Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Fish Custard (12)

"Hi. We're the makers of a TV show about a guy with a Time Machine."
"Ah. You want me to write an adaptation of H.G Wells' The Time Machine."
"No. We produce a children's television series about a man with a Time Machine."
"Oh. What does he do with it?"
"Travels in Time. Goes to the past and the future and meets historical characters and stuff."
"Crazee. Can't see it ever catching on. Why are you telling me about it?"
"We want to commission you to write a story."
"About Time Travel?"
"About people from the present day visiting an historical period. Because you're, like a mainstream writer, who writes period drama. Crossover appeal and all that."
"Any particular historical period you have in mind?"
"No – you choose. The sky's the limit. That's the whole idea. Mainstream writer, thinking outside the box."
"Can I bring historical characters into the present day?"
"Sure. It's, you know, as limitless as your imagination. We generally try to avoid our hero changing historical events too much, though. And he probably shouldn't create established history, either. Saying he caused the Fire of London would probably be a bad idea."
"Or the Fire of Rome?"
"Or the Fire, as you say, of Rome."
"It sounds like a fun, open ended format that will run and run. Here's my idea. Just extemporizing, but could your hero go back in Time and meet Van Goff."
"Van Gock?"
"Van Gow. I'd show all the scenes from the famous paintings – the cornfield, the church, the cafe...and how about this, I'd have the hero bring him some sunflowers, and suggest that he paints them. I'd get lots of irony out of all Van Gock's contemporaries thinking he's a terrible painter, but our hero knows that history will have the last laugh. I'd do a sensitive portrayal of Van Goff's depression, but steer right away from obvious cliched stuff about him chopping off his own ear. I'd probably take the line that he was bipolar. I'd allude to his suicide too. What time does this show go out?"
"Tea-time, but that's okay, we can drop in an 'If You Have Been Affected By' line at the end. Those chaps at the Samaritans get awfully bored if we don't encourage people to phone them, you know."
"But I haven't told you the clever bit yet! The clever bit is that we'll start the story up in an art gallery, doing a Van Goff exhibition. We can show all the paintings, so the young kids will get the references even if they don't know who Van Gock is. And we'll have an art critic doing a tour, talking about Van Gow's life. We'd need a really high class actor to do the cameo."
"I reckon we can get that guy with the tentacles from Pirates of the Caribbean. But we probably wouldn't credit him."
"Great. So he can do some funny dialogue with your hero. Maybe they can compete about who has the best..."
"....Bow tie..."
"Bow tie, great. But then, here's the clever bit. At the end, after the hero has visited Van Gow and got to know him a bit, and Van Gock has even developed a bit of a crush on your hero's beautiful young red-headed assistant, then...and this is the scene I want to write, this is the scene I've wanted to write all my life...your hero puts Van Goff in his Time Machine and takes him back to the present day and shows Van Gock the exhibition. So Van Gow knows that he'll be vindicated and dies happy. He even hears the famous actor lecturing about what a great painter he was, and what a great man he was. And, we'll do this subtly, but wouldn't it be cool if the art critic almost, almost, just out of the corner of his eye, sees his hero for one second, in the flesh! Oh, why I have I wasted my career working within the constraints of narrow social realism! This is the sort of moving, slightly surreal, magical realist material that only the conceit of a Machine that travels through Time can achieve! I hope your series lasts for 46 years and seven months!"
"It sounds excellent. Exactly the sort of thing we're looking for. How does the monster fit in?"
"I'm sorry. I don't quite follow you."
"The monster. We don't feel that a TV series based around a charismatic hero who can visit any historical time period (or, in fact, any place in the universe, but we've played that down, because the punters aren't very interested in stuff set on the planet zog) is exciting enough. So we have a rule that wherever or whenever he goes, and whoever or whatever he meets, there always has to be a monster."
"A monster?"
"That's right, a monster."
"You mean, like a giant chicken or something."
"Exactly. Van Goff, an art critic and a giant chicken."
"You mock me and my muse, Sir. Please do not waste any more of my time. I bid you – adieu."

"What a pseud. I was hoping for something more like Blackadder."


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Greg G said...

I can't remember the sonic use in this story... Have to rewatch to see what was so bad.

I disliked its use under what I saw of Davies, but this season I've come to terms with it most of the time by thinking about what I use my phone for during the course of a day while still calling it a phone.

Mike Taylor said...

Greg, the Sonic gets used, repeatedly, as an anti-gun gun in the final moments underground, when the warrior-caste Silurians are chasing Our Heroes.

Andrew, you added a footnote marker [*] but seem to have forgotten the actual footnote. Or was that a clever metatextual comment on all the Hungry Earth signposts that turned out not to point anywhere?

Greg G said...

Ah. I think I'd convinced myself while watching that I remembered Sea Devil weapons being sonic based which excused it somehow.

I'm now Googling madly and can't find any evidence for that thought. It has been twenty years since I saw that ep so all sorts of things have crept in I'll wager.

Phil Masters said...

I thought that it was Ice Warriors who used sonic weapons...

(But anyway - who puts a settee (or a television) in their dining room?)

Greg G said...

"who puts a settee (or a television) in their dining room?"

Andrew Rilstone said...

The largest room in the house is the dining room, whether or not you dine in it. Just as the meal you eat at dinner-time is "dinner", even if it only consists of a sandwich, and the meal eaten at "tea time" is tea, even if it doesn't include a hot drink. And I'm pretty sure that it would be okay to say "We are having cheese and crackers for pudding", but only the irredeemably posh would claim to be having pudding for dessert. Technically, I suppose you could have a savoury sweet. A letter to the Times notes that, according to Radio 1 the intruder in the England soccer teams dressing room claimed to be looking for a toilet. Radio 3 claimed he was looking for a loo. But Radio 4 thought he was look for a lavatory.

