One Day There Will Come a Point When Everyone Realises That I Actually Did Just Want Things to Be Nice

I don't want to keep arguing. I really, really don't. I was writing a blog that gave up fighting forever. And then, "An Adventure in Space and Time"...

...and being so angry, I tweeted about it, may my bones rot. And then I realised, moments later, that this will be taken as some sort of grudge match. Moments after that, I started getting tweets asking me to justify my angst. "Ahh, it's not a documentary! Yeah, it gets some facts wrong, so what? Isn't this a great way of telling the story of the programme in the early years? Oh, you just don't like Mark Gatiss!"

It does, indeed, get facts wrong. Just like Mel Gibson movies get facts wrong. It gets facts wrong to a degree that would be actionable if those involved were still alive.

"Facts" like people's entire professional lives. Here are the two chief victims.

1. Verity Lambert was hard as nails. In a script full of stereotypes, she becomes an off-the-shelf silhouette from Mad Men, a token woman whose purpose is to oppose The Male Hierarchy without having any life of her own. Ooh, look! The Old Boys at the BBC aren't listening to her, so she has to clear her throat and shout just to find her voice...! Bullcrap. The reason Newman described her as "piss and vinegar" (a term repeated throughout this cock-pie, since Gatiss can't be bothered doing more than surface research) is that she was terrifying before she got the Who gig. We recall that when an actor died live on TV in 1958, it was Lambert who fixed it without breaking a sweat. We recall that by the time "An Adventure..." portrays her as a young woman gulping at the thought of having to face a room full of BBC humbuggers, she'd already been threatening productions into shape on both sides of the Atlantic and was openly complaining about the fact that those bastards wouldn't let her produce or direct. "An Adventure..." has her shuffle into an office like a new girl who's had a tail welded between her legs as part of an initiation ceremony. Because, gee, that's what women did in the early '60s! Right?

In short: Verity Lambert, the greatest left-wing feminist firebrand in the history of British television. Reduced by this script to a simpering girl-who-learns-self-confidence (aged 28...!) and only becomes a Proper Character when she shouts down Sydney Newman in his office after he pushes her that one step too far. I'm not suggesting Mark Gatiss is a misogynist, I'm just saying that maybe he doesn't appreciate the way female characters are... no, f*** it, I am saying that. He can't write a workable female character unless it's based on his own mum. By the time her fiction-self starts whining on about not being taken seriously, the real Verity would already have been flicking fag-ash in Sydney's face.

2. Sydney Newman was not, as "An Adventure..." suggests, a 1930s film producer exactly like Cecil B. DeMille. You probably knew that anyway, but you let it slide because it was funny. What isn't funny is the thought that although Newman could certainly hold his own against TV execs on all sides, here a dead man who can't defend himself is made to look exactly like one of the people he enjoyed fighting. He had a North American accent; ergo, he has to behave like the boss of a major TV network in an '80s movie, or possibly Scarface. But Newman was the most inventive producer of his era, and although it's true that his background in commercial telly made him wise to the needs of Those Who Pay For This, he really liked the oddness that a space-time series could bring. "An Adventure..." begins with Newman suggesting an SF programme because The Kids will go for it, whereas in truth, he honestly wanted to see what would happen. Note the way his creation of The Avengers is mentioned as a side-note, delivered as if he's the boss and his minions did all the hard work. Because obviously, this American-talking cigar-chomper couldn't possibly have done anything really creative.

Even though he did. Repeatedly. Doctor Who was incomplete when it came out of his mouth / subconscious, but he was undeniably its source. For that, he's now treated like a monumental git. He thought up Adam Adamant Lives not by wondering what would sell, but by looking out of his window at roadworks and thinking "hang on, what if...?". And we should bear in mind that Newman chiefly objected to bug-eyed-monsters not because of personal anti-Martian issues, but because the Frick-Braybon report at the BBC said they definitely didn't work on television. He loved science fiction, and openly said so.

Among the people Sydney Newman promoted in their TV careers were Harold Pinter, Dennis Potter, and Ken Loach. Again, he apparently did this despite being a mogul from three decades previously who just couldn't resist sticking that cheroot in his mouth while going "waak, waak, waak" like the Penguin.

The clincher comes in the everyone-knows-this-never-happened scene of "An Adventure..." in which Newman congratulates Lambert on her Daleks getting ten-million viewers, and retracts his previous views re: aliens. "WOO!" yells Lambert, running down the corridor. But the BBC didn't treat the ratings as their guide in the early '60s: when independent television began stealing the viewers in 1955, many at the BBC even breathed a sigh of relief, since it meant they didn't have to be populist any more. Big Dalek ratings would indeed have been welcomed by Our Verity - who doesn't like being liked? - but presenting this as a scene in which she stands before Newman the Network Chief, justifying the series in terms of viewing figures, is simply drivel. Yes, yes, we can accept him as the producer-figure long after he was actually producing. We can swallow it as part of the story. But making a good (dead) man look like a cynical arch-scheduler is just... rude.

In short: The person who first thought of Doctor Who, then summoned up the best people to make it happen, is a corporate monster who lurks behind a desk and dwells on the ratings despite having no real reason to do so. His dialogue is so awful that even non-professor Brian Cox can't make him look good. It's horrible, partly because it's made of lies, but mostly because the real Sydney was always trying to do something interesting. And this version only exists because Cigar-Faced TV Producer Stereotype is easy to write, whereas actual Sydney Newman isn't. Nonetheless, this version is in the TV pseudo-drama, and will be repeated at every anniversary from now on as if it were true.

Mark Gatiss. You are the Mel Gibson of fandom. Please, please stop trying to write. You were very good in The League of Gentlemen, but being a talented comic actor doesn't qualify you as a writer. Your Doctor Who scripts are mediocre at best, and even then, you're relying on the designers to bail you out. Your Poirot adaptations are also terrible. Just... stop. All right? Comic acting. You're good at that. Keep it up.

There. Tomorrow, my "nice" goodbye. The one I was planning on writing.

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Published on November 21, 2013 18:36
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