Doctor Who: The Big Bang
V: Red Sky
In my sometimes misguided adolescence, I turned my nose up at American television - and American SF in particular - and worship British telly. Theirs was all surface gloss and no substance, I'd snottily proclaim: noise, big hair, perfect teeth, and conveyor belt plots. Our stuff (ironic that, being an Irish boy from the occupied North) was much better: intelligent, ironic, witty, gritty...
If ever that was true (was it just youthful snobbery?) then the last 10 years or so have well and truly changed things. Because these days, the only thing that UK Small Screen Inc. does well is soap. EastEnders and Coronation Street are amazing, wonderful beasts. But it seems like Blighty can no longer do drama, or even the humble sitcom, at which it once excelled. No wonder so many actors are flocking to America for a decent gig. And as yesterday's Doctor Who season finale proved, decent sci-fi is definitely of the menu too.
Last week, the first season of the reimagined V also concluded, and today I watched it back to back with Doctor Who.
One was an engaging, action-packed, straightforward yarn; the other a convoluted mess of tedious McGuffins, the sole purpose of which was to aggrandise its author. Steven Moffat's Doctor Who has been, almost from the beginning, an empty promise: so many bad, bad ideas and missteps; every decision made with a shrewd eye on merchandising.
I've watched Doctor Who since I was a toddler in the 80s. Some of my earliest memories are of Doctor Who. And I stopped watching this year. I didn't care. It's like a (straight) teenage fan had been handed the whole thing by the BBC and told, "There - do whatever you want." So we have a kid doing his best as the Doctor, horribly redesigned Daleks, sleazy slap'n'tickle, and then, in the finale, like, every monster, ever! Like, wow, dude!
The Pandorica. The Silence. Over-engineered gimmicks with grand labels, desperately stretched, like Cassandra from that first series back in 2005. A friend of mine - who writes novels and films and plays - often says that he longs for some straightforward storytelling. God, so do I. The over-cooked, re-heated shambles that made up this year's season finale was anything but straightforward. Thinking about it makes my head hurt.
The whole universe is destroyed (again?). The Doctor is killed (again? But oh no, actually he isn't). Amy is killed (but actually she isn't). Everyone is killed and so is the TARDIS (er... nah, they're not really). That's because in 21st century Doctor Who, you can play out any situation for thrills (or ratings), and there's never any consequences, because there's always a big reboot button at the end that makes everything better.
Just imagine the climax to Season 96, sometime in the future: The Doctor is being gang-raped by a pack of rabid Ogrons, while simultaneously, literally channelling Buddha, who's fisting eternity. BUT! A reflection on River Song's iPad 9.0 sends the Master into the heart of the Sun which then implodes and splatters everyone with cosmic cum, twitching the time vortex so that everything was the same as it was in the beginning.
You know where you are with V. They tell a story, you see, with thrills and spills thrown in. It's not perfect. The CGI spaceship interiors are appalling. The characters are, by and large, cardboard cutouts. This lot - complete with a conflicted priest - wouldn't be out of place in The Poseidon Adventure.
But it clips along. It makes sense. Characters don't have to vomit huge paragraphs of script in milliseconds, explaining what's just happened. When FBI agent Erica throws a grenade into Anna's revolting maternity ward, I get it. It makes sense. When the Doctor decides to fly the Pandorica, which was a prison, but is now a rocket (or something) into the Sun (which is the exploding TARDIS) and then doesn't die, or does (who knows? Who cares?), I don't. It just annoys me. Don't treat me like an idiot. I don't read The Sun and The Daily Mail. I don't like Jeremy Clarkson. And I don't like your Doctor Who - because it's shit.
That's what Steven Moffat's Doctor Who does: treats its audience like idiots; breathless, excitable puppies who'll respond to any old stimuli.
Doctor Who can be big and clever, and deep, and emotional. It has been before, from day one. But today's TV impresarios have one overriding agenda, and that is their own egos, their own careers, and their own bank balance. I won't be buying any of their ugly Daleks, or self-congratulatory DVDs. But thousands will do.
Moffat: you've done what no other producer has done in nearly fifty years. You've totally fucked it up.