Christopher Ecclestone, David Tennant and Russell T. Davies. What do they have in common? The greatest four series and specials of sci-fi/fantasy television produced in the 21st century. So what happened?
Let me get this out there now: Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi are fantastic actors, as are the people around them. But something has gone catastrophically wrong since the end of the Davies era Doctor Who, and it’s only getting worse. The final straw came with the lamest episode to date, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, also known as an overactive imagination not screened out during the writing, editing or filming process. I’m not arguing that imagination is bad, but the failure to contain it appropriately has led to bad writing decisions, which is leading to the downfall of a fantastic series that doesn’t deserve to die the death of fallen heroes.
I’ve not been a fan of the Moffatt era since ‘Amy’s Choice’, where everything started to get too convoluted. Both that and the imagination comment suggest I shouldn’t be watching this type of programme, but let me re-iterate that these things can be used well, nay successfully, if used right. But Moffatt and co. have tried to replicate the success of the Bad Wolf, Torchwood, ‘something on your back’, Harold Saxon mysteries by heavy-handedly thrusting a million potentials and clumsy space expressions in viewers’ faces, hoping they’ll see through the fog of unexplained theoretical concepts in order to make sense of the mess.
Let’s take the aforementioned ‘Magician’s Apprentice’. The hands with eyes on: spooky as hell, a riveting start. The appearance of young Davros, mystifying. Planes stopping? The Master/Mistress randomly involving herself in the Doctor’s affairs? The random inclusion of UNIT? The Doctor playing guitar in a party-cum-sacrificial ceremony? I could go on I’m sure, but I stopped watching; there was no story, there was a fanboy vomiting Whovian all over my screen. I’m not saying prior Who episodes were simplistic, but they followed one plot with occasional hints at what was to come, without feeling like something to prove was on the agenda. There’s nothing clever about writing things because you can, but there is in writing one thing well.
And then there’s the assistant overload. They’ve become more important than the Doctor, and no-one seems to appreciate that you can have a clever, sassy female on screen without making her as intelligent as a something-thousand year old man, the titular character who should be the centre of the story. Rose was smart and loved, but she needed the Doctor. Martha, a wannabe medic herself, was clearly in the know, but she did everything she did because she needed the Doctor, not because she could simply outdo him. Donna, Lindsay Duncan’s Adelaide Brooke, Michelle Ryan’s Christina De Souza – all flying the feminist flag without being a master in the own right. Again, Karen Gillan, Jenna Coleman and the like are all wonderful actors, but they are being pushed into a limelight that wasn’t meant for them, not in this show.
I suppose, without rambling on, my complaint is with a lack of refinement; it wasn’t all peaches and cream in the prior series, but it was bloody brilliant nonetheless because of a mix of subtlety, explained madness, and sophistication within the ideas, instead of a mental splurge and the feeling that every line is an intended witticism without real meaning. When the next creative change occurs on Doctor Who, chances are I’ll return to the screen and indulge in my favourite time-traveller once more, but until that moment, I’ll leave the TARDIS and keep my feet firmly in reality.