Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke’s The Making of Doctor Who

TV  The first non-fiction book published about the series, Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke’s The Making of Doctor Who is mythologised by fans of a certain age as the moment when they properly realised the breadth of the history of the series, thanks to a thorough episode guide and biographies of the all the Doctors and companions who had appeared on the show prior to the then current incumbent Tom Baker. How they must have trembled, suddenly desperate to read the Target novelisation of The Ark with the horrific sounding Monoids and coming to terms with their newly acquired deep knowledge of Mike Yates and Anneke Wills.  All of which I missed because I was only two years old.  Time to catch up.

Reading the book, written by the outgoing at this late stage is a strange business, especially after twenty odd years of Doctor Who Magazine and another overlapping decade of dvd releases. Most of the anecdotes herein have been worked over dozens of times since by franchise archivist Andrew Pixley with increasing accuracy, yet it’s impossible not to be swept away by Dicks and Hulke’s interpretation of events which desperately strikes a balance between offering some insight into television production but without losing any of the magic of what’s on screen, a world were Tom isn’t difficult to work with, script editing is a relatively easy business and the technical unions don’t turn the lights off at inopportune moments.

Both authors are well chosen.  Hulke wrote many of the most popular Doctor Who stories, including The War Games, Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Sea Devils.  Dicks was a producer on the show right through the Pertwee era and continued to be a writer not just of the scripts for television but also, as he notes within The Making of ... enough Target novelisations that he could give up the programme to concentrate on those.  Eventually Dicks would go on to write most of the Target books, the former covering most of the eras of the show in his trademark style.  "Teeth and curls" "Open face" that sort of thing.  It's a testament to their legacy that these novelisations are still being turned into audio books.

The first section traces the inception of the series, introduces all of the characters and the actors who played them and lists the monsters who’ve left an impression of the show in the previous decade (sorry Rills). Much of this still serves as the blue print for Doctor Who Magazine’s approach all of these years later, even taking time to debunk the myth of where the Dalek name came from (even though Trivial Pursuit were still using the encyclopedia explanation as a question years later). Each of the companion actors is gives a quote about their time working on the show, including Frazer Hines who informs us that he’d wear football shorts under his kilt so he could get a game directly afterwards.

This was for years the main the source of the collective fan knowledge about how the show started. It’s impossible not read the section about the meeting between Sydney Newman (initial creator) and Donald Wilson (head of series) without thinking of the notorious Doctor Who night sketch with all the swearing, isn’t it about time they finally grant its author Mark Gatiss his wish to bring this chapter properly to television in dramatic form? Certainly there’s enough here for a fiftieth anniversary special in which a brave female producer Verity Lambert battles with the resources available to her then watching as the limelight shines on Terry Nation for creating the Daleks, the moment when the show really took off?

The middle chunk is appropriated by the aforementioned episode guide, which was also the first time many of the stories were collected under single story names for the first time – for the first couple of years individual episodes had often wildly inaccurate titles all to themselves. Culled, I believe, from BBC documents, many of these collective nouns have stuck until the present day appearing on dvd spines but there are still some surprises. The Daleks is given the title of its first episode “The Dead Planet” and it’s “The French Revolution” instead of “The Reign of Terror”. The first story is listed as “An Unearthly Child” the ramifications of which would drag on for many years with fandom fracturing between the "100,000 BC" believers and The "Tribe of Gum".

Like the pagination of the Target novelisations, there’s little consistency as to the length of accompanying synopsii in relation to story length. The Moonbase (4 episodes) nearly fills a page while all twelve episodes of The Dalek Masterplan fill about seven lines which might well be a comment on the amount of padding which would appear in some of these stories. Galaxy Four (4 episodes) is gifted five lines and shockingly it doesn’t seem to miss anything out including the race relations subtext. Brilliantly, one of the previous owners of my copy has gone on to scrawl in pencil all of stories from after “The Hand of Fear” up to and including “Shada” which suggests it was before that story failed to be completed. They’ve also numbered them all, and added crosses, presumably next to the ones they’ve seen. We've all done it.

