Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Doctor Who - The Pilot review

New Doctor Who! And I'm only a month and a half getting round to watching it too.

It's all in the Rhythm

It has often been the case under Moff that Doctor Who seasons have started with swagger, with lots of ideas and images and energy, before settling into a pace and tone that'll be more common throughout the series. The opening of Smith's time on shows tended to fill in the blanks and convey a sense of space between seasons, whilst being filled with nods at mini-adventures and character jokes and often character development, extremely truncated; this is especially obvious with Asylum of the Daleks very quickly setting up a separation between Amy and Rory.

The same flair returns in buckets with The Pilot, but it's a slightly cooler, more laid back flair. Less overexcited puppy. It's whimsical, but less ostentatiously so than before, which is funny because its pretty much still the same thing as before. Ideas by the bucket, loads of information crammed in quickly through a mixture of visual cues and quick cuts. Part of it is that Capaldi has settled into a very specific vibe, a sense of quieter eccentricity than Smith. The music specifically deserves a mention, bringing a jaunty feel to the opening ten minutes. Somewhere between the script, editing, music and directing there's a weaving of lightness into the drama without at any point having to sacrifice it.

Capaldi's Cape

Capaldi as The Doctor is really looking like he's enjoying himself now, somewhere between Merlin and Your Grandad Who Thinks He Is Cooler Than He Actually Is. Decked out as he is, it's difficult not to want to see the grand magus side of him played up even more - they've nailed an image and feel for his version of The Doctor that makes it very sad this season is reported to be his final outing.

Trusting the Audience (Almost)

There is this terrible thing that television and film are prone to doing. Often when something has happened, or a character has noticed something they'll narrate it to the audience just in case the audience doesn't have a working pair of eyes (or is more interested in their phone than what they are watching). "Show don't tell" is a cliche of writing advice, and at its heart misses one key idea - things that show rather than telling require more from their audience. Telling make movies easier to watch, books easier to read, specifically because you're having pretty much everything hand delivered to you.

There are lots of little moments in this episode that very well could have been explicitly explained. Comments about moving boxes, mysterious figures in photos. Instead, the filmmakers trust the audience to connect the dots for themselves, and as such the moments aren't ruined by redundancy.

There's one particularly egregious moment where this is rather not followed on. A moment where new companion (Bill) talks in a repetitive sense about whatever strange thing has happened (in this case, to do with a reflection) - it's often been used by both RTD and Moff as a way to demonstrate something is difficult to be conveyed on screen, and is always spectacularly unconvincing.

Building Relationships

In Belly of the Beast, Smith's second outing as The Doctor, it is suggested that during her time growing up The Doctor became her imaginary friend of sorts, and as such she knows him better than he know himself. At this point, as far as the audience knows, she's probably not spent much than twenty-four hours with The Doctor at that point. It fell terribly flat, because we hadn't seen the bond develop at all.

Throughout New Who, there has been a tendency to take short-cuts in developing relationships, which Moff being perhaps worse than RTD. This episode nails it, however. Time passes. The Doctor and Bill grow closer in small ways, whilst The Doctor seems to be drawn to the idea of becoming a father figure to her. These aren't developed in big shouty set-pieces, but in small ways, ones which (to harken back to my last section) are never said out loud. We learn about Bill through hints, and her growing closeness with The Doctor, through hints not exposition.

A Question of Structure

My biggest personal problem with Moff's writing is often it can be structured poorly - the aforementioned Eleventh Hour was a great whizz-bang journey of action without laying down the character beats it was intended to; episodes like The Wedding of River Song were a string of set-pieces that failed to really put down the proper groundwork to feel satisfying; Deep Breath spent half an episode of inconsequential character hijinks, and didn't introduce the real threat until roughly halfway into the episode, such had no real narrative drive.

The Pilot juggles characterisation and intrigue (slowly developing into threat) excellently, never standing still but never hurrying either. Whilst we learn about Bill and see her growing relationship with The Doctor, the plot keeps introducing new elements that are growing until the point they force the characters into action.

Promising Things to Come?

Looks very likely. Bill annoyed me a little based on teaser trailers, but this first episode sold me on her 100% - she seems to have a more natural chemistry with The Doctor than Clara did. If the season can continue with the same panache it started with, then we're in for a treat.

1 comment:

  1. Bill was the *least* annoying companion in ages, as far as I was concerned! Loving it so far - catch up! :)