Thoughts on Series 9

DWTMAI realized today that Series 9 has been in production for a few months now and I hadn’t even thought about it. I mean, not at all. And that saddened me. At this time last year, we were barely able to hold in our excitement for the next season and didn’t know how we would be able to survive the anticipation until August. What a contrast! This year, I don’t even know when the show is slated to return. A co-worker mentioned that he heard it was this fall, and my first thought was simply, “Yes, that’s a reasonable time.” I didn’t even bother to go look to see if there was a more precise date.

What happened? Was Series 8 that disappointing? I have to admit, yes. I try very hard to keep this blog positive, and because of that, you might notice that I’ve posted very little about Series 8. There were a couple of great episodes – “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” had me on the edge of my seat – but for the most part, I found them to be average or below, with a couple of real stinkers. (Sorry, Mr. Moffat, but if you have to tell the media that you believe that despite popular opinion, you think that in a few years that people will realize that “In the Forest of the Night” was fantastic and that it will be emerge to be a classic, you’ve pretty much tacitly admitted that it was terrible.)

But you know, one bad season doesn’t doom a show, at least in my eyes. The presence of some good episodes and interesting themes and plots demonstrates that the show has the potential that captured my imagination two years ago. The thing is, in order for me to have faith in that potential, it also has to demonstrate that something’s going to change, and that, unfortunately, hasn’t been evident.

My problem with the current show centers around Clara. During Series 7b, she was a non-character: simply a chipper, bubbly companion that served as a puzzle for the Doctor to solve, with a personality and skill set that changed depending on what the episode plot needed her to do. Sometimes she was bold and confident, other times she was scared and timid. Sometimes the TARDIS disliked her, other times the TARDIS did what she wanted and talked directly to her (something the TARDIS doesn’t do with any other companion and was explicitly mentioned in “The Doctor’s Wife” that the TARDIS doesn’t do, even with the Doctor). Then she became the Doctor’s savior, making everything he’s accomplished dependent on her, which was both an interesting mechanic and a disappointing deconstruction of the hero. And then suddenly, in “The Time of the Doctor”, she fancied the Doctor, something there was no hint of before this.

Once the Clara puzzle was solved, we hoped that she’d be developed as real person. For the first time since Moffat took over the show, the companion was given some other person in her life to interact with that wasn’t a member of the TARDIS crew: Danny Pink. I’ll admit that I didn’t really like the character of Danny – ill-defined, whiny, kind of always had a deer-in-headlights expression – but it always felt to me that he existed not to be Clara’s life beyond the TARDIS but to provide someone to oppose the Doctor. He was presented as an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD, and yet the PTSD never manifested except in his reactions to the control-happy Doctor; meanwhile, the Doctor, having been designed as soldier-hating, only viewed him as a soldier and refused to consider him anything else.

The writers worked really hard to bring Clara and Danny together – making Clara to basically force herself on him after Danny refused her multiple times, and then again after Danny told her to get lost at the end of their disastrous date – almost as if they couldn’t imagine that these two people would normally hook up. But once they kissed, suddenly they were in love. I remember Clara talking to him on the phone and saying, “I love you,” the episode after that first date, and it was shocking to hear that; no show time was spent showing that their relationship had gotten serious. That’s one of the major problems with Series 9: it tried to give Clara a life and a relationship, without actually developing them on camera. And since Danny was only important as Clara’s hanger-on, he never developed on his own. Danny only appeared whenever they needed to make the point that Clara had a reason to not want to travel with the Doctor, to show Clara lying to one or both of them, or to have Danny argue directly with the Doctor. To me, the only time that Danny actually appeared to mean something to Clara was in “Last Christmas”, in the dream sequence where she’s celebrating Christmas with him. In all other interactions, I wondered why Danny (or Clara, for that matter) was sticking around.

So, Clara’s normal life didn’t work well, but what about her self? She didn’t start well, trying to deny that the Doctor had changed and hoping to find a way to bring the old Doctor back, even though she’s the one person who knows exactly what regeneration means and how the Doctor changes faces and personalities. Then, throughout the season, she fixates on two things: lying and trying to be the Doctor. Multiple storylines dealt with her calling the Doctor to task for what she decided was lying, while simultaneously lying to both the Doctor and Danny. Then she starts trying to be the Doctor without really understanding what being the Doctor actually means. After a series and a half of adventures, you’d think she’d know that the Doctor is a complex blend of exploring, universe-guarding, moral choices, and self-sacrifice, but instead, she thinks it’s a formula that she can follow to lead people out of danger. And when she does successfully follow her formula, she demands to be complimented on  her performance.

