Posts Tagged With: dalek

The Kasterborous Archives, #2: Eccleston is a great actor, but he never felt like the Doctor

Author’s notes:

OK, this one caused a rumpus. In its original form it garnered a fair number of comments, many of them negative and one or two calling for my head. Some of the best made it to the testimonials page. Timing was part of it; we published this on the tenth anniversary of ‘Parting of the Ways’ and Eccleston’s regeneration. It’s like holding an anti-war protest on Armistice Day. If that sounds like I’m overstating my case, you haven’t seen Doctor Who fans when they’re upset…

9th-ninth-doctor-the-parting-of-the-ways

Eccleston was a great actor, but he never felt like the Doctor

Published: 18 June 2015

I’ve loved Christopher Eccleston for years.

I loved him in Shallow Grave, where he played an unhinged Scot who drilled holes in the attic floor. I loved his brief, disconnected cameo in The Others, and his turn as sadistic Major Henry West in 28 Days Later. His performance in The Second Coming was a literal revelation. I even love him in Gone In Sixty Seconds, in which he makes the most of a dog’s breakfast as Raymond Calitri, a crime boss who gets to stick Nicholas Cage in a car crusher – which is something I think we’ve all wanted to do for years, or at least since 8MM. Calitri eventually falls to his death, but his best scene occurs earlier in the film, during an angry confrontation with Cage: “Am I an arsehole?” he asks directly. “Do I look like an arsehole?” (Cage’s response is a quiet “Yeah.”)

So let me repeat that disclaimer: I love Eccleston. He’s a talented actor and, if the rumours about his on-set conduct are to be believed, a man of great integrity. But I could never get used to him as the Doctor.

These things are always going to be relatively subjective. Everyone has their own ideas of what the Doctor ought to be, and what he isn’t, and what he… never won’t be… sort of thing. And I suppose that my Doctor is always going to be BBC English (all right David, I’ll settle for Estuary), with fashion sense that dallies between elegant and eccentric. Eccleston’s minimalist look is (purposely) as stripped back as his Doctor, and similarly direct. And it seems strange to me that I should find it as foreign as the idea of Shaggy wearing a business suit. All this is accompanied by remarks about “beans on toast” (a line I cannot hear in the mouths of any other Doctor, except perhaps the Sixth, in the same manner that he delivers the words “carrot juice?!?”). It all seems – and forgive me for this dreadful snobbery – it all seems a bit too working class. I know that’s the point, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

parting_1

It’s not the accent. I don’t think accent in itself is the problem, because I have no issue with Capaldi’s Glaswegian twang, even if I occasionally have to turn on the subtitles to make out what he’s saying above Murray Gold’s frankly intrusive score. It’s no problem having a Doctor who’s not from around here, although I think I was probably one of many people who was hoping that the Twelfth Doctor would use the words “Lots of planets have a Scotland” at some point in Deep Breath. (As it stands, we had the encounter in the alley, arguably more famous for being the first example of eyebrow fetish – and that regrettable scene with Vastra, in which Capaldi almost appears to be acting in a docudrama about Alzheimer’s.)

I watched Rose again recently with my six-year-old, and it’s sometimes tempting to wonder whether we’ve been more forgiving of that opening episode – of the series in general – than we would have been if it was in the middle of a Doctor’s run. How many of the shortcomings went unnoticed simply because it was Doctor Who, and it was back? Does it matter? I’d suggest it probably doesn’t, except when you line up all the Doctors in a row, whereupon Eccleston is the one that always sticks out like a sore thumb.

A friend of mine describes Vincent and the Doctor as “a good episode of something”, and in many ways he’s right: part of its charm lies in the fact that it’s relatively atypical. Similarly, Davies rewrote the rulebook in 2005 when he resurrected the show by effectively rebooting it. But it’s a trend that he and his successor spent the next ten years gradually undoing, and what we have now is a show that glorifies in its past, revisiting and rewriting it on a whim. And I wonder if the fact that the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors take obvious cues from previous Doctors – in a way that the first casting did not – has skewed my appraisal of the Ninth. In other words, to what extent is a failure to accept Eccleston a reflection of what’s come since, as much as what came before?

But there’s more to it than that. Not long before the 50th anniversary episode, I created (purely as a lark) a series of tables that charted the average effectiveness of each New Who Doctor when it came to dealing with the end-of-episode threats that he faced, at least when compared to any companions or supporting characters who wound up doing most of the work for him. In many ways the data is flawed, because he gets only one series in which to prove himself, but it should be no great surprise that the Ninth Doctor sits at the bottom of the list. He’s rubbish.

parting_2

It is his incompetence, indeed, which forms much of that first arc. That first batch of episodes is to all intents and purposes about the Doctor learning to be the Doctor again. The central concept was that of empowering the companions so that they are no longer screaming girls, and it is the Time Lord himself who is forced to diminish in order for this to happen. (When Rose admonishes the Doctor after their encounter with the Nestene in the series opener, proclaiming that he was “useless in there”, it more or less sets the tone.)

