Monday, June 03, 2013

Doctor Who Again

Since I did this for the first half of Series 7 (here), here are my thoughts on the recently-ended second half of it. My thoughts about this half aren't as negative as you think they'd be, given how much I hated the first half. But I threw this picture up at the top because it manages to capture exactly everything I despise about Steven Moffat's approach to the show.

I'll just go right into the individual episodes.

:: "The Bells of St. John" had some interesting moments; there was a hint of real darkness in Celia Imrie's fate that I was struck by, and it was an interesting choice to bring back Richard E. Grant as the Great Intelligence. I really, really, really hated Clara on "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Snowmen," but here she annoyed me less. The Doctor's motorcycle drive up the side of a building I could have done without, but that's this show now. It's less Doctor Who and more Stephenie Meyer's Scooby Doo, Where Are You? I did like the bits about the Wi-Fi and capturing people inside of it; it was pretty daft, but it was Who daft.

:: I quite liked "The Rings of Akhaten," though I feel I might be in the minority on that one, given some of the commentary I've seen. But it was nice to slow down and just feel what an alien world is like, recalling earlier episodes like "The End of the World." This episode was actually the first time I liked Clara, also; it was much nicer getting to see her as a person rather than a plot device or some kind of shitty, misguided attempt to mistake obnoxious, rude smartypants for clever and proactive. I liked her here and I liked how she was used.

I think people really got hung up on the story of the leaf, and her assertion that it was the most important leaf in human history, because it was the catalyst that got her parents to meet. I don't think she was speaking as though she was the most important person in the world, but rather describing that it was the most important thing in the world to her; she was facing a being that fed on the emotional importance placed on objects, and that was her most important object.

The episode was also an interesting exploration of one of the Moffat era's more interesting themes, which is human beings as stories, and the events of their lives as stories at once informed by and influencing who we are.

I don't know, I thought this episode was great. It felt like real new-era Doctor Who. The episode itself was the first one written for the show by Luther creator/writer Neil Cross. I think it's worth pointing out that the character Alice on Luther is one that I expected to be cliched and obvious, but Cross made her interesting and unique. He did the same here with Clara, and that was a real surprise, because I expected to hate her even more than Amy Pond. Turns out I don't hate anyone as much as Amy Pond.

:: "Cold War" was pretty fun. Not much to say about it, but nice casting (Liam Cunningham, David Warner, Tobias Menzies), and I loved the stuff they did with the Ice Warrior. The only thing I didn't like about the episode was how much the show insists on fixed points in time that can't be changed, and suddenly this episode tosses that aside to say that this incident with the Ice Warrior could trigger World War III in 1983. So, history can't be changed unless it can be for reasons of dramatic tension. Whatever, Doctor Who. If that's possible then you can also just go back in time and stop things before they happen and then everything gets fixed easily. The first season episode "Father's Day"--which was fantastic--was all about how dangerous trying to do that was. So, fun episode, but trying to generate suspense that way was pretty cheap.

:: "Hide" was fitfully interesting; at least the characters were sort of consistent and it wasn't Clara worship. Still, haunted houses just aren't my cup of tea. I thought the twists were nice, but still, haunted house story? Wake me later. Also written by Neil Cross, but it didn't capture me the same way "The Rings of Akhaten" did.

:: "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was particularly stupid. And the Doctor going back in time to warn himself as a way of simply undoing the episode feels like a cheat. It's lame and it feels like a cheat. Also, I really hate this season's theme of the TARDIS acting like a jealous girlfriend.

:: "The Crimson Horror" was flat-out terrible and made me feel really sorry for Diana Rigg.

:: "Nightmare in Silver" was okay. I'm not as enamored with Neil Gaiman's writing, and I thought the children Clara looks after were horrid and the twist was obvious a mile away. But Warwick Davis stole the whole episode, and I love Warwick Davis. His presence made it so much easier to swallow the incredibly stupid scenes of Matt Smith arguing with an evil version of himself like he was in an old Star Trek episode. Actually, I take back my assessment of "okay," this one is just dumb but has a fun role for Warwick Davis.

:: Which brings us to the finale, "The Name of the Doctor." A finale I found underwhelming to say the least. Underwhelming and problematic.

Let's do underwhelming first.

Steven Moffat has a tendency a little bit to act like some big mystery is going to be uncovered, and while we're all supposed to be looking around us and trying to figure out what the significance of the Doctor's name is or who River Song really is or how the Doctor dies, he swoops in and laughs it all away because that was never really supposed to be the focus in the first place. It's this whole other thing. It's just kind of annoying and anticlimactic. Not that I wanted to know the Doctor's name--dear god, I don't ever want to know, and I certainly don't want Steven Moffat being the one to come up with it--but all of the focus on it as a plot point diminishes the story because he's not actually focusing on the story. He's focusing on trying to be clever.

