Many people have attempted to record online the marathon of watching every Doctor Who episode from start to finish but an important area of Who scholarship remains unresearched. Starting today, it is my new project to watch and analyse every First Doctor episode from AN UNEARTHLY CHILD through to THE CHASE but not on the basis of how good the story is or how scary the monsters are. I shall be examining in forensic detail all the different modes of address the Doctor has for Ian. I have long believed that the First Doctor’s character arc from cantankerous old git to lovable grandad figure can best be traced by the various ways in which he addresses Ian. So join me as we explore the Doctor’s dramatic journey from “May I ask what you’re doing here, Sir?” via “my dear boy” through to “Please, Ian. Just one last tender kiss to remember you by.”
Do you know, I reckon there might even be a book in it.
On our journey of discovery, I’ll also be briefly musing on any contrasts with my hazy memory of these stories. Most of what I remember of the Hartnell era comes either from the TARGET novelisations or from Sunday morning omnibus broadcasts on UKGold in the mid 1990s during which I was usually hungover and kept nodding off. Given that I hold the world record for falling asleep during eleven consecutive attempts at watching THE WAR GAMES, I don’t hold out much luck for my being able to last the distance with THE DALEK MASTER PLAN. So you’ll have to bear with me and let’s hear no snickers during the coming marathon.
We start with AN UNEARTHLY CHILD. When there’s such an evocative title option, I don’t see why some people insist on calling it 100,000BC or the super-imaginitive THE TRIBE OF GUM.
What struck me immediately was that the rapport between Ian and Barbara is evident right from the start in that classroom. All my memories of rather stilted acting were blown away. Apart from the Received Pronunciation (which I actually prefer to the modern penchant for exaggerated regional accents), William Russell’s and Jacqueline Hill’s acting is a match for anything we get in New Who, and a cut above a lot of it. Susan has a strangely manic personality and Barbara screams helplessly a little too much but I hadn’t realised quite how much the story revolves around Ian and Barbara rather than the Doctor. There appear to be the beginnings of a lesbian subtext to the characterisation as Susan repeatedly refers to Barbara as “Miss Right” suggesting that, in her History teacher, Susan has found her ideal woman. It will be interesting to see whether the writers develop this in future stories.
One thing which goes against my memory is that the Doctor isn’t nearly as irrascible in his first story as fan wisdom might lead us to think. Even when trying to fob off Ian and Barbara in the junk yard, he treats their presumption with amusement rather than anger.
I have friends working in the farming sector who think that episodes 2, 3 and 4 of this story are fascinatingly engaging but I can’t agree. My interest in the story palls whenever any of the TARDIS “crew” aren’t involved in a scene. This may be unfair though as such crewless scenes generally comprise indistinguishable cavepersons giving us variations on “Ug, I’m the firestarter” and “Grunt, no, I’m the firestarter”. The utter tedium of this stands out even more in comparison with the cracking opening episode.
Ian’s little bit of nonsense about: “John Smith is the stage name of the honourable Aubrey Waites. He started his career as Chris Smith and the Carollers” was something I hadn’t remembered. It’s delivery by William Russell is deliciously judged as he uses a humorous tone to bring it off. It could so easily have come across as a teacher patronising his pupils by trying to be one of the kids. As it is, it’s a promising start for Ian and Barbara and you can well imagine 1960s children (those with TV sets) thinking wouldn’t it be cool if they were my teachers.
Anyway, getting to the point of my investigations, we find disappointingly little evidence as the Doctor restricts himself throughout the story to two instances of calling Ian “young man” and one of calling him “Chesterton.” It’s perhaps a little hard in 2013 to pick up the social nuances involved in one adult man addressing another just by his surname. Outside a uniformed work environment, it would almost be rude nowadays unless done with irony. However, it would have been sufficiently common in the Sixties not to be remarkable.
Despite this inauspicious start, in the next story, the Doctor starts throwing different forms of address around like confetti.
As brilliant as An Adventure in Space and Time was, the show was completely stolen by a fabulous cameo performance. Not Jessica Raine. Not Sacha Dhawan. Not even Brian Cox.
They were all cast into the shade by that amazing doughnut-like building they somehow found to film it all in and around. Well done to the BBC location scouts. It really looked like the sort of building you could imagine creative people working in. Whoever built it must have had some real balls and vision.
Wherever it is, if this building ever comes on the market, it would make an ideal location for, say, the television functions of a large public service broadcaster. Or, failing that, some sort of paramilitary organisation. That funky entrance lobby could easily be turned into a laboratory. As for that central courtyard, what more ideal location for filming Strictly Come Dancing? Somehow, when I look at that fountain, tap dancing comes irresistibly to mind.
I doubt that the BBC would ever get the chance to acquire the building though. Who in their right mind would dream of selling such an iconic architectural masterpiece? Certainly no-one with any feeling for history or for the elevation of value over cost.
