Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Corporatization of Nerd Culture, or "What Happened to Tom Baker?"

Imagine you go through school, then university, then your first big job. You do okay, and have success. Then you are offered a new job which distances you from your friends and old accomplishments. You are a bit of a wunderkind at the new job. New clothes, new fame, new people that are vastly different from what you are used to. Here's a question. Do you want these new people seeing your high school yearbook, or baby pictures? Likely not. You have recreated yourself, for better or worse, and would perhaps see these visions of your past as detrimental to your new fame. It is human nature. It is also, by proxy, corporate nature.

What does this have to do with nerd culture, you ask? Well, the three most successful sci-fi, nerd culture franchises are all victims of the above scenario; Star Wars, Star Trek, and most currently relevant, Doctor Who.

Star Wars is easy. Lucas is obsessive, and while the original three films are easily the best of the six, he wants to hide them from us. He is constantly adding footage and effects. What he has done is to destroy any record of three films that truly wowed people and made sci-fi acceptable to the cool kids. Star Trek is little better. Your main access to Star Trek these days is The Next Generation, the most popular, albeit most dated looking incarnation of the show. It does not have so much of what the public perceives as cheesiness from the original series; the hardest to get access to.

This brings us to Doctor Who. The new Doctor Who is doing staggeringly well, not just in the UK, but in the United States. In the US we have had very little access to the first eight Doctors. If you really wanted to get hold of it you could, but today we have the BBC in the US, and Doctor Who in prime time. You would think that the BBC would be proud of the originals and show them as well; introduce the US market to John Pertwee and Tom Baker, among others, on a wider scale. They do not do this, as these are the high school yearbooks and baby pictures. As with the original Star Trek, they are limited by the technology of the time, and have become synonymous with cheesy effects (unfair as that may be). The BBC knows that you can get a hold of these early years; they will even sell them to you if you are that interested, but putting them on the air would be like walking around your new office with your high school yearbook open to the picture of you with a feathered mullet.

So the new Doctor Who is hiding from its past. Sure, they mention the old incarnations in passing, and they brought out Sarah Jane for a few episodes, but for the most part they would like you to forget how old a show it is. It would limit its new-found cool. In fact, I would go so far as to say their revisionism extends to the new show. How often you you see the 9th Doctor these days? They will cram three seasons of David Tennant into a weekend, but Christopher Eccleston is rarely to be found.

As I am often wont to do, I blame the bean counters. The managerial types who do not care for history or nostalgia. Only the bottom line is important. They know, now, that David Tennant and Matt Smith sell advertising, and they are right. This can be quantified. It is a hugely popular show on a network that is not even in everyone's home. They do not want to spoil that success by bringing out old pictures that Americans will not understand. "But everyone had a feathered mullet in 1983," is never a successful argument, especially when made to those not yet born in 1983.

I say to BBC America, take a chance on American nerds. Run some old Doctor Who in the middle of the night. Many of us have DVRs and don't care when shows are on anymore. Get an online campaign going. Tell us to hashtag #ODW, or some-such on Twitter; lots of us will do it. Think of your expatriate and employed abroad Brits who watch BBCA. Wouldn't they, and their children want to see some old Doctor Who? Grow some balls. Stop showing The X-Files and ST:TNG to round out your sci-fi line up. You picked these because they are safe. Safe, however, is not what made the new Doctor Who work; that took some guts. Show some more by accepting your past, feathered mullets and all.


Unknown said...

I'd also love to see the BBC do that. In fact, I'd go so far as to make that suggestion for other olders as well, like Red Dwarf. And, ironically enough, my 5-year-old, who recently discovered The Doctor on Netflix, prefers the older seasons as well.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I do like the new ones, and the more non-Doctor David Tennant I see the better I appreciate his Doctor. I think the old series is different enough to not compete.

Tim Knight said...

It's not just in America, I wish channels over here in the UK would take the chance and show more of the old, classic episodes. We had "The Hand Of Fear" recently as a tribute to Lis Sladen, but that was a one-off. You'd think with the show's new-found popularity every channel would be after their bit of the Doctor Who pie.

Darius Whiteplume said...

I imagine there is some status consciousness keeping the classics at bay (I should have said "classic" rather than "old"). I don't think they would detract. Much like Star Trek, fans appreciate different incarnations over others. I like the original and Voyager best. The Next Generation does not hurt my love for Star Trek, even if they are flying around in a giant Ford Taurus ;-)

thekelvingreen said...

In fairness, the BBC is something of a special case in terms of funding; it's very much a PBS equivalent, so it's less about greed and more about survival, particularly with the new government chipping away at them.

They are well aware of the popularity of Doctor Who, and they know they can make money off old episodes, so I don't blame them for restricting access to those episodes, thus maintaining demand for the DVDs.

I would imagine that the syndication fees for the old episodes are high enough that most channels don't want to bother.

Darius Whiteplume said...

This is true, though I imagine there is some trickiness going on with BBC America, which I assume is a private enterprise that repays the BBC for replay rights; being a public company they cannot give away programing. I really do not know how the BBC works these days, meaning whether they do commercials and such, or if they get the kind of private grants that Public Broadcasting does in America.

As far as DVD sales goes, I think showing the episodes would only boost them. Like "Family Guy" which gained new life on Adult Swim, which led to increased DVD sales and eventual rebirth on Fox after cancellation. It is tricky business, to be sure, but I would assume greater viewership would only increase revenue rather than depending on people my age being nostalgic... especially when I can get them from Netflix.

Rex Venom said...

Baker IS Dr.Who to me.
But I am happy that ANY Sci-fi does well, especially ones that build on old favs.
Rock on!

Darius Whiteplume said...

Baker was my Doctor, prior to Netflix. Now I am becoming a John Pertwee man. I do hate to sound like an old fart who thinks things were better in the past, but last night's episode got me thinking. The TARDIS reboots, presenting a previous control room, and they went all the way back to the Tennant version :-) I'd have killed to see the white, honeycombed walls of the ancient TARDIS.

Anonymous said...

better tell Tomas.

Mickey Glitter said...

I still think this is such a great post! =) I'm linking it in a comment at strange cousin susan because the whole idea of the new show distancing itself from the old has come up in a post and the attendant comments about Nicholas Courtney passing and no one acknowledging it on the new show.

Darius Whiteplume said...

Muchas gracias :-)

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