Visit the official Doctor Who website

Visit the official Doctor Who website
Look to the future

Asylum seekers...

Asylum seekers...
Refuge of the Daleks

Doctor Who picture resource

Doctor Who picture resource
Roam the space lanes!

Explore the Doctor Who classic series website

Explore the Doctor Who classic series website
Step back in time

Infiltrate The Hub of Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood

Infiltrate The Hub of Doctor Who spin-off Torchwood
Armed and extremely dangerous

Investigate The Sarah Jane Adventures

Investigate The Sarah Jane Adventures
Fearless in the face of adversity

Call on Dani’s House

Call on Dani’s House
Harmer’s a charmer

Intercept the UFO fabsite

Intercept the UFO fabsite
Defending the Earth against alien invaders!

Uncover the secrets of the Dollhouse

Uncover the secrets of the Dollhouse
Programmable agent Echo exposed!

Hell’s belles

Hell’s belles
Naughty but nice

Love Exposure

Love Exposure
Flash photography!

Primeval portal

Primeval portal
Dressed to kill or damsels in distress?

Charmed, to be sure!

Charmed, to be sure!
The witches of San Francisco

Take on t.A.T.u.

Take on t.A.T.u.
All the way from Moscow

Proceed to the Luther website

Proceed to the Luther website
John and Jenny discuss their next move

DCI Banks is on the case

DCI Banks is on the case
You can bet on it!

On The Grid with Spooks

On The Grid with Spooks
Secret agents of Section D

Bridge to Hustle

Bridge to Hustle
Shady characters

Life on Ashes To Ashes

Life on Ashes To Ashes
Coppers with a chequered past

Claire’s no Exile

Claire’s no Exile
Goose steps

Vexed is back on the beat!

Vexed is back on the beat!
Mismatched DI Armstrong and bright fast-tracker Georgina Dixon

Medium, both super and natural

Medium, both super and natural
Open the door to your dreams

Who’s that girl? (350-picture Slideshow)

Wednesday, 31 May 2006

"Who" can't please everyone...


I have read so much dissatisfaction over RTD's treatment of "Doctor Who", some of which I feel myself, that it starts to become depressing! The series that began with "Rose" is a new beast and we're all wasting our time hoping the show will genuinely, as we see it, revisit its glory days. That's why this is the second season and not the 28th. Whatever your opinions on the late-Eighties' episodes, "Who" was still identifiably the same series as began in '63. As it is now, "Doctor Who" has lost its single-most major asset - the original format of a series of serials in 25-minute instalments. I believe that is more fundamental to the artistic success of the show than the inclusion of Daleks, Cybermen, Autons, K9, Sarah Jane and even the beloved blue Police Box!!

I understand why the old format went. A four-parter where no one likes the first episode means having to wait a month for a new story. You lose your audience, very quickly, in a world where the quick fix is all. New "Doctor Who" might have worked better if RTD had adopted the season 22 structure of five two-parters and a three. I would've lengthened the episodes to fifty minutes (another dying breed these days in favour of sixty - only "Casualty" remains), run it for ten weeks, like "Spooks" (and "Bugs" before it), and show the three-parter at Christmas (on consecutive nights) as with "Only Fools and Horses".

New "Doctor Who" has as much in common with the original series as did Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer's "Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)" with the Mike Pratt and Kenneth Cope original. The title and the basic premise! We can either accept new "Who" for what it is, and, like most things in life, it's a mix of good and not-quite-so good, or give up and wait for its next incarnation! It could be a long wait and might be even worse. I wouldn't watch, for example, if Robbie Williams was cast as the Doctor but I'm sure that would appeal to many "casual" viewers. RTD knew die-hard fans wouldn't like his approach when he said it isn't intended for us. The constructively critical "Doctor Who" fan, and there's nothing wrong with belonging to that subsect, was never the targeted audience even though I'm sure we are nonetheless welcome.

5 comments:

Stuart Douglas said...

Can't say I agree with much of that Tim :)

The 25 minute format was fine and sometimes worked well, but equally it sometimes just meant that the writer had to engineer a pointless and contrived cliffhanger to split what was naturally a longer portion into two pieces. In the list of 'Things that Made Who Great', I'd put pretty much everything else ahead of it - and most important of all is the fact that it's a wonderful concept. And the concept now is the same as before (which is another reason why this *is* Season 28 :).

Increasingly I suspect that part of the problem for long-time fans of our age is that we only really watch the good stories/stories we like from the old series on DVD and hence remember it in as better light than it probably was. An obvious example - nothing in this or the last season would, for me, deserve a place in my favourite eras of the show, seasons 1, 7 and 12. Conversely, everything bar Boom Town is better than McCoy's first season. If I were to concentrate on 'Time and the Rani' and 'The Happiness Patrol' as evidence of old Who I think I'd appreciate drivel like 'Age of Steel' much more in comparison!

