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Entertainment Geekly Mailbag: 'Doctor Who,' 'Big Brother,' and the Apple Watch

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This is the first-ever edition of the Entertainment Geekly Mailbag, where you send questions, aggressive clarifications, or angry rebuttals to me at darren_franich@ew.com, and I attempt to answer those question, declarify those clarifications, and angrily rebut your rebuttal.

Regarding your ‘Doctor Who’ piece

The Doctor is NOT immortal or semi-omniscient.

Time Lords have a limited amount of regenerations and can be killed as the show has stated. The regeneration limit was 12 but he just got a new batch from the Time Lords and it’s not clear how many that was. Maybe a new cycle? But that was presented as a special case. Of course The Doctor will not be killed for the same reason Sherlock Holmes and James Bond would not be killed. :)

As for omniscient, he frequently finds himself at a loss as to what’s going on or what the cause is. He has to work to find out. He is, at core, a very knowledgeable and curious scientist/humanist.

Regards,

Tony

P.S. You didn’t like ‘Hide’? It was one of the highest regarded stories from the last series.

This is one of a few emails I received which took issue with my description of the Doctor as “immortal, semi-omniscient, and essentially omnipresent.” It’s true that Doctor Who has explicitly stated that Time Lords can die–in fact, the entire rebooted Doctor Who series begins with the idea that all the Time Lords have died, except for the Doctor and the Master and Timothy Dalton and also oh now it turns out that all the Time Lords are still alive.

What Tony is specifically referring to is the idea that there are only 12 regenerations, for a total of 13 lives. This would have made the Eleventh Doctor the final Doctorbecause the Tenth Doctor regenerated once as himself, and because it turns out there was another Doctor between the Eight Doctor and the Ninth Doctor played by Hellboy’s dad. Now, absolutely no one on the face of the planet actually thought the Doctor was going to die, and current showrunner Steven Moffat kicked the can eternally forward by granting the Doctor what appeared to be several dozen new regenerations in the form of glowing balls of light.

So, let’s be clear. On one hand, everyone else is right and I was wrong: The Doctor isn’t immortal in the strictest possible definition of the term immortal. On the other hand, the Doctor will live forever. And although it’s true that he can be “killed,” it’s not entirely clear to me that he can age. Part of what made the Eleventh Doctor’s run so interesting was how, between episodes, Moffat and his fellow writers seemed to be leaping wildly forward in the Doctor’s own life. In Matt Smith’s first episode, the character claims he is 907; at one point, he took a “farewell tour” that consisted of 200 years of mostly undocumented traveling. The character doesn’t age physically at all…but in Matt Smith’s final episode, he spends several hundred years on a single planet, and does age physically. Moffat himself has said that he thinks the Doctor doesn’t know his own age, which throws essentially every useful statistic about the Doctor’s age into the fireplace.

The larger point I’m getting at here is that part of what I like about Doctor Who is that it’s not particularly wedded to its own canon. Or rather, it honors what we should honor in canonthe actors who played the lead roles, the central emotions that defined some character’s arcs, the visual iconographybut it never gets too weighed down in the kind of relentless details that so often transform long-running science-fiction franchises into fan-service dumps made groggy by the sheer excess of beats to hit.

Like, the new Doctor Who started to air in the mid-2000s, and while it was quietly growing a fanbase in the US, the most popular sci-fi show on television was Lost. In many respects, the two shows couldn’t be more differentbig ensemble vs. two or three recurring characters, single main setting vs. regular location shifts every weekalthough it’s striking to see how the two shows may have weirdly influenced each other, with later Losts embracing time-hopping shenanigans while the Moffat era of Doctor Who featured a more cinematic visual style. But Lost is a show that ultimately kind of drowned in its own wiki-fication: Season 6 has some strong episodes and it never gets the credit for just how weird it all was, but it also got a bit bogged down in relentless callbacks and hastily solved mysteries.

So while I totally respect people who go deep into Doctor Who canonfew wikias make more entertainingly dizzying reading than Tardis Data CoreI also think Doctor Who is a prime example of how to keep a franchise pumping by freely rebooting, revising, or occasionally just ignoring the show’s own history. So is the Doctor “immortal” or is he just going to live forever? Who cares? Let’s cry about Amy Pond again!

And to answer your PS: I tend to like the Doctor Who Full Horror episodes, and “Hide” starred Dougray Scott, who was great as the villain in Mission: Impossible 2 and also is the star of my favorite trivia question “Who was supposed to play Wolverine before Hugh Jackman?”

