Wow, letters in the title. That feels so last month.
But, this being Doctor-Who-Boxing-Day, normal service has been resumed. So, until I do my threatened anti-50, in which I count Doctor Who‘s political fails in minus numbers, we’re back to titles which utilise the alphabet.
I’m only half joking about the anti-50. I had my doubts and worries all along about the whole concept of the anniversary countdown. It seemed churlish to include bits of Doctor Who that I hate, of which there are plenty. I mean, if you can’t be positive on the big birthday… Besides, the whole concept of the Jubilee originates as an apocalyptic and insurrectionary notion in ancient Jewish resistance to Roman power, a carnival of the oppressed… so it’s supposed to be a radical celebration. On the other hand, relentless positivity just isn’t what this blog does (as you’ll have noticed). There’s plenty of writing out there (some of it very good) focusing solely on what’s great about the show. From the standpoint of ‘social justice Who fandom’ (which, I’m delighted to learn from tumblr, is a thing), it makes no honest sense to just be panglossian about the series. Anyone who has trudged through my whole countdown will have noticed that I increasingly allowed criticism to creep into the posts, as context. But, ultimately, I came to praise the Doctor not to bury him. And, while I stand by that, it always worried me a bit.
Another thing I regret about the 50 is the amount of stuff I had to leave out. At several points during the project, I felt lost for ideas… then I would immediately find that I had too many ideas to fit into my diminishing numbers. I ended up quite surprised by what I covered and what I didn’t cover. I was totally going to do an entry for ‘The Krotons’, ‘Kinda’ and ‘Snakedance’, ‘Inferno’, ‘The Mutants’, ‘The Savages’, ‘Turn Left’, ‘The Next Doctor’, ‘The Ark in Space’, ‘The Face of Evil’, ‘The Brain of Morbius’, ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’, etc., etc., etc. Somehow, they didn’t get in. Somehow, I ended up talking about ‘The Underwater Menace’ rather than, say, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. Weird. But I suppose that’s what happens when you commit yourself to a tight schedule in which you must, essentially, make up some (hopefully) passably coherent stuff, totally on the fly, two or three times a day.
This leads me to a clarification I desperately want to make: the countdown may be a list, but it definitely isn’t a ‘Top 50’. It’s not a list of what I consider to be ‘the best’. There is no hierarchy intended here at all, though I do consider some of the stories I wrote about to be superior to others. Indeed, I repeatedly found myself writing about episodes that, on the whole, I don’t like, over episodes that I adore but which I had to sideline. I’m broadly in sympathy with Lawrence Miles’ opinion, expressed in this much-misunderstood post, that ‘ranking’ lists are just not a worthwhile thing to do, and that Doctor Who really only makes sense in historical context. I think Miles goes a bit too far, seeming to dismiss any chance that the episodes can be enjoyed on a purely aesthetic level. That’s not something I’d want to sign up to, though I do think aesthetics have to be historicised. Being a Marxist (or rather, someone who tries to do Marxism), I believe that it’s pretty much impossible to truly understand or interpret any cultural product in isolation from the circumstances of its production, which should entail an understanding of the historical moment it comes from… though an overconcentration upon production (at the expense of the other nodes of the circuit of capital) has long been a symptom of vulgar Marxism. But there is something inherently nonsensical in the whole concept of the list, particularly in the list of Doctor Who episodes. It treats incredibly varied texts, made in incredibly varied social conditions, for incredibly varied reasons, as all part of one unified thing… which is very questionable, except from the standpoint of being tyrannised by the logo on the front, which (as I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to learn) strikes me as a form of commodity fetishism. All the same, the contention of this group of commodities (so to speak) that they are ‘all of a piece’ is a vital part of their cultural context. You can’t understand ‘World War Three’ without reference to the politics of the day… but neither can you understand it without reference to the fact that the man who wrote it believed it to be, in some sense, a sequel to ‘The Ambassadors of Death’. Also, I wouldn’t want to issue a blanket condemnation of the inherently nonsensical.
If anything connects these two points – the absence of hierarchy in my countdown and the unexpected nature of some of the stories that made it in – then it’s (I hope) that my list/countdown didn’t concern itself with ‘quality’ or my personal preferences (though I think it did concern itself with aesthetics). I hope I historicised the stories to an extent, remembering where they came from as I thought about them. I certainly tried to do that more as the countdown went on, and the entries got longer, and the project morphed and mutated in front of my astonished face. I suppose I slipped in some of my disdain for Now while appreciating Then. But I hope I historicised that too, trying to take into account why things are different now. And I tried to include some appreciation of Now too, for vital balance. That was, in many ways, the hardest thing (owing to my personal prejudices, no doubt) so I was lucky that I had help.
On that subject, I want to say thanks (hopefully without starting to sound like I’m accepting a self-awarded Oscar) to all the people who supported my silly project; everyone who engaged with it, took the time to read it, commented here, shared it around, talked about it, clicked Like on Facebook, Favourited and Retweeted me on Twitter, etc. It sounds very naff, but it meant (and means) a lot to me. I especially want to thank Phil Sandifer, who has gone out of his way to be encouraging and to give invaluable assistance.
While I’m thanking people, I must give a shout out to Chrissie’s Transcripts Site and the Doctor Who Reference Guide, incredibly detailed and accurate sites without which the 50 would’ve been an immensely more arduous task for me. And, of course, I have to thank all the people who wrote the stories that I wrote about. And all the people who originated the perspectives that I wrote with.