Tag Archives: Doctor Who

So You Think You Might End Up On The Telly…

28 Jan

Within the last couple of days the BBC released pictures of Peter Capaldi in costume as the Doctor, our first glimpse of what his Doctor will look like. The reaction so far has been positive – it’s a classily nostalgic combo of Hartnell and Pertwee without the former’s funny little hat and the latter’s abundance of ruffs, cuffs and crushed velvet.

There may have been other influences.

There may have been other influences.

I imagine the reason they released the image is that this week the Doctor Who crew have taken to the streets of Cardiff to film outdoor scenes for the next series, so sooner or later some silly, walking cliche of a fan would have posted a blurry pic of Capaldi via Facebook or Twitter…

This is the one I took.

This is the one I took.

Yes. That’s right. I was there to see a bit of it. Or, more accurately, I was able to watch them film a scene between Capaldi and Jenna Coleman from the “comfort” of a cycling machine in my gym. Having this eagle’s eye view of the shoot was great. I hadn’t known they would be filming there this morning, so it was all a surprise, and seeing Capaldi step out of the TARDIS, in costume, gave me actual goosebumps, but as anyone who’s ever worked on a film or TV show will tell you, filming is a long, arduous and very boring experience, so as fun as it was, I didn’t really get to see much action.

Or, at least, I didn’t see much action that will end up in the show. What I did see, and what had my chuckling as I pedalled and sweated like the undignified and slightly overweight man I am, were bystanders, and not just bystanders, but that specific breed of people you see whenever anything’s being filmed: The ones who think they’ll end up on the telly. They fall roughly into the following three groups:

The Wavers and Face-Pullers

These are the ones, usually male, usually aged between 11 and 50, who whenever they see anything being filmed lean into shot and wave or pull a face. As with all People Who Think They’re Going to End Up On Telly, this only ever works during a live broadcast, and there are plenty of It’ll Be Alright On The Night clips dedicated to that particular genre.

Here's a recent example.

Here’s a recent example.

That doesn’t stop the Wavers and Face-Pullers from trying it on when they come across a movie or an episode of Casualty being filmed. They see a camera, then wave and/or gurn, because they don’t for one second think an observant director or AD or cameraman will spot them and say, “We have to go again. That c**t just gurned at the camera.”

The Saunterers

Craftier than the Waver, the Saunterer has every bit as much desire to end up on telly, but feigns nonchalance. They’re too clever to succumb to the Waver’s vanity, and they know not to look directly into the lens. Instead, once the camera has been spotted they slow right down so that they walk through the shot as slowly as possible… while glancing occasionally at the camera to make sure they’re in shot.

Like the motion picture equivalent of this guy.

Like the movie equivalent of this guy.

But that doesn’t matter, because surely if you only glance at the camera for a split second it doesn’t matter. Well, actually… yes it does. On the off chance that you make it into the background of a shot in a TV drama or film, and the director sees you looking into the camera, you’ll end up on the cutting room floor. Where you belong.

The Joggers

These are my absolute favourite, because unlike the Wavers & Face-pullers or Saunterers, they really don’t want to end up on telly. What’s more, they really don’t want to waste the director, cast and crews’ time by ruining their take. That’s just how considerate they are. That’s why, to prevent both themselves from ending up in shot and the cast and crew from wasting their time, they glance right into the camera like a startled hare, before breaking into a jog to get out of shot as quickly as possible. Because nothing says “naturalism” like a random person in the background stopping, staring right through the fourth wall, and then for no apparent reason breaking into a jog.

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A Few Thoughts on the 12th Doctor (or ‘Why I’m Wrong About Everything’)

5 Aug

New Doctor

I am one of life’s worriers. Sometimes I think it’s genetic. I come from Welsh stock, and we’re a nation renowned for its dourness. I heard one friend refer to us as “Italians in the rain”. Darker, swarthier and more phlegmatic than our neighbours “over the bridge”, but tinged with pessimism.

