Thursday, October 6, 2011

Which One Were You Watching?

This past weekend the sixth season finale of (new) Doctor Who aired in the U.K. and America. Don't worry, no spoilers if you haven't seen it yet. I wouldn't want River coming after me!

All season long it has been extremely interesting watching the reactions in the fandom as each episode aired. It often felt to me like the people talking about it had all actually been watching very different shows--at least two, maybe three (at times, even more than that) different versions. To see what I am talking about, check out these three reviews (all spoilerific) of the season finale:

Maryann Johanson at Flick Filosopher

Charlie Jane Anders at io9

Teresa Jusino at Tor

It honestly feels to me like each of those people was watching a totally different show. One loved it, one was almost disgusted by it, and another...wasn't sure. All of these people have, as long as I have been reading them, been self-professed fans of the series and have thoroughly demonstrated their love of the show in their previous writings.

I say it has been interesting, but it has also been a little heartbreaking, because the people who didn't like it really didn't like it, and their disappointment was never just angry kvetching. It felt more like they felt betrayed to be let down so heavily by their once mighty love.

While I can agree that there have been some low points, and some confusing decisions in the storytelling, for the most part I have enjoyed the past season of Doctor Who. I largely think this is because I am just smitten with Matt Smith as the Doctor, and I completely adore Amy and Rory as companions. I have commented before that this season really lives or dies on how much you like River Song. I still think that's true, but there are other factors involved as well.

Quite a few people who liked River Song the first few times she showed up were completely done with her by halfway through this season, and are thoroughly unhappy with the direction in which her character was taken in the main story arc. They feel like she's been weakened or cheapened somehow. Personally, I disagree with this perception. Again, without spoilers, I can accept her story because circumstances revealed throughout the season a) make it reasonable that this is the period of her adventures with the Doctor where she would pop up with more regularity, and b) while we aren't viewing her story backwards, exactly, we are viewing it entirely out of chronological order. Any weakness she has at this point, to me, serves to show how much growth she did go through to become that badass we first meet during Ten's reign. (There's a neat little write-up of the chronology of all of her adventures that we have seen to date here.)

Aside from River Song, however, I think a lot of people never cottoned on to Amy, or to Amy and Rory together. Not because they didn't like Amy Pond (though I can't pretend there weren't those who didn't) but because they expected so much of her, of her relationship with the Doctor, and her relationship with Rory with the Doctor in their lives. Amy was always meant to be a flawed character, I think, and I loved her for it. Those flaws made her lack seem reasonable to me, or at least part of the story. Others didn't see it that way and just felt she was badly written.

Speaking of the writing, well, there's that too. I can't deny that Moffat and the other writers did seem to be a bit all over the place this season, but I never really minded. I'm always a bit more charitable about that stuff when I am enjoying the ride. But for those who weren't? Well, the writing was just unforgivable to them. I get it, I really do, but it makes me sad. I feel like a lot of long time fans (back to the old school days) are starting to give up on the new series. They no longer see anything they recognize in the Doctor and his actions. I don't for one second believe it was Moffat's intention to deviate so far from the series' roots, but it seems like he has. I can't judge this one for myself, since I have only seen the new series, but even I can see how much the Doctor has changed since then. It's not just the regeneration either, his entire outlook seems to have undergone a paradigm shift or three of late. Maybe all of this is just a consequence of being such a long-running show. The longer you go, the more things you try, and the more likely it is that some (or most) of them won't stick to the wall.

It's just...I don't even know. I still love this show, but it seems like the fandom is splintering, and that makes me incredibly sad. Doctor Who fandom has, quite frankly, been one of the coolest ones I've ever experienced. I hate that the fandom no longer seems like a cohesive whole. Don't get me wrong, I haven't seen any cat fights between those who have lost the love and those who haven't--a few spirited debates, sure, but all entirely civil.

I do wonder what else Moffat has in store for us, however, and if he actually has any chance of keeping this show from falling apart. I feel like when he took over he had just realized how universal the love for the Doctor was becoming--that it was no longer just a small campy scifi show for the citizens of the U.K. I think that awareness made him try to cater to a more universal audience, to give the show wider appeal, and in consciously attempting for that, he lost something of what made it so wonderful.

Sigh. Here endeth the rant.

We get a Christmas episode, and then nothing until the fall of 2012, apparently. I find myself hoping that the Christmas episode hearkens back to the show's roots and stays away from all of the big glorious complicated timey-wimey stuff that Moffat has been throwing at us. He does an amazing job with small, simple, contained stories, as he has proved on more than one occasion. Maybe Christmas will restore faith across the fandom.

Then we only have to hope that the wait until next fall doesn't build our expectations up higher than Mr. Moffat can deliver, eh?

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