Friday, November 14, 2014

Alright, Let's Do Doctor Who Again

I've been limiting the number of times I have anything to say about Doctor Who to just a couple a year, because I don't want it to be me just complaining over and over again. One day, someone will take over the show from Steven Moffat and maybe it will be good again. It might take longer than I want, but, well... that's being a Doctor Who fan. You're not going to love every era of the show.

Last year was the big 50th anniversary, but I didn't talk too much about it. I said a few times that I was disappointed in the episode, "The Day of the Doctor," and I still am. I didn't much care for "The Time of the Doctor," either. I'll finally get into that a bit here, since I never ended up talking about them.

I'll just go through them in order.

:: The best thing I can say about "The Day of the Doctor" is that I felt like it made sense. I know there were people who felt saying that Gallifrey was never destroyed was a retcon, but I didn't feel like it was. It was just that the Doctor didn't know that Gallifrey had simply been moved and not destroyed. I think that worked without erasing the pathos of the Doctor as the last of his kind. He believed he was. He believed he had actually destroyed Gallifrey. Now he knows the truth. I don't have a problem with that at all.

I talked to some people who were confused about the chronology of "The End of Time" and "The Day of the Doctor," but I felt the dialogue made it clear that what Rassillon and the Time Lord Council had attempted to do in "The End of Time"--using the Master to harness the Earth to move Gallifrey out of the Time War and save it from destruction--had already happened before that final battle at Arcadia. Possibly just before. Again, I don't think there's an issue.

I thought the Moment was an interesting weapon, in that it manifests itself as someone you care about and argues with you whether or not you should use it. I did not, however, like that it took the form of Rose Tyler, nor that Rose was basically written as an expy of River Song. I thought that was a bizarre use of the character (or, more accurately, the character's image). John Hurt was quite good as the War Doctor.

There was so much more that I disliked about it. I thought the Zygons were terrible. I want to like Kate Stewart, but I don't. I fucking hated that Osgood character with her scarf, who was just a pandering caricature of Who fangirls. David Tennant is always good, but the Tenth Doctor wasn't used well, and him marrying Queen Elizabeth I is one of the stupidest things I've ever seen on Doctor Who. It's exactly the sort of thing Moffat thinks is aw, shucks cute.

And then there was Tom Baker's weird, doddering cameo, which was just uncomfortable. It also telegraphs that there are future Doctors and that there was no way Matt Smith was going to be the last Doctor, even though Steven Moffat always wants to build suspense by claiming something is a big deal that can't possibly happen given the realities of television. I've complained about this before, particularly in the previous episode, "The Name of the Doctor": acting like a big mystery is going to be uncovered when, in actuality, it's nothing important. Moffat's like a huckster who thinks he's a magician. What I liked about the Russell T. Davies era is that he would gradually lay down clues in such a way that you didn't even realize you were seeing clues, until, suddenly, you began to realize you were hearing the same things and it seemed to be forming a picture. You didn't have any information before the characters did; it unfolded and you watched it actively. With Moffat, he tells you in advance that something big is happening, then gives you a piece of the puzzle that the characters never see, and then a bunch of stuff happens and the Doctor says no, it wasn't this thing we were all focusing on, it was this other thing the whole time, and look, here's the completed puzzle, it was a donkey the whole time, ha ha, I finished it while you were looking at this other thing, aren't I clever clever clever smarty smart smartingson?

:: "The Time of the Doctor" did one important thing: it got rid of the Eleventh Doctor. Typical to Moffat, everything that happens to the Eleventh Doctor is the most important thing that's ever happened to the Doctor and to the entire universe itself, because the Doctor isn't a traveler anymore, he's the nexus of all of existence and reality. It did bother me that Moffat decided to count that half-human Doctor as a regeneration. I mean, the War Doctor counts, but not the Valeyard? Remember the Valeyard? Shouldn't the Valeyard make it fourteen incarnations?

