24 February 2017

Critical fans, the end of the Experience, ongoing new Doctor speculation



I thought I’d comment on some of the latest topics exercising online fan opinion at the moment. The news of the closure of Cardiff’s Doctor Who Experience later this year has provoked an interesting response.  While many are disappointed to see it go, some have said they never felt Cardiff was the right place for it due to the travelling issues. It seems to some the city is harder to get to than Paris which says something about our public transport system. It’s not known if the interactive exhibition will re-open but if it does there seems to be a view it should be in London. Admittedly this is mainly from people living in the South; fans in Scotland for example have a different view. Surely the answer is to make the Experience a travelling attraction changing location each year? In that way fans from every region will get the chance to see it. 

Another topic that recurs is the reaction of fans to Doctor Who, a subject that seems to be mentioned increasingly by people who work or have worked on the series. Often their conclusions are along the lines of `If they like it so much why are they so critical?`or `if they don’t like it any more why are they watching?` It is super easy to gain an audience for your opinions about any old thing nowadays and this has possibly amplified fan’s opinions. Whereas in the past  reviews would appear in low circulation fanzines three months after broadcast now people are live tweeting reactions while watching. It is a double edge sword though. Imagine the joy the makers of `Earthshock` or `Talons of Weng Chiang` would have experienced had Twitter been around then!
Or would they? When you actually look back to those fanzines fans have always been hyper critical. Pick any story now recognised as a classic and you’ll find contemporary reviews were picky and sometimes scathing. For example the fan reviews of `The Deadly Assassin` from 1976 are coruscating yet now its viewed as a solid gold classic.
"You know Tom the fans hate this story" "Whippet s##t! It's a f#####g classic!"
What has changed is the audience. Those old fanzines would be read by at most several hundred people. Online opinion can spread like the flu to thousands and is extremely influenced by peer pressure with little space for subtlety - things are either amazing or rubbish. I’ve even heard people reading more considered professional reviews and concluding `well I don’t know if they liked it or not`. The review will actually tell you; it’s just people now expect slogans instead of arguments and find anything more nuanced or detailed difficult to translate.
When actors or production team members react as mentioned above they are slightly missing the point though. If we really didn’t care about the series we wouldn’t even bother to say anything in public about it. Think how many programmes you watch yet never even Tweet or comment or write about. Probably the majority. If we really did stop caring about it then we probably would just stop watching it. Because we became fans, generally speaking, at an early age we do have a more proprietorial view of how we think the series should be. The series itself though will rarely match that view.
What is worse is when these attacks become personal. Looking back at some of the anti JNT material fandom published in the 1980s it is a good thing there was no social media then. The tone is harsher than some of the recent ones we’ve seen on the likes of Donald Trump or Brexit (i.e. things that really do matter) yet JNT was only trying to make a television programme!
Finally the speculation about who will play the Doctor goes on and on and on with a list of 55 (!!) actors currently available to place a bet on though I really wouldn’t bother on anyone below about no 20 on the list. Incoming show runner Chris Chibnall has said the Doctor will be chosen “in the traditional way” not that there is a tradition per se. Hopefully he means by drawing up a long list and then whittling it down to those who are actually interested before auditioning at least five actors.
I realised I’d forgotten someone who I think would be an excellent Doctor and that’s an actor called Robert Emms. He was a regular on Atlantis showing his lighter side which was also on view in a small role in the film Mirror Mirror. He has built a formidable reputation though in darker roles as troubled individuals in Happy Valley, Broken and The Arbor while he is very funny in Annonymous.  He’s just done a short film for The Guardian The Intelligence Explosion in which he plays a robot evolving during a meeting. The short piece is well worth a look in any case for the issues its dialogue raises and you can see what a versatile actor Robert Emms is. (link below)
Whoever does end up being chosen, we may not know for some months in which time I’m sure this list will only grow and grow like a Krynoid!

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