Hate is a strong word. But, like a Tyrannosaurus up the Thames, it’s a good attention-grabber even if it ends up having nothing to do with the rest of this blog post.
The fact is, when you’ve been married to something – sorry, when you’ve been a fan of something for a lengthy length of time, you’re bound to encounter difficult phases, there will be certain quirks and foibles that will annoy and irritate or just make you sigh and shake your head and/or drive you to sleep on the sofa for a few nights. Or prompt you to go off and play on your Xbox or do something less boring instead.
It might feel like falling out of love. But it’s not hate. You could never hate the show. You still love the damned thing.
Who am I talking about? Who, I am talking about.
Happy 51st birthday Doctor Who.
With an eighth season of its 21st century incarnation behind us and our first full season of a brand new Doctor, I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to look back on the main niggles that have managed to put a little distance between me and my once-upon-a-time favourite TV show.
These may come across as entirely negative gripes and many fans may protest and disagree – please do, in the comments section. But bear in mind, they a) have no power to affect your enjoyment of the series and b) they’re not negative. Which is my double negative way of saying they’re meant positively.
After all, most of these niggles, if they were remedied for next season, would probably only result in a show that was everything it was already, but significantly improved. In my humble opinion, as they say.
Of course, the humble is optional, as in my recipe for humble pie.
So without further ado, here is The One With The List:
1. THE MUSIC
Of course I don’t hate the music. Come on, that title theme is eternal. I fully expect some dim corner of my brain will be humming it to itself even when I’ve succumbed to dementia, lost my way on a walk to the local chip shop and forgotten what I was going there for anyway.
But. It’s now been rearranged more times than the Doctor’s facial features and the latest incarnation is just way too busy and bombastic. The accompanying titles are on the busy side too, like a cry for attention – hey, look at me, look at me, there’s lots going on in this show! – but I like the spiralling clock face and they’re at least a visual distraction to help me tune out the dreadful din. A full season of it and it’s almost like I don’t hear it any more. I’m fairly sure the version my dementia-addled brain will be humming will be one of the simpler arrangements. If not, the other residents of the old folks’ home will probably complain about the noise leaking through my eardrums.
One thing the vast majority of reasoning pacifists and militarists will likely have in common is that they do not hate soldiers. And while the Doctor is a singular, unique individual, I’d appreciate it more if his psychology was founded in some sort of reality.
This trait is a relatively recent addition to the Doctor’s character and is generally attributed to the fact that this is a veteran of the Time War. This Doctor has moved on from having friends in the military and sharing a glass of Courvoisier with Bonaparte.
Oh yes, he’s a seasoned soldier himself, embittered by all the horrors of war he’s seen and even the horrors he’s been obliged to perpetrate himself. So yes, that could lead to deep-rooted self-hatred issues, that sort of thing. But war veterans tend to seek counsel and comfort in the company of those who’ve been through similar circumstances. And even if they reject the military, I’m not sure any of them would hate fellow soldiers to the extent that they wouldn’t stand beside one of them or offer one a lift in their car.
This is a (supposedly super-intelligent) 2000 year old guy who has seen countless military personnel exhibiting the full range of qualities found in soldiers: cruelty, narrow-mindedness, violence, courage, compassion, sacrifice etc. All those evils out there that the Doctor defends folks against, erm, when he’s not around who fights the Daleks, who protects the civilians? Soldiers. Giving their lives more than he’s ever done. (Obviously.)
When we add in the fact that this Doctor has been through three regenerations since the Time War plus one thousand years on Christmas and been granted a) the insight into the burden on the shoulders of the War Doctor and b) a wibbly wobbly timey-wimey (see later) change in the timeline that meant he never had to do the thing he was most horrified to have done, none of that adds up to this ingrained phobia. It’s ridiculous. It’s ill-considered. It is, in short, more BS than any Nimon ever produced.
We’re most of us familiar with armchair pacifism, because most of us don’t like war and we can all hand down judgements on soldiers behaving badly from the comfort of our own sofas. This is sub-infantile pacifism from a character who is in a position to form an intelligent, mature informed judgment. I say sub-infantile, because I’m betting even a child understands there is a difference between not liking war and hating a chap (or lass) in uniform.
There has only been one character who might reasonably be expected to hate soldiers with that level of fervour and that was a dead kid. Who wanted to sit at a table with Danny Pink and confront his killer, then ran away, rejecting his sorry attempts to say sorry. But d’you know what? I doubt even that kid hated soldiers. Not really. I doubt he even hated Danny. Looked more scared and confused than anything.
D’you remember K9? Dear old K9, wheeled into the world of Doctor Who because the producers saw R2D2 and thought, hey, Doctor Who should have a cute robot. I love K9, think he’s a great design and a fantastic creation. But they had to get rid of him because he encouraged the writers to be lazy, having K9 trundle in and save the day.
