So another series of Doctor Who has ended, and I’m less sure than ever whether I actually like it or not. I’ve probably cut this show more slack than I would if it hadn’t been such a big part of my childhood, if it weren’t such an enduring British cultural icon. Since it re-launched a few years ago I’ve come close several times to giving up on it all together (my Dad stopped watching it with this new season), as the quality of the writing varied wildly from fist-bitingly awful to compellingly clever. Here are some of the specific complaints I have about the way it’s developed over the past few years.
1. The ever-expanding scope. There seems to be a desire to make every season finale bigger and more momentous than the last. Where once he used to save individuals, groups, or even a whole species, now not even saving the whole planet Earth is enough. He has to save the whole universe. But then, once he’s done that, where do you go? How do you make it bigger, more impressive, more dangerous, raise the stakes even higher? The last episode featured a rather desperate plot about how not only would everything that ever existed ever be destroyed, but the whole of time would be erased so that nothing will have ever existed. To my mind the best episodes are simple, contained and only hint at the wider universe (a perfect example being the episode “Midnight“).
2. The Doctor has become too powerful, too famous, too feared. On several occasions he has scared off his adversaries simply by reminding them of who he is and his fearsome reputation. Too much time is taken up reminding us about the history and mythology of the character. He spends more time telling us how great he is than actually showing us. Plus, there’s little drama or suspense if he can do anything (i.e. come back from the dead, or use Bill & Ted-style time travelling tricks to give his past self help and clues).
3. Will someone please take away his sonic screwdriver? It used to be a specific tool for specific purposes. Now it’s a crutch for lazy writers: it can open any door; scan, repair or hack into any other device; diagnose any injury or disease. What would he do without it? Not much, I’d guess.
4. Can we please go at least one whole season without seeing the Daleks? Yes, they’re an iconic villain, and a key part of the Who universe. They’re also badly dated, faintly ridiculous and overused.
5. Having said that, he’s still one of the more interesting, layered characters on TV, full of quirks, contradictions, unashamedly intellectual (in the abovementioned episode Midnight, when the group asks why they should trust him to know what to do, he barks “Because I’m clever!”), a bit of a softy at times too. Love him or loathe him, there’s no-one quite like him.
6. And so to the final question – how good a Doctor is Matt Smith? A little annoying, to be honest. He’s obviously been directed to talk fast and with a strange, Jeff Goldblum-like staccato rhythm, but my main objection is the same one I had as soon as I heard that he’d been cast; he’s just too young. The Doctor always used to be someone who was old enough to be your Dad, which I think is a key component in the character’s appeal to kids. Now I realise that I’ve got older myself (he’s probably the first Doctor who’s younger than me), but I still feel that he should be an older, more distant and mysterious figure, not someone who looks like your slightly older brother.
I’ll probably keep tuning in at least for the start of the next series, to see how it goes. I haven’t yet given up on him entirely, but he does try my patience sometimes.
Here’s the BBC America season trailer because it’s shorter and slightly less bombastic than the UK version: