Operation: Platinum Age, Part 1

Victory of the Daleks made some fans cry because it was bolder than them in its love for a TV programme called Doctor Who. Yes, it’s derivative, no it’s not deep on Genesis style philosophy, but that’s because it’s about nostalgia (look who wrote it!). This was the ghost of ‘old’ Doctor Who offering its own manifesto in coalition with the new administration. We were promised a classic, and I think Mark Gatiss delivered. Never forget that we saw one Dalek shoot five Nazi bombers out of the sky without batting an eyestalk – not too long ago, we would have savoured that moment again and again.

So far, the jewel in this season’s crown – perhaps even the crown of all Doctor Who – is the two-part Angels story. I still feel that Blink is overrated, but this exciting, scary and cerebral Dantean nightmare came close to perfection; full of great ideas, thrilling set pieces, fanboy continuity and some very intriguing possibilities for the future. It seems obvious now that after something so uncompromisingly excellent, the following weeks were going to feel flatter…

The arrival of Arthur Darvill’s excellent Rory meant that the scope for ‘comic tension’ in the TARDIS increased, but the intimate wonder of the early episodes gave way to something more farcical. Don’t get me wrong, Vampires of Venice does look lovely. At first, it feels like a lost Hammer film, but once the vampires are exposed as fish from space aesthetic thrill goes limp. Vampires are threat enough, and Toby Whithouse should know this. They shouldn’t be reduced to the level of Krillitanes, however wonderful the CGI. Sadly, it was also CGI that failed to sell the Doctor’s vertical ascent, relying too much on weak direction and good faith.

Which brings me, reluctantly, to Amy’s Choice. While the script clearly sparkled with funny dialogue and big ideas, I couldn’t help but feel they were being wasted on the wrong story. It was always obvious that the Leadworth sequences were a dream (if not the dream), because director Catherine Morshead never managed to sell them as anything else. That the TARDIS sequences turned out to be a dream also was not so much a twist as a cheat. Other than a desperately needed shot of tension, what did this revelation add? Perhaps two TARDIS dreams would have served the idea much more effectively?

Doctor Who - The Dream Lord in Amy's ChoiceUnforgivably, it felt like an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but ‘eccentric’. The TARDIS was the Enterprise and the so-called Dream Lord was Q – just another clichéd ‘space Puck’ – but with considerably less charm. Toby Jones was fine, but somehow managed to annoy the audience as well as the Doctor. The pointless need to reserve his true identity for an undramatic reveal (to the audience, not the characters) negated the possibility of the Doctor’s ‘dark side’ being played by someone more appropriate – like Sylvester McCoy. It would still have made the same internal sense to the regulars.

Admittedly Amy’s Choice was better than most things on the box, but with a pregnant Amy on the publicity stills, this was The Doctor’s Daughter all over again. Pure stunt telly. More criminally, the directorial failure to convince us that Rory’s death was real, or that we ought to care, was caused by an under-utilisation of the television grammar required to sell such moments. In fact, both times I watched it, the whole premise got really boring after about 30 minutes. I genuinely wanted to go and do something else. ‘Pick a world,’ said the Dream Lord, ‘and this nightmare will all be over…’ I nearly picked ITV.

Check back tomorrow to read the rest of Elton’s thoughts and observations on the current of Doctor Who so far…

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Elton Townend-Jones is a journalist, playwright, actor, theatre producer and philosopher. He does ‘80s zeitgeist at www.25yearstoolate.blogspot.com.

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