The final section covers the production of ROBOT, Tom Baker’s first story. This is major rewrite from the first edition of the book which covered The Sea Devils (and had a constipated looking John Pertwee on the cover) forcing some fans to buy this twice because of new material, a technique which is still being employed on the dvd range even today. In this version, there’s much talk throughout of how this is a show in transition with a new production team, new lead actor and a shift towards telling stories in time and space away from Earth. Which is quite refreshing considering that now, David Tennant was barely off-screen before his incarnation was assigned to merchandising history (with the approach to Christopher Eccleston genuinely Stalinist).

This is the ur-text for Doctor Who Confidential. After the subsequent commentary revelations this is pretty tame stuff, it’s not The Writer’s Tale (or The Devil’s Candy for that matter), there are no stories of Dicks, who also wrote Robot, face pressed against a typewriter at 3 o'clock in the morning handwriting a telegram to fanzine editor Jan Vincent-Rudzki revealing his inspiration for turning the story into a King Kong homage or why he took his name of The Brain of Morbius.  The most we discover about the writing process is how it would be an interesting choice to make "the power-mad leader behind the whole scheme" a woman "in these days of women's lib" (which as you can see isn't to say these passages don't sound like Dicks speaking out loud).

Curiously most of the production team are referred to by their job title not their name and there are precious few proper anecdotes about the production itself, other than the decision to shoot the whole thing on video though the authors do mention how a producer thought one actor was overplaying the comedy at the expense of the drama, something the director agreed to do something about. I’m assuming that was Tom and I’m assuming he didn’t take any notice.  Some of the episodes overran, some underran but generally the shoot appears to come off without a hitch.  My favourite part is the opening paragraph which prosaically sets about explaining production codes "no one had allowed for the show's amazingly long life".  You're not kidding.  Now we've reached proper numbers and no one can agree exactly how many stories there have been.

The book almost ends on a fairly downbeat note. Under the hopeful sounding chapter title “A New Life for the Doctor” we’re told that new producer Philip Hinchcliffe and Script Editor Robert Holmes are “confident that in the dangerous and disturbing world of today there is a real need for a show like Doctor Who”. Then Dicks and Hulke stick the knife in by informing us that “many of the Doctor’s early adventures are lost for ever. Enormous pressure on storage space forces the BBC to “wipe the tapes” "which means that many of the stories they’ve previously listed in the middle of the book, with the exception of those preserved for the Television Archives, “are gone for good”.  Notice the present tense in the word “forces”.  It was still going o.

I believe this was also the first inclining that even the clued up fans had that any of these stories had gone never mind that whoever was making the selection lacked the ability to discriminate between a stone cold classic like Marco Polo and The Senor-bloody-rites. The authors try to cushion the blow by adding a sales pitch that suggests it’s ok because the adventures were being “preserved in more permanent form” as Target novelisations. As many would discover later when some of these stories were found and the secondary market opened up, the Target novelisations often wildly rewrote what had been on screen. 

The book ends on a three page glossary which has room for “ratings” but not “budget”.

So the history of Doctor Who was formed.

Olde English Comedy ruin both a film and a song for you.

Breakfast at Tiffany's from Olde English Comedy on Vimeo.

the in-joke which has now been turned into a film

Film Fans of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's film review podcast will already be aware of Benjamin Sniddlegrass And The Cauldron Of Penguins, the in-joke which has now been turned into a film. The rest of you can catch us as director Jeremy Dylan talks to Den of Geek about the indie project which includes a voiceover from Stephen Fry:
"But yeah, we sat down, just the two of us in there and his performance was just pitch-perfect, exactly as I had imagined it when I wrote it, down to every inflection. He was exactly as you would think Stephen Fry would be in real life. He complimented me on the script, which he thought was very funny, which was, of course, huge for me.

He asked me how I was paying for it and he was like, "But you're a young person! Surely you don't have any money?"
The film is available here.

“Well ... like ... yeah.”

Language Speaking of like, like, vageness has crept into the language. We are do it. We've all kind of like slipped into a way of speaking in which it's almost impossible not to, y'know, um, aha, use twice as many words than is required to get our point across, much of it linguistic noise.

