Following the last season of Doctor Who Series 6 (aired in the sates by BBC America), Stephen Moffat and the BBC announced that the new/next/2012 season would not air until the Fall. This didn’t sit well with a lot of fans of the show, including me. It felt like a really long break to take, which meant that when the show came back, it would need to rebuild the momentum from the previous seasons, and deliver some truly strong episodes to propel it forward into the 50th anniversary year.
I’m not so sure…
Since the reboot of the series by Russell T. Davies back in 2005, Doctor Who has enjoyed a renaissance. Gone are the papier-mâché monsters and cheesy special effects that turned some people off (but I love), replaced with crisp CGI and, dare I say it, impeccable writing and acting. Davies managed to reinvigorate a show that, as of this writing, has been on the air for nearly 50 years, and do it in such a way that it neither disenfranchised longtime fans such as myself (and Fred) nor overloaded new fans (like JohnD’s kid or Fred’s kid) with decades of backstory, history and lore. No small accomplishment, that.
Gone from the show was the serial aspect of episodes that would give us roughly 20 minutes, a cliffhanger, and the rest of the story spread out in four to six episodes all spread out over several Saturdays. You could think of this as Act I, Act II, Act III and then Act IV, to put it into screenplay terms. Now, the shows were roughly an hour long, (mostly) self-contained, and ridiculously fun. For me, a lot of that fun disappeared when Davies left the show and Stephen Moffat took over as show runner. Now, the show strives to be clever and use time travel as the MacGuffin that solves everything in the end (“The Pandorica Opens”/”The Big Bang”) rather than as the vehicle by which the Doctor and his companions become involved in events they then have to solve.
“Normal” for Doctor Who since 2005 has been to debut around March/April and run through June with a Christmas Special in December. This format lasted until Series 4 when we saw a group of specials instead of a full, proper season. From 2008 – 2010, we saw “The Next Doctor” air on December 25th, 2008, “Planet of the Dead” on April 11th, 2009, then nothing until November 15th, 2009 when “The Waters of Mars” aired. Another Christmas Special on December 25th, “The End of Time: Part 1”, and on January 1st, 2010, “The End of Time: Part 2”, featuring the regeneration of the Tenth Doctor into the Eleventh and current Doctor, played by Matt Smith. (FYI, if that episode doesn’t tear you up, you’re in trouble. Big trouble. You and I are gonna have words…) This also marked the end of the Davies years.
With Series 5, the show got back on track with the 13 episode format, debuting on April 3rd, 2010 with “The Eleventh Hour”, introducing new companions Amelia Pond and her boyfriend Rory Williams, and marked the beginning of the Moffat years for the show. Series 5 ended on June 26th, 2010 with “The Big Bang”. December 25th saw another Christmas Special, “A Christmas Carol”, and then things began to change. Series 6 saw the first of what I like to call “The Channel Formerly Known as SciFi Screwing With Us Let’s Break Up a Season and Spread the Episodes Out to Annoy Patrick” syndrome. I know that’s pretty long, so maybe an acronym? TCFASFSWULBUASASTEOTAPS? Hmm. Probably not.
Anyway, they split the season in two which SciFi used to do a lot with their shows to sell more DVD’s back when they had lots of scripted television… (Sorry. Bitter much? That’s another rant for another time.) The first half began on April 23rd, 2011 with “The Impossible Astronaut” and ended on June 4th, 2011 with “A Good Man Goes to War”. What followed was three months without any Doctor Who, and then the second half of the season began on August 27th, 2011 with “Let’s Kill Hitler” and ended on October 1st, 2011 with “The Wedding of River Song”. What was the purpose of splitting the episodes up like that? I have no idea. I do know that Moffat has stated publicly that Series 5 was done in such a way as to let the fans know that the show was still the Doctor Who they had come to love and appreciate, hence there were no changes in how it was presented. With Series 6, however, he started to make changes.
