As I got through Doctor Who Series/Season Six, I couldn't help think that something was amiss. Is it me, or has Doctor Who suddenly gone off the rails? I know Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith is more goofy than the borderline-nihilistic David Tennant, but somehow...this...is not amusing. Even worse, Smith is...horror of horrors...beginning to annoy me. Yet even that is not what I think is at the core of the problem with this latest series/season of the Adventures of the Time Lord. The BIG problem is that Doctor Who is no longer about Doctor Who even if the entire series/season involves the name of Doctor Who himself. Isn't that ironic, don't you think...
As evidence, I give you this:
When I was a little girl, I had an imaginary friend. And when I grew up, he came back. He's called the Doctor. He comes from somewhere else. He's got a box called the TARDIS that's bigger on the inside and can travel anywhere in time and space. I ran away with him, and we've been running ever since...(emphasis mine).
There it is in a nutshell what I consider the biggest flaw in the NuWho. As Ellery Queen would say, "Did you get that?"
If you didn't, allow me to spell it out. The big problem is the decision to have an introductory opening where Amy tells us about her 'mysterious friend'. I'd argue that it's a mistake to have a cold opening in the first place, but more on that a bit later.
Imagine, if you will, that you'd never seen an episode of Doctor Who, neither the classic or revived series. You even managed to skip Series/Season Five, so your first encounter with the series is Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 (The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon). Right from the get-go, if we went just by the intro, we get the idea that Doctor Who isn't about the Doctor at all...it's about the Companion, in this case, All About Amy. It makes Doctor Who the series into something Companion-centered, not Doctor-centered. For the new viewer, it would make things confusing (this show is about Amy, right?). For long-time viewers, we already know all this, so why are we told over and over about when Amy met the Doctor for the first time? Moreover, neither in the classic series or for five series/seasons did we need this little intro about Amy and her encounter with her 'mysterious friend', so why start now?
I am at a loss to understand the thinking behind this decision. If you're a long-time viewer (especially before Rose), you know all this. If you're not and are just starting out, all the "I"s indicate that the series is more about Amy's journeys with her 'mysterious friend' than they are about him.
Perhaps this is how Steven Moffat wants the show to go. When I kept watching this episode after episode, I kept thinking, 'why are we getting this information?' Moreover, I kept wondering why we were going into the Doctor's adventures from AMY'S point of view. Would we do this for every future Companion?
For all the faults Doctor Who may have, at least we knew that the stories would center around the Doctor. In the beginning, we did get a bit of the background information of the Companions when they came in, but once inside the TARDIS is was Companion and Doctor, period. Once the revived series began, we got more about the Companion's lives than we have before. That in and of itself isn't all that bad. However, now we've gotten to the point where we are being led to think Doctor Who is not about the Doctor, but about the Companion.
I would remind Mr. Moffat et. al. that the show is not called Amy Pond, or even River Song (although Moffat is damn well determined to make it all revolve around his Galatea). It is STILL called Doctor Who.
This bizarre plan to make Doctor Who appear centered around the Companions, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. Allow me a few more thoughts.
In the nearly fifty-year span that I am making an effort to cover, I have completed only three full Doctor retrospectives: the First, the Ninth, and the Eleventh. In that time we can say that there have been some good and some bad Doctor Who stories. Take for example this gentleman, William Hartnell as The First Doctor. The First Doctor has had 20 stories, both complete and missing, released on DVD. In that time, he had two stories that won a perfect 10/10: The Aztecs and The Time Meddler. Three other stories: Inside the Spaceship, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and The Romans, all scored a very respectable 9/10. Granted the good Doctor had his share of clunkers (no one ever bats .1000), and two of his stories: The Gunfighters and The Web Planet, earned the overall low score of 2/10.
This is the Ninth Doctor. He is the shortest Doctor, not in terms of height but in terms of stories, lasting only one season/series. Even with only ten stories (I count two-episode stories as one, hence my count), he still managed to hit a few home runs. Both The Unquiet Dead and Father's Day won a perfect score from me, with The End of the World at a good nine of ten. However, he did get two lousy stories: Boom Town and The Long Game getting him the lowest Ninth Doctor score of four. It is hard to say how good or bad future Ninth Doctor stories would have been, but on the whole, his tenure was successful, with more hits than misses.
We now move on to the current Doctor, the illustrious Eleventh. In two seasons, his stories have stubbornly refused to break beyond 8/10. There's been some good, even great Eleventh Doctor stories: The Eleventh Hour, Victory of the Daleks, Amy's Choice, Cold Blood Parts 1 & 2 (the only two-parter so far to rank so high) and Night Terrors. However, note that with the exception of Night Terrors, all of the 8/10 stories were a year ago. In two years the Eleventh Doctor has yet to have an undisputed masterpiece, a perfect story.
Instead, he's been scraping the bottom of the barrel. Two stories at 5/10. Four stories at 4/10 (one a two-parter). One at 3/10, FOUR at 2/10 (one a two-parter), and one at 1/10. Let's consider this for a moment: there are lost/incomplete stories (Marco Polo, The Daleks' Master Plan, The Celestial Toymaker, The Crusade, The Underwater Menace, and The Moonbase) that ranked HIGHER than most of the Season/Series Six stories. Even if some of their episodes are missing (and in the case of Marco Polo, no frame is known to exist), they still are better than some of the NuWho adventures.
