It’s been about a year since I last blogged about Doctor Who, but I’ve been watching. I’ve also been reading the Graun recaps, and even, as part of my expanded podcast listening habit, following the Incomparable TeeVee podcast.
If nothing else, a regular perusal of the Graun comments should serve to remind us that for every “worst. episode. ever.” there is a “that was awesome” and a “meh”. In other words, opinions are like somethingorother that everybody has and they start to smell after three days.
As an antidote to the poison of the comment threads, the American perspective of the TeeVee podcast is refreshing. American nerd fans of the Doctor own him in much the same way that Americans owned the Beatles (and, later, Python) far more than the cynical and fickle British ever did.
I was intrigued by something about this season of Doctor Who. As I said this time last year, I was genuinely looking forward to Peter Capaldi in the role, not because I was a big fan of The Thick of It, but because I’ve been yearning for an older Doctor since the first episode of David Dimwit’s tennantcy. Fnar. In my mind, the character should always be much older than his companions, if only to remind us of his supposed advanced age. I also like Jenna Coleman a lot. She’s the best Sarah Jane since Sarah Jane. She’s 24 years younger than me, you know (whereas Elisabeth Sladen was 16 years older). Apart from all that, I was intrigued by the slight turn to the dark side that the series has taken in 2014. Maybe they knew they were going to lose their younger fans when Smith left. Maybe they bowed to the inevitable Saturday night scheduling conflicts and just opted for after Strictly rather than before, giving them freedom to ply a darker trade.
On the other hand, most of the stories, narrative devices and plot premises have been as dreadful this year as they are in any other. It’s a fantasy show that doesn’t try to pretend it’s science fiction, but that doesn’t stop the feeling that it could be better. While American television keeps coming up with decent enough science fiction and fantasy, the BBC seems to fall back on plots that seem to come from a committee of bureaucrats who for some reason have been forbidden to read or watch any genre fiction throughout their lives.
So, Doctor Who is mostly rubbish when it comes to plots and storylines, and the only thing that works about the show is the emotional interplay between the lead character and his sidekick. And as awful as most of the episodes have been this year, the relationship between The Doctor and Clara has been very well handled. The more she lied, the more she became like him, until, in the end, she is the one who wields the screwdriver and sacrifices her own humanity and happiness in order that he can keep his. The Doctor, like a military commander, has to have someone do his dirty work, and the question the show asked this year was, does that let him off the hook? And of course, the answer is that it doesn’t. Far be it from me to link the theme of this season to the 100th anniversary of the 1st World War. Far be it from me to point out that this finale was broadcast the night before Remembrance Sunday.
Being a show that is unafraid to question the morality of its titular character is what makes Doctor Who worth watching. Many of the best shows do this: NYPD Blue did it with Sipowicz; House did it; The Blacklist is doing it with Reddington; Game of Thrones is doing it with almost all of its main characters.
This season, then, “Listen” was quite good, as was “Flatline”. Still, more misses than hits, but I kept watching. The show needs more women writers (as in, more than 0), and it needs to come up with ideas and solutions that don’t seem like they came from Blue Peter competition winners.