Editorial: Doctors, Daleks, and Disappointments

Much like the rest of my co-hosts, last night I watched the premiere of Doctor Who. I guess that should come as no surprise to anybody, especially since I’ve been a fan of the Doctor since I was around 12 years old. That old blue box and the Doctor have seen so many different aliens and met so many wonderful characters, that it’s hard not to fall for a series like it. It was so different from what I saw in Star Trek as a science fiction show, it wasn’t Star Wars by any stretch (though many of the actors from the Empire ran through it), and it was SO different from the time travel curve that I saw in Back to the Future. This man had a simple blue box that was so complex on its inside that it boggled the imagination. I often wanted to know what else he had in there tucked away, or if he’d even remember given it was a different dimension inside. Regardless, Jon Pertwee and the wonderful Caroline John caught my attention. And though it would be months or years between my viewings of the Doctor, I kept up with it as often as I could get my hands on it. Luckily I didn’t have to fight for too long when the local PBS station got the rights to show it yet again. Then I got to see the awesomeness of Jon Pertwee again come to life on the screen in front of me. As the shirt says, you never forget your first Doctor.

When the names of the episodes were revealed this year, I looked at the name “Asylum of the Daleks” with a lot of reservation. There was something fundamentally wrong with that title as it made it sound like someone was keeping some insane Daleks in a prison somewhere. They must be insane, as no Dalek would allow themselves to be kept captive unless there was some sort of plan they were hatching. Once that plan was activated, all hell would break loose and its captors would learn why you don’t keep Daleks as pets. That’s just the way that is, Daleks don’t fear, but are frightening when unleashed. You may never respect the design, but when used properly you can respect the power that those things have. When the Dalek told the Cyberman in the 10th Doctor episode “Doomsday” that they needed only one Dalek to destroy the Cybus-created creatures, they weren’t boasting. The don’t need legions of Dalek to kill anything, taking one down is an accomplishment. If you don’t think so, listen to Big Finish. The Daleks are the undisputed #1 villain that you could throw at the Doctor. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.

Ever since they came back from their nearly two-decade hiatus, I have been overjoyed to see the Doctor. While most people aren’t fond of him, I liked the 9th Doctor for what he was. Actor notwithstanding, I felt a particular understanding with the character after he explained why he’d become so upset and broody all the time. The Time War changed everything in the Doctor Who world, and I understood that. The Time Lords and the Daleks all supposedly burned and it was all the Doctor’s doing. As far as he knew, he’d committed genocide of at least two species and no telling what was still in the middle of all that. Whatever caused the regeneration to happen, it wasn’t something shown to us and it kept him from having a companion for some undisclosed time afterward. It was hard to hear that all of it happened, but then I think about it and it all becomes inevitable that this show down would happen. The Time Lords used the Doctor to strike the first blow in “Genesis of the Daleks” and it would only be a matter of time before the Daleks built enough force to take the Time Lords out. And it subsequent stories, it was obvious how desperate the Time Lords became when this came down. They resurrected the Master and Rassilon to fight it. This is something that I’m very sure that the Doctor and Romana, his former companion, would have vehemently fought against. Where the Time Lords decisions have been concerned, it’s never surprised me how such an intelligent caste of people can be so damned stupid. Regardless, the writing of Russell T. Davies wasn’t much help to this. I understood so many decisions made and knew why things happened the way they did. I didn’t agree with several, such as both of the Master’s appearances, the inability to end a story without some sort of fairy tale moment, the constant need to get the Doctor a date, and the over use of enemies that used to be a special story thing. Instead it’s a seasonal thing which only serves to over-saturate and undermine the special nature of what these things represent. It’s only continued since Steven Moffat took over.

