Friday, 25 December 2009

Journey's End

I always said I'd stick with Doctor Who until the end of time.

My associate Tat Wood - who, if you're wondering about our relationship, swings erratically between "my wise and trusted friend" and "that git I'd like to punch in the face, very hard and quite often" - is delighted by the prospect of 2010. He's delighted because he wants to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of "Meglos". Not because he actually likes it, you understand: he finds it appealing because he sees it as the ultimate rite of passage, the event you have to sit through if you want to call yourself a Doctor Who fan and prove that you're capable of chewing the gristle as well as swallowing the steak. It's not the worst Doctor Who story ever made, as even Tat would agree. It's just the epitome of wig-wearing, badly-conceived-planet-bearing, late-'70s-but-in-the-early-'80s stupidity. Survive it while treating it as proper television, not making jokes about Space: 1999 or UFO (or Star Maidens, as Tat recently pointed out to me), and you'll be a man, my son. Or a woman, my daughter. No, probably a man, no woman would bother.

Many different geeks of many different hues will be reading this, quite possibly including Tat himself. So I'll divide the comments into discreet paragraphs. And, indeed, discrete paragraphs.

DON'T READ THIS IF YOU THINK THE MULTIPLE SUNS OF "PLANET OF THE DEAD" SHINE OUT OF RUSSELL T. DAVIES. I'm writing these words one day before "The End of Time" (i.e. it's Christmas Eve where I am), but I think we've all seen the pictures of the cactus-faced people from the Christmas / New Year story, even in the Radio Times. Which makes me wonder… if "The End of Time" is reaching its conclusion on the first day of 2010, then is Big Russell also celebrating thirty years of "Meglos"? Does he recognise his own failure, and want to express it in xerophyte form? Is he subconsciously saying "Praise Be to Ti"? Or what?

DON'T READ THIS IF YOU'RE TAT. I REPEAT, DON'T READ THIS IF YOU'RE TAT. Yeah, right, "Meglos" is the stupid-looking one. You know what Tat's idea of greatness is? "The Stones of Blood". In my book, that isn't even broadcastable. Not that I actually like "Meglos". I'm just saying.

Yet, as per usual, Tat makes a good point which we can only see clearly after we've finished swearing at him. Like an aristocrat (in the proper Ted-and-Ralph way, not the being-a-prince-and-dressing-as-a-Nazi way… oh, all right, in the Lady Michelle Ryan's Big Gold Cup way rather than the Slug King from "The Twin Dilemma" on His Evil Throne way), Tat thinks about generations rather than moments. So we should follow his lead and consider the future. Specifically, how the people to come will see this programme.



Look, I'm sorry to say this, but it's probably time. Russell T. Davies made Doctor Who unkillable by bringing it back in the 2005 style, for which we should thank him. It went against all the rules of TV in the middle of what we're now supposed to call the Noughties, and it won. It bloody won. Of course, in the process, it spawned a number of imitators. All of whom kept the format, but abandoned the risks. Robin Hood? Doctor Who with macho. Merlin? Doctor Who with spells (watch it back-to-back with "The Shakespeare Code", and see what strikes you). Spooks…? Well, Spooks was "conceptualised" even before Chris Ecc, but it's now feeding off David Tennant's prajna in a big way. However, human entropy insists on turning all good ideas into cack, and we can see it here. People copy Doctor Who; Doctor Who-makers go to BAFTA ceremonies, where they rub various body-parts with the folk who do the copying; the Doctor Who-makers start to believe that the flattery must be true, and ergo start making a version of Doctor Who which copies the copies. The result is a levelling-out of energy that makes Our Programme look more banal with every episode.

