Doctor Who Children in Need Special 2023.

TV  Hello and here we are, the first four minutes and fifty seconds of proper television Doctor Who in over a year, a tiny hors d'oeuvre before the three-course meal soon to be delivered later in the month.  As such it comes with a weight of expectation that anyone would find difficult to carry no matter how many manual handling courses they've used as an excuse to get out of a day's work and still be paid.  Like its predecessor the Pudsey Cutaway, it's the first chance (ish) (we'll get to that) to see this new incarnation of the Doctor in action and how different he is from his predecessors, both the"really brilliant woman" and "the old face he's got back again".  Not to mention whether he'll be wandering about in a post-regenerative torpor mumbling about P'Tings and wondering how Nardol is doing.

When the Pudsey Cutaway was broadcast back in (Christ!) 2005 (yes, that's right, Pudsey Cutaway, don't come round here with your Born Again), it was preceded by then-husband and wife team Peter Andre and Katie Price singing an excruciating cover of A Whole New World, or the thing I had to keep fast-forwarding through when watching my off-air copy (something which we still had to do even after the commercial release in region 2, when they accidentally included the rough cut with its lack of cloister bell and temp music).  This was not apparently corrected for subsequent Blu-ray releases in the UK.  Hopefully, they will have gotten around to it with the new-new-release with the newest attempt at upscaling the 00s SD.  I'll report back. 

My point is, that Russell T Davies the Second wasn't going to make this appetiser too filling and given that this is a Children in Need "sketch" create something which has to fit within the comedy-tragedy-appeal- comedy-tragedy-appeal-music-tragedy-appeal structure.  No one wants a downer.  In the event, the TARDIS landed in the studio with Jason Manford and Mel Giedroyc departing dressed as Tooth and Curls and Sheffield Steel.  Mercifully they didn't sing, the former dropping a bunch of placeholder jokes about 2063 instead.  Could have been worse.  Even Time Crash had Myleene ‘full of’ Klass and John ‘full of’ Barrowman with a cover of Your Song (which has also been archived on YouTube).  Mercifully, the commercial release of the one with the decorative vegetable didn't have any problems.

Doctor Who Children in Need Special 2023 as the iPlayer has titled it (so mote it be) fulfils its anniversary promise and takes us back to a crucial moment in Doctor Who history, the Genesis of the Daleks or rather, the Genesis of the Plunger, which is just the sort of cheekiness we've not really seen since Moffat left.  Davros, played superbly straight by a returning Julian Beech wearing an authentic Kaleds' Military Elite uniform surveying his new creation and chatting with a Mr Nominative Determanism, sorry, Mr Castervillian about what to call the thing (but let us not fetishise the space Nazis too much, we'll leave that to Star Wars fans, who curiously haven't adopted a collective name like Warsian or whatever).

As the flunky, Mawaan Rizwan catches the tone just right and we'll probably appreciate his role a lot more on the hundredth viewing but many viewers on first seeing this will have spent his opening two and a half minutes wondering where the Doctor is.  Then the TARDIS crashes into the back of the set, the door bursts open and who should blunder out, David Tennant as the Fourteenth Doctor with a minute or so's hijinks backed by a curious musak jazz soundtrack which sounds like something from an 80s sketch show joke montage.  So far there's not much to say on the personality front.  From what we see here, and much like the "degenerative" process in Big Finish's anniversary festival Once and Future, the sense of self comes with the face and so we have the Tenth Doctor looking a couple of decades older.

Fourteenth says on realising he's giving the pepperpots both their name and catchphrase, "the timelines of canon are rupturing" and they certainly are.  As the boss explains in Confidential's replacement Unleashed, Davros, as he's been depicted over the past fifty years, is immensely problematic in 2023 and he couldn't in all conscience show a wheelchair user as a villain, especially on Children In Need and so this is how Davros will appear going forward.  Which honestly is quite right, especially if you're a child who is a wheelchair user and might have to deal with the discriminatory fallout and I'm embarrassed myself that I'd never considered that before.  But in keeping Beech as the character, continuity is maintained.