But “Hide” came in the middle of a run of 2013 episodes that I didn’t quite love. In hindsight, the 2013 batch had to deal with an assortment of exterior maladies–the recent departure of Amy Pond meant that the episodes had to set up Clara as a New Companion and figure out the new Companion/Doctor dynamic; the episodes also had to lead into the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary; they had to figure out a way to wrap up the River Song arc; and they wound up being the last sequence of episodes to feature Matt Smith. Although Who is a well-oiled machine, I wouldn’t be surprised if all these factors contributed to a slightly manic season, which featured a lot of episodes like “Hide”: Beautifully shot, well-acted, with a few twists thrown in (is the monster a monster?), but ultimately not very surprising.

The biggest issue may have been the decision to turn Clara’s introduction arc into a “mystery”who is this impossible girl and why does she keep dying?which made everything about her character and her relationship to the Doctor confusing. Like, I think we learned more about Clara in the first episode of Peter Capaldi’s run than we ever did in 2013.

In short, “Hide” is terrible. Just kidding! It was okay.

Hello,

Just emailing you to let you know that without the Gallifreyan High Council, the Doctor isn’t immortal. Had he not put Gallifrey into a pocket universe to save them from the Time War they wouldn’t exist to grant any more regenerations. Seeing as without the Doctor Gallifrey cannot return from said pocket universe, the high Council granted him 12 more regenerations in”The Time of the Doctor” Christmas special. Had that not happened the Doctor would have died of old age, making Matt Smith the last face the Doctor would have had. So the Doctor can eventually die which makes him long lived but not immortal. Great article regardless, just thought you’d like that information.

Corry

I know, Corry, I know…

I have just a simple question on behalf on many Whovians in my immediate circle.  Why with all the Doctor Who popularity, why is the show never nominated for US award shows nor is any of its talent? Heck I’ve only heard about the show on the Nerdist and NPR but never on the morning shows. Its virtually ignored but the media here. Why is that?

I’ve posed this question to other entertainment reporters and never once heard a response.  But I’m genuinely curious especially as we see shows like Luther, Downton Abbey and Sherlock being recognized.  Or in the case of Orphan Black being snubbed.

Thank you,

Victoria

Whovian in Phoenix Az

First of all, it’s important to remember that award shows don’t matter. They tend to reward things that are “good” in the narrowest and most pedestrian definition of the wordmovies that take on “important themes” in “respectful ways,” or music that is well-produced but not particularly exciting, or TV shows that seem to emanate “importance.”

So it makes sense that something like Downton Abbey would break through with several dozen unearned nominations, because nothing seems more “important” to Americans than Rich British Stuff. There’s long been an argument that awards ceremonies don’t pay any attention to science-fiction and fantasy. If that was ever true before, it’s definitely not true now: Return of the King won a kamillion Oscars, and Lost won a Best Drama award for its first season. But both of those franchises still had the veneer of “importance”–moody, serious stuff. Doctor Who tackles very serious subject matter, but it’s very lighthearted and features a goofy-sounding magic screwdriver.

And because we’re talking about the Emmys, it’s important to remember that the TV Academyeven more so than their movie-focused brethrenis very focused on Things That Are Successful. Doctor Who gets larger ratings than it used to, but it’s still a culty hit in the US. And whereas Luther and Sherlock feature Real Genuine Movie Starsthe Emmys are suckers for movie stars on the small screenDoctor Who is a great source for unknown up-and-coming talent.

But again, the important thing to remember is that awards shows are ridiculous events that almost always represent the poorest possible form of good taste. So I’ve never really understood the particular geek-world focus on how awards shows “snub” science-fiction and fantasy stuff. (AKA, The Dark Knight argument.) Most of my favorite movies and TV shows were never nominated for anything. Oh God, do I sound like a nerd hipster? I ONLY LIKE THINGS THAT AREN’T POPULAR. Let’s move on.

If you believe that watching six seasons of the ‘new’ Doctor Who gives you any insight into the character, or the story, than you are fooling yourself.

You will gain insight into the latest rendition, but to actually understand The Doctor it is necessary to know ALL his regenerations. Why? Because all the regenerations influence his actions and his person.

I am 67 years old, and I have watched Doctor Who since he first came to America as the original “old guy”, with his niece Susan as his companion.

Until PBS became so Yuppie-fied it is now practically unrecognizable, they carried the series religiously. My friends and I spent many joyful moments on Sunday afternoons and evenings watching the series and discussing the science and the fiction.

I miss Tom Baker – the best Doctor Who of ALL the incarnations, hands down. And I think you will find he is the longest running continuous character, almost ten years 1974 to 1981.

It is always helpful when chronicling anything to know the history from A to Z, not just from S to Z.

LaVerne

Shots fired, LaVerne! Let’s take this point-by-point:

-I announced right on the top of my article that nothing I said could be considered definitive. It was in the sentence where I said, “Nothing I write about Doctor Who can really be considered definitive.”

