Today’s question: what makes a geek a geek?
More to the point: is deconstructing geekery the ultimate anti-geek act. Or is it a step beyond. The badge of the uber-geek.
It all started with a moan by a certain legal blogger and gay rights’ activist (yes, Chris, I’m talking about you) who, when he’s not tweeting about the law and gay rights takes refuge in TV trivia. That’s televisual, in case, given the pedigree of this blog, anyone got the wrong idea. And this week, he’;s definitely unhappy with Doctor Who.
Not that he can put a finger on it: just that something isn’t right.
I guess my own fairly simplistyic answer is Russell T Davies, the guy who’s placed his unmistakeable stamp all over recent incarnations of the Doctor, the cannon and…geekery. They are, of course, connected.
There’s also character and silly theories about the nature of time, which i’ll get on to.
The wizardly precedent
Think Gandalf. If your first taste of Tolkien was “The Hobbitt”, Gandalf is a somewhat daffy wizard, with a fair bit in common with the earliest Dr Who. He’s an English eccentric, with plenty of commonsense hidden behind an eccentric beard and that’s about that. He muddles through and we love him all the more for that.
Now fast forward to Lord of the Rings – which is where the story also turns into geek territory. Following a seriously christ-like re-incarnation, Gandalf, now “the White” has hidden powers. At the gates of Gondor, he rides out, meekly, to confront one of the most powerful dark wizards in existence and, Petain-esque, informs him he “shall not pass”.
And then, as though to back-justify this newfound, all-powerful Gandalf, Tolkien inserts various clues here, there and everywhere around his texts to prove that Gandalf always was this heavy-hitting magical type. Who held the third elven ring? Why, Gandalf, naturally…
LOTR geeks can even tell you what stone it carried…
Firing up the canon
But back to the Doctor… another quintessential English eccentric…at least as far as those old enough to have tuned in back in 1963 will remember. It makes little difference whether your favourite was Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker.
He was a clever, funny little man: an outsider, pitched always against the big battalions. If you grew up in the 70’s, your choice was ever the English loner, as represented by Dr Who…or US imperialism, in the shape of Star Trek.
And then the BBC canned the series. The end, or so many thought: and as a result, fans started writing not just occasional stories, but a back-story and, even worse, a Whoniversal mythology.
This, together with the various TV episodes to date, is known as the canon… and whilst Russell T has gone out of his way to state the novels aren’t NECESSARILY copnsistent with the new series, the whole Who industry has had the effect of ratcheting up the status of the Doctor.
No longer some eccentric trickster, on the run with a stolen Tardis. Nah! The Doctor has slowly been promoted to the most dangerous – and (in)famous – person in the universe. Destroyer of worlds, quite literally. For, both in canon and TV terms, he is now allegedly the author of the downfall of both Gallifrey and the entirety of the Daleks. Well, apart from the odd few squadrons who seem to have slipped away from the final battle with the sole purpose of preserving continuity for the oldest and once most popular of his adversaries.
The tragedy of Who
That, i think, is at the heart of the rot: his new status makes it that much harder to sympathise with the character: in the end, the writers have just about succeeded in maintaining sympathy through the trick of endowing him with the most enormous and increasingly unattractive world-weariness.
Oh. He still bounces: but he is increasingly being turned into a tragic figure.
And that is probably, also, why the series producers think it also necessary to run plots across ever longer, ever more complex arcs.
So that’s it in a nutshell. The Doctor has suffered the fate of almost every super-hero that ever lived, and has undergone real and reputational inflation. That’s the fault of back story and Russell T – and it makes him increasingly less easy to like.
Listening to him agonise the first time over the downfall of his planet is… interesting. Turning it into a major plank of his character is tedious.
Meanwhile, details matter…
And meanwhile, there is the small matter of some small but important details. One that keeps niggling, ever since the Beeb brought Dr Who back, is the fate of his (cloned) daughter. Given the impact that a single Gallifreyan has on the universe, it is just too implausible that the last you see of her is shooting starward, with not a single mention of her thereafter. No. Silly.
And the biggest flaw of all? We-ell: if the Doctor’s death is one of the ultimate fixed points in time…so big and fixed an event that River Song is thenceforth decreed the worst villain of all time, and a variety of incompetent time travelling executioners set out in the vain hope of capturing and punishing her… then it is utterly incomprehensible that the Dr himself is not aware of that date…
Is this a geek piece? I have an awful feeling it probably is.
Drat! Outed at last.