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Jun 09, 2007

(S)Blink

Sorry Mr Tennant, I don't actually have first memory of Doctor Who.  Actually I generally draw a blank on whole sections of my childhood and I have a horrible feeling that like the shadows that follow Jim Carrey about during the eternal sunshine of his spotless mind every now and then whole decades are doomed to become blury, only memorable through the application of my videos of the 'I Love...' series of the early naughties.  Who knows, in about ten years time I might look back at this review and ponder exactly where it came from.

What I can say is that somewhere along the line, I drifted from reading Topsy & Tim books, Grimm's Fairy Tales and a book of Greek legends to John Masefield and C S Lewis and then on to Doctor Who (and then to He-Man and Transformers and Star Trek and then back to Doctor Who when I matured) but that I didn't see a difference between them.  They were all fantasies firing the imagination of the younger version of me in different yet similar ways.

If I did have to really strain my brain, I do remember a POV shot of Leela with a knife prowling through corridors only to fall over K9 at some point, but I don't even know if that was in an episode or something I dreamed.  There's a miasmatic process I think that happens where your childhood memories of watching stories somehow become mingled with watching the UK Gold repeats, where the vividity of the original happening becomes mixed with the later viewings.  Did I really see Tom Baker regenerating under a pylon all those years ago or just assume I did?

"Did I really see Tom Baker regenerating under a pylon all those years ago or just assume I did?"

But something else that happens is that you begin to take these things too seriously.  If you're so inclined (and most of the people reading this will be) somewhere along the line the fantasy begins to break down and you can see those sets and special effects and production problems and you stop being able to take some of the scary bits seriously.  Paradoxically though a percentage of those people (probably the one wondering where this is leading and whether I'll be offering an opinion of tonight's episode any time soon) find another way of taking it seriously, carefully putting them all into a continuity, rigidifying the continuity and searching for inconsistencies.

I used to be like that.  I'd wonder why after all of these alien invasions there are still people living in the south-east of England let alone the capital; the chance of mortality must be miles higher than the national average.  If it was a rational Whoniverse, the top story on BBC Breakfast (because it's always some kind of Daily Mail-friendly shock statistic) would be 'People in London are 30% more likely to die from an alien invasion than people in the north.  In Wales the percentage is greatly reduced and  Scotland, apart from a minor incident, is unaffected'.  I'd rip my hair out about UNIT continuity and the fact that Britney Spear's single 'Toxic' survived eons longer than her actual pop career and that Shane Ward was only releasing (his surely brief) greatest hits album in 2012.

But somewhere in the middle of the past fortnight's triumphant story, somewhere in the middle of the flashforward to John Smith's potential life I remembered.  It is a fairy tale.  It is all a fairy tale.  A wonderful, magnificent fairytale.  It's also, myths and legends and half remembered annecdotes.  It doesn't need to be consistent.  There doesn't need to be some great continuity because there isn't supposed to be.  And it knows.  Time and again, in the new series and the old series and the spin-offs between all of this has been referred to.  And if you you keep this in mind, the subject of whether two versions of Human Nature can exist in the same canon and this week how two different Sally Sparrows can help the Doctor disappear.  It's just the same story being told in range different of ways.

"It is a fairy tale.  It is all a fairy tale.  A wonderful, magnificent fairytale."

It also means that you don't get yourself in the kind of twist that a correspondent gets himself into in SFX magazine this month trying to work out how Martha can come from a future that doesn't exist yet forgets that the series is about a man who flies through time and space in a police box as if that's acceptable.  Isn't it interesting that people will do this but they don't sit around debunking the magic beans in Jack and the Beanstalk or what Repunzel does when she needs to spend a penny. 

