Some brief thoughts on the new season of Doctor Who

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I can’t really get a long review together, and really, does a kid’s scifi tv show (though if you ask me the “kids” this series seems to currently be aimed at are of the 15-to-35-year-old anime-fan demographic) deserve a long review? Also I haven’t seen the new episodes enough times to really get an idea of what I think of them. Anyway, here goes (contains spoilers so I’ll put it after the “more” tag):

On the first ep in the series, last year’s “Christmas Special,” “Voyage of the Damned”: it wasn’t bad. It was basically The Poseidon Adventure in space, and yes I know I’m not the first person to say that. Despite the fact that Russell T. Davies (the show’s executive producer, about whom I shall write more someday, if I can bear to) wrote this one there are only a smattering of Big Dumb Speeches. As usual, David Tennant brings rather more to the party than the script (and this show) possibly warrants, and his scenes for the most part have a real emotional resonance. Even the stupid floating-with-angels scene. Kylie Minogue in the part of the current Doctor’s girl wasn’t bad, though I do think that shade of blond was inappropriate for her age (that is, it made her look old; skinny women her age shouldn’t go Marilyn Monroe platinum blond — a warmer, honey shade would have looked better). There was nothing wrong with her acting. It’s not as if she was doing Shakespeare, after all. The only quibble I have is that, probably due to editing to fit the show into a 90-minute timeslot with commercials, we don’t really get why the Doctor seems to think she’s so great. I read the internets, and I can tell you that they cut out the part where she tells the Doctor she wants to travel with him; that would have helped us understand why he gets so upset when he can’t save her, when he wasn’t able to save more than a handful of the space-Titanic’s passengers and crew anyway.

A few more quibbles, though they can be said more of the show as a whole: these non-Earth humans are a little too Earthlike, right down to the sort of society they seem to have (there are ruthless stockbrokers, waitresses with dreams of a more exciting life, happy simple couples who win tickets to space cruises via contests, and so on). There seems to have been a movement in televised scifi to get away from admittedly silly “space clothes” and Planets of Hats, but putting characters from other planets in suits and ties and traditional Western-European-style naval uniforms is going too far to the other side IMO. (This is also one of the major objections I have against the current run of Battlestar Galactica, but never mind that now.) And then there is the whole tired Earth-still-ain’t-ready-for-aliens motif. You know, by this time (after approximately three years of various aliens invading Earth, crashing into Big Ben, etc.) I think the Earth would not only be ready for aliens, they’d be pretty jaded of them. Or else hopping paranoid and ready to shoot anything weird that came from the skies… I don’t think the writers are comfortable with either scenario, though (considering the way the show seems to be going, I don’t think anyone who writes for the show has the wit to tackle either issue, more about that anon), so we get the bizarre nearly complete and apparently voluntary and orderly evacuation of London for Christmas after yet another big glowy thing appears above them in the sky. They even cleared out the drunks and hobos! You know, there’s science fiction, and then there’s pure nonsense.

One last, final quibble, though “quibble” is too feeble a word: the awfulness of the crashing, shrieking soundtrack. Half the time I couldn’t even hear the dialog, and that was when the characters were shouting at one another. And it isn’t just this episode: until now I hadn’t really minded the loudness of the soundtrack to this run of Who, unlike other critics, but this time I feel the same way they do. It’s as if the show’s creators didn’t trust us to have the correct emotional responses to any of the scenes — I felt as if someone was screaming at me throughout. To echo one of David Tennant’s lines in the episode: “SHUT UP!”