The difference between him and the sonic screwdriver is that he had character. All the sonic screwdriver has is function. Oh so many functions.It’s the bane of so many episodes now.
When it was introduced, it unscrewed screws. Later, in the Pertwee era it would do things like set off landmines to drive Sea Devils back into the surf, but generally things that you could reasonably expect to achieve with sonic waves. Not so far-fetched is it, sound waves triggering landmines. Also not vastly instrumental in solving the overall story. Just to extricate the Doctor from a tricky situation. Fair enough.
Now it is a weapon and, make no mistake about it, a magic wand. Which you might justify, now that the Doctor finds himself up against magic more often, but it is the worst kind of plot device. Better if Clara had collected up all the sonic screwdrivers and thrown them in the lava. Better if it hadn’t been a dream either and they were gone. For good.
Even in my favourite episode of the season, Flatline, the Doctor dismisses the flatlanders back to their dimension with a wave of this wand.
Thing is, I don’t have any smart answer as to what to do about this, as they’ve effectively used the instrument to hammer the nail in the drama coffin. Do you get rid of it and come up with some reason why it isn’t replaced? Give the Doctor some sort of handyman amnesia that prevents him making another one? Or he can only make a limited version of it? I don’t know. The damage has been done and it’s tough to reverse convincingly. But I’d be tempted to say any one of those feeble unconvincing solutions to the problem is preferable to the continuance of the problem.
See also Sonic. Similar problem. What was a vehicle to transport the Doctor and companions to fascinating worlds of adventure is too often used as a tool to extricate the Doctor and companions from tight spots and tricky situations that would otherwise have to be overcome with ingenuity.
It’s a bit too late now, but I’d have much preferred this very old Type 40 to grow less reliable and more creaky and unpredictable, instead of more powerful than ever. Maybe it’s time to damage it severely and limit its powers. If nothing else it would prohibit its use as a taxi service for any companions who wanted a regular weekly pick-up every Tuesday.
5. WIBBLY WOBBLY TIMEY-WIMEY
Hate, as we’ve established, is such a strong word but I think I might actually loathe that phrase. Wibbly wobbly timey-wimey. I even hate that I’ve ended up writing it. Twice.
But the real problem with timey-wimey stories is that they’re frequently wibbly-wobbly.
They’ve been going around the same old circles, like a wheel on a bent axle, they’re also getting tired. Sure, it’s clever to join the dots in something other than a straight line, but you can achieve the same with a compass and a spirograph and we’ve been around this block so many times before we know what’s coming.
Oh, look, we went looking for the cause, strained for effect and turned out to be the cause. No wonder it feels like déjà vu, we’ve done it so often. That, other than the profoundly stupid bit with the kid under the blanket, was the overriding impression I was left with by this year’s ‘classic’ Listen. Worse, was Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS, where everything is granted a (literal) big reset button.
In other non sci-fi shows that’s like Pam seeing Bobby in the shower and discovering the preceding episodes were all a dream. It’s getting to the point where we may have to start imposing rations on the number of time travel stories in a show that features a time machine.
Somewhere in the infinite interior of the TARDIS I am sure there is a kitchen sink. So I’m not sure I see the need to visit Earth for a weekly dose of ‘drama’ around this ubiquitous domestic household fixture.
This year, we were given enough of the Clara-Danny Hollyoaks romance to make it tedious and nowhere near enough to form the basis of the undying love they apparently shared. I mean, on the one hand, thank cripes, because we would have seen even less actual adventure in our favourite sci-fi adventure series. But it seems to me, if we really had to have that thread form such a key element of the season, maybe it would have been better to drag Danny along as a companion and, I don’t know, have him and Clara forge a closer bond through their various ordeals in time and space instead of at Coal Grange Hill. Of course, that would never have happened because the Doctor could never have stomached having such a thoroughly despicable soldier on board the TARDIS.
Either way, the formula of starting most stories in soapland only succeeds in getting me in a lather. Audiences might embrace the spirit of adventure a bit more if the companion did. The idea of someone struggling to juggle a TARDIS life with their mundane earthbound one might have been okay for one season, but we’ve actually had this to one degree or another for eight seasons now.
At the risk of sounding like a tabloid newspaper, I’m going to quote ‘a source’ on Twitter:
They are so busy trying to be clever with their #DoctorWho scripts that they forget to be intelligent. It comes across like bad fan fiction
Instantly favourited tweet, because I couldn’t agree more.
Doctor Who writers are clever. There’s no doubt about that.
