Archive for peter capaldi

Doctor No

Posted in Americans watching British TV, British Shows on American TV, TV Criticism, TV History with tags , , , , , on September 20, 2015 by Tom Steward

Last night, new episodes of Doctor Who began airing in Britain and America. This is not a review of the season opener because I didn’t watch it. I didn’t watch it, because for the first time since the series re-launched in 2005, I won’t be watching Doctor Who. I don’t – like some fans – have an aversion to Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. In fact, I’ve said here before I think he’s probably the best actor to have played the role. This also isn’t the first time I’ve had serious issues with the direction that the showrunners have taken the series in, or some of the casting. And I’m not so naïve as to think that the ‘classic’ series – which I greatly prefer – wasn’t at times just as unwatchable as the new series is today. So why am I boycotting it now? Well, it’s for the same reasons that I don’t eat at McDonalds or (knowingly) use Nestle products. There are just too many reasons not to.

'What do you mean you're not watching?'

‘What do you mean you’re not watching?’

The main reason, of course, is Steven Moffat. Still showrunner and head writer after six years – with his creative control increasing annually – Moffat’s scripts and season arcs are incoherent, ramshackle rubbish and his dialogue is formed of soundbyte-friendly non-sentences. You can count the good ideas he’s had during his time on Doctor Who on one hand, and yet they do the job of keeping him afloat while he peddles plagiarism of everything from Source Code to That Mitchell and Webb Sound inbetween lightbulb moments. That’s before we get on to his politics. Moffat is incapable of writing strong women without sexualising them, sabotaging the progress made by breakthrough characters like transgender Timelady Missy with nymphomaniacal nonsense. His treatment of the material is invariably tasteless and perverted, encompassing romanticized suicides, desecration of dead Who actors like Nicholas Courtney, and treating time travel as some sort of incestuous gangbang! It was bad enough when this was in the name of change, now it’s billed as a return to the classic formula.

Much as I would like to, I can’t blame Moffat for all that’s wrong politically with Doctor Who. The series has had two women writers since 2005, a record easily beaten during the classic era which is often held up for being unfair to women and stretching back to the tenure of showrunner Russell T Davies, who supposedly opened the show up for a female audience. That said, Moffat did do a Lorne Michaels when it came to the issue of hiring women as writers, claiming that the entire gender did not have the appetite (nor presumably the talent) to take on the job much as the Saturday Night Live did when confronted with the absence of women of colour on the late-night comedy institution. Missy is not enough of a concessionary flip-flop, and certainly not when she’s this badly written. The Bechdel Test and various academic studies have singled out the sexism of Moffat’s era, though Davies set the idea of women talking adoringly about The Doctor in motion.

If I’m being honest, it’s actually the way that Moffat has tried to rectify the female companion’s Adam’s Rib relationship to The Doctor that has made Doctor Who so difficult for me to enjoy. Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara has a domestic and work sphere independent from The Doctor and his TARDIS, albeit one that still centres around her romantic interest in another man. The upshot of this is that one of the most shoddily conceived – and irritatingly portrayed – lead characters in the series’ history is at the heart of the concept in virtually every episode. There’s nothing innovative about The Doctor being The Companion’s sidekick, for that’s the status William Hartnell had when Doctor Who began, and it is a good bit of Bechdel-proofing, but for Clara to get that privilege – and, crucially, not Amy, the previous companion – is a kick in the teeth. For the past couple of seasons, Moffat has been working back from Clara’s original introduction as a mere plot device, and still can’t make her sufficiently human.

A Missied opportunity!

A Missied opportunity!

It’s no surprise that the creator of Sherlock and writer of The Adventures of Tintin re-boot can’t organize a piss-up in a brewery when it comes to Doctor Who. Steven Moffat has inherited perfect pop fiction formula time after time, and always drops the ball. So when he finally goes – and providing Jenna makes good on her recent promise – I’ll come back to the best concept on TV. Because we Whovians live to be disappointed.

