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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Christmas Is Coming! And so is Doctor Who.

I've been thinking about something a lot lately. Something which occurred to me in a quiet moment of contemplation, as I lovingly slipped another William Hartnell Doctor Who into the disc drive, and which has returned to haunt my thoughts on any number of occasions since.

In fact, I've been thinking about it so much, that I've sat down to write this post more than once, just to get it out of my head, before realising that actually, I should probably wait a little while, until we were at least somewhere near a suitable time to post it. As will soon become apparent, posting this any sooner would have just been odd; I'm pushing the boundaries putting it up this week.

So without further ado, let us crack on.

I'm going to talk this week, about Doctor Who Christmas specials. Mainly, about how Steven Moffat looks set, this year, to smash the big tradition of a Who Christmas ep; and no, I'm not talking about them being shit. (He smashed that tradition two years ago)

I speak of course of the notion of the Doctor being on his own in the Christmas ep. With the exception of the first special, The Christmas Invasion, in which the Doctor was essentially an extra in the Rose Tyler Show anyway, the Russell T. Davies (RTD) era saw the Doctor on his own every Christmas. But why was that the case?
Rose Tyler Saves The World. Almost.
I thought about this for a while, and then I thought about it for a while longer because apparently thinking about this stuff too much is my 'thing', and I came up with a couple of potential reasons. They're probably wrong, but what the hell, I'm just spitballing, as our Stateside cousins would have it.

It would be tempting to say that it's just coincidence, of course. Take RTD's insistence, which I still don't understand, on never having a stable TARDIS crew from one season to the next; together with his strict adherence to the 'introduce in the premiere/write out in the finale' model of companion story arc; and you get a state of affairs that just happens to leave the Doctor on his between each season.

I don't believe that that coincidence is the reason though. Say what you will about RTD as a writer of Doctor Who; go on, say it, you're among friends here; but as a producer and a showman he knew exactly what he was doing. So there was definitely a method in his madness. I'm just not sure what the method was. I've kind of narrowed it down in my own head to one agenda. But then I came up with another one that basically contradicts all of my; I thought; well reasoned arguments. Bear with me here.

Agenda One

Teatime on Christmas Day is pretty much as plum a timeslot as you could ever hope to have for a family drama show, and no matter how good your numbers during the year; and Doctor Who's numbers were consistently excellent; you're almost certain to do considerably better on the big day. So is it possible that RTD, seeing a much larger casual audience within his grasp than would ever watch the show normally, set out to convince some of those extra viewers to stick around for the series proper? And having decided to do that, is it possible that he thought the best way was to have an unencumbered Doctor, able to fully command the screen in a way that he couldn't with a strong companion by his side?

You wouldn't want to do it every week, but one episode of Pure Doctor, to show people what kind of character they'd been missing out on by not watching, could well have been the plan, yes?

Agenda Two

The Doctor being on his own at the end of Season 2 left a Catherine Tate sized hole in the Christmas special.

First of many

The Doctor being on his own at the end of S3 left a nice slot for Kylie Minogue. And where would David Morrissey have parked his trailer, if the Doctor had had a sitting companion at the end of S4?

Personally, I don't think the show needed a big name guest to sell the Christmas specials. It seems that someone in the production hierarchy did though; and knowing his love of spectacle I'm just gonna go ahead and blame RTD. Although blame may not be the right word; certainly their presence did the show no harm, and just imagine how intolerable that Cyber-King bollocks would have been without Morrissey there to salvage a bit of dignity. I'm just saying the show didn't need them to get the big ratings.

Cheers Dave, you've done me a solid and no mistake.

Now as I say, agenda 2 pretty much contradicts agenda 1 entirely. If your intention is to highlight your leading man and do a hard sell on your main character, you don't bring in a massively high profile guest to steal his limelight; that's just common sense. So if either is correct it's probably that one; an assertion given yet more credence by Steven Moffat's attitude to the specials since taking over.

Despite his constant (and bewildering, frankly) defences of RTD's work on the show, it's a demonstrable fact that when he took over Moffat went out of his way to not only do things differently going forward, but also to 'fix' many of the problems caused by RTD. Odd behaviour for someone who claims that RTD didn't cause any problems, but there you go.

Think about it; he spent his first season in charge crafting a storyline that gave him an in-story excuse to ditch any and all elements of the show's past that he felt like ditching, he kept his companions around for his second season, he spent said second season crafting a story designed for the sole purpose of undoing the Doctor Messiah bullshit and getting him back to being a mysterious stranger again... and all while writing episodes that make sense to someone with keener critical faculties than a toddler. One thing he didn't change, was the way they made the specials.

A Christmas Carol. AKA The First Decent Special

In his first stab at the form; A Christmas Carol; he contrived to sideline his companions in order to make way for Katherine Jenkins and Michael Gambon and in his second; The Doctor, The Widow, and The Wardrobe; he practically wrote them out altogether so that Clare Skinner could have her day in the spotlight. It seems that one RTD tradition needed to be maintained, at least.

Bill Bailey's a funny fella isn't he? Yeah. Yeah he is.

Until this year. This year, we're getting a new, permanent (you know what I mean) companion joining the show, in the Christmas special itself. Now, I'm sure that there will also be a couple of big name guest stars, but I very much doubt that Moffat is going to allow his new creation, who will need to be protected for her tenure in the show proper, to be overshadowed by a bunch of day-players. A weak debut for a major new character; whom you're probably gonna want to sell posters, lunchboxes and dolls of before she gets another episode aired; helps no-one, and I think the BBC, and indeed Moffat, is smart enough to know this.

Jenna Louise Coleman

So, I'd be very surprised if the focus is not firmly on Jenna Louise Coleman as new companion, er... I'll confess I don't actually know the characters name (which is a good thing, because it means my 'know absolutely nothing about a show going in' skills are getting better), at the expense of any old friends (I know about them, my skills aren't that good after all) or one off big names. Which means another RTD era tradition bites the dust; are there any left?

I think that post actually had a point, buried in there somewhere. Unusual for me, that. Don't get used to it.

No idea what I'll bore you with next time, you'll have to wait and see.

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