Writing as someone who has not seen more than ten minutes of pre-Eccleston Doctor Who, I know it might seem a bit silly to rant about the ridiculousness, stratospheric amounts of cheese and bad plot devices, as I understand these were a dime -er, a tuppence? – a dozen in ye olde days of Baker et al. And maybe some day I will get around to watching but hey, life is short, and bandwidth is limited.
Let’s face it, though. Doctor Who has been almost entirely rubbish since ‘The Waters of Mars.’ As much as I’d like to blame this on Matt Smith (or better yet, Karen Gillan), the fact is that it was the sheer indulgence of the conclusion to David Tennant’s era (The End of Time two-parter) that seemed to send the show on its two-series-long slump. Perhaps it should be common sense that if you try to ‘up the epic ante’ during each series, or several times during a series, you’re soon going to run out of room, but the writers of the show seem to be infatuated with Bigger, Better and preferably More Explosions. *
With the exception of two episodes during series 6 – The Doctor’s Wife and The Girl Who Waited – I must say that the show was beginning to look like one of those things I would watch if I could be bothered.** This from the woman who single-handedly carried the DW virus to several key incubators in Houghton, New York, who have now spread the plague of geekdom around Newburg, Oregon, and Cincinnati, Ohio. At the beginning of series 7 I was fully prepared to start putting it behind me with other childish things, to start feeling more sheepish than proudly nerdy when mentioning, “Erm. Yes. Used to love that show.”
But – to use an exclamation which only could have originated in the aforementioned town in upstate NY – WHOA DANG, Series 7! Where have you been hiding all this time? I could write off The Doctor’s Wife as being the pen and brain of Neil Gaiman set loose on some Who-related themes. I could believe The Girl Who Waited to be an out-of-the-ordinary opportunity for Amy Pond to wear clothing on her legs and start to develop a character beyond somewhat spunky, definitely Scottish, far too la-tee-dah about her missing daughter. Three episodes in to series 7, however, and somehow all I can believe is that either series 5 and 6 were a lengthy ‘period o’ adjustment’ *** needed to endear me to Matt Smith or that the show’s creators have all been taking writing lessons.
Yes, the DalekGirl in Asylum of the Daleks was a bit annoying and we haven’t seen the last of her – unnerving. But clever clover, writers, erasing the Dalek shared consciousness of its memory of the Doctor! That’s on a level with the Star Trek re-vamp launching off into the freedom of a parallel universe.§ And Dalek zombies on a snow planet…ah, that’s almost too good to be true. True, the re-energization of the Pond-Williams marriage seemed to happen a little too quickly, but the little shot of the Doctor straightening his bow-tie as they snog to their hearts’ content after Amy has told him, “You can’t fix us like you fix your tie and make things all better!” was just the right amount of understatement.
And as if Dinosaurs on a Spaceship wasn’t good enough spoof of Snakes on a Plane in title only, we got to see Amy taking charge and being the character all the hype seems to think she is but rarely lets shine. She’s in charge of her own ‘companions’ whilst the Doctor and Williams Jr and Sr are off cavorting around with some (admittedly tedious and bitchy though undoubtedly entertaining for children) robots. At the end of this episode, my thought was, “When did Doctor Who get this dark?” Sending missiles off to destroy Senor Bad Guy? Having the ‘will I see you die or will you see me die?’ conversation? Whew.
And the darkness continued big time in A Town Called Mercy, alongside plenty of spaghetti-western spoofing. The last time I remember the Doctor pulling a gun on anyone was in The End of Time, as he fairly twirled around with a pained look trying to decide whether to shoot Rassilon or the Master. Ahhhhhngst. When, in this most recent episode, he dragged Dr. Jex to the edge of town and pointed a gun at him to keep him in danger, I was shocked. Add this to the timely and complicated discussions of war, what to do with war criminals, at what point guilt catches up with those criminals, and whether mercy is a real thing or an illusion: why, we haven’t seen such complex themes debated since, say…
…oh, I know! The Waters of Mars. §§
The only rather disappointing thing about this turn for the better in writing and characterization is the reality that the Ponds are in their last few episodes just as they were becoming likeable. §§§ And as intriguing as is the idea of DalekGirl, I wonder what the mid-series change in companion will do for the pacing of the series. Kudos to the writers, though, for taking a chance to make the show do what we all hoped Doctor Who was capable of: keeping us on our toes.
* This may be due to their infatuation with BBC America. I feel an apology coming on but will refrain as my country has enough to deal with at the moment.
** Kind of like the Great British Bake-Off, but with a TARDIS instead of a tent filled with mini Cath Kidston kitchens. Although I have no doubt that a TARDIS would contain a mini Cath Kidston kitchen.
*** If you haven’t read or seen this Williams play, you’re missing out on some unexpectedly good comedy. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Period_of_Adjustment
§ Fans of Zachary Quinto everywhere, rejoice.
§§ Which also featured zombies, btw.
§§§ Well, Rory was pretty much always likeable, if only for his British Hipster Woody Allen impressions.