Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Doctor Who and the Diminishing Quality

I've been finally catching up on the four final episodes of this Doctor Who half-season. I guess it says everything about how into this show I am right now that I didn't even bother to watch the episodes as they aired or within days of airing.

Like "Asylum of the Daleks," I felt the season was mostly rushed-through and not very well thought out. I'm still really bummed out by how bad that episode was; I'm extremely forgiving when the Daleks appear just because I like Daleks so much, but that was so terrible. Rebooting the Daleks (AGAIN!) was bad enough, but I still just don't feel good about the Doctor straight-up murdering a bunch of Dalek mental patients.

The Doctor's been a teeny bit murder-happy of late, it seems. He basically killed Solomon in "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" and then tried to have Kahler-Jex killed in "A Town Called Mercy" before picking up a gun and pointing it right at his head. This is the guy I'm supposed to be rooting for? Since when is the Doctor the moral arbiter of the universe? Since when does he want to be? This is a man who used to think all life had value and that it wasn't his to take away. Now? Who knows? What the hell is Steven Moffat doing to this show? Remember in "The Waters of Mars" when the Doctor saved a woman from dying even when he knew it would affect the entire universe? Now I feel like under Moff's watch he'd just blow her brains out himself.

Anyway, some thoughts on the individual episodes.

:: "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" does what it says in the title. It's Doctor Who at its cutest, but it came along when I needed a mostly-cute filler episode. Mark Williams was very, very enjoyable as Rory's dad Brian. I'd rather have Brian be the companion than the Ponds, honestly. The triceratops was cute and fun, and the Mitchell & Webb comedy robots were funny. David Bradley was enjoyable as the villain, and even though there was really no reason to throw in Nefertiti or Riddell, they were fun characters to hang around with. It mitigated my usual Pond-annoyance to have so many characters in. The CGI dinosaur models looked like the ones the BBC has had since 1999's Walking with Dinosaurs. It's fluffy and junky, but so is cotton candy. Cute stuff, and much better than I expect from a Chris Chibnall-penned episode. But then there's the business about the Doctor just deciding that Solomon was an irredeemable shit and siccing some missiles at him, and I find it objectionable. That's not the Doctor I know. And too bad they just drop the whole Silurian plot.

:: "A Town Called Mercy" wasn't great, but I was thrilled to see Ben Browder, star of the greatest science fiction TV series ever, Farscape. Too bad he didn't have a very good role, but the episode was pretty predictable, anyway. I didn't mind Amy's confrontation of the Doctor after he tries to run out and kill Kahler-Jex, because someone had to do it, and it would have been the companion whomever it was. I'm just glad the Doctor's sudden violent streak was addressed, even though I feel like they kind of dropped it without addressing it enough.

:: "The Power of Three" had a lot of promise, even with the stupid voiceover opening and closing. Plus it was great to see Mark Williams again. I liked the idea that Rory and Amy were basically growing out of the Doctor. It cut to the point that the Doctor has stopped being the old eccentric with the ever-exploring mind and turned into an emotionally stunted runaway child. I wish they'd made this a two-parter and skipped over "The Angels Take Manhattan" entirely. There was so much great stuff in this episode (the Brigadier connection made me tear up a bit), but the episode wasn't carried off well. It seemed like they chucked a lot of the plot in favor of funny scenes with the Doctor not being able to sit still. They treated that hologram like we were supposed to know the character, and then he disappeared. And then I think the Doctor left those people on board the Shakri ship to die. And then the whole plot about jump starting the hearts of millions of people who by that point would have been totally brain dead was pretty silly. This should have been the farewell to Rory and Amy; a two-parter with a better resolution would have been very welcome, because there's a lot of nice stuff in here that I would've liked to have seen built on and given a smarter science plot.

I kind of hate that this episode lets us see a mature Rory and Amy who have grown up and found happiness without having to run off and have adventures all the time, only for them to basically die in the next episode. It would have been much more interesting to me to have them make the decision themselves to just sort of give up this goofy sideline in favor of building their lives together. Have we ever even seen that? People who grow out of the fairy tale and just live their lives instead of being altered forever, never able to leave it behind? But that's a very big, mature idea for a show that's basically become the adventures of Mary Sue Pond and Her Magical Manic Pixie Dream Boy.