Why not treat Doctor Who the same way?  Tonight's episode Blink is tied up using what I think some people call a predestination paradox.  Sally gave the Doctor a list of the dvds she once owned, a transcript for a conversation and other related gubbins for an adventure he hasn't had yet and which he'll need in order to bring himself home -- but which he wouldn't know that he needed until she gave them to him.  Within the episode the explanation given is that essentially time is complicated (basically the explanation I was giving for years when I was taking this stuff seriously) its all 'big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff ' or whatever.  But the better explantion is -- it's a fantastic, epic idea and caps off a really entertaining episode in the same way that a princess kissing a frog turns him into a human.  With a bit of the Back to the Future theme on the soundtrack.  In other words, Mr Paul Cornell, I'm with you.  There is no canon.  And I love that you managed to post that blog entry without actually mentioning what probably caused it -- Human Nature redux.

Which is all why my fanboy glow (or whatever Sean Alexander called it) has returned.  Why I can deal with the appearance of another army of marching whatevers and the repeated appearance of mind control.  They're for the kids.  Everything else, the big huge, as Steven Moffat said in tonight's Doctor Who Confidential, movie sized fairytale concepts are for the rest of us, and if the two can fit together as has happened this past three weeks, so much the better.  Plus in Blink the weeping angels marched off camera and somehow managed to be even more terrifying -- the illusion of movement created through editing and repositioning of statues, mimicking the blinking of the eye.  Hitchcock used similar techniques throughout his career, where its what the mind thinks its seeing that terrifies -- everyone thinks they see Janet Leigh being stabbed in the shower scene in Psycho and at no point to you actually see the knife puncturing the skin.

"Blink continued that run in fine style with its Primer-style time travel escapades, wonderful script which was an excellent cross between The Twilight Zone and those chilling Christmas ghost stories and intelligent dialogue and characterisation."

Of course it also helps that we've had such a good run of episodes ... about the only duff chapter we've had this year was the one where I had my wobble, Evolution of the Daleks and I think that was probably because of the half-decent build up.  Blink continued that run in fine style with its Primer-style time travel escapades, wonderful script which was an excellent cross between The Twilight Zone and those chilling Christmas ghost stories and intelligent dialogue and characterisation.  I think this is the first story to be script edited by Gary Russell and it was impeccably paced, every scene dragging the plot forward.  Certainly it's not a new concept (it's unfortunate that the BBC decided to show Frequency recently which did some of the same things) but like the other shows this series without really new ideas, it presented itself with such panache and punch it didn't matter.  Once again we received a climax outside of the main narrative designed to scare the bejesus out of kids.  Although I also think that having kids not being able to take their eyes of public art is also an amazing way of introducing them to a bit of culture.

Overall, director Hettie MacDonald  brought a visual pallette to the episode very unlike the house style we've come to expect which made it look totally unlike an episode of nu-Who which is probably what made it even more special.  As well as the Hitchockian editing style, there were transitions, crane shots, push ins, everything looked like it was location (which is also a complement to the lighting team who worked on the house interiors) and the contemporary scenes all looked like they were happening now, unlike most episodes which seem to be happening in a Whoniverse version of now for the first time since the seventies, scuzzy and dark and not afraid to be grimy in places.  If Murray Gold's music now and then seemed to have intruded from his score for Rose and Moffat's own sitcom Joking Apart it somehow never worked against the visuals even though they were cryout for a bit of the Bernard Hermanns.

The other reason I'm warming again to new Doctor Who is the approach to performances or more particularly the fact that in the main unlike the old series, most of the characters act like human beings.  Given the material and the fact they you're in Doctor Who, the temptation for most actors must be to go large (see Torchwood).  But Carey Mulligan's perfectly measured work expertly carried the episode and actually at no point did you feel the absense of the Doctor which is no mean feat in a series which is supposed to be about him.  Sure, the script had something to do with that ... and indeed now and then, perhaps intentionally you saw in her flashes of his questing approach to a problem ... but Mulligan had an instant likeability and grace (I know, I'm gushing).  But that empathy spread across what was a surprisingly small cast with even a small character like Larry Nightingale given weight because of Finlay Robertson's charisma.  How can I dislike any show that week in and out casts so well?

