December 26, 2010

DR. WHO: HALFWAY OUT OF THE DARK


Breaking my own rule of "thou shalt not write silly things during your Christmas break", I nonetheless shall write this one, after having seen (on my computer, but who is complaining?), because I just saw the 2010 Dr.Who Christmas special. And boy, was that a good one.

Dr. Who is one of those things that I immediately loved when it was restarted in 2005, with a brilliant Chris Eccleston playing a deeply saddened, somewhat maniacal Dyonisian demi-god, who swooped in and saved young Rose Tyler, not only from probably the silliest of all super villians, living dolls, but also from a life of poverty on an unnamed estate, and to this day, I hold Eccleston in my heart as "my" Doctor.

Now that I have earned the hatred of every David Tennant fan ever (who for most is the definitive Dr. Who, and I loved him, too, don't get me wrong, I loved him from that moment in his Christmas special that had him go "Saving the planet in your pjs. Very Arthur Dent, that." and the subsequent killing of an alien overlord with a satsuma and likely one of the best lines ever written and delivered, "No second chances. I am that kind of a man.").

But as much as I loved Tennant's performance in every episode of his run, he was often let down by cruddy writing, and by writing I mean plotting. I once said that plotting is easy, and it should be. Plotting is a machine, it has to run like clockwork, and it should make an ending to be the only logical outcome, even if it is at first surprising.

And R. Davies, the guy who had resurrected Dr. Who quite successfully, just couldn't plot very well. And he way overdid the gay jokes, and while I am all for gays, putting them straight in front of you every single time you have the chance...

(and I say this as somebody who is deeply in love with John Barrowman, and no, our love is not sexual, it is the fact that I love these swashbuckling heroes so much, and they seem to have disappeared from the face of modern media these days)

... is just wrong, okay? Because it makes a mockery of things instead of portraying something as normal. Anyway, when I first saw the posters of new Doctor Who's incarnation, Matt Smith, with the pouty redhead, my mind went immediately into "oh for fuck's sake, would you stop fucking Twilighting everything?"

Thankfully, the first Matt Smith season proved me wrong in, oh so many ways, because finally we had something that had been missing for most of the final two years of Davies's run: plot!

Yes, Steven Moffat knows how to plot, and how to throw things out there at the same time, which was wonderfully shown in something like "Flesh and Stone", where - if you looked very hard - you immediately picked up on the fact the the Doctor talking to Amy Pond after she had been left alone in the spaceship's forest was not the Doctor from her current time line, but a Doctor from her own personal future.

But it was integrated into the episode in such a subtle way that it worked on all levels, and the final two-parter was so brilliantly plotted around time travel that I was laughing my ass off throughout most of it, and again, a classic line was born. "It's a fez. I wear fezzes now. Fezzes are cool."

All of which brings me to this Christmas episode of Doctor Who, which is a take - and a knowing one - of Dickens' story, which some people (hey, what is this? Fox News?) claim essentially invented modern Christmas. But here everything that worked in Dickens fails. Moffat is good enough to know that we no longer believe that changing somebody's past will have an effect on a man's future. We no longer believe that the switch to goodness can come from a lifetime of little things, and he twists Dickens lovingly around, up until the final reveal of Christmas Future...

... which shows the old, bitter man as the ghost of Christmas Future to his younger self. A plot twist so stunningly simple, so brilliant that my first thought was "why the fuck have I never thought of that? It is so fucking obvious!"

But it is not merely that. There are some wonderful lines again. "Oh, a big machine with flashy lights. A big machine like that has me written all over it. Well, okay, it doesn't. But give me time... and a crayon."

And Matt Smith has pushed the character of Doctor Who from the angered (Eccleston) to the maniacal (David Tennant) to a new, merged character, somewhat more mellow, prone to fits of angry outbursts, and wonderfully having no clue about women whatsoever, despite the fact that he inadvertendly (and off screen) is getting married to Marilyn Monroe, with his final line at the end being "there is no way that was a real chapel".

And his advice to young Sardick when it comes to women? Well, that one has to be heard to be believed, and it is one that all men know just too well, be they old or young, closing out with "it's either that or stay in your room designing a new sonic screwdriver. Don't make my mistakes, all I am saying."