:: "The Angels Take Manhattan" was underwhelming. Maybe it was the plot holes. I don't really buy the idea that we just have to accept that Rory and Amy are gone forever and can't be rescued just because the Doctor read a book. I mean, that book dictated that the Doctor was going to break River's wrist, and she did it herself, so obviously it can be changed, right? Rory's paradox idea was brilliant, but it's kind of wasted because it doesn't feel like the episode quite earns the emotions that it plays to. (And I'm going to be honest and admit that, even though I hate Amy Pond, I cried when she made her sacrifice because frankly I never pictured her as capable of making that kind of sacrifice for Rory. That was genuinely touching.)

But I found the episode on the whole rather boring. Maybe it's because there's been such a build-up about Amy and Rory leaving; I wish they could just keep this kind of shit secret so that it's a surprise when it happens. The episode could have benefited a lot from an element of surprise. Bad enough it was more Weeping Angels. Yes, "Blink" is one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever, but that was the one time they were genuinely chilling. They should never have brought them back. At least River's appearance was more subdued this time; it felt less pandering and more like there was a reason for the character to be there other than fanboy boners.

I've been pretty honest about how bad I thought series 6 was. So far, series 7 has been... well, I haven't exactly hated it more than 6 (other than the execrable "Asylum of the Daleks"), but it's just felt so damn inconsequential so far. And now we've got that horrid new companion to look forward to, which is just more of that one woman Steven Moffat writes now, and I'm just... so fucking bored of the whole thing.

Christ, just grow up.


John Seven said...

I agree with your larger assessment of the situation, even though there are differences in some of the specifics - for instance, I like the previous season, though acknowledge that it being so convoluted was to the detriment of bringing in casual viewers. And I’ve never thought much of Amy Pond as a presence.

And though I’m not real pleased with this first half-season, I do acknowledge that there were some terrible Tennant episodes that I hated much, much more - Voyage of the Damned is the standard by which I measure low points for the series.

For this half season, I found myself liking episodes as they unfolded and immediately having a bad taste in my mouth as soon as they were done. The problems were consistent. It seemed as though they came up with sensational scenarios and set-ups, but never knew where to go with them to make the whole episode interesting, so that even if they seemed promising at first, the entire concept would fizzle into something by the numbers.

They relied way too much on the personal drama of the Ponds, who I find hard to care about on any level beyond their role as companions.

They stretched the Doctor wackiness to degrees which it seemed out of character to me.

They infused too much annoying snippy banter, particularly with women characters (Oswin, ugh - so I’m supposed to like a person whose immediate response to the heroes is to find a physical imperfection and make fun of them - is this the only kind of woman Moffat is capable of writing anymore? I mean, there are lots of personalities floating around the universe, not everyone’s a smart ass …)

The plot holes and leaps in logic were glaring in that you noticed them - they’re always there in Doctor Who, but if handled correctly, you don’t really care. I care. For instance, the cube episode - if you’re trying to prevent humans from going into space, why that plot? Why not just blow up the earth or something equally as decisive and swift? There was lots of that.

And the Angels episode was just … I dunno what that was. It set up points of interest that were never followed through and the ending had no logic to it whatsoever - so you can bring the Tardis to NYC in 1938? Go to Trenton in 1940, take a cab over to Manhattan, and visit the Ponds. That was just stupid.

But the entire Ponds ending was really stupid. It should have ended with the Doctor giving them their house last season, with the character development inherent in that action. If they had to end it with the Angels episode, wouldn’t it have been more poignant for the Doctor, after witnessing the gamble Rory and Amy made to sacrifice their own lives to save the universe, to come to terms with the reality that he can’t repeatedly ask humans to keep making the kind of decisions he does and returns them to their home and families - I mean, just the last episode they had decided not to be part of things and Rory’s father guilted them into it. Jesus.

This half season felt like a contractual obligation run. If it were an American show with 20 or so episodes, these would be the ones everyone would feel should have been weeded out.

Bob Rutledge said...

"Angels Take Manhattan" may well be, all things (plot, action, "ideas", &etc) considered, the worst episode since the show started back up again in 2005. The Statue of Liberty? Really???? I was barely hanging on to suspension of disbelief as it was, and when that appeared...

What I'm really hoping is that whoever takes the reins from The Moff -- assuming the horses aren't irrevocably destroyed by then -- will begin the tenure by having the REAL Doctor appear and send "Eleven" off to the timelocked Gallifrey, because, as you so ably point out, this manic dweeb, whose bowtie I expect to start spinning and squirting water at any point, sure as fuck ain't him.

Other than thinking that Asylum was the least dreadful episode of the whole mini-run, I agree with all you, and Mr. Seven, said.