Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Comprehensive Anti-Kids Show Rant

Fuck the children's show thing annoys me.

Not the very idea that Doctor Who is a show for children to watch, that bit is fine. I have no problem for that and it would be stupid to pretend otherwise.

My problem is quotes like this:

It’s really a children’s show which adults “happen to love”:
“But ‘Ah!’ I hear some sobbing imploring, ‘a large percentage of the Who audience were adults!’

From a brief perusal on Behind the Sofa, whilst looking for some of Alan Stevens' trademark ranting. Yes, obviously when I speak my case I break down in girlish tears at the imminent threat to my own masculinity, you effing wanker.

It's the militantism about the "Doctor Who is a children's show" group that pisses me off. They argue it in so agressive a nature that you can't help but feel that it's a direct attack against you, that these buggers are prancing up and down in front of you screaming "YOU WATCH A KID'S SHOW, YOU WATCH A KID'S SHOW!", as if I'm some closeted homosexual keeping a shameful secret from my family.

And the thing is... I still don't think it's true. The timeslot was specifically catering for two audiences, as we all know between Jukebox Jury and the football results, with some eye-candy for the dads, at the time that fish fingers were being served and all those nauseating 70s cliches. Yes, it was the children audience they mostly aimed for (until the 80s...) but in execution, and design (for this was what Sydney Newman had intended) it was a family show, and has never been produced by the BBC's children's department.

It is as much a kid's show as The Goodies and Blake's 7 were. But 'Ah' at this point would say somebody desperate to piss me off, as all too many are... 'Ah, but they ARE called kid's shows!'. Yes, thank you that was the point I was getting at - they really aren't. The Goodies was only marketed as a children's show as of the third season, and they liked to keep brief shots of nudity into the series as late as the fifth season (Although it was clumsily edited out here by the AB friggin' C) and Blake's 7... no.

This leads into the cross-cultural issue, which I think is the reason why a lot of Aussie people like myself resent this festering load of crap that people like to bring up when there aren't enough elements to spoil to piss groups in fandom off - here in Australia, our kids shows tend to be pretty cut and dried. As far as I can remember - since turning 9 or 8 or one of those I haven't watched any, because that just isn't done. At least in the country, where we are all dead hard. Kid's shows, from my sketchy experience, are made with zero budget, low levels of talent, ropey premises, and frightening amounts of enthusiasm. Pleasing to a child, but instantly disposable.

To apply this label to Doctor Who feels not just like an insult to the viewer's masculinity, as is the belief of the pro-childers who mock us, but to the show itself. And no matter what your thoughts are on Doctor Who, it's a show with a lot to it... equating it to Agro's Cartoon Corner (if that was the name of it) and The Ferals (which I think later became Feral TV..) and, even though it's not Australian it's of a similar nature, The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers just doesn't add up at all. There's also the fact that no Australian kid's show has ever been watched by upwards of 11 million viewers (which would make it, like, the most watched ANYTHING in the country..) or gotten... or achieved any place in the consciousness equivalent to DW, in spite of the sterling efforts of Bananas in Pyjamas and Play School (I seriously don't remember that show at all. People make references to the Windows and The Clock... I have no idea what they're talking about..)

Of course, there are people like a certain miscreant I know who pull out Press Gang as an example. BUT - it really isn't a fair example, is it? It may be brilliant (never seen it) but most of them... aren't. It's like saying that because of Cracker all police psychology shows are brilliant, ignoring Bones, Monk and, especially, NCIS (shudder).

The other element of the cross-cultural difference is one brought up during some of blogger Ben "Yahtzee" Crowshaw's finest rambling, when he talked about the bewildering differences between living in the UK and living in Queensland. He described Australia as a sickeningly happy place, and as his prime example he used our kid shows, because they featured... people. Happy people. Before he explained that UK shows for children are dominated by creatures like The he explained it as though the Poms are so miserable that the idea of people behaving like that was too incredible and that they needed alien beings to make it credible.
And this got me thinking - tying back into The Goodies and Blakes 7... could it be that rather than ever looking, really LOOKING at the shows and what they were about, it was the elements that were not everyday, that required some modicum of imagination and abstract thought, that convinced people that this was 'kid's stuff' in the conservative nature of British 'stuck-in-the-mud' society?

