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In 2015, Doctor Who became my favourite show, rather than loitering in the top five. The reason it’s leapt to the top is a result of the relationship between Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and Clara, played by Jenna Coleman.
First airing in 1963, I can’t claim to have seen every episode, but I always make time for the new ones, enamoured with its mix of silliness and end-of-the-universe dramas.
With well-publicised revival after revival, plenty of aliens and technology, and its setting (often) in space, I naturally compare it to the Star Wars franchise – which is having a huge comeback this December in the form of The Force Awakens. Despite the lofty title, the trailers haven’t sparked my imagination.
Instead, the promos have brought Star Wars fans and friends out of the woodwork to tell me that Doctor Who, despite having heart, can never compete with a big budget franchise. I disagree, so here’s why I will always stick with the BBC’s Doctor Who, but won’t be watching the new Star Wars film.
Is there a better fictional character than The Doctor – an enigmatic time-travelling alien who rejuvenates in different forms? Through his depiction we get to see how the same being, but with different appearances and personalities between incarnations, navigates the universe by playing to his (changing) strengths.
A young Matt Smith can waltz into any social situation, albeit awkwardly, and charm his way into private rooms and secure locations with a fresh faced smile. The mature Peter Capaldi has to be more intelligent, even threatening, because he’s older and not relying on his looks.
Many have commented that Capaldi’s Doctor is darker and colder than his predecessor, and I view this as a statement on growing old; as the world starts to make you redundant, a person is encouraged to close themselves off as they become ‘less useful’.
The best thing about this, and I won’t mince my words, is that the youngest viewers now look up to an old(ish) man, someone wise and with a lifetime of different experiences. I’ve seen twelve year olds in the street with Doctor Who emblazoned on their T-shirts, proudly showing someone three generations older than them, and it just makes me smile.
Who’d have imagined in the ‘60s that 50 years later kids would be carrying around Time Lord cases in their pockets? Not to mention that the digital generation is so inspired that young people write fan-fiction and post it online to share.
Going back to Doctor Who being my favourite show, I suppose I view the characterisation of The Doctor with Clara as a break from an important societal boundary that changes the way we think about ageing, and I don’t see a message as important on such a granular level from Star Wars.
For me, Star Wars covers the almost clichéd fight of good vs evil without the same depth or variety of characters. This is shown in the media by the surprise of how they’ve ‘let’ Carrie Fisher age gracefully for the latest film. If they’d had a variety of well-rounded female characters, the focus wouldn’t be on one actress and her appearance.
On the flip-side, Doctor Who has Clara talking back and taking her destiny into her own hands as the latest in a string of fearless women. Who can forget Donna as depicted by Catherine Tate, rewriting stereotypes of 30-something office workers?
The Force Awakens does show hope for improving, however, with new female character Rey looking to be exactly what the franchise needs to show it does take women seriously. It’s just a shame it might be too late for me to get involved.
Maybe I should be more forgiving? Perhaps it is simply easier for a television show funded by the taxpayer to take ‘risks’, as opposed to big-budget films that could bankrupt studios if they fail?
Star Wars takes place in one galaxy, which is impressive, until you consider the BBC show can take place literally anywhere and at any time. No limitations make for fantastic storytelling and you’re bound to be more invested when the plot implicates life itself, rather than a single race or people.
It’s easy to get lost in grandiose ideas but Moffat manages to keep your mind on the bigger picture whilst also letting you into a character’s personal experiences. This means the emotions only hit harder. For example, at a world’s end you could be empathising with a child, which gets across the sense of loss as you’re forced to multiply that grief billions of times.
In contrast, Star Wars seems to focus more on grand, high-budget fight sequences where I get lost and my attention and focus wanes. It’s harder to get that emotional pay-off when you’re willing something to end so you’re not being bored for your money…
Star Wars has faced criticism for its inconsistent acting. The big name actors are drawn to such a popular franchise, but then don’t shine as they would in other projects. The Force Awakens, the first release since the new Disney contract, may buck this trend and I hope it does.
In the same way that Christian Bale saved Batman, hopefully John Boyega and Daisy Ridley can stop the argument against Star Wars that the actors don’t interact well with each other and are overly Hollywood.
Hands up, the stakes aren’t as high with Doctor Who, as the budget is nowhere near as big as the hundreds of millions invested in Star Wars, but I prefer the theatrical, play-style acting chops on display and it still pulls in acclaimed genre actors like Maisie Williams, complete with their own huge fanbases.
There’s an earnest touch to Doctor Who that keeps me coming back for more. When Danny Pink had to leave Clara behind, it broke my heart because the hallway scene was simple and despite the swirling whirlpool he spoke through, it seemed realistic as you felt it through their eyes.
To Star Wars’ credit however, the films do entertain and their actors are often rousing, despite many of them wearing prosthetic make-up or full masks like Darth Vader. This is no mean feat, and requires all elements to work in harmony, from direction and lighting to voice acting.
I have a lot of respect for the skills involved and think that performances have improved from the original outings. I just prefer the dressed down approach of Doctor Who, which injects bizarre situations with realism.
When all’s said and done, I probably should give the new Star Wars film a go. How will I know what I’m missing? Yet, when I engage with sci-fi, I like to start my relationship from the first stage of anticipation, of waiting to view, and Star Wars feels like a pop-phenomenon obligation. Doctor Who on the other hand is the gift that keeps on giving, with the power to positively influence the real world.
I have hope for Star Wars and I’m sure I will crack and watch it when it gets a digital release, spurred on by being able to view it from the comfort of my own home. The problem is, it’s Doctor Who I most want to see on the big screen.