How can this be? Well, I have a theory...
|Oh my GOD! RIVER SONG IS THE IMPOSSIBLE ASTRONAUT! WHO KNEW?!|
This damn bitch is the cause of the Doctor's troubles...in more ways than one. I know that Moffat as a writer (like all writers) gets attached to their creations. I don't begrudge him that. Therefore, I don't blame him for being enthralled with River Song, whom he created for Forest of the Dead Parts 1 & 2 (Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead). Where things started going wildly wrong is when Moffat got it into his head that River Song was not merely a guest character, or even a Companion. It was when he decided she was THE Companion, the Greatest Companion of All Time, an Icon in the Doctor Who mythos. He decided unilaterally that River Song, a woman who does nothing save say "Hello, Sweetie," and "Spoilers", who shows off just how 'smart' she is (especially how she is smarter than the Doctor--she for example, knows how to land the TARDIS better than the Doctor, a task accomplished only once before, by Romana, who WAS an ACTUAL Time Lord, not just one because her parents got in on inside the TARDIS), would be the most important character in Doctor Who.
I often semi-jokingly refer to the show as River Song (formerly known as Doctor Who) because she has been given a primary role in the series. So much of Season/Series Six has revolved around River that it's a surprise that the cold opening doesn't feature Alex Kingston speaking rather than Karen Gillan. While she was featured in two two-part stories in Season/Series Five (The Time of Angels Parts 1 & 2 and The Big Bang Parts 1 & 2), she somehow ended up in three stories in Series/Season Six (including again, two two-parters, both of which revolved around HER identity).
Again and again I am at a loss to understand why River is considered so important to the series. Shockingly, the show managed to survive nearly fifty years without her, and I fail to see why it can't do it again. Even more horrifying to me is why so many NuWhovians, those who do think the series began with Rose and have only the vaguest idea of what came between An Unearthly Child and Survival (or Doctor Who: The Movie...I won't split hairs) think she is such a great character or brilliant Companion.
She's horrible: a self-centered slut who throws around silly catchphrases and behaves as though she is the most important character in the series. On that point, perhaps she may be proven correct, given how many of the stories she was part of did indeed revolve around her. One might as well have made River's Secret (A Good Man Goes to War/Let's Kill Hitler) a Doctor-lite two-parter, given that the stories revolved around River and her "regeneration".
REGENERATION?! SERIOUSLY?! Up till now, only Time Lords regenerated, but Moffat has become so fixated on River Song that he has literally given her the power to regenerate as if SHE were a Time Lord herself. His explanation as to how this was possible: that she gained Time Lord DNA because she was conceived in the TARDIS, is absolute nonsense. If that's the case, then let the Doctor turn the TARDIS into a brothel, collect all the children who were spawned within it, and voila! A New Gallifrey.
I won't go over how illogical it is to think that the little girl who regenerated at the end of Day of the Moon Part 2 could possibly be the same girl who was Amy and Rory's childhood friend Mels in River's Secret Part 2 (Let's Kill Hitler) because the little girl who regenerated in 1970 somehow managed to stay that age for almost twenty years in order to be around her 'parents'. I can say that by putting so much emphasis on River, Doctor Who was basically turning an iconic television show over to the whims of a writer/producer more interested in his creation than in the main character.
Curiously, while seven of the ten Season/Series Six stories ranked Five and Under (with an average score of 4.2), the three highest (the 8/10 Night Terrors and 7/10 The Doctor's Wife and The Girl Who Waited) did NOT feature River Song. Her highest rankings are 6/10 for Day of the Moon Parts 1 & 2 and The Big Bang Parts 1 & 2. Her other Series/Season Six stories (The Wedding of River Song...no surprise at that title...and River's Secret...my own title given her prominence and importance to the series) were at 3/10 and 2/10 respectively.
In short, whenever we focus more on River, we instantly lose focus on the Doctor in Doctor Who, which leads to worse stories.
Finally, I'll touch lightly on what I see as a growing flaw in Doctor Who. Again, I'm at pains to say that I don't object to humor if it is well done (ie. The Romans). For my tastes, though, the Eleventh Doctor is becoming too comic, too goofy, to be seen as a real hero. How else to describe his goofy wedding dance at The Big Bang Part 2 or coming as though he were about to try out for a Fred Astaire impersonator in River's Secret Part 2? I'm finding it harder and harder to take him seriously.
When you can't take a character seriously (even if it is in silly situations) any program/film begins to lose credibility. One of the things that hobbled the Sixth Doctor was his idiotic costume, and despite some good stories in his time (Revelation of the Daleks and Vengeance on Varos), the kitschy outfit got in the way. Likewise the 'jelly babies' and more and more ridiculous monsters from the Fourth Doctor.
Sadly, I'm getting the same feeling with the Eleventh Doctor, which is especially sad given we're coming up on the 50th Anniversary since two schoolteachers went into a junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane. I once gave up watching NuWho after the disaster that was and is Love & Monsters (and not-fond memories of Doomsday Parts 1 & 2: Army of Ghosts/Doomsday). It was only David Tennant's eventual departure that brought me back to the series, beginning with The Waters of Mars onwards. Now, I'm beginning to despair again, and I think that My Mysterious Doctor is bound to be a bigger parody than The Curse of Fatal Death.