Over the weekend before Halloween, I had a chance to watch Shaun of the Dead. Finally. (Yes, I know, I should have seen it in the theater. Many things I should see in the theater but don’t.) It was a funny, funny movie, but also a gamer movie, allowing people to do both reasonable stuff and crazy stunts to survive.
And now I know what the new Doctor Who is trying to be.
I’ve puzzled over this, like many another American fan.What is that commonality of the old seasons of Doctor Who – diverse as they were, separated across time as they were — that the new seasons don’t have? There is something, and it has bothered us. We count the differences.
It’s all The Rose Show, not The Doctor Show.
Open relationship plot, instead of shunting it off to the side.
Rose really does dress like a skank, whereas the other Companions dressed modestly even in the sixties. And Jack’s a male skank, albeit better dressed.
Open contempt for the US, instead of the odd gentle poke.
Open contempt for everybody outside the little TARDIS circle, and often for them.
Constant treating of one character like crap, something the old Doctor wouldn’t even do to his enemies.
Blatant plot contrivance interfering with character development.
But the really pitiful thing is that Russell Davies is clearly trying to imitate Shaun of the Dead with Doctor Who, except that he doesn’t grant the characters and story even as much consistent dignity as Shaun of the Dead did. And Shaun of the Dead was a comedy that enjoyed “taking the mickey”.
The sad thing is that, whenever the Doctor Who writers condescend to take the characters and situations seriously; allow us to go along for an adventure in surroundings that aren’t cardboard and don’t turn the supporting characters into cardboard to compensate; stop copying themselves and thinking that makes them clever; and quit being so frenetic or making the characters into stereotypes of themselves — the new show can be both touching and powerful.
But too often, in both seasons, the new Who doesn’t bother.
Which is why I’m profoundly disinterested in Torchwood, as it seems like it will be more of what I don’t like, including characters I was glad to see gone. There are fanfic writers with a more realistic view of the UK government and military in their left toe than Russell T. Davies has in his whole writing staff. So, no, I don’t expect anything but a rag doll made from bits of The X-Files and The Quatermass Xperiment, which UK sf hacks have apparently been copying ever since it was made. I’m sure said rag doll will be popular anyway, but that’s the UK’s problem.
So if you want that old UNIT flavour in something really entertaining, try UNIT UK 24: Gotterdammerung, Gottohades and Gottapermit? by ComSatAngel. This is one of a long line of UNIT stories, as you can guess by the numbered title. This one’s a decently long novel, set in the days of the Fourth Doctor, Harry Sullivan, and Sarah Jane out gallivanting the universe. This novel focuses almost entirely on minor characters from the series (or his own imagination) having an adventure while everybody else is occupied with other events. This allows free rein to ComSatAngel’s SAS-meets-SF imagination, resulting in a plot that blends the daily slog of military life with inventive action and speculation.
So do the UNIT guys cast themselves into despair, swear eternal vengeance, perform the odd violation of the laws of war, and act like caricatures of themselves because the Doctor’s not around? No. They act like professionals and soldiers instead. (This is not to say that they can’t occasionally be ruthless — but they’re ruthless the way they would be, not the way that’s convenient for Russell T. Davies.) They also call upon the good offices and good sense of Liz Shaw, which is always a good plan.
I’m actually not terribly fond of “The Sea of Sand”, the author’s Fourth Doctor adventure, though I like the idea of going to North Africa during WWII. But “The Cadaverites”, a Third Doctor adventure set in the USSR, seems more comfortable. (I think he just writes better for Jon Pertwee!) But everything UNIT I’ve read by the guy has been wonderfully fun and fresh. He writes Captain Scarlet fanfic too, which might tell you something.