Friday 2 October 2015

Doctor Who and the Melting Internet

There are two classes of forecasters: those that don't know, and those that don't know they don't know.
- J. K. Galbraith

Or, if you want to be all obvious about it:

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.
- Popular Mechanics, 1949

You join us mid-conversation, Lady and Gentleman.  Don't worry, you'll soon catch up.

Him:  I thought you meant personal news.

Me:  Ha!  No, it's not personal news.

Him:  That's why I was, like, "Am I going to hate this?"

Me:  "I'm afraid my legs're going to have to come off."

Him:  Yeah.  Or that we're moving to Uzbekistan.

Me:  Uzbekistan? 

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  No, we're not moving.  We're staying in the Arctic.

Him:  Okay.

Me:  I've got a suspicion that you didn't hear about this.

Him:  I don't think I did.

Me:  Yesterday, the BBC Doctor Who Twitter account did one of its-  It announced there was going to be an announcement.  You know like they do trailers for trailers?  This was an announcement for an announcement.  And that it was going to be 'HUGE'.  In capital letters.  And so some of the internet melted.  Then it was announced that the announcement was going to be announced at eleven o'clock.

Him:  Today?

Me:  No, no, last night.

Him:  Right.

Me:  You haven't heard about this have you?

Him:  No.

Me:  You're missing all of the promotion totally, aren't you? 

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  And, really, you're the target audience, so I'm not sure it's working as well as the BBC`d like.

Him:  Yeah, I don't know what they're trying.  Their target audience doesn't have Twitter accounts.

Me:  Ha!  I think some of them do.  Or they're on Tumblr.  So...  When they say it's going to be a huge piece of news - and this has come out of nowhere, it's all unexpected.  There's supposed to be an announcement on October 7th about something, but people seem to be thinking that's going to be about The Underwater Menace coming out on DVD at the end of the month, which everyone knows anyway-

Him:  It's coming out at the end of the month?

Me:  Yeah. 

Him:  I thought they weren't releasing it?

Me:  They're going to release it now, yeah.

Him:  You told me-

Me:  No, no, no.  It's coming out. 

Him:  But you said they were never-

Me:  They changed their minds.  Which is quite encouraging.  But, there's still been no announcement of what special features, if any, are going to be on it.  Or what's been done to cover the two missing episodes, whether they've been reconned or what, so the theory doing the rounds is still that, "It's all escaped from the BBC Canteen!"  So, when the official BBC Doctor Who account announces that it's going to give some HUGE news...  What do you imagine happens on the internet?

Sea badger!

Him:  People come up with theories.

Me:  Oh yes, oh yes.  There's  a big race - and I did it as well, of course.  What you do is come up with as many theories as possible-

Him:  In the hope that one of them's correct and you can then claim credit for it?

Me:  Yeah!  And just ignore all the ones that were wrong.  Yeah.  It's all part of the game.  And it's fun.  Right, so...  If it's going to be a HUGE piece of news about Doctor Who, what sort of theories do you think people were coming up with?  What comes to mind initially?

Him:  The Zarbi'll be back.

Me:  Ha!

Him:  That'll have been the top of everyone's list.  Ummmm.  They're going to recolour the TARDIS. 

Me:  Okay.

Him:  They're going to make it orange, to contrast with... normality.  Umm...  And, they're actually going to give the Doctor a giant man-eating rabbit as a companion.

Me:  That would've been cool.  The companion idea was one of the ones-

Him:  The man-eating rabbit?

Me:  No.  that there might be a companion-

Him:  Is the man-eating rabbit appearing?  Is that a thing that I've correctly guessed?

Me:  No, you haven't.  No-one got it right.  There's a new spin-off series.

Him:  Steven Moffat finally got his spin-off series?

Me:  Ha!  Sort of.  It's being written by someone who's not Steven Moffat though-

Him:  Oh.

Me:  And it's called Class.  So, what do you think that it might be about?

Him:  Are you sure it isn't being written by Steven Moffat?  'cause he sure managed to make Chalk disappear.

Me:  Ha!  Oddly enough, as soon as it was announced I did put up "Chalk Version 2.0"!  It's going to be set in Coal Hill school and it's going to follow teenagers-

Him:  That sounds incredibly dull.

Me:  It's going to follow teenagers and it's going to be all about alien inv-

Him:  It's either going to be incredibly dull or ethically wrong.

Me:  'Ethically wrong'?  Why 'ethically wrong'?

Him:  Because you shouldn't be going to schools...  It's just... No.  You shouldn't be involving children.  Especially not all these children who seem to have some kind of...  I can't tell if they're bad actors or if they're...  They were in some sort of-

Me:  Oh!  In the last-

Him:  Yeah.  The special care unit who can talk to the dead and speak to fairies and stuff.

