Wednesday, July 29, 2015

DOCTOR WHO | 50th Anniversary Love + Some Complaining

Finally, only about two short years after the rest of the world, I sat down to watch Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary episode, The Day of The Doctor.   I had vigilantly guarded myself from being spoiled though I did have an inkling the Tenth Doctor would make an appearance.  I can say without hesitation, that I liked it a lot.  It has also made me quite thoughtful about my relationship with Doctor Who. 

Since 2005, I've included it as one of my top five favorite shows but in reality I'm really only basing that on the first four series of New Who - the Russell T. Davies era, if you will.  Seasons 5-7, the Eleventh Doctor, Amy, Clara, River Song just fill me with ennui.  This counts as a minor little catastrophe in my TV watching life or at the least, is a little sad.

This post, a little bit like life, will be an amalgam of celebration and disappointment; great joy and despair.  Basically, I'm going to whine for a bit and then blow sunshine up the 50th anniversary episode's behind.  It's going to be a very odd post.  I'll start by trying to list the reasons why I think I prefer the first 4 seasons to the last three and then second, with that context, I'll review The Day of the Doctor.  I'm sure I'll muddle them up in there a bit as well.  

Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat Duke it Out

So why am I so attached to those first four seasons?

1)  They Were My First:  The 2005 re-boot of the show was my first exposure to the world of The Doctor.  I was so ignorant about the show that when the Ninth Doctor re-generated at the end of season one I was confused and up in arms! Were they going to try and sell some other actor as the Doctor, lol?  I was ready to hate him but of course I loved the Tenth Doctor.  The point is RTD's vision of Doctor Who was my introduction to the show and while I'm flexible enough to accept a new Doctor and sometimes a new companion, I am apparently not flexible enough to buy in to another person's vision of the show.  Rose is also my favorite companion I think because she shaped how I think the companion should function.
2) I'm Simple: Yes I am admitting that I may be just a little bit thick (to quote Rose:).  Steven Moffat is a highly imaginative storyteller with a nuanced and complicated view of the Doctor and his universe.  Some of the episodes he wrote for the first 4 seasons are on my list of favorites; The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Blink; but in his reboot of the show it sometimes seem he is just challenging himself to see how complicated and convoluted he can make it.  I like clever twists and turns as much as the next person but it can be overdone and I guess I prefer the simpler more sentimental stories that prevailed under RTD.
3) I Like a Plan:  This may not seem completely coherent or fair but the first 4 seasons seemed more connected and purposeful to me than the last three have.  Granted I haven't spent the time watching, re-watching and analyzing the newer seasons but I liked the connectedness of the first 4 seasons. I don't necessarily mean plot wise but more with the characters and the development of the Doctor.  The Doctor's relationship with Rose has implications in the following seasons, Martha makes a couple of appearances in season 4, each of the companions plays a particular role for the doctor that is a result of where he is in his head, even the differences between the tenth and ninth doctor make sense based on context.  RTD seemed most interested in exploring the Doctors alone-ness and the emotional complexity of his relationships with his human companions.  This spoke to me.  The Eleventh Doctor just seems to be.  The 50th anniversary episode actually provides a bit of a reason for this perhaps by labeling him The Doctor who forgets but whatever the reason I have never warmed to him.
4) I Hate Season 5:  I've watched it twice and just find it boring.  Season 6 is brilliant but that didn't keep on into season 7 in my opinion. Regardless, since season 5 was my first impression of the re-boot of the re-boot, my feelings have just never recovered.
5) I Don't Like the Characters in Seasons 5-7:  While I have grown to appreciate Matt Smith a bit more with additional watching, I have never connected to him. This despite the fact that I was quite excited when I heard Matt Smith got the role.  Maybe it's because I loved the Tenth Doctor and we had him for 3 years so the transition wasn't as easy?  Also though, the Eleventh just strikes me as a less charismatic version of the Tenth. I don't feel like Matt Smith brings much new to the role and he's too similar in the way he acts to the Tenth Doctor that it's like watching a bad copy for me.  There was a very clear difference between the Ninth and Tenth Doctors and I think that helped me love both.  I also have yet to connect with any of the Doctor's friends in this new series.  I like Rory okay and can deal with Amy when she is with Rory but otherwise do not really like her.  Clara is okay though I'm not sure there is anything unique about her. In fact I just did a google search for her and this was the highlighted entry that came up: "The Doctor's current companion, and her most notable characteristic is that she is just totes adorbs! Oh look at you! Who's a pretty companion. You are!" Yup. Pretty much. Finally, I have never been a fan of River Song and her storyline so yeah... not a fan in general of Moffat's companions.  Also as an aside, is it my imagination or did he totally rip off Rose's whole Bad Wolf stint with Clara's Impossible Girl stint?  Aren't they pretty close to the same thing??
6) Character over Plot?:  I do tend to favor character and relationships over plots and it's just struck me while writing this list that maybe that is where the crucial split is - the RTD years favored character and relationship over plot while the Moffat years are more complicated plot over character? They both have both of course but there is perhaps a subtle difference in which is emphasized? I think I may be full of crap here.  I know there is all sorts of complicated emotional shenanigans between Amy and Rory and the Doctor so maybe it just goes back to which characters I care about and which I don't....
7) Too much re-booting?:  While I get that Moffat needed to reset the series to deploy his vision of the Doctor and the show it feels like too much of a departure.  I've touched on this already but think it is an important reason  - it feels like the companions and the adventures of the past have been firmly put aside except for River.  I would have liked more of a connection with the RTD years.  I think that is why the 50th anniversary episode works so well for me because it addresses this.

