Tag Archives: Doctor Who

Ten Tragic TV Couples

This Valentine’s Day, are you fed up of red roses, boxes of chocolates, lacy hearts, public displays of affection and awful puns? Then read on for the ultimate antidote to Valentine’s Day Nausea: the Screen–Eyed Monster Official List of Ten Tragic TV Couples (featuring exclusive RoJu Tragicness Rating).

SPOILERS for, among others, Angel, Buffy, Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Grey’s Anatomy.

 10. Edmund Blackadder and ‘Bob’/Kate (Blackadder II)

Pic 0023 Blackadder Bob

Edmund Blackadder: nobleman, wit, raconteur, all–round arsehat. The one time he ever shows any consideration for someone other than himself is when he finds himself falling for his new manservant, Bob. Fortunately for the standards of the Elizabethan Age, ‘Bob’ turns out to be Kate in disguise, and Blackadder is able to seduce and marry her. Or at least, that’s the plan, until best man Lord Flashheart waltzes in with a canoe in his pocket and steals the bride–to–be. Edmund is never nice to anyone ever again.

RoJu Rating: 1/10 (because Blackadder still has Baldrick)

9. Phoebe Buffay and David the Scientist (FRIENDS)

Blog 0023 Phoebe David

Phoebe is swept off her feet by David’s awkward approach to her in Central Perk, explaining that the only reason he is talking during her performance is that he can’t believe how beautiful she is. But their time together can only be fleeting, for David is about to take up a research post in Minsk. A few more brief encounters over the years keep the hope alive, but Phoebe can’t wait forever, and eventually finds Mike instead. David’s last–minute attempt to win Phoebe back by proposing to her is overshadowed by Mike’s simultaneous proposal; rejected at the last hurdle, David sadly returns to Minsk, never to be seen again.

RoJu Rating: 2/10 (because Phoebe, at least, found happiness in the end)

8. Susan Mayer and Mike Delfino (Desperate Housewives)

Pic 0023 Susan Mike

Very much the Ross and Rachel of Wisteria Lane, Susan and Mike had a relationship more complicated than a Shakespeare comedy. Was he a murderer?Was she still in love with her ex–husband? Would she rather marry an Englishman? Or a house painter? Was he going to spend the rest of his days in a coma? Was she going to lose both kidneys? Would she be arrested for helping to conceal the murder of her friend’s evil stepfather?  The answer to all of these questions eventually being ‘no’, Susan and Mike marry for a second time to raise their son together; but then Mike is killed by a loan shark and it’s almost as if none of the last ten years ever happened…

RoJu Rating: 3/10 (because by the end of the series we were totes over it)

7. Gregory House and Lisa Cuddy (House)

 Pic 0023 House Cuddy

House was a genius, yes, but so rude, callous and infuriating that nobody could really put up with him… apart from Cuddy, his long–suffering boss, friend and, for a brief glorious period, girlfriend. The sexual tension was palpable from the get–go, and it almost seemed for a moment or two as if a relationship with Cuddy would lead House to grow up and start caring about other people. But his self–destructive tendencies got the better of him, and when he drove a car into Cuddy’s living room, she made the (entirely justified) move of leaving his life forever.

RoJU Rating: 3/10 (because House’s true love is really Wilson)

6. Cristina Yang and Owen Hunt (Grey’s Anatomy)

Blog 0023 Cristina Owen

From the moment Owen flew into the ER riding a gurney and desperately trying to keep alive a man on whom he’d performed an emergency tracheotomy with a pen, Cristina was smitten. They got together almost immediately, and stuck with each other through bouts of PTSD, shootings, storms, an unexpected pregnancy, friends’ deaths, a rushed marriage and an affair. Ultimately, their relationship failed for one reason alone: he wanted kids, and she didn’t. After six years, they realised there was no way to compromise. So they called it a day, and Cristina moved to Switzerland.

RoJu Rating: 4/10 (because no–one died, but life just got in the way)

5Toadie Rebecchi and Dee Bliss (Neighbours)

Blog 0023 Toadie Dee

Toadie was the class clown with no direction and a penchant for amateur wrestling; Dee was the beautiful nurse who was unlucky in love with several of Toadie’s housemates. After much prevaricating, Toadie and Dee realised they were meant to be together, and when a complex plot cooked up by Dee’s evil ex–boyfriend Dr Darcy threatened to derail their relationship, they battled through. Finally, FINALLY, their wedding day arrived – but as they drove away from the ceremony, Toadie lost control of the car and the happy couple plunged over a cliff into the sea. Toadie escaped to wrestle another day; Dee did not.

