Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why Dr Who Matters

Looking forward to the big Dr Who event next weekend - the 50th Anniversary Special - so I thought I'd repost this little essay on why Dr Who matters from back in August...
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When Matt Smith announced that he was quitting the role of Dr. Who after this year’s Christmas Special the papers and social media in the UK and Australia and the geeky parts of America went into their now habitual frenzy about who would or should be the next doctor. Dismissed by some as too young for the role (by, er, me actually) Smith in fact has been of the more successful inhabitants of the Tardis. Helped by lively scripts and great companions Smith’s version of the character has been more sprightly, mischievous and elfen than David Tennant's interpretation and his energy will be hard to replace. But Peter Capaldi the new Dr Who is an absolutely inspired choice. I have loved Peter Capaldi's work since Local Hero and when I saw his turn as Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It I was just blown away by the menacing sweary Glasgow genius of his performance. 
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But why should you non geeks out there care about an often cheesy cult British sci-fi show for kids? Well I think you should care because Dr Who represents what is best about the British character and as an icon of Britishness he has no equal. Dr Who is intelligent, witty, wise, eccentric, curious; he keeps cool under pressure and he out-thinks his opponents much more often that he out fights them. Although 12 different actors have inhabited the role of Dr Who I think the defining characteristic of all their takes has been the quintessential stiff upper lip. Sang froid in the face of danger is surely one of the greatest qualities of a gentleman: its what we liked about Michael Caine and Stanley Baker in Zulu, it was the lesson we took from the Titanic disaster (whether it was true or not) and its what we loved to see satirized in Monty Python and, of course, in this fantasic scene from Carry On Up The Khyber
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Who can compare to Who among recent British icons? Nobody in my opinion. James Bond is a dreary thug who loves a good punch up, who hates women and who has a very tired line in repartee. Steed from the Avengers (did I say recent?) is a little too fey. Sherlock Holmes is a gloomy misanthrope casting a jaundiced eye on humanity from his upstairs room on Baker Street. Robin Hood? Nah, Robin Hood is way too campy. Flashman? I like Flashman but he's even more of a thug than Bond and a complete coward (which is part of his charm, admittedly). I do love Hilary Mantel's version of Thomas Cromwell but we haven't seen how he responds to the prospect of death yet...No, Dr Who, at least in his current incarnation (since 2005), is the icon of Britishness for our times, indeed the icon of maleness that we all should aspire to be: nimble, quick witted, funny, ironic, compassionate, gallant and brave. He's a little too chaste perhaps but in these troubled times for men it's probably better to err on the side of caution in that department. 

36 comments:

Macca said...

Capaldi is a great choice. As soon as he hit the papers as a possibility you thought "Yes, Peter Capaldi. Of course the next Doctor must be Peter Capaldi"

We watch a ton of Doctor Who in our joint. My son is a huuuge fan. I was iffy about Matt Smith at first, but I ended up being firmly in his camp. I thought he brought a great tenderness to the role. His Doctor has a lot of love in him.

adrian mckinty said...

Macca

My favourite Matt Smith one was the one where he played football with James Corden and he was brilliant at it Corden was jealous and sad and you got this really interesting external perspective on what it must be like to have to be around someone as talented as the Doctor.

Alan said...

Adrian,I think you nailed that which is uniquely British.I wonder if the British response to the Blitz would not also be emblematic of this cultural trait.Foyle's War 's Kitchen does a fine job in exemplifying Britishness,.Yes Dr.Who rules for your given reasons.Best Alan

KIKAREN said...

What a lovely clip Adrian. Where did you find that? Nine minutes of sustained hilarity. Sid's timing is absolutely magical.
British heroes?
> Hazel from Watership Down.
> T E Lawrence
> Nicholson from Bridge on the river Kwai
> Jim Prideax [from Tinker, Taylor]
And of course that fantastic creation:
> Harry Potter; what a guy.

seana graham said...

Even with two Bookers, Mantel's Cromwell. I'll will never be well enough known to be a quintessential British anything. More's the pity.

Actually, speaking of more, Paul Scofield's Thomas More would have been a good example of that quintessentially British fellow. But now that I've read Mantel's version, I can't really buy that version anymore.

seana graham said...

I don't know how that "I'll" got in there.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

Yup the Blitz spirit exemplifies it. Its well accepted now that people were happier (according to opinion poll research) during the Blitz than during the Phoney War before it.

adrian mckinty said...

Kikaren

Jim Prideax never gets a mention in a list like that, yeah he's terrific - the real badass in that book. Well combined with Smiley who also out thinks everyone.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

When Mantel's Cromwell becomes a film and as long as its cast well I know for certain that he'll become an icon. He really is something you don't want to mess with. Much scarier and cooler than Bond if you ask me.

adrian mckinty said...

Kikaren

Yes if anyone wants to understand Britain they need to watch that scene and it will explain everything.

seana graham said...

Mantel's Cromwell is the Michael Forsythe of his era.

