Tuesday, 2 September 2014

What to Watch Next: Love & Monsters & The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

"But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It's so much darker, and so much madder. And so much better."

"The climax of my act, Gods of Ragnarok, requires something you do not possess in great abundance. That is, imagination."

There's a common strain of thought linking these two morals.

Ahem. We have precisely one Doctor Who title with an ampersand in it, which makes my post title look a mite odd but there it is. It took a bit of thought to come up with something to match the Tennant story - even years and producers down the line, there's not been anything challenging the premise nor the in quite the same fashion - but the Sylvester McCoy story came to mind readily enough.

They're hateful/loveable to fans for the same reasons, and with much the same flavour. They're unabashedly embarrassing, in a toe-curling, is-this-really-happening fashion that is entirely deliberate, unlike the great majority of stories that are embarrassing for purely unintentional reasons (you can come up with your own favourite examples; a Doctor Who fan with tastes so catholic as to appreciate every single story equally wouldn't be human). It's no coincidence that the theming of both is broadly comedic, even though the shapes of the stories aren't especially ("Galaxy" is a haunted house drama set at a circus, essentially, while "L & M" is about a young man who loses his innocence, his mother and his friends for no reason that's ever going to make sense). It is supposed to look as though the Doctor's reaching the end of his tether when he starts pulling eggs out of his mouth and hanging upside-down at the climax of "Galaxy" (and how often does a Tarot card reading get to be interpreted that literally, then), the notorious "love life" line in "L & M" is supposed to be exactly that self-conscious and slightly sheepish, and in both cases it lends the stories a certain verisimilitude that is impossible in a story that begins by taking itself seriously. This isn't the kind of gritty drama that Eric Saward produced, with bloodless deaths intended to shock and horrify; this sort of story-telling gets under your skin in a much more familiar and poignant fashion. Because as incitements for empathy go, identification with an embarrassed party is as sound as any; this is all a matter of whether you choose to accept it or not. It's the emotional register of what we might express in special effects as the difference between Ivor the Engine and Thomas the Tank, CGI edition; one of them looks a lot more "real" than the other, and makes the viewer do less work.

(The serious converse of "Love & Monsters" was Davies' next go at a Doctor-less script; "Turn Left" only gets away with its angst-pileup because we're already familiar with Donna and she can be easily reincorporated into the ongoing story. As for a serious Seventh Doctor story, well...there's a good many Virgin New Adventures that answer to that description quite readily.*)

Oh, and in other news, yours truly is back to writing, a mere week and change after the premier of the new season. Posts should be coming more frequently henceforth.

Love & Monsters

 Usually, in studying fifty pictures or so, there's still one particular photo that instantly leaps out as being amusing, or unexpected, or - hopefully - explicitly connected to the theme I'm doing.  
"F for Fake"

It's be a little extravagant to link to the entire Orson Welles movie, so here instead is the nine-minute trailer (which never actually was used for promotional purposes; did I mention its inordinate length?) The trajectory between one of the most narrative-bending episodes Doctor Who's ever seen and Welles' final masterpiece is reasonably obvious once you understand they're coming from much the same place; making you question what can be done with the Form of its type (all of filmography in one case, Doctor Who episodes on the other, which sounds slightly unfair but then Davies never said he was Orson Welles). Now if RTD ever tried to suggest that he was helping cover up the existence of aliens by shooting fake stories about them, we might have grounds for returning to the comparison...

Anyway, it really is a brilliant and unexpected film and ought to be watched cold. You can go look it up on Wikipedia after you've seen it.

The paucity of Jeff Lynn-related documentaries is a curious thing, but no great matter; here's a pleasant one with the originator of the band, Roy Wood. It's good for the songs, at the very least.

(The Electric Light Orchestra being an attempt to do pop songs in a classic style, taking six months to record the childish "Mr Blue Sky", it's an ideal fit for the rebooted DW; doing seemingly slight things in dramatic style. Presumably Davies had that comparison in mind, instinctively or consciously.

See also: Murray Gold's day job.) 

As a corrective for those who aren't so keen on ELO: dancehall duo from Jamaica. 

It's worth thinking about the timing here; their big break was in the early 90s, around the time that Davies was just starting to break into TV as a producer. In an episode about nostalgia inflections, is this a coincidence or purpose? We know that's about when he came up with the name LINDA for "Why Don't You". 

From "That Peter Kay Thing", which you probably know of already if you're from the UK. If you're not, it's a pseudo-documentary comedy in which Kay played most of the main characters. The line between this and the episode as aired should be fairly clear, though he turned down a chance to play Elton on the grounds that being the monster would be more fun.

