Wednesday, 22 October 2014

New Who - Deep Breath to Flatline

I've got to admit I've not been a great fan of Newu Who. I first watched Doctor Who when Jon Pertwee was the Doctor, and I've always thought of him and Tom Baker as being “my” Doctors. I've got a pretty good collection of classic Who on DVD, and in the main I prefer the original series to the current stories. There have been a few exceptions – there are about half a dozen New Who stories that I thought were very good indeed, including Empty Child, Blink and the Doctor's Wife. I also think there have been some absolute stinkers.

I was one of those who thought David Tennant was too brash and Matt Smith too young. To be fair, I don't think either was a bad Doctor, but neither really matched the ideal of the time-travelling Gallifreyan that I had in my mind.

Peter Capaldi, on the other hand, struck me as a perfect choice for the Doctor. He had sufficient gravitas and a strong screen presence, a face that was reminiscent of Jon Pertwee, and very considerable acting ability.

 The season started pretty well. Deep Breath was a good story, but Into the Dalek (whilst it had some very nice ideas and some very strong moments) had enough logical flaws and plot holes to sink a starship. Robot of Sherwood was great fun, but not great Who. It and Listen, the story that followed, both seemed to suggest a degree of promise.

Time Heist, on the other hand, was both obvious and illogical, and really didn't work.

The Caretaker, again, seemed to be working, but still didn't quite have the spark that the best Who stories have.

 And then we had Kill the Moon. Ouch. Probably one of the poorest stories I've seen. If anyone doubted that New Who is fantasy, not science fiction, this was a good proof. Classic Who endeavoured to put a gloss of “reality” into the science. It often got it badly wrong (I cringe at the sad excuse for astrophysics in Wheel in Space, and a good many of the stories failed basic science, but certainly from Jon Pertwee's time onwards the series tried to pretend it was SF not magic). Anyone with no more than a GCSE in physics can see the flaws in the science of Kill the Moon.

The Moon's “gravity is changing”. Because there's something growing inside. Fluctuating. But mass can't change. So gravity can't change. The basic structure was gibberish. And the creature that is born from the Moon immediately lays an egg that is of the same mass and is identical in appearance. And “bacteria” that look like spiders and spin webs? How this story got approved is beyond me – it fails on so many levels. And the Doctor leaving the decision to the humans also makes no sense compared with what he has done before. The logic of the character and the logic of the situation are entirely absent. Yes, the production crew want to make the Doctor darker and edgier, but he needs to remain the same character as before. And the big “event” of the story – the Doctor leaving Clara and co to make the decision – doesn't in the end have any consequences, making it ultimately pointless. The ending felt like a cop-out.

I don't mind saying that this episode disappointed me very badly.

Fortunately, Mummy on the Orient Express restored my faith in the series. I didn't expect to like the episode – it looked somewhat as though someone had come up with a neat image and a good title, and I was afraid the plot would be an irrelevance. I am very glad I was wrong – the story held together, the Doctor was magnificent, and the plot made sense. 

I didn't have problems with the science – yes, a starship built to look like a steam-train in space is daft, but it doesn't obviously break basic laws of physics. We've built some pretty bizarre ships and vehicles in reality, and the attempt to create something anachronistic for rich, paying passengers is not extraordinary. The plot held together, and the characterisation of the Doctor finally felt thoroughly right.

Which brings me to Flatline. I enjoyed Flatland many years ago. I was nervous of what Doctor Who would do with it.

I needn't have worried. This was an excellent episode, the internal logic consistent, the plot credible (as far as Doctor Who plots are ever credible) and the science not objectionable. And the character of the Doctor (both as played by Capaldi and as brilliantly emulated by Jenna Coleman!) was beautifully portrayed. This really felt like the “real” Doctor. If the new series can keep this up, then New Who might just grow up to be as good as its parent.

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