The Christmas Specials

Well, it’s Christmas time, and one of the traditions of Doctor Who, ever since the end of series 1, is to have a special episode that is aired on Christmas day. Even when the show is more or less on hiatus (2010), they still made a Christmas special. All of these episodes have at least some Christmas theme, and trend toward a family-friendly, feel-good atmosphere, and so how much you enjoy them sometimes depends directly on your ability to tolerate schmaltz. Here is my list of favorite Christmas Specials, listed from least favorite to most favorite.

“The Time of the Doctor”

DoctorWho4The list of Christmas specials includes two regeneration episodes and one Doctor-introduction episode, and in a way, I’m not sure it’s fair to compare them to the other Christmas specials because they have different emphases. However, they are what they are, so “The Time of the Doctor” must appear on this list. It was meant to depict the heroic sacrifice of the Doctor at the end of his thirteenth incarnation, but ended up a mess of completely linear and yet inconsistent plotting, forgettable guest characters, every major enemy he’d faced shoehorned in, and cheap emotional shots. The regeneration scene – meaning everything after the main conflict was resolved – was beautiful, but the rest was disappointing at best.

Favorite scene: The Doctor’s goodbye to Amy, despite the terrible wigs they were both wearing.

“The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”

doctor and lilyAnother victim of a completely linear plot (literally: boy wanders off in a straight line, Doctor follows him, mother arrives and saves the day), it’s weighed down by its theme of “women are innately better nurturers than men”. The first part, where the kids are first introduced to the Doctor as the Caretaker, captures the whimsical feel of the Eleventh Doctor quite well, but the rest of the episode pretty much falls flat.

Favorite scene:  The Doctor showing the children around the house.

“Voyage of the Damned”

VOYAGE2_(9)This is the point in the list in which the episodes are good enough. “Voyage of the Damned” isn’t a great episode, but it’s fun enough to watch. It was meant to be a TV version of a disaster movie, and that part’s just fine. Having Astrid fall in love with the Doctor was its big mistake (we’re just coming off series 3, and we’re tired of Rose and Martha’s doey-eyed looks), so her send-off can be irritating. Some people dislike the religious imagery in this episode; I guess I’m rather oblivious, because I didn’t notice it at all.

Favorite scene: The Doctor saving the ship, only because of the look on his face when he sees where it’s about to crash.

“The Christmas Invasion”

201-the-Christmas-Invasion-the-tenth-doctor-13709074-1024-576I really should rank this higher, but every special from here on up is great. This is the introduction of the Tenth Doctor, and it’s done so well. The first 2/3 of the episode sets up the alien conflict, and it demonstrates how difficult it is for humanity, at its stage in its history, to cope with alien threats. Then the Doctor wakes up and launches into what amounts to a twenty-minute soliloquy that reveals exactly who he is, from his gob to his fascination with exploration to hints about his eventual downfall. This episode is fun and enlightening.

Favorite scene: Can I count the string from “Did you miss me?” to “I’m that sort of a man” as a single scene?

“The Snowmen”

uktv-doctor-who-xmas-2012-10Coming off the loss of the Ponds, the Doctor is lost in his grief and has retreated from the universe. A single woman is able to bring him out of his shell and convince him to save the world once again. The conflict with the Great Intelligence was again simple and linear, but well-handled and interesting against the bigger backdrop of the Doctor starting to heal from his loss. And then he finds out who this woman is, at the moment he loses her, and this spurs him into his next season-long story.

Favorite scene: The Doctor putting on his bowtie again. I love power-up sequences, and this was beautifully understated.

“The End of Time”

s0_09_wal_64A regeneration episode, it’s rocky in many ways, but I love it anyway.  Both the Last Great Time War and the Doctor/Master dynamic are explored here, as well as the Doctor’s inner conflict between what he would like for himself vs. what he knows everyone else needs. It’s the same conflict he faced in “The Waters of Mars”, but he chooses differently this time.

