Monday, May 7, 2018

DOCTOR WHO: Time Team vs. The Classics

It's always something with Doctor Who fans. Right now it's a lot of things. We need to sit down and have a nice long talk with ourselves on several of them, but right now I need to hit the pavement concerning one very specific development: the Time Team.

There have been some grumbles and complaints about the reveal of the new Time Team -- a group originally started in 1999 for Doctor Who Magazine including the likes of Clayton Hickman and Jacqueline Rayner. Their mission? Watch the heck out of Classic episodes (in order, at that point) and review them.

The times have changed. First off, here's the new Time Team:

Die-hard Who stans amongst you will note that Christel Dee is present, as well as the founding members of the Time Ladies. Overall, it's a mix of twentysomethings who would have been children when Eccleston first hit the airwaves. You may also there's an even gender divide: six men, six women.

The complains have already begun... and shockingly, it's not about how many girls there are (not from where I'm sitting yet, anyway; I'm sure it's coming). The sheer youth is troubling a lot of older fans, some of whom have said they feel that the choice is ageist and that there ought to be a spot for "someone like them" in the mix. To which I say... well, one... I'm still shocked I'm seeing someone like me in the mix, so let me have this for a minute.

Okay? Okay. I'll talk about this more in a bit, I promise.

This time out, the Time Team isn't doing things in any semblance of order. Rather, they're watching sets of episodes along a theme, regardless of era. A few screencaps of their reactions have already made their way to Twitter, and people are moaning already. This is what they were afraid of, you see. It's not like the new stuff, so they're not liking it. They're talking about how slow it is. And it's awful that they think this.

Coming in at 37 years young and having started with the TV movie in college, I'm older than their eldest member by 11 years or so. I've also been watching longer by... maybe about seven years. Ish. I'm a Wilderness Years baby, so a lot of my initiation into the fandom was via Big Finish and old VHS tapes recorded off PBS. So yes, my familiarity begins with the serialized 20th century series. And yeah, it can be disheartening to see people get turned off by the pacing and by what it was, and preferring what it is.

But there is a happy medium to be had here. It's just not as fun to talk about, I guess.

Take into account:

20th Century Who Does Suffer from Pacing Issues

It does. It does. It just. Does. And people familiar with the history of the show know why it does. But that doesn't change the fact that the issues exist.

Doctor Who was, up until 1989, made for a very different sort of television audience in a very different era of entertainment. There was no recording for posterity. There was no way to rewatch last week's episode to remind yourself what happened. There was no way to pop ahead to the next one if you didn't feel like waiting. So people watched things one time, maybe two at best.

Too, Doctor Who was made for a very specific demographic in a very specific time slot. Remember that from An Adventure in Space and Time? It was to entertain and educate kids while luring the parents into the sitting room for the evening's programming. And since it was made to be something very specific, shown in a very specific way for which there was no alternative, it will be different.

This is not to say that all its pacing issues are a product of its format. Genesis of the Daleks could be about an episode shorter and still hit home. There are a few that could actually do with a bit of an edit. But at the time, since it was a one-night-only affair as far as anyone was concerned, what was the point? No one was planning on a bunch of nerds restoring and rewatching these things multiple times. So the care that would be put into those issues now... just wasn't.

The issues are real. They're a product of the format and just occasional subpar editing. But they are quite real, and they will glare more than ever in a modern context.

21st Century Who Has Pacing Issues, Too

If pre-2005 Who trips over its own feet here and there, post-2005 Who tears around like a mad person. Steven Moffat acknowledged with the arrival of the Twelfth Doctor that steps were being taken to pull back just how breathless the pacing had become. Observable steps have definitely been taken (the long restaurant scene in Deep Breath was lovely, for example), but it still suffers sometimes from the haste of modern action television.

Not only that -- while many of us watch on the night, others binge. And when we binge, we already know what we saw before. We watched it this morning. "Last time" segments can be rushed through or omitted entirely because there's a good chance the viewers either just saw what happened, or remember pretty well.

Fans of pre- and post-2005 Who are, at this point, like a pair of drivers in a 45-mph zone -- one going 30, one going 60. Neither can fathom what the other is about, while pointedly ignoring that they could both stand to adjust their view of the speed limit.

At the same time, preferring one or the other isn't intrinsically wrong. I personally enjoy the pacing of the Twelfth Doctor era's two-parters, which puts me in a very small group, because it hits that middle ground for me of moving along at a fair clip while still giving me a cliffhanger to get worked up over. That's me. One person.

Observing the Issue Isn't Betraying the Fandom

There's a bit of a skewed mentality that finding a problem with early Who is a sort of betrayal. That if you aren't completely down with everything it was, you don't like it enough, and you're one of those fake NuWho-only fans.

So, real talk. I've been watching Doctor Who for going on 20 years, which admittedly is playpen time compared to some. I've written critical essays and books about it, I've interviewed writers and actors, I've taken time to study it from every angle from production to story. And all Who of all eras Has Some Problems. That includes the fine vintages.

Sixth Doctor era was swimming in bad scripts. Many writers needed a firmer hand from the editors. Putting Chinese makeup on a white dude was REALLY REALLY DUMB. Removing science-inclined women from the show for decades was also really dumb. And acknowledging all these things does not mean I don't love the episodes.

The Time Team's reaction to the slow pacing -- and Christel Dee's (potentially facetious) comment that she watches early Who on 1.5x speed -- has been gathering up a bit of spite on the Internet. They're not watching it right. They don't understand the context of when it was made. (I assure you they do, or have at least been informed of it.) And thus they aren't reacting "properly."

And that's a pretty big claim: that anything other than full acceptance of an existing problem is "improper."

Older Fans' Takes Are Already Everywhere

If I wanted to be really scathing and unhelpfully rude, I'd say that the people reacting negatively to all the young blood in the Time Team are cross because because Panini didn't call them to be on it. But I don't want to be really scathing and unhelpfully rude, so I won't.

That said, it is extremely, devastatingly easy to find Classic Who fans opinions: in books, in magazines, online, and just about anywhere you can find Who-ish things. We really don't shut up. I speak from experience here.

We really do corner the market on Who commentary. What the fandom currently lacks is intelligently framed commentary from a younger generation that's framed in a way that brings any sort of legitimate attention to it. Young fans' thoughts are all over the web, but they're unsorted and mixed up. The twelve people chosen, to their own varying degrees, have the experience to bring their insights as new fans to the show in a way that's intelligent and engaging.

And, as I've said elsewhere, it does us no good to hoard our fandom -- to decide our way is the only way, and to not listen to what newer and younger people have to say. Whether we agree with it or not.


Could the Time Team have done with one or two older members on it? Yes, absolutely. I'd love to have seen some fortysomethings, some Americans and Australians. But here's the problem -- most of the people who'd actively want to be The Older One in this group would likely be a bad choice.

Most of the people I've seen say they'd like an older member in the new Time Team exude a very clear idea of what they're looking for, whether they know it or not: they want their avatar in there to tell all these kids how wrong they are. And that is exactly what the group doesn't need. Not a babysitter, not a teacher. Older members should be equal voices whose opinions are part of the conversation, not what the younger members should aspire to become.

I like the look of the new Time Team. I'd love to see it expand to include a wider cross-section of fan types, but not so that those other types can school the ones already there. And in the meantime, maybe this is what we need to shake up our sensibilities, and to break ourselves out of the idea that there is a Who Fan Monolith mentality to which we should all aspire.

Be brave enough to listen. They've opened their minds to a whole new era of television not tailored to them: open your minds to their opinions.

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