Monday, June 07, 2010

'What do you think of it so far?' 'Average!'

So ... what do you think of the current season of Doctor Who then? As we're now nearing the end, I thought I'd take a quick gander back at what we've had so far and share my thoughts. Of course, please do feel free to disagree with every word I say and to call me a monstrous arse.

If I had to choose a single word to describe the series so far what would it be? I'm sorry to say that it would probably be bland. There hasn't been a single episode where I've walked away saying 'Wow!' Or even 'Goodness!' That happened quite a bit during Ecclestone's and Tennant's tenancies. Think of The Empty Child or Blink! or Fathers Day or Last of the Time Lords or Midnight. I delighted in the relationships between the Doctor, Rose, Martha and Donna, Mickey and Jackie, Captain Jack and Grandad Wilf. There was a sparkle to the show and Saturday nights without a dollop of Doctor were all the sadder for it. But this series hasn't quite done it for me. I don't know if it's the scripts, the direction or the editing but there hasn't been any one episode that's grabbed me by the nads. It's all been very samey and lacking in pace and excitement. When I finish watching an episode of Who, I want to punch the air and say 'Oh yeah!'. Instead, I've been finding myself saying 'So what?' far too often. The episodes merge into each other in my head.

That said, I've been really enjoying Matt Smith's take on the Doctor and there have been some stand-out episodes; Steven Moffat's pilot, The Eleventh Hour, was wonderfully scripted and I enjoyed the sparkling dialogue of Toby Whithouse's Vampires of Venice. I didn't mind Richard Curtis's Vincent and the Doctor either although, again, it suffered from that blandness that's plagued the series. But the high point so far was the two-parter that reunited the Doctor with River Song and the Angels. Two excellent episodes. I look forward to meeting Ms Song again in a few weeks when the Pandorica opens ...

Episode by episode, here's my humble opinion. I've already covered The Eleventh Hour so we'll skip that and go straight on to The Beast Below. I liked the overall dystopian view of future Britain although I couldn't quite figure out how it slotted into the same timeline as New Earth or Gridlock or even The Long Game. The nasty puppet heads were never really explained nor why there was at least one human hybrid but I enjoyed Queen Liz. Interesting hints that the Doctor has been a bit of a naughty boy in the past, at least with the first Queen Elizabeth. Odd that if knowledge of this has passed from monarch to monarch, Victoria knew nothing about him in Tooth and Claw. And didn't she also form Torchwood to keep the Doctor in check?

Victory of the Daleks was dire. I love Mark Gatiss' writing normally - his Lucifer Box books are hilarious - but this was not great. How in the name of Holy Hannah did the android manage to build and equip Spitfires with space flight capability in that time frame? How did the pilots navigate or even cope with zero gravity? How did propeller-driven aircraft fly in a vacuum? Shoddy, sloppy writing and a seriously disappointing episode. And it had those Daleks. Its only saving grace was the Dalek saying 'Would you care for some tea?' Hilarious.

The two-part Flesh and Stone/Time of Angels episodes were easily the best episodes so far and there were some fantastic moments in there. I was particularly impressed with the gravity-based escape at the end of episode one, the atmospheric and scary forest scenes and Octavian's death; great acting by Iain Glen and Matt Smith. It was obvious that this was the story Steven Moffat looked forward to writing and it shows throughout. I'm still a bit confused as to why the crack was closed by the angels falling in and in Amy's childhood bedroom but still appears elsewhere. If it's a crack stretching across all of time surely closing it in one place closes it everywhere else? And as for the seduction scene? The BBC really needs to make up its mind about who the show is aimed at. If it's proper drama, fine with me. Let's get some adult dialogue, intelligent plots and great drama. But the series seems so much more aimed at kids these days - hence the endless Blue Peter competition and toy franchise tie-ins - in which case the scene was completely wrong. This wasn't just a kiss remember; this was Amy Pond on a bed saying 'Come and probe me Mr Spaceman'.

I enjoyed Vampires of Venice although I was disappointed to see that Toby Whithouse plumped yet again for an 'aliens disguised as humans plot' as he did in School reunion and in his Torchwood episode Greeks bearing gifts. It might also have been nice to see the man behind Being Human moving away from vampires too. That said, beautifully shot, great script and nicely acted. Some dodgy CGI in the finale but I can excuse that. This isn't Hollywood.

