Posts Tagged With: christopher eccleston

Doctor Who: The Hugh Grant Years

Well, there’s a surprise.

The list of Actors Who Were Considered For Doctor Who And Didn’t Do It is long and impressive, counting among its ranks the likes of Bill Nighy, Richard Griffiths, Rik Mayall, Alan Davies, Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson – and a certain Peter Capaldi. It’s always a quick headline grabber, if only because it gives hacks like me an opportunity to imagine existing stories with new actors, knock off thinkpieces about possible directions and legacies, and crack the occasional joke. But we’re now able to add another name to this particular roster, although in order to explore a little further we must go back to the dim and distant pasts of 2003, when Russell T. Davies was still getting the band back together, but hadn’t quite got Christopher Eccleston.

The Davies / Eccleston not-exactly-feud seems to have gained new traction over the last few months, as the party with nothing left to lose becomes increasingly candid and the other is respectfully silent. But it emerged last week that Russell T. Davies had a number of other heretofore unknown A-list actors on his radar – and that he originally tried to get Hugh Grant, only to find his path blocked by Grant’s agent. It’s the sort of thing that wouldn’t happen now, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and you can’t blame said agent for chucking the script in the bin, any more than you can blame Dick Rowe for not signing the Beatles. Even as late as 2004, the resurrected Doctor Who was generally viewed with the same sceptical eye that was originally cast over the first Star Wars movie – an arguably healthier state of mind than the fanatical reverence that is now accorded to both.

Veterans will know that Grant’s been in the show anyway: he turns up at the end of ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’, in which Steven Moffat trolls the fandom by regenerating giving the Doctor a love interest and then regenerating him into a woman, although not before hinting that he’d have liked to do the same to the Master. He gets through as many regenerations as possible in the space of twenty minutes, and has one of his characters age rapidly by having them hang about in a sewer for the best part of a millennium. The cast are all marvellous (particularly Jonathan Pryce) but it is tempting, when we watch it now, to look at Moffat’s subsequent Doctor Who career as some sort of wish fulfilment bucket list.

Certainly it’s difficult to envisage Eccleston’s Doctor in the hands of Grant. It just doesn’t fit, largely because in the grand scheme of things, Eccleston doesn’t fit either. His Doctor is the only one not to be openly posh. It’s partly the accent, but partly his whole demeanour. Tennant looks as if he could sell you a flat and bung in an optional stake in the communal garden in between his third and fourth cans of Red Bull. Eccleston looks like he’s on his way to a nightclub, and not the decent sort.

I’m not saying this was a bad thing. Eccleston may have never quite convinced me, but he was the Doctor, and the phenomenal success of the revived show is largely down to the gravitas he brought with him (along with a short temper and reputation for being difficult on set). In many ways the revived Doctor Who works precisely because he is so different. There is a scene early in ‘Parting of the Ways’ in which Eccleston is observed sitting in a corridor with Billie Piper, surrounded by bits of wire and circuit boards, randomly building something – and it was that moment when, as far as I’m concerned, he actually became the Doctor for the first time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the rest of the series, even in the company of a not-quite Doctor. He’s cheery and enthused, he spits righteous (and self-righteous) anger, and when he takes the hand of a frightened shop girl and compels her to run, there is nothing I’d rather do than follow.

Still: you could never imagine Davison suggesting beans on toast. And it’s difficult to imagine any other actor complaining about ‘stupid apes’ without sounding, frankly, a little bit racist (although we might legitimately argue that Eccleston does as well, so let’s not go there). By and large the Ninth Doctor’s dialogue, with its use of colloquialisms and affectations (‘Listen, love’) is written for Eccleston, and it shows. You can imagine the Ninth Doctor quoting dialogue from other Doctors (some fans, indeed, have already done just that) but it’s difficult to imagine the reverse. By and large it simply doesn’t work: the Ninth’s entire manner is different. Even Tennant’s use of ‘fantastic’, in the closing scenes of ‘The Christmas Invasion’, is a one-off.

So there can be little doubt that the Ninth Doctor under the baton of Hugh Grant would have been a very different kettle of fish – perhaps a little posher, a little less earnest and a little less dark. And they’d probably have to change half the dialogue.

And that, dear reader, is exactly what I’ve done.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 978)

This week: as the recent series of The X-Files draws to a close, speculation mounts as to exactly what happened in ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’, and what it could possibly have to do with Doctor Who.

News breaks of Christopher Eccleston’s impending arrival at Comic Con.

And Peter Capaldi turns sixty. To which we say Happy Birthday, sir. May all your camels be fertile, and may the wind be always at your back, except when you’re standing at the edge of the harbour.

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Doctor Who meets Beauty and the Beast

Let me tell you a story, children. Once upon a time there was a concept called regeneration and it involved the transition of one actor to another. In the 60s, 70s and 80s this was achieved using filters and white-outs and whatever trickery the BBC could afford at the time. At its best, it was highly successful. At its worst, it was Sylvester McCoy in a blonde wig. In 1996, they experimented with facial morphing, presumably because of Terminator 2 and the ‘Black or White’ video. It was a little strange to behold – Doctor Who, in actual special effects shocker – but it sort of worked.

