Doctor Who to Sherlock: TV franchises now have such devoted followings that casual viewers are alienated

The joy derived from a story is in direct correlation to the amount of work you put in

Share

The first three minutes of Sherlock were, I will grant you, a pretty ingenious way of answering the question everyone was asking. A prosthetic mask, a bungee cord, a Hollywood snog, and then, just as gullible audience members like me were beginning to howl with indignation at the anticlimactic absurdity of it all, a sharp tug on the rug under our feet: of course the explanation of the great detective’s death wouldn’t be so lame. Of course we were in safer hands than that.

But by the end, my admiration had faded a little. As the in-jokes piled up and the winks got ever slyer, I had begun to lose the thread. Above all, my assumption that the show would generously gather me up and take me along for the ride had been exposed as a delusion. By the time Holmes gave his own (also dubious) explanation of his feat, my question had changed. It was no longer how he had convinced the world of his demise. It was, why did he bother, again?

The problem is not that all this is too complicated. I don’t mind complicated. The problem is that it builds its drama on an assumption that you are intimately familiar with the circumstances of Sherlock’s apparent suicide, and Moriarty’s fiendish scheme to make it inevitable. Now, I loved that story, but I also watched it two years ago. And without remembering it in detail, I felt quite adrift. I suppose I should have rewatched it – but that’s a bit much, isn’t it? That suggests to casual, or even semi-professional, viewers that their attention is not enough. They must also do homework.

I’m so tired of this tendency. Because it’s not confined to Sherlock. It’s familiar to anyone who has happened upon Doctor Who and found themselves immediately alienated by the expected grasp of the show’s mythology; you’ll know it if you’ve seen Harry Potter or Twilight on the telly over Christmas, and felt the creators’ total disdain for the basic principle that a piece of fiction should function as an entity in and of itself, no matter the scale of the franchise of which it forms a part. Hell, even The Hobbit – originally one quite short novel – has been torn into three sections that I am loathe to call movies, since none of them can really tell a story on its own.

My own nadir came with the new Hunger Games instalment that came out last month. What is a tribute? I whispered to my long-suffering companion, finding myself whipped into a fury by an ending so inconclusive that it was quite plain that the filmmakers’ plot was no more sophisticated than to force you to shell out another £13 for closure next time. I have chosen, instead, to view the whole thing as an ambiguous exercise in postmodernism. For me, Katniss will forever be on the cusp of a revolution.

It didn’t used to be this way. But as franchises proliferate, the creators have discovered their devoted fans are so expert – and so bankable – that the concerns of the casual viewer can be dispensed with altogether. Indeed, there is a variety of fandom that spits on this complaint, and on any sort of criticism at all. The mark of a devotee is uncritical studiousness, and a moralistic pleasure in the idea that the joy to be derived from a story is in direct correlation to the work you are willing to put in.

It is, I would suggest, no coincidence that these stories – marvellous though they can be – are all fantasies of one sort or another, essentially childish things. Because they appeal to us as infants, they are able to command the kind of uncritical adulation that a toddler reserves for its parents. Why did you have to fake your death, Sherlock? Why should I care? And the paternal answer comes: because I said so.

Twitter: @archiebland

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Sussex teenager killed fighting in Syria

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Actor Zac Efron  

Keep your shirt on Zac – we'd all be better for it

Howard Jacobson
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit