It may not be that unusual in a Doctor Who drama for the audience to be shown reveals before the Doctor. What does strike me as unusual in some of Moffat’s Who is that the audience finds out things that the characters will never know. The final shot of ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ reveals a crucial piece of information that makes sense of the events of the story for the audience, after the Doctor has left the story admitting he still has no idea just why Madame de Pompadour was fixated upon by the droids of a ship from the future. That the ship bears her name is revealed only to us.
Of course normally the Doctor knows more about what’s going on than anyone in the room, and in the unfolding of ‘arc’ mysteries that span seasons, we tend to experience key reveals along the way with him: in The Sound of Drums, as the Doctor, Jack and crucially Martha realise the Master is Harold Saxon, the pieces of the season-long puzzle fall into place for us at the same time. Likewise the Doctor discovers River Song’s identity as Melody Pond at pretty much the same time we do, leaving her hapless parents to represent those members of the audience who really need it spelling out.
In the Current Epoch of the show, known as Nu-Who, single episode stories strung in a loose arc has been the norm, with RTD stating his Bad Wolf scenario was only ever meant to be a bonus thread not affecting the comprehensibility of the individual episodes, not expecting it to be picked up by the Guardian and the mass audience (used, as has now become a cliche, to watching TV with an eye to ongoing arcs). Bad Wolf became a brief natIonal talking point. But again, it’s all fairly straightforward narrative exposition. We find out the solution to the Bad Wolf mystery with Rose, and subsequently, with the flabbergasted Doctor as Rose tells him ‘I am the Bad Wolf’ and promptly saves his ass which he was confidently expecting to experience extermination very shortly.
With the ongoing saga of Clara Oswin Oswald, the knowledge available to the audience comes in different ways.
In this new scene acting as a teaser for the new series, and focusing on the search for Clara, picking up from the end of the Xmas special, again we are left knowing more than the Doctor. I won’t say too much, but suffice to say there’s a charming use of one of Moffat ‘s box of tropes – just playing with the audience, teasing them as to whether the obvious and almost inevitable pay-off. In this case, the pay off implies to me that the Doctor will never know what we find out in the second to last shot. Because he doesn’t need to. It’s not a detail he ever needs to know. The meaning of this particular unfolding of the Oswin story is left to us to decide. I suspect it always will be.
The Bells of St John: A PREQUEL
By the way, I must observe this usage of the term ‘prequel’ in more detail.
The term prequel was surely invented to capture the ambiguity of a follow-up movie (normally called a sequel) which relates prior events. The first notable example I can remember in popcorn land is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which I believe is meant to be set before Raiders of the Lost Arc. Lucas really exploited the form with his Star Wars prequels depicting the first, descending half (?) of the story of Anakin Skywalker. And of course the most obvious current ‘prequel’ would the Hobbit movies.
But in book form, The Hobbit was written and published before the Lord of the Rings’s three volumes. To call it a ‘prequel’ would be to apply a new word to something it doesn’t even describe. Nor can the Dr Who episodes ‘Utopia’ or even ‘Mission to the Unknown’ adequately be called prequels to what they introduce.
This latest addition to Doctor Who shouldn’t be called a prequel’. In my view it is both wrong, draining the meaning of the word of any of its delicious irony, and for that reason, looks silly. A marketing term used to market something it was originally not intended to market. Namely, a Prologue.
Oh well. Thank the goddess they didn’t call it a Minisode this time.
The Bells of St John: A Prologue