
*snort*

(no subject)

Date: 14 June 2017 02:42 pm (UTC)
kass: Tardis. Something old, something new... (tardis)
From: [personal profile] kass
Oooooooh. Thank you so much for this two-part post. I just watched this one last night and you have given me much to ponder. :-)

(no subject)

Date: 14 June 2017 04:36 pm (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (pinky pie excited)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
<3

(no subject)

Date: 15 June 2017 11:47 am (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (missy back)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
I'm just gonna reply to your editing comments here, because it ended up being of substance:

I was wondering about [including the Tiresias part of the Eliot quote about all the women are one woman], because it feels a little like decapitating the quote?
*I* decapitated the quote by isolating just the one bit of it ages ago. I've always wanted to have a context for restoriing the rest of it because by itself it's only a fragment of the point Eliot was making.

Was also thinking about how in Empress of Mars, Missy has both male and female mirrors.

My only reservation is that Missy might step up & become involved in the action - but I guess FOR NOW she is Tiresias? It certainly fits with the eyes. So thank you, I was not all that happy with it, but didn't want to leave it out.
Hmmm. I think that Missy, by virtue of being such a long-standing element of the show, will always retain some element of being outside of it? It's like River: 'I'm a walking, talking metatextual element in your own story." Not by virtue of timely-wimey, but by coming from 'before.'

Also, and the story is flirting heavily with this, because the character is necessarily evil, her role is inevitably constrained. She is, in a weird way, more free in this season than she would be if she was running around. Out of the box, she must always, inevitably, default to evil in the end. She becomes a role. In the box, she is the observer, outside of events. She is Fry!Master. If she leaves the box, she is no longer that character--she becomes the role again. I think Tiresias can be, essentially, Missy-in-the-Box.

Unless she doesn't. If she breaks out of the Box and the Role, well. That's the goal, isn't it? In which case, being Tiresias actually had a point. In which case alchemy is possible. In which case, why couldn't the Doctor break out of his boxes as well?

[Context for those unfamiliar: back between season five and six, I wrote a fic/meta in which River and a reincarnation of the Master played by Stephen Fry meet in a white space outside the narrative called The Meta. They discuss the role of evil on Doctor Who and the construction of their identities in relation to that of the Doctor. Evilness vs. the Doctor.]

Re: Under the Lake/Before the Flood: not Whithouse's best, but I think there's more there than we realized at the time.

(no subject)

Date: 15 June 2017 11:50 am (UTC)
promethia_tenk: (love)
From: [personal profile] promethia_tenk
It is done. \o/ Thank you. (As always)
My pleasure.

(no subject)

Date: 16 June 2017 09:26 pm (UTC)
skipthedemon: (what we do - ispahan)
From: [personal profile] skipthedemon
I have wondered before (and written about in RP settings) whether the Master's version of good if they somehow genuinely turned to benevolence, would actually be more rigidly Team Free Will than the Doctor. A bit like Lady Me, seeing beauty in Bill sacrificing herself to correct what was, after all, Bill's own mistake in placing the Doctor's life above all of Earth. How dare the Doctor try to take that choice away from Bill, they might say. Indeed, how dare the Doctor make the deaths of 'all those people who die' so he can live all about his grief and guilt. Those were acts of love.

I hesitate to call such an outlook Lawful Good. It might be Chaotic Good, given the emphasis on choice, but when I was writing in character it felt very consistent and orderly. You shouldn't go around abrogating automony just it ~~feels~~ right or gets you the results you want. And if you do coerce obedience, be damn clear with yourself that's what your doing, and be very sure you can live with both and good results. So the version of the Master I was playing would say.

Was it just me or was the Doctor at the end of Empress of Mars teetering dangerously close to telling Miss that to be good she has to obey him, rather than her choosing, of her own free will, to help people? She did break the rules that he says they agreed to, so it's not quite full on 'Obey Me', but it was still a little unpleasant to watch.

Edit: I just remembered he did go full on Obey Me with Bill in Lie of the Land. "I order you" when reasoning with her wasn't working. Fortunately, he didn't have any way to actually make her follow orders. And what a flip from Thin Ice, when he tells her it's her planet and he follows her orders. I really, really liked that bit at the time. I thought maybe he'd mostly resolved that insolvable conflict in his morals.
Edited Date: 16 June 2017 09:32 pm (UTC)

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