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Darren Mooney @Darren_Mooney
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Still on a bit of a nostalgic #DoctorWho kick, in particular for the Moffat Era.

So now watching “Dark Water”, the first part of the two-part eighth season finale.
“It's a terrible thing. Just a terrible, terrible thing.”
“It wasn't terrible.”
“Clara?”
“It was boring.”
“Boring?”
“It was ordinary.”

Clara is a fascinating companion, in large part because she’s essentially riffing on the sense of entitlement that Rose felt.
“He deserved better. And so did you.”
“I don't deserve anything. Nobody deserves anything.”
“But I am owed better. I am owed.”

Clara is selfish and self-centred. But she’s aware of that, and the show is aware of that.

These traits are explored as developed. They make her human.
Indeed, the central thesis of the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara is that they are both perfect for one another and also terrible for one another at the same time.

It feels like a much more consistent riff on the dynamic between the Doctor and Rose, of which I’m less fond.
“What do we do now? What happens now, you and me? Doctor?”
“Go to hell.”
“Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough.”
“Clara? You asked me what we're going to do. I told you: we're going to Hell.”

Some great Moffat dialogue there. Again, playing with words and meanings.
There’s also something strangely touching in the dynamic between the Twelfth Doctor and Clara.

A lot of that is down to the vulnerability that Capaldi brings to the role, at odds with his gruffness.

He’s probably my favourite iteration of the character.
“It’s a Tomb.”

A large part of what I love about “Dark Water” is the way that Moffat aggressively plays with the classic “Doctor Who” cliffhanger template.

It’s forty-five minute build up to the reveal of the Cyberman. The joke being that it’s obviously the Cybermen.
“Dark Water” is riffing on the tendency of “Doctor Who” stories to build to the big returning monster reveal at the end of the first part.

The irony being that in many cases the returning monster is revealed by the title of the story; “... of the Daleks”, “... of the Cybermen.”
The Davies era employed the template frequently.

The Daleks at the end of “Bad Wolf”, the Cybermen & the Daleks in “Doomsday”, the Master in “Utopia.”

“Dark Water” takes that idea to its extreme. You know it’s Cybermen. The episode knows it’s Cybermen.

But still, cliffhanger.
The entirety of “Dark Water” is an extended self-aware joke where the only answer is “it’s Cybermen.”

Moffat is very clearly playing with the show’s template in a wry, knowing fashion.

It assumes the audience is televisually literate enough to be in on the joke.
“I feel like I’m missing something obvious.”
(Cybermen musical sting.)

I always laugh out loud at this.
“Dark Water” is also Moffat riffing on “Doomsday.”

The Cybermen teaming up with another recurring enemy for an invasion of the contemporary United Kingdom, exploiting mankind’s fear of death.

And, as originally planned, a companion departure story.
There is also something to be said for (I think) Elizabeth Sandifer’s observation that one of the subtle recurring motifs of the Moffat era is the idea that Daleks are season premiere villains and the Cybermen are season finale villains.
I suspect a large part of that is down to the fact that the Cybermen work particularly well as a foil to the Twelfth Doctor.

In that they are people who strip out kindness and humanity, in contrast to the Twelfth Doctor’s thesis statement: “laugh hard, run fast, be kind.”
It probably also helps that the Cybermen don’t have the same sort of fixed identity as the Daleks. In fact, their defining attribute is arguably “the OTHER monster, the one that’s not the Daleks.”

So this affords Moffat more freedom with them than he has with the Daleks.
Indeed, the use of the Cybermen as a metaphor for data harvesting and consent, complete with a thematic fascination with the sort of crazy immortality schemes associated with Silicon Valley like cryonics, means “Dark Water” has aged very well indeed.
Even then, it may not have aged quite as well as Moffat’s two-year-later completely reimagining of the Cybermen in “World Enough and Time.”

There, they are the emotionless and numb victims of austerity, specifically a ruthless and uncaring healthcare system.
This flexibility suggests why the Cybermen work so well for Moffat.

Like the Angels in “Flesh and Stone”, the Cybermen are presented as a concept that manifests itself repeatedly across time and space in different forms.

They’re an infectious, contaminating, monstrous idea.
To be fair, that’s hinted at in the premise of “Rise of the Cybermen” during the Davies era.

Moffat just literalises that idea and runs with it. Cybermen seem to be just an evolutionary possibility for countless world’s across time and space.

They lurk in the darkness.
As much as I love the “let’s affectionately mock the standard first part of a returning monster story” aspect of “Dark Water”, it is the kind of thing that Moffat haters really dislike about his tenure.

Which is interesting.
Repeatedly over the course of his run, Moffat gestures at familiar story templates, only to then mock those templates.

He mocks them with varying degrees of scorn. He mocks the rape-revenge epic in “A Good Man Goes to War”, the “last regeneration story” in “Time of the Doctor.”
This puts Moffat in the crosshairs of two extremes of fandom.

Those who think Moffat shouldn’t tell those sorts of familiar archetypal stories hate that he sets them up.

Those who want Moffat to tell those sorts of familiar archetypal stories hate that he subverts them.
And, to be fair, there’s a valid argument to be made that devoting a significant portion of your season finale to affectionately mocking a very specific “Doctor Who” trope is a little indulgent.

I can see that.
It’s also a valid thing to do with a show that has been running half a century.

More than that, it is a much more interesting approach to the tired old stock “Doctor Who” cliché than playing it straight.

Davies used that template three times in three years. It’s fair game.
“Dark Water” is just a cheeky and very specific example of an approach that Moffat employs repeatedly.

He sets up and subverts a mystery around Clara, an epic last regeneration story, a search for Gallifrey saga.

And this drives certain fans bananas, perhaps even fairly.
But, you know what?

The show ran fifty years. It can afford to have six seasons where it deconstructs with those tropes and ideas instead of playing them straight.

Besides, how long before Chris Chibnall or someone else plays a “classic monster reveal” cliffhanger straight?
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that Moffat’s “let’s play with the structure of a two-parter” approach to “Dark Water” essentially led into a season-long experiment in playing with the structure of two parters.

I suspect some of that flowed from the fun that he had here.
But, yeah, in conclusion, “Dark Water” is awesome.
“Dark Water”/“Death in Heaven” bonus!

