Next Time, I Shall Not Be So Lenient!

Alex Wilcock writes a lot of words about Doctor Who. He’s followed DWM’s Time Team since 1999, and is now revealing everything he’s ever sent to them. Very gradually.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Happy Birthday, Billy (and Abnormal Service May Be…?)

Happy 103rd birthday, today, to the Doctor – William Hartnell. And isn’t it odd to think that he was barely past his half-century when he was on our screens the first time around?

Having successfully managed to post absolutely nothing here at all last year, due on top of my habit of putting things off to having been very much more ill than usual last year (and, though still not being at all well, casting the dubious hope that 2011 can’t possibly be worse than 2010), seeing this morning that it was Billy’s birthday on Nicholas Whyte’s marvellous running digest of Doctor Who anniversaries made me think, oh, if anyone’s still reading this, I really ought to say hello. Several times, I’ve watched / listened to an episode or three of Marco Polo, but not got further in making notes, though I did watch the gorgeous full-colour Recon all the way through simply to enjoy it at about this time last year, which may be something of a cautionary tale. I’d like to carry on here, though, so perhaps I will.

There have been two straws in the wind in the last few days.

First, on my other blog, Love and Liberty (and, in the evening, on my Twitter stream), I had an unusual day last Wednesday: I was typing from before seven in the morning until after nine at night, which is by far the most I’ve done for several years. One of my favourite artists, Gerry Rafferty, had died the day before, and I wanted to say what I felt about him… Then, I happened to see that there would be a mass Tweet-along that evening watching the rather-later-than-Billy Doctor Who story Earthshock, which as luck would have it I’d been intending to write about for some weeks. So I did, taking me to about 7,000 words posted that day. Then watched it, firing off possibly my largest number of Tweets in one evening, too, though that’s harder to check (and, you know, it takes longer to write something short).

Obviously, the next day I was so exhausted that I slept for most of it, except when my right arm, wrist and hand were waking me with the severe pain they were all in. Still, a good sign.

The Horror of Running Through Corridors

Then a new book arrived, with uncanny timing for today’s festival. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, as it’s written by Rob Shearman (who writes awfully well, and who I’ve met several times and is lovely – and when not lovely, interesting) and Toby Hadoke (who I’ve seen do brilliant stand-up, and probably met in the bar afterwards in more of a blur) and is very much my sort of thing. So much my sort of thing, in fact, that it might as well be 323 pages printed with ‘GET YOUR ARSE IN GEAR’ printed over and over again in exceedingly large type, like an abusive flickbook (of which more later).

Running Through Corridors Volume 1: The 60s is the first of three books watching the whole of Doctor Who, in which two talented and highly readable chaps, both amusing and immensely Who-literate, do a sort of Time Team thing, in which they’ve written up their reactions to watching the whole of Doctor Who from An Unearthly Child to The End of Time during the “gap year” of 2009. While paying especial attention to the positive aspects of each story, because too few fans focus on why even the not so great Doctor Who is still brilliant.
“I wasn’t expecting that.”
My regular readers, of whom I have none, may recognise that I started off trying to do my own Time Team thing, and that I also set out to answer for every story “Why Is This Brilliant?” – because I thought too many ’guides’ only ever looked at the negative side. Good grief, nearly four and a half years ago. And yet two people did the whole lot in one year, while I… Haven’t, and am unlikely to before a more literal End of Time. At this rate, my only hope of even finishing as far as Doctor Who’s got so far in my lifetime is for me to be frozen, revived every Christmas Eve (what a horrible thought – always Winter, and never Christmas), then prodded with a stick to spend all day making Who notes and posting them, then being shown the previous year’s ‘new’ Christmas Special and grumbling, ‘Humbug! It’s not as good as The Web Planet.’ In short (too late), Running Through Corridors may as well have floated dimly above me at midnight, croaking ‘Marco was dead: to begin with…’

Today being what it is, I’ve read the opening of the book, in which Rob has a brilliant idea at 6.30am on New Year’s Day, and his wife is unaccountably unenthused by it. So he shares it with Toby instead, who swears a lot (off). Both are fluent and funny as ever, while I found myself laughing at Rob’s report that Toby isn’t doing anything much in 2009, which Toby expands into “I’m getting married this year.” I’m also amused when Toby talks about his “fiancé”. Not that he’s getting married to a man; this is neither a bad thing, nor anything to be surprised about from a Doctor Who fan. The surprise and amusement is when he then reveals that his fiancé’s name is Katherine. At this point, it becomes clear that for all Toby’s protestations that his impending wedding should be far more important than watching Doctor Who, he’s only gone and proven that the series is far more important: I bet it’ll be far, far further into the book before he allows that sort of mistake in a Doctor Who detail. Some things are unthinkable.

