It’s Not Who, It’s You.

We’re just over halfway through Peter Capaldi’s first series as the incumbent Doctor, and the online community has, as always, shared a wide range of opinions on the episodes presented so far. Doctor Who wouldn’t be Doctor Who if it didn’t split opinion, and attract a wide range of praise and criticism . I have agreed with some, and disagreed with others. I would happily exclaim my delight at an episode I loved, and would be equally vociferous about an episode I didn’t. I have however found myself of late stepping back into the shadows (to paraphrase the Eleventh Doctor), not because I became too big or noisy, but because I found I had been spending more time finding things to criticise than I did actually just sitting down with a drink watching the bloody thing. I’m not a critic. There are plenty of other people paid to do that. I’m a fan.

Some criticisms I’m seeing this time round though have started to infuriate me. I have no problem whatsoever if you don’t like the storylines. I have no problem if the Twelfth Doctor isn’t for you. I don’t even have a problem if you’re not happy with the writing or the acting. These are always going to be debated, and everyone’s opinion is always valid. What I would suggest is that if you don’t like ANY of the storylines, the Doctor, the writing, acting or directing (and some commenters are even criticising the theme tune and the opening credits), then perhaps this show isn’t for you.

I was 14 years old when I first heard Radiohead’s music. It was March 1995 – their second album ‘The Bends’ had just been released, and I was at a friend’s house listening to it in silent rapture after he’d bought it from the local Our Price. I remember being taken aback by it; I had been brought up on Roxette, Phil Collins and Simply Red at home, and even when I discovered music of my own it tended to be relatively easy listening, melodic pop gubbins. My CD collection was full of Oasis, Blur, Pulp, the usual Britpop stuff. That was my ‘jam’. So to hear an album like The Bends, with Thom Yorke’s astonishing falsetto over Jonny Greenwood’s furious lead guitar, chord changes that utterly take you by surprise and a rhythm section so tight you’d swear the players were mentally connected, was more than just a breath of fresh air. It changed entirely the way I heard music.

After a few weeks of barely doing anything else but listening to The Bends, I sought out Radiohead’s earlier album, ‘Pablo Honey’. I recall being surprised at the feel of the songs immediately. They were much lighter in tone, more predictable perhaps, certainly more accessible than The Bends. It wasn’t one of the best albums I ever heard, nor did I dislike it (some of the tracks on there are among my favourite Radiohead songs), but it was instantly clear how the band had changed the direction of their music for the second album.

Two years later I, like a great many of my peers, rushed out and bought OK Computer on the day of release. I remember at the time there was much talk of people hoping for The Bends 2, as was I if I’m honest. I rushed home clutching a copy of the CD, locked myself in my room and stuck it on. It was…different. On first listen, I thoroughly enjoyed parts of it. Other parts just sounded cold, and sparse. It sounded nothing like The Bends, and I was ultimately a little disappointed. I listened again. And again. The more I listened, the more I enjoyed, with the result that to this day, OK Computer remains my all-time favourite album. I found it difficult even to write this paragraph, simply because I can’t believe there was ever a time I wasn’t utterly in love with that record.

Radiohead’s music changed again with the release of Kid A. I bought it on the same day I was going to see them play live in Warrington (in a big top, no less). I listened for the first time at the same friend’s house where I’d heard The Bends that first time. I hated it. I wasn’t just disappointed by it on first listen. I just couldn’t stand it, from the first track to the last. It had nothing of the Radiohead I’d grown to love, and if I’d thought OK Computer had been sparse in places, this just seemed to be an electronic mess. Programmed drum beats, very little in the way of thrashing, gnarled guitars, and I was searching in vain for a melody. That’s it, I thought. Radiohead’s sound had changed so much that I no longer liked them. I was gutted. I went to the gig that night thoroughly despondent, expecting to be holding my hands over my ears most of the time. It turned out to be one of the most fantastic concerts I have ever been lucky enough to attend. I don’t remember a whole lot of it, but I recall having a dance and a sing-along, moshing one minute and wiping a tear from my eye the next. These were the same songs I’d been listening to with such despair earlier that same day.

On waking the next day I listened to Kid A again. I won’t say I had instantly warmed to it, but my god did I get it. Over the next few weeks I found more and more to enjoy in the album, and similar to my experience with OK Computer, it’s now one of my favourite albums. It’s actually an astonishing record, one I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t heard it.

I should start heading to some semblance of a point.

Following Kid A, Radiohead released Amnesiac the following year, then Hail to the Thief and In Rainbows. With each release came with a new style, a new direction; they were experimental, trying to push the accepted norms when it came to rock music. Each album resulted in them gaining fans and losing fans, as the rock guitars and heavy choruses gave way to dense, trippy electronica. Although from past experiences I knew that every new album would be a challenge, I found myself after a while feeling less connected to the band and their music, and despite occasional returns to the style I had grown to love, they inevitably headed in a direction I no longer found entertaining. This came to a head with King of Limbs, an album I have tried to enjoy so many times, but to no avail. It’s very much Radiohead, it got favourable reviews, it’s a popular album with many of my fellow Radiohead fans, but it’s simply not for me. It’s not a bad album. The band haven’t lost their ability – it simply caters for an audience other than my own. This is no issue to Radiohead. They will make many, many more fans from King of Limbs than they will lose. I certainly won’t be calling for Thom Yorke’s head.

Which brings me to Doctor Who. Since the show’s first regeneration from William Hartnell into Patrick Troughton, each Doctor’s era has ushered in a new style, a new feel. There’s the young, friendly one; the old, grumpy one; the action one; the egomaniacal one, and so on. There’s the Pertwee era with a huge proportion of it based entirely on Earth. There’s the whole Colin Baker series based around the ‘Trial’. There are certain mainstays, such as the TARDIS, the companion and the Daleks et al which makes this programme what it is, but we have a different kind of Doctor and a different kind of show every time, possibly never more so than with series eight.

At the time of writing the BBC have transmitted 7 episodes of series eight. That’s 6 different writers, with their stories directed by 3 different directors. We’ve had settings in space, Victorian London, a present day school, 15th/16t Century Sherwood Forest, and inside a Dalek. We’ve seen Gallifrey (or have we?) and we’ve had pre-existing and brand new enemies for the Doctor to face. The writers have even addressed the issue I had with the last series, and they’ve made Clara a much more layered personality. If you can’t find anything you like in any of that, then there’s only a certain amount of times you can blame Steven Moffat. I’m afraid you have to consider the possibility that the common denominator here is you. Perhaps you just don’t like Doctor Who anymore. You used to, of course you did. But it changes, it evolves. It’ll change again when Capaldi eventually regenerates, or the production team is replaced. I don’t get that benefit with Radiohead. The band are the band, they’re not going to change.

I’ve recently learned a phrase which accurately describes the nature of the Twitter commenters I’ve referred to in this post. It’s known as ‘confirmation bias’. I think it’s very well summarised by this cartoon:

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I would also throw in those folk who scour Twitter for posts they think matches their own in order to retweet them, and in doing so, try to prove a point. Confirmation bias is the act of ignoring anything which contradicts their own first impressions. It seems to me that there are some who have not enjoyed Doctor Who since Matt Smith left, or since David Tennant left (or, in one case I heard about, since Patrick Troughton left…) or indeed since Steven Moffat succeeded Russell T Davies as showrunner.

I’m not going to say that series eight has been perfect. Of course it hasn’t. One particular episode (Robot of Sherwood) irritated me no end. But then again I don’t recall the last series of Doctor Who that didn’t have one or two duff episodes as part of the run, and yes, I’m including series five in that. The problem is that some people are heading into the show already knowing that they want to hate it. Not everyone, obviously, but some. In doing that they’ll be looking out for anything negative, any line that doesn’t quite make sense, any plot hole which to anyone else would be barely recognisable. I saw one commenter this morning complaining that Kill The Moon didn’t accurately follow science, and therefore the episode lost credibility. This is a time-travel show, about an alien in a Police Box which is bigger on the inside who travels through time and space. There’s not a lot that follows actual science here. We can allow them a bit of creative licence.

I hate to say it, folks, but with this nihilistic outlook (regardless of who the showrunner is), you’ll never enjoy another episode again. But then, to quote that band I really used to like, ‘you do it to yourself, you do…and that’s what really hurts’.

Latersville.

