In the latest issue of Doctor who Magazine, the results of the annual season survey for Series 8 were released, to much controversy.
Colin Baker recently wrote a blog post, which, among other things, explained his distaste for the featured survey, ranking numerous creative aspects of Series 8 (plus Steven Moffat‘s Last Christmas). Now, I respect Colin Baker as an artist. He is no way a bad actor, and I love what Big Finish has done in redeeming the version of The Doctor he was expected to deal with. But it’s because I respect him as an artist that I’m taking the time to respond to what he wrote. Doctor Who is art, and art is about conversing and understanding each other. So on that basis, this is why Colin Baker is wrong to criticise the featured survey.
I’ve been a Doctor Who fan all my life. It’s my favourite thing. It’s important to me. It matters to me. You can ask anyone who knows me. I’ve no problem with admitting that I’m probably obsessed on a dangerous level that can sometimes be to the detriment of the people around me who are always hearing about it, despite not caring for it much themselves. But those same people will also tell you that I am exceptionally negative about it and constantly criticise it. But often, that criticism could be seen, to anyone else, a hatred of Doctor Who. But it’s the opposite of that.
Looking at just Series 8… I was generally satisfied with the Season Survey results. My favourite episode didn’t score very highly with others, just as my worst episode didn’t score as lowly as I think it should’ve done. But the great thing about this is that the people voting in it were Doctor Who fans. Whenever I meet a new fan, I start with asking them their favourite episode, and we work from there. So, as people, a fan’s favourite or least favourite episode is often because of what Doctor Who means to them, and which episodes they felt did or didn’t live up to that. There were only a few episodes of Series 8 I didn’t like. The majority of it was very good, in my opinion. But Baker’s comments are part of a cultural trend that’s becoming problematic, especially online. And I say this as someone who, unlike @SawbonesHex, isn’t even on Twitter. I generally don’t engage in online discussion because I feel it has no value because of so many knee-jerk reactions from everyone else. When I criticise Doctor Who, what those people don’t know about me, is that watching Doctor Who for the first time is my earliest memory. The first thing I can remember, my original core memory, is seeing the Second Doctor’s title sequence and being completely amazed by how strange it is.
My room is filled with Doctor Who merchandise. I have an entire room in my house dedicated to storing the memorabilia I’ve collected over the years. It’s the reason I’m so interested in storytelling and that process, and it’s the largest contributing factor to why I’m studying screenwriting at university. Trust me: I am in no way a Doctor Who hater. I have this friend – also a Doctor Who fan – who once asked me if I’m a “Moffat hater”. And I’m really not. Because if I were, I’d be criticising him for no other reason that to criticise him. There are many episodes he’s written which I like, yet all he seems to focus on is the episodes by him that I don’t so much like. Which is another example of the cultural problems that Baker’s comments feed-into: nobody today is allowed to dislike anything. When I read his comments, I see that, what he’s essentially saying, is that we should ignore anything that’s wrong with Doctor Who. Any problems with it, any legitimate criticism… shouldn’t be allowed. Now, I’m not saying a person can’t disagree with one person’s opinion. My opinions clash with those of other fans I know all the time, but one thing none of us do, is ignore anything we consider less than what Doctor Who is capable of being. For Baker to effectively say, “it’s not right for us to rank our favourites”, what I hear is someone who claims to love Doctor Who – something he does a lot, and more power to him, I say – but actually only thinks that he does. And that’s an important difference.
I, too, could refuse to criticise the thing I love. I, too, could say, “Every episode is equally good, and it’s wrong to say that one is inferior to another one”. Because that’s called being completely out of touch with reality. My love of Doctor Who means that I won’t settle for anything less than best. If I feel an episode didn’t achieve what it could have, or had problems that made it less well-crafted than I could have been, it’s because I wanted it to be the best that it could, and not be a lacklustre effort or second-best entry in that season. I want to never be able to decide which episode I liked the most in any one season, but unfortunately that’s not what’s actually happening. That’s a situation I recognise as being the case, and as such, I don’t pretend that it isn’t.
Take Arrow for instance. Season three was a disappointment to a lot of fans, I myself one of them. Rather than just being the thing it is, it was trying too much to be like The Dark Knight, it focused too much on secondary characters rather than the Arrow. The episodes were a drag, the tone was all over the place, and the constant flashbacks happening in parallel with the main storyline was grating to me. The reason I say these things? Because seasons one and two were much better, much more interesting. And by being so, the show had set a standard for itself that it wasn’t meeting that season. And then there’s Arrow spinoff, The Flash. That’s had maybe the best season of any television series ever. I myself can’t wait for season two, and when it comes, I’ll be there on my sofa waiting for that first episode to land. And I live outside the United States, so I’ll always be a few weeks behind. That’s the kind of anticipation I have. But if season two doesn’t live-up to what I know it could be, based on the high quality of season one… I’ll call it out. I’ll say it like it is. Not to be negative or to just complain for the hell of it. But because I’ve seen it on its best day, so I know it can do it. Which is why it would pain me for it to not do that.
