Posts Tagged With: patrick troughton

“Garth. That was a haiku.”

This, dear children, is how I’ve been spending World Poetry Day. Because why not? And yes, a number of Doctors are missing, but I’ll write more next year. Probably. You might even get a sonnet.

In the meantime, have fun. And as a footnote, that last one is something that I actually read this week, and is perhaps the best example I can give right now of a fandom that is apparently broken.

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My hat, it has three corners

Please excuse the radio silence in here this last couple of weeks. I’m still trying to get this book finished, and I think it will be worth it. I have set myself a self-imposed deadline (my 40th birthday, which is imminent) for a first draft. It’s manageable provided I focus, which means that certain things – like this blog – have rather fallen by the wayside of late.

We do have a few interesting posts coming your way imminently, but I’m still writing for The Doctor Who Companion, including a rather interesting piece on hats that you might want to check out. We arranged it for Wear A Hat Day, which took place at the end of March in aid of brain tumour research. The notion of the Doctor’s headgear has been a talking point for years, of course,  although lately it’s mostly a bunch of tedious memes about fezzes, which are not and have never been in any way cool. Here’s the TL:DR version – the Doctor used to wear a hat because everyone else did. It’s only later that it became a plot point, rather than a simple fashion accessory.

(I received several comments about this one on Twitter, but the best read “You talk to him.” / “No, you talk to him.”)

Still, it did give me the opportunity to wonder about the Doctors who generally didn’t wear a hat, and how they might have looked if they did.

I think the Eighth works quite well, although it’s not quite as settled on his head as I’d like it to be; it looks like he’s got a ferret bobbing underneath it. The same applies for Nine, although I do like the idea of the Doctor going to a Guns ‘n’ Roses concert (this is Guns ‘n’ Roses in their heyday, not that group of session musicians Axl Rose toured with a couple of years back) and chilling backstage with the band. And if the Twelfth was wearing a white suit, he’d look a little bit like Herr Starr from Preacher.

Twelve’s refusal to wear any sort of headgear has often vexed me, because he’d look good in a hat, particularly during his grumpy season.

Yes. Well.

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The Rainbow Connection

Today, boys and girls, you have a choice. You can read this through, or you can skip to the bottom. That’s where the video is. I will not hold it against you, and I’ll never know you did it. Your time is precious. But do, at least, spare five minutes to watch the Thing At The End, because that’s the whole point.

Somewhere in the home counties – I’m thinking Surrey, although it’s never clear – in a cheerfully painted house, a fluffy gay hippo is carefully stacking blocks. To his left, there is a weird orange thing that may or may not be extraterrestrial, doing a puzzle. There is a piece missing: in his frustration, he chucks the box in the direction of the hippo, upsetting his tower. “Ooh, Zippy!” complains the hippo, rife with melodrama. “Zat’s very naughty! Now I’ve got to start again!”

“Oh, well, never mind George,” says the alien. “You can always make another one.”

Stage right, there is a large brown bear reading a comic. “Oh, Zippy,” he sighs. “You are careless.”

“Yes, well, it’s not my fault!” says the alien. “He shouldn’t have been building right next to my jigsaw!”

Their greying foster carer – all sensible shirts and white trainers – walks in, carrying a basket of washing that is inexplicably full given that he’s the only person in the house who wears any clothes. Scenes like this no longer astound or surprise him the way they once did: he’s watched every episode of The Dumping Ground and accepts most of his job is firefighting the squabbles and arguments his young charges have daily. He suspects the alien may have ADHD. He has caught the bear rewiring the electrics once or twice and has asked him not to. The hippo is constantly put upon by his would-be siblings, and the people down the road are always holding impromptu glee clubs in his front room. This, he reflects, was not how he saw his life going when he signed up for this gig.

When we were children, Rainbow was a part of the furniture. It had been around so long that no one gave its murky origins a second thought. There were all manner of questions about the setup in the house – who were these strange anthropomorphic characters and why were they living with this middle-aged storyteller? What did they do for money? And are the frequent fourth wall breaks some sort of indication that they’re in some sort of kids’ version of Big Brother, mercifully without the sex? But no one really asked. It was just something we accepted. It was, like Doctor Who, more about the situation, and the hijinks that ensued, than anything that might have led to them.

