In this week’s Doctor Who news, an oft-quoted fan mantra is given a new slant.
A much-anticipated deleted scene from ‘World Enough And Time’ is leaked into the internet.
And finally, David Tennant reacts to the upcoming 13th Doctor reveal.
In this week’s Doctor Who news, an oft-quoted fan mantra is given a new slant.
A much-anticipated deleted scene from ‘World Enough And Time’ is leaked into the internet.
And finally, David Tennant reacts to the upcoming 13th Doctor reveal.
Tackling this sort of subject matter is always going to be tricky. In the process of doing so I encountered a few people who thought I was overreacting and one or two feminists who felt it trivialised male-on-female violence. I contend that neither statement is true and that I’m making a valid point – but I would add that this was written before series 9, which seemed to fix many of the problems we’d had. Whether that was down to a general lightening of the Doctor’s character, a shift in tone, or perhaps a growing realisation that casual slapping was both dramatically lazy and downright irresponsible, I’ll never know. The third option is somehow unlikely.
Thinking back, I wonder if I shouldn’t have used the words ‘domestic violence’. But I stand by the content, so I trust you’ll forgive the occasional lapse into sensationalism.
Slap in the face: Why Doctor Who’s domestic violence has to stop
Published: 19 August 2015
Picture the scene. The TARDIS’s lights glow eerily. Up at the console, the Doctor flicks switches, pulls a couple of levers in quiet desperation. Finally, with an anguished sigh, he gives up. “It’s gone,” he tells Clara. “Gallifrey. Completely gone. I’ll never see it again.”
Clara, who is feeling particularly mean this afternoon, gives a nonchalant shrug. “You were the one who lost it in the first place. Can’t leave you alone with anything, can they?” Whereupon the Doctor turns from the console, striding across the floor of the TARDIS and slapping her savagely across the face.
The inclusion of a moment like this is more or less unthinkable. Even if you could write the characters this way, the OFCOM fallout would be potentially catastrophic. The tabloids would have a field day. The Mail’s headline would be a smug “BBC GOES TOO FAR”. The forums would be clogged with debates about whether the Doctor has become irredeemably dark, irreversibly unpleasant, and whether we need to see violence against women represented at this scale – counter-balanced against the views of those who simply see it as a natural progression, a chance for the show to journey into uncharted waters.
You’ve probably already seen where I’m going with this, but just in case it needs pointing out, when the reverse happens – as it does, with increasing frequency – the net result is a string of animated GIFs and YouTube compilations and the sound of much laughter. Because slapping in Doctor Who is something that they seem to do a lot, and while it’s undoubtedly a source of much hilarity to most of the Tumblr brigade, I’m not one of them. And every time it happens, I get very uncomfortable.
There’s certainly been a history of Doctor-companion violence. Perhaps one of the most notable early stories was The Edge of Destruction, with its strangulation cliffhanger and the notorious scene where Susan attacks Barbara with a pair of scissors. It was a stage in the production history where they were still working out tone and it’s almost inconceivable that it would have happened even, say, a year later. Meanwhile, strangulation rears its ugly head again in The Twin Dilemma, as a paranoid, post-regeneration Doctor shouts poetry at Peri before trying to throttle her. I’ve had dates like this, but it’s a nasty scene in a largely ridiculous story, and we will not dwell on it.
Besides, such things seem to be anomalies in twenty-five years of comparatively chaste television, in which the relationship the companion has with their Doctor is seldom discussed openly. For better or worse, a companion-based intensity is central to the dynamic of New Who, and generally you either love it or hate it. The Ninth Doctor famously tells Rose that he doesn’t “do domestic”, but that almost feels like Eccleston himself protesting against the tide of relationship issues that clogged the show both during and after his stint in the leather jacket.
That’s a different debate, of course, but it has fallout. The Doctor is slapped by Jackie Tyler for taking away his daughter. Francine Jones slaps him because she believe he’s a threat. A bolshy, pre-enlightened Donna Noble slaps him because she thinks she’s been kidnapped (and then again when she thinks he’s making light of a serious situation). Martha slaps the Doctor to bring him out of his self-induced fugue.
