Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Prom: review

Daleks, Cybermen, Doctors (two of them!), the full BBC National Orchestra of Wales...all on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who.

1989, when the BBC cancelled the show, never seemed so long ago.

The Doctor Who Prom showcased music from the series before and after the 1989 to 2005 hiatus, with an understandable bias towards the modern era ensuring maximum appeal to the many younger members of the audience. But even the most cynical of old fans would have been chuffed to hear orchestrally blended versions of the mad and fantastic electronica score of Tomb of the Cybermen, the jaunty Parisian-flavoured City of Death and The Five Doctors (among others) performed alongside modern era companion themes, action cues and, of course, the theme tune finale. The Prom also debuted a special Anniversary track which had a harder time to engage as it lacked, by definition, familiarity, but overall this was one to sit back and enjoy the masterful performances of the musicians.

The celebration didn't just take the form of music. Long-term fans of the show were rewarded by stage appearances from Doctor number five Peter Davison ("from the 'classic' era," quipped Davison) and no less than the very first companion – Carole Ann Ford. Large as their cheers were (and they really were), the biggest audience response was reserved for current and outgoing Doctor 11, Matt Smith, and present day companion Clara, Jenna Coleman - both of whom appeared in the (SPOILER) orchestra after a pre-recorded piece filmed for the Prom.

And there were monsters too. Where would Doctor Who be without them? Daleks were saved 'till near the end of the Prom, but the aforementioned Cybermen sprang up among the audience in the aisles (and in the corridors during the interval) with an Ice Warrior, Silurians, the henchmen of the Great Intelligence, Vampires from Venice and a member of the Silence.

Which brings me to the atmosphere of the event. Half way through one performance I received a nudge from the stranger seated next to me, who pointed out a nearby Cyberman stalking the audience, simply to make sure I didn't miss out on the sight. For me, that willingness to make sure fellow fans were enjoying the day to the full summed up the celebratory, inclusive, fun nature of the Prom. The Royal Albert Hall, full of people united in sheer love for the long-running TV show, whether young, old or somewhere in between. Let's face it, if you were there and you weren't a fan, then you really were in the wrong place. Or attending with a loved one.

If you've got access to iPlayer you might still be able to hear the BBC Radio 3 broadcast, but if not then Doctor Who Prom will be broadcast on TV later in the year. In a rare first for Not The Chap In Dracula, here are some pictures:
Matt Smith takes the stage 
Monster action during the interval, courtesy of a Cyberman  
Since taking this photo, it occurs that this Angel is doing a mean Tommy Cooper impression. Without the fez. 
A Cyberman stomps down an aisle  
The chunky TARDIS-shaped programme was a mere £4. Bargain.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

3D TV has been giving broadcasters a headache

You can already hear the naysayers and sceptics rubbing their hands together at the news the BBC are quitting 3D TV. Of course they're ditching it. It was only a matter of time, right? In fact, the nation's own broadcaster isn't the first to part with 3D, US-based ESPN is also leaving the technology behind. Sky is remaining committed to the format, but with the BBC the latest to drop out of the stereoscopic picture, the format has been dealt a sizeable blow.

While the cold hearts of cynics who called 3D a gimmick will be cheered, the news won't be so well received in the sales departments of Currys and Argos, with 3D supposed to help shift new TVs. But in this economic climate is it any surprise that new tech has not been adopted quickly by the masses?

Perhaps confusingly, the lack of appetite for 3D seems to extend to those who actually already own 3D TVs, with half of those owning such televisions opting to watch the Olympics opening ceremony in 3D. Worse still, a mere 15% of those with 3D TVs watched Mr Stink and the Queen's Christmas Message in 3D, but then again, maybe that's the problem right there. The Queen's Speech in 3D? Unless Her Majesty (God bless her) was combatting errant corgis, throwing staff through windows or, er, jumping out of a helicopter, maybe 3D was just a touch wasted on such a broadcast? Maybe TV isn't inherently geared towards 3D?

