Monday, July 19, 2010

How the Doctor Won the Battle but Lost the War

Hiah Authentic Geeks, it's definitely been a while since I posted, but I've got a doosie for ya so hopefully that makes up for it. Sorry if the length offends some too, but this is a geeky rant that is very close to my heart and I hope it gets you thinking...

I will preface this post as any fan-boy turned critic must by first stating my undying love of all things Doctor Who. I am one of the lucky few Canadian children who grew up with an appreciation of Doctor Who because YTV began to air re-runs of the classic British Sci-Fi TV show in 1989 when I was just six years old! That's right, I actually got to grow up with Who from the first Doctor onwards, just like the British television fans who tuned into the first episode back on that fateful evening in November 1963 and were hooked from then on.
That's why it is so hard for me to turn a critical eye on something that I love so much. Part of me is just so happy to see one of my favourite shows still being produced and having this amazing television legacy come to its fruition as we come closer and closer to a 12th Doctor. But it pains me so much more to see such a beloved story series from my childhood have so much potential and yet fall so short; and I cannot be silent any more.
The first season of the “new series” of Doctor Who started in 2004 after an 8 year hiatus; and while it was considered to be a re-launch of the television series, it kept the continuity of the old series maintaining that a lot of time had passed for the Doctor and the past years had not been kind to him. He'd even regenerated since we saw him last.
This new series was AMAZING!!! It took all the potential that the missing years offered and delivered up a delicious array of mystery, back-story, and character motivation that was brilliantly revealed piece by piece by the series head-writer Russle T. Davies and expertly realised by the amazing Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston did a masterful job bringing the 9th Doctor to life; he was brilliant, intelligent, obnoxious, and care free all at the same time while still retaining a dark edge that the terrible events of recent years had laid upon the Doctor. The Doctor was still the happy-go-lucky care taker of the Universe that we all knew loved, but now he was scarred by a decision he was forced to make at the end of a terrible war between the Time Lords and the Daleks that ultimately destroyed both races, but restored balance to the universe; a responsibility he never wanted and tried desperately to avoid.
The season was built up of a series of wonderfully imagined and expertly crafted episodes that were a mix of new science fiction elements and nostalgic nods to fan favourites; like the perfectly wrought, yet terribly named, sixth episode: “Dalek”, which ruined a lovely mid-episode surprise reveal, but reintroduced the murderous cyborg (NOT ROBOT) alien killing machines from the original series with the advent of CG effects that elevated the monster to new heights of terror.
The new series also did a wonderful job of balancing weekly two-part stories with a larger sub-plot that wove it's way through the whole season. Each individual episode was peppered with little hidden messages written on walls in the backs of scenes or whispered by passers by, all referring to some “Bad Wolf” and the possible end of time. As the series progressed it logically built to a climax at the end of the season with Bad Wolf revealing itself as a new species of Dalek that had survived the Time War and were going to destroy Earth, the Doctor's favourite planet, in revenge since the Time Lords and Gallifrey were destroyed in the Time War. Wonderful! This leaves the Doctor with the agonizing realisation that he may have to repeat the devastating actions that destroyed the Daleks in the first Time War; Awesome! This could be the perfect ending to an amazing relaunch of a classic science fiction series!!!
Unfortunately, this was not to be the case; and the weak ending of the first series was an unwelcome first sign of the terrible writing to come.
So what do you do when you have the Doctor forced to enact Genocide upon a destructive species? Do you have him make a better, different decision that could not only save the day but possibly offer redemption to the Doctor from his actions in the first Time War? No. You injure the Doctor, have the T.A.R.D.I.S. Magically posses Rose who then shoots light out of her eyes, sucks the Daleks into a black whole, and heals the Doctor causing him to regenerate in the most hopelessly “deus ex machina” ending possible.
“What's a 'deus ex machina' ending?” you ask, and “why is that so terrible?” Well, “deus ex machina” is a Latin phrase which roughly translates to “god from the machine” or can be better understood as “god that we make”. It's a literary phrase used whenever plot devices or characters explode into a story with no explanation, seemingly dropped out of the sky from a higher power because it needed to; because the story needs to end a certain way and this is the only way the writer can think of to end things, and frankly, it is just plain LAZY WRITING! How can the T.A.R.D.I.S. infuse it's essence into Rose? Why did it need to? When have we seen the T.A.R.D.I.S. do ANYTHING even REMOTELY similar to this in the entire run of Doctor Who? Why couldn't the Doctor do something like whip up a worm-whole that sucked up the Daleks and dropped them on the other side of the Universe keeping them alive but far away from other living things letting the Doctor keep an eye on them so they don't become a problem again; showing that the Doctor has a greater respect for life after making a bad decision that sacrificed two entire civilizations. But no, we have magic Rose and light-up eye effects and the Doctor regenerates and everyone is happy! BLECH