Me:  Okay.

Him:  And who tell terrible jokes about finding x.  That's probably why Chalk failed.

Me:  The problem with Chalk-1

Him:  I wouldn't know, because it's gone.

Me:  Yeah, it's gone.  It doesn't exist anywhere, which is pretty good going 'cause-

Him:  I'd probably watch it, but it's not there.

Me:  You can get hold of Edison's Frankenstein film but you can't find Chalk.  It's really weird.  What else isn't out there?

Him:  Do you mean Go On?

Me:  'Go On'?

Him:  Go On.

Me:  Was this the Mrs Doyle spin-off series?

Him:  Ha!  No, this was one of Matthew Perry's series.

Me:  Oh!  This was the one that just vanished, wasn't it?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  They made, like, two episodes and it-

Him:  No, they made a whole season in 2012 and it was great.  It just doesn't exist anymore. 

Me:  It's weird, isn't it?  Very odd indeed.

Him:  And then you can't watch any of Matthew Perry's Second Chance.

Me:  Was it called Second Chance or Matthew Perry's Second Chance?

Him:  There was another TV show called Second Chance...

Me:  So it was called Matthew Perry's Second Chance?

Him:  But it's not, it was one of the first things he was in.

Me:  Oh!  Before he was in Friends?

Him:  Yeah.  He's really young in it.

Me:  So it wasn't even his second chance?

Him:  No, it was his first chance.  Only one episode of that seems to exist.


Him:  And I'd like to see the rest of it, because it's typical comedy where, y'know, people laugh at every joke and all the actors take pauses because they know the audience is going to be laughing.

Me:  Chalk... didn't... get that.  That was part of the problem.  It got commissioned for a second series before the first...  It was very unlucky.  Anyway, Class.  It was really clever the way the BBC did it.  The Doctor Who sections of the internet basically melted, Doctor Who fans-

Him:  They melted?

Me:  - of a certain age, had decided that obviously this meant there was going to be an announcement about the missing episodes.  Finally.

Him:  Definitely.

Me:  Yeah.  But no.  So, they're not happy.

Him:  There're going to be Matt Smith flavour sweets called... umm...

Me:  What flavour would Matt Smith be?  Licorice?

Him:  Yes.  And it's going to be called-

Me:  'Smiffies'.

Him:  I don't even know.  I spent about a minute there trying to think of something clever and... No.  There's nothing.

Me:  Well, I think Class is eight forty-five minute episodes and it's going to be on BBC3, which'll be online by then...  It's just going to be an online channel.2

Him:  Is it going to be any good?

Me:  Well, I hadn't heard of the guy who's writing it but-

Him:  Is this not what happened-

Me:  It's 'Young Adult' stuff.

Him:  Wasn't Futurama's goal to try and spend all the money they were making from The Simpsons so it would just die?  But then they both got really...

Me:  Successful?

Him:  A similar thing happened with Family Guy, I'm sure.  That has about nineteen spin-off series and they just won't die.  There's more money and, "I just don't wanna write this anymore."

Me:  I don't think it's that.  I think it's an attempt to replicate the success of Doctor Who3 or at least spin-off from the success of Doctor Who.  It'll help BBC3...  The problem is, a lot of Doctor Who fans seem to think the show's being made for them, which it isn't.  And it's easy to forget that.

Him:  But they're the only ones who get the Twitter updates, so...

Me:  Well, yeah, but the audience for this particular series will be on Twitter.  It's the 'Young Adult' thing again.  It's filling the 'gap' between The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood.

Him:  I don't really think a balance of those would be a good thing, mixing the cast of The Sarah Jane Adventures and the script of Torchwood.

Me:  Ha!  Well... yes.  You've not seen any Torchwood, have you?

Him:  No.

Me:  You've only heard my opinion-

Him:  You seem to think it's just awful, so...

Me:  Oh, it is.  It's absolutely appalling.

Him:  But you didn't watch the only one that's supposed to be watchable though.

Me:  No, I haven't.  Children of Earth.  Which was followed by Miracle Day, which was a return to form apparently and basically killed the series dead.

Him:  And what about that one phase in every transition to a Cyberman that they usually forget to show?

Me:  What?  The high-heel stage?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  Good grief, that episode is so bad it's almost good.  It's awful.

Him:  Did you not have fun watching it to laugh at?  Or was it not that bad, or was it too bad?  Had it crossed the line twice?4

Me:  The first ten minutes of the first episode were okay.  I thought, "This could be alright."  And then, after that-4


Me:  - but that's just my take on it.  It's only an opinion.  No-one sets out to make bad...

Him:  You don't know that.

Me:  No.  Well, Curse of Fatal Death...  Just kidding.  So, fair play to the BBC, they did everything they needed to do and Class got HUGE promotion, so that's good.  This`ll be an unexpected update that`ll surprise people.

Him:  Okay.

Me:  And then back to usual.

Him:  Okay.  We don`t need to make noises because you`re typing it.

Me:  That`s true.  And on that bombshell!

1.  Kroll bless the melty internet...

2.  Which means that Class won't - and can't - be canon.

3.  Take a bow Primeval, Robin Hood, Merlin, Atlantis and so on.

4.  Okay, I'd better explain what happened between myself and Torchwood to balance this hatchet job out.

For the last ten years I've swapped Christmas Day and Boxing Day around.  Christmas Day has become a leap day for me.  Basically, I lounge around and watch a box set in one go - stopping for a curry at the halfway point.  The extended edition of Lord of the Rings wasn't a great idea - I was experiencing Orc Fatigue by the end of the fifth disc and I've not watched it since.  Anyway, Doctor Who'd come back all spangly, brash and exciting and there was I, living without TV or an internet connection.  I did share the cave with an invisible Wampa, but that's a whole other story.

I'd read about Torchwood in Doctor Who Magazine, one eye shut to avoid spoilers, and it sounded like a great idea, exciting and fresh and new.  So, I treated myself to the Season One boxset - which looks lovely to this day - and lined up the discs ready for full-on immersion.  It started so promisingly...

After the first ten or so minutes I was getting nervous.  Now, it's not impossible that all the fault for what I'm about to type lies with me.  Opinions and all that.  I made a conscious decision to stop watching TV in 2003 and that's not been a problem.  I still keep track of what's going on in the world and I'll happily shell out for a box set if it catches my fancy, but on the whole I find there's not enough hours in the day without TV.  Of course, this means that when I do watch TV shows, I'm coming at them from a slightly different place to a lot of the audience.  And ten minutes into the first episode of Torchwood I was getting nervous because what I was watching just wasn't very good.  And I really, really wanted it to be good.

If anything, it went downhill, gathering pace with each episode.  The tone was baffling, the show seemed to have no idea what it was or who it was aiming at, which is fair enough for a show that was, in its own way, trailblazing.  I'd had enough time away from Doctor Who to get the sense that this was the kind of show that the fans of the more adult-themed novels that pumped out relentlessly during the Wilderness Years really wanted.  Which is ludicrous.  I've said it before and I'll damn well say it again: Doctor Who cannot grow with its audience or, eventually, it won't have one.  Because they'll all be dead.  Sorry, but that's how life works. 

The main problem that Torchwood suffered from - in my opinion - was that it was fan fiction, pure and simple.  And fan fiction's not mainstream by its very nature.  The Sarah Jane Adventures was more successful as a series than Torchwood for several reasons, but the main one was its appeal.  Nostalgic Doctor Who fans could enjoy it just as much as the younger audience the show was targeted at.  It didn't hurt that the characters were sympathetic and, in many cases, the writing was sharper than both Torchwood and, I'd argue, several episodes of post-Doomsday Doctor WhoTorchwood just didn't have that.  It wanted to be an Angel to Doctor Who's Buffy, but that wasn't going to happen because Doctor Who already filled the Angel position in the Whoniverse.  It's a family show.  While it's fine to push the limits - Doctor Who's been "too scary for kids" since Barbara banged her head in that junkyard - there are limits.  Oddly enough, The Curse of Fatal Death remains a prime example of what happens when those limits are stumbled over, and many of its flaws are identical to Torchwood's.  Which is weird.

In the end, the only way I managed to get through the box set marathon - and I accept that it wasn't an ideal way of watching the show - was to pretend it was a modern Police Squad

I gave Torchwood the benefit of the doubt - trailblazing's not easy - and borrowed the first few episodes of the second series from a chum.  It... wasn't for me.  Later on, I tried listening to the audios that cropped up on Radio 4.  Same problems.  I know that Children of Earth has a great reputation - I still haven't seen it - and that Miracle Day doesn't.  I also know that any exploration of why the Doctor chose Peter Capaldi's face that might be coming up in the next few weeks can totally discount the actor's appearance in Children of Earth, because it has to. 

Doctor Who's a mainstream family show and... well.  That's it.  Nothing else matters.  Or counts.

I can see Torchwood as a brave experiment now; The Sarah Jane Adventures definitely learned from the mistakes its elder stablemate made.  We'll see how Class fares soon enough.  Class is going to benefit hugely from its association with Doctor Who, but it won't be Doctor Who.  It can, of course, build on the Time Lord's achievements and, hopefully it'll become something glorious, exciting, revolutionary and HUGE. 

Y'know, like Torchwood wasn't.

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