Reality Checking

In the last few months, we’ve seen not just the new series of Who, but plenty of views expressed about the series.  I talked about Stephen Fry’s comments in my last post, but there was also Sir Terry Pratchett, saying that the show wasn’t so much as science fiction, but fantasy.  To be honest, I’m sort of with him there.  Neil Gaiman, for what it’s worth, pointed out (quite rightly) that the show has never pretended to be hard sci-fi – and I’m rather proud that it’s not.

When other shows like Star Trek have a writing team dedicated to making up mumbo-jumbo fake science language, it’s nice to have a traditionally British kind of show.  One that cannot be bothered to get up and switch the TV over, it’ll just wait on the sofa till someone else comes in.

But it’s not as if it matters a great deal – it’s still all wonderful escapism, right?

Or is it?  I’m not sure there’s ever been a time when this “children’s show” has ever reflected society so astutely and with such brilliant timing.  I mean, this year, we’ve had riffs on elections and decision-making the weekend before a general election.  And spitfires – albeit in space – the same year as the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.  And a football connection on the opening weekend of the world cup.  A finale planned and shot using specific dates.

That’s pretty impressive planning on behalf of Mr Moffatt, I would say.  It’s almost unbelievable to think that he’s been doing that while also teaching

Guy Ritchie how you update Sherlock Holmes without including Jude Law…

When RTD ran the show, I always got the feeling it just sort of, you know, rambled on – like it didn’t really belong in the same world.  Nothing real was allowed in and nothing out.  But I love the little connections.

I love watching things like Survival and remembering that Hale and Pace were once famous in this country.  I love seeing Stephen and Jamie on the screen and remembering that one was a Blue Peter presenter, the other spent years as a farmer on Emmerdale Farm (because it was still a farm then.  Oh how the reality hurts these days…).

But these days, we’re in the hands of someone taking us away from the soap opera in space style and back towards the show’s roots, finding writers who are able to grasp this, no matter how far removed they normally seem.  If Richard Curtis’ episode proved anything, it’s that the unexpected source is often the richest.  And if Chibnall’s proves anything, it’s that we should really try and avoid that again…

But I’m thrilled…  THRILLED that filming on Neil Gaiman’s episode is starting filming next month.  Gaiman’s writing has always been consistently great, he has an amazing ability to draw spectacle from something normal, unobtrusive  as well as the unknown and fantastical (very Who), and I think he’s always been counted as the dream writer fans would like to see working on the series.

I was convinced it was a cruel joke when it was announced he’d be writing for the next series, but it’s real, and there was apparently a photo on his twitter feed last week showing him, the Moff and Richard Curtis at a read-through.  I can’t find it on there, but then asking me to find something on Twitter is a bit like putting someone in a round room and telling them to stand in the corner…

(To one side, what was Curtis doing there?  Is he writing more?  I’ll be delighted if he is.)

But what excites me more than anything, is that Gaiman GETS Who.  Properly.  And this proves it beyond even the most unreasonable doubts:

“At best Doctor Who is a fairytale, with fairytale logic about this wonderful man in this big blue box who at the beginning of every story lands somewhere where there is a problem…”

Roll on next April!

Comments 16

  1. Once again I find myself agreeing with you Chris. Not long ago I purchased all the available Tom Baker DVDs, partly because he was the Who I grew up with and partly to compare more directly with the reboot. I have to say that much as enjoyed a lot of RTD stuff – pretty much all of Ecklestone and definitely The Girl in The Fire Place, Blink and Family of Blood, towards the end it became rather poorly arched melodrama. The latest series, whilst not necessarilly having the strongest story lines has easily had some of the best scripting and in Matt Smith easily the best (and most Who Who) since TB. There have been many moments of pure joy in this latest series and for once I’m looking forward to the Box Set. It is fantasy because it’s science does not overwhelm it, it is abou characters and relatiosn and not devices or formula.

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    Always nice to be agreed with… The problem, I think with RTD, was simply that what worked so, so well with Chris Ecclestone, just took over more and more as the series kept running. I’m not sure there are that many dud episodes in the first series, but it’s shooting fish in a barrel some of the time later on. RTD did write good stuff without lapsing into melodrama – Midnight and Turn Left spring to mind there, but I think the world he built up with David Tennant relied on Rose and the whole (rather nauseous at times) on/off romance story arc way too much. By the time that bit closed with the preposterous Children of Time bit, I was a bit sick of it, and definitely didn’t care like I was obviously meant to.

    Personally, and I know there are plenty who disagree, I’d make a strong case for The Unicorn and the Wasp for being one of the best constructed, written and performed stories of the last 5 years – in fact I did back in 2008 here:

    But that wasn’t part of the story arc in any significant way, and came off all the better for it. That was nearer the ideal Gaiman talks about – and while I don’t necessarily think it should always be funny, I don’t think it has to have an overall story arc to fit loosely into either. Sometimes, forgetting the arc is the best thing they can do.

  3. If that’s the Agatha Christie episode I agree. I also agree (in danger of sounding very sycophantic) that there were few duds. Whilst there was a real emotional intensity when rose was lost I think that was true for Family of Blood and Girl in the Fireplace. In the recent series, for all that it was a little hammy, the ending of Vincent was fantastic (I genuinely cried). I wonder someyimes whether the need to be ‘big’ and the values of special effects detracts from the connection with the episode. Watched the end of Tennant again the other night (it just happened to be on) and it felt much like the end of Torchwood with RTD putting away/destroying what had become very much HIS toys.

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    I think you’re right – RTD has a fantastic sense of what makes winning television – and certainly in the finales and the season openers, that took precedent over actual story. Family of Blood is excellent for all sorts of reasons, as is Girl in the Fireplace. But I completely agree with the view of The End Of TIme – it was kind of fun, but it was sort of the DW equivalent of The Lord of the Rings – could (and probably should) have ended half an hour or so before it actually did.

    Its strange, because I don’t actively dislike any of the first 4 series, I’d happily go back and watch it all from the beginning. But things like this still rankle…

  5. Have two major fans in the house so have had to watch all of the reboot seemingly endlessly. Have found the latest series far more fun, just because the dialogue seems far more carefully crafted. Slightly off topic, did you watch Sherlock Holmes last night. I was equally impressed by the acting/dialogue, but a little annoyed at the crtitics reference to Sherlock Who. Having said which Benedict Cumberbatch would make an interesting Dr.

    PS Do you write/perform at all? – apart from the Podcast, obviously.

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    I have Sherlock saved for this evening… I spent the best part of my school years carefully reading every Holmes story I could lay my hands on, so the very idea of Moffatt and Gatiss taking it on made me over-excited when I heard about it. All the trailers and clips I’ve seen have only heightened this, so I’m now counting the hours till I can sit down and watch it. I think the Sherlock Who comments were inevitable – although I think it may pass pretty quickly. Unless next week’s is called Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Weeping Angel or something…

    As for writing and performing: writing yes, performing rarely. I did some at uni – and loved it – but spent a lot more time on the writing then too. As for writing, I’ve written various things, and still have a pile of unfinished scripts and and things I have never quite got the courage to send off to people! Googling A Boy and His Monkey should bring up my own blog, which has some stuff that I’ve written on it, but the updating thing is a bit neglected at the moment…

  7. Chris Sygma still has two of the scripts I wrote (many moons ago) if you would care to puruse them. I have since then written the script for a musical (which was debuted by my writing partner’s theatre group in Australia earlier this year). If you’re ever interested in kicking any ideas about, please bear me in mind – I have for some time been trying to come up with ideas for a SciFi SitCom for radio.
    Best wishes

  8. I want to be excited about Neil Gaiman writing for Who.
    I know tons of smart people with great tastes in literature are just in love with the guy.
    I’ve just never been all that impressed with him.
    I read the first couple of issues of Sandman, it was OK, but kept thinking “why is this a comic book?” It may be a great story, but visually it was just some people standing around with their mouths open. That’s what novels are good for, I can’t stand comics where people just talk.
    Coraline was good, but pretty standard fantasy stuff, same deal with Stardust.
    Just the other day I checked out Neverwhere,
    That’s the guy all those people wanted to play the Doctor!?!
    Neverwhere was pretty disappointing. I only saw the first episode, just didn’t seem to have much to offer.
    I don’t dislike Gaiman particularly, I just don’t see what all the fuss is about.
    What has he done that’s really good that I should check out? Should I continue on with Neverwhere? does it get better?