All in all, Clara comes across as very self-absorbed, obsessive, and controlling. I disliked Rose Tyler because of the way she manipulated her men – the Doctor, Mickey, Adam, Jack – leading them about by their noses and flaring with jealousy the moment they looked away, but Clara actively sets hers against each other to secure their devotion to her. And unlike Rose, who was a teenager with a background that explained how she became the woman she was, Clara had an about-face in personality between Series 7 and 8, as if the writers suddenly decided she needed personality flaws to be interesting and started adding them. There was no character development, just sudden shifts, much like the sudden shift from her first date with Danny to being deeply in love with each other.

Then, at the end of “Death in Heaven”, Clara and the Doctor has one of the best scenes in the entire series. For each character, things have turned out poorly, but the other believes they’ve turned out well. Both characters realize that their lives and their relationship has been terrible for the past year and that it would be better for the other person if they went their separate ways letting the other person think that everything turned out well for them: the Doctor thinks that Danny is alive and that Clara will be happy with him, and Clara thinks that the Doctor found Gallifrey and is going to return to his people. Sacrificing their own welfare, each of them puts on a happy face and tells the other that everything’s great, and they part.

Oh my god: character growth! Two selfish characters (yes, the Doctor was selfish all the way through the series, too) learn to give up what they desperately want, for someone else. It was a gorgeous scene, and with Clara in particular, it strengthened her in a similar manner as Martha’s departure strengthened her… only to be dashed one minute later with Santa appearing to tell the Doctor to go fix her. Yes, it doesn’t completely negate her moment of growth, but she no longer needs to follow through on her sacrifice for the Doctor (and vice-versa). And at the end of “Last Christmas”, everyone’s happy and she doesn’t have a care in the universe again, because she’s back in the TARDIS. She’s not even mourning Danny anymore, because a dream her mind invented told her that she doesn’t need to. I once read an article which talked about how the story arcs of the Eleventh Doctor moved him away from working through moral problems and towards “cheat codes” so that he didn’t have to make choices, and this trend continues in the current show.

And that’s why I am not enthusiastic about Series 9. No, I don’t like Clara, who is returning, but that’s only a very small part of the problem. It’s the writing, the poor plots, and the schizophrenic character and development design that’s turning me off, and all the way to the end of Series 8, that trend continues. Is it likely that it’s going to change in Series 9? I don’t see any evidence of that. I could see myself enjoying Clara if her story and personality and reactions were in any way understandable (I point back to my opinion of Rose, another character I don’t like, but whose story I liked because the character was well-developed and progressed naturally in response to her experiences), but it doesn’t seem likely that their handling of her, or the Doctor or any other character, is going to change. I’ll watch the new series when it debuts, and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Merry Christmas!

Doctor-Who-Last-ChristmasI hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and whole holiday season, with family, friends, and lots of love and cheer! I’m having a perfectly fine day: we don’t live anywhere near our respective families, so Christmas is just a day of staying at home and enjoying each other’s company. In a few, I’m going to go cook up some steaks for a nice dinner.

We just finished watching the Doctor Who Christmas special, “Last Christmas”, and, well, opinion is divided in our house.

Spoilers, by the way.

My husband was really hoping for Clara to depart at the end of the episode, and since that didn’t happen, he’s running around the house in a really bad mood. I was hoping the same, but I’m not as disappointed as he is. To me, the episode could have been really good, but it fell flat in so many places.

The general concept, of dreams within dreams within dreams, was fun and deftly handled, and made me forget that each new reality could be a dream as people woke up. It was very nice to be surprised over and over again as new dreams were discovered. Having Santa and his elves as real characters very much challenged my suspension of disbelief, but as they also turned out to be dreams (maybe), it all worked out fine. Those characters were terrific, though – very fun to watch, with some of the best lines in the entire show.

However, I felt that they were trying too hard again to have sweeping emotional scenes, especially centered around Clara. Clara’s initial dream, of a happy life with Danny, was beautifully done, making me feel very sad for her that she’s trapped in this dream that she really wants, and the blackboards appearing and trapping her were terrifying, one of the few successful terrifying moments this series has had all year. Then the Doctor appears to tell her that it’s all a dream, and Danny transforms from a dream construct that’s meant to keep her happy in her dream to a real Danny, telling her to get out of the dream and go have a happy life. He can’t be both, and the tender moment is ruined by this. And then the ending. The Doctor comes to Clara to remove the facehugger and finds he’s come 60 years in her future and she’s had a good life without him, though she has missed him. It was an absolutely beautiful bittersweet story, showing that Clara does have the emotional fortitude to move on and live her own life… and they threw it down the drain, revealing it’s another dream, and instead, the Doctor saves Clara and they reunite happily and run off into the sunset. Another “everyone lives, everyone’s happy” Moffat ending. I always knew the Christmas special was going to end all happy-happy – Moffat can’t allow his characters to not be happy, ever – but I don’t have to like it. I am actually surprised he didn’t resurrect Danny. He must have been sick when he wrote this episode.

