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Monday, 26 June 2006 - Reviewed by Andrew Haglington

So the dumbing down of Dr. Who continues...

After being part of the campaign to bring back Dr.Who for many years and thoroughly enjoying the novels during the intervening years, especially the ones published by Virgin (when the BBC were no longer interested in having anything to do with Dr.Who), I am sad to say I haven't even saved a recording of the last seven episodes of the new series, as I know I won't want to watch these episodes again.

Series two. Overall, despite the werewolf - just not enough bite. Perhaps they are missing the Daleks, who will surely return for some much needed sense of genuine menace in series three.

As for the most recent offering Fear Her… Ooooh! The scary badly drawn scribbles of a little girl sitting in her bedroom are coming to get me - I'd better hide behind the sofa with terrifying monsters like that! Or maybe just reach for a rubber…

Turn the page Russell T Davies! Time to move on from all this smug silliness and generally being too concerned with being a comedian, and get back to some proper classic Dr.Who and some interesting, absorbing, dramatic, and intelligent writing.

Fear Her is by no means a classic episode of Dr.Who, and like The Idiot’s Lantern and Love & Monsters, it’s certainly not going to be remembered for the right reasons. Despite the title, there was little to fear in this uninteresting story set in a suburban London street of the near future.

And oh… Not London again!! London, London, London, London… What is this obsession with London? Why does our favourite Timelord choose to visit London over and again? And not even the most interesting bits of London! Suburbs. Council estates. Shopping centres. And so on… In the end, I have begun to understand the Tardis can travel anywhere - so long as it is in London!

If it has to be a story set in England on Earth, couldn’t it be Sheffield or Birmingham or Bristol or Plymouth just for once? If it’s just an ordinary street, then why not let it be a city other than London for crying out loud!

And if they really do have to visit London, lets have really scary slimy monsters in the dark recesses of the Underground, or lots of classic nasty Daleks coming up out of the Thames!

Was I the only one to cringe when Fear Her turned out to be yet another story featuring London with the forthcoming Olympics? I imagine not. The hype and propaganda surrounding the Olympics will be bad enough in five or six years time - we hardly need it to start now - so this felt a bit like telly ads promoting Christmas shopping in August. Too early for this. Plus, the story was just not good enough. Kids are disappearing. An alien has taken over a little girl in a suburban street. Not much happens really. Altogether, very much done on the cheap.

The groan of it being London again, and there being nothing much to ‘fear’ apart from an alien petal in a little girl, and that daft ending with the Doctor carrying the Olympic torch were very much off kilter and I’m guessing totally missed the mark with most fans.

I’m even starting to go off Billie Piper - instead of being so impressed with her in the last series, I’m finding the new ‘clever dick’ Rose increasingly irritating.

But it’s this dumbing down of the new series and aiming so much of it at an audience of young children that has really took the polish off the show’s return to our screens. As it turned out, The Christmas Invasion was an omen of what was to come, but strangely enough New Earth, Tooth and Claw, School Reunion, and The Girl in the Fireplace were all excellent and thoroughly enjoyable...

New Earth had it’s moments, a clever premise, and some excellent action shots in the lift shafts, and for it once it wasn’t set in London or even on this planet, which was a relief.

Tooth and Claw was clever, with the Matrix style fighting monks and the combination of Queen Victoria and the beast, and being set in Scotland in a remote country house did give it something extra.

School Reunion was superb. I thought the reappearance of Sarah Jane and K9 worked really well, and the whole thing was handled sensitively - and it enhanced the Dr.Who-ness of the series. My personal favourite episode, and I’d love to see more coming across the best of the old characters in future stories - after all, there are lots and lots to choose from! We might even find out what happened to Ace and some of the others…

The Girl in the Fireplace was also a classic, which I really enjoyed. Really well done, with history and space elements combined as it should be, and a real charm and elegance to the writing. Magical. Very well thought out and handled with delicacy and care. Perfect Dr.Who. And I loved the horse crashing through the mirror - which was shamelessly stolen from the cover of the 1987 Stephen Donaldson paperback, The Mirror of Her Dreams.

