How to Fix Game of Thrones, Season 8

Spoiler’s ahead. If you haven’t seen Season 8 yet, and plan to, you probably want to stop reading now.

Just to give us a little buffer between this and the spoiler’s below, I’m posting a completely non-spoilery GoT picture below. Everything beneath that picture will contain spoilers.

What Went Wrong

Season 8 felt rushed, to me. Not in terms of pacing; they cranked the slow-motion all the way up to 11 for this last season. Rushed in terms of execution.

Jon’s first dragon ride was the first time the dragons looked fake to me. I mean, I know they’ve always been CGI creations, but they looked good up till that point. It’s like they got so far, and then quit.

And so many storylines get short shrift. Dany’s slide from liberator to slaughterer is too abrupt, too forced. Ditto Jaime’s about-face from noble knight to love-struck pawn. Once the battle with the Night King is over, it seems they give up explaining character actions, and instead just move them about the board to where they’re needed.

It’s sloppy, and it didn’t have to be this way.

How to Fix It

Let’s start with the decision to only make 6 episodes. This was a mistake. It doesn’t give us enough time for all our storylines to breathe. And we end up wasting a good portion of each episode with slow-motion filler, instead of pushing the story ahead.

So we go back to 10 full episodes. We cut any slow-motion that doesn’t serve the story or the tension of the episode (which, let’s face it, means all of it gets cut, save for the slow-down before Arya’s awesome leap at the Night King).

Now we’ve got enough space to tell our story. But what story do we tell?

Dany’s Not Mad, She’s Just Drawn That Way

Despite all of Varys’ hand-wringing and Tyrion’s prison self-pity, I don’t think Daenerys’ actions in the latter part of the season mean she’s gone insane. I think she’s been driven to a dark place. I think she’s angry, and seeks vengeance against her enemies, as she always has.

But crazy? No.

And with more time in the season, we can show it.

Start with the siege of King’s Landing. Let’s make it a proper siege!

We can still have the naval battle at the beginning, where she loses another dragon because the ship-mounted scorpions catch her by surprise. So she lands angry and hurt, already. One more death to lay at Cersei’s feet.

Her troops dig in around the capital. She summons her war council, where the Westerosi try to tell her how to proceed. She dismisses their advice, telling them she’s conquered several cities already, and knows how it’s done. She puts the prep work in the hands of Grey Worm, who was at her side when she won those cities.

The next day, she goes to the wall, and does what she knows best: she talks directly to the people.

She doesn’t appeal to Cersei. She doesn’t care about her. She makes her pitch directly to the people of King’s Landing, just as she made it to the people of Slaver’s Bay: throw down your masters, open the gates, and the Breaker of Chains will give you freedom.

But unlike before, the gates don’t open. No troops lay down their arms.

Instead, Cersei executes a prisoner. Right there, in front of everyone, where Dany can see.

Notice I said a prisoner. Not Missandei, not yet. Cersei captured several people after the battle, and over the next few weeks, as the siege drags on, she executes them all, one by one.

Each day, Daenerys goes out to make her plea. Each day, she sees another of her followers executed in response.

And loses a little more of her patience.

On the last day of the siege, Cersei executes Missandei.

By the time battle is finally joined, we’ve seen the build-up. We’ve seen Daenerys try to prevent bloodshed in the way she knows how. We’ve seen her try to connect to the people, and fail.

So when the Bells sound, and she decides to sack the city anyway, we may not agree with her choice, but we understand why she makes it: because it’s too little, too late.

Jaime Isn’t Love-Struck, He’s Summoned by Duty

Jaime’s about-face in the latter half of the season also doesn’t make sense. It’s a complete reversal of his entire character arc, where he’s been building to a sense of himself as an honorable person, a flawed one, but one that has been trying to do the right thing.

Why would he run back to Cersei, after finally rejecting her and riding North?

Answer: he wouldn’t.

Instead, while the seige is happening in King’s Landing (over a couple of episodes), we sometimes shift over to Winterfell to show what’s happening there.

For Jaime and Brienne, it’s a long-sought time of peace. Winter has come, true, but the Night King’s been vanquished, and the war at King’s Landing will soon be over (they expect Cersei to surrender to Dany’s dragons). They can lay down their arms, and simply enjoy being with each other. A reward for all that they’ve gone through, all they’ve lost.

