June 18, 2005

The Trip of a Lifetime

When I was a much younger man, probably no more than a boy (though I wouldn’t see it that way in those days) I catalogued all the Doctor Who I owned. I created a catalogue of all the Doctor Who episodes I ever had on tape (either off-air or purchased). The catalogue was, I think, created initially on a typewriter, but eventually it made it into WordPerfect 4.1 and has continued to evolve over the years as it’s journied from its original file format up the WordPerfect ladder and over to Word. (It also went on to include Target Novels, Reference Books, NAs and Audios but that’s another story)

As you can see, like all geek scribblings, my video collection catalogue is extremely idiosyncratic. I list the title and date. “P” stands for “premiere story” (“F” stands for “finale story”). There’s the author, the companion, the director, the number of episodes (and if it was in movie format) whether it was a purchase or an off-air recording and finally the tape number in my video collection (back when I did such numbering).

I haven’t updated my collection in a couple of years. Editing a fanzine and organized fandom has made me lose interest in some of my more personal geekinesses. But tonight I watched The Parting of the Ways, Christopher Eccleston’s last story as the Doctor and suddenly I felt compelled to update my video collection.

And so I did. Some adjustments for format had to be made—most stories are just listed as ‘45 minute episode’—and some things had to be left ambivalent or unknown (does a DivX .avi file count as an off-air recording? What about a tape number?). And I made my peace with certain controversies by calling it “Season One”. But once that minutae was out of the way, I can’t begin to describe you the thrill I felt as I entered the heading “Ninth Doctor: Christopher Eccleston (2005).

Then I entered “Rose” with the “P” to signify that it was a first story. A flash on the unusual big-eared guy in a leather jacket, talking about feeling the rotation of the earth under his feet. Onward to Platform One, aliens and alienation. Back in time to meet Dickens and the Unquiet Dead. We get to the first two parter (I just give it a single entry but include both episode’s titles) and I smile at the thought of farting aliens and Penelope Wilton acting out Who at its most Holmesian.

By the time I reach Dalek, I’m sensing the next controversies to erupt in some corners of fandom—does Adam count as a companion or not? I decide he is and then think of watching that story with my 12 year-old goddaugher who was more excited after watching that the Dalek fly, exterminate and bare its soul than she was seeing Pirates of the Caribbean, which is saying something.

There’s the Long Game and Simon Pegg oozing new Who villainy. And the Empty Child which gave me the scariest moments I’ve ever had watching Who…and then The Doctor Dances which gave me the most exultant and jubilant moments too. One story entry, two episode titles and a slash marking some of the smartest, funniest, creepiest television this year.

Brief stop-over in Cardiff, or Buffy-land depending on your sensibilties. And then I typed:


“F” already? Finale story now? It was funny and sardonic and then exciting and then horrifying and then it was sweet, and then bittersweet…

...and then it was over.

Two new pages in my Video Catalogue. The entirety of Christopher Eccleston’s career as Doctor Who. He kept the promise he made in the promo trailers before the series was broadcast. He took us on the trip of a lifetime.

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June 17, 2005

Never Looked Better…

Any moment now, I’ll wake up. Do me a favour, go read this news article and then come back and explain to me how we got here. How did our creaky little sci-fi show become so successful that it’s been commissioned for not one additional series, but two! Oh, and another Christmas Special as well. And now I’m hearing that the combined budget for these two seasons is 30 million! What did we do to deserve this?

Saturday sees (in the UK) the broadcast of the final episode of this new season of Doctor Who, and draws to a close the Christopher Eccleston era. I thought this was going to be a sad time. Certainly I shall miss the series while it’s off the air - it’s quite simply the best version of Doctor Who I’ve ever seen, and by a significant margin is the best thing on TV right now. More than that I will miss Mr Eccleston, criticized by many for the “inappropriate mugging” and goofiness, but in reality the most dynamic, engaging and emotionally involving Doctor we’ve ever had (and I was not an Eccleston fan prior to this).

Instead we have so much to be happy about. We can look forward to the David Tennant era, at least one more season starring Billie Piper, RTD’s continued involvement alongside top notch directors and writers, an increase in the budget and the knowledge that Doctor Who has become BBC1’s flagship Saturday night programme and is not going to dematerialize anytime soon.


