In preparation for the coming food riots I’ve been transforming my back garden. Out with the ornamental; in with the edible. Anything humans can’t digest has been replaced by rows of raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants, peas and beans, and in pots I’m growing tomatoes, chillies, chives, lovage, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (I feel a song coming on). Despite the cold spring and late-arriving summer my back-breaking labours began to bear fruit in hot July, with the plants cropping quite heavily for youngsters. I had enough to make pea & lovage soup, pea & crab risotto (white crab meat – £5 per 100g, Ashtons, Central Market), pea & broad bean crumble, gooseberry fool and…oh…hang on…oh no…not again…oh please not again…it’s happening again…can’t control it…coming on strong…can’t resist…I’VE JUST GOT TO LAUNCH AN UNPROVOKED, GRATUITOUS ATTACK ON…Doctor Who!!!
Has there ever been a more overrated programme in the entire history of television? I’ll answer that question myself: no there hasn’t, and I’m including Friends. The more the mass media chorus Doctor Who‘s praises in unison, inflating its reputation out of all proportion to its actual quality, the more certain you can be that it is premium grade crap. As science fiction it’s a joke, lacking the basic ingredients that have made the genre worth suspending disbelief for since Gulliver’s Travels: vision, plausibility, philosophical ideas, technological inventiveness and enhancement of our understanding of the present. The time travel trope, usually a gift for storytellers, is tossed away, shedding no light on the past, suggesting no compass to the future, and reduced to one more lumbering plot device amid a welter of bullshit geekery bathed in the smarmy self-satisfaction, breezy exposition and wanky self-referencing that are the inevitable outcomes when TV series go on for far too long. Viewers are treated with contempt by the knackered contrivances of the same old ‘cliffhanger’ storyline: the universe is about to be destroyed – tune in next week to see it not happen. There can be no tension or suspense when the Doctor will always whip out that ‘sonic screwdriver’ whatsit to sort out safe happy endings for the “family audience” – the laziest, feeblest deus ex machina since Euripides put quill to papyrus. The dire scripts, stage school acting, potboiler sub-plots, your-turn-to-speak dialogue and soapy McGuffins are played out in ineptly executed, cliché-ridden settings where ‘spookiness’ is achieved by dimming the lights, the rented props can be seen wobbling Crossroads-style, and the pitiful CGI effects make Red Dwarf look like 2001: A Space Odyssey. As for the Doctor himself, since Russell T Davies decided that a galactic Time Lord should be adorable eye-candy to arouse the glands of adolescent girls and gay men going through mid-life crisis, he’s been turned into a preening, self-congratulating, boring superhero (complete with obligatory bow-tie to denote zaniness) who only breaks off from fey flirtations with lissom young Earthlings when the galaxy needs saving. The supine audience gets the isn’t-humanity-wonderful message it loves to hear, taking an anthropocentrism that’s bad enough when applied just to this planet to whole new levels of staggering stupidity where humans are the most important beings in the entire cosmos. They also get the comfort-blanket of ‘baddies’ always being portrayed as hideous alien monsters – a sloppy conflation of otherness with wickedness to de facto endorse the very cornerstone of racism. Hapless producer Stephen Moffat, that punchbag of the internet chatroom, has somehow pulled off the seemingly impossible: making the infinite canvas of space and time seem narrow, predictable, insular and petty. But none of this matters. It is, after all, just a children’s programme; ‘Whovians’ are, after all, only OCD fantasists with arrested development issues (HEY ARSEHOLES! IT’S ALL MADE-UP!); and there are, after all, worse failings than being able to remember the Hartnell, Troughton (the point at which young Dic stopped watching never to see an episode again, he boasted), Pertwee, Baker(T), Davison, Baker(C), McCoy, McGann, Eccleston, Tennant, Smith, etc invocation in a pub quiz. No; the real problem with Doctor Who is – what else – Cardiff. Associating a place with a fictional TV programme smacks of desperation even when tried by small