How does this square with previous fictional depictions?  Well, because everyone has wanted to have a crack at writing the creator of the Daleks, Davros's origin story on the TARDIS Wiki page is a mess anyway and it's entirely possible that due to Amy's Crack, the Faction Paradox or the Time War in general, the creation myth of the Daleks is in constant flux and the Doctor's just stumbled into yet another iteration of however it's supposed to have happened.  History's changed so that Davros never had the accident and in this iteration of the timeline it's this space Gru and his army of murderous minions, part of the military rather than science elite (hence the uniform) with whom the Fourth Doctor did battle.  In Dr Who, everything and nothing is canonical really.  No Lucasfilm Story Group for us.

Casuals might wonder why, unlike the Pudsey Cutaway, we're not seeing the moments directly after the regeneration on the cliff.  Apart from not wanting to attract the ire of the Durdle Door people again (the location of the cliff in Dorset was photographed without Cardiff telling the owners it was for the regeneration scene which led to fears that Whovians might fall off the edge like lemmings), RTD2's also left room for the adventure which has played out in the parish circular's comic strip for the past fourteenth months.  I won't completely spoil the immensely fun Liberation of the Daleks in case you're waiting for the graphic novel but it ends with the Doctor fearing that the malfunctioning TARDIS might return him to Skaro.  And here he is, looking a bit knackered after all of those shenanigans. 

As a bonus, the iPlayer also contains a preview of Confidential's replacement, Unleashed, presented by the effervescent Steffan Powell meandering around the set, nabbing people for a chat and giving proceedings a bit more personality than the old B-roll with Simon Pegg voiceover.  But these are still intercut with old school producer interviews during which it's revealed by Vicki Delow that this was all shot a whole year after the specials, with David Tennant (presumably unexpectedly) playing the Fourteenth Doctor again and the interview with Russell in which he explains the change to Davros's character mentioned above.  After the relative BTS drought of the past few years, it's fun seeing Barnaby Edwards crouched inside the Dalek casing again explaining how he wiggles the weapons.

Where does this leave us?  With five minutes of fun, something to entice kids to watch Genesis of the Daleks on the iPlayer and keep us going for another week and a day.  With due respect to Mr Chibnall for keeping all of this on-air even during the pandemic, ever since Mr Davies has returned, there's been a general feeling of "we're back", of there being excitement around the series again, from the revitalised Doctor Who Magazine, to most of Doctor Who turning up on the iPlayer (which feels like would have happened even if this wasn't an anniversary year) to this Doctor Who Children in Need Special 2023 which exists purely because Russell T Davies decided that they traditionally make something for Children in Need and so here we are.  Roll on the 25th of November.

Cinematic Shakespeare.

Film  Recently, in the lead-up to the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio, the BBC has broadcast a series of archive Shakespeare productions including a Hamlet double bill on one Sunday night, which would have tested the metal of even his biggest fan (and I speak as someone who once listened to three full-text audio versions in a day).  

Sadly it hasn't been the complete canon - showing versions of all 36 plays was probably a big ask in 2023.  But this will have been the first opportunity some viewers will have had to see Peter Hall's The Wars of the Roses or Hamlet at Elsinore (incorrectly labelled as part of "The BBC Television Shakespeare" on the iPlayer which was at least a decade and a half later).

Nevertheless, this has provoked me to finally get around to a series of occasional blog posts I've been thinking about for a few years of putting together various Shakespeare collections or "festivals" with productions which share a format or media.  Until now, that's always felt pretty tricky because not all of the plays have been available in all the formats or media I've wanted to cover.  

We're in a time when most of the plays are at the most accessible they've ever been, between physical formats and streaming services and so I thought it would be fun to finally create such lists in case anyone is interested in watching their way through the plays and would quite like some recommendations.  Up first, Cinematic Shakespeare or how I'm going to spend December.

*    *    *    *    *

Of all the plays you would think might be the first to survive on film, it wouldn't be King John.  But there he is, actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree playing the doomed monarch in poisonous, fearful death, silently intoning Shakespeare's words back in 1899.  The Folger Shakespeare Library has a lengthy article about this which explains that it was shot on stage at the Palace Theatre on September 20th, the same night Tree's own stage production began its sun at Her Majesty's Theatre.  

