Posts Tagged With: hide

Have I Got Whos For You (end of term edition)

It’s the first of August, and I haven’t posted in ages, and I’m about to head up to Staffordshire for a few days, and we really do need a meme dump. So what’s been going on in the hallowed hills of Whovania these past couple of weeks?

 

To honour World Chocolate Day, which happened a few weeks ago, we present this deleted scene from ‘Pyramids of Mars’.

Landing on the moon for the first time in July 1969, Neil Armstrong is disappointed to discover that the Russians have apparently beaten him to it.

“REVERSE! REVERSE! REVERSE!”

There is joy and celebration across the country as it’s announced that swimming pools are ready to re-open.

But some people really don’t take too kindly to being told to wear a mask.

“Man. Woman. Person. Camera. TV.”

Super Saturday, 2264.

Elsewhere, using a relatively new technique allgedly pioneered in Botswana, scientists have been able to determine that the enormous Sarsen stones that make up the bulk of Stonehenge actually came from a forest outside Marlborough, about twenty miles up the road. Of course, the research team has yet to determine precisely how they were moved.

Bristol, and not everyone is impressed with the replacement Edward Colston statue.

“Oh, she doesn’t mind.”

And in a secluded factory somewhere…

“Right. Everyone slowly and carefully back away in the direction of the TARDIS.”

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Hide’ – 1970s style

Watch this first.

There’s a bit about a third of the way through the first episode of ‘The Mind of Evil’ that more or less encapsulates Doctor Who as it was in the 1970s. The Doctor is attending a demonstration of a new machine that purports to suck the evil out of men’s minds. When the Doctor raises valid ethical concerns, the egotistical professor in charge asks what he could possibly find objectionable. Pertwee adopts a theatrical flourish in his response. “UNIT, sir, was set up to deal with new and unusual menaces to mankind,” he says. “And in my view, this machine of yours is JUST THAT!”

[DRAMATIC MOOG MUSIC AS THE DOCTOR STOMPS AWAY]

If you’re so inclined you can watch it here. Skip to the eight minute mark.

Anyway, Emily and I were watching this very episode a number of weeks ago, and when this happened we both roared with laughter.

“What I’d really like,” said Emily, “is for them to do a modern episode of Doctor Who that plays like one of these. Maybe he gets stranded in time and winds up in 1980s U.N.I.T. And they have wobbly sets and weird special effects and a funky score.”

Just because the Doctor gets to leap around in time, it doesn’t mean the show doesn’t age. The problem with any episode of a programme about time travel is that whenever it’s set historically, it’s always going to be aesthetically bound by the period in which it was filmed. In other words, if you shoot a story that’s set in medieval Italy, but do so in the 70s, it’s still going to have that visual style attached to it, even if your costumes are authentic. Likewise, if you shoot a story on a distant alien planet, but fill the background music with orchestral hits and Korg samples, it’ll come across as being very 80s. Big explosion? Drop in a white-out. Someone’s having their mind probed? Put swirly effects all over the screen. And don’t forget the facial zooms, the sort of thing that Mike Myers and Dana Carvey would later parody extensively on Saturday Night Live.

This was standard practice, of course. There were certain things you did back then, simply because everyone else did. I couldn’t find a decent version on YouTube, but anyone who’s seen the first Superman film will remember the moment when Christopher Reeve discovers Margot Kidder’s car with her lifeless corpse inside: his reaction as he takes in the scene is filmed from multiple angles, and while it might seem old hat now, it heightens the emotional pathos no end. Or there’s the scene in Carrie where John Travolta and Nancy Allen approach the blood-soaked titular teenager on her way home from the prom, and Carrie’s acts of telekinetic revenge are preceded by jerky zooms. Watch it and not only will you see what I mean, you’ll also recall you’ve seen a hundred things from the same period that did things this way. Fast forward a quarter of a century, of course, and every action film post-Matrix features tedious bullet time camerawork and excessive use of slow motion, with the refreshing (and intentional) exception of The Expendables.

