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Doctor Hmph: Is There Too Much Who Negativity?

Guest contributor Caleb Smith ponders if the show is receiving too much criticism lately.

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Is pessimism the new norm? We all know that Doctor Who is one of the best shows on television. Most who disagree are not regulars on DWTV. Yet the reaction to each episode lately seems to have been generally negative, with some positive points. This occurred to me as I perused the most recent update to the Series 7 episode rankings. Although there were exceptions (most notably “The Snowmen”), the second part episodes ranked consistently below the first part episodes. Despite near unanimity regarding the flaws of “The Power of Three,” it still ranked above “The Rings of Akhaten,” which, in my humble opinion, is far superior.

Series 7 is not the only part of this. Series 6 also took much criticism, much more than Series 5. Yet it was arguably a better season (my main reasons being Smith growing into his role, the River/Silence arc, the stronger presence of Rory, “The Doctor’s Wife,” and the brilliance of starting off with a dead Doctor). I realize people will disagree on specific points, but it is not very hard to find a general trend of increasing negativity since Series 5. I have found at least a few people who agree. I was perusing a negative review of “Let’s Kill Hitler” and noticed how much more it was defended by commenters than any of the recent episodes with negative reviews have been.

So, my question is why? If people really are getting more negative about our cherished show, why? I feel that there are three major possibilities:

Twisted Expectations

smith-dwl-promoOne possibility is that expectations have been shaped lately in ways that foster disappointment with each new episode. This can come in forms of both positive and negative expectations. Positive expectations build hype and excitement. Examples include teasers, spoilers, and the general air of “this season must be awesome” as the 50th anniversary approaches. The positive expectations, when they get out of hand, cause disappointment when the episode, however great, fails to reach the exalted image that first existed in the mind.

Negative expectations can also cause problems. These generally come from negative advance reviews or skepticism regarding something revealed in the spoilers/teasers. Thus the mind becomes predisposed to fault-find or be overly critical when the episode actually arrives. With this the ratings fall below what they could have been.

None of this is to say that I have a problem with teasers, spoilers, and advance reviews. On the contrary, I love them. They intrigue me. However, it is very possible that they contribute to the increasing trends of disappointment as Doctor Who goes on.

Bad Administration

Steven-Moffat--facepalmThe increasing negativity lately may also stem from the questionable administrative choices the show has had to deal with in the past few years. A great example of this, and probably the main issue, is the split series format. The polls here showed that most people do not enjoy splitting each series, a problem which is compounded by long waits between series. Basically, we end up waiting for months for Who to return, get all excited, and then are underwhelmed if the return is anything less than utterly, smashingly spectacular (though I think for me “The Bells of Saint John” delivered). It probably also hurts that many people will begin to lose interest in some of the big plot points when they have to suspend them for months at a time.

Another possibility: IT’S ALL MOFFAT’S FAULT! Just kidding. Nonetheless, there are some who will argue that Steven Moffat is simply not up to the task of running Doctor Who. I may disagree, but it could be that they have a point, or at least part of one. Moffat has a tendency to build up lots of hype, thus contributing to the twisted expectations problem, and while I think his stuff can be brilliant, he does occasionally get lost in his grand schemes and leave minor plot holes or underwhelming resolutions that can depress overall satisfaction with an otherwise superb episode (if you can’t tell, I love Moffat but can still see how he could improve).

The Show is Doomed

Okay, most would not say it that way, but I have seen at least a few commenters complaining about how Doctor Who is on the decline and is past its peak. I consider this hogwash, especially leading up to the 50th anniversary. I also feel that Series 7 Part 2 is possibly the best of Moffat’s era. Could it be that the pessimists are right and the show will crumble? I guess it is possible, but I doubt it. Still, if anyone can make a case for it, I would be glad to hear.

What We Should Do

Let’s just all be optimists. Doctor Who is excellent, easily one of the best (if not the best), sci-fi shows of all time. While of course every episode has its flaws, they are still part of a great mythology and tradition that continues to evolve and expand. When we see Matt Smith take Jenna-Louise Coleman into a fake wooden police box and hit a bunch of buttons and levers that do nothing, we are being transported into an incredible world of wonder and awe that is the point of the entire Who legacy. After all, who watches the show to criticize it? No one I know. We watch to vicariously experience impossible adventures with a madman in a box through his lovely companions, and nearly every episode delivers on this point. So perk up. If you plan to love the show but drop the perfectionist expectations, you will enjoy it no matter what goes wrong.

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