Saturday, February 22, 2014

Are Doctor Who and New Who the same show?

The only way I contemplate the idea
of an 'old' and 'new' Doctor Who.
It's a valid question, I think. Are they? Ever since Paul McGann's "The Night of the Doctor" I've seen more talk than ever online that this had established the link to bring everything together. The general arguments I seem to see are these: firstly, that yes, Doctor Who is all one big show that ran from 1963 to 1989, briefly resurfaced in 1996 and then restarted again properly in 2005. The other is that, on the contrary, Doctor Who has almost never been the same show, the differences in cast, crew, style and so on all preventing the series from ever having been one continuous production. From a compromise standpoint, I suppose that's fine, if you're happy to compromise.
But bugger that, say I. I want to propose this: Doctor Who and New Who are different shows. You can argue that New Who is a revival or continuation of the original programme if you like, but they're not the same show. Sure, both have the TARDIS - the only thing, arguably, entirely continuous throughout the programme's entire run past and present, but that doesn't mean they're the same. This isn't necessarily what I believe (it is), but I want to see what arguments could be made for proposing how they're different. Let's have a look.

Filming Style
Doctor Who: Filmed mostly on a multi-camera setup at BBC Television Centre in London, England.
New Who: Filmed mostly on a one-camera setup at Roath Lock (previously Upper Boat) in Cardiff, Wales.
Does it matter: Yes, significantly. The camera setup element is a fairly important part, because it is due to the single camera style that New Who has the more "cinematic" feel, which for better or worse is becoming the norm in TV shows. One need look no further than the trivia section on IMDb to see a peculiar bias in the public perception towards the single-camera approach:
One of the main differences in style from the original series, Doctor Who (1963), is that this series is recorded entirely on single camera, whereas studio scenes in the old series were usually recorded on multi-camera. This enables episodes of this series to be edited far better than the old series and allows directors to inject far more energy, pace and action into it.
Trout sees his convention-
attending future.
So that's another thing which the different camera setup contributes to: New Who supposedly has "far more energy, pace and action" than Doctor Who. I find that to be quite the generalisation, personally, and seems to imply that New Who is 'better' by virtue of having "far more energy, pace and action." That's not the issue, however. The fact of the matter is, one of the reasons New Who feels so radically different to Doctor Who is because of the way it is filmed, which makes the mere act of watching any episode of New Who an entirely different experience to watching Doctor Who. One is television, the other closer to being a Hollywood action film. The camera setup also means that watching any era of the original Doctor Who feels more familiar, by which I mean you could watch "An Unearthly Child" and then watch "Survival" and they would feel more similar than watching "Survival" and then watching "Rose" (or even the TV Movie) even though there are actually fewer years between the latter two. What the above IMDb quote also obscures, of course, is that multi-camera filming lends a television programme a more theatrical style evocative of drama on a stage.

"It's fun to stay at the-"
Script Drive
Doctor Who: Primarily plot- and idea-driven.
New Who: Primarily character-driven.
Does it matter: Yes, and this is one of the other major differences. Doctor Who and New Who look different, but they also feel different. Doctor Who is mostly focused on the plot: the characters arrive and the plot occurs. Usually, as became the formula in the late Hartnell era, the Doctor arrives in a place where something is going wrong and he and his companions end up working to solve the problem. A textbook example of this is something like "Terror of the Zygons": the Doctor gets summoned by the Brigadier to help him investigate a mystery, ending up with them having to save Britain (and by extension, the world) from identity-stealing aliens. Another arbitrary example could be something like the much-maligned "Timelash" where the Doctor is accidentally snared by the titular device and ends up helping to defeat a corrupt regime.
"I specifically quit so that I could
immediately start doing Doctor Who tours!"
New Who, by contrast, is far more concerned with the "emotional journey" of the characters. "Father's Day", for example, is not especially worried about time paradoxes. It's much more interested in Rose becoming reconciled to the death of her father. "Amy's Choice" is all about Amy discovering how much Rory means to her. The plots facilitate the character development, not the other way around. Whole story arcs revolve around this, like the Tenth Doctor being forced to let go of his companions or the Eleventh Doctor coming to terms with his own dark past. New Who is a much more "emotional" show than Doctor Who, with characters often spending entire episodes affected by past events. In Doctor Who, by contrast, it's subtle and underplayed. Compare, say, the Tenth Doctor's teary-eyed farewell to Rose on the beach while emotional music plays in the background compared to the Third Doctor's quick, silent departure after Jo gets engaged at the end of "The Green Death." The classic example is the first episode of "Time Flight" immediately after the shocking death of Adric: everyone seems to get over it pretty quickly. Then again, the final moments of "Earthshock" did deal with this in their own striking way. Doctor Who has much more of a "the show must go on" attitude while in New Who we get things like the Tenth Doctor mentioning Rose in many episodes after her departure. New Who is much more sentimental than Doctor Who, and less interested in plot. "The War Games", for instance, is a ten-episode epic featuring the Doctor trying to get to the bottom of an inexplicable historical military mash-up. Consider this in relation to something like Rassilon waving his gauntlet in "The End of Time Part Two" to effortlessly turn humanity back from being duplicates of the Master with no physical consequences, or the Eleventh Doctor defeating his innumerable enemies in "The Time of the Doctor" in a montage sequence which goes into very little detail.
The universe would be much safer for
the Doctor without rubber costumes.
Doctor Who is also much more concerned with science-fiction's traditional purview of exploring the effect of new ideas on society. "Genesis of the Daleks" explores whether genocide can ever be justified. "The Aztecs" reflects on what right we have in modern Western society with the benefit of hindsight to judge the actions of other cultures. "The Curse of Peladon" deals with a number of issues regarding international cooperation and the conflict between knowledge and belief. "Vengeance on Varos" even aims a blow at the perceived hedonism and ignorance of Eighties society. New Who does this much more rarely, with a story like "Human Nature" and "The Family of Blood" containing elements of reflection upon Edwardian values, but primarily being concerned with exploring a drastic change in the Doctor's identity. Doctor Who cares about "How will he do it?" while New Who cares more about "How will the characters feel at the end?" In their best moments either show can manage both, but usually each has its particular priority which receives the most emphasis. My preference obviously is for plot over sentimentality - I resent a text trying excessively to manipulate my emotions - but my point is that this is another major difference which distinguishes the two, yet is consistent in each. Doctor Who is plot-driven, New Who is character-driven: another way in which they are different shows.

