On…Doctor Who

Doctor Who Logo

I just want to preface this by saying I am a complete Doctor Who noob. I have literally only seen the latest season, which brings my Doctor Who knowledge to a grand total of about 13 episodes (minus the ones I only just half watched and the ones I skipped entirely). I am painfully aware that my opinion here will not be reflective of a hardcore Doctor Who cultist, and is instead one by someone who was effectively roped into watching the show by the cumulative pressure of a boyfriend, several close friends, multiple not so close friends and general English society. It seemed to me that Doctor Who was a mainstay of British culture and by missing out on it, I was missing something fundamentally British.

So there I was, after my first episode, with a decidedly confused look on my face. What was this show I had just watched? And why was it so…bad? I felt lied to. Betrayed. I just couldn’t understand where the appeal was. It wasn’t clever. It wasn’t funny. It was immature and childish and the only funny parts were unintentional. The plot was as deep as a shoe string. The acting was miserable, as if the actors had been forced into some macabre puppet show where they had to be smiling all the time on penalty of having their strings cut. More on this later. But in total, the show was just lacklustre in every way. Every aspect of it was just mediocre at best, from the sound quality, the lightning effects, the production values, the cinematography, even the costuming and the set design seemed haphazardly put together from what they could scavenge from Aunt Mabel’s old fabric closet. But I endured.

And I cried. I couldn’t take it. By episode 5, I could only pretend to be watching the show when I was actually playing stupid iOS games on my phone. Yes, that’s right. I’d rather play dress up fashion games on my phone than watch Doctor Who. And the more I semi-watched it, the more infuriating it got. I started noticing just the extent of crapness that this show was. How contrived some of the plot lines were. How the actors weren’t puppets suffering from bad script, but the puppeteers themselves; they were just terrible puppeteers. I felt like someone who had been surrounded by friends in some elaborate scam and I was the only one who didn’t get conned.

I promised to talk more about the acting. Let’s talk about Matt Smith. First…what an unlikeable twat. I have no experience of any other actor playing the Doctor but I hope that’s not what they’re all like. His constant overacting of every situation, his weird throwing limb movements that make him seem like an oaf with some motor-neurone disease, his inability to speak a sentence without weird intonations, all add to this impression that Doctor Who is just a complete circus show. I can only surmise that the look he is going for is ‘quirky’, but I just think that if you ever knew a guy like this in real life, you would be throwing punches after just a half dozen sentences out of his massive jaw. There is one episode, and here is a spoiler alert in case you’re one of those weirdos that care enough about the show but doesn’t watch it when it’s out, where there are Cybermen and one of them occupies his brain. He then has to act both the part of a Cyberman and the part of the Doctor. He does this by showing opposite sides of his face. And you know, he makes some attempt to sound less like the Doctor when he’s playing the part of the Cyberman. But it’s a paltry attempt, because he cannot hide his mannerisms. He cannot suppress the extra minds which seem to control his limbs because they flail about at random in all directions constantly, even when the Cyberman is supposedly controlling the left side of his body. And I don’t know whether he just doesn’t have the acting chops to play anything but a complete twat, or whether that’s what the director demanded of him (though I know the episode was written by Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite writers…all I can say is WHY?). But regardless, it was a terrible episode, just like all the others.

Don't you just want to punch this twat?

Don’t you just want to punch this twat?

But what about Jenna Louise Coleman? Well, she’s a pretty face, so that’s a bonus I suppose. She also seems to be suffering from ‘quirky’ syndrome, the same kind of cheerful spirit which permeates this show even when faced with complete annihilation. But what I couldn’t understand was what she was going for. Is she strong and independent and clever? Or is she just a useless sulking girl? Because she flips between the two more often than flip flops falling down a hill. About the only defined quality she has is that she is apparently good with children. Oh whoopee, a woman who is good with children, someone ring the feminist police, they might not like this! Now I have no issue with that as a character trait. But as the only character trait? It’s a little dubious; let’s be honest now, it is the 21st century.

I did watch some of the old companions. I liked Karen Gillian more I think, because at least she came off like she knew what she was doing. I once watched Arthur Davill play Mephistopheles in a production of Marlowe’s Dr Faustus at the Shakespeare Globe, so I am biased towards him, because he was pretty hot in that tight Jacobean outfit. Still, at least they seemed kind of affable. They suffered from bad plot writing (which more often than not, involved ‘love’ as some panacea for the universe’s problems) but at least they seemed quite likeable and relatable. When they are ripped from their daily existences, they seem to react in a realistic way. Unlike Jenna Louise Coleman who seems to have no qualms about absolutely anything, the empty robot soul behind her pretty eyes just cannot express a thing besides minor delight and minor surprise to accompany the occasional pouty face she pulls.

Since I mentioned bad plot writing, did I mention that this show is just about the worst written show I’ve ever had to endure? Let’s start with the premise of time travel. Or rather, the complete lack of any consistent time travel premise. As a student who had to write papers on time travel and the philosophy of time travel, I know my time travel stuff. I know my Grandfather paradoxes and multiple universe theories. And Doctor Who utilises absolute zero philosophy or logic in its construction of time travel. It is inconsistent from episode to episode. Are the events in history fixed or are they changeable? Well, sometimes the plot demands history be changed; other times, some fate-like entity controls the world and events must proceed in a set arbitrary way. The main character is a TIME LORD. The whole show is about TIME TRAVEL. Would it be so much to ask that the time travel aspects be well developed and consistent and believable? Apparently so! People just get so flustered with time travel stories. Here’s a hint: use multiple universes and timelines. It may not be ultimately very satisfying for changing events of a personal past (that feeling of ‘well I only changed it for other people in other timelines, but not mine’), but at least it makes sense. You could literally just invent millions of alternate universes for use in a time travel show. And yet, Doctor Who just breezes past all of that with complete nonsense where sometimes, he can’t change the events of time, sometimes events are blocked off from time travel, but other times he can easily be saved by his older self, even though that would create a paradox and a loop, and implies that there are multiple timelines, but other times there is just one of everyone…confused yet? Yeah, it makes no bloody sense.

