Sunday, January 26, 2014

Some thoughts on Doctor Who

I've been on a big Doctor Who kick since a little before the 50th anniversary special. It's been slightly obsessive, to be honest. So I figured I'd do something productive (sort of) with it and pop out another bulleted list of incoherent thoughts. Spoilers ahead for things that have been out for months now.
  • Night of the Doctor: I think Paul McGann might be my favorite Doctor, so it was incredible to see him back in live action--and with his own hair this time! That they actually acknowledged the companions from the audio adventures was a beautiful little cherry on top. I'd love to see more mini-episodes with past Doctors like this, and I hope BBC is thinking really hard about it. This made me run out and find "The Brain of Morbius"--well, this and the fact that the Eighth Doctor Audio sequel to that story was coming up in my listening rotation.
  • The Eighth Doctor Audios: It had been so long since I listened to any of these that I kind of forgot where I left off. I started up listening again with "Immortal Beloved," which was familiar enough that I know I'd heard it before, but nothing else seemed familiar until "Max Warp," which I distinctly remember listening to while mowing the lawn several years back. So, no idea what exactly ended up happening there. I'm most of the way through Series 3 now, and kind of holding off because I know the finale is a sequel to "Planet of the Spiders," which I haven't seen yet. And I've been holding off on watching that because I feel like I should watch more Third Doctor stories before seeing his swansong. And that's led into me watching just a ton of classic Doctor Who whenever I have the chance. Anyway, the EDAs are great (even if I don't like Lucie Miller quite as much as Charley Pollard), and I'm particularly excited to dig into "Dark Eyes."
  • The Day of the Doctor: I thought the 50th Anniversary special was just delightful. Lots of nods to the past (though I'd forgotten that Kate Lethbridge-Stewart had been introduced previously), with a fun story that gave all three Doctors a chance to shine. While I kind of wish Christopher Eccleston had at least done something with it, I frankly think John Hurt's War Doctor fit better in that role, and did wonderfully. I hope that (if Hurt is willing) the BBC is working on getting him to do some other media. I'd love to hear some War Doctor audios, even if they were done by BBC Audio like the "Hornet's Nest" releases and not Big Finish (as I understand there's some weird issues with the rights).

    One of the guys at my LCS said "The Day of the Doctor" was everything he wished "Man of Steel" had been, and I think that works really well. Not only was it fun and reverent of the past while giving a good new story, but it also featured the Doctor doing what the Doctor does (and what Superman usually does): finding a better way to win. And not just when it comes to averting a human-Zygon war, but also with regard to the Time War.

    I've seen criticism about the retcon, but frankly I think it's misguided. I understand the desire to keep the new series' driving tragedy for the Doctor, but it hasn't been mentioned much--if at all--since before "The Eleventh Hour." It hasn't really driven the series in a long time. Moreover, the more we learned about the Time War, the less sense it made for the Doctor's character. Like, it's one thing to know that there was a Great Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks, in which countless worlds (including Gallifrey and Skaro) were destroyed, and in which the Doctor made the impossible choice to destroy the Time Lords and Daleks once and for all--well, except for the Master and the Daleks, both of whom made it out all right. But it's another thing to think about what that actually means. The Doctor committed genocide. Twice over. Yes, we're assured that by the end, the Time Lords were as bad as the Daleks if not worse, but...really? All of the Time Lords? Even the children (we know there are Gallifreyan children, thanks to "The Sound of Drums")? Even Romana and Susan? It just doesn't hold up.

    It all runs into the same problem that Superman had in the Silver Age. There's a great line in the Wizard Death of Superman Special (I know, I'm surprised too) about how, after awhile, it seemed like the only people actually killed in Krypton's destruction were Superman's parents and a few close neighbors. At least Superman got the people of Kandor, Supergirl, and the Kryptonian Super-pets out of the selective survival deal. Seems like only the evil people survived the Time War.

    And when the Doctor is one of those survivors and has double genocide in his past, it's hard not to wonder if he might not be an exception.

