I’ve been busy for a little while, and so I’ve not been doing the Big Finish A Week posts, as they take up vastly more time than any of the other posts, but things are a little more settled again, so I should be starting them again soon. In the meantime, I’d like to talk a little bit more about Doctor Who.
I haven’t watched the new series since series 3 – I watched the first series, thinking it was badly-flawed but with enough ideas of merit to keep going, as it was the first series. The second series I thought was bloody awful, and it became apparent that the things I thought were flaws (the emphasis on effects over plot, the anti-intellectualism, the mockery of nerds, the implicit assumption that early 21st century Western culture is the apogee of civilisation, with everyone before now being the same as us but in different clothes, and with the future being exactly the same) were, to the makers, the actual point of the exercise. I watched the third series, six months after broadcast, in one sitting, because someone I trusted told me it was much better. There were three good episodes (Blink and the Human Nature two-parter), but none of these involved the character of the Doctor more than peripherally.
I haven’t watched any episodes since, and nor will I do so, but the reviews haven’t suggested that I’m missing anything. Lawrence Miles has already taken down his review of the other night’s episode, as is his wont, but my cached version in Google Reader contains the line “Never have I felt more justified in my decision to f*** off and be somewhere else when this series – the series I’ve followed since I was two years old – finally dies. This isn’t Doctor Who. It isn’t even sophisticated enough to qualify as fan-fic.”
That summed up my feelings about the show as it is these days. But I’m not writing this to criticise the new show – like I say, I no longer even watch it – but to talk about what I would do differently, and also why I love the old show.
Essentially, there are three things I like about Doctor Who (1963-89). The first, and in some ways the most important, is just that the programme is so tied up with many of the happiest moments of my childhood, and so things like the TARDIS, Daleks, K9, Cybermen, and so forth are linked to my hindbrain – there is a part of me that would be happy with any old shit so long as it had a police box and a pepperpot saying “exterminate”. This is the only part of my taste for the show that the new show has kept.
Then there’s the ideas. The new show doesn’t really have any interesting ideas in it, while the old one had imaginative writers like Robert Holmes, Douglas Adams, Christopher Bidmead, Malcolm Hulke and so on. There were plenty of badly-written, predictable Old Who scripts, but there were also some, such as Castrovalva, City Of Death or The Tenth Planet, that did interesting new things (the Tenth Planet looks formulaic now, but it invented the formula, or at least nicked it from The Thing From Another World and filed the serial number off).
But most important is the character of the Doctor, and this is what the new series gets so egregiously wrong, especially in the Tennant episodes (Eccleston had flashes of Doctorishness), I can’t consider it to have any connection to the original series. So, if I were to run the series, other than hire much better writers, I’d totally rewrite the character of the Doctor, getting back to something approximating the character in the original series.
Now, admittedly, the character changed a lot, but there are things that remained more-or-less constant, and other things that I liked about one or other of the versions of the character. But what I wouldn’t do is go the route of the current show, which has him as a normal bloke who just happens to be able to fix everything with magical gadgets and fast talking.
As a first approximation, the Doctor should be Sherlock Holmes, but then should be added in varying amounts of Bugs Bunny, Groucho Marx, and your favourite uncle. The most important thing to remember about him is that he is alien, and this should colour every aspect of his character.
For example, the new show is obsessed with romances of one kind or another between the Doctor and his companions. However, the Doctor is meant to be many centuries older than them, and of a different species. Even if humans are his favourite race, he should think of them as somewhere between children and pets, which suggests that to him sex with Rose Tyler should be somewhere between bestiality and paedophilia. This does not mean that he’s sexless – it’s fairly obvious that Doctor Tom was sleeping with Romana, and I find it far easier to believe that the first Doctor was Susan’s biological grandfather than any fanwanky nonsense about looms – but just that he shouldn’t be chasing after 19-year-old earthwomen. (Although, oddly, I find it entirely easy to believe that the sixth doctor and Evelyn’s relationship was a sexual one, although I’m sorry for putting that image into your heads).
The Doctor should be slightly unaware of human mores and social conventions – not totally oblivious, but he shouldn’t be aware of them unless he’s *thinking* of them. This is part of why he’s so egalitarian – like the line in Robot where he says “Oh yes, I’ll speak to *anybody*!” brightly when asked if he’d speak to a Nobel prize winner. It can also, however, make him seem quite callous – but he would never knowingly hurt someone, and if he’s made aware of how callous he seems, he will be apologetic and very regretful.
This difference explains many of the Doctor’s quirks – I’ve always thought it was a shame that the Fifth Doctor’s celery ended up having a prosaic explanation in The Caves Of Androzani, as it seems much more fun to me to just assume that the Doctor was getting things slightly wrong – or not caring about getting it right. Humans wear pretty vegetation in their buttonhole, here’s a bit of pleasant-looking vegetation, in it goes.
In many ways the Doctor would probably be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome were he human, and this seems a tack to take when writing him (though personally I think the whole concept of Asperger’s is an appaling one – simultaneously a way to dismiss a whole group of people by medicalising their personalities, while also giving a load of arseholes on the internet a cop-out excuse by letting them claim their bad behaviour is a medical condition. Oddly, all the latter tend to be ‘self-diagnosed’…). My friend Tilt has similarly suggested that the character of Monk (the obsessive-compulsive detective) bears a close resemblance to the Doctor. This isn’t to suggest the Doctor is mentally ill (though he’s eccentric even for his own species), but that his brain works differently from human brains.
[EDIT 8 years later after clicking on this for the first time since then… JESUS but this is complete bollocks. I know what I was trying to say here — something about medicalising people and the social model of disability, though I didn’t have those words yet — but I said it so horribly wrongly that it comes off as almost exactly the opposite of what I meant. For the record, I *am* autistic myself, and am a very strong supporter of autistic self-advocacy. What a terrible writer I was back then.]
