jblum (jblum) wrote,
jblum
jblum

The Soul of a Tin Dog

After my posting last week about K9, I had a bit of a chat with a writer friend of mine who wasn't so keen on the show. Basically, in a nutshell, he couldn't see the soul in the show -- he felt it lacks the humanism and eccentric lovability of SJA, and treats itself more seriously than it deserves.

And the thing is, I can see where he's coming from. So far in K9 there isn't anything as humanly grounded as Sarah Jane's love for Luke, or Maria's divorced parents, or the reason why Clyde doesn't do serious. There are glimpses, yes, in things like Jorjie bristling at her mum's controlling side or Darius' little hints about why he doesn't see his family, but so far it's been hard to get focus on them in 25-minute stories... and the most foregrounded human material, Professor Gryffen's, has taken place largely in a vacuum since none of the other characters share that history with him. And fundamentally, someone looking for British eccentricity isn't quite going to get it exactly on target from a Canadian and a bunch of Australians.

I can see these differences, and yet... I still see a spirit I like in the show. Just in a very different place.

Because a thing that really interests me about K9 is that it's that weirdest of combinations -- an optimistic dystopia. Seriously, you've got a totalitarian state that's stirring up paranoia about aliens and domestic dissidents... there's a threat and a challenge there, and not one that goes away at the end of the episode. But rather than our heroes being crushed by the system, they're energized by it -- fighting it, outwitting it, gaining meaning from it rather than getting bleak and cynical about it.

I find it hard to think of another kids' show which is so explicitly about taking on the system. And I find it even harder to think of one which is about fighting the system while you're part of it. Because as much as Starkey and Jorjie want to change the world and break the Department's hold on people... they're still working with and for the Department. And that's when you have moments like the one in episode five, where Jorjie's desire to fight the power runs headlong into the need to be discreet about it. But doesn't stop them.

(And after years of post-9/11 deference to authority by default, it's just refreshing to have a show that acknowledges that sometimes it isn't just plain wrong to fight back against the cops. It may not be wise, in this week's case, but sometimes the authorities need a rock chucked at them.)

Doctor Who does the topple-the-dystopia thing too, of course, most notably this year in The Beast Below -- but while it shows the world can change, it has to change quickly, because this whole world basically has to be settled within 42 minutes. K9's mob have to keep living with the status quo; their victories are small and partial. But they've got something to keep aiming for.

Now, K9's treatment of issues is still fairly lightweight, in that as early as episode 2 three kids and a tin dog can expose the government's black-spot prison for illegal aliens and basically get Guantanamo closed. But wouldn't you rather your kids grow up believing that it's possible to fight the system and win, and even win big? Even if you can't destroy the system... even if you have to work more closely within it than you'd like... important things can change.

I think maybe that's a keynote about what I like about K9's approach. Both SJA and K9 are shows about saving the world... but beyond that, SJA is a show about living in the world; and K9 is a show about taking on the world.

We need both, like I said.

And while I think it'll take time before the people in K9 even get close to the personal complexity and charm of Sarah's mob, if they ever do... I'm glad to see a show where the human heroes include a formerly homeless cyber-grafitti artist, a petty thief, and an agoraphobic. These characters are just that little bit farther from normal... and I know back when I was that age, that would have appealed to me more. Because while my actual struggles in growing up and getting along with other kids were in hindsight pretty close to normal, I sure didn't feel anywhere close to the mainstream. And a Maria or Clyde or even a Luke would have felt a little too much like the beautiful people to me... where my own energy would have been drawn toward the righteous, awkward spikiness of a character like Ace. I think there's some of that same energy to be found here.

The interesting thing, though, is that very little of the stuff I've just talked about has actually turned up in my sample script. Oh, there's a pointed clash with the powers-that-be (though corporate rather than Departmental in this story), but fighting the system isn't the heart of the tale. Because the keynote in this one had to be the other part of the soul of the show -- K9 himself. As long as he's got that personality, the whimsy and knowitall prickliness, the show can never get too self-important. Even if, as in my sample script, I'm trying to make him deal in a very K9 way with some deep emotional waters. ("...Inquiry. How does a human know if they are losing their mind?")

If there's a heart to the way I've had to write that script, it's trying to pull off the same coup Steven Moffat did in that Colin-centered episode of Press Gang, where suddenly it was the comic relief character who had to deal with the huge emotional crisis... and deal with it in a way which still respected the sort of portable cartoon field which surrounded that character. The depth and the silliness both present at once; treating him not just as a source of shtick but as something heartfelt. That's definitely something to aim for.

Anyway. I don't know whether this is actually the show's soul coming into play, or just me projecting my own soul onto it. But then again, the latter is arguably true of large chunks of Doctor Who -- the authors even of those Hinchcliffe classics which got me into the show weren't setting out to be inspiring statements of a particular British boffiny ethos, or a firm declaration of the need to get involved and act -- but I responded to these elements nonetheless, because that's what resonated for me. Doctor Who worked so well for me because it connected with a part of me which I hadn't yet expressed, and gave me a means to express it.
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    Chapter 4 done. 18,300 words — supposed to be around 16,000, but fortunately chapter 5 will be shorter. Throw in the fragments I've got for later…

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