Proxy Who – Genre TV During The Wilderness Years

Those series that starved fans nibbled on during the Who draught.

 

 

With just one paltry episode between 1989 and 2005, fandom had to fill its Who-shaped hole with whatever telefantasy could offer in those intervening years. Feasting on the meagre crumbs of cult telly, we found ourselves digesting literally anything that had traces of our favourite show's idiosyncrasies, some markedly more than others...

 

Red Dwarf (1988 – present)

The cast of Red Dwarf

What?

Deep space-set sitcom charting the comic misadventures of the last human in the universe and his oddball shipmates.

How Who?

An irreverent attitude towards the genre; flimsy sci-fi concepts; series cliffhangers; hokey special effects; a complete aesthetic and tonal overhaul every couple of seasons; a questionable attitude towards its own continuity; an arguable dip in quality in its latter years and, of course, both series' lead actors have been acquitted of rape.

Alright, maybe not the last bit.

How Not?

Well, it's a studio-bound sitcom with a laughter track whose intention is to provoke mirth, rather than chills.

 

Quantum Leap (1989 – 1993)

Quantum Leap

What?

American body-hopping shenanigans in which a do-gooding physicist (Scott Bakula) fixes people's lives for the better.

How Who?

Time-travelling nice guy leaps about history (at least, a small portion of it) righting wrongs with no control over where his next destination will be? With a different location every week and a rotating mix of action, comedic and dialogue-heavy episodes, that's pretty damned Who-sounding.

How Not?

As commendable as the series was, its cheeseball schmaltz overpowered the mix somewhat, so it never really felt like "our show." From the dewy-eyed intro and theme music to the sanctimonious tone of the social issues raised, you could argue that there's a hint of Cartmel at play, but quite frankly, you'd be arguing the point with yourself.

 

The X-Files (1993 – 2002)

Mulder and Scully in The X-Files

What?

Paranormal investigation series chronicling FBI agents Fox Mulder & Dana Scully's weekly adventures into the unsolved and unknown.

How Who?

With a mysterious, enigmatic lead male, resourceful and attractive female companion, and episodic adventures of peril, horror and alien invasions, The X-Files' landing was the perfect graduating point for many a young Doctor Who fan there at the show's demise. Its more adult content and intentional scares neatly bridged the gap between classic and NuWho. Hey, you could almost squint and pretend you're watching a US remake of the UNIT years (unfortunately, the continuity-tangled guff of its final season mythology has more in common with Attack of the Cybermen than, say, The Claws of Axos).

How Not?

At its heart, it's an earth-bound conspiracy-fest, which is about as Doctor Who as an Iraqi beheading video.

 

Space Precinct (1994 – 1995)

The cast of Space Precinct

What?

Gerry Anderson's futuristic police procedural drama series.

How Who?

Set in deep space, with a ponderously serious approach and reliance on hard sci-fi concepts, there's a distinctly joyless Series 18 vibe to the whole show. Fans in need of a bit of Pertwee-esque moral sermonising could also get their quick fix here too; every episode seemed to end with a furrow-browed "lesson for everyone." At least when the Doctor did it, he was dressed as Jimi Hendrix. If you were particularly desperate, you could pretend that some of the aliens are second cousins to the Sea Devils, but mainly because their heads lollop about quite a bit.

How Not?

Distinctly parochial feel to the show, entirely at odds with Who's infinite possibilities. Plus, it was all a bit crap really.

 

Bugs (1995 – 1999)

The title sequence of Bugs

What?

Hi-octane espionage explosivision, concerning the antics of crime fighting tech experts. Starred Craig "Neighbours" McLachlan, Jesse "Jesse 'Eldorado' Birdsall" Birdsall and Jaye "erm, Bugs" Griffiths, (although McLachlan bailed for the final season).

How Who?

A knockabout breezy action vehicle (with Jesse Birdsall) and more fun than its barely-remembered reputation suggests (except for the Jesse Birdsall bits). Broadcast in Who's traditional family-friendly Saturday evening slot (with added Jesse Birdsall), its often knowing humour broadened its generational appeal (discounting Jesse Birdsall). With a fair mix of standalone and ongoing narrative episodes (all featuring Jesse Birdsall), it more often than not climaxed with one or more of the leads (usually involving Jesse Birdsall) running slo-mo from something about to detonate (sadly, we never got to see Jesse Birdsall scattered across a mile-wide radius).

How Not?

Despite its four year consistency, it rebounded off the public consciousness like a rubber grenade. Plus, you know, Jesse Birdsall.

 

Jonathan Creek (1997 – present)

Jonathon Creek

What?

Mystery serial with a dash of the extraordinary. Stars poodle-haired comedian and professional Stephen Fry-botherer, Alan Davies.

How Who?

Saturday night yarns about an intelligent eccentric who uses unconventional detective methods to right wrongs. He's ably assisted by a sparky female companion (of whom there have been several). Quirky, cerebral and with an admirable remit to purely entertain, Doctor Who's vitality and originality is buried deep within the show like a shit in a child's sandpit.

How Not?

Well, skipping the obvious (no space and/or time travel), Alan Davies makes most people want to punch out their own teeth. Or, preferably, his.

 

Crime Traveller (1997)

Crime Traveller

What?

As the prosaic but punning title suggests, it was a time travelling detective show. Lasting just one series, it starred Michael "David Wicks" French and Chloë "Red Dwarf's Second Kochanski" Annett.

How Who?

Time travel; male lead; problem solving; Saturday night scheduling. That's all we've got.

How Not?

It sucked like God's very own Dyson.

 

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) (2000 – 2001)

Randall and Hopkirk Deceased

What?

Noughties re-imagining of ITC supernatural detective series. Stars, improbably, surrealist comic duo Reeves (Hopkirk) and Mortimer (Randall), Emilia Fox and some bloke called Tom Baker.

How Who?

A Saturday night family-orientated 1960's television classic resurrected as a blast of zippy action silliness featuring a foxy female sidekick and Tom Baker? No, we don't see it either. The first episode co-starred some unknown Scottish actor by the name of David Tennant.

How Not?

Although a refreshing joie de vivre ran through the show like solid objects do ghosts, Reeves & Mortimer felt strangely miscast and oddly stilted. Whilst a show it was easy to admire, it didn't inspire love.

 

Strange (2002 – 2003)

The tv show, Strange

What?

Supernatural demon-hunting horror bunkum, written by 2point4Children's Andrew Marshall (who often peppered said sitcom with many a cult TV reference)

How Who?

Broadcast on Saturday nights (but late) and starring smouldering could-have-been Doctor, Richard Coyle (except a sour departure from Moffat's Coupling nixed that), as a kooky unstable Priest, its "good v evil" schtick could have felt like Who if The Daemons had been a dry run for even bleaker and more savage adventures. Tom Baker popped up in a cameo towards the end, as if to offer patronage to the programme's cult credentials.

How Not?

Too bleak, too savage, and too Samantha Janusey.

 

Miles Hamer

 

 

Proxy Who – Genre TV during the Wilderness Years
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