Many of our regular surfers might well remember an opinion piece published on the second day of this year concerning Russell T Davies’ Time Lord swansong. In it I wrote about my distaste for The End Of Time, labelling it “poorly written, poorly acted, poorly directed television” observing that “if a story’s characters spend most of their time hyping up the story they’re in and the rest of the time explaining what’s going on in the story to each other, then there isn’t a story… it’s self-indulgent twaddle”. This predictably led to a smorgasbord of responses, some positive (“See, this is the kind of approach I always appreciated from SFN. Simply logical, honest, fearless, and painfully accurate”), some less so (“waht a lot of twaddle dressed up as hey hey it’s an opinion okay [sic]”).
One TARDIS renovation later and my opinion is unchanged, but I do regret writing one line in particular, the closing one actually: “And as for Matt Smith… we shall see” I said, “or maybe, like me, you won’t be bothered.” I regret this for two reasons. Firstly, because it was a lie, or at least turned out to be. I was bothered – I watched the Moffat and Smith debut this weekend. Secondly, because it showed I had no faith in the new creative team. And I really should have.
One of the more odious aspects of Davies’ run was that it always seemed to have one eye on the US of A. It’s too much to say it was Americanized but there was definitely a tendency to map Who’s journey about classic American TV tropes: will-they-won’t-they romance; high-octane action; handsome heroes; humourless sacrifice. Don’t mistake the sentiment: I have great fondness for American television – as a nation they are much more skilled at regularly producing quality than we are – but shoehorning Doctor Who, the most British of sci-fi stars, into these sensibilities was a mistake from the get-go. Doctor Who, at his best, is wonderfully odd; a legitimately unique icon in a genre too full of copycats, and much of that has to do with the Time Lord’s heritage. Delightfully, Moffat’s Who couldn’t be more British if he had painted three lions onto the side of the TARDIS. Affable, unassuming and nonchalant, Smith’s Who is a welcome break from the emotionally wrought and increasingly intense Tennant. In short, and quite fantastically, this is not a Who that would sit well in the Torchwood universe.
It’s a characteristic that extends beyond the character too; the regeneration seems to have impacted the world around the Time Lord, not just his face. Suddenly, the Whoniverse feels much more dream-like, much more surreal and much more suitable. It appears to be a world where days can be saved with dry wit as much as they can anything else, and that’s very much in keeping with a world I would like to invest in. Indeed, having seen and liked the first episode, the news that Neil Gaiman will be writing for the show seems the obvious move – it is every inch a canvas for creators inspired by fairy tales and storybook whimsy.
It’s worth noting that there are aspects of the episode itself I didn’t enjoy, such as the too-loose third act where everything stopped being enjoyable and started being apocalyptic (must every plot always involve the end of the, or a, world) giving way to the sort of babble RTD’s effort became infamous for. The rather empty villain of the piece, too, left me dissatisfied. But the overall impression was very pleasing, and that’s the point, with some quietly magical moments complementing a pitch-perfect tone and the sort of performances you’re happy to see again. More than just the answer to the prayers of those looking for a different Who, this might – might – also be the answer to the prayers of those looking for a different kind of sci-fi show.
So well done to all. And sorry for lying.