Well.. I don't find it implausible.

The thing that really gets me down, though, is tying the show down in this way. Why? Why a kids show? It can be so much more, it IS so much more to so many people... it's a science fiction (or 'fantasy' if you're an odious pedant who doesn't realise that the 'real science fiction' genre is a figment of your imagination) first and foremost and does a brilliant job, being utterly unique without a show like it encompassing a brilliant array of worlds and monsters and ideas... it will find its own audience? Why tie it down?

And... for the record, as somebody who only came to the show during the ABCs repeat run, I've only seen Doctor Who from my mid-teens onwards - out of the ridiculous 'children' demographic and into the slightly-more-ludicrous 'young adult' demographic. As we all now, in that age bracket you're pretty derisive of 'kids stuff' (apart from some of my weird friends who were still watching Play School when they could for some reason..) I can really say that - give or take a scene where William Hartnell explains how a light switch works for 2 minutes straight - I only thought the show ever had a 'childish' feel was during the late Pertwee era (the time that the majority of 'modern' fandom came to it, coincidence?) and over the course of three middling-to-badly received episodes in the 27th Season (curiously all made by the same director who seems to now be banned from the program for life. Coincidence?)

Again, of course, there's the counter-point that a kid's show doesn't have to be 'childish' for children to watch it - and this is the crux of the opposing argument, the ability to use the considerable ambiguity over precisely what the term really means. In all the time that I have seen OG bombarded with "IT'S A KID SHOW, YOU PILLOCKS!" posts, I am yet to see an actual argument citing any evidence or... well, anything beyond "A lot of kids watch it!" The truth is... these people just think there's something really cool about watching a kid's show for all of their adults life. As if it somehow makes them different, and cool by not conforming to society's expectations... or they just use it as a means to piss off people who take the show 'too seriously'.

Doing a little bit of non-exhaustive digging: Justin Richard's The Legend never uses the phrase 'kid's show', nor does Peter Haining's Key to Time (shut up, I don't have the 'proper' reference books..) the Wikipedia page never mentions the phrase either exept in relation to Totally Doctor Who and Blue Peter, I've looked at a half dozen "What is Doctor Who?" pages, none of which use the term... and finally I re-watched Melvyn Bragg's quite delightful Whose Doctor Who doco.

Conspicuously, again, never called a children's show and one of the first facts noted is that 40% of the audience are adults. Forty percent. That is a lot. And that's clearly not including teenagers who, of course, are a different demographic.

And, finally... I have never, in any references to Doctor Who in the media... heard it referred to as a 'long running children's television show' or any other variation. It's always referred to as what it is - science fiction.

The annoying thing is, though, that Steven Moffat is one of the mob who just say "IT IS!" and leave it at that with no qualification, save for some token rambling about the 'spirit' of the show which returns to the point of the British equating 'not miserable' to 'kid's stuff'. And The Moff's cheerleaders are in full flight and, illogical though it may frigging be, the argument will go in his way.

Thanks a lot, OGers. Were you championing everything the guy did when he was writing seven minutes of fart jokes for Rowan Atkinson and Julia Sawalha?


Youth of Australia said...

Well, I loved Curse of Fatal Death. And Press Gang. Yeah, I've been on the Moff's side for a long time now. Makes slagging off The Empty Child difficult at the best of times, considering I was one of those "if any of you motherfuckers so much as mock the title I'll kill every last motherfucking one of you!" fans.


