Sunday, 25 August 2013

Future Failure

So... Doctor Who was originally taken off the air in 1989. There was no BBC announcement proclaiming the show had been moved to the scrap heap after twenty six years. Instead the production team simply weren't given the task of starting work on a twenty seventh season. It was just a show that the BBC were no longer making and over time people came to the conclusion that the show wasn't going to be seen again.

There were several reasons the BBC made this decision, a large one being the programme's public perception. It was seen as a shoddily made kids’ show that was watched mainly by a niche market of grown-up anoraks that should all have known better. Doctor Who (a two word shorthand that refers to the production gang) had spent too much of the eighties catering to the whims of its fans as opposed to making itself compelling television and had seen its best days.

A 1990 season of Doctor Who could have been made and could have worked, the three Sylvester McCoy seasons we got are proof of that. But it would have required a decent amount of money and the support of the BBC. These weren't things the BBC felt the programme warranted, because the show’s ratings didn’t warrant them. It was an impossible situation: the programme couldn’t do better with more money but it couldn’t get more money until it did better. Instead it was allowed to slip away and become a convoluted collection of novels, audios and comics.

There was a return to TV in 1996 but it lasted all of an hour and a half and did nothing to alter the perception that the show was knackered and could no longer work as part of BBC schedules. If anything The TV Movie reinforced a lot of people's feelings about the show.

We're now well past the cancellation and the '96 offering and firmly into revival territory. Doctor Who came back to prime time BBC One in March of 2005 and became a phenomenal hit. As the years passed it got bigger, thanks to the writing and excellent hyping ability of Russell T Davies, the immense popularity of David Tennant, and the 2010 expansion onto American television. Doctor Who is an undeniable hit.

People have been saying since series two that the programme's taken a turn for the worse. Personally I think it held out until the 2010 or 2011 series before it took a noticeable dip in quality but that (despite appearances to the contrary) is not what I'm talking about in this post.

Sooner or later Doctor Who will be taken off our screens again. It won’t happen under Moffat and it’s unlikely to happen under whoever replaces him, whoever that may be. But it will happen. The programme has already been back on television for eight years. It can’t continue indefinitely. Even if it’s for three or four years it’ll disappear.

And when it does disappear from our screens I think it’s currently running the risk of being looked on as a broken show in much the same way as the ’89 incarnation was. It’ll be for different reasons of course. In place of wobbly sets people will talk of wibbly wobbly plotting (see what I did there?). That’s something that the next showrunner could fix, but something tells me they won’t. Even if they move away from Moff’s time-tangling shenanigans I can’t anyone creating a strong enough identity for the show to rid it of the image the current man in charge has created.

Which will almost certainly lead to Doctor Who being remembered as a convoluted, complex show about time travel paradoxes. Which it’s not of course. But not all of the original series was badly mad. Most importantly the final three years of the original series were actually pretty well put together. But because of a few dodgy episodes and bad decision twenty-six seasons are remembered by the general populace as being pretty ropey television.

The show will never hit those lows again. But  think it’ll come closer than a lot of people currently believe possible.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Capaldi for Twelve

So Peter Capaldi is the Twelfth Doctor then. That's a bit of good news isn't it?

Yesterday's announcement was a rare example of Steven Moffat's general ineptitude working in Doctor Who's favour. I'd heard the rumours that Capaldi was going to be the next Doctor but couldn't bring myself to believe them, in large part because it was a good idea and Moffat has a history of letting fans down. Remember when he said season six's mid-season cliffhanger would be game-changing? Or when he teased River Song's identity for three years, assuring us she was the last person we’d expect her to be, only to reveal the truth was what people had been guessing all along? How about his most recent bit of fail, the spectacularly anticlimactic The Name of the Doctor? That revealed the Doctor's latest companion goes through time saving him continuously because she goes through time saving him continuously.

I also had a hard time envisaging an actor of Capaldi's talent watching the show we've been watching since 2010 and saying "Yeah, I'll get in on that." There was the potential issue of the BBC wanting to avoid kids stumbling across footage of Malcolm Tucker too. Thankfully nobody seems overly bothered by that possibility. Which is obviously good, because such things shouldn't stop a good actor being cast.

Mainly I didn't have faith Moffat would do something this right. He's surprised us. And I'm pleased.

I get the feeling that Capaldi may have been cast at least partially to combat the downturn critical acclaim for the show has taken lately. While Moffat blithely disregards reviews in interviews the truth is they matter. They reflect what the general public is likely to feel and so offer an insight into how to make the show better. And that's part of Moffat's job. If people don't remain enthused about the show it no longer makes money. And the BBC cannot afford to produce something that costs as much as Who that doesn't make them some dough in return.

Bringing in Capaldi is a way of encouraging support. It's an assurance that the show is still a priority and can still attract high quality names. It feels it’s being done, in part at least, to placate people who have been overly critical of Moffat scripts. Because if anyone stands a chance of making a bad Moffat script work it’s Peter Capaldi. It’s certinaly not Matt Smith, as we’ve seen.