Episode Format
Doctor Who: Serialised.
New Who: Individual episodes, sometimes with two or three-parters, as well as Christmas specials.
Don't get between Tom and his refreshment.
Does it matter: Yes, for the reason that it drastically affects the pacing. A Doctor Who serial usually has, on average, somewhere between four and eight episodes to establish itself, set up a main plot and sub plots, introduce a variety of characters and play these scenarios out. Doctor Who is, as a general rule, paced more slowly than New Who. The closest approximation during the show's original run is Colin Baker's first season, composed of serials of two or three forty-five minute parts, but there were no standalone episodes. Apart from "The Rescue," "Mission to the Unknown" and "The Sontaran Experiment", such short instalments were virtually unknown until the Peter Davison era, in which the then-traditional Tom Baker six parter was replaced with an additional four-parter and a two-parter. The point is that Doctor Who serials take their time. Some are paced more successfully than others. "The Keys of Marinus", for example, is a six-part serial which repeatedly changes location due to a general lack of narrative direction. Compare that, however, to something like "Inferno" which uses two parallel locations, Earth in two different universes, to build a more complex plot. To eschew  fan favourites, we might examine something like "Trial of a Time Lord", which was obviously unprecedented beyond something like "The Daleks' Master Plan" but evinces Doctor Who's continued interest in being more, and not less, involved in terms of how its formatting related to its storytelling. Despite, again, hardly being a commonly praised serial, "The Ribos Operation" is another example of how Doctor Who had the capacity over its running time to tell a complex story with multiple plot threads.
"Livers! Bladders! Gonads!"
New Who, on the other hand, sticks largely to stand alone episodes. Most of these are forty-five minutes in length, which as a general rule is still about five minutes shorter than two Doctor Who serial episodes back to back. This means that an episode has less time than half an average serial to set up a plot, develop it and resolve it. Take, for example, something like "The Power of Three", where the conclusion is very brief because the episode's main premise is focusing on a montage of the characters' lives and therefore time is pressed. Doctor Who serials have more room to breathe. Having a more tight focus means that New Who episodes have to focus on character development, big actions, set pieces and emphasised emotions because of a lack of time for plotting. Even in an example of something like the Tennant era's only real three-parter, "Utopia", "The Sound of Drums" and "Last of the Time Lords", each episode is radically different to the previous one. The same is true of some two-parters like "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon". In an episodic format, New Who has to focus on delivering forty-five minutes of intense entertainment with negotiable ties to following episodes. This found its logical extension in Series 7's "blockbuster" experiment. In the same way, two-parters feel more like sequels than long, divided stories. Even at the end of its run, Doctor Who was still doing serialised stories as opposed to the episodic format which has entirely been the purview of the New Series. Regardless of how these are evocative of their respective contexts, and the fact that the serialised format had become very unconventional by the end of Doctor Who's lifespan in the Eighties, this is another way in which the two shows are very different.

