Shabby Efforts


I'm sometimes rather startled to realise just how much Doctor Who I've missed.

I mean, chronologially, the last actual TV episode I saw was 'Night Terrors'.  I watched that ages after transmission, as part of a foolhardy attempt to catch up with the series (which I finally gave up watching upon transmission roundabout the time of 'A Christmas Carol', which I liked about as much as I like Ian Duncan Smith).  I was hoping that I'd either get my mind changed by the catch-up session - i.e. become persuaded that Who under Moffat isn't just empty, bombastic, cynical, reactionary, sexist, culty drivel - or, alternatively, that my justified hatred of what I was seeing would give me something to furiously blog about.

As it turns out, my undignified little scrape with 'Night Terrors' (see here) put me off the project again.  Initially inclined to be soft on it, despite some nitpicks, I was soon convinced by commenters that it's actually the story where the Doctor becomes David Cameron, lecturing the clueless working schlubs on how to solve their problems by being better parents.  Dispirited, I quit again.  So, I've not seen anything after 'Night Terrors'.  And I feel just peachy about this, to be honest with you.

Besides having been driven away from the TV show, I was surprised to realise, as I was following Sandifer's analysis of the Virgin New Adventures at his blog, how many of those I'd missed back in the day.  I always thought of myself as a follower of the line, but it seems I neglected to read a fair few of them.  Still, I was going through college and university at the time.  I had other things to read.  The menus of pizza restaurants, for example, and loan forms, and letters about my overdraft.

It's the same with Big Finish.  I've heard, I suppose, about a fifth of their Who output - at most.  I guess I just haven't tried hard enough. 

And as for the late-90s BBC novels line... well, I think I've read all the Lawrence Miles ones and all the Chris Boucher ones, but beyond that... I think I tried reading one by Justin Richards once.  It was called 'The Burning', as I recall.  It's possible that my copy (with the first 12 pages lightly thumbed) may still be being used as a wedge under a table leg in a rather seedy set of student digs on the South coast.  I wouldn't be surprised.

I actually suspect there are a lot of fans like me.  In this respect, anyway.  But the point I'm limping towards is this: there are lots of things that a sizeable number of Who fans know about that I simply don't.  I don't know what's so bad about those John Peel Dalek novels, for instance.  Never read 'em.  Never will.  I also don't know (not from personal experience anyway) what's so bad about 'The Eight Doctors' by Terrance Dicks, though I know that it is generally considered to be absolutely awful.

So I was fascinated to learn at Philip Sandifer's TARDIS Eruditorum that this book sees Dicks

managing to be more prone to waxing poetic about the need for great and noble leaders to rule over the common rabble than ever. The stuff with the Shobogans in the Sixth Doctor segments is absolutely vomit-inducing, with Dicks establishing them as the Gallifreyan working class/criminal underworld (these seem to be the same thing in his mind) who the Doctor enjoys getting drunk with and dispensing favor to. With astonishing creepiness, Dicks ends their plot by saying “even the Shobogans were content with their lot” and leaving it at that, a line that comes horrifyingly close to just saying that the working class are just meant to be poorer than the nobles.

This interests me for obvious reasons.  I have, for one thing, made the Shabogans into the... emblems? motifs? mascots? heroes? ...of this blog.  Also, of course, there are the implications of someone with attitudes like those described above being so central to creating Who over the years.  Of course, it's not news exactly... but it is interesting.

And, as I say, it worries me slightly because I suddenly feel a little self-conscious to realise that I've got a blog called 'Shabogan Graffiti', and yet a fair few of the people reading it are likely to be more familiar with how the Shabogans have been characterised than I am.  Still, it's not as though I'm unused to being surrounded by people who know more than me.

However, I do want to make a few things clear.  It's Shabogans, not Shobogans.  I've checked it on the BBC website.  So there.