Favorite scene: Wilf knocks four times. People say that the Doctor was uncharacteristically emo here, but I disagree. For once, he voices his doubts and fears out loud, and the fact that he has them makes him more of a hero than ever.

“The Next Doctor”

4x14-The-Next-Doctor-Promo-Pic-s-doctor-who-2923082-1600-1266A controversial choice, I know, but I simply love this episode. Both Jackson Lake’s story and Miss Hartigan’s stories are beautifully tragic, but in different ways. The blending of them, plus the Doctor’s tragedy of being alone again, into one episode was not seamless, but I still love it.

Favorite scene: The reveal of Jackson Lake’s history. David Morrissey is spectacular.

“A Christmas Carol”

doctor-who-christmas-carol-04Objectively, this is probably the best of the Christmas specials. It took the base story of the Dickens tale, added a clever temporal twist to it, and then built up a love story. But the Doctor doesn’t succeed in his purpose: his meddling only angers his target, and the outcome is still the same, and he must resort to even more temporal tampering (and basically breaking the First Law of Time) to effect the change he wanted. Sardick still must make his final sacrifice to save the doomed spaceship, though, providing the story with its perfect, bittersweet ending.

Favorite scene: The Doctor’s initial jump into Kazran Sardick’s childhood, and then his later attempt to return again and Sardick’s refusal to acknowledge him.

“The Runaway Bride”

doctor-who-the-runaway-brideI did say this was a list of “favorites”, not a list of “bests”. I think that if Donna hadn’t become the Doctor’s companion a series later, this special would be down around “Voyage of the Damned”, ranked as a fun adventure but nothing particularly special. However, the further character development of Donna makes this episode brilliant. Donna starts as shallow, demanding, and unlikable, but even the brief contact she has with the Doctor here matures her, and that’s developed more when she joins him as a true companion. This beautiful core story is presented in a wrapper of a zany adventure, very befitting the two personalities at its heart.

Favorite scene: The scene in downtown Chiswick, where Donna is trying to get to the wedding but still trying to make sense of this alien who’s brought her back to Earth.

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Like father like daughter?

Something occurred to me today that’s bothered me quite a bit. I hate to think that I’m being over-picky about things, but this one has really gripped my brain and it really bothers me. And here it is.

doctor_who_kate_stewartKate Stewart has appeared three times in the Doctor Who TV series, and all three times, she was co-opted by the Brigadier.

She first appears in “Power of Three”, when we don’t know who she is other than she’s the science advisor for UNIT and has worked on decreasing the organization’s dependence on weapons and the military mindset. As the situation gets out of hand in the episode, she starts to realize that there’s nothing she can do, and the Doctor gives her a pep talk, saying, “Don’t despair, Kate. Your dad never did. Kate Stewart, heading up UNIT, changing the way they work. How could you not be? Why did you drop Lethbridge?” This is, of course, the revelation for the audience that she’s the Brigadier’s daughter, and now your attention is on her as the Brigadier’s daughter and not the leader of UNIT. The Doctor’s first tactic is to encourage her with who her father is, not what she has been able to accomplish. He even says that she must be the Brig’s daughter, since she’s the head of UNIT and changing them, implying that she couldn’t have done that if she wasn’t his blood relation. (Is that really what he said? That’s really kind of insulting.)

She then returns in “The Day of the Doctor”, and while she’s a very strong, capable commander throughout the episode (while human or Zygon), her best scene was when she was facing off with her Zygon duplicate, threatening to destroy London to save the world. When the duplicate doubts that she could do such a thing, she doesn’t say, “Look in my mind. You can see what I’m thinking, and you know that I would do this to save my world.” Instead, she says, “Somewhere in your memory is a man called Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. I am his daughter.” Her stand against the threat is based on her father’s strength, not her own.

