Amy Tries Again

In Which I Reflect Upon Dr Who
August 26, 2010, 9:42 PM
Filed under: In Which I Try Again

As promised (but late, of course), I am now going to rant about Dr Who.  I have been doing a bit of what I suppose you’d call some research.  The research was, ostensibly, for The Professor, the impro parody directed by Alistair Crawford that we did last Sunday.  However, I’ve a confession to make.  After declaring my intentions, borrowing a bunch of DVDs from various enth-Who-siasts (sorry, couldn’t help it) and looking at a few Wikipedia articles, it was almost time for the show…and I hadn’t actually watched any of the DVDs.  Ooops.  Rather than conducting a last minute film festival, I thought I’d try to use the fact that my character would be new to the wacky adventures of the Doctor (sorry, the Professor) and would probably be the only one who wasn’t well versed in his world.  Yeah, I know.  Excuses, excuses.

Happily, I have the ability to improvise (who’da thunk it?), and thanks to a bit of research and the vast knowledge of the rest of the cast, I had the basics down. The show was amazing fun, and a great success. I played a character called Penny Dreadful (‘It’s a parody name, innit?’), a Cockney punk girl at Oxford on a scholarship who became the Professor’s companion. Thanks to the audience suggestions, she was very skilled at contortion, and used this to help the Professor defeat his great enemy, the Chancellor. The storyline involved menacing aliens who had landed on earth in 1603 in their larval form – commonly known on earth as raspberries – and had begun to evolve into a terrifying adulthood, terrorising the good people of Oxford. The Professor was played by Tom Dunstan, but died tragically at the end of Act 1 – only to undergo ‘regentrification’ and awake as a being who looked rather a lot like David Massingham. In the end, after defeating the Chancellor (for now, at least) and returning the aliens to their rightful homeworld, the Professor and Penny posted themselves through time for further exciting adventures, using the Royal Mail postbox that we never actually made up a TARDIS-like name for (I know that TARDIS is supposed to be in capitals now).


I'm up the back, totally rocking a mullet.


It was great, great fun. I really enjoyed being a rather family-friendly, BBC-esque punk – although I couldn’t help but exchange ‘bloody’ and ‘rotten’ for rather stronger phrases at times. (Sorry guys.  The wig made me do it).

‘Right!’ I thought to myself after the curtain had come down, ‘Done!’. Thing was…I wasn’t. The DVDs still sat idle and unwatched, but now my interest had been piqued. I was curious. I’d been told that the character of Penny Dreadful was not dissimilar to (a rather cruder version of) a real character, Ace. I wanted to see this Ace. I wanted to find out exactly why so many fellow drama nerds were so impressed by the antics of her friend, The Doctor.

With this in mind, I’ve re-started my quest. This week is now Who Week. I’ve a choice selection of DVDs that I am assured will provide me with an excellent grounding in several different Doctors. I intend to watch them chronologically, and have started with a story arc from 1979 – City of Death.

City of Death starred the 4th Doctor, Tom Baker – aka the guy you think of when you think of old Dr Who episodes. Scarf guy. You know the one. He had his scarf, and he was in Paris on holiday with his companion, Romana. At first I thought she was a badly cast schoolgirl (she was wearing a school uniform), but apparently she was from the Doctor’s planet, and did the same sort of things he did. She could build time machines andI liked that, as the first thing I ask Whovians (is that the term for them? It is now) why the Doctor is never a lady. Anyway, the school uniform was like her wacky scarf in this particular episode, apparently. She had a wonderful sunhat.


Lalla Ward, who played Romana, is a bit awesome. She is an author, the daughter of a Viscount and is married to Richard Dawkins.


Surprisingly enough, their holiday did not go according to plan. Before long, the Doctor started having some sort of small epileptic fit – at least, the colours on the screen turned negative and back in quick succession and someone shook the camera about. Apparently, this was some sort of glitch in time, and they soon discovered that it had to do with a nefarious Count conducting time experiments in his basement, aided by a researcher with the worst faux-Russian accent in the world. After a series of Parisian montages, a scuffle in the Louvre as the not-quite-as-nefarious Countess attempted to steal the Mona Lisa and the introduction of a ham-fisted detective and a henchman resembling Captain Haddock, it came to light that the Count was really a very nasty alien. He removed his face to reveal that he was actually a cyclopean shrubbery of some sort. It was laughable, but I don’t think I would have liked it at all if I’d seen it as a child.


