So it’s still wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey but…
My twitter feed blew up today after Variety initially reported that David Yates is planning on bringing Doctor Who to the big screen in three years time…as a stand alone, alternate Doctor, if you will. WHAT?! I honestly can’t even wrap my head around how this movie will work. Presumably they want to re-work the story to somehow have broader appeal to Americans. Which to me seems completely odd because Doctor Who’s popularity here in the States has been on a continued rise. And also, I can’t help but remember the Eighth Doctor’s television movie that was supposed to relaunch Doctor Who for an American audience: didn’t that incorporate things meant to Americanize the series? The Doctor was literally, more human and the action took place in a familiar US city. And even then it continued the mythology, especially with the inclusion of the Seventh Doctor regenerating and The Master! (While also taking it a bit too far with its own mythology…half-human Doctor…because we couldn’t bear for him to be full “alien”). It got me to thinking (at work no less, when I feverishly started writing down notes for this blog underneath my notes for you know…Libya) about this trend toward reboots, “reimaginings,” and just plain remakes of things that have maintained popularity in their own right. And even then Doctor Who is different from the rest in that it is still on television! Unlike the time in between the Seventh and Ninth (where the Doctor Who television movie clearly had an “in”), how can this movie be promoted alongside an existing television series? “Oh no, it is about the same thing essentially, but the show exists in one universe and the movie another.” Which is all well and good for most reboots, but in the world of Doctor Who, the movie could be in another universe and the show another, and yet they could meet. (Sounds like something the daleks would want to royally screw up…wait will daleks exist?!). When I think about how SyFy acquired the rights to air Doctor Who but then subsequently dumped it due to lack of interest, I wonder what in the world makes these people think they can find a massive audience in the US unless they make something that can no longer be recognized as Doctor Who?
When I think about remakes, I think about all the movies coming out recently that decide they want to crush my dreams by making a mediocre re-enactment of a movie that may or may not have been good to begin with. This trend is not new and it only tends to hurt when it is something I cherished: Footloose, Fright Night, Halloween, Friday the 13th (actually think of the list that Hayden Panettiere rattles off in Scream 4 to get an idea of all the horror remakes). And lest I forget anything, there is a list on Wikipedia. Of course. I do enjoy some remakes over the originals and sometimes am more familiar with the remake. If anything, the field that the remake has been abusing most is the horror genre, going after movies that are cult classics as well as ones that were better left forgotten. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised by Fright Night (and the script’s ability to translate to today as well as veer off in its own direction) and yes, I couldn’t bring myself to see the new Footloose because the hurt was just too deep.
Reboots and Reimaginings
What comes to mind first in this category is J.J. Abrams’ new Star Trek movie series. This is the closest comparison I have in my mind to how a movie can exist separately from a television series with established events. This is a personal example but not being a Star Trek fan, the reboot had all kinds of success with me. And I think that is because what I was experiencing was equally as fresh to the fan from back in the day; the franchise needed that. However, it wasn’t conflicting with any current running version of Star Trek and it still worked with established characters! Kirk and Spock et. al. may be on a different timeline from the originals but we recognize the parts of them that we are meant to. And the new franchise gets to play around with established characters in different ways without infuriating the longtime fans (in theory).
What about Battlestar Galactica? Moore’s reboot deviated drastically from the original series (which had been off the air quite some time and I obviously had no exposure to it) and by most accounts is vastly superior. And now Bryan Singer is set to helm a movie version that may or may not follow the same reboot formula as Star Trek. While I am not quite sure how I feel about this, and I think I will largely decide on my feelings once I get an inkling of how this film will play out, BSG has been off the air since 2009. And I don’t think stories depicted on Caprica will in anyway affect this film; so in a way I am ready for this reboot. I miss BSG, and maybe a movie version will help others discover Ron Moore’s series.
This topic also reminds me of the last reboot news that angered me to my very core: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, minus Joss Whedon. Buffy, the show, was leaps and bounds beyond what we got with the original movie version. Joss took the bare minimum of what the movie had to offer (and even incorporated it into Buffy’s lore) and turned it into a generation-defining hit. The Buffyverse and the larger, more active Whedonverse is still active today. In my opinion, it is too soon for a full-fledged reboot. Joss is an inseparable facet to what made Buffy so great; I would much rather see a Buffy reboot many more years down the line.
Both Ron Moore and Joss Whedon took passable universes and made them into pop culture icons. Arguably, Russell T. Davies did the exact same thing with Doctor Who. I started Doctor Who with Davies and easily got sucked into the series without any knowledge of Doctors 1-8. Most of the things I didn’t understand (Time Wars and the Doctor being the last Time Lord) were things I chalked up as mysteries I would one day solve NOT KNOWING that this was part of Davies’ rebooted mythology. As I delved into the earlier Doctors and saw Time Lords running amok and no mention of any sort of Time War, I started to get the genius that was the rebooted Doctor Who. Somehow Davies knew exactly how to tweak the long running series into something for the contemporary world, and created a compelling storyline when, lets face it, the show was a fairly typical sci-fi show at its beginnings.
What will the big screen Doctor look like? Younger or older? Quirky or more human? What of the Time Lords and Gallifrey? Any reboot would have to significantly establish its own history or else leave us in the dark like the show tends to do. Would Americans even accept a time travelling alien whose spaceship is a blue police box? And here I mean the majority of Americans who are not exposed to Doctor Who and who will also be completely clueless as to why he is in a police box. Will the reboot choose some other sort of cloaking device for the TARDIS to get stuck on? I shudder to think. A big budget movie could allow for the TARDIS to actually morph into its surroundings, thus eliminating the police box and one of the most recognizable features of Doctor Who. Argh. Are there any other implications of rebooting something that is already running other than we want to make money? Doesn’t seem like it.
All of this to say, this is the strangest, most unexpected reboot that I think I have ever heard of. And the fact that I can see no way of them feasibly creating their own version makes me queasy. When we look at Matt Smith (and as the show constantly reminds us) we are seeing the sum of 11 Time Lords worth of knowledge in one person, who is also the same as those men. We know how his companions have helped shape him and what motivates his actions. The learning curve for that is substantial. I can’t imagine looking at a stranger, called the Doctor, and having no indication of who this man is or who he has been in the past (other than whatever backstory this movie can throw at me). That may be exciting for some people but for me, losing that air of familiarity that is present throughout its near 50 year run is a depressing thought.