I can’t help but think that your response to the current incarnation of the BBC legend Doctor Who is going to depend on just how much of a fan you were of the “old” series – the one that ran almost uninterrupted for a quarter of the 20th Century.
I like this new version. I like the neat cinematography and the special effects that put anything from the old show to shame. I like Matt Smith and Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, and I certainly like the current show runner, Steven Moffatt. But you know, something’s missing for me. Maybe it’s the excess of self-referential humor, or the exceedingly “modern” references to pop culture and politics. Maybe I’m just too much of a traditionalist. But while things are better under Moffatt than under his predecessor, Russell Davies, they still don’t feel quite like Doctor Who to me, most of the time. The best episodes of the Davies era – “Blink”, “Silence in the Library”, et al – were almost all written by Moffatt. But now that the show is his baby, his own scripts don’t have the same magical quality of creepiness and low-tech horror that made so much of the old series (which also had plenty of clunker stories, don’t get me wrong) so magical.
River Song (Alex Kingston) is certainly part of the problem. I liked her at first (in the aforementioned “Silence”) but it turns out she was a character who needed to be used sparingly. I’m not comfortable with The Doctor being involved in a romantic relationship first of all – it seems anathema to what the series has been for most of it’s long life. I also take issue with her smarmy demeanor and the constant “spoiler” cracks – I don’t think it’s helpful to have a character constantly bragging on the fact that she knows more than anyone else. The effect she has on the dynamic of the series is a negative one when she’s overused, IMO. She makes the Doctor seem petulant and small, and for me, that doesn’t work.
This episode, a continuation of the cliffhanger that ended the first “half” of season 32, was entertaining, but suffered from the overly busy writing that has tended to trouble the series in recent seasons. The whole plot teased in the title turned out to be a troll, pretty much, which was about what I expected. Hitler was dealt with (still alive and kicking) in the first 10 minutes. The conceit of a bunch of moral vigilantes from the distant future using their time-traveling ability to travel the universe, miniaturized inside shape-shifting robots, in order to consign evildoers to eternal torment is an interesting one, but was never really more than window dressing for the episode.
Moffatt – like Davies – is a big believer in season-long extended plots, which means that just about anything that happens in any episode might be part of the larger conspiracy. These were an occasional feature of the old series, but only occasional – it’s a bit exhausting looking for foreshadowing and hidden meaning in everything that happens. The build here, of course, is to that moment when the Doctor was killed on the shores of Lake Silencio in Utah, sometime in 2011. River (real name Melody Song) was brainwashed to kill The Doctor by “The Silence”, the religious order we saw several times in the first half of the season, and the name of the lake where he supposedly dies is indication that they’re responsible for that, too. It can be safely assumed that the entire second half of the season will be consumed with that eventuality, especially now that the Doctor has access to some spoilers of his own, and has seen the time and place of his own death.
There was an interesting announcement this week that, contrary to previous reports, the series will not be on hiatus in 2012 – it will have a full (though delayed) schedule. Why the delay, it’s fair to ask? Rumors are rampant that the long-rumored big-screen adaptation will finally be shooting – we’ll know soon enough. In the meantime I hope Moffatt simplifies things a bit, and returns to the impulses that made his own episodes so delightful over the Davies era.