Underwhelming thing #2: the big villain turned out to be the Great Intelligence. What? Who? Why do we care? We don't know the Great Intelligence. I'm going to assume he's not meant to be the same Great Intelligence from the Patrick Troughton era, but even if he is, who cares? He's not a character with a long and rich history who is constantly foiled by the Doctor. We've really only seen him twice, and he's only directly confronted the Doctor once. So what do we care if he's mad at the Doctor? Get in line. It really didn't feel as epic as the episode was trying to convince us it was, because it wasn't a villain we were invested in at all. You can't just drop the guy into a cameo in one episode and then several episodes later have him step out from behind the curtain and reveal himself to be the season's Big Bad. Where's the set-up? Where's the drama? Who gives a shit? It's terrible storytelling.

Remember in the first season when Russell T. Davies subtly wove "Bad Wolf" into every episode? It was a presence that was on your mind, and it took a few episodes before it really started to seem like something. "Torchwood" in season two. "Saxon" in season three. It was a great set-up. Here it's just "Well, remember this guy? Sort of? Oh, well, he's the archvillain this time around." There's just no impact at all because this half-season was so concerned with the identity of Clara and the Doctor's name that this confrontation wasn't remotely set up, and when it happened, there was no payoff. You can't have payoff without setting it up.

Also underwhelming: I'm already sick of Vastra, Jenny and Strax, and I really didn't need to see more of River Song. River Song is beyond played out.

Now, the problematic thing: the identity of Clara.

Okay, so, Clara sacrifices herself to reset the Doctor's timeline to the way it was throughout his history. It was actually underwhelming as well as problematic, but let's talk about why it bugged me: because, like all of Moffat's female characters, she's just River Song. You can make her all flashy with her clever-clever smarty-smart dialogue and obnoxious familiarity, but it's the same thing: a character that seems independent but is really just created to be obsessed with the Doctor and to service the Doctor in some way. I just don't like this thing where instead of creating an interesting character, she's a character who is really only there to eventually play an important role in the fate of the Doctor himself. Maybe if we'd had another season or so before getting here, where the show could've really played with her identity instead of just being so obsessed about the actual mystery itself. Maybe the Doctor could have remembered seeing her in other places and times, or maybe we could've caught glimpses of her or other versions of her or something. If there had been something more active about it instead of just obsessing over an eventual reveal and finding out the answer is not really all that compelling. I wonder if Clara is going to keep being the companion, or if Moffat's done with her now that she's served this story purpose, because why have a character when you can have a plot device? It's just easier, I guess.

Of course, rather than dwell on what happened, the show rushes off to its next mystery: the identity of John Hurt's Doctor. The prevailing theory is that he's the Doctor during the Time War, an identity the Doctor has been running away from, which is interesting because it makes David Tennant the 11th Doctor and not the 10th, and maybe Tennant is the one supposed to fall at Trenzalore. My theory was that John Hurt is the Valeyard, but maybe there's something to the idea of being the Time War Doctor. That said, I know Tennant's in the upcoming anniversary special that is apparently going to be a 50-year celebration of only the last couple of years of Doctor Who, but I still suspect he's going to be that alternate half-human Doctor that stayed with Rose. Maybe I'm wrong, who the hell knows?

And then, of course, there's the speculation about who will be the next Doctor, since Smith is leaving after the Christmas special. As usual, I'd like to see someone older in the role again, but judging by the angry online comments from fans when they saw John Hurt and thought he was too old and unsexy to be the Doctor, I doubt the show will go in that direction. Matt Smith's been pretty David Tennant-lite on the show (although Matt Smith is very, very far from being the thing that's wrong with Doctor Who right now), and after the usual talk about whether the Doctor could be a woman (and I still think it could work) and the usual fruitless push for Chiwetel Ejiofor, I expect we'll some other wispy thin tall guy with a hipster suit and big hair take the role and be David Tennant-lite-lite. It's just how it works right now.

That said, my ideal choice is still Patrick Stewart. Even before Eccleston happened, it's been Patrick Stewart, because I just want to see Patrick Stewart be funny and goofy and silly in the role.

A fan can dream.

What I really want is for Steven Moffat to leave and be replaced by Neil Cross, anyway.


Will said...

What they ought to do is get an older woman, a Julie Walters-type, to play the doctor, and then get whatever tall thin young guy they want to play the companion. Keep everyone happy.

SamuraiFrog said...

I saw a bunch of people last night saying Helen Mirren.