Doctor Who has graduated from EastEnders in Space to Breaking Bad in Space

I wish Doctor Who (Saturdays, BBC One) would just calm down and get on with it. It’s self-obsessive and attention-seeking. Every episode reveals something about the Doctor that is supposed to blow our minds. The companion dies only to be revived 10 minutes later. The world is blown up. The Tardis turns into a dolphin, etc. The writers are determined to make us feel wonder, forgetting that this is the job of David Attenborough. Science fiction is supposed to make us stop and think. Doctor Who worries that if it pauses for thought then we’ll all change channels.

A pity, because there’s a lot of talent on display. The show is a thousand times better since Peter Capaldi brought maturity to the role – no longer is the Doctor a wearisome child on a Ritalin high. Michelle Gomez is brilliantly cast as the Master, all googly-eyes and sociopathy. And the plots are suddenly a lot darker. The wretched soapiness of the Russell T Davies years has been squeezed out, along with the PC preaching. “Everyone’s intersex on Mars!” That sort of thing.

But still the show isn’t science fiction.

It’s graduated from EastEnders in Space to Breaking Bad in Space – but I’d still label it melodrama. It’s when I tell you that the old Who – the 20th century Who – once devoted eight episodes to exploring the concept of entropy then you can see that the dedication to philosophy and hard science is gone.

It returns from time to time, but after a few seconds of intellectual consideration someone hits the panic button. And the Doctor appears on a tank in a pair of sunglasses playing an electric guitar (this actually happens).

It’s not that this is bad TV or unwatchable TV. It’s simultaneously apocalyptic and disposable. When someone says: “The world is about to end!” as often as they do in Doctor Who, then they begin to sound like the boy crying wolf. Tension evaporates. Boredom sets in. And the show starts to feel like a video game we’ve played all too often. Some of us wonder if it might not be time to turn off television and pick up a good book.

This article first appeared in the Catholic Herald magazine (9/10/15)


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