Friday, August 29, 2008

Doctor Who Series Four: The Roll Your Eyes and Bear It Season

I’m a lifelong fan of Doctor Who. Tom Baker was my first Doctor, seen on Public Television in the state of New York on a staticy TV using rabbit ears. Peter Davidson was my favorite Doctor for years and years due to his sincerity and fallibility—he really made me worry that the Doctor might not save his companions, that the Master might finally take over the universe. The tension was higher as were the sakes. And I had a big crush on companion Tegan. (What was I thinking? Yeah, she was a “looker”, but she really was such a whiner! Wasn’t she?)

So far I’ve loved the new series that began back in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. Yeah, I was sad and worried to learn that Eccleston only had one season in him. His portrayal of the Doctor was so melancholy and charming. The relationship between the Doctor and companion Rose was so intense and believable. Rose seemed to me to be the best companion ever, since she has as much to do with defeating the monsters as the Doctor himself. Bright, pretty, and energetic, Rose was a match made in heaven for the Doctor.

Also in 2005, David Tennant took over the role of the Doctor as the Tenth Doctor. It took me a few months and several episodes to get used to the change, since I had found Eccleston so beguiling. It was hard to get over the loss. Yet Tennant brought such intensity, wit, and conviction to the role, it was a forgone conclusion that I would be won over. The relationship with Rose continued to be fascinating and heartfelt. In addition, the Doctor took on more and more mythic proportions complete with prophecies and the return of arch enemies.

Fast forward to Series Four (2008). David Tenant is still the Doctor, after three years in the role. His performances continue to be riveting. However, the writing and concepts for Series Four seem to me to be sub par. The latest crop of episodes strike me as suffering from fatigue and the old mistake of believing that bigger and broader is better. It feels like the show is a victim of its own success. It’s perhaps a wise move that the BBC has put the show on semi-hiatus for a year.

For example, “The Doctor’s Daughter” where the Doctor must deal with the sudden creation of his own full-grown offspring is an episode where the gimmick overwhelms the characters. Things are kept moving fast in an attempt to distract the viewers from the faulty concepts. Jenny, Doc’s daughter, has potential as a character, yet the constraints of a 42 minute episode doom her to cartoony flatness. Her existence seemed like nothing but a cute gimmick. Her resuscitation in the final moments of the show, or whatever you want to call it, struck me as corny. She just snapped awake, as if nothing had happened. Why no regeneration? Who knows? And what was up with her blasting off in a rocket? Yes, it leaves openings for her to encounter the Doctor somewhere in the universe, but it makes no character sense. It all seems contrived and forced. I thought it was interesting that Jenny had the same basic build and complexion as Rose. Some kind of genetic Freudian slip? The only true, deep, and meaningful note in that episode was the revelation to Donna that the Doctor had had children and that they had perished. Made me wonder if they were going to develop something around Susan, the First Doctor's companion, who called the Doctor "grandfather." So far, no such luck.

The other big disappointment of Series Four were the last two episodes “Stolen Earth” and “Journey’s End”. These were a crazy jumble of characters, action, and wild concepts. Overall I enjoyed it as entertainment, but felt let down. Let down because it could've been so much better. Rose's character seemed undervalued due to the swell swarm of other companions. What could've been a meaningful and poignant return with some depth was blown off by demented spectacle. It was big and sloppy and falls apart if you think too much about it. Yet it was still entertaining, tender and moving in spots, and goofy fun in others. The insane Dalek Caan was probably my favorite part. Such loopy dialogue!

My feeling on the Fourth Series as a whole is much the same. It could've been better, but there was a lot to appreciate along the way. If only it all could have been as good at “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead”. That Fourth Series 2 parter (written by Steven Moffat) was among the all time best of Doctor Who stories. (My only complaint is the shadow creatures are defeated by the Doctor’s reputation, not his direct action, but perhaps that's how it works in human/political conflicts in the real world, so what do I know?) This story had emotional depth, epic intonations, mystery, atmosphere, and really scary monsters. This is Doctor Who as it should be!

Here's to hoping that Steven Moffat will oversee a new level of quality for the series when he replaces current Head Writer Russell T Davies, who has held the role since 'Doctor Who' returned to screens in 2005. Overall, I'm hoping for much better tone, character development, and intrigue from Moffat than what we got from Davies in season Four. I expect Moffat to infuse the series with more darkness and emotion. Also I'm hoping for a bit more logic and cohesiveness. I've had enough of guest-star gimmicks for quite some time. Let's get back to character building and breaking new ground.

Of course, I did place my pre-order for the Season Four DVD despite it all, because Tennant is so good and there were some fantastic moments (Moffat’s doing!) here and there. ‘Nuff said.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Special mention of strangeness in season four should also go to the strange mumbling presentation of Rose's dialogue. Why was Billie Piper talking like she had marbles in her mouth? I agree with your comments completely. If the rest of the series had been as good as the "Library" episodes, it would have been great.

On a different note, I just couldn't ever warm up to Donna (I didn't understand the British fascination with Catherine Tate while I was there), but I'm going to miss her grandfather. He was really cool.