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Taking in a Deep Breath (SPOILER FREE)

Thursday 7th August was a massive day for me and my ‘companions’, as we travelled to Cardiff to join the 1600 or so lucky souls who’d acquired a ticket for Peter Capaldi’s hugely anticipated debut as The Doctor. I’m writing this a mere two days prior to the BBC transmission of the first episode of Deep Breath, so why not share my experience now, eh.

After another very early start (why do I keep doing this to myself?) we were on our way to Cardiff on schedule. We arrived just before 10am and scampered through the streets of the city toward St David’s Hall. Thanks to a number of contacts keeping in touch through Twitter we heard that there was still plenty of barrier space for the red carpet event, and this proved correct when we got there. We found a nice open spot pretty close to the TARDIS as we had a feeling that the stars would be hanging around this area the most, for interviews and photo opportunities.

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So we took our spot against the barrier, and waited. We knew that the event wasn’t due to start for another hour or so, and thankfully we had the lovely Cardiff sunshine to enjoy. As the crowds started to grow ever larger, we were entertained by Daleks and Cybermen wandering around, interacting with the young – and not so young – fans. I remember one little lad letting out the most terrified scream when one Cyberman came a teensy bit too close, proving that even today Doctor Who has the power to frighten children at lunchtime in the middle of a busy city centre. Not long after that a Metro photographer snapped a picture of the back of my head (I’m in blue – screaming boy on Dad’s shoulders on my right).

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We were told that the red carpet event was due to start at 11am, with the actual premiere at 12:15pm. From what we could see there didn’t seem to enough time for the stars to meet everyone on their way up to St David’s Hall, so we didn’t hold out too much hope to get all the autographs we would have liked, but knew we’d get a bloody good view of everything where we were. As time moved on though, and the clocks moved on to quarter past 11, and half past 11, we were getting a little concerned as to how much time we would have before we had to vamoose into the theatre. The instructions we’d been sent told us we had to be in the auditorium by 12:15 or we wouldn’t be allowed in, so my anxious worried mode kicked in as we neared our deadline.

Steven Moffat reached us first. I had a feeling he would head straight past us, but brilliantly he wandered over from the opposite barrier and headed straight to me. I had a large print of the movie-style poster of The Day of The Doctor which he duly signed before posing for an ultimate selfie with everyone else. I tried to get into the shot myself, but couldn’t quite fit my huge head in. Here’s us as he signed:

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And here’s the ultimate selfie, stolen from Jenny. From L-R: Andrew, Laura, Jenny, Adam, Moff.

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After SteeMo went on his way, I rolled my print back up and returned it to my trusty tube, before eagerly waiting the arrival of Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi. From our vantage point we could just make out our new heroes slowly making their way along the crowds, signing autographs and posing for photos with the fans. As we expected, given where we were standing, they were dragged away by interviewers and photographers as they neared us, so we didn’t get to meet them. Jenna I’ve met before, and I’m sure I’ll get a chance to meet Capaldi sooner or later, so I wasn’t particularly concerned. I was more interested in watching the premiere of the episode. We managed to briefly speak to Samuel Anderson, who will be playing Danny Pink in the new series, so that topped off our red carpet experience, before working our way through the massed crowds to St David’s Hall.

We knew already that we had great tickets. I always struggle to fight for tickets for these things but somehow I managed to get us seats in Row F in the stalls, so GO ME. Our view was thus:

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After a brief introduction from Jason Mohammed to the cast and some crew, the lights finally went down and we were treated to the feature-length majesty that was Deep Breath. As you’ll have spotted from the title of this post, you’ll be getting no spoilers from me. All I will say is that Capaldi nailed it, Jenna was as good as I’ve seen her in the role, and I love the new opening titles. There are moments in this episode that fans will remember for a long time. That’s all you’re getting. Wait until Saturday.

The episode came to a conclusion to a huge round of applause. I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must be for Steven Moffat, sitting in the front row, with all those fans’ expectations on his shoulders. I think the reaction at the time will have helped him to relax a little.

Jason Mohammed returned to the stage and introduced Peter, Jenna and Moff to the audience again ahead of the Q&A. I’ve been to a number of Q&As in the last few years, and in all honesty, they range from boring to cringeworthy and back again at lightning speed. The actual interview, chaired by Jason, was very interesting. Capaldi came across as being extremely genial and gave some great answers to some decent questions. I found, as usually seems to be the case, that Jenna Coleman was overlooked somewhat. The majority of questions were directed at Capaldi and Moffat, and I got the impression that Jason tended to include Jenna just to make her feel like she wasn’t a spare part. I can partly understand this – she’s been in the show some time, and Capaldi is new to the world of Who (and obviously plays the lead role) so people want to hear from the new guy.

