Tag Archives: bbc

Getting Our History and Future Back: Some Thoughts on THAT Doctor Who news

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It was TV’s razing of Alexandria – the BBC, in order to save money, decided that it would be a smart idea to wipe the masters of Doctor Who and Dad’s Army and Z-Cars. Logistically it makes a sort of sense – this was an age before VCRs and DVDs and MP4s, and TV was ephemeral, made to be viewed once and once only. Culturally, however, it was a crime.

It’sDoctor Who – analysed, examined, collated Doctor Who – where this loss is most keenly felt. We don’t have landmarks like William Hartnell’s last story, or the first appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, or most of Patrick Troughton’s run. There’s a 106 episode hole where the sixties should be.

That changed at midnight, officially at least: nine of those missing episodes have been found in Nigeria. It’s the great birthday surprise of the 50th anniversary, and it will be celebrated as a restoration of the show’s history, but it’s not that simple.

Among fandom the show’s core texts are known as the canon, but it’s a pre-Council of Trent canon where no-one’s entirely sure what counts. And, because so much is missing, received wisdom takes hold. Stories that haven’t been seen since older fans were watching grainy black and white broadcasts at the age of seven are known as classics because of a single memorable image, or because the novelisation made it into a lot of libraries, or because an actor cites it as a favourite.

This means that fan wisdom is mutable – stories are downgraded from classic status as various fans mature or lose their influence, or, in rare instances, when a lost story is found again. Everyone held up ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ as the awesomest thing ever until it showed up in Hong Kong and everyone got to watch it. Now the perception is very different.

So the discovery of ‘Web of Fear’ and ‘The Enemy of the World’ doesn’t just restore the show’s past, it helps secure its future. Doctor Who has a fantastic tradition of fan involvement and so the community, both the people making the show and those watching it, are going to be all over this; I already suspect the production team knew what was happening, based on a least one recent story decision. This discovery doesn’t lock history down or preserve it in amber; instead it’s going to inspire debate and discussion and arguments, blog posts and cosplay. We’re going to see nine new episodes, effectively; we thought we had them pegged but now we get to see them with new eyes.

It also gives hope that there are more discoveries still to be made. After all, yesterday there were 106 missing episodes; now we’re down to double digits. It may be overly optimistic to expect more, but Doctor Who has a weird habit of defying the odds.

So happy anniversary, everyone; now let’s get ready to enjoy Yeti in the Underground again.

(Shameless plug: I’ve got more posts on Doctor Who here

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Happy Birthday, David Tennant: A tribute to the Tenth Doctor

If there’s been one stand-out success story of the relaunched Doctor Who, it’s the career trajectory of David Tennant, a respected Shakespearean actor who took on the role of the Tenth Doctor and found himself catapulted to stardom. And, as it’s Mr. Tennant’s birthday, here’s my tribute to his Doctor…

The Tenth Doctor was a dashing, romantic lead, a man who’d finally been incarnated with good looks and social skills and who had therefore discovered he liked kissing. David Tennant was fantastic at playing this – a bit skinny, a bit geeky, but also loveable and a bit cool. And it worked – among a general audience, I’d be willing to bet that Tennant is the most popular Doctor, and much of that is down to the actor, who always comes across as a really nice guy in interviews and who was a huge fan of the show. Talent, charm and enthusiasm count for a lot.

I guess it doesn’t hurt that he’s a good looking guy as well.

And yet, while people remember the Tenth Doctor as being funny and attractive and romantic, there’s another side to the character, one that’s a lot darker than people tend to give the era credit for. The Tenth Doctor could be arrogant and hubristic. And it was those qualities that contributed to his downfall.

Look at his back story – the Tenth Doctor was born out of the ashes of the Ninth, who was a battle-scarred survivor wracked with guilt. His dying act was to engineer a win out of a no-win situation that paralleled his greatest sin. Maybe that’s why the Tenth Doctor could be over-confident – he was guy who could always find a way to win, because he was the Doctor, the man who beats the monsters. He started to believe his own publicity. He could backchat royalty and snog beautiful women throughout history.

