Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Doctor Who: Saying Farewell to Old Friends, Picking Up New Exciting Mysteries & Letting Shady, Silent Enemies Fester


The last Doctor Who Christmas special, The Snowmen, has excited me enough about Doctor Who and TV/movies that I need to blog about it. I haven't been jazzed up about either for a long time.

A quick log of my last entries about TV/movies:

Doctor Who, BBC and Steven Moffat, despite his views of the female sex grating on my nerves regularly, have done a bang up job of making a TV plot line compelling again. I haven't been this sucked in and emotionally invested since a few isolated episodes of Series 6.

TV shows like

have kept me entertained. I'll even throw in most of the Doctor Who Series 6 into this category. All these shows kept bringing me back.

I didn't feel anxious about waiting so long (sometimes as little as a week) to see the next episode, though. I generally only got excited if the following episode was on TiVo or maybe for a single next episode. Not really for an extended amount of suspenseful time, though.


**** SPOILER ALERT: DON'T READ IF YOU HAVEN'T WATCHED THE EPISODE (OR EVEN FROM SERIES 4 TO CURRENT) ****

But Doctor Who: The Snowmen has sucked me back into the bittersweet, agonizing joy of fandom. After the second appearance and death of the Doctor's enigmatic new companion, I again feel the sudden desire for more of what Steve Moffatt does so well at the end of

We're given a small compelling piece of emotionally-charged information/plot then pretty much told, now you get to wait awhile to learn more.

  • Cold Blood: Not the best of episodes, overall, but Rory dies, gets sucked into the Time Field, erasing him from time. On top of that, despite how hard the Doctor tries, Rory's fiancee, Amy, can't remember Rory. How does the Doctor handle that kind of guilt?

  • The Pandorica Opens: After being teased the whole season about the Pandorica opening, we learn what the Pandorica is, but then. . .Rory is resurrected as an Auton and kills Amy. The Doctor is put into the Pandorica. The camera zooms back from the Universe, showing all the stars extinguishing. How does the Doctor fix the erasing of EVERYTHING? How can the show even continue?

  • The Big Bang: The Universe gets rebooted, but we don't know who blew up the TARDIS. We have an inkling that it has something to do with the Silence that's been mentioned all season. What is the Silence and who wants to blow up the TARDIS? We have no idea and have to wait months, MONTHS to learn more.

  • The Impossible Astronaut: We see the Doctor killed by someone or something in an astronaut suit. He knows who it is. We can only wonder who it is until the end of the season. The who was actually predictable, but like at the end of The Pandorica Opens, we ask how the hell does that whole thing get resolved? And on top of that, we have a face to the Silents, but how and why are they or have blown up the TARDIS?

  • The Almost People: A bleh conclusion to a bleh two-parter (exception of fun of seeing the Doctor and his ganger have fun together). However, we learn that since the beginning of Series 6, the Amy we've been watching has been a Ganger (even though it's been her real consciousness the whole time). The real Amy has been in the custody of the lady who has been popping up for a few seconds here and there then disappearing. And guess what. . .Amy's about to go into labor! Probably would have been horrible to have to wait a week, but I'll admit it: we were able to watch A Good Man Goes to War immediately afterward. I don't know if I would have been able to wait a week to watch the Battle of Demon's Run.

  • A Good Man Goes to War and Let's Kill Hitler: We have part of the origin story of River Song, but the Silence kidnap her. The Doctor promises that she'll be safe and he'll find her. The origin story of River/Melody resolves quite satisfactorily in the madcap romp of Let's Kill Hitler.

    Nonetheless, we're left with some pretty annoying questions: How is the Doctor going to get out of being killed? How is the Silence going to blow up the TARDIS? Who is the leader of the Silence? How will the Doctor defeat the Silence? Sure, the Silence don't like the Doctor, but how did they get the knowledge and power to blow up the TARDIS when the Daleks, the Cybermen, etc. who have had plenty of reasons to blow up the TARDIS haven't done it?

    The best Daleks and Cybermen can do is put the Doctor into the Pandorica. He still gets out of it (yeah, he rebooted the Universe after it extinguished, but if it weren't for the Pandorica. . .the Silence would've won). How could anyone get so worked up to extinguish the universe and what is their escape plan (the Daleks had one)? If they don't have one, what has gotten them so worked up? And seriously. . .who is Prisoner Zero and could it have all that foreknowledge about all this stuff?

    What's kind of annoying. . .even now, after a series and a half and a few years, we still have all these questions! Seriously, though, I've made my peace that a few of them won't be answered. Steve Moffat seems to be the master of creating compelling world-building concepts then leaving them as non-sequiturs (for instance, what's up with the Papal Mainframe?).

