Yes. You read that title right. I am not enjoying the latest trips in the TARDIS that the BBC have offered us. Me, of crazy Doctor Who fandom and an incredible jealously of anyone who’s able to work on it, is a dream of mine to write for it, and the very show that inspired me to start this current 5 year avoidance of paying tax and not claiming jobseekers allowance; I have not enjoyed this latest series of Doctor Who. And as we are half way through it I thought I’d mention it, come clean.
I want to tell you why though because I have been enjoying Peter Capaldi. I find his terse nature to be quite enjoyable and his stern all-convincing authoritarian nature – to hide the inner admission of guilt that he uses other people for his own end, despite it being the best course of action in general – fascinating. His eyes have it and there are moments where this has shone through. Most notably some points in his debut episode after our clockwork robot friend flew and in the Dalek episode where he tricked the person to sacrifice herself to buy some time for him.
Which is why this series has been all the more annoying because it’s very obvious at times that the writing knows exactly what this character is and can nail it. But for the most part, it has missed the mark terribly. The only criticism I have of the Matt Smith era is that the pacing of the writing and of the episodes plots are so fast that it’s very easy to lose and get confused as to what is going on. In fact the best way to watch the Eleventh Doctor and to understand it fully and get all those little story arc nuances is to power disk it, watch each series all in one go.
I however don’t think that will rectify this current problem because the problem isn’t in the perception of the audience, although if you’ve read the reviews you wouldn’t know it. It feels like every look by major sites at the episodes are afraid to be critical of it to the degree that they should, maybe for fear of it being taken away. I don’t think the approach to Doctor Who this year has been entirely objective. The problem can be easily pointed at the writing of the show, but in truth, it boils down more to the collective problems of very lacklustre scripts with bad pacing and confusing cuts, editing at such a pace that loses the interest of the viewer and direction that appears to be very undirected from the director and more of the show being in control of itself.
Let me explain my thoughts. There is a definite hangover from Matt Smith’s era and from a writing and character point of view. That hangover could be characterised as Clara. I love Clara, she’s a strong independent woman who reminds me of Ace; eager to help and yet entirely confused and put out by this change in the man she loved. Even though she knew all about the entire regeneration thing and saved multiple versions of him dozens of times. That she has discovered she has a problem with this change is because she loved the Eleventh Doctor. The only way to combat that is to admit that and address it and move on. There was a touching, although slightly discrediting to Capaldi, scene in the first episode where the pervious Doctor talks to her. This is intended to get Clara past that bridge. It didn’t. Mostly because for the rest of the year she been following Capaldi like he was Matt Smith. Which is exactly why the pacing of the episodes has been off, including why the editing has been so quick and jumpy and exactly why the directors haven’t got number Twelve off the starting line yet. They’re still thinking of Eleven and how to give Twelve a non-sexual yet intellectually stimulating addition to their chemistry.
Capaldi hasn’t had a lot to work with admittedly and the introduction of Danny Pink is good to get Clara out of the frame. The Doctor once again playing a protective father figure is a good thing. It harks back to when Hartnell’s Frist Doctor looked after his granddaughter Susan and basically abandoned her at the right time for her to live her own life (Dalek Invasion of Earth). But he spent that serial making sure that she was in good hands and that’s exactly what he’ll do with Clara. It’s not exactly original but you try being original after 50 years!
But it’s the fact that everything around him is still being designed for a Matt Smith audience in an attempt, I suppose, to keep that younger viewer that Smith got. Despite Capaldi being a more obtuse and argumentative character. The stories have involved quick jumping to everywhere they can very quickly and seemingly pointlessly. There are nice little touches here and there (like Clara being under the Doctors bed as a young boy – despite Gallifrey being time-locked/in a separate dimension/wherever it is) but it has ultimately jumped too much to lock down a narrative to be enjoyed as a whole. Which is why the Promised Land/Afterlife storyline really isn’t working because by the time we get to it, I really don’t care. Although it’s the only time when the pacing slows down enough for me to pay attention to it enough and immerse myself.
I’m not pointing the finger at Steven Moffat’s running of the show. To do so would be too easy and incredulous to the team effort it takes to make one of the most popular TV shows in the world and arguably the BBC’s biggest commercial asset after Top Gear. I think a collective rethink is in order though and the pace of the stories needs to slow down dramatically. They need to be a lot more calmly entered and a lot more smoothly positioned in their plot reveals and scene cuts. Because this older Doctor is a different proposition to the young and sprightly Doctors of before and deserves to have a bit more of a psychological and character driven plot that isn’t paced with jump cuts every 8-10 seconds in a frantic “Clara dodges many personal faux pas bullets” kind of situation.
The thing Moffat needs to realise is something that Russell T Davies might have realised by now and that is how to think of your target audience. Yes they are children and families. But they have been that for about 4-5 years now. They are older children and families. Much like J.K. Rowling adapted the style of the Harry Potter novels and characters to how they grew up as well as how the audience reading them had also begun to age, Doctor Who needs to realise that the audience it had before is growing up and can handle slower things with better story that will stick with them. Children will not get bored of something as long as you give them something to wonder and follow. The adults will not get annoyed if you scale it back a little and give the viewers minds a little room to breath and absorb the story that is happening.
I of course know nothing of the production techniques and problems of Doctor Who in 2014, but I do know as someone who has studied the show to almost an academic level, as well as being academically qualified to have input on it from a writing standpoint, that the Doctor is not yet in. He’s still being flittered about like a younger version of himself and everything about it just needs to settle down a little.