Sunday, June 05, 2011

Deus Ex Tardis - A Timey Whiney Blog Post

Now I've fully embraced my inner geek, It's time to discuss something that's been bothering me for some time. Other than a pixelmash I did a few weeks ago, I haven't really touched on Doctor Who.

Firstly, a confession (one that will no doubt rile everybody who reads the rest of this blog post - cue cues of "how dare he", etc). Despite being a fan of science fiction at the age of 6 ever since my Dad took me to see Star Wars at our local Odeon fleapit back in 1977, I was never a fan of Doctor Who. As a very young child I found the stories dragged on too long to hold my childish attention, and as I grew older I couldn't see past the shaky sets and dreadful special effects (and the endless, endless running through the same corridor - Done far better via Hanna-Barbera in the seminal Scooby Doo).

(Actually, regarding the Hanna-Barbera point and a google image search for an appropriate image, one can't help but wonder if Steven Moffat is more influenced by them then he cares to admit? - "Hey, who turned out the lights?  Hey, who turned out the lights?  Hey, who turned out the lights?")

When Michael Grade did what the Master, The Daleks, The Cybermen and the Dread PigeonLords of Zarkl'ahn 6 failed to achieve and finally killed him off back in 1989 as a result of his evil master-plan on scheduling it against Coronation Street I must admit I wasn't particularly bothered. I'll admit to watching the odd episode of Sylvester McCoys run but if anything it seemed as though the show was effectively destroying itself; a laughable doctor, dreadful scripts and dreadful acting.

The TV Movie starring Eric Roberts (always a sign of quality) was indeed watched by myself but if anything confirmed that Doctor Who was a property best left dead.

But a glimmer of interest fired when I heard that it was coming back properly with Christopher Eccleston in the role with Russell T. Davies in charge. I loved the ITV mini-series that they'd both worked on - The Second Coming - and thought it'd be worth a watch.

And do you know what?  I loved it. Doctor Who was great again and became a must-see show in our house which is saying something considering that my wife Tara isn't a huge science fiction fan at all - these were the days before the revamp of Battlestar Galactica, after all.

The scripts were exciting and witty, the special effects excellent but most importantly stories didn't outstay their welcome. I loved the new format of one-off stories (albeit with an underlying arc) with the occasional two parter when the depth of the story demanded it. And it's remained great ever since, with a couple of minor irritations, namely how they've completely ruined the Daleks. Now I'm not talking about the Volvo durch-sprung-technik Design overhaul they went through in Season 5 (I couldn't give a monkeys about that), but I mean through overuse. As in much the same way how Gigers Aliens aren't scary anymore, the Daleks are getting boring now. Steven Moffatt has said that he's resting them for a bit and that's honestly the best thing that he could have done - If I were him I'd give them a rest of a decade or so. For a species who seem to be getting completely wiped out at the end of every arc they're in, they're not doing too badly at all.

But the major sticking point, and the ultimate point I've taken an absolute age to get to, is a problem that seems to have grown with every subsequent season (or "series", if you have a problem with Americanisms) and this is mainly down to the big budget episodes at the end of each season (or in last nights case, the mid-season finale) and it's a big one.

The big Doctor Who episodes all seem to share something in common; It's like you've been invited to a glorious feast where you're shown photographs of the impending culinary masterpiece. Anticipation and excitement mounts up to a frenzy until you finally walk into the banquet hall and marvel at the sights and smells of the food on display.  Salivating, you sit down and begin to eat - to find that the banquet is a mixture of brilliantly cooked food randomly dotted with wax replicas and end-of-line Iceland rejects. You come away feeling full but slightly disappointed - and maybe even have a stomach ache the day after for good measure.

Shit metaphors aside, they're all about spectacle and big moments that don't seem to hold up to scrutiny. Great plot-lines are resolved with a throwaway sentence, a return to the Deus Ex Machina technobabble of Star Trek days. Donna Noble becomes part Timelord and destroys the Daleks (them again) with nothing short of a few long winded sentences (and some random presses of buttons) or The Doctor reboots the universe with the previously unheard of convenient healing ray of the Pandorica. Does anybody remember the Tardis exploding at the end of (well, thoroughout) Series 5 and we never knew why? Perhaps Steven Moffatt does, but I doubt it.

I know that it's a kid show (albeit it could be argued that Moffatt is making it more and more inaccessible to kids with each episode) but is some narrative logic too much to ask for? Complicated plots are all well and good, but in the name of Davros at least give us some satisfactory conclusions.

Last nights Mid-season finale was a classic example; It was all very whiz-bang and packed as much into 40 minutes as most shows would in half a series. New characters were introduced amidst huge battles and explosions and I was on the edge of my seat throughout, but it was all just a little empty. Spectacle for spectacles sake.

I'm enjoying the fact that Steven Moffatt has upped the complexity considerably and the fact that the show (especially the first half of season 6) has felt appropriately epic at times and can't help but admit to being excited about it returning in a few months (with an episode title that genuinely had me laughing out loud) but I have that sinking feeling that I'll be disappointed by however this plot is resolved, because it's what I've come to expect from Doctor Who.

But hey, at least the walls don't wobble when the cast lean against them, right?

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