Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything
↳ Television

Doctor Who, Biopics and Emotional Freight

Image from An Adventure in Space and Time

It’s fair to say that in An Adventure in Space and Time, the film depicting the early years of Doctor Who, the weepiest moments were when it called forward to the subsequent history of Doctor Who — “the winking nods to fan-known futures or characters espousing things said in episodes not yet made,” as Kyle Anderson put it in his review.

Which is to say that An Adventure in Space and Time is borrowing its emotional freight: the tears — the emotional impact — come from what we already know and feel about the subject; what we see on the screen we do not see in isolation. It is because of what Doctor Who will become that we respond to it the way we do, and what we think of Doctor Who may well determine how we respond to An Adventure, or whether we respond to it at all.

It occurs to me that all biopics have this in common: a film profiling a famous or historical person will derive a good deal of its power from our existing impressions of the person or the historical events in which they lived. This could be why so many movies of this sort seem so paint-by-numbers, if the movie’s subject does not personally resonate with you: it is sufficient to tap into that existing vein, because the audience self-selects.

In other words: I like Doctor Who, so I watched An Adventure in Space and Time, and enjoyed it. It’s hard to say what I would have thought of An Adventure if I didn’t like Doctor Who, because I almost certainly would never have bothered to watch it.

Peter Capaldi

Earlier this year I argued that the next actor to play Doctor Who would have to be a young or upcoming actor we’d never heard of, who could pull off slightly mad/off-kilter and who could run all the time. My predictions turned out to be almost completely wrong: we’re getting Peter Capaldi, an actor with a considerable reputation who, at 55, is the oldest actor to play the Doctor since William Hartnell.

Capaldi is best known for his turn as incredibly sweary communications director Malcolm Tucker in the BBC political drama The Thick of It. That’s ample evidence for the pulling-off-slightly-mad/off-kilter checkbox but, Doctor Who basically being an overgrown kid’s show, that sort of thing won’t be reprised — though it’s fun to imagine.

The Next Doctor

Thoughts on who will play the next Doctor, now that it has been announced that Matt Smith is stepping down from the role at the end of the year:

Lots of fan speculation about who will play the next Doctor, most of it ridiculously wishful. The role will almost certainly be played by a young or upcoming British actor you’ve never heard of — someone who can pull off slightly mad/off-kilter without being a full-on comedian, and someone fit enough to be able to run all the time, as one does in Doctor Who. Anyone you’ve heard of is almost certainly too busy and too expensive for a TV show. It will definitely not be your favourite actor or actress who appeared in another genre TV show or movie with a fanbase. At most, the actor will have had a bit part in some British TV show or movie you might have seen.

Lots of fans are hoping for a Doctor who isn’t white or male or both. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either idea. But don’t hold your breath for too much diversity. This show, after all, has had a somewhat problematic relationship with Scottish and Northern dialects: whatever the next Doctor’s sex or colour, he or she will speak Estuary English.

Spoilers Have an Expiration Date

It’s a big skiffy weekend, what with the opening of the new Star Trek movie and the season finale of Doctor Who. Spoilers abound.

It’s often argued that spoilers should have an expiration date. No one, for example, should feel the need to put a spoiler warning on the fact that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, because The Empire Strikes Back came out on May 21, 1980 — 33 years ago. So there is a point at which spoiler alerts are no longer required, and people who complain about spoilers can be rightly ridiculed as solipsistic weenies.

But what is that point after which spoilers are fair game? Nathan Fillion thinks that spoilers shouldn’t apply to the previous season — which is to say, if season five is being broadcast now, season four is fair game. (It’s true that a lot of the complaints come from people who are several seasons behind, catching up on DVD or Netflix or iTunes.)

Me, I think that if you’re sufficiently invested in a TV show, movie or book that spoilers would affect your enjoyment of it, you have an obligation to consume that cultural product as soon as possible.

Which is to say: if you want to watch Star Trek: Into Darkness spoiler free, get your ass to the movie theatre this weekend. If you don’t want to be spoiled about “The Name of the Doctor,” make a point of watching it on broadcast TV Saturday night or, if like me you don’t have cable, download in from iTunes on Sunday.

Make a damn effort, in other words.

I think opening weekend is about the only spoiler-free window you’re entitled to. The following week, we’re gonna talk about stuff — about Benedict Cumberbatch’s Star Trek character, about who Clara Oswald is, about the Doctor’s name. If that’s too soon for you, then it doesn’t matter to you enough. Get a move on, or shut up.

Previously: Spoilers Don’t Matter.

Jerry Nelson, 1934-2012

There’s a report that Jerry Nelson, the Muppet puppeteer whose characters included the Count, Herry Monster, Floyd Pepper, Dr. Strangepork, Kermit’s nephew Robin and Gobo Fraggle, plus about a thousand secondary and one-off characters, died yesterday at the age of 78. Nelson had reportedly not been in good health for years and had been phasing out his participation over the past decade. Via Tor.com.

Previously: On Muppet Nostalgia.

Robot Chicken vs. the Muppets

Robot Chicken kills Muppets. But not just those from The Muppet Show: the carnage extends to Sesame Street, leaving Big Bird and Cookie Monster dead on the floor. Not even the Fraggles escape. Is nothing sacred? (Fortunately, no.)

Pointless Banter

“CTV seems to be relying more on pointless, time-wasting banter that just wastes viewers’ time,” says Fagstein about the CTV News Channel’s afternoon program, Express. I haven’t seen it; I haven’t seen the CTV News Channel in years because my cable company doesn’t carry it (and I just cancelled cable TV two weeks ago). But I do know something about the pointless banter, because the CBC News Network (né CBC Newsworld) is absolutely rife with it too. It’s as though someone decided that anchors and journalists gabbing informally about a story and taking an eternity to do so is somehow an improvement over a straightforward presentation of the news; Fagstein notes that a 30-second news item took CTV nearly five minutes to work its way through. Who came up with this nonsense?

On Muppet Nostalgia

I haven’t managed to see the new Muppet movie yet, which seems strange considering my often-reverential attitude toward all things Muppet. (I might get a chance to do so this weekend, though.)

Truth be told, I’ve long been ambivalent about the Muppets of the post-Henson era. That dates back to when Steve Whitmire, whose previous Muppet characters include Rizzo the Rat and Wembley Fraggle, was tapped as Jim Henson’s successor. It was hard for me to accept performances of Kermit with Whitmire’s voice; from my perspective, Kermit “died” when Jim Henson did.

Continue reading this entry

Cable vs. Antenna

So we’ve been talking about getting rid of cable TV. Between using the Apple TV for Netflix, movie rentals and YouTube on the one hand, and the fact that broadcast television is lately even more of a wasteland than usual on the other, we’re not watching cable very much any more — enough that the $80 or so we spend on it each month is starting to look wasteful.

Then I read this article in the Ottawa Citizen about the conversion of over-the-air TV transmissions to digital high definition, and suddenly the thought of using a TV antenna doesn’t seem quite so quaint. Consider: our cable company doesn’t offer HD in this area (though it does elsewhere), so while the selection of channels would go down, the picture quality on those channels we could get, which is to say, local Canadian broadcast stations, would go way up. (Based on TV Fool’s signal locator, we wouldn’t have too much trouble getting the signals from the Camp Fortune transmitter, and could probably get the Metcalfe transmitter with a small roof-mounted antenna.) This might involve going to a place like this and spending anywhere from $50 to $300 on an antenna package — but at least that’s a one-time charge (plus some scary moments on a ladder), versus nearly a thousand dollars a year for cable.

Spoilers Don’t Matter

Dear Internet,

We’ve had to put up with your demands for spoiler alerts, and your complaints when a detail of a movie or TV show you haven’t seen or (more rarely) a book you haven’t read is inadvertently divulged, for some time now.

I suppose we understand when a movie has a serious plot twist, like Witness for the Prosecution, The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. Finding out about it before you get a chance to see it prevents you from enjoying the surprise.

Continue reading this entry

‘Most TV Cooking Is Repulsive’

Steve Albini is interviewed by LA Weekly’s Squid Ink blog and has the following to say about cooking shows:

Most TV cooking is repulsive. Frathouse cocksuckers with gimmick hairdos and catch phrases, hooting and hi-fiving, “bringing it,” celebrating gluttonous sports bar chow. Dipshits abbreviating their ingredients and making childish, cutesy-poo “comfort food” full of “yummy veggies,” shit like that. Detestable. You can spot the people who have their shit together because they don’t have to tell you how delicious their food is. Of the people who cook on television, I have admired people like Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver and a few others because they are free of drama, display good taste and masterful technique, and use clear exposition to bring you up to speed. From that description you’d think I’d like the Martha Stewart cooking shows, but all that mealy, beige country club food looks like I could only choke it down under threat of prison.

Via Food Network Humor.

Roger Abbott (1946-2011)

Air Farce comedian Roger Abbott died last night at the age of 64 after a 14-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, which he’d kept hidden until the end. He’s the second of the troupe to die; they lost John Morgan in 2004.