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.