It’s strange when you reflect upon how much things have changed. I often read comments on the CBeebies Facebook page about The Tweenies, usually complaining about something obnoxious that Bella is doing. It is inconceivable that a show like that would be made today. Everyone spends all their time arguing. The characters are real, but they’re not a good influence, and even though their behaviour usually results in consequences and discipline, that’s lost on today’s thou-shalt-parent-my-children-for-me audience. While it’s hard to pinpoint precisely where it happened, somewhere along the line we lost the concept of dramatic irony.

There was – I swear I’m not making this up – an episode of Rainbow where Rod, Jane and Freddy sang a song that went “A flying saucer / In our garden / It must have come from outer space…”. Whereupon Zippy poked his head out of the window and offered them a trip to the stars, which they gleefully accepted, finishing the song along the way. It was, to my mind, the best origin story for Zippy that we’ve ever had. There is no other explanation for a creature with a zip sewn into its mouth, other than one that evolved on a planet where it’s an essential survival feature. Perhaps he was expelled from his home world for being thoroughly obnoxious – it would explain why ‘cousin’ Zippo is so mind-numbingly placid, at least until that later episode where he develops a bad American accent and starts talking about crisps.

Little moments like this are integral to our understanding of Rainbow. There are episodes where Geoffrey randomly ‘has to go out’. We never know where he goes (unless he returns with something plot-related) or why. Sessions at the dole office immediately spring to mind. So too do images of Geoffrey attending a drug deal or hiring himself out as a gigolo. It all depends on the mood I’m in. So you can understand why I’d latch onto the image of Zippy emerging from a wrecked spacecraft and setting up home with a bear and a hippo, which is to all intents and purposes what the song implies. (It also implies, of course, that Rod, Jane and Freddy were actually housed together in some sort of communal living situation, which corroborates many 1980s tabloid rumours.)

Then there’s…um. Rainbow cosplay.

I mean, seriously. What the hell is that? It’s like Zippy ate him. At least he can still breathe, which is presumably a situation that can be quickly altered with the swipe of a zip at the top. Come to think of it why does this have a working zip anyway, given that its sudden closure by an external party is likely to render the occupant airless and blind in an instant? Is this some sort of gimp outfit you use for fetish games? Does Christian Grey have one? It is only marginally less disturbing than the Rainbow comics which hit the stands back in the 1990s, in which every character looks basically normal except for George, who bears the haunted, blank-eyed stare of a hippo possessed.

(If you enjoy exploring the seedy underbelly of the animals in the house, you would be well-advised to check out World of Crap, who have devoted pages and pages to rewritten Rainbow comics with amusing captions.)

I’ve dabbled with Rainbow before, of course, in a video that I still quite like, some six years after its creation (not to mention Roy Skelton’s death, which upped the hit count considerably). But Zippy’s only one part of the trio – and while he’s the obvious candidate for voice transposition, that doesn’t mean the others don’t have potential. Except that George is timid and often stumbles over his words, of course, which makes placing him difficult. That left Bungle, who is usually well-spoken, as well as prone to bouts of pomposity. When it came to finding a Doctor Who character for him to replace, there really was only one choice, and that was Omega.

It’s not that I don’t like ‘The Three Doctors’. I think it’s overrated, not to mention structurally problematic – one of those stories that is beloved because it was the first multi-Doctor fusion (and even then, it fails to deliver on its title’s promise). The bickering between Pertwee and Troughton is about the best part of the story – although an unexpected highlight occurs when Benton walks into the TARDIS for the first time, and refuses to state the obvious. The Gel guards are quite fun, but this one is perhaps the epitome of the ‘Stupid Brigadier’ phase, in which U.N.I.T.’s finest devolves into a reactionary simpleton who refuses to accept the evidence of his own eyes.

Then there’s Omega, a villain so melodramatic it’s impossible to see him as a serious threat. Omega’s role in ‘The Three Doctors’ is to shout. In ‘Arc of Infinity’, it’s to shout some more, and then decompose at the edge of a river, just after bonding with a small child over the sight of an organ grinder. In ‘Omega’, the 2003 Big Finish audio drama, his role is to convince you that he’s the Doctor, which he manages with aplomb. But for the most part it’s just a lot of shouting. There must be a reason for all that anger. You almost want Tennant to lean round the door of his chamber, survey Omega’s colossally oversized mask and mutter “Compensating for something?”

Still, masks are handy. I use masks a lot, simply because it makes the dubbing much easier. And there’s something fun about having a supposedly sinister character rendered ridiculous. In the case of Omega, it only half works. You can make him ridiculous all right; he just isn’t very sinister.

