Friday, February 28, 2014

Who Does This Remind You Of?

(Originally Written for Jedi News)

((All images found by Google Image Search. If any of you readers are responsible for any of them, let me know.))

I am not a bandwagon jumper.

Yes, I am a huge fan of many popular franchises, but I came into them on my own terms. In fact, I have a history of avoiding things that would later become some of my favorites simply because people startle me by never shutting up about it. One prime example is the Harry Potter series. I avoided it like the plague until I saw a trailer for the first film and thought it looked interesting enough to check out. Today, it’s perhaps my favorite book series of all time.

Even my beloved Star Wars started out as just this thing everyone kept quoting. It wasn’t until the Special Editions were coming out that I decided it was about time I gave it a chance. As you can see, I never looked back.

"Very Special Indeed."

Where am I going with this? I mention it because the internet seems to be filled with reference upon reference to rave upon rave of a little television show called Doctor Who. The rabidity of the fanbase has caused me to inch away slowly for years. It wasn’t until last fall, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the show, that I got interested enough to see what all the yapping was about. I went on Amazon Prime, found the 2005 revival (what I was told was a good starting point for beginners), and watched it.

And I didn’t get it.

Wait, let me explain. Lest you think I’m about to bash one of the UK’s treasures in an article for a UK website, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I LOVE Doctor Who. I’ve caught up on five and a half “series” of the revival (once I get up to the present, I plan on watching the best of Doctors 1-8), and I simply adore it. In just a few short months, it has become one of my all-time favorite television shows. I have yet to see an episode I’ve actively disliked. Everything is Fantastic. I finally appreciate wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey…stuff. I tell people I watch Doctor Who now; Doctor Who is cool. I’ve become a full-fledged Whovian (well, Nu-Whovian, but give me some time).

What I don’t get is why anyone else is. What I can’t wrap my head around is why the internet that considers Episodes I-III a crime against nature goes so completely bonkers for this show.

Because the truth of the matter is that Doctor Who is everything people claim to hate about I-III.

"It's a fixed point in history. There's nothing I can do. I'm sorry...I'm so sorry..."

When you get right down to it, it’s corny as hell. The performances are hit and miss, as is the dialogue (except from the Doctor himself, of course). The effects are mostly just laughable, even in the more recent episodes where it’s clear they have a bigger budget and want to take themselves more seriously.

“But Adam,“ you say, “Doctor Who has a history of corniness. It’s part of the brand, so it’s forgivable in this case.” To which I would agree…and it’s the same for Star Wars. IV-VI have the same ham and cheese factor as I-III, as I’ve pointed out more than once.

“But Adam,” you say, “Doctor Who is full of such memorable creatures and settings with interesting concepts.” To which I would agree…and it’s the same for I-III. Subjectivity aside, the creatures, vehicles, and settings were given just as much thought and love as IV-VI. Even more in some cases.

“But Adam,” you say, “Sure Doctor Who has its moments that make even fans cringe, but it’s all forgivable because the majority of the episodes, well, they have a good story! The writing, at least in the plot department, is excellent, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Plus it’s a lot of fun.”

To which I would wholeheartedly agree.

"I regenerate. You clearly don't."

I’ve made no secret that I have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, though I rarely advertise it either. Recently, the group I supervise was asked to come up with their one big passion. The one main pseudo-obsession that is one of the defining traits of the syndrome. And it got me thinking about mine, about how I could never pick one because I’ve always loved so many different things. It was then I had a revelation: my one big passion is stories. I studied acting and practiced writing because I love telling stories. I immerse myself in films, books, television shows, and even video games because I love hearing stories. I crave being able to share anecdotes and hear others share theirs.

I’ve liked many things others haven’t because I like the stories they’re telling. I can look past many flaws that others consider dealbreakers and enjoy the story being told. And the more people point out these flaws, real or imagined, the more I see the same things happening in stories they actually do like, making me even more confused why what I like is considered “bad”.

"And speaking of, why does nobody say 'Wizard' anymore?"

I have never claimed that I-III are Citizen Kane in the technique department, but neither are IV-VI and neither is Doctor Who. And none of them are meant to be (though they are all better at it than they are given credit for sometimes). And I love them all because in spite of anything that might be wrong with any of them, the stories they tell are damn good tales.

I mean, someone recently turned A New Hope into a Shakespearean play, when any of the Prequel films would have made a better fit. The story of Anakin Skywalker’s rise and fall in Elizabethan language would be indistinguishable from one of the Bard’s authentic tragedies. It’s deep, emotional, and says some pretty spot on things about the human condition.

And if you can look past the wacky trappings to appreciate such storytelling in Doctor Who, then you should be able to do it for Phantom, Clones, and Sith.


"Like, just your opinion that is."


  1. Oooooooooooooh boy. This...I have a lot to say on this.

    Short end (and I promise I will elaborate later): I don't think any of the Star Wars films (even the original three) have a patch on Doctor Who's creativity or techniques, and especially not in the writing department. And I think "corny" is a bad descriptor, both of Star Wars and of Doctor Who.

    Also (on an unrelated note so this post is about more than "this is what I will write in the future") I wish people would stop using Citizen Kane as a benchmark for quality. I mean, it's understandable- it was the #1 film on somesuch list for a good few decades, and so the mentality is to compare everything to it. But the reason it was so good is because it was so phenomenally groundbreaking for its time, both in the story mechanics and the way it was filmed. It was lightyears ahead of what most people were doing at the time, and is so solidly constructed and executed that it remains astonishing even today.

    But here's the thing: We produce art that consistently outdoes Citizen Kane on a regular basis, both on film and even on television. The things that made Kane so groundbreaking are by now commonplace, and we've grown in the decades since its release such that we've learned way more tricks and techniques. I mean, that's the thing about art- it continually is growing and improving such that the things that would've been impossible in 1941 are perfectly ordinary today.

    And that's not to devalue Kane at all- no, it's still a monumental film. But in pure terms of what it does in terms of story construction and techniques, we outdo it constantly- I mean, just within Doctor Who, Moffat pulls off structural tricks in any given episode that Welles never would've thought of. Art has grown substantially more complex than 1941- that's just what it does.

    All I'm saying is- we should stop demeaning anything substantial as "not being Citizen Kane" because it erases the worth and value that piece has on its own. Especially when half the things we criticize for not being Kane actively outdo the things we praise Kane for constantly.

    1. Of all the things I figured you'd freak out over, I honestly never expected it to be over a turn of phrase. Well done.

      And I also can't say I'm looking forward to you walking me through techniques and camera angles that somehow disprove the fact that Who is often silly even in ways it doesn't intend, especially when you're blind to the nuances in Attack of the Clones.

      So please, can we just agree Doctor Who is awesome and leave it at that? I just finished "Let's Kill Hitler" this afternoon, to give you a sense of where I am.

    2. First off- I don't appreciate being called "blind" over my disagreements on AotC.

      I wasn't gonna be talking anything as specific as that (especially since television camera work is rarely anything spectacular), more general writing approaches and things.

      And I never said Who isn't unintentionally silly sometimes- I mean, this is the show that once featured a giant rubber monster operated by mechanics high off of paint fumes and then tried to pass it off as something serious. No, Who is (more often than I would like) a bit crap, and certainly has its laughable moments. But I'm not talking about those- I'm talking the moments in which it succeeds- where the writing and acting are way better than they have any right to be, and the innovations and techniques it pioneers when the show is firing on all cylinders.

      Really, though, you should probably be reading Phil Sandifer's stuff when it comes to this sort of thing. He's an excellent writer that has way more interesting things to say than I do, and actually even covered Star Wars on his blog. I won't link to any specific articles, but here's a link to the backlog of his posts on the show:

      He's currently at the end of the Tennant era (covering SJA and Torchwood) and will be entering the Moffat era soon, which should be loads of fun.

    3. Sorry, just going by your track record (though I should give you more credit since you've been more respectful lately).

      Of course, the story-writing is what I praised the most and is the point of the article. The executions don't always work but the ideas are pretty cool at absolute worst, and mind-exploding at best.

    4. Furthermore, I want to elaborate: It's difficult to compare the two because they are very different styles. Star Wars is trying to keep a classical tone while Doctor Who is always more or less modern for its production date. In that respect, I would argue in both cases that much of the acting and dialogue is, for their respective styles, very well-done, with it's very few mistakes being all the more noticeable for it.

      What they have in common is a silliness to them that some episodes embrace and others (Empire and Moffet's Run) try to hide. In fact, Who is even worse at this on a technical level, since even the worst effects in Star Wars are still more believable then much of Who. My point in the article is that it boggles my mind how so many fans can look past that to see the true beauty of Who but fail to do the same for I-III.

