21 April

I thought that the Sarah-Jane thing was very sweet and very well done. I liked the characters from the Sarah-Jane Adventures enough to have been sad that we never got an official final episode. I suppose the kids weren’t strong enough actors to carry a series by themselves: rumour has it that the Beeb kicked around the idea of doing The Jo Grant Adventures but Katy Manning wasn’t up for it. The basic structure — some pleasant-seeming guy I’ve never heard of reading out a story, with monologues by the different characters recorded on mobile phones and intercut with the narrative — worked surprisingly well. Nine years on, the kids are still looking quite kid-like, I think because the actors were always a lot older than their characters. The adults are looking increasingly mummified.

Sentimentality is not just being sad, but being sad about being sad. Fans are not merely in to something, but in to being in to it. So frankly, sentimental fans are some of the worst things in the world, and the minisode is incredibly fannish and incredibly sentimental. It pretty much showed up everything that was good about Russell T Davies and everything that was incredibly irritating about him. And it rubbed our nose in the fact that the Doctor Who of 2010 already feels like something from a different world.

I liked the fact that Sarah-Jane’s funeral was gate crashed by an alien invasion which is defeated between paragraphs. It reminds me a little of some contemporary superhero comics in which the battle with the supervillain occurs in the background or as an interruption to the political or human story which we are supposed to be interested in. (Remember how Steve Gerber used to drop entirely pointless supervillains into Howard the Duck because Marvel insisted on them?) But in a way that’s what Doctor Who became — an exercise in auto-erotic weeping with a monster or two to keep the fans happy. I liked the Sarah-Jane Adventures because they felt more like Doctor Who: exciting stories which made sense, but with a little bit of well-done character stuff as well.

There have always been queer-readings of texts. Put another way, some people have always been inclined to look at a pair of fictional characters and say “I wonder if they are an item?” If gay characters didn’t exist — and they hardly ever did — it was necessary to invent them. Some of the earliest fan fiction is based on the premise that Mr Spock and Captain Kirk are more than just good friends. (Kirk specifically denied this rumour in the novelisation of the first movie.) I understand that if they had done another series of the Sarah Jane Adventures, there was going to be a sub plot about Luke Smith coming out. (“Actually it’s a boyfriend” / “Well, just so long as it's not a slitheen.”)

But I do have a problem with using officialized fan-fiction, logo, theme music and all, to inscribe these readings into existing texts. Nyssa and Tegan were never portrayed as a couple; but then neither were Ian and Barbara or Ben and Polly or Jamie and Zoe. Neither was anybody. The fact that they weren’t is precisely what makes it fun to imagine that they were. We are free to interpret the old texts in a number of ways. Davies famously claimed that the relative sexlessness of 1970s children’s television was a reading imposed on Doctor Who in retrospect by fans. He’s now trying to impose his own, singular reading on these open texts. Everyone in the TARDIS was canonically doing it with everyone else all the time.

One of the central problems with Russell T Davies’ Doctor Who was the absurd fetishisation of the Doctor: and this has been carried over into an equally absurd fetishisation of Sarah-Jane.

Sarah-Jane was nice. Sarah-Jane was sensible. Sarah-Jane was clever. Sarah-Jane was brave. Sarah-Jane was, incidentally, almost always referred to simply as Sarah. But Sarah-Jane was ordinary. That was the point of her. That was the point of all of the companions: they were the stand-ins for us viewers. They were the normal being stuck in fantastic situations. But Russell T Davies is working with a conceit — brought in as a parenthesis at the end of the Death of the Doctor — that everyone who has been touched by the Doctor goes on to live Absolutely Amazing Lives; and that everyone who has been touched by someone who has been touched by the Doctor becomes Absolutely Amazing by association.

I am skeptical about magic-feather stories, about the idea that You Can Do Anything If You Try. There is a queasy worship of success — and of easy success — underlying this story. Most people are not addressing comic book conventions and having their characters turned into movies by the time they are 26. But it doesn’t follow that all they are is cheeky lads drawing daft pictures in notebooks. If everyone Sarah-Jane touches turns to gold, then those of us who never met Sarah-Jane have probably got to carry on with our leaden lives. Genius is all magic and inspiration and we don’t talk about the other 99%.

There are two mistakes we can make about nostalgia. One is to think that the films I loved when I was twelve are the best films, and that young people today are too stupid and too philistine to recognise their greatness. The other is to say that my notion that Star Wars is an important and influential film must necessarily be wrong because I first saw it when I was twelve. The baby-boomers do indeed go on and on about 1960s pop music; but 1960s pop music really was pretty darn good.

Tom Baker was a great Doctor. Sarah-Jane was a great companion. There have been a very small number of classic TARDIS pairings; Doctors who can’t really be thought of apart from their companions. The Doctor and Jamie. The Doctor and Jo. The Doctor and Rose. And definitely the Doctor and Sarah.

So. It turns out apparently that Sarah is so definitely the best Doctor Who companion that all the other Doctor Who companions turn up to pay their respects at her funeral. The Doctor Who universe is basically like a great big Doctor Who convention. Or more like a Doctor Who exhibition: like Disneyland. Dorothy — Ace — tells us that Sarah was the Doctors mostest favouritism companion in all the universe ever and ever. And we are left with the idea that that Sarah never died: that the Doctor came and took her away and they are still travelling in Time and Space. (Which Doctor, incidentally? Doctor Tom? Or Doctor Jodie? Or doesn't it matter? I suppose this is always the question to ask about life-after-death.)

People might ask you what you did in lockdown. I wrote some articles on my blog and watched some Netflix and read some big thick books I hadn’t previously got around to. You finished painting your Warhammer models and played a lot of Animal Crossing. But Russell T Davies — Russell T Davies made it canonically true that his favourite era of Doctor Who is the best era of Doctor Who.

Nice little webisode. I enjoyed it very much.


Mike Taylor said...

Written before having read your comments ...

I just watched this, and found it utterly rancid. A parade of nothing but sentimentality with no actual sentiment (and no plot) — like the worst parts of the 10th Doctor's Farewell Tour. And all underlaid by the most vacuously drivelling music. Ugh.

Now to read your review ...

Mike Taylor said...

Well. I am glad you enjoyed it.