I’m a sad man today. Yesterday it occurred to me that I didn’t much mind that the wait for the next Doctor Who episode was three months. I wasn’t much fussed about whether I ever saw another episode of Doctor Who again.
This is why.
Lack of continuity
A good story has the hearer asking questions that you then answer. A bad story has dead time in which the hearer tries to answer questions that haven’t been asked. Every episode I watch I have questions that I wasn’t meant to ask left unanswered. ( Spoilers and so on, and swearing. )
Questions that are about specific niggles in the story arc of an individual episode. (Why doesn’t the medical computer in Pirates episode learn English?)
Questions that are about the series story arc (Why will the Doctor pull out all the stops to rescue Amy and her baby but not rescue River Song from purgatory?)
Questions about the cynicism of the writers (Do they think abandoning any pretence of continuity is necessary because they can make it more AWESOME if they don’t have to stick to the rules or because they are too careless to do a proper job and think I’m too stupid or too much of a seven year old to notice?)
Does everything have to be EPIC!!! ? Does everything have to be the end of the Universe or the Utter, Total Death of the Daleks**** (and this time we really mean it, until the complaints letters reach the DG, in which case “Ha ha, there is no cannon, there is no continuity and I have a get out of jail free card.”) Even in a story arc that could be described as non-Epic, a simple kidnapping, has to involve the destruction of a whole Cyberman fleet.
This is an intriguing story line (or it could be if I had any confidence that that writers won’t get board of it and decide it was all a dream). There is a lot going on. A murder mystery, a romance, a big back story and a double kidnapping. All of which may or may not be connected. Why try and cram it into one series? It all seems rushed. There is plenty of time. Plenty of time to let the story mature. Plenty of time to let the characters have a good mull over what they are doing and why? Plenty of time to tuck in some other adventures to break up the pacing a little.
If it weren’t so rushed there would be time to properly enjoy some of the characters who reappeared in Demons Run. There would be time to slip in some decent single or double stories that didn’t have to contribute in a cackhanded way to the major story arc. If it weren’t so rushed we would have time to enjoy one of the more interesting aspects of the major, major story arc, that the Doctor and River Song are moving through their love affair in opposite directions. There is enough material for two series, perhaps three. I’ve waited several years to see more of River Song, I can wait 18 months more. We see glimpses of how River Song feels about her love affair but only glimpses. We don’t seem to pick up much from the Doctor about her very sad demise and what, if anything, he intends to do about it.
Careless. The script writers don’t appear to be paying attention to what they are doing or to the characters they have in front of them. The brief and rather pointless appearance of the Cybermen is a case in point. Leaving aside the continuity issues of their re-appearance and the unasked questions such as “How did they get there?” “What are they doing there?” “How would they know where Amy was?” there was no need to massacre them. You kill people to make a point if a) they are being wilfully intransigent b) you are short of time. Given that Rory pops up in their control room and gives them all of ten seconds to think things over one can hardly accuse the Cybermen of wilful intransigence. The Doctor is not short of time. He is effectively immortal and owns a time machine. He’s got time to leave a note for the Cybermen asking for a sit down. He’s got time to have a discussion with them. He’s got time to do a deal and then complete on the deal.* There is no need to murder thousands of individuals unless you want lots of people to say “Cool”.
There are other bits and bobs of carelessness too. How nice to see a gay married couple.** Now, I’m a married man. If My Lovely Wife told me that she had been transferred to some strange religious order*** and one to whom I am not allowed to talk I’d be more than a little upset. If, a few days later, I found out that she had been decapitated and rendered a soulless automata I may be tempted to do a little more than gulp. Given that, when I found out I am armed with a machine gun, things might go hard for the people who did this awful thing to my life partner and the wellspring of my family. If I were the manager of this couple I might have thought it prudent to remove the surviving spouse’s gun before surprising him in the middle of a parade.
Either, don’t make them married or spend some time on a proper reaction to the surprising and horrific death of a spouse.
The Silence, how is that they elude the Doctor for thousands of years but he’s able to stumble over them by chance? If the Silence can avoid detection by a Time Lord on pretty much his home turf why aren’t they running Gallifrey?
Spitfires in space. Cool. What makes them go? How come the pilot can see past the vomit stuck by centrifugal forces to the inside of cockpit from him throwing up as a result of motion sickness caused as the body of the plane rotates the other way to the propeller? And whilst we’re asking questions about the spitfires, didn’t the Doctor remove all of the good stuff from the 1940’s? Did this or did this not include the laser firing spitfires? I want to know because… … because River Song is going to ask me a question with an arched eyebrow that is going to make me think about Moll Flanders and post watershed conversations with MLW.
I’m left with the impression that things are being rushed and not being properly thought out.