So that's a lot of defensive babbling up there. I know it is but I'm just really sad that I no longer love a show that was one of my all time favorites. I also feel like I am the only person on the planet that feels this way! I needed to think through and articulate why it just didn't work that well for me anymore.  What it comes down to of course is personal preference and that's as individual as it gets and doesn't always contain logic.  I'd love to hear others' thoughts on how they have enjoyed the transition and what you think the biggest differences are? Do you have a preference for seasons 1-4 or seasons 5-8 or do you love it all equally and think I am mad for thinking they are any different? 


**spoiler alert** I can't really talk about the 50th anniversary episode without revealing some of it's big revelations so beware if you want to remain spoiler free.

I kind of expected a Stolen Earth/Journey's End-esque reunion type episode and while there are visits from some beloved faces that is not what we get at all. There's perhaps a teeny tiny little part of me that is sad that we didn't get a big old Who family reunion but the larger part of me is grateful it didn't go there.  What we get is a proper, if longer, episode that has the ambition to actually take on the Time War and CHANGE the outcome. Wow.  Up until now the Time War has been only ominously mentioned and even with that it had hung over the series and The Doctor like a dark depressing bird.  It's provided some interesting character development for The Doctor but it was perhaps time for the light of hope presented here and it has the potential to change everything.  Not bad for an anniversary episode!

Besides this more serious life-changing plot there is also lots of nostalgic joy to be had.  The Tenth Doctor joins forces with the Eleventh and it is as brilliant as you might imagine (though for me solidifies the Tenth Doctors superior charisma). I think they likely would have also liked to include the Ninth Doctor but Chris Eccleston has not played terribly nicely with his Doctor Who past (sadly) so they substitute in a previously unknown Doctor played by John Hurt.  He's the war Doctor - the one who hit the switch during the Time War.  It's so great to have three versions of The Doctor interacting and especially the way the war doctor with his greater gravitas makes fun of his more childish future incarnations. There's also all sorts of hijinks comparing screwdrivers and the Tardis illustrating how they have changed over the years.  There is even the appearance of a few other players from classic Who that will make all happy, I think. 

Billie Piper also appears much to my delight though not as Rose.  Instead she is the personification of the doomsday weapon The Doctor uses/used to end the Time War and she appears in her Bad Wolf personae.  It's a nice role and makes sense as the weapon chooses someone of significance to The Doctor (from his past or future). Rose will be instrumental in helping the Doctor recover from what he is about to do so it is appropriate that her face is what the sentient weapon sees most strongly. Only the war Doctor interacts with her and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that we didn't get to see her and Ten interact but her role is appropriate and for the best I think.
The take home message is that the episode did a stellar job of telling a compelling story, that has massive implications for the future while also embracing nostalgia and celebrating the Who legacy.  The balance was really well done.  I laughed and cried and smiled fondly and immediately went back to start a DW re-watch.  Well done Doctor Who and Happy Anniversary! A+!

So what did you think of the 50th Anniversary episode?  Would you like to have seen more of the former cast come back or do you think the way it was done was the best?

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