Wolfblood leaps the channel divide

Back in October, I was extolling the virtues of Debbie Moon’s werewolf drama serial for CBBC, Wolfblood, among other drama series on the children’s channel:

Young Maddy is a 14-year-old girl from a reclusive family ‘pack’ of wolfbloods (the series rejects the term ‘werewolf’). Her parents lock themselves away every full moon rather than risk roaming in the woods – partly to ensure the safety of the locals, but mostly to ensure that their family secret is not discovered.

Part of the reason for writing that post was to give publicity to an under-rated section of Britain’s TV drama output. It’s been wonderful to see news of Wolfblood’s ongoing success as countries around the world have acquired the series, and to know that a second series is imminent.

Part of the reason why shows on CBBC need as much publicity as they do is that, now that they are no longer shown on BBC1 or BBC2 in the afternoons, there’s less chance of grown-ups discovering their joys. When it was first announced that the strands would be phased out, I wrote in The Stage’s now-defunct TV blog, TV Today

These days, while CBBC content remains on air until 7pm, there’s little room to encourage the channel’s viewers to partake in shows on BBC1, 2, 3 or 4. Once the decision to not watch CBBC is made, their attention could wander anywhere else. With so much money being ploughed into good quality shows, particularly by outgoing CBBC commissioner Damian Kavanagh, it’s criminal that there’s seemingly little thought in how the Corporation can encourage the CBBC viewer of today to become the more general BBC viewer of tomorrow.

Maybe there’s a compromise that can be reached. On Freeview, CBBC shares digital spectrum space with BBC3 (hence why the former closes down at 7pm just as the latter starts up). As part of the BBC’s cost saving measures, why not free up an hour either side of the 7pm switchover to form a 6pm-8pm zone, repeating the best family friendly content that straddles that difficult gap between childhood and adulthood — the gap that the now-defunct BBC Switch brand was originally supposed to address? At least that way, CBBC’s regular viewers would recognise that their viewing habits needn’t drift away from the BBC as they get older, and parents would get a better chance to appreciate some of the love and care that the Corporation devotes to its programming for younger viewers.

Given that the 7pm BBC3 slot is so frequently given over to reruns of Doctor Who — itself a family-friendly show which, despite always being commissioned by the “adult” drama department, has never forgotten that children are at its audience core — such a solution would not be a million miles away from where we are now.

I’m happy to say that, while the concept of a formal ‘changeover zone’ isn’t quite in place, the principle is at least being put into play. From tonight,Wolfblood begins reruns at 7pm on BBC3.

Part of me feels validated for having an idea which somebody at the BBC clearly also had. But mostly, I’m just really chuffed for Debbie and the rest of the Wolfblood cast and crew, whose hard work is about to get seen and appreciated by a whole new set of fans.

Ten Things About Who: Nightmare in Silver

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

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.

For a more recent parallel, Big Finish’s 2011 audio drama The Silver Turk by Marc Platt features a similar machine which the Doctor identifies as a Cyberman. Continue reading Ten Things About Who: Nightmare in Silver

Here’s a Blue Peter presenter we made earlier

News has come in that CBBC series Blue Peter, which has made do with two presenters (Barney Harwood and Helen Skelton) since relocating to the department’s new Salford headquarters, is to go back to a trio of presenters.

In times gone by, recruiting would be done by means of a discreet casting notice in The Stage, or via other industry contacts. But now, as is the way of these things, it is to be cast by way of a reality show. So You Think You Can Be A Blue Peter Presenter (working title) will see competitors battle through a number of heats, before a final in which the winner will be chosen by the CBBC audience. According to the press release:

Double BAFTA-winning presenting team Dick and Dom will bring their much-loved mix of humour, energy and insights to the series, where they will be joined by a panel of judges. The judges will choose which Blue Peter hopefuls make it through each elimination stage, but they can’t influence the ultimate winner – that’s in the hands of the CBBC audience.

The CBBC team is involving the audience from the very start as well, offering them an opportunity, before filming starts, to go online and vote for one of the challenges that the Blue Peter hopefuls will have to rise to.

To be honest, I gave an inward groan when I heard this news – but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. It even makes me wonder why Blue Peter hasn’t gone down this route before.

BP has always been at the pioneering end of audience interactivity, long before ‘interactivity’ was even used in television circles. From the word go, children were encouraged to write in, whether it was appreciation for a feature that they had seen, pictures of their own ‘makes’, or even ideas for features that the production team would then put into practice.

In that context, it makes perfect sense for the children who have always been part of the show’s ethos to be let in on the audition process. If the shortlist has been selected well, unsuccessful candidates could well get some good exposure, and could expand the scope of CBBC presenter casting – so many shows seem to go to Dick and Dom, or Sam and Mark, when cultivating new talent should surely be one of the BBC’s goals.

And the person who wins will ensure that the new Blue Peter presenter is popular with the audience who will be watching them every week. And looking back at the list of presenters, there are several in each generation who a conventional casting process failed to notice weren’t quite right.

If you are interested in being considered as a Blue Peter presenter, you will need to email bppresentersearch@bbc.co.uk for details.

Why CBBC is my desert island channel

Why CBBC is my desert island channel

Imagine if your television developed a weird fault. Whatever channel you tuned to next would be the only one it would ever receive again. Which one would you choose?

I’d find the temptation to stick with one of the more mainstream channels, such as BBC1 or ITV1, hard to resist. I might try and select a channel with a bit of culture in it – BBC2 would serve well in that regard (and would satisfy my QI cravings) or BBC4 (ditto, Only Connect).

