29 October 2018 933 Views

Failure to watch the new DOCTOR WHO series is now a Criminal Offence under UK Law. Don’t Worry. We have prepared some Defences.

by James Murphy

NON DOCTOR WHO FANS TO BE ROUNDED UP AND ARRESTED UNDER NEW EMERGENCY LEGISLATION 

Licence Fee Detector Vans have been adapted with a special ‘Doctor Who’ etheric beam locator. Nothing sinister, honestly! They just want to (cue slow talk, quiet voice and nodding head) ensure -that- YOU -ARE-GIVEN EVERY-OPPORTUNITY-TO-HELP-YOUR-LEARNING-AS -CITIZENS-. ‘This is a LEGAL duty of care. For the CHILDREN, you understand? And for FAMILIES?’.

Ok maybe it’s not quite THAT bad. And yet? There is a discernible tide of sanctimony and smug, self righteous gratification, in the general tide of comments surrounding the latest series of DOCTOR WHO.  Spearheaded, as though from space , by an emboldened and newly empowered BBC (now with delusions of Netflix grandeur post BODYGUARD success: despite that being made by an independent company: WORLD PRODUCTIONS).

In short? This new empire cannot be opposed! Hence: a need, urgently, to have some ready made defences at hand, should you go and miss its flagship show.

 

You are NOT a bad person for failing to embrace the new Dr Who series. You are not sat at a keyboard trolling on twitter with the nasties. I did see a grotesque  twitter post that took all the Doctor’s faces and included Jodie Whittaker’s, only to then scrub hers out: something I deemed a most sinister threat at first sight and took delight in blocking. There is no place for that kind of hatred online or anywhere. 

I have not watched the new series and I will not start doing so, I suspect. So I’m in no position to ‘review’ it. For all I know? I might be missing out on some great television. I simply have my suspicions to the contrary, highlighted below, in these ready-made explanations for going off message and avoiding the new DOCTOR WHO. Feel free to copy/paste. Or disagree. Or even, just ignore, altogether. THAT is the kind of freedom that the show truly has always represented at its best.

1: I’m not sexist. BUT. 

The Doctor has traditionally been a male character. Yes, an alien who could of course switch gender. Indeed, that move was suggested as early as 1991/2 when the BBC first toyed with bringing the show back, post hiatus and pre’ 96 Paul McGann TV Movie. Same way they toyed with maybe casting a person of colour in the lead role sometime in the last decade (Patterson Joseph, who would have been excellent, btw: mooted yet never cast, alas). But they never went that far. No gender change in the lead character of the show, full time, til now, it seems.

So what? They had ‘time-ladies’ already to even the balance. A Romana the Time-Lady spin off should have sufficed? The Sarah Jane Adventures was also, excellent (Elizabeth Sladen: much missed).  There is nothing wrong with having viewed Doctor Who as a male fantasy. The idea of being the unattainable romantic character that does not need to be married or settled and yet nonetheless values others and is valued in turn, albeit with bouts of wistful loneliness as an occasional pay-off.

 

That was a major selling point in the relaunch of the show back in 2005: here is a character that COULD be loved, even fancied by his human female counterparts yet he cannot reciprocate..or COULD he? The Superman /Lois Lane debate: Do I persist in my God-like state of adventure and heroism, above the plane of mere mortals? Or surrender to that ideal and thereby lose some power and allure yet thereby live a more fulfilled existence? For some, that was key to the Doctor’s appeal.

And now that we have a girl in the lead role, however great that and she might be, a large reason for some demographic’s love of the show is now..gone. Peter Davison was right to say ‘it’s a shame to lose a role model for boys’ when he was first asked about the re-cast. Notice he was NOT objecting to having a female Doctor. But he was vilified online and departed Twitter in consequence. Poor man.

In short: IT IS NOT SEXIST TO MOURN THE ABSENCE OF A BOY PLAYING DOCTOR WHO! Stand your ground. 

2: I’m sure Jodie is great and everything. BUT..

Jodie Whittaker is a great actress. Not just good. GREAT. CHECK YOUR FACTS before you deny that. Classically trained and as versatile on stage as screen. She can blend in, be anyone. But she’s not the first girl to play Doctor Who. No. Joanna Lumley has that honour. In 1999’s Curse of Fatal Death: a skit for Comic Relief. Classy, sexy, funny; it’s a brief appearance but filled with promise. The take (from a pre show-running, pre SHERLOCK Steven Moffat) managed to capture the appeal of the Doctor’s character. It’s all about subverting expectation and being the nominal force for good, whilst also rebelling against whichever agenda is being forced on others by powers that be.

