Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Man Who...

Over the past few years, while I’ve had a problem with the BBC’s revitalized Doctor Who, more people seem to have had a problem with me having a problem with the show. To not love it, apparently, is very wrong. In fact, it would probably be easier if I mentioned that I tore the front legs off kittens for a joke or catapulted OAPs onto the northbound carriageway of the M1.

Without poring over the previous posts in minute detail, I’m sure I’ve given my reasons quite plainly and explained my opinions quite well, rather that simply shout, “It’s a load of cocking shit!!” before rapidly moving on to something else. But there have still been the odd comments from obvious avid fans who still can’t quite comprehend my reaction the show.

It may be that if I start off a post by saying that watching whichever episode is in question is like having my face pushed into a bowl of lukewarm fucktard stew, they go into shock, meaning that the reasoning that follows becomes inane chatter in their heads that they simply cannot compute. So maybe this needs a different approach.


The first memory of me watching Doctor Who isn’t my own. Instead my mother tells of the time she stood in the doorway and watched my older sister and me leap up off the sofa in fright as Cybermen burst out of crates at the end of an episode. I brought that particular nugget up in conversation once and was informed the story in question was The Invasion. Patrick Troughton was playing The Doctor, with Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury as his assistants, Jamie and Zoe.

The transmission dates put it about three months shy of my fourth birthday. I certainly don’t remember watching it. Back then I was probably just as interested in The Woodentops or whatever else was on Watch with Mother at the time. I don’t really remember any of the further stories until the appearance of the Autons – which would be either Spearhead from Space or Terror of the Autons.

Either way, Jon Pertwee was ensconced in the role as The Doctor, exiled on Earth, working with UNIT to challenge whatever new threat that came calling, including Roger Delgado’s The Master. Looking at the story titles, The Curse of Peladon and The Sea Devils clearly ring a bell, as do Three Doctors and The Green Death, and The Monster of Peladon and Planet of the Spiders from Pertwee’s final year.

But I guess what’s actually more important is when I stopped watching Doctor Who regularly. Perhaps surprisingly that would have been the end of the fourteenth series, which finished with Robert Holmes’ Conan Doyle/Sax Rohmer pastiche, The Talons of Weng-Chiang (if indeed I even saw that adventure). I was quite surprised by that, expecting to have watched for much longer, but reading further story synopses drew a blank. Then I looked at the dates and things started to make sense.

Simply put, later that year we moved. Instead of living on the fringes of Dartmoor we relocated to the south coast of Devon. From being in the middle of fucking nowhere I found myself in a decent town that, back then, had three cinemas. The Saturday ritual soon became working at my folks’ new business in the morning and then catching a movie in the afternoon. Rushing back indoors, in time for Doctor Who, was no longer a priority.

Though I stopped watching regularly, I must have caught the occasional episode over the next few years. For instance, I remember the half-robot captain and his rubbish robot parrot in The Pirate Planet and thinking it was complete bollocks. (And that alone reminds me of a friend who is of the opinion that having Douglas Adams as story editor is what tipped the original series into decline).

Because of course, by then, Star Wars had come out. Certainly it would have an affect on the show. I don’t think I’m wrong is saying that not long afterwards the series became inflicted with a desire to pile on special effects, but ones done with whatever spare change was left over from the miniscule budget. Obviously they put a lot of effort in, but the results still looked pretty risible.

Watching Doctor Who when Barry Letts and then Philip Hinchcliffe were the series producers, there were physical effects and the various monsters, but the emphasis was on story because they knew their limitations. With location filming shot on film and studio-based scenes shot on videotape, watching it, at that age, the series didn’t seem any different from other adult-oriented dramas of the time like Colditz, The Pallisers, or Bagpuss.

Once John Nathan-Turner took over as producer, I’m sure I tried to watch The Five Doctors special, simply because it had been promoted as an event, but gave up. By then it was virtually unrecognisable to what I remembered. And what the fuck would I want to watch that nonsense when the 1980s was serving up the likes of Brideshead Revisited, The Barchester Chronicles, Edge of Darkness, The Singing Detective and Fortunes of War.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the people wildly applauding the return of Doctor Who back in 2005 had been there in the late 1980s, watching the fag end of the series run itself into the ground. Compared to those final years, you could probably have a new show consisting of a ferret wearing a top hat pissing into a metal pail and people would applaud its genius.

