Is mystery often better than the reveal?
After watching an interview between Mark Kermode and JJ Abrams on BBC2’s The Culture Show I found myself mauling over something that was discussed. Abrams revealed that when he was a child he was heavily into magic tricks. While visiting a shop there was an offer that he could not pass on: A box with 50 Dollars worth of magic inside for 15 dollars! The catch what was that everything inside the enclosed box was an utter mystery. Abrams said he realised that whatever was inside might not be as good as whatever was inside and thus the box remained, and apparently still remains, unopened. If you follow Abrams work you can see that this idea tends be find its way in a lot of his productions. Mission Impossible 3, Super 8, Lost, and Cloverfield. The idea of a looming mystery, an unopened pandora’s box as it where, made me start to think about the current run of Doctor Who.
In 2010 the running mystery of series 5 was who is River Song, who did she kill, why is she in prison. Series 6 took that once mysterious box – that box that, as you looked at it glowed at the seams while you churned endless theories as to who or what River was – and ripped the top off. As the seal was popped low and behold the mystery was the biggest dud for that entire series. One most of the fans guessed a mile away.
Here we are with series 7. A pair of mystery boxes are placed before us, one in the form of Clara Owsin Oswald, the ‘impossible’ girl. The girl the Doctor has met three times and has seen die twice. Who is she? What is she? Does it matter? The second mystery box is the answer to the great question hiding in plain sight, Doctor Who? Who is the Doctor?
Something that I enjoyed about the Abrams interview was when he made the comment that sometimes the mystery is the point. Which isn’t to mean that a story shouldn’t have a point. You can have characters who go from A to B and grow and learn and change but there can be an unanswered thread. Take Mission Impossible 3, by far one of the best in the series. The entire film is focused on finding this mysterious “rabbits foot.” Lots of things happen in the film, characters change, the villain is taken down, but we never learn what the Rabbits Foot actually is. Does it ruin the story? I’d say, no it doesn’t.
Look at crime fiction. One of the most popular fictional criminals is Professor James Moriarty. A Napoleon of Crime, a spider at the centre of a web with a thousand strands and he knows exactly where each one leads. What makes him so appealing? It’s that Sherlock Holmes doesn’t know he’s there. As a reader we can look back and imagine Moriarty lurking in the shadows as the Granda series did. At the end of the day the reader never comes face to face with Moriarty. Watson is the primary narrator and all we have is Watson finding a little note left behind by Holmes and then Watson making the deduction that Holmes and Moriarty plummeted to their death at the Reichenbach fall.
Moriarty, the world’s greatest criminal mastermind, is an utter mystery. A box that sits before us teasing to be opened. Do the unanswered Moriarty questions ruin the character? No, it’s paved the way for countless interpretations on the character some of which are fun some of which are not so fun.
Doctor Who is a 50 dollar box of magic for 15 dollars. There is mystery in the name – a mystery that should never be toiled with. As the show spins towards its 7th series finale we are apparently going to learn who Clara is and why she is so important while also learning The Name of the Doctor, Doctor Who? There is something powerful in mystery, and in one episode 50 years of Doctor Who mystery is going to be revealed for good or bad. My question is, should it? Or should this box of magic remain closed, only glowing at the seams leaving us to speculate what is inside. Perhaps the future of Doctor Who could learn a trick or two from Abrams’ philosophy. At the shows current rate no mystery in Doctor Who has been worth the reveal. But tell me, what do you think?
What do you enjoy about a good mystery, and must there always be answers or can things be left open?