-However: You’re telling me that watching six seasons of a TV showrepresenting several DOZENS of hours of televisiondoesn’t give me any insight into a character? That is crazypants! That’s like saying that you have to read the entire Bible until you can say anything about Christianity, and nobody ever reads the entire Bible! (The back half gets pretty boring, although it’s worth sticking around for the ending.)

-The notion that PBS has become “yuppie-fied” is one of the best grumpy assertions I have ever heard. Is NewsHour a yuppie thing?

-I do always like hearing about how people discovered Doctor Who, though, and it’s interesting to hear that the show’s presentation on PBS weirdly mirrored our contemporary binge-watching culture. Marathons aplenty!

I think Doctor Who has extra possibilities for poignancy because of the time and dimension changes.  Usually a relationship ends in death.  One person dies and the other has to go on.  But on Doctor Who, they have cleverly created situations in which people know they are separated for eternity, and they BOTH have to carry on.  This happens to Rose and the Doctor, as you noted.  It also happens to Amy and the Doctor.  Remember when the Doctor tried to stop Amy traveling with him and he says “what’s the alternative?  Me standing over your grave?”  And when they do finally see each other for the last time (“Angels Take Manhattan”), he does find himself exactly there– standing over her grave after she’s been whisked back in time.  By then she had died, but she had had to live out her life knowing she wouldn’t see him again and he, of course, knew that she was lost to him.

Sara

Oh God, I’m crying again!

I have come to ask for your assistance. I wrote a song about Doctor Who, and it has 893 views on youtube last I checked. I am trying to get enough views to where maybe I have a chance of meeting David Tennant one day. My hope is that he sees it or someone on the show and they love it enough to send me on a trip up to Cardiff so I could tour the set. However, that’s besides the point. I would be so honored if you’d listen to the song and comment or share it on your Facebook page. You don’t have to put it in an article, I’d be honored if you even took the time to watch it.

~Lacie, The girl who dared to dream

You had me at the lyrics “People Assume Time/Is A Straight Linear Progression.”

hi darren,

first of all i would like to say that i really liked ur last night recap of big brother, mostly the part on victoria. i would like to ask that don’t you think that if victoria comes to the final 2 she deserves to win? maybe she did nothing and maybe she is the biggest floater this game has ever seen(cant be sure though only watching since season 12) but if someone like that gets to go to the end why wont let her win?

a big fan of americam tv,

noam

Quite a few Big Brother fansand a couple of remaining houseguestshave noted the possibility that Victoria has inadvertently conceived an entirely new gameplay strategy. By making herself so utterly useless but also essentially inoffensive, she has become the perfect Final Two meatbag: Someone who absolutely no one will vote for, which means that whoever sits next to her will win. I’m not quite sure when everyone in the house realized it, but for the last month and a half, this has meant that one of the best running jokes of the season is how everyone talks about Victoria, and then the camera cuts to her, and usually when the camera cuts to her, she looks like this:

So does Victoria deserve to win, by virtue of the fact that she figured out a way to survive by doing absolutely nothing? There’s no way anyone on the Jury would hand the win to Victoriait’s important to remember that she’s essentially been used as a pawn by everyone, and there is a recognition among Big Brother players of the difference between good strategy and non-strategy. I would love it if Victoria made it to the Final Two and gave an epic speech revealing that this was her plan all alongsomething similar to the end of The Usual Suspects, where she reveals her hair is a wig and starts talking in a British accent and basically explains that her strategy was based on lying to everyone all the time about everything.

It’s important to remember that “deserve” has nothing to do with winning reality shows where evicted contestants are voting on the final winner–plenty of animosities get inflamed. But I do think that, if Victoria comes in second place, she will have earned the $50,000 prize. I mean, have you ever tried just doing nothing for three months?

Ah, Mr. Franich,

I am among the biggest U2 fans out there, but your article really made me giggle. Your reference to a song about the environment and a deaf man rejoicing at the “most incredible song ever” was just truthful enough to be witty, you clever, clever man. I love those Irish guys, but you win this round (I think maybe Apple gets third place in this).

Thanks for the giggle while I listen to THE BEST NEW ALBUM OF THE YEAR ;)

Sandra

London, Ontario

To be clear, I’m not a complete anti-U2 firebreather. Like, I used to listen to All That You Can’t Leave Behind on repeat on my car’s stereo while I drove around the suburbs feeling massive teenaged feelings. But I definitely think that U2 could have released a new album that was just the Edge playing sweeping guitar solos while Bono occasionally interjected with a “BRWWWWAAAAAAAHHHH!” and everyone would’ve liked that more than Songs of Innocence.