David Tennant: good at British accents; nicht so gut with your German accents though

John Thaw in Redcap

Over the last few months, I’ve been forcing myself to get up to speed with the Big Finish audio stories. My excuse? I have to write about this stuff. Think that’s bad? I have to review 10 episodes of John Thaw’s 1964 military police series Redcap this week.

Anyway, in case you don’t know, the Big Finish plays are officially licensed stories based on Doctor Who, The Tomorrow People, Sapphire and Steel and a whole load of other British ‘telefantasy’ series and books.

What sets Big Finish apart from a couple of teenagers in a bedroom in Hull, enacting something they rattled off in their lunch breaks, is the presence of the original cast members – or a few of them, at least. So The Tomorrow People stories get Nicholas Young (John) et al while the Doctor Who stories have Peter Davison and co as well as some of the original companions. The producers have also managed to get some reasonably heavyweight actors to do guest roles, including David Warner, Susannah Harker, Don Warrington, Sir Derek Jacobi and, erm, Tony Blackburn. Basically, these are professional productions, endorsed by the BBC et al.

David Tennant in a bow tie
So yesterday I’m listening to one particular audio play, Colditz, and I notice a voice that’s very familiar, despite the extremely iffy German accent. Various poorly oiled cogs slip into place and I realise who it is. It’s David Tennant – Doctor number 10 to the uninitiated (although why the uninitiated would have made it this far into this particular blog entry, I don’t know).

Oh dear. I’d been impressed by DT’s acting. As one of my esteemed colleagues on Off The Telly points out, Tennant’s appearance in ‘The Christmas Invasion’ exposed just how naff Christopher Eccleston is as an actor. He’s also good at audio work, having appeared, it turns out, in a ridiculous number of Big Finish productions: he’s particularly good, in case you’re interested, in a couple of the Doctor Who Unbound plays, namely Sympathy for the Devil, in which he’s a swearing Glaswegian colonel who’s hunting The Master (Mark Gatiss); and Exile, in which he’s a posh English Time Lord who’s hunting The Doctor (Arabella Weir. Seriously) .

But German? Oh dear. I’m guessing that Big Finish can’t quite muster the budget for a dialogue coach, but Herr Tennant seems to have headed straight for a bucket of old Monty Python sketches for his research, rather than Berlin. How disappointing. Still, it’s easy-ish money I guess and I don’t suppose they have too many listeners, so he was probably hoping no one would notice.

In case you’re desperately interested in what I think about the Big Finish stories, I’ll natter on about them after the break (since I have no plans on writing about them again on this blog. Oh no).

Continue reading “David Tennant: good at British accents; nicht so gut with your German accents though”

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Sci-Fi Channel goes Doctor Who mad

The US Sci-Fi channel now how its own little Doctor Who site to publicise its premiere of the new series on March 17th. It’s all Christopher Eccleston at the moment, of course, but if you’re a latecomer to Doctor Who, there’s a handy guide at the bottom of the site that gives you useful facts to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. Apparently, Tom Baker’s Doctor was the most popular and he wore a scarf.

Do not worry though: it is quite possible to get through life without filling in these gaps.

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UK TV

The Eleventh Hour: no original thought allowed

11th hour wallpaper

Every so often, a show comes along that is so derivative, so unoriginal, it becomes almost impossible to decide exactly what it’s ripping off. So it is with Eleventh Hour, a four-part series starring Patrick Stewart as a “government scientific investigator”.

Although it’s silly, that’s a pretty accurate job title, in fact. Stewart is charged by ‘The Government’ with investigating science, whether that’s Evil Scientists who try to clone human beings or Angelic Children who believe in the healing power of spring water. A pretty broad brief, given that as a physicist, he’s probably as qualified as the average PE teacher to talk about most of the medical issues Eleventh Hour focuses on, but that’s The Government for you.

Nevertheless, the countryside-patrolling Stewart is so important and vital to The Government that they’ve actually given him a bodyguard, played by Ashley Jensen. This could be a mistake, given she drinks any experimental samples Stewart takes, doesn’t bother guarding him at night, takes naps during the day in her Land Rover while he’s busy confronting angry parents, and rolls about on the floor having fights with blood-soaked potential smallpox victims. But we’re not talking police procedural here, so kooky bodyguard gets to stay and protect Stewart with her unconvincing gun work, no matter how much danger she lets Stewart get into.

With global warming and nuclear weapons research among the plots, it’s tempting for anyone versed in British television history to accuse Eleventh Hour of simply being Doomwatch reheated to a lukewarm temperature for the 21st century. But unlike Doomwatch, which literally plucked its plots from the headlines to warn society where it was going wrong, Eleventh Hour takes great pains to steer away from anything controversial. Instead of well-meaning scientists and civil servants who simply don’t think through the consequences of their actions, we get Hollywood-style moustache-twirling villains and fabricated threats that have no actual relevance to viewers. Why run the risk of complaints with an avian flu story when you can write about the risks of deranged researchers trying to cross-breed smallpox with other viruses? Lot of that happening, is there? Is that really something which we have to lobby Parliament to prevent? Thought not.