Shakespeare has flourished in film since with hundreds of productions across most of the rest of the canon.  What we're concerning ourselves with here are those which as projects were originated and shot on film (so no direct stage transfers) or HD in a so-called "classical Hollywood" style with all the visual tricks that entail.  The text could be cut or rearranged, but the words coming out of the actor's mouths are Shakespeare's.  

Here is my curated list in First Folio order.  As you'll see I've tried to pay respect to both theatrical and cinematic history (Ken, Larry, Orson etc).  It's also fair to say that some of the choices are by default because they're the only version of the play to fit the criteria.  We still await the retro-noir version of Measure for Measure I've had in my head for decades (and just turning the colour off on the BBC 1994 Performance version isn't quite the same).  Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.


Propero's Books (1991)  After numerous attempts with various directors, John Gielgud finally played the title character of The Tempest in Peter Greenaway's eclectic, avant-garde visually stunning treatment.  Greenaway plays with the notion of Prospero as Shakespeare's avatar and the popular belief that in writing the text and the sorcerer's words he was bidding farewell to his life's work.  If you are treating this as the opening film of a festival, it's a great introduction.

Two Gentlemen of Verona  There have been no cinematic versions.

The Merry Wives of Windsor  There have (mostly) been no cinematic versions.  See Chimes at Midnight.

Measure for Measure   There have been no cinematic versions.

The Comedy of Errors  There have been no cinematic versions.

Much Ado About Nothing (1991)  There's not much of a contest here, this has Ken and Em at their zenith shot beneath the golden Tuscan sky in a rendering of the play which makes sense of the comedic scenes as well as the tragic.  More than most of Branagh's films, this has him clashing Hollywood and UK theatrical royalty together, with Denzel meeting Briersley and BRIAN BLESSED and Ben Elton playing sidekick to Michael Keaton.  Also the first major screen role for Kate Beckinsale.

Love's Labour's Lost (2000)  Ken's version of this prequel to a lost play drew criticism from some for cutting almost three-quarters of the play and turning the whole thing into a 1930s musical (especially with this being the only film version of the play available) but the result is so adorable I'll forgive everything.  The cuts are also immensely clever.  In its complete form, LLL can be difficult to follow in places, but through production design and costume, everything here is perfectly clear.

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)  The apogee of the 90s Shakespeare film cycle, this Branagh-influenced version returns to a Tuscan setting (still referred to as Greece in the text) and has John Sessions as Philostrate.  The magic of the forest is given the full special effects treatment and the whole of the cast is just so gosh-darn adorable, with Michelle Pfeiffer at her imperious best as Titannia and Kevin Kline offering his thoroughly cute Bottom.

The Merchant of Venice (2004)  The casting of the Sicilian Italian-American Al Pacino as Shylock looks pretty dated in retrospect, but Michael Radford's production does at least notice that this isn't a particularly funny play, cutting most of the box-checking scenes and highlighting the animosity between the ethnic and religious groups in Venice.  It's also notable for its location shooting in Venice and doesn't downplay the homo-erotic aspects of some relationships.

As You Like It (2006)  Back to Branagh for his final Shakespeare production on film (so far) which transposes the play to a late 19th-century European colony in Japan after the Meiji Restoration amongst the English traders who were fascinated by the local culture.  Future Doctor Who Romola Garai plays Celia, with most of his usual repertory appearing and Kevin Kline joining as Jaques.  Theatrically released in the UK, it was produced for HBO back when they did this sort of thing.

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)  Taylor and Burton bouncing off the walls of Cineceta and each other.  Unlike her husband, Liz hadn't acted Shakespeare before and after much persistence, she was able to lobby director Franco Zeffrelli to redo the first week's shooting at the end once she'd got the hang of the iambic pentameter.  Cuts include the induction with Christopher Sly and most of the Lucentio and Bianca subplot.  Michael Hordern is delightful as Kate's father  

All's Well That Ends Well   There have been no cinematic versions.

