Production Code 2011 Comic Relief special Okay, kids, this is where it gets complicated
Dates March 18, 2011

With Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Richard Senior
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Piers Wagner, Beth Willis

Synopsis: The TARDIS has materialised inside itself, because of a problem with Amy's skirt.


The Husband, the Skirt and the Glass Floor by Tom Berwick 5/10/12

I was a little worried when I heard that Doctor Who was doing a special mini-story for Comic Relief. Obviously, the show has made charity skits in the past, but this in itself didn't reassure me. The skits in the past had mostly been for Children in Need, which is a whole different matter: Children in Need is easy to get right.

It's easy to get Children in Need right because Children in Need is dire television in the first place. Really, it's awful. It's the cast of EastEnders doing song-and-dance routines and newsreaders performing the Time-Warp. Yes, it's all in a good cause, but the kindest word I can think of for it is "silly". That's why I've never seen any point in slagging off Dimensions in Time. Yes it's dreadful, but it's Children in Need dreadful (after all, it's another example of the cast of EastEnders messing about).

The more recent visits to Children in Need were much better; so much better in fact that they felt wasted there. But they were still easier to do than Comic Relief because they had no need to be funny. The 2005 special didn't even try to be funny, and, while there was humour in Time Crash, it would still have worked if there hadn't been. Being on Children in Need was also the reason why it got away with David Tennant telling Peter Davison that he was "My Doctor". It really wasn't the tenth Doctor saying it to the fifth.

Of course, Doctor Who has sort of done Comic Relief before, but that also didn't reassure me. The Curse of Fatal Death was superb, but it wasn't a proper Doctor Who story at all. It was a piss-take, a parody. A piss-take in the best spirit, of course, laughing with the show rather than at it, but a piss-take all the same. It was one of the few televisual highlights of the long hiatus, but was something the revived series couldn't use as a template.

I did, however, have two big things that reassured me. Firstly, Steven Moffat, an accomplished comedy writer whose stuff had me laughing like a drain long before I learned that he even liked Doctor Who. Try Overkill, his episode of Dawn French's anthology series Murder Most Horrid, and then compare it with any other episode in that series. It's just better. My second source of reassurance was the TARDIS crew. I'd already seen that Matt, Karen and Arthur could do comedy: Arthur's comic timing in particular being one of the reasons I'd been so relived about Rory's death only being temporary.

Still, none of that would have mattered if the story had been wrong. In short, what was needed was a quality mini-story, one that managed to be funny without being silly or descending into parody. What was essential was that it be proper Doctor Who with jokes. And that was precisely what we got.

The first episode, Space, sets up the problem in the correct manner. We settle in with a little character-based comedy, the Doctor trying to avoid what he fears will be a heart-to-heart with Amy before the plot properly gets started. When it does indeed get started, it proves to be just right. The idea of potential disaster coming because a guy was distracted by the view up a girl's skirt is exactly the right sort of way to start. Let's face it, guys get distracted by the view up girl's skirts on a regular basis, which is what the talk about Amy's driving instructor was all about. But, at the same time, it's funny. It's funny in Doctor Who because, while entirely plausible, it's a laughably trivial cause of a potential disaster.

The second episode, Time, is even better. This is not only Doctor Who doing comedy that works for Comic Relief, but Doctor Who doing it in a way that only Doctor Who can. Time paradoxes have the potential to be funny. There are lots of little predestination paradox jokes here, with Rory, from his point of view, getting slapped, and then causing himself to get slapped after the slap. As for Amy fancying herself... well, a beautiful girl could well have that effect on herself. Rory was right not to have a problem with it. It's just a shame it can't happen in reality.

Okay, by its nature, some things had to be rushed. There was no explanation given as to why the TARDIS exterior slipped forward in time, but then there didn't need to be. For one thing, all that mattered was that it had: now deal with it. Also, there was humour to be had from the lack of an explanation, with future Amy trying to explain something when she herself didn't understand it and was just repeating what she'd heard herself saying a minute earlier. As for the Wibbly lever, I'm sure that's just what the Doctor calls it.

Overall, the charity special I'd most feared turned out to be the best yet. Plausible, funny and definitely proper Doctor Who. Brilliant stuff.

"Sugar Walls" by Thomas Cookson 16/6/20

When Space/Time aired, I'd fallen into a complacency that Matt's Doctor, Amy and Rory were my new favourite TARDIS team, and therefore any story featuring them must be good entertaining fun. Believing New Who had finally reached the point it should've begun on. Like RTD's cheerleaders beforehand, I was convinced the show was finally back better than ever, chiefly because I wanted to believe it.

Maybe the accusations by some that I wasn't a 'true fan' given the percentage of the show I dislike, started getting to me (apparently 1979's the last time I could've liked enough Doctor Who to qualify, before my fan licence becomes revoked for not liking enough garbage ahead). I felt obliged to make a compensating show of positivity. To justify why I was still here, sticking with this series. Otherwise I was straining everyone's patience.