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June 15, 2005

Graeme Harper Returns to Doctor Who; Millions of Fans Die of Pleasure

The official BBC website announced that the first group of directors for next season are James Hawes (whose direction of The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances caused many fanboys to wet themselves seeing their childhood dreams of a version of Doctor Who that was cinematic with tons of night shooting completely fulfilled), Euros Lyn (who impressed everyone with The End of the World and The Unquiet Dead—partially just by demonstrating that he wasn’t Keith Boak, but mostly by exacting such great performances)...

...And four episodes will be directed by Graeme Harper.

Hear that sound? That’s the sound of millions of old time Doctor Who fans dying of anticipatory pleasure.

Harper, of course, directed what many consider to be one of the best Doctor Who episodes ever, The Caves of Androzani and followed that up with Revelation of the Daleks, highly regarded as Colin Baker’s best story. Both are considered to be two of the best-directed Doctor Who stories ever.

So far, the production team have a trifecta of great directors for season two. Rumours that Russell T. Davies and Phil Collinson are consulting the Necronomicon to bring Douglas Camfield back from the dead are as yet unconfirmed.

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June 14, 2005

The Best of Both Worlds

Russell “The Man” Davies wrote a fantastic piece in The Guardian about his work on the new series. A little less geeky and teasing than his DWM Production Notes, Russell talks about how he was cautioned he might lose his love for his favourite show by working on its revival and that such a revival might end up just being a niche thing…and that happily both are not the case now.

It’s a great little article because he talks about how he used the icons of Britain while at the same time employing the tactics of American TV:

On screen, the Doctor was deliberately flying the flag as a very British icon (Routemaster buses, Big Ben, Simon Callow) while off screen, the concept was given a very American kick up the arse. We built in sweeps episodes - event episodes and two-part stories placed strategically throughout the run, designed to boost ratings. The last in the series quickly became the “season finale”. And we did not just learn structure from the States, we stole story. So many good dramas - thank you, Buffy - had expanded the genre. They showed us that if you can laugh and cry in the middle of a story, then the adventure is that much better.

It’s a nifty combination: The ‘sweeps’ episode is the one with a Dalek in it. And Bad Wolf uses that great American TV tactic of building up as much excitement as possible for the season finale in the penultimate episode of the season.

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June 13, 2005

Grade Waters


It is difficult to think which story is more unlikely - Michael Grade suggesting he may have made a mistake in attempting cancel the show in 1985 or Roger Waters re-joining Pink Floyd for the first time in just over 20 years?

Quite amazingly, both happened today, as it was announced that Pink Floyd (famous Doctor Who fans who have made several references to Doctor Who in music and concerts over the years) re-unites with Roger Waters for the Live 8 Concert in London on June 2nd, while this report from the BBC indicates that Grade admits to learning from his mistake of trying to cancel the series twenty years ago. 

We live in a world of wonders!

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June 12, 2005

another reason I love The Long Game

There are two scripts commonly used in the year 200 000. One of the scripts looks a bit like Chinese (I’ve turned it over, the BBC site got it upside down):


while the other appears to be an alphabet or syllabary, looking a little like Hebrew.


Here’s another example.

Now that’s attention to detail! In the old show, I can only remember Time and Rani using a made-up script. Probably the only thing Time and Rani and The Long Game have in common.

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June 09, 2005

Dalek Conquered

Just when you thought the world could get any stranger comes this BBC news report of how an original series Dalek prop was stolen from a tourist attraction at Wookey Hole.

The thieves left a ransom note and a carefully removed plunger arm. (“For the safety of the human race we have disarmed and removed its destructive mechanism.”) Rather like in Dalek the Mark III Travel Machine is being held captive; unlike Dalek the thieves, who have called themselves “The Guardians of the Planet Earth” are awaiting orders from the Doctor.

Perhaps the funniest, if not most pathetic, thing about this is that according to the BBC News Report, “Former Dr Who actor Colin Baker has been in touch with staff at the attraction, and may be asked to send a message to the kidnappers.”

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June 01, 2005

Me and Cap’n Jack Down By the Schoolyard

By all accounts, Doctor Who is a hit, and kids are no doubt running around the playgrounds of Britain (and hopefully Canada) unzipping their heads, pestering their teachers as to their parentage and complimenting each other’s bottoms.

