Monday, January 10, 2011

If You Must Do It, At Least Do It Right

Despite all of the negativity that has been put forth in the world lately regarding the prevalence of remakes and reboots in television and film, I think it's safe to say the phenomenon is nowhere near close to an end.  In fact, I suspect it is only just beginning.  While I can't really defend the trend, it has not escaped my notice that the Brits (or at least some of them) have struck upon the way to do this right.

For example:  Doctor Who

Now, hear me out on this.  It is widely acknowledged, I think, that the show that started airing in 2005 was, in fact, a reboot of the original series.  Technically, the "reboot" is a continuation of the story told by the first eight Doctors, but the "new series," as it is widely called, featured a new look and feel, an all new cast, and a new set of The Powers That Be.  And it worked.  People who had been interested in previous incarnations but daunted by the volume of material (and the amount of missing material) had a new jumping on point.  People who had never heard of it before gave it a go and fell in love with it, many of them seeking out the older episodes after the fact.  People who had grown up watching the original runs from behind their couches saw the return of a beloved friend and were able to go along on an all new set of adventures with him.

I think the key here is that when Russell T. Davies set out to bring back the good Doctor, he found a way to do it that respected the source material (and the existing fan base), while continuing the story and bringing it into the present era all at the same time.  He didn't bother rehashing every established bit of the Doctor's history.  He trusted the viewers (new and old alike) to be intelligent enough to appreciate the odd reference to the first run of the series if they recognized it or to just accept it and move along if they didn't.  We didn't get the same old story again just told with shiny new technology (okay, maybe, possibly, they could give us some new enemies--I still haven't seen any of the original series and even I am a little tired of the Daleks by now) and new younger actors.  We got the same old Doctor in a new body going off on new adventures.

Sure, not everyone has liked what he's done with the series.  The audience varies widely from Doctor to Doctor, even.  But the point is that Davies struck gold with the new series because he wasn't lazy about his reboot.  He looked at what had already been told, and he saw that there was room to add more to the existing canon, and then he figured out a way to tell it without just diminishing what had come before.  One could make the argument that every regeneration throughout the entire history of the series was its own reboot, because with each new version of the Doctor, we get a whole new set of possibilities.  Davies grasped that concept and he used its potential to create television magic.

While I realize that this next statement might cause some disagreement, let me just state that in my opinion Davies also did a really good job of keeping the show uncluttered with extraneous characters just because they were popular.  When former companion Sarah Jane Smith popped up in the second season, she was a welcome site for many viewers, and while it was fun to watch her and the Doctor and Rose interact, it was clear that she didn't quite fit in on the new series.  But once she was fresh in viewers' minds once more, we were easily willing to tune into a show all about her exploits, sans the Doctor (most of the time).  So we got the spinoff series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, which is a fabulous show, aimed more toward children but no less wonderful for that.  I will admit that I am not one-hundred percent on the timeline, since we got Sarah Jane's show only sporadically in the states, but even if Davies was planning her spinoff before her appearance on Doctor Who (and I am reasonably certain he was), it was damn smart of him to put her on the parent show first, just to remind us who she was, as well as to introduce her to the newer crowd who might not know yet.

Torchwood was the same thing, only this time aimed at the grown-ups in Doctor Who's audience.  Captain Jack Harkness appeared in season one and pretty much stole the stage, but at the end of the season, we had to tell him goodbye.  As awesome as he is, does anyone really believe the Doctor wouldn't throw him off the TARDIS if they were cooped up together in it for too long?  (Even if it is bigger on the inside.)  But he was a truly dynamic character, and if he didn't fit in the regular cast of Doctor Who, giving him his own series seemed the logical next step.

This is how television should be done, people.  Reboots and remakes should distill the essence of what made the original so magical.  They should not just be copies given a superficial veneer of modernity.  Spinoffs should find a place for the ideas, stories, and characters that strike a chord with the audience but just don't fit in the parent show--and they should come not as a show is singing its swan song, but as it is in its prime and still holding plenty of audience members who will be interested in what those other guys are doing over there.  It should be exploration down a side road glimpsed briefly, not a refusal to let go of what once was so wonderful.

So Brits, and Russell T. Davies in particular, I tip my hat to you.  Remakes and reboots aren't going anywhere, I fear, but at least I know that some of you, when indulging, will do it right, and give a whole new generation reason to love the original inspiration for your creations.

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