I’ve read what they have to say about An Unearthly Child, and am relieved both that it’s entertaining and thought-provoking, and that it still leaves a few things that I can still point to as unique to mine. Phew. They elaborate on moral subtleties; on the cusp of everyone suddenly knowing who Matt Smith is, there’s a startling anecdote about Waris Hussein; and Rob meditates on death in Doctor Who, comparing the dance around it in An Unearthly Child (though with surprisingly little attention to skulls) to the nervousness the writers had about the subject before they brought the series in 2005. Like the Waris Hussein story, this has a peculiarly serendipitous timing; just last week, Richard and I set out to start watching the whole of David Tennant’s adventures, his now being an ‘old Doctor’ a year past, and New Earth inspired us to discuss exactly the same thing that Rob brings up. When Cassandra reappeared in 2006, you see, we found it deeply ironic, as her ‘death’ in 2005 had been an enormous relief to us, being the first explicit, visible sign that the new series wouldn’t be afraid to be as “steeped in death” – in Russell’s words – as the old, and then she turns out to have survived her flesh exploding in front of our eyes when all the bashfully off-screen dead stayed dead. But that’s for another day (or year. Or century).

I’m now in a quandary. I’ve always consumed Doctor Who guides whole, particularly the good ones (and this looks very much that way), but this is so very much the same sort of thing I’ve, er, started here that I worry that once I plunge over The Edge of Destruction, it’ll be dispiriting for its industry, or daunting for its quality, or simply so comprehensive that I won’t be able to avoid ripping it off when I try to record my own reactions and think my own thoughts. I suspect I won’t be able to resist, but I’m not sure with that intimidating me that I’ll enjoy it.

I did enjoy, however, the gag. Not the written one; the drawn one. If you flick through Running Through Corridors Volume 1: The 60s, you’ll see a little figure running along the top of the pages (see, I said I’d come back to the flickbook), which is very entertaining, if a little lop-sided. Here’s a funny thing; he – and I can’t help assigning the authors’ gender – runs along happily if you’re flicking forward, but go back in time, and it’s just the same figure, throughout, never moving a millimetre. That strikes me as very mean to Rob. He’s the one who appears first in each of the exchanges, so you assume he’s the stick-man standing on the left-hand pages, while Toby’s on the right – and yet, Rob must have been doing a lot of running, as the last couple of times I bumped into him he’d lost a huge amount of weight (while I’ve gained it. I suspect he has a picture of me in his attic).

Anyway, I take this book as a sign from – well, it’s Mad Norwegian, so possibly Odin – that I should get back into it, and I’m very tempted.

On the other hand, I’ve not finished that piece I was writing for The Avengers’ Fiftieth Anniversary yesterday, have I?

So, watch this space. But probably not very often.

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And You Said… (1)

Blogger Nick said…

As a confirmed blogger now (there was a ceremony with incense and everything) I can only recommend that life and urge you to take it up again. The good thing about what I do – and what you would be doing – is that there’s a rhythm to it: as soon as you finish watching or reading something, you know you have the subject for your next blog. It’s sort of inescapable – and in turn, it encourages you to read and watch more often – if we ever need encouragement!

Maybe you are daunted by your own ambition? You always write such a lot – as do I, and I try not to care, but it can be more time consuming than it deserves. Is there some way you can deliberately restrict what you write? A word count? Or ‘Ten great things about...’ Maybe an emphasis on the show’s evolving political subtexts? You also seem to be stressed by the competition, which of course you shouldn’t be. But maybe you can get past this by making it more ‘yours’. You don’t have to watch it in sequence – you could pick your own order. What about the order you originally saw them in? Or just write about what you watch with R?

11:30 am, January 28, 2011  

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