tisdag 13 juni 2017

Just what the Doctor ordered

The good old remedy against villain pining, tried and tested during my Downton period, thankfully still works. Pity that there's such as limited dose of it available. But with the first part of Doctor Who series ten, containing six episodes, I did get two whole evenings' worth of TV watching without wistful thoughts about unattainable episodes of  Once Upon a Time season six (out on DVD in August, if I'm lucky). And hey, at least the present Doctor is a brainy being with special powers and nearly unlimited lifespan played excellently by a distinguished-looking Scottish actor and... argh, brave, moral and heroic. Not the same at all, then. Ah well, moving on.

I must admit to the cynical reaction "well, someone's earning some British Council funding" when I read that the Doctor's new companion Bill (a girl) was to be black and lesbian. (Not that Doctor Who creators need any financial incentive to be right-on, and it's perfectly possible they're not taking any of the BC's buck for "portraying minorities in a positive way".) However, the cheerful, inquisitive Bill proved to be a fully-rounded character, not an exercise in box-ticking, and may in my opinion be the best companion since Donna. I found Amy vaguely irritating at times, especially the nonchalant way she treated the supposed love of her life Rory, and Clara was hard to pin down - an intelligent control freak, yes, but otherwise a little too like Amy in her young Tardis babe-ness. It's not that I disliked them, but they didn't win me over the way Donna and Martha did. Bill seems warmer, and her crush on a mysterious girl in the first episode did not feel tacked on for effect, merely sweet. Once again - as in the Capaldi Doctor-Clara pairing - I'm relieved that there's no flirty Tardis banter on the menu. Bill's the Doctor's favourite pupil and surrogate granddaughter rolled into one, and it's a relationship that shows promise. I'm less sure about the inclusion of Nardole, the comic relief from the Christmas special The Husbands of River Song. True, they've beefed up the part, but he still doesn't feel entirely necessary to the setup.

Given the Doctor's aforementioned bent towards heroism and morality, not to mention the various script-writers' more or less well-guided attempts to Tell Us Something Meaningful, it's strange that I have as much patience with Doctor Who as I do and consider it one of my favourite shows. There are irritants in this series as in all the others. I'm getting fed up with the respect-for-artificial-life argument which gets another airing in the episode Smile - are we never to be free of bloody work, if not only clones but also robots are out of the question as unpaid workforce? And would even Karl Marx be able to make sense of the clumsy criticism of vaguely defined "capitalism" in Oxygen? But even if the Doctor's claim in Thin Ice that he's never had the time for "the luxury of outrage" is patently untrue, at least he and the series as a whole don't spend too much time on it. The adventures move on and the wisecracks keep on coming. Moreover, and I think crucially, the Doctor doesn't see himself as a hero. He always carries a fair amount of self-doubt with him, fuelled by the fact that trouble turns up wherever he goes. Even if he's "mucking in" and trying to solve every crisis he finds himself in, is it possible that he's creating more problems than he's solving? In series eight, the Doctor asked Clara "Am I a good man"? The answer is yes, of course, but the fact that he asks himself the question and never takes his own goodness for granted may have quite a lot to do with it. And he does have reasons for self-doubt - as we are reminded in Thin Ice, this is a man/time lord with so many lives on his conscience he's long since stopped counting them.

Part two of series ten won't be available on DVD until the end of July (still earlier than Once), but I'm greatly looking forward to it - especially as we're promised more of Missy and a glimpse of her previous incarnation. Maybe it will finally be explained in which circumstances that particular regeneration took place, and how much loopiness was passed on to the time lady "upgrade". This series is Capaldi's - and show runner Steven Moffat's - last hurrah, and I intend to make the most of it.