Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

Radio Free Skaro #68 – Keeping fans at arm’s length since 2006


The BBC threw us a nice softball by releasing a “cinema-exclusive” season 4 trailer on February 1st, which someone promptly uploaded to Youtube. The RFS crew took much delight in analyzing and dissecting this tasty morsel, speculating wildly on what are likely innocuous shots of no real relevance. We also discussed the newest episode of Torchwood, hashed over Russell T Davies declaration that he keeps fans at arm’s length, and of course went our trademark off-topic ramblings as per usual. (feed, web, direct download)

Warren Frey is a journalist, freelance writer, podcaster, video producer, and all-around media consultant currently based in Vancouver, Canada. His written work has appeared in such publications as Metro Vancouver, the Westender, Mac | Life and the Japan Times.

13 Responses to “ Radio Free Skaro #68 – Keeping fans at arm’s length since 2006 ”

Jean-Paul Samson says:

All of the uber-fans hired to work on RTD’s Doctor Who have proven their abilities in some other realm than just Doctor Who, eh?

Here’s Nick Briggs’ IMDB entry:

While some certainly have had interests outside of Doctor Who, careers even (there was no real Doctor Who for 16 years after all), there is still an “old boys club” thing happening in some of the choices. Script Editor Gary Russell has done little else but Doctor Who for the past two decades, having been editor of DWM, writing Who books, or making Doctor Who audio plays. And he has worked extensively with Nick Briggs.

But certainly RTD and company are very open to new blood, too. It’s not entirely an exclusive club!

Jean-Paul Samson says:

Yeah, if they just hired untalented fans, we’d end up with fanwank ideas being implemented such as:
1. Daleks versus Cybermen
2. Bringing back the Master, the Sontarans, the Cybermen, the Daleks, the Autons, the Macra, the Axons, etc., etc.
3. Have the companion change his/her timeline

Warren says:

Sure, there’s been some fanwank in the show, and sure, some of the people working on the show have a pedigree in Who stuff, and possibly little else. But there’s a world of difference between some random fan on the internet complaining on a forum about how “his show is being ruined” or “if only they’d” and creative individuals who have proven their worth to the show in one medium or another. Yes, the show wouldn’t be as popular without fans….but generally an audience-driven show is, long term, a recipe for disaster.

Jean-Paul Samson says:

Pretty much any TV show is audience-driven, though not necessarily fan driven. That’s what the ratings are all about, plus the focus groups. Doctor Who was a heavily manufactured show in the first place, trying to appeal to a particular audience in its original Saturday tea time slot.

And as an aside, I quite like Lost–it is a much better show now that they cater to the fans. Actually, I think Lost may be more compelling viewing than Doctor Who for me. Sure, it is more soapy and heavily serialized, but that’s what draws me in. It is designed for a group of people who watch every single episode. I guess that is the minimal definition of a fan these days. Doctor Who is designed for a more casual viewer, the non-fan who does not watch every single story. RTD deliberately got rid of the serialization component that was the hallmark of the original Doctor Who as he felt it would make the show more inaccessible.

Unless somehow the Doctor Who team runs in some kind of idealized world, there will be people working on it who are not there because of their talented. These are people who have political clout, are good at playing the system, who ride the coat tails of others and claim the credit. This almost always seems to occur in large organizations.

No, I shouldn’t be hired to work on Doctor Who. I’m not a writer, an actor, a graphic artist, a construction worker, etc., so why should I be? I certainly don’t expect any company to hire somebody who is inexperienced and uneducated in the task they are expected to perform.

I think the bone I have with RTD’s attitude does not stem from the notion that he “should listen to the fans”. The issue is that he suggests that fans have nothing worthwhile to say as individuals, and he doesn’t want them to interfere with Doctor Who in any way. This goes for not just the making of the show, but also any external and independent public face of the programme. He doesn’t want the general population knowing that fans are critiquing the show via the press, message boards, etc–it’s bad for marketing and could influence public opinion. I guess I could sum this up as a dismissal of freedom of speech within the realm of Doctor Who. Sort of reminds me of Stephen Harper’s management style, actually. (Had to get my political dig in there, didn’t I.)

Chris Burgess says:

Anything that’s existed for any length of time will have an Old Boys Club, and in this case you’ve got two long-term concepts: Doctor Who specifically and the BBC in general. RTD got where he is by knowing who he knows as much as anything else (eg. his writing ‘talent’) and riding coattails (eg. Julie Gardner).

As I was saying in the podcast, I think it’s a hypocritical attitude that RTD has adopted. I’ll happily agree with Warren’s point about the people being brought in are where they are based on talent – at least to a degree. Steven Moffat may not have been hired the most if it weren’t for past successes such as Coupling or Press Gang, however as a mover and shaker (as a producer, with his wife producer and mother-in-law producer, and his mother in law being Terry Nation’s agent at one point as well) he might have nonetheless been hired thanks to that and his well-known affinity for Doctor Who and penned works such as The Curse of Fatal Death. RTD is perpetuating the Old Boys Club for the most part.

The argument could be made that some other writers are being hired for what they can do rather than who they know or how much they like DW (eg. Stephen Greenhorn, Toby Whithouse, Tom MacRae and so on) but in reality none of us actually know who these people know and what strings they can pull to get a DW writing job. Many of them have few credits previous to Doctor Who so it can’t purely be talent which got them hired.

