Outside the Government 19: Doctor Who Confidential Redux
It is strange in some ways to realize that Doctor Who Confidential has been going on this whole time. It’s not, after all, like anybody watched it. I mean, a few people did, but it was only ever available in the UK, and, well, how to put this nicely… it’s not like it was ever very good. It was fun enough in its first year when it was only a half-hour long and focused as much on the series’ history as on the making of the new series, but the decision to expand it to a forty-five minute format just as they were properly running out of nostalgia trips was, to say the least, puzzling. Instead Doctor Who Confidential became a sort of generic making of show.
But even given that, there are some problems. The making of Doctor Who is indeed interesting, but it’s not necessarily ten-and-a-half hours of interesting for every single year of production. There are only so many times poor Danny Hargreaves can demonstrate styrofoam debris and air cannons while maintaining any sort of semblance of keeping things fresh, and only so many compelling scenes that can be wrung out of Ailsa Berk teaching people in monster costumes how to do the correct funny walk for this week’s episode. As a result, by the end Doctor Who Confidential had become a sort of hodgepodge of strange things, such as the mildly infamous “Karen Gillian drives a car episode,” in which a significant amount of the episode was turned over to, well, Karen Gillian driving a car. But equally, it’s why there exists a montage of the women playing the Weeping Angels dancing to Lady Gaga, which is self-evidently a thing that should exist. (And to their credit, they did montages for both “Bad Romance” and “Poker Face,” which is good, as picking which song would make the better choice is nearly impossible.)
But let’s pull back the lens a little and look at what Doctor Who Confidential is, or at least, was. First and foremost it was a program on BBC Three, a channel that exists specifically to pull a “younger” audience. It’s going slightly too far to say that Confidential was a children’s program, but it was, with its ostentatious use of pop music and position on BBC Three, clearly meant as a program for teenage fans of the series. In this regard, it fits into a long tradition of Doctor Who being a program with a very, very well-documented production. There’s a generation of people working on Doctor Who who point to the Terrance Dicks/Malcolm Hulke book The Making of Doctor Who as a huge and seminal influence on their being interested in television. Hell, Peter Capaldi became interested in television in part because of things like Barry Letts responding to fan letters by sending him scripts and his interview with Bernard Lodge for a fanzine. So it seems almost certain that there will be another generation who learned how television was made and became fascinated with it because they saw Doctor Who getting made every week on Confidential. I feel like you can basically end the argument there, honestly. “It inspired a generation of people to make art.” I mean, I’m not sure Doctor Who itself can be defended quite that succinctly and effectively.
But at the end of the 2011 series, Doctor Who Confidential was cancelled. In some ways, this is understandable – as suggested, the series had become, to say the least, a bit tired, and had probably taught what it had to teach about how television was made. In others, however, it’s somewhat silly. Doctor Who Confidential was, to be frank, a cheap program to make, consisting of a camera crew documenting production and a day’s voice recording for a B-list celebrity to provide the narration. Given the need to have behind the scenes features for the DVDs anyway, Confidential was the closest thing to a free hour of television programming as existed in the world, which is probably why there’ve been quasi-versions of it for both Season Seven and Season Eight.
But its disappearance fits into a larger and significant narrative within Doctor Who over the Moffat era, which is a new sort of continual crisis. Admittedly, within fandom Doctor Who has been on the brink of cancellation more or less every second since Rose started transmission, before which it was not on the brink of cancellation but rather doomed to failure from the start. And to be fair, it’s easy in hindsight to understate just how tricky the Davies to Moffat transition was, and how easily it could have gone completely wrong. Which is to say, being concerned that the show might not survive the Moffat era did, at least for a little while, make sense. Especially when the ratings sagged rather dramatically at the end of Season Five, an incident that, while not clear evidence of a problem, was genuinely worrisome. So the cancellation of Confidential felt at the time like a part of that – yet another disaster being heaped upon the program.
Let’s, then, try to untangle this, at least a little bit. I should note that this is, by its nature, history written very close to the time. It’s also not something I’ve spent hours meticulously sourcing. There are already and will someday be more excellent primary sources on the making of Doctor Who that will, no doubt, complicate and expand on this account. Nevertheless, this is an attempt to piece through the narrative of the Moffat era as it played out in public and to make some sense of it, based largely on the perceptions of someone who’s made a point of following the story for the past few years as though he expected to have to write about it someday.
Let’s start with Confidential, as that’s the nominal topic of this post and the simplest to explain, since it fits squarely into a larger narrative, which is that the BBC has, over the last few years, toggled back into its “on the defensive” position and away from the “ambitious and beloved cultural institution” position it enjoyed over the course of New Labour, and which was heavily responsible for Doctor Who coming back in the first place. Under the coalition, the BBC faced a license fee freeze and a lack of governmental support. And it hasn’t exactly helped itself with things like Jimmy Saville. And that’s just public perception, and not the real and material problem of massive budget problems. So the axing of Confidential is probably best read in terms of the fact that, less than two years later, the BBC announced the axing of BBC Three as a whole. Given this, Occam’s Razor does rather suggest that the easiest explanation for Confidential’s demise is simply the collapse of the media ecosystem in which it existed.
