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Jun 10, 2007

Weeping and Windows

Three years ago, Doctor Who fandom was quite a different place. The new series had just entered production, and the minutest scrap of detail about it was fought over by hungry fans like a pack of hyenas tearing into a fresh corpse. We’d been waiting years for this, and every little piece of new information that leaked out or was posted online in the form of a blurry photo from a Cardiff street at night was welcomed with enthusiasm and debate.

The only female Doctor Who fans anybody had ever heard of tended to be American women the size of two houses with deeply strange Paul McGann fixations.

Ah yes, those debates. We were the old guard back then – men almost to a man, with the only female Doctor Who fans anybody had ever heard of tending to be American women the size of two houses with deeply strange Paul McGann fixations. And boy, could we get into a tizz about some odd stuff.

The first photograph of the new series TARDIS prop that came to our eyes was taken by Roger Anderson, the splendid chap who ran the late, lamented Doctor Who cuttings archive. You can see it here. And what did this image provoke? Joy at seeing such a fine reconstruction of the legendary old prop? Pleasure at the knowledge that the show was really happening, and it was all real and going to be seen on screen?

Well… yes. But there was also a degree – a worryingly large degree – of nonsense on the Outpost Gallifrey forums. For example, this bit from a chap calling himself Nuallain, but I could have picked any one from dozens of similar complaints. Mr Nuallain’s verdict on the new TARDIS prop? “It *does* look squatter, which disappointed my hugely on first sight. I agree with Etiem's assessment that while it may be *slightly* wider the main thing that looks off is the size of the windows. Far too big.”

Now, Steven Moffat is a member of the OG forums, and has posted there a couple of hundred times over the past three years or so. I’ve no idea whether he read that particular thread directly or whether someone told him about it but, whatever the case, last night the OG forum and all its various mad and strange folk became fixed in the history of the series like a bug in amber, as Billy the policeman told us that the TARDIS couldn’t be a real police box because the phone was just a dummy and “the windows are the wrong size.”

Hurrah for online fandom and all its bizarreness!

“The angels have the phone box” will be gracing t-shirts at conventions across the land before too long.

Pleasingly, this little nod to the olden days – which 2004 already seems like by now – seems to have gone down in the spirit with which it was intended over on OG, which is a nice surprise. It was just one of many such quotable and amusing lines Moffat sprinkled throughout the episode like icing sugar on a doughnut – “The angels have the phone box” will be gracing t-shirts at conventions across the land before too long, and indeed somebody was already flogging them on CafePress within minutes of last night’s episode coming to an end.

That Moffat writes sharp and amusing dialogue tends to be one of the given factors in any of his episodes. The other is that he will come up with an interesting plot with a clever twist to it, which he once again did last night with Blink. Moffat is one of the most popular writers generally in fandom, with many believing that he should be installed as the next Lord Lieutenant of Whoshire as and when Russell T Davies moves on. From reading interviews with Moffat I have my doubts as to whether he’d particularly want the top job, but there’s no doubting that of all the other writers working on the show, he is the one whose appointment to it would be most eagerly welcomed by the majority of the fans.

Knowing that an episode written by the Scotsman is about to be shown is like knowing England are about to play in the World Cup final, but with the crucial difference of knowing for certain that they go on to win it.

He is by far and away my own personal favourite of the new series writers – I like the work of nearly all of them a great deal, but a Steven Moffat episode just seems to have an extra sheen of something special to it. Knowing that an episode written by the Scotsman is about to be shown is like knowing England are about to play in the World Cup final, but with the crucial difference of knowing for certain (perhaps having been told by a time traveller!) that they go on to win it. You have all of the excitement and anticipation of the great event, with none of the worry and stress.

