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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Peter Capaldi Leaves 'Doctor Who'

So, Peter Capaldi is to leave 'Doctor Who.' I'm not actually very surprised. I reckon he had to endure some of the worst scripts ever during his tenure. And it all down to the show runner, Stephen Moffat. I have been a fan of Doctor Who since the very first episode was aired in 1963. I would imagine that I was the right age to fit the demographic of the audience they were attempting to attract when it was originally broadcast. I was about 13. I loved it from the very first. I recall distinctly the first appearance of the Daleks. They were mysterious. We gradually got to know them over many later stories. Infact, in some ways, they were used far too much, probably because the BBC knew that with them in an episode they could help boost the ratings. What made 'Doctor Who' so distinctive was the fact that it was made up of so many episodes, and around every four to six weeks, when the Doctor and his companions got in the Tardis and took off at the end of a serial, you never knew exactly where they would land in the next episode, the doors of the Tardis would open and you would be in a completely different world, or time, be it past or future, a historic story, say, set in ancient Rome, Ghengis Khan, or to a future with robots, megalomaniac semi-human robots such as the Cybermen or Daleks, the Sea Devils or whatever. Infact, some of the best stories I remember were those during the tenure of Jon Pertwee, when the Doctor was forced to remain on Earth and deal with aliens during the 20th Century. The fact that the Doctor could be regenerated every couple of years was a stroke of genius, a device cleverly introduced when the original Doctor, William Hartnell, decided to leave the series. As a result, every time a new Doctor is introduced, the show could be reinvented, given a make over. This is how the show has managed to survive for more than 50 years. In 1989 the BBC cancelled 'Doctor Who.' It was no surprise, really. It seemed they didn't want it to survive, giving it a really poor place in the schedules, shown twice mid-week, and opposite ITV's soap 'Coronation Street.' Also, not helped by two actors taking over the lead who were, frankly, totally mis-cast, Colin Baker and then Sylvester McCoy. No fault of theirs, they were just not provided with very good storylines or scripts and the budget for those episodes most likely got reduced as the special effects were very poor, to say the least and the sets generally of a very poor standard unfortunately. It is no wonder the ratings plummeted. Why show the programme mid-week, and opposite such a ratings juggernaut as 'Coronation Street'? There was always talk that 'Doctor Who' would be rebooted. There was even a one-off film with Paul McGann in the lead role. I never saw it. I didn't want to. By then I'd lost interest in the who 'Who' thing. But then, in 2005, the BBC decided it was time to revive the series. It was given a complete make-over, the show had what was termed a 'Showrunner' a job which came from American television. This time Russell T. Davies was in charge, writing many of the episodes and the actor who was cast as The Doctor was Christopher Eccleston. The show was given a new format, each story running for 45-50 minutes. I think this was the first mistake they made. The original 30-minute running time is far better, with stories running over 4-6 weekly instalments. In it's original form, Doctor Who ran more or less continuously throughout the year. In it's rebooted form  it ran for 13 weeks. Also, they began it in May, which means that the evenings are getting lighter (by then the clocks have moved back to Summertime.) It was still scheduled on a Saturday, as the original show was scheduled. By now it wasn't really a children's show as originally intended, but more what you'd class a 'family' show, meaning they could make the stories and characters far more scary. But did they heck! No, it became far more aimed at an older audience, and many of the stories became far too frightening for a younger audience and as a result the good old BBC decided in it's infinite wisdom to put it out later and later on a Saturday evening. In the old days Doctor Who would be on at around 5-6 p.m. on a Saturday, after such things as Grandstand were finished (the long-defunct sports magazine.) The 30-minute format was far better than telling a story in a 45-minute slot because you had cliff-hangers at the end of each episode and so built up the excitement of what was going to happen next in the following week's episode. You can hardly do any such thing in a one-episode story, although they have done the occasional two-episode story. But even then the 45-minute stories do seem incredibly rushed, there's hardly time to develop a story sufficiently to make it an engaging  or worthwhile viewing experience. They may have had more money to spend on these episodes compared to the classic episodes, but even then it was all crash, bang, wallop, big and brash, lots of running around, chasing monsters as usual, but it became very jokey and a lot of the time hardly any character development or subtleties that would make a story interesting. Too clever and pretentious for a children's audience or even an adult audience. It was made for an hour slot, following the American model, with the idea that it would sell overseas. If it's made for a 45-50 minute running time, the hour is made up on a commercial channel with around 10-15 minutes of commercials.  A lot of C.G.I. was used, but my one complaint is that that is cheating. The best monsters are those that are 'in the flesh,' are real in the sense they are there in the studio or on location. The C.G.I. monsters did tend to look as if they'd be sort of Photoshopped on during the editing process. Almost as if they'd been cut out and stuck on afterwards. One of my big complaints was what they did to the Daleks. They had always had the problem of not being able to go up stairs. Probably because they were designed to run on castors, a sort of built-in problem probably due to budget restraints. You came to accept that the Daleks couldn't go up stairs, but in the new Doctor Who, when they appeared in the newly-rebooted show, suddenly they could fly. It just looked absolutely ridiculous. And done by C.G.I.! As  result, the Daleks are little more than a laughing stock and as a result don't seem anywhere as menacing as they did when I remember them as a boy of about 15. And in one episode at about the time of the 2010 Election they even had to make some of the Daleks have what would appear to be the colours of the major political parties. In one episode they came across as being, well, frankly, camp, the way they moved and spoke. More like dancers in the chorus of a really awful musical! Well, definitely not menacing.

Christopher Eccleston only lasted one series as The Doctor and then was replaced by David Tennant. A totally different interpretation. That's what makes Doctor Who so different to other drama series. If you re-cast your central character you'd expect them to be the same sort of age, height, etc and they'd be played in more or less the same sort of way. Even down to their costume, hair etc. Not with The Doctor. He can be played by an older actor as with William Hartnell, who played him as a doddery old gent with a Grand Daughter. Or, he can then be played as a sort of space hobo, which is how Patrick Troughton played him, or as a rather cheeky comic character, which is how Tom Baker played him. From Tennant we had Matt Smith, who played him as a combination of Tom Baker's Doctor and Patrick Troughton's version. Then, when Matt Smith took over we got Peter Capaldi, who was the same sort of age as William Hartnell when he first played the part. He certainly gave the part a sort of gravitas, but, unfortunately, the scripts just didn't cut the mustard in my view. Stephen Moffat took over at the time Russell T. Davis left as show runner and things just went from bad to worse. He made the stories very 'clever-clever.' The Christmas episodes became more and more predictable and not up to much. I didn't watch many of the later episodes. I haven't see the 2016 Christmas episode nor many of the last series in 2015. The 2016 episodes got scheduled later and later, probably because some of them were deemed to frightening for younger audiences. It seems it has lost it's way and, to be frank, it would be better if they killed the show off completely, although I can't imagine the BBC doing that because it's quite a good earner and is shown all over the world, as well as generating a good income for them through their commercial arm, BBC Worldwide, what with merchandising deals with such companies as Lego.

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