What's So Special About Doctor Who?

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There are lots of things we Brits do rather well. Like weather chat, self–loathing and snooker. But science fiction shows? Not so much. There's something lamentably juvenile and unadventurous about our back catalogue. Just look at our miserably safe Doctor Who. My colleagues disagree, but I've never understood the appeal.

It first aired around the time people thought robots were about to put dusters and toilet brushes out of business. And when baby boomers weren't dreaming of metal maids, they were having nightmares about nuclear obliteration. So a programme about a regenerating, daft Time Lord with reassuringly English sensibilities and a magic screwdriver made sense. The Doctor was a fantasy hero who fitted in well with the thinking back then. Not now.

When the BBC decided to revive Doctor Who it seemed like they might do more with it. Of course, they pimped the visual effects, hired some lovely actors and slicked the script. But the atmosphere is a flat, tired ode to a concept that shrivelled in the late 80s, for good reason.

Good American sci-fi (Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse and Star Trek, etc) has proved the genre can deliver on parable and intricate plotting. In comparison Doctor Who's family fest feels like a silly, kiddie apology. That's not to say that the resurrected version shouldn't have paid tribute to the original's whimsy, just that it could have done so much more besides.

This side of the Pond, programme makers don't believe science fiction can be made substantial (though, interestingly, the opposite is true of our authors. Think of the futuristic parables spun by JG Ballard and Will Self). We're even slightly embarrassed by it, so everything we do ends up painstakingly, knowingly naïve and twee. Take the Daleks, supposedly the most evil beings in the universe. Even with their multicolour makeover (as premiered in the Winston Churchill episode) they look about as threatening as blind kittens.

Yes, we get it; as a kid you used to hide behind the sofa when the Daleks came on screen. But children don't know any better, and you're all grown up now. Really, an enemy with an egg-whisk attachment and a Vocoder--though it might make your brain's nostalgia lobe prickle--should not have you using upholstery as a shield.

From what we've seen of the newest Who starring sweet, bouncy Matt Smith, it's still doing nothing exciting. Several hours into an iPlayer research mission I've had enough. Snappy dialogue can only take you so far and it doesn't make up for the fact that Doctor Who is just goodies versus baddies with nothing in between. If that was enough, why has no one thought to put Scooby Doo on prime time?

Is it just me? Does anyone else think Doctor Who's overrated?

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