Monthly Archives: July 2015

Have I got Whos for you

By the time you read this I will be on my way to Pembrokeshire. This post, therefore, takes the form of one of those final “We leave you with news…” segments on Have I Got News For You.

First, archive and previously unseen images from the ‘Day of the Doctor’ filming sessions cast two of the Doctor Who actors in a rather unpleasant light.

Meanwhile, reports from Comic-Con suggest some inconsistent turnouts.

And there’s tension on the set of CBeebies favourite Old Jack’s Boat, when star Bernard Cribbins hooks up with Don Gilet.

See you in two weeks.

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The Doctor Who Trailer Deconstruction (part three)

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Today, our little trailer recap draws to a close, as the Eleventh Doctor tries to figure out how the same girl can be in three places at once, before sneezing in the TARDIS and turning into Peter Capaldi. But before we get to that…

 

 

Series 7 (part one)

Yes, well. There were five episodes in this initial set, and only two of them were any good, so I am always going to look back at this period of Who with disdain. What comes across in this is a sense of scale: five stories, told grandly (although there is nothing – nothing – from ‘The Power of Three’). Amy is at her most irritating (her piggybacking of the Doctor’s catchphrase is almost as awkward as Tony Blair quoting Baddiel and Skinner) while Rory just sort of stands there, as per usual. The location work is impressive, even though the writing wasn’t: this series marks the Doctor’s ‘difficult, teenage phase’, the triceratops joyrides awkwardly juxtaposed with the moral angst he experiences when debating whether or not to turn Kahler Jex over to the Cyborg. Oh look, now he’s in his bedroom, and I think he’s smoking weed. I’m not angry, Doctor. I’m just disappointed.

Number of booms: 2

Fiery explosions: 3

The Doctor Runs: 3 (plus one horse ride and one dinosaur gallop)

Darkness factor: 6 (points lost for grinning at dinosaurs, gained for shouting at Amy)

It’s a mystery: Ooh, is Amy really dead?

Identifiable monster count: 6 (and Daleks count as one. You got me? One.)

 

 

Series 7 (part two)

The Cybermen are back! So is the Doctor, really, gaining a new sense of joie de vivre after the events of ‘The Snowmen’. There are numerous costume changes, impressive alien vistas (clearly the theme for this part of the series is ‘off-planet’) and shots of Dan Starkey running down a corridor. Interesting that the relationship between the Doctor and Coleman’s character, while a clear recurring theme in series 7, is established as being far more open in this trailer than it actually was – in reality Clara spends most of the eight episodes in the dark, her brief illumination almost immediately extinguished by the convenient plot device that is wibbly wobbly memory loss. (Curiously this happens at the end of  ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, an episode which might be best experienced in the company of a big red button that’ll immediately erase your memory of the preceding forty-five minutes.)

Number of booms: 5

Fiery explosions: 1

The Doctor Runs: 1 (although Clara tells him to)

Darkness factor: 5

It’s a mystery: Clara, of course.

Identifiable monster count: 7

 

Series 8

Oy vey. This is the first of the ‘new breed’ of trailers, where things start to go downhill. Lots of jump cuts of briefly-seen monsters; nothing tangible, but enough for a quick screen grab and discussion on the forums. Capaldi looks sinister and ambiguous: this is a dark Doctor, who has traded ballet for moral indifference and acidic quips about rubbish humans. Coleman has the wide eyes of someone who’s just experienced regeneration for the first time, despite having travelled back and forth along the Doctor’s time stream and hanging out with both Bakers, as well as failing to get McCoy down from that ice wall in ‘Dragonfire’. One thing I will say for this (and for series 8 in general) is that the cinematography really started to pick up in Doctor Who once they reached ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, and it shows. And Murray Gold, for once, stays out of things. Which is more than we can say for the next time…

Number of booms: 4 and a half

Fiery explosions: 3

The Doctor Runs: “I don’t think I’m a running person now.”