Okay, on to the official first episode: “Partners in Crime.” This is where we are introduced to the new companion, Donna Noble. Actually she’s not really new — she was the cranky bride in the previous season’s Christmas special, “Runaway Bride.” This episode was pretty good. Donna’s Big Dumb Speech (RTD wrote this episode) to her grandfather wasn’t very convincing, but none of the Big Dumb Speeches RTD gives his characters are entirely convincing. The scene where the Doctor and Donna are pantomiming to each other through the windows on the opposite sides of an office containing the villainess, whose presence they both forget to much hilarity, is quite funny. Much has been made of the little Adipose cutesies; they were okay as Creatures, though having them wave bye-bye as they floated up to the big parental spaceship was a bit much. As was Donna’s crack to the Doctor about how his not killing them was a change for the better from his ruthless offing of the omnivorous Giant Space Spider Babies in “Runaway Bride.” (Short synopsis: that ep had a Giant Space Spider Momma about to unload her starving offspring, which in a scenario much too long and nonsensical to get into here had been hibernating in the core of the Earth, onto said Earth so they could feast on humanity and presumably our pets, livestock, trees, houseplants… Anyway the Doctor offers the GSM the chance for her and her space babies to be removed to a planet he was not quite so fond of. GSM says no. The Doctor, this incarnation being Mr. One Chance, therefore drowns her babies, which for purely heart-tugging oh-what-a-mean-Doctor purposes are given cute little dying baby screams. I Am Not Making This Up. Rent the dvd if you don’t believe me. Anyway, this upset Donna, who up until then hadn’t been all that into the Giant Spider creatures, considering their momma had just fed them her albeit murderous fiancé. But the Doctor made the mistake of letting his jocular mask slip. Never mind that he just saved the Earth — again — from being devoured by monsters from space. But I’m afraid that the show’s own writers seem to have taken the position that it’s Wrong to kill monsters from space, even if they won’t stop doing their destructive monstrous activities. Though what alternative one lone Time Lord is supposed to pull out of his ass has not yet been revealed.)

Anyway, she makes this stupid crack, and the Doctor just lets it roll off his back. Perhaps he was thankful that at least he wasn’t going to have to fight off more unrequited love (Martha), jealous possessiveness (Rose), near constant whining about going home and how the violence and death was all too much (Tegan), smug know-it-all scrappiness (Adric)… Sometimes I think the best companion the Doctor had was Nyssa, only the actress playing her unfortunately couldn’t act her way out of a paper bag. I am saying that in the context of Doctor Who, you understand. Anyway, so far as a character Donna isn’t bad, but there are problems, mostly due to the apparent fact that the writers seem to have thought that they made her too stupid in “Runaway Bride.” The problem is now they are trying to make her too smart, too special, more “deserving” of being a companion to the Doctor. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

The next episode was “The Fires of Pompeii.” I thought this one for the most part was well done, and don’t have any quibbles with it. Donna’s desire to save the Pompeiians was well-balanced against the Doctor’s knowledge that he couldn’t; this time the writers managed not to make him look like a baddy for not being able to single-handedly with one wonky Tardis save thousands of people’s lives, but also made sure Donna didn’t look like an idiot for trying. The only real problem I had with the episode was, again, the obtrusive, annoying soundtrack. There was one particularly annoying vocal that was used whenever the creepy priestesses were shown that went beyond overuse and into aural assault. Note: no Big Speeches as such, Russell T. Davies didn’t write this episode.

Next up: “Planet of the Ood.” I liked this episode for the most part, though this one is where Donna starts getting the “special insight” treatment. In brief: though I agree that the point about the fact that natural Oods being trusting because they carry their brains in their hands is a good point, I’m not entirely convinced that Donna has the intellectual capacity to come up with such a notion. That’s really something the Doctor should have noticed. I can’t blame this on Russell T. Davies, at least not entirely, as this episode’s writer was someone called Keith Temple. The Doctor seemed more emotionally overwrought in this episode, though that might have been due to the sad captive-Ood song running through his head (the one Donna couldn’t bear to listen to for more than a second — neither could I, it was some naff operetta female oohing on and on like in a tampon commercial). Then again I’d be a little upset too if I’d been chased and nearly cut to pieces by a giant mechanical claw. Is it wrong of me to like scenes where David Tennant is sprawled helplessly on the ground terrified out of his wits? Aw, poor Doctor, so scared, let me comfort you…

Now we come to the last episode I’ve seen so far, “The Sontaran Stratagem,” which is part one of a two-parter. This one features (cue annoying Special Companion musical theme!) the return (da da DUM) of Martha Jones! Or as I am going to start calling her, “Mary Sue Jones.” If you don’t know what I mean, rent out the dvds (when they are released) of the latest season of Torchwood’s episodes where she guest-starred. Everyone, even Owen, just fell in love with her — and this is the dysfunctional Torchwood crew we are talking about. Anyway, Mary Sue — I mean Martha, calls the Doctor on the cell phone she gave him after the three-part season ender that Never Happened. (I’ll explain someday.) And I swear his face fell when the phone rang. Was that part of the script? I hope so… it must have been, unless the famous BBC budget cramps meant they had no time to retake the scene and Tennant took advantage, heh heh… I know what I would have been thinking, see: Oh God, here I was having fun with my new girlfriend companion and now I have to deal with emotional drama from the old girl– I mean companion, I mean, oh hell! No, really, Tennant is tense and unhappy throughout the episode and this is one explanation. One I prefer, anyway. You’ll see what I mean coming up…

