Sunday, March 20, 2005

Marmite & Monsters

Prefect Slog
One week to go to the new series of Doctor Who and the excitement and anticipation is builidng in all sorts of unexpected quarters. My parents are looking forward to it and, after all, why not, they were the ones who got me started on it all those years ago. Even my sister is planning to watch it, despite her main experience of Doctor Who to date being taking the mick out of her brother for being so obsessed with a stupid sci fi show followed by a more recent phase of making a point of reading every Doctor Who book and listening to every Doctor Who audio her brother had written. (Bless her.) In other TV news this week, there was this ad - a reasonably funny one I thought - for Marmite that got itself into trouble for managing - *somehow* - to scare children. The thing about Marmite is that it knows it's not a product everyone likes and it's ad campaigns tend to play on that: you either love it or you hate it. Hence, this latest commercial opted for a pastiche of The Blob, done with all the appropriate 50s B-movie flair and style, with people running in panic away from the eponymous dollop of admittedly not very appetising brown Marmite, while others ran towards it and dived in like raspberry jam addicts might have done if it had been the original. Reasonably amusing, quite well done. Or so you might think. Imagine my surprise when on the early morning radio I catch the news story that the ad had been banned from being aired before certain times because it had 'scared children'. Yes, mums (although they didn't actually specify how many) were up in arms because the nasty blob of Marmite had frightened their little cherubs. Me, I survived giant spiders, giant maggots and a monster with its brain in a fishbowl, but apparently the kids of today are not made of such stern stuff. Or perhaps it's just the parents are more protective than mine were, with their irresponsible ways of letting me watch Doctor Who every Saturday night. Even going so far as to shout up to my room to tell me it was on *if* the need ever arose. Meanwhile, on the subject of monsters for the new Doctor Who, an article in the Radio Times (12th -18th March) jumps on the all too easily jumped on bandwagon of having a poke at Classic Doctor Who's (and I'm calling it that now so as to get a head start in preventing it ever becoming known as Doctor Who: TOS - it deserves better than that) lower budget monsters. In highlighting the appeal of the new monsters it says, "These aren't hokey men in suits - the new creations look and feel like the real deal." Well, fair enough and good show, look forward to seeing them in action. But let's not forget that some of those 'hokey men in suits' and other cheaper creatures imprinted potent, enduring images in the public consciousness - including those giant maggots (my poor sister hated them), the Sea Devils rising from the waves in their string vests and so on. And what Doctor Who had in abundance was creativity, it oozed it (if I'm allowed to say ooze without conjuring unwelcome images of the Blob again) and the designs of a great many of those alien creatures would easily stand head and shoulders (assuming most men-in-suit monsters would have them) above alien races in a good many other higher budget shows. So naturally, I'm hoping that the new series, with its greater budget, will do as many great things in terms of creature design as people like John Friedlander did on the original show. For my money, a Zygon looks more convincing than the fat blue Mekon-Buddha offspring depicted in the Radio Times article, but I've yet to see it in action and in any case I have every confidence that the new production team will be pulling out all the design stops to produce lots of new monsters as well as the old ones they're bringing up to date. But I have to wonder, in the light of the fate of the Marmite ad, what untold harm is the new Doctor Who going to do, even going out at the later time of 7pm, if it is going to expose us to weekly parades of monsters that are - we can hope - more convincing and horrifying than a gooey brown dollop of yeast-based spread? Are the mums going to be up in arms? If they're really concerned, then can't they turn their attentions against the insurance company ad that features Michael Winner in drag? Please. I'm not a kid any more and that one scares the yeast-based spread out of me.


Stuart Douglas said...

Ah well, much as I agree with you about the monsters in classic Who and how great they were (I was still having occasional nightmares about the Ark in Space at 27), you're being a bit of a cheat picking the Zygons - head and shoulders the best realised alien in Who history - as your example.

Even against the Muppet like horror of the Blue Mekon guy, I think the likes of the Shrivenzale would struggle for believability :)

SAF said...

Oh ok, that's a fair point :) But I think a little too much is made of the rubbishy monsters, and never enough about the (often) great designs. So a little bias is in order sometimes to balance the scales :)

Stuart Douglas said...

Definitely - although, design-wise, I can't say I was impressed all that much either by Saturday's super-heated blancmange Nestene Consciousness or the plastic octopus of years gone by :)