Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fish Custard (5)


The Lonely Space Whale was an obvious metaphor for the Doctor, and Amy's empathy for the Whale was an obvious metaphor for Amy's empathy for the Doctor and Amy understood the Whale better than the Doctor did to show that Amy understands the Doctor better than the Doctor understands himself.

The Weeing Angels aren't, in that sense, a metaphor for anything. They aren't anything at all. They are villains without motive or personality or clearly defined powers, almost an absence in a story which is about the relationship between three main characters: the Doctor, Amy and River Bloody Song.


Everyone talks about the Buffyfication of Doctor Who, and by everyone I mean "me", obviously. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show of great underlying integrity. You could accept evil alien Buddweiser that literally turned frat-boys into cavemen, or a school swim team that were mutating into Deep Ones because you always and absolutely believed in and cared about every one of the characters. Every bit of teen angst was followed through to its achy breaky conclusion. Davies "got" that the monsters in Buffy were mainly metaphors, lights to shine a torch at the hopeless doomed love affairs between Buffy and Angel and Buffy and Spike and decided that this was how modern Who would have to be.

I still don't know if this was the right decision. I don't know whether everything really does have to be all touchy-feely. When people say that the the Boys' Mountaineering and Boxing Society isn't attracting many girls and should therefore do less mountaineering and boxing, I'm inclined to say "But what about the boys who liked mountaineering and boxing but aren't nearly as keen on knitting and watching Glee?" Good thing to drop the "boy" bit though. Apparently girls can join the Boy Scouts but boys can't join the Girl Guides. Or maybe "don't". There's nothing wrong with girls wanting to learn how to kill and cook wild squirrels and boys wanting to bake cookies. But I'm not at all sure that there isn't room in the world for an all male space where boys can talk to other boys about their periods, so to speak. There really are a lot of socially awkward males in the world and Doctor Who really did used to be place for them to retreat and talk about Thals and Neutron Flows, and I am not sure if making it about dating, weddings, mothers and showing your emotions was an improvement, given that there are one or two programmes on TV which deal with that stuff already.

But given that we are committed to making Doctor Who a soap opera, at least lets make it a good soap opera. Once we had passed Bad Wolf Bay -- which I increasingly think was the moment when Russell had done what he set out to do and said what he had to say -- both we and him stopped caring, and that's the one thing that can never, ever happen in a soap.

Steven has made me care.

He's made me care about the relationship between the Doctor and Amy, and as long as I'm doing that it really doesn't matter whether this is a different kind of relationship to the one which a different Doctor, a long time ago, might have had with Jo Grant or Adric.

Me and Jon have recently seen a lot of movies we've quite liked, like Avatar and Iron Man; and a couple that we liked an awful lot, like Kick Ass; but we keep finding that we don't have very much to say to each other about them. But we've been talking about the Phantom Menace, which neither of us liked nearly so much, for years and years. (We agreed to differ about the abomination.)

Why, says Jon, is it so hard to talk about good movies?

I think the answer is that in a real sense you don't actually see good movies. As long as the movie is good, you aren't watching it: you are inside it, sharing the characters' experiences, seeing their world through their eyes. If you are in that state of mind, you can put up with almost anything, even the plot of Avatar. In the same way, you never actually see a good special effect: what you see is a spaceship or a sword fighting skeleton or a big blue willy. Only if the special effect has fundamentally failed do you have a chance to think "I wonder how they did that?" When a movie goes wrong something wrenches you out of it and you are looking from the outside: commenting that such and such an actor is doing this thing well, and that thing badly, noticing structure and shot. Sweet is the something which nature brings / our meddling intellect mis-shapes the beauteous form of things / and he that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of knowledge, as the fellow said.

Criticizing Kick Ass would be a non sequitur. The only correct reaction is "Like, wow. Wow." Or as Jon said: "I never need to see another movie ever again."

The relationship between the Doctor and Amy is a relationship between two characters, between two people, not between two actors saying lines at each other. That's all that matters. Matt Smith gives us a panicky Doctor; an improvising Doctor; a Doctor who knows his own reputation and isn't quite sure if he can live up to it; a Doctor who knows that he is going to do something incredibly clever but hasn't thought of it yet; a Doctor who won't know what his plan is until he's finished talking; a Doctor who is concerned about being the Doctor.

"I'll do a thing. I don't know what thing yet. It's a thing in progress. Respect the thing."

