Sunday, 1 May 2011


Far be it from me to be the ghost at the feast, but I've felt the warm praise for the new series of Doctor Who wash over me, leaving only a damp, lukewarm feeling that something's missing.

Don't get me wrong. I've watched the first two episodes and thoroughly enjoyed them. They're well-written, engaging and entertaining, a triple-whammy of fun for all the family. I was similarly pleased to hear how well it's being received worldwide, with Americans in particular clamouring for DVDs, merchandise and the like. After all, Britain is well-known for a standard of entertainment that invokes jealousy in other television organisations, isn't it?

Well, I'm not so sure any more. It feels like the success of each series only goes to mask the growing feeling that there's not a lot else there. Maybe I've not watched enough TV recently, but it feels like we're increasingly relying on the output of other countries to entertain us. Particularly when it comes to comedy and drama, two things of which critical acclaim used to be an expectation, rather than a bonus.

To pre-empt the 'what about...' argument, I feel it needs to be said at this point that for every Sherlock, there's half a dozen Spirals, or Wallanders. And before we go any further, what happened when we tried to rehash the Swedish detective series, even with a talent like Kenneth Brannagh and the golden touch of BBC production values? The British public, renowned for avoidance of subtitles, chose the original anyway, which as a result still enjoys repeats on the BBC. An expensive mistake.
I think the thing that I find most troubling is that the decline in frequency of high quality television seems to be going, for the most part, unnoticed. If this had happened ten years ago, there'd be outcry as millions of viewers are suddenly faced with the reality that they're bored. Now, we can just torrent a US drama series or watch something imported from Europe on BBC Four. It's a quick fix but it does the job. If this level of apathy continues, how long will it be until someone gets off their arse to actually make that effort?

It's not like it hasn't happened before. The British film industry hangs in stasis, waiting for the next Danny Boyle release for an injection of cash and public interest. It's one of the worst cases of abandonment yet, and I fear history will begin to repeat itself. Television is stagnating, and we can't hang all our hopes on Stephen Moffat to get us out of the shit.

Peep Show has had an eighth and ninth series commissioned, as Channel Four desperately buy themselves time before the viewers notice they're out of new ideas. Endless formats thrown at the likes of Charlie Brooker (well, more like, the same format over and over again) in the knowledge that it'll be decent enough to pass under the radar. I can imagine the pre-production meetings. A wheel of fortune with formats: Panel Show, YouTube Countdown, Satirical Review and names from an increasingly dwindling pool of talent. And the result, burned out shows from burned out comics with pained looks on their faces as they try to find meaning behind what they're doing. I almost wept when I saw Robert's Web. Even scheduled after Peep Show to catch the stragglers. I bet it felt pretty different to presenting My Life in Verse.
The reality is that nobody's getting any younger, but similarly nobody seems to be rising up to take their place. Casing point: BBC Three. So many dreams and aspirations for it to be the place for young talent to thrive. Apart from endless re-runs of Two Pints and The Real Hustle, two programmes clumsily built on the foundations of their successful predecessors, what is it really for? Something edgy for the younger generation? How patronising.

Depressed yet? Don't worry, it'll be fine. The next episode of Doctor Who is on Saturday. After that, you're on your own.

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