A second aspect of this comes up in the overall shape of the BBC. On the one hand, Doctor Who is borderline essential to the BBC because it is one of a handful of programs that brings in far more money than it costs. On the other hand, there’s a public perception that comes up periodically that accuses the BBC of favoring “trash” like Doctor Who instead of worthy and important dramas. This is, of course, a complete load of horseshit, but the BBC being the BBC means that it’s quick to cover its ass regardless of whether there’s an actual problem. So when there’s a round of budget cuts, Doctor Who has to get hit somewhere, because otherwise the BBC is showing favoritism and spending money on Doctor Who that could be spent on some four episode costume drama about the Earl of Balfour or something. So Doctor Who Confidential had to go for the same reason that Day of the Doctor had to be funded by removing an episode from Season Eight and Season Nine: to make sure Doctor Who was publicly seen to be sacrificed for other priorities.
But unfortunately, this coincided with a period of behind the scenes turmoil that, in hindsight, was only to be expected when the television power couple of Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner broke up, which fed into the paranoid fandom view of Doctor Who being on the brink of disaster perpetually. The first major incident in this was the report in Private Eye in the immediate aftermath of A Good Man Goes to War that suggested that 2012 was going to be another year of specials in the vein of 2009, and suggesting behind the scenes drama involving co-executive producers Piers Wenger and Beth Willis.
As with most things in Private Eye, there’s a clear connection to the truth here. Indeed, there was a gap around Season Seven that had the practical effect of there not being as many new episodes of Doctor Who in either 2012 or 2013 as there had been in 2010 or 2011, a fact we’ll discuss in a moment. And both Wenger and Willis departed the show after Season Six. One can infer some deeper BBC politics involved – it’s notable that Wenger was put in as a more or less explicit replacement for Julie Gardner, performing the same double duty of executive producing shows and working as Head of Drama for BBC Wales. When Wenger moved on from the BBC, his replacement as Head of Drama at BBC Wales, Faith Penhale, did not perform this outsized role except for the special circumstances of Day of the Doctor, another issue we’ll discuss shortly. So there were clearly larger political forces in play involving drama production at BBC Wales. Regardless, it’s worth noting that Moffat publicly stood by his co-executive producers, blasting the Private Eye article and making clear that he had enjoyed working with them. And it is true that production got stressfully tight at the end of Season Six, hence some of the wobbliness in both Let’s Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song.
More bluntly, it’s worth looking at the particulars of Private Eye and these leaks. The BBC is, after all, a large organization. Large enough that it’s impossible that there are not embittered employees with axes to grind who would be more than happy to gab on background to a magazine like Private Eye with the knowledge that it will cause headaches for whoever they’re pissed at. Put another way, if you make the assumption that there’s backbiting and drama going on behind the scenes at the BBC, you’re correct, and have been since 1922. But Doctor Who is a supremely easy target for that sort of drama precisely because it’s a tremendously popular and will thus get column inches, and, perhaps more importantly, because it has a bunch of paranoid lunatics as fans.
Because the truth is that the ugly morass of Doctor Who fandom skewered so perfectly in Love and Monsters is and always has still been around. There are gobs of people who once had a much bigger role in Doctor Who than they do now that people give a shit about the show, but who still have a few insider sources and are perfectly willing to mouth off in semi-private and spread rumors with little consideration for where they’re coming from. To give real and concrete examples of where gossip in Doctor Who comes from, it turned out recently that one of the major sources of rumors about the theorized massive haul of missing episodes that The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear may or may not be the beginning of was Adrian Rigelsford, the scam artist best known in Doctor Who for somehow convincing people that his pitched 30th Anniversary story The Dark Dimension was ever plausibly going to get made, and best known everywhere else for fabricating an interview with Stanley Kubrick and going to jail for stealing photos from the Daily Mail. And back in 2011, it turned out that one of the people spreading an anonymous letter from someone working on Doctor Who about how horribly it was all going behind the scenes was Ian Levine. Given this, it’s hardly a surprise that people put two and two together and got 1985.
