Just when I thought I was out…
As you might have read, I was none too pleased with the way the last season (and the tenure of former show runner Russell T. Davies) ended for everyone’s favorite Gallifreyan. What had begun as a strong tenure with a strong, flawed, but still powerful and delightfully manic Doctor had ended with a simpering, fan-baiting, fan-fiction-saturated couple of episodes that were less about the adventures of the Doctor and more about RTD diddling himself via a television set. One of history’s favorite Doctors went from being a fun-loving, popcorn fueled thrill ride of a program do a dour, badly-written popcorn fart of a program. Go ahead and click the link above to properly see how the end of the last bit of Doctor Who related broadcasting had me in a poorly-spelling, 5AM frenzy of rage.
All set? Everyone comfortable? Then we’ll begin.
Back then, I’d written that Steven Moffat would be hard pressed to write anything worse than RTD’s soul-sucking, scum-sucking swan song. Whovians hailed Moffat as a savior who would bring back the soul of Who… but we really got our hopes up a little too high. Going back and watching some of Moffat’s episodes now really shows some of the cracks in his writing, flaws that were easy to paste over when, well, RTD was writing some truly atrocious stuff. Now, however, we can see the Mr. Moffat is prone to as much disgusting fan-wank and companion worship that RTD was guilty of… but at least it’s better written… as a whole. Seeing Moffat having charge of an entire series does nothing to help his credibility as the best NuWho writer and, if anything, it just brings into a very harsh light all the things that were wrong with his comparitively few stories up to now: questionable decisions, plotting issues, and some of the most truly aggravating characters in Doctor Who since episodes like Paradise Towers. Moffat delivered a better first effort than Davies’ last… but he really would have had to do terrible things to the proverbial pooch to sink below THAT sewage-strewn watermark.
First off, there have been several accusations that Moffat’s writing is a little, well, misogynist. Casting your main companion as a horndog kissagram girl who constantly treats her fiancee like crap and tries to jump the Doctor’s alien bones the night before her own wedding… yeah, not helping yourself, Stevie. I just could not believe Amy crying when she realized she truly did love Rory or some such bollocks. All I believe was that the red-headed nightmare of a character had realized that she might lose her meal ticket in the doting, solidly careered male nurse. Later on in the season, there are several particularly nasty characterizations of women, making them seem very irrational to the point of damning all of humanity to protect their families. I mean, there’s love for loved ones and then there’s just going mondo nuts. One thing I can say positively is that the writing has improved incredibly over RTDs trainwreck trifle of layered plot holes and ridiculous contrivances. Still…
Just because something is written well doesn’t mean that it is well-written. Several of the episodes are wonderful as stand-alone stories, but the season as a whole is downright unpleasant. I watched almost all the episodes in omnibus fashion, which might not work for the show’s weekly timeslot, but repeated DVD viewings would probably almost always be at least two or three at a time, so arguing that you should leave a week between episodes just for everything to calm the ferk down doesn’t exactly ring as glowing praise. The biggest problem with the season as a whole is that Moffat obviously felt the Sword of Damocles hovering over him. He knew that RTD had handed him a big bucket of narrative garbage on the way out, and yet the NuWho fans would still call for his blood if he didn’t pepper the scripts with BuffySpeak and plenty of that RTD charm that worked for all of two years before it began to sound trite and forced. Do you see what I just did there, Russell? I actually DESCRIBED SOMETHING. Do you remember how to do that, or do you just make up funny words whenever you feel too put upon to actually write something coherent? Hack.
You made Jon Pertwee cry.
Season Five of Doctor Who suffers from something I like to call “epic fatigue.” It’s a common problem with most entertainment lately, really. You see, current societal norms have created a world where everyone can get everything with a click of the fingers, so episodic programming can really get the short end of the stick every week. As a result, you see a lot of shows falling into the CSI format of something super-duper-important happening every airing with lots of people looking shocked or sad and possible a deep voiced narrator saying that people WILL FACE THEIR TOUGHEST CHALLENGE YET or FIND THEMSELVES CONFRONTED WITH AN IMPOSSIBLE CHOICE or whatever. It gets to the point where you don’t expect Horatio Caine to go to the bloody refrigerator without tense music stings and over-exposed camera tricks. Should I have leftover chinese… or SOUP? His decision may change your life forever. dun-dun-DUNNNNN. And so on. It’s almost tabloid-like in its desperate attempts to grip viewers, and Who is no exception: worlds crumbling, important people dying, the entirety of existence riding on one incredibly tense and overblown situation… every week. After a while, you stop believing there is any real danger, you get desensitized to all the EPIC music and high stakes, and you start playing the macabre home version of “what likeable character introduced just for this episode will die first?” because you just don’t care anymore. The music is always loud, the fate of all creation is always hanging in the balance, and when celestial eradication becomes your ham ‘n’ eggs… it ceases to be powerful or poignant. However, a dull or over-epicked storyline can be saved if the characters pull it off correctly, but… these don’t.
