Sometimes, I can’t let commenting upon other things go.
So, 50th anniversary of Doctor Who. Amazing difference in how the show is doing now and how it was doing from, say, mid 80’s to the 2005 reboot. List some of the more notable Pros and Cons.
1. Christopher Eccleston
His absence as a real participant was glaring. I can see not being thrilled with your time on a show, and Tom Baker bailed on the Five Doctors (nice to see some make up for that), but when you signed on for the role, for a show with an immense history and a known fanbase, one would think you would recognize being part of something beyond yourself.
When I first watched the episode, I just kept thinking “Why am I only seeing two of the reboot Doctors, when there are only three?” This wasn’t The Two Doctors, wasn’t even The Three Doctors or The Five Doctors. This was the 50th anniversary of a TV show going on the air. I know those happen all of the time, but …
2. No More
No more with the “No More”. I realize it’s a device and gets used all the way through. It was just cheesy … without being gratuitously blasted in English!?! While there’s an element of suspension of disbelief to where you can pretend everything was being translated from Gallifreyan or you could even say the message was in English so that both the Daleks and Time Lords, who know English, could read it, it was so, so cheesy. It took me out of the immersion.
3. Gratuitous Special Effects
I’m not a special effects person, which, as an old Doctor Who fan, makes sense. The giant space battle and planetary assault really didn’t impact me in any way, feeling more like an episode of Battlestar Galactica or some such. The 3d painting stuff may have looked cool on a big screen or in, um, 3d, but, on my TV, it just looked okay. Not to say I have any problem with the last, just a note.
No, the episode started off with one of the more annoying bits when it had the “special”, if maybe not so special, effect of showing images of London. “Look at what an important TV show we are! We can fly around the real London!” I understand doing these sorts of things, and maybe not being British meant it meant less to me, but all I could think is “This is taking precious time away from stuff I want to see with kind of stale physical comedy.” If it happened in the middle or end of the show, might have felt something. Happening in the beginning, it just screamed gratuitous and was also moronic that UNIT would just assume the TARDIS was lying around, nevermind that UNIT didn’t even need the TARDIS to get the Doctor to show up.
Then, in line with some other commentators, Gallifreyans just aren’t that impressive technologically, are they? Yes, not everyone on Gallifrey is a Time Lord. But, apparently the race that manages time and is among the most advanced in the universe just runs around in costumes and gets laser/blaster shot at. Sure, showing advanced technology is a pain. There are budget constraints. But, also, you want the audience to relate to what’s going on. And, yes, Gallifrey has always had silly looking people and silly looking technology, maybe one of the reasons it’s not used more often. But, I’m kind of tired of the lack of majesty in the setting. The End of Time didn’t help, either, and I saw that again recently.
I thought it wasn’t all bad, but it sure was distracting and not in the way that it could have been (finding some gorgeous actress where you wished you could be in 1562). I didn’t hate the Elizabeth stuff. It was also wrapped around some of the more enjoyable parts. I’m sure the casting was intentional, to go for greater comedic effect.
5. Few Cameos
I watched the minisodes of The Last Day and the Five(ish) Doctors. Seems like more cameos could have been done. I probably missed somebody in the background, but where’s the best companion of them all? Where’s (a functioning) K-9?
UNIT may have been frequently inept – watch the Pertwee stuff for how often the Brigadier looked like a goof, but it generated some cool back in the day because it actually got to do things. Every time UNIT shows up these days, it never seems to do anything that matters.
1. John Hurt
The show is so different now. It became romantic, it became companion focused, I have a hard time remembering meaningful aliens on an alien planet during the reboot run. To be all about flirty-wirty, had to cast younger actors as Doctors. While you could see Pertwee or T. Baker make moves on certain companions and Davison was the original “let’s try someone the companions might dig”, I miss the idea of a Doctor who isn’t constantly having companions fall in love with him.
Hurt’s performance wasn’t perfect. “For God’s sake” was another instance of taking me out of immersion, and the head slap thing was so undignified, but the voice and look helped so much with reminding that the Doctor is more than just some physical comedy frat boy. I didn’t watch much of Hartnell’s stuff, but the contrasts when you had The Three Doctors was great. And, so was War Doctor ripping on the boys.
The weaponization of the sonic screwdriver just has gotten so ridiculous. Doctor Who has always been hypocritical, where the hippie Doctor preaches peace and love and then has the enemy blow themselves up or have the companions/single-serial-expendables blow the enemy up. … I loved Sylvester McCoy’s comment in the Explaining Doctor Who thing about “or have the companion blow them up.” But, the screwdriver has become a gun. Also, way overused.
Also ripping on the way they talk, with their “catchphrase” styles and babytalk, was appreciated.
2. Multiple Doctors
While sad that every Doctor from 4 on is still alive and we get so few in this special, it’s always fun putting Doctors together as they get to do their schticks and rip on each other’s schticks. But, beyond that, you realize there’s a gravitas to the idea of someone who lives multiple lives and can draw upon knowledge from past and future to solve problems as well as physically team up to do things no one else can do. Gee, it’s just like Moorcock’s Eternal Champion and how they sometimes pop up to help each other. I just love the concept, apparently.
Tom got a chance to come back and make up some for the Five Doctors. I didn’t nerdgasm like a lot of others did – I didn’t even recognize the voice immediately, even though Tom is my Doctor. If any old show Doctor, though, having Tom get play was the best possibility.
4. Billie Piper
I neither love Billie nor hate Billie. I was not that much of a fan of Rose. I liked the character more when she was no longer a regular. I just thought her character and her acting worked well.
I enjoyed it. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t drivel. It was somewhere in between with some nice moments and some missed opportunities.
So, how can I make this about gaming?
Obviously, I could speak to trying to run a Doctor Who campaign and how I have a hard time seeing how to do that. I’m not even clear on how to do a one-shot well as there will be too many players and someone playing the Doctor has a rough role to play.
No, my first thought after seeing the episode when it came to gaming was “missed opportunities”. This sort of special should be all about giving the fans what they have always wanted, about doing the things you can’t do in a normal episode.
How often do RPGs give the players what they want?
Seemingly, not that often. At least, in my experience, not that often in campaign play. I find that convention one-shots far more often fit the genre, the conventions of the genre, the style, the core elements of whatever game you signed up for. Now, sure, I’ve also played in a Supernatural game where I was a voodoo priest sucking on an angel, but many campaigns are based on something that the players have expectations for. Star Wars should be space opera with big dramatic scenes. Lord of the Rings or Wheel of Time should not be “You are walking down the road and fight stuff on the road. The End.” I know my experience with the latter was that, my recollection of my time playing Middle Earth was pretty close.
Mostly, these days, I’m playing L5R. The thing about L5R is that it isn’t just one thing, though I’m very much to the HoR style of play. So, you can have mismatched expectations. Or, you can have unclear expectations.
But, I’m getting off track. It’s not so much mismatched expectations on the overall campaign, as I’ve talked about that before. What I’m trying to get at is mismatched expectations in the details. To keep using L5R as an example, though I hope it’s clear that it’s an issue with all RPG play, someone who built a good duelist doesn’t want to have a dueling opportunity ripped away, something I was almost shocked by in a HoR3 mod. Someone into the culture wants to linger on the poetry or the clothes or the whatever. Some of us like romance (I know, weird, and icky) and don’t want relationship possibilities glossed over.
Often, I have a hard time seeing things from the players’ side when I GM, which is kind of weird, but my mind is just in a different space. And, often, I’m not completely sure what to give the players more of, even though I should be able to figure it out. I don’t want to miss the opportunities to have the players mark out.
But, do I have the will to do better?