Is darker better?

According to the Daily Mirror a Doctor Who “source” has used words like “darker” and “scarier” to describe the next series (Series 12). But are those things good for Doctor Who?

Disclaimer: I’m going to say some things in this blog that sound prescriptive about what Doctor Who “should” be. They’re just my opinions.

So, in my opinion the series thrives best when it’s accessible to all audiences, let’s say from age 6 up. There’s a huge difference between being scary in an unreal, fantasy-adventure way (‘Dalek’, ‘Blink’) and scary in a jarring adult way. Doctor Who doesn’t always get that tone right, but it does it best when it knows what it is and where to draw the line. The handling of cremation in ‘Dark Water’/’Death in Heaven’ was for me too real; unnerving in the wrong way. The same goes for aspects of ‘World Enough and Time’ (“pain pain pain”). It’s the difference between a 12 and a PG rating in the UK. Your mileage may vary, but for me Doctor Who should aim for PG. It should feel like safe, family-friendly horror.

I think we’ve moved past the days of ‘The New Adventures’, when Doctor Who tried to “grow up” by becoming grim and seedy (okay I haven’t read most of them, don’t @ me). The series since 2005 definitely skews a bit older in some aspects than the classic show; towards character, romance and complexity. But that’s okay. Kids can handle those things just fine. What it doesn’t do on the whole is try to be ‘gritty’ or ‘dark’ in that way that you think represents maturity when you’re 15, when you think the 1960s Batman TV show is embarrassing and Zach Snyder is the epitome of being grown up.

If anything the modern series has properly grown up. Grown up enough to not care about being “mature”. It’s embraced its own silliness: the colour, the space fantasy, and the bonkers bits. It’s embraced positivity and hope and done so in an unselfconscious way that isn’t kitsch, or doesn’t care if it is.

A big part of how much kids can take in a show like this is how safe they feel, and a big part of that is about how welcoming the characters are, and how safe THEY feel. It’s okay to put the characters in dire peril, it’s rarely okay to actually kill them. Brilliant though ‘World Enough and Time’ and ‘The Doctor Falls’ are, the horror they put Bill through is right on the edge of being wrong for the show. (If she hadn’t survived I would condemn it outright, but her deus ex machina rescue–though a little bit artless–is beautiful and saves it for me.) It’s one reason why I think that consciously setting out to make the Twelfth Doctor off-putting in his early episodes went slightly too far. You never want the audience questioning, as Clara does in ‘Deep Breath’, whether the Doctor will come back and save them. He or she can be alien, can have different attitudes towards other aliens, can be angry at humanity, but above all else they have to be someone who cares when you’re in danger and who will always save you. Do that, and the rest is all grace notes. Don’t get me wrong I adore Peter Capaldi, I adore the Twelfth Doctor and I largely don’t feel that he was un-Doctorish. But there were moments early on, they were deliberate, and they didn’t quite work. You can see that they knew it, because the writing and the performance took a rapid step back from them, and what we ended up with from that slight misstep is a lovely character arc for the Twelfth Doctor throughout his run, culminating in “Just be kind”. And that’s what the show is about, what it should always be about. It’s what Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor is emphatically about: your best friend from outer space.

So when I hear that the show will be darker my response is to hope that darker means central characters who are heroic and likeable, who may face horror and personal struggles, who may stumble, but who always emerge triumphant and always keep me safe; “darker” that isn’t cruel or cowardly but is exciting and scary and fun. Let’s wait and see, because I suspect that’s exactly what we’re going to get.

Green Eggs and 5M

I would not, could not, on TV

They did not finish it, Sam, you see

I did not see it with linking narration

I did not read the novelisation

I did not listen to Paul McGann

(It’s not the original, Sam I am.)

Not on a video!  Not on TV!

Not on Big Finish!  Not DVD!

(Maybe that bit in The Five Doctors

But only Tom Baker punting in Oxford)

I have not seen it here or there

I have not seen it anywhere!

But I do own the Blu Ray.


Text ripped off from Dr Seuss by Iain Clark

Artwork by Lee Binding.

The Thirteenth Doctor

So, just for the record, I’m really very chuffed about that Doctor Who casting.

I have the same buzz I did when they cast Capaldi, but for different reasons. It’s not the same-old-same-old safe choice. I really thought they might cast a Tennant clone because of the perceived commercial success that would bring. But we’ve done that already. It’s there on DVD. We haven’t done this. And who’s to say that the boring choice wouldn’t have bored viewers? Maybe moving in new directions is what’s in the show’s longer-term interests.

Interesting that new showrunner Chris Chibnall pushed for a female Doctor, and he’s got one of his leads from Broadchurch! That’s how to put your stamp on a show. I don’t think Jodie Whittaker’s character in Broadchurch was especially ‘Doctorish’, but you know these auditions are a tough process and they’ve had he same Casting Director since Christopher Eccleston was chosen. She only got this part if she aced it.

Nostalgia and Newspapers, Part 2

More from my short-lived spell of keeping newspaper clippings back in the 1980s, something I’ve never done before or since.  Teenagers, eh?

These are all Doctor Who-related, spanning from the announcement of Colin Baker as the Doctor through to the announcement of Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor.  They mainly concern the 18 month hiatus taken by the show, about which I was understandably obsessed.

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1984 (Hull Daily Mail)

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28th Jan 1985 (Hull Daily Mail)

First up, the announcement of Baker the Second taking the role, and our local paper’s very ringing endorsement of him after the “wet” Peter Davison.  Harsh. The Hull Daily Mail was something of a staunch Who supporter , but they were perhaps an outlier in their complete adoration of Colin Baker. Commendably, they remained staunch supporters of his through thick and thin, as we’ll see.

The national press were clearly not so enamoured.  Here’s a lovely (i.e. typical) bit from the Daily Express combining moral outrage about violence with mild salaciousness all in one story.  The word “nubile” really doesn’t see the light of day much these days.  Does include the quite amazing quote “I trust Dr Who rapidly makes it clear that people eating is wrong.”  (Pedantically I do feel that sentence needs a hyphen, otherwise they’re taking a controversial stance against restaurants.)

I can only apologise for the poor preservation of this clipping.  My Time-Space Visualiser is in need of tuning.

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28th Feb 1985 (Daily Express)

On or around the same date (my filing not being what it should be) the Daily Express also announced, perhaps slightly prematurely, that the show had been axed.  Naturally they saw this in terms of the licence fee.  I do think they deserve some kudos for a) bothering to interview fans and b) listing the Doctors in the right order and spelling all their names correctly.

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Feb 1985 (Daily Express)

At least there was some consolation!  (Did they actually air these repeats, I can’t remember?)

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Feb 1985 (Hull Daily Mail)

The Hull Daily Mail also went with the Licence Fee theory (with the factually questionable observation that “Even The Master wouldn’t stoop so low just to make a point“) and joined the Express letching at Peri being “scantily-clad“, while continuing to big up Colin Baker as “the best yet“.

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2nd March 1985 (Hull Daily Mail)

All together now, “Doctor in Distress!”  I remember finding this single painfully embarrassing even at the time.

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March 1985

The Daily Telegraph weighed in, comparing the BBC to an unscrupulous drugs pusher.  Sorry, “pusher”. Hard to tell if they’re outraged at the hiatus or just happy to have an excuse to cheerfully bash the BBC, but despite casting Doctor Who fans as junkies it’s quite supportive overall.

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3rd March 1985 (Daily Telegraph)

(It was during the hiatus that I went to the Leisure Hive 2 convention if you want to see my scans of the brochure…).

Moving on 18 months, and the Hull Daily Mail manages to announce the show’s return with the most negative slant possible (“doomed“!), and features some lovely disingenous quotes from Michael Grade where he makes out that it was all just about the violence.   I think he reads the Daily Express.  Congratulations however to this article for mentioning Peri without using the words “nubile” or “scantily“.

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1st Sept 1986 (Hull Daiy Mail)

Okay, wait, they’ve sacked Colin Baker!  Maybe it’s doomed after all… I remember hugely enjoying ‘Trial of a Timelord’ when it aired.  That opening shot of the space station clearly went straight to my teenage fanboy head, just as it was supposed to, but even beyond that it felt very much like an old-fashioned season to me.  The Vervoids story in particular hit me with nostalgia for the Tom Baker era quite strongly.  I was outraged when I learned that Colin Baker was leaving without so much as a proper regeneration.

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6th Jan 1987 (Hull Daily Mail)

And so in comes Sylvester McCoy.  Mercifully no-one feels inclined to letch over Bonnie Langford, who only merits the adjective “squeaky“.  Michael Grade is quoted again on violence but also wants to see if “the stories are better“.  Now he’s just being unreasonable.

Besides, with a “snow dragon” and a “berserk bunch of robotic charladies“, this will clearly be the best season yet.

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1987 (Hull Daily Mail)

I’ll confess to being quite underwhelmed by McCoy at the time.  I didn’t “get” the rather ‘Indie’ take on the show that ‘Paradise Towers’ represented, I hated the new theme and opening credits, I felt the storytelling was amateurish, I was embarassed by the Kandyman, and I was baffled by the comedy of ‘Delta and the Bannermen’.  I still don’t entirely disown those opinions, but I did warm to the remainder of McCoy’s run and there are some genuine classics among the last couple of years.  I can even summon up some nostalgia for the credits sequence.  Some.

And there my clippings go quiet, probably because I was suddenly far more interested in the arrival of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Teenagers, eh?

Painting Patrick

troughton_sketch_ciainjclark_800The thing about Doctor Who art is that there’s a hell of a lot of it.  Traditional, digital, photoshop.  Every DVD.  Every book.  The comics get about three covers each on a monthly basis.  And that’s even leaving out the vast body of fan art,  the dark matter that holds the internet together. And of course it’s all (mostly) amazing.  This makes it bloody hard to come up with an idea for an image that doesn’t feel like it’s been done to death.

I knew I wanted to do another bit of Doctor Who fan art, and I chose Troughton because the 50th anniversary of his first appearance gave me the perfect excuse. I’ve always loved his ‘Harpo Marx’ air of shambolic eccentricity.  (And the hat.  That ridiculous hat.)  The strange thing is that despite being a lifelong Doctor Who fan I mainly know the black and white stories through the Target novelisations and old issues of Doctor Who Monthly.  It’s only more recently I’ve started to properly catch up with Hartnell and Troughton on DVD, and of the two it’s Troughton whose performance truly transcends the character on the printed page.  Mercurial, always adding some little bit of ‘business’ to his scenes, but clever and sombre when he needs to be.

The problem was what do do with him.  For the Peter Capaldi one I’d at least had the fresh angle of juxtaposing him with the earliest Cybermen.  The idea of Mondas being Earth’s upside-down mirror lent itself to the angular yin-yang design of the image, which felt a little bit out of the ordinary.  It crystallised in my head. I knew it could work. Now every other idea I could think of was either standard portraiture (like my preparatory pencil sketch) or a floating-head movie poster.

2016-11-18-22-58-08My eventual inspiration was the recorder.  Lack of on-screen appearances notwithstanding, it’s attained an iconic association with the Second Doctor, and I suddenly hit upon the idea of making that the ‘hook’, with the tune emerging from it… and the tune containing images… and the images being a rough sort of record of his journeys. It’s pretty eccentric (in keeping with the character) and had the virtue of being something I hadn’t seen before, which always makes me much happier.

I’d originally envisaged more of a twinkly!Troughton, but it turns out that playing the recorder and smiling at the same time is quite tricky, so we ended up with frowny!Troughton instead.  (More attack eyebrows). He has a really distinctive face which you’d think would be a doddle to draw.   I even sketched him first, and it went fine. But I had huge trouble with the likeness for the painting.  I mean, epic trouble.  I’d show you, but I didn’t take any photos at that stage to spare me THE SHAME. It was only with quite a bit of over-painting that I found something I was happy with, and… the process went really smoothly after that.  (Turns out it was just the usual “I can’t draw, I’m useless” stage I often go through).

flight_recorder_ciainjclark_1000x786wI picked a blue colour for the ‘tune’, which does make it look a little bit like he’s blowing water out of his recorder (Daughter: “Daddy, I told you you should have used purple!”), but I think it complements the earth-tones of the face, and picks up on his blue eyes.  I deliberately used a looser style for these phantom images as it’s not something I’d tried before and it suits the more ethereal quality of the visions.  I kept fiddling with the pencils to find more dramatic angles, less standard reference photos, that better suited the flow.  I decided not to distract from the main image with companions or human foes (and let’s be honest avoid any more likenesses),  so stuck to the more alien foes.  Those are the ones that appeal to the 12 year old boy in me anyway.

I’m quite happy with it overall.  In hindsight and with a bit more confidence I’d have used an even lighter touch and left even more white space in the ‘tune’, maybe tailed it off a bit earlier at the top.  Because of the looser style in that section my very light pencils still show slightly a bit in places, so that’s something to avoid.  Live and learn.

The final image is here.