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Are we all deluded about Doctor Who?

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What is it about a blue police box, some dodgy prosthetics and a group of actors talking really fast that causes most of Britain to suspend its critical faculties? Ever since Doctor Who returned in 2005 I have been mystified as to why it is so regularly hailed as a touchstone of British broadcasting. Yet to question Doctor Who's pre-eminence is a heresy akin to slagging off Julie Walters.

The answer to one of television's most bizarre dogmas lies, I suspect, somewhere between nostalgia and cold, hard cash. Doctor Who was first broadcast when many people who now watch, make and write about television were children. It comes with ready-made rose-tinted glasses. Even more than this, there is an entire industry out there, from BBC Worldwide to Cybermen dollmakers to, yes, TV journalists, for whom Doctor Who is the gift that keeps on giving. It is in the interest of all of them that Doctor Who is seen as a production of distinction, rather than a bag of twaddle. You could call it enlightened self-censorship; you could call it wilful self-delusion.

All of which makes it quite difficult to sit down and assess, as the guns settle after a blanket marketing splurge, whether or not last weekend's first episode of a new series was any good. The first thing you saw was a digitised T-rex walking through Victorian London. And the first thing you thought, if you were honest, was, "I don't really believe that is a real T-rex or that the place it is walking through is really Victorian London." Neither looked convincing, probably because this is a serial on a tight budget so they never could - especially to viewers who, in recent years, have been spoilt by some astonishingly realistic CGI in Game of Thrones and accurate period dramas such as The Crimson Petal and the White.

Oh come on, say the Whovians, that's part of the fun. But it isn't - it's an insurmountable stumbling block, actually. Suspension of disbelief, the front door to any fiction, is surely vital to a story that contains so much you could disbelieve. The minute the whole thing looks fake, why would you give a fig for anything or anyone in it? In this instance I ceased to care about the half-faced robots who were harvesting human body parts in a bid for eternal life the minute I ceased to believe they were robots. It's why everyone else in the world is working so hard to make special effects look special. What I have never understood is how one of Doctor Who's obvious weaknesses has somehow become one of its selling points.

What of Peter Capaldi, who plays the newly regenerated Doctor? He looked like a very good actor continually surprised to find himself in a children's programme from which he knows he cannot escape for several years. Doctor Who, let's be clear, is a very good children's programme indeed. But because of this, there needs to be an adequate amount of exposition so that the kids can understand it. Hence the perennial presence of a sidekick to bombard the Doctor with questions. And with showrunner Steven Moffat at the reins, Doctor Who is stranded somewhere between complexity and simplicity. It employs some brilliant, grown-up writers who want to thrill and scare and make clever nods to past storylines and Whovian mythology. But ultimately you get a jarring contrast between the banality of the story and the ingenuity of the discourse. At times the dialogue is so pleased with itself that if it were a guest at a dinner party you would stick its face in the soup tureen.

To be fair, Doctor Who did have one joke worth stealing, a nod to the Scottish Referendum in which Capaldi started talking about how his eyebrows wanted to secede from his face and set up their own independent state. That was way more memorable than anything we got in Scotland Decides, the second Darling versus Salmond dust-up on Monday (and with Darling in full berserk badger mode there were plenty of eyebrow jokes there for the taking).

After so much hot air bursting like geysers, from really angry Scots, Hotel India, a three-part documentary about the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai was like an oasis of calm. Or as one punter put it, not quite understanding what he was saying, more like "a mirage".

GRAPHIC: A bag of twaddle? Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman star in Doctor Who

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  • APA 6th ed.: Wilson, Benji (2014-08-30). Are we all deluded about Doctor Who?. The Daily Telegraph p. 23.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Wilson, Benji. "Are we all deluded about Doctor Who?." The Daily Telegraph [add city] 2014-08-30, 23. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Wilson, Benji. "Are we all deluded about Doctor Who?." The Daily Telegraph, edition, sec., 2014-08-30
  • Turabian: Wilson, Benji. "Are we all deluded about Doctor Who?." The Daily Telegraph, 2014-08-30, section, 23 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Are we all deluded about Doctor Who? | url= | work=The Daily Telegraph | pages=23 | date=2014-08-30 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=14 July 2024 }}</ref>
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