The Time Lord, The Jedi and The ‘Magic Kingdom’

Like a lot of people, I grew up with Star Wars.  By that, I mean the originals- the ‘original’ originals, even.  So I admit I greeted the purchase of the franchise by Disney with a degree of trepidation. It seems they plan to wring every last dollar out of the fans by releasing not just a new trilogy, but also a number of stand-alone films.  This, along with George Lucas’ own constant tinkering with the originals and the dire prequels, should serve to remind us in the tenth anniversary year how bloody lucky we’ve been with the return of Doctor Who.

The return of Who and the resurrection of Star Wars are a bit similar: both came back after a sixteen-year gap to much hype and expectation and, in the case of this second resurgence, with a fan at the helm – JJ Abrams, a man with a track record as long as your light saber in rebooting franchises.  His enthusiasm for the source material is evident, so why is the return of Star Wars so utterly soulless compared to the development of new Who?

There’s a difference between making a fan your producer and having a producer who’s a fan.  Both Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat are seasoned industry professionals who have a genuine, unalloyed affection for Doctor Who.  Their love of the concept and the ethos of the show is filtered through the technical skills and industry savvy of their professional lives with the result that, when the series returned in 2005, its success was guaranteed.  RTD took what was great about the show, tweaked it for modern tastes and turned his love letter to the original show into ratings gold.

However, making a fan your producer can be like putting the proverbial kid in the proverbial sweet shop.  Will they be selective or will they gorge themselves? Disney’s pockets are sufficiently deep that, if they want Hollywood’s number one fanboy to bring back their cash-cow acquisition, they can get him.  But it hasn’t worked elsewhere. Josh Trank has quit one of the many as-yet-unidentified spin-offs, citing ‘differences’.  Disney won’t worry; when it comes to directors, to quote Yoda, there is another.  It’s a production line, proving Disney aren’t the Magic Kingdom- they’re the Death Star.

Making a fan your producer can be like putting the proverbial kid in the proverbial sweet shop.  Will they be selective or will they gorge themselves?

Credit where credit’s due: George Lucas took a tough-sell concept and created a multi-million dollar franchise.  But his was a very singular, serious vision; there’s no intentionally funny side to Star Wars.  In the cinema where I saw Attack of the Clones, people laughed at the fight between Yoda and Count Dooku.  Why wouldn’t they?  It’s an octogenarian actor having a scrap with a Muppet.  Then there’s the dialogue – as Harrison Ford once famously told Lucas: ‘you can type this s**t, but you can’t say it’.  It will be interesting to see what Abrams does on both counts.

By contrast, Doctor Who is very much a team effort.  Down the years, that team has been exceptionally diverse, taking in Buddhists, communists, Cambridge graduates, philosophers, comedians, journalists and assorted mavericks, all bringing their life experiences and perspectives to the table, to produce a show whose stars have included an aspiring footballer, a radio comedian, a former hod carrier and a man who hammered nails up his own nose. ‘Eclectic’ doesn’t cover it! Absurd, even, but then Who is a show that’s often at its best when its tongue is in its cheek.  It starts with Ian’s refusal to believe that the mystery of time travel is going to be solved in a junkyard with a Police Box, and comes up to date with Matt Smith’s ‘mad man in a box’, via the ‘wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey’ explanation of the universe.  The Doctor has always faced the dangers of the universe with an eminently quotable line, the big difference being that, for the most part, it’s the sort of s**t that can be both written down and said.

Peter Cushing as the 1960s movie version of Dr WhoTo reiterate, we have been very fortunate with the return of Doctor Who.  The concept is almost infinitely flexible and can go off in any number of directions.  At the heart of that is an imagination and a wonderfully British sense of humour that has sometimes helped carry that concept through situations where there wasn’t the money to quite bring the writer’s vision to the screen.  Horror of Fang Rock is probably my favourite Who story – one that overcame budgetary constraints, an enforced move to another studio and a monster made of swarfega by strength of an amazing script, committed performances and taut direction.

