Thursday, May 16, 2013

Somebody Get Me A Doctor


I've been enjoying the latest season of Doctor Who but I'm not sure it's the strongest of the latest bunch. The actors are doing well, the stories are intriguing. I like the new companion, Clara, and the mystery around her has my interest. It's driving the Doctor but...

But I'm not convinced that it's really driving him.

(FAIR WARNING - FROM HERE ON OUT THERE ARE SPOILERS. IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE SEASON TO DATE, DON'T READ ANY FURTHER. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.)

Let me step back and tell you that I first encountered Doctor Who (you have to spell out Doctor, it cannot be abbreviated and I've never heard anyone refer to him as 'Doc', come to think of it) when Tom Baker was on. The fourth Doctor is the big one, the one that a lot of Americans know. Anyway, it was on PBS back when there were only four networks and I watched religiously. One of the first episodes had Sontarans in it, then Cybermen, Daleks, Zygons and my favorite story was The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It was on late nights at first (10 pm) then it moved to 5:30 in the afternoons. Great stuff.

The Doctor was engaging, compelling and off-the-wall. When Baker left the series, I lost interest and only checked in once in a while on Peter Davison. I never saw any of the others until the relaunch in 2005.

Wow, what an upgrade. What was charming about the original run was that the effects were so crude but they didn't matter. What mattered was the characters and the story. That slight wobble to the TARDIS control panel as it vwooped through Time didn't matter. Star Wars was out and my expectations of effects (like everyone else's) was changed. But Doctor Who's visuals didn't and it didn't matter. It was about the story.

With the relaunch, the effects were better. The Doctor was still cool, still intriguing, still the Doctor. Christopher Eccleston was great and I was introduced to so much more of the Doctor's universe that I missed in in the twenty-plus years I hadn't checked in. The Daleks were amped up as were all the monsters. David Tennant came along and that's when the show really caught fire. The Tenth Doctor seemed much more like the Fourth yet with new twists, as would befit someone as long-lived as the Last Time Lord.

Oh, yes, in the intervening years I learned there was a Time War and the Doctor - well, he's the only survivor of his species.

When the Tenth regenerated into the Eleventh, a lot of fans were sad. Tennant was a favorite. Matt Smith took over the role and brought some sobriety and gravitas back to the character. But there's the craziness, too. By the end of his first season, Smith was nailing it. He and his new companion(s) really bonded and did so quickly. The Eleventh had a real sense of isolation (after the Tenth had been through three companions) and an almost childlike need to be liked or admired. He fought hard, used his brains generously and encouraged his companions to think, too. There was genuine feeling between Amy and the Doctor and that troubled the relationship between her and Rory and gave the show some good tension to work with. Their departure was announced and there was a lot of sadness at their leaving.

Which brings us to this season. Amy and Rory, the companions of the Eleventh, were removed from the show in an unsatisfying and somewhat contrived way with the return of the terrifying Weeping Angels. His new companion, the aforementioned Clara, came along and has been dubbed 'the impossible girl' because she died twice before becoming the official season's companion. Add to that the mystery of the Doctor's name and the anticipation of the 50th anniversary special coming late this fall, and this season should really be humming.

It's just, it doesn't seem to be.

Why is Clara 'impossible'? Why did she die twice? Why doesn't she remember?

The Doctor seems to know and then he doesn't. Maybe he does. Maybe not. Whenever it's realized why she's impossible and what the Doctor's name is, it will have taken too long to do so. These mysteries, while intriguing, are being dragged out. It's tiresome.

This isn't impatience on my part. It's the way the 'clues' are being dropped. They're being seeded throughout the season's scripts almost as afterthoughts. There hasn't been an episode where the Doctor has actively tried to discover why Clara is impossible. 'Hide' might be the exception, but it didn't really feel like it. 'Hide' really reinforced that the Doctor knows why she's impossible and doesn't need to seek an answer. I suppose there were a couple scenes in 'The Crimson Horror' that did the same thing, but only because Jenny, Vastra and Strax were as befuddled as the viewers. And once again, the Doctor seemed to know the answer but was unwilling to provide it.

As I said at the top, I'm enjoying this season. Not the strongest, and certainly frustrating, but very enjoyable. 'Dinosaurs on a Spaceship' (probably the four greatest words ever combined!) was fantastic, and 'The Power of Three' was thought-provoking. 'Asylum of the Daleks' really got things off to a good start, too. I liked 'Hide' and 'The Crimson Horror' was just plain fun because I love Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax. They add a LOT to any story they're in.

But there have been some moments that I just haven't connected with. 'A Town Called Mercy' left me cold and 'Cold War' was interesting but did little to advance the overall arc of the season. I think. Next week's episode, 'The Name of the Doctor' promises to be good with the return of Richard E. Grant as the villain for the third time this season and it seems like maybe they're going to Trenzalore, where the question must be asked: doctor who?

And that's the mystery from the end of last season. Maybe it's that I don't feel like there's a lot of buildup to the visit to Trenzalore. The Doctor and Clara have really just been fighting the Monster of the Week and - like I said - the mysteries are more reminders that we viewers are supposed to remember than anything the series is working towards.

I guess what it feels like is that this season is more filler than not. Empty calories designed to keep us in the universe until the big celebrations. I wish they'd given us more celebration, or buildup to it, than what's come out so far.

This one's in the books, as it were. Matt Smith and Jenna Louise-Coleman have both signed on for another go-round and that makes me happy. David Tennant is returning for the 50th anniversary special this fall (which includes John Hurt in the cast, too!) and there's the promise of big things with the return of the Zygons who haven't been seen since the 1970s. Maybe the producers have put everything into that event and sort of left this season to take up space to get us there.

The thing is, with a show about a madman with a box who travels through Time, I want my time invested in the show to give me everything it's promised. This season just hasn't. Almost as though everyone involved is just sort of going through the motions. Admittedly last season was tough, spectacular and heart-rending at times and it's difficult to do that every single time.

I'm looking forward to Saturday night's episode, though. It won't redeem the season, unless of course it does. If it ends and I'm smacking my head and immediately ordering the complete season DVD then it'll have done its job.

That's what I'm hoping for, anyway.