Her last and most recent appearance was in “Death in Heaven’. (Spoilers in this paragraph if you haven’t seen it yet.  In this episode, she performs well, though she is mostly powerless to solve the issue at hand, through no fault of her own. But first, on the plane that’s meant to be the base of the “President of the World”, there’s a portrait of the Brigadier. There’s no real reason for it, as the Brigadier retired from UNIT in the 1970s and there have been several brigadier-generals of UNIT since then; the Doctor even pokes her about it, saying, “Ah, I see you’re bringing Daddy along, too.” Then, she is later saved by the resurrected CyberBrig, which is certainly one of the coolest moments of the show (if you don’t feel it the resurrection desecrated his memory; I’m on the fence about that still), but, while it doesn’t insult her in any way, it certainly turns the spotlight away from her and right on the Brigadier.

Is there some rule that Kate is not allowed to be a strong character on her own? Must everything she does be weighed in reference to her father? It’s ironic that she dropped the “Lethbridge” because she “didn’t want any favours,” and yet it seems that the scripts are only letting her into the show so that they can bring the Brigadier back in. She’s a scientist and a leader, direct and decisive, but she is always written as her father’s daughter – or at least, the Doctor seems to think that she’s nothing but that. Which is insulting for both her AND the Doctor – well, perhaps the Twelfth Doctor might feel that way, but it is surprising that the Eleventh Doctor did.

I do honestly think that this has all happened as a side-effect of the writers wanting to pay homage to the Brigadier, but they’re playing that card too many times at the expense of an otherwise great character. They need to stop relying on nostalgia and let Kate be her own woman, and perhaps she’ll become as iconic to the current series as the Brigadier was to the classic show.

Introducing the Doctor

Come on, now: if you’re even reading this post, you know full well that the Twelfth Doctor will grace our TV screens in full glory on Saturday, or, if you don’t have TV service like me, you’ll have to wait until Monday to see the series 8 season opener, “Deep Breath,” in the theater. It’s been a long eight months to wait for the new season of Doctor Who, but the true excitement is in meeting the new Doctor, seeing what he’s like, and finally getting to see Peter Capaldi playing the role that he obsessed about when he was a kid. This is a scary time, though, because we don’t know what to expect. Will we like this Doctor? Will he capture our hearts like <insert your favorite Doctor here>? We don’t know, and this episode might not even answer the question: I know that it took me a number of episodes to warm up to the Eleventh Doctor, and anyone who’s seen “Time of the Rani” knows that a premiere episode could be really bad (not to mention, the Doctor can really change and develop after the first episode). Historically, though, the modern show’s Doctor introduction episodes have been fantastic, concentrating on showing us just what we’re in for.

The first episode of the modern Doctor Who had a hell of a lot to accomplish in just 45 minutes. First, it was the premiere episode of the reboot of a beloved TV show, one that was deeply rooted in British culture, and it needed to captivate that audience again. It needed to establish the feel of the show so that its audience would know what to expect and feel compelled to return the next week. However, it also needed to communicate the personality of the new Doctor, so that he felt like an extension of the classic show’s Doctor but still appealed to modern audiences, as well as give him a companion that felt like she belonged with him, without establishing them as a romantic couple. And lastly, it needed to show that it was keeping the whole history of the show in mind while not confusing or alienating viewers who had never seen it before.

doctorwhoroseHow do you do all that? How do you introduce an established, beloved character to new viewers while keeping him relevant to old fans? How do you throw back to 40 years of backstory and lore without losing the audience who knows nothing about it? You do it by telling the story from the viewpoint of the ordinary girl who’s meeting the Doctor for the first time, asking the questions that the audience has about him.  You throw them into a deadly situation where the Doctor gets to show his cleverness, quirkiness, knowledge, and non-violence, but have him get into a state where the girl has to help him win, to show that he’s not infallible. You give him an adversary that he’s met before, so that the audience knows that he has a history, but one that’s simple enough to understand without prior knowledge. And, to tantalize both old and new audiences, you give that adversary a reason for invading the Earth that mentions a war that the Doctor obviously had a big part in – enough to hint at a complete backstory for the Doctor, but not enough to derail the current story. “Rose” established the modern show and Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor brilliantly.

