Sunday, June 22, 2008

Russell Davies: Godspeed and Good Riddance

After Turning Left last night, it's almost time to say good-bye to Doctor Who for the season, and bid a more permanent farewell to the man who single-handedly resurrected the program four years ago. Russell T. Davies has earned a place in the hall of fame beside his classic predecessors (Letts, Hinchcliffe, and Nathan-Turner), but I honestly don't know whether to weep or rejoice now that he's stepping down. He's taken Doctor Who to new heights, but also all-time lows. He's given us poignant tragedy, but then plenty of soap-opera. The worst of the classic era seems Edenic in comparison to some of his pedestrian fluff. Give me The Android Invasion, Underworld, and The Horns of Nimon over Aliens of London, The Runaway Bride, and Partners in Crime any day of the week.

In mainstreaming Doctor Who, Davies' strength has been his liability. A fan on Outpost Gallifrey put it this way:
"The problem with Russell Davies' vision of what Doctor Who should be is that he's too in thrall to the likes of Joss Whedon [Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly]. The season-long story arcs, the sometimes overblown emotional content, speaks of a show which is working to someone else's formula. The classic series was not (and still isn't) like anything else on TV. Maybe there was a bit of a Nigel Kneale influence to some of the stories but otherwise Doctor Who for all of it's original 26-year run was a lone voice in TV land, completely unbeholden to whatever was current in sci-fi TV. And I think that's how it's retained so much of it's resonance today, because as a great man once said 'the only way to never go out of fashion is to never be in fashion in the first place.'

"The thing that stands between old Who and new Who is the balance of plot and character. The old show was always about plots, whereas Russell Davies -- for better or worse -- has made it, like Buffy before it, a strictly character-led show. By making the show about the characters of the Doctor and his companions rather than the exciting adventures in time and space that they have, Davies has made a rod for his own back because all you ever hear now is 'Will Eccleston come back for a multi-Doctor story? When is Rose coming back? How many episodes till we see Martha again? I hope David never leaves!'. This kind of thing is the polar opposite of what viewers in the classic era experienced; even when very popular actors like Liz Sladen or Tom Baker left, the talk was always about what exciting things were coming next rather than mawkish eulogising for what was being lost."
If that doesn't characterize the trailer for next week's season finale, I don't know what does (this trailer excites me more). It makes me wonder if Davies' era will ultimately stand the test of time. If Steven Moffat gives us less story arcs and characters to pine for in future seasons, I won't complain.

How do I feel about Russell Davies? I suppose the same way Queen Victoria felt about the Doctor at the end of Tooth and Claw, when she rewarded him with a knighthood and banished him from Britain on pain of death.
Queen Victoria: By the power invested in me by the church and the state, I dub thee, Sir Doctor of the TARDIS. By the power invested in me by the church and the state, I dub thee, Dame Rose of the Powell Estate. You may stand.

Doctor Who: Many thanks, Ma'am.

Rose: Thanks. They're never going to believe this back home.

Doctor: Your Majesty, you said last night, about receiving a message from the great beyond. I think your husband cut that diamond to save your life. He's protecting you even now, Ma'am. From beyond the grave.

Queen: Indeed? Then you may think on this also: that I am not amused. Not remotely amused. And henceforth I banish you.

Doctor: Sorry?

Queen: I have rewarded you, Sir Doctor. And now you are exiled from this empire, never to return. I don't know what you are, the two of you, or where you're from. But I know that you consort with stars and magic, and think it fun. But your world is steeped in terror and blasphemy and death, and I will not allow it. You will leave these shores, and you will reflect, I hope, on how you came to stray so far from all that is good, and how much longer you may survive this terrible life. Now leave my world! And never return!
There's a polarity that helps illustrate my feelings. Thank you, Russell, for bringing back my favorite TV show and injecting it with new vision, fresh ideas, and emotional resonance. You've brought joy and moved me in ways I never thought Doctor Who could possibly do. And damn you for dumbing it down to the lowest common denominator. Godspeed and good riddance; it's time for new blood.


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