Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Inevitable Doctor Who Bitching Post

At long last, RTD's reign of terror has come to an end. And, as was inevitable, it concluded in a storm of ludicrous self-indulgent emotionally-manipulative idiocy.

Although this time round I'm certainly well enough to give this final slice of Tennant/RTD madness the kicking it so richly deserves, my previous comment that it's the same damn problems over and over again most certainly still holds. In some ways, though, things have gotten even worse. Most obviously, my previous question regarding how a planet filled with amoral genius-level narcissistic mass-murderers was immediately answered with "Meh, they all just agree to follow orders."

I've said many times that RTD is about an eightieth as good at writing dialogue as many people seem to think, because although most of the individual lines work (and yes, sometimes work very well), the actual scripts are so schizophrenic the overall effect is of three entirely different stories being simultaneously shouted into your ear by a drill sergeant riding a dinosaur, all whilst the world's saddest song is being played on a violin by a lunatic clown. RTD decides what emotion he wishes to cynically evokes, and then "crafts" the words to fit. If ten thousand years from now archaeologists discover a chalkboard in RTD's home with columns readsing "Sad bit, world under threat, joke, sad bit, sad bit, joke, run around, romantic subplot, sad bit, Doctor saves the world at last minute", then my bitter, twisted ghost would be in no way surprised.

Moreover, just as the dialogue makes sense only when viewed through the prism of whatever RTD's terminally short attention span wants you to be looking at at any given moment, it's long been clear that he views coherent storytelling as a boring chore. Emotional beats and action set-pieces are decided on, and then the dots are connected in the most shamefully lazy way possible. I've said this at least twice before, I think, but consider how far the problem has progressed. The resolution to the ongoing "He will knock four times" prophecy was genuinely brilliant (and I'm ashamed to admit I didn't see it coming, which is either proof that RTD's hideous excess can at least work as a distraction, or that there are only so many of Big Rob's gin and tonics one can consume on New Year's Eve and still be able to focus on a TV show the following evening), but to get there RTD had to set up a ludicrous system of locking doors. Who locks in their technicians? And if you're going to do that, why not just have one door, and have it be unlocked for a few seconds whilst they switch over? You literally cannot have a heartbeat or two without someone manning the wheel? It's that dangerous? It can take a lightning-powered insane Time Lord changing the world's population, apparently, it can't be that flimsy. Besides, it if really is a ticking time bomb, why not put a fail-safe in? This is to say nothing of the fact the Doctor just miraculously rewired a spaceship at the eleventh hour [1], as well as diving from a height that from what I can tell was at least as high as the one which killed his fourth incarnation. And he can't summon up the wherewithal to get someone out of a glass case (a glass case which, as a friend noted, had very obvious gaps)? One might ask why the Doctor didn't at least try to use his sonic screwdriver (if it can pop champagne corks, it can press a button), but of course had he tried he would have immediately discovered that the door was "deadbolt sealed", for some reason. We didn't even get that pathetic non-explanation this time, though. I guess too much time had been spent watching the Doctor spinning around with a revolver as he tries to decide which person he least wanted to not shoot. [2]

My point (at last!) is that RTD is notorious for sacrificing both script cohesion and story logic for the sake of the next dip on his rollercoaster. I rehash all this mainly to point out that the second episode of The End Of Time pretty much confirmed that he can't even manage consistent characterisation if doing so would mean not getting to do exactly what he wants. Take it from an old hand: the Master bows to no-one, unless his life is in immediate danger or he's working a long con. There's no earthly reason to believe that would suddenly change just because the one giving the orders is his clone. You think the Master is going to meekly man a missile defence system because he's being told to by his identical twin? That he's going to sit around in his semi-detached house on the off chance the original Master tells him to go outside and grab a stroppy red-head?

It doesn't even approach making sense. But RTD wants his Master Race joke, and he needs the Master to be in total control of the Earth, so the two mutually exclusive situations are shoved together and presented as a "story". Sure, the fact the world is full of Masters allows them to triangulate the drumbeat signal, but this is a story by the man who used the London Eye to slap down an invasion by (ahem) cosmic calamari. The fact that I am suggesting such a ludicrous idea as a superior option to what actually took place should tell you a great deal.

So we can add characterisation to the list of casualties incurred by RTD's relentless quest to replace stories with simple lists of things he thinks are cracking ideas. Beyond that, the episode just about managed to hold itself together. And, as much as don't get why people love Wilf so much (and I stand by my opinion that if you hire Bernard Cribbins or June Whitfield, you're immediately hobbling suspension of disbelief, which is kinda dumb in the story where you kill of your main character), and as mentioned thought the actual set-up to the four knocks was idiotic, the core idea that the Tenth Doctor would finally abandon his Messianic quest to solve the fundamental flaws of the universe by any means necessary in order to save an entirely insignificant man with perhaps a decade or two of life left in him was the perfect end to this incarnation's journey. As Ambassador Delenn once put it: "This is my cause! Life! One life or a billion, it's all the same!" In a series so often unable to maintain coherence over an individual episode, it provided a logical and effective resolution to the last four years.

Of course, that's when the world's most embarrassingly self-congratulatory coda kicks in. Tiger has already nailed this one; pointing out that the interminable montage of the Doctor looking sad as he visited everyone who's ever been in his TARDIS (or, more bizzarely, anyone descended from a woman he was maybe going to fuck once) managed to make the end of Lord of the Rings look bafflingly abrupt. Even this bit managed to make no sense (I'm pretty sure creatures trained as warriors since "birth" don't wait to take their shot because they want to lick their lips a few times), as well as reminding us of the total idiocy of the Season 4 finale - it's now impossible to see Mickey without being reminded that the Tenth Doctor told Rose she couldn't come back to our universe after Mickey had already done so- but mainly it represented the absolute zenith of the conflation between the Doctor's godlike virtuousness and the show's apparent deification. Never before have I seen a TV show so completely convinced that it's own standing and that of it's main character are so inexorably intertwined.

