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.

1984-hull_daily_mail2
1984 (Hull Daily Mail)

1985-01-28approx-hull_daily_mail
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.

1985-02-28-daily_express-2
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.

1985-02-28-daily_express
Feb 1985 (Daily Express)

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

1985-02-28-hull_daily_mail
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“.

1985-03-02-hull_daily_mail
2nd March 1985 (Hull Daily Mail)

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

1985_news_clipping
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.

1985-03-03-daily_telegraph
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“.

1986-09-01-hull_daily_mail
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.

1987-01-06-hull_daily_mail
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.

1987-hull_daily_mail
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.

The Twelfth Planet

As

The Twelfth Planet
The Twelfth Planet

far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be Chris Achilleos.  Or maybe Andrew Skilleter.  I was hazy on the details.  But one thing I did know was that instead of growing up and doing a boring job I could maybe, just possibly, grow up and draw Doctor Who for the rest of my life.

Somehow that didn’t happen, but it’s hard to deny that I’ve never felt more like a proper artist than when doing my own little bit of Doctor Who illustration.  I even left some room at the top for a logo.

This piece was inspired partly by the 50th anniversary of the Cybermen, and partly by an answer Peter Capaldi has given when asked what classic monster he’d like to face in his tenure as the Twelfth Doctor: the origin of the Mondasian Cybermen first seen in William Hartnell’s regeneration story.  I like the juxtaposition of the latest incarnation of the Doctor and the earliest years of the show, and of Capaldi’s craggy, characterful face with the bland mask of the Cyberman.

Conscious that I’m approximately the millionth person to paint this particular image of a Cyberman (The Tenth Planet being quite short on  good quality close-up telesnaps) I’ve tried to incorporate them into an unusual design that picks up on imagery from the Tenth Planet: the upside-down mirror Earth that is (nonsensically) Mondas, and a version of the computer lettering that opened each episode.

Doctor Who – Listen

image

I wasn’t meaning to write reviews of Doctor Who this year, but bits of these spiky, slightly experimental episodes keep sticking in my head. After the romp to end all romps that was ‘Robot of Sherwood’ (huge fun but yes, please could that end all romps now?) ‘Listen’ is a very different affair, and it’s got me pondering again. On Capaldi’s Doctor. On whether Clara is well-written. And on whether Steven Moffat can write.

You know, stuff.

Spoilers for Doctor Who – 'Listen'

My LonCon, Part Deux

imageI shared my immediate emotional reaction to LonCon3 a few weeks ago. I think the moment has now passed for blogs about LonCon, but since I seem to shed neurons like other people shed skin cells, if I don't write down some specifics I know it'll get lost forever. For my own reference, then, if no-one else's, here's My LonCon, Part Deux.

We couldn't get a cheap hotel near the venue so stayed in Travelodge London Bank in the middle of London. We originally wanted to stay in a Japanese Coffin Hotel but fancied a smaller room. BOOM. It was bijou, is all I'm saying. Also about as hot as midday on Mercury.

Me and TardisLonCon was about 20 minutes on the Docklands Light Railway, with a change of trains halfway, so that was fine. When we got there the registration queue of which we had heard Terrible Things had vanished. That's the nice thing about arriving after lunch. Pausing only for vital business like chatting to Alison, Nic, Abigail and Emma and standing in front of a Tardis, we jumped straight into our first panel.

imageOver the next three days we didn't get into everything we wanted, but we did pretty well, and a good half of the panels I saw were very stimulating. The other half ranged from pleasant-but-unsurprising to frustratingly stalled discussions. Fortunately the panel I participated in was one of the enjoyable ones. (At least from our perspective. Who knows what the audience made of it.)

Friday 15th August

Dateline: 1985. “Leisure Hive Two” – Doctor Who Convention

So my LonCon3 write up reminded me of a dim memory that I attended a Doctor Who convention in 1984. Turns out it was 1985, not 1984. Phew! I’m not old after all1.

I was inspired to dig out the old convention guide, since I figured it might be of interest to about seven people on the internet. You can find some images of it below.

Now it has to be said that my memory of 1985 is somewhat hazy and my main recollection of this convention is falling asleep during a 37-part2 black and white story in the all night video room instead of going back to the B&B. You have to remember that this was before I’d have seen much if any Who on videotape so I was probably only familiar with the ones I’d seen on air in the Seventies and Eighties (my earliest Who memory is Planet of the Spiders) plus whatever paltry repeats the BBC had deigned to show. I knew the show’s past mainly from the Target novelisations, which I devoured from an early age and which I credit for getting me into SF. Actually watching honest to goodness old episodes was a proper novelty back then.