I think the other problem is that the writers this season really aren't very good at writing Who (or writing at all in some cases). If we had British TV writers/showrunners of the same age and talent as Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin and Paul Scheuring we would have a much better show. These guys know how to use every second of their alloted 45 minutes and they know how to get other writers to fit into their vision.

RTD, I increasingly suspect, is merely a decent enough writer, but is viewed at the BBC as the best of a mediocre bunch of current British writers. Certainly, I've seen most of his stuff and nothing has struck me as particularly brilliantly written. Steven Moffat on the other hand is the actual best writer in British TV just now, IMO - I'd love to see him getting to write six episodes a season instead of RTD and his sf cliche plots.

RTD's also not as good a showrunner as someone like Paul Abbott - Shameless is ensemble written and I've yet to see a bad episdoe or one where available time is wasted or rushed.

Hmm, I'm rambling a bit now, so I think I best go and get a cup of tea and do some work.

Plus I am grumpy due to lack of sleep this morning so I may have changed my mind by later today :)

TimeWarden said...

You made some interesting points, Stuart. I'll endeavour to answer as many as possible!

Surely, if a writer's cliffhanger is contrived, and in a way they all are, then the author isn't really working within the specific format, whether it's 25 or 45-minute episodes. The length of the programme times the number of instalments is the given structure, whether or not the author finds it restricting. To work inside a predetermined form is a good discipline for creativity.

I agree with you that the original concept of "Doctor Who" is wonderful. I believe it to be the single-most creative moment in the history of television drama but with each regeneration of the show the initial premise becomes more and more watered down. The loss of the teachers, essentially parent figures, during the Hartnell era... the loss of the purely historical, at the beginning of Troughton's run... the confinement to Earth, for Pertwee... the introduction of a tin dog for Baker number one... and now the Doctor is an action man!

These changes are only to be expected. It's the natural order of things, constantly evolving until it becomes something else. It isn't something completely different yet but it's well on the way. The emphasis given to Rose's home life has taken the programme further from its roots. For those not wanting any additional dilution of the original idea, the Doctor should have kept his word after he said, "I don't do domestic"! The original Doctor took his three companions away from the daily drudgery that weighed so heavily on the Time Lord's literary predecessor Sherlock Holmes. That was the point. Escape. Now, the travellers can't wait to get home in time for tea!!

What do you think are the BBC's and RTD's reasons for calling the current season the second and not the 28th? We may see the original series through rose-tinted specs, as you suggest, but then JNT said the same, about earlier eras, when his shows were criticised. I love "The Tomb of the Cybermen", for example, but it could easily be dismissed with the criticisms that 1) the Doctor behaves irrationally, in helping solve the maths which will release the enemy, 2) some of the effects are awful, in that the harness is clearly visible, and 3) the Cybermen are so pathetic they can't even get out the door! This could be seen as a fair analysis of the atmospherically excellent story that opens the fifth, and my favourite, season of "Doctor Who".

I agree with you regarding the quality of seasons one and seven but am more sceptical about season twelve. Holding "Zygons" over to the next season was a bad move as there is, for me, a feeling of being short-changed with regard the number of episodes. This isn't helped by repeated visits to Nerva Beacon (as Eccleston wasn't helped in much the same way). Added to that, the new production team, in Tom's first season, aren't in place until the second story... "The Sontaran Experiment" is so obviously a filler, though an excellent one... "Revenge", without Kit Pedlar on board, is poorly titled and ill-conceived, possibly my least favourite Cybermen story ("The Invasion" being my favourite)... and in "Genesis", the story voted best of all-time, the trusty TARDIS is replaced by a time ring suggesting you don't even need the "beloved blue Police Box" to make great "Doctor Who"!

You make comparison between new "Doctor Who" and McCoy's first season but what if you compare the latest offerings with the better stories from the Seventh Doctor's final years? I admit that, apart from the Brigadier (and fifteen minutes of the Destroyer in the final episode), "Battlefield" is a complete mess but I would rather rewatch "Remembrance" than "Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways", "The Greatest Show in the Galaxy" (the werewolf transformation is stunning) above "Tooth and Claw", "Ghost Light" over "The Unquiet Dead", and "The Curse of Fenric" in preference to "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances". Conversely, I would say "Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel" is superior to "Silver Nemesis". But, you could choose any older story of poorer quality, from previous eras, to show new "Who" in a favourable light.