But no, Moffat always has to have something incredibly important happening rather than just telling a story, and basically he just gets new regenerations by magic, which is exactly what everyone figured was going to happen, anyway. But at least we had an exciting episode of just watching the Doctor sit in a chair and get older and older. (Oh, and that idiot bit about Clara and nudity in the beginning.) I've forgotten so much of it because it was so, so forgettable.

:: Then we got to the new series opener, "Deep Breath," which was actually worse than I feared it would be. At this point, Vastra and Jenny are just tiresome. First off, they're pandering queerbait. Second, they're just indicative of the only two type of women Moffat (who wrote or co-wrote almost every episode this series, so it's fair to blame him) is interested in: the controlling, ball-busting, inappropriately sexual action hero and the one whose life is in service to someone stronger. You know, like all of Moffat's companions, who aren't women, but are problems to be solved, which is why they have titles like The Girl Who Waited and The Impossible Girl in place of personalities. I guess mysteries are easier to relate to than people. I could not stand Vastra hammering Clara about how she must be disappointed that the Doctor's not young and cute anymore, much to Clara's bewilderment.

(Note: to be fair, he also likes writing women who are crazy.)

The overriding thing that bugged me is that Clara didn't seem to have any idea how regenerations worked, which is particularly stupid because back in "The Name of the Doctor," Clara went through the Doctor's entire timeline and saw all of his incarnations. She knows how it works. She's meant to stand in for an audience of fangirls that Moffat apparently thinks never saw the show before he took it over, and he has to condescendingly explain to the audience that even though Peter Capaldi is older, it's okay, because he's still the Doctor. Jeez, they even get Matt Smith to call Clara and tell her basically that. It was stupid to an insulting degree.

I like Peter Capaldi, but I feel like he and Moffat and the various creatives never really found the character this series. Like they were hoping it would just emerge in the performance. Capaldi is a neat actor, and I think he'd make a neat Doctor, but he deserves better than Moffat's ugly version of Doctor Who. I think he and Jenna Coleman had some chemistry, too, but, well, there's a whole host of problems with how Clara was played this series...

:: I actually hated "Into the Dalek" even more than "Deep Breath." This season, the show tried to explore the idea that the Doctor is really, in some way, a soldier, no matter how much he denies it. That opened up all kinds of themes that the show never bothered to go into, instead just making the Doctor seem like a crotchety old bigot with an irrational hatred of soldiers. All those years knowing the Brigadier and he has such a low opinion of soldiers? That didn't sit right with me, especially since it was never really deepened.

:: And then, suddenly, I loved "Robot of Sherwood." It was a silly episode, but silly like an old-fashioned Doctor Who episode. Finally, the show relaxed enough to have some damn fun.

:: I talked about it before, but "Listen" was wonderful, my favorite episode in years. I felt like that one episode did everything--and better, and more succinctly, and more poetically--that Moffat tried and failed to do with Matt Smith over three seasons. This and "Robot of Sherwood" actually made me like Clara, too. And I liked her relationship with Danny Pink, a former soldier and fellow teacher. About the only thing I didn't like--and this happened throughout the series--is that the Doctor was constantly putting Clara down over her appearance. Other than Moffat really seems to hate women, what the hell was that all about?

:: "Time Heist" was dull. I didn't end up paying it much attention. I thought the Teller was a well-executed creature, though.

:: I loved "The Caretaker." I thought it was fun and emotional, and I liked how Danny Pink was let in on the Doctor's identity. Unfortunately, it also created one of my least favorite arcs of the season, which was Clara feeling like she needed to lie to Danny about traveling with the Doctor in order to keep dating him. That was so unfair. He placed a value on honesty, and she never gave him enough credit for trusting that she knew what she was capable of. That was an undertone that marred the season.

:: I still can't decide if I liked "Kill the Moon" or not, but probably I didn't. The twist was so obvious that I spent 10 or so minutes hoping it wouldn't actually be the twist. Then the Doctor basically runs and hides so that three women can settle for all humankind the question of abortion (allegorically), and then their decisions don't actually end up mattering because they don't carry them through. I don't know, it felt like it thought it was very clever, but didn't actually do much. Always nice to see Hermione Norris, though.