Doctor Who: Variable.
New Who: Heavy.
I couldn't be bothered finding an
image from the TV Movie.
Does it matter: Yes, in terms of how focused the story is on its own backstory and also in terms of its own sense of interconnectedness. In Doctor Who, despite everything we get overall a strong sense of progression from Doctor to Doctor. The only times we don't see a direct change are when the Second regenerates into the Third and when the Sixth regenerates into the Seventh. In the former case, we see Patrick Troughton disappear at the end of "The War Games" and then at the beginning of "Spearhead from Space" we see Jon Pertwee collapse out of the TARDIS still wearing the Second Doctor's costume, but we never actually see the transformation take place. At the beginning of "Time and the Rani", after Colin Baker's rather justifiable refusal to return to film a regeneration after being scapegoated for the show's issues at the time and fired, Sylvester McCoy was put in his costume and a curly blonde wig and had his face electronically washed out. In the former case, we gain continuity through the presence of the Brigadier, who had previously appeared in Second Doctor serials "The Web of Fear" and "The Invasion". In the latter case we have the ongoing presence of Bonnie Langford's Mel, whether you like her or not (personally I don't have an issue with her) and their efforts to disguise Colin Baker's absence.
A man who could have a big cry for his country.
Compare that with New Who. At the end of the TV Movie Paul McGann, who we've seen Sylvester McCoy regenerate into, jumps into the TARDIS and then in "Rose" Christopher Eccleston shows up. Of course the producers of the New Series didn't want McGann, and he allegedly wouldn't have wanted to come back anyway, but the point is that it's another element which drives a wedge between the two shows. It may not have worked to bring back McGann, either full time or for a regeneration, but that's exactly what separates Doctor Who from its modern replacement. New Who is, and was, engineered to take a "softly softly" approach towards its audience, drawing in new audiences as a fast, romantic mainstream science-fiction programme, with most ties to its source material being for the titillation of fans of the original. Combining a change of lead unexplained in the show's internal narrative with a massive difference in format from original to new creates a large disparity. This was, of course, only resolved in the web episode released which showed Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor regenerating into John Hurt's 'War Doctor', but because of the need to show the War Doctor as originally appearing young we still do not actually see the regeneration. Similarly in the case of the War Doctor's regeneration into the Ninth Doctor, it cuts away due to Christopher Eccleston's absence. The disconnection still exists.
"Next season's gunnae be great!"
This leads to the other issue of continuity when comparing the two shows. New Who is concerned with its own continuity, with a great deal of focus on the events of the past. This includes the "Time War" storyline which was invented to fill the gap between the TV Movie and the New Series, as well as certain episodes. "The End of the World", "New Earth" and "Gridlock" are all related to each other. Most noticeably this occurs in the sixth series of New Who, which is heavily invested in multiple episodes exploring the antagonists called "The Silence" and revealing the origins and life of the character River Song, who was first introduced in David Tennant's last full series. Doctor Who, by contrast, lacks a continuity-heavy approach. References are occasionally made to past companions and a few noteworthy events. These include the Doctor's trial in Episode Ten of "The War Games", which would come to be one of the major continuity touchstones of the original show, his investitures as Lord President of Gallifrey in both "The Invasion of Time" and "The Five Doctors" and, for example, references to Victoria in "Pyramids of Mars" and Romana in "Arc of Infinity." These rarely, if ever, have any bearing on the plot, however. Most episodes featuring the Daleks and the Cybermen, for instance, have little relation to the episodes that came before, being focused more on the story at hand than consistency with prior serials. Besides the somewhat continuity-heavy "Attack of the Cybermen," the one exception might be Season 16, the "Key to Time" Season, or the trilogy of serials following the transition from Tom Baker to Peter Davison and all featuring, also, Anthony Ainley's new portrayal of the Master. Much of Doctor Who was produced before home video was commonplace and therefore it was unlikely that viewers would be watching old, potentially conflicting, serials in any event. As a general rule, Doctor Who is grounded more in its own present and focused on its own story. New Who far more enjoys making nods to its own past, or occasionally Classic elements as has been noticeable in the 50th Anniversary Year, or dropping ominous hints about future episodes to build up drama. It's not one of the greatest sources of difference between the two, but the approach to continuity is another way in which Doctor Who and New Who are not the same show.