Then came the Golden Sparkly Energy thing. It’s been used ever since, in every disappointingly familiar regeneration (Smith’s aside; at least that one’s quick) and if it looks familiar, that’s because they nicked it from Disney. Specifically, that bit at the end of the otherwise splendid Beauty and the Beast where Belle succumbs to her Stockholm syndrome and her grizzly captor turns into an Aryan Chippendale. It’s a wretched scene, which – whilst nonetheless remaining true to the spirit of the original story – says an awful lot about Disney and its obsession with appearances, often at the expense of what was actually best for the customer. (You will know this if you visited Disneyland Paris, as I did, back in the early days: the place was immaculate, but the shuttle buses were an unruly scrum. They’d hired people to pick up litter, but no one who could facilitate a queue.)

There are other versions of this. It’s an obvious joke: cellular regrowth instigated by magical sparkliness. But this one attempts to match the dialogue. This involved an awful lot of chopping and changing and shifting things around, which is not in itself a bad thing because otherwise you have Disney on your back for copyright infringement. At the beginning Eccleston has a long monologue, which I opted to present as a voiceover while we established the castle: this is actually the opening pan out from the beginning of the film, reversed. Am I saying that the Ninth Doctor was the Beast and his impossibly sexy successor is the human (and incredibly vain) prince? You decide.

I sent the completed version to Gareth.

“It might have worked better,” he said, “if I knew anything about Beauty and the Beast!”
“You got the idea, surely?”
“She kisses him, and we learn that looks are more important than personality?”
“And that’s why I love Shrek.”

But I’d like to close by returning briefly to Colin Baker, who we were discussing over dinner just yesterday.

“So he didn’t film his regeneration?” Emily said.
“He didn’t,” I said.
“So what actually killed the Sixth Doctor?”
“We don’t know for sure. But the first thing that happens in that episode is that the TARDIS is attacked, and when the Rani steps on board, the Sixth Doctor is lying on the floor, face down. And then they turn him over, and – ”
“It’s Sylvester McCoy.”
“Yeah, in a wig.”
“And that’s all you get?”
“Well,” I said, “Big Finish eventually filled in the gaps. They gave him a proper send-off, and there was a whole story with the Valeyard and loads of other people. But on TV, just the wig.”
“So McCoy’s lying there,” she said, “and you can see it’s him, but in a wig?”
“The moment they turn him over, they stick a filter on the screen. One of those photo negative effects. So it’s obscured and you’re supposed to not be able to tell. Except of course you can. What can I say? They did the best they could under difficult circumstances.”
“Right, right,” she said. “But there’s no reason why the McCoy in a wig thing couldn’t have been an entirely new Doctor. You know, a secret regeneration.”
“What, another one? Who just happened to like the same clothes?”
“Yep. So you have the Sixth, and then he regenerates into the Seventh, but that’s not McCoy. Which would make – ”
“Which would make McCoy the Eighth,” I said. “Oh, I’m going to have sooo much fun trolling the fandom with this one.”

And I will, but in the meantime –

God bless you, Deviant Art. God bless you.

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Doctor Who Quotes – Out of Context

Firstly:

I bet you're gonna have a really great year.

There is a Doctor Who Facebook group I frequent where certain patterns of behaviour may be observed. There is person X, who publishes regular links to YouTube videos that are basically him rambling incoherently for twenty minutes at a time with a static image in the background about various missing episode rumours and speculation, and who bristles at all the negative feedback he gets. There is that tendency you get for the same tabloid headline to be posted in several different threads with the same conversations going on in each. There are the regular birthday listings – from people who had substantial roles to people who had a single line of dialogue. And there’s me – usually posting memes or videos or blog articles, some of which go down quite well, while others are completely ignored, but them’s the breaks, kid.

Then there’s Steve.

Steve isn’t his real name – although it may be, given that the name he uses is a Who-related moniker (which is something I’ve never liked on Facebook; it’s a personal preference but I find it difficult to engage with someone who calls themselves Melody Oswald, or Gillian LogansMummy Bear). Steve occasionally posts on different topics but his favourite activity is the Sad Quote. You know the sort of thing I mean. It’s a picture of Matt Smith on a swing. It’s Capaldi, alone in the TARDIS. Or it’s Tennant standing in the rain. These images are accompanied by the ‘sad’ moments from the show – the Doctor’s farewell after he wipes Donna’s memory, the moment he admits to Rose that death is inevitable, the bit where Amy Pond says “And this is how it ends.” I’m not even going to include them here; you can have this one instead.

I'm burning up a sun just to say goodbye.

(I’m amused by the fact that when I posted this, more than a few people didn’t get the joke.)

I’m not opposed by the fact that people want to wallow in misery over some of Doctor Who’s supposedly melancholy moments. This is watched by angst-ridden teenagers – some of whom, I’m convinced, genuinely believe that the Doctor is really out there somewhere, and that he’ll come and pick them up one day. It’s easy to scoff at this, but I’m not going to. When you’re young and the world overwhelms you, you need some semblance of escapist hope, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But really. It saturates certain portions of the internet. “This is why,” someone said when I brought it up, “I don’t use Tumblr.” And truth be told, I don’t use Tumblr either – I just periodically post stuff there to generate web traffic, as it’s a decent market. But when Tumblr bleeds across into Facebook, we have a problem, in that the epidemic of Doctor / Clara / Rose posts sets my teeth on edge. “Such an upsetting scene,” says someone who from their profile pic is old enough to know better. The ‘sad’ emoticon features in abundance. Cut to Matt Smith, crying on a sofa. Oh, the feels.