Possibly maybe arguably perhaps a Doctor who is aware of his own Doctorness points to a show which is still not quite at ease with itself; a show which still thinks of itself as a revival of an old programme; a bit too post-modernist for its own good. "Doctor Who, based upon the BBC TV series 'Doctor Who'." But I honestly don't care. I haven't enjoyed the company of a TARDIS occupant this much since...I don't know, Logopolis, probably. From time to time David Tennant used to deliver lines which you wanted to take home and put on a tee-shirt because they defined everything you loved about this daft old silly TV programme. Matt Smith seems to do this every time he opens his mouth.

"There's something here which doesn't make sense. Let's go and poke it with a stick."

When a character is this mad, this endearing, this compelling it honestly doesn't matter if he's too like, or too unlike, the ten actors who previously played a character with the same name. (Have you noticed that Moffat keeps face-checking the First Doctor, as if to remind us that this Young Man is the same person as the Old Man who he is almost completely unlike?) I think I might be in love with the Eleventh Doctor if I had never seen another episode of Doctor Who in my whole life.

The scene where he leaves Amy with the clerical soldiers, warning her to keep her eyes closed and telling her to trust him ("But you never tell me the truth" "If I told you the truth you wouldn't need to trust me") seems to matter more than any Doctor / Companion scene has mattered since.... Well, since Bad Wolf Bay. But that wasn't about the Doctor and his companion, it was about the Lonely God and Dark Phoenix, over-the-top, overwrought, out of the range of normal human emotion, I'm burning up a star just to say good bye to you. This was the young old traveller and his human friend; the old young traveller about whom the question has never really gone away: can you trust him?

Doctor who?


continues...





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8 comments:

峻君 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Andrew Ducker said...

Yeah, I definitely agree. If I'm grabbed emotionally, if I'm invested, if I'm not watching with an air of detachment. If I'm bloody well having fun, then I will handwave away a whole bunch of stuff and just sit there with a big grin on my face.

And, mostly, this season has been delivering that. Sure, in retrospect I could point out all sorts of flaws. And I enjoy reading about them when people smarter than I, with better critical faculties, tear the plot into little bits. But that's not my principle way of engaging with Dr Who.

I principally engage with it as kid's TV. A blast of fun and excitement that appeals to my inner 10-year-old. And as that? It's great.

John H said...

Um, "Weeing Angels"? Are you taking the "P"? (Geddit???!!?!?!??)

Andrew Rilstone said...

In case anyone cares, the Chinese Spam Bot is called "Jun Jun" and seems to be a fortune cookie server of some kind. "Marriage for men is gambling his freedom, it is gambling on women in terms of well-being of her", apparently.

Prankster said...

Hi, first time commenter who only recently got into Doctor Who.

I think you nailed some of the ambivalence I feel about the "Buffyfication" of this show (and, seemingly, an awful lot of other genre TV). (And for the record, Buffy is one of my favourite shows.) As someone who has seen very little of the classic Who, it's still clear to me that the current show is about character, whereas the old show was more about plot. Neither of these is a better or worse in and of itself, but the old Who I've seen often seems a bit stodgy because it's about filling time with twists, or chases, or other stuff that doesn't matter except at the moment it happens. While the Doctor and co. are often compelling characters in the old show, they don't really interact with the story around them except as plot devices. They're there to solve the mystery and save lives, and afterwards they'll be off. It leads to a certain inconsequential feeling to everything (again, I must stress that I've only seen a few Tom Baker episodes, so I'm not trying to pigeonhole the entire show, just reporting my early impressions).

The Davies show, of course, tilts way too far in the other direction, giving us dramatic angst up the wazoo (beyond the range of human emotion, as you put it--very true). But there surely must be something between the two poles, and while Moffat still falls a little on the soapy side of the equation, I think he generally gets the balance right. There's nothing wrong with having an episode that focuses more on the situation that the characters find themselves in than the characters themselves (which is essentially what happened with "Blink") but you do need to feel like the characters are developing, and that their relationships can take center stage every so often, and so far I think Moffat's pulled that off.

Of course, the real problem with Davies and even Moffat isn't the focus on relationships, it's the focus on a certain *kind* of relationship, specifically the love triangle/unrequited love affair thing that the Doctor and his companions keep falling into. I found Series Four of the new show to be the best overall, because by eliminating the possibility of romantic tension between the Doctor and Donna they were free to build a different, and much more interesting, relationship between the two. (It also helped that the Doctor desperately needed someone around who didn't think the sun shone out of his buttocks for a change.)

I think the current season's biggest misstep so far is having Amy take a romantic interest in the Doctor, even if it was abruptly curtailed (I think? Hope?) The first few shows seemed to establish more of a father-figure (and yes, "imaginary friend") role for the Doctor, which is a nice change for the new show (and which makes Amy's pursuit of him a little messed up...but they've clearly suggested she has some issues, I guess). If Amy sees the Doctor as the personification of her childhood, it doesn't really make sense for her to see him in a sexual light; she can "choose" between the Doctor and Rory without it having to be a romantic thing.

