Friday, 18 July 2008

On why I don’t like the revived Doctor Who

I was listening today to a remixed version of the Doctor Who theme that a friend gave me amongst a whole bunch of other odds and ends on a disc. It was a remix that grew from a stripped down version of Ron Grainer’s already sparse, eerie electronic score, to swinging to a jittery imposed techno beat. It captured the sci-fi noir spirit of the old show at its best, its mixture of genre concepts rich and strange.

And something finally crystallised for me about what it is I don’t like about the new Doctor Who. The old show could, of course, be lamentably tacky and silly. It could sport water balloons with attached vacuum cleaner tubing posing as tentacled monsters, and goonish sets and costumes. But it was a fundamentally serious programme that managed surprisingly often to be boldly dramatic and tautly handled, from the intelligent and well-written - and incredibly cheap - early seasons, to its zenith in the '70s in episodes like Genesis of the Daleks, Spearhead from Space, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Revelation of the Daleks, not to mention the Hammer-horror pitch of episodes like The Tomb of the Cybermen, The Brain of Morbius, or Terror of the Zygons, the ambitious, pseudo-poetic desolation of The Sontaran Experiment or Warriors' Gate, or even the cyberpunk satiric tilt of Sylvester McCoy’s era. That’s all gone now, replaced by day-glo camp, self-mocking melodrama, and broad pot-shots at New Labour mores. The Russell Davies Who is a show designed to please people who never really watched the original show, and who don’t like science fiction, casual consumers having their egos stroked by their superiority to such fare. What was once only a comedy on the surface has been turned entirely into one. At the centre of this has been the uncomfortable spectacle of seeing both Christopher Ecclestone and David Tennant, two fine actors, forced to mug and sweat their way through every episode, never allowed the kind of restrained, meditative downtime allowed Tom Baker or Peter Davison, and certainly none of the relaxed savoir faire of Jon Pertwee or McCoy. Only very occasionally, in episodes like The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances and Dalek, had the new programme come anywhere near the mix of urgency, invention, and corn that made the original show riveting at its best.


Marilyn said...

Can't disagree. While I can't call myself a real Dr. Who fan through the years, I do think there was more to it than what we've got now. Despite revelations of Dr. Who's personal life, it still seems just a mad dash from one end of the episode to another.

I'm actually enjoying "Torchwood" much more.

Roderick Heath said...

"Mad dash" is accurate. The constant, hyped-up cartoonishness swamps all attempts to be meaningful. I never got to see Torchwood - it premiered here on a channel that dropped it like a hot potato shortly after. Which may have been a pity - Captain Jack was one of the few new Who touches I liked, an intergalactic bisexual swashbuckler.

Marilyn said...

Cap. Jack is really predominantly homosexual and certainly my favorite gay character ever on television. He just IS. (I think it's only a function of immortality that he has had sex with women.)

Roderick Heath said...

Well he didn't start off as immortal, and he flirted major-league with Rose for a while. That said, yes, he's the best gay character I've ever seen on TV. There's the germ of a better idea in Jack, at any rate, than just reinventing a fine old show as noisy pastiche.