Doctor Who on Earth

Despite my dislike in the direction that Doctor Who is currently going (immature jokes, nonsensical plots), I found Russell T Davies’ remarks on why Doctor Who never seems to leave Earth very refreshing:

“People will say, ‘Why doesn’t he visit alien planets more often?'” he said. “But that’s because they are expensive. They’re hugely expensive.”

Davies also told Doctor Who magazine that these episodes gained the lowest viewing figures of the series.

“The programmes that do show alien planets are not prime-time programmes,” he said. “Star Trek and Stargate are subscription-based programmes for a dedicated audience.”
The writer added that he would not be using forests and quarries as stand-ins for alien landscapes, as was often the case in classic Doctor Who episodes.

“The mockery we would get walking into a forest and saying that we’re on the planet Zagfon! If you think we had one or two bad reviews in the second series, they would become like a machine gun the moment we started doing that.”

It’s not that I wish Doctor Who went away from Earth more – I think there are plenty of good stories to be told on it – but at least he has a reasonable excuse. Having said that, I still think that the show either takes the easy option (recycle old enemies/visit famous Victorian people) or the startlingly weird option. How about some interesting new enemies, eh? How about getting some new music other than the two tracks that the show always uses – namely, upbeat excited, and slow depressed? How about at least attempting to make the stories consistent and logical?

There’s nothing worse than a show that has unquestioned support and no competition. The Matrix was a fine movie, and so successful that the studio apparently left the Wachowski brothers alone to direct the two sequels without much interference. The result? Disastrous. I won’t pretend that Season 2 of Doctor Who was that bad, but I didn’t feel it improved much. And the news that there are not one, but two Doctor Who spinoffs now in production – Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures – simply confirms to me that the BBC lacks balls and imagination. There are surely other good ideas and directors out there – why not give them a chance? Doctor Who won’t be popular forever…

Let’s switch

I was watching X-Men with a friend this weekend when I suddenly realised that Doctor Who was on as well. I immediately took control of the remote and switched to BBC 1. This weekend’s episode was about the Cybermen, of course, and I was looking forward to this. After five minutes, my friend said “Why are we watching this? It’s terrible! I’ve tried watching it over and over again but it just looks awful.”

“Well, uh, that’s the way it’s supposed to look,” I said lamely.

“And what about the stories and dialogue?”

“Some of them are really good!”

But I have to be honest. I still have no good reason for why Doctor Who is as clunky as it is. Maybe it’s just the drama that Britain deserves, I don’t know, but it’s clear that it’s not faring particularly well in the US, averaging only a million or so viewers every week.

The First Rule is…

If you are at all interested in Doctor Who and would rather not know any plot details of the last episode, do not read any stories about Doctor Who on the internet from now on. You might think that you can rely on places like the BBC and the Guardian not to spoil the ending, since they haven’t done so in the past, but that isn’t the case now. The BBC conducted an unembargoed press screening of the final episode recently, and all of the papers and news outlets are happily spoiling everything.

I fell afoul of this today, when I read a seemingly innocuous article in the Guardian Media Online about the show being renewed for a third season. “Why,” I asked myself blithely, “would anyone put spoilers in such an article?” Anyway, about halfway through the article was a huge plot spoiler. I could hardly believe my eyes, and immediately closed the window in fear of further infection. Within minutes, I dispatched an angry email to the editor of the Guardian Media section, Janine Gibson, complaining about it.

To her credit she replied extremely rapidly and apologised for it. Shortly afterwards, the author of the article himself, Matt Wells, also replied and pointed out that there was a spoiler warning in the fourth para of the article. True enough, but I tend to speed read stuff on the internet (like many others, I suspect), and just zipped past it. The offending paragraph with spoilers was already on my screen without any scrolling at that point, so it was too late.

Luckily it wasn’t all spoiled for me, but damage has been done. I’ll just have to be more careful from now on…

Here is the correspondence of this story:

Date: 10:55:37 BST
From: Adrian Hon
To: Janine Gibson

Dear Ms. Gibson,

I’m a regular reader of Media Guardian and often find it gives the best reporting on UK Media issues. However, I was severely disappointed when I read ‘Doctor Who fights on… and on’ by Matt Wells today. Is it really necessary for him to spoil parts (if not all) of the ending of this season in a discussion about the third season renewal?

