God and the doctor we alike adore,
But only when in danger, not before;
The danger o’er, both are requited,
God is forgotten, and the doctor slighted
(Epigrams JOHN OWEN 1563-1622)
Great culture creates an enduring life long impact. The memory of Elvis in his Las Vegas suit, the lyrics of Let it Be, Clark Gable standing at the foot of a staircase saying ‘Frankly my dear…’ And maybe that’s why we are becoming increasingly critical of television – cookery programmes and reality TV don’t create that lasting impact. It’s a symptom of our move towards an instant gratification society. We might all be talking about it one day, but by the next it’s simply forgotten.
British TV has given us some great moments. Basil Fawlty beating up his car, Yosser Hughes pleading ‘give us a job’, Ena Sharples battling with Elsie Tanner, Del Boy and Rodders as Batman & Robin, Basil Brush laughing ‘boom boom!’… All lasting images that make us look nostalgically at the golden age, when TV was good and it made us feel good. It never bullied you, pointed a laughing finger or accused you of being ‘the weakest link’. TV brought families together, watching together, feeling good together.
Perhaps one of the programmes that gave us those magic images, unforgettable moments and a great feeling that everything was going to be all right was Dr. Who. So, go on, give it a go – if you are over 30 you might be able to recall some great classic Dr. Who moments.
When the BBC stopped making Dr. Who in the late 80′s no one seemed to notice or mind, possibly because no one seemed to be watching. Perhaps the programme had run its course, perhaps there was no room for it in the schedules, and perhaps it was a mere simple embarrassment. The longest running science fiction programme in the world just seemed to peter out of existence. And for the next 16 years the planet (the programme was shown and loved around the world) was denied one of its most enduring and endearing heroes.
For the true fan, he never went away, adventuring in books, magazines and audio dramas, keeping us going through those wilderness years. A Channel 4 viewers vote ranked him the 6th most popular TV character. Furthermore, when the BBC celebrated its 60th year viewers were asked to vote for their favourite popular Drama. Nominations included fondly remembered classics like When The Boat Comes In, Z Cars and Colditz. During the awards ceremony the EastEnders cast smugly looked ready to accept the award; Casualty was also a firm favourite. And the winner..? Dr. Who was effectively voted the most popular programme ever made by the BBC.
Inspired by their love of the programme, some of the Doctors devotees started careers in TV. While the programme was off the air, they were gaining experience, respect and power within the profession. Russell T Davies and Queer as Folk, Mark Gatiss with The League of Gentleman. It was only a matter of time before one of them would be in the position to reboot the programme for the 21st century. But I don’t think that’s why the programme was revived. Doctor Who came back because we needed him to save us from ugly TV. We once felt good about TV because it brought us together and Doctor Who was one of those programmes that hooked the kids and entertained the grown ups at the same time.
It’s easy to sit back and scoff at the wobbly sets, countless quarries and ‘men-in-rubber-suits monsters’. Yet, even post Star Wars, Dr. Who delivered week in, week out because it was deliciously, safely terrifying. How many of us, now adults, have the wonderfully fond memory of Saturday nights behind the sofa petrified for the safety of our hero. It was fantastic.
Dr. Who seemed to get away with scaring kids witless, maybe because everyone knew that, in the end, no matter what the odds, he’d beat the baddie. Part of his appeal was that he wasn’t like most heroes. He didn’t have super powers, wasn’t particularly good looking or physically strong, he hated officialdom and bureaucracy, detested violence, war and fighting and would refuse the offer of a gun, even when approaching a deadly situation. He didn’t want to destroy evil but would rather rehabilitate it, usually offering an alternative way of life to the villain. The Doctor would mourn the death of an enemy who moments before had been bent on killing him.
The Doc fought bigotry wherever it was found, and in doing so showed us that we were part of a much bigger picture, a universe filled with people with different cultures and attitudes. And here was the positive underlying message of the programme. He rejected violence as a way of life yet could not stand back and do nothing and always had regard for any life form.
It’s the youngsters who suffered the most in those Doctor-less years. Can it really be that there was a whole generation out there who don’t know what a TARDIS is? Who hadn’t been terrified by the Daleks? The poor things. No wonder they were excited at TV imports like Pokemon, Power Rangers or whatever’s popular that week. Such programmes were phenomenally successful but instantly forgettable, generating mass appeal through clever marketing, little substance and MacDonald’s Happy Meals. And show me a parent who can bear to sit down and watch this rubbish with their child! Doctor Who provided generations with unforgettable images of Yeti on the London Underground, Sea Devils emerging from the waves, and Cybermen climbing out of the sewers. Then there were the giant maggots, the thingy with one eye, the bloke who was half robot…
Dr. Who gave us a rebel hero who broke the rules. An outcast from his own people, he was prepared to challenge the dictators he met. And as kids we wanted to do just the same imagining our teachers and authority figures as monsters under the control of an evil alien intelligence.
So who are today’s heroes? What role models does TV present now? The designer label worshipping generation that grows up too quickly, to binge in their early teens on brightly coloured alcohol in trendy bottles and can only communicate with each other through text messages. Their rebel is rap-star Eminem who, brilliant as he may be, wouldn’t exactly be welcomed over for tea. They’ll probably grow to worship Baines & Ernst or any other company who can help them escape from the debt trap their instant gratification lifestyle is setting for them.
It doesn’t have to be like that.
The Doctor used his imagination to get out of trouble, in the days when imagination was something to be encouraged in the young. In the playground we acted out his adventures to free ourselves from educational tyranny. A year after the National Curriculum was introduced, the series was scrapped? Coincidence? Take a look at any Minister for education. Are you really SURE that Sir Keith Joseph or David Blunkett weren’t under the control of an evil cyber-race. They even gave us a Minister with the surname ‘BAKER’ – but we weren’t falling for it. As Doctor Who was replaced with Doctor Spin so vanished the hope of being free, individual, creative, imaginative and different.
The concept of Dr. Who is limitless and timeless. And he’s back, where he belongs, on Saturday nights, proving established wisdom, that there’s no such thing as a family audience, wrong. In June 2008 it was the number one rated programme of the week – the first time in its 45 year history. Over 13 million tuned inro his Christmas Day adventure. It’s ratings success isn’t because it’s a well made programme. It’s because it makes us feel good. Broadcasters think we want to see people fail, fall and suffer. But that’s not the reason we tune in. We want our entertainment to make us feel good about ourselves and very few programmes try to achieve that these days.
Dr. Who began in November 1963 with the dual brief to entertain and educate. And it did – superbly - for decades. We may have been scared, but we were always safe. The Doctor never let us down. The BBC created a series with limitless possibilities, and it survived 26 years on miniscule budgets, and yes, sometimes with wobbly scenery, because it was pure, escapist family entertainment.
Welcome DUKES! And thank you for this – a very interesting read. The thing that strikes me is you almost seem to feel Doctor Who has a soul. Does it?
I would of thought that Doctor Who also generated large viewing figures by clever marketing, just as much as Pokemon or Power Rangers did. I also suspect the idea that people were ‘hiding behind sofas’, which was used ad nausium during the launch of the new Doctor, is a total myth. Were we really? Or do media reports constantly pretend we were? It was probably press released that way. A massive hype led the series into every school playground and promised a new exciting thing for them to be a fan of and what’s more – it was supported and raved about by their parents too. It became an experience the whole family could share and enjoy. It was almost another Harry Potter.
I am convinced, that when it comes down to scripting Doctor Who has always been poor. The lighting is garish and primary and the tone overly contrite. There are many things that are good about it, but this endless adult adoration is frustrating as it intellectualises and validates, what is essentially, a kids show with budget. It still seems very dated to me – with its favouring of melodrama and such contrived lines you actually squirm in your sofa rather than hide behind it.
For me it is nothing but a money spinner and a UK export for the American audiences as ‘BBC Worldwide Americas’ tries to make its stamp with a thoroughbred brand depicting a twee UK with odd sounding, yet clearly spoken, Brits leaping around the sexily shot London Town and various UK pretty locations. I am actually surprised the police box isn’t painted red, white and blue.
I understand Grade axed it because, from every point of view, he regarded it as weak in comparison to what the film industry was doing. It’s budgets could not maintain a sci fi series which competed with sci fi films. The bar was raised and the budget was lowered? How could it survive?
Compare the current Doctor Who franchise with some GOOD recent sci fi – like Battlestar Galactica. Doctor Who is nothing in comparison. The scripting, acting, art direction, effects – everything is magnificent in comparison to the ‘flimsy’ Doctor Who. Maybe it’s not fair to compare them? As long as standards are set by bigger budget shows lesser budget shows don’t stand a chance. One might argue that it’s good for the money, but is it?
I’d actually really like to know your marks out of 10 for each of the following – I have included mine in brackets. I’m sure, when technically broken down, it doesn’t score all that highly.
1. Acting (3/10)
2. Casting (4/10)
3. Scripting (2/10)
4. Editing (4/10)
5. Visual effects (6/10)
6. Music (5/10)
7. Lighting & Art Direction (3/10)
This is me being honest…or am I missing something here? Is there more to a TV show than these elements? Does it have a soul? It shouldn’t.
I think Roundcat has a point re: marketing, in that Dr Who has probably now outstripped Power Rangers as a merchandise machine – magazines, stationary, Top Trumps, endless collectable figures featuring every bloody character from every sodding series – I mean, who really needs an action figure of Ardal O’Hanlon’s half-man half-cat ‘Thomas Kincade Brannigan’? Exactly who’s reinacting Brannigan’s ‘action’ from the ‘Gridlock’ episode? Didn’t he just sit in a chair for half an hour? It’s pathetic.
I disagree, though, about the acting – Tennant’s just narrowly missed out on an Olivier for God’s sake. I also think Roundcat’s flat wrong when he says the scripts are poor. Steve Moffatt’s two-parter set in The Library last season was a masterstoke of concise storytelling in the way it just hinted at The Doctor’s ‘marriage’ inbetween quite brilliant touches – the human echo stored in the communicators, Donna’s spectral second life – all smartly interwoven into some pretty great action. Everyone also sites ‘Blink’ as a highpoint, and rightly so, but my growing problem with the Doctor is that I think some writers are beginning to overplay his ‘tragically merciful’ side. I’ve lost count of the times he’s dispatched a misguided megalomaniac with the bitter words ‘I’m sorry. So sorry.’ and I’d just like to see him bounce around with a bit less weight-of-the-universe on his shoulders.
Anyway, all that aside, my scoring would be thus:
1. Acting (9/10)
2. Casting (7/10)
3. Scripting (8/10)
4. Editing (7/10)
5. Visual effects (7/10)
6. Music (6/10)
7. Lighting & Art Direction (8/10)
Oh, and welcome Mr Dukes, to the roomyverse.
On another note, I wasn’t one of the kids who hid behind the sofa, although I do remember being terrified by one of The Master’s incarnations as some kind of leperous old hag, for whom I would check under the bed most nights. No, I was more often in my room attempting to self-pleasure whenever Leela, or even Tegan, was on. In later years I transferred my onanistic attention to Nicola Bryant, but tumescence became nigh on impossible when she began sharing the frame with Colin Baker, perhaps the least alluring Doctor of the eleven (excepting McCoy, obviously, who put paid to any designs I may have had on Ace, damn him)
I wonder who may have been your erotic focus Mr Dukes? Adric, perhaps?
That’s very interesting Roomyface.
So if you think the scripting on DW is 8/10 how would you mark the scripting on…um… a film god like Gangs of New York? Is DW really 8/10? Maybe it’s not fair not fair to compare a film to a Tv series? Ok what about a show like The Sopranos or (struggling thinking of a UK equivalent) The Office?
Im truley amazed.
As discussed on the phjone…whom, watching Doctor Who, had enough space in their living rooms to not place the sofa flat against the wall anyway? “Hiding behind sofas” Pah I say, Pah!
Dukes – Excellent article and you were on to something about Russell T Davies bringing it back. He was repeatedly asked by the BBC to write something for them & he repeatedly said (jokingly) he do something if they brought Doctor Who back. I don’t think he really expected them to, but I think they called his bluff & set the wheels rolling.
Roundcat & Roomybonce – you are both guilty of the worst kind of criticism – that is dividing the aspects of a show down into individual sections & trying to achieve some sort of cumulative score – what excrement! (as Mr Keating from “Dead Poets Society” so succinctly put it). You either like something or you don’t. You can then, I suppose, go on to defend or attack it based of the quality of its writing, acting etc (how can you really judge editing if you don’t know what’s been cut out?). It’s the worst sort of internet gibberish – I despise it.
Roundcat, you also make the mistake of not comparing like with like. The writing on Doctor Who is different from that on Gangs of New York or The Sopranos because it is a family show the the others aren’t. It is perfectly acceptable to say the writing is of as high a standard. I can’t think of a family show with better writing in fact, and so, I think, it is on a par with shows like the Sopranos (ok, maybe not quite as good, but I’d argue that the Sopranos is one of the greatest TV shows ever).
Doctor Who is marketed a lot, but that is not the reason for the shows success. Robin Hood, Primeval & Demons have all also been heavily marketed but have been nowhere near as successful because they’re nowhere near as good.
And, oh yeah, shame of the BBC for trying to make one of their most successful dramas internationally popular (and therefore regaining some of our license fee money that was spent on it). TV is an international industry and the BBC would be misspending our money if they did not try to capitalise on it, at least a bit.
Finally, I did hide behind the sofa – for the story “The Green Death” that had scary maggots in it. So there.
