Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Battle of the Doctor Who Producers - Part Two - Characters

Russell T. Davies Vs Steven Moffat - Battle of the Doctor Who Producers

Part 2 - Characters

By Ken Parker

See part one

In comparing the two producers, one element that seems obvious to look at is characters and of course, the Doctor. Russell. T. Davies and Steven Moffat each have had two Doctors (unless you count Moffat's screwing up the regeneration count with the War Doctor.) This is hard to compare the two because people have their own favorite Doctors. Just because I liked one particular Doctor doesn't mean this makes the producer better but it does point to a direction of sorts and I have included some quick examples and opinion.

Christopher Eccleston was well received as the 9the Doctor but was quickly forgotten after David Tennant showed up. Now Eccleston is probably the least favorite by many fans probably because he bailed on the show and did not return for any specials. Still, his Doctor was abrasive, lonely, a bit cool, serious and never over the top. David Tennant was goofy, over the top and cool as well. He was a good contrast with Eccleston and had better chemistry with Billie Piper. Tennant would become very popular and really was this generation's Tom Baker.

Doctors are usually compared to the previous Doctor for at least a season or two. Depending on how long the previous Doctor lasted of course. Peter Davison struggled to get out of Tom Baker's shadow his entire time on the show while David Tennant made the series his own within a season. Christopher Eccleston had the toughest time because he was a new Doctor for a mostly new audience. Davies created the 9th Doctor with just enough coolness and gruffness that really made him appeal to classic fans as well as new fans but David Tennant's energy was unstoppable. Tennant and Billie Piper's chemistry was unmatched and would rival Tom Baker and Liz Sladen.

Steven Moffat, like with most things, had to follow up with his own Doctor and he delivered Matt Smith. This eccentric type was slightly different but in the end, was too much like Tennant. We saw this in “The Day of the Doctor” where 10 and 11 were too alike. Moffat would have a chance to change all this with Peter Capaldi and he certainly went in a huge directional change and for the good I might add. In a way the set of Doctors has come full circle as the two popular young Doctors are book-ended with two more abrasive and 'alien' like personalities. The jury is still out with
Capaldi but you can say the same for Eccleston as he did not have enough time to show his stuff.

One way to look at the character of the Doctor in this comparison is to look at each of their best and worst moments. This is purely an opinion but perhaps it gives some insight into the Doctor's strengths and weaknesses. Christopher Eccleston's worst moment is really not his fault but the fault of the script (Davies). In “Rose” there is a scene where Rose points out where the Autons would be broadcasting their signal and the Doctor turns back and forth “What? What?” in what seems like 2-3 times more than what was needed. The humor demonstrates the misplaced and low brow humor that works great in a sitcom or on Scooby Doo, but not Doctor Who. Just earlier in the episode, the Doctor is attacked by an Auton hand and that moment works with its humor. The difference is subtle but the repetitive nature of the visual joke with the London Eye is just too silly, the audience is smarter than that and can be amused by shorter joke.

Eccleston has many good moments but one of my favorite is his first meeting with the Dalek in “Dalek.” The anger and energy is scary. You don't know what the Doctor will do at that point and it certainly points to the fact that whatever the Doctor went through with the Time War, it was massive. This one scene wrapped that idea up nicely and Eccleston delivered it with vigor. Eccleston's confrontation with the Emperor Dalek is spectacular and it is a shame that he did not go on for more seasons.

David Tennant has some less than stellar moments but one that gets me is the scene in the hospital in “Smith and Jones” where he is dancing around the MRI room. It is embarrassing to say the least and there are other scenes that are probably along these lines. Again, the goofy humor is not a favorite of mine at all.

Tennat has many great moments. The moment where I felt he first 'became' the Doctor was in “Rise of the Cybermen” where he confronts the Cybermen for the first time. Another incredible moment, probably my personal best is when he is standing on the edge of the pit in “The Satan Pit” and has a great little speech – priceless.

Speaking of speeches, Moffat is good with these speeches and Matt Smith's moments addressing the alien fleet in “The Pandorica Opens” is excellent. His cliffhanger moment in “The Time of Angels” was also good. He has some bad moments as well but the greatest disappointment for me was in “Nightmare in Silver” where he played a Cyberized version of himself trying to fight for control. While I blame author Neil Gaiman for making this potential masterpiece of an episode into one of the worst for the new series, Smith delivered an over the top, energized and evil version of his Doctor in scenes that had me put my face in my hands. Such a waste of a talent to not see a full of life character be converted to an unemotional robot – it would have been epic and instead, we got this...

Peter Capaldi has some great chemistry with Jenna Coleman. The scene in “Deep Breath” where they are talking is a good moment. Capaldi hasn't had many alone moments where he has showed us his abilities. In the same episode he is talking to the dinosaur and throughout the season he had some great moments, namely the one where he asks Clara if he is a good man.
It's really hard to compare the producers with this but I feel Davies captured the essence of the Doctor really well with Eccleston and delivered a very popular one with Tennant. Matt Smith became very popular as well but fell into the same traps as Tennant and was even more of a sex symbol as depicted on screen. This was a huge misstep by Moffat. Capaldi had some trouble shining with a season dominated with the relationship of Danny and Clara and so it can only go up for him from here.

Davies wins this one, barely.

The Companions

Again, as with the Doctors, this is all preference and if you disliked a companion, do you hold it against the producer? I say yes as they were the ones who cast and wrote the character. Rose is the companion that every other one is held to. She was the 'first' and Davies could not let her go. It was all about Rose and this tainted the character. “Doomsday” was the perfect ending for that character and a fairly tragic ending for the Doctor – companion relationship. She did come back and was not the same but she overshadowed almost everything in the meantime. She defined the Martha Jones character as Martha always had to play second fiddle to Rose. This was true for many fans and Davies. Rose even kept popping up in the 4th season with Donna Noble. The return of Rose overshadowed much of that season and would be weakly written out.

Rose was a caring character that absolutely was perfect in “Dalek”, “The End of the World” and “Father's Day.” By the second season she started falling for the Doctor and had more experience with traveling in the TARDIS. She became more sure of her self. Billie Piper was fantastic in “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit” and her goodbye in “Doomsday” was spectacular. Even with episodes where she had little to do she was good. In “The Girl in the Fireplace”, instead of becoming all jealous of the Doctor's new interest, she played it cool. Her confrontation with Sarah Jane Smith and their travels together is a highlight.

As I said before, Martha Jones was overshadowed by Rose and even though the character was smarter and more self supportive, she basically turned into a complaining, swooning companion who had fallen in love with the Doctor. The fact that she would become an item with Mickey seemed to show that the both of them were desperate. Martha had some pretty dire episodes to get through but she also had some excellent ones as well. Her best performance was probably in “Human Nature” and “Family of Blood” where she was on her own for a good portion of the story without the Doctor to help. Freema Agyeman was a really good actress but in a not so good part. She was relied too much on the Doctor.

Donna Noble was the most annoying companion since Mel but she was only annoying for one story. Her return to the series brought forward a very realistic companion that was quirky but so real. She loved traveling with the Doctor but did not fall in love with him. She was often scared and out of her element and this made her a welcome change from the previous companions. My opinion is that she has been the best companion so far on the new series.

She had some really good stories and Catherine Tate played the part in a subtle way, getting an atitude from time to time but overall delivering a realistic and almost tragic character. Her role in “Left Turn” is so powerful. Donna is scared and in a world of pain and Tate is great in that part. Her enthusiasm for traveling with the Doctor is bigger than any companions as it is about seeing the universe and the fact that her memory of it all would go away reminds us of the tragic ending for Jamie and Zoe with the second Doctor.

I already mentioned that I thought Moffat had trouble with characters and his companions have had some issues. Amy was Matt Smith's Rose and so many people like Amy. She was great until she kissed the Doctor. At that point she went down to the worst. I hated that move and Moffat spent the rest of Amy's time on the show trying to erase that. He worked on the Amy-Rory relationship and did end up getting that right. It was really good to see a developing relationship that for the most part is real and has its own issues but in the end, they loved each other. None of this shipping of Amy and the Doctor. Sorry, fans who wanted this.

