Four episodes in (I'm watching at the BBC-America pace), the new season of Doctor Who is leaving me cold, and I'm hard-pressed to explain why. It's not like it used to be good, and now it's bad; far from it. If anything, these recent episodes have been on a much more even keel than I'm used to for this show, which in the past has oscillated between being absolutely brilliant and embarrassingly terrible on a minute-to-minute basis (and I seriously do envy the fans who either can't see, or successfully ignore, the embarrassingly terrible parts.)
In fact, there's absolutely nothing wrong with Season 5 so far, and quite a few things right with it; I'm secure enough in my femininity to admit that Karen Gillan is ridiculously adorable as Amy Pond. So why am I having such a hard time caring?
The easy answer is that I haven't taken to Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, which is half-true; I'm not that keen on his acting style (and my bias against him is admittedly well-documented), but he's usually convincing as a 900-plus-years-old alien, which is a pretty darned impressive feat for someone in his twenties. Besides, I like most of the previous incarnations of the Doctor (especially Tom Baker and Peter Davison) quite a bit, so I'm not married to the Tenth Doctor- err, so to speak. Tennant's Doctor was the first one I ever saw on screen, but the first full season I watched was Christopher Eccleson's, who I liked better at that time. Another changing of the guard, actor-wise, really shouldn't be a deal-breaker for me.
The writing has to be the answer, for the simple reason that the writing comprises each and every thing that happens on the show. However, current head writer Steven Moffat has written most of my favorite DW episodes, and I tend to like the way he thinks. While there have been some plot holes in these episodes, that's more due to the nature of the medium than anything else; in most sci-fi television, even if they wanted to drag out the pacing of the show by explaining how everything works (which they absolutely don't), the constraints of the television serial don't allow them the time. I don't really need to have it explained to me why the current crop of Weeping Angels seem to operate by different rules than the ones in Blink; I'm more or less happy assuming that a proper explanation is out there, somewhere, and I could find out if I really cared. In general, the writing seems pretty decent- although I had hoped we would get less of the Doctor's insufferable self-mythologizing ("what do you never, ever ever put in a trap? ME!!!"), I probably should have known better. Smith isn't as good as being gleefully obnoxious during these monologues as Tennant was, but come to think of it, being gleefully obnoxious is basicaslly Tennant's God-given talent in life; it's not exactly a fair comparison.
I had said at one point that I wished Doctor Who would end, and I guess that's the real reason- I'm not looking for the show to simply be good, I'm looking for it to justify its continued existence, and how could it possibly do that? The last DW episode that felt right to me was The Waters of Mars, because it actually broke new ground for the show and for the character- in fact, maybe it did a little too much of that. Really, the Doctor finally giving in to the temptation to go on a really ugly power-trip is the kind of thing you would expect to be saved for The Last Doctor Who Story. I was musing that DW should end before The Waters of Mars aired, and while it proved that I had been wrong about the show having nowhere left to go, it made me feel even more strongly that they were building to an actual conclusion. Russel T. Davies explained The Waters of Mars as a story that they could only tell once with this character- by which he meant Tennant's Doctor, the tenth incarnation. However, you can't keep telling us that the Doctor is fundamentally the same person since the 1960's, and then expect us to forget that whenever it's convenient. Davies was totally right; that was a story you could only tell once. And they've done more than one of those.
The main idea behind Doctor Who is that you don't actually know who the Doctor is; the fact that you'll never truly know dovetails with the fact that we'll never truly understand how things really went down in the historical periods the show chronicles, or what things will be like after we die. But there comes a point where you feel that if you don't know everything, you at least know enough that what you don't know doesn't weigh heavily on your mind anymore. I still don't know who the Eleventh Doctor is, but frankly, I know enough.
I'm still going to watch the rest of the season- hey, it's not like I have much else non-animated stuff to watch on TV. But it's a very strange situation to be left so apathetic by something, and yet so incapable of finding something legitimate to criticize.