Sunday, May 26, 2013

TV: Doctor Who Series 5

Of all the people I know- people with very varying viewpoints that I’ve largely come to understand, people who I tend to agree with, people who I tend to disagree with, and people whose points of view are as alien to me as minds that are neither obsessive nor experience compulsions and are not prone to bouts of imploded self esteem- I seem to like Doctor Who Series 5 the least. Which is strange, because I can’t find anything to dislike about it. It might well be one of the top three seasons of the show, but there’s just something missing for me.

Series 5 is a reinvention of the show. We’ve had them from time to time. Often, they’re gradual. The production team changes, then the companion changes, then the Doctor changes, bringing the state of Doctor Who completely from one creative vision to another. An example of this is the complete reversal of direction that the show went through in 1980 and 1981 with the introduction of John Nathan Turner, Peter Davison, and three new companions. Sometimes, the change is much more abrupt, such as the change in creative direction, format, producer, Doctor and companions that occurred in “Spearhead From Space."

Another such transformation takes place in “The Eleventh Hour”. New Doctor, new screwdriver, new TARDIS, new producer and head writer, and new companion. This season introduces Steven Moffat, former writer, as show runner, Matt Smith as the Doctor, and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) as the new companion. She’s not the only companion- there are three for the next two seasons- but she’s the young, sexy, female one so she gets literally all of the poster time for this season.

But I think Amy might be one of my “problems” with this season. I put “problems” in quotes because Amy’s a “problem” the way that Carol Ferris is a “problem," or the way that Bones McCoy is a “problem." Because when a show has taught you to expect a certain amount of character growth and development, and certain anguishes and heartaches from its protagonists, the failure of the next writer to continue those trends will strike someone who is most affected by that sort of writing. The fact of the matter is, Steven Moffat is able to write strong, sassy, independent women, and he’s able to write them being believably and sympathetically victimized. That’s not to say that he has any sort of underlying ideology that this is the role of women or anything- the show clearly tries to break that mold at certain times, either with the role of the women or the sort of struggles they face. The problem is, almost every time it does, it fails.

This isn’t a problem if Rory is the person you find yourself most drawn to. Actually, it is, because Rory is in five of the ten stories presented this season. As a result, we have one character who is the Doctor- a Doctor who is intentionally written as more alien, which is fine in and of itself, but lacks certain characteristics that drew people to the Tenth Doctor- one character who goes through no change and whose only emotional challenges lie in things that other individuals did that hurt her, and one character who isn’t present enough to have much of an arc. Actually, we have two companions who fit that last description, but River was on my nerves from the first episode she appeared in last season and neither of her appearances here do anything to make me find her more appealing.

What this era of the show lacks in variety and arc, it makes up for it in episodes. I mentioned that it might be one of the top three seasons of the show, and it should come as no surprise that both seasons I’d rank above it are about women with low self esteem learning to become something more. As to seasons I’d rank below it, it’s generally due to flaws that stand out in the episodes, and filler episodes like “Amy’s Choice” (which I only call “filler” because removing it would do nothing to impact the season, although it does show more about the characters) aren’t sufficient enough to earn a demerit. In fact, the largest complaints I have about episodes in this season is depression being portrayed as a psychotic disorder, and a scene in the finale two-parter in which individuals who won’t meet the Doctor for over a thousand years and don’t have any time travel technology are portrayed as enemies of the Doctor. Each of these items is small enough in the grand scheme of their particular episodes that, while they should have been fixed, they certainly don’t result in a “bad” episode.

In the end, what makes this episode stand out less to me than one that clearly has more flaws is the utter stationary quality of it all. Things happen, but they’re more or less undone in certain ways. The relationship between the Doctor and Amy is no different in "The Big Bang" than it was in "Vampires in Venice." Neither are the relationships between Amy and Rory or the Doctor and River. Add that to the literal way in which the events of the season are made to be memories of a broken universe that never existed, and you could very easily say that the last ten minutes of "The Big Bang" take place directly after “The Eleventh Hour” and you’d have justification both in-universe and in regard to character arcs. For a season that is otherwise regarded as so good, this is bad.

By now, I’m trapped in the position of trying to recommend a burger joint that uses the best beef and buns you ever heard of, but doesn’t believe in condiments except for the American cheese that they only carry Monday through Friday. I can’t honestly supply any reason not to watch this season, but I also can’t in good faith give the whole hearted recommendation that I gave Series 4. It’s a better season than Series 3, but it just didn’t stick with me the same way, and as a result I’d rewatch Martha’s season before this most days.


Tim Poirier said...

I am not overly fond Matt Smith's version of the doctor. It's hard to put a finger on it, but I'm just not happy with him.

I just finished the current season and the season finale, to me seemed the best. The stories seem to be weak for this season.

I read an article where Matt said he will be leaving the show. I believe that the next season will be his last.

I am looking forward to the 50 year anniversary episode, which will have David Tenant making an appearance.

If you found season 3 to ne lacking, I think you will find season 5 even more disappointing. Let me know what you think.

Charles Gramlich said...

I don't even know enough about Dr. Who to comment intelligently.

SQT said...

My kids are the biggest Whovians around here and Matt Smith is not a big hit. I think a big part of the problem is that he's not David Tennant. But still, the consensus among people I know who love Dr. Who is that Smith is a little odd and not a great fit for the role. I haven't seen Smith's Dr. yet, so I'll reserve judgement until I get there.

William Silvia said...

Most people I've seen is that Smith is a good actor (he's supposed to be odd, so that would make him a better fit for the role than the previous two) but is given worse material to work with.