The Doctor should always have the best intentions. He may do appaling things, but they are always either accidental or to stop something worse happening, and he should regret every one. He should also know more than everyone else – not in the way of the later Tom Baker years, where he’d met everyone in the universe before and knew everything, but he should be in possession of a few pieces of information that no-one else has, by virtue if nothing else of his great age. He should always seem like he’s in a slightly different show from everyone else, and his very presence should twist the situations around – he should be a random factor that brings everything crashing down not through any great skill or ability, but just through being unexpected. And it should never be shown exactly how much more he knows than everyone else, or how he knows it – as much as possible (given the history of the show) he should be a mystery.
The Doctor should be funny. He should know better than to take anything too seriously, and should be able to turn anything into a joke. He should also be slightly naive, even now – he should expect the best of people by default, and be truly shocked when they fail to live up to his ideals – but people should respect him enough that they *do* live up to those ideals. On the other hand he should have a furious, hair-trigger temper, and be extraordinarily arrogant. He can also be more than a little pompous at times.
He should dress eccentrically, but not in the ‘I’m mad, me!’ fashion of the Nathan-Turner years, nor in the ‘student who thinks he’s quirky’ manner of Tennant. The Doctor seems to me to be a character who’s most at home in the late 19th century, and his dress sense should reflect that – depending on the actor he could wear frock coats and look like a character from The Importance Of Being Earnest or be a great huge bearded man in the Karl Marx mode, but he definitely shouldn’t look like anyone else.
He also shouldn’t be conventionally good-looking. He should probably not be *ugly* – after all, he can choose, to an extent, his appearance – but he should look a little odd. Eccleston was facially very Doctorish. His accent should be close to RP, but it could have a regional tinge to it (Colin Baker still had a bit of Rochdale in some of his vowels, Baker and McGann both had a tinge of Scouse, without sounding non-Doctorish)
More than anything else – even his desire to do the right thing – he should be motivated by curiosity.
My own choice for actor would be Graham Crowden (who apparently turned the part down when Pertwee left), but Don Warrington, David Warner or anyone else who can do both gravitas and humour would be OK. But the Doctor should *not* be a conventional ‘hero’ type, and nor should he be a conventional ‘eccentric Englishman’ of the Stephen Fry type.
If they bring back a series with *that* character – even if it has plots as dreadful as those of the new series – I’d watch it eagerly. But I suspect there’s no place for that kind of thing on TV any more. Sad.
Andrew, as someone who began watching in the Troughton era (I was too scared too watch in the Hartnell epoch) I can understand your feelings …. but despite it’s faults , I still love the show.
Yes, there are some poor episodes, but try watching “Silence in the Library”, “Forest of the Dead” and “Midnight” from series 4.
I bet you cringed when you heard that Catherine Tate was going to join the series? She was great.
And for an original idea – watch Turn Left – and you see a realistically grim Earth – grim because the Doctor isn’t around to save things.
I’m glad other people *do* enjoy the show, and would never want to spoil anyone else’s enjoyment of it – it’s just not the programme I want to watch. I won’t be watching those episodes because I’ve been fooled before by people saying the show had got better – even Blink, which I thought was an absolutely masterly piece of television, just technically superb, had this nasty “look at the awful nerdy nerds, *we’re* not like them, are we?” feel to it.
My suspicion is that Old Who is better than New Who, but I haven’t watched enough of either, nor do I have the faculty of artistic criticism, to be able to back that up. However, just to pick up on your aside, I think you may be conflating Asperger’s syndrome and related conditions with the societal effects or considerations of the same.
Fundamentally, people with Asperger’s think differently from people without it, in certain ways which can be described. That’s an oversimplication because Asperger’s is one part of a spectrum, but that’s basically all that it is. A diagnosis of Asperger’s is a long way from considering it a disease that needs to be cured – that’s a societal interpretation, albeit one that is worryingly common in America. Similarly, believing that Asperger’s justifies rudeness is an interpretation of the condition, not the condition itself, and a largely unjustifiable one. I’ll throw in the Aspies who believe that they’re superior to the “neurotypical”, because they wind me up as well.
Being aware that people think differently to each other, particularly in ways relating to emotional and social awareness, can be personally valuable. I’m not a self-diagnosed Aspie, but I’ve found tremendous comfort in knowing that some people have difficulty interpreting social interplay. It was a tremendous source of frustration to me in the past, and I spent a long time worrying why I wasn’t “normal”. A friend of mine required a formal diagnosis of Asperger’s before he could come to terms with the way his brain worked, and move on to be a much happier person.
I don’t think I could consider a political career, which is largely based on social interaction, without understanding that people interpret social situations differently, and without understanding how to compensate for that; I can simultaneously accept the insight and and intellect with which I’m compensated with my customary grace and modesty ;)
Feels odd to be replying to you on here, now I live round the corner. I could open the window and shout my answer…
If you’ve not seen enough Old Who, that can be easily rectified. In fact I’ve been thinking for a while of having a Who Watching Day where I get people round to watch a few of the better stories… I think you’d like City Of Death, and I think any Neal Stephenson fan would enjoy Logopolis/Castrovalva…
I was specifically talking about the diagnosis, rather than the condition. I think it’s incredibly valuable to know that people interpret social cues in different ways, and I think it’s useful to know that some of these behaviours cluster and probably have a common cause – it’s interesting to me, for example, that my social cluelessness might go hand in hand with my skin condition and my very narrow tastes in foods.
But diagnuisances do come with societal baggage, and I find almost all the societal baggage, from both ‘aspies’ and ‘neurotypicals’, around ‘Asperger’s’, to be counterproductive. By treating it as a medical condition, society is sending a signal that those traits whose cluster we refer to as Asperger’s Syndrome are undesirable, when some are anything but.
But yes, I do know of a couple of people myself who needed the diagnosis to help them cope – I just think that overall Asperger’s is closer to, say, homosexuality or transsexuality than to autism or Down’s syndrome – it’s an extreme within the normal variation of the population, rather than an illness to be treated.
