Wibbly Wobbly, Timey Wimey


This post contains minor spoilers for the sixth series of the new Doctor Who.

I hate to admit it, but I find Doctor Who to be a terribly uneven program.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the show, but too often, I find myself not terribly engaged by an episode.  When Doctor Who is at the top of its game, it’s brilliant, but sometimes, it’s merely mediocre.  In my opinion, the “monster of the week” episodes pale in comparison to the crazy time travel ones, as questions of time paradox and dual timelines have always been more interesting to me than monsters and aliens.  When Doctor Who deals with time, it does so quite intriguingly, as demonstrated in this clip from “Blink,” where the Tenth Doctor attempts to describe time:

The dichotomy between the two types of episodes – the monster ones and the time travel ones – can easily be seen in the sixth series of the rebooted Doctor Who, which just finished this week.  The overall arc of the series involved lots of time travel shenanigans – or, to use the Doctor’s words, “wibbly wobbly, timey wimey…stuff.”  However, Doctor Who is not a full serial; therefore, most of the episodes are standalone.  Unfortunately, the majority of the standalone episodes of this series were rather lackluster.  The two exceptions – “The Doctor’s Wife” and “The Girl Who Waited” – were special because they dealt directly with the core relationships of the current series: the Doctor and the TARDIS and then Amy and Rory.

Even looking at these episodes more clearly shows that time travel leads to better Doctor Who episodes.  “The Doctor’s Wife” tells a beautiful story, and though it has a simple concept, it is amazingly executed.  “The Girl Who Waited” involves dual time streams, one traveling more quickly than the other, to tell an even more poetic story.

The other timey wimey episodes of series six – “The Impossible Astronaut,” “The Day of the Moon,” “A Good Man Goes to War,” “Let’s Kill Hitler,” and “The Wedding of River Song” – all contribute to the overarching storyline of the series, set into motion in the premiere.  And, along with “The Girl Who Waited,” they pose some interesting questions about time itself.  What if you can’t remember time?  What if you see your future self die?  What if you can interact with a younger version of yourself?  What if you have to choose between a present and future version of someone you love?  What if a fixed point in time doesn’t occur?  And, most intriguingly, what happens when all of time exists at the same time?  Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey, indeed.

This series posed all these questions and answered them in some way or another, and it succeeded at telling a gripping storyline over multiple timelines.  But like the previous series of Doctor Who, it came across as uneven.  Some episodes, like “The Girl Who Waited,” were astounding achievements, whereas some, like “The Curse of the Black Spot,” were only passably entertaining.  Unfortunately, Doctor Who can’t abandon the “monster of the week” episodes without becoming a fully serialized program; after all, these episodes are much more accessible than the timey wimey ones.  Here’s hoping that in the seventh series, the writers can somehow achieve better balance in quality between the “monster of the week” episodes and the timey wimey ones.

If you watch Doctor Who, have you noticed a similar problem?  Or do you think that the “monster of the week” episodes are as good as – or even better than – the timey wimey ones?


4 thoughts on “Wibbly Wobbly, Timey Wimey

  1. I have always preferred the ones that dealt with the deep concepts of time to the “monster of the week” episodes. I think Doctor Who is a brilliant show and I will always be a huge fan, but I completely understand where you are coming from with some of the lackluster episodes that get thrown in the mix. Writing for television is hard though; whereas in a movie, you have two hours to devote to (hopefully) the best execution of a story possible, in television you have to arc the narrative and make multiple stand alone episodes that deal with each other to a degree, but don’t on another. Keeping it all exciting and interesting is definitely a hard task. Doctor Who, being a kid’s show first and foremost from concept, I think lingers on a certain level of the “monster of the week” stuff for kid’s sake. Though questions of quantum mechanics are infinitely more interesting to us adult viewers, little kiddies rather just see a giant hornet and wasp. I am excited about the seventh series more than usual, however, because it seems like it may go back to the initial core of the series and try to answer that age old question we’ve all been dying to know: (Spoilers if you haven’t seen series six finale yet to any other readers) Doctor Who?

    • Excellent point about Doctor Who technically being a children’s show – I certainly should have brought that up in my post because it does help explain why there is this imbalance. Like you, I am greatly looking forward to the seventh series, and I’m interested to see how it balances the episodes with its seeming focus on the Big Question.

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