But no, this is a well-thought out, well written discussion. And I say that having just survived Mad Larry's dissertation on Why Steven Moffat Is Pure Evil - "He's not idealistic! He made me an alcoholic! His stories aren't as good as mine! He's cynical! He's a bully! He's Scottish! I told everyone he had a gay crush on me!"

Jesus Christ.

ANnnnyway. Too true, to all points. The thing I think about is that some shows have a certain quality I call "kid friendly". Now that sounds bad right away? Dumbed down, patronizing, sharp edges removed.

But I can't think of another term, so just take the words rather than the generally accepted use.

The first ep of B7 I ever watched was Rescue. I was three years old - maybe not even that. I loved it. It made sense, which is a true achievement as it's a sequel to an episode I didn't see for years. Look at the dialogue, the the plot, the way after five minutes we KNOW these people. Vila drags out an unconscious man from a burning building, screaming, "Oh, you stupid oaf, no time to take a nap! If I break my back hauling a corpse around, I'll never forgive you!" Instantly we know Vila is a funny, scared guy who nevertheless keeps his head in a crisis. By the time we reach the campfire scene, I knew him as well as when I finally watched Warlord a year ago.

Now, Blake's 7 is not a children's show, by any means. But I was a child and I understood most of it. I wanted to see more. My friends never got into it to the degree I did, but they didn't spend the whole time bored and uninterested either. Same thing with Red Dwarf, and the Goodies.

It's not really dumbing down, but keeping it simple. We never see Cally, but we know she matters and the fact she's dead makes it serious. We have no idea how Rimmer is a ghost with an H on his head, but we know he and Lister hate each other. It's about the ideas and presentation. Even at three I twigged that Soolin and Dorian were NOT a happy couple because when he snogs her, she freezes up. A whole relationship can be extrapolated from that, by anyone!

Yet, there are shows you can't lose yourself in at that age. Courtroom drama. Rumpole. Historical stuff. Why? Because it's all full of talk in complicated, artificial language that relies entirely on knowing what everyone is up to before you tune in. I can tell Rumpole is taking the piss about damn near everyone he meets, but I had no idea what EXACTLY he was saying, WHY he was saying it, or HOW it was helping. It's not so much telling people the answers but putting the answers in plain sight. The Federation are bad because tough guy Avon doesn't want to be anywhere near them - once that idea gets across, the subtle comedy of Traitor is something to slowly decipher. Rimmer is stupid because he does the most complicated and pointless of methods - the stuff about his messed up private life and academic qualifications are later.

It's like iceberg principle - kids see above the water, but can look below if they want. Blink works above and below. Rescue works above and below. The Blook of the World is completely submerged at the bottom of the ocean under a layer of mud. Cyberwoman is a bubble floating above the water.

Dear GOD it is hard to carry out abstract thought when a cat is screaming at you...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

And the thing is... I agree with you entirely. Doctor Who is definitely kid friendly. And so is The Goodies and so is most of Blackadder, (when you're young you miss the satire, but you're still left with really larger-than-life, fun characters..) as I was reared on endless VHS viewings of them... (My mum didn't let me watch Red Dwarf till I was fairly old.. she could be a bit weird when it came to shows with extremely minor sexual references..)

It's just the suggestion that Doctor Who has somehow been designed for the child market solely, when there's a wealth of evidence that it was intended to have as broad an audience as possible over the entirety of its run... (Well, cancellation years excepted OBVIOUSLY)

This whole post was me snapping after reading yet another "It's a kid show so NRRRH!"...

Youth of Australia said...

(when you're young you miss the satire, but you're still left with really larger-than-life, fun characters..)
It's also amazing how simple the set ups are - trying to work out if a boy is a girl; trying to get out of trouble when you're utterly guilty; trying to be more popular than the next guy; getting cash in a hurry; trying to go to a party... ANYONE can get that!

