I’ve been watching the new Doctor Who episodes. You know the one; season 5, 11th doctor. Matt Smith and Karen Gillian.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, nevermind; you’re not one of us, skip this entry.
These episodes are several weeks behind in the US; in Britain they’ve been playing weekly since 3 April 2010, and are up to episode four (504 if you’re counting; Steven Moffat is insisting these are 101-104, not 501-504, but he’s full of crap and viewers are ignoring this affectation)).
Results are mixed.
I’m not going to do a detailed episode review; no major spoilers. But the ones we’ve seen so far are:
501 “The Eleventh Hour”
502 “The Beast Below”
503 “Victory of the Daleks”
504 “The Time of Angels”
I reviewed Eleveth Hour already; in short, it’s pretty terrific, and stands well against the middling episodes of the Davis era.
However, there’s a huge drop-off on the next two.
Beat Below is just ok; it’s weakly plotted, has a resolution that makes no sense, and is unevenly cast and written. It’s filled with classic moffat items like dead-faced robotic villains with Great Big Pointy Teeth, but here they’re not scary, and not really interesting, they’re just odd.
Victory of the Daleks takes a big leap further down. It’s really just bad. While it starts well (London during the blitz, with Daleks painted army green and acting tame and helpful), it quickly leaps into utter nonsense, with non-surprising twists. It introduces a ‘new’ dalek, which is another clear case of Moffat trying to put his own stamp on the show by chaging something iconic. He fails hugely here, however; the new Daleks are a mad mish-mash of original dalek and Ikea furniture. They’re candy-colored and stupid. The ending is awful; it makes no sense whatsoever. Watching this episode filled me with trepidation; it may be the worst single episode of the entire modern Doctor Who area (though it would have to fight with The Girl in The Fireplace for that honor – an episode which, tellingly, is also written by Moffat).
Time of Angels, though, is a huge redemption. It re-introduces a key character from an one of Moffat’s earlier episodes (Silence in the Library), and a villian from his most iconic run as writer, Blink. It’s well written, scary, well paced, and like Eleventh Hour, it stands well with the middling episodes of the previous era. It’s the first of two, the second one airing this weekend (in britain) as Flesh and Stone. I have high hopes of a good second part, given that the first was good.
So the score: two pretty good, one bad, one terrible. Which isn’t encouraging.
Moffat’s already making some big mistakes. The Davis era was profoundly respectful of plot, and also profoundly respectful of the show’s history, re-inventing only in very small ways. The innovations were in adding better writing, and a more modern way of telling stories. Moffat, on the other hand, is spending energy on changes for changes sake (those terrible candy color daleks, and a complete Tardis redesign that doesn’t really improve on anything). He’s not spending energy on insuring that his plots and characters move the story forward; like with Torchwood, he seems willing to allow individual writers leeway to fuck around with character motivations and behavior without an editorial hand. This leaves the episodes wildly uneven, and (so far at least) produced little in the way of arching narrative continuity over the season.
Sure, it’s early. I do expect growing pains. These first few may be experimental. But I feel a cold fear in my belly when I look at future episodes and see the name Chris Chibnall as writer on two (Chibnall was responsible for every single one of the worst Torchwood episodes, including the only one I had to turn off in disgust). IT tells me that while Moffat is a good writer himself, he’s not a good judge of other’s writing, and that’s the worst thing a show runner can be on a show with many writers.
There’s so very much to like in Moffat’s 11th doctor so far. Amy Pond is an excellent companion (though I ache to see her naked, which I’m NOT getting on this show); Matt Smith is absolutely a terrific Doctor, and the arching story line that’s building (a crack in teh fabric of the universe) has massive promise. But great shows, always, have to have great writing. And so far, on average, this season’s writing is just ok, and no better. They’re going to have to bring that level way, way up to make this work.
My fingers are crossed. But my expectations are dropping.