Posts Tagged With: in the night garden

The War Master in the Night Garden

In 2007, Doctor Who fans were gifted with the finest Master to grace the screen since Roger Delgado. He was suave, he was eloquent, he was angry and malicious, he was…well, he was British, which probably helped. Unfortunately he lasted only a minute and a half before getting shot by an insect and regenerating into John Simm.

It was such a pity. Derek Jacobi was born to play the Master, and for just a moment or two, he did it brilliantly. His replacement was a gurning, dancing clown, manic and ridiculous and – it must be acknowledged – perfectly matched opposite Tennant, but not always an easy watch. Things didn’t improve when he returned with a hoodie, an inexplicable penchant for cannibalism and a secret plan for cloning himself, leading to what is affectionately known as the show’s Being John Malkovich moment. It would be years before we saw the version of the Simm Master that I’d always wanted to see – sneering, reserved and (for a change) respectably dressed, and even if that turns out to be his last appearance, his turn in ‘The Doctor Falls’ was a cracking way to go out.

But enough of this, because we were here to discuss Jacobi – who, having turned in a memorable performance in ‘Utopia’, promptly toddled away back into the land of romantic comedy-dramas, bad sitcoms and the occasional CBeebies bedtime story. He tangoed in Halifax, helped build the Titanic and endured a love-hate relationship with Magneto. Recently we saw him lock horns with the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society in A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. But of his Master, there was nothing – until last December, when he teamed up for a Big Finish audio series entitled Only The Good, in which we got to see the reincarnated renegade in action during the Time War, before he fled to the end of the universe.

What to say about the War Master set? Well, it’s broadly good, although it opens with a largely inconsequential opening story with people I didn’t care about on a forgettable planet that’s being besieged by Daleks. Stories two and four are better, although in one of them the Master is at his most un-Masterlike (the title of this particular story is ‘The Good Master’, so it’s not exactly a spoiler) and it’s initially rather disconcerting to witness him behaving like the disguised human he would eventually become. Of the four, ‘Sky Man’ is far and away the best, despite – or perhaps because – it is a story in which the Master barely features, instead allowing his erstwhile companion Cole to take centre stage. Cole himself is worthy, if rather dull, but if the story’s conclusion is more or less mapped out in its opening conversation it’s still devastatingly effective when it happens.

It also definitively answers one of the questions that the fans have been arguing about for years: namely, was it really Jacobi’s Master in the Time War? The naysayers point out that he states he was ‘a naked child found on the coast of the silver devastation’; similarly John Smith remembers growing up in Ireland with his parents Sydney and Verity, but that’s fabricated, fourth wall-breaking codswallop. This is a slightly younger, sprightlier version of the man we saw in ‘Utopia’ – a man saddled with the weight of twenty years of fruitless labour and a lifetime of false memories, plus the aforementioned insect. Bringing him back was a no-brainer. If you want a resurrected Time War Master, and Jacobi is a narrative fit, why the hell wouldn’t you sign him up if he was available and willing?

It’s a pity we won’t get to see this incarnation meet up with John Hurt: that would have been a heck of a show (and yes, I know it kind of undermines the series 3 arc; don’t tell me they couldn’t have found a workaround for that). But three decent stories out of four seems to be par for the course for BF sets these days, and it’s fun to hear Jacobi casually toss aside supporting characters like sacrificial pawns, outwit the Daleks and occasionally struggle with his conscience – or at least appear to struggle. Unfortunately the story’s conclusion makes a second series rather difficult, for reasons I won’t give away (although you’ve likely figured them out already), and it seems a shame to essentially ditch this new incarnation of the Master just as we’re getting to know him.

But here’s how you terrify your kids: you get them to sit through ‘Utopia’ just before bed, and then you put the In The Night Garden soundtrack on the bedroom CD player.

