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)
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)
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.