Perpetual Pareidolia?

This week Whovian Leap considers the “second series”. Or is it just another example of the human condition correctly diagnosed by the Eighth Doctor in the TV Movie? 

Practice makes perfect they say and this has been true for Nu-Who. Back in 2004 as soon as Series One filming was underway, the production crew had already fallen behind schedule. Despite their wealth of experience, it was almost as if everyone behind the scenes was learning the ropes for the first time. Doctor Who just isn’t your average show. Cumbersome Slitheen costumes caused delays and the very first episode “Rose” so massively under-ran that the lengthy “turn of the earth” scene had to be added. Behind the scenes conflicts – which have never fully come to light – led to the truly “fantastic!” Christopher Eccleston quitting the role. Viewers, fortunately, remained blissfully unaware of these teething problems. For them Doctor Who was shiny and new, a polished production of the highest order. 

Series Two seemed to have an extra spring in its step after the success of Series One. It wasn’t scared of drawing on Doctor Who’s rich heritage, bringing back Sarah Jane and K9, as well as updating the Cybermen. It took a risk with the experimental Doctor-lite episode “Love and Monsters” whilst at the same time consolidated the show’s tried and tested format by maintaining the same mix of one and two parters in the same position as the previous year and successfully repeating the ‘celebrity historical’ and spectacular finale. 

After Series 4 and the specials, it was all change for the production team and, according to rumours, the show’s budget suffered from BBC cuts. Though full of originality and energy, Series 5 did seem at times a little shaky. The SFX didn’t quite convince (“The Vampires of Venice”) and would have seemed more at home in Doctor Who’s cheaper spin-off show “SJA”. And who can forget that slight production misstep in the big-bottomed shape of those colourful Teletubby-like Paradigm Daleks? Matt Smith, however, visibly grew into the role of the Doctor as Series 5 progressed as he worked out who his Doctor was. 

Series 6 was by far a much more confident affair. It kicked off with a bold two parter – something which had never been done before – and Steven Moffat even dared to kill off the Doctor in its opening moments. He clearly felt more confident in his role as showrunner and didn’t shy away from “slutty” episode titles as he called them, such as “Let’s Kill Hitler”. Nor was he scared of rocking the boat of good ship fandom marrying off the Doctor in the series finale. Last but not least, an obvious rapport between Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill had built up and Team Tardis were a positive joy to behold. 

Two years later, bolstered by the success of the 50th Anniversary and Matt Smith’s swan song, Moffat was still at the helm of the show alongside many experienced writers and production team members. A sense of continuity might have been expected, but an oncoming storm loomed – the arrival of the indomitable Twelfth. 

Perhaps it was excessive self-assurance that led to a mistake. In an attempt to differentiate the new Doctor from Eleventh’s persona, Moffat and his team scripted the newly regenerated Time Lord as darker and less likeable. Fans were expected to love Doctor Who, but not the show’s lead character. Quite an ask.

Scenes became longer and wordier in Series 8. Though clever dialogue abounded, the pace of the stories suffered. A sense of bleakness pervaded. The Doctor argued bitterly with Clara. Her boyfriend – and not forgetting the Brigadier – were gruesomely turned into Cybermen. For some Doctor Who stopped being an enjoyable or even watchable show. Despite the high quality of the scripts, it came as no surprise when audience appreciation figures took a considerable hit. 

Many fans sighed with relief as the Doctor became loveable again in Series 9. In a somewhat belated charm offensive, he now hugs, smiles and even plays the guitar. The Doctor and Clara have relished their adventures through time and space. And viewers have enjoyed the ride too. Fun has replaced angst and balance has been restored after the pendulum swung a little too far into darkness in Series 8. 

Peter Capaldi’s performance has always been second to none, but only did he really hit the heights in Series 9.  Just think of the anti-war speech in “The Zygon Inversion”, the whole of his powerful one-hander that was “Heaven Sent” and his emotional goodbyes to Clara in “Face the Raven” and “Hell Bent”. 

In conclusion, looking at Series 2, 6 and 9 in conjunction, we might just conclude that second time round things really do tend to work out. Or perhaps it is just pareidolia? Google it!

“I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there!” – The Eighth Doctor 

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