Archive for 50th anniversary

The Twelve Days of Doctor Who: Days 7-12

Posted in Americans watching British TV, British Shows on American TV, TV Acting, TV History, TV in a Word, Watching TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2013 by Tom Steward

‘We’ve been watching Doctor Who for weeks. We must be out of the 80s by now’. I don’t have the heart to tell G that we’ve been watching Doctor Who for six days and that we still have one story from the 1980s to go. Doctor Who used to be notorious for filling time with extended re-caps from the previous episode so I feel justified in doing the same for this two-part blog on my experience watching stories from each Doctor in turn with my American wife in preparation for the 50th anniversary special last Saturday. So far we’ve had cavemen with underwear, cyber-mayans, poachers from space, monsters playing Space Invaders and Dig-Dug, and a TV maths teacher. Like good time-travellers and bad time-travel writers, this time round we’re starting at the end with an episode from 1989 as Doctor Who was on the verge of cancellation and about to go stateside.

‘The Curse of Fenric’ (G’s title: ‘Mr. Bean Goes to War’):

Just a minute…isn’t that Nicholas Parsons?

‘This is much better than the shit we’ve just been watching’, says G as British national treasure Nicholas Parsons is devoured by vampires of the sea. ‘Yeah, it got good again and then they cancelled it’ I offer in the way of no explanation. ‘So many deep quotes in this…“You must take the baby. Now you are the mother of the baby. Now you must drop the baby in the water.” Incidentally, none of these quotes actually appear in the story.

‘Doctor Who: The Movie’ (G’s title: ‘Star Wars UK’)

If you look closely you can see a shark jumping over them.

As the credits roll, G sings in her best John Williams: ‘Kind of like Star Wars/But not really the same’. The TARDIS lands in San Francisco’s Chinatown. ‘People didn’t really think that was China, did they?’. ‘I don’t know. They’re your people’. I’m enjoying passing the buck on Doctor Who’s shortcomings for the first time. ‘This doesn’t feel like Doctor Who at all. It’s more like Adventures in Babysitting’. Then the shark-jumping kiss. ‘I don’t like this. I don’t this at all’. I wanted to kiss her.

‘The Unquiet Dead’/‘Father’s Day’ (G’s titles: ‘The Walking Welsh’/‘Your Parents’ Wedding’):

Walkers in Wales!

‘Why are they so sexual tensiony?’ G asks after witnessing a few seconds of the Doctor and Rose together. ‘That’s what the kiss led to’ I say. ‘It doesn’t work’ G says confidently. Apparently even nine days of Doctor Who is enough to make you realise that the Doctor and his companion being a couple is a bad idea. ‘I don’t like this Doctor. He’s too Jean-Claude van Damme’. I’m sure that’s what renowned stage and screen actor Christopher Eccleston was going for. But you know what? He is a bit Steven Seagal in the part.

‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ (G’s title ‘Poor Father Christmas’):

The decline of William Hartnell…my fault, apparently.

Ok so this is not strictly Doctor Who but it’s a ninety-minute drama about the show and that should test any non-fan’s patience. At first there’s too many real and fictional worlds colliding for G to keep up. G: ‘How old is William Hartnell now?’. Me: ‘That’s not him. That’s an actor playing him’. G: ‘This is all made up, right?’. Me: ‘No it all happened, just like this’. When she sees David Bradley as Hartnell crying into his mantelpiece, it all gets too much. ‘I can’t watch old people being upset’. Then it becomes my fault. ‘How can he not be your favourite?’ (he’s my second). ‘He’s my favourite’ G asserts. ‘He’s the only one with real mystery’.

‘The Christmas Invasion’ (G’s title: ‘The Fall of Scary Santa Face’):

‘Stop being hussys…both of you!’

‘So they went leather jacket man, quirky and then another quirky? Where’s the variety?’. I wonder how G will react tomorrow with an episode in which quirky and quirky quirk off. ‘She’s such a hussy’ G offers ambiguously. ‘Who? Rose or her mother?’ I ask. ‘Same thing’.

‘Day of the Doctor’ (G’s title: ‘Return of the TV’):

Will Ferrell interrupts Doctor Who simulcast!

Well, it all paid off. G laughs knowingly at every in-joke (especially the one about the ‘big round things’ on the wall of the TARDIS)  and loves every minute of this nostalgic wallow in the series’ past. And then Tom Baker returns to Doctor Who 32 years after leaving the show. ‘Is that Will Ferrell?’ G asks. Maybe we’re not quite there yet.