When it came to putting this together, I wanted it to feel as close to an actual episode of Rainbow as possible, so I started with the animations. There are two of them, built up in that slow, frame-by-frame style (the sound effects, by the way, are all ripped directly from the show). Originally it was just going to be K-9, but I put the other one in just for the heck of it – the same might be said for the Rod, Jane and Freddy song that shows up later, although that’s partly the silliness of Pertwee’s slow motion fight with Omega.

The biggest problem was Bungle’s voice, which is less consistent than you imagine (unlike Zippy, who always sounds like Zippy). It’s perhaps most obvious in the opening scene, in which the changes are obvious. This being a Classic episode, I didn’t have the luxury of score-free dialogue, which meant dealing with ambience and the occasional sting from Dudley Simpson (who recently turned 95, if you want another entry to your list of Entertainment Veterans You Hadn’t Realised Weren’t Dead Yet). As a result it’s rather rough around the edges, and I almost like it that way.

Oh, and make sure you watch to the end…

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The inevitable Doctor Who / The Prisoner thing

October, 2011. Emily and I are celebrating our anniversary in Harlech. The bedroom in our B&B is all frills, pink and a myriad fragile-looking ornaments. It is like Dolores Umbridge’s study. We go out for Indian food, wander round the castle and watch trashy TV.

Sunday morning the two of us take a hike in the drizzle over to the estuary. In the distance, Portmeirion looms: a picture postcard collection of patchwork models glued to the forest. We make it within throwing distance before the sand becomes too deep, sucking and gurgling. I suggest going back to the car and driving round to the village’s entrance, if she wants.

Emily smiles. “No,” she says. “I think I like it better this way. It’s more authentic.” And back we head, pursued by a large balloon.

The Prisoner is one of those shows that entered and left national consciousness without anyone ever really noticing. It was all going so well. Navy striped blazers? Check. The threatening, omnipresent Rover? Check. All this, and the show’s best-loved catchphrase: “I am not a number,” bellows McGoohan, running across a beach at sunset, “I AM A FREE MAN!”. It was the perfect soundbite to stick at the end of a newsgroup post, a middle finger extended eloquently against authority. Even Matthew Corbett was at it. (Sooty does The Prisoner. Wonders will never cease.)

These days everyone just uses the word ‘Sheeple’ and thinks they’re being terribly clever. These days, I’m having to explain what The Prisoner is to a whole new generation – actually two generations if you count my mother, who systematically denies repeatedly saying “I am not a number” when my brother and I were growing up despite my insistence that it was a stock part of conversation (along with “No” and “Were you born in a barn?”). Outside the family circle I’m met with a blank stare whenever I do that ‘Be seeing you’ thing. Honestly, Star Trek never had these problems.

Perhaps that’s part of it. Gene Roddenberry didn’t just create a TV show, he created an entire universe and filled it with planets and civilisations. The world of The Prisoner is comparatively small – micro, rather than macroscopic. It has to be: by its very nature the Village needs to be enclosed, and the bulk of Number 6’s adventures taking place there, while those that aren’t are usually hiding something. (‘Living In Harmony’ is about the best known example of this, predating the holodeck by a good twenty years and showing that there’s very little you can’t do with a few cardboard cut-outs, some mild hallucinogenics and a raid on the ITV props department.)

I’m not a big fan of the words ‘cult following’ – they seem to imply a kind of snobbery in one direction or another – but perhaps that’s the most appropriate terminology to explain the programme’s mass appeal among its fan base, even after all these years. Certainly there can be few programmes as impenetrable, and few endings as discussed and dissected. The Prisoner was either captivating (no pun intended), or challenging, or just plain weird, depending on the level of commitment you were willing to offer. It was uncompromising television that explained very little and then subverted what you thought you knew.

It’s the sort of programme I wish they’d make more often, but that doesn’t seem to be the way that the world works now: there is an expectation that every gap should be plugged, every flashback explained, every origin story given flesh. “Worst bit of nerd culture: the need to fill in the blanks,” tweeted Gideon Defoe on 21 September. “Ooh, the Kessel Run, sounds evocative, must see it in grindingly prosaic detail.”

