13 June 2018

How 2018 is refreshing the watching of Doctor Who

The kids are getting into old Doctor Who courtesy of Twitch, the live platform best known for gaming. Scheduled streaming of the original series is available over a seven week period many stories of which will not have been seen by younger people unlikely to have bought the DVDs. This may seem an odd audience for such slow moving material but apparently it is going down a storm or at least keeping them amused. As someone said to me it is presenting the programme to them on their own terms. Twitch shows real time comments made as people watch creating the most interactive viewing experience and meaning that people can rave about Yartek (leader of the alien Voord) and that the Sensorites have become more popular now than they were in 1964!

The great thing about these reactions is they are of the moment, far from the considered balance of a review. If people want to type omgbellal or #carpet while viewing that infamously underwhelming cliffhanger from `Death to the Daleks` they will! Amongst the trending reactions reported are people wanting Ian and Barbara to kiss, Susan’s repeated cry of “grandfather” and dubbing Polly and Ben `Pollen`. The whole thing even caused `The Web Planet` to trend on Twitter which it may not even have done had Twitter been round in the 60s.  Related hashtags and emojis are much in evidence. This is clearly a wholly different way of reacting to Doctor Who than talking about canon, character and costumes. For those not wanting to sit through the whole thing some sites are compiling lists of the essential stories. One example from the site Gizmodo.com includes `The Silurians,` `The War Games` and `Claws of Axos` as well as `The Deadly Assassin` and `Robots of Death`.
One aspect of the old episodes that has already caused comment is the treatment of female characters reflecting how times have changed. What the modern audience will make of John Bennet in `Talons of Weng Chiang` should be interesting given the current fuss over `whitewashing` casting. Long acknowledged by fans as one of –if not the- best of the classic series, it may be that a wider 2000s audience has issues with it.
One notable thing about this is that the watchers seem to have brought fun back into appreciating the show. Doctor Who fandom’s oscillating sense of the good and bad of the show has always bene based on its perceived seriousness. For example the later Tom Baker years are often criticised for too much clowning while the earnestness of his earlier work draws praise. From the Twitch reactions so far it’s clear these standards are not quite what is drawing attention from millennials; instead it is sheer enjoyment and a sense of the absurd that people seem to like. Most long term fans views of `The Web Planet` for example are unforgiving of its production problems, the modern reaction seems rather different. 
Also this month season 12 is being released on Blu Ray, a format that has struggled to establish itself as a lot of people either use streaming or else still buy DVDs. Anyway it is another indication of the brand stretching out into different formats and also a way of re-establishing the series in the public eye. We tend to overlook the fact that the so called `new` series is actually 13 years old, roughly the same age as the classic series was when the likes of  `Masque of Mandragora` and `Hand of Fear`` were on. In the eyes of many media experts, critics and even viewers it’s getting to be old hat, a series past its prime. This incidentally has little to do with the actual quality of the show, it happens to all franchises sooner or later. Yet those mid 1970s seasons showed how you could refresh Doctor Who in new ways.
In an era now where consumers prefer change and each generation wants their own totems it makes sense to effectively re-position Doctor Who as something fun and exciting again. Presumably the logic of the Twitch escapade and the Blu Ray excursions is to renew the idea of the programme in the public domain prior to the next series. Though the stories of Chris Chibnall’s debut being released in a 10 episode bundle on the iPlayer seem to be untrue it wouldn’t be a bad idea if only to continue to push the idea of Who as something that can engage with different audiences in different formats. The latest rumours about that new series are that though the first episode will debut on a Saturday, subsequent ones will screen on Friday evenings which would remove the issue of it fitting around Strictly Come Dancing, another way of refreshing the brand. Again trawling for wider audiences, the very first trailer will appear during the World Cup coverage, though hopefully not during the match when England get knocked out!
It’s interesting that there is all this activity around the classic series as if the BBC is attempting to strengthen the link with the shows’ traditional values. Could it be that the past 13 years are seen as representing a style and content that is now out of date? That being said all the post 2005 episodes are going to be put on the iPlayer. Even so it could be the time when twentysomethings catch the new series and start to go on about how it’s not the same now, waxing nostalgically about Rose, the Ood and cracks in time.  That would simply be a continuation of a churn that started back in 1966 when Hartnellites could not stomach the notion of a be-hatted Paddy T taking over. “I’m never watching it again” they said at the same time as the newly arrived second Doctor caused others to start watching for the first time.
Few shows have the dexterity to adapt their style to changing times and trends and the advantage of that is that if you don’t like a particular period there’ll be a different one along you might like a few years down the line. For a programme that often uses the idea of regeneration that seems most appropriate.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great idea. I have not used Twitch yet myself. But I have recently gone through the Tom Baker epoch and loved bits, and found bits slow. I would welcome a re editing of these shows to condense the looong stories into a single episode.