Ok. I am going to dork out on you for a minute here.
So I’m no hardcore sci-fi fan; I haven’t read anything important. (Except Dune, which M tried to mock me out of to no avail. I am impervious to shame; plus it was worth it.) But sci-fi tv? This is a thing I enjoy. Forty five minutes of spaceships and attractive people with untenable romanticosexual desires complicated by the fact that they are usually literally trying to save the world? Yes. The relationships are almost always far more sensible than the spaceship stuff, which even my pokey little brain can find the holes in, but there’s something particularly satisfying about entering into another universe, with its own logic, mythology, language. The richness of imagination that created it; the stretch of your own required to complete it. A world well built is one of the most gorgeous things.*
And you can poke lots of holes in Firefly, and the X-Files, and Battlestar Galactica. But they at least have satisfying through lines, plot arcs that pull you from episode to episode, one season to the next. And I should say: a plot arc is not the same as a cliffhanger. A cliffhanger get resolved five minutes into the next episode; if you have to watch them both again you get bored, since the surprise has already been ruined. To rewatch a well-plotted arc is always useful, the narrative’s construction now revealed, its stitches and seams. Science fiction has to work doubly hard here, creating a world you can believe in and whose stories you care about, a world in which universal law explains or at least works with the specific instances of its narratives.
Which is my long apology for the following: I just cannot get into Doctor Who. It is so silly and sappy and maudlin** and nothing ever happens in one episode that pays off in an interesting way in another. The Daleks will always show up looking ridiculous and expositing their plans in that ridiculous robot voice and yell EXTERMINATE for thirty seconds before they bother to shoot at anything, but they are neither a compelling villain nor a source of dramatic tension. They are indestructible; the Doctor will always defeat them. The major players are so few that we know exactly who will survive.
The time travel makes no sense, makes no real attempt at making sense; we are thrown by mechanisms we don’t understand into ten or fifteen poorly developed worlds where three or four would do just as well. The Doctor’s universe is limitless in every dimension; I get how this excites him and Rose, but it exhausts me.
I’m only two seasons in; J has made me a cheat sheet to get through the rest. I’m not quitting on it yet. But I’m doubtful. And I miss Mulder, and Malcom Reynolds, and the Old Man and Lee Adama. And Fat Apollo most of all. (Give me a fat Doctor and I might just change my tune.)
*Which, by the way, is the problem I always had with Lost: this intricately built world with no particular logic, which turned out to be a lame staging ground for lots of people feeling things. I quit watching halfway through and was totally vindicated by various explications of the finale, all of which seemed to hinge on the idea that details were extraneous to the emotional undertow of story. That’s not how stories work. If it was, we would just describe emotions for pages and pages instead of bothering to construct novels and movies and television shows.
**And the SEXISM, my god the sexism. The Doctor plucking plucky girls from their mundane lives so they can fall in love with his loneliness and have adventures until they get too old or he decides they’re too much of a liability! (Because Rose, at least, is always wandering into danger she can’t get herself out of.) They don’t add to the plot; they’re window dressing and easy emotional depth. His only lasting relationship is with the quasi-sentient TARDIS; if you have spent as much time in lit classes as I have, it is basically impossible not to read the thing as a giant, creepy womb. But that’s probably more than we really need to talk about right now.