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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

50 Comments

  1. David Anderson
    May 30, 2012 @ 2:21 am

    As another example of direction in the new series, I think Hettie MacDonald's direction doesn't get nearly enough credit for the success of Blink. The script is arguably Moffat's least strong in the Davies-era.

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  2. jane
    May 30, 2012 @ 4:05 am

    I'd love to read more about the art of direction, and how it contributes if not establishes the language of motion pictures. Loved that bit from Planet of the Daleks where Jo "takes over" the discourse of the narrative. Can we get more video reviews, Phil?

    Reply

  3. Adam Riggio
    May 30, 2012 @ 4:59 am

    Regarding Edge of Darkness, it's an interesting point to consider how disconnected from environmental issues Doctor Who was in the Saward era too. The Colin Baker era especially focused on generic adventure stories: the Doctor arrives in a world threatened by monsters and villains, and fights them. Environmental problems and conflicts are so much more complex that the storytelling frameworks of the Colin Baker era can handle.

    It's another aspect of how the show had grown out of step with its time. Environmental issues were entering the popular parlance, and our cultures were working through them, sometimes with great difficulty as the movement unsettled a lot of widespread presumptions about humanity and nature more broadly. Edge of Darkness, especially in its last two episodes, explored these ideas in a very complex and deep way. Doctor Who of 1985 went near none of this. It's as if the production staff was incapable of believing that the show could handle actual serious issues.

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  4. Tom Watts
    May 30, 2012 @ 5:58 am

    Well, Peri does mention hedgerows in Mark of the Rani, and the vegetarian theme of the Two Doctors plugs into the upsurge in animal rights awareness.

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  5. Iain Coleman
    May 30, 2012 @ 6:07 am

    Even more glaringly than the environmental issues, there is the whole context of the Cold War. It's a major theme of Edge of Darkness, of course, and Threads was broadcast in 1984. Slightly earlier, the rather lighter, child-oriented but still effective movie WarGames came out in 1983, and in 1986 there was the oh-so-cheery When the Wind Blows.

    The threat that we might suddenly destroy our entire civilisation in a fit of violent folly was palpable during the time when Saward was on Doctor Who, and yet the show never really engaged with this during his time. Sure, there was a cheesy future cold war in Warriors of the Deep, but that was never much more than an excuse to have a military base for the Silurians to besiege. The Mysterious Planet had all the elements with which to tap into these ideas, but did noting with them. Only Frontios really resonates with fears of a post-apocalyptic future, but is more engaged with psychology than with cold war issues.

    It's not as if Doctor Who couldn't address these ideas. The Curse of Fenric manages it, but comes a bit late: the Berlin Wall fell between episodes 3 and 4. There are also plenty of cold war themes in the Williams era – The Armageddon Factor and Destiny of the Daleks spring to mind – as well as earlier in the show.

    But for some reason this theme, hugely prominent at the time and ideal for treatment by a science fiction show, was practically overlooked by Saward. Is it because it would risk showing up his beloved space mercenaries as futile?

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  6. Tom Watts
    May 30, 2012 @ 6:20 am

    I feel that Phil is being led along by his politics here. Season 22, for good or ill, was like nothing else on TV, and like nothing in the surrounding culture, and that's not an unreasonable place for Doctor Who to occupy. The Singing Detective was highly prestigious event TV, but any account of 80s Dennis Potter has also to take into account what gradually came to be seen as serious failings: his preference for rather stolidly televisual directorial styles, and his growing authorial self-consciousness, which resulted in the underwhelming thematic recycling of Lipstick on Your Collar, the dull grotesquerie of Blackeyes, and a general resistance to script editing. The Singing Detective has just been repeated on BBC4, to not much public interest. I get the impression that Dennis Potter nowadays attracts the kind of dutiful praise otherwise reserved for worthy but unimaginative plodders like Ken Loach. I don't see how visually, how in the way the camera moves, how in the way the shots are composed, etc., Doctor Who is far below the serials you refer to. All of them are nothing like the movies. The Singing Detective was its own sort of dead end, with little to teach Who. And if JNT wanted to make souffles and every one of them sank….? Well, in the political context of the time, it's just as worthy an ambition as singing on Top of the Pops about being a Red Indian or a mediaeval knight. Certainly I think it's more interesting than mid 80s dourness, cynicism and paranoia.

