Monday, June 26, 2006

Re: The Rose Show [was: Doctor Who]

Some questions.

1. Can anyone explain to me why there are so few lingering camera shots in New Who?

2. Or why there's a need for the shorthand of specifically scripted 'jokes' rather than humour rising naturally from situations and interactions between the characters?

3. Maybe there's a reason that RTD and colleagues feel that quick setup, ten minutes or wandering about and then straight into the conclusion is a good outline for a general Who episode structure?

4. Why is the show in fact so totally rushed looking and generally underwhelming?

Because it now is exactly that and, if truth be told, it wasn't all that overwhelming last year either. Take out the Doctor from most New Who and you have either a mass of cliches or a mess of absurdities - and we should know because RTD and co take the Doctor out of the story at every available opportunity.

The latest installment, Fear Her, was so bad that I'm quite happy now for people to refer to this season as Season 2, instead of Season 29 - the new show just has so little in common with what made the old one great that they're really not the same type of show at all, never mind the same specific show.

Where once there was a TV series with the world's simplest yet most brilliant concept at heart - there's this guy who can travel anywhere and anytime in a battered Police Box - now there's a soap opera which is really an ensemble piece about a London girl and her family and friends, one of whom happens to have this handy time machine.

That Rose is the key character in the show is becoming more evident by the minute, to the extent that next week's invasion of the Cybermen story isn't being trailed as that at all but as a 'What happens to Rose/hey look - there's a new spin-off series called Torchwood?' sort of shebang. Which is so wrong it's laughable. I don't really care what happens to the companion and no chikd I know does much either (me, I know the Doctor can get a new one whatever occurs - what can I say, I've become hardened since the end of Earthshock). And trail the new bloody series in the adverts like everyone else does, not in the middle of another show and more often than Big Finish shovelled Zagreus into every audio for a year prior to the release of that anniversary story (and is that really the kind of preceedent RTD wants to mirror - because Zagreus was such a roaring critical success?)

Last year was very similar in respect of Rose/Doctor importance. The Doctor solved sod all, but never mind, plucky li'l Rose will save the day (or the attractive homosexual space captain will, if she's tied up emoting somewhere - Christ, just how many Mary-Sues does RTD need?), but Chris Eccleston is so much better an actor than most of the scripts deserved that it wasn't half so noticeable.

Tennant however is a journeyman actor, no more and no less and just isn't capable of taking bad writing and turning it into somethng good. So we end up with rubbish like this week's offering where a reject for the original Sapphire and Steel sctipting sessions gets combined with the Spongebob episode, Frankendoodle, all presented in true Children's Televsion Workshop style by the letters L, O, V and E. And it's as truly shit as it sounds because Tennant can't drag bad plots up to a higher level, there's no subtlety in his performance (possibly not helped by the decision to have him use an accent other than his own for no good reason) and anyway, by now RTD thinks that Rose is all that matters to anyone anyway.

Maybe he's right - maybe it's just me that misses the days when the show - crap special FX and occasionally ludicrously bad acting and all - was about this time traveller and how clever he could be and how he would help people in interesting and imaginative ways. How he was rarely vicious or violent, but was still no-one's fool and how the places he went to and the people he met were genuinely magical, in a way that no other TV show before or since has come close to matching.

Becuase the new Who isn't really that bad a TV series. It's on a par with much of Buffy, but not as good as Life on Mars; it's miles better than Tru Calling but not even inhabiting the same universe of quality as Firefly; it's better written at times than BSG, but much more seems to happen that we care about in BSG (actually much more seems to happen in almost ever other programme than in New Who).

It's...OK. But that's all it is - and it used, once upon twenty years ago, to be the single best television programme ever made.

I'm grumpy, I'm just getting over the flu, and I hated Fear Her more than any other Who episode yet so maybe it is just me being a cranky old arse, but I find it genuinely sad that this is what we waited sixteen years for.

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36 Comments:

Blogger alienvoord said...