Some of these are understandable within the context of the narrative, even if we could question the writers’ decision to subsequently make light of them (the Doctor and Rose share a joke about Jackie on a rooftop, while a reeling Tennant remarks “Always the mothers” while he’s getting up). But that’s television. The comedy value of a good slap in the face is, apparently, worth its weight in gold, whether it’s Tasha Lem in Time of the Doctor, or Clara’s assault on the Cyberplanner Doctor in Nightmare in Silver. It would be churlish to single out Doctor Who for this sort of thing. It happened practically every week in Friends. It goes back to the golden age of television and beyond. Every short film Leon Errol ever made would end when his wife hit him over the head with a vase.
Perhaps comedy slapping has its place, given the right characters and context. But there’s been a shift over the years from a literal slapstick – the Eleventh Doctor hitting himself for his own stupidity – towards a darker, violence-as-reaction ethos, and perhaps that’s what makes me uncomfortable. I’ve mentioned the mothers, but the rot truly sets in when Matt Smith enters his second series: River’s reaction upon seeing an apparently resurrected (but actually two hundred years younger) Doctor is to slap him. She does it again when he fixes her broken wrist. Clara’s about the most violent of the lot, particularly when she’s working with Capaldi: thoughtless behaviour is punished with physical abuse in both Last Christmas and Into the Dalek, while she threatens, in Kill the Moon, to “smack you so hard you’ll regenerate”.
“But surely,” I can hear people arguing, “It’s OK, because the Doctor’s an alien?” And yes, the Doctor’s not human. He’s already demonstrated amazing resistance to injuries. He’s probably got a healing factor. He’s like an abrasive, declawed Wolverine, so that makes it OK. Besides, thumping non-human life forms isn’t a problem: if Han Solo’s response to being captured by the Ewoks had been to punch one of them in the face, I’m sure that would have been entirely acceptable to most children. It’s a poor analogy, but it illustrates that the line’s very hard to draw. To what extent do we disavow the actions of a character on the grounds that the humanoid patriarch they’ve thumped has two hearts instead of just one?
“Or,” the argument continues, “he deserves it, right?” Well, yes, of course he does. The Twelfth Doctor’s an alienating (in a quite literal sense of the word), clinically detached sociopath, at least in his worst moments. He says the horrible things we’re all thinking, only the little switch inside his head that stops you saying them out loud doesn’t seem to be working. That’s a perfectly justifiable reason for casual domestic violence. He deserves it in the same way that provocatively dressed women presumably deserve to be raped.
Why even question the motives of the one doing the slapping, when the one being slapped is so obviously asking for it?
I watch quite a lot of Jeremy Kyle on the weekday mornings I’m folding laundry instead of writing, and a couple of months ago one particular guest recounted the time he was locked in his flat by a girlfriend who supposedly beat him. The authenticity of his narrative was ultimately disputed, of course, but long before that happened Kyle had taken the audience to task for laughing. “If this was the other way around,” he said, “and if a woman was sat here and a bloke had locked her in a flat and she’d been forced to jump out and injure herself you would not be laughing. You would be saying he is a complete nightmare, he should be locked up and that’s disgraceful, but somehow if it happens to a bloke that’s funny. That’s not funny.”
If I could say that the show were making a valid point about this sort of thing, I’d probably be more tolerant. But it doesn’t: moral debate is sandwiched into inappropriate contexts where it is dealt with poorly and rapidly (Kill The Moon again) or, more often, sidestepped entirely. So by turns we’re supposed to laugh, or shake our heads in dismay and mutter “Well, he was asking for it”. We laugh because it’s a powerful Time Lord being brought down off his pedestal by a weak and feeble human. And we shouldn’t, because when it’s supposed to be funny, it usually isn’t, and when it’s supposed to be angst-ridden, it just comes across as nasty. Besides, it’s not just the Doctor. In Asylum of the Daleks, Amy slaps Rory twice. At least that’s consistent. Amy spends most of that story being an absolute bitch, whether it’s the arrogant smugness that pervades the early scenes, or the tirade of fury directed at her ex-husband for considering himself the wronged party (“Plastic man standing outside in the rain for two millennia? Pah. I THREW YOU OUT OF THE HOUSE BECAUSE I CAN’T HAVE YOUR BABIES!”).
