20 December 2012

Thoughts on Nu vs. Classic Who

The Old Days

<< In the beginning (around 1975)... >>

Being an American it was tough being a Doctor Who fan in the 70s, 80s, and beyond. If you mentioned it you either had to explain it to your unknowing friends or, if they did know about it, take the disdain as they belittled you about it. But I never let that deter me and I continued to watch it whenever I could find it on my PBS station.

Originally I saw two episodes a week on Saturday morning. So you'd have to wait a week to see the conclusion. Of course when the occasional six parter came along you had to wait three weeks. Not quite the same as the original British once a week showing but it still came in smaller chunks than today.

Later, they moved the show to the early evening and showed one episode a night on weekdays. A story unfolded over the course of a few days and sometimes you actually had to wait until the following Monday to see the conclusion of a story. This trend continued on into early 1990s until they decided to quite importing the show. Sad...

<< jump to 1996 >>

When the Paul McGann movie was announced we were excited. Doctor Who was coming to American television. And if the TV movie went well, it would become a full-blown series. When the movie started and the new, orchestral theme began, not five seconds later my phone rings. "Where's the cheesy music. What is this orchestra stuff?". My friend was right. They replaced our beloved electronic theme with all normal instruments. More on that later...

But we all know how that turned on and the show was not picked up for series.

<< jump to 2005 >>

When it was announced that Doctor Who was coming back as a tv series the few of us that had watched the show previously were elated. If was unbelievable that it was returning. But I was unprepared for the uphill struggle that lay ahead. That and the snarky comments that I would continue to receive from people who thought the show was dumb. Times had not changed and much of the same attitude toward the program still prevailed.

Oh yeah, the theme. Again it was an orchestral theme. But this time it was something much better. This time I didn't really mind the orchestra.

<< jump to 2009 >>

By now enough people have now declared that Doctor Who was okay in their book. It was pretty good, considering it was British. Thanks a lot. The changes made to Doctor Who by Russell T. Davis were quite interesting. Not as jarring as those made by J. J. Abrams to Star Trek, but it was definitely a different show.

I present this video from Red Letter Media about the Star Trek reboot. It's pretty much along the lines that some fans of Classic Doctor Who felt. SOme of them felt very betrayed. One person I talked to said it was Eccleston's short hair and leather jacket. I just said, "Okay, Bye-bye...".

I didn't think the jump from Classic Who to NuWHo was that bad - but other's did.

<< jump to 2012 >>

So here we are, into the seventh series of the relaunch. And it seems like the show is going to hang on for quite a while... again.

So let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of Classic vs. the relaunch.


Doctor Who returned as a more action packed and faster paced show bundled into (mostly) 42 minute, standalone episodes. Gone was slow build up over several weeks. You know that the Doctor is going to fix things all within that 42 minutes time frame. How could people stand the slow pace of the Classic Who.

Why? People today wouldn't stand for something as slow paced of the original series. I don't believe I know one person who would want to wait around for four weeks to see the conclusion of a story. Doctor Who has moved on from its methodically slow, story-telling to the super-fast, stellar action sequences wrapped up in 42 minutes.

This is what people want today. It's a reality of modern day life. Most people don't have that amount of patience. And in a way, it's a sad thing, in my opinion. Is pandering to that lack of patience a tragedy? Not really, but we'll never get back what we lost in Classic Who.

Story Arcs

People are into their story arcs, but in reality, these arcs still consist of single, stand alone episodes strung together. Buffy did, Babylon 5 did it, and nearly every dramatic show on television today does it. And that is the format that Nu-Who took.

We had our little story arcs in Classic Who, The Key To Time, The Black Guardian Trilogy, and the E-Space Trilogy. But mostly it was a series random adventures of the Doctor and friends in the vast unknown.

I can remember when one season of Wiseguy that consisted two stories. Not two story arcs, but two stories. Each week it basically picked up from where it left off the week before. It was serial television and nobody knew it.

My Show Is 50 Years Old

I know that My Show is 50 years old. I seen every episode, even the reconstructions. And this may sound tactless but, Its alright if you've never watched anything from the Classic era. I don't hold that against you. But your show is seven years old. Not a problem. The new series was borne of today's television and that television is fast-paced. And many people who are used to the style of television today can't stand to watch much from the 1960s.

No one says you have to watch then entire 26 years of Classic Who. But remember, there are some excellent Classic stories that can be watched in one night.

Form Over Function

Substance seems to have been overtaken by style. Something like in season 17 when John Nathan-Turner [JNT] took over. JNT was more concerned with the presentation of the show to the public and occasionally forgot the importance of writing. Eric Saward, one of his script editors, said JNT had many great qualities that a producer needed. Unfortunately, the one he didn't have was he was never a writer. And that hurt the show.

Now the last two showrunners on NuWho are both writers. Both Davies or Moffat are excellent writers. But they have sort of a different problem from JNT. Their problem comes from attempting to write more of the show than the rest of the writers - while at the same time running the show. And since they are running the show, nobody is really going to tell them, "No, you can't do that script".

In Classic Who the producer produced and the script editor handled the writers. And the only time the script editor wrote was when they had to fix something that was untenable. I think I might actually prefer if the showrunner worked at guiding the show and sought out the best writers possible. And it shouldn't be a problem to tell the writers what they want written. That's exactly what Neil Gaiman is doing for Moffat this season.

The Inter-Galactic Tour Guide

The Doctor usually had trouble steering the TARDIS to go where he wanted to go. Many times they hadn't a clue where they had landed. And that led to some interesting accidental adventures. Today the Doctor's more like an inter-galactic tour guide. He can flawlessly land the TARDIS with absolute perfection wherever he wants. Okay, 99% of the time.

Part of the fun in the Classic series was there were many a surprise not only for the audience, but also for Team TARDIS when they stepped out those doors without a clue where they were. Just like landing at Heathrow - 300 years too soon.


Then there's the complaint department. They talk about The Shoddy Effects, Slow Paced Episodes, Hammy Acting, Crappy Stories. Okay, let's point those out, shall we.

Shoddy Effects : That Auton Mickey from Rose didn't look real at all. It was one of the most horrible effect I've ever seen.

Slow-Paced Episodes : Do we have to talk about Fear Her and how it dragged on forever.

Hammy Acting : Ah yes, that scream from Anthony Stewart Head in School Reunion. I think we might have done without that. No offense to Mr. Head but really - that scream...

Wading Through Crappy Stories To Get To A Good One : It's terrible having to put up with second rate stories. I can't believe that episode got made. It was hell watching 42 just to get to Human Nature.

What!? Oh, you were talking about Classic Who? My mistake.

Guess you can apply those to just about any series...


I think I can sum up everything with the answer to two little questions.

Do I like the Classic series? Yes, very much.

Do I like NuWho? Yes very much.

I've been through quite a few changes of Doctors and Companions along with changes of producers and script editors. Each and every change brought something new and interesting. Sometimes good - sometimes bad. But always, always interesting. And that's how I feel about NuWho. It's a change from the past which is neither good or bad. Just different.

And just as the reboot of Star Trek takes that show in a new direction you can still have a lot of love for The Original Series. The same as you should have fo Classic Who. Because both of those had their roots in the 1960s.

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