Tuesday, October 06, 2015
"The Tenth, Fifth, and Second are the best of the Doctors."
"Christopher Eccleston, Peter Davison, and Patrick Troughton were the best Doctor Whos."
Listen, kid, I was writing Doctor Who literature before you were at the Guardian Style Guide.
(Oh, obviously italics for the title of the programme. "Christopher Eccleston, Peter Davison, and Patrick Troughton were the best actors to play the lead in Doctor Who.")
Friday, September 18, 2015
When I was a child, the Radio Times was my hero.
(You can, of course, click any of these for a better look.)
Yeah. If you can't read it, there's a banner in front of Cannon & Ball advertising Russell Grant's astrology column. The rightmost Radio Times, meanwhile, is the RT parodying itself at the behest of Not the Nine O'Clock News.
Three old men and a stuffed Yeti, advertising a comedy-drama about a zoo facing a nuclear war. (It was the '80s. The Old Men at the Zoo was scripted by Troy Kennedy Martin, who went on to write Edge of Darkness, a less jovial nuclear thriller which was nonetheless originally about a policeman turning into a tree.)
Still, it's different for us Doctor Who people, isn't it? One of the great joys of the series, when it was resurrected ten years ago, was that it made the covers of the Radio Times look like this:
The most obvious point to make is that with the exception of the Dalek election issue (too good for them to resist), Doctor Who covers since 2010 have dedicated themselves to publicising Moffat-scripted episodes. I'm not going to suggest that this is because he's an awful, awful man who's lobotomised the series by turning it into his own personality cult, because if you haven't already worked that out then you're very stupid. But I will point out that - again, for all his faults - Russell T. Davies didn't play it this way, at least not in the beginning. On Davies' watch, we have covers that suggest the story rather than the people who make it, breaking the modern Radio Times norm and returning us to a more dynamic era. This starts to fall apart at the same time as the series itself, circa 2008, when the Celebrity Age of Doctor Who really kicks in and David Tennant's presence becomes more important than any of his adventures; the point when the coups of hiring John Simm or Catherine Tate or Kylie Minogue become bigger news than the content.
I'm putting my cards on the table now. I haven't watched Doctor Who since 2011, because it was just horrible and I don't like staring at things that make me feel bad. I've never criticised the content of the programme since then, because I'm simply not qualified: I can criticise the way it's marketed, but that's true of endless Hollywood blockbusters that I'll also never see. (My former flatmate, rather younger than myself and a Doctor Who fan for much of his early life, only bothered to watch about half of the last season and described it as “a waste of good Capaldi”. I'm inclined to trust him.) At around the same time that I finally gave up on the series, I stopped reading the Radio Times, for not dissimilar reasons.
Does any of this really matter, though? It's just a listings magazine. Does it make any difference to what the BBC Proper actually produces...?
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Friday, November 22, 2013
...unless you're interested in the time in which it was made. Every story ever told, every work of culture ever cultured, has to be judged in the context of its era: Our Thing goes further. A narrative spread across decades, stealing from the rest of human creation by its very nature, magpie-collecting from all of history and from all the storytelling devices we've used to make sense of that history. Watch virtually any other television made in 1963, and you're looking at something that only makes sense if you're first-generation Homo '60s, something you can mock for its scenery-flat cowboys or its egregious use of the word "transistor". Watch the very earliest Doctor Who, and you're watching something about 1963 as much as something that happened to be made there. The ability of the TARDIS to step outside the here-and-now means that every episode is a commentary on its own place in time.
Now we've arrived at the great jubilee, every blogger and broadsheet is listing its Ten Best Stories, or Best Stories of Each Doctor, or All Stories Ranked According to Personal Prejudice. But the final verdict has to be this: Doctor Who has bound itself into every year in which it's been made. I couldn't care about "An Unearthly Child" without being curious about early '60s radiophonics and early '60s war-baby thinking. I couldn't care about "Carnival of Monsters" without taking an interest in '50s SF literature, and the way it affected the people who wrote for TV twenty years later. I couldn't care about "Weng-Chiang" without wondering how the Hammer-gothic tradition shaped British pop-culture in the years that followed. I cculdn't care about "Caves of Androzani" unless I cared about I, Claudius as well, though admittedly that's a bit of a weird one on my part.
Which is why the need to rank and review Doctor Who stories, usually according to spurious rules of sci-fi telly devised years after those stories were made, is a curse on all of us. Lists have always been our downfall. Consider Doctor Who as a mass of TV-making, ethic-defining principles hurtling forwards in time, smacking against the what-we-now-call-tropes of every age and making fabulous, unpredictable shrapnel. Endless pages of About Time - by myself and Tat Wood, and you can often see the bloodstains on the pages where we're ripped chunks out of each other - were wasted in arguing about whether we liked any given story. But the internet is already made of reviews, and besides, Doctor Who covers so much territory that none of us will ever agree with anybody else re: what it really "is". I can only say what I think it is...
...it's like nothing else on Earth. Nobody else in 1963 was making anything that looked like "The Daleks". Nobody else in 1982 was making anything that told the same kind of story as "Kinda". Nobody else in 2005 was making anything that resembled "Rose" at all.
So there it is. All Doctor Who is ridiculous, hackneyed, and saa-aad - let's say it, unwatchable - unless you're primed to understand its place in history. This is, and will be, just as true of the present series as it was of the past: future generations, should they be able to neuro-experience their complete set of iPsych engrams before complete global meltdown, won't be able to appreciate the Matt Smith era unless they also appreciate superhero movies, the cinema version of Harry Potter, XBox-age video gaming, or the early twenty-first-century version of slash-fic. I don't appreciate any of these things, which is why I find it unwatchable now, and also why I hate the modern world. Natch.
But am I right...? Yes, of course I am! Don't be silly. The ad for "The Day of the Doctor" looks as if it should have "not actual game footage" at the bottom of the screen. I'm also entirely wrong, according to people who were eleven-ish in the early '70s and think Doctor Who is all about alien invasion stories, or people who were born just after "Survival" and have no problem with that f***ing fez.
I have nothing else to say, but I don't want "fez" to be the last word.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Friday, April 19, 2013
"Does Lord Azaxyr look like a bitch?" Perhaps my favourite thing about the Ice Warriors is that despite their frosty reptilian exteriors, one of them was always played by Sonny Caldinez, a name more suggestive of a sleazy Cuban hitman with a late-'70s moustache and a medallion tangled in his chest-hair. (Actually, Caldinez is from Trinidad, and thus about as far from frosty and reptilian as you can get. But he was known for his late-'70s moustache.) Here, though, we see proof that Mars' own criminal faction has been influencing the human underworld for decades. Tarantino would go on to work with the Sontarans in his movie "Glourious Deth".