It’s been a while since I last posted (and how many times do my posts begin with that? But every time I’ve approached the computer with the intent of writing anything — a post, the next chapter of Hearts & Moons, the meditation on Jackie and Nine that I’m at least a month late in finishing — I find myself turning instead to a computer game or YouTube. Still, the bicycle beckons, and I must attend, if only to keep my brain in some sort of working condition.
So. Doctor Who.
I’ve seen the first three episodes of the back half of S07, and thus far I have been underwhelmed.
(ETA: Also? I'm underwhelmed by the ability of LJ to accept cross-postings right now. It refused to accept paragraph spacings, and took out print color, refusing to put it back, whether I worked in rich text or html. It won't let me put my cursor where I want it to go. It ... ack. How many ways do I hate thee, oh unnamed LJ PTB?)
(Quick point: I always drift between Doylist and Watsonian comments and observations when I talk about Who, and it’s probably really annoying to more disciplined reviewers. My apologies. Also, I haven’t organized this well. Again, my apologies. Perhaps better organization and writing will follow in subsequent posts.)
Clara herself seems pleasant enough, and she’s also refreshingly realistic, in terms of the way I think an intelligent young person might actually react to an actual alien taking her on actual strange adventures. Actually, I’m damning with faint praise when I say she “seems pleasant enough” and I don’t mean to. I like her. I like the signs we get that she’s instinctively kind. I like her love of family. I love the fact that she’s a reader, and that she knows the power of symbols (the leaf, the wonderful children’s book, her mother’s ring … she understands the need for touchstones. That resonates with me, because I’m like that.) And I like that she puts limits and boundaries on the Doctor. But thus far, beyond that, I’ve gotten less of a feel for who she is than I’d already gotten from Amy after three episodes. I think, however, that I’m not going to blame Clara for that, and more on that later.
Matt Smith is, as always, a treat to watch and listen to. His Doctor has become even darker now, even more manipulative. More, he’s showing all sorts of interesting signs that not only are his flaws all still there, but that they’re gaining strength and hold on his personality. (The idea that his current incarnation is emotionally healthier than his previous incarnation was at the last has been a very alluring one. I don’t think it’s correct.) For instance, his treating Clara as a problem or mystery to be solved instead of a real person leads to him doing all sorts of things he shouldn’t; stalking her, testing her (particularly in The Rings of Ahkaten) and only occasionally seeing her. I don’t think he realizes that he’s doing that, but his actions are, once again, those of a wounded and arrogant Time Lord. Which makes him even more fascinating.
But the writing of the pieces themselves? Augh, what a collection of magpie treasure! Whether written by Moffat, Cross or Gatiss, they all have plot or other failings, ones that obscure the lovely twinkling bits of clever or good, or potentially brilliant.
Some failings are merely annoying and others are rather spectacular. Let’s see; things that are merely annoying — the pointless beginning with the monks and the “Bells of St. John” joke, or the apparent stasis in which the spoonheads hold their victims while they slowly, slowly, slowly turn around their heads, forcing me to fanwank or no-prize the reason people don’t simply walk away. The way in which Moffat wrote Clara’s lack of knowledge about the Internet. Why on earth did he feel Clara couldn’t have simply learned and earned her mad computer skillz on her own? (And the way the Doctor realized she’d picked up computer skills … because she made a joke about Twitter? Really? Weak, really weak.) Although now that I think of it, that last one’s actually a good bit more annoying than I initially thought. WTF, Moff?
The spectacular failings — nearly the entirety of the Rings of Ahkaten, even though I must point out that I like it the best of the three episodes. I’m a sucker for examinations of religions, I’m a sucker for alien worlds, and vast and incomprehensible dangers, I adore the idea of song bringing people together by nurturing the numinous. Hell, I loved Gridlock because of that. I love the odd little hints of things to come: why is the TARDIS being tetchy with Clara, for instance? I want to know!
