“Do we think next week's big reveal will be that the Doctor was a ganger all along? I confess I'd be a tad disappointed if so as I thought that from the beginning and I'd like to be proved wrong.”
“God I bloody hope not. That would be weak. Only Miracle Day would be worse. I do have a theory about all the eye-patches ....”
“Go on, tell me your theory!”
“The eye patches are way for people to see The Silents somehow.”
“Oh now that /is/ good. Eye patches to see the Silents. Definitely I can get behind that.”
TV Looks like Moffat got behind it too. Hello. That’s an exchange from some emails I’ve been swapping with a friend this past couple of weeks (I know! Emails! Like it’s the early noughies!). She’s speaking (typing?) first above and was somewhat correct about it being some sort of shape-changer that explains the Doctor’s lack of mortality, but the metal option instead of the Flesh. The eye-patches were my guess after seeing the front cover of the Radio Times and the Doctor with his Andrew Ridgeley hair wearing one. Unless he’d gone evil, i thought, it had to be a handy device of some sort. That and cunning tribute to dear Nicholas Courtney.
The Brig is dead. Long live the Brig. Moffat’s killed the Brig. Everyone dies, of course, and within the story it is Alistair helping his friend one last time, from beyond the grave, reminding him of his own potential mortality. It’s a sweet scene, beautifully acted by Matt in one of those moments when we can see the weight of the Time Lord’s years on his shoulders. Lived too long and all that. This being Doctor Who, what's to stop Eleventh skipping back to before his friend died and having a chat? He knows Churchill died. He's still friends with him. The Brig is dead. Long live the Brig.
As the past three and a half stand-alone episodes flew by, two elements of the pre-publicity indicated that Steven Moffat had something of a challenge ahead. Firstly, the first forty-five minute timeslot for a finale. Secondly, the photography of the beardy Doctor and Churchill. Not only was the man going to have to tie-up all of those loose ends, he was apparently creating a whole bunch of others. How was he going to cope? Firstly, by not explaining everything. Secondly, by once again packing in so much detail, that there was barely a moment for us to stop and think. This is where the budget for the past four episodes went.
Apart from everything considered below (seriously, your screen is about to be drenched in over-analysis) (find an umbrella), this was one of the best directed of the season, with Jeremy Webb matching Toby Haynes's lustrous work from the opening few episodes. The final push in through the Testicle's eye to the Doctor dancing recalls the magic of silent cinema and if some of the green screen work doesn't quite convince (around Lake Silencio and at the top of the pyramid) thanks to the magic of high definition television, it's that HD which makes this approximate something made on a vast Hollywood budget.
It’s customary now for Moffat to reveals the new status quo and then explain how the Doctor and his friends got into what’s usually a fine mess. The time imprinting on itself is one of the wildest and even if it is more interested in the visuals than anything approaching logical progression, my assumption being that whatever is left of the web of time is, similar to the survivors in The Waters of Mars, consolidating what is there so that it made sense (unlike Torchwood's End of Days when such time intrusions were incongruous). Not sure why you’d need clocks if there’s no such things as time, though, other than because the narrative required it.
As we wait to see which other authors than Dickens might fall down BBC Breakfast's plug hole (Timelash’s HG Wells would have been apt) we're confronted by another of Moffat’s flashback structures, as The Wedding of River Song becomes a clip show full of scenes we haven’t seen yet. This could have created problems up front because although the change in history was exciting and well executed and all of that, it means that the episode becomes pinioned on exposition rather than an emotional journey. The Doctor is telling us and Ian McNiece (who’s given up pretensions to properly mimicking Churchill) about stuff which has already happened.
Moffat counteracts that by creating tension in between by having the pair chased by The Silents, and mimicking the audiences reaction to the Doctor’s filling in of the narrative gaps by showing them experiencing similar. He also sends the Doctor on another one of his quests around the universe filled with brief encounters with unusual people, references to companions of the recent past that sound weird coming out of this later Doctor’s mouth, poignant death and inserting as many jokes as possible at the expense of poor Dorium’s severed head. Some people create whole planets seeking questions. Others ask craniums in boxes.
During all of this, I couldn’t help but watch the counter on my PVR counting upwards, time slipping away. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, and all the while we’re still not anywhere near the character whose name is in the title and we’re still catching up with whatever the Doctor’s been doing between episodes and the events leading up to the trip to America. That was, distracting, clearly, and my own fault and I’m sure stopped me from becoming as involved in the episode as I should. That's the problem with series with complex mythology. A lot of waiting involved. We're the fans who waited.
"Isn’t he rushing this?" I wondered. There’s a two episode version of The Wedding of River Song, with the Doctor’s quest in the first half and the frozen time in the second, a two episode version which might have mimicked The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang rather too much but would at least have given us a moment’s breather. But why should we have those anyway when the thing’s designed to be watched and watched again allowing us to savour every moment? As Moffat himself says, the first broadcast of anything is merely a publication date these days.