For these reasons, my only response to someone who says that we shouldn’t criticise something, despite it being something we both love, is to question just how much they actually do “love it”? Most of the Sixth Doctor’s episodes are terrible. There, I said it. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t like the actor. Or recognise that there are some redeeming aspects of it. Which is why it makes no sense to me that he’d say there are “crestfallen professionals” as a result of this survey. There are things to like about every episode. But if I feel that on the whole it’s not very good? I’ll say that, and those professionals just have to make sure that their contribution to the episode wasn’t a part of it, and is one of the things to like about it. Love is all about understanding, right? When I say “I love Doctor Who“, I understand why. So when I criticise an episode – despite loving the show – it’s because it’s not an example of why I do. To say that criticism isn’t very nice is something I can only understand as a misunderstanding. That you don’t understand what makes Doctor Who loveable, because if you did, you’d have the complexity to understand every angle of its trigonometry. Which only tells me that – as he seems to suggest in his post – if he doesn’t like the criticism factor, that he really doesn’t understand. And therefore, as much as he might disagree with me, he looks like someone who doesn’t love Doctor Who – he just likes it. If he really did love, he’d understand what works and what doesn’t. Because he’d demand so much of it that it would be impossible for him not to criticise. I consider those that don’t criticise – ever – people who just aren’t as interested as they think they are and are unable of legitimately discussing the value of art. Because art matters. And we should never settle for less than the best.
As I mentioned, I’ll be starting university soon. And on our first day, we’ll probably be asked to take part in one of those godawful “go around the circle and say a little bit about yourself” type of things. One of the questions could be, “what’s your favourite TV show?”. Naturally, I’ll say “Doctor Who“. And in saying that, I’ll be declaring that all the crap, all the garbage, all the shitty little “permission to squee!”s are part of my favourite show. And if anyone feels the need to point that out, I’ll be able to say, truthfully, “I know, I didn’t very much like that episode either”. Why? Because I understand that it’s not very good, which is why I have the right to criticise. Because I love. And I love because I understand. And if you don’t criticise, naturally I can only assume you don’t love, and therefore don’t understand. Which further tells me that perhaps you shouldn’t be commenting on it in the first place. If I can critically assess something, to actually process something, and use my brain in response to stimulating media, then that makes my opinion more valid. Because I’m engaging with what I’m seeing, rather than just praising it for featuring the Doctor Who logo. It’s consumerist, it’s vapid and it makes me question every other opinion you have about anything, because they’re likely to stem from the same vacuity.
Take Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. A lot of Marvel fans feel disenchanted with that show because it’s weaknesses are weightier than its strengths. But there’s this idea within the Marvel fanbase – and its source material are comic books, so that’s saying something – that you’re only a true Marvel fan if you watch Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but they say that purely on the basis of it being a part of the Marvel franchise. Which makes the opposite true. You’re only a “true” Marvel fan (and I don’t like the idea of a “true” fan anyway) if you can justify why you are or aren’t interested in a certain part of it. Because otherwise you’ll consume anything with a logo on it. And that will tell the creators that quality no longer matters and that you’ll like anything simply because of who made it. Being critical, being judgemental is what creates quality. If you don’t settle for anything less than the best, eventually creators will realise that, and will try to make what they make the best that it can be. Ignorance of art is what’s leading to so much potential being wasted in the entertainment industry.
Which isn’t to say you can’t love something at all. Yes, be intelligent, but don’t be completely negative. Don’t find criticism if there isn’t anything. Genuine praise is just as important as genuine criticism.
To be brutally honest, Doctor Who‘s been sub-par for a long time now. It really hasn’t been as good as it could be for several years, and for me, that’s mostly because of the story quality. It’s improved since Matt Smith was replaced, but Series 8’s troughs were probably lower than ever before. Episodes I didn’t like include: Time Heist by Steve Thompson and Steven Moffat, Kill the Moon by Peter Harness, In the Forest of the Night by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Death in Heaven by Steven Moffat. But it’s okay for me to criticise these episodes because I can give reasoning, I can give intelligent consideration, and can also say why I feel these examples of Doctor Who are below the line of what Doctor Who means to me. And if you can’t do that, if you don’t do that, then I’d recommend not bothering to consume entertainment or art because you are its end. You’re contributing nothing, and there’s no point in you being a part of that discussion, and are the reason that Transformers: age of Extinction by Ehren Kruger can become so successful despite being considered one of the worst films of 2014.
So Series 9’s trailer came out recently. And… I really enjoyed it. Despite it seeming like a sequel to Series 8, judging the trailer entirely on its own merits, it looks like a great season. And this could well be a great season. Of course, it could totally suck. It could be absolutely terrible. But if it is, I’ll be there to say. In spite of Osgood being back, and the Master still being around, that trailer perfectly captured everything I want Doctor Who to be. There are likely to be some episodes and I like, and there are likely to be some episodes I won’t like. But I’ll call them for what they are.
I was really anticipating Interstellar. It was a sci-fi, written by Christopher Nolan, and the trailers made it look like a great film. In actuality, I’d only give it a six. But that still means I liked it. Just as, with Ant-Man (by Edgar Wright, Joe Cornish, Adam McKay and Paul Rudd) I only gave that a six as well. It might have the Marvel logo at the beginning, but that doesn’t mean I automatically love it. Just as I won’t automatically hate something just because it has the DC Comics logo at the beginning. I take art for what it is, not as I’d like it to be.
And to those writers I named who churned out absolute shit, and feel that me criticising them is somehow mean, unfair or hurtful, I’ve got two words: be better.