Posts Tagged With: third doctor

Let’s do the time loop again

There’s a bit about halfway through ‘The Claws of Axos’ when Jo Grant and the Doctor are trying to escape from an alien spacecraft, and Jo is very close to losing it. In order to focus her, the Doctor is yelling multiplication sums in her ear, while Katy Manning (who really doesn’t have much else to do in this story) is screaming “I CAN’T! I CAN’T!”. It was great, largely because I’ve been in maths lessons just like it.

As I go to press it’s about 10 pm (GMT) on Groundhog Day, and Punxatawney Phil has predicted another six weeks of winter. That’s fine. His prediction rate levels out about 39%, of course (higher than the Met Office) but even if we’re destined to be surrounded by snow, I don’t really mind. Being English perhaps invalidates my opinion, of course, but I will never truly understand this particular quaint tradition. It’s one thing being afraid of your own shadow, but when we have to be afraid of a groundhog’s then I can’t help but wonder at the state of the world.

I didn’t watch the Bill Murray. I’ve seen it, more than once. I have wondered, many times, what I’d do if stuck in a similar loop. Probably finish that novel, except that presumably hard drives don’t survive the loop, and are ceremonially wiped at the end of each day. So, too, Phil’s body clock and physical state is reset at the beginning of each twenty-four hour period, so I couldn’t even write something and then save it to a Flash drive before swallowing it for safekeeping. Anomalously, throughout all of this the synaptic nerves in his brain were left absolutely intact, allowing the accumulation of knowledge, and suggesting perhaps that the loop was endured on a metaphysical, rather than purely scientific level. Groundhog Day may be the strongest cinematic argument we have for the existence of the soul, outside What Dreams May Come, which no one talks about, largely because it’s crap.

But I was watching ‘The Claws of Axos’ last week and the end of the final episode – in which the Doctor traps the Axons in a time loop – really did strike me as having great potential. If you’re going to have a scene that talks about a time loop, particularly in such a roundabout way, then it’s a joke waiting to happen. Red Dwarf got there first, of course, with a scene that has been done to death, but here it is for posterity.

“Most people seem to remember the RD scene for: ‘So what is it?’, ‘I’ve never seen one before – no-one has’, ‘I think we’ve encountered the middle of this conversation’ and ‘somebody punch him out’,” said Gareth. “And then say these in a random order.” It’s true; this one is up there with the Knights who say ‘Ni!’ for oft-quoted tediousness. (If you must quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail at parties, do Tim the Enchanter. It’s funnier, and if you get the inflection right you’ll have them rolling all over the kitchen.)

My initial thoughts were to try and emulate the scene from ‘White Hole’ by chopping and pasting it around so that the middle of the scene happened at the end, with the ending happening in between, and then random repetitions. It was a mess. It’s very hard to do that in a way that makes sense. So I abandoned that and had the Brigadier stuttering ‘T-t-t-time loop’ like Damien at the beginning of that godawful cover of the Rocky Horror song. It was ridiculous, and only when I could feel Nicholas Courtney turning over in his grave (presumably after being prepped for nano-conversion) did I have a rethink.

All of which led to the video you saw at the top. It took me an hour. It then took me another half hour after I showed a rough cut to Gareth and he suggested taking out some of the random silliness in the second half and focussing on the time loop. At some point I may show you that rough cut, but today is not that day. There’s always tomorrow.

That’s assuming, of course, that tomorrow comes at all…

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The Frank Spencer / Doctor Who Connection

“Have you ever been in Casualty?”
“Yeah.”
“The TV show Casualty?”
“Well, no.”

 (Extras, 2005)

Here’s a funny thing. We were watching Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em the other night – a third series episode where Frank gets to be a motorcycle courier, with suitably disastrous results when his brakes fail. It’s an episode of two halves: the first is typical slapstick tomfoolery, culminating in a madcap chase through a building site and dockyard which only ends when Frank inadvertently trashes the very office he’s recently left. The second half consists of a lengthy courtroom sequence in which Frank defends himself in the sort of flamboyant, utterly oblivious style Michael Crawford developed in series three, when his character became far more self-confident (and the theme music, as if to underpin this, grew a bassoon part underneath those Morse-emitting flutes.)