Jean-Paul Samson says:

Case in point about string-pulling. Tom MacRae is RTD’s protegee. Early in his career, MacRae approached RTD to ask for advice about writing, etc. RTD has been his mentor ever since. So it should come as no surprise the RTD would give him an opportunity to write for Doctor Who, despite MacRae having sold few scripts prior. And what we get is a pretty lame two-part story reintroducing the Cybermen. (It was very loosely based on a previously produced and well regarded audio drama by Marc Platt. Why the heck they didn’t get Platt to write it is beyond me–he was a published writer and had even penned an episode for classic Who.)

Although this was never announced on the RFS podcasts, MacRae’s script for series four has been dropped. The official line is that it was “too similar” to another script. Who knows what the true reason is.

So I’d say some people are being hired based on experience, perhaps some on talent, and others primarily because of who they know.

Warren says:

I’d definitely agree with Chris’s point that it is an old boys club (as is any industry) and I’m not one to defend the film industry, which does tend to be elitist. I also think RTD worrying about fans coloring the impressions of the public is a bit of a non-starter…none of the “normals” are listening to us, no matter how wide a forum we have. I think my main bone of contention is that I just don’t like the kind of fan that thinks because he’s decided to devote his life to a show, somehow he’s owed something.

Plus, the cost of production has fallen to the point where any fan who really wants to prove his point can just pick up a camera and a computer and with enough talent and gumption, go create his own vision. And why limit themselves to Doctor Who? I’m the last guy to deride fan films, because I know firsthand how tough they are to create. But I think it’s a much better idea for a fan to create something if they’re displeased with the direction of their show of choice, rather than bitch and complain.

Jean-Paul Samson says:

Warren, can you find a reason why it is acceptable for someone in RTD’s professional capacity to publically reduce or belittle one particular group of viewers? There are far more tactful ways of working–you can recognize the existence of fans and the way they express themselves and still ignore them. But RTD goes so far as to try to to make a joke of fans–there is a definite attitude in his comments. This is what baffles me. Yes, there are those 20 or so uber-fans (e.g. Ian Levine) that are the likely targets of RTD’s derision. But RTD’s comments can obviously be taken in a broader context than that, which is why more than those 20 are offended.

I think as a public corporation, the BBC has a responsibility, more so than any private television production company, to permit voices to be heard. But I’ve never heard of any fan, the very object of RTD’s comments, be given an equal opportunity to respond. Certainly I believe in the right to critique important things in one’s life, be it government, corporations, or yes, even television shows.

Yes, we could all just clam up, not make our opinions known, and just go with the flow. It’s all so wonderful! But I’ve seen enough of that happen in the real world, resulting in some really bad systems being put in place. So perhaps we have a responsibility to criticize things. I over-analyze Doctor Who, but I have no interest in making my own or being any further involved in the entertainment biz. Being a producer and being a consumer are two different things. (Despite your suggestion, I don’t have the time, money, or resources to go into production for myself.)

Am I owed anything from the BBC, RTD, Doctor Who and company? No, of course not. There’s still a lot of good stuff in Doctor Who, which is fair to praise, and bad stuff, too, which is fair game to criticize. If Doctor Who ever degrades to the point of being repetitive and wooden, I’ll simply stop watching, just as you might have done with McCoy-era Who. Heck, I’ve already stopped watching Torchwood, along with just about everyone else I know outside of this company! 🙂

Jean-Paul Samson says:

By the way, the rags love picking up stories about rabid Doctor Who fans. It’s nice and sensational and over-the-top. Apparently it sells papers, otherwise the media wouldn’t be producing such stories. Several times rumours taken from the Outpost Gallifrey forums have turned up as entertainment articles. It’s this kind of thing that I don’t think RTD and company like to see (and as more moderate fans, we probably don’t like to see, either). So I completely believe RTD does take action, limited to his realm of influence within the BBC of course, to limit fan-oriented discussion from being published.

jabberwocky says:

Hey heres a crazy idea, how about a DW Podcast Battle Royale. The BBC brings in all the people from the different DW Podcasts out there and have the fight each other, but wait thats not all, they also through in to the mix a butch of Drunken Surly Rabbit DW fans dressed up as there fav DW character costumes that look like they have been wearing them for a month and never been washed. Just think f the entertainment that could be gathered by all. Do keep in mind I have a high temperature fever. lololololol 🙂

Warren says:

Well, when you put it that way, yeah, RTD is off-base. I’d agree that in no way should people be restricted from making comments. Doesn’t necessarily have to be on the BBC’s site, mind you, there’s already plenty of outlets. As for the media running with rumours off forums…well, that’s just bad journalism, which isn’t the fault of fans or RTD.

I guess we’re arguing about two different things; level of talent to work on the show, and right of the fans to express themselves. I think I already made my points on whether the crew etc know better than random fans, but I’m with you on people not being restricted from expressing their views.

Jean-Paul Samson says:

By the way, I should mention that I don’t necessarily believe RTD has a hand in everything that happens. I frequently use his name quite simply because he is the show-runner and the public face of Doctor Who, but I should actually refer to the production team as a whole. And yes, I think the assembled Doctor Who crew is bloody fantastic. Take a step back and consider what they are pulling off.

They have a decent, but standard-sized drama budget. And every episode, they have to create a major new location (e.g. a space station, then Pompeii, then who knows what), new computer effects and monsters, hire a new cast (as the core cast is quite small). Plus we have a near movie quality orchestral soundtrack.

Jean-Paul Samson says:

BTW, Tom MacRae’s dropped script is being replaced with one penned by… wait for it, wait for it… RTD. I’m sure Chris will be terribly pleased by that news! That puts RTD at five of the thirteen scripts for series four–he’s writing the final four episodes–plus the two Christmas specials that bookend the filming. Adding it all up, that’s 7 of the 15 stories being produced over the filming of series four.

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