"The other reason I'm warming again to new Doctor Who is the approach to performances or more particularly the fact that in the main unlike the old series, most of the characters act like human beings. Given the material and the fact they you're in Doctor Who, the temptation for most actors must be to go large (see Torchwood)."

I would imagine, like those of you I mentioned in the brackets earlier who where waiting for me to  get around to reviewing the episode, there'll be some wondering why they're watching the story of a cute middle class girl for so longer before David Tennant arrives in person but more fool them.  The rest of us are enjoying this spectacular format bender which if it had been a US show would have been presumed to be a backdoor pilot ... in much the same way that Assignment: Earth showcased a new format that didn't fly in classic Star Trek.  But unlike the Gary Seven character in that thing, I'd love to see the further adventures of Sally Sparrow (the best companion The Doctor never had) and her best friend's brother, perhaps searching for the fate of all the people whose cars ended up in the police store, especially if it was as well crafted as this, and I don't think it would be too ITV.  Any chance of an Easter special where they meet up with Elton and his paving slab and they go on an adventure together?

So yes, in short (or in this case long) as if it wasn't apparent already I'm back.  One of the themes of Blink was that it doesn't matter when you live your life, so long as you do something with it.  Even the Doctor and Martha seemed to settle down whilst trapped in the past City on the Edge of Forever-style ('I'm working in a shop to support 'im...') living their lives until they could be saved.  That's a great philosophy and I can't think of anything better than spending some of my life watching and loving this new series of Doctor Who.  And unlike the seventies, when I do start to forget the details I'll have the dvds to remind me of what I've forgotten.  Unlike half the people speaking on Confidential tonight whose first memories of the series have apparently been wiped from the BBC archives...

Next week:  Captain Jack's back and I can't wait to hear how they're going to explain what he's been doing to a family audience. 

Sorry explain to a family audience what he's been doing.

Comments

"I think this is the first story to be script edited by Gary Russell."

Ah, so *that's* why, for (mostly) good or ill, it comes across so Big Finish.

Stu:

Blink was superb.

You mention the Doctor Who Confidential following it - that Confidential was superb too! It was good to see so much Classic Who being discussed and shown on screen.

Yes - at last a good one!

D.I. Shipton struck me as the sort of fellow who'd be likely to remember quite a lot of bettable sporting results, though.

His final hours should therefore, by rights, have been spent in his enormous mansion.

"With a bit of the Back to the Future theme on the soundtrack."

"The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis and the News? I didn't notice it.

"I'd wonder why after all of these alien invasions there are still people living in the south-east of England let alone the capital"

Well, some of us wonder about that even WITHOUT the alien invasions...

...and this here is my favourite part of your fine review:

"Next week: Captain Jack's back and I can't wait to hear how they're going to explain what he's been doing to a family audience.

Sorry explain to a family audience what he's been doing."

"His final hours should therefore, by rights, have been spent in his enormous mansion."

Well, it didn't look like he'd been left to rot in an NHS ward, did it?

I did think, during that hospital scene, that the 'old man' make-up used wasn't as good as in Lazarus Experiment or Family of Blood - it looked particularly unconvincing round the jowls. Only realised later that it was actually a different, older actor.

JoAnne, were you seriously asking? Because the theme to Back to the Future is the orchestral bit whenever McFly gets in the DeLorean, or anything else important happens. The Power of Love by Huey Louis and the News just plays during the opening credits (I think).

TimC: haha. Does this mean we've gotten so used to semi-convincing old people being played by famous younger people that we no longer believe it's REALLY an older actor playing an older person?

I knew as soon as I heard that Tennant was presenting and directing the Confidential this week that it would become the best ever episode of Confidential in the eyes of fans.

Not like fans are predictable or anything!

