Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Andy vs Doctor Who

Next week I plan to do a serial story over the five days - Part I on Monday, Part II on Tuesday etc. This week however, I am taking time off to write about one of my favourite things - Doctor Who, partly because I want to write about something people have actually watched for once and also because it...troubles me at the moment.

Before you read any further, this is a rant blog for people who are up to date with the show – I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but if you’re somewhere behind The Bells of Saint John this may not be of interest to you and I will obviously be talking about some of the stuff that happens in the subsequent episodes.

I don’t really care what Clara Oswin Oswald is. And I am beginning to suspect I am not alone. 

Screenrant has an excellent guide to people who are new to Doctor Who. It ignores the pre-2005 series, rightly guessing that it is daunting and overwhelming for new viewers to dive into, at least initially (although it does offer a couple of suggestions),  and instead highlights a few of the new episodes that are a good starting point.

This can be a tad contentious (fans are defensive of their favourite episodes – I know I am - and I have yet to meet a fan who isn't)  but one of the best parts in my opinion is a list of ‘tips’ for watching Doctor Who. The last reads “…be aware that you will not likely be happy with each new companion at first.” Excellent advice.

One of the things it doesn't cover for new viewers however is the prevalence in Nu-Who for season-wide plots to be subtly hinted at, through the use of arc-words (Bad Wolf, Silence Will Fall) or names (Mr. Saxon, Torchwood).  Generally these tend to be in the background, and get resolved in the season finale. But if you’re a fan, of course you already know that. In my opinion, they work best as borderline Easter Eggs, and the less they infringe on the week-to-week stories, the better.

The best example of this, I think, was the mysterious Mr Saxon. He was never shown until the end, always name-dropped by someone back on Earth as a shady ‘benefactor’, subtly manipulating behind the scenes. His eventual reveal was doubly good, because it lived up to its hinted promise as well as highlighting the fact that the Doctor really should have been paying more attention.

Which brings us to Clara.

Clara is annoying. Some people may find her less so, but I have yet to speak to one. She’s smart-alecky and overly talkative in that irritating rapid-fire way writers confuse with genuine wit. She worked well in her first appearance in Asylum Of The Daleks. The reveal that her chirpy personality and endless soufflĂ© making were essentially denial and that she had been turned into a Dalek in the middle of a facility full of the craziest, most dangerous Daleks was a hell of a good twist. It was dark, it was tragic. It was awesome.

But then she came back, and the show writers made the fatal error of combining the new companion with the season’s major arc. Remember the rule up there? In other seasons if I took a dislike to a companion I could still get interested in the broader story as well as the week-to-week. I didn't like Amy Pond at first, but the stuff about the Silence and the Cracks didn't depend on her in the slightest. This way, however, the show runners have put all their eggs in one basket and disliking Clara makes the arcing plot (her being ‘impossible’ which in this case means ‘functionally immortal’) utterly dis-interesting   The best episodes from this season so far have been the ones that didn't draw attention to it at all, namely Cold War and The Crimson Horror the latter noticeable for providing far more interesting companions in Strax, Lady Vastra and Jenny.  Hide unfortunately showed a slightly old fashioned ‘doctor-companion’ relationship between Professor Alec Palmer and Emma Grayling that seemed infinitely calmer and preferable.

So why am I writing this now? Well, apart from the monolithic Blink, I hadn't re-watched any of the previous episodes of Doctor Who since they were on, but this Sunday I ended up watching The Lazarus Experiment, The Shakespeare Code and Human Nature/The Family of Blood, all from Series 3. Many people would argue this doesn't represent the strongest selection from that series (again though, arguments may/will ensue) but I was struck by three things:

1)      The quality of the stories was pretty good, with a solid structure and even some vague attempts at social commentary.

2)      The Saxon arc was extremely unobtrusive, only being very briefly mentioned in The Lazarus Experiment.

3)      Martha actually did stuff. She was practical, brave, loyal and most importantly relatable. Quick-paced dialogue is not a substitute for convincing characterisation.

I realised I had been in denial. The show has slipped in quality, and now has some serious problems. I am not going to abandon Doctor Who any time soon and it still retains a huge chunk of my affections, but these are my suggestions to the show runners that I think would improve it:

·         Realize that the core ‘mysteries’ of the series are best kept in the background until the end. Over-exposing them quickly makes them boring, confusing or both.
·         Realize that even if this were the case, the core mystery for this series is not very interesting. We need to get to know Clara before we care what happens or is happening to her. Amy Pond skated dangerously close to this with the cracks in time.
·         At the moment you have a ‘mystery’ immortal girl and a mad-man-in-a-box Time Lord adventuring through time and space. The companion is in many ways supposed to be a stand-in for the audience. Who are people supposed to be relating to at the moment, the TARDIS? (Addendum: This does not necessarily mean that the companion has to be human. They just have to react to their surroundings like a human – be it confusion, wonder or terror. Come on guys, it’s not hard. Like I said, I think Strax, Lady Vastra and Jenny would be awesome companions)
·         Please, please, please go back to finishing off plot-lines convincingly. Are the Silence coming back or aren’t they? To be fair though, Amy and Rory’s exit was exactly what it should have been - sad, true to the characters and FINAL.

Also, these three in a spin-off show would be awesome.

And seriously, no-one cares about Clara.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. What do you guys think?

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