Sunday, April 07, 2013

Who Remembered Hills (7)

It would be very easy to make a list of thing which Star Trek had in common with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

  • Series of fifty minute episodes 
  • Humanistic in outlook 
  • Idealized humans encountered aliens who were mainly characterized by cultural differences. 
  • Human / alien conflicts generally settled peacefully 
  • Conflicts involve a moral dilemma without a right answer 
  • Often involved not-very subtle metaphors for some contemporary issue 
  • Had Gene Roddenbury at the helm

I could, if you wished, add to that list:

  • Included characters called 'Vulcans' 
  • Included characters called 'Klingons 
  • Space ships said to have 'warp drive'

And I suppose that there are people who like Star Trek because it contains Vulcans, Klingons and warp drives; who will put the Star Trek label on anything with Vulcans, Klingons and warp drives and who will take it for granted that anything with the label Star Trek on it is great, even if it even if it re-imagines Captain Kirk as James fucking Dean. But they are wrong. Love it or hate it Star Trek is a type of story; an approach to story telling. You could cut out all the window dressing and still be left with something that was recognisably Star Trek. Abrams cut out everything that was recognisably Star Trek, left us with the window dressing, or at least a sort of parody version of the window dressing, and has now been commissioned to destroy Star Wars as well.

If we tried to do the same exercise with New Who and Old Who, we wouldn't get very far. 

  • Hero is an alien 
  • Travels through time and space 
  • Travels with pretty ladies.  
  • Helps people 
  • Mostly helps people foil alien invasions. 

Or, in fact:

  • Hero travels around and does stuff.

Not much to go on, is it? 

The best definition anyone has so far come up with is "it's all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism" which doesn't get us that much further. And it is the council of despair to say "The essence of Doctor Who is that its essence constantly changing" or "The essence of Doctor Who is that it doesn't have an essence". That's too much like one of those dreadful politicians who say "The French are characterized by their liking for good food; the Arabs by their hospitality; the Japanese by their honour; but the English are characterised by not having a national character but putting up with French, Japanese and Arab johnnies with their funny foreign ideas about food and etiquette." 

So we fall back on characteristics like 

  • Has Silurians 
  • Has Daleks 
  • Has Cybermen
  • Has Tardis
  • Has Sonic Screwdriver
  • Has Time Lords

And cool as some of the Doctor Who window dressing undoubtedly was, and indeed is, the fact that I used to like a TV series in which there was a blue police box with a control room inside it is not much guarantee that I will like a new series in which there is a blue police box with a completely different control room inside it. Some fans do talk as if the presence of some icon or bit of jargon from the old series is a sacred guarantor that New Who is still carrying the torch of Old Who and that there is some corner of a foreign field which is forever 1976. Which is why "Will there be any old monsters?" is such a totemic question. From the beginning of the 1980s, the old show had a fan adviser (cough, cough, Ian Levine, cough, cough) who would ensure that magic words like "UNIT" and "fluid link" were sometimes uttered by Peter Davison. The show honouring its history, they called it. For half a season, we were all ecstatic. Then it got cancelled.



Mike Taylor said...

The best definition anyone has so far come up with is "it's all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism" which doesn't get us that much further.

It seems odd to throw this in and dismiss it without and second (or indeed first) thought. It's surely much close to the heart of Who than anything else you've discussed in this series.

I would say that (with a few aberations, mostly well motivated) the Doctor in all his incarnations is consistently characterised by a relentless curiosity, a sympathy for the underdog, a disdain for violence (even as a response to violence), a reluctance to see the end of any race, an affinity for children, a tenderness towards empathy and compassion, a facility with words, a capacity for the unexpected, and of course raw intelligence.

These are not trivial characteristics. They are important, distressingly rare in hero characters, and (I would argue) almost wholly admirable. You only have to compare the character of the Doctor with that of the supposed heroes in The Dreadful Torchwood to see what a very different beast Doctor Who is.

So I remain fascinated to see where you're going with all this, but I think in service of your notion that there is really no such thing as Doctor Who, you're not just throwing the baby out with the bathwater but the whole darned bath.

Andrew Rilstone said...

SPOILER WARNING: I am not, in that sense, g oing anywhere with this: I never am.

SPOILER 2: I an doing my best to catch up with Season 7a and 7b review wise, and might go back and do 6. (whether or nit i will really number the collected volumes out of order remains to be seen)

not quite getting the hnanf of typing on a ipad, but reading lots of old comics and some mainstream e- books

Anonymous said...

Are you familiar with the term 'database animal'? Because that seems to be what you're getting at here.