RoJu Rating: 4/10 (because Dee’s body was never found, and hope remains that she could come back)

4. Lady Sybil Crawley and Tom Branson (Downton Abbey)

Blog 0023 Sybil Branson

Things looked bleak from the beginning for the earl’s daughter and the chauffeur who fell in love despite the odds. He encouraged her to wear trousers and consider the plight of the working classes; she convinced him not to burn her family home to the ground. Eventually Sybil tells her parents the truth, but there’s no time for her father to disapprove, because the pair has eloped to Dublin, and shortly afterwards Sybil is pregnant with a tiny half–posh half–pinko baby. Can the tiny creature bring the family back together…? No, because Sybil dies in childbirth, leaving poor Tom alone to fend for himself and his new baby against the entitled onslaught of the Crawleys.

RoJu Rating: 6/10 (because it is better to have loved and lost than never to have eaten at the Crawley table)

3. The Doctor and Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)

Blog 0023 Doctor Rose

On the one hand, this was never going to work: a young Earthling and a centuries–old Time Lord, divided by millennia of experience. And yet, for a while, it did, with Rose saving the Doctor’s life almost as many times as he saved hers, and showing an impressive ability to get over the fact that, halfway through their relationship, he became a completely different person. But time gets us all in the end, and Rose ends up trapped in a parallel universe with a Doctor clone for company. The Doctor, once again, ends up alone.

RoJu Rating: 7/10 (because two Doctors are better than none)

2. Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Blog 0023 Willow Tara

Willow didn’t realise she was into women until Tara arrived on the scene, full of witchy goodness. Together they help to defeat a multitude of vampires, demons and monsters, as well as serving as parental figures for teenage loner Dawn, until Willow starts to abuse her magical powers and alters Tara’s memory. Tara works hard to forgive her, and they finally reconcile – at which point Tara is accidentally killed by a wanton bullet, and Willow goes Dark, taking revenge on the perpetrator and very nearly summoning the Apocalypse in her grief. Yikes.

RoJu Rating: 9/10 (because the end of this relationship nearly brings about the end of the world)

1. Wesley Wyndam–Pryce and Winifred ‘Fred’ Burkle (Angel)Blog 0023 Wesley Fred

A second entry from the Buffyverse, because Joss Whedon apparently hates happiness, but this one’s a corker. Wesley the rogue vampire hunter falls secretly in love with shy librarian Fred, who chooses their colleague Gunn instead. After an extremely misguided affair with an evil lawyer and a stand–off against his own father to save Fred’s life, Wesley tells Fred the truth, and she reciprocates. Guess what, though? In the next episode she dies and her body is taken over by an ancient demon, who hangs around as a constant reminder that Fred is no more. Oh, and at the end of the season Wesley dies too.

RoJu Rating: 10/10 (because having to be friends with your ex’s corpse is just nasty)

Happy Valentine’s Day, guys!

Dramatic. Period?

The season finale of Downton Abbey is this evening, and so last week, presumably in preparation for the big day, something finally happened. After six episodes where the only interesting event was someone not cheating on her husband, things started to heat up: one engagement was made; another was announced; the maid saw the pig-farmer with the lady’s illegitimate child; and not only did Branson use a naughty word but he stood up during dinner. Whoa!

Downton is an odd programme. I can’t decide if I love it or hate it. Pretty much everyone in the show is someone you’d go several miles out of your way to avoid (I except two characters from this – the afore-mentioned Branson, and Mrs Hughes, both of whom are hardcore Nice Guys). Nonetheless, most of them are strangely fascinating. Lady Mary is a particularly strong example of this. She’s haughty, condescending, annoyingly beautiful, painfully graceful, indifferent to the point of cruelty, and so, you would think, instantly dislikeable. But for all these reasons I’m weirdly obsessed with her: no dinner, garden party, family crisis or financial decision is complete without a smoothly delivered put-down from the oldest Crawley daughter. At the same time, even though there are virtually no storylines, I’m still anxious to know what happens (or maybe ‘happens’) next. This conundrum is perhaps best summed up by a recent gem of a comment from ‘McScotty’ on the Guardian website, “The whole series is beautifully acted, terribly written, annoyingly addictive and utterly preposterous”.

