Natural Selection of Science-Fiction Victims

Monsters shouldn’t have cheerleaders. Understanding the opponents is a sign of excellent science fiction, but cheering for the monster is a symptom of awful storytelling, an undeveloped bad guy rampaging around only because that’s what bad guys do, and you still prefer it to every other idiot involved.

My quest to catch up with Doctor Who has hit a temporal speedbump in an episode so stupid I can only watch five minutes at a time. A spaceship crew bring an unconscious man into the sickbay: he went crazy, he violently attacked them, it took three of them to hold him down and the bioscan says he’s now completely alien on the inside. Do they tie him down? Do they bollocks. They leave him sleeping peacefully and split up to stand around the ship with their backs turned to every entranceway, hoping he’ll rise refreshed to continue his corridor-based murder spree. Spoiler: he totally does. They’re playing a game of Pac-man and volunteering to be the dots. But are less rounded as characters.

The doctor is actually standing over his unconscious, helpless body while reading the scans which say “THIS THING IS GOING TO KILL YOU, IDIOT”, and has the sheer gall to act surprised when that happens. Another of his victims is holding a steel pipe while he very gradually murders her, but confuses herself for Black Canary and decides to scream instead. A big guy whose only job is wielding large power tools wedges himself underneath an entire starship engine as if it was a Vauxhall Astra, just so that he can mistake the approaching alien for a crewmember and be pulled out by his feet for murder. And when someone finally kicks the alien in the gut, it totally works! They could have piled on and beaten it to death at any time! An alien isn’t compelling when it can be defeated by a closing-time curbstomp.

I understand the screenwriting logic of not restraining the obvious alien murderer to save time, but it’s the same logic as shitting in the sitting room to save time: offensively lazy and no-one wants to watch TV any more. The screenwriter thinks “Everyone knows it’s going to get loose so there’s no point restraining it“, but the instant a writer thinks “Everyone knows” they should ball up the script and throw it away. The only entertainment potential in that script is scoring a wastebasket three-pointer. Just show us the series title, scribble “Stupid idiots picked off one by one” underneath, and let us get on with our lives without wasting fifty minutes. Cliches are how writers announce they just want their job over with.

The last time the one-by-one worked was Alien. Because it was on an unprecedented scale, because they had horrors behind “Actor with makeup” (note: this Doctor episode didn’t even bother with that and just handed him a helmet), and because the crew did everything in their power to defend themselves. They went at their alien with nets, tazers, flamethrowers, and the thermonuclear detonation of their entire ship. We were absolutely on their side even though they were otherwise total jerks, because they weren’t actively conspiring with the alien to get themselves killed. No-one wants to watch an idiot group suicide. If they can’t be bothered to take the most obvious steps to defend themselves, then we can’t be bothered to watch them die.

It’s natural selection in science-fiction. Stupid characters get killed off one by one, and stupid shows which do that stop being watched.

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