Wednesday 18 May 2016

Alastair Roberts on 'winking through the window of the fourth wall' in Doctor Who

In some cases, pop culture producers play very directly to the ‘second screen’ and the social and political concerns and values of a connected audience. Doctor Who—a science fiction series aimed predominantly at children, but with an extensive and obsessive adult audience—is an example of a TV show whose writers are frequently winking through the window of the fourth wall. Episodes of Doctor Who over the last few years have contained numerous pointed and typically gratuitous references to contemporary socially progressive concerns such as same-sex marriage, queer sexuality, transsexualism, and various feminist themes. These references usually serve no ostensive plot purpose: They are incongruous and odd, violating Chekov’s gun principle. They draw attention to themselves in a way that often seems intentional and preachy, seemingly calling for us to attend, while simultaneously chiding us for paying attention to that which should be treated as entirely natural and unexceptional. However inauthentic they may appear on the ‘first screen’, though, they play very well on the second. The intensification of the messages of such media has much to do with the development of the spectacle they offer into a means of self-signalling in the age of the internet, as audiences become more visible to themselves within a spectacle of their own.

The question is – are the writers of (generally) high quality TV and other mass media such as Doctor Who and Sherlock motivated primarily by the artistic demands (which are conservative) – or do they fulfil the artistic demands as a means to the end of inserting these ‘subversive’ moments of winking through the fourth wall?

Is that what primarily and strategically motivates them as writers, and everything else is just tactics to get people to watch and be influenced by these moments?

(Like TV executives for whom ‘good’ programming is merely a way of getting lots of people to watch the adverts.)


AdamW said...

I think it depends on whether it's presented as experimental, or as the normal state of affairs. Doctor Who is mostly on one side of this divide; Sherlock on the other.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AdamW - The writers are mostly the same, and I didn't see a great difference between these shows in this aspect of overt PC; and I have had to stop watching both of them.