This is not a criticism. Not really. You’re tied to what’s perceived as cutting edge. It’s become very fashionable to sneer at the stop-motion used in the likes of Robocop and Ghostbusters. But I do wonder if we’ll look back in twenty years at episodes like ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ and laugh at them as naff and silly. And I can’t help thinking that this will be futile. The point is that while sneering at the Thunderbirds effects at the end of ‘State of Decay’ may make for an amusing documentary soundbite, it ignores the fact that at the time they never let plastic doors and rickety staircases stop them telling a good story. It’s common knowledge that the ‘cheap production values’ of Doctor Who were laughed at even back in the 70s in the wake of Star Trek and Star Wars, but by and large the people cracking the jokes today are the very same people who were hiding behind the sofa during the likes of ‘Earthshock’. Or, as Colin Baker puts it, “I get a bit impatient when people say ‘I loved watching Doctor Who because of the shaky sets’. No you didn’t, you liar. You loved watching because you believed it and you were scared.”

In any case, Emily’s ruminations on contemporary Who filmed in a 70s style got me thinking. We might call it a parody. But it needn’t be. Part of the appeal of Hot Fuzz (a film you really should see, if you haven’t already) is that while it takes the conventions of the action blockbuster and changes the setting to a sleepy English market town, it works precisely because it refuses to send up the genre it’s referencing – it’s a tribute, rather than a parody. (The same cannot be said of Scary Movie, a sneering, puerile effort that fails partly because it sends up a film that was itself a parody, although the main reason it doesn’t work is that it simply isn’t funny.)

So it’s a fine line to walk. Still, the idea of reworking modern Doctor Who and changing it a little bit was an appealing one. ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’ has dated in many ways (giant rats, anyone?) but the episode five cliffhanger in which Leela pulls off Magnus Greel’s mask to reveal a hideous, deformed face underneath is one of the great episode endings, right up there with the ascending Dalek and, well, this:

Second rate story, but oh my.

Anyway: when it came to actually picking an episode, ‘Hide’ seemed the obvious choice. It’s structurally flawed, but it has some lovely Doctor / Clara moments, is appropriately scary at given points, and it has Jessica Raine. The Doctor’s hop through time is a gratuitous use of the CG budget, but the monster is reasonably convincing, and the National Trust property they used for the mansion’s interior could have come straight out of the Baker / Pertwee era.

I’ll try not to bore you too long with the technical stuff, but here it is. The trickiest stage was choosing a suitable clip, because so many of them are riddled with fancy camera angles and quick jump-cuts, so that they’d still look contemporary even if you changed everything old. In the end I plumped for a scene about halfway through where the Doctor and Clara get a scare on the landing, before the ‘ghost’ appears downstairs, accompanied by a spinning black disc. It builds in intensity, without being too effects-heavy. I stripped out the score and replaced it, and then re-sequenced things so that the jokes were gone and the spinning disc formed the cliffhanger. After that it was a question of filtering to death – I think I used about three different filters, stretched and reprocessed across two software packages – in order to make it look as if it were shot under the harsh lighting of an old studio. The ‘effects’ – polarising filters, a spontaneous zoom at a crucial moment and one of those grainy things that break up the picture at the end – were the last thing to be added.

In case you were wondering, the score samples used are (in order):

  • The Mutants (from ‘The Mutants’)
  • The Axons Approach (from ‘The Claws of Axos’)
  • Keller Machine Appears and Vanishes (from ‘The Mind of Evil’ – this was the pulsing effect used in the last forty seconds)

Does it work? More or less. The filtering isn’t as I’d have liked it, and I’m sure that someone with more technical expertise could have improved the processing. But even if it doesn’t really look like an old episode of Doctor Who, it does at least look a little bit like a new episode that’s purposely trying to look old. Which was the entire point, so I guess we can call that a win.

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Eggwatch, part 9

If, like me, you’re still wondering whether the alleged early release of the box set was actually a colossal publicity stunt designed to revive interest in a series that’s been almost universally crap, you may be in need of a little distraction this week. Certainly there has been a lot of talk about it, but no actual substance, leading me to wonder whether the people who claim to have seen the last episode (“But, you know, I can’t give you any details”) are actually having a bit of a joke. God knows what we’re supposed to make of the fact that most of the fake torrents on The Pirate Bay actually contain black gay porn, or rips of ‘Love and Monsters’. (I know which I’d rather see. Sorry, Elton.)

Anyway! Eggs.

