Monday, December 19, 2005

Ah, that explains it

I've been reading the scripts for "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances", easily my favorite story of the first season of new Who. I've only seem them once, at Chicago Tardis, where I admired the writing, acting, production, etc. Now, though, reading the script, I'm even more struck by Steven Moffat's dialogue and characterization. There's one exchange, however, between the Doctor and Rose that I completely missed when watching the episode:
THE DOCTOR (emerging, mid-conversation)
Know how long you can knock around space without happening to bump into Earth?

ROSE Five days. Or is that just when we're out of milk?

THE DOCTOR All the species, in all the universe - and it's gotta come out of a cow.

--Doctor Who The Shooting Scripts p. 315
Ignoring the obvious - cold storage, powdered, keep a cow in the TARDIS Pasture Room - this is excellent writing, witty and sharp. And, of course, it explains why the Doctor, or at least this particular Doctor, spent pretty much his entire first season on or near Earth.

Wouldn't the Doctor make for a grand "Got Milk?" ad? :)

Friday, December 16, 2005

How do you say "Vworp! Vworp!" in Welsh?

Let's all move to Cardiff!
Made in Wales

TARDIS lands in Cardiff.

Commemorating a fantastic year, BBC Wales has a very special visitor to its Cardiff offices.

Broadcasting House in Llandaff is currently sporting the TARDIS on its roof. There is also a giant screen with a countdown to the Christmas Invasion and a special promotional video highlighting the fact that over 70 per cent of the people working on the show are Welsh.
For a larger image, click here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

OT but too much fun to ignore

Ugly Christmas

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

IOW, don't write an entire episode about Commander Maxil

This is not apropos of Doctor Who, but it is very funny and germane to anyone who aspires to write for television (including people who might like to write for Doctor Who):
Do not try this at home!

I have read some bad specs in my time and now offer some suggestions of what not to do based on actual scripts I have read…or at least attempted to read.

Don’t view the show from the perspective of a fly. I once read a WINGS spec as seen by a buzzing fly. I offer this as the first example because I know so many young writers fall into this same trap.

Don’t put yourself into the show and make yourself the lead character. I once read a CHEERS where Alan had more lines than Sam & Diane combined. Alan? Who’s Alan? Alan was one of the extras. And so he remained.
Doctor Who fans know this ploy as a "Mary Sue". Most fans commit this mistake in their first fan-fic. Some continue to commit it in their 701st fan-fic.
And just because people tell you you look like Debra Messing doesn’t mean you should write a WILL & GRACE entitled “Grace’s Sister”. If I get a script with a photo attached I know I’m in trouble.

Don’t hand write your script, no matter how good your penmanship. Send your spec in a UCLA blue book and you’ll get an F.

Don’t invent a format.

Know the characters. I read a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW where Mary wondered what to get her husband for his birthday. Her “husband”???!

Keep in mind the production parameters. A MASH I once read featured this:


Hawkeye is on the mound during the World Series. 60,000 people cheer.

Huh????? Ask yourself the following question: Can anybody other than Peter Jackson or James Cameron make this? And if the answer is no, especially for a multi-camera show that takes place in a living room, then don’t do it.

Similarly, avoid dream sequences. The GEORGE LOPEZ SHOW is not looking for the next Fellini.

Don’t hinge your show on stunt casting. I read a BECKER where former President Jimmy Carter came in for a check-up and offered dating advice. Yeah, President Carter gets his physicals in the Bronx. And yeah, President Carter is always available to guest on a sitcom and advise a character to say whatever is necessary to get laid.

Don’t change the characters’ reality to fit your story. Ray Barone is not Jewish. THAT’S why he can’t have a bar mitzvah.

I was going to recommend you don’t do like one aspiring writer and make a joke in a CHEERS about Diane’s pussy because it’s crude, offensive, and inappropriate, but I saw the same joke two weeks ago on STACKED.

Still, I’d like to think there is some line of decorum and taste left. I once read a NEWSRADIO where the story was the Dave Foley character comes into his office in the morning and discovers a semen stain on his couch. Then the episode went downhill.

Don’t marry off any of the main characters.

Don’t kill off any of the main characters.

Don’t go the first ten pages before doing a joke. This even applies to many drama specs.

Don’t do the “supersize” hour episode.

The last sentence in your script should not be “To Be Continued”.

Don’t include a cover letter telling the producer that you sent him a copy of the script months ago and that he was shirking his responsibility by not reading it. Our agent did this once and trust me, David Lloyd was not amused.

And finally, avoid this ploy: I once received a spec MASH with a note that read “This script was written by my brother. On his way to the post office to mail it he was hit by a car and killed. I’m sure he would have wanted you to read it anyway. P.S. If you want any changes I can make them.” He received a touching rejection sympathy card.

Just remember this, when producers read your script they want to like it. They want to discover the next Larry Gelbart. It only helps them. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by doing something stupid like relying on Jimmy Carter to get your laughs.
Mary Richards didn't have a husband? You lie! She was married to Dick Van Dyke! Everyone knows that.

Friday, December 09, 2005

We've seen this before

Specifically, in "Invasion of the Dinosaurs."
The joke's on you

By Megan Lane
BBC News Magazine

These people are being sent not into orbit, but sent up for our amusement in Channel 4's Space Cadets. Do practical jokes go too far these days?

Everybody loves a joker, right? But what if the joke is on you?

That is what nine unwitting "thrill-seekers" will eventually discover, having signed up for the experience of a lifetime - to be blasted off into space in a new reality TV series. It is, in fact, an elaborate and very expensive hoax.

The nine contestants - plus three actors planted to help the action along - are undergoing training in Russia (in reality a disused airbase in Suffolk), competing for four places on a space shuttle (a prop from Clint Eastwood's Space Cowboys film, which will be bombarded with special effects to simulate the flight).

Cue much hand wringing that reality TV has gone mad. For as the genre matures, programme makers are coming up with ever more elaborate ways to fool people.

Last year the reality TV show criticised for going too far was There's Something About Miriam, in which six unwitting lads wooed a stunner - who turned out to be a pre-operative transsexual.

Once the twist in Miriam's tale was revealed, the contestants cried foul and threatened legal action - Sky One only screened the show once the men had received apologies and an out-of-court settlement.

Bit of a giggle?

And now Space Cadets stands accused. Channel 4's hush-hush preparations were broken by Broadcast magazine under the headline "Is this the cruellest reality TV show yet?" Opinion would seem to be divided:

* "Possibly the most audacious practical joke in television history" - Channel 4
* "They are not so much the Right Stuff as the Not-So-Bright Stuff" - Daily Telegraph
* "In spoof space, they still can't hear our screams of laughter" - Express on Sunday
* "Lies somewhere between completely hilarious and terribly cruel" - Sunday Mirror

An unscientific vote on this website on Wednesday asked if the concept was too nasty - the nays carried the day, but only just.

Practical jokes by their very nature involve an element of cruelty, defined as pranks intended to make the victim feel foolish. But where to draw the line between a bit of a giggle and just plain nasty?

Comedian Arthur Smith says that for him, drawn-out hoaxes go too far.

"It's not like being stitched up for 10 minutes or for a morning by a mate. I quite like the idea of briefly and inconsequentially fooling a friend, but writ large like this it's cruel.

"The greatest experience of your life wiped from under your feet, and you've been laughed at for weeks. I'm not saying I wouldn't want to see their faces, especially if they're irritating, but it's like a public execution - grimly fascinating, but that doesn't mean you think it should happen."

If the measure of a prank's cruelty derives from the number of people on the other side sniggering, then TV is surely the ultimate medium for playing such jokes. The man who started this genre was Allen Funt, creator of the US show Candid Camera in the late 1940s.

By today's standards his pranks were pretty tame, although, by way of acknowledging the potential for hurt, Channel 4 has taken steps to soften the inevitable blow for those taking part in Space Cadets. It has made clear that someone close to each contestant has been let in on the hoax and asked if they can take it.

In general, Smith says those who find themselves the butt of a practical joke tend to laugh so as not to seem a bad sport.

No such worries for Tom Cruise. Last June the film star was squirted with water from a fake microphone. What was intended as a bit of fun for a comedy show was an affront to his dignity: "Why would you do that? You jerk!"

Choose carefully

US comedian Tim Nyberg, author of the Practical Joke Book, says the choice of victim is important.

"If it's a celebrity ripe for sending up, that adds to the entertainment, but you have to be more careful with an average Joe off the street. Our rule [when planning jokes] is nothing that causes personal injury or ends you up in a nasty lawsuit."

A well-crafted hoax can be a thing of joy, he says. "It can build camaraderie in the office or in a family, because there's teamwork involved. Used correctly, it's a good thing, otherwise it's damaging."

Those who feel aggrieved often find that some form of compensation helps them see the funny side, he says. Each space cadet, for instance, receives £5,000 for each day on set.

Psychologist Dr G Neil Martin, of Middlesex University, says practical jokes remain popular because we take vicarious pleasure in the misfortune of others.

"One theory of comedy holds that we joke to make ourselves feel superior, and laughing at those we find stupid, avaricious, unpleasant or gormless serves this function. Most reality TV contestants fall into this catch-all category. And there's an element of 'there but for the Grace of God' about enjoying practical jokes."

For next time, it could be you.
Forgive me, but how could anybody actually fall for this? Even in Doctor Who I didn't really buy it. Practical jokes are fine, but who is so dumb as to think they could actually be sent into space?

Other than Bush, of course.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Famous Canadian SF writer loves new Doctor Who!

Okay, that's a bit of a snarky title. Still, it's true. Robert J. Sawyer has won the Hugo and Nebula awards (among many others).
An interview with Robert J. Sawyer


SFC: How did you enjoy the latest Doctor Who season?

Sawyer: I thought it was absolutely terrific. I've got a total crush on Billie Piper, who I gather is a pop star in the UK. I'd never encountered her before the new series started airing. And I'm really sorry that Christopher Eccleston has left; I thought he was great. Episodes like Dalek and Father's Day absolutely blew me away. I'm looking forward to the next season. As you know if you read the ending credits, the new Doctor Who is a co-production with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and I got to do a lot of commentary for the CBC's documentary The Planet Of The Doctor, which was tremendous fun. By the way, since people are always curious, my favourite classic Doctor was Jon Pertwee.
Not that we need famous people to like Doctor Who in order for us to like it, but it's always nice when someone prominent - especially someone prominent in the field - is willing to speak out so publicly and so enthusiastically about sharing our addiction.

An ordinary end to an extraordinary record

Unless Big Finish (or someone else) gets the audio rights and persuades Christopher Eccleston to reprise his role, an extraordinary streak has come to an end. Nicholas Courtney, that fine British actor, played Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, British Army and the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, with every Doctor except William Hartnell's - and even in that case, he appeared with Hartnell as Bret Vyon in "The Daleks' Master Plan" (1965-66). He played Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart with the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) in "The Web of Fear" (1968) and returned the following season, this time promoted to Brigadier, in "The Invasion" (1968).

Of course, Lethbridge-Stewart was in a host of episodes during the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) era. He made only a couple of appearances with the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), and later returned with the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) in "Mawdryn Undead" (1983), this time having retired from the Army and serving as a mathematics teacher in a boys' school.

Courtney did not appear on television with the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker), but did come back (this time married to his longtime girlfriend Doris) with the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), called out of retirement, in "Battlefield" (1989).

All was not lost, however. Courtney as Lethbridge-Stewart did play against the Sixth Doctor in the Big Finish audio "The Spectre of Lanyon Moor" (2000). And he even snuck in an appearance with the Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) on the Big Finish audio "Minuet in Hell" (2001).

