Monday, 5 August 2013

The What of Who

So Peter Capaldi becomes the new Doctor Who and not long after Malcolm Tucker departed from our screens, he now returns in the guise of a family friendly Time Lord.

I’m not overly excited by the news which only tangentially glances off my interest because of Capaldi’s involvement. I’ve never been a Doctor Who fan and as much as I love science fiction (Oblivion is my film of the year so far), I’ve never caught the Doctor Who bug. I don’t even really know what to call it. Is it Doctor Who or Dr Who? I always thought the latter but IMDB now suggests the former. But the problem of the name aside, I’ve had even bigger problems with the show.

Even as a child I probably realised it contained too little science fiction and too much hammy acting for my tastes. I have a similar problem with most of the superheroes that are now appearing in the big film franchises. In many respects, I should be perfect fodder for buying into the genre. I’m interested in comics and genuinely enjoy science fiction, yet films like The Avengers, The Fantastic Five, and The Green Lantern leave me cold. In fact, I find the majority of Stan Lee’s superheroes ultimately quite boring. It’s the Doctor Who problem, I think: science fiction as imagined by people who don’t like science fiction but have their own ideas what science fiction should be. And that was the overriding sense that emerged watching the show last night. Apart from Stephen Hawking and that Mancunian star gazer with the funny voice, the guests talking about Doctor Who were not how I imagine science fiction fans.

It was also noticeable on last night’s ‘big reveal’ that they had the great Bernard Cribbins in the studio. They mentioned his long career in TV, including his recent appearance as Wilfred Mott in the new Doctor Who. What they didn’t mention was that he’d appeared opposite Peter Cushion in the 1966 film, Daleks' Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D., which is probably the only Doctor Who I’ve ever enjoyed. Or I assume it was that film. There was another, made a year earlier, called Dr. Who and the Daleks. Occasionally I come across one or the other on TV and find myself being drawn into its post-apocalyptic vision of London long before London became people’s post-apocalyptic setting of choice.

That the BBC ignored Cushing’s films is disappointing but obviously part of their attempts to portray the franchise as the jewel in the BBC crown, the years between 1985 and 2005 when it languished in production limbo now long forgotten. Doctor Who has become one of the BBC’s cash cows, played to a new audience of fans via BBC America. That success I can only attribute to its appealing to audiences very different to yours truly.

The question I have to ask myself is: can Capaldi encourage me to watch the next series? That I very much doubt. The problem I have with the show is precisely the problem I have with amateur theatrical productions. It has the pretense that it’s real theatre but there’s no overcoming the presence of the large woman in the wig pretending to be Doris Day circa Calamity Jane. The same is true of Who. When it was relaunched it was quickly  swamped by minor celebrities hiding behind latex and daft names. It’s not the Doctor himself who I ever thought they needed to change. It was just everything else about the show.


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