According to this piece by Clark Whelton in City Journal, it's because over time teachers have stopped correcting us at a vital age which means that our then juvenile ways of speaking continue well into adulthood. He first became aware of it in the 80s during job interviews:
"The first applicant was a young man from NYU. During the interview, he spiked his replies so heavily with “like” that I mentioned his frequent use of the word. He seemed confused by my comment and replied, “Well . . . like . . . yeah.” Now, nobody likes a grammar prig. All’s fair in love and language, and the American lingo is in constant motion. “You should,” for example, has been replaced by “you need to.” “No” has faded into “not really.” “I said” is now “I went.” As for “you’re welcome,” that’s long since become “no problem.” Even nasal passages are affected by fashion. Quack-talking, the rasping tones preferred by many young women today, used to be considered a misfortune."
Of course there is at least one good use for "I'm like..."

(1) Muppets!
(2) Gwyneth!
(3) Cee Lo navigating the cleaned up radio version of his song whilst dressed as 70s Elton!
(4) Annoying banner advert on the YouTube embed because the rubbish The Grammys channel doesn't include performances which leaves other miscreants to helpfully enter the market!

her rotting, squishy, dead ancestors

Shakespeare OMG! OMG! Jezebel is branching out into literary criticism. Witness, "Why Romeo And Juliet Is Shakespeare’s Worst Play." Best part? The rebuttle in the comments:
"It can be read as a critique of conventional romantical poeticizing (aka making fun of cliched dudes who are more into homoerotic brotherhood and their own narcissistic views of themselves as lovers than their professed beloved object). Also Juliet's soliloquy right before she takes the medicine is wicked macabre and grotesque. She imagines being entombed with all her rotting, squishy, dead ancestors including the recently dead (and therefore freshly corpsified) Tybalt, who would also be really angry at her.
IMHO they're both wrong. There is no, like, bad Shakespeare. Just bad productions.

was a horrifying bore

Film This year's Baftas was a horrifying bore with three predictable high spots (Helena Bonham Carters acceptance speech Colin Firth's acceptance speech and Christopher Lee) and the entertainment that was Rosamund Pike's flight of intellectual fancy which I'm pinning here so that I know where to find it:

What I love about this is it proves that all of us have a high capacity for inadvertant failure.

The Merchant of Venice (The Arden Shakespeare). Edited by John Drakakis.

Few quotes better encapsulate the post-war attitude to The Merchant of Venice than this marvel from Dennis Kennedy: “Since 1945 we have been in possession of a new text of the play, one which bears relationships to the earlier text but is also significantly different from it.” Placed at the centre of the introduction to John Drakakis’s third Arden edition of the play, it marks the historical moment when the play stopped being a “comedy” and became something rather more uncomfortable and in the shift away from obvious stereotyping into a work which has become very difficult to perform.

Most of the plays have probably undergone this kind of transformation, not least Hamlet which now exists in a kind of post-Freudian state. Certainly I’ve never seen a production that has been able to turn Shylock into the complex figure our sensibilities demand and also make Portia sympathetic enough after her treatment of him so that the more traditional romantic comedy elements don’t stick in the throat. Presumably that’s why it’s one of the few plays I simply can’t watch or listen to for pleasure but instead to see if the company have cracked this almost impossible code.

Drakakis, a professor of English Studies at the University of Sterling, tries his best to convince us, by offering a detailed overview of the influences underpinning Shakespeare’s characterisation, from the real life position of Jews within Venetian society to their theatrical tradition, notably in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and the sources for that tricky romance story, with its caskets and rings. Along with the editing of the play itself and the accompanying notes, this is the work of a couple of decades which is ably demonstrated by the breadth of quotations on display and intertextuality.

If I’m confused as to how Drakakis seeks to position Shylock and the Christians, it’s perhaps because his introduction isn’t quite as accessible as similar efforts in other Ardens and expects a certain level of background knowledge of the reader. Certainly this feels like more of a straight academic text than Keir Elam’s efforts on Twelfth Night or Charles Forker’s Richard II though I should admit that I’m far more familiar with both of those plays than The Merchant of Venice which could account for the disconnect. Even so, I learnt more here about The Jew of Malta than when it was forced on me during A-Level English Literature.

