I grew up with PBS. My best friend who lived just down the street did, as well. I don’t recall if we were already mutually hooked on the original Dr. Who series when we met, or if he was the one who first introduced me to the show. I only remember that it became a Saturday night ritual for my family. There were several BBC shows that we received through PBS, but Dr. Who was by far my favorite, and to this day I can recall many plots and episodes and companions, and could tell you my favorite incarnation of the Doctor. I was always a science fiction fan, getting it honestly from my mother the Trekkie, and Dr. Who was among the most original sci-fi I have experienced to this day (I even remember going to a convention in middle school, and wearing question mark lapel pins).
In my bachelor days of yesteryear, I remember when the Sci-Fi Channel began running BBC’s revival of Dr. Who, somewhere around my second year of grad school, and I tuned in with much anticipation and interest to the new series. Of course, Karen and I long ago gave up the dinosaur of cable television, but we always have the boxed set of the latest Dr. Who series interspersed in our Netflix cue as soon as it is available (we usually get it a season behind in America).
Dr. Who isn’t alone in our British favorites. Karen enjoys many of their murder mysteries, and my most recent interest is MI-5. Even in my news consumption periods, I gravitate toward BBC’s Word Service, because their coverage of world events is just so superior to America’s.
Which brings me to my point: why is British television programming so superior to American programming?
Don’t get me wrong, there are excellent American programs. They just seem to be difficult to sort out of all the fluff. The House and Bones quality of programs exist, but they are of a much different nature than the character development and theatrical presentation of British programming. American science fiction plot lines, with the exception of the occasional Firefly or Sanctuary or similar glimpse into true originality and excellent writing, are almost always less imaginative. I think it is because screen acting from the UK seems to have the feeling of having originated on the stage. My personal bias is always toward live theatre instead of film; I think acting for the stage brings with it an organic beauty that just isn’t duplicated in Hollywood. Of course, 90% of Hollywood’s offerings are low-quality garbage, but…still. Could it be that by taking acting off the stage and placing it on the screen in the manner in which Hollywood and the major television networks have, we’ve taken some of the ingenuity out of the art? Is that why our friends across the pond produce such better quality programs than we do?
Karen is a film lover, and would argue my bias toward stage acting. She feels that shooting out of sequence, facial close-ups, etc., makes acting for film much more difficult, and thinks I don’t give it the respect it deserves. I think it is more than just the difference in acting method, though. I enjoy what British programming leaves to the imagination. Even in our age of special effects geniuses, programs such as Dr. Who leave a great deal for our imaginations to fill in, instead of letting the effects artists tell us what it looks like through post-production. Similar to the stage, the hint of what is present beyond what our eyes see is there, and our imaginations fill in the rest. Certainly, in our video-game saturated, mathematics deifying, and largely illiterate age, imagination is a thing that receives far too little emphasis…or exercise.
I like letting my imagination work. I like filling in the blanks myself, as opposed to having everything painted out for me. I prefer to do some of the work, to participate with the story as it unfolds. Because, if we’re not doing some of the work…if we’re not engaging the story actively as we experience it…then we’re just being entertained into a vegetative state, lulled into a stupor by one more soap opera.
For the sake of my brain cells, and my imagination, I’d just as soon avoid that.