December 7, 2012 by Steven
Let me say this first: I am not watching Dr. Who by choice.
No, my wife didn’t make me this time. This one is all your fault, internet. That’s right! You! You right there! If you’re reading this on anything other than a stone carving you’re partially responsible. You and your ilk have littered the internet with jokes, memes, references and gifs that I can’t make heads or tails of. I’ve seen more non-Benedict Cumberbatch Brits spread across my internets in the past year than I cared to see in my whole life!
So after months of waddling through wibbly wobbly WTF I decided to just watch the damn thing. Thousands of rabid Whovians can’t be wrong, can they? Finally after getting through the first season, I think I have figured out what makes this show so iconic:
NOT the first season.
Let me be clear. The first season is not bad. It has its moments and there are even one or two pretty good episodes. But there are two things that ended up greatly watering down the experience for me: their deus-ex-machina episode resolutions and their stymieing of potentially great characters.
Let’s start at the top, shall we?
Hand Waving, ie: “Thank God We Invented/Have The Whatever Device”
Science fiction is a tricky genre, and while Dr. Who makes no effort to be “hard” sci-fi, they seem to end up pulling more from the fantasy when it comes to resolving their episodes in the first season. Much of this is what is pejoratively called “hand waving,” as it is something wizards often do to invoke powers they never mentioned having until that point. This is employed many times over the season, with Dr. Who, the TARDIS, or some other device suddenly having the ability to defeat the bad guys in a manner that comes completely out of left field.
The best example was in the episode “Boom Town,” where Margaret is about to destroy the world when she inadvertently exposes the “Heart of the TARDIS,” which is a plot device so thin that not even the Doctor can really justify how it got there.
While the Heart-o’-TARDIS does come up later with a very specific purpose (namely to release Christopher Eccleston from his contract) the fact that it’s pulled from his sleeve without any mention prior feels like a cop-out for this episode. Besides, if the TARDIS is psychic, wouldn’t it have a brain rather than a heart?
At the end of episode 2, the Doctor can reverse-teleport someone. In episode 5 he knows the passwords to hack missile subs. In episode 10 he can control the nanogenes by literally waving his hands. I get it, it’s a family program and it needs a simplistic plot, but a lot of it just came off as lazy writing.
Ironically, the nanogenes are also a good example of a plot device done right: they were introduced early on in the previous episode, creating a reversal of expectation when they turned out to be the problem. That particular episode was written by Steve Moffat, I hope to the gods of British Television that the writing improves as the series develops.
Now a good series isn’t defined by plot, it’s defined by engaging characters that you get invested in. Let me run through a few and explain why I feel the show’s best assets were not properly utilized.
While I admit I have no context of the previous 8 incarnations of the doctor, Eccleston’s character feels like a public service announcement about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. He’s at once collected and mysterious as the universe hangs in the balance, then in the same sentence he suddenly gets more smiley than Jack Nicholson and the world is made of candy and sunshine. Plus I get the sneaking suspicion that he actually has absolutely no idea what he’s doing.
To quote Rupert Giles: Humanity is doomed.
For whatever completely illogical reason, the Doctor decides the best companion to bring on adventures that risk upsetting time and space is a woman with absolutely zero impulse control. Playing a picture perfect Tonto to the Doctor’s Lone Ranger, her sole purpose in every episode was to do something incredibly stupid. This would force the Doctor to have to rescue her before she destroyed all existence. I’m no time-lord, but even I can see that she might not be the top choice for time-travel work.
What irks me about her is that she did not do one intelligent thing all season. Even in “Father’s Day,” which was essentially her episode, she can’t connect the dots to see what must happen to save the world. Any time she does contribute to the conclusion of the episode, it’s usually completely by accident.
Seriously. The Doctor should trade her out for a corgi or something. Twice as smart and just as British.
If the core cast of this season were akin to the Scooby Gang, poor Mick has found himself in the role of Scooby.
On paper, he could have been so much more. He’s the dedicated boyfriend, street-smart and headstrong. He’s honestly just two or three bad puns from being Xander Harris. Instead he’s relegated to the basest of comic relief for the show and spends his time tripping over things and getting his heart stepped on by that frigid bitch Rose. Seriously. The guy has the emotional maturity of a 10 year-old, but at least he never did anything that could tear the universe apart.
Blon Fel-Fotch Passameer-Day Slitheen, aka Margaret Blaine
While not a core cast member, she was a recurring villain in the series which is more than can be said for any non-Dalek character on the show (the Dalek will get their own post later). She’s portrayed masterfully by Anette Badland, who is oddly enough a children’s TV actress in the UK. Margaret left and impression on me as the single most capable and dangerous villain that the Doctor faced all season. She was at once deeply sympathetic and also truly terrifying. Why? That’s exactly it. You knew exactly why she was doing what she did.
In her first appearance in “Aliens of London,” her family had infiltrated the UK government in order to wipe out humanity in a nuclear holocaust and sell the planet as open real estate. Cold, cruel business, that’s all it was, executed with chess-like strategy that put the right people in the right place to have humanity wipe itself out. In a show dominated by snarling monsters and shambling robots, it’s nice to see an enemy that feels more like a Bond villain than just a scary rubber suit.
So the doctor stops their plan by killing them all with a missile strike. Margaret, still with all the skill and cunning of her kin, now has a new quest: revenge against the man who murdered her whole family. “Boom Town” ends up being her Xanatos Gambit, thwarted only because she failed to anticipate a “this isn’t even my final form” plot device. Laaaaaaame.
Captain Jack Harkness
I want to have sex with this man. That is not a metaphor or an exaggeration. I would totally do Jack Harkness. Every married couple has that list of people who they are allowed to have an affair with, and Jack Harkness is going up there with another man who happens to also be the captain of a spaceship.
I do think his hyper-sexualization is at once good and bad, character-wise. It’s good because it does draw attention to his non-heterosexuality, which is a growing theme in sci-fi and post-humanism. On the other hand, it does sort of risk pushing him into Zervan Arainai territory since he’ll probably sleep with anything that has a pulse. However, they do keep him perfectly masculine in both dress and mannerism. Well, maybe. At least until he tries to one-hand-fire that machine gun at the end of the last episode. That was weird.
Now I’m going to light some candles, pour some wine, take off my pants and start watching Torchwood. Call my wife if you need anything.