Tuesday, August 01, 2006

2005 Dr. Who Summary: Heroes

The 2005 season was unquestionably the best acted Dr. Who ever, with several of the best stories. That said, there were pacing problems; some of these were fixed and some of them were not. The show also desperately needs an "unpaid scientific advisor" of it's own to work with the script editor. The number of bonehead scientific errors was hard to forgive in a show that calls itself "science" fiction. While there's no need to bog the show down in endless technobabble, a basic understanding of elementary science built into the script would have made some scenes both more exciting and funnier. But these sorts of problems can be expected when the crew hasn't done this sort of show before. Hopefully they'll be corrected in the second season.

There was a noticeable problem with overused memes, including zombies, pregnant brides, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies. A more obnoxious overused meme had to do with aliens and villains. The only nice aliens were in the 2cnd episode, after that nice aliens disappeared from our screen. And while the redemption of villains and other people was mentioned, it was only the humans who perused that redemption, i.e. Captain Jack. Alien villains were either scene as uninterested in redemption or unredeemable. That is a serious bias which needs some attention.

The season reintroduced/reinvented the major elements of the Doctor's universe and established that the Doctor is a hero not a god. It also hammered home that anyone can become a hero if they're willing. But what kind of hero is the Doctor?

There are many different kinds of heroes, but some of the toes that have been prevalent in pop fiction lately go way back to the Classical era. These include:

HECTOR - Hector's a family man who's just doing his job. He's the one who has to get other people out of the messes they've gotten themselves into from their own stupidity because nobody else will bother. He makes a great sheriff, and he was all over the screen in the early days of film and TV. We haven't seen many Hectors lately though.

ACHILLES - "My name is Bond. James Bond." Nope, it's Achilles.

Achilles is the snotty brat who's never been beaten. He's the former schoolyard bully grown up to become the unstoppable killer who happens to be on your side. He's a gangster with a government contract. These days the contract is usually an exclusive "license to kill" with one government or another.

Achilles made a splash on the big screen as James Bond and Dirty Harry. By the 1990s he was all over the place, played by Clint Eastwood, Schwarzenagger, Bruce Willis, et al. Such overexposure brought out his twin flaws.

The first flaw is that he's unstoppable. This means his enemies have to get bigger, meaner, and more ridiculous. And since he doesn't really know what it's like to lose, he has a limited supply of empathy for others. "Hasta la vista, baby."

The second flaw is that Achilles has no moral center. He'll do anything to fulfill his contract, and only the terms of his contract restrain him. Anytime you hear a variation of the line, "His tactics are completely out of line, but we keep him because he gets results", beware. You're approaching Achilles' territory.

Since he has no scruples about killing anyone, who are you going to put him up agains?. Only Homer was brave enough to put him up against Hector. Every other writer since then has wimped out and put him up against villains who are supposed to be more viscous than he is. Then the next villain has to be even more viscous. It's an unending downward spiral into blood, violence and depravity.

Can you tell I despise Achilles?

HERCULES - The former snotty brat who's had the snot beat out of him. He knows what it's like to lose and this tempers his action. Most of the Classic Marvel superheroes are Hercules types. Hercules may be a whiny drunk, but he usually makes more of an effort to think than Achilles does. He may not be that good at it, but at least he tries and he gets better with practice. I'll take Hercules over Achilles any day, but there's someone else I'd prefer over both of them.

ODYSSEUS - Odysseus is the veteran of the group. He's the most reluctant to start a fight and prefers diplomacy, but he's ruthless when he thinks it's necessary. He usually finds himself in the position of cleaning up the messes Achilles and Hercules can't think their way through, and he hates that job.

The problem with Odysseus is that he can't find his way back home. Every hero spends some time in the wilderness, but Odysseus stays there the longest. Sometimes the journey home is long and arduous. Sometimes "home" is on the other side of a sealed border, or he is in exile. Sometimes "home" doesn't exist anymore, and sometimes the problem is all in his head. Odysseus has a keen intellect. His mind knows he can't go back home, but his heart refuses to accept it and settle down anywhere besides Ithaca. The same conflict causes him to hook up with a string of women only to leave them for not being Penelope. Anytime you're dealing with a "wandering hero" or "wandering monster" (the difference can depend on where you stand) you're probably dealing with Odysseus.

Late 20th-Century American pop fiction broke out in a flush of Odysseus-types after every war, especially Vietnam. Americans never could get the hang of it though, and got bogged down as technological advances made the premise less workable. Britain pole-vaulted all the high-tech quibbles with Doctor Who.

The Doctor has always been Odysseus, smart, refined, pragmatic. He is an Odysseus who somehow could never find peace back home after the incident that left him in semi-exile, maimed, and without a name he felt he could mention in public. He takes up with a string of Nausicaas and the occasional Circe, but he can't ever settle down.

Eccleston's Doctor cleaves to the Odysseus image stronger than any of the others, building on elements that were in original season but that have become muted over time. He and Davies have taken the character back to his thematic roots. The result is a strong, fresh, complex portrait that takes the core elements and builds on them in a sophisticated way. The result are stories meant for children that don't talk down to children. That seems to be the rarest thing in moving pictures, and I love it.

I also love how they've revamped the old swashbuckler stereotype with Captain Jack. I loved the swashbuckling heroes from the classic movies as a child! What child doesn't? But the ones in the old movies tended to be too sexist. Modern action heroes are usually just as sexist (if not more so) and a whole lot meaner. They have no charm at all. Honestly, if I saw one of those guys on the street I'd run and hide. Captain Jack is sweet, charming, funny, heroic, commanding when he needs to be, and definitely not sexist!

Of course he's in the sidekick's role, and that doesn't give him much chance to be dark and brooding. I realize they're going to flesh his character out more when they give him his own show this fall, but I hope they don't take away his kindness and charm. I never understood why I was supposed to trust a mean gun-toting "hero".

And it's wonderful to have a show that doesn't make a big deal over people not being heterosexual. One of my favorite parts of the whole season is where the Doctor runs through various stratagems to stop Jack from hitting on Rose all the time before finally coming up on one that works: when Jack flirts with Rose, he flirts with Jack. It works like a charm to disrupt Jack's intentions without an unkind word having to be said. The world could use more solutions like that.


Anonymous said...


Viscous describes consistency, and means something is thick, flows slowly, gluey, sticky.

Lioness said...

You missed scene for seen.