Tuesday, December 2, 2014

10 Things I Hate About Who. Part One: Lack of Believability

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 first 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. 

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 One of this series: 10 Things I Hate About Who
I've just had an idea for a series of posts. I'm calling it
There's probably more than 10 I can think of but the title had a ring to it.  It's good to be able to air these views to a sympathetic audience without being shouted down. Of course feel free to agree or disagree.

 So okay heres' the first one.
Okay let's get this straight; on paper Doctor Who is a ridiculous premise: a man flies around the galaxy in a phone box thats bigger on the inside than out. We've had 50 years to assimilate the idea and it stands as one of the true icons of sci fi, but compared to the Enterprise or the Millenium Falcon the Tardis is a bit out there. Imagine in 1963 the various BBC departments being pitched this premise, they could be forgiven for thinking it was some kind of spoof sci fi idea or a silly children's hour skit.

But Verity Lambert, Anthony Coburn, Waris Hussein and Co. took this off the wall idea and made us believe in it. We believed in this utterly bizarre idea because it was grounded in everyday reality, the reactions of our everyman characters of Ian and Barbara were what our reactions would have been if we had stumbled across this impossibility.

There is nothing about this first episode which is trying to be clever or funny; it is just good honest drama and immediately sells Doctor Who as a believable sci fi concept. But it could have been done differently, the producers could have decided to make everything wacky which is pretty much what Moffat does today and then the credibility is gone.

So for the first few seasons Doctor Who goes backwards and forwards in history and out into space, any viewer with a bit of imagination can believe these things are going on, and outside our normal everyday world is a whole universe of adventure.  Later things get a bit more complicated because Doctor Who starts to visit contemporary Earth a bit more and aliens start to invade. The problem is that any viewer knows that there hasn't been a worldwide alien invasion so Doctor Who could lose that connection to reality.  The producers therefore do the sensible thing and most of the alien invasions occur in the future or in isolated areas. With a stretch of imagination we can still believe in the reality of Doctor Who and that everything occurs just out of view. Okay a lot of the UNIT stuff is now contradicted, but at least at the time they tried to make their ideas palatable.

The new series has ceased to be believable since probably the first episode Rose back in 2005. In the old days we were slowly edged into the mythology of the series; in RTD's version it comes in one fell swoop: invasions, TARDIS time travel, there is no time for a viewer to be slowly drawn in like there was in An Unearthly Child so it's all chucked in in the space of 45 minutes.
The result is that Doctor Who's version of reality comes over as a bit cartoonish and at odds with the everyday world we live in. As the series goes on the show loses its grip on reality more and more. Worldwide present-day alien invasions every series, Daleks on every street. In each series it got more ridiculous: Earth towed across space, everyone turned into The Master, every dead body becomes a Cyberman.

It's now so ridiculously big and overblown that disbelief can no longer be suspended; we can no longer believe these things are happening just out of the corner of the eye, so it places New Who in some weird contradictory parallel universe where alien invasions are common knowledge or not depending on the requirements of the story.

Not content with having the whole of Earth constantly at threat, the makers have to go one bigger and have the whole of existence constantly at threat as well, hence the hugely nonsensical idea from a few years ago. I forget the exact details where the Doctor somehow rebooted the entire universe. It's just that one step too far, where disbelief can no longer be suspended and the series lapses into farce.

There are many other examples where credulity is strained; take the last episode where we are supposed to believe that dead bodies are transformed into fully mechanized Cybermen by drops of nano rain. I could believe a dead body became some sort of biological looking parody of a Cyberman through such means, but a fully functioning robot with working parts lights and such is just too much of strain. It's like asking someone to believe you've just grown an iPhone. The moon suddenly being revealed as an egg is another example that springs to mind from this year
There are many more examples too numerous to list which constantly prevent Doctor Who from being taken seriously as proper science fiction.

The upshot is the current makers have taken a far fetched idea and instead of taking the care that they did in 1963 to make it credible, have just continued to stretch it and make it more far fetched. I just cannot engage with a series I cannot suspend disbelief in.

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Here are my own thoughts. 

The NuWho fan has to ask him/herself, is Doctor Who science fiction or is it fantasy? The whole of Classic Who, from An Unearthly Child to Survival (and perhaps The Movie: The Enemy Within) was clearly science fiction.  Time travel, visits to other planets...that is from sci-fi.   When you can say that the Moon is an egg, can you still hold Doctor Who to be science-fiction?

My personal experience has been that too many NuWho fans explain things away on Doctor Who with one of two responses: timey-wimey or 'the show isn't suppose to make sense!'  That second one really bothers me, because it says that one television show is excused from all logic, even internal.  All shows HAVE to make sense, if not in our world, at least in the world of the show.  You cannot excuse plot holes or continuity errors merely because the premise is fantastical or outlandish.  As a viewer, you accept the outlandish premise but in return, you should keep things logical within the confines of the show.  Changing things at will is a disservice to fans. 

The first photo is from the Third Doctor story Spearhead From Space, an 'alien-invasion' story.  The second I believe is from the Tenth Doctor story The Sound of Drums.  Mr. Berry argues that an alien invasion is more believable than the Master cloning himself because the premise of the show allows one but is too ridiculous on the other.  Not having seen Vengeance of The Master (my umbrella title for Utopia/Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords) I'm in no position to take one.  

