Saturday, 21 April 2007

Daleks in Manhattan

Regarding "Sec's in the City"…

Firstly, we should apologise to all Americans. True, the accents are appalling, but… it's set in '30s Manhattan, it's hugely over-the-top, and it involves monsters. So it's supposed to be like Singin' in the Rain ('I cyyyan't styyyaand him'). This aside, however…

…I love television. I hate sci-fi television. I love drama. I hate menky sci-fi drama. Helen Raynor, as a truly competent script editor, might be expected to know how television works but not care about sci-fi. And so she does, and so it is. "Daleks in Manhattan" is terrible sci-fi, yet brilliant television. Halfway through, I realised that I hadn't learned anything new or important about what's-going-on-with-the-Daleks in ten minutes, but that I felt I was being propelled forward by the plot anyway. This can only be called a result. Helen, you did a great job when you were overseeing things, and now I love you even more. Please come back.

In short: so far, the best twenty-first-century episode of Doctor Who that wasn't written by Russell T. Davies. Yes, I know Steven Moffat's very popular, but his scripts are too cynically "LOOK, EVERYBODY, LOVE MEEEEE!" for my tastes. This was just good television done well, without any personal agenda. I bloody loved it. Although I would have loved it more if the Radio Times hadn't given the cliffhanger away, obviously.

Can I mention some small historical niggles, though? One: nobody in Hooverville has his pockets turned inside-out (this was the custom in Hoovervilles, as it signified that you didn't have any spare cash hidden in your coat… turning the Doctor's pockets inside-out would have taken a long time, I know, but it might have been entertaining). Two: the mention of slavery in "Shakespeare vs. Rentaghost" may have been massively contrived and unconvincing, but in a '30s context, someone like Tallulah really should assume that the Doctor's lack of interest in Martha has more to do with race than sexuality (although it fits the overall character development, so I won't complain too hard, and at least the New Girl isn't pathologically thick this time). Three: Murray Gold. Yeah, yeah, I know he's great at writing anthems. But that song? Nobody pre-1980 could have written it. Not real '30s. Very bad parody.

Nonetheless… nothing's more satisfying than good Doctor Who, especially when the script treats Daleks as if they themselves were a period detail. "Piiigs iiin tiiime!"

Saturday, 14 April 2007


I found that episode strange and confusing. I had no idea where it was going, what
sort of story it was supposed to be, or how it was meant to turn out. After the first
half-hour, I still had no idea where it was going, what sort of story it was supposed
to be, or how it was meant to turn out. Its structure was utterly unlike old-fashioned
Doctor Who, utterly unlike newfangled Doctor Who, and utterly unlike anything else
on television (the best summary I can come up with, for a comedy-drama about
people trapped in little boxes in the middle of a hostile CGI world, is “Harold Pinter
Gets Giant Crabs”… or possibly “Harold Pinter Re-Writes Attack of the Clones”,
which is even more interesting). In short: I thought it was fucking fantastic. I like
anything I canʼt see coming a mile off, and this was so bizarre that even I found it
surprising. God help the little children-stroke-fanboys, since it may have been a bit
non-monstery for their tastes, as with “Love & Monsters” last year. But speaking as
a grown-up, the sheer, relentless unpredictability of “Gridlock” made it even more
exciting than the preceding football match which determined whether it was
actually broadcast. I had problems with the Shakespeare runaround because it
was a cookie-cutter script that went everywhere youʼd expect a celeb-historical
story to go, yet this… this was just downright peculiar. I sat there not knowing what
was going to happen next, and at the end of the day, thatʼs the single greatest
feature of Doctor Who. If you can predict it, then itʼs rubbish.

And, kittens! There were even kittens.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

The Shakespeare Code

Ahhhh, sexuality. This is always going to be a delicate area, so I'll risk the gauntlet and say: is it absolutely normal for gay writers to hate young women? I refer, as an obvious example, to "The Shakespeare Code". Written by Gareth Roberts, a great big gay man whom I've met several times and whom I rather like, although I'm aware that he's called me a dickhead behind my back on more than one occasion. (This is a fair judgement. I have no social skills, and freely accept that I'm offensive when encountered in person. If you read this log regularly, or if you've ever met me, then you'll already understand.) But even if you ignore the fact that you know the reasonably-attractive young woman is going to turn out to be an evil, two-dimensional, personality-free witch-cannibal as soon as she shows her face, and that you know the flirtatious / shallow barmaid is guaranteed to die in the first act… all of a sudden, Doctor Who's new assistant ceases to be the intelligent, inquisitive individual we saw in last week's opener, and becomes a bland, squeaky, irritating she-parrot who makes ****-obvious statements and then says "yeah?" at the end of the sentence in a desperate attempt to sound like a modern Chav-girl. (She's supposed to be training as a doctor. She doesn't know what "Bedlam" means. She doesn't understand anything Shakespeare says, even though it'd be easily comprehensible to any A-Level student. She's become a generic thick-woman sidekick, basically. Not a single line of her dialogue is either credible or likeable.)

Now, I can understand that a gay male might not particularly care about teenaged girls, obviously. But speaking as a technical heterosexual – albeit one who's sucked big **** on occasion, not in a "bi-curious" way but in a "well, why the hell shouldn't I?" way, which is perhaps what Doctor Who has really taught me over the years – I find this puzzling. I don't particularly care about seventy-year-old women, for example, yet this doesn't mean I'd turn them all into one-dimensional stereotypes if I were writing a script about an old people's home. Indeed, I'd argue that writers get better when they deliberately write against type and focus on things which aren't already within their personal experience or field of interest. But every gay writer in Doctor Who, other than Cuddly God-Bear Russell T. Davies himself, seems determined to turn each new female character into a mother-figure, a hate-object, or a human sacrifice: see also the "work" of Mark Gatiss and Matthew Jones, who routinely bump off the girls and let the mothers live. What's the root cause of this, I wonder? The affection for older women puts it beyond any accusation of misogyny, although the dislike of the sexually-active female suggests the same kind of horror which 100%-straight men are supposed to feel around 100%-gay men. I hope you can see why I'd feel uncomfortable about this. Me, I'm generally anti-horror. I'm also anti-100% of anything.

As for the rest… I think I'd rather like "The Shakespeare Code", if it weren't twice as long as it needs to be. Even my own mother thought it was a bit slow, and she's 76 years old, for Heaven's sake.