At the end of the season, the Doctor regenerated and David Tennant burst out of the golden glow, eager to fly Rose to Barcelona, but “The Parting of the Ways” ended, leaving the introduction of the new Doctor to “The Christmas Invasion.” This episode did not need to do nearly as much as “Rose” did, as the show was already established as a hit, but it had to convince us that anyone could possibly replace the superb Mr. Eccleston. The episode took a huge risk in hiding the Doctor away in bed for two-thirds of the episode, centering the story on Rose being worried about the Doctor and UNIT trying to deal with the Sycorax invasion. Then the Doctor woke up and stole the entire show.

172Mr. Tennant was the sole focus of the last twenty minutes of the episode, and he established the Tenth Doctor completely. An incarnation with a gob, he had machine-gun dialogue, was knowledgeable about galactic events and species, and very observant, with restless energy. While he wasn’t particularly skilled at physical combat, he made up for it with bravado and incredible dexterity. He avoided killing his opponent and gave him the choice of resolution, but not a second chance. Then, with Harriet Jones, he demonstrated his belief that his judgment is superior, the fury that he often would have trouble controlling, and his capacity for cruelty, foreshadowing his eventual downfall. And, at the end of the episode, he establishes this incarnation’s particular fascination with exploration and seeing new things. This was everything you needed to know about the Tenth Doctor, in twenty minutes.

rory-in-the-eleventh-hour-rory-williams-33471022-944-531Then, a little over three years later, Matt Smith emerged as the Eleventh Doctor, and “The Eleventh Hour” had to do exactly the same thing: introduce us to the new Doctor coming off of Mr. Tennant’s enormously popular run. And it did. This time, we had a new companion to see the Doctor through, a little girl named Amelia, and even she was rather appalled at his childish antics and insistent personality. Then she grew up and encountered him again, and she was unable to relate to him because of his alien mindset, until she trapped his tie in a car door and made him pay attention. But then, under threat of world annihilation, she watched him as he took charge of the situation, analyzing the data before him with mechanical precision, and dazzling the world leaders with his charm to effect the solution. Then, in order to warn the Atraxi off, he confronted them in what would see later was his signature style: a bombastic speech at the center of attention. Again, here was the Eleventh Doctor, spectacularly defined and laid bare for us to see.

And that’s what I’m hoping for from “Deep Breath.” For all that it’s a new season of Doctor Who and we’re all excited for new adventures and companions and universe-threatening situations, what I want from that episode is to walk away from it knowing exactly who the new Doctor is.

Nearing the end

claraanddoctorOnly five more episodes and we will complete our second watch-through of the Eleventh Doctor’s run. We’re a bit relieved mostly because we have so many other things to watch – tons of classic episodes, a bit of The Sarah Jane Adventures from our Netflix queue that has been sitting and waiting for over a month now, as well as (gasp!) other shows, such as Sherlock season 3. There’s just not enough time in the day!

I had been hoping that rewatching the Series 7 episodes would help me like them more, and I guess in general it has worked. I remember really hating “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS” the first time, and this time it wasn’t so bad. “Hide” was a lot better this time, actually, though I liked it enough the last time. We didn’t bother watching “The Rings of Akhaten,” though – interestingly, that one had about the same impression on me as “Love and Monsters,” and if I were forced to watch one of them again, I think I’d actually choose L&M, mostly because the first half of L&M was spectacular, while there was nothing redeeming about TRoA at all.

There seem to be a lot of things about Series 7 that really bring it down. First, the stories seem a bit half-baked. I’ve already talked about the ending of “The Power of Three,” that the dialogue between the Doctor and the Shakri had no point and the Doctor fixed everything with a wave of the sonic screwdriver (and everyone lived through their fifteen-minute heart attacks). Similarly, at the end of “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,” time is rewritten, yet somehow the salvage guy starts treating his cyborg brother better. I think I also mentioned this earlier, that it seemed really odd to me that in “A Town Called Mercy,” Sharaz Jek let the townsfolk distract the Gunslinger so he could escape, putting them into grave danger, and then suicides.

