Friday, June 7, 2013

If I Did: Doctor Who, Season Seven (spoilers ahoy!)

Good day,

            As I’ve said before, I like endings. At the very least, I like outcomes. Outcomes are cathartic, the payoff you expect after getting invested in a narrative. Sometimes, it can be rewarding, like the Mandarin reveal was for me or the ending to a film like Blair Witch or American Beauty. Other times, it can be infuriating, and you can’t help but shake your fists and go “What the hell?!” That’s how I felt with this last season of Doctor Who.

            I’ve known about this franchise since I was small. Local stations aired re-runs of the Tom Baker run in the late eighties, though I couldn’t get into it because I was always too scared of it. Now, young fans were often terrorized by the Sontarans or the Daleks or something similar, but I was scared of the intro. It always felt like I was about to be devoured by the swirling void that announced each episode’s arrival, that if I stared for too long then the abyss would stare back. Then again, I was a child who didn’t flinch watching Alien or Predator, and yet ran screaming from a Count Chocola commercial.

I got reintroduced to Doctor Who with the 1996 special starring Paul McGann, and again with Christopher Eccleston’s run nine years later. Since then, I’ve been following the series through its rebirth and going back on the older classic episodes so I could soak in their charm and laugh at what were considered special effects.

Now, the current series has been the subject of controversy, what with the accusations of sexism and racism and older fans saying the BBC reduced Doctor Who to a half-assed pantomime, but I don’t mind. Well, okay, there are times when I do mind, like when Season Four ended with Dalek Vaudeville and the TARDIS turned into a space tow-truck and the Doctor suddenly decided not to regenerate, like that was a thing all along, and... you get the idea. It’s never been enough to make me quit, though. Even among a slew of bad episodes, I’ll find one or two each season that keep my interest piqued.

            Last season, though, I saw a lot of missed potential. I saw moments that could have blown away the audience if they had been done differently. So I asked, what were those moments, and how would I have done them? Let’s see...

1.    The Asylum Episode

Show-runner Steven Moffat touted this episode as an attempt to make the Daleks scary again which, to me, is a tall order. Then again, I never saw the Daleks as scary. Intimidating, yes, but not scary. Even if they were, this was not the episode to save them.

Quick recap: The Doctor and his favourite dysfunctional couple get called to nose about on a Dalek-owned planet/nuthouse for Daleks gone coo-coo. Down there is a girl, Clara, an explorer who got attacked by nanobots that turned her into a despotic salt shaker like her cell-mates, but her human mind’s still kicking and keeping her sane.

If you know anything about the Daleks, you’d know that was a weak premise. The Daleks have an asylum? What happened to destroying inferior models? And why would they want to turn other beings into Daleks when Daleks’ core ethics are based around eugenics?

You know what this was? A Cybermen episode. Cybermen are all about conversion, just as Cybermen can have errors in programming, and can give in to the humanity that they tried to suppress. My theory is that Moffat wanted to do a Cybermen episode until Neil Gaiman popped in with his idea and blew the studio away. Me, I’d have kept it as a Cybermen episode and told Gaiman to keep “Nightmare In Silver” on hold for next year but then why would you ever betray Neil Gaiman like that? So maybe I’d just make a new cyber-threat and have The Doctor kick its space-butt hardcore.

2.    Amy and Rory’s Exit

Companions have to leave, just as Doctors have to die and regenerate into new Doctors. This is how things have to be, the course to run. However, when Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill said they wanted to leave soon, the studio scrambled to accommodate that need in the clumsiest way possible.

So “The Angels Take Manhattan” featured the return of The Weeping Angels, who are running some kind of roach motel or whatever and the episode ends with one last Angel zapping Rory into the past again. Amy Pond goes after him because she can’t stand to be separated from her husband, and The Doctor can’t go back and save them because of time-stream displacement crap.

Someone already mentioned how absurd that excuse was. Why wouldn’t The Doctor just jump back in time to a different year or take a train from a neighbouring state without worrying about fragging the TARDIS? For me, I was just disappointed at the ending itself. It came out of nowhere, and it didn’t quite wrap up the Ponds’ arc the way it should have.

