I have made no effort to disguise my growing disdain for NuWho. I was concerned I was speaking to an empty theater so to speak, but to quote the Face of Boe, "You are not alone". On one of the Facebook pages I belong to (Classic Doctor Who Fans Who Dislike New Who), I have come across a series of thoughts by Mr. Paul Berry. We in the group were so genuinely impressed by his series that I urged him to publish them.
Ethan White of Sixstanger00 has requested permission to upload them on his YouTube page. I don't know if Mr. Berry has but hope he does. I for my part asked for permission to reprint them on this site.
Mr. Berry has graciously allowed me to republish them as he posts them, and here is the ninth of a ten-essay series. It is reprinted as written with the content exactly as it appears. The only alterations made are for any grammatical/spelling errors, spacing for paragraphs, and perhaps a few afterthoughts which will be noted after the photos.
For this essay, I also added all the photos save for the Osmonds one, which was part of the original essay.
I hope readers enjoy and share them. I also hope readers will debate these matters, for I believe in a healthy debate. However, I find Mr. Berry's comments and thoughts quite well-thought out and worthy of a greater audience.
With that, I present Part Nine of this series: 10 Things I Hate About New Who.
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT NEW WHO
9) DOCTOR WHO MEETS TRASHY POP CULTURE
For a programme about time travel I have always felt Doctor Who has had a certain timelessness; a majority of the episodes from the classic show can be seen out of context from when they were originally made and yet still be perfectly relevant and understandable today. Yes the series production values easily date the show to a particular period, but when viewing many of the episodes the odd dodgy haircut or fashion aside they don't feel too tied to a particular time.
Sixties Doctor Who doesn't seem mired in psychedelia, while 70's Who doesn't feel permeated by glam rock. This is because the pop culture of the time wasn't allowed to needlessly intrude on the story. The classic series pandered to popular culture on a handful of occasions, probably the most blatant of which was jumping on The Beatles bandwagon in The Chase. The Beatles were mentioned again in The Three Doctors, got played on a jukebox in Evil of the Daleks and Elton John got a rather unflattering reference in Planet of Fire. There may have been others but generally speaking they were few and far between.
Imagine though how it could have been. Susan being a Cliff Richard fan and the drama of stories like The Daleks being undercut by references to Cliff's then recent Summer Holiday film. Twiggy getting a cameo as herself in The War Machines. Troughton's Doctor turning up on a sci-fi version of Juke Box Jury where the rest of the panel are robotic versions of various celebrities. The Osmonds putting in an appearance during the Pertwee era. I would argue if any of this sort of thing had happened it would have made the old show much less than it was.
Classic Who remains so watchable and accessible now because it largely kept away from the pop culture that surrounded it; like those other sci-fi greats Star Trek & Star Wars, it existed in its own bubble universe.
|As my mom says, "They know him at HIS house..."|
I would argue that much new Doctor Who is so entrenched in modern disposable pop culture that it feels cheapened and dated by such inclusions. What relevance today do X Factor winner Shayne Ward or many of the futuristic game shows featured in the Bad Wolf episode have?
Putting pop culture references into Who is a tricky business. OK, it makes the show modern and cool. Used in moderation and depending on what is being referenced and who is doing the referencing it is generally okay, but as with many aspects of the new series it has been overdone to the point where it has become intrusive.
The Tennant era was probably when it was at its height and was made worse by the fact that The Doctor was often the one referencing 21st century pop culture: Kylie in The Idiot's Lantern (a bit incongruous considering she later turned up in the series), Eastenders in The Impossible Planet, Skeletor in the Dreamland cartoon to name just a few off the top of my head.
Okay realistically speaking The Doctor has visited all parts of human history and absorbed the culture of the time. He knows of Dickens, Shakespeare and the greats; maybe in the future Eastenders is high art. It is feasible today's disposable culture could well be that, but the truth is it feels odd and incongruous in Doctor Who that The Doctor would know of such things; it just doesn't work dramatically.