The theatrical history offers steadier ground. Drakakis emphasises how revivals through the 18th and 19th centuries edited and rewrote the text to make Shylock a much more central figure often losing Portia altogether and either increasing his pantomime villainy or in a few cases shaving his darker excesses. It isn’t really until recently that the language of the play was returned to anything Shakespeare intended, but with directors employing the play to reflect the Jewish experience in a range of historical periods. In that context, the new Globe’s unreconstructed ’98 production in which the audience was actively encouraged to hiss Shylock as he came on stage in the pantomime tradition is especially daring.

The Merchant of Venice (The Arden Shakespeare). Edited by John Drakakis is published by Methuen Drama. £9.99. ISBN: 9781903436813.  Review copy supplied.

Julie Salamon’s record of the production, The Devil’s Candy

Books In hindsight, you can understand why Brian De Palma’s film Bonfire of the Vanities received the critical mauling that greeted it on release. Tom Wolfe had written a much loved book that captured the pulse of 80s New York and if the talent involved could capture a tenth of that on-screen then there was a chance, just a chance that a classic for the ages could be created. Except as Julie Salamon’s record of the production, The Devil’s Candy, wickedly demonstrates, 90s Hollywood simply didn’t have the sensibilities, taste or courage to properly reflect the darkness inherent in the material.

Writing in novelistic style from material culled during set visits and interviews, Salamon writes in neutral tones but carefully demonstrates the decisions which led to the film’s artistic failure all flowed from the decision to make a prestigious high budget cinematic production in the first place rather than the tv mini-series that had been expected. From that flowed the need to cast hot actors in the main roles compromising characterisation, employ convincing location shoots in the New York itself and a general sense of swagger that this was an important film from an important book and no expense would be spared.

A typical example is the casting of Bruce Willis in the key role of the journalist who uncovers the accident that leads Tom Hanks’s stockbroker to court. In the book, Peter Fallow is a British caricature bringing in with him the eye of the outside. In the film, Fallow becomes essentially the kind of wise-guy figure Willis was used to playing and the script was in constant flux as it made allowances for the actors then limited acting style. Then having hired Willis essentially as narrator, he’s off screen for much of the film and in any case unbalances the story which should rightly be in the shaky hands of Tom Hank’s stock-broker.

Willis comes across as a bit of an a-hole and in truth few of the main figures a painted in glowing terms. De Palma, who actually gave his blessing to the book even after the film’s release, is an introverted figure fighting personal demons in his personal life. Salamon suggests Melanie Griffiths was a emotionally fragile person who’s aware that her the aging process will mean she’ll soon give way to the ingĂ©nues rising behind her (and indeed her role in the film was almost given to a young Uma Thurman). Other crewmembers thread through the narrative; second unit director Eric Schwab who spends the shoot creating mesmerising shots in a bid to step out of De Palma’s shadow. Only Tom Hanks retains much of his dignity.

With so much detail, so many “characters” to keep on top of, the book can at times be an exhausting read. What saves it is Salamon’s decision not to simply run off a “production diary” in the style of Thierry de Navacelle’s Woody Allen On Location which offered the minutae of the daily routine in making Radio Days. Instead this is a string of incidents, anecdotes, the battles with the studio over budget. For those of us less interested in gossip and more interested in the process itself, the final section on post-production is perhaps most interesting as we see De Palma’s desperate attempt to make a film which ultimately can only appeal to those within ten miles of Manhattan work with an audience in Boston.

He ultimately shaves two major scenes off the end (including a swordfight that took five nights to shoot), asking himself if he’s only making the film shorter but not necessarily better. The irony of the whole affair is that with hindsight, Bonfire of the Vanities, whilst perhaps a disappointment to fans of Wolfe’s book now stands as a fairly enjoyable example of 90s film making with a fine performance from Tom Hanks that hints at his later range and some very funny scenes. I'd also agree with Steven Spielberg that opening five minute shot which follows a sozzled Fallow out of a car and onto the stage of a book launch is one of the best in film. It's just a shame that the reputation of the rest has overshadowed it.