Chris Addison, making a delightful supporting character.
Even playful, and joking, the teaser to “Death in Heaven” is another big moment of Moffat pushing the show towards the inevitability of a female Doctor.

As is the female version of the Master, crediting Jenna Coleman ahead of Peter Capaldi and putting her eyes in the credits.
The use of Clara in the teaser to “Death in Heaven” is also Moffat playing with the whole “Impossible Girl” arc.

It’s teasing the Cybermen with the idea that Clara is a riddle rather than a person, like “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Snowmen” did to the audience.
There’s also something clever in the way that “Death in Heaven” has the public respond to Cybermen.

Rather than running in terror, the public pause to take selfies with “the giant metal men.” Again, Moffat playing with the tropes of the “Doctor Who” alien invasion narrative.
Michelle Gomez is great as “Missy.”

It is undoubtedly the most consistently that the character of the Master has worked since the Pertwee era.

In fact, there’s a credible argument that “Missy” is the best that the Master has ever worked.
“How do you win a war against an enemy that can weaponise the dead?”

“Death in Heaven” aired the day before Remembrance Day in 2014.

Which is a very charged, very nationalist, very militarist celebration.

In which the establishment buttresses itself with the dead.
I don’t think people outside of the U.K. (and by proxy Ireland) understand how insane the United Kingdom goes around Remembrance Day.

Celebrities not wearing poppies get crucified in the press. Even those from, say, Northern Ireland whose relatives were killed by British troops.
I remember being impressed by “Death in Heaven”, a story about a monstrous weaponised army of the dead.

Focusing on a British soldier suffering from PTSD after killing a child.

As I recall, it aired right before the BBC went straight to Remembrance Day celebrations. Gutsy.
“And you know what I worked out? What you really need?”
”For what?”
“To know that you're just like me!”

The characterization of “Missy” benefits from riffing on the Batman/Joker dynamic in “The Dark Knight.”

It gives the duo a better hook than they’ve had in decades. If ever.
In keeping with that cynicism about how politicians exploit dead soldiers for their own ends, Danny Pink calls out the Doctor’s (now President of Earth) attempt to exploit him for “a tactical advantage.”

BBC One transitions from this to David Cameron celebrating Remembrance Day.
“I am an idiot... with a box.”

“Death in Heaven” is another example of Moffat’s recurring repudiation of the whole “Oncoming Storm” rhetoric of the Davies era, the idea of the Doctor as an omnicidal force tearing through the cosmos.
“Death in Heaven” has Missy bring up Gallifrey, and the Doctor acknowledge he never even bothered to look where it used to be.

It keeps the prospect of Gallifrey’s return firm in the audience’s mind, while making it clear that there will be no epic “search for Gallifrey” saga.
That closing sequence of “Death in Heaven”, where Clara and the Doctor lie to one another in a vain effort to make the other feel better about going their separate ways, is beautiful character work.

Some of the best character work that “Doctor Who” has ever done.
This is, to be fair, Moffat writing to his strengths.

Moffat started out as a sitcom writer, and “Death in Heaven” is the closest that “Doctor Who” has come to treating a companion departure as a break-up.

Like, an actual break-up, not a metaphor for one.
Then Santa Claus played by Nick Frost shows up to tell the Doctor that his former companion’s dead boyfriend did not in fact resurrect himself with Gallifreyian/Cyberman technology.

By the way, that sentence is an example of why I love “Doctor Who.”
“Last Christmas” is one of my favourite “Doctor Who” Christmas Specials.

It’s amazing that it took the series almost a decade to hit on the idea of doing a Christmas Special with Santa Claus.
Like the Moffat era itself, the quality of its Christmas Specials varied dramatically.

The best (“A Christmas Carol”, “Time of the Doctor”, “Last Christmas”, “Husbands of River Song”) come from the era, as do the worst (“The Widow and the Wardrobe”, “Doctor Mysterio”).
In contrast, the Davies Christmas Specials are a lot more consistent.

(I have a great fondness for “Runaway Bride” and “Voyage of the Damned”, although they are a lot broader than many of the Moffat Era specials.)
By the way, “Last Christmas” has the Doctor teaming up with Santa Claus to fight an alien menace that is a hybrid of “Alien” and “The Thing.”

This is a Christmas Special aimed at a broad family audience. Awesome.
It should be noted that the Tom Baker era of “Doctor Who” already riffed on “Alien” and “The Thing” as what Mary Whitehouse described as “teatime brutality for tots.”

And it did this before either film was actually released. Although, obviously, “The Thing” has antecedents.
Of course, “Last Christmas” is well aware of its influences, and has more than a little bit of fun with the concept.
“Dormant.”
“Till you looked at them too long. Till you thought about them. Sleeping. Probably been down there for centuries.”
“And it wakes up when you think about it?”

The Dream Crabs are a very Moffat monster, a monster that is indistinguishable from the idea of the monster.
One of the great things about the Moffat era in particular is watching all the “Game of Thrones” actors who pop up.

A girl is a great great star.
“You know what the big problem is in telling fantasy and reality apart?”
“What?”
“They're both ridiculous.”

Like data harvesting/consent themes of “Dark Water”, emphasis on the distortion of reality in “Last Christmas” has aged remarkably well.

Reality collapsing into itself.
“Every Christmas is Last Christmas.”

As much as Moffat gets flack for his “timey wimey” plotting, so much of his era is defined by the idea of the passage of time.

We grow, we change. We lose people close to us. We move forward. We are never who we were.
“You’re a dream that’s trying to save us.”

“Last Christmas” argues that the Doctor is an idea that can make us better. Like Santa.

“I have watched over you all your lives. I've taken care of you from Christmas to Christmas.”
”But you're not real.”
“And that never stopped me.”
“It gives you comedy elves, flying reindeer.”
“A time-travelling scientist dressed as a magician.”

I love that “Last Christmas” operates by an internal logic that Santa Claus is precisely as real as the Doctor.
And, of course, Moffat layers “Inception” atop his homages to “The Thing” and “Alien.”

Right down to the whole “how’d we get here?” logic to catch it out.
“Last Christmas” memorably features a sequence in which the monsters attack the characters through a television, literalising the idea that the image/idea of the monster is the monster.

As Moffat did with the Weeping Angels in “Time of the Angels” and the Cybermen repeatedly.
It’s also a delightfully creepy “Doctor Who” monster for kids.

