Before I start I should point out that this is not written to be deliberately provocative. I don’t talk about the new series much as it tends to polarise opinion in a not-always-friendly way but this has been on my mind for a while…
I love Matt Smith as the Doctor. For the most part, I loved David Tennant as the Doctor and, to give him his due, I thought Eccleston had his moments in the role. The production is stylish and the programme is more popular than ever. So why does 21st century Doctor Who leave me in a state of massive indifference?
It would be very easy to follow the trend of slamming Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat for everything that I perceive is wrong with the series since it returned and it’s true that, as Executive Producers (or Show-runners if they insist), their position does point the finger somewhat squarely in their direction. However, for me, there’s something in the way the whole thing presents itself that turns me off that can’t be laid at the door of any one person.
I’ve never liked the 45 minute episode structure. I didn’t like it in the original series and I don’t like it now. Invariably we end up with good ideas let down by them having to be resolved hastily in the last five minutes. The loss of the serial nature of each story is something I miss. I enjoyed the way you came back for several weeks to find out what happened next and the trend over the last fifteen years for ‘arc’ story lines (not just in Doctor Who, but across practically all genre TV) just isn’t the same.
I listen regularly to the excellent Adventures In Time, Space and Music podcast and yesterday I heard the Matthew Sweet BBC Radio 4 documentary; Dance of the Daleks. What both of those show is how boringly predictable and mainstream the music for Doctor Who is now. That’s not to denigrate Murray Gold’s skill as a composer. He’s clearly very talented but when it started in 1963 Doctor Who broke the rules musically – it was like nothing else heard on TV. Now it sounds like everything heard on TV. It’s abundantly clear that the Radiophonic Workshop and all the people who worked there over the years had a dramatic input on the ‘feel’ of the programme and I really do miss that.
The companions of the 21st century feel less like normal people and more like wannabe-aspirational super-humans, taking every monster or alien in their stride, treating near-death experiences as though they mean nothing and showing little to no respect to the amazing, if flawed, man taking them around the universe. I won’t get into the whole debate about the added ‘emotional aspect’ to the show other than to say that some of the comments from the production office over the last seven years that have placed that development firmly at the doors of attracting female viewers display a level of cynicism and manipulation of which the Master would be proud, not to mention underestimating almost every female watching the show. (Having said that, I know several women who said they wouldn’t watch after David Tennant left because they didn’t fancy Matt Smith…)
Tom Spilsbury of DWM once wrote that he was fed up of hearing people define the two runs of the series as Classic or New – the 2005 series simply resumed the same programme it had always been. I see his point but there clearly is a striking difference between the original run and what we’ve seen since its return, even if it’s only on a production level. I’m not suggesting that the original run was perfect, on its shoestring budget with multi-camera shooting and often studio-bound restrictions – God knows that would be a hard one to argue – but, somewhat perversely, perhaps it’s the fact that Doctor Who looks so slick now and gets so much hype from the BBC and the people who work on it about how epic and wonderful each episode is, that I’m less able to forgive it’s faults.
I fully appreciate that times change and ways of producing television change – I’ve been watching Doctor Who for 35 years for goodness sake! I also realise that everything I’ve said can be taken by certain fans and used to hurl abuse at me for being a curmudgeonly old fart, or someone who doesn’t appreciate quality television etc etc. The truth is that I very much appreciate quality television and I haven’t quite turned 40 yet (still a few months to go), so I’m not old either. Interestingly, my ten year-old stepdaughter loves the show but when I ask if she wants to watch one, she invariably picks a story from the original run.
I continue to watch, safe in the knowledge that once in a while the series will play an absolute blinder. I’ve been a fan for over thirty years and, let’s be honest, am hardly likely to stop now – but it’s fair to say that the excitement that used to herald a new series passes me by these days. For a while I felt a bit guilty, almost traitorous that I wasn’t enjoying my favourite programme and became a victim of the fan forums if I dared voice an opinion that wasn’t overwhelmingly positive. Until I realised that this really isn’t the show I grew up with. I love the fact it’s popular with the mass-audience and is getting the recognition is deserves. There’s no doubting that it’s still one of the most imaginative programmes on modern television but, for better or worse, it’s regenerated and I prefer the old one. That doesn’t make me right or wrong, it’s just my opinion. Perhaps that opinion will change in time, I don’t know – but that’s the trouble with regeneration, you never quite know what you’re going to get.