Saturday, January 02, 2010

Who Are You?

Once upon a time, I was a fully-fledged nerd. Card-carrying, trade paperback thumping acolyte to everything geeky (well, actually that's a lie, but stick with me, I'm using artistic licence). The most important things in life were what was going to happen next in all my favourite TV shows, comics, films or even books (there was even a time in the 90s when some of us were really excited about the large stinky turd that The Dark Tower became). There was even a bit of nerdism in my record collecting - preferring to buy every version of a song that existed, because I 'needed' to own them all. An old cunt that I used to work for had this saying, "Full set, full set, gotta have the full set" and as much as he often spoke like the dribbling wrecked sphincter of an old queen's far too often invaded rectum; it was an accurate sentiment - nerds are collectors and a collector isn't a real collector until he has everything he wants.

My mate Roger, he collects Vertigo spiral label LPs; there's a few and he has most apart from the one that costs about £5000 and a lot of people don't even think exists. But, while he is a collector of this specific label; he's hardly a nerd about it. We don't scour second hand record shops across the country for this rare gem, because he knows that it would be tantamount to finding one of Christ's turds in a Muslim cleric's hollowed out Quran. Roger is a collector who doesn't have an obsession. It's a good template to follow or aspire to; I no longer obsess that much over things I haven't got (well, not so you'd notice) because there's very little I need.

However, obsession, nerdism, geekyness, being a sad bastard are all traits that saturate a lot of my friends. In a world that frankly could be a lot fairer and better, the best things to talk about today was how a children's television programme just simply didn't deliver.

I've talked about Dr Who here, a couple of times; I've shown my nerd roots and my wishful thinking desires; but the good Doctor doesn't even feature on my obsessive radar, he never has. Watching Dr Who since Ecclestone brought him back has been like watching a number of British TV shows, well for me, anyhow. I'll watch it every week, but if I miss an episode, or an episode doesn't meet with my favour; then I just get on with the rest of my week and by Monday, Dr Who is about as relevant (and as strong a memory) as a crap I took in February. I've got involved in debates about the series, as stated, made my forecasts and had a lot of fun.

The Internet gave Dr Who an immediate fan base that could opine about it until the Ood came home. When McCoy shuffled off, or McGann popped in for a brief cameo, the Internet was either non-existent or still wiping the sleep from its eyes. So, naturally, when the net boomed, instead of just Dr Who nerd-fest conventions to spout their theories and beliefs at, the nerds suddenly had forums where they could be seen by many more people. If some of these people already had too much time on their hands, this new revolution in nerdism was heaven sent.

But, believe it or not, I'm actually drifting away from my specific topic into a far more philosophical and sociological discussion; one for another time perhaps?

I have been generally shocked by many of my friends' reactions to the culmination of Russell T Davies' tenure at the helm of DW. Shocked because they seem to be incapable of understanding that DW is ostensibly for children and adolescents; yes, it has crossover appeal, but not like The Simpsons, where the humour for adults is clearly aimed above the younger viewers' heads. Dr Who is, was and should always be a fantastic children's TV show exploring the limited budget the show has to work with. Dr Who doesn't exist for Who nerds. The show wasn't brought back for them. The show doesn't go the way you wanted it to because the way you wanted it to would relegate it to gay clubs and seedy cinemas - hardly a good advert for kids TV, eh?

Viewers of DW might have noticed that virtually every episode written by Davies or his honchos had that element of 'hey, remember this is a kids programme' in it. You might have hated it; you might have seen it as pointless, or a set piece so contrived that it belongs on the set of an Indiana Jones film or a Star Wars sequel; but IT ISN'T DESIGNED OR INTENDED JUST FOR YOU - live with it.

I used to think comics fan were self-important wankers who took themselves far too serious; but the righteous indignation that has emanated from Who fandom over the last year has been so hysterical that if I was in charge of the BBC, I'd cancel DW just to piss them off.

