Musings on Doctor Who

Yes, it’s true. After hearing so many good things about Doctor Who from friends and family, I broke down and started watching. I was encouraged to skip the first season of the recent reboot and begin with season two when David Tennant takes the helm. This is precisely what I did.

I’m nearly done with season two and so far my opinion has been divided completely in two. On the one hand, I really get into the episodes and experience genuine story grip. On the other hand, the show is admittedly rather poorly written and directed.

Obviously I chalk a lot of this up to the show’s desire to match the feel of the original. All the same, I might be forgiven for questioning the wisdom of imitating a show that was honestly really bad. But the stories are all beginning to be the same, melting into a ubiquitous cookie-cutter process, and it stretches my patience. The first two episodes of season two were some of the most godawful writing and cinematography I have ever seen in a contemporary show. I was ecstatic when Mickey decided to remain behind in the parallel universe, because that meant I wouldn’t ever have to see him again.

At the same time, the stories can be extremely intense. They do draw you in and keep you pinned there. Episodes 3 and 4 of season two were excellent, as were 2.9-10, which is the two-parter about the Beast trapped on the planet in orbit of the black hole. And, from what I hear, the show gets even better.

But this doesn’t get rid of the show’s very real problems. Problems which are inherently structural and thematic. Doctor Who is, of course, supposed to be this great hero traveling the galaxy through all of time and solving problems. Defender of humanity and all that. Except that he never really gets proactive about saving the world. He never hears about a problem or responds to a distress call. He just turns up with Rose, having a laugh, and there always happens to be something bad going on. He’s more of a galactic stumbler than anything else. And – this is where the problem gets more structural – even though this happens every time he stops anywhere, at any point in time or space, he never, ever suspects that something is wrong. He never learns from the pattern of his life. There’s always something bad happening whenever he pops in, yet he never seems to figure this out and go into all of his situations prepared for the precise thing that always happens. Joss Whedon calls this idea “reset television,” which is where something huge happens that is then immediately forgotten in the next episode. The characters “reset” into a previous form, there is no overarching transformative story. The characters have no self-reflection on that meta-level. Just like Agent Scully from the X-Files always says, “but that couldn’t be an alien,” even though in every case she takes it is always an alien or a monster of some kind. I get antsy over that sort of episodic show.

The villains, too, are a struggle for me. This is because they are, to put it frankly, stupid. They’re evil, and I enjoy hating them, but that doesn’t make them any less stupid. I would guess that half of the episodes in season two involve a villain kidnapping people right off of the streets in incredibly obvious ways and then happens to take them exactly to the place that reveals all of their plans. Oh, and they’re incredibly easy for the Doctor to get monologing about their Most Evil Plans and Origins Story at the drop of a hat. Not a single villain refused to answer an origins question asked by the Doctor. These guys deserve to get caught. They can’t even devise a proper evil plan that won’t get them caught in four minutes.

These problems are certainly not limited to Doctor Who. The show is definitely engaging and, from what I’m told, will improve substantially from season two. But from the view on the ground, there are a few annoyances.

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