Twelfth Night (1996)  Considering its popularity, it's surprising that Adrian Noble's country house take is the only version of the play on film.  It's perfectly fine with a strong cast led by Imogen Stubbs and Helena Bonham Carter with Ben Kingsley as Feste, REG as Aguecheek, Mel Smith as Toby Belch and Nigel Hawthorne as Malvolio.  Once again it feels of a piece with Ken's style but he'd already produced a TV version for Channel 4 in 1988 with Briesley in the yellow britches.

The Winter's Tale   There have been no cinematic versions (in 1968, Frank Dunlop adapted his Edinburgh Festival stage production but even that isn't available).


King John  There have been no cinematic versions (apart from the 1899 version which wouldn't count anyway).

The Hollow Crown (2012-2016)  For the tetralogies, you've two choices.  The Hollow Crown allows you to follow the whole damn story with shared casts, all of the best actors of the period reading Shakespeare's words in a style which is essentially Game of Thrones without the dragons, with Henry VI is heavily cut and runs across two episodes.  Or you can treat some of the plays individually and take a more eclectic approach.  See below:

Richard II  There have been no other cinematic versions.

Chimes at Midnight (1966)  Out of circulation until recently due to licensing issues, Orson Welles's labour of love essentially pulls all of the Falstaff scenes from the various plays including The Merry Wives of Windsor and spins them into a relatively coherent screenplay.  The director makes for a rambunctious lead character and the eclectic cast includes Gielgud and Jeane Moreau as Doll Tearsheet.  

Henry V (1944)  To ease us out of the Welles, it's back to one of the grandparents of Shakespeare on film.  Opening in a recreation of an Elizabethan theatre to underscore the artifice of what's ahead, like a backstage musical the stage becomes a near-infinite space across which the battle of Agincourt and everything else in Larry's interpretation takes place.  Sacred enough that when Ken wanted to make his version, the effort was branded as precocious.

Richard III (1955)  Olivier played Richard on stage, but his film version is a different entity with a new cast and production design.  Apparently, it wasn't well received by critics at the time but the opening monologue has become iconic and it's said many actors work hard not to play it like Olivier (Ken parodies this during the audition scene of In The Bleak Midwinter).  The late, lamented Network released a wonderfully crisp restoration of this which is worth tracking down.

Henry VIII (1979)  Director Kevin Billington, in an effort to shift the play away from its usual presentation as a pageant, shot this on location at Leeds Castle, Penshurst Place and Hever Castle, often in the rooms where the historical action is presumed to take place.  As a result, it looks more "cinematic" than a lot of the films on this list not least because everyone looks absolutely freezing, their breath steaming throughout.  The DVD transfer is pin-sharp.


Troilus and Cressida (1981)   There have been no cinematic versions.

Coriolanus (2011)  In this modern dress adaptation, director Ralph Feinnes transfers ancient Rome to the Balkans during a pseudo-Yugoslave war, with the actual Jon Snow offering backstory at the beginning in the style of a newscast.  Rattles through a cut text in a couple of hours, Fiennes cuts a commanding, bloodthirsty figure as the title character, nevertheless crumbling in the face of Vanessa Redgrave's Volumnia.  Mother knows best.

Titus (1999)  Like Coriolanus, Julie Taymor's film refuses to accept the play's original setting, instead clashing together designs from various periods of history, from ancient Rome to Mussolini's Italy through the eyes of the contemporary small boy introduced at the beginning who enters the production as young Lucius is really just messing about with toy soldiers.  Which doesn't make it any less gruesome, Tony Hopkins serving revenge with Lectorish glee.

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996)  Could it be anything other than Baz Luhrmann?  Few productions have convincingly suggested these two could fall in love overnight, but when Leo and Claire furtively gaze at one another through the fish tank you're sold.  Also manages to make you forget this is a play you've seen a dozen times before, with the various contrivances absolutely heart-sucking.  One for the ages.

Timon of Athens (1981)   There have been no cinematic versions.

Julius Caesar (1953)  Developed in reaction to Olivier's Henry V, this full-tilt classical Hollywood production re-uses sets from Quo Vadis and was shot in black and white so as not to draw comparison and to suggest contemporary film reels reflecting the still evident fascist movements in Europe.  Features James Mason and Gielgud as Brutus and Cassius, Marlon Brando as Mark Anthony and a host of recognisable character actors from that period.  

