life, science fiction, television

Mostly Who

"Should I gurn yet, Rusty?"

"Should I gurn yet, Rusty?"

Anna was hard at writing work this weekend, so we managed only a good old shop. Left to my own devices, my weekend accomplishments, bar some reading and a catching up with the papers, can be boiled down to:

1) Supported Pete Riley on Saturday night. Pete has a very pleasant voice, some rather fine songs, and is to boot a thoroughly good egg. Enjoyed  playing and listening, so good times. You can listen to Pete yourself at his MySpace.

2) Watched the latest Doctor Who special, ‘The Waters of Mars’. Thoroughly marred by the usual sentimental over-selling of key plot points, this one was a bit of a mess. It started out promisingly, with the fate of Bowie Base One, the first human settlement on Mars, sealed before they had the first inkling that anything was wrong. Lindsey Duncan was good – and wasn’t it nice to see Shane from Neighbours get work again? But the whole thing quickly fell foul of the usual Whovian sins, wildly pulling the mood and the viewer hither and thither: the viewer is smacked around the head with how Special and Amazing the Doctor’s latest female assistant is; Murray Gold’s score swells beyond bursting point every time the slighest bit of emotion may (or may not) be being felt on screen; cloying, strung-out Moments Of Import are signposted with such heavy-handed insistence that the viewer is left without any agency at all.

Perhaps all this is a function of Who being (whisper it now) a kid’s show. (Though this comes dangerously close to what Helena Bonham Carter said in an interview this weekend about Enid Blyton’s fiction: ““When you write for very young children what they want is something familiar and safe and stereotyped.” And this seems to me to underestimate the audience.) Yet take the Doctor’s behaviour in the final 15 minutes of the episode: walking away from the doomed base, he suddenly realises that, as last of the Time Lords, he controls, rather than follows, the laws of time. Naturally, this instantaneously results in huge megalomania and a God complex. Even more naturally, this lasts all of a few minutes, at which point, again in receipt of a bargain bin epiphany, he is on his knees muttering about dying. Most melodramas would consider this too much.

This isn’t signposting or playing to the audience – it’s just lazy storytelling. Even Tennant, usually tolerably good at the manic mood swings, couldn’t properly paper over the cracks. One can only hope that Steven Moffat has some better ideas for Matt Smith.


2 thoughts on “Mostly Who

  1. Nick says:

    It was quite a classic Russell T Davies episode, in many ways – some wonderful ideas and characters, properly scary, but combined with an annoying robot and as you say, far too rapid plot development (humble to megalomaniac in 10 seconds…). Davies is far better as impresario of the Who universe than a writer, to some extent. That said, I still really enjoyed it. But it doesn’t stand up there with classic episodes like Father’s Day or Blink, which use the 45 minutes to elaborate one big idea, are outstandingly written and play with the emotions far more deeply than Waters of Mars did.

    Still, am looking forward to the Christmas episodes and the new series. I will miss David Tennant A LOT, though…

  2. danhartland says:

    It was quite a classic Russell T Davies episode, in many ways

    Swap that ‘classic’ for a more equivocal ‘quintessential’ and I’d agree with you. 😉 RTD’s episodes are pretty much eating themselves at this point, I think. Having said that, I agree (to my surprise) that we might find ourselves missing both he and Tennant, yes … there’s an energy and humanity to even their worst moments that won’t be easy to recapture.

    Having said that, I watched the last 15 minutes of Last of the Timelords on iPlayer last night, and frankly if I never see all of humanity making the Doctor into a floaty Holy Ghost again I wouldn’t mind too much. So maybe not even in their worst moments … !

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