So after a dodgy start with a killer Christmas Tree, Series Two of the new adventures of the Doctor was surging ahead and at this stage compulsive viewing…

Of course, it all went wrong with the appallingly dreadful new version of the Cybermen with all those endlessly long lingering shots of marching steel boots - as if we couldn’t guess what they were going to look like after all the previews and press releases. The entire history of the Cybermen, with Mondas and the weakness of gold was completely forgotten about. While the poor casting of a lacklustre ‘Trigger’ from Fools & Horses was just not believable. And why mess with the classic story of the Cybermen - somehow, this just didn’t feel right or appropriate. Especially as a proper Cyber head from the old classic series was featured in the Chris Eccleston episode Dalek in Van Statten’s museum.

I don’t think the incredibly disappointing new design for the characters helped at all - the new Cybermen look more like something off a children’s TV show than credible villains. Bitterly disappointing to dumb down one of the best Dr.Who baddies to this. From start to finish, Russell T Davies just got the Cybermen altogether wrong, and his credibility as the saviour of Dr.Who ended at that point.

Unfortunately, the mistakes in series two did not end there.

To my mind, The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances were by far the best episodes of series one, and fantastic Dr.Who, taking the whole show to a new level. Just what Dr.Who on TV should be. Startling special effects, good acting, an interesting look into an aspect of history that was hitherto not really explored, the excellent addition of Captain Jack, and the only truly frightening behind the sofa script since Dr.Who returned.

So I can understand the writers looking at following this up with more of a similar vein. Yet The Idiot’s Lantern seemed more like an attempt to secure future funding from the BBC establishment, and just too self-indulgent and dull for it’s own good - and oh dear, yes, London, yet again.

While Rose and the Doctor are getting more and more flirty and silly all the time. Now don’t get me wrong, Billie Piper is a very attractive young woman, but how much of the meagre 45 minutes screen time was wasted in showing off her 1950’s rock& roll outfit from the BBC wardrobe department?

The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit were better and almost rescued the decline, in a story much more like the best of classic Dr.Who, off world with a colony in danger from an unknown foe. After all, there is nothing wrong with doing more of what has worked before, keeping it simple and delivering what the public want.

Then Love & Monsters, and now Fear Her… Oh, dear!

Can someone please point out to the powers that Beeb, that Dr. Who is not and never was a children's programme!

The key audience is not under 10 years old!

I fear if things are allowed to deteriorate any further, then the next series will no doubt see an episode about a Dr.Who fan club vs. a Mr. Blobby alien, written by a 10 year old Blue Peter viewer as part of a CBBC competition to see who can write something more frightening than an episode of Tellytubbies. In fact, you can find more charm and more interesting stories on Postman Pat than in recent Dr.Who!

Please… Dr. Who should be based on the classic episodes of drama - aimed at intelligent adults - not based on episodes that made viewers cringe featuring giant Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts monsters and South Wales Hi Di Hi holiday camps featuring Bonnie Langford having a tantrum. Isn't this what lost viewers and got the old series cancelled in the first place?

If every episode in the Sylvestor McCoy era had been like the gripping Wolves of Fenric or the classic scene with Daleks shooting at a baseball bat wielding Ace as she smashes through the glass window, then I don't think Dr. Who would ever had been cancelled in the first place.

And now we have Peter Kay in a green rubber suit in Love & Monsters commenting that "It tastes like chicken"? Ridiculous! Almost as bad as the ludicrous ‘Keystone Cops’ running left and right through doorways in the opening sequence! How could they do this to our show? You have to suspect that David Tennant and Billie Piper were too ashamed to be in this episode any more than absolutely necessary!

If Blue Peter want to produce a TV show, let them have a competition to influence an episode of Eastenders! Maybe one about the London Olympics coming up soon!

I’m pretty sure that Jon Pertwee would not be at all happy with the way things are going. And while I like David Tennant as an actor, I feel sorry for him being made to portray the character in such a childishly silly and falsely forced gung-ho manner. We can only hope that a more serious Doctor will emerge after Rose is killed off… So fingers crossed!

So now we have two more weeks of long lingering cyber boots stomping around, while they say, “We are going to get you!” without actually getting anyone, and more long-lingering shots of Billie Piper’s exit from the show… But maybe then, next year, if they haven’t completely lost the audience, we can get back to some proper serious Dr.Who.

If the BBC seriously want to do silly childish dumbed-down Dr. Who for kids, why not simply put together a spin off series for the under tens? They could call it ‘Teachwood’ and set it in a school (in London of course) where the teachers have been taken over by aliens, or feature a story about a young child making people she draws disappear and almost spoiling a sporting event… “By Eck!” as the Doctor from a planet with a north would have said, now that would make a fine series of Dr.Who.

FILTER: - Television - Series 2/28 - Tenth Doctor