Anyway: I propose a solution. Because it struck me – having made a particular random association one morning when I was more bored than you can imagine – that one way to counteract the Sad Meme thing is to decontextualise them. In other words, miserable quotes presented in different scenarios.

And that’s what I’ve done. Enjoy.

There's a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive... wormhole refractors... you know the thing you need most of all? you need a hand to hold

I don't age. I regenerate. But you, you wither and you die. You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can't spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on, alone.

before i go, i just wanna tell you, rose tyler, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I.

I don't wanna go

But then there's other people and you meet them and you think not bad, they're okay, and then you get to know them, and their face sort of becomes them, like their personality's written all over it

Never trust a hug. It's just a way of hiding your face

Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.

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The Kasterborous Archives, #2: Eccleston is a great actor, but he never felt like the Doctor

Author’s notes:

OK, this one caused a rumpus. In its original form it garnered a fair number of comments, many of them negative and one or two calling for my head. Some of the best made it to the testimonials page. Timing was part of it; we published this on the tenth anniversary of ‘Parting of the Ways’ and Eccleston’s regeneration. It’s like holding an anti-war protest on Armistice Day. If that sounds like I’m overstating my case, you haven’t seen Doctor Who fans when they’re upset…

9th-ninth-doctor-the-parting-of-the-ways

Eccleston was a great actor, but he never felt like the Doctor

Published: 18 June 2015

I’ve loved Christopher Eccleston for years.

I loved him in Shallow Grave, where he played an unhinged Scot who drilled holes in the attic floor. I loved his brief, disconnected cameo in The Others, and his turn as sadistic Major Henry West in 28 Days Later. His performance in The Second Coming was a literal revelation. I even love him in Gone In Sixty Seconds, in which he makes the most of a dog’s breakfast as Raymond Calitri, a crime boss who gets to stick Nicholas Cage in a car crusher – which is something I think we’ve all wanted to do for years, or at least since 8MM. Calitri eventually falls to his death, but his best scene occurs earlier in the film, during an angry confrontation with Cage: “Am I an arsehole?” he asks directly. “Do I look like an arsehole?” (Cage’s response is a quiet “Yeah.”)

So let me repeat that disclaimer: I love Eccleston. He’s a talented actor and, if the rumours about his on-set conduct are to be believed, a man of great integrity. But I could never get used to him as the Doctor.

These things are always going to be relatively subjective. Everyone has their own ideas of what the Doctor ought to be, and what he isn’t, and what he… never won’t be… sort of thing. And I suppose that my Doctor is always going to be BBC English (all right David, I’ll settle for Estuary), with fashion sense that dallies between elegant and eccentric. Eccleston’s minimalist look is (purposely) as stripped back as his Doctor, and similarly direct. And it seems strange to me that I should find it as foreign as the idea of Shaggy wearing a business suit. All this is accompanied by remarks about “beans on toast” (a line I cannot hear in the mouths of any other Doctor, except perhaps the Sixth, in the same manner that he delivers the words “carrot juice?!?”). It all seems – and forgive me for this dreadful snobbery – it all seems a bit too working class. I know that’s the point, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

parting_1

It’s not the accent. I don’t think accent in itself is the problem, because I have no issue with Capaldi’s Glaswegian twang, even if I occasionally have to turn on the subtitles to make out what he’s saying above Murray Gold’s frankly intrusive score. It’s no problem having a Doctor who’s not from around here, although I think I was probably one of many people who was hoping that the Twelfth Doctor would use the words “Lots of planets have a Scotland” at some point in Deep Breath. (As it stands, we had the encounter in the alley, arguably more famous for being the first example of eyebrow fetish – and that regrettable scene with Vastra, in which Capaldi almost appears to be acting in a docudrama about Alzheimer’s.)

I watched Rose again recently with my six-year-old, and it’s sometimes tempting to wonder whether we’ve been more forgiving of that opening episode – of the series in general – than we would have been if it was in the middle of a Doctor’s run. How many of the shortcomings went unnoticed simply because it was Doctor Who, and it was back? Does it matter? I’d suggest it probably doesn’t, except when you line up all the Doctors in a row, whereupon Eccleston is the one that always sticks out like a sore thumb.

A friend of mine describes Vincent and the Doctor as “a good episode of something”, and in many ways he’s right: part of its charm lies in the fact that it’s relatively atypical. Similarly, Davies rewrote the rulebook in 2005 when he resurrected the show by effectively rebooting it. But it’s a trend that he and his successor spent the next ten years gradually undoing, and what we have now is a show that glorifies in its past, revisiting and rewriting it on a whim. And I wonder if the fact that the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors take obvious cues from previous Doctors – in a way that the first casting did not – has skewed my appraisal of the Ninth. In other words, to what extent is a failure to accept Eccleston a reflection of what’s come since, as much as what came before?