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    I haven’t read any of Gaiman’s comic books. That might be a shocking thing to admit, but it is true… I know him only really as a novelist. Chris Sigma can give a better idea of whether Sandman is worth it…

    I have a lot of affection for Neverwhere, but that’s acknowledging its flaws… It started with a conversation between Neil and Lenny Henry, and the idea has always seemed a little bit stretched to work in a TV series with a modest budget, and all the technical problems with the filming. For me, the novelisation that Gaiman wrote afterwards better serves the idea.

    His sort of big hits in terms of novels are “American Gods” and “Anansi Boys” – and both well worth the praise and awards they won. But I would suggest looking to some more recent stuff to see why we should be excited. The short story collection “Smoke and Mirrors” is where I started and where I got hooked, and I’m reading “The Graveyard Book” at the moment, which is great, so I’d recommend that – it’s funny, clever and dark (despite being technically a kid’s book) – which seems to add up nicely for a Who episode…

    PS – Roger, I did see Sherlock on Monday night, and loved it. I will almost certainly write about that on here soon, amongst other things…

  10. cool, thanks.
    I’ll check out the rest of Neverwhere.
    I always hated Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and against my better judgment, I watched Firefly, which turned out to be a top to bottom absolute masterpiece!
    So I guess sometimes a writer doesn’t click with you and sometimes they do.
    I think Joss Whedon and I, are interested in a lot of the same things and have had a similar cultural experience. That worked against him in Buffy, It all seemed dry and boring, With borrowed elements I’d seen a thousand times before.
    -but then in Firefly it seemed like a brilliant recombination of elements that had added impact because of the familiarity.
    I think maybe Gaiman is a similar case, I like the elements- so he’ll probably click with me eventually.

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    Absolutely – it’s all about finding your way “in” to their work. There’s a tendency for enthusiastic people to go on and on about why they like something (check out the idiot saying this on the blog of the podcast about his favourite TV show…) and using those as a reason for others to love it. For me, that usually creates a whole host of reasons to dislike it… so I leave it a while then have a go at something that looks like it’ll be my cup of tea rather than listening to everyone’s advice. Hopefully, by then, I’ll have forgotten what made me want to dislike it.

    Only, on occasion, getting my own perspective on something hasn’t really helped me appreciate it any more. Star Trek is a good example – still not really sure why my friends raved about that constantly. I knew I was supposed to hang around with the geeks, but I had no idea what these guys were talking about. For me, Hyperdrive shows what the reality for the UK in space will be like – while being brilliantly funny.

    Superman too (he’s the most ridiculous superhero. Clearly. At least the others are a bit more modest and only have one or two special powers… but everything? In one guy? Frankly, I don’t believe a word of it. Plus, his weakness is a rock…)

    Firmly being on the Batman side of that argument, I would say that though, wouldn’t I? 🙂

  12. So I watched the rest of Neverwhere.
    I really enjoyed it.
    Once it goes full tilt fantasy/melodrama it really finds it’s footing.
    Thanks for the tip, I’m glad I went back and finished it.
    Star Trek, yeah. There’s a ton of it and a lot of it sucks.
    The key to enjoying Star Trek is finding it’s rhythm. If you sit down with the original series and do a little marathon you get a feel for it’s pacing and texture, It has a really cool leisurely, adult, optimism that’s hard to resist once you’re in the groove.

  13. I read Neverwhere years before I ever knew there’d been a TV show of it. The book is brilliant, very atmospheric, and incredibly scary in places, but then it relies on the reader’s imagination for the set design and casting. When I finally saw the show, I was completely underwhelmed. As is so often the case, expectation can undermine perception.

    Also read most of Gaiman’s comic work, including Sandman. The artists change with the story arcs, so don’t judge by the first chapter. Sam Kieth was, IMO, one of the least talented artists to work on the comic, and he’s who they led with. Wait until you see Charles Vess’ stuff before you decide to go no further.

  14. One of the reasons I hate living in America is that I’m so dissconnected with the culture behind my favorite show. It’s the only reason I watch TV. Although I do love the USA station. Anyway enough of my rambling. I completely agree about Superman, he’s too powerful, the only thing that makes the character better is the show smallville. Personally I like Spiderman the best for superheros.

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