My views on In The Night Garden are well-documented, if by well-documented you mean eight hundred and fifty words defending the BBC and a couple of doctored photos. I love it because it works and because I do not understand why it works. If that sounds a little odd, it’s because these days it’s mostly anomalous – fan theory is endemic in just about everything, and it is a strange phenomenon, in this enlightened age, to enjoy something because you don’t get it. Twenty-first century media is all about the How and Why, and it’s killing the industry: the rare glimpses behind the scenes that we got in the 70s and 80s are now a regular fixture; outtakes and bloopers have spread like a rash on YouTube; we know everything about a story before we see even the first trailer. One can only hope that Chibnall’s reign – taking place, as it does, behind a security net to rival a Presidential visit, or even a Blade Runner location shoot – goes some way towards reinvigorating the show and bringing back the sense of wonder it once had, and he’s only going to manage that if he slows down on the goddamn press releases.

But no, In The Night Garden is wonderful television: calm, serene and just the right side of weird. Of course grown-ups find it odd. Grown-ups aren’t the target audience. This is TV for the very young, meticulously researched and painstakingly constructed, something that seems to escape the notice of the many parents I talk to who still seem to labour under the ridiculous misapprehension that when the BBC are making TV programmes they simply turn up in a TV studio and wing it. That’s not how it’s done, and the end results look weird because to babies and toddlers the whole world looks weird. (If people really think this is a new thing, they’d be wise to hop onto YouTube and find the little surviving footage that still exists of the oft-forgotten Wizbit. If you’re going to tell me that they’re screwing up our children, it is vital to acknowledge that the process began at least thirty years ago, and probably long before that.)

A while ago, I did a mashup that fused footage from Bing Bunny with some of Mark Rylance’s Wolf Hall dialogue. It was reasonably coherent, and exploring the darker side of Flop’s affable, endless patient personality was the most fun I’d had in a good long while. It also got me into hot water with Aardman, who didn’t like the juxtaposition of ‘adult material’ with programmes meant for kids. The bottom line is that however many disclaimers you include in the description – and however many warnings you tag on the front end – parents are going to let their children watch it, and Aardman were understandably twitchy about compromising the sickeningly wholesome reputation of one of their flagship programmes. (There was the small matter of copyright infringement as well, which I’ve always thought was a little petty given that it was an unmonetised video, but that’s their prerogative.)

But there I was, listening to the War Master set and thinking…wouldn’t it be wonderful to fuse some of the dialogue from this and dump it into a few of the Night Garden episodes? What if the lurid, excessively safe world of Igglepiggle and his friends were bombarded by a quite different and overtly sinister narrator who sounded exactly like the one whose unreconstructed tenor warbles through each of the show’s 100-odd episodes? What if we piled on the filters, added a bit of slow motion and ran the theme song through the editing suite? What could possibly go wrong?

The results, I hope, speak for themselves – and if they’re a little freakish, that’s a good thing. This owes a lot to the black and white Teletubbies video that’s doing the rounds (you know, the one with Joy Division), although it’s less of a mood piece and more of a meditation; it even attempts to tell some sort of story. There are two bits of dialogue, by the way, lifted directly from ‘Utopia’ rather than the War Master set; bonus points to anyone who can work out what they are. And yes, the ending is a bit Blackadder. No apologies.

Oh, and it’s in black and white because it looks cool. Isn’t that a pip?

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In the Forest of the Night Garden

Let me tell you why, in the grand scheme of things, I’ll back the BBC to the hilt. It stems from the winter of 2009, when Daniel was quite literally a babe in arms, and on the occasions he had trouble sleeping at night (which was often) we would be beset by a screaming child, thrashing in his bed, at two or three in the morning or any other time of night that suited him. Absolutely nothing would comfort him apart from episodes of In The Night Garden on the BBC iPlayer, which had an inexplicably mesmeric effect. The inconsolable baby would become instantly calm and serene as he stared at the colourful characters and the gentle stories in which they were embroiled. I don’t know how Kay Benbow did it, but after that, I’m willing to forgive the BBC for just about anything.