      Of course, I have an article planned about a franchise that parallels with Star Wars MUCH better than Who. But you'll have to wait...

    5. Actually there's a fair chunk of Doctor Who that aims for a more 'classical' tone- less so in the new series, but it still happens from time to time.

      And just as I don't think Empire tries to hide the silliness at all (of course, I don't find most of Star Wars intentionally 'silly', anyways), Moffat's run definitely doesn't hide the silliness in Doctor Who...a fair chunk of the run deliberately lampshades old tropes and several episodes are outright comedic (he did get his start in sitcom writing, after all). I think his writing is colored by the fact he first became known as the 'horror guy' what with Blink and The Empty Child (of course, both have firm roots in sitcom formats), but he values the comedic just about as much as anyone.

      I do agree, though, Who can really fail when it tries to go all grim-faced serious on us- my least favorite episode of the show ("Warriors of the Deep") is a horrible misanthropic episode that tries to be a serious take on Cold War politics and fails laughably at it- not the least of which because its production was horribly rushed by a surprise Thatcher election and their big monster ended up...well, just google "The Myrka" and see for yourself.

      That's not to say, of course, that serious-minded Doctor Who can't work- one of my favorite eras is Tom Baker's final year, headed by Christopher Bidmead, which deliberately axes much of the humor to focus more on wonder and puzzles, and is absolutely *brilliant* and gorgeous by turns. Other times, though, as with the Davison and Colin Baker years headed by Eric Saward, it tries and goes for a po-faced seriousness that falls flat on its face. All depends on interpretation, but of course, when your premise is of a 900-year old alien who can change face at will and travels the universe in a time machine that looks like a police box, a little bit of comedy is always gonna help out a bit.

  2. Even Empire is silly at times even through people often ignore that.

    To quote "The Night of the Mindless Lucas Slaves" from Star Wars Heresies

    "British author Philip Pullman wrote the introduction to Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale, noting “the relentless and merciless idiocy of internet ‘criticism’.” In another venue, he has quite rightly questioned why, if they’re so talented, creative, and insightful, the people who go online and endlessly complain about everything don’t simply write their own stories and scripts firsthand. It is a rather spectacular waste of time, if you start to think about it. He also applauds Russell T. Davies’ attitude toward writing and art which, if every fanboy and girl typing angrily online could simply comprehend, the world would be an infinitely saner place.

    After observing how cruelly and viciously some of his writers, including himself, have been attacked by “fans” on internet forums, he expresses a point which almost no one understands:

    I read that stuff and it doesn’t stop me, not ever. I’ve got quite
    high-flown and fancy beliefs about art that maybe put it into
    perspective. Principally: it is not a democracy. Creating
    something is not a democracy. The people have no say.
    The artist does. It doesn’t matter what the people witter
    on about; they and their response comes after. They’re
    not there for the creation.

    I would strongly, strongly suggest that Star Wars “fans” read that over and over again until it sinks in. He also adds:

    This is becoming one of the great arguments of the day,
    for populist writers especially. It taps into the whole debate
    across journalism about the democratization of the critic.
    It was summed up best by Rachel Cooke in The Observer
    recently, where she said that the online voice writes
    with a deep sense of exclusion. She wrote about that
    with some anger, but also with a lot of sadness. I don’t
    see the sadness myself. I think it’s right that they’re
    excluded. Of course, it’s always been that way, people
    have always carped on, but the internet means
    that we can all read it now."

    RTD has his share of haters who believe he ruined Who, even Moffat has some. Each lead is going to make Doctor Who their way.

    1. Wow...I had forgotten about that entirely, mostly because when I read it I hadn't watched Who and therefore had no frame of reference.

      Wow, everything on the internet really does make more sense now that I watch Who.

    2. "Even Empire is silly at times even through people often ignore that. "

      Yay, someone agrees with me!

      I'd have to double check for sure, but IIRC Empire actually has the most overt comedic sequences of the 'saga', certainly of the original three films. Not only are most of the C-3PO scenes comedic in nature, you have the early scenes with Han and Leia, Yoda's introductory scene, etc. Like with Who it's colored by the fact it also has some of the darkest moments in the trilogy (C-3PO getting blown up, the cave sequence, etc.), but there's a fair amount of silliness there.