TV shows do not have souls and ARE a marriage of all the elements listed. I have sat down and drawn up stuctures for the first 5 episodes of Seinfeld to try and understand its structure. It is ‘built thing’. Not a devine thing. It’s not a matter of getting lucky. I can sit and watch television and like it or not like it, just as I can work out why I like it or don’t. There is nothing wrong with that and to voice it is certainly not contributing to excrement on the internet. The editing on Doc Who is quick and snappy deliberately so. Its a technique to try and maintain the viewers attention and pace it – as demonstrated in Powerpuff girls. It is overly done and the ‘baddie’ locations are alwasy flood lit with primary red, blue and green gels spashed across piping and mesh – its naff. To think some magic is made by the constitute elements just ‘happening’ to work is nonsense and I throw the talking ‘excrement’ slur back in your face.
RE the bit where I apparently made a mistake… is this as good as family shows get then? Is it a family show? Whats one of them then? The cosby show? Fresh Prince of Bell Air? To The Manor Born?
As for cynical ‘shame on the bbc’ comment. It is a shame. It is an embarrassing shame that when the opportunity arises to make a successful television show they have to paint the UK as some twee holiday resort full of red buses, big ben and fey Englishness. The first episode with ships crashing into Bg Ben – I can assure you, I swear to ALMIGHTY GOD himself – the decision to have that sort of thing was a ‘distribution one’. If it is OK to do that, it is Ok to paint Irish folk as thickos sitting in pubs drinking guinesses, or scotsmen as red bearded kilt wearing agression mongers. Its sets the UK back 40 years. Look at the Brigadere character for gods sake? And his lackeys all speaking like london cabbies. Its an AWFUL shame, I reckon. No wonder when people visit from the US they think we are all complete idiots.
But I do concede it is a kids show, not a family show and I reckon when adults give it the time of day they are either avid fans, children themselves or wrapped up in some sort of nostalgia trip.
Just seen the stroke advert on telly. Yikes!!
If you did hide behind your sofa your obviosly from a MASSIVE RICH family and I hate you.
Now then! Thanks for your comments & for welcoming me to roomyverse. It’s not just Dr Who for me… there’s also DALLAS and Come Dine With Me! Perhaps more on them in future postings.
It’s good to read roomybonce remembers the decaying Master and DJ Blogtrotter the maggots (some of them were inflated condoms apparantly)- because that is what I feel good TV does and classic Who did it with imagination, love and very little money, it leaves lasting pictures in the imagination of the viewers. Images that will last for decades. The new series does that too and it’s great that the programme is back reaching out to a whole new generation.
Roundcat has a point about most people having sofas against the wall making them impossible to hide behind. I currently have 2 sofas, neither against walls – perfect for Who viewing. It’s just a shame I’ve got a crappy portable to watch it on!
The point I was making about your list making was, yes you can break down the various attributes of a show and rate them, but that will not reveal exactly what it is about certain shows that make them good. I’ve seen well acted, well written, well shot shows that whilst being good have failed to really move me & that’s what it’s about in the end. Does the show (film, TV, music whatever) move you, because art is an emotional experience & by thinking you can pin something down through the use of lists & numbers you reveal yourself to have the soul, not of an artist, but of an accountant.
Oh this is fighting talk! “Soul of an accountant” indeed! I never said that I wasn’t moved Sir – By Jove I’ve shed as many tears in Bad Wolf Bay as the next man, but surely we’re all getting away from the principal issue: Who was your favourite companion in terms of eroticism? Nicola Bryant or Bonnie Langford? It’s a simple enough question…
Personally, I’m going for K-9. Think what he could do with that extendable antennae eh, Phil? Eh? “Affirmative Master” Eh?
Mmm. Intertesting dj. Just to point out that it is you who has turned this to me rather than the subject. A blog trap for the newbie. I’m doing fine ta.
Particularly excited because one of my paintings has just been requested to be in Tim Burton edit suite to help with the vibe of his new film no doubt. Editor Chris Lebenzon asked for my work to be around him. You may of heard of him – he also edited Sweeney Todd, Planet Of The Apes, Sleepy Hollow, Crimson Tide, Ed Wood, Batman Returns, Top Gun, Weird Science and Mars Attacks. I told him – “Are you sure Chris, Tim??? According to internet blog experts, I have the soul of an accountant”. “Fear not” he replied, “for you and I know, to be a good producer you need to know business (including how to work accounts) and to be a director you need to know art – you are both”
“Thanks Tim” I replied, “thought so”.
What else do I do? Mmm. I write and record songs, I can edit, I can film things, I can paint, I can write scripts, I can create websites – last year I turned over £185,000 for my efforts as a ‘creative’ type producer/director (soul of an accountant or no). So, please, don’t heap venom on the messenger, just the message. It’s the bloggers way.
Love, peace and shit,