But what’s interesting about this episode, at least to someone who watches a large amount of Doctor Who, is that the sinister courier for whom Frank is working is played by none other than Derek Newark. In the first instance, this will mean nothing to you if you haven’t seen ‘Inferno’. It’ll also mean nothing to you if you can’t remember that Derek Newark played Greg Sutton – one of the few characters who was basically honourable and decent in both the real universe and the parallel, totalitarian nightmare into which the Doctor is thrust. It wasn’t his only appearance in Doctor Who, of course – but having watched ‘Inferno’ quite recently with Thomas, it was a surprise for both of us to see a slightly podgier, moustachioed Newark playing such a slimy piece of work.

Newark

The episode is on YouTube if you want to see it, but the story doesn’t end there. Because it wasn’t the first time I’d noticed the crossover. We’d already spotted Neil McCarthy – he did a couple of memorable turns in the Pertwee and Baker era, but to me he’s always going to be…well, you’ll see below. If it sounds a little obscure, it’s worth bearing in mind that as well as having a reasonable eye for spotting guest stars who have been in other things, I also have a personal stake in this – Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em was a big part of my childhood, as it was for pretty much everyone of a certain age, at least in the UK. Playground shouts of “Ooh, Betty!” were as common as the cries of “Exterminate!”. (I was going to do a comparison with whoever the kids are impersonating in the playground now, but it occurs to me that I actually don’t know what they’re watching and who forms the basis of their adolescent party pieces. This is the price you pay for not really using Tumblr.)

So I took the liberty of doing a little research and finding out which British actors have both Doctor Who and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em on their CVs. And by god there are a lot of them.

The BBC network is part of it. Crossover is inevitable – and I’m not talking about the stunt casting of soap actors appearing as crotchety commanders on space stations, or cameos from news anchors, or the general over-use of the admittedly talented Olivia Coleman. There’s a large pool of actors that the BBC use again and again, and ’twas ever thus. But there does seem to be a strong parallel between Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and the adventures of everyone’s favourite Time Lord, perhaps because Classic Who did a large number of episodes per year that called for no end of extras and guest stars, so pretty much everyone who was required for a walk-on in the chronicles of Frank was also required, at some point or another, to brandish a spear or a laser gun in Who. More often than not, you’ll examine their IMDB profile to find a plethora of work during the 1970s and 80s, then a long gap, and then Doctors. This is because everyone has been in Doctors. Even Lynda Baron has been in it.

But I’m rambling. Having noticed a common trend of Who / Mothers guest stars, I have cherry-picked a few of my favourites, and I include them below.

 

Peter Jeffrey

Peter Jeffrey was a renowned character actor whose career is too vast and varied to explore in any detail here, although I’ll always remember his turn as Cromwell in By The Sword Divided (a series that stays etched in my brain only because it was the first time I saw a corpse swinging from a tree). Still, his Count Grendel is a career highlight – a Machiavellian rogue who you can’t help liking, simply because of Jeffrey’s charm and swagger, and a reminder that he could have been great as the Master. Here he plays Frank Spencer’s driving examiner, a job for which it is impossible to get any life insurance. The ‘start at’ function doesn’t work with WordPress embeds, so I’ve had to upload the whole episode, but jump to 37:30 for the driving test. It does not end well.

 

Neil McCarthyCyril Chaps

You get two for the price of one here. As Frank and Betty visit a seaside hotel on a second honeymoon which culminates in broken wardrobes, a collapsed bed and a huge hole in the floor, the already uptight manager reaches new levels of frustration as his business comes (quite literally) crashing down around him. McCarthy’s character here is more like a polite version of his tyrannical Thawn (‘The Power of Kroll’) than the childlike Barnham (‘The Mind of Evil’) but even he can’t cope with Frank’s disastrous attempts at D.I.Y. Playing the timid Kenny is Who veteran Cyril Chaps (‘The Ambassadors of Death’ and ‘The Androids of Tara’, amongst others), in a Norman Wisdom-esque turn that is ever so slightly camp.

