Thursday, August 01, 2013

Hello, I Must Be Going (1)

In the future, everyone will be Doctor Who, but only for fifteen episodes.

I have become disengaged from Doctor Who.
Don't worry, this is not going to be one of those "I swear on Uncle Ben's grave, never again shall I watch this travesty" essays. I am sure that fourteen months from now I shall still be going on and on about how Patterson Joseph is not as good as Matt Smith.
But right now, I don't care, although I care very much about not caring. It no longer matters, but it matters that it doesn't matter. I imagine that this is what divorce or loss of faith would feel like. It doesn't, I am happy to say, feel anything like grief.
Matt Smith was what was keeping me watching; and Matt Smith is going. So we will have months and months of speculation, and two massively over-hyped specials. Then we will have a new series, though not for a year, in which yet another new actor has yet another go at figuring out what the new show is all about, and then quits when we have barely had time to get used to him.


When we hear that a comic or a book or a TV show which we quite liked is going to be turned into a movie, we go through three stages.  

Stage 1: Faith
The new movie is going to be the Exact Same Thing as the book or comic we loved so much, with the pictures we made up in our head magically translated onto the big screen. "Will Benedict Cumberbatch be playing that extremely obscure character that only fans remember?" we say "I wonder how he will deliver that particularly special line we love so much?" The answer always turns out to be "No, of course he won't" and "They not only cut that line, but cut the whole chapter and replaced it with a fight scene." But we still go through the "Faith" stage next time around.

Stage 2: Revulsion 
This stage is often very brief; no more than a momentary flinch or shudder when we realize that, in fact, the movie is going to take a sledge hammer to the book or comic we love so much. Arwen is going to wield a sword. Lois is going to know Superman's secret identity from the beginning. The Doctor is going to be Rassilon’s illegitimate son and the TARDIS is going to be a rap singer. They are taking out Captain Kirk altogether and replacing him with James Dean. We sometimes get angry at this point and say that no-one should be allowed to touch the icons of our collective past. We used to say that bad remakes and disappointing prequels were like "someone raping our childhood" but in the light of what has happened to the whole of 1970s popular culture, that analogy no longer seems in particularly good taste.

Stage 3: Retrenchment  
Once we reach this stage, we claim it is the only reaction we ever had, or anyone could ever have. We never remotely expected the movie to be anything like the book. Anyone who did expect that is a colossal geek. Just because Tom Baker didn't play the Doctor as a US marine with an assault rifle it doesn't follow that no-one can play the Doctor as a US marine with an assault rifle. You have to put all thoughts of the original book, comic or TV show out of your head and ask "Was it or was it not a good movie?" And if you reply "No" then that also proves you are a colossal geek.
And, indeed, there are no hard and fast rules, about turning books into movies or anything else. Maybe you can re-imagine Hamlet as a ninja and make it work. People have successfully turned samurai into cowboys and back again. But if I am excited about the idea of a new Star Wars movie (and, with a hundred yards of reservations, I really am) then I'm excited because I want to see X-Wing Fighters, lightsabers and Luke Skywalker's kids. If I find they've cut out all the space ships and lightsabers and replaced them with bum-jokes and flirting then I have the right to become disengaged. "But was it a good movie in its own right?" is a non sequitur. I wasn't promised a good movie in it's own right. I was promised a sequel to Star Wars.


As we go through the triennial "could the Doctor be black" argument, many of us are getting are our retrenchment in first. Don't ask how an ethnic minority Doctor, or a female Doctor, or a female ethnic minority Doctor might be consistent with or inconsistent with what Doctor Who has been up to now. Ask only if it is a good TV series in it's own right.


This essay is going to form the epilogue to the next volume of my collected Doctor Who essays, tentatively entitled "The Viewers Tale vol 4." 

The book will also include the long essay on different approaches to Doctor Who, the essays about season 7 that have already appeared here, and the unpublished essays on The One With The Daleks, The One With the Dinosaurs, The One With The Cowboys, The One With The Cubes, The One in New York, and The Christmas One. 

The book will be avaiable, on Lulu and Amazon in due course. 

In the meantime, the complete text of this essay and the unpublished reviews are available as a PDF, Epub and Mobi in return for a suggested donation of £2. Like Kickstarter only without the grief. 

People who have previously sent me money should already have recieved the PDF and are not allowed to donate again.