Doctor Who and the Misplacement of Criticism

A curiously serendipitous thing happened the morning I got up to write this post. I was reading about Tom Ellis (he of Lucifer and ‘Last of the Time Lords’), and his secret and not-terribly-surprising hope that they’d ask him to play Doctor Who. The piece’s only comment came from a person I shall not name, in words I shall subtly paraphrase rather than quote directly, but it read “That would have been great. Somewhere there’s a parallel universe where this happened. And better yet, we wouldn’t have Chibnall.”

There’s something head-scratching about all this. It’s not the criticism, which is a democratic right, and perhaps not entirely baseless. It’s the context – or specifically the lack thereof. Here we have a press snippet about an actor who appeared in the show thirteen years back, playing a relatively minor role, and who – while he features heavily on the fans’ Most Wanted list – has had absolutely bugger all to do with it since his brief, one-episode foray. And yet here was Marcus (yes, that’s a pseudonym) using it as a sounding board to tell anyone who would listen about the current state of Doctor Who and just how rubbish it has become.

Why does it happen? Because it’s everywhere. I’m not talking about threads that ask for your favourite episodes from Chibnall’s run to date, or listicles that detail our Hopes For Series 13. I’m not talking about pictures of Jodie Whittaker in a dress and makeup in front of a grey background accompanied by the words “Love her”. I can understand why fans vent their frustrations about current story arcs when it comes up naturally in conversation, although the frequency and ferocity of these vents is something we may come back to.

But on a post about ‘Snakedance’? Or the War Doctor? Or, I don’t know, fruit? “I hate apples,” reads the Tumblr post. “Apples are rubbish.” In the next panel, an image of the Doctor throwing a plate through the open door of Amelia Pond’s house, accompanied by the words “AND STAY OUT!”. “That’s what we should be saying to Chibnall,” says someone further down. Or it’ll be a post announcing that it’s been thirty-two years since ‘The Happiness Patrol’, upon which it’s a cast iron guarantee that at least one smart-alec will quip “Still better than anything from the last two years.”

In all fairness, a remark such as this is only marginally less interesting than the revelation that we’re celebrating the thirty-second anniversary of ‘The Happiness Patrol’ (something I never really want to know about, as much as I enjoy it), but this is hardly the point. What’s to be gained here? Do these fans really feel so marginalised and helpless and believe in Doctor Who so passionately that they see it as essential to state their case at every conceivable opportunity? Is it a form of addiction, where you have to do it every so often or else you’ll get the shakes? Because I sometimes feel it’s like walking into a McDonalds and shouting “Wow, THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE ONE IN HEADINGTON”. There’s nothing illegal about it, but it’s idiotic behaviour.

I can’t help feeling that at the heart of this is a deep-rooted personal insecurity, whereupon the value of your life is measured not in afternoons and coffee spoons but in how much noise you can make. These people need the attention that comes from speaking their mind, and the anonymity and remoteness of the internet makes it all the easier. Why bother to account for yourself when the worst that happens is a ban or a block? Why learn social graces when Facebook and Twitter are the very hub for misanthropic discourse – disguised, with a most delicious sense of irony, under the false moniker of Social Media? You can hardly move for posts wishing death or castration on the man at the top. Did it happen under Moffat? It certainly did, although I think it was far less prevalent. Is that because we have a woman in the TARDIS? I’m not saying.

“Yes,” we’re told, “but THE WRITING SUCKS”. And all right, yes. Sometimes it does. There is a place for adhering to certain standards: we must acknowledge that ‘It Takes You Away’, for all its quirkiness, is not a good episode; that the dialogue is sometimes clunky and awkward; that there is a shoehorning of Positive Values that occasionally grates. I’ve written about all this elsewhere and it does not need rehashing. Doctor Who is not always very good; it may be that it is currently not as good as it has been in previous years. Those of us who lived through Sylvester McCoy have been here before, but that’s not necessarily an excuse: there are periods where it’s really very good and quite popular, and periods where it isn’t. We’re in one now, or we’re not, depending on whom you ask.

But I do not think that it needs the spitting of feathers. I do not think that repeated comments in decontextualised conversations achieve anything. They only wind up the rest of us. The BBC do not care about the grumblings of a few white men (and they are almost always white men, these gatekeepers; make of that what you will). They have a new demographic in mind. There is a core audience who feels marginalised and abandoned but who is ultimately unwilling to accept, as perhaps we must accept, that Doctor Who has moved on without us: that it is not the show we knew when we were growing up, and that it is this sense of abandonment that has allowed it to survive this long. And yet here you are, Marcus, with your comments about how disappointed you were with the supposed destruction of a continuity that actually never existed in the first place. You’re losing your rag over a children’s show. And here I am, losing my rag with someone losing their rag over a children’s show. Sometimes I wonder which of us is the bigger idiot.

Criticism is fine, when it’s in the right place, and when it’s invited. Everything else is by turns toxic, unhelpful, and unpleasant. Mansplaining is endemic: so is the tendency to back up your beliefs with comments about audience views. From your perspective, it is apparently not enough that you do not enjoy Doctor Who; it’s far more important that no else does either. And all this was in response to a question about Susan. Congratulations, Marcus, you win this week’s award for the most pointless non-sequitur. The mind boggles.

But seeing as you and others like you are determined to make unhelpful and unrelated rants about Chibnall a daily activity, I’ve made it easy. I took the liberty of finding some choice quotes from New Who and sexing them up a bit, so they’re nicely twisted to reflect your views. And the next time you want to hijack a Donna Noble appreciation thread, you can simply paste one in, just in time for me to show up and link to this piece to show everyone else what an idiot you’re being. Because I’m still watching you, you know. I’ve learned to intervene a little less, these days, because it seldom goes anywhere, but just occasionally, when you’re being particularly rancid, I’ll swoop. And I probably won’t win – the best we can hope for is a block-induced stalemate – but it’s quite fun watching you harrumph. Remember that, before you post.

Or, you know, you could simply find a new and less aggressive pastime. But we both know that’s not going to happen, don’t we?

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