Plus Ca Change
Sunday, 9 December 2018
There was big talk about big changes in Doctor Who. We were going to get a female Doctor. There would be a multi-ethnic set of companions. There would be a new series-runner and a new team of writers. There were those that said that this was “political correctness gone mad”. There were those who said that they would never watch Doctor Who again. Now here we are at the end of Jodie Whittaker’s first series as the Doctor and there are those who are saying that the stories have been for “Social Justice Warriors” - a term of contempt in some circles, though I’m not sure why social justice should be such a terrible thing to fight for. There are those who have claimed that the series has become “preachy”.
Doctor Who has always espoused social justice. Take a look back at the original series - take a look at “The Sun Makers”, or “The Green Death”. Take a look at “The Masque of Mandragora” or “The Caves of Androzani”. Do you really think that these stories don’t portray The Doctor as espousing largely liberal values? To that extent Doctor Who has always been “preachy”. Take a look at “The Happiness Patrol” or “The Monster of Peladon”. Take a look at Patrick Troughton’s speech to the Time Lords at his trial. Take a look at Colin Baker’s speeches during “Trial of A Time Lord”.
I have to ask why people who claim to be long-time fans of Doctor Who claim to have found this series objectionable. Some of them have pointed to themes in the historical stories, “Rosa”, “Demons Of The Punjab” and “The Witchfinders” that they regard as embracing a ‘liberal agenda’. Unless, though, you think that racial segregation, sectarian slaughter or killing innocent women are “good things” I’m hard-pushed to see what you might object to.
To be fair, there were moments that I felt to be pushing issues that had little to do with the story. The pregnant father in “The Tsuranga Conundrum” ( to my mind the weakest episode of the series) springs to mind. It added nothing to the plot other than padding it out a bit. There were moments, too, that I felt were just bloody stupid. The notion that James VI would travel the country in disguise, without an armed retinue of bodyguards, displayed an ignorance of history that turned “The Witchfinders” into little more than a cartoon for me.
So let’s dispense with the “Politically Correct” gibberish and look at what went well and what didn’t. Let’s start with the downsides. For the most part the stories have been strong but I’ve felt that, sometimes, the dialogue is overwritten. It has sometimes seemed that the writers have not trusted the cast to convey what they are getting at without making them say it. To an extent I get that. Tosin Cole and Mandip Gill are young, inexperienced actors. The same cannot be said for Bradley Walsh and Jodie Whittaker, who have had to deliver some clunkers.
As far as the stories go, there have been some good ones and there have been some that have been not so good. That’s inevitable. If you look at Star Trek or any other drama series, there are episodes that stand out and there are those that you will never watch again. I may well watch “Rosa” again and “It Takes You Away” and, probably, “The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos”. There are a few I won’t revisit.
Again, that’s much like the whole of Doctor Who. There are episodes I’ve rewatched again and again. There are others that are just “The Twin Dilemma” and once is enough’ Or possibly more than enough.
So what’s been good? I mentioned Cole and Gill above. I’ve not always been entirely been convinced by their performances, but they’ve embraced their roles with enthusiasm and have brought a freshness to the series. I could say the same of Wendy Padbury or Fraser Hines or Katy Manning or, to be fair, lots of others. The real revelation for me has been Bradley Walsh. For me Graham O’Brien could become one of the great Doctor Who assistants. Want to talk about political correctness? Graham is a strong, intelligent, decent man who has the wisdom of his years. For all that, though, he is open-minded and willing to learn. In a previous blog I was concerned that TV had lost a strong male character that didn’t lead with his fists. That’s Graham.
Then there’s The Doctor. It’s Jodie Whittaker’s season and she’s done a good job. It’s not perfect - I do think she babbles a bit too much. But, then, so did Matt Smith. She does seem to shift mood rather quickly. But, then, so did David Tennant. She seems a bit uncertain. But, then, so did Peter Davison. Some have said that, after Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, the show needed a big change in direction. I never got that. I loved Capaldi’s Doctor. So I am deeply relieved to find that, for all the ‘new start’ rhetoric and all the alleged outrage of the “PC gone mad” brigade, this is the same show that I have loved for pretty much all my life. Things change but, somehow, they stay the same.