DNF: Castleview, Gene Wolfe; and what I thought about the new kid

The jacket copy on the Gene Wolfe books at the library assured me that Gene Wolfe’s most famous books are a series with the word Sun in them, but failed to explain to me which book was the first of that series.  Yes, I could have looked it up on the library computers, but I was only getting his books in the first place because he was right there under W, and Sexing the Cherry was not, so I couldn’t be bothered expending a lot of effort.

Again I say unto you: It is not a good strategy to get a book by an author you have heard a lot about just because you happen to be standing in that section.  I picked up Castleview because, well, because it had a castle, and figures from Arthurian legend.  I like a castle.  I like figures from Arthurian legend.  I read two-thirds of it on Easter Sunday, and seriously, you could offer me a million dollars right now and I would not be able to tell you what was going on in that book.  Characters come and go with terrifying rapidity, and I lost the thread of the plot after about two chapters.  By chapter three my only reaction was: “What?  What?  What?”

With which convenient segue I turn to the subject of Matt Smith and his Saturday debut as the Doctor.  I am happy to report that my not inconsiderable efforts to come to terms with David Tennant’s departure have worked brilliantly, and I was hardly at all resentful of Matt Smith for dashing about being the Doctor.  I didn’t even get that feeling with Matt Smith that I had when David Tennant first showed up, that he was only pretending to be the Doctor.  He was the Doctor straight away.

I liked (’ware major spoilers):

  • How they’ve made Amy such a perfect stand-in for the audience, with her years of dreaming about the Doctor, while also giving her a backstory that provides a good reason for her to go with the Doctor when he asks her to go.  Plus I just love it that she’s from a small town where everyone not only knows her but knows about “the raggedy Doctor”.
  • The Doctor treats little Amelia exactly the same way he treats grown-up Amy, Geoff, Rory – everyone really.  It’s easy to win viewers’ sympathy by being extra nice to a lonely little kid, but it wouldn’t make sense for the Doctor to be different with her than he would be with a grown-up human.  He’s over 900 years old, for heaven’s sake: All the humans he meets would be like children to him.  “Do everything I tell you, don’t ask stupid questions, and don’t wander off.”  Yup, those are the rules.
  • We still don’t know what was going on with the crack in Amelia’s wall.  Scary scary.  I like ongoing plotlines.
  • The Doctor’s about-faces on the question of back-up and whether having it or not having it meant they were safe.  I do enjoy undercutting of tense moments.
  • “This matters, this is important.  Why did you say six months?”  “Why did you say five minutes?”  Quite right too.  Poor little sausage, waiting for her magic Doctor.  Grown-ups are so disappointing.
  • “I’m the Doctor; I’m worse than everybody’s aunt.”  Love it.
  • The Doctor rings up the aliens on the phone and makes them come back.  To fuss at them for threatening Earth in the first place.  I could not possibly be happier about this.  I was so happy about this that I felt only a small amount sad to see David Tennant’s face in the Doctor Montage, and didn’t mind at all the new kid walking through his face at the end.  It didn’t feel dismissive.  And I always like it when the Doctor can stand there, all human-looking and alone, and intimidate the hell out of a massive alien threat.  You know if he had to, he could put paid to those eyeball aliens forever.  “Basically – run.”
  • “You kept the clothes?” “I just saved the world.  The whole planet, for about the millionth time, no charge.  Yeah.  Shoot me.  I kept the clothes.”  “Including the bow tie?” “Yeah, it’s cool.  Bow ties are cool.”  Can I just say again that I love the clothes?  I love the clothes.  Including the bow tie.  I have long been a secret fan of bow ties, on people who can carry them off.  The Doctor and Justice Stevens are two people who can absolutely carry them off.

