Friday, December 28, 2007

The New Doctor Who: Questions

This show started in 1963, and ran without interruption for about 25 years. I don't remember exactly when it was canceled, but people tried for years to bring it back, and in 2005 Russell T Davies finally succeeded.

When reviving a classic show like this, there always have to be choices made about what to change, and what to keep the same. It's interesting to think about which choices work and which don't. I am very far from being able to explain it -- I'm no expert -- but I have devoted a certain amount of thought to the choices that Mr. Davies made, and whether or not I agree with him. In some cases I don't, but I still respect his decisions.

Or rather, I respect the questions he asks about the show, even if I don't always agree with his answers. That's what this post is about.
  1. Do the Doctor and his companions "love" each other? Davies' answer appears to be "yes," although the Doctor seems less willing to say the magic words. As an old-time fan, I can't really get behind this. I was never one of those who speculated about what the Doctor got up to, with all those cute girls, in the many rooms of the TARDIS, between episodes . . . and even now, to see him hugging people (or worse yet, kissing) is a bit of a shock to me. And yet it is certainly a valid question. I always believed that there was affection between them -- and when does that cross over into love? Is it sexual love, or what? Actually, my interpretation is that we, the fans, love the Doctor, and Davies is essentially trying to bring us into the show by focusing on love.
  2. When people go off with the Doctor, what happens to the families they leave behind? This is a crucial question, and asking it was one of the best things Davies did. It is in no way a departure from the old show, because obviously it was always the case that when people got into the TARDIS they were unlikely to ever see their families again. And yet by bringing it up, Davies causes us to look at the show in a completely new way. Actually, I can't really say that I disagree with his answer to this question. He might not have a specific answer, except for "they miss them." But simply pointing out that people do get left behind is a lot.
  3. Does the Doctor bring death and destruction wherever he goes? Is he, in fact, evil? Davies' answer appears to be "no" (which I would agree with) and yet more than one character has answered "yes." These tend to be people who haven't met him in person, who have only heard about him (and that's another neat trick from Davies, by the way, to postulate that a certain number of people know about the Doctor, because he has spent so much time on Earth. Well, more "Britain" than "Earth", but we get the point.) Or people, like Queen Victoria, who have only encountered him in the context of bad stuff happening, and somehow decide to blame him for the bad stuff. This is another really interesting question -- and why is Davies asking it? Where is he going to go with it? Maybe he's just going to leave it hanging, overshadowing the show. (I am a bit behind on the episodes -- as of this date I haven't seen any of Season 3 -- so I don't know if there have been any developments.) We have always seen the Doctor as a hero. From our point of view, he goes around fighting evil monsters and saving the world. So why do these people see him as the problem instead of the solution? As far as I know, Davies never sets out to explicitly prove them wrong. They're allowed to say these things without rebuttal. Is it possible that Davies wants us to think that he does cause more harm than good to the people whose lives he touches?
I started to give these questions serious thought after watching the episode "Love and Monsters." I hated that episode. And yet, after thinking about it I realized: first, that it expresses everything that Russell T Davies has to say about the show; and second, that in general I don't disagree with what he has to say. I just didn't like that particular episode. In fact, it failed to draw me in at the beginning. Some of the later bits were quite good -- but the opening scene of the Doctor and Rose chasing that monster around failed to suspend my disbelief and after that I just couldn't really get into it. Then there was the incredibly tasteless joke at the end. But I digress. (It says quite a lot for Davies' range though, that he can go from tasteless to thought-provoking to genuinely moving. Maybe he has good days and bad days.)

Love and Monsters are what Davies thinks Doctor Who is about, and he's certainly not wrong. If he wants to exaggerate the love, or suggest that the Doctor might be one of the monsters, he can go right ahead as far as I'm concerned. I might not always like it but I will watch it -- and that makes both him and me happy.

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