I'm an uncomplicated sort of chap. I like what I like, because I think what I like is good in ways that appeal to me. I don't like what I don't like, because I don't think what I don't like is good in ways that appeal to me (though it may be good in other ways). I don't do the irony thing. I don't do camp, in the more generalised non-Julian-and-Sandy sense in which it is now applied to telly programmes more than three years old. I don't profess to like things because I think they're bad.
I loved Doctor Who. Right from the start. My feeling for it was so big it completely dwarfed my physical body and extended some hundreds of miles beyond the van Allen belt. And we're talking about the original Doctor Who here, the one everybody is so knowing and indulgent about now. Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Baker T. They were all “my” Doctors. About the time of Davison I began to get a little uneasy, and I missed quite a lot of Baker C, but the McCoy era stories showed signs of starting to get it right again, and I was genuinely saddened and angered when the BBC cancelled it.
People talk about wobbly sets a lot when original Who is mentioned. Some people say they can't understand how anyone could take the programme seriously with those wobbly sets. Others say that they find (or even that they found at the time) that the wobbly sets were endearing and quaint. Everyone seems to feel obliged to mention the wobbly sets, and the repeated costumes, and the fluffs, and the studio-bound alien planets and the plastic egg boxes sprayed silver to look like high-tech walls. Everyone seems to think it mattered.
Obviously these people never went to see a play when they were young. Obviously they never went to a panto and saw their next-door neighbour got up in a silly costume, pretending to run round an obviously fake tree pursued by someone pretending to be a policeman but wearing a clearly non-regulation uniform, and having to take tiny little steps because the tree is so small. Obviously they never played games of let's pretend, because the playground was clearly not the real Wild West, and Grobbler Atkins from down the road wasn't really Geronimo, and none of those guns actually worked. Or maybe they played them ironically.
I think, even taking hindsight into account, it's fair to say that I was aware of the wobbly sets. I knew the legs poking out of the bottom of the Zarbi were human legs in wrinkly stockings, and the Cybermen were people in silver suits, and I even knew there were people inside the Daleks, though I wasn't sure precisely where. It. Didn't. Matter. These nice people were telling me a story, and if there was one thing I had learned in my young life, it was that when someone was telling you a story, poking holes in the story was no fun for you or for them, and might lead to no more stories in future. Going along with it, piecing out the imperfections with my thoughts, thinking when they talked of horses that I saw them...that was more fun, more polite, and made the whole experience more mutually satisfying.
That principle has seen me through Jack and the Beanstalk done by the Signpost Club in the New Hall in Tiverton, Julius Caesar in modern dress at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter, Paul Darrow playing Elvis at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon, Diana Rigg as Medea at the Theatre Royal in Bath. It's made uncountable films and telly shows into absorbing and fulfilling experiences for me, and when I see people posting about such things and sounding like someone who was promised fillet steak and got Spam, I actually feel sorry for them, because they can't do what I can do. Or else they can, but for whatever reason they choose not to enjoy the story.
Which brings us to nuWho.
I'd watched the McGann “movie” a little uneasily. He looked and sounded like the Doctor, in the way that all the other Doctors had looked and sounded like the Doctor (eccentric clothes and hair, voice within tolerances for BBC English and therefore unplaceable, obviously intelligent and knowledgeable and not quite on the same planet as everybody else) and he'd regenerated from McCoy, which gave him the credibility of the apostolic succession...but that TARDIS, while it looked very much like something I could see as a spaceship (I'd invented Nyrond homeships by this time, and they looked like that in places), didn't look quite right as the TARDIS. I didn't know who or what this person purporting to be the Master was, but he was more of a generic alien villian than a renegade Time Lord, and what was with the venom-spitting?
The whole thing was obviously trying to be Doctor Who and something else at the same time, and it made it hard for me, but I eventually adjusted to it and accepted it. I was grown up now, after all, and moving among people whose affection for telly programmes was tempered by large amounts of irony, so I'd had to learn to conceal the strength of my feelings, which in turn had distanced them a bit for me. I could live with McGann.
Then came the news that Russell T Davies, writer of Queer As Folk and other classics of modern telly, was actually a huge fanboy and had persuaded the BBC to let him bring back the real Doctor Who. Obviously I was overjoyed, excited and apprehensive all at once. My first love was coming back to the old home town, and it was going to be a disjointing experience, but I was ready. I was ready to be captured and enraptured all over again. I was ready to be a fan.
The story of how, over the course of that first season, my enthusiasm and joy gradually drained away, has been told at wearisome length in my LiveJournal and I'm only going to précis it here.
The most jarring thing was Christopher Eccleston's Doctor, a scary thug who was quite obviously a human being from the North of England and not a Time Lord at all. I've remarked on the incongruity being similar to seeing a programme about Queen Victoria in which she was portrayed as a lager-swilling, fishnetted yobette (no disrespect to lager-swilling fishnetted yobettes, by the way, but Queen Victoria simply was not one). There are things you do with a character and things you don't do. The fact that, having lent actorrr cred to the first season of nuWho, Eccleston then bunked unrepentantly off, just made the travesty even less warrantable in my view.
I tried to like the TARDIS set, mainly because I thought with it being such a dump we'd see more of the ship, but let's face it, the idea that they live and die in what looks like an overgrown garage doesn't work for me. The original white room at least gave the impression there were other rooms, maybe some with actual furniture in, and floors, and things.