Matt's era seemed my chance to redress those scales. I liked Matt's Doctor, I liked Amy, I liked Moffat's writing, and I liked the new TARDIS. To paraphrase the maligned Trump, I might even come to love Moffat's era so much, I might tire of loving it. But maybe it'd eventually prove hollow and dissatisfying. Lacking realness. Maybe Moffat was playing to a knowing audience in ways destined to date badly once his tricks became overindulged to exhausted patience.

Reconsidering Space/Time now, it seems a bitter harbinger of things ahead. It's a short appetiser for Series 6 proper ("Here's where it gets complicated", Gangers, The Girl Who Waited's two-Amys dilemma). Moffat shouldn't necessarily fire his best thunderbolt here, but something simple and cheerful wouldn't be unwelcome. Unfortunately, where it's cheerful, it feels unnervingly forced, and more mean-spirited than a Comic Relief skit should.

It's indicative of Moffat seemingly already losing interest in his new TARDIS dynamic yet obliged to delve deeper into the Ponds' now retconned personal life to maintain audience interest and appease RTD's fans. Hereon, Moffat's era becomes less adventurous and more soapish, miserable and self-involved than RTD's era.

Rory discussing how Amy wore her skirt to cheat her driving test is indescribably petty and bitchy. It's meant as harmless banter but feels bitter, with the worrying sense Moffat's sowing seeds for their acrimonious divorce even here. Compared with Series 5's smile-raising DVD interludes between Matt and Amy, this just feels off. Sadly it's their last glimpse of happiness before "it stops being fun". But even the fun feels off.

There's no sense of adventure or wonder. They're in the universe's most advanced spaceship, and all they talk about is driving tests and Amy being a prick-tease. It feels like Coupling's leftovers. Suggesting Moffat really wanted to write a sketch about a couple's driving test but with only the TARDIS set available, he has Rory exposit a comedy scene he'd rather be writing.

Unlike Lister and Rimmer's comedic anecdotes in Red Dwarf, this lacks any futurist intrigue or cathartic life lessons. It's simply Amy's a tease, her driving instructor was a perv, she passed her test. That's it. It's Moffat asserting women can be scheming about playing men for poor saps. Possibly a truism sometimes. But gradually this'll accelerate into ridiculous, outlandish paranoia that 'women might steal your TARDIS keys and strand you on volcano-world'.

The smugness of Amy's response was a worrying sign. Recalling Amy's newfound confidence with Rory after The Big Bang, proving the Doctor's "fixed" her. Rewritten her past to produce a more confident, secure woman without prior hang-ups. That nagged me, as much as I tried to accept it. Can you really rewrite characters and their backstory halfway through a series?

I told myself if it was only done once, it could work. Hoping it wouldn't happen again, or wasn't a sign of Moffat character development troubles being endemic. Sadly, that dam wouldn't hold.

The plot concerns the usual timey-wimey Moffat writes in his sleep. Crucially it started because Rory glimpsed up Amy's skirt through the 'glass ceiling', got excited and dropped a cable.

It's pretty implicit Rory being captivated by glimpsing Amy's knickers shouldn't be sinister when it's typically a prelude to their sex-life anyway. However, there is something seedy and exploitative about Moffat playing God with this show's universe. Exploiting the TARDIS' Panopticon design to contrive perfect circumstances for Rory's full, direct view of oblivious Amy's undergarments (itself preluding the Doctor's invasive pregnancy scans). It's not a sexy moment. It's the author being sexually aggressive for Rory's benefit.

Maybe because the TARDIS is an environment of purity, about seeing greater wonders than the puerile pornographic, that seeing Rory turn peeping tom within it feels an unpleasant transgression. Moffat could've written the temporal accident happening without explanation. It certainly didn't need "it happened because Rory's a sad pervert who glimpsed some lady-muffin."

Perhaps Moffat's working through personal anxieties here. Moffat's nearly the same generation as Grumpy Old Men's talking heads, who've described feeling unsure the etiquette of where to look concerning modern women's riskier fashions. This sketch likewise asks can men really help being caught in momentary sexual awe at women?

Since Rory has an out because it involves an understanding wife he shares a healthy sex-life with, that anxiety's neutered early. But Amy becomes the fall girl. Which you could argue is an egalitarian correction for male buffoons in domestic adverts. But this'll get nasty once we reach The Doctor's Wife, with Amy fearfully bearing the blame and rage from a dying, distorted Rory's insane accusations, still trying to calm him like an incensed dog.

We persevere because we feel there's possibly a personal trial in this minefield the characters are stuck on. Amy girl-crushing on herself is cute. Rory getting slapped amuses, because we're set up to think his chastisement's needed. But it's basically Time Crash rehashed. Hinging on the same plot resolution, where the Doctor learns which buttons to press to avert catastrophe from his future self.

The timey-wimey's nothing we haven't seen Moffat do better elsewhere. It's homaging Logopolis and for some a sad reminder how Moffat's diminished the formerly strangely foreboding and unnerving.

Time Crash had a moment where Davison feared it would all fall apart, without even realizing he's being taught how to prevent it. There was anticipation, pay-off and magic to the process. The Doctors comparing notes, discovering how they grew and developed from one another. The sense this solution isn't the only thing they've learned today.

