Words cannot begin to describe how disappointed I was with last night’s Doctor Who. I missed the start because I was putting the children to bed, but unless the pre-credits teaser did some explaining I thought this was a poorly plotted disaster. I understand that episode 7 is by Chris Chibnall, previously best known for his appearance on Open Air, although I understand that he was also responsible for the execrable aspects of Torchwood. That latter element may explain things.
I know that given the tight shooting constraints for all concerned, and difficulties in ensuring that the main cast members have a break, means that a Doctor-lite episode is inevitable – but last night took it to a new extreme. No Tennant, no Agyeman – not even a reference. Only Captain Jack was there to appease the fans – but with a character so far removed from both his series 1 Doctor Who and Torchwood persona that it scarcely seemed relevant to the series. I don’t know who’s script editing this series but this inconsistency of characterisation is hugely frustrating.
After the Big Finish story Doctor Who and the Pirates and Buffy did it, I guess a musical episode was inevitable. Even the classic series had a couple of songs: Lynda (Aunty Mabel) Baron in The Gunfighters and the bizarre zoo song in Ghost Light – but each seemed to add something to the general narrative of the story. Last night, a seemingly unrelated mishmash of cheap show tunes and bad pop lyrics sung before Captain Jack and others (I couldn’t determine if it was the Gods of Ragnarok but after the revival of the Macra earlier in the series I guess anything’s possible on the revival of big bads from the past front).
Doctor Who has satirised television and the media before – the wonderful Vengeance on Varos (Doctor Who’s Year of the Sex Olympics, without the sex) looked at a society manipulated by the media – even framing the cliffhanger in a TV literate way and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy parodied the demise of Saturday evening light entertainment through having a former Tiswas presenter playing the spoons and juggling – while an impressionist pretended to be a werewolf. Even the new series has done it in Bad Wolf (although there as last night I think the production team had to much affection for the subjects of satire). Last night’s though was very peculiar – seeming to parody the 1970s Saturday early evening television schedule and, perhaps unfortunately for last night’s episode in particular, harking back to the glory days of Tom Baker. It was as if the Seaside special shows had never gone. But what pithy one line pitch RTD had offered Chibnall I’ve no idea. “Do Seaside Special but really badly.”? Even the more topical satire of an interactive phone in vote seemed an adjunct not properly thought through. Sometimes it seems that new era Doctor Who takes its eye of the plotting ball, letting the ancillary emotional plot line dominate the narrative (School Reunion is a good example). The modern phone-in satire and the idea that the public have any real choice was, I think, intended to deliver the emotional peril and drive in the episode – but with insufficient time to really get to know the characters (the 45 minute format makes this just too difficult) I didn’t feel involved in the apparent peril facing any of the characters. When one was sent to the bowels of hell at the end of the episode (some sort of sequel or connection to The Satan Pit?) I felt nothing. No tears. No regrets. No anxieties. And even within the constraints of the 45 minute format I felt last night’s episode really dragged – feeling much longer than normal (no doubt down to Chibnall).
And as for the “gay agenda”! I’ve been prepared to give RTD the benefit of the doubt on this – despite the sniping on the Outpost Gallifrey forum and elsewhere. But last night seemed to be pushing things somewhat. With the JNT inspired stunt casting of both Graham Norton and Baron Greenback; a bizarrely camp divesting at programme’s end where technicolour coated young men ripped the coat from the back of a plasterer from Rotherham while he was singing. Not even the McCoy era and the camp delights of season 24 could have delivered something quite as ridiculous.
Despite this I still expect the OG boards to be full of “5/5, best episode ever” nonsense. However, for me after last night’s shambles RTD must go. A once great show has been ridiculed one time too many. Let’s hope Tennant and Agyeman can save it next week and be thankful that Michael Grade can’t axe it because he’s now at ITV.