The drumming has stopped. The polarity cannot be reversed.

Posted on Sep 10th, 2011 by Blake Neale

After six captivating years of excitedly following the revived adventures of everyone’s favourite time travelling Doctor – in the longest-running science fiction show the world has ever known – it is with great dismay that I hang up my sonic screwdriver for good and slam the door to the TARDIS on my way out.

What once was a favoured British institution has, over the course of the last series and a half, declined up its own black hole and regenerated as The Chuckle Brothers in Space. That’s no exaggeration; if an upcoming episode reveals the Doctor’s current companions, Amy and Rory, to be Time Lords existing in the bumbling, accident-prone form of Paul and Barry Chuckle in a previous incarnation it wouldn’t look out of place.

The performances put in by both supporting artists are alright but they feel massively underutilised having seen them out of character in the behind the scenes exposé series that plays after each episode. Thankfully Matt Smith’s turn as the Doctor has been exemplary, masterfully portraying the age, wisdom and eccentricity you’d expect of the old quack he actually is – while remaining energetically youthful at the same time. And although that’s something of a prerequisite for the role, his two most recent predecessors mostly came across as all knowing without seeming particularly old or wise with it. But it’s no longer a programme about the Doctor; it’s become The Amy & Rory Show.

Adult Amy Pond has bothered me since the get go as the writing team clearly don’t know who the character is or what to do with her (and perhaps more worryingly, who they’re even aiming the show at – but that’s another matter entirely). Fair enough it’s supposed to be a family teatime serial so they want to maximise their audience reach. But she goes from being an intriguing innocent young girl to a kissogram in police officer attire in her opening episode for no reason other than to keep the dads watching. It doesn’t drive the narrative any, the desperation is embarrassing, and in the next breath she’s an apparent genius calling all the shots and trumping the Doctor’s tactics to save the day. That in mind, did the character then ever really need to be a kissogram? She’s clearly got it going on upstairs so why not make her an astronomer? A waitress? A bus driver? Really, a career that’s borderline prostitute (she sells her body for money) is the best she can do? I doubt that very much. Plus, what is the point of the Doctor if Amy knows best from day one anyway?

Despite her feistiness she plays the classic damsel in distress flitting back and forth for the entire run whining and in constant need of being rescued. We are never given the opportunity to naturally grow fond of (or respect) her for anything because she ultimately gets and does everything she wants with little in way of struggle or consequence, and this absence of character progression continues throughout the series. This also makes it increasingly difficult to feel sympathetic towards her. That, and the fact she treats Rory appallingly – to the point of even attempting to cheat on him the night before their wedding for the sake of a quick bunk up with the good Doctor.

In a painfully obvious resolution to her first series, her most paramount contribution to date was simply thinking really hard to remember the Doctor, thus allowing him to exist again at all. Because that actually works to conjure someone back through the cracks of time, don’t you know? Since then she’s done nothing of any real significance, save for be kidnapped and pop out a child. Yet her and Rory seem to dominate the soap opera storylines each week: They run around, get into trouble, he dies, the Doctor monitors from afar – it has become something of a tired format.

I was extremely dubious of the decision to cast Billie “Because We Want To” Piper back in 2005 but her character blew my socks off. And I similarly wasn’t looking forward to Catherine Tate joining the fold but her performance, character and storylines proved to be absorbing. While my grief for Amy Pond is in no way reflective of Karen Gillan’s acting abilities (though she doesn’t half keep whining and shouting in character) it is interesting that the previous companions won me over despite an initial hesitance towards them. Believe me I want to like Amy Pond but I just can’t. And the more I have watched, the more I have realised how weak a character she is – especially for the amount of attention given to her.

Rory is dreary and irritating but at least his incessant upward struggle makes him endearing. No matter how many blows he is delivered he keeps getting back up (even after death), actively trying to grow as a character. There is a clear sense of progression and he becomes a stronger person as a result of it, allowing himself to step up into the role of hero and it actually be grounded by something. Though he doesn’t need to die in every other episode to get our sympathy; not only has he already achieved it in courageously soldiering on, he’s also got to put up with her. And the deaths themselves are borderline slapstick, cartoon comedy now (“Oh my god, they killed Rory!”) so any emotional response to his bitter ends has been reduced to a roll of the eyes.

While I appreciate the series by its very nature is all about change it feels it’s taken a massive step backwards these last two series and I have found myself missing Russell T Davies at the helm. True, he’d literally write his characters into a corner and then think up some daft deus ex machina resolution (which he himself admits to) but it was gripping television and kept you guessing until the very end even if it was silly. The plot twists in Steven Moffat’s series are tedious and you can see them coming a mile off – which he then publicly complains about viewers discussing as if to say we’re giving the game away.

I used to look forward to lengthy debate online and at work on a Monday morning after each week’s Time Lord fix, elaborating on what we’d seen, where it sat in the overall story arc – and sharing theories about how it was all going to end. I still get shivers down my spine watching the scene where Donna Noble utters those two words to the Doctor and I must have watched the scene in double figures now. And who ever thought the knocking four times of David Tennant’s departure would play out as it did? Engaging, edge of your seat viewing and we haven’t come close to that since. Even the River Song twist was needlessly dragged out and then handled poorly to the point that we stopped caring.

No amount of flashy, whizz-bang digital effects firework play in the current episodes, as impressive as it sometimes is, will disguise the weakness of the characters and the storytelling. So this sharp decline in quality can not be attributed to budget cuts. The series of yesteryear, of course, are infamous for their shaky sets and recycled egg carton props but it never mattered because it was the story that drove the narrative forwards, not the hefty cheque from Auntie Beeb. Just watch the incredible Genesis of the Daleks from 1975, which was shot on a budget of approximately ten pence. Cracking stuff.