A monster you summon by thinking about it? That attacks you through the television set? That eats at your brain, without you even realising it?

As part of your big broad Christmas special? Awesome.
Talk about nested realities, eh?
There’s something really sweet in the coda to “Last Christmas”, which was written as Jenna Coleman’s swan song.

It gives the episode a surprising emotional heft, much like “Husbands of River Song”, which is in its own way another story of a “Last Christmas.”
The scene in which the Doctor helps Clara pull the cracker, which she no longer has the strength to do herself, is a beautiful and poetic callback to the character doing the same for the Doctor in “Time of the Doctor.”
Although driven by Coleman’s decision to stick around for another season, rather than Moffat’s original intent, the Doctor’s decision not to abandon his friend to old age is genuinely moving.

It plays into Moffat’s recurring suggestion of the Doctor learning to be a better man.
Clara’s potential end in “Last Christmas” is very similar to earlier companion departures, like that of Sarah Jane. The Doctor just... leaves them.

The real conclusion of Clara’s arc - that she “graduates” from what amounts to an apprenticeship under the Doctor - is much better.
#NowWatching “The Magician’s Apprentice”
It’s worth conceding that Moffat is not especially good at Dalek stories.

At least part of that is down to a broad lack of interest. During the Moffat era, Dalek stories tend to be season premieres rather than season finales.
Russell T. Davies was a lot better at Dalek stories than his successor.

Moffat never writes a Dalek story as good as “Dalek” or “The Parting of the Ways”, or even “Journey’s End.”

A lot of that is down to how they approached the show as a whole.
The Daleks are a fixed point. They have been with “Doctor Who” since the second serial. They will likely be with it until the end.

They are defined in opposition to the Doctor. While the Doctor is mercurial and constantly evolving, the Daleks are (by definition) unchanging.
The Daleks are fascism. The Daleks are hatred. The Daleks are death.

They exist in opposition to the Doctor. It makes them fantastic foils for epic narratives.

It’s telling that, for Davies, the Daleks tended to be the monsters lurking at the end of this particular book.
Davies was very much about codifying “Doctor Who” for a generation, making it properly iconic and enshrining it again as an institution.

The Daleks were very much a part of that, something instantly recognisable as belonging to “Doctor Who.” And instant epic stakes.
This isn’t to say that Davies couldn’t tell iconoclastic or deconstructive stories using “Doctor Who.”

Consider “Midnight”, for example. It’s wonderfully deconstructive.

However, Davies was very much trying to make “Doctor Who” a big, broad, iconic thing. And he succeeded.
In fact, with that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chris Chibnall revert to the “Daleks at the end of the season” template established by Davies, despite his assurances.

And I reckon that he’d write a pretty decent crowd-pleasing Dalek story, to be honest.
Moffat is less good at Dalek stories than Davies, because he’s more interested in picking at iconic structures than playing them straight.

However, the Daleks are so iconic and so fixed that you don’t really have any option but to play them straight. Making them an awkward fit.
This is probably why Moffat gravitated more to the Cybermen as season finale villains.

The Cybermen are arguably only defined as “not the Daleks.” Meaning that Moffat can pick at them and can change them in a way that he can’t change the Daleks.
It’s worth noting that two of Moffat’s big Dalek episodes - “Victory of the Daleks” and “Asylum of the Daleks” - both hinge on trying to fundamentally change the Daleks, conceptually.

However, the Daleks are such an iconic force that neither of these changes actually sticks.
So, with “The Magician’s Apprentice”, Moffat tries another approach to making a Dalek story work for him, something that plays more to his strengths as a writer.

He decides to tell a Davros story rather than a Dalek story.
To be fair, you could argue that every Dalek story between “Death to the Daleks” and “Dalek” is actually a Davros story.

Although “The Magician’s Apprentice” is perhaps the MOST Davros centric story, with the exception perhaps of “Revelation of the Daleks.”
An underrated aspect of the ninth season is the way Moffat very consciously made “Doctor Who” something kids could play at without having to buy merchandise.

As derided as “sonic sunglasses” might be, a kid could be the Doctor without having to buy a branded screwdriver toy.
Similarly, “the hand mines” suggest to children that they could play at being a Dalek by simply extending their hand in a fascist salute and pretending it is an eye stalk.

Which also, literally handily, underscores the key attribute of the Daleks.
Incidentally, that’s one reason why I wouldn’t object to a Chibnall era Dalek season finale.

After all, the idea of a fascist takeover of the western world really doesn’t seem so outlandish right now, does it?
Incidentally, it’s a very Moffat era twist to set up the idea that the Doctor might have abandoned (or even tried to murder) young Davros as his most “shameful secret.”

And then reveal the twist is that the Doctor could just leave a child to suffer, even Davros.
This is familiar Moffat ground.

“Let’s Kill Hitler” satirised the idea of angsty Hitler time travel stories, suggesting the Doctor has better things to do than punish Hitler.

“The Day of the Doctor” revealed that the Doctor could never kill children, even for the greater good.
Moffat’s “Doctor Who” is engaged with the idea of time travel and narrative.

However, the hook in “The Magician’s Apprentice” is a rejection of the “would you kill Baby Hitler?” moral dilemma, seeing it as fundamentally lacking in imagination.

(See also: “Let’s Kill Hitler.”)
The cliffhanger to “The Magician’s Apprentice” teases as much, hinting at a “timey wimey” narrative where the Doctor returns to murder baby!Davros from AFTER the story.

In reality, the trick (as with “The Impossible Girl”) is that there is no trick. It’s a playful misdirect.
In its own way, this is Moffat playing with his own persona as an “oh-so-clever” writer.

“The Witch’s Familiar” is structured in such a way as to tease the audience with the prospect of an “oh-so-clever” solution, when the resolution is just simple humanism and compassion.
“Davros remembers.”

There is some “timey wimey” logic in “The Magician’s Apprentice”, the implication that Davros can’t remember being saved by the Doctor... until after he was saved by the Doctor.

“Time can be rewritten.”
Moffat attracted a great deal of criticism from fans for being willing to rewrite and rework the franchise’s history to suit his ends.

However, a key theme of the Moffat era is the need to move forward and to continue progressing instead of fixating on the past.
Indeed, the Daleks are what happens if you won’t change or grow, as we discussed.

It’s telling that “The Witch’s Familiar” ends with the Daleks being eaten alive by “the older generation”, their own history.

“Your sewers are revolting.”

That can’t happen to “Doctor Who.”
“Am I a good man?”

“The Witch’s Familiar” does a really great job comparing and contrasting the Doctor and Davros.

Pointedly, Davros saved Skaro the same way that the Doctor saved Gallifrey, by hiding it from the universe.
Of course, the Doctor and Davros are different. Davros is trapped in a basement, while the Doctor ran from his home.

However, most tellingly, Davros is the kind of person interested in “the Hybrid”, perhaps Moffat’s biggest hint that’s not what this season is about.
The bigger and more important recurring theme of the ninth season has nothing to do with “the Hybrid.”

It has to do with the Doctor being willing to year time and space apart in order to keep Clara safe, which is more important coming to the season finale.
Moffat is has a bit of fun with “Doctor Who” tropes, similar to the fun Davies has with the Cybermen and the Daleks in “Doomsday.”

Here, Missy suggests that she should team up with the Daleks at the climax of “The Magician’s Apprentice.” The Daleks respond... by vapourising her.
As an aside, it’s a nice bit of structuring that the ninth season begins on Skaro in the opening two-parter and ends on Gallifrey in the closing two-parter.

It’s also a nice touch that both planets are shot in such a way as to suggest an equivalence between them.
I think that about wraps up my little “Doctor Who” rewatch. I have a lot coming up on my plate in the next few weeks.

And, if I do watch some more Moffat era “Doctor Who”, I’ll likely skip “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood.”

But this was fun. Also, love this gag...
I’m apparently continuing my season nine rewatch of “Doctor Who.”

It’s amazing how, even in the less obviously great scripts how wonderful the dialogue is. “Doctor Who” is largely a show about people on sets, talking.

And I already miss that in the Chibnall era.
I’m talking about even little moments like this, from “The Witch’s Familiar”:

“If Clara Oswald is really dead, then you'd better be very, very careful how you tell me.”

(Extremely long pause before the Dalek Supreme answers.)

“Clara Oswald is not alive.”
Anyway, moving on to the second story of the ninth season, “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood.”

It is a very neat and potatoes episode. It speaks to the quality of the Moffat era that these sorts of “back to basics” episodes were rare enough to be events of themselves.
It’s impossible to talk about “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” without talking about Toby Whithouse.

Whithouse is a polarising writer among fandom. Love him or hate him.

So, naturally, I’m on the fence.
Whithouse is a very traditional, very old-school “Doctor Who” writer. Which means that people who like traditional stories like him, and people who want more adventurous stories don’t.

It’s no surprise that Whithouse writes the most traditional story of season nine.
Whithouse is the most traditional of “Doctor Who” writers, even in the context of the new series.

I really like “A Town Called Mercy”, but it is the one of most Davies era story of the Moffat era, to the point that it feels completely out of place.
Whithouse was among the favourites to replace Moffat. He might be a slightly stronger writer than Chibnall.

But he’s TOO old-fashioned. Even Gatiss is more willing to change with the times.

A small example, Whithouse was eager to cast another male lead.

syfy.com/syfywire/docto…
Here’s the thing, though. Everything that would make Toby Whithouse a terrible showrunner makes him a pretty good choice for a meat and potatoes “base under siege” tale.

“Under the Lake” is pure old-fashioned “Doctor Who” storytelling.
And, to be clear, this is not my preferred mode of the series.

Although I do love various Hinchcliffe era “bases under siege”, “The Impossible Planet”/“The Satan Pit” and “Midnight.”

But I accept that this is part of what “Doctor Who” does, so I can live with it.
They don’t make “Doctor Who, but just for Darren.” That’s a good thing, because it would be cancelled.

I welcome “Doctor Who that’s not for Darren.” It’s good to share. Everybody gets a slice.

I’m just glad that so much of the Moffat era was “Doctor Who, but just for Darren.”
“Under the Lake”/“Before the Flood” is consciously an old-fashioned throwback. It’s an eighties-style story, through and through.

The eighties hypercapitalist, like Burke from “Aliens.” The underwater siege like, of all things, “Warriors of the Deep.”
By the way, I kinda love that “Warriors of the Deep” - which reportedly helped get “Doctor Who” cancelled by embarrassing the BBC - has become a surreal touchstone for the series.

“Sure it’s terrible, but at least it’s something to remember!” is a VERY “Doctor Who” sentiment.
The “base under siege” is an archetypal “Doctor Who” template.

Like Dalek stories, there’s an argument to be made that the Moffat era was less good at “base under siege” narratives than the Davies era.

Because the Moffat era is more interested in being playful than archetypal.
The Moffat era has a few “base under siege” stories, but they tend to be more psychological/abstract.

“The Almost People” is a base under siege by its own inhabitants.

“The God Complex” is about worship.

“Into the Dalek” is a siege inside a Dalek, itself in a base under siege.
“Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” form perhaps the most archetypal of the Moffat era’s “base under siege” narrative, the most straightforward and paint by numbers.

Which is why you trust it to Whithouse, and he mostly does a good job with it.
The “base under siege” is a little bit problematic. It is essentially the story of an “us” group being menaced/invaded by an alien “them.”

The genre originated in the Troughton era, which would have been about a year before Enoch Powell’s infamous “rivers of blood” speech.
In fact, it’s notable that Toby Whithouse doesn’t seem to give these implications any real thought.

The monsters that haunt the base for most of “Under the Lake” are a scary black man and an alien.

This is one of those “did nobody think this through?” moments.
This is one of those “let’s give Chris Chibnall credit” moments. Because we’re fair, and he is genuinely trying.

Despite its myriad problems, one of the most interesting aspects of “The Tsuranga Conundrum” was watching Chibnall try to build a non-xenophobic “base under siege.”
Because, let’s be clear, whatever about doing an unconsciously uncritically xenophobic “base under siege” in 2015 with “Under the Lake.”

You absolutely cannot risk doing that in 2018 with “The Tsuranga Conundrum.” So Chibnall recognises an issue and tries to fix it.
But here’s the thing, and it’s a marker of the Moffat era as a whole.

While “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” are typical “base under siege” stuff, it has big Moffat ideas buried within it.