A brief analysis of that first series reveals a game of two halves. It’s all building up to Dalek – a good story, although the Big Finish drama upon which it is based is better. The finale of Dalek has the Doctor actively confront the monstrosity from Skaro, wielding the sort of gun you’d normally expect to handled by the likes of Jack (you almost expect Tennant to pop his head round the corner, raise an eyebrow and remark “Compensating for something?”). It’s a powerful moment, although anyone who seriously thinks it’s dramatically out of character clearly wasn’t watching the programme in the ’80s.

After Dalek – which I’ve always described as the Emperor’s Throne Room moment, given that it’s the point at which the central character comes close to losing the plot – Eccleston’s touch noticeably lightens. There is less brooding. At the end of The Doctor Dances he is boogieing around the TARDIS to the strains of Glenn Miller. But he still seems off somehow. The finale to that episode sees the Doctor fix the zombified patients simply by waving his hands. There’s excessive arm-folding. The ‘ape’ jokes are borderline offensive. It’s partly the scripts, but he feels like someone playing the part in a pantomime.

Then there’s a moment in Parting of the Ways where it clicks. It’s a small scene, in which the Doctor is on the floor of Satellite 5, assembling things out of cables and bits of circuits and chatting quietly with Rose. I like it because all of a sudden it feels right. I like it because, for just about the first and only time that series, Eccleston ceases to be the actor trying to play the Doctor, and actually becomes the Doctor.

And then a few minutes later, he regenerates.

Seriously. What an arsehole.

Categories: The Kasterborous Archives | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daleks: Lost in Translation

Watch this, and then cast your minds back a few weeks, to ‘The Witch’s Familiar’.

You remember that one, right? It sort of got forgotten, really, in the general melee of confusion that was series nine. There were Zygons and immortals and people hiding beneath bedsheets and eventually there were TIME LORDS, but before all that, we had Daleks. Specifically we had Clara Oswald hiding inside a Dalek in order to sneak into the Skaro citadel to find the Doctor.

Those of you who recall the scene in which she’s strapped in will remember the conversation she tries to have with Missy. “Say ‘I love you'”, says Missy, to which Clara replies “EXTERMINATE!”. Cue comedy scene with Michelle Gomez leading up to a chilling finale in which she eventually convinces the Doctor – after something of a narrow squeak – that she’s Clara, and not a disgusting mutant.

“Well,” says Gareth, “to be fair, no Dalek has ever said anything other than ‘exterminate’ and similar simple phrases. No conversations or speeches or anything. Honest. It’s a bit poor. And doesn’t really make sense – so when the Daleks want to exterminate you, and are threatening to exterminate you, and are preparing to exterminate you, they’re actually saying ‘do stay still, there’s a good chap’, and it just sounds like they’re saying ‘exterminate’?”

That’s entirely possible, of course, although it’s more likely that the Daleks would have been conditioned to say ‘Exterminate’ and that this is something that had been built into the travel unit in case it ever happens to be occupied by a non-Dalek, which makes about as much sense as there actually being room in there for Clara in the first place, but I think we can all agree that ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ stopped making sense the moment the vampire monkeys turned up, so I think we can let it go.

Letitgo

(Sorry. I’ve given you an earworm now, haven’t I? Both of you.)

Anyway. It was a silly scene but it did give me an idea: an idea that took me an hour to shape into something tangible. This was an easy one to do, as it was simply a case of finding appropriate Dalek-led exchanges and giving them appropriate subtitles. You could probably do this quite effectively with New Who as well, but given that I wanted to include a particular exchange in which a Dalek’s vision is impaired, I stuck exclusively to the 1970s and 80s. Stories used for this, in order of first appearance:

Planet of the Daleks
Destiny of the Daleks
Resurrection of the Daleks

The Doctor appears a couple of times, but this isn’t really about him at all, of course. And please don’t tell him about these problems the Daleks are having with their language filters. It’ll crush him.

By the way, if you’re not up on early 90s UK children’s TV, the blinded Dalek’s wails that he “cannae see!” are probably going to confuse you. In which case this suitably iconic TV moment might provide a little insight. For the rest of us, this is simple nostalgia.

Gosh, they look so young…

Categories: Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hedgehogs and donkeys

It’s a Sonic Screwdriver.

Thomas and I are halfway through series 4 (“Hey! Who turned out the lights?”). In re-examining the warm chemistry of the Tennant / Tate pairing, I am reminded of the time we were camping and my second son appeared through a flap in the tent, like this:

Thomas_Tent

And boldly declaring “Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved.” Oh, I was so proud.