I did not like:

  • (Here is where that segue comes in.) When the Doctor said “What? What? What?” in that blatantly David Tennant way.  Did not like, do not want.  That marked the only time in the whole episode that I got truly cross at the new kid.  I snarled, BACK OFF, YOU.  AND GET OUT OF HIS CLOTHES.  (Not, um, not in a dirty way.)
  • “Who da man?”  Bleargh.
  • The new TARDIS.  I am surprised at how much I miss the old TARDIS.  I do not currently like the new decoration, but I am curious to see some of its other rooms.  The only time I can remember seeing any other TARDIS rooms during Russell T. Davies’ tenure as showrunner is when David Tennant was picking out his clothes. TARDIS rooms, please.  I would like to see the library.
  • The fact that we didn’t really get to see the layout of Amy’s house before the extra room showed up.  Or did we, and I missed it?  I think it would have been creepier if we had had to make note of there being only five rooms, before the Doctor makes Amy count and realize there are six.

I have concerns relating to:

  • This being a rather by-the-numbers Doctor Who episode.  As first outings for new kids go, this episode is shades of “Smith and Jones”, “The Girl in the Fireplace”, “The Christmas Invasion”, “42” – oh, well, you know.  I’m not fussed about it as long as the others aren’t the same way.
  • Steven Moffat’s apparent penchant for swooshy romance.  I don’t want River Song back (for four episodes), I’m not convinced there was any reason Ten had to fall in love with Madame de Pompadour, and overall I would prefer it if Amy and the Doctor were just very, very, very good friends.  The nice thing (for me) about Donna and Ten, and Rose and Ten even, was that they were really good friends having a fantastic time together and enjoying each other’s company.  Martha kind of brought me down, moping around all the time.
  • In a related note, the executive producer Piers Winger said this about Amy: “The whole kissogram thing played into Steven’s desire for the companion to be feisty and outspoken and a bit of a number. Amy is probably the wildest companion that the Doctor has travelled with, but she isn’t promiscuous. She is really a two-man woman and that will become clear over the course of the episodes.  Sci-fi has a long and happy history of sexy female characters and long may that continue.”  Oh, really, she’s not promiscuous?  THAT IS SUCH A WEIGHT OFF MY MIND.  Dear Piers Winger, We are at least temporarily not friends anymore.  Kisses, Jenny.

THE END OF THE SPOILERS.

Overall I was solidly in favor, and now I wish it were Saturday again.  I only started watching Doctor Who after the fourth series had ended, so I’ve waited for the specials but never for a proper season.  It is strange and wonderful that there will be new episodes every Saturdays for the next lots of Saturdays.

Did you like it?  If you haven’t watched Doctor Who before, may I suggest you start?  This episode isn’t a bad one to be your first: plot a bit thin but the characters get nicely introduced and the Doctor is classically Doctory, and if you’ve never seen the TARDIS before you might like it even though I do not.

18 thoughts on “DNF: Castleview, Gene Wolfe; and what I thought about the new kid

  1. I think I’m going to like Matt Smith as the Doctor. Only a few missteps (as you mentioned) but, on the whole, I think he owned it. I definitely forgot to miss David Tennant while watching this episode.

    Still reserving judgement on Amy though. Making her a kissogram was to show that she was ‘fiesty and outspoken’? Donna was a temp and she was both those things, thank you very much. Amy is gorgeous though and spunky and as long as she doesn’t turn into Martha, angsting after the Doctor all season, I think I’ll like her.

    I love your tags!

    • I did too! I felt so guilty not missing him the whole time! It was like – have you seen Angel? At one point a major character dies, and when I was watching Angel for the first time, I was all, I WILL NEVER FORGET THIS CHARACTER EVER NEVER NEVER EVER, but the guy they got in to replace him was so funny that by the end of the episode when they mentioned the recently-dead dude, I was all, Oh yeah. Him.

      (Except of course I did not forget David Tennant.)

      I want Amy’s hair. In that last scene in the TARDIS, when she spins round and says “Why me?”, I wanted to crawl into the screen and rip her hair off her head and paste it onto mine.

      That is a disgusting image. I apologize for that. :P

  2. I felt pretty much exactly the same about the episode as you did. I thought Matt Smith did a very good job – a bit Tennanty at the very beginning, but by the time he was eating fish custard with Amelia he sounded like the Doctor. Little Amelia was great – I sort of wish she’d stayed the companion, since I’d already bonded with her by the time Amy showed up. I did like Amy, though, and I have no problem at all with her being a kissogram.