Tom Baker was a master at that: defining his Doctor as a nomadic ‘traveller’ and always poking fun at the pathetic ambitions of any villain seeking world/universe domination. In the shorter-lived Lumley incarnation, it was all about being a BIT naughty and FUN, though one could definitely have watched further adventures beyond that sketch. Indeed, Joanna’s own real life travels are worthy of a Time-Lord/Lady and always a joy to observe.

I’ve not seen a full episode from Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. So I cannot judge her full take on the role. But from the relentless clips, trailers, pictures and tweets that now dominate BOTH UK and US streams on social media, I know enough to form some informed ideas about the whole package. It’s a LOT like…David Tennant? As though she’s been directed to play it like him, via a dash of Jane Horrocks?

But then, maybe that was the idea.

We knew we would probably get a lady Doctor this time around, as soon as Capaldi stepped down in 2017. Why? Because they had run out of any kind of gimmicks or novelties and the show had, in effect, run its course for this iteration.

What was a BIT suspicious was the LACK of variety in speculation about WHICH girl would be cast. Tilda Swinton was mentioned and would have been great. I even compiled my own list of ideal women for the role: Hattie Morahan, Sally Phillips, Georgia Moffett, Alice Lowe all featured, as I recall. And yet, the casting grapevine online? Gave just TWO names. Jodie Whittaker and Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

Phoebe is of course an approved name du jour. Everything penned by her seems to get commissioned, adored and fast-tracked into box set legend status. Quite how and where that trend started so hastily is a mystery to me as is the embrace of such an upper class sounding name in an era whereby we are seemingly told to shun all things ‘posh’ or ‘elitist’? Perhaps Phoebe is just genuinely talented and that transcends small minded class fixations; maybe there is a new positive discrimination / affirmative action programme for in house posh quotas. Dunno. Good luck to her, anyway. She was not cast as the Doctor.

The honour went to Jodie, who brings northern accent = neither too ‘posh’ nor identifiably too working class. And whilst they have decked her in charity shop rainbow powered chic, the girl is nonetheless blonde and pleasant to look at. Neither one thing nor other and accessible /inoffensive to all demographics. ‘BRILLIANT!’.

But both Phoebe and Jodie had shared a CV item called BROADCHURCH. That was a so-so police procedural that did exceptionally well in ratings in part because it starred DAVID TENNANT. The world adored Tennant as the Doctor and frankly his era was a peak in the brand that I doubt will ever be recaptured.

Quite WHY the BBC did not, back in 2008/9 say to Tennant: ‘look: go off to Hollywood /theatre/whatever; we will accommodate you with occasional hiatus in the series but PLEASE stay on as Dr Who: here is a money truck‘ is beyond me. His ghost still looms large, just as it prevented an otherwise great Matt Smith from truly owning the role (Matt didn’t need it anyway: his talent = bigger than the brand); and made Peter Capaldi all but redundant from day one.

And so it is with Jodie, whose similarity to Tennant’s iteration have been noted. Alas, all the gender changing and social politics diversions cannot escape the inevitable fact that David Tennant still IS Doctor Who. I suspect his template will now be copied by successors of either gender.

3: It’s not me. It’s the Show-Runners..

DOCTOR WHO was all but dead back in 2005. Russell T Davies brought it back to vivid and modern life.

Russell was not, by his own admission, a great sci-fi plotsmith. But he understood the romantic heart and soul of the show’s timeless appeal. And he harnessed that in his crafting great character dynamics to enable a new ‘way in’ for viewers to the other-worldy action onscreen. Rose (the divine Billie Piper) was a beautiful, sexy, ambitious character; in need of rescue from a life without options.

Enter the Doctor: unlocking her potential and making her aim higher through adventure and yes a HINT of romantic love. Mickey was also fun to watch; launching the career of the talented Noel Clarke via a working class everyman that discovers his inner hero as the series unfolded. And of course, there was John Barrowman as Captain Jack: an inter-stellar flirt who happened to be bisexual but just got on with saving the universe without sermonising on that score.

Steven Moffat took over show-runner duties in 2010. He stayed. And stayed. And stayed..until 2017. He had great visual set piece ideas and first rate plot mechanics. But his vision for character was myopic at best and sometimes absent altogether. The social inclusion ethos became a ‘thing’: intruding scripts via sermons about ‘being kind’ and protesting just that bit too much about how nice the Doctor (and by extension his writers) were.

Double entendres elongated to prurient smut verging on creepy/adolescent (lesbian lizards?) and clever philosophical points laboured into entire story-arcs at the expense of discernible character definition. Amy Pond and Rory never convinced me as a romantic couple. River Song was overdone; Clara was impossibly..dull and Nardole was an amateur fan -skit. That Moffat era damaged the show and its good will, ‘imho’.

And yet? One can at least define and debate Moffat’s vision. Because he has/had a discernible..well, vision. A tone,  style, pace, aesthetic with occasional moments of real genius and surprise. A hard act to follow on that score. He has been succeeded by..wait for it.. Chris Chibnall. That, immediately, put me off the new series. The dullest of Doctor Who episodes of the last decade were to my mind, penned, by Chibnall. Unremarkable at best, from 42 to Silurian sleepover via some token Torchwood stuff.

Gareth Roberts, Robert Shearman, Mark Gatiss, Paul Cornell: so many other names with more invested in the brand and its mythology could and indeed should have been the new Dr Who Boss.

4: ‘EVERY DEMOGRAPHIC BOX TICKED’

I remember remarking via social media, on the new series’ official unveiling, that the new Doctor seemed to have conveniently selected a young black male, an Asian young lady and a middle aged man as companions. Cue multiple deletions, blocks and ‘poundland (insert right wing fascist leader name here)’ remarks.

Those critics missed my point. I’m not objecting to ‘inclusive’ casting. It’s great! What is NOT so great is a line-up that looks suspiciously like it were tailored to match EVERY possible group that might feedback in focus groups /ratings projections. Just a hunch, like and I could of course be wrong.

But there’s nothing NEW about any of it. No genuine surprise or risk or innovation yet presented as some sort of breakthrough for inclusion. Also: note the largely working class aesthetic in which the dynamic is rooted. That’s been done before and better, notably in the Russell T Davies era. So, whilst it’s lovely to have a young black male companion grapple with dyspraxia: why not make him, I dunno..an Oxford Professor or something? Have HIM help THE DOCTOR (who perhaps is addled with post regenerative dyspraxia on a galactic scale?).  Or throw in an alien from another planet /dimension, adjusting to becoming more human (ready-made story arc, too). Or a saved soldier from some historic battlefield? A converted Cyber-person. An OOD! Anything. Just something NEW and IMAGINATIVE.

It’s fine to ‘do’ issue based drama via Doctor Who. But it’s GOT to be at least cloaked in some sci-fi fun escapist fantasy. With strong comic relief. It’s also interesting to go back to the show’s educational mission: great! But DON’T set that goal in a paradigm that is already outdated. Hence my natural scepticism about that Rosa Parks episode (EVERY kid in the UK knows what Rosa did and why she’s so important: why not pick a less well known figure from the same struggle?).

Like I say: not seen it, not reviewing it. It might be marvellous television and good luck to them. But don’t try selling me that as in any way ‘progressive’ or ‘original’. Family shows should of course educate at a moral level and that is to be commended but not at the expense of plots and characters that should be entertaining in their own right rather than exit solely as ciphers to didactic policy messages.

From Daleks to Cybermen to the Master and so on: the Doctor ALWAYS fought oppression and championed individualism within a community. If you think that message is ‘new’ in Doctor Who or in need of radical and explicit restatement? Fine. But I, as a fan of old..don’t. So there!

5: I’m not 12. 

You can fight it all you want. Eventually though, time and all that comes with it, catches up. When I became a man, I put away childish things. Including Doctor Who. Albeit about twenty years later than anticipated. I might just be of that age whereby I am too old for this? Pains me to say it but the fatigue might not be with the series but just in myself. I have outgrown the show and the novelty of it being back on TV. Which is fine.

Because frankly, it’s MEANT for ‘family’ viewing (ie: watch if you are a kid or have kids, with kids).

So, short of the occasional nostalgic relapse where I fall off the Dr Who wagon? I am clean and free of all things TARDIS and Time-Lord related. I will now have more time and space to grow in the infinite dimensions that await and..oh..dammit..ok..not QUITE over this. YET. ‘Time will tell. It always does!’.

CONGRATULATIONS TO THE DOCTOR WHO TEAM AND ALL ITS FANS ON THE NEW SERIES LAUNCH. And very best wishes with the rest of it.  ‘Enjoy’ 😉

 

 



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