It’s been far too long since we had a video, and today I bring you not one, but two.
There’s a catch, of course. They’re two different versions of the same piece, presented in two different forms for reasons I will shortly divulge. But the lesson you need to take from this today is that less is sometimes more. There’s a reason why ‘Midnight’ is one of my favourite episodes of series four, and the first instalment of ‘The Ark in Space’ is one of the best twenty minutes of 1970s television. Budget problems have cursed Doctor Who for decades, but doing things on the cheap does allow for inspired bouts of creativity in the right hands.
Anyway. That John Hurt chap. Who is he, and does anyone really care? Well, I don’t, because whatever they do with him he will be chronically underused. Hiring big names and giving them nothing to do seems to be the hallmark of series seven (cf. Richard E. Grant, David Warner, Diana Rigg) and already there is a shedload of speculation about whether John Hurt is playing the Ninth Doctor, an aged version of the Eighth, the Valeyard or even the very First Doctor, mostly in the form of lazy, semi-coherent YouTube vlogs recorded on badly-positioned webcams. Cue a hundred comments underneath, most of which involve poor spelling and a smattering of bad language, and that’s just the ones that bother talking about the show.
The short answer is we don’t know, and it’ll probably be disappointing – so instead of looking forward, I looked backward. Because it occurred to me, almost as soon as the episode aired, that Mr Hurt’s tied to certain visual images, at least in my head. One of them is the shot of him sitting in a car with Jason Priestley in the poster for Love and Death on Long Island. Another is the time he lampooned his role in Alien by giving birth to a singing extra-terrestrial baby, in a scene which parodies both Ridley Scott and Michigan J. Frog. And the third? Well, that would be Whistle and I’ll Come To You.
Those of you who’ve followed my video posts from the outset will recall that I’ve talked about Whistle and I’ll Come To You before. It was, indeed, the very programme that kick-started this little hobby, and revisiting it in the last week or two seemed oddly circular. If you haven’t seen it, you really should, largely because it’s utterly terrifying: there is no CGI, no overwrought score, and only a bare bones cast, with Andy De Emmony favouring slow buildups and long, dialogue-free passages where Hurt sits brooding in his hotel room or imagines he’s seen a ghost on the beach. It is apparently vastly inferior to the 1968 version, which I really should get round to seeing, but as a ghost story in its own right it’s minimalist and thoroughly successful, largely as a result of leaving so many questions unanswered come the closing credits.
This basically came about because of ‘The God Complex’, a similarly creepy episode of New Who, which manages to tease out the suspense by keeping the minotaur largely hidden for most of the story (it’s only in the closing minutes, with the final deconstruction of the hotel and the tacked-on epilogue, that the episode is in danger of unravelling). No one ever found out what was in the Doctor’s room, but for me the answer was apparent more or less the moment that John Hurt turned round at the end of series seven. It just seemed an obvious gag. Then I tried to turn it into a video, and all hell broke loose.
In the first instance, this was suffering from lack of clear direction. If you could use Whistle… as a basis for that hotel scene, why not stop there? Why not stick in footage from more of Hurt’s performances? And so I thumbed through the DVD collection to see what I could find. I’d envisaged him landing on LV-426 in his space suit and encountering David Tennant in ‘The Satan Pit’, or Matt Smith in ‘Hide’. Then I remembered that Fox are notoriously picky about what they allow online (YouTube footage from Alien, in particular, seems to be pretty sparse). Or I’d thought of him running into Daleks during his death scene in Hellboy, except that this sequence is compiled chiefly from over-the-shoulder angles that make it obvious he’s being interrogated by Karel Roden. There is an earlier scene which showed promise, but at this point I was bored with the idea.
Then there’s Harry Potter. Specifically there’s the bit in Deathly Hallows Part II when Harry interrogates Ollivander in the upstairs bedroom of Shell Cottage. Which is fine, if you can find something suitable with which to match it. But all I wound up doing was wrecking emotionally laden scenes from ‘Blink’ and ‘Vincent and the Doctor’. So I gave up, and concentrated exclusively on Whistle…, which features various bedroom scenes (and that sounds far more kinky than it actually is, unless you’re mysteriously turned on by vanishing rugs and hammering on the door, which indicates you have a bedroom farce fetish). There are also a couple of beach sequences, which lent themselves to obvious throwbacks to – well, you’ve seen it now, so there’s no need to elaborate.
Except. Except! Our poor Mr Hurt spends half his time running away from ghosts when he’s on that beach. And I immediately thought of the pterodactyls-that-aren’t-really-pterodactyls in ‘Dinosaurs’. So I stuck that in as well, and then found that the lighting was completely off key, suggesting that they filmed that scene in the middle of winter. What you can see in the video at the bottom of this post is footage that’s had the brightness cranked up and the colour saturated, and even then it doesn’t look great. But I ran with it, because it basically hung together, by the skin of its teeth. The beach and hotel room scenes didn’t seem quite enough, at least not where the rule of three was concerned, so I added a bit where Hurt climbs the stairs and comes face to face with a Weeping Angel.
And it doesn’t really work. I mean, it sort of does. But I don’t have a clue what it’s doing there. Really, it should have been Hurt coming face to face with another Doctor, who stared back – a silent Mexican standoff. Or perhaps Gabriel Woolf in a gorilla mask. The whole thing felt rather flabby, and Gareth said so when I let him see the preview. “It would work better without the Angel,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing), “because I don’t see the point of it. And it’s confusing having the two Doctors stepping out of the TARDIS, and then seeing the Eleventh turn up. And there’s a jarring contrast in lighting between the dinosaur scenes and the John Hurt scenes.”
And he’s right, of course. So I uploaded a leaner version, and that’s probably what I’ll wind up using in emails and other plugs. Nonetheless, the original stays, and is accessible below, because it gives an idea of what I was trying to do – an experiment that didn’t quite work. Paradoxically Gareth and I were talking just last week about some of the extras on the 2 Entertain Doctor Who DVDs, and how some of them contain single jokes that are stretched to breaking point (a notable example of this being The Elusive David Agnew). And that’s something I could have done with remembering here. Sometimes if you scale things back, they’re far more effective.
Still. Dinosaurs. On a beach!