Luckily Amy in a business suit wearing an eye-patch broke the reverie which admittedly set me off in a whole other direction which I don’t think we need to go into here. The episode turns from being the Doctor dragging us through his adventure to the Doctor being dragged through the adventure by Amy. A business suited Amy wearing an eye-patch. “Hello Amy.” “Hello.” “I like your business suit.” “Thank you Stuart. Do you like my eyepatch?” “Is it made of metal?” “It has electronics.” “I like electronics.” “What else do you like?” “I …” I’m sorry, what was I saying? Oh yes, exposition, no emotional journey. We’re back on the emotional journey.
How old are the Ponds supposed to be now and where does this version fit in with the pair we saw last week, Amy a cosmetics model? Never mind River Song, their linearity is all over the place now too. There have been plenty of references to the three having travelled for "so long" so unlike the Davies years, they're no longer adhering to calender years. But their reunions are always special and like The God Complex harked back to The Eleventh Hour with Amy drawing her memories. Nothing of her family though it seems. Remember how tethered Terran families used to be in nuWho? This is quite a change.
It’s in this section that Moffat reveals how much faith he has in his audience and how often we deny him. How many times have you read online these past few weeks that the writer had lost it because Amy seemed to accept the loss of her baby too readily? Her revenge demonstrated that the Doctor’s influence doesn’t always halt a character’s moral ambiguity (as we’ve also seen with Captain Jack). Will this become an issue of the Ponds reappear or will it simply be put down to the alternative Amy having developed a slightly different personality, albeit with all the same memories? The closing scene keeps that question hanging.
Neat reference to the many deaths of Rory, though as Moffat I think pointed out in an interview he's only really properly died once in cold blood in Cold Blood. Another parallel with The Pandorica Opens but with Rory unable to remember Amy this time, rather than the other way around. This Radio Times interview also reminds us that he's never had an action figure, which is odd considering last season Rory was briefly made of plastic and dressed a Roman Centurian which should have made him a prime candidate. He's had his face scanned. I second his campaign. Centurian Rory limited edition by next Christmas please.
There’s also his daughter’s hasty marriage, another example, like River’s parentage, of Moffat deliberately not flouting our expectations and carrying on with whatever he’d been hinting, marrying and then killing the good man (almost). In these scenes Alex Kingston neatly captures a River in transition, still experiencing some of Melody’s psychosis but also utterly in love with Doctor. Not quite matured and contrasted nicely by the older version who pops in at that climax to see Amy, now well versed with the none-linearity of their family ties (explaining also why River paused in A Good Man Goes To War, remembering to say Rory, instead of simply, Dad).
Yet the character still doesn’t feel parked. Her diary is filled with pages covered with adventures, and although we know who she is now, it's unlikely this will be the last we see of her. She’s the Brigadier, Iris Wildthyme and indeed Captain Jack of the Moffat era, popping into the Doctor’s story when he needs a hand or simply being infuriated. We still don’t know the details of her incarceration. If she’s so good with that lipstick she can run a train through the pyramids with the agreement of Cleopatra, how and why did she let herself be captured? To suit causality? Her attempt to save the Doctor leading to the destruction of the time having taught her a valuable lesson?
She’ll be back even if we’ll never really know what goes on in the evenings. The climax resembles The Parting of the Ways, a kiss saving a companion (at least on an personal level) and the universe, also continuing the love conquers all theme of this series becoming literally all. Is employ the Testicle a cop out after all that build up? I’m not sure. In the vein of so much else in this past couple of series, when we rewatch episodes again, it’ll be with a different understanding of events and it’ll certainly lessen the impact of watching the Doctor being shot in The Impossible Astronaut and make Amy’s cries seem all the more cruel.
But it isn’t a deus ex machina, it is the Doctor taking advantage of what’s available to cheat death, or at the very least give the web of time (and in that moment The Silents etc) what it craves. It is also another example of the Moffat time paradox formula, of the Doctor utilising iinformation about his own future, in order to create that future. But that’s the brilliance of Moffat’s scripts. It prompts these questions, as in Let’s Kill Hitler, about narrative construction and plausibility. Nevertheless, it’d be nice to see something new in the next series, for the story arc not to be about that.
As with last year, questions are left hanging, and in this case the one question which has been so fundamental to the series, it’s in the title and again, not shocking anyone in its content. I don’t think. Doctor who? Spin-off writers have offered their own answers, with talks of looms and The Other and whatnot even producing alternative origins when required, but Moffat’s having none of that. Time can be rewritten and he has become a good man going to war against the Cartmel Masterplan. Dare he really offer the answer, the ultimate answer? Given that the next series begins next autumn and may finish in 2013, the Doctor’s 50th, he might just. Ooh.