Macbeth (1948) Orson Welles: "I thought I was making what might be a good film, and what, if the 23-day shoot schedule came off, might encourage other filmmakers to tackle difficult subjects at greater speed. Unfortunately, not one critic in any part of the world chose to compliment me on the speed. They thought it was a scandal that it should only take 23 days. Of course, they were right, but I could not write to every one of them and explain that no one would give me any money for a further day's shooting . . . However, I am not ashamed of the limitations of the picture."

Hamlet (1996)  Branagh's magnum opus, a four-hour production of a conflated text collecting as much Hamlet as Shakespeare wrote, including some odds and sods from Q1.  As with 99% of productions, Ken and his cohorts are too old for their parts (is everyone in court a mature student?) but this is Shakespeare rendered in 70mm with more stars than a Record Breakers Christmas Special.  Briersley's spymaster Polonius steals the show.

King Lear (1970)  Pitch dark Bergmanesque production from Peter Brook with Paul Schofield's Lear against a blasted wilderness, shot in the wintery dune country of Denmark's Jutland Peninsula.  Visually it's absolutely extraordinary, the grain of the 16mm creating the impression that we're watching action filmed in a documentary style in the deep past.  Probably in my top three favourite Lears, along with Kurosawa's Ran and the RSC production with Romola Garai amongst others.

Othello (1995)  Although there had been earlier indie productions starring Ted Lange and Yaphet Kotto, this was the first mainstream production to feature a black actor in the lead role, the fantastic Laurence Fishburne.  It's adapted and directed by Oliver Parker and Ken only plays Iago, but manages to feature some of his usual ensembles, Michael Maloney and Nicholas Farrell.  Shot on location in Venice and Cyprus, David Johnson's cinematography gives it an erotic thriller feel.

Antony and Cleopatra (1972)  Having yet to have the chance to see this, here's a take from the BFI's old ScreenOnline website:  "Emphasising spectacle at the expense of subtlety (even to the point of recycling shots from the 1959 Ben-Hur, in which Heston had starred some thirteen years earlier!), this adaptation shows little feeling for the emotions at the core of the story, and is torpedoed by the lack of chemistry between Heston and South African actress Hildegard Neil, who is arguably miscast as Cleopatra."

Cymbeline   There have been no cinematic versions.

Up next:
Shakespeare Adaptations.

A History of the BBC in 100 Blog Posts: 1983.

For all of my adult life, news programmes have had a pretty rigid structure within the broadcast day, especially on the BBC with Breakfast and then bulletins at One, Six, and Nine or Ten.  Nevertheless, I'm also old enough to remember when this wasn't the case when at least at tea time, the news seemed to happen at around six o'clock in various guises and the emphasis was on current affairs and local news, rather than a strict, half-hour format with a running order of the day's "top stories".  How did we get here? 

The shakeup really began on Friday 5th August 1983 with the final episode of Nationwide, which had been running continuously since 1969 broadcasting its final edition.  The Radio Times listing calls it "Britain's most popular current affairs programme" and says this last broadcast looked "back over 14 years on your screen with some guest presenters" and remarkably a chunk of the episode is available on YouTube.  TV Cream has a record of its final shambolic months although I'm still in the process of tracking down why the axe was dropped and I'll update this paragraph if I find anything.

What replaced it?  On the 24th of October, a new format Sixty Minutes launched, a mongrel of a show that began with 15 minutes of national news, then twenty minutes of regional news followed by 25 minutes of current affairs material (apparently news and current affairs were separate departments back then and staunchly independent).  This new show was not well received, with the ratings only really improving in its final weeks, with the final edition going out on 27 July 1984, not even reaching its one-year anniversary.

But its what happened in between Nationwide and Sixty Minutes and after which is of interest to us because the slot was otherwise filled with twenty minutes of national news with Moira Stewart followed by twenty minutes of regional, sandwiched between coverage of "The First World Athletics Championships", which I'm assuming was the first edition of the competition rather than a description of the countries participating, the timeslot fluctuating depending on the events being covered, but nevertheless, it's the format which has now become commonplace, give or take the duration and transmission times.