I’m not advocating a reduction of violence. I approach many of these situations – inevitably and unavoidably – from the perspective of a parent, but that doesn’t mean I think the show is too unpleasant. I recently showed The Deadly Assassin, arguably the peak of 1970s unpleasantness, to my eight-year-old (and was thrilled when, just last week, he remembered an obscure detail while forming an analogy). The most sensible response to stories that cross your own particular line of acceptable viewing is to simply not watch them.
But I am worried about the show I’m watching. Perhaps Series 8 was Capaldi’s Twin Dilemma moment, borne out across twelve weeks, and the lighter touch hinted at in Series 9 will mean Clara no longer needs to react in anger. Or perhaps not. Perhaps this is the way Moffat and the producers choose to do things; a sort of counterbalance to the sexism charges thrown his way last year. But I know we live in a world where The Sun spearheads a campaign to highlight battered women with one hand and dismisses a marital assault charge against its (female) editor as “a silly argument” with the other. I know it’s a world where domestic violence against men is granted less credence than its (admittedly more common) antipode. Once again, that’s another debate for another day. But above all I know this: it’s not the sort of thing I want to see in Doctor Who.
There is a Doctor Who Facebook group I frequent where certain patterns of behaviour may be observed. There is person X, who publishes regular links to YouTube videos that are basically him rambling incoherently for twenty minutes at a time with a static image in the background about various missing episode rumours and speculation, and who bristles at all the negative feedback he gets. There is that tendency you get for the same tabloid headline to be posted in several different threads with the same conversations going on in each. There are the regular birthday listings – from people who had substantial roles to people who had a single line of dialogue. And there’s me – usually posting memes or videos or blog articles, some of which go down quite well, while others are completely ignored, but them’s the breaks, kid.
Then there’s Steve.
Steve isn’t his real name – although it may be, given that the name he uses is a Who-related moniker (which is something I’ve never liked on Facebook; it’s a personal preference but I find it difficult to engage with someone who calls themselves Melody Oswald, or Gillian LogansMummy Bear). Steve occasionally posts on different topics but his favourite activity is the Sad Quote. You know the sort of thing I mean. It’s a picture of Matt Smith on a swing. It’s Capaldi, alone in the TARDIS. Or it’s Tennant standing in the rain. These images are accompanied by the ‘sad’ moments from the show – the Doctor’s farewell after he wipes Donna’s memory, the moment he admits to Rose that death is inevitable, the bit where Amy Pond says “And this is how it ends.” I’m not even going to include them here; you can have this one instead.
(I’m amused by the fact that when I posted this, more than a few people didn’t get the joke.)
I’m not opposed by the fact that people want to wallow in misery over some of Doctor Who’s supposedly melancholy moments. This is watched by angst-ridden teenagers – some of whom, I’m convinced, genuinely believe that the Doctor is really out there somewhere, and that he’ll come and pick them up one day. It’s easy to scoff at this, but I’m not going to. When you’re young and the world overwhelms you, you need some semblance of escapist hope, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But really. It saturates certain portions of the internet. “This is why,” someone said when I brought it up, “I don’t use Tumblr.” And truth be told, I don’t use Tumblr either – I just periodically post stuff there to generate web traffic, as it’s a decent market. But when Tumblr bleeds across into Facebook, we have a problem, in that the epidemic of Doctor / Clara / Rose posts sets my teeth on edge. “Such an upsetting scene,” says someone who from their profile pic is old enough to know better. The ‘sad’ emoticon features in abundance. Cut to Matt Smith, crying on a sofa. Oh, the feels.
