Eruditorum Press

Beneath the stones, the beach; beneath the beach, Cthulhu

Skip to content

Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

4 Comments

  1. John
    December 31, 2012 @ 9:44 am

    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.)

    Reply

  2. Josh Marsfelder
    December 31, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

    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 http://soda-pop-art.blogspot.com/2012/12/beneath-surface-little-mermaid-disney.html and here http://soda-pop-art.blogspot.com/2012/12/law-of-urban-jungle-marsupilami.html)where 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.

    Reply

  3. Lucy McGough
    January 1, 2013 @ 4:10 am

    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.

    Reply

  4. Jack Graham
    January 1, 2013 @ 5:51 am

    Ouch Lucy, that's harsh! 😉

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

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.