So apparently, if you have a lot of pilot ideas, at some point somebody is going to want to hear them. Hence the lateness of my Doctor Who blathering. But hey, I'm getting it done before the next season starts, so keep your hair on.
So. Doctor Who, Series Five.
I thought it was ass.
Not right at the beginning, though. I liked the first episode quite a bit. Steven Moffat had said the show was going to feel more like a fairy tale than its previous incarnation, and the first episode set that mood right away. An adorable small English village, an adorable little red-headed Scottish girl, and Matt Smith, the new Doctor, still spinning and disoriented from his regeneration and all that stuff that happened when David Tennant played him. The scenes he had with child Amy were lovely. The Doctor being Amy's imaginary friend played into the fairy tale themes.
But then Amy grew up. And by the end of the season, I still have no idea who she is, what she wants, what she used to want, what's missing in her life, what need the Doctor fills, what her point of view is, how she views the Doctor, what horrifies her about him, what she adores about him, what time traveling with an alien is doing to her, how she now relates to her life... etc. See, by the end of the first season -- hell, even before that -- I knew all that about Rose. I knew most of that about Martha, and ALL of it about the fantabulous Donna.
Amy remained a cipher to the very end. The only glimmer of character I saw in her came in the Vincent Van Gogh episode. Finally, Amy showed some joy, a love for something. That episode really worked for me, mostly because the actor who played Vincent was so wonderful. Finally, there was EMOTION on the show. The monster was stupid and pointless, but it didn't matter. I didn't hate Amy. And although the show's always playing with the old "you can't change history" trope, when it works it works great, and it definitely worked here.
The mistake made with Amy was in telling the audience how amazing she was, without showing us. TeeVee does this a lot, using it as a sort of shorthand. No matter how or why it's used, it's thoroughly irritating. What's bizarre is that the flipside of Amy Pond, River Song, was fucking AWESOME. Not in the angel two-parter. Lots of problems there. But in the last few episodes? Marvelous. She was the interesting character with the darkness in her. I wanted to follow her around. Screw Amy. Give me the River Song show. I thought it would be awesome to see her show up in the new Torchwood, but given what seems to be happening with THAT, I'm a hell of a lot less interested. So let's keep River Song out of any potential trouble, shall we?
A lot of how we the audience see the Doctor has to do with how the companions see him. They are our eyes into his world, which has always been part of the genius of the show. If we're introduced to a companion who just doesn't have a point of view, then the Doctor remains a mystery to us as well. That's really too bad, because it does a huge disservice to Matt Smith. I think he can be a good Doctor but he just hasn't had the chance to develop any kind of character. He isn't playing against anything. I don't know how he sees Amy or the universe. I especially don't know how he sees Earth because when he shows up in The Lodger, he acts like a fucking idiot, like he's never even SEEN a person before. This is not an in-valid way to present him... if that's ever been set up. And it's not hard to set up, either. He regenerated. It was particularly violent. His previous incarnation really, really did not want to leave. The events that happened to him were particularly, personally traumatic. He had become, in effect, quite human. But I feel like none of the "before" work was done. These discussions didn't happen.
One issue here is that by the end of Tennant's Doctor, we really knew him. He had a wonderful arc, especially in the last season. But it felt like Moffat just had no idea where to start the eleventh Doctor. And because he had no idea where to begin, he didn't make a decision. And that gave us a character with no point of view. He had nowhere to go, because he wasn't coming from anywhere specific. So his reactions to things and people and aliens can just be whatever, because he doesn't have a point of view. This isn't really any fun, and it doesn't make me engage with the character. Nor does it give him a consistent arc. We NEVER know how he's going to react in any situation, so nothing he does makes any sense.
Beyond all the myriad character problems, the stories were riddled with issues. The biggest thing that kept happening was the way the plots were solved -- Wishing makes it so. Seriously, in almost every episode, it all came down to someone wishing really hard. If you set something that's impossible to defeat, say, the Pandorica, then you can't just make up some bullshit about how the Doctor got out of there. The build-up for the damned thing is so "THIS IS IMPENETRABLE AND YOU WILL BE IN HERE FOREVER" that all you can do when Rory uses the screwdriver to get the Doctor out is roll your eyes and eat some more chocolate (I did this).
I don't want to go through ALL of the plot problems with the show. I don't think there's enough Interweb space for that. Suffice it to say that plot problems are not nearly as irritating or glaring if the characters are working. But since I mentioned the Pandorica, let's just talk about the most ludicrous scene in either episode -- where ALL the aliens who are the Doctor's enemies come together to put him in the thing. They're all standing there, Daleks and Cybermen and Silurians, talking quite calmly about why they're putting him in there. Since they're always trying to kill him and stuff, that would seem like the easier way to go. But no, they don't want to kill him. They want to put him in a (seemingly) impenetrable box. And before they do that, they want to take turns telling him how assy he is.
Really? Does that sound believable? That's horrible writing. HORRIBLE. There are SO many problems with the finale that it's impossible to take it all in. Steven Moffat's proven to be good at a lot of things. I loved Jekyll. And the funny thing about that was, there was actual emotion in it. Characters had arcs. But when you think about his previous Doctor Who episodes, which have been wonderful, you realize that they exist in isolation. He's not concerned with arcs and character development because as a freelancer, that's not his job.
But as a showrunner, it IS. We have the evidence now -- thirteen episodes worth -- to say that he just isn't a good showrunner for this particular show. He's a great soldier but not a great general. It feels like he had a lot of cool ideas, but just never settled down to arc the season and figure out what worked and what didn't. He didn't kill any of those children, and it wound up hurting the parent. Doctor Who is a science fantasy show, which means that you can be fantastic with the elements. You can fudge stuff. The Conservation of Mass isn't really your problem. But you HAVE to be consistent with the rules that you set up, and he just wasn't. The only thing that's going to keep me coming back next year is the promise that we are going to find out more about River Song. Maybe Moffat needed a season to shake off the dust and figure out how to run this thing. I hope so. I want it to get back on track.
Lastly, I just want to say something to all the TeeVee writers who are forging out to pitch pilots: We are all going through the same shit. Nothing that you are going through is any different than what everyone else is going through. You are not alone. Try to cut through or ignore all the bullshit. Go sell some shows you love.