Sunday, 19 July 2015

"Heroin Screws You Up": Nightmare of Eden

When I was at University, I showed two Doctor Who videos to my housemate and best mate, who had never watched Doctor Who in his life (he was a Trekkie). They were The War Machines and The Nightmare of Eden. These probably seem a weird choice of first stories to show a non-fan. They just happened to be the two VHS tapes I had bought from the Virgin Megastore (remember those?)that day. He laughed out loud when Nightmare of Eden opened with the model shot of the spacecraft. He suggested it looked like a washing up liquid bottle. Actually, that is one of the best model shots in Seventies Doctor Who. After watching the two serials, he concluded that Nightmare of Eden was the more interesting story, but he preferred the 'kindly grandfather' of William Hartnell's Doctor to Tom Baker (a shame he didn't watch An Unearthly Child). I think watching that VHS of Nightmare of Eden was a profoundly negative experience for me. I had loved the novelisation of Nightmare of Eden as a child and watching the actual serial just seemed so disappointing. Everything looked so depressingly cheap. After, that I never bought a Doctor Who VHS again.

The Eden jungle set looks good and it might have been a better story, had we spent more time there, but unfortunately, most of the time we are on a spaceship set that is very flat and dull looking, as well as far too brightly lit. The Mandrell costumes are no worse than most other Doctor Who monster costumes, but the way they filmed lets them down. We see so much of them and under such bright lights, they inevitably look hilarious. Equally hilarious are the uniforms of Officers Fisk and Costa. They look very... Village People.

It is not just the sets and the costumes that are bad, we also get some uninspiring acting. The worst offender is Lewis Fiander, playing Tryst. He completely sends up the character he is playing, refusing to take the story seriously. Even the regulars don't help much. The scene with Tom Baker getting roughed up by Mandrells is embarassing. Romana comes across as just a little too smug. If there is any story to give ammunition to JNT's argument that the TARDIS crew had become too clever, this is it.

A lot of fans praise Nightmare of Eden for offering an 'intelligent' story about drugs. As a professional drugs worker, I find it really annoying. It offers a very cliched Daily Mail idea of drug addiction. It follows the common assumption that you only need to try drugs once and you will be addicted forever. This really is not true. Heroin can be very addictive, but I have known users who only use heroin occasionally without becoming opiate dependent. It also offers the rather extreme scenario of a drug that is certain to kill you. Did the writers really imagine that people would actually use a drug that causes certain death? This is a horribly patronizing and insulting view of drug users. Drug users may make choices that are unwise, but they are not stupid. Maintaining an habit with inherent risks is a bit different from using a substance that kills you.

There are a few good lines in this story, but otherwise, there is not much to love here.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Doctor Who beyond the BBC

Our government is presently pushing for much needed reforms to the BBC. It is clear that the BBC is bloated and over-extended and needs to be cut down to the essence of what public broadcasting should be.

At some point, the question is likely to be raised as to whether the BBC should continue to produce a program as commercially viable as Doctor Who.

I think it would be in the interests of the public, as well as for fans for the rights to Doctor Who to be sold to a commercial production company.

Some of the best Doctor Who has been produced outside the BBC. Under Marvel and others, the comic strips have included some fantastic material. Virgin provided a genuine and natural continuation of the Seventh Doctor era in its novels. Big Finish are continuing to give us great Doctor Who.

One of the problems with BBC Wales Doctor Who is its obsession with the status of Doctor Who as a national treasure. The BBC considers itself to be a iconic national treasure and it treats Doctor Who as its fictional avatar. A lot of BBC Wales Doctor Who seems to take an horrible triumphalist nationalist tone. This goes hand in hand with the fetishization of the Doctor as its central character. I think if Doctor Who were to move into commercial hands, it would no longer be able to propagandize itself as a national treasure and would have to sell itself on the strength of its stories. This would mean a much fresher Doctor Who than we have seen.

I suspect also that a commercially run Doctor Who would be more targeted at us fans. As a public property, the producers of Doctor Who seem to feel that they have to make Doctor Who for everybody, trying to please everyone, throwing in lots of laughs, a monster for the kids, soap opera emotions and the odd throwaway continuity reference for the fans. While this is in many ways in the spirit of the classic series, it tends to make the tone of the episodes a little too wobbly. The episodes feel more like spectacles and events rather than stories. A Doctor Who that was targeted at fans (who will spend money buying merchandise) and the young adult Sci-Fi watching audience (who will also potentially spend money buying merchandise) would work harder to write better and more interesting stories.

I think the time has come for the BBC to finally take its hands off Doctor Who.