If nothing else, though, we now have enough years of hindsight to recognize that the world was not actually ending in 2011, and that while there clearly was behind the scenes drama at the BBC, it wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary. Except for the matter of the delayed production. It is here I must become relatively emphatic, because this has been a fairly reliably source of criticism of the series, and it is, quite frankly, appalling. First of all, let’s consider the basic production schedule as it existed for the first four seasons of Doctor Who, and as it was recreated for the first two Moffat seasons. Fourteen episodes a year is a lot for an hour-long British drama. It’s especially a lot for one with as many special effects requirements as Doctor Who. One need only look at The Writer’s Tale to see just how brutal a schedule it was, and to realize that it was only possible because Russell T Davies is not actually a human being but a nicotine golem with a propensity for writing. And it nearly killed him. That Moffat could not keep the schedule of writing six Doctor Whos a year, producing another eight, and then running an entire second show with a ninety minute script for him to write and that seems to have demanded more of his focus than either Torchwood or Sarah Jane Adventures ever did of Davies is, quite simply, not unreasonable, and anyone who considers it grounds to criticize Moffat for not working hard enough should shut the fuck up unless they have experience doing multiple pieces of creative work to multiple immensely pressing deadlines, and even if they do, they should probably recognize that there are some unique and added complexities when that creative work involves a massive production team and dealing with the aforementioned BBC politics. Even if Moffat were capable of the brutal work schedule that Davies kept up for four years, demanding that the price of executive producing Doctor Who is that you don’t get to see your kids ever is the sort of thing that explains why Doctor Who fandom is full of backbiting gossips for whom nothing is more important than their egomania.
(And if you’re about to make some sort of point about how he should have dropped Sherlock if the workload was too high, please just stop. Or go to GallifreyBase. You’ll fit right in.)
Which is to say, yes, of course the BBC, when faced with the in-no-way-a-problem of having two massive hit shows that share an executive producer, were happy to figure out how to schedule said shows such that their golden goose didn’t drop dead of a heart attack or, worse, move to ITV.
Equally, it does appear to be the case that production on Season Seven was… fraught. The main piece of gossip was once again revealed by Private Eye in the lead-up to the 50th, when the new co-executive producer, Caroline Skinner, abruptly resigned following reports of a screaming match that included Steven Moffat shouting that “you are erased from Doctor Who.” This may well be true, although one suspects that the choice of quotes is based more on the slight ridiculousness of the line than on its nuanced and careful representation of the conflict. One ought not judge a shouting match from one out of context quote in Private Eye. Equally, however, there is not what you would call the sense that Moffat and Skinner ever got along particularly well. The degree to which this is a particularly significant thing is roughly nil – people don’t get along all the time, and about the worst you can say that any friction between Moffat and Skinner caused was a slightly sub-par season of Doctor Who. It’s not particularly interesting unless you’re fascinated with the minutiae of Doctor Who production, which, admittedly, we basically all are here.
For what it’s worth, things appear much happier behind the scenes right now. But, of course, that’s all stuff we’re not covering on TARDIS Eruditorum. So for now it’s worth simply noting that the next stretch of Doctor Who was not made under particularly happy circumstances, with rumors dogging the program, stress levels at a high, and a somewhat unpleasant behind the scenes environment. None of this is new for the series, and it’s not even as though harmonious behind the scenes environments are necessary for the series to be good and classic. Just ask the Hartnell era, which was made under phenomenally grueling conditions. All the same, the public narrative of Doctor Who’s production is part of what Doctor Who is, and that this was a cloud that hung over all of the remaining seventeen episodes of the Matt Smith era – one whose most visible and easily identifiable feature was the sense of lost status that came in Doctor Who Confidential being viewed as no longer worth producing.
August 25, 2014 @ 12:34 am
August 25, 2014 @ 12:53 am
Look, it's obvious to everyone that the only sane thing to do is bring back RTD/lynch Moffat/return to the serial format/bring back McGann/hire Ian Levine/make Gatiss showrunner/sacrifice children, then our Doctor Who would be as good as we remember it, rather than as good as it actually is or ever was.
The memory cheats.
August 25, 2014 @ 1:53 am
The BBC's defensiveness dates back somewhat earlier, to the Hutton Report of 2004.
It's all a bit complicated, but basically the BBC had broadcast allegations that the government had distorted and exaggerated intelligence reports in the run-up to the Iraq war, in order to suggest that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction ready to be launched at 45 minutes' notice. The government fought back on this hard, first of all discovering and making public the BBC's source for this story (weapons inspector David Kelly), then after Kelly was found dead in the woods near his home, appointing Lord Hutton to chair an inquiry into the whole debacle.
The inquiry report exonerated the government and dumped a huge pile of shit onto the BBC, The government then used this report to beat the BBC into submission. The journalist who ran the original story was sacked, the BBC's chairman and director general both resigned, and the BBC has treated the government like a beaten dog treats its master ever since.
Central to this whole story is the government's chief spin doctor at the time, Alistair Campbell, on whom Peter Capaldi's character in The Thick of It is largely based. Indeed, the spin-off movie In The Loop contains a somewhat fictionalised account of the sexing-up of the government's intelligence dossier.
August 25, 2014 @ 2:00 am
A decade later it is more or less accepted by the public that the government of the time (now personified by the demonised Tony Blair) did actually "sex up" the 45 minutes WMD threat. Sadly there hasn't been a corresponding exoneration of the BBC, who are still forced to crawl at their master's heel despite essentially being correct in their allegations. And the public doesn't care, with a dangerous few choosing to believe that scrapping the licence fee and handing the BBC to Murdoch would be a good idea.