Doctor Who fans are no better. It’s not enough for Turlough to have attended a private school while on the run from the authorities: said school now has to be established (step forward, Nick Briggs) as a school that deals especially with alien children, so we can know how he got there. It’s not enough for the Doctor to have left Gallifrey: we need to know why. And it’s not enough for the random women standing behind Rassilon to be whomever you’d most like them to be: we have to have fan fiction explaining who they are and how they got there and which of the high council they shagged along the way (because this is fan fiction, and thus Rule #34 applies in abundance).

There is an episode of Sherlock that annoys me immensely, because we get to see not one but three resolutions to the Sherlock Falls From The Roof story. One of them is (probably) the truth, although it’s told to us by a madman, which rather tests its narrative reliability. The others are fanwank – quite literally, as one of them seems to rely on a fan suggestion. It is possibly the most meta of all the Sherlock episodes, dealing as it does with the public reactions to the detective and how he interacts with his audience, allowing them to make up the history for him. There is a laziness and smugness about it that is unbecoming. Far better it would have been, surely to have the detective sweep back into Watson’s life and refuse to explain anything at all, even to the audience?

But a blank slate is maddening, and perhaps that’s the reason that The Prisoner is now called ‘obscure’ (one unnamed publication, three days ago). The planned origin story for Number Six’s arrival mercifully never materialised, and all we had to go on was that iconic opening montage, largely wordless: Patrick McGoohan drives his car, storms angrily in and out of an office and is then rendered unconscious in his London home before waking up on the Welsh coast. (In 1987, twenty years after The Prisoner, ITV launched Knightmare, in which a series of would-be adventurers ventured through an artificially generated dungeon. Every time a fresh room was entered the kid in the over-sized helmet would ask “Where am I?”, and watching years later it’s almost disappointing that the answer was never “In the village”.)

There is a rule about TV: give your programme a historical setting and you instantly sidestep the likelihood of it becoming dated (which is why Dad’s Army is frequently repeated while Bless This House is not). The Prisoner sidesteps this by giving the show’s location a timeless feel: there are elements of Connery’s Bond, and a Beatles track that plays over the final episode, but we could be watching this in any decade. Most of it works. The writing is consistently good, and the show takes risks that you generally don’t see in contemporary British TV (episode seven, ‘Many Happy Returns’, features no almost no spoken dialogue for the first twenty minutes).

If you’ve never seen The Prisoner I am about to ruin it for you, and I strongly suggest that you drop to the end of the section I’m just about to write, but we need to talk about ‘Fall Out’. Not every show is defined by its finale – The Avengers wasn’t – but when, in early 1968, Number Six was taken to meet Number One, a nation of jaws dropped. Everything about the programme’s closing instalment is baffling – the hooded rabble in the courtroom, the apparent resurrection of Leo McKern, the obfuscating speech by the judge, the song and dance, the jive dude…and fact that Number Six barely utters a word throughout, although on the few occasions that he tries the mob are quick to silence him.

Then there’s a huge gunfight and Patrick McGoohan in a gorilla mask, and then that long drive home, with Angelo Muscat closing the door. Roll credits.

There’s a legend that says that when the series finale aired, the public backlash was so ferocious that McGoohan had to flee the country to avoid the mob. I still don’t know if I believe that, but it makes for a nice story, and the sort of fitting scene that closes a docudrama – rather like Ed Wood driving away with Kathy just after the screening of Plan 9, oblivious to the reaction it presumably received. Certainly ‘Fall Out’ is one of those stories that remains impenetrable, perhaps the only episode of the series that was. It doesn’t help that Alexis Kanner is playing a completely different character to the one he played in ‘Living In Harmony’, and yes, I know this sort of thing happens in Doctor Who all the time without any explanation, but this was one occasion I really felt we deserved one.

Seriously. God knows what’s going on here. I mean, I get the rest. I don’t care why Number 6 / John Drake / whoever the hell he was resigned, or what the purpose of the Village really is, but I can at least follow the narratives – even ‘A, B and C’, which is a head trip best enjoyed under the influence of alcohol, or at least a notepad and biro. But then we get here, and all hell breaks loose. You thought the Twin Peaks finale was weird? You don’t know you’re born, kid, although right now I’m not entirely sure whether Laura Palmer was either.

Gareth says that it’s simply a question of punctuation: when McGoohan asks (every week) about the identity of Number One, he’s told “You are Number Six”, but if you add a comma it reads “You are, Number Six”, which makes a whole lot more sense, or at least as much sense as anything in The Prisoner ever really did. Whether there’s a conspiracy, a case of mistaken identity, or whether the whole thing was simply a fugue state in the mind of a delusional man we’re never really sure.