That peace is shattered, though, when a raven arrives from Tyrion, summoning Jaime to King’s Landing.

Tyrion’s letter tells Jaime of the loss of a second dragon. Of Daenerys’ rejected pleas to the city. Of Cersei’s stubbornness in the face of certain defeat.

And he begs his brother to come help. To sneak through the siege lines, and convince Cersei to surrender the city. To save the lives of the people of King’s Landing once again, as he did when he killed the Mad King.

We see Brienne and Jaime argue about what to do. Brienne begs him to stay, to let Cersei pay for her mistakes, finally. But Jaime feels honor-bound to go.

We still get the scene of Brienne crying, begging him not to leave. We still get Jaime, regretful, saying goodbye. But not because he’s “hateful”.

He leaves because he’s honorable.

Jon Hides from the Truth Until It’s Too Late

Meanwhile, Jon didn’t tell Daenerys who he really is in that scene in the crypts (before the battle with the Night King). He told her Rhaegar loved Lyanna, sure, but he held back on the results of that love.

Why? Because he has doubts. He’d just been told something that contradicts everything he knows about himself. He heard it from Bran, true, but Bran claims not to be Bran anymore. And Sam confirmed it, which makes him take it seriously, but Sam could be wrong, couldn’t he?

So he holds back.

After the battle, he does finally tell someone. His family.

In that scene in the Godswood, he opens up. Shares what he knows, and his doubts about it. Bran insists it’s true, and gives some spooky quotes to back it up.

Jon says he’ll have to tell Dany next. She’s his queen, she deserves to know.

But Sansa convinces him not to. Sansa tells him — rightly — that she’ll see him as a threat if he tells her. That she doesn’t want to see him burned alive, like her grandfather and uncle were. And if he doesn’t want the throne, he shouldn’t tell anyone.

The last argument convinces him. He decides not to tell Dany, and swears the rest of them to secrecy.

Sansa, of course, immediately tells Tyrion, intending to drive a wedge between Dany and Jon, weakening the Dragon Queen. And setting in motion the chain of events that will end with Varys’ betrayal.

Jon tries to go on with Daenerys as if nothing’s changed, but it has. He starts to pull away from her touch, her caress, out of his concerns about their incest.

Dany doesn’t understand why, at first, though she gives him some slack because of what they’ve gone through (and her focus on retaking the Iron Throne from Cersei). But it unsettles her, makes her feel rejected and alone, and contributes to her sense that Westeros doesn’t like her, that its people will never love and accept her.

So she pulls another page from her Essos playbook: marriage to a local noble, to cement the people’s loyalty.

And the noble she chooses is Jon. It’ll seal her alliance with the North, and head off any rebellion Sansa might be planning.

Before they leave Winterfell (because they’ll be separated: she’s going by dragon/sea and he’s going by land), she proposes marriage. Jon is flustered, taken aback. He wants to say no, because of who he is, but he can’t. Not without telling her.

So he agrees. Dany is happy, says they’ll wait till after they take King’s Landing, of course, but that it’ll be good to have something to celebrate after so much war. Jon is sober, quiet, but plays it off as his concerns with the coming siege, nothing else.

But then the siege starts, and Daenerys loses another dragon, and Varys betrays her.

It’s Varys that tells her Jon’s parentage, just before she burns him alive. And when she confronts Jon, expecting him to deny it, he instead confirms what Varys believed, revealing that he’s been keeping secrets from her, too.

At this, Dany goes cold. She assumes he wants the throne, though he denies it. She wonders how she can believe him, when he’s been holding so much from her. He says she is his Queen, and she has to trust him.

She decides to trust him, but on one condition: he has to renounce the Iron Throne. She insists their wedding still take place, and that his formal renouncing of the throne take place after the ceremony. Everyone will see him bend the knee, and hear his words of fealty, and understand who is the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

Jon’s hurt that she doesn’t trust him explicitly, and unsure of an incestuous wedding. But he agrees. “As my Queen commands.”

