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Published on May 24th, 2011 | by Greig Byrne

Faith in the Doctor

Having recently subjected myself to the Smallville finale, a cathartic exercise to ensure that it was actually finishing, it struck me that despite the overwhelming influx of American TV to these shores we need not feel that British television is automatically inferior.

GeekDad, a column on the widely-read Wired.com, recently addressed this very point with regard to sci-fi. They saw daylight between the two offerings, with the big budget glitz of the Yanks taking on the indie-vibe sophistication of the Brits.

Doctor Who was, of course, the given. And with the form of the current series, perhaps minus the recent Pirates of the Caribbean episode, it has every right to be taken for granted as the unwavering flagship British offering.

The juxtaposition struck a particularly fresh chord for me as I eagerly sat down to The Doctor’s Wife, having earlier stoically braved the Smallville finale. Which for me can be summarised as the following:

“I’ve been pushing those away that believe in me…so how can I bring myself to believe in myself?

“But if you believe in me, then perhaps I can believe in myself too, especially if I believe that you believe in me.

“In fact, if you believe that I believe that you believe in me, and I believe that you actually believe it, then perhaps I CAN believe that I have belief in myself!

Yes! I can’t believe it!”

Unbelievable.

It was 90% build-up. Bad build up. Guff, in fact. The insecurities of the most sensationally-powerful person on Earth were being played out over and over. Then over again from another angle. Then one last time because there were still a few minutes left to fill.

Allow me to summarise the strength of the writing; the bad guy was brought back from the dead (again) at the last minute and – oh – was randomly administered a nerve-agent that in seconds gave him…complete amnesia.

Just ready in time to start duelling the freshly-minted Man of Steel. Able to leap tall buildings in a single frown.

It’s an outright testament to Batman’s cunning that he didn’t appear in one episode of Smallville.

One could argue that after ten seasons it’s hard to keep the writing fresh. But then one considers that Doctor Who has been on the go, on and off, since 1963.

Oh sure, it was never immune to bad writing. Frankly RTD made me cringe with his cheerful mangling of sci-fi tenants, free-wheeling arcs (“bad wolf” – he seriously knew what he was doing there?) and shameless deus ex machinas like firestones and Donna abruptly turning into a Time Lord. (The bandwagon for More Ginger Time Lords starts here by the way).

But Davies isn’t running things now, instead the show is written by someone with a grasp of the genre. And, particularly now that Stargate Universe was senselessly cancelled, Doctor Who, Blighty’s Finest, is surely right up there with the best of sci-fi?

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4 Responses to Faith in the Doctor

  1. solonor says:

    There’s still the argument that hard sci-fi doesn’t really exist on TV anymore, even in Doctor Who, but there is no doubt that Who belongs among the best of the current crop…especially awesome in that it’s essentially a prettied up version of the same show that hit screens in 1963.

    I struggled through the Smallville finale, too, just because I had to. For some reason, I started watching the last season…just because it was the last, I guess…and I had to see it through to the bitter end. And boy was it bitter! :)

    Still, holding Smallville up against Who isn’t really fair. You’re talking about a worn out piece of comic book fantasy against a classic juggernaut of sci-fi. I’m more inclined to compare Doctor Who to Fringe or Warehouse 13. It’s more of a challenge (with Who still coming out on top).

  2. Greig Byrne says:

    I take the point in the unfair comparison – I was looking at it from the point of view of another sci-fi show that had lasted a longer amount of time. It should never have lasted that long of course, but the wisdom of current US TV meant that it endured long after it did. Thus we get tripe over here as a result that doesn’t quite compare to what the Brits can muster.

    But then that was the point of the article.

    I’ve kind of talked myself into a 180 there, eh?

  3. Greig Byrne says:

    What shows do we think stand up to Who then? Fringe and Stargate Universe would be my votes, given that we don’t have Galactica anymore. Can’t BELIEVE SGU was binned :(

  4. solonor says:

    Really, Fringe is about all that’s left. Everything else gets cancelled too quickly.

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