My own opinion on the matter is that a 20-30 year rule works well on what pop culture can be assimilated into Doctor Who. When the 7th Doctor refers to Elvis in Time and the Rani, he is enmeshed in history as such an iconic figure that we can believe that The Doctor would talk of him as a great of human history. Had Hartnell or Troughton talked of Elvis it would have seemed a gratuitious pop culture reference.
Ian Dury's music played in the TARDIS in Tooth and Claw again works to a degree because it is old enough to believe that the 10th Doctor could be a fan of the punk era. Used during the Baker Era it would have been disastrous. Similarly the playing of Soft Cell's Tainted Love in The End of the World is another touch, again old enough to just about be viable as a piece of music that has survived into the far future. The subsequent inclusion of a contemporary Britney Spears track in the same story then ruins the effect.
|The Beatles cameo in The Chase|
(the only known footage of them from Top of the Pops)
This is my personal opinion but that 25-30 year lag on what elements of pop culture The Doctor can talk about works in my mind. That said even older pop culture references can jar and seem incongruous. David Warner listening to Vienna by Midge Ure in the Cold War episode is one that springs to mind, the other is the use of The Lion Sleeps Tonight in Rise of the Cybermen. The use of these songs in the context just comes across as tacky and seems more about the writers personal music taste than how it aids the story.
The Russell T Davies era also brought us the yearly celebrity cameos, a feature thankfully Moffat seems to have dropped. Tricia, Mcfly, Sharon Osborne amongst others all popped up. All this just tied Doctor Who into a low brow pop culture. It was one step away from The Doctor taking up reading The Sun or News of the World.
I am not saying the show should have no references to modern culture but it should be sparing and nowhere near as gratuitious as it has been over the years. All these references have nothing to do with telling the story, but are more to do with the insecurity of not letting the show stand on its own merits and feeling the need to seed it with references and cameos from all the other shows and culture its audience is familiar with, so Doctor Who seems part of the hip crowd of programmes, and not some maverick sci fi show for nerds.
|You ARE The Weakest Link. Goodbye!|
I must admit I can't recall too much in the latest series so to give Steven Moffat his credit I think he has vastly toned it down, but much of the RTD era is blighted by this stuff which to me makes Doctor Who less of a sci fi classic and more of a tacky piece of pop culture.
I think Doctor Who works better without all this stuff. Indeed when it was used in the classic series it often wasn't very successful either. The Doctor's reference to Batman in Inferno for instance is the low point in an otherwise near flawless story. Yes we know Polly and Ben came from Swinging London, Jo Grant had a thing for 70's fashions and Ace liked her big tape decks, but that was all we needed to know, enough to make a connection with the contemporary world without being beaten over the head by it.
I think the worse reference ever was not actually in the series but in one of the early 9th Doctor books where the Doctor seemed to have an innate knowledge of a plot going on in a then-current episode of Eastenders. Don't get me wrong: I like Eastenders, but it and Doctor Who don't mix and Dimensions in Time is testament to this. Like that scene in the Paul McGann TV movie: I can buy The Doctor sitting back to read the greats in his spare time. What I can't visualise is him sitting down to a soap marathon of Eastenders, Hollyoaks or Emmerdale with a bit Jeremy Kyle thrown in for good measure, but I believe by his intrusive use of all this pop culture that is probably what The Doctor has been getting upto in his last few incarnations.
NEXT TIME: 10) VULGARITY & SILLINESS
Oddly, this essay brings to mind, of all things, Scooby-Doo.
During the original run of Scooby-Doo, various celebrity guest voices came to help solve the particular mystery. I particularly remember Mama Cass from The Mamas and the Papas doing a guest turn. What exactly Mama Cass was doing with these meddlesome kids I can't recall, only that as a child, the only thing I remember about this particular story was that 'no one's getting fat, except Mama Cass".
It's no surprise therefore that a lot of times I've heard people compare Doctor Who to Scooby-Doo, though I imagine for various reasons, none flattering.
The curious thing is that anyone watching the Scooby-Doo with Mama Cass won't see a great singer with some memorable songs like Dream a Little Dream or Words of Love. Instead, they'll see a silly fat woman obsessed with chocolate and getting her exercise by running after ghosts.