Anyway: I propose a solution. Because it struck me – having made a particular random association one morning when I was more bored than you can imagine – that one way to counteract the Sad Meme thing is to decontextualise them. In other words, miserable quotes presented in different scenarios.
And that’s what I’ve done. Enjoy.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Disclaimer: I’m not a blue collar American. I didn’t grow up with the right to bear arms, or healthcare you pay for without help from the state. I don’t pretend to really understand politics. I do have a rudimentary awareness of how the media works: that the best way to shift units is to pick the underdog (the more contemptible the better) and ridicule them to the extent that there is a tangible shift in public sympathy, evening the race and making it more interesting, and thus more newsworthy. That’s the way it goes. Deal with it.
There are those who suggest that choosing between Clinton and Trump is like choosing between crucifixion and being buried alive. There are others who suggest that of the two, Clinton is the lesser of two evils. There are those who suggest the opposite. Clinton’s past is supposedly murky, but the assassination conspiracies are the screaming rage of people who will see what they want to see. Of the two, Clinton – while far from the model of integrity that Obama appeared to be – is balanced, rational and compassionate. I can’t say the same for Trump.
Because Trump’s a bullying narcisstic egomaniac. Does that in itself make him a bad choice for President? Perhaps not. But it does make him a wildcard. I can’t understand why you’d publicly endorse a man who brings out the worst in people. Only a blinkered fool would look at him and see anything other than a liability. And nowhere does this make itself plainer than the vitriol that comes out of his mouth.
So I found a selection of quotes this week and I married them with images from Doctor Who. I don’t care that some of them are out of context, or have had their accuracy disputed. I won’t apologise for the occasional ickiness: Donald certainly never does.
And for those who’d say that, as a white British male, the election of the American President is none of my business, I’d suggest that if we’re talking about a man who has significant impact on the UK’s foreign policy and his finger on the big red button, I’d say that it darn well is.
It’s always funny, when I look at the hit counts, how two of my most popular videos are the ones I don’t like.
Maybe it’s the price of exposure. When no one is watching your stuff, no one is picking out the holes. The higher the hit count the more it gets noticed and the longer the line of people queuing up to point out the weak spots and the plot holes and the rough edges. Either that or they swear at you. Did I ever tell you that my first ever comment was someone calling me a va-jay-jay? That’s the sort of thing that used to keep me awake at night; these days I hardly even notice. I’ve got plenty of people who think I’m an idiot; I don’t need to go to YouTube for that.
But sometimes it’s a relief when people are honest. When you’re told your video editing skills are ‘fantastic’ (as I was just last week), knowing full well yourself that this is really not true, you wonder whether you can actually trust the general public to be arbiters of quality. These are people who thought ‘Death In Heaven’ was a masterpiece, for crying out loud. Sycophancy is second nature. The trick is knowing when people have a point and when they’re just being mean. There are two types of people, for example, who have criticised the Twelfth Doctor Regenerates video I did back in July. They’re either pointing out the inconsistencies and jumps (all perfectly valid, but unless you’re the guy who made Wholock you have to work with limited resources when you’re trying to put two Doctors in the same room) or they’re being rude. “Fuck you,” said a teenager who genuinely seemed to think that he was about to watch something with spoilers that would give him the information he so desperately craved. “I hate you more than my slow phone.” Still giggling, over a month later.
In any event, I found myself at a bit of a loose end these last two weeks – in between frantic bouts of writing for Metro – and have managed to go back and redo a couple of things I’ve been meaning to look at for some time. I have no delusions about them matching the success of the originals – nor, in a way, would I want them to. Both were products of their time (the second one less so) and while they’ve been improved technically I had to resist the temptation to completely rewrite them: to do so would have been somehow less than honest. I was going to stick them both in the same post, but I think we’re going to break this up a bit. I’m sure you have enough to be doing, don’t you?