First, the serial roots of the show came back in the way he did the season-long arc, sprinkling clues and tidbits throughout the episodes and linking everything together. We also saw the episodes more tightly woven together to make the whole, so to speak, what with The Silence and all. Fewer of the episodes, in my opinion, stand alone, making it more difficult than in recent years to simply “jump in” and enjoy yourself. (I had been known to tell people who were interested in the show that they didn’t need to go back to previous seasons or shows to enjoy it; they could jump in at any point and catch up fairly quickly. I can’t say that anymore. It feels as if Moffat has gone in the direction of Lost and is trying to build complex mythologies, which tend to make programs inaccessible to your casual viewer because if you missed something from an earlier episode, you’re screwed.)
Also gone was the sense of fun. The humor was still there, but the fun was different, less in-your-face the way it was in the Davies years. Speaking of which, in thinking about the Davies years, I decided that there was a different approach to Doctor Who versus Moffat. For Davies, I think he was going for a sense of wonder and adventure, with a few “dark” or “serious” episodes and moments sprinkled here and there. Coincidentally, Moffat was one of the writers who provided those moments of dark seriousness. Now, it feels as if the reverse is true: Moffat is going for a sense of dark seriousness with a little fun sprinkled in here and there. This left me unsatisfied with Series 5, and dulled my enthusiasm for the eventual Series 6 I knew would be coming. And now, with Series 7 as well.
I used to look forward to Doctor Who. I mean really look forward to it. Now, I kinda look forward to it. I watch it, but the sense of urgency and anticipation dissipated when the fun faded into the background. I can remember being out and about with friends the night a new Doctor Who series was hitting BBC America a couple years back, and wishing I could check to make sure the DVR was recording it because what if it failed or the power died or my cable went out? I got home late, was exhausted, but stayed up to watch the episode! Contrast that to this year when I was at WorldCon when Doctor Who premiered. I knew my DVR was set to record it, and when I got home…I went to bed. It was a day or two before I watched the first episode. Why? Because in the back of my head, I wondered what Moffat was going to do this year to prove to everyone that he is clever — more clever, in fact, than any of us. I also knew that he was splitting the season again, this time after a long wait. (No April debut. Instead, the show came back on September 1st, 2012, with “Asylum of the Daleks”, nine months after the last episode, a Christmas Special titled “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe”.) This meant that, if the show/story was really good this year, I’d only get a taste and then that annoying thing SciFi used to do would kick in and I wouldn’t get any more Who until Christmas, and that episode is usually “standalone”, meaning I really wouldn’t get back into the story until sometime next year. Which is annoying.
Liken it to your favorite author releasing a novel in parts. First part comes out this year, next part the following year after a short novella is released sometime in between that isn’t part of the overall story. Would that work for you?
******* Spoilers For Series 7 from this point on. Beware. *******
So Moffat released 5 episodes of Doctor Who for Series 7 in September, 2012. “Asylum of the Daleks”, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, “A Town Called Mercy”, “The Power of Three”, and “The Angels Take Manhattan”. I enjoyed two of those episodes, “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Power of Three”. “Asylum” had moments, including the idea that the Doctor himself has been erased from the memories of the Daleks. In “Angels”, River Song suggests that the Doctor has released some sort of virus that is erasing him from all the databases in the universe. This follows up on events in a previous Series when River tells him that he has become too well known. If true, this allows for the writers to effectively ignore much of the previous series’ events/mythology because no one in the continuity of Doctor Who remembers him, so they are now free to do what they want. Sort of. Kinda like a retcon without all the annoying BS that goes along with having Bobby Ewing in the shower or Batman “lost in time” leaving clues as to his fate – that kinda thing.
The Daleks themselves…Every year, the powers that be behind Doctor Who talk about how the Daleks are these iconic characters, a huge part of who the Doctor is, blah blah blah. They say, “We don’t want to overuse them” and then they bring them back. And back. And back. And no matter how few there are in one episode, billions are suddenly around and up to no good soon enough, like in “Asylum” where they have apparently repopulated themselves yet again. Given how dangerous they are, how much pain they have caused to the Doctor and everyone else in the universe, I found it difficult to believe he would simply leave them running around at the end of this episode.
