Doctorin’ The Tardis (Thoughts on the end of New Who)

Okay- the final week of New Who. Below are my thoughts on this weeks, and a little ruminating on the series in general (with, hopefully, a minimum of ranting). Spoilers follow…

Well, I was right. On the phone to my friend (and long-time Who fan) Paul, I said- “I bet it’s a ‘metaphorical’ death, or something along those lines, and Rose goes to live with her mum and her alternate Dad in the parallel universe.” I didn’t think they’d have the nerve to actually kill her off- it was all tease and then chickening out at the last minute (If anyone can explain how exactly Pete Tyler managed to conveniently turn up in Rose’s path to save her, I’d be very happy to hear a possibility that isn’t just RTD taking the easy way out.) As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad an episode- not a patch on last year’s finale, though, and fears of over-egging turned out to be relatively correct. The Cybermen once again get relegated to easily blown-up silver chumps, the Daleks get to fly around in big swarms and then get hoovered up into the void (presumably where they will remain until the ratings fall), and the plot regularly comes to a halt so that everyone can emote. It’s not the fact that New Who insists on upping the emotional side that bugs me- it’s the fact that they haven’t got to grips with how to do it without bringing the momentum of the episode to a halt. In the big reunion between Alternate Pete Tyler and Jackie, I did end up wishing someone would say “Um… excuse me- Daleks? Cybermen? Maybe doing this at a safer location would be better?”. And the end farewell scene was… exactly as I expected. Nicely played, but that kind of determined working of the waterworks never really goes down well with me, and I did end up wishing it would end. Ah, I’m a heartless old cynic. The last scene was… well… unexpected, and the title of the new Christmas special- “The Runaway Bride”- doesn’t exactly have me salivating in anticipation…

But, as I’ve said before, New Who isn’t made for me anymore. As it went, Season 2 didn’t actually get me to the point where I wanted to switch off (although Love and Monsters came damn close), but it’s more of an exercise in observing different types of storytelling and why they don’t work than something I fully, wholeheartedly enjoy.

It did occur to me this week- in the run-up to the big ‘Rose’s Departure’ story, that while the series has undoubtedly gotten better technically (although it still pushes the CGI far too much, especially with the unconvincing flocks of Daleks in tonight’s episode), this season rather dropped the ball in terms of the Doctor and Rose’s relationship. Now, while I had certain issues with it in Season 1, it did work overall- and I think one of the reasons for this is the contrast between Piper and Eccleston. They compliment each other in a much better way than Tennant and Piper do- they’re both good, but they’re both doing essentially the same lively “ah, we’re having such fun” characters, when I think the Doctor/Companion dynamic works better when there’s a little friction. It’s certainly the case in the best pairing- with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane, where Baker can be loud, weird and OTT, and Lis Sladen balances it out with her well-played normality. It reminds me of something said by Joss Whedon about how he went about developing the Angel TV series- that you needed someone as bright and smiley as Cordelia to be a sidekick, to balance out the brooding and furrowed-brow nature of the main character. What Season 2 was desperately in need of was a bit of balance, a bit of contrast- and instead, you ended up with a relationship that had absolutely nowhere to go.
I’d slightly hoped, in the wake of Russel T Davies’ big plan to ‘bring emotional values’ to Doctor Who, that the post-regeneration relationship between the Doctor and Rose would be the literal equivalent of the honeymoon coming to an end, and suddenly finding out that your partner isn’t the person you thought- that it’d add a little friction, a little difference, and maybe it’d get to the point of them actually wanting to go their seperate ways. Instead, we just got the same goo-goo-eyes, “oh, we’re so fantastic” relationship cranked up a few notches, with no interesting wrinkles like Captain Jack thrown into the equation.

Of course- the question has to be- where the hell does the show go now? This is, at least, the most challenging point that the show has faced since it came back. Changing the Doctor is one thing- but by losing Rose, they’re essentially going to have to reboot the show from scratch (especially considering that they’re not going to be able to bring the Cybermen or the Daleks back for a while without it looking lazy), and this is where the test is going to be. The old show’s ability to change was the one thing that kept it alive- but are they going to change it, or are we just going to end up with the same situation in slightly different clothes? I’m slightly interested, but I’m not holding my breath. New Who has had a few moments of greatness since it came back- best, and most surprising of which, was actually The Girl in the Fireplace- but the storytelling has, largely, gotten shonkier and shonkier (even tonight had the hilarious sight of the leader of Torchwood conveniently turning up and- despite having had all emotions erased- saving the day, as well as weeping tears of oil!!!), with even the loosest, most airy-fairy Old Who-style logic taking a back seat to big emotion, big spectacle, and some deliriously out-of-place gags.

