Tuesday, April 17, 2007

That nonsense with the cats in a traffic jam

Rather like supporters of a certain football team dear to my heart who find themselves loathe to criticise the arrogant idiot who saved them from oblivion, it seems that Doctor Who fans can't bring themselves to criticise Russell T Davies, the writer behind the revival of the show.

But really - could the man be disappearing up his own arse any faster?

His latest script is the weakest yet seen since the return of the good Doctor two years ago. On a plot so wafer thin as to be see-through, Davies stretches a sequence of illogicalities and stupidities linked loosely together by his own obsessions and the BBC's desire to sell as many toys (sorry, 'character figures') as possible.

I've seen Davies described as smug quite a lot recently and I've no idea if that's true or not (although his insistence on describing everything he touches as fantastic - even the frankly Muppetesque Dalek Hybrid adorning this week's Radio Times - can be a little wearing) but I do think that he has a degree of contempt for his audience.

How else to explain his willingness to throw out 'Gridlock' at prime time on a Saturday? Briefly described (and there is no way to describe it other than briefly) what story there is involves the Doctor looking for Martha in the middle of a big traffic jam, where people travel a few metres a day and any journey takes years of living in a small car from which you can never emerge for long as the poisonous atmosphere will kill you. At the bottom of the motorway is the fast lane - a relatively empty lane of the motorway only accessible to people driving three to car where speeds of as much as 30mph can be achieved. Unfortunately, the fast lane is also host to a colony of devolved Macra, who will eat you if you go down there.

Never mind, though - the Doctor figures out what those who have been driving for 20 odd years have never thought of: there are no rules because there has never been anyone to enforce them*. It's all a trick, you see, because up above the sealed off motorway are the virus destroyed ruins of New Earth, and the Face of Boe is using up his life-force keeping things running until the Doctor comes and...flicks a big switch.

Huzzah! Three cheers for the Big Giant Head!

What a load of lazy drivel.

There are so many holes in the 'plot'* that it's quicker to list the sensible and less patronising things in 'Gridlock':

1. The make-up on Ardal O'Hanlon is good.
2. The characterisation of the Doctor as a moral whirlwind full of a sense of his own essential rightness is well done.

And that'll be that. Otherwise, it was poor quality, lazy writing from a writer whose seeming pre-eminence in UK TV is more a sign of the paucity of talent in the British television writing pool than any actual talent. But the laziness presumably doesn't matter because viewers aren't as clever as producers or they'd be working in telly too, so any old crap will do - and the devoted fans, terrified of another cancellation, will lap it up anyway and claim that plot doesn't matter, that Davies' writing is all about glorious character beats and sparkling dialogue.

I asked on a couple of Who mailing lists, comprised of intelligent people who know how to dissect a text, for someone to give me an example of these wonderful character moments and brilliant dialogue. Sadly, no-one actually could point to a line and say 'That's it there. That's why RTD is so good'. A couple of people mentioned the hymn**, which made me personally cringe with embarassment as Davies scraped the very, very bottom of the emotional manipulation barrel and still came up empty, but beyond that - nothing.

New Doctor Who seems, in fact, to exist for two main reasons - to sell any number of brightly coloured, cheaply made toys and for Russell T Davies to be oh-so-pleased with himself. There has been some lovely writing in the past few series, but it's no surprise to discover that pretty much all of it has come from writers other than Davies.

Finally (and this ia little thing compared to the non-existent plots and that fact that it can only be a matter of time before we get our first Doctor/companion shag in Doctor Who), we all know that being gay is fine and that a bit of positive discrimination is probably needed to redress the homophobia which is still pretty rife in Britain - but do we need to have specifically identified gay characters in every second episode? It's getting like an unhealthy obsession or something.

* For those who care, and purely off the top of my head: why do the parents of the girl buying the 'forget' drugs join the motorway if everyone knows it's quicker to walk; if the air is fine in the undercity why does no-one get out at a layby and walk; why do cars which were locked into the motorway as an emergency have self-replicating fuel and food; why does no-one going down to the fast lane shoot straight back up and report there's loads of big killer crabs down there; how did the crabs manage to colonise the entire fast lane in 24 years; where did the Macra even come from; how come Martha's car doesn't just crash to the ground when they turn all the power off; why doesn't the Face of Boe just say 'The Master is alive' if he's only got four words, instead of coming over all mystical and obscure; where does the rain come from in the closed system which is the Undercity; why were the drug sellers shut down within ten minutes of the Doctor opening the doors; and so on and so on and so on...

** to be fair, one person at least gave a good (if individual) reason for finding it moving.

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Blogger SAF said...

Absolutely spot on review. I'm still in two minds as to whether I'm going to even air my own thoughts on this season, but for now, you've just done my "Gridlock" review.

It's true that RTD's scripts are full of ideas, but there's very rarely much to string them together. And as flawed as past stories were (as some fans choose to constantly remind us) at least there was a feeling that they were stories. All too frequently, New Who gives me a sense that I'm watching an expensively produced synopsis. First draft.

11:35 am  
Blogger IZP said...

I've always been an advocate of Doctor Who leaving gaps in the narrative for us to fill with our imaginations myself, but this one really was five conversations short of coherent I thought.

It's like The Long Game for me, which similarly felt like the precis for a decent story that fell apart under the constraints of being made 45 minutes long, exciting and to make sense.

The only bit that I felt worked well really was the nudging forward of the Doctor Martha relationship, and subsequent Tennant 'upside-down smile' acting opportunity, which was lovely, but I rather wanted that on top of a plot that holds up rather than instead of it.

Mind, I didn't think much of last week's either I'm afraid (it doesn't help that Gareth Roberts did a much more enjoyable take on this kind of thing in a comic strip two years ago). There the fault was too little story I reckoned and thus a lot of loitering about waiting for the story to be flicked on and off at the end, here it was too many little stories, none of which were really fully explored.
It's New Earth duff for me, sadly. I think 'one big concept, follow it through rigorously' has to be the way for outer space telly at this length.

This time last season I thought we'd had one dreadful story, one enjoyable one and one superb one, this season I loved the opener and thought the next two were a bit messed up. Shame. Fingers crossed for better stuff ahead.

12:23 pm  
Blogger alienvoord said...

So, how about the new Fall album?

4:55 pm  
Blogger Scott Liddell said...

Unqualified as I am as a Who-reviewer (despite the fact the have managed to find inadvertant fame as 'the bloke who came up with the That Nonsense With The thing'), I can purely give you a view of someone who is just looking for some form of entertainment of an early Saturday night.

It made no feckin' sense at all. It probably sounded good as an elevator pitch in which allegories came to the fore and detail was low: "Yeah, I see where are are going with that, humanity is trapped, imprisoned by its own vanity...yada yada..."

But really, it was like a shite episode of Red Dwarf with no jokes or Claire Grogan.

At this risk of sounding vaguely coherent and in the context of this blog (which is entirely against my role here), I'd just like to say that Stuart spilled coffee on his shirt on Thursday. There. That's better.

9:06 pm  

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