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14 December 2008 @ 04:31 pm
My Problem with Tennant-Era Who - a Polemic  
Over the last week or so I have been having a conversation over email with the very lovely alex_wilcock . It's ranged over many topics, but as you would possibly expect between he and I, a lot of it has been about Doctor Who (Alex is, of course, the author of the much-vaunted "How Doctor Who Made Me a Liberal"). A lot of the discussion has ranged around liberalism and sex and money, as well, but mainly, it's been Who.

A large part of what we've talked about is which is our favourite incarnation of the Doctor and why, and which eras of the show we like best and why (at the risk of annoying the good folks at the Indy - scroll down to "middle-aged Doctor Who fans" - this is not always the same thing). Inevitably, this has involved discussion of which are our least favourites, too. And while I can agree that the first season of McCoy was rubbish, and that Pip and Jane Baker were mostly awful (not necessarily positions Alex has advanced, but ones that are prevalent in fandom), both of those had more redeeming features, in my eyes, than the era of Who which started with Christopher Eccleston declaring he was going to wipe every last stinking dalek out of the sky to save his girlfriend. The final Christopher Eccleston episode was the tipping point, for me.

Doctor Who is probably the nearest thing to a religion I have. It's shaped my mind from a very early age, and I believe in it's core values and worship regularly. My first memory of anything is of Tom Baker turning into Peter Davison. Alex says that Doctor Who fostered a free spirit, encouraged me to start reading, instilled a passionate internationalism, made me think about ecology, and give me a lasting hatred of prejudice; green scaly rubber people are people too. And, of course, it made me want to change the world, and believe that an individual can make a difference, and I couldn't agree with that more. It's always been a show with a moral message, and that message is an essentially Liberal one - even if the world IS a horrible scary place full of fascistic monsters, one person can change that by doggedly doing the right thing, and this is what the right thing is.

It's ironic, then, that my first major issue with this era of Who is the Lonely God schtick. The Doctor isn't, shouldn't be, can't be a God. He's a hero because of his fallibility and weakness, not in spite of it. He's a hero because throughout time and space he tries to do the right thing; not always succeeding, but always trying. Think Tom Baker's Have I the right? discussion with Sarah-Jane Smith in Genesis of the Daleks. Think Jon Pertwee patiently explaining to UNIT that actually, Silurians and Sea Devils have as much right to live on this planet as we do. Think Colin Baker's monologue in The Two Doctors about how Peri is too focussed on humanity, and that other species are important too. Think Christopher Eccleston trying to negotiate with the Nestene Consciousness. My Doctor would not have flushed the Racnoss down the plughole without a second glance. My Doctor would not have committed genocide against even the daleks, especially not when he had been shown a mere six episodes earlier that daleks can be redeemed (and yes, I am awake of Sylvester McCoy's actions with the Hand of Omega. I think that's an aberration too). You can't imagine Tennant asking if he has the right, can you? He is the no-second-chances Doctor. The Doctor who can't see shades of grey. The Doctor who doesn't allow for the possibility of rehabilitation - just look at his eternal punishment meted out at the end of Human Nature/Family of Blood. He has appointed himself judge, jury and executioner to the whole of the universe like The Inquisitor in Red Dwarf, even though he KNOWS that there are mechanisms in place to do this via the rule of law. He believes in his own Godhood, and takes on the mantle willingly. My Doctor might have been an arrogant son of a bitch, but he knew he was mortal.

My second major issue with Tennant-Era Who is the racism. Not skin colour racism. Species racism. All the of aliens are bad guys. All of them. Even in Eccleston era, we get Jabe the tree-lady (who, although her species originates on earth, is definitely not human). In Tennant Era, like a dyed-in-the-wool Dacre-ite, The Doctor believes that humanity is the only race worth bothering with; and even then, not all of them. The Ood were a ham-fisted attempt at a not-evil alien, but even they are counted as Other, as disposable, by the show, and by their second appearance has become monster-of-the-week. Contrast this with earlier incarnations of Who, even up to and including Eccleston.

My third major issue with Tennant Era Who is Rose. In Eccleston's time, I liked Rose. I could identify with her. She was a ballsy, confident young woman with an enquiring mind and an adventurous spirit. Sure, she wasn't well-educated, but that didn't mean she wasn't intelligent. Yes, Eccleston!Doctor was a bit clingy to her, but you could understand that. She was the first person he had allowed himself to care about since the Time War. When he turned into Tennant, though, it all became a bit more worrying. She lost her independence and her adventuring spirit. She fell in love with him, and he with her. This led to a series of things which were completely unforgiveable, in my eyes. He endangered the universe, just to say goodbye to her. Contrast this with how he has behaved to the departures of other companions, even his own granddaughter, and you realise that it's a dramatic change in the nature of the character. On top of this, even after Rose had gone, he showed favouritism, something he has never EVER done before. He treated Martha Jones abominably, because he was still hung up on Rose. You might say that this is simply realism; showing the Doctor's humanity. But he's NOT HUMAN. He's an ALIEN. He treated Donna pretty shabbily too, twice over. And why is it that every female (and gay/bi/omni male) character in the show now has to make goo-goo eyes at him? He's not Captain Kirk! He's not sexually irresistible. Hell, I fancy him a hell of a lot less now than I did when he was a snuggly bloke with a blonde afro and a technicolour dreamcoat. A LOT less.

My fourth issue is the actor himself. I realise that this is a personal foible that not many will agree with, but I don't think David Tennant is all that. I didn't think much of him in Blackpool, I detested his Casanova, and I wanted to beat his head against a wall when he was Daft Jamie in Medicinal Purposes. I find his gurning and shouting annoying, and his flared nostrils Rimmeresque. I'm shallow enough that I would forgive this if I thought he was sexy, but sadly, I don't. It's a shame, really, because when he's NOT acting, he's lovely. In interviews, he is intelligent, considered, and attentive to detail. He's also very clearly a Who fanboy. It's just his acting is not to my taste at all (in this sense, he is the anti-Christopher Lee, whom I adore as an actor, but detest as an arrogant cock in real life).

So yes, all in all, the most recent era of Who has been my least favourite, and the current incumbent is my least favourite Doctor. I haven't even watched all of the last series. I'd say that perhaps this is a sign that I am growing up, and putting aside childish things, if I thought that was any way to proceed. But I don't, and if I did, I wouldn't be as glued to SJA as I have been.

You see, in the the Sarah-Jane Adventures, I see a lot of the things I miss about Who. Sarah-Jane has the moral centre which the modern Doctor seems to lack. She has more than one person in the "companion" role, and although one of these is her adopted son, she doesn't play favourites. She makes mistakes, but she owns up to them and faces up to them. There's no sexual tension, and there doesn't need to be because (and you can laugh at hearing this from a randy bisexual in an open relationship if you must) not everything in life is about sex. And, I must confess, the feminist in me loves watching (and sharing with my daughter) a science fiction show in which the lead character is a strong, capable, yet emotionally centred woman, and in which every single episode passes the Bechdel test. Which makes it a double crying shame that when The Grand Moff Sexist takes over the showrunner role in Who next year, Sarah-Jane's future is in doubt. You see, despite the fact that the show is the highest rated show CBBC has ever produced, if there's nobody to take over Rusty's role, the show will be axed...

At which point, a very small but very determined spawn of mine will be leading the protests.
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