Clara "dies", supposedly...

Clara “dies”, supposedly…

When I was watching ‘Hell Bent’, the finale of the latest series of Doctor Who, I found that Clara’s return from the dead really annoyed me, and upon looking back I came to the conclusion that it has almost always irritated me when characters keep cheating death on Doctor Who, especially since Moffat took over. I then realised that another of my favourite shows, Xena, contains its fair share of resurrection, but it had never bothered me. I asked my brain why that was, and here’s what it said.

To start with, I don’t think that Steven Moffat is capable of killing characters. I mean, if you count the number of times Rory died you almost need two hands. And now Clara has “died” at least two times over in the space of about three episodes. And it’s not just main characters, hardly any secondary characters or even extras appear to die in MoffatWho. In the Russell T. Davies era it was clear that a lot of people died in the conflicts and battles that were depicted, but despite Moffat ratcheting up the skates with every goddamn double part “timey wimey” finale there don’t seem to be too many casualties. Obviously I don’t expect him to show every civilian death on screen but to not show that war and fighting has consequences of a fatal kind is just plain unrealistic.

On the other hand, considering the level of 90s campiness often present in Xena, particularly in the first and second series, it does a surprisingly good job of showing that fighting actually leads to people getting injured and sometimes killed. If you watch Xena episodes such as ‘Is There a Doctor in the House?’ or ‘The Price’ you’ll notice something distinctly lacking from Moffat’s melodramatic, apocalyptic, legendary, “end of the universe…again” battles. You’ll notice people actually, shock horror, suffering and expiring. This means that in Xena death is established as something that is generally permanent. However, in Doctor Who only main characters ever die, and you know that they won’t be gone forever, so the only death you see is of an impermanent kind, which means that the audience can’t relate and therefore often don’t care.

You see, Moffat, this is what war looks like…

Also in Xena there are some set rules regarding death. Namely that there are lots of afterlives (Heaven and Hell, Elysian Fields and Tartarus, Amazon Land of the Dead, etc.) and which one you go to depends on your affiliations and beliefs. On the contrary Doctor Who has the opposite of rules, in fact I’m beginning to think that Moffat cannot have an idea without contradicting it within a series at best. For example, when people die in the ‘Forest of the Dead/Silence in the Library’ double parter they get uploaded to some kind of cutesy field, but when the Daleks die they get dumped in the sewers of Skaro to stew in their resentment and definitely never rise up against their brethren who so kindly abandoned them in poop. Oh wait, that did happen…

Anyway now that I’ve addressed the representation of death in both shows I’ll move on to characters coming back from the dead. In the recent series of Doctor Who characters seem to be able to return to life with alarming regularity and ease. It got to the point when the Doctor seemed to be capable of bringing Rory back just by waving his sonic screwdriver, which doesn’t do wood, but apparently does death. So maybe I’m exaggerating slightly, but what about the time when the Doctor just stuck Amy in the Pandorica and it saved her from a fatal gun shot wound. Or how about the Time Lords conveniently having the ability to bring people back using the Extraction Chamber. That definitely wasn’t there just so that Clara could come back. Nope, not at all. The problem is that Moffat tries to show that the Doctor cares about people by having him do everything he can to save them, but he’s made the Doctor so over-powered that he is always capable of saving them or resurrecting them and it is so boring.

I second this emotion...

I second this emotion…

On the contrary, on Xena it takes a whole lot of effort and luck for someone to return from the dead, and getting more than one chance at life isn’t portrayed as normal. Instead, just as they would be in real life, everyone (including the main characters) is helpless in the face of death, and it takes exceptional circumstances for anyone to get another life. For example, when Gabrielle dies for several minutes in ‘Is There a Doctor…’ Xena uses every method she can think of, even inventing CPR on the spot, to bring her back but none of them work and it’s almost by chance that she eventually restarts Gabrielle’s heart. Then in ‘The Quest’ Gabrielle has to simultaneously defend her position as Amazon Queen against Velasca and try to get ambrosia, the food of the gods, which can bring Xena back from the dead, and she has to do both quickly as even ambrosia can’t revive people if they’ve been dead for too long. Basically, my point is that in Xena it is difficult to return people to life, and sometimes it just can’t be done, such as when Xena dies for good in the last episode of the show.