I thought of that because Amazon just sent me an email recommending Dead I Well May Be to me. Not exactly prescient, but at least somewhat accurate.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Ahh Michael Forsythe will we ever see his young shining face again?

Cary Watson said...

Very nice definition of Britishness. The best Brit heroes come across as reluctant, amateur warriors--T.E. Lawrence, Leigh Fermor, all the WWI poets, and a bunch of others. Dr Who is what might occur if you crossed Barnes Wallis with James Bond, with Wallis being the dominant personality. And Sid James would have made an excellent Doctor; he would have driven the Daleks to self-destruction with an endless barrage of double entendres and the filthiest laugh in the universe.

seana graham said...

I think you have already alerted readers here that yes, they will see his young shining face again. If the editors spare him.

adrian mckinty said...

Cary

Well Barnes Wallis sort of became Quatermass didnt he? And then Quatermass morphed into the first Dr Who.

Its interesting that the BBC and everyone else says there are only 12 doctors but my count there's 14. The guy who replaced William Hartnell in I think The Five Doctors and Peter Cushing.

Incidentally (and this way over the line into major geekdom) Michael Redgrave (who of course played BW in the Dambusters)'s grandaughter Jemma was in the Matt Smith Dr Who episode The Power Of 3 playing the brigadier's daughter...

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Ahh I hope they keep him in. Its a nice scene - if I say so myself.

Richard L. Pangburn said...

I saw Hugh Lawrie on Colbert last night. With such a zany sense of the comic, he might have made a good Dr. Who in his prime.

Of course not now after being Dr. House.

Macca said...

Apologies for geeking right out, but I think Peter Cushing is considered non-canonical because a) the doctor was portrayed in the movies as human, and b) the movies weren't made by the BBC.

While I'm at it, I'll geek it right up and mention that the policeman who went along with the doctor on his time travelling in the second Cushing movie was played by Bernard Cribbins, who went on to play Donna Noble's grandfather in the tv show.

Rick Ollerman said...

I love the choice, but I just can't get past the image of Malcolm Tucker playing Dr. Who. The kids couldn't watch it, but my god would a merging of those two be insane.

seana graham said...

Rick, Slate has given us a taste of exactly that insanity here.

Rick Ollerman said...

Oh, Seana, thanks for pointing that out to me. But it's too short and I'm still laughing. I didn't like Matt Smith at first, grew to think that he was competent just not someone I wanted to watch (so I stopped), and Peter Capaldi should be brilliant.

But Malcolm Tucker would kick my rear end. Alas....

seana graham said...

Rick, I didn't get on to the Dr. Who bandwagon till fairly recently, so I can understand not liking some particular newer version.

I think if that clip was any longer, it would probably ruin whatever Capaldi's actual interpretation turns out to be.

adrian mckinty said...

Rich


Yes! Hugh Lawrie would have excelled. And maybe Stephen Fry as the Master?

adrian mckinty said...

Macca

I was watching the Dr Who panel at Comicon on youtube. Ok stop laughing at me...And I see that they have hired the guy who organises the Red Wedding (and was the shop owner on Broadchurch) to play William Hartnell in the new series. So thats 13 doctors now. And there's the mysterious John Hurt role as the "Doctor" - so 14.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana, Rick...

Oh Jesus thats the funniest thing I've seen in ages. Brilliant bit of editing there.

adrian mckinty said...

And yes I too was VERY sceptical of Matt Smith but he grew on me quickly.

seana graham said...

I kind of assumed it was going to be John Hurt until this latest news.

Matt said...

BTW, Adrian, I'm headed to Vancouver next week and will spend a few days in Seattle...What's on your can't miss list? Avoiding the usual touristy stuff of course.

adrian mckinty said...

Matt

Take the water taxi out to West Seattle and walk down to Alki Beach. Its the best view of the city and Alki is really wonderful.

I know it sounds unbearably nerdy but I loved the Seattle public library building. Its a great place to work and just hang out.

If you're going to go to Pikes Place market go as early as you possibly can because it becomes a claustrophobic nightmare after 11:00 a.m.

Also rec the Pike Pub and Brewery although that can get pretty crowded too.

And if the Mariners are playing at home definitely go - its a gorgeous stadium and there are always tickets even for King Felix games.

Matt said...

One of the interesting things about Dr. Who was who created him - the main person behind him was a Canadian, a fella named Sydney Newman, who attended Central Tech, a blue-collar high school where I've taught night school many times.

http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Sydney_Newman

adrian mckinty said...

Matt

Its interesting that most of the really iconic Brits either are foreigners, half foreigners or were created by foreigners. Its that "more English than the English" thing.

Anne said...

This is bound to have come up in previous blogs (before my time on here), but can I please inquire as to whether Dead I Well May Be has been put forward for a film treatment? The ideal actor for Michael Forsythe would obviously have been Colin Farrell, but he's probably too old for the role, now.

adrian mckinty said...

Anne

Yeah for a while there it looked like there was a 5050 chance of it coming off. Basically 2006-2009 was when there was some momentum but in the end the guys with the money didnt think it work and if they so no, well thats the end of it...

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