Second, the morals are very heavy-handed. So many of these episodes include either a “you’re special because X” moral or a speech from the Doctor to convince someone to think differently. The speech in “Cold War” is about the Ice Warrior not taking out his loneliness on the humans. In “Hide,” it isn’t the Doctor, but the scientist telling the psychic that she needs to try again out of love. JttCotT is all about the evils of greed. In “The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe”, the solution to the trees’ problem is a mother, because only she’s strong enough to carry the spark of life. And then “The Snowmen” had the line, “The only force on Earth that could drown the snow. A whole family crying on Christmas Eve.” It’s not like Doctor Who hasn’t dealt with moral issues before, but it just seems to be every other episode now, and the point is thrown into your face. These episodes would have worked far better if they let the audience draw their own conclusions and learn their own lessons.

Third, some of these recent episodes have introduced contradictory concepts, either against established universe rules or against themselves. The big example of this is “The Angels Take Manhattan,” and I’m not even talking about the problems I generally have taking the Weeping Angels seriously. TATM is a great episode, sending the Ponds off with wonderful style. However, its big point is that you can’t go and change events that you already know happened, because that creates a paradox. The Doctor spends quite a bit of time explaining and repeating that because he’s read parts of the book, he can’t change those things he already knows. This concept has never been stated before – the closest thing he’s said is that he can’t change established events in his own timeline. First, there’s the question of why he’s considering the events in a storybook to be absolute truth, but beyond that, he violates this rule directly at the end of the episode. In her afterword, Amy asks him to go to little Amelia waiting in the garden and tell her about the adventures she’ll be going on. Now, remember the first episode of Series 5, “The Eleventh Hour”. In it, when the Doctor meets kissogram/policewoman Amy, she tells him that she waited in that garden and he never reappeared. So, when he goes to the garden in TATM, he’s violating the rule because he knows he never visited her there.

There’s an alternative to that, that Amy lied to him the whole time, making him believe that he never visited her there. First, he still went believing that he knew what had happened, so he’s still violating the rule. And second, the idea that Amy lied to him and actually knew from when she was a little girl about all the things that were going to happen to her completely changes their whole relationship – destroys the wonderful story as far as I’m concerned. It’s horrible. That scene was supposed to be uplifting and beautiful, and in my eyes, it fell flat on its face.

And then… in “Hide”, the scientist states to the Doctor that time travel is impossible because it creates paradoxes, and the Doctor tells him that the paradoxes resolve themselves. So, an episode establishes a rule that hasn’t existed before, and then four episodes later, the Doctor says it’s ok, it isn’t that bad. Which is it?

You’re probably saying, “Who cares? They’re stories, and in the case of TATM at the very least, it’s a good story.” But to me, part of what makes a story in an established universe good is adhering to the rules. Adding to the rules is fine, but contradicting them… It’s part of what makes the Doctor Who universe so compelling, that there are these rules, either universal or personal, that the Doctor has follow while he’s trying to do whatever it is he’s doing. I spent much of TATM wondering why the Doctor was so adamant about believing the veracity of the book and insisting he couldn’t change anything, and then the ending was spoiled by him changing something he knew had already happened.

So, sadly, Series 7 hasn’t improved that much on second viewing, and while I expect I’ll return to it sometime in the future just to refresh my memory of it, I don’t think I’ll choose to watch any of these episodes for random entertainment.