As a whole, the show is probably interesting (to me and to its many other viewers) because it portrays a world quite unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Enormous house! Servants! Dressing for dinner! Flirting over priceless artwork! Those lovely dresses with beads and feathers! No television! It’s a bit like a fantasy world, allowing us to go, “Huh, so that’s what life would be like if I had to make sure my subjects were correctly maintaining my pig collection.” Which is why I was surprised when I recently read an article complaining that, in general, historical dramas just weren’t historical enough. The gist of the piece (as far as I can remember, since I committed the worst possible research faux pas and didn’t note down where I read it, and have since forgotten where that was) was that all too frequently the characters in period dramas are anachronistically similar to the audience, eliciting sympathy from modern-day viewers by creating characters just like them at the expense of historical accuracy.

I see that this is true in some cases, especially in programmes that aren’t really period dramas but have historical elements. Doctor Who is one of these – a trip to the past is not only likely to take place in England (pretty convenient, given that the entirety of time and space is at the Doctor’s disposal) but is sure to include a group of characters who look like people from ye olden times but who are basically twenty-first century people in crinolines and suits of armour. Take the recent episode Robot of Sherwood: Robin Hood may have been dressed like a medieval bandit but he looked, acted and spoke like any other action hero, down to the obligatory secret despair visible only at quiet moments… TV Tropes has coined the rather pleasing term ‘Purely Aesthetic Era’ for just this kind of happening.

But overall I disagree that period dramas are just dramas with a bit of lace and dirt thrown in, because most of the time you need to make a certain amount of adjustment at the start in order to get involved. One fairly generic example is smoking: a cigarette in a show set post-1980 is a sure sign of a ruffian, petty criminal or sinister puppetmaster controlling not only every major political event in the last fifty years but also all of Earth’s communications with extra-terrestrial life. In a programme set before these modern times, however, a puff of smoke is a mere bagatelle, an everyday occurrence, a sign of the times.

And there’s more. Take, for example, Rome, set in, well, Rome, during the Julius Caesar/Augustus years. The series’ main characters, and thus the two with whom we are presumably supposed to identify, are Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) and Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd – LIKE) – and these are not modern, metrosexual, egalitarian gentlemen. The series opens with them in battle, Vorenus blithely ordering crucifixion for traitors and sending messages to “the torture detachment with the third”; then, once they’re on their way back to Rome, they pause to slice open some marauders before bashing a dead man’s jaw apart to steal his gold teeth, all the while sharing their best brothel tips. I think it’s fair to say that such antics would be seriously off-putting in a contemporary drama, but the viewer performs a sort of mental rearrangement and somehow comes to terms with the idea that people in the past did things a bit differently. And that’s not even taking into account the murder, betrayal, prostitution, orgies and incest that pepper the rest of the series (think Game of Thrones in togas).

Less violent is Mad Men (1960s New York), but the same kind of mental adjustment is necessary, primarily for the atrocious gender attitudes. Women are wives or, at best, secretaries, universally referred to as ‘sweetheart’ by the men in charge of them, seen as creatures made entirely of boobs and hair. Having just started watching the second series, I found myself being impressed by how much the main character, Don Draper, had grown since the first series, on the basis that he’d gone all of two episodes without cheating on his wife. What a superhuman! (That’s not even the worst thing about the programme. The worst thing is Pete Campbell, the most infuriatingly pointless character in the history of storytelling. That, and the fact that, again, really not much happens.)

And what’s striking is that the writers of these period dramas are bold enough to give even the nicest, most sympathetic characters at least some elements of attitudes that we now see as sexist/racist/classist etc. Both Downton and Grantchester have recently had storylines concerning gay characters, in which some of our beloved favourites have demonstrated worryingly homophobic tendencies. In Downton, Carson the butler (whose stubborn old-fashionedness is usually endearing) has shown himself to be staunchly immune to the sufferings of poor Thomas, who this season has gone so far as to concoct some kind of hideous intravenous medication to cure him of his Gomorrah-esque ways. Meanwhile, in Grantchester (1950s Cambridgeshire), while the hero-vicar Sidney Chambers is open to people of all faiths, colours, creeds and orientations, two of the his closest friends (the motherly housekeeper and the stalwart police inspector) failed to show even a shred of sympathy for the man whose (male) lover had been murdered because he was his (male) lover. This kind of attitude would hardly be acceptable coming from Inspector Barnaby.

