"If I were some good-for-nothing lesbian, would you still be my friend?"
“Whether you’re a good-for-nothing lesbian or not doesn’t matter. Imagine ‘The Greatest Hits of Bobby Darin’ minus ‘Mack the Knife.’ That’s what my life would be like without you.
I swear, six episodes ago I was telling myself I was going to re-watch just the pilot of Arrested Development….
i hate when i lose things at school like my pencils and papers and life ambitions
I hope this is the kind of thing you guys would post, but I’ve been thinking about the portrayals of fans in-universe. With regards to Moffat, obviously, but in this case comparing his treatment to Russell T Davis’.
During a recent re-watch of some RTD Doctor Who, I saw Love and Monsters through a new perspective. It was never a favourite of mine at the time, but now I kind of enjoyed it. There’s a refreshingly different portrayal of in-universe fans compared to Moffat’s recent offerings. I will specifically look at his use of ‘fan theories’ in The Empty Hearse.
Love and Monsters presents us with LINDA (London Investigation ‘N’ Detective Agency), which is, to all intents and purposes, a Doctor Who fan club presented in-universe. They are brought together by a mutual interest in the Doctor and his general mysteriousness. It’s a bit of a rag-tag group, but over time they become closer friends, expand their interests and become just really happy together. Having grown up in the 90s with Doctor Who fan clubs very much like this – I do know of some who literally did meet in a basement somewhere to watch old episodes – there is a clear parallel being drawn.
What strikes me about this episode is that the group, their love of the subject, their enthusiasm for it, is never treated as a source of ridicule. It’s a bit silly, and they seem aware of that, but carry on anyway because they enjoy it. Their friendships are taken seriously, their losses are taken seriously, and everything about their group is treated as perfectly acceptable and indeed admirable.
Where it goes wrong, in the story, is when Victor Kennedy / The Abzorbaloff turns up and decides that their group needs to be more active in their stalking of the Doctor. The tone of the episode goes down, the music becomes more intimidating, and we really get the sense that this is not going to end well. They’re being asked to stalk people, to go to their homes, to dig through their personal belongings and generally be a bit creepy and obsessive beyond reasonable levels.
The main character, Elton, realises this and rebels against the creepiness of it all. He had a nice group of friends who have been torn apart, they’re no longer having fun, people have gone missing and he lost an opportunity to make friends with Jackie Tyler because of the creepiness of his ‘mission’.
When Elton finally meets the Doctor, he is a bit upset about the group’s activities, but ultimately he comforts him and consoles him about the death of his mother. The Doctor disapproved of the Abzorbaloff’s perversion of their group, it seems, but does not outwardly show any hostility towards Elton and the others’ other activities. He then restores Ursula’s essence – the most he can do – and hopes that is enough.
Perhaps you can criticise RTD of being over-reverent and fawning of fans, here. But to me it comes across as very loving and almost nostalgic. And Ursula’s fate is somewhat sketchy and problematic.
Now, let’s look at how Moffat treats ‘fans’ in-universe. Because it is, as far as I can tell, vastly different to how RTD treated them. Even in the mini-episode, Time Crash, where the Fifth Doctor meets the Tenth (spoilers!), we have a throw away line that represents a very different attitude.
DOCTOR 5: Oh. Oh, no.
DOCTOR 10: Oh yes.
DOCTOR 5: You’re. Oh, no.
DOCTOR 10: Here it comes. Yeah, I am.
DOCTOR 5: A fan.
DOCTOR: 10 Yeah. What?
DOCTOR 5: This is bad. Two minutes to Belgium.
DOCTOR 10: What do you mean, a fan? I’m not just a fan, I’m you.
DOCTOR 5: Okay, you’re my biggest fan. Look, its perfectly understandable. I go zooming around space and time, saving planets, fighting monsters and being well, let’s be honest, pretty sort of marvellous, so naturally now and then people notice me. Start up their little groups. That LINDA lot. Are you one of them? How did you get in here? Can’t have you lot knowing where I live.
In this short exchange we have a more negative attitude towards the fans. ‘That LINDA lot’. He thinks it’s a bad thing that someone would be a fan – while at the same time saying how marvellous he is.
While I’m sure there are other instances of fandom dismissal and ridicule, I’d like to focus on one from Sherlock. In The Empty Hearse we have Anderson’s group (The Empty Hearse), who are presented as almost entirely negative. Anderson himself is portrayed as borderline unstable, laughing and giggling as he tears his room apart. His fellow members don’t have any lines, other than a single, unnamed woman who presents a theory of Sherlock and Moriarty working together on the death-fake-fiasco. Her theory is dismissed and Anderson is presented as unlikable, and ultimately unworthy of Sherlock, who – it appears, though it could have been a hallucination – gives him an explanation, grudgingly and with an air of dismissivness.
Perhaps I am reading into this too much, but I have always found Moffat’s attitude towards the fandom a little bit troubling. When referencing the War-Doctor he said “The numbering system is just for you fans who make your little lists”. Although he claims to have his own lists, he does it in a self-deprecating manner. As if being an enthusiastic fan that cares about continuity and consistency is something a bit weird. Something to be ashamed of.
RTD wasn’t without his flaws, obviously, but I find this treatment of the fandom in-universe much more friendly and loving. While Moffat seems to be, in some sense, laughing at the very people who support his shows. Love and Monsters seems to say, “Aren’t fan clubs fun!!” while The Empty Hearse seems to say, “Aren’t fan clubs weird, haha, look at the weirdos!”
Then there is Osgood in the 50th Anniversary. She is presented in a somewhat stereotypical way - asthmatic, sporting the scarf wherever she goes, wearing thick glasses, and it is suggested that she has some deep seated jealousy of a ‘more attractive sister’. I am reminded somewhat of the 7th Doctor Story, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, which has a very stereotypical ‘nerd’ character presented as an obsessive who collects ALL THE THINGS about the psychic circus. Interestingly, the Doctor never chastises or berates him. Still, the portrayal is somewhat upsetting and in the DVD extras we get a sense that the producers were wanting to get away from the idea that all Doctor Who viewers were these nerdy-kids in glasses with pocket protectors. There was this over-reaction of ‘no, we’re not like that! See, we’ll make fun of those people!’ in a desperate attempt to not be associated with that image.
I get something of that impression from the way Moffat treats the fans and the show. He has turned the Doctor into a ‘laddish bloke’ who fancies all the girls and doesn’t care about personal boundaries and would probably drink larger down the pub while having a dick-measuring contest.
I shall end this with a somewhat encouraging quote from Mr Twelve, Peter Capaldi, and his more positive outlook on fans and fandom…
“…[the reason] that Doctor Who is still with us, the big reason is every single viewer who switched on to this show, at any age, at any time in its history and took it into their heart. Doctor Who belongs to all of us. Everyone makes Doctor Who.”