The tools of Doctor Who

The last couple episodes of Doctor Who have been a welcome change.

These are my favorite sort of episodes. As much as the River/Melody storyline interests me at it’s core, I think the two-part mid-season arc was mishandled. Too much happened at once, and not enough was explained of some parts, while too much was exposed in others. Let’s Kill Hitler was funny and engaging in ways, but mostly, it was just dumb.

The two most recent episodes are a welcome return to the monster a week format that I almost invariably prefer in my favorite TV shows. I like longer plots just fine, but they are almost always poorly handled, and modern television writers seem to have lost the art of creating sub plot arcs which nest well within the arcs of individual episodes. Think of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Quantum Leap as examples of shows which handled this very well.

In Night Terrors, The Doctor gets a psychic distress call from a small boy who is terrified of monsters, and he and his companions must discover the mystery behind the dangers in the boy’s life. The episode manages to be thought provoking, terrifying, and goofy all at once, and we get introduced to a new species of creature, which we may have the chance to meet again. I felt like I was watching Doctor Who again, instead of a B-movie which happened to have The Doctor in it.

The Girl Who Waited was even better. Amy gets trapped in a quarantine facility in which time flows at a differnt rate, and, paralleling Amy’s introduction to The Doctor last season, the TARDIS arrives almost 40 years too late.

Rory and The Doctor find Amy an old woman, bitter and acidic after waiting so long with no rescue. She had lost hope and learned to hate.

The only hope to rescue the version Amy they know is with the help of the older Amy, but that would mean undoing most of her lifetime. The appeal here is the analysis of paradox, and the ethics of time-travel. We get to see conflicted characters who must make difficult decisions, and we get to see a Doctor who walks a fine line of morality as his own eventual destruction looms on the horizon.

Hopefully, there are a lot more episodes like Night Terrors and The Girl Who Waited in our future.

The next episode of Doctor Who, The God Complex, airs Sept 17, 2011 on BBC One and  BBC America.