Well, there you have it. 50 years of Doctor Who in twelve days. The first ten years just flew by, a decade dragged its feet, another took a holiday and after a few wrong turns we ended up where we started. Home.

Home.

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Goodbye Mr. Smith!

Posted in British Shows on American TV, Reviews, TV Culture, TV History with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2013 by Tom Steward

This blog seems to be nothing but obituaries these days but I’m happy that, after reporting the dreadful loss of James Gandolfini, I’m only talking about the death of a fictional character this week and not even that. In essence all I’m really discussing is an actor leaving a role and something that’s happened ten times over, which on the surface doesn’t seem to be much cause for mourning and sadness. But this time it’s not a relief to say goodbye or a feeling that the pleasure has reached its capacity just that of being deprived of something truly wonderful.

So it’s come to Tardis: Matt Smith leaves ‘Doctor Who’

In 2009 there was nothing but alarm amongst fans of the TV show Doctor Who as the younger ever actor to be cast in the eponymous role was announced as the replacement for David Tennant. Matt Smith was 26 at the time but his uneven hair, emo style and awkward deportment made him seem much much younger. Concern and panic was only exacerbated by a number of appearances in which he seemed illegible and incapable. Unlike most, I was happy to see Tennant and his lazy shortcuts leave the series, but became prematurely nostalgic for him after learning the news.

Matt Smith in 2009, looking more like Adric!

A terrible debut scene at the end of one of the most tedious and portentous Doctor Who episodes ever broadcast didn’t help matters. Horribly written and directed in a needlessly elliptical style, Smith’s performance in the final few minutes of ‘The End of Time’ seemed fragile and misplaced, falsely suggesting a performance of infantile nihilism that was the worst everyone feared. Expectations sufficiently lowered, we started to get reasons to be cheerful. In the previews Smith looked and sounded commanding and unique and word spread that Smith had reconsidered his approach after studying Patrick Troughton’s groundbreaking interpretation of the role.

The jury was still out when in Easter 2010 Smith made his full debut in ‘The Eleventh Hour’. Quietly assured in the Bond-teaser opening, he went from strength to strength in his first hour of television, re-injecting a genuine sense of fun, humour and warmth into the show (without resorting to saccharine) and refusing to romanticize the character, making The Doctor a troubling proposition of unpredictable behaviour and sinister tendencies despite his innate affability. Unlike Tennant it wasn’t a needy performance that asked you to idolize the actor as you worshipped the character, just an actor doing a part justice.

As Smith’s first season progressed, his ability to judge the demands of the role became increasingly evident. He knew exactly when to let loose the pantomime of the piece and when to tone it down and squeeze out the profundity. While honouring the previous ten performances of the role-in a way that his last two predecessors had not-Smith stamped his authority on the part with a wholly original spin on the character. Each actor playing The Doctor has to find a way to capture his alien qualities. Smith played The Doctor as a social misfit, comically illiterate in human beings’ behavioural orthodoxies. He talked to children like adults and adults like children, gleefully misjudged fashion and etiquette, and moved and gestured in disregard of convention.

There are definitely two aliens in this photograph!

As the second season of the programme veered head-first into pure space opera, Smith brought to the melodrama an understated honesty and brevity that gave the emotional core of the show a raw power unseen in its mawkish, self-pitying previous few years. Tears were no longer an inevitable part of a cloying formula but hard-won and always accompanied with restraint. As such, Smith pulled off that fine balance between the outlandish and the sincere that makes Doctor Who. He was able to suggest age and wisdom well beyond his years, and with it the overgrown teenager we initially saw evaporated.

Hard-won tears from Matt Smith as The Doctor

Smith’s third season as The Doctor saw him finally getting the mature, heavyweight material he needed to showcase his pedigree as one of the finest performances of the part. Toby Whithouse’s ‘A Town Called Mercy’ allowed Smith to shine in a powerful and disturbing story of genocide and war. However, a rapid fall-off in the quality of the 2013 episodes of Doctor Who-and a gradual slowing of the rate of episodes per year-has left audiences wanting more from Smith, and more of him. It was announced in June that Smith will leave the role at the end of the year, with only two episodes remaining. It is a part that will always outlive any actor that plays it but it will never escape Matt Smith.

 

 

 

 

 

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