But there’s more to it than that. Not long before the 50th anniversary episode, I created (purely as a lark) a series of tables that charted the average effectiveness of each New Who Doctor when it came to dealing with the end-of-episode threats that he faced, at least when compared to any companions or supporting characters who wound up doing most of the work for him. In many ways the data is flawed, because he gets only one series in which to prove himself, but it should be no great surprise that the Ninth Doctor sits at the bottom of the list. He’s rubbish.

parting_2

It is his incompetence, indeed, which forms much of that first arc. That first batch of episodes is to all intents and purposes about the Doctor learning to be the Doctor again. The central concept was that of empowering the companions so that they are no longer screaming girls, and it is the Time Lord himself who is forced to diminish in order for this to happen. (When Rose admonishes the Doctor after their encounter with the Nestene in the series opener, proclaiming that he was “useless in there”, it more or less sets the tone.)

A brief analysis of that first series reveals a game of two halves. It’s all building up to Dalek – a good story, although the Big Finish drama upon which it is based is better. The finale of Dalek has the Doctor actively confront the monstrosity from Skaro, wielding the sort of gun you’d normally expect to handled by the likes of Jack (you almost expect Tennant to pop his head round the corner, raise an eyebrow and remark “Compensating for something?”). It’s a powerful moment, although anyone who seriously thinks it’s dramatically out of character clearly wasn’t watching the programme in the ’80s.

After Dalek – which I’ve always described as the Emperor’s Throne Room moment, given that it’s the point at which the central character comes close to losing the plot – Eccleston’s touch noticeably lightens. There is less brooding. At the end of The Doctor Dances he is boogieing around the TARDIS to the strains of Glenn Miller. But he still seems off somehow. The finale to that episode sees the Doctor fix the zombified patients simply by waving his hands. There’s excessive arm-folding. The ‘ape’ jokes are borderline offensive. It’s partly the scripts, but he feels like someone playing the part in a pantomime.

Then there’s a moment in Parting of the Ways where it clicks. It’s a small scene, in which the Doctor is on the floor of Satellite 5, assembling things out of cables and bits of circuits and chatting quietly with Rose. I like it because all of a sudden it feels right. I like it because, for just about the first and only time that series, Eccleston ceases to be the actor trying to play the Doctor, and actually becomes the Doctor.

And then a few minutes later, he regenerates.

Seriously. What an arsehole.

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I am the remaster, and you will obey me (part one)

laptop

It’s always funny, when I look at the hit counts, how two of my most popular videos are the ones I don’t like.

Maybe it’s the price of exposure. When no one is watching your stuff, no one is picking out the holes. The higher the hit count the more it gets noticed and the longer the line of people queuing up to point out the weak spots and the plot holes and the rough edges. Either that or they swear at you. Did I ever tell you that my first ever comment was someone calling me a va-jay-jay? That’s the sort of thing that used to keep me awake at night; these days I hardly even notice. I’ve got plenty of people who think I’m an idiot; I don’t need to go to YouTube for that.

But sometimes it’s a relief when people are honest. When you’re told your video editing skills are ‘fantastic’ (as I was just last week), knowing full well yourself that this is really not true, you wonder whether you can actually trust the general public to be arbiters of quality. These are people who thought ‘Death In Heaven’ was a masterpiece, for crying out loud. Sycophancy is second nature. The trick is knowing when people have a point and when they’re just being mean. There are two types of people, for example, who have criticised the Twelfth Doctor Regenerates video I did back in July. They’re either pointing out the inconsistencies and jumps (all perfectly valid, but unless you’re the guy who made Wholock you have to work with limited resources when you’re trying to put two Doctors in the same room) or they’re being rude. “Fuck you,” said a teenager who genuinely seemed to think that he was about to watch something with spoilers that would give him the information he so desperately craved. “I hate you more than my slow phone.” Still giggling, over a month later.

In any event, I found myself at a bit of a loose end these last two weeks – in between frantic bouts of writing for Metro – and have managed to go back and redo a couple of things I’ve been meaning to look at for some time. I have no delusions about them matching the success of the originals – nor, in a way, would I want them to. Both were products of their time (the second one less so) and while they’ve been improved technically I had to resist the temptation to completely rewrite them: to do so would have been somehow less than honest. I was going to stick them both in the same post, but I think we’re going to break this up a bit. I’m sure you have enough to be doing, don’t you?

1. The Ninth, Tenth and Eleveth Doctors hold a video conference

In July 2013 I discovered the joy of unscored audio – in other words, dialogue-only soundtracks for Who episodes, available from Dropbox links. It’s changed the way I work. It allows you to easily rip out dialogue and move it wherever you want, to chop and change scenes and to tighten and re-sequence and juxtapose, all without the jarring effect you get when the music suddenly stops. I road-tested it by creating a version of the Doctor’s Akhaten speech with music from Ulysses 31. It didn’t quite work, because of frame rate issues (although it’s a problem I could probably now fix), but the possibilities were there.