I'm not anti 3D, and I haven't spent nearly enough time watching 3D to be the best judge of how much it enhances a film or show. Why? Because one half of my household has poor vision in one eye, rendering 3D pointless for them. 

In a way I feel sorry for the format. True, it is taking up valuable 2D screen time at the cinema, but it's got an uphill struggle, fighting off-puttingly poor early examples of the format on the big screen, a small user base, launching during a recession, the fact that 3D has already had a crack at the market decades ago... It hasn't had a lot of love. Add that to the low levels of enthusiasm of even those that already have 3D's not looking great. 

But it does sound like Sky has the right idea, tying 3D in with big events, sporting occasions, spectacular nature documentaries and the like. And Sky has form when it comes to changing the nation's viewing habits. So, it's far from a KO. There's too much riding on 3D (not least for film studios and distributors) for it to slope away quietly. If broadcasters can get a handle on how best to use it, which has arguably been one of the biggest obstacles to success for the formet so far, then 3D will be back. Again.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Frankie: Cut off in its prime

How about a drama with strong female lead characters, written by a woman and not based around crime? You know, one set in contemporary Britain with no corsets in sight?
Sounds good, eh? Well it was. It was Frankie.
Starring Eve Myles and written by Lucy Gannon, Frankie dealt with a larger than life district nurse who got so involved with her work she frequently bent the rules and incurred the wrath of local GP Dr Evans, brilliantly played by Jemma Redgrave. There was a complicated (increasingly so) private life, memorable colleagues and stories that dealt with things that average everyday viewers could easily face in their lives, like dementure, ill health...and absolutely no serial killers.
Trouble is, there will be no series 2. Lucy Gannon tweeted one evening to confirm the news and I for one was surprised and a bit gutted. But maybe I'm a naive fool. Why naive? We've seen it all before – TV shows cancelled before they should have been. There have been tons of them, in fact I could write a list...
The Tripods
I'm delving way into the past here – the 1980s! – but this trilogy of books by John Christopher - covering a human race dominated by aliens – got to series two, but then they cancelled it before they filmed the final, concluding (final *and* concluding) series. I used to have dreams about hiding in houses from these three-legged swines and upon news of the cancellation I harped on to the BBC about it as a child to such a degree that they sent one of the producers to my school to chat about the series. That did sweeten the pill I must admit and now makes me wonder whether they do this for every complaint about a cancelled show? There's only one way to find out.
Star Cops
Sticking with the '80s and sci-fi this series may have been let down by shoddy effects, but Star Cops lived up to its 'what it says on the tin' premise, essentially transplanting a police procedural into space. Created by Blakes 7 and Dr Who scribe Chris Boucher, the lead was played by one David Calder. The scripts were funny, the plots were intriguing...and it was canned after one series. Rude.
The Hour
I've banged on about The Hour being cancelled after two series on this blog post here. If you enjoy rambling complaints, randomly linking great white sharks with the aforementioned show, then you really should click here.

Friday, 5 July 2013

New drama: The Wipers Times, Burton and Taylor and Top Of The Lake

It's summer so the TV schedules aren't exactly heaving with new drama right now, but thankfully there are some hints about what we can expect to find in the warm glow of our TV/laptop/tablet screens in the near future.

So, here are three drama offerings coming up from the BBC...

This week saw the announcement of The Wipers Times, arriving on BBC Two soon. I'd never heard of The Wipers Times before, but have since found it on Wikipedia so it *must* be true. To save you clicking around the 'net, The Wipers Times was a satirical newspaper printed virtually on the front lines during World War One after a printing press was discovered in the bombed ruins of Ypres.

An eye-catching cast has been drafted in for this one-off drama including Michael Palin, Emilia Fox, Ben Chaplin, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Steve Oram. It's written by Ian Hislop and Nick Newman and as far as I'm aware it's the first time that Hislop has written a drama, but as the editor of the satirical news magazine Private Eye it's perhaps not a massive surprise to see his name attached. Bletchley Circle fans may be interested to hear the director of that series – Andy de Emmony – is in the chair for The Wipers Times.

Sticking with one-off dramas, BBC Four has Burton and Taylor, which concerns – you guessed it –  the lives of one Elizabeth Taylor (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and Dominic West (as Burton). Taylor and Burton's tempestuous relationship is well documented, to say the least. This drama, however, wisely focuses on one period in the early '80s when the two starred together in the West End in 'Private Lives' a play with a few parallels in the lives of the actors. Safe to say there will some comment on the nature of celebrity and privacy in that one, I expect.

Top Of The Lake is a bit of a coup, co-written by non other than Oscar-winning Jane Campion (The Piano, Portrait Of A Lady) and Gerard Lee. Campion also co-directs the 'haunting mystery' with Garth Davis. Set in the remote mountains of New Zealand, currently housing Hobbits and Dwarves, Top Of The Lake sees a 12-year old girl walk into a freezing cold lake before disappearing. The daughter of a local drug lord, the girl is discovered to be five months pregnant. A detective is brought in to investigate the disappearance and as the case progresses, the detective finds echoes of her own life.

Other programmes heading for your collective screens include Paul Abbot's new cop comedy drama, another outing for The Bletchley Circle, a new version of Poldark, 'Dickensian' and 'Our Zoo'. Better get some new blank videos in. Ah, those were the days.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The dangers of approaching actors in real life (or how I pestered Ben Wishaw)

Mere days after watching the final episode of The Hour and posting a blog banging on about how there should have been a third series, I came across none other than Freddie – Ben Wishaw – himself at my local train station.

Struck by the coincidence – so far I've not bumped into any actors I've mentioned in a blog, let alone a few days afterwards – coupled with the shock of seeing such a familiar face from the small and big screen (he's been in a Bond film!) in the decidedly humdrum surroundings of my local non-London train station, combined to provide me with an inescapable urge to go over and say hello.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation then I'd advise you take a few moments to stop and think about what you're actually going over for. Just to say hello? To gain acknowledgement of your existence from Skyfall's Q? Sadly, I hadn't the vaguest notion, but still I found my shoes and legs conspiring to walk me over to the man.

"Hi. Are you Ben Wishaw?"

"Yes I am," replied Wishaw.

"Oh, cool...erm, are you from around here then?"

"Yes actually, I'm going to see my parents."

It was round about this point that I realised I genuinely had no idea what I wanted to tell this actor whom I admire. While rattling off a couple of 'ums' and 'ers' while my brain frantically tried to settle upon a sentence or two that made sense, a creeping realisation that I had barged over to the chap for no good reason dawned upon me. 

Then, finally, after about 30 painful seconds (which felt like 30 minutes) had passed, my flummoxed mind came up with something. Yes!

I provided Mr Wishaw with a concise summary of my last blog: "I've just been watching the second series of The Hour. I loved it and am gutted there's not going to be another one."

At which point his concerned/worried frown disappeared and he discussed that it was indeed a shame. This might be breaking news, but he added that there was talk of doing a special episode of The Hour, now that the third series had been canned by the BBC. Overall though, Wishaw was philosophical about the series. "What would be the point of just doing a special?" he mused.

While Wishaw had seemingly started to warm to the topic my common sense returned ('where the hell have you been?' I wondered at the time) and I took my leave, thanking the man and leaving him to his book and the limited pleasures of my local train station.

Walking away from the scene I reflected that at least it hadn't gone *that* badly – he hadn't called the cops – and I had managed to impress that I liked The Hour. Did I provide a few words of encouragement that would sustain him through the rest of his acting career? Or did I leave him perplexed and maybe slightly concerned about my mental welfare?

Either way, let this be a warning to others. If you do happen to come across an actor or actress that you admire, maybe in a familiar setting that takes you by surprise, and you do feel an inescapable urge to introduce yourself then at the very least have something nice in mind to ask them. Or better yet, turn in the opposite direction and get yourself away. Quickly.