It all started when Patterson Joseph wasn't chosen to play the next Doctor. There was a school of thought, actually more like school of belief, that was convinced that Pat Joseph would become the first black doctor. In fact, up until 3 days before the announcement, you couldn't get decent odds on it (until a late flurry of activity at 250, 100 and then 50-1 on Matt Smith, tipped the bookies off). Enter Matt Smith and the flurry of antipathy didn't actually happen. It seems that many people were surprised at the choice, but were being adult enough to refrain from making any ill-advised judgements.

Actually, if I want to be really pedantic, and after all we're talking about pedants to the nth degree here; it actually started with the 2nd ever episode of the new DW, when the pompous, I-know-better-than-you brigade picked holes in a Davies plot that involved the Doctor having to avoid a pretty contrived obstacle course to get to a spaceship's off switch. Instead of spending the next week complaining about how awful Davies was and would be at SF, I put it down to a part of the show that kids would get a big kick out - a sort of platform game within a DW show. Yes, it made no sense, but does Tellytubbies?

The underlying thread that came out of the next 5 years was this, if someone else wrote an episode it was worthy, but if Davies wrote one, it would get systematically ripped to shreds, because he obviously just wasn't good enough to turn this dead TV show into a global hit... Oh, see how they got that one wrong?

So after 4 years of constant criticism, from me as well, that some of his scripts were laughably awful (but none ever as bad as any single episode of Smallville), we came to this 4 specials and you're out finale.

I feel like asking all the detractors why they've stuck with the series if its so bloody bad and it hasn't done any of the things they felt should have happened? Because it's one thing to be a critic occasionally, but its bordering on nerdism and obsession to spend every weekend after an episode attempting to de-construct it, to show all your friends how fucking brilliant you are at ripping a successful TV show and its faults to pieces.

This brings me to New Year's Day's big finale - a 75 minute 'blockbuster' that was really a tale of two halves - a culmination of the Master story and a chance to say goodbye to the people who made it special for you. Yes, it was layered with schmaltz; it, because of the very nature of time, could have been so much different; but these series of DW have been more about him actually making a family of friends rather than just having a sidekick and a cast of supporting drones. Plus, the emotional depth that has crept into DW has been very welcome, IMHO, because you don't live for 906 years without developing something between those two beating hearts.

The thing that has sickened me is the way that supposed fans of the show have been so appalled by it. Criticisms from; not enough of the Timelords, to, the bad casting of John Simm, to, the overly sugar-coated last 10 minutes. Jesus fucking wept - it's a kids TV show and I'm betting the average kids (not the ones reared by the die hard cynics amongst you) probably thought it was great. It had action, adventure, pathos, humour, sentiment, nostalgia and it was sad...

"I don't want to go" for me, was the greatest sentence uttered in Doctor Who history. It was the moment I forgot all the plot holes and pratfalls, the criticisms and the bitter old bastards who didn't get what they thought they were owed; it was the moment my right eye started to leak and my shoulders hitched. It was the moment that I realised that I enjoyed the last 5 series of DW, regardless of the complaints, the plot holes, or the things that just didn't make a lot of sense. David Tennant had replaced Jon Pertwee as my Doctor.

I feel sorry for the people who feel they have to dislike it. These are the people who will use the argument that even kids deserve to have things plotted well for them; but, the weird thing is, I haven't seen DW lose popularity because of all of these criticisms. In fact, I haven't seen TV critics or SF columnists doing the same hatchet job on the show as die-hard Whovians.

As we wait for the Steven Moffat/Matt Smith combo; expectation is going to be high. Moffat wrote some of the nerds' most critically acclaimed episodes and the expectation is going to be dark, gritty and more hiding behind the sofa than ever before. I think they're going to be disappointed. Moffat isn't going to turn DW into a post-watershed series; it will still be for kids - ostensibly - and there will be other writers and other stories that fall foul of the nerds. In fact, they could be treated far worse, because Who fandom seems to have risked everything on the next DW being so much better.

It is, in the end, a disposable TV programme, blessed with a second chance, that has succeeded despite the detractors. With Top Gear, the BBC boasts two of the biggest downloaded TV shows in the world - making them both very profitable commodities. The people who seem determined to spoil it for themselves need to lighten up and accept it for what it is - NOT YOUR SHOW!

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