Saturday, October 07, 2006
Doctor Old, Doctor New, Doctor Who
The second series of the new Doctor Who ended on ABC television today. I have to say, the second series have been a vast improvement on the first, although whether either the first or the second series of the new Doctor Who is an improvement on any of the series of the old Doctor Who is debatable.
The first of the new Doctor Who series was interesting enough, and it was cool to see Doctor Who back on television again after a wait of almost twenty years. Christopher Ecclestone wasn't a brilliant choice for Doctor, but it was obviously in keeping with the producers' attempts to jazz up the image of an old series, by hiring a younger actor. For all of his overacting, though, Ecclestone didn't play the role well at all; Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee had more charisma in their little finger than Ecclestone could ever have. And Ecclestone's decision to quit the show after one series out of fears of being typecast was pathetic. You'd think that an actor accepting the role of the Doctor would be aware of that the role kind of required a commitment to several series, not just one.
Russell T. Davies was in charge of the first series. His scripts were usually pretty poor; I'm still not convinced that this guy has a feel for science fiction, since in between the admittedly cool special effects and the occasional interesting plot twist, he worked in tediously long emotional subplots. You know, the sort of emotional melodrama that's common to badly-written modern sci-fi: "Oh, I want to love him - but I cannot - for he is a being from another planet! And besides, I still have my boyfriend from another dimension to deal with!"
The other thing with Davies scripting was, he did seem to have an odd agenda which was apparently more important than the science-fiction storyline; so he worked in a large number of weird sexual hints into the subtext of the first series. This climaxed in the last show of the first series, where he used a ridiculous plot device - ("Oh, shit! The universe is going to explode", or something along those lines) - as an excuse to get the Doctor to pash Rose Tyler. Fucking hell, Davies! If you want the Doctor to snog Rose Tyler, why spend the entire bloody first series working up to it? This pathetically cheap plot twist I think demonstrates that Davies didn't really understand how the series worked; what keeps people coming back to Doctor Who isn't the romance (which is always going to have to be low key anyway because of the kids who watch the show) but the monsters.
The second series improved in a couple of ways. The sexual innuendo was still there, but it wasn't so constant or ridiculous as in the first series. And for me, there were several moments in the second series that were quite funny; not so much in the first series. Best of all, the plots seemed to be more self-contained and clever. Each show saw the Doctor facing a new type of weirdness (a personal favourite was the one with people being eaten by televisions.) I personally think this might have had something to do with the involvement of Stephen Moffat as a scriptwriter; he was the writer behind the hilarious (and often experimental) sitcom Coupling. Although of course it's possible that Davies had begun to get in the swing of things.
One of the major problems of the second series, for me, was the way the scriptwriters had of working basic storylines into either one or two shows over consecutive weeks. There often wasn't quite enough room in one show for a whole plot. On the other hand, in two shows, there was way too much room, so we ended up having more of the silly emotional subdramas, essentially by way of filler. And it's striking how often the scriptwriters relied on corny , overwrought science-fiction ideas; almost every week we saw another fucking monster being dragged out and - guess fucking what? - it was going to destroy the entire world/solar-system/galaxy/universe. Fucking AGAIN!
By way of comparison, the running-over-six-shows approach to storylines taken up in the original Doctor Who series was much better, allowing for subtle plotting and interesting unfolding dramas. During the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the original Doctor Who series covered a LOT of science-fiction ideas, from time travel through to dimensions through to drug-taking through to evolution through to hallucination through to surreal dream sequences. What was really fantastic about the original Doctor Who series, in retrospect, is the way it found of melding traditional science-fiction concepts, that you might find in books, say, by H.G. Wells (time travel, alien invasion) with more modern science-fiction concepts that were being put forward by writers like Ballard and Aldiss and Moorcock (drugs, hypnotism, alternative worlds).
I guess the writers may be still getting into the swing of things; there were some great moments in the show that screened tonight. It pitted the Cybermen against the Daleks in a kind of ultimate battle. Dalek to Cyberman: "You will be exterminated." Cyberman to Dalek: "You will be deleted." In another scene, a Cyberman offers the Daleks a truce: "Join with us, and we will upgrade the universe." I don't know if it's possible for a metal-man to be sly, but I quite like that line. In yet another scene, a Dalek evilly taunts the Cybermen in the way only a Dalek can: "You are only superior to us in one way. You are superior at dying." Now, that's real science-fiction stuff - can't you just feel the emotional nuances?
The parting of the Doctor and Rose Tyler was sincerely touching. (The emotional high of theis series, though, must have come a few episodes earlier, when the Doctor met Sarah Jane Smith, who he'd left several regenerations and decades ago). All that stuff was fine, and I think handled in a smarter manner than in the first series of the new Doctor Who; but the plot was needlessly complicated in other ways. There's nothing especially hard about the fundamental premise of this show - a bunch of Cybermen run into a bunch of Daleks and both set about destroying one another. Why bother with all that mumbo jumbo about bridges between worlds and Rose Tyler's mother have an other-dimensional love affair with the father of her other dimensional self who ... I mean, what a bunch of FUCKING WANK!
In the end, though, it was a bit disappointing; the first series ended with the Daleks. The second series ended with - guess what- the bloody Daleks again! It'd be nice to see the Doctor being held to ransom by, say, more killer televisions or malignant swamp beasties or gigantic intergalactic cockroaches, or even Salvador Dali-style dream creatures ... you get the picture.
Hopefully, the third series will start delivering on this!
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