Understanding Doctor Who Part II: The UK Perspective

One of the reactions I get when discussing New Who with relative newbies here in Canada is rejection of the most childish aspects of the show. That covers farting Slitheen, Tennant possessed by a woman, the total absence of blood, the Absorbaloff, or in fact the tone of the Sarah Jane spin-off. "It's really made for kids, isn't it?" is the mystified question that comes up. And who can blame them? Most programming targets a single demographic and caters to it almost exclusively.

Doctor Who is from another time however. Having begun in 1963, it remained in the same Saturday night time slot pretty much until the start of the 80s in a family viewing package that included sports scores for dad and variety shows for mum. For most of that time, there were very few channels available (as little as two) and viewers certainly didn't "surf". You set that dial to BBC 1 and it stayed there all night.

Consequently, Classic Doctor Who has a mix of monsters to frighten the kiddies, heady science fiction ideas to inspire the teens, and pretty companions to give the dads something to look at. That mix lives on in the new Doctor Who, but adds romance for that other demographic(TM).

But does it have to still cater to the young'uns?, asks your adult self. Answer: It can't help itself. Here in North America where classic Doctor Who was basically a teen-to-college fringe phenomenon in the very late 70s, early 80s, there's no real sense of the program as tradition. Imagine growing up in the UK in the 60s instead, watching Doctor Who and having nightmares about that spooky "electronic" music and pepperpot fascists. As a teen, you enjoyed the adventures of UNIT and the outer space shenanigans of Tom Baker, smirking while your kid brother closed his eyes at the "scary bits". In the 80s, you have kids of your own, and you still watch, even though it's not what it was, just to see your little one's reaction.

And those kids are now the ones with kids, third generation Whovians wetting the bed at the thought of Daleks and Cybermen and Ice Warriors (one day I hope). In the UK, it's always been a family experience, and you're certainly going to deprive your kids of the joys and fears of Doctor Who. And in any case, they didn't forget to put in some cute companions and guest stars for you as well...

Or maybe I'm wrong, and the UK seems to me a magical land of family unity and all things Who.


Jayunderscorezero said...

It's true. Over here in Britain, this is definitely the sort of show that your parents are likely to get you into, rather than your peers.

Siskoid said...

That is hilarious! Geek is the new Parenthood.

Tom the Titan said...

I have never seen an episode of Dr Who in any iteration. (I know, how can I call myself a geek?) Anyway, I'm interested in checking the show out, but I have no idea where to start. I think I would like to just start with the new stuff. Should I just check out reruns on SciFi or do they need to be watched in order? Can I skip anything before 2005 without being lost? What kind of continuity barrier am I facing if I try to watch them whenever they are on as opposed to in order? Thanks!

Siskoid said...

Well #1, check the blog tomorrow ;-).

Second, yes, I think the new series bears watching in order. There's a vast story arc at work and it's much better in the correct order. (That said, some stories are only tangentially part of the big story arc, so it would be safe to watch those. Again come back tomorrow.)

And yes you can definitely watch New Who without ever having seen Classic Who. It's designed that way.

Anonymous said...

Good point. And for what it's worth, it was always a family affair in my household as well; my mom almost always watched with me. At first, it was because she knew nothing about it and wanted to make sure it was appropriate (not unreasonable, given that it aired at 11 PM in Chicago) but later she grew to like it as well. (Unsurprisingly, she was not as impressed by The Invisible Enemy as I was.)

Siskoid said...

For us too, actually. My sister never forgave Pertwee for becoming Tom Baker though.

mwb said...

The UK does seem friendly for SF aimed at kids but watchable by the family.

At least when I compare series here in the US and in the UK from similar eras, which is one thing I notice a lot of folks don't do and should.

When you look say at Dr Who say in the Tom Baker era since that was the version the US first got and most US folks saw - 1974 - 1981.

In the US you're talking the original Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in prime time. And things like Space Academy, Ark II and Jason of Star Command for children's live action.

Frankly all of which pale in comparison to what Dr Who was doing in terms of delivering SF to children and adults.

Siskoid said...

Biddi-biddi-biddi, you don't think Buck Rogers was for kids?

Or you don't think it was exactly for adults? ;-)

Certainly Boxie-as-child-identifier is up/down there with Wesley and Adric.


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