Sunday, April 11, 2010

How Do You Do, New Doctor Who?

It’s said we all have our own Doctor Who. I don’t think it’s anything to do with favorites in a conscious sense, I think it’s about the Doctor you encounter at a particular, receptive point in your life’s geography. I find myself, like many, referring to ‘my’ Doctor in terms that make him sound like part of a map. ‘My’ Doctor is Third and Jo, though I’ll very happily, on a good day, ride all the way down to Fifth and Tegan. I’m also quite fond of Seventh and Ace, because I worked there for a while, especially the junction where it meets Hex.

So I can remember when all of this was fields. Everything from Eighth on up, no one was ever going to build here. Until they did. I don’t envy Matt Smith at all (except for, you know, the fact that he’s Doctor Who). It’s not that he’s got generations of crusties like me to win over, people who say or write (in the newspaper TV reviews) that you can tell you’re getting older when Doctor Who starts looking younger. It’s not as if he’s even got to compete with the area of outstanding grade 1 listed national importance of Fourth and Sarah-Jane, the Who that is still the definitive Who in the Who who’s who. Matt Smith’s real problem is David Tennant, so he’s got this generation to win over, a generation that doesn’t know the old streets downtown, but loves to hang out at the shiny new uptown development.

Yes, I will stop it with the analogy now.

Tennant’s a tremendous actor, and his charisma is undeniable. By the end of his tenure, there was a sense he was relying too much on the manic and the madcap, too much on the notion that the audience would love the Doctor no matter what he did. On the strength of two episodes, Smith excels when he is restrained. His debut needed a sense of urgency, but it worked least well when it was hectic and Tennant-ish (the last ten or so minutes*). He’s much more interesting (and the tension really ratchets up), when he seems to be thinking about things. I think he’s in with a fighting chance of becoming a favourite, even though it seemed as if David Tennant had been so bright a flash, no one stood a chance of being seen in the afterglow.

The new series is good. It’s too early to carp. Away with you, with your comments that the Smilers in their booths were too Big! Away with you, with your notion that the space-whale plot too closely resembled the story in the pilot of Star Trek: the Next Generation! Nothing’s original, and anyway, look what we did get: pistol-packing Sophie Okonedo! Sinister test cards! The TARDIS as a phone box you could call (that last one was a brilliant wrinkle).

But there was one thing. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? Actually, it was Nik who flagged it up. It’s fair to say she’s less... tolerant of Who than me or the girls. The merest plot inconsistency, and she goes off like a car alarm. Anyway, her concern was that Amy entirely saved the day. The companion took all the power from the Doctor’s hands. Nik is convinced that this is a Very Bad Thing and another example of declining standards.

It’s clear the Beeb has insisted the programme makers cast younger actors in the lead role. The avuncular relationship that previous Doctors have had with their companions was all but eroded away by the time we reached Mr T, and now it’s gone completely. Amy and the Doctor are, to the audience at least, on a level. They could be a couple. Yes, it’s a great thing the assistant is more than just a piece of screaming eye-candy who does nothing except need to be rescued. But show the Doctor up? Out-Doctor the Doctor?

I’m a little worried too. My theory is this: given the obligation to cast younger, Stephan Moffatt may have decided to use this as a plot point. He’s a really, really smart guy, after all. Maybe he’s going to make this youthful equivalency a major and recurring issue in this incarnation. Let’s hope so, or that’s another part of the essential Doctor Who recipe ditched, along with weekly cliffhangers and genuinely eerie (rather than just exciting) front credits.

Right. I’m off downtown to watch Carnival of Monsters.

* As a sidebar, I was also very amused by the number of newspaper reviews etc that referred to the Doctor’s solution to the problem in the first episode as ‘typically incomprehensible’. One of the things I’m absolutely trusting Moffatt to do is iron out plot gaps and inconsistencies, the sort of stuff that regularly mars genre shows when they reckon they can get away with bollocks because it’s ‘only SF’. The Doctor’s solution to the problem in episode one may have been fantastical, but it couldn’t have made better sense or been explained more simply.


