Tag Archives: pop culture

Should there be a Doctor Who movie?


Yesterday afternoon, Twitter lit up with news and/or rumours that a Doctor Who movie is in production. The accuracy of this seems in doubt – an article in Variety seems fairly definite, but Doctor Who Magazine, easily the most trustworthy DW news source, says it’s just the same rumours that have been doing the rounds for years. I’m really none the wiser, although the kurfuffle did drive traffic towards a non-movie-related DW post I wrote, so that was helpful.

Putting aside the accuracy of the reports, should there be a Doctor Who movie? The smart alec answer is that there’ve already been two, back in the sixties, remakes of the first two Dalek stories starring Peter Cushing. Big screen adventures out of continuity with the TV show are nothing new. And yet…

And yet I’m not convinced that film is the best medium for Doctor Who. One of the show’s strengths is that it has an incredibly flexible format – one week it can be about a comedy encounter with Agatha Christie, the next week it can be about the horrors of World War I. By picking one type of story to focus on, a movie, by necessity, loses that flexibility – what story would they go for? A big space opera conflict with the Daleks? A funny alien meeting a girl from contemporary Britain? A story set during a well-known historical event? All of these are representative of Doctor Who – picking just one could have a Schrodinger’s Cat-like effect on the flexibility, the fluidity of the concept. That’s why Doctor Who‘s natural home is serialised television.

(It also doesn’t help that film’s tend to be about the key moment in their lead character’s life – taking the TV series as a guide, this would be the Doctor leaving his home planet in the first place or specific details about the apocalyptic Time War… And yet we don’t need to see these. They’re the motivation behind the Doctor’s every action, but the mystery surrounding specifics is compelling. Again, the flexibility to imagine your own answer to these questions is a powerful aspect of the show. Indeed, fan engagement is one of the main reasons it’s lasted so long.)

Of course, over the last few weeks I’ve been influenced by the book/blog TARDIS Eruditorum, which makes the point that the serialised nature of Doctor Who is one of its key strengths – that’s why, for much of its history, the show was based around an episodic structure, complete with cliffhangers – you get to imagine your own continuation of the story for a week before seeing how that marries up with what the writers came up with – even the relaunched series is based around plot arcs. Film lacks this, unless you take the risky move of doing a trilogy.

But, and here I’ve nicked another idea from the Eruditorum, one of the themes of Doctor Who is running and escape: “I ran,” the 10th Doctor once said, “In some ways I’ve been running ever since.” The ever changing setting, bouncing around galaxies and history, adds to this – never stand still, never hang around, never go home. A one-off story doesn’t give you this. A film series could, but it wouldn’t really do anything that couldn’t be done more effectively on TV.

And don’t cite film’s ability to get big name actors and huge special effects, because Doctor Who has produced great stuff on a budget of five quid and a bag of crisps, and one look at the guest cast since 2005 reveals plenty of acting talent, thank you very much.

Anyway, the film looks like just a rumour at the moment. I’m not going to worry about it or channel the Geek Rage. Doctor Who remains, at its heart, a TV show that goes out on a Saturday evening and lets your imagination run riot between episodes. Even if it makes it to the big screen again, or is holographically projected into our living rooms, that’s what it will always be. Long may it continue.


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Frank Miller on the Occupy Movement

Comics over the last thirty or so years have produced quite a few superstars. Okay, maybe they’re not particularly well known outside the industry, with the exception of Neil Gaiman and possibly a couple of others, but if you’re a fan of comic books then chances are you have something by Grant Morrison on your shelves. Or Alan Moore. Or Frank Miller.

Frank Miller is probably the most influential Batman writer of recent decades, mainly down to two works – Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. If you’re not a comic fan, then you may have seen the movies 300 or Sin City – same guy. Well, Frank kicked up a bit of a stir over the weekend with his blog post on the Occupy movement.

Now, it’s pretty clear that Frank doesn’t altogether have the strongest grasp on current affairs – heck, he gets World of Warcraft’s name wrong, and that’s before conflating Occupy’s protests against corporate corruption with, I guess, the anti-war movement (I’d imagine there’s a reasonable crossover, but they’re hardly the same thing).

It’d be easy to take the blog post apart, especially when he gets on to suggesting that the protestors join the military so they can fight ‘Islamicism’ (which is interesting because Miller has never been in the armed forces while injured Occupy protestor Scott Olsen served with the Marines in Iraq before getting his skull fractured by police in Oakland, California). There’s really no point, because it’s an uninformed screed. However, it comes on the back of recent attention given to the abuse suffered by female bloggers, as well as racist comments relating to the news that the new Spider-Man would be half-black, half-hispanic. The question somehow becomes why, in a medium where most of the characters would probably support Occupy, or at the very least respect their right to protest, and where treating people with respect and compassion is a pretty standard subject for speeches from the likes of Superman and Captain America, does the audience reaction get so ugly sometimes?

(Of course, the flipside of that question is why wouldn’t it – after all, comics are still pretty white, pretty violent and female characters are more sexualised than the men… Just playing devil’s advocate…!)

I guess it’s an issue all of us who engage in online community have to face – the internet can be a harsh, nasty and unforgiving place at times. Miller’s blog post proves that, so do countless comments threatening to rape female writers, and while the majority of us no doubt find this abhorrent, the fact is those attitudes vocally exist. And while maybe the question should be “How can we bring civility back to the internet?”, the darker question is why does such behaviour happen in the first place?

