In Defence of “Lucifer”

Usually a sequel will buckle before audience expectation. The story, so well-thought out in the first season, becomes a limp, over-used thing. Perhaps Lucifer had the dubious advantage of starting without a storyline. The premise is simple, if bizarre: Devil leaves hell and falls in with a homicide detective in LA. From here on out we have painfully obvious murders (if in doubt, the first suspect on camera is probably the culprit) which mirror Lucifer’s current psychological conundrums. He has sex with his LA therapist to find out more. We’re hardly talking about sophisticated storytelling where Lucifer is concerned. And yet… The laborious characterisations of season 1 leave us with an unexcepted number of beloved characters. Maze, the kickass but lonely demon, stalwart therapist Linda (everybody’s best friend), loveable Douchebag Dan and Amenadiel – a conflicted angel trying to drag Lucifer back to hell. Not forgetting Lucifer, of course. In fact, the only cardboard cutout is the wide-eyed Chloe Decker – a pretty cop who is impervious to Lucifer’s hellish charms. Her personal storyline culminates with the fact that she is a serious detective, shrugging off a troublesome past in “Hot Tub Time Machine 2”.
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Lucifer is based on the characters created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg. Rather than transposing a story from the Sandman comics, the showrunners lifted the characters and let their own imaginations run wild. Although diverging from the original material this move allows a certain freedom. This does not always bode well (as demonstrated by the laboured police investigations which are unsurprisingly easy to solve). However, this is less of a problem that it might first appear. As the seasons progress, the gruesome murders become a backdrop for characterisation. A seemingly random homicide will allow Lucifer to explore his daddy issues, or any other emotional problems the once-Lord-of-Hell is grappling with. Subtle? Lucifer is not. Regardless, Lucifer’s problems are the same as in any soap opera or sit-com; Can I make her fall in love with me? Am I ready for commitment? Who stole my severed angel wings? Well, perhaps not quite the same. There’s a healthy dose of family rivalry too, as the celestial family turns on each other with relish. Perhaps what Lucifer does is bring back a pagan sense of the gods. Lucifer, his brother Amenadiel and their goddess mother would feel far more at home in the warring world of the Norse gods, or sipping ambrosia with Zeus and Hera.
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Lucifer is comfortably irreverent. Yet behind the laughable murders and over-acted soul searching lies an existential framework of theological angst. Can there be free will if there is an omnipotent God? When Lucifer discovers that the impervious Chloe Decker is, in some way, a gift from God, this question rises to the fore. What kind of benevolent God sentences his child to an eternity in hell? The audience is, indirectly, asked to reconsider their position. Not on religion, but on the stories that grow within in it. Of course, ever since John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lucifer has become a protagonist in popular culture. God becomes the unfeeling, unknowable tyrant and humanity sympathies with the fallen angel. This is continued in Lucifer, where there is a clear distinction between the Lord of Hell as dispensing punishment and the higher power who forces him to do so. To take this to its logical conclusion, God tortures the souls in hell using Lucifer as instrument. A difficult problem for an ostensibly facile show. Therein lies the great joy of Lucifer. Near-farce, gruesome murder and theology somehow align in a delightful, ridiculous mess. Lucifer is not always cogent or coherent. It is often overtly ridiculous. Tom Ellis smoulders at the camera with kohl-lined eyes and murder suspects offer up helpful truths about their motives. It is an utter hodge-podge of genre.
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Yet somehow, Lucifer survives. Not because of theological wrangling, or the cop drama, or Linda’s pyscho-babble. Despite distractions, the show has formed robust, compelling characters that the audience continues to invest in. Rather than a story-led arc, the shows climaxes on its character development. Like a sit-com, it features a stalwart cast of characters and tenuously connected episodes. Nevertheless, Lucifer does not suffer from a lack of story because the characters provide it. Although, in this form, it cannot claim to be the most sophisticated form of story-telling, Lucifer works. The odd friendships between cops, divine beings and a therapist is constantly put under pressure. They fight, they make messy choices that change or reveal who they are. The characters walk in with a quip and a smile but leaves the audience with far more than that. Lucifer makes us fall in love with its characters and then asks us why? Why does Lucifer feel unloved? Why is Amenadiel so conflicted? Why does Linda stand by the Devil even after seeing his face? Human angst plays out on a celestial scale and Lucifer’s biggest questions are not about God, but man.
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Stephen Moffat’s Women Who Waited

“Wait for me” said the Doctor. “Wait for me”.
First there was La Pompadour, sitting by her fireplace as the years passed by. Then there was little Amelia Pond who perched on her suitcase in the backgarden, waiting for twelve years. The same Amy waited thirty-six years in a fast-forwarded time zone. Then there was Bill, ten years at the bottom of a spaceship. It begins to sound like a litany of life sentences. “Wait for me”, says the Doctor. The story plays out like the old fairytale – the princess in the tower waiting for her saviour – and Stephen Moffat’s women in waiting keep getting blander. At least La Pompadour carried on with her life, dreaming of the Doctor inbetween court intrigues (The Girl in the Fireplace). Amelia grew into Amy (The Eleventh Hour). The grown-up Amy Pond found a loophole in the Two Rivers system, built herself a companionable Rory-bot and DIY armour (The Girl Who Waited). Bill just waited. Granted, she had a hole in her chest and a robot heart but for a perpetually curious character who is perceptive, daring and often irrepressible – surely she could have had at least one idea in ten years?