Surely it hasn’t escaped the Guardian’s notice that a good percentage of the population of this country are looking forward to the final episode and really would rather not know the ending? Even people who work in media don’t always want to know all the details.


Adrian Hon

Date: 11:04:17 BST
From: Janine Gibson
To: Adrian Hon

Thank you for your email. I too was absolutely furious at the number of spoilers in the national press this morning and we have already shouted at matt. To be fair to him, he was filing late for the paper which was automatically uploaded onto the site. I think he has an excuse because he tried to warn fans not to read on.

I sympathise though. Everyone does it and it drives lots of readers nuts. He swears there are still secrets and the times was much worse…

Janine Gibson
The Guardian

Date: 11:14:56 BST
From: Matt Wells
To: Adrian Hon

Hi Adrian

Thanks very much for your email. We faced a tricky decision last night. The BBC held a screening for several hundred invited guests at Bafta for the last episode. Many were journalists, and many were Who fans who run fanzines and websites. The BBC did not place the event under embargo, which it could have chosen to do. Indeed, it released a load of pictures to the press of the final epsiode.

My feeling was that, given the number of people present and the likelihood of leaks, the Guardian had to run a story of some kind – leading on the line that the BBC had commissioned a third series. We then thought it would be fine to drop in a couple of teasers for Saturday night’s episode, without revealing the plot entirely. And given that it has already been revealed that Christopher Eccleston is not returning as the Doctor – and, for goodness sake, the BBC’s own Doctor Who site says the episode is called Parting of the Ways – we thought it wasn’t too much of a revelation to say that (removed because this is a great big spoiler).

We didn’t go as far as the Times, which has revealed a great deal more. In any case I can assure you there is LOADS more in the final episode, and your enjoyment has not been spoiled. It’s a cracker.

Beyond all of that, I wrote a warning in the fourth paragraph that some plot details would be revealed in the rest of the story. More fool you for reading on!

Best wishes,

Why not, Who?

I didn’t think I’d see the day when the BBC made good science fiction, but it has finally come with the new series of Dr. Who. I was never a big fan of the show when I was a kid; it seemed completely inferior to Star Trek and I can’t remember a single episode. In comparison, the new series has achieved the impossible – it made me plan in advance to sit down in front of a television at a specific time. In fact, it’s done the same for a whole bunch of my friends who don’t otherwise watch TV.

Never mind the decent special effects and excellent stories, the one thing that I noticed is how much effort the writers have put into the show. During the second episode, The End of the World, set 3.5 billion years in the future, Rose points out that the sun expanding into a red giant would have taken place over millions of years and slowly destroyed Earth; she also notes that the continents are incongruously in the same position as they are in the present. The Doctor then goes on to explain that the Earth has been artificially protected and preserved in this state. What kind of show would even bother addressing these points? Most would simply wave the ‘science’ issue away, so I was very impressed Dr. Who made a real effort at it.

Despite watching the show on TV, I’m still downloading it for rewatching (so what? I don’t have a VCR, and that’s legal), in this week’s case to check out the promo for the next episode where an alien spaceship destroys Big Ben and invades London. Take that, America! Looks like your monopoly on alien invasions of New York, Washington DC and occasionally San Francisco has finally ended.

I was intrigued to see in the promo, during the BBC news section, a phone number for an ‘Alien Emergency Helpline – 08081 570980’. Since they did set up a fake website to accompany the first episode, I was hoping that the phone number would also work. Unfortunately it’s not active, but perhaps it’ll work next week. Anyway, that started me thinking on the opportunities for making an alternate reality game to tie into Dr. Who. Clearly the audience demographics are perfect and the writers are up to the job of handing a complex, multimedia story – why not give it a shot, BBC?

Doctor Who

Doctor Who will finally be back on TV in two years time. I was never a big fan of Doctor Who, but I do think that the BBC could do a good job in developing an SF show now, and it would be fun to see some British SF as well.

The reason why this announcement is much more believeable than previous ones (which amounted to nothing) is because the Radio Times recently conducted a poll of 12,000 UK viewers to see what show they would most want to see back on TV. They discovered that Doctor Who was by far and away the most wanted, with 31% of them wanting to see it revived.

I am convinced that this is what caused the BBC’s announcement, a mere two days afterwards; they’ve been wanting to revive Doctor Who for some time, and with the poll they have a cast-iron reason for doing so. So sit tight…