Season Six has been another vintage year and another which has taken risks with the format. The gap in the middle was a brave move but one which, thanks to the experimental nature of this back six has paid off. The Doctor’s Wife was the stand out episode, with the Curse of the Black Spot the disappointment, but none of them have been awful, even that had Amy dressed as a pirate. “Hello Amy. I like your sword … I …” Sorry, again. It’s going to be hellish long Who free year through to next autumn (barring Christmas) with no more Sarah Jane and Torchwood looking doubtful. I might have to resort to watching K9. Checks Amazon. How much?
Another act of publication charity, the Arden Early Modern Drama’s edition of Philip Massinger’s The Renegado sees the play housed alone for the first time since 1939 (according to the publication history at the back), the previous two most recent appearances a collected works in 1976 and as part of anthology of “Three Turk Plays” in 2000. It’s also a play which lacks a performance history without any revivals since the English Civil War apart from a Read Not Dead reading at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2003. If ever there was an example of why Arden’s work is so important it’s this.
As editor Michael Neill indicates, the play's obscurity is surprising considering the resonance it would have to contemporary audiences. In Tunisia, Vitalli a Venetian gentleman disguised a merchant is searching for his lost sister Paulina, whom he believes has been captured by the pirate Grimaldi, the renegade of the title, and then sold on to a local harem. While the harem owner wrestles with his lust for Paulina, a local princess falls for Vitelli and after their forbidden love is discovered (he's a Christian, she's a Muslim), they’re imprisoned and only the harem owner can save them all.
That’s an over simplification of what is a complex mediation not just on the nature of belief but also how Jacobian Britain was viewing the Muslim world, Massinger commenting on the orientalism of his contemporaries by adding to a list of what would later be termed “Turk” plays set in Turkey and the surrounding area, but tweaking expectations slightly by injecting the kind of tragicomic elements inspired by the work of his sometime collaborator John Fletcher (who also worked with Shakespeare latterly in his career).
As illustrated by the engravings taken from some of the books that may have been Massinger’s sources of the play interspersed throughout the introduction, this is very much the period when contemporary understanding of the Muslim world was of “them” being “bonded”, and “us” being “free”. But the playwright tellingly includes a Jesuit character, and in a positive manner, which would have been provocative at a time when anti-Catholicism was clouding King James’s decision to secure a Spanish match for his son, indicating that religious oppression took many forms.
In explaining all of this (and much more), Neill shows what can happen when an editor feels less tethered to what’s previously been written and unlike so many Shakespeare editors who sometimes become apologists for their new theory. After about five years of research (according to his preface) you can see the words bursting from him like John Peel or Lester Bangs unearthing a lost musical classic. This is as much advocacy as criticism as he demonstrates that in this case obscurity and mediocrity are not interchangeable.
The Renegado (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Michael Neill. Methuen Drama. 2010. RRP: £10.99. ISBN: 978-1904271611. Review copy supplied.
TV And you thought I'd forgotten. Back we go to 2006, when Torchwood was still shiny and new and offered a Cardiff full of possibilities and I wasn't trying to over-think every review. It's surprisingly positive again, even though Day One has a litany of problems, not least that the main peril and all the deaths were as a result of Gwen's clumsiness which is hardly the greatest foundation when building audience empathy for a character. Rees still lives also, even if Miracle Day knocked all sense out of him.
Like second albums, the second episode of any serial is always tricky, since it needs to stand shoulder to shoulder with the hopefully high quality opening, consolidating the style of the show without that opener's probable high budget and not be a disappointment. Arguably Doctor Who only hit its stride in its second story (which works for both the old and new series) whereas something like say I don't know, Buffy, spluttered out The Witch, a body swap episode which still seems like a bizarre choice all of these years later. Torchwood's Day One mostly worked although certainly didn't benefit from being in a double bill with Everything Changes. I wonder how many people were still getting over that climax as the meteorite was plunging into Cardiff.
Despite appearances, I'm really not sure how 'stock' (to use a word I picked up from a documentary about Metallica) the whole 'sex crazed alien possesses human because the orgasm is addictive' actually is. What it did manage is to demonstrate that actually this isn't a show for the kiddlywinkles - the explosive coitus scene in the toilet and the subsequent hilarious riff on onanism are probably the filthiest seen so far in the Doctor Who universe - and you thought Jabe calling Rose a hooker in so many words or Jackie accusing The Doctor of grooming her in a chatroom was wild. No dancing around the subject here -- expect at least one of the tabloids to nickname the show Touchwood tomorrow. I can imagine some would suggest all of these things are fairly gratuitous, especially later when said alien seduces Gwen, but so what? There's no reason that science fiction shouldn't take a metrosexual attitude to this stuff, rimming the edges of taste and decency. The key here was making the possessee a pretty ordinary girl and present the two new sides of her personality fighting it out for supremacy of her body (all every metaphoric) - immediately creating some sympathy for her rather than just titillation.
