Thursday, August 12, 2010


Last time we covered, among other things, Russell T Davies' method for ending series--to constantly escalate the threat beyond all logic and credibility only to neatly yank the rug out from under it with some dopey deus ex machina.

So when the time came for Steven Moffat (he who wrote the most well-regarded episodes of the various series through Davies' tenure as showrunner) to take over, there was plenty of interest in what he would do with things. For all that Davies stuff was a bit slapdash, it had been successful, so there was some wisdom in not straying too far from what worked.

Here's how Steven Moffat solves problems: In a eight-minute short, the Doctor, who has pulled a past incarnation of himself forward in time solves a universe destroying problem because he remembers his past self watching him fix the problem, so he retroactively knew how to do it.

Read that sentence until you go insane. That's the kind of methodology we're dealing with here.

OK, so that was the approach, and after the regeneration set up the appearance of the new Doctor, anticipation ran high. This was, in itself a bit of a farce, as when Matt Smith had been announced, Who fans had done such wailing and gnashing of teeth about how young he was, how he came from nowhere, and how the closest role he'd had to anything on Doctor Who previously was banging Billie Piper in that Secret Diary of a Call Girl show.

So everyone was braced for this to land with a thud, and there was much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth as everyone prepared for Matt Smith to be the worst Doctor since the Sixth.

On the way to his premiere episode (setting side the teaser from "The End of Time," of course) a funny thing happened. With every promo, with every tantalizing bit of seeing him in action, opinions began to change. He was certainly different to the Tenth Doctor--he certainly gurned less--and he seemed to be a bit less manic, a lot more mysterious, and a lot more upbeat, generally, than the Tenth had been.

And then, this happened: At the climax of his opening episode, "The Eleventh Hour," The Doctor, having returned Prisoner Zero to this week's aliens what were threatening the Earth, he summons them back to give them a jolly telling off for daring to threaten a world he's rather put a lot of work into. The aliens flash a picture of the Doctor's enemies, followed by an image of the previous ten Doctors, the last of which Eleven walks through and declares himself the Doctor. It's a great "punch your fist in the air" moment for the long-term fans and at the same time it's a declaration of purpose--yes, this is the new Doctor, and this is the direction we're going in now.

Eleven is generally a bit more laid back than the Tenth. When he does his big "don't screw with the Doctor" speeches, they tend to be delivered more terse and quietly than Ten's, and while he has a great affection for humans, he's also not above coming down on them like a ton of bricks when they fail to live up to his expectations. He's in to noticing everything (as he often entreats people to do, despite being forgetful at critical moments) and he definitely has an alien sense to him, as if he's watching humanity at a remove. He also loved bowties and fezzes and reminds one in bits of Bucklaroo Banzai, which is, of course, just fine with me.

Not that it was a complete departure from what had gone before. Once again, the Doctor's story is told primarily through his interaction with a Companion, in this case, Amy (nee Amelia) Pond, who meets the Doctor at the age of eight (in 1996, for those of you who collect metatextuality in Doctor Who), and thanks to his inability to steer the TARDIS all that well, he comes back twelve years later, after the bitterness at being abandoned has made her bitter and cynical (and a gorgeous redhead, but those are my biases at play) and hung up on the Doctor to what could best be termed an unhealthy degree (she is, in fact, the first in-canon example of a Companion doing her own Doctor Who fanfic . . .and heaven knows what else, but I try to avoid speculation in that direction as much as possible. Ahem.) Meanwhile, the Doctor mostly keeps her at arm's length (when it's possible) and tries to steer her more in the direction of her fiancee, Rory.

While Rory isn't as sexy and mysterious as the Doctor, he is reliable and devoted to her (as he proves in the season finale in the most literal way possible) and she to him (as the first series develops, she's holds tighter to Rory than the Doctor) which is a Good Thing, as it means when they get their Happy Ending in the season finale, they've more than earned it, having dodged monsters, death, undeath, and sticky questions of existence and retroactive non-existence that would tie your damn brain in a knot.

This is, on its face, the Rose/Doctor?Mickey triangle, only it's not because this version 1) knows that a Doctor/Companion relationship isn't sustainable without having to do a whole lot of plot contortions (which we'd already seen) and 2) It's not afraid to actually have Rory win this one, instead of dragging Mickey out every now and again so we could laugh at what a sad sack he was and how he'd never pry sweet Rose from the hot angsty Doctor lovin', and eventually he gets slotted off to marry the only other recurring person of colour on the show, because . . .I am way drifting off point and fighting old battles.

The good news is, this series is mostly strong. There are bits I can do without (and in the case of River Song whole characters I can do without) Moffat goes to the well a bit once too often on the elastic potential of time travel and stories then to spin out of his grasp from time to time and this year's big reintroduction--The Silurians--ends up being a big pile of nothing.

But let's accentuate the positive. We get an episode that mostly everyone hated (except me) "Victory of the Daleks" features a horrible redesign of the Daleks which succeeds only in failing on every conceivable level, and a plot wrap-up wherein unrequited love defuses bombs. It doesn't hold together terribly well, if I'm objective.

And yet, it's got a great hook to it, because the damn Daleks actually win, for once. Thankfully, because the stakes aren't "Doctor wins or entire universe dies" the Daleks are actually allowed to successfully put one over on him and get away with it, which is the kind of thing that, as has been said to me recently and I have taken to heart, really helps the credibility of an arch-nemesis. If it's a total shut-out, who really gives a toss?

A similar thing happens with a lone Cyberman, who manages to be way more creepy and threatening than legions of them had been previous, and for the first time in about thirty years, doesn't go out like a bitch. Again--when doing continuing series, it helps immensely to have credible antagonists. Sure, the Doctor will eventually always win because his name's on the title, but it helps if the outcome can be credibly thrown into question as the plot plays itself out, knowhutImean?

But the best thing of all is the ending. For what seemed like forever, and I think I mentioned this last time--Ten always seemed to end every series with the Companion leaving or being taken from him, staring into the middle distance with a mopey look on his face, the music swells, he starts the TARDIS, and something inexplicable happens to set up the next Christmas special. It really made for a down ending after about the third time.

That is so not what we get at the end of Eleventh's first series. We've earned one hell of a happy ending, enduring as we have the slow collapse of time and the universe restarting at the cost of erasing the Doctor, and we definitely get it. Thanks to the fact that nothing can truly pass away if we can hold on to the memory of it (still collecting metatextuality? Add that to the pile) the gang returns and they're off to the next adventure. Together. Happy. Eager to see what's to come. The optimism in them saying, gleefully "we're on our way!" and it doesn't sound mopey or emo or anything. We're moving forward, we don't have to fear or dread what's to come, and it's damn cool.

Like bowties. And fezzes.

As it stands now, we've got a strong first series and a lot to look forward to, I hope, from Eleven. For us, though, and for now, we come to a stopping point. We've gone over nearly fifty years of history, one score and ten of my own in relation to this, and eleven periods in the evolution of this concept.

And depending on when Twelve gets here, I guess we'll pick this back up, won't we?

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