So… I am a worrier, and as I get older I find I don’t just worry about things; I panic about them. I get mini anxiety attacks over the silliest of things. Take last night’s Doctor Who Live, for example. This was the very showbizzy way in which the BBC announced who has been cast in the role of the 12th Doctor. I spent the days building up to this show (which was only announced a few days ago) in a state of mild disinterest.

“Oh, I’m not really that bothered,” I thought, fooling myself. “As long as it’s somebody good, I really don’t mind.”

Then, about an hour before the show, I started to panic. There was mention, on Twitter, of fresh-faced 26-year-old Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard, currently appearing in The White Queen, and who played David Bailey – opposite Karen Gillan’s Jean Shrimpton – in a BBC4 drama that screened last year. Reading too much into the space between this mention and a tweet written by a friend who might potentially know who had been cast, I decided that it was definitely going to be Aneurin Barnard, and my heart sank.

Still. It could have been worse.

Still. It could have been worse.

Not because I don’t rate him (Barnard, I mean, not Pasquale) as an actor. He’s been very good in everything I’ve seen him in. No… My heart sank because the worrying hemisphere of my brain (and yes… my brain has a whole hemisphere dedicated to worry), had created the following scenario:

INT. STEVEN MOFFAT’S OFFICE. DAY

Steven Moffat is on the phone to one of the HEAD HONCHOS at BBC America (because, in my head, this is the kind of thing he has to do all the time). We cut back and fore between Moffat’s office (with a view of grey skies and rain through its window), and the office of the HEAD HONCHO, which has a view of the Hollywood sign. The HEAD HONCHO is tanned, and has very white teeth.

HEAD HONCHO:

Steve, Steve, Steve… Listen to me. You’ve gotta cast someone young. Dave Tennant was younger than… uh… whatsisname… guy out of Gone in 60 Seconds. Bernie Ecclestone.

STEVEN MOFFAT:

Christopher.

HEAD HONCHO:

Whatever. Neil Tennant was younger that him. Matt’s younger than Neil. It stands to reason that the new kid…

STEVEN MOFFAT:

It doesn’t have to be a kid.

HEAD HONCHO:

It stands to reason that the new kid should be younger than Matt. Now, listen, I’ve been making a couple of calls, talking to a few contacts. Turns out they’ve finished filming the Twilight movies. Which means… now, don’t get too excited… but this means that Taylor Lautner is available from October.

STEVEN MOFFAT:

Taylor who? I don’t even know who… Isn’t she a girl?

HEAD HONCHO:

You’re thinking of Taylor Swift. But now you mention it… New companion?

STEVEN MOFFAT:

We’re not having Taylor Swift as the new companion.

His face like this, throughout.

His face like this, throughout.

In my head, the Powers That Be would get bullied by accountants into picking someone young and pretty, and the show would paint itself into a corner for the rest of its days, casting ever-younger actors in the role of the Doctor until, by the 75th Anniversary, we would end up watching a 6-year-old in a three-piece suit, turban and flip-flops run around, pointing his sonic screwdriver at things and saying, “Pew pew! Pew pew!”

And I was wrong.

I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved than when, in the seconds before Zoe Ball said his name, they showed a close-up of the Doctor-to-be’s hand, and it was a hand that’s lived. Not some puppy-fattish collection of digits which has never seen a hard day’s work, never held a cigarette, never had to put up shelves, or done its fair share of washing up. This was a dad’s hand.

“The 12th Doctor,” said Zoe Ball. “A hero for a new generation. It’s…Peter Capaldi!” (There was a nervous pause as if she was terrified she might say, “Keeter Pacaldi!”)

The audience cheered. I cheered. I think everyone cheered. Except, possibly, the guys and gals at Den of Geek.

It's almost like they wanted to write the 1D piece.

It’s almost like they wanted to write about One Direction.

But everyone else cheered.