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  7. Tom Watts
    May 30, 2012 @ 6:29 am

    I don't think the show in the 80s could have added anything to what it has done before on the futile war theme. Doctor Who did the Nazis in Genesis, for example. There'll never be any need for them to do that again. And besides, perhaps the 80s are characterised not so much by cold war dread as by the spirit of resistance, of upsurge. Threads (which I watched a couple of weeks ago, by chance) hit a political sweet spot, and gave people a morbid thrill, but its immense dramatic energy emerged from the CND campaign and the greater awareness of what was going on in Russia (of Russians as people, with problems, like the rest of us). That's not to do with fear (although it may pretend to be) but with a spirit of community, and optimism, and the feeling that we're freer than we were to speak about our own dreams and nightmares,

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  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 30, 2012 @ 6:44 am

    Certainly The Singing Detective marked Potter's critical peak, but I think you're underselling the quality of its direction. Nor am I sure the amount of public interest a thirty year old serial that's widely available on DVD being rerun on BBC4 was ever going to be that high. I think it would be difficult to treat The Singing Detective as a model for Doctor Who directly, but I don't think that means it has little to teach Doctor Who. In terms of character-based storytelling, how to use genre conventions for more than straightforward genre-based thrills, and about non-linear storytelling I think it has quite a lot to teach.

    Similarly, while Doctor Who will, in the Cartmel era, prove to be quite good at paranoid anti-Thatcher screeds, I don't think those are the only way to be political, nor were they the only way to be political in the 1980s. To point at something that gets adopted as a model for Doctor Who ere long, Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing is intensely political in this period without being dour, cynical, or paranoid. Even something like V for Vendetta doesn't strike me as paranoid as such.

    But more broadly, I don't think Doctor Who has ever worked by being like nothing else in the culture. I think it works by being visibly different from everything else in the culture, but still clearly in contact and context with it. Yes, I think Doctor Who in the 1980s should (and eventually will) offer an alternative to the cynical paranoia of much of the culture. But I think that critique has to come from within the context, not from outside of it.

    Then again, I love the cynical and dour 1980s.

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  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 30, 2012 @ 6:45 am

    I keep thinking I should do one, but I never see a good story to do one with. Maybe Time and the Rani.

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  10. Matthew Blanchette
    May 30, 2012 @ 6:46 am

    I don't think Nick Hurran should get all the credit for The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex being so good; I remember being extremely skeptical when I first heard he was directing, considering his mediocre-to-horrible prior credit list, but was pleasantly surprised.

    Still, I think the series just wanted the prestige of having a "film director" do episodes, and though there's been worse directors, I'm sure someone else within the organization could've done as good (if not better) a job.

    Also… the situations of Doctor Who and the two miniseries (key word, there) you mention differ greatly; Doctor Who, of course, was something of an assembly line process — as an ongoing series, it had to produce episodes on time, on budget, etc., without taking more time to "get it right" (if you'll remember, that's why Lovett Bickford, Paul Joyce, and the upcoming Andrew Morgan were never invited back after their budget-busters).

    The miniseries were made on entirely different schedules, where care could be taken to create artistic shots; these days, obviously, with fewer episodes per series, Doctor Who is also able to work similar magic with HD cameras, but at the time, the BBC simply could not break out of that hidebound bureaucracy to try a different shooting and scheduling format — and even if they had, the fans would've given them hell for making Doctor Who the equivalent to an annual miniseries.

    …but, who knows; it might've given it the spark of life it needed.

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  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 30, 2012 @ 6:49 am

    Except that late as they came, both Battlefield and Curse of Fenric managed to find new takes on cold war fears. So I think the idea that there was nothing more to do there is fairly thoroughly disproven.

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  12. JJ Gauthier
    May 30, 2012 @ 6:57 am

    Hurran is spectacularly good with actors – Karen Gillan in particular gives her two finest performances under his direction, and while some of that comes down to the material giving her a lot to do, he still seems to bring out the best in her. And his camera angles are consistently inventive and effective.

