Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Doctor Who and the Spin-offs

So why do I like The Sarah Jane Adventures but loathe Torchwood? And I was really excited about Torchwood when I first heard about it. Captain Jack Harkness in his own show? Bring it on! I loved the fun, naughty, sexually omnivorious alien. When Captain Jack finds out his naked body is going on air to zillions of viewers, what does he say? "Ladies, your ratings just went up." I loved it.

So what happened to Captain Jack? Torchwood happened. Ugly, human-hating Torchwood. That incessant, constant, nauseating drumbeat of "It's us! We humans are our worst enemy!" The aliens aren't even any fun. Torchwood was supposed to be grown-up Dr. Who. Who wants a grown-up Dr. Who? Look, if you want to go the way of Buffy, Farscape, Firefly, you're going to have to up the ante -- like get some imagination. And throwing in sex scenes isn't grown-up. And, listen, outside of Captain Jack, I really don't want to see the cast having sex.

Now what I like about Sarah Jane is that since it's aimed at kiddies, they haven't tried too hard. You don't see the writers angsting and thinking above themselves. Instead, it's a show the gods of Light Entertainment would approve of. And, of course, you have Elizabeth Sladen. And the writers have let Elizabeth Sladen do her Sarah Jane thing. They haven't tried to transform her into some modern Freudian creature of the dark like they did to Captain Jack. They just let her be what she's supposed to be, the hero. It was nice that they let her be so clueless to human relationships that when her adopted alien son rants about how out of place he feels at school, she does an "Oh, well, better luck next time" instead of explaining that feeling alien and out of place is a teenage rite. And she's right, aliens are much more interesting so forget human psychology. In many ways, Sarah Jane is now more the Doctor than the Doctor. They've inadvertently put his real soul into Sarah Jane -- god only knows what's in the current Doctor. After all, the Doctor was originally an alien who liked being around humans. Not a human who thinks he's an alien.

It's amazing what a good cast does for a show. The cast is good in Sarah Jane. Not really good at all on Torchwood. By that I mean there isn't any charisma, any spark of life. Partly, that's the writing, but partly, that's just miscasting. Like if they were going to change Captain Jack that much, they might as well have cast a completely different actor. It's just not John Barrowman anymore.

As for the core, Dr. Who, I basically like it. But here's where I think Russell T. Davis goes wrong: in the human relationship department. I know he's trying to get to the heart and soul of the Doctor, how his vagabond life affects the humans and aliens around him. But it's just too persistent and heavy handed. Like every show. Over and over again. And not Mike Leigh subtle but Steven Spielberg orchestra pouncing spectacle.

And why are they always in England? On or above the earth? I get it that the Doctor is a terraophile but come on! Let's use the tardis for a little bit more fun than lame time travel around the earth. Well, they did do a dimensional thing but it was STILL on the earth.

And if they're sooooo keen on doing a romance on the Doctor, BRING BACK ROMANA. (I adored Lalla Ward's Romana.) A nice, feisty, acid-tongued Romana. (I'm sick of the goofy, cutesy girl companions of late.) I'd love to hear how she's been getting along since going off into the other universe.


Geoff said...

I agree with your excoriating comments about Torchwood. Another thing I have real trouble with: both Dr Who and Torchwood feel so leaden. You can practically hear the laboured breathing as the plots advance. Torchwood feels particularly weighted down because it serves double-duty as a Welsh tourism board promotional video. Various Swansea and Cardiff landmarks are heavy-handedly incorporated into the productions, so that the plots begins to feel like an afterthought.

TV Kitty said...

I, too, am so sick of Cardiff.

Anonymous said...

Ajumma Fan prefers the Welsh scenery over the scenery-chewing antics of the Torchwood cast, which takes itself way too seriously. Altho, Gwen is growing on me. Except for Capt Jack; the guys are crushing bores or annoyingly "angry young men". I found James Dean vexing 50 yrs ago, & these guys are no James Deans. Relax the angst and give us a lighter mood. More silliness, less sex. Gadgets, give us alien gadgets. They come up withsome great ones.

TV Kitty said...

I just have so given up on Torchwood.