The Sack

So as we move into the Sack of King’s Landing, everyone’s under tremendous pressure. Tyrion’s trying to win King’s Landing with a minimum of bloodshed. Jaime’s trying to do the honorable thing, even if it means leaving behind a peaceful life with the woman he loves (Brienne). Jon’s growing more and more uncertain of his position and his safety.

And Daenerys feels alone, vulnerable, and unloved. The people of King’s Landing seem defiant and ungrateful to her. Didn’t she mobilize the army that defeated the Night King? Didn’t she offer them a peaceful way out?

If the people of King’s Landing — or the other kingdoms — find out who Jon really is, won’t they turn on her the first chance they get?

The battle happens much like it does in the released version. But this time, when the Bells sound and she starts destroying the city, we understand why. She’s not gone crazy. She’s punishing them for making the wrong choice. For rejecting her.

One more change: when the Unsullied start slaughtering prisoners, Jon orders his men out. He doesn’t stand there like an actor without blocking directions, he actively tells his men to get out of the city. As a result, none of the Westerosi knights participate in the slaughter.

The Aftermath

Jaime and Cersei die in the catacombs under the keep. Arya almost dies trying to get out before Dany destroys the city.

Jon and his troops finally enter King’s Landing, trying to restore some sort of order. Tyrion wanders among the dead, looking for his siblings.

Daenerys gives a speech to her troops. But not the “eternal war” one she gives in the released version. She does praise them for slaughtering her enemies, and showing them no mercy when they deserved none. She praises their loyalty, and promises a new time of peace, though she knows she can always call on them to defend the defenseless.

Hearing that speech, and having seen the devastation, Tyrion resigns as her Hand. He can’t work for someone that’s proud of what she’s done. She has him imprisoned, not for resigning, but for his betrayals: once for releasing Jaime in an attempt to help Cersei, and twice for keeping Jon’s parentage from her.

In the throne room, Jon confronts Dany about the sack. Instead of responding with some weird speech about conquering the world, she defends her choices. Did she not give the people a choice? After they made it, how could she not hold them to its consequences? She talks about how she needs to inspire fear in Westeros, since she cannot inspire love. How she’ll rebuild something better from the ashes, just as she did in Slaver’s Bay. And just as in Slaver’s Bay, those who won’t bend the knee will be dealt with harshly.

Jon pushes back, saying Westeros won’t respond to the same methods she used in Essos. That its nobles are more stubborn, its people more loyal to their rulers. Will she burn them all, just to ensure that what’s left is loyal?

Daenerys looks at him, eyes fierce. “If I have to.”

Queenslayer

Jon goes to see Tyrion, more torn than ever. Tyrion doesn’t give him the “we should have always seen her madness speech,” which, again, isn’t needed. It’s enough for Tyrion to be down on himself, to have helped her kill his family, and so many women and children. He can remark how it’s different seeing people you’ve known your entire life being burned alive.

And he has a warning for Jon: that if he doesn’t act soon, Dany’s going to turn him against his family, too.

Jon scoffs. Sansa’s loyal. He’s going to marry the Queen. It won’t be a problem.

Tyrion chides him for being naive. Sansa’s not going to bend the knee, he insists. And when she doesn’t, Dany’s going to take her dragon and burn down Jon’s childhood home. His only way out is to kill Daenerys, and take the throne from her.

Jon leaves in a huff. He’s no assassin. No Queenslayer, some second coming of Jaime Lannister. He’s loyal to his Queen, and if his family rebels, then so be it.

His bluster doesn’t fool Tyrion. And it doesn’t really fool himself, either. He comes out of the visit, wondering if it’s true, and what he’ll do if it comes to it.

Daenerys settles into King’s Landing, to rule. She sends ravens to all the nobles of Westeros, inviting them to her coronation, and to swear oaths of fealty.

Sansa’s answer comes back: no.

Daenerys summons Jon. Tells him to order Sansa south, as King in the North. He insists she can stay there, he’ll bend the knee for the North.

But Dany won’t be placated. If Sansa won’t come, then she’ll take her army to Winterfell and force her.

That pushes Jon over the edge. Torn between family and honor, he chooses family. He embraces Dany, for the last time, and plunges his dagger into her heart.

No Kings

Drogon melts the Iron Throne and takes Dany’s body away.

