Inside off-track

Have recently been reading this:

It’s official and BBC-backed and glossy and superficial and sycophantic (not that you need to be a BBC release for to have an inflated sense of your own or someone else’s self-worth; check out Andrew Cartmel’s Through Time for an appalling lack of judgement when the author comes to look at his own stuff in the 80s). There are far, far too many uses of the word ‘iconic’ – a term that is bandied about too frequently and in the wrong contexts in any case, and which should not be applied to anything that is not at least twenty years old, but it’s sprinkled throughout this episode as liberally as the young Lister’s use of the word ‘crypto-facist’ in ‘Timeslides‘. There’s a lot of back patting and literary high-fiving and remarks about making pioneering television – it’s like watching six hours of Confidential. Certainly there are glimpses, here and there, of the tensions and problems that occurred during production of the Slitheen episodes (for example), but these are typically glossed over with comments like “There were a few heated words, but we pulled together and worked it out”. I realise it’s basically an expanded press pack, and that it probably would have been counter-productive to actually tell the truth about Christopher Eccleston, but the whole thing gets very tiresome in places: sometimes I just yearn for a little transparency.

For all that it’s quite fun. There are some interesting insights into earlier drafts of stories and the way that characters developed, and Gary Russell writes competently and with enthusiasm. He’s talked to a lot of people, and the anecdotal style works well, and it’s interesting to get differing perspectives from directors, writers and the creative team. At the same time there are a few telling comments that, with hindsight, we can regard with a raised eyebrow of Roger Moore proportions: Dan Zeff, for example, warmly reminiscing of his time on ‘Love and Monsters’ by remarking that “I thought it was going to be this oddball episode they threw together, and I’d end up doing the one everyone remembers as duff”, which is exactly what happened anyway. Oh, and Russell T. Davies talking about the departure of Rose at the end of ‘Doomsday’, and telling us that “the whole point of losing her is that we miss her but she’s gone. Like the Doctor, we can never see what she gets up to in that parallel world. It would have spoilt the heart of the whole franchise actually, and we’d know too much and it would water down that climax” – which is presumably why he then decided to bring her back for series 4.

But it is to Helen Raynor, serving as script editor during these fledgling revival series, that I will give the last word:

“A lesson we learned on Series One was that we hardly ever have a red herring, in an Agatha Christie way – we never take the viewer up a story cul-de-sac in order to make them think something’s happening when in fact it’s something else. But there’s a big difference there between your red-herring-story-cul-de-sac and actually having a story which takes you in unexpected directions. And I know that’s because Russell feels that very deliberate red herrings somehow make you distrust the show and the storyteller – they feel as if they’re putting a joke over on the viewers rather than taking them on an exciting story journey. So I think one of the tricks with a Doctor Who script is to constantly allow it to go in exciting and surprising and unexpected directions, but not by simply stopping the story for twenty minutes while you do a bit of a tap-dance routine and try to dazzle the viewer into thinking something else is going on. It’s useful to spot that in advance and to steer writers away from it.”

Oh, how times have changed.

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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