Beyond that, though, the show was decent enough, so much so that I could rate it at least average in Series 8. There were pacing problems that broke me out of story. (How many times do the humans, after being convinced their in a dream, need to keep asking how this or that happened? Maybe it’s time to start trying to break out before you’re dead?) And there are continuity errors that probably can be attributed to how hard it is to keep an Inception-like story consistent. (For example, if the facehuggers were supposed to be injecting dreams to keep their prey happy and dormant, why were the three women all dreaming they were trapped in an arctic base cowering from facehuggers? Not exactly the happiest of dreams.) I would definitely have liked the other human characters to have had some actual personality.

So, another Doctor Who year has come and gone, for good or bad, depending on your tastes. Hope your year has been wonderful, and looking forward to brilliant new year!

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.

It’s finally over…

It saddens me more than you can imagine to write that I am so glad that Series 8 of Doctor Who is finally over. This has been one painful trip. To think that just three months ago, I was giddily excited about the new season and meeting the new Doctor, though a bit apprehensive of another season of Clara, a companion I’ve never really liked. Well, sadly, though I love Mr. Capaldi’s Doctor, there’s not much of this season that’s worth anything. I’ve been avoiding writing about the season as much as possible, because I had wanted to not complain, but now that it’s done, here’s how I’ve felt about it.

Before the season started, the press releases were telling us that the show was being taken in a new direction. The new Doctor would be dark, they said, and you wouldn’t always be sure if he was going to keep the companion safe. And they told us there were consequences if you choose to run with the Doctor, that it’s not just travel and fun. I was a little apprehensive about this, because, you know, why should they have to tell you what to expect? Part of the essence of good storytelling is having the audience think about the story you’re telling and figure these things out for themselves. I was particularly concerned about their emphasis on the “consequences for the companion”, since we had already learned from Rose, Martha, and Donna and their families that being with the Doctor causes everyone to get hurt. As Martha put it, “He’s like fire. Stand too close and you get burned.” Why should they think it’s such a great new novel idea when the first five years of the show was all about that?

"I know the Doctor just went through a violent regeneration and is wandering around somewhere, but let me complain about the fact he's not Matt Smith anymore."

“I know the Doctor just went through a violent regeneration and is wandering around crazy somewhere, but let me complain about the fact that he’s not Matt Smith anymore.”

However, I went into the season premiere, “Deep Breath”, with anxious anticipation, and, well, it was as bad as I’d dreaded. I’ve already written a review of it, and going back and reading it, I still pretty much agree with how I felt back then. It horrifies me that I didn’t remember that I had gone to the theater to see it – I have such bad memories of that episode that I don’t even remember going out for it. To summarize, though, I found that “Deep Breath” was way too preoccupied with Clara being unable to accept the new Doctor, that it was way too talky (the Doctor basically talked the robot to death), and its attempts to draw clever parallels were obvious and heavy-handed. Unfortunately, that was the beginning of the trend for the entire season.

Apparently, the “consequences for the companion” was a code-word for “making Doctor Who into The Clara Show“. Much of the season concerned itself with Clara, either her relationship with the Doctor or her relationship with Danny Pink, to the exclusion of the Doctor from the show. Few of the episodes weren’t mostly about her, and some even marginalized the Doctor without being an actual Doctor-lite episode (“Kill the Moon”, “Flatline”, “In the Forest of the Night”, and to a large extent, “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven”). Clara herself was neurotic and manipulative, spending most of the season lying to both the Doctor and Danny to keep them well-heeled, while simultaneously complaining to them if/when they lied. Her mood swings were impressive, going from hating the Doctor in one episode to “everything’s fine” the next (which was a lie, of course, along with blaming it all on Danny). And her relationship with Danny was simply dysfunctional, starting as a sexual predator (forcing him to go on a date with her, then returning multiple times after that date had gone south twice, even showing up at his apartment uninvited and kissing him; can you imagine if their genders were reversed, how offensive she would be?), then lying to him repeatedly, even when monsters are attacking and he’s trying to figure out what’s going on simply to survive (yes, tell him you’re just rehearsing the school play; very clever).

Danny himself was poorly characterized. He was supposed to be a PTSD soldier, but apparently all that means is completely emotionless and spineless except when he can insult the Doctor. Granted, the Doctor probably started it, but still, Danny had no personality except in those moments. In general, though, the main problem here is that the season was completely about Clara and her relationships, and she was not interesting at best, offensive at worst. There were good episodes this season that were damaged by her simply being there. I remember being completely enthralled by “Mummy on the Orient Express” until the scene cut to Clara, and she ruined the atmosphere with her complaint about having to lie to the woman to get her to go to the lab. (And she didn’t have to lie; there were other ways of persuading the woman to go to the lab without lying. But she chooses to lie, and then yells at the Doctor later that he “made” her lie.) And then the end of that episode, where suddenly everything’s fine and she only told the Doctor she hated him because Danny wanted her to – that was unbelievable. I could go on, but I won’t.

