1 September 2011

Head vs Heart - watching Doctor Who

Before I write reviews of Doctor Who I would like to say a little about how I watch the programme.
I tend to find that the success of a New Who episode rests on how much it stirs my emotions and whether my intellect gets in the way whilst watching. Afterwards my intellect tends to kick in, thinking through the concepts and -often- picking holes. At this point how much I enjoyed the episode whilst watching becomes important, as I generally don't want to pick holes in stuff I enjoy.

There are two Russell T Davis episodes that are good examples of this head vs heart reaction.

'Midnight' was a great episode. The Doctor and a group of tourists are trapped in a confined space with a mysterious creature.
The show starts lighthearted but becomes tense and claustrophobic as the characters' emotions run wild. There's anger and fear manifesting in the growl of the mob, the Doctor starts as the voice of compassion but soon becomes the scapegoated outsider. The episode works so well because it's mostly emotional, there's little to think through because the threat is purposely intangible and mysterious. We never had a name, face or attributes for the creature, and that made it spooky because even the Doctor didn't know what it was, or what it wanted, or how to defeat it.

At the other end of the scale is 'New Earth'.
The Doctor and Rose visit a futuristic hospital run by nun-like cat nurses. Behind the scenes artificial lifeforms are infected with various diseases in order to research cures, however they become sentient and don't like how they're treated. There's some body-swapping by villain Cassandra and the Face of Bo is there for some reason.
There's a lot going on in this episode, plenty of running around and dealing with problems. There are some amusing moments and interesting ideas, although they don't stand out much for me. I liked how there were catwomen nurses (two things that are often sexualised) who were also nuns with wimples and stern demeanours.
Unfortunately the ending broke my suspension of disbelief so much that I wanted to shout at the screen. Maybe I did, I can't remember. All I know is that mixing together lots of medicine doesn't instantly cure  multiple diseases -and even if it did, cures can't be spread by hugging!
In fact the scenes in which everyone is healed by hugs were so smaltzy and illogical and unrealistic that I found myself becoming annoyed.

During RTD's run on the programme there was foreshadowing, usually done through prophecy and hidden words, and the event episodes tended to be big and overblown with much emotional impact (if not always much logic). By contrast Stephen Moffat's complex arcs, timey-wimey machinations and plot spaghetti means that in order to follow events the audience needs to remember previous episodes (sometimes from over a year ago) and keep their thinking caps on. While I'm all for TV that makes you think I've found that engaging my intellect tends to mean that the less logical aspects of Doctor Who episodes are more obvious.

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