Darkness factor: 9

It’s a mystery: Just WHO IS THE DOCTOR NOW? And do we really care?

Semi-identifiable monster count: 7

 

 

Series 9

Holy mackerel, TURN IT DOWN, MURRAY! IT’S TOO LOUD! THERE ARE PEOPLE TRYING TO SLEEP! We’ve now reached the stage where the trailers clearly have boxes to tick, and are arranged in order to make this happen. Moody lighting? Check. Dalek close-up? You betcha. Obvious mystery that’s going to have everyone talking past saturation point? Oh, yes yes and thrice yes. There are numerous things that could be monsters. The Doctor does look chirpier, mostly thanks to the hair, which is emulating Pertwee’s in the same way his clothes did last series. The rest of it seems to be a maelstrom of unconnected ambiguities that are about nothing at all, designed to keep the Tumblr feeds ticking over until September. Am I confused because this is the only trailer I’m not able to view with the benefit of hindsight, or is this stuff actively getting worse? Patrick Troughton’s trousers make a cameo, but about the only really appealing moment in this jumbled mess is the moment when the ‘lightened’ Doctor smiles at the camera, and shrugs, because all of a sudden we’re right back where we started.

Number of booms: 10

Fiery explosions: 3 and a bit

The Doctor Runs: Maybe. He sort of canters a bit.

Darkness factor: 7.8

It’s a mystery: “Who was that masked woman?”

Semi-identifiable monster count: 10? 11? I lost count, and I don’t care any more.

 

So what have we learned from all this? Well, I’ve learned I need to stop watching trailers, at least for a while. I’ve learned there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or re-invent the wheel, or flog a dead horse. I’ve learned that Doctor Who trailers often say more about the tone of the show they’re portraying than perhaps they intend. I’ve learned that Murray Gold really needs to rein it in, although that’s hardly headline news. But perhaps most of all I’ve learned that I still want to come with the Doctor, particularly if it isn’t safe – because however it’s presented it always is and always will be the trip of a lifetime.

I could just do with it being a little quieter…

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The Doctor Who Trailer Deconstruction (part two)

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You remember the other day we were talking about progression? Well, I mean that in a literal sense. There’s an obvious gap between series 1-3 and the rest of the Doctor Who trailers, because after the departure of Martha, the Doctor stops talking to the camera. Perhaps he’s done showing off. Perhaps it’s an indication of the darkening of Tennant’s Doctor and the series in general – something that would continue under Moffat, however comically amusing Matt Smith turned out to be when he was throwing a plate across the lawn. Or perhaps, with three seasons under its belt, the revived Doctor Who no longer felt the need to prove itself.

But when we count up through the rest of the trailers, the line is much harder to draw. Yes, you can sort of do a rough squiggle in furry felt tip after the departure of Smith, but even before he regenerates you can spot stylistic shifts in the way these minute-long previews are produced and presented. So I have drawn the line mathematically, for the sake of easy reading. Four trailers today, and the remaining four next time. Most of the categories are self-explanatory, although I’d point out that this is where the tedious ‘mysteries’ begin to poke through (emerging with a vengeance later on). We open in 2008, with Bernard Cribbins sitting on a hill in a red woolly hat. That’s always a good way to begin.

 

Series 4

“It’s OK,” this one lets us know at the outset. “I know this is Donna, but look! She’s gone all sensible and calm! She’s taken up astronomy! SHE’S SPEAKING IN A REASONABLY PACED VOICE BELOW 95 DECIBELS!.” This embodiment of a grounded, mature Ms Noble is almost immediately followed by the memorable scene from ‘Partners in Crime’ in which the Doctor-Donna mug at each other through two panes of glass, unaware that Sarah Lancashire is watching, but it was an amusing moment, so we’ll let that one go. This is where the booming starts big time – you know, the big, heavily reverberated THUD that accompanies each fresh image; it is a contemporary harbinger of doom. A shame, in a way, that they drop in the massive spoiler that is The Rose Revived (sorry, that’s probably only funny if you live in Oxfordshire and know your pubs) but I suppose it had leaked already.

