Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Space" and "Time"

These two short parts form the 2011 Comic Relief Special and are nothing more than about seven minutes in total of TARDIS funsies. The Moffat time loop conceit you could argue is starting to wear a little thin but the fact that he keeps changing the scenario keeps it interesting for the time being. Amy's thing about it getting complicated seems a bit catch-phrasey too and it'd be nice if Moffat maybe toned down Amy's one-liners a little because after the Pandorica thing and the "It's Christmas" thing it just feels a bit worn and silly. I get that it's just a Comic Relief episode but it's still a tiny bit annoying; I'm merely voicing a concern that I don't wish for Moffat's writing to descend into referential self-parody or anything. I'm sure he'll avoid that in the series proper. That being said Matt Smith is top notch as the Doctor, it's nice to see Rory's character being more fleshed out as his screen/companion time accumulates, performed with the usual mastery by Arthur Darvill, and Karen Gillan's Amy Pond is as watchable as ever. As some people have noted, the Doctor having his hand through the door reminds me of Portal which is a nice thing to think and I think something could have been done more with the space loop instead of the time loop because that would have been a bit different. I don't know how that could possibly matter in a trans-dimensional vehicle with moveable insides but there you go.
I was going to make some remarks about sexuality in Doctor Who in regards to this special but I don't think there's really that much to say. I suppose I just think that while there is definitely a cheekiness to some of the dialogue and character action here it's altogether more, I suppose, plausible when it's a Rory-Amy thing. They're married, for heaven's sake, and Amy's quite a looker. Sexuality in Doctor Who is always a divisive issue; I believe Moffat once claimed to have sexualised the Doctor (and the show in general) more than ever and that's probably true. I've never thought of the Doctor as asexual, just alien and distracted from those kinds of concerns, and I think having a married couple in the TARDIS is a rather elegant way for Moffat to incorporate these kinds of elements without having to compromise the Doctor. He has an almost child-like moment of 'disgust' at the notion that Rory was distracted by looking up at Amy through the glass floor and I think that's appropriate. If the previous era's needless romance taught us anything, it's that the Doctor's leanings are more towards the romantic and transcendental aspects of a sexual life rather than the physical. It's just that this era has rather solidified that position by giving the Doctor a more reluctant approach. He remarked "Let's not go there," in "The Vampires of Venice" when Rory noted that the Doctor's glowstick was larger, for instance, he refused the advances of Amy Pond after a moment's hesitation and now he's almost disbelieving that a pretty girl could cause her husband to make a mistake while trying to effect repairs on a time machine. It's moved on somewhat from the juvenile attitude of the previous era, spearheaded by Captain Jack most notably, which painted sexuality in an incredibly faux-risque manner, cloaked in euphemism and double entendre and cheap laughs. I realise this is reading way too much into a simple Comic Relief special but it seemed like an appropriate juncture.
It's not long now until the Sixth Series of New Doctor Who begins with a trailer recently released, obviously designed to drum up hype with a few tantalising images. I rather hope that it doesn't become a melodrama, but I suppose the pacing and chosen segments of a trailer are bound to give that impression. The one thing I think is that even if it does then at least it will probably have more integrity than what Series 1-4 offered.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rant Time

No, it isn't the title of the next Doctor Who episode. It's just me filling in the void before the next series begins with a bit of a rant, where I'll briefly be eludicating my opinions about Doctor Who and how it reflects on our cultural intelligence as a society.
Now if you were to ask me to describe humanity in as few words as possible, I would probably say "Humans are stupid." People, unfortunately, just don't know what's best for them, and can't be trusted to make decisions or form opinions on their own because in a huge majority of circumstances they will be the wrong ones. The way this relates back to Doctor Who transitions in my mind via my limited capacity for sympathy. Basically, I feel a little sorry for the current makers of the programme. It must be frustrating to feel that due to the moronic nature of many fans of anything they have to compete with the almost unmitigated garbage which constituted the previous era of the show. As I've already made clear in my reviews, I am one hundred per cent behind Matt Smith's Eleventh Doctor, Karen Gillan as Amy Pond and of course the great Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams. I'm also pretty confident in Moffat and his writers, directors and so on. The show's by no means perfect, but it's pretty good. It's clever, it's moving, it's funny, the dialogue is sharp, the storylines are meaningful, the character development is sensible and for the first time in a long time it's actually something approaching Science Fiction. It uses imaginary, hypothetical scientific and futurism based concepts and settings to explore real issues. It's also eminently watchable due to the good writing and the excellent actors. The plots feel reasonably fresh and original, or at least revitalised. We've had an exploration of what it means to be human in "Victory of the Daleks" and "The Big Bang". We looked at the darker side of human nature in "The Beast Below" and "Cold Blood". We dealt with grief and loss in "The Vampires of Venice" and "A Christmas Carol", time and memory in "Flesh and Stone", and if you can believe it, mental illness in "Vincent and the Doctor". And if you want character-driven episodes about the Doctor, his companions, and how he affects people's lives, with a variety of both light and dark tone, where better to look than "The Eleventh Hour", "Amy's Choice" or "The Lodger"?