In The Night Garden burst onto our screens almost a decade ago as the spiritual successor (and, in many ways, direct emulator) of Teletubbies. It featured a beautiful, tranquil forest populated by a cast of happy creatures of varying shapes and sizes. There’s the cave-dwelling Makka Pakka, whose stone-stacking and face-washing borders on obsessive compulsive. There is Upsy Daisy, who has a skirt that flares up, Marilyn Monroe style, when she wants to dance, and a bed that follows her around (which is surely a Dragon’s Den patent in waiting). There are the Tombliboos, who live in a bush in a sort of multi-tiered structure, playing loud music and constantly having to hitch up their trousers. There are the Pontipines – a family of ten, dressed a little like Catholic cardinals, living in a tiny house under a tree – and the Wottingers, their rarely seen, blue-garbed neighbours. Most intriguing of all is Igglepiggle, who doesn’t appear to actually live in the garden, given that he travels there at the beginning of every episode, security blanket in hand. There is thus the speculation that Igglepiggle is some embodiment of the consciousness of the sleeping child seen in the opening credits, perhaps an avatar of some sort. Well, they got the skin colour right.

Garden_avatar

The formulaic approach to In The Night Garden is part of its charm. The star-swept night sky bursts into flowers just as Igglepiggle’s boat ascends into the heavens, and then we’re in the Night Garden itself, where we are told to hang about while the Pinky Ponk catches up, or run in abject fear from the Ninky Nonk (why? Is it some kind of terrifying self-driving truck intent on running over whichever Pontipine gets in its way? Is this Duel, dressed up for the bedtime hour?). The characters have some sort of inconsequential adventure, they may or may not have a dance on the carousel, there’s a peculiar chant from the Tittifers (stop sniggering at the back there) and then we spend ten minutes saying goodbye to everyone. Nonetheless, particular episodes stand out. There’s ‘Sad and Happy Tombliboos’, in which the Tombliboos play free jazz, which makes everyone in the garden miserable. There’s ‘Mind the Haahoos’, an incredible high octane chase through the garden as the Ninky Nonk weaves in and out of the trees, only narrowly missing the giant balloons that inhabit the spaces in between. And then there’s ‘Igglepiggle’s Tiddle’, in which – oh, you figure it out.

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The whole thing is voiced by Derek Jacobi, who does a cracking job, particularly with the singing. In The Night Garden contains the sort of nonsense language that would have made Spike Milligan proud, and those who level criticisms against both the characters’ apparent gibberish and the overall strangeness of the experience have broadly missed the point: this is not for you. It’s for your children, and children love it. They don’t just foist stuff like this upon an unsuspecting audience without checking it over. Kay Benbow knows what she’s doing. The phenomenal success of Teletubbies is testament to that.

“Honestly, though,” said my father, who mostly knows him as Cadfael. “All those ridiculous words. What must Derek Jacobi have made of it? What was he thinking when he recorded it?”

“The money, Dad?” I suggested.

(Side note: how to freak out your children, class 101. You show them the series three episode of Doctor Who in which Jacobi turns out to be the Master. And then you put them to bed with the songs and music from In The Night Garden playing on the iPod. On a loop.)

Anyway: I don’t know why I didn’t think of mashing up In The Night Garden with Frank Cottrell Boyce’s ‘In the Forest of the Night’ when it aired last autumn. Perhaps it was Edward’s recent fascination with the show (that’s In The Night Garden now, not the Doctor Who story, although he does like the tiger). Either way I spent much of Wednesday evening busy with Fireworks (my image manipulator of choice, although at some point I really ought to learn how to use Photoshop). It wasn’t plain sailing: I spent almost an hour getting the one with the Haahoos not quite right, but it is here anyway as an experiment gone wrong, and the rest aren’t too bad. At any rate they made my children laugh. Ultimately, isn’t that why I do this?

 

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

The drums, the drums, the neverending Tombliboo drums

How to mess up your children, #46: screen the episode of Doctor Who featuring Derek Jacobi as the Master, just before bed. Then put them to bed with In The Night Garden playing on the iPod.

I am such a bad father.

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