Xhalax said...

Personally...the way I saw Amy taking control was merely because the Doctor let her. He put her on the right course and set her on the way, so all she had to do was join up the dots, get from A to B and Hey, Presto! she saves the world.

After all, the Doctor said he didn't meddle.....and he doesn't....he lets everyone else do that after he's shown them how to do it. He just sits back and lets everything happen and if it all goes wrong...the finger will be pointed sorely at the assistance, where it if all goes right the assistant goes 'Oh I couldn't have done it without you're the real hero!'

Doctor Who....raving ego-maniac.

Karitas said...

I could be reading way too much into it, but it seems to me that one of the things that's happening with this new generation of Who's it that each regeneration in some way builds on lessons Learned from the last one.

Eccleston was suffering from ptsd and a loner, Tennant had a wide circle of freinds and as the series progressed he let them off the leash more and more..

we've already seen this fellow open his tardis with a click, he's much more attached to humans even than is usual for the doctor it seems, so I suppose it's not a huge stretch to let the companion have yet more influence.

I'm not sure I had a point, :)

oh, yeah, and My Doctor will always be Baker :)

Andy Foster said...

My main problem with the episode was that we didn't see enough of the new Doctor for the most part. We don't know him yet and yet this episode mainly centred around Amy. Matt Smith is doing an amazing job, (very Troughton-like at times) especially his physical mannerisms; I love the odd postures and the way he tries to see behind people's eyes when he meets them. Leaping over a chair rather than walk around it. Wiggly fingers. All that stuff is gold, and when he's just talking to Amy or another character you really get a lot more out of him in terms of character building. A much more intellectual, mad boffin Doctor compared to Tennant's melodrama and mockneying, which often took away from a scene what Smith's quiet and restraint is adding. Also liking the absent-mindedness and clumsiness. However, they should really up the volume on Smith's vocal track as it can be hard to hear what he's saying sometimes, he has a bit of a mumble going on.
I wish that Karen Gillan could raise her eyebrows a bit every now and then - floating in space she seemed every bit as bored as any other scene, where she should have been full of wonder. Lack of expression in the brow! But I'm loving the 'tude Amy has.
Plot-wise, a few major problems - as noted above, plus why did nobody notice the whale slow down when they stated torturing it? And why did it sprout scorpion tails all over the place? but forgivable. The budget slashing by the BBC ("Flagship show? Pfah! Take their budget away! Nobody will care!") was noticeable in the CGI stuff. The Beeb needs to sort that out.
My main problem is that Amy saves the day in the second episode, when we've barely met the Dr and it really should have been him, so that we can rest assured the universe is still in safe hands. Eccleston's Doctor had a similar problem of watching everyone else do his job for him, though I'm fairly sure the Moff won't go down that path.
What really blew me away was (CGI aside) how gorgeous everything else looked and how much the 'filmed' feeling seems to have improved. The imagination and sense of wonder was right up there; you could easily imagine an episode in a similar vein directed by Guillermo Del Toro or Tim Burton.
In summary, I'd give this one probably 7 out of 10 (points lost for big plotholes) but it fills me with nothing but hope for the rest of the series and especially for young Mr Smith's Doctor #11...!

cor said...

Im enjoying the new doctor it makes me laugh when people say the previous incarnation cant be replaced when its been done succesfully so many times, as long as they are a good actor it shouldnt matter they all bring something new to the role and im happy that the writers and actors have been brave enough to continue reintepreting the character with each regeneration like I did fear matt smith would just do a david tennant impression.

I thought last nights episode had some very nice touches as mentioned the creepy test card, the smilers were brilliant its this that sets who apart from other sci fi and makes it fundementally a british series and loved the cameo by the demon headmaster (Terrence Hardiman) who used to terrify me when I was a kid and who im still slightly scared of even now ;) cant wait till nexts weeks episode and the return of the daleks see how smith deals with one of the big who villans

Rory said...

I love the new series. I really do, if you look back through the older (new) series,(and trust me i have, i have every episode on dvd because im cool like that) Their are certian episodes where you kinda go "well, that coulda been abit more exciting to be honest..." But this series, so far, seems to be flawless to me. After each episode i was grinning ear to ear, exclaiming how brilliant it was and how i cant wait for next week. But then again, im pretty much a kid... I know being 18 means im supposed to be all grown up and stuff but when those opening titles roll, im away with it. I become 10 years old again.

The Smilers did sort of freak me out, I think Moffat is slightly darker when it comes to monsters (I mean, he wrote blink! I didnt sleep for a week after watching that!) and this i like. It kinda brings back the childish fear to the show. This, is good. And the doctors new Screwdriver looks fantastic. Infact, i want one!

Rory said...

I forgot to add, I love Amy Pond. And thats most likely because I have the biggest crush ive ever had on her.. But thats irrelevant. I love it!

Anonymous said...

Mister Abnett i really enjoy Blood Pact novel, but i along with friends does not understand one thing.

- spoiler warning -

Why does the sworn general of archenemy make the deal with imperium. Its absurd. In every book you wrote that archenemy does not fear death, then why he voluntarilly do it!And i read every warhammer 40000 book - and my understanding was that imperials dont take chaos prisoners - because they corrupting everything - and that one was pure? Its really doesnt make a clear sense!

Waiting for the answer us please!

Anonymous said...

Wow! I read your last installment in the serie - and i was devastated - its your fisrt book of G.G. serie there not a one G. die! Its so wrong. It makes me really angry and unhappy. Please dont make this mistake again!

Xhalax said...

Anonymous - The Imperium takes plenty of heretics and traitors prisoner for questioning. And the chance to bleed a general would be an incredible opportunity that only a fool
would pass up. Plus there is always the chance given for redemption.....just look at the arcoflagellants and the penintent engines....people who are sinners and heretics who wish to be forgiven for what they've done.

Plus if you actually read Traitor General and Blood Pact, I believe the answer is actually there, written.

It's the lesser of two evils....the enemy of my enemy is my

Cor said...

Rory- your not the only one it's the scottsh accent va va voom ;)

Rory said...

Cor- I agree. Shes a baaaaaaabe!

Nick Risley said...

Didn't Rose really tip the scale at one point regarding the balance of Companion/Doctor power? I'm thinking "Bad Wolf" and the Dalek fleet, but I haven't seen it in awhile.

cor said...

anthology and embedded on amazon cant wait for both books, i love the product description of embedded

He wanted to see for himself what the war on the desert planet was like close-up. So he got himself to the frontline, reporting back live to Earth from inside the head of a G.I. super-soldier. Now the soldier's dead, and he will have to take over the dead man's body and fight his way home. And now he will see for himself what war on this desolate desert planet is really like. File under: Science Fiction [ Future War / Desert Storm / Body Swap / Total Annihilation ]

Lord of the Night said...

The new series of Doctor Who had me a bit worried at first. After David Tennant's reign as the Doctor I didn't think a new actor could match up to him. Thankfully I was proved wrong by Matt Smith.

I think this new Doctor's style but with just a bit of Tennant's quirkiness is a great choice, only thing is sometimes his vocals sound forced to me.

As for Amy's showing up the Doctor its not so outlandish. Companions have outshone the Doctor before and come up with solutions that he didn't think of, just not on that level. This could either be a very good thing, or very bad thing depending how they play it.

The new Doctor has a long way to go to catch up to David Tennant but I think he just might make it, although I still wonder how Tennant's Doctor would have reacted to the new Doctor's situations if he were still around... oh well.

Rob said...

Okay, I give up. White flag moment here:

Any Brits want to be charitable and give an (obviously culturally deprived) Yank a suggestion on a good entry point for Doctor Who? Would jumping in on an episode with the new Doctor cripple my understanding of the series, or would it be better to go back and watch the Tennant or Eccleston episodes before continuing?