[Spoilers more or less end here.]

Perhaps it’s better that way. Perhaps giving an answer to a story like this is the quickest way of killing it. That’s what happened in Lost – a programme that attempted to explain its own mythology and came apart at the seams as a result, to the extent that no one really talks about it now. Perhaps that’s what McGoohan learned during his time on the show: by steadfastly refusing to explain what’s going on, you give people something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

That’s a lesson that the fans, if not necessarily the writers of Doctor Who will eventually lead to learn as well: it is a children’s show, and thus deserves a degree of transparency, but a programme can become consumed by its own mythos and wind up drowning in it. As I write this I am attempting to convince a well-meaning chap in Dakota that when Timothy Dalton spoke about the two dissenters being “like the Weeping Angels”, he didn’t mean they were actually Weeping Angels, and no, we do not need to know where the Weeping Angels came from. Similarly we don’t need to know the Master’s backstory. Nor what Rory got up to in the two thousand years he was humping Amy round Europe. Nor about the adventures the Doctor and Martha had while holed up in 1969 (particularly whether or not they had sex, an inexactness which some fans seem unhealthily desperate to have resolved). We watch a show that has a question for a title: questions do not always need to be answered, and not everything needs to be connected.

Maybe that’s why I do things like this: if Doctor Who aficionados are obsessed with in-universe continuity, perhaps this is a drive to counter-balance that. It’s funny, because if there’s one thing The Prisoner really doesn’t have, it’s a sense of continuity. One clever conceit the show employs is to pit Number Six against a succession of chair-dwelling superiors – everyone has their favourites, and most of them are Leo McKern. It allows for an ever-changing dynamic: you want panicky incompetence, you cast Patrick Cargill (‘Hammer Into Anvil’); if it’s polite dignity, you cast Anton Rogers. In the background, Muscat lingers and serves tea, leading to speculation that he may be more than simply a butler. The shifting cast reminds me, for obvious reasons, of a certain Other Programme, which led to this.

The new Number Two.

Logically the only possible response is “Who is William Hartnell?”. And logically the only possible response to that is “You are Colin Baker.” Or, if you want, “You are, Colin Baker.” Which is closer to the truth than anyone might care to admit.

Meanwhile, over in the Village, the poor old War Doctor is ruminating.

Now, John Hurt as Number Two. That would have been something.

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Doctor Who: an overview (part one)

If you were reading this the other day, you’ll recall me talking about the talk I gave to the church group.

What follows is the script I was using. I mostly stuck to it, with the odd add-lib. I make no apologies for the simplification of certain concepts, or the general lack of detail, because it was all done with a particular audience in mind. I think they enjoyed it; I certainly enjoyed doing it.

The thing is so long I have opted to split it up a bit – so here’s part one, which, while not exactly finishing on a cliffhanger, does stop in the middle…

Part two is available here.

Talk_01

He walks in shadow. He arrives swathed in mystery and leaves without a backward glance. He topples empires, overthrows tyrants and helps the lost and helpless. He’s nattered with Nero, supped with Shakespeare and played chess with Churchill. He is, to use his own terminology, a mad man with a box. He is the Doctor. And he’s been a part of my life, in one way or another, for over thirty years. And this afternoon, I’m going to be telling you all about him.

Now, I’m aware that you’ve probably all got different levels of familiarity. I suspect some of you probably watched the show years ago, and perhaps you got bored and went on to something else. Perhaps you’re familiar with the old days but you have no idea about any of the new Doctors. Perhaps you watch everything you can, rather like me. Or perhaps you’ve never seen the show before and don’t have a clue what it’s about, beyond something about a police box and a thing called a Dalek that looks like a gigantic pepper pot. In any event, whether you’re a diehard fan or whether you think Davros is a Greek dancer on Britain’s Got Talent, I hope you’ll find something of interest today.

But I don’t want to turn this into a forty-five minute chat about the history of Doctor Who, even though I could easily talk about it for twice that length, because it’d bore you silly. Instead this is going to be something of a whistlestop tour through the show, from its 1963 beginnings all the way up to the present. We’ll talk a bit about the Doctor himself and some of the foes he’s faced – on and off-screen. Some of this is probably going to be familiar to at least some of you – some of it’s going to be new. There’s quite a lot of talking from me, but you’ll get to see the Doctor in action as well.

