The Time Lord of Love

spiked-TV: The new Doctor Who's emotional incontinence is light years away from the chaste original.

Sandy Starr

Topics Culture

The revived Doctor Who is back on our screens, following last December’s mid-season festive caper The Christmas Invasion, and this diehard fan was dreading new season opener New Earth. Why? Because advance word suggested that it was a thinly-veiled attack on animal experimentation – something that I and my colleagues at spiked passionately believe in and defend.

I needn’t have worried. Like the allusions to the Iraq War in last year’s episodes, the allegory was handled sufficiently well that you could take it or leave it – the moral of the story was variously taken by viewers to concern animal experimentation, stem cell research, the MRSA bug that has lately afflicted UK hospitals, or the perils of cosmetic surgery.

Me, I was more busy wondering whether I should feel guilty about my feelings for the evil experimenters in the story – a bunch of human/cat hybrids dressed up as nuns. Doctor Who‘s prosthetics have come a long way since the cheetah people of the original series swansong, Survival, with the result that the felines of New Earth were distinctly fanciable.

As for the show’s star David Tennant, he acquitted himself well enough in his second outing in the Doctor’s shoes (geek chic Converse trainers, if you’re wondering). The frantic pace and attendant emotional gear shifts of a self-contained 45-minute story meant that, like his immediate predecessor Christopher Eccleston, Tennant had to do a fair bit of manic gurning in order to keep up with the story beats. And the London accent Tennant uses in the role is irritatingly affected, when compared with his own Scottish accent. But Sylvester McCoy, the only previous Scot to play the Doctor onscreen, pretty much put the mockers on any subsequent tartan Time Lords.

If there’s one aspect of the new Doctor Who that I still feel uncomfortable with, it’s all the soap operatics. A bit of character and emotion is all well and good, and these things have played an important part in many classic Who stories. But when they’re foregrounded to the extent favoured by new series supremo Russell T Davies, following the example of US telefantasy such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its many imitators, then it all gets a bit too icky for this buttoned-up viewer. The tragically unspoken and unfulfilled love between 1960s companions Jamie McCrimmon and Victoria Waterfield is more my sort of thing.

Still, while I may wax nostalgic, there’s an extent to which emotional incontinence is a price worth paying for the revival of Doctor Who. While the modern-day fangirls are ‘shipping’ and exclaiming ‘squee’ at the relationship between the Doctor and his buxom assistant Rose Tyler, we more traditional fans can focus on the sci-fi ideas, and get some kinky kicks from freakish cat nuns into the bargain. (For the uninitiated, ‘shipping’ is a term for intense emotional investment in ongoing relationships between fictional characters, and ‘squee’ is the exclamation of delight that one makes during key moments in such relationships, hence the expression ‘Got squee?’ And you thought common or garden Who fans were weird.)

The rest of the current season promises an interesting blend of Who elements old and new. Forthcoming episode School Reunion sees the return of fan favourite Sarah Jane Smith, who perhaps exemplifies the platonic Doctor/companion relationship of old, alongside the fondly remembered robot dog K9. Then there’s Rise of the Cybermen, which not only sees the return of the eponymous cyborgs (following a tantalising glimpse of a Cyberman’s head at the outset of last year’s episode Dalek), but is also directed by Graeme Harper (who helmed arguably the greatest ever story in the classic series, The Caves of Androzani).

It’s also good to see the sterling work of Big Finish Productions, which has produced original Who audio adventures for the past seven years, continuing to inform the new series. Rise of the Cybermen writer Tom MacRae has acknowledged his debt to Marc Platt’s superb audio Cybermen story Spare Parts, and it seems likely that next week’s much-anticipated werewolf episode Tooth and Claw will owe something to Platt’s lycanthropic fable Loups-Garoux. The audio stories may not enjoy the same mainstream success as TV Who, but they provide a fertile testing ground for new ideas and talent.

Meanwhile, if the werewolves ever get it on with the cat nuns, then I may just permit myself a ‘squee’.

Read on:

Who‘s to blame, by Sandy Starr

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Topics Culture


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