Thursday, April 04, 2013

Who Remembered Hills (4)

So, I suppose, we come to my approach, which is really a complete lack of an approach. If the second approach says "What does Doctor Who mean to me?" and the third approach says "What does Doctor Who mean?" I am more inclined to ask "What is Doctor Who like?" Or, more simply,  "What is Doctor Who?"

Anyone who thinks that this approach could be described as "phenomenological" is invited to leave, right now.

Of course, Doctor Who is an historical and biographical phenomenon. It's a TV show that we saw at a particular time and in a particular place and because there is a so much of it those times and places carry on being pretty important to how we think about it. But not the only important thing. 

If you showed me an old episode of Rentaghost (or Basil Brush or Hope & Keen's Crazy Bus -- remember that?) I believe that I could recover the original sitz in lieben without to much difficulty. But it wouldn't be a very interesting thing to do, because Basil Brush and Rentaghost are not very interesting television programmes, unless you have a liking for incredibly contrived puns, which admittedly I do. Once I had said "Oh god, I remember that one! I was in Miss Walker's class! It was the week Graham got spanked for calling the dinner lady a Fat Cow! The joke about Timothy Claypole and the ladder practically made me wet myself" I would have said everything that could be said. [*] They may have great sentimental value, but they have practically no value in themselves. 

On the other hand I have absolutely no idea where I was when I first saw City on the Edge of Forever, and even if I did, it wouldn't matter. If I were to talk about Star Trek, you'd expect me to talk about allegories and moral dilemmas and sexism and the Cold War, but who I was when I first saw it would be irrelevant. The programme is just not entwined in our lives in that way. It's a text; it's only a text; it's always only been a text. It may have considerable intrinsic worth, but it has very little sentimental value. 

And you would think it very odd indeed if I tried to do Shakespearean criticism in terms of first seeing King Lear when I was sixteen and the seats being uncomfortable. I suppose I might possibly say "When I first saw King Lear, I thought it was going to have a happy ending, and was shocked when Lear brought in the dead Cordelia" but that would only be a rather pointed way of saying "The ending really is quite surprising". Some people say "I hate Shakespeare because Miss Muir made me copy out a long passage as a punishment for calling the dinner lady an old cow" but one feels they are mostly missing the point of Shakespeare. 

Doctor Who pretty clearly lies half-way between Star Trek and Rentaghost, and you are cordially invited not to take that remark out of context. I can certainly tell you where and when I was when I first saw Destiny of the Daleks. I can probably reconstruct my original reaction to the Romana Regeneration pretty well. My overwhelming feelings were personal betrayal. It was well known at school that I was a Doctor Who fan, and I knew from the moment it started that this story was going to be silly in a way that would rob me of whatever shred of credibility I might retain in the playground i.e none whatsoever. I also experienced confusion, if not actual cognitive dissonance, which would, if I had put it into words, have come out as: "Oh, does regeneration work like that? I thought it worked like this. I must have missed something. I wish I had been born in 1955. Then I would have understood that scene." But I was delighted with the little Hitchhikers in-joke [**] and loved the fact that the Daleks were in it. I suppose I was already experiencing the programme through the lens of Doctor Who fandom: I liked to see the Daleks on the screen because Daleks had been part of Doctor Who in the olden days so every time I saw the Daleks I felt more like a Wise Old Fan.

But if that was all there was to say about Destiny of the Daleks, there would be hardly any point in saying anything at all. Trying to use fourteen-year-old Me's emotions to limit what it means, or can mean, for thirty-something me is as silly as invoking "canon" to make my version right and your version wrong.

Rentaghost is something which we used to like. Destiny of the Daleks is something which we like.


[*] Mr Claypole: To Majorca? Will that not involve many months at sea?

Mr Mumford: Ah! In the modern era, we have invented a machine that means that human beings are no longer limited to the ground, but can raise themselves high above the earth...

Mr Claypole: Oh, we has such a device in medieval times as well. We called it a ladder. Why are your parents taking a ladder to Majorca?

Mr Mumford: Oh, for pete's sake.

Mr Claypole: Ah. Peter has no ladder of his own...


Mr Claypole: (To Mr and Mrs Mumford) I understand that you are taking a ladder to Majorca? For the sake of Peter?

[**] The Doctor is briefly seen reading a book by Oolon Coloophid. Why do I keep footnoting things you already knew?


Tilt Araiza said...

This reminds me of something I've been discussing with the dreaded Hickey recently. One trap laid for critics of Who (especially NuWho) if they attack its worth as a text, is to treat it as a life experience, even if your original argument was about its quality as a text.

"That was great drama."
"It didn't make any sense."
"Oh, shut up! My 7-year-old loved it."

That way, the critic looks like the guy who brought a Star Trek to a Rentaghost fight.

Mike Taylor said...

"Doctor Who pretty clearly lies half-way between Star Trek and ..."

... Shakespeare! He's going to to say Shakespeare!

"... Rentaghost"

Oh well.

Andrew Hickey said...

I think even out of context, "between Star Trek and Rentaghost" sums up Who pretty well, and not in a bad way at all... if there was a new show on TV now that was promoted as "halfway between Star Trek and Rentaghost" I'd at least have to give it a go...