    I don't think he's the director I would have pointed to out of Series 6 – both Richard Clark and Toby Haynes did much better work. Hurran's set pieces are clumsy, something that certainly can't be said of Clark and Haynes, and his episodes are substantially less atmospheric as well. But he's not a bad choice to single out to show how a director can enhance a script, given the strength of the performances and camerawork.

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  13. Jesse
    May 30, 2012 @ 8:18 am

    Interestingly, there's little if anything in Jon Amiel's later career as a director — or at least in the films of his that I've seen — that would lead you to expect him to have helmed a project as good as The Singing Detective.

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  14. drfgsdgsdf
    May 30, 2012 @ 9:08 am

    Interestingly, this month there's a Big Finish lost story from 1985 called Power Play, and deals with environmental and nuclear concerns albeit with aliens and Victoria Wakefield
    http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-power-play-417

    Of course it probably wouldn't have been made, or might have been cut down. Even if it had been it probably would've been too little too late.

    Very interesting take on this era, one that I had never thought of. The standard take has been is "If only they had/could've afforded better directors" (like Gareth Roberts in DWM). But even if Graeme Harper had directed Trial, it still would've been slow storytelling for the time, especially with constant interruptions

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  15. WGPJosh
    May 30, 2012 @ 9:15 am

    Not to mention Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced a storyline about a self-destructive, pointless Cold War with the Romulan Star Empire in 1987-1988 and then Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country dealt with the collapse of the Cold War with the Klingons a century earlier in-universe in 1991.

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  16. BerserkRL
    May 30, 2012 @ 10:05 am

    When we get to the current era, do you plan to do any pops between realities for Moffat's other shows (e.g. Coupling, Jekyll, Sherlock — to name the only ones I've seen)?

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  17. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 30, 2012 @ 10:11 am

    I probably won't do all of his shows, but both he and Davies will have their pre-Doctor Who careers represented. But I'll probably do Sherlock as an Outside The Government.

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  18. jane
    May 30, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    @JJ

    For someone new to the conversation about directing, could you tell me more about how Hurran's set pieces are "clumsy"? And what did Clark and Haynes do that you think makes their work better?

    thanks so much!

    Reply

  19. jane
    May 30, 2012 @ 10:34 am

    I hope we get coverage of Moffat's "Continuity Errors"

    Reply

  20. BerserkRL
    May 30, 2012 @ 10:58 am

    Off-topic, but Moffat-related — in Jekyll, there's an exchange between a British and American agent:

    "He's moving."
    "Of course he's moving, he's on a train!"
    "You obviously haven't got the hang of England yet, have you?"

    Can anyone explain to this benighted American what this means?

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  21. BerserkRL
    May 30, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    Less off-topic, Amy & Rory have occasional echoes of Coupling, while the Klein & Utterson Institute in Jekyll seems an obvious parallel to Torchwood. And of course the Sherlock parallels are extremely clear, from both Sherlock and the Doctor making fun of (other) humans' "funny little brains," to both characters' elaborately faking their deaths (though we now know how Sherlock did it).

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  22. Tommy
    May 30, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    "Doctor Who of 1985 went near none of this. It's as if the production staff was incapable of believing that the show could handle actual serious issues."

    Vengeance on Varos was driven by serious and political issues. It's one of the few Doctor Who stories to really attack our justice system and expose the brutalising nature of the prison environment on both its prisoners and captors. And through that it has a lot to say about exploitation of the underdog particularly through the power of global corporations, and the idea that political leaders are simply powerless puppets of a hidden capitalist agenda.

    I'd say Doctor Who in 1985 was as political as it's ever been.

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  23. David Anderson
    May 30, 2012 @ 11:40 am

    I haven't seen Jekyll, but the English train network is one of the things that the English like to imagine are world-beatingly awful. I assume the joke is that a moving train in England is a noteworthy occurrence.

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  24. BerserkRL
    May 30, 2012 @ 11:51 am

    Ah! Thanks. My experiences with English trains have all been delightful, so perhaps I've been cheated out of an authentic experience.

