Monday, April 30, 2007

Daleks! Daleks! Daleks!

Okay, let me lay my cards on the table so you all know where I'm coming from. I love Doctor Who. I have been enjoying the programme since childhood - like so many of us - and I probably see myself as straddling both classic Whovian fandom and NewWho fandom.

[Of course, I could also see myself straddling the TARDIS's current incumbent but perhaps the less said about that the better, eh? For one, Marie would possibly kick me out the way first..., glasses flying off centre-right...]

Anyway, it's probably fair to say I love the entertainment of it and being a child at heart I'm prepared to overlook most of its worst failings from both the past and the present. (It's far too easy to see one or the other as somehow the perfect world, whether that's the days of black and white shuddery cameras and model effects, the more confident shift to colour filming and slightly less miniscule budgets with a long-term doctor to boot, the Eccles-cake return with budgets ahoy and a more mid-evening family slot, or the rising romance of Ten/Rose last season: each have ardent fans and their loathers who see one or more of the more recent incarnations coming after their own personal favourite - even if that was just the last series - as 'the end of Who' as they know and love it).

Which brings me to the latest two-parter and the latest season. So far the series has not yet failed to give me enjoyment and despite accusations of dullness, I have found it still thrilling and pleasurable. Mock me all you like, tell me I'm wrong (I know you think it), but I have enjoyed all the current series, including the most recent and largely reviled two-parter. I'm no slave to the concept of RTD is perfect and that New Who is perfect. I absolutely accept that there are flaws, some quite major and needing resolution fast, and that it has had some horrid frustrating weaknesses - made all the more infuriating by any sense of either history or love for its high points so far.

Neil accuses me of often living in a 'permanent present': he usually means in relation to food since I can rarely think beyond "what do I want to eat now?" But the idea possibly transfers to other consumption. Perhaps it comes from me having made my academic subject career out of being acutely and seriously critically analytical of culture. Explore strengths and weaknesses; make a case using evidence to back it up; take nothing for granted; be questioning at all times: all of these are laudable ideals. But somehow along the way I learnt a lesson from some of my colleagues and peers. They found that they could too easily lose their facility to just enjoy a text in the here and now for what it was (not what it could or should have been, or what it all signified). I think this reinforced me watching films and TV with a greater sense of trying to be entertained (if that was the appropriate response - although there is perhaps a whole different post developing Neil Postman's argument that TV is at its most dangerous when it takes itself seriously: see his still fascinating book "Amusing Ourselves to Death").


Back to Daleks.

I think that the internal dialogue of Stuart Ian Burns with 'Martha' over at Behind the Sofa summed up several of my points: we're all just a little bit over-Whoed. Even though actually we really LIKE being over-Whoed, our critical faculties are just a tad jaded by it all. All the information, the discussion, the expectations, the awareness of the past and the spoilers of the future. It's all just too much.

What worked: I liked the idea of going to New York, and - with their Deco-esque construction/visuals - the Cult of Skaro worked in that environment: shiny Daleks in that setting certainly worked for me. I liked the time link thing with Caan being, possibly, the lone Dalek survivor for the NewWho season 1 museum of Van Statten. I liked Martha doing the pig-electrocution thang, and I even liked the non-Dalek humans turning to say 'why'. I especially liked Daleks conspiring against each other. I liked brain-thingies being found on the floor, green and abandoned. And even if the resolution was specious non-science nonsense, I actually liked that the Doctor didn't immediately know what green brain jelly thang was. I liked that the Doctor took Martha somewhere he hadn't took Rose and I liked his (unintentionally?) wounding retort of 'maybe' (I'm torn between thinking he's just blind to Martha's interest or that he's deliberately retreated into himself to not make the same connection again. As if the writers/producers think that way). I also liked the Dalekanium references. I thought Mr Diagoras in his human state was fascinatingly more scary than in his Dalek state: more Dalek-like when fully human than when combined with Dalek Sec, so maybe something went more interestingly wrong when the two were added together? - a kinda double negative ending up creating a more positive, self-critical hybrid...?

Areas of forgiveness: I can forgive wobbly sets (jeez, when I think back...) and I can forgive even wobblier accents/dialects/verbals (sorry Talllluhhhhallejuah, or whatever the hell she was called) because Who isn't coming fresh to either of those. (And those who point out that the show has bigger, fabby budgets nowadays simply can't have it both ways on how money is used/not used and reliance on imagination is diminished these days). I can also forgive some of the weird leaps of events - like the 'lost' scene of resolving Laszlo's pig heart failure - because it clearly jars more obviously nowadays due to the shorter episode lengths. Meandering multi-part episodes, and let's be honest some of the FOUR-part stories felt like drawn out crucifixtions, never help a story and some of the jumps and narrative leaps here were at least intended to keep the story moving (even if they ended up making some of the story make no sense). I think there could have been a tight single 45 min episode in here, though it would probably have needed a different writer, and a different team not driven to the 'early series two-part requirement'.

