Doctor Doctor Who Guide

As I write, ‘World War Three’ has already aired. I have not seen it, and cannot until Friday, when I will watch the video I’ve recorded. I do not know much about ‘World War Three’. I hope it is better than this (although I doubt it).

Pleasingly, reviewers on this site are beginning to tune in to what I have said since March 26, that Christopher Eccleston’s performance in the role of Doctor Who really isn’t very good at all. Throughout, the man has looked a bit like a secondary school level actor, occasionally struggling to deliver the most basic lines in a manner even slightly resembling convincing. Given his performances elsewhere, I can only assume that this is because Russell T Davis’ writing is forcing him to play it goofy and erratic – basically, to conform to Davis’ own twisted conception of what is ‘Doctorish’ – and he is unfamiliar with this. The BBC’s press release refers to this Doctor being ‘wise’, as well as ‘funny’, but the petulance (seen in his treatment of Mickey), arrogance (always ready to tell people to shut up, even Charles Dickens!) and most of all basic incompetence (‘cause, think about it, what does he actually do in this episode? Apart from walk into a trap – again – he shows off his mental brilliance by figuring out that the pig-like thing is, in fact, a pig! Well done, Doctor) of this incarnation makes it very hard for me to take it seriously.

Bizarrely, some people have said that he is the ‘best Doctor yet’. Those people are the ones who have gone into the new series simply adamant that nothing and no-one is going to spoil the experience for them, and insist that the sun shines out of RTD’s backside irrespective of the quality of the stories they are watching (they clearly also have never seen Tom Baker or Pat Troughton in the role). Well, fair play to them – they are clearly who Russell is writing this for (he is very similar, convinced that his view of the series is the best ever) – it must be really nice to enjoy it, and I bet they are happier in life than me! It’s just that one or two of the things that fans in various forums have said come across as holier-than-thou. Why shouldn’t my blisteringly negative interpretation of this series be as valuable as their positive one, without being labelled ‘anal’? I bet they hate ‘Time and the Rani’, or something, and don’t get grief for it. This is something that really annoys me!

To return to ‘Aliens of London’ (like the title, by the way). No, it is not Eccleston’s performance which ruined this episode for me. Here he puts the lid on it a bit, or perhaps I’m just getting used to him ( I heard the man himself say on BBC Radio 5 that in ‘Dalek’ he’s a very different Doctor to in the other ones – I certainly hope so). This time it was a combination of the scripting and the production that did it. Actually, despite my intense mistrust of Russell T Davies (which is founded in part on the universal insistence from the media, everyone at Doctor Who Magazine and most fans whose views I’ve read that he is the greatest writer, with the greatest credentials, in THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE!!!, and in part on his falling victim to ‘Tony’s cronies’ syndrome, hiring his old mates to do the Doctor Who job and presumably not considering other people and actors) I have never before been able to find much corroboration of it in the scripts themselves, but the farting aliens and totally unrealistic reaction of the military establishment to alien incursion (plus of course the supposed cream of British science not recognising a pig!) in this episode were enough this time around.

The production, however, though detailed and glossy, has so far been harmful to the show in the way that it is presented. The 45-minute episodes, obviously, are a problem, but they could work very well were the general ambience within them not so noisy, blurry and, well, orange. It’s like ‘The Claws of Axos’ in there! The lighting and look of the show do not meet expectations – my over-riding image of episode 1 is of the Doctor and Rose, grinning, walking though an orange smudge. The sound and editing are similarly bad, some dialogue and much sense lost in a welter of fast cuts and music. They should cart that digital video camera off down the scrap yard and start filming the series – and quieten it down a bit, for heaven’s sake! One thing it could certainly be accused of is possessing atmosphere: that, to me, is a bad thing. This week’s gastrically-tormented aliens are a case in point, being utterly ludicrous and unconvincing. Take, by contrast, the shot which ends the teaser in the previous episode, ‘The Unquiet Dead’, where the living corpse walks howling towards the viewer, venting light. That is excellent stuff on paper, and well directed, and more appropriate music and some decent lighting could have made it look good.

Oh dear, oh dear. So, where does this leave us? Well, in many ways, this is a new low for ‘Doctor Who’. This ‘anal’ fan here hates fart jokes, and thinks you don’t need them to tell a good alien invasion story – but of course his opinion is not cared for by The Powers That Be, being far too la-di-dah and Middle English (haven’t you heard? We all live in council estates now!) and old fashioned. It simply reeks of Old Fandom! However, there is no question that the show has been worse: Seasons 23 and 24, and even some Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker stories were worse than this. The acting (apart from Chris) is mostly ok, actually, and the scripting has been mostly fine given the enormous constraints. The reason this review has been so violently critical is that I feel betrayed, hurt and terribly disappointed by my beloved show. I was willing it to be amazing, and wonderful, and glorious, and for it to fly, fly like a bird, and to be majestic, and shining (to draw upon RTD’s column style!) I was convinced, totally convinced that it would be a masterpiece – even after ‘Rose’ I was willing to be convinced, and God, even ‘Rose’ was better than this. I feel really gutted with what we have now. I know, four episodes in and already judging! 80s-style anti-producer witch-hunts are not a road any of us want to go down again, I’m sure. But, to be honest… well, let me quote Russell’s own ‘Production Notes’ column in DWM: “But you promised us the Doctor!”; “Hate the Slitheen!”; and, most importantly, “RTD must go now!”.


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