Monday, June 19, 2006

Stuff & Nonsense

Prefect SlogOh dear. I'd been so looking forward to sitting down and watching Doctor Who this week, but for some reason it wasn't on. Instead, they showed this episode called Love & Monsters from some other series I'd not seen before and hoped we would all keep watching anyway. I did, as it happens, but only under duress and it was a very close run thing. I was, for the first time in forever, on the point of giving up and going in the other room to do something - anything - more interesting when, in about the 15th minute, Peter Kay made his entrance. Peter Kay is not normally an inducement to continue watching anything, if you ask me - quite the opposite - but it was coincidentally the same moment when it looked like something of note might actually happen.
It didn't. But I rode out the wave of disappointment all the way to the end anyway. I can't say it was downhill from there exactly - it's hard to discern any kind of gradient when you start out so close to rock bottom - but it wasn't an experience I'll be repeating any time soon.
But I'm being unfair. The opening was at least a novel one and there was the hint of a story to follow. It's just that none materialised, and in its place we were subjected to what was esssentially a parody of fandom and part 'clip show', which was all very well and perhaps in another series might have made for a reasonable sitcom. And by 'reasonable sitcom', I'd put it in the Two Pints Of Lager bracket - i.e. the sort of thing that seems acceptable to BBC3 these days - if I was being charitable. To distinguish from such sitcoms, this did have its fair share of witty moments - although the early recourse to Scooby Doo antics was an ominous sign that did the whole thing no favours - but in the context of this latest series of Doctor Who - because, it's no use, I can't really kid myself otherwise, it was officially an episode of Doctor Who - it was nothing remotely like what I was looking or hoping for. What this series needed that Saturday was a decent, well-written, gripping Doctor Who adventure. As it was, in light of this farcical bit of fluff, we might easily kid ourselves that, despite the gaping plot holes and sloppy writing in the previous two-parter, we'd already seen such a thing in The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit. But the truth is we haven't - and we are long overdue. This is a flagship series for the BBC, with huge resources thrown at it and, allegedly, written by the best in the business - and yet I've seen entirely average - or lesser - American TV shows that have been consistently put together better.
People will no doubt applaud this outing for being brave and experimental, and of course I'd have to agree. But the thing about bravery is that it's easily confused with foolhardiness, and the thing about experiments is that they are often apt to fail. Experimental episodes, really, are for the shows that have achieved a comfortable and consistent high standard, not series which even in their best episodes (this year, Tooth & Claw, School Reunion) are riddled with flaws that we're sufficiently engaged to overlook.
This one, you know the outlook is poor when they're resorting to a montage so close to the beginning. No matter how much you like ELO - and I do - it's a telltale sign that there's a lack of story here.
(The montage, of course, is an increasingly frequent staple of Doctor Who: Confidential these days, used to flimsily disguise the fact that they're running out of material to fill a 30 minute instalment each week. And by a curious coincidence it was only when watching Confidential, after the show, that this week's episode made sense. This was the first I discovered that the Absorbaloff (sp?) was in fact a monster designed by a Blue Peter competition winner - a 9-year old kid. Yes, suddenly it all became clear. Although I then wondered when we were going to be introduced to the 7-year old who'd written the script. Which was, I confess, very uncharitable of me, but hey, I had just been cheated out of my weekly helping of Doctor Who and, perhaps more to the point, in amongst some of the sharper wit, I have detected too much in this latest brand of Doctor Who that is puerile and infantile, as though the show is often playing down to its younger audience, something that I don't believe the 'classic series' did, at least until its later pantomime years. Aka the Winter Years, because winter is the season of pantomime, after all.)
Just as things aren't helped by the presence of Peter Kay as the most ludicrous monster since the Slitheen (passing similarities to which I noticed with a groan, before the episode acknowledged said similarities itself), they aren't helped either by the inclusion of the guy from Hustle - for one thing he looks too much like Gordon Ramsay for my liking, and for another he was in Hustle, another of the BBC's proud series which suffers a bad case of style over substance; the only successful scam it ever depicted being the one where it ripped off every con-artist movie in history and passed it off to an unwitting public as original and entertaining. Things were moderately helped by Shirley Henderson, who was such a scream in the BBC's recent modern re-telling of Taming Of The Shrew. But against that, the same things weren't at all helped by Jackie who, despite contributing a sometimes humorous and emotional performance, just serves as a reminder that this is all about 'the people left behind'. Both in her case and - in more of a Girl In The Fireplace Doctor-just-occasionally-passing-through sort of way - in the case of Elton, the 'hero' of this 'brave experiment'. I mean, fine, go ahead and explore this aspect of the companions' travels with the Doctor - but explore it once, thanks, and be done with it. Then get on with telling us some cracking Doctor Who stories. Please. I am BORED with 'the people left behind'. Doctor Who is NOT about them. That's for another show that, let's be honest, really doesn't deserve to be made anyway.
Rather like Love & Monsters, in fact.
It's all a bit like one of those experimental short stories you encounter from time to time in a Doctor Who anthology, and in that kind of context it might have amused and entertained, while registering as a fun bit of speculative Who-related fiction. But, at the risk of repeating myself, in the context of a series that has been sadly wanting when it comes to good, solidly told Doctor Who stories, it just comes across as a wasted episode and a huge disappointment - and given that there are only thirteen of these per year and that they're all hideously expensive (apparently), that sense of waste is magnified.
Next week, I notice, we are back on Earth. Woo bloody hoo. This, in a series that allegedly promised to take us further than before and visit more alien worlds - a promise that has, as far as I can see, only managed to set us up for further disappointment. Surely there's enough space in the TARDIS interior to accommodate a kitchen sink, so we don't have to keep returning to Earth for that? I don't really see a great deal of evidence to suggest that the series has come any great distance from its flawed beginnings or learnt from any of its key mistakes. It seems content to hover in what it perceives as safe territory and troll out the same substandard goods, when it has already shown itself to be capable of so much better.
This was the week I officially grew tired of Doctor Who - as I said, some 15 minutes into the episode (I was even SMSed and have been 'accosted' since by friends and family who wondered what it was all about, who thought it had to be 'the worst storyline EVER', and who thought it should have been called Doctor Where? - like I had something to do with it! I disagreed with the latter, arguing that they might have called it Doctor WTF?.) Three worthwhile episodes so far out of thirteen, with the rest ranging from meh to blech, is a poor showing in my book.
Doctor Who is a wide-ranging and flexible show and one which can accommodate experimental episodes with ease, but I think this series needs to focus on getting the 'standard' ones right before it has another go at one of these. Come back in, say, seven years maybe, and while we're about it can we make sure that 'the people left behind' are left behind?
Thanks to the way things have played out, I'm now actively looking forward to Rose's departure at the end of this series. Not through any fault of her own - she's been great. But getting rid of her should in theory see the series shedding all the baggage that came with her and, maybe - just maybe - with the TARDIS thus unburdened, we might get to travel a little further.

