Monday, July 15, 2013

Doctor Who: 1984

Episode 614: Resurrection of the Daleks, part two
First broadcast: 6.50 pm, Wednesday 15 February 1984
<< back to 1983

The Doctor and Tegan part company
Resurrection of the Daleks, part two
When Tegan - one of the longest-serving companions in Doctor Who - finally leaves the TARDIS, she says it's because something's changed.
A lot of good people have died today. I think I'm sick of it.

You think I wanted it this way?

No. It's just that I don't think I can go on.

You want to stay on Earth.

My Aunt Vanessa said, when I became an air stewardess, if you stop enjoying it, give it up.


It's stopped being fun, Doctor.
Two things strike me about this. First, something was changing in Doctor Who at the time. After the fun of The Five Doctors, the new season began with Warriors from the Deep, where the Doctor is unable to stop a massacre. The next story, The Awakening, is fun but there's something unusually bleak about the human colony in Frontios, the last of humanity dwindling away on some distant backwater. And then there's the bloodbath of Resurrection - by some margin the highest bodycount of any Doctor Who story.

I've read quite a few theories about what's going on: that the Fifth Doctor was a feminised version of our hero, or it's the influence of Blake's 7, or the production team (and audience) were more keen on grislier stories (perhaps after the perceived success of Earthshock). The trend certainly continues after the Fifth Doctor's gone; the Sixth Doctor sometimes seen peripheral to the grotesque events on screen.

But the Doctor wasn't alone. In 1986, Alan Moore wrote an introduction to a grisly version of another children's hero:
"Whatever changes may have been wrought in the comics themselves, the image of Batman most permanently fixed in the mind of the of the general populace is that of Adam West delivering outrageously straight-faced camp dialogue while walking up a wall thanks to the benefit of stupendous special effects and a camera turned on its side."
Alan Moore, "The Mark of Batman", introduction to Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, p. ii.
Moore doesn't mention Doctor Who, but cites criticism of other men - Tarzan, Alan Quartermain and James Bond - whose simplistic heroism no longer seemed quite to satisfy. He makes his own case for why that might be:
"The world about us has changed at and ever-accelerating pace. So have we. With the increase in media coverage and information technology, we see more of the world, comprehend its workings a little more clearly, and as a result our perception of ourselves and the society surrounding us has been modified. Consequently, we begin to make different demands upon the art and culture that is meant to reflect the constantly shifting landscape we find ourselves in. We demand new themes, new insights, new dramatic situations.
We demand new heroes."
Ibid., pp. i-ii.
I don't think that's right. Quartermain first appeared in 1885, so why should he suddenly be found wanting 100 years later? Yes, I know, there'd been criticism of figures like this before then, but in the mid 80s there seems to have been a major shift in how we related to heroes.

I wonder how much it was history: how much did Vietnam and Watergate create anxieties about the traditional hero? (I'm thinking less of Rambo here as The A-Team). And how much was there also a crisis going on in the grand ideological narratives of the 20th Century once the East started cosying up to the West? The James Bond films were well ahead of the game in dealing with detente, but for all Bond is recast and redefined with a harder edge in The Living Daylights (1987), there's a sense that real-world politics are leaving him behind...

But there's another possible reason. Note that all these heroes are white men. So is this discomfort with traditional heroism the result of decades of agitation about sexual and racial politics slowing filtering through into the mainstream?

Adam West isn't necessarily the public's fixed image of Batman. We're now used to - indeed, expect - a psychologically complex Bond and Batman and Doctor, tortured by self-doubt and age and the loss of loved ones.

And if that's the case, how much was Bond and the Doctor both losing their broad appeal in the late 1980s less the fault of particular production decisions as a sign of the times?

Secondly, hang on: Tegan, of all the companions, who spent three years in Doctor Who complaining, is the one to say it's stopped being fun?

Next episode: 1985

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