It is with regret that I must now state that Doctor Who is no longer a flawed but awesome show. As of this past season, it stinks.
I will now tell you why.
1. The Doctor. I don’t like him. It’s hard to know where to put the blame for this. Pinterest is full of that quote by Lynne Thomas: “Eccleston was a tiger and Tennant was, well, Tigger. Smith [is] an uncoordinated housecat who pretends that he meant to do that after falling off a piece of furniture.” Yes yes, ha ha, but that’s a problem. The Doctor is supposed to be competent. He’s not supposed to flail around wildly without a clue. When his companion asks him “What’s the plan?” and he says “No idea”, you’re supposed to believe he’s about to extemporise a brilliant one, not be saved by dumb luck. This latest Doctor genuinely doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, and rather than making him seem appealingly vulnerable or gritty or whatever Moffat was going for, it just makes him look pathetic. And kind of evil for taking innocent young women into dangers from which he has no particular eptitude to save them.
So whether it’s a case of the writers writing to the natural vibe of a hopelessly miscast Doctor, or Matt Smith’s inability to pull off the “I have something up my sleeve” aura, I don’t know. But it seriously weakens the show. People watch shows about awesome, competent people in the hopes that they will indeed be awesome and competent. It’s comforting to know that House is going to diagnose the not-lupus, that Scotty will fix the warp core. Yes, the Doctor is supposed to dash recklessly into danger to some degree, but at a certain point it stops being devil-may-care and just comes across as slapdash.
2. The companions. Apparently they’ve coalesced into a formula: basically “take the things everyone liked about previous companions and bypass character development in the hopes they’ll be an instant hit”.
It’s lazy. Start with Rose (yes yes, I’m talking about New Who, hush up.) The in-universe consensus was that she was special - particularly loyal, caring, peace-loving, brave and so on. This was considered to be a Rare Thing. Then we got Martha, and admittedly nobody liked her; but on paper, she was just the same - they didn’t feel they could go for a character who was not brave, tolerant, loyal and so on, so they gave her most of Rose’s attributes as well. Even Donna, who was something of a risk, had the same traits under her mouthiness - Ten told her one time not to go “eww” to an Ood, and from then on she stepped up and became as neatly, instantly, protectively accepting of other lifeforms as Rose ever was.
Come Amy and Clara, they’ve got it all figured out. A companion must be cute, perky, not intimidated by the Doctor though having a deep, intense respect and loyalty to him; sassy; inclined to boss him about; ridiculously unfazed by any situation which ought to necessitate culture shock or basic caution; physically brave; twinkly-eyed; and so on.
It annoyed me with Amy, but at least her relationship with Rory (despite the obnoxious lucklustre-engagement-retconned-into-sublime-Forever-Love thing) gave her something to go on. Clara? Nothing. She is entirely uninteresting, not because she’s not technically awesome, but because awesome is now passe. There’s nothing to her except her standardised Awesome Companion Attributes. She has no room for character development, because the writers wanted to reassure the audience that she’d be just as cool as the last companions, so they made her perfect from the get-go. So instead of character development they had an arduous, drawn-out, supposed-to-be-tantalising “impossible girl” plot which resulted in no emotional payoff at all - just an “Oh, that’s how it happened. Huh. K.”
And in a recent episode, the demand that Clara remain flippant, unflappable and perky made her come across as kind of psychotic. Remember when the Cybermen had the kids she nannied brainjacked? She made a couple of offhand remarks to the Doctor about it, he assured her they’d be fine, and she proceeded to completely ignore them. That, dear Moffat, is not how you create a sympathetic heroine. If a woman entrusted with the care of minors forgets to glance their way every now and then when their lives are in danger because she’d rather flirt sassily with the Doctor, she is not adorably chipper. She is a sociopath.
3. The plots increasingly make no sense. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this; anyone who’s watched the last season without going “Huh? But isn’t she - wait a minute, how can they - but that makes no sense” at least once an episode needs to take papers in elementary logic and remedial continuity. To be fair, this isn’t a super-new problem. “We must leave Rory and Amy in the past forever because the time rift at that particular time and place is all oobly”, anyone?
4. That episode with the grumpy sun was abysmal. What. What was the point of that. Maybe David Tennant would have had the gravitas to carry off that limburger of a speech about how Old and Mighty and Deep his memories were, and how Much he had Lost; maybe he would have sounded like a self-important blustering buffoon, like Eleven did. And what else did we get out of that episode? Oh, Clara’s compassionate and nice to children. Gosh, just like every other companion ever. Pity she forgot about that when children for whom she was directly responsible were in mortal danger. But hey, she can crinkle her cute little nose!
5. “All of time and space” is getting narrower and narrower. This has always been a problem, but there’s way too much Victorian London floating around at the moment. Steampunk is nice, but so’s variety. When’s the last time we saw a really nifty alien landscape? The abandoned theme park was a cool idea, but underused.
In short: yes, new Who has always had problems. It’s always been inclined to schmaltz. It’s always had characters with unlikely personality traits. It’s always glossed over some of the problems of acclimatising to space/time travel, presumably because there are only so times “it’s bigger on the inside” is new news (or funny, Moffat, even self-referentially); ditto with “I’m the last of my kind”, the Time War, the Doctor’s age and so on. Perhaps that’s a good reason to keep companions round for longer than two seasons. If the Doctor explains basic facts about himself, it’s a rehash which gets boring fast; if he doesn’t, the companions have to just magically be a perfect counterpoint to his angst without actually knowing why, and that doesn’t work.
And now it’s not getting away with its flaws. I don’t find it lovably patchy any more, but genuinely idiotic. I’m keen for the 50th anniversary special, mind you; and hopefully things will pick up with a new Doctor; but I don’t think I want to be strung through another tedious season waiting for the high-concept plot to get to its big reveal. And if we’re introduced to another companion who absorbs the revelation of alien life in half a second flat with a wink and an in-joke about running, so help us all.