The new touchy-feely Doctor Who trend: Worrying
Timey-wimey cuddling has replaced the Stiff Upper Lip
For a certain type of alphabetised-DVD-collection Doctor Who fan, there’s a crafty mental reset button that can be pressed when encountering deeply uncomfortable concepts. Concepts such as when the Eighth Doctor, Paul McGann, casually let it slip that he was actually half-human, or upon hearing the Doctor In Distress charity single, or when Tom Baker told John Culshaw he had erotic designs on Davros.
That button is labeled “IS THAT CANON?”
Once you hit it, you can assign these aberrations to a parallel universe, or alternate timestream, leaving the time forever a quarter to three, with a Broth Of Oblivion still for tea. But now this cunning smart bomb of the mind is becoming ineffectual.
The last six-odd years have seen some reckless toying with the very fabric of the programme, and we don’t mean Captain Jack’s shrinking muscle vest, or Amy’s policewoman outfit. Even more unedifying and illogical than the Doctor having a daughter, or dancing in public, or gaining a mortal double who has eloped with Rose Tyler, are the newly accepted, often teary-eyed methods of story resolution.
It never used to be like this.
Once upon a time, a non-hysterical make-do attitude prevailed in Doctor Who, and was reflected in stolid, often-recurring supporting actors sufficiently trained to take anything seriously, and the proper British rubbish churned out in the special effects department.
The legends of kids hiding behind couches were forged in these days of adversaries made of old fag packets, cellophane and wallpaper – a personal fave being the chicken suited “Chronovore” Kronos from the 1972 Third Doctor adventure, The Time Monster.
“Of course!” comments the Doctor. “We’re seeing through the TOMTIT gap into the time vortex.”
Throughout the first run – and remember, even the Hell’s Angels watched it at the time (here’s proof at 20m:23s) – the cheapness was always balanced with mind-warping, reality-busting imagination. Oftentimes they crossed over; see 1979’s City of Death, a bizarro time-leaping tale of the alien Scaroth trying to prevent his own fragmentation in pre-history by er, flogging copies of the Mona Lisa to finance spare parts for his time machine. Imagine the info-graphic of alien intelligences active throughout Earth’s history!
The End of the Daleks
To illustrate the differences, let’s do some fantastical denouement comparisons for Dalek stories.
Today, anybody under the age of about 51 can only experience the ‘65/’66 12-parter The Dalek Masterplan via narrated audio, but when the First Doctor reflects on the devastation wrought by the Time Destructor, he clucks amusedly at the annihilation of the Daleks, but then mutters darkly about the terrible waste of lives – including the death of short-lived, fratricidal companion Sara Kingdom. It’s the Second World War, and the Daleks are the Nazis.
Too much soppy stuff
1975’s Genesis Of The Daleks sees the Fourth Doctor attempting to destroy his most reliably psychotic enemies before they come into existence. Refusing to commit what he sees as genocide, he has to settle for holding them up for a thousand years or so. This is something of a contrast with 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks, when the Seventh Doctor contrives to completely destroy Dalek homeplanet Skaro with superweapon-in-a-coffin The Hand Of Omega! Uncomfortable or what?
While history hasn’t been kind to the actors that followed the inaugural Big Four – there was psychic pain galore involved in the late '80s schedule-poinging, theme tune revamps and Doctors under pressure – they did at least stay faithful to certain important fundamentals. All bets would be off, though, after the 2005 return.
There’ve been some brain-boggling blinders, without doubt. If only the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston, had hung around for another series or two. But since the return, the season conclusions seem to have been devised by some unknown compliance-cabal charged with amping up the sap levels.
This reached its grisly zenith in 2007’s Last Of The Timelords, when an apparently powerless, desiccated Tenth Doctor is granted Christ-powered resurrection by like, everybody on Earth sending him their love-power at the same time through the Master’s evil mobile phone network. And if this one-bound-free magic-over-science non-resolution wasn’t bad enough, then he actually forgives the Master. (This was perhaps only surpassed by the insanely OTT regeneration of The Tenth Doctor, complete with exploding TARDIS).
You wouldn’t have had the First Doctor doing this stuff, or letting the companions – or even the viewers – sort it out. Is this because the ultimate destruction of the Earth/Universe/Time Itself is actually less dramatically satisfying than sentimental side issues, which everyone knows the kids like more than explosions, infinity and monsters?
Well, maybe they don’t.
True, things have improved plenty with the Eleventh Doctor, though regarding the River Song story arc, how exactly did her marrying/snogging the Doctor restore the universe to its pre-fragmentary state?
The lunchbox-owning target audience isn’t complaining. Yet.
But they might if all these anti-canonical events, fuelled by unnecessary guest spots and catch-all “timey-wimey” fixes, become more endemic, and Doctor Who undergoes final inspirational heat death. If that happens, imagine Sarah Jane’s stiff-upper-lip departure in 1976 adventure The Hand Of Fear, newly soundtracked by Coldplay, forever.
"Tears, Sarah Jane?" ®
Ian Harrison also writes about pop music and will miss Ceefax.