August 25, 2014 @ 2:06 am
Oh, absolutely. You'd have thought the BBC would have managed to grow a pair by now, but it's still commonplace to refer to the "post-Hutton" BBC as a shorthand for this subservient position they seem to have locked themselves into.
August 25, 2014 @ 2:17 am
Doctor Who is an hour-long? I wish it were, I wish it were.
Confidential was a great program when it covered aspects of production younger viewers may have been both unaware of and inspired by (sound design, for instance, still essentially done by two people in a small studio hitting and scrunching a variety of household objects) – top marks for educational value. Pity it more frequently became a general behind-the-scenes of the episode you just watched, padded out with clips from the episode you just watched. It's great on DVD, but watching it immediately after the original episode aired made a lot of it seem a rather redundant re-tread of the main show.
August 25, 2014 @ 2:28 am
I have to question the comment about the Series 5 "ratings sag". This now appears to be part of fandom lore, but it deserves to be looked at in context.
On the face of it, Series 5 does seem to start promisingly with final viewing figures just above 8 million, but then appears to drop below that at "Vampires of Venice" and never recover. So far so good – Series 5 went downhill, right?
Well, not really. The default final viewing figures for a series of New Doctor Who appears to be around the 6-8 million mark. You can see this in the second half of Series 5, and compare it more or less to Series 7. In fact Series 3…and Series 2…and Series 1. This is kind of how Doctor Who viewers work. They tune in for the beginning of the series, then around 1 million of them fade away about halfway through (the exceptions being Series 4, when Tennant was at his peak, and the Specials year).
Series 5 had a higher initial number of viewers, most probably intrigued by Smith's new Doctor, but again by about halfway this had dropped back to the standard 6-8 million of core viewers.
Series 5's drop looks like a bigger sag, not because less people than before were watching by the end…but because more people than before were watching at the start. I would go so far as to say that there are 6 million viewers in the UK who have always watched Doctor Who since 2005, and will continue to do so. There are between another 1 and 2 million who drop in and out whenever things look interesting, and above that maybe another million rare viewers who only switch on for special occasions like 50th anniversaries, new Doctors and Christmas. A New Doctor series almost always starts at 10 million, while an ordinary series seems to start around the 8- 9 million mark. This is why Series 1 and 5 look like they've shed viewers, but Series 2, 3, 6 and 7 tend to end about where they start.
This is of course only an opinion, but I feel it is a far more positive view of Series 5, and God knows we need some more positivity in fandom.
August 25, 2014 @ 2:36 am
One of the BBC's problems is that it has to be impartial and show all sides of an argument. That's essentially part of it's charter. But in times of War it can run up against a goverment that wants it to become part of the propaganda machine, leaving it in a no-win situation. If it supresses the bad truths (civilian deaths, accusations against British troops for example) it is seen as sacrificing it's impartiality and becoming a governmental puppet. If it reports them, it is seen as being unpatriotic. Both of these types of accusation are fueled by the media and taken on board by the public. In times of Conservative rule they are also tacitly encouraged by the governement.
Another problem is of course that it gives artistic and creative leeway to its program-makers and stars, without pressure from commercial advertisers. This is one of the reasons why BBC programming is some of the best in the UK, if not the world. Unfortunately this can produce things like the Russel Brand/Jonathan Ross "Sachsgate" disaster, which just adds more fuel to the "post-Hutton" media bonfire.
August 25, 2014 @ 3:23 am
Well, that explains why he left Tintin; just imagine what's described and then add "writing 3 major motion pictures" to the mix.
August 25, 2014 @ 3:25 am
"I mean, a few people did, but it was only ever available in the UK…
Feel obliged to mention here that Doctor Who Confidential Cut-Down, while not precisely the same thing, did air on Australia's ABC directly after the premiere of each new episode through-out Series 6.
I think it was mainly used to fill out the hour, but it did keep a non-trivial hold on the audience, with the first source I've found putting its ratings at 77% of the Doctor Who audience. Then again, that audience might just have been searching for the remote.
(And, admittedly, I never watched it myself. The last thing I want in the heady afterglow of a new Doctor Who is a pop music montage of things I just saw a moment ago. How those persistently survived the cut-down is beyond me.)
August 25, 2014 @ 6:19 am
This also occurred at exactly the moment iPlayer viewership started to make an impact on viewing habits. People were starting to watch the show differently, which the BBC is happy with – they aren't dependent on advertising, so any view on a BBC platform is a worthwhile view. The papers, however, ignored these when they were targeting the show and panicking the paranoid. With your point, real viewership might even have been up.
August 25, 2014 @ 7:14 am
BBC3 wasn't aimed at children or teenagers. 'Younger viewers' meant students and university leavers. (Wikipedia says 16-34.) Yes, the BBC must be the only major media organisation that considers that age range a niche audience.
The kind of BBC3 programs that had any kind of critical reception are Gavin and Stacey, and Being Human – not child friendly. Otherwise, it had a bit of a reputation for cheap comedy drama and reality tv in the 'twenty-somethings get drunk and do ill-advised things on camera' genre.