Number of booms: 10 1/2

Fiery explosions: 1 (finally!)

The Doctor Runs: 4

It’s a mystery: What the hell is Rose doing there?

Identifiable monster count: 5, if you count Clone Martha / 6 if you count Billie Piper’s teeth

 

 

Series 5

Oh look, Amy’s speaking through an open-air microphone. This isn’t a bad introduction to the Eleventh Doctor, although Rory is almost entirely absent, while there’s far too much of River. Several of the showcase shots from the series (most of which appear to involve characters floating just outside the TARDIS) are used to reasonable effect but what strikes you throughout is the use of colour – greens and blues dominate, at the expense of the reds and browns that dominated much of Tennant’s time. Loses marks for including those wretched Spitfires.

Number of booms: 5

Fiery explosions: 1/2

The Doctor Runs: 2

It’s a mystery: How does Mark Gatiss continue to get writing gigs?

Identifiable monster count: 8

 

 

Series 6 (part one)

Right, guys: this is where it gets tedious. This one is heavy on the first two stories (although it shows refreshingly little of the Silence). “Somewhere different,” muses the Doctor as the camera rolls over the Utah desert; “somewhere brand new” – coded language for HEY, AMERICA! WE SPENT SHIT LOADS OF MONEY TRYING TO MAKE YOU ENJOY THIS! A naked Alex Kingston is spotted, presumably resulting in complaints to OFCOM even as legion of fan-fiction writers are running for their laptops.

Number of booms: 4

Fiery explosions: None, although the TARDIS fizzes a little. Presumably the Doctor spilled some Tizer over it.

The Doctor Runs: He doesn’t. Everyone else is running to him.

It’s a mystery: Why has the Doctor been running, aside from the fact that he always does?

Identifiable monster count: 4

 

 

Series 6 (part two)

Also known as: the story arc so tedious the BBC procrastinated for four months while they figured out whether or not they ought to inflict it upon us. This is really where the mystery starts to monopolise things. There are numerous brief shots of things you can only just see (to call them ‘identifiable’, as I have done, is something of a stretch) and there is a lot of tedious exposition about the Doctor’s supposed death: clearly we are supposed to care more about what the series is actually about than its episodic contents. There is also an awful lot of that Stetson. Did it negotiate a union fee?

Number of booms: 1

Fiery explosions: None. Obviously all the pyrotechnic budget went on those CG pterodactyls.

The Doctor Runs: He doesn’t, but he does appear to leap through a window.

It’s a mystery: Why is the Doctor’s time running out? And couldn’t he just slip back an hour or so and put some more money in the parking meter?

Identifiable monster count: 7. Does Madame Kovarian count? Certainly that eye patch is a cosplay disaster.

 

Next time: Into darkness. Whether you like it or not.

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The Doctor Who Trailer Deconstruction (part one)

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I’m having a bad day. I’d really rather not tell you why. But bad days need to be flushed out with constructive creativity, otherwise they fester. So my response is to blog. (And Emily is buying bacon, because bacon is good.)

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ll have seen the series nine trailer. I’m not even going to link to it, because it’s all over the web, usually followed by tedious “permission to squee!” comments. I am at best ambivalent, for reasons we’ll get to. Suffice to say Doctor Who trailers stopped being interesting when they became formulaic. It’s like The X-Factor. Once you can see what’s going on and how they do it, much of the appeal is lost. But perhaps that’s trailers in general. Just the other day I watched a four minute preview of the Batman Vs. Superman film Warner have slated for 2016, and rarely have I been so bored – it’s a trailer I again choose not to link to, largely for fear of inducing narcolepsy. Perhaps it’s the relentless boom-boom-boom of shadowy figures, cracking pavements and ominous quotes: different films packaged in exactly the same way each time. Perhaps I just have superhero fatigue.

