...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Day 2205: DOCTOR WHO: Horror of Glam Rock


I have been watching my new DVD of JAMES BOND in "DOCTOR NO". I have been listening to the COMMENTARY. This means that I can watch "Doctor No" and hear Miss Ursula Andress VOICE. Ironically something you CANNOT do if you just watch the movie!

Daddy has been listening to a DIFFERENT Doctor, so I’d better let HIM tell you about that!
Well, this was strangely insubstantial.

As indeed were the alien "Only Ones" with their twee Seventies voices. In fairness, they – as your typical ethereal alien spirits – were supposed to be, though their all consuming corporeal bodies were a little thin in presentation too.

This is a bit of a disappointment from Paul Magrs, famous as a magic-realist author, who previously brought huge if occasionally infuriating ideas to the eighth Doctor in the BBC Books "Scarlet Empress" and "Blue Angel". He has also lampooned the glorious seventies before, though the gratuitous mention of The Tomorrow People here is at least not so disparaging as Paul's thorough rubbishing of them in his Past Doctor Adventure "Verdigris".

He's also written a Big Finish for the eighth Doctor before with the three-parts hauntingly beautiful, one-part crushingly clich├ęd "The Stones of Venice". Unfortunately the shorter form does not seem to have suited him.

The setting, an isolated service station, was very reminiscent of Sapphire and Steel Adventure Six, right down to the arrival of a Rolls Royce. You almost expect Bernard Cribbins to be credited as "man" and Una Stubbs as "woman". Actually they're Arnold Korns, manager to the stars, and Flo, the tea lady. Arnold is stuck with a Bowie in-joke for a name but no real character. Flo was so phlegmatic, unflappable in the face of monsters, you were constantly waiting for the big reveal about her. Unfortunately, it never came.

In Sapphire and Steel, the mysterious force of time would be up on the glass bridge and never seen. This, though, is Doctor Who so we have to reveal the aliens and show how rubbish they are.

Missed opportunity one: have the monsters reveal they have no plans for invasion, they're just stopping off for a quick snack while their ship refuels – you're going to make the "just a motorway service station" crack anyway, you might as well make it pertinent.

None of the characters really grabbed me as behaving realistically. There are alien monsters clearly visible in the car park that have already torn the door off one car and ripped up another. And yet still not once but twice, people decide that they can make a run for it. Unsurprisingly, death follows swiftly. It's hard to feel sympathetic, though, when they're clearly applying for the Darwin Awards.

Also, there does appear to a perfectly serviceable escape route. The Doctor orders Lucie, Trish and Tommy to check the glass bridge over the motorway to make sure the monsters cannot get in from the other side. Distracted by the evil space stylophone, they never actually check, but then the monsters never break in from the bridge either. Why risk escape via the car park without even trying the road bridge first? This mistake is lethal!

Missed opportunity two: the introduction of Pat as being – in the future – the aunt of the Doctor's companion Lucie appeared to be an interesting opening, with paradoxes and puzzles ready to spill out, but failed to be developed and ultimately added nothing to the plot. The possibility could have been explored that Lucie did not remember her Auntie Pat until they met in the story – by implication she has altered her own past because if Pat survives then she will be alive for Lucie to remember whereas originally she was not. Then you have the difficulty for the Doctor of whether to save Pat and allow the paradox to stand or let her die and restore the original history.

That may well be similar to "Father's Day" but what the hell, they're going to nick the ending of "The Idiot's Lantern" anyway! – But also c.f. the whole Charlie Pollard arc from "Storm Warning" to "Neverland".

Yes, the ending is ripped off as well. In fact, say what you like about "The Idiot's Lantern" the scene with the Doctor building a Betamax out of odds and ends while running to save the world is terrific and terrifically Doctor Who. The Doctor downloading the baddies onto the MP3 that Lucie just happens to have with here is derivative and dull. Add to that Lucie and the Doctor's saccharine exchange "I'm so glad I'm travelling with you" – so out of character for what we've established so far, but so stolen from "The Unquiet Dead" – you begin to wonder if there's anything original here at all.

It would matter less if any of it were actually funny – yes, this one was billed as the comedy episode, if the Horror title hadn't given it away. The episode seems built out of knowing references – such as shoehorning in "Oi Doctor, leave them kids alone" (about five years two early to be a reference to Pink Floyd, though, surely) – but none of the homage is in any way witty or even arch. Nor is the situation funny – unless you find people describing Seventies clothes to each other funny – and the delivery isn't so much deadpan as just dead.

And there was another outing for the "wig" gag – this time a straight lift from the Pertwee story "Carnival of Monsters" – I do hope this isn't becoming a running joke.

Missed opportunity three: if the monsters do insist on their tedious plan of devouring Trish and Tommy's teenage fanbase, someone should probably have pointed out to them that scuppering the act's appearance on "Top of the Pops", killing the act’s manager, and killing half the act might just forestall this feast – possibly the first ever Doctor Who monster defeated by the inadequacy of their research. That would have been funny!

Worst of all there was no particular sense of the Seventies in this[*], something that the series on television has recently done so well for the Fifties and the Eighties. A casual remark about the Wombles does not make it 1974 (yes, yes, I know Bernard Cribbins is in the cast). And with a second series of "Life on Mars" coming soon!

[*]okay, no particular sense of the Seventies until the closing credits faaaabulously remixed in glam rock style. Pity Nick Briggs was required to read the credits over them, but at least that'll give you a reason to buy the CD, won't it?

In summary then, a concept in search of some ideas. Hmmm, actually, that's more Prog Rock…

Next Time… Strap down your Barry Letts, the gods of Greece are coming… By Zeus! It's "Immortal Beloved"

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