Sunday, 27 June 2010

Doctor Who - 2010 series thoughts & beyond

I'd promised myself I'd return to a bit of a review at the close of the current series, having kept quiet since "The Eleventh Hour" back in April, so here I am.

That first episode turned out to be one of the best of the run, but there have been few duds in my opinion. I rather liked the Silurian two-parter, which appears to have been an acquired taste for many. And I was on the side of Richard Curtis'"Vincent and the Doctor" which people appear to have really loved or really loathed (loathed the lazy title though - should have been something like "Starry Starry Night"). And James Corden in "The Lodger" did a Catherine Tate and won us all over.

However I do have some reservations. If I had to pick 'worst episode' then that has to be "Victory of the Daleks" which was a mixture of WW2-fetish indulgence and the most blatant example of merchandise opportunity trumping plot acceptance I've seen since the Quarks. Even then, all the business with the jammie dodger bluff and Bracewell not accepting he wasn't a real human (foreshadowing Auton-Rory in the finale) mean I can't hate it.

(My second 'worst' episode is "The Vampires of Venice")

Equally, when the lurid Daleks reappeared in the penultimate episode, at the head of a fanwanky alliance of all the Whoniverse's handiest monster props, the line-up includes races who really aren't enemies of the Doctor (the Judoon) or just shouldn't be there in 102 AD (Silurians, Weevils). Apparently it's because the Daleks are the senior partner and they have time-travel (presumably where they were headed at the end of VotD). This aside though, "The Pandorica Opens" just edges it as my favourite episode. Moffat otherwise shows us 'less is more' if you do it properly. Here, a severed Cyberman head and arm prove very dangerous quite independently and it's just one particular Auton that does for Amy at point blank range because it is Auton-Rory. Even in the following episode, much of the peril comes from a crusty lone Dalek that has, like Auton-Rory, survived into 1996 AD.

One of the real developments this season has been River Song, a character we saw die on TV two years ago. Though only appearing in four episodes, they were possibly four of the five key episodes and each appearance ratcheted up how fascinating and mysterious a character she was. So fascinating that, like Captain Jack, she can't really be a regular (though a River & Jack spin-off must be tempting). It's very Moff-like that she basically represents the embodiment of 'spoilers', having encountered the Doctor's life in the wrong order - both for him and for us as viewers. This series though, a dark murderous side was hinted at too but left unexplained. I expect to see River in 2011, possibly even as the 'big bad' of the story arc. She's also been supremely camp this time round (witness the 1940s femme fatale entrance, the hallucinogenic lipstick and the turn as Cleopatra), which is always good.

There is actually a bit of an old-fashioned romantic vibe about the series, something not really seen since the Letts and Hinchcliffe eras of the 1970s. This time it owes a fair bit to the mid 20th century mixes of strong professional women, screwball comedy and unlikely romantic heroes. Although Moffat has failed to nail the 'identify with minor character' magic that RTD was a master at, he has re-focussed the humanity into a soppy old romantic plot, so no shock that Richard Curtis fitted in so well. The 2010 series counterpoints the central Amy/Rory romance in a world of internet porn, strippers and casual sex - all of which were acknowledged within the first six episodes. Of course this context only makes the eventual triumph of the relationship even more classically romantic.This also contrasts with the alternately comic-strip/soap-opera critique often applied to the RTD era.

And the future is bright, if a little uncertain.

Last night we ended with not only Amy being married to Rory, but both of them opting to travel further in the TARDIS with the Doctor (so keen that all three are still in their wedding outfits - see above). Thus we have the first married companions, who must at least last into the Christmas special.

Something that wasn't entirely clear was the nature of Rory, because although Auton-Rory now never existed, real-Rory appears to have the 1894 years of memories and experiences as 'the lone centurion' because of the way Amy restored the universe to rights. This makes him older than the Doctor for starters, but sets up fantastic character potential.

Then there's the matter of the Christmas special, which is now less than six months away from broadcast and 15 days away from starting filming. It would appear we are being primed to expect an adventure with 'an Egyptian goddess loose on the Orient Express ... in space', but are we? Unusually, no title was proffered in the closing titles. I'm hoping we get that, even if it was just a Moff in-joke (Orient Express/Titanic anyone?) as I think they're all dressed for the occasion and it just may be that Christmas starts off a new Egyptian story arc (apparently Steven has said the next series climax is in Egypt) and that we might expect some overseas location filming again.

Anyway, I'll be happy with whatever on the strength of the last 13 weeks.

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