Sadly, they seem to suffer from an insecurity that compels them to demonstrate how clever they are, so they are all working away so feverishly to write brilliant, quick-witted exchanges of dialogue and devising original, inventive situations for the Doctor to come up against that they overlook that rather more minor issue of making sure everything makes sense.
Leaving glaring plot holes in their masterworks. Oops. And despite a conscious effort on my part to focus on the positive, perhaps the reason these plot holes remain so vivid in the memory long after the episode has ended is akin to fossilisation. It’s only the animals who’re stupid enough to fall into a tar pit that get preserved.
This special combination of cleverness and massive oversight of the simplest things (you know, the sort of thing that would have Homer Simpson slapping his forehead and saying, “D’oh!”) is known in some circles as ‘genius’. And it’s because it is called ‘genius’ that it will persist and we will continue to see much more of it in Doctor Who.
There are those writers who don’t quite manage to plug their plot holes, and then there are those who just don’t bother. I can only imagine they shrug and say, what the hell, it doesn’t matter, it’s only Doctor Who.
Or maybe when they heard of the magic of Doctor Who, they figured that means we can have amazing appearing and disappearing trees and all sorts of wonderful stuff that would even find more logical basis in Merlin. A glorious space chicken hatching from Moon eggs then laying another Moon egg twice the size of itself. Physically painful to the extent of being most likely fatal, if not actually impossible.
Doctor Who science is generally flimsy enough as it is, thanks, but it needs to be there. Make an effort. Make up some pseudoscientific gobbledegook. Anything is better than bugger all. If you can’t make your story work without magic, maybe you need to come up with another story or sell it to another show.
At least we have Santa and Elves to look forward to in the Christmas special.
And although I say that with a degree of sarcasm, I would actually be fine with it – if there is a decent rational explanation that holds together for longer than it takes a neural impulse to jump a synapse.
There’s that line in my favourite tale this season, Flatline: “What if they’re not monsters? That would make a refreshing change.” Which would have been good and entirely fitting if not for the fact that the majority of monsters in Who turn out to be misunderstood. In the end, the monsters in that one turned out to be monsters and that was the refreshing change.
See, back when Brian Hayles made his Ice Warriors a member race of a Galactic Federation in The Curse Of Peladon, that was a novel twist. And having the genuinely scary aliens in last year's Hide turn out to be lovers would have been a wonderfully novel twist in a season that wasn’t absolutely loaded with emo-monsters and weak endings. Now the writers have cried sheep so often, it gets to the point you’re really glad of just one wolf.
Let’s be clear on one thing: I do not hate Clara. I lurve her. She’s gorgeous. Jenna Coleman does a superb job in the role, investing the character with depth, charm, wit, intelligence, ferocity and the much-vaunted pluck we have admired in other companions. A companion must always, always be pluckier than a poultry farmer. It’s just that, well, what with the TARDIS and the sonic screwdriver at his disposal, does the Doctor really need the companion to be another device?
The Impossible Girl thread through Season 7 was fair enough, but I rather foolishly entertained hopes, once that was concluded, that there might be some efforts to properly develop her as a character. To that end, the powers that be handed down a storyline in which she struggles to balance a teaching career with her jaunts in the TARDIS (some trips must be so boring and inconsequential, she thinks she can take her marking along) and gets herself a boyfriend. Who turns out to be a plot device for the series finale. Now there are so many plot devices they’ve started dating one another. Next thing you know, they’ll be breeding and we’ll be overrun with plot devices.
In the days when Doctor Who stories were never so determinedly about the Doctor and/or the companions, they were never so blatantly fielded as plot devices. Here’s an idea: characters experience adventures and grow from their experiences. That’s character development. Simples.
So, there they are, the main issues I have with Doctor Who in its current form. Will they be going away any time soon? I’m not sure: if the writers believe they have hit on a successful formula, why would they change anything? Viewing figures at time of broadcast are down, but that can be attributed to the show’s tendency to travel in the programming schedule and Moffat insists that many more folks are watching it on iPlayer. Fair enough.
Doctor Who was never the best show on TV, but it was my favourite for many years. Now there are many more and if I was the sort to make Top 10s, Doctor Who would slip outside of it. Chiefly because of these Top 10 entirely fixable issues.
Now that I’ve lit those ten candles, let’s light another for one element I love. Capaldi, as I’ve said before, is the best thing to happen to Doctor Who since its return. Indeed, he’s so brilliant, such a fantastic Doctor, he makes these issues a bigger deal. Because if you’ve gotten your Doctor so right, it’s strikes me as that bit more important to raise the rest of your game to match.
Happy 51st birthday, Doctor Who.
We don’t want much. I’d just like to have my cake, eat it and be able to write a glowing review afterwards.
No actual hate was used in the making of this blog post.