Friday, September 19, 2014

Appearing at the Birmingham Literature Festival...

It's nearly October - which means that the excellent Birmingham Literature Festival is nearly with us (2-11 October 2014).

As ever, there are many mouthwatering events to attend, as you'll see from a glance through the programme - but I feel it's only right that I should draw your attention to two events with which I'm personally involved...

The first is Voices in Fiction, 7.30-8.45pm on Friday 3 October, where I have the pleasure of chairing a discussion with four fine writers: Kerry Hudson, Sathnam Sanghera, Lottie Moggach and Nikesh Shukla, each of whom will be reading from and speaking about their latest novels - and the art of fiction today.

The second is Soap City, 6-7pm on Friday 10 October, where this time I'll be joining a panel, chaired by the wonderful Helen Cross - also a Fellow of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at Birmingham City University - to discuss just what it is that has made Birmingham and the Midlands home to such a striking tradition of soap opera. We'll also be talking about what it's like to work on continuing series in television and radio. Mary Cutler will be representing The Archers and Crossroads; Tim Stimpson The Archers and Ambridge Extra; Claire Bennett Doctors - and I'll be recalling my time on Silver Street.

Just follow the links to book.

I hope to see you there...

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Doctor Who: Writing the Companions

Steven Moffat has come in for a lot of criticism since taking charge of Doctor Who – somewhat bafflingly, to my mind – but I’ve always admired his scriptwriting and I still do. Less given to sentimentality than Russell T. Davies, he has led the series with humour, verve and intelligence. The plots get a bit convoluted sometimes, but there are worse sins. Matt Smith did a fine job as the previous Doctor, but the excellent Peter Capaldi is – quite rightly – bringing a new edge to the role. Moffat’s priorities look good to me.

But – since its re-launch in 2005, the writing for Doctor Who has regularly gone wrong in one significant way: its handling of the companions.

After two episodes of Series 8, Danny Pink looks good, and I’m rather hoping that Journey Blue will not be abandoned by the Doctor after all. But Clara – ah, Clara…

Leaving aside the deeply misguided storyline in which the Doctor supposedly fell in love with Rose Tyler, (Davies, no!) the companions have too often been drained of their wonder at the Doctor's universe and installed with a whiny species of self-satisfied insolence, as if untouched by any sense of the mysteries they have been shown. They stay too much their same old selves, in the most extraordinary circumstances. To me, that's also unrealistic, in a damaging sense (and before anyone says, ‘Realistic? This is sci-fi!’ I would say that sci-fi especially demands psychological authenticity if it is to achieve narrative authenticity).

Dispiritingly, I suspect that this is because the writers intuitively perceive the offspring of contemporary society to be self-obsessed, lacking in humility and apparently incapable of having respect for anything they don't or can't be bothered to understand – and then write the characters accordingly. I have an awful feeling (oh say it ain’t so) that they are trying to write ‘normal’ characters, to which we, as members of that benighted society, can ‘relate’.

Don't do that. Neither children nor adults need it.

Clara has been a lost opportunity in this respect, because she was far and away the most promising companion since the re-launch. In effect, when they picked which Clara Oswald to settle on, they picked the wrong one. Her first incarnations were much more interesting: she was intelligent, with a mystery of her own. Now, despite her charms, of which there are many for sure, this ‘teacher’-variant is too often just another human arrogant enough to hold on to her seemingly uninterested attitude – long after the Doctor, I reckon, would have lost patience with it.

The Silurian Vastra, played by the wonderful Neve McIntosh, is a lively addition to the Whoniverse – as is/was the not-quite-human River Song: both Moffat creations.

For the Doctor’s regular companion(s), can’t we have more interesting humans, too?