All right, so last week I complained that no writer of the stature of Douglas Adams was writing for the new Doctor Who, and that in general the 2005 series failed to rise to the heights of the old shows of my childhood.
But there are perils in reviewing a series before you’ve watched all the episodes. Because I’ve finally gotten Disc 3 from Netflix, and to my extraordinary surprise and pleasure, the two-part episode “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances” was written by none other than Steven Moffat, and suddenly it’s all worthwhile.
It’s no secret that Moffat, creator of Coupling and other successful British comedies, can write crisp, funny dialogue. But he also turns out to be a pretty good science fiction writer, fashioning from some basic but very plausible SF elements a creepy Jamesian ghost story that evokes and explores the pain of the London Blitz.
The fact that the best episode so far takes the English experience in World War II as its starting point is not, I think, a coincidence. Doctor Who has always been unapologetically British in character, and it has in turn become one of the touchstones of British culture, a homegrown entertainment standing in proud opposition to the soulless and brainless, if much more slickly produced, American science fiction shows and films that often dominate the global cultural landscape. Or, in the words of Harlan Ellison:
Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurantist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains to puree of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I’ll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!
And while the Russell Davies episodes don’t slouch in their love for the homeland, Moffat is, I think, the fellow to put all the right elements together for a revival of classic Who style: smart, funny, scalpel sharp in its application of science fiction concepts, and distinctly British. This episode won the 2006 Hugo for best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form, beating out such bright American lights as Lost and Battlestar Galactica, and — I couldn’t help peeking ahead — episodes written by Moffat have won in 2007 and 2008, too. I’m now officially VERY EXCITED.