This past weekend I watched both the new Star Trek movie, and the Season 7 finale of the new Doctor Who program. I enjoyed both, but had some issues with them that won't seem to go away. Therefore, I'm going to ponder said issues here on the blog. Obviously, if you haven't seen either production yet, and plan to do so, now would probably be a good time to stop reading.
Still with me? Good! Let's go.
First we have Doctor Who, which was on television originally from 1963-1989, revived briefly in 1996, and then brought back in 2005, running successfully ever since. It (or at least its original run) is my favorite TV show of all-time. The revived program of the past eight years has been a different beast than the program I fondly recall from childhood. Classic Who was about ideas, science and good, solid storytelling with cliffhangers (even if the special effects weren't all that good or solid) NuWho is more about teenage-style angsty romance, magic and deus ex machina plot resolutions. Cliffhangers in the most recent season have been practically non-existent.
Then there is Star Trek. I wasn't born when this show first aired, but remember watching it with my parents in reruns, Sunday nights from 10:30-11:30 on the local CBS affiliate. It was a rare opportunity where I was allowed to stay up late on a school night. I quite enjoyed the strong characters, allegorical stories, and colorful, futuristic and optimistic setting. When the follow-up series, Next Generation, premiered in 1987, I watched the first episode with my folks, and from then on was hooked for the next seven years. The feeling of optimism about the future was intact, but, as time went on and the creator passed away and others took the helm, the further Trek programs became darker and less inviting.
So we have two popular science-fiction franchises that have, to put it politely, evolved over the years. Not necessarily a bad thing. But not always good, either. With Star Trek Into Darkness, we had a pretty good summer action blockbuster, but merely an adequate Trek film. I say this because the ethos of the series has almost always been that of showing humanity in its best light. Yes, there have been bad times, but our better angels have prevailed. Into Darkness pays lip service to this notion, but decides to wallow far more in the darker nature of humanity. And it's not a pretty place to be (unless you're Alice Eve, then it's pretty hot, but I digress).
The latest Star Trek also suffers from lapeses in good writing judgement. Nowhere is this more apparent than with its villains, John Harrison/Khan and Admiral Marcus. In many ways, Khan is both similar and completely different from his original series alter-ego. We are almost tricked into thinking that he might become an ally of Kirk & Co., until he does a complete turn and reveals himself to be just another baddie with no conscience. The same goes for Admiral Marcus. Both he and Khan are given good backstories, with plausible (if still misguided) motivations for their actions. But then both characters throw away such motivations in exchange for having to serve the story as simple villains.
In The Name of The Doctor, inconsistencies continue to abound. A serial killer somehow knows about the tomb of The Doctor, and handily imparts the information to some of his friends who, instead of using the term "seance" that would be more appropriate to 1893 London, take part in a "conference call." The Doctor somehow knows that Trenzalore is the name of his grave, even though he hasn't died yet (don't we all know the name of our burial place? No? Ok), and The Great Intelligence enters the Doctor's corpse -- which is a timestream -- and effectively reverses all of his victories. Then, companion Clara follows after him and sets everything to rights again. How this is done exactly, we do not know.
In fact, so many questions linger unanswered in both productions. Why did the Enterprise have to hide underwater, instead of simply in orbit? How did the serial killer know where The Doctor's tomb was located? What made Khan evil? Admiral Marcus? Not just upset or angry, but plain evil? Are we ever going to find out who blew up the TARDIS in Season 5 of Doctor Who? Who said "silence will fall?" Why do no ships come to the aid of the Enterprise when it's falling to Earth? Why are people in San Francisco shocked and awed when the super ship comes crashing into the atmosphere? This is, after all, the hub of the Federation. How can River Song physically interact with people and objects, if she's nothing more than a projection of a server database?
Look, don't get me wrong. I enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness and The Name of The Doctor. But they weren't, to say the least, the most well-written pieces of cinema and television ever made. Not even close. And why not? Why is that so difficult these days? And why do we pay money and just accept it?