Of course, this leads us to wonder: how far can we change our mental stance before we’re just too disgusted to keep watching? On the one hand, it probably depends on the programme. Rome throws f-bombs out all over the place and seems to think it a wasted episode if at least one character doesn’t get naked, and so a certain level of arseholery is expected. In Downton and Grantchester, on the other hand, the use of the word ‘bastard’ from Branson or Sidney is a damning indictment of the pure evil of their interlocutor, and the most we’ve ever seen of a person’s body is a bare shoulder; in such cases, uncivilised behaviour is more of a shock. Either the filth is everywhere, it seems, or it’s banned outright.

On the other hand, though, I wonder if it’s a case of ‘the bigger, the better’. Programmes where the events and attitudes are so far removed from our reality that they’re barely recognisable – for example, the slavery and gladiator combat and back-stabbing of Rome – are comparatively easy to switch into and then switch out of again; sure, it’s all pretty horrific and brutal, but you feel as though few viewers will accidentally crucify someone because they saw Vorenus do it. But the sexist jokes in Mad Men and the homophobic attitudes in Grantchester are more worrying because they’re not that far removed from the jokes and attitudes that are still ongoing; many otherwise lovely people are inexplicably uncomfortable about women working or men being in love with other men. That makes it much harder, it seems to me, to make a strong differentiation between how the characters behave and how people in general behave. Maybe, then, the problem isn’t that period dramas are too close to modern sensibilities; it’s that, in many cases, modern sensibilities are still too close to those found in period dramas. Perhaps some things never change.

And with those words of wisdom, I’m off to buy three pigs and toga.

Damn You, Moffat! The Writers vs. the Fans

For a certain portion of the UK’s television viewing population, the last three weeks have been simply glorious. We waited for two years, and then – AND THEN – Sherlock and John hurtled back into our lives, bringing us laughter, tears, gasps and occasional feelings of nausea or confusion when confronted with a particularly gruesome body (or the sight of Sherlock with a girlfriend). For three all too brief ninety-minute sessions, our lives were whole again.

But now those days are over for what may well be another two years, so it’s time to stave off the gloom with some obsessive dissection of what went on. To whit: the first episode, The Empty Hearse, was offered us not one but three possible solutions to the conundrum of how Sherlock faked his own death at the end of the last season. Each possibility was more ridiculous than the last, involving bungee jumping, fake bodies, wax masks and, at one point, Derren Brown. OK, so the writers were gently mocking us for all the implausible theories we’d come up with during the interim, and if we had any sense of humour, we found it funny and we laughed at ourselves. But let’s be serious – how did he actually do it?

Well, it turns out that we may never know. Ultimately, Moffat gave us three options, proposed one as the ‘real’ solution, and then, in a cruel twist, told us that even that one might not be how it actually happened. Immediately, the Internet exploded into a frenzied debate – which one was true? Were any of them true? Will we ever know? And was this utter genius on the writer’s part, or a bit of a cop-out?

Laying my cards on the table, I’m saying it was a disappointment. I’m all for leading your viewers up the garden path for a while, but you need a pay-off at the end to make it worth their while, and I’m not sure that we got that – particularly since the episode was so concerned with confusing and beguiling us that it forgot to contain any actual plot.

But, then again, what did we expect from Steven Moffat, Sadistic Television Overlord? I’m certainly not the only TV obsessive to be building up a strong list of reasons why Moffat is an evil genius, and, so far, I’ve managed to stay the right side of actual fury, unlike those fans branding him a liar, “the biggest troll in television”, or indeed “the King of all things troll-ish who reigns over a land in which the people are constantly crying and everything hurts”. As well as his sinewy plots on Sherlock, he earned both abundant praise and unrestrained ire for the Doctor Who fiftieth anniversary episode, in which he twisted around everything we thought we knew about the Doctor’s history, character and ability to regenerate. (Incidentally, I thought that episode was brilliant. You see – even I don’t know whether to adore or loathe the man.)