Again, Gwen was at the centre of the episode and in the companion role of asking many, many questions. For some reason this seems less invisible than nu-Who although understandable in character context - she's a police officer and so naturally asks many questions. But it's good that they're willing to let her make mistakes and all the apologizing for releasing the alien seemed absolutely right. Cleverly too, the ratio between her Torchwood life and the time she spent outside was almost the complete inverse of that in the 'pilot' demonstrating how much of her time this new job in 'special ops' will take. My only problem with Chris Chibnall's script was that it seemed too quick at times to go for the laugh, although I loved all of the stuff related to Gwen researching the life of this girl she wanted to save. And at the end, answering the question which had been nagging throughout - what will her role be in Torchwood. Her interaction with the other characters was well executed too, particularly with Jack.
It's good to see him developing shades to his character. I think a fair comparison would be Batman, the essentially good man who doesn't quite understand sometimes that his methods aren't always ethical. He's still the same man that faced up to the Daleks, but there's a weariness to him. If he can't die, how long has it been for him since The Parting of the Ways? And why did he go from apparently caring for humanity to this? I love that despite his vulnerability he does have a weakness - I think it's going to be that he never seems to be able to find answers to why all of these things keep happening to him - The Doctor's hand being his only real link to his old life - much like the TARDIS console for Pertwee.
Of the other characters Owen's cock sure and a touch undimensional at the moment (he reminds me a bit of Danny from Hustle) and neither Toshiko or Ianto have been given enough to create definition yet, although I'm really surprised and pleased that the former has such a central role - she was certainly one of the three good things about Aliens of London. I'm imagining that the series will go the route of placing each character at the centre of a story throughout the series so they'll all get their chance. I fear however, that Gwen's boyfriend isn't long for the Whoniverse. Although RTD said that he'd never kill off a Rose because Doctor Who is essentially optimistic, Torchwood doesn't have that 'all life is important' edge. The dustpile count at the sperm clinic shows that there will be many victimfull crimes and Mickey Mark Two is just too nice and loveable to survive.
I forgot to mention The Hub, an amazing piece of design, so unlike the expected gleaming metal and fiber-glass, presumably contrasting Torchwood One on purpose. I can't wait for the expected moment when the railways is back in action as the team head up to Scotland, to see the weird guy (The Brig?). Its geography isn't entirely clear at times though - perhaps this is intentionally - it means that new rooms can be bolted on when needs be. The problem with that approach is revealed during action sequences - such as the fight scene between Jack and the girl, the proximity of the exit wasn't clear and neither was the depth of security. It really is a prop fest though - there are more bits of the last two series of Who here than at the exhibition on the Wirral. Has anyone noticed any bits of Auton?
I seem to have drifted from reviewing the episode which I'm sure is another byproduct of this being part of the double bill. As I write this, first comments for both episodes are flying in and I'm really surprised at how balanced the positives and negatives are. I really hadn't imagined fans would be this divided. But I really don't think that having these two episodes as a double bill helped either of them, especially with their tonal differences. This had a much slower pace - despite all the dashing around in cars and smashing into flats with guns - it was almost languid as long scenes explored the events and how some of the characters felt about them. The scene in which the staff speculated on Jack's origin was all good stuff and vitally reveals that conflict should ensue simply because they don't know who he is and actually what he's capable of.
The series needs to be careful about this though because no matter how enjoyable that dialogue is you need to keep forward momentum and it certainly shouldn't feel as though an action sequence is being thrown in because it hasn't happened for a while which is something most shows in this genre can be accused of. I think it got away with it simply because everything is so new, but as we become more accustomed to the characters and formula predictability factor will increase. Day One's surprises were far less potent than Everything Changes and I'd say we need at least one really good revelation per episode to keep us interested. Still a very strong second episode, well paced, devilishly sexy and funny - and importantly with heart. We cared about the fate of the girl because Gwen did - even if, perhaps, a little too much at times. It made for a great trailer ..
But see the whole thing was slightly marred by the bloody presentation from BBC Three. How big is their DOG/logo and why were they running it through this of all things? I mean it's not as huge as Five Life's but it's still pretty obtrusive, blocking whole heads and eyes chunks of Cardiff indiscriminately. I can't be the only one who was distracted by this thing. Oh and then there was the wonking great blue banner appearing at the end of the episode telling us what was on next just in case we'd missed the anouncer (apparently mainlining ritaline) or the buffers, spoiling the end of both episodes. And what was with knocking off the titles of the first episode and sticking them at the end of the second. Give us a breather! I barely had enough time to go for a bathroom break before the second episode had started. This is the first time most people would be seeing these things and I do wonder how many of the negative comments which have appeared on-line have been from people who've not been able to give it their full attention. Looks like I'll be recording it on Wednesday instead then.
PS. Amazingly, BBC Three's DOG is even more offensive now, the big neon pink abomination. At least it's in the corner of the widescreen rather than stuck somewhere in the middle.
Art This lunch time I attended the press preview for the Abandon Normal Devices arts festival which is happening in Liverpool this weekend. Work commitments and other things will prevent me from attending anything so I couldn’t help but be disappointed that I won’t be able to see the Pigs Bladder Football (in which the sports implements are being cultivated organically) or the Primate Cinema in which is apparently a hospital drama designed especially for chimps and the dozens of other events which have been programmed.
What I was able to see was a preview of FACT Liverpool’s new show, run in conjunction with AND, and in particular installation artist Kurt Hentschlager’s ZEE 2008/2011 or ZEE for short. ZEE is, well ZEE’s um, to be honest ZEE’s almost impossible to describe without resorting to film references and cliché, apart from to say it’s one of the most exciting installations I’ve ever “seen”. Hentschlager favours “immersive and overwhelming experiences” which fits in well with the Abandon Normal Devices since in this case the normal devices abandoned are our senses, particularly our eyesight.
The pre-amble is pure Jurassic Park. Assuming the public iteration is similar, you’re first handed an information sheet which under normal circumstances might as well be described as a spoiler sheet which gives an impression of what ZEE will be like. We’re told that this is a gallery filled with fog, with zero visibility and a rope to keep us supported and orientated. The rope also has instructions for use. The general advice is to keep moving but there are also safety instructions on what to do in the case of an emergency, especially a personal emergency.
Which then leads to a disclaimer form with a list of disorders and diseases which discount entry to the space:
Photosensitive epilepsyAs you can imagine by this stage I'm brimming with worry, fear, anxiety and genuine excitement, all of which are also printed on the faces of the press people in attendance. Even though we’ve been given a basic idea, there is still a genuine sense of curiosity about the fine mess we've gotten ourselves into. Seriously, if you want to visit and don’t want to have the process spoiled for you stop reading here because the movie references and clichés are about to start flying.
Breathing of heart problems
Abnormal (high or low) Blood pressure
Migraine or headaches
Ear or eye diseases
And I am not pregnant.
After the forms are signed we're led back into The Box screen were the original AND presentation took place for a further briefing and the creation of a register since during each session or visitation into the space the staff have to count us all in and count us back out again. Then Hentschlager himself also intones some further safety warnings in a manner that suggests he's something of a showman on the quiet, knowing that the best way to build up the tension is to give his audience every opportunity back out. It works. By now anxiety has turned to dread. I'm sitting with the palm of my hand over my mouth, my skin crawling.
The corridor at the side of the main space has been turned into a couple of white rooms or staging areas. In the first, the register is read out again, we agree that we’re all present again, and then we’re led into the next which is already filling up with the smog, though it resembles smoke more, as though the room next door is on fire. If this was Outbreak or some kind of space exploration piece this would be very much the decontamination chamber and the very last chance for us to walk away. But the temptation is too great. With this much build up, with all the forms, we have to know now whether any piece of art can live up to this hype.
The door opens and we’re led into main room which is filled with the fog and our hand is placed on the rope and told to walk forwards. Within seconds the world as we know it is gone, replaced by a white void. The 9/11 reference is inescapable, the moment in the streets of New York after the towers fell and the air was filled with dust, but also if we’re being less reductive, The Fog, The Mist, Silent Hill or the remake of The Fog. This initial sensation is similar to Gregor Schneider’s Kinderzimmer which was at the Whitworth in Manchester in 2009, but instead of a big dark blur, we see a big bright blur.
What I gather must be a light show then begins but this isn’t some pyrotechnic display. Somehow abstract images are being created by messing with the natural functions of our eyesight so that we effectively have a kaleidoscopic effect directly in the retina. It’s impossible to photograph because a machine can’t easily simulate the effect and the photograph in the gallery leaflet (see above) just looks like a scene from one of the aforementioned films with a street level weather pattern in the title. Every now and then the ghostly figure of the person in front of me appears but they're turned into something other, frightening, in the chaos.
As I walk forward, my hands initially clasping the rope for dear life, the colours change, from one shade into a multitude, the full spectrum. I keep thinking about 2001: A Space Odyssey and wondered what Kubrick and Clarke would have made of what amounted to their stargate sequence turned into an "ultimate trip” (as the movie poster described it) which anyone (disclaimers accepted) could undergo. I imagine if a György Ligeti soundtrack had been applied with its monosyllabic minimalist chant the anxiety levels would have been even higher. But the artist wants to calm us so simply offers a simple, almost imperceptible accompaniment.
The optimal length for a visit is apparently twelve minutes. I left after seven although it felt much longer, impossible as it was to time the circuits. Everyone in the group was smiling. It was generally impossible to know what to say, so unlike anything else was the, yes, experience. Indeed the main topic of conversation was exactly how we would describe it, something I think I've entirely failed at here. If you are in Liverpool and don't suffer from any of those ailment and aren't pregnant, this is just something you're going to have to try for yourself.