You are very grumpy aren't you. I've been hearing a lot of grumpiness from old time fans lately - and of course it's completely valid to not like the new show. But I have no doubt that the choices Davies and the other made were the best choices. It seems that the show is incredibly popular, and that really is the most important thing.

imo yes, the new show is very different from the old show. It's better. :)

3:23 pm  
Blogger alienvoord said...

And I think Rose is the most important character, in a way. She's the viewer identification. Look at any fan site made by new fans - it's all about Rose and her relationship with the Doctor. You may not care what happens to the companion, but the new viewers do care very much.

3:41 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

I'd be happy to applaud what Stuart says - while at the same time admitting that I've grown increasingly unhappy with New Who. Although I'd actually disagree with the general statement that it's miles better than "Tru Calling" - it *is* better, in that it's more varied and less predictable - as a rule - but it falls down far too often when it comes to comparing certain basic tenets of good storytelling and just how effectively they fill a 45 minute episode. But "Tru" is just one of the plain average shows that do a better job than New Who in that respect. A lot of the writing on New Who is just so ham-fisted it's unbelievable and, popular or no, I think all the kitchen sink soap-opera stuff has only served to bog the series down and get away from the point. I could write an essay about what's wrong with it, but luckily Stuart's saved me the effort :)
It's all very unenthusing.

4:59 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

alienvoord: "And I think Rose is the most important character, in a way. She's the viewer identification."

Other companions have been the viewer identification without managing to obscure the Doctor and/or the really crucial element: the sf adventure at the heart of the series.

5:02 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

alienvoord: "It seems that the show is incredibly popular,"

It is popular, but not incredibly so I'd have said, and less so this year than last. I know that viewing figures and patterns have changed but really - is 7 million out of a population of 55 million *incredibly* popular?

alienvoord: "I think Rose is the most important character, in a way. She's the viewer identification"

But the companion always has been the viewer identification and yet no previous producer has made the basically wrong assumption that the viewer identification is what the show is *about*. It's about the Doctor and hence he's the most important figure no matter how you cut it - the viewer identifiction figure is important only because they illuminate the actions of the hero.

I just think that's a very, very obvious point that RTD has totally forgotten about.

5:05 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "it falls down far too often when it comes to comparing certain basic tenets of good storytelling and just how effectively they fill a 45 minute episode. But "Tru" is just one of the plain average shows that do a better job than New Who in that respect."

Which is what I originally intended to write about (you can probably tell from the start of the post) - just why New Who seems to be move so unnecessarily frenetically and the writing team seem utterly incapable of pacing an episode properly and thus optimally using the time available.

And I still don't know the answer.

5:10 pm  
Blogger alienvoord said...

ok maybe not incredibly popular. I'm Canadian so I'm not really sure. But there are two other shows just about DW, and two magazines, so that seems pretty popular to me.

I'm surprised you don't like it, Stuart. I love it for some of the same reasons I like Magrs books - it's lighthearted, fast-paced, funny, very light on the science and explanations, and sometimes gets a bit silly.

on the other hand, I don't watch much tv at all, so maybe there's other tv shows that are better. but frankly, I don't care.

7:18 pm  
Blogger alienvoord said...

Stuart: "I just think that's a very, very obvious point that RTD has totally forgotten about."

On the contrary, the focus on Rose was a deliberate decision made in order to attract viewers. And it worked really well (it seems to me).

7:46 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

It's like they're driven by a too conscious an attention to 'marketing' principles (e.g. we must make it pacey - yes, it's got to be pacey - and spectacular, very spectacular) over good storytelling. All that (pace, spectacle etc) should be allowed to arise naturally out of a good story. I'm not sure that's anywhere near the answer but compared to some shows - and sometimes not even very good ones - it comes across as amateur night.

7:57 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

alienvoord:"I love it for some of the same reasons I like Magrs books - it's lighthearted, fast-paced, funny, very light on the science and explanations, and sometimes gets a bit silly."

But it lacks the two most important things Paul Magrs brings to his books - imagination and inventiveness (well, plus prose so good you coud eat it). There's so of either in the new series it's embarrassing at times. Tt's (nearly) all set on Earth. The aliens are either versions of old baddies or well, shit. The plots are either paper-thin or rely on sf cliches so hoary that Asimov wouldn't have used them. The characterisation of everyone bar Rose is equally thoughtless and mundane.

It's light certainly, but where for Magrs 'light' is a synonym for 'deft' for RTD it's just the first part of the word lightweight.

(Christ I'm in a crappy mood today :)

8:47 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

alienvoord: "On the contrary, the focus on Rose was a deliberate decision made in order to attract viewers. And it worked really well (it seems to me)."

Undoubtedly it worked as a marketing decision, but I was talking about creatively.

If RTD wanted to make a show about an earth girl who travels through space and time wronging wrongs and yet still getting home relgualry to talk about boys with Sharon down the chippy, couldn't he have made one up hmslef and let someone who actually wanted to write Doctor Who do Doctor Who?

8:49 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Ah, what Simon said about maketing driving all before it - that's what I meant to say as well.

8:50 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Hmm, what can we do to cheer Stuart up. Obviously an episode of Doctor Who's not gonna do it but I'd hoped me telling him he's right would have some beneficial effect ;)

8:59 pm  
Blogger alienvoord said...

It really seems like we're talking about different shows here.

I find it hard to discuss this because I don't have much to say other than "it's awesome". When season 2 airs in Canada in the fall I'll write something insightful about it.

9:00 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Hmm, you may be right - I thought you'd seen Season 2 which is where the Rose Show really kicks in (Eccleston is too good an actor to allow himself to be so easily upstaged even if RTD had intended to in Season 1 and the weak scripts on the whole are better than the weak season 2 scripts).

I have the Season 1 finale of the West Wing to watch tonight so I should be much less grumpy in the morning (I always assume clever folks like SAF agree with me so that has no effect on my happiness:)

9:10 pm  
Blogger TimeWarden said...

It was last week's episode, "Love & Monsters", that forever destroyed the possibility of me enjoying new "Who". It wasn't Marc Warren's fault. Once contracted, he had to do the best with the given Big Bad! And it was Bad Beyond Belief. It actually depressed me the whole of the following week because it forced me not to care any more about something I've always cared about. If you complain constantly about something it's because you love it enough to want it put right. Stop complaining, let it wash over you, and it means you don't give a damn. If nobody expresses displeasure it's then assumed we're all happy when the truth is the impotence of not being in the position to change anything eats away at your insides.

Even the best episode this year, "The Impossible Planet", began badly for me because the Doctor and Rose behave like prats. Whereas Pat Troughton's Doctor would've exercised caution had he materialised on SB6, and said caution would've created tension for the viewer, Tennant barnstormed through the entire complex. That could well have cost him his life, not knowing what life forms were present. I hate his flippancy. Tom Baker somehow managed to pull off the incredible feat of being reassuringly flippant. "Mind my arm, I'm rather attached to it!" Colin Baker could do it too. "No 'arm in trying!" Tom said the role is actor proof but I'm not so sure.

It might well come down to the individuality of the actor. Chris Eccleston is a terrific actor but was wrong for "Who", though when you see clips from last year his performance looks so much more assured than Tennant's. Maybe it's because Chris has had more experience, though he's great in "Cracker" when he must've been about the same age as Tennant is now. Perhaps Chris is more suited to that kind of gritty Jimmy McGovern-written performance. Tennant's hair doesn't help take him seriously. It makes you think he should be in pop group Busted and that might well be the intention.

Increasingly irritating are RTD's attempts to indoctrinate today's youth with his views on sexuality, and 7pm "Doctor Who" is the wrong place for this. In "Tooth and Claw" it's suggested, by the Doctor, that the husband could have "fun" with the monks while his wife's away. So, become homosexual at the same time as betraying your wife! Terrific... well done Mr Davies, bloody idiot. In "Fear Her" we are invited, again by the Doctor, to ogle the brawn and muscle of the Olympians. These remarks are presented as seemingly throwaway comments but the agenda is all too clear.