Doctor Who: Unconventional.
New Who: Romantic.
The Sixth Doctor was the worst served by
the lack of romance in the Classic Series.
Does it matter: Yes, and as a concluding element this is probably the most noteworthy one. Doctor Who always had an unconventional character dynamic. The Doctor's companions were traditionally stowaways or unwilling participants in his adventures who accidentally got taken away, and by the late Hartnell era the Doctor was some combination of father figure, mentor, best friend, colleague or older brother type. One of his earliest defining traits was that he was a grandfather and that his original travelling companion was his granddaughter, Susan, and he fulfilled a similar role to his companion Vicki. From the time of Steven into Patrick Troughton's era he was a combination of the mentor and best friend type, leaning more heavily towards the latter with Troughton and the former with Jon Pertwee. Tom Baker's Doctor was arguably more like Troughton in this regard with his relationship with Harry and Sarah Jane, a mentor to Leela and a colleague of equal or even inferior scientific competence to Romana, whose second incarnation was probably the only time the Doctor-companion relationship ever bordered on the romantic. Peter Davison's Fifth Doctor was more of a brotherly type, while Colin Baker's irascible Sixth was a sparring partner with a complicated relationship with his primary companion, Peri. Sylvester McCoy with Ace returned to the mentor role, and it wasn't until Doctor Who was made more mainstream in the TV Movie that the Doctor's relationship with his co-protagonist was overtly romantic. Before that the relationship entirely rejected those notions, driven by the much greater focus on plot and the core principle of the show that the Doctor was, despite appearances, non-human and travelling with people who were almost always a very different age, background and species to himself.
"I still have to film more episodes?!?"
In New Who, the Doctor-companion relationship eschews elements of this largely Platonic characterisation for a more conventional romantic approach. The Ninth and Tenth Doctor's relationship with his first companion, Rose, is entirely portrayed as reciprocally romantic, with supporting companions like Mickey and Jack Harkness also being characterised in terms of how they relate to the Doctor-Rose romance. The Tenth Doctor's second full-time companion, Martha, was largely characterised as having an unrequited infatuation with the Doctor, and his third, Donna, was specifically and overtly focused on the notion that their relationship was not romantic, coupled with the ensuing misunderstandings this caused. In the Eleventh Doctor's era his first companion, Amy Pond, was portrayed as having a confused sexual interest in the Doctor which caused difficulty in her relationship with her fiancé and his second full-time companion, Rory, who was himself a jealous character. His third major companion, Clara, is also portrayed as having a borderline romantic affection for the Doctor in episodes like "Hide" and "Nightmare in Silver." The Eleventh Doctor's most recurring non-regular character, River Song, was also ultimately revealed to be, in some fashion, married to the Doctor. Since the TV Movie, the Doctor has kissed almost every one of his female co-stars, and several who were not co-stars, like Madam de Pompadour. The situation is almost a complete reversal of that in the original Doctor Who, in which the relationships between the Doctor and his companions were never overtly romantic. Arguably being more focused on children, Doctor Who has a much greater focus on friendship: the Doctor often describes his companion as his "friend" or "best friend". New Who, on the other hand, is more interested than its source material on pursuing a sci-fi watching young adult and twenty-something demographic, so it plumps for romance. Romance and sexuality in Doctor Who was the business of companions. Frazer Hines portrayed Jamie as being in love with Victoria. Jo left the Third Doctor to get married, as did Leela from the Fourth. Adric was sometimes implied to have an infatuation with Nyssa and poor Peri was lusted over by grotesque villains like Sharaz Jek and the Borad. The Doctor was an alien, his time of having a family and children was in his past, and his relationship with his companions was played in an unironic and sincere way, in contrast to New Who's approach of regularly drawing attention to the connotations of a mysterious man, these days often a relatively young and dashing as well as mysterious man, travelling usually with young women. It's one of the most overt ways in which Doctor Who and New Who are different shows.

Just detected the presence of a minority.
Doctor Who and New Who are of course similar in many ways. They're both a television programme about a time-travelling alien called the Doctor who's a member of a race called the Time Lords of Gallifrey who can regnerate to survive and change his appearance and has adventures in time and space with travelling companions by means of a ship called the TARDIS which is disguised as a London Police Box and is a different dimension on the inside. Both feature the Daleks, arguably the Cybermen, and, I suppose, the Master. The Doctor usually seeks non-violent solutions to his problems. That being said, none of this means that they are the same show. The two are very different in terms of how they are filmed, the focus of their storytelling, their format, their approach to continuity and the characterisation of their protagonists. My point in this post was to offer an alternative to saying "it's all one show" or "it's always a different show" by arguing that the different eras of Doctor Who are more similar to each other, and the two eras thus far of New Who are more similar to each other, than the two different series' are to each other in general. Watching Doctor Who is an entirely different experience to watching New Who no matter what episode you choose. It's different visually, dramatically and artistically. They are both, also, products of their time. Doctor Who lived and died in the twentieth century because that was its time: an era of decolonisation and the rejection of authoritarianism, imperialism and inequality which was killed by age, Thatcher, neoliberalism and Eighties culture. New Who is a different show for a different time, of profitable nostalgia and postmodernism. The shows are separated by time and change more drastic to the two externally than to either internally. Doctor Who and New Who, in my opinion, are not the same show, and by their nature could be nothing else.

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