Monday, April 14, 2008

Why I Watch Doctor Who

In my fascinating online life I get asked one question many more times than is actually warranted, in my none too humble opinion.

Not, as you might expect, "would you like a contract to turn your insightful blog into a book?" or "what do you think of the Pixar movie The Incredibles?", but rather "Why do you keep watching Doctor Who, since you seem to dislike it so much?"

And the simple answer from now on will be "Fires of Pompeii".

Like last year's The Shakespeare Code this is far more the kind of thing I have in mind when I think of Doctor Who on telly. Intelligent and layered with - for the first time in the series since Barbara and Ian - an actual adult filling the companion role, Fires of Pompeii obviously benefited from using the fabulous sets from the HBO series Rome and an excellent guest cast, but the real strength was the script.

Donna in particular was given great line after great line - "I don't know what kids you've been flying around in space with, but you don't tell me to shut up", "You fought her off with a water pistol - I bloody love you !", the Welsh language/Latin running gag.

The best joke in the whole episode though was one that I only spotted when my boy was re-watching Fires: the Fawlty Towers reference where the Doctor is talking about an oracle named Sybil and then when asked where Donna comes from says "She's from Barcelona", as does Manuel in that classic sitcom. Someone please point out to Rusty - that's how you do those kind of things.

It wasn't all jokes though. The writer, James Moran (whose Torchwood episode, Sleeper, was only just above average at best) has Donna constantly questioning and provoking a reaction from the Doctor. Unlike previous attempts at this in earlier seasons where Martha was effectively brushed off if she asked any awkward questions (and Rose generally didn't bother asking unless it directly affected her) Donna wants to know why the Doctor acts as he does and won't accept the usual hand-waving as an answer. It's not new or innovative for the series as a whole (Barbara was asking the same questions as far back as The Aztecs in 1964) but for New Who both question and answer showed greater maturity than Russell T Davies' far more common ADD chattering.

It's a reasonable question though to ask whether there was any need for the aliens in this, a historical story about a genuine big exploding mountain. I thought the Pyroviles looked very effective when they were swimming about in the lava and less so when striding about inside the mountain, like someone had set some Ents on fire. And the whole idea of them blowing up the world to provide them with a new home doesn't stand up to much scrutiny, not exactly why they need to turn various humans into stone, nor finally how come they can see the future.

Still, the idea of the aliens requiring marble circuit boards - for all it's not a new one - is a nice one and new to Doctor Who, and without the Pyroviles we wouldn't have had the excellent and touching scene in the escape capsule where Catherine Tate out-acts David Tennant as she agrees to sacrifice herself for the good of the rest of the world. And I suppose you can't really have actual, genuine seers in Who, even under Davies, given that mediums are, you know, charlatans and frauds. And you need the seers to provide a bit of the in your face fore-shadowing for the rest of the season that Davies loves so much. 'She's coming back' is not the most cryptic clue ever, though I harbour very faint hopes that the thing on Donna's back is the Great One from Metebelis 3 :)

Negatives? Well, I'm not sure what the point of the comedy market seller was - it felt like a typically clumsy Rusty inclusion and is on a whole different level to the far cleverer humour of the rest of the episode, not to mention pointlessly taking up some of the episode's seemingly already stretched running time. Other than, all I can think of are some rotten lines about the God Vulcan spoken by Peter Capaldi as he stands with his family on the hillside and watches Pompeii being destroyed - and the coda which again felt like Rusty intervening, lest there should be someone in Doctor Who who isn't exactly like a 21st century person.

All told though, this was great stuff - far more like the Doctor Who I remember and love. Roll on next week, when all this positivity will probably all explode in my face like...well, like a volcano, actually.*

* I know, that's a weak ending but I'm knackered just now, what can I say...


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Blogger SK said...

You're two weeks late, and far too obvious anyway.

1:17 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

For what, and with what?

1:20 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Oh right enough - April's Fool day. D'oh!

You, the boy Forward and the other bullies can just leave me alone in my dementia.

I'm enjoying this while I can before the frankly dreadful looking 'Planet of the Ood' starts the downward slide and then that clown Davies smothers us in the lurve of Rose for the final few utterly terrible episodes of the sesason.

1:23 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Stuart: "You, the boy Forward and the other bullies can just leave me alone in my dementia."

It will pass ;)

Meanwhile, I can agree with you on a number of things about the episode, but I think the one point we must be in most agreement on is that whole "Vulcano" speech close to the end. Repeat after me: Dear oh dear.

7:30 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Dear. Oh. Dear.

I'm intending to do what some people keep doing with the good bits on other people's scripts (i.e. claim that Rusty write them), only in reverse - and assume that the volcano bit was written by Mr Davies (though I've already seen claims since it it proved a popular episode that Rusty wrote it all)

10:11 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Stuart: "though I've already seen claims since it it proved a popular episode that Rusty wrote it all)"

He only ever writes the popular ones. I do laugh at this "all of the credit, none of the blame" stance his worshippers seem to take. Only natural for worshippers, I suppose, but even the religious faithful are sometimes apt to blame God or at the very least question Him. ;)

12:16 pm  

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