And it's pronounced "Shaboogans", just in case anyone was wondering.  George Pravda knew best and must be obeyed in this.  I mean c'mon... his very name means 'truth'.

Oh, and one other thing... they are quite definitely not content with their lot.


John 8 years ago

So what's changed culturally in the 30 years or so from the Tom Baker peak viewing years of the late 70's until now? How could a show in which the title character incited a working class revolution every four weeks have existed in Thatcher's UK and still pull in 13M viewers?

(In regard to pronunciation, if you want to put all your faith in George Pravda's tenuous-at-best grasp of the English language as the basis for your website's title, be my guest.)

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Josh Marsfelder 8 years ago

Not to put words in Jack's mouth, but I think at least part of what's changed is a fundamental shift in the way television is made and interpreted by those who make and fund it.

In the case of Doctor Who, I've always argued it was at its best when it was forced onto its back foot, so to speak. The Graham Williams era was generally delightful because at that point it was a weird combination of an extremely popular show that was also shot down by management with severely diminished expectations for greatness. Therefore, it had a freedom to experiment and be more radical than it had in the past, even as it was still pulling high ratings thanks to Tom Baker.

Likewise the Andrew Cartmel era became (in my view at least) the pinnacle of the entire series because it was a dead show walking at that point and the incoming creative team, who had both prior respect for and healthy distance from Doctor Who, realised they could do basically whatever they wanted. Similarly, Verity Lambert and David Whitaker ran the show before it became an institution (Daleks notwithstanding I suppose), and because of the low profile and expectations for the show at that point were able to plant the seeds of the more radical, mystical elements of it we're attracted to.

The only outlier in my reading of the show is the beloved Phillip Hinchliffe era, a period where it was supposedly at both its creative and popular peak. Firstly I've never agreed with this analysis of the Hinchcliffe era, believing it as I do to be terribly overrated and full of great ideas that rarely materialize in a successful fashion. Secondly, even if I grant the Hinchcliffe era was a success, the way the BBC treated it was very different from how modern TV distributors would treat a modern show. The BBC were pretty hands-off during the Hinchcliffe era, as it was riding high on the popular successes of the Dicks/Letts/Pertwee era. The BBC figured Doctor Who knew what it was doing and if they let it alone would continue to be a reliable staple of the Saturday schedule. The only time they got really involved was when they freaked out over the Mary Whitehouse thing, but what was most remarkable about that is how it demonstrated the curious priorities mid-70s BBC management had.

The thing is though I don't think a situation like that would arise in today's television climate. Networks and studios have become far too fixated on micro-management nowadays. A successful TV show is now a "lucrative property", and treated exactly as such: Everything now operates like Disney (which, if I may shamelessly plug myself, I talk a bit about here and here in order to guarantee a return on investment big-name brands have to be as safe and marketable as possible and be designed to maximize profit for the widest possible demographic while minimizing risk. You can see this even as early as mid-90s Star Trek, which is when Paramount started the trend of compromising the show's aesthetic potential to squeeze as much money as possible from it, which eventually resulted in them running the franchise completely into the ground in 2005.

This is why we now have a Doctor Who that's an unambiguously reactionary and proud celebration of heteronormative hegemony: It's the BBC's biggest mainstream cash cow and can't be allowed to take any sort of risk that might upset that (although a lot of this is on Steven Moffat's head too, just knowing the kind of writer and person he seems to be). It's possible for a talented and courageous creative team to circumvent this I feel, but it's quite rare and to be blunt I see neither in the current crop of Doctor Who showrunners.

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Lucy McGough 8 years ago

Yes, you're right. Because it's a product designed to bring in revenue it has to be the same all the time, so that consumers know exactly what they're getting. To, say, have the aliens defeated by science for once, instead of 'the power of love' again, would be like changing the recipe for Coca-Cola.

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Jack Graham 8 years ago

Ouch Lucy, that's harsh! ;-)

Re: what's changed. In a word: neoliberalism.

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