Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Dr Who Series 6 - Intial Impressions

I'm a massive Dr Who fan. Expect much of the Who in this blog, exploring all manner of Who related stuff: 'cause when a television show has had 770ish episodes, you know there is going to be rather a lot that can be said about it. I started watching with the reboot, so I'll be looking at the Who from that context, rather than someone who was a fan of the original show.

This newest series is the second helmed by executive producer and head writer Steven Moffat, a man who's work I may rather enjoy. Enjoy to the point that an ex-girlfriend accused me of having a man-crush on him, the sexy, sexy beast that he is. During his tenure we've been introduced to the Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith, and from there the show has been funnier than it's ever been and rather more clever too.

Thing is, Steven Moffat became a fan favourite for writing one storyline a series under former show runner Russel T Davis. And his stories were awesome. They were brilliantly structured, far scarier than anything else the Who was putting out and crazily well written. His use of misdirection and touch with characters; the fluditity of the tone, balancing exciting and scary and touching; he was an incredibly good story-teller. What we got out of his first series was funnier than expected, and easily the best so far in my estimation - but it wasn't really up to the stupidly high standards he had set for himself. That was alright though; we were getting very fun stories with a more depth and complexity than RTD's tenure. It may not have been as scary as it had once been, nor quite so complex, but Moffat had still taken the Who to a new level. So what if his best writing was behind him?

With this mindset (and a very good christmas episode to serve as a prelude to the newest series) I sat down to watch the first episode. Hype had been building for a while, and despite the above cynicism I had pretty much allowed myself to be drawn in. The episode opened up in a style very much typical of Moff's Who; snappy dialogue, light hearted humour and a real sense of warmth. The Doctor draws his companions together, and tells them they're gonna be going to space. Here we have the set-up and equilibrium established before the credits - maybe comes off as a tad rush, but it is well-executed on the whole.

Then we cut to them al chillin' in Utah. Having a picnic. It's a weird scene, a shift from that "geronimo!" style momentum the preceding scene seemed to be building up. Unsettling even. I noticed that there was something else going on, that there was something wrong here. A real sense of dislocation embodies the scene; it's subtle, so maybe not apparent on first viewing, but if you rewatch it I'm sure you'll see it. Not all of the actors are reading off of the same script (well, they are, but you get the point).

And then everything changes.

The ensuing two-parter is what I imagined from a Moffat helmed Who. It's complex and subtle and contains all the snappy dialogue and humour Smith has treated us with so far. But it's also damn scary, gets inside your head big style. The story delights in playing with our expectations and throwing one mystery after another at us. Both episodes end with a ridiculously strong "tbc" clifhanger, and promises twist and turns to come. There is also a great deal more psychological horror here than we've seen before from Who, with one particularly notable sequence made of pure mindfuck.

What makes this two-parter so great is that Moff hasn't just moved the goal posts: he has hidden the bastards. During RTD's run, the series has run by the kind of logic that you ostensensibly see in American serial dramas of the fantasy and the sci-fi sort. Power relations work in a certain way, chekhov's gun works in a certain way. Characters deal with emotional things in a certain way. Certain things are considered emotional things and so on. It's a very broad blueprint for how to write TV drama, and Moff's Who isn't immediately recogniseable as deviating from it. Over the course of Series 5, however, we've seen a subtlely different type of logic take hold. But Moff's ballsy approach to causality and time travel, coupled with the overarching fairy tale logic present during S5, meant that there was a shift. Until the start of S6, I was unsure if I liked that move. Sure, it was something new or interesting, but did it mean sacrificing some of the scale and excitement of Dr Who?

The Impossible Astronaut two-parter has taken it a step further now, and goddamnit if I haven't been won over 100%. He's not simply raised the stakes ala. RTD (now reality itself will die!) he's changed them completely. We're not sure what the important stuff in the series even signifies yet. He's taken away much of our grounding in the Who uninverse and beyond that, it now looks like he is going to change the Who universe - maybe even as much as RTD did with the Time War? Maybe not, but only time will tell.

The only thing I am certain of, is that we won't be finding out many of these any time soon. Hell, many of these threads might not even be resolved 'till the finale of Moff's time in charge. It's obvious that he has been working from a long scale plan from even before he took over, so we might be a while off definitive answers.

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