Printer Friendly

Doctor and the headaches; As the new series of Doctor Who returns to our screens tonight, some fans have been complaining that its mind-bending plots have become too complicated. Here self-confessed sci-fi slow-coach Nathan Bevan asks if the Time Lord's latest outing will be less "Who?" and more a case of "What?".

* hen Matt Smith's Doctor crash-landed into both the back garden and life of seven-year-old Amy Pond in his first outing as the Time Lord, I knew exactly how she felt.

I was of a similar age when the same thing happened to me - although the box he pitched up in wasn't the Tardis, it was the TV set in my living room, and I remember him being taller then, and older, with wild hair, mad eyes and a predilection for voluminous knitted neck wear and jelly babies. s

Ask me what my earliest, most vivid childhood memories are and the answer won't be BMX summers, birthday parties or Christmas mornings, but the classic Who episode where Tom Baker falls from a giant telescope in the middle of the Cheshire countryside at the hands of his infernal enemy The Master.

In fact, I still recall that Saturday teatime in 1981 when he regenerated into Peter Davison like it was yesterday - which, had I a time-travelling police box to ride in, it probably still could be.

From then on the march of years through teenagedom and into my 20s would be marked by the succession of different actors playing the Doctor, from Davison's cricket whites and willowfixated take on everyone's favourite Gallifreyan to Colin Baker's patchworksuited, stroppy egoist.

But problems far larger than the likes of the Daleks and the Cybermen - not to mention the large, pulsating, green bin bags like the ones in The Creature From The Pit - would soon arise to threaten this sci-fi national treasure.

Slack storylines, rushed production and an attitude towards the show from BBC bosses that was at best apathetic, meant that, by the time Sylvester McCoy became the seventh Doctor in 1987, not even a darker shift in tone could save it.

Two years later, unenviably dumped opposite ratings colossus Coronation Street in the Monday night schedules, Doctor Who was cancelled for the first time since its inception in 1963, an intergalactic laughing stock.

No wonder then that eyes rolled and shoulders shrugged when, in 2005, its return to our screen was announced, despite which, with Swansea screenwriter Russell T Davies at the helm and Christopher Ecclestone brandishing the sonic screwdriver with added gravitas, it hit terra firma running.

Dispelled were the fuzzy nostalgic memories of shaky sets, dodgy acting and sticky-back plastic aliens, this was proper drama - but with Daleks on top.

But, in the same way its cheap and cheerful look of yore used to be sniffed at, dissenters were now beginning to criticise the show for eschewing just that, rumbling noisily about the overuse of CGI effects and, moreover, the increasingly over-complicated plots.

And I'll admit that, although it might have something to with each episode coinciding with the arrival of my customary Saturday night Chinese takeaway, I was one of those who'd frequently pause - forkful of egg foo yung hovering in mid-air - turn to their partner and ask: "So what's happening now exactly?" Like when David Tennant's swansong episode on New Year's Day 2010 revealed that the rest of the Time Lords weren't all dead after all, just locked in a time bubble that they escaped by implanting an infernal drum beat in the head of the young Master by making him stare into an untempered cosmic schism, then aeons later they'd shot a white star diamond through space in order to... ah, never mind.

And things haven't exactly been easier to follow under Who's new show runner Steven Moffat either.

A Who fan since childhood, Moffat - who also stated that it probably wasn't a good idea to watch it whilst doing the housework either - has delighted in cramming his scripts with fiendishly clever ideas and story arcs which play hard and fast with the very 'wibbly wobbly, timey wimey' nature of the universe.

Which, although commendable, can sometimes be a little, well, hardy wardy to understandy - a bit like trying to do a giant jigsaw puzzle while the person that gave it to you keeps all the corner pieces in their pocket.

However, the 11th Doctor himself, Matt Smith, says viewers really need to watch all six remaining episodes of the current run before passing judgement.

"If you give Steven the time to tell the full story, which he does, it makes sense - it just doesn't make sense immediately," smiles the 28-year-old star, who grew up during the Who-less television period before RTD's revival of the franchise.

"But isn't it good to raise questions? Isn't it brave to have a TV show on at half past six that challenges audiences, challenges children, that doesn't set out to spoon feed anyone? "I'm so tired of TV that's patronising and simple," he sighs, adding that it was the ambition of Moffat's writing that's made the Time Lord's current tenure so popular in the States, where much of the recent series was filmed, although it's still made by BBC Wales.

"America's a real sci-fi culture and they just consume all that detail and those layers. It's the same as The Simpsons, the audience can take it on lots of different levels.

"And, logistically, if you unpick the story it does makes sense, the meaning's there, but some people just get it more than others.

" So for me, no, I don't think it is too complicated, although I do have to read the scripts a couple of times.

"But I'd be a really bad actor if I didn't," he laughs.

"Ultimately, Steven respects the audience more than anything, because he loves Doctor Who so much.

"I think he's pushing the form and being inventive - rather that than just being repetitive or trying to rehash some old model of the show."

Tom Spilsbury, editor of the popular monthly Doctor Who Magazine, is also keen to show his allegiance for Team Moffat, suggesting that the show was far harder to digest in its earlier guise.

"In the old days, stories would span several episodes or even longer - Colin Baker's ultimate outing, The Trial Of A Time Lord, lasted a whopping 14 episodes," he points out.

"You got a special badge if you could get through all of that. So, while Steven Moffat's storylines might be far-reaching, the episodes they thread through stand on their own merit.

"Not that there's anything wrong with stretching the viewers who, by and large, are a loyal bunch who invest a lot of themselves in the show," adds Spilsbury.

