Tuesday, 1 January 2013

There's Snow Such Thing As Magic

Steven, Steven, Steven. Just this once, can everybody not live, please? I'm getting sick of all this magic, jiggery-pokery, resurrection of the body business. Everyone made a joke out of it with Rory, which you played along with, and it was all fun and games for a while. But it's getting out of hand now. It isn't just a question of avoiding death altogether. Of course, that's what any good adventure story is about - a lot of near misses. No, the problem with you is that you do go there, repeatedly, and then pretend like it never happened. Please remember that half of your audience are children, and a good number of them will have experienced bereavement. If you can't bring yourself to desist then I think you should see a specialist, because quite frankly, it's becoming deeply irresponsible.

To be fair, this year's Doctor Who Christmas special wasn't one of the worst. Despite the fact that Richard E. Grant and, as fewer people seem to have noticed, Ian McKellen, were a bit wasted in it, I actually mostly enjoyed this episode. The Tim Burton-esque Snowmen and evil snowflake faces were cool, Jenna-Louise Coleman surpassed expectations, and the whole thing looked very very twinkly and beautiful, and was all rather fun.

My favourite thing about the episode was the Victorian detective trio, Strax, Vastra and Jenny. I've long been thinking that Madame Vastra deserves her own spin-off series - the new Doctor Who spin-off for grown-ups. After all, it's not like you'd have to try very hard to make it about a million times better than Torchwood. The addition of Strax has now, I think, perfected the team. Anyone who hasn't watched this yet, do it now! It's so funny it hurts.

I was also very pleased to hear that this episode is heralding a long-term change in the Doctor's appearance. So look forward to frock coats and silly hats galore! Costume in general was a strong point of this episode. The detective team looked pretty awesome, and I absolutely I loved Clara's outfits. But, unfortunately, this leads me on to one of my biggest problems with both this show and the series set to follow it.

When I saw in the trailers what looked like the Doctor picking up a Victorian companion, I was ridiculously excited. Finally, I thought, a companion who isn't just a regular eighteen to twenty-five year old from modern-day Britain! Here's someone with an interesting back story, someone who'll shake things up a bit, add a bit of extra comedy as they try to adjust, and maybe even teach the kids (or even the adults) a bit of history. Back in the long-forgotten days of Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert, Doctor Who was actually conceived as a fun way of teaching history and science to children. Over the years of what has now become known as "Old" or "Original Who" there were companions as diverse as a crazy savage warrior lady from another planet, a robot dog, a fellow Time Lord, people from the past and the future - even men who weren't romantically involved with anyone else aboard the TARDIS. But what did you do? You went and ruined it at the last minute, by making Clara and Oswin the same character and, quelle surprise, looks like she's going to be reincarnated as - yes! - a 21st century gal. And of course she got to kiss the Doctor too. Great.

If this was all - if it was just another boring contemporary of mine - then I'm sure I could forgive you. But you just couldn't leave it at that. No, you had to add Clara Oswin Oswald to the pantheon of your ridiculous mythical, magical companions for which literally anything is possible. River Song has been the most irritating example of this so far, but even back into Russell's time, there's been an abundance of stupid plot lines that basically make the whole universe revolve around a particular companion: ooh Rose looked into the heart of the Tardis, ooh Donna is magically linked to the Doctor through the Doctor-Donna Tardis magic business, ooh River is the Doctor's wife and has a time head and has become a Time Lord just because Amy spent time on board while she was pregnant, ooh Rory is an Auton that got magicked back into a real person, and ooh Captain Jack can't die. At least the Doctor responded more appropriately to Jack's predicament. Back then, he was horrified and disgusted by the idea of a person coming back to life. It was wrong, disturbing, Jack was a universal anomaly. Until he wasn't, and resurrection became a Doctor Who norm, even for not particularly significant characters, like the father in last year's Christmas special.

Now, I'm all for pushing boundaries and breaking the mould, and I believe that the only point of having a formula is to see how far you can take it. But rules are still important. Without them, you've got nothing - no plot, no suspense. It stops being clever and interesting and novel, and starts being boring and stupid and just plain unbelievable. If every character is essentially invincible, why the hell should we even care anyway? There's no point at which we're left guessing, at which we're sitting on the edge of our seats flinching even though we know that it will probably be all right in the end because that's the way these things work, because we absolutely know already that nothing can ever happen to these characters. And if it does, it's ok, because we'll still see them again soon, in some form or another. Worse still is that all of this has begun to efface character development. It was ok with Rory, because we already knew who he was before you started killing him all the time. But Clara - well, we know very little about her yet, except that she can't die, and it looks it may well stay that way. Instead of writing characters, you've started writing walking plot points, people who are only interesting for what they do or for what happens to them, rather than for who they are.

I'll give you this, at least: I found this episode less uncomfortably misogynist than things have been for a while. Last year's Christmas special was one of the worst for that, with all its patronising "weak" and "strong" nonsense. Both Amy Pond and River Song were such blatant fantasy figures and you always denied the charges so fervently that it never really seemed worth arguing the toss. I mean, a kissogram? For real? You basically put a stripper in a family show. It's not ok. And all we ever got in return was a stomach-churningly awkward public riposte at the Baftas - not from you, naturally, but from your mate Benedict. The sexism for you is obviously so ingrained that you don't even notice it. Clara - at least so far - seems slightly refreshing. And even if you manage to mess her up, at least we've got Vastra and Jenny now. So, for the present at least, I'm willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Let's hope that Clara Oswin Oswald remains more than just a pretty face.

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