Grey Worm sees Drogon leave, finds Jon with blood on his hands. Immediately takes him into custody.

Ser Davos convinces Grey Worm to let him call a meeting of the high lords of Westeros, to decide what to do.

And so we see Tyrion brought out to the assembly, where they are to decide his fate, and that of the Queenslayer.

Talk turns to choosing a King. Edmure stands up, begins his little speech about being a “veteran” and knowing about “statecraft.”

And Sansa tells him to sit down.

After he sits, Sansa keeps talking. Says the North will never kneel to a Southern king again. Not ever. The North is free.

The Dornish noble nods, and says his kingdom, too, has ever been unbowed and unbent. Though they lost the Sand Snakes, they are unbroken. They will not bend the knee, either.

Tyrion gets frustrated. Wonders if it’ll be a return to war between the kingdoms, without a single King or Queen to hold them together.

Sam stands, says they don’t need a King. What they need is a Hand.

Edmure scoffs. Can’t have a Hand of the King without a King.

Sam shakes his head. Not a Hand of the King, he says. A Hand of the Realm. Someone chosen by them, the Lords of Westeros, to serve the Realm as a whole. To arbitrate disputes, organize the defense of the Kingdoms, and prevent war.

Sansa agrees, a Hand would be fine. But who?

Here, Bran speaks up, finally. Nominates Tyrion as the Hand of the Realm. Explains why: he’s been making mistakes, and he can spend the rest of his life cleaning up his mess, with no title or lands of his own.

The other lords agree, one by one. Tyrion will be the first Hand of the Realm.

As his first act, he chooses Bran to be his Master of Whispers.

His second act is to negotiate a deal for Jon. It winds up much the same as in the released version: life at the Wall in exchange for renouncing titles, and he escapes punishment for killing their Queen.

Heartfelt goodbyes, the Unsullied sail for Naath, Tyrion hosts his first Small Council meeting. Jon reunites with Ghost and Tormund, rides into the sunset.

Roll credits.

Making Peace with Doctor Who Season 8

There’s a moment in the first episode of Season 8 where The Doctor turns to Clara and says: “You can’t see me. You look at me, but you can’t see me.”

Re-watching the episode recently, along with the rest of the eighth season, I felt that line was delivered from Peter Capaldi to me, to the audience, a plea for us to give him a chance, to let go of anything we thought we knew about The Doctor and just see him, see his version of The Doctor, and judge him based solely on that.

I’m glad I gave him that chance, and watched Season 8 all the way through, because Capaldi’s Doctor is in many ways amazing, and very fun to watch.

He’s got the grumpiness I liked from the First Doctor, the alien perspective of the Fourth, and the arrogance of the Third. Those happen to be some of my favorite Doctors, and his blend of their characteristics, combined with his own no-nonsense take, is fantastic.

Capaldi’s no-frills, no apologies, no sentimental nonsense version of The Doctor is a refreshing change after Smith and Tennant. Gone are the dewy pauses and the hand-wringing. Instead, we get a Doctor that doesn’t waste time over the lives he can’t save, not when he can spend that time saving others.

The perfect expression of all this is in the Mummy on the Orient Express episode. The Doctor doesn’t hesitate to use the mummy’s victims to gather all the information he can, asking them question after question even as they’re dying, with no apology for not being able to save them and no comfort offered — save that their answers can help the others escape the same fate. He’s splendidly hard-nosed, which makes his last-minute gamble in directing the mummy away from its next victim and onto himself all the more powerful: you know this is a Doctor that would not put himself in danger lightly.

Granted, in order to enjoy Capaldi’s performance, I had to drop a lot of habits I’ve built up watching the new seasons of Doctor Who. I had to let go of any need for continuity, taking each episode as it came and forgetting anything that had gone before. I also had to drop my need for plausibility in plot and circumstance; most (ok, all) of the episodes contained elements that stretched beyond the merely fantastic and into the completely impossible or nonsensical.

In this, it helped that I’d just come off watching a lot of Classic Doctor Who episodes. The same approach let me enjoy them: don’t worry about continuity, don’t worry about the special effects, don’t worry about the setup making any sort of sense. Just watch The Doctor and his Companion having adventures, enjoy the dialogue, and let your imagination fill in the rest.