So, Mary– I mean Martha has dragged him back to Earth, because there’s a problem with the current Sinister Device of the Week. This time it’s an unlikely gadget that supposedly takes all the nasty carbon out of car emissions, and since on tv the people of the Earth are sheeple half the car owners in the world have them installed. What, even the car owners in China and India? Shyeah, right. Anyway, this device is not all-benevolent as it seems, and once the Doctor appears UNIT invades the factory, conveniently located in England instead of some less-pregnable place like China or Texas, and this gets the Doctor and Donna all shirty. He seems especially dismayed that Martha is apparently in charge of the affair, in the manner of men all over the universe who don’t like it when their cute, sweet little exes grow up into independent women. Oh, did I write that? Oops!

That’s how the scene came off to me anyway. He also gets sniffy when Donna and Martha immediately get along, though he doesn’t seem to mind that Martha is engaged to a conveniently-away human guy. The whole Doctor/Martha what-happened-to-the-girl-I-used-to-know dynamic would have been great if it had continued in that vein. Alas, we are in the hands of Russell T. Davies’ stable of writers, and they have other axes to grind.

Their major ax seems to be an anti-military one, with a “guns are bad, of themselves” layer of bullshit. Well, to be fair “guns are bad” has been a sub-theme of Doctor Who almost since its inception, though the intensity of the syndrome has varied. The people behind this show don’t seem to have a problem with any other weapon so much as they do with the metal ones that emit small projectiles: the Doctor can blow people up, empty the Thames in order to drown them, cause their death by proxy (say, by being “merciful” to helpless Dalek embryos as in Destiny Genesis (?) of the Daleks, which means they survive to continue to be the scourge of the Whoniverse), but guns or rifles are extra-special bad. And in this season it looks like they are given an extra helping of Extra Bad Sauce on top.

For example: the Doctor for some reason takes an instant dislike to Colonel Mace, the hapless leader of the UNIT team who makes the mistake of trying to be friendly and gets stomped on by the Doctor’s high horse — he leans over the Doctor’s shoulder to look at something or other and gets snarled at to go away because “people with guns are the enemy.” Whoa, nellie! Anti-gun stance or no, this is a bit beyond what we’ve grown used to having served up to us by Doctor Who, and it comes out of left field as far as I’m concerned. I could see this as being due to some sort of psychological problem Mr. Last Of The Time Lords is having, if I didn’t suspect that the show’s creators were entirely in favor of this statement themselves. I base this on the following scene, which starts out promisingly with Martha pointing out that unlike the Doctor the people of Earth can’t just jump up and fly away in a time machine when things get scary, so they have to defend themselves however they can, but then she undercuts it with some nonsense about how she just joined UNIT so she could “change things and make it better.” This load of appeasing twaddle gets the Doctor all smiling again. It just made me want to punch both of them.

What’s especially galling is that the episode was written by Helen Raynor, who also wrote last season’s stupid but okay two parter “Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks.” By “stupid” I mean it was scientifically a load of hooey (featuring more Instahybrids! Just add “solution” and stir), but emotionally it wasn’t bad, especially the scene of the Doctor’s shock in finding that there were still surviving Daleks while he gets to lose his people, his planet, and his favorite companion Rose. Anyway, this two-parter was full of guns, carried by just about everyone, and they were simply a plot device, as they should be, not a political statement awkwardly shoehorned into a kid’s scifi show just to make sure the little tykes were indoctrinated with the Approved Words From Above. Anyway.

There’s another problem — this is part one of a two-parter, and already there are signs that two parts was too many. So far the show has done two-parters well, but this time there is a long and frankly boring scene where Donna goes home to tell her family she’s mucking about with a 900-year-old time-traveling alien guy. We’re supposed to feel all sentimental about her walk through her ordinary middle-class British neighborhood, but I just didn’t care. By the way, I have got to say — if I were about twenty years younger, and still stuck in Miami like I was twenty years ago, and a good-looking time-traveling alien guy offered to take me on as his traveling companion, you wouldn’t hear peep about my need to go back to the old homestead. Well it helped that I hated living in Miami, but for a country that dotes so much on a science fiction series about literally getting away from it all — not just place but solar system, galaxy, and time period — they sure moan and groan a lot about wanting to go home. Make up your minds, Brits. Then again, these are the people who couldn’t wait to be rid of the “old order” and class system way of life, and then have spent the subsequent decades making an endless series of books, films, and tv series about the Goode Olde Dayes when upstairs stayed upstairs and downstairs stayed down.

