The Least Important Things: Dr Who At Fifty, An Essay By Taylor Parkes on The Quietus in November 21st, 2013
A really excellent article about Doctor Who and its history which I thoroughly agree with. I have cited a few of Taylor’s observations that I find particularly salient and added my own rants in to the mix. I will begin with a couple of statements that sum up my own strongest beefs with New Who.
The old Doctor Who is inextricably tied, like generosity and human decency, a sense of endless possibility. […]
‘Unlike most mass-market sci-fi, old Doctor Who would rarely resort to soppiness or sanctimony; there was no need. But it was righteous all right. Just below the surface you’ll find pretty much everything that’s good about humanity, everything worth preserving from the latter half of the 20th century, with its half-forgotten ideas about equality and compassion. This is a programme about tolerance, morality, humanism and nonconformism, about the balance between responsibility and individualism… a programme about escape. It’s a celebration of the outsider, the trickster; a jibe at authoritarianism, militarism, patriotism and the cult of violence (all those sci-fi heroes with their ray-guns and their military titles, all those superheroes thumping people – Tom Baker used to call them “boneheads”).’
Further to this, Parkes comments on the well-worn and tedious complaints from people about how bad the old special effects were. This shows an irritating lack of imagination on their part, in my not so humble opinion. You’re not meant to believe the dodgy special effects are real. You go along for the ride with the story and use your imagination.
Here’s a fact too often forgotten: you were never actually meant to look at a washing-up liquid bottle sprayed silver and confuse it with a real spaceship. Rather, you were meant to understand that this was a representation of a spaceship, to tell you that the following scene was going to be set on a spaceship. It’s probably impossible to get back to that way of thinking now, and if you ask me that’s a bit of a shame. If someone flips you a 50 pence piece and says “there’s your visual effects budget, mate” you’d better make sure that your story is good. If, on the other hand, CGI has dropped in price to the point where you can remake Jurassic Park on your mobile, there’s suddenly a strong temptation to slack, to think “sod it” and just make ‘Dinosaurs On A Spaceship’.
Another effect access to cheap CGI effects has – which I think is also a problem with the whole superhero genre – is that it is simply too easy to create alternative worlds and new realities. One thing I really liked about the old Doctor Who was that so many invasions and other events happened on earth that only a very small coterie knew about, while the rest of the everyday world went about its business.
I am particularly keen on the whole notion of there being secret worlds within the everyday, existing quietly alongside our ordinary. It is a world of secret possibilities always offering the prospect of a creative extension of our currently perceived reality. There is always the chance that things are happening around you that you just had not imagined were there. It provides a form of hope that there are limits to and exteriors which escape the soulless and burnt out world of neoliberal servitude governed by the necessity of earning one’s keep in a brutally regulated and conformist environment, policed by a ‘community of fear’ as Jacques Ranciere describes it.
Parkes also comments on the music.
The battle scene at the end of episode four, in which men dressed as giant wasps swing back and forth on Kirby wires past two-dimensional scenery and a badly-painted backcloth may look like one of Ed Wood’s fever dreams, but soundtracked with electronic bleeps and the music of Les Structures Sonores, it is at least very intense television.
That unearthly electronic music, which prised open so many millions of minds, instead of this tacky orchestral gloop; it’s striking, too, how much silence there was in old Doctor Who, something that’s now entirely forbidden, which is why, however hard it tries, New Who can never be tense.
This alludes to another major issue I have with new Who. Gone is the experimental electronica of the old series and we are left with the frenetically intrusive orchestral music of Murray Gold, which combined with the rapidly edited visuals and constant over emoting without ever taking the time out for a thoughtful conversation makes for exhausting and tedious watching.
All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable article and a pleasure to see that there are others out there who feel the same frustrations with the current offerings, whilst at the same time recognising that the old series wasn’t high art and was by no by means without its (sometimes major) flaws.