Have I ever experienced films in the cinema that were significantly worse than their trailers suggested? You bet. The Avengers (we’re talking the 1998 adaptation of the 60s classic, not the Marvel thing) is an obvious example. The trailer made it look quite promising, given that it revealed nothing of the nonsensical plot – or lack thereof – nor the ridiculous dialogue and excruciating acting, particularly from Thurman. Part of the problem, for example, was the scene in which Peel and Steed walk across the ocean towards August De Wynter’s base in what appear to be giant hamster balls – an impressive moment in the trailer, rendered inconsequentially ridiculous in the film when it is given absolutely no explanation. The trailer’s job is not to explain but to pique your curiosity: but if that’s as far as explanations go, you’re inevitably going to be disappointed.

Alien: Resurrection (coincidentally the same year as The Avengers) was another one. The trailer – or at least the one I saw – avoids most of the mistakes the film made by showing us very little of the alien (perhaps the biggest criticism of Alien: Resurrection is that we see Giger’s ghastly creatures far too much, and far too often). It also doesn’t allow Winona Ryder to speak. Curiously my biggest gripe with the film stems from a single moment, in which a doomed mercenary whispers “Who are you?” to the sinister Ripley clone, who’s just informed him that he’s got a monster growing inside him. In the trailer, her response is a grin, which would have been the perfect way to end the scene – and it was only when I finally saw the thing that I discovered they’d had her say “I’m the monster’s mommy”. Alien always worked best when it was holding back, something the writers would have done well to remember.

But I went back through the ten years of Doctor Who trailers that the BBC have used since the show’s 2005 revival, and there are patterns. More than this, there’s development. I noticed a marked progression, and it is for this reason that we compartmentalise them into three separate posts, showing the shift in styles that gradually darkens the tone, from warmth down to sub-zero. Today, we’ll look at the early years – because it was during those first three series that the Doctor chose to break the fourth wall.

 

Series 1 (2005)

Looking back on it now, it’s amazing to think how radical this was: the Ninth Doctor actively extending his invitation to Rose to the audience at large, in precisely the same words. The goal of this is primarily to hook an unsuspecting public, many of whom expected the show to fail – and the effect is rather like a telethon, in the way that its central character broke with the previously established convention of keeping the focus confined entirely within the set.* Amazingly, it works. The delay on Eccleston’s monologue is borderline irritating, but it sort of emphasises the time travel theme.

* ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ notwithstanding, of course.

Smugness factor: 4

Fiery explosions: 1 (although we see it three or four times)

Identifiable monster count: 1 (but it’s a Dalek)

 

Series 2

Meh. This seems to sum up many of the worst things about the Tenth-Rose series: the two of them against the world, armed only with a mortgage. It doesn’t help that only one of the first five episodes of series 2 was actually any good, and that’s the only one conspicuous in its absence. Tennant is sleeping on the floor of the TARDIS – the implication, surely, is post-regeneration – before inviting the audience along in much the same way Eccleston did, with twice the panache and none of the sincerity. Piper has one line, and even then she comes across as irritating, which more or less sets the tone for the series at large.  Some of the in-TARDIS visual effects are borderline 90s pop video, and I suppose in the grand scheme of things that isn’t too far out.

Smugness factor: 8

Fiery explosions: none (although watch out for the lightning)

Identifiable monster count: 4 (plus flying monks)

 

Series 3

If the Doctor spent most of 2006 fawning over Rose, he spent most of 2007 completely ignoring Martha, and the series-wide gap between them is manifest here in the split-screen effect that dominates the first half of the trailer. There’s an awful lot of Judoon, but I suppose they were the flagship monster that year. Tennant seems a little calmer this time, but the arrogance remains. “Anything you can do, I can do better…”

Smugness factor: 7

Fiery explosions: none (seriously, why did I make this a thing?)

