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Sunday, 15 December 2013

What to Watch Next: The Unquiet Dead & Timelash

Connecting theme for the day: "Celebrity Historical". A story that's set in the past, not for the purpose of engaging with the time period in particular, but to have the Doctor and his companions being chummy with some troubled-yet-loveable figure who's famous enough for everyone in the audience to recognise the name. Funnily enough, "Timelash" is about the first time this happens, albeit with the ever-so-ironic twist ending (it's true that the crew meet King Richard in "The Crusade", but he's not the point of the story, and whatever "The King's Demons" is about, it's not King John.)

The guest star gets to come on an adventure, expresses bewilderment about how strange the Doctor's idea of normality is, does a few things that are side-splittingly ironic and/or expected of them, and gets patted on the head before being sent back to whatever important role in life they're expected to carry out. Sometimes this is more plausible than others. Charles Dickens may not be especially true to life (in '69, he didn't need persuasion to go back to his family - he was on his farewell tour to say goodbye to performances for good), but Callow's theatrical presence goes a long way there. Whereas "Herbert" has just about nothing in common with the historical Wells and all the irony in the story is invested in his juxtaposition with a time machine and underground Morlox, rather than anything he's actually saying or doing. But still, the pseudo-companion dynamic is right, and plausibly enough that it's almost a surprise he doesn't come along at the end.

Which means that in a very real sense, "The Unicorn and the Wasp", "Vincent and the Doctor", and even the latest special are all building on a type of story that was kicked off by one of the most hated DW stories of all time. Funny old world, isn't it?

The Unquiet Dead

The Doctor, his historical companion, and a Special Effect
"Simon Callow - Talking about adapting A Christmas Carol"
Doing this sort of thing is why he got hired to play the part in the first place.
It's interesting that he specifies the Ignorance and Want passage as the center of the novel, because that was one of the bits that Dickens rather explicitly excluded from his own performed readings. Have a look.

"The Kidnappers - comedy sketch"
Mark Gatiss, ladies and gentlemen. By the time this aired for the 1999 Doctor Who Night, the first series of "The League of Gentlemen" had aired on BBC Two. Given Peter Davison's newly-revealed comedic talents, it is very tempting to imagine what this could have been like if he'd been allowed to improvise a line or two...
(He also did "The Pitch of Fear" at the same time, an entirely different take on the origins of the show than the one in "An Adventure in Space and Time". And pound-for-pound, a lot funnier.)

"The Signalman"
Well, there has to be a BBC costume drama for comparison purposes, and we might as well pick a spooky Dickens adaptation for the job (specifically, one from the BBC's storied tradition of Christmas ghost stories). Especially since Gatiss has said that this was one of his favourites. Hence the Doctor's otherwise inexplicable enthusiastic namecheck...

"Crooked House trailer"
 Which leads us, with neat inevitability, to the recent BBC Four revival of Christmas ghost stories. Gatiss has written several of these, including "Crooked House", a three-part pastiche of both package 70s horror films proper and said Christmas tales (for purposes of this piece, the first story is the one worth looking at. Gatiss tackles the 1700s rather than the 1800s this time, but to see how he is writing this sort of Christmas story when it doesn't involve the Doctor, it's worth a look. It also features some amusingly sarcastic lines and a clever visual conceit, and is really perfectly entertaining on its own merits.)

He has another one coming up 25 December this year, starring Leela, the art critic lady from "City of Death", Warris Hussein from "An Adventure in Space and Time"... (Louise Jameson, Eleanor Bron, and Sacha Dhawan, as though we needed to say it, plus a lot of other familiar faces). Now consider that the production team were thinking of "The Unquiet Dead" as the one that might get a Christmas special rebroadcast (before the money came through for "The Christmas Invasion") and a lot slots into place, doesn't it?

"The force that through the green fuse drives the flower"
Richard Burton reading one of Dylan Thomas' poems (slightly obvious, but thematically fitting and at least it isn't "Do not go gentle"). Someone experimenting with an animation project has a quite tolerable recording of Thomas reading it himself, if you'd prefer.
We wouldn't do this for every location that DW was shot at, but given that Wales' most famous poet was born in the same town where they went for a literary story, it seemed worth including. (Davies doing a story about Dylan Thomas would probably have been decried as parochial, at least that first year, but wouldn't it have been a sight?)


The Doctor, his historical companion, and a Very Special Effect

"The Time Machine"
George Pal version, to take the nasty taste away. Not entirely faithful to the book - gone is the all-existence-is-meaningless conclusion of the original story, but then H. G. Wells could be rather cynical and didactic in real life. Whereas the movie goes for action-adventure, with a bit of heartwarming human interest, but it's so fresh and - it's an entirely different experience from the text but in ways that flatter the cinematic form. The trailer was a bit dull though, hence this much more exiting time travel clip.

"Blake's 7 - City at the Edge of the World"
We couldn't not include a clip. Tragically, Colin Baker doesn't really have a great showdown with Darrow in their DW meetup, and there isn't really one in this story either, but still: Baker on Blake's 7. It's plain fun.  

"You Spin Me Around music video"
The Dead or Alive song that was number one the same week that episode one was airing (after four months in the charts, due to record company shenanigans). As the band had next to no budget for the music video, it's a handy comparison for just how outrageous that pic of the Doctor and Herbert looks in context. Or doesn't.
(Yes, it still does.)

"Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World - Monsters of the Lakes"
 Is there a Loch Ness Monster? Probably not, according to Clarke. But only after he's interviewed believers from the area, watched the home movies and admired the cutting-edge cameras and sonar that people using to look for the beast - it's a weird little show, but he did try to maintain a skeptical attitude.
(The oil rig attack mentioned here fits a 1975 dating for "Terror of the Zygons", though. Hurrah!)

"Glen McCoy"
A clip from a how-to-succeed-in-business-without-really-trying seminar in which he's attempting to convince his audience of the power of persuasive language. That's apparently his job these days.
No, really, it's the same bloke. Aside from the assorted typos and the slightly questionable wording about his stint on Eastenders, we'd love to know why he chose not to mention working on Eldorado.
(For overseas readers who've never heard of the legendarily awful soap, here's an article in which even the BBC reporter can muster only dubious enthusiasm about its merits. Jim Carter's narration on the linked documentary was ideal casting.)

1 comment :

et said...

You're recommending people watch "Timelash?" What kind of sick, twisted maniac are you??