This meant that, when he discovered he was going to die he railed against it, throwing petulant abuse at the man he would ultimately sacrifice himself to save. This was a shock, an out of character display from a character who had started to believe his own galactic legend. His last words were “I don’t want to go”, and while the sentiment is fair enough, it came from a man who had become touched by arrogance and hubris. His fate paralleled that of his people, the Time Lords, and so the Tenth Doctor had to die to himself in order to put aside those flaws and become a new man, one less likely to lose the core of his being.

That was the Tenth Doctor’s last act of heroism for the universe – not following the path of his people and becoming a monster, but identifying that darkness within and not succumbing. The legend willingly dies to save an old man, because everyone is valuable and because it’s the right thing to do. He becomes someone less cool, less dashing in the process, and maybe that was his penance,

Tennant’s Doctor was hugely popular and deservedly so – for all some would like Doctor Who to be a cult show, providing hard science fiction stories to a select group of aficionados, the fact is it’s meant to be a big, popular Saturday night highlight that resonates with a general audience while maintaining its geek roots. The Tenth Doctor was great at achieving that, and Tennant was a fantastic ambassador for the show. Even before he started in the role, pictures of him wearing t-shirt reading “Trust me, I’m a doctor” made me think he was going to be good. And he was.

Happy birthday David!

Remembering the Fifth Doctor: Happy Birthday Peter Davison

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My earliest Doctor Who memory is of a Fifth Doctor story. Ironically it doesn’t feature Peter Davison – it’s a scene from ‘The Five Doctors’ featuring Jon Pertwee getting kidnapped by a black proto-CGI triangle and it freaked me out.

Of all the Doctors, Davison, along with Patrick Troughton, probably had the toughest job. For seven years, Tom Baker had been the be all and end all of Doctor Who, a towering intimidating presence on-screen and off. For many viewers, Baker had been the only Doctor they knew. Peter Davison had the mammoth task of following that.

The Fifth Doctor was a recognisable figure, at least – my dad knew who he was because he liked cricket and All Creatures Great and Small. But more than that, Davison had the acting chops to create a new character that could follow Tom Baker but not emulate him. It was a ‘smaller’ performance than Baker’s, but that was needed. Baker’s Doctor died saving the universe; when it was time for Davison to move on, his Doctor died saving just one person. It’s a significant difference. Maybe it’s appropriate as well – Davison was one of two Doctors to have a companion die on screen, so it’s fitting that he should sacrifice himself to save another. Maybe his regeneration is an act of absolution.

Anyway, given Big Tom’s massive shadow, it’s interesting that many of the current Doctor Who production team name Davison as their favourite, including David Tennant and Steven Moffat.

Maybe that’s not really a surprise – the Fifth Doctor is something of a prototype for the relaunched version of the show, playing up the idea of an incredibly old man in a young man’s body. The contrast is a potent one. The mini-episode ‘Time Crash’ draws attention to this: “You know, I loved being you.” says the Tenth Doctor, “Back when I first started at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important like you do when you’re young, and then I was you. And I was all dashing about and playing cricket and my voice going all squeaky when I shout and I still do that! The voice thing, I got that from you… Because you know what, Doctor? You were my Doctor.”

It’s a beautiful moment, a love letter to an era. Some will point to Chris Eccleston and Billie Piper as the moment Doctor Who was reborn, but the seeds were there way back in the eighties, a young-old man wearing a cricket jumper and some celery.

Happy birthday, Peter.

New Doctor Who Companion Announced!

And so the new Doctor Who companion is Jenna-Louise Coleman, formerly of Emmerdale. Seems like a good choice, although I’m not familiar with her work – I recognise her because my mom’s a fan of the soaps, but that’s about it. However, Steven Moffat and the gang cast Matt Smith, who I think is fantastic, so I’m going to trust them.

