Friday, November 28, 2014

A Little Down on "Doctor Who"

Spoilers ahead for the latest series.

First things first. I love Michelle Gomez as the newest incarnation of The Master. I bought her as the character immediately, and thought her appearance in the finale episodes was a blast. I really hope that she comes back for more episodes in the future, and says the word "bananas" a bunch more times. However, her performance highlighted for me how much I've been struggling to accept Peter Capaldi as the newest Doctor, and after a whole season I find that I'm not quite there yet. I find Capaldi a tremendous performer, and he's delivered some great moments over this past series. The man has a wonderful facility with ridiculous speeches. However, Capaldi's Doctor has been so much grimmer and morally gray than his most recent predecessors that I'm having trouble thinking of them as the same character. And though he's shown a sillier side on occasion, I miss the goofiness of Matt Smith and David Tennant. This series of "Doctor" Who" has been plenty compelling, but it just hasn't been as much fun.

Look at Danny Pink, for example, played by Samuel Anderson. As Clara's love interest he was a major part of this year, and received lots and lots of character development and screen time. However, he was such a sourpuss every time he appeared, angsting over his past as a soldier, getting hostile with the Doctor, or suggesting that his relationship with Clara was an jeopardy. And what a relationship. They seemed to have about five minutes in total of happy, flirty, enjoyment of each other amidst endless scenes of awkward bungling, Clara being evasive, Danny being suspicious, and the threat of separation dominating nearly every scene of them together. For these two, the finale was all about sorrowful partings and somber declarations of love and loyalty. It was difficult to really root for their relationship when the relationship just seemed to be an endless source of unhappiness for both of them. It certainly helped to flesh out Clara as a character, but I couldn't help feeling frustrated with all the doom and gloom.

Part of the issue was that here weren't as many comedic episodes this year, but the few that were in the mix like "Robot of Sherwood" and "The Caretaker" were promising. I like the Doctor as a grump, who is sometimes a few steps behind where human nature is concerned as opposed to being the near-omniscient alien smarty-pants he's been in the past. However, the level of grumpiness hasn't been consistent, and there have definitely been some transitional bumps. The best episodes have ended up being the more horrific ones. My favorite of the year was "Mummy on the Orient Express," one of those high concept, big idea shows where all the pieces fit just right. This year's scripts have been notably ambitious - even the installments that have fallen flat like "Listen" and "Kill the Moon" haven't lacked for daring. The series' big arcs have also featured some real substance, hinging on a more thoughtful, more personal examination of the Doctor's character through Clara's relationship with him. But did it have to be so morose?

It might just be that I haven't watched any of the older "Who" episodes with a more mature actor playing the Doctor, or that this kind of character drama is not what I've grown to expect from the program. Sure, it's been hinted that many of the Doctor-Companion relationships haven't been very healthy, but this is the first time I've seen the show really dwell on the issue, and I think it may have been too much for the format to handle. "Doctor Who" is still a kids' show in my mind. Or it might be because there's been relatively little connection to earlier series this year. The Paternoster Gang showed up in the premiere, but otherwise there hasn't been much carryover of characters aside from Clara - and she was such a nonentity in the Matt Smith series, it felt like we were starting over from scratch. So it was great to have the Master and UNIT and the army of Cybermen in the finale, both for the injection of goofy fun and for the connection to the rest of the "Doctor Who" canon.

I'll certainly keep watching though, for Nick Frost as Santa Claus at Christmas and for potentially better to come. I hope that Clara's love life brightens up a bit in the future and that Capaldi's doctor can be a bit more a grumpy adventurer and a bit less of an introspective bundle of doubts. After his big speech in the finale, I hope some of those questions about his morality can be put to bed for a while. And we can get back to the business of exploring and saving the universe unhindered.

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