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  25. Iain Coleman
    May 30, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    "That's not to do with fear (although it may pretend to be) but with a spirit of community, and optimism, and the feeling that we're freer than we were to speak about our own dreams and nightmares,"

    I'm afraid I can't agree. My memories of that time are of a constant background hum of pessimism and fear. I watched Threads when it first came out, and while it was very striking, it was essentially portraying the future that we already expected.

    We didn't know at the time about the close calls that have more recently been revealed, such as Able Archer 83, but the political rhetoric of the time was nothing short of terrifying. Paranoid old men in the Kremlin, out of touch with reality, and an American president who seemed to revel in provocation and seemed just crazy enough to push the proverbial button.

    That said, there was in Britain at least a sense of commonality between ourselves and the everyday Soviet citizens. For a great depiction of this in media, I would recommend Bill Forsyth's fine movie Local Hero.

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  26. Iain Coleman
    May 30, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    Fundamentally, for Doctor Who to look good alongside other dramas of the time – not just these big prestige serials but also the likes of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes – it would have had to change from multi-camera video to single-camera film.

    This would doubtless have been more expensive, and on those grounds alone would have been impossible without a radical change of strategy from the BBC. On top of that, all the special effects expertise and technology was based on video. I don't know how challenging it would have been to switch the FX side over to film, but I suspect it would have been non-trivial.

    Without those changes, Doctor Who was stuck with a look that was once acceptable for quality drama, but which was increasingly confined to sitcom and soap. I am inclined to doubt that any amount of great writing and acting would have made up for that increasing presentational gap between Doctor Who and what people saw as proper drama.

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  27. BerserkRL
    May 30, 2012 @ 12:25 pm

    Is there a way to find out which shows are shot on video and which on film? I looked at a few shows on IMDB, but most of them listed both e.g. "film editing" and "videotape mixing" in the credits.

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  28. Tom Watts
    May 30, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

    I think it's just a rotten attempt at a joke; English trains have been pretty reliable since the 80s. I mean, hardly comparable to Switzerland or Japan, but I can't remember the last time Chilternrail was late.

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  29. J. L. Webb
    May 30, 2012 @ 12:53 pm

    You found it weaker than the library two-parter?

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  30. Tom Watts
    May 30, 2012 @ 1:02 pm

    Talking about great direction, have any of you seen the adaptation of Sheridan LeFanu's Uncle Silas, oddly retitled The Dark Angel, and available on Network DVD? It was directed by Paul Hammond, who later did stuff like episodes of Inspector Morse and Sherlock Holmes. Hackwork, in other words, but my God with Dark Angel it's as if this is his one and only shot at showing everything he can do. It reminds me of something by the Polish director Andrzej Zulawski: every single shot without exception is either beautiful or odd – weirdly angled, strangely filtered, Hammond never once let's up. It's exhausting, absurd, but at the same time poignant, because it's clear how much wild creativity must have been stifled by the limitations of serial TV.

    Which is part of my beef with Potter, really, although of course I've been very unfair to him, Compare Terence Davies: he gives the viewer a quite similar experience in some ways to much of Potter, but his films have a visual lavishness the possibility of which never seems to have occurred to anyone at the BBC. Except Paul Hammond maybe!

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  31. drfgsdgsdf
    May 30, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

    I don't know, back in the late 80s some important dramas were still being shot entirely on video and OB. For example Howard Brenton's Dead Head in 1986 and PD James's Taste for Death in 1988. Also most BBC children dramas were being made on video (even big budget prestige stuff like Box of Delights and the Narnia films). Not to mention almost all other genre work on the BBC like Star Cops, Virtual Murder and even Neverwhere as late as 96.

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  32. Tom Watts
    May 30, 2012 @ 1:13 pm

    By lavishness, sorry, I meant something much more substantial than mere gorgeousness of course: as Phil has explained – telling a story and also a way of communicating politically and morally in a wholly visual way.

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  33. Matthew Blanchette
    May 30, 2012 @ 3:11 pm

    Even today, it's still all video, but put through some sort of process to look like film; with the upgrade to HD and the time and care put into cinematography, we get, well… Moffat-Who, and it looks all the better for it. 🙂

    Sadly enough, Revelation of the Daleks was the last Doctor Who serial to use film; starting with Trial, the series for the rest of the '80s would use OB video… and it doesn't really look as good, to my eyes.

