Published on May 6th, 2013 | by Philip Bates
Sub-Editorial: Save Me From Negativity!
I can’t believe the overwhelming negativity of not only so-called Doctor Who fans (let’s face it, we’re known to moan about just about anything) but also casual viewers who seem to tune in merely to complain about how Doctor Who has ‘gone downhill. Cancel it now.’
I must be watching a different programme.
Every week, I watch the best drama on TV and expect people to love it just as much as me. Personally, I don’t think we’ve had a below-par episode this series – and yes, I include The Rings of Akhaten too, as I loved it. However, trawl the internet and you’ll be forgiven for thinking that Doctor Who is the worst thing on the box, a jewel in the crown until that pesky Moffat and that awful Matt Smith came aboard. Top Gear is the best show; intellectually stimulating, well-thought-out, balanced and with wholly likely people at the helm – although it has close competition from Britain’s Got Talent.
This is an era heralded by Steven Moffat, a writer at the top of his (or anybody else’s game), who fans proclaimed as ‘a cert for next showrunner’ when Russell T. Davies was in charge. And this is Matt Smith, a relative unknown until he burst onto screens in 2010 and is a strong contender for Best Doctor Ever.
So what are people’s problems…? As a writer and someone who hopes to work on Doctor Who someday, it’s something I have to figure out. And it’s increasingly frustrating. I’m not sure I understand. Let me try to puzzle it out…
Firstly, many reason that the show just ‘isn’t good anymore/is a bore/is dire’ without any back-up argument. There’s very little to argue over here. I think it’s better than ever/is exciting/is thought-provoking.’ Without backing up my argument, mine is just as valid as the moaners’. However, if I back mine up by saying that in just one month, Doctor Who tackled our reliance on technology and each other, religion and the idea of faith as power, the notions of war and honour, and love and prejudice… would my argument be more valid? Apparently not.
Still, I maintain that Doctor Who is still as good as it’s ever been, if not better.
Whilst I love the Russell T. Davies era (which I pick on solely because that is what most of the audience compare the current era with), it wasn’t perfect. People seem to don their rose-tinted glasses and forget this. In Journey’s End, Rose returned. Why? Well, because. That’s why. Donna also saved everything by flicking some buttons.
In Last of the Time Lords, two of the best actors in the nation were face-to-face. John Simm and David Tennant. This is gonna be good. Ah, but no; the latter is sidelined – CGI! – thanks to a bonkers plot which saw the Doctor get smaller.
Doctor Who has got sillier. I mean, people whose heads are concave, leeches that feed off old women and Akhaten’s aliens whose faith leads them to sing? Ridiculous! Almost as ridiculous as that old whipping boy, the Slitheen, a Dalek-human hybrid and Gridlock’s aliens whose faith leads them to sing! Shush: no one mention the Absorbaloff!
(Furthermore, what’s wrong with silly?)
But this isn’t an attack on previous episodes, because they’re great too. The Slitheen are silly in some aspects, but they’re horrible in others. Equally, the Spoonheads are a crazy idea, but one pulled off brilliantly. I’m merely trying to point out that those episodes you look back on as top quality might not be as seamless as they appear.
A ‘problem’ of the current series is it’s constricted to just 45 minutes per story. A ‘problem’ with previous stories is that many are stretched over two episodes.
In the past, I can’t ever remember reading that 45 minutes isn’t long enough. However, I do recall people saying that two-parters don’t work. Maybe a solution is a one-and-a-half-parter, even though that is a physical impossibility. True, some two-parters are stretched too far. Many people’s prime example is The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People, which, while I enjoyed, I knew some wouldn’t, strictly from a writing point-of-view. If you want to carry a story across more than one ‘act,’ then you need to change the scene to some degree. Look at The Time of Angels/ Flesh and Stone. In the first part, we were on a beach by some cliffs, then exploring caves. In part two, we were in a spaceship – and then a forest (!) before, of course, balancing the whole adventure out by returning to the beach.
It’s not just locations that are an example here. Shine a light on The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang and we travel between the past and the present beautifully. Similarly, Utopia works as a three-part story, joined onto The Sound of Drums/ Last of the Time Lords because it’s so far in the future, compared to the modern-day ground-level work of the next two.
Two-parters are, essentially, nuWho’s four-parters, which worked for over 25 years. But we’ve somehow established that, regardless, two-parters don’t work.
The solution is self-contained episodes. Simple. Until Moffat announced this, and people began to think that 45 minutes simply isn’t long enough.
Does that make sense to you? Because it certainly doesn’t to me.
It seems that if you announce something – ie. the series’ ‘movie-feel’ – people will take note and they will criticise.
Most noteworthy, everybody knows that Steven Moffat absolutely hates Doctor Who. He detests it. And wants to kill it.
Who? That guy who only got into the industry because he wanted to work on the show? The one who knows everything about it, whether it’s naming an episode based on a still, noting production codes, or telling co-writers which companions have met the Daleks on screen? The bloke pictured as a child, reading Doctor Who and the Daleks, and saying in the current issue of Doctor Who Magazine how much he loves that very first episode?
Yeah, you’re right. He hates Doctor Who.
He’s also made the show too complex. Pure conjecture, there.
Yes, it’s complex – but it’s always been. There certainly are more timey-wimey stories, but that’s no bad thing, surely? It’s one of the main aspects of the show! As Peter Davison noted in the documentary for Mawdryn Undead, children seem to understand complexities more than adults, perhaps because they pay attention. Surely, a show that demands you take note is to be celebrated; it does not need to dumb down, and if it ever does, I’d prefer it be cancelled. TV should never strive to be dumb – nothing should. That attitude is disgusting.
Similarly, there are those who say Doctor Who is too simple – it’s for kids. Make your minds up. And once you do, compare it to other shows. I mean, really compare it. If you still think this, there’s probably no help for you.
I was shocked to go online after The Crimson Horror to find more people complaining that the sonic screwdriver is used far too much. Genuinely shocked – because writer, Mark Gatiss, gives a knowing nod to this argument with… Well, with a chair. I’m hoping that the audience will be more positive once Nightmare in Silver is broadcast, thanks to the power of Neil Gaiman. But then, I also predict a raft of people preparing their ‘it’s not as good as The Doctor’s Wife’ comments before they’ve even seen it.
But why? Why, why, why do people have this bewildering view of Doctor Who now? I think it might be summed up in one word: familiarity.
It’s a regular show in a semi-regular time slot. It’s part of Saturday night TV – and that’s given it this odd notion of being, somehow, ‘throwaway.’ Even the Radio Times have decreased their coverage recently because hey, the audience are familiar with it. The BBC has got into a habit of non-promotion too. In 2010, we had a coach touring the nation, interviews on every show you could wish for, and 3D screenings of the first few seconds of The Eleventh Hour in major cities across the country.
In 2013, we have trailers.
It’s a worrying viewpoint. This negativity for the sake of negativity is one of the reasons Doctor Who was cancelled at the end of the 1980s, at a time when the show was simply brilliant. This is the attitude that left the 1990s nearly without onscreen adventures at all. And it’s something that I’m particularly disturbed by; if Doctor Who were still on when I was a child, I might’ve been a fan earlier than 2005.
Please don’t be negative for the sake of it. Doctor Who is still as good as it ever was and, perhaps in a few years’ time, this season will be seen as one of the best. Attitudes change over time – and I hope this current trend to belittle anything that’s not base-level reality television will be over sooner rather than later.