In that context, this ridiculous conclusion makes perfect sense. We're not watching the Doctor visit his loved ones before his death, we're watching RTD reminding us of all the awesome things he's given us before he shuffles off to pastures new. He couldn't even resist sticking those goddamn useless Slitheen back in. Remember back when every other episode referenced them, as though RTD really believed that they would become to him what the Daleks became to Terry Nation? Apparently he's not done with that. Or attempting to cement his legacy more generally. Every moment of that insufferably long montage screamed "LOOK AT WHAT I HAVE GIVEN YOU!!! ARE YOU NOT GRATEFUL!?!"

It was, quite simply, pathetic: a showrunner hobbling his final episode by using that show to tell everyone how fucking wonderful the show has been whilst he's been running it. There are more obvious examples of creative ego getting in the way of a television show, but those usually involve either cameos, constant political point-scoring, or the creation of Mary Sues: in other words, the writer letting their character bleed too much into their work. This apparent inability to understand the difference between protagonist, show, and creator is something I've not seen before, and I'll be happy if it never happens again.

And that, at the end of the day, is what I'll remember this episode for. Not the long-awaited return of the Time Lords (complete with an explanation at last as to why the Doctor felt compelled to "destroy" his own race). Not the satisfying resolution to the Tenth Doctor's journey. This. This idiotic attempt to flat out tell us the last four years have been something amazing, rather than just letting us decide for ourselves.

That, of course, is how it's been all along. RTD doesn't present you with stories and asks you to judge them, he presents you with explosions and crying fits and tells you what you should think about them. The irony being of course - and I don't believe for one moment RTD has the slightest concept of what irony is - that had he been less insistent on constantly informing us of the Doctor's greatness, and by extension his own, the five years he spent as showrunner might have been an awful lot more palatable. Instead, he simply told us he was wonderful, that everything he wrote was wonderful, and that anyone with any critism, regardless of it's coherence or validity, was just a whinging "ming-mong" to be held in contempt.

Thank The Doctor he's gone.

[1] A spaceship he himself had needlessly crippled, naturally, because how can one have a horribly sentimental chat over how the Doctor and Wilf are both the bestest characters ever unless the script arbitrarily demands the Doctor has to stay put until the exact moment the story needs to get moving again. Sure, I realise that this is standard sci-fi practice (and swap a spaceship for, say, a car, and it's just standard storytelling), but it's the added layer of "I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this, I have MIRACULOUSLY DONE THIS BECAUSE I AM A GOD" that grates. You can extend this idea to the entire Tennant era: everything is either horribly impossible and makes the Doctor mope, or effortlessly easy and makes him grin like a madman. Those are the only two settings, and the the sudden change from first to second gear happens every episode and yet we're expected to be thrilled and amazed every single time it does.

[2] While we're on the subject, I get that said scene was supposed to show how the Doctor can't bring himself to kill someone even when he knows he'll be saving billions of lives, but that idea is completely undercut by the fact that it took him so long to realise he could just shoot the crystal. If you're going to push the idea down our throats that the Doctor is now a pacifist - as oppose to his obvious real status as someone who will only kill if a) it saves lives and b) those he kills don't look like actual real people - you can't really do it by having him think "Who should I kill? What about this guy? Or this one? No maybe the first guy? Or the second?" before he works out a peaceful solution. It's just too hard to swallow the idea that someone who genuinely didn't want to kill anyone would spend so long assuming that murder was the only solution.


Tomsk said...

I didn't think the master clones were meekly following orders so much as cooperating for the benefit of the big plan - presumably they all have the same goal as the original master, so they'd want to work together to see it succeed.

I thought the problem with the glass case was that any attempt to get in would cause the thingamajig to blow up, or something, so that ruled out sonic screwdrivery. It was still pretty contrived though (but worth it for the resolution).

SpaceSquid said...

"presumably they all have the same goal as the original master, so they'd want to work together to see it succeed."

The problem with this, aside from the fact that there was no indication that the Master had any kind of long-term plan at all (even his decision to trace the drumbeats came after he'd already Masterified humanity), but that I can't think of any plan the Master has ever come up with that didn't involve him being better off than everybody else (the one exception being the time he tried to destroy all reality). His ultimate goal is always to have more power than everybody else. I can't see how any of his rule the world type plots could possibly work with seven billion Masters. And the Master would be the first person to realise that.

"I thought the problem with the glass case was that any attempt to get in would cause the thingamajig to blow up,"

My point was that the sonic screwdriver could be used to push the lock button in the empty booth, thus closing it and freeing Wilf. If there was a line somewhere preventing this, I missed it.

Gooder said...

I believe there was a line about the screwdriver not working to open the door.

Which is strange since it seems to have worked on anything else, ever.

SpaceSquid said...

"I believe there was a line about the screwdriver not working to open the door. "

I missed that, though it makes sense that it would be there, but that still doesn't explain why he couldn't use it to push the other button. As I say, it can open champagne bottles, why can't it press a button?

"Which is strange since it seems to have worked on anything else, ever."

Unless it's "deadbolt sealed", of course, a level of security most commonly found on alien-built car windows and service androids.

Gooder said...

Did mention that Defying Gravity was much, much, much better than any of this Dr Who nonsense over the Christmas period?

The campaign to get other people to track it down and watch it starts here.

Pause said...

I watched Defying Gravity. Once they'd gotten about half way through the series and stuff was actually happening, and the show was no longer about who'd slept with who (or at least no longer entirely about that), I thought it got quite good.