And a very Merry Christmas to you! Yes, it’s technically midsummer outside, which naturally means the threat of rain hangs overhead. But in the world of Ten Things About Who, we’re simultaneously back in April 2005 and Christmas 1869.
God bless us, every one!
1. The stiffs are getting lively
And so we get the first real emergence of the pre-credits sequence as it has become used. A peril, often Doctor-less, that sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Here, Mr Sneed’s “Oh no” when faced with a revived brings with it a weary familiarity that tells us that while we are in a story from the past, this is not your average historical story.
League of Gentlemen fans will, of course, have known of Mark Gatiss’ delight in lacing elements of historical horror with humour. It’s a vein he’s returned to, of course – most recently with The Crimson Horror. It’s when he steps away from this template (Cold War, and The Idiot’s Lantern, which is horrific but in a very different way) that things go awry for me.
In the classic series, we were used to seeing episodes 2 onwards of a multi-episode series to repeating the end of the previous episode. But the opening of this episode is really the first to do the American-style montage of clips from throughout the episode of Rose. It’s not directly relevant to this episode, other than to just remind people new to the world of the Doctor what Rose had previously been through.
Thankfully, it’s rarely been needed since. And even here, it’s only included because the original scripts ended up under-running. Which is all the more remarkable, because it feels that these first episodes crack on at a pace that was missing in sadly far too many episodes of series 7.
I’ve seen three of the names above suggested this time round, too. Cumberbatch’s star has exploded since 2008, so we can safely assume that he’ll be out of the running. And similarly with the other three, while they are all interesting performers who would get the “other”-ness of the Doctor, I suspect their respective career trajectories would rule them out. (I do love the PhotoShop job I managed to do of Ayoade, though.)
Rather than settle on a specific name, I want to stick my neck out and come up with a few traits that I suspect the new TARDIS resident will have.
A limited TV profile. The actor may have one or two fairly recent, moderately prominent TV roles under his belt, just as Tennant had Blackpool and Casanova, and Matt Smith had Party Animals. But he won’t be one of the actors that you see everywhere. TV budgets, and the need to sign your life away for the best part of five years, dictate that the role will be taken by an actor who is not yet well-known or powerful enough to command a crippling fee.
A substantial theatre acting CV. Both Tennant and Smith had extensive acting credits prior to taking on the mantle of the Doctor – predominantly on stage rather than on screen. Expect the new Doctor to have one or two long West End runs under their belt, maybe some RSC or National Theatre work. Expect also that certain tabloid newspapers and TV magazines will brand them an “unknown”, as if nobody knows who actors are unless they’ve been in EastEnders or Coronation Street.
An older actor. Steven Moffat was originally looking to cast the Doctor as older when looking for Tennant’s replacement, but Smith convinced him otherwise. In fact, Smith’s onscreen portrayal often feels much older than the actor himself. I’d be surprised if another actor of similar age could pull that off – so expect the lead actor’s age to head upwards again.
Male. There are some fantastic actresses out there, many of whom could more than cope with playing one of the most iconic characters on television. And I would love to see a Saturday tea time drama that revolved around a strong, charismatic female lead. I have to be realistic, though, and suggest that the twelfth actor to play this role will be as male as his predecessors.
I have a list in my head of people who I think would be good for the role. Most of them only fit three out of the four points above. But that’s why I’m not a casting director.
Now that ‘series 7’ of Doctor Who is out of the way, I’ve found that I miss writing ten points about an episode. So I’ve decided to carry on – rewinding all the way to 2005’s Rose, and continuing from there. Doctor Who Magazine has chronologically looked back with its Time Team features – but their conceit is that they’re watching as if for the first time, and without reference to any stores broadcast after the one they’re watching.
My posts will most definitely be written from a 2013 perspective, introducing thoughts about how the series has changed – or not – since its return; other shows the series has influenced, or been influenced by, offscreen and on; and any old randomness that comes into my head. Please do chip in in the comments below each post if you have your own thoughts about the episode in question.
Do you hear the Whisper Men
The Whisper Men are near
If you hear the Whisper Men
Then turn away your ear
Do not hear the Whisper Men
Whatever else you do
For once you’ve heard the Whisper Men
They’ll stop… and look at you
A simple, but effective, design helps lift the Whisper Men from being the generic henchmen that they would otherwise become. I couldn’t help being reminded of the Gentlemen that Joss Whedon created for one of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s best ever episodes, the near-silent Hush. True, they stole hearts rather than just stopping them – but they, too, were presaged by a cod nursery rhyme:
Can’t even shout, can’t even cry
The Gentlemen are coming by
Looking in windows, knocking on doors
They need to take seven and they might take yours
Can’t call to mom, can’t say a word
You’re gonna die screaming but you won’t be heard.