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PS. 3.12.2011 – And now Alan Moore has responded to Frank’s comments. Needless to say, he disagrees.

Heads up if you’re a Doctor Who fan…

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you should check out a new book based on Philip Sandifer’s blog TARDIS Eruditorum. The collected edition of his essays related to William Hartnell’s first Doctor is now available on Kindle and it’s a fantastic read, some of the best writing on Who that I’ve come across. It’s already made me reassess what I thought I knew about the characters and the history of the series, and you can’t really ask for anything more than that.

(The blog also inspired an entry I wrote on the recent episode ‘Closing Time’, although I fully admit I lack the critical vocabulary and the attention span to match Mr. Sandifer’s work.)

What’s interesting about the book is that it’s accessible and intelligent. There have been critical works published about all manner of TV shows, but, frankly, most of them disappear up their own backsides. Fortunately, Doctor Who has long been one of those shows that seems to attract and encourage fan engagement, to the extent that nowadays it’s being made by fans. This may be a fatuous comment, but some shows (like Star Trek) encourage fans to make the show real, either through cosplaying or through involvement in science, engineering or campaigns to rename space shuttles; Doctor Who encourages fans to actually create the fiction, either on TV itself or through fanfiction, comics and, probably most importantly, novels. There’s something about Doctor Who that prompts a significant chunk of its audience to engage with mythmaking and storytelling, either directly or by thinking about how stories work. The writers seem to have latched on to that as a theme, exploring the Doctor as an intergalactic legend, a mythic figure, and the benefits, problems and consequences of that. It’s interesting.

But I’m rambling. If you’re interested in how the Doctor became the Doctor, or how the cultural context of the mid-sixties affected the show, check out the book. If you’re not interested, well, check out Doctor Who anyway…


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You Are What You Choose To Be: Some thoughts on ‘The Iron Giant’


This post contains spoilers!

Today is International Animation Day, and so I thought it would be nice to talk about one of my favourite animated movies. The Iron Giant, released in 1999 and starring Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick Jr and Vin Diesel, is the story of a lonely child, Hogarth Hughes, who encounters and befriends a giant robot from space. You’d think that would be enough, being an adaptation of Ted Hughes’ book The Iron Man, but there’s something else that makes the film dear to me. You see, The Iron Giant is the best Superman film ever made.

At one point in the film, Hogarth is showing the Giant a pile of magazines when they come across a comic featuring an evil robot, Atomo. The Giant instinctively relates to the cover – over the course of the film it’s revealed that he’s a heavily armed war machine – but Hogarth’s having none of this – he sees the Giant as being more like another comic book character:

Oh, here. This is Superman. He’s a lot like you. Crash-landed on Earth, didn’t know what he was doing… but he only uses his powers for good, never for evil. Remember that.

Hogarth’s being naive, of course – the military antagonists hunting the Giant probably have a clearer grasp of the situation, as he was obviously sent to Earth on a mission of conquest. Naivety triumphs over expedience though; although the Giant reacts to perceived threats by, well, blowing them up, his relationship with Hogarth helps him to transcend his programming:

DEAN: He’s a piece of hardware, Hogarth. Why do you think the army was here? He’s a weapon, a big…big gun that walks.

THE GIANT: I… I not gun.

You can’t help but have sympathy for the guy – we’ve got a tendency to categorise each other by what we do for a living, or where we come from. Often that’s not meant to be malicious or exclusionary but it creates a straight-jacket all the same, trapping us within the expectations and perceptions of others. There are still jobs in which women are seen as anomalies; when Obama became president, people wanted to see his birth certificate. Prejudice become handcuffs we slap on the dreams and aspirations of other people. Heck, this is more widespread than we’d imagine – how many rock stars were told to get a job in a bank because of the limited career opportunities for musicians?

Anyway, the movie takes its inevitable course; the military are called in and, because the military in these stories are always misguided and foolish, a nuclear missile is launched at the town. This is 1957, the height of the Cold War, and atomic destruction is an ever-present spectre. And yet there is hope, because the Giant has s decision to make:

HOGARTH (IN FLASHBACK): You are who you choose to be.

THE GIANT: Superman.

With that, the Giant flies to intercept the missile, saving the town but being destroyed in the process, and I’ll openly admit that I cried. One of the themes of Superman over the years is that it’s not really about the powers, it’s the heart and soul behind them, and that’s always been a powerful idea to me. And so maybe it was the animation, maybe it was the evocation of all those Superman comics I’ve read over the years, but The Iron Giant hit me in an emotional way that few movies manage.

(And yes, I’m aware that it’s a very similar twist to Terminator 2. I found it moving then as well.)

Because maybe we all carry around an element of fear – that we’re not good enough, that we’ll never really achieve much, that we lack purpose or, worst case scenario, that we’re a gun and that’s all we’ll ever be. It’s not true. Grace and change are possible. You don’t have to be Atomo; you can be Superman. You just have to make that choice, and act like it’s true.


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Little Boy Reacts To The Empire Strikes Back’s Big Revelation: Take that, spoiler culture!

I’ve blogged about spoiler culture before, but that took paragraphs to say what this video of a little boy reacting to the big reveal in The Empire Strikes Back says in 46 seconds…

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