Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Review: Doctor Who: Broadchurch "Episode 1"

Doctor Who: Broadchurch was a ratings darling for the most part. Reviews were mostly positive and the award-winning miniseries was described as "a national obsession." A national obsession it may be... but is it any good?

Good enough to get the inevitable American remake where they took all the Doctor Who stuff out called Gracepoint. Seriously, look it up.

Well, most of the Doctor Who stuff.
Plot/Themes
Right off the bat, I have to admit that the premise of this miniseries is probably the darkest, least Doctor Who-ish thing to ever be involved with the show.

I mean, the event that sets everything into motion is the death of a child. In Doctor Who.

Let's face it; when it comes to Doctor Who, children are pretty much bulletproof. The titular Empty Child from "The Empty Child" effectively came back from the dead, for example. And when Starship UK fed people who knew too much to the Star-Whale in "The Beast Below," it kept spitting the kids out. With the implication that the adults who got thrown in weren't so lucky....

But here, a child is dead. This time, Rose, not everybody lives. And that's really the point of the entire miniseries.

During "The Waters of Mars," the Doctor found himself in a fixed point in time. The first people on Mars were fated to die, which spurred the people of Earth to venture out into the stars to find answers. Roughly 90% of the entirety of human history depended on their deaths. But the Doctor, in a moment of hubris, saved as many of them as he could. He had become the Time Lord Victorious, and history was his to weave.

Adelaide Brooke, the captain of the mission, saw exactly what the Doctor had become, even when he couldn't. He had become the very thing he had fought against for eleven lives. The very thing he railed against his own people for.

Sixth Doctor: "In all my traveling throughout the universe, I have battled against evil, against power-mad conspirators. I should have stayed here. The oldest civilization; decadent, degenerate, and rotten to the core. Power-mad conspirators, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen... they're still in the nursery compared to us. Ten million years of absolute power. That's what it takes to be really corrupt."

Adelaide did the only thing she could do in the face of such power. She took her own life, setting history back on course, and showing the Doctor exactly what he had become. No wonder he ended up in Broadchurch after all that went down. After all, when his first incarnation went on the run, he ended up in a town in England.

Now, a lot of people have made that the argument that this miniseries just doesn't feel like Doctor Who. But actually, it kind of does, in an odd sort of way. And I'm not just talking about all the returning characters.

I love the fact that this is a throwback to the Third Doctor era. No TARDIS, working with the local authorities, and the crimes and culprits are often completely human, albeit with a sci-fi atmosphere. But unfortunately, I will admit that the sci-fi atmosphere is more than a bit lacking in this miniseries.

I mean, the polarity of the neutron flow isn't reversed even once!
A person who has never seen Doctor Who before this would probably see this as a typical crime drama without understanding the deeper significance behind everything. I can only imagine how many people watched this without realizing that it was an episode of Doctor Who. Poor fools.

Still, I'll give Doctor Who: Broadchurch this: It handled the death of a character named "Danny" far better than the main series did.

Someday, Moffat, I will make you explain why you expect us to accept it when easy-to-rescue characters end up left behind.
Cough, Amy, Rory, Danny, cough.

Characters
The Doctor

David Tennant is showing of his range (and his natural Scottish accent) in a much different outing than the Doctor's usual fare. But even when at his lowest point, the Doctor does what he does best. He does what he can to help. And because he's discarded anything that associates him with his brief stint as the Time Lord Victorious, he's doing it the human way, with observation and deduction.

As well as a few forged credentials and a fake backstory.
Like I said, it's a throwback to the Third Doctor era, but Tennant's performance is still his own and not just an aping of Jon Pertwee.

Ellie Miller
It's nice to see this character again, albeit for the first time, technically.

I'm fairly certain that she's supposed to be a bit of a red herring. After all, the last time we saw "her" in "The Eleventh Hour," she was an alien shapeshifter. It's a clever character choice, because the audience is naturally suspicious of her. A good way to make sure that literally anybody could be the murderer.

As for the actual portrayal of the character, I think Olivia Colman does a darn fine job. Too many times in fiction we get overtly hostile women as soldiers, police, etc. because a surprising amount of writers think "strong, independent women" have to constantly assert that they're strong and independent. Ellie Miller walks the walk when push comes to shove, but she does have a softer side. She genuinely cares about her own family as well as the Latimers. Seeing Danny's body cuts her deep, but she ultimately manages to stay professional, all things considered.