Listen to me talk!

Listen to me talk!

There were some good episodes, if you squinted Clara out of the camera frame; “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” are the two standouts, as long as you chop off the final scene in both, where Clara does her attention-getting schtick. Both of these had interesting adversaries, lots of problem-solving, and well-designed horror scenes. And I think that’s the problem. Most of the rest of the episodes were designed to have the characters talk about philosophical themes: “Deep Breath”, “Into the Dalek” to some extent, “Listen”, “The Caretaker”, “Kill the Moon”, “In the Forest of the Night”, and “Dark Water” / “Death in Heaven” all fit this bill. “Death in Heaven” was particularly bad for this: with its lead-in with Cybermen invading London, it spent most of its 60 minutes (15 more than usual) with the Cybermen simply standing around while the main characters talked. It’s okay to transform what’s traditionally an action-packed adventure show into a philosophical drama, if you do it well, but it rarely was. Perhaps they tried too hard to keep the action-adventure format. Or maybe they just don’t know how to do philosophical drama. Either way, these episodes devolved into heavy-handed sermons, usually with contrived plots to set up the discussion and pat, unsatisfying conclusions. Tack on melodramatic scenes meant to tug at heartstrings (Really, her sister was in a bush? What?), and all you have is a mess.

And I think that’s the problem. I can’t say for certain, but it really does seem to me that the writers were told to elicit specific emotional responses or say specific lines or handle certain themes, and the plots were shoehorned in around them. The thing is, the audience is not stupid. We can tell when something is contrived, when you’re trying to manipulate us, and this season reeked of manipulation.

Now, you might note that I haven’t discussed the Capaldi Doctor himself yet. The Doctor was wonderful, as was his actor. He was very different than his predecessor, with a very alien outlook and an inability to really understand how humans think, resulting in his being abrasive and insulting a lot of the time. While he’s older and a lot less action-oriented than the Smith Doctor, he still had a sharp wit and brilliant logic. A lot of people didn’t like his arrogance and tendency to insult people, either directly or accidentally, but I think that people who feel the Doctor shouldn’t be like that are forgetting Tom Baker’s and Colin Baker’s Doctors, and to a lesser extent, Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor. Unfortunately, Capaldi has had to endure less-than-stellar episodes, and I’m hoping that a new companion will make things better for him (I’m not anticipating an improvement in the writing).

No, this is dark.

No, this is dark.

I am very disappointed in two things, though. First, the promise of the “dark” Doctor. Now, maybe this might be due to my definition of “dark.” To me, a dark Doctor is one who teeters on the edge of corruption, who is close to giving in to his dark side. McCoy’s Doctor was dark, because he was manipulative and actually sacrificed his companion to further his goals. Tennant’s Doctor courted the dark side multiple times, with a tendency towards cruelty (“The Christmas Invasion”, “The Runaway Bride”,  “The Family of Blood”) and tempted by power (“School Reunion”), ultimately giving in to it (“The Waters of Mars”). Capaldi’s Doctor showed very little darkness. He let Clara fend for herself in “Deep Breath”, though he believed that she was fully capable of surviving, and while the Rusty looked into his mind and saw hatred, the Doctor’s actions were never affected by it. This Doctor is less dark and more, well, grumpy.

The other thing is the promise we had at the end of Series 7.2. What happened to the search for Gallifrey? When the Smith Doctor talks to the Curator and discovers that Gallifrey has survived, his eyes gleam with hope, and the final scene is that of all twelve Doctors with the voiceover that he finally knows where he’s going: home.  He finds out that Gallifrey is behind the crack at Trenzalore and spends the rest of his life defending the planet, but once he regenerates, Gallifrey doesn’t come up once. He doesn’t spend a moment searching for it until the Master appears. What happened to going home and finding his people? Was he really satisfied with the confirmation that Gallifrey was stuck somewhere – doesn’t matter where, as long as he knew it was still around? At the end of “The Day of the Doctor,” the Doctor actually had a purpose, for once in his lives – a quest, you might call it – and he forgot it. Instead, we were given a season of soap opera.

This season has been bad enough that I’m not excited for the Christmas special, and don’t actually care if there’s a Series 9 or not. I love the new Doctor, but if the show is going to continue to be as maudlin and condescending as it has been since Series 7.2, then, it’s time I moved on. I’m nowhere near finished viewing the classic series. I’ve hundreds of hours of Big Finish audios to listen to, and that’s just in the main range. And, of course, there’s Series 1-6 to enjoy on rewatch. The current show has a lot to do to recapture my imagination.