I am still behind on this, so we’re still having to do two episodes at a time, which is probably not a bad thing as the egg references seem to vary from week to week. Certainly ‘Hide’, which was next on the list, has relatively little to show for its forty-five minutes. At one point, Emma Grayling appears to be wearing a blue painted egg.

Eggs_Hide_2

Except it’s not really an egg at all, it’s more of a gem. I’m grasping at straws with this one, because the only other time we get even close to that is when the Doctor gets a bottle of milk out of the fridge.

Eggs_Hide_1

 

Oh, you know. Milk. Eggs. The whole…soufflé thing…

[Tumbleweed]

But then – then – we get to ‘Journey of the Centre of the TARDIS’, and all is forgiven. Because while I had to watch this one with the sound off so I wouldn’t have to listen to that excruciating dialogue, there are plenty of egg references in this episode. Let’s start with the more abstract images, like the door to the Exploding Room of Lava.

Eggs_TARDIS_1

 

There’s also the Eye of Harmony itself, which – while circular – appears to have a jelly bean / egg hybrid attached to it, like some kind of interstellar wart.

Eggs_TARDIS_2

 

But these are trivialities next to the revelation that two of the main plot devices are egg-shaped. First there are the luminous objects that sit on the end of the tendrils that form the architectural reconfiguration system.

Eggs_TARDIS_3

 

And then, of course, there’s this, which is not only egg-shaped, but also just about the right size.

Eggs_TARDIS_4

So there you go. It was a shit episode, but from the depths of despair we draw new life. Anyone fancy a Big Friendly Omelette?

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Review: ‘Hide’

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“Raggy?”

It’s the oldest story in the book. Paranormal investigators with unresolved sexual tension camp out in supposedly haunted house to catch a glimpse of fabled ghost. Boyish time-traveller turns up with his bit of skirt and shows complete lack of social awareness. Lots of flickering candles, sudden noises and something lurking in the shadows. Eventually, time traveller discovers ghost isn’t actually a ghost, and the monster isn’t actually malevolent.

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At first I figured this was going to be the low-budget story. The Doctor demonstrated the concept of a pocket universe with two balloons, for heaven’s sake. The ‘opening gag’ consisted of Jenna-Louise Coleman putting her head round the door carrying an umbrella. It’s something they really need to stop doing. Pop culture references seldom work on Doctor Who, and the Ghostbusters shoe-ins have always been utterly lame.

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Yeah, they’re just not going to get the joke.

Not long after this the effects started in force, but even so there was something about this episode that felt very old school. It might have been the minimal cast. It might have been the fact that the bulk of it is set in a Victorian mansion with surrounding woodland that could have come straight out of Hinchcliffe’s gothic era. Or it could have been the obvious Scooby Doo links – a recurring theme that we’ll come back to in a few days. I can only be grateful that the Ponds have gone, because if they hadn’t you can guarantee that there would have been at least one scene where Amy was dragged off by the monster while Rory was busy in the kitchen assembling a giant sandwich.

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Another reason to be grateful for the Ponds’ departure is that one fewer companions gives space to Clara, who seems more and more fun as the question of who she is gradually fades into the background. We are given a quiet reassurance by Emma, the Psychic of the Week, who tells us (and the Doctor) that Clara is “a perfectly ordinary girl – very pretty, very clever, more scared than she lets on”. Elsewhere, the tedious question of why the TARDIS “doesn’t like” Clara is ostensibly answered, after she argues with it.

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Yes, fine, it’s all suitably existential and it builds on the idea of multiple versions of the same character, but they missed a trick by not inviting back Suranne Jones, who – I’ve decided – should become the resident TARDIS hologram. It would have solidified the virtual catfight, a catfight that is eventually resolved when the TARDIS starts playing ball and pops into the pocket universe just in time to rescue the Doctor from the monster-that’s-not-a-monster. Of course, this doesn’t stop him going back later.

(Which, by the way, reminded me of this.)

Ah, the joys of Krull. (Don't see it. It's rubbish.)

Ah, the joys of Krull. (Don’t see it. Seriously don’t. It’s rubbish.)

