Sunday, January 4, 2009

Russel T. Davies: Affirmative Action in....well, Action

Don't get me wrong, I am a huge Russel fan. The man brought us not only a brilliant Doctor Who to a new generation (myself included), but he's responsible for the underrated pleasure of Queer as Folk. He's almost up there with Whedon in my book, and it's a sacred holy book.

But last year Davies criticized the British series Primeval (a lame, derivative monster show) not for its weak premise or weaker storylines, but for its "lack of ethnic casting." Otherwise he thinks the show is great.

This statement is most troubling for what it says about Russel's own work. Aside from certain obvious stories he's produced as head writer, such as anything with the Ood (very ugly alien slaves who turn out to possess a wealth of beauty and wisdom when you care to look) or this Christmas's irrelevant PC companion Rosita (the hooker with the heart of gold, but no good lines), this active diversity-casting calls into question the entire role of Martha Jones, stalwart companion of Series 3.

In my experience, Martha was a little hard to get used to. After the dynamic, heroic consistency of Billie Piper's Rose, and her heartbreaking if short-lived departure, Martha seemed flat and a little bit boring. Almost immediately her unrequited tedious love of the Doctor limited the story. However it turns out I have an infinite amount of trust in shows that I love, so I took the Doctor's word for it that she was 'brilliant' and found myself endeared to her, and even reveling in her series finale arc. (It was anticlimactic, but now the writers can say "she saved the world", always a satisfying character trait.)

Now, however, I can clearly picture the BBC casting room in the Summer of 2006, just after Piper's departure, and a jolly Russel T. Davies walking into work, with a large coffee and a larger donut (or doughnut in British), thinking to himself "Today, I'm casting a minority." Followed by an inner glow of self-satisfaction.

Was Freema Agymen so fantastic and unknown that she blew them away? Or was she a political statement, a blank template that made David Tennant and the entire franchise look good? She certainly didn't come into the role with the personality and keen acting ability of Catherine Tate.

In choosing Matt Smith for the new Doctor (over the worrying rumors of a Black replacement,) Russell has restored my confidence in his final days at the helm. Here's hoping the new companion is chosen for substance, not style.

No comments:

Post a Comment