This two parter is APPRECIABLY more ambitious than “The Tsuranga Conundrum.”
“Under the Lake” is underpinned by the idea of symbols that rewire the brain.

These are effectively a dangerous and viral idea, in keeping with Moffat’s use of the Weeping Angels or even the Cybermen.

That’s a bolder idea than anything in the Chibnall era to date.
“Under the Lake” is an instructive comparison to “The Tsuranga Conundrum.”

Both are largely stand alone “base under siege” stories with a larger season arc subplot grafted in.

In “The Tsuranga Conundrum”, it’s the Graham/Ryan/Dad stuff; in “Under the Lake”, it’s Clara/death.
These are elements that are important to the larger flow of the season around them; Ryan’s relationship with his father, Clara’s possibly self-destructive behaviour and the question of if it must end in death.

Neither really weds strongly to the a-plot of the episode itself.
“Under the Lake” does a marginally better job of integrating these season themes, even if the major sequences still stand out.

Certainly, the Doctor’s excitement about ghosts seems odd for a character who has live through (for example) “The Unquiet Dead.”
The Doctor’s fixation on ghosts proving that death isn’t the end is a weird beat for the episode, even with a fleeting reference to “Death in Heaven.”

But it sets up the idea of extending life that runs through the season as a whole, even if it doesn’t really tie in here.
Think about the Doctor giving Davros and the Daleks more life in “The Witch’s Familiar”, or resurrecting Ashildr in “The Girl Who Lived.”

This is obviously building to the idea of the Doctor finding a way to give Clara more life in “Hell Bent.”

It’s a season theme.
But “Under the Lake” seeds this season theme very awkwardly, in a way not really tied to the plot.

It is a moment that doesn’t really work in the context of the story where the audience knows (and the Doctor should know) that these aren’t really ghosts.
The other big season theme involves Clara, and the implication that she is pushing herself towards self-destruction following the loss of Danny.

(Very telling is the Doctor’s suggestion she get herself “another relationship” and her insistence on doing the dangerous thing.)
It’s “Under the Lake” that introduces the concept of the Doctor’s “duty of care” to Clara, which ends up paying off dividends in “Hell Bent.”

It’s weird to think that such a heartbreaking moment is seeded in the season’s big throwaway traditional business as usual two-parter.
Alot of this seeding is done in a contained scene inside the TARDIS, which may explain why it feels so disconnected from the episode.

Was it a reshoot? A rewrite? A late addition outside the production block? A fill-in? An insert?

It wouldn’t surprise me if Moffat wrote this.
Even as the most traditional and archetypal story of the ninth season, “Under the Lake” still finds time for some playful and experimental conceits.

It’s a feature of the Moffat era that even a generic “base under siege” could still get a high concept “timey wimey” cliffhanger.
The cliffhanger to “Under the Lake” is still fairly novel, narratively speaking.

Although “Under the Lake” & “Before the Flood” are the most traditional story of the season, it’s ironically “The Zygon Invasion” & “The Zygon Inversion” that have the most traditional cliffhanger.
The ninth season of “Doctor Who” finds Moffat repeatedly playing with the format and structure of the two-parter, finding a variety of ways to tell one story across two episodes.

It’s never really discussed, but it reflects the writer’s joy at playing with structure.
The innovation in “Under the Lake” is having the Doctor use the TARDIS at the end of the episode, so he’s investigating the same story from a different angle in “Before the Flood.”

It’s not the first time the series has done something like this (“The Ark”), but it’s still rare.
This structural conceit - the use of the TARDIS within the narrative - allows for “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” to feel like two episodes, but a single story.

The season does something similar with Ashildr in “The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived.”
Incidentally, these sorts of structural games in the ninth season reinforce on of Moffat’s principle preoccupations as a showrunner.

The use of two-parters in the ninth season allows for stories that emphasise the passage of time as something tangible.
“Before the Flood” opens with the Doctor explaining the bootstrap paradox to the audience. “Google it.”

Even in the most conventional story of the ninth season, there’s a bigger/bolder idea than we’ve seen in the first six episodes of Chibnall’s tenure.

Which is disheartening.
A nice example of how the Moffat era is playfully meta even in its more conventional moments.

Here, the Doctor explains the narrative principle of the episode before playing the theme song.

No, really. The episode’s theme song is played by electric guitar.

Cheeky.
As with putting Clara’s eyes (and Coleman’s credit first) in the credits to “Death in Heaven”, I can see why this sort of playfulness irritates certain kinds of fans.

I get why it might spoil “immersion” or “take you out of the show” or something like that.
But here’s the thing. I’ve never believed I’m watch a documentary about people who don’t exist. I’m always aware that I’m watching a product, even if it emotionally affects me.

That seems healthy way, to accept media as it is. Here, “Doctor Who” that knows it is “Doctor Who.”
All of this comes almost off-hand in an episode about how the images you see rewire the inside of your brain.

And, I stress, this is all within the least ambitious episode of the ninth season of “Doctor Who.”

That’s something.
Toby Whithouse crafts an affectionate homage to eighties “Doctor Who.”

“Under the Lake” is modelled on “Warriors of the Deep”, perhaps the worst “base under siege” of the decade.

But it transitions to “Before the Flood” riffing on “Curse of Fenric”, perhaps the best.
Whithouse, like most “Doctor Who” fans, has a deep affection for “Curse of Fenric.”

He affectionately riffs on the climax of “Curse of Fenric” for “The God Complex.”
By the way, if you are a fan of post-2005 “Doctor Who”, then “Curse of Fenric” might be the best gateway to the classic series.

It is quite modern in how the story is told, quite mature in its themes, quite sophisticated in its storytelling. It’s very accessible.
The “Fisher King” is a gigantic McCoy era homage of himself.

The Seventh Doctor was consciously steeped in Arthurian lore. It was repeatedly implied that he was Merlin.

With the flooding, “Before the Flood” leans into Arthurian myth. A secret at the bottom of the lake.
In terms of issues with the story, “Before the Flood” does waste a potentially memorable guest star in casting Paul Kaye as Prentiss.
“Before the Flood” also suffers from leaning into the time travel “can’t change history” angst that the Moffat era largely (and wisely) avoided.