August 25, 2014 @ 8:08 am
Yeah…our host often seems to show an indulgent soft/blind spot towards New Labour, which I find kind of odd given the general tenor of his politics. References to Tony Blair come up now and again, and they always seem to be couched in a kind of ironical bemusement at the peculiar British eccenticity of vituperating him.
August 25, 2014 @ 8:47 am
I admit to bemusement at just how much the British left reviles a politician who is, in many ways, the default setting for left-leaning politicians in the US.
It's also worth pointing out that the Blair era mostly coincided with the wilderness years, in a way that didn't give me a ton of opportunities to get my teeth into the spirit of the times.
But in this case I really am just drawing on a fairly low level aspect of the Blair era, which was its basic rhetoric of optimism and pride in national institutions, which was a basic part of Blair's smiling appeal – a sort of "let's go back to when we were all having fun, shall we?" that served, naturally, as a cultural reset to the pre-Thatcher years. I'm thinking post-"Perfect Day" BBC, basically. (And note that the song the BBC picked there is, indeed, from the 70s.)
Similarly, Hutton is certainly a transition (and it's worth noting that Doctor Who's revival originates pre-Hutton), but I think there's pretty clearly a second wave of things going wrong that starts with the license fee freeze.
August 25, 2014 @ 9:25 am
"Dog Borstall" was a particular low. One step away from Monkey Tennis.
August 25, 2014 @ 9:25 am
"Perfect Day" was presumably picked because of its then recent, heavily ironic use in Trainspotting. I don't think if the message you were trying to convey was "let's go back to when we were all having fun", you'd pick a Lou Reed album track, anyway. British 90s revivalism was much more focused on the sixties, half of Britpop acts being wannabe Mods…
August 25, 2014 @ 11:35 am
The 60s work as well as the 70s for "before Thatcher." Indeed, I'd suggest that the two decades are roughly what New Labour traded on. I'd also point out that while Trainspotting is certainly relevant, I doubt the BBC was going purely for "let's make a feel-good single about how nice the BBC is and also about heroin."
August 25, 2014 @ 11:37 am
I was puzzled when I first read this comment, as my basic reaction was "well yes, I know that," but rereading the post I see how saying "younger viewers" right before disclaiming that Confidential is not quite a children's program gives the wrong impression. Mea culpa. (I do think Confidential probably skewed a bit younger than Three meant for – roughly a 12-16 thing.)
August 25, 2014 @ 5:00 pm
Karen Gillian driving a car
Ahem. Karen Gillan.
August 25, 2014 @ 5:18 pm
Pip and Jane Baker need to be made showrunners. Then everything will be right again.
August 25, 2014 @ 5:57 pm
To be fair, Spielberg and Jackson gladly freed him from the Tintin obligation, because they knew the importance of Doctor Who (they're both huge fans).
August 25, 2014 @ 5:59 pm
And, it should be noted, it was widely known in fan circles that she did not know how to drive; the episode, then, was the BBC funding her driving education. So to speak.
August 25, 2014 @ 6:44 pm
There's nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious showrunning.
August 25, 2014 @ 9:38 pm
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August 25, 2014 @ 11:49 pm
Well, no, because they weren't making "a feel-good single" at all. The promo was designed only to show the diversity of the BBC's music broadcasting; that it went an early form of viral was accidental. There was a good one for comedy and drama too, where Julie Walters in character as a critical viewer wandered around just about every major show the BBC made at the time.
And the 60s and 70s aren't remotely interchangeable in the UK – indeed, the early 70s and late 70s aren't even that interchangeable. If someone wants to suggest things were better before Thatch they generally also want to steer clear of either the Winter of Discontent or the three-day week…
August 26, 2014 @ 1:46 am
Thanks for an insightful heads-up into this period of the Moffat reign. I do think Confidential killed itself as well – the low point was that episode where Matt, Karen and Arthur had a Jim'll Fix It type day out.
August 26, 2014 @ 2:23 am
Am I the only one who liked that episode? I mean, it was just so different from the rest, which was pretty repetitive at that point. It never went quite deep enough and just sort of bobbed along the surface explaining how everything is wonderful. The low point for me was the craft services episode – interviewing the guy that runs the tea stall on set.
August 26, 2014 @ 2:38 am
Oh I did love it pretty much until the episode above. I enjoyed having that view behind the scenes, but I suppose there is only so much you can say from that point of view.
August 26, 2014 @ 2:55 am
Matt, Karen and Arthur had a Jim'll Fix It type day out.
Followed, one presumes, by having their portraits painted by Rolf Harris.
Ah, how thoroughly our childhoods have been corrupted.
Seriously there seems to still be a strange dichotomy between the way Doctor Who is perceived by the BBC and the way it is received by its fans. The Beeb views itself very much as the proud parent channel. Its celebratory side offerings (Confidential, Extra, the 'announcing the new Doctor' travesty) seem to be patronisingly saying "Look at how well our wayward offspring has done! That awkward teenager that wore strange clothes, hung around with dubious friends, moping about insulting everyone has grown up into a fine upstanding graduate who is travelling the world earning a good living. Those odd obsessions turned out to be lucrative innovations."
