Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Squee Doctors

S'okay, I didn't actually bother watching the second half. So this will be largely hypothetical. However...

...five days ago, I was standing in front of the window of the local newsagent's. There was a poster advertising "Archaeological Adventures: Dinosaurs" (I've mentioned this on Twitter, but if you don't already know, then it's the perfect thing for an intelligent child or autistic adult who wants to whittle while watching an unfulfilling World Cup match or BBC drama), and also a poster advertising Doctor Who stickers. I ignored the latter, because I'm really not joking when I say that I can't even look at the gormless foetus-face of Matt Smith without wanting to slap it. That thing with Van Gogh looked like the most interesting episode this year, but as soon as he did the "could you breathe a little more quietly?" schtick in the trailer, I literally made an effort to be out on Saturday.

(Sidestep One. ITV did a remake of The Prisoner which, by all precedent and reason, should've been unbearable. It was quite good. Jesus! ITV is doing a "cult" reboot, but uses proper actors - Ian McKellen and Ruth Wilson, the latter of whom steals the "Most Attractive Woman in the UK Who Looks Like a Fish" crown from Miranda Sawyer - while Doctor Who does a piss-poor Harry Potter impression with a footballer and a blow-up doll? Gutted.)

So I'm in front of the window. And then a little girl, of the kind that Moffat pretends to like when he's stuck in a narrative corner, pulled her mum up to the glass and pointed at the poster.

'I saw that Doctor Who on Shannon's widescreen!' she said. 'It was scary. The Girl One had to run loads...'

(Sidestep Two. To anyone who's read my Twitter-log: yes, that's why I've started using the phrase "the Girl One".)

'...but the Boy One had to save... something.'

The narrative slip is, of course, acceptable from a seven-year-old. However: the Boy One? And, yes, I did indeed turn eyes-left to make sure she was pointing at the photo of Matt Smith. Then I turned eyes-right, sharpish, beacuse I was scared of looking like a paedophile.

The Boy One?

About a week and a half ago, Stephen Fry (defined by a sometimes-wise critic as "a stupid person's idea of what a clever person is like") attracted venom by critising Doctor Who in the era of Steven Moffat (defined by me as "oh, what a complete arse"). Yet in this epic cage-fighting battle between drivelling self-involved pretend-intellectuals, the most important point seemed to be missed. Fry talked about programmes "like" Merlin and Doctor Who.

If you can use those two titles in the same sentence, then something's gone terribly wrong.

But then, this is what I've been saying for a loooooong time: Moffat stated that he didn't want to be remembered as "the man who killed Doctor Who", and yet he already did kill it. He killed it in "The Girl in the Fireplace", a rather good episode if you concentrate on what the author genuinely likes - robots and temporal screwing-around - but an abysmal and emotionally-extorting one when you understand that he's trying to redefine the Doctor as a Sexy Immortal and himself as the Sexy Immortal's Agent. I wasn't kidding when I said the the series in 2010 is competing with Twilight, y'know. Doctor Who at its best has been awkward, experimental, and unpredictable. Moffat's version, as laid out in "Silence in the Library", is slick, conservative, and entirely founded on things that have been proven to work. In short... it's like Merlin. Only even stupider.

Here's the grand irony, though -

(Sidestep Three. How many times have I used the phrase "here's the grand irony"?)

- by attempting to squee-up the Doctor, Moffat has destroyed him as a meaningful figure. In "Forest of the Dead" (the Doctor defeats the shadow-nasties by saying "do you know who I am?", thus removing any possible dramatic tension and making him look like the petulant celebrity he's bltantly becoming) and "The Pandorica Opens" (the monsters have spent ages planning this, yet a version of the Doctor of whom even I wouldn't be scared gives himself breathing-space by telling them that he made their mums wee themselves), we're shown a Doctor who can do anything he likes because he's... well... famous. He never proves he's clever, or brave, or moral, or indeed, anything at all. We're just told that he always wins, and we're expected to swallow it without question. His fandom-strength makes him the weakest hero in history.

That's what I meant by "irony": Moffat tries to make the Doctor a fetish-object, because that's how we think of him as long-term Doctor Who viewers, and because we're the ones to whom he's pandering. (Well, not me. But you know what I mean.) What the author's actually doing is ensuring the Doctor's worthlessness. If you make someone all-powerful, then power's worth nothing at all, especially if you do it just to reinforce fan-opinion of the safe and clean-cut Boy One.

And of course, the really horrible thing is that this might - I stress "might" - be my fault. Over the last week, I've been informed by numerous people that "The Pandorica Opens" was a lot like "Alien Bodies". This never occurred to me while watching it, but then, I never saw the link between "Honey to the B" and "Never Ever". However -

(Sidestep Four. For the sake of those unfamiliar with late-'90s British pop music: "Honey to the B" was an entirely negligible single by Billie, AKA Billie Piper, engineered as a clone of the glorious "Never Ever" by All Saints. Unfortunately for the future Surprisingly Good Companion, it was such an artless, lumpen, misshapen parody that nobody who actually liked "Never Even" even realised it was supposed to sound like that. It went Top Ten in the UK charts, but at that point, B*Witched would've got to number one by breaking wind into a microphone for three minutes. I'm stating all this from memory, so the details may be faulty.)

- I don't think it's true. At least, not in the way they meant: technically, "Pandorica" is a lot closer to "Dimensions in Time" than "Alien Bodies". No, screw technically, "Pandorica" is like "Dimenions in Time". Only on a big budget. And without Big Ron.

Still... I remember what Moffat said he liked about "Alien Bodies". He specifically drew attention to the end of Chapter Five, claiming that it was the best cliffhanger he'd ever read. Since he was still capable of wit in those days, I remember the exact way he put it: "And that includes 'Mr Holmes, it was the footprint of a gigantic hound'."

Now, that's a compliment and a half, and I felt duly chuffed. Yet I can't help wondering about the consequences. In "Alien Bodies" (and on the off-chance that anyone reading this doesn't know what happens in it, I'll be vague regarding the end of Chapter Five), the Doctor becomes the subject of Doctor Who rather than its medium. I wrote it that way for a specific reason: a lot of very silly people, mentioning no Jon Blums, were trying to "redefine" the Doctor's past after the "half-human on my mother's side" blather of the TV movie. Like the editor of the books at that stage, I didn't give a rat's minge about his past, and thus wrote something about the future. Not just his future, either.

But in doing that, I... sort of... turned the Doctor into a fetish object. Literally, in fact, according the the dictionary definition of "fetish".

And Moffat read it. And liked the end of Chapter Five.

And now he runs a version of the series in which the Doctor is a living fetish object.

Even though it completely destroys the series' (pardon me) Prime Directive, by making it about an all-powerful all-male hero-figure rather than a traveller who's just interested in things.

And to an extent, I admit it: "Alien Bodies" was stupidly popular because it made the Doctor the subject rather than the medium.

Especially because of the end of Chapter Five.

And Moffat knew that.

And his Prime Directive is to be liked.

And the crucial thing to realise about the "Pandorica" arse-fest isn't the plot (if you've found one), but that it puts the Doctor at the very centre of the universe: there's a box, and you're primed to think that he's going to be in it, but it's actually a trap so that he will be in it. It's pitched not as a prison for the Doctor as a character, but for the Doctor as an icon of modern-day telly.

So I find myself asking. Did Moffat get that from me? Despite what's been said elsewhere, "Pandorica" isn't structurally similar to "Alien Bodies" at all. Yet his vision seems... uncomfortably close, if for all the wrong reasons. Oh, you know: like Neil Gaimain ripping off Alan Moore, then wearing sunglasses and pretending to be a rock star in LA.

This is the question that's bothering me. If you like the eejit but don't like me, then please feel free to say no, I'd honestly like the reassurance. If the reverse, then please lie and say no anyway.

Otherwise, I'm going to apologise, just on the off-chance that I'm right. Doctor Who is now more awful than at any point in its prior history, not because the chief-writer-stroke-producer is vastly more inept than any of his predecessors (he clearly isn't), but because he's vastly more cynical. I, for one, would rather have a bad programme that's attempting something - anything - than a programme designed specifically for BAFTA judges and fans of superhero movies [see previous blog-entries]. And if there's even a 1% chance that I laid 1% of the groundwork for this, then I'm so, so sorry.

Also, "Alien Bodies" isn't even that good. Well, the prologue's good. I'm proud of the prologue. Could do Chapter Five about eight times better these days, though.