Friday, November 21, 2014

Earth Station Who Episode 88: Series 8 Overview

Series 8 Episode Posters by Stuart Manning
If you’ve been listening to Earth Station Who – and you should be – then you know that I wasn’t very happy with this most recent season of Doctor Who.

It seems like the two most vocal groups online are those that hate Stephen Moffat and those that hate those that hate Stephen Moffat. Both groups consist of a bunch of loud, overly involved asshats that are clearly unfamiliar with the term “middle ground”. I think they’d get along really well if it weren’t for Stephen Moffat.

I don’t hate Stephen Moffat. I do, however, hold him responsible for the things that I don’t like about Doctor Who right now. Me and Mike Gordon will frequently get into discussions over this, but here’s the thing – yes, Moffat has done a lot of neat things with Who. But he has also been running the show during the second time in its existence and my fandom that I have really, really not been enjoying it. There’s no denying the correlation. 
Moffat is clearly a fan. He’s doing what he thinks is best for the show. I don’t agree with him. It’s as simple as that. And I don’t give a tinker’s cuss what anybody else thinks. I don’t like it. Now, I do enjoy discussing it. I think it’s fun to hear dissenting opinions. But nobody is ever going to convince me that the focal point of my favorite television show ever in the history of television should be the romantic situation between two Earthlings. And before you go pointing at Rory and Amy let me just say that their relationship was much more of a secondary concern and did not at any point overshadow the Doctor himself.

I think my biggest issue with folks who don’t agree with me is that they think that I should just shut up and enjoy it because it’s Doctor Who. That is the dumbest, most vacuous viewpoint I have ever heard in my entire life. Just because something has a certain label on it I am supposed to accept it, nay; embrace it? Despite the fact that I am not happy with the quality of the storytelling or the direction of the narratives?


Why do these people even care what I think? Am I so powerful and wise that my dissatisfaction with Doctor Who is impinging on their enjoyment? If so, I appreciate the validation, but you should probably work on your personal character development a bit.
And before you do, here’s a tip – it probably won’t involve a cute, multiracial couple of Earth humans.

Before I get into the specific episodes, here’s what I think about the main characters we saw this season.

The Doctor – Peter Capaldi is wonderful. I love the moments where he channels the classic Doctors and I love the touch he has put on the character. I wish he weren’t written as silly quite so frequently. Before series 8 started we were told that Capaldi’s Doctor was going to be darker and more serious. That simply has not been the case.

Clara Oswald – Shoot her out of an airlock. I think Jenna Coleman is adorable and there have been moments where Clara has been a fantastic character. But overall I find her annoying and antagonistic. Making her relationship with Danny Pink the focal point of the season did not help her.

Danny Pink – I actually liked Danny until he was reduced into a sniveling Clara junkie for the last part of the season. Samuel Anderson did a fantastic job of portraying a potentially interesting character. Pink had layers and it would have been very interesting to see how his soldier background and similar experiences with the Doctor could have played out. Instead, he was used as a storytelling device and killed off.

Missy – I was happy to see the Master back in action and I feel like Michelle Gomez was brilliant. Much like the Doctor, though, I felt like she was portrayed as too silly. The moments where she is proclaiming herself to be “bananas” and when her sinister actions are undermined by whimsical musical cues drove me nuts. It could have been such a great performance and a powerful comeback from John Sims’ lamentable portrayal. 
Now that that’s out of the way, here’s a rundown of what the BBC refer to as Series 8, but what is actually the thirty-fourth season of Doctor Who. These are all just the thoughts I have when looking back at each episode. For more immediate impressions and detailed reviews be sure to listen to the corresponding ESW episode, linked after each section.

Deep Breath” – I think this is one of the worst regeneration stories I’ve seen. Madame Vastra and Jenny are absolutely overwhelming with their political agenda. The Doctor is silly. There are moments of intensity and wonderful little callbacks to classic Who, but overall he’s absurd. The sequence of him falling down the tree is awful. The sound effect when somebody is rendered unconscious (I actually can’t remember right now if it was the Doctor rendering or being rendered) was a low point in the entire history of the show. I was thoroughly disgusted with that.

The story itself is a mess. It jumps around from one absurd situation to another, only finally settling down when the Doctor and Clara meet in the restaurant and Clara had a few moments to try to stop being such a self-absorbed asshole. Am I the only person that thought she was being a complete and utter jackass for this story? And Matt Smith’s cameo at the end – as the only thing that convinced Clara to stay with the Doctor (thanks for that, Eleven) felt so cheap and unnecessary. It was like Smith was giving the audience permission to like Capaldi. I don’t know if that scene was more patronizing or pandering.