In a triumph which will humiliate the Middle East Quartet, Big Finish have announced (here) that a series of Fourth Doctor/Second Romana audio adventures is on the way.
Rick Briggs, brother of the less famous Nick Briggs, announced to cheering crowds throughout the Middle East: “What we have done here today could be done the whole world over.”
George Galloway MP has commented: “This is a depressing move by Tom and Lalla and sets a precedent which could cost innocent people votes.”
Sue Perryman tweeted: “Lalla Ward? Was she the Master?”
Ian Levene, the Phillip Morris of the 1970s, tweeted: “I stake my reputation on Tom and Lalla never recording any plays together and that is my final word on the subject.”
The Verity podcast posted on Facebook: “Announcing the return of a female Time Lord on the brink of the 50th anniversary is a naked attempt by the patriarchal oligarchs at Big Finish to dilute the worldwide demand for a female Doctor.”
Tom Baker (147) who played the nation’s favourite Time Lord was not available for comment but his answerphone message said: “Big Finish? I’m afraid I don’t remember them. But I do remember the name of the pub outside their recording studios. Perhaps I could have the sound effect of a cabbage on my shoulder in this new series. I could be the Master, you know.”
A spokesman for Doctor Who fans observed: “Hurray!!!!!”
Overcome with joy at the news, a spokesman for a Doctor Who internet fan forum immediately announced: “We have closed all discussion of Big Finish’s plans for a series of audio plays featuring Tom and Lalla. Any mention of this subject will result in a lifetime ban.”
A few years ago, I posted a deeply snide comment on the blog of some political journalist. Several weeks later, I had that weird experience as if you’ve missed the last step on a flight of stairs when I saw my comment printed verbatim in Private Eye in a profile of said journalist.
I experienced the same feeling this week when reading “Adventures with the Wife in Space: Living With Doctor Who”, Neil Perryman’s recent book about his blogged journey with his wife, Sue, through all of Doctor Who. Hang on, thought I while reading an italicised quote lifted from the comments left on their blog, that delightfully wry yet overly wrought and heading nowhere in particular prose style looks strangely familiar. Then I experienced a feeling that I’d misssed not one step but a whole flight. Almost as if I’d missed a ladder and fallen off a caravan roof. Lordy! That was me. So I spent half an hour re-reading it and the surrounding paragraphs in a futile attempt to divine whether it had been quoted as an example of the ready wit to be found among their blog followers or as an example of what pricks some of them were.
I carried on reading what has to be the best Who-related book to have been published in some years. I confess that I wasn’t going to bother with it at first as I wrongly assumed that it would be little more than an anthology of all the reviews which I’d already read on Neil and Sue’s blog. Instead it’s Neil’s story of his life as a Doctor Who fan and his life with Sue. Why would you be interested in this rare example of the two concepts of “a life” and “a Doctor Who fan” coming together? Well, it’s written in such an engaging style that it’s hard not to be hooked from the first sentence.
Every chapter could be a Saturday teatime in itself. As he faces down a gang of knuckle dragging gorillas in a college TV room, you hold your breath as you did when the Fifth Doctor faced a firing squad. As two bigger boys corner him in a school playground, you feel the tension you felt when the Ood advanced on the Tenth Doctor and Rose chanting “we must feed.” Is there going to be unspeakable violence or will they turn out to be friendly? As he visits Sue’s family in Hartlepool for the first time, you’re on the edge of your seat as you were when the Fourth Doctor encountered the Sisterhood of the Flame. Will these strange dwellers of a distant land take him to their hearts or burn him at the stake?
Where you have tense cliffhangers, you must have surprise reveals too. In the list of improbable concepts, Neil Perryman as a rugby player is up there with Ian Levine as a ballet dancer or a member of the Restoration Team taking a vow of silence.
However, the undoubted star of the book (and reason enough on its own to read it) is the eponymous wife herself. To be honest, although Sue seemed very nice, while reading their blog I’d never quite grasped why she was receiving so much adulation. On reading this book though, the scales fell from my eyes. Although it took several pages before I twigged that Sue wasn’t literally the daughter of Denis Taylor, it quickly becomes clear that the alpha male of the Perryman household is the Irene Adler of the world of Doctor Who fandom and perhaps even of all Hartlepool.
“To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex…there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.” (A Scandal in Bohemia)
What a woman! For selfless sacrifice on the altar of the family, the 3D specs story alone is enough to raise her on a pedestal. And I defy you to hold back the tears as she offers to “put up some shelves” for Neil in her beautiful home.
It’s a wonderfully entertaining book which you shouldn’t miss and, if you don’t come away from it understanding a little more about life and Doctor Who, you will at least come away resenting the author for his wholly undeserved luck in snaring The Woman.