Anyway, the other week they tackled the Good Samaritan at school. He understood the story, but didn’t fully understand the significance of the Samaritan’s decision to stop and help the Jew, because the animosity between them hadn’t been explained. Parables are funny like that. The Prodigal Son, for example, is laced with all sorts of detail that escapes a modern audience. The son’s request for his half of the money was akin to wishing his father dead. Working with pigs would have been beneath contempt for any Jewish man. And when he’s on the way home his father runs along the road to meet him – and never mind the fact that he was filthy and smelled of bacon, running in public was something that no respectable landowner would ever be seen doing. All these details would have been familiar to Jesus’ audience and would have emphasised the point of the story, but over the years a lot of this has been lost.

So I explained to Thomas that the Samaritan’s decision to stop and help the injured Jew was rather like the Doctor and Amy stopping to help a battle-damaged Dalek. Which satisfied him, although my friends were less sure. One asked if the Doctor could turn water into wine, while my brother-in-law said “Was it more like a Dalek stopping to help?” Someone else concurred. “You expect the Doctor to help, but you wouldn’t expect a Dalek to.”

I had thought about doing it that way round. Still, it’s always been my understanding that the Samaritan / Jew disdain was stronger on the Jewish side. Which would mean in turn that the hatred the Daleks have for the Doctor is stronger than any he might have for them – and therefore it makes sense to have the Doctor rescue the Dalek. This does then put you in the unfortunate position of a Jew / Dalek paradigm, which is ironic (and somewhat inappropriate) given the Nazi imagery of ‘Genesis of the Daleks’.

Emily got the last word. “I think,” she said, “that it was less about the hatred between the two characters in the story and more about who the audience would identify with. In which case it would be better to have the Dalek help, as that would be the last thing we would expect. Daleks / Samaritans = horrible begins who never do anything nice => shocking story.”

Which reminds me of this.

My friend Rachel pointed out that “A Dalek would have trouble getting the Doctor onto a donkey”. Still, that didn’t stop someone else producing this lovely piece of artwork:

Dalek Samaritan

In any event, it seems like Doctor Who has an answer for everything. But I think we already knew that.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Doctor Who Party (ii)

(If you’ve missed out on the earlier bits of this little saga, they’re available here. And here. And, if you’re really bored, here.) Let’s start with the suit, which we bought on Ebay.

That buffet, then.

“HI- I- AM-HERE-TO-FIX-YOUR-TAR-DIS.”

 

I’d much rather forget the entirety of this one, but you can’t have a children’s party without pink wafers. It isn’t wrong, but we just don’t do it.

Job well done, I think. I can take no credit for this; I did the labels and took the photos. My other half did all the work.

As I may have mentioned, the Musical Weeping Angels was a non-starter, but everyone went for the find-the-monster quiz – even though we think it was sabotaged by the eventual winners, whom I’ve now decided hid the Empty Child picture after making a note of the number, which would explain why no one else could find the damned thing. Well, you can’t win ’em all. Literally, as it turns out.

Anyway, it all went off swimmingly, and himself enjoyed it tremendously. And that, of course, is the only thing that really counts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like this:

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

A brush with death

Posted on by reverend61

Last Thursday, my colleague popped over from Ireland. Jim works from his home in County Clare, and his visits to the UK are infrequent, so it was a good excuse for lunch. We held a team meeting in a pub in the middle of Abingdon, and drank ale and talked about old times.

Jim probably won’t mind me telling you that he bears an uncanny resemblance to Kenny Rogers – music, indeed, is one of his great passions and we’d often discuss the relative merits of Peter Case, Johnny Cash or Joy Division on the way to dinner in Oxford back when he was working and living in the UK. His other hobby is art – he paints and draws whenever the opportunity presents itself, and it was during a conversation last week that he reminded me of a project he’d been involved in a couple of years back in Ireland.

“Wallcandy street art project,” says the website, “has drawn together artists & designers with diverse skills to create pieces of art on walls and buildings around the town of Ennis. The aim of Wallcandy is to give artists the opportunity and freedom to conceive and create a piece of art that uses a particular site in an interesting and quirky way. The resulting artworks hope to engage, surprise and entertain viewers of all ages. All of the sites chosen have interesting or unusual features and, although some of the sites are a little run down or have deteriorated due to damage or neglect, they have been given an artistic twist that totally changes the way you see them.”

Why am I telling you this? Well, because I only just remembered what he did with the dingy wall near the Ennis grocer’s. Here it is.

After he’d worked his magic, it looked like this:

And here are the close-ups:

They may be seen in their original context here.

Sometimes I think some of us are wasted in our day jobs…

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: