Doctor Who: Is the long-running time-travel series showing its age?
OPINION: Has it really been a decade (and a bit) since Doctor Who was reborn in the guise of Christopher Eccleston, pulling on a plain black leather jacket and transforming science fiction's oldest troublemaker into a sort of postmodern likely lad?
It's strange the tricks time plays, because in the dozen or so since the regeneration of one of the BBC's oldest franchises into one of its newest, it feels a little like the clock has been ticking backwards.
Doctor Who is now lurching through its 10th season – the "bit", above, comes from an erratic production schedule and the odd fallow year – with a sort of reinvented brilliance after a few bumpy moments.
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Peter Capaldi's casting was genius but the writing in his first year was uneven and, at times, unfocused. This year has seen a return to form that may yet see Capaldi's Doctor set among the greatest of his peers: Tom Baker, Jon Pertwee and David Tennant.
They are, if you are not among the Doctor Who cognoscenti, the Time Lords by which all others are measured, noted in the main for, respectively, Baker's scarf, Pertwee's velvet smoking jacket and Tennant's pin-stripe suit and sneakers.
But make no mistake this is no new Doctor Who, rather Capaldi's crotchety older man is an echo of the first layer of the show's now-long-worn stencil, the late actor William Hartnell, who played the character in its first iteration as "a crotchety old man in a police box".
This is also the final excursion for showrunner and writer Steven Moffat who came to the series, like his predecessor Russell T. Davies, as a superfan turned professional writer who had, inexplicably, been handed the keys to the candy cabinet.
Contrary to how these things are supposed to go in such cases, both Davies and Moffat have proved to be stunning and at times restrained custodians of the series, bringing a maturity to the writing which many historians would tell you was always there, though that was, in practice, not always the case.
The original Doctor Who is largely remembered through the slightly narrower frame of the series' best episodes: Lewis Greifer and Robert Holmes' Pyramids of Mars, Holmes' Talons of Weng-Chiang, Brian Hayles' Curse of Peladon and Terry Nation's Genesis of the Daleks among them.
Not often wheeled out for public discussion are less brilliant moments in the show's ancient history, such as Timelash, Time Flight and Time and the Rani. (General rule of thumb: Doctor Who serials with "time" in the title are pretty awful.)
Davies and Moffat can take credit for elevating the writing on the series, and Moffat in particular for bringing the textured shadow which has become the calling card of the (new) series best episodes, such as Blink, which introduced the "weeping angels" as recurring villains.
The series has always danced between two masters, if you'll forgive the pun: the package of action, humour and pathos contained in the hour, and the larger mosaic of "Whoniverse" storytelling, the politics of the Daleks (and the Movellans), the Cybermen and, of course, the omnipotent Time Lords.
This season is more solid than those previous, moving elegantly between giving new characters, such as Pearl Mackie's Bill Potts, room to breathe, and finding the space to give fans of the series the small touches – Ysanne Churchman's cameo as hermaphrodite hexapod Alpha Centauri, for example – that turn what could be mere stones into diamonds.
- Fairfax Media Australia