Late Doctor Who Thoughts

Crikey. I’ve just got back from Italy (where I had the privaledge of watching the World Cup final and, more importantly, the celebrations that followed), and hence just caught up on the finale to series 2.

So, since I’ve been looking at themes of the series, lets deal with that.

I belive we’d got up to the two-part Cyberman story in the middle of the series. Following that came “The Idiot’s Lantern”. This was an episode that, if anything, wore its message rather excessively on its sleeve. I mean, effectively, it was delivered in a speech by the cipher for Mark Gatiss at the end of the story, as he dresses down his father. It’s about modern, permissive society, and pointing out how little we would benefit from going back to the repressive sorts of society that some of the tabloids (and even broadsheets) seem to yearn for. Fine, if a little bit sugary in its presentation. Of course, given that this is Mark Gatiss, we should probably count this as an improvement on last year (incidentally, Loz Miles, who caused such a stir last year in fandom with his review of The Unquiet Dead, has moved his website and posted a few new comments on it, which any of you still reading will likely find interesting. The link’s in my sidebar. Meanwhile fandom’s squabbling pit, Outpost Gallifrey’s forum, has, it would seem, begun to come round to LM’s argument).

Next up, we have the two part Impossible Planet/Satan Pit plotline. Probably the best standalone plot of the series, this picks up one of the classic themes of Doctor Who and Quatermass before it: that myths and religions are likely based on something that genuinely does exist, but has a valid scientific explanation. However, although it looks as though this is going to be a straightforward revival of this standpoint, we subsequently find the Doctor’s indignant claims that things are “impossible” become dogmatic in their own right. As much as this is a liberal message, this is a message for the scientific and generally intelligent world, that other constituency of Who fans. The end of the story presents us, again, with perhaps excessively spelt out conclusions to draw, but in this case I was less irritated, because it wasn’t quite so preachy. Nonetheless, another good message: Skepticism isn’t the same as cynicism, and scientists can become every bit as dogmatic as the religious.

Love and Monsters. Well now. Clearly, this is most readable as an allegory of Who fans. RTD is telling us to make ourselves a community in our own right, and not allow our anal fact chasing tendencies to enslave us to a monolithic “fandom” entity, entirely consumed by the persuit of the Doctor. Outside of this, I find it hard to see what message this might be said to have, though I’m sure messages exist.

Fear Her is openly a pretty lightweight episode in general. It shows the London Olympics, obviously, which is an obvious attempt by the BBC to get people turned on the exciting side to the Olympics. But beyond that: I suppose basically it’s about love and our need for companionship and emotional support. In that sense, and the sense of a community within the street in which it is set, one might almost call this more socialist, but then nowhere is it suggested that it has much to do with the state. Some have also pointed out that the monster, the abusive father, is in the closet. Whether or not this is reading too much of RTD’s “agenda” into the episode, especially in an episode that wasn’t directly written by him, is something I will leave to the reader.

From there, we move into the final two-parter. Messages are probably largely lost to the emotional fireworks that play out as the plot develops. Nonetheless, there is the standard Doctor Who warning to science not to blithely stumble into areas it doesn’t sufficiently understand – a theme particularly beloved of the Barry Letts era of the show. Torchwood and in particular Tracy Ann Obermann’s character represent exactly this arrogance.

So now the series is over, I’ll also give a quick review of the whole thing:

To be honest, I’ve not found this series as compulsive viewing as the last one. I don’t think that’s David Tennant’s fault, or especially anyone’s, though, obviously, as the man at the top, RTD has to be ultimately responsible for what goes out. For whatever reasons, several of the episodes this series have felt like they are merely treading water and providing us with a bit of mucking around, especially towards the end. The experimental episode, Love and Monsters, left a nasty taste in the mouth mainly, I felt, because of an ending that degenerated into rather lazy writing as RTD almost visibly flailed around for a way to resolve the plot. Steven Moffat, author of the highlight of last year’s series, was this year limited to one episode which, to me, was marred by Moffat’s by now tedious insistence on adding in the “dancing” subtext. RTD’s episodes were, I think, on average better but massively more variable. Tooth and Claw and the final two-parter were pretty good, whilst New Earth and Love and Monsters…. weren’t.