11 comments:

Mike Richards said...

I actually could have lived with (and indeed thoroughly enjoyed) a Scooby Doo adventure:

'Mrs Tyler!'

'And I'd 'ave got away wiv it if it weren't fer you interferin' bleedin' kids'

But sadly this wasn't to be - this was WORSE than 'Father's Day' which was one of the cruddiest stories ever committed to video tape. As a result, it's made me think fondly of 'School Reunion', I've even developed a soft spot for the Slitheen.

This?

This?

Put it like this - it wouldn't have got worse had Bonnie Langford popped up all shoulder pads and Bryllo-pad hair.

I'd like to know what the new generation of Doctor Who viewers thought of this one. I can't imagine many kids having the patience to sit through the contrived storytelling. Older fans seem to detest the home-front stories - so who on earth was this intended to please?

It's just a shame that the series has got quite so self-referential so early. I couldn't help but think of 'The X-Files' jumping the shark with 'Jose Chung's From Outer Space' - ahhh we've got a loyal audience, let's have a laugh. People tune in, take a look, check the channel, take another look - and turn off - forever!

Throw Moaning Myrtle in from the Harry Potter movies - that voice, like a cat's claws down a blackboard - as the love interest, all climaxing (oops bad choice of verb) in a joke about oral sex with a paving slab - and you have something like a road crash - in slow motion - with whoopie cushions.

But it's good to see some things never change - namely that Blue Peter competitions still always end up choosing the lamest entries. I'm not sure what was the most disturbing thing about the Absorbaloff - that it was a rip-off of the original Vogon, or that little black thong...