1. The Ninth, Tenth and Eleveth Doctors hold a video conference
In July 2013 I discovered the joy of unscored audio – in other words, dialogue-only soundtracks for Who episodes, available from Dropbox links. It’s changed the way I work. It allows you to easily rip out dialogue and move it wherever you want, to chop and change scenes and to tighten and re-sequence and juxtapose, all without the jarring effect you get when the music suddenly stops. I road-tested it by creating a version of the Doctor’s Akhaten speech with music from Ulysses 31. It didn’t quite work, because of frame rate issues (although it’s a problem I could probably now fix), but the possibilities were there.
The original version of this video pre-dated that one by a couple of months, and while it’s had its fair share of compliments (as well as a few people shouting “Oh, THIS IS SO FAKE!”, having completely missed the point) it’s also been pointed out to me more than once that the sound does jar a bit. That’s to be expected – The ‘Bad Wolf’ scene from which the Eccleston footage was grabbed is steeped in score, occurring as it does at the climax of the episode, while a quieter, slightly more understated theme (I’d say that Murray Gold was learning, but you and I both know that isn’t true) is present during the Eleventh Doctor’s ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ scenes. Only the ‘Blink’ exchange emerges unscathed, and even then you have to put up with the whine of a projector.
(Incidentally with ‘Blink’. The Doctor’s original recording is present as an Easter Egg on the series 3 box set. Having re-watched the episode this afternoon with Daniel, Em and I were in discussion about it, and surely a better course of action by the Beeb would have been to put it on seventeen completely unrelated DVDs, spread at random, without telling anyone? Something you wouldn’t expect a Who fan to buy? Something that Carey Mulligan might own? And what if they’d done this for DVDs that were all released three or four months in advance of series 3? Yes, it’s obscure and faintly ridiculous, but can you imagine the media exposure when it came out? I’d have pitched the idea to them, but I think that ship has sailed.)
With this it was a simple question of redubbing every Ninth / Eleventh Doctor line (except for the ones on the beach), adding a little ambient sound, and then tightening everything up so the whole thing flowed better. Dialogue sometimes overlaps; at other times I’m content to let the silence speak for itself. I still have no idea what the three of them are arguing about, although it’s apparent that Nine is being extremely stubborn about whatever he’s being asked to do, and I’m still not entirely sure what I mean by having the Tenth Doctor reply ‘Complicated…very complicated’ when he’s asked about Rose (although curiously this seems to be the bit that people like most, so I must have done something right). But you could now almost – almost – believe they’re having a conversation, however bizarre it might be.
It probably won’t stop people shouting “OH, THIS IS SO FAKE!”. But that’s too bad. You tell them. I have to go and cook dinner.
(If you’re reading this on a phone or tablet there is a chance that the embedded video may be unavailable to you. If that’s the case, I’ve left another version at Vimeo; that one should work.)
You say ABBA, you think ‘Dancing Queen’. You think Eurovision and ‘Waterloo’. You think Meryl Streep crying on a hill. You think Pierce Brosnan belting out ‘S.O.S.’ in the manner of someone having a prostate exam off camera (not my joke). You think flashy costumes and a certain joie de vivre.
Because no one likes to remember how utterly miserable they were by the time they disbanded. ABBA were a group who bore their hearts on their sleeves, or at least that’s the way it looked to the rest of us, whether it’s the raw emotion of ‘The Winner Takes It All’, the slightly manipulative but no less heartfelt sadness of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, the parenting anthem to end all parenting anthems (with the possible exception of ‘The Living Years’)…even something as outwardly upbeat as ‘When All Is Said And Done’ is amicably miserable (though it does include the line ‘not too old for sex’, so every cloud). I’m not saying we ignore the miserable bits, more that we tend to give more airspace to something like ‘Fernando’ than something like ‘One Of Us’. (I’ve never much cared for that song, although that’s the point at which Agnetha permed her hair and I stopped fancying her, so maybe that had something to do with it.)
