‘Doctor Who’ thing of the day: Stephen Fry disses ‘Doctor Who,’ Steven Moffat shoots back
This is a month old, but still worth getting to. In mid June, Stephen Fry delivered an address on the state of British television at a BAFTA event; the full text of Fry’s address is here, and it is a fascinating read. In it, he reminisces about the TV of his childhood — “When I was seven, Doctor Who started,” and lists other classic golden age series of British TV — but then he goes on to say:
It’s fun to list all these programmes but is it perhaps pointless? This was then. But this is now. Those programmes meant everything to me because of the age I was perhaps, and because television was inventing itself in front of my very eyes. The twenty-three and twenty-four million plus who tuned into Eric and Ernie’s Christmas shows can never be assembled together to watch a television programme again. Maybe if England makes it to the finals of the World Cup, something close can be achieved but television as the nation’s fireplace, the hearth and the heart of the country, the focus of our communal cultural identity, that television is surely dead. It seems unlikely ever to return. Instead of being the nation’s fireplace, TV is closer to being the nation’s central heating. It’s conveniently on in every room, it’s less discernible, less of a focus, more of an ambient atmosphere.
So, okay. Television has changed. Society has changed. TV will likely never again be the thing that brings a nation together again all at the same time doing the same thing: watching something as it is broadcast on television. (This is true of the United States, too, and probably true of every other postindustrial nation, too.)
But then, after the official address, Fry offered a few other comments (via Digital Spy):
I would say infantilism’s the problem. The number of times I turn on the television and I think, ‘Gosh, children’s television’s gone on, that’s a really good art documentary… Oh my God, it’s nine o’clock in the evening. This is for grown ups?’ It’s just shocking.
The only drama the BBC will boast about are Merlin and Doctor Who, which are fine but they’re children’s programs. They’re not for adults. And they’re very good children’s programs, don’t get me wrong, they’re wonderfully written… but they’re not for adults.
They are like a chicken nugget. Every now and again we all like it. Every now and again. But if you are an adult you want something surprising, savoury, sharp, unusual, cosmopolitan, alien, challenging, complex, ambiguous, possibly even slightly disturbing and wrong.
I agree with the last bit: I want entertainment that is surprising, savoury, sharp, unusual, cosmopolitan, alien, challenging, complex, ambiguous, possibly even slightly disturbing and wrong. In fact, I often find that in Doctor Who. Not only in Doctor Who, but that a “children’s show” can work on a level that satisfies demanding adult viewers — like me, if not Fry as well — that must be considered something of an amazement.
Here’s a thing, too. If Fry laments the end of touchstone television, TV that is the nation’s fireplace, he should embrace Doctor Who, because that show still works on that level, whether it’s intended for children or not. This past season, Matt Smith’s first, garnered no less than six and a half million viewers and up to almost 11 million viewers per episode. Eleven million is more than 18 percent of the total U.K. population. A comparable rating in the U.S. would require that something like 54 million people be watching. Nothing gets ratings like that in the U.S. The Super Bowl, maybe. Not much else, and certainly not on a regular basis.
Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat’s reaction to Fry’s comments reflect that fact:
(also via Digital Spy):
Doctor Who‘s not for adults? I can count some here! Let’s be fair, Stephen Fry’s one of the biggest Doctor Who fans in the world, he was just trying to sound grown up.
Doctor Who was designed specifically to be a family program. That’s what it’s for. It’s the junction between the children’s programs and the adults’ programs. It’s the one that everybody sits and watches.
It’s a rather brilliant idea. Why don’t they make a television program that everybody wants to watch? We should do that more often. It surprised me that it took me until I was 47 to be working on a show like that.
The comparison with chicken nuggets? This is very, very high-end, very, very high-quality show. It has absolutely no comparison with junk food at all and Stephen knows it. That’s Twitter he’s thinking about! Stephen loves Doctor Who so don’t worry about it.
Maybe Moffat should invite Fry to write an episode of Doctor Who. I bet it would be fantastic.
(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)
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