One of the, for me, key moments of watching Deep Breath in the cinema was the small fidgety Amelia Pond look alike sitting next to me who had to be removed from the building by her bucket of popcorn munching dad for being..well a bit bored I s'pose. This episode definitely veered away from child friendly. The specials which followed the screening though – and the Moffat, Capaldi, Coleman Q&A again had the tired forced hysteria and jolly older brother voice over that smacks of Blue Peter and CBBC. (The Q&A at least had two funny, self mocking ad-libs from interviewer Zoe Ball "We've just got time to go over live to One Direction!" And, directed at Capaldi "Please don't be rubbish" that nearly gave Moffat a heart attack). I'm not asking the BBC to deny its younger audience just to be a little less patronising when celebrating its most succesful export.
August 26, 2014 @ 3:44 am
That episode was attached to "The Girl Who Waited", incredibly. Aging make-up design? Modern split-screening? Insights into the emotional themes, or the concept of the split-timestream facility? No, bit of swimming and driving. Galling waste of opportunity.
August 26, 2014 @ 4:50 am
Yeah Anton, there is quite a taint covering much of my childhood entertainment. I'll be honest as a wee kid under ten I had no idea about the dodginess of Saville.
I do find Zoe Ball a bit cringeworthy, but I really loved in the live Q&A seeing Capaldi and Moffat simply and easily come across as a lot more erudite in response to her questions (putting aside those of fans).
And Ferret – yes! There were so many techniques that could have ben explored that would have been utterly fascinating to me – not only for that infamous episode, but many of the others. Wasted opportunities.
August 26, 2014 @ 5:29 am
Anton, it's really interesting hearing about how it is covered in the U.K., because it's drastically different in the U.S. The U.S. tone is very much that of the excited teen / adult fan: "Look at this awesome thing that only we used to love and now a lot more people love it and isn't that wonderful!" We didn't get the big folks at our BBC America after-thing – we got Wil Wheaton and Chris Hardwick, nerds extraordinare, as the hosts, and Mark Gatiss as the show representative. (Also the guy who plays Strax, but he's not recognizable without the makeup.) Certainly no one that anyone under the age of 12 would know or care about.
However, I suspect that as the U.S. fans have kids and start sharing Doctor Who with them that the U.S. coverage and Who culture is going to shift more towards the U.K. one. My kid is too little still, but in a couple of years, we're definitely going to be sitting down together to watch it as a family.
August 26, 2014 @ 6:11 am
Yeah, the 70s are very much not a source of great nostalgia in the UK, except for fans of The Sweeney.
The 90s "Cool Britannia" vibe that New Labour piggy-backed onto was very much a recapitulation of the Swinging Sixties. The cultural referents were all Summer of Love, Beatles vs Stones, England winning the World Cup – a feeling of youthful exuberance and optimism, shorn of all political or artistic context, of course (it could hardly appeal to New Labour otherwise). The modern incarnations were Blur vs Oasis, Geri Halliwell in a Union Jack dress, Damien Hirst pickling half a cow – all much less appealing now than they seemed at the time, but then the same is true of New Labour.
As for Blair and New Labour, they were given successive three-figure majorities and carte blanche to reform Britain after the Thatcher revolution and the Major doldrums. They chose to cling to Thatcherite economics, glory on reckless and bloody warmongering, turn the immigration service into a dystopian black hole to appease racists, relentlessly bully their enemies even if that meant hounding them to their death, and conspire in the debasement of British culture by eagerly sucking on Murdoch's wrinkled cock.
Revulsion seems a mild response.
August 26, 2014 @ 7:15 am
@ferret "That episode was attached to 'The Girl Who Waited', incredibly…."
But that is actually the reason for its odd structure – The Girl Who Waited was double-banked against Closing Time. And I can't blame the producers for deciding that Smith-Corden antics and Cybermen blowing up was a surer bet than a talky episode with no guest cast.
August 26, 2014 @ 7:57 am
Daru: I actually quite like Zoe Ball (she lives in Brighton I can't diss a neighbour) and the Q&A was pretty good. Her cheeky but knowledgable presentation style was right for the occasion.
Storiteller: I usually prefer reading, listening and watching U.S. coverage of Doctor Who via blogs, podcasts and reviews to the British style which, when it's aimed at a general audience veers toward the kind of 'Zap Pow! Comics aren't just for kids' attitude that still secretly hankers for Tom Baker's scarf and Pertwee and his Whomobile.
August 26, 2014 @ 11:09 am
Who doesn't long for the Whomobile? What happened to it, by the way? Does it belong to the Pertwee family still?
August 26, 2014 @ 11:32 am
John: Erm…not me and no idea respectively.
August 26, 2014 @ 11:36 am
"…there’s a public perception that comes up periodically that accuses the BBC of favoring “trash” like Doctor Who instead of worthy and important dramas. This is, of course, a complete load of horseshit".