Shifting gears

twelve

Too lazy to find a more appropriate image. What is Clara doing?

It’s taken me a bit of time to adjust back to real life after the 17-day holiday in Britain. I have to admit that after a week of work, I’m still not quite sure where the project is at or what my role in it is, but I’m sure that’ll get ironed out really soon. Meanwhile, at home,  a large fraction of the items I brought home with me are still in a pile, waiting to be put away. And there’s a huge pile of laundry that’s just screaming to be done. All in good time.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was having the opportunity to watch the new episodes of Doctor Who on BBC One, right when they were broadcast for the first time; I was in Britain for “Listen” and “Time Heist.” I had been afraid that wanting to catch the show at 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays would cut into our holiday time, but it turned out that we were usually back in the hotel room by then, so it didn’t affect anything at all. The only two times we were out at night (attending the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Theatre and “A Comedy of Errors” at the Globe) had been carefully scheduled to not be on Saturday nights. I have to say that it was rather exciting to experience my favorite show along with everyone else.

The shows themselves, though, were disappointing. “Listen” tried so hard to be spooky but fell flat, possibly because so much of the recent creepiness – the Weeping Angels, the Silence, the robots in “Deep Breath”, to name a few – have relied so much on the victims standing still and long periods of nervous, paralyzed fear that it’s just the same old thing now. Then we went through the tired trope of “person A teaches person B something, then B goes back in time and teaches person A that thing.” I do have to say that it was exciting to go back to the Doctor as a child (and as soon as Clara stepped out of the TARDIS, I literally leapt out of my seat screaming, “That’s the shack the Doctor fired the Moment in!”), but then it ended with Clara pretty much being the reason for the Doctor’s genesis. Way to deflate the legend! Then there was “Time Heist”, which should have been an action-packed Mission: Impossible-type thriller, but decided instead to slow everything down with long scenes of the monster creeping through hallways and freezing its victims in place (oh, wait, I already addressed that earlier this paragraph; funny that). All that extra time could have been used to give Saibra and Psi more to do, rather than have them do their one designated thing and get “killed” immediately. (Not to mention, once again, characters get good deaths, both for them and for drawing the audience further into the story, and then they’re not dead. Doesn’t Moffat ever kill anyone for real?) And then the ending, a repeat they did only eleven episodes before in “Hide.” Couldn’t they have found any other reason for what the Teller was doing? I did watch both episodes again when I returned home, and, like I’ve found with Doctor Who in general, they improve on re-watch, but they’re still pretty average.

And then there was “The Caretaker.” This episode was all about Clara and Danny’s relationship, and since I can’t stand either character or their relationship, there’s no way I could come out of this with a positive opinion. We’ve got Clara the sexual predator on the one hand (no, really: she asks Danny out the moment they meet, re-asks multiple times after he says no, follows him and peeps while he has a personal moment then immediately barges in and demands he go out with her, returns after the date goes pear-shaped and blurts out his personal secrets [why he doesn’t consider her a stalker at this point, I don’t know], then returns once more to his apartment and kisses him – if the genders were reversed, this show would be pushed past the watershed) and Danny the “sensitive” ex-soldier who’s really an insult to all real soldiers suffering PTSD. Granted, the Doctor really didn’t treat him very well in “The Caretaker”, but Clara’s inability to take Danny and the alien situation seriously and talk to him about it like an adult, telling him what he needs to know about her, just destroys any illusion that these characters are realistic.

Now, the more I watch, the more I like the Twelfth Doctor, but the Doctor alone doesn’t make the show. I have “Kill the Moon” downloaded and ready to play, and yet I’ve spent the evening messing around playing puzzle games: I don’t feel like watching Doctor Who. Similarly, while I was gone, my husband didn’t even bother watching “Listen” and “Time Heist,” having no interest in them at all. Carl and Sandy made it through Series 7.1 about two weeks before we left for vacation, but have felt no impulse to continue watching; they want to watch Series 7.2 so that they can see “The Day of the Doctor” (which I’ve told them is fantastic), but I expect it will take them months to watch those eight episodes.

What happened? We are four people who started with “Rose” and couldn’t get enough, blasting our way through Series 1-5. We all love all of the Doctors, Nine through Twelve (Nine through Eleven for Carl and Sandy), but the love of the Doctors isn’t enough to make us love the current show. The plots are weak, overly complicated, and uninspiring, the characters are poorly developed, and the episodes seem to be going for spectacle and heavy emotional payout, but they’re missing the mark and are instead coming out maudlin. And through it all, they seem to be missing the basic idea that Doctor Who has been running on for fifty years, that it’s an adventure show that’s meant to simply be entertaining, to tell a fun story by taking us to new places and introducing us to interesting people. I made a quip the other day that Doctor Who has basically become Sherlock in Space. Not to diss on Sherlock, though; it’s a great show. The thing is, Doctor Who is a very different beastie from Sherlock, but it feels the same, and honestly, the change in show dynamic is not working for Doctor Who.