It should be noted that Moffat isn’t the first TV writer to have induced this bizarre love-hate relationship in his fans. Back in the 1960s, Patrick McGoohan’s final episode of sci-fi drama The Prisoner was so ambiguous and inconclusive that British fans rioted, leading McGoohan to believe that he was going to be lynched in the streets. Then, in the heady days of the 1990s, Buffy the Vampire Slayer secured its writer, Joss Whedon, a founding place in the tradition of using a TV writer’s name to mean a particular way of messing with viewers. While “to Moffat” is to insist that a show-related fact is 100% true, only to reveal later that, in fact, this is not the case and you were an idiot to believe it, a fan gets “Jossed” when the background understanding he or she has built up over the course of a series is vaporised in short shrift by a new episode, or, more poignantly, when a character is killed off unexpectedly and heart-breakingly. By the end of Buffy and Angel, Whedon’s flagship shows, almost every major character is dead, with the exception of Buffy herself, who has actually died twice but come back to life (cue long-winded explanation involving Hellmouths and Wiccan magic). Overall, Buffy and Angel had “more heartrending moments than stakes at a Slayers convention”.

But that’s not to say that the writers of our favourite shows are always mean and nasty. Sometimes they give us exactly what we want; this, in the terminology of manga fandom, is ‘fanservice’. Fanservice comes in many forms. It can be a cameo appearance from a beloved character or actor – Tom Baker in the anniversary episode of Doctor Who, Noel Fielding popping up for a last hurrah in the final episode of The IT Crowd, or Teri Hatcher playing Lois’s mother in Smallville. It can be a revealing outfit – Kaley Cuoco dressed as Wonder Woman in The Big Bang Theory, Colin Firth appearing from a pond in a white shirt in Pride and Prejudice, Lea Michele dressed as Britney Spears in Glee. It can be a fourth-wall-breaking in-joke about the ridiculousness of TV, such as Alex’s reference to the hospital in Grey’s Anatomy as ‘Seattle-Grace Mercy-Death’, or Baldrick suggesting that if a film was made of Blackadder’s life, Baldrick would be played by “some tiny tit in a beard”. Or, just to please the hardcore contingent, it can occasionally be a sexy moment straight out of erotic fan-fiction – Dr House telling Wilson, “I really gotta get you laid. If I have to plough that furrow myself, so be it”, Phoebe and Rachel’s kiss on FRIENDS, and, of course, the recent will-they-won’t-they-did-they-actually moment between Sherlock and Moriarty in The Empty Hearse (shippers ahoy!).

The real question is: how far should writers and producers take this kind of thing? There’s no question that fans are a force to be reckoned with. The last few years have seen entire series revived through fans’ efforts: when Firefly, Joss Whedon’s space western, was cancelled after one season, fans successfully campaigned to get it released on DVD, sales of which led to the commissioning of a film sequel; likewise, Arrested Development got a film adaptation and at least one further season when its fanbase grew to substantial proportions thanks to DVD sales and Netflix.

Naturally, if the team behind a hit TV show panders too far to the fans’ whims, there will be accusations of selling out and brown-nosing. On the other hand, ignoring the fans completely – or deliberately choosing to mess with them – can be dangerous. Shows like How I Met Your Mother, which eight seasons in has yet to reveal who the eponymous mother is, has slowly worn down its viewers’ interest so that the majority of them are now just praying for it to be over; meanwhile, one-off events like the notorious ‘Red Wedding’ on Game Of Thrones or the rape scene in Downton Abbey can cause viewers to be “5000% done” with a show they once loved.

Thus far, both Joss Whedon and Steven Moffat seem to be getting the balance just about right. The Internet has frequently vented its anger at them, but it’s an anger borne from love; and, crucially, people are still watching their shows. Whedon has a loyal following of fans who’ve jumped eagerly into Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse, Firefly and Agents of SHIELD; meanwhile, the first episode of the most recent season of Sherlock was the most tweeted-about episode of any drama series, a record which the third episode summarily went on to break. Clearly, they’re doing something right, even if they occasionally cause their fans moments of angst and despair. So well done, and we’ll be waiting with bated breath for the next season. Which would be welcome as soon as possible. Please. Grrr.

Have TV Your Way: How On-Demand Makes Watching Television Trickier

Note: spoilers for (old episodes of) X-Files, Grey’s Anatomy and NCIS.

Recently I had a very bizarre experience, one that I thought was lost in the mists of time… I watched a TV programme as it was broadcast.

I know, right? It wasn’t a topical programme, or even filmed live (all right, I confess, it was University Challenge), but nonetheless I watched it on the television at a time decided for me by official BBC schedulers. This came as a shock because less and less of my (and many other people’s) TV watching is done thus: in all honesty, I’m a catch-up junkie. I know I’m not the only one, but what with all the repeats, online players, +1 channels and TV subscription services, I sometimes feel like I’ve completely lost the ability to watch TV at the originally specified time.

