++CHARLIE BROOKER IS REQUIRED++BRING HIM HERE
Some as-it-happened reactions to what at the time was the start of the most recent series of Doctor Who, and the most recent series of Black Mirror, and the tedium-merchants who were attempting to link the two for no good reason...
Well, I had decided that I was more or less done with writing reviews of new episodes of Doctor Who. Not for any indignant or loftily 'artistic' reason, but because I'd pretty much run out of anything to say. It's a lot more difficult to get a critical crowbar into the more streamlined revived series than it is with the original run, there's not really any scope for examining the context - which is what I really enjoy when writing about old stuff - and, let's be honest, there's more than enough other people reviewing them already. After a couple of years' worth of causing minor furores by liking The Idiot's Lantern or disliking Silence In The Library, occasionally hitting the nail on the head, and penning an epic length overview of the entire Russell T. Davies era (which you can now find in Well At Least It's Free; it's longer and better than the version originally published online, too), I felt that I no longer had anything constructive or worthwhile to add, and in fact my most recent review to date - of The Doctor's Wife - used that very problem as its starting point. Well that and crisps.
Anyway, let the eating of hats in Astrakhan fur (or, if raining, Stovepipe) commence - last Saturday's new episode, The Bells Of St. John, turned out to have some things worth saying about it after all. Speaking as someone who on the whole hasn't really enjoyed the last couple of series as much, and never really got on with Amy, Rory, overcomplicated 'story arcs' or huge swathes of screentime given over to sub-Soap Opera emoting at the expense of any actual appearances by The Doctor, it was a real breath of fresh air to see an episode that just got right on with telling a straightforward story really well. More pleasingly still, given my tendency to rationalise any misgivings over the new series by reminding myself that it's not being made with me in mind as it's not black and white and from 1966, it seemed to have drawn a lot of inspiration and energy from mid-sixties Doctor Who, with stylistic and structural nods to stories like The Faceless Ones and the internet-predicting The War Machines, not just in revisiting the the era's fixation with the misuse of new technology, but even down to the pacing of the scenes featuring The Doctor and Clara 'meeting' the public. Yes, maybe the actual technological detail was all over the place, but frankly you can forgive that of a series that once gave us The Megabyte Modem and The Icecano. In short, this is what happens when Steven Moffat uses the influence of the past to forge something new, and on this evidence that's something he should be doing a lot more of.
This is why it was more than a little tiresome to see so many people - from newspaper columnists to the one-shot instant opinionators who cause Twitter to creak under their weight the second the end credits roll - talking about how the episode was clearly influenced by Black Mirror, in most cases going on to say more about that than about Doctor Who itself. Leaving aside the presumably trivial detail that this episode was in production several months before the second series of Black Mirror even aired, this kind of reductionism is on a par with the seemingly inexhaustible supply of contestants on Pointless who won't even guess at a Rolling Stones song title because "it's before my time". Though you can go too far in the other direction, and end up like Simon Pegg did when he got shirty at people saying one of his films was based on an existing film and sulked that he'd actually based it on the the book that the original film was based on and then got the title of the book wrong, automatically assuming that something must have been based on whatever is nearest to recognitive hand is selling both yourself and whatever it is you're professing to like short. Perhaps Black Mirror was on Steven Moffat's list of Things To Mention In The Tone Meeting - though the animal sex whimsy/decade-out-of-date argument about reality TV/shameless attempt to rewrite Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind content was decidedly thin on the ground - but judging from his previous form it would have been about seventeenth on a list that also included some things Black Mirror had in turn drawn influence from and, well, Doctor Who itself.
All of which you're probably now thinking is a very long preamble to just going on yet again about how people should go and watch some black and white Doctor Who. Well, it isn't. But I don't have a proper ending, so go and watch some black and white Doctor Who. And then go on about how it's all just ripping off Not So Much A Programme More A Way Of Life...
You can find my huge piece on the entire Russell T. Davies era of Doctor Who in my book Well At Least It's Free, available as a paperback here or as an eBook here.