...no, it was definitely the thong...

...it's still sitting on TiVo but for the first time since the show came back I might delete the episode without giving it a second chance.

TimeWarden said...

Only by shedding RTD, and making sure he takes his baggage with him, will the series ever move on. As he's in charge next year, Season 3 will be more of the same.

Nikki Sanderson, if cast, will be a Rose clone. The Doctor will probably take Jackie back to the moment before her daughter's demise and what a startlingly original idea that will be!

I actually feel really cheated that I've invested so much of my life in this programme for "Doctor Who" to end up like this. It isn't the show for RTD to promote his sexuality. JNT was homosexual too but it never encroached upon the programme. He was much more professional.

SAF said...

Good to see I'm not totally alone in my views on this one. I don't know about the younger generation, but most of those negative 'what the hell was that?' type comments I got were from non-fans - people like my sisters who had begun to watch DW regularly for the first time with the new series, for instance.
It sucked, and not in an oral sex gag way.

SAF said...

I should add that I have no quarrel with adult content in Who, per se. It's just that, if you're going to have it then there should be a more adult approach to the story. Of course, by 'adult' I mean 'mature',
which is an understanding that seems too often overlooked. There's something insidious about oral sex gags in a show clearly intended for 6-9 year olds.

Stuart Douglas said...

Well you certainly never missed the target there Simon :)

I have to say I quite enjoyed L&M - it's not the best of the season (and not even RTD's best of the season) but for a long-time fanboy it was amusing enough. Once you got past the Scooby Doo nonsense and if you ignored the fart, there were some genuinely funny moments - I thought the whole ELO thing was hilarious, for instance.

Plus I liked the supporting cast - the strongest so far this season for me (I really like Hustle, granted, even though it has more plot holes than a New Who script). Marc Warren would, I think, have made a far better 10th Doctor than Tennant wqho, sad to say, is sinking in my estimation as the weeks go by. I;ve said it before, but I have no shame and am happy to repeat myself - Tennant is utterly lacking in the gravitas (or faux-gravitas at least) which a Doctor requires. And that's not down to his age - Davison was young when he played the role and he perfectly judged how to play the part.

Add to that the fact that a lot of the writing seems to be for a generic Doctor - can none of the writers see how bad Tennant is at the big shouty lines? - and you have a recipe for disaster.

But still...still, I don't think it's been a total disaster. I like as many of the latest series as the last, there's been nothing to plunge down to the depths of 'Boom Town' and of the episodes so far I've quite enjoyed New Earth, T&C, tGitF and L&M, really enjoyed School Reunion, loved Matt Jones two parter and only gave an exasperated 'meh' to Idiot's Lantern and the truly awful Cyber two-parter. Which is much the same level of enjoyment as last year.

Of course, I can name half a dozen seasons from the original version of the series where I enjoyed pretty much all of it immensely - and still do.

Stuart Douglas said...

Oh, and re small kids watching it - I can't say if the blow job joke was a step too far or not, since Cameron got bored with the episode within ten minutes.

Stuart Douglas said...

Oh again - SBJ pointed out that Ursula's head in a paving slab was a 'show not tell' example of Elton's line about salvation and damnation being hard to differentiate at times.

Doesn't excuse the BJ joke, but it does provide some kind of reason for the paving slab head existing in the first place.

(and 'oh' a third time - I meant to say, you should post these reviews to JPTV or Q as well).

SAF said...

It's a shame, I am beginning to agree with you about Tennant. They've tended to focus on the 'wacky' side a little too frequently, which only serves to undermine whatever gravitas the man can muster.

And, funnily enough, I *was* going to declare 'L&M' as this year's 'Boomtown'. :)

(PS. Not familiar with Q, but I guess I could get around to posting to JPTV some day.)

Stuart Douglas said...

Q was meant to say Qqabal - my PC at work has taken to ramdomly mangling anything I type.

SAF said...

Ah yeah, I get the same thing - only it occasionally comes out as a novel or short story ;)

I may share the reviews with the folks at Quibble when I return to frequent those hallowed halls!

Stuart Douglas said...

SAF: "Ah yeah, I get the same thing - only it occasionally comes out as a novel or short story ;)"

lol - can I borrow your PC when the next Benny competition comes round then :)