Amy's Choice had some nice ideas and Simon Nye's script was corking at times. The overall plot - that the Doctor's darker side becomes personified because of psychic pollen - was neat and the episode was a nice break from mainstream fight the baddie alien stories.

Next came the two-part stinker that was The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood. I really, really hated this. I throughly disliked the new Silurians, I thought the plot was cliche-ridden and uninteresting, Nia Roberts' Ambrose was the most hateful character imaginable and what a waste of a two-parter cliffhanger: 'Ooh look it's a city.' Yawn. The resolution was feeble and only Rory's tragic death - or erasure - provided any thrill at all. 3/10. Must try harder.

Richard Curtis' Vincent and the Doctor was, by all accounts, charming and enjoyable. It was the first episode where Amy seemed to come alive as a real character rather than a long-legged staring machine. Curtis knows how to write for female characters and he did it well. The pathos injected by the blind alien was handled well. I'll have to watch it again but I didn't quite get why Vincent could see the beast but the Doctor couldn't. I gather it was because of van Gogh's hinted-at synaesthesia. As I say, I'll watch it again. It was okay.

Overall, the series has been ... okay. And I'm judging it within the context of the entire canon. I've been a Doctor Who fan ever since Hartnell had his first cantakerous spat with Ian and Barbera. I can honestly say that I have seen every episode, even those that no longer exist because (a) I saw them at first broadcast or (b) I've read the books or watched the clever reconstructions. I love the show with a passion. I've been there through its highs and its lows. I even got within a gnat's todger of writing an episode back in the 1980s when John Nathan-Turner accepted one of my scripts. I was thrilled beyond measure when the series returned and it just seemed to get better and better. But this series should have been so much better. Tennant was always going to be a hard act to follow and Matt Smith needed big stories, great aliens and wonderful cliffhangers. Instead we've had stories that seem to peter out in the end, an assistant who tries to get him into bed after a couple of episodes, rubbish aliens and a lot of pointless celebrity cameos. Did the appearances of Meera Syal or Bill Nighy really add that much to their stories? Would we have had better Silurians if they'd spent the money on their costumes instead? There's been a general sense of cautious, nervous insecurity about the series. The fact that William Hartnell's photo has turned up in three episodes says to me that there's a quiet worry among the producers, as if they feel the need to remind us that we're watching Doctor Who. Come on Steven ... we'll know it's Doctor Who when it starts acting like it.

And then there's the design. I have some very real issues here. The new TARDIS interior simply doesn't do it for me. Yes I realise that, in part, it's based on an 11 year old Blue Peter competition winner's drawing but the whole thing looks like it was built for a school fete out of car boot purchases. The TARDIS interior from McGann onwards (actually, I guess from McCoy's last appearance onwards) had a grandeur to it. The new interior looks childish and glam and much more appropriate for a children's TV audience such as that for The Sarah Jane Adventures or the appalling new Disney K9 adventures. It's just too eclectic and some of the props are massively wanky including what looks like a pinball machine and a brake fluid bottle. But my real problem is with the aliens which have, almost without exception, been dreadful. The giant eyeballs and viper eel in episode one, the spacewhale in episode two, those awful humanoid Silurians ... there's a lack of originality and inspiration in all of them. I was particularly disappointed by the Silurians. Yes, the originals may have been men in bad rubber suits that could barely see where they were going and bumped into the scenery ... but they looked alien and they exuded emotionless menace. They didn't have the same morality or values as humans and that came across. But these new ones? All too human just like the Graske, Father Dougal the cat, the cactus people in The End of Time and that dwarfy bloke on the Titanic. At least Vincent van Gogh's alien was a little more adventurous. But my biggest scoop of ire is saved for those new Daleks. What the Hell were they thinking? I assume it's all about selling toys because I can't see why the redesign was needed otherwise. The Daleks have subtly changed over the years and the most recent incarnations have looked wonderful. But these new full-bodied (okay fat-arsed), multi-coloured death machines are just laughably awful. Someone on Twitter summed it up beautifully by saying that they were like VW Beetles; colourful, chunky, plastic-looking and nowhere near as classy as the old ones. I really truly fucking hate them. There, I've said it.