It’s far more than that, though.  The care and attention that made Who inspired us as fans to be here now, sitting and writing about it.  It inspired other fans to get into the industry and, more importantly, others still to bring the show back.  Yes, there’s been a degree of revisionism, but it’s been integral to taking the show forward.  We aren’t treated to pointless retreads (the Han-Greedo ‘who shoots first?’ debacle that’s merited four re-releases of the same film): the people who make it care.

The key, then, is integrity.  Yes, I will almost certainly go and see The Force Awakens, but it won’t rekindle the enthusiasm I once had for Star Wars – too much damage has been wrought on it by the very person whose legacy it represents.  Interestingly, Horror of Fang Rock came out in the same year as Star Wars: I adore one and merely enjoy the other.  I can probably recite both verbatim, though one is slightly more difficult than the other, because you may indeed be able to type that s**t, but you really can’t say it…

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  1. MWRuger says:

    Unless you have seen the movie it’s far too early to call it “utterly soulless”

    I’m as sick of Star Wars as anybody. I watched the original in 1977, many times, and I loved it. I have seen it done to death and I can’t make myself get excited about this new release. That said, I think this will be a film that Star Wars fans want to see.

    To me, your critique reeks of revisionism (Certain to succeed? I don’t believe that they thought that) and pointless comparison. Doctor Who’s fan base does overlap Star Wars, but there is room for both and calling George Lucas on his writing of verbal gobbledygook is fine, but apparently your rose color glasses have failed to see some of the awful dialogue that has been in Classic and New Who.

    To me this is just another example of building up something by tearing down a competitor. Tell me why Doctor Who is better, not why Star Wars is worse.

  2. kwijino says:

    I will have to chime in. George Lucas didn’t damage the franchise. I think the Internet did. I have said for many years that had The Empire Strikes Back come out in the Internet age, all we would remember is that stupid puppet who sounded like Grover and that nonsense about the bad guy being the dad of the good guy.

    Your article comes across like one of those old Star Trek/Star Wars debates. I was at a showing of The Cage in 1978 where Roddenberry said “I don’t care if that banner reads Star Trek Lives or Star Wars lives, just as long as people continue to dream about a better tomorrow.” Lucas has said on screen that he was a fan of Trek, had attended Trek conventions before people recognized him, and of course Trek influenced Star Wars. Why wouldn’t it have? It was good stuff. I always have considered myself multilingual in geek. Like MWRuger said, we really don’t have to trash X to like Y.

    There was plenty of “intentional humor” in Star Wars, Star Trek and any other franchise that succeeds.I will grant there were fewer “Let the Wookiee win” moments in the prequels, but there were things were meant to be laughed at. I admit he could have had help on dialogue, but the six films were clearly his babies and Lucas told the stories he wanted to tell.

    Overall though, I liked the prequels, especially since they gave us the Clone Wars, which is one of the finest animated long form sci-fi tv series ever done. George Lucas story edited the entire of Clone Wars, six seasons and well over a hundred episodes. He easily loves his franchise at least as much as RTD and Moffatt. Shall I compare the multiple Emmy award winning Clone Wars to the horribly bad story that was Doctor Who’s Dreamland?

    Oh, and one of those Emmys was won by David Tennant (of all people) for his portrayal as a Jedi robot who was one of the Jedi’s leading experts on lightsaber construction. Rebels was childish in the first few episodes, but got better as it went along. I’d like to see Who return the favor and get us one of the Season Two Star Wars Rebels voice actors to do an episode with Peter Capaldi. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see James Earl Jones and Capaldi on-screen together?

    I am not waiting with baited breath for Force Awakens, but I hope it’s a fun movie.

  3. lozpot says:

    You are joking aren’t you… You’re calling a film you haven’t seen soulless, claiming the dialogue in SW is crap ( you have seen the majority of classic DW I’m assuming…), and you also say Doctor Who is a team effort whereas Star Wars isn’t…? I really don’t get where you’re coming from. Personally I’m looking forward to SW way more than the next series of DW. I can only assume that you are in some way jealous that SW is receiving such a huge amount of attention and has acquired its own special day. May the force be with you.