Here’s me (on the left of the picture) and my best friend Paul outside the Wiltshire hotel at the tender age of 16. One of my first trips away from home without my parents, possibly the very first. Looking pretty sharp, I think you’ll agree.

fanboys

Below are some scans of the Convention guide. Click for larger versions.

First up, here’s the cover sporting Kaled Man of the Year and all round good egg Davros. Also the welcome page:

coverfirst page

Next, the list of celebrity guests and the two day programme which ran from 24th to 25th August 1985, after Colin Baker’s first full season and during the long hiatus before ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ aired a full year later.

We were treated to Colin Baker, David ‘Cyberleader’ Banks, Nicholas ‘Brigadier’ Courtney, Matt ‘Special effects’ Irvine, Sarah ‘Production Team’ Lee, John ‘K-9’ Leeson, John ‘Benton’ Levene, Ian ‘Harry’ Marter, Peter ‘Nyder’ Miles, and David ‘Son of’ Troughton.

Guests Programme

I do remember seeing Matt Irvine, who is one of the few people I can readily identify in the panel photo below from his many appearances on Swap Shop and his amazingly ’80s fashion sense. (Again, click for a larger version). Is that John Levene leaning in on far left? Presumably that’s Peter Miles (Nyder) third from left. Ian Marter far right, maybe. Nick Courtney third from right? I also do remember seeing K-9, who I’m almost certain is the one in the middle of the second photo below. (Amazingly high quality pictures I think you’ll agree.) Strangely I have no recollection whatsoever of that Colin Baker bloke, who you’d imagine I’d have been at least slightly excited to see. I also took no other pictures of any interest whatsoever. What was I thinking? These days I’d have taken several hundred.

panel K-9

There was also an auction of memorabilia. Lots of premium items like tatty paperback books and annuals. On the second page you can see that I’ve written in biro what some of the sales went for. You’ll note that I was particularly impressed by £20 for a scarf donated by Liz Sladen. To be fair this was probably more money than I’d ever seen up to that point. It doesn’t say if it was screen-used, or just one she had in the back of a drawer.

Auction 1 Auction 2

So there you have it. The least timely con report in Doctor Who history.

EDITED TO ADD: Although the specfics of the con have largely left me (sadly for you the reader) what sticks with me is the huge sense of anticipation I felt. That feeling of connecting with the show. I’d been reading Doctor Who Monthly since issue 1, I owned The Making of Doctor Who, the Monster Book and all the other stuff I could lay my hands on, but being in the presence of people who actually made the show felt surreal. I’ve no idea how many attendees there were but it was a tiny and domestic affair compared to modern conventions. That hardly mattered to a 16 year old Doctor Who fan. My fandoms have considerably broadened since then, but the Doctor Who one has never left me.

1 I’m only fooling myself.
2 Approximately.

Doctor Who: The Enemy of the World

imageA while ago we watched the recently rediscovered Second Doctor tale ‘The Enemy of the World’ on DVD (a present from my wonderful wife). Since my Hartnell and Troughton knowledge is shamefully poor compared to my knowledge of later Who, I had no knowledge of the story except for the ‘high concept’ premise: world dictator Salamander is a dead ringer for the Doctor. I don’t even remember reading the novelisation. I suppose I was expecting some kind of Man in the Iron Mask storyline in which The Doctor must impersonate the dictator, but – although much of the story is driven by this concept – it seldom actually happens. What we get instead is a very enjoyable spy thriller, quite tightly edited and pacey in contrast to much 1960s Doctor Who (we get next to no recaps at the start of most episodes).

Episode one is particularly action-packed, with a helicopter and hovercraft providing probably the greatest concentration of real hardware in one episode until Pertwee’s swan song ‘Planet of the Spiders’. Subsequent episodes are more studio-bound (with some of the most painfully cramped ‘outdoor’ scenes ever committed to videotape.) But despite that the story fair barrels along without the usual quagmire of capture-escape-recapture that plagues six-parters – partly because of the slightly bizarre left turn it takes around episode 4. (The worst I can say about the pacing is that the Doctor spends too much time sitting on his hands, but given that Troughton is pulling double duties that’s understandable). It’s a highly melodramatic story, and the late plot twist involving Salamander’s buried secret stretches credibility almost to breaking point, but David Whitaker’s deft script never loses control of its pulpy twists and turns. Unlike some Who from the era, this holds your attention right to the end.

