|The explanation doesn't make sense, so don't ask. Screenshot from 'The Caretaker'. Doctor Who Copyright © 2014 BBC.|
Halfway through the 8th series of the revived Doctor Who, it's safe to say a theme — or at least a motif — has emerged: Smug nostalgia.
Under uber fan Steven Moffat's command, the good ship Doctor Who has been converted from a magical vessel of exploration to a garbage scow commandeered by the world's most narcissistic archeologists, forever digging into their own moldering middens.
Despite having literally all of time and space at his disposal, Moffat's Who has become a kind a kind of greatest-hits revue, forever recycling its own past instead of daring something new.
Don't believe me?
"Deep Breath" gave us another version of Moffat's own clock-work men; "Into the Dalek" re-wrote the 9th Doctor story, "Dalek" by way Fantastic Voyage; "Robot of Sherwood" gave us Robin Hood for goodness sake! "Listen" put Steven Moffat's unfortunate stamp on the Doctor's childhood by way of a fake monster that wasn't fake even though it was even though it wasn't, even though ... timey-wimey wimey-timey — oh fuck it ...
For the record, and for the interested, you'll find below the flood of tweets I posted while watching "The Caretaker" for the first time. You'll note that my opinion of the episode has shifted drastically from then 'till now.
And I hadn't even gotten to "Time Heist", the unfortunate "caper" pastiche. It is to weep.
Doctor Who still has some charms, of course. Its actors are pretty good at worst and, of course, we fans are a forgiving lot. Most of us imprinted on the old blue box and on the concept of Doctor Who at a young and impressionable age. Like Fox Mulder we still "want to believe".
Which I hope is enough to justify — or at least, to explain — the flood of idiotic treacle I inflicted on my Twitter and Facebook feeds last Saturday night.
But lord, what a lot of twaddle. How is it that the plate of home-made pasta topped by a delicate garlic marina sauce I so enjoyed on Saturday night became a cold bowl of over-cooked instant noodles drowning in a sauce of Red Dye #4 on Sunday afternoon?
A Brief Note on Race
In a racist society, intention sometimes matters less than interpretation; even innocent gestures can cause offence — and sometimes innocence is not so pure as it might have seemed.
Given Steven Moffat's limitations as a writer, the in-story reasons for the Doctor's antipathy toward Danny Pink kind of make sense — the Doctor doesn't like soldiers; the Doctor is protective of Clara, etc. For argument's sake, we can ignore the Doctor's long history of friendship with soldiers (not to mention his shorter, but still significant, history of putting Clara in mortal danger. But I digress) and accept that, now, he really doesn't like 'em.
But the fact remains that Samuel Anderson is a black man, and we viewers know it, even if the program has not acknowledged that his skin-colour is of any significance.
So I find it worth noting that, of all the tweets I posted Saturday night — of all the tweets I've ever posted, come to think of it — that which read, "Before anyone starts, the Doctor's misaprehension [sic] NOT racist. Doctor's problem is with SOLDIERS", has been "favourited" more any other. Make of that what you will, but I'm not happy about the implications I infer from it.
"The Caretaker" is another story whose surface charms are built atop a water-soluble homage to an episode from the past (the very good 10th Doctor story "School Reunion") and a hastily-constructed plot based (as was brilliantly explained by Patches365) on four idiot plots, apparently cobbled together because Steven Moffat realized half the season was gone and his Very Important Clara loves Danny sub-plot hadn't actually moved forward at all.
So we get a silly four-minute montage contrasting Clara's adventures with the Doctor against Clara's ever-less-plausible lies when she's with Danny Pink to let us know that stuff happened while we weren't looking. (Nevermind the inanity of Moffat's pet conceit that one can travel through time and space saving the universe on a regular basis and also live a mundane life back home on Earth. Or that the Doctor has full control of his time machine now, so is he just being a prick by dropping her off with no time to wash the seaweed out of her hair before her Big Date?)
Sorry. I rant and I rave.
(Oh hell. Speaking of that montage, does anybody remember Russel T Davies' opening montage for "Rose"? In about one minute, we met Rose, met her mother and met her boyfriend; we learned about her job, her socio-economic background and her sense of humour. We met a person. In Steven Moffat's four-minute stab at the same thing we learned that ... Clara leads two lives, and that she hides each from the other. For Reasons. Just as she is involved with Danny Pink for Reasons. All of which we already knew!)
Yes, there was some entertaining dialogue in "The Caretaker" (though I'm damned if I can remember any of it two days later) and Jenna Coleman did some good work with her nervous knee when Danny called Clara on her lying, and a young actress called Ellis George nearly stole the show as Courtney Woods, despite her character's entire purpose turning out to be only the butt of a really cheap joke about space sickness.
That (mis)use of a character (and a black character) simply for a vomit choke is telling. And all-too familiar.
There is a great deal of (presumably) careless ugliness in Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. Characters (usually women, often black men) abound who exist without motive or agency, whose only purpose is to move the plot; whose problems don't exist thematically — remember Abigail, the girl in the freezer, whose only purpose was to redeem the Ebeneezer Scrooge figure (Moffat's Who looks backward, not forward), Kazran Sardick?
But I digress again.
Look at the current Companion, at Clara. As Patches365 pointed out, she's a school-teacher now, but at no time prior to this series did we have any reason to think it might be her calling. A viewer could just as easily, and with as much (or as little) justification, have predicted barmaid, doctor, travelling sales-woman or coal-miner.
I know I've quoted the line before, but it bears repeating: there's no there there!
So too with Danny Pink, whom we are told (but never successfully shown) is a man who shared instant chemistry with Clara, both of whom have now we have been told (and now — sort of — shown via the miracle of the montage) have fallen in love with each other. Even though Clara is constantly lying to him and he knows it.
But who they are as people isn't the point. The point is that Steven Moffat's Doctor (this year) hates soldiers, and so Danny is an ex-soldier and we have Conflict!
For Reasons. And now the Conflict seems to be over, since Danny did a back-flip over this week's Silly Alien Threat Du Jour and saved the world — and Clara.
The five-o'clock shadow that pouts like a man looks upon his beloved. Screenshot from "The Caretaker." Doctor Who copyright © 2014 by BBC.
Why Danny went into the military, and what the experience did or didn't do to him, remains a mystery to us. For all we actually know about his character, Danny Pink could have been a flight attendant, a bus driver or a ballet dancer before he took to teaching maths in a high school.
In other words (no surprise), he's a cypher. Like Clara, he's Important because Steven Moffat tells us he's important. And after six episodes, that's really still all we have to go on.
It's ridiculous, it really is. Six episodes into a 12-episode series and we've had one story that was actually worth watching a second time. And that episode was the one that barely had any continuity with the rest of the series at all.
This doesn't bode well for anything but unhappy viewers blogging their discontent into the aether. To paraphrase someone or other, for god's sakes, Mr. Moffat, pick up your keyboard and your memories and go!
And for all our sakes, BBC! Find a creator who knows how to develop characters, who can build a plot without recourse to lobotomizing their characters, and who cares more about telling stories than in being clever for clever's sake.
Me, I'm going to dream about Dan Harmon being given crack at the job.