Doctor Doctor Who Guide

World War III was an exciting conclusion to an almost old-fashioned monster yarn begun in last week's Aliens of London, replete with frantic hide-and-seek chases and impressive explosions. The Doctor also had his thinking powers put a little more to the test as, with a little help from Harriet Jones (MP Flydale North) he cleverly deduced the aliens' planet of origin and hence their biological weakness. That said eight-foot tall alien could explode upon contact with a jar of pickled condiments is verging on the far-fetched, sure, as is the Doctor's and Mickey's rather simple hack into the UK's missile defense system, but actually I didn't have much of a problem with either idea, as their underlying principles remain valid enough (not that more realism wouldn't have been nice).

Unfortunately, though, this was the episode where some other worrying trends of the show came to the fore, and the first time I truly questioned Russell T Davies' suitability as writer/executive producer. In past reviews I've given him credit for some great writing and imaginative ideas. His writing skill is still not in question. But he's trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Of most concern is his blueprint for the new Doctor. With an actor of Chris Eccleston's calibre in the titular role there are, I'm afraid, no excuses. Let's put it this way: the Doctor is NOT a character from a TV soap! He doesn't argue with his companion's mother and he doesn't make cow-eyes at nineteen year-old girls, or is given to mushy, quasi-romantic sentiments ("I could save the world but lose you" and "I'm so glad I met you" being prime offenders). I think RTD is trying to convey a certain (mostly platonic? Oh, I hope so) affection for his young companion but it's all about as subtle as a Slitheen fart. Nor can I recall the Doctor, Hartnell included, being this consistently and irritatingly rude. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Time War? If that's going to be an ongoing theme this year then I'm looking forward to his next regeneration. You could make the Doctor an emotionally overloaded wreck in need of counselling but I think I'd rather watch Timelash. Finally, as I alluded to last week, he's grinning far too much of the time. Here in Australia the dreaded Season Seventeen is playing weeknights, yet with some surprise I've noticed how much more serious Tom Baker is playing it in comparison, even at that dubious stage stage in his tenure.

Almost as annoying is having to watch your favourite program (ostensibly a family show, I might add), serving as forum for its new writer's socio-political agenda. Some fans seem rapt by it. I don't disagree with every sentiment, either, but would much rather RTD left most of it out. He's touching on complex, let alone divisive, issues (oops, there goes the American franchise!) and oversimplifying them, in this case with one of the Seven Deadly Writers' Sins: the use of a non-applicable - and inappropriate - allegory. I have no problem with a family show stimulating the younger generation in how to think (as in The Unquiet Dead, for example) - but not what to think; there's a difference. This episode was practicaly telling us how to vote!

On the plot front, I would like to know why all the Slitheen were electrocuted when the Doctor slapped just one with his ID badge - the current was transmitted, presumably, via their collars, though this wasn't explained and doesn't make a whole lot of sense; one of them better not touch a dodgy toaster! The Slitheen's underlying plan was equally difficult to decipher. I guess that, as a family business (nasty, nasty capitalists - like Cassandra, whaddayaknow) rather than as an entire race of creatures, they had no access to military equipment with which to nuke a planet from orbit, despite numerous other examples of their advanced technology. I hope I'm right in this analysis as it was not made very clear in the script.

As far as the general tone of the series goes, we've had one serious episode (written by someone else) in five - in other words, the balance is off. Dr Who is a sci-fi show which can accomodate comedy elements, not the other way around and having giggling, farting aliens seems to mock what the series is really about. When it is serious, half the time it's a D&M between Rose and her mum or Rose and Mickey. Perhaps this is why, in an effort to offset such maudlin drivel, we've seen the Doctor more insulting and off-hand than usual, when he's not all lovey-dovey. He seems to dislke the domestic intrusions and by now so do I. A little here and there could be justified - even in this episode I enjoyed the scene right at the end with Mickey (the way the Doctor invited him into the TARDIS then helped him save face was nicely handled and a good character moment, managing to convey the Doctor's genuine level of caring without resorting to sentimental dialogue), but most of it is being overplayed. Likewise, the sexual innuendo is coming thick and fast. This time we had references to adultery and bisexuality, last week paedophilia ("Did you find her on the internet?") and before that trans-sexuality. They are amusing lines and I'm definitely no Mary Whitehouse, but I'm glad I don't have a six year-old asking me for explanations.

My optimism from last week is being severely tested; right now I'm of the opinion that RTD is pushing the show in wrong directions. Hope I'm not reading too much into one story.

I think my soapbox just broke.

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