 

 

Richard Wilson

This is cheating a little bit, really – Wilson’s role in his only Doctor Who story, ‘The Empty Child’ / ‘The Doctor Dances’, amounts to little more than an extended cameo, and is perhaps most memorable for the moment that a gas mask grows through his face. Still, he’s very good, and he tackles the role of Dr Constantine with the same calm (all right, not so calm) dignity with which he tackled Victor Meldrew and Dr Thorp in Only When I  Laugh, and in any case it gives me the chance to show what is perhaps my favourite moment in the third series. What’s great about this scene is the corpsing that follows Wilson’s sudden descent into the sofa – watch Michele Dotrice’s hand fly to her mouth to hide the fact that she’s laughing, before Crawford’s lip trembles a little as he struggles to maintain his composure, while Wilson himself makes a futile attempt to salvage some dignity, before giving up. Comedy gold.

 

 

Elisabeth Sladen

Sarah Jane Smith wasn’t always an investigative journalist – before falling in with the Third Doctor and U.N.I.T., she helped run the family greengrocers. Here she is trying to serve the hapless Frank on his way to visit Betty in hospital. Despite complaints from Sladen (in her autobiography) about Crawford’s general aloofness, the scene doesn’t suffer for it – Sladen’s increasing irritation is perfectly pitched, and the punch line, while obvious, is still flawless in its execution.

 

Not only but also…

I’ve omitted a great many memorable guest turns here – watch ‘Scottish Dancing’ and ‘R.A.F. Reunion’ for a few particularly interesting appearances from Doctor Who aficionados. For the sake of it, here’s a near-as-dammit-complete list of everyone who’s been in both shows, from the chunkiest guest starring role to the smallest uncredited walk-on, in no particular order, purely in the interests of democracy.

 

Peter Roy

Lee Richards

Mike Mungarvan

Monty Morriss

Brian Moorehead

Steve Ismay

Ridgewell Hawkes

Roy Brent

Eileen Winterton

Jules Walters

Ken Tracey

Bruce Callender

Frederick Wolfe

John Witty

Elaine Williams

Nick Thompson Hill

John Tatum

Rosina Stewart

Eddie Sommer

Richard Sheekey

Joe Santo

Katherine Rosenwink

Arthur Parry

Ricky Newby

Kevin Moran

Raymond Miller

Giles Melville

Emmett Hennessy

Patricia Gordino

Stenson Falke

Martin Clark

Amanda Carlson

Constance Carling

Gordon Black

Sue Bishop

Barbara Bermel

David Bache

Nancy Adams

Kelly Varney

Fulton McKay

Richard McNeff

Ben Aris

Kenneth Watson

David Quilter

Richard Seager

Brian Hawksley

Seymour Green

Graham Ashley

George Baker

Milton Johns

Tenniel Evans

John Ringham

Norman Jones

Glyn Houston

Eric Mason

Mark Allington

Andrew Lane

Norman Hartley

Derek Ware

Renu Setna

Daphne Oxenford

Christopher Holmes

Frederick Jaeger

George Sewell

Jay Neill

Stuart Fell

Eric Francis

George A. Cooper

Ralph Watson

John D. Collins

Cyril Luckham

Jane Hylton

Vernon Dobtcheff

Ken Barker

Royston Tickner

John Harvey

Eric Dodson

Campbell Singer

Bartlett Mullins

John Scott Martin

Harriet Reynolds

Andrew Downie

Peter Greene

Norman Mitchell

Alan Chuntz

John Caesar

 

Frank for the next U.N.I.T. commander, perhaps…?

gettingajob1

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‘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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‘The Green Death’: Redux

This will only make sense if you’ve seen ‘The Green Death’, and if you know your internet memes. But if you haven’t seen ‘The Green Death’, you really should. It is wondrous.

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There’ll be spaceships over the White Cliffs of Dover

IMG_3918

I was lucky enough to get freshly pressed this week (all right, luck had nothing to do with it; it was all thanks to SJ, to whom I am incredibly grateful). The post in question was a retrospective of my grandparents as seen through the eyes of an adult revisiting childhood haunts. We took the boys down to the town I visited every summer, and showed them round the sights.

But you don’t want to read all about that, do you?

