Who Talk

Late, but it had to arrive sometime.

(And there are going to be spoilers. So look away now!)

I have a very tricky relationship with the new version of Doctor Who. My wife will testify to the fact that I was kind of a nightmare while the show was airing (all thirteen weeks of it), and while I’ve settled down a bit, it’s still difficult. There’s still episodes of the first series that I really can’t bring myself to watch again. (Slitheen? No thanks…) At heart, I think it’s Russel T. Davies’ vision of the show I have problems with- the fact that he’s gutted a large amount of the peripheral strangeness that was Doctor Who, that he’s a writer who can do great dialogue but doesn’t seem able to write without doing a very forced, purple prose style that immediately makes characters sound like teenage poetry students. The fact that he’s made Who embarresingly self-aware, but- biggest of all my bugbears, and the one that frequently threatens to make me go “Hulk”- that the internal logic of the stories aren’t as important as the gags or the “emotional” storyline. There’s so many episodes of New Who that fall to pieces if you even breath on them, let alone subject them to serious scrutiny (Father’s Day… grumble…) and it’s the one thing that truly frustrates me, because the story is vital. It’s not the thing you have bubbling in the background- it should be functioning with the Characterisation.

Oh, hell, I could go on for ages. Anyway, the long and the short of it is that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the Christmas Special. I foresaw another Slitheen-style story, and the fact that they actually sidelined the Doctor for over half the episode seemed nothing short of insane- but, in the end, I have to admit to being quite impressed. I almost don’t want to watch it again, though- because I know that gigantic holes in the story, the weakly ripped off ideas (the ‘satellite’ shot from Independence Day, the Death Star weapon, the alien race who are essentially Klingons with funky helmets) will leap out at me. And it’s not like there weren’t some pig-awful bits of dialogue, with the awakened Tenth Doctor coming across like an overenthusiastic Seconday School Drama Teacher at times and the disposable Black officer thinking that berating a psychotic alien about not following the Geneva Convention was a good idea… but the whole thing was a lot edgier than I expected, giving a 24-style sheen to UNIT, and giving some of the characters who died a genuine bit of life, rather than the disposable caricatures in World War Three. The ending particularly, with Penelope Wilton proving exactly how good an actress she is when given the chance to go outside sitcom mode, was genuinely surprising, and the kind of risky stuff that I always wanted an updated Who to be doing. Of course, a couple of minutes later we’ve got a slap-up Christmas Dinner and a less than subtle “Oh, aren’t we being arch?” reference to Cassanova, but a lot of it worked very well, with cinematic direction and a soundtrack that, for once, didn’t make me want to find Murray Gold and introduce him to the business end of a blowtorch (although the fact that it was recorrded with a proper orchestra definitely helped, sparing us the shitty mid-sequenced fake orchestral sounds from last season. Don’t worry. They’ll be back…)

So, it was fun, and it kept me entertained. It’s good set-piece stuff, but like all set-piece driven stuff, there’s not that much meat between the setpieces, and I can’t help feeling that the whole “Wow! Look at the spectacle we can do!” school of Who is only going to last so long before they start running out of ideas. I’ll be approaching the upcoming new series with a careful level of cynicism. We can only wait and see…

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