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The Power of Jane Tranter

April 28th, 2008 (12:51 pm)

Doctor Who fans, and specifically Doctor Who Magazine readers, will be aware of the influence Jane Tranter, controller of BBC Fiction, has on Doctor Who. Russell T Davies has cited how her decisions can make or break the wishes of the production team in Cardiff, stifling the idea that Rose should be succeeded by a Victorian/Edwardian kitchenmaid, and urging the replacement of the seemingly old-fashioned pseudohistorical, like The Unquiet Dead, with more brazenly anachronistic fare like Tooth and Claw.

Today's Media Guardian includes an article critical of the centralisation of commissioning authority in Tranter at the BBC, and while Doctor Who is mentioned only fleetingly, the article provides valuable context, if made up largely of unattributable anecdotal evidence, for the production of the programme and other current BBC series.

Comments

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 12:52 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who

Thanks for linking to this, although I'm always suspicious of unattributed quotations. I admit that the influence of Jane Tranter largely passed me by until you pointed it out to me.

That said, while the difference in style between the Eccleston season and the two following is enormous (it is too early to tell about the current one), I feel unable to completely absolve the BBC Wales team from all responsibility. Davies' populist instincts don't seem to be a million miles away from those of Tranter.

For example, as far as I can tell, it was Davies who insisted on the Queen Victoria/werewolf/warrior monk combination in Tooth and Claw, and it was certainly Davies who made the Doctor and Rose so insufferable in that story. It was the BBC Wales team who insisted on giving Gareth Roberts' reasonably intelligent Shakespeare script a Dan Brown-esque title. It is difficult to avoid the impression that it was the fans in BBC Wales who turned Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks into a remake of The Evil of the Daleks. It is hard to imagine Tranter sending Davies a memo ordering him turn the Master into a camp parody. And so on.

Posted by: philmophlegm (philmophlegm)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)
I'vegotasportscar

Apart from the times he was green and slimy, when was the Master NOT camp?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
pic#70424010

I think this element in the Master's nature can be overstated, but the section in About Time 6 where Tat Wood identifies the Master as the gayest thing about Doctor Who is very entertaining.

Correction: the Master, says Wood, is the second gayest thing about Doctor Who.

Edited at 2008-04-28 04:28 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Polly (jane_somebody)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 07:52 pm (UTC)
hands

Which of course begs the question...?

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 08:22 pm (UTC)
pic#70424010

I was hoping that someone would ask...

UNIT, apparently.

Selected evidence: the Brigadier's "starchiness in the face of increasingly bizarre circumstances" is "automatically suspect"; Captain Yates is always eyeing up men and his call sign is "Venus"; The Daemons ends with Yates inviting the Brig to join a fertility dance; the Doctor mistakes the Brigadier for "a series of gay soldiers" in Robot (while Sarah calls him 'a swinger'); Harry shows no sign of fancying Sarah and the Doctor says he is only qualified to operate on sailors... yes, it's all rather desperate stuff.

Posted by: brewsternorth (brewsternorth)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)

For example, as far as I can tell, it was Davies who insisted on the Queen Victoria/werewolf/warrior monk combination in Tooth and Claw,

Probably Davies-and, if you get my meaning; such folk generally hunt in packs. But yes, it is a pity that a coherent and possibly better story was passed over because it contained no kung-fu monks or werewolves.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 04:20 pm (UTC)

Agreed - when I saw the monks turn into fighting monks I thought that this was a betrayal of the programme's original brief to familiarise viewers with ways of looking at the past.

Posted by: ms_rebecca_riot (ms_rebecca_riot)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 10:50 pm (UTC)
modernist tea

I totally dig your icon.

Posted by: brewsternorth (brewsternorth)
Posted at: April 29th, 2008 02:34 am (UTC)

Why thank you.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 04:18 pm (UTC)

I had no intention of removing the BBC Wales team from all responsibility; but do think that the shift in style you mention is partly a Tranter-led shift from an experimental first season to a more formulaic second and third season, although there was still room for experimentation within the formula. Tranter's influence has been there from the beginning: she was a prime mover in the revival of Doctor Who, and accepted many of Russell's ideas which overturned her own expectations - making the Doctor a youngish man rather than an older man/woman, not including the Daleks in the first episode as she had wanted, holding back on the Master for a couple of years, etc.

I still don't think that the Helen Raynor Dalek two-parter was as much a retread of The Evil of the Daleks as you seem to think, and covering similar ground thematically is acceptable with a forty year gap; though Evil is the superior story. I think it would be better-remembered had Evolution not been rewritten at the eleventh hour to remove the original climax, though the human Daleks are conceptually somewhat limp.

I always found John Simm's Master to be credibly chilling, and carefully judged to shadow David Tennant's performance as the Doctor. I didn't think he was a parody of his earlier self, rather a new interpretation of the character both from the point of view of the writer and the actor.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 05:48 pm (UTC)
Doctor Who

You are probably right that I am a bit unfair on Daleks in Manhattan; the real problem was less that it imitated The Evil of the Daleks and more that the second half was predictable, even if you had not seen/heard the original. I may re-evaluate the story when I get around to a second viewing.

As for John Simm's Master, I agree he paralleled Tennant's Doctor, but I'd say that was precisely why I rarely found him chilling.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
Troughton

Evolution of the Daleks fails to deliver on almost everything that Daleks in Manhattan seemed to have promised. The social divisions of the United States in the 1930s are brushed aside (in the first episode there was still the possibility that they might be confronted). The confusion of solar flares, lightning and DNA manipulation was embarrassing. The Dalek Sec hybrid is memorably grotesque in appearance, but seems incongruous in light of the army of humanoid Dalek hybrids unleashed in Evolution... - and so it goes.

I think we have to agree to disagree on Simm - I thought that, at least in The Sound of Drums, he helped give Tennant's Doctor more gravitas.

Posted by: ms_rebecca_riot (ms_rebecca_riot)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC)

I loved Tooth & Claw.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: April 28th, 2008 11:20 pm (UTC)
SarahJaneSmith

So did lots of people, which suggests that it worked - I'm just fussy. :)