Talk_02

So come with me on a journey into the past – as we go back. Way back…to 1963. Harold Macmillan is in Downing Street, the first Bond film has just been released, and the Beatles are about to take over the entire world. And the new Head of Drama at the BBC, a man called Sydney Newman, has commissioned a new children’s show about a bunch of time travellers who flit around the universe, meeting important historical figures and generally getting into scrapes. The main characters were to be a dashing young couple, a teenage girl who was good at finding trouble, and an enigmatic middle-aged scientist with a mysterious past. (Is any of this sounding familiar?)

Talk_03

The Doctor was never even intended to be the central character – that’s something that changed as time went on – but the creative team wanted someone with gravitas, so they cast William Hartnell, famous for The Army Game. (My dad says there was only ever one Doctor, and William Hartnell was it.) Hartnell was getting tired of typecasting and he jumped at the chance to play something completely different. But if you go back and watch those old episodes again, what strikes you is how unpleasant the First Doctor is. He’s untrustworthy, crochety and mean. (Perhaps that’s why my Dad likes him. Sorry, that was a joke.)

Here’s where we meet him for the first time.

That was the very first episode, which went out on 23rd November 1963 – the day after….what?

Talk_05

It’s said that everyone can remember where they were when they heard that Kennedy had been shot. Doctor Who went largely unnoticed, because everyone was watching the news. It didn’t make much of an impact at first, and in many ways that didn’t come as a surprise to the BBC. Doctor Who is about a man who is and always will be an outsider. It was co-created by a Canadian, its first director was an Indian and the first producer, Verity Lambert, was a young woman in a world dominated by men. And none of them were expected to actually succeed. However, a few weeks later, the show was facing an early cancellation. And then this happened.

Talk_07

I think you all know what that was, don’t you? And thanks to the Daleks, Doctor Who hit the big time, as the Doctor met Marco Polo, smugglers, and giant flies. But William Hartnell was getting ill and couldn’t keep up with the constant filming pressures – twenty-four episodes a year – so it was decided to replace him with a younger actor.

Talk_08

And in 1966, this happened. After battling the Cybermen, the Doctor collapsed in the TARDIS, and changed into a younger man. Now, in production terms this was a masterstroke. A show that can change its lead actor at any point can go on forever. Every new Doctor’s built on what’s come before while bringing something of themselves to the part. About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the TARDIS – and that, by the way, is only because it’s supposed to be camouflaged, blending in with wherever it happens to be, only it got stuck. (The funny thing is that camouflage changes. A police box was a common occurrence in 1963, but you don’t see them anymore. When my family and I were driving through Shropshire one afternoon, Josh pointed out of the window at a public phone box and shouted “Hey, look! A red TARDIS!”

Talk_09

The other thing to mention at this point is that regeneration is a bit like giving birth. They used to tell you to do it lying down, but these days there are all sorts of positions. Compare this from 1974 with this from 2008. The Third Doctor’s lying down, but when we watched the Eleventh Doctor turn into the Twelfth, my mother asked why the Doctor was standing up, and I told her it was like medical advice; they keep changing it.

Talk_10

 

So. The Second Doctor was younger, sprightlier, sillier, but still ran around the universe, generally saving the day. But eventually Patrick Troughton left the TARDIS and went on to do other things, and in 1970 Doctor Who switched to colour. Things were a bit different – the Doctor was now stuck on Earth, exiled by the Time Lords, and he worked with a military organisation called UNIT, led by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. Eventually the exile was lifted, and Jon Pertwee was replaced by Tom Baker, who is probably the best known of all the Doctors, certainly the most visually iconic – as you will see from the way I’m dressed. Apart from that it was business as usual – Daleks and robots and things coming out of the swamp. Now I wanted to show you something that really summed up the way Doctor Who was in the 1970s, and here it is.

(I made that last year, just for the fun of it. I knew it would come in handy eventually.)

Talk_12

The show had never been more popular, but all good things come to an end, and in the 1980s there was a gradual downward spiral. Stories got sillier, there were some questionable performances, the show lost its Saturday evening slot so nobody watched it, and eventually the new BBC controller had had enough. In 1985 it was suspended, and then it came back, and then it was finally cancelled. Now, it’s fair to say that it wasn’t the best of times, but there were still great moments, like this one.

