So… Doctor Who

The topic of Doctor Who isn’t something I think I’ve covered on any of my blogs over the past thirteen years. It’s not that I’m uninterested. Quite the contrary. I suspect it has something to do with not enjoying the particular obsession with fan culture.

To be clear, I’ve seen every Doctor Who episode that hasn’t gone missing, I’ve got a number of the BBC Books, but I’ve never gone to a convention or felt any great need to work out who my favourite Doctor is..

Actually, I remember posting something about the show now. About 12 years ago I agreed to pilot a Dalek for an acquaintance who was doing a promotional stunt. I got to hang out with Trekkies/Trekkers (which one is the preferred title?) in full cosplay. Ultimately, I didn’t enjoy it. Do what you want, but I loathe cosplay.

(I’m not going to argue which franchise is better, and you’ll lose my respect if you try to do so in the comments).

At any rate, my suggested YouTube videos and social media feeds and whatnot are filling up with crap from nerds complaining about the latest season of Doctor Who being “too PC”. How very fucking annoying.

You know what I worry about when it comes to fandom and social justice? It’s not that “social justice warriors” are practicing entryism into fandom, it’s that fantasists in fucking costumes with shelves full of pointless fucking merch are lecturing the rest of us as if they have a grounded take on politics.

***

So I’ve been watching the new season. It’s got a few things I’ve wanted.

On location panoramas. Minimalist visuals during the credit sequence. A rendition of the theme that reassures you that the composer is suitably familiar with mind-altering substances. The Doctor is no longer a messianic fetish. The conflict revolves around ordinary humans – i.e. the companions – rather than alien psychodrama, or companions that become space-god-things. Oh, and the prophetic foreshadowing seems thankfully to have gone out the window.

I’m not entirely sure about how I feel about the Doctor’s loss of fetish status though. Sure, the aliens aren’t about to pack up and run just because Jodie Whitaker declares that she is the Doctor. That’s great. The Doctor’s motives have been de-emphasized, but perhaps a little too much.

And, sorry, but that console room has been seriously marred by the big lump of resin posing as crystal. Having it move makes the effect worse. Crystal doesn’t look or articulate like that. It looks like a prop and it really takes you out of the moment, which is sad because the rest of the set, while confrontingly different, could have worked.

***

So all the “Politically Correct” stuff?

I didn’t entirely like it, but probably not for the same reasons whining crybabies are writing to the BBC.

The casting is fine. But the format of the show just isn’t great for dealing with these issues. Take that woman’s mention of having had a wife in the second episode; the dialogue steered us towards that reveal, when a more natural approach may have had us meandering towards the revelation over two or three episodes. Of course, Doctor Who isn’t written like that. Most cast members come and go in a single episode.

Rosa, the third episode, seemed rushed. I suspect it needed to be a two-part story, and less about celebrity name-dropping and insinuating modern Brits into American history. Rather than the histrionics of participating in the bus ride itself, perhaps the Doctor and companions could have helped protect history more from afar – i.e. more direct conflict with the racist time traveler – knowing they can’t step forward to help in the historical injustices they’re witnessing.

There’s also a bit too much use of overly emotive incidental music where acting should be doing the heavy lifting resonance-wise. I can’t see why this couldn’t be toned down in lieu of things like stammering or shocked choking-on-words.

***

I don’t care if whites, men or straights are a minority in the new season, but I would like stories that are a little less jarring. If it feels like social justice issues are being shoe-horned into the story, it’s not because they don’t belong, it’s because they’re being crammed in faster than the plot can accommodate them, forcing contrivances. Thematically there’s no reason why it couldn’t be made to work.

Ironically though, it’s probably the older, slower format of the actually more racist and sexist Who that could have accommodated this better. At least, after cutting back the padding and the occasionally hackneyed dialogue it could have.

So if I were to ask anything of Chris Chibnall it would be this. If you want to do justice to social justice issues, could you slow it down a little, ease back on the contrivance, and allow for deeper, more natural expressions. Also, maybe get rid of the resin columns in the console room?

~ Bruce

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