Abandon Normal Devices is at FACT Liverpool until 27th November.
TV You will have heard the news that Doctor Who Confidential has been axed by BBC3’s channel controller Zai Bennett as part of the BBC’s massive budget cuts as he concentrates on the post watershed slot at the expense of the early evening. It’s not that much of a surprise. Confidential was always something of a luxury item. What other show has its own weekly spin-off documentary making of series with episodes the same length as its progenitor? The real surprise is that it was a Three commission in the first place and came out of that channel’s budget and that it could be axed on their say-so. Hay-ho.
Twinned with the kids show, Totally Doctor Who, a sort of specially themed Blue Peter, Confidential had a crucial role back in 2005 when the show returned to the screen. Then just half an hour, it not only gave an insight into the creative decision behind the return of the series, it also included sections dedicated to illuminating parts of the show’s history for younger viewers with clips and interviews with older Doctors, companions and creatives. The Doctor himself might have been circumspect about his past in the actual programme but that was front and centre in Confidential, giving the classic DVD a helpful sales boost.
For fans whose first inclination of the work which went into the making of Doctor Who was the book The Making of Doctor Who by Terrance Dicks, they must have looked on at this glut of information with envious eyes, amid their giddy absorption of the minutiae of modern television production, from tone meetings to read-throughs to the shooting process to the creation of digital special effects. This was a televised media course about our favourite franchise and in a few years there'll doubtless be many fans who go into television production simply because of Confidential.
As the show matured and gained an extra fifteen minutes, Confidential branched out from simply reporting the production of a given episode into exploring aspects of fandom itself, with Maggot from Goldie Lookin Chain showing us his toy collection and a crash course in Trok. The apogee of this approach was the episode twinned with Blink, which made up for the lack of David Tennant in the actual episode by having the actor interview the writers and other uberfans about the series, including a tour of television centre with Steven Moffat, both standing on the site of so many childhood dreams with misty-eyed nostalgia.
At no other time have the people listed in the credits of a television series gained quite so much media exposure. Personalities like Ed Thomas, Neil Gorton, Phil Collinson, Julie Gardener, Louise Page and latterly Piers Wenger and Beth Willis as well as the two showrunners, the writers and directors all became as much a part of watching the show as the cast. When the show was originally on, few people outside of the hardcore fanbase or Doctor Who Magazine readers generally knew or even cared that Ray Cusick designed the Daleks or that Eric Saward was script editor. Now we could see second assistant directors going about their business.
The focus has narrowed as time’s gone on, with much more footage of pre-production and shooting days rather than post. There’s little or nothing about music composition now, or editing (perhaps because of the generally tighter schedule) and plenty about the writing with even Neil Gaiman reading out scenes and deleted scenes from the TARDIS set. Confidential’s clearly become a fixture on set with cast members greeting them on mass as “Confidential” which can be quite charming as the lead time between interview and messing about in front of one camera and the process of dramedy on the other narrows.
But as the series has reached its fifth and sixth years, it’s obviously become more and more difficult to find new things to cover. The latest innovation A Day In The Life has been fascinating as we see what the caterers and focus pullers actually do, and the complexity of directing. Increasingly cast members and creatives have been taken on trips tangentially connected to the series as a way of adding context (notably to Venice for an episode shot in Croatia doubling as Venice) and a noticeable increase in the number of montages when Confidential possibly had less access than usual or the episode didn’t lend itself to a more thorough exploration.
It’ll be sad to see Confidential go especially in this transitional moment when new executive producers arrive. It will at least mean that the likes of Doctor Who Magazine regain their status as the primary way fans will gain a sense of the production of the series though a question mark now hangs over how the making-of element of box-sets will be handled and what will fill the gaps on the official website where off cuts and preview materials would be. Perhaps Confidential will continue in a different capacity, still around on set, but able to give their material more focus without a timeslot to fill. Either way, thanks for the memories, Zoe and everyone. Cue montage:
Plug! An email from Creative Tourist about a new festival a few stops away on the train:
I wanted to let you know about The Manchester Weekender 14-16th October, organised by www.creativetourist.com, it’s an eclectic mix of cutural events: billed as 48 hours of art, culture, music, film, food, literature, walks, politics, poetry, photography, theatre, spectacle and games all wrapped up into a single weekend, it includes events as diverse as Jarvis Cocker ‘In Conversation’, a cultural fitness bootcamp, underground walking tours, several international critically acclaimed artists and numerous events, all over the city, for children and families.I'll miss everything, of course, because I work at the weekend but I knew some of you would be interested.
You can find out more at http://www.creativetourist.com/the-manchester-weekender-2011.
Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The Winter’s Tale is one of Shakespeare’s most innovative of plays, both in structure and content. Unusually for a play of this period, the story is structured into two distinct sections, with the tragic action of the first three acts giving way to romance in the final two fitting perfectly into the two halves required in modern theatre presentation. The other is the inherent ambiguity of Hermione’s mortality with Shakespeare leaving it up to the reader or theatre company to decide whether Leontes’s wife dies, returns as a ghostly apparition and is then magically recreated via a statue Pygmalian-style at the end or if she lives, is squirrelled away only to return at the end and given the aspect of a statue so as to draw out Leontes understanding of what he lost.
As John Pitcher explains in his introduction to Arden third edition, as is typical with pre-contemporary critical reactions to such things, the general impression was that both of these elements were “failures” on the part of Shakespeare rather than artistic choices. Theories developed suggesting that he rewrote parts of it leading to inconsistencies of tone or mistakes (see also Bohemia having coast), or that someone else had a hand in it, actors or impresarios before its first publication in the Folio or that the great man just didn’t know what he was doing. In reality he was experimenting with form testing classical genre rules in his contemporary drama and leaving the motivations of his characters and explanations for parts of the action deliberately empty to increase audience interest.
The appearance of a bear at mid-point is an especially bizarre inclusion, even if as Pitcher notes it does introduce some much needed panto at one of the play’s darkest moments. It’s not inconceivable a real bear appeared at that point, but the editor suggests that this isn't simply the kind of act of frippery classical playwright Horace grumbled about when his work was disrupted in the middle by the unheralded inclusion of some boxers or bears to keep the less high-brow audience members happy. Shakespeare actually uses the word “bear” plus its derivations, rhymes and synonyms throughout the play to underscore the themes of birth, rebirth and endurance so the appearance of the animal also becomes an on stage visual reference to that.
All of which indicates The Winter’s Tale deserves to be produced more than it is. There are difficulties. The change of setting in the middle brings a whole new collection of characters and set requirements and although some doubling up can be done, it’s rarely done satisfactorily with such unlikely scenarios as the actress playing Hermione doubling up as her daughter Pardita messing up the mechanics of the final scene in which both characters are required on stage. There are plenty of songs, all printed in the appendices here with sheet music, and although they’re easily cuttable (deliberately so according to some critics) the tone of the Bohemian section loses some of its whimsy. There’s a lengthy scene in the middle of the play, Act 4 / Sc 4, which can become rather drawn out if not treated properly.
But as I saw in a rousing production at the RSC in 2009 and as Pitcher convincingly demonstrates with other exmples it can be done and was, even a few years after Shakespeare’s death. Then it was a very commercial play, pastorals being all the rage, which is one of the reasons the playwright challenged himself to write one. It’s only later that it fell out of fashion for many of the reasons already discussed (that bear!) only really finding favour again early in the last century. What the play could do with is an excellent new celluloid version (something Pitcher suggests he’ll discuss the medium then doesn’t – a rare error). Modern film is used to mixing genres, contrasting distant locales, showing lost children growing in an instant and would finally have magical the capacity to bring Hermione’s statue to life.
The Winter's Tale (Arden Shakespeare.Third Series). Edited by John Pitcher. Methuen Drama. 2010. RRP: £9.99. ISBN: 978-1903436356. Review copy supplied.
Music Zooey and M (or She & Him) have an acoustic charity Christmas album out this year:
"A Very She & Him Christmas is a collection of holiday tunes from Zooey Deschanel (She) & M. Ward (Him). Inspired by seminal holiday albums by the likes of The Carpenters, Vince Guaraldi, The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley and more, She & Him have set out to create an intimate holiday recording of Christmas classics that helps bring new emotions out of old songs."The track selections don't stray anywhere outside expected norms, but this will do until Laura Marling decides to have go.
Arden’s Early Modern Drama series applies the scholarly approach they’ve brought so successfully to Shakespeare to a collection of plays published between the late fifteenth to the late seventeenth century, plays which may have influenced and been influenced by him. They recognise that an emphasis on Shakespeare in recent times has somewhat eclipsed other great works from that period and offer a chance to approach these texts in a form which has been analysed with Arden’s usual editorial zeal.
Everyman and Mankind, two anonymous miracle plays from the late 1400s, are perfect examples of that ethic. Neither plays has gone unpublished before but in each case the editors Douglas Bruster and Eric Rasmussen (the latter co-author on the recent RSC Complete Works) have returned to the available copies of the texts only glancing at later interpretations when absolutely necessary. Though the spellings and punctuation have been modernised as per Arden’s usually editorial standards, both have the atmosphere of looking backwards into a forgotten time.
Both offer their only challenges. The only existing historic copy of Mankind is an incomplete manuscript held by the Folger Shakespeare Library. Pages are reproduced and to my untrained eye they’re in gobbledygook and to make matters worse the first of the two transcribers wrote in very tight lines so as to save paper. There are four quarto editions of The Summoning of Everyman (to give its full title) in existence but only two are relatively complete and of the others only fragments exist and all differ wildly in content, sometimes words, sometimes whole lines.
