Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Stephen Fry on Doctor Who: A Measured Response

Stephen Fry commented on BBC Dramas like Merlin and Doctor Who at the Baftas yesterday, describing them as - in places - suffering from "infantilism".

The doctorwho Livejournal community is predictably going spare and I've not even approached Gallifrey Base, the leading DW forum online...mainly because it's the leading DW forum online and therefore a lightning rod for the insanity of the web coupled with the extremes of fandom DW inspires. I know, because Who makes me a little irrational myself.

The DW community here I watch with a kind of amused acceptance; I can't argue with the enthusiasm, passion, alarming obsession maybe, that these bloggers have for the show. They're predictably railing against Fry's comments - you can see the specific entry here - but I'm finding it so hard to take their furious denials seriously when it's couched amongst fresh-faced American tweens dressing up in the 500-odd Top Shop outfits Amy has worn so far and squeeing over their disturbing fanfic/slash between various characters and declaring their dreamy-eyed adolescent love for the New Series and its dreamboat lead stars...

That said, I am not so condescending as to ignore reality; DW is in reality a family show, and has been - more or less - since the beginning. The maturity has pitched up and down, often wildly crossing the path of Acceptable Taste (Mary Whitehouse's crusade, anyone?) but its main focus has been entertaining children, teenagers and young adults. I would argue that it still does that, remarkably effectively.
What has happened is the BBC and whoever is really pulling the strings, probably higher than Moffat, has begun to intentionally pitch the show in terms of writing and characterisation at a particular audience segment. Unfortunately, this is the segment of our population that still enjoys happy-slapping pensioners and has spent the past few years being criticised by business leaders for coming out of secondary education with precious few skills.
Conversely, I would argue that the popularity and influence of such characters as...Stephen Fry are leading a massive renaissance in overall intelligence and awareness of the young professional and older demographic. Turnout was up to 65% in the last election indicating a widespread resurgance of interest in the running of our country, and the debates people were having over the key issues were heartening.

So, there is a wide perception gap between the older and younger members of society; and for all the enthusiasm of mature collectors the real spending money on merchandising and the real viewing figures on RAJAR (the BBC's viewer-rating body) that make the target-chasing bureacratic Corporation so happy are coming from the youth. So the BBC will lean on Moffat, and he will lean on his script editors, who will slice and dice the fundamentally good scripts for Who into bitesize unchallening morsels for the thirteen-year-old viewer with the thirty-minute attention span and the disposable income that keeps the whole cycle turning.

Like one of the Doctor's plans, everyone has come out right. Stephen Fry is right, and Who scripts are shallower than they have been for decades. New Who diehards are right and it's an enjoyable family show beloved by millions. The BBC are right and their puppetmaster creative directions are paying bountiful dividends. Even I'm right, by thinking an old, hackeneyed, surreal British serial has been modernised to such an extent that I no longer recognise or like it. I just wish I could be wrong.

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