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Published on May 4th, 2011 | by Andrew Reynolds

The Mail’s Campaign Against Scary

Sometimes to see the full picture you have to dig a little deeper. Go beyond what seems contentious or firmly held so that, in pleasing your own inquisitive sense of injustice, you can connect something that seemed arbitrary to a wider, like minded audience.

So that after time others can see that, thanks to your chivalrous actions, a wider more focused debate could take place.

Or you could just crib some opinions off a blog, ignore 99 per cent of the debate around the issue, use leaps of logic and grammatical sleights of hand so massive and convoluted that if trapped inside a perspex box in the Tate, they’d be worth millions and generally stir up ignorance based on your Newspapers pathological hatred of the BBC.

The Daily Mail (who else?) are again pounding their own conclusions into the dirt with a gob-smacking piece entitled: Now Doctor Who Scares off Another One Million Viewers.

I know what you’re thinking. Yet another year and another ratings debate brought on by tabloid journalists’ inability to understand the changes in audience viewer patterns thanks to the myriad ways in which that content can now reach that same audience.

But lets not treat The Daily Mail with the same contempt that they treat other’s endeavours. Remember that first paragraph?

So with that same spirit here’s an attempt to engage with the Mail on this issue of parental concern over the complex and dark turn the series has taken.

The main thrust of the piece comes from a review of The Impossible Astronaut by Digtial Spy’s Morgan Jeffery.

In his complementary review Jeffery makes two concessions towards the potential traumatic experiences that younger viewers may have had, the first is the Doctors demise which he calls “questionable” in the sense that some children may find the idea of their hero being shot and subsequently given a Viking send-off less than a thrilling twist and more of a heartbreaking and shocking image that’ll be burnt into their nightmares.

Perhaps all of this underestimates the savvy of children – most will have know that, despite how disconcerting the moment may be that there were still 12 odd episode to go with about 35 minutes of the one their watching still left to play.

The moment had to be desperate, and it had to break through the groans of the casual adult viewers sat with them. Who, lets face it, should have been playing along with the show, telling the little tykes: “How’s he going to come back?” In what was a great long to be talked about moment from parent to child.

As interesting as that moment is, it’s not the one the Mail decided, based on Jeffery’s concern, should be the basis for their argument.

The problematic moment was Amy’s bathroom break and the subsequent Watchmen-style disintegration of Joy, the White House employee; Jeffery’s comment was:

“But to put on my Mary Whitehouse hat once more, it’s again debatable whether the unsettling scene in which a Silent confronts Amy and kills the White House staffer Joy should really be broadcast at 6pm.”

Catch the slightly self-conscious tone of that statement? The honesty of saying he was concerned but also felt a little uneasy at saying it? Gone.

The Mail dropped the ‘Mary Whitehouse’ comment (too soon guys?) and instead started with the ‘it’s debatable’ comment leading in.

It might seem a fairly innocuous thing to say that something might start a debate – after all, all you’re doing is registering the fact that something is contentious, and there’s no leading statement there. But if a debate can be had because someone says so, then by God The Mail will find that debate.

Doctor Who - The Impossible AstronautI’m not a journalist and I can only guess how The Mail went about constructing this ‘debate’ by working backwards from the piece itself.

So I slapped that quote into Google and before you know it found the blog from which the paper had cribbed its avid fan and mother quote from:

“The mother added: ‘Steven M seems to have no interest in making it enjoyable for children and just seems obsessed by how scary and complex he can make the storyline.”

It should be noted that the “mother” doesn’t actually say which moments scared her “daughter” in the episode. In her full quote she says since he took over – so that would include, for arguments sake, back when ratings were ‘higher’ and episodes like the utterly uncomplicated and not very scary The Time of Angels aired.

The Mail have assumed that instead of her registering her general concern in an article using the same Digital Spy quote the paper used that she also found the same moment horrifying.

There’s a difference in being afraid of the tone of an episode and being afraid of one element of it. Remember when the BBC edited out the sound of cracking skulls from Moffat’s own two parter The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. That was one specific moment that went in some peoples minds too far in a very foreboding set of stories.

There’s an obvious line of enquiry from this quote and the image it paints of Steven Moffat and his ‘scary’ ‘complex’ story lines for this season and the language used by The Mail seems to have settled on him being hell bent on generally making everything the visual equivalent of a haunted clown leaping out of your closet yelling quadratic equations at you with equal parts horror and bemusement.

The supposed slump in ratings doesn’t stem from apathy towards Moffat’s tropes but from the general change in viewer figures across the board- if anything it justifies the money spent by BBC Worldwide on making the iPlayer such a viable platform. Something you feel the analogue Daily Mail wouldn’t approve of.

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About the Author

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Everyone has a favourite Doctor and mine - just for his honesty, his fairness and his ability to not notice the Master's awful, awful disguises/anagrams (Sir Gilles Estram!?!) - has to be the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The stories didn’t serve him as well as his acting served those stories.



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