I liked “The Power of Three” because I think it’s going to be the “fun” episode for the year. When the Doctor decides he is going to live with Amy and Rory so he can monitor the mysterious cubes that have appeared across the earth, then immediately gets bored, tasks them with watching the cubes while he “does stuff”, goes and does a ton of things, comes back and realizes it’s only been an hour, I couldn’t help but laugh. Essentially, they cast the Doctor as an energetic toddler to Amy and Rory’s married couple who, like all parents, struggle to keep up with their child’s limitless curiosity and reserves of energy. After a short time spent in Rory and Amy’s life, the Doctor is itching to leave because it feels too much like standing still and he cannot abide standing still.
“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” made little sense to me, the only high point being the introduction of Rory’s father; “A Town Called Mercy” felt disjointed and out of place; and “The Angels Take Manhattan”, meant to serve as the swan song for Amy and Rory, felt instead like Moffat’s yearly nod to his personal addition to the Whoniverse, the Weeping Angels. Granted, they are wonderfully creepy and I get the appeal, but I also think each time he brings them back and adds to their mythology, he also dispels the mystery that made them cool in the first place. It’s like Paranormal Activity 4; the first movie was so unbelievably well done, scary and different, but you should’ve stopped there and not gone back to the well over and over and over, diluting the impact of the original. Can’t wait for Paranormal Activity: The TV Show and Paranormal Activity: The Home Game or How To Build A Weeping Angel Army For Your Garden In Your Free Time: Part One, which I’m sure Moffat will write and release in eBook form sometime in 2014. (Part Two in 2020.)
I also have a problem with the idea that Amy and Rory are now lost to the Doctor because of the Angels’ touch, which sent them into the past to live out their lives while the Angels feed off the “potential energy” of the years their victims would have lived in the present.
This is where ‘the rules’ come into play, I suppose.
Time to go off on a tangent. The rules, such as they are on a show like Doctor Who, seem to be either fluid or rigid depending on the needs of the story, rather than a solid set of guidelines we, as fans, can count on to get us through the narrative.
As someone who is writing fiction and working to get that fiction published, I am perhaps more aware of the “rules” than your average reader/watcher. Example: if you are writing a fantasy story where magic plays a big part, your magic system has to have rules and the rules have to make sense to the reader. If they don’t, the reader will stumble and (probably) reject the story because their brains are telling them it doesn’t make sense. In The Wheel of Time, men and women use and approach magic differently, and the magic that they use is in and of itself, different. A woman cannot use Saidin, nor can a man use Saidar, but both are two sides of the same Source (the One Power) and when men and women work together to combine them, the results are more powerful and potent than anything either can achieve alone. (You might see a powerful allegory about the whole being able to accomplish more than the sum of its parts here, which would be a conversation for another time.) This is a rule, one that has been consistent throughout the narrative.
Another example: in scifi, we use faster than light travel to make it possible to explore the galaxy/universe. Without it, we’d never get further than Mars and it would take 6 months or more for each one-way trip. (Yes, yes, sleeper ships, generational ships, blah blah BORING! You can leave your “I hate you/you suck/you’re wrong” statements in the comments below…) When we have FTL travel, the author usually makes rules to go along with it so we, as the reader, can suspend our disbelief because in the context of the narrative, it makes sense. Hyperspace and Warp Drive are popular solutions to the FTL problem, and I’m going to use warp drive and Star Trek for my example here. In Star Trek, the warp drive makes space exploration possible. You don’t spin it up, vanish and reappear elsewhere. No, it actually propels you forward in an artificial bubble that surrounds the ship and allows it to move outside of normal space/time and, of course, faster than the speed of light. And in Star Trek, warp drive technology has evolved through the centuries.
