If you’re not up to speed with the most recent UK episodes of Doctor Who, you might want to skip this post now. Spoilers are likely to follow.
Or you could just visit YouTube:
And follow this link for the rest of “The Stolen Earth”:
So, at this point, if you don’t know that “The Stolen Earth” features a crossover between Doctor Who and its spinoffs Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures, it’s your own fault.
I’m sure on measured, considered reflection, this wasn’t the best Doctor Who episode ever. It’s not quite the well-plotted gem of a Steven Moffat episode. Nor does it have the emotional depth of some. A lot of it is just big set pieces.
And yet – the Doctor, Donna, Rose, Martha, Sarah Jane, Luke Smith, Mr. Smith, Capt. Jack, Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones, Harriet Jones, Daleks, Davros, UNIT, the Judoon and Richard “Darwin’s Rottweiler and I’m married to a Time Lord” Dawkins …. all in one episode! How fun is that? It’s big old smiley fun to see Captain Jack hit on Sarah Jane Smith! Or Ianto’s jealousy over Jack’s encounter with a UNIT soldier? Or the big “Facebook” chat between everyone! And Davros in all his glory.
There is something just fun about diverse characters meeting up. That’s the charm of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (the comic book, of course — crossover charm couldn’t save the movie version) and Lost Girls. And of course, there’s the big superhero comic book crossovers. The most recent being Secret Invasion (from Marvel) and Final Crisis from DC.
All the company’s great heroes in one epic battle. They should be as fun as Doctor Who’s “The Stolen Earth” was. And yet, they usually aren’t. Not anymore. Each issue of both Secret Invasion and Final Crisis has fractured little scenes that have some enjoyment, but the big “Wow — look at all the heroes!” factor isn’t making the story fun and its not masking the corporate hollowness of the stories.
That’s because familiarity does breed contempt.
Crisis on Infinite Earths was fun. So was Secret Wars. That was back in the 1980s when big company-wide crossovers were new and strange. Even guest appearances were a big event. Nowadays, it’s like every mainstream comic book is guest-starring another hero. And not some fleeting glimpse like what linked the early Marvel Comics together. I mean that folks like Batman and Wolverine are everywhere. It’s not special nor rare anymore.
Even the big “and the kitchen sink” stories aren’t rarities in superhero comics. Every year seems to bring a new universe-spanning event. We expect to see the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four team-up. It’s not a treat these days.
There’s something really dangerous in thinking that “how can I top this” means “how many more characters and explosions and kisses to the past can I throw in?” It’s time for comics to think “how can I tell a story that’s emotionally relevant”. Something perhaps with character and theme. Something that’s mythic without Gotterdammerung happening every issue.
I hope Doctor Who doesn’t fall into this trap. Until “The Stolen Earth”, most crossover references or guest appearances were small, subtle and often sly. (Like Jack on Torchwood saying “the right kind of Doctor” instead of “The Doctor”.) And that’s what makes “The Stolen Earth” so special and fun.
But if they were to do this every week, it would be both boring and inaccessible. TV shows and comics can get hung up on their own mythology. It makes Smallville and late-X-Files just unwatchable to the casual viewer. Not because there’s a history. I think casual viewers can appreciate shows with a past. It’s that once a show becomes solely dependent on its mythology, there’s no emotional resonance except in reference to previous stories. It’s not that casual viewers are incapable of following the plot. They are just not given any incentive to actually care about what happens — because “big stuff happens” is assumed to be enough. That’s what I felt when I caught an episode of Lost for the first time in ages — completely apathetic.
But those ruminations aside … Daleks invade the Torchwood Hub! (Probably Davros just summoned the ones hanging out at the Doctor Who exhibition also in Cardiff Bay.) Cool!