It’s a lot less overwrought than in “Rosa”, but it is still at play and still feels like it is something that the show has moved past.
You know, I think that the Fisher King and the Vervoids would get along very well indeed.

Ahem.

#DoctorWho
“You know what? If all I have to do to survive is tweak the future a bit, what's stopping me?”

Here, Moffat has the Doctor explicitly reject that sort of “preserve history at any cost” logic, arguing that doing the right thing is more important than preserving the status quo.
Ignoring time travel logic, this is also the ninth season building consciously towards the climax of the season.

Moffat consciously rejects the idea that Clara has to be “punished” for her hubris or “killed off” for her arrogance because it is expected.

She deserves better.
Rewatching the season, it is very clear that “Under the Lake” and “Before the Flood” set up the season climax, the the Doctor bending history and breaking time to save Clara in “Hell Bent.”

Indeed, that idea is arguably what the two-parter communicates most clearly.
For all the ninth season returns mockingly and playfully to arc words like “the hybrid”, the set-up and foreshadowing running through the season is mostly thematic.

In particular, the strong emphasis on Moffat’s conception of the Doctor as a man with a “duty of care.”
By the way, the characterization of Clara during the Twelfth Doctor era is spectacular.

She’s admittedly selfish and manipulative, but cannily aware of those attributes.

She repeatedly goads the Doctor to go further in saving people, using emotional leverage to motivate him.
In other words, Clara is a legitimately multi-faceted and well-developed character. There’s a canny self-awareness to her that few companions equal. A distinct persona.

I’d rank her with Amy and Rory, Donna, Jack, Ace, Romana II, Sarah Jane. Among the exceptional companions.
The issue isn’t that Clara is a flawless character. In fact, too many companions are presented without flaws.

Clara is imperfect. She is abrasive at times. She is selfish. She understands how to get what she wants from others, but runs from herself.

In other words, she’s human.
In fact, one of the big points of the Moffat era is that we can tolerate all of the flaws that we’re conditioned to hate about Clara, if they are attached to a male anti-hero.

In fact, the Doctor shares many of these traits and doesn’t need to be punished for having them.
We’ll come back to this theme if I rewatch the rest of the season, but...

A big takeaway from what Moffat does with Clara is a firm rebuke of the idea that a female supporting character should be “punished” for the “hubris” of presuming that she can be an equal of the male lead.
Anyway, the climax of “Before the Flood” suffers from being a bit techno-babble focused and leaning a little heavy on the plot contrivances to explain everything before the end credits.

Luckily, the “bootstrap paradox” is a strong enough closing note to gloss over these flaws.
Continuing my season nine rewatch (apparently) with “The Girl Who Died.”

Immediately taken with the episode OPENING on Clara and the Doctor debating how much/little he intervenes.

“I’m not the police.”

Even playfully, more engagement with the question than the Chibnall era.
“You never tell me the rules,” Clara observes.

And it’s a recurring theme of the Moffat era, that the made-up rules of time travel in a fifty-year-old show aren’t good drama of themselves.

The morality of Moffat’s Doctor is quite clear. He helps where he can, where he lands.
Indeed, the idea of whether the Doctor can or can’t change history is largely irrelevant to Moffat. Because it’s not a meaningful moral question in any real sense.

It’s more important that the Doctor does the right thing whenever and wherever he can. (See also: “Extremis.”)
The three Capaldi seasons benefit from (give or take Russell T. Davies and Paul Cornell) an amazingly strong writing time.

Jamie Mathieson is one of the best writers to work on the revived series, and it’s a shame that Chibnall didn’t bring him back for the eleventh season.
As the titles imply, “The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived” return to a recurring motif of the larger Moffat era. And his writing in general.

The question of what it means to be a good man, and how that masculinity manifests itself.
After all, the monsters in “The Girl Who Died” literal harvest testosterone from Vikings.

It’s all about archetypal, traditional masculinity. Most obvious in the way these hypermasculine figures under up staring down two women.
“What is a god but the cattle's name for farmer? What is heaven but the gilded door of the abattoir?”

Another Moffat scripting trope, echoing...

“The abattoir is not a contradiction. No one loves cattle more than Burger King.”

Not overtly political, but undeniably so.
The Moffat era is less overtly political than the Davies era. It spends less time explicitly riffing on concepts like Tony Blair or George W. Bush.

Moffat’s more interested in more fundamental issues, like masculinity and systems of oppression.

Even in a broad comedy episode.
“The Girl Who Died” is a story about a macho Viking village that literally has all of its testosterone stripped by a race of warriors.

And the Doctor finds a way for these emasculated men to defeat these monsters without recourse to violence or brutality.
This is the core motif of the Moffat era, the question of what makes a good man.

Time and time again, Moffat returns to the question of what makes a real man.

And a lot of that is predicated on a rejection of archetypal stereotypical masculinity.
It’s notable, for example, that the Doctor decides to stay when he translates a baby’s cries.

This is absurd. This is ridiculous. This is silly. It’s farce.

And yet it’s also a better expression of masculinity than force of arms; one that listens, one that cares.
Similarly, the Doctor’s plan clicks into place when Clara tells him to ”stop playing soldier.”

Again, another recurring motif of the Moffat era, the idea that the Doctor is not a warrior or a soldier.

(See: “A Good Man Goes to War”, “The Day of the Doctor.”)
“When the raiding parties go out, I make up stories about their battles.”
“Because if you make up the right story, then you think it’ll keep them safe.”

Again, an archetypal Moffat theme. The idea that if you don’t like the story in which you find yourself, write a better one.
“Act as if you know their plan, and sometimes, if you're very lucky, they'll actually tell you it.”

The climax of “The Girl Who Died” hinges on the Doctor essentially writing his own episode of “Doctor Who” to entrap the murderous hypermasculine aliens.

It’s fantastic.
The Doctor defeats these hyper-macho men by ridiculing them, exposing them as farcical.

“All it needed was the Benny Hill theme.”

Sincere, sensitive and creative masculinity always trumps its more toxic and suffocating alternative. You defeat this toxicity by mocking it.
“The Girl Who Died” is the point at which the Twelfth Doctor figures out why he got his face, and what it means.

It’s quite clever that realisation comes at about the midpoint of his tenure, neatly bisecting it.
An interesting detail of the ninth season: how little Moffat telegraphs the return of Gallifrey in terms of plot, but how heavily in terms of theme.

