The new season of the long running sci-fi series Dr Who is on the near horizon and the stars of the show have embarked on a world tour to promote this, much in the manner of nerd-ish rock stars. The concept of a ‘Dr Who world tour’ still fascinates me, as having watched the show as a child in the 1970s I can’t conceive it has a following beyond niche in anywhere beyond the shores of the tiny isle of Britain.
Yet it has all changed for Dr Who--the geek credence that comes with multiple references in the Big Bang Theory is a sure indicator of this. Yet all is not well in the Bigger on the Inside than the Outside Blue Box world of New Who. Having just celebrated its 50th anniversary, the show took a bold step of bucking the modern trend for diminishing age of Doctor (presumably to avoid a teen-Who, with EMO-hair and Skater-Boy hoodie) and re-install a mature actor in the role.
|(Peter Capaldi. Image: BBC)|
Capaldi has been ham-strung by a few factors. He follows a particularly good run of the show, with Matt Smith’s doctor being rightly popular. Smith’s Doctor was handsome in a lumpy sort of way, clownish, witty, charming and eccentric. He had his rubbish stories, sure, but generally the scope and ambition of the stories and series arcs were excellent, if a little bogged down in ‘timey-wimey’ trickery. Capaldi’s stories have been weaker—the last season had a few stand out moments (Mummy on the Oreint Express; Flatline; Listen; and the two part season finale, for me)—but generally the quality of script is worse. The persona of the Doctor is trickier. I’m not averse to the grittier Doctor, after all it’s the fashion in everything from fantasy to super-hero series, but that seems to equate with a callousness that is totally out of keeping with the ethos of the character. The companion, Clara, is very watchable, but has tended to dominate the storylines even moreso than the Pond roadshow in the early Matt Smith stories. In short, the show is struggling to engage old fans and new.
|(Alex Kingston and Matt Smith. Image: BBC)|
What? I mean, what in Gallifrey’s moons happened? Dr Who was no stranger to younger Doctors—after all Peter Davison, the Fifth Doctor, was thirty when he took the role. Nor are the good looking companions a rarity—from Victoria Waterfield (Debora Watling) in Troughton’s day, through Jo Grant and Leela, all the way through to Peri (Nicola Bryant) and the sixth doctor. Yet in those halcyon days of ‘classic’ Dr Who there was a line of innocence that was never crossed. The Doctor was a character beyond such mushiness, an eccentric and cranky father figure who conveyed security and safety in the confines of his TARDIS. If, as a teenage fan of the show, you suggested to me that Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant would have a good snog in one of the TARDIS’s infinite rooms, then I’d have snorted and advised you to go watch Star Trek. The Doctor was vitreous, and moral, like a rebellious celestial vicar, and such nonsense was never even implied.
|(Leela (Louise Jameson). Image: BBC)|
Secondly, it’s one of the things that happens when you let fans write the show. Now I’m not grumbling—after all, it was a fan-boy in the form of Russel T Davies that got the show back on the TV, and Stephen Moffatt that helped define the Tennant-Smith years so memorably. But fans don’t approach scripts without ideas and agendas that were undoubtedly formulated during their years of watching classic Dr Who ( I suspect from Troughton onwards). Moffatt’s love of complex story arcs is welcome in many ways—it adds a layer of intelligence to the scripts and narrative—but his desire to develop the Doctor as a more complex character with a certain sex appeal falls down in places for me. It’s a shame, as the evolving back story of the Time War and the allegory to real conflicts and war crimes is a brave and interesting direction.
|(Tom Baker and Lala Ward. Image: BBC)|
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