Disappointed

You might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned my friends Carl and Sandy in a while. They’re the ones that I got into Doctor Who and who had recently finished the Tenth Doctor’s episodes and had watched the first three episodes of the Eleventh Doctor’s run. Well, Sandy got sick and recuperated. Then got sick again, and recuperated. Then got really sick, as in really sick, as in spent-three-days-lying-in-bed-staring-at-the-ceiling sick. Then she got better. Then she got sick again. I’m not kidding. After a month of bopping in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals, during which she had no interest in watching any TV other than having Frasier on as background noise, she’s finally better. And now that she’s interested in getting back to watching Doctor Who, Carl is starting to whine that he misses the Tenth Doctor and doesn’t want to watch a new Doctor. Geez. So, they’re still stuck at “The Time of Angels.” I’ve tried to tempt Carl by reminding him that he’ll never know any more about River Song, but he hasn’t bitten yet.

You can't get much cooler than this.

You can’t get much cooler than this.

Meanwhile, my husband and I have gotten back to our task of rewatching the Eleventh Doctor’s run, and over this weekend, we watched the three episodes ending with “The Power of Three.” The first was “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship,” which has to be a wonderful episode, given its name, right? I mean, really, dinosaurs on a spaceship! What could be cooler? I remember liking this episode the first time, and the second time didn’t disappoint. It’s not a fantastic episode, but it’s a fun romp, a great filler episode, and we get to meet Brian Williams, Rory’s awesome dad. David Bradley is wonderful as the unlikable, amoral Solomon.

Next up was “A Town Called Mercy.” Now, this episode, I didn’t like it when I first saw it, and I will be the first to admit that I really don’t like Westerns and that did prejudice me against the episode. This time, it was a passable episode. In general, I find most Doctor Who episodes improve on second watching, as you know what the plot is and can pay attention to the details, and this one followed that trend. The conflicts between the characters, the hunter, the hunted, and the protector, changed over the episode and kept it very interesting.

I did have three quibbles with it, though. First, Amy tells the Doctor, when he tried to deliver Kahler Jex to the Gunslinger, that he shouldn’t travel alone. It bugged me that this was the entire point of the Tenth Doctor’s story – his last two episodes dealt directly with what happens when he does so and what he has to do to redeem himself from that failure – and the Doctor still hasn’t learned that lesson? This was just a rehash of an old point: it was handled so much better in “The Waters of Mars,” and it was something that didn’t need to be brought up again. Second, Kahler Jex allows the entire town to put itself in harm’s way and act as decoys while he escapes, only to get to his ship and suicide. It was supposed to be his redemption, but it just didn’t sit well with me. The third point, I’ll discuss below.

And then we come to “The Power of Three.” I remember this one as being one of the few Series 7 episodes that I really liked, and, well, it completely disappointed me on rewatch. The first 75% of the episode was wonderful, building up the puzzle of the cubes and showing what happens over the year that the Doctor tries to figure them out. The cubes finally activate and send 1/3 of the planet into cardiac arrest. And then the Doctor, Rory, and Amy get to Shakri ship and the episode just falls apart. The Doctor tries to talk to the Shakri, but it simply repeats itself and disappears, and the Doctor sonicks the computer to make the cubes defibrillate the ailing humans, and everybody lives. What’s wrong with this? First, it takes the Doctor at least fifteen minutes to get to the Shakri ship (remember, he was at the Tower of London when it started and one of his hearts failed, so he had to stumble all the way to Rory’s hospital) – that’s a long time for 2+ billion people to survive constant cardiac arrest. Second, the final showdown between the Doctor and the Shakri consisted of the Doctor trying to wax poetic on the beauty of humanity (and it didn’t work well; the Tenth Doctor did a better job quoting The Lion King) while the Shakri pretty much kept repeating itself. There was no dialogue. Yes, the Shakri were supposed to be unfeeling and unreasonable, but put together as a whole, the exchange just didn’t work.

Third, the ending was too tidy. The implication was that all 2+ billion people lived. Doctor Who has never gone for the dark side of alien invasions, where masses of people die, but this was too unbelievable.  On the other hand, there were about seven people unconscious on the Shakri ship and Rory and Amy didn’t have time to wake all of them up and get them out before it blew up, but no one cares about them. Fourth, after watching her in “The Day of the Doctor,” Kate Stewart was disappointing. She’s simply there to provide a lab for the Doctor to examine the cubes with and give him an easy way to tell the world to dispose of them. Other than her initial entrance, she spends the episode doing nothing. I’m hoping that she will become a force in the Twelfth Doctor’s run.