Moffat begins the season on a recovered Skaro, Gallifrey’s twin. This lends the season a nice symmetry.
More than that, in episodes like “Before the Flood” and “The Girl Who Died”, the Doctor seems to indulge a hubris.

In “The Girl Who Died”, he explicitly invokes a higher power that might stop him meddling.

”Who could that possible be?” the season seems to tease.
This is the arc that led to the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration.

An act of hubris in “Waters of Mars”, followed by the return of Gallifrey leading (however indirectly) to his regeneration in “End of Time.”

The Time Lords exist (narratively) to counterbalance the Doctor’s hubris.
Approaching Gallifrey thematically rather than literally is a good idea. After all, the Time Lords became an albatross around the classic show’s neck. Davies was right to kill them off.

They work best as symbols, hovering over or at the end of the story rather than within it.
The big question, of course, is why bring the Time Lords back at all.

I suspect Moffat sees it as part of healing the rift between the classic series and the revival, closing the wound.

Also, the Last of the Time Lords arguably became its own form of albatross, ironically.
So the ninth season has Moffat setting up the familiar “the Doctor has gone too far and SOMEBODY (hint hint) needs to bring him to heel” thematic arc that Davies employed.

However, it’s a red herring. Moffat isn’t interesting in punishing the Doctor for doing the right thing.
It’s all a big misdirect because, tying back to the larger arc of the season as a whole, Moffat does not believe that the Doctor should be punished for bending Heaven and Earth to help the people in his care.

The “laws” of “time”, “the universe” and “nature” can go jump.
“Dying is an ability, believe me.”

A nice melancholy piece of foreshadowing of the Twelfth Doctor’s ending is seeded here.

Again, a reminder that we’re at the halfway point of the era in “The Girl Who Died.” Looking both backwards and forward.
Incidentally, these connections are supported in that Moffat-y dialogue-driven way. Which suggests that I’m not reading too much into it.

“You can go to hell,” the Doctor warns those unseen forces judging him in “The Girl Who Died”, forces which return in... “Hell Bent.”
Similarly, while the Doctor stresses about how much or how little to intervene, he is drawn to “fire in the water.”

Suggesting the fourth season episodes “The Fires of Pompeii” and “The Waters of Mars”, which consciously mirror one another in theme and structure.
“The Girl Who Died” even solidifies that connection by flashing back to “The Fires of Pompeii”, which featured Peter Capaldi.

Indeed, the Moffat era tends to consistently side with “Fires” (saving people is good) over “Waters” (saving people is bad).
In fact, “The Girl Who Died” makes Peter Capaldi’s face a constant reminder that the heroism of “Fires of Pompeii” is always preferable to the inaction proposed by “Waters of Mars.”

As an aside, Clara spends a lot of time touching the Twelfth Doctor’s face, doesn’t she?
This all ties back into Moffat’s recurring examination of masculinity through the Doctor.

Moffat’s “Doctor Who” repeatedly argues that masculinity shouldn’t be defined by violence or force, but by compassion and emotional responsibility.

The Doctor accepting his “duty of care.”
The Twelfth Doctor contrasts with his direct predecessor.

The Eleventh Doctor was a much more cavalier adventurer. He was also repeatedly careless with the lives of the people around him.

It often seemed like Amy thrives in spite of her association with him, not because of it.
The Eleventh Doctor drops into Amy’s life in “The Eleventh Hour”, and absent-mindedly abandons her for twelve years, leading to counselling and trauma.

Her involvement with him later leads directly to her abduction and the loss of her child. And he does nothing to help her.
“A Good Man Goes to War” is another of Moffat’s explicit critiques of hypermasculinity, in which the Eleventh Doctor raises an army to rescue his lost companion.

But the episode makes it clear how empty this is.

Amy even challenges him, “Then what is the point of you?”
Indeed, “The Girl Who Died” is a broad spoof of the idea that “A Good Man Goes to War” more brutally deconstructs:

The idea of the Doctor as an archetypally masculine man who does manly things like raising armies to defeat his foes in battle.
More to the point, the Twelfth Doctor’s relationship with Clara is positioned as a corrective to the Eleventh Doctor’s casualness in his responsibility to Amy.

The Twelfth Doctor takes his “duty of care” to Clara seriously. Which is Moffat’s idealised masculinity.
There’s a line of criticism that this is overly paternalistic, and that Clara shouldn’t need the Doctor’s patriarchal “duty of care.”

This makes sense if you view Moffat’s work through the lens of his most vocal critics.

But three things.
(a.) The Doctor owns a time machine; regardless of gender, the Doctor will by default have more power/responsibility than his/her companions.

It would be just as fair to argue that the Thirteenth Doctor has a duty of care to Graham/Yaz/Ryan.
(b.) Moffat makes a point to build Clara to the point where she has her own time machine and companion, making her the Doctor’s equal in a way even Romana wasn’t.

But it’s a journey. Clara doesn’t start there.
(c.) Moffat frames the Doctor’s “duty of care” in emotional (rather than conventionally masculine) terms. He’s constantly on the verge of tears talking about it.

It’s framed as emotional labour - caring. The world would be better if more men were so emotionally responsible.
“This is my robbery!”
“Well, can't we share it? Isn't that what robbery's all about?”

I miss the Davies/Moffat era banter, even in smaller innocuous beats like the teaser to “The Girl Who Lived.”
“Do you remember?”
“Yes. I think I remember the village.”
“You loved that village.”
“If you say so.”

“The Woman Who Lived” reinforces the idea that the Doctor needs a companion as much as they need him.

“Me is who I am now. No one's mother, daughter, wife. My own companion.”
By the way, Maisie Williams is really great as Ashildr/Me. A remarkable character, brought to life by a remarkable young actor.

One of the most striking recurring guest stars of the Moffat era.
“The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived” skilfully contrast the Doctor and Ashildr, suggesting empathy as a skill to be maintained and honed.

“I'm sick of losing people.”

“All these people here, they're like smoke, they blow away in a moment.”
In “The Girl Who Died”, the Doctor articulated the same desire to leave that Ashildr feels in “The Woman Who Lived.”

