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Posts Tagged ‘Me You and Doctor Who’

Time for a quick look at the second tranche of anniversary-related Doctor Who stuff across the BBC this week. To be perfectly honest, I think that keeping up with everything that’s been broadcast and published this week (both in print and online, even limiting ourselves to the legitimate press) would be a pretty tall order for anyone with something approaching a full-time job (as I write the BBC has Doctor Who-related programming running on three different radio and TV channels virtually simultaneously). But I suppose it all stands as a testament to the level of attention this anniversary, and this weekend’s very special event, have attracted.

Attracting a lot of attention, possibly a bit more than its slightness warranted, was the BBC’s second prequel minisode The Last Day. Night of the Doctor was, obviously, an incredibly tough act to follow – that was full-fledged, if very brief, drama, but The Last Day wasn’t much more than a scene-setting vignette, and not – I would argue – particularly essential.

Obviously, from a fannish point of view, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on here – the minisode showed a side of Gallifrey hardly even alluded to in the TV series in the past. Even the idea of the Time Lords having multiple cities on their planet probably qualifies as a bit of a departure, while I found it a bit surprising that their armed forces should be so… well… identifiable as such. What the episode really does seem to stress is something very little commented upon in discussion of the Time War, which is that – prior to the Doctor’s final, terminal intervention – the Time Lords were losing, and losing badly. If the Daleks are now so powerful, one wonders what exactly it is that’s stopping the post-War Dalek Empire from steamrollering everything in their path.

Back to more rational concerns with Matthew Sweet’s thoughtful and accessible Me, You, and Doctor Who, a cultural-sociological-historical documentary on the programme’s impact. If you ask me, you could do a six-part series on the history and development of the programme and not run out of important material to cover or interesting stories to tell, but this did a decent job with its sixty minutes. I am, of course, very much one of the converted when it comes to this topic, but I thought it covered all the bases rather well, especially when it came to the importance of music to the success of Doctor Who – it was just a pity they didn’t get a chance to interview Dudley Simpson himself.

Whether it was appropriate to dwell on the more dubious activities of John Nathan-Turner during his time on the programme to the extent that they did is probably a matter for the individual to decide. If nothing else it showed commendable honesty on the part of the BBC, something they are probably quite twitchy about post-Savile.

If I had to really make a criticism of Sweet’s programme it’s that it never quite got to grips with just why it is that Doctor Who has become such an extraordinary, legendary, indestructible institution, beyond the obvious fact that at its best it’s simply very, very, very good. But the words ‘indefinable magic’ are bearing down on me at high speed so I think we should move on.

As far as An Adventure in Space and Time is concerned, I am once again very much in the choir section. The in-jokes in the opening disclaimer and the very first shot of the film were disarmingly lovely and from that point I was completely enraptured by the thing.

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Now, obviously, I am already familiar with the various stories of the origins and early years of Doctor Who, so there was very little here which honestly came as a surprise to me, and I suppose there’s a case to be made that the film slipped up by not including more material on – for example – Delia Derbyshire’s contribution, or that of Terry Nation and Ray Cusick. A super-pedant could also complain about the fact the film implies that Verity Lambert left the show at the end of The Web Planet, when of course she hung in there until Mission to the Unknown.

But at the end of the day this was a drama, and an engaging one – its real achievement was to take all these slightly dry origin myths and turn them into a story of disparate people accidentally forging a legend. This was strongest when it came to the story of William Hartnell. I have grown up with the story of how a poorly Hartnell had to be replaced by a new actor – but the great achievement of the drama was to remind us that this was, in reality, a man of failing powers being forced out of a job which he genuinely loved.

I wasn’t completely sold on Mark Gatiss’ fondness for inserting in-jokes in the dialogue, especially the ones looking forward to Doctor Who scripts from the 70s and beyond, but this was a minor thing. And prior to watching it I had idly wondered whether or not we might get a surprise cameo from Matt Smith… and of course we did. It was a lovely moment, although it does occur to me that this moment is going to make the film look dated almost at once, with Matt Smith already having concluded filming duties on the series.

It’s one of the minor mysteries of modern culture – Mark Gatiss is such an eloquent and passionate Doctor Who fan, and yet most of his actual scripts for the show never quite reach the first rank. I think his writing for Sherlock and other dramas is actually rather better – but An Adventure in Space and Time is up there with the best of his work. Surely the time has come to forgive him for the ‘any old **** with an equity card’ gag, last time he covered this subject…

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