**************************** SPOILERS BEGIN HERE ****************************

 Once more, going back to last night, when the Daleks appeared and actually ask the Doctor to save them, my eyes widened and my expression was fairly contorted in disbelief. The Daleks don’t ask for help. They don’t need to, they are Daleks. They have no concept of beauty, they have no concept of fear, they are hate machines bent on killing whatever gets in their way. I’m all for the evolution of characters and monsters when it’s obvious that the same old tactics aren’t working for the umpteenth time, but there has to be a logical reason behind it. The Daleks don’t need their mortal enemy to take care of an insane asylum for them. Especially one that they would never create in a million years. You aren’t up to snuff, you are dead. I sat there trying to rationalize a reason why they would keep such creatures around. I surmised that something like those Daleks would be a good distraction for other plans. However, as I was reminded last night, it isn’t my job to write this stuff, it’s theirs. This goes back into the evolution making sense thing, if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t happen. They had the one Dalek moment where one feared and apparently mutated upon Rose Tyler touching its casing in the episode “Dalek”. I gave credence to that only because it was a sole survivor that went through Rassilon knows what before landing on Earth. I’d love to know what, but there you have it. One inferior Dalek that would’ve died in any other circumstance. Legion of Daleks do this, no… No, I don’t think so.

Oswin was a great character. Why she was made a Dalek to begin with is still not overly clear to me. They knew she was a genius and so they mutated her, but she was so smart that she learned to hack their systems. She was also clearly not in her right mind because she couldn’t handle the fact they turned her into a Dalek. Seriously though, it didn’t take me long to deduce that was going to be the case. I tried not to believe it, but there it was. They did what they’ve done with the Cybermen in previous episodes. She was able to hack the entire Dalek network and make the Daleks forget. I realize it was for this reason that the Daleks wanted the Doctor to deal with them. However, the truly weird part to me is that a la Return of the Jedi, the force field generator on the planet has to be turned off down on there, because the Daleks aren’t smart enough to devise a way to turn it off themselves and bombard it. They are the superior beings, by their stand point. Their intellect is bar none, and they can’t do this thing? I can take from this that somehow and some way that Oswin’s control was detected previous to this and they were too afraid to get near there for fear that she would do something to them? This would be a really fun story if I didn’t understand a thing about the Daleks. It’s like watching the FOX Doctor Who movie. It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense to the Daleks when you know what one is.

Skaro’s appearance shocked me as well. From what I was to understand the planet was burned to ash and set inside the time lock so that it would never return. Now, I’m not going to go overboard on this, because that planet has a bad habit of showing up time and again after its destruction. All I can say is that it’s another one of those rule things that seems to shift. Didn’t much understand the need for a huge Dalek statue either. Daleks don’t give into vanity and there shouldn’t have been anything human enough on that planet to have need of a demoralizing site like that. Not that they would need it considering they would likely have Daleks ON the planet to begin with.

There’s much more I could say to this, but it comes down to one real point with me; disappointment. I know that the people on the show understand the characters and monsters of the universe, but they continually show a disregard for that in order to create something that they feel will fit the current mold of television. In some cases it comes across like a CW drama vs. the Doctor. There’s enough there to make it seem like Doctor Who, but the constant reminders of Rory and Amy’s relationship gets old after a fashion. It hurts to say that, because I like both characters. It took me awhile to warm up to Rory, but when I saw his devotion to Amy at the end of Matt Smith’s first season, I was sold on the character. However, it comes up at the most inopportune times. It wasn’t time to start a shouting match when you’re in the middle of that much danger! Especially when the Daleks may hear you and you won’t have to worry about the conversion process that you might already be suffering.

What’s further disappointing is that Moffat himself has said that:

“a television series which embraces both the ideas of parallel universes and the concept of changing time can’t have a continuity error – it’s impossible for Doctor Who to get it wrong, because we can just say ‘he changed time – it’s a time ripple from the Time War'”

If I take this at face value, it’s a sloppy way of saying that they can change things on a constant basis and call it right.  To me, it undermines the Doctor’s efforts entirely.  I could take it as a joke, as he was trying to get a few laughs from the crowd.  However, it’s been made plainly clear that this is a belief that has stuck with them through the show.   If you want a return to classics, then put the war to rest and allow the man the chance to explore and enjoy. Moffat’s episodes previous to his running Doctor Who made me love his writing style. Since taking over, when dealing with bigger things, I tend to feel less enthused by the season. I hope this changes, but I fear that if it does it will be in the wrong direction. To me, it comes across for new fans of the series vs. those of us who tend to like the older. I’m with Troy, in that I wish they would hand the reigns over to Big Finish and allow them to tell the story of the Doctor and undo a great many things that have been put into place. If only sonic screwdrivers were magic wands….