As a closing thought, why do you think Steven Moffat is British television's greatest writing talent? He has written the finest of all the new "Doctor Who" stories, in "The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances", but what else? "The Girl in the Fireplace" wasn't as well thought through and, before writing "Who", he's best known for the sitcom "Coupling" and children's series "Press Gang", both of which are enjoyably well-written but aren't Dennis Potter. Andrew Davies having failed to live up to expectations, what about Stephen Poliakoff? There is good writing to be found in children's serials, however. RTD's most interesting works are his two children's serials, "Dark Season", ultimately empty-but-fun and more "Who"-like than anything last year or this, and the more mature "Century Falls", both of which see the light of day on DVD next month.

Stuart Douglas said...

Goodness there's a lot in there :)

Let's see, starting from the beginning and allowing that I take your point in some parts even if I don;t always agree.

"Surely, if a writer's cliffhanger is contrived, and in a way they all are, then the author isn't really working within the specific format, whether it's 25 or 45-minute episodes."

Oh, I agree with you here, but my point was that 25 or 45 minute episodes played no part in the quality or success of the show - quality of writing, brilliance of concept etc were all far more important.

It isn't something completely different yet but it's well on the way.

This is a discussion I have lots of times ebfore and it's one in which I usaully bow out at some point, because my brain seems unable to process the POV of the other side (in this case, your good self). For me, the show is about a time traveller wandering through all of time and space in a Police Box that's bigger on the inside than out. Nothing else is essential, not even a companion. And Season 1 and Season 28 share those qualities exactly - and hence are the same series doing almost exactly the same things.

That was the point. Escape. Now, the travellers can't wait to get home in time for tea!!


But 'home for tea' was always the point surely - the first two companions weren't escaping from Earth, they were trying to get home, as were others of the sixties companions (Polly, Ben, Dodo). And of those who weren't, they tended to be adrift from home or orphans and so the TARDIS was 'home' (Susan, Vikki, Katrina).

What RTD's done to change things is add in a soap-opera quality, so that in The Idiots Lantern, no-one mentions Mickey having been left behind on an alt-Earth in Age of Steel, never to be seen again. Which is a truly awful change, IMO, and the one most likely to mean that no-one will remember his version of Who in forty years time. As for why they're callign it Series 2 - marketing, pure and simple. TV people nowadays seem to believe that the entire audience are just a bit thick and would panic at the thought of a show having some history behind it (which is another reason I prefer 70s TV - there was more respect for the viewers' intelligence then).

I agree with you regarding the quality of seasons one and seven but am more sceptical about season twelve.

I love season 12 - with the possible exception of 19, it's the last perfect season - 'Robot' is a great way to show that this new Doctor isn't going to be UNIT's save the day man anymore; 'Ark in Space' is my favourite Who story ever; 'Sontaron Experiment' should be shown to every new Who writer as an example of how to fit actual atmosphere into a 45 minute story; and 'Revenge' is enormously under-rated. I do agree that having Terror as part of season 12 would have made it even better though.

what if you compare the latest offerings with the better stories from the Seventh Doctor's final years?

TBH, I haven't seen 'Battlefield' or 'Greatest Show' and I only vaguely recall watching 'Silver Nemesis' and then turning off after gold tipped arrows killed some Cybermen. 'Fenric' is great though (apart from Aldred's seduction scene) and 'Ghost Light' is the best McCoy I've ever seen or heard. I suspect I'd throw most of last season and this into a landfill rather than 'Fenric' anbd 'Ghost Light' but if I never see 'Battlefield' or 'Greatest Show' I can't say I'll be too bothered - McCoy and Aldred are actors in the same way Jeffrey Archer is a writer, i.e. in name only, and it takes a fairly immense script to make up for their deficiencies.

As a closing thought, why do you think Steven Moffat is British television's greatest writing talent?

It's obviously a matter of personal taste rather than anything genuinely quantifiable, but I hate Poliakoff and think Davies is only really great in spurts (and Alan Bennett who's better than all three put together, doesn't seem to be doing much TV any more).

Moffat however wrote the excellent 'Joking Apart' and 'Chalk' before writing Britain's funniest current comedy, 'Coupling' in which - unlike RTD - the plotting is so sharp you could shave with it. Add in 'Press Gang' (which I haven't seen, to be fair, but I've never heard anything but praise for it) and 'Curse of Fatal Death' and you have a winner.

Stewart M. said...

Oi! The Happiness Patrol is Who at its anarchistic best!

Stewart M. said...

Thanks for the recommendations on the music front. I didn't even realise you were into prog, but then again I suppose it is traditional SF geek territory! Fantasy and SF did, after, sort of inspire the whole prog rock thing in the first place.