Behind the shrubbery...ANOTHER SHRUBBERY!


Shrubbery Monster had a plan involving travelling back through time to when his spaceship had exploded, millions of years ago. The explosion had created all life on Earth and splintered Shrubbery Monster into various versions of himself throughout time. They were all trying to get human technology up and running to the point where they could go back in time and change all that…cancelling all life on Earth as a nasty side effect. The theft of the Mona Lisa was involved for purposes of funding this research, as the Renaissance version of Shrubbery Monster having gotten Da Vinci to paint a number of them back in the day so that modern Shrubbery Monster could sell them all to collectors as the real thing after lifting one from the Louvre. Yeah. It was complicated.

This has turned into a bit of a synopsis, so I’ll stop waffling on about the rather complicated plot. I must admit: I quite enjoyed it. It lagged a bit, but the wonderful dodginess of the special effects kept me amused, particularly the terrifying effects of the time ray the Shrubbery Monster was developing – it caused its victims to turn into a series of still images of themselves with increasing amounts of aged makeup and novelty beard on, culminating in the image of a skeleton, still with novelty beard. Apparently the death ray skipped cleanly over the whole decomposition bit.

I learnt many things about Paris in 1979, too. Apparently absolutely nobody spoke French (although this was compensated for rather gamely by the judicial use of an extra wearing a beret and a jaunty necktie. I half expected him to be carrying a baguette.) It was also very usual for people to be escorted at gunpoint into charming little cafes, for nobody ever batted an eyelid. Large blue police boxes from another country could be parked almost anywhere without creating suspicion. Truly, a happier time.

Just when my interest was waning, I was delighted by some SURPRISE JOHN CLEESE! as an art admirer who had mistaken the TARDIS for some sort of installation work. By that point, though, the Shrubbery Monster had revealed his true form to all and sundry (it seemed that his true voice was produced by speaking directly into a fan, but perhaps that was just an echo effect from all the shrubbery, as I couldn’t actually see his mouth) and was getting all killy. After everyone adjourned to the Earth 400,000,000 years ago for a climactic battle (I was interested to learn that our planet was made entirely out of papier mache at the dawn of time), the Doctor, Romana and their friend the detective won the day, and the story was over.

So, what did I think? Like this blog post, it was long. Used to programs wrapping themselves up neatly within the hour, I wasn’t anticipating the tale going on over four episodes, but although some parts tested my attention span, I was amused. I had expected a science fiction show to take itself a lot more seriously. This particular story was rather special, I was assured, because Douglas Adams was mostly responsible for the script. (Having envisioned a Star Wars/Trek rivalry between the Who crowd and the Hitchhiker’s crowd, I was a bit surprised by this.) Despite my limited experience with Douglas Adams could definitely see some of his touches (particularly in the detective character). The whole thing had the pleasant air of a Christmas panto. It hadn’t occurred to me that the show would be in on the joke, and I liked it a lot more for that. I never considered the possibility that aliens could be so reassuringly British.

Don’t ever tell anyone, but I don’t hate it.  I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it.  Well played, Dr Who, well played.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Oh yeah, should have told you that most Doctor Who stories pre-new series were feature length. Erm, sorry.

I really like the dialogue in City of Death, particularly that whole scene where the Doctor meets, erm, Shubbery Man: “What a wonderful butler, he’s so violent!” And there’s that great exchange between the Doctor and the bad guy when the Mona Lisas are uncovered…

“Can I ask where you go these from?”
“Or how you knew they were there?”
“They’ve been there a long time.”
“I like concise answers.”

My stars, I could go on all day. But I won’t.

Comment by Dave

Amy, I think you just hit the nail on the head about why Doctor Who is so much better than so many boringly bog-standard sci-fi shows. Sci-fi tends toward self-importance, with cypher characters (generally in some form of military uniform) standing around po-faced talking technobabble. Doctor Who, in its Britishness, totally subverts that.

Comment by Chris

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