Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Something Fishy

I blame it on Winston Churchill myself. That may not be true, but it’s a fact. There I was, idling away the late Saturday afternoon watching Richard Attenborough’s Young Winston on BBC2 simply because I hadn’t seen it for years. When it was over, I started flicking channels, thinking it was later than it was.

You know where this is going, don’t you? Yep, I caught the last two-thirds of Doctor Who*. It was utter bilge obviously, but the one interesting thing about The Doctor’s Daughter was that, in terms of story format at least, it was probably the closest of all the new episodes to the original series.

I watched the show from probably the very tail end of the 1960s through to Tom Baker’s last year or so in the late 1970s. This may be a completely false memory, or it only happened once or twice and I’m projecting it onto all the other stories, but adventures set on alien worlds usually found the TARDIS arrive during a dispute between different races.

After an initial encounter the Doctor would find himself falling in with one side while the companions would accidentally end up with the other lot. Either they’d initially be captives or seen as saviours to their cause. Probably by the midpoint of the story, the folks set up for the audience to root for invariably turned out to be the evil bastards. Finally both sides would be brought together, Doctor and companions would be reunited, and everything would be sorted out, usually in a non-violent way.

I don’t want to imply that this was a regularly used story template, but I’m sure more than a few went down this way. Otherwise why would I have had a wave of nostalgia along with the wave of nausea while I was watching Saturday night? Either way, while it was the kind of story that could fit into the old format of four or six half-hour episodes, reduced to forty-five minutes made it seem more like a greatest hits package of a longer story.

Once again, what would have been perfectly acceptable thirty-odd years back as children’s entertainment doesn’t quite cut it nowadays. The reduced running time meant that there wasn’t time to properly set the story up, never mind giving it a chance to breath, so typically nothing made any great sense.

Why were fish-men who have run face first into steampunk soda streams being used as labour? Why, when Martha falls into a rather unappealing black swamp did the fish-man who jumps into save her drown? Since the newly minted human clones pop out the pod as youths/twentysomethings, how come Nigel Terry’s crusty old General doesn’t remember the war has only been going on for a week rather than “generations”? Why did each side only seem to be made up of a dozen or so individuals?

Also, how rubbish is the terraforming equipment when to set it off the big sparkly sphere has to be picked up and smashed on the ground? Still, it did mean that with this kind of Genesis Device in operation they could lift the final weepy death/eventual resurrection from the second and third Star Trek movies.

Maybe it should have been a two-part adventure, allowing the story and characters to be fleshed out more. That would have probably made the most sense. Whereas most dramas establish a set tone, the one thing The Doctor’s Daughter ably did was continue to show just how wildly erratic Doctor Who is in terms of storytelling, especially since it was broadcast on the weekend that Steven Moffat rightly won the Best Writer BAFTA for the beautifully crafted Blink.

* I watched the opening fifteen minutes on iPlayer later in the evening on the off chance that I had missed anything vital.


At 7:10 am, Blogger Ian said...

It was indeed a very tired old story, that we've seen way too many times before. Although I disagree with you on one point - I think the production values of the show are such that the story kind of worked for a modern audience. Compare this episode with any one of the stories in the last Star Trek series (the one supposedly set before Kirk's time) and I thought this stood up rather better.

Call me a sad old fan boy, but I rather liked the fact that "the doctor's daughter" was in fact played by someone who really was a previous doctor's daughter (Peter Davison's daughter).

What's most depressing about new Who is most of the stories just don't cut it. If they could just get the writing right the show could be SO good. On the other hand, watching an episode like this straight after a Torchwood episode the show probably looks like pure gold.

At 6:18 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

Every episode seems to feature a string of WTF moments.

You've listed five or six there.

In addition I couldn't help but notice that the hot chick emerged from the pod ready for combat sporting tight leather pants, a skimpy T-shirt and fake eye-lashes.

The best line of dialogue went to Marfa: 'Let's go to the surface where we can feel the wind on our faces,' she said to the, er, fish.

Mind you, none of this was quite as jarring as the sight of the Sontarans doing the hokey-cokey in the previous episode.

Doctor Who is underwritten almost every week. There seems to be no thought going into the programme.

That's fine. It's crap. But there's a lot of crap on TV.

The difference is that so many people keep insisting that's it's a high-quality programme when plainly it isn't.

On the subject of casting, I agree with you, Ian, that hiring Georgia Moffett and Bernard Cribbens is a nice touch.

But don't you get a sense that by bringing back old companions every week, and by setting up new ones, that they simply don't have a clue what the correct mix of regular characters should be?

At 5:38 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Actually, did the built in memories come from the cloning machine? Otherwise, since she came from the Doctor, how would the “daughter” know the full skinny on the ‘forever war’? And if that’s the case, what’s the machine doing that for?

I’ve mentioned before that I thought Paul Cornell’s Father’s Day episode was pretty great and Moffat’s Blink is an absolutely astonishing story with some of the most heartbreaking character vignettes I’ve ever seen on television.

While the rest aren’t always bad, they aren’t always good either. The thing it is “a very tired old story”, as Ian calls it, because it does follow the format I mentioned, but that’s what I really liked about it.

It reminded me of the cracking Jon Pertwee/Katy Manning stories or the Tom Baker/Elisabeth Sladen/Ian Marter adventures. Through the best years of Doctor Who he pretty much had a couple of companions who could get up to all kinds of mischief in stories that would twist and turn. Obvious no time for that now.

Sorry to say but, rather than enjoy watching The Doctor’s Daughter, I was reminding myself of The Curse of Peladon and its sequel, Genesis of the Daleks and Revenge of the Cybermen from the early/mid-1970s.

Was the Sontaran story a two-parter because they spunked so much of the budget on effects? Because I think The Doctor’s Daughter should have been twice its length. That way they could get more extras in for a start, but also explore the dynamics between the characters more.

Then again, maybe that’s having a lid kept on it until the Adventures of the Doctor’s Daughter spin off. After all, why spend what’s left of BBC Wales’ drama budget on anything else?

At 6:23 pm, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

And let me just add that the knitting pattern I've created featuring Catherine Tate doing it with an Ood is for my personal use only.

So back off BBC.

At 7:18 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Oh, I like where your head is at.

But when it's done, please don't ever send me a photograph of it.


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