There are three episodes to go so perhaps I'm being unfair although the fact that James Corden is the main focus of the next one worries me greatly (I have nightmares about Peter Kay all over again). And next year promises much with Neil Gaiman, among others, putting in an episode. But Doctor Who is so much more than celebrity guest stars and superstar writers. It's about Saturday nights being glued to the telly, it's about what Douglas Adams called 'excitement and adventure and really wild things'. I know that the BBC is cutting budgets all over the shop but big budget doesn't equate to great story. Blink! was made on a shoestring compared to McGann's TV movie or Kylie's Titanic adventure.
The show has the ultimate format; you can go anywhere in time and space and you can change the lead actors - usually unknowns - whenever you want. So, please Mr Moffat, use it to give us great telly. The show is still head and shoulders above much TV drama but it can be, and has been, so much better. I still love the show but I want to love it more.


The Factory said...

Yes I agree. I've only seen the first 5 eps but I see what you mean. The sex scene was jarring and wrong, the aliens have been hopeless and I also feel a tendency to rush through the plot which leaves me unsure of how they managed to win. I also dis-like the guest writer thing. People with pedigree in the genre should be allowed but no-one else. So far it isn't as good as the last Davies season, and that's not good.

Persephone said...

I think I like it a little better than you do, Steve, although I'm pretty well in agreement with what you thought stank to high heaven.

"Amy's Choice", IMHO, is right up there with the best Doctor Who episodes of the new era. I place it on the same shelf as "Father's Day", "The Girl in the Fireplace", "Blink", and my absolute favourite, "Human Nature/The Family of Blood".

We watched "Amy's Choice" and the other episodes on download (because we can't wait for new Who) and rewatched it twice when it was transmitted on Canadian TV. It bore up on three re-viewings. (I never want to see the Churchill or the Chibnall thing again.) I think "Amy's Choice" is the first episode that feels as if it's written for Matt Smith's Doctor, and it also showcases what Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill can do when given wonderful material for their respective characters.

Oh yes, and I think River Song is the best thing since sliced bread. We need her back way more often.

sigmund said...

I agree: it does not do for me what the previous series did. Matt Smith does make the Doctor interesting, but the Van Gogh episode was the first one where I felt that there was room for some human drama (pity no-one ever thinks to pronounce the name correctly).
Somehow the previous series seemed to provide more emotional drama while there was still lots of running...

JRSM said...

I think I'm enjoying it a lot more than you are, but I broadly agree. part of the problem is that, on the basis of 'Blink', 'The Girl in the Fireplace', 'The Empty Child' and 'The Silence in the Library', I was expecting Moffat-controlled Doctor Who to be THE BEST THING ON TV EVER!, which was a little unrealistic.

The Silurians were wasted, and much too human. And the Daleks episode was originally written for Tennant and Catherine Tate (hence Amy's 'Paisley-Boy!' lines and the like), and as such suffered horribly from the RT Davies era tendency to produce a nonsensical solution out of the writer's arse in the last five minutes.

Still, so far, nothing has topped the awfulness of 'Daleks in Manhattan'.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Interesting comments so far - thank you people! I must reiterate that I am enjoying the series. It's Doctor Who for goodness sake! But I just so wanted it to be better than it is. It all feels about lacklustre. I do take the point that our expectations were high with Moff at the helm. But, even so, I honestly don't feel that it's as good as any single RTD led season. Compare this with Ecclestone's single season or Tennant's first. Both had a zing in their step. A new Doctor was here. This season feels samey and a bit flat.

Andrew Kerr said...

I have for the past week watched Eccleston/Tennant Doctor whos and feel Russell T Davies is given too much stick as writer/producer.

These eps I can watch again & again but Steven Moffat's ones I am finding it hard going.

I just read today that Christoper Eccleston didn't enjoy his time as the Doctor, I have to say it never showed but as for Matt Smith he could be enjoying every moment but it comes across as a "Phoned in" performance. At the moment Karen Gillan is acting rings round him.

I do wonder if BBC have tied Moffat's hands into what "Christmas present friendly" aliens to have.Russell T Davies would never have stood for that.

RTD has a large ego,which gets up peoples noses but he wrote/produced some of TV's finest moments and lets not forget brought back a series that was thought to be long dead!