But honestly, I think the channel with the widest range of enjoyable programmes at the moment is CBBC, the Corporation’s channel for children. It regularly produces output that is lively, engaging, challenging and fun.

A case in point is a series which finished this week. Wolfblood is a new take on the werewolf genre created by Debbie Moon. Young Maddy is a 14-year-old girl from a reclusive family ‘pack’ of wolfbloods (the series rejects the term ‘werewolf’). Her parents lock themselves away every full moon rather than risk roaming in the woods – partly to ensure the safety of the locals, but mostly to ensure that their family secret is not discovered.

In contrast, Maddy (Aimee Kelly) – who at the start of the series is not quite old enough to experience her ‘time of the month’ – is constantly tempted to share the burden of her secret with her friends, especially when the new foster kid at school, Rhydian (Bobby Lockwood), also turns out to be a wolfblood. And when he discovers that he has a family who live wild rather than Maddy’s domesticated parents, further conflicts arise.

Every drama thrives on friction, and there is plenty here. Intrinsic to the school setting are the usual kids-versus-teachers, geeks-versus-fashionistas setups. But the best conflicts for us as viewers are those that build up between friends and family. Maddy’s best friend Shannon (Louisa Connolly-Burnham) has been convinced for years that there are werewolves on the local moors. Maddy’s need to keep her family secret while also wanting Shannon to know that her theories are correct forms one of the biggest drivers to the whole series. And the more serious side to Shannon’s obsession isn’t shied away from – in one episode, she reveals that her parents are sending her to counselling because of her determined belief in supernatural beasts. In a couple of lines, we see that the series has at its heart a heroine who, by keeping a secret she knows she must not divulge, is risking her best friend’s mental health.

Wolfblood finished its first 13-part series on Monday, and CBBC celebrated by repeating the first 12 episodes back-to-back in the run up to the final episode’s premiere. It’s still on iPlayer for the next couple of days: download it now and savour it at leisure. There are a couple of dodgy moments (I recommend watching the being-a-wolfblood-makes-you-an-awesome-streetdancer episode through your fingers), but a second series has received a well-deserved commission.

Continue reading Why CBBC is my desert island channel

Ten Things About Who: The Angels Take Manhattan

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

And so it’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for. Oh, no, wait, that was another Doctor Who moment. Anyway, here are my weekly ten points about the last of this current batch of Doctor Who episodes.

1. Blink twice

Conceptually, this episode felt far more of a sequel to Blink than The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone did. It’s the third in a trilogy that, in essence, returns to the roots of the first: scary statues that send their victims back in time, rather than snapping their necks and speaking through them (cf. “Bob” in Time of Angels).

Which reminded me of this speech from Scream 3:

Because true trilogies are all about going back to the beginning and discovering something that wasn’t true from the get go. Godfather, Jedi, all revealed something that we thought was true that wasn’t true.

So if it is a trilogy you are dealing with, here are some super trilogy rules: 1. You got a killer who’s going to be super human. Stabbing him won’t work. Shooting him won’t work. Basically in the third one you gotta cryogenically freeze his head, decapitate him, or blow him up. 2. Anyone including the main character can die. This means you Syd. I’m sorry. It’s the final chapter. It could be fucking ‘Reservoir Dogs’ by the time this thing is through. Number 3. The past will come back to bite you in the ass. Whatever you think you know about the past, forget it.

2. Again, with the opening narration

Of the five episodes in this run, four have featured a voiceover either before or just after the opening credits (Dinosaurs on a Spaceship being an exception). It’s almost like it was planned. I suspect it’s more because it’s a convenient way to get some exposition out of the way – something that these “epic” stories just don’t have time for when crammed into a 45-minute running time.

I don’t mind it too much here, as it’s both a pastiche of the detective movie genre, and also a sign that the Doctor is reading aloud.

Continue reading Ten Things About Who: The Angels Take Manhattan

The legacy of Sarah Jane Smith

Over on TV Today, I’ve previewed the first story in the new, final series of The Sarah Jane Adventures:

First and most importantly, there is the joy. Joy at a children’s drama series that has shown that – in a genre where primary colours and slapstick tend to dominate – imagination, wonder and emotional truth still have their place. Joy at a series which spun off from Doctor Who with such confidence that it hasn’t felt the need to constantly reinvent itself (yes, Torchwood, I’m looking at you). Joy at a show that knows that, while it is squarely aimed at children aged 6 to 12, the audience doesn’t mind that their heroes are older kids led by a woman in her sixties.

Elisabeth Sladen, RIP

Over on TV Today, I’ve penned some inadequate words about the loss of Elisabeth Sladen, and in particular the character of Sarah Jane Smith. A full Stage obituary will be published soon, and that will include more details about her long theatre career as well as her record-breaking role as Sarah Jane Smith, which she played from 1973 onwards, in Doctor Who, K9 and Company and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

I had the privilege of meeting Elisabeth a few times, starting at The Stage New Year party in 2008 and several CBBC events after that. Even though she never got my name quite right (at one point I did consider changing my name to ‘Steve’, as it would be easier than contradicting her), she was always full of smiles and greeted everyone with genuine warmth.

 

Me, Elisabeth Sladen and Stage contributor Mark Wright at The Stage New Year Party 2008

Lis, it was a pleasure and a privilege to have known you. My thoughts are with Brian and Sadie at this time.