Musings SciFi

The Doctor Who Problem

Doctor Who is back for a new season and having seen the latest two episodes
it is right back to having the same problems that have dogged the new series
for years. Before we get into it, some background first. I do not claim to be a
super who fan. You will find plenty more knowledgeable folks than I. That said,
I have watched a number of the old serials, and all the new series, and there
is a distinct difference between the two. More than just the clunky special
effects the old series approached its stories and characters in a fundamentally
different way. Some spoilers incoming, so you have been warned.

Lets start by comparing the very first episode I saw of the classic series,
Pyramids of Mars,
to the most recent two episodes: The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s
Familiar. At the start of Pyramids of Mars an outside force surprises the
Doctor and his companion (Sarah) and the Doctor stops to investigate. They then
start to uncover a mystery while avoiding malevolent unstoppable mummies. It is
all very fun and engaging. In The Magician’s Apprentice in the first scene we
encounter a younger version of an antagonist to the Doctor. Then we spend the
next 30 minutes or so (in a 45 minute episode) trying to find where the Doctor
is and what he is up to. Everyone is all concerned about having him solve their
problems, or they want to talk to him about this and that. In my book, that is
a problem. The new series has always been focused on the Doctor. How he impacts
the worlds he goes to, his past, his motivations. The old series was never that
concerned. Who cares why the Doctor travels around, who cares where he comes
from. Let us go someplace exciting and different and have an adventure. The new
series is obsessed with the Doctor to the detriment of the story. In the
Whoverse there is no one more important, and that is a problem. I may sound old
and crotchety here, but the older serials had the right idea. Doctor Who is an
anthology series that happens to have a few recurring characters.

The second problem in play is the characters. Lately Doctor Who has just
been a factory for tumblr memes. Sure you are allowed some funny lines from
time to time, but all this off beat, look at me I am so random, twitter chaff
is just distracting. Especially guilty is this Missy character. Every other
sentence is trite “I’m evil so I speak in stream on conscience style and it
only makes sense to me. But you know I am serious because I kill people from
time to time.” I admit to having a special loathing for this character. She has
added so little to the series and it is just awful to hear her lines.

Next up we have some serious worldbuilding issues. Nothing is ever final in
the Whoverse. People die and come back. Planets are destroyed and come back.
Whole races are killed off and then miraculously reborn the next season. In the
series 8 finale Missy dies. She is literally disintegrated. Series 9 starts,
shes back just fine. Just a simple hand wave and no respect for the continuity
of the series. When your universe has no consequences there can be no suspense.
At the end of The Magician’s Apprentice, Claire (the companion) and Missy are
both disintegrated by Daleks. It is supposed to be a great cliffhanger, but you
literally brought a character back from death at the start of this episode, no
way I believe these main characters just bought it. And of course at the start
of the next episode you drop some contrived garbage for how they survived. Take
some risks, kill some characters, have some actual consequences in your show or
else no one will ever trust you when a main character is in peril.

Speaking of the Daleks, that nicely highlights another issue the new series
has. It keeps going back the well. Star Wars has this same problem. Everyone
likes the old characters, the old races, let us just roll them out again
instead of creating a new idea. I am so sick of the Daleks showing up every
series for a few episodes. Seriously,
look at how many races we have to play with
! You can use them too we do not
have to have the Daleks be the big bad again. Maybe then we can have the Doctor
use something other than his sonic screwdriver to get out of a jam for once.
Maybe then someone other than the Master can be the Doctor’s big nemesis.

Let us summarize, the new series: 1. Revolves around the Doctor instead of
the adventure. 2. Loves to fill dialogue with jokes and upstart memes instead
of contributing to the plot. 3. Prefers to constantly fiddle and retcon the
past instead of having something they did be final. 4. Loves to go back to the
well instead of creating new things.

And yet, after all that, I am still going to tune in next week, because when
everything works the show really is something special. When they go somewhere
wonderfully new and meet a new race and have a rip roaring trek it is magical.
It is worth all the awful. Each time I hear that music I hope this will be the
episode all sins are forgiven. Sometimes I am right.

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