Equally, any resemblance to actual science depicted in the programme is purely accidental. When Stewart the physicist starts dipping pH paper in water as his sole test for contamination, anyone with even a GCSE in Combined Science knows we’re in the realm of science fiction rather than looking at a serious study of the potential dangers inherent to modern science.

Instead, to find the true inspiration for Eleventh Hour, we need to look at the show’s creator, Stephen Gallagher. While he’s best known for his equally irrelevant 1991 serial Chimera, Gallagher started out as a script-writer for Doctor Who. A pseudo-science spouting older man, always wandering into trouble with his naïve female sidekick? Ring any bells?

Just as Doctor Who is essentially an adventure show that uses aliens and technology as the MacGuffins that create and advance the plots, it would be wrong to think of Eleventh Hour as anything other than a thriller that uses ‘science’ and ‘scientists’ as an excuse for a jolly run round. However, while a good thriller, such as State of Play or Edge of Darkness, can leave you thinking about the issues and the characters long after it has finished, Eleventh Hour is nothing like a good thriller.

Stewart and Jensen do their best to inject life into their ciphers and Gallagher has an occasionally good line in humorous but predictable dialogue. But the show has next to no grounding in reality; the plots have more holes than a colander; the direction leaps from shot to shot without giving you any real idea of what’s happening; and when the usually incoherent plot explanation finally arrives, you’ll wonder what the five other impossible things you’ll be asked to believe before breakfast are.

Rather than provide warnings about the dangers of science, Eleventh Hour provides warnings about the dangers of not having a clear, original idea for your programme before you start filming it. With ratings of 3.8 million and Stewart’s schedule full for the foreseeable future, further instalments of the show look unlikely. But with no real raison d’être other than filling an hour and a half in the mid-week schedules, it won’t be a great loss to television.

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News

US Sci-Fi Channel does massive U-turn and buys Doctor Who

David Tennant in a kilt

Wouldn’t have mentioned this except for

a) the great way the BBC announced it (sound needed, but you’ll get annoyed after about a minute)

b) the Sci-Fi channel turned down the chance last year because they watched a few episodes and “found the series somewhat lacking and didn’t think it would fit into the network’s schedule”

I’m guessing the change of mind came about since there was a definite pick-up in story quality in the second half of last year’s season, because it’s now a success and because David Tennant is due very soon. Plus how many rubbish B-movies can you fill a schedule with before you start to put off your educated 30+ demographic? Anyone for Mansquito 2? Thought not. Better get some decent shows in instead then, hadn’t you Sci-Fi?

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UK TV

Review: Doctor Who – The Christmas Invasion

The Christmas Invasion
Did everyone watch the Christmas episode of Doctor Who? I know 9.4 million of you did, so fess up. What did you think? I actually thought it was rather good. A couple of embarrassing moments at the beginning, but other than that, I really enjoyed it.

Heresy though it seems to be these days, I didn’t like the first season of the new Whos. Christopher Eccleston was good at the intense and miserable stuff (QFS!) but couldn’t pull off the lighter stuff at all. He clearly thought it was all beneath him: certainly if you caught any of the Doctor Who Confidentials (what can I say? I’m a sucker for a behind-the-scenes documentary. I even listen to the audio commentaries on DVDs, sitting through all three of the Se7en voice-overs), you’ll recall him saying “he didn’t need to get out his Stanislavsky” for the role.

Most of the scripts were equally toe-curling and there was more than a hint of “Oh my God! They’ve given us a budget but we don’t know what we’re doing! Help! Help!” in the earlier episodes. Given that the exec producer, Russell T Davies, is more than capable of writing drama for children that’s also suitable for adults – as anyone who watched Dark Season or Century Falls in the early 90s can attest – it’s a surprise that he went with fart jokes, belching dustbins and slapstick as a way to bring the kids in. Still, what do I know? Look what the ratings were.

Anyway, as a result of all this childishness, I never bothered to make a date for most of the episodes.

‘The Christmas Invasion’, however, is probably the first of the new Whos that I would want to watch again. Everything worked. David Tennant, with toned-down London accent, was very good, maybe needing a little more gravitas at times, but excellent for the most part. The script was good, with no fart gags and no tiresome deus ex Piper at the end: the Doctor actually earned his victories this time round. There was also a darker edge to it that hinted at a more adult tone for the show.

The trailer at the end of the episode has made me eager for more, which is something I wasn’t expecting. Curses. I really don’t want to be a Doctor Who fan. Don’t do this to me!