Pushing Characters and Buttons: Lessons from Game of Thrones’ Season 5

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I’m not sure I’ll be back for Season 6 of Game of Thrones. I feel like this last season was the weakest one so far. I’m still processing why, but I suspect it’s because of the following things, mistakes that I’ll try to avoid in my own writing:

1) Focusing on the wrong things.

I think this season spent a lot of time lingering over details that it didn’t need to, and shouldn’t. I’d count Sansa’s wedding night sexual assault as one of them, for multiple reasons. First, I think sexual assault is one of the most terrible things that can happen to a human being, and I don’t really want to watch even fake ones any more. Second, we didn’t need to see the actual assault to know it’d taken place: the very next scene with Sansa, where Reek comes upon her laying battered and half-naked on the bed, tells us everything we need to know.

But because they did decide to show us the assault itself, they weren’t able to show us other things, like Sansa trying to work out different ways to escape, or talking to the different servants to find out which ones she could rely on. They couldn’t show us the preparations for a siege at Winterfell, with Sansa trying to take advantage of the chaos to send a raven to Littlefinger or study the walls to remind herself of the best way over them.

I think it was a similar mistake to insist on showing us the full extent of Cersei’s humiliation, including the entire walk of shame. I didn’t want to see it, I didn’t need to see it — seeing her at the next small council meeting, head shaved and face cut, shaking as she reaches for her wine, is enough — and it prevented them from showing me other things, like Kevan trying to get her back, or the whole of them dealing with the aftermath.

I’ll admit that GoT takes place in a nasty world, where nasty things happen. But I didn’t need to see Craster actually rape his daughters to know he was a nasty man and understand what was happening there. I didn’t need to see King Robert’s sexual orgies to know the humiliation his antics caused Jaime and Cersei. And I didn’t need to see Viserys force himself on his sister to know she lived in fear of him.

2) Moving characters around instead of letting them move.

A lot of the decisions characters made this season felt forced, as if they needed to move across the game board for plot requirements, and the writers found an excuse send them there.

Take Jon Snow going to Hardhome. Why was this necessary? I understand that without Jon Snow there, there’s no perspective character to show us the assault of the army of the dead. But it would have made more sense for Aliser Thorne to have gone instead of Jon: he’s First Ranger, and known to hate the Wildlings more than Jon. Wouldn’t the oath to give them safe passage have been more impressive coming from an old and known enemy?

Jaime and Bronn going to fetch Myrcella also didn’t make sense to me. I mean, I understand wanting to show a buddy knight trip between the two of them, but Jaime has little reason to go and Bronn has less, and their presence didn’t affect the outcome at all. If they hadn’t been there, the Sand Snakes would have tried to kidnap Myrcella, failed, and any messenger from Cersei asking to see her daughter would have given Doran the excuse he needed to send Myrcella away to safety.

Finally we have Jorah. His decision to sign up for gladiator combat the first time made sense, since it gave him a chance to see Daenerys again. But submitting to slavery a second time after being banished again? Only made sense as a way to place him near her during the Sons of the Harpy attack. For the character, it didn’t make sense at all.

3) Trying too hard for big moments.

So many times during this season, I felt like I was watching the “Are you not entertained?” moment from Gladiator. The music would swell, the camera would zoom in on some character’s face, and they would say a line that was supposed to carry a lot of emotional weight. But it fell flat for me, every time, no matter the character or the situation.

I think the first two mistakes, made often enough over the course of the season, robbed the emotional high points of any impact. Instead of caring that Brienne finally got to confront Stannis, I just saw a knight come upon an old wounded man in the forest, tell him her name, and deliver a killing blow. Instead of dying a little inside at seeing Jon bleeding out in the snow, I knew from the moment Olly came to fetch him that he was about to be ambushed, and the circle of knives was way too much “Et tu, Brute?” to make me do anything other than shake my head.

And Drogon saving the day . Well, of course he saved the day, then dumped Daenerys in the middle of nowhere instead of somewhere else in the city. How else were the writers to setup Daenerys being standard in the wilderness, needing her two bravest knights to come save her (groan)?

None of it worked for me, and the parts that did deliver an emotional impact — Sansa’s assault, Cersei’s humiliation — were entirely negative. For me, this season was a set of lessons in what not to do. Here’s hoping I take them to heart.

The Decline of Movies

Browsing iTunes this weekend, I realized there were no recent movies that I wanted to watch, only televison shows.

This was weird for me. For most of my life, movies were better than television. If you had a choice between watching a movie or watching a TV show, you chose the movie. But these days, more and more I find I’m either not interested in the movies that are being released, or that they’ve gotten such bad reviews that I’m not willing to risk the money on them. Instead, I find myself firing up Hulu or Netflix to pick from the plethora of television shows that I’ve been wanting to try.

I think this is a sign of something deeper: television has replaced movies as film’s long-form narrative. Where it used to be each TV episode was a short story, now they’re a chapter in the longer narrative arc of the season. Television is the novel of film, and movies – with less screen time, plus the need to be a complete story within one viewing – are looking more and more like short stories.

And just as the novel is now the dominant form of written fiction – it pays writers better, and it gives readers a longer sustained narrative – I think television will become the dominant form of film.

I think one sign that it’s already happening is that both Amazon and Netflix chose to make TV shows, rather than movies, when they wanted to become studios that generated their own content. Presumably they ran the numbers and decided a long-running television series would make the best return on their investment.

Another is that we’re already seeing both actors and writers talking about working for TV as preferable because of the steadiness of the paycheck and the ability it gives them to explore or inhabit characters longer.

When the people making the art come to prefer working in one medium rather than the other – for whatever reason – you’re going to see most of the new, exciting art come out in that medium.

The Decline of Doctor Who

Earlier seasons had episodes that were standalone: the Doctor and his Companions having adventures.

Moffat’s tenure shifted the focus away from the Doctor, away from adventure, and toward drama: Amy and Rory’s relationship, Amy and the Doctor’s relationship, the Doctor and River Song’s relationship.

In the first four seasons, these sort of themes were subtext, part of the background fabric of the show. Moffat’s tenure brought these elements front and center, to the point where you can’t pull an episode out of the Sixth Season that doesn’t deal with some aspect of the Doctor’s death scene from the first episode. The entire season is basically setup for that one event, which means you can skip the entire season and be happier for it.

This leads me to the contradiction in my feelings about Smith’s time as the Doctor: I like Smith’s Doctor, but I hate the episodes he’s in. Smith’s ability to portray a younger, more quirky Doctor one minute and an older, more stern Doctor the next was and is amazing to me. His portrayal is still one of my favorites, and yet, because of the way they used him, I don’t enjoy watching his seasons nearly as much as I like watching Tenant and Eccleston’s.

It’s not until Season Seven that we start getting episodes that are fun to rewatch (“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, for example). And only once Clara joins the Doctor do we get consistently good episodes.

Even with Clara, though, we can’t escape the Moffat approach of wrapping the Companion up with the Big Bad of the season and defining her mostly by what she does for the Doctor (Impossible Girl? The Girl Who Waited?). Martha Jones used to be my least favorite companion, but compared with Amy or Clara she’s incredibly kick-ass: a doctor, a smart woman who kept her head when the hospital she worked in got transported to the Moon, who had a life beyond the Doctor and went on to be a hero in her own right.

I almost think Doctor Who needs a reboot. Not just a new Doctor (we got that, hooray), but a scratching-out of most of the Doctor’s history since Moffat took over. I mean at this point, the Doctor we have is pretty lame: he’s 2,000 years old but lived in one single town for half of that time, his grave at Trenzalore – where he must never go – is not really his grave, and he’s given up caring or acting in the world because he’s lost his confidence.

We need to wipe the Moffat years out, and start over.

We can do it by making the current Doctor not the real Doctor.

During the end of Season Five (“The Big Bang”) what Amy Pond remembered back into existence was not the real Doctor. It was the Raggedy Man, her Doctor, not the real one.

The real Doctor got shunted off to Gallifrey during the explosion to seal the rift (emergency temporal shift). He was trapped there, and regenerated into a new body.

We introduce this as a season closer, when Gallifrey comes back. The fake Doctor sacrifices himself, the Time Lords return, and the real Doctor emerges. We can drop all the history we don’t like from the last three seasons, and go forward with a revamped show. We can get a younger Doctor, a not-so-needy Doctor, and (if we’re lucky) a female Doctor.