I’m a little worried about the reduced number of episodes over the next couple of years – 6 this year, 8 in 2013 – mainly because next year is Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary. There are very few shows that reach this landmark, and while I trust the production team, well… I guess I just wanted more episodes next year, not less than 2011.

But I know what’ll happen. I’ll get pessimistic, and they’ll announce they’re making an epic 90 minute special featuring all the surviving Doctors. And I’ll come here and geek out, because that would be awesome.

That said, you know what else would be awesome? Something completely unexpected. And I’m not ruling that out from the spoiler-phobic, plotting genius that is Steven Moffat…

 

Happy Birthday CBeebies!

Today is CBeebies 10th birthday, so many happy returns! Below is a repost of a piece I wrote in praise of the channel…

Anyone who spends a lot of time with under six-year-olds in will have encountered one of the great innovations of British TV, one of the jewels in the BBC’s publically funded crown. I’m talking about CBeebies.

If you haven’t got kids, or if you’re not in the UK, then what follows may not make much sense. Indeed, it may seem like the hallucinatory ramblings of a madman. Stick with it though – CBeebies is something special.

I think the moment I learned to love Twitter was when Simon Pegg came out fighting in support of Justin Fletcher after snarky comments were made in a gossip magazine. There was an outpouring of support and follow-up tweets that brought a lump to the throat, because Justin Fletcher is one of the heroes of children’s broadcasting. It’s obvious from his shows – he has an amazing rapport with children, especially those with special needs; he’s the voice of Timmy the Sheep; he promotes Makaton sign language; and he’s the man behind Mr. Tumble. Frankly, in a world dominated by ‘celebrities’ who seem to have emerged by doing nothing more than coming third in a reality TV show, Justin Fletcher is a national treasure and he deserves his CBE.

But although he’s undoubtedly one of its lynchpins, Justin isn’t the only reason for the success of CBeebies. It only occurred to me yesterday, but the channel has some similarities with comic book shared universes – sure, everyone has their own shows, but now they’ve started showing up in each other’s. It gives the image of them being an eccentric extended family – you can believe that the four main continuity announcers (Sid, Cerrie, Andy and Alex) all live in a house together; Katy from I Can Cook gets organic produce from Mr. Bloom’s nursery; Mr. Maker helps decorate Justin’s House while Nina and the Neurons build a green energy installation next door to power the tower block from Show Me, Show Me. Somehow it works – on a recent episode of Justin’s House, the very implication that Mr. Bloom would be appearing was enough to send the children in the audience into open-mouthed fits of joy.

(And this is before I cover my theory about the Tumble family – due to some terrible clowning related accident, Mr. Tumble was left to be raised by Grandad Tumble; they’re funded by Lord Tumble, and Aunt Polly keep a matronly eye on them all. They all wish that Cliff Tumble would visit more. I haven’t quite figured out why they all look like the aforementioned Justin Fletcher, or where Baby Tumble came from.)

(Wait, I’ve been informed that I’m misremembering the episode and that Baby Tumble turned out to be a kitten. Mystery solved!)

It’s not just the human presenters that make the channel – the puppet vegetables in Mr. Bloom’s Nursery have more personality and charisma than many of those employed by mainstream channels, and the stop motion cast of Timmy Time baa-ing, barking and quaking ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ is a thing of beauty. That said, my absolute favourite CBeebies show is Big and Small, the anarchic tale of two friends who happen to have Dudley accents (thanks to Lenny Henry); not only is the show hysterical, but the musical numbers are awesome, especially when they riff on artists such as Kate Bush and Bob Dylan. I swear, Big and Small is worth ten minutes of anyone’s time, and my impression of Small is epic.

So that’s my tribute to CBeebies, and effectively my argument for the importance of the BBC being allowed to cater to niche audiences. If you don’t have kids, this channel may well be lost on you, but regardless, it’s vital that it’s there. I used to say I’d pay my licence fee just for Doctor Who – well, add CBeebies to that list as well. I hope it continues to bring joy and smiles to five year olds for years to come.

Viva La Tumble!