(This review was written by the “Doctor Whom” blog’s resident book reviewer, John Levene. The editor apologises for any transcription errors in this posted version but the draft copy was received covered in Guinness stains.)
Oh dear. I wasn’t going to watch THE DAY OF THE DOCTOR at a cinema because the thought of my enjoyment of the 50th anniversary being subject to what passes for considerate social behaviour among 21st century cinema goers appalled me. Also, the fact that it’s in 3D doesn’t inspire as that means wearing 3D specs over my own specs for no other reason than that they’ve probably inserted one gratuitous shot of the Doctor pointing his sonic screwdriver out of the screen.
However, the flesh is weak and I’ve just booked it for nostalgia’s sake. When I were nobbut a little lad in the 1970s, cinemas used to put on special screenings for kids during the school holidays lasting the full afternoon to give parents a respite from their offspring. My local cinema went through a period of devoting whole afternoons to running a full Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon series followed (after an intermission) by both Dalekmania movies back to back. And this was in the days when cinemas hadn’t yet been broken up into 3 or 4 smaller screens but were still their full, enormous, several thousand seater size (plus a full circle upstairs). So we’re talking about a full size screen when full size really meant full size. Nine or ten times I must have spent an afternoon in the front row of the stalls, revelling in proper Daleks (don’t believe anyone who tells you the the paradigm daleks look really like the movie daleks – they don’t) in full Technicolour and Techniscope.
I couldn’t turn down possibly the only opportunity of seeing Doctor Who that visually huge again. So, if any of this blog’s select (that’s blogging code for tiny) readership is planning on visiting the cinema on 23rd November, please please please avoid the following:
- Eating anything with your mouth open
- Juggling your bucket of popcorn to toss the larger pieces up from the bottom
- Making infantile slurping noises with your drink straw
- Buying nachos smothered in smelly cheese sauce
- Waiting until the film starts and there are no spare seats left before producing a tube of Pringles and eating them throughout the film by placing a whole Pringle vertically in your mouth and cracking it in two to get a really good echo
- Providing a running commentary on the film to your neighbour
- Sticking your feet between the seat and the back of the seat in front
- Checking your text messages every five minutes
- Answering an incoming call on your phone in the middle of the film
- And, if you plan on fetching more food or visiting the toilet 3 or 4 times during the film, please sit at the end of a row rather than in the middle.
I’ve suffered all of the above in my time and anyone ruining my enjoyment of the 50th anniversary (to quote a great man) will be “erased from Doctor Who”.
In what sounds in parts like a delicious two fingers (one finger to Americans) held up to the kind of people who believe that, when he signed up for one year as Doctor Who, he signed away all rights to a life and career of his own, this interview with Christopher Eccleston plugging his new “Thor” film is sure to piss off all the right sort of people.
‘I primarily do these films for the money,’ declares Thor: The Dark World star Christopher Eccleston cheerily, much to the amusing alarm of his publicist, who is sitting in on our chat.
‘But I seem to remember you were a fan of Marvel Comics when you were a kid…?’ she prompts brightly. ‘As a kid, I was not particularly drawn to comics,’ Eccleston persists. ‘I wasn’t much of a reader, I was always playing out on the street.’
Marvel certainly made him earn his cash. As new Thor baddie Malekith, a pointy-eared Dark Elf entirely bald but for a long, thick white plait, Eccleston had to endure ten hours of physical preparation each day before he’d even start shooting.
‘I would get up at 2.15am, be picked up at 3am and sit down in the make-up chair at 4am,’ he says. ‘At about 10am, I would leave the chair and it would be another 20 minutes getting me into costume. Then there would be two make-up artists and two special effects people around me all day. I was a special effect. It was a challenge keeping your patience and focus.’
I suggest all that prep must have been frustrating, particularly when he had so little dialogue. ‘I didn’t know the length of the make-up,’ he admits. ‘I wish I had. They always say acting with prosthetics is like washing your feet with your socks on. But the make-up was very organic.
‘I always felt that Malekith’s face was my face, I am recognisable: my big hooter and cheekbones are there. And having done two big Hollywood films before [GI Joe: Rise Of The Cobra and Gone In 60 Seconds], I knew the emphasis would not particularly be on the dialogue. It is a visual party you are going to.’
At this point, I’d expect to throw our conversation back to his spell as a certain Time Lord. However, a condition of my interview is that ‘Christopher Eccleston will not answer any questions on Doctor Who’.
One presumes he’s fed up with the ongoing ‘Who’-ha over why he – the ninth Doctor, who reinvented the character and helped refashion the show into one of the most successful series on 21st-century British TV – has refused to participate in the 50th anniversary special.
Instead, I ask if he’s excited about seeing his own Thor action figurine. ‘I’ve experienced that a number of times,’ he says. ‘I’m a bit jaded.’