Into the Dalek” – This one wasn’t as painful as the series premiere, but it still wasn’t great. It was here that we were introduced to this Doctor’s massive loathing of and disrespect for the military. It’s so inexplicably strong that at the end of this story he tells a young woman that had been helping them that she can’t come along in the TARDIS because she’s a soldier. While the Doctor has always had a bit of a contentious relationship with any military, I find the disdain and outright hostility shown in this season to be distasteful. And my issue isn’t even so much the Doctor’s feelings towards the military as it is the lack of reason for it.
The story was actually very good. Capaldi got to flesh out his Doctor a bit more now that the regeneration stuff was done with. I thought his attitude towards the people that were doomed to die was interesting. It’s not so much that he didn’t care that they were dying as it was that the Doctor was going to use their inevitable deaths to save lives.

I did find the logic of this Dalek being good to be intensely flawed. Just because it wants to destroy other Daleks doesn’t make it “good”.

Robot of Sherwood” – I loved this one and had an absolute blast watching it. Don’t mistake my criticism of the Doctor’s silliness as a an indictment on silliness in general. I think it’s perfectly fine to insert a “darker” and “more serious” Doctor into a silly world. And that’s sort of what happened here.

The story felt very much like a classic Who story, with the Doctor and Clara encountering the supposed real Robin Hood. There was an evil alien and a robot menace and overall it was a superb nod to the old – seemingly abandoned – idea of following the Doctor and his companions on one-off adventures that were more or less stumbled into. Which is, of course, the way I prefer my Doctor Who.

This episode also caused me to clarify the concept of “earned silliness”. The end scene with the golden arrow was absolutely absurd. But the story up to that point had been so much fun and so enjoyable that I felt that silliness had been earned. 

Listen” – This was mostly boring crap. After a fantastic opening – one of the best of the new series – that depicts the Doctor supposedly talking to a mysterious entity in the TARDIS, we get a convoluted story that does all kinds of things that I don’t like. Once again we have a character that is in the “most _________ person in the universe” position with Danny Pink’s descendant, Orson, being the last human of all time. We have several unexplained events that were seemingly filmed just because they seemed cool – the opening scene (who was the Doctor talking to and who moved the chalk?) and the bedroom scene (what was under the sheet?). Some folks seemed fine with just waving that stuff away. I am not one of those folks.’

This is the episode where the concept of Stephen Moffat doing things just because they look cool started to materialize. I had been sort of aware of it before, but starting here and over the course of the rest of this season I really started to feel like Moffat is a guy that will put forth a shitty story concept with no explanation just because he thinks it’s cool or funny. He will also torpedo good drama just to work in a corny joke.

Time Heist” – I had such high expectations for this story. Obviously that sentence is never going to be followed with, “And they were met every step of the way!”

While Capaldi was once again a very good Doctor, the execution of this exciting concept was just bad. There was so much standing around and talking. I fell asleep twice trying to watch this one and I honestly still don’t remember everything that happened. I did like the ending. The point of the story was the Doctor rescuing a captive alien and I found that to be very worthwhile. But the road to get to that reveal was rough. We did get some good supporting characters, though. I could see any of them being solid companions. Particularly when compared against the current roster.

The Caretaker” – Despite Danny and Clara being featured somewhat front and center in this story, it wasn’t terrible. I was amused at the Doctor running around in the background, clearly having an agenda and knowing what was going on. I found his treatment of Danny Pink extremely distasteful and, quite frankly, forced. We still do not have a satisfactory narrative reason for the Doctor’s suddenly intensified dislike of the military. All season long it felt incredibly artificial to me.

The villain in this one was – like the episode – utterly disposable. 

Kill the Moon” – I do not understand for the life of me how you make an episode with this title without involving Strax, who hates the moon.

Otherwise I really dug the concept here. There are some flaws with the science of the moon being a giant egg, but for the most part the story getting us to that revelation was good enough to warrant the silly. I thought Hermione Norris was excellent as Lundvik and that Ellis George was near-intolerable as Courtney. I get that social media is a thing, but Courtney was so precociously modern that it was annoying. Additionally, it isn’t going to play well in the future. Even ten years from now all of her dialogue is going to seem very dated and odd.

I feel like the decision making scene could have been handled a little better and while the dynamic between the Doctor and Clara was very interesting, it hardly had any impact on the rest of the season. Again, Moffat likes to do things in the now without consideration for the past or the future.

