The magazine Doctor Who Monthly runs a readers’ poll every season. This year, one reader couldn’t even wait until the end of the run before sharing. He gave every story the lowest possible mark (‘Awful’), including those he hadn’t seen. He hated every villain that wasn’t a Dalek, and called for Matt Smith to be replaced and Steven Moffat to leave the show. Favourite special effect? “Not interested”. Favourite line of dialogue? “None”.
Editor Tom Spilsbury won’t give any details, but did say that the reader is in his mid-40s. Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a middle-aged man watching Doctor Who. It’s a show for the kid in us all, and that’s one of the reasons for its success. But anywhere past your teens and you’re not the target audience, you’re a guest. A welcome guest, for sure. But a guest needs to know how to behave.
There are aspects of the show that I think work well and others that rub me up the wrong way (coughRiverSongcough) but I wouldn’t dream of getting exercised over them, nor of demanding that the show be retuned to my preferences. We can all have an opinion about what works and what doesn’t but when it comes to what goes in, the young audience is the one that matters most.
I’ll confess my unease at the recent BBC-backed convention that discouraged children from attending. It wasn’t a cultural studies symposium, it was a fan convention. But an adults-only Who feels… wrong. Take the kids out of the equation, and it’s like messing with the gravitational balance of the Whoniverse. To me the most joyous part about New Who is seeing adults and kids together, parents sharing and passing on their renewed sense of wonder, a cameraderie that crosses age barriers. Those adults who gather in pubs to discuss it amongst themselves are connecting over something that started inside them long ago.
If it’s going down well with the kids in a way that doesn’t suit some adults, that’s a pity but it’s not for us to hijack it, nor to pester the driver by clamouring for his personal attention. When the kids are turning away, that’s when it becomes a serious matter for the showrunner to ponder. And it’s bad enough having to deal with notes from executives, without viewers trying to get in on the act. When it comes to someone else’s TV show I consider myself a consumer, not a stakeholder, and for very good reason. I don’t seek to be given exactly what I want. I’m looking for discovery. The risk of disappointment is the necessary downside of wonder.
And disappointment seems to come very easily to many people, these days, with every new genre piece being released to the sound of sharpening knives. Our culture has become like a birthing pool full of crocodiles. There was a time when the response to new material was to invest in it, meet it halfway, go all the way to find something to love in it, should it happen to be a Plan 9 or a Robot Monster.
Now, like the twerp who logs in to Amazon and one-stars every piece of PC software because it won’t run on his Mac, the default setting seems to be one of outrage that our specific expectations haven’t been met.
And speaking as someone who spent a childhood lost in awe, oblivious to wires, zips, obvious model work, corny dialogue, and stories that didn’t always make sense, I think we’re the poorer for it.