But Courtney did not appear at all in the first season of the new series with Christopher Eccleston, who has, of course, left the series after only one year. So, unless Eccleston comes back to the role in one way or another, Courtney's remarkable streak of appearing with every Doctor has ended. Which is a shame, to fans of Doctor Who, at least. Every Doctor should face the Daleks, at least once, and every Doctor should meet the Brig. Traditions arise for a reason, and some should be maintained simply because they are a major part of one's experience and enjoyment.

It's a shame that it didn't happen, especially as they even mention UNIT in "Aliens of London" - that would have been a perfect moment to bring the Brig back, although they'd have had to do something to keep him from getting killed with the other experts. And I understand that they did not want to overburden potential new viewers with too many references to the original series.

Still, an opportunity missed, in my opinion. A somewhat sad end to Courtney's great run. I'm as glad as anyone that Doctor Who is back, and I'm not condemning Russell T. Davies for neglecting to introduce the Ninth Doctor to the Brigadier. But it would have been nice. No, it would have been more than nice - it would have been appropriate and a gift, a reward to all the faithful fans who waited so long for the show to return. A real shame.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

She's still dead, though, isn't she? (INCLUDES SPOILERS)

I greatly enjoyed "Boom Town," primarily for the fine acting, especially that of Christopher Eccleston and Annette Badland during their "date". However, I thought the episode had some major flaws, including the ever-present problem all season long (with the exception of the "two-parters") that the 45-minute format simply doesn't work! I mean, the Doctor rumbles "Margaret's" plot and captures her almost instantly. Not enough time for a real chase.

Also, "Margaret" gives up way too quickly. I know she's old and fat, but can't she at least try to fight back? Why not unzip her forehead and let her inner Slitheen out? Sure, I suppose the Doctor could be carrying vinegar just in case, but isn't it worth a shot? (But no, there's that pesky 45-minute format getting in the way. There simply isn't time for her to make a real, serious escape effort. Gotta move on, gotta get to the denouement.)

Also also, the Doctor knows nothing about the Slitheen in "Aliens of London"/"World War III" (although he identifies their homeworld of Raxicoricofallapatorius - hey, that's not a bad name for a fanzine or blog, huh? - quickly enough). But in "Boom Town" he knows a lot about them. Guess he Googled them in between episodes.

These are all nitpicks. The real problem I have with "Boom Town" is the ending. A real "Awwwwww" moment, we're supposed to think, when Blon Fel-Fotch looks into the soul of the TARDIS and is reborn as an egg.

But -

She's dead now, isn't she? The Doctor was reluctant to return her to Raxicoricofallapatorius for execution, and she was certainly trying to talk him out of doing just that. So, now she's an egg - but what happened to Blon Fel-Fotch's consciousness? It's gone, right? She's completely dead, as dead as if the Doctor had brought her back to Raxicoricofallapatorius (I just love saying or typing that) to be boiled in acid. Less messy, sure, and a lot less painful. But just as dead. So how is that an improvement for Blon Fel-Fotch? It's not really a chance to start over, is it? All her life experience, all her knowledge, even all her evil - wiped out, hard disk reformatted, game reset. Whatever the egg grows up to be, it won't be Blon Fel-Fotch Pasameer-Day Slitheen. It'll be someone completely else, completely different.

Blon Fel-Fotch cheats the executioner, beats the reaper. She's never put on trial by her own people, never called to account for her crimes. She's also never called to account for murdering the real Margaret Blaine, either. Both Raxacoricofallapatorius and Earth are likewise cheated out of their justice.

Not that it does Blon Fel-Fotch any real good.

"Boom Town" is a good episode. The acting at times is exquisite. But the ending is very unsatisfying. Blon Fel-Fotch doesn't really get away with anything - she does indeed die in the end - but the script would have you cheer for her escaping the real punishment she so richly deserves, which perverts the point. Just because the Doctor has killed means he can't seek justice for other, indisputably worse killers? Since when? Especially considering that his chosen solution, driven no doubt by his kindness and compassion, leaves Blon Fel-Fotch no less dead than if he had delivered her to her rightful executioners.

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