Posts Tagged With: bbc

Doctor Who: the alternative headlines

When you work in the press, in whatever capacity, you’re surrounded by headlines. They’ve always been important, but in the digital age they’re the very lifeblood of what we do. In a world where success is monitored by the hit counter, first impressions are vital. That’s why clickbait is such big business: when a deadline is looming but you have nothing interesting to say, make it look as though you have. This revelation came to me quite recently, but what happened next will astound you.

In all seriousness: there’s nothing wrong (all right, rephrase: there’s nothing particularly new) about sexing up a headline a little bit, so long as you don’t tell any outright lies. Part of the problem stems from expectations – before the birth of the internet you could scan the body text beneath the headline and get an idea of the piece without having to actually read it in full, or at the very least ascertain its length. These days, if you’re being fed a juicy story, chances are it’ll be on social media, where the headline and covering image has been scrupulously prepared for maximum impact so as to grab your attention, with the actual text lurking on another page – and by the time you’ve worked out it wasn’t worth your time, you’ve already clicked.

People react to this with varying degrees of annoyance – personally, I’d say it’s all part of the way that online news has developed, and that the pious “There, I saved you a click” brigade really need to grow a sense of humour. But I would say that, seeing as it’s what passes for a day job. What annoys me is the tedious, over-excited headlines we draw from all those conveniently-worded soundbites that you get at the press screenings, convention appearances and Doctor Who Magazine editorials. Let me give you a few examples from the last year:

  • Jenna Coleman thinks Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who casting is “genius”
  • The next series of Doctor Who will feel like “the first episode you ever see”
  • Is this the greatest scene in modern Doctor Who history?
  • A scene in the Doctor Who Christmas special had the Doctors “almost blubbing”
  • Steven Moffat drops hints about Jodie Whittaker’s first Doctor Who scenes: “She’s given us the Doctor we’ve always known”

Don’t get me wrong. The BBC wants to sell its own product, and I’m OK with that. You need to be outwardly enthusiastic; any producer who said they thought they had a turkey on their hands would likely be given their cards, and we all know what happens when the stars dare to insult the directors. But still. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told I’ll be stunned, amazed, upset and blown away by what’s going to happen in the next series of Who, or how things were going to be truly fantastic.

Can I plead, perhaps, for a little more honesty? Or if that’s really not something we do (“The truth, Minister? You can’t expect Her Majesty’s Government to start telling the truth!”) then perhaps a little more humility, however false? And with that in mind I’ve come up with a few ideas for headlines that I’d like to see, however unlikely their appearance on the news feeds.





I am very ‘umble to the present moment, Master Copperfield…

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In the woods there grew a tree

Here’s today’s media round-up. In television, it’s discovered that the Master spent the years following ‘Frontier in Space’ on a remote Scottish island catching up with some old friends.



Wallace and Gromit’s new musical direction is unveiled.



And finally, in the wake of new rules, it’s revealed that the BBC are prepared to take drastic steps in order to ensure you pay your license fee.


I’m off to Wales. See you in a week.

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Five things that happened in every episode of Wolf Hall


Look, there he is. He’s doing his ‘haunted’ face. This chap has a mysterious past, apparently. We still don’t know all the details. But there is trouble in sixteenth-century England, in particular with its relations with Rome, and it seems that Thomas Cromwell is the man to sort it out. But firstly he’d like the king to stop off for a couple of weeks at Wolf Hall, home of a youthful Jane Seymour…

Last time I talked about Bing Bunny. Today Mark Rylance crops up again in Wolf Hall, one of the BBC’s flagship programmes for 2015 and itself an adaptation of two novels by Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies). Both deal with the life of Thomas Cromwell and his rise to power (the eventual fall from grace, presumably, being the subject of the upcoming The Mirror and the Light). If Rylance played a saintly guardian in Bing, his character in Wolf Hall could not be more different, with Cromwell’s Machiavellian ruses forming the bulk of the narrative, his true intents usually hidden behind that chiselled, enigmatic face.

