My choice not to review “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” is partly due to the awkwardness created by BBC America making the idiotic decision to take a one-week hiatus over Memorial Day Weekend, but I’ve also got to be honest: I didn’t think they were very good.
I saw a Twitter conversation go by, I think involving Jeremy Mongeau, and it really captured what I think the problem was. He made the argument, if memory serves me correctly, that serialization has actually damaged the show through the first half of the sixth series: everything has been so caught up in laying groundwork for future events or setting up the seasonal arc that it doesn’t really have time to breathe (or, if you’re “The Curse of the Black Spot,” was kind of just too dull to stand out).
Even if we argue that the serial elements have remained intriguing (which I would), and even if “The Doctor’s Wife” was a really compelling standalone that spoke to overarching themes in a strong fashion (which it was), “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” were like a narrative fetchquest. The Doctor needed to learn more about the flesh, and therefore traveled to where it first originated in order to better understand it, and a story had to be created around that particular event. It just seemed like Matthew Graham’s script never quite managed to make the characters compelling enough, implying a sense of depth instead of actually showing it to us.
Did the two-parter lay some important groundwork for explaining the Doctor’s “death” back in the premiere? Absolutely. And did it quite effectively transition into the reveal that Amy has been flesh since the beginning of the season? Yes. But it becomes a two-hour exhibit in exposition when “A Good Man Goes to War” begins, a too-long detour in a season that seemed to lose its momentum. Mind you, Steven Moffat regains that momentum in about three minutes and forty seconds, give or take a minute or two, and “A Good Man Goes to War” is a stellar effort that benefits from having some truly substantial exposition to relay.
It also tells a compelling story to go along with it, one that we can be certain will resonate both in the fall and beyond.
It isn’t exactly news that Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who is expressly interested in the poetic: between The Girl Who Waited, The Boy Who Waited, and the tragic love story of the Doctor and River Song, Moffat’s world is filled with characters whose relationships are defined by strong emotional hooks. Even when the show built towards the fifth series’ grand finale, watching as the Doctor is slowly erased from time as he rewinded through the events of the series, it all turned into one big poetic moment where the “Old, New, Borrowed and Blue” story began to make so much more sense.
“The Doctor’s Wife,” scripted by acclaimed author Neil Gaiman (my relationship to whom I will discuss after the jump, is a truly wonderful outing on a large number of levels, but it’s the poetry of it all that makes it work. There’s a point early on where the Doctor can’t come up with a proper analogy to explain their location “outside of the universe” to Amy and Rory, and that’s very much part of Moffat’s approach: we don’t need to know what it means or how it works, all we need to know is what it means.
Or, rather, all we need to know is that we enjoyed the bloody hell out of it even though we’ve still got a whole lot of questions.
[Note: while this does not air until a bit later this evening in the U.S., I’m embracing my independence from any one particular country to post my review when it’s finished so that those who watched in the U.K. can discuss it in a more timely fashion. Accordingly, if you want to avoid spoilers, don’t keep reading.]
It’s the time of year when writing about television on the side must take a back seat to writing about television in an academic (and, over at the A.V. Club, “professional”) fashion, and so it’s unfortunate that a weekend filled with paper writing had to collide with “Day of the Moon.”
In truth, I could probably handle writing about an episode like next week’s, where the show returns to its isolated adventures with only subtle nods towards a larger serialized storyline. I could evaluate the appeal of the situation (which next week features Downton Abbey’s own Hugh Bonneville, I believe), consider the ongoing character dynamics between the Doctor and his companions, and then be merrily on my way.
With “Day on the Moon,” I could actually be here for a day. It’s a compelling episode, filled with enough good ideas to carry three episodes of a lesser show, but it also ends up with enough loose ends that actually going through and analyzing them in a satisfactory fashion would be impossible given my current time crunch.
But, I do want to make a few points about the episode, given that I am sure there will be oodles of speculation to be done over the course of the season regarding what we saw here and given the fact that I very much enjoyed it.
“Human beings – I thought I’d never get done saving you.”
As Doctor Who enters its sixth “series” (which I refer to as season above to avoid confusion with similarly titled posts on the blog), I find myself an an interesting crossroads.
As a viewer, “The Eleventh Hour” was my first experience with the start of a series (if not my first experience, as I watched the relevant Moffat-oeuvre episodes beforehand), and that episode served a very clear introductory function for Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor. It was also a contained episode, extending beyond the traditional running time to complete a single story alongside the introductions of both a new Doctor and a new companion.
By comparison, “The Impossible Astronaut” finds Matt Smith’s Doctor well-established, and despite the “official” addition of a second companion there is not much groundwork to be laid with either Amy or Rory given their importance to the previous series. It is also the first part of a two-part premiere, meaning that its full meaning has not yet been fully understood, and its role in shaping the remainder of the series remains fairly abstract.
When I suggest I find myself at a crossroads, it is because “The Impossible Astronaut” is a test of sorts for those of us who are new to the Who, so to speak. With the introductions out of the way, Steven Moffat has wholly embraced the series’ atemporality and put together a premiere which finds poetry in tragedy and tragedy in just about everything, breaking rules that we didn’t know existed and inventing rules that we can’t be sure exist. It renders viewers like me, those of us who only recently jumped on the bandwagon, not unlike the Doctor’s companions, forced to place our trust in Moffat’s vision while the questions pile up and the speculation overflows.
It says a great deal about the success of the fifth series that I barely blinked at “The Impossible Astronaut,” slipping easily into the giddy theorizing that this show can inspire and fully embracing my deep appreciation for something that I only started watching a year ago.
My “first” experience with Doctor Who, at least more than off-handed glimpses of the Eccleston era, was “Waters of Mars.” I received the screener, watched the episode, and sort of decided that I should see more of what the series had to offer. My next step was, not shockingly, “The Next Doctor,” the first of the four Tennant Specials of which “Waters of Mars” was part.
It was my first, and to date “only,” experience with the Doctor Who Christmas Special, an interesting example of television form. They’re a sort of palate cleanser, a way to transfer smoothly from one series to the next: there’s no major plot developments, no huge shifts in character relationships, serving instead as a reminder of how much you like the series and how much you are anticipating its return later in 2011.
And yet, while “The Next Doctor” was definitely a Christmas episode, it was very much affected by the Tenth Doctor’s soul searching, a sort of existential crisis which made that Christmas special a transition into a very particular journey of identity and meaning in the specials which followed. By comparison, “A Christmas Carol” is unconcerned with all of it: writing his first such special, Steven Moffat uses Christmas as a source of whimsy and magic, heartbreak and memory, and a wonderful bit of storytelling from which it seems the season to follow will draw momentum if not necessarily inspiration.
Although I wouldn’t mind if it took some of that too, considering how much I enjoyed this return to Who-Ville.
[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]
In making my various lists, it was difficult to determine just exactly what Sherlock is. I decided at a certain point that TV Movies/Miniseries wouldn’t be included in my lists, which means that Temple Grandin and The Pacific will just have to settle for their respective Emmy Awards, and yet what do we call Sherlock? Sold as part of Masterpiece Theater in the United States, and yet very much sold more as a series in Britain (and Canada as well, more or less), its weekly format suggest a short-run series while its running times relate more to Prime Suspect or, to use an American example, Tom Selleck’s Jesse Stone movies.
However, whatever term we end up using to define Sherlock, I’m comfortable considering “A Study in Pink” as a 90-minute pilot for a television series, and thus comfortable with considering “A Study in Pink” one of the 10 best episodes of the year. It’s the one installment in the series which feels as if it needs its running time, using the additional room to great effect in drawing its two lead characters, finding its point of view, and creating a charming yet haunting world in which Sherlock Holmes can enter the twenty-first century.
Cultural Catchup-Lite: Parenthood, Doctor Who, Community
November 28th, 2010
While I had quite a bit of grading to do over this holiday weekend, my lack of family commitments (being Canadian, and all) meant that the holiday was also a chance to catch up on various things related more to the blog.
First, I’ve finally created a link to my Master’s thesis, which has been “available” via PDF for a while now on Acadia’s library website. Perhaps I just wanted to create some distance between the project and my new endeavor south of the border, but I have been remiss in adding the link to the “About” page. In short form, the thesis is an investigation of national identity in fictional representations of the Canadian small town, with chapters on Canadian television series Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie. You can find the Abstract for the thesis on this page, while you can directly download the PDF here. Also, if you’re new and never visit my “About” page, my undergrad thesis on medieval Romance and Battlestar Galactica is available here if you are so inclined.
