Last Sunday there was a lot of… let’s call it dialogue… across the internet over the casting announcement for Matt Smith’s replacement in Doctor Who. Some praised it, while others hated it. Some waxed lyrical about how it was wonderful to see an older Doctor at last, while others cried over the Doctor no longer being “young and hot”. Some people were glued to the screen, live-tweeting their excitement throughout the whole show, while others were making damn sure that their opinions on the poor production values were heard. Diehard Whovians were extolling the next stage in their favourite show, while the show’s detractors were once again ranting about how it’s the worst thing on television.
But each and every one of those people was saying exactly the same thing: ‘I care about Doctor Who!”
Whatever your feelings about it, Doctor Who is an iconic part of our culture. One of the longest running shows on television (even if you discount the break) it has managed to take a place in the nation’s consciousness that few other programmes manage. With the show lasting so long and casts, crews and writers coming and going, there is no focus for the show other than the show itself. Doctors come and go, quality peaks and troughs, but the show goes on. People might have their favourite time period or doctor, they might prefer the funny episodes over the scary ones or visa-versa, but we all know that the show is greater than our own preferences. It has become the ultimate televisual cult.
It cannot be denied that it’s a show of highs and lows. Doctor Who has not gained its place by giving us 50 years of pure gold. Nothing that has lasted for so long, with so many different writers and producers along the way, could have managed that. Even just considering the last couple of years, for every Asylum of the Daleks there has been a The Rings of Akhaten. Some of the show’s stories have showcased some of the greatest science fiction television there has ever been. Others have highlighted just how bad science fiction can get. For all its CG gloss the show it still the spiritual successor to pulp science fiction; so many stories to be told, with just some of the them striking that vein of genius that makes classic sci-fi.
The most obvious mark of the show’s enduring success is how many people still follow it whilst claiming to hate it. There are people I know who complain about every episode being terrible, but still tune in and watch the next one. Take this Sunday as an example; by no standards could the live announcement show be described a ‘good television’. What could have been a nice mini-tribute to Matt Smith’s tenure turned out to be a terrible sub-reality TV knock off consisting of filler interviews with C-List talking heads. Yes, they had Peter Davidson, but who gives a toss what the kid from Outnumbered thinks about Doctor Who?
But no one had to watch it. From the moment Zoe Ball walked out it was obvious that the next half hour was going to be total crap. Knowing this, I still chose to watch the whole thing. Morbid curiosity kept me going. I spent most of it laughing as each pointless decision followed the next until the actual announcement happened. But that was my choice. If I had simply wanted to know the casting choice I could easily have done something else for 30 minutes and tuned in for the very end.
And yet people seem to have tuned in to the whole programme just to prove to themselves that it would be as terrible as they thought it would. I doubt any of the Doctor Who creative team had any input in that show. It doesn’t reflect the actual show at all. It was just a vapid waste of twenty five minutes followed by a five minute interview.
I don’t know any other show or series that has this effect. The closest thing to match Doctor Who’s longevity and culture of constant change would be soap operas, and these don’t get nearly the same attention. Most people I know hate soap operas, as do I, but none of them follow and rant about all the decisions. We simply ignore them. We don’t have strong opinions to be taken out at parties or online message boards. We’re simply not interested and so leave it at that. People don’t seem to be able to do with with Doctor Who.
Perhaps it is simply that we want the show to be held to a different standard. Maybe the fact that Doctor Who is such an iconic part of our national culture we want it to try harder, to be the best it can be. We want every episode to be classic science fiction, not just two or three per season. We want to be proud of every single moment, to feel that the creative team behind it are working as hard as possible in their curation of this national icon. Deep down we all know that this show is an indelible part of our culture. It’s part of who we are. When it doesn’t meet our standards we want it – or rather those with the creative control – to know that we expect better.
We keep complaining as while we might not want a bad show taking up the airwaves, we also don’t want Doctor Who to go. There were many, many valid reasons for the show’s original cancellation in 1989, but the show was never forgotten. We wouldn’t allow it to be, and it was almost inevitable that it would be reborn.
Doctor Who is part of a television pantheon that few shows will ever reach. Iconic and imortal. Like the Queen’s Christmas Message, we might well have no interest in watching it but somehow we wouldn’t feel right if it wasn’t there any more.