Salem - if I was being provocative, I might ask why young white actors who have to 'age' on-screen get expensively made-up to look like older versions of themselves; while a young black actor is just substituted for by another actor.
Dear Ofcom, CRE, etc - Does the BBC believe that all black men look the same?

Well it's probably a good job they just did it with "John Smith" last week and not with Timothy as well, there's only so much you can do with make up. You should definitely write that letter Tim, if only to see how much hand wringing there is in the reply.

I don't think it's because of race, I think it's status. David Tennant is THE DOCTOR! Kind of important for the show. The police officer is in for five minutes as one actor, then five minutes as another, so there isn't much point. For the Doctor, it is important to get everthing for him right, and no-one else could have done The Doctor old. If Martha had to be aged, you can be sure they'd make her up rather than get someone else, because the screen time from the last 10 episodes make her instantly recognisable.

Personally, being Irish, I think all you white people look the same to me.

Except John Paul, he looks like that guy from the Cybermen episodes.

And Neil, he looks a little like Ralph Fiennes.

Adam:

BEST. CONFIDENTIAL. EVAH.

As I say above, I thought it was superb.

The reasons why?

It wasn't the normal behind-the-scenes, it had a great theme of how the people behind Nu-Who were inspired by watching Classic Who.

(Which allowed a lot of footage of Classic Who and much interesting discussion of it.)

What's not to like about a montage featuring The Mind Robber and Planet of Fire set to groovy music?

John - agreed. Of late Confidential has become somewhat -- not dull -- more predictable. In spreading each episode over forty five minutes there's certainly a sense now and then of spreading an item out to fill the time.

The Human Nature episodes would have been ripe for exploring the franchise whilst it was off the telly, talking about the New Adventures and their influence on the new series.

Another thing which has been lost is the push to create a kind of narrative thread in the episode as happened with the script to screen thing they did for Girl In The Fireplace.

The second series was really good in places because it became more of a magazine show affair, sometimes talking to people like the guy from Goldie Lookin Chain or covering topics such as ahem fandom online.

This episode showed what can be done with the thing -- although its a shame that Nick Briggs could actually name the company he was doing the Dalek voices for, but I expect that's to do with product placement issues. Although since its an officially licensed product I couldn't see what the problem was.

Oh and the other interviewee not really talking about how long they've actually been writing Doctor Who -- Mark Gatiss for example who was doing this stuff even before the League of Gentlemen.

Be fair, I miss series one of Confidential.

Series one was all about comparing Old Who to New Who, and had a HUGE nostalgia boost. Series two was alright, mostly due to the different ways of analyzing things.

This new series of Confidential, up until the last one, has really been struggling for a voice. It's like they gave them 12 extra minutes, but weren't quite sure what to do with them.

Its weird. The whole Tom Baker/Pylon comment you made; Leela stalking down a corridor with a knife... I have a couple of similar memories - and I can't easily attach them to scenes in the show.

My second ever Doctor Who memory was seeing some kind of TV special about the show (my first was being mortally terrified by what must have been Patrick Troughton's opening sequence - the music, the face; both). I was watching it with my Dad (which must make it sometime before I turned 6). The scene that stands out in my mind is an interior scene of a dull gray room with a Dalek screaming at the Doctor saying something like "YOU WILL (insert action here)", to which he very glibly replies by saying something like "I most certainly will not". I remember being amazed at someone speaking so calmly and defiantly to someone shrieking at them like that. A primal memory almost. I have a feeling that its from Genesis of the Daleks, but I haven't been able to place it there.

The next memory was Peter Davison running along through the collapsing framework of a burning building. Years later, I saw the Visitation, and realized that this must have been where the scene originated. Even the Terileptils had a familiarity to them I couldn't put my finger on.

Strangely enough, my very first memory of Red Dwarf was seeing it on late at night, then quickly changing the channel when I saw Holly's face wobble in because I thought it was going to be an episode of Doctor Who and I didn't want to get the bejeesus scared out of my by the theme music. Funny innit?

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