Troughton’s performance as would-be dictator Salamander is broad, particularly the ‘interesting’ choice of a thick Mexican accent, but he’s utterly unlike the Doctor and really shows his versatility. (It’s notable having seen Orphan Black that the two Troughton characters don’t share the screen until the finale, presumably a by-product of production constraints). In fact Whitaker crafts several strong characters who transcend their various ‘types’ – notably including an extremely capable female character in Astrid, and a rounded black female character in Fariah – with the help of a mostly excellent main cast.

It all wraps up a tad swiftly and conveniently, hinging on one too many character reversals and convenient coincidences, but not enough to mar a thoroughly enjoyable serial.

I don’t know if I’m elated or gassy, but it’s somewhere in that zone

My wife and I have seized the opportunity to attend WorldCon while it’s in London this August. It took some determined childcare planning (and our daughters have been duly bribed/compensated with a family holiday) but it’s happening!

Not only that, but I’m delighted to say I’ve been invited onto a panel at LonCon:

2014 Hugo Awards: Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Saturday 11:00 – 12:00

The actual nominees under discussion are here.

Having never done this before, at this stage I’m feeling slightly under-qualified, but since a few people may be wandering over to this fairly moribund blog, here’s a quick roundup of my published reviews.

Film Reviews

V for Vendetta

X-Men: The Last Stand

Spider-man 3

Iron Man

Star Trek (2009)

TV Reviews

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Season One)

Torchwood (Season One)

Babylon 5: The Lost Tales

Primeval (Season One)

Doctor Who: School Reunion

Smaller contributions

SF Signal – Mind Meld: Battlestar Galactica Series Finale (waaay down at the bottom)

Strange Horizons: 2007 in Review

Strange Horizons : 2006 in Review


Yes, my eldest daughter is currently obsessed by Frozen, why do you ask?

Eleven and Four

Eleventh Doctor and AmyA new teaser image from the upcoming Doctor Who season, featuring the Doctor and Amy in silly poses, some returning and new monsters, and a swirly blue time vortex that looks like the Tom Baker credits reimagined in computer graphics. Wonder if the background is part of the new credits sequence…

We also caught up on some ye olde Doctor Who recently. City of Death is a serial I have very vivid memories of watching as a child in the 1970s: Scaroth revealing his one-eyed face, his spaceship exploding, the trip to renaissance Italy, the multiple Mona Lisas, the time bubble that accelerates egg into Chicken, and vice-versa. It’s all there in my mind’s eye. Fortunately this one holds up surprisingly well, even going back to it after all this time. Although we’re moving into his later, less uniformly successful, years in the role Tom Baker is a joy. The location filming in Paris is effective (even if it gratuitously packs in every Paris cliche going, and seems to feature endless shots of the Doctor and Romana aimlessly wandering), and the pacing is snappy, particularly for vintage Who. Douglas Adams’ (pseudonymous) witty script doesn’t hurt, either. It’s not an absolute classic, and in common with a lot of old Who there’s a certain sense of gabbled exposition and rushed anticlimax, but it’s very solid.

Next up was Masque of Mandragora, an earlier Tom Baker story featuring Sarah Jane Smith as the companion. In contrast to ‘City of Death’ I seem to have no memory whatsoever of watching this when I was younger. All my vague recollections come from the target novelisation. That makes watching it slightly surreal since I broadly remember key elements from the book, but imagined them completely differently. Viewed with modern eyes this one has a script, acting and production values that feel significantly above the baseline standard for 70s Doctor Who. There’s a vigour to the characterisation that reminded me of a Robert Holmes script, and the renaissance setting really works; the Doctor fits in seamlessly into an era poised between superstition and scientific discovery. Seeing actors like Tom Piggott-Smith in essentially Shakespearean garb helps my suspension of disbelief immensely, and the setting is aided by unusually convincing location filming in Portmerion (looking not too much like The Prisoner). The set-up also feels unusual, with the Doctor being essentially responsible for the threat. There are a few wobbly sets and creaky special effects, and like ‘City of Death’ the denouement is rushed, but there’s a lot to enjoy. Plus there’s a blatant sequel hook at the end. Come on Mr Moffatt, you know you want to…

Logo-polis

The new Steven Moffat era version of the Doctor Who logo has arrived. They announced it this morning. Yes, they announced a logo. Yesterday they announced the announcement. Sadly the ridiculous over-hype worked on me, and I turned up at 8 am to see it.

I’d put it behind a cut but it’ll be all over the internet within… well it’s probably already there.