I’m not an idiot – all this apparent resolution is almost certainly to lull us into a false sense of security, and put a stop to the fanboys’ assertions that Clara’s muttered “I don’t think it likes me!” in ‘The Rings of Akhtanen’ actually means anything at all, when the locked TARDIS door thing is far more likely to have been something that they dropped in just to force her character to improvise (and besides, SHE DIDN’T HAVE A KEY). Still, Coleman is far more fun to watch when she’s allowed to be a companion, rather than an enigma. It’s no bad thing that the bulk of her facial acting seems to be done with her eyes, even if she’s obviously drawn inspiration from Kate Warner.

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If you’ve seen season two of 24, you will know that she does this a lot.

There are some lovely touches here and there – if the script is dull, some of Coleman’s one-liners are wonderful (when asked for the opposite of bliss, she immediately responds “Carlisle”); moreover, the scene when the Doctor’s about to leave the TARDIS and warns her not to touch anything – and she responds with a single, slightly incredulous thumbs-up – might be my favourite moment of the new series. I’m over-stating my case here, but it’s nice when Clara can just be Clara, without having to be the centre of the universe, and it’s moments like this that encapsulate that part of their relationship. This particular gag takes place within the framework of a TARDIS-based intermezzo where the Doctor is tracking back and forth through time to test out a theory. There are gratuitous nods to Classic Who (the Doctor laments the loss of his umbrella stand) and New Who (the spacesuit is, I think, the same one he wore in ‘The Waters of Mars’) but some of the cinematography is gorgeous.

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But the Doctor’s jaunt through history has only the barest connection with the plot (in the sense that he could have just explained it), and it all comes to a head when Clara stops to examine the nature of eternity. It’s not the first time in the new series that he’s had this conversation with a companion – as early as ‘The End of the World’, the Doctor allowed Rose to call her mother across the universe in what seemed to be an interesting proponent of San Dimas time. (When she laments that half the conversation took place five billion years ago and that her mother is now dead, the Doctor snorts “Bundle of laughs, you are”.) Meanwhile, back in the TARDIS, Clara watches the Eleventh Doctor at work.

CLARA:  Have we just watched the entire life cycle of Earth, birth to death?

DOCTOR: Yes.

CLARA: And you’re okay with that?

DOCTOR: Yes.

CLARA: How can you be?

DOCTOR: The TARDIS, she’s time. We – wibbly vortex and so on.

CLARA: That’s not what I mean.

DOCTOR: Okay, some help. Context? Cheat sheet? Something?

CLARA: I mean, one minute you’re in 1974 looking for ghosts, but all you have to do is open your eyes and talk to whoever’s standing there. To you, I haven’t been born yet, and to you I’ve been dead one hundred billion years. Is my body out there somewhere, in the ground?

DOCTOR: Yes, I suppose it is.

CLARA: But here we are, talking. So I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing.

DOCTOR: No. No. You’re not that.

CLARA: Then what are we? What can we possibly be?

DOCTOR: You are the only mystery worth solving.

Oh, it was all going so well.

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There’s a lot that ‘Hide’ doesn’t get quite right. The scientific explanation for the Chrononaut’s presence is inadequate, and two days after watching the episode I’m still trying to work out how she managed to write ‘HELP ME’ on the walls of the mansion. Jessica Raine is competent in an episode that requires her to do little other than look emotionally distraught, but Dougray Scott is clearly there just to cash his paycheque. The ending, too, is hopelessly off-base, from the Doctor’s muttered forest-bound monologue on the nature of fear to the sudden reversal in the closing scenes (although the device he rigs up is very Doctorish, and Clara’s gag about how sharks make babies is priceless). Every cliché in the horror book is mined, and Murray Gold’s score is once more intrusive – heavens above, can’t they just turn it down?

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For all that, it was fun. Most of the time. There were moments that scared me, and I haven’t been able to say that about a single Doctor Who story since ‘Blink’ (with the possible exception of ‘The God Complex’, depending on what mood I’m in). But then I read the reviews and the comments beneath, and I wonder if my standards have lapsed. These days, you see, we watch Doctor Who on the fly – I’m no longer playing catch up with the boys, and instead we all sit down together and have family viewing sessions, the way it’s meant to be. And I measure the success of an episode by how much my children enjoy it, and after this one was over I had to sit in a darkened bedroom with Josh so that he’d be able to go to sleep. Whatever the inadequacies of ‘Hide’, it got him back behind the sofa. And behind the sofa is, in an ideal world, the place where any Doctor Who viewer – eight to eighty – truly belongs.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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