Obviously, it’s early days, too early to speculate about “what kind of Doctor” Capaldi will be (though this won’t, I fear, stop a great many fans from doing just that). And, obviously, his tenure in the TARDIS will depend entirely on the quality of stories he’s given. But, in short, I am over the moon about his being cast, and if this incident has proven anything, it’s that I should worry a lot less, and that when I worry, I am invariably wrong about everything.

In fact, if this post has any point at all, it’s that to be a fan of a long-running show like Doctor Who is to exist in a state of permanent and wrong-headed worry. Despite the fact that this will be the 11th time the lead actor has changed, Doctor Who fans still worry about it. We worry when there’s a change of show runner. We worry about the ratings. We worry that the show is no longer as popular as it once was, and we worry that it’s getting too popular. (I once read a fan comment wishing the show could get cancelled so that conventions would feel “more intimate” again.)

A friend once shared a convention anecdote in which two fans dressed as the 6th Doctor had noisy sex in a neighbouring hotel room. That's just too intimate.

A friend once shared a convention anecdote in which two fans dressed as the 6th Doctor had noisy sex in a neighbouring hotel room. That’s just too intimate.

Worry, in the case of fandom, leads to pointless speculation, because there is – in the mind of the fan – nothing worse than not knowing. Except, perhaps, admitting that you don’t know. You can guarantee that before he’s even set foot in the TARDIS, Capaldi’s first episode will have been critiqued, at length, based on what very little information is made available. Some fans will have made up their mind about the next series, from start to finish, months before it airs. But not me.

This coming Friday I’m appearing at Nine Worlds Geekfest, in Heathrow, taking part in a round table about Doctor Who’s gay fanbase, and I’m fairly sure I’ll be asked, at some point, “what kind of Doctor” I think Capaldi will be. And do you know what? I have no idea. I don’t know what personality he’ll have, what other Doctor he’ll most resemble, what costume he’ll choose, or what kind of stories he will appear in. Sadly… That isn’t the kind of answer that goes down well, so I should probably quit writing this, and start working on something clever, preferably incorporating “Schrodinger’s Cat”, and a minimum of passive aggression.

Whatever happened to the words “I don’t know”?

25 Feb

I Don't Know

When was the last time you heard someone in the public sphere admit they didn’t know something? I’m not talking about dodging or side-stepping a question when it was clear they didn’t have all the facts. I’m talking about the actual words:

“I don’t know.”

I’ve been thinking about this, and the truth is… well… I don’t know. I can’t remember. I cannot remember a single – let alone the last – time I heard someone admit they didn’t know something. Admitting you don’t know something, when asked a direct question, is seen as a weakness, even when it’s the most honest answer you can give. Better to rush to an answer, however mangled, however indirect it may be.

Of course, we expect this of politicians, who are too well-trained, and too used to our demands, to ever admit that they don’t know something. For a politician, saying, “I don’t know” is career suicide. Say “I don’t know”, and the next day every front page of every paper shows a picture of you, beneath the headline “I DON’T KNOW”.

The Sun

What I’ve noticed in recent years is that this inability to say those three small words has spread. Now, no-one says it, and the one thing exacerbating this beyond measure is social media. Twitter has accelerated the pace of major and minor events alike. We’re expected to digest all the facts and formulate our reactions and opinions in the time it takes to type 140 characters. Whereas 50 years ago we may have been allowed a few days, or even weeks to mull something over, now we’re given seconds. In a world of 60 minute news cycles, saying “I don’t know” is as good as saying “Duuuurrrr”.

But rushing to conclusions, regardless of nuance, heedless of the facts, and blind to whatever changes may come only generates lynch mobs and witch hunts. Who has time for investigations, inquiries and due process when the Court of Twitter demands an instant verdict?

In a relatively short space of time we’ve gone from “Everyone’s entitled to an opinion” to “Everyone’s opinion is valid” to “Everyone must have an opinion”.

Which is how shit like this happens.

Which is how shit like this happens.

At the trivial end of the scale, we have people predicting how good or bad Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary special will be, when not one of them has read a script or seen a nanosecond of footage.

