Spiked’s TV critic has outed himself as a Doctor Who fan of old. Not desperately exciting, I know, but it’s prompted a question for DT fans: have any of you gone ‘Squee’ recently? Just curious…
I know I have.
The BBC has lots of those, buried in their collective subconscious. Here’s one of their biggest (somewhere down the list from booting out Greg Dyke).
The Beeb, in their infinite wisdom, spent a goodly portion of the 1970s erasing their archives. Apparently, they thought it a good idea to recycle their tape and burn their film rolls in order to save space.
I can even remember watching a clip on Windmill of them proudly demonstrating the giant magnet they used for the task: “You just press here, there’s a hum, the tape rotates, and we’re done!”
Ah, if only they’d been thinking of video and DVD sales at the time.
Once the silly billies came to their senses and started going, “No, no, no, no…” etc, they tried to undo their various bodges by asking, very nicely, if please, could they have copies of all the stuff they’d wiped. In it came, from all around the world, from TV stations that had bought the rights to broadcast their programmes, from private collectors, from boot fairs, from the NFT and dozens of other obscure places. Even the censors were obliging, handing over all the bits they’d chopped out of old episodes. Suckers.
Doctor Who, being quite a long-running programme, has quite a few episodes missing, thanks to the laws of chance and vindictiveness, although über-fan Ian Levine did manage to save quite a few episodes at the critical moment. Oft has he told the tale of how he saved The Daleks from being burnt by offering to buy it from the Beeb furnace men. Then there’s all the other Beeb employees who kept episodes in their attics to show the kiddies. Ah, these Whovians loved their show.
Through various means, 39 episodes made their way back to the Beeb, leaving just 108 to find. But now the torrent has turned into a trickle. The last missing episode to be located came from The Dalek Masterplan, the 12-part Hartnell epic (those were the days, huh?), in 2004. You may think it extremely geeky of me to know that, but this interesting fact was also a major plot point in the fourth series of Coupling. Seriously.
This absence of new old episodes has set the BBC pondering. “How,” they’ve thought to themselves, “can we get back all the remaining missing episodes, so we can flog them back to the public seven different ways and boost our revenues even more?”
They have an answer though. That answer is Blue Peter.
Everyone’s favourite promotor of middle-class values to children/seething hotbed of loyalist supporters (delete as appropriate) is offering a replica Dalek to any child who can find a lost episode of Doctor Who. Just in case you haven’t yet memorised all the titles of those missing episodes, you can find them on the Blue Peter web site: print it out, take it with you, as you invade the lofts of your nearest and dearest, looking for mold-encrusted film cans. Remember, the label may lie, so always open up the cans and spool out the film until you find the episode title. You shouldn’t need to go further than 10 metres or so in, I reckon.
Hmm. Replica Dalek in exchange for episode worth thousands in DVD sales? Not exploiting kids at all then, are they? They might even give you a DVD of the episode half-price if you’re lucky.
PS Incidentally, I love the way the BBC now refuses to admit that it wiped the episodes. From the Blue Peter site: “Doctor Who needs your help. Back when the series first started, no one imagined it would become so popular and sadly, some of the old episodes have been lost.” No, you stuck them on a fire. The first step to closure, BBC, is admitting to yourself what you did.
Lost – incinerated: these are not two sides of the same coin.
List shows. They’re great aren’t they? We love ’em to bits, every single one, don’t we?
No. We don’t. We hate list shows. We hate everything about list shows, except the fact they can fill an entire Sunday evening when you’re too stuffed to find something else to watch.
DVD commentaries. They’re invaluable companion pieces to movies and TV shows, aren’t they?
No. Audio commentaries are just directors and luvvies droning on about camera angles, mise en scene and how it’s really hard gig, acting. Only trainspotting dweebs like me listen to audio commentaries.
Despite these obvious problems, I thought I’d put together a list of audio commentaries anyway. Sue me.
Now there are plenty of rubbish audio commentaries. I’ll never forget Bridget Jones’s Diary‘s, for example, which consisted entirely of the director saying things like, “Ooh. This was a scene with Rene and Colin. We shot it at night. They were very good.”
But what makes a good audio commentary? Here’s a few examples:
1 Fight Club
Not really that different from most audio commentaries, bar one single fact: Brad Pitt is clearly off his head on something. I’d hazard a guess it’s grass, given his previous statements on the subject, but it might be tequilas. Whatever it was, Brad clearly found everything very, very funny indeed as a result. And as a result, it’s very, very funny to listen to.
2 Big Train
A much-neglected sketch show from Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews, starring Simon Pegg, Mark Heap, Kevin Eldon and other comedy geniuses. The audio commentaries for the first two episodes are just Mathews and Linehan struggling to recall what they were thinking about when they wrote particular scenes. But then, joy! The entire cast bundles in through the door during episode three and the hilarity begins. They take the piss out of the writers, themselves, audio commentaries, the series. You name it, they rip the piss out of it. Much funnier than the actual episodes they watch, in fact. “It’s called Eaaaaaarth”. Nice one, Kevin.
Practically existential this one. If you don’t listen to the audio commentary, the DVD is just a DVD. Listen to the audio commentary and suddenly it takes on a completely new aspect. Consider: almost every DVD these days has things like deleted scenes, usually with the director explaining why they were deleted. Watch the deleted scenes on Dodgeball and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the terrible studios had forced the writer/director to excise the true ending in favour of the commercially popular ending. Then you listen to the DVD commentary and you realise it’s all lies: the director cannot be trusted. He’s messing with your head.
At first, the commentary starts with the director and Vince Vaughn discussing the movie. But wait! Where’s Ben Stiller? Oh, he’s late, apparently. Vaughn and the director then discuss – for 20 minutes – what a complete jerk-off Stiller is, how full of himself he is and so on. Then Stiller comes in and starts to play along, demanding someone watch his car for him in case it gets stolen. And so on. Basically, the whole DVD commentary has almost nothing to do with the actual movie, but is just a kind of extended audio version of Extras/Curb Your Enthusiasm/The Larry Sanders Show. And then you realise: even the other bits of the DVD are lies as well. Could they really have shot the ten minutes of extra footage necessary for the new ending in just a day? Would they really have ended the movie the way they originally claimed? Will you ever have faith in a DVD commentary again after this one? It’s all deeply disturbing.
4 The Bourne Identity
Not fantastic, although you do find out about Liman’s dad and his involvement in the Oliver North trial. But Liman does point out the extraordinary lengths they went to for one shot that everyone misses (the bit where Bourne disappears right before your eyes once he gets into Marseilles), and you find out that he ended up having to direct most of the movie in French, which is pretty impressive.
A disturbing insight into David Cronenberg’s mind for nearly two hours. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember the “gristle gun” – the gun put together from bones and teeth. What kind of warped mind comes up with this stuff? And how? “Well, I just considered the problems of metal detectors and how to smuggle weapons and it occurred to me that since people can go through metal detectors, it was a logical way to overcome the problem” says Cronenberg. Yeah. Anyone could have thought of that. And it just carries on in that vein. You will never be able to analyse a Cronenberg film again, because you’ll realise your brain works on a completely different wavelength to his. Whatever you think he means, he doesn’t. He really doesn’t.
6 Brass Eye
Chris Morris genius, but the man himself doesn’t provide a commentary. Instead, he gets a bunch of homeless guys in to comment on the drugs episode. It’s original at least.
7 Battlestar Galactica
Originally these were podcasts and what’s fun about them is a combination of the lack of production values and exec producer Ronald D Moore’s honesty. For one thing, they’re almost all recorded in his front room, the same week as the episode aired on television in the US. Frequently, the phone starts ringing, someone’s mowing the lawn, dogs start barking, the LAPD fly their helicopters over his house, for which Moore can only apologise profusely. Then he starts a little double act up with his wife, whenever she comes into the room to talk about the kids and the housework. Then the irritation! People have been talking on bulletin boards about the poor sound quality of the podcasts. Well, you’re damn lucky to get the podcasts! Quit whining. And then he’ll actually start explaining why he thought a particular episode was rubbish. It’s all his fault, but the direction was lame, the script was lame, it wasn’t original enough… If only all DVD commentaries were done like that.
So you see, there are a few neglected works on genius lurking in the spare audio tracks of your DVD collections. Turf them out, listen to them and see if you can find some crackers as well.
Remember when I was confined to quarters, watching the atrocious The Adventurer? Probably not. But I was. Anyway, I theorised I was being punished for some terrible crime through some kind of My Name is Earl karma balancing. Turns out, amazingly, I was right. Sort of. In actual fact, watching The Adventurer was a down-payment for some good karma.
The Adventurer starred Gene Barry. My mother-in-law was a big fan of Gene Barry in the 70s, so much so she wanted her first-born son to be called Gene (her surname is Barry…). My father-in-law put his foot down, though, and said “No way is a son of mine going to have a poofy American actor’s name” (or words to that effect) and Gene became Stuart instead.
But you can imagine the delight of my mother-in-law when I handed her four review DVDs containing the dubious delights of The Adventurer when she came down to visit this Easter weekend.
What goes around, comes around. My name is Rob. Hey, Crabman!
Charlie Skelton (of Space Cadets, London News Review, Once More, with Feeling, etc) has dropped me a line to say hello and to let everyone know about his latest projects and some of his current favourite links:
…I thought you might be interested in:
i) thepooters.com, which is a ‘Pooterpedia’™ that Alan and I are putting together.
ii) one of the funniest things I’ve ever read on the web is: www.sneezefetishforum.org/forums – I’ll blog about it when I have the time. Between sneezes. (See if you can find the post about the German guy who’s put films of his girlfriend sneezing on YouTube.)
iii) I’m about to show L* S* [Charlie’s spoof food critic: I’ve removed the name to preserve the mystery] to the Observer Food Monthly, to see what Nicola Jeal thinks. Once I’ve posted up a thing about how you should use the spinach water and throw away the spinach.
Charlie was also very flattered by one of this blog’s regular readers including Once More, with Feeling in her top seven list of books. To preserve some sense of mystery and a regular readership, I won’t say who it was yet. Keep reading and maybe I’ll reveal all.
PS: If you’re interested in what happened between London News Review and Paul Carr there’s a detailed explanation by Sean Walsh available for all to see. And then sue for libel.