Sunday, July 25, 2010

The trouble with Steven

First off, in other tv news, I posted on facebook and twitter 25 days ago that Glee needed to do a Rocky Horror episode. Ryan Murphy owes me some royalties.

But, in more important tv news, the Doctor Who finale. The quick summation is that I love Matt Smith as the Doctor as much as I hate Steven Moffat as the showrunner.

Now, let me back up to two years ago (time travel!).

I had no problem with David Tennant moving on. I had major reservations about Steven Moffat taking over.

Most of this stems from the Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead double episode. Don't get me wrong - I love some of his writing. I love a lot of Coupling (although parts of it came off somewhat misogynistic - which did contribute to my worries about him taking over Who). I love the Empty Child/Doctor Dances arc, Blink, and the Girl in the Fireplace.

But the Silence in the Library. This episode came out after David Tennant and Russell T. Davies announced their departures. And then Steven Moffat went and introduced River Song. River Song, who had seen the Doctor before. Who was a part of his future. Who said his eyes looked young.

The problem here, of course, being that this made no sense in terms of continuity. We all knew David Tennant would be leaving. The Doctor, of her past, had a completely different face - or several. But she hadn't seen David Tennant's face before (because there wasn't enough time left in David Tennant's run for her to see him looking like that again. Or for the first time, for her.)

So that pulled me out of the story and irked me. But fine, whatever. I liked the creepiness of the episode well enough.

Then came the Forest of the Dead.

Jesus did I have a problem with this ending. First off, there's the old streak of kinda-misogyny rearing its head. But god - putting her brainwaves into a computer program forever? In what way is that merciful? In what way appealing? Not to mention - that is the best THE DOCTOR could come up with? He's so smart, he's had ages to plan for her death and he puts her into a computer? Hang on just a minute.

I found the end so jarring, so completely awful that it blots out the creepy atmosphere of the first part. I hate this episode nearly as much as I hated Love and Monsters, which is saying something. Here's an article written around that time by someone else who had (even more) reservations about Steven Moffat. I think the really telling part of that article is this line:

"If he'd rather ignore the thoughtful philosophical considerations that sci-fi can inspire, why is he even writing sci-fi?"

Now, I enjoy sci-fi, but I wouldn't say I'm an expert on the genre or would be able to cover it in the same level of depth as an io9 writer. But it brings up why I think Steven Moffat has failed as the showrunner for Doctor Who. He ignores what he pleases. He ignores continuity, and logic, and even the rules his own universe has been following if he can't make them fit into his current story. He can write a good short episode, but he can't delve into the complexities of the Who universe. He doesn't really take the time to think through the "philosophical considerations" of time travel.

And with a show with so much narrative play, I find that really dangerous. Well, maybe dangerous is the wrong word. Certainly incredibly worrisome.

Now, if I didn't like the new Doctor, I suppose I wouldn't care what happened to the show. I could have my DVDs of seasons 1-5 and that would be that. But I do like the new Doctor, and although the season has had it's ups and downs, I've enjoyed it overall. I will tune in next season.

I know some people who won't, though, and fair enough. This season has had problems and most of them have to do with Steven Moffat being in charge.

First off, the writing. Now of this season, he has written The Eleventh Hour, The Beast Below, The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone, and the Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang.

The Eleventh Hour wasn't a favorite, but it was okay as an introduction to the new Doctor. The Beast Below had some moments, but I thought that overall it was one of the weakest episodes this season (the worst, I thought, was the Dalek episode. Ugh.) I liked the Time of Angels and Flesh and Stone, BUT there are continuity problems with these episodes.

Blink was a fantastic episode. It was well written, and it introduced a scary new threat in the Doctor's universe (which god knows we could use more of. ENOUGH DALEKS ALREADY.) Blink was written by Steven Moffat. Steven Moffat created the Weeping Angels. And then in The Time of Angels, he completely changes them.

Say what now?