One thing that I think Berry is completely right about is on how modern references in NuWho makes things dated, and worse, a bit confusing. Take Bad Wolf Part 2 (Bad Wolf) as an example. Apart from The Weakest Link and Big Brother I had no idea what other shows they were referencing. This is due to me being American, which then narrows the scope of Doctor Who for non-British viewers. Imagine if The Doctor were suddenly on Let's Make a Deal or Beat Bobby Flay or Cutthroat Kitchen or Keeping Up with the Kardashians or Press Your Luck. Would fans in say Australia or India or Britain be able to fully appreciate what's going on? I'm sure they could piece it together (as I did, though for full disclosure I've never seen an episode of Big Brother and only one episode of Survivor) . You are forced to make these shows part of Canon, and then you are forced to say that these stories take place in OUR world rather than an a plausible but still alternate world.
|The Next Companion?|
Take The Daemons for example. Here we had a world that could exist, but once the church was blown up, we could move on without thinking it HAD to happen in a particular time. Contemporary audiences could see it as either present or future, future audiences (like myself) could put it in the present or past. It still stands because it wasn't tied to a particular time. NuWho isn't like that at all. It is rooted in the present, but then it becomes disposable, failing to obtain the classic level Classic Who stories like Daemons or Tomb of the Cybermen have.
Anyone really think people fifty years from now will curl up to watch The Bells of Saint John or Closing Time?
I personally don't think including some modern references is a bad thing. However, take a second look at The Chase's Beatles reference. To Vicki, The Beatles were 'classical' music, as she was from the 25th Century. It was made partly as a joke (to signal that something as 'pop' as The Beatles were in the future considered 'classical') and from a unique perspective (a girl in the far future). It would be the same as if I, a 21st Century man, went into what I would consider 'the past' and tell someone on Tin Pan Alley that the Gershwin Brothers' music was high art and performed in concert halls. To someone in the 1920s, this would seem rather silly as George and Ira Gershwin wrote what were considered popular songs. However, they wouldn't have the perspective I do. Similarly, The Beatles reference was not bizarre or out of place, but from the vantage point of someone for whom John, Paul, George, and Ringo were long-dead historic figures.
Even celebrity guest appearances can work IF they are done correctly. Take for example pop singer Foxes cameo in Mummy on the Orient Express. She made a quick appearance singing a song, keeping it to the 1920s feel of the episode, and it wasn't overblown or heightened. For those of us who've never heard of Foxes, it was irrelevant what her current status is. It wasn't a big deal, but a nice touch.
Converse that with Professor Richard Dawkins in The Stolen Earth or Sian Williams and Bill Turnbull in The Wedding of River Song. Think people really care who the last two are or will care fifty years from now (I personally don't care for the first one either, but that's unimportant). It does immediately date the episode in the same way having say Sarah Jane Smith report to Walter Cronkite would have if the original series had done what NuWho does.
One thing that Mr. Berry probably doesn't see is that it is different for non-British people when they watch these references in NuWho. Someone watching Dimensions in Time would be puzzled as to what Miss Brahms from Are You Being Served? was doing here, and we wouldn't get the reference (also, if DIT is Canon, does that mean Pauline Fowler really exists as well?) Things do get lost in translation, and it muddies the waters for those of us not following the adventures of Albert Square.
|Of COURSE I'm Marion Anderson, Leontyne Price, |
and Martina Arroyo's equal!
Maybe they could sing, but did any of them
get Tom Cruise to JUMP?!
Pop culture has become THE culture around the world. It's infected everything. Even something as lofty as The Kennedy Center Honors is now ruled (and ruined) by the next/new/now ethos of celebrating pop. Once, Kennedy Center Honorees were the likes of Yehudi Menuhin, Agnes de Mille, and William Shuman; today, they now select figures like Sting, Led Zeppelin, and Oprah Winfrey as people worthy of recognition for their contribution to HIGH culture.
Ultimately, while I personally don't find something bad about current references, Doctor Who, and any show really, should tread lightly on these matters.
What will Whovians fifty years from now think of Mcfly and Sharon Osbourne in the same world as the Daleks?