(December 10 – 16)
I’ve written a huge amount in the ‘Watching’ section this week, so I’ll keep the weekly update to this: how come, when I’ve been buying presents for the last several weeks, I still seem to have so many left to buy? It’s endless …
The final Doctor Who episode of the new season (“The Battle of Pretentiously Unpronounceable”) landed this week, and it confirms my very mixed feelings about the new series.
Let me start by reaffirming that I love the new Doctor, and I love that the series is, once again, totally different to what it was before (and, yet, still Doctor Who). I say this because it’s increasingly hard to pick between those who have valid criticism of the show, and those who need to be ignored because they can’t handle that the Doctor is a woman now, or that she has companions with non-white skin, or that it’s not ‘their’ show any more. (And let’s also ignore those supposed ‘fans’ who simply love to dump on Doctor Who whatever the era or showrunner—God knows we’ve had enough of them over the last few years).
In almost every way, this season has been exemplary. The show looks and sounds incredible, the acting is top-notch, and the focus on character has added a degree of substance that the show has previously lacked.
That doesn’t, however, mean that it’s been perfect.
My one, solitary, single concern about the new season was that Chris Chibnall has written some of the show’s weakest stories in the past. And, unfortunately, this is exactly where the show has suffered this year. We’ve had one outstanding episode (“Rosa”), no stinkers (for a change), and nine other episodes that have levelled out at merely competent or, perhaps worse, have failed to achieve their potential. In short, this season has been full of episodes that are perfectly good, but almost completely forgettable.
There’s been an occasional tendency to throw enough good ideas at the screen to fill two or three episodes, but then fail to properly develop any of them (“It Takes You Away”). Meanwhile, several episodes have started off strongly, only to introduce alien foes that have largely distracted from the proceedings (“The Witchfinders”). There have been other stories that have been fun on the surface, but on a rewatch prove to be riddled head-scratching inconsistencies (“Arachnids In The UK”)
Overall, the most damning complaint about the new season is that it has been … unexciting.
My impression is of a slight lack of confidence and a desire to play it safe, as if Chris Chibnall has gone all out to make the show his own, but then faltered at the last hurdle and decided that you can’t do a Doctor Who stories without aliens, or that throwing ideas at the screen would mask the routine plot holes or occasional character inconsistencies. This was most apparent during the first half of the season, where we saw a run of episodes work through the main Doctor Who tropes and story settings; while the latter half of the season never really escaped from that to find its own feet, nor did it really escalate or build towards anything (except for, perhaps, Ryan and Graham’s fistbump).
I once read (I think) that being a Doctor Who fan was an exercise in preparing for disappointment. This is largely true. The innate charm of the show is what we tune in for. The times when it manages to bring everything together are the moments we wait for. The show is never unequivocally good; there are always strengths, but there are always concomitant weaknesses. Russell T Davies delivered emotion at the expense of consistency; Stephen Moffat stretched the fictional bounds of the show’s concept at the expense of character; now Chibnall is giving us character at the expense of strong storytelling.
The good news is that the ratings have been good, so there’s clearly a lot that’s right about the show. I truly hope that the fact that team is taking a year off (which still seems a bit rich after just one year in the job) means they’ll have the chance to really focus on the storytelling and deliver some scripts that match the quality of everything else about the show.
In other viewing news, I started watching The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina on Netflix this week, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while. So far it’s pretty awesome, but I’ll have more to say when I’ve seen more of the series.
I also laughed through a few more episodes of The Haunting Of Hill House, which continues to be excellent but is almost relentlessly grim. I’m equal parts relieved and disappointed that I only have four episodes left.
For Fridate horror we watched Child’s Play—I fancied a classic eighties horror, and realised that I’d never seen this one. It was fun, and I think it was the sense of humour that’s carried it through the years as I found it a bit threadbare otherwise. Even Chris Sarandon, who captivates the screen in Fright Night, comes across as hokey and uncharismatic here.
On Saturday the Elderbeast was at a sleepover, so I was able to choose my own viewing. Accordingly, I picked the superbly violent Indonesian thriller The Night Comes For Us. I was hoping this would be a spiritual successor to The Raid, and I wasn’t disappointed. The plotting and pacing were a bit shambolic, but the action scenes were magnificent, not to mention insanely gruesome in parts. I’m not, by default a fan of violent movies, but there’s a particular art and choreography in doing fight scenes and outrageous violence well, and this movie delivered that in exemplary fashion.
The movie adaption of Bird Box hits Netflix next week, so I’ve set myself that as a deadline for finishing the book. It’s been easy, relatively enjoyable reading so far—I’ve just not carved out much actual reading time over the last couple of weeks.
I’m approaching halfway though Leviathan Wakes and, again, mostly enjoying it. It’s, perhaps, moving a bit more slowly than I’d like but the characters and scenario are engaging enough to keep me listening.
I’ve got a huge backlog of stuff on my Spotify account. Between the few things I’ve purchased, the two Audible Originals I get each month, and the handful of items I’ve just bought in the end of year sale, I’ve probably got enough to keep me going through next year. I’ll have to work out how to get more listening time in!
Oh, and I’m also finding that I’m missing It, so I’ll probably go back and finish that next, which will take another several weeks …