But you know what, the time travel stuff isn’t even the worst. Hey, I mean Looper had an inconsistent theory of time travel but that wasn’t a terrible film. The worst stuff is the complete deus ex machina which happen every single episode. More often than not, what resolves the conflict is some variation on ‘love’. Look, I’m no stranger to lovey dovey stuff, and recently my heart has softened so much that I just squeal when I hear of cute romantic stories. I’m someone who for Christmas, wrote a hundred reasons why I loved my boyfriend on little cards. So don’t tell me I’m some heartless cold crow who doesn’t appreciate romantic story lines. I do. I really do. But the way Doctor Who crowbars it in at even the slightest hint of trouble just diminishes the importance of the plot which was paper thin anyway. Other times, the deus ex machina takes the form of some paradoxical form of help. I distinctly remember an episode where Rory couldn’t see his older self without causing a paradox that would lead to his death and completely make it a sealed off section of time which the Tardis can’t reach. Oh but it’s ok when the Doctor sees his older self in a later episode when he’s stuck inside the Tardis, the very thing that seemed so repelled by paradoxes just a few episodes ago? Yup. Consistency = zero. Sometimes, the deus ex machine is just that the bad guy gives up. Yeah, literally, the bad guy will just give up and stop destroying whatever he wanted to destroy because maybe it started raining and the Doctor waved his sonic screwdriver around and he thought maybe he’ll go have a picnic on Planet Xeroth instead.  There is an episode where an Ice Warrior, supposedly famous in the universe for being completely destructive and horrible, just gives up the opportunity to nuke Earth because his friends come. He literally just gives up the entire premise of his character because the show writers can’t bear to blow up the Earth. Not that the Earth can blow up anyway, because this was set during the Cold War, and given that it’s 2013 now, it couldn’t have blown up back in the 70s. Or could it? Who knows how time works in this show.

Speaking of the sonic screwdriver, or as I always called it, the plot device tool, what the hell is that thing? Sometimes it gives him crucial information. Other times it’s a weapon which seems to physically exert some kind of force field. But whatever it is, it is exactly what it needs to be to resolve every conflict, every locked door, every villain who gets a bit too close to Clara. It is, as I said, the ultimate plot device tool, the way to resolve any issue just by wiggling a stick around with a green glowy light on the end.

What about more technical aspects of the show? Maybe those make up for these flaws? Maybe they create such an immersive world that it doesn’t matter? Hm, don’t make me laugh. Now I get that Doctor Who inherits a very old legacy from the BBC, back from the days where CGI didn’t exist and costume design involved a lot of cardboard and tape. But does that mean it has to keep that to the present day? Because I don’t believe it’s necessary, and I’m sure they have the funds to better. I mean, Doctor Who has to be one of the top funded shows produced by the BBC. I have no doubt that there exist very talented people at the BBC who can make high quality costumes which look realistic and cool. Have you seen some of the costuming that goes on in other shows? Did you see the embroidery details on the gowns in Game of Thrones? Or the attention to detail that happens in Mad Men as pointed in Tom and Lorenzo’s blog?  But they choose not to because they have enough of a fanbase who thinks the old-stuff looks ‘retro’ and ‘quirky’ that it doesn’t matter. Perhaps they have to keep the old crappy costumes to make old reoccurring villains look recognisable? It seems they used up their consistency quota on the stuff that doesn’t matter like the outward appearance of the villains, and couldn’t spare any for the plot. How sad. I hope everyone donates some units of consistency to the BBC so that maybe they can just get a writer in who understands basic reasoning and logic. Please, think of the children.

Which, incidentally, must be the target audience for this show. The writing, the acting and the production values are just about on par for a child’s show. I think it’s marketed as a family show. If that was the case, a lot of my criticisms might be forgiven. I can’t exactly criticise Tellytubbies for not having a deep story right?

So why then are there are hoards of teenagers (girls in particular) who just go gaga over the show? Why are my peers so susceptible to this utter drivel? I just don’t get it, especially when there is stuff which is so much better on TV which is actually aimed at us at a target audience. Maybe they watch it with their families which include young children. But this doesn’t seem to be the case; their parents must be in their 50s by now, and even their youngest siblings are preteens at the youngest, so no target audience in sight. No one I know has kids of their own yet. It’s just utterly incomprehensible.

I may never understand the appeal. And I might have been overly harsh in this review. I just wanted to bring an alternative view to the usual dew-eyed fan girls who beg everyone to watch the show. If you haven’t started watching yet, you’re very lucky and braver than I am. I gave into peer pressure. I won’t make that mistake again.

You know, until some new fad absorbs everyone and I feel compelled to watch on penalty of being left out of water cooler conversations. Sigh.

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2 thoughts on “On…Doctor Who

  1. i agree that the whole “love as a resolution” thing on doctor who is cheesy drivel. season 7 is pretty lacklustre imo. good episodes from earlier seasons (of new who, i have never watched the older series before eccleston so i can’t recommend any of the earlier doctors) include Blink (S3), Midnight (S4), The Silence in the Library/The Forest of the Dead (S4, 2-parter), Vincent and the Doctor (S5), The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon (S6, 2-parter), The Doctor’s Wife (S6, neil gaiman episode). those are my personal favourites of course, but opinion varies. i think blink is universally loved though.

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