Why I’ve Given Up On Doctor Who

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┬ápotentials 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.

The Absence of a Miracle…

I am utterly devoted to ‘Torchwood’ series one to three. I have watched and rewatched them to the point of being able to echo the dialogue in my sleep (sad but true). So where did ‘Miracle Day’, a series long-awaited for and highly anticipated, lose this particular fan?

I’m currently rewatching series one, which is what has brought on this long overdue review-cum-rant. Series one and two were based around standard sci-fi concepts: aliens, myths and legends, with intricately woven touches of humanity displayed throughout the storylines. You fell in love with the flawed characters, celebrated their victories and mourned their losses. They were normal people thrown into a world of abnormality and absolute wonder; we were companions to their journeys, rather than unknowing spectators. Case-in point: ‘Countrycide’. My personal favourite episode, we were with the Torchwood team through their harrowing experiences in the country, up until the final reveal where ignorance became revulsion. This culminated in the magnificent third series, which delved into the moral dilemmas faced when facing the unknown, and the devastating ramifications of horrifying dilemmas. It was all going so well…

…Then came ‘Miracle Day’; a day to be remembered, for beginning the downfall of ‘Torchwood’. Gone was the Cardiff base, all but two of the team, and the gritty edge. We were left with the cheesiest of television, from dialogue to direction. Jack went from an enigma to a pussycat, fawning about over emotional decisions when, previously, we’d seen him sacrifice his own grandson whilst only shedding a tear to mark his remorse. Gwen moved from lovingly loyal to psychopathic, claiming this was over her father and baby but actually barely registering their existence unless necessary to create some crocodile tears. And the CIA agents…I have literally no idea why Esther’s family was introduced, besides trying to make us love a woman who barely did anything apart from die. And Rex…I almost liked him, I’ll admit, but sometimes his arrogance in his abilities went from a character feature to plain ridiculous – in such a unique situation, the ability to cooperate with the only three people in the world who are willing to put up with your efforts to help is a given.

Alongside Esther’s redundant family, there was Jack’s love interest. Now I was not one of the hundreds complaining about Jack’s gay love interest: it’s been a clear plot point since ‘Day One’ that Jack would have anything with a pulse. So Angelo was no exception, and Jack falling for him was a touching side to him that we didn’t witness with Ianto; we saw love where previously we saw desire and loneliness. But why? It didn’t fit with Jack’s timeline that we’d created in series one and two first of all; then it added absolutely nothing to the plot. Angelo wasn’t needed for the cause of ‘Miracle Day’ to be discovered, his part in this was just wedged in to make the plot clumsily link together.

What I missed most of all, though, was the chemistry. Jack and Gwen’s hidden need for one another was sealed off, and the new characters were tools, rather than the friends they claimed to have become by Esther’s funeral. I could not foresee a future for Torchwood and Rex, despite the (quite obvious) twist at the end. It’s not even missing the original team; I loved the additions to the team in ‘Children of Earth’, particularly the quirky Lois Habiba who’s sharp-minded tactics fitted in with the team’s needs. I appreciated the new enemies they faced for their dedication to their purposes; unlike the ‘Family’ who didn’t seem confident in their knowledge of what to do with the Miracle, or why in fact they were even bothering with it. Compare the sinister Prime Minister, covering his own tracks in an attempt to strategically defeat a looming threat without being hounded as a murdered, to the Family, craving immortality for the sake of it. I think we have a winner.

I think the conclusion I came too, after devotedly suffering through ten episodes of ‘Miracle Day’ to a fairly visually epic conclusion I’ll admit, it didn’t deserve a series. What ‘Torchwood’ deserved was a return to the glory days of the first three, where the ‘Miracle Day’ was a two-parter at best, dealt with punchily and dramatically, as opposed to be drawn out to tedious heights. It spread itself too thinly to maintain an action-packed pace, and as such lost a lot in the delivery that the other series had thrived on.

As such, I think ‘Miracle Day’ was the opposite: misfortunate, ill-executed and wasting the brilliant talents of Eve Myles and John Barrowman which we had loved before. Keep the miracles out, and maybe the magic can return.