Monday, October 03, 2011

Has Doctor Who Lost the Plot?

But his coat this season was EPIC
This Saturday saw the season finale of Doctor Who; and my verdict was "undecided".

From beginning to end, the sixth season of Doctor Who has been a starkly different animal to the one that came before it; and not in a good way.

Perhaps it's understandable. Last year, after all, there was a lot riding on the BBC's flagship TV series.

The creative reins had been passed from Russell T. Davies - the man who'd reinvigorated the franchise - to talented writer Steven Moffat.

Similarly, the much-loved David Tennant (a ubiquitous presence on the BBC) was handing the keys of the TARDIS to the young and untested Matt Smith.

The word on the street was that it would be a disaster. How could you improve upon the near-perfection of David Tennant's tenure in the TARDIS?

But we were all in for a shock. Matt Smith was nothing short of magnificent - the best doctor by far since Tom Baker. Likewise, Steven Moffat created a season-long arc that culminated beautifully in a truly epic finale.

So following that was going to be a challenge. 

But from the season opener of Season 6 - in which the Doctor was gunned down on the banks of Lake Silencio, and evil aliens threatened the Apollo moon landings - something seemed off. That disconnect only worsened as the season progressed.

And I dug the cowboy hat, too...
It was The Telegraph's Neil McCormick who perhaps summed it up best, in his article Doctor Who: they're making it up as they go along.

He writes: "Stephen Moffat likes to convey the impression that there is a grand plan. But if there is, he clearly hasn’t shared it with anyone else, including his actors."

I can't really argue with him.

My disillusionment with Doctor Who came with the mid-season opener, Let's Kill Hitler.

So many gaping, epic plot strings - like River Song's origins, how she learned to fly the TARDIS, where she learned the Doctor's name - were wrapped up so irreverently quickly that Neil McCormick's words sprang immediately to mind - they really were making this up as they went along.

Making matters worse was the way the Doctor Who crew jiggered episodes about to fit them into the new 6 + 6 season arc (six episodes in spring, six in autumn.)

The episodes Night Terrors and The God Complex were classic Doctor Who at their best; but because they were originally intended to be broadcast earlier in the season, they dragged Rory and Amy out of the current, high-octane plot line (in which they were searching through time and space for their kidnapped, infant daughter) and instead had them once again acting as a carefree, childless couple.

One moment, the TARDIS crew were stuck deep in the emotional gravitas of an epic story arc - the next they were frolicking about possessed hotels without a care in the world.

Mummy Militant was immensely irritated by the way Amy and Rory irreverently dealt with the kidnapping of their daughter. Yes, they ultimately knew that she'd grow up to be the ass-kicking archeologist River Song; but as my wife pointed out, that still didn't mean they wouldn't have torn time and space apart in search of their kidnapped infant.

It just wasn't believable human behavior; and that damaged the credibility of every dramatic scene they were in.

My complaint was a little more narrative driven. Two episodes in particular, The God Complex and The Girl Who Waited, kicked off with the Doctor throwing his two friends into life-or-death situations through mind-numbingly inane acts of carelessness.

In one, they venture to a plague-world and lost Amy because she pressed the wrong button on the elevator (lazy writing which undermined the emotional impact of this otherwise powerfully-written episode.)

In the next episode, the Doctor and pals simply arrived on what turned out to be a lethal prison ship; making you wonder exactly what the Doc was entering into his SatNav when he set course on the TARDIS.

Steven Moffat has actually fallen into one of the flaws of the previous, low-budget incarnation of Doctor Who - when the Doctor and his assistants would seem to be mindlessly blundering from one life-threatening situation to the next without any clear direction in mind.

Until now, the new series of Doctor Who has always avoided that; with the Doctor having at least some reason for visiting each destination (even if it was just to visit the dogs with no noses.)

One of the strength of the last season of Doctor Who was that the plot was driven through complex characterization.

This time around, Steven Moffat seemed to be more interested in ticking off boxes in his "loose threads" list. The result meant that none of the episodes really hit their target; and none of the loose threads were tied up entirely satisfactorily.

We can only hope that next season is a little better.


paul mitchell said...

Maybe next season can be better:

Scoats said...

They have done this twice before. Two movies with Peter Cushing (?) in the 60s and a dark movie from the early 90s.

Reunion or reboot movies for past TV shows make sense (Star Trek), but I have never understood why there would be a movie of a current TV show (X Files, MST3K, Simpsons). They must have a good chance of making a profit.

I agree it's a dumb idea, but it's an idea that has come up twice before.