Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

The Awesome Spectacular

Remember back when I wrote about the impending series finale of Breaking Bad, and how I was afraid of the writers/producers giving in to the hype and screwing things up? No? You can read it here .
Anyway, this is on my mind because of the last two episodes of that fabled show from across the pond, Doctor Who.
Two momentous events happened in the last two months. First, right before Thanksgiving in America, the show celebrated its 50th anniversary with an episode called, “The Day of the Doctor”. A brief round of applause, please. Fifty years for a non-news program or talk show is insanely impressive (and we’ll excuse the 16-year hiatus the show had between 1989 and 2005), and showrunner Stephen Moffat no doubt felt pressured into doing something big. Now, when the episode opened, I had immediate misgivings, as we quickly found ourselves in a long sequence that featured the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) hanging from the TARDIS as it was being dangled beneath a helicopter over London. “Oh, boy,” I thought. “This is going to suck.” It had the feel of BIG TELEVISION EVENT SPECTACULAR! which meant, in my mind, that it was likely to be big on spectacular special effects, guest appearances, and other Cool Stuff, but short on the stuff that makes for a good program: story.
There were indeed some spectacular effects (well, maybe not spectacular; this is Doctor Who, after all, which can be almost as cheesy as original Star Trek), great guest appearances, and other Cool Stuff, and the story was sufficiently big, if not always sensible (this is Doctor Who, after all), but in the end I was quite pleased with the effort. Matt Smith, David Tennant, and John Hurt had great rapport as three versions of the Doctor (and I had forgotten how much I like David Tennant); Billie Piper did a really nice job as The Moment–I’m glad they didn’t decide to simply resurrect her as former companion Rose; and it was great how they found a way to pay homage to all the old Doctors. I do have a major quibble with what I feel is a whitewashing of the Doctor, in a way, but this is not the time or place for that. Again, the episode was enjoyable to watch.
And then there’s the Christmas special. The Christmas special this year was notable for being the final episode for Matt Smith as The Eleventh Doctor, and the introduction of Peter Capaldi as Twelve. Did I enjoy it? Ye-e-s-s. But I also felt that the episode succumbed to the need to make it a BIG TELEVISION EVENT SPECTACULAR! In my mind it suffered seriously from Kitchensinkitis as Moffat threw in everything: Daleks! Cybermen! The crack in the wall from Amy’s bedroom! Weeping Angels! The Silence! Time Lords from another dimension! ***spoiler alert***Amy!***end spoiler*** The problem was, most of these things were there and gone. They didn’t feel like integral parts of the episode’s narrative; rather, they felt like things that were thrown in to make the story feel more Epic. It was mostly enjoyable, but I feel that, in their efforts to make it memorable, they failed to deliver on the promise. It was too crowded with stuff.
Well, I suppose we’ve got a couple of years to think about a proper send-off for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Maybe they’ll be able to apply that old principle, “Less is more.”
Did you watch either of the Doctor Who holiday spectaculars? What did you think?

15 Responses

  1. No but I like how dedicated you are to the quality of the show. I'm excited about the series finale for Nikita on the CW. While I wished they made season 4 more than just six episodes I can't wait to see how it all ends. Let's hope they also keep the 'less is more' adage as they go out with a big story spectacular bag. Hopefully.

  2. I loved them both. I thought the crashing of elements together in the Christmas special was brilliant. They have to have outlined everything from the very beginning of the Doctor Who reboot. Almost everything was leading to this point. There were things happening behind curtains that we couldn't possibly guess, but they were all related. For years the Silence didn't really make sense, but now it makes perfect sense. "Silence will fall when the question is asked." And the Time Lords were the ones making the cracks. They had to be made by someone. Brushing the issue aside would have been nonsensical. Instead, they had a plan from the beginning (at least, that's my guess). Yes, they shoved it all in, but that's because they had always intended for them all to coincide. Mary Robinette Kowal stated on Writing Excuses that the closer to one another plot arcs are resolved, the higher the emotional effect. I think the Doctor Who writers really used that rule-of-thumb well. Anyway, Happy New Year, sir.

  3. I have not watched Doctor Who (although I did watch Torchwood), but my daughter has assured me that I will…as soon as we finish watching Supernatural. She has her priorities!

  4. I've noticed that TV seasons are getting shorter and shorter, especially the cable ones. Not necessarily a bad thing, unless you're expecting a longer season. Hope Nikita goes out well.

  5. Strangely enough, I didn't find the emotional payoff to be that great (and I like Matt Smith–I think he's done a good job as the Doctor). It was better on a second viewing (I did that last night). And I am also impressed with how some things fit together. Still, it felt like too much packed in for my liking. Just a matter of taste, I suppose. Thanks for commenting, Patrick!

  6. I don't watch Supernatural, but my daughter is nuts about it. Where will she be starting you on Doctor Who? All the way at the beginning, or somewhere else? (I started with the Christopher Eccleston Doctor, 2005)

  7. Not all the way to the beginning, that much I know. I think she said the Dr. where Captain Jack appears (I like Captain Jack). I'm not holding my breath for it, though. Every season we seem to have a couple of years of Supernatural to watch (since the show is still on the air) and we don't seem to be gaining any ground! Finding time we're both free hasn't been easy.

  8. I enjoyed both but feel the regeneration went on far too long. There were a few nice moments were it could have happened, but didn't (during the dialogue). It didn't have the same "end of an era" feel that Tennant had and Matt deserved.

    The 50th though was a fantastic story will some really great acting too.

  9. It's funny, Eleven had that 'reset' after unleashing all that regeneration energy, but I don't recall the others really getting that. Well, had to give him his farewell moment.

    I agree with you on the 50th. Thanks for commenting!

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