Sometimes, you have to get angry in order to work out why you get angry.
I’d been telling myself that I wasn’t going to get worked up about the new series of Doctor Who. After all, having lived through the worst of last season, they’d have to be going some to get that bad. And any time I want to watch the old show, it’s there. It’s something I grew up with, something which, for better or worse, was a part of my life from as early as I can remember, right through to 1989 when the last episode of “Old Who” aired. And, after having made my wife’s life hell for 13 weeks last year, I really didn’t want to do it again. I thought I was primed. I thought I was prepared. I thought wrong…
I’ve started falling back into the old patterns. I even wrote a lengthy e-mail to my reviews editor at SFX, because he’d written a review on the website of last Saturday’s episode where I couldn’t actually believe he was talking about the same piece of television. I was agog, and it resulted in a lengthy (hopefully slightly entertaining) e-mail, and yet what does it matter? Why does this affect me so?
It’s not the fact that a certain proportion of New Who is, to be honest, not that good. Doctor Who being a quality rollercoaster is something that I’m used to- there have been brief periods in the show’s history when it’s delivered a series of classics in a row, but, for the most part, it’s a process of taking the rough with the smooth. It’s enjoying the bits that work, and wincing at or attempting to ignore the bits that don’t. All this should have been training for the new series- and yet, it wasn’t. And I think, underneath all the ups, the downs, the whys and the wherefores, I actually understand the reason now.
It’s not because it’s not very good. It’s because it’s not very good- and successful.
It’s because they have, for the most part, thrown out the intensive, off-beat, conceptual storytelling of Old Who, replacing it with louder, flashier stuff that makes some exciting noises, but falls apart if you look at it too closely. Stuff that makes emotional sense, but doesn’t really make actual, honest, common or garden sense. They’ve coated it with CGI gloss, thrown in lots of gags to make sure that it’s a ‘romp’ and nobody takes it too seriously. And people have bought it.
I could cope with Who being bad when nobody was watching. Hell, I was still a fan during the Sylvester McCoy era, and I could cope with it. Because of the stories. Because of the worlds that the show was still attempting to build (The last, real, genuine ‘Old Who’ story, for me, was the McCoy era adventure The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. And yes, there are bits in it that don’t make sense, but everything around it is so well put together, atmospheric and strange that it doesn’t make a difference).
But the way New Who is made now… and the way it’s being embraced as a daring revamp of a creaky old bit of shaky-set nonsense… it makes it feel like none of that ever mattered. Like the stories and worldbuilding and limitless scope of the original show didn’t matter. Like all they really needed was a decent SFX budget, a bit more characterisation, and lots of sexual Doctor-Companion tension, and nobody would have needed to worry about anything as dreary and uninteresting as the story.
The only way that I’d be made really happy by New Who, to be brutally honest, is if it fell flat on its face. I know it won’t, and that it’ll be around for a little while, at least. But, I’d honestly rather be watching something where there’s genuine imagination at work, even if it’s creaky, unconvincing, and decades old. I sometimes feel terribly out of step with the world, like I seriously don’t belong. The world of Doctor Who was a place where I felt like I belonged- a world of magic, and terror, and strange creatures, and a bloke in a Police Box who was strange, difficult, unpredictable, and yet would also turn out to be the best friend you could possibly have.
And the world of New Who… it’s not somewhere I feel like I want to visit that much. I’ll keep on looking from time to time. But I still miss the other world. And I wish that it didn’t feel like the more succesful New Who gets, the more of that old world gets knocked down.
There’s still room for magic in the world. You’ve just got to look a little harder for it now.
(Hope some of this makes sense…)