Opening Credits Sunday: Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy
Superficially, there doesn’t seem to be much resemblance between the classic version of Doctor Who that ran from 1963–1989 and the modern one that began in 2006. If the classic Doctor Who looked slightly cheap then the modern one looks like a little money was spent on each episode. If the classic Doctor Who had mostly self-contained stories, then the modern one has season, if not series, long stories. But I think in tone the modern version of Doctor Who is actually a lot closer to the classic one than it might seem from the outside which is exemplified in the latest Christmas “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” episode.
This time, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) finds himself in New York where a group of aliens are set on taking over the world. Using a cover corporation called “Harmony Shoals,” these aliens just so happen to be the size and shape of our brains and their plan includes luring people to their buildings around the planet and removing the brains of all the politicians on the globe and replacing them with these brain-looking aliens. In an homage to the Superman story, investigating Harmony Shoals is dogged reporter Lucy Fletcher (Charity Wakefield) who meets the Doctor and his assistant (Matt Lucas) who are also scoping out the corporation. And there’s also a Superman-like superhero flying around New York City called the Ghost aka Grant Gordon (Justin Chatwin) who the Doctor knows and accidentally created decades prior when he met him as a child. As the aliens begin to put their devious plan into motion and threaten the fate of the entire planet, it’s more of a question as to whether Lucy will ever figure out that the Ghost is really her nanny Grant Gordon as to if the aliens will succeed in taking over the planet.
Which to me is a story only Doctor Who, either classic or modern, could do with a straight face and get away with it, to take a story that might seem silly and goody and present them as a straight sci-fi/fantasy story without irony or laughs.
And I think that’s part of the strengths and weaknesses of Doctor Who. Right now most critically acclaimed sci-fi series push hard in the direction of gritty reality, of which Doctor Who certainly doesn’t. Doctor Who is a sort of anthesis series to heavy shows like The Expanse and Westworld and is also a bit of an anachronism to older styles of storytelling. However, that might also be a good thing for Doctor Who — while every other series can be seen as being of our times Doctor Who instead stands out as a series slightly out of time, more harkening back to the sci-fi series of the past than today. And that might help the series for viewers in the future. Doctor Who might never feel old and dated since it’s always been a bit old and dated to begin with whereas the other series of our time might feel too much of our time and not relatable to future viewers.
Over the past year I’ve been reviewing new episodes of TV series here in these weekly Direct Beams Comms. I don’t pretend to review all or even most new comedies and dramas released but I did review all the comedies and dramas I watched in 2016 which turned out to be 45 brand new TV series. If you consider that most TV series I watch tend to air between five and 13 episodes the means there’s somewhere between 225 and 585 episodes of TV out there of just these new shows I watched.
In addition, I watched 15 shows that were in their second or further seasons meaning there’s anywhere between 75 and 195 episodes of those shows I watched too.
Which is a lot of TV — that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
Looking out over the calendar there’s new TV series I’m interested in checking out each week from now until mid-February. And that’s just counting NEW series, not returning ones. And my guess is that calendar stops in February not because there’s a break in new shows being launched but because that’s all the further out the calendars I found online happen to go out.
The one good thing with all these hours of TV is that since new series are being launched all year long it means there’s a lot of TV watching for me that’s spread out over the months. But that also means that there’s somewhat of a commitment on my part to watch all these shows since there are always new ones due out next week.
What’s most fascinating is that while I watched around 60 scripted shows last season, this represents only about 13% of the total amount of new series out there, more than 450 this year in a recent report. Which is the best of times since there are so many series channels are willing to take chances on TV shows that wouldn’t ever have gotten made a few years ago. Even edited for content I can’t imagine a series like Westworld ever being shown on network or even cable TV in its current form without being turned into something more episodic even this decade. And I can’t ever see something like the five part documentary series O.J.: Made in America having aired on ESPN of all places finding a TV home other than right now. We might have gotten a one hour special on O.J. years ago, but a five part multi-night documentary would have been out of the question.