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Not only is Moffat reusing storylines (Oswin Oswald was converted into a Dalek but perceived herself as human in Asylum of the Daleks) but his stories are getting worse. Asylum of the Daleks revealed Oswin’s Dalek form in a gut-wrenching twist but in The Doctor Falls, shots flicker between Pearl Mackie and Bill the Mondasian Cyberman. The writers clearly felt that the audience would lose patience with Bill’s Cyberman voice and cloth face without feelings. The split-perspective approach was barely any better. SPOILER ALERT It’s all okay in the end – Bill runs off with her water molecule date from the first episode and the Doctor’s regeneration is triggered with a tear. That’s the same plot as Disney’s Tangled, by the way, and every other sentimental film where a tear is the kiss of life. “Where there’s tears, there’s hope” says Bill, and zooms off into the universe.
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It’s a trite ending to an episode that is overblown, confused and choppy. We jump from Cyberman city to farmland on floor 502, from Nardole and a love interest to exploding apples. You can’t help but feel the apple is only present for the gag “the first ever apple upgrade!” There is a falsity to the episode, the price of not allowing the audience to get to know the characters, to feel their anguish and indecision. John Simm and Michelle Gomez, both terrific actors, did not reach their full potential. Their final self-destructive scene happens too fast and ends in hysterical laugter. There are no nuances here. One can’t help but recall Russell T. Davies’ The End of Time, the episodes that signalled the end of his, and Tennant’s, Doctor Who careers. Rewatching it now, the filmography is dated and visibly low-budget. Yet the episodes themselves are terrfic, hair-raising and comedic by turns. One unforgettable moment is the Master in a pink dress; John Simm thoroughly enjoying himself playing almost every human in the world. There are points where the Doctor seems lost and clueless, he is angry and bitter when confronted with death.
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During Steven Moffat’s time directing the show, he has stripped back the humanity of Doctor Who. The current iteration is flashy and ambitious. Everybody lives. Even in his mid-series contributions, Stephen Moffat can’t bear to kill. The gas-mask children of The Empty Child heal every injured body in the vicinity, in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead River Song is saved onto the computer hard-drive. There is nothing wrong with this. These episodes provided lightness and hope when the Doctor seemed at his bleakest. Yet when survival becomes matter-of-fact and uncomplicated, we can’t help but lose interest. When Donna exits the TARDIS she loses all her memories. The person that she became vanishes and, in a tragic ending, she loses all the heart and compassion she has gained over the series. Rose ends up in an alternate universe, her heart broken forever while Martha leaves full of unrequited love and the need to rebuild her shattered family. Stephen Moffat refuses to dwell on the grief and loss of parting. In her final episode, Clara is caught in the second between life and death to roam the galaxies in a borrowed Tardis, Bill steps out of her Cyberman body and drips tears. “I can make you human again” says her lover, “it’s only a matter of atoms”.
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The Doctor’s companions are also curiously suffering from a paradox of intelligence. On paper, they’re getting smarter. Rose Tyler definitely didn’t write physics essays or grasp half of the space-time logic that Bill can. Yet Moffat’s latest creations, Clara and Bill, despite being almost always on the same page as the Doctor, rarely venture an independent action. Donna – the temp from Chiswick – solved problems by looking in the filing cabinet or noticing odd number combinations on spaceships. Martha used her junior doctor training on aliens. In short, they worked with the skills they had; not all of us can be geniuses after all. Moffat seems to endow his female characters with reams of knowledge while refusing to let them use it. Paradoxically, the more the Doctor’s companions seem to know, the less independently they behave. They might make a grand gesture, or pass an observation but mostly, they’re spewing words and waiting. “Wait for me”, says the Doctor.
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The Doctor is now always right. He has become infallible. In The God Complex (an episode by Toby Whithouse) the Doctor tells his companions to find something, anything to believe in. In the end, it is this belief that kills his friends. The Doctor is agonised by his inadvertent hand in their deaths and the audience is reminded that the only living Time Lord is scarred by the choices he’s made. What happened to the old mantra, the Doctor lies? Audiences learnt to trust him despite his faults, not because the Doctor is omnipotent or ever-benevolent. In this last season, there has barely been a moment where Capaldi’s Doctor is not firmly in control. He allows a cowardly commander (in the Empress of Mars) to offer himself up for execution but don’t worry – the Doctor knew this would never happen.  In the final episode of The Monks Trilogy the Doctor seems to be on the side of the evil, conquering Monks. Bill works herself up in horrified despair then WHAM, got you! The Doctor and his military men fall about laughing. Of course the Doctor knows what he’s doing, he’s in control. They bust out of the omnipotent Monks stronghold with never a by-your-leave and breeze their way towards revolution. When the Doctor becomes infallible we are given a god, not a hero. The Time Lord loses his humanity- his frailty and fallibility – to become a shiny market commodity – sold with sunglasses and light-up screwdriver.
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Doctor Who was never just about the aliens. Through the prism of distant galaxies, stars and unexplored worlds, it tests and pushes what it means to be human. The Doctor runs through space and time and everywhere he goes, people die. He saves lives time and time again. He is a wise, kind, mad man in a blue box and we’ll follow him to the end of the universe.