Tuesday, October 2, 2012

TV Review: Doctor Who: Series 7a

Only half a series of Doctor Who this year, what a shame. I mean, I understand the logic - shifting to the autumn probably means better viewing figures from the darker and colder nights, more production from the split run, and the fact that they can be on next autumn for the big 50th Anniversary. But 5 episodes doesn't seem a lot, even though they were the build up to the leaving of the Ponds, companions that I've become quite attached to over the last couple of years. It was also supposed to mark a move away from the more serialised plotlines of last season, into more stand alone episodes, which always had the danger of being a somewhat double edged decision. So how did it get along with that then?

No, actually, before we start there is something I need to get off my chest. I blogged a while back about the importance of letting go of something that is no longer something you love, and over this seasons run I've felt that more strongly as it goes along. There seems to be a weird form of masochism at play where people who don't like Doctor Who anymore, or some who've never liked Doctor Who, still sit and watch it, and then spend their Saturday evenings writing long blog posts about how awful it is, and what "they" are doing wrong and how "they" can save the show. I may be the crazy one here, but if I don't like a show, I simply don't watch it, like The X-Factor or Downton Abbey or Americas Next Top Gerbil, or whatever. If people do enjoy watching the dreams of coiffured Gerbils be crushed by a panel of has-beens, then long may it continue, but it's not for me, and I don't watch it and I don't whine on Twitter about it. I recommend this policy to others.

Right, I feel better for that.

So, after a series where character was occasionally sacrificed on the altar of plot, now we have five episodes where plot is sacrificed on the altar of character. By which I mean that most of the episodes are pretty simple  storylines intended to serve establishing a focus on characters and their relationships, particularly the idea of how The Doctor relates to those he takes on his adventures. Essentially we have five vignettes, not directly linked and with gaps in between (or in the case of A Town Called Mercy, happening within the timeframe of The Power of Three, given the reference to Henry VIII's nightstand) that serve to paint a larger picture, not tell a larger story.

Its an interesting thing to attempt and I think it's mostly successful. The Doctors new relationship with Rory and Amy following on from the last season is that he's someone who drops in and out of their lives rather than them being permanent companions; and the effects this has on all three of them is the running theme of the series. We have the story where their marriage is in trouble, and he whisks in to save it with the help of souffle-obsessed Daleks, the time he hijacks him and Rory's Dad to rescue dinosaurs, and so on - all told in media res, which is to say there is little time in setting up why the Ponds are in trouble, or whats really going on with those cubes, we just drop in for the important bit of the story and then flit out again. Which is what the Doctor is doing, increasingly, and what that is doing to him.

Because in the end you have to give up on your childhood imaginary friends. The Ponds have to let him go to get on with their lives, but of course they can't fully let go, so whilst they're getting older faster than their friends and feeling unable to commit to any long term plans, similarly the Doctor keeps having to come back to them to keep hold of what he always needs from his companions, someone to tell him "no". Eleven isn't the lonely, egotistical near-god that Ten was, but he is old, and tired, and underneath it all seems to boil a terrible anger that after all this time nothing really has changed, and the tonal shift at the end of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship feels like it's supposed to underline what he can and will do without that check.

But all this character stuff has a cost, and after a couple of series of big long-running plots, we have five episodes that are pretty thin on "big story". Thematic linking is clever, and effective, but the structure of the series mean that every episode standing alone can leave a slightly disconnected feel when you watch them through, with "missing" episodes in between making me thing they are deliberately left of extended universe-style stories with the Ponds after their final write out. Similarly, the first four episodes remained fun, but a little  light, without being any of the stellar stand-alone episodes that Doctor Who puts out a couple of times per season but equally nothing especially weak.

But what a great ending, another episode about Amy and Rory, and what they mean to each other, the relationship that makes them unique amongst companions where their primary relationship is to each other over the Doctor. A return of the Weeping Angels back to their more creepy Blink MO, some sweepingly broad emotional hits and Alex Kingston's femme fatale cleavage all combining for a really good swansong for the characters and this mini run. Again, the story may not have made the most sense in the world - the Weeping Angel Statue of Liberty was really cool but utterly nonsensical for instance - but sold with some great acting and a real emotional weight underpinning it.

For the last two and a half years we've been watching a story about a little girl who grew up to find her imaginary friend was real. That fairy tale motif has been pretty consistent all the way through, right to the end as Wendy grows up and leaves Peter out there in the cold, looking for a new friend. It's been a strength and occasional weakness in that time, but I can't help but feel its a been a good fit for a show that is often closer to magical realism than science fiction anyway.

But it's over now. Bring on the Christmas Special, and a new Wendy!