You Were Expecting Someone Else: Marcelo Camargo
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To recap, in early July 2014 it emerged that a server at a BBC Worldwide had been improperly secured, and that scripts for the first five episodes of Season Eight had leaked. A few days later it became clear that the leak was worse than it had initially appeared as a workprint of Deep Breath also appeared on torrent sites, followed, over the course of the next month and a half, by workprints of Into the Dalek, Robot of Sherwood, Listen, and Time Heist. The files had been prepared for a Brazil-based subtitling company called Drei Marc, and specifically for a gentleman named Marcelo Camargo who, despite having absolutely nothing to do with the leak itself, became the name most associated with it.
The first thing to say is both obvious and controversial: it was fine. For all the talk of the leak being “embarrassing” for both Doctor Who and the BBC, there were no meaningful negative consequences. All five leaked episodes performed just fine, both critically and in the ratings. Just like the leak of Rose didn’t hurt anything (and indeed probably helped the series, as the diehard fans hashed out all their arguments over it in advance). Indeed, the truth is that it’s tough to think of any instance where a pre-release leak to torrent sites actually caused any damage. It’s to the point where it’s widely believed that the recent leak of the Supergirl pilot was deliberate on CBS’s part.
No, that’s not the same as saying that leaks can’t hurt shows. Certainly it helps that the five leaked episodes were actually good. It’s hard to hurt good material by letting people see it. Had Capaldi completely bombed in the part such that the buzz around the screener copies was negative it would have been a very different situation. But these were five episodes of television that ranged from the quite good to the excellent, and even with unfinished effects and dodgy musical cues their basic quality was evident.
And yes, I suppose at this point I may as well admit that I watched them at the time, especially as Moffat has admitted that he would have watched them. I don’t mean this revelation to indicate some larger ethical principle, to be clear. I just couldn’t resist. My wife and I were nearly a year into a running joke of saying “guess what” with the answer being a very emphatic and happy “Peter Capaldi,” with every syllable emphasized. I was dying to see the new Doctor. So I caved. Lasted a solid week or two after Deep Breath leaked, and avoided the scripts entirely, as what I was interested in was the performance, not the plot, but I caved eventually.
What was most interesting, as they came out, was the way in which the release felt carefully managed, starting with the scripts and the belief that the episodes themselves hadn’t leaked, then Deep Breath and (fascinatingly) a withheld Into the Dalek – a torrent for the episode went up, but nobody seeded it for a solid month after the torrent came out. Then Robot of Sherwood and Time Heist came pretty soon after Into the Dalek, but, in perhaps the most interesting detail of all of this, Listen got held for last.
Yes, that’s right. The pirates who hacked a BBC Worldwide server and leaked five episodes of Doctor Who stage-managed the release and deliberately saved the best for last, releasing it on the same day that Deep Breath aired, so that the screener leaks were as effective a piece of publicity as possible. Really, were it that all Doctor Who fans were as nice as the pirates.
But what is more interesting than the question “do leaks like this cause damage” (a question that, more than anything, seems pointless the more it becomes clear that leaks like this are not actually preventable) is, I think, “how do leaks like this affect our understanding of how television works?” Because they do, in many ways, feel like they belong to a contemporary age of television. Obviously this is true on a very basic level – the technological means by which a workprint can be obtained and mass distributed is a relatively recent invention. John Nathan-Turner didn’t have to lose sleep about Attack of the Cybermen leaking.
But there’s also a level of televisual literacy that’s involved in watching a workprint. I remarked to a friend at the time that watching the workrprints felt not unlike watching a reconstruction of a missing episode. You’re not so much watching the episode as you are watching a rough guide of how it’s going to fit together. It’s not just the enormously distracting presence of a timecode, huge captions declaring it property of the BBC and something prepared for Marcelo Camargo, and occasional captions explaining what you’re supposed to be looking at or hearing either. It’s the lack of color, of visual effects, and of music, all of which are genuinely important parts of the storytelling.
And this is evident in the fact that the workprints were misleading about the respective qualities of the episodes. They all looked pretty good, and in practice were. But from the workprints, at least, Time Heist seemed rather more promising than it ended up being. In black and white the corridors of the vault looked moody and brutalist, as opposed to like Douglas Mackinnon relying way too heavily on lighting gels in an attempt to make the same room look different. There’s also a line that was, as of the workprint, meant to be ADRed in that would have had the Doctor proclaiming his hatred of the architect at about the 9:30 mark, as opposed to first mentioning it when Sabra appears to die, which did a better job of setting up the ending.