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  34. Elizabeth Sandifer
    May 30, 2012 @ 3:29 pm

    It's also worth noting that the new series, though done on video, is still done single camera and not multicamera. I find the video sections of the classic series to look better than the film sections for the most part simply because of the higher resolution of video and the fact that it looks more like HD and what "professional" stuff looks like today, but the multicamera setup still kills it.

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  35. Edward Azad
    May 30, 2012 @ 3:42 pm

    Just to recap: we're starting with the presumption that Doctor Who had (or has) a mandate to live up to either of these; or, in the broader sense, to maintain equilibrium with all prior works of sci-fi literature by telling a wholly original story with each iteration, while simultaneously drawing inspiration (i.e. competing) with contemporary works of the same genre, without relying on "continuity for the sake of continuity" (Deadly Assassin); ideally by subverting the audience's expectations at every turn and/or deconstructing Doctor Who's decadent (The Two Doctors), arrogant (Talons of Wang Chiang), morally lazy (caves of Androzani) premise.

    Even if Doctor Who were up to the task, could it really sustain its creative momentum like that for an any extended period? The conceit of the series is that Doctor Who has no continuity, right?

    ..Oh, and we as fans have t be careful not to be too bitchy. (A Fix With Sontarans)

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  36. Malbec
    May 30, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

    Hi Jane – you might enjoy the posts on this very subject by SEK (from the Lawyers, Guns and Money blog). A round-up of the various posts he's made onthe subject can be found here:

    http://acephalous.typepad.com/acephalous/2012/02/scott-eric-kaufmans-visual-rhetoric-compendium-as-of-11282011.html

    (sorry, I am sure there would be a much more elegant way to post that link).

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  37. Adam Riggio
    May 30, 2012 @ 4:49 pm

    Tommy, Philip Martin's and Robert Holmes' scripts in season 22 were pretty much the exception to a rule of storytelling governed by, as I think Phil made it impressively clear over the entries for that season and especially Doctor in Distress, a distorted Troughton-era nostalgia and continuity obsession stoked by the fan-industrial complex. The narrative tools available to most writers were attacks by generic monsters and generic villains.

    Writers like Holmes and Martin who could see through that framework and critique it were few and far between. They were basically Philip Martin and Robert Holmes. Even Stephen Gallagher found his Terminus blandified as all the more complex concepts were removed in favour of generic, politics-free adventure. And I use the word 'adventure' very loosely.

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  38. BerserkRL
    May 30, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

    What's the story on something like As Time Goes By? That looks video-y to my eyes, yet it's relatively recent (late 90s/early 2000s) and, despite technically being a sitcom, is much closer to being a serious drama than the average sitcom (and stars two big names, one very big).

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  39. Tom Watts
    May 30, 2012 @ 10:34 pm

    Iain, point taken. Unreliable memories, maybe, or at least unreliable interpretations.

    I think Pip and Jane write a very good script in Mark of the Rani, which spends a lot of its time affectionately mocking the clichés in a very New Who style. And the mining environment is done better than in the Green Death, at least. I think Season 22 is being held to far higher standards other eras of the show. And Revelation (and no other story (including in the New Series) has done this) builds creatively on the Davros of Genesis, and makes him a character capable of doing something other than threatening and sneering and ranting.

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  40. David Anderson
    May 31, 2012 @ 12:11 am

    I said 'like to imagine' for a reason. Although the railways were subject to neglect in the eighties, which meant that in the late nineties and early twenty first century there were a lot of delays especially at weekends due to needed repair works. Also, if you look at the figures running the London commuter network is somewhat like trying to make a world-class SF series on a BBC budget.

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  41. David Anderson
    May 31, 2012 @ 5:38 am

    I wouldn't use the word 'weak' anywhere near either script. But Blink is basically working out a high concept, while Silence in the Library uses the combination of three or four high concepts to generate an emotional resonance that's greater than the sum of the parts.
    Also, as has been said elsewhere, Blink requires an actor with sufficient charisma and talent to pull off a line like 'sad is like happy for deep people'.