The starkness plays out in that final album. The Visitors is possibly the best thing they ever did, tapping new and uncharted musical territory – an almost industrial technopop that was years ahead of its time and which Andersson and Ulvaeus would see come to fruition of a sort when they finished Chess, even though that’s still fairly theatrical. But it’s those two non-album singles – ‘Under Attack’ and ‘The Day Before You Came’ – that make the playlists, despite an initially lukewarm reaction from an audience that wasn’t ready for anything like this and had in any case more or less lost interest. Years later the latter regularly tops fan polls. I wonder if in years to come we’ll view ‘Fear Her’ with such retrospective acclaim.
…No, I don’t think so either.
The Wikipedia entry for ‘The Day Before You Came’ is worth reading, but I’ll summarise the best bits –
– Despite the minimal backing track, what really stands out is Agnetha’s voice, which is by and large sung in her native Swedish accent, rather than the twang she would adopt for other recordings
– The song’s meaning is the subject of intense scrutiny and debate – is this a song to a boyfriend? An ex-boyfriend? A murderer? Did her mundane life change for the better when this mysterious figure arrived, or did it in fact get worse? (The video goes some way to explaining this, although if you need a video to explain a song, the song’s a failure, so I prefer to think of the video as an afterthought)
– She left at 8 am and was at work by 9:15; conversely she left at 5 pm and didn’t get home for three hours. I know the woman stopped to pick up a Chinese but even allowing for rush hour traffic there is something going on here.
– Myself, I’ve always liked the image of Agnetha alone in the studio, completing the final recording with the lights out, as a musical union that’s outlasted two marriages limps along to its final, scrappy conclusion. Roll credits.
Anyway. Why the hell hasn’t anyone done something with Doctor Who? When you consider the new series’ focus on companions and the way their lives are changed by the arrival (and eventual departure) of the Doctor, isn’t it an obvious fit? The Doctor has a habit of blustering in, acting as a catalyst for revolution and reform and then making a quiet exit so someone else can clean up the mess. Doesn’t he have a tendency to treat people the same way?
What annoyed me intensely was that all those departure / regeneration scenes I found myself mocking when I watched the episodes that contained them took on a sudden emotional resonance when I looked at them again. I mean, I was crying at the Doctor / Verity Newman scene in ‘The End of Time’. That scene is faintly ridiculous and here I am wiping my eyes clean. Then I was crying at Rose. Dammit, I’m one of the ones that smirks whenever this sort of thing shows up on the Tumblr feeds. WHY IS THIS UPSETTING ME? I’M SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD INSIDE!
That’s a roundabout way of saying that I made this last week, feeling sad and not really knowing why. Perhaps I knew, on one level or another, that this week would be the way it was. And I do feel sad this week, more than I can tell you. The world seems to have no real sense of self, just a collection of squabbling factions and misunderstandings and hatred and bile. I feel as if we’ve broken something we’re not going to be able to fix in a hurry, and rather than actually sitting down and working out how it broke and what we can do to piece it back together, we’re just kicking the fragments round the playground like angry schoolchildren.
And I don’t know the answer. I don’t. But I know that’s no way to run a planet.
Postscript: episodes used, in order of first appearance –
The Zygon Inversion
Smith and Jones
Partners in Crime
The End of Time
Parting of the Ways
Day of the Doctor
The Bells of Saint John
The Wedding of River Song
The Angels Take Manhattan
The God Complex
The Fires of Pompeii
Army of Ghosts
Last of the Time Lords
Death in Heaven
The Eleventh Hour
The Name of the Doctor
Face the Raven
Doctor Who these days is all about the speeches. In many ways it always has. Oh, it’s easy to point at McCoy and mention the rice pudding as a watershed moment, but to do so is to ignore Colin Baker’s rant about the decadence and corruption of Time Lord society, Pertwee’s wistful recollection of his Gallifreyan childhood, and the Fourth Doctor’s joyous monologue about homo sapiens at the beginning of ‘The Ark In Space’. It even goes back to the sixties: Hartnell’s Doctor may have been doddery and crochety from time to time, but he could wax lyrical with the best of them, as ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ proves as much as any other.