:: I did love "Mummy on the Orient Express," however. And at least this one touched more on the ideas of soldiery, duty, loyalty and protection.

:: "Flatline" had some neat ideas, like the two-dimensional aliens and the shrunken TARDIS, but it didn't entirely work for me. Great scares, and Clara in the leadership role was a treat, to my surprise, but this whole inability to resolve her feelings for Danny versus her thirst for adventure got on my nerves.

:: "In the Forest of the Night" was straight stupid. A real mess that had a big concept that it totally failed to make plausible or even, really, care that much about. It mostly fell on the Danny-Clara relationship and the (admittedly cute) interactions of the Doctor with a bunch of children. But for something that wanted to pretend it was big, it sure felt small and paltry. Nothing about it worked.

:: And into the two-part finale, which took all of the goodwill this series had built up for me and threw it against the wall, breaking it into a hundred bloody pieces. First, let's kill Danny Pink right away. That's an absolute disservice to the character, but it's typical that Moff just turns people into living plot devices. Then, let's have Clara betray the Doctor and somehow expect me to ever like or respect her again. All she did was lie to Danny, and now his death drives her mad with grief? And then the Doctor thinks the afterlife is something you can just travel to in a time machine? Yeah, I know, it's not really the afterlife, but I feel like the Doctor would have figured that out pretty early. Like, before he came up with the idea. Almost everything that happens in this episode is totally superfluous up until the last 10 or so minutes. Oh, and then there's the crazy woman that's been popping in all season, which is such a Moffat type of character that I was annoyed whenever she appeared. Yeah, she's the Master. I'm sure he thought that was a clever twist and not completely obvious. 15 minutes in, I was done with the whole series. After Clara's big betrayal, I didn't care what happened anymore.

Honestly, Moffat could have communicated more clearly that this whole afterlife deal was a scientific scheme and not actually some sort of limbo, but he just doesn't care. It's typical Moffat: he loves to come up with big concepts and scenarios, and never knows where to take them to make the whole thing interesting, so they just fizzle out.

:: "Death in Heaven" was even more dipshitted, however. The big plan is to seed the planet so that the organic remains of the dead all become Cybermen. So... the Cybermen's armor is organic, then? And their circuitry? I thought the whole point of the Cybermen was that they were better than the weakness of organics. Does anyone running this show even care about anything anymore?

I wish Moffat's Doctor Who didn't try to be so grand. The Doctor as the President of Earth was itself pretty stupid, but the whole thing just comes down to some people on a plane and a very drawn out confrontation in a graveyard. We can pretend it's on an epic scale, but there's no effort to make it look that way. It looks so small scale.

Again, there was a chance to explore the Doctor as soldier. I've pointed out since the Russell T. Davies era that, with the exception of Matt Smith's sudden violent streak during the last Amy Pond episodes, the show bends itself into pretzels to dispatch the villain in such a way that the Doctor doesn't have to ever actually kill anyone. Danny Pink's line about the Doctor as an officer, keeping his hands clean while others do his killing for him, is a valid criticism that deserves real weight and consideration, but it doesn't really land. And even if it had, the episode takes it away by leaving the killing of the Master to another character. Once again, the Doctor doesn't have to make the hard decisions because someone else does it for him. It felt very anticlimactic.

Oh, and apparently the Brigadier is a Cyberman now and we just have to live with that.

God, I hope this is the last we see of Clara. I'm very annoyed that the show finally got me invested in her and then just had her go crazy at the end. Which is, honestly, what I expect from Moffat, because, in the end, he'll always forego character development in favor of twists and showing off how clever he is. I think the next companion should be a girl called Quirky Cleverton, the quirkiest clever and the cleverest quirk from Cleverhampton, where the clevers quirk so cleverly and the quirks clever so quirkily.

(This is, incidentally, the same problem I had with the awful third season of Sherlock, where Mary Watson was similarly disserviced and where we're seriously asked to believe that the most dangerous and powerful blackmailer in England is a man who can produce no physical proof but just has a really good memory. Okay, sure.)