Second, I got to some of my viewing backlog, which means I’ve got some brief thoughts about some of those series. While you’ve already read my thoughts on the conclusion of Angel’s second season, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the second season of Parenthood, Doctor Who’s “The Girl in the Fireplace,” the third and fourth episodes of The Walking Dead, as well as the first season of FX’s Archer.
I also asked my Twitter followers what else they might want to hear more about, and so will dutifully comment on Community (although in less detail, for the sake of my productivity); I’ll be saving thoughts on Fringe’s third season (which has been really good, and structurally fascinating) and Terriers’ first season for later (and by later I mean Wednesday in the case of Terriers, as I’ve seen the finale and will be writing about it and the season at that time).
Similarly, I will probably keep the Walking Dead thoughts for a brief review of tonight’s episode (which I have not seen yet), and might wait to review Archer S1 when the DVD hits on December 28th (I was watching on Netflix); however, thoughts on Parenthood, “The Girl in the Fireplace,” and Community after the jump.
Last week, Craig Ferguson dedicated almost an entire episode to a television show. Now, this isn’t entirely uncommon in television talk shows, but it’s normally someone like Oprah searching for the zeitgeist by introducing the cast of Glee or something. Ferguson, meanwhile, wasn’t chasing the zeitgeist so much as he was chasing the T.A.R.D.I.S., dedicating an entire hour to British sensation Doctor Who, which remains just a cult favorite on this continent (you can see Ferguson’s interview with Matt Smith on YouTube).
It was a nice reminder that Doctor Who’s fifth “Series” was one of this year’s television highlights, regardless of which side of the pond you may be on. As someone who had seen only bits of pieces of the series in the past, the arrival of a new Doctor (played by Smith, Ferguson’s guest of honor) and companion in Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond seemed like as good a time as any to jump into the phenomenon.
BBC America was kind enough to send along a copy of the Blu-Ray – which was released on November 9th and can be purchased at the BBC America Shop – for review purposes, but unfortunately it was sent to my Canadian address. However, that’s sort of ideal, as it means that my brother might be able to experience what I did when I chose to dive into the series at this “late” point.
First of all, I wondered whether we really needed another take on Sherlock Holmes considering that Guy Ritchie’s movie (which I thought was solid, but unremarkable) was released only seven months ago. Now, before you jump on me, I became aware in doing some research that the original pilot for this series was shot long before the movie debuted, but considering how late the series is arriving it was nonetheless the first thought which popped into my mind.
Second, does Steven Moffat really need to write for another eccentric problem solver? The Doctor is, in many ways, a detective in his own right, along with being both an outcast and a genius, so one can’t help but feel that Moffat is developing a type (albeit one that, in the case of the Doctor, I quite enjoy).
And third, and this is speaking from my North American experience, television is littered with series which owe much of their structure to Conan Doyle’s work. House has both the eccentric problem solving and the Holmes/Watson dynamic in House and Wilson, The Mentalist has the eccentric, observational crime solver with the archnemesis, and every single crime procedural on television has the whole “crime solving” part of things.
While it may have been received differently had it made it out before Ritchie’s film, or before Moffat took over Doctor Who, the fact remains that Sherlock is emerging in an environment where it feels “unnecessary” for those of us not entirely familiar with the source material, which can lead one’s mind to words like “disposable” (which, for North American viewers accustomed to 22-episode seasons, isn’t helped by the short three-episode order). So, it is perhaps that much more impressive that I really enjoyed Sherlock, a sentiment shared by the British audience which helped it garner some pretty substantial ratings which could get it a second season late next year.
It’s a well-made show building from a well-made premise, which may not make it “necessary” but which certainly makes it something I am glad to have on my television, and hope to have on my television in the future.
Almost two weeks after it aired, I know that I’m late to the party in regards to the Sherlock finale, so I’m going to cut right to the chase: while not quite as strong as “A Study in Pink,” largely because of a focus on plot as opposed to character, “The Great Game” nonetheless sends the series off in a compelling fashion which bodes well for the series’ return sometime late next year.