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!


nailpolishblues said...

Project for the week - write us a new Dr Who. If anyone can do it it would be you. [I think that was a compliment - how odd.]

Anonymous said...

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.

Eccleston, 40 when cast, was definitely a much younger choice for the role than Paul McGann (37), Sylvester McCoy (43), Colin Baker (40), Peter Davison (29), Tom Baker (40) or Patrick Troughton (a whopping 46).

A piece of advice for you: a willingness to do some basic background reading is a good thing in a writer. And a couple of minutes on Wikipedia can save you from looking a bit of a pillock in front of your readership.


Mark H Wilkinson

TimT said...

Hey Nails, weirdly enough, I did write a sf story with a parody Dr Who character called 'Doctor Watt' or something like that.

Mark - yeah, mate, funnily enough, I couldn't have been bothered doing research for a frigging BLOG post.

nailpolishblues said...

Do it over all serious like - only with a better sidekick. I loathe women who know nothing until a man comes along and tells them stuff.

The previous Drs Who mostly seemed pretty old to me too. Maybe it's because we were watching them when we were so young?

I always find it fun when a blogger sound like a pillock. It's rather nice to have company.

TimT said...

Well, they played on the old image too, always dressing up the Doctor in huge coats and having him sweep about the place like a character out of Edwardian dramas. Jon Pertwee's costumes apparently came from the Pertwee family's personal costume cabinet! His age was always a joke in the old series. Tom Baker joked at one point that he was something like 800 years old ...

Anonymous said...

Man, some people make their online journals work for them. ::shrugs:: But hey, it's your spot on the web.

(And you're slightly wrong about Pertwee's costume, but I'll leave that as a tantalising mystery you can solve in your own time.)


nailpolishblues said...

New member of the fanclub?

TimT said...

Disgruntled Ecclestone fan, maybe?

Hmmm, well the story I heard was that the costume came from the Pertwee closet, but fair enough.

Caz said...

"I always find it fun when a blogger sound like a pillock. It's rather nice to have company.

Yes, but Nails, do you really want to be in the same blogging company as "Mark H Wilkinson".


nailpolishblues said...

Since he was refering to Tim, I was also refering to Tim ;)

And any company is, I suppose, better than none at all.

Galaxy said...

Tim, you may (or may not) be interested in a couple of posts on Henry Jenkins' blog Confessions of an Aca/Fan. He interviews Matt Hills a fan scholar who's currently working on a book on Dr Who.


Sorry about the clunky urls, I have no idea how to make them into sophisticated link type things.

Caz said...

Er, okay, I was being facitious.

Umm, won't try that trick again.

TimT said...

Facetiousness on this blog is always welcomed.

I'll check those links out, Galaxy - thanks so much!

nailpolishblues said...

Try it later in the day - I'm much more awake then ;)

Anonymous said...

Bring Back THE MASTER!

What was missing in the latest series was an opponent of real evil cunning - The Master

I liked the Daleks cult idea and there were some of the best one liners ever in the last of the series.

Committee for Cunning Evil

TimT said...

YES! Time for THE MASTER! I don't really like the Daleks, anyway; they were only really good in the first Dalek show; though they had some good moments in City of Death.

audrey said...

I think we can ALL agree that the secret in the sauce of the second series lay purely in the choice of David Tennant as The Doctor. I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'd back up against the tardis for that man any day of the week. Roar!

ras said...

Ahh Doctor Who, looks like I missed the party on this one.

Mr Eccleston certainly looks young, I would never have picked that he was the same ages as Tom Baker when cast.

and the lovely (PHWOAR) David Tenant and his (YUMMY) pinstripe suit and (Even Yummier) Converse. He certainly added to the attractiveness to the show.

You know I actually lost interest in this series, most of it was set on earth or in other dimensions that looked like earth (the cybermen) not enough monsters and psychadelia for my liking. And the bloody romantic subplot between rose and the doctor....geez! It gave me the shits!

TimT said...

Yeah, in that interview linked with the guy who wrote the Dr Who book or history or whatever - which is good and interesting for the most part - he starts going on about how the new Dr Who series cut out things like straight space or far future adventures because apparently it doesn't appeal to a 'female' audience. What the hell? Since when did space and far future adventures become exclusively male? Some of the best sf stories - and Dr Who stories - are space or far future adventures. If you take that out, you're in danger of ending up with a soppy, weak, inoffensive soap opera. I reckon, anyway.

Anonymous said...

If you take that out, you're in danger of ending up with a soppy, weak, inoffensive soap opera.

which, in my opinion, is exactly what this latest series became... and why i stopped watching.

I agree with you, since when was straight time and far flung universe the domain of men? Last time I checked I was female...I can check again if it pleases them...*checks* yep, definitley female!

Email: timhtrain - at -

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