The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Spoilers for Series 9 Episode 1 of Doctor Who

I hated The Magician’s Apprentice and I’m not sure why.

When I think of all of the elements of the episode (the return of UNIT, or the Master working with the Doctor for instance), I cannot help but think that they seem like good or brilliant ideas. When I saw that the show was breaking the cardinal “rule” and showing a Classic Who character earlier in their timeline, I was fascinated and intrigued. When the Doctor left his last will and testament I was perplexed, but excited. And when the Doctor rode into the middle ages on a tank playing rock and roll I was astounded, but impressed.

So why didn’t I like the episode? At the core the reason the episode-and indeed-much of series 8 simply did not work for me is presentation. Steven Moffat rarely has bad ideas (in my opinion), but he sometimes decides to present them in a way that is not right for Doctor Who. When I imagine a different incarnation of the Doctor going through the same scenes-I see a great episode. If Tom Baker, or Matt Smith, or Tennant, or Eccleston had gone through the same episode I think it could easily have been one of my favorites.

I don’t think this is because I hate Capbaldi as an actor. Rather, it has to do with what one knows will accompany those other actors. One of the great skills of Doctor Who is that it has rebooting built into itself in the form of the Doctor’s regeneration (so the narrative never rows old). But its not simply a new face that walks out of the TARDIS every three years, at times it may also be new head writer, or differing styles of filmmaking and lighting, as well as general tone and pacing. Between Tennant and Smith is probably the best example of this phenomena. If not for the title card and interdimensional copper cube, one could easily mistake The End of Time and The Eleventh Hour for taking place on different shows (or even different networks).

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Despite this, there are several elements of consistency between series 4 and 5. Element which are lacking between 7 and 8, and the changing of the guard that came with Capbaldi’s run. Though series 5 of Doctor Who successfully updated itself for the modern era, with darker visuals, plots, and more realistic writing, it never lost the inherent sense of fun which had accompanied the show thus far. With the exception an episode here and there like Midnight or The Name of the DoctorDoctor Who always keeps itself from being too serious or “Christopher Nolan-esque”. There’s the always the inherent excitement and adventure, without an over emphasis on suspense or drama.

And when I say always, I do mean always. While I am not as familiar with Classic Who as New Who, I have seen episodes from the 1st, 4th, and 5th Doctors, and none of what I have seen indicates to me that the series has ever lacked charm and wit altogether. Or at least that’s what I would have said until series 8. Again, this comes round to good ideas versus good execution. Doctor Who is a fun show. It’s never a full blow drama. It started as a show for kids, and though it has expanded its audience since then, never has it limited itself so much as with this current incarnation of the show.

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In an attempt to make the Doctor appeal more to the Classic Who generation, Moffat has written the 12th Doctor as totally unlikable (without actually making him very much like a classic Doctor). The Doctor of the now is jerk. He is simply not a nice person. He is not honoring his oath to be “never cruel” which he renewed in The Day of the Doctor. For pity’s sake, the Doctor just spent 500 years defending one town. It makes no sense in his character’s arc-for him to revert to the person he was as the 9th Doctor. He should be happier now than ever! He has a new lease on life! His entire freaking planet was brought back from oblivion!

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Another problem is the incredibly desaturated and darkened world, which the editors of series 8 and 9 have created. The world of this Doctor is bleak and lifeless. Not a world of adventure, but of death and pointlessness. A world which evokes disgust, typical of an independent student film-not Doctor Who.

At the end of the day, I think I can (after writing it all down) say what I did not like about The Magician’s Apprentice. It’s boring. It’s not fun. It does not include snappy dialogue or witty humor. I don’t need to the Doctor to be younger or older, I just need him to make me excited and interested in the world around him. The Doctor should make the universe more exciting, not abjectly depressing.

Even this was less depressing than Death in Heaven!

Even this image is less depressing than Death in Heaven…

(But again Capbaldi himself is awesome don’t hate me bye.)

Why didn’t the Doctor save River Song?

The following article will feature spoilers for Doctor Who up until directly before series 8.

Doctor Who is not a show known for following its own rules very closely. This 2010 Special A Christmas Carol is perhaps the best example; featuring the Doctor’s attempts to alter a man’s past and make him a moral person. The whole concept is so superfluous and impossible, as the man’s memories are seemingly altered (yet somehow he is aware of the fact simultaneously).

While time itself is far from immutable in the universe of the Doctor, what is considered unalterable are the various “fixed points in time”. With the exception of The Waters of Mars, changing a fixed point in time is never successful, and will cause the destruction of time itself (as in The Wedding of River Song). However, although fixed points cannot be undone, one can control the circumstances of how they happened. For example, in the aforementioned Wedding of River Song the Doctor is able to cheat death by having a robotic teselecta “die” in his place. All parties who know of the Doctor’s death in Utah still record it happening-but the audience is made aware that the reality was always different than it seemed.

An identical situation is seen in The Day of the Doctor when the Doctor decides not to destroy his home planet, and the audience sees that reality always happened this way (and the audience simply never knew it). And this is my main problem with the Professor River Song. The Doctor’s wife dies the first time the Doctor meets her, in the largest library in the universe. She sacrifices herself and is killed-though the Doctor “uploads” her to the library data banks.

But here there seems to be a logical inconsistency. The Doctor loves his wife, and he has had at least 1100 years to think about her death since he saw it happen in the library. Even if we assume the worst-that River’s death is fixed point in time-wouldn’t the Doctor at least want to go to the same lengths to save River as he did to save himself? We know for a fact that River is a great actor, convincing her parents she did not know who they were throughout series 6. So if the Doctor brought River a teselecta the day before she was supposed to go the library, there is no reason the tesselecta couldn’t die in her place.

But maybe you think that that this still would not work because the teselecta’s crew of people would be killed by all the energy anyway. Fair enough, then why not use a ganger as in The Almost People? River would not even have to show up anywhere near the library since we know that Amy Pond could control her ganger from anywhere in time or space. Plus there’s probably a timey-wimey way to download the computer River’s memories so that the real River would know what that version of herself did and said in series 7.

Of course, I write this without the benefit of hindsight. Perhaps the writers of the show will write this in and bring River back from the “dead”. I for one would really enjoy it if River were a permanent part of the show, just like the TARDIS or the sonic. I just love the idea of another regenerating character on the show. Rather than waiting every three years for the Doctor to be someone new, we can have a new version of a favorite character every year and a half (as we alternate between time lords).

And before a wiseguy points this out, yes River supposedly ran out of regenerations when she healed the Doctor in Let’s Kill Hitler. But seriously? Why on earth should healing the Doctor once dispose of all the seven (at least) regenerations she still has. You could argue that River should have less regenerations because she is not a proper time lord. For writing purposes though, one could always argue that she should have more because she is not a proper time lord.

In any event, there remains the basic problem with the Doctor’s death vs. his wife’s. The Doctor once asked Clara Oswald if he was good man. If the Doctor will go to extraordinary length to save himself, but not his wife, the answer to that question is a resounding no.The In-Laws