Returned last night for a new series, following a three month gap after the Christmas special. UK newspaper reviews have not been favourable, and I read some comments on Facebook last night that expressed disinterest and boredom. The accusations are along the lines of last night’s episode not being scary enough and having a narrative that is too simple, rehashing ideas from previous episodes and other series.
When Doctor Who woke from a sixteen year hibernation in 2005 it drew acclaim. No more sets that wobbled visibly. Advances in more affordable effects, and a couple of high profile people in the lead roles, gave it some style, potentially widening its audience beyond eight year olds hiding behind the sofa from the stare of Daleks. Now it was cool for everyone to be into Doctor Who, and if you wanted something properly edgy and more explicitly adult, Torchwood came along the following year.
The Bells of Saint John grabbed and held my interest for a number of reasons. One would just be change I suppose. The Amy/Rory thing had become very tired. Time to move on. The episode was simple and very linear, for sure. But complexity and scale are not always very elegant. To remind yourself of what a narrative train wreck looks like, go back and have a look at the Torchwood mini-series Children Of Earth.
My loyalty to Doctor Who is not based on how scary it is; never was. I have some interest in the fantasy genre, but not much at all in the horror genre: somehow horror seems to revel in human dysfunction without saying very much about it. The idea of an alien intelligence with different needs to ours always appeals, as do storylines based on technology. Last night’s episode had both of these elements. It tapped very subtly I thought into prevalent fears about how our interactions with the internet are used by faceless multi-national organisations, commercial and governmental, highlighted recently by Google admitting that they had ‘accidentally’ gathered data on people’s internet habits from open wi-fi routers. In the end I think any boredom experienced while watching Doctor Who is down to the fact that straight sci-fi is just not considered generally very cool. He’s an alien who travels the universe in a spaceship. He has alien technology. Aliens might exist. The cheeky astronomer Brian Cox certainly seems to think that they probably do. Cool.