Monday, December 28, 2009

The perfection of Who

There is a really lovely bit at the end of Alan Moore’s Miracleman story, after the world has been transformed. Poverty, hunger, war and disease have been wiped out. The Gods are living on the Earth and sharing their gifts with man, pulling us all up the evolutionary scale.

But even as he basks in the perfected world, the title character admits that it still has its problems, but that this only adds to the joy of the new world. After all:

“Think of the tedium: A sky perpetually blue without the smallest cloud to ease monotony, a poem with no word misjudged, a diamond with no flaw.”

Perfection is never absolutely perfect. Nothing will be absolutely flawless – there will always be some imperfection on some level. It puts the whole thing in context, gives it life, gives it an organic taste.

Nobody is perfect. Nothing is perfect.

So why do Doctor Who fanboys cry like little babies when they don’t get that perfection in their choice of entertainment?

* * *

The latest episode of Doctor Who was on the other night and was bloody brilliant. Splashes of stone-cold genius, backed up by the sheer unashamed populism of the show. Appealing to the lowest common denominator is all well and good, especially when there is still something for the smart set. A farting Slitheen is easy to stomach when you get Christopher Eccleston two episodes later, fucking lighting up the world when the Doctor realises he can save everybody at the climax of Stevie Moffat’s first story. Just this once!

That’s been the hallmark of Russell T Davies’ revitalisation of Doctor Who – appeal to as many people as possible, from chavs who just like seeing one of their own save the universe to hardcore fans who dig into that awesome mountain of continuity built up on the show after the past four bloody decades.

Part one of The End of Time keeps that trend intact. There’s a café scene that has as much depth as anything else in the entire history of the series, because it’s one where the Doctor shows – for the first time ever - real, genuine fear at his coming end. There’s a marvelous and ridiculous climax that goes over the top, and then just keeps on going, with John Simms eating the shit out of every piece of scenery in sight. And then, just when that climactic screech is about to unleash, one of the basic founding stones of the past half-decade is ripped out of the series, with the Daltonator bringing the house down in the closing seconds.

Bloody hell.

So there is some unnecessary overage groping, the occasionally tacky special effect, some hamfisted Obama angle and plot holes that you could drive the Earth through.

So what?

* * *

The bits that make many geeks cringe are the bits that make their grandparents laugh. If you hate the slapstick, you hate your grandmother, and what sort of fucker hates their grandmother?

* * *

I really don’t get it.

What is this hunger for perfection? No work of art or entertainment is going to please everybody all of the time, because people just aren’t built like that. A moment like the transformation scene at the climax might seem genuinely creepy to some (especially with that horrible overpowered fluttering noise), while written off as pure cheese by others.

I know I shouldn’t feel too bad for Russ. He has brought back his favourite television show of all time, and made it more insanely popular than ever. It has been an absolute critical and commercial hit.

But I still feel for the poor Welshman when seeking out critical analysis of the latest episode. Hungry for analysis, the first three reviews I saw anywhere including the phrases “shower of shit”, “RTD does not understand how to do television” and the ultra-charming “everybody involved should have their home fire-bombed”.

Still, at least Davies has a sense of humour, and I’m sure he is delighted to see that the things often railed against by die-hard fans are the exact same things that have made the programme so ridiculously popular.

A bit of cheese, a piece of scenery chewing, this is the stuff the serious people hate, but make the show so popular in some wildly variant demographics.

Whatever Davies does, it will never be as good as the version in some people’s heads, the version that hits all their buttons and leaves the rest of us in the cold. The dim probability that these coruscating works of genius would actually find a mass audience seems to be lost on these misunderstood artists.

Complaining that a television show or book or comic is not as good as it should be is the easiest complaint of any viewer or reader. Easy snark makes easy criticism, but weary nihilism only appeals to moody teenagers and the melancholic elderly. Critics who maintain that they could do better – if they were only given the chance! – are the biggest dickheads of them all.

* * *

The ultimate question is – what do these people really want? They can bitch and moan about something they profess to love, but what do they really want?

A perfect episode, with nothing to complain about. Something that still manages to appeal to everybody, by giving them what they ask for.

Getting exactly what you want and expect?

How fucking boring would that be?

* * *

The final episode of the Davies/Tennant Doctor Who screens later this week. Then it’s off for more adventures in tine and space with a new face and a new style. It will probably be a bit cheesy, and a bit magnificent, and will have something for everybody.

Perfection isn’t required.


Anonymous said...

Tea-related blogger solidarity!

I think what these people hate isn't their grandmother per se, but the fact that this show is FOR their grandmother. And their mum. And their kids. And possibly their bucket of vindaloo.

And Davies-Who makes it impossible for them to pretend otherwise.

Who-rage all seems to be about ownership...




...firebombing people for making a fun, populist explosion of nonsense seems like an appropriate response only to people in AGONY from being confronted with the fact that the show they've invested so much in doesn't belong to them.

Stargate fandom is the target audience for Stargate.

Doctor Who fandom isn't the target audience for Doctor Who.

It's very, very upsetting for them.

Andrew Hickey said...

See, things like this post (and teatime brutality's great response) make me feel bad. Because I simply *DON'T GET* the Welsh series at all - not even slightly, to the point where I can't actually see what other people *are* getting from it - but the last thing I want to do is side with those people.

I do not understand the kind of 'fans' who will continue to watch something they hate, knowing they're going to hate it, then complain vociferously about hating this thing that they knew they were going to hate. I dislike what RTD does, so I haven't watched an episode of the Welsh show in two and a half years - that way I don't *have* to complain about it.

It's not like there's not any entertainment made specifically *for* these people - that's what Big Finish is for, for a start - so the complaints just seem bizarre...

Bob Temuka said...

Aw no, I don't want you to feel bad about it, Andrew. I don't want to sound like a condescending prick or anything, but you really are one of the good ones, laying out a number of solid and undeniable points against the show over a significant period of time.

I still think you're totally wrong, but I can see where you're coming from.

But there must still be a section of fandom that dig the new stuff, who can live with the fact they're not the only target audience.
Shit, I've been a hardcore Who nerd since I was four, and I've seen some pretty vicious vitriol against certain aspects of the show in the past, but I never thought massive success would be condemned as a bad thing. When it was off air for 15 years, all everybody talked about was how to make it accessible. Davies has done just that, and been slammed for it. What the hell?

Adam said...

I think TB has it right. Legitimate complaints aside, I strongly suspect alot of the vitriol is borne of a feeling of rejection. Take Davis's predilection for plotholes, it irritates me for a number of popularly understood reasons that I won't bother to go into, but (genralisation ahoy!) I imagine it baffles and enrages the more hardcore and geeky fanbase because plotholes are precisely the sort of thing that they loathe.

Personally I appreciate much of what David does, particularly his efforts to show sides of the human experience that often get left out of popular entertainment: in the last episode (spoilers) the willingness to present an individual - a really good individual like the Dr - facing death as a source of anger, bitterness and spite. I don't much like Davis's overuse of deus ex machina, last minute saves, coincidence and luck, universe shaking threats, and what I consider to be overwrought emotional textures. However it is interesting to consider how some of these things might contribute to the show's popularity.