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  42. Matthew Blanchette
    May 31, 2012 @ 9:51 am

    Any more responses; no…? :-/

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  43. jane
    May 31, 2012 @ 11:08 am

    I don't know a lot about directors or their art, but I found the imagery of TGWW and TGC quite striking, with all kinds of interesting shots selected to highlight some truly outstanding performances.

    Not sure about the "prestige," Matthew — just looking at Wiki, he's been out of film for five years, and has a lengthy television resume. But then, I don't pay attention to any of the Beeb's marketing or their press releases, so I don't know if they played up his credentials or not.

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  44. JJ Gauthier
    May 31, 2012 @ 11:52 am

    I haven't watched the episodes since last fall, so my set-piece comment is hard to follow up too directly right now. Mostly I just recall the climactic slash-and-run finale of the otherwise superlative Girl Who Waited to feel clumsily choreographed but distractingly stylized, replete with Zach Snyder-style slow-motion/fast-motion editing, but much less effectively than Snyder.

    In general, though, compare how Haynes, Clark, and Hurran do a scene like, say, running down corridors. Haynes and Clark both use deep, dramatic shadows and elaborate lighting to make the corridors creepier, more mysterious places and they both get more effective music out of Murray Gold. While Hurran sets the camera in a cool place, but the lighting is bright and uniform, the music comparatively generic. Essentially, they use a fuller range of techniques to get a deeper atmosphere.

    Hurran's The God Complex has an infinitely more interesting and ambitious script than Clark's Night Terrors, but Clark makes the hallways and rooms of the apartment complex uniquely creepy, while Hurran just makes a hotel look like a hotel. And when Clark is handed a brilliant script in The Doctor's Wife, he really makes it sing.

    It's a vastly more subtle difference than, say, the corridors in Ark In Space vs. those in Alien, but it's that general type of difference.

    On the other hand, if you just look at Hurran's camera angles, pacing, and the performances he gets out of the cast, there's no end of praise to be heaped on him. He's definitely good. I just wouldn't think to call his directing "revelatory" given that he was, at best, the third most effective director of the season.

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  45. Gavin
    May 31, 2012 @ 11:55 am

    Moffat's not just wrong in assuming that British trains are prone to stopping. He's even more wrong in assuming that American trains aren't.

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  46. Iain Coleman
    May 31, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

    I'm sure I was making the transition sound sharper than it really was, but some of the examples above make it even clearer how Doctor Who was on the wrong side of the divide. More and more, single camera film was the mark of proper drama, while multi-camera video was for childrens' drama, genre stuff – anything that could be put in a box marked "not serious". I'm sure it's part of why Star Cops met with little acclaim, despite its many fine qualities. And as for Neverwhere, by the time that came out video really was for the kid's shows and sitcoms. Neil Gaiman was very insistent that it should be shot on film, and appalled when it was shot on video, because that immediately put it in the "silly kids' show" box.

    With the rise of more sophisticated post-production techniques, and now HD, it's a different story for video. As Phil says, it's now the single camera setup that really makes the difference.

    Imagine how Doctor Who would be received if it were shot like The I.T. Crowd.

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  47. Gaius
    May 31, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

    Of course, much of the McCoy era is shot on single camera (even in the studio). It's just that only Wareing, Mallett and Clough (on occasion) make good use of the possibilities it offers. There never was enough time to make the shooting completely film-like however.

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  48. jane
    May 31, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

    @ JJ

    Thanks for the wonderfully specific examples — it's those kinds of details I'm wanting to get more adept at reading. (It also probably helps that I've seen most of these episodes ten or twenty times now — a lot of these images are burned into my head.)

    I'm vexed by TGWW's climax. On the one hand, I can see the silliness of the fight choreography — the Handbots have to be the least imposing monsters of Series Six — and how Hurran covers its up through his directorial choices. On the other hand, I think it really works; I love this scene; it gets me riled up in a good way. And I think I know why: if I take it as a reflection of Amy's perspective on what's happening, I don't think I can quibble with it, it's absolutely reflective of her character.

    On the other, other hand, I think the fight scene at the end of DotM by Haynes is even better. It doesn't need as much trickery with its superb choreography (though it does take more special effects.) The lighting is brilliant, especially the harsh, over-saturated beaming down on Amy strapped in that chair. Point Haynes.