My response? Hmmm. It’s… a Doctor Who logo. The actual logo is nicely retro only with a new font, harking back to the first two logos the series ever had (I’m sensing a retro theme from Moffat, what with the Doctor’s costume and the rejuvenated look of the Tardis plus St. John’s sticker.) The Tardis version of the logo is gimmicky tosh. Let’s hope we don’t see a lot of that one.

ETA: It’s interesting to me that Moffat is changing quite so many aspects of the show to launch his new era. Doctor, companion, Tardis (the interior is rumoured to be having a few changes), logo, plus presumably credits and maybe a remix of the theme? Usually regenerations cause so much nervousness that they like to contrive as much continuity as possible to reassure the viewer. This approach is certainly confident. But, particularly coming off such a popular and iconic Doctor as Tennant, will it alienate people or shed a chunk of viewers who feel that ‘their’ Doctor Who has finished?

The new Who

They’ve done what I would have done and dressed him older to contrast with Matt Smith’s relative youth. Sort of like Indiana Jones in his day job, actually, but with modern footwear

.

Not blown away by it, and less impressed than I was with Tennant’s first costume reveal, but it works. This is an official BBC release, but now we just need some proper promo pics.

EDIT: More pics here.

Doctor Who – old, new, and tangential

Yay, bank holiday!

Apropos of nothing in particular, I indulged in a bit more nostalgic Doctor Who watching recently.

‘Battlefield’ starring Sylvester McCoy was the extended DVD version. While it’s one of the Seventh Doctor’s better outings (i.e. it’s not utterly unwatchable), it’s very stilted. In general it feels like it was shot on a shoestring budget in approximately two days with no time to rehearse. (Which knowing Who is probably exactly how it was shot.) McCoy does his best to appear, by turns, mysterious, impish and brooding, but I remain utterly unconvinced that he’s any of those things. Worse, I can’t help feeling that the Doctor is written significantly better than he’s played, which is never a good feeling to have about the lead character. Likewise Sophie Aldred as Ace gets a lot of gushing teenage behaviour for which the actress seems too old. There are a few decent scenes and likeable supporting characters, and a welcome return for Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier. Oh and a cool blue demon. But overall: meh. Sorry, Tim!

‘Image of the Fendahl’ starring Tom Baker is better. Okay, it feels like it was shot on a shoestring budget in approximately two days with no time to rehearse, but at least Tom Baker is convincing. The story is an odd pastiche of ‘Quatermass and the Pit’, involving ancient aliens from Time Lord mythology who have somehow influenced human evolution. The plot is woefully illogical and under-explained, to the point where it feels like key scenes must be missing. On the plus side it has Chris Boucher’s usual crackling dialogue and pin-sharp characterisation, and a very decent supporting cast. I have no recollection of watching it my youth so I can’t lean on nostalgia with this one, but I do remember the novelisation which probably helps.

On a related-ish note, here are a couple of BBC News videos:

An interview with Russell T Davies about completing filming on his (and David Tennant’s) era on Doctor Who. (It includes the trailer for ‘The Waters of Mars’ special that aired after the Easter special.)

A five minute interview with Richard Dawkins that barrels through all the questions you’d expect, against a ticking clock, and gets Dawkins’s usual precise answers.1

1 Dawkins is of course best known for his cameo in last season’s Doctor Who finale (not to mention being married to Romana mk II), but has probably done a few non Who-related things in his life.

Easter

Had a great Easter weekend involving no (count it) no work, and lots of relaxing. We had friends over for most of the weekend which was fun.

We did a pseudo-BBQ on Saturday (cooked indoors, eaten outdoors to ensure that Janet didn’t get any undercooked meat) which was lovely. We did some potato and tomato ‘curry’ as a side dish which in no sense is a curry involving only some chopped potatoes, tomatoes and onions fried with mustard seeds, turmeric and coriander. Very nice, very mild.

Then on Sunday the sky was blue and the sun was hot so we pottered around the garden fixing and weeding things while Janet’s brother carved a new paddle for his canoe. The cats helped, of course. Here’s Charcoal helping:

More helping here. Pixie helped too, but in a more sedentary way.

On Saturday night we watched Doctor Who (what I thought), which included a nice shout out to Tom Baker’s first story ‘Robot’, but was otherwise slightly dull.

On Sunday we also watched Skellig on Sky, in which John Simm continued to be as great as he is in everything not called Doctor Who. I was expecting something slightly twee and cosy, which it was in places, but mostly it was surprisingly honest, real and edgy for a kids drama. A bit low key and moody, but otherwise quite interesting. It’s possible that the moral is to talk to scabby-looking strangers, but I’ll let that pass…

It’s a good job we had the nice weekend because the weather has been relentlessly foggy ever since. Yesterday with sea fret (but we had a nice pub lunch anyway). Today with full-on fog and low cloud extending well inland. Chilly, dank, and gloomy. But at least we had a lovely Easter.

