I've been watching the new Who and - for the most part - enjoying it rather a lot. Matt Smith is excellent in the role; as we were promised, he inhabits the character from the off, and within a few scenes of the first episode he simply was the Doctor. I felt exactly the same way when Tom Baker took over from Jon Pertwee. That sense of fluid continuity is one of the great strengths of the show. I'm still wondering where they're going with the Amy Pond character, but for now I'll be glad if she turns out to be just a companion, rather than someone with secret powers or some mysterious connection to Time. As for the differences between Moffat and RTD-era Who, maybe I'm thick, but I'm not seeing some huge step-change in style and approach. It's still New Who, still a very different beast to the old shows before the cancellation. And I like it, generally. I like the way the writers haven't been afraid to put their own stamp on things, even at the expense of irritating long-term fans such as myself - see, for instance, the rebooted cybermen. At the same time, there's a willingness to dig deep back into Who history and toss in references to things we haven't heard of since the Troughton earlier, or even further back. It's all good and I sit there on saturday evenings like I'm eight again. All I'd need is a plate of bangers and mash and I could be sitting down to watch Invasion of the Dinosaurs or the Monster of Peladon.
But ... and this matters, I think - there's something I'm not seeing nearly enough of. Terry Pratchett touches on something similar in this SFX piece but my complaint isn't precisely the same. It's not that the science in Doctor Who is especially ropey now, as compared to before. It always was ropey, from day one - a point I made in my review of "The Science of Doctor Who" book a few years ago. Having the Tardis drag Planet Earth across the universe may have been a low point but I could point to scores of similar absurdities in Old Who, and not just from the bad old days when the show was unloved and near its end.
What's lacking, I think - or not being handled in the right way - is the Doctor's attitude to science. This came up in a conversation I had last year with one of the UK's top public astronomers, like me a lifelong fan of Who and willing to take the new version on its own terms. What we agreed on was that - for us, growing up in the sixties, seventies and so on - the Doctor had been an important role model, one of the few scientists portrayed on television in a remotely flattering light. Beyond the Doctor, there was Mister Spock ... possibly Brains from Thunderbirds ... and that was your lot, basically. The Doctor was the only one you'd conceivably want to be, though. He was the only one who wasn't emotionless or nerdy - and he had a Tardis, groovy companions, and a universe to explore. And he was a scientist - maybe not by profession, but by training and inclination, and through all the adventures, what shone through was that the Doctor always fell down on the side of reason and enlightenment. He had no truck with magic, superstition, religion (although he conducted his affairs with a basic sense of tolerance and fairmindedness) - and he wasn't afraid to parade his own intelligence. Look at the aforementioned Monster of Peladon, for instance. It's the Doctor's insistence that the Aggedor apparitions can't be real - that there must be some technology behind the hocus pocus - that eventually leads to the resolution of the story (it was the Ice Warriors wot dunnit). Yes, the science might be ludicrous - but it was the Doctor's respect for science and rationality that mattered, and ultimately carried the day. This, to me, was as important a strand in his character as his pacifism and decency - not more important, but equally so.
I get flashes of this in New Who but not nearly enough to reinforce this as an essential element of his personality. Nothing could sum this up better than the "timey-wimey" line from the Tennant era. Yes, it was a good bit of dialogue, and raised a smile at the time. But this is The Doctor, for pity's sake - when has he ever felt the need to be so vague, or so apparently ashamed of his own intellect? I was disappointed with that, as I've been disappointed with the questions the Doctor doesn't ask. The Weeping Angels, for instance. They're a brilliant and scary creation, hats off to Moffat. But why doesn't it ever occur to anyone to wonder why they look like stone statues? What's that all about? Are they stone all the way through? Entirely stone? I know the show has to work to a much tighter format than it ever did in the past, and there simply isn't room for every last bit of dialogue - but still, surely there's room for just one or two hints that the Doctor is a questioning man, a scientist at heart.
Anyway, as I said at the start - I'm still enjoying it. But I'd like to see just a bit more of a sense of where our man stands. Is he for the enlightenment, or against it?
(As an addendum, here's a quote from one of the comments in the SFX thread, which says it better than I just have:
"In the old days, of course, the approach, the attitude, was always fairly rationalist. Whatever fantastic events were going on, the Doctor always regarded the universe as ultimately logical and explicable, and would never do anything really nonsensical. Nowadays that’s out of the window and anything goes.")