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Praise and Burial for Russell T. Davies

28 December 2009 3 comments

The Tenth Doctor is not long for this universe, and the man who got Doctor Who back on the air is taking off with him.

Russell T. Davies is considered a top British TV writer (which is a position of considerably more respect than in the US industry) for reasons that largely elude me. He has a few strengths, but many, many weaknesses.

So, as Davies sets off on new adventures in BBC-land, here are a few things in my mind, what he did right, and what he didn’t.

Praise:

  • He got Doctor Who back on the air. The show was (unofficially) cancelled way back in 1989 (rather gypping Sylvester McCoy, in my opinion), and when the BBC gave Davies carte blanche to do anything he wanted, he brought back the Doctor. For this, anybody with an ounce of geek in his soul ought to thank Davies.
  • He brought on Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor. Not only did Davies give the Ninth Doctor a hefty set of baggage and backstory (with bonus survivor guilt!), he got a damn talented actor to do it, ensuring that we’d all love the Ninth Doctor and understand that while he was calling us “stupid apes”, it wasn’t us he was angry at.
  • Davies made the Companions actual characters, and their stories were important. This could have gone wrong in so, so, so many ways. And yet Rose Tyler, Dr. Martha Jones, Captain Jack Harkness, and Donna Noble are all characters that hold their own next to the Doctor’s antics, and we actually give a damn about each of them. (Though, admittedly, less of Rose’s mother and Martha’s family would not have been a bad thing.) Hell, just the fact that he made Donna Noble into a sympathetic character is an enormous accomplishment. But really, all of them matter, to the Doctor as much as to us, which makes his going it alone carry real weight with the audience. I don’t think Doctor Who had ever done this before.
  • The Tenth Doctor, and David Tennant. Really, is there anything more that needs to be said? Tennant is the best, or at least most entertaining, Doctor ever. I’m still sorry there wasn’t a “Two Doctors” special with Tennant and McCoy meeting up. Would have been most amusing.
  • Davies is clearly a Doctor Who fanboy. He cares about the show, the mythology, the characters. It’s not just another job to him, it’s a passion.

All of this is good, and Davies ought to be praised for it in full.

However, I’m afraid that, once you give him all of that, there’s an awful lot of bad that goes with.

Burial:

  • Going back to the same wells, over and over and over and over and over again. This is the dark side of Davies’s fanboy attitude. Was there a single season in which the Daleks did not appear? The first time was fine, it paid off the Time War backstory very nicely. But then they came back, then they came back again, then they came back in Depression-era New York and made a Human Dalek. And they came back yet again. And…. that’s just the Daleks. The Cybermen came back. Rose was sealed off in a parallel universe never to return, but returned. And so on. Then there’s the return going on now, which I will not spoil. As I said on Twitter, if you’re going to pull that rabbit out of the hat, best to have Timothy Dalton do it. Makes it go down ever so smoothly.
  • Politics. Russell T. Davies is a thoughtless leftist, and doesn’t mind calling anyone who disagrees with him stupid. He also clearly has no concept of how economics works. Most of the time, this is restrained just enough that the portion of the audience that disagrees with him can ignore it. Other times, he puts in smarmy attacks on Bush that make no sense in the context of the story (one of the stupid Slitheen stories). Most recently, he confessed abject ignorance in “The End of Time Part 1” by positing that Barack Obama (mentioned by name several times) can save the entire world economy with a single speech. This thread ventured into comedy when every single character who mentioned it evinced not the slightest doubt that such a thing could happen. Sure.
  • Sex. Doctor Who is a kids’ show. Look, I love sex as much as anybody (possibly more than most), and I’m not a prude who thinks kids should be kept ignorant of it. That said, innuendo and childish allusions to sex kept creeping into the show at times inappropriate to the story. When Jack Harkness involved, okay, fine, that goes with his character. But most of the rest of the time, really, give it a rest. I’m not watching the adventures of a Time Lord to snicker over jejune sexual references. Honest, I’m not.
  • Sophomoric humor. I’m sorry, but Russell T. Davies invented the Slitheen for one purpose, and one purpose only — to bring the fart joke into the Doctor Who universe. Because, you know, that’s just what Doctor Who needed was fart jokes. Made by Bush-quoting aliens. Who are all smug and fat. Probably because they talk like Bush, right? Oh, and they fart a lot. Because that’s funny. Or something.

Those are all more or less off the top of my head.

So, while I am thankful to Davies for bringing back the good Doctor, I am most excited that Steven Moffat, author of the very best episodes of the new series, will now be running the show. Things should get very, very interesting.