Love & Monsters

Tardisode: A man who clearly isn’t Peter Kay, but who we conveniently only see from behind, is Googling The Doctor when he comes across the website of an organisation called Linda. He does some Mickey Smith style hacking in order to trace the IP address or something, then kills the tea lady.

* Ah yes, the single most divisive episode of the revived series so far, and possibly to date. I’ve always been a bit of a fan, but you can’t deny that they handled the double-banking a lot better in subsequent series, especially the following year. But I’m fine with the silly bits like the Scooby Doo-esque running around – what we’re being shown isn’t necessarily meant to have happened exactly as we see it, it’s a depiction of Elton’s memories and his recounting of the story, and he’s just an unreliable narrator. His computer didn’t literally blow up when “the Internet went into melt down”, and his little band doesn’t literally sound exactly like ELO the second time we see them.

* I love that this links up with established continuity from previous contemporary Britain stories. I’ve always been interested in how The Doctor’s adventures affect everyday people, and it’s been a cornerstone of the RTD years. It grounds the show by reinforcing its place in the real world – our world – which we haven’t really had since the UNIT days.

* Much like the crew from last time, Linda are a right bunch of recognisable telly stalwarts. Marc Warren! Simon Greenall! Shirley Henderson, the woman who permanently looks about twenty years younger than she is! The annoying one from Two Pints Of Shit And A Packet Of Shit (no, the other annoying one. No, the other other annoying one)! The only problem with Linda is that they are totally ineffectual before Peter Kay turns up, and terribly smug with it.

* So, having caught up on the classic series, read up on what went on behind the scenes, and all the politics within both the production and the fandom… Peter Kay is Ian Levine, right? One of those entitled, self-righteous tossers who you find in every fan community, who ultimately want to make it all about them and who like nothing better than to nitpick and moan, in order to give the impression that they’re somehow superior to the thing they supposedly love. I should know, that’s what half of Red Dwarf fandom thinks of me.

*  I have a complex position on Peter Kay. Everything I’ve heard about him leads me to believe he’s a terrible person, his stand-up persona isn’t much better, and he’s an incredibly lazy and unimaginative comedian. But I adore That Peter Kay Thing and Phoenix Nights, so I never know what to expect. He’s not bad at playing Victor, who’s quite an old school variety of rotter, and I enjoyed the “eczema” business. But when he turns into the Abzorbaloff, he’s self-consciously trying to be funny, so he falls back on his tedious comedy northerner shtick. The creature effects are weird; the prosthetics are fine, but the performances of the absorbed victims really stilted and unconvincing.

* Meanwhile, it’s one of Jackie’s best appearances, and it’s good to see her in the spotlight as the character we’re most familiar with. Her seduction at the laundrette is great, as is the rather risque reading of “you could always splash out on a taxi or… whatever.” My favourite bit is the look on her face as she drops the facade and pours wine over Elton for the second time, but Camille Coduri can also handle the emotional stuff really well.

* “We’ve even got a bit of a love life” is the single rudest joke the series has ever seen, and therefore one of the best jokes the series has ever seen. Utterly amazing that it ever made it to screen in a family show. It’s probably best not to think about whether The Doctor did the right thing in turning a dead woman into a sentient fuck-pavement without her consent, though.

RATING: 7

Rose

Oh yes, I’ve made it all the way back to where my love of Doctor Who began. I was 18, living away from home for the first time, and busy forging the friendships that would shape my adult life. Many of these precious people – one with whom I’ve now been running a website for fourteen years, one I lived with for seven years, one whose daughter I’m now godfather to – seemed incredibly excited about this old show coming back, so I found myself getting excited too. Thankfully, I loved the new episode as much as they did, and the new series has been a huge and important constant in all of our lives since.

Back then, my first experience was via a crappily-encoded leaked version that I’d downloaded from Kazaa or some shit. Today, I watched it upscaled on a Bluray (which, if you ask me, has got the dialogue way too low in the sound mix). Then, now, and all the many times I’ve rewatched it in between, Rose always has me hooked, tingly and very very happy. It’s an absolute masterpiece in how to introduce an outlandish concept to an extremely large and diverse audience – I even gave a presentation about it in my second year of uni. I was given a first for that component, but then I was aware that my lecturer was a massive Who fan.

