Television: Doctor Who finale

All right, let's start from the tippy top. My dad used to watch Doctor Who when I was a kid, and I'd sometimes sit with him (we only had the one television), but I never did follow what was going on exactly, and it all looked a bit silly to me. Still and all, when the program was rebooted in 2005, my husband and I tried it out. We didn't get more than a couple episodes in, however. Maybe it was that we had other demands on our time—our first son was born that November—and/or that, in the list of shows we had time to fit in, Doctor Who fell toward the end.

NOW, a few years later, with kids a little older and us having a bit more free time to ourselves (and our almost 6-year-old finding DW to be a treat), and also the advent of streaming video, we've had the chance to catch up. And as a rule I do enjoy Doctor Who. I could debate the pros and cons of Tennant versus Smith all day, I could delve into the darker side of the Doctor and his psyche, what-have-you. But I really want to focus on the two Smith finales, by which I mean that of the last series (what we in the States would call "last season") and this past one as well. Because they seemed remarkably similar in tone and execution, which makes me worry that Steven Moffat might be dipping too often from the same well.

Here's the thing: last year the finale was "The Big Bang," in which the Doctor was in the Pandorica, but then he wasn't, and then he was going to die in 12 minutes, but then he didn't, and they had to recreate the Big Bang so the world could go back to normal. This year's finale was "The Wedding of River Song," in which the Doctor was once again going to die on a certain day and time, but then he didn't, and that messed things up in the world, so he had to fake his death so time could go back to normal.

Point 1. In each case, at least part if not most of the tension was predicated on the anticipation of the coming death of the Doctor. If this is your go-to crisis for every series finale, something is wrong. How many times can he die, or almost die, but not really die, or else come back from the dead, before the audience ceases to care? The only time this works is (a) if the program is in real danger of cancelation and the audience isn't sure if it's ending, and/or (b) there's a real chance the actor is leaving and the audience wants to see if there's a new Doctor.

Point 2. In both these finales, the pseudo-science causing the problem was, er . . . Jumbled? Not compelling? The core plots seemed flimsy. They were excuses for the characters to have long-winded conversations about their emotions. If you pay attention, that's how Doctor Who functions: the science is rattled off at light speed while the soapy interactions are prolonged. I don't have a problem with this as a rule; I'm the kind of person who enjoys character development. And if any of these characters were actually developing, I'd be ecstatic. But they all appear to be a bit stuck in their ways, forms and functions these days. River Song will always save the day and Rory will always be the underdog, while Amy usually has to step in and help him. If Rory does happen to rescue someone or something, it's generally by accident, a happy byproduct of his own clumsy existence. For once I'd like to see River Song not so sure of herself. I'd like to see Rory put his foot down in a way that the others can't railroad him. It's not in his established character makeup for him to walk away, but what if he finally did? That would be interesting. Not only because it'd be new for the character, but because the situation that would cause such a fundamentally changed reaction in him would have to be fascinating in and of itself.

Point 3. This is a more general point, but I do wish Moffat and company would give the audience a tad more credit. I mean, the minute they started talking about "the question" (a few episodes back), it was clear to me that they meant the show title. And it's no stretch to go from there to the Doctor's name. (That's old school mythology right there: look at Isis and Set.) So when the question was finally "revealed" at the end of "The Wedding of River Song," it was really more of a confirmation. The excess of drama around it was unnecessary. It smacked of a smugness that was unmerited, rather like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat with an exaggerated flourish while the audience sits there and says, "Uh, yeah. We know. Rabbit. Duh."

Okay, so to sum up: I like Doctor Who and want to continue to like Doctor Who, but in order for that to happen, we need some real shake-ups as opposed to these sort of smoke-and-mirror tactics. Let's get out of the comfort zone here, people. Really surprise us. If he can do that—if he can make us go, "Holy s***, really? I never saw that coming!"—Moffat and his crew will have earned the right to pat themselves on the backs.

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