I’ve read some valid criticisms of Doctor Who‘s currently airing season. The two episodes we’ve seen, “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon” both have significant plot holes. Yet I find I am loving these two episodes more than I did almost anything in the previous season.
I agree with the plot holes that others have pointed out. And I’m trying to figure out why they largely don’t matter to me. I think it’s because I watch Doctor Who to get a feeling. And as long as I have that feeling, I don’t care what is happening on the screen.
So, Sigrid, what feeling is that, and how is it being generated by Doctor Who?
Vague descriptions of character interactions of the current season follow, with no plot specifics.
Doctor Who is a tragedy in the classic Aristotelian sense.
“The classic discussion of Greek tragedy is Aristotle’s Poetics. He defines tragedy as ‘the imitation of an action that is serious and also as having magnitude, complete in itself.’ He continues, ‘Tragedy is a form of drama exciting the emotions of pity and fear. Its action should be single and complete, presenting a reversal of fortune, involving persons renowned and of superior attainments, and it should be written in poetry embellished with every kind of artistic expression.’ The writer presents ‘incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to interpet its catharsis of such of such emotions’ (by catharsis, Aristotle means a purging or sweeping away of the pity and fear aroused by the tragic action).” (source CUNY Brooklyn English Department)
The course of The Doctor as we see it is tragic in this sense. He is a person of renowned and superior attainments. His fortunes, however often he triumphs in specific moments, are and have been a reversal or downward slide over many long periods of his life. He is alone, his people are dead, and the mistakes he has made in his life are vast, far-reaching, with galactic consequences. The plots have great magnitude; the stakes are always high. The stories arouse fear — great whacking amounts of fear, if you’re me — and pity. I pity The Doctor. I also pity his Companions. At the far end of every wonderful and successful adventure is a waiting end. Eventually, that specific Companion will no longer be there. Even in the rare cases whereupon the Companion leaves voluntarily and happily, a great sense of loss is felt by all parties. And the Companions don’t leave in that state very often.
I really, really like this particular Whovian form of tragedy. I get that catharsis at the end of the stories. Everything was terrifying and tragic, death and despair were all about, and then somehow The Doctor and his Companions pull out a save. I can live with the saves being so flimsy and jury-rigged as to be a nigh-literal deus ex machina. What I want is that child-like feeling of relief.
This is, after all, supposedly a children’s show. The Doctor is a parent. All-powerful, all-knowing, inexplicable, callous, ever-present yet unseen, reigning wrath and safety down in equal measure. He’s a sort of parent I hope to never be, yet I cannot ever know how my parental reign is viewed by my children. The Doctor doesn’t explain, he ACTS, and at the end you are warm and safe and ready for another adventure.
I crave those moments when The Doctor stands up straight, looking sad and noble and grimly determined, and casts yet another villain into the fate they have inadvertently wrought for themselves. I live for those moments when The Doctor effectively says, “if you weren’t a homicidal jackass you would not BE in this position, but you are and you are getting what you deserve.” Yet I also live for the moments when The Doctor is frightening, alien, and cruel. Because he is. Because what he is, what he does, is jerk everyone around. Best intentions, sure, but he leaves wrack and ruin in his wake. I never, ever, ever, want to heard the TARDIS. I like my life, I love my family and my children, and if I hear the TARDIS it means horror and death are right behind. I loved the Matt Smith Christmas special, “A Christmas Carol,” because it shows The Doctor at his most interferey and callous. He is doing it for the greater good, yes, certainly. But he is still re-writing a man’s life without that man’s consent. The hubris of it all is measureless.
And that’s The Doctor. I grin when he tells the villain that they have no idea how much trouble they are in now that The Doctor is angry. but I shudder, too. Because that much power in one man is … unconscionable.
I am liking the current season because Rory and River appear to be aware of this. They are willing Companions, yes. They love and respect The Doctor and are on his side. But they both understand he is a trainwreck in their lives. They are both perfectly aware that he will destroy them, by sheer accident, simply because he is there. And they are choosing, eyes open and understanding, to continue.
This, to me, is the true heart of the Doctor Who tragedy. All these smart, wonderful, vibrant people who are riding with Phaeton in Apollo’s chariot to devastation, of their own choosing. And this is why the current season is working for me despite the plot holes, why it’s working for me far better than last season. I never got the sense, last season, that Amy Pond ever really understood what was happening to her. I never comprehended her motives, she seemed a sort of black-box of Girl Adventuress. This season — so far — I have Rory and River. And they walk willingly forward into tragedy. I’m a sucker for that. And, who knows? Maybe Amy Pond will grow on me.
So, I’m optimistic so far. Optimistic that I, at least, will get what I love out of Doctor Who. Here’s hoping.