The original version of this video pre-dated that one by a couple of months, and while it’s had its fair share of compliments (as well as a few people shouting “Oh, THIS IS SO FAKE!”, having completely missed the point) it’s also been pointed out to me more than once that the sound does jar a bit. That’s to be expected – The ‘Bad Wolf’ scene from which the Eccleston footage was grabbed is steeped in score, occurring as it does at the climax of the episode, while a quieter, slightly more understated theme (I’d say that Murray Gold was learning, but you and I both know that isn’t true) is present during the Eleventh Doctor’s ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ scenes. Only the ‘Blink’ exchange emerges unscathed, and even then you have to put up with the whine of a projector.

(Incidentally with ‘Blink’. The Doctor’s original recording is present as an Easter Egg on the series 3 box set. Having re-watched the episode this afternoon with Daniel, Em and I were in discussion about it, and surely a better course of action by the Beeb would have been to put it on seventeen completely unrelated DVDs, spread at random, without telling anyone? Something you wouldn’t expect a Who fan to buy? Something that Carey Mulligan might own? And what if they’d done this for DVDs that were all released three or four months in advance of series 3? Yes, it’s obscure and faintly ridiculous, but can you imagine the media exposure when it came out? I’d have pitched the idea to them, but I think that ship has sailed.)

With this it was a simple question of redubbing every Ninth / Eleventh Doctor line (except for the ones on the beach), adding a little ambient sound, and then tightening everything up so the whole thing flowed better. Dialogue sometimes overlaps; at other times I’m content to let the silence speak for itself. I still have no idea what the three of them are arguing about, although it’s apparent that Nine is being extremely stubborn about whatever he’s being asked to do, and I’m still not entirely sure what I mean by having the Tenth Doctor reply ‘Complicated…very complicated’ when he’s asked about Rose (although curiously this seems to be the bit that people like most, so I must have done something right). But you could now almost – almost – believe they’re having a conversation, however bizarre it might be.

It probably won’t stop people shouting “OH, THIS IS SO FAKE!”. But that’s too bad. You tell them. I have to go and cook dinner.

 

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Alistair the Toucan does Doctor Who

Doctor Who these days is all about the speeches. In many ways it always has. Oh, it’s easy to point at McCoy and mention the rice pudding as a watershed moment, but to do so is to ignore Colin Baker’s rant about the decadence and corruption of Time Lord society, Pertwee’s wistful recollection of his Gallifreyan childhood, and the Fourth Doctor’s joyous monologue about homo sapiens at the beginning of ‘The Ark In Space’. It even goes back to the sixties: Hartnell’s Doctor may have been doddery and crochety from time to time, but he could wax lyrical with the best of them, as ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ proves as much as any other.

But there’s a trend these days – something that seems to have started with ‘The Pandorica Opens’ and then become one of those things that was fun for about five minutes and then wore out its welcome the more it was done (like Star Wars Day, but we won’t go there right now). I wish I could understand the current obsession with getting other Doctors to record great speeches, but it seems patently ludicrous. Sometimes it works. There is a decent voice imitation of Troughton doing the rounds on the internet that recreates the closing scenes of ‘Day of the Doctor’. McGann, on the other hand, was given Capaldi’s ‘Zygon Inversion’ speech to read (presumably thirty seconds before they switched on the microphone) and it sounds tedious. I’m sorry, but it does. Harness wrote that speech for Capaldi. The Eighth Doctor version would have been quite different. Capaldi bubbles with righteous anger; McGann (and this is not to do him a disservice, I love him) plays a Doctor who seldom loses his temper. It’s the elephant in the room, but it’s embarrassing to listen to, and I say that as someone who thought ‘Scherzo’ was wonderful, if you skip over the love scenes.

Look, it’s perfectly simple. If you can turn a one-trick pony into a convention staple, I can do the same thing with a puppet. Step forward Alistair, who was recorded on my ageing Flip camera, perched on the table, wedged between two books to hold it upright because I couldn’t find the tripod. Alistair messed up the second speech a little, but I didn’t hold it against him. Yes, there are outtakes. No, you do not get to see them. Yes, I did drop the puppet once or twice.

Toucans are marvellous birds, anyway, and just for the heck of it, here’s one I snapped on the Isle of Wight.

Isle_of_Wight_2008_175

I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I did think this could be a series, perhaps furnished by requests. I’ve already had one for Trial of a Time Lord. Another request went along the lines of “Please cease and desist from contacting our client Ms. Aldred and at all times retain a minimum distance of six hundred yards”. Your own suggestions are welcome below and will be recorded the next time we get a spare moment provided Alistair is up to the task.

By way of anecdote, Alistair got his name because at first I thought he was a crow. And Alistair the Crow is…oh, you’ll figure it out. If you can’t, I’ll tell you another time. But not today. Leave ’em dangling, kid. Leave ’em dangling.

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The New Who Top Ten: #3

d10-8j-077

Number Three: ‘The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances’ (2005)

You’re doing it now, aren’t you? You’re tilting your head slightly and softly murmuring “Muuummmyyyy….” in that child’s sing-song voice, dropping the second syllable by a major third so that it sounds a bit like a door chime. You’re thinking about that bit with the telephone. You’re thinking about the gas mask growing out of Richard Wilson’s face. And somewhere, in the back of your head, there’s a memory of the Doctor doing something that looks mildly like interpretive dance.