When Capaldi starts is a matter for debate at the moment. It was originally announced that Matt Smith's final appearance would be in the Christmas special. There has since been talk that he'll be off during the anniversary special. It doesn't really make much difference although wanting to include a regeneration in the anniversary episode strikes me as a very Moffat desire. It's the sort of empty gesture he'd think would be incredibly poignant and - yes! - epic. I'm not fussed which episode is Smith's last although I will say that the prospect of Zygons being credited with offing a Doctor doesn't fill me with joy.

There's just enough time to have a thirteen episode stretch ready to begin airing next spring (assuming they keep filming later episodes after the first has aired, which is the norm) but I think an autumn start point is likelier. It's the one Moff has stated he prefers and it plays into his more deliberate (by which I mean slow (by which I mean lazy)) approach to scripts. I'm still hoping for an announcement that Moffat will be off after the next series. That will give Capaldi a good chance of having done good scripts to work with. He's not likely to get any under Moffat.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

In Case You Haven't Heard...

If you’ve not been paying attention to the papers, the news, social networking sites and the covers of magazines, you may have missed the news that there’s a new Doctor Who lead actor on the way. The announcement that current Doctor (Number Eleven) Matt Smith was leaving was made on June 1st (I wrote about that here). Over the two months since the show’s executive producers have held auditions, which I’m sure we’ll be told included a who’s who of top name talent at some point in the future, to find a new star. They have apparently found one and he or she is to be unveiled to the world this evening on a special live BBC One show imaginatively titled Doctor Who Live: The Next Doctor. They should have gone with Doctor Who Live: The Name of the Doctor. The Next Doctor is so RTD.

The show will feature Matt Smith and lead writer Steven Moffat, presumably talking up the new actor before they put in an appearance after a video package showing their previous acting work, potentially ending on a fleeting shot of them looking moody while leaning on the TARDIS. It will also feature Tom Baker and Peter Davison, the Fourth and Fifth Doctors respectively. They will be there to give advice to the newcomer, which makes me think Doctor Twelve is going to be younger than 35. If they’re not then bringing in two former Doctors just to give them advice seems a little patronising, especially as Tom Baker qualifies more as a parody of himself than as an actual actor.

Hosting the show will be pig-faced ladette Zoe Ball. She has no qualities that make her particularly suited to the task, she’s just a half-capable presenter conveniently under contract to the BBC. Personally I’d have brought Tennant in to host the thing and omitted Baker and Davison entirely. Tennant’s done a little presenting and would be a more natural choice for the task than Ball. Perhaps they asked him and he was busy, or simply wants to disassociate himself from Moff’s version of the show as much as possible.

Still, at least with the show the BBC have cobbled together there’s a strong chance of comedy. Tom Baker has been very open in talking about his feelings that Matt Smith’s not an especially good choice for the role of the Doctor. Perhaps he’ll mention that on air. Zoe Ball is almost guaranteed to get a very basic fact wrong. Normally there’d be nothing wrong with that (because you can’t expect everyone to be well-versed in the endless minutia of Doctor Who) but this is probably the one show where a knowledgeable presenter is needed. Moffat’s definitely going to slur out a load of hyperbole that his writing will never live up, but that’s nothing new. Maybe he’ll butt heads with Tom. That’d be a laugh, although it’s sadly unlikely.

In fact the only way I think this show could have a greater potential for humour would be if Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy were appearing in place of Tom and Peter.

At one point Peter Capaldi was the favourite for the role. I think he’d be great in the part, but somehow I just don’t think it’s going to be him. That’s partly due to my reasoning above: how do you justify bringing Tom Baker in to advise Peter Capaldi on anything? I also think his role on The Thick Of It could count against him. Kids are going to Google and YouTube search the new Doctor. Does the BBC really want to run the risk of them coming across one of Malcolm Tucker’s foul-mouthed rants? Then again, the casting decision has been made by Steven Moffat…

If it’s not Capaldi (and part of me is going to be disappointed if it’s not him because I think he’d be great) then I’d like to see Chiwetel Ejiofor or Idris Elba in the part. Both men’s names have been linked to the part (and Ejiofor was a rumoured close contender for the Eleventh Doctor role too) and both have the right mix of acting ability, good, marketable looks, and age (36 and 40 respectively) to be excellent in the role.

Also, isn’t it about time that a non-white actor was cast in the part? The longer the show rumbles on without doing this the bigger an issue it’s going to be. I don’t think someone should be cast based on the colour of their skin, but the time feels right for a departure from the middle class white male paradigm that’s been established for the role. It’s something that should certainly have been considered.

Another few hours of waiting and we’ll have a name and a face to start writing about. As a little known producer was fond of saying, stay tuned…