I will say this.  A show has to have some grounds of believability and rationality to work.  If it doesn't, then it's a bad show, no matter how often a fanbase may argue that its lack of logic is what makes it good. 


  1. I quite agree and have been saying this myself

  2. As the saying goes, "...but WAIT! There's more!"

    I'll keep reprinting more as Paul Berry keeps putting them out.

    Next one coming up...

  3. Also posted this on Matthew's page, but...

    The whole idea of what Doctor Who actually '''is''' is totally different today than it was in 1963-1989. As stated, Science Fiction is rooted in reality. While the characters and stories are obviously fictional, the whole they inhabit is our own.

    The revived Doctor Who (2005-) uses American Comic Book Logic. The world that Rose Tyler, Clara Oswald etc. inhabit is not our real world, but rather some 'fictional space' that American fans call the(I'm sorry) 'Whoniverse'. The laws of reality don't apply here, and rubbish like that thing with The Giant Magic Flying Space Chicken laying the Moon as an egg is perfectly normal in the 'Whoniverse'. An alien spaceship nearly crashing into present-day Buckingham Palace is normal in the 'Whoniverse'. A dinosaur roaming around Victorian London is normal in the 'Whoniverse'. But NONE of these things would ever have happened in the 1963-1989 series. In essence, the Classic and Revived Series really do take place in different universes. The Classic Show took place in OUR universe, the one we're all in right now. Whereas the Revived Series takes place in some totally fictional universe where Harriet Jones was Prime Minister and Magic Trees overgrow London overnight.

  4. I'm not sure it's fair to 'blame America' for the status of NuWho. I've never referred to a "Whoniverse" but do hold that there has to be some consistency in the series.

    Exactly how many times HAS Earth been invaded in NuWho, and why can't people remember them again and again and once over? Does the series have to end every time w/an invasion of Earth?

  5. It's not blaming America, but rather the American comic book logic. In the DC/Marvel stuff there are separate universes. The Earth that Superhero X lives on is not our Earth.

    Science Fiction(including American Science Fiction) needs to be our world. The San Francisco of Star Trek is our San Francisco hundreds of years in the future. The London of The Dalek Invasion of Earth is our London, hundreds of years in the future.

    The American Comic Book Logic states that the New York in that comic is not our New York, but rather some parallel reality fictional city which doesn't have to adhere to the reality of the real New York. And by extension the entire universe is not the one we are in right now, but a wholly fictional construct.

    Thus, Davies can have a spaceship nearly crashing into Buckingham Palace, Moffat can have London covered in trees, and all 15 people who live in London wandering around aimlessly. The moon can be revealed to be a Magic Giant Egg, Victorian London can be overrun by Cyber Kings and Dinosaurs.....because it's not our universe, it's just the Whoniverse! The moment you say that it's taking place in a "fictional universe", it ceases to be Science Fiction. And people will make it less and less realistic. Many Nu Who fans actually love all the alien invasions, rampaging dinosaurs etc., as they go in with the understanding that it's all taking place in some "fictional space". The London that has only 15 people living in it and is overrun by aliens every few weeks is not our London, it's the 'Whoniverse' Lodnon. But I can't even begin to take it seriously.

  6. What was unbelievable wasn't the Moon being an egg per se (that idea originally appeared in a story called, if memory serves, Born of the Sun, possibly by Jack Williamson, written around the 1930s). It was the accompanying ideas -- that the Moon would somehow get more massive without changing shape (or mass...) -- that the increased mass of the Moon wasn't killing millions back on Earth (because if it was, and we were shown that, there wouldn't be much of a moral dilemma over whether to kill the creature - we routinely kill animals to protect ourselves, after all) -- that the egg hatching wouldn't disrupt life on Earth even more, e.g. bombarding the Earth with debris - and that the space bird or whatever would immediately lay another egg the same size, shape and in the same orbit. Just so many poorly thought out adjuncts to an idea that, if handled correctly, could have been "sold" to the audience - imagine it being written by David Whitaker in 1966, say, he would have made us believe it, maybe as one of the wackier stories but....

  7. All that forethought would have required either a script editor or someone to point out how it all went crazy.

    W/Steven "I'm an Emmy-Winning Writer" Moffat in charge, neither position will be filled anytime soon.

  8. "A dinosaur roaming around Victorian London is normal in the 'Whoniverse'. But NONE of these things would ever have happened in the 1963-1989 series"

    Well, maybe not Victorian London but there were dinosaurs in 1970s London in "Invasion of the Dinosaurs".

    The Cybermen invaded Earth in "The Invasion" which is set in the late 1960s. They are all over London and seen walking near St. Paul's Cathedral.

  9. Sorry, Palmer but you're wrong. Not to get into that argument here, but it was never intended for either The Invasion or Invasion of the Dinosaurs to be contemporaneous with broadcast.

    Both were definitely and unambiguously set 10+ years in the future, at a time when Who episodes were screened once and once only, and then the master tapes were more often than not wiped.

    That's a totally different kettle of fish to intentionally making stories set in the past were giant monsters roam Victorian London.


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