Monday, November 12, 2018

Doctor's Lament

One of the oldest, most cliche plot devices, used time and again when the writers are creatively bankrupt, is to throw a pregnant woman into an already-dangerous scenario, making sure that she has a difficult childbirth under difficult conditions, preferably with a lot of screaming and heavy breathing. This ramps up the danger of the overall situation for Our Heroes, helps to prove that they are Good Guys, and in the end, when the danger has passed, it allows the writers to do that deeply hackneyed “New Life in the Face of Death” thing.

This is a plot device so ancient that it looks and moves a lot like Lon Chaney Jr. in full Mummy make-up. It has been done so often that you could throw Rocky Horror-style screenings of it and watch the audience recite the dialogue themselves while throwing toilet paper at the screen. It has been done so often that today, the only legitimate way to use the device is to parody it. 

And in order for it to work, even as parody, on Doctor Who, the writer has to bring a lot more inventiveness to this old chestnut than just switching ‘round the sexes. The scene, after all, is ripe for parody, especially on a fantasy show where all the rules about childbirth as we know them are neatly severed.

Chris Chibnall didn’t see it that way. His one “joke” (for it was played as such) was to establish that this time, the pregnant woman would be an otherwise-ordinary looking guy. Even with obvious complications from the sex reversal, the scene played out doggedly and reverently just as it has played out on on every other garbage TV show hundreds of times before, with every cliche intact.

It pains to use the word “garbage” in this context, but that is what Chris Chibnall is doing to Doctor Who. Despite all the evidence trickling in that this would be a dreadful season (especially including the “cliffhanger” from last year’s Christmas Special, which saw Chibnall exploding the TARDIS for the umpteenth time, and ejecting The Doctor into freefall for at least the third time — yawn), I had high hopes for this series. I was one of those who welcomed Jodie Whittaker with open arms, because I knew that she was capable of giving us a memorable incarnation of The Doctor if the writing was up to scratch.

And there it is. In order for the show to continue, the writing had to be at at least as good and as inventive as the best of what we were used to under showrunner Steven Moffat. But instead of giving us inventive, interesting, engaging scripts, Chibnall has been focusing his efforts on making a clean sweep of the TARDIS, and making sure that it looks a lot more like contemporary London than it ever has. Okay, that’s fine. But where are the stories?

The plots in these early efforts have been thin as canned chicken broth. So episode 2 was a parody of The Amazing Race: Russell T. Davies parodied modern TV in his first series of Doctor Who, and did it better. Episode 3 plunked us down in the middle of the Rosa Parks story — but did so in a trivial, patronizing and sadly over-simplified manner that approached a serious issue with all the depth of a sappy greetings-card. It is FINE to hold opinions and address modern issues, but for gods sake do it in a way that doesn't insult the intelligence of the audience.

Meanwhile, the new monsters Chibnall promised us have been sad rejects from The Terminator and The Muppet Show, while the new “family” of supporting cast onboard the TARDIS have utterly failed to make us love, or even like them. Attention has been paid to their skin color and social background, but no attention whatever has been paid to actually making these characters come to life.

No doubt the showrunners of Doctor Who have been under pressure to make the program Less White. But when Stephen Moffat introduced a black lesbian sidekick for his old white Doctor, he made sure that her character resonated all up and down the whole series and had a deep impact on how it developed and played out. We loved Bill Potts not only because of the qualities Pearl Mackie brought to her, but because Steven Moffatt put real thought into who she was and how her presence would impact the stories.

In no way has Chris Chibnall put that kind of effort into his iteration of the show. He has populated his ugly redesigned TARDIS with supporting characters that are straight off of the shelf, with bland, generic motivations and nothing to distinguish them as individuals. Turn them sideways and they disappear.

Earlier in the year, Chibnall was all over San Diego proclaiming that this would be a great “jumping-on” point for non-fans of the series. Perhaps he was right: no one can accuse him of catering to the show’s existing audience. But he neglected to remember what one of my friends told me; that a perfect jumping-on point is also a perfect jumping-off point. I paid for this series up-front, so I will faithfully watch all the remaining episodes and hope against hope that they will get better, but at this point in the run my heart is sinking into despair. 


Monday, October 8, 2018

DOCTOR WHO - Series 11 First Impressions

It's hard to go backward. 

I have seen the new Doctor Who... And ... it's merely OK. 

This issue is NOT Jodie Whittaker, the issue is NOT a female Doctor. I like Jodie just fine, and although it feels a little weird to be... "attracted" to the Doctor, that's not a problem.

The problem is that Chris Chibnall isn't half the writer that Steven Moffat is, and not even close to half. 

Folks who didn't like Moffat because he was to clever for them, folks who preferred the Russell Davies iteration of the show, those folks are probably going to be happy with the new series.

I am not.

For me, the best bits of the Davies years were the bits that were written by Moffat. His scripts were clever, challenging, and engaged with the show's basic concepts in timey-wimey ways that were never attempted before.
 Whereas Davies was content with simply contemporizing the old show and making its surface bright and shiny for a modern audience. Where Davies was a modern-day John Nathan-Turner, Moffat was more a modern Phillip Hinchcliffe. With Chibnall, we're back to a Doctor Who that is all on the surface, with no hidden depths whatever. 
That's the issue. I'm on board for the whole season, and who knows what it will bring, but if it doesn't start to offer more depth, than then this will be the last series I pay money for.



Wednesday, September 5, 2018


I got mine!

Considering that Amazon is already pre-selling the Blu-Ray for $68,
I was more than happy to shell out $40 less than that for the season at iTunes. 

Win or lose, the season will be INTERESTING, and I wouldn't miss it for the world...

-- Thorn.

Monday, August 27, 2018


(UPDATE 9.23.18: Added article "An Informal Overview of Series 8")

(UPDATE 9.01.18: Added new reviews and introductory text to the Audio Adventures page)
Review of White Ghosts added 9.3.18. Review of The Crooked Man added 9.5.18

Something like eighteen years ago or longer, when the internet and I were both considerably younger, I launched a Doctor Who fan site called THE PRYDONIAN ORDER. It was created at a time when the series was still presumedly Dead Forever, when the revival series was still just a gleam in Julie Gardner’s eye, and the content reflects that. 

That old site is still out there, although woefully showing its age in just about every imaginable way, and impossible to update Because Reasons. Don’t look it up. It’s ugly. In a moment of weakness, I decided that it would be fun to dust the old thing off, bring it up to date, bring it under the umbrella of my existing site, and add on some of the newer material that I’ve written about the show in the intervening years. 

It’ll be fun, I said. It’ll be easy, I said. 

Not. It’ll be a work-in-progress, that’s what it’ll be.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be tweaking the look of the thing, bringing over the old stuff, adding on, expanding, tinkering. As with the old site, I expect that the only remotely useful section will be the mini-reviews (especially of the audio adventures), but I suppose even that’s in doubt. I can’t devote full-time to it — my main sites, Duck Soup Productions and Tarot by Duck Soup, demand the lion’s share of my attention. And so for a little while, at least, it will be like traveling with TARDIS Randomizer installed. You can follow my progress by checking the PAGES tab in the sidebar over there, or looking for updates here on the main page. It’s been a long strange journey… and it’s about to get longer. 

Thanks for stopping by; drop by again sometime. I hope to have more in place on your next visit.

— Thorn.