So I've been saying this off and on in comments for the past month, most recently on Tim's journal
, and I figure I should set it down properly here at least once, and then I can shut up on the topic.
Here's how it is: I never watched Doctor Who
as a child. At least, I don't think I did. I certainly never imprinted on it. I have some vague memories of Pertwee and McCoy, but I never hid behind the sofa. I don't think I ever even hid behind my hands. My nostalgia level for this show is approximately zero.
On the other hand, I do remember loving a BBC children's drama called Dark Season
. That--Behemoth and the mind control, and all of it--creeped me out like you would not believe. I didn't find out until much later who it was written by, not until after Queer as Folk
had been and gone, but on the strength of the memory I watched Bob and Rose
(ok) and The Second Coming
(excellent). I've missed Casanova
entirely, but I'll be getting hold of the DVDs of it and Queer as Folk
at some point purely because they come with Russell T Davies' name attached.
So I went into the new Who
with a curious mix of feelings. I didn't really know what Who
was, and somehow everything beforehand had led me to expect--well, maybe not another Second Coming
but at least something intelligent. Something that was fun, and had fun with skiffy tv tropes, but was worth thinking about. Something, in other words, that was a bit like the less-dark bits of Buffy
, but with the scope of Farscape
and filtered through a British sensibility.
That's not what we got, and it took a while for everyone to get the message through my skull that it's not what Doctor Who
is ever going to be. You can call it a family show if you want, but that's a euphemism. It's children's TV. That's not an automatic criticism; there are some children's shows I like a great deal and can still rewatch today, including the aforementioned Dark Season
as well as Press Gang
. The problem is that Doctor Who
seems, on the evidence of the first five episodes, to wobble between the cartoonish and the actively juvenile. Do I have to mention the pig?
And yet ... the far-future episode wasn't bad, you know. It wasn't wonderful, but I liked the scope of it (until they felt the need to reassure the audience by returning to the present at the end), and the dialogue was pretty sharp, and it looked good. And the Dickens episode, well, that was weaker, but it still had a nice debate between the Doctor and Rose about whether it was right to let desperate aliens appropriate human corpses, and Rose was shown to be wrong. There have been other bits like that, too--bits where it's felt like a slightly more ambitious show has been trying to break through the covering of latex and comedy flatulence. I thought for a couple of weeks maybe it was Russell T trying to work within the format, that he was going to build up and pull a 'Becoming' (or at least a 'Prophecy Girl') at the end of the series, but then he went and wrote 'The Aliens of London'; so maybe such scraps have always been part of Who
It's not a terrible show. On its day, it can be quite fun. Tonight's episode, in fact, I quite enjoyed. It was about as subtle as a brick, but it was funny without being silly and, dammit, I actually felt involved at the end of the episode. I'd even be looking forward to next week, if I hadn't seen the clip
that Richard and Judy showed yesterday. So even though it's not really for me, I can start to see why people enjoy it. What I resent a little--and this is the thing that needles at me enough for me to be posting this--is that everyone seems to be hailing it as good, and worthy of serious attention. It's not, not by any sensible measuring stick. Forget the occasionally ropey but mostly actually not bad effects, never mind the formulaic but improving scripts, it's just not smart enough--not sharp enough, not willing enough to go after the interesting angle rather than the cheap gag. It is, for instance, not a patch on Dark Season
. I don't want to offend anyone, but it feels to me like lowest common denominator fare.
Because the corollary to the above is that this one show, given the fuss made over it, will do more than any other single thing to define the Great British Public's image of sf as sci-fi for the next ten years. It's not being handled as a children's show; it's being handled as an Important Cultural Event. In fact, if episodes like 'The Aliens of London' have occurred with any frequency in the history of Who
, I suddenly understand why that Public tends to dismiss sf as silly and nonsensical and not for them. This is not about sf having to be po-faced--much as I love Carnivale
and (the new) Battlestar Galactica
, I also wouldn't give up Farscape
for the world, and you can hardly say Mutant Enemy shows take themselves seriously the whole time--but it feels like we just
got to the point where, maybe, some people were starting to accept that sf drama could be for grownups, and I can't help thinking this is going to set everything back two steps, without even taking one forward. Irrational? Almost certainly. But there it is.
And now, a poll.