Feb 13 2014

How I Fell In and Out of Love With Doctor Who

Published by at 11:59 am under Editorials,Television

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Man, this article has been months, years coming. A long while ago, I finally decided to catch up on yet another big TV sci-fi “thing” I’d missed out on, Doctor Who. The British shows I grew up with were Keeping Up Appearances and Are You Being Served, and I never watched the original series before the reboot.

I didn’t think it was wise to attempt to slog through dozens of years of old Doctors, so I took everyone’s advice and just went with the 2005 reboot. Since then, I’ve gone through three Doctors, a few dozen episodes, every Christmas special and the recent 50th anniversary spectacular.

I’ll sum up what I’m about to expand on here. Christopher Eccelson’s Doctor was enough to get me interested. David Tennant’s Doctor made me love the show and understand all the fuss. Matt Smith’s Doctor made me waver and by the end almost had me lose interest entirely.

With different doctors and different showrunners, the show hardly feels like a cohesive whole at all, which I guess is part of the appeal because there’s nothing else like it on TV. While I appreciate the ability of the show to change its face and tone, it does sort of make you wish for the “good old days,” back when your favorite actors and writers were still around. Even now I’m not sure if my interest can carry over into the new Peter Capaldi era because of how bored I was of the show by the end. So much so it almost made me forget all the greatness that had come before it.

eccelson

I did like the Eccelson introductory era, even if he was a bit miscast with his leading man looks, stocky frame and leather jacket that seems wildly out of place in retrospect now that I’ve seen the full line-up of Doctors. But his six-year-old-staring-wide-eyed-at-the-world personality was right on point, and we also were introduced to Bille Piper’s Rose Tyler, who was, and would prove to be, the Doctor’s best companion in my opinion (incite nerd rage debate here).

It was hard to get used to the pure silliness of Doctor Who in the first seasons. Having never seen the show in the past, when monsters like Cybermen and Daleks started showing up, it was hard not to laugh. Really, this trashcan shaped thing can more or less end humanity? Sure, okay.

Eventually, you learn to fear the goofy props and rubber suits. The writing of the show was revealed to be so good, the cheesiness of it all didn’t matter. These could be compelling and menacing villains even if they didn’t look it. These stories could be heartfelt and breathtaking even if the entire thing seemed like a children’s show at first.

It was when we moved to Tennant’s era that I realized the true promise of the series. Between the writing and his portrayal of a zany, brave, vulnerable, lovestruck, lonely Doctor, he gave the character real depth.

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There were simply so many good episodes from Tennat’s era that it’s hard to count. The obvious one, Blink, remains one of the best TV episodes of any show in history, even if follow-ups with the Weeping Angels weren’t quite as good. I also like “Turn Left” quite a bit, even amidst the rather confusing Donna Noble Era, and all of Tennant’s finales were incredible.

It pains me to say it, but honestly the reason Tennant’s Doctor worked so well was because of his enduring relationship with Rose Tyler. It pervaded the show when she was still present in his storyline, but her absence was felt just as strongly when she left. No other companion/Doctor relationship ever really felt right after her, whether it was Martha Jones and her unrequited crush or Donna Noble and her brother/sister vibe.

What little I did like of the Matt Smith era was because of Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond. While I think she was a better character than Rose Tyler, her relationship with the Doctor wasn’t as good, and therefore the show itself wasn’t as good. It was a strange situation when you liked her and her boyfriend/husband Rory more than you did the Doctor himself. The unquestionable highlight of the Rory/Amy/Smith tenure was the River Song saga, as that was beautifully set up and executed.

pond

Smith’s era fell apart completely for me once Rory and Amy were abandoned (rather abruptly, I might add) and Clara Oswalt came along. While all the companions and the Doctor had some sort of relationship, from what I can tell, Clara and Smith’s Doctor essentially had none. They were just…there. Sure, they saved each other from this and that and Clara is perfectly cute and quirky, but there was nothing to her, and therefore, no emotional weight with her relationship to the Doctor. If she sticks around the Capaldi era, I can’t imagine it’s going to be able to hold my interest.

While I blazed through Tennant’s years in a two weeks, Smith’s final season took me the better part of six months to finish. Each episode seemed to drag longer than the last, and even the much hyped Christmas and 50th anniversary specials didn’t really move me.

I think the problem that I grew to see with the show over time is the complete lack of stakes. I know it’s all supposed to be in good fun and you can’t take anything too seriously, but when you create a world where literally anything is possible, it can start to lack any real drama. The scenarios that they come up with for the major plotlines of each season (the destruction of earth! the end of the universe! the end of time! the death of the doctor!) all are seemingly massive in scope, but even before you get near the ending, you’re well aware that the Doctor will make a big, boisterous speech and pull something out of his ass to save the day. When he does so in an entertaining fashion, it works, but when it’s just another day of saving all of time and space, it starts to grow tiresome.

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The show sets up rules and then breaks them all the time. Something was a fixed point in time, until it isn’t. The Doctor is out of regenerations, until he isn’t. The Time Lords are all dead, until they aren’t. It reminds me of this latest season of American Horror Story where half the cast was killed off and resurrected so many times, death no longer meant anything. Now, each new problem the Doctor is presented with, you know he’ll just technobabble a solution out of the ether and everything will be okay. All the arcs have started to feel the same.

The show has just lacked a human element for a long time now. David Tennant was always brimming with seemingly genuine emotion, and therefore so was I at the end of nearly every episode. Smith was much harder to relate to, but at least he had Amy Pond for a while. But when it just became him and Clara? The show lost any and all weight it used to have.

I don’t know what the future holds for Doctor Who. I think Capaldi could be an interesting choice to mix things up, but Clara has got to go for the show to have any chance at holding my interest. Episodes should be crafted with more care than they have been, not simply pulled out of a hat the way they’ve seemed to be lately. “Let’s see we’ll have the DALEKS in MEDIEVAL ENGLAND and the Doctor allies with an OOD to stop them from UNLEASHING A GHOST PLAGUE UPON THE WORLD.”

There’s nothing wrong with a show that’s very relaxed on the rules of sci-fi and time travel, so long as it manages to be entertaining and occasionally emotional. When Doctor Who did all of the above, it was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen. When it was missing those pieces, it barely seemed worth my time.  I hope the winds will change once more.





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12 responses so far

  • froggystyle66

    I agree that a lit of episodes seemed a bit phoned in, but there were some fantastic episodes in the smith era too. The 2 part season 5 finale was exceptional. The 2 part season 6 opener was excptional and there were a few other episodes i really enjoyed. They did really screw up Clara though. her into episode was great and then it just went south from there.

    • E. Lee Zimmerman

      For me, Season 5 was legendary. They knew what they were doing, and they went up to bat to swing for the fences every time. Granted, maybe they didn’t hit the ball out of the park with each one, but they sure aimed and tried. Six? Lost focus, and when they tried to hone it in they could still do some pretty great things but there was a lot of bunk in there. Seven? I was ready to kill Matt Smith myself.

      • froggystyle66

        Yeah, but I think that people are unfairly critical of matt smith as the doctor. i think he was an excellent doctor, possibly my favorite doctor. The problem is with the writing, not his delivery or performance. He can only act with what he is given. When he is given serious dialogue or monologue, he is brilliant, but i feel like he was just written too silly a lot of the time.

        • E. Lee Zimmerman

          Oh, I’d agree with anyone who said Matt Smith was brilliant as the Doctor ’cause he was. I think you’re also right: any deficiencies are easily traced back to poorly written stories or scenes. But as the Doctor I do agree that Matt Smith did an astounding job.

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    I heartily agree that they fumbled Clara’s introduction to a point where it would take a great upheaval to set it right. While I loved her appearance in Asylum of the Daleks and then in The Snowmen she instantly became the companion I most looked forward to, being clever, assured, and being freed of either Martha/Rose’s clinginess or the long and odd history with Rory/Amy/River, but…then she basically became what felt like a stand-in for Amy during the rest of the season and the specials, so much so that it was a ghost-like Amy that the Doctor says goodbye to in the end and it’s much more heartfelt than his final parting with Clara.

    • E. Lee Zimmerman

      For what it’s worth, I never much cared for Rose. (I know: Blasphemy! Right?) I just never bought that she truly loved the Doctor so much as she loved “being” with the Doctor. It’s a fine-line distinction, but it’s how I felt.

      I also saw the inclusion of Amy Pond in Matt Smith’s degeneration was, in some ways, an acknowledgement of the greatness that was left behind. And, yes, it was vastly more heartfelt, touching, and emotional than I think any Doctor’s been given before, though I hated that last episode for a whole number of reasons.

      • froggystyle66

        You are not alone. I was never much for rose either

  • Jeremy

    I thought Smith as the Doctor was fantastic. He had the body of a young man buy the eyes, the soul, of someone 900+ years old. He was let down by too many thrown together plots and bad writing. I liked Rory much more than Amy, and would quite have enjoyed the series had Amy disappeared and the two boys went on adventures for a while.
    Clara… oh Clara. It could have been a fantastic change for the series. The Impossible Girl. I thought it would have worked best that he kept running into her in different time periods, the same person but slightly different characters, much like the modern, the future and the 19th century Clara. Every episode (or two) he would run into her again. The actress would get to show her chops and it would leave fans with a “what the f… is going on?” vibe. Instead they sort of just explained away what she is in a vaguely interesting way but it would have been better to show it over a whole season at least.
    Clara as she is now though is just… there. There’s no depth, no interest. As you say the actress is likeable enough but she’s been given a cardboard cutout and bless her she’s trying. One hopes in Capaldi they give her something better with which to work or let her exit gracefully and give the Silver Fox (my female friend’s exact words!) someone else.

  • E. Lee Zimmerman

    Here’s the thing this old dog will pass on regarding the nature of sci-fi: in many respects, it won’t truly be appreciated in its own place and time. If it doesn’t attach itself to something relevant in the present — like, say, Clara as a character (whom I’d agree is amazingly poorly defined given the nice touches to so many other companions over the years) — then it has little or no meaning … and I suspect that’s probably what you’re sensing with Matt Smith’s tenure post-Amy and Rory. I think the Amy/Rory dynamic was managed so well at the time and place within the greater Who mythology that they — as characters — were easier to attach to in some ways than Smith’s Doctor was; you attach, and the program means more.

    Clara — by comparison — is downright befuddling. There’s been such an insufficient and unmotivating explanation of who she was and what she means to the Doctor, and this means that you and I have no connection to her, either. She’s like that good lookin’ girl at the dance who you suddenly find yourself somehow standing with; when you finally hear what she has to say, you’re really not that much interested in dating her so much as you are making out temporarily and then moving on. As a character, she’s pretty — she’s appealing — but she’s vacuous, empty, and (dare I say?) comes off as a bit privileged.

    Amy and Rory? You’d hang with them.
    Clara? Cop a feel, then move on.

    That’s my take, anyway.

  • DCBoots

    I can’t stand Tennant. To me, he’s the British version of Nicholas Cage. But when he was in that episode with Matt Smith, he came off more likeable and not so dramatic, which makes me wonder how much more I would’ve liked Tennant under the Moffat era. It’s no coincidence that the best Tennant episodes for me were the ones directed by Moffatt.
    Smith to me was the ideal Dr.Who and I liked the Rory/Amy story. But I feel they missed out on not pursuing their daughter story. I agree with all comments about Clara, she is misused and perhaps will be better in the Capaldi era.
    Overall, I get the sense that Moffatt is tired and worn out with Dr.Who and that’s what had led to the overall lack of luster with the latest characters. Its time for him to let go and give over to someone else. I feel if he had done that at the same time Matt left, the new person in charge would have been more open to a female or different ethnic Dr.Who.

  • Alexander

    Huh? My comment is missing

  • Mike

    It sounds like your real issue is Russel T. Davies vs. Steven Moffat. When Davies left, Moffat sounded like the perfect choice to take over the show. After all, Moffat had written some of the best episodes of Davies tenure, such as Blink and the library episodes. Over the three season since, I’ve grown just as disenchanted with the show as you have and have been hoping that the next tomorrow would be an announcment to the end of the Moffat era of Who.

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