lördag 10 november 2012

Doctor addiction (contd.)

"I thought you had run out of ways to make me sick. But... hello again. You think hatred is beautiful?"

Yes, the Doctor is back! And facing off the Daleks in the very first episode - whose head bozo calmly points out, as an answer to the comment above, that this strange concept of beauty is probably why they haven't killed off the Doc long ago. This week's highlight has undoubtedly been the first five episodes of Doctor Who series seven, all of which I watched in three nights (I'd have made it in two, only I came home late on Monday).

Much is the same, which is remarkable in itself. I and I think many others had expected the Steven Moffat take-over from Russell T. Davies as head script-writer would mean less plot holes: after all, the Moffat episodes during the Davies years tended to be tightly plotted ("Blink" above all). But no, series five, six and seven have contained as many plot holes the size of the Doctor's lost home planet Gallifrey as the Davies era, if not more. Whereas Davies sensibly had one overall story arc per series which was wound up in a grand finale in the two or three final series episodes, Moffat's has a complicated continuing story-arc where some things, but not everything, are cleared up in the series finale. It is frustrating, because you never know if a puzzling plot-line will be dropped completely or explained maybe twenty episodes later. It's a relief to read an article like this one in the Telegraph, which sums up the questions a poor bewildered viewer might be asking her/himself right now (don't read it unless you've already watched the latest episodes - spoilers...). YES, I wonder about the Clerics too! I'm glad it's not just me.

On the plus side, the wit, cleverness, warmth and sheer madness of the Davies era are still present, too. After having (yet again) rewatched series one to four, I must confess that I'm conventional enough to think that, on the whole, Tennant's stint as the Doctor was probably the best. Not just because of Tennant himself, though he was brilliant - all the Doctors I've seen have been good - but because I like the Tenth Doctor's adventures and, above all, companions the best. I've never really warmed to Amy as much as to Donna and Martha (and, occasionally, Rose). But for all that, series five to seven are full of high points, and few programmes - if any - can match Doctor Who for quality in my book.

So why is it considered to be a TV series for children? I've never really got my head round this. One of the reasons that Amy had a hard time winning my heart is because the youthful Karen Gillan, who plays her, was roped in as new companion at the same time as Matt Smith (still in his twenties back then) became the new Doctor. And why? Because, supposedly, "kids" relate better to younger protagonists, which makes it desirable to pick companions who look like they've just finished school.

Now, for fast-moving, clever dialogue, Doctor Who is only out-done by The West Wing. How is it possible that British kids get all this? Are they all potential Mensa members? Of course, it's wonderful that growing generations watch and enjoy a program as intellectually testing as this. But when the kid audience of Doctor Who is hauled in either to explain a market move, as above, or as an argument when critics try to cut down the series to size, it is a bit annoying if you happen to be a Who-addict in her thirties. "Its just a children's programme after all". No, it's not!

And, incidentally, script-writers have shown precious little consideration for their supposed core audience of "kids" in the past. There are Doctor Who episodes that can be traumatising even for the toughest child. The "The Impossible Planet" two-parter in series two was way, way, way too scary. The "Silence in the Library" two-parter was, in a way, sneakier, because while "The Impossible Planet" tackled a primal fear for children and adults alike, "Silence in The Library" played on childhood-specific fears. Never mind the flesh-eating shadows. Far more disturbing are scenes where a little girl is told that her nightmares are real, while what she thinks of as real life is a lie, and where she accidentally zaps her concerned daddy out of existence in a fit of pique. "Midnight" is a psychological chiller which, with its un-Doctorish pessimistic view on human nature, would have been more at home in a Torchwood series. I could go on at some length. "The God Complex"? "The Girl who Waited"? Strewth, "The Doctor's Wife"? Is this really the kind of stuff you sit your children in front of after they've grown too old for Bob the Builder?

Child-friendly or not, plot-holey or not, morally erratic or not (in one episode, the Doctor cheerfully sends a mass-murdering pirate-merchant to his death, the next - the very next - he agonises during a whole episode about sacrificing a baddie's life to save a small town), I love this series. I sometimes think I love it because I can find things to criticise. I'm reminded of  Streatfeild's two dons in Ballet Shoes, who happily find plenty to disagree with in a mounting of A Midsummer Night's Dream "or they would not have enjoyed themselves at all".