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In With The Who

Posted in Americans watching British TV, British Shows on American TV, TV Acting, TV History, Unsung Heroes with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2014 by Tom Steward

Here we go again! In August, Peter Capaldi replaced Matt Smith in the iconic title role of the British family science-fiction series Doctor Who, a programme that’s changed actors more times than a Mindy Project midseason re-tool. Capaldi is joint-oldest to play the part with the Sean Connery of Doctors William Hartnell. His age, along with his otherworldly physicality and fannish investment in the history of Doctor Who have led some to assume that Capaldi will resurrect some of the mystery, mastery and manipulation seen in the earliest incarnations of the character. While this is undoubtedly the case, it forgets that Matt Smith’s performance – an actor nearly half Capaldi’s age – was always pushing in that direction, even if the writing for him was not. Smith had managed to convince us that age was no obstacle to playing The Doctor. Now it seems the show is happy to pass The Eleventh Doctor off as some reckless young buck to help viewers come to term with an older Twelfth. It’s double standards, and a very dangerous game!

Who Needs You?

Who Needs You?

Capaldi is probably the best actor to have played the role, and I don’t say that lightly. Unlike Christopher Eccleston – another actor I admire greatly – he also seems a comfortable fit for the role. But essentially this is a repeat of what Doctor Who did in introducing Colin Baker as The Sixth Doctor; a more sinister, less personable variation on the character. Despite Baker’s best (and loudest!) efforts, it was a sea change they were never really able to pull off. So is the show making the same mistakes as before? Short answer: No. Long answer: They’re making different mistakes. This time, the writers have remembered to round out the edges of the character early on, rather than leave character development for a time that may never come. However, somebody needs to tell Steven Moffat that the moral ambiguity of a character is best represented in their actions not in constantly talking about how morally ambiguous they are. Hence, genre pieces like ‘Robot of Sherwood’ and ‘Time Heist’ have been this season’s most successful episodes.

We’re halfway through Capaldi’s first season and it’s hard not to notice the discrepancy between the quality of his performance and the material he’s given. As the absurdist, Godot-like vignette between The Doctor and a Victorian tramp in debut ‘Deep Breath’ indicated, Capaldi’s actorly flow offers new dramatic possibilities for the programme (and puts the show’s use of Eccleston to shame!). But there’s only so much even the finest actor can do when compelled to speak in Moffat-ese baby talk for the majority of episodes, although the head writer has shown some restraint in contracting his idiomatic ‘thingy’ to ‘thing’. Moffat presents the biggest obstacle to Capaldi’s success. Now micro-managing most of the season’s scripts, in addition to several of his own sole pen, the same laziness and hackery that beset Smith’s tenure is already starting to permeate Capaldi’s after only five hours of television. While Capaldi is completely fresh, Moffat’s schtick after five years as showrunner is tired, and tiresome; never more evident than in laborious, tenuous allusions to a familiarly mechanical-looking season arc.

Waiting for Who?

Waiting for Who?

There’s dead weight in the cast too. I sincerely hoped that the character and performance of companion Clara would improve once she was released from her status as story point in the ill-advised ‘impossible girl’ arc. But between the clipped, garbled diction of the dialogue and exponentially annoying inflections of actress Jenna-Louise Coleman (and the smugness…can’t get over the smugness), she’s a lost cause. I’m glad the writers haven’t resorted to the bickering married couple dynamic that made The Doctor and Peri’s TARDIS scenes so unwatchable, and I’m grateful for the buffer that teacher Danny Pink (a considered performance by Samuel Anderson) provides – yes, if there’s one thing Moffat can write well it’s awkward men! But as long as Clara’s the main focus of Doctor Who, which she is more and more since the show revived the autonomy of The Doctor’s companions, it’ll always feel like there a little Moffat running around in the world of the programme. It also doesn’t help Capaldi that the writers insist on keeping the spectre of Matt Smith around.

Doctor Who has always surrounded new Doctors with familiar elements of the series to cushion viewers in times of transition. Indeed, this season began with a Victorian-set adventure featuring the ‘Paternoster Gang’ who were regulars in Smith’s era. But Moffat went so far as to have Smith in the episode (calling Clara from the past) and allusions to the actor in later episodes. As wonderful and apposite as these moments are – because they feature Smith – they’re holding viewers back from really embracing Capaldi’s Doctor. You begin to suspect that Moffat’s vanity is partly behind this effort to build a dramatic whoniverse unified around his time as showrunner. Prior to his debut, I suspected that Capaldi, an Oscar-winning director no less, might excise a little more control over the show than befits his brief, as did auteur Orson Welles who liked to put scare quotes around the term ‘actor’. I can see Capaldi’s influence on the change in pace, the contraction of melodrama, and even the language…in that it sounds like language! Long may it contin-who.

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