In story terms, that first series of the revived Doctor Who really is a bit hit and miss. There are stories that are good (‘Dalek’). There are stories that are basically sound, but flawed (the Dalek finale; ‘The Unquiet Dead’). There are stories that are probably not as good as we remember them (‘Rose’). There are stories that are downright awful (anything with the Slitheen). And there’s one absolute masterpiece. There have been fewer tales in the new series that have been so frightening, or so ultimately satisfying.

It helps to look at things in context, and in that context, ‘Dalek’ is the Ninth Doctor’s Emperor’s Throne Room moment. It is the point in the story in which the protagonist comes dangerously close to losing the plot. The Doctor is not only brandishing that gun at the evolving Dalek; he’s dangerously close to firing it. After the story concludes, his anger seems to evaporate somewhat, and what we see in the second half of the series is a lighter, cheerier Doctor more at ease with his place in the universe. In terms of tone, this two-part tale is the zenith of that ascent, and almost inexplicably it’s all down to the bananas.

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This is Moffat’s first stab at a New Who narrative and it’s arguably his best, which is unusual seeing that its structure is so uneven. Oh, I don’t mean that it doesn’t hang together; it does. But tonally, the Gas Mask Zombies story (as we shall probably not refer to it) is very much a game of two halves. Linking them is a suave intergalactic omnisexual conman who would swiftly become a gay icon and a Saturday evening staple, at least on the BBC. In years to come, Jack would spend an awful lot of time hanging around on rooftops (is this where 51st century swingers go cruising?) and deal with the ramifications of immortality, and it’s strange to see him looking so young and fresh and carefree. ‘The Empty Child’ is the one story where Jack’s morality is up for grabs, and that’s what makes his eventual development of a conscience so ultimately satisfying, even if his passion for gunplay never really diminishes.

But if ‘The Eleventh Hour’ (as discussed yesterday) disappoints in terms of its monster, this story serves up a creation so devilishly creepy it’s almost iconic. The mask-fused child is the stuff of nightmares, staring out through soulless eyes, forever repeating the same dialogue in that melancholy deadpan. It’s like watching Orlando Bloom. Most of the horror occurs within ‘The Empty Child’, with ringing phones and open doors. When Dr. Constantine gives his clinical assessment, the story kicks up a notch and delivers a moment that will, in twenty years’ time, be showcased on a documentary called ‘Was early 21st century Doctor Who too frightening?’.

Dr. Constantine is to ‘The Empty Child’ as Severus Snape is to The Deathly Hallows: his role is brief but significant, narrative focus lingering on him, at least to an extent, even after his conversion. This is largely down to Richard Wilson’s screen presence, lending Constantine the world-weary gravitas he needs without being bereft of humour. Moffat generously gives him the episode’s punch line when, following the denouement, an elderly patient informs him that her missing leg has grown back. “Well, there is a war on,” Constantine remarks. “Is it possible you miscounted?”

But if Constantine gets the belly laugh, there are plenty of giggles along the way. For such a sinister story, ‘The Doctor Dances’ has comedy in abundance. It starts with the Doctor’s relief that his ‘go to your room’ gambit has worked on the zombies (“Those would have been terrible last words”) and from then on the gags fly thick and fast: when the Doctor and Jack aren’t bickering over the relative merits of sonic technology (“Who looks at a screwdriver and thinks ‘Ooh, this could be a little more sonic’?”), they’re playing cowboys with bananas. The Doctor is a man who does all his best work under pressure, which is probably why the jokes don’t feel out of place.

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There are moments that don’t work. The Glenn Miller dance that closes the story feels forced, and the ‘magic hands’ in the closing scenes are utterly contrived – it’s hard, in a way, to accept the fact that the Doctor is literally saving the world by waving his arms. The offence is, nonetheless, instantly forgiveable, occurring as it does within a moment of pure euphoric joy. Irrespective of cliche and dated analogies about emailed upgrades, it’s impossible not to feel a lump in your throat when Eccleston punches the air in triumph, crying out “Just this once, everybody lives!”. As feelgood endings go, it’s up there with Dawn of the Dead, in which hardly anybody lives, but characters we felt sure were doomed manage, at least, to survive long enough to fight another day.

It’s typically overstated, of course, but ‘The Doctor Dances’ is that rare beast: a Doctor Who story with a body count of precisely zero – or minus one, if you want. We could throw up all sorts of theories as to whether Jamie’s revival was predetermined or whether it screws around with causality (as epitomised by the previous episode, in which we’re introduced to a monster that supposedly feasts on paradoxes but which we conveniently never see again, presumably because the CG budget prevented it). But that’s missing the point: this is a story about surviving: the darkest days of the war, and ever-decreasing odds. In the end the battle is won not by physical prowess but by simple acceptance of what we are, and our capacity to do good in spite of the mistakes we have made, and it is this that allows Nancy to reconcile with her son, and which ultimately calms the Doctor, paving the way towards Jack’s eventual redemption. Moffat’s written better-constructed stories, but few come close to capturing the spirit and sense of imagination and wonder that he managed here.

