Monday, May 23, 2005


On Saturday night I watched the premiere of the new series of Doctor Who. I plan to discuss it at length, with spoilers aplenty, so don't say I didn't warn you on either count.

I think it's too much to hope that a new series of Doctor Who will actually be good. Frankly, the best one can hope for is that it doesn't induce cringes strong enough to tear your muscles from your skeletal structure. So thumbs up there: it was the best episode in twenty years! However you only need to view the Doctor Whos of the last twenty years to see what faint praise that is.

As far as I'm concerned the episode had two main failings, and they are the same ones that have dogged the series over the last couple of decades.

The first is that the show seemed to be pitched at eight year olds. And we're talking nervous eight year olds who need night lights and think that babies are delivered by storks. When we're first introduced to Rose and her boyfriend Micky, their little pecking kisses were so passionless that I assumed he was the stock 'gay best friend' character. Poor Rose gets to hold hands a couple of times, but otherwise the Autons probably have better love lives than her.

Speaking of the Autons, they were always damn scary monsters in the past, disguised as dead-faced shop mannequins that came to life without warning and flipped their hands open to reveal deadly built-in pistols. They also had plastic daffodils that suffocated their victims and a plastic couch that ate people. Yet because this new series seems to be pitched at small children, they can go on the rampage all they want and apparently never injure anyone. Not only couldn't they hit the broad side of a barn, they couldn't hit the broad side of the Amish raising the barn, the broad side of Lancaster county, or indeed the broad side of the great state of Pennsylvania.

One wonders why the Doctor even felt the need to thwart them. Imagine a world where the Autons ran free...

Mrs Nesbitt: 'Ere, Madge, you've got some splinters in your hair.

Madge: Oh, have I? Dear me. You know I popped into Harrods this morning for a cup of tea and a sticky bun in the food hall. The Autons were shooting it up as usual. They must have grazed the back of my chair or something.

Mrs Nesbitt: You should go to Tesco's in the High Street, dear. They have metal chairs.

Madge: That's true, but they don't stock those nice chocolate biscuits my Arthur likes.

I worry a little about this latest incarnation of the Doctor, too. He seems to have a rather bitter relationship with humanity, very different to the avuncular condescension of Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee. Honestly, if you think we're just stupid, chip-eating apes, you loud-mouthed tosser, then I say you can bloody well piss off back to Galafrey and stay there!

His method of fighting the Nestene Consciousness also leaves something to be desired, probably because the producers once again didn't want to unnerve their tiniest viewers. The Doctor confronts it not like a protective, decisive Time Lord, but more like a Tardis-driving Hans Blix. London is being shot to pieces by shop dummies and the Doctor responds by quoting intergalactic treaties at the big vat of goop controlling them. Thank goodness our Billie still has a measure of old-fashioned British gumption (and some handy chain-swinging skills) to win the day.

The second failing (yep, I'm only just getting to it now) is that once again the entire production team seems to think that doing Doctor Who is beneath them. There are little lazy gaps in the plot, lapses in the internal logic of the story, that suggest the scriptwriters and editors were just throwing something together. The wardrobe department put Rose at her job in a reasonably up-scale department store wearing hipster jeans and a hoodie. The extras didn't react like normal people would when chaos erupted around them. The pacing in the opening ten minutes was marvellous, but the last ten minutes felt more drawn out than the judging of the Eurovision Song Contest. Nobody in the crew seemed particularly bothered with doing their job well.

The exception was in the acting, which ranged from adequate to rather good, but then there were only five characters. Time will tell if this was just luck. In the past the program has had an unfortunate habit of hiring luvvie guest actors who looked mortified that they're doing anything less than Shakespeare. Perhaps because she hasn't come from a stage background, Billie Piper makes a surprisingly good sidekick, feisty and appealing (unlike many previous sidekicks, who were just feisty and obnoxious). Christopher Eccelstone's Doctor is intriguing, as a new Doctor should be, but since he's announced that he's only doing one season for fear of being typecast (poor baby) it may be necessary to cast him into the luvvie basket and hope for better luck next time.

Look, I know I've spent over eight hundred words griping and whining, but it's only because I care. Back in its 1970s heyday, Doctor Who was great, both for little kids and for adults. The monsters were terrifying, the adventures were imaginative, and the Doctors had the personality and panache to hold it all together. I'd love to see the series regain that sort of storytelling quality. And maybe, if they can iron out the flaws, it will.

I'll finish on a positive note. I like the new Tardis. Partly it's because its interior gives the impression of both unimaginably high technology and unkempt, ancient construction. But mostly it's because it finally answers the question of what lies between the outside door and the inside. In the past, they never matched, leading to niggling continuity problems. But in this latest incarnation of the Tardis, it's decidedly the same door. The inner side has drab wooden panelling with little frosted glass windows, an elderly telephone, and the back side of dodgy 1950s wiring lighting up the Police Public Call Box sign. It's a small rectangle of normalcy surrounded by the alien strangeness of the Tardis control room. When all is said and done, I hope that this door is the sign for the future of the show.


Blogger Laziest Girl said...

Righteous indignation about Doctor Who is one thing - but don't be dissing the Eurovision Song Contest. Or I shall be forced to set my tame industrial drummers (the one's in 70's drag costumes) on to you, forthwith, to teach you a lesson.

12:00 PM  

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