So the oohs and aahs of an excitable audience, rolling over onto its back to have a tummy tickle because the money truck has backed up to the front door of The Mill, which means there are spaceships crashing through Big Ben or a sky full of Daleks, or the stunt casting pulls in little Kyle, means absolutely fuck all to me.

I’ve been perfectly happy to watch Doctor Who it when it’s been good, generally annoyed when it’s been not so good, and utterly pissed off by Russell T' Doofus’ scripts. I remember having an uneasy feeling from the very first episode, Rose, when it became obvious that (as I mentioned back near the beginning of Thought Wad) “[he] so wants to be Joss Whedon writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it makes his sack ache.”

He certainly has to be applauded for writing nice little character moments, but a story with a satisfactory beginning, middle and end seems to be beyond his grasp. If his utterly nonsensical, deus ex machina-heavy narratives were transferred to a different, more viewer-friendly genre, viewers would be up in arms. To wave it aside as “being science fiction”, thereby allowing narratives to be utterly preposterous, is the excuse of complete cunts.

It should be about story. It should always be about story. That may be difficult for the younger generation of viewers suckled on shooty bang-bang computer games and repeated viewings of The Little Mermaid. Growing up, the television programme I probably watched the most in those early, formative years was Jackanory. Airing daily, there may have been the odd illustration on screen, but primarily it was just an actor in a chair, facing the camera, reading a story. Nothing else was required.

8 Comments:

At 11:12 pm, Blogger Ian said...

I'm of a generation that started with William Hartnell and thought the beginning of the end was signalled when John Nathan Turner took over and went for stunts and gimmicks like the God-awful robot dog.

Was discussing the whole mindless mentality of Dr Who fandom with a mate over the weekend and he was saying a friend had started talking about how great the final episode was. Mate then pointed out some of the more ludicrous nonsense that showed how crap the writing was. "Oh yeah, you're right there" became the stock answer as each gaping great flaw was pointed out. Yet he still thought the show was great.

I've had the same experiences myself. People start off saying it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, agree with everything you say about why it's such a bag of shite, but seem happy with it anyway.

I don't think the kid who shouted out "But the emporer's got no clothes" was ever popular either!

 
At 11:03 am, Blogger Tom said...

I find myself standing in No-Man's Land on this. I enjoyed the last episode - in fact I enjoyed most of the last series. But I'm not a fan boy nor would I stand up and defend the show to the hilt because if I cast a critical eye on it then it is unmitigated shit. There are some brilliant moments (cf. Blink and most Moffat written stuff) but generally, it's pretty fucking awful.

That being said, I can't understand the level of vitriol that a lot of people, including you, have for it. You're talking about a program that's shown at 7pm on a Saturday night after Strictly Sing-along Ice Cumshot or whatever celebrity gameshow is currently pervading the air and enticing the masses to sit and watch. It's the TV equivalent of a McDonald's cheeseburger and there's no use decrying it as unappetizing and tasting nothing like the finest organic Argentinian fillet steak because it's only a burger and not to be taken seriously.

Which all sounds an awful lot like I'm defending it when really I'm not. I couldn't actually care less.

But where you lost me was the comment about "shooty-bang-bang" computer games" Come on - be serious. The standard of story telling and writing in a lot of the best video games is way and above just about anything that the BBC is putting out these days and generally a damn sight more entertaining too.

 
At 11:31 am, Blogger qrter said...

Although Tom is right in saying new Who is indeed a kind of "TV cheeseburger", the BBC doesn't promote it like that. In fact, it's lauded as some kind of flagship fantasy drama - there aren't enough superlatives to heap upon it, there aren't enough Radio Times covers in the year for Tennant to be splattered all over. I think that's what gets kind of annoying.

I think it's also that there's a lot of squandered potential in new Who, which is frustrating to see, especially if you write yourself. It is possible to do a saturday evening sci-fi fantasy drama for the whole family without resorting to such badly written scripts.

The standard of story telling and writing in a lot of the best video games is way and above just about anything that the BBC is putting out these days and generally a damn sight more entertaining too.

That's certainly true, but that's only a very small segment, really. Most mainstream games are terribly written, sadly. The good ones are probably not the kind of games that Good Dog (or anyone else who isn't a regular gamer) would call "shooty-bang-bang" games. On the other hand, that does make it a bit like complaining that those Jean-Claude van Damme films lack a lot of depth.

