Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Planet Of The Dead Lazy

First, a disclaimer: I actually really quite enjoyed the Doctor Who Easter special a great deal. RTD's continued insistence on trying to make everyday people into heroes simply by dint of them not totally freaking out (there is no way in Hell you can persuade me Nathan and Barclay will make for good UNIT soldiers purely because they turned out to be good at digging, and provided no immediate evidence of their incompetence), and we really need to get beyond the idea that aliens are just people with animal heads (and yes, I know these ones had weird hands too, you don't get extra points for that, particularly since they apparently have ears compatible with blu-tooth headsets), but in general it all worked out.

I also got the distinct impression that Davies was trying a little harder than usual to up his game rationality-wise. Whether or not that means he's listened to people's criticism [1], or just independently realised where he was going wrong, or even if I'm seeing things that aren't there, it was a definite step forward.

Of course, the fact that much of this story was a cut above the normal dross that escapes Davies' typewriter just made his lapses into laziness all the more obvious. The best example of this occurred less than five minutes in, and demonstrates exactly the problem I have with Davies' writing in particular, and Nu Who as a whole. It's all about the progression. The story requires a London bus ends up passing through a wormhole, with an international art thief (or whatever) on board. Therefore we need a reason for the thief to be on the bus. She's being chased by the police. Fine. But we also need the Doctor on the bus. Let's have him scouting around for Whateveratron Particles. Fine (though over-used). Now, though, you have a panicked, adrenaline-crazed thief sat next to a man using bizarre technology to sniff weirdness out on a bus. Maybe this worries her enough for her to try and get off. Maybe it freaks her out but decides she's going to stay put. Either way, you need some kind of reaction.

Fuck it, Davies thinks, she just sits there, for some reason.

Now the police have reached the bus, sirens blazing. Why wouldn't the driver stop?

Fuck it, Davies thinks, he just doesn't notice, or something.

There's a more irritating example at the end of the story. The "200 Destroyer" is about to escape the oncoming swarm on its anti-grav system. The swarm are almost touching the bus by the time it escapes.

Hah! thinks Davies, thus have I introduced dramatic tension.

The bus makes it back to Earth, and flies around for a bit. No aliens appear. Eventually three of them turn up. This allows UNIT to start shooting at them.

Hah! thinks Davies, thus have I introduced an action sequence.

The obvious problem with this is: where is the rest of swarm?

Fuck it, Davies thinks, they just all stop for no fucking reason at all.

This is why I can't stand Davies a lot of the time. All the evidence suggests that he decides on his set-pieces first, and then strings them together in whatever cack-handed manner he can be bothered with. As I say, this particular story did it better than most, but the joins still stick out like a sore thumb. It's just a muddled rush to the next action scene, character moment, or one-liner (and the "I don't believe it, guns that work!" joke was pretty damn funny to anyone who remembers UNIT during Pertwee's tenure). It's the story-telling equivalent of getting on a roller-coaster and then squeezing your eyes shut and humming loudly every time you're ascending. The ascents are important. They provide context; anticipation. There's a reason why quiet-loud-quiet-MASSIVELY LOUD works so well (and not just in TV). In Doctor Who "quiet" too often translates into the sound of one man shrugging his shoulders.

[1] This is another one in a long series of side-issues, but could I make a small request. Just a little one. If you have ever, in any way, suggested that an artist of any stripe should mock criticism rather than listen to it, or that an artist is so talented and/or popular that they are immune from criticism entirely, then take yourself outside and shoot yourself in the fucking head. Please. The human race doesn't need you. People are supposed to get better. Getting better is the whole point of life, to the extent that it exists at all. If you want to shrug your shoulders and say "Meh, it'll do", that's your prerogative, but maybe you should sit down and shut up and leave the people who want to progress alone.

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