atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#1114: Doctor Who stuff

I've watched Doctor Who for 27 years. The only time I stopped watching it was when it wasn't being shown where I lived; otherwise I was in front of the TV set when it was on, barring responsibilities such as work, and thanks to the VCR I've taped it for later viewing when I couldn't watch it. I'm a dedicated fan of the show.

I was thinking about the new version of DW and how it's different from the original.

One of the great things about DW is that it was science fiction with a hint of magic--the technology the Doctor mucked around with frequently flirted with the Clarke limit, and sometimes surpassed it. The Time Lords' technology in particular.

The new DW series has had a lot of that systematically removed. Why the Time War? Why did the Time Lords have to be eradicated? It doesn't make any sense to me--from a writing standpoint, I mean. Sure, I can see how a gigantic war could have led to a pyrrhic victory for the Time Lords, and all, but why do it? By doing that, the writers hacked away a great big raft of potential. Plenty of great classic DW stories happened when the Doctor returned to Gallifrey, either willingly or by force. The last ep with Leela, for example--when the Doctor seemed to be a traitor who was helping bad guys invade, only to find out that he was playing them...and then the Sontarans show up. It was awesome.

The Daleks--they were the other side in the Time War, but they've been brought back. (Killed off, and brought back again.) The Cybermen--what's with the alternate universe Cybermen, anyway? What's wrong with the Cybermen from this universe? Were they also wiped out in the Time War? I was glad to see that the Sontarans, at least, still exist, largely unchanged--and the changes that have been made were for the better.

But all of that is acceptable, really, because DW has always been a serial, and things change. I may be more upset because a lot of the changes happened "off screen". Okay.

So what is the deal with the sexual tension?

That's the worst part of it. In classic DW, there were never any romantic entanglements between the Doctor and his assistants. That was never supposed to be a factor.

The first time you read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, you may be surprised that Watson--not Holmes--appears to be the main character of the story. In fact, that's not so; Holmes is the main character, but he's too damn smart for there to be any suspense in the story. The suspense comes from Watson not knowing what Holmes is thinking, why he's doing what he's doing, how he's solving the case before him. Watson only knows what he sees, and he's not omniscient, so Doyle had plenty of opportunity for Holmes to explain to the reader, via Watson, what was going on.

The Doctor's assistants are his "Watsons". When you write a story or series about someone like Holmes or the Doctor, you need an "everyman", because the central figure of the story is too much of a demigod for the reader/viewer to readily relate to. We have seen occasional glimpses of the Doctor's true power, and the implications of it can be scary because we don't really know his limits. The same is true of Holmes: this is a man who mainlines cocaine because he's bored.

DW was originally positioned as a kids' show. Besides providing a highly necessary expositional function, the attractive assistant was a paean to the fact that adults frequently watch TV with the kids, and middle-aged dads don't mind the trashy show so much if there's a cute girl involved.

Notice, please, that the Doctor has never had a solitary male assistant, not without some woman or women around. Ever. (Maybe for the space of one episode, which was half an hour in the classic series. Not longer.) And I can name them for you:

1) Barbara's teacher, what's his name, from the first season
2) Jamie
3) Dr. Harry What's-his-face
4) Adric
5) Turlow
6) Captain Jack

....and that's it. But Barbara--the Doctor's granddaughter--was there, and her other teacher, a woman. Every episode with Jamie had Zoe in it. Dr. Harry So-and-so was during the Tom Baker-Sarah-Jane-Smith years. Adric started with Tom Baker and ended with Peter Davison, but Romana, Nyssa, and Tegan were along for the ride. Turlow started and ended with Peter Davison, but (again) Nyssa and Tegan and Peri were there. And then there was Captain Jack, but Rose Tyler was also there.

Okay: this is not an exhaustive list; there may be others that I just plain don't remember. But I think it makes my point, anyway, that the assistants on Doctor Who are like contestants on Wheel of Fortune: they may be all women, or there may be some men, but there is always at least one woman.

But for all of that, there has never been sexual tension. The Doctor has never been romantically interested in any of his friends; it's not part of the story and was never meant to be. The Doctor wasn't passing through the universe in search of a good shag; he was an adventurer, a kind of cosmic troubleshooter who never had any difficulty finding trouble or correcting it.

It's a dimension the series didn't need. When Sarah Jane Smith started waxing rhapsodic about the Doctor, that was a serious departure from the original series, and I think it was a bad move.

It's safe to say there's nothing actually happening "off screen"; at least, I am pretty certain the Doctor wasn't boffing Sarah Jane on those long trips between spatio-temporal coordinates. And if you consider the whole issue a misunderstanding on the assistant's part (such as the issues alluded to re: Martha) it's even more unnecessary.

Well, WTF. It's not going to keep me from watching the show; it's going to make me roll my eyes whenever I see it, but it's not a show-stopper for me. It's more unfortunate than anything.

Besides all that, I also miss the longer episodes. The old version chopped each episode up into half-hour segments, with each arc taking three to six episodes to complete. There was plenty of time for plot development and intricate stories.

What we have now is an hour-format show with most stories completed within that time frame--and it actually comes to about 48 minutes, all told, including opening and closing credits.

How good would the classic Doctor Who have been if it had the kind of budget the latest series has? I never minded the cheesy special effects because the writing was so good; if they'd had a budget to match, what could it have been?


One might as well wish for the moon, I suppose.

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