You see, Amy Pond’s story has been about breaking apart the fairy tale. Each major plot arc dealt with themes of the clash between childhood and adulthood, implementing things from many of our youths that we adored, from lullabies and fables to knights in shining armour, and then twisting them and making them weird and scary and actually quite clever at times.

The other thing he did was to play up the idea that the fairy tale ending did not always happen, especially in Season Six. Amy was abducted, her child taken from her and turned into a killing machine who grows into a crazy MILF that her once-imaginary friend then marries. Season Seven had other moments like this, like the fact that Amy can no longer have kids, her relationship with Rory’s strained to hell, and The Doctor keeps popping in to take them on life-threatening adventures halfway around the universe. It evolved from being an Aesop’s Fable to an Aesop’s Foible, with real life problems and consequences invading Amy’s dreams.

Why wouldn’t she be mad about this? The Doctor ruined her life. Since she’s been with him, she’s been hunted, kidnapped, experimented on, made infertile, and watched the love of her life die countless deaths. And the Doctor, rather than saying “Stay home, I can’t keep putting you in danger like this,” loads her and Rory into the TARDIS again and says “WHO WANTS TO FIGHT SPACE HITLERS?!”

You know what would have been great? If Amy walked away from the Doctor after saving Rory for the umpteenth time. If they survived their adventure in New York and Amy put her foot down and said “Enough.” If they had a great big row and Amy told the Doctor it’s time to grow up and sort her life out. No coming back. No guest appearances. Just gone.

Oh man. You know what would have been even better? If he transports the Ponds back to the present, jumps onboard the TARDIS and finds an Angel there. Then the Angel messes with the controls and the Doctor ends up sixty years in the future, when Amy’s an old spinster and Rory’s been proper-dead for two years. Then Amy gives the “I’m done with you” speech and tells The Doctor that she and Rory went on to live a normal life after he left. This becomes a fixed point in time. This means The Doctor never crosses timelines with them again. This is how the Fairy Tale ends: with Amy and Rory living happily ever after. I’ll take those awards now.

3.    Clara

To me, this is the biggest squandering of potential.

Here was a girl who the Doctor met multiple times, who died saving his life twice and kept coming back. People were wondering if she was The Rani or Romana or even a new version of River Song running amok. Sadly, what we got was an ordinary girl who jumped into some time vortex that was/will be The Doctor’s corpse (that alone is another article), who then becomes this super-companion leading The Doctor to everywhere he had to be, from helping him steal the right TARDIS to warning him of dangers ahead, and making sure The Great Intelligence did not screw over our favourite Time Lord when his representative Doctor Simeon did the exact same thing moments earlier.

This stinks of a Mary Sue. This sounds like someone wanting to be the most important person in The Doctor’s life ever, writing herself in as someone who saves his hide endlessly. I have a better one:

My Clara Oswin Oswald is a creation of The Great Intelligence. She’s a humanoid bio-computer built when she was still in the womb, with her mother being the prototype that sired her. This is why The Doctor’s scanners registered her as human, but also why the TARDIS doesn’t like her.

More than anything, this is why Clara keeps popping up in multiple timelines. See, my Clara’s mom isn’t actually dead. Her death was faked by the Intelligence and then brought back to whatever base they’re operating out of. Then, using the blueprints embedded in the mom-bot, the Great Intelligence makes a hundred Claras and sets them loose across time and space. There’s a Clara in the Not-Dalek Asylum, there’s one in Victorian London, one on Mars, one aboard a space freighter, one in the stone age, and one at the end of the world. And one right behind you.

But why do this? So that the Great Intelligence could infiltrate the TARDIS and steal its secrets, because the GI has wanted to snatch his ride for years and replicate it, weaponize it. And it finally found a way of doing so: by creating an ideal Companion for The Doctor. One that’s clever, one that’s brave and knows her way around any scary situation, one that can rely on him; one that won’t leave. This would tie in with my vision of the Ponds’ departure. This Doctor’s lonely, and like any man on the rebound he looks for the next best thing that comes along. Clara would be the companion of the Eleventh Doctor’s dreams, and it would become his greatest nightmare.

So there you have it; a meaner, cleaner Season Seven. At least by my standards. I like this series, but it does try my patience sometimes. I mean, Jesus Christ.

See you next time,