...a blog by Richard Flowers

Friday, December 07, 2007

Day 2512: DOCTOR WHO: Time Crash

Saturday Wibbly-Wobbly Void Beyond Time:

Yes, it is time for some more TIME TRAVEL.

What with Mr Clogg carrying me away into Britain's Liberal Future, and Mr Vince leading me on, I have gotten a BIT ahead of myself over the last few weeks and missed WHOLE DAYS of diaries.

Nevertheless, as part of my ongoing MISSION to do my diary for every single day, I have stuffed Daddy Richard into a trans-dimensional letter-box and posted him back through time.

i.e. here is his review of the Children in Need Doctor Who special…
There is more than a hint of the fanboy about "Time Crash".

A couple of years ago (remembering that last year, their contribution was the rather marvellous concert at the Millennium Centre), Doctor Who did its bit with a ten-minute short for the BBC's annual telethon "Children in Need".

Made just on the series' one standing set – the TARDIS console room – with just the two leads and some stock music and effects, it was a little bridge between the cliffhanging ending of "The Parting of the Ways" and the forthcoming Christmas Special, "The Christmas Invasion" – the first episode to be shown on Christmas Day ever, (oh, all right, second ever if you're really, really going to make us remember "The Feast of Steven").

"Pudsey Cutaway", picking up exactly where the cliffhanger left off, could have been the pre-title sequence of "The Christmas Invasion". In a lot of ways it was exactly what the fans expected the pre-title sequence would be, especially all of those fans who remembered Tom Baker regenerating into Peter Davison again in the pre-title sequence of "Castrovalva".

Of course, as it turned out this was Russell T Davies' bang-up-to-the-minute proper television drama version so of course it didn't do what the fans were expecting and instead had the TARDIS spectacularly crash into Jackie Tyler's bins. Obvious, really.

The first Children in Need scene is, in a lot of ways, actually an extension to the end of the "Parting of the Ways" rather than to the beginning of "The Christmas Invasion": it is backward-looking, answering Rose's questions about what has just happened, rather than forward-looking to the adventure to come. Typically of a Russell T Davies scene, it addresses the emotional issues, rather than the plot. In plot terms, all it really does is cancel Barcelona and dial up Earth, December 24th.

So, why am I wittering on about it?

Well, in spite of the superfluity of its story, and the occasionally ropey production – especially if you are watching the early version accidentally released on the Series Two boxset – that emotion, natural to the characters on screen, makes it feel like a proper part of the whole "story" of Doctor Who.

There is emotion in "Time Crash", but it feels much more like the emotion of the actors and writer and producers involved: it is a loving homage to Peter Davison and his time as the Doctor, the changes that were wrought at that time that – listen up, those of you who despise nineteen-eighties Who – form the foundation of the current Doctor and the current series.

It is brilliantly played and shot, and who couldn't warm to the interplay between Doctors five and ten, but it still feels much more like a really, really good fan video than a natural part of the ongoing series.

Let me be clear, this short thoroughly deserves to be indulged in its self-indulgence. It is a treat to see Peter D back in action, he's a wonderful character actor these days, well on his way to becoming the Patrick Troughton de nos jours. That's probably why he's playing the fifth Doctor in rather the same way that the Mighty Trout played the second when he came back for multi-Doctor stories ("The Three Doctors", "The Five Doctors" and "The Two Doctors", if you need to be told). This is a caricature of the fifth Doctor, a cartoon version, who comically exaggerates the cross-patch-y-ness that he sometimes exhibited (usually when provoked by his gaggle of teenaged companions). Although Doctor Ten waxes lyrical about how it felt good to let himself be young when he was Doctor Five, a lot of the Davison Doctor's better scenes come from the fact that he was – even then – an old man in a younger body. Certainly that was the way that Christopher Bidmead conceived him, and arguably Bidmead writes better for the fifth Doctor than anyone who isn't Robert Holmes or Christopher Priest. The fifth Doctor's frustration usually arose from people no longer taking him seriously even though he clearly knew the answers – here he gets annoyed with his own future incarnation because he appears to be too short-sighted (metaphorically – the glasses, it turns out, are for effect) to realise who (or "Who") is staring him in the face. Remembering "The Five Doctors", this isn't the same fifth Doctor who took his earlier selves with infinite patience… even if he plainly couldn't? wait to be rid of them all.

Oddly, it would appear, Steven Moffat can toss in the continuity references more subtley when he is playing for laughs – as in his "The Curse of Fatal Death" for the other telethon, "Comic Relief" – than when he is aiming for sincerity.

There's more than a touch of fanboy in some of the points he chooses. In such a short scene you've really got to want it to mention the Zeiton Crystals (see "Vengeance on Varos"). But spouting an explanation ("shorting out the time differential" – take a bow "Mawdryn Undead") for Mr Davison's greyer, chubbier appearance – by extension post-facto-justifying those "old" old Doctors in the other team-up tales – is just drawing unnecessary attention to the fact that the actor has got older when the character shouldn't have. To be honest, if that sort of question bugs you, how do you cope with the TARDIS being bigger in the studio than the outside is on location?

It would also seem to be a televised "justification" for all of those Missing, Past Doctor and Audio adventures set in the infamous "gaps that aren't there", being as it is placed between moments in the last scene of "Last of the Time Lords". Egregious previous examples include "Byzantium!" (inserted into "The Romans" between the opening TARDIS crash and the next scene in a Roman villa) and "Salvation" (inserted into the last scene of "The Massacre" to try and tidy up Dodo's otherwise somewhat muddled arrival).

If you hadn't got the message by now, the fifth Doctor then mistakes the tenth for a member of L.I.'n'D.A. ("Love & Monsters", the rather more subtle – yes, even with the Absorbaloff – examination of Doctor Who fandom). And of course, the fifth Doctor is quite right, as it turns out that Ten is a fan. He even says so: "You were my Doctor", is Tennant speaking to us as a fan and not the Doctor. This is where "Time Crash" tips over from story and into nostalgia.

But it was a lovely moment to see, when Peter met David, even if it was like seeing them on stage together at Tennant's first convention (will be): a treasure, but not canon.

And in plot terms, all it really does is cancel the TARDIS forcefield of indestructibility and explain just how that big boat came crashing in through the wall. In fact, it's more of a reminder that the Doctor has just had to rebuild his ship after the Master turned it into a Paradox Machine and after the Doctor himself fused the time co-ordinates (permanently, he said, but hello 1912, so we guess not). To be fair, I'd somehow overlooked all these reasons for the Doctor's timeship to be especially vulnerable at that point, so kudos for that.

Oh, and it appears that there is a rather nicer RMS Titanic CGI'd for "The Voyage of the Damned" than the one that we were treated to in "Last of the Time Lords". Mind you, neither is a patch on Farmageddon's "Flight of the Darned" Concorde.

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