    "The Day of the Doctor" didn't undo the fact that the Doctor was driven to desperation such that he'd be willing to push that button. It didn't undo all the other terrors and atrocities of the Time War, like the destruction of the Nestene and Zygon homeworlds and the disembodiment of the Gelth. What it undid was the notion that he'd try to save Davros of all people, but destroy Gallifrey. The Doctor doesn't do genocide, not even for entities as bad as the Daleks. That's been established for a good long while. It doesn't even negate the remorse felt by Nine and Ten, since he had still been driven to the point of committing that double genocide, even if there ended up being another way. Whether or not he pulled the trigger, he'd been willing to do something that otherwise would have been abhorrent to him, and that would give anyone cause for remorse and reevaluation.

    So, yeah, I generally thought that "Day of the Doctor" was the best that "Doctor Who" has been in awhile.
  • The Time of the Doctor: But the next installment? Hoo boy. What a sharp drop in quality there, as Steven Moffat tried to cram half a season of story into a single episode, and pretend that it had all been planned that way from the beginning rather than being hastily assembled in a rather slapdash manner, which it clearly was. The dinner with Clara's family deserved a full episode (a la "The Power of Three") rather than being the quickly-dropped introduction. Ever since the mystery of Clara was solved (in a way that also didn't make a whole lot of sense), it's become abundantly clear that they've never really bothered to give her any characterization beyond it. Rose, Martha, Donna, and Amy have all had lives and families outside of the TARDIS, and that's helped to give them a sort of grounding in reality (and conflicts to motivate them and create drama). Clara was created as ungrounded initially and intentionally, and as a result the most we've seen is that she's a babysitter who likes to make soufflĂ©. A sitcom episode with her and the Doctor would have been a great way to correct that, but instead we get the unnecessary and weird nudity stuff and hop out into space for the most nonsensical adventure in quite some time.

    There are too many ideas in "The Time of the Doctor," and too few of them are any good. Others have pointed out quite accurately that it doesn't make sense for the technologically parasitic Silents to be confessional priests in the space-church, and also that there's not much point in confession if you can't actually remember doing it. The truth-field is fun, right up until the Doctor lies about having a plan and punches a great big hole in the plot. It'd be nice to have some female characters who aren't instantly and secretly in love with the Doctor, though that goes back to Davies. Then again, at least Davies had Captain Jack also in love with the Doctor, as a small bit of balance.

    And then there's the regeneration. I saw people complaining that he was using regeneration energy as a weapon, and I don't really mind that. It was strong enough to devastate the TARDIS in "The End of Time," so it's not entirely out of the question that it could blow up a Dalek ship or two here. The problem I have is with the unnecessary and wasteful bit where Eleven is actually Thirteen.

    I say "wasteful" because it throws away an interesting dynamic and source of drama without getting anything in return. The Doctor who knows he's the last incarnation is a story we deserve to see (even if we know he's not really the last incarnation). What does he do differently when he knows that the end isn't just the end for this body, but the end, period? It gives the search for Gallifrey a sense of greater urgency, since we and the Doctor know the Time Lords have ways of granting additional regenerations (they did it for the Master, after all).

    Instead, we cram all that angst into a single brief scene in a single episode, for no reason except that Moffat wanted to cram the Time Lords into this episode as well, shoving them behind the crack in the universe that never got much of an explanation and wasn't helped by the throwaway attempt in this episode. It was a dumb choice, especially hinging it on a fairly brief scene in a show that aired six years ago (okay, five and a half when "Time" aired). Dumb, dumb, dumb, and that kind of dumb choice making really muddied what should have been a heartfelt and tearful goodbye to Matt Smith.

    And that's ignoring the constant wink-clever metatextual dialogue, the eye-rolling bowtie drop, the unnecessary (and weird-looking, I imagine because of the wig) Amy, and the plot that was done better in "Orbis." I've liked Matt Smith's Doctor a lot, despite some of the writing choices along the way, and he deserved a better sendoff than he received. "The Night of the Doctor" was a mess.

    And it won't get cleaned up until flipping August.
Wow, somehow I wrote all that and didn't even get into my classic Who binge or the ebooks and comics I've been consuming. I guess I'll have to write up a part 2...

1 comment:

theotheradamford said...

Man, I thought *I* was the only one who mowed the lawn to the tune of Big Finish Doctor Who. Also I totally agree with everything you said about the things I also watched and am keen to check out the things I haven't listened to yet.