How to Fix Doctor Who: Into the Dalek

This episode is irredeemable. From the bad acting, the heavy-handed rehash of ideas that have been explored in previous Doctor Who episodes, and how bored the Doctor seems at everything that happens (I swear, Capaldi takes deadpan to a whole new level), it’s one of the worst episodes I’ve ever seen. The only thing we really learn about the Doctor or Clara is confirmation that yes, Capaldi and Coleman have absolutely zero chemistry on screen.

Skip it. Watch episode “Dalek” from Season One instead. It’s the same theme, executed better, and without the Doctor-is-just-anti-Dalek retcon.

How to Fix Doctor Who: Deep Breath

(Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead)

This episode is so uneven, like a miniature version of Moffat’s tenure at Doctor Who. There are some brilliant ideas – having the Doctor bring a dinosaur along for the ride after it swallowed the Tardis – and some utterly daft ones – who wants to see an older man flail about in a nightgown? – all mixed together, but never congealing into something coherently enjoyable.

Of all the things that went wrong, though, there’s a huge missed opportunity that stands out.

Clara should have left at the end of the episode.

Imagine if she did. There’s no last-minute phone call from Matt Smith manipulating her into staying, no puppy-dog eyes from the current Doctor to beg her to stay. No. The Doctor touches down in Clara’s time, she asks if she’s home, and he says “Yes.”

He drops her off, and explains why: his past self made a mistake in thinking of her in a romantic way, and some unknown person is manipulating their relationship. Until he knows who that person is, and why they’re doing it, he’s not going to play into their plans and perpetuate his predecessor’s mistake. This is a different Doctor, a Doctor that’s not as needy, and he’s strong enough to let her go when he sees it’s best.

Making that the final scene would recast the episode as the breakup of the Doctor and Clara, giving it some emotional heft, and making his abandonment of her in the middle a kind of foreshadowing. It would also give the season a little more tension: will Clara and the Doctor ever travel together again? Will he find out who’s been manipulating them? Will he take on a new long-term companion, or will this Doctor be more independent than the past?

I feel like this approach is something an earlier Steven Moffat would have done. The writer of The Girl in the Fireplace and Forest of the Dead would have seen the opportunity for a defining, bittersweet moment, and taken it. Instead Moffat’s new Doctor, perhaps like Moffat himself, does not know when to let go.

Elementary vs Sherlock: Which is Better?

Both Elementary and Sherlock offer modern takes on the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. While I watch both shows, I think Elementary is the better one. Here’s why:

Watson is more than just Holmes’ biographer

In most versions of Holmes and Watson, including Sherlock’s, Holmes is the primary mover of the relationship. Watson is there as the audience’s stand-in, someone Holmes can be brilliant next to. He’s there to make Holmes more relatable, but that’s it.

Elementary’s Watson is a stronger, more complex character. She begins as Holmes’ sober companion, becomes his mentee in deduction, and grows into an equal partner in solving crimes.

Holmes is a more complex character

Part of what makes Elementary’s Watson better is the fact that she manages to change Holmes. He starts the series as a recovering addict, oblivious to the feelings of others and convinced of his superiority. Unlike Sherlock’s version of the character, Elementary’s Holmes changes under Watson’s influence, becoming humbler and more sensitive to how his behavior is perceived.

Elementary’s version of Holmes is vulnerable, and knows it, something we never see in Sherlock.

Moriarty finally makes sense

I think Elementary’s portrayal of Moriarty is brilliant. The writers of Elementary managed to finally give a good explanation for the two main problems with Sherlock’s Moriarty:

  1. Why doesn’t Moriarty kill Holmes? I’ve never bought the “I admire him” argument. What criminal mastermind wouldn’t eliminate a threat as great as Sherlock Holmes as early as possible?
  2. Why doesn’t Holmes track down Moriarty earlier? Both Sherlock and Elementary have Holmes encounter Moriarty early on without recognizing him, but only Elementary has a good explanation for why such an observant man as Holmes would have a blind spot where Moriarty is concerned.

Update: The Onion’s AVClub agrees that Elementary is the better show.