It’s not, to be clear, that the workprint of Time Heist is better. There are sequences that are barely followable with the effects missing, and the lack of music really does make sequences drag in ways they don’t in the finished episode. (Although the placeholder music is in other places oddly delightful – the sequence in which the Doctor and the prisoners fight back against the robots has a very drum-heavy musical cue overlaid that was tremendously compelling just because it gave the scene a texture unlike any other action sequence in Doctor Who.) Rather, it’s that, judging by the workprints, one would have guessed that Time Heist would be a stronger episode than it was.
And it’s not the only one to change. Into the Dalek looked much weaker in the workprint. Part of that is that it was by far the most effects heavy episode and many of its ultimate pleasures came from the very, very good Dalek action sequences at the end, which have next to no impact in black and white. It was by some margin the one requiring the most reconstruction.
There are also things that come into oddly different focus on the workprints. In black and white, for instance, Ben Wheatley’s direction of Deep Breath jumps out considerably more, especially if you’ve seen A Field in England, as the black and white helps highlight the similarities. And there is, I think, a fair case to be made that both Deep Breath and Time Heist are simply better suited to black and white.
And it is this, I think, that gets at the strange appeal of these, even separate from the basic thrill of getting to see Doctor Who early. That, after all, is generally what discussions of the leaks focus on, and it’s a significant issue within television as an art form in the mid-2010s. In doing my same-day reviews of Season Eight, I focused on television as a pop medium, with episodes being roughly akin to singles, with the moment of transmission serving as a distinct intervention in the cultural zeitgeist with measurable, traceable effects. And there are, in Season Eight, at least three moments where the specific circumstances of transmission matter to how the episodes are read: Deep Breath’s engagement with the dwindling summer light, Kill the Moon’s meticulous and magical use of the night, and Death in Heaven’s potent juxtaposition with Remembrance Sunday. The idea of event television matters.
But there’s a growing vision of television as something more akin to an album medium than a single medium, spearheaded by Netflix’s “whole season at once” model. It’s one that I suspect Doctor Who is particularly poorly suited to, as the rapid juxtapositions that animate it are something that came out of a structure and logic of serialization. And so a lot of the supposed danger of leaks came from this. The BBC’s initial reaction to the script leaks, tellingly, was asking people not to spread spoilers.
And as someone who has seen, at this point, a half-dozen Doctor Who episodes early through completely legitimate means (a mix of preview screenings and BBC-issued review copies), there’s something to this. I remember walking out of the Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon screening simultaneously thrilled by the cliffhanger on Day of the Moon and gutted that I was now two weeks further away from new Doctor Who than the rest of the world. When television is operating in a pop mode, the loss of the idea of transmission is significant.
But what was most interesting about the Marcelo Camargo leaks was precisely that they weren’t quite violations of this. Every episode still crackled when it aired. Yes, sure, you knew about the Matt Smith cameo in Deep Breath (but then, so did people who had paid attention to filming reports) and the final twist in Listen, but it didn’t really matter. Seeing the episodes finished, as what they were instead of as half-finished possibilities, was still genuinely thrilling.
I think, in the end, that’s because the Marcelo Camargo leaks offered something more than just sneak peeks. They let us see, while certainly not the whole of the creative process, at least part of it. Yes, some of that was artificial – it’s not as though the episodes were ever really looked at in black and white, after all. But it was still a demonstration of something that, watching television, one knows but never gets to experience: the fact that the finished product that explodes forth into the world upon transmission is the endpoint of a process. The Marcelo Camargo leaks let us watch Doctor Who be finished. It was, to be sure, a strange pleasure, and one only experienceable in the summer of 2014, when these episodes were, in point of fact, still unfinished. But for my part, at least, and I suspect I am speaking at least in part as someone who has done creative work, the experience of watching someone else’s ideas make that final transformation into art, and especially of watching it happen on something I love and care about was amazing, and a wonderful start to what would prove, for my money, the most satisfying year of watching Doctor Who of my life.
May 28, 2015 @ 2:14 am
Or, to use your album/singles metaphor, these were the demos.
May 28, 2015 @ 2:48 am
"And there are, in Season Eight, at least three moments where the specific circumstances of transmission matter to how the episodes are read…"
And, of course, one moment where it mattered to how the episode was finished – namely the removal of the Sheriff of Nottingham's beheading, which would have seemed poor taste in the light of contemporaneous world events. I wonder if, had a significant portion of the fanbase not seen the Camargo cut, the production team would have publicly announced this edit as they did. Or whether it would have been one of the many silent decisions they make, concealed to all until the inevitable Pixley archive.
May 28, 2015 @ 4:50 am
Watching the leaked Deep Breath episode I remember being as excited, and as unable to contain that excitement, as watching the recovered Web and Enemy for the first time. It really did feel like something special, a once in a lifetime moment to be cherished; to the point that the Marcelo Camargo version of Deep Breath is the one that sits uppermost in my mind when I think back on the episode.