Identifiable monster count: 4 (depending on how you count)

 

Coming soon: the girl who waited, the perils of travelling alone, and Billie Piper’s teeth.

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

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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?

 

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Paint the whole world

I’m working on something, and you get to see it soon, but to tide you over in the meantime, this is something Thomas made. No prompting from me whatsoever, although he was quite happy for me to share it via social media.

 

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The E-Space Trilogy Trilogy: Part Three (Warriors’ Gate)

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Trilogies are a mixed bag. Many have exemplary first installments and then less-than-wonderful denouements, which often happens when a film that was always intended to be standalone – or which would have worked best as standalone – has a couple of sequels tacked onto it years later (Wachowski brothers, I’m looking at you). At other times, a work that is clearly designed to have multiple parts spends the first two hours setting everything up, building to a wondrous (and usually fairly dark) middle segment and then a letdown (colossal or otherwise) of a finale: see The X-Men, and to a lesser extent the Lord of the Rings films, which peaked at Helm’s Deep and never really recovered. You could also group the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films into this category if you wanted, although that perhaps ties the films together with tighter bonds than are perhaps deserved.

Which leads me to my point. Viewed objectively – and within context – the E-Space trilogy, like Raimi’s, was never really a trilogy at all. But it is treated as such by many, including the 2 Entertain folks, and me, at least for the purposes of the three articles I’ve produced this past week or so. (Of course, the 2 Entertain DVD sets are occasionally a little tenuous in terms of their choice of linking material. Chronicling the narratives of Peladon or the Mara is perfectly acceptable, but frequently bad stories are dropped in with good ones – The Bred For War Sontaran Collection springs to mind, as does the combination of ‘Time-Flight’ with ‘Arc of Infinity’, although at least those stories are loosely connected. Most baffling of all is the inexplicably titled Earth Story, which pairs ‘The Gunfighters’ with ‘The Awakening’ – two stories with absolutely nothing in common except that they’re set on Earth, along with about two thirds of the rest of the canon.)

But the advantage of treating these three stories in this manner is that the trilogy closes with its strongest work, one that is stylistically more or less unique to Doctor Who, perhaps to television in general. It is a story that polarises its audience, as (to quote Gareth, who nonetheless loves it as much as I do) “in some ways nothing much happens, and it does it confusingly”. Certainly it is not a story to show to a first-time viewer, or perhaps even a casual viewer, if only because it will either put them off the show forever or unceremoniously dump them into a pit of despair when they subsequently discover that nothing (save perhaps ‘The Mind Robber’) is quite as unusual or distinctive. It is boldly written and even more boldly directed, fusing Oriental mysticism with time travel and blending it with an enigmatic alien race and a crazed, Ahab-like space captain and his crew of nonchalant slavers.

Let’s take that opening. The first two minutes of ‘Warriors’ Gate’ are a mesmerising crawl through a clapped out space freighter of unknown origin or destination. The camera pans out through a cryogenic chamber and up through maintenance decks, harsh lights shining through steel mesh walkways. Graffiti – in ominous red – is smeared across a wall. Peter Howell’s mysterious atonal synth drones in the background, but otherwise the only thing to break the silence is a solitary male voice, counting down.

It is stylish and eerie – the similarity to Alien, released the previous year, is perhaps not a coincidence, and Joyce’s debt to Jean Cocteau is well-established – but you can understand why John Nathan Turner freaked out. His clashes with Paul Joyce are well-documented, with Joyce even being replaced on one occasion when his sense of cinematic ambition clashed with time and budget constraints. He’s filming off set, for goodness’ sake, although you wouldn’t necessarily know unless you were working at the BBC. Even years later, Joyce is fiercely unapologetic in the making of documentary that accompanies ‘Warriors’ Gate’, describing it as “either a partial success or a glorious failure”, and reasoning that he wanted to make the sort of programme that you or I would watch – “you, and my kids, who grew up to love it”.

