Sunday, March 27, 2005

We have no time to stand and scare

Prefect SlogI remember when I used to read the Target novelisations of 'classic' Doctor Who, the TARDIS always used to arrive with a wheeze and a groan. Now it arrives with a whiz and a bang. And before you even know there's an invasion on, it's over. Which is a nice feeling for the ordinary member of the public who wants to feel safe, but when you're sitting down to Doctor Who, you kind of want a bit more time to get into the story. Let me qualify this by saying that I liked it, and there was much to like - and it improved on a second watch, which is something I couldn't say about the TVM. But I don't think it's too much of a gripe to say that I wish we could have had more of it. (My Mum today thought the whole thing had been half an hour long.) A two-parter might have served better and could still have been nice and pacey, given a fuller story. After all, we're introducing a new Doctor (nicely done, by the way, and the mirror check was an exquisite little touch - although the scariest moment was hearing Graham Norton filter through over the soundtrack in the early minutes - had they been lying to us about who was playing the Ninth Doctor?!) and there's an alien invasion on. Paradoxically, against the show's seemingly relentless pace, you have apparent padding, with - for instance - cuts back to the Doctor on the platform above the Nestene creature, with zero progression to the action. How about a choreographed fight sequence - or something, guys? But the principal down side for me was basically that it wasn't long enough: the aliens could have used a bit more build-up to get their menace quotient up, the plot could have used a bit more, well, plot, and the characters could have used a bit more screen time for more of an emotional connection. Because if you want your monsters to be scary you've got to give them a chance, and it also helps if you care about the people they're threatening. Although on that side, I did feel sorry for poor Clive. Overall, it was fun, entertaining, a bit daft in places and very easy to pick holes in. So, pretty much like a lot of Doctor Who. Which, I suppose, is the main thing. Worst moment: (apart from Graham Norton) the replica Mickey proving that Rose, the modern independent girl companion is very possibly the densest woman on the planet. Fair play, it was a gag, but Billie Piper was good in the role and I can't help thinking her character deserved better. Most magic moment: Rose enters the TARDIS for the first time. That was a real lump in the throat, tear in the eye, thrill in the heart moment. And call me a sad old sentimental fool, but that counted more than anything else. That was when it came alive for me. Doctor Who is back and it is about time. And luckily, for those of us who wish we had more of it, there are 12 more episodes on the way. Plenty of time for this one to grow.

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.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

America's Finest

Prefect SlogAh, the internet. Finally, a space big enough to accommodate every ego. I think the main reason I held off incorporating a blog into my website, despite all the recommendations, was the inflated sense of self-importance that I got from most of the other blogs I read. Which, it has to be said, were never many. So, anyway, that is not what this is about.
Just finished watching CSI:NY (which, bizarrely mentioned fox-hunting, but that's another discussion - don't even get me started) - and obviously can't wait for future spinoffs which might make it as far as my town, CSI:Penzance, or perhaps stray into challenging fantasy territory, CSI:Helm's Deep. Anyway, in the good old U of K, such programmes are shown on Channel 5 as part of a thing called America's Finest, and I was only having a discussion with a friend earlier in the week about how most of the good TV we get over here is generally American these days. Of course, that's all going to change in 3 weeks' time when the new Doctor Who hits our screens, but this on a night when the UK narrowly escapes being represented by Jordan (aka Katie Price) in the Eurovision Song Contest and on a day when some kid in Kentucky gets arrested for writing a short story that apparently marks him as a potential terrorist. Or something.

So it gets me thinking, about Iraq, US foreign policy, Iraq, our own domestic and foreign policy (if they can be considered separate from the US), and my own recent (first) visit to the States. And the fact is I hear a lot of anti-American rhetoric bandied about, on the internet and among friends, but as someone who endeavours to see every side of a story, I'd like to see a little perspective. Yes, American TV is among the best we have over here at the moment - but how representative is that? Surely they must have a whole load of crap on their countless channels that we never get to see. And likewise, there has to be a bunch of stuff produced for our screens that we couldn't export if we paid them. And, following on from that, I have to wonder how representative is that story of the kid from Kentucky, and how representative is all that anti-American rhetoric. Because, let's face it, UK, we could have been represented by Jordan, for crying out loud, and we have been represented abroad by everything from football hooligans to Tony Blair. Does any of that genuinely reflect on us? It doesn't reflect on me - I lay no claim to responsibility! And I'm reasonably sure that the 'average American' does not want to be represented by stories like the kid from Kentucky (the most shocking part of which for me was that he was allegedly shopped by his grandparents!), or by any of the stories that form the basis of much of said anti-American rhetoric.
Personally, I've met a few Americans and while they might not be an 'average' cross-section - the majority I've met were at a Doctor Who convention in Los Angeles - they don't represent anything of the public pereception of America I see a little too much of at the moment. The fact is, America's Finest isn't in CSI and its cousins (as much as I appreciate the drama and anticipate those future spinoffs), but it's where you'll find it in any country: at the people level. And I'd just like to see a little more of a balanced perspective, when people go mouthing off about a given nation. Because next time I go abroad, God forbid I get judged by the actions of Jordan or Tony Blair.