Anyway, I’m waffling because I bloody love this episode, and I can’t express that enough. But you don’t really me to tell you how good or bad each episode of the new series is – we’ve all got our opinions, this is Doctor Who and we’re on the internet. Partly because of this, and partly because of the new necessity for me to write a post almost every night (I’m sticking to one post per *story*, so it’ll sometimes be every other night), the format of this blog needs to change slightly.

Basically, it’s now notes rather than articles – as well as the fact that I don’t have hours to spare every night, we’re now at a point where I’m rewatching Who, rather than discovering each story for the first time. You’ll still be getting a few hundred words per entry, but it’s now going to be things that I’d not noticed before, things that I’ve realised with hindsight, memories from the time, and any reappraisals of my opinions that take place. There may be exceptions if I feel like it at any point, but for now, here’s the tale of tonight’s rewatch of Rose, as it occurred to me:

* It’s a curious mixture of still feeling ultra modern – especially in the context of what I’ve been watching recently – and yet now being over a decade old, and so it’s no longer the present day. The production values and pace still stand up, but this isn’t our world, it’s one where the hairstyles and clothes are slightly different, where people watch 4:3 CRTs, own flip phones and have to go round somebody’s house to “use the computer”.

* Some of this dialogue is now totally iconic. “Nice to meet you Rose – RUN FOR YER LIFE”. The Doctor turning Jackie down. “Lots of planets have a north”. I love RTD’s writing so much, and every choice he makes here is spot on.

* The scene in the flat is the PERFECT introduction to a new Doctor. He establishes everything about his own personality and the show’s tone in a series of tiny moments, all while Rose isn’t paying him the slightest bit of attention.

* God, Mickey’s a complete tit here, isn’t he? My memory tells me that he got better as time went on, but I’d forgotten how pathetic and unlikable he is in this episode. I guess it was necessary that Rose’s boyfriend be someone that she’s quite right to leave behind.

* Also, how did she not notice he was made of shiny plastic straight away? This is the only bit of the episode that doesn’t quite stand up. I think they’d have got away with having him being eaten by a bin, were it not for the burp. Totally on board with all the other humour in the episode though.

* I had a huge grin on my face as Rose took in the TARDIS, even all this time later. It’s such a smart move to do absolutely everything from her point of view – not just waiting to show us the interior, but the fact that we don’t see the ship take off. We don’t find out that it travels until she walks out the door and she’s somewhere else. I hadn’t realised quite how much it breaks with convention until now, after watching 26 years’ worth of episodes where we’re almost always watching the process from the outside.

* God, I love Clive. The look on his face as he’s about to be shot has always stuck with me – so much is expressed in barely a second. “Oh my god, I was right. I knew it. Oh fuck.”

* The Next Time trailer is so crap, with its slow and baggy edits. It feels like an afterthought, and it nearly spoils the mood after Rose’s triumphant run towards the TARDIS, which should be the image we’re left with.

RATING: 10

More than 30 Years in the TARDIS

This is what I meant about this blog becoming both more frequent and less regular. I’m forging my way through the wilderness years, but I had to wait until I had a spare 90 minutes set aside to watch this. Technically speaking, this is one I could have skipped, as I’m primarily concerned with fictional things, but they’re my rules and I can break them if I want to.

Plus of course there are some fictional elements to this, but we’ll come to those in a minute. The main purpose is a documentary to celebrate 30 years of Doctor Who, and it manages to pack a hell of a lot in, even considering the luxurious running time of this home video edition. It whooshes its way through the show’s history in a largely linear fashion, but with a few pauses to explore the bigger issues. It’s constructed well, with each topic dovetailing into the next, and lots of lovely archive footage to glue it together.

My favourite was the clip of a particularly pedantic Pertwee on Anne and Nick, utterly undermining their competition, to Nick Owen’s barely disguised distaste. It was their own fault for picking such an ambiguous question. The ad breaks were lovely too – I’d forgotten how much the Prime adverts conflated The Doctor and Romana with Tom and Lalla. The clips from the episodes were always well-picked, and my only complaint is that they were a little stingy with the rushes, but then we’re used to a much more generous portion in the DVD age.

