Thursday 11 October 2018

Tedium And Relative Dimensions In Sheffield

Since the BBC brought the series back in 2005, slightly more than 42 per cent of all finalists for the
It took the BBC too long to cast a
woman as the Doctor. But representation
is not enough — the stories need to
be better than they have been.
(Image via
Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form have been episodes of Doctor Who. That is too high a proportion.

In each of the past 12 years, there has been at least one episode on the shortlist, and sometimes three or four. This was even true in 2017, a year in which only one episode of Doctor Who was eligible, and it was execrable.

This is evidence of a constituency of Hugo voters who love the show enough to reward even its most mediocre output. Given this level of support, and the hype surrounding Jodie Whittaker’s claiming of the mantle, “Doctor,” it seems inevitable that Sunday night’s premiere of Season 11 "The Woman Who Fell to Earth" will be on the 2019 Hugo Award shortlist.

It’s easy to understand why many people will argue that this episode — or another one from the upcoming season — is worth nominating. For one thing, the cinematography is better than we’re used to from Doctor Who. And there are some good moments in the writing. And Jodie Whittaker is a superb actor who embodies the character of the Doctor.
Whittaker’s excellence should come as no
surprise. As anyone who has seen the 2007
remake of teenage boarding school comedy
St. Trinian’s can attest, Whittaker is able
to elevate even the weakest of material.
(Image via

This is certainly good by the standards of late-era Doctor Who. What is less certain is whether or not any Doctor Who over the past five years or so has been worth recognizing with a spot on the Hugo Award ballot.

When Russell T. Davies rebooted the series in 2005, several of his writerly quirks became emblematic of the series. These include the misunderstood alien, the reversal of expectations, and of course the glowing energy that fixes everything in the end.

At first, these quirks were unexpected, as in the 2005 two-parter "Empty Child" / "The Doctor Dances", when the misunderstood alien is revealed to be a medical device, and suddenly every victim of the plague is instantly healed with magical glowing energy. As the series became a runaway hit, and nobody wanted to mess with a winning formula, these quirks became templates, and the series became stale.

How many times over the past decade have we seen plots in which the world is certain to be
Frankly, the most daring choice that
show runner Chris Chibnall has made
is to set Season 11 in Sheffield.
(Image via
destroyed, or humanity wiped out, only to have everything solved by magical glowing energy? This is fairy-tale science fiction devoid of internal logic, where every explanation is hand-waiving, and no resolution is final because the wizard can do anything that is convenient for the plot.

There is little hope that new showrunner Chris Chibnall will break the series out of this template. Although he’s done brilliantly with shows like Life on Mars and Broadchurch, his contributions to previous seasons of Doctor Who have been entirely uninspiring, ranging from the melodramatic ("42" and "The Hungry Earth") to the risible ("Dinosaurs On A Spaceship").

What does give us some hope are the rumours that both Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Sharon Horgan will be writing episodes this season. In the unlikely event that they are given the freedom to take narrative risks, the result could be quite good.

Returning to last Sunday’s pilot episode, despite Jodie Whittaker’s strength, and despite the
It's actually kind of embarrassing to
realize that The Return of Doctor
was included on the Hugo
(Image via
significant improvement to cinematography, the monster-of-the-week plot is largely interchangeable with 95 per cent of the episodes that have aired in the past decade. The villain is exceptionally boring, the dramatic tension is nonexistent and the supporting cast is pleasantly multicultural in an unchallenging way.

With a BBC that now depends on revenues brought in by Doctor Who fandom, there is substantial pressure for the showrunner to engage in franchise maintenance, rather than construct compelling and potentially challenging stories.

Viewers deserve better than safe narrative choices that lead to mediocrity. The Hugos should reward greatness.

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