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Monday 10 May 2010

On Doctor Who Season 5 (so far)

Doctor Who Season 5

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.

Friday 21 August 2009

Doctor Who: It Just Won't Freakin' End


Having a blog where I can write about anything is actually a bit overwhelming. To make things nice and easy, I've decided to start off by writing about my favorite television show-- no, NOT My Little Pony. Or She-Ra, Princess of Power. Or Sailor Moon. Or X-Men: The Animated Series.... okay, so maybe I have more than one, but this time it's Doctor Who.

The above picture, featuring Matt Smith in costume as the Eleventh Doctor and Karen Gillan as new companion Amy Pond, provoked a surprising number of responses from me. I thought I would share some of them with you.

Immediate Reactions That Might Be Kind Of Mean

a) OMG, they found little chibi-versions of David Tennant and Catherine Tate!

b) The BBC was so offended by the insinuations that there was sex in the Tardis that they've decided to make it seem not only unlikely, but impossible. What are they? Ten years old?

c) No danger of this guy being drafted by the Royal Shakespeare Company to play Hamlet.

d) He's so funny-looking, not even John Barrowman will want to kiss him...well okay, that's RIDICULOUS. But still, he's kinda funny-looking.

e) My, Christopher Eccelson and David Tennant are looking more handsome by the second.

f) This Karen Gillan girl is lucky that she's a companion for the Eleventh Doctor and not the Tenth, because if there was a Karen in the Tardis during the Tenth Doctor's era and it wasn't ME, well, let's just say that his Karen would have been "upgraded." Incidences of Forced-Karen-Replacement are rare, but not unheard of in the wild.

g) What is this Sweet Valley High doing in my Doctor Who?

...and I could go on, but I imagine you get the idea.


David is all like, "this is how you take a publicity photo, bitches."

For anybody who is completely and utterly confused right now, David Tennant (the actor who has been playing the Doctor for the past four years) has left the show; his final episodes will be the 2009 Christmas Specials, where presumably his incarnation will be killed off with much fanfare. Less talked about, but perhaps even more significant, is the fact that head writer Russel T. Davies has also left. While new head writer Steven Moffat steers the production of the next season, and Tennant returns to the theater- not unlike a salmon, returning upstream to spawn and die (and host Masterpiece Theater, which isn't terribly salmon-like but what can you do, metaphors are tough)- it's really not clear where the show is going.

Now, I'm not one of those manic Doctor Who fans who are busy filling the internet with bile about how Matt Smith is terrible and should be shot. While I will admit that I was hardly thrilled with the announcement of his casting, in truth I know better than to judge a performance that I haven't seen yet. My comments about his lack of attractiveness are strictly about personal preference-- I know that lots of people think he's good looking. I mean, I don't understand them and I think they're probably crazy, but that's beside the point.

Doctor Matt Smith DT_kitten

Look at these two pictures. Matt Smith's first photo with the Tardis, looking kind of constipated, and David Tennant playing with an adorable kitten: Who is better?

It's not the actor playing the Eleventh Doctor that's my problem; What I've recently realized is that I'm uncomfortable with the fact that there is going to be another Doctor at all.

Why I Sort Of Want Doctor Who To End

During the years since DW's revival (or the RTD era, as some fans call it), despite the gags and silly costumes there's been a lot of quite serious stuff. The show regularly deals with themes that were only touched on during the classic Who era, if at all. Most of the popular episodes, like "The Girl In the Fireplace" and "Blink", are about mortality (when the Doctor says "Blink and you're dead", he's not just talking about the monsters of the week). "The Fires of Pompeii" dealt with the issue of power and responsibility that the show has traditionally shied away from- a core problem with the show is the fact that the Doctor never does anything with his time machine that YOU would do (like prevent World War II and the Holocaust, let's say), and they finally addressed that. Of course, saying "Some events are fixed and I can't change them" is a bit of a cop out, but at least they pointed out that "can't" and "won't" are two different things.

They've even taken the core concept of the show- The Doctor and his companion- and taken it to a place where it really makes no sense to return to the status quo. I really disliked the end of Season 4, but what happened to Donna represents a complete breakdown of the Doctor/Companion relationship, and I have to give them credit for going through with it. At the end, Donna was scared of him, and that's the last thing that he (or us) ever wanted to see. It's probably the only thing I've ever seen on television that was intentionally painful to watch, as opposed to just ending up that way due to incompetence. The idea that the Doctor could pick up a new person after being forced to acknowledge something so disturbing- that the relationship of equals between him and his buddies is a charade- is hard to wrap my brain around. Hasn't he learned that it's unfair to expose these people to so much danger, in large part from himself, just because he's lonely? Wasn't that the point?

Doctor_Donna.jpg See, this is going to hurt me a lot more then it's going to hurt you. Primarily because you will have no clue what just happened.

Of course, the ratings are good, and thus the show lives on; being Doctor Who, even after this series is canceled the story will probably pick up again twenty years down the road. I understand that a TV show is not going to have the kind of beginning, middle and end that a good book does. But I can't help feeling that the last season or so has constituted an actual ending, and to continue merrily along with cheerful new characters is kind of like a slap in the face.