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Whatever Joyce’s motives and the extent to which he succeeded (or did not, depending on whom you ask), the beginning of ‘Warriors’ Gate’ is, somehow, everything the opening to ‘The Leisure Hive’ should have been, but wasn’t. The heavily cinematic direction extends beyond the opening scenes: late in the story, the Doctor enters a mysterious mirror universe which consists of a series of monochromatic stills (Powys Castle and Oxford’s Rousham Gardens) meant to symbolise the decaying kingdom of the Tharils. Excessive CSO can work against a story – it was arguably the downfall of ‘Underworld’, even though hands were tied – but here the very fact that it looks utterly unreal is all part of the fun. This is to say nothing of the white set that symbolises the intersecting point of E-Space and N-Space, and from which half the TARDIS crew eventually depart. It’s familiar, if you know your Troughton, but it works, even within the context of the narrative: this is null space, steadily contracting, thus giving pace to the narrative. That doesn’t stop the juxtaposition of crumbling ruin and obvious blue green screen from having an apparent influence on the much later Knightmare. You almost expect Rorvik to stop in front of the door, feet together and hands by his sides, and ask “Where am I?”.

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But the direction takes much of its cue from Stephen Gallagher’s script, which manages to stay the right side of quirky, by the skin of its teeth. Metaphor and poetic reflection are abundant; at other times it feels as quirky and sparse as the dialogue in, say, Blade Runner. There are three things going on here: the banter between Ward and Baker, with occasional interruptions from Adric; the detached lamentation of the Tharils, who mourn their past mistakes with the same heavy sense of regret that must have plagued the Israelites in Babylon; and, lastly, the sense of gradual disintegration on board the spacecraft, with a disaffected crew and a captain who wears their casual insubordination almost like a badge of honour.

RORVIK: Well?
PACKARD: It’s a solid object.
RORVIK: Check.
LANE: These readings don’t make sense.
RORVIK: Oh, give me a printout.
LANE: It’s a ship.
PACKARD: What, for midgets?
LANE: Or a coffin for a very large man.
RORVIK: Yes, all right, that’s enough of that. Let’s bust it open.

(All extracts from Chrissie’s Transcript Site.)

A word about Rorvik: Clifford Rose plays him with all the grandiose weariness of the king in a Shakespearian tragedy, or at least an Antigonus or Polonius. A slaver by trade, his downfall is charted through antipathy towards his cargo and obsession with getting home, and is punctuated by poor leadership skills, with the captain pulling a gun on his crew to demand their attention. Capable of utter menace when he is moodily shot from below as the Doctor ascends a ladder, he is then seen – moments later – emerging covered in dust in the aftermath of a failed explosion, in one of the story’s most comic moments, like one of those Laurel and Hardy cartoons where Oliver runs out of the room carrying a bomb, which then explodes offscreen. But the captain is no bumbling-but-lovable fool: he remains, at the last, utterly chilling in his incompetence, his trajectory concluding in fire, and with the words “I’M FINALLY GETTING SOMETHING DONE!”.

Warriors_04 Warriors_03

“Do nothing”, indeed, is the mantra for much of the narrative. Rorvik’s determination to take action is his eventual undoing: conversely it is only by stilling themselves and actively doing nothing that the Doctor and Romana, in the company of Biroc, are able to escape the inferno. Those of you who read my reviews will know that I took particular issue with three episodes in the last series (‘Listen‘, ‘Kill The Moon‘, ‘In The Forest of the Night‘) in which inaction turned out to be the only logical course of events, but there’s a difference between jamming a story with decisive action – and then deflating the tension in the closing minutes – and making the idea of inaction central to the narrative, which is what happens here, very early on:

DOCTOR: It’s jammed. I’ve lost control. We’re adrift in E-space.
ROMANA: Come on, Doctor. We’ve got to do something.
DOCTOR: Have we?
ROMANA: What do you mean?
DOCTOR: Maybe that’s it.
ROMANA: What, drifting?
DOCTOR: The way out of E-space.

