Geek Girl On The Street Reports: Has Doctor Who Jumped The Shark?

Kate Kotler writes for Bleeding Cool;

As a true, (TARDIS) blue, old school Whovian of the first degree, after viewing the first episode of Series 6 of Doctor Who, I’m a touch worried about the future of this time-aged sci-fi institution which I love so much…

It’s not that The Impossible Astronaut wasn’t ass kicking — no, it totally was — wonderful, broad cinematography, awesome acting and a story that kicks you right in the gut, then leaves you hanging – wanting more.  It was a great start to a new series.  And, honestly, I expected it to be great: Starting in the last two episodes of Series 5 of Doctor Who (The Pandorica Opens, The Big Bang) it became crystal clear that Steven Moffat and Matt Smith had finally gotten their sea legs under them as new captains of the TARDIS.  Previously, while there were moments of brilliance* there were also enough shaky moments** that I was extremely worried about what was going to happen to my favorite sci-fi series post RTD and Tennant.

While I’m not worried about Moffat and Smith cocking up the legacy of the Doctor anymore, I am worried that Doctor Who may be about to jump the proverbial shark and then start the slow decline into mediocrity, eventually peetering out into non-existance.

“But, why” you ask, “A Christmas Carol was great!  The Impossible Astronaut was fantastic!  We can’t wait to see Day of the Moon!! Plus, we have the Neil Gaiman episode coming up… what the frack are you talking about, Kotler??  Doctor Who isn’t going to jump the shark, more like it will lasso the shark and make it drive a buggy…”

(Elliott Serrano of the Chicago RedEye pretty much said exactly that to me over cocktails a few weeks ago… with exception that we hadn’t seen The Impossible Astronaut yet.)

Here’s why I’m worried: It seems to me like in efforts to broaden the appeal of Doctor Who that Moffat and the BBC have dumbed the series down a little bit with the new opening credit sequence which has a visual recap of Series 5 and Amy Pond explaining who the Doctor is to the audience.

(Rich adds – the Brits don’t get this recap. On the basis that over here, they assume everyone already knows.)

I get why they did it – it is the same reason why much of Series 6 was shot in the United States and it is the same reason why they’ve made the effects flashier and bangier.  It’s to appeal to a broader demographic including non sci-fi fans, women who bailed on the series when David Tennant left and (in particular) Americans who have never before watched Doctor Who.

My question is: Why is it that the BBC has chosen this particular time to try to make Doctor Who appealing to these demographics?  It’s not like the show isn’t hugely popular in the UK and it’s not like there isn’t a ginormous (and doggedly loyal) international fan base elsewhere.  Why are we now beginning to cater to the lowest common denominator of viewer?  The viewer who may become engaged for a few episodes, or even a whole series, but who likely will never be converted to a lifetime viewer?

It’s not like this pandering technique attempting to broaden the appeal of Doctor Who to an untapped demographic hasn’t been tried before.  Even the great RTD tried it.

Two words: Martha.  Jones.

Martha Jones, the dippiest, most lovesick, most annoying of any Who companion I’ve ever seen cross the screen in 30 odd years of watching this series off and on.  Martha Jones was a calculated attempt to rope in teenage girls.

And, what happened with that was that there was a HUGE HUGE HUGE pushback from loyal Who viewers who didn’t want to see a weekly soap opera about the Doctor and Martha – hence – adios Freema Agyeman after one season, hello Catherine Tate and Donna Noble (aka, the Doctor’s bff.)

(Rich adds – apart from the bits where she came back in the next series. Oh, and dropped in on Torchwood. Always the plan – even if that plan once involved another companion called Penny instead of Donna…)

This most recent attempt to rope in new demographics is so very similar and I wonder, honestly, how many more times the Who franchise can pull this kind of move before the stories begin to suffer and the loyal, generational fan base starts to slowly trickle away?

What’s next?  Are we going to begin to see celebrity guest stars ala The Scooby Doo Mysteries?  Or, maybe another Paul McGann-ish Doctor Who movie?  Even the idea of the River Song/Doctor romance/wedding is repugnant to me.  Fuck, if I want to see that kind of storytelling I’ll watch any of the other readily available rom-com shows on television!  I watch Doctor Who for aliens, time travel and adventure… not for the kissing.

(Rich adds – We’ve had celebrity guest stars. Just that Americans didn’t recognise they were celebrities)

I think the BBC needs to keep in mind the viewer who has made Doctor Who a successful – the MOST successful – sci fi series for 48 years.  If they do this and focus on telling good stories with relatable characters, it may well survive for another 48 years… but, if the dumbing down trend continues beyond flash-bang and new opening credits and pretty soon we’ll see Matt Smith on water skis in a leather coat and swim trunks about to jump a caged shark while Karen Gillian anxiously watches from shore.

*The Eleventh Hour, Vincent and the Doctor, The Lodger — All great episodes with wonderful characters and stories that made me laugh and cry and laugh again.

**Time of Angels, Flesh and Stone — Fracking Steven Moffat, why did you totally un-scarify the Weeping Angels by making them move and talk?  Angel Bob?  Seriously?  You just 100% undid how freaked out I was at Blink.  I will never again cross the street to avoid walking by a weeping angel or a gargoyle.  DAMN YOU MOFFAT!!!

Kate Kotler is the founding editor of Geek Girl on the Street.com, the editor-in-chief of FilmCatcher.com, a blogger for ChicagoNow, a freelance writer/editor/marketing hack and full time geek girl.  She loves Doctor Who, Frank Miller, Wonder Woman, knitting, puppetry and she used to be a professional fire eater.  See her full resume on katekotler.com.