villages on the North York Moors gulling senile Heartbeat and Last of the Summer Wine fans into their tea-shoppes; but when resorted to by a capital city it is utterly debasing. Doctor Who is approaching it’s 50th anniversary (actually it’s been running for 35 years, having been dropped by the BBC between 1990 and 2005). Are we seriously expected to believe that this tripe will still be being aired in, say, 50 years time? Are we seriously making such ephemeral fluff a plank of the Cardiff economy? Are we seriously content to be inextricably connected to another mind-numbing, lowest-common-denominator, shitty “British Institution”? It’s like New York selling itself as the location of Sex and the City rather than of, say, Times Square, Broadway, Wall Street and indeed the USA incarnate. Here we have yet more crushing evidence of the sleazy hucksterism and tacky naffness that will remain Cardiff’s signatures until the city stops running from its sole responsibility and single distinguishing characteristic: Wales. Have you been to the ‘Doctor Who Exhibition’ down the Bay? Don’t – unless you’re partial to child exploitation on a grand scale, in which case the Beeb’ll fix it for you guys and gals. For £18 (adults £29) poor defenceless kids are frog-marched through an insolently cheapskate sub-fairground ride of thrown-together plastic, polystyrene and MDF while being ceaselessly flogged trashy rip-off merchandise. They should be sent home to hide behind the sofa – not for fear of Daleks, but to avoid the brazen profiteering and hard-sell tactics of BBC Worldwide (that’s the corporation’s imperialistic commercial arm, the very antithesis of public service bankrolled by the TV licence). If ever unlucky enough to find yourself at, shudder, ‘Porth Teigr’, do take a look at the vile visitors seeping into their culottes as they masticate mechanically-recovered horsemeat on the repulsive red ‘origami bridge’ over Roath Lock, the unspeakable, unedifying, unconscious, unimaginative, illiterate, infantilised hordes of middle England for whom Harry Potter is a serious read, the…the…aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrggghh…
Deep breaths Dic…that’s it…deep breathing…calm down…calm down…take a sniff of this…better now?
…and the aphids, sawflies and caterpillars stripped every fruit bush down to its leaf-veins, leaving (pun!) me with a dilemma. Do I take a chemical cosh to the blighters or stick with my high organic principles? I concluded that the insects, after a succession of terrible summers, deserved their fresh raspberries and their days in the sun, so left them in peace.
Thanks, Dic for expressing those thoughts. I loved Dr Who in the 70s, especially with Pertwee as the Doctor. Maybe as a result of this early interest, I have grown to love vintage Sci-fi; Wells, Ballard, Christopher, Aldiss, Pohl, Wyndham, and Vance most of all. I collect their books and those of many other great visionaries and social commentators. I watched a 1958 interview with Aldous Huxley this morning and was reminded of the genius of his ‘Brave New World’.
What dismays me most of all about the Moffatt/Smith iteration is that young people will equate this lazily plotted, unexciting and needelessly ‘hip’ bollocks with Sci-fi; Dr Who is to Sci-fi what pantomime is to theatre or Dan Brown’s work is to literary fiction.
After having watched only one episode since Matt Smith became the Dr, I am now embarrassed by Cardiff’s role in the creation and nurturing of this travesty. Your blog has made my day.
Down with Dr Who!
Fair comment on the lazy mass media coverage (but that is not exactly Doctor Who specific…) but pitiful CGI? Have you watched any episodes lately or are you basing your opinion on older episodes?
The use of temporal mechanics in the plot lines is , methinks, rather clever. If anything, I think the plots are sometimes a little TOO complicated to follow (especially for the occasional viewer) when fused with the machine-gun style delivery of the dialogue.
When you can tell instantly that it’s CGI then surely it’s no good, however flashy; and aren’t multiple, long-running sub-plots the very definition of a soap? I meant what I wrote in the blog: I haven’t watched a single complete episode since Patrick Troughton was chewing the scenery in a dicky-bow and tartan trousers. Hmm…I wonder what unorthodox items of clothing Peter Capaldi will wear to indicate lovable eccentricity…