Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Squee Doctors

Doctor Who
Time Crash
2007 Children In Need Special

It's Pudsey Time!

Doctor Who fans are lucky.  Where other Children In Need Specials are just actors mucking about for a good cause (not that there is anything wrong with that), we get fully-fledged mini-episodes.  The last one was downright seminal: six minutes of pure character-development for a new Doctor.  How awesome is that?  And this one features a past Doctor!  I appreciate it.  Really, I do.  But... well, it's still not very good.

Bit like the Fifth Doctor in general.
Now, it's great to see Peter Davison again, and I say that as someone who never really liked the Fifth Doctor.  Coming right after the googly-eyed Time Lord lunacy of Tom Baker, he was generally rather wet and ineffectual; the only Doctor, so far as I am aware, to sit quietly in a prison cell hoping somebody else would come and rescue him.  Nonetheless, Peter Davison had it in him – if he'd played the Doctor the way he played Albert Campion, he'd be in my top three – and he's just got better with age.  He's reassuringly wonderful here.

And like last time, with only seven or eight minutes to play with there isn't time to screw up what little plot we've got.  Two TARDISes collide, they'll explode any minute now, so the Doctors work together to separate them.  Easy peasy.  (Timey squeezey?)

The problem is the tone.  Is this a proper mini-episode, like the last one, or is it actors mucking about for a good cause?  Again, nothing wrong with the latter, but there is if you're trying to go for the former.  There's loads of dodgy fourth-wall jokes crammed in here, like the TARDIS's desktop theme and the Master's beard, but having David Tennant tell Peter Davison that "You were my Doctor" brings the fourth wall crashing down faster than William Hartnell turning to the camera and wishing us all a Merry Christmas.  (It may amuse you to know that this actually happened.)

What does it mean, one Doctor saying "You were my Doctor"?  Nothing: it's just the writer, and possibly the actor as well, voicing his fan preference.  It takes something momentous – a Classic Doctor – and uses it just for a bit of fan-service.  Is that really all they're good for?

Okay, Peter Davison also provides a bit of context for David Tennant's Doctor, which is helpful for younger viewers: they both wear trainers and "brainy specs", they're both young and full of vim, and they both say "Wibbly wobbly, timey wimey" – apparently.  (They also share a habit of asking people to do things and then being ignored, which possibly explains why Five is Ten's favourite.)  Sadly, all this does is reduce both Doctors to a gimmicky little list.  On the one hand it fires a well-deserved shot at Doctor #10 for jabbering like an idiot, but on the other hand it takes the piss out of how Doctor #5 didn't have a sonic screwdriver to get him out of every situation.  (Let's not dwell on why the writers got rid of it, eh?  You wouldn't want viewers to notice that it's an even bigger contrivance in the modern series.)

Time Crash is all for a good cause, obviously, but despite being less than eight minutes long it's still hit and miss.  If Peter Davison was your Doctor, perhaps it works.  But for me, it's neither one thing nor the other, and it takes Doctor Who an awkward step closer to the empty nostalgia and silliness of Dimensions In Time.  And in my book, that's a wibbly wobbly timey crime.