Monday, September 29, 2014

Doctor Who - reaching the halfway season point with Peter Capaldi

Well, this HAS been a bit of a turn hasn’t it? The first episode of the new series – Deep Breath – suggested some shifts, but they’ve been reinforced by the subsequent episodes in ways I hadn’t necessarily fully anticipated. It feels like there have been more deaths (certainly on-screen), even if there aren’t. The humour is still there but it is definitely different in tone. Moff also seems more actively involved in sharing scriptwriting duties (at least as far as the credits are concerned), which suggests he’s taking a different approach to that of RTD on script editing duties but nevertheless does indicate he’s wanting a bit more continuity of tone across the episodes (not sure that is entirely successful but that’s a different matter – the intention of continuity is apparent).

And as far Capaldi’s Doctor? Well, I like that he’s not likable. You can see aspects of past selves in his performance, just not necessarily the likable aspects. There is definitely less fun, but that isn’t to say there’s no funny. Rob Buckley talked on his blog about the Doctor being varying degrees of a ‘dick’ (even Eight, who got little chance on screen to be one, has had many moments of dickery in his subsequent adventures in audio/print). Rob, as ever, is kinda right, but getting the balance is crucial. There is a danger of us having another super-paternalistic, self-regarding version of the Doctor again (Three and Six, I’m looking at you – even if Six has rounded out his character a little more via the Big Finish productions). Now I love all the Doctors in different ways, so this doesn’t especially unnerve me, but I can see that as a long-term strategy it could be problematic. Then again, we shouldn’t be worried about ratings…should we?

And what’s happened with Clara? Well, she’s developed more of a character this time around, and I’d be sad to see her go too soon from the dynamic, but it depends what you want from a companion / assistant / fellow traveller. There is a settling into a new Doctor travelling pattern, and this one feels potentially fruitful. She’s prepared to challenge, but she does trust the Doctor, this Doctor – is that something that is going to bite her back?

Episode 2 – Into the Dalek

It’s a dalek episode, but without really having many daleks (til the ending). And yes, it’s Dalek (Eccleston episode) re-worked*. Nevertheless, I was rather taken with the turn it took, and the soldier theme that now seems to be running through the series gets a real kick-off here with the rather magnificent Journey Blue (SHOULD HAVE BEEN TAKEN ONTO THE TARDIS!!!) and the crew of the Aristotle. Additionally, we meet former soldier turned teacher Danny Pink – who also has broader potential (and not just as Clara’s squeeze). We get more Missy mystery – and I’m saying now that I am avoiding speculation as well as spoilers, so keep your thoughts to yourselves people! There is also a definite sense of danger in the proceedings of the episode, with the repaired Rusty possibly outdoing even the other arriving daleks for destructiveness and dalekness, even if the budget could only stretch to three more daleks invading the ship… I didn’t even object to the Fantastic Voyage / The Invisible Enemy revisitation because the internal workings of the dalek were wonderfully realised.

Episode 3 – Robot of Sherwood

It’s the daftest episode so far, but come on! It combines Robin Hood and Doctor Who: what’s not to enjoy?! Besides a bunch of laughs that work especially well for those of us of local Robin Hood persuasion (“Next ….Derby!”; “What about Worksop?”) the show bristles with delightful awkwardness in how to deal with a folkloric figure. Robin Hood is not ultimately explained away as a Robot, nor as part of the ‘cunning plan’ of the Sheriff and his robot pals to distract/cheer the locals, but actually I don’t have a problem with that. The plot and dialogue desperately try to explain Robin away – the impossibility of them having landed somewhere ‘real’ given his presence (“We’re in a mini-scope!” being an understandable favourite). But it is worth drawing that distinction between ‘fictional’ and ‘folkloric’ – from such folklore bases are myths and legends developed that become more fiction than reality, and the connection to the Doctor in that respect is pertinent. A romp, obviously. Still plenty of death though.

Episode 4 – Listen

The stand-out episode so far on so many levels: scary, brain-boggling and beautifully written, Moff once again uses time-travel as a central narrative device for constructing the development of character and events. From the initial to camera monologue about things hiding, to the realisation that fears form us always; from Rupert/Danny the soldier man to the ‘origins of “never cruel, or cowardly”; from Clara’s flailing date with her fellow teacher, to the potential that there is a happiness ahead for them; from the ‘just-a-kid’ under a blanket to the avoidable-but-thrilling ankle grab… this was a weave of rewatchable pleasures. Two thumbs up from both parties on the sofa when we watched this one!

Episode 5 – Time Heist

Hustle has never been one of the shows I’ve watched; I’m aware of it, but it never clicked with me. This episode presents an enjoyable reworking of that show, but it isn’t something I’d want to see lost of in future. I did like the prosthetics work of the Teller(s) though and the head/brain sucking was suitably disturbing. Mostly, I noticed the Wizard of Oz connections: a heart for the clone boss; brain/memories back for the enhanced human; courage and capacity to be herself for the copyist. The architect (wizard) wasn’t really a surprise, but the episode mostly seemed to suffer from its proximity to the delights of ‘Listen’. Probably better to watch in isolation and out of sequence to the series.

Episode 6 – The Caretaker

Not unproblematic – race felt like an issue here** – but overall I found this worked better than the Heist episode. Not sure why though… Rubbish monster, easily defeated: not a problem. Bit baffled why a former soldier would pick up flashing bomblike objects, let alone relocate them to the school hall, but the effect of his meddling was nicely handled. I did like the nosey and annoying Courtney and her wilfully hopeful parents (not QUITE as disruptive as last year!) which harkened back to a RTD style approach to everyday characters. I also liked that the Doctor didn't try going in as a teacher again (even though he was even more rubbish at blending in then Mr "Physics, Physics, Physics" Ten).  Mostly though I liked the re-appearance of Missy with her new assistant (Chris Addison!!) dealing with the baffled dead… intriguing!  Of course I'd like an explanation for the random start to the episode - how/when will they get out of the chains?! - but otherwise an enjoyable episode.

So overall, I'm pleased.  I like the series still, and happily several who I thought may go off it have also settled to the new style of Doctor.  Hurrah for transition, for change and new directions.  Into darkness indeed.

*Which of course was itself reworked from audio – Jubilee

**Seriously, I really hope the Doctor’s elision from soldier to PE teacher for defining Danny Pink wasn’t racial stereotyping. He’s a MATHS TEACHER.  Really he is.