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Friday, February 10, 2012

Series 4 Overview

General Thoughts on Series 4

The Fourth Series is a definite time of transition. It sees the first changeover of Doctors at the oddly-placed second serial, and despite Hartnell’s departure being explained as happening for (among other reasons) disagreements with the tone of the show, this series is much more of a Saturday Morning Cartoon, with serials like the Macra Terror, The Underwater Menace, etc. feeling much more like standard children's fare… an impression aided by Patrick Troughton’s more childish (in whimsy, though not in any lack of maturity) Doctor. He has perhaps slightly less depth, and while he is clever, funny, and energetic, even his deep conversations (such as the charming piece between he and Victoria Waterfield in the opening story of the next season) and ethical dilemmas feel less deep than they were with Hartnell- more simplified.

Which is not to say that the level of writing is childish just because it is more child-friendly in tone. Serials like Evil of the Daleks, The Tenth Planet, and The Faceless Ones are masterpieces- standout stories that the third series had far less abundantly. And here, the ‘lesser’ serials are still consistently entertaining- I can’t look at a single one of these stories and say “That was bad, it didn’t entertain me” as I could for, say, Galaxy 4 or other Series 3 entries. However, there’s just a feeling, a general impression, of rough corners being sanded, of bright colors being (metaphorically, as the show is still in black and white) added, of concepts being simplified- not stories, as stand-outs like The Faceless Ones still have excellent plotting and exciting twists- but perhaps the concepts upon which they are based are less complex, less hard sci-fi, even if the stories retain their complexity. The stories are of equal or greater quality, but their foundational concepts are now more child-friendly… as is the new Doctor and his energetic, sometimes-silly ways.

And that new Doctor does delight; his energetic antics and zany behavior- not to mention his endlessly expressive face, when video is kind enough to make an appearance here (this is definitely the most ‘lost’ series thus far in terms of video-to-reconstruction proportions)- keep even slow or un-engaging episodes entertaining and watchable- even if the story is going nowhere, the Doctor is always doing something, and this energy helps the series immeasurably- not since the ‘golden age’ second season has a series (or season, for us American viewers) felt this consistently entertaining and overall quality. Now, I don’t think there were nearly as many ‘stellar’ stories here, so it’s a testament to how much more enjoyable this energetic and fun, ‘kid-friendly’ approach is, even to adults, that it nonetheless rates the same amount of satisfaction.

If it seems that I am struggling for words and covering the same ground repeatedly, I am. It’s difficult to explain the ineffable quality and tonal change that I sense in these episodes- and the only terms that do seem to fit, “less depth” “more kid-friendly” “Saturday-morning cartoon” all seem to have negative connotations- they make it sound like that’s a BAD thing, like Doctor Who was being dumbed down. It wasn’t- in fact, the change was for the better. It’s somewhat like the difference between the direction of the first two Star Trek movies. Perhaps purists will decry the ‘dumbing down and flashy-ing up’ of the Wrath of Kahn- more about action and fun and glitz than the more somber, more intellectual first entry… a struggle shared by the pilots, when the original pilot was canned for being too cerebral, and the second got its acceptance by mixing a thoughtful sci-fi plot with a fist-fight and effects bonanza. In the case of both pilots and movies, I’ve seen both, and enjoy both in different ways- but neither detractor nor fan would claim that the tonal change, which subsequently defined the series, was for the worse. Perhaps in mainstreaming themselves and becoming more action and entertainment-oriented, both Star Trek and Doctor Who ‘sold out’ some of their thoughtfulness and sacrificed some of their depth. But the new products are hardly anything for intellectuals and ‘grown-ups’ to look down their nose at in disdain as unthinking fluff, because the re-packaged, re-focused series maintain the cores of the cleverness, good writing, interesting characters, science fiction originality, etc. that made both versions great- the newer incarnations simply shifted the balance of thought and action, emphasizing the latter and slimming the former. The New Series of Doctor Who, launched in 2005, has done the same thing, shifting the balance yet again, even further towards action and entertainment… and it is beloved on multiple continents as even the Tom Baker ‘classic’ years of Old Who weren’t. (Note from Sarah: In my point of view what happened is that Doctor Who became a more successful "marriage" of science and entertainment, whereas before it was mostly just 'science' or what the writers THOUGHT was science, it's almost as if the Hartnell years were REALLY trying their hardest to impress people-like when you pretend you know OH so much about a subject to impress a girl and end up sounding really boring and pretentious instead of just being yourself...which happens to be a mixture of really funny, crazy, and smart at the same time. Now this is not to say that the Hartnell years didn't have any entertainment value, seeing as Keys of Marinus is still one of the best in my opinion, I am just saying I personally feel like they FINALLY got the balance of Smart and Entertaining down much better once Troughton came along. The show still gets you to THINK but it doesn't first numb your brain with so much talk that you don't realize when you're supposed to be entertained. :-D )

So, yes- gone are the historicals (which were, unfortunately, too often uniformly dull… save for the Myth Makers! If they’d kept historical as comedies, they would have excelled- but do that too often, and you become Mr. Peabody and Sherman, so perhaps they remain best as unique- and especially enjoyable- footnotes, rather than an ongoing pattern.) 

(NFS: I personally miss the Historicals, they were the ones I usually enjoyed more. A lot of times they were dry yes, but I even feel that way with the new series, really like the ones where they travel to the past! I think because if it were me and I had a time machine I would always chose the past, no question). Gone is William Hartnell- and as fantastic as the new fella is, the beloved original will be missed. Here to stay is a spirited Doctor and his long-lasting Scottish companion. Here to stay is energy, pep, vigor, fun- and yes, perhaps at the cost of a slightly more serious, adult tone. But not to the detriment of the program. Doctor Who changes in this season, at an indefinable point, and in an indefinable way… but it’s more fun than ever, entertaining as heck even when the stories are weak and/or reconstructed, and despite it’s many missing episodes… it’s a favorite!

For this season, the 2nd Doctor's catchphrase was my all-time favorite: "When I say run... run!" Honestly, it just encapsulates the Second Doctor so brilliantly- the excitement and fun, the adventure, the slightly comical cowardice and comic hijinks- and I want to cheer every time he says it!

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