As much as I like Biroc, sadly, the Tharils do not survive with their dignity intact. Part of the problem is age: the physical resemblance to the beast from Beauty and the Beast is presumably intentional, but would manifest in popular culture in the late 1980s in one particularly memorable form, and it is hard to take the race of hairy time-sensitive creatures seriously after you’ve seen them with their arms round Sarah Connor.

The first real indication we get of Biroc’s general benevolence, of course, is a scene that follows the episode two cliffhanger, in which Romana wears the same headphones we’ve seen in at least three other stories, as the hairy beast stalks through the decks of the ship in a manner that mimics the opening shot. Other times he’s usually seen walking, or standing very still, as if contemplating something important and OH LOOK THERE IT IS AGAIN.

Warriors-Abba

I haven’t mentioned plot, because it plays second fiddle to the atmosphere (and because, candidly, I still don’t entirely understand it). As well-written as it is, a dissection here would somehow miss the point. It’s certainly a nice final story for Romana, whose Chinese-style attire mirrors the Asian philosophy running throughout each episode, and who symbolically uses her full name (Romanadvoratrelundar) for the first time since ‘The Ribos Operation’. Her departure is brief, and to a certain extent foreshadowed throughout the three tales we’ve discussed due to her obvious reluctance to return to Gallifrey – although her reasons for staying in E-Space are rather fudged. It’s no great secret that by this point in proceedings Baker and Ward were congregating at opposite ends of the rehearsal room, barely on speaking terms (shouting is another matter, of course), although the two would go on to marry shortly afterwards, for reasons I’ve never really been able to fathom. Whatever Baker’s feelings on the matter, the Doctor is certainly affected more than he lets on, as is demonstrated by his shortness with Adric, although I suppose it’s relatively easy to be short with Adric, even when (as in part four) he actually does something sensible that helps everyone else.

Certainly it is almost inconceivable to imagine the likes of ‘Warriors’ Gate’ being made today. Perhaps the closest in tone was ‘The Girl Who Waited’, with its minimalist sets, at least in the early parts of the story; or (in the very next episode) ‘The God Complex’, which is as brilliantly directed as anything in New Who. Alas, such bold strokes are few and far between. It’s partly the BBC’s reluctance to meddle with an obvious cash cow, and partly because there is perhaps little new that can be said by television – but it’s also true that much of what we would now term ‘innovation’ was born in the creative fires of constraint. ‘Spearhead From Space’, for example, was shot solely on film because they couldn’t shoot on set, while episode one of ‘The Mind Robber’ exists only because the series was running short and an extra installment was needed at next to no cost. The closest we get to that today is the absence of a key figure, such as the Doctor himself, and it’s worth bearing in mind that were it not for filming schedule clashes we would not have ‘Blink’. (Of course, we also wouldn’t have ‘Love and Monsters’, so go figure.)

But perhaps it’s time. Nick Hurran has already directed some of my favourite stories (and the ones that were dreadful, such as ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, were let down chiefly by poor writing) and he’s the safest pair of hands, but it would be interesting to see what would happen were he (or, indeed, anyone else) to push the boat out a little further. The worst that could happen would be bad Doctor Who, and perhaps that’s better than lacklustre Doctor Who. It’s tempting, when you have a formula that works, to do nothing. But inaction will get you only so far. We saw – in ‘Full Circle’ – the results of years of inaction, and ‘Warriors’ Gate’ shows the opposite end of the spectrum, and the detrimental impact of unnecessary action. Sandwiched in the middle like an elderly relative at someone’s party, ‘State of Decay’ nonetheless continues the theme by briefly debating the idea of action vs. procrastination-masked-as-preparation, as epitomised by Kalmar, and then adds vampires.

Well, how about that. Perhaps they really were a trilogy after all.

Categories: Classic Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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