I always had a little primitive story with a twist

TV It's something of a pity that "culture" secretary Jeremy ... Hunt's local television proposal will essentially recreate early ITV on the cheap when something along the lines of the US's cable access service would be far less corporate and potentially far more enter. Example? Manhattan's Un-TV:
"On Anton Perich Presents, I took the soap opera format literally, except there was no soap, only dirt. It was always a simple and primitive story, minimal and contemporary. There was often topless woman, gay guy, straight guy, straight woman, a lesbian, a father, a daughter, a total stranger. I was making these movies with my friends. They were mostly veterans of Warhol's films, great talents, trained in improvisation: Taylor Mead, Candy Darling, Tinkerbelle, Cyrinda Foxe, Susan Blond, Danny Fields, Wayne County, Sami Melange, Darsea DeWilde. I always had a little primitive story with a twist that I would convey to the actors moments before shooting. They would act it out immediately, absolutely exaggerating every aspect of it. Not really playing anybody but themselves. Narcissism was a key drive here, narcissism and weekly feedback from the cable audience..."
Who wouldn't want to see that broadcast from a community centre in Stockport?

the AFoundation in the Batlic Triangle has closed


Art I'm disappointed to see that one of my old employers and one of Liverpool's main art venues, the AFoundation in the Batlic Triangle has closed. I can only concur with everything Ella and Seven Streets have to say on the subject -- this leaves the Biennial with a huge gap in its exhibition space.

Part of the problem, I suppose, was the location. Though, with the help of Novas, the Jamaica Street area has been gaining in prominance over this past couple of years, it hasn't yet entered the city's popular consciousness (some taxi drivers are oblivious) even with its proximity to and accessibility from Liverpool One.

At least it went out with some crowd pleasing work at the last Biennial.  It's just a pity that more hasn't been made of the closure, an opportunity for those of us with an interest to visit for one last time.  I wonder what happened to the sandwich board.

Update! There's now confirmation that AFoundation has closed, Mark Waugh posted a press release on Seven Streets earlier and Ian's popped it up on Art In Liverpool. It is a money issue -- a funding application to the Arts Council was rejecting which meant the project was no longer sustainable. I just hope the staff will be ok.

I'm now listening to Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's Silent Sound (which was hosted when I worked there in 2006 and I listened to for many, many hours at the end of a corridor) as a mark of respect.

My blood ran cold. It's Cameron's Big Society.

Politics The Big Society is back in the news again today with David Cameron's speech this morning which seemed designed to clarify matters but from the reports I've read (here's one) just succeded to make it appear as nebulous and unfocused as when we first heard about it in the election campaign in such places as this party election broadcast:

Anyone who's watched the final episode of Adam Curtis's excellent series The Living Dead will recognise elements of what Cameron is saying. In that, Curtis demonstrates how Thatcher was attempting to manufacture in actuality the fictional version of Britain Churchill suggested in his speeches in order to create the partriotism required to win the second world war. Cameron's big society in many way is a slightly degraded facsmile, a third generation copy if you like. Except ...

... that's what I thought until I watched the BBC series The Amazing Mrs Pritchard a few months back. For the unititiated, this was the Capraesque story of a supermarket manager becoming prime minister and really rather good due to some sharp writing by Sally Wainright and nuanced central performance by Jane Horrocks (Carey Mulligan plays her daughter). The whole thing is on YouTube.

At the beginning of the second episode, after her Pink Alliance has won the election, she appears at Number 10 to give her first big speech. Keep in mind that she's entered government on a wave of discontentment with the Westminster system, a kind of popular political uprising within a democratic process. It starts at 4:16 below (or clip here to go straight there):

My blood ran cold. It's Cameron's Big Society. As she says late into the speech she's going "to put legislation in place to empower the citizen to have more control over their own lives ..." Luckily, the rest of the series is essentially about how this unworkable; too many voices with too many ideas. There's even a storyline which predicts the failure of initiatives like the ePetitions.

Nevertheless, ever since watching that, I've had the inescapable feeling that in fact Cameron's promoting something which was put down on paper at three in the morning by a desperate researcher with no ideas of their own but a long memory for the history of political drama, who might even have had a recording of the programme to hand.  Scarier things have happened.