Cameron’s Episode: The Girl in the Fireplace

Categories: New Who, Top 10 | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What makes you beautiful?

Hello, boys.

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Why, oh why, oh why, you may be asking, have I stuck a picture of this lot up here? Well, this is how it breaks down. (Although if you don’t want to read about it, you could just skip to the end for the payoff; I won’t hold it against you.)

I read a couple of (ageing) articles last week that made me cringe. First and foremost, there’s Rebecca Kulik’s assertion that “the new Doctor should fall in love”. I don’t really agree with the point she was making, but I didn’t have the energy that evening to form a coherent counter-argument, so I let that one go. Instead I gazed with awestruck horror at the remarks of a user who calls himself Tom Baker, and who I hope to goodness is trolling. Go on, have a read. You’ll see what I mean. He completely misses the point of ‘Blink’. Both Rebecca and I weighed in on that one and “Tom’s” radio silence since suggests either that he’s realised we’d debunked his argument; or that he was indeed a troll delighting in the short-term gratification of a response, which he’d got; or that he really didn’t care about this enough to have a look at the page again.

That discussion seemingly done and dusted, I turned my attention to other matters, most notably an August article on thetvaddict.com that suggests that Doctor Who will lose half its audience when Capaldi starts, because “DOCTOR WHO found its world-wide appeal (particularly in the U.S.) by introducing sex and romance into its story”, before questioning “Will those same fan-girls and younger viewers feel the same desire to scream and yell for Peter Capaldi? For many, he will seem as old as their grandparents. He is not offering the same kind of appeal that David and Matt had…. All the great acting in the world won’t make up for one critical deficiency: sex appeal.”

This is so horrendously off-base that I don’t know where to start. Her argument is rooted in one particular interpretation of the show, and one corner of the fan unit, so while some of the points she makes are valid, the way she twists it and shifts bias in order to assume that their view actually counts for anything is fundamentally wrong. Let me make this clear: the view of the screaming fangirls doesn’t count, any more than mine does, because we’re each a part of a whole that only the executives (or the particularly media savvy) can actually see. To ascribe the success or failure of the show to the one corner of the market who might actually care about that sort of thing is demeaning and patronising to everyone else, assuming a mindset of crushing superficiality on behalf of the average viewer.

“Youth rules,” Tiffany goes on to say, exposing the problem of older actors getting roles (which is certainly true, but not in Doctor Who), before unintentionally showing a similarly judgemental attitude to those she ostensibly condemns. Her facts are off kilter – she screws up on several key details, insisting, for example, that “when [Capaldi] was welcomed on screen as the new Doctor, he was met with silence”, which really wasn’t true at all. And even if her argument that Doctor Who‘s success is dependent solely on the aesthetic qualities of its central character weren’t so skewiff, she still insists (in true Hollywood style) on using the physical appearance as an indicator of quality, despite the fact that Smith was always at his worst during the love scenes – and in any case, her assumptions about Capaldi’s inability to cut it as a romantic lead purely because of his advancing years are the worst kind of ageism.

So the whole thing is wrong. It’s not just wrong, it’s like an enormous cake of wrongness into which I know I must cut, but I don’t which corner to decimate first. And it’s a good thing I was away for most of August because it seems that most of the hard work’s been done for me. The fact that she had forty-one comments (a good many of which were admittedly repetitions) with about thirty-nine of them taking a fiercely oppositional stance is a surefire indication that people saw the article for what it was – as someone said, “I can only imagine that you are trolling this for the headline and hits; it’s tosh”. She’s writing from an uninformed perspective (I was going to say ‘American’, but that’s not fair) about a programme that’s survived rubber monsters, threats from concerned parents, and even Bonnie Langford. We probably will lose a few of the eye candy obsessives, but we didn’t need them anyway. They’re certainly not a big enough part of the audience share to make any sort of substantial dent.

But the remarks of Barry, right near the bottom, had me rolling my eyes. He suggests that Capaldi’s casting is nothing more than “a DECOY – and thus Moffat will not be trashing a whole season of romantic setup…he is too old – to hold my interest in the show, that is. As a fan-‘boy’, the thing I have ‘invested in’ is the fact that the hero is a dashing romantic hero – who gets the girl – or at least has some (romantic) ‘tension’ with the girl. When I watch the show, I am the Doctor – he’s the thing I identify with. And I’m just simply NOT interested in identifying with an older guy who doesn’t get the girl – in fact, one who is not even in the running!”

I’ve spoken with people like Barry before, and I’d suggest that if he needs a dashing, romantic Doctor to hold his attention he might do well to avoid Hartnell, Troughton…oh, just about every Classic Doctor. And while I don’t wish to be territorial about Doctor Who, if he’s bowing out, that’s fine. The average IQ of the forum users will go up a few points in the wake of his departure, and those of his ilk.

Nonetheless, some of his remarks might hold water. When I mentioned his theory about Capaldi’s casting being a decoy to Gareth, he said ” Maybe it is, and the new Doctor will actually be someone from One Direction. (After all, it’s an anagram of “i.e., Doctor Nine”.)”

Indeed it is. And then – oh, well, one thing just led to another.