But the waste of an interesting religious premise, the lack of consistency — is the service every once in 1,000 years, or is it constantly ongoing, as the talk about a constantly sung hymn suggests? A feared god referred to as Grandfather? An incredibly important little priestess who can wander off just as the once-a-millenia ceremony is about to begin? The completely ridiculous and largely irrelevant “alarm clock”? The arbitrarily untranslatable aliens vs the ones the TARDIS appears willing to translate (it bothered me about the Judoon, too, so this isn’t a new bitch on my part.) The completely unscary sun-villain (which looked sadly, to me, like a badly carved jack o’ lantern) … even the really geeky things like the lack of hard vacuum between asteroids, the extinguishing and disappearance of a sun without the subsequent destruction of the system around it.
Yeah, let’s just leave The Rings of Ahkaten alone for now. I still really like it, but oh, dear; what a mess! And it could so easily have been as awesome in its entirety as it is in its parts.
As for Cold War, it left me, you should pardon the completely foreseeable pun, cold. The Ice Warrior was unimpressive, David Warner was wasted (although I loved seeing him), Clara was written worse in this than she was in the previous two, and don’t even start me on the geeky logic things; projectile weapons used in a downed sub? Even with something loose on the boat, you don’t do that, you look for other ways to deal with it. The TARDIS disappearing? Pointless (although I see in another review that this is a nod to a Second Doctor adventure, I still think it's pointless.) The Alien rip-off or homage, I’m not sure which, was obvious and again, not frightening. But then, I’ve rarely liked Gatiss’ Who stories (he’s responsible for only two good episodes, in the 2005 and 2006 seasons. His other two, Victory of the Daleks and Night Terrors, especially the latter, were underwhelming.)
Here’s the thing. It bothers me that these things bother me.
I am, as I’ve mentioned before, a very cheap date when it comes to Who. I love it unreservedly. Plots? Until now, Who has been one of the few skiffical shows I’ve watched where the practical half of my brain isn’t constantly warring with the half that’s hopelessly in love with heart, emotion, symbols, myth-making etc.
Over the past two seasons, in fact, I’ve gladly accepted a great many stories that have been based on Rube Goldbergian plots and sketchy reasoning. In fact, I’ve welcomed them, and argued for them. I’ve dismissed the very type of bitching I’m doing now, saying that plot matters far less than message and heart. I’ve even said that holes in plot are sometimes like the holes in lace; you can’t have beautiful lace without those so-called holes, which are in fact actually integral to the totality of the lace. I’ve said they are less holes than windows through which you can see hints of back story, I’ve said … well, you’ve probably heard it before.
So why are those things bothering me in this half of S07?
I think it’s because I’m not feeling the depth of emotion or the rich sense of fairytale I felt in S05 and S06 and the first half of S07. I feel as if Moffat has decided to step away from the things that made his first two and a half seasons so strong for me. It seems as if he's tried to turn the series back into something that more fans would seem to like: heavy on old-style Who shenanigans (which I love, don’t get me wrong, but less so than I once did) and light on myth and heart and soul (which three things I’ve come to treasure more the older I get.)
That sense of the real shown through the unreal, and being all the more real because of it (does that make any sense?) has been lacking in the latest three episodes. It’s just framework, poorly put together, with little hanging on the frames.
I’m not sure why Moffat has decided to change his focus and style. Perhaps he’s doing it because of pressure from the BBC, which might want a return to more traditional Who storytelling. Perhaps that’s because the 50th anniversary looms, and TPTB want to bring people back by recalling traditional Who adventures. Perhaps he’s just trying to do something he hasn’t done before with Who and not doing it well yet.
Or perhaps I’m completely wrong. My perceptions may be completely off. People I respect are really loving these episodes, so I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I hope these are just three sub-optimal episodes that will be followed by much, much better episodes.
I won’t stop watching, no matter what. This is my show, and I love the Eleventh Doctor, and I like Clara, and there are hints of interesting story arc and imagery that I want to follow. And even if they aren’t there … as I said, my show. You don’t leave because you’ve hit something you’re not completely satisfied with. And, hey, if I made it through Ten, I’m certainly going to stick around when I’ve got my favorite Doctor on-screen. (Yes, I think he’s even surpassed Nine and Three at this point.)
But I do hope it gets better.
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