    Now, Night Terrors — yeah, I have to agree Clarke creates a completely creepy environment, and he does that through some judicious lighting, shots through narrow spaces, and some amazing transitions. The Hotel looks completely banal in comparison.

    But isn't the hotel supposed to look banal? Right off the bat, the Doctor discusses at length how much the Hotel looks just like a hotel. Hurran isn't going for creepy. If anything, I think the plainness of the environment (including the lighting) makes the bad dreams of the rooms more disconcerting. And I think the choice is appropriate given that the Minotaur feeds on faith rather than fear; this is a story concerned more with existential dread than a child's night terrors.

    I'm more sure of my opinion that this is what Hurran is going for when I look at the labyrinth of mirrors in the Pasiphae Spa. After the Doctor cuts the lights, the primary source of lighting in the scene comes from a sheet of Water cascading over Glass, and a bowl of Fish — all significant motifs not just of the episode, but of Moffat's tenure.

    In comparison, the lighting of The Doctor's Wife, which has some incredible use of shadows and contrast, is rather uniform throughout the episode — everything is cast in the same tones of light and darkness, whether it's Amy confronting a nightmare Rory (the most terrifying part of the episode), Idris breathing out the Artron energy of the TARDIS, or the Doctor quipping about "reliability" with his wife.

    So, saying all that, I'm not sure Phil's comment that Hurran's direction being "revelatory" is out of place, especially when it comes to TGC, which I think is a much more complex and yet subtle script to direct than what Haynes and Clarke were given.

    And saying all that, wow, Haynes really knocked it out of the park when it came to the season opener, and Clarke's work was superb, too — but we already knew these guys could do Who. Isn't it a revelation that Hurran has got some chops as well?

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  49. elvwood
    May 31, 2012 @ 11:42 pm

    There's an odd aspect to the British character (or at least English – I can't really speak for our friends just to the North and West) in which doing something badly is seen as a mark of pride. We love to think that the railways are badly run, regardless of what they are really like compared to other countries – after all, Mussolini made the trains run on time, and he was a Fascist and we're not like that, are we? We're a nation of amateurs.

    It's faded since the time of Flanders and Swann's Song of Patriotic Prejudice and lines about foreigners playing cricket who "practice beforehand, which ruins the fun" – but it's still there enough to be recognised as a stereotypical attitude.

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  50. Ashley Pomeroy
    October 15, 2018 @ 11:34 pm

    Ridley Scott began his career as a set designer for the BBC in the mid-1960s. He was assigned to work on the second William Hartnell serial, designing the interiors of the Dalek city, but decided to train as a director instead. After he completed the course he didn’t cross paths with Doctor Who again. He directed a few episodes of Z-Cars and then went off to make money with commercials, in the process honing his skills to fine point.

    By the 1980s there wasn’t a chance in hell that he would have worked on Doctor Who, but it’s fascinating to imagine him being assigned to Spearhead from Space. Particularly that serial, because it was shot mostly on location with 16mm cameras and would have suited his style. I can’t imagine him enjoying the low budgets and union rules. He wouldn’t have stuck around.

    I don’t think this blog series covers Robin of Sherwood. It ran alongside the Colin Baker years on ITV. It cost a lot more than Doctor Who and looked more cinematic – but at the time even detective shows like Taggart and Bergerac looked more cinematic than Doctor Who. This blog series concentrates on the show’s storytelling, but my recollection from growing up at the time is that the Doctor Who / Blakes Seven model of British TV – sharp scripts, cardboard sets – became unviable in the 1980s no matter how well-written the scripts. On a purely commercial level it was impossible to sell Doctor Who to a market that expected visual flair, and even the domestic market – with much lower expectations – could no longer see past overlit video footage of ugly people wearing pantomime costumes.

    I remember that the first two series of Red Dwarf were mostly dialogue on grey sets, and they were aimed exclusively at a British audience. Foreign sales were a bonus. But even then they looked better and felt more expensive than Doctor Who, because they had to look good just to survive. I think the problem facing Doctor Who in the 1980s was that it required a truly massive cash injection that was simply never going to happen. The first two seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation demonstrated that people were prepared to watch mediocre scripts delivered by great actors with decent effects; Doctor Who could have at least coasted on that.

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