Doctor Who: Telling Adventure Really Doesn’t Inspire Satisfaction
I was on a bus today, idly inspecting the drizzly Turner painting that greeted me out the window. We trundled by a farm (one of the terribly posh farms, with a shop that sells local produce, which is always jam or pickle or wood carved into the shape of a swan that’s also an ornamental bread holder), and, through the rain, I could make out something. Pinned to each of the fences were a collection of large banners, each of them asking anyone who cared to notice “Fancy a Cornetto?”. A fair enough ploy for the summer, you might, think, but these banners were being battered by a stiff wind, still damp from yesterday’s day of sheet rain, in a farm as empty as the call centres in Heaven. They summed up a very British predilection to blind hope in the face of overwhelming, almost hilarious odds- someone, somewhere, had realised it was summer and gone “wouldn’t some ice-cream just be lovely this time of year?”, and put out these futile signs.
This week, my terribly British hope was eroded at again. I love Doctor Who, and I still think that it’s one of the finest TV shows ever to grace the small screen. Even after last week’s blunder of an opening (it was all summed up for in the look the consort’s brother gave me when the dire new opening credits played out: a flash of “JUST WHEN I THOUGHT IT COULDN’T GET ANY WORSE”), I was hoping that the Daleks might ground things in comfortable territory. They’re a hazing ritual for new Doctors, and a classic villain that people (not me, obviously. I hate them. They’re shit. I own a plunger, a whisk, and a fearful lack of regard for human life, and you don’t see Moffat casting me in anything) seem to love. But I didn’t like this episode.
It swung between some fun, cool parts that I did like, and some almost embarrassing exploits that made me want to take the writers over my knee. The bits I did like, first- Zawe Ashton (who is an utterly brilliant comic actress whose turn in Fresh Meat-both ludicrously funny and starkly dramatic- is one of the finest performances on TV at the moment) was brilliant as stoic but gold-hearted soldier person. We also got the first glimpse of Danny Pink, a future major player in the series and currently an ex-soldier and new teacher at Clara’s school. I’ll say that he did really well, but the writing was crass and they were lucky that at least he brought the charm- in basically his first shot, he assigns homework and asks “Any questions?”, to which some little rapscallion intones “HAVE YOU EVER KILLED A MAN.”. It was both a line and a line reading so dire that I broke down into ab-crunching laughter, and, with uni starting in two weeks, I plan to direct this question to all my lecturers as a hazing process. But: Danny Pink was good. There were also some passably funny lines, as the Matt Smith humour is dropped in favour of Capaldi’s deadpan humour (“Oh, don’t worry, you’re built like a man”). I will also recant one thing: I criticised Ben Wheatley’s direction last week, but he did a grand job on Inside the Dalek, actually managing to make them look pretty cool and briefly threatening.
Onto the bad. The story, which followed the Doctor and some compadres miniaturizing to go inside a broken Dalek that had started liking humans (let’s just not go near the premise this week, for my own sanity), was made up of two acts. It jarred terribly as it jumped from first act to third with nothing in the middle, as the Doctor staggered through awkward moral plot points and a script that was both too slow and too fast at various points. I was relatively game for a fun, silly episode that let us explore the iconic Who machine (just like Journey to the Centre of the Tardis so spectacularly failed to do last season), but the episode seemed terribly keen to stick it’s fingers down it’s throat and throw up some season-long themes.
This wasn’t an issue of it being a “dark” episode or a “fun” episode, as Who can do both almost simultaneously if it wants (See: The Empty Child/Doctor Dances, The God Complex, Blink), it was an issue of the script filling in what should have been bold, assured black and white with faded shades of grey. I’ve also noticed that Clara is starting to annoy me, and I don’t think it’s anything to do with Jenna Coleman- I think it’s just that her rambunctious energy worked best when paired with Matt Smith’s equal mania. Up against Peter Capaldi’s dour, more serious Doctor, she just comes across as a little grating and shrieky. The floating Dalek eyes I predicted last week turned out to be Dalek antibodies that killed people inside the Dalek, and I seriously don’t know if it’s better or worse.
And you know what the worst part about all of this is? I’m still looking forward to next week’s potentially excellent Robot of Sherwood. Damn you and your hopeful witchery: I’ll have you yet, Moffat.