I think it’s an improvement, don’t you?

Of course, such things work in reverse as well. If we can lobotomise Eccleston, couldn’t we do the same thing to someone from O.D.? I’m sure there are plenty of people in the queue to make the first incision (and yes, I realise I’m incurring the wrath of the nastier contingent of the fan base in saying this, but most of them are prissy thirteen-year-olds who can’t spell, and who conduct the bulk of their abuse over Twitter, which I don’t use, so I don’t feel threatened).

Anyway, Gareth thought that we might end up with something like this:

Which only really makes sense if you’ve seen ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’, or at least this particular scene. And yes, I know Mr Styles is missing his chin; there was a koala underneath it, and I literally had to draw the line somewhere. Besides, I think the resulting Frankenstein’s monster effect kind of works.

And of course, he’s not really an imbecile. But I think we can agree that Tiffany Vogt probably is.

Categories: Crossovers, New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is this thing on?

Here we go.

I got the idea for this during a conversation with Gareth. We were talking, I think, about the prospect of two Doctors appearing together in the Anniversary Special in November. I cannot believe how many people are still convinced that the Tenth Doctor will actually have to be the Metacrisis Doctor in order for this episode to work. There is nothing in the script – nothing – that says two Doctors can’t cross timelines and meet up once in a while. But two’s never enough for us lot, is it? Why not three? Why not four? Five?

Actually, if we’re talking Doctor numbers, why not Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight, all of whom are still available? Well, most of them are too old. Sorry, I know that people are upset at their lack of involvement in the BBC special, but I genuinely don’t believe that any of this is posturing on Moffat’s part. Just think about it for a second. Can you really see Tom Baker popping on that wig and scarf and climbing into the TARDIS again at his time of life? I mean honestly? The apparent ageing of the Fifth Doctor was just about forgivable given the explanation provided in ‘Time Crash’. McCoy’s still pretty sprightly (he’d have to be, to drive a chariot pulled by rabbits) and Colin Baker lost about two stone in the jungle, but squeezing them back into those costumes – even if you’re going down the “Ooh, temporal anomaly” route to explain the wrinkles – is beyond the skill of the BBC wardrobe department. I’m not being mean, here, honestly. But when they digitally de-aged Jeff Daniels for Tron: Legacy it just looked creepy. Let Four through Eight handle the Big Finish stuff instead, of which I am assured there is plenty. They can all still do it (the Sixth Doctor, in particular, is a revelation, and not of the Dalek kind) and – let’s be honest – after the mess that was last Saturday’s episode I can’t help thinking that they should stay away from Moffat’s vanity project purely on the grounds of artistic integrity.

That leaves us with Eccleston.

I’ve talked about my conspiracy theories surrounding this quite recently, so we won’t dwell on it now. In any event it occurred to me that if we’re going to have Eccleston show up again in New Who it’s going to be through surviving footage. I’m sure the BBC have something fleeting and anti-climatic planned, so I have beaten them to it and pasted Eccleston in myself. His low episode count meant there wasn’t a lot of appropriate screen material, and I figured the best way to make it work was have three different Doctors in three different locations, all chatting on Skype. And so for the Ninth, his episode-closing confrontation with the Daleks (ooh, I’m getting goosebumps again) was an obvious starting point. Obvious too was the Tenth Doctor’s lengthy to-camera monologue in ‘Blink’, containing as it does all manner of asides and quizzical looks, and no extra-diegetic sound. For the Eleventh, it gets harder – but I remembered thinking last autumn that ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ was top-heavy with people staring at screens for no really good reason, and as it turned out there was quite a bit of usable footage.

I put this together over two evenings. The biggest problem is the inconsistency in sound textures, jumping from the grainy whirr of videotape to synthesised choral chants to Murray Gold’s lush orchestration for parts of ‘Dinosaurs’, but not having access to the original masters that was something I simply couldn’t help. Some of the dialogue I wanted to use was clearly delivered to other parties on screen – for example, when the Ninth Doctor says “I’m coming to get you” we can see the Daleks in the background watching him, and while I could have just used the audio it felt a bit like cheating, so I kept such occurrences to a minimum. Editing, too, took some time, in order to pace things appropriately and make sure it stayed in flow – even now there are ways I’m sure I could improve it to the extent that I’m quite hesitant about watching the thing again. But as a concept I think it works (just) and hangs together (also just). And it was fun finding the common threads and having Ten and Eleven engage in sufficient tomfoolery to wind up the ever-serious Nine, who becomes increasingly annoyed (and my goodness, didn’t Eccleston spend an awful lot of that scene just STARING?).

Gareth has suggested another version with McCoy bellowing “UNLIMITED RICE PUDDING”, and at some point I will go back to ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ and then make that. And throw in a bit of Troughton for good measure. In the meantime, this may be the closest we get to having Eccleston back in Who, at least until he caves in and signs up for Big Finish. Which, of course, would be Fantastic.

Note: the first version of this article, published 29 April 2013, stated that McCoy bellowed “INFINITE RICE PUDDING”, when the actual quote was “UNLIMITED RICE PUDDING!”. This has now been changed.

Categories: Crossovers, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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