I’m lucky enough to know some people who are both incredibly talented and pretty bloody lovely. One such person is Lee Binding, the artist who creates a lot of Doctor Who’s publicity work, including the movie-style posters for each episode.
As we rapidly approach the end of this series, I’ve created an index page for all my Ten Things About… posts. And here are this week’s rambling musings about Neil Gaiman’s episode – which, far from being a nightmare, felt more like a bad dream brought on by a surfeit of cheese.
1. The Mechanical Turk
Did the concept of a ‘magical’ chess-playing automaton sound familiar to you? The Mechanical Turk, a life-size dummy built to impress the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. Just like the equivalent on Hedgewick’s World, the Turk was controlled by a human inside, whose presence was hidden away:
…if the back doors of the cabinet were open at the same time one could see through the machine. The other side of the cabinet did not house machinery; instead it contained a red cushion and some removable parts, as well as brass structures. This area was also designed to provide a clear line of vision through the machine.
The naming of Mrs Gillyflower’s match factory as ‘Sweetville’ invites comparison with Bournville, the community created by George and Richard Cadbury to house the workers and families of their chocolate factory when production moved out of Birmingham to a new greenfield site.
As it is, it is more a pastiche of the whole ‘model village’ movement, in which industrialists whose new, heavily industrialised factories constructed whole townships for the required large workforce and their families, on philanthropic lines infused by the owners’ Christian values. Bournville is, of course, one such community, formed by the Quaker Cadbury brothers. Sweetville’s Yorkshire location more closely invites comparison with Saltaire, founded by Sir Titus Salt and now a World Heritage site.
Mind you, I did for one moment wonder whether the fuchsia-coloured liquid that Sweetville’s inhabitants were being doused in was fondant, and that Mr Sweet would turn out to be The Kandyman from 1988’s The Happiness Patrol…
2. Special stuff
Maybe it’s just the camp sendup of the gothic, maybe it’s the Yorkshire accents – but this week’s episode felt like it was a (family friendly) sibling to The League of Gentlemen. The mortuary attendant, with his leering tone and wandering tongue, could easily have been a Steve Pemberton creation.
If Tricky really thought he was an android, how did he explain a need for nutrition (and the resultant excretion)? But if the conceit about having been tricked into believing he’s robotic doesn’t really stand up from that angle, the clues are there: right from the beginning, his attitude to the plight of the Doctor and Clara – and of the TARDIS herself – is the most human of the three brothers’.
2. That’s some heavy polystyrene you’ve got there
Poor Jenna-Louise Coleman. It can’t be easy to have to wake up from a completely unconscious state, free yourself from under what is doubtless supposed to be extremely cumbersome masonry, leap to your feet and then brush yourself down in the space of about three seconds.
You can, apparently, just about manage it in the time allotted if you ensure that not a single step of that process looks genuine.
Major Palmer is described by the Doctor as one of the “Baker Street Irregulars”, in this case indicating he was part of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive, which conducted espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance against Britain’s enemies. For more information, see the BBC’s history website.
Given his age in 1974, he must have been very young to send other operatives to their deaths during the war, as he states here.
2. You say Metebelis, I say Metebelis
The planet Metebelis Three, and the mind-focussing powers of its crystalline substances, formed vital plot points in 1973’s The Green Death and 1974’s Planet of the Spiders, making its first appearance in Doctor Who contemporaneous with the setting of this episode.
Of course, back then the Doctor pronounced it differently – MeteBEElis rather than, as here, MeTEBBelis. It does seem odd that the production team would include a deliberate back-reference to Classic Who and yet not pick up on the apparent discrepancy.
But then again, maybe it was the Third Doctor who got it wrong in the first place. Also in The Green Death, he mispronounced the word “chitin” as “CHITTIN”, rather than the correct “KITE-IN”. Which precipitated a famous letter to the production team of the day:
The reason I’m writin’
Is how to say “chitin”
Perhaps Matt Smith took elocution lessons from Siri? This is how Apple’s UK voice (based on Jon Briggs, voiceover artist for The Weakest Link and other shows) pronounces it.