 
At 12:30 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

Ian,

I’ve had that conversation, explaining why the story didn’t work to something who thought it was “skill”, more times than I care to remember. It’s kind of disappointing that people are happy with something that is, at times, simply godawful.

I’ve probably mentioned this before in a post, but it always makes me smile how the newspapers and magazines will seriously big up the show when it starts a new series then, after a few weeks, quieten down. They won’t say it’s poop, rather start to ignore it pretty much until the few decent episodes comes rolling along.


Tom,

this post was written to explain my personal point of view because people couldn’t understand why I was picking on the show. But if you read previous posts, it’s not simply down to hating it outright. There are good episodes but overall it comes down to a failure of that fucking idiot in charge who simply cannot tell a story. If I do stick the boot in, I hope I explain why.

The other thing, again mentioned previously, but not this time, is how the country seems to be under the show’s spell. I could understand the genre mags sucking up like fuck, with the fanboy writers caning it across the Severn Bridge to worship at the feet of Russell, but pretty much every other publication has fallen for it as well. As Ian said, it really is a case of the Emperor’s new clothes.

Which means individuals should stand up and point out that anyone above the age of six who watched that scene of the TARDIS dragging the Earth through space, say, and didn’t want to kick the screen in should be given a slap. It does make you feel like Miles Bennell most times.

Regarding the computer game reference, personally Perfect Dark on the N64 is pretty much the apogee for me. At least that has a controller where I don’t feel I need an extra six fingers to play the game properly. Christmas Day I had to help my sister’s kid navigate his way through Call of Duty 4 (I think), although my contribution was pretty much reduced to pointing out that he should head towards the people firing at him.

If you place the “shooty-bang-bang” reference in tandem with The Little Mermaid, it was meant to refer to at least a decade or more ago, meaning the generation somewhere between mine and the little nippers of today. I was going to mention them watching the film on VHS, but didn’t.

Going back to what I didn’t say...


qrter

is absolutely spot on. There is such a big bloody song and dance about the damn show, elevating it far beyond the status it deserves, that is completely disproportionate to what it deserves.

“Squandered potential” is the best way to describe the show. But then it has been run by someone who – if I remember rightly – said Battlestar Galactica was ‘all about the spaceships’. What a complete arse!

Still, it’s almost over. I thought we were shot of him for good, but it turns out he’s writing these four specials – two of which are the Christmas episodes for this year and the next. So... they'll be something to look forward to.

 
At 12:49 pm, Blogger Tom said...

If you place the “shooty-bang-bang” reference in tandem with The Little Mermaid, it was meant to refer to at least a decade or more ago, meaning the generation somewhere between mine and the little nippers of today. I was going to mention them watching the film on VHS, but didn’t.

Afraid that's still a bit vague. I think I might be a part of that generation, albeit at the top end. Little Mermaid was certainly released before I was old enough to, well, do most stuff actually but I wasn't exactly in short trousers at the time.

Mind you, while you were playing Perfect Dark, I was playing Half-life as I'm a PC gamer and don't really do consoles. That probably makes me a minority but also might explain your "shooty-bang-bang" comment - I've always felt that way about console games in general. I could say the same about the hype around games like Halo as is being discussed here about DW.

 
At 6:47 pm, Blogger Geoff Prickett said...

The 'new' Doctor Who is suffering form 'Shamelessitis' whereby the show is so popular it stops trying to entertain and moves swiftly up its own bottom.

HOW MANY TIMES ARE WE GOING TO BE TOLD THAT THIS IS THE LAST SURVIVING DALEK??

Disillusioned, I sent off a script to Russell T which included introducing a brand new villain called The Gaylord. For some reason it wasn't accepted. So I dumped it on Uncyclopedia where it was accepted.
Judge For Yourselves

 
At 6:55 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

Oh, that is just wrong on so many levels.

 
At 1:52 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

Ironically, this is just about the only place where I've seen a balanced and objective debate about the show, with individual episodes praised or ridiculed depending on whether they're actually any good or not.

On the subject of Geoff's Gaylord stuff, I sometimes wonder whether some of the dodgier comments about RTD don't actually emanate from the BBC's own publicity department.

It must be so much easier to dimiss crtics of the show as a bunch of borderline homophobes, rather than to address the utter shiteness of the show itself.

And that final episode really was as inept a piece of primetime drama as I've ever witnessed.

 

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