But all in all, I still loved the first series. We saw the 9th Doctor die in only one season, and trust me Christopher Eccleston could have done way more seasons; but I'm okay with it. The death of the 9th Doctor made sense, he was hurt, emotionally wounded, and very very tired. He'd lived through far more pain and toil than he ever thought he would and it totally made sense that he needed to regenerate. The character interactions with the new companion Rose were also very fresh and innovative. We've seen the Doctor pass through so many different companions over the years, but Rose was the first one that he fell in love with. We saw the reluctance of the Doctor to get close to anyone because of who he is and the terrible things he has done, but we felt the unavoidable connection between the two that inevitably drew them together.
We also watched as Rose had to contend with being split between her new love for the Doctor and the love she was sharing with a human boyfriend Mickey that she met before the Doctor. It was a sappy romantic triangle, but it was real, it was handled with grace and it didn't feel like an episode of 90210. It was grand! It was well crafted story telling that not only thrilled and entertained, but had a depth of humanity and emotion that gave the stories gravitas and elevated it beyond the typical science fiction television show...even despite a deus ex machina ending.
But that's the problem with success I guess; because once you get things so right, where do you go from there? Do you expand upon what you have built in the first season and take the series in new and bizarre directions to delight and entertain? No, for you see the first series made money; and in this day and age, if you make money, you get repeated. Again, and again, and again, and again, until the audience can't take it anymore and slowly dwindles away into the nothingness of low ratings that got the show canceled in the early 90's.
Now don't get me wrong, the second series started off pretty well. Rose stayed around as a companion to the new Doctor and even tried to love him in the same way that she loved the last Doctor. But it wasn't the same, he was a different person now, and she was too attached to the man he used to be and things didn't work out perfectly and Rose got dropped into an alternate reality where she could never reach the Doctor again. It was sad, tragic even, but it worked. It was real, it was emotional and it should have ended that way...but of course Rose needed to come back for the climax of the fourth series, only to be banished back to the alternate universe, again, but this time with a human-clone of the Doctor to live with so she doesn't need to be sad...Aww, how cute! I'd try to explain the ridiculous deus ex machina nature of that plot line too, but there is no where near enough room in this article.
Then comes the climax of the second series alien species from the Doctor's past (this time the Cybermen and the Daleks who have inexplicably come back to life) again threaten the entire fabric of reality until the Doctor shows up and saves the day by waving a magic wand that sucks all the bad guys into a black hole...and...wait...this seems exactly like the ending of the first series...(cause it is.)
Then comes the third series where...shocker...the Doctor picks up a sexy, young, female companion that falls in love with him while events in the real world build up to a climactic battle between an enemy from the Doctor's past (this time the Master) and when everything seems lost, the Doctor activates the latent psychic power of all humanity by getting every human in the world to concentrate and clap their hands and really truly believe in the Doctor so he can get magical powers to save the day; really, this is how the ending happened, Davies ripped off Tinkerbell :-(
Then the fourth I really need to go into it? I will say that the fourth series ties together all the work that Davies did on the Doctor Who series bringing back old characters old monsters, and more fan favourites from the past...but that's kind of my point. There's nothing new here. Old characters, old stories, inexplicable endings that happen mostly “because they need to”. It all just reeks of what's been done before and makes for some incredibly disappointing television.
So now we get to the fifth series, a new Doctor, a new series head-writer, a new chance to wow me and reattach a cynic to his childhood love. But what's this? The Doctor has a new female companion? She falls in love with him? She has to choose between her old dusty lover on Earth and the fantastic shiny new galaxy-hopping intergalactic lover from the stars? I can't even force myself to watch this anymore. I don't need to see the Doctor stealing other guys girlfriends any more. The fifth series is done now and wow...surprise of surprises it all built up to some climactic ending with a surprise villain from the Doctor's past and is solved in a completely inexplicable manner by getting someone who lives near the cracks of time to remember him fondly at the right moment so the Universe pops him back into existence...yeah that sounds suitably stupid and delivered from the powers of a God the Doctor probably doesn't believe else could this crapfest end?
My greatest fear is that this train of unoriginal, lazy will continue until the Doctor has worn out his 12th life and that's all she wrote folks. Which is sad, because there have been many GREAT episodes written by non-staff writers, episodes like Blink, which was a one-off story that not only used a new alien the Doctor had never fought before, but also used modern non-linear story telling techniques to deliver a time-spanning epic of horrific sci-fi greatness! If only the producers in charge of Doctor Who can get their hands on some creative talents like this and then maybe some originality will seep back into this amazingly long lived series and give it the ending it truly deserves!

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