But there’s a trend these days – something that seems to have started with ‘The Pandorica Opens’ and then become one of those things that was fun for about five minutes and then wore out its welcome the more it was done (like Star Wars Day, but we won’t go there right now). I wish I could understand the current obsession with getting other Doctors to record great speeches, but it seems patently ludicrous. Sometimes it works. There is a decent voice imitation of Troughton doing the rounds on the internet that recreates the closing scenes of ‘Day of the Doctor’. McGann, on the other hand, was given Capaldi’s ‘Zygon Inversion’ speech to read (presumably thirty seconds before they switched on the microphone) and it sounds tedious. I’m sorry, but it does. Harness wrote that speech for Capaldi. The Eighth Doctor version would have been quite different. Capaldi bubbles with righteous anger; McGann (and this is not to do him a disservice, I love him) plays a Doctor who seldom loses his temper. It’s the elephant in the room, but it’s embarrassing to listen to, and I say that as someone who thought ‘Scherzo’ was wonderful, if you skip over the love scenes.
Look, it’s perfectly simple. If you can turn a one-trick pony into a convention staple, I can do the same thing with a puppet. Step forward Alistair, who was recorded on my ageing Flip camera, perched on the table, wedged between two books to hold it upright because I couldn’t find the tripod. Alistair messed up the second speech a little, but I didn’t hold it against him. Yes, there are outtakes. No, you do not get to see them. Yes, I did drop the puppet once or twice.
Toucans are marvellous birds, anyway, and just for the heck of it, here’s one I snapped on the Isle of Wight.
I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I did think this could be a series, perhaps furnished by requests. I’ve already had one for Trial of a Time Lord. Another request went along the lines of “Please cease and desist from contacting our client Ms. Aldred and at all times retain a minimum distance of six hundred yards”. Your own suggestions are welcome below and will be recorded the next time we get a spare moment provided Alistair is up to the task.
By way of anecdote, Alistair got his name because at first I thought he was a crow. And Alistair the Crow is…oh, you’ll figure it out. If you can’t, I’ll tell you another time. But not today. Leave ’em dangling, kid. Leave ’em dangling.
You’ve seen it, right? Half of you have probably changed your Facebook profile pictures. It’s not as flexible as it might be – there are fewer outfit options than I’d like – but for a web-based bit of fun it’s really rather good. I am, of course, talking about the Peanutizeme tool that enables you to create character likenesses in the Charles Schultz vein and pop them into assorted backgrounds, just in time for the Peanuts movie that’s due in November.
The second thing you do when you get a thing like this – after doing yourself, of course – is to think of a particular passion and try and render it. There are various Doctor Who versions doing the rounds, and most of them are better than mine: still, here are mine. First, the Ninth Doctor and Jack.
The Doctor isn’t too bad, although he has a little too much hair (the other choice was entirely bald, which simply didn’t work). Jack isn’t quite right (that’s supposed to be a vortex manipulator on his wrist, by the way) but that fiendish smile speaks volumes. Still, this one got a retweet from Paul Cornell, so I’m not complaining.
Next: the Tenth Doctor, with Sarah Jane and a rather grumpy-looking Rose, in ‘School Reunion’.
It’s not very fair to Rose, because by this point she’d really outgrown the Jeremy Kyle look, but I remember her being a general pain in this episode, and I have punished her accordingly. The robot Snoopy I found on the internet, and I now want one.
Finally: the Eleventh Doctor, accompanied by Amy and Clara.
I will leave it to you to work out which one is which. (Sadly there was no mullet option for the hair, and the jacket is the wrong colour, but aside from that it’s a reasonable likeness.)
And as for me? Well, yes, I did one. Actually I did the whole family. What’s that? You want to see it? Really?
Oh, go on then.
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.