The FTL speeds of the original Enterprise, for example, do not compare to the speeds that the most recent Enterprise on Star Trek: The Next Generation were able to achieve. The scale used by Starfleet in the 22nd and 23rd century is based on a geometric progression, where the speed of a vessel (measured in multiples of c, the speed of light) is equal to the cube of the given warp factor (v = the speed of the ship, c = the speed of light [3.0 x 10 to the 8th m/s] and wf = the warp factor). At warp 1, a starship traveling from Earth to Alpha Centauri would take 4.33 years. At Warp 9, it would take just 52.07 hours. By the Next Generation, the equation was refined, a maximum Warp 10 was established (a speed of which no ship could exceed), and at Warp 9, a trip to Alpha Centauri would take just 25.03 hours, or half what the original Enterprise could manage.
But the point is, the warp drive has rules; you need matter, anti-matter and something called “dilithium crystals”, to make it all work. Start mucking around with those rules and you create breaches in the space time continuum and a slew of other issues which make for good television but probably bad science.
[/end Star Trek Geek Speak]
With Doctor Who, the rules include: You should always waste time when you don’t have any, hold on tight and pretend it’s part of the plan, don’t wander off, first things first just not necessarily in that order, and, of course, the official kind of stuff. Like:
The First Law of Time specifically prohibits a Time Lord from meeting their former selves. (Broken several times; The Two Doctors, The Three Doctors, The Four Doctors (audio play), The Five Doctors – do I really need to keep going?)
Crossing into established events is strictly forbidden (except for cheap tricks). Example: The Doctor lands the TARDIS, becomes part of events and meets Martha Jones. Then, to prove to her that he can, in fact, travel through time, after they have saved everyone he uses the TARDIS to travel back to the start of Martha’s day to meet her when she doesn’t know who he is, remove his tie, then return to “the present”. She now remembers that moment and is convinced he can travel through time – but he broke his own rule.
So why can’t he break it now and visit Rory and Amy?
Think about how the Doctor lands the TARDIS and then “becomes part of events”. He has specifically resisted the idea, put forth by companions on several occasions, that he can just zip back a couple hours and stop whatever danger they’ve encountered from happening (again, cheap tricks are apparently okay. Saving the world? Not so much.) He’s there, he is now part of that moment in Time, and so are they (see “Flux time” below.) Think of the mess Rose caused by saving her father. She created a paradox and broke Time. How about when the Doctor himself decided that he could change things if he wanted? “The Waters of Mars” – How’d that turn out?
Which brings me to Fixed Time versus Flux Time. Fixed moments in time cannot be changed or altered. Vesuvius must erupt, Kennedy must be assassinated, so on and etc. “There are fixed points throughout time where things must stay exactly the way they are.” Flux Time is where the Doctor has his adventures. He lands the TARDIS and becomes part of the local Time and events, which are fluid, bendable, shapeable. But once he lands, he can’t leave until those events unfold. Why? I don’t know. Fixed Time. Have you noticed that the Doctor tends to shy away from these moments? He could land the TARDIS there if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. I think it’s because the idea that he cannot change things, cannot save people who are supposed to die, is too much for him. From his point of view, there are plenty of other places to visit, other things to see, so he puts these moments out of his mind (for the most part) and moves on.
Is that why he can’t visit Rory and Amy? Because he knows he can’t change what’s happened anymore? They’ve become a Fixed Moment in Time?
This bothers me. I mean, when Number Ten was dying/entering his regeneration cycle, he popped back for a look at Rose before she met Number Nine. That breaks the rules. His own rules, right? But he did it anyway. So maybe it’s not a rule at all, but a choice? Either way, it’s bothering me. Especially when the Doctor himself says,
“All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?”
Or, how about,
“Time can be rewritten.”
I suppose it all comes down to this,
“You are creating fixed time. I will never be able to see you again!”
Back to my original question, did this Series, after the long, long wait, deliver?
Not for me, not really, not yet. Perhaps the rest of the Series will, but then, we’ll have to (really) wait to see, won’t we? There’s a Christmas Special scheduled for December 25th, and then the last eight episodes are tentatively scheduled for “early 2013”. To say that I am not a fan of this approach would be an understatement. First you make me wait nine months for a new episode, give me five — three of which are meh — make me wait three more months for another new episode, and then an undisclosed number of months for the remainder of the Series?
Time for all of you to weigh in. What did you think?