Russell could go the whole hog and have alien spores fall to earth making all men homosexual, all women lesbian, and the Doctor try and save the human race from extinction within a generation because nobody is procreating the way nature intended!!! Instead, why not try and cajole children into admiring intelligence, as the vastly superior original 26-year run succeeded in doing? Steven Moffat has said the (supposed) humour is there for the adults while the children want a serious hero! Call me a child then!! A serious hero, to me, is one who sees the bigger picture, the universal, as being more important than the domestic one, the parochial.

2:52 am  
Blogger SAF said...

timewarden: "In "Tooth and Claw" it's suggested, by the Doctor, that the husband could have "fun" with the monks while his wife's away."

My problem with that line was more a case of wondering why the Doctor would jump to such a conclusion rather than allow his natural instincts to become suspicious of what was going on. Even less forgiveable was his failure to latch onto the oddness of a servant interrupting the master of the house, which happens in the telescope room. I can't help thinking almost any other Doctor would have known something was up.

8:22 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Just to make one thing clear about my increasing frustration with he way New Who is going - I could care less about any gay text, sub- or otherwise.

I think that Cap'n Jack is a horrendously one-dimensional character who offered little to the plot except as a source of innuendo-based jokes, but the fact he's gay is fine, so far as it goes and to the extent that it's necessary in Who to go into anyone's sexuality (which is probably never, given the age group it claims to be aimed at). As Simon says though the T&C line is illogical and can be seen as hammering home a point that both didn;t need made and didn't make sense in context.

For those interested in my general humour, btw, the finale of season 1 of The West Wing was excellent in a 24 kind of way and reminded me just how good TV drama can be when done by very talented people.

9:33 am  
Blogger SAF said...

Cool, glad the West Wing lifted your spirits - and of course you get to enjoy season finales without the frustration of the long between-season wait that comes with watching these things on broadcast. Me, I'm enjoying a rewatch of BSG (S1) while my wife catches up on it for the first time. She's enjoying it too. I get the pleasure of reminding myself just how bloody good it is, while temporarily compensating for the frustration and impatience that comes with not yet having seen any of S2! :)

10:36 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Season 2 of BSG is great, if a little up its own religious imagery arse for comfort at times (if you want a copy I have it all as avis on one dvd, btw).

Due to all the sleep I had whilst ill, I was up until about 3am this morning and ended up watching another Farscape (seems to be taking a while to really warm up, but worth persevering with) and the double length first episode of Earth 2, which had more good sf ideas in it than the entirety of New Who (for instance, aliens who swim through the ground as though it were water - that's a single better concept than *anything* RTD has introduced to Who.) Of course the actual premise of the show isn't exactly new (let's all go settle a planet which looks just like Earth) and Tim Curry is in it (which doesn't bode well) but another worth persevering with, I think.

10:50 am  
Blogger alienvoord said...

what is wrong with all you people...

it is AWESOME

2:07 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

Stuart: "Season 2 of BSG is great, if a little up its own religious imagery arse for comfort at times (if you want a copy I have it all as avis on one dvd, btw)."

Ooh, thanks. We may already have the series scheduled in one of our lists for rentals - I will drop you an email!

3:01 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

alienvoord: "what is wrong with all you people...it is AWESOME"

We're just doing it to annoy you now John :)

5:26 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "We may already have the series scheduled in one of our lists for rentals - I will drop you an email!"

Do - it'll take all of five minutes ro run you off a copy.

6:23 pm  
Blogger SAF said...

alienvoord: "what is wrong with all you people..."

This is the place where the voices of reason hang out. One of the places :)

9:18 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "This is the place where the voices of reason hang out. One of the places :)"

The other places being the Manchester Basement Sauna and the Tin Foil Shed I built in my garden to keep all the little voiecs out...

