This is about Fandom. The wonders of it, and the horrible way it can really obstruct other people’s enjoyment of things.
Doctor Who fans, in general (I think) are a wonderful bunch of people. They vary hugely in every way, and cover several generations. Even the younger fans seem to be able to intelligently hold their own in debates over whether the Slitheen should make a wiffy return, or if the Daleks really are the meanest baddies in the “Whoniverse”.
(Incidentally, my pedantic side picked up on something that was said by a 12-year-old fan in a podcast I heard recently. He said that he’d seen “just about all the classic series, which is an achievement for a child of just twelve years of age.” I agree. Especially since many episodes haven’t existed on video since the late 60s/early 70s…)
But there are some who are so set in their ways, so convinced that what went before is better than it can ever be again, that with every new idea, every new theory of the doctor’s past or the development of any plot line that has been used before, that they become willfully destructive and just blow up at the slightest provocation.
So we come to The Doctor’s Daughter. This isn’t a review, as I haven’t seen it yet, but a reflection of the controversy in fandom about this.
This is what is happening, as far as I can tell:
Firstly, people are up in arms that the title is so deliberately provocotive and controversial.
Secondly, the mere idea that the Doctor can have a daughter is appalling to some.
There is something that would counter both of these, to some extent. To find it, let’s quickly hop back to 23 November 1963…
The first Doctor travels with three people, to start with, at least. Two are teachers from a school. The other is his “Grandaughter”. Grandaughter. There you go. That might go some way to explain why the Doctor having a daugher isn’t as controversial as it seems. If the Doctor had a Grandaughter, its a fairly safe assumption that there would have been a generation in between. Perhaps, say, a daughter. And as for the title being deliberately provocotive and controversial… it got you talking about it, didn’t it… What else is it supposed to do?!
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Doctor Who is cool right now. And its been a long time coming – ever since the mid-80s when Michael Grade got his dirty hands in the pie and started to mess with it, Doctor Who hasn’t been cool. But now, we have a wealth of excellent stuff coming our way – really well-written, produced and performed audio adventures, a TV reincarnation that is better than any of us scarcely believed could have happened, books and new releases of Classic Who coming out of our ears. We have more and more fans – many of them young – joining us, and discovering what helped us through our formative years.
I don’t see the harm in playing with some of the old elements – there are new viewers to entertain these days, and its something that fans should be used to by now. This is our Doctor still, very identifiably our Doctor. But the old days are now a reference in something new and fresh and exciting. I was thrilled just to hear the name of Sir Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart being mentioned in The Poison Sky – he is a legend and I love watching old episodes with him and his UNIT colleagues. But to bring him back now would have been wrong. Even more than it was in Battlefield.
There’s no doubting it, the Doctor has changed. He’s had to. With TV and drama in particular the way it is now, there’s no way he could have returned meandering around for 20 minutes each week, no matter how well written the stories. I know some die-hard fans don’t like the 45 minute format. I’m not entirely sure I am totally with this either – but its the way things are done now. Doctor Who could not compete with US drama or what’s being produced on a regular basis by the BBC, without being dynamic and bold. Being the wonderful and ageing BBC Statesman, strolling round the corridors of Television Centre, is no longer an option.
This Doctor is young and exciting. He makes kids want to be like him. Just like Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Jon Pertwee, Colin Baker, Sylv McCoy and the rest did for us. A whole new generation of kids are pretending to battle Cybermen and Daleks in school playgrounds at break time. Isn’t that more important than if the Doctor’s hair is exactly the same two weeks in a row, or if they do something that contradicts a line in The War Machines?
And so what if this Doctor wears a suit with trainers? The one before wore a leather jacket. I think its a slight improvement on a question-mark-emblazoned tank-top or a coat that looks like he just mugged a passing gypsy. Don’t you?
Do you remember that feeling when you were little, when Christmas came round, and you got exactly what you wanted in every way… and then discovered it wasn’t quite as brilliant as you thought it would be?
I don’t know whether I should be disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the story – and I think the Sontarans are a wonderful baddie. I am, and always have been, a UNIT fan. DT was brilliant as usual, Donna bearable, and Martha was excellent. But I feel cheated. I went on a nostalgic trip after I saw The Poison Sky, and it only made things worse, and because I particularly like the Sontarans and I want to share my pain, I’m going to go a bit geeky on this episode’s ass.
After I saw this episode, I watched the first ever Sontaran story. A real cracker starring Jon Pertwee – The Time Warrior. Then I sat, and I thought back to classic adventures, including the first two or three Sontaran stories, and I feel like they’ve missed something big with the new one. A classic story – particularly of the 4-6 part Pertwee stories would consist of the first part being the Doctor and Liz/Jo/Sarah investigating something – just like the ATMOS device – and then calling UNIT in as they think there’s something suspicious.
We didn’t get that. The Doctor and Donna turned up halfway through the UNIT investigation.
We’d then be treated to a final part full of suspense-filled, thrilling denoument, topped off with a moment or two of humourous banter or slower reflection.
Out of two 45 minute episodes, we got about ten whole minutes of conclusion. One short, sharp UNIT assault, using amour-piercing bullets. One hastily-assembled atmosphere changer to fix the earth. One teleporter, and one more explosion. That’s it.
Ok, factor in the surprising change of heart from Luke Rattigan, who finally made something of his genius and sacrificed himself to save the Doctor and protect the earth. And because I don’t want Andrew to be wrong – maybe that was the comuppance he deserved for throwing his lot in with some squat Mr Potato Head alien types.
Despite that, I really enjoyed it. It was pacy, suspense-filled and good fun. But I do think it was badly-structured. Its the first time I’ve had the inclination to criticise the new series, and I feel awkward. But it was too-weighted on setting-up the end and had a storyline that didn’t entirely add up.
Let me explain: The Sontarans are cloned war machines, basically. They are totally focussed on war. They do anything and everything they can to fight – and ultimately to die. The term “one-track-mind” was invented for them, I’m sure. So would they really have decided to take some time out of their war to come to a planet like earth, team up with a teenage genius to gas the world’s population so they could use it as a clone-production world? Surely that’s far too crafty for Sontarans?
This is the trouble with bringing back older monsters. Its like the myth about Daleks not being able to climb stairs (they can – watch Rememberance of the Daleks if you don’t believe me – the cliffhanger to episode 1 is the Doctor being chased up a flight of stairs in the school basement by a dalek.), the Sontarans already have attributes and characters to fall back on. Their behaviour in the story was fine – and the two commanders were brilliantly written – and performed… Yet another blast from my comedy-watching past in Christopher Ryan making the small leap from Mike in the Young Ones to a Sontaran Commander… But it all worked well, and I absolutely loved it. Except for the mind-bogglingly layered “Stratagem”…
But I tell you what, if you either a) don’t have a clue about previous Sontaran stories, and/or b) are able to watch it all and keep your geeky tendancies quiet – like I had to – then this is brilliant. My reflection on it might be a bit lukewarm after I’ve had time to think about it a bit, but my reaction when I saw it was complete joy – and I’ll be happy to see this again (and again)!
Oh, and the icing on the cake… Martha’s in the next one too! Hurrah!