Private Viewing: Should Doctor Who have more science and less fiction?
- Credit: BBC/Guy Levy
Doctor Who has rematerialised on our screens. Arts editor Andrew Clarke looks at why some fans aren’t happy
Doctor Who is back on our screens with a new face and a new personality. The Doctor, now in his 12th incarnation, is portrayed by Scottish character actor Peter Capaldi, famous for being the sharp-tongued political troubleshooter Malcolm Tucker in the cult series The Thick Of It.
Capaldi, like one of his predecessors David Tennant, is a huge fan of the show and plans to put his stamp on the series. As a youngster, he once wrote a letter to the Radio Times praising the publication of a tenth anniversary special in 1973. He says he wants his Doctor to return to being a mysterious stranger. He is a man of action as well as a deep thinker. A highly moral figure caught up in a world where doing the right thing can have serious consequences.
He says there is going to be no flirting in the Tardis, unlike in recent series, and the programme is going to have younger viewers hiding behind the sofa once again. A statement backed up by its later transmission time of 7.50pm.
The first adventure in the new series will be a 90 minute feature length special, Deep Breath, in which we see The Doctor struggling to discover who he is and asking the big question: “Am I a good man?” With dinosaurs on the loose it’s difficult to see where he will find the time to answer the question.
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With producer and scriptwriter Steven Moffat no longer distracted by trying to run Sherlock simultaneously and Capaldi taking a strong interest in the character and the development of the stories, the omens look good for a return to form after a lacklustre showing for Matt Smith’s final series.
But, not everyone agrees. It appears there is some cyber-snobbery out there in the world of the internet. Earlier this month Cardiff, where the show is filmed, was treated to a gala premiere of the first episode which triggered some spoiler free-reviews of Capaldi’s first outing as The Doctor.
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This, in turn, triggered a reaction from the cyber-snobs who claimed that Doctor Who was not science fiction. In fact most television and cinema science fiction isn’t science fiction. “It’s merely cowboys and Indians in space,” sneered one so-called sci-fi aficionado. Others claimed that the only people qualified to write and read real science fiction were scientists who understood the possibilities and probabilities of future technology. But I’m afraid I couldn’t care less about accurately predicting the future. What I am after is good storytelling not a conversation with a futurologist.
It’s a question of bringing out the strengths of the medium you are working in. It’s about talking to your audience. Television and cinema are at their best telling stories aimed at wide audiences. For me, TV science fiction has to work within the confines of the story, it doesn’t necessarily need to stand-up in a peer to peer review.
Science fiction has always been a wonderful way of examining the concerns of today’s society by looking to the future. Look at films like the original version of Planet of the Apes, which tackled our concerns about nuclear armageddon, the classic Silent Running, which looks at environmental worries, Logan’s Run which looks at population imbalance, and Bladerunner, which presents our fears about technology taking over from human beings.
These are contemporary stories but by projecting them forwards we get a dramatic vision of what life could be like if current trends are left unchecked. Science fiction works best when it is used as an allegory rather than a fetishistic look at technology. Storytelling is about people – it is about us – rather than gadgets and this is what the cyber-snobs miss out on.
Doctor Who is very good at telling people stories. It’s very good at throwing people together in a threatening situation and seeing how they react and interact with one another.
Also it is very good at throwing up contemporary concerns, such as in David Tennant’s first Cyberman story The Age of Steel where it was revealed that the cyber-race was taking over humanity through the use of bluetooth technology. Even back in the 1970s stories like The Green Death examined environmental pollution and the fear that global business would have little concern for the communities they were based in.
Books are great vehicles for exploring scientific theories and ideas, television and cinema is about drama and about exploring our place in society. Doctor Who is back on Saturday and I can’t wait for him to use his sonic screwdriver again.