Weapon_of_Choice_cover

Finally ordered this. So excited!

So, the new season has been very disappointing for me, and yet, the show is still my life. Why is that? Normally, when a show doesn’t interest me, I just drop it and move on. That happened with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: when the first four episodes failed to be interesting and the characters grated on my nerves, I stopped watching. (I’ve heard it’s much better now, and I might give it a chance again sometime.) But Doctor Who is still my obsession, and after I thought about it over the past week, I realized why: there is so much more to the show than just the current season. I still have at least 75% of the classic show to watch, seven Doctors and dozens of companions to get to know. There are over two hundred audios to listen to, and that’s just in the main range; my current goal is to get the Gallifrey series and finally meet Narvin and Braxiatel. The novels and comic books, I’m less interested in, but I’m still working on those, too. And, of course, I can always return to Series 1 through 5.

You see, there’s a lot more to Doctor Who than just the episodes being shown on BBC One. The universe is huge, and if one part of it isn’t interesting, I’ll just go play in another part. I’ll keep watching the new episodes, of course – you couldn’t keep me away from them. But I’m content with being a classic/audio/RTD fan.

Take a deep breath

Finally got to see “Deep Breath”! It was again exhilirating to go in costume and watch a new episode in a theater packed with 200 other fans, though the atmosphere was nowhere near as electric as it was for the 50th anniversary. I’m not sure anything could beat that day. But it was fun, and we chatted in the theater with a lot of other people. And I got a lot of compliments on my Fifth Doctor outfit, so that was wonderful, too.

The episode… I’d love to say that I loved the episode, but I can’t really say that, unfortunately. What I’d really love is to come back to this post in a couple of months and read it, and say, “Wow, you really got that wrong! It was a great episode and you were so cynical.” But right now, I have to say what I’m thinking.

First, I want to say upfront that Mr. Capaldi was fantastic. He gave a brilliant performance, and he was fun to watch. I especially enjoyed his scene with the homeless guy. Though he was still in regeneration psychosis and therefore wasn’t his Doctor quite yet, it was superb. Of course, I’m not sure about his Doctor yet, because I didn’t feel like I really got to know much about him. He spent so much time in psychosis and then for the rest of the episode, he was either angsting it out with the robot or trying to get Clara to like him, so I really don’t have a good feel for who he is yet. He definitely seems to have a far more serious outlook – less energy and more gravitas, more like Hartnell, C. Baker, and McCoy, and less like T Baker, Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith – and that, so far, I like a lot.

Now, as far as the actual adventure part of the episode, that was a bit disappointing. The robots were suitably creepy, but they didn’t feel scary (and when I’m immersed in a theater and the monsters fill the whole screen and they don’t feel scary, there’s a problem there). The whole “they can tell you’re human thing because you’re breathing” thing was stupid enough that it destroyed my suspension of disbelief: any robot that can detect that you’re breathing should be able to also detect the many other signs that you’re human, such as involuntary eye movements and tremors because of being terrified. The plot of the adventure was very straightforward, but that’s okay, as it was a regeneration episode and the focus of the story was elsewhere (though I might point out that the adventure plot of “The Eleventh Hour” was nicely complex while not detracting from the main focus of the Doctor and Amy).

The rest of the story, though, was heavy-handed. The parallels drawn between the Doctor and the robot were laboriously drawn and repeated. Yes, they’re both long-lived; they both change faces; they both are striving for some ideal, some reward that doesn’t exist; they’re both tired of their struggle and don’t know if they want to continue on, if there’s really a good reason to keep fighting. We get it: the robot was meant to be a mirror. Same with the dinosaur: alone, far from home, the people around her don’t see her as a real individual, etc. I’ve seen it said that an author should show the reader things, rather than tell them, and I felt like this episode was trying to tell me to see the Doctor in these ways, rather than show him to me. Interestingly, the one thing that would have shown us an important point about the Doctor – whether he pushed the robot or talked the robot into jumping himself – was left ambiguous.

It bothers me quite a bit that the Doctor has lost the hope, the sense of renewed purpose, the “I’m going home” epiphany he had at the end of “The Day of the Doctor” (which should have been reinforced by actual proof that Gallifrey survived in “The Time of the Doctor”) and has returned to the “I’m so old and lost, what am I doing here? Am I doing the right thing?” theme of the Eleventh Doctor. I also know that this Doctor is supposed to be “dark,” but it didn’t sit well for me that his solution to the whole problem was to kill the robot (or get it to kill itself). The Doctor has always respected life and tried to find non-violent solutions for his enemies, even when it meant going far out of his way or even sacrificing himself. It doesn’t matter that this time it was a robot; he believes they have right to life, too (see “The Robots of Death,” for example). This time, the Doctor barely tried to figure out what the robot really wanted and switched to killing it, an odd decision especially after noting that the robot was more human than robot.

And then there’s Clara. It’s very difficult for me to look at Clara objectively, because she’s never had an actual character, changing her skills and thoughts and reactions each episode to fit whatever was needed to move the plot along: she’s an independent companion; no, she fancies the Doctor; no, the Doctor fancies her; she’s a live-in babysitter; oh, now she’s a trained and certified teacher; now she’s able to command an army; oh, wait, did you know the TARDIS doesn’t like her? This episode was focused a lot on her, as she struggled with accepting this new Doctor, and that’s great, because it wouldn’t be easy for anyone to accept such a huge change; Rose was unable to accept the new Doctor until he demonstrated that underneath it all, his base nature hadn’t changed. Clara had a worse time of it, because the surface attributes of the new Doctor are very different from his predecessor’s. She did a great job trying to deal with all of this; my only quibble with her was the early question of why he changed, which is something she should already understand (while she doesn’t remember all the things she did in the Doctor’s timestream, she does understand that he changes, and in fact remembered the Tenth Doctor when she met him, so she should get it on a basic level).

The biggest problem for me, though, (and you’ll note that it’s not a problem with Clara per se) was that the point of Clara not being willing to give the new Doctor a try was pounded home so heavily that I felt like Moffat was trying to speak to the fan base through Clara, saying, “Hey, I know this guy looks different, and he’s very different from the Eleventh Doctor, but give him a chance and stick around.” This was only reinforced by the appearance of Eleventh Doctor, calling Clara to tell her that the new Doctor is scared and need her help, so please stick with him. Show us that this new Doctor is brilliant! Don’t tell us that he is! And certainly don’t beg us to stay! It also really rubbed me the wrong way that Clara is basically staying with the Doctor out of pity. She should be staying because she genuinely connects with him or because she’s not sure but wants more time to get to know him, not because he begged her to or because he’s frightened. And it disappointed me to see the Eleventh Doctor again. This is the Twelfth Doctor’s debut episode: give him his chance to chance to shine, and don’t steal the limelight away. I love that they set up the scene in “The Time of the Doctor” by showing the hanging phone – it’s always a thrill when you get to see that they planned that much ahead – but it otherwise felt like cheap fanservice.

Then, there’s the Paternoster gang. It was nice to see more of the relationship between Vastra and Jenny, but what we did see disturbed me. There were two scenes that I think were included for comic effect: Vastra saying that Jenny pretends to be her servant in public and Jenny asking why she serves the tea in private, and Vastra having Jenny pose for no reason. It was evident in both scenes that Jenny was not amused and rather offended, and it amazed me that a strong, confident woman like her would meekly submit to such psychological abuse. I’ll allow for Vastra being a Silurian who doesn’t think like a human, but it really made me no longer like her, and it still bothered me a lot that her treating her wife in those ways is considered comedy.

Then there was the final robot showdown, in which none of the three experienced combatants, one of which was armed with a blaster gun, was able to harm any of the robots at all. Clara told them all to hold their breath (Really? A robot suddenly thinks the human in front of him is a robot because he stops breathing?), and they waited. During this time, Strax, the Sontaran who lives for battle, believes that the most glorious way to die fighting, and continued to fight when the Whispermen had their hands in his body grabbing his heart, trembled in fear. And to help Jenny survive the press of hostile robots, Vastra gave her air in the form in a slow passionate kiss (which for some reason isn’t a clue to the robots that these figures aren’t actually robots). The word for this is “contrived.” Rather than keep them in character and let them fight like the warriors they are and build the tension by having them get whittled down by overwhelming numbers, they went for the cheap emotions.

And I think that’s the real problem I had with this episode. The whole thing felt too contrived: two characters who are mostly unable to speak (the dinosaur and the robot) so that the Doctor can have long monologues to draw clumsy parallels between himself and them and implausible enemies and situations to put the companion in a place where the Doctor leaves her behind and to give the couple a chance to kiss onscreen. And it all seemed to be purposefully done this way to tell us what we should think about the new Doctor, rather than let us make up our own minds.