You need a recommend button on this site!
August 26, 2014 @ 12:00 pm
I've always seen BBC3 as being BBC2 circa late 80's 6pm-8pm – the No Limits, Rough Guide, SNUBTV, Next Generation, Video Diaries time-slot spread out over a whole channel. With also an initial attempt to use it as a testing ground for R4 sit-coms (didn't Little Britain also start on 3?)
BBC4 is the rest of what BBC2 used to be and a place to put "remit" TV – showing every single Prom etc.
Now interactive has been cut bar sports events, BBC3 is the first in the firing line when any cuts are brought up. In its defence it does put out a good documentary every couple of months.
IMO Lady Shapes would be more BBC3, Monkey Tennis is determinately Sat night BBC1 in the Tumble, Don't Scare the Hare slot.
August 26, 2014 @ 12:29 pm
Social comparison of Decades between the US and UK fascinates me. The US appeared to have a different 60s and 70s to Britain, possibly through the US having the Vietnam War spanning both. The US kind of used the 70s to come to terms with what was left of the 60s. Whereas the UK (as it so often does) simply got bored with the decade, scrapped it and came up with something totally new. A particularly good example of this is to compare the series "Life on Mars" with its US remake. Both set in the same year, they look like they're both set on different planets. It's hard to believe that at the same time as The Sweeney were kicking shit out of bad guys in "Likely Lads" era London, Starsky and Hutch were chasing pimps and loud-check-jacket crime-lords through a San Francisco almost identical to that portrayed in 1967's "Ironside".
August 26, 2014 @ 12:35 pm
@John. Your question answered.
August 26, 2014 @ 12:41 pm
Actually I thought that site had more information about the current whereabouts. There was some discussion on a forum in February this year, where it was revealed that a private collector now owned it. The collector then asked that information relating to his ownership be removed from the thread. So there you go. Basically it's in private hands, and they're apparently doing it up.
August 26, 2014 @ 12:45 pm
"the 70s are very much not a source of great nostalgia in the UK"
The original wave of Brit-pop was all about the 1970's more than the 60's (Suede, Denim etc) Edwyn Collins & Mark E Smith did a parody song about it – Seventies Night.
Thumbs up for yer Blair rant though! Remember this one:
"A day like today is not a day for soundbites, really. But I feel the hand of history upon our shoulders. I really do."
August 26, 2014 @ 1:19 pm
The music cliché is that the US got political in the late 60's and the UK sang songs about cup-cakes. I wasn't around but I'd guess a touch more grey area existed (and a lot more novelty songs in the UK – that is the one certainty in any era).
The 70's, I found horrific in the UK, “what team do you support?”, “what band do you like?” Tribalism was back as a throwback to the 50's – was this the first decade of nostalgia? Seemed to be going on in the US as well though I'm judging that by the Wanderers, Warriors, American Graffiti, Grease etc.
The early-70's in the UK had the money coming into the hands of the people. Those people we cal parents or grand-parents, who own property, tend to be from this era.
Good doc recently on BBC4 about this (very interesting theory about DIY becoming popular and causing football violence as all the Dad's stopped going to football and clipping the kids around the ear.)
Guess the big difference between the UK and US is who joins the war. The only time we see a break in the "special relationship" (I'm guessing only the UK hear that phrase). Suez, Vietnam, Falklands, Syria.
August 26, 2014 @ 2:48 pm
"I admit to bemusement at just how much the British left reviles a politician who is, in many ways, the default setting for left-leaning politicians in the US."
The time-frame has long since gone for a review but give A Very British Coup a watch. It was almost unbelivable, especially after "The Last Person please turn off the Lights" Sun cover, that anyone not in blue could ever run the country.
August 26, 2014 @ 2:55 pm
Sorry you have – please ignore typical English idiot.
August 26, 2014 @ 9:50 pm
The default setting for a US left-leaning politician is operating in a political culture in which minor tinkering with the most dysfunctional health care system in the developed world counts as a historic achievement. What is fearless determination in a US left-leaning politician would be paralytic timidity in the UK.
(I say this as someone who doesn't entirely share in the revilement of Blair.)
August 26, 2014 @ 11:37 pm
Yeah ridiculous beyond measure. Waste of money, but obviously not from Karen's point of view!
August 26, 2014 @ 11:41 pm
Anton: Yes I don't really mind Zoe Ball, I was just letting my bias against a particular kind of over-chirpy presenter come through. She does do her job well and I can see she loves the show. I am Scottish after all and do need something to complain about!
August 27, 2014 @ 12:52 am
Thank you. That "default setting for left-leaning US politicians" says a lot, though. A significant chunk of what Blair is detested for relates to his realignment of British politics to produce a much closer resemblance to those of the US, about which there used to be a joke that where other countries have a right and a left, America just has a right and a further right. New Labour was significant not just for what it actually did in power but for moving the centre ground, redefining the limits of the possible in British politics in ways that were pretty much exclusively negative. In that, and in other respects – arguably including expanding the scope for governments to browbeat the BBC.