Let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, Thomas and Emily and I started on ‘The Mind of Evil’. It is wonderful vintage Who. There is a mad scientist (all right, it turns out to be the Master) channelling an alien intelligence through a machine that sucks the evil out of men’s minds. In an early sequence in the story it does this to Neil McCarthy (later to be seen in ‘The Power of Kroll’), reducing him to a childlike simpleton. There’s a nuclear missile and poor Jo gets captured and recaptured so often I lost count. There are wobbly steps, less-than-substantial doors and the Brigadier gets to have a lengthy (and really pretty violent) gun battle towards the end of the tale. It’s wonderful, despite some occasionally questionable acting and the fact that four cliffhangers out of five feature the machine about to scare someone to death. (One of those is by proxy, but it still counts.)

It’s also shot at Dover Castle, its walls and battlements serving as the exterior of the prison where the bulk of ‘Mind’ is set. As is traditional with Classic Who many of the entrances were used more than once, but the central square that surrounds the great tower was immediately familiar.

IMG_3873 IMG_3913

The observant among you will recall that this is the place where the Brigadier spoke through a loudhailer and then turned to gun down a prisoner who’d climbed on the wall behind him, causing the deceased convict to take a spectacular western-style tumble.

Dover

Of course, we couldn’t do that, so I had to improvise.

IMG_3913b

We almost didn’t make it to Dover Castle. This has nothing to do with chronic tiredness from the lengthy journey down the day before, or the fact that no one could find their water bottles, or that we got lost on the Folkestone one way system. No, it was because in the B&B the boys were anxious to explore the room next door to ours.

20140221_091622

I had to explain that no, it didn’t contain a crack in the fabric of the universe, although they were having issues with the plumbing.

I’m sure there are other Doctor Who related places to visit in Kent. But I didn’t have time to scout locations near our planned route or actually watch the stories they filmed there. Kit Pedler is buried in Graveney, which was too far away to visit, and I’d have found it hard to resist the urge to leave a can of oil or something at his graveside. But discovering this fact did make me wonder about doing a tour of deceased Who veterans’ resting places to pay respects in some form or another. It also made me wonder what they all got up to once they left the show – those that disappeared from the public eye (or who were never in it). Do they wake up one morning in a mysterious village with their identity stripped and where a giant balloon chases them every time they try to leave to work on other science fiction programmes? Do they all write books as gossipy and vindictive as Matthew Waterhouse’s autobiography? Or do they simply get other jobs?

Tom

Well, maybe.

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That Peter Capaldi / Twelfth Doctor costume

Seriously. This can’t be a coincidence.

Pertwee-Capaldi

(Thanks Gareth.)

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Meanwhile in the TURDIS (part 4)

Time this series got a dusting down. Accordingly, here’s what Thomas and I have been watching over the last week.

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(Don’t) SPLINK

I thought I’d follow up yesterday’s class excursion into the murky archives of the Central Information Office with another video mashup. If you’ve not yet read the Public Information Films digest, go and do so – or at least watch the last one, right at the bottom of the post hyperlinked above, because otherwise what follows is going to seem even more obscure than usual.

Done that? Right, we can move on, and I can show you this.

This was Gareth’s idea, and for that I am grateful, because it was a solid concept that took all of an hour to put together, so I call that a win. The toughest part was obtaining a decent quality version of the Doctor’s video that wasn’t hopelessly out of sync, although I’m told it’s a special feature on a DVD I don’t own. After that it was a question of splicing the two and trimming for pacing, right down to the frame.

It’s a curious beast, though, because the version you can see above is slightly edited. In my original upload I included a somewhat tacked-on ending, which I still think is funny, but which some people think detracts from the original point. In any case the full version is below (titled ‘better version’ not because of the ending but purely because the timing improves on an earlier cut I’d uploaded), so you can make up your own mind. Just remember to look both ways.

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Mr Pertwee, are you free?

This is not the image I was intending to share today, but while I ransack my Facebook feeds trying to find it, have this one.

mollyjon

Gareth sent it. I am inclined to think Mrs Slocombe might say “Is this going to take long, Captain Peacock? I’m worried about leaving my pussy alone with that sonic screwdriver.”

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The First Question

Oh, this we like. This we like a lot.

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