Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Recent "Doctor Who"

It has to be said that the past couple seasons of “Doctor Who” have be frustratingly uneven. For the most part every single episode has been entertaining, and the overarching storyline involving the relationship between this incarnation of the Doctor and his companions has been some of the most fulfilling in the history of the series, but long-time fans of the show look for more than entertainment. Many of the episodes have been “empty shells,” all flash and fun with little meaning or impact.

The most recent two episodes provide a good example of the contrast:

“Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”

Jumping in midstream of the latest bit of excitement and assembling a collection of helpers are two tried and true ways to increase the scope and sense of excitement in Doctor Who. When the “ride” is over and we contemplate all that has happened that is about all we got—a sense of excitement. We may not need a greater context, but sometimes it does help when we have a reason for a story to exist beyond it being a slice-of-exciting-life. The capitalist themes explored here are weak because (a) we all understand this level of capitalism is evil and (b) 90% of today’s audiences don’t care despite understanding how wrong it is. We live in an extremely materialistic society and fail to recognize that we are the villain of this story in so many ways.

“A Town Called Mercy”

This story is the opposite of the previous one in so many ways. The story is not as exciting, not as tense, and yet there is more to struggle with on an intellectual level. It makes the viewer uncomfortable for all the right reasons.

The Doctor and company arrive in a town in the Old West, only there is electricity (“about ten years early”) and a symbolic barrier around the town. When the town folk discover the Doctor is “the Doctor” and an alien, they try to toss him out of town to his death at the hands of a cyborg gunslinger. The Sheriff steps in and stops the mob. It turns out that the town is protecting the real target of the cyborg. He says the town is called “Mercy” for a reason. Whatever the man’s past sins, in America he is entitled to a second chance.

As it turns out, the man the town is protecting—a good man who has done so much to help and even save the town—is also a war criminal. As a scientist he experimented upon and killed many people in an attempt to create the perfect soldier. He in effect, killed many to save many more. Now the Doctor is faced with a choice of his own: allow a man with an evil past to die and save a town, or stand up for a changed man and risk many lives.

That is the sort of story we expect when we tune into “Doctor Who.”

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