A few weeks ago I was working at my desk and found myself facing a sudden wave of apathy about Doctor Who. It made me sad. “I’m bored of it,” I said, and felt quite grown up for admitting such a thing. It reminded me of the first time I went to see a film and decided it was shit. Before that pivotal moment, every single film I’d see would throw me into an obsessive fantasy for months on end. I don’t remember the film that made me grow up – it may have been Mrs. Doubtfire – but I knew after watching it that I had become a little wiser.
I have a feeling about Doctor Who that I can’t shake off – that the writing is often set-up over substance. It’s a trait I know I can recognise because I’ve been partial to it as well; I’ve started and failed to finish many stories over the years, working the plot into such a convoluted mess I had no idea how to end it. Doctor Who has started to do this, often, and I can’t keep up the feelings of goodwill. It’s like I can see its strings, its building blocks or pencil lines. It makes me annoyed and it makes me care less about what’s happening.
There’s a classic line in ‘Halloween 3 – Season of the Witch’ where they talk about how they got part of Stonehenge to America:
“We had a time getting it here, you wouldn’t believe how we did it!”
It’s about as much explanation as Doctor Who gives us for why anything happens. The last few seasons, the Moffat ones, are increasingly unsatisfying for me. They’ve been sloppy. I don’t remember how the doctor escaped the pandora box thing, but they did some higgery pokery and everything was ok. I feel a little cheated that the Doctor managed to get married to River Song in the time it took me to get something from the fridge. Someone popped the question when I was searching for a lump of cheese, and were husband and wife by the time I sat down again.
Many of the writers keep turning to clichés to cover up their tracks or make things more exciting than they are. They’re always running into people who whisper cryptic riddles at them. I was always up for a bunch of cryptic whispers, but now they do nothing for me because I know they only lead to a season finale full of loose ends like a hula-girl’s grass skirt. ‘The Girl who Waited’ started off superbly, and was effective in its ability to unnerve and creep me out. Then they ran out of steam and cut to 10 minutes of slow motion and crying heart-yanking sentimentality. I worry that they saw the huge response to the ending of the Van Gough episode and thought, “Right, we’ll do more of that.”
And my lord, do they keep pushing Amy and Rory’s unabiding love for each other. Yeah, I get it. The writers didn’t know who Rory and Amy were at first, and are now working overtime to pretend they didn’t accidentally end up with such a miss-matched couple. I’d have accepted it long ago if they didn’t keep trying to convince us that THEY LOVE EACH OTHER SO VERY VERY MUCH, THEY REALLY DO.
There were many complaints in the media that Doctor Who had become too complicated. Doctor Who is not complicated, just increasingly unsatisfying because the conclusions feel trite. They’re not unexpected, they make no sense and offer no closure – happy or otherwise. They write stories that begin like Norse sagas, and end them like last-minute student essays. Often hoping that they’ve thrown in enough quotes to obscure the fact that their argument fell apart paragraphs ago. They build it up and up and up and up, and then they shoot out the sentimentality and the crying and the EXCITING MUSIC. Then they leave, and I’m left chocking on my own boredom.
I don’t mind some manipulation, in fact I expect it. I don’t mind that they had no idea where they were going with River Song (isn’t that in Genre Writing 101? Put something really exciting in early on, and worry about explaining it later or just not explain it at all. In fact, isn’t that how Lost was written?). I don’t mind Rory and Amy, even though I’m getting sick of Amy. I don’t mind the poetic fairytale mythology they sprinkle all over the place with the subtlety of Katie Price. But I do mind when they rely on that and only that. They’re trying to create myth out of stuff that’s only just happened, and they spend a lot of time telling you about how mythical the whole thing was. Like Beowulf congratulating himself on how timeless and classic his tale is before he’s even finished kicking Grendel’s ass.
It’s not like I hate Doctor Who. I love it. I love Matt Smith’s Doctor, I love the look and the feel of the show. I loved many of the episodes in the last few series. I just wish they’d stop being so lazy, and their laziness is becoming more frequent. If Moffat thought he was revamping Doctor Who from where Davis left it, he’s only half-way there and I don’t think the main writers are as clever as they think they are.
One of the writers mentioned how the shows are ’emotionally complex’, “a bit like that thing … er, what is it … oh yeah, life”. If you can get over a cocky writer telling you how you ‘don’t get it’, that statement may be true in part, but he’s writing stories. And the emotions in Doctor Who are often not complex in as much as they are clunky and obvious. Perhaps it is that annoys me most. When they get it right, it’s usually in the form of those single or two-parter episodes. Those which deal with ideas, concepts, mysteries and subtlety. I don’t think they have the strength to hold up epic story arcs, which is why the last series annoyed me.
And some of the ideas feel a little tired. How about the Doctor meet some different companions for a change? It always gets so claustrophobic. It feels like I’m forever queuing outside the TARDIS bathroom, toothbrush in hand, waiting for Rory to finish doing a poo. I do hope in the next series, the Doctor won’t run into another sassy (normally young) woman who has a boyfriend/fiancé she can’t be bothered with unless she really has to or he accidentally finds himself on the TARDIS.*
(In a little personal note, Donna was always my favorite companion in the recent Doctor Who. She was like a sorbet to Martha’s moping neediness, and I imagine wouldn’t stand for any of Amy and Rory’s smoochy-woochy crap on the TARDIS.)
And seriously, basing an entire series on the premise that the Doctor dies? Will he? Will he really?! No, of course he won’t, so why bother? I’m only apathetic because, as always with these things, I feel they could do better.
*Edit: By the time I got around to putting this on my blog, I see the new companion has been announced. I’m gonna be all grown-up about this, and save my opinions until I actually see the show (yeah, you know I’ll still be watching it anyway).