Apocalypse and Falling Silence

I'm nipping back in to Sycorax Pine (although there's a huge pile of grading and course prep giving me a very cynical look out of the corner of its collective eye while I do so) to say a few words about last night's season finale of Doctor Who, to which I'm now totally devoted.  If you don't watch the show, you should (start with the newest Doctor, Matt Smith, and then go back to watch from the beginning of this contemporary reboot, with Christopher Eccleston and then David Tennant.).  But you probably will find what follows to be too elliptical to be truly spoilery.  If you do watch the show, let me know what you think.  (Be as spoilery as you want in the comments, and avoid them if you're spoiler averse.)

I thought this was a solid, if unextraordinary finale.  Unextraordinary, of course, only compared to the episodes the prodigiously clever Steven Moffat used to craft back in the days when he had all the time in the world to work on a double-ep. The characterization's what's paying the price for this current pace of apocalyptic plotting (the end is nigh! Silence will fall when the question is asked!), with less time than necessary spent on the Doctor's relationship with River, and the companions being shunted off to the side more and more as the season develops.  The companionate relationship with River is now wholly perplexing (for us as for them, I think, but their perplexity could be a lot more interesting than it is right now). And Amy was right to call shenanigans on the whole "luckily it all happened in an alternate time stream, so it carries no ethical consequences" line that the show has often taken.  Alternate timelines are a cheap out, and forgetting about them does the characters and audience a disservice.

I do love the Silence, though. Love 'em to death. (Love who to death?)

What happened in last night's ep of Dr. Who does remind me of a structural problem I have with seasons of True Blood, in which an interesting premise is often established in the premiere, but then pushed to the point of aporia by the finale. The problem is that (for me) the chaotic disintegration of a world (apocalypse) is much less narratively interesting than the character studies of real, detailed lives placed under pressure by the insupportable inciting incident. After all, apocalypse in these two shows is often an emptying out of detail, place and character. A collapse of history.

I begin to worry that this means I've been reading too much nineteenth-century drama.

2 Responses so far.

  1. cece says:

    I finally saw it myself the other night. I disagree with you on where to start watching (I started with Eccleston and don't regret it) but agree with you on the finale.

    I loved your perspective on apocalypse. I'm wondering what you think of how Buffy used the threat of apocalypse. Personally, I always thought they did a good job of integrating character studies with the larger threat.

    Computer running out of juice so I'll post or talk to you more later. Miss you.


  2. We sort of did both: we saw the first couple of Matt Smith Angel episodes in London, were intrigued but also confused and alienated, so went back to Eccleston reboot when we were back Stateside with Netflix streaming. Eccleston was, in many ways, a great Doctor and a great place to start for the uninitiated. But man is his world cheesy and low budget.

    I think, as a result, that the Matt Smith era (with its high production values and impeccable first episode) is a great place for potentially skeptical newbies to start, because it is so obviously smart and polished, and doesn't ask you to sit through crap episodes to get to the good moments. If you start at the beginning of any Doctor's tenure, you get a little primer in the universe, which a newbie definitely needs, as the Doctor gets used to his new form and his new companion learns about the Tardis, time travel, Daleks, etc. (The fact that Rose carries over between Doctors makes it rather hard to start with Tennant, sadly.)

    I'm going to have to think more about Buffy and an apocalypse. What's remarkable about that show is that virtually ever season had the apocalyptic structure, but as I remember it, Whedon used it to deepen the character stakes rather than evacuate them. In fact, it became a wry meta-joke (and a source of exhaustion and despair for Buffy) that they were all on this endless apocalyptic gerbil wheel, one whose cycle (in the beginning) lined up nicely with the academic year (like Harry Potter). So basically apocalypse=high school. Every year everything moves towards terrible crisis, you think you've overcome it, and the next year you have to start all over again.

    I think this calls for a rewatch of Buffy. It's been at least five years, I think.

Leave a Reply