It’s perhaps surprising that this episode was such a success, given that the Doctor and Martha were almost entirely absent, but the Doctor had just about enough of a presence through the DVDs to ensure that he still felt like an integral part of proceedings. Also, seeing him slowly revealed as a powerful and mysterious character to Sally also helped with the sense of mystery and intrigue about him, something that also came into play last week. The DVD conversation itself was one of the cleverest ideas I can remember seeing in Doctor Who, particularly the small section of it that worked perfectly in two different conversations.

For the second story in a row we have an adaptation of a piece of Doctor Who prose, brought to television by its own original writer. What I did on my Christmas holidays, by Sally Sparrow originally appeared in the 2006 Doctor Who Annual, the one published by Panini before they had to rename them Storybooks so that BBC Books could come up with their own, by all accounts sub-par, branded “Annual” efforts. You can read the story online on the BBC website now, here, and although the story has been expanded and chopped and changed a fair bit, the basic idea of the Doctor being trapped in the past and needing Sally Sparrow to help him is still there. Perhaps we should have this more often, Doctor Who stories being adapted and improved from their “first draft” form in other media – it seems to be working well so far!

And no, not just because she took her clothes off in it, before you all start!

Sally has been aged up a good decade or so for television, however, so that she can be played by the excellent Carey Mulligan, who impressed me last year in The Amazing Mrs Pritchard on BBC One. (And no, not just because she took her clothes off in it, before you all start!). I know it’s become something of a tradition that as soon as a young female guest star gives a half-decent performance everyone starts clamouring for her to be made the next companion (or even, sometimes, to immediately replace the current companion), but I would like to see more of Ms Sparrow one of these days. Surely if ever a character in the new series cried out for a return appearance – and more screen time with the Doctor – then it’s her?

Finlay Robertson as Larry had a slighter character to play, but I thought he gave Larry some warmth and humour that stopped him just short of being the stereotypical geek he could have been. He actually put me in mind a little of a more sane and sensible version of Jeff from Moffat’s Coupling, although that might just be me projecting my own expectations and knowledge of the author’s previous work onto the text.

I don’t recall having been frightened by an episode of Doctor Who since the 1993 Genesis of the Daleks repeat on BBC2, when I was eight years old, so I’m probably a bit too old to be unsettled by the series now. In fact I rarely find that it gets me all that emotionally affected in any direction – I’ve never cried at it or anything melodramatic like that – but then again little television does, so it’s not unique to the series. It’s hard for me to say then how scary the Weeping Angels were, but they were a certainly a terrific concept that I can imagine might well have unsettled some children across the country.

Why, as casting director Andy Pryor points out on the MP3 commentary, don’t they just close one eye at a time instead of blinking?

You could go on about Blink’s brilliance, I think, but to simply sit here and list everything that was great about it – the way the Angels killed, the Doctor’s brief appearances, Billy the policeman, the creepy old house, the final meeting at the end – would just end up boring everyone. There are little complaints you can make, or at least small issues to raise – why did the Angel bung a rock at Sally at the start? And why, as casting director Andy Pryor points out on the MP3 commentary and thus making me feel less clever than I had done five minutes previously, don’t they just close one eye at a time instead of blinking? Minor quibbles, though – and easily excused in such a fine episode.

Before I go, a few words on last night’s edition of Doctor Who Confidential, which was by far and away the finest episode of that series that has ever been produced. It really gave something of the feeling of what a magical and special series Doctor Who is, and what a special institution the BBC itself is, or at least used to be. BBC Television Centre in London is now no longer some marvellous, enigmatic palace where all the stars of television live, but an increasingly empty cavern were a few sitcoms and shiny floor shows play out their days. However, once all was different – once there was real magic made there, and legend stalks its corridors. The show, directed and presented by David Tennant, was a reminder of just what the BBC once was, and what Doctor Who is and continues to be.

A great night for Doctor Who fans.

Comments

BLINK was top notch DOCTOR WHO- the dvd "conversation", the sad fate of the Billy, the Weeping Angels being "the only psychotics who kill you nicely". I haven't been truly afraid of a Doctor Who villain since I was a larval Wirrrn watching Rueben the Rutan go about his deadly business in THE HORROR OF FANG ROCK (it was that slow, creepy smile and the shuffle), but the Weeping Angels were terrifying- even moreso in that we never saw them actually move (were they actually statues, or actors under makeup?). The bit where Sally and the sweet, Xander-esque Larry look up and see the Angel paused mid-attack- I yelled my head off. They're a welcome new addition to the All Time Great WHO monsters.

Next week- Barrowman, Jacobi and rejects from Carpenter's GHOSTS OF MARS? Colour me there!!

I nearly crapped myself and I'm 36!

Answer to the quibble:

It's impossible to close one eye without momentarily closing the other - try it and see. It's like when you look from one corner of the room to another, your eyes momentarily close to 'cut' because the brain can't cope with pans (I mean in the 'camera' sense, not the utensil sense)

Anyway, in a situation like that, do you really think anyone's gonna risk getting clever with the buggers? I wouldn't want to test out that particular theory in that situation.

I was expecting the mirror to come in to play - it kept cropping up in shots and I thought there was a Medusa moment coming, but it never did. I can't work out if that's clever or not...

Hang on, that can't be right, can it?

My eyes can open and close independently of each other.. I just checked it in the mirror. Am I some sort of freak of nature?

Well, Salem, if you are, you're not alone. I move to call this new phenomenon: 'winking'.

Call me winker also.

"It's impossible to close one eye without momentarily closing the other - try it and see."

This mean that you're among that proportion of the population that can't wink. However, even people who can would find it tricky to stay off the blinking reflex for any length of time. And someone with one eye (or hayfever) would likely be fucked.

"when you look from one corner of the room to another, your eyes momentarily close to 'cut' because the brain can't cope with pans"

I've just tried this; my eyes remained open. Where are you getting this stuff? And more importantly, why haven't you put it back?

". . .with the only female Doctor Who fans anybody had ever heard of tending to be American women the size of two houses with deeply strange Paul McGann fixations . . ."

I can only conclude that you didn't hang out in the sort of groups that the female fans did. This attitude may well explain why you didn't.

Yes, I am female. Yes, I have loved Doctor Who since I was eight or nine. (I'm now 34.) No, I'm not American.

Dude, you write a perfectly good review otherwise, but would you please consider not dissing half the human race in the first couple of paragraphs?

. . . I'm sure the Doctor wouldn't do something like that.

Don't worry - all the male Doctor Who fans are lard asses, too.

Axons with wings! heh

Moffat's writing was genius and I basically couldn't have loved this episode more. I have a few friends who don't watch the show and I think this is really the perfect standalone episode to show them, as those Weeping Angels were terrifying! I swear I'll never look at statues the same way again.

Seconding incandescens's comments--as a female, and an American, I'm disappointed at the juvenile way you've decided to paint us all with the same brush. As she says, no wonder you never met any other female fans--and with that attitude, I'd say you don't deserve to.

There's justified snark, and there's snark done just to make yourself look better. The problem with the latter is that it often fails--like it has for you this time.

Hiya,

Forgot to mention my favourite line of the episode: "Sad is Happy for Deep people". Very Lisa Simpson!!

Was it being called fat that made you angry? or being accused of liking Paul McGann?

Alright ladies, we get it. Seriously though, speaking from someone who went through a difficult point physically in his life, I think what he was getting at was, from his (and possibly the common) point of view, it was difficult finding a female Doctor Who fan that wasn't in a similar stereotypical anorak make / model to those of us unfortunate male teenage nerds.

I don't think he ACTUALLY said (or at least meant) that all of your arses were big enough to plug the temporal vortex. Bigger on the outside as it were, not the inside. More Colin than Nicola, maybe? (see how I just shot my sensitive comment in the foot, on purpose?!? Am I crazy?!!?)

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