Shiny, stompy

Janet is now the proud owner of a black 16GB iPod nano 4G. It’s shiny. It’s curvy. It’s tiny. It even has a motion sensor so you can play little marble-rolling games — for some reason. Considering that this is an upgrade from an old mp3 player that only had space for three albums, she’s very pleased.

We saw the Watchmen trailer at the cinema for the first time today, and it looks great. I also [via percyprune] really like this viral marketing for Watchmen in the form of a faux-historical news article on Dr Manhattan. Really nicely done.

And finally for snowking on the occasion of Hoggmas, hot on the heels of the Steampunk Cyberman comes a competition to design a Steampunk Cylon. STOMPY.

This just in

Barack Obama will meet Spider-man in an issue of the regular comic. Spidey will apparently save Obama’s inauguration from a supervillain. Apparently Obama admitted to having been a Spidey fan as a kid, Marvel got wind of this, and one thing lead to another, yadda yadda yadda. Look, I’m not making this up, okay? Although looking at some of the panels they’re previewing, I kind of wish I were. Edit: also their Obama likeness is *terrible*.

These caricatured Doctor Who figures are *so* cute. Many more here. Not that I understand the point of collectibles. I still get occasional catalogues through the door from Forbidden Planet, and the entire catalogue from start to finish is pretty much composed of TV and movie characters done as figures, figurines, busts, miniatures, plates, T-shirts, scarves… Does anyone actually need 17 different figurines of Buffy in every outfit she ever wore? Or a tastefully sculpted tableau reproducing a scene from Ghostbusters? I mean, where do you put this stuff?

Meanwhile Outpost Gallifrey reports on the quite excessive lengths the BBC went to in order to prevent word of the new Doctor Who leaking out ahead of their announcement. (Can’t seem to link to the article directly, but it’s dated Jan 6th on that page).

And finally, it looks like Watchmen will get released as planned, probably after Warner Bros agrees to pay Fox huge sums of money. I would normally have no strong feelings about which company profits from a given franchise, but it’s hard to read this open letter from the Watchmen Producers without concluding that Fox are a creatively bankrupt bunch of money-grubbers.

The New Who

Well, I can say with absolute certainty that they’ve cast the right hair for the job. If I was going to cast any hair for the role, it would be his. That’s Time Lord hair, right there.

Whether I’d have cast the rest of Matt Smith I’m less certain, but since Moffatt apparently shared my instinctive desire to cast someone older I’ll have to assume his audition was Just That Good. It’ll be a looong time before we find out for sure.

Free associating

There’s a very thoughtful opinion piece on the BBC website entitled “Is Barack Obama black?”. It’s a response to comments about Obama that frankly I hadn’t even been aware of. I think the article makes some very wise points about artificially absolute definitions of race, and also the societal nature of the labels we apply to people. And indeed even if Obama is regarded as mixed-race that makes his accomplishment no less great, albeit less symbolic.

Rumours continue to circle around Paterson Joseph as a contender for the next Doctor Who, and he certainly seems interested. I know I was cheerleading for him earlier on the basis of his role in Neverwhere, but I’ve been reminded that he can be a little broad in his performances so I’d be interested to see a recent performance to make up my mind. He’s in the BBC’s new remake of Survivors, along with the increasingly ubiquitous Freema Agyeman and Julie “Bonekickers” Graham. It looks potentially okay, potentially terrible. I may summon up the energy to find out. Or not.

On a related note I’d seen others refer to the recently released BBC Archive material relating to the genesis of Doctor Who. What I hadn’t realised is that the first two documents released, and particularly the first, are essentially internal BBC briefing papers trying to work out ‘what is this thing called Science Fiction?’ with a view to determining whether it could be adapted for TV. They propose to use Arthur C Clarke and John Wyndham as consultants, and even met with Brian Aldiss. As such these documents represent brief but fascinating “as others see us” thoughts about written SF in the early 1960s; at once insightful, pragmatic and patronising.

The remaining documents are more about Doctor Who itself: ‘concept notes for new SF drama’ and ‘background notes for Doctor Who’ are fascinating glimpses into the origins of the TV show, with the latter representing a recognisable yet strangely different vision of the series. It goes some way to explaining just how unlikeable Hartnell’s Doctor would occasionally be in the early episodes.