The Eternal Quandary of Doctor Who…

Like many people my age, I grew up watching Doctor Who of the 1970s Pertwee/Baker era and beyond, so the new series is a continuation of a long running story.  For many though, they only know the new incarnation that has existed since 2005 and may be engaging with it on face value, without any baggage.  These two statements may, or may not be serious factors in my problem with Doctor Who as it stands now.

If I were to sum up my key issues, they would be narrative, structure, logic, dialogue, originality and characterisation.

However, a key question before I get into all that is, ‘but is this programme even FOR me?’

It has been said that Doctor Who is for kids and should be judged as such, but I’m not sure that is how it has always been.  Initially I think it was devised as a kids show, but over the course of the 60s/70s they introduced many adult themes and while there was a whimsical nature to it, my recollection is of a harder backbone underpinning the show; this is reinforced by tales of Mary Whitehouse (famous grumpy old woman of the complaints world) moaning about excessive gore and violence, although that should be taken in context!  It should also be stated that it is in a prime Saturday night slot on BBC1, not in a kids timeslot, as other childrens TV would be; nor is it produced by CBBC.  So, on the basis that the programme should be classed as a family sci-fi series, then I feel it’s fair to criticise it as such, but I will say that even if it is supposed to be for children, that does not mean that it should be simpler fare due to lack of attention span or knowledge on their part, as in it’s current form I feel it is condescending and poor quality for them too.

I will  preface my comments though with the following:  I really like Stephen Moffat’s work, and I think he is a good writer.  I suspect my problems with the show are not to do with any flaw with his talent, but more to do with a conceptual idea of what the show is from ‘powers that be’ above…

So, assuming that I can assess it fairly on the basis of it being for all ages, and that my memory of the 1970s era is correct, what are the problems with the modern incarnation in my opinion?

There is something to be said for taking a simple idea and developing it, raising questions and trying to answer them through an evolving story.  Doctor Who at the moment, however, tends to take a simple idea and… do nothing with it, except drag it out for 45 minutes.  Take this evenings new episode for instance; (SPOILER ALERT if you’re reading this before seeing the episode!)  The basic premise is that the Daleks have what is essentially a prison planet, which they require the Doctor to go down to and turn off a shield so they can blow it up.  That is it. That is what happens, with no major nuances and with a solution that stinks, and is lazy.

The structure is very linear and simplistic most of the time, with some pacing issues in many episodes, with some pointless nonsensical exposition in some cases.  This may be due to a need to be more formulaic and use the US 3 act TV structure, with an A story and a B story, and taking note of where the prerequisite ad breaks would be when broadcast in the US.

One of the good things about another genre show, Star Trek, is that an internal logic has been created that is adhered to, which makes the whole thing more believable.  Yes, there are fantastical, unreal things in there, but they tend to adhere to a set system, so work the same way everytime.  Doctor Who, on the other hand plays fast and loose with the internal logic and I have no doubt that they would stoop as low as to use a ‘Deus Ex Machina’…  Amy and Rory’s sudden reconciliation with the most minimal of intervention and the resistance to a full Dalek conversion are prime examples of poor logic affecting the narrative and show universe to the detriment of the whole.

*sigh*.  Some good things are in there, but the other issues I have with the programme mean that this dialogue is the result.

Lack of depth is a serious problem, with motivations unclear and most characters being so wafer thin that they are barely believable.  What do we really know about any of them?  Unfortunately, the lack of developing narrative, where nuances in a character can be teased out in a logic manner, mean that we rarely get to know any of them properly and any action could be either in or out of character; we have no way of knowing…

So, why do I keep watching?  It’s probably masochistic to keep waiting for the show to change to as I want it to be, as currently it’s a flawed execution of what is essentially a good premise and is what is most frustrating, but I can’t help it; I like the premise, I like the concepts, and I like the potential that exists in the chemistry between the actors.

Maybe I’m trying to turn an apple into an orange, when I should just go an get an orange?

I just wish it was a more robust, ‘harder sci-fi’ experience.

2 responses to “The Eternal Quandary of Doctor Who…

  • badwolf187

    Here is my long awaited and anticipated reply to the above…. I’m sure some of you were expected a replay of the Time War having read the review, but you maybe surprised. When Doctor Who was first broadcast on 23rd November 1963, the day after the Kennedy Assassination, it was portrayed as an educational programme to try and teach kids history. The first Episode An Earthly Child sends the newly introduced Time Lord and his Grand Daughter Susan, back to cavemen times with her school teachers tagging along. It was only on the next episode which introduced the Daleks (Read my review on the Daleks for a full explanation) that the show rocketed!

    I agree with a number of comments that my learned friend has made about the show. Yes, the story lines are simple. The example given from Asylum of the Daleks was spot on… but most good stories need to be simple. Star Trek was mentioned as a comparison, but it could be said that their story lines were simple. Enterprise discovers a planet, Kirk sets up an away mission, the poor twat who is in a red jersey selected for the trip will die then Scotty beams them back…. my point is simple works! I found that the new series in some areas was getting too complicated. There will always be something happening in the background which will be significant towards the end of the series, Bad Wolf in the first one, Torchwood in the second, YANA, Pandorica etc.

    My point is, don’t analyse the programme, just watch it. If you spend too long examining every detail you miss the fun! Or do what I do…. watch Asylum of the Daleks 4 times…. mainly because the new companion is a bit of a hottie!! Though we have to wait till Christmas to see her again. So to some it up, keep it simple and let it entertain you

    • slackwagon

      I essentially agree with your comment…

      Star Trek has indeed had similarly simple plots, sometimes with unwanted ‘preaching’ as well… Star Trek TOS is not my favourite of all the series, and later ones did has different tones and approaches, depending on what their angle was.

      I think my biggest problem overall though is the internal logic, which is difficult to fathom in the new incarnation of Who, but was generally stuck to in Star Trek.

      Your last paragraph is right though, in that over analysis can ruin something. There must be enough enjoyable stuff in there that is keeping me coming back, but I will allow myself some leeway to hope for some additional things I’d like to see! 🙂

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