As with the other, much less successful 30th anniversary celebration, it was good to see representatives from so many eras of the show as interviewees, and their family members too in some cases. With the exception of Gerry Anderson, who’s welcome on my television any time, I could have done without the random celebrities. Give me more Lambert, Dicks, Letts and Hinchcliffe, and less Mike Gatting bollocking on about cricket, or Toyah Wilcox remembering her inappropriate sexual awakenings.

I recognised the Douglas Adams interview set-up from Don’t Panic, the equivalent Hitchhikers documentary from a very similar time. That too mixed in the occasional sketch using old monster costumes and actors reprising their roles, but here they were much more ambitious. The classic scenes of Cybermen at St Paul’s and Daleks on Westminster Bridge were recreated beautifully, and Pertwee pissing about with the Whomobile was marvellous.

It all climaxed with the little boy walking through a police box prop and into the TARDIS, which is something we all take for granted these days, but was achieved for the very first time here. This is slightly overshadowed by the truly bizarre and sinister turn that the rest of the narrative takes, where Nick Courtney/The Brig (the lines are deliberately blurred) is driven off by an Auton, and Elisabeth Sladen/Sarah Jane turns into some sort of Sontaran agent and attempts to kill said little boy.

A strange ending, but a very solid documentary, which tells you everything you need to know about how Who was perceived at the time. Having been off the air for a few years, the problems of the later seasons were being forgotten about, and the nostalgia factor allowed the fond memories of yesteryear to become the thing that defined the brand. That was certainly the impression I got as a youngster who was just starting to become a TV obsessive.

RATING: 8

P.S. I’ve only tagged the people/monsters who appear in the sketches, not everyone that was interviewed, or who featured in clips. That would be pretty much all the tags.

Terror of the Autons

For the first time in its history, Doctor Who has a status quo other than “madman (and companion[s]) in a box”, and it’s great. It took a while to get there, but with the final tweaks made in this serial, it’s finally been fully established. And it’s largely thanks to the sheer size of the core cast.

It really is a family UNIT now, with the same amount of recurring characters as your average sitcom family. Mike Yates hasn’t done much that isn’t functional yet, but one more non-generic soldier gives us more to cling on to. Jo Grant, on the other hand, makes an absolutely sensational debut. It’s hard to disagree with the Brigadier’s assessment that the Doctor just needs “someone to hand you test tubes and tell you how brilliant you are”, and she does that with aplomb. She’s straight into the thick of it too, being hypnotised into bombing UNIT and rescuing the Doctor from evil carnies within the first two episodes.

I was concerned that the thinking behind the change in companion would be a bit of a backwards step – following the super-intelligent Zoe and Liz, they wanted someone who was less of an equal to the Doctor, and I was worried that might lead to some manifestation of a sexist seventies stereotype. Not a bit of it – she’s not thick or ditzy, she’s just normal. A normal everyday woman who the Doctor inspires to do extraordinary things. It’s the first step in a lineage that goes right up to Rose, Amy and Clara.

But really, this serial is all about the introduction of The Master. Roger Delgado is superb right from the off, with the perfect mixture of charm and sinisterness. And they instantly nail his relationship with The Doctor – a high-stakes battle of wits with undertones of begrudging respect and an uneasy affection. It’s a template that’s remained unchanged ever since. The Master is always the equal and opposite of whichever incarnation of The Doctor he faces, and these two seem to have an amazing chemistry already.

It’s interesting that once again the Autons/Nestene are used as a means of introducing a new character, and as with Spearhead and Rose are really only the side-show to the main story. I guess they work in this role because they can be anything they’re needed to be. Here, they certainly benefit from manifesting as more than just shop dummies – the troll dolls, daffodils and creepy life-sized doll things are particularly effective.

So many memorable moments in this story, such as the reveal of the Auton policeman, the Doctor’s stupid face when he’s being strangled with a telephone wire, The Doctor and The Master briefly working together at the last minute, and the particularly cruel method The Master used to escape from UNIT at the end. My favourite stand-out moment, though, was the weird Time Lord floating around in the sky, all dressed up like a little city gent.Wonderfully stupid.