And hey, the Christmas episode has Nick Frost as Santa Claus, so I guess Santa Claus exists, unless there's some idiotic clever-clever twist there. Maybe Moffat can finally reveal that the Doctor has been Jesus this whole time and just get it over with.

At least Osgood got killed and there'll be no more of her. Don't worry, he'll come up with more pandering caricatures.

Forgot to mention: love the new opening.

Also: the BBC released a weirdly intense and unnecessarily aggressive clip from the Christmas episode that features Clara, so, yay, more of her.


Tallulah Morehead said...

It's like we're watching two different shows.

I agreed with a few of the things you wrote: I too loved Robin of Sherwood (Though Listen was the only episode all season I really deeply disliked). I did find Time of the Doctor disappointing and static, though I pretty much loved everything about Day of the Doctor (Which I got to see in a theater in 3-D).

Just where the hell the Valeyard fits into The Doctor's timeline is something I'm certainly unclear on. But then, that character never made any sense to me, and I felt the entire Trial of a Time Lord season was a botched mess I hated as much as you hate the Moffett era. To me, the 6th Doctor is truly The Worst Doctor.

The 10th Doctor briefly marrying Queen Elizabeth shortly before his regeneration was something established by Russell T. Davies back in The End of Time. I say kudos to Moffett for finding a way to make him not a liar on that. (His then skipping out on her to go save Gallifrey then motivated the elderly Queen Elizabeth's murderous fury at The Doctor back in The Shakespeare Code.)

You should rewatch Time Heist and pay more attention this time. I thought it one of this season's highlights, along Robots of Sherwood and Mummy on the Orient Express.

Kill The Moon didn't work for me either. Moffett seems unaware of the catastrophic effect it would have on earth to lose the moon.

I agree with you about In the Forests of the Night. It abandons any science whatever. It's nonsensical, though it was fun to view until the "Reasons" behind what was going on were revealed and it became clear that it was bullshit. Enjoyed the Red Ridinghood bit.

I had most of the same problems you did with Death in Heaven. The seemingly organic growing of cybermen, with working brains that have been rotting in the ground (not to mention embalmed), seemed utterly stupid to me.

And I found the Brigadier being revived as a Cyberman a real bummer. It was supposed to be a touching moment and all it did was bum one out. (Part of that is personal. I met Nicholas Courtney in Los Angeles back in 1990, and when I ran into him again, 4 years later in London, he remembered me. Awfully swell guy.) And again, he's been dead for four or five years, been embalmed, and yet his brain not only still functions, but is strong enough to break his cyber-programming? Huh?

Oh, and I was also bummed by their abrupt killing off of Danny Pink, especially, since they never bothered to take off his damn shirt. (I've searched a few times, but I haven't found any shirtless shots of him even online.)

And yes, I've had more than enough of Clara. The lying to Danny was odd, and after The Caretaker, utterly pointless, unless she's just a compulsive liar.

Since we're on different planets regarding season 3 of Sherlock (the Sign of Three is my favorite single episode of Sherlock so far), best not to discuss it.

SamuraiFrog said...

I was thinking about catching "Time Heist" again when it next re-airs. I should give it a fair shake because that was a day when my anxiety was really getting to me.

The thing that especially bothered me about "Kill the Moon" was that the effects on the Earth of the moon's expansion was the whole reason a crew was sent from Earth, and then those effects are completely ignored when the moon hatches and everything turns out okay because a new moon is left behind.

I had a similar problem with "In the Forests of the Night." In both episodes, the concept is never really addressed in a satisfying way. That one got to me, too, because I really enjoyed the first half of the episode and then it just took a turn.

I really found Brigadier Cyberman to be in poor taste.

I actually liked "The Sign of Three" very much. As someone with mental and social problems who had just served as best man at his best friend's wedding, I found that quite touching.

Tallulah Morehead said...

There was also, to me, in Kill the Moon, the problem of mass. Where was the additional mass to grow the child coming from? Was it eating? And where did the mass for the new moon come from? Any large variation in the moon's mass, up or down, would have catastrophic effects on earth.

And in the finale, that nonsensical "Doctor is the President of Earth" thing. So North Korea signed off on that, did they?