Mummy on the Orient Express” – Once again I let myself get excited for an episode. It sounded like such a great concept. But I didn’t like the fact that the titular mummy was some kind of ghost mummy that only the victims could see. It felt like lazy storytelling to me – a way to have this menacing creature but not have an entire train full of characters having to deal with it. The terror felt artificial. 
I understand what they were doing with the Doctor and Clara in this one, but I just found it annoying. The Doctor is far too sentimental about her and she is too much of an ass. I was fine with the concept of the mummy and the idea of some mystery entity – still unexplained, by the way – putting all of those experts on the train in order to study it. Once again, we had a solid story concept that was executed poorly.

Flatline” – This episode was another one that put me to sleep. I thought the creatures were fairly creepy and I think that Clara was actually pretty good. But other than that it’s another insignificant throwaway.

In the Forest of the Night” – In a surprise twist, this one wasn’t as bad as I expected. It wasn’t good, mind you; but I liked the concept and it earned a whole extra point from me for depicting the Doctor’s outrage at the idea of overmedicating kids.

If there is one cause out of all the causes that I can get behind, that’s it. I was “diagnosed” with ADD when I was a kid and put on Ritalin by my well-meaning but gullible and under-informed mother. I know what it did to me. I felt like my soul had been chained and locked into a steel ball and was screaming to get out. This torture is being inflicted upon kids today by the thousands if not more. And all because parents are too lazy to be parents and pharmaceutical companies are an evil more insidious than any terrorist has ever been and operate freely within our borders.

Uh… sorry. I got off on a rant. Here’s us talking about “In the Forest of the Night”!

Dark Water” – The first part of the season finale wasn’t bad, but it sure was boring. Everything that happened was telegraphed, except maybe for the big reveal that Missy was the Master. I liked that. I also liked the visual of the skeletons in the tanks of Dark Water, even though it was apparent they were going to be Cybermen even before they explained that the Water concealed everything but organic matter.

I dug the idea of the dead souls being stolen and of the zombie Cyberman army. I’m still not clear on why the Master needed the souls, but whatever. Basically, if you excise Clara and Pink’s relationship from this episode I liked everything else. I think the whole storyline could have been just as effective if Pink had been a companion this whole time rather than the whole onerous story of his relationship with Clara.

Also, how lame was it that Pink just got hit by a car? I mean, really? That’s how the guy goes out? This, to me, was another example of the lazy writing that has become a trademark of Moffat’s era. They know what they want to do, but they don’t know how to get there so “fuck it, he walks in front of a car” happens. 
I missed being part of this episode of ESW because I was still hung over from the greatest Halloween party ever, but you should still give it a listen.

Death in Heaven” – I said about as much as I had to say about this one in last week’s post. Overall I liked it. I found the second viewing more enjoyable than the first. I think if I had the time I could edit this and “Dark Water” down to a very good hour of Doctor Who. Not much could be done about Danny Pink’s ignominious demise, but otherwise there’s some good stuff if you cut away the crap.

I feel like one of the major themes of the season is great ideas with poor execution. Or, if you need me to be sensitive to other people’s opinions, execution that I don’t agree with. We have a saying on Earth Station Who – “Bad Doctor Who is still better than most of the other stuff on television”. I put that in quotes, but I think it’s been said several different ways. My point is that I, personally, have never said it because I don’t necessarily agree with it. To a certain extent, bad Doctor Who is the worst thing on television because I don’t give a shit if Duck Dynasty or The Vampire Diaries or Friday Night Sportsball is bad. But when Doctor Who is bad it breaks my heart. I want to love Doctor Who, but Stephen Moffat’s run has been challenging me more and more with each season.

And yeah – I blame Moffat. How the heck can I not blame Moffat? He’s in charge. He’s running the show. I didn’t have this problem with Davies. The last time I was this dissatisfied with Who was when Colin Baker started airing in the States, and I don’t think I was even this unhappy with the show then. It’s just that I had only been watching for a few years at that point and the franchise wasn’t a part of my soul yet. It’s been over two decades since then and it is much more significant to me now. I can’t just stop watching.

But I can certainly stop spending my money on it. I never did buy the last season and I won’t be buying this one, either. Sure Capaldi is great. You know what else is great? Reese’s peanut butter. But if you wrap Reese’s peanut butter in dog shit I am not going to eat it.

For the first time in my life I am not looking forward to the next season of Doctor Who. I was relieved when this season concluded; happy that I wouldn’t be disappointed anymore. Once Moffat leaves I will start to hope again.

In the meantime, if you enjoyed this season, I hope you'll preorder it here and help Needless Things!:

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