It all has me musing about the possible pop culture implications of the new series.  With this in mind I present the following expressions/catch phrases, locked and loaded for daily conversation:

10. My boyfriend’s gone all “wheelie bin” (acting strange)
9.    I’ve been promoted to Floor 500 (escorted from the building with a file box under my arm) 
8. The stiffs are getting lively (l’ll leave that to your imagination)
7.  I bring you the gift of bodily salivas (sorry, forgot your birthday)
6.  My plus one (ambiguous term used to describe ambiguous relationship)
5.  Moisturize me, moisturize me! (an unflattering remark directed at aging drag queens)
4.  Bad Wolf (somebody who messes with your mind)
3.  Show me some Spock (snippy comment directed at tech support guy)
2.  Fan-tastic (said with the proper Eccleston inflection)
1.  Are you my mummy? (a new way for little brothers to annoy their sisters!!)

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The Last Great Mystery

So now we know that the legendary background source during Watergate known as Deep Throat was FBI No. 2 man Mark Felt. And so ends one of the most compelling mysteries of our time. Now all that’s left is one final puzzling conundrum from the same era as Watergate and Deep Throat. It’s just as seemingly insoluble, and no one who knows is talking.

I am speaking of course of the 30 year-old mystery of who was originally cast as Sarah Jane Smith.

We all know the story. Barry Letts cast an actress, initial work was done with her and then…she was dropped because she ‘wasn’t working out’. (Rumours abound that this means anything from she was terrible to she didn’t get along with Jon Pertwee to she got along a little too well with Jon Pertwee…) The identity of the actress has never been revealed, in spite of the fact that Doctor Who fandom has some of the best researchers on the planet. (They can find 40 year-old telesnaps but ask them to find an employment memo from 1973…hmph). Heck, I once tried to get the answer out of Terrance Dicks while we were both in a cab and very drunk, but he insisted that he didn’t know.

Even this year at the Gallifrey One convention, Barry Letts refused to name names, though he offered one tantalizing hint: the actress was bought out of her contract, which would have meant that she was paid for the entire season. This would have required approval from the Head of Serials and memos and such…and yet this has eluded our crack team of researchers.

Rather like determining the identity of Deep Throat there are some interesting theories. One theory goes that it was actress Fiona Gaunt, who played Helen in Letts and Dicks more adult (read: boring) SF series, Moonbase 3Moonbase 3 and Season 11 of Doctor Who were being produced around about the same time, and being moved over to Moonbase 3 would mean that she didn’t necessarily get bought out of her contract per se, hence why no paper trail has emerged. And she was a dreadful actress (Moonbase 3 all but ended her television career).

My favourite theory was one that was conceived in a fit of silliness at Gallifrey last year: that they cast someone who’s now very famous. I mean, if you were Barry Letts would you really want to admit that back in 1973 you had originally cast Judi Dench as Sarah Jane Smith but sacked her?

Whatever the case, it’s nice to know that Doctor Who can continue to provide interesting real-world mysteries to speculate endlessly about.

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May 31, 2005

A Priceless Journey

573409583539_gallery.jpgYesterday I took a train from Kings Cross to York. The train was not that busy and I selected a seat across the aisle from a mother and her three suns travelling Aberdeen.

Throughout the entire journey the youngest boy Oscar kept singing and humming the same song over and over and over again. Sometimes the middle brother would join in. Normally this might have been considered annoying but this wime it wasn’t. The song they kept repeating was a familiar one, the theme from Doctor Who.

All three boys watch Doctor Who. Unlike many of the other things that probably interest her children the mother had a sense of gleefull satisfaction talking to her kids about the show.

They even had a copy of the latest Doctor Who magazine. Although it only been purchased this past weekend it was already battered, creased and stick with food. Before long I expect photos will have been cut out and pasted on walls and in books and the remainder will go into the bin. There will be no platic bagged ebay future for this magazinr. It is a magazine being read by children.

The youngest son was most interested in the pictures of the Daleks. The middle son was excited by the comic strip. The oldest son was not all that interested in the magazine but the ad for a “Pump’n'Go” Dalek really caught his attention.

Everything is how it should be.

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