Now, overall, I enjoyed that episode. River Song really started to grow on me as a character (and I'd had two years to get over the David Tennant inconsistency). As I said before, I really like Matt Smith as the Doctor, I didn't say it before, but I enjoy Amy, and I really enjoyed the rapport all three shared. I loved this bit;

Amy: You're so his wife!
River: Oh Amy, Amy, Amy! this is the Doctor we're talking about. Do you really think it could be anything that simple?
Amy: Yep.
River: You're good. I'm not saying you're right but you're good.

In fact, I do think that has been the best part about the new season; the characters and their development. Well done there, Mr. Moffat, for overseeing that.

BUT. The weeping angels were scary before, sure, but they were not "the deadliest, most powerful, most malevolent lifeform evolution has ever produced." I'm sorry. You've changed the rules and the definition for one of your own creations. Hmmm.

And then, in addition to reusing his villain (which, let's face it, is pretty common in the Whoniverse), he reuses the disembodied voice from the Silence in the Library. Still kinda scary, but it worries me that he is reusing his tropes so early into his tenure as a showrunner.

But fine, overall I liked the episode, and I was willing to overlook the changes in the angels.

We get to the Pandorica Opens. Fabulous. I LOVED this episode. I was right on the edge of my seat for that cliffhanger and I couldn't believe I was going to have to wait a week to find out what happens. All week I've been looking forward to the Doctor, trapped by himself in a box prison. Talking to himself, cleverly figuring out an ace up his sleeve and emerging triumphant.

But no. Five minutes in, and Mr. Moffat has blown all the narrative tension he himself had built up the week before. The Doctor escapes because future Doctor comes back and hands plastic Rory the screwdriver.

That is sloppy, lazy screenwriting right there.

Steven Moffat wrote himself into a corner, couldn't think of an ace for the Doctor, gets future Doctor to intervene, and moves right on to the next bit, hoping we will all just gloss over the illogical storytelling with him. Except that every single audience member went, "What? That doesn't make sense."

Now, sure, if you gloss over it, most of the episode was fun. I think Matt Smith and Karen Gillian put in their best acting of the season. But if you find yourself drawn back to try to figure out how the Doctor got out of prison and you think about it for more than two seconds, it doesn't make any sense. Future Doctor cannot already have escaped without past Doctor escaping. It works in the context of the episode, and Steve Moffat probably hoped we'd all chalk it up to wibbly wobbly timey wimey-ness... but it doesn't actually work.

And here's my biggest problem with Steven Moffat taking over. He is not good with continuity. He can write a good story, but he can't write a good ongoing story that criss-crosses over itself and has to stay in the same boundaries.

Rose couldn't touch younger Rose when she time traveled. Amy Pond can, apparently. The rule doesn't fit in with Steven Moffat's story, so he disregards it. I find that disrespectful to the universe Doctor Who has built up over so many years.

Furthermore, there were a number of points in this episode that made me recall a scene from Thank You for Smoking;

Jeff Megall: Sony has a futuristic sci-fi movie they're looking to make.
Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
Jeff Megall: It's the final frontier, Nick.
Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all oxygen environment?
Jeff Megall: Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. 'Thank God we invented the... you know, whatever device.'

There were a lot of whatever devices going on. One line explanations.

Oh, Amy's mostly dead but can be kept in unconscious stasis till her DNA comes along. Oh, there's a failsafe protocol in the TARDIS that keeps River in a time loop. Oh, the universe pouring through Amy's head has given her the power to remember people through time and space. Oh, even though the Daleks have never existed in this universe, the one on earth gets left behind as a fossil.


(Two more bits about Amy being mostly dead. 1 - There's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. And 2 - if all it took for the Pandorica to open was the occupant's DNA on the outside, then couldn't that have been the Doctor's ace? Have tenth doctor or twelfth doctor or whoever touch it at some point?)

The other inconsistency in the logic of the episode that bugged me was this; if the Pandorica remembered the universe as it was, then doesn't it need to remember a universe with the Doctor in it? How can he be lost to the void? He's been crucial to so many historical points, that if he hadn't existed until Amy remembered him, then the universe would have been completely different.

