TV: Doctor Who [8x01-8x05], Play it Again, Dick
Doctor Who [8x01-8x05]
This is the first batch of episodes featuring Peter Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor.
It's been a long time since I've felt so strongly like I'm *missing out* on something. The critical response to this batch of episodes has been overwhelmingly positive, and for my own part, I can see many, many things to like about the start of this eighth series of the reboot. And yet, in the end, I've been curiously unmoved by these stories. It's a lot of characters I don't quite connect with, plots I don't quite engage with, and arcs I don't quite care about.
First off: Capaldi is amazing. Yes, we can complain, quite rightly, about yet another white dude stepping up to play the Doctor But "race" and "gender" are pretty much where the similarities between the current doctor and the previous one end -- Capaldi's energy is diametrically opposite to Matt Smith's Doctor, brusque, and angry, and dangerous. If Eleven was your dorky, daffy uncle, Twelve is a confused, restless stranger, and this personality is very conducive to drama. When Twelve is steering the TARDIS, I genuinely don't know what he's going to do or where the story is going to go, and part of that is because I know he could be a right bastard if he felt like it.
And this makes for a much more interesting dynamic with Clara. Clara and Eleven always felt like two peas in a pod, leading to scenes that were heavy on banter but light on dramatic tension. Now, we go into every episode fairly certain that Clara and Twelve will have strong and divergent opinions about how to deal with every situation that comes up. And this doesn't mean they're antagonizing each other (though they sometimes do) or that they're irate with each other (though they often are) -- they're just friends (colleagues?) who have sharply different outlooks on the world.
Clara is just leagues better in series eight. I felt like in series seven there was just a sort of characterization shorthand in play -- "You see what Eleven is like? Right. So, Clara is basically like that." They never really defined "Clara is like *this*", she was just a copy of the Doctor. And that "ditto" quality seemed to infect everything else. She didn't have much going on but to moon over the Doctor. She didn't have much to do besides follow along after the Doctor. And it culminated in the finale, where her whole *raison d'être* was to save the Doctor, over and over again.
But... who is Clara when she's just being Clara?
Splitting her away from the Doctor, character-wise, seems to force the show to finally answer this. Granted, it really helps a lot that they're showing us Clara living her life. Now, I'm sure all of this scenework with Danny Pink will get folded into the overall story arc -- this is not a show that can abide a gratuitous random high-school friend -- but the effect is striking. Now we know what Clara is like when she's living her life. And furthermore, now her knowing-witty-banter manner isn't just an outgrowth of the tone of the show -- it's an actual personality trait that exists in stark contrast to the world around her.
I never thought I would like Clara as a Companion, but this season is somehow turning me around.
And the show is doing a commendable job of trying new things. "Into the Dalek" was delightfully trippy, in a way that has less to do with modern genre television and everything to do with the out-there fringes of classic Who. "Listen" does a wonderful job of building a monster story with no actual monster. "Time Heist" was a wonderful sidestep into silly Ocean's Eleven (Twelve?) territory. Even "Robots of Sherwood" goes in a slightly different direction than the Doctor (or the audience) expects.
So by god, I should be liking this series, right?
I don't understand it. Maybe I'm just not in the mood for Doctor Who right now.
Or maybe I'm just tired of Moffat. I am as big a fan of "Blink" as anybody, and above all else I loved how that episode was simple, and clear, and elegant. It set up two simple rules for how the Weeping Angels worked, and the entire episode functioned like a Swiss watch around those principles. There was no hand-waving, no additional magic, no sloppiness -- when the end came, it was surprising, clever, and absolutely inevitable.
I feel like Moffat has reached the other end of the story-construction spectrum now. Specifically, he's on the 'mushy' end, where he paints the story into the corner, and then vigorously waves his hands and insists "AND THEN MAGIC HAPPENS" and then, ta-da! the story is over. Extra magical rules get thrown in towards the end of each episode. (The golden arrow will make the flying castle blow up? Sure!) The Doctor resolves the monster-of-the-week with... something that wasn't set up anywhere in the story. (Twelve convinces the steampunk robot to commit suicide by... just saying things that are very convincing.)
I'm seeing wonderful character moments, and phenomenal episode concepts, but they all turn into stories that just kind of shrug at the end. "Oh. Okay. He... tells the evil banker lady to leave, and she just... goes. Um... sure."
I suspect I can come back to these episodes later and appreciate them much more. If I don't expect the plots to really work, I can stop paying attention to the plots, and I can focus more strongly on the performances and the world-building. But for now, I'm left finding everything a bit wanting. I suspect I'll always be a fair-weather, Russell-T-Davies Who fan.
Play it Again, Dick
This is the CW online webseries in which Veronica Mars alum Ryan Hansen tries to kick-start a spin-off series about minor Mars character Dick Casablancas as a dashing private eye.
So let's be clear: this is for fans only. And not for all fans, either -- if you thought the Veronica Mars film was self-indulgent, then seriously: just keep walking. There is nothing for you here.
For everyone else, this is a silly, lovely romp. You spend eight fifteen minute episodes feeling like you've been let in on a batch of riotous inside jokes from the set of Veronica Mars, or like you're just sitting in on the cast of old friends riffing off of each other, as they delightfully play the most ridiculous send-ups of themselves possible.
The story (inasmuch as there is a story) is firmly in the Party Down world of show-biz types who are trying uncomfortably hard. It's fun watching "Ryan Hansen" (the actor plays a fully Dick-Casablancas-ified version of himself) try to make staggeringly bad storytelling ideas work. It's odd realizing that, however farcical it all seems, stuff this crazy must happen in Hollywood all the time.
So it certainly doesn't add up to anything significant, and it certainly isn't anything more than one last fun victory lap from this cast. But it's still fun for Veronica Mars fans. You know who you are.
For next week: I'm watching that meteorology course again (and taking notes this time) to see if I can follow it properly the second time through. I've switched over to a rewatch of The Tick for my "watch while exercising" show. I'm still reading that Meteor book, and Lindsey and I are still listening to Welcome to Night Vale.
 And we can also, perhaps even more rightly, complain about Moffat's glib dismissal of such complaints.
Mood: contemplative · Music: none