Karen Gillan, to me was up and down. She was incredible in “The Girl Who Waited” and “Time of the Angels” but she fell a bit into this aggressive female that sort of was like the Doctor at times and was pretty mean to Rory from time to time. That relationship did manage to fix itself and become real toward the end and their final episode was a true tear-jerker and one of the saddest companion departures. I felt Karen was sleepwalking at times in some episodes and I think this is because there were too many characters around in some of those episodes.

Clara was a breath of fresh air and managed to stay away from the falling in love with the Doctor, barely. Clara would develop even more with a new Doctor that was so different than the previous one – something that was good to see finally. Despite Rose being a little put off by the 10th Doctor, she accepted him quickly. Clara has taken much longer and still everything is not fixed yet. Love that.

 Clara is another 'real' character in my opinion. She is quirky and not sure of the whole situation. Her surprise appearance in “Asylum of the Daleks” was pretty energetic and shocking and I think Moffat wrote a script that would make the character even more interesting. The classic series did this with Turlough and Ace, having an ongoing plot define more of that character than just being that character. Clara was the Impossible Girl and this was interesting but might have distracted us from her real character. Moffat continued to define her with a relationship in the next season but there were many moments where she was able to shine. The scenes in “Deep Breath” where she holds her breath to escape and her holding her hand out for the Doctor were incredible moments for actress Jenna Coleman. Her acting in “The Name of the Doctor” was also top notch.  She doesn't accept the Doctor all the time and really confronts him - great stuff!

This is another tough call as each producer has had some low points and high points. I have to give the edge to Davies as he did bring some emotional character development for each companion. His insistence that each companion had strong family ties was highly annoying to me at first but ends up rounding out each companion beautifully. Rose and her family and Donna and her family are highlights for Davies. Mofffat gives Amy and Rory no family to start with and when he does, it is so out there and messed up. Clara's parents are important for her character but her grandparents are a non factor. Her relationship with Danny Pink is sort of blah. I can't say that this is the reason why Davies wins the companion battle. I think Amy was not consistent and her 'falling in lust' with the Doctor was not good at all.

It seems Moffat is perhaps beginning to get characters right and so we shall see.

Supporting Characters

This is a very important part of each producer's era and again, if the characters are annoying, it doesn't make them bad, does it?

Davies had some good ones – Rose's family, Mickey, Harriet Jones, Captain Jack (he starts off okay), Reinette, Ida Scott, Joan Redfern, Professor Yana, Jenny, River Song (she starts off okay), Wilf and so on. Davies weaves many of these characters into the characters of the Doctor and the companions and does a great job with that.

Moffat has some – Vincent, Craig, Idris, (Vastra, Jenny and Strax) – from time to time, Courtney, Osgood, Kate Stewart.

I think Davies was better overall with characters and even though some might have been one dimensional and such. Moffat seems to have created a series of annoying, over sexed and generic characters. I covered this already in the previous segment. Davies went hog wild with characters and at times these characters were annoying and too accepting of the situation. They were not always complex characters and they all seemed to have baggage. Davies brought them to life with ease. Even annoying characters like Jackie Tyler were sympathetic and we had to fall for them. Davies really knew how to get the emotion out of his audiences. Davies gets high marks for his characters.

Moffat's characters just don't seem to have the gravitas. They seem more fake. I already mentioned the female characters that seem horny and yet self sustaining and in control. These 'strong' characters might seem strong but they to me, are more weak as they use sex appeal in their nature. Amy, River, Liz 10, Queen Nefertiti, Tasha Lem and Missy all have this attitude.
I hate to harp on this one element but I think it is a big one. Moffat can get characters right and so when there are too many weaker characters, it is annoying.

Davies is not perfect with characters. His biggest mis-step was probably the Master. He decided to have John Simm ham it up to the nth degree and really made him more like a cartoon bad guy than anything.

Again, this is tough but Davies is better with characters than Moffat. Davies wins this one.

Next time I want to go over the general tone and atmosphere that each producer has given the show. There are differences and similarities that help define how each one of them made the show their own.


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