Monday, May 10, 2010

Further Musings on the New Paradigm

I don’t want to turn this blog into a pulpit for trashing the new Dalek design (it does a pretty good job of trashing itself by simply existing), so this will (probably) be the last I say on the subject. But I just can’t figure out why such a stupid idea could ever have been greenlit, from a practical standpoint as much as an aesthetic one.

First, you have the obvious cost. The BBC has always had a reputation for being … ahem … frugal with its Doctor Who budget, particularly where the Daleks are concerned. Sure, the revived series has more resources at is disposal, but every Dalek story since 2005 has (to my knowledge) utilized the same basic pool of NSD props. One was created for “Dalek,” two more for “Parting of the Ways” and “Bad Wolf,” and another for “Doomsday,” plus you had the heavily modified Dalek Supreme from “Stolen Earth/Journey’s End.” So all in all, you’re looking at about four standard Dalek props that were built almost grudgingly, over a period of years.

Then, all of a sudden, the BBC decides to allow the Who production team to build not three, not four but five brand-new props, all at once … props which, having nothing whatsoever in common with the old Daleks, would naturally require a completely new set of molds to be fabricated. And, being so much bigger than the old Daleks, they would presumably consume more resources in their construction. In short, a big, expensive undertaking.

That never needed to happen. Even if the NSD props were starting to show their age, it probably would have been more frugal to simply build new ones from existing molds and parts. Paint ‘em different colors if you must, tweak the design, but don’t fix what ain’t broke.

What a waste.

Then you have the designer of the new Daleks, Peter McKinstry. McKinstry has done a lot of design work for DW – the 2008 Dalek Supreme and the revamped Davros chair, to name two Dalek-related props he was responsible for drawing up. I should be clear that when I trash the New Paradigm design I’m not trashing him; no matter how harsh I may get, calling it “lazy” or “childish,” I don’t really blame him personally. McKinstry is a phenomenal artist, with a skill far beyond anything I was born with or could ever hope to even approach through any amount of practice. This, however, only deepens the mystery. One can only imagine that there was somebody behind him – most probably Steven Moffat – pushing him, prodding him, telling him to warp the Dalek design until it was damned near unrecognizable. And as some other fans have noted, even McKinstry’s concept drawings of the New Paradigms don’t look that bad; they certainly don’t promise anything as awful as the actual props turned out to be.

For the most part I’ve liked what Steven Moffat has brought to DW. I’ve enjoyed every episode he’s written; you can always count on sharp writing, witty dialogue and a good story. The Weeping Angels, Moffat’s creation, are one of the coolest and most original monsters to come out of SF in a long time. So I really can’t figure out why a guy who seems so together, who obviously knows what he’s doing, would choose to do an expensive, utterly unnecessary makeover on an iconic, well-established design.

Make that several well-established designs. The classic DW theme music got a new - and rather bizarre - arrangement. The revamp of the TARDIS interior wasn’t too big of a deal, but I’m biased on that score because I never liked the “organic” design introduced in 2005, and the new one is really no better, no worse. The exterior redesign was completely unnecessary, but it isn’t terribly dramatic so I think we can let that slide. But then you have the drastic change in the Daleks … and now it’s starting to add up.

I really can’t see it being anything other than the needless indulgence of ego, Moffat trying so hard to make the show his own that he’s forgotten that it really doesn’t belong to anybody. Producers can put their stamp on it, sure, but they should be wary of making any major changes, especially to a show with a forty-seven year history. Moffat’s an easy guy to like, but he’s coming off like a crazed fan-fiction writer, twisting and reshaping everything to his own whims whether it works or not. Even the scene in “Victory,” where the “old” Daleks agree with their stupid-looking new successors that they are inferior and therefore actually volunteer to be exterminated, suggests Moffat was taking a petty little shot at Russell T. Davies by literally humiliating Davies’ Daleks before retiring them.

It sounds like typical geek griping, I know. And maybe it is. But when somebody comes in and starts changing this, changing that, just for the sheer sake of it … that’s actually what bothers me most, more so than the new Daleks themselves – the ego thing is just so damned obvious. I mean, look at it this way: if you went into a fancy restaurant and asked for a hundred dollar steak, and they brought you a cold, stale McDonald's hamburger instead, you probably wouldn’t go back. You come to expect certain standards to be adhered to, a certain respect for conventional wisdom … I don’t think that’s too much to ask, even from something as apparently frivolous as a TV show. I’m not going to sit here like a kid throwing a tantrum and say I’ll never watch Doctor Who ever again because the Daleks aren’t Daleks anymore, and I’ll hold my breath ‘till I turn blue and pass out besides … but I can definitely feel something slipping away. That sense of wonder I had when I was a kid … that sense of wonder that I recaptured back in 2005 … it’s slipping away because the old conventions are not being respected.

When any show (or book, or movie franchise, or any kind of modern fable) stops being recognizable as its own distinct self … that’s when the real fans just quietly walk away. No geek tantrums or silly Internet petitions or calls for boycotts. Just a quick shot from the TV remote. Click.

1 comment:

  1. Me again. Looking at Peter Mckinstry's original designs for the New Paradigm Daleks, I agree that they really don't look anywhere near as bad as the finished props turned out. This leads me to believe that it may be possible to salvage the new designs; repaint them to look metallic, detail them to make them look assembled from parts instead of a flat cast, etc. They are apparently going to be a command class for Daleks rather than the new standard, and command class Daleks have had all kinds of weird shapes before.

    Personally, I'd like to see another Dalek civl war.