Sunday, April 10, 2005

Doctor Do Little

Prefect SlogI see dead people. Not on any regular basis, you understand, just in last night's episode of Doctor Who. For my money (how many ningis to the pu again?), the best one so far. I was thoroughly drawn in and I loved it. Three episodes in and, for me, Doctor Who had really arrived. The Victorian setting (superbly realised) and the theatre will naturally conjure reminiscences of "The Talons of Weng Chiang", but what brought that reminiscence to life more for me was the way the story was full of lovely touches of characterisation. And of course, this one actually took some time to enjoy its setting, atmosphere and, just as Rose was full of wonder at the sheer marvel of stepping into history, we were allowed some time to wonder at it all as well. The scenes with Rose and Gwyneth warrant a special mention, as does Simon Callow as Dickens. As they like to say on Points of View sometimes (when they're not saying "Why, oh why, oh why"): thank you, BBC. Or, more to the point, thank you, Mark Gatiss. I won't go into a laborious Oscars-acceptance-speech style list of all the other people who were involved, but the cast were all a joy to watch. Even the dead ones. And within that Christopher Eccleston came over as much more Doctorish, lending a real balance of authority against the grinning idiot that he's done a little too much of up till now. A darker story allows the darker side of this Doctor to, er, shine through. I just wish he'd had more to do. There are other little quibbles: the seemingly nonsensical solution of filling the room with gas to draw out the gaseous aliens (am I missing something in the distant mists of my O Level physics?), the fairly obvious twist to the angelic nature of the Gelth and the (again) drawn out 'climax' where (again) nobody's doing much of anything. Butthey're minor and things that certainly didn't detract any from my enjoyment of the whole thing. No, my biggest grumble would simply be that the Doctor's only crucial role was to make matters worse. First time he doesn't get to solve things with a wave of his sonic screwdriver wand, and he doesn't solve anything. Both him and Rose are stuck for what seems like an age in a dungeon - in Cardiff - while the tension mounts as the unquiet dead, well, reach rather uselessly through the bars. The stories thus far have been pretty simple, and I can forgive that given the 45-minute episode time, but by the same token, that's a reason to use the time to good effect. Don't see that 45-minute length as a limit, but work to the advantage of your format. Do something. That goes especially for you, Doctor. Especially in an episode where you've essentially just shown up to take charge of the scenes without, for the most part, changing the script. As I said, I still loved it and something like that needn't be too damaging: I've experimented before by removing the Doctor from "The Caves of Androzani", and things still play out pretty much the same way. (Although the story benefits a lot more from the removal of the Magma Creature.) But, in the end, the whole thing felt very Holmesian, by which I mean Robert not Sherlock, and that's good enough for me. The gripes (and you've gotta have gripes) are only the equivalent of the big fluffy rat. And if you can live with one or two of those, it's about as good as Doctor Who gets.

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