(As a side-note- I find Russell T Davies’ general “I’m fantastic, the show’s great, and everything we do is utterly superb” tone in interviews both slightly annoying, and rather difficult to believe. I can understand the need to be bullish and confidant, but to be able to look at everything that they’ve done and say “Yes, it’s all fantastic, no need to change anything” just boggles the mind. The producer of the new version of Battlestar Galactica, Ron Moore, is actually suprisingly open about when he feels the show gets it wrong- particularly in the second half of season two, when it does mess up a few times. He’s actually done podcast commentaries where he says “I don’t like this episode- it doesn’t work, and it’s nobody’s fault but my own”. I can’t help feeling that a little of that kind of humility might do RTD some good, and might make him do better work. I also find it ironic that he’ll say that he didn’t want New Who to be self-aware and silly, or to get too over-dependent in it’s own mythology in the way that Old Who did, and then goes ahead and throws bucketloads of self-aware silliness into episodes like Love and Monsters, while overdosing on the show’s recent mythology to a hysterical degree. Ah well. Rant over.)

Who and I- we’re growing apart. Sad, but true. I’ll still pop in and check on the show, but I think any chance of maintaining a healthy relationship is pretty long gone. Well, good luck to it, and a few years along the line- who knows? 

Apart from all that nonsense which has been rattling around my head for a while, it’s been a quiet, peaceful couple of days. I’ve had a couple of good thoughts relating to new stories to work on, and been on some very satisfying walks through the countryside. Tomorrow, I start sitting down with the book and trying to get the world to work. It might be hard, it might be tricky- but I’m going to get there in the end.

George is a little poorly at the moment- she’s down at her parents, helping out with things, and I just wish I was there to give her a hug. Still, we are on the home stretch of this particular gap, now. 

Not too long to go…

2 thoughts on “Doctorin’ The Tardis (Thoughts on the end of New Who)

  1. It is compulsive family viewing though.
    I basically agree that new-Who is not quite right. But, I believe, if I was 12 or 13 while watching this I’d probably be wetting my pants (metaphorically). I have two kids – one 4, one 7 – and they both love it. And – shock! – we sit and watch this tat together.
    Even today as someone in his mid-thirties (who remembers your days as master swordsman), the title music to new-Who makes me sit up in anticipation that this could be a better episode for us oldies. But my kids, they just love the monsters, exterminations and deletions. Reminds me of something Gerry Anderson said about having to blow stuff up in Thunderbirds to keep the kids attention.
    I also thank David Tennant and Billie Piper’s screen kiss for making my skin crawl enough to give birth to Sexton Lovecraft – imagine if James Bond, Indiana Jones, Ethan Hunt, Brian Sewell and Austin Powers were all rolled into one art collecting time-traveller with a lack of fuel. That person is Sexton Lovecraft. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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    • Re: It is compulsive family viewing though.
      I agree- the one thing I can say is unequivocably fantastic about New Who is the fact that it’s suddenly reawakened big-scale family-oriented TV drama. I know that virtually everything I feel about Who is viewed through the prism of growing up during the later years of Tom Baker, and if I was a kid at the moment, I would probably love Who (although it’s likely I would get slightly annoyed and bored by the emotional stuff…). I guess I just feel that there’s the potential for it to be better- that they could make the storytelling a little more demanding, they could make the effort to make a lot of the episode endings actually make sense, but that they don’t. Hey ho.
      “Even today as someone in his mid-thirties (who remembers your days as master swordsman),”
      Okay- I’m slightly freaked by that reference (it was one of my more nonsensical references on my media job-seeking letters circa 1995-1997, before I cottonned onto the fact that maybe the surreal gags might not be the best pathway to employment), mainly because I’m not sure who you are. It’s one of the things I’ve never quite gotten used to with blogging- I still go “Aaahh! Who can that be!?!?” whenever I get the occasional anonymous post. I guess I’ll get over it eventually…

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