Monday, May 2, 2011

Doctor Who's New Season Shoots For The Moon...

...and misses the mark. *Spoilers.*

The last, and indeed only time, I felt dissatisfied with a Matt Smith Doctor Who episode was that two-parter last year that featured the alien, or pre-human, race called the Silurians.

Interestingly the premiere of the new season was also in two parts, and its enemy was an alien race that has been on earth from the beginning.

Last year's underground fiasco was boring and melodramatic, and The Impossible Astronaut and the Day of the Moon were anything but. Still, it felt far from perfect.

Fun as ever, the Doctor and his companions, and future/past wife, current flirt, River Song, spend most of the episode attempting to gather information about an enemy that you can't remember.

In the end, as usual, the Doctor thinks up something really clever and rather cool, and in effect saves the day. But that doesn't feel like the climax. In fact, there didn't seem to be any particular climax. There were scares, laughs, thrills, and a breakneck pace from beginning to end. And far, far too much future plot set-up. Almost the entire series premiere felt exclusively like a set-up for this year's stories. From Amy's quasi-pregnancy, to River Songs inevitable heartachey tragedy, to the little girl regenerating in the alley (yeahbuhwha??) and of course the Doctor's death from last week.

Clearly Steven Moffat is a master storyteller, with great vision and creativity and humor. But there should really be someone in the writing room who slows him down on occasion. Last year's premiere, The Eleventh Hour, was completely perfect. Set up the season, introduced new characters, but it all revolved around a self-contained, tight, exciting, poignant story.

Half of this year's premiere felt like a cheap ploy to cater to Americans, including the tacky, embarrassing exposition that BBC America sticks into the credits for us lowbrow knuckledraggers. This is the 2011, the age of mini-touch-pad computers in our palms...if there's someone who doesn't know about Doctor Who, and wants to find out, they don't need a Masterpiece Theatre introduction. I found the Doctor on my own, as did most Americans, it admittedly not being a major part of our culture.

But we're hardly less discerning of an audience than the British. (Honestly, look at their programming.) So the gun-jokes, and the car chases, and the rapid cuts of frame from horror to explosions to the Doctor making out is really unnecessary. In fact, a lot of what the Doctor does here is out of character. He grows a beard for one thing, necks with River, and in the end, turns the human race into cold-blooded assassins while leaving the mystery of a little girl who called for help far behind him.

So, yes, it was fun and entertaining and effectively scary and on occasion shocking, which a good Doctor Who episode almost invariably is. But there was no weight to it, nothing you could wrap your heart around. Amy's supposed to be our way in to the TARDIS our emotional, realistic connection with the remarkable Doctor, but she's either kidnapped and whimpering on their communications device or frustratingly muddled the entire time. In truth, her confusion echoes ours.

True fans don't just watch to see what happens, they watch cause they care about these people, and can imagine themselves lucky enough to travel in that crazy blue box sometime and love the hell out of it.

New viewers, and particularly Americans, similarly won't tune in just to see the plot threads neatly tied together (which, of course, they won't be until the end of the year since Moffat's obsession with cliffhangers has led to him breaking the season into two parts.) They'll come back if they love the Doctor, and with this premiere, it feels as if they never really had a chance to meet him.



  1. Good piece. I so far love the new season and thought about arguing about the doctors actions at the end of 'day of the moon' but decided I want him to grow, I'm stick of sticking to doctors rules.

  2. Point taken. Tennant did feel a bit like a stick-in-the-mud by the end. And the Doctor's line in "Moon" about strangely loving women with guns was quite good.

    I do think Matt Smith is fantastic, and love what Moffat does, I was just a bit overwhelmed by the premiere, and would prefer some solid stuff to wrap my head around and less questions. It gets to a point that feels gimmicky. But that doesn't mean I won't tune in every Saturday and possibly make excited squealing sounds like a preteen girl during the credits.