And when The Doctor reacts to The Master’s name by exclaiming “that jackanapes”, I had to press pause because I was laughing so much. There seemed to be an extra level of flair within the dialogue throughout, with The Master also described as an “unimaginative plodder” and Jo, brilliantly, as a “ham fisted bun vendor”. Now I most definitely get why Robert Holmes has a reputation as one of the best writers the show had, while Barry Letts and Terrence Dicks are taking the show into a brilliant direction. Long may it continue.

RATING: 9

Spearhead From Space

I settled down to watch this serial exactly how it was intended to be seen – in full 1080p HD on a 50 inch LCD screen. It was apt in many ways – seeing this beautiful Bluray version blew me away. It was like watching a film, although admittedly a really cheap film. It’s how I imagine the step up from monochrome to colour must have felt for those lucky/rich enough to have colour sets when this serial first aired.

It certainly emphasised just how much of a difference there is between this serial and everything that came before it. I must admit, I approached my viewing with a little trepidation. I’ve loved the first six seasons, but the very premise of the show is being
shifted. It’s a coincidence that this occurred at the start of a new decade and with the first use of colour technology, but it’s a very handy separation for eras of the show – the version of Doctor Who I’ve been watching for the last nine months is dead. I’ll miss it, but long live the new direction.

Because it has to be said that this is a very strong start for Jon Pertwee. His post-regeneration scenes are a tour de force, showcasing every component of his repertoire as a performer, and setting the template for the majority of all future regeneration stories. Any sadness at the loss of Troughton was placated by the demonstration that the role is still in an expert pair of hands.

And of course, it’s great to have the Brigadier back. I loved him coming to terms with the fact that his friend has a completely different face now, having thoroughly reviewed the evidence. I’m really looking forward to seeing how their relationship develops as they become full time colleagues – I hope we get to see a bit of them interacting between crises.

It’s a promising start by Liz Shaw too. She’s certainly quite cold compared to past companions, and not a great deal of use as an entry point for the audience. But I like the new dynamic of having someone who’s fulfilling all the usually companion-esque duties in a surly, reluctant and almost sarcastic manner.

Now, this is a story I had seen before, although not in HD, and not since moving to Ealing several years ago. I was really looking forward to seeing the location footage from 45 years ago, but it’s so different now that it’s virtually unrecognisable. I figured out that the main department store the Autons break out of is now M&S, due to the parade of shops opposite still being present today. But the rest of it could have been absolutely anywhere for all I know. I’ll have to stick to Men Behaving Badly and A Bit of Fry & Laurie for my spotting-locations-near-my-house needs.

But anyway. It was interesting to note that the Autons were used in a very similar way here to how they would be in Rose – a constant threat in the background, but by no means the main feature in the story. This was all about introducing the new Doctor and his role at UNIT, but I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get huge pitched battles of soldiers fighting Autons, like they did with the Yeti and Cybermen. The iconic shop dummy scene isn’t until towards the end of episode four, and the whole threat is dealt with unsatisfyingly quickly, the second that The Doctor starts being proactive.

But still, that serial was such a good introduction to the new era, thanks largely to the constantly creepy atmosphere. The vivid colour and unusual direction necessary for this particular story brought the threat closer to home than ever before. So many unsettling aspects, not least the plasticy faces of the Nestene’s henchmen, Channing’s death stare and the cliffhanger to episode three with General Scobie opening the door to his own doppelganger.

And finally, the graphics and aesthetics. The closing credits are now on cards, rather than a scroll, and consequently it takes twice as long. There are a couple of noticeable edits to the theme tune as a result, in order to extend it. Lovely font though, and the sheer number of different colours in the new patterns seems like they’re (justifiably) showing off. And I adore the new logo – it’s my favourite of all time, and it’s clear to see why they kept going back to it when the show was off air.

Next up, this blog goes weekly for a while, as the rest of this season consists of seven-parters. Unless it’s for special occasions, I tend to prefer a tight four-parter, so we’ll see how this goes…

RATING: 8