Saturday, May 4, 2013

To Name a Thing is to Have Power Over It

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"Every journey taken by a time-traveller tears a wound in the fabric of reality, and the Doctor has time-travelled more than anyone. But the trail runs cold in Trenzalore, the one place in all of time and space that he should never go. The most dangerous place in the universe..."

James McGrath and Eruesso of A God-Sized Puzzle both have interesting posts relating this business of "the Doctor's name" to philosophy of religion and the question of whether revealing too much of a mystery just spoils the fun (and in the case of religion, spoils the transcendence) rather than adding meaningful information.

This highlights what I think is the inherent problem with Dr. Who, at least in its current iteration. They keep having to up the stakes. The 2005 premier season blew up the Earth in the second episode and Davies and now Moffat have been trying to outdo their last shocker ever since- the heat death of the universe, the Master takes over the world, the Master becomes the world, Davros is back, the Doctor has a daughter, the Doctor has a wife (at least with Susan Foreman, things were shrouded in mystery), the TARDIS speaks, Rassilon is back, there's a "crack" in reality, we've got to "reboot" the universe, and on and on and on. What have there been, like ten episode titles following "The End of the [blank]" formula? Well, this newest one at least won't follow that particular formula, but it's still in the same vein (And how many times have we been told that the Doctor is going somewhere he should never go? I can think of at least three off the top of my head).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming Davies or Moffat. Such perpetual raising of the stakes is inevitable and even necessary when you've got a series that has all of time and space to play with. Which makes me wonder if time travel shows, in their "unlimited" nature, are in actuality inherently *self limiting.* So many new revelations and attempts to keep us on the edge of our seat and in awe just wind up making us a little cynical. Of course this won't be the end, of course silence won't fall when the question is asked (not in what it would be tempting to call the literal sense, anyway), we wouldn't have a show otherwise. No way they would let go of such a cash cow, at any rate. The Doctor will reveal another little bit of his identity that will just chip away at another little bit of the mystery and The Name of the Doctor will most likely end with another regeneration and us little Pavlov pooches will be left to droll in anticipation of the 2014 season and the next way in which the Doctor will pretzelfy time and space and make Stephen Hawking cry in some other "ultimate" conflict.

I know! Maybe for 2014 they'll go completely meta! The Doctor has to save fiction itself alongside the cast of Thursday Next (darn, that's actually something I'd like to see)! And why not? They've done everything short of "the Doctor kills God." Is the show being run by BBC's ad department ("always keep em yearning for more!")?

TVtropes has a concept called "Darkness Induced Audience Apathy,"

Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy occurs when a conflict exists that simply lacks any reason for the audience to give a damn about how it is resolved. This is often because the setting is extremely but meaninglessly Darker and Edgier, and all sides are abhorrently, equally evil — or at least, far enough gone that any difference between the two is splitting hairs. As such, consumers of media affected by Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy tend to approach conflict between parties or factions with remarkable indifference; because no matter who wins, the universe will still suck. (And while it would be really nice to see them all lose, it ain't going to happen.) In other words, there is nothing at stake.

I would propose that Doctor Who is quickly approaching (and for me personally is already in, to be honest) a state of "Universe-Shattering Stakes Induced Audience Apathy" ("USSIAA," sounds like a former state in Eastern Europe). All the attempts at "epicness" are just starting to ring hollow to me. I almost want to say it feels like they're trying to hard.

I'm not saying I want Moffat to hit the "reset button" and turn the series back into 60s edutainment or a 70s sci-spy thriller, but I just wish we could dial it back down a little. Not every season has to end with Crisis on Infinite TARDISes (TARDISie? TARDI?)

Or maybe the series has just been sucked dry. "All good things...," after all.

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