To quote The Fast Show, this week I has mostly been watching Doctor Who.
I hadn’t seen the show in at least a couple of years and, frankly, I took one look at Matt Smith in pre-publicity and thought WTF? He’s twelve! and so wasn’t too encouraged to visit again. The enthusiasm of friends did little to influence me because, frankly again, I have some dear friends who often enthuse about total crap.
For me, relaunched Who had been rather like Jonathan Creek, a steady evolution from the fresh and ingenious to the forced and ludicrous. In Creek‘s case I think the explanation was simple, over-working its creator instead of putting him in charge of a crew. I have no theory for why I went off Who. It wasn’t because of Tennant, who (in disagreement with Good Dog) I thought was pretty good.
It was just that the episodes piled up on my DVR and when they’ve been doing that for a while, you know the technology is trying to tell you something. I singled out Blink and watched that, but only because it was Moffat and Moffat always seemed to think at right-angles to the routine. Blink was exceptional. But exceptions don’t change the landscape, they just stick out of it. And the landscape seemed increasingly to consist of stories that often didn’t work coupled with a grating obsession with chav culture.
All of this left me with mixed feelings about the achievement of Russell T Davies. Because let’s face it, he did something remarkable. These days you can’t move in the BBC without someone telling you how hard they fought to help the show get back on the air. But the truth is that until its popular success, Doctor Who was an object of institutional disdain. Its fans were ridiculed as sad, arrested people in love with ropy makeup and wobbly scenery. But I’ve said it before. No one ever loved Doctor Who for its bargain-basement production values. They loved it in spite of them. Davies pulled out the core values of the show and delivered something smart, modern, new, and entirely familiar.
But I think it was some time around 2007 that we were walking one weekend in the Yorkshire Dales, and fell in for a mile or so with an American backpacker of around thirty years old who volunteered that he was a Doctor Who fan. I didn’t mention that I had any connection with the show. I tend not to in those situations. Partly because my experience must seem like ancient history (I was 25 when I wrote Warriors’ Gate) and partly because I don’t want to be taken for a liar or, even worse, a smug twat.
But of RTD he said, “The episodes that he produced and didn’t write are always better than the ones with his name on them.” Which pretty much nailed the thought that I’d been circling around. I was letting stories that I didn’t enjoy colour my appreciation of a producing triumph.
So, fast forward. Over the Easter weekend I borrowed the Season 5 boxed set, mainly to try out the new Blu-Ray player that I’m too cheap to buy discs for. I was only going to sample an episode but I’ve been charging through them at the rate of three a night. Smith’s as good as they say. Better, even. I still think he’s twelve but it’s not the problem I imagined. It’s a less sentimental, more honestly-felt show and I think Moffat’s nailed it with his Peter Pan/Wendy take on the core characters and their situation.
OK, I’m back in. By Saturday I’ll have caught up.
But here’s something. While I was on hiatus from Who, I did watch Sherlock. And during my week-long blitz something jumped out at me.
They’re the same characters. It’s the same show.