The only reason I hesitate to just jump in and watch whatever episode comes on BBC America next is that I did so last season and was completely lost. I enjoyed it, you understand, I just couldn't make head or tail of the plot. (My roommate walked in halfway through the episode and asked me to catch him up, and I rambled for about three minutes about how the Doctor in the phone booth and his girlfriend were trying to stop the evil robots who work for a giant face plugged into a wall socket before admitting I had no idea what was going on.)

I got the 5 cent tour from Wikipedia, so I know basic stuff now, but had to stop reading because it started to give up plot lines.

Matthew Churchill said...

I think the reason Amy saved the day in the way she did was because Amy needed an episode to prove herself and Moffat wanted to emphasise (via the medium of Amy) that the audience needs to pay attention. Both to this story and the series as a whole. I think we'll have a better appreciation of this series and Moffat's masterplan if we pay attention. So I can forgive the Doctor goofing up for once.

I don't buy this 'too similar to Tennant' thing at all. Completely agree with you that Smith is better when he is restrained, but he's a completely different actor. Tennant was theatrical, and would even use stillness in a very mannered, theatrical manner. Look at the way he stands motionless with the space suit over his hands in The Waters of Mars and compare that to Smith's more naturalistic, fiddly Doctor. Even in moments of stillness his fingers are twitching such as the stand-offs at the end of The Eleventh Hour. Any argument that he too closely resembled Tennant in The Eleventh Hour is either an equation between Doctor-ishness and Tennant-ness on the part of people who don't have our previous experience of Who, or it's Smith deliberately acknowledging Tennant's mannerisms due to it being scant minutes since he regenerated. After all, the filming of episodes was done out of sequence with The Eleventh Hour recorded after other episodes in the first block, so if he's more restrained now that was probably always going to be his intention for the character.

I like the way he very properly sounds his 't's at the end of words. And his laugh.

Ha ha-ah...


Big said...

I for one like Dr Who but there could be a few improvements....
1, The Dr needs to be more BUFF ( for a small fee i could train him up)
2,His attitude is poncy and fairy like ...(for a small fee i could toughen him up a little)
3,He needs to get in touch with his inner violence ,you never see him bite off an ear or pluck out an eye, i aint saying he should turn into a made axeman with a mask or anything , but when was the last time he shot the groin....(for a small fee i could help him over come this)
4,His maleness is ok ..but still someway off, all them fit girls he has back to the Tardis?? You know if the Tardis was mine it would be a super sex love machine...... Standard! Amy looked fit in that police get up too, she would have to show her appreciation and loyalty...(for a small fee i could pimp hip his ride and show him how to get his grove on!)
5,He as no cool weapons , just a pen that lights up, dont get me wrong that shit is cool, it can unlock doors n stuff , but really the only doors it should unlock are the ones to the armoury so that he can start kicking ass and laying waste to populations n shit....(for a small fee i can get him almost anything he wants and teach him how to use it)
6, He needs a witty catch phrase like "Die muther fuckas" or "I'll be back" even ones like "Im gonna rip off your head and shit down your neck" and "stitch that jimmy"...(for a small fee i could teach him a few)
7,He can be pretty ruthless, but still you never see him freak out and lose his mind and shit with his travelling companions, you never see him ditch people on a strange planet or just kick em out into space.He needs to get all cold and ruthless, and when the likes of Rose or Amy even argue with him ditch the space, then add a witty comment....(for a small fee i could teach i could show him how this is done)
any how thanks for reading, hopefully the readers at the beeb will see this and take note...basically more sex ,more bad language, more violence perhaps give him a drinking habit and a massive machine , definately more shooty death kill in space!

cor said...

Big - so next regenration youll be hoping its sly stallone or arnie that appears lol

Big said...

Cor ...yeh LOL

Emperor said...

