If there’s anything genuinely annoying about Doctor Who, it’s the fanboys.
I use the term, “fanboy” deliberately (and for brevity’s sake I use it to include girls as well), because this type of creature has always irritated me. Take a step back from Doctor Who and consider console wars. It’s perfectly reasonable, understandable and logical to have a discussion about whether a PlayStation’s greater power wins out over the 360’s better range of games, or whether the Wii trumps both by championing lightweight gameplay that the whole family can enjoy. If however, you’re a person who actively gets emotional (typically indignant) when someone disagrees with your opinion on these matters, you’re an arse. It’s the same with Doctor Who.
For the sake of disclosure, let me say now that I’m a huge fan of Steven Moffat. I think Coupling is one of the best British sitcoms of the past thirty years, Sherlock is a stupendous piece of drama that arguably trumps anything else you’ve ever seen on the iPlayer and his work on Doctor Who… well, let me put it this way. I’m now a fan of that too.
Doctor Who had never appealed to me. When I see Daleks I think of plungers and running up stairs, the Cybermen are clunking shadows of Star Trek’s phenomenal Borg, and the idea of hiding behind the couch, even as a child, to get away from them is laughable. Doctor Who was, to me, a show left in the 80s for a reason. It had aged badly and modern audiences required more.
That being said when I heard Russell T Davies was bringing the show back, and with Christopher Eccleston in the titular role, I decided to give it a chance. Davies is a skilled writer and Eccleston is a very good actor. Trouble was, at least as far as I’m concerned, he wasn’t right for this new Doctor. Perhaps the single biggest problem of that season was the miscasting in the lead role. Eccleston is a serious character actor, and seeing him running around trying to entertain children on a Saturday night just didn’t work for me. As a result, I’ve watched less than half of his episodes. May be that I’ve missed some classics, but from the start I wasn’t particularly interested in anything that was going on.
If Eccleston was wrong however, David Tennant was so right. Having first seen him in Davies’ Casanova I was immediately a fan; indeed I liked him so much that I didn’t want him to take a job on this pokey little BBC show. I feared he’d be typecast and what might otherwise turn out to be a smashing career would be irreversibly stunted by his inability to shed himself of his connection to the character. Strangely, considering we’ve never met, never written to each other or spoken on the phone, he didn’t heed my advice and of course he was very, very good as the Tenth Doctor. Davies’ childish, flippant style that had clashed with Eccleston’s serious side meshed perfectly with Tennent’s lighter notes. It worked.
And yet still, I wasn’t really watching, because I didn’t really care. I caught odd episodes here and there. John Simm was a bit of fun as the Master, Midnight wasn’t bad, there were darker moments, and it was only this past week that I finally saw the excellent Blink, but still, for the most part it didn’t grab me. If I’d been 12, perhaps it might’ve.
I get the feeling that Davies wrote a perfectly good kids’ show, and before you hasten to disagree and claim that the whole family can enjoy it, that means it’s a kids’ show. The whole family can’t enjoy The Killing, Deadwood or Luther because they’re not designed to involve kids. There’s nothing wrong with shows like Robin Hood, Primeval or Merlin per se, but when the rest of the shows you watch line up like The Wire, The West Wing, Arrested Development, and Battlestar Galactica, family friendly fare doesn’t match up in any respect whether it be characterisation, dramatic intensity, laughs a minute, science fiction, witty banter – all of these are better catered for in shows specifically written for adults. Doctor Who is about escapism in every way, but even for light-hearted romps I’d rather go to Pushing Daisies or Boston Legal. There’s even an argument to be made for Glee on that count.
By the time it was announced Moffat would be taking over Doctor Who, I had completely stopped watching. Even the promise of Kylie Minogue at Christmas hadn’t convinced me to go back. The announcement that David Tennant was being replaced by some 15-year-old with an emo haircut didn’t do anything to suggest I’d enjoy it any more and at this point, I hadn’t actually worked out who Steven Moffat was, so the announcement meant little to me, and I went back to being a grownup.