Andrew Stevens said...

The Sea Devils may have used sonic weapons (I don't believe it's ever explicitly stated), but the Doctor appears in one scene with his sonic screwdriver out being shot at by them and it never occurs to him to use it to disrupt their weaponry. (He blows up some unexploded mines instead, which is actually a very plausible use for the sonic screwdriver.)

The Ice Warriors used a sonic cannon in the original Ice Warriors serial.

Interestingly, you will find that every single producer during the original series was very concerned that the sonic screwdriver not be used as a magic wand except for Graham Williams. Letts and Hinchcliffe both policed its use and Nathan-Turner, of course, famously got rid of it after it had been abused during the Williams years.

The largest room in the house is the dining room, regardless of what it's used for? What a strange language you English speak.

Andrew Rilstone said...

Maybe it's not a class thing at all: maybe it's an "us" thing, in that we had one big knocked together room downstairs, and we called it "the dining room". But I'm not sure what the end with the settee in it would have been if someone had built a wall in between them. The sitting room? The lounge? The living room? The drawing room?

I think the point is that it was a soft dining room: dining room fantasy, in fact. A bastardized, hybrid room.

And of course, in a lot of houses the lavatory / toilet / loo wasn't the smallest room in the house, but it was still the Smallest Room in the House.

Presumably, the Vicar put his vest on in the Vestry, whereas Granny put her pants on in the Pantry.

I am currently watching the Dominators. I am being paid to do so, which is the only possible reason.

Andrew Stevens said...

We'd call it a living room here in the U.S.

I like The Dominators, although it's not actually any good. I could watch Troughton, Hines, and Padbury in anything, though.

Greg G said...

I am given to understand that these days the largest room in a just-built house here in Australia is in fact the toilet/loo/lavatory.

Again, re: different use of the screwdriver, obviously his contract was up and he decided to get a model with more features.

JNT's decision to blow it up to stop overuse of a storytelling shortcut is along the same kind of thinking that will soon require DC Comics to invoke the Power Of The Gods to change history and induce a genocide of the Amazons of Paradise Island simply to get Wonder Woman to wear trousers.

Gavin Burrows said...

Doctor Who stories can and should just be Doctor Who stories sometimes. But as a Doctor Who story, this one wasn't quite interesting enough.

My empathy towards this one was that it seemed to be loftily proclaiming itself to be Raising Issues, Developing Themes and More Sophisticated Than The Simple Old Who Stuff That It Was Based On, when it actually didn’t function very well on the basic corridor-chasing stuff.

It was the first time I’d thought “I wish this two-parter had been squashed down into one.”

”I disliked its use under what I saw of Davies, but this season I've come to terms with it most of the time by thinking about what I use my phone for during the course of a day while still calling it a phone.”

Yeah, but I bet that Disabling Sonic Weapons App costs extra.

”I thought that it was Ice Warriors who used sonic weapons...”

I thought that it was Hawkwind.

”A letter to the Times notes that, according to Radio 1 the intruder in the England soccer teams dressing room claimed to be looking for a toilet. Radio 3 claimed he was looking for a loo. But Radio 4 thought he was look for a lavatory.”

Blimey, no wonder he was confused.

Andrew Stevens said...

Greg, true, only the fanboys would care if the Doctor had simply stopped using it. But the fanboys would care deeply with the same frustration we felt as children when watching Superfriends and Superman would just forget all the time that he had X-ray vision before going into the super-villain's hideout and stumbling into their Kryptonite trap.

I have no problem with JNT's having a quick scene where it got destroyed. In any event, Saward wrote the scene not even thinking it had any significance. (He just assumed the Doctor had a drawer of them.) He just wanted it gone for a scene or two. JNT just took the idea and said, "Okay, and now we'll just leave it destroyed."

SK said...

Do you have a source for that, Andrew Stevens? Because I find the idea that Saward thought he had a drawer of them hard to reconcile with the line 'I feel like you just killed an old friend.'

(Perfectly willing to believe you if you can point to an interview or something, but it just seems prima facie a slightly odd reading of the scene).

SK said...

(Besides which, Mr G, you sound like you think there's something wrong with blowing it up to stop its use. Why on Earth would there be? The fact that they managed the to do without it up until 1996 rather suggests that as a storytelling shortcut, it wasn't exactly what you'd call 'necessary'.)

This year I have noticed two things:

(a) discounting the Chibnall episodes, almost all of the uses of the sonic screwdriver this year have been as a sort of pointy tricorder, rather than an active device: the Doctor waves it at something, then looks at it and says 'gosh, it's a plot point.' Almost never (not entirely never, but almost never) does he actually use it to do something as opposed to examine something.

and (b), it's almost never called the sonic screwdriver nearly always just 'the sonic'. Now maybe the budget constraints are really biting and those three syllables are needed elsewhere. But maybe it's a subtle acknowledgement that the idea of it being a screwdriver has become increasingly silly (especially now it's mainly an information-gathering, rather than a doing things, device) and so they are trying to rebrand it.

Or maybe I read too much into the use, or non-use, of words.

Andrew Stevens said...

SK, yeah, Saward said so in the documentary on the DVD for The Visitation. (The "drawer of them" line is a direct quote, I believe. At least my memory has it that way. And it was definitely a to-camera interview rather than in a commentary or something because I can see Saward saying it.) Keep in mind that JNT decided that the scene was going to be used to destroy the sonic screwdriver permanently before the scene was shot, so the line you mention was surely either added by Saward in a rewrite or inserted by script editor Antony Root.

Gavin Burrows said...

Also, in Moffat's very first storyline, he had the Doctor reluctant to tell Cap'n Jack what the sonic screwdriver was.