Of course, this could all be leading somewhere interesting, but I suspect it was more to do with the idea that the sexual tension between Doctor and companion now apparently has to be explicitly dealt with each time, which I personally didn't need.

But yes, these characters are already far more fleshed-out than the Davies crew. I had a conversation elsewhere on the net with some people who felt that Moffat wasn't delving into his characters as much as Davies, and I responded that Moffat actually understands the concept of "subtext". Which is probably the secret to balancing the character and idea-based aspects of the show, right there.

Greg G said...

Reading Andrew's blog as a book (as you all should) it is really quite illuminating to work out when exactly he actually watched Buffy.

As Andrew says here, RTD's Buffyfication was based on a flawed understanding of what made the show work. Which isn't uncommon - if one chooses to remember season six and seven (which is unwise) even Buffy went through flawed Buffyfication.

Perhaps we should call it Noxoning.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

"I still don't know if this was the right decision. I don't know whether everything really does have to be all touchy-feely."

I'm pretty sure it doesn't; the original Iron Man movie was pretty intentionally short on the touchy-feely, and didn't seem to suffer for it. Of course, concerning Who itself, once they turned towards the touchy-feely, inertia favors its continuance in that particular show, because that's what many new fans enjoy and expect.

"There really are a lot of socially awkward males in the world and Doctor Who really did used to be place for them to retreat and talk about Thals and Neutron Flows, and I am not sure if making it about dating, weddings, mothers and showing your emotions was an improvement, given that there are one or two programmes on TV which deal with that stuff already."

From personal experience, I think that there are a lot more socially awkward females in the world nowadays than apparently there used to be, but my experience is that they would rather talk about Thals and Neutron Flows rather than weddings, mothers, and showing your emotions. (They also tend to prefer Kick-Ass to Spider-Man 2, as well.) The people who are most interested in weddings, mothers, and showing your emotions are, perhaps, Casual Viewers, who are skeptical of Science Fiction but comforted by the presence of familiar soap opera themes.

But fate plays weird tricks. Spider-Man arguably Buffyized comic book films, and its sequel plays as an excellent rom-com. But I'm not sure that the un-Buffyized Kick-Ass or Iron Man would have been produced if Spider-Man had not been such a commercial success.

The rumors of neutron flows' collective death have been highly exaggerated.

Gavin Burrows said...

Davies "got" that the monsters in Buffy were mainly metaphors, lights to shine a torch at the hopeless doomed love affairs between Buffy and Angel and Buffy and Spike and decided that this was how modern Who would have to be. I still don't know if this was the right decision. I don't know whether everything really does have to be all touchy-feely...

Once we had passed Bad Wolf Bay -- which I increasingly think was the moment when Russell had done what he set out to do and said what he had to say.


It may just be me, but could it be said that there’s a crack in space between those two comments? The Trouble With Davies is that he got things wrong from the start vs. The Trouble With Davies is that he hung around for after we had got the point. If his big thematic device was “it’s all really about relationships”, is it hard for us now to think past those routine loveless later days to the sparkle right at the beginning?

For my part I agree with the second conjecture more, a cosmic soap opera was actually quite an effective thing to do with ‘Doctor Who’. (Certainly better than “let’s just bring back the old show”, as many would seem to have wanted.) I also contend it worked much better with the Ninth Doctor than the Tenth. As a much more taciturn and reticent character, he needed the visual correlatives of the exploding planets much more. He was like a science fiction character thrust into a soap opera world. Like you I prefer Moffat’s slightly surreal fairy tale. But Davies’ take could, and at times did, work.

The Weeping Angels aren't, in that sense, a metaphor for anything. They aren't anything at all. They are villains without motive or personality or clearly defined powers

A pedant writes to say that monsters are almost always a metaphor for something, even if not always Tolkeinesque shadow selves for the heroes. Each society produces its monsters and it shows. To take a very obvious example, the Daleks were originally fascists but in later life became more jihadistic, from conquerors to destructive cult. People have argued about precisely what the Angels have represented, and I have been one of them. Yet if they don’t stand for anything bar an excuse to get the hero up out of his chair, then I don’t want to play.

"Marriage for men is gambling his freedom, it is gambling on women in terms of well-being of her"

But we haven’t seen Amy’s wedding yet!

The rumors of neutron flows' collective death have been highly exaggerated.
Another T-shirt in waiting!