Saturday, 17 April 2010

Two Wars

My soundbite review of tonight's Doctor Who is this: it's probably a bad idea that a story so utterly unwilling to sit still for ten seconds and think about anything at all should have triggered off so much in my brain.

Actually, that might be more of a soundbite review of my brain. But I'm still right.

There's a certain pointlessness - even by my standards - in delving too deeply into TV that is so clearly designed to bypass the cerebral cortex. Sure, I spent a lot of time laying into RTD over similar issues, but that's in large part because of his attempts to pass off his nonsense as if it were terribly important or relevant somehow. Victory of the Daleks, at least, suffered no such delusions. It was pure sugar-rush; a single chase scene stretched across three quarters of an hour. If Target still did Who novelisations, this one would be called Doctor Who and the Shit that Exploded. When you realise you're dealing with someone who thinks the Daleks biggest problem was a lack of bright colours, it's worth thinking about whether it's worth saying anything at all. You either enjoy the roller-coaster, or you don't. You're either OK with the Doctor punching out an android, or you're not.

The truth is, though, that I am generally pretty bad at taking my own advice, especially when said advice is "Shut up". I did enjoy the ride. I'm sure what is arguably the first space battle in Who history has Lawrence Miles ready to kill someone, but it worked for me. The idea that the Daleks are so twisted that they can't open their own locks unless the Doctor has shown up to be mean to them is brilliant, something of a photo-negative of the message to the Doctor in Dalek five years ago: you cannot let yourself be defined by your enemy. There's also something indefinably right about the Doctor attempting to hold off his nemeses with a jammy dodger, ludicrous though the idea sounds (all that was missing was the scanning Dalek expanding on it's discovery: "IT IS SOME SORT OF DELICIOUS BISCUIT!!!").

Also, much as it seems to be disliked by various aspects of the online fan community, I'm enjoying the setting up of Amy as being a genuinely useful companion, who actually complements the Doctor's skill set, rather than sulking and pouting and then just being described as wonderful rather than demonstrating it. I'm not sure what exactly it says that the idea of Amy being more intuitive than the Doctor is apparently so much more unpalatable than the notion that the Doctor might want to screw his companions, but at the very least if I'm going to have to sit through yet another year of sideways glances and subtext-laden conversations, it's nice that effort is going into it actually making some fraction of sense.

That, of course, is the absolute best spin possible to put upon watching the Doctor and Amy defuse a planet-cracking bomb with the power of wuv. Not even wuv, but naughty wuv, into the bargain. Quite aside from the level of total disconnection from reality you'd need to buy the idea that you can make an android feel human enough to stop a remote-controlled bomb from going off, one thing that always bothered me about New Who is the idea that the Doctor keeps showing up and stealing women away by dint of his unquestionable awesomeness. Nothing wrong with working out someone new would be better for you, obviously. Things change, after all. Neither Mickey nor Rory owned their respective partners - though one wonders how Amy would be seen by viewers had she run off with the Doctor the day after her wedding. All that said, though, I'm nevertheless uncomfortable with the idea that all this horribly complicated and potentially damaging Buzzcocks-style shenanigans is somehow terribly exciting and romantic, rather than just two parts uncomfortable to one part heartbreaking. If it was more honestly presented, rather than making Mickey whiney and petulant and Rory nervously geeky - though in fairness, that might change - it might bother me less. That's not what we're getting, though. What we're getting is "My forbidden lust for you just saved Planet Motherfucking Earth".

The other thing that bothered me is potentially more serious: it was hard not to watch the episode and not feel like the message was that war is noble and awesome. Flags are awesome. Winston Churchill was awesome. A woman in tears over the death of her significant other is something of a shame, but dammit there's a war on! And even that brief nod to the cost of war (which lasted roughly as long as the scene of the Union flag being lovingly restored amidst the fluttering beat of birds' wings) showed more respect than the Doctor dismissing the possibility of ending the Second World War because Curchill is on the case.

If anything, anything needs to be dealt with carefully, it's the reasons why a time-travelling superhero has spiked the best chance anyone ever had of preventing the Holocaust. I'm not saying Who has to answer that question directly, I'm saying that if you're script has put you in the position of ignoring it, you've gone badly wrong somewhere. If there was ever a no-brainer in writing, it's that neither Bracewell's lab nor Danny Boy's Spitfire should have been allowed to survive to the point where the Doctor needed to decide what to do about them; it's far easier to deal with the Doctor not acting to stop the war than him acting specfically to prevent others stopping it too soon. The Fires Of Pompeii forced the Doctor to agonise for more than half an episode over the difficulties of not being able to save everyone, everywhere. The idea that it's somehow much easier to walk away from the deaths of tens of millions of people because Churchill knows what he's doing cheapens the Doctor, and frankly I'm far from happy about the idea of hero-worshipping Churchill either. I know that we've come a long way from the idea back in 1963 that Doctor Who should be a show that educated at least as much as it entertained, but I'm still not at all impressed by the idea of rewriting history to the point where Churchill's was so defiantly noble as to be the Doctor's bestest friend of all his friends.


Gooder said...

I thought this one was pretty poor to be honest and a return to broad brush stroke no logic story telling of previous years.

To me it felt like it was a script that existed as a two part story but was gutted down to the bare bones to put together as a one off.

So many of the characters felt like they were ment to be so much more but were simply left as names and not much more.

Still liking the leads tho'.

And I guess on the Doc leaving the war running thing it must be one of those 'fixed' points in time he's not able to meddle with like Pompeii.

And of course now I get to accues you of being a total turn coat for liking this one when you hated all the similar RTD ones! ;-)

SpaceSquid said...

"I thought this one was pretty poor to be honest and a return to broad brush stroke no logic story telling of previous years."

I think you're right about the broad brush stroke approach, but I think this was possibly the best possible example of such an approach, hence why I think it was flawed but ultimately workable, which is about as high praise as this sort of thing is liable to get from me.

"And I guess on the Doc leaving the war running thing it must be one of those 'fixed' points in time he's not able to meddle with like Pompeii."

As I said, that's an entirely reasonable assumption, but it needed to be mentioned. I don't think it's OK to ignore the question, especially when it seemed it was receiving the alternative answer of "Well, it's supposed to be hard, and anyway nothing's too much for Winston Churchill!"