I think the main issue, however, this year was the use of more “outside” writers. In producing the first series, RTD clearly took a decision to use the writers he knew would know what makes Doctor Who work. All the writers on series 1 had written either for the novel range or Big Finish, often both. This series, other writers were brought in. And astonishingly, if you rank the writers in order of how much connection to the series they’ve had, it’s pretty close to how I would rank their actual episodes:

Who Connection:

Mark Gatiss – The Idiot’s Lantern
Matt Jones – Impossible Planet/Satan Pit
Steven Moffat – The Girl in the Fireplace
Tom MacRae – Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel
Toby Whithouse – School Reunion
Matthew Graham – Fear Her

Episode Rating:

Matt Jones – Impossible Planet/Satan Pit
Tom MacRae – Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel
Mark Gatiss – The Idiot’s Lantern
Steven Moffat – The Girl in the Fireplace
Toby Whithouse – School Reunion
Matthew Graham – Fear Her

Obviously, there’s some movement there, and the correlation isn’t exact. But this isn’t really a conclusion I would have expected to reach quite so clearly, especially given that it didn’t especially hold for last year’s series (Steven Moffat has actually written the least Who of any of the writers last year, but almost unquestionably he wrote the best story). I guess there’s a certain threshold of time spent immersed in the series that gets the writers thinking in a way that leads to them writing things I like. NB. I have just said “things that I like”, not “things that are empirically better”. Others, obviously, wouldn’t have produced the same rankings as I have.

Anyway, I better stop now.

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Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: . 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Late Doctor Who Thoughts”

  1. James Says:

    Interesting post. I’m a generic “fanboy” but not a particularly great fan of classic Who and I’m intrigued by how much we seem to disagree, aside from Fear Her being pony.Girl in the Fireplace was, for me, the standout best episode of the season. While I wouldn’t <>rank<> Love and Monsters highly, I did <>rate<> (although that’s possibly because I’m more of an ELO fan than a Whovian). I considered the first Cyberman story as the most traditionally Doctor Who storyline, and yet I also considered it one of the weakest, for that very reason.In short, much of what you appear to dislike about the RTD tendency is precisely what has made me a fan. It also appears to be why a lot of my non-geek friends like it as well. Although I’ve quite enjoyed the odd Big Finish audio, I for one am delighted the series has escaped that particular ghetto.

  2. Andy Says:

    Yeah. Looking back over my post, I’ve probably been a bit harsh to Girl in the Fireplace and Love and Monsters. I didn’t dislike either of them, just found them flawed. Love and Monsters I quite enjoyed until the final five minutes or so, which for me was significantly less intelligent and compelling than the rest of the episode. For most of the way through it, I was thinking “this is pretty good”, it was just, as I say, the final few minutes that marred it for me.On Girl in the Fireplace, it’s pretty good on the whole, and if I was to write the ranking again it might well be higher up. Again, it’s simply a single thing that irritated me about that, namely Moffat’s love of putting in suggestions about the Doctor’s relationships seemingly just to wind up the fans. It’s still a much more imaginative episode than, say, Fear Her or School Reunion.I have no problems with the “RTD tendency”, indeed I thought the last series was nigh on flawless. I am simply trying to place my finger on what it is about this series that makes me feel it was somehow… lesser. To my surprise, when I thought about it, the episodes I felt were most disappointing were those written by non-fans. I cannot emphasize enough: This is not some sort of ideological objection on my part, simply a pattern I noticed.The “RTD tendency” is great, and has breathed a good deal of life and popular support into the old show. I have some reservations about RTD’s approach getting, eventually, to be just as stale as any previous producer after an extended stay at the programme (JNT *cough*), but it’s not anywhere near there yet.

  3. Biscit Says:

    (Meandered here c/o wikablog- and saw the URL!)I enjoyed Love and Monstors, it’s not telling “us” the fans to do or be anything, it’s about the fans.The way LINDA evolves from being narrowly focussed to doing other things is generally how fandom naturally evolves in the real world.The defiant closing speach from Elton at the very end sums it up, you (the boring general public) may think we’re freaks, but we’ve got a great life thank you very much.It’s very much in celebration of fandom rather than critical of or instrictive to it.

  4. Biscit Says:

    Oh (sorry) I forgot to say I disagree that this season is not better than the last, but great post anyway.


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