The word “melodrama” has taken a rather sorry turn in modern usage. Today, if someone or something is called “melodramatic” it is viewed as “over the top” in a bad, silly, or unbelieveable way. It suggests a lack of subtlety or character or a firm relationship with reality. Generally, if someone calls your work “melodramatic,” it isn’t a compliment. (And yet the word “dramatic” hasn’t quite descended to the same depths as its longer cousin.)
This saddens me, because in the classical sense, I love melodramas. The work of Dickens or the Brontë sisters and even Jane Austen can be called melodramas because they appeal to emotion and are sensationalized to heighten those feelings. So many of my favorite stories are technically melodramas, from Little Dorrit and Jane Eyre to more modern incarnations like Ripper Street and Doctor Who. (The argument could be made that these are technically dramas, but I personally feel like “drama” is just short for “good melodrama.”)
It’s been a while since I was this obsessed about a show. More than a show; an entire universe spread across many different kinds of media. One of the most appealing aspects of Doctor Who is that it exists in so many forms, allowing for a wide array of stories and expression. And one of the most challenging aspects of Doctor Who is that it exists in so many forms, making it very difficult to track them all down.
I’ll say right up front that I haven’t watched any classic Doctor Who. I really hate watching a series out of order, but since there are 100 episodes missing from classic Who, I was reluctant to dive into the franchise at all. However, my friend Storm Elf assured me that I could start with the 2005 series that introduced the 9th Doctor and I would be fine, since there’s a 16-year gap between classic Who and its reincarnation. We watched the first episode together at Katsucon and later she hosted a Doctor Who viewing for the next few episodes. After that, I went through a lull where I didn’t watch any Doctor Who. But in late September 2013, after listening to several Sapphire and Steel radio plays, I felt in the mood for some more weird time-related stories and decided it was the right time to start up Doctor Who again.
This past weekend I decided to watch BBC’s 2008 rendition of “Little Dorrit” (screenplay adaptation by Andrew Davies). I watched all 14 half-hour episodes in one night, and, the next day, went back and watched them all again. I have never read the book, but after watching this, I want to. In fact, I’m going on a Dickens kick right now thanks to “Little Dorrit.”
I’ll admit right now that I haven’t read a great deal of Dickens, although I can assure you that he wrote far more and far better works than A Christmas Carol. I’ve been various film and TV adaptations of his work, and frankly, I prefer watching a good adaptation than trying to read the books. Why? Because I’m a modern reader spoiled by modern writers and I rarely have the patience to try to wade through Victorian English prose. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of lovely pieces of dialogue and description in Dickens but it was written for another people in another era and was originally released in serial format to readers. Their form of television episodes, basically, so the style and language is very different from what I’m used to. Maybe when I’m older I will be able to appreciate Dickens’ craft better than I do now.
Either way, if you get a good writer like Andrew Davies to update the language just enough to make it accessible and to cut out the dense prose in between the action…then you’ve got one hell of a show.