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Come back Russell T Davies
on 25 May 2010
I've been a Doctor Who fan for over a decade, long before it became the popular phenomenon it is now, and I consider myself to be a big fan of both the `classic' series and the 2005 revival. But this current run; Series 5, or Series 1, or Series 31 (take your pick) is really beginning to test my loyalty to the show. He had plenty of detractors, but for me, Russell T Davies's tenure set the standard incredibly high - it took the established concepts of Doctor Who and added emotion, character depth and appropriately updated the format for a contemporary audience, appealing to all ages, whilst still retaining integrity and ensuring that Doctor Who was must-see TV. During the Christopher Eccleston/David Tennant years, I would stoically refuse to leave the house on a Saturday evening, and would often watch episodes half a dozen times in the week after their initial broadcast, but with Series 5, I'm struggling to care. Doctor Who is no longer must-watch fodder, and that's just wrong. It genuinely saddens me to write this review; please consider it more as a labour of love than a slagging off. I derive no enjoyment writing this.
First of all, I should mention that my problem with the current series is not Matt Smith. The youngest actor to play the Time Lord to date had sizeable shoes to fill when David Tennant vacated the TARDIS on New Year's Day, but he is doing a commendable job. He is very Doctori-ish; in the sense that he is eccentric, otherworldly and unpredictable, and although I think the bow-tie costume is slightly too self-consciously Doctori-ish and all a bit mad-professor, I genuinely think he's proven himself to be an excellent actor. I think the writer's are currently doing him a great disservice; he's doing excellent work with subpar material and I think he has been poorly served with stories. Eccleston's Doctor came burdened with the baggage of the Time War, which led to a fairly morose portrayal of a battle-scarred Time Lord (which I loved) and Tennant took the role further than any other actor to take on the part (Human Nature, Midnight and The Waters of Mars being good examples). Matt Smith's Doctor has - as yet - been given no depth. He needs fleshing out. He needs some really meaty material to get his acting chops into, but so far, nothing has materialised to challenge him or really distinguish his Doctor.
The role of the companion has become gradually more significant since the revival, with Russell T Davies giving them backgrounds and families and proper personalities, that, dare I say it, were largely absent in the `classic' series. I think for a modern audience, it is important to make the companions relatable and interesting; they act very much as the eyes-and-ears of the viewer, which is why I think Amy Pond has been a hideous misfire. I'm not really sure if I can blame the performance - Karen Gillan has done decent work with some lousy material, though she does have an irksome tendency to shout her dialogue, I assume imagining that this somehow makes the lines funnier? I don't know. All I do know is that Steven Moffat's background as a writer is rooted in comedy, and Amy Pond, to me, feels very much like a sitcom character; she talks in witty quips and one-liners, which is all well and good, but in the process any semblance of depth or likeability is sacrificed. Amy isn't a three-dimensional character. Granted, she's feisty and sassy and whatever else, but I honestly wouldn't bat an eyelid if she was consumed by the monster-of-the-week. I'm sure the male audience can drool longingly over her (and yes, she does wear a frighteningly short skirt in the first episode)... I wouldn't know, but to me she is the worst companion to board the TARDIS since Adric way back in the early 1980s.
My second gripe - and really, my biggest problem - boils down to the writing. Steven Moffat has written some very good stories in the past, but as the showrunner, I just feel there is something lacking. This disc features the first three episodes of the series, and none of them really do it for me, to be honest. `The Eleventh Hour' has some nice moments - I really like the opening twenty-minutes with young Amelia Pond and the post-regeneration Doctor (`fish custard'), but other than that, it feels overlong and the threat is dull. We meet Amy's boyfriend Rory - some say he is haplessly endearing, for me he's just bland. `The Beast Below' tries to be clever and features some good monsters, who are marred by the fact that they do absolutely nothing. The ending is silly, and it feels too much like `The End of the World' or `Gridlock', which are far superior episodes. `Victory for the Daleks' starts well, but completely crumbles, resulting in a hideously misjudged 45 minutes that are all over the place in terms of pace and tone. The characterisation this series seems way off too; Russell T Davies had a real knack for character and dialogue, making you care about even the tiniest supporting role, but Moffat's stories thus far lack any memorable secondary players, and as a result, it's hard to invest in the stories or the worlds when you don't care about anybody involved. It's a real barrier to me as a viewer.
Maybe I'm wrong? Maybe I'm analysing something that shouldn't be analysed... after all Doctor Who is, first and foremost, a family show that's sole purpose is to provide fun and a slice of entertainment. And I guess it still does that. But, previously, there was something special about it. There was a magic to it. It would make me feel excited, sitting down to watch it. But this series just feels less ambitious, less polished... the episodes just aren't connecting for me. It seems to have descended into generic science-fiction fare, which truly upsets me. Ah well, maybe it's time to say goodbye to my childhood hero. Maybe, for me, the journey of a lifetime ends here...