More seriously, we have people declaring their verdict in the Oscar Pistorius trial before the defense and prosecution have so much as made their opening statements.

Between Doctor Who and Pistorius, we have all those mid-range stories, the stuff that’s neither entirely trivial nor a matter of life and death.

Take Hilary Mantel’s recent lecture for the London Review of Books, in which she satirised the way the media and Royal Family have shaped and moulded the Duchess of Cambridge’s public image. Newspapers such as the Daily Mail and Telegraph, realising that their weird, obsessive, forlock-tugging sycophancy was the target, cherry-picked some choice quotes from the lecture and claimed Mantel had “attacked” the Duchess of Cambridge. Of course, as everyone who read it knew, she’d done nothing of the sort, but before you could blink we had British journalists – in fucking India – asking David Cameron what he thought of it.

"No no no. You've done your turban all wrong. You look like a surgeon. Here, let Rajesh do it for you."

“No no no. You’ve done your turban all wrong. You look like a surgeon. Here, let Rajesh do it for you.”

Rather than say, “I’m really busy touring India right now, so the truth is, I don’t know…” Cameron jumped straight onto the bandwagon with, “What (Mantel) said about Kate Middleton is completely misguided and completely wrong.” Within minutes, it seemed, Ed Miliband too had chipped in, saying he found Mantel’s comments, “pretty offensive”.

Would anyone, apart from the Telegraph and Mail, have been offended if Cameron or Miliband replied, “I didn’t read the lecture, so I’m not really qualified to comment?”

More recently still – in fact, within the last 48 hours – we have the case of the two young men from Manchester who claim they were refused a double room at a London hotel by a homophobic member of staff. Now, the known details paint a far-from-clear picture. The men arrived at the hotel around midnight, several hours after their original booking would have become subject to changes if the hotel was overbooked. They weren’t turned away from the hotel altogether, they were offered a family room.

So far, so Schrodinger’s Cat. Without being there, in the lobby, when they checked in, we can’t know what tone of voice was used, or what exact words were spoken.

And yet, based on a single tweet written by one of the two young men, Twitter erupted into a storm of righteous indignation. They were the victims of homophobic abuse, Thistle Hotels should be boycotted, something ought to be done.

Etc. Etc.

What confused – and worried – me was how quickly so many people I like and respect jumped in and picked a side before the hotel had a chance to look into it properly. And why? Because nobody can bring themselves to admit that they just don’t know. Essentially, they’re saying, “I don’t know what happened, but I care about this sort of thing, and I’m against homophobia [nothing wrong with any of that so far], but Twitter simply won’t wait for this to be dealt with by those directly involved, so HERE’S MY OPINION! HERE IT IS! NOW! RIGHT NOW! THIS IS WHAT I THINK!”

Modern life is hectic and stressful enough; we’re bombarded with information and requests from the minute we wake up to the second our head hits the pillow. Why add to that stress by deciding you have to have an opinion about absolutely everything?

I’ll start the ball rolling. These are the issues I have absolutely no opinion about, either because I just don’t know enough about them, or because my opinion, even if I did, would be invalid.

  • The Euro – Not a fucking clue. Is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? No idea.
  • Climate Change – I’m not a scientist. Why the fuck should anyone care what I or anyone else who hasn’t dedicated their life to understanding it has to say about the matter?
  • Abortion – I’m never going to conceive. My partner’s never going to conceive. My opinion, if I had one, would be worthless.
  • Renewable Energy – Again, a bit like Climate Change, I haven’t got a fucking clue. Nuclear sounds good. Except there was that whole nasty business in Japan. But that was Japan, where they have earthquakes. We don’t have earthquakes. I DON’T KNOW.

There are probably others. In fact, there are definitely others. Think long and hard, and you’ll realise you have some, too. And then we can all hold hands, and say as one:

“I JUST DON’T KNOW.”

"Don't ask us. We haven't got a fucking clue."

“Don’t ask us. We haven’t got a fucking clue.”