Credit where credit’s due, there have been a handful of strong episodes (Amy’s Choice, Vincent, some of The Big Bang, A Christmas Carol, Day of the Moon, The Doctor’s Wife) but they’re few and far between. Frustratingly, not only has Moffat demonstrated tremendous writing strength previously in Doctor Who, his sitcom Coupling (and to a slightly lesser extent, his drama serial Jekyll) shows an incredible understanding of narrative structure and character evolution that has so far not surfaced here. The Big Bang came closest in terms of narrative – when he explored multiple instances of characters and cause and effect in a way that felt he was really starting to bite his teeth into the infinite possibilities of time travel and branching out from telling stories in a strictly linear fashion. And then he blew it all with an obvious, clunky ending.

Doctor Who has been an important part of my televisual life and it genuinely, actively upsets me that it’s been reduced to this rancid pile of Russell T Davies’ sloppy seconds. All the fish fingers and custard stuff is brilliant. The logo is inspired. Matt Smith excels as the Doctor – even his outfit (save for that bloody fez which was never “cool” even in previous regenerations) just works. And the soundtrack is possibly Murray Gold’s best yet; all the flourishes of the I am the Doctor theme and Mad/Sad Man with a Box being particularly sublime. But everything else feels sub standard and it pains me every time I hear the emotive, epic music to know what so nearly could have been.

Don’t get me started on the god-awful Teletubbies Daleks.

17 responses to “The drumming has stopped. The polarity cannot be reversed.”

  1. Toky VS says:

    Rose was a classic example of character driver storylines that work. Even at the start we got the bad wolf idea. Then there was how Rose was teaching The Doctor how to be human, such as you can pay for chips etc. I loved that. It showed he really was like a little boy trying to learn. All that knowledge and yet he didn’t know how to pay for chips. That was the key. That was Doctor Who. He was a man damaged. A man who lost his own people. A man who needed to learn

  2. The BIG Bad Wolf says:

    The show’s called “Doctor Who”, not “Whiney Redhead”.

  3. Alex says:

    If I was 12 I might like Amy Pond and the current Doctor. But I’m not, so I don’t. Who wants to go backward when we’ve already gone forward? Why why WHY did Russell Davies and David Tennant leave? I wish they would make a movie already, just to see that team back together again.

  4. Emily says:

    I don’t like either the character or the acting. Gillan’s acting leaves a lot to be desired. Every time there is a crisis all she does is either whine or start shouting. As for Amy’s character, I agree about the episode where she launched herself at the Doctor; that was really gross. Other companions may have harbored romantic thoughts about the Doctor, but they showed a lot more class. Amy’s character is too immature. Is she supposed to appeal to teenagers?

  5. Planetbovrille says:

    If I want to see who’s baby is who storylines I will watch East Enders or Corrie. This is meant to be a show about The Doctor. It is meant to be a show about what has happened since he left Gallifrey.

  6. Beardy506 says:

    Moffat is the best episode writer on the show, but the fact is that Davies was a better showrunner. His plots were more subtle and well-balanced throughout the season and always came to a very satisfying conclusion, whereas Moffat really struggles to write seasons, even though he can write episodes very well.

  7. Rob says:

    Amy is terribly written. I HATE her lines and I HATE the way she ALWAYS has to solve everything at the last minute.

  8. Robbie burns poems says:

    This is the most intelligent and educated analysis of Moffat’s Who I have ever read.

  9. Sam Matthews says:

    I have felt thet same way since day one but could never have explained it with as much intelligence or authority (or humour) as you. Looks like someone listened because the Ponds have been axed now!

    What did you think of Sherlock?

  10. Blake says:

    Thanks for the kind words.

    With regards to Sherlock… I think it is utter genius and another demonstration of strong characterisation and narrative structure that Moffat is capable of. Though Gatiss deserves equal credit and his input shines through. (The first episode in particular screams of his Lucifer Box novels – but then that’s not to say they weren’t inspired by Conan Doyle’s work in the first place as he’s clearly a fan.)

    Other than the title sequence though, I think they’ve nailed everything with Sherlock. Feels a cross between the early Jonathan Creeks, Dexter (they’ve even nicked the music) and, erm, something else that’s just slipped my mind. But yes, I love it and can’t wait for the resolve to the series two cliffhanger. Moffat definitely knows what he’s doing, just not with Doctor Who.

  11. Kyall Banks says:

    He should go back in time and remove them from existance. Timelord privelege!

  12. Toby says:

    This is the best DW article I have read in my thirty two years of watching the show. I will continue watching but I feel your pain.

  13. Master Moaner says:

    hey nice peice

  14. Blake says:

    That’s what she said. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  15. Keith Young says:

    You really know your stuff. You should send this to Mr Moffat.

  16. Sam Ball says:

    What do you think of Peter Capaldi as the next doctor?

  17. Blake says:

    Hi Sam,

    I think Capaldi as the Doctor is an excellent piece of casting. It feels a natural fit (very Tom Baker) and a logical step forward from what Matt Smith has done with the character.

    He stole the show in the Torchwood mini series (not to mention The Thick of It). Plus I saw him in The Ladykillers last year and much like Tom Baker’s Doc, he clearly knows how to act with an incredibly long scarf. It’s meant to be.

    Still not sure how much I’ll watch though. I actually really liked Matt Smith’s performance, it was his storylines (and assistants) that annoyed me.

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