Monday, January 04, 2010

End of an Era - the 10th Doctor Hands Over the Keys to the TARDIS

Warning: Spoilers
(spoilage factor: about the same as a Christmas turkey after The Master has been at it)

On Saturday night we sat and watched as Doctor Who died - again.

After going nose-to-nose with both The Master and Rassillon, the 10th incarnation of the Doctor pulled a Spock, stepping into a chamber that would be flooded with lethal radiation in order to save Donna's grandfather.

Well, it was supposed to be lethal, anyway. But for an apparently killer dose, the Doctor was moping around for quite some time after. And that robbed his transition to #11 of a good deal of its punch. Sure, I'm all for letting a favourite character have a last speech that'll make us smile or weep, but #10 just dragged on and on and on and on. In the time it took for him to give gramps a hug, take 'im home, and then solemnly schlep around space and time to give final longing stares at Companions past (including a trip to the 'hood to pine over Rose one last time - it would have been a far more powerful, far more adult piece of writing to have him pop in on Martha, see that she'd married Mickey, and realize what a huge mistake he'd made taking her for granted and losing out on what would have been a more equal and thus enriching and stimulating relationship than the teenage hero-worship angst crap of the Rose affair ever was or could have been. The same if he'd gazed at Donna through the window. Really, the show over the past couple of years has been about missed opportunities for grownup relationships, but rather than having the Doctor come to this realization, rather than have him come to an adult state of mind, the writers defaulted to the easy, childish Rose plot of old. They made him the loser who couldn't get over a failed highschool romance. Sigh.) he could have lept aboard the TARDIS and zoomed off to a luxury hospital on some high-tech world (maybe the hospital at New New New New New York before the human guineapig disaster or the tragedy that led to the virus release and the ultimate traffic jam) and got his microwaved ass fixed. Maybe. But no, the writers went with the BSG ending that was self-indulgently long to the point of being kinda boring.

And then they tossed the show to the kid.

I'm trying hard, really hard, to give Matt Smith a chance. But my ability to cut the 11th version of the Timelord some slack was sorely tested when his voice cracked (granted, this was obviously a deliberate squeek to have a bit of fun with the fact that he's very young this time around) but most especially when he started racing through his dialogue in what was clearly an effort to sound like David Tennant. What make the Doctor interesting is not merely that there's a different face for every incarnation, or that he has a change of wardrobe, but that each actor puts a different twist on the character's mannerisms right from the start of their tenure. Why do we say that one Doctor is our favourite rather than another? It's because of his unique contribution to the character's behaviour. It was a mistake of cosmic proportions for Smith to try to imitate Tennent's frenetic pace, and doubly so for the director to allow him to do it. I hope they come to the realization that they've got to let him reinvent the character along new lines when they start the new season.

Beyond that, there's my worry that because he's young, and the new Companion, from what I've read, isn't much older, that we're going to be served some kind of Dawson's TARDIS here. Granted, Doctor Who is classified as a kids' show in the UK, and having a younger cast is a gamble to bring in more viewers in that age bracket and hold onto them so they'll become legacy fans, but there's also a large portion of the audience that's above 18 years old, and the producers risk losing us if the show becomes some kind of Twilight Through Space and Time.

That being said, I certainly didn't hate Doctor Who: The End of Time. It was fun to see Donna's grandfather finally get the chance to go through his paces as a Companion, if only for a little while.

I quite enjoyed the 10th Doctor's last words. They were frightened, they were childish, and they were entirely appropriate.

And I thought it was really clever the way the sound of drums that have plagued the Master throughout his existence were explained as a last-ditch bail-out attempt by the Timelords on Gallifrey.

Better still was the Doctor's willingness to admit that as much as he hates being alone in the universe, the Time War had had such a negative effect on the collective psyche of his people, had hardened them so much, had made them so self-absorbed and callous towards the rest of existence, that he wouldn't want them coming back - at least not as they were at the end of the war. They had become as much the enemy as the Daleks. In a series (and especially an episode) that's been known to flinch away from hard views of life sometimes, this was a pretty adult portrait of what war can do to a people.

While I wish Tennant's final stint as the Doctor had been up to par with some of the episodes of series three or four, on the balance this was an adequate way to say farewell.

Now we, as fans, have time on our hands as we wait to see whether the 11th Doctor will be able to prove himself.
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