It's unkillable, but it's wrong. Thrice-wrong now that the series has taken the coward's route, and replaced Tennant with a poxy, gormless, quasi-sexy young Doctor who might possibly turn out to be Tennant II in the public imagination. It is, if you will, like the undying corpse in eternal agony who turns up in Tales from the Crypt. Future generations will remember this series as "One of Those CGI Programmes", and it's apt that Russell T. has compared the indestructible central character with Sherlock Holmes, given that Sherlock Holmes is now the title of an FX-driven film which also has very little to do with the original. It's tempting to go for the easy shot, and point out that Big Him is now living in Los Angeles, yet the truth is that we should've known something was wrong as soon as "The Sound of Drums" showed us a version of modern-day Britain in which nobody exists unless they’re on TV.

All right, I'll say it. I hate this programme now. I hate the way that David Tennant - a brilliant, scintillating young actor, half a decade ago - has been turned into the laziest hack in the country thanks to even-lazier writers who earn their keep by scripting "things David Tennant always does as the Doctor". I hate the self-indulgent, ultra-masturbatory drivel that comes from treating the male lead as an object of fetishism ("Forest of the Dead" was bad enough, but the final minutes of "The Waters of Mars" were an insult to all human intelligence). I hate the fact that Doctor Who no longer means "going to strange places and seeing what happens", but "casting celebrities and seeing how much publicity we can get by putting them next to shite CGI monsters". I hate the thought that the mythology with which I grew up is now being re-routed for idiots who like superhero movies. "Talky bit, suggested menace, special effects set-piece, talky bit with sad orchestral music, set-piece number two, increase in menace, effects climax, hugs."

Hey, but it's Christmas! So look on the bright side. Next year, we get a whole series run by Moffat. The man whom Russell T. Davies cited as having solid gold brain-cells (even though his ideas ran out even before he became producer and chief writer, unless "Silence in the Library" really was a demo script he wrote in 1992, as many of us have suspected); the man who went on record as saying that he doesn't want to be remembered as the one who "broke Doctor Who" (bit late to worry now… he broke it with "The Girl in the Fireplace", a story which was quite good in itself - at least, when there were killer clockwork robots on the screen and the author didn't have to pretend to care about credible female characters - but which damned the series to an eternity of inane pretend-sexiness). And look what he's giving us! Churchill and the Daleks. A two-part Silurian story written by Chris Chibnall. Richard f***ing Curtis. Some of these are still in the "unconfirmed" file, but the fact that they even exist as rumours should tell you everything you need to know. Anyone would think the new boss is deliberately hiring the worst people imaginable, just to make himself look good. Except that he's also (supposedly) doing a two-parter which involves both Professor River Song and the Weeping Angels. Riiight. Big new ideas.

I've said, over and over, that the Doctor Who spin-offs might have been world-exploding if they'd been controlled by vaguely competent people. Instead, BBC Wales hired Chibnall for one, and then managed to sink even deeper into the offal-pit of ineptitude by finding Phil Ford for the other. Now Doctor Who itself is about to be run by the worst possible person, not because Moffat is a bad writer in himself - he isn't, and if those of you who still resent me would like to re-examine that "Pissing Blink" comment, then I think you'll find I was praising him for a certain sort of script - but because he's always going to take the easy option. This is, and always was, a programme about experiment and experience. It's the highest point of licence-fee telly. Nowadays, though, its creators always play safe.

What I want for Christmas, geek-wise? A Doctor Who writer with balls. Or ovaries, they'll do. Glands of any description would be good. But given the line-up for 2010… may I skip out now? I really, really, really, really don't want to see what happens next. I'm sure that the older nerdlings among us have felt the desire to give up at some point, the way I did during the cold, stark horror of Season 24, or in the most insipid period of the BBC Books run, or after "The Impossible Planet". But they were all cases of Doctor Who being Not Very Good. Now it's different. Now it's a case of Doctor Who being… well, nasty. Cynical. Smug.

Of course, I'll take it all back if "The End of Time" turns out to be half-decent.

DON'T READ THIS UNLESS YOU'RE ACTUALLY MOFFAT. "Mangling the English language"…? Is that really the strongest comeback you can manage? You're becoming complacent, y'old twat. You can do better than clich├ęs. And please do so, or everyone else will want to give you a good slap as well.