  • Forest of the Dead: The question that this episode leaves us hanging with that has been mostly answered in hindsight: who is River Song? Is she just a red herring, but she knows the Doctor's real name! She has to be important. . .and we've gotten a satisfactory amount of information about River since then. As of now, we still don't really know how she learns the Doctor's name. We have a suspicion: it happens on the Fields of Trenzalore where the "First Question" will be asked. We're assuming River will ask the Doctor his real name. Since the whole "First Question" arc is so connected to the Silence arc, though, I'm yawning.

  • The Wedding of River Song: We learn about the "First Question" and the Fields of Trenzalore. It's something that the Silence want to prevent. At the end of the episode, we learn the "First Question" is WHO is the Doctor. Actually pretty anti-climactic, since the Silence plot arc has gotten old without any satisfying answers.

    Also, do we, the audience, want to know who the Doctor really is? Part of the show's fun is that the true identity of the Doctor is shrouded in mystery. The archetype of an alien traveling through space and time, fighting the forces of evil and calamity that he stumbles upon feels like enough. . .and plus he has fun doing it. Give him some kind of grand motivation, it feels like the magic could be sucked out of the show.

    Still. . .what are the Fields of Trenzalore? Why would the Doctor go (like Lake Silencio?) other than it's a fixed point in time. . .what a flimsy, uncompelling plot device to provide motivation for a character to go somewhere)? How does the motivation to go there, ask the First Question and answer the First Question develop?

    If it's River Song that asks it and is answered, why wouldn't the Silence have tried to prevent River from existing in the first place? Rather, they just participate in the events that caused her to exist in the first place to ask the First Question? Maybe that's why they blew up the TARDIS to extinguish the universe? It also seems like blowing up the TARDIS is what may have motivated the TARDIS to land in Amy Pond's back yard and bring about the existence of River Song. Is it just a predestination paradox?

    That's when I decided to stop thinking about it all back then. I realized Steve Moffat wouldn't answer even 10% to 25% of the questions I could think of. Even worse: Doctor Who would just beg more questions. I figured even if the show goes get weighed down with too any tedious unanswered questions, I would continue watching to see the train wreck occur and the fans let out collective yells of rage (Facing the ceiling, arms raised, "Moffat!!!!!!!!").

After the disappointment of Series 6, again feeling the aggravation and appreciation of suspense provides a breath of fresh air. Watching Series 6 after Series 5 felt like watching The Hobbit after The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit and Series 6 provided an enjoyable OK time with some high points, but nowhere near what had come before. I wanted more after Series 6, but I could wait.

I could say something similar about the first half of Series 7. However, it feels like both a breath of fresh air and the last gasps for air (for the Ponds), despite no strong push on larger plot points that the viewer knows of. For larger plot arcs, we

  • See people asking the First Question (but the First Question gets asked a lot -- even before Series 5 when this whole arc started)

  • Hear about history recording the Doctor's "death" then his existence getting expunged from all records

  • Reminded about the theme of the Doctor's enemies escalating their aggression because of the Doctor being viewed as a major threat to their race and existence

Each standalone episode has its own enjoyable dramatic tension but doesn't pull the viewer onto the next episode. Likability of characters and quality writing keeps the viewer coming back. I didn't feel as much aggravation week to week, but I couldn't wait to see the next episode.

Unless you actively avoid spoilers, Amy and Rory exiting is predictable. Weeping Angels involved, Amy and Rory would be zapped around in such a way that a fixed point in time would be created and couldn't be changed. I hadn't figured out the exact execution, but the general idea was apparent. Albeit, knowledge of their departure drives the season, both in appreciation while they're still around and for the chance to say goodbye.

For Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and The Power of Three, the three stars shine. They work together as a great team.

For Rory and Amy, Asylum of the Daleks feels like a throw away. Their motivations for their separating feels lame and not true to the characters. Only Rory acting like an ass feels right, claiming he loved Amy more. That works just because otherwise, Rory is too perfect. Not worth throwing away well-written characters a whole episode just to prove someone's human, though.

The teamwork with the Doctor didn't come out so much in A Town Called Mercy and The Angels Take Manahattan, but those episodes accomplished their goals well. Mercy reminds us again about the Doctor's dark side and history and how much he needs others in his life.

The Angels Take Manahattan shows the lengths of Rory and Amy's love. We also see how significant Amy has become to the Doctor. It harkens back to the strange mother/son-father/daughter relationship they have in the first half of Series 5. They end up playing such big roles in influencing each other's personality development. Amy even gets to show the brains and empathy to save the day in The Beast Below and Victory of the Daleks. I missed that Amy.

Not since Series 5 did we see how important they felt their relationship was. OK, maybe the ends of The God Complex and The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe (which, per IMDB, is the first episode of Series 7) illustrate the importance of their relationships. Even then, they were just bare glimpses. Seeing Rory and Amy save the day and Amy make a decision despite the Doctor feels inspired.

The first part of Series 7 does well not to focus on the Silence plot arc. It provides a reprieve. The arc has worn thin by too many loose ends either answered too slowly or not at all.