Essentially what I'm trying to say here is that the series just gone, and this new era, has substantially brought the show back on track. I honestly can't believe what I'm reading when I see people arguing that the Tenth Doctor was a deeper, more nuanced character, or that the previous era was somehow intellectually superior to the one we have now. The Tenth Doctor was an unbelievable caricature - relentlessly smug without cause, cruel to many of his companions such as Martha and Jack, melodramatic to the point of childishness, such as when he complains that everyone breaks his heart, brainlessly facetious while almost never being funny, and most frustratingly of all, hyper-manic, running around like an imbecile, shouting at the top of his voice and generally being embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch. I can blame a lot of this on the writing of course, because David Tennant is a top notch actor. I just don't know where this interpretation of the character came from. He doesn't seem like a time-travelling alien scientist from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterborous, he just seems like some 'cool guy' playing at being eccentric and picking up chicks. Unfortunately a lot of it derives from the panting, dry-mouthed fangirl cult which developed around the character. And hey, far be it from me to criticise the Doctor for being good-looking. But you reach the point where you have to wonder how much it influenced his reception among fans, and how much the romance between the Tenth Doctor and Rose was a vicarious fantasy love story for the kind of fanatical fans who become overinvested in fiction because their own lives are too disappointing. I can't help but feel that the new, and better era, is suffering because people fail to realise that the previous one was in no way definitive.
Too many people have, for instance, not seen the Classic Series and cannot understand that the show was about adventures in time and space, and exploring science fiction issues, not a love story. In addition, too many people think that emotions slathered on with a trowel so heavy-handedly that the Doctor has to have a big cry every few episodes means that the stories have depth or intellectual value. It's easy to make people feel. It's making them think which is tricky. Too often do I see people arguing that the Tenth Doctor had a more layered and complex character than other Doctors, that the previous era was more 'emotionally powerful'. But it turned itself into a domestic drama where time and space were mere backdrops to the personal lives of these characters and it became soulless and populist. Just because you felt sad about the Doctor and Rose being separated, probably helped by the heartstring-tugging music and liberal amounts of tears, or saw the Doctor's pain when he stood very still in the TARDIS all those times with a blank look on his face doesn't mean that the show had a huge amount of integrity and depth which has now been lost. It just means RTD and co said "feel sad" and you said "yes sir" and did so. People are by and large like sheep; they will follow the path of least resistance and participate in mass conformity if something appeals to their most basic and easily-manipulated qualities and disguises itself in a cloak of false pretension to make you think you're experiencing something meaningful. If you honestly think the previous era was more nuanced than any other, that the Tenth Doctor was some kind of 'Doctor to end all Doctors', then I both pity and revile you. You're probably the kind of person who thought Avatar was a good film in spite of it being cliched spectacle or who would loudly abuse Ghostbusters II without really knowing why, giving the same arguments you're told to give by celebrities, popular consensus and big-media internet sites.
Ultimately it comes down to fan reaction versus critical involvement. I try to be both. People will attack everything to avoid confrontation or disagreement. I could get into this more heartily, and may very well do so, by talking about Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a great film which people hate on just because of herd consensus. But I am both a fan of things and a critic of art, as well as a critic of human behaviour. And people are becoming absurd. If they end up crying and clutching their David Tennant doll after a hollow, shallow piece of pulp television, then they're happy, but if they're doled out a cracking piece of science fiction featuring the amazing Matt Smith and his Eleventh Doctor, they're fuming and saying that the show has failed. It's absurd. I watched the entirety of Tennant's run, and even though a lot of it was just ridiculous and that its praise was normally inversely proportional to the quality of the episode there are few good bits in there. But it's the praise which bothers me. People see in these things something valuable because they've lost sight of true art, true value. We're living in a culture where people care more about good looks and a bit of crying than being made to question their own values or seek new kinds of meaning. Sometimes I worry that we are living in the nadir of human culture, where the overwhelming majority love what is absurd and meaningless and despise the artistic and credible. At other times I think people are simply influenced by the fear of a vocal minority. All I can do is voice my concerns. So much feedback for things these days tends to go one way or the other, and those of us who disagree need to speak out. I suppose it's not really so bad for Doctor Who; for every annoying navel-gazer who thinks David Tennant should somehow come back, there are probably ten more people who, even if they loved the Tenth Doctor, are equally loving Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor. Nonetheless these nay-sayers crop up in the most irritating places on the internet, weaselling oodles of complaint in where it simply isn't justified. The show's better than ever; some people just refuse to see it. I suppose in the end Doctor Who is Doctor Who, and it's in the nature of the programme to change. If you can't accept that then there's no point watching, and certainly no point complaining about the changes, especially if you think we should have more of the rubbish that we had from 2006-2009. If you think the show is worse now, or think the Smith is inferior to Tennant, then I don't know what kind of opposite-day standards you hold for either artistry or watchability. Too often we see people adopting a herd mentality towards new things. A product, be it a film or a novel, a video game or a television series, is either absolutely adored or absolutely reviled, and normally people get it dead wrong. Because yes, as the title of this whole blog states, opinions can indeed be wrong. And yours probably is.