Sunday, 7 September 2014

Doctor Who, and possibly Why

I had my first proper look at Malcolm Tucker as the new Doctor last week, albeit in the second episode as my ten-year old decided to unilaterally delete the first episode off our PVR.

Not as sweary as I expected, particularly when the dalek presented him with the perfect opportunity to say something akin to 'a face like Dot Cotton licking piss off a nettle' which, if I ever get to use in context, I'll go to my grave a happy man.  But then, I suppose it's children's telly not politics.

First up, I have something of a problem with the new Doctor Who and have had since Christopher Ecclestone was (mis)cast in the role, to the extent I've probably only seen half a dozen of the twenty-first century version.  It's a problem that I've found hard to pin down.

In part it's down to a suspicion of the gloss and special effects over the creak of the older version.  But I know that's a bit like saying you preferred your football team when they'd scrape a nil-nil draw against Huddersfield rather than after they got bought out by an oil sheik and brought a load of Latin magicians in: just reactionary old codger-isms.

I like to think my issues are more story based.  I remember the stories taking themselves seriously (which probably means they came across as pretentious as well as portentous) rather than being knowingly silly (and is it me or have they got sillier since the last series?).  I liked the four 25 minute episodes ending with cliff hangers rather than one hour long story for the soundbite generation.  Room for more story, rather than room for more stories.  My recollection (and that's all the research I'm basing this on) is that the old Doctor had a tipping point that he had to be taken to to intervene - didn't he even have a rule not to interfere? - which gave a depth to the narrative.

I can see the temptation to ignore that so the Doctor can come out all quips blazing - but then again I can see the temptation for crack.

It's not that it's a children's program and I'm now all grown up - I thought The Sarah Jane Adventures which I watched with the kids generally excellent.  And I'm delighted for its success for the people of Wales where it's practically replaced the coal industry.

There was a moment in hokum which really made me think bout story structure (can you tell I wasn't really wrapped up in what was happening?).  In a very Star Trek landing-party moment (red tops always draw the short straw), in order to get inside the dalek the doctor and chums have to shrink.  There's a machine to do just that.  How fortuitous.

My approach to the story would have been to make the shrinking machine (it had a nice sci-fi name which escapes me now) a point of risk, a tool to be used only when the need to do so outweighs the damage it could do.  A tipping point.  The act one/two break.  Not so much as deus ex machina as deus lying around on the stage just waiting to be asked to intervene.  But, no, the writers just hand the story a resolution before we've had time to dwell on the problem to be solved.

There's a reason why stories have had a beginning, middle and end and why that works and starting in the middle doesn't and this felt straight into act two.

Then again, they're highly paid, successful writers and I'm still pinging stories at SFWA-accredited markets which come back home like pigeons.  Perhaps it's me clinging to old story conventions: no, no, you always leave the bottom button of a waistcoat undone? why? pah! what's that? no waistcoat? no tie?! a pierced nipple?!!

Who knows...

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