Now, let me reiterate. I thought this episode was fun. There are lots of great lines in it, and great character moments. I loved the dying Doctor saying goodbye. I loved the "something old, something new..." bit. I loved River saying yes. I loved the opening with Amy in the museum. I loved Rory's sweeping romantic gesture. I ADORED the fez.

You just need to not think about the plot too closely. But that's really a shame for a show that has had some really great, tight writing in it.

I feel that this episode vindicated (?) my worries about Steven Moffat as the overseer for this universe. Russell T. Davies wasn't perfect. Lord knows no one could bloat a finale like he could. But you got the sense that he adored this universe. He loved puzzling through the paradoxes and complexities of time travel. Whereas I get the sense that Steven Moffat isn't smart enough to understand time travel, or remember what has happened on this very show before, and so he disregards and ignores whatever doesn't suit him at the moment.

Which is a shame. I really like these characters he has written. I think River plays off of Matt Smith a million times better than she did with David Tennant (I seriously loved how annoyed he was when she showed up in The Time of Angels). I love having a zany, seriously funny Doctor, particularly after all of the moping of the tenth doctor (don't get me wrong - I loved David Tennant and NO ONE can do tortured like he can. But Matt Smith is a really great change of pace). I want the show to continue strong. I don't want there to be huge plot holes and inconsistencies that keep me from enjoying the story or that pull me away from the acting.

The bottom line? I can't enjoy Matt Smith with a mop and a fez if I'm trying to figure out how his timeline didn't just implode.

1 comment:

Cathy said...

Thank you Jessica for putting into words what I've been thinking. I couldn't even watch all of "The Big Bang" because it made nonsense of this show I love. It turns the show on its head, then (from what I've read) pushes a great big cosmic button and says "reset." Ta da! TARDIS as the ultimate deus ex machina. And people said Davies was self-indulgent!

It didn't just make nonsense of the show - gosh, all this time Daleks could be stopped just by shooting them with a hand/gun? (Mr. Moffat, a pun is the lowest form of wit) - as you point out, it makes nonsense of narrative, of story telling, of drama.

Apparently, a person can be dead and alive at the same time. They can simultaneously be impossibly trapped and free to romp at will. One person can inhabit the same space and time, twice. Except really it's not the SAME person. (Perhaps.) The REAL character, the one I'm supposed to care about, is the one "mopping up" (see above, about puns...) who somewhere along the way had time to stop in Cairo and pick up a hat. Sorry, but I'm not exactly holding my sides with laughter; I thought I was supposed to be in suspense. Silly me!

OK, timey-wimey, alternate universe, Schrodinger's cat stuff. Space, time and reality collapse and then: Big Bang! Also: we make our own reality! I get it. Geek out. But it makes for crap drama. Why should I care about characters who are in no danger whatsoever? "Death gives us size." Moffat wrote that, didn't he?

And yes, the sexism... it's gotten rather thick, hasn't it? I take it the entire universe is re-created so that Plucky Amy can ... get married? Oookaaayyy... perhaps this time she won't (maybe) commit suicide moments before (possibly) going into labor with her first child...

Funny, when this season began I was worried about how I'd take to Matt Smith filling Ten's shoes... and here it's happened that I think Smith is fine, but I don't like The Doctor, because The Doctor is being written by Moffat and Moffat makes my head hurt.

I think you've got it backwards, though. He is using science fiction to explore physics and philosophy; but he's doing it by compromising the art of writing. He's shoe-horning how clever he is into stories that leave the audience with nothing to hold on to. As you rightly point out, he doesn't even follow the rules he wrote for himself, if it's not convenient.

OK, some of this is the sort of nonsense "Dr Who" has always indulged in. This time, though, the charisma and joy of the Doctor and his companions are not strong enough for me to suspend my willingness to disbelieve.

I'm not here for a lesson in relativity, Steven. Honest.