Friday, March 29, 2013

Why I'm Dreading the Newest Season of Doctor Who

By Sara N.

OK, I'm just going to say it: I am not looking forward to the new season of Doctor Who, premiering Saturday on BBC America.

Don't look so cheerful, Mr. Floppy Hair.
The reason for my dread are two little words from Steven Moffat's interview in the most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly: love triangle. As in, the Doctor, his new companion Clara and (spoiler alert for the upcoming season's casting) River Song will be involved in a love triangle.

My response?

Listen, I love me some romance. Love stories are great, particularly when they're one small part of the intertwined stories that great sci fi/fantasy shows are telling. Unresolved sexual tension kept The X-Files humming along for years. Peter and Olivia had an epic love story on Fringe. I still swoon over Sydney and Vaughn from the early seasons of Alias.

But dang. Daaaaaaaaang. I do not want to watch the Doctor mooning over his companions any more than I want to watch his companions mooning over the Doctor.

Allow me to elaborate my reasons thusly (and be warned that here be spoilers for the previous seasons):

1. The Doctor is an alien. He's at his best when his busy brain keeps him zinging around the room, fixing problems and fighting evil. He regards humans with affection and bemusement, filtered through his centuries of experience with different races and cultures. Furthermore, he knows that the human lifespan is minute compared to his, and this helps him maintain that streak of alien aloofness. He's Other, and setting himself apart from the romantic human fray is another way to remind us of that.

2. Love triangles shoehorned into stories tend to become black holes that suck in and destroy all other plot points. That fantastic Sydney/Vaughn dynamic on Alias? It was badly damaged by the injection of the truly awful Lauren. The Jack/Kate/Sawyer/Juliet quadrangle of doom on Lost drug on and on and on and on. And these pesky triangles are all over YA lit, with the interminable Edward and Jacob/Peeta and Gale hand-wringing as the most egregious examples. The love triangle is usually so expected and heavy handed that I'm worried about its execution on our precious Who.

3. I'm not entirely comfortable with the Benjamin Buttoning of the Doctor, as increasingly younger and more attractive actors are cast to play him. (And here's where I'm going to lose a good number of you.)  I'm not a big fan of Matt Smith, who's always felt too young and lacking in gravitas to inhabit the Doctor. Sure, he's got the playful glibness down, but I haven't felt his rage and his grief as intensely as I did with Christopher Eccleston or David Tennant. Part of the reason I haven't entirely warmed up to Smith is because I've watched the show rely increasingly on flirtations with his companions, and the casting of such a young and handsome actor makes this trend even more inevitable.

To be fair, I know this didn't start with Smith's Doctor and Amy Pond, who pursued him rather aggressively in her early episodes on the show. Tennant had crazy chemistry with Billy Piper's Rose Tyler, although I would argue that the Doctor/Rose dynamic felt more like best mates than romantic squishy love. (The less we speak of Martha and her adoring gazes at the Doctor, the better.) Compare Smith's many flirtations with Tennant's Doctor becoming infatuated with the human Madame de Pompadour in The Girl in the Fireplace. The rarity of this made us sit up and take notice: She must be extraordinary for the Doctor to pay her that kind of attention. But now, Smith's Doctor is kissing and being kissed by companions left and right. His romantic attention is less surprising.

In short, making every companion pine for the aloof Doctor has gotten tiresome. Oh, how I long for the days of Donna: "You want to mate??"

4. Here's where I'll lose even more of you: Steven Moffat's storytelling has gotten overly complicated, with massive, interwoven plots and fewer standalone episodes, and all of his big arcs have turned to mush in my brain. Sure, Moffat's written many of my favorite episodes (Blink, Silence in the Library, The Empty Child), but I've found his time at the show's helm to be problematic. Gun to my head, I couldn't possibly explain the whys of Amy's pregnancy and subsequent kidnapping, the Silence, the creepy orphanage, the part Time Lord-ishness of Amy's child, the eyepatches on everyone, the Doctor not being able to figure out some other way to save Amy and Rory from the past, the weeping angels going from terrifying enemies to "who with the what now?" plot device, and River Song turning from intriguing mystery to someone who makes me sigh every time she turns up in an episode. Honestly, the arcs for the last two seasons are all muddled up in my mind as a big, "Huh?" in a way that earlier seasons aren't. The Bad Wolf payoff in season 1 was fantastic. The good man going to war in season 6? Less so. To add the soppiness of a love triangle to the sure-to-be complex storylines awaiting us in the new season sends a chill down my spine.

Maybe I'm being reactionary, and the love triangle Moffat mentioned won't be as horrible as I fear. That's my most fervent hope. But my optimism is low. As Craig Ferguson puts it so nicely in the video below, Doctor Who is at its best when it celebrates "the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism." But the romance Ferguson is talking about — the romance that Doctor Who has always done so well — is the romance of time travel, of adventure and discovery, of exploring new universes and long-dead civilizations.

Please give us more of that, Steven Moffat, and fewer kissy companions in the TARDIS.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments!
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  1. If I may chip in with my totally unasked for two cents on this: I completely agree, and further more think the only relationship between Doctor and companion that ever fully worked for me was between the Fourth Doctor and the second Romana. The chemistry between them made sense so much more than any other Doctor/companion to date. Partly that was because of their offscreen relationship, but mostly because Romana was a Time Lord herself.

    I thought the Doctor and Rose were cute, but I also thought this was fully and completely addressed and resolved with the return of Sara Jane and abandoning Rose in a parallel universe.

    1. Your two cents are always welcome ... especially when they agree with me. :)

  2. I have to agree with you.

    Donna was one of my favorite companions exactly because she was there for the adventure and, well, companionship. Arguably she was exactly the companion the Doctor needed because she would tell him when he was full of crap when he needed to hear that. They had great chemistry but not in a romantic way and I'd like to see that sort of relationship between the Doctor and a companion again.

    1. For sure. I was worried about Donna at the beginning, but she became my favorite.

  3. I'm with you. I hated Rose, she annoyed the hell out of me. Martha was fine at first until she fell for the Doctor. I loved Donna and the relationship they had. They were FRIENDS. The Doctor needs a friend. Amy was ok at first then she started to grate on me. And I really wish River has been a one off for Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead.

    I also sort of wish the angels had only appeared in Blink.

  4. I'll just say Ditto to every word. :) Well, I do quite like Matt Smith, so I guess I won't ditto that part, but all the rest of it? Yep. Fingers crossed that it's better than we fear!