Saturday, January 02, 2010

The End of Davies' Time

When I was very small, maybe 3 or 4, I had one of those Disney singles, a double a-side of the Ugly Duckling on one side and the Emperor's New Clothes on the other.

I loved both sides with a passion unequalled until I discovered David Bowie, but The Emperor's New Clothes was my favourite. I mention this fact both because (a) I just remembered about this single whilst I was walking the dog in the snow just now and the memory made me happy and (b) because I intend to very clumsily segue from here into a discussion of the final two part episode of David Tennant era Doctor Who.

Essentially, as a child and as an adult I've always thought the moral of the ENC was that people can convince themselves of anything if they want to badly enough, and for nearly five years now I've been saying that a lot of Dr Who fans have been doing exactly that, so desperate are they for the new show to be not just a success but meaningful. After decades of ridicule, the Hardcore We so wanted the "re-imagining" to be critically lauded, to be a significant event, to be good...

And so the shallow Future Shock of Gridlock becomes a parable as deep as the ocean, the laughable society of The Doctor's Daughter is applauded not derided and Boom Town isn't slammed as a piece of sub-soap opera foolishness churned out by a writer who doesn't even understand the issue he's putting into his character's mouths never mind having anything interestnig to say on the subject.

This wilful blindness had I thought peaked with the Stolen Earth/Jounrey's End two parter which ended last season. The Doctor recruits an entire Scooby Gang, he tows the Earth on a big rope, Davros has a BIG BOMB OF DEATH and it turns out that six people are really needed to run the TARDIS. And yet otherwise sensible people, rather than going out and renting Buffy DVDs to remind themselves what good fantasy writing sounds like, went out of their way to fill the gaping holes in the plot, to provide meat to the skeletal bones of the story and to conjure up magic blu-tac to shove into the rents in logic which peppered the whole sorry, histrionic mess.

And, to be fair, that was the lowpoint of Who fandom's attitude to Rusty, since with this last two part send-off I see even real Davies' fans posting on fora and Facebook and Twitter and mailing lists, metaphorically scratching their heads and saying 'hmm, that was a bit rubbish, wasn't it?'

Don't misunderstand me - there were some lovely bits in The End of Time, though nearly all of them involved Tennant and Cribbens sitting alone, talking. They're both fabulous actors and can wrench meaning out of even the most asinine dialogue, but in all honesty there was, for once, a feeling of genuine emotion in Davies' words. That the emotion was largely a meta one - that Davies doesn't want to go but if he does have to he wants to make sure everyone acknowledges how brilliant he is - was made evident as the writer has Wilf derail the beautiful scene in the cafe by calling the Doctor the most wonderful person ever with tears in his eyes. More annoyingly still, in the final scene after the removal of the Time Lords, Wilf accepts the Doctor's sacrifice all too easily rather than trying like a proper old soldier to set off the gas before the Doctor can swap places with him.

Davies is like a sort of reverse JK Rowling I think - he can do character but not plot whereas she can do story but not character, and they both desperately need a proper old school script editor who isn't scared to say 'no, that's just stupid' to them. Sadly, they both evidently prefer to be surrounded by Yes Men who will agree that 'yes, it's a great idea to do a scene in the Mos Eisley Cantina where Russell Tovey decides what he likes in a man is looking like a 45 year old twink'. A decent editor would have asked the simple questions - questions like 'what is the point of the PM and his daughter? Was there one?' and 'is it really that believable that the guard who takes Lucy Saxon to her doom happens to be working for her?' and 'Do we really need the self congratulatory wanking of the last 15 minutes?' and, most importantly, 'Oh, and why does that first scene look like Harry Potter and that Gryffindor girl stopping the Slytherin guys from resurrecting Voldemort? Really, Russell, you need to at least try and obfuscate the things you're pinching!'

The End of Time in fact summed up a lot of what I think about RTD's era - he's a writer with almost no imagination and is utterly unsuited to the sf/fantasy arena Dr Who largely inhabits. So he sets everything on Earth and writes as much Who as contemporary drama as he can get away with. When he can't do that he throws big (frankly, old and bad) ideas at the screen and then fills in the inevitable gaps with what he fondly believes to be cool sounding sf titles (I actually laughe dout loud as the Doctor rattled off the ridiculous sounding names of the terrible Time War weapons, for all the world like a fanboy listing epsiodes of Old Who - 'The Lamentation of Bollocks, The Dreadfulness of Quorn and so on). Take him off earth and away from straight forward angasty soap opera drama and he's lost, reduced to, as someone wisely said, farting glitter in great clouds of bare competence.

One thing though, which I need to admit - the Master was handled beautifully in the second episode. For all that sending the drum beat (didn't it used to be three beats?) back in time to his childhood is the exact same plotting as Bad Wolf, the idea that Rassilon collatorally damaged the Master on purpose, knowing it would lead to a life of evil, is a brilliant one and the Master's realisation and revenge, killing himself as he blasts Rassilon back into Hell, following in his footsteps as he throws his own life away destroying those who caused his destruction - well, it's the single best thing in all of NuHu - no, the best thing in all of Doctor Who, post 2005 and possibly even before.

If only Davies has fully written the rest of the script instead of his usual lazy, half written work, then this might even have managed to be a classic. Unfortunaltey it falls far short of that and ends up merely being good by Davies' low standards.

Still, if Matt Smith in the season 31 trailer is anything to go by, maybe I'll soon be looking back on The Unicorn and the Wasp as the Golden Age.

Or, based on the final 15 minutes of End of Time, perhaps not...


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Blogger Kelly said...

That's a smart review there. And spot on. It does make me a bit sad that it was so crap. I wanted better for the end of time.

Poor Matt Smith. He's pretty enough but appears to lack substance.

2:59 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Good one, Stuart. I don't know if I'll be bothering to write a review myself, so it's nice you made an effort *and* summed up many of the things I thought were (to be polite) slightly awry with it. :-)

12:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In fairness not everyone likes RTD. I tend to be open-minded about his work, loving Tooth And Claw and disliking most of his big set-piece finales. I DID like Bernard Cribbins though.

12:00 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

farmborugh: I think that's fair. Replace Tooth and Claw with Midnight and I'd agree completely.

12:09 pm  
Blogger goofy said...

But the new series is critically lauded, is a significant event. We don't have to pretend.

5:45 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Critically lauded by the usual colleciton of hired talking heads and nobody newspaper columnists perhaps.

It didn't even make the Guardian's Top 50 Best dramas I noticed...

6:47 pm  
Blogger goofy said...

er they won three BAFTA awards

9:41 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

BAFTAs, schmatztas! In th emodern TV age any old crap wins BAFTAs so long as it's sufficiently noisy and shiny and gets lots and lot sof lovely free BBC publicity (Dr Who got more minutes of pre-air and in series publicity than any show in BBC history, you know:)

I'm only pulling your leg, John, I know people liked it.

I didn't for the most part and I do think that a hell of a lot of the hand-waving and plot fixing which fans did was ludicrous, extrme and would have rightly been ridiculed had people tried it with Robin Hoodie or Primeval but I'm genuinely glad people liked it (not least because occasionally it still throws up a Human Nature or a Turn Left).

And Moffat next - a writer who can actually do plots. So things are looking up...

9:54 pm  
Blogger gawkocracy said...


I don't know if this will confirm or dismiss what you wrote but have you read RTD's The Writters Tale?

9:21 am  

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