    I had the same reservations as you, too. I did think the plot was pretty much Smith and Jones with a Girl in the Fireplace twist, and I never quite understand why introducing a new companion means you need a paper-thin plot. After all, Blink is a regular-length episode that has a complicated plot and a whole cast of characters we’ve never met before.

    I’ve also been worried about Moffatt and swooshy romance. I loved most of his episodes, but I didn’t think the romantic parts of them worked at all, and I couldn’t stand The Girl in the Fireplace because that was all it was. I’m a little worried about the romantic, Time Traveler’s Wife implications of Amy’s youthful imprinting on the Doctor, and also that phrase “two-man woman.” I don’t want a retread of Rose’s constant waffling between Mickey and the Doctor. My favorite New-Who companion was Donna, because she and the Doctor really were just friends, and I got the feeling she was in it for the adventure and the travel and not just for the pleasure of his company. But really, most of my concerns are for the future, and don’t have much to do with the actual episode, which I quite enjoyed. I guess I’m being tentative about my approval, though, because I remember loving Smith and Jones and being delighted with Martha, and then being very disappointed in the rest of the season.

    • I loooved little Amelia. She had exactly the right fascinated look on her face when the Doctor was doing all his food shenanigans, and I loved it when she put on a very skeptical face and said “If you’re a doctor why does your box say police?”

      Aw, I remember how much I liked Martha in Smith and Jones. And then after that, she never seemed to enjoy the traveling as much. I wanted to tell her that if she was going to be a misery JUST STAY HOME and let me go instead. :P

  3. I knew something was up as soon as they started panning up some very long legs in a very short skirt. She’s remarkably pretty, more so than the others. (As much as I adore Donna, she’s just not as stunning as Amelia). She’s also got a very feisty thing going on, and I hope they keep it going without it getting old.

    I would love to see the rooms in the TARDIS, and I wholeheartedly agree that I do *not* want this new season getting bogged down by romance and moping. (ugh)

    “Who da man” was such a flop that it was horrific.

    And wasn’t there an old Doctor who had a bowtie? Maybe two or three of them? It’s sort of a Doctor thing.

    And one last time, Donna was my favorite.

    • Troughton had a bow tie, I remember for sure, and Pertwee may have had one too. I shall consult the internets.

      The internets say that Pertwee did indeed have one. I expect Matt Smith is copying Troughton though, since Troughton’s his favorite of the classic series Doctors on account of being clearly the best. :P

      • I always liked Baker, as well as McCoy. I think I mostly liked McCoy because of Ace, and her thing for explosives. It really made everything more entertaining.

      • Tom Baker, or Colin? Unpopular an opinion as this is, I rather liked Colin Baker. I don’t know why everybody hates on him so much. And I have only seen two episodes with Ace and the Seventh Doctor, but I LOVED Ace. Did not care so much for Sylvester McCoy. I like Davison as well; I think he’s enjoying a vogue right now because Tennant loved him and clearly took aspects of his performance from him. It’ll be interesting to see whether Troughton gets popular because of Matt Smith. (That would please me.)

  4. So happy to find you writing (and so well!) about Doctor Who, which we watched with a sharply critical, Tennant-mourning eye. But we all enjoyed it here, much as you did, and thought the new boy did a fine job overall. My main concern was the formulaic nature of the episode. Bring back the devil or the water zombies, is all I have to say. Here’s hoping the series picks up and that this was carefully designed as a taster that would not upset, offend or overly scare anybody.

    • Oo, the water zombies were well frightening. I’m mainly bothered by Moffat’s reluctance to kill people. I want to write him a letter and tell him that God gave us red-shirts for a reason, and he shouldn’t hesitate to use them. Monsters should do damage, dammit. :P

      • Yes! I’m bothered by that too. I want to write him a letter and point out that “Just this once, everybody lives” sort of loses its effectiveness if everybody always lives.

      • People better die on Saturday. It’s World War II. There is no better time period for killing people, particularly if you toss Daleks into the mix.

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