If Eccleston comes across as at all narky or ungracious in print, in person he’s warm, affable, fully engaged and charmingly free of media bulls***.
‘I don’t have any memorabilia,’ he continues. ‘I have always thought it was a bit vain to be surrounded by that kind of stuff. All the awards I’ve got I gave to my mum but I don’t think she likes them because, as you know, most awards are pretty ugly.’
For a ‘serious’ actor who built his career on meaty roles such as Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure (on film) and Hamlet (on stage), isn’t a superhero flick a bit of a sellout?
‘The straight answer is that I am an actor,’ answers the working-class Lancashire lad, ‘and 90 per cent of actors have regular periods of unemployment. I didn’t work for seven months after Thor. I am open to any kind of work so I can pay the mortgage.’
It’s a natural ‘provider’ instinct for the 49-year-old, who became a father last year. ‘But I don’t feel I have particularly sold out working with a director such as Alan Taylor [The Sopranos, Game Of Thrones],’ he continues. ‘I think it was very clever of Marvel to choose a director of that calibre to do a film of this scale.’
Eccleston prefers a more intimate stage. ‘My goal was always to be in Britain, doing brilliant British television. I think sometimes there can be a bit of a snobbish attitude among film people towards television. I don’t share it.
‘All our great film talents came out of British TV: Mike Leigh, Albert Finney. British theatre is the most important to me but I’ve dedicated most of my career to British TV.’
That said, he’s just signed to HBO series The Leftovers. Set in post-Rapture America, where Eccleston plays an evangelical who has been left behind, it’s adapted by Damon Lindelof, who wrote the screenplay for Star Trek: Into Darkness.
‘As a kid, I hated Star Wars but I loved Star Trek,’ says Eccleston. ‘And I’ve since realised the reason I love Star Trek is because it is entirely about character. You have villains and some space but it’s basically a brilliantly written love triangle between Kirk, Spock and Bones – lieutenant Uhura being the “beard” from what I could see.’
So is it his ambition to star in a Star Trek movie? Eccleston pauses, ruminating intently. ‘Never say never?’ the publicist butts in helpfully.
‘The original Star Trek series was important to me,’ Eccleston concludes. ‘But I wouldn’t whore for it’.
If you’ve ever seen the interview (included, I think, on the Series One DVD box set) where CE pretended to have tuned into DW as a boy for the bits where you saw the inside of a Dalek, then the parts where he shrugs off his spin doctor trying to get him to fake a childhood interest in Marvel comics is a wonderful contrast to all those tooth-pulling 2005 promo interviews he had to do.
I’ve always found CE’s refusal to pander to DW fans a cheering contrast to the sort of prospect which was presented to us this week. A whole season of Matt Smith and David Tennant starring alongside each other as the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. Just the thought of that car crash waiting to happen, as any mystique in the character of the Doctor is sacrificed on the altar of damp fan underwear, makes me all the more proud that CE won’t pander. Anyone willing to pander deserves two black eyes.
How often does a thought niggle at the back of your mind for ages without your being able to quite put it into words until one day you experience a punch-the-air moment when you hear someone manage to crystallise the thought in one sentence? That happened for me this week on the admirable Aussie podcast Splendid Chaps when someone said about that annoyingly smug Series Two relationship between Rose and the Tenth Doctor that “it was like they both knew they were on television.” That’s exactly how I imagine a series-long pairing up of Smith and Tennant. The show would have become all about not those two Doctors but those two actors. It would have been the apotheosis of the neurotic behavioural tic. The thought of the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors trying to outdo each other as one stuck his lower teeth out as far as possible while burping mid-sentence and the other pranced around like the Childcatcher on hot bricks going “ooh that’s cool” doesn’t bear thinking about.
Leave us with our memories, please, Doctors. Leave us wanting more, not just wanting closure.
The stand-out character of THE ENEMY OF THE WORLD for me was not the twin roles played by Patrick Troughton nor even the full revealed horror that is Victoria Waterfield. It’s the character of Fariah (Salamander’s food taster) and the performance by the wonderful Carmen Munroe.
If this story hadn’t been missing for 45 years then maybe, whenever the subject of black characters/actors in Doctor Who came up, we wouldn’t automatically have thought of Cotton and Toberman. We would always have had Carmen Munroe’s Fariah as our template.
Everything conspired to make this a memorable performance. David Whittaker paid attention to giving her some depth which is surprising given that Fariah is far from a pivotal character in the story. He wrote her intelligent lines of real subtlety. She wasn’t landed with a corny accent as many of her co-stars in ENEMY were. And they cast a fine and striking actress to play her.
Fabulous as George Pravda is in his every role in Doctor Who, we feel little empathy for him when he dies. But Fariah’s death really tugs at the heart strings because time and effort has been put into even her minor character.