Fifth, this goes back to the third point for “A Town Called Mercy”: the deus ex machina that is the sonic screwdriver. In ATCM, the Doctor has ten seconds to deactivate the spaceship’s auto-destruct, so he fires the sonic at it and it works. In TPoT, the Doctor has some number of seconds to reprogram the cubes to defibrillate the humans, so he fires the sonic at the control panel and it works. It reminds me the reason why the Fifth Doctor’s screwdriver was destroyed and was not replaced until the modern series: John Nathan-Turner felt that the sonic screwdriver was a crutch that made writers lazy. Instead of having the Doctor solve a problem, he could just point the screwdriver at it and win. These two scenes are classic examples of the sonic screwdriver being a crutch, and it’s a huge disappointment. In many other similar situations, the Doctor has defused devices using his vast knowledge or even simply guessed at a solution and won; while this might still be considered a deus ex machina (since there’s no real problem-solving used in the solution), it still adds tension to the show while allowing the Doctor act heroically. Simply sonicking a device adds nothing, and in the case of “The Power of Three,” dropped the plot into a dark pit.

Yes, “The Power of Three” disappointed me this much.

So, unfortunately at this point in Series 7, I have to say that this series is still at the level of average to below average. Tonight is “The Angels Take Manhattan,” and then hopefully Clara’s episodes will be better than I remember them.

 

Finally done with series 6

Partners

Partners

Wow, it’s been a long week. I finally got my new desk at work, so I’m no longer situated in a conference interrupted by people who need to have meetings. I’m right next to a wall, so hopefully I’ll figure out a way to put up my Ninth/Tenth/Eleventh Doctor poster on the concrete wall. I figure everyone else has their Star Wars and Avengers stuff up, so I need to inject a little class into the office.

Anyway, this weekend so far has been wonderful. Today started with sitting with my husband and talking Doctor Who for an hour. Then I watched “42,” one of my favorite episodes. Then we went out for breakfast (at 1:30 in the afternoon), and returned home to relax. We haven’t had a relaxing weekend for about a month, so this has been especially nice.

We finally finished our watch-through of Series 6 last night. What was very interesting was that while the first half of the season kept injecting the episodes with Madame Kovarian’s eyes to keep reminding you of “yes, something weird is going on,” there was nothing like that in the second half of the season, and I actually forgot that the Doctor was supposed to die until he started talking about it in “Closing Time” (the penultimate episode), even though I had seen the season before. It almost seems like the season storyline is either too much or too little.

In general, I enjoyed Series 6, though not as much as Series 5 (or, of course, Series 4, which is my favorite). On second viewing, the storyline is nowhere near as confusing as it was the first time. I think the only thing I really didn’t like was River being dead set on destroying the universe because she didn’t want to kill the Doctor. First, I think that’s a horrible attitude to have in the first place, though, of course, River is both a psychopath and very selfish. But secondly, I am surprised that that didn’t kill the Doctor’s faith in her. If the situation were reversed, while the Doctor would not want to kill River, he’d do so if the alternative meant destroying the universe (and certainly he’s made that decision before, at the end of the Time War and in The End of Time). The Doctor has also shown that he’s very willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good (though I suppose that’s more of a Tenth Doctor trait than an Eleventh Doctor trait). Mostly, though, it’s difficult for me to envision the Doctor to continue respecting a person who is willing to destroy the universe simply to avoid killing him. I guess it’s romantic (is it?), and I guess it was necessary for the narrative, to get them married, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.