As usual far too many of the audience questions smacked a little of ‘wanting to speak to the actors without having a cogent and interesting question to mind’. One chap even asked half the previous person’s question before giving up and handing the microphone back. One particular highlight was the moment Capaldi was asked to wish a questioner’s friend a happy birthday, which he and Jenna did, before leading the whole audience in a rendition of the song (Happy Birthday, Sarah!), This I think endeared him to the fans even more. Anybody worried about Capaldi not being appealing to the younger fans clearly don’t know anything about younger fans. They don’t give a monkeys how old he is. And anyway, to a little kid, even Tennant and Smith were ‘old’.

With the exception of A) the family behind us inexplicably talking through the whole episode (one member of said family, mum perhaps, texting the whole time!) and B) a terrible sound system in the Hall, rendering a good half of the dialogue extremely hard to follow, I had a fantastic day out in Cardiff. I can’t wait for the evening of Saturday 23rd so I can start discussing the episode with everyone else. I think our new Doctor is going to be very popular indeed. There’s a new direction for this show. It’s still Doctor Who, just with a different face.

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Photo courtesy of Laura Robinson

The Age of The Doctor

Peter Capaldi

It seems an age since the BBC announced that Matt Smith was taking over from David Tennant as the Doctor, but the debate that raged back then is still fresh in my mind. He’s too young, some said. He’s an unknown, others argued. I had similar reservations. I wanted a Doctor who looked like he’d been there, done that; a Doctor who had hundreds of years of knowledge, loss and pain in his eyes. I wasn’t aware of Smith’s earlier work but I will admit I feared the worst.

Smith’s Doctor turned out to be one of the most beautifully crafted, exciting and watchable incarnations of the character since the show began. I don’t think anyone can deny that Smith’s portrayal of the Doctor helped to sell the show across the world, and take it from cult sci-fi status to the stratospheric hit it is today. He leaves having given Doctor Who a truly worldwide audience.

Peter Capaldi has now been handed the keys to the TARDIS and, although his appointment has been met with almost universal approval, there are murmurs this time that he’s too old to play the part, that he’s not attractive enough for the role. I was delighted at Capaldi’s appointment, and not just because of his undoubted pedigree as an actor. I think we needed an older Doctor.

We seem to live in a time where an individual’s appearance is often considered their most important feature. A time where the youth of today aspire to be like Joey Essex or some other dimwit whose only observable redeeming feature is that they scrub up nice. Clearly this is not an accusation anyone could level at Matt Smith, who carried the majority of the last two series on his own with some excellent performances, but one does wonder whether quite as many official Doctor Who lunchboxes, chocolate bars and bath sets would have been sold with a less aesthetically pleasing face emblazoned on the packaging.

In a time where the majority of our ‘mature’ actors seem to be poked with a walking stick toward the retirement home that is Downton Abbey and the like, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Capaldi being cast in one of the most important roles this country has ever produced. A whole generation of young viewers will have an older hero for the foreseeable future, which can only be a good thing.

I think age can be deceptive. Although Capaldi is pretty much as old as Hartnell was when he took the role, he’s not portraying Twelve as an aged, white-haired man with a walking stick. Although he’s evidently not a sprightly young man like Smith, I don’t think it’ll be too much to ask for the new Doctor to engage in his fair share of action sequences.

It is important for the show and its progress that each Doctor is absolutely different to his predecessor. Indeed, we are already hearing on the grapevine that the Twelfth Doctor will be more ‘dangerous’ than his previous incarnations. Although I tend to take rumours with a pinch of salt, I don’t doubt that Twelve will be portrayed as a little darker, and in this respect I think Peter Capaldi is perfectly cast. Capaldi is a fine actor, who has a proven track record in comedy and drama and has already shown through his work on The Thick of It that he is more than capable of leading man status.

Perhaps he may not sell quite as many lunchboxes, but you can be sure that Peter Capaldi will give us a brilliant Doctor.

Latersville.