Bite me, River Song.
You see, something odd has happened to Doctor Who. It’s no longer a show about a mysterious alien who calls himself “The Doctor.” No, it is about boring, everyday schmucks who just happen to be incredibly important to all of time and space… and happen to have wacky adventures with a mysterious alien who calls himself The Doctor. In short, the title character has become a supporting member of his own cast. The character of the Doctor has been watered down and made more and more hip and “human” to the point where he basically resembles a wacky sidekick and not a nearly omnipotent Gallifreyan. Now, some of the more educated nerds might point out that past Doctors, most notably Patrick Troughton, were able to play the buffoon and still be considered quintessentially “Doctorish,” and I would agree. I would also agree that Matt Smith is trying to be Pat Troughton so much it’s making his face warp into a weird, brick-like shape. Unfortunately, the current characterization of the Doctor will never approach the level of a Pat Troughton or even a Peter Davison, once considered the most human of Doctors. A strange transformation has overcome the Doctor since the show was renewed, leaving behind what was once a fairly dry and quintessentially British, if not universally adored, persona for the flash-in-the-pan mainstream success of the currently wacky, shouty, manchild Doctor of current memory. For some reason, the mainstream audience (which needed to be courted if the revamped show was ever going to survive and change with the times) don’t like their alien protagonists to be, well, alien, and instead want a more cuddly, humanistic Doctor to coo and coddle their poor little minds that get into a tizzy if any SciFi harder than a wet sponge come along their way. This current Doctor is meant to evoke an old man in a young man’s body, but all I can see is a hipster who is trying far too hard to impress some ditzy co-ed. Call me an elitist, but I just don’t care about these companions, and I don’t want to see the Doctor quipping about pop culture or playing out someone’s Electra complex. And this, of course, brings me to…
The companions. God, I hate these new companions. From Rose to Amy and everything inbetween, the companions are the single worst thing about NuWho. They clog up the show with unnecessary family and life drama, they draw all of the focus of the show onto themselves, they are all apparently God prophecies or at least some kind of key puzzle to the makeup of the universe and, of course, the Doctor can’t stop gobbing off about how awesome possum each one of them is. In fan fiction circles, we call this a “Mary Sue,” named after a famous piece of Star Trek fanfiction from back in the day, but the problem with the NuWho companions goes far beyond simple Mary Sue qualities. There is something very disturbing when my SciFi show spends more time pissing around with an engaged couple and their strife than, you know, actually doing something with Science and Fiction. If I wanted to watch pretty people bitch about their boyfriends, I’d get a lobotomy and watch Friends. When I watch Doctor Who, I want some goddam Science Fiction. Maybe not the hardest stuff on the block, but still good, old-fashioned science fiction. I don’t want to see middle-aged men live out their dreams of being the Doctor’s BFF (through female characters, oddly enough, which leads one to wonder about some of these male writers) and create these black holes of storytelling, forcing us to believe that these people are important. They aren’t. The show isn’t called Redhead with Legs Faffs About in a Police Box, it’s called #$%!ing Doctor Who. I’m a true Whovian, I’m not some dilettante who is desperate for Joss Whedon’s table scraps, I want to see a SciFi show that focuses on the Doctor. I don’t want to be told to identify with the lame, whining author insertion companions, I want to identify with the goddam Doctor. Maybe I’m in the minority on this, but the focus on annoying side characters while the Doctor plays Slumber Party with the Humans is not what I want to see. Season Five would have been a lot more interesting if they would have focused on the stories and the MAIN CHARACTER instead of trying to make us swoon over the companions. I will only say this one more time: the companions are side characters. Go back to having the show be about semi-competent SciFi and leave the Buffy pretension to Torchwood. I want my Doctor to be the Doctor, and I want him to take back control of his own show. Please.
The writing is good, but the characters are garbage. I can deal with a bad post-regeneration season (I dealt with it for Sylvester McCoy) but please, Mr. Moffat, bring the noise this year. Forget about pleasing the fickle pop-culture fanbases and remember what kept this show running for 26 years in the olden days. If you don’t, I can’t see this series running another five years without some kind of hardship. Everyone thought it was too much of a British institution, but meddling killed it in 1989. The meddling that’s been done to the classic show has already stretched credulity to the breaking point, come back from the brink and bring us back the Doctor that snapped at his companions, or did things we couldn’t hope understand, or was just plain… alien. Forget about aesthetics, forget about ratings, and just bring us Doctor Who. There is still time to keep your beloved, thirty-year plus fganbase… but time is running out.
Time will tell… it always does.