Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thinking: Its Not For You!

Well, its that time again, when Doctor Who returns to our screens, and is instantly subjected to a level of scrutiny far beyond that which a Saturday Evening Family-viewing show merits. Everyone seems to be in on the act, from twitter (split as ever, between gushing fans and bitter refuseniks), the legion of geek blogs, and even the mainstream press can't resist getting a few articles up each about the return of the show, episode reviews and some tacked on commentary using the show as an analogy. It's all a bit weird really, when you think about it - Who doesn't put itself forward as that sort of show and there are a hell of a lot of shows that do and don't seem to get the coverage.

I guess in part it's because of the popularity - I certainly see enough comments from people who seem to watch The X-Factor solely to bitch about awful it is - and the relaunched Who benefits from widespread critical as well as commercial success which can be pretty baffling if its doing nothing for you. And its true that the massive diversity in the stories and tones Who tries to achieve over a series can mean that its occasionally frustrating when you see an episode you actually really like only to find that you'd have to watch another 10 episodes to get another like. Finally of course Doctor Who is one of the iconic geek shows, and also one of the ones that has widest acceptance, being embedded into British popular culture for nearly 50 years. 

But ultimately, I'm starting to think its a show we all need to let go of a little bit.

I don't mean that they should stop making it, and I certainly don't mean to imply I don't enjoy it. I love Doctor Who, flaws and all, even the bad episodes. I'm working my way through a long project to educate my eldest on Classic Who (or should that be inflict them on him?)  so he can grow up to be a proper Geek just like me. But in my heart I accept that by and large this is not a show made for me, the Geek and long-term fan, and nor should it be. 

Fandom is a strange thing - it's part nostalgia, part misplaced sense of ownership, part crazy stalker obsession. I'm a fan of a lot of things, and it's great, but I'm under no illusions that it's an irrational behavior. Shows with strong fandoms usually deserve it, and usually reward fans, especially in this day and age when they can be huge drivers for publicity and viewership and "downstream sales" like merchandise and DVDs and so on. It can also be pretty dysfunctional - like any crowd a shows fans are often only as smart as their dumbest member, and are often caught between the two impulses to demand new things from creators but also resist change.

I don't always agree with what the writers and showrunners on Doctor Who have done, but one thing I've respected from both Stephen Moffat and Russell T Davies is their determination to stick to their vision of the show, and resist falling into "fanfiction" territory (although both have skirted that boundary on occasion). It's tempting, as a long term fan, to sit around and dream up cool stories tying the fractured mythology of the show together, or complain that continuity to that one story in the mid 1970s is messed up. I like the nods back to the old series, but to be honest I think the show would suffer if it spent too much time doing that. 

You only have to look at the mess the Marvel and DC universes keep getting themselves into see what happens when you run franchises based on trying to appease the core fanbase. Mainstream comics over recent years feel increasingly insular, increasingly based on "big events" and gimmicks and commercially exploiting an existing fanbase over bringing in a new, refreshed one. There is an advantage to this, older readers tend to have more disposable income, someone who has been collecting for 20 years isn't likely to stop but someone who has been reading for 6 issues is a much bigger risk, but ultimately a new reader who has been to see say, The Avengers, is likely to be really confused by whatever cross-over Marvel are doing this week and just move on. 

Similarly if my eldest needed to have seen Remembrance of the Daleks in order to understand Asylum of the Daleks, then Doctor Who has gone pretty badly wrong. 

This isn't to say that you're wrong if you don't like Doctor Who, or if you prefer whichever Doctor you prefer to Matt Smith's current portrayal. Its fine to prefer the Robert Holmes era to the Russell Davis era. There shouldn't be any obligation to like the show at all - which sounds obvious but needs to be restated to a geek community that can get proprietorial about which shows are "acceptable" for your geek cred status. But  we need to be mindful that this is a show made for an audience where my 10 year-old son and 65-year old mother can curl up on the sofa and watch it together. 

This show is for them, as much as it is for me, and we have to learn to share it.