Lastly, there’s the closing scene with Missy. I’ve mentioned before that one of the things I really disliked in Series 5, 6, and 7 was the handling of the overplot, where some snippet of information was unveiled in the first episode (the crack, Madame Kovarian’s eyes, the “Impossible Girl”) and then in each succeeding episode, it’s thrown at the screen each time (often as an extra scene without being part of the story) without giving the audience any more information about it, until it’s suddenly explained at the end of the arc. I dislike it because it doesn’t invite the audience to participate: there’s nothing the viewer can do to try understand what’s going on through the season until everything is revealed, and going back later and seeing those things doesn’t contribute to the thrill of the story, because they meant so little.  (Compare to going back to “Smith and Jones” and discovering that Harold Saxon was the person who ordered the military to fire on the Webstar, demonstrating that the Master was already putting his plan into place.) The Missy scene had the same vibe and did nothing for me. I’d like to hope I’m wrong and that the Doctor encounters her early on so that she is an active participant in the season plot.

That’s it. I really wanted to love this episode, but when the lights turned on in the theater, I was rather glad it was over. I’m hoping that time and rewatching will improve my opinion of it (it usually does – I don’t think there’s a single episode that I haven’t liked better on rewatch, but then I’ve never rewatched “Love and Monsters” and “The Rings of Akhaten” a second time). I am still eager for the rest of the season, as the performances were wonderful and the Doctor is intriguing and compelling, so here’s to Saturday!

Three, no, five more days!

Five more days until “Deep Breath”! Yes, we’re going to see it in the theater. We don’t have TV service (we just don’t watch enough TV to justify that expense), and while I am planning to download the episode from BBC iPlayer on Saturday, we’re going to watch it for the first time on Monday. The theater experience on the 50th anniversary was just electric, and while we don’t expect it to be as wonderful this time, we definitely want to experience the episode for the first time in the same way.

By the time we see it, it will have been exactly eight months since the last new Doctor Who episode, and it’s been a long and agonizing wait. I am very excited to meet the new Doctor and see what he’s like and where he takes us. We’ve been promised more mature and dark, and if it’s fair to look back on old Doctors to pick out traits I’m hoping for, I’d like him to have the Third Doctor’s style and abrasiveness (and physical strength), the Sixth Doctor’s arrogance, and the Ninth Doctor’s disdain. However, I’ll be happy with the new Doctor, as long as he’s the Doctor.

I am, however, a bit apprehensive about this new season. Series 7 was a big disappointment for me, and I’m going into Series 8 with an open mind and as few spoilers as possible, but it was impossible to be completely deaf to all of the hype and there are a couple of things that I’ve heard that have bothered me. The first is the repeated assurance that this Doctor is going to be “dark.” Now, I like that idea, because it always seemed to me that the Eleventh Doctor was pretty much just goofy, with splashes of bombastic thrown in. He was a lot of fun to watch, but he was never a good Doctor in my mind. It will be nice to bring seriousness and severity back. However, the word “dark” has been repeated so much, I’m starting to wonder whether it’s the right direction. The implication is that this Doctor is supposed to throw back to personalities of the older incarnations, but actually, the Doctor has rarely been “dark”: I’d say the only incarnations that have been dark are the Seventh Doctor, the Ninth Doctor, and the Tenth Doctor (in Series 4 and the specials). Since the dark Doctors have been recent, the reaction of making the Twelfth Doctor “dark” is only a contrast against the Eleventh Doctor, and if they consider this such an important point that they need to repeat it in every statement about the series, they’re making me afraid they’re going to take it too far. I don’t want them to change the base nature of the Doctor, the reason why we watch the show, in the pursuit of adding darkness to the character.

The other thing that bothers me is the (again oft-repeated) announcement that this series is going to show that “there are consequences to choosing to live like this,” referring to the companions choosing to travel with the Doctor. The implication is that companions will find that they get hurt (physically or emotionally) and lose things in the course of their adventures. They announced this like it’s some huge revelation that the audience has never seen before, and yet this was the point of Series 1 through 4: all of these series were about the companions and their families getting tortured and torn apart by the storms that accompany the Doctor. It’s the classic show and Series 5-7 that have companions who barely have any lives, families, friends, concerns outside of the Doctor. Again, if they feel that this point, which was made so well and so subtly with the Tylers, Joneses, and Nobles, is so important that it’s part of their marketing, I’m afraid that they’re going to overdo it. One of the weaknesses of the recent storytelling is that they’ve felt the need to announce the moral of the story with big flashing lights to make sure the audience gets it, rather than demonstrating it as part of the story and letting the audience draw its own conclusions, and I’m apprehensive that this is the direction this new “consequences” emphasis is going to go.

So, I’ve resolved to go into “Deep Breath” with an open mind; it doesn’t help anyone to dwell on what might happen. What I’m hoping for is a fantastic Doctor-introduction episode which, like “The Christmas Invasion” and “The Eleventh Hour,” shows us all of this incarnation’s salient personality traits, with a bunch of action and humor on the side. And for future episodes, as long as they have good stories, I’m good with it. Despite my reservations, I’m looking forward to the next season of my favorite show and the new Doctor that’s on his way.