George Orwell and Doctor Who–But Not Together

Avila University starts classes this week, and my stream of consciousness led me recently to an essay by George Orwell Politics and the English Language. (1946)  For you who are willing to digest the entire essay, feel free to follow the link, but for my friends who are writing, both in and out of school, I offer 6 excellent rules from the end of the essay:

-Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
-Never use a long word where a short one will do.
-If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
-Never use the passive (voice) where you can use the active.
-Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
-Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

Orwell doesn’t guarantee these rules will guarantee you will write well in English, but I think they are ways an author could show respect for the readers, at least. Even professors don’t automatically enjoy wading through dense prose, despite the fact it’s their job at times. Kindness to readers usually means they’ll read the writer again willingly.

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Doctor Who began a new incarnation in an extended episode last weekend, and the arc of stories leading up to and through the change left me with mixed emotions. Steven Moffat, who authored the last 3 stories in the Eleventh Doctor’s timeline and the first of the Twelfth, strikes me as a power hitter on a baseball team: when he connects, it’s wonderful, but when he misses, it’s painful to watch. The same could be said about George Lucas or Stephen Speilberg, for that matter, and I’m sure Mr. Moffat would be flattered to be compared to them.

The 50th Anniversary special was fantastic and I’ll happily watch it many times, but the Time of the Doctor ended up banal and uninteresting, with an overblown story of the Doctor as sole guardian of a planet under siege by the rest of the universe for centuries. I like Capaldi’s Doctor and where he may be going, but Clara’s development doesn’t make sense. She’s seen 3 incarnations of the Doctor, risked her life to save him in all 12 of his incarnations, and she gets freaked out solely because he’s turned out differently this time around? It takes her from a powerful character to an unbelievably weak one without a good reason. The Paternoster gang was good in the Anniversary special, but in Deep Breath they were caricatures almost reaching Jar Jar Binks territory. The phone call by Doctor #11 at the end of Deep Breath was an example of deus ex machina: a classic plot device going back to Greek antiquity where divine intervention rescues the heroes from an awful situation. It’s a device that almost never works, because the ending is unearned: Clara could have found the strength to give the new Doctor a chance any number of interesting ways through any number of voices.  Doctor #9 didn’t have to call Rose Tyler from the past to reassure her #10 was worth staying with. You could say deus ex machina usually tries to rescue an author from disaster, and frequently fails.

Some of the weakest Doctor Who episodes I’ve seen are the regeneration stories; do we really need to endure an extended search of him trying to find himself (and his new look) every time? Just dive in to the new Time Lord persona, like we had to with #9. I will keep watching Doctor Who for now, hoping the story lines will stay away from bombastic and get back to the smaller scale stories I think suit the series better. That’s the way it is with heavy hitters: you keep hoping they’ll hit a long ball and will put up with a lot of strikeouts before pulling them from the lineup.

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