Until late one Saturday evening when I came home from work to see my housemate watching The Eleventh Hour. Too exhausted to do anything but fall on the couch, I watched the latter half of the episode and something strange happened.
I really, really enjoyed myself. I loved the speed at which Matt Smith talked his way through the story, I saw a firey companion who stood up to him without screeching like Catherine Tate, I laughed when he reasoned that a few stolen clothes was a small price to pay for the saving of the world and got actively excited when he threatened a giant eye in the sky with fun-tastical energy, authority and what seemed like more than a little menace hiding ‘neath it all whilst Murray Gold’s superbly brilliant new theme reached its crescendo.
I had enjoyed a Doctor Who episode. Me, a man typically American in his TV leanings who was halfway through a marathon of The Shield, hated Saturday nights on the BBC and had all but sworn off watching this low-budget, hammy, piece of forgettable trash had really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it that much the next day I watched it online from the start and smiled my way through fish fingers and custard. I made it a point to watch every week, got scared of Weeping Angels, engrossed myself in the ongoing mystery of The Big Bang throughout, saw Tony Curran give perhaps his best ever performance as Van Gogh, I even managed to look beyond the fact that James Corden was onscreen and enjoy The Lodger.
That’s not to say the series was perfect. It wasn’t but generally speaking, over the course of seasons five and six, I not only watched, but actively enjoyed and proactively encouraged others to watch Doctor Who. It was actually starting to match up to the series on my DVD shelf. The banter was funny, the romance touching yet not saccharine-sweet, the plot convoluted and intriguing, the monsters scary.
Even if I hadn’t said it above, it would now come as no surprise to you to see me write that I’m a Moffat fan. Indeed beyond that, I actively don’t like most of Davies episodes. I don’t argue about it though; I discuss it. I don’t deride people because they prefer Davies the same way I don’t deride people that like The Secret Circle or Twilight. I’m a fan, not a fanatic and not a fanboy. As someone who typically likes intelligent, exciting and funny TV, I think Steven Moffat is a considerably better writer. That’s my opinion.
The trouble of late however, is that the writing has taken second place to the spectacle. No one came up with a script about an interstellar, evil bounty hunter trapping species from the cretaceous period then worked out a title; someone pictured a movie poster, shouted out, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship!” and Chris Chibnall was hired to go off and write a bad script that would allow that title on screen. The Angels Take Manhattan was so called because said island sits next door to one of the most famous statues in the world. The rest of the script could take place anywhere. It’s as if those spangly, slutty posters are more important than the plot. Or…
Or maybe because a bunch of fanboys complained that following a story thread that assumed intelligence on the part of the viewer was such a chore, and the complicated narrative caused such an almighty backlash against Moffat that he decided to abandon arcs almost completely*, attempt to take a publicity backseat (you seen him on Twitter lately?) and ditch the most controversial aspects of what I consider to be the two best seasons of the new era. Maybe.
In any case, the result is series 7. A mish-mash of styles, bad stand-alone scripts, ideas and episodes, a series with catchy episode titles and an entirety of episodes that would be quickly forgotten if not for the switching of companions and a new Doctor. As much as I loved Clara’s introduction, she’s since been given so little backstory that she’s as paper-thin as companions come. Take away Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen and how does she differ from the mould? The odd decent speech or scene notwithstanding, the type of non-committal fluff on show this past year is why I wasn’t watching in the Davies era.
Whether you prefer Davies or Moffat, or even if you like Chris Chibnall’s work, think about how many of your favourite episodes – episodes, not moments – were in the last 14. Then ask yourself why that is. If you’ve read this far and are actively annoyed by anything I’ve written, I suspect you may have no one to blame but yourself.
You’re a fanboy, and you’re ruining Doctor Who for the rest of us. Please stop.
* – There is of course one, but if I want a leaf on the wind, I’ll watch Serenity.