Personally, I feel that New Labour, and Blair personally, don't get nearly as much stick as they deserve for their poisoning of the body politic. The vilification they do get is most limited to foreign policy and their behaviour within the left-right spectrum of domestic politics, when to me their most profound and certainly enduring effect on the UK was a dizzying shift in both the legal and institutional realities and the habits of thought and behaviour determining the relationship between state and people in an authoritarian direction, demolishing civilised principles, conventions, habits and assumptions and leaving all subsequent governments to operate on a register which is unrecognisable from the world before 1997. Or more specifically, the world before 2001, when the World Trade Centre attacks provided the prompt for Blair to extend the authoritarian instincts, contempt for history and revolution-from-above approach that he had already displayed in transforming the Labour Party to the government of the country. While retreating on the capacity of the state to do good, they worked tirelessly to expand its capacity to do evil.
In that respect, popular denunciations of New Labour as "no better than the Tories" fall a very long way short of the mark. But even in Britain, most people were either supportive or indifferent to all that, creating a nightmarish "has the rest of the world gone mad or is it me?" for the minority who recognised the profundity of it, and internationally I'm not sure it's recognised much at all, so it doesn't play a big part in generating popular hostility.
The bid to bring the BBC to heel was part of that wider shift from the first, comparatively benign phase of New Labour rule to the second, when autocratic impatience with the inconvenience of things that inhibited them from doing just as they pleased produced action that extended beyond the party and the corridors of Whitehall into the country at large.
Having said all that, there is an irrational streak to the personal vilification of Blair by Labour Party supporters, at least in the sphere of domestic policy. Because, of course, while a minority never had any truck with New Labour, whatever their misgivings they mostly went along with The Project and agreed to sell their party's soul for power. So the more personal they make it, the less they have to hate themselves.
I also tend to suspect that the same thing lies behind the intense and gleeful post-2010 vilification of the Lib Dems by Labour people – the charges thrown at them sound just too ironic coming from those who backed Tony's party. "Maybe we chose to be Tories by another name, but at least we never stood near a blue rosette!" Misery loves company, and nothing delights those who know themselves to be corrupted like seeing others brought down to their level. And the pleasure is all the sweeter when the same people had previously taken the moral high ground with them and pointed out their faults, who thought that they were better than that. It is, you might say, what makes the Devil do what he does.
August 27, 2014 @ 2:49 am
An important distinction here is that a US President has much less power over domestic policy than a UK Prime Minister. A President's policies have to pass through a Congress and Senate that may very well have majorities for the opposition, and the institution of the filibuster creates further difficulties.
By contrast, a Prime Minister with a solid majority in the Commons can do pretty much what he or she likes. Thatcher understood this very well.
There's certainly an element of "A big boy done it and ran away" in the attitudes of many Labour supporters to the 1997-2010 Labour governments. There is also the peculiar form of Labour tribalism which is well summarised here: http://miss-s-b.dreamwidth.org/1536918.html
And also, coming back to what I said to David, parliamentary majorities matter, as do external circumstances. At the moment, neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats are doing what they would like to be doing, because neither has a majority. So the Conservatives aren't removing workers rights or slashing taxes for the rich, while the Liberal Democrats aren't taxing mansions or liberalising immigration. Also, the coalition is collectively constrained by a rather awful economic situation that would limit any government's room for manoeuvre. Both parties can legitimately say to their discontented supporters "We'd love to, but we can't".
New Labour came to power in benign economic circumstances and with a three-figure majority. That's when you find out what a party is really all about.
August 27, 2014 @ 2:51 am
"IMO Lady Shapes would be more BBC3, Monkey Tennis is determinately Sat night BBC1 in the Tumble, Don't Scare the Hare slot"
😀 A fair point! Now hold on, I think Arm-wrestling with Chas and Dave is about to start on Channel 5…
August 27, 2014 @ 4:15 am
Couldn't agree more. Actually, I nearly said the same thing myself, but in the end I left it out, which may have given a rather distorted impression in the last paragraph there. In suggesting that equivalence I was speaking more about Lib Dem involvement in the coalition as perceived by a hostile audience (which would include most people, these days, but Labour people especially) than the more complex reality.
August 29, 2014 @ 11:46 am
BerserkRL: be careful what you suggest. I've heard people semi-seriously moot Chris Chibnall as the next showrunner…
August 30, 2014 @ 1:23 am
"Day of the Doctor had to be funded by removing an episode from Season Eight and Season Nine" does anyone have a citation for this? I'm super curious — I always thought the S7 two-year split/docked episode from S8 were enough to fund the DotD, but maybe that's totally wrong.
August 30, 2014 @ 7:13 am
This doesn't sound right to me, either. I recall dimly that when series 7 was announced the anniversary special was part of the commission.
August 31, 2014 @ 12:30 pm
I think you got the wrong end of the stick with the private eye rumours which were written in the particular code that Private Eye uses to get around the libel laws…