Incidentally, the best resource I’ve ever found on the differences between ‘Asperger’s’ and ‘neurotypical’ people is a blog – http://life-with-aspergers.blogspot.com/ . It’s fascinating to me to see how I match and/or differ from him…
Just to justify what I said about Monk, it’s just because The Doctor (as was) and Adrian Monk are of a certain fictional type “the unwordly intellectual problem solver who is made lovable through character quirks” viz. Holmes, Nero Wolfe et al. I wouldn’t want to see The Doctor as hung-up as Monk, but occasionally I have watched Monk and thought “wow, that’s some great Dr. Who there”.
My recipe for The Doctor would be (broadly speaking) “Watch an episode of MacGyver: that’s what he does but in science fiction. Watch Jose Ferrer as Cyrano: that’s the way he talks and acts as he does it.”
“Even if humans are his favourite race, he should think of them as somewhere between children and pets, which suggests that to him sex with Rose Tyler should be somewhere between bestiality and paedophilia.”
Yes. So much yes. Precisely this. I’ve been trying to explain this to people over and over again since at least 1996, when Paul McGann smooched Daphne Ashbrook. Beyond the in-story logic as stated above, the overarching reason the Doctor needs to be uninterested in hanky-panky with human companions is that he is morally speaking in loco parentis and the sole informed guardian figure for those companions. Human companions must inevitably be considered the Doctor’s dependents while they travel with him: he’s the only option they have for shelter, safe passage, and the necessities of life. To take advantage of this situation would be grossly immoral.
Note that this goes beyond the show’s roots as children’s fare…but to whatever extent the Davies version is still considered “family viewing” the Doctor has to be presented as an utterly safe guardian figure above reproach in his conduct with his charges, or else the whole premise becomes terrifying.
As always, whenever you discuss DW, I agree wholeheartedly with your broad points and then quibble over details: in this case, we both agree there have been few bright spots in the Davies stories, but disagree on which stories those were. Also, I consider Tennant more Doctor-like than Eccleston ever was, but the scripts have let him down.
That said, Eccleston was given the single wrongest and most un-Doctor-like line of dialogue ever spoken by the Doctor on screen: in “The Long Game” when evicting naughty would-be companion Adam, he announces “I only travel with the best of the best!” which is just so very very very wrong.
Well, by Tennant I’m referring to both the scripts and the performer. And yes, Eccleston’s treatment of Adam was completely wrong, as was his behaviour towards Mickey.
RAB says it. It’s creepy.
Of course, I like to pretend that the Tenth Doctor had a bad regeneration — he’s crazy. Not insane, but cognitively-stressed in a way you could almost think of as the opposite of the Colin Baker Doctor. Nine was struggling with grief; but Ten was climbing the walls.
And on Eleven (haven’t heard much about him lately!) I think a lot could be done with a “proper” Doctor who finds himself stuck in a regeneration that’s too young for his liking: unseemly! William Hartnell trapped in the body of a twentysomething! The beauty would then be ugliness, to him: no gravitas whatsoever. Even better if he was short. And without romantic inclinations. Tunnel right through the NuWho problems and out the other side, in one go.
But, probably they won’t go that way…
I’m absolutely certain they won’t go that way, since Stephen Moffat is the one who spoke about wanting to annoy ‘asexual fanboys’ and asked “why can’t the Doctor date?”. On top of that, one of the production team was quoted as saying “He’s young and good-looking, which is what you really need in a Doctor”.
You *can* have a young Doctor, or an old one, or a totally non-human looking one. It’s the thinking behind Smith’s casting that worries me.
Well, it sounds like there’s your problem…why in the HELL should “annoying asexual fanboys” be anybody’s concern at all? It’s just a counterproductive attitude, I think: professionals should be thinking about their jobs, not about how to best snark at “fandom” (which in my opinion is an activity that ought to be reserved to fandom, anyway, as it’s really the mark of a fanboy, who’s kidding who) and if the job is making Doctor Who shows…
For heaven’s sake, just as RAB says, part of the point of Doctor Who is that kids are supposed to like it! How does thinking that make anyone a fanboy? When surely that goes the other way around, grrr. To me if you have a Who that can’t interest all ages, you’re weirdly overlooking one of the show’s greatest strengths, and if you don’t want one…well, how do you not want one? I’m actually willing to give a pass to the Rose stuff (er…most of it, anyway) on the grounds that I think in a certain sense it was warranted for purely structural reasons: New Who has/had some cause to choose to make Rose a special case, Companion-wise. But it baffles me how you get from all that Rose stuff to “why shouldn’t the Doctor date?” Well, for the same reason you had him date, you know? It’s the same reason. And to throw it away makes the whole business a lot less…I’ll say “palatable”.
Never heard such fanboyish gibberish.
Absolutely. Moffat (and various other people involved in the new show, like Cornell and Davies) strike me as the kind of people who hung around on the edge of the gang of bullies, picking on the ‘nerds’ and desperate not to be thought one of them. Blink (which, I repeat, is the *best* episode of the new series so far) has a subplot entirely devoted to mocking nerdy fanboys – and the main nerdy fanboy is named after Lawrence Miles, a Doctor Who fan that Moffat apparently personally dislikes.
The people doing this are like the majority of people doing comics, simultaneously contemptuous of the people who came before them, for having dared to create something they loved too much when they were kids and desperate to prove they’re not doing silly kids’ stuff. Tilt reminded me recently of this round-table from the 1990s, people who were then writing for the New Adventure books.
If you read it, they’re attacking everything about Doctor Who (except the ‘serious’ early Peter Davison stories, the ones aimed squarely at adolescents rather than a family audience) , the performers (Tom Baker was a ‘drunk old lardie’), the writers (Robert Holmes not even ‘a good hack’), the show itself (“As a television professional, I think how did these guys get a paycheck every week? Dear god, it’s bad! Nothing I’ve seen of the black and white stuff – with the exception of the pilot, the first episode – should have got out of the building. They should have been clubbing those guys to death!”) and the fans (“When you come down to it, our central audience doesn’t read. And that’s a major problem for us… how do we address a new series of books to an audience who don’t know what good books should be like?”).
Now this would be fine – defensible opinions, though ones I don’t share – were these people not *professional fanfic creators*! These were people who were writing the tie-in novels, and in that light it just looks like a gigantic chip on their shoulders – “Okay, so none of us have any actual original ideas, and we have to be parasitic on far greater talents and the audience they’ve created, but we’re still better for… some good reason.”
The people who I’ve quoted there are two of the *best* writers involved in the new series (the actual best writer being Rob Shearman, who’s written some stunningly good stuff, but whose work for the new series is not really representative of his ability). They’re a bunch of sneering teenagers standing on their parents’ shoulders and thinking they’re giants, and that attitude comes across in the show…
Oh, I shouldn’t have clicked that link…such hideous reading…
Then again, I feel like a much more awesome person all of a sudden, so I guess it all balances out!
Exactly. And these are the people running the new show – Moffat will be the executive producer and head writer from the next series on.Their attitude comes through in every episode I’ve watched of nuWho, which is why I find it actively upsetting to watch – it’s *almost* the thing I loved, but twisted to the agenda of these awful people…
You are awesome! I’ll say so here in lieu of the e-mails I think I owe you.
I haven’t heard any suggestion that Lawrence in Blink is named after Lawrence Miles other than from Lawrence Miles himself, whose preoccupation with Moffat does not appear to be mutual.
I think this explains why I am becoming increasingly disappointed with New Who. I thought the Eccleston series was the greatest thing that had ever been broadcast, because the only Doctor Who I’d seen before then was the last five minutes of “The Chase”. With my enthusiasm fired up, I listened to a lot of the Big Finish plays and watched a few different episodes from each Doctor, which just cemented my love for the series. Then, when Tennant’s era rolled around, it felt… off. The Doctor wasn’t as Doctorish as I’d been expecting. I hadn’t thought before that my increased exposure to the older series might be linked to my increased urge to personally force the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration, but it makes sense, having read the above.
I hadn’t thought about Six and Evelyn having a sexual relationship before, but I think it’s telling that I find their relationship far more compelling than any of the busload of people Ten has snogged.
Why should the Doctor’s accent be close to RP?
Two reasons. Partly personal preference, and partly because it’s an accent that was specifically developed to be a standard ‘neutral’ accent/dialect of the kind that would give no class indicators (although that failed) or region-indicators – as such it’s the kind of accent that would be spoken by a non-native speaker of English who wanted to be comprehensible to all. Also because the first six Doctors all *did* have RP accents.
To me, RP is very posh, very twentieth century BBC. (You should have a look at SJA if you haven’t yet, btw.) It is quite alien, but in the sense that Boris Johnson or David Cameron are alien, not in the sense that a Time Lord is alien, and those senses are distinct for me. In the context of a period piece I don’t find it as distancing, but I don’t think you can have a character with an accent “close to RP” now without the audience seeing him as very posh indeed, and I think the gentleman hero’s day is done. I suppose we may see a revival of aristocratic heroes in serials designed to reconcile us to our new masters after the election, but I doubt it.
Well damn. I thought I agreed with Andrew — because it turns out that I quite like the idea of an RP Doctor — but it turns out I’m definitely on your side here, Jennie. Partly for some of your reasons, especially that RP is very twentieth century; “BBC English” is no longer a synonym for RP and I rejoiced in that because I adore regional variations in speech, but it never really occurred to me that this dates RP to a fairly small fraction of the time English has been being spoken, much less of a Time Lord’s life span.
Plus I clearly remember watching one of the first Tennant episodes, and then seeing the “Confidential” after, and being stunned at how different his real accent is (this may be common knowledge for all I know but I’d never even heard of him before this); I said then that I’d like his character a million times better if he talked like that rather than affecting some kind of “estuary English.”
So now I think for me to be happy with an RP Doctor it’d have to be somebody who just talks like that, and that narrows your prospects greatly (though I’d be much happier than Andrew to see Stephen Fry play the Doctor, I still don’t think it should be limited to people like him!).
No, Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde teaming up with the Doctor. ;-)
(This is one of two daydream episodes I’ve plotted out in my head that I hope are never made, because the show would only ruin them — the other one being the Doctor on an adventure with Benjamin Franklin as played by the late Howard Da Silva.)
I’ll go along with the idea of Doctors with “real” accents, but only to a point — part of what I enjoyed about the Ninth Doctor’s shtick was the way it used the socio-politico-linguistic thing of the twentieth century to relaunch the show (I also loved the background of the Time War for this, because it really killed several birds with one stone. You couldn’t have had Rose’s character without it, I think!), while simultaneously announcing that English SF TV programs oughtta not be afraid to move with their times. The Tenth Doctor riffed on this as well, no doubt, though in my mind the thread got a little lost…
Just another reason why I’d like to see a young regeneration of an “old” Doctor…Victorian clothes and a very RP accent. If we’re gonna play with these things let’s play with them!
But okay, that’s enough of my fannish whining for now, I guess…
Sorry I called you Jennie instead of Jamie! I read it properly but typed it wrong, thinking of another friend called that in the meantime. Sigh. I can’t brain today.
Now this is wierd. I’ve been watching Doctor Who regularly since the very first episode. (Yes I’m that old) and still count Hartnell as the only real Doctor. I never took to Troughton till his last days and hated Pertwee for working with the army and being stuck on Earth. Tom Baker was a vast improvement but Davison’s take on the role just left me confused. However up to Colin Baker’s reign I never missed an episode. I was entirely uninterested in his portrayal of the character and the stories written for him. Sylvester McCoy was not an improvement and I simply hated the McGann movie. However…I loved the triumphant return of the Doctor (with a few reservations) as admirably portrayed by Ecclestone and carried on by Tennant. I don’t know why though. There have certainly been a few weak episodes (Love and Monsters and the recent Xmas travesty particularly) but over all I think yes this is being made by people who understand Who and want it to carry on and appeal to a wide TV audience. Your criticisms are interesting but I just can’t agree with them. Which is doubly wierd because I like your blog and generally agree with everything you write.
Others comments here I find puzzling too. For example – WHY does the Doctor have to play the role of ‘utterly safe guardian figure above reproach in his conduct with his charges’ as I think RAB suggests above. How safe where Ian and Barbara in Hartnell’s charge? (I don’t think there was any sexual threat because this Doctor was an old man but an implication of untrustworthyness and menace was always present) How above reproach was Pertwee with his wierdly alien lasciviousness toward Joe Grant? (driving off in a huff from her wedding) And you’re not gonna tell me the relationship between Leela and Baker’s Doctor was innocent. It was just never made explicit on screen. Just a few examples.
The idea of presenting the Doctor as an asexual RP speaking old scientific adventurer is ludicrous and cliched. And expecting a hit TV series with that as a central concept in the age of Buffy etc. is doomed to failure. The show has to evolve and adapt to the zeitgeist if it is to survive.
I suspect that those (maybe not you Andrew) who complain about the new Who and it’s changes just want it to be like it was when they were children and cannot stand that a new generation have not only discovered the show but are writing and producing it too and are making it thier own.
I’m gonna process this a little longer and write here again because I’m still not sure exactly what it is you dislike so much about new Who (to the point of refusing to watch it!) and what it is that makes me like it despite the fact that I consider myself to be a VERY fussy Who afficionado.
It’s funny you mention the third Doctor’s reaction to Jo Grant’s departure because when I wrote that comment I was thinking of that exact scene as an example of how the Doctor/companion relationship was done right!
You have a beloved pet you adore but you have to move and he can’t come with you to the new place. You have a wonderful child who moves out to attend college. You’re a dedicated teacher immensely proud of a gifted pupil, but the day comes when she leaves your class and you have to stay behind and can only hope to find another one so promising. These are all nonsexual relationships (oh jesus god I hope so!) but they’re all emotional bonds with beings who aren’t your equal and it hurts a bit when they end…even though that ending was inevitable. This is exactly how Pertwee plays that scene, going off by himself quietly rather than saying goodbye. By contrast a spurned lover might say “how can you leave me for that other bloke, I thought we’d be together forever” and IMHO that’s exactly where the new series has it all wrong.
Point taken about Bill Hartnell, if you go by the first two serials…but by the time he says goodbye to Susan in Dalek Invasion of Earth he’s much more the kindly grandfather. (And let’s face it, any of us would have wanted to kill Ian and Barbara!)
Fourth Doctor and Leela? Sorry, I never saw a hint of anything there — and worse, she would have been one of the most dependent and emotionally defenseless of his companions, knives and poison darts and all. Given his vastly greater knowledge and experience, it would be criminal.
Well, I think if you’re a Who fan who’s not fussy about something, then you’re not really one at all…but Jherek, isn’t it that word “explicit” that makes all the difference, here? An explicitly sexualized Doctor is different from one that merely exudes a bit of menace, or even from one that occasionally makes you wonder…and I don’t see that it’s got anything to do with any zeitgeist. Giles and Buffy (or for that matter, Angel and Fred) didn’t have a romantic relationship, after all! And surely children still get to be part of the zeitgeist, too…or are they to be shut out of the world of shows that can be “hits”?
Also, how in the hell long ago was Buffy? I don’t think it gets to be “zeitgeist” at all, at this stage of the game.
Sure, Buffy’s old, but Jherek’s point is at least as applicable to the post-Buffy age of telefantasy. An asexual RP speaking old scientific adventurer isn’t a concept that the kids are crying out for. The Doctor reflects our flirty, demotic culture as he did when upper class adventurers were in vogue. His context today is Skins and Smallville, as it was The Avengers and Adam Adamant in the 60s. How you feel about either incarnation of the show depends largely, I think, on how you feel about the cultures that produced them.
Well, I love the Avengers and you couldn’t pay me enough money to watch Smallville, so…
But I’ve never said there should be an ‘asexual’ Doctor – in fact I’ve explicitly stated the opposite (and for that matter Steed was hardly asexual either ;) ). What I *have* said, though, is that the Doctor shouldn’t be sexually interested in young human women in much the same way I’m not sexually interested in baby chimpanzees.
And I’d argue that it’s better to do a show that’s different from everything else, and give people some real choice, rather than reflecting everything else on TV…
I like the Avengers more than The Thirtysomething Superboy as well, but as an artefact of its time. Steed was a bit of a card, but I was thinking more of his being a clubbable chap than his sex life!
I don’t think the Doctor showing sexual interest in his human companions is equivalent to bestiality, paedophilia, etc. Ick.
I dunno if Doctor Who was ever radically different from the culture that produced it. I can think of lots of ways in which it wasn’t, anyway.
See arguments above. Basically, I think it a bit dodgy for someone to have a sexual interest in someone several centuries/more than a millennium younger than him, of a different species, and to whom he’s a figure of authority.
I don’t think Who was ever *radically* different from the culture surrounding it, though at its best it was slightly ahead of the pack, leading rather than following. But maybe it *should* be radically different from the culture around it…
Can you really summarize what a culture “is” well enough to make those kinds of determinations? My country’s got a lot fewer people in it than yours does, and I’d have a helluva time doing that.
Probably not in theoretical terms, but yeah, I think some cultural changes are pretty apparent. Our culture seems much more weepy in an almost Victorian kind of way than I believe it was thirty years ago, it’s much more sexualised, there’s more consumerism -or there was until recently, anyway. The media at least is much more reverent, people don’t go in for doffing their caps to their social superiors. Quite the reverse, their superiors are more likely to get their own caps knocked off their heads! That’s likely cyclical, like the weepiness.
All these are broad strokes obviously, but I think they do exist.
I’d actually agree to an extent – and to the extent that’s true, I think all those are bad things, except the irreverence (and the slightly greater tolerance of other races/sexualities, which you don’t mention). So a program with more of those things is worse than one which had fewer of them (and Who was *always* irreverent).
I think Who always *thought* it was irreverent, but that irreverence doesn’t always come across to the modern viewer as I assume it must have been intended.
Bob Holmes would have the Doctor rage righteously at some obfuscating bureaucrat on his behalf, but given that the Doctor was played as a very posh bloke and the guy he was shouting at often not so much, my sympathies tend to go out to the victim. So I’ve sworn off the two Bob Holmes stories with Troughton, I don’t want to have his Doctor spoilt for me in the same way as Pertwee and Tom Baker.
I’d describe myself as indifferent to the sexualisation of culture (although I do enjoy some romance in my Who), pro-irreverence and anti-consumerism, albeit I dunno offhand how consumerism figures in Who.
I don’t see it quite that way, Jamie…is your culture really flirtier or more demotic now, than it was in (say) 1972? I find that sampling corporate mass media is actually a pretty unreliable way of tapping the zeitgeist, myself…everybody’s got a conjectural history cooked up for their own private marketing purposes, it’s like printing business cards these days. And it seems to me there are as many ways of slicing and dicing what people are “crying out for” as there are of figuring out who you think the dominant tastemakers are.
I suspect our REAL culture was always pretty flirty and demotic, but I mean our culture as represented by the media has caught up and we’ve mercifully disposed of some of the BBC reverence. Telly’s still useless at representing normal people as anything other than Alfie Pattens and Jades, but you do get people with normal accents on the wireless now.
What the kids are crying out for: the world shown by the media, whether we’re talking about Blue Peter or Skins or even Eastenders, is frighteningly and I think increasingly divorced from the world urban kids are growing up in. Russell T Davies seemed to be making headway there for a while, his characters are often more recognisable as normal people than most of the jokers you see on tv, but you can see the backlash already. Shows like SJA and Survivors are showing these frightening visions of a 70s BBC world where only middle class people are left alive! I was disappointed that Noel Clarke didn’t get his show picked up by BBC3, as I think he’s the only person I know of who might bridge the culture gap.
Well I’ve watched it since Patrick Troughton through to mid Tom Baker (when University got in the way), and everything after that (primarily by JNT) seems to be the epitomy of what was wrong with Dr Who. Tom Baker camping it up stupidly, Peter Davidson being nasty to his assistants, Colin Baker pushing people into acid.
After all that, I find the new series generally refreshing. The sexual inneundo is irritating, and Rose over time has become quite irritating to me (like a dumped girlfriend who stayed too long and won’t take the hint), but the other companions have been good, and there have been some good stories.
There are about several episdoes which are classic to me (anything by Stephen Moffat is generally as good as Robert Holmes), Human Nature, Turn Left and Midnight. The ending episodes of season 4 are truly appalling mis-mash of plots, and some episodes are truly unwatchable (the one about the Olympics, the one with several comedians in it with an alien that absorbed people). Unfortunately my wife loves them, so I have to watch them regularly.
So I see it as a series which is producing great stories, rather than as a great series of stories, and if the character isn’t quite what he used to be, well I think of the Doctor as an english eccentric, not a 19th Century Gentleman Detective (although its a good viewpoint), so the characters work for me.
I’m saying this primarily so that Jennie (who is the biggest Colin Baker partisan I know) won’t have to, but Colin never pushed anyone into an acid bath – one of the guards fell and pulled the other one in after him. In general the Doctor had many bad/irritating qualities, but I don’t see those as being out of character, but making him a fully-rounded character.
As fro the new character, I don’t see him so much as eccentric as the annoying tit who goes around saying “I’m mad, me!”
Thanks for correcting my rather old memories of an episode i’ve seen once over 20 years ago. I think I’d rather see several hundred people killed with dalek guns than someone pulled into an acid bath on what I considered a kids show (suddenly I feel like I’m Mary Whitehouse).
The correction wasn’t meant as an aggressive one or anything – just saying that the Sixth Doctor was never the cold-blooded murderer that people think he was.
And I agree in principle. In practice, however, I loved that story as a kid, and Doctor Who was often at its best when it was darkest. In fact, if you were to rewatch that story, not only is it relatively tame by modern standards, but it’s quite a neat satire on the ‘video nasty’ scare at the time, and one of the best stories of the eighties.
A casual fan of both Whos speaking here.
As an American, part of the appeal of Old Who for me is that I found the format itself alien. For us, comedies are 22 minutes, and dramas are 45 minutes; sometimes you get a two-part episode, and *very rarely* do you get a three-parter. So as a kid, finding these unusual British serial programs that run to nearly the full half-hour (I suppose 25 minutes is not much longer than 22 minutes, but it seems that way without commercial interruptions) that essentially add up to a movie-length feature was completely unlike anything I’d ever seen. New Who is formatted and structured rather like an American show, so it loses some of that uniqueness from the perspective of the American viewer.
Also, much like superhero comic books, the writing focus seems to have shifted from plot to characterization and theme (you never could have done a show like “Love and Monsters” on the old show, right?). A Dalek usually isn’t just a Dalek anymore, it’s what a Dalek *means*, whether in relationship to the Doctor or anyone/anything else. This *seems* more sophisticated, but I’d argue it’s merely more obvious. On a plot-focused show, characterization and theme have to be snuck in, and as a result, they’re a pleasant surprise. In an old issue of Fantastic Four, someone can say something that will just absolutely blindside you (near the end of the first Galactus story, amidst all the big action spectacle, Johnny Storm’s breakdown about “We’re like ants…just ants…ants!!” is a weird, left-field humanizing moment).
But when you make theme and characterization your first stop, I’m *expecting* it, and suddenly we’re just playing through a monster or a robot to keep up appearances.
I guess what I am advocating is a return to a plot-based approach in genre fiction. I feel New Who is well done, but perhaps not as *exciting* as Old Who.
I think Who always *thought* it was irreverent, but that irreverence doesn’t always come across to the modern viewer as I assume it must have been intended.
Bob Holmes would have the Doctor rage righteously at some obfuscating bureaucrat on his behalf, but given that the Doctor was played as a very posh bloke and the guy he was shouting at often not so much, my sympathies tend to go out to the victim.
This seems to me to be missing the point. The Doctor was deliberately coded as an old-fashioned Edwardian type from the start. And his perpetual sparring matches with those ‘obfuscating bureaucrats’ are rather akin to the spats between Mainairing and Wilson in Dad’s Army, Wilson is now the inferior but he’s actually the embodiment of pre-War privelige. (Hence Mainairing’s constant comments about his “public school ways.” Similarly, a large part of the Doctor’s character is a nostalgia for an imaginary time when a benevolent elite ran everything.
(On the unlikely off-chance that anyone’s interested, more of that sort of thing here
Similarly, I think it’s easy to overemphasise the importance of the Doctor’s ‘alien-ness.’ As any fan knows, in the original first episode it was suggested he was from the future, it was only when that episode had to be re-shot (for separate reasons) the “another time, another place” line was added. If this change had never happened, if the Doctor had always been human, as he was in the film spin-offs, would that have ruined everything?
I suspect a lot of the ‘alien-ness’ is just a way to take the codified ‘English gentleman’ aspects of the Doctor and blow them up large. (Isn’t Gallifrey really a great big public School combined with the Civil Service?) If not an alien, it seems to me he has to be a gentleman amateur, like one of those Victorian explorers who set out for the South Pole with their extra-thick waistcoat on just in case.
I think the important point is that the Doctor is someone who *gave up* his privilege as a member of the elite – or at least attempted to – of his own volition. Somewhere between King Lear and George Orwell…
I also think he’s not explicitly coded as public school – in fact Troughton and the Bakers all come across as grammar school. And Gallifrey is hardly portrayed as somewhere someone would want to spend any time at all…
Oh, and I agree totally about the gentleman amateur thing.
And had the Doctor always been human, then the show (or at least the character) would have ended in 1966…
I think the important point is that the Doctor is someone who *gave up* his privilege as a member of the elite
True, but he gives up his privileges in order to embrace an interventionism that borders on paternalism. Of course this wasn’t true right at the beginning, but became so pretty much as soon as he became the protagonist of his own show. Of course this fits with the ‘gentleman amateur’ thing.
I suspect the Doctor embodies to a large part BBC values of his era, simultaneously entertaining the bewildered herd and showing them what’s good for them. Of course much of what he does is genuinely libertarian, but the paternalism is pretty hard-wired
Gallifrey is hardly portrayed as somewhere someone would want to spend any time at all…
Riddle me this, Batman. Gallifrey is pretty much Gormenghast, yes? But The Titus books get less interesting when he leaves Gormenghast, whereas Who got tiresome every time he went to Gallifrey…
Not to start a ruckus, but…the Doctor as libertarian?
Heartily agree with the Gormenghast connection, though — brilliant!
Some really interesting replies here. I suppose it’s the very slipperiness of the character of the Doctor that has aided the show’s longevity. I would argue, there has never been a definitive portrayal of the role and never can be. I can’t think of another role that is so ‘Actor Proof’ by which I mean anyone could play the Doctor (with of course varying degrees of success) and still be ‘The Doctor’. Another unique aspect of the character is the way each actor’s take on the role has fed back into the writers’ development of the Doctor’s persona(s). I can’t think of another example of this in any media. The character of the Doctor is unique being a creation not only of multiple writers over a period of many years but also of multiple actorly interpretations which have fed back into the character and the text adding to it’s history while maintaining its mystery. Meanwhile the character has entered the public imagination and the pop culture domain resulting in an enduring, mythic and truly post-modern adventure hero.
I think the responses to my insinuations about Jo Grant and Leela are probably correct. I was pushing the point a little bit there and I couldn’t agree more about Rose being like an annoying ex-girlfriend (I think Russel T in the last season was actually writing her as that deliberately, that coupled with Billie Piper’s quite frankly weird and distanced re-portrayal of Rose left me never wanting to see her again).
I love the analogy of Gallifrey as Gormenghast, never occured to me before but it’s spot on. The Doctor as ‘Titus Alone’ really makes sense.
The Victorian/Edwardian gentleman adventurer was a specifically ‘Swinging London 1960’s/’70’s trope and doesn’t really fit in anywhere in 21st century TV. My point about Buffy was not that I considered Buffy as in any way still having its finger on the zeitgeist but was suggesting that what’s replaced it is none other than New Who. Extending the analogy I don’t think the new Doctor(s) should be compared to Giles but more to Angel or Spike (which I guess is why Tony Head was not cast as the Doctor in the show but as a monster).
Not to start a ruckus, but…the Doctor as libertarian?
Oh certainly! He’s not just the natural enemy of bureaucracy but almost of order itself, “let imagination rise to power” is quite a Doctor-ish thing to say. He represents a kind of volatile, freewheeling universe where things may get a little crazy but that’s the very means by which they’ll turn out for the good. The scene where Ecclestone first confronts the Daleks (en masse anyway) and they comment incredulously he has “no weapons! No defenses! No plan!” with which to fight them, and he replies “And doesn’t that scare you to death?” very much hits the right note.
The conflict between this and his ‘enlightened paternalism’ define his character to me.
The Victorian/Edwardian gentleman adventurer was a specifically ‘Swinging London 1960’s/’70’s trope and doesn’t really fit in anywhere in 21st century TV.
It was around a good deal before then, and in my view still exists today. Not watched ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ lately? I agree with Andrew that Ecclestone made a more credible Doctor than Tennant, and I think one reason was that they kept to the gentleman amateur thing more strongly. It always seemed improbable that such a goofy character could be achieving what he did, which was the very thing which made it credible. (If you follow.)
So we all agree about Gormenghast but no-one can think why Gallifrey is boring but Gormenghast exciting?
Wouldn’t “anarchic” express that thought better than “libertarian”?
