Lazy Luddite Log

24.8.14

All The Doctors

Tonight I will be watching the return of Doctor Who with a brand new actor. I cannot discuss what I am yet to see but I can discuss past actors and in how well they were served by the various recent fiftieth anniversary programs. I also go on a ranty tangent relating to the identity of Peter Capaldi.

Hartnell – Troughton – Pertwee

An Adventure In Time And Space was an amazingly well done docu-drama showing how Doctor Who started. It focused on William Hartnell as the original actor to play Doctor Who. I personally would have liked to see them extend the story of Hartnell to his limited involvement in the tenth anniversary story The Three Doctors in 1973. This would have then allowed for some depiction of both Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee. That may have made the story even more depressing than it was but it is the story of an old and sick actor so I would cop that for the sake of another concept. I personally think that the collected programming during the fiftieth anniversary should have done justice to all the past incarnations of the Doctor.

Baker

Tom Baker is amusingly impersonated in the comedic mockumentary The Five-ish Doctors Special which lampoons his absence from past televised reunion shows. However then there was the surprise coup of him having a cameo (as an un-named character) in the Day Of The Doctor. That was spine-tingling. Also I have been watching some old Doctor Who recently and always find I am most drawn to the Tom Baker era. Despite my protestations that I have a number of favourite incarnations I suspect that maybe I do have one favourite…

Davison – Baker – McCoy

The Five-ish Doctors Special was possibly the best thing produced for the fiftieth anniversary. Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy are a wonderful comedic trio in playing themselves as past Doctor Who actors desperately seeking to get into the Day Of The Doctor. This cack-fest is worth seeing over-and-over and has a wonderful cinematic Hobbit reference in it. I may be saying this in part because the 80s was my time as an avid Whovian.

McGann

Apparently Paul McGann is called “the longest and the shortest” Doctor in the sense that he was only in one tele-movie but has been in the most other media such as audio-plays and novels. However for me TV is what defines Doctor Who and therefore it was wonderful to see McGann in the online mini-sode The Night Of The Doctor. I think this was the most exciting moment for me suddenly seeing what could-have-been if McGann had been in a continuing series. It was also nice to see him have a cameo in the Five-ish Doctors Special as someone who is a successful jobbing actor.

Eccleston – Tennant – Smith

I touched on both my approval for Day Of The Doctor and my desire for changes to it here. What if she special had included all three actors of the revived era? I would have loved to see Christopher Eccleston as well as David Tennant and Matt Smith. The fact that producer Stephen Moffat managed to get Tom Baker involved but never managed to bring Eccleston back into the fold is a huge pity. The one implication of my futile wish however is that a show with the three latest actors would never have needed the invention of the ‘War Doctor’ played by John Hurt.

Yes I love John Hurt too but a seasoned actor like him could have taken on another role in the special. I personally would have liked to see a wise elder figure in the role of the ‘Interface’ of the doomsday device the Doctor took to that hut in the Gallifreyan desert. Why? That hut intrigues me. What is it and why did the Doctor go there? I think it is of personal significance to him. There are mountains in the background and this reminds me of tales told by the Doctor in the classic series of a hermit who lived in the mountains behind his childhood home and who was a mentor of sorts for him. It would make sense for the Interface to imitate a past incarnation of that character.

But what of Rose you say? Well it was never Rose – just a computer simulation. New Who has plenty of “feels” as is and you cannot have everything in your special. What of Jack? Or Martha? Or Amy & Rory? All recent companions could have worked in a reunion show.

However I personally think that the likes of Kate Stewart and Queen Elizabeth I give the Doctor plenty of supporting characters to play with. I enjoyed the show and think it was one of the most well-developed adventures I have ever seen but I can also lament lost opportunities.

Capaldi

And now I come to the new actor who will play the Doctor from this weekend and I become ranty. At the time his tenure was announced I knew nothing of who Peter Capaldi is. This was quickly addressed by friends on Facebook whose posts informed me of two things. One was that he had played a character in a political satire who uses expletives with aplomb. The other was that the Doctor was to be played by “just another white person”.

I’m well aware that the concept of “white” is a hopelessly vague one which obscures diversity behind the selective unifying characteristic of a pinkish complexion. I’m also well aware of how much it is subject to interpretation and revision that can vary with time and place. This generalization promoted me to look into the Capaldi background a bit.

Capaldi inherits his surname from his Italian grand-father who came to Scotland a century ago and sold ice-cream made to a family recipe taken from his homeland. Were Italians even deemed “white” in the UK of a century ago? Whatever the classifications of the time, I can well imagine Giovanni faced a degree of prejudice as a result of his ethnicity. Hopefully his son Gerry (who also sold ice-cream from a van) fared better and that by the time Peter came along he felt like a wholly accepted part of British society. However that is only my hope.

The slurs of “wop” and “dago” abound in British comedy shows of the 70s that I saw as a child. Hopefully much of it by then was presented with the intention of lampooning those using the terms but that is optimistic. It was in the 70s that Peter was a teenaged Doctor Who fan. With a surname like his I suspect he would have had some experience of prejudice.

Now however Capaldi is lamented (by some with a focus on identity politics) as just another white playing the Doctor. I find it ironic that over the course of a few generations the same family within the same cultural context has (likely) been subject to both racist harassment and racialist dismissal of cultural identity. I agree that representing diversity in fiction is important (as I have discussed for another science fiction show here) and there are lots of ways to do that. Despite its name Doctor Who has always focused on the adventures of a group and progress has slowly been made and will hopefully continue.

There is more to diversity than just glancing at a mug-shot and making blanket pronouncements on that basis. Those who oppose racism need to grow beyond using racialist simplifications (some go so far as to use what I would call a 'race binary' for all humanity). Overly blunt analytical instruments are prone to backfire.

* * * * *

Due to various plot twists the Doctor expended all his regenerations but then got a brand new set and that is what we start with tonight. It will be interesting to see how this new first incarnation fares in investigating the whole of Spacetime. I hope they will do justice to this long-running story-telling vehicle.

Cross-posted here.

Labels: ,