Talk_14

Doctor Who was languishing, alone, for years. The fans kept it going, but there was no sign of it on TV. There was an old joke that went “How many Doctor Who fans does it take to change a light bulb? None at all, they just complain and hope it’ll come back on.” Until 1996, when the BBC brought it back with a full-length movie, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.

Talk_15

There’s only one problem with the movie, and that’s that it was rubbish. It was made by people who didn’t understand the show, for people who had never seen the show, and it was once again binned. But not for long! Because some years later, the BBC decided to bring it back, only this time they did it properly. The new Doctor Who was completely updated: it looked fresh, and modern, but it was still the show we knew and loved. Still, this was aimed at winning a new audience, and for many children – including at least one of mine – this was their very first glimpse of the Doctor.

It’s new, but it’s instantly recognisable. The dummies that Rose was running from are the Autons, whom the Third Doctor fought many years ago, and which many parents and grandparents would have remembered. They were trying to win over children, but broadly speaking this was definitely geared towards the family.

Talk_17

Since then the show’s gone from strength to strength, through four and a half new Doctors (it’s a long story, don’t ask) and all manner of strange new creatures and enemies. But the central idea is still the same: the Doctor and whichever companion he happens to be with turns up in the TARDIS in the middle of a problem, and then solves the problem, just before moving on to the next one. He’s met Charles Dickens and Vincent van Gogh, he’s seen the end of the world and travelled to the end of the universe. Doctor Who turned fifty just a couple of years back, and the Doctor doesn’t show any signs of slowing down just yet.

But it’s funny how we place so much faith in such a mysterious character. It’s there in the title – Doctor Who? So let’s have a quick look at exactly what we do (and don’t) know about the Doctor.

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What is it about the Doctor that makes him so fascinating? Well, he’s famously non-violent (although if you look at the show, this really isn’t the case at all). He’ll give his enemies a chance to surrender and change their ways. He doesn’t suffer fools and he has no respect for empty authority, but he’ll preach about forgiveness. And he overcomes death, and routinely sacrifices himself in order to save humanity. If any of this is sounding a bit familiar, there are lots of arguments about religious interpretations of Doctor Who, although this is something the programme’s creators have always denied. “No,” they said. “We didn’t mean that at all.”

Um. Is it just me…?

The other thing about the Doctor is that he very rarely travels alone; he’ll usually have at least one or two companions along for the ride. And here are just a few of them.

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You will note that most of them are women, and most of them are pretty. I will not deny that this is to give the dads something to look at on a Saturday evening. I will not deny that I am one of those dads.

Please don’t tell my wife.

 

Click here for part two.

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The Fool on the Hill

I’m guessing that there wasn’t a single person who took my April 1st post seriously. Over on Facebook several people were taken in, including a music teacher, which I count as a personal triumph. Actually a couple of people think it might even be a good idea, which proves that many a true word may be spoken in jest. I simply need to get a Joseph coat from somewhere, and then we can do stuff like this:

Time for the Dr

And this:

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Certainly Doctor Who has had its fair share of April Fool gags in the past. Back in 2003, before the new series had been greenlit, a friend of mine convinced her partner that Doctor Who was shortly to return with Caroline Quentin stepping into the TARDIS. (I still maintain that could work, although Tamsin Grieg might be better.) A glance over at Doctor Who TV has found a selection of stories, including one that I actually did myself last year, in a different format (and with no knowledge of theirs). Meanwhile, Kasterborous linked to, among others, a story suggesting a return for RTD, and it says something for my current views on Who that I actually live in hope that this could still happen.

Gareth, meanwhile, sent me a link to this thread on the Big Finish forums.

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“Some people,” he remarked, “really don’t get how to do it, do they?”

“I know,” I said. “The mind boggles.”

“Aww,” he said. “I’m now picturing that as a Second Doctor story, with ‘boggles’ being a noun – like ‘The Brain Weasels’.  I wonder what a Boggle is in this sense.”

A quick internet search reveals various Dungeons and Dragons links – an alternative spelling of a creature also known as the Bogle. Anyway, if it’s a Second Doctor story, it might look a bit like this.

Happy Easter, however you spend it.

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The Enemy of the World of the Doctor

We have yet to see the artwork for the upcoming Troughton release. So here’s my contribution. (Thanks to Gareth for the caption idea.)