I really do like how much of a professional she is. Sure, she resents the Doctor for getting the job she was promised, but apart from a few snide remarks, she still respects him as a superior officer. It's an interesting twist on the Doctor/Companion dynamic to have both of them as officers of the law, as well as a refreshing take to have her not be an object to be ogled by the audience. It reminds me, once again, of the Third Doctor and Liz Shaw in the best possible way. The Doctor needs her on this case. Not because she's a Mary Sue (like a certain 11th/12th Doctor companion who shall be discussed at a later date), or because humans are special, but because police work is something she's good at.

Is she perfect? No. But she'll never do any less than her best. And in a time in Doctor Who's history where Clara is so hyper-confident and hyper-competent that she can successfully pretend to be the Doctor himself in both "Flatline" and "Dark Water," it's a breath of fresh air to have a companion who's simply good at her job.

Long story short, I love Ellie as a companion.

I want to see these two fight Zygons.
Beth and Mark Latimer
Kudos to both actors. I know that it can be hard for actors to deliver "serious" performances in Doctor Who. Noel Clarke's performance as Mickey "The Idiot" Smith in the first few episodes of the new series is quite ridiculous, mainly because he saw Doctor Who as a goofy kids' show.  But Jodie Whittaker and Andrew Buchan deliver powerhouse performances beyond generic "grief." Beth is stuck in the bargaining stage of grief whereas Mark is stuck in the denial stage.

In all seriousness, excellent performances.

As for Mark's suspicious goings-on, it's obviously a red herring. I'm sorry, but this type of plot isn't going to be that obvious with the clues.

Broadchurch's Other Residents
We get introduced to pretty much all of Broadchurch's residents in this episode. I'll save the others for later. Each of these characters will get the focus at some point, so I'll talk about them when they become important, if and when I decide to return to this miniseries. But if you want a quick rundown....

Ollie's a disrespectful piece of crap and I hate the character's guts.

Chloe Latimer is a nondescript teenager.

And the other characters merely fulfill their meager roles in the plot this far.

As for the killer... well, I know who it is. And looking back on how the character is introduced and seen in this episode, it's really obvious in retrospect. You know, the innocuous secondary character who's introduced and forgotten almost right away?

And without giving anything away, let's just say that the culprit saw some stuff go down in the Doctor Who universe (either the show proper or a spin-off) that could have easily caused him/her to go off the deep end.

Music
A resounding "meh" from me. Murray Gold declines to score this miniseries, so the job fell to Ólafur Arnalds. And while the score is well done, nothing about it really feels like Doctor Who. I can only imagine the Doctor Who theme would have had to be licensed separately, and I wish they would have shilled out for it.

Visuals
This episode looks a lot more realistic than your average episode of Doctor Who. Mostly because of the lack of extraterrestrials. Well, nonhuman ones. The cinematography's a bit more artsy than your typical Doctor Who fare, but nothing too pretentious.

All in all, just judging by the first episode, I'd unfortunately have to recommend avoiding this series. It tries to be different, which I can appreciate, but it simply doesn't feel like Doctor Who. It feels more like a gritty reboot taking away all the sci-fi and trying to be "serious."

Honestly, they should have just made it into its own "Broadchurch" series with nothing to do with Doctor Who, like the American and French remakes were. Both Doctor Who proper and this series would have benefited from that. Doctor Who wouldn't have to worry about continuity getting tangled, and Broadchurch could tell the story about the town, which seems to be what Chris Chibnall wants to focus on, rather than the Doctor.

If you want to give this miniseries a shot, go right ahead. There's even a sequel miniseries for you if you end up liking it. As for myself, if I ever decide to finish recapping this miniseries, it probably won't be for... about 365 days. Maybe 366?

See you then.

2 comments:

  1. I liked Broadchurch, but after watching lots of Law and Order: Criminal Intent, the show itself felt like it dragged the mystery out in comparison.

    Yeah, I did not like the 12th Doctor series very much. The only one I can say I liked was the Robin Hood episode.

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    1. I like the 12th Doctor himself, and I really think that some of the best moments are just when Peter Capaldi is allowed to banter. The actual episodes themselves.... let's just say I have strong opinions about "Listen."

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