Doctor Who, Terra Nova, and Homeland

Posted on October 03, 2011

Our TV blogging roster is pretty heavy right now, and about to get heavier with the Walking Dead season 2 premiere less than two weeks away, but we figured we’d give our thoughts on some of the more notable television offerings out there. Because “opinionated” is in the tagline and we just can’t leave one unexpressed.

Terra Nova, “Genesis”

Considering all the money spent, the Spielberg involvement, and the long wait for this pilot to air, Terra Nova was more than a letdown. The concept is a fantastic launching point to tell stories: 22nd Century humanity, in the throes of a total environmental collapse, discover a time fracture that allows one-way trips to millions of years in the past. Select humans are chosen to make the trip and start over again in a world both pristine and infinitely more dangerous than the one they left behind. Sounds great, right? So what did we get? Exceedingly lame family drama. You would think after the disaster that “V” was, no television writer would ever want to re-use the old trope of the snotty, trouble-prone teenage boy causing trouble, but there it was; almost two full hours of it. And all because of his daddy issues. And when we say “trouble-prone,” we mean “causes several deaths and puts several dozen other lives in danger.” Result? Hugs. Bleh. There’s also a slightly disturbing racial component, where every character of color was either an idiotic coward (and thus, dino fodder) or a mysterious and dangerous radical. We’ll watch the latest episode tonight, but unless there’s a good 20 minute sequence of lasers vs. dinosaurs, we’ll be left asking “What’s the point of this show?” We can get treacly family glurge practically anywhere else on television. There’s no reason to smear it all over what should be a fun adventure show.

Homeland

Mo Ryan turned us on to this one and once again, the lady knows what we like. Luckily, we already subscribe to Showtime, because after watching the pilot episode OnDemand (which should still be available to everyone, whether they’re Showtime customers or not), we were hooked. It’s easily among the best new shows of the season, if not the best, full stop. Doing a terrorism-based thriller in 2011 seems almost quaint now, since 24 pretty much defined the post-9/11 era, but this one is smart and nuanced in a way its genre-setting forebear was not. Claire Danes plays Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent who has a tendency to get a little obsessive. Rather than roll around in the tired old trope of the loose cannon who’s always right going up against her by-the-book superiors (one of whom is played by the most low-key Mandy Patinkin we’ve ever seen), we find out that the people she answers to might actually be right when they try to reign her in and fail to trust her instincts. We’ll leave that there because there are reveals galore in the first episode and we don’t really want to give much away. Damian Lewis plays Nicholas Brody, a returning Marine who’s been a prisoner of war in Iraq for 8 years and long considered dead. V’s Morena Baccarin plays his wife and she’s so far from the reptilian uber-bitch she played in her previous show that you’d almost believe it was a different actress except for her uncommon beauty.  All of the performances are nomination-level great, with intensity when the brilliantly tight script calls for it and subtlety when it makes the most sense. We hesitate to reveal much of anything about the plot, save that it manages to delve into the much-delved-into ideas of surveillance overreach in a post-post 9/11 world and what forms the ongoing War on Terror might take as it gets more and more sophisticated – on both sides. With the final reveal of the hour, we’re left wondering just how the show’s creators are going to manage an entire season with this story, let alone the possibility of multiple ones, but we don’t even care. We were sucked in almost immediately and did that thing that always tells us we just got introduced to a show we’re gonna love: “Damn. It’s over already?”

Doctor Who, “The Wedding of River Song”

Well, that was a bit of a disappointment. Taken on its own, the Season 6 finale was a bunch of fun, loud scenes strung together, with more insane concepts in one hour (Winston Caesar! Area 52! Chess-Playing Viking! Talking blue head in a box! Meredith Viera!) than most shows manage in an entire season, leaving the viewer’s head spinning as to what the hell was going to happen next. That’s good. That’s what Doctor Who is supposed to be; wild concepts and fun rides. Sure, the ending was a literal deus ex machina, and worse, one that doesn’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny (compare the Tesselecta’s robotic “performance” when it was imitating anyone else vs. how it acted when it was imitating The Doctor), and sure, it was yet another alternate timeline with the fate of the entire universe on the line, almost exactly like last year’s finale, but none of that really bothered us because most of it was just plain fun ( a word we just realized we – quite appropriately – used way too many times in one paragraph).

But, showrunner Stephen Moffat set up a storyline that had to come to its conclusion with this episode and it was a story that was deeply emotional at its core. You don’t have to do melodrama with Doctor Who (and the argument can be made that you shouldn’t even attempt it), but if you are going to base your story around the idea of parents losing their infant to political zealots who brainwash it into being a psychopathic assassin, and if you end the story by revealing said child spent a good portion of her life in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, then have that adult child jump up and down in glee with her parents at the news  that the man who was, in many ways, responsible for all of that is alive and well and off having adventures somewhere without them, then that rings as terribly false to us. Yes, it was The Silence who did all of those things to the Pond-Williams family, but it was their association with The Doctor that lead The Silence to them and set all of those events in motion and not only did The Doctor not solve any of these problems, he waved them off at the end. He admitted that River still has to go to prison for murdering him (and have history record her as one of its greatest monsters; worse even than Hitler) but that’s okay because she spends her nights with him having adventures. Great, but that effectively removes any agency for the character. She exists because of the Doctor and her entire life has been dependent upon The Doctor. She’s barely made any decisions for herself (even her doctorate was pursued so she could find him again) in her entire life — and THAT’S the happy ending? She’s “married” to a man who has never really demonstrated any romantic feelings for her outside of the mildest of flirtations (and the wedding itself consisted of him barking orders at her to “do as she’s told” after yelling at her that she embarrassed him) and she’s fine with that? Amy’s fine with that? That doesn’t ring true on an emotional level at all. In fact, it’s the very worst thing you can do with science fiction; the trap that all lesser sci-fi authors tend to fall into: not taking real, recognizable human emotions into account. If Moffat wasn’t capable of that or (more likely) simply didn’t want to wallow in the melodrama, then we find ourselves wishing he hadn’t made the attempt at all. River Song was a fantastic character when we didn’t know anything about her, but now that the blanks have been filled in, she comes across as a woman with no life of her own who’s so obsessed with The Doctor that she’ll destroy the universe to keep him alive and will happily live her life at his whim, entirely dependent upon a “husband” who doesn’t even seem to love her.

The Doctor has a very dark side to him and this has been true of virtually all his incarnations. It’s certainly a point that’s been visited more than once this season (both in “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex”). We can buy that he might treat his companions this way and not give it a second thought, but we can’t buy that his companions would necessarily love him for it.

 

 

[Photo Credit: BBC America, Showtime, Fox]

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