Monday, 23 March 2015

Doctor Who And All That Jazz

 David Martin thinks that Series 9 of Doctor Who needs jazzing up...

There is a bar somewhere in London on The Strand, it's called Smollenskies ( I may have spelt that wrong) and it's a jazz bar. I spent many happy, sometimes drunken hours, in there drinking their amazing cocktails. It was in the time when you could smoke in a bar and if you were sitting at said bar the barman would light your cigarette. I liked this! But what I liked more is the music. At some point during the evening a guy would step up to the black, grand piano and play for hours. Just him, singing and playing. It was amazing! He used to play a great version of the jazz classics Moondance and I Wish I Knew How It Feels to be Free" (or the Barry Norman film review programme theme.)

This morning, I had an ephipany. I have struggled to explain, both to myself, and others what my problem with this series of Doctor Who is. Specifically, what my problem with Moffat as showrunner is. It's a matter of jazz. Let me explain.
There are many different types of jazz. You've got Traditional Jazz, Jazz Quartet Jazz, Big Band Jazz, Acid Jazz and Improv Jazz. I love them all. I am a massive fan of The James Taylor Quartet and their version of Green Onions is just sublime. But I think my favourite is the jazz played by Jazz Quartets (like you see and hear in Silver Nemesis helmed by the amazing Courtney Pine)

Each member of a jazz quartet is an amazing musician. You can just tell. From the way the drummer plays little licks and sequences whilst maintaining the, often complex, rhythm. The Bass Player plucks a shiver inducing roaming bass line whilst the pianist plays stripped back but impressive. The saxophonist too with those sexy, raunchy tones adds to this heavenly mix. You get the impression that at any stage any of them could break into a jaw dropping solo. Indeed, sometimes they do and it always is well received. Consummate, talented musicians in their own right yet all contributing to a collective goal. Never over bearing and never clashing. Perfect harmony, perfect balance.

Improv Jazz is almost the complete opposite. Musicians of equal merit gather together and improvise around a theme. No one knows where its going to go and sometimes it clashes. But that's OK it's improv. Its exciting, unrehearsed and also totally, ravishingly glorious.

Moffat's showrunning of Doctor Who feels like Improv Jazz. It clashes, it breaks boundaries, it crashes through taboos and whats gone before. Some episodes don't work at all but some, like Blink are sublime. That's his writing though! He is, when he wants to be, a fantastic writer. The trouble, though, with his showrunning is its allImprov Jazz. He never switches style or changes direction. Its all aborted timelines, Riversong and Clara. Its all about breaking new ground, new direction and no change. If I listen to Improv Jazz too much I long for the order and brilliance of trad jazz or Moondance. The trouble with Moffat though is his Improv is loud and clashes almost constantly. He believes the companion is more important than The Doctor. This is why, for me, "Flatlined" did just that. Totally dead, no pulse, gone! I long for a change of pace, I long for episodes which hark back to what has gone before. I love change and I love forging forwards but not all the time. Audiences need to be treated to the familiar sometimes, to feel the wonder of a sublime piano riff or a saxophone solo but know that they will return to the familiar refrain.

Watching Season 8 I have tried to like it and sometimes the tune or riff threatened to move back, but at the last moment it veered into a crazy and loud blaring Saxophone solo which hurt my ears.

"Sometimes I wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free"


  1. I like the comparison, very apt. But I'm a bebop fan which might explain why I enjoyed series 8.

  2. thank you and I love your musical comparison as well

  3. Tom Baker is where my heart is , what I am old school.