Terror at the Rumour Mill: Episode 3
Scroll down and look at the promo shot for the new series. Is this picture everything that’s wrong with Doctor Who these days?
You see! Ban this sick filth!
OK, so maybe it doesn’t call for a Daily Mail level of harshness but seeing this stylised promotional image from the upcoming Asylum of the Daleks a few weeks ago just set something off in me. It just doesn’t seem right; not very Doctor Who at all. The Doctor holding his companion in his arms in such an obviously heroic pose while the Daleks burn? Shouldn’t he be in a field somewhere smiling in front of the TARDIS or pretending to fish off a rock?
Now, any regular readers will know my origin story, basically that I never gave the show much time until new Who stormed onto our screens in 2005, but even then casting the Doctor as an action hero and war veteran seemed at odds with past Doctors like Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy. The Ninth Doctor’s speech to the Daleks at the end of Bad Wolf always seemed wrong to me, this wasn’t the traditional image of the Doctor. He was an endearingly British crackpot scientist pootling away in an erratic time machine not an American action hero using his TARDIS to attack the Daleks and swearing bloody vengeance unless they bring back his companion. He can leave that to Captain Jack. To me, that scene seemed like the moment in Red Dwarf’s Back to Reality episode when Dave Lister, convinced he has been living in a video game, sees a new group of players come in and start to do things better including a more handsome and heroic version of himself. Somehow the Ninth Doctor always seemed like he would be the sort of chap who would ignore his previous incarnations at a party. He was no stranger to advert-based fireballs himself though and neither was his successor. Whatever you may think about David Tennant, the man knew how to strike a publicity pose. A promotional image for series three saw the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones in mid-flight escaping yet another explosion.
Of course, we could look back at the original action Doctor, Jon Pertwee. The 1972 season started off with another Dalek tale, Day of the Daleks. Just imagine the Third Doctor carrying Jo Grant in his arms as he stands in the middle of Auderley House with three blazing Daleks behind him. Actually, Pertwee could definitely make that work and he was no stranger to the action shot himself. Back to the Eleventh Doctor though and here is a man who is hardly the action hero type in his tweed jacket and bow tie, no matter how cool he insists on stating that it is. The Doctor is a hero though, even if that’s not how he sees himself, in fact he would be the last to say so. It’s now passed into fan lore how Matt Smith, when his Doctor was being conceived, threw aside a more heroic and piratey look in favour of the young fogey image.
One of my main problems with the picture though is that whole ultra-sharp look, photoshopped and airbrushed within an inch of its life, that so many promo shots have these days that make it look so bland. 2Entertain have been doing much the same with the DVD covers, which is a shame. The flames don’t even look like they’re giving the Daleks a reason to do as much as poke a marshmallow on the end of their gun arms. Still, I expect it’s graced a million and one computer screens by now. Asylum of the Daleks has had its big premiere at the BFI and is due for broadcast this Saturday (1st September) and I’m really looking forward this one. Apart from some small appearances in the season finales, Steven Moffat has never written a proper Dalek story before. The closest he came was the lone Dalek in The Big Bang and I can’t wait to see what he does with a full army from every era up his sleeve.
One programme that I’m possibly even more excited to see is the recently announced An Adventure in Space and Time. Mark Gatiss is down to pen this BBC drama about the early days of Doctor Who and it’s something that a lot of fans have been hoping that they will do for the upcoming 50th anniversary. The BBC has been looking to the 1950s and 1960s for quite a few dramas recently and a lot of them have been based around our comedy stars of the age. The likes of Tony Hancock, Hattie Jacques and Kenneth Williams have had their early days scrutinised in a series of wonderful BBC4 dramas over the last few years but in 2010 another programme celebrated its 50th year on the goggle box. The Road to Coronation Street (or Weatherfield Begins) dramatised the 1960 creation of ITV’s well-loved Manchester-based soap opera and since then Who fans have hoped that The Road to Totter’s Lane may be in the pipeline. The BBC even recreated Lime Grove Studios for 1950s-set conspiracy drama The Hour and as I watched I secretly hoped that the set would be put in storage for another purpose…
Doctor Who had a troubled creation and one that is well documented in the Doctor Who: Origins documentary on The Edge of Destruction DVD. In these days of creator-led series it’s hard to contemplate that one of the BBC’s most successful series was created mainly by committee with various people adding various pieces to the mythos along the way, all of which adding up to the show we know today. Take for example the simple fact that the Doctor is a Time Lord. We never met another member of his race until The Time Meddler in 1965 and it was only in 1973’s The Time Warrior that we first found out that his home planet was called Gallifrey; some ten years after the show began. Doctor Who is a partwork created by many people of varying influences and backgrounds and one that is still being added to today.
The show was hardly created by a group of plummy BBC types though. At the beginning we had the outspoken Canadian Head of Drama Sydney Newman, the man credited as the show’s creator and Verity Lambert, the youngest and only female BBC producer. The task of shooting the first serial was given to young Asian director Waris Hussain and one early drama was that the pilot had to be re-shot. The initial idea also changed a lot through the various drafts. A Planet of Giants-style script was considered for the first outing and that famous police box disguise was down to BBC cheapness. There’s a lot here to build a drama around. However when it comes to casting a William Hartnell I would like to champion Nickolas Grace who played Einstein in Death Is the Only Answer, an Eleventh Doctor short which was the result of a scriptwriting competition for schoolchildren. Seeing Grace putting the wig on in Doctor Who Confidential, he looked the dead spit of Hartnell.
An Adventure in Space and Time is the perfect title for the drama. It sums up the show’s ethos well and has a nostalgic feel that harks back to a black and white world of schoolteachers, granddaughters and planetary exploration long before impossible astronauts, Gangers and the Silence came to our screens.