I wasn't interested in Rose's family—that was nothing to do with Doctor Who as I understood it. In the old days, you were either on the TARDIS or you were off, take care, bye-bye. There was no need to take dirty laundry back to Mum. There was usually no Mum. And Doctor Who, to me, didn't need to be a soap and/or a sitcom. It was an adventure series. People had adventures. I didn't need them to get all angsty about phoning their mothers to make me believe they were people.
I wasn't impressed by the much-touted introduction of unresolved sexual tension between Rose and the Doctor. I don't have a problem with unresolved sexual tension—I've watched Moonlighting and Lois and Clark and even some grown-up telly like The West Wing, and I am actually married, thank you. But I don't believe every story has to be a love story, and I don't believe every relationship between people has to be a sexual relationship, and I certainly don't believe that a nonagintagenarian Time Lord from Gallifrey is going to get the hots for a nineteen-year-old human female. Not going to happen. So that jarred.
I noticed as the first season went on that the Doctor's main function was to blunder into trouble so that Rose, or some other usually female supporting character, could get him out, usually at the cost of her own life if it wasn't Rose. Now this indeed used to happen in the old days, the first part at least, but the Doctor always used to do something, for gods' sake, even if it was only to make a spinny thing with a cork and two forks to pass the time. He was the hero, and a lot of the time he saved the day. Not any more, though. The new Doctor was a gormless nurk who hulked around in the background making agonised noises about how he couldn't do anything while the spunky spear carrier saved the day. Which given his supposedly vast intelligence, experience and skills and powers and so on, seemed a little off.
A lot of people have made the point, in answer to this, that the Doctor's function is to show people that they can be better than they are, and that that's why he doesn't do anything. I think those people are living on memories, or received memories if they're too young, of the time when the Doctor showed people how to be better in the only way that works—by example. Standing around saying “we're going to die” in the hope that someone will decide to be heroic only works if it's in the script that someone is going to be heroic. Save the day yourself, and those around you will be inspired to be heroes like you. Wait for them to work out that that's what you want them to do, and if you're not careful it's goodnight Vienna.
Anyway, the season ground on, and I began to notice plot holes, the sort I would have glossed over quite happily in the old wobbly-set days. But this Doctor Who had broken the rules. I couldn't settle back into my old relationship with it, not because I had changed (because I really haven't, that much) but because it had. It was not the programme I loved. They had tried to fool me with an impostor. I'd been betrayed. So I began to look at it critically, and I found fault. I found a Dalek, the ultimate racial purist, whose casing is built so as to be porous to alien genetic material (yeah, right, and German soldiers were issued with helmets made of cheese in case they got hungry). I found a wound in time caused by the prevention of a death in one place at one moment that could be healed by the death taking place at a different place at a different moment, and stupid flying reptile things (that never appeared at any other point in the series where history was changed) whose solution to the violation of causality was to eat more people who shouldn't have died. And I found a human being who could hold the entire essence of a TARDIS inside herself for several minutes at very least and get away with nothing but a headache, while the aforementioned alleged Time Lord couldn't manage it for a few seconds without having to regenerate.
I wish I could say it had got better, but it hasn't. The new Doctor, as played by David Tennant, sounds like a chirpy cockney wide boy instead of a scary Northern thug, but he's still just as un-Time-Lord-like. For the companions, a young working-class girl from contemporary London has been replaced by a young working-class girl from contemporary London, who's been replaced by...a somewhat less young working-class girl from contemporary London. The companions in the old days may all have been middle-class, but at least they were different sexes and ages and came from different places. The domestic complications have continued to get in the way, without at any point becoming interesting or relevant. The unresolved sexual tension has grown so huge and obtrusive that the most recent companion and the Doctor spent all their time denying it was there, even when nobody had asked. And the character of the Doctor has been pulled in at least two different directions. On the one hand, he's talked about by other characters as if he were something bigger and shinier and more potent than God, and at least one episode is resolved by him merely saying “I'm the Doctor,” at which point the adversary rushes to the water closet in terror despite the fact that it's not actually sentient as we understand the term. On the other hand, it's hammered home week after week that this Doctor is actually a bit of an idiot and any ordinary human is more intelligent than he is. I kind of preferred the real Doctor, who was mortal (well, sort of) and prone to make mistakes, but whom the people who knew him treated with a fair amount of respect.
I don't think Russell T Davies actually liked that Doctor much. I'm sure he loved the series, as much as I did, but I really do think he hated the Doctor, which I never did. And, let's be honest, the new series is doing great. Awards by the truckload, public and critical acclaim, huge amounts of money and the BBC has apparently committed to doing another season the year after next, which is more than anyone knew about any BBC series in the old days. There are big stars queueing up to appear in it, special effects as whizzy as anything you'd find in Hollywood and for a fraction of the cost, and not a wobbly set in sight.
But none of that matters. Not to me. What matters is that I was promised the return of my first love and what I got was someone else's. I can't stop watching nuWho (as the magazine SFX felicitously dubbed it), and I can't enjoy it whole-heartedly either. There were changes that had to be made: the current economic climate won't sustain half-year-long seasons with four to eight stories of four to six episodes each, any more than the actors would nowadays, and I understand that. There were also changes that didn't have to be made, and I still believe that the new series would have done just as well, or better, without them—with a Doctor who was really the Doctor, with companions who were no more (and no less) than companions, with a TARDIS that looked, inside and out, like the TARDIS. But we'll never know for certain now.
Well, Davies is on the way out, long live Moffat. It remains to be seen what his vision of Who is, and whether it will be any closer to mine (I doubt it), and what will become of what Doctor Who has become. I'll be watching...