Doctor Who’s back on ABC this Saturday. Of all my nerdish predilections, sci-fi is the one I can’t refuse, and so I’ll watch, but I won’t enjoy it like I wish I could.
I have some memories of the Doctor from my childhood, mainly Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, followed by the disappointments of Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy. I was terrified of the Cybermen and, to a lesser extent, Davros. For some reason the interminable four episodes of ‘The Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ episodes from 1989 seem lodged in my brain.
I tried watching when the ABC re-ran a lot (all?) of the episodes a few years ago, but found the plots too laboured. In contrast, the ‘re-booted’ series from 2005 onwards seems massively frothy. And shouty. Does every piece of dialogue have to be delivered breathlessly fast or yelled in a panic?
I thought there might be a change in the stories too, so I did a little research. Taking Seasons 12-15 (1974-78), Tom Baker’s heyday, and comparing them to Seasons 1-4 (2005-2008) of the new, modern Doctor I can say:
- the ‘70s episodes were set pretty much equally on Earth or on an alien planet. A minority occurred on a space station
- the new episodes occur most often on Earth. The remainder are split between alien worlds or space stations
- the ‘70s episodes are set most frequently in the future, then in the present (i.e. the 1970s). A minority occur in the past
- the new episodes occur most frequently in the present. The remainder are split pretty evenly between the past and future, with a slight preference for the future
So we have a move towards present day Earth as a setting. Not what you’d expect for a bloke who has a box that can travel through time and space. A change in writers? In budget? In that the stories are now produced by a culture that lacks some of the wonder and anxiety about the future that was present in the 1970s? Looking at the plots for old episodes there seemed to be a lot about warring cultures and blasted, post-apocalyptic landscapes. It seems odd that the threat of nuclear annihilation hung over the older episodes, but the threat of climate change fails to produce a similar anxiety in our current imaginings. I suppose starving to death in a dramatically impoverished biosphere just doesn’t have the same sex appeal as a massive thermonuclear explosion.
Hopefully the new episodes are good. The last two Doctors have been great. Rose was the only companion worth her salt, but maybe they could kill Rory. A little bit less mocking and a bit more verisimilitude in the science would be great. Oh, AND LESS SHOUTING.