Oh, it started off harmlessly enough. As a youth, I’d occasionally catch a repeat of Friends on Channel 4, not out of choice but because there was just nothing else to watch after Neighbours and The Simpsons. Soon I was seeking out repeats, then I started buying DVDs of my favourite shows, in order to relive my favourite scenes and jokes. At some point, it occurred to me that I could buy DVDs of shows that I hadn’t already seen, shows that other people had watched but I’d missed out on the first time. From there it was just too easy to put things off – ‘No need to watch it now,’ I’d say to myself, ‘I can buy it on DVD later’ – and the development of BBC iPlayer and 4OD just made things worse. Before long I was catching up on programmes from the last seven days like nobody’s business, filling my shelves with secondhand DVDs, watching things on +1 as if not+1 didn’t exist… And then, finally, the world came crashing down and I hit rock bottom: I joined Netflix.

Nowadays I treat the TV schedules with all the disdain and wanton disregard I can muster. This week, for example, I watched New Girl on E4+1, switched to Channel 4 for the second half of Rude Tube and then switched to Channel 4+1 for the first half of Rude Tube, just because I could. Oh, the humanity.

If truth be told, I’m already paying the price for this destructive habit. Sure, watching TV programmes at a time of your own choosing is convenient, but there are many reasons why pick-your-own-schedules TV may not be the way to go, and they’re mostly to do with the fact that people talk to each other (what are they thinking?).

First, obviously – spoilers. This is most clearly the case with the most popular TV programmes, and particularly when you’re far enough behind the rest of the world to be forever playing catch-up but not far enough for everyone to have stopped talking about it already. Take Downton Abbey. I missed the boat when it was first broadcast, but Netflix offered it to me on a plate; so I took a tentative bite, and have got as far as season two (2011). But because everyone on the planet has been obsessed by the Crawley family for the last four years, I already know that CENSORED and CENSORED get married, CENSORED is arrested for murder, CENSORED has a baby, and CENSORED dies*. Every episode is imbued with either a sense of inevitable dread (‘Don’t do it, don’t visit her, or when she dies everyone will think it was you…”) or a tragic poignancy (‘They think their love might be doomed… it is, oh it is!’). It’s the same when programmes are still ongoing and the cast continues to change – even if you manage not to find out exactly how their characters leave, you still know that their days are numbered. In my TV-watching world, Mulder and Scully have just made it through Mulder’s brief bout of insanity to emerge the other side and share a New Year’s kiss (X-Files season seven, 2000) – and now he’s leaving? How will Scully cope? How will I cope? In my world, Cristina seems to have forgiven Hunt for his affair and has just told him that he’s her ‘person’ (Grey’s Anatomy season eight, 2012) – but how will they get it properly together now before Cristina leaves in season ten? And in my world, Kate has just been killed by a terrorist and no one knows who her replacement will be (NCIS season two, 2005); yet apparently that replacement is already leaving the show. Slow down, man! I ain’t the Doctor – I can’t cope with this many time streams.

Of course, it’s impossible for people not to give spoilers away, and it’s unreasonable to expect them to keep quiet about major TV events, because people like talking about the TV they watch. (Hell, I like it so much that I’ve set up a really great blog dedicated to exactly that.**) Most of the time, people are only giving the plot away because they’re so excited by it and want to discuss it with other like-minded viewers – such as when I accidentally told someone the ending of the first series of The Killing, not realising they were only on episode four. (It’s OK, guys, I did an incredible cover-up, and she was even more surprised when the reveal eventually came along.)

Which is another reason why watching TV programmes months or years after everyone else is a bit of a bummer: you don’t get to discuss them with anyone. Things like Downton are OK, because the series is still going and people are still interested in the characters, but Teachers? Smallville? The IT Crowd? Not so much. I only saw The IT Crowd last winter (a mere seven years after it first aired), and I was finally able to discuss it with those of my friends who’d watched and enjoyed it back in the noughties – unfortunately, by the time I got round to the conversation, it went something like this:

Me: “Just been watching The IT Crowd.”

Friend: “It’s hilarious, isn’t it?”

Me: “Oh my God, yes. D’you remember that episode where Moss accidentally works as a barman?”

Friend: “Um, not really. Hey, you know what’s great at the moment? Happy Endings. Have you seen that?”

