Doctor Who Season 34 (Peter Capaldi, 2014)
DVD / Blu-ray Extras include:
Where the season seems to have let Capaldi down is in the writing. Yes, there were a lot of decent stories this season, and some mediocre, but nothing actually stood out as being really, really good. I saw a LOT of recycled ideas this year that didn't properly fit into the slight twists layered on top to try to keep them fresh. What was missing most was a sense of drive from these stories, a sense of really wanting to know what would happen next, or what answers might lay behind the mysteries. It seems the writers are (likely from Moffat's guidance) focusing on fairy-tale fears, while in terms of science-fiction adventure, the stories are neither very believable, nor very interesting.
I also have to say, I have loved every title sequence this show had produced over 50 years. Last year's title was possibly the best ever. This year's is... Oh my God! ...the WORST I have ever seen, and the only one that I hate. Instead of various permutations of outer space or temporal vortices, the TARDIS now flies around some surreal painting of European clocks, complete with gears and Roman numerals. Universal scope is obscured by European culture, producing more of a virtual concept instead of an actual environment. This suggests that the show is disappearing into a parody of itself, which may sadly be true in many other respects as well. It also looks exceedingly flat most of the time, and doesn't have a proper sense of motion like most other titles do. The real kicker is the music. I don't know what got into Murray Gold, who had created many successful variations on Ron Grainer's theme music before. It's hard to imagine a worse choice for the lead instrument sound on the main melody. All that unnecessary wavering of pitch and tremolo makes it sound like someone's bad imitation of a witch at Hallowe'en, when they try too hard to be frightening and just come off as silly. Again, perhaps an indication of how the show itself is going off course. At any rate, I usually find myself fast-forwarding past the title sequences and end credits before the melody kicks in each time, which is something I never did during previous seasons. Even the infamous Delaware title music from 1972 was less objectionable, and the producer had the good sense to yank it off the episodes and use the perfectly good previous version instead. Too bad no one was quick enough to pull this version. Let's hope they replace these awful titles A.S.A.P.!!
What this show desperately needs (and used to have in the classic series) would be alien worlds with believable cultures existing on them. Worlds worth saving. Worlds where the outcome isn't obvious. And the stories need to be well populated with guest characters, whose relationships with each other are fascinating and unpredictable enough that the Doctor and his crew and audience feel driven to figure them out. Let's put the drama back into this show. If that requires stories be twice as long, yes good idea. In with science and out with fairy-tale. The series did slow down some, which is good because it had become a bit too superficial. But it needs to make sure it still has drive within each story, propelling the narrative from one beat to the next.
Moral messages are a bit of a sore spot this season. A few are attempted here and there, but they usually come off a bit trite. I suppose they represent the writers' perspectives, but I don't think they're often all that accurate or useful when presented as absolute truths as they often are here.
One good thing to watch out for in this season is writer Jamie Mathieson, who seems to be the latest rising star in the writers' room. I found his two stories to be consistently amongst the best and most interesting of the year's offerings. Going down the rest of the credits list, one can get the impression that Steven Moffat is somewhat hogging the writing position, unable or unwilling to let even the more experienced New Millennium Who writers pen a script solo. In fact, Moffat's best new creative ideas for this season seem to have gone to those shows that others have co-written with him, while his solo efforts are not quite up to scratch. Yet in the end, I still wonder if the other writers would do better with free reign to do any sort of story they pleased, without needing approval or filtering from "The Moff". And would Moffat be more focused on his better ideas if he had to have them all approved and filtered by the other writers? (This may indeed already be happening to an extent if they are fleshing out his ideas into full scripts.)
We also continue to enjoy a host of longer documentaries focused on more general aspects of the long-running show itself. Amongst the best of these are two "ultimate" documentaries by Peter Davison which interview a multitude of people who worked on the show from past and present. "The World Tour" is also an eye-opening look at how Doctor Who fandom has mushroomed from obscurity to a massive phenomenon. Add to that a host of shorter interviews with the lead contributors to this season, and we've got a very good package indeed.
Much of the material focuses on the new Doctor Peter Capaldi, the changes his arrival brings to the relationship he has with Clara, and running arcs projected for whole season. But it seems only North American packages contain one of the more outrageous and entertaining looks at the opening story and what it may indicate about the season to come - segments aired on BBC America before and after the premiere "Deep Breath" featuring Wil Wheaton and assorted guests watching the story for the first time, giving their impressions, and trying to guess what may be coming next, while writer Mark Gatiss and actor Dan Starkey join them on the sofa in New York and try not to give too much away. I confess I'm not quite as excited about this Doctor or the new season as much as most of these participants are.
This season has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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