"In fact, Steven put it very succinctly in a recent interview he did with us, saying, 'We've got to stop assuming people aren't watching the show, because they are - and, with that in mind, let's try to see if we can be a bit more ambitious and give them something bigger and more complex'."

And Spilsbury, whose publication is in its third decade and recently made the Guinness World Record as Longest Running Magazine Based on a Television Series, diagnosed The Doctor as having never been in ruder health.

"When it came back in 2005, not only was Ecclestone a great choice for the lead, but there was nothing like it at all on telly," he says.

"That sort of show had completely disappeared from the landscape - but, since then, it's had competition from the likes of Robin Hood, which has come and gone, Merlin and Primeval.

"But Doctor Who's viewing figures have stayed pretty consistent, which goes to show that people aren't being put off by the plots," adds Spilsbury, who confesses to being unable to decide between Davies and Moffat as the show's prime mover.

"Both are extremely skilled story writers with two very distinct styles," he says.

"However, Steven is very concerned with the mechanics of the plot, and the characters are very much integral to the progression of events.

"Look at the mystery about who Alex Kingston's River Song really is and the revelation she's actually Amy Pond's part Time Lord daughter from the future.

"What Moffat's done is make the whole narrative of the last two years lead up to this point, which is much more involvement than Billie Piper's Rose got during the Davies era.

"Russell T Davies was far more into dropping little mentions of things like Bad Wolf and Mr Saxon throughout the series which hinted at what was to come, while keeping them incidental to the course of each adventure," says Spilsbury.

"So in a way, I get why certain fans can find things perplexing if they don't watch regularly and prefer instead to dip in and out.

"But the whole nature of this show is that it demands your undivided attention; you don't just turn into it 15 minutes before the X-Factor is about to start, shrug your shoulders and moan about being unable to work out what's going on," he laughs.

"And it's the same for any TV show - I mean, who out there watches threequarters of an episode of Lewis and leaves the room before finding out who the murderer is?" And ultimately, Spilsbury says that a lot of the criticism of the show being too much of a mind-bender should be taken with a pinch of salt.

"As with most things, you usually find that it's the people who tend not to like things that shout a lot louder than those who do. Much of the more fevered nay-saying seems to be reserved for the fan forums on the internet.

"I just don't detect anywhere near the same amount amongst the general man on the street.

"Just wait and see though, the same sceptics who were proved wrong when they said there was no place for a programme like Doctor Who in the viewing schedules in 2005 will be proved wrong again here.

"All they have to do is watch how the series pans out and they'll discover Moffat had this grand plan all along."

And he is also full of praise for Smith who, at 26 became the youngest thesp ever to take over the keys to the Tardis, also initially came in for a lot of flak.

"I honestly think Matt's got better and better as the Doctor," says Spilsbury, the Northampton-born actor having since been lauded for having captured Tennant's manic energy and Ecclestone's brooding melancholy.

"In fact, I think he got into the part more quickly than any of the others, right from the off he just seemed so effortless and natural at it.

"And there's really no other part quite like it on telly is there?" he adds.

"That whole problem some people had over his age always made me laugh anyway. After all, Peter Davison was only three years older when he popped out the Tardis for the first time.

"Besides, the character's supposed to be 909-years-old for heaven's sake," he laughs. "Everyone who plays it is going to be young in comparison."

* Doctor Who returns to BBC One Wales at 7.10pm tonight in Let's Kill Hitler, while Doctor Who Magazine is in shops now BOOKS BOOKS Executive producer Steven Moffat, left, reveals what we can expect from the next six episodes The wait is almost over. The second part of the thrilling new series of Doctor Who begins tonight. The rules have changed, and the game is deadlier than ever. Out in the universe, where the earthly rules of time and space do not apply, Amy and Rory know only too well that their baby daughter needs them.

For Melody Pond is fated to become River Song, mysterious archaeologist and convicted murderer - the woman who killed the best man she ever knew.

The Doctor leads Amy and Rory across centuries and galaxies in a desperate search for baby Melody, but a terrible and inescapable date looms large.

At 5.02pm on April 22, 2011, the Doctor will die. These are his last days, and the quest for Melody his final mission.

The search will result in a crash landing in '30s Berlin and will bring them face to face with the greatest war criminal of all time. And Hitler.

Old friendships will be tested to their limits as the Doctor suffers the ultimate betrayal and learns a harsh lesson in the cruellest warfare of all. A distress call from a terrified little boy will break through all barriers of time and space and lead the Doctor to visit the scariest place in the universe, George's bedroom.

George is terrorised by every fear you can possibly imagine. Fears that live in his bedroom cupboard. His parents are desperate - George needs a doctor.

But allaying George's fears won't be easy. Because the monsters in George's cupboard are real.

An unscheduled visit to a quarantine facility for victims of an alien plague - a plague that will kill the Doctor in a day - leaves Amy trapped. Alone, Rory must find Amy and bring her back to the Tardis before the faceless doctors kill her with kindness. But Rory is about to encounter a very different side to his wife.

In an impossible hotel, the Doctor, Amy and Rory find themselves checked-in but unable to check out. Walls move, corridors twist, rooms vanish and death lies in wait.

But the Doctor's time has yet to come.

He has one last stop to make on his final journey. His old friend, Craig Owens, desperately needs his help, as a new and unfamiliar presence is wreaking havoc in Colchester. And then come the Cybermen...

CAPTION(S):

Doctor Who through the years. From left: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Peter Cushing, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant
COPYRIGHT 2011 MGN Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 27, 2011
Words:2258
Previous Article:Water good idea.
Next Article:Figures raise concern over growth chances.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters