Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A few words about Doctor Who

Sandi and I watched the season premiere of Doctor Who last Saturday night. It was the endpoint of a long day together. She's a fan. I'm... well, I've had an interest in the show in the past, but it never stuck, so I doubt you could call me a fan. A lot of my friends like the show, however. Given its great longevity and staying power, I feel obliged to provide a few, perhaps long overdue, observations about this, the granddaddy of SF franchises.

I first discovered the show as a kid in the 80s, on one of the upper-band UHF channels from somewhere out of state. It might have been the first foreign TV show I ever watched. Don't ask me which Doctor it was; they all look alike to me anyway. I remember thinking it looked low-budget and kinda cheesy (which Sandi agreed it was). I watched it for a little while, but I don't think I fully understood what was going on most of the time. Plus, the picture quality was never great. I gave up on the show and forgot about it shortly.

Then came the Internet. Suddenly it seemed like Who fans were everywhere. I re-learned the very basics about the show - long-lived alien, travels in a spaceship disguised as a phone booth, reincarnates in different bodies, etc. - from online conversations and articles. John and Sue are uber-fans. They love talking about Who. Being the contrarian that I am, however, my lizard brain automatically looked upon it with suspicion: if it's popular, it can't be that good.

Peter Capaldi, the current Doctor
I might have watched an episode or two with John and Sue, but otherwise, I've felt no compulsion to get back into the show. John has tried explaining it to me more than once, but because it's been on so long, there's a great deal of continuity that I can never get straight.

Sandi said last Saturday's ep was atypical. Doc's laying low, teaching at some university on Earth. He meets this chick named Bill (not Billie). She has a friend who gets sucked into a puddle of goo (which may be a two-way dimensional portal of some kind) that changes her into some kind of non-human, liquid creature. Bill needs Doc's help to save her. Sandi said Doc's new status quo as a professor, the pace of the story and even the music seemed like a departure from how the current Doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, had been depicted previously. I certainly couldn't notice anything different...

...unless you compare the show to how it looked in the 80s. The current model is much less cheesy. It looks and feels like a modern SF show, with impressive special effects. Thing is, though, there are so many genre shows on TV now, on so many channels, that Who no longer appears unique. I find I'm almost nostalgic for the low-budget look.

As for the content, Sandi gave me the impression that Doc's a quirky character. He did seem that way, but even in this he's no longer as distinctive. Joss Whedon writes his characters with a similar sly, knowing, cockeyed sensibility. Kevin Williamson of the Scream franchise is the same way.

In the ep I saw, Doc spent more time running from the monster-of-the-week than anything else. He didn't have much of a plan for saving Bill's friend. Sandi said Doc's weapon of choice, the sonic screwdriver, can do anything (though I find this hard to believe), yet he only used it to scare off a Dalek. Captain Picard would've studied the creature's behavior to determine what it wants, tried to communicate with it, and if that didn't work, and he thought it was a threat, then he'd attack it. Doc just ran until he couldn't run anymore. I'll allow for the possibility this was an unusual ep, but if so, is that how you wanna present your star character the first time out of the gate in a new season? The little bald guy wasn't much help either.

I did like Bill - I understand she's the first gay girl Friday of the Doctor's - though it's unclear what assets she'll bring to the show. My impression was that Doc's companions were ordinary people, but they pulled their own weight somehow.

I don't hate Who (though I do get sick of hearing about it from Fandom Assembled all the time). I just don't see what makes it different from the hundred other genre shows out there. Nothing about it makes me go "Yeah! Awesome! I want more of that!" and I suspect at this point it doesn't know when to get off the stage. Perhaps the producers don't know how to end the show, or more likely, it's cruising on its reputation, knowing the TruFans® will stick around no matter what.



  1. I'm probably at about your level of Doctor Who knowledge, even though I've always thought that it's one of those things I should be into, given other things I like. I liked it a lot in the 80s when I would watch the long-scarved Doctor on PBS with my dad, but part of that was just the fun of being up late.

    I've seen a handful of eps with newer Doctors like Tennant, and I dig it, but there's only so much time, and I haven't made the effort to go down the rabbit hole. When a lot of the seasons were on Netflix, I intended to finally do it, but shortly thereafter it disappeared from there. I think when something has SO MANY EPISODES, I get intimidated and think, "Well, if I can't finish all of it, why even start?"

    I did enjoy a short story by Neil Gaiman that was clearly about the Doctor, though I don't think it ever expressly said so. He's written for the show before, as well.

    I've dipped my toe in enough to have an opinion on who the first female Doctor should be (in my perfect world, anyway)...Emma Thompson.

  2. I'd go with Tilda Swinton.

    Dramatic television in general requires more of a commitment than ever these days. I don't wanna expend such an effort for a 50-year-old TV show without a damn good reason. Perhaps they'll provide one, perhaps not. I don't feel like I'm missing out that much.

  3. I'm right with Michelle above with "not having made the effort to go down the rabbit hole", as well as "if I can't finish, why even start" especially, as Rich says, with TV requiring more of a commitment - I noticed long ago that it was a real effort to be a fan of a show nowadays.

    Back in college, I had fellow SF friends who were hooked on it, but I figured I had enough genre addictions, specially Star Trek (OS back then), that I didn't want to add any others! I did read an article in our local weekly paper a while back that actually was about Dr Who, and the advice was DON'T start with the 60's shows. I did see a couple later episodes from the guy who did Sherlock (which is great), and thought "oh oh; I could see getting into this." But, it is all rather intimidating... again as Michelle said!

    I will say re popularity that there ARE some things that are popular because they ARE so good... Beatles. Springsteen. Harry Potter.
    Speaking of popular, what's involved in becoming a follower?

  4. I’d say having too much time on your hands. :-D

    There was a time when one’s devotion to a franchise was a direct result of its scarcity: three seasons of TOS. Three Star Wars movies. Imagination filled in the gaps. Now you have “expanded universes.” Different varieties of SW and ST to choose from—but the story of Who, despite the switches in actors, is still about the same character. In that sense, it might be easier to follow. Maybe.


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