In conclusion, although in both shows the main characters seem to die and come back rather a lot of times, the difference is that in Xena you really don’t know if some one will return to life because none of the characters have the power to just decide they won’t be dead anymore so the only way they can be resurrected is if something out of the ordinary happens, whereas in Doctor Who if the Doctor doesn’t want someone to die then they don’t die, no matter how contrived Moffat has to make the plot to bring them back, and so gradually people just coming back to life has become so ordinary that it’s mundane.

Taylor Swift

You can guess from one look at the cover of 1989 that it isn’t going to quite be a typical modern pop record, and you’d be largely correct in that assumption. While there are certainly plenty of catchy choruses and synths on this album, they aren’t all there is. One of the things I noticed the first time I listened to this album was that the lyrics are sometimes show a great deal of self awareness, and are at times slightly more cynical than Swift’s typical output. A good example of the self awareness I mentioned is on the chorus of “Blank Space”, where she sings “Got a long list of ex-lovers/They’ll tell you I’m insane/But I’ve got a blank space, baby/And I’ll write your name”, which proves that she is well aware of some of the criticism that has been levelled at her regarding a lack of variety in the subject matter of her songs. “Shake it Off” addresses said criticism even more directly with its opening lines of “I stay out too late/Got nothing in my brain/That’s what people say/I go on too many dates/But I can’t make them stay/At least that’s what people say”. Whatever else you might think about her, at least she can poke a bit of fun at her own songwriting.Many of the songs on 1989 have some element that sets them apart from both each other and the far too numerous generic pop singles they share the charts with. Album opener “Welcome to New York” is lyrically a fairly simple tribute to the city she just bought a house in, but the almost ethereal synth line running through it and the echoing vocals on the chorus conjure up an image of her walking slowly down a mist-filled suburban street in the song’s title city while singing the song. On “All You Had to Do Was Stay” the contrast of the lower register she uses for most of the chorus and the much higher pitch on the word “stay” efficiently ensures the hook will not leave your head any time soon, and after a few listens chances are you won’t want it to. Swift employs a somewhat menacing vocal style (for her) on the verses of “Bad Blood” and parts of “I Know Places”, and it suits lines like “They are the hunters, we are the foxes, and we run” from “I Know Places”. Possibly my favourite song on the album, at least with regards to lyrics, is “How You Get the Girl”, which hides rather biting lines such as “Tell her how you must have lost your mind/When you left her all alone and never told her why/[…]/And that’s how it works/That’s how you get the girl” behind a deceptively upbeat surface. “Clean”, the last song on the album, is also worthy of mentioning as it provides the perfect ending to the album with a slower, more mellow tone and lyrics that see Swift finally achieving some kind of closure (mostly).

However despite all the good aspects 1989 is certainly not perfect, and it has some less impressive moments. For example “Style” doesn’t really do anything to differentiate itself, and just comes off as rather common fare musically and lyrically, at least for me. “Out of the Woods” has a very interesting sound and some excellent vocals but the chorus ends up falling slightly on the repetitive side. “Wildest Dreams” suffers from the same problem as style, and has the added problem of containing the line “He’s so tall, and handsome as hell/He’s so bad but he does it so well”, which is far from her usual lyrical standards, but it is redeemed to an extent as her voice sound especially good in parts of the song. “This Love” is a gentler, softer track but it gets lost behind “Clean” and the deluxe edition bonus track “You Are in Love”, both of which are superior, the latter providing a refreshing change of perspective as Swift sings about someone else’s love life instead of her own.

In conclusion this is an excellent album, with only a couple of missteps. Taylor Swift should be proud of what she has accomplished on this release and I would highly recommend checking 1989 out if you have a liking for good, slightly 80s pop music.