The reason for the lack of care, I think, is that it must be EPIC!!! and the writers don’t have to worry about continuity or think they don’t. If they can just get the audience quickly enough to the next cliff hanger and then drop someone off it spectacularly enough we’ll all forget or forgive that we’ve been presented with half drawn caricatures rather than characters and a series of loosely connected explosions rather than a plot.
I think it’s the lack of continuity that is really making me not care about the series. Anything that happens can and will be written out again. I first lost faith when the Daleks returned for the third time. The real kicker was the not-death and not-erasure-from-history of Rory. Why should I care if anyone dies if they can be written back in by fiat of the writer? Why should I care that the last of the Daleks are being sucked down some EPIC!!! plughole in the sky again? When the Daleks first returned I actually felt some sympathy for the last Dalek. Now, that sympathy has been proven to have been practised on. When next the Daleks are the victim of genocide I won’t care. Neither a cheer nor a tear will be my reaction. I don’t believe that it that is the final end of the Daleks. They’ll be back, ready to be sucked down some other plughole in the sky. It’s all very Voltron.
Without continuity or some consistency or genuine cause and effect whatever happens doesn’t mean anything. If what happens doesn’t mean anything why should I care if it happens or not. Why should I care about any emotional response to what has happened? The chances are that anything big enough to make me have a significant emotional response to the characters emotional response is big enough to have to be undone. I’ve seen stories that dealt with the lack of continuity caused by time paradoxes well. John Crowley’s Great Work of Time for example. This current series is far from up to that mark.
How did Rory as the Last Centurion become so famous that non-Earth people would recognise him. He spent all his time in a box that no longer exists. Perhaps Rory could explain. Oh No! Those bastards have killed Rory. Bastards.
I don’t feel like shouting at Bastards at the TV. I did the first few times this trick was played on me but..Oh, Hello Rory… I was just explaining to the nice boys and girls that you aren’t dead, again. Or rather, at some point in the future your past will be changed so you won’t be deaded (cut to a long shot of Karen Gillan’s legs). It’s all timey wimey.
I know Rose won’t be back because Billy Piper is making more money playing Belle du Jour but that’s about the only thing I can depend on. *****. This is the thing that most upsets me about the lack of continuity. It’s not just that the continuity is poor and means that I can’t become emotionally connected to anything or anyone in the story. The thing that gets me is that the lack of continuity is cynically driven. I think the production team think they have to be more EPIC!!! than anyone before but they don’t have the courage to stick with the decisions they have made and then follow them through. So they over use the ability of their central character to create and then untangle time paradoxes as a way to eat their cake and have it too. The bastards who are killing Rory are no longer the bastards on the screen but the bastards behind it and I can see them.
I think you can do EPIC!!! and continuity but you can’t do EPIC!!! without continuity, because unless the EPIC!!! sticks it isn’t really EPIC!!! It’s just a big bang.
When I watch a family programme with lots of turns and twists in it I want to be able to help my children work out what has happened and guess what is going to come next by talking about character, by reminding them of a clue they’ve seen or by drawing on my decades of fan-based knowledge. I don’t want to have explain what is going on by referring to the cynicism of the production team.
“Where did the spitfires come from daddy, I thought the fat man had been made to give them all back?”
“Ah, well Captain, my boy, the producers were rather hoping that you would be too busy thinking “Cool” to ask that question and that your mum and I would be too busy enjoying the bondage joke to comment on the continuity error.”
I just don’t think Doctor Who is very good at the moment. I find it lazy, rushed, too satisfied with its own cleverness to realise it’s not clever enough. I don’t care about the characters. When I wake up all of Series Six will have just been a dream.
Doctor Who used to be the thing around which my household built our weekend. At the moment I couldn’t ask the other members of my family to indulge me by arranging their lives around my desire to be sitting in front of the television with a cold beer as soon as the programme starts. I just don’t care enough. I’ll catch it on iPlayer, or maybe I won’t.
*In my view a series of Herculean quests like the Key of Time story arc with Tom Baker’s Doctor and Romana in which the Doctor attempts to track down Amy and work out what her abductors are up to would have made a decent series. The Christmas special with the Lovely Katherine Jenkins shows the Doctor taking the time to use time to change the mind of one key individual. Not cool enough for the Cybermen.
** but a little sad that they were a touch mincing.
*** or gone to work for a large bank.
**** Cynical Spoiler Warning, they aren’t all dead, they are alive somewhere you’ve not heard of yet and will make an EPIC!!! return when the ratings start to dip and the BBC refuses to allow the show to move to after the watershed thus excluded the possibility of an Amy, River, Green Thing with the “hilariously lesbian”****** tongue threesome.
*****John Barrowman’s earnings appear marginal enough that he might return
****** Following the joke about the tongue I am now waiting for the next black man in the programme to be greeted with jokes about the size of his cock. Perhaps Colonel Run Away is really called that because he is so well endowed that he tripped over his own penis.