MEMO TO THE REST OF THE WORLD; I DON’T LIKE DOCTOR WHO, AND FOR GOOD REASON, SO STOP TELLING ME I SHOULD
I hate time travel.
Not as an idea mind you, I love listening to Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Stephen Hawking’s musings on the topic (as much as I can understand anyway) probably far more than the next guy, but I can’t stand time travel as a storytelling device. Sure, it’s sometimes nice to see what Captain Picard would have looked like if he’d been more responsible and standupish during his youth, or how Superman may have turned out if he wasn’t raised by parents as noble and compassionate as the Kents. One of my favourite Christmas movies of all time is the Frank Capra directed classic It’s a Wonderful Life, where Jimmy Stewart is given a glimpse of what the world, and more importantly the lives he touched and influenced along the way, would have looked like if he’d never been born. And I enjoyed last May’s time bending X-Men: Days of Future Past. But for the most part, time travel stories are like a thirty year old K-car in winter, prone to problems, they break down more times than not and sometimes your lucky if they ever even get going. As a result, I tend to avoid the majority of movies or TV shows that include time travel as their primary narrative conceit. Need a quick example? The Terminator. I know I’m inviting a veritable tsunami of scorn and outrage by nitpicking a classic 80’s Arnold flick (and a franchise that is about to release its fifth movie this summer with Terminator: Genisys), but bear with me. For those not in the know, the story revolved around a Terminator sent back from the future by the omnipotent computer Skynet, that has led the machines in an uprising that has nearly wiped out the human race. With me so far? Cool. But humanity’s last remaining survivors have successfully mounted a resistance, lead by a brilliant and charismatic strategist named John Connor. Skynet’s solution to these pesky rebels is to send a Terminator robot back in time to kill John Connor’s mother Sarah, thereby preventing him from ever being born. Sounds like a solid plan. Except if the Terminator had been successful, and John Connor had never been born to lead the human uprising against Skynet, then there never would have been any reason to send a Terminator back in the first place. There would be no reason, no cause to take the action that changed events. Essentially C cannot be equaled unless provoked by A and B. And that defective little equations sums up my entire problem with time travel stories.
I’m a stickler for story and diligent attention paid to detail, which doesn’t help because, by their very nature, it’s virtually impossible for time travel stories to properly adhere to a logical plot. You know what one of my biggest pet peeves in science fiction (the genre that employs time travel the most) is? The fact that whenever Earthlings venture to another world or encounter alien life, everyone speaks perfect English, even on backwater worlds thousands of light years away. Now some movies make at least an effort to address this little plot point. Star Wars had C3P0, who could speak and translate something like six million languages, Star Trek innovated the universal translator and made it standard issue for all Starfleet personnel so they could understand whatever insults the Klingons or the Romulans were throwing their way, and even in Transformers, the most plot allergic movies in recent memory, everyone’s favourite robots in disguise learned human languages from the internet before they made initial contact. But in just about every other sci-fi flick that includes human interaction with some form of extraterrestrial life, the aliens possess a greater command of the English language than a typical tenth grader. So you can imagine how much time travel irks me. It’s why I’ve never been able to sit through an episode of Doctor Who, the original time jockey, despite about seven hundred and thirty-three million recommendations that I should. And an equal number of shocked expressions when I tell people I don’t. I’ve lost track how often I’ve been told by friends and colleagues how much I’d love it, and Doctor Who is no doubt one of the most popular genre TV shows on the planet right now. But in the few episodes I’ve seen there are more plot holes then a thousand pound chunk of Swiss cheese.
And it isn’t like I haven’t asked questions. For instance, does the Doctor ever change or adjust the past during one of his many time traveling adventures? Answer; sure, all the time. But then how does the show account for the effects his interference would have on the course of history? Answer; well some things can’t be changed, like the outcome of World War 2 or the assassination of JFK. OK, well what about everything else then? What about the butterfly effect, that states that even the tiniest change can affect the entire course of history? Answer; Oh, well the show just kind of ignores that?
And what about the Doctor himself? Other than his encyclopedic knowledge of the history of, well everything, his sonic screwdriver (which is occasionally omnipotent, except against wood, so I guess if he’s ever attacked by some angry Ewoks armed with number two pencils the good Doc is really up the creek) and his time travelling, space defying Tardis, what can the Doctor do? You know, what are his super powers? Answer; well, he’s very clever. That’s it? That’s all you got? You know who is else is really clever? Like fiendishly clever? Batman, but he’s also just about the baddest ass fighter in the history of history and has a utility belt with more goodies then Santa’s workshop on crack. Look, I’m all for the smart guys winning the big one just as much as the sword swinging, gun-toting, face punching jocks (one of the things I really liked about Pacific Rim was that without the information acquired by Charlie Day’s scientist, the military types would have been completely impotent when it came time to save the world) but from the few episodes I’ve seen, and many others I’ve heard about, the Doc routinely goes up against alien warlords, interstellar tyrants, evil cyborgs and even the occasional demon lord. And all he’s got is clever?
Insert face palm here.
You remember how popular and critically acclaimed the Battlestar Galactica remake was a few years ago? You may also remember that many of the shows long time and hardcore fans were left wanting and disappointed by the show’s ending, especially after following it for four seasons. Many even felt betrayed by the ending’s heavy religious overtones, seeing it as a cop-out by writers who couldn’t devise a better, more creative resolution. Well I’m pretty sure that there was more storytelling integrity in BSG’s final, disappointing episodes then a typical episode of Doctor Who.
Look, I understand when people really, really like something, that you have a pretty significant capacity to overlook it’s warts. God knows people do it on far larger scales than TV shows (politics, religion, professional sports, boy bands), but could people please stop looking at me like I’ve got a fluorescent brain tumour hanging out of my left nostril when I tell them I don’t watch Doctor Who because I really don’t get it? And by “it” I mean the writing and sloppy continuity. It’s almost like this show has become the Justin Bieber of genre TV. “What do you mean you don’t like it? It’s soooooo dreamy! You just don’t know anything good!” But let’s be honest, this show, like many other long running and popular forms of entertainment, is just imagination candy with very little to no attention paid or invested in its storytelling. It’s the same reason I don’t watch The Walking Dead (not only because it avoids obvious, tough to answer questions but also because it ripped off its opening from 28 Days Later) and I’ve stopped watching other TV shows and quit books right in middle the for the same reason. But don’t take my word for it, just listen to the guy in the video beneath. He’s much funnier and is a snappier dresser (I might avoid some of the comments thought, because, well, YouTube).
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I honestly don’t care if you love this show and think it’s the best thing on TV. You probably feel the same way about many other pieces of entertainment currently floating around the airwaves or the Internet. More power to both you and whatever tickles your amusement fancy. But please spare me the ridiculous reactions when I tell you I don’t watch something (like Doctor Who) because I don’t like it. There’s usually a reason.