As regards The Victorian/Edwardian gentleman adventurer, (hopefully not to be referred to as the V/EGA from now on) I meant on TV not generally. I was thinking of Steed of course and Adam Adamant and others and I think there’s some connection to be made with the whole Sergeant Pepper, Portobello road, trippy Alice in Wonderland 1960’s love affair with Edwardiana etc. It may not be a coincidence that the Tardis and its occupants were originally found in a 1960’s junk yard. (Totters Lane was somewhere between Railway Cuttings, Oildrum Lane and Dock Green I always like to think). I’m not sure ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ quite fits the bill. Anyway the point I’m trying to make is that Doctor Who, both as a programme and as a character, in its own slightly off centre and often coincidental way has always reflected the visual and pop cultural zeigeist of its times and still does so. I agree Ecclestone did it more subtly and possibly better than Tennant.
Still got the whole Gormenghast thing buzzing in my mind. What could the answer be?
Wouldn’t “anarchic” express that thought better than “libertarian”?
I used ‘libertarian’ because I think it does have something of a political dimension, even if its ‘gut politics’. But ‘anarchistic’ would be too political. (It’s perhaps a curiousity of our language that ‘anarchic’ and ‘anarchistic’ can be opposite ends of a spectrum.)
Jherek, I get your point about the V/EGA better this time, and generally agree. (Even with the Sgt. Pepper thing.) Perhaps in the Sixties society’s self-image became more egalitarian, so the V/EGA was venerated precisely because he was the opposite of that, becausehe was such a hallmark of the past. Like the Beatles venerating Music Hall on their most modernist album.
I’m not sure ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ quite fits the bill.
I was thinking mostly of the Kera Knightley character, so I guess she’d be a V/ELA. But Jack Sparrow has a lot of overlaps, the combination of a zanyness bordering on lunacy with a kind of ‘gifted incompetence’. And of course ‘Pirates’ has the same feeling of an era that may now coming to a close, the bad guys virtually have as their plot to rid the world of adventure.
Still got the whole Gormenghast thing buzzing in my mind. What could the answer be?
I was hoping you’d know!
Could it be a structural thing? Where you could make a ‘Rough Tough Boyhood of Doctor Who’ programme where his disaffection builds up to nicking a Tardis. But when he goes back there as an adult to investigate the mystery disappearance of his old school Headmaster, you heart would normally sink.
Or is it that the Doctor is a different character to Titus, and needs an air of mystery about him?
You and I would likely disagree about politics, Gavin.
But, no matter!
Okay I get the Pirates thing now. Yes Kiera as a V/ELA. Definitely. And of course that trope was explored in ‘Who’ back in the sixties with Victoria Waterfield. (Although she was a screamer primarily). The whole Romantic Pirate thing is interesting isn’t it? Along with the Dandy Highwayman, the Charismatic Thief and the Cool Gangster there’s always a double standard involved in glamourising naughtiness. Most recent example of being forced into doublethink was the South Seas piracy news stories of last week. It got me wondering, if you were a patriotic American kid with a Johnny Depp poster on your wall and illegal downloads on your i-pod would you be cheering the Navy Seals or the pirates?
For a brief heart in mouth moment last weekend I thought Doctor Who was going to address this very issue when in the Easter special Tennant fessed up to nicking the Tardis to The Sexy Lara Croft archetype. Unfortunately the whole thing was then forgotten, only to be teasingly revived in the final handcuff breaking moments of cheeky anti-establishment tomfoolery and then dropped again so Russel T could slip us another of his clunky ‘Face of Boe’ telepathic teasers about the Doctor’s destiny.
Gormenghast – not so much Gallifrey as the anti Tardis really. Vast and sprawling from the outside, cramped and claustrophobic on the inside. Our sporadic trips to Gallifrey have always been steeped in Classic Literature’s tilts at beaurocracy: hints of 1984, Brave New World, Gulliver’s Travels, Kafka’s The Castle and The Trial just betray the various writer’s ‘BBC classics’ mind-set.
It’s a shame no American SF writers got the chance to imagineer the Doctors home planet. Imagine what Phillip K Dick would have done.
I loved the old series but Miles is completely barking if he imagines that a combination of nostalgia and anal fanfic is enough to describe old Who as “sophisticated”.
If we want to have a serious discussion about the best way to write DW, the first step is to ignore anyone who uses the expression “Doctorish”. Doctorish in 1966 meant like Bill Hartnell so Troughton wasn’t Doctorish. Doctorish in 1969 meant a combination of Hartnell and Troughton so Pertwee wasn’t Doctorish. Doctorish in 1974 mean a combination of Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee and so Tom Baker was light years away from being Doctorish. And so on…
By definition, Doctorish must mean a combination of every actor who has played the Doctor so a new Doctor automatically becomes Doctorish.
The very word “Doctorish” should be left to people who think in concepts like “crochetty old man”, “cosmic hobo”, “dandy” and “bohemian” and who believe that the extent of an actor’s Doctorishness is determined by the length of his coat.
The only parameter you list which I can take seriously is that the Doctor should be motivated by curiosity. But that he should combine funniness with a furious hair-trigger temper? Regardless of how simplistic that is, with the possible exception of Paul McGann, name me one Doctor up to and including the current one of whom it can’t be said that he can easily switch between humour and anger. `
As for Miles, he has some very good ideas but his notion of what constitutes good DW can be summed up as “the opposite of whatever Steven Moffat happens to be doing on any one day”.
“By definition, Doctorish must mean a combination of every actor who has played the Doctor ”
By whose definition?
The character of the Doctor changed over the years, but incrementally – the character wasn’t just a product of an actor, but of producers, script editors and writers, too. There was no point during the 26 years of the original series when all of these changed simultaneously.
However, since you state quite early on in your comment that you think “If we want to have a serious discussion about the best way to write DW, the first step is to ignore ” myself, then I really can’t understand why on Earth you bothered commenting (or indeed why you link to Andrew Rilstone or Behind the Sofa from your blog).
It is *incredibly* rude to leave a comment on someone’s blog which states that you find their opinions beneath contempt and not worth arguing with – *especially* if, as you do, you go on to make a number of unsubstantiated assertions, state that you can’t take them seriously, and imply that they think in cliches. This site gets relatively few comments, but those it gets are generally among the more civil I’ve seen. If you can’t keep to basic levels of civility, then please don’t bother commenting again.