This time last year, while waiting for "Doctor Who" to return to our screens after an absence of almost sixteen years, no-one knew exactly what to expect. One year on and it's pretty much business as usual! Now we can predict the type of story RTD will deliver with ease. My one cause for optimism this season is that Russell has penned fewer of the thirteen episodes. He wrote eight of Season One's run whereas for Season Two he has written five. Combined, he has written a whole season's worth of material over two years and, if he gives the Christmas episode to another writer this year, Russell has written exactly half of the Doctor's air time.
Maybe the other writers' scripts are stronger because they are only writing one or two episodes a year and, although he claims otherwise, Russell is perhaps spreading himself too thinly. As well as being the chief writer, he is also the Executive Producer of "Doctor Who" and presumably has been busy setting up its spin-off series "Torchwood". Where "Buffy" had her "Angel", the Doctor has his Captain Jack! My gut feeling, however much I try to deny it to myself, is that this most British of shows doesn't work in the American format. "Doctor Who" works best as a series of serials, one of the main reasons for its enduring uniqueness. I miss the time taken to tell a story properly and I miss the cliffhanger...
In the 2003 documentary "The Story of Doctor Who", recently repeated at the end of BBC3's "Doctor Who Night", Colin Baker partly attributes the failure of his Doctor to find mass appeal to the reformatted structure of 1985's Season Twenty-two. In particular, Colin blames the consequential reduction in the number of cliffhangers. This only served to lessen the impact of a story when changing from three, found in the traditional-length story of four twenty-five minute episodes, to one, as seen in the two forty-five minute episode design. Ironically, Colin has subsequently gone on to praise new "Doctor Who" which, under the guidance of RTD, has seen a further reduction in the number of cliffhangers to three per season!
This year we can look forward to mid-story cliffhangers in both Cybermen adventures and in the tale set on the alien planet. Another irony is that the weakest point of Cyber-director Graeme Harper's previous work on "Doctor Who" are his mid-story cliffhangers, specifically the lumbering and wooden Magma beast in "The Caves of Androzani" and the Garden of Fond Memories' falling statue in "Revelation of the Daleks"! His two other cliffhangers, at the end of episodes one and three of "The Caves of Androzani", featuring, firstly, the execution of the robed fifth Doctor and Peri and, latterly, the spacecraft hurtling towards the planet, are both topnotch moments.
"New Earth" was fun, moved at the usual rollicking pace, but ultimately empty. Bite-size "Doctor Who", never mind Tardisodes! It had ideas but was too short to allow them any development. Composer Benjamin Britten said ideas are two-a-penny but turning them into a structured composition in which you evolve an argument to a satisfactory conclusion is another thing altogether.
The Doctor's intention from the outset is to visit the hospital so why materialise so far away? When Colin Baker's Doctor did this in "Revelation" everyone complained. Perhaps the cost of parking at a hospital, so far in the future, has increased astronomically! That might account for so many flying cars which could be seen in longshot but were miraculously absent in closeup! Rose possessed brought to mind the Rani impersonating Mel in Sylvester McCoy's debut. Zoe Wanamaker's Cassandra, reportedly inspired by seeing a very slim Nicole Kidman on the red carpet at some awards ceremony, at the end of the episode reminded me more of Mariah Carey, full of her own self-importance. Chip viewing the opening action in his sphere, through the eyes of the spider, was traditional so why can't we see a return to a season of multi-part stories and, thus, a reinstatement of the time-honoured cliffhanger?
To Be Continued...