our story thus far

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 […]

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.

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0 thoughts on “our story thus far”

  1. I’m going to go ahead and disagree with you on the worst episode of the modern Doctor Who. In my opinion it’s “Fear Her” with no other contenders. I’ve watched S1-4 three times now, and I’ve only gotten through that episode 1.5 times.

    I totally agree on the Skittles Daleks – WTF is Moffat thinking? They’re huge – which is fine, but they look NOTHING like the “Pure Dalek DNA” *cough* that they should look like. Because, you can’t get more pure than Skaro and “Genesis of the Daleks”

    Overall, I think you have good points about the series… but I enjoyed “Beast Below”. It was campy, had good points about what we are capable of when we want to survive, and had a friendly resolution to it. It was not great, but I’d hardly call it bad.

    If you want to see bad, go watch Baker’s first episode again. Oi vey.

    As far as dwindling expectations – didn’t the fact that they cast a ‘Twilight Twink’ already put those into the gutter for you? They sure did for me.

  2. FUCK. I just typed in a long, carefully thought our response to the last comment, and then my Captcha fucked me up and my comment went away.

    I hate that. I think I’ll go turn it off.

  3. Makal, you know, the reason I list ‘girl in the fireplace’ as the worst one wasn’t so much the specifics of the story (though the the time travel stuff was incoherent and illogical EVEN FOR DOCTOR WHO).

    The problem was that the episode doesn’t fit at all with those around it in terms of characters and relationships. The Doctor’s behavior is completely different WRT teh female lead (Madame de Pompadour) than it is with any other female lead in the show’s run. It doesn’t fit in with the doctor-and-rose story line, and it doesn’t ring true with the Doctor’s character.

    As a stand alone, it’s probably ok; but I watch it in a stream with several others over a couple f days, and I just sort of shook my head at it, wondering ‘what the fuck was THAT?’

    Really though, there are so few that I don’t like. Even the weaker ones tend to contain gems in terms of clever dialog or clever creatures, or just beautiful ‘doctor moments’; that’s why the few I don’t like stand out.

    I can’t fairly compare to the old days, though; it’s just been too many decades since last watched the Pertwee/Bakar/Davidson episodes. I had a love-hate relationship with them back in the day.

    As to the twink doctor – I actually find Smith rather ageless. While he doesn’t have Ecclston’s weather-beaten look, to me he doesn’t really look much younger than Tenant, and since he’s dressed much more square, the effect is fine. I think a certain ageless quality works well on the doctor. I think Smith’s just fine, though the early promo shots did give me the willies.

    I’m far from giving up on the show, but I think the golden age is done with. But we’ll see, Moffat may have more to say than he’s yet shown.

  4. For me the ‘golden age’ was 1971-1981.

    But I can’t disagree that I’ve found every modern Doctor to be brilliant in their own regards (not counting the one in 1996).

    My issue with Matt Smith was that following the BBC announcements and leaks as closely as I did, I had absolutely no trust in his appearance when I saw him outside of his Doctor’s outfit. So my hopes were destroyed by Tennant and Davies leaving. The news of Matt Smith (who’s only acting I had seen was his stint in ‘Diary of a Callgirl’) taking over, and seeing his head-shots made me sad on the inside.

    I was in love with the concept of Chitwetel Ejiofor (Serenity’s Operative) taking over the role. That would have been spectacular! (…and not beyond the concept of Time Lord regeneration)

    All that being said, his first episode was amazing, and he completely won me over.

  5. Call Davies era the silver age then, but whatever age it was, it’s over. This new era ain’t there and i really don’t think it can be.

    I had the good luck, though, of not really getting into the Davies era until after Matt Smith had been announced. My kids had been watching it for some time, and I’d seen a few, but I didn’t become a dedicated fan ’til recently. So I was able to get used to Smith even as I was getting used to Tenant (Eccleston is still my favorite, even over Bakar). I think that made me more willing to accept the change, because I was aware of it before I’d accepted that upstart in his chuck taylors and tall hair. My kids were absolutely horrified at Smith’s head shots, but I just wasn’t as attached.

    I do love the idea of Chitwetel Ejiofor. That’d have been brilliant. I do think it’s time for a Time Lord of Color. It’ll be interesting if that happens once Smith’s run is over.

  6. Eccleston was brilliant. He deserved more than one season as the dark, heartbroken warrior-Doctor that he was. I think he was one of the more unique takes on the Doctor I have ever seen.

    I got my folks into it and they instantly loved him. His regeneration episodes were great.

    Segue into Tenant’s death.

    I was furious. No actor who is leaving the show of their own volition deserves a 45 minute, three psych-out death scene. “I don’t want to die my ass.” instead of seeing a mature; humbled Doctor who could realize the damage a Time Lord can do (“Waters of Mars”), we get the death of a petulant child who clings to an unnecessary father figure?

    It was awful, in my opinion. Another one of Moffat’s ‘Clusterfuck’ episodes in my opinion.

    Not as bad as “Fear Her” in my opinion simply because the actual Return of the Timelords, and the explanation of the Master’s madness was great.

    (Glad I can geek out with someone else who has watched the series)

  7. I gotta disagree with you on the final episodes. Tennant is a hell of an actor, and this wasn’t just goodbye to an actor, it was goodbye to an era. It was the death and regeneration of an entire universe; the Davies era of Doctor who – the only Doctor(s) a whole generation young of fans knew – was closing down on itself.

    This goodbye was an entire production staff after nearly five years of work, saying goodbye to something they’d re-created from ashes.

    It was emotionally powerful in-universe, and all the more so in a macro sense to a viewers who know they’re saying a huge goodbye.

    For all Davies and Tennant brought to the franchise, they deserved to indulge a bit, and Tennant is an actor who can (almost) do no wrong.

    I liken that ending to the ‘time crash’ mini episode; when teh tenth doctor talks to the 5th doctor, it’s not really one incarnation speaking to another, it’s a massive fan of the show talking to an idol, saying you were my doctor. This finale, when The Doctor says “I don’t want to go”, it’s the actor and the character speaking to an audience, sincerely.

    I’mn very, very sure he doesn’t want to. But you can’t do this forever; at some point you have to move on.

    So yeah, I think it’s one of the best moments of the entire series.

    YMMV.

    BUt you give great ramble. B^)

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