Saturday, May 22, 2010

Boy's Own Doctor

The "Flesh and Stone" episode of "Doctor Who," which was celebrated here as the best single DW installment ever (and even more hyperbolically here) turned out to be a first-rate melange of gee-whiz genre elements. The stone angels are really, really scary, there are tantalizing winking hints at thunderous future plot developments involving Alex Kingston's River Song. And some delightfully flagrant wibbley-wobbley space-time paradoxes that had the convenient side-effect of wiping out the entire continuity of the show's past four post-revival seasons, giving new show-runner Stephen Moffat a free hand to start over again from scratch. This is ret-conning on a sublime, apocalyptic scale. All of this is deftly woven together in Moffat's script and executed with unmistakable zest, at the break-neck pace of a Saturday afternoon serial.

Of course this wasn't the best TV show episode ever. That was not the kind of claim that's meant to be taken literally, anyway, I suspect. There are simply too many kinds of beast in the forest. (This past week's installment of "Justified," embedded below, was just as good, I think, on its own incalculably different terms.) For me the Doctor's finest two hours remain the "Last Temptation" two-parter in season three. Russell Davies took the characters seriously and dug into episodes like these and made them work dramatically, an almost revolutionary approach for a showrunner on a science fiction show. One doubts that Moffat will ever come up with a dramatic metaphor in the form of an SF story as powerful as "Human Nature" -- or that he aspires to. Why should he, from one point of view, as long as he can spin entertainments as irresistable as "Flesh and Stone"?

UPDATE: Underlying issues clearly stated and debated here. (C.I.: Tulkinghorn)


Tulkinghorn said...

The above is an example of what happens when a professional writer puts time and thought into a post....

We are not worthy.

On the other hand, I think you underestimate the rarity of sublime, deft, delightful, break-neck entertainment -- especially at a time when entertainments tend to lumber along at a super-explicit and over-decorated pace.

Two things deserve particular mention:

The last five minutes, in which (if I can avoid spoilers) fantasies are both fulfilled and drained of the romantic vulgarity that would ruin them.

The turning of 'don't blink' into 'blink', which is even more frightening.

Generic said...

"Romantic vulgarity" is a choice of words that speaks volumes, I think. Always vulgar? Only in some cases? And as opposed to what?

I should have stated my appraciation for the flair and energy and elegance of this episode more forcefully. As an OG "Sullivan's Travels" fan I believe strongly that some kinds of entertainment improve the qualkity of human life on earth. Makes it seem a little more glorious to be human.

Generic said...

Yeah, even if takes an alien to do it.

Old farts Like us should be careful about reading too much into Amy's impulsive grab for the gusto. I doubt people her age or younger would consider it definative or would say that it's swept anything off the table. Hunt around on some blogs by yutes and see if I'm not right.

Tulkinghorn said...

The constant themes of my lack of response to romance and our 'old' age.....

The Doctor is an alien with hundreds of years of experience, knowledge, and maturity. His companion is a twenty-something small town girl.

Romance of the yearning, unconsummated sort would/should be out of character for him and creepy for her; consummated romance would be paedophilia -- either way, vulgar.

As for making too much of the grab -- I think the finesse is in letting it happen and making it clearly unimportant.

Generic said...

We're right on the verge of an incredbly silly, geeky discussion of how the Doctor's age should be measured. One could say either that he's 900 years or a week old, though RTD seemed to take the vibe of the performers as the only marker of age that would "read" for the audience and therefore the only one that mattered. Moffat made choices that were telegraphed by having the Doctor meet Amy for the first time when she was a kid. The net result, though, is a return to the comparively sexless, Scout-leaderish realtionships of the past. QED.

We agree more than we disagree. I like both versions of the show a great deal. "Flesh and Stone" was wonderful.

Generic said...

Recalling RTD's remarks on the visual implications of actors:

"How do you make audiences care about your characters? … It’s pictorial. It’s a visual medium, but visuals don’t have to mean landscapes, long lenses, stunts, hundreds of extras; it’s the ordinary pictures, the sheer existence of people on screen, the fact that I’ve chosen to put them there and that you’ve chosen to watch. I realized this on The Second Coming, when we spent a million drafts on Steve and Judith’s backstory… All that work was to establish, simply and fundamentally, an attraction between them. When I watched it back … I realized the most crucial thing: none of that was necessary. The fact that Lesley Sharp and Christopher Eccleston were on screen, at the same time, together -- especially late at night, outside a city centre club – did all the work. You could lose the sound and still realize what was happening between those two. Put a man and a woman of roughly the same age on screen and you're telling a story. That’s a love story. … The choice to put those two characters together on screen, in a story, is the crucial thing. Everything else is just detail.”

Suspecting that he saw Tennant and Piper together and realized that however much he tried to convince the audience that he was an alien, the audience wasn't going to buy it. The human stories he wrote for them were his response as a crafty entertainer.

Matt Smith s just a much more alien presence, right down to his insectile bone structure. Moffat, no less crafty, is paying to his star's strengths, just as Davies was.