It must have proved popular enough because, on the 3rd September 1984, the Six O'Clock News (from the BBC) launched with Sue Lawley and Nicholas Witchell for half an hour, followed by a whole set of new twenty-five-minute regional programmes, which is how it's been ever since.  Why did it stick?  My guess?  For some types of programmes, people like simplicity and routine.  Unlike Nationwide and Sixty Minutes, the title says what's in the programme and what time it's on.  Popular programmes rarely have complicated titles.

Breakfast Time

"The BBC is first first first with breakfast television, not at all in a spoiler attempt for TV-am (due in May, launched in February in response) that was entirely successful and crushed the commercial opposition utterly."

"Originally published on 18 January 1983: You can quite see why Frank Bough was chosen as the anchor man of Breakfast Time (BBC-1) in the face of chaps with more hair and charisma."
[The Guardian]

"Rise and shine with ‘Breakfast Time’! Britain’s first television breakfast show dawns bright and early on Monday morning. And, as editor Ron Neil tells Gay Search, the team will have many ways to get you out of bed and switched on…"
[Radio Times & Transdiffusion]

"Green Goddess Diana Moran, BBC Breakfast Time's energetic aerobics instructor, is interviewed outside Belfast City Hall."
[BBC Rewind]

"Donny Macleod presents a special edition of Pebble Mill At One, focusing on the launch of BBC Breakfast Time."
[BBC Archive]

"‘Frank Bough describes the first few weeks establishing Breakfast Time as like having jet lag without going anywhere,’ but adds, ‘it’s not half as tiring when you are winning.’"

"Stars from ITV and the BBC tell Adrian Chiles about the heady days of 1983 when Breakfast TV first started broadcasting on British TV."
[BBC Sounds]


This series went into much more practical detail about how to use home computers for a range of purposes. Each programme looked at examples of computing in the wider world as well as at-home micro applications. The BBC micro itself was used for demonstrations and to display explanatory graphics as well as producing in-vision name superimpositions and the end credits.
[BBC Computer Literacy Project Archive]

"The massive interest after the first two series led the production team to produce Making the Most of the Micro - Live! - a two-hour BBC1 special where viewers' questions were answered and demonstrations of new things were shown live on air. During the programme hackers broke into the live demonstration of electronic mail. There was also a demonstration of the BBC's Telesoftware Service."
[BBC Computer Literacy Project Archive]


"BBC Radio York is a new radio station broadcasting from York City centre across North Yorkshire."
[BBC Rewind]


"To mark the 57th anniversary of the discovery of television, a new museum has opened in Swindon. It houses examples of early creations by the Scottish inventor John Logie Baird."
[BBC Rewind]

"Lord Winston and Maggie Aderin-Pocock celebrate a century of the BBC Archives and what they have to tell us about our national relationship with science and scientists."
[BBC Sounds]

"Julian Barnes reviews two very different interpretations of Cymbeline in the same TV cycle."
[The Guardian]

"John Craven visits Ian McNaught-Davis in Studio 4, where preparations for the BBC's ambitious new live computer programme, Micro Live, are well underway."
[BBC Archive]

"Two BBC presenters are caught off guard as they try to explain email to viewers at home."

""It was much more moving than I thought it was."  The author Raymond Briggs discusses BBC Radio 4's adaptation of his apocalyptic graphic novel."
[BBC Archive]

"Marshall Lee reports on the 25th anniversary of BBC Radiophonic Workshop in Maida Vale."
[BBC Archive]

"TV veterans Peter Fincham and Jon Plowman talk to the writers, producers, and performers behind Britain’s biggest TV comedy hits, and hear the inside story of how they brought their programmes to the screen."
[BBC Sounds]


"This Report covers the period April 1982 - March 1983.  That this year marked our 60th Anniversary might have led some to expect a period of tranquil reflection on past achievements. those who knew the BBC expected differently and their expectations were more than fulfilled."
[World Radio History]