More observances: the genius kid, Rattigan, is obviously meant to be an American. I’d say Canadian because like most British people who affect an American accent he sounds like a Canuck, but the British never seem to mention Canada or Canadians anywhere. Anyway, the bad genius kid is no doubt meant to be some sort of See? Americans Are Bad! kind of thing, but hey, genius American kid. And there is Donna’s crack about Guantanamo, which is going to sound real dated in a few years. Also, we have another instance of InstaClone! I can — barely — accept that aliens from outer space can make a clone grow really fast, and at least this one is a copy of the original body, the way a real clone is. But still, I think someone needs to tell the Doctor Who writers to read up on cloning a bit. Do some fucking research, for chrissakes. (I have read the internets, and what I am seeing will be served up in new episodes does not make me optimistic that these people even know what a clone really is. They seem to think it’s just an alternate way of creating a human without all that squicky heterosexual sex stuff. No it isn’t.)

The crack about Sontarans looking like baked potatoes is stellar, though the show’s writers seem to have forgotten that the Doctor himself told an alien character, in “Voyage of the Damned,” that he looked like a conker (that is, a spiny chestnut; see, the character was covered in spines, like a blowfish…), and had him make a reproving comment. You know, people are not just watching your show, they are remembering what they saw.

9 Responses to “Some brief thoughts on the new season of Doctor Who

  1. Celaeno Says:

    I think the last Doctor I can actually identify was Tom Baker (mad eyes, goofy hair, yes?). so I’m clearly no conoisseur, but it seems not a great deal has changed. Well, maybe the anti-gun ‘Tude is more obvious. Strange, too, given the vast numbers of extras fried, melted, electrocuted, atomized, vaporized and otherwise variously and colorfully terminated in almost every show, that they should get their panties so comprehensively wadded up about lead projectiles. Wonder if anyone’s ever braced the the writers about their little Freudian inconsistencies on this issue?

  2. Andrea Harris Says:

    At least they seem to have dumped the anti-meat thing (apparently due to the influence of one of their long-time writers, who was a vegetarian).

  3. Celaeno Says:

    Riding your own hobby horse isn’t uncommon, I suppose — I’ve seen writers do it before; they just need to know when to rein in, before they ride it right over the canyon edge … seen that happen too.

  4. Pogria Says:

    The recent incarnation of Robin Hood by the Beeb, had Robin worrying about the Environment and Global Warming.


  5. Andrea Harris Says:

    Don’t get me started. The one episode I’ve seen so far — and I doubt I’ll see another — showed the Maid Marian character wandering about in broad daylight in a Medieval period town while wearing a flimsy top with cap sleeves and loose pantaloons that barely went below her knees.

  6. Celaeno Says:

    Ah, clearly dealing with the freethinking brand of medieval townsmen — oops, townsPERSONS — very into self-realization through wardrobe choices: I’m sure lots of places were broad-minded and understanding like that.

  7. Pogria Says:

    I watched five minutes of the first episode. I vomited in my mouth. My old man told me about the other crap.

    Give me Richard Greene’s version of Robin Hood ANY day!!!!

  8. MarkL Says:

    Pity, really, that is has soured like that. Bloody PC wallies.

    May I recommend a young composer who rejoices in the name ‘Bear McCreary’?

    Evil neocon Son #2 sent me MP3 of the soundtrack of Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica.

    Mostly instrumental, and really very good. His percussion piece ‘Storming New Caprica’ (7:50) is an amazing piece of music. Play it LOUD with the subwoofer blasting the paint off the walls.
    If you could put “Arbuthnot’s Doom” (the death of the 2nd Armoured Cruiser Squadron at Jutland) to music – this would be it.

    Young ‘Bear’ will go far, methinks.


  9. The Return of the Twisted Spinster » Blog Archive » Oodles of fun Says:

    […] has more thoughts on my criticism of Doctor Who, and I […]

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