9:36 pm  
Blogger Stewart M. said...

Allow me to echo your thoughts immediately, Stuart.

5:34 pm  
Blogger alienvoord said...

Stuart: "Undoubtedly it worked as a marketing decision, but I was talking about creatively.

If RTD wanted to make a show about an earth girl who travels through space and time wronging wrongs and yet still getting home relgualry to talk about boys with Sharon down the chippy, couldn't he have made one up hmslef and let someone who actually wanted to write Doctor Who do Doctor Who?"

Because it wouldnt have been as popular.

They wanted a popular show, they made certain decisions to make a popular show, and it worked. Like it or not, this is what Doctor Who is now.

9:43 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

alienvoord:"They wanted a popular show, they made certain decisions to make a popular show, and it worked. Like it or not, this is what Doctor Who is now."

That's true, but it still strikes me as unfortunate that they didn't have the foresight to recognise that Doctor Who would be a popular show as Doctor Who.

I know this is what Dr Who is like now, but [sigh] it's not what it should be like...

6:12 pm  
Blogger alienvoord said...

Would it have been as popular if they had done it differently? I guess we'll never know. imo the focus on the companion is one thing that makes it so popular. as I said just look at any website made by new fans.

about halfway thru season 1 I wondered, as much as I loved the show, why they didn't aim it at adults only, since we knew DW could be aimed at adults (as in the books). It was pointed out to me that aiming it at a family audience was the only way to make the show as popular as it is. And I think that's true.

I still think its DW, and I'm sorry you don't think so too.

7:26 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

ALIENVOORD:"I still think its DW, and I'm sorry you don't think so too"

I think on reflection that my problem isn't that it's not Doctor Who, it's that most of the time it's just not very good Doctor Who (or even, in truth, very good TV) - which is obviously a simple matter of taste and on that unselfish level I'm delighted so many people do love it.

7:46 pm  
Blogger Site Owner said...

Er, while of course you're very welcome to differ with me as to whether NewWho is good or enjoyable or well made, its disengenuous to say its less popular than last year when almost every episode has a) higher ratings than the season 1 parallel episode and b) higher AIs.

Popularity of course doesn't make a show good, but a desire to make a popular show isn't a crime.

Simon BJ

11:00 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

SBJ:"its disengenuous to say its less popular than last year "

Eh, I didn't say that at all though. I suggested I personally didn't like it as much as last year, but mainly I said that New Who just wasn't as enjoyable as the 26 seasons that preceeeded it.

I didn't mention relative popularity of this year and last year at all...

7:10 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Oh wait, I see what you mean - in one of the comments.

Arew you sure that this year's episodes are coparably more popular? I was fairly certain they weren't as good, but I could well be wrong.

7:13 am  
Blogger SAF said...

All I know is this year's episodes - generally - haven't been as popular with my family and friends. It's not much of a litmus test, I know, but it does represent a downward trend from their reaction to last year's. :)

8:07 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

A quick look through the Brief History of Time site for Viewing Figures/AA figures seems to suggest that the new series is less popular - especially since the show took a major nose-dive in quality during the Cyber two-parter.

Matching each episode up over the two years, last season had higher viewing figures in 8 of the 12 shows shown thus far, including having higher figures for every single episode since Rise of the Cybermen with the exception of Army of Ghosts which just edged out Bad Wolf.

Audience Appreciation figures are in almost all slightly higher for Tennant, admittedly, but the difference is rarely more than 1% or 2% either way with the only substantial difference being between The Doctor Dances at 85% and Love and Monsters at 76% (plus The Parting of the Ways has the highest figure of all at 89%).

So, on balance, I don't think it was disingenious at all to say last season was more popular than this :)

As I said though, my main point was that I wasn't enjoying it all that much a lot of the time - I'm delighted that lots of people do like it a lot, just occasionally confused as to why they do :)

9:01 am  

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