(My mum didn't let me watch Red Dwarf till I was fairly old.. she could be a bit weird when it came to shows with extremely minor sexual references..)
I have to say I never really noticed the "Inflatable Ingrid" scene until relatively recently. Of course, the Cat goes on about sex all the time... he's a cat!

It's just the suggestion that Doctor Who has somehow been designed for the child market solely, when there's a wealth of evidence that it was intended to have as broad an audience as possible over the entirety of its run... (Well, cancellation years excepted OBVIOUSLY)
Oh get real. The original version of Doctor Who - The Troubleshooters - was changed because they felt a series about a bunch of self-involved wankers running an alien detecting operation was too smug and insular.

You hear that RTD? They thought Torchwood was shithouse in 1962!!!

This whole post was me snapping after reading yet another "It's a kid show so NRRRH!"...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Oh get real.

..sorry, am I the one who needs to get real here or the people I'm talking about?

I've never actually heard about The Troubleshooters before...

Youth of Australia said...

Not you, t'other fellah.

As for the Troubleshooters, that was the first proposal ever made when the BBC said "get us a TV show". The idea was for a trio of specialists working in a modern office with a vault full of wierd junk and stuff that fueled plots and the like. People would come to the trio for help facing all sorts of things - ghosts, aliens, gangsters, you name it. The three characters were: good looking bloke, senisitive woman, and total nutter.

This idea lasted a long time, but in trying to work out what the nutter was about became more and more interesting. Soon they decided the nutter was actually an anarchist from the future trying to change history, then made him a fugitive from his own people who he was trying to retcon out of existence. Then it became an idea the nutter would have a time machine he couldn't quite work and the other two were passing normal people caught up in this madness.

Sydney Newman liked this and decided the Troubleshooting idea was just too predictable and he and a guy called Bunny Webber worked on the 'time travel nutter' idea and worked out a story called "Nothing At The End of A Lane". A schoolgirl called Bridget and two teachers (Cliff and Lola) find an amnesiac nutter and his invisible bubble-shaped time machine which he has hidden inside a sentry box as a disguise, but when they try the controls, they end up in a science classroom... less than a centimetre tall. After three episodes of lots of scrapes, the gang escape into the time machine before it ends up eaten by a mouse, and try again... and arrive in a quarry where a huge building is floating in mid-air.

Newman decided this was a good story to go with and decided to name the show after the central character, after someone wrote "Doctor who?" on their To-Do List.

Cameron Mason said...

I have never, ever seen Doctor Who videos or DVDs in the children's section of stores.

It's always under science fiction.

Case closed.


Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Well, aren't you Mr Succinct?

Youth of Australia said...

You should see how he organizes the Doctor Who merchandise at his shop... most of it in the children's section. At least on the day I visited... ;)

Cameron Mason said...

Well, aren't you Mr Succinct?

I don't believe in wasting words.

Probably why I've so far not been ask to write another short story...

You should see how he organizes the Doctor Who merchandise at his shop... most of it in the children's section. At least on the day I visited... ;)


Another point the "IT'S A KIDS SHOW!" brigade ignores is that in all the press releases and interviews given about the return of Doctor Who in 2005 is that the BBC resurrected the show to get back the family audience on a Saturday night.


Chris Hale said...

Ahhh, you're a Yahtzee fan. I should have seen it XD

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Ahhh, you're a Yahtzee fan. I should have seen it

Erm, I'd say I'm more of a follower than a fan of Yahtzee... his stuff is generally worth a look, but every bit of genius (say AITGOFW...) there's stuff like 7DAS which is just embarassingly B-grade tripe.

(On that note.. have you noticed that Trilby is the only real character in the 'Chzo' series? Don't believe me? Rate the games highest to lowest in terms of quality. Then rate them highest to lowest in the amount of screen-time Trilby gets. Coincidence? I think not..)

Of course, you could just be referring to Zero Punctuation, which I'm a big fan of. Which also my browser has refused to load a frame of since they changed the site. Son of a bitch...