Hey, you there. Yes, you. My audience of one. You’re the niche market, you know that? The person who likes Doctor Who, Samuel Beckett and who reads this blog. I mean, I always suspected this is going to be one of those videos whose appeal is always going to be as slim as the crack in Amy’s wall, but it’s good to know someone enjoyed it. It’s you and me against the world, kiddo. Nice to have you along.
If you’ve read my introductory piece you’ll probably have seen this coming, if only because it was ‘part one’. I said then that I’d been thinking for a while about precisely how we’d match Beckett and Doctor Who. But before we get to that, I ought to explain the why – you see, it’s all about the pace (’bout that pace, no treble…). Because twenty-first century Doctor Who is a whirling dervish of fast. Stories are begun and concluded within forty-five minutes. Supporting characters are introduced, established and then killed off or abandoned at an episode’s conclusion. It’s the way TV works, I appreciate that. But sometimes you wish they’d just run a little less, talk a little more and even just pause for breath occasionally.
There is a Geoffrey Palmer-narrated documentary on ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ DVD that illustrates this perfectly. It establishes that Classic Who – particularly the long, drawn-out stories of the first three Doctors (am I the only one who thinks that the pace starts to pick up when we get to Hinchcliffe?) – creates a deep structural contrast to the fast-in, fast-out narratives of the present day. Taking two particular extremes, it juxtaposes a scene from ‘Ambassadors’ – the Doctor and Liz, working leisurely on an antibody in the Doctor’s laboratory – with a frantic piece of expository monologuing from ‘World War Three’, in which the Ninth Doctor establishes in thirty seconds the kind of detail that used to take half an episode to solidify properly. These are two different shows, and while I love those long, drawn-out seven-parters, it’s easy to understand why a more contemporary audience might become fidgety.
Beckett’s a different story, of course. His use of silence, while not exactly like that of Pinter (whose silence was filled with unspoken dialogue) is one of the first things that strikes you. The repetition is another: dialogue is thrown back and forth all over the place, in scenes that often appear devoid of meaning, at least until you really unpack them. That, more than anything, was the kind of thing that I wanted to get across here: the sort of scene that doesn’t get into Doctor Who largely because it is superficially barmy. Beckett found comedy and tragedy alike in the absurd and the mundane, with the most ordinary things granted disproportionate emotional weight, and that may be one of the reasons I’ve warmed to him over the years.
Beckett shares a birthday with Peter Davison, and it was learning this fact that persuaded me to get off my arse and actually put this video together, after months of procrastination. A Fifth Doctor episode would have been a more appropriate fit, perhaps, but the Fifth Doctor stories are already pretty leisurely and I couldn’t think of anything that would create sufficient contrast. Besides, there was only ever really one candidate – a scene from ‘Day of the Doctor’ in which Kate Lethbridge-Stewart confronts her Zygon duplicate at UNIT headquarters, with mirrored camera angles and moody lighting that I suggested, in my review, to ‘like watching one of Beckett’s television plays’.
Assembling this was awkward, time-consuming and not entirely satisfying. When you don’t know precisely what you want to do with something – except to make it “a bit like so-and-so” – actually reaching an end point that pleases you is nigh-on impossible. The truth is that after hours of getting it as good as I could, I gave up. Because getting it done was fiddly and repetitive and I’d had enough. The fact that the unscored audio didn’t quite synch was a bad start. The fact that there were fewer silences and usable shots (in this case, shots where nothing was happening) than I’d previously thought was another hurdle. I got round it by a lot of reversals, a fair amount of slow motion and a bit of zoom here and there – the accompanying whirr for these close-ups is to give the impression that the characters are being viewed through a security camera, which I hope excuses the grainy appearances.
I’m pleased with the Doctor’s bits. ‘Day of the Doctor’ is atypical in that the closing monologue is oddly poetic, and bits of it slotted right in. Stylistically, the whole thing is supposed to resemble What Where, which features assorted confrontations in large darkened chambers, interspersed with the ‘thoughts’ of the main characters, delivered in voiceover. The Beckett on Film version I used as my basic starting point is not, as far as I can see, on YouTube, but this adaptation gives you the basic idea.
The clarinet music was a last-minute drop-in but I think it adds something. The full version is available here, and it’s really quite lovely, if you like that sort of thing. Actually, “if you like that sort of thing” could pretty well sum up this entire project. If you don’t understand what’s going on, you’re probably not the intended audience. As a technical exercise I think it’s a valiant effort but ultimately a failure. As an exercise in pretentiousness, I think it succeeds on all levels.
And I might…eventually….do a Pinter video.
Yes. Perhaps I’ll do a Pinter one.
But not today.