"Others can’t be bothered."

That Day Adrianna Tan describes the chaos of her relationship which exists in a variety of timezones:
"Some can’t spare the time or the effort. Others can’t be bothered. Some refuse because they think of the potential heartbreak the distance will cause: the time difference will compound the distance, the new social environment will open up possibilities that exclude you, or worse, what if they cheat — as we’re told they will, since that’s happened to all our friends who’ve tried?

Or in the words of male friends, in characteristic male bluntness: “What do you mean you need to travel hundreds of kilometres just to fuck?”

(Some people are worth it.)"
Sounds exhausting.

its greatest expression, Beowulf

Books One of the few ironies that the various nationalists groups and political parties which have frighteningly gained in popularity over the past few years is that the very language which they use to pass on their hateful messages and which they often suggest they’re defending is a product of the very things that they’re apparently fighting against. Even the words within the names of the organisations find their roots in old French and before that Latin, albeit modified through other influences across the years.

It’s just that intermingling that Melvyn Bragg investigates in his book, The Adventures of English: The Biography of a Language, the three hour abridged audiobook version of which I’ve lately listened too. Beginning at the point that old English arguably found its greatest expression, Beowulf, Bragg traces its development through invasion and immigration as it imported words from across the world gaining in complexity before the British Empire sent it back into the world were it developed and modified again.

The book covers much of the ground you might expect from the many hundreds of new words and new word usages Shakespeare dumped into the language to the endeavours of Dr Johnson to put all of that into alphabetical order (not the first dictionary it turns out - schoolteacher Robert Cawdrey offered a small volume in 1604). The whole epic sweep continues through to 2003 with texting abbreviations and a wink towards how English might not dominate now in the face of likes of Cantonese but remains a central interface in matters of politics and finance.

If nothing else, the book has increased my admiration for people for whom English is a second language, simply because of the idiosyncrasies they have to cope with. As Bragg asks, why is it one sheep but not many sheeps? Why one foot and two feet? And that’s just messing about with plurals. We also apparently, within our compressed landmass, have a much wider selection of dialects and accents than most countries especially the US, demonstrated in the excellent moment when Bragg recreates the Cumbrian language of his youth.

Actually, Bragg’s idiosyncratic reading is a definite reason to listen. Much of these three hours are delivered in the same brusque tone he employs to introduce the subject under discussion on Radio 4’s In Our Time, and we’re forever waiting for him to trail off into cueing in his guests “With me to discuss this is Jonathan Bate …” He’s also not one to take a breath – sometimes there’s barely a gap between what sounds like a chapter ending and the introduction of the next subject – but you sense its because he’s enjoying the chance to communicate his subject again on something other than the page.

In other words, there's more than enough verbal ammunition here, should you be in the misfortune of speaking to someone represenenting one of the hateful groups mentioned or just a garden-variety racist and unable to take the usual option of simply walking away. Tell them every word that comes out of their mouth is to some extent foreign and hope that an existential crisis ensues. Though given what their belief system is based on a very narrow view of the world, it's unlikely they'll be that self aware to begin with.

a very proffessional way

Games Miranda July's activity cards for children:
Tap each dot in a very proffessional way and when you get to the bottom say "Everything is in order, thank you very much."
The formating on the site is a bit off so you might need to open each one in a tab to get the full experience. And in case you're wondering, it's her spelling not my typo.

“No, I saw a lot, even with you talkin’ there.”

TV Commentary Tracks of the Damned pokes its finger in the open wound of the Heroes series finale
"Fawning back-and-forth. Knepper (who played season four’s big villain, Samuel, a carnie with the power to move dirt and rocks with his mind) hadn’t seen the season finale before doing the commentary track with Kring, so he claims to be “like a little boy” as he gushes about the cool title card, the cool camerawork (“We used a swinging tilt lens,” Kring says), and the cool special effects. Nevertheless, at the end of the episode, when Kring suggests that Knepper go back and watch it again without the commentary, Knepper demurs. “No, I saw a lot, even with you talkin’ there.”
Heroes received the cliffhanger ending it deserved with said heroes going public. If only we could have seen the results.