I was glued to the monitor, earphones in so as not to wake the family, sometime around midnight when the download finished, watching the pre-credits sequence a half dozen times before allowing myself the delayed gratification of the rest of the episode. Work the next day was forgotten, there was new Doctor Who to be absorbed. And Capaldi to marvel at. And wonderful meta dialogue to take in. And the Doctor and Clara in the booth seat… I watched it twice in a row, that first night.
My whole family went to the cinema to see Deep Breath on release. Everyone loved it. From my five year old son, to my wife, the very casual viewer. And so did I.
But it never replaced the first time. I was even vaguely disappointed with the proper score. The music from the leaked version was so indelibly scorched into my memory that it was the proper score in my mind.
A cherished Doctor Who memory. There are so many stretching back over the last forty years of my life. But the Marcelo Camargo leaked prints, oh yeah, that one was something else!
May 28, 2015 @ 5:25 am
When the first few episodes of series 5 of Game of Thrones leaked I ended up not watching them, until the "correct" day. Partly this was in case they weren't finished, but also I just didn't fancy watching them all in one day, and then having to wait weeks for the next one.
Again, those leaks didn't seem to harm HBO at all, which does make one wonder how many 'leaks' are actually marketing.
May 28, 2015 @ 9:18 am
(checks to make sure my gender is allowed to speak this time around)
At the TimeGate convention this weekend we debated this very topic. Most people watched the episodes, very few read them. Most people loved seeing the episodes in an unfinished state, not just to get their "fix," but because you rarely get to take that peek behind the curtain. For myself, I never managed to track down the rough cuts but I devoured the scripts eagerly, since for me it seemed like an unprecedented chance to visualize a new Doctor Who script for myself before seeing the finished product. A very small minority in the audience felt it was unethical to read or watch them beforehand, not due to spoiler concerns, but because it violates the authorial intent.
May 28, 2015 @ 11:54 am
"(checks to make sure my gender is allowed to speak this time around)"
Yeah, I don't see there's any need for that. I've read thousands and thousands of words of (brilliant) stuff on this blog completely free, and I'm not going to throw my toys out of the pram just because, for one week, Phil asks for views from his female readership. No offence, but let's not be unnecessary.
May 28, 2015 @ 4:22 pm
Fine. I'm just touchy to that due to some other stuff that's gone on lately in that area, both in the news & personally.
May 28, 2015 @ 4:26 pm
I can promise you that I'm never going to do something like that outside the context of a Waffling post.
May 28, 2015 @ 4:30 pm
An obvious analogy I'm not quite sure how I missed. And one that resonates; Alex shares demos of most forthcoming Seeming tracks with me these days, and the thrill of watching his work go from initial idea to finished product is, I suspect, a non-trivial part of why he's my favorite band.
It's also notable that the show Empire (which I recently watched and loved) does some very interesting things with this dynamic, using the progression of a song from demo to finished version as a dramatic arc of its own, and generates some very effective dramatic moments from the sense of things clicking into place that hearing a finished version generates.
May 28, 2015 @ 6:33 pm
There was one instance where the workprint hurt the final version.
I was rather upset, watching the simulcast of "Deep Breath", when Peter Capaldi said "I've gone Scottish" and there were absolutely no bagpipes.
May 29, 2015 @ 12:51 am
I never watched the leaked prints at the time, I was just keen to wait. I have tracked them down since along with the scripts and it will be fun as an artist myself, to explore the creative process of a product I love.
May 29, 2015 @ 1:07 am
There are parts where I much prefer the music in the workprint. Like the creepy detuned pianos in the restaurant, and the ominous music in the spaceship under it.
I'm glad they didn't go with the bagpipes though
May 29, 2015 @ 2:00 am
I'm rather glad there weren't, because that would have been deeply shit.
May 29, 2015 @ 5:06 am
You don't owe many any promises mate. But thanks anyway.
June 9, 2015 @ 1:45 am
"there were no meaningful negative consequences"
I suspect you are talking rot.
What about the (monetary) cost of dealing with the leak? (money that will never be spent on programming or talent)
What about the reputational damage to the parties involved, and the loss of trust between them?
"Unpublished" is generally so for a reason. Creative types prefer that the public see their best endeavours rather than the out-takes or rehearsals.
You may have done a draft of this blog, full of typos and factual howlers; would you want the world to see it? And how would you feel if, despite your objections, that draft was made public?
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July 3, 2017 @ 10:46 am
A very small minority in the target audience felt it was unethical to read or watch them in advance.