Monday, September 5, 2011

Evolution or Devolution: Doctor Who and Torchwood progression

I constantly find myself coping with change. Loving or hating it, change is always there and most of the time there’s nothing you can do but embrace it. Change is also the best remedy for boredom and for someone like me it’s a fairly useful one. For TV especially, change is always better that a stale continuation of the same scripts or worse, cancellation of a show in its prime. Of course that doesn't mean that change is always easy to accept or that every little detail can be seen as an evolution. But devolution is already considered an obsolete term in biology so why should It be valid for a series?
Two of the shows I wanted to watch since I heard about them but never found the chance, were Doctor Who and its spinoff, Torchwood. They are maybe the most famous shows from the UK and of my favorite genre, Science Fiction. Both of them have also changed significantly since their first episodes (I’ve never watched the old Doctor Who series so I can't really write about them) and that’s the main focus of this post.  

Let’s start from the beginning.

As always, I started watching the opposite way, with Torchwood, and I fell in love. The characters were lifelike and really interesting (a rare combination) and the script was really mature and at least for the first season quite raw. When I found out that the third season was only five episodes I felt betrayed. I thought I had more to watch and five were so few, but fortunately all of them were great. They were also very different. In the first two series every episode had a different plot (except for 3 interconnected episodes) and the third series (Children of Earth) had one unified plot. It felt really different but again the same. It was a little slower paced and had a lot more minor characters with their lives and aspirations, but again it was the same series, the same core.

Then some time (and several Doctor Who episodes) later, I watched the forth series, titled: “Miracle Day”. My first thought of it was that Americans have invaded Torchwood’s production team. All these American actors felt different. Not just their accents but their style of acting. It was always my belief that British actors are usually on another league with better face expressions and so on, and I finally had my proof. The scenes filmed in the UK felt like the Torchwood I remembered, when in the US it was like, let's say Warehouse 13. Thankfully Jack and Gwen were there to remind me that I was still watching Torchwood but I wasn’t that convinced for the first episodes. The direction was definitely American, and so was the script development and everything except Jack and Gwen who felt like strangers or guest characters. Nevertheless I still craved for more and with every episode’s end, I anticipated the next one (still waiting for the last!). I guess I still love the series (not that I had any doubt) and not only it beats not being able to watch it, but if there is a season 5 without the new characters or no new season at all, I’m going to miss the new ones as much as I will miss the rest of the characters. Because with every episode this American invasion became more and more Torchwood and the new characters are now part of it. Sure I would also love a return to Wales and maybe have more than one plot per season but Miracle Day is a part of all that make the series so dear to me and I definitely want more of that.
Doctor Who is a very different case. To begin with it didn’t change that much. For the casual viewer only the Doctor has changed, but that is for the second time since 2005 (or, well, tenth), and his companions, that change almost every year. Also the newer episodes are of a higher production value with better sets and special effects which can only be seen as an improvement. But what has really changed is everything. The head writer and executive producers changed and with them of course the whole direction. The format though is the same. Everything that made a Doctor Who fan love it is still there. That is of course because the current head writer, Steven Moffat, has already written several episodes for the series during the Russell T Davies era of the show. Those episodes were also some of the best, so when Davies decided to leave the series Moffat was the best choice. Under Moffat direction, Doctor Who feels more imaginative, spectacular and limitless, but for me this is under a price.
Because what never seemed to amaze me in Doctor Who, was how real it felt. No matter how many laws of physics were defied, no matter how impossible everything truly was, you always thought: “Yeah. That could happen someday”, or “It seems about right”. You could always see how what everything you were watching affected the people in the show and felt like that what you saw was definitely a part of a bigger picture. That’s why it felt almost real. You could see yourself and your family, in your home, try to shelter yourselves from poisonous gases, or alien invasions and then saved in the very last moment by the Doctor. This is not the case for the fifth season and onwards. The Doctor is now like an alien Peter Pan taking his companions in different versions of the Neverland (Actually his first episode reminded me of the film Hook).
Another issue is how the episodes are bound together. In both Doctor Who and Torchwood there were always just subtle hints of the “big bad” to come, really easy to spot but also easier to miss. Most episodes had little clues part of the script and what bound them together was revealed in the last episodes. In Moffat’s Doctor Who this connection is always there forcing you to see it. In most episodes it is cleverly imported to the episode script but sometimes feels out of place. Should the crack in time for example really be shown in every episode's end?
The new Doctor is lovable and adorably clueless but he doesn't seem as a continuation of Tennant’s and Eccleston’s Doctors. He is like a previous version of theirs just a few regenerations before. He is not only oblivious of every major Davies character (where is Martha, Donna or Jack?) but of almost everything that he did in previous seasons. The only familiar face in Moffat's creation, is River Song, one of my favorite characters but also a fairly new one. On the other hand having a totally different Doctor is not bad and could be revealed that he is not that forgetful of his past adventures in future episodes.
No matter the issues I have with new seasons, I still love it and sometimes the stories feel more mature and thought provoking than the Davies' version. Change is, after all, good especially if after Davies there was no Doctor Who. The show is still at its finest with maybe a brightest future coming. I would just like to see a familiar face. Jack is just around the corner and someone should keep an eye on Martha and Mickey anyway.
Change is always hard to accept and never what you accepted but after all it's here to save our favorite series. Whether it's a cash infusion from a foreign country or a necessary change of direction, if that is what keeps the series on air, let it come. Just keep the core of the series the same and leave something to be familiar with. If the script is good we'll always come back for more!