However, he recognises it as just sorrow and despair, not freedom. It’s a weakness, not a strength.
“One day, the memory of that will hurt so much that I won't be able to breathe. I'll do what I always do. I'll get in my box. I'll run and I'll run, in case all the pain ever catches up. And every place I go, it will be there.”

The Doctor has just grown beyond Ashildr’s fantasy.
“You're still not going to take me with you.”
“People like us, we go on too long. We forget what matters. The last thing we need is each other.”

The big takeaway in “The Woman Who Lived” is that the Doctor cannot travel with his equal.

And Clara is fast becoming his equal.
The ninth season of “Doctor Who” is wonderfully experimental. It’s a season of two parters that asks how many different forms a two-partner can take.

“The Girl Who Died” and “The Woman Who Lived” are two episodes from two writers telling one story, separated by centuries.
Moffat uses Clara’s looming departure to re-contextualise the companion departure arc.

It is no longer about hubris or putting the companion in their place for their arrogance.

It’s reframed as the Doctor’s limitation, not theirs. They outgrow him, in the end.
Even as somebody who loves the Davies era, and season four especially, Moffat’s revision with Clara is a necessary and valid change to the companion departure template.

It isn’t about putting companions in their place so much as keeping the Doctor in his.
In fact, the cruelty of Donna’s departure looms over that of Clara.

Moffat very pointedly reverses the dynamic. “Journey’s End” robbed Donna’s memory and resets her personality without her consent.

In contrast, “Hell Bent” makes a point to wipe the Doctor’s instead.
Speaking of the (superb) fourth season, “The Woman Who Lived” borrows a neat structural trick from “Midnight.”

It’s a story that is (in no small part) about the importance of the companion’s role that consciously marginalises the companion to make its point.
Now watching “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion.”

For all their flaws, and those flaws are sizable, a much more ambitious piece of science fiction allegory than anything the eleventh season has offered to date.
Peter Harness is perhaps the most polarising writer of the Moffat era, and it’s easy to see why.

He’s very driven by symbolism and less concerned with logic. That appeals to certain fans and alienate others.

It makes him perhaps the most Moffat-y of writers.
Personally, and this will surprise no one, I love “Kill the Moon” and “The Pyramid at the End of the World.”

The internal logic of these stories is... loose to say the least, but the big ideas are among the most interesting in the franchise’s fifty-plus year history.
Moffat knows enough of “Doctor Who” to know Harness’ ideas would rile a not-insignificant portion of the fan base that likes non-wibbly-wobbly sci-fi wi-fi.

And yet Moffat commissioned Harness once per season. That’s what makes a great showrunner, a willingness to take risks.
“They were both Zygon and human at the same time. They not only administered the peace, they WERE the peace.”

“The Zygon Invasion” lays Harness’ central allegorical and symbolic approach out quite early.
Harness’ interest in symbolism and metaphor is best expressed in Osgood, and the very pointed (and clever) decision to never reveal whether she is “real” or not.

Because, of course, it doesn’t matter whether Osgood is human or Zygon. All that matters is that she is who she is.
Issues with the story aside, and we’ll come to them, it’s amazing how ambitious “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion” seem even today.

In particular, the setting of a two-parter about the migrant crisis on the Mexican border, in an American town that tore itself apart.
((What’s aged more depressingly well than I could have imagined on broadcast is that the chaos that drives so much of “The Zygon Invasion” stems from the murder of a migrant child by a bunch of panicked Americans.

At the time, I thought it a bit much. But now...?))
So, the iffy politics of “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion.”

They aren’t necessarily fundamental. They seem more clumsy than anything else.

They certainly aren’t as terrible as unexamined issues with, say, “The Unquiet Dead” or the central theme of “Kerblam!”
They maybe stem from the use of (incredibly broad) allegory.

Similar to the (also controversial) rough edges around abortion allegory in “Kill the Moon”, where three women reject literally the entire world’s attempts to dictate how they should deal with a problematic pregnancy.
The politics of “The Zygon Invasion” binge around those of assimilation. The radical Zygons simply seek the freedom to live as themselves.

“We want to live as ourselves. At any cost. We want a home.”

This is a pretty fair demand, to be entirely honest.
Assimilation is a broad issue in immigration.

At a fundamental level, some small level of assimilation is necessary for co-existence.

Immigrants need to accept democracy, the rights of others, lawful authority, etc. Very basic stuff.

Not accepting that can cause friction.
The issue with “The Zygon Invasion” is that it invests so much in the idea that the Zygons must choose between COMPLETE assimilation (being completely indistinguishable from humans) and outright revolution.
This is down to the use of physical (rather than cultural) differences as a marker of distinction between human and Zygon.

And down to a need for verisimilitude in the series’ twenty-first century setting.

Zygons NEED to look human, or it breaks the internal world of the show.
The issue with this is that, by following the show’s internal logic, it suggests that the only way for an immigrant group to co-exist is to completely assimilate into the large culture around them.

This is a... less than ideal philosophical argument, to say the least.
This emphasis on physical difference means that “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion” could lend themselves to (an entirely dishonest) reading that they support “burqa bans” or believe that immigrants “should only speak English.”

Or other troubling racist nonsense.
This is a shame, and a slight issue with the two-parter. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker to me, but I understand others’ issues with it.

I also admire that Harness built a charged two-parter about the migrant crisis around the joke that we should “let Zygons be Zygons.”
One of the interesting and underdiscussed aspects of “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion” is the way in which it continues subtly building up the idea of Clara as the Doctor’s narrative equivalent.

Building on “Death in Heaven”, “The Girl Who Lived”, etc.
“Doctor Who” has a long list of “Doctor Doppelgänger” stories in which the actor playing the Doctor gets to play a villain who (coincidentally or otherwise) happens to look like the Doctor.

“The Massacre”, “The Enemy of the World”, “Meglos”, “Nightmare in Silver.”
You could even stretch it to include the Duplicate Davison in “Resurrection of the Daleks”, because of course evil Davison’s Doctor’s Evil Duplicate is delightfully ineffective.

There’s also an element of it to the Twin Tennants in “Journey’s End.”
Capaldi very notably doesn’t get one of these. (Matt Smith got more than his fair share of duplicates and stand-ins, especially in season six.)

This may be because “The Girl Who Lived” made such a big deal of the Twelfth Doctor’s duplicate existing in “The Fires of Pompeii.”
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