This weekend Terry Pratchett's Going Postal was on Sky and Doctor Who Cold Blood was on BBC. I watched and enjoyed both, and here are some things I concluded:
1) HD is nice but insignificant
We got HDTV for the first time this week, on Virgin Media Cable (at no extra expense, thanks Richard Branson). So I'd been able to watch Dr Who part 1 in HD on Catch Up, making Cold Blood the first episode I would watch live as it was broadcast in HD.
Sky1, for reasons best known to themselves, don't allow their HD version to go out to Virgin customers. This is because they are idiots who want to shake viewers off, I can only imagine. However what we found was that the HD, though nice, didn't signify.
Dr Who was in pin sharp focus which showed any flaws and cheapnesses, and Going Postal looked like a multi million dollar glossy production which one could imagine being ever so slightly sharper in focus if one really was concerned about such trivia.
2) Terry Pratchett was right about plot.
Pratchett had a go in last month's SFX magazine, criticising the writing of Dr Who. He was mostly aiming it at Russell T Davies's stories, pointing out the unsatisfactory nature of Deus Ex Machina plot resolutions, and how much better it is if everything is resolved using an element that's been introduced in the story earlier then forgotten about. We all knew this as writers, and it was a thing Steven Moffat excelled at in his past scripts. And to be fair he has managed to get into most of the stories in the new series. But Pratchett's Going Postal really showed the principles in practice. Every element of the story was neatly and satisfyingly wrapped up, including strands of story that you'd forgotten even needed wrapping up.
However Cold Blood, whose first half Hungry Earth was so promising, ended up terribly. As I shall mither further about in...
3) This series of Dr Who has some rubbish endings
We've had a big crack that appears at the end of many stories into which some bits of the story have clearly fallen. We've had some Daleks just bugger off, as they've done once too often, very clearly intending to return later in the series in order to justify the budget spent on the new designs. We've had the Weeping Angels fall into the big crack in such a way as to suggest they're very clearly going to fall out of it on the other side, possibly in the last two episodes. That same episode had River saying she'd see the Dr again when "The Pandorica Opens" which, lo, turns out to be the name of the episode after next, so that story's clearly not finished. We've had Venice's canals left full of bitey piranha people, I think, we've had the population of the UK left floating on a big turtle (probably going to appear in a Terry Pratchett story), we've had it all be a dream, we've had the Silurians invasion put on hold for 1000 years - no, 990 years cos we were already 10 years into the future - and worst of all we've had Rory killed, not once but twice. First time he stayed dead for about three minutes. This time I give it three weeks. Oh come on, of course he's not properly dead. What's the betting Amy's not even a tiny bit inconsoleable next week? We'll see.
4) The South Park comparison.
I've already read two reviews that have made the "Oh My God They Killed Kenny" comparison with the various deaths of Rory, and I'm sure there are more out there. Why did this happen in, effectively, subsequent episodes? Very very very bad script editing, series structuring, or something to allow that to happen.
5) Worst, nobody cares
It is the biggest tragedy of Series 5 of Doctor Who that there is no tragedy in it. We just don't care about Amy because she just doesn't seem like a real person. By the second week of series 1, Rose was the centre of the drama, she was the star around whom the story revolved. We'd met her Mum, her boyfriend, we felt her boredom, her loneliness, and we shared her excitement at this bloke the Doctor who'd come along. Our involvement with her was maintained, as was our interest in every other person in the story whenever they appeared, as they were fleshed out as real people.
7 year old Amy we got this with. That first episode, Eleventh Hour, was perfect. We felt so sorry for 7 year old Amy, and carried some of that to grown up Amy. Then in episode two we forgot, as did she, that she'd left anyone behind. And in episode 3, the awful Dalek story, she was just a shouty prop, coming up with improbable solutions to ludicrous situations in tight clothes. She was, by that stage, the least convincing Doctor Who sidekick since the 1980s.
By this stage we knew Martha's family, even though they were all a bit rubbish, and she had her role as "rebound companion", and from the start Donna was just a treat, a funny and engaging character who was so empathic to other people she drew you into every drama she was involved in. She made you cry for Ood, for gods sake, bloody useless spaghetti faced Ood. That's how good Donna was.
6) Dr Who Confidential's finding it hard too
DWC was a bit spoilt with David Tennant, a chatty actor who was also a Dr Who fan. And of course with Russell Davies, who could talk for Wales. And when Catherine Tate came on board, the show just overflowed with entertaining chat. Even when Donna had been out of the show for a year and came back for one Christmas special in which, as I recall, she TOOK ONE PHONE CALL AND FELL OVER - she and David managed to appear on TV for, what was it, 72 hours last Christmas?
Matt and Karen, bless their little hearts, just aren't like that. Like Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper before them, they are just actors, and of course they're quite young ones. They simply don't have that much to say. That's not unusual or a bad thing - it's a rare Hollywood starlet who has a great deal to add in an interview about a job where, let's face it, you wear some clothes, run about a bit, and say some words you don't always understand. But to have a whole show based on the behind the scenes making of a TV show, which on two occasions this series has been longer than the episode itself, is a big ask. No other TV show has a "...Confidential", and this series has demonstrated why. (NB: The Dalek episode's Confidential show was much more interesting than the episode itself, and that can't be right).
7) Budgets really do make a difference
Lest I forget Terry Pratchett's Going Postal, did I mention how marvellous it looked? The costumes, the locations, the lighting, the props and the CGI were all outstanding. They filmed entirely in Budapest, and make excellent use of locations both urban and rural, which blended brilliantly with the FX to create a Victorian steam-punk Discworld that looked consistently, er, consistent. And there was no behind the scenes show afterwards to ruin the magic for you.
In comparison Doctor Who, who have made two excursions to Croatia to film, are clearly working on a shoestring budget. Their lighting struggles to impress, they have a lot of small sets with low ceilings and flat floors, and my god if I see them setting one more story in the crypt of a bloody church pretending to be a museum or the bridge of a star ship (or, as in one occasion, a church) I shall not be surprised. I think every square inch of South Wales has now been used at some time in Dr Who, and can I just point out to them that at no point has it ever looked remotely like London. We can tell.
8) The ratings are low. I find out from Gallifrey Base that last week's Doctor Who had the lowest viewing figures since 1989. That doesn't bode well. Though obviously Sky1's will have been lower, especially among diehard HD fans who only have cable.
9) Things can only get better. I'm still a whopping Doctor Who fan, and this season may be the patchiest since it returned in 2005, with the most annoying companion, the least well resolved plots, the most repetitive locations, the least well fleshed out characters, the worst time-slot and the worst ratings, and I think that Sonic Screwdriver looks a bit big... but I still love it. And I'm hoping that when this series finale comes to an end, millions of us will watch it and agree, and by the time of the Christmas Episode we'll think Dr Who has never been better.
10) And I heard a rumour that RTD returns to co-write the Xmas episode with Moffat, which is so good it can't possibly be true.