?

Log in

No account? Create an account
Eroticdreambattle [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Tony Grist

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

Not So Classic Who [Apr. 14th, 2010|10:50 am]
Tony Grist
I treated myself to an afternoon and evening watching "classic" Who. Specifically The Space Museum from 1965 and The Talons of Weng Chiang from 1977- both of them available for free here.

The premise for The Space Museum is satisfyingly creepy. The Doctor and his companions land on a seemingly deserted planet and set out to explore a huge, Borgesian museum, full of space junk. There are anomalies. They leave no footprints in the planet's dust, they reach out to touch the exhibits and their hands pass right through them, the people who eventually appear can't see them. Finally they enter a room in which the main exhibit is the Tardis, with themselves in glass cabinets alongside. Roll credits.

The second episode quickly resolves the mysteries- and we're off on a far less interesting ride involving alien oppressors and rayguns and escapes and fisticuffs.  The oppressors look like Gary Glitter and the people they're oppressing are lank-haired, public schoolboys with two sets of eyebrows.  

It's all very cheap. The heavy old cameras don't move much- and the sets are so small the characters don't move much either. If they're running away from something and need to exchange ideas they have to stop to do it.  The dialogue is dogged and largely humourless.  The acting is variable- ranging from competent to lousy.  I don't know if the show went out live, but there are several instances of an actor- mainly Hartnell and the chief baddy- stubbing their toes on a line and carrying on regardless. I remember Hartnell fondly- but he's a performer of limited range- and after an hour and a half I was beginning to find his doctorly mannerisms- the lapel clasping arrogance, the sly laugh, the aggressive, interrogatory "hums"- repetitive and annoying.

The Talons of Weng Chiang comes from the Tom Baker era- and features on most fan lists as one of the best stories ever. It's better than The Space Museum, certainly- it has a budget and employs a better class of actor-  but what else are we comparing it with?  The story is Sherlockian spoofery, heavily indebted to late period Hammer Horror, or- in other words- derivative and silly.   Also, with its heavy reliance on stereotypes of oriental villainy (its chief baddy is a yellowed-up white man in mandarin robes) it's very hard to absolve it from the charge of racism.

I was around for all the Doctors-  I watched the show as a kid, as a young adult and as a parent-  and It's been puzzling me why hardly any of the stories have stuck in my mind.  I now have my answer. It's because they're rubbish. Through most of its long history Dr Who was this great idea, indifferently executed.  If you're a fan of new Who and think it would be fun to search the archives, by all means do, but don't expect too much. New Who has its faults, but on every level- writing, acting, production values- it's a big advance on what went before.
linkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: strange_complex
2010-04-14 10:35 am (UTC)
As a huge Classic Who fan, I'll own right up to the charge of a 'great idea, indifferently executed' - I think in many ways that's always been part of its appeal to the hard-core crowd. I also wasn't entirely blown away by The Talons of Weng-Chiang, despite being a massive Tom Baker fan - I don't mind the silly pastiche, which has always been the life-blood of Doctor Who, but to me the story was let down by making very poor use of Leela as a character. There are better Fourth Doctor stories, like The Masque of Mandragora, The Deadly Assassin and City of Death.

The Hartnell era I must defend, though. As you know I've been watching a lot of it lately, and many of its stories are incredibly well put-together. The theatrical direction, scripting and acting which you mention were simply standard televisual practice for this period, but the ideas behind Doctor Who's stories took it into territory which had never been attempted on television before - and it shows a growing self-awareness about this which I like very much too. My view of The Space Museum is strikingly different from yours, and I think that is largely because I am seeing it in the context of the gradual development of ideas over successive stories. Seen from that perspective, it's incredibly clever and inventive and does a great deal to develop the show and its premises.

To answer your question about the fluffs, it didn't actually go out live, but each episode was rehearsed and recorded in a single week, with the final filming usually being carried out in only a few hours. So in practice the conditions were very much like a theatrical performance, and yes - fluffs were just ridden through, as there was no time to re-record. But Hartnell is a better performer than one story might give you evidence for - The Massacre, for example, gives him opportunities to play a completely different role, and also deliver a really cracking long speech at the end of the story, and he does both brilliantly (or at least they sound brilliant - the original footage is unfortunately lost).

Anyway, I don't deny that production values are higher in New Who, but personally I am finding far more in the Classic Who archives than I ever expected to. Try An Unearthly Child, The Aztecs, The Dalek Invasion of Earth or The Time Meddler before you write the Hartnell era off entirely.
(Reply) (Thread)
From: mamadar
2010-04-14 12:57 pm (UTC)

Why I have this icon

I agree that "The Aztecs" and "The Dalek Invasion" are both excellent episodes. The image of the Dalek emerging from the Thames is as evocative for me as the image of the car being dragged from the pond at the close of Hitchcock's Psycho.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-04-14 01:14 pm (UTC)
The Talons of Weng-Chiang suffers from a plethora of Watsons. A cleverer writer might have made more of the parallels with Pygmalion- and given Leela some "not bloody likely" moments.

The giant rat was always a bad idea, I think. The writer should have thought a little harder about what the special effects department was capable of delivering.

I was expecting to like Hartnell more than I did. After all, I lived through his era (I was 14 in 1965) and enjoyed him at the time. It's a bit of a shock to see just how primitive early TV drama is.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: upasaka
2010-04-14 10:47 am (UTC)
The best part of Weng Chiang is the giant plush velour rat -- that and Leela in Victorian drag.
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-04-14 12:27 pm (UTC)
Yes, I liked that costume.

Good production design all round, I thought. I particularly liked the bit where they were messing about in a boat on the Thames.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2010-04-14 01:42 pm (UTC)
You just have to be a heretic. :P

To me, it's always been the characters, and while there were several forgettable ones, there have been so many outstanding ones that I believe are well worth going back for. I don't remember episodes, but I remember the people.

My only concern with the latest change of leadership is whether the characters will be changed for the worse or lost altogether in favor of production values, as has happened many times before, or modern ideas of character that mean taking all that is good and light and full of soul and promise away and turning everything into a nightmare struggle of drama.

Not that I have opinions on this or anything. :P
(Reply) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-04-14 04:14 pm (UTC)
You're right. I love to take up a contrary position.

The characters are what lasts from early Who- the Doctors and the companions and the adversaries. The BBC has just put an archive on line- under the title The Changing Face of Dr Who- which demonstrates- among other things- that every time there's been a change of Doctor a lot of people have been dismayed. Like you I'm having my doubts about the latest Doctor and his companion, but I expect everything will turn out fine in the end. The BBC just doesn't have the money to swamp the show in special effects- even if it wanted to- and I believe the budget for this current season is actually less than it was for David Tennant's final outings.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2010-04-14 04:26 pm (UTC)
I'm actually totally on board with the new Doctor just from the end bit of the last Tennant episode...because, of course, he reminded me hugely of Tom Baker, who was my first (and unsurprisingly most beloved) Doctor.
I'm more anxious about the writer switch, honestly, because I'm worried about too much focus on the "horror" aspect of things...so your commentary on the first couple of episodes has been reassuring already. :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-04-14 04:45 pm (UTC)
I've never thought of Moffat as being particularly about horror- though he's good at it. What I like about the episodes he wrote under RTD is that (A) they're very intelligent and (B) they move me in a way the usual Dr Who episode doesn't. My favourite New Who story- the Girl in the Fireplace- is one of his- and I think it's just beautiful. It's the measure for me of what the show could be- but usually isn't.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2010-04-14 05:01 pm (UTC)
That is a very good one. So much has been made of Blink (which was excellently scary) and the one in the library (which Tom and I seem to be only ones that didn't find it all that scary, actually) that I worried about the direction it might go in.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-04-14 06:06 pm (UTC)
I didn't find the Library all that scary either- but I was pleased to learn that Moffat will be bringing back Alex Kingston as River Song. Maybe we'll find out who the character is, maybe we won't- either way it'll be nice to have Alex around again.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: jenny_evergreen
2010-04-14 06:38 pm (UTC)
"Everyone" said it was so much worse than Blink and Tom and I just kept looking at each other and shrugging our shoulders. Glad to know we weren't alone!
It will be! I love her. :)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-04-14 09:09 pm (UTC)
Blink seemed effortless, but I felt that with the library thing he was straining after effect.

He's written himself about how having a reputation for writing really scary stories can be a burden. People expect you to keep going one better.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)