All of which makes me wonder, if we’re living in this wonderful time where there are quite literally AMAZING brand-new TV series being created and released year after year, how does all this sustain itself? Right now we’re living in a time where there are all these different content channels from network to cable to streaming all looking for series and all willing to shell out big-bucks in some cases to get it. (Reportedly a single season of Game of Thrones costs HBO about $60 million and Westworld $100.) But they’re willing to spend this money right now because all these channels are trying to stake their claim and be the one place people go for their entertainment in the future and are willing to spend, spend and spend to get this.
But what happens in a few years when the economics change, maybe people are less interested in watching scripted series and there are the inevitable channel collapses, acquisitions and mergers? What happens then, I think, are channels and networks less willing to spend such amounts on TV series and less willing to fund loads and loads of new shows. And I don’t think this day is that far in the future — it really can’t be with the amount of money being spent and lost on series.
People always talk about how great the movies of the 1970s were and how movies since were never able to capture that same spark. Or, if they were able to capture that spark it was only for a movie or two or for a short period of time. I think that’s what’s happening with TV series right now — we’re living in this golden age of TV with all these different choices and options where there are all these amazing shows and it just can’t last.
“Are all your plans always this vague?”
Let this sink in for a minute; currently there are more episodes of the classic series Doctor Who that are missing that were ever created for shows like the original Star Trek or even The Sopranos. Early years of Doctor Who might have 40+ episodes each season and since the series originally ran for 26 years means that there were over 800 episodes produced. Unfortunately, as a cost savings measure the BBC decide that the physical tapes used to record episodes on as an archive were of more value than the actual episodes and had a habit of erasing old shows and replacing them with newer ones. Which means that as of right now around 100 episodes Doctor Who, especially early ones until they stopped this practice, are thought lost.
Luckily, over the years, some of these lost episodes were found. Some in far off locals around the world like Nigeria and Australia in various archives where Doctor Who aired in syndication and some in collections of Doctor Who fans who happened to buy memorabilia that turned out to be a missing episode or two. Unfortunately, while a few lost episodes seem to turn up every few years, there are still these nearly 100 that have never been found and odds are that some will remain lost forever.
Which brings me to one of these Doctor Who episodes arcs that so far hasn’t been found titled “The Power of the Daleks.” This six episode story originally aired 50 years ago this month but the tapes housing them were recorded over decades ago. One thing that did survive of “The Power of the Daleks” was the soundtrack to the episodes. So what the BBC has done is to create an animated version of the episodes which uses the original soundtrack and will be airing them each Saturday night on BBC America.
It’s interesting to see this episode animated in such a realistic way, but the episode does come off a bit odd and stiff looking. I think that’s partly due to the fact that older episodes of Doctor Who as a rule came as generally odd and stiff looking to begin with, but along with the fact that “The Power of the Daleks” is animated which adds to this quality.
Here, newly regenerated Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and companions materialize on a colony planet Vulcan where the Doctor is mistaken from an Earth official. At the colony they’re shown a ship the people in the colony discovered in a nearby swamp. A ship that once opened is revealed to be piloted by the evil Daleks. And that’s where this episode ends with next week’s show set to continue the story.
Stiff looking or not, I’d love to see BBC continue this practice of animating lost episodes since I think the more classic Doctor Who available the better.
“I’m not an assassin.”
“They did not save your life, they stole it.”
Gunpla: Stands for “Gundam Plastic Model.”
Doctor Who 1996 TV movie
Comparatively, the mid–1990s weren’t great when it came to sci-fi. Sure,TV series like Star Trek and The X-Files and other sci-fi shows thrived, but for the most part sci-fi films and TV were a niche market at best. Back then, there were a very few successful comic book movies and in fact, most comic titles aired as after school cartoons and not as films. And even what’s now one of the world’s most popular TV series Doctor Who’s original run was cancelled in 1989 and was then considered decidedly uncool.
Yet “uncool” or not in 1996 FOX TV decided to create and air a made for TV reboot movie of Doctor Who.
Starring Paul McGann as the Doctor, Eric Roberts as the Master and Daphne Ashbrook as Dr. Grace Holloway, this new Doctor Who was a continuation of the old but tweaked a bit for American audiences. Gone was the UK setting for a Canada doubling as the US and really the only English “thing” in the show that previously was defined by its “Englishness” was the Doctor himself.