I've picked this episode partly cos it's the first proper episode (and gives the situation for "Phoenix Nights", should you be interested in pursuing Kay's followup series) and also because the Neptune sets up a rather good gag for later on in the write-up, if you're paying attention...and as I was putting this together it's been announced that Kay's planning a comeback and another series of "Phoenix Nights". Good on him.

"Video Nation"

Astonishing how much the episode's dated regarding that camcorder; these days, ten to one that Elton would be using a mobile of some description and the directing grammar would be utterly different. There's a certain window when you could have made a piece of television that looks like this, and it fits somewhere between, ooh, the popularisation of iPhones and the start of the Video Nation project in 1993. Basically, the BBC gave a number of people camcorders to see what they'd do with them, and short projects such as this or this were the result.

(I'd love to know if the title sequence looking curiously reminiscent of "The Bells of St. John" was intentional or not in the latter; there's only so many ways to shoot a wall of video faces, but still...)

It went on for years, tons of videos were uploaded to the BBC website, and then it all came to an end in the 2011 website purge (we keep coming back to that, somehow; it's the twenty-first century and the BBC is still wiping whole swathes of its past). Some of it will hopefully persist, though; here's transcripts for the Welsh videos, for instance. Before you ask, there was exactly one that mentioned Doctor Who, in a video about the glories about Cardiff's Roath Park. Not quite half a mile away from which is an alley where they filmed some SJA.

Specifically, an alley where Clyde and Luke went chasing an evil clown in "Day of the Clown". Which by a logical chain of thought brings us to our second story...

The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

It's not quite serendipity. It's about leaving yourself open to see what the universe has on offer. 
"George and the Dragon"
Veteran of the stage Peggy Mount, who plays the stall lady selling the hideous fruits, in a rather more fun if still imposing part. The clip is the first episode of her 60s sitcom with Sid James (also starring John Le Mesurier, cf. "Dad's Army", and Keith Marsh, who helped out Bernard Cribbins for a bit in the Dalek film). It's a cheery light-hearted affair, with Mount squaring off against James in a suprisingly even-handed fashion.

(The director of Love & Monsters, Dan Zeff, also directed a film called "Hattie", about the triangle between Hattie Jacques, her husband John Le Mesurier, and her lover. British culture really does all blend together if you look at it long enough.)

Blake's 7, Terry Nation, rewritten by Chris Boucher, add in the guest spot by T. P. McKenna (Captain Cook in the DW episode), and this story was basically a shoo-in for my purposes. McKenna gets all the most memorable lines, including a romp in a red Edwardian roadster and a showdown with Blake in his private museum. The genuine 20th century gramophone is a hoot, and serve to establish Blake's amoral anti-hero motivation in a crisp character moment that's yet to be enjoyed by Capaldi...

"BBC Elstree"
Where most of the story was filmed. Or rather, in the parking lot of said studios: a fairly well-known tale involving asbestos in the intended studio, hence there being an actual tent where they actually did the circus scenes. I've picked two more clips, an ATV Christmas promo here and an up-to-date one with terribly earnest music here, as a sort of logical historical progression.

(Anybody who wishes to view this as an ironic commentary on the decline of the British film industry, particularly the ironically forward-looking lyrics of the Buggles song - the BBC purchased the place a couple of years after that second video - is free to do so.)

"The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole"
Whizzkid's main acting project, before he retired and went into nursing as a profession instead.

About that embarrassment theme I started this piece with? It's difficult to imagine anyone enjoying this series except on the basis of empathy; Adrian's angsty, rather self-obsessed, and a good deal of our sympathy goes to him only because of what he gets put through by other people, and yet because of that fact it's possible to muster a certain empathy for said situations.

Otherwise it's just a show about an unpalatable protagonist whining his way through some of the most unpleasant bits of the 80s, and you'd have to ask why anyone in their right mind would want to watch that.

"The Great Soprendo"
Who helped out McCoy out during production, helping him with some of the sleight of hand exercises. As excuses for not explaining what he's just done go, "I can't reveal Magic Circle secrets" is about as good as any in the Seventh Doctor era.

Postscript: that "You're not interested in beginnings. You're only interested in endings." line reads these days like a well-deserved telling-off for Michael Grade and his ilk. One can hope.

*Actually, if you really want a serious take on the Love & Monster format try David Bishop's "Who Killed Kennedy" novel, and observe that it goes far, far beyond anything that Davies could squeeze into forty-five minutes in the way of fanwank. Perversely, it has a far sillier ending.

1 comment :

Jason said...

PREMIERE is the first in sequence. PREMIER is the best in quality.

That applies in both British and American English.