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Home > Media

'Doctor Who': Guest Appearances All Round

15 July 2006

'Doctor Who' has probably gone through the biggest transformation of any programme in TV history, with the possible exception of 'Battlestar Galactica', which started out as a ropey Glen A. Larson 'Star Wars' rip-off in 1978, degenerated into sub-'Macgyver' 1980s toss, then came back in 2003 as a big-budget epic with proper actors and drama and everything. And no invisible hover-bikes.

Likewise, the new 'Doctor Who' is a world away from its Jo-Grant-endlessly-running-down-corridors-screaming incarnation, or the twattery of the Sylvester McCoy years. The BBC, unsurprisingly, is delighted. It's got a show with decent ratings that is actually *good*. As a result, 'Doctor Who' has become the BBC's flagship show, something to hold up as an example of how well the BBC is performing.

That and draw attention away from the BBC's deficiencies in other areas. By which we mean things like the rest of its phenomenally awful Saturday night programming. Or the way the rest of its dramas are mostly standard detective fare or appear to have been made solely for the purpose of representing Ordinary People and/or 'minorities'. (Flavour of the month appear to be Northerners, with five out of the BBC's eight most recent modern dramas set in the North.) Of recent BBC comedy, the less said the better, especially of such comedic abortions as 'Hyperdrive', 'Tittybangbang' and 'Feel the Force', which are remarkable for the fact that instead of generating criticism, they've mostly just generated total indifference.

Unfortunately, the result is that 'Doctor Who' has become so important to the BBC that it's being ridiculously hyped, leading new viewers to go 'What the fuck was all the fuss about?' instead of just watching it on its own merits. And judging by the last series, an element of 'Emperor's new clothes' syndrome has begun to creep in, i.e. it's the greatest thing ever.

The fact is, 'Doctor Who' is good, but not amazing. Too many episodes have relied on rather arbitrary story elements. There's been a bit too much 'If I can just reverse the energy flow of the wormhole then the [insert alien foe here] will be returned to their own dimension' - something that is chucked into the story five minutes before the end. More than one episode has been abruptly resolved by using Rose's mobile to transmit an 'aliens self-destruct' code into their strangely compatible computer systems. This sort of thing is straight out of the old 'Doctor Who', only it would have been Jon Pertwee building a crystal radio set and amping it up with his sonic screwdriver to disable the Sea Devils.

Meanwhile, some parts of the show are just actual rubbish, such as the lame jokes and the Doctor's 'geezer' schtick. OK, it's only a kids' TV show, but when 'Doctor Who' suddenly becomes the most amazing thing the BBC has ever done, then the corporation hasn't set itself very high standards for the future. And when 'Doctor Who' can do no wrong, it's a recipe for the show to become as self-indulgent as so much other BBC output: the endless all-celebs-together backslapping on 'Children in Need' or 'Sport Relief', Jonathon Ross interviewing his mates *again*, Jeremy Clarkson racing Steve Coogan at Brands Hatch, etc. And if the last series is anything to go by, that's starting to happen. Cast your minds back to the Peter Kay episode, which appeared to be a huge in-joke about obsessive 'Doctor Who' fans, full of smaller but equally crap jokes like the pastiche of 'Scooby Doo'. Great fun for those involved, but tedious for the viewer. And it makes it all the more likely that the next series of 'Doctor Who' will feature a guest appearance by Jonathon Ross as a chat-show host from the future, Steve Coogan as a local radio DJ in space, and Jeremy Clarkson as a... well, a big intergalactic twat.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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