Me: “Ask me again in seven years.”

This is even worse now that interaction about TV is both global and instantaneous. I’m still slightly unsettled by the idea that you should tweet or text in to TV programmes while you’re in the middle of watching them (although so far it seems to be only with live current affairs, entertainment and other non-fiction programmes – when Call the Midwife starts running banners on the screen saying ‘Tell us which of the two babies Jenny should save, @midwivescanonlydosomuch #dontaccidentallypicktheevilone’, then pop culture as we know it is officially dead). But it’s increasingly tempting to pick up the phone/mouse and have your say, especially when you feel like you could contribute a damn sight more to the discussion than ‘really dont like huw edwards suit bro’. This is especially the case with The Last Leg, which asks viewers to send in their dubious questions about what’s appropriate to say or do on TV, because Adam Hills actually reads out people’s tweets and discusses them on the show. This week, I confess, I was overcome by the sudden desire to ‘get involved’ in the debate on exam results, and I very nearly made my first use of the #isitok hashtag – then I remembered that I was watching the programme on Channel 4+1, and that Adam Hills and everyone else involved in the show had probably left the studio some time ago.

So, really, watching things as the fancy takes you rather than when other people are watching them has its drawbacks – but it also has its perks. Sometimes it can give you a new perspective on a show or character. I only started watching Doctor Who in 2010, so Matt Smith was my first doctor; when I went back to watch Christopher Eccleston he seemed scarily dark and dour in comparison (and also better: see my Doctor Who post). Likewise, I’m currently catching up on The X-Files on DVD and Californication on Netflix; both star David Duchovny, which means that Hank Moody seems like Fox Mulder in an alternate universe where the absence of Scully has driven him to a world of booze, one-night stands, prolific use of the f-word and more cigarettes than the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The truth is out there, indeed.

What to do, then, dear friends? If we want to talk about programmes properly, if we want to keep the element of surprise, we need to be watching them at more or less the same time. On the other hand, now that we can watch TV whenever and wherever we want, it seems almost silly to watch a programme at 9pm on a Saturday just because someone you’ve never met thinks that’s the best time for it. It’s a conundrum that will probably sort itself out as more and more people start to use on-demand services. Or maybe we could decide by Twitter vote. #greattvscheduledebate, anyone?


*The censored parts are less for your benefit than for mine – if I don’t type the names out then maybe the events won’t happen, right…?

**That’s this blog. Just so we’re clear.

Who’s the New Who?

The Interwebs have been a-buzz for the last few weeks over the news that Matt Smith is leaving Doctor Who. ‘Tis certainly a trying time for those who’ve spent the last four years waiting with Amy Pond, curling their hair like River Song and smiling at strangers in the street simply because they’re wearing a bow tie. But I am managing to hold it together because (and I make this confession somewhat hesitantly) Smith has been my least favourite modern Doctor. Like many Whovians, I can firmly state that Number Ten – the dashing, cheeky, passionate David Tennant – is my Doctor; but I am among the comparatively few who would say that Christopher Eccleston, Number Nine, comes a close second. Eccleston’s Doctor felt like a thousand-year-old: determined but playful, browbeaten, lonely, yet still fighting the good fight.

So although Matt Smith’s Number Eleven has been fun, I don’t believe he’s the be-all-and-end-all of the character. Which is why I’m intrigued by the debate over who should be the New Who.

The fans were naturally the first to weigh into the discussion with their own thoughts on who should be cast in the role. A poll by the Radio Times concluded that Colin Morgan (of Merlin fame) should be the Twelfth Doctor, readers of The Guardian chose Chiwetel Ejiofor (recently Louis Lester in Dancing on the Edge), while IGN’s respondents, clearly unable to let go of the past, chose David Tennant. Other suggestions have included Rory Kinnear (Quantum of Solace and Skyfall), Tom Hiddleston (War Horse), Ben Whishaw (Richard II), Idris Elba (The Wire), Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), Stephen Mangan and Julian Rhind-Tutt (respectively Guy and Mac from Green Wing), Russell Tovey (Being Human) and, perhaps my favourite out-of-the-box proposal, Rupert Grint (Harry Potter).

