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Friday, September 02, 2011

Committing Blasphemy Against Doctor Who (or How to Kill a T.V. Show)

I haven't watched the latest episode of Doctor Who yet.  It's not because I live in the U.S. and can't afford cable.  In fact, I have the episode sitting there and waiting for me.  Rather, I haven't watched the episode because I've lost interest.  Not entirely, mind you.  I know I'll watch the episode eventually, but it won't be tomorrow or the day after.  It may not happen next week.  Who knows?  I might end up with all the episodes from the final half of this season sitting on my computer before I decide to watch them.

Okay, so that worst case scenario is unlikely to happen, but it is true that the excitement I once held for the new season has waned.  The new season isn't a bad one, so I know it has little to do with the quality.*  Rather, I think it has to do with the three month gap between episode seven and eight.  A similar thing happened with Stargate Universe.  I spent the first half of the first season watching every episode (at the time playing catchup, and then doing the week-by-week thing).  But then the episodes dried up and I had to wait months before the rest of the season would play.  By
the time those episodes appeared, I didn't care about SGU anymore -- at least, not as much as I used to.    I'd moved on, or I'd simply forgotten a lot of what had already happened and couldn't be bothered to watch the episodes again to put everything into proper context.  I still wanted to watch the show, but I never did...
And that's where I'm at with Doctor Who.  Episode seven left us on a cliffhanger.  At the time, I really wanted to know what was going to happen, but as time passed, other things flew into my life -- new shows took DW's place to fill the gap, life got in the way a whole lot, and so on.  Now that DW has started up again, I'm sort of apathetic about it.  I've lost all of the rabid excitement I had when April rolled around and the new season hit the airwaves (or digital stream, if you will).  I can't help thinking it has to do with the time gap, this despite the massive gap between the Christmas Special (A Christmas Carol -- which was amazing) and the new season.

I've never understood why producers and T.V. people insert the gap in the first place.  First, it's unreasonable to assume that your entire audience will have access to digital copies (sometimes those digital versions are only around for a short while before they are replaced and a lot of the time there aren't any digital copies at all -- this, of course, is changing).  But more importantly, it's disruptive.  It tears the narrative cohesion by breaking the traditional T.V. season model and filling it with emptiness.  It's a terrible model, and one that isn't all that new to DW.**
To me, the traditional T.V. season model works because the gaps between seasons are book-ended by a reboot structure.  The new season of Castle will likely include a first episode which offers something new to the existing narrative in order to draw us back into things.  Mid-season breaks, however, don't do this (at least, not in my experience).  They are little more than continuations of the previous story, which works when you only have 7 days between episodes, but falls apart when you insert an enormous gap.  Think of it as memory fatigue (or brain fatigue or something like that).  The longer you draw out the wait, the more likely it is that members of your audience will get bored and move on.  That's a quick way to kill a T.V. show.

I say this knowing full well that DW isn't going to disappear.  It will retain a large enough audience regardless.  But it will bleed viewers.  Those folks will likely not be super fans, but no T.V. show can survive the long term on the backs of super fans.  It doesn't work.  You need the average fans and moderately interested too.

But maybe DW is a bad example, since its viewer-base is filled with super fans (or appears to be).  It's a show that survives because so many people love it to do, both because the new show snatched them up and because a whole bunch of people have been fans of DW since the early days.  Yet I can't help thinking that the gaps aren't helping it.  DW has lost a sizable chunk of its viewers already (more likely because the tone/vision of the show has changed -- for the better, overall, I think) and I wouldn't be surprised to discover that many folks simply didn't come back to DW for the latest episode.  Not because they don't like the show, but because they've moved on.  For me, the gaps are nothing but bad.  I lose interest.  I lose my love.  I move on.  And I don't want that.  I want to feel like I have to watch the new episode right away or my brain will explode.  The nostalgia of that feeling is necessary -- desirable.  It's the same feeling I had when the Star Wars prequels appeared in theaters.  The same feeling I have for Castle and, in the past, for Battlestar Galactica.  Three month gaps and annoying life are taking that away from me for DW, a show I consider to be the last good science fiction show worth watching on TV (re-runs of BSG don't count).  There's no viable replacement, and the void is deafening.

What do you think?  Do you dislike the gaps, or am I just being silly by blogging about this?


*I think the new season has a lot of flaws, but that it still reaches for and acquires the spirit of DW we've come to love in the years prior.

**I started watching the show when Tennant entered his final season of DW, and caught up by the end of his tenure as the Doctor

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  1. I lost interest in Doctor Who a while ago, mostly because GOT took over, and I'm pretty sure if I had watched anything else at that time, I would've been comparing it to GOT. Plus, why watch a brand new DW episode when you could just rewatch a GOT episode and be happier?

    Recently I've thought about picking it up again, mostly because I need to make friends here at college and people who watch Doctor Who are generally worthy of friendship. Interestingly enough, that means I'll just be watching them all one after another, so the 3-month gap will have had no effect on me.

    I know you were hoping for a more thoughtful answer, but my ego is so high I can only give you personal stories.

  2. GOT is good, but it's not as re-watchable as I thought it would be. I can re-watch BSG over and over and over and it all feels wonderful. I can't do that with most shows...BSG is something special.

    Doctor Who is necessary for existence. If you aren't already watching it, then something is wrong with you :P

  3. I've been having similar thoughts about DW recently. :(

    once upon a time I would have considered myself a superfan, but no longer. I don't mind the gaps, as I watch most shows on OnDemand or Netflix anyways, but recently with DW it's been the story telling style that's been bugging me.

    I love River Song, but I get the feeling they've been ret-conning a lot of stuff with her, that they meant her to be someone else, and now they've got to shoehorn in all this Amy/Melodie stuff. This season especially, the show's been feeling more like random SF/adventure (which I do enjoy, don't get me wrong) and not very Doctor Who. I could watch the Eccleston and first Tennant seasons over and over again and be happy. . .

  4. redhead: I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that they are rushing so much of the River Song narrative. When they started the season with that big shocker (I won't say it in case people read this and haven't seen the new episodes yet), I had hoped they would spend the entire season developing that. The various River Song reveals were awesome, but I think the resolution in ep. 7 should have been at the end of 8 instead. iT's all just so rushed...

    And to be fair, the show has always been a little rushed, since it isn't technically meant for adult audiences, but you're right when you point out that previous seasons have been better managed. Or appear to be, at least.