At the time I remember FOX heavily promoting the show and it seemed like they were hoping they might have a hit on their hands that they could then spin out to a new Doctor Who TV series. Maybe it was because FOX was just beginning to ride the wave of The X-Files mania that was starting to grip the nation that they thought that reviving a cult British classic TV series might lead to winning ratings.
And the spring of 1996 I was extremely excited about the prospect that Doctor Who might be returning to TV screens. I was a Doctor Who fanatic as a kid thanks to my friend Cameron but had drifted away from the show in my teenage years. (Though I might be mis-remembering this as I’m not quite sure just when our local PBS station stopped airing episode of Doctor Who.)
But watching the 1996 Doctor Who movie was a disappointment. It was Doctor Who and it felt like an honest attempt at translating something that was so different than the average TV series into something more palatable for American audiences. But something was just missing from the 1996 Doctor Who. The ratings for the TV movie were poor and that was that. It would be nearly a decade before the relaunch of the now mega-popular Doctor Who TV series that would return the series to prominence.
One thing about the 1996 Doctor Who that I appreciate — it might have failed but it’s never been ignored by the most recent incarnation of the show. The movie was celebrated a few years ago during the series 50th anniversary and McGann has appeared as the Doctor in a flashback episode of the current series and has voiced the Doctor in a series of audiobooks too.
Oddly enough, just after the 1996 Doctor Who movie aired sci-fi was about to become huge with the likes of mega-blockbusters Independence Day and The Matrix. I kind’a wonder if the 1996 reboot Doctor Who had been released more around the time of those movies if it would have found more of an audience on TV?
I rewatched the movie Dune a few weeks back — theatrical, not the extended cut thank you — and noticed that several of the actors in the movie went onto star in various sci-fi/genera TV series in the 1980s/early 1990s.
This statue, which retails for $80, can hang off the walls of its diorama and upside down on its base via magnets. (Space Marines not included.)
Classic Doctor Who
My local PBS station began airing episode of classic Doctor Who a few weeks back starting with the very first Tom Baker episode entitled “Robot” and it looks like for the most part they’re airing them in order. I couldn’t be more happy. I’ve been dying to watch more episodes of the classic Doctor Who for years now, ever since the 50th anniversary a few years ago and when BBC America began airing a handful of Baker episodes last year.
American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
The first season of American Crime Story on FX ended its run last week about the trial of O.J. Simpson. The sad thing is that I know a few people who didn’t watch the show because they “knew how it ended.” Except that American Crime Story was anything but just about the ending. It was about all the bits that were never broadcast on TV in the 1990s; what was going on behind the scenes with the lawyers, and jurors and family members we never got to see.
The neat thing about the story was that it wasn’t just one sided — for or against O.J. It’s mostly about the lawyers — the prosecution building a seemingly airtight case against Simpson and the defense finding ways to make their case a little a lot less airtight while at the same time trying to expose what they see as a corrupt system against African Americans in Los Angeles.
In a TV season with a lot of simply great dramas, American Crime Story was one of the best. A
Edge of Tomorrow: Live Die Repeat
Last week writer/director Christopher McQuarrie announced that there’s going to be a sequel to the wonderful movie Edge of Tomorrow with Doug Liman set to return as director and Tom Cruise as star. I didn’t think that Edge of Tomorrow did well enough at the box office to warrant a sequel, but luckily I was wrong. Edge of Tomorrow is one of the best sci-fi films of the modern age and along with movies like Mad Max: Fury Road is redefining the sci-fi genera.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story movie trailer
“What will you become?”
Officially titled Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, this eighth movie in the franchise is the first one to be told outside of the main Star Wars storyline. Here, a resistance fighter, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is tasked with stealing the plans for the Death Star. Or, Rogue One would be what was going on immediately before Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope where those plans are hidden inside R2-D2. What I like about the trailer is the design aesthetic seems to be taken straight from those gorgeous Dave Dorman Star Wars paintings that seemed to be on everything Star Wars related in the 1990s. What I don’t like about it is that the vibe in the Rogue One trailer comes off a bit too Katniss in Hunger Games at times for my taste.
That being said, the trailer’s much more good than bad.