Archive for william hartnell

In With The Who

Posted in Americans watching British TV, British Shows on American TV, TV Acting, TV History, Unsung Heroes with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2014 by Tom Steward

Here we go again! In August, Peter Capaldi replaced Matt Smith in the iconic title role of the British family science-fiction series Doctor Who, a programme that’s changed actors more times than a Mindy Project midseason re-tool. Capaldi is joint-oldest to play the part with the Sean Connery of Doctors William Hartnell. His age, along with his otherworldly physicality and fannish investment in the history of Doctor Who have led some to assume that Capaldi will resurrect some of the mystery, mastery and manipulation seen in the earliest incarnations of the character. While this is undoubtedly the case, it forgets that Matt Smith’s performance – an actor nearly half Capaldi’s age – was always pushing in that direction, even if the writing for him was not. Smith had managed to convince us that age was no obstacle to playing The Doctor. Now it seems the show is happy to pass The Eleventh Doctor off as some reckless young buck to help viewers come to term with an older Twelfth. It’s double standards, and a very dangerous game!

Who Needs You?

Who Needs You?

Capaldi is probably the best actor to have played the role, and I don’t say that lightly. Unlike Christopher Eccleston – another actor I admire greatly – he also seems a comfortable fit for the role. But essentially this is a repeat of what Doctor Who did in introducing Colin Baker as The Sixth Doctor; a more sinister, less personable variation on the character. Despite Baker’s best (and loudest!) efforts, it was a sea change they were never really able to pull off. So is the show making the same mistakes as before? Short answer: No. Long answer: They’re making different mistakes. This time, the writers have remembered to round out the edges of the character early on, rather than leave character development for a time that may never come. However, somebody needs to tell Steven Moffat that the moral ambiguity of a character is best represented in their actions not in constantly talking about how morally ambiguous they are. Hence, genre pieces like ‘Robot of Sherwood’ and ‘Time Heist’ have been this season’s most successful episodes.

We’re halfway through Capaldi’s first season and it’s hard not to notice the discrepancy between the quality of his performance and the material he’s given. As the absurdist, Godot-like vignette between The Doctor and a Victorian tramp in debut ‘Deep Breath’ indicated, Capaldi’s actorly flow offers new dramatic possibilities for the programme (and puts the show’s use of Eccleston to shame!). But there’s only so much even the finest actor can do when compelled to speak in Moffat-ese baby talk for the majority of episodes, although the head writer has shown some restraint in contracting his idiomatic ‘thingy’ to ‘thing’. Moffat presents the biggest obstacle to Capaldi’s success. Now micro-managing most of the season’s scripts, in addition to several of his own sole pen, the same laziness and hackery that beset Smith’s tenure is already starting to permeate Capaldi’s after only five hours of television. While Capaldi is completely fresh, Moffat’s schtick after five years as showrunner is tired, and tiresome; never more evident than in laborious, tenuous allusions to a familiarly mechanical-looking season arc.

Waiting for Who?

Waiting for Who?

There’s dead weight in the cast too. I sincerely hoped that the character and performance of companion Clara would improve once she was released from her status as story point in the ill-advised ‘impossible girl’ arc. But between the clipped, garbled diction of the dialogue and exponentially annoying inflections of actress Jenna-Louise Coleman (and the smugness…can’t get over the smugness), she’s a lost cause. I’m glad the writers haven’t resorted to the bickering married couple dynamic that made The Doctor and Peri’s TARDIS scenes so unwatchable, and I’m grateful for the buffer that teacher Danny Pink (a considered performance by Samuel Anderson) provides – yes, if there’s one thing Moffat can write well it’s awkward men! But as long as Clara’s the main focus of Doctor Who, which she is more and more since the show revived the autonomy of The Doctor’s companions, it’ll always feel like there a little Moffat running around in the world of the programme. It also doesn’t help Capaldi that the writers insist on keeping the spectre of Matt Smith around.

Doctor Who has always surrounded new Doctors with familiar elements of the series to cushion viewers in times of transition. Indeed, this season began with a Victorian-set adventure featuring the ‘Paternoster Gang’ who were regulars in Smith’s era. But Moffat went so far as to have Smith in the episode (calling Clara from the past) and allusions to the actor in later episodes. As wonderful and apposite as these moments are – because they feature Smith – they’re holding viewers back from really embracing Capaldi’s Doctor. You begin to suspect that Moffat’s vanity is partly behind this effort to build a dramatic whoniverse unified around his time as showrunner. Prior to his debut, I suspected that Capaldi, an Oscar-winning director no less, might excise a little more control over the show than befits his brief, as did auteur Orson Welles who liked to put scare quotes around the term ‘actor’. I can see Capaldi’s influence on the change in pace, the contraction of melodrama, and even the language…in that it sounds like language! Long may it contin-who.

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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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