Many of these suggestions are, to put it bluntly, uninspired. Benedict Cumberbatch, for example, is doing a fantastic job as Sherlock in a programme produced by many of the same people as Doctor Who, so it’s natural that he would spring to mind, but much as I love him (and I do) I’m not convinced that he’s the right person for the job. But what I like about some of the quirkier suggestions is that they make you reconsider not just who, but what, the Doctor should be.

First, a number of fans have wondered whether John Hurt, who appeared in the series finale credited as ‘The Doctor’ and who was implied to be a past incarnation, will in fact be the Twelfth Doctor. I think that the writers will be sneakier than that, and that John Hurt is actually the Doctor from a parallel universe, or the Doctor before he called himself ‘The Doctor’, or even someone else called ‘The Doctor’ who is not actually our Doctor. But the mere possibility of John Hurt being the next Doctor underlines the fact that the last three – that is, all the Doctors of the modern era – have been under forty-five.

Actually, this isn’t such a break with the original version of the show. An  interesting blog post by The Reinvigorated Programmer reveals that the majority of Doctors were in their thirties or forties when they took the role; Peter Davison, the Fourth Doctor, was only two years older than the youthful Matt Smith when he began, while the First and oldest doctor, William Hartnell, was only 55. An interesting pattern, given that the character is somewhere around a millennium old – surely even a modern Doctor doesn’t have to be a slip of a lad? How about a Doctor who really looks and behaves as if he’s lived through a Time War, the loss of several wives, girlfriends, children and siblings, the sinking of the Titanic, the destruction of Pompeii and myriad other catastrophic events? Assuming that Clara makes it into the next series (and I hope she does), the relationship between her and the Doctor doesn’t need to be one of dashing hero and the young woman swept off her feet. Why not father-daughter, or teacher-apprentice, or just plain partners? Granted, the sexual tension between Numbers Nine, Ten and Eleven and their companions was fun to watch (except, of course, when it was heartbreaking), but the more paternal role of the doctor in some the earlier series didn’t seem to do the shows popularity any harm. In any case, there are only so many ways a man can react to young women falling in love with him without things getting repetitive.

Which brings us to the next general suggestion about the next Doctor: that he, or rather she, should be a woman. Specific actresses who’ve been mooted are Miranda Hart, Billie Piper (of course), Olivia Colman, Sheridan Smith, Sue Perkins and Helen Mirren, who would apparently be more than happy to oblige.

Now I’m all for strong, interesting female leads on TV, and, certainly, having a female Doctor would shake up the traditional Doctor-companion dynamic. Bearing in mind that all of the Doctor’s recent love interests (Rose, Madame de Pompadour, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (or so we hear) and of course River Song) have been female, maybe we could see the first gay Doctor? Wishful thinking, perhaps: although other planets in the known universe seem to produce more variety in their interpersonal relationships – as indicated, for example, by the lovely Vastra and Jenny (also an example of an interspecies relationship), and of course by Captain Jack, the epitome of pansexual – Gallifrey stills appears to operate under a one-man-one-woman system that’s sufficiently safe for the BBC at teatime on a Saturday. But a female Doctor-female companion friendship would also be very different ground to tread: bitch-fest followed by bonding over awful men, anyone?

And yet I’m not sure that casting a female Doctor is the right way to go. For one thing, from an in-universe perspective, it’s not at all clear whether this is even possible. All previous Doctors have been male, just as all of River Song’s incarnations (at least, those shown on screen) were female; indeed, the official BBC website suggests simply that some Time Lords are men and some (AKA ‘Time Ladies’) are women. True, there seems some flexibility (The Guardian points out that the Eleventh Doctor, on feeling his new long hair for the first time, thought he was a girl) but to my mind it’s a stretch, and one that I feel is only being considered to make a point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the Doctor being a man. It works. He isn’t defined by his gender, but by his decisions and his personality (and occasionally the fact he has two hearts). You could make him a woman, but why bother? The feminist cause would be much better furthered by original female characters who are fun, interesting and intelligent in their own right, not ones who are ‘made’ female for the sake of it.

So I am inclined to agree, finally, with YouGov’s poll, which asked not for possible actors but ideal attributes. By far the biggest items of agreement were that the new Doctor should be (a) British and (b) a man. Race and age were less of a concern, and being straight was important to only 15% of people. So, bearing in made that the public wants a home-grown actor in the role, the production team is definitely free to change tack, with an elderly Doctor, a child Doctor, a black Doctor, a gay Doctor… Or, you know, they could go with Rupert Grint – after all, the Doctor has always wanted to be ginger.