Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why Dr Who Matters

Looking forward to the big Dr Who event next weekend - the 50th Anniversary Special - so I thought I'd repost this little essay on why Dr Who matters from back in August...
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When Matt Smith announced that he was quitting the role of Dr. Who after this year’s Christmas Special the papers and social media in the UK and Australia and the geeky parts of America went into their now habitual frenzy about who would or should be the next doctor. Dismissed by some as too young for the role (by, er, me actually) Smith in fact has been of the more successful inhabitants of the Tardis. Helped by lively scripts and great companions Smith’s version of the character has been more sprightly, mischievous and elfen than David Tennant's interpretation and his energy will be hard to replace. But Peter Capaldi the new Dr Who is an absolutely inspired choice. I have loved Peter Capaldi's work since Local Hero and when I saw his turn as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It I was just blown away by the menacing sweary Glasgow genius of his performance. 
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But why should you non geeks out there care about an often cheesy cult British sci-fi show for kids? Well I think you should care because Dr Who represents what is best about the British character and as an icon of Britishness he has no equal. Dr Who is intelligent, witty, wise, eccentric, curious; he keeps cool under pressure and he out-thinks his opponents much more often that he out fights them. Although 12 different actors have inhabited the role of Dr Who I think the defining characteristic of all their takes has been the quintessential stiff upper lip. Sang froid in the face of danger is surely one of the greatest qualities of a gentleman: its what we liked about Michael Caine and Stanley Baker in Zulu, it was the lesson we took from the Titanic disaster (whether it was true or not) and its what we loved to see satirized in Monty Python and, of course, in this fantasic scene from Carry On Up The Khyber
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Who can compare to Who among recent British icons? Nobody in my opinion. James Bond is a dreary thug who loves a good punch up, who hates women and who has a very tired line in repartee. Steed from the Avengers (did I say recent?) is a little too fey. Sherlock Holmes is a gloomy misanthrope casting a jaundiced eye on humanity from his upstairs room on Baker Street. Robin Hood? Nah, Robin Hood is way too campy. Flashman? I like Flashman but he's even more of a thug than Bond and a complete coward (which is part of his charm, admittedly). I do love Hilary Mantel's version of Thomas Cromwell but we haven't seen how he responds to the prospect of death yet...No, Dr Who, at least in his current incarnation (since 2005), is the icon of Britishness for our times, indeed the icon of maleness that we all should aspire to be: nimble, quick witted, funny, ironic, compassionate, gallant and brave. He's a little too chaste perhaps but in these troubled times for men it's probably better to err on the side of caution in that department.