Given this is my first experience of either play, I can’t intelligently analyse the editorial choices though it's interesting to read that thanks to one of those fragments of Everyman, the Q2, having only recently having been discovered, they’ve used it in conjunction with Q1, to produce a brand new variant of the play, somewhat different to that seen in other editions which rely almost exclusively on Q3. That fits in well with the rest of Arden’s recent mission to fight against orthodoxy and offer an alternative.
But what of the plays? As was usually the case in pre-Reformation drama, they feature an archetypal figure experiencing some kind of symbolic trial explaining the ways of God to man. Mankind is tempted by the vices of New-Guise (the fashion), Nought (nothingness) and Nowadays (living for the moment) and ultimately seeks mercy from a character called Mercy for succumbing to their charms. Everyman is visited by Death (yes, the Death) and we witness their earthly belongings deserting them as they're ultimately tested for their worth and face the grave.
Mankind was as far as can be ascertained from the text, written and performed by the monks at the abbey of St Edmund in Bury (yes, as in the modern Bury St Edmunds) and toured within the South East region between King’s Lynn and Cambridge and may have been bankrolled by the ten nobles very specifically named in the text. Perhaps more interestingly, since it shows that English-language remakes are not a new phenomena, Everyman is a translation of a Dutch play, Elckerlijc, its satire blunted slightly to remove material critical of the Catholic faith.
Neither sounds particularly entertaining and in truth it’s impossible not to look at either of them without a certain detachment, especially if you’re the kind of person whose unlikely to draw solace from a story developed from the Book of Job just as Mankind is. We’re also used to symbolism, themes and allegory being buried deep within our dramedy, a characters we can somewhat identify with emotionally wrestling with the implications (thank to the reformation). Morality plays turn that notion inside and symbolism, themes and allegory are given character names.
But in parts they are incredibly funny. Mankind in particular was kept out of production for many years because of the lewdness of its language, one song in particular as scatological as a gross out film comedy, indeed more so because the participating audience is dragged into the mess. The writers understood, even at this early stage, that the best way to carry a message is through a mix of humour and drama and you can see the roots of how Shakespeare also would later include comedic scenes even in his blackest of tragedies.
The introduction is relatively short but that just reflects not only the brevity of the plays themselves – neither is much more than nine hundred lines each and feature continuous action – but also the relatively negligible critical and performance histories. Brusher and Rasmussen make light work of revealing how the medieval mind would approach both plays and what they might draw from the text. There are no deep psychological discussions of the characters since their characterisation is less important than the effects they might have on the audience.
Just as useful in production terms are the staging discussions in the back which attempt to define just how large a cast both plays would require. Anyone who’s seen the underrated film about a troop of medieval actors The Reckoning (starring Paul Bettany) might have some idea of the conditions in which these plays were produced but it’s fun to see the mechanics of how certain characters must have been doubled up simply because it means a performer would have to sit out much of the show which is hardly cost-effective.
Perhaps that’s one of the only frustrations of finally greeting these plays. The Shakespeare effect means that neither is readily available in a modern professional recording. I like to hear these words performed and I’m not sure I did Mankind justice reading it out to myself (I certainly lost much of the sense). There is a copy of the 1955 recording of Everyman featuring Burgess Meredith (as mentioned in the Arden introduction) available on Spotify (link) but the treatment of the text is ponderous with only a couple of the actors properly catching its satirical tone.
Either way, Arden Early Modern Drama’s Everyman and Mankind is an illuminating read and a reminder of just how much drama developed even in the hundred years leading up to Shakespeare’s birth. Plus its impossible, just now and then, not to wonder if he read these words himself. When in Everyman, Fellowship says “In faith, Everyman, farewell now at the end. / For you I will remember that parting is mourning”, it’s impossible not to hear Juliet’s line to her Romeo: “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
Everyman and Mankind (Arden Early Modern Drama). Edited by Douglas Bruster and Eric Rasmussen. Methuen Drama. 2009. RRP: £10.99. ISBN: 978-1904271628. Review copy supplied.
I've received the following letter/email/press release:
"Singer/Songwriter Christine Hand Jones has now written and recorded her lovely song "Ophelia", inspired by the character in Hamlet, which is included on her new six song EP, "Girl on a String". This EP is available for purchase, download, or free download (by recommending to online friends). "Girl on a String", including "Ophelia" is now available through www.christinehand.com. I believe you will appreciate the authenticity and music style of "Ophelia", which Christine performs solo (without the other band members).Sure enough it as as Mr. Hand describes, an acoustic concoction based on Ophelia's story and quoting directly from her descent into madness. Well done you.
FYI - I am Ed Hand, musician in Christine's band, and am also her Dad.
Thank you for your support and for your wonderful blog.