Ostensibly, this has nothing to do with Doctor Who – although this being a BBC costume drama there are the inevitable familiar faces. Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Jessica Raine, Mark Gatiss, Harry Lloyd and Jonathan Pryce all feature – although the show also finds parts for Richard Dillane, Tim Plester and Hannah Steele, all of whom have appeared in Who, along with numerous others that I’d tell you about if I had the inclination to go through every single IMDB listing. Harry Lloyd, in particular, is marvellous, playing as he does a slightly older and only slightly less warped version of the demonic Baines / Son of Mine in the ‘Human Nature’ / ‘Family of Blood’ two-parter. As for Jonathan Pryce, I kept expecting him to grow a beard and cackle, or start singing Lloyd Webber songs.

It’s wonderful television. Those who complain about the pacing have clearly never seen a Ken Loach movie. There is a place for frantic cuts and heavily condensed exposition, but it’s not in the court of Henry VIII. The sets are moody and well-lit, and the score is mournful and sets the mood perfectly. The script is by turns witty and as quotable as Shakespeare. There is not a single duff performance – even Mark Gatiss turns in something that might passably be considered acting – and the air of menace and intrigue is beautifully, subtly realised. This is not a nice England (even if you’re rich), nor is it safe. But it is bawdy. The BBC got into hot water over its use of the word ‘cunt’ – which seems unfair, somehow, given that that’s how people spoke. There are books on the etymology of bad language and its history, and this isn’t the place for such a debate, but sometimes I look at the stuff in The Canterbury Tales and I wonder when we got quite so prudish. The Victorian era, perhaps. That’s probably when. If nothing else, blame the Victorians.

Historical liberties may be up for grabs, of course. Cromwell, in particular, is given a greater degree of humanity than he is perhaps normally granted (this is presumably down to his depiction in Hilary Mantel’s original text, which I’m about to read, as much as it is due to Rylance’s carefully precise performance). Thomas More, meanwhile, is seen torturing a would-be protestant, something that Cromwell is notably not seen doing, even though he makes good on his promise for revenge in the closing episode with some particularly calculated nastiness (I’d tell you more, but we’re in spoiler territory). Cromwell is not a nice man, you sense, but early scenes with his family show him in a more positive light than More is granted – a moment, in particular, when he opens a contraband English copy of the Bible, noting “How can it be sacrilege?”, makes it hard to disagree with his intentions, even if the end doesn’t always justify the means.

So it’s great, and if you haven’t seen it, you really should. But if you go through all six episodes of a dramatic serial more or less back to back, the recurring motifs become a little more visible. So here are the things I spotted. I was going to turn this into a drinking game, but from what I can see that ship has sailed. Nonetheless, if you watch Wolf Hall you’ll notice –

1. Damian Lewis (Henry VIII) spreads his legs and puts his hands on his hips in an uncanny impersonation of a sugar bowl. (He’ll tell you he’s a little teapot, of course, but he’s in denial.)


2. Claire Foy (Anne Boleyn) says something acidic.


3. Bernard Hill (the Duke of Norfolk) shouts, usually using at least one of the words ‘fuck’, ‘arse’ or ‘bollocks’. Or any combination thereof.



(Memo to the Doctor Who production team – can we please get Bernard Hill in series ten, preferably as a grumpy luddite who teams up with the Doctor at a nineteenth century cotton mill invaded by evil meerkats?)

4. Two words: needlework.


5. Finally, Mark Rylance stands at a group gathering looking like he’s just smelled a fart.


Next time: east meets west. But you’ll have to wait ’til Friday…

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Interlude / Zwischenspiel / Interludio


I will get round to doing the second half of that post tomorrow, I promise. But right now there’s a Chinese takeaway just up the road with my name on it, so the introspective will have to wait.

To tide you over until then, here’s a very good way to improve a rotten episode: make sure you can barely understand a word of what’s being said.

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Spotted on the BBC website

Look, I know Matt Smith hasn’t exactly been on top form this season, but honestly…

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