Which brings me to ...

What annoyed: this list could end up being longer than either of the above. And I don't want that. Others have put their comments in and have said it far more wittily and eloquently than I ever could. As I have often said, I can read a bad review that is written with wit and panache and even if I totally disagree, I can still enjoy and respect it for what it is. I can totally see where much of the criticism is coming from (and I especially thought that Ian Hocking's comment in Marie's post on DiM that as a kid's show the audience is more forgiving than it was for Torchwood was very telling. It probably also says something again about my mentality being immaturedly prepared to 'go-with-the-flow')

Still. First off, let's say that the Radio Times cover really didn't help. I wasn't entirely against it by the end of the DinM episode, but by the conclusion of the EoftD, I safely believed it had meant the show shot its bolt.
Music - what in parts has been a delight in the new series (the Xmas Invasion song remains the pinnacle of Murray Gold's work for me) has now become such a parody, it's hard not to believe that the National Orchestra of Wales are not intent on multi-handedly bringing Who into disrepute. One more choral over-drive of 'Daleks' and I may be forced to find a way to listen to the dialogue and special effects sounds without the bloody music channel kicking in.
Dialogue - there was some clunking lines that the cast had to deliver. They're well documented elsewhere. I prefer non-shouty Doctor direction/dialogue and I'm sorry but DT is capable of more than fun versus shouty. But he has to have both the words and the direction to make that possible. More crucially though, if Martha keeps being given little more than mopey dialogue about the Doctor not noticing her then someone will be getting a sharp letter. I know they probably think her quick (sonic speed?) falling for the Doctor reflects how quickly some people fell for Le Tennant, but really that's just lazy. Pay attention to the character you're working with: Rose's intense feelings for the Doctor at least took some time to develop. At first Rose was just travelling for the heck of it. And anyway, you can't displace mopiness onto a new character just because you're tetchy about the Doctor being seen to be missing Rose. And Martha might be training to be a Doctor, but that least means some A level sciences: the conducting of electricity aside, we've scarcely seen recognition of her education and training. Use it please!

An aside point: I know it's not going to happen but I wish this was being broadcast in the winter months. A dark bleak winter's evening as opposed to - literally - the glare of summer sun - would provide a much more conducive backdrop for watching this programme, even in its full-on faults zone.

So that's my remarks. Again, like my feminism rant below it possibly wasn't worth waiting for. I'm knackered from writing and I STILL owe a serious amount of writing up to lovely Chrissie. And each day I keep thinking of new posts I want to write. I'll try and get onto them asap folks, really I will try. But you're all doing such a good job without me.


Anonymous said...

See, I knew it was in you! Even if you did start off all porny, straddling me and Anna.

With Who, I generally use the same technique I employed successfully in The Sixth Sense to avoid guessing the twist: I blank out my mind. It's very easy for me. Plus I wear my patented Helm of an ADHD Eight Year Old. So I don't generally go in with high expectations for a Who episode.

It's against that canvas that I decide whether it's good or not. Only afterwards do I formulate my reasons for liking and disliking.

Face facts, though, it was leaden rubbish. As for Mr Diagoras, perhaps it's the inability of the average actor to be evil with a plastic squid on their head that was the problem. Just a thought.

Anna Lowman (annawaits) said...

I'm glad you've been fair, Lisa - the fact is it's often more fun to be harsh, and when you get a taste of blood it's often hard to stop. But I still really disliked it.

And as for the plastic squid-on-the-head, it's been mentioned elsewhere, but he was far too reminiscent of the Boosh's Tony Harrison to be taken seriously...

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Ah, the boosh reference. I wondered if that would get raised!!!

It IS more fun to harsh - that's why reading bad reviews just tickles me - but sometimes its nice to go against the grain, especially since I felt it wasn;t quite the pounding headache/brain tumour that Marie so eloquently described it as!

Paul 'Fuzz' Lowman said...

Uh-huh. Balanced, thoughtful and fair commentary. That idea of 'just enjoying a text' without the academic impulse to subject the text to relentless evaluation and investigation is an important one - my Film Theory dregree pretty much killed my ability to 'just enjoy' a film for about two years after I graduated...while it would be pointless to stare uncritically (which clearly you haven't) at something so obviously worthy of critical analysis as Doctor Who, I think you're right to rise the issue of 'just enjoying' a text.

Excellent stuff...for what it's worth, I've mentioned how much I've enjoyed your contribution to the debate over at my place.

Marie said...

If pt 1 was like having a brain tumour and pt 2 was having a headache, reading your review was like having a lovely Indian head massage. Thank you.

Now, RTD, please, please *please* a good episode next week so that I too can enjoy the text!

JoeinVegas said...

Oh, all of these words - I can see why it took so long to get this post up.
And to think we are a year and a half behind you - haven't even seen the bride yet.