The first part of Series 7 is the farewell song for Rory and Amy. The show did good on that note. We had fun romps, character development, learned The Power of Three and, finally, a farewell we didn't want to see but had to come and be seen.

We love Amy and Rory, but their story has played out. Their characters have gotten a little thin. Amy only shows the characteristics that make her a good character when Rory isn't around. Rory shows his best characteristics when Amy becomes the maiden in distress.

The first part of Series 7 does a great job of mending those shortcomings. It also crowns off with their independent, consistent final decisions mostly made together.

Amy and Rory could have kept on with the Doctor. Nonetheless, the show has had difficulties making them significant characters in Series 6. They come off more as plot devices. I can see their characters getting even thinner without adding much to overall plot arcs. I would rather they exit at their height instead wearing out their welcome as characters.

Then comes The Snowmen. It feels like the premiere of a Series 8: new companion, new title sequence and even a whole new console room.

Albeit, the title sequence and console room both feel like homages to Classic Who. I'm not too surprised, considering the 50th anniversary is coming up. I think the BBC wants to make a big deal out of it. But the Doctor even has a new outfit (keep in mind that bow ties are still cool).

We have a new mystery: Who exactly is Clara Oswin Oswald? Turns out that they didn't just use Jenna Louise-Coleman as a cameo character in Asylum of the Daleks.

That wouldn't have been anything new. Freema Agyeman played Martha Jones's cousin at Canary Wharf in Army of Ghosts. Karen Gillan played some kind of cultist in The Fires of Pompeii.

Sure, the character in Asylum of the Daleks has a similar name to that of the expected new companion. This is Doctor Whoo and Steve Moffat, though. No point in investing any further thought or energy into trying to figure out a non-sequitur detail.

As it turns out, though, the Oswin Oswald from The Asylum of the Daleks has something to do with Clara Oswin Oswald of The Snowmen and Clara (presumably Oswin Oswald) that appears at the end of The Snowmen.

The Doctor has suspicions she is the "same" character throughout the episode, but he doesn't confirm it until the end of the episode. Clara pulls him out of his shell throughout, but the end clinched it. He has proof she is the same, but how can it be? Doesn't she die twice in two different places, two different times? She also doesn't recognize him when she is a Dalek or as a barmaid/governess.

There's a lot of mystery here. The Doctor feels as excited as we do about it. I bet it will also tie in with the Silence, probably similarly how Amy Pond and her family does, but it doesn't have to. A charm of Clara's mystery and arc is that, as of now, it stands on its own.

Even if Steven Moffat writes woman in a not so praiseworthy way, he has shown he can intertwine characters into the story. They're not just tagging along for the journey and representing thee audience need for explanation. They're integral to the story, and not in a way that's incidental like Rose (anyone could have yanked open a panel in the TARDIS), Martha (anyone could've believed in the Doctor that much) or Donna (anyone could have absorbed regeneration energy and gain the consciousness of a Time Lord).

The great part of the mystery of Clara is, right now, she stands on her own (also helps that she is capable and has a strong personality). Doctor Who isn't so focused on the Silence fighting the Doctor at the moment with the occasional filler episode.

Right now, we have a great question that the Silence and Amy Pond had helped lay out: Who is Clara and what role does she have to play in the grand scheme of things? The Silence cause the need for Amy Pond by blowing up the TARDIS. The Doctor explains to her that he took her in the TARDIS because she is an enigma that he needed to figure out.

We have a framework for reacting to Clara Oswin Oswald. She's a mystery that has a part to play in solving some challenge in the future. What is that challenge? How will she resolve that challenge? Those questions will plague us, but they're kind of formulaic right now.

Where does Clara come from? Why are there multiple versions of her in the multiverse? Obviously she's smart, has plenty of personality and spunk and fun. In ways, she's a challenge to the Doctor and can resolve matters much like Amy Pond at the beginning of Series 5. Such potential for a companion, and even just a woman standing on her own showing up the Doctor, feels good and provides promise.

I hope that Moffat and other writers don't let her fall from this grace. Yes, complex characters need shortcomings, but Series 6 Amy Pond felt lazily written and too much of a stereotype most times. Karen Gillan and Amy Pond had chances to shine, but overall, her character went downhill until Series 7, Episode 2.

I look forward anxiously to discovering the enigma of Clara Oswin Oswald and getting to know her, in a way I haven't for a TV show in a long while. I love seeing the Doctor coming out of his funk to pursue this mystery. After nearly 50 years since creation of the show, the Doctor is almost part of the family, especially with his modernization and showing more humanity, positive and negative.

We'll get our answers, eventually. Nonetheless, I hope the execution of the show and Clara's continues as good as they have in Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen. I expect to keep watching, either which way, but I have missed this mix of suspense. I want it to continue, as much I hate it.

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