One of the frustrations of watching the X-Files was tuning in the week after a game-changing mythology episode only to find things go back to the status quo with little or no mention of the huge events from the week before.
As we’ve moved more into serialized storytelling in this new “golden age” of television, it can be a bit more frustrating.
Which is why I may have been frustrated by this week’s installment of Doctor Who, “Praxeus.” After the events of “Fugitive of the Judoon” to go back to a standard alien-invasion of the week story felt a bit like a step back for this season.
Of course, my frustration with the show goes a bit deeper than the lack of follow-up. It also extends to my feeling that Chris Chibnall can’t write his way out of a wet paper bag with a detailed set of instructions. I will be the first to concede that Doctor Who has never shied away from politics. Heck, Robert Holmes wrote an entire four-part story because was frustrated by the British taxation system. But at least when Holmes was giving us political allegory and heavy-handed morals, he found a way to make the stories entertaining.
Chibnall doesn’t quite seem to be able to do that. The two extremely heavy-handed political statements this year have been about as entertaining as watching paint dry. And while “Praxeus” at least had a bit more entertainment value associated with it, it still isn’t what I’d categorize as a great (or even good) episode of Doctor Who.
I felt hopeful as things started. Starting the story with the Doctor and the TARDIS crew already engaged in unraveling the current mystery felt a bit like it the story had taken a page from the New Adventures. But things devolved quickly to a point that I found myself becoming less and less engaged by what was happening on-screen. I will give Chibnall and company some credit here that they made the supporting characters a bit more relatable and interesting so that I wasn’t actively rooting for their disappearance from our screens as I did with “Orphan 55.”
Of course, we do get the moral that human beings are the worst thing ever. This time around, we’re causing our own destruction because there are aliens who feed on plastic and we’ve all got a bit of plastic in us because of our pollution levels. On some level, the fact that we have that much plastic in us should have been more horrifying than it was — or used in a more horrifying way. It might have worked better if somehow the Autons were involved in this plot and were using that to control people instead of some virus that causes you to turn to dust.
I am hoping that Chibnall and company aren’t going to leave us in a holding pattern until the season finale. Or that is we aren’t going to bring up Dr. Ruth, the Master, or Gallifrey again until then that he could at least give us a better story to spend an hour watching.