There's something that has annoyed me for a while about fandom and I've struggled to work out what it is. At least, I've struggled to understand exactly what it is, until tonight. It's this: the smugness of a certain aspect of fandom that's trying to prove how clever and cool it is.
As fandom has grown up it's assumed a kind of self-satisfied middle-age that chooses to show its superiority to other fans using a white-hot scorn that's directed at people who don't like the way that the new series of Doctor Who has embraced sexuality, self-referential mythos, soapy character arcs and a heavy dose of emotional manipulation.
The way this tends to be expressed is to suggest that the kind of people who dislike this modern form of storytelling in Doctor Who and other genre stuff are probably emotional cripples or sexual inadequates who take themselves far too seriously.
This latter suggestion is particularly prevalent in fandom wars and it's the one I find most interesting. While there are undoubtedly plenty of joyless virgins in genre fandom, I think it says a lot more about the accuser than the accusee: you are joyless and haven't had much sex - I look down on you because I am full of joy and have lots of sex. Of course, thanks to the McGann movie, we all know what Freud might say about this.
I've seen this primarily in Doctor Who fandom, as it's the only sort of fan circle I'm really part of (I've yet to locate a Blake's 7 fan circle) but it's been quite noticeable on social media recently in discussions over Sherlock. While I'm not the greatest fan of this latest vehicle for Moffat and Gatiss to indulge their childhood fantasies, I've appreciated the slickness and general wit of the reimagined series. However I thought the cop-out of The Empty Hearse and eye-watering smugness of The Sign Of Three were very weak and see the series echoing Doctor Who's collapse into its own mythos and clever-clever post-modernism.
On Twitter the latest episode saw a polarised reaction and one of Smug Fan's most identifying – and annoying – traits: A kind of glee at the fact that other fans did not enjoy the episode. Here's one example:
Wriggling with delight at how annoyed the Internet will be at this week's Sherlock.
To me this kind of statement is thick with a horrible superiority; implications and inferences that judge one person in relation to another. Let's be honest here, if we're tweeting our reactions to Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes we simply ain't that cool – and the implication of a certain hierarchy in science-fiction fandom is as funny as it's tragic.
There's another aspect to this. The loudest voices in this scorn-pouring are frequently professional fans – the kind who write stuff for Big Finish or even the new series – lording it up over the rest of us mere mortals by sucking up horrifically to Moffat and co and telling everyone else that they're not allowed opinions if they happen to conflict with their own. This is, in many ways, understandable even if it makes for one of the least edifying sights on the internet.
Tonight's Sherlock was frequently very funny; plots are skillfully woven together and its impeccably cast and directed with real verve and imagination. But rather like Doctor Who (lead character = lonely, tragic, unreachable, impossible hero; unrequited love; pleased with himself; winks at camera) it's in real danger of disappearing up its own fundament.
Most of the stuff I object to most in Doctor Who and Sherlock can be summed up with 'look at us; aren't we clever'? Tonight the latter spent 90 minutes giving its two main characters a metaphorical handjob while wearing a deerstalker. The Whoification of Sherlock was complete – on television and online.
Not much to say about this. It was OK. But is stuff like Cold War really significantly better than an episode virtually anyone with a modicum of talent could manage? Gatiss is very talented, but you wouldn't really know it from the majority of his Doctor Who work, either on television or novels.
The fact that Cold War has been heralded with comments acclaiming Gatiss' best ever work for Who say it all. For me, The Unquiet Dead is far and away his best effort. It's eerie, funny, frightening and probably the best example of the 'celebrity historicals' if you don't count Vincent And The Doctor.
Cold War was a decent-enough runabout with sufficient cribs from superior material to see it through. It also managed to inject some threat into the show, which has been sorely lacking of late. A few directorial flourishes and some deaths that are played for scares, rather than mawk, mean that Cold War actually came close to remembering that Doctor Who is frequently at its best - and certainly working best for kids - when it's frightening.
That Moffat has clearly forgotten this, in his mission to resolve everything bloody thing in Doctor Who with the power of love, has been the biggest problem in his run of as showrunner.
Ultimately Cold War merely has the seeds of a good story, before abandoning it in favour of another talky ending that doesn't convince and, inevitably, we have to have a load of bumph about how the Ice Warriors are 'noble and ancient' and all that jazz.
While seeing David Warner in action was nice too, it was a shame he was saddled with a ridiculous gimmick that was an attempted shortcut to 'characterisation'. In a wholly unbelievably spot of crass affectation, Warner's character loved New Romatic music and managed to crowbar in some shite references to his love of Ultravox and Duran Duran into moments that would have led to his sectioning and removal to a northern gulag. And quite right too.
The moment Warner's character appears to go mad and insist on knowing what happens in the future, only to reveal that he simply wants to know when Ultravox split up, is one of the most ineptly judged moments I've ever seen on television.
Elsewhere the episode sees some of the worst CGI seen in the rejuvenated Doctor Who and some plot clunkers - why wear armour if you're more of a threat out of it, can exist easily outside of it and break free at will? What's more, it's become apparent over Season 7 that Matt Smith has simply lost his character.
Whereas Smith seemed to ride a fine line between NuWho-patented wackiness that seems to pass for Doctorish eccentricity these days and some more considered moments, he's slipped almost totally into parody now, his Eleventh Doctor now pitched somewhere between fictional character, the odd public persona that's rolled out when he's talking to kids or appearing on Children In Need and, basically, Matt Smith. Smith is constantly braking kitschy cathphrases in the same way that Tennant did - all Come On Big Boys! and Hello Yous! What's more he's started to do it in a phony cockernee accent, just like Tennant did.
It robs the series of any dramatic tension as it's almost functioning on some sort of meta level these days. The Doctor, when he's not waving his Sonic
Cock Screwdriver around, always seems to know that the camera is on him – why else would he keep burbling on about the show's title? – and there's always an air of silliness whenever the Doctor's on-screen that sucks all dramatic tension out of the action.
This season has seen the show appear to be extremely pleased with itself – winks to the camera, storytelling that seems to be veering towards meta-fiction and an inclination to nonsensical conclusions that appear somewhere between laziness and smugness. People might burble on about hyper-compressed storytelling, but really I suspect the reality is that deadlines and block are the reason behind such hypercompressing rather than anything more elaborate.
In Cold War, Warner's characterisation in Cold War was straight out of that playbook, but at least some behind-the-sofa moments put the show back in touch with one of its defining traits.
The fact that Gatiss' latest - the Gatisst? - was welcomed with such relief does not, to me, indicate that it was particularly good. It shows up the paucity of quality, imagination and coherent storytelling that has defined Doctor Who since the end of Season 5. Cold War? Cold comfort.
I'm glad they kept the Ice Warrior design largely intact, following the disasters of the redesigned Daleks, Cybermen and Silurians.
Some moments that attempted to be eerie and dramatic were welcome. The tentacles-around-the-head was particularly effective.
Cold War has some of the worst CGI I've seen on television in recent years, up to the standard of those Sci-Fy channel Mega-Piranha Versus Giant Beaver-style films.
David Warner had some nice moments but his character was a total fiction; utterly unbelievable even within the confines of the Doctor Who universe. When suspension of disbelief is impossible it's hard to invest anything in the series.
Matt Smith has been on a downward curve for a while. I think he's a good actor but, like Tennant, his Doctor has become a parody of itself.
Clara doesn't always convince here - her final speech just doesn't ring true. So far she's a combination of classic Moffat tropes. Sassy, wise-cracking, flirtatious, fast-talking. Thus far there's not much flesh on the bones, despite what we're constantly told by the narrative.
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