I will absolutely admit my attitude hasn't been great. KK came out on Saturday, and that night, we were like, "I'd much rather listen to The Ninth Doctor Chronicles." (Which, by the way, was fun. We listened to the first story, and it started out a bit slow, but turned around nicely.) Then on Sunday, we decided we'd rather watch classic DW and selected "Meglos". And then we completed the last episodes of that on Monday. We finally decided to watch the new episode last night.
Thing is, I want to like the new episodes, and they're pretty good, but there's enough not to like. I'm hoping these will improve on rewatch.
"Thin Ice" was okay. The overall plot was pretty boring - megalomaniacal rich guy getting richer by sacrificing poor people. There really wasn't much more to it, no subtlety or twist, and no side stories involving the other guest characters, probably because the episode was really meant to be a lecture on racism and privilege. Thus, the bulk of the episode was spent making us feel sorry for the orphans and the poor commoners (without actually making them real people with real lives and stories), so that we can cheer the Doctor on when he slugs the rich guy and makes his speech, and then again when the rich guy gets eaten. To me, though, it was rather hollow. Twelve's modus operandus is to make speeches, to tell people that he's so much wiser than they are and therefore they should think like he does, and I'm really tired of it. It's interesting that Twelve is completely willing to tell the rich guy how he should think, couching it in terms of "how a species' progress is measured", but then tells Bill that he won't make decisions for the human race.
The one excellent scene was the one where Bill tries to come to grips with the Doctor's reaction to the boy's death and the Doctor's response that allowing himself the luxury of grief means that he can't move on to prevent the next tragedy; Bill learns, as many past companions had to learn, that the universe and the Doctor's worldview aren't as simple as they seem. However, it was lost among the jumble of lessons. The episode would have been better either if it had been a straight adventure with no moral or if it hadn't tried to make so many points, if it had concentrated on one moral - just racism, or just privilege, or just how the Doctor must think in order to do what he does.
"Knock Knock" was disappointing. I'm going to mention up-front that I got really annoyed with my husband, who watched the first few minutes of the episodes and grumped, "I'm not watching Doctor Who to watch a bunch of people go apartment-shopping." I'm having a lot of trouble trying to get him to approach this season with an open mind and it's upsetting that he's not even sitting through the story set-up without making a snap judgment that it's terrible. Personally, I think they took the right amount of time setting it up, letting you see how the six people got into the situation and building up their optimism and excitement.
Once Pavel moved in, the episode turned scary - properly so. For the first time in a long time, the setting and environment closed in on the characters - and the audience - creating a feeling of entrapment, and then the sound effects and the characters' reactions pulled you right into the haunted house. You didn't get to see what was actually happening until a glimpse of the tree engulfing the girl who escaped; until then, the threat was implied, and that was beautiful. The little scene where you couldn't tell if Bill and Shireen were hearing the monsters or the friend on the other side of the door was masterful. Then the lice appeared and evoked memories of Creepshow - it's been thirty-five years since I've seen that, and the final shot of E. G. Marshall still haunts my dreams. Omg, Doctor Who actually managed to evoke real terror, and it did it without slow monsters and close-ups of terrified characters! About halfway through the episode, I remember thinking, wow, I'm actually excited to rewatch this episode - not something I've experienced more than twice in the last three years.
Then the story took a nosedive as we found out the story behind the ravenous house and the creepy landlord. I'm not really sure if it's the story itself (the son having inadvertently turned Mum into a walking tree and subsequently going insane trying to make up for it) or the presentation of it, but it just didn't work for me. If the woman spent the last seventy years believing that the man was "doing what's right", why should she turn completely around simply because now she's his mother rather than his daughter and/or on the Doctor's recommendation? How did she take control of the lice?
And then... everyone comes back to life. First, how? We saw at least the last two of them dissolve under bugs, and the show made a point to show the woman absorbing Shireen's energy. How do they come back to life after that? Especially, how does Pavel come back, after being dead for hours? But more importantly, this show's insistence on everyone living and/or having a happy ending (for the good guys) continues to eliminate any sense of danger, loss, and tragedy. (I felt the same way, to a lesser extent, about the ending to "Thin Ice", when the street urchins inherited the rich guy's fortune. Hey, look, the Doctor came in and made everything wonderful and perfect! Whee!)
The monsters being controlled by sound was cool, but it was inconsistent enough to be annoying (to me; I get that no one else is such a rules lawyer). The landlord said that high-pitched sounds called the lice, but Pavel's music was not high-pitched. The original evidence of the lice was the skittering sounds, but then they started knocking - why? (Other than to add to the atmosphere and to give the episode a cute title, that is.) And then they stopped knocking. They sometimes responded to the tuning fork and sometimes didn't. They never responded to any of the women's high-pitched voices. What did the guy behind the door do to attract their attention that didn't also sic them on Bill and Shireen? And most importantly: why didn't they respond to the sonic screwdriver? Once we found out that the lice responded to sound, I was looking forward to the Doctor solving this situation with the sonic actually being sonic, rather than being the magic wand that it normally is, but no, the opportunity was missed. The sonic screwdriver is only "sonic" because the name sounds good and it gives the writers the opportunity to repeat the "it makes a sound, therefore it's sonic" joke every five seasons or so.
The real missed opportunity here, though, was the cast of background characters. They were only there to be eaten. Rather than having at least a couple of them be Bill's known friends so that they could have established personalities and relationships that we could learn about (and thus heighten the emotional impact as they start being eaten), they were all people she didn't know. Bill was the only one that stood out - the only one who felt any hesitation about signing the contract - the others were all interchangeable. Bill makes the comment to the Doctor that "this is the bit of my life that you're not in" - and neither are we. Clara was the same way, and as I look at it, that was the big mistake with her. Since she didn't have a convincing life outside of the TARDIS - because her job was only another setting that aliens could invade and her love interest was only there to conflict with the Doctor - the only character development she could have was to obsess about the only real thing in her life.
I really hope Bill doesn't go down this road. Despite being creepy and mushing her words together (I cannot understand her and have to watch with the subtitles on), I do like her. And I'm happy enough with how this series is going. They've thrown a lot of great opportunities out of the window, but the end results are good enough.