I think Xhalax's take on Amy Pond saves the day" is a good one - it is like Holmes allowing Watson to win one, but it only apparent with hindsight that it was Holmes that had laid out and lined up all the dominoes and put Watson in a position where he had to knock the first one over. It was all underlined by the flashback as she came up with her brain wave. I would have liked a little bit at the end where she gets an inkling he stitched her up good and proper (instead of just an overly long hug), but doing it their way does leave it open to interpretation. I do wonder if this isn't a point they'll return to in the series, after all the crack was in her wall, is she the key to fixing it all but has to have the self-confidence and belief to do it?

Or I'm reading too much into it... We will see.

Jonathan Green said...

Nik makes a good point actually.

Having written for Who (albeit in a very small way) the guidance given is always that it is the Doctor who has to save the day, otherwise it's not a Doctor Who story, just a story with the Doctor in.

Tom said...

I parted company with Modern Who for two reasons. 1) Catherine Tate [cannot, and I mean really cannot stand the woman]
2) I felt that the writing for tennant had gotten lazy. It was all madcap all the time and he became an absolute know all. At a glance he appeared to be able to identify just about anything so the feeling of mystery was rather diminished.

After reading your post I decided to check out the new episodes on the I player and I'm reasonably impressed, [but dear lord please lose the bowtie] with the acting though. Plot wise the second episode was weak, more holes than a swiss cheese. And the smiler things were freaky but served no particular purpose other than to be freaky. What are they and where did they come from that you suddenly have a hybrid version. And why are they even there.
The whale won't eat children but lets keep trying to feed them to him... you know, rather than waiting till they grow up and then using them as whale chow if they still suck.

Seriously, fun show but if you're expecting Moffat to be the one to clean up plot consistancy, he has a way to go by current standards.

Half_ambidextrous said...

There's one tiny additional detail to consider regarding the 'Amy saved the day, taking the power away from the Doctor' angle.
The Doctor DID have a solution. He was going to solve the problem and in an ingenious (albeit dubiously moral) method. True, he wasn't happy about it, and it wasn't an ideal solution. But the Doctor did indeed have a plan and all would have ended reasonable well (aside a near vegetative space whale) had he been adventuring alone.
Amy's role wasn't to solve the plot and outsmart the Doctor (Which, quite rightly, the companion should never do) but to see something that the Doctor couldn't. To use a bit of genuine human perspective that the Doctor lacks and use it to offer a *better* solution. Surely this different perspective is *exactly* what the role of a companion should be?

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,

I was wondering if we'd ever hear of everyone's favourite Magos Biologis Valentin Drusher and his Arbites mate Macks again? They were cracking stories.



Thunder Chicken said...

So jealous. we wont get to see the new doctor across the pond for a while.

Dan Abnett said...

Anonymous - yeah, I was thinking about Drusher and Macks just the other day, funnily enough....

Jack said...

I'm actually quite used to the companion solving everything-the Ninth Doctor's M.O. appeared to be "say fantastic and watch Rose solve everything"-so I wasn't quite as bothered by Amy realizing what the solution was before the Doctor did. After all, this is the early days for the Doctor, still trying to figure out precisely what sort of man he is...if I am right, he's been Eleven for less than 12 hours at the start of this episode. He's got 900 years and ten incarnations worth of experience, but he still needs to sort it out.

And it does seem to be a defining characteristic of the new show that the Doctor needs other people to keep him on the straight and narrow. Which I actually don't agree with, but it seems to have defined Tennant's run, and Amy realizing the mistake the Doctor was making fits that template.

I do love Matt Smith though. He's got a thankless task, given the massive shadow of Tennant, and, honestly, he's doing some amazing work.

Ka Faraq Gatri said...

Loving Smith, loving Gillan (in naughty ways) and loving the timey-wimey plot that's being layered through the season - we saw 2 different versions of the Doctor last Saturday...

As an aside Dan, you mention your Doctor-Ace-Hex work. I recently re-listened to most of the Hex audios, and I think that you really nail him in 'Nocturne' - maybe better than anyone else, though that might be my abject Abnett fanboyism coming out. Or it could be that you wrote him first.