I would definitely have liked to have seen more of Canton Everett Delaware III, as he was a fantastic character. And Craig Owens. Craig is probably my favorite of the guest characters during the Eleventh Doctor’s run. He knows a lot about the Doctor from the headbutt psychic transfer in “The Lodger” – he’s one of the few characters that understands regeneration – but he is still bewildered by him and reacts to him like a normal human. He’s also very loyal and very brave. I think that if they used him right, he could be the modern show’s Brigadier: a recurring character that the Doctor can rely on. I would certainly love to see him encounter the Twelfth Doctor and have to deal with the new face and personality. It would be very cool to watch his life unfold (and watch Stormageddon grow up) every couple of seasons.

 

Spreading the addiction

The clockwork droids were just gorgeous!

The clockwork droids were just gorgeous!

Today, one of my co-workers, Maria, informed me that she and her husband watched “Blink” recently and really loved it, and are now going to start watching more Doctor Who. Muahaha! Another mind corrupted! She’s going to be streaming episodes off Netflix, but I recommended to her, if she wanted another good, unconnected episode to watch, that she check out “The Girl in the Fireplace.” I’m very much looking forward to seeing if she really gets into it. She’s an artist and seamstress, so I’m hoping she gets very addicted, if only to see if she starts doing cosplay, because she’d be great at it.

I find it a bit difficult to convince my friends and co-workers to check out Doctor Who for a variety of reasons. First, a lot of people have this idea in their head that they can’t start watching it from the modern series because they need to watch the classic series first, and of course there’s way too much classic series to watch. I try to convince them that they don’t need to do so, citing the fact that I’ve seen less than 1/4 of the classic series myself, but they always respond, “Well, I don’t want to start in the middle.” I think it’s probably just their polite way of telling me to shut up and go away.

I haven't yet convinced a single person to watch Broadchurch! What's wrong with you people?

I haven’t yet convinced a single person to watch Broadchurch! What’s wrong with you people?

Then there are the ones who’ve heard that the show is either a kid’s show or this wacky British show that’s hard for Americans to understand. It’s pretty to disabuse them of the notion that the show is targeted at children, but the second one is harder to argue past. I don’t find British shows to be difficult to understand, but I will admit that I had some problems with Broadchurch at first, because I’d never watched a British crime show and had no idea what things like “DI,” “DS,” and “SOCO.” meant. However, all that became clear in context. British humor and drama (and really, any other culture’s humor and drama) are harder to understand, but I do feel that they aren’t too alien. How do you convince someone to give new narrative and dialogue structure a try?

I think, though, the most difficult problem with enticing new people to give Doctor Who a try stems directly from the thing that’s the strength of the show: the fact that it’s so long-lived (even considering just the modern show) and its mutability. There are seven seasons to choose from and a person coming into it for the first time will usually have heard there are three different Doctors, with very different personalities: which one to choose? Do you start from the first episode of the first season, or from the first episode of the most recognizable/popular Doctor, or from the first episode from the most recent Doctor? I find that people are often scared off simply because it has that level of complexity.

What I like to do is offer them a few sample episodes to watch that demonstrate the quality of the show without requiring background knowledge (beyond knowing that the Doctor is an alien who travels through the universe in a time machine with companions). My two go-to episodes are, as noted above, “Blink” and “The Girl in the Fireplace”; both are completely self-contained. Of course, they are both Tenth Doctor episodes, so I’ve been trying to decide what I would recommend for the Ninth and Eleventh Doctors. I’m really not sure if I would recommend a Ninth Doctor episode, partly because he’s a lot more alien than the other two and partly because his best episodes require some background knowledge. “Rose” might be the only really good episode to recommend, but the old, hammy feel of the Autons could easily turn off a new viewer.

It’s also difficult to recommend an Eleventh Doctor episode, because even when background knowledge is not required, the season’s threads (the cracks in the wall, Amy’s visions of Madame Kovarian watching her, the mentions of the Impossible Girl) tend to infect every episode and could easily confuse the new viewer. I think the only episode that I would choose to introduce a friend to the Eleventh Doctor would be “Vincent and the Doctor.” Maybe there’s something in series 7 that I’m not remembering well enough that would be good (though I kind of doubt it).