BUZZ WORDS Where Buzz writers get personal. Today it’s Dave Golder’s turn to explain why he’s liking the new format for Doctor Who series nine
There are, we are told, going to be more two-parters in series nine of Doctor Who. Possibly. Kinda. Sort of. Some might be traditional two parters. Others may be more like linked pairs, apparently. It all sounds very intriguing. Very Moffat. He likes playing. Bless him.
Personally I’m hoping that a good few of them are trad two-parters. Not because I’m a traditionalist; I don’t really care whether having more cliffhangers makes new Who feel like old Who. That’s never bothered me. Hell, when the show came back in 2005 I was in the faction who thought that the TARDIS should be updated to a portaloo or something else the “kids of today” would recognise. I’m kinda glad that didn’t happen now but it does show how little tradition sways my opinions on Who. Hell, I’d be delighted with Hayley Atwell as the Doctor. For me, What Who Was has no effect on What Who Should Be.
No, there’s another reason why I like the idea of more two-parters: it also means fewer really endings.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those habitual Moffat bashers who inhabit the ’net. I love a lot what he’s doing with the show. I still think that – on a scene for scene basis – Doctor Who is more consistently entertaining to watch than most other dramas on TV. There are missteps, miscalculations and clunky moments, sure, but few shows offer so much inventiveness and imaganation and unexpected delights. It’s like every scene is working hard to impress; few scenes are mere filler. Even exposition is usually fun; not just – as it is in many US shows – two people having a natter over a desk or coffee table. It’s not impossible to spotlight a few gratuitous infodumps from the Smith/Capaldi years, but they are remarkably rare for a sci-fi show.
So generally I still love the show. I have niggly issues (too many young kids in the TARDIS). There are episodes that make me cringe (“Robot Of Sherwood”). There are missed opportunities (why was the interior of the TARDIS so boringly designed in “Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS”?) But overall, for me, there’s far, far more good in the show than bad.
Except when it comes to decent endings.
Time and time again, conclusions to recent stories have been annoyingly glib: a wave of the sonic; love conquering all; a monster being talked to death. Even the most recent Christmas special – which I really enjoyed – was marred by an “if we all wish hard enough” ending. Then again, that’s always an inherent risk with the “it’s all a dream” genre. And I never, ever want to see an emotionally conflicted Cyberman ever again.
Doctor Who is, I admit, family entertainment but I don’t see why that means it has to have such easy fix conclusions. The Doctor is a clever guy. What’s wrong with having some clever conclusions? That doesn’t mean reams of technobabble (that’s a just a smoke and mirrors way of disguising a glib conclusion anyway). That means the Doctor, or his assistant, working something out or doing something that makes the audience go, “Oooh! Hadn’t thought of that!”
The nearest the show came last year was with “Time Heist” and “Mummy On The Orient Express”. “Heist” scuppered its own ending by a) being a xerox of the previous season’s “Hide” and b) the story being so inscrutible up until then that the twist was just one more “Huh?”. “Mummy” though, was much better; when the Doctor works out the [spoilers ahead] Mummy is a soldier and the solution is to surrender – that’s clever. That’s an, “Oooh!” moment. The same writer, Jamie Mathieson, also gave us “Flatline” which ultimately, yes, had a “wave the sonic screwdriver” solution, but is forgiven because the way that Clara freed the Doctor so that he could wave his magic wand was clever (fool the 2D beings with a 2D piece of art – nice).
But the others? “Deep Breath” – talk enemy into submission. “Into The Dalek” – Clara plugs something into something. “Robot Of Sherwood” – handy magic arrow (and rubbish spaceship). “The Caretaker” – blow it up. “Kill The Moon” – doesn’t matter what the characters do, it was always going to end this way (in this case, stupidly). “In The Forest Of The Night” – doesn’t matter what the characters do, it was always going to end this way (in this case, cringily – honestly, would the world really take note of a girl from nowhere phoning up to say, “Play nice!”?). “Death In Heaven” – Cybermen defeated by love. (“Listen” – um, gets a Get Out Of Jail Free card by not being “that kind of episode” and actually the whole episode is really cleverly constructed, whether you like the mythology-redefining elements or not).
I think it’s a shame that a lot of potentially great episodes send their audiences away feeling slightly disappointed when a tighter, cleverer, more ingenious ending would have been more satisfying. I’m not arguing that it should be all plot, plot, plot. Good old human drama is as important to Who as any other (good) drama. But in a crime show the audience would feel robbed if Holmes or Inspector Morse uncovered the perpetrator by appealing to their better nature; or is George Gently got his suspect to confess after giving him a long chat about moral duty. You want TV cops to work it out. You want the Doctor to work it out too.
That’s not a call to make the show more “adult” and “gritty” and “serious” overall (shudder). I love this fun and silliness and manic energy of new Who. A change in tone isn’t what I want. Just more engaging conclusions. Which can, of course, include really big explosions.
So with series nine and its multiple two-parters, I might feel disappointed less simply because there are fewer endings. Or maybe, just maybe, fewer ending means the writers have had more freedom to come up with decent ones. Either way, I’m still excited because, well, it’s Doctor Who.
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