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Jul 10, 2007

Can one shot save a story?

Just like everyone else, I've been grimacing my way through the new dvd release, Timelash.  On paper there are some great ideas in here which wouldn't look out of place in one of Russell's  pre-season episode plans for nu-Who: the return to the setting of an old adventure which is played very much as though we're supposed to have seen it in the series a few decades before; a stable wormhole dropping inhabitants of a planet far in the future into the dark ages (with the effects each of those appearances could have on the timeline) and most squandered the idea of Doctor meta-fictionally meeting one of his inspirations HG Wells.

But no matter what Colin and co might imply in the entertaining commentary it's a shambles and not even gloriously so.  Everyone seems under rehearsed, the script is underwritten in places, overwritten in others, the Bandrill is as disappointing a creature as I'd been led to believe and when, not even the overacting and overreacting of Paul Darrow can save a pantomime like this you kind of wonder why anyone would want to buy it let alone watch it. 

And on the back of a new series, I really hope that there aren't any kids for whom this is their first classic story -- perhaps 2Entertain should have put a label on the back warning them to go and by Genesis of the Daleks instead or have someone call a spade a spade and call it something naughty in the surprisingly honest document in an attempt to drive up the BBFC rating -- which on the face of it could have least included the description from the sleeve notes on the inside contains 'dull, uninspiring sets and costumes'.

But (surprise) I don't come to completely bury Timelash.  Because there is one good scene.  Or rather shot.  And here it is:

As film theorist David Bordwell explains in this brilliant exposition, this kind of shot is becoming increasingly common in film, in everything from Wes Anderson's movies to underrated I, Robot. He describes:

"The camera stands perpendicular to a rear surface, usually a wall. The characters are strung across the frame like clothes on a line. Sometimes they’re facing us, so the image looks like people in a police lineup. Sometimes the figures are in profile, usually for the sake of conversation, but just as often they talk while facing front."

That's not exactly what's going on here -- the studio camera is at a slight angle, but it's not often that you see the Doctor and his plus one simply in repose like this waiting for the next bit of plot to come along (unless they've been captured for the umpteenth time and it's that point in the story when Pertwee gets to deploy his moment of charm).

More often than not the Doctor is moving around, making plans, investigating.  But here he is almost relaxed.  But more than that, it's almost as though, in midst of some of the blandest direction known to the series, Pennant Roberts has, at least for a few seconds, decided to show the state of the relationship between these two travelers and their attitude to adventure.

They look used to one another, like the old married couple they're often described as because of the endless bickering, not even looking at each other, looking into the environment.  There's a stillness to it.  There was a paparazzi photo taken during the making of the first new series of Chris and Billie sitting side by side in their own star chairs texting someone and their attitude was the same as this, relaxed yet also somehow tense in one another's company.

The close ups within this scene are within the same plain -- in other words when we see Colin and Nicola's heads they're positioned as they are now, which is the kind of editing language prevalent in old Hollywood (you can see it often in Frank Capra's films) and that helps to elaborate on this mood.  Then as the scene progresses, the effect is spoiled  as the story kicks in again and anything related to real human drama goes out of the window.

Does this one shot save the story?  Oh good god no, it's utter garbage, the whole other eighty-eight minutes.  But just for a few brief moments, both of these characters become interesting and mysterious and there's a window into what could have been.


Matt - but what would be the point in that - it would be dishonest of me to give a good review to a story that I fundamentally have a problem with and dislike intensely. And besides the point of this post is to praise something about it even if it is just one shot!

To add to what I've written above though, it's shot in a very average way (apart from this one shot), it's repetitiously plotted and throws away the appearance of a historical character when really he should be a bit wonderful. Colin seems bored, Nicola worse and it's lit in such a way, using fill light, that makes the Borad prosthetic look terrible.

But I have read spirited defenses of the story from people who do enjoy it, often despite all of this. I'd like to here why you like it Matt.

Or even hear ...

I was just chuffed to see someone else reads David Bordwell.

His 'Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema' is the best book about film interpretation that I've ever read.

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