Doctor Who 2014: Why I like It (so far)

So, the latest episode of Doctor Who (Dark Water) has aired and opinions are predictably mixed. Some love it, some hate it. Whatever people’s opinions, though, it tends to be based around how they feel about the series so far.

I enjoyed it.

Now, before people think this is purely down to my curious enjoyment of taking the opposite viewpoint, let’s reflect a bit on my previously stated opinions about Doctor Who and TV in general.

I have had issues with the past couple of years of Doctor Who, as have many. I always took a different issue with it than a lot of people did. Many people didn’t like Steven Moffat’s style of storytelling. I, however, found it was the main thing keeping me from abandoning the show altogether. It was the trappings of contemporary western TV storytelling that I disliked, and the over-reliance of seemingly completely standalone episodes that plagued series seven.

This year, though, Doctor Who has felt like it has hit a lot more of the things that I enjoy in fiction and not been quite as bound by the usual TV “crap” that usually turns me away from otherwise good shows. I didn’t like every episode (Robot of Sherwood, I’m looking at you) but overall I’ve found levels of enjoyment and consistency that have just been missing from the previous complete series.

Trust me, the 7-9 period of a Saturday evening is much too useful to me to keep watching a show if i wasn’t genuinely enjoying it. And this year really has kept me from jumping ship. We’ve had a different take on the Doctor, a diffetent dynamic with the existing companion, and a look (through Clara) of why the Doctor is the way he is.

It has hit the “through line” and “character progression” beats that I haven’t seen in enough of in non-Japanese TV in several years. not that it hasn’t been there, but I’ve been put off too much to want to look for it anymore. But after this year, I have found that Western TV narrative can be just as engaging. I might even have to start watching TV for non-DW shows and finally catch up on my DVD/BD backlog of other series.

I know that many people have disliked the series, and for some it was put them off the show entirely. For me, though, this year (in addition to the 50th Anniversary Specials) is exactly what I needed to not lose interest in the show completely.

Now it just hangs on how the finale finishes up.

Doctor Who and the Single Part Stories

I have a big problem with Doctor Who at the moment, one I have gone on record about in my Twitter feed and on my Podcast. I am getting increasingly sick of the constant barrage of single episode stories. For years I have disliked TV shows going in that direction, it is just that I have been able to give Doctor Who a lot more leeway than I would any other show. But this is starting to run out.

I understand the theory behind having weekly shows that you don’t make you feel punished for jumping in partway through. The problem, though, is that this also means yo don’t get rewarded for sticking weekly with a show. Too much TV these days feels like it does not have a real ongoing presence. Doctor Who is really getting to feel like this, now.

I have seen it in other shows where they have an ongoing plot but one of the seasons gets orders to have more standalone content and less “mythology arc”. These often, to me, end up being the weaker seasons.
I know that some people dislike shows where most of the content is ongoing plot but I love it.

I like TV shows where as well as being an ongoing scenario about a setting or characters, the actual plots are divided into arcs. Maybe between three and five episodes in length. Where each story is given room to breathe and grow over multiple weeks. They don’t even need to have major “event” cliffhangers, just a run of a few episodes that are clearly an ongoing narrative,
It doesn’t even need to have really long episodes. Drop down from the 45 minute template to the half-hour show and it can work just as well.

And before people think I am just being nostalgic for “Classic Who”, it really isn’t that at all. I have recently been watching an Anime show called Kokoro Connect. Seventeen half-hour (OK, 25 minute) episodes covering four plot arcs. Two five-partners, a three-parter and a four-parter. Each arc its own plot, yet still part of an ongoing world and characters. Each arc really affecting how the characters interact with each other.

I have got more enjoyment out of that show than I have from nearly anything else I have watched in recent years. The structure of several short multi-part stories appeals perfectly to my narrative preferences.

I guess it just makes it that much more annoying for Doctor Who seeing that the stories used to be structured that way. I have missed it somewhat since DW returned in 2005. Up until now, though, it hasn’t really been a dealbreaker. But after Series Six’s heavily River-focused plot, to drop back to seemingly overly isolated episodes whilst other shows are doing the multi-partners so effectively? I just want a return to that type of storytelling.

Doctor Who movie – Why the Panic

Another day, another Doctor Who Movie rumour. And this one seems to be gaining traction as something actually possible. As expected, there is a wailing and gnashing of teeth, with many people concerned that it would be its own continuity and not fit in with the existing show.

I can see two reasons why this is not a bad thing.

Firstly, take the Transformers movies of recent years. Big blockbuster spectacles. They didn’t exactly resonate well with a lot of the existing fandom, but there are many vocal fans who appreciate them despite not really liking the movies.
The bay-verse Transformers certainly revitalised interest in the franchise, and interest in the toyline. And even if you don’t like the look of them, it allows Hasbro to put money into other TF toys. For me, I bought my first transformer in about 20 years this year. Is was Reveal the Shield: Wreck-Gar – part of a line inspired/funded by the success of the movie toys but of an old character from the 1980s that would (and did) appeal to people who remember him from back then.

It’s also probably at least partly down to the success of the movie that the new series Transformers Prime can exist. It is definitely not the movie-verse. But some of the styling take a few cues, yet are more smooth and rounded and, to be honest, more like “real” Transformers…

…but without the movies, probably no Prime.

Secondly, have you ever seen an in-season movie? I’ve seen a few. Between some of the Japanese shows that I follow and stuff like the X-Files that I used to watch a bit back in the day.

These movies fall into two major categories. They are either totally standalone or pretty heavily integrated into the season mythology. So you’re either paying big money to see a story that doesn’t really count, or paying big money to see an important part of a story that you’re following on a TV channel you already pay for… neither sits well.
Then there’s a third, minor, category. The story that kind of fits, but doesn’t really gel with continuity. They can still be fun to watch, but when character and situations line up that don’t fit with the main show’s plotline, it can take you out of it. Suspension of disbelief can only go so far when the same movie has a character that definitively left or changed at the same time as a power or ability or item being used that was not around when the other character was. Minor, maybe. But if you’re spending more time wondering when it fits, you’re not enjoying the movie.

So, yeah. Something that is its own take on DW would actually sit well with me. As it would either be a really cool what-if, or something crap I can class as not counting.