  4. Artemis Vega says:

    I once heard an interesting theory about Who vs say Star Trek. (I’m not bashing Americans here, I’ve lots of American friends) that the US with it’s so called classless “anyone can become anything” type attitude produces a rigid almost authority driven, militaristic world such as Trek, with lots of rules, whereas, slightly stuffy, slightly reserved England, with a history of class and rigidity, produces an anarchic, anti authority, anti conventional, not necessarily diplomatic crazy guy who runs around breaking rules everywhere.

  5. Rick714 says:

    On one hand, yes, the vast majority of Star Wars dialogue *was* crap, both classic and modern, there can’t be much debate there, just varying degrees of talent of the actors who were able to actually say it. Empire stands as a cut above because Kerschner changed some of Lucas crap dialogue. To say all the classic stuff was well written is delusional by virtue of the understandable excitement of youth.

    All that being said—it’s definitely unfair to call the new click soulless before you even see it! And I can pretty much guarantee there’s a decent chance it’ll be better than the last three and maybe even as good as Hope and Jedi.

    • lozpot says:

      Lucas didn’t write the screenplay for Empire or Jedi.

      • MWRuger says:

        I believe that it was Leigh Brackett who wrote Empire Strikes Back. She was a respected and published SF author for those who might not know.

        • lozpot says:

          Leigh Brackett did a very early draft of Lucas’s story outline, she sadly died shortly afterwards and Lawrence Kasdan took over screen writing duties.

          • MWRuger says:

            That’s right! I knew she was involved, but couldn’t remember the timeline.

  6. kwijino says:

    Oh, and by the way, the Doctor seems to have liked the trailer :

  7. Dr. Moo says:

    Honesty moment: I actually enjoyed the Star Wars prequels. The Phantom Menace is better than you think it is.

    • Calli Arcale says:

      I enjoyed them too, but they didn’t have the same life in them that the original trilogy had, and I think the main problem is that Lucas was to the point in his career of having total creative control. And that sort of thing is not usually a good thing, in my opinion. I think art is better when it has to strive against obstacles. Just compare Peter Jackson’s work on “The Lord of the Rings” with “The Hobbit”. The former is much more successful. I guess to borrow an engineer’s terminology, it’s a case of Second System Effect (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month#The_second-system_effect).

      • Dr. Moo says:

        Good point. That’s a nice comparison you make there.

        I think that The Hobbit (novel) was better than the films (WHY MAKE THREE??? YOU CAN TELL THE WHOLE STORY SUCCESSFULLY IN ONE!!!) but the films allowed Sylvester McCoy to play a wizard so I’m prepared to forgive everything they did wrong.
        Also there’s Tim from The Office in it.

  8. Alex Tye says:

    Not sure, but I’d choose Revenge of the Sith over Fear Her, Love and Monsters or Boomtown any day. IMO, what did the prequels no good at all was the overuse of CGI and demystifying the Jedi was a mistake – they were better as a mysterious few. The continuity was pretty dire too – ROTJ always gave me the impression that the Emperor and Yoda had never met. If Abrams goes back to ships on strings – something real to look at – I can’t see why the new movies won’t be a success. And come on…we’d all like to see a film devoted solely to Boba Fett…wouldn’t we?

  9. Calli Arcale says:

    “His enthusiasm for the source material is evident, so why is the return of Star Wars so utterly soulless compared to the development of new Who?” Given that the movie isn’t out yet, I think this statement is a tad premature. Now, I do think you can say that about the prequels, but it remains to be seen what this new trilogy will be like. I would prefer to give it a fair chance, just as we all gave Doctor Who a fair chance when it returned in 2005.

  10. Jay says:

    ” too much damage has been wrought on it by the very person whose legacy it represents.” Oh BOO-HOO

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