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Be careful what you wish for

I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I may have altered the URL of my last entry after I’d sent it out, which may well have rendered it inaccessible. So if you missed out on Dalek Caan talking like Johnny the painter from The Fast Show, here’s the updated link.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (waiting for Tom Baker to come and look at you) for the past few days, you’ll know all about the BBC’s recent announcement that they’ve found most of ‘The Web of Fear’ and ‘The Enemy of the World’, two lost gems from the lost archives of the Second Doctor. This rumour has been circulating all year, of course, although the actual size of the haul has decreased from 105 episodes down to about 9 over the months, while the location of discovery has shifted from Ethopia to Nigeria. It would be easy to suggest, rather cynically, that the discovery occurred at the end of winter, the negotiations finished in spring and that the BBC drafted the press release before the summer solstice, and then held off on the announcement until mere weeks before the anniversary story in order to ensure maximum publicity. But I am not going to do that. Honest.

One of the most amusing comments I read came courtesy of an Independent reader, who quipped:

Dear Sir,
I am the nephew of a deceased Nigerian general and have discovered a vast cache of vintage film classics among his possessions. They could be worth several billion pounds if they can be sold to international media distributors. However, I need a reliable person in the UK with a legitimate bank account…

Elsewhere, there are the usual grumblings from fans who are complaining about the iTunes release plan. “Some were saying that if lots of people buy those then the BBC might not bother releasing DVDs because no-one will want to buy them twice,” said Gareth. “Others were saying that if too few buy the iTunes (e.g., because they’re waiting for the DVDs) then the BBC might not bother releasing DVDs because there’s clearly no interest.  Silly!” Of course, the DVDs of both adventures are due – in November and February – and they will be well received, because you can never have too much of Patrick Troughton.

I had an idea a while back for a Doctor Who story in which the Tenth Doctor and Martha are asked by a wise and learned people to travel back in time and recover some sacred scrolls that are vital to their future. The Doctor does this, only to find that the scrolls contain a secret so terrible it must never be revealed, and he takes it upon himself to see it’s destroyed. I know I just said you can never have too much of Patrick Troughton, but I can’t help wondering whether some of these episodes should stay buried. In any event, this whole thing makes me wonder what’ll happen when we eventually stop collecting physical media just consign everything to the cloud. I know that DVDs and Blu Rays don’t last forever, and I know that the servers are hidden in bomb-proof hangars underneath international airports (meaning that in the event of a nuclear apocalypse and the collapse of the global infrastructure, we’ll still be able to watch Doctor Who), but what happens when the terrorists work out a way to wipe out the internet and hold us all to ransom? Would we really be willing to sacrifice our freedom so that the likes of lolcatz can survive? I’m not sure I would, although I might make an exception for rathergood.com, particularly this one.

Of course, if we’re being futurist and cynical at the same time, we might end up with something like this.

 

Using one crap episode to exploit another is a bit self-referential, of course, but that’s the story of my life.

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The Blue Box of Delights, and other matters

Having reached the series six mid-point, we are having a temporary hiatus from Doctor Who, at least until after Christmas. It is causing over-anxiety and possibly nightmares and I am, in any case, bloody sick of River Song. We will reconvene in the New Year, after the decorations come down. It can wait until then.

To fill in the time, and to get everyone in a seasonal mood, Joshua and Daniel and I have spent the last week watching The Box of Delights, the 1984 adaptation of John Masefield’s classic. It’s aged quite well for a BBC fantasy drama production – some of the effects are ropey, but the chrome painted effects still hold up, and it features a despicable villain and any number of memorable sequences (even if the ending features an unforgivable literary conceit). Still, the thought occurred – about halfway through the week – that in order to escape from Who we’re watching a BBC family adventure serial starring Patrick Troughton as a mysterious, wild-eyed eccentric who claims to have either travelled in time or lived for hundreds of years (or both), and who is seldom without a mystical sentient box that appears to be bigger on the inside. The irony of this is not lost on me.

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Yesterday afternoon, Emily got out the gingerbread house kit that we never got round to assembling last year, and built it, with a little help from two of the boys. Here it is.

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When I posted this on Facebook, a few people pointed out how out of character it was that I hadn’t covered the scene with Doctor Who characters. Conscious of time this morning, but not wanting to let them down, I obliged.

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Amy’s new fancy dress costume was the bee’s knees, but it wasn’t without its problems.

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“Bloody carol singers.”

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“Why did no one tell us we looked like David Cameron?”

Yes, of course I’m procrastinating. You would too, in a study this untidy.

 

 

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