Considering that the new screwdriver is one of the many things that changed between the David Tennant run and this one, it is hard to overlook that this is thinly veiled reference to the Doctor's own failed love life, and it is not the only one.

You can see Matt Smith thinking about none other than Rose Tyler when he gets asked if he had ever lost his beloved, and we all know that he has, even though he has moved on, there is still that little bit of sadness there, and it is integral to that character.

Because when asked what day to choose, if it was the last day with the woman he loved, we all know that the Doctor never had even that little bit of happiness, that little bit of joy that Sardick gets at the end of the episode, that one final day that Rose Tyler and he never had. Ripped from him to a different dimension, he only had that one moment, far away and his heart(s) breaking as his last sentence got cut short, "Rose Tyler..."

... to be whispered again by his clone into Rose's ear as the final David Tennant season came to a close, it was him again who was left out, choosing her happiness over his own, commenting only when she asks him "to finish that sentence."

And Tennant's sadness, here reflected in Matt Smith's face at the end of this Christmas special, ends with "does it really need saying?", which is so quintessential male that every single one of us can relate to it. Has he not shown her? Is that not what we do? Do we not slay dragons and monsters for our loved ones? It is a very juvenile type of thinking, and yet so true, even in our later years, because we value action more than words.

And that is one of the things that makes the Matt Smith version of the Doctor such an interesting character study. From the moment at the end of the last season, when he sees Rory and Amy kiss and whispers to himself, "2000 years... the boy who waited. Good on you, mate. Good on you."

There it is for the first time, that infinite sadness.

And it returns here, and many of the reviewers make a point of the Doctor being intentionally cruel to Sardick when he essentially lets it go, gives them that one day, because isn't that the moment you step out of the dark? Even for that little moment of light? Isn't that worth fighting for, living for?

Of course, like all us men (and something that women will never understand, not ever), when Amy asks him at the end of the episode "are you okay?", he replies with that smile and tells her "of course I am. Why shouldn't I be?"

Underneath all that bravado, all that bluster is a deeply flawed man, a deeply saddened man who has difficulty to connect with anybody truly and properly.

He's not a good man. He knows his flaws. He knows that there will likely never be a good, happy moment for him. And tries to make up for it by being the best he can. To do the best he can do so that others may have that happiness that eludes him. And even that is a callback to Moffat's first episodes, all the way back in 2005 when he introduced not only Jack Harkness with classic lines like, "A sonic screwdriver? Really? Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks, couldn't this be more... sonic?"...

... but also that central piece to the Doctor Who character (at least as it is in modern times), Chris Eccleston's shout against god, against the universe, against whoever the fuck is in charge here, that simple prayer, that plea...

"Give me this day! Please, just this one day! Give me a day when nobody dies!"

Moffat allows the Doctor to be withdrawn, to be in danger of closing himself off, even in the midst of all the lovey-dovey actions of Amy and Rory, and if the best he can do is to give those two the longest version of a honeymoon ever devised, it only reinforces the knowledge gathered at the very end of Moffat's first season when he tries to connect with somebody, anybody, even if it is the sparkly and dangerous River Song. That scene, sweet and sad at the same time, has him ask her if "she is married".

A character that is liked by so many out there... is a character I don't like all that much at all. Again, I know this will piss off many people, but with the exception of her death in the Tennant run, I have not seen her do a single thing with regards to the Doctor that was not entirely selfish. She calls him when in need, and he comes. And he doesn't like it, but is still doing it, wondering why the hell he is doing it in the first place. She plays him like an instrument.

I can relate. Oh boy, can I relate.

It makes Moffat's run on Doctor Who not only more personal, but also bristling with possibilities that are sure to piss off a lot of continuity specialists.

Because this Doctor is only halfway out of the dark. He is not yet ready to step out into the light. And perhaps that underlying sadness, rooted in something far deeper and more personal than Chris Eccleston's sadness about the loss of the Time Lords in the first 2005 season, will finally lift.


As you can hear him say in the teaser for next season, "I have been running. Faster than I have ever run. But it's time for me to stop."

We are on a good way to the next season, as the little snippets at the end showede, especially with the line of "I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool" and him being in the Oval office, surrounded by Secret Service agents and casually saying "I need a full SWAT team, a complete road map of Florida, a pot of coffee, twelve Jammie Dodgers... and a fez."

Brilliant.

And so not like Twilight, ever.