Some thoughts on Doctor Who
(somewhat rambling, as we’re still in the midst of watching it).
A while ago, I bought a set of the first four seasons of Doctor Who (the reboot, not the older series), for a couple reasons: first and foremost was our overdose on American TV shows, which have an amazing tendency to sound the same and display the same set of clichés (seriously, if there’s one more attempt to depict Mexico as a lawless place held by cartels, I’ll scream). Second was, well, the embarrassing feeling we might be missing out on something, and that rather more embarrassing feeling of being completely at sea when a group of fans (and there are many of those) started to debate the merits of the various doctors and companions. Third, we’d got a season of Torchwoood as a gift, watched it, and kind of liked it (well, OK. Most of the plots sucked, but who doesn’t love Captain Jack? And there were a few gems there, even though really well-hidden).
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when we finally cracked those open and started watching them. So…
Well, for starters, it *is* a rather nice change to US TV. It’s got a very camp side, a sense that it’s not entirely taking itself seriously (much like the Doctor). I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not, but having what I presume are old enemies from the show appear again gives it a retro style that contributes to the overall campiness. I’m not necessarily using that in a bad way, but it’s honestly very hard to take seriously an episode such as “Bad Wolf”, which features parodies of all major reality TV shows (Anne-Droid, anyone?), and also hard to be genuinely frightened by the Daleks. Or the one with werewolf Queen Victoria and the kungfu monks…
I don’t know if this is just me getting better as a writer, but this time around I can very clearly see the difference between the various scriptwriters and their episodes–unlike US TV shows, where I can seldom remember who wrote what, and the quality of an episode seems less linked to who wrote it. I don’t know if US shows have a more unified scriptwriting policy? In any case, another major difference to most US shows is that the variance in quality is also striking: there are episodes which really, really suck, and episodes which are really great (“Girl in the Fireplace”, for instance. Like many people, I’m a Moffat fan). It’s interesting to see. Russell Davies, for instance, has a greater liking for the overblown drama, which sits ill with me; I tend to prefer more restraint.
Unlike the H, I already had some idea of the basic principles; and while the show does a great job of explaining things as they come along, the regeneration thing was rather difficult for him to swalllow. Overall, mind you, I’m not entirely sure that we got over it: it’s rather a shock to have got used a particular actor and then see him vanish, and Christopher Eccleston was just plain great. Now I understand where all those intense discussions about the Doctor’s incarnations come from.
It’s still rather desperately all-White (there is Mickey, but so far he hasn’t been a major character), though I do appreciate the variety of social classes on display, and the fact that the show doesn’t restrict itself to London (yay for Cardiff and its temporal rift). At times, it also felt like “companion waits for Doctor to save her”, which I can sort of understand given the show’s setup, but still… still, it’s a woman waiting for a humanoid-shaped man to save the day, which did get annoying after a while. I don’t know if things get better after that (we’re at “Girl in the Fireplace”).
It’s also, well, not profound–purely entertaining, which it does very well, but hardly in the league of shows that ask hard questions (your mileage may vary, but I tend to put shows such as Trigun or Battlestar Galactica here, at least in their first few eps. Stargate, for instance, is also pure entertainment, with awful assumptions made about aliens, Earth and the good old US of A).
So, anyway, that’s how we feel so far. Still two seasons and a half to go (plus the specials, and season 5). We’ll see how it goes.
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I think the difference, as I understand it, is that many US series are written by a team of writers, working together – which lends a certain consistency to the writing, but often lends an air of writing-by-committee – whereas things like Doctor Who are very much one writer per episode, presumably with the series head honcho performing script doctor duties to make sure it all fits in with the story arc.
Unfortunately I dislike Russell T Davies’ style of writing, so unless there’s a genuinely good writer doing the original script, I don’t hold much stock in his doctoring prowess. The Davies era certainly has its moments, but his increasing tendancy towards overblown fanservice gets tiresome.
Moffat’s first season was generally excellent, with only a few clunkers; well worth sticking through the Davies episodes for.