Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is Steven Moffat's Who living up to expectations? - commented news item

by Dan Martin,

As we get reflective ahead of Amy's Choice, the exact midpoint of this series of Doctor Who, I'm reminded of a remark a friend made about Steven Moffat's Doctor Who: "It's very clever, but I'm not sure I'm feeling it." Really? "It's making me realise how much a fan I was of the Russell T Davies big emotional stuff." - I feel that too. For me, the best episodes of Doctor Who are the ones that deliver a fair amount of emotional drama (isn't drama already emotional? I guess it is). Anyway, I do like the emotional-charged episodes, with horrible choices to be made, like you can only save the one you love or the entire planet. Or both, as the Tenth Doctor often showed us.
And these feelings have been echoed time and again in our Doctor Who series blog. The very thing that got most criticism about the RTD era was the amount of overwrought emotion – Rose's big-eyed lovesickness, Martha's emo pining, Donna's overdeveloped sense of compassion; the sheer amount of crying. - Yeah, I'm a tearjerker. I love those crying moments in which you cry your wee heart out for the sake of a character's demise. Those moments, all those memories made Doctor Who what it is today. Six episodes in to this new series, the only tears to have been shed were those creeping across the Doctor's face during Father Octavian's stunning death scene in Flesh and Stone. And oddly, that was probably the best scene so far this series. - I couldn't agree more. The only tears I've shed during this series was when the Doctor was talking to Amy when she was blind.

Given the overwhelming excitement that heralded the new era of Who, some sort of backlash was inevitable. And certainly, some of you on this blog are unhappy. So now we're at the halfway point in the series, this might be a good time to work out what is, and maybe isn't, working about Moffat's tenure.

As the series started to air, Moffat said that the key to success was "to make good Doctor Who, which is a different thing to making the same Doctor Who". And this series has been full of the things that Moffat does best: sly comedy, intricate plotting, married-couple sniping, a healthy dose of smut and big scares. - Moffat delivers a great humour/drama balance in his episodes. He truly is magnificent. It's been generally funnier, appears to have rewritten the rule that said Doctor Who had to out-epic itself every year, and the latest run has a picture-book, fairytale quality quite at odds with RTD's instinct to ground the show in urban realism. - That is, at least, noticeable. I am glad Steven isn't trying to be RTD, but Doctor Who was more... reachable and 'more real' when RTD wrote most of the episodes. I guess Doctor Who isn't just about that 'I can feel the Doctor's real' kind of idea, but I truly liked it... And made me fall in love with it, but as the years go by, you realise that there is more to the show than just that wish to glimpse the TARDIS in the corner of your street. It needs to be 'fairytaley' at times, doesn't it? I enjoy both types of episodes, but the ones that really linger in my mind are the ones that make me think that that could happen to me. To a certain extent, of course, let's be reasonable!

The Eleventh Hour was hailed as a brilliant season-opener, breathlessly introducing a whole world of regulars and a new Doctor/ companion dynamic. - In my opinion, one of the best season openers to date, along with 'Partners in Crime' and maybe 'Smith and Jones'. But only a week later the knives were out for The Beast Below, for reasons I can't quite understand: it was as broad, fun and colourful a story as the companion's first adventure should be. - Sometimes it is hard to figure out how all the pieces link together, and why the plot develops the way it does when the main focus is on the companion. 'The Beast Below' wasn't one of Steven's stellar episodes, I'm afraid. I didn't enjoy it that much but, as I've said, it was all about Amy.

In retrospect, Victory Of The Daleks does seem something of a wasted opportunity, apparently serving only to introduce the controversial iDaleks. - Or the Rainbow Daleks, as I prefer to call 'em. And while not everyone agreed that The Time Of Angels two-parter was good enough to stand alongside the rest of the series' history, it still had more scale, scope and style than anything else on British television. - The two-parter episode 'The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone' was amazing. The depth Steven allows his characters to exude is amazing. River Song is as enigmatic as ever. You actually felt sorry for Father Octavian. You felt the Doctor's confusion. Well... sort of. I didn't actually 'feel' it that much, but you could tell.  Last week the lush Vampires Of Venice proved itself a lot more than a cool alliterative device in search of a story.

To my mind, the first six episodes of Moffat's reign have been strong – and yet as the story arcs are building, and the relationships are developing, I'm pondering that criticism of "not feeling it". The big mystery with the Pandorica is no doubt ingenious, and Doctor Who under Moffat is a stylish, madcap fantasy. - That's one of the problems, I guess. It's a fantasy. So many reviewers bashed RTD because of his Earth-based episodes, but that gave it a twang I loved. The kick you got from seeing the Doctor messing around with stuff you see and use every day! But I wonder whether I really know Amy Pond. Beneath the sass and the sauce and the wit and (there's no getting away from this) the skirts, I've yet to completely empathise with her, or work out what makes her tick. - Amy is crucial to the series, and I'm sure there's more to her than meets the eye, but I'm really loving Karen's character. She's not your average DW companion, which is something that is, undoubtedly, appealing. She actually stands up for what she believes in, whether the Doctor likes it or not.

Moffat, of course, is easily capable of the big emotional stuff; remember Rose telling a faithless Nancy that the Germans wouldn't win the war - 'The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, Series 1' - SUCH an amazing two-parter episode, or River Song's heartbreaking sacrifice at the end of Forest Of The Dead? I'm hoping that Moffat is playing a long game and there is much more to come. In this week's episode, Amy's Choice, the Doctor's companion has to start facing consequences – and maybe it will fill in some of the gaps. - I have high hopes for this episode.

But what do you think of Moffat's Who so far. Do you find yourself pining for a bit of RTD-style emotion, or are you pleased to see it gone? What's your assessment of the New Who at its halfway point?

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