The Doctor being rescued by his omniscient future self's arrival got reused in The Big Bang. Mitigated by his being kept immortal within an eternity trap, meaning the possibility of him eventually escaping could become a probability.

The stakes here feel nowhere near as important. Matt's Doctor already knows the future solution's coming, tells us so, then it arrives and he does it. It's much more flippant, blase. Nowhere near as triumphant. We sensed even Moffat knew this resolution was getting pat. Hoping he was saving better smarts for later (perhaps overestimating his cleverness).

The pre-destination plot relegates the Ponds to obedient automatons. The story's purpose being from hereon, Amy obeys Smith's judgment that wearing miniskirts isn't appropriate because it drew some petty viewer complaints. The sense this skit only exists for neurotic fannish purposes of contriving that line to justify Amy's modest Series 6 fashion change. That's why it all feels so awkward. The entire story's based around a horrible idea Moffat became meticulous over, that was allowed to get out of control.

It's only hinting at later stories' anxieties about doppelganger Amys and Doctors. A microcosm of the frustration of story substance being put on hold. And for what? To revert always to this insufferable chirpy comical tone like nothing happened.

Really, it reflects our culture's fascistic fixation with physical, mental wellness. How our workplaces became unnerving dystopian holiday camps of team exercises and parties. Fermenting a strange bio-morality fascism demanding being happy and chirpy as a full-time job. If your physical and mental wellbeing wasn't sufficient or your attitude wasn't of a fun-loving joy-seeker, it marked you as undesirable. A culture New Who was informed by and aimed at. Which RTD's sycophants seemed furiously radicalized by.

Even here, Amy can't give over to the 'wow' of the adventure completely or break from her home social networks' chain of wellbeing. The driving-instructor gag itself likens Amy to the office tease who didn't get promoted on genuine merit (ironically, her 'teasing' makes her part of that fun-loving culture).

What we're seeing is that culture of hysterical chirpiness and flippancy continuing monotonously. Almost soullessly. We'll soon see Moffat run rampant with it, in ways his disciplined guest stories under RTD didn't prepare us for.

This is Moffat's ideal sexy, fun workplace, free of the office feminist killjoy. The 'boss' Doctor using humour as his rod to dismiss Amy's issues, maintaining a tight happy team. Where couples can fraternize, but should a gentle foot need putting down with sugarcoated flippancy, it's directed at the girlfriend, to stop distracting him with her miniskirts. Perhaps leaving many girls feeling the butt of this nasty workplace pecking-order's belittling.

Claudia Boleyn identified this as her moment of disillusionment in Moffat. Matt's snidely delivered, cold chastisement of Amy's skirt. Dictating what Amy is and isn't allowed to wear here and how to express herself. Blaming everything on Amy for being female and dressing in ways apparently preventing Rory's self-control.

Many young feminists cherished RTD's empowering journeys of Rose, Martha and Donna. How an ordinary working girl, saving Eccleston and the universe, was something precious, special and empowering to them, since modern feminism ironically isn't that empowering. Many were devastated how Moffat's female companions became less relatable strong protagonists and more an irrational source of trouble. Initially, the fact that Moffat's era wasn't a preachy feminist series made it refreshing, after Buffy's overwrought excesses.

Arguably, Moffat's Doctor is a morally dubious character who sometimes says the completely inappropriate by our standards. An argument once seemed possible that Moffat was writing how the Doctor's utopian, egalitarian culture has no male guilt, so he has no filter.

Despite Tennant's pick-up-artist persona, feminists still responded positively to him because he clearly liked and relished women chiefly for their company. Matt's admonishing line about Amy's skirt and panicked yelling for Rory when she tries discussing feelings with him suggested this Doctor doesn't like women around him much at all.

Explaining why was difficult, until tumblr feminism coagulated. A culture of activists essentially seeking the echo-chamber therapy of their ideal selves online reflected back at them. Toeing an ever-changing line of SJW pieties indicative of how maladapted they'd become to the sordidness of human contact.

Girls who loved Amy's sexual confidence, would've rather Amy stood her ground, refusing to change for anyone. That Moffat instead caved to complaints, throwing Amy under the bus to appease them, probably left many girls feeling backstabbed.

Whilst our pejorative notions of men being lecherous dogs who don't know better seems to chiefly degrade men, there's historically always been a need to maintain an essential notion of virtuous Holy men. But because even they can be tempted, it necessitated the scapegoating of women for inherently provoking male lust.

The Magdalene Sisters showed how easily, instinctively society could permanently blame the young girls and condemn them to an evil institution without even thinking. Paradoxically, feminine innocence became a double-edged sword, framing women as blank-slate ciphers that can be easily sullied.

Moffat seemingly doesn't realize his joke's ugly, horrifying historical implications. But the historically savvy Doctor should know better. It hurts coming from the Doctor because he's usually, in theory, the enlightened thinker we trust as having the right conclusions, despite his ingrained views. But for him to draw this conclusion?

What hurts is we almost know for sure he'll never rectify his arrogant judgment. It's Moffat's humoured dismissal that would prefer the debate hushed before he loses patience at those strange unhappy people questioning his complacent arrogance.