Doctor Who Season Seven: Part One

We’re a quarter of the way through season seven of Doctor Who, so let’s talk about what we’ve seen so far. I’m going to be honest, I intended not to comment on the season until we hit the halfway mark, because does anyone want to hear me moan about the Moffat Era any more? But then something wonderful happened and then something not so wonderful happened, and here we are.

Tread carefully, for

We started out the season with an absolutely charming little mess. “Asylum of the Daleks” is an episode for Dalek lovers, featuring Daleks from all eras of the show’s history. Unfortunately, it’s written by someone who honestly doesn’t care for the Daleks that much, but knows that some folks dig them so hey, let’s do a story about them. As a result, a show in which a spaceship full of Daleks send the Doctor and his friends down to a planet full of Daleks doesn’t feature the Daleks doing much of anything. What could and should have been an exciting romp through the history of the Doctor’s most famous foes ends up leaving one wondering what all the fuss is about. All these Daleks — “sane” and “insane” — combined don’t equal a fraction of the menace shown by the single one in “Dalek” back in 2005. Matt Smith tries to summon up a level of, “Oh man, we’re in deep shit now” but he isn’t given much to work with, since twice he’s surrounded by an army of Daleks who couldn’t be less interested in exterminating him.

In fact, in a moment of absurdity, the planet full of crazy Daleks takes a brief back seat while Amy and Rory get into a marital spat that comes out of nowhere and goes back to nowhere, adding pretty much nothing to the proceedings except the amount of relationship drama that a serious show demands for an episode, I guess.

Other folks have talked about the enormous plot holes and contrivances that should never have gotten past a script editor, so no need to restate all those. Let’s just say that if you think about this episode for, like, five minutes, none of it makes much of any sense.

So with all that against it, what was good? Well, sue me, I’m a Dalek fanboy. I like seeing them, and I like the concept of the episode enough to give some leeway to the execution. For all its flaws, I have to admit I had fun watching it, so hey, maybe Thinking About It Afterwards isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I liked the pseudocompanion here (I’m not going to speculate on how she’ll work into the later season), even though the Big Reveal at the end was more “Huh?” than “Oh, cool!” as it more or less invalidated much of the previous episode. The fact that Oswin and the Doctor (who remembers at one point that these are his enemies and want to kill him) defeat Daleks not through bombs or guns but through clever trickery warmed my frozen heart. So in the long run, it doesn’t make sense, it’s kind of dumb, and the Daleks in it are stupid. “Genesis of the Daleks” it’s not, but it could be “Destiny of the Daleks” and there are worse things to be than that.

I mocked this one before, but it turned out to be one of the best stories of the Moffat tenure. Interesting and fun without having to pander or be stupid, it gave a glimpse into what we could have been getting from this team all along. Are Nefertiti or the Big Game Hunter necessary? Not in the slightest, but they add some fun. Rory’s Dad, especially teamed with Rory, is a hoot, reminding us that in the right circumstances, we could give a damn about these people the way the show wants us to.

People had a problem with the ending to this one because, after all the fun and laffs, the Doctor just cold murders a guy with missiles. I admit, that kind of threw me off as well, and not just with the abrupt tone change. I prefer to see villains mess themselves up. I think there was a possible ending there with the Doctor deactivating the robots (played by Mitchell and Webb, which I liked) and saying, “There you go, now you have all the dinosaurs for yourself. It’ll only take a few years for this ship to get where it’s going, so I’m sure someone as smart as you can survive until you get there. Ta-ta!” That’s the sort of thing my Doctor would do. Then again, the same people who have a problem with this sort of thing didn’t have a problem with the Doctor killing a bunch of Cybermen just to get their attention in last season’s “A Good Man Goes to War” or with the Doctor torturing a bunch of fourth-string villains just because back in season three, so I’m not sure where this outrage is coming from suddenly. Besides, it’s pretty clear now we’re gearing up for yet another round of “Dark Doctor”.

All in all I really enjoyed this story!

Oh, dear.

While I’m glad to see that Toby Whithouse, the writer of this episode, finally found a buyer for the script he wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation back in 1992, it probably could have been touched up a little better.

This is the kind of story that fans like to stroke their beards thoughtfully and “consider” because it seems like it’s asking the Big Questions. It’s about Justice, Guilt, Forgiveness, Redemption, and other capitalized notions. Since this is genre TV, though, and seldom equipped to handle such things (after all, we also have a cyborg cowboy and — ho ho! — Susan the horse) we usually have to back away from them without saying much, which is exactly what this story does.

The problem set up is an interesting one: war criminal wants to atone for his evil past, but in a way that doesn’t involved being revenge-killed by the walking, talking victim of his crimes. In other words, he doesn’t really want to atone so much as just be a good guy from now on. That’s a point against him, but the killer just straight up wants to murder the war criminal, which I guess is understandable, but you know, that’s also not how it works. So who’s side do we take here? It’s a thorny problem, and there probably is no satisfactory solution, which may be why the story never even attempts one.

The first solution to the problem is, let the cyborg kill the war criminal. Guy’s done bad stuff, deserves his fate, innocents are being endangered by him. But that’s rejected, and also turns out to have not so much to do with the situation at hand as with something I’ll get to in a moment. Next solution is to kick the problem down the road. War criminal escapes, cyborg presumably goes after him, some other group of innocents elsewhere gets involved. Not really a solution, is it, but that’s what the Doctor proposes. The solution that sticks is: war criminal kills himself, cyborg becomes protector of town. This seems like the “fair” solution, but it’s not. Again, the war criminal gets to pick how he’s going to atone. He gets to make a noble sacrifice. We’ve already established that that isn’t how it works. At no point does the Doctor try to explain to the cyborg that killing the guy doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t make up for what he did or in any way prevent it from happening somewhere else. The notion of justice — actual justice, not frontier justice — is barely brought up, and quickly dismissed. It’s a half-assed treatment of a topic hauled in for gravitas, and it especially falls flat coming after a story where the Doctor kills off a guy for much the same reasons without giving it a heck of a lot of thought.

But the reason he did so, and the reason he nearly just straight up kills this guy is…it’s time once again for “Dark Doctor”! “We’ve never seen the Doctor like this,” says Karen Gillan in one of those “behind the scenes” things, saying that apparently when the Doctor travels alone for too long he goes a bit off the rails, so he needs a companion to help rein him in. What an interesting new concept, I don’t at all think, considering we’ve seen this multiple times in this series, including during Moffat’s tenure. Why does everyone involved with the show, from Producer to fan, think they’re the first person to come up with this? Hell, we’ve now had various levels of Dark Doctor for so long I’ve forgotten what it’s supposed to be in contrast to! Then again, seeing someone mention in an article recently how awesome and badass the 11th Doctor is, I guess I’m one of the shrinking few who doesn’t want that in their Doctor Who.

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