The Classic Film Kid takes on Doctor Who

Hello guys, and even though it’s me, the Classic Film Kid, we’re not looking at classic films today. Instead, we’re taking a break from that, and looking at one of my favourite shows of all time, Doctor Who. Now I love Doctor Who. It is a genius show that is filled with excitement and unpredictability. But over the years, it’s losing that, and also the viewers seem to notice as well. Doctor Who is falling under the radar in terms of viewership and marketing, but is also slightly diminishing in storytelling and this is my personal view on how Doctor Who can become the big show again.

First I want to talk about something that I don’t think Doctor Who has had for a long time. It regained some of this in the recently-finished Series 10, but still, it needs to have it all of the time. Consistency.  In particular, consistency within the characters. This has been one of the biggest problems with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor: in his first series, he was very manipulative and unpredictable: in my favourite episode of that series, Mummy on the Orient Express, he was willing to let people die to discover more about the mummy and the train. He was also very stripped-back: his eccentricities lied on the inside, with the way he thought and acted, rather than his costume and gadgetry.

First I want to talk about something that I don’t think Doctor Who has had for a long time. It regained some of this in the recently-finished Series 10, but still, it needs to have it all of the time. Consistency.  In particular, consistency within the characters. This has been one of the biggest problems with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor: in his first series, he was very manipulative and unpredictable: in my favourite episode of that series, Mummy on the Orient Express, he was willing to let people die to discover more about the mummy and the train. He was also very stripped-back: his eccentricities lied on the inside, with the way he thought and acted, rather than his costume and gadgetry.

Then, in the first 2 episodes of Series 9, this changes drastically. The first we see of his Doctor properly is him riding on a tank playing an electric guitar, chanting the word ‘DUDE!’. We then see him flying around in Davros’s chair asking the Daleks if they want to play dodgems, and upgrade his sonic technology into some trendy new sunglasses (which should have been thrown off a cliff and destroyed by a missile). Plus, he dressed not in the super-cool blue jacket and velvet, but a hoodie and T-shirt, like a Scottish punk. Yes, I know. Capaldi is a punk himself, and you want to make the Doctor your own. But it doesn’t make sense as he was already introduced as a brooding, unpredictable Doctor, and if they wanted to change his character, there should have at least been some build-up to it. This side of his Doctor comes out of complete nowhere and sometimes is absolutely irritating. Series 10 did a great job in meshing these two different sides to him, and I can definitely say without hesitation this series they nailed his persona.

My next point is something that I think this series has faltered at, but not necessarily any other episodes before this. This series, I didn’t think there was much peril. Series 9 was pretty flawed sure, but it felt dark, realistic and dangerous. Episodes like Under The Lake, the Zygon episodes, were nail-biting and scary. You felt the characters were in danger and this was all thanks to some great lively direction and some good music.

This series, the scripts have been good, but the episode hasn’t been brought to life and been properly perilous. 2 episodes that really suffered from this for me were episode 3, Thin Ice, and episode 10, The Eaters of Light. These episodes had great, dark concepts: lights leading you to your doom over an icy River Thames, creatures that feed on light. These individual concepts can make some great, scary Who action, but sadly, the direction for both just felt flat: people are getting murdered, and because of the flat direction that didn’t bring the episode to life, you don’t care. The ending for The Eaters of Light could have had a lot more impact, but there was no intensity displayed. The more enthusiastic direction could have lifted these 2 episodes and really brought out the scare factor and the stakes.

It doesn’t help that Thin Ice copied off the Matt Smith episode, The Beast Below, which was about five times scarier and engaging.
I mean, Thin Ice was pretty good still, but it’s very obvious how much it copied off The Beast Below.

This leads on to my next point: the lack of originality and continuity. Doctor Who, especially during the Steven Moffat era, has been full of ambition. But when it’s not trying to be ambitious, it recycles various plot lines and character arcs that have been done to death, particularly with the villains. We can now expect Dalek episodes to be Earth invasions, Cybermen episodes to be action spectacles, Zygon stories to feature U.N.I.T and be all political. Also, we need to stop having the base-under-siege scripts, the Victorian-set adventures, the flashback and timey-whimey episode. They are becoming extremely repetitive and there’s pretty much one every flippin’ series.

Now on the continuity. I went mad on modern Doctor Who in the weeks before Series 10. And something I noticed is that Moffat makes things up and changes things as he goes along. One of the big focuses of Matt Smith’s swan song, The Time of the Doctor, is that he was at the end of his regeneration cycle. If someone fatally wounded him, that would be the Doctor dead. So taking this into account, we can presume that the regeneration from David Tennant to Matt Smith was the last regeneration he had left. So then why do we see him giving regeneration energy to River when she’s injured by a Weeping Angel in Series 7?

There are plenty of other examples of this as well. Now, all of the Dalek stories seem completely random in the timeline. First, they’re servants of Winston Churchill: this is never referenced again. Then all of a sudden we see decaying and mad Daleks in some weird asylum place at the start of Series 7. Then in Series 9, it’s oh yeah, we rebuilt Skaro. Totally didn’t see that one coming, did you Doctor? Well no, of course, you didn’t because there was no build up.

Not only do I mean narrative continuity, but tonal continuity and consistency as well. The beginning of a new Doctor means a change in tone and style: for example, take the fairy tale tone of Matt Smith’s first series, and the dark, unpredictable tone of Peter Capaldi’s first. Each tone worked relatively well in their respective seasons, particularly the fairy tale spin of the Doctor which I thought was genius, I also quite liked the creepy and morbid undertones throughout Series 8 like the cremation plot line in the finale. The problem is they don’t keep this up for future seasons. The fairytale wonder of Series 5 was abolished for a complicated sci-fi American adventure for Series 6 which did work decently but didn’t contain the charm and awe that the fairy tale idea brought.  And I’ve already brought up Series 9, and let’s just say I have no clue what that series was trying to be at all.

Before I get on to my last point, I’m pretty sure you can see what my problems are. And these can be fixed quite easily. Have strong direction that really brings out the stakes, choose a personality and plot line and stick to it, and create stellar scripts that can stand on their own two feet, but also be consistent with the stories not only of the series but of the Doctor Who canon. But this is the big one. Like, the really big one. This doesn’t have anything to do with the show. I’ve already explained my problems with the show at the moment, but this has something to do with the BBC.

Can I just say, BBC, you probably haven’t noticed this for a while, but Doctor who is one of the biggest and most popular shows on your entire network! So now do this: market the show like it is. Doctor Who should be put back at the forefront of the BBC.

This isn’t like Sherlock, that has a couple of consecutive episodes and then leaves you hanging for another 2 years, is it? Doctor Who is aired on a yearly basis, and the name that is given to Doctor Who fans has been registered in the flipping English dictionary. Doctor Who is a staple of worldwide TV, this show is all over the world. You can bet every year at San Diego Comic-Con there is a Doctor Who panel. I don’t think I’ve ever walked through town on a Saturday morning and not seen someone wearing a Doctor Who shirt. So, BBC, what lesson can you learn from this? Stop marketing Doctor Who like it isn’t something important, as this is a major television event that should be treated that way. Put the posters everywhere. Show the trailers constantly in-between programmes. Make people see that Doctor Who is back with a bang, and then it’ll get more than 5 million viewers, won’t it?

Man, I enjoyed that. Thank you very much for reading, guys. I’m doing a Classic Film Kid on Raiders of the Lost Ark to go with this too, so keep an eye out for that. I’m going to pick up the pace a bit more with these reviews, so you’d better expect loads more. This is the Classic Film Kid, signing off.

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