The impossible girl, part 2

The new trailer for “The Day of the Doctor” is out. Sorry I don’t have a link to it. I’ve resolved to not watch it or seek further information about the episode, because I want to avoid spoilers. So far, I’ve been successful, even though one of my friends says that the trailer doesn’t spoil anything. This is going to be a long two weeks.

We finished watching all of season 7 part 2 last night. In case you don’t know, that’s a total of eight episodes, and I’d rank them like this:

  • “The Bells of St. John” – good
  • “The Rings of Akhaten” – terrible
  • “Cold War” – terrible
  • “Hide” – terrible
  • “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” – terrible
  • “The Crimson Horror” – bad
  • “Nightmare in Silver” – great
  • “The Name of the Doctor” – great

If you read my last post, you already know that I was disappointed with “The Rings of Akhaten” and “Cold War,” and it was difficult to sit through the next three episodes. After each one, my husband and I would sit and just look each other for a minute in silence. Then we’d talk about the episode, confirm that we both thought it was terrible, and wonder if the terribleness would ever end. Luckily it did: “Nightmare in Silver” was wonderful (except my husband hates kids in shows), and so was “The Name of the Doctor.”

We noticed, though, that “The Bells of St. John” and “The Name of the Doctor” was written by Steven Moffat, the show’s producer and the writer of other great episodes during the enter run of the show (notably “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances,” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” “Blink,” “Silence in the Library”/”Forest of the Dead,” “Time Crash,” and all of the season enders for the Eleventh Doctor), while “Nightmare in Silver” was written by Neil Gaiman. (If you don’t know who he is, go watch “The Doctor’s Wife” then read the entire Sandman series of graphic novels, Marvel 1602, and all his novels. No, really, go do that. This blog can wait.) If you have a really good writer, you have a good chance of getting a really good episode.

The other episodes are written by, well, other people. I feel bad that one of these “other people” is Mark Gatiss, because he’s heavily invested in Doctor Who and Sherlock, but honestly, the episodes are bad. They feel like each writer wanted very much to put together a very Doctor Who-ish, convoluted, far-reaching plot and ended up losing control of it, letting the plot lead them around rather than shaping it themselves. You don’t get invested in the characters, the Doctor doesn’t have control over the situation and is often not part of the solution, and you come out feeling like a lot of random events just happened and there was no sense to them. The season also has the over-arching story of figuring out what Clara’s deal is, but these five episodes don’t address that at all, so you don’t even get the satisfaction of getting more information about that.

(As a side note, there’s a thing that I don’t like about Moffat’s overarching storylines. The first episode each of his seasons tells you about something that’s going to be very important in the season story – the crack in the wall, the impossible astronaut, Clara Oswald – and these things are given a lot of mention throughout the season, but you gain no information about them until the last couple of episodes, spending most of the season watching unrelated stories and learning nothing. I don’t really like this tactic. I’d prefer if you gained a little information about them over the season, to whet your appetite, to give you something to discuss and speculate on with your friends. Or, I’d prefer Russell T. Davies’ tactic: embed a nearly unnoticeable hint throughout the season (Bad Wolf, Torchwood, Harold Saxon) that comes clear in the last two episodes, so that you can go back and re-watch the season to find all those references and see how it all came together retroactively.)

“Nightmare in Silver” especially is a great example of a fantastic Doctor Who story. The conflict is set up. The adversary’s army is attacking. The companion sets up defenses that seem to work for a while, but it’s obvious they’re going to fail. Just as defeat is imminent, the Doctor directly outwits the adversary and saves the companion. Then, a surprise that was set up in the episode’s exposition is revealed and saves the day. All of this with great characters and dialogue.

While watching the five middle episodes, we were starting to hate the Eleventh Doctor again, but after the last two episodes, we were back to liking him, which, to us, confirms that the writing was the key. Matt Smith is a fantastic actor, but fantastic acting cannot save a bad script.

Oh, by the way, I loved the visions of the previous Doctors in “The Name of the Doctor” – my favorite thing to see in Doctor Who. They did those scenes so often that I wish they had changed them up a bit, shown more, different archival footage. But it was still wonderful to see.