People like me are ruining Doctor Who. As my byline photo amply demonstrates, I’m not exactly its target audience but, since its revival in 2005, I’ve become a dedicated fan.
My favourite stories are the dark, taut, psychological dramas – Amy’s Choice, Human Nature, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink. At the weekend, however, I did something radical. I watched Doctor Who with a child: my eight-year-old nephew.
His vision of the perfect episode is, it turns out, rather different from mine. All he wants is a decent monster, preferably one that farts (the Slitheen) or shoots death rays (the Daleks).
It was a regular concern of the programme’s previous showrunner Russell T Davies that he had to write for two audiences: children (and the half-distracted parents they roped in to watch with them) and the hardcore adult fans, many of whom grew up with the show and kept watching even after they’d acquired jobs and mortgages and the right to decide their own bedtimes.
So who should he try to please? It was a tough one, especially as TV reviewers are generally not, as you might imagine, eight-year-olds, but rather the group that likes intricate plot lines and emotional character arcs more than flatulent aliens.
Davies chose a path that has been followed ever since: concentrate on the kid-friendly episodes but throw in a dark storyline every so often to appease the adult fans.
That kept me happy, although I did grump when there was a particularly silly tale, such as the baffling Poison Sky, in which malicious satnavs tried to take over the world and the Doctor miraculously solved it by burning the atmosphere, with no negative effects on the environment at all. (Shh! No one tell Al Gore.) But why shouldn’t Doctor Who be silly and splashy and fun? And isn’t adult fans’ obsession with making everything “dark” a bit,
well . . . selfish?
There’s an excellent piece on the online Escapist magazine by Bob Chipman that tackles this question in relation to superhero movies, which are now expected to be meaning-laden explorations of midlife crises (Iron Man), family guilt (Spider-man) or loss (Batman).
There was some surprise from reviewers that Thor, a film about a “space viking with a magic hammer”, was aimed at younger audiences. Chipman’s theory is that marketing men, mindful of the spending power of adult comic-book fans, have sought to soothe us with these gritty reboots. No, no, they say, liking cars that turn into robots isn’t embarrassing, because look! Here are some metaphors.
A similar problem afflicts Doctor Who. It’s wonderful of the writers to attempt to keep moaning old twentysomethings happy, but they shouldn’t have to – and not at the expense of excited kids who just want some explosions instead of another Shakespearean actor looking doleful.
Over the past few years, there has been no shortage of sci-fi and fantasy for adults: Star Trek, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica – and HBO has just launched a new series, Game of Thrones. So, come on, grown-ups; let’s leave kids’ shows to the kids.
You can find Helen on Twitter: @helenlewis