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

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Sherlock – Caitlin Moran: BFI Q+A (SPOILER FREE)

I was one of the very lucky few to attend the BFI screening of the Sherlock series three opener ‘The Empty Hearse’ this weekend. This blog is not about the episode, and will contain absolutely no information, clues, spoilers or anything else relating to it.

It started for me on the train home to Manchester from London. I checked my phone, refreshed Twitter, and searched for posts relating to ‘bfi sherlock’. I wanted to get an idea of other attendees’ views on the episode and their experience of the day. What I found was surprising. Or maybe it wasn’t.

If I had not attended the screening that afternoon I might have come to the conclusion that two very highly regarded Hollywood actors had been coerced – nay, forced – into ridiculing a shocked and distraught audience with a reading of hardcore pornography. These terrible events had been orchestrated by the host, who had set out to humiliate the actors and belittle the author of said work, before picking off random members of the outraged audience with a handgun, in a final, bloody, coup de grace.

As it happens, I did attend the screening, and I did attend the Q+A – and I would like to share with you what actually happened, in front of my eyes.

Following the screening, the cast and crew of Sherlock were introduced onto the BFI stage alongside our host for the afternoon, journalist Caitlin Moran. Both Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were there, with co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, producer Sue Vertue and director Jeremy Lovering. Caitlin began proceedings with an invitation to the gathered masses to get one enormous admiring scream out of the way right off the bat, and the audience duly obliged.

The questioning began with a long conversation about the episode we had just watched. Again, no spoilers here. Everyone on stage was having a good time, with plenty of good natured banter between them. All involved had a chance to speak for a while, and plenty of topics were covered, none of which I can describe, simply because it was entirely spoilerific for a good half an hour.

Eventually, the conversation (note: conversation, not simply questions and answers) turned to the subject of Sherlock fan-fiction. To great amusement from the audience, specifically the throngs of fangirls, Caitlin briefly suggested future plot ideas to the crew taken from three ‘fanfics’ she had found online. As the title of each fanfic was read out, the fangirls around me gasped excitedly and leaned forward in their seats, suggesting to me that the majority of them knew these stories very well, and very clearly wanted their heroes to know about them too.

Finally, Caitlin revealed the title of the story that has caused so much fuss in SherlockFandomLand over the last 24 hours. It was entitled “Tea”, which was, as it turns out, a sequel to “Coffee”. Yes, this got a laugh. Not just from Caitlin, as many would have you believe, but from the entire audience (including all the fangirls sat in my line of sight), cast, and crew. It got a laugh, because it’s a fact that Tea (a sequel to Coffee) is a cute, funny title in any universe. Not mockingly funny, just funny. Caitlin did state that the story “doesn’t contain anything bad”. I have read the story. It does contain a lot of bad. But not the section we were about to hear. Unless you think a gay kiss is ‘bad’, and I certainly don’t.

Then the moment of truth. Did Caitlin Moran really FORCE Benedict and Martin to read an extract from this fanfic? Were Benedict and Martin MADE to perform like monkeys in front of a baying crowd?

No. No she didn’t, and no they weren’t.

Printouts of the fanfic were passed to the pair. That’s ‘passed’. Handed over. Let’s just make it perfectly clear that nothing was thrust into either actor’s face. At this point I would recommend you watch the three-minute video which has circulated online. It’s happily spoiler-free, so everyone can see what transpires. Obviously I was there, so I saw it all happen in context with the rest of the show, but this is the next best thing. My own observations are highlighted in bold.

It begins with Caitlin asking the actors to play their roles in the fanfic while also reading their respective narratives. She then light-heartedly (watch the video) jokes that Jeremy Lovering is directing, to which Martin responds, with great comedy timing, “Get them in”, gesturing to the audience. This is a reference to something joked about earlier in the session, wherein it was acknowledged how difficult it was to film an episode without onlookers getting into shot. Again, the audience are all laughing. It was a funny moment.

Martin begins to read his part. As he reads, I am watching the audience. Being sat towards the rear of the not-very-large theatre, I can see everything. What you cannot see on the leaked video is all the fans/fangirls leaning forward, huge smiles on their face, giggling away. They are not laughing at the fanfic. They are laughing excitedly at their heroes reading an actual fanfic in front of their eyes.

Benedict then responds with his first line, which is “Sherlock licked his bottom lip”, to which Steven Moffat responds with “Whose bottom lip?” This of course gets a laugh from the audience. This is not mocking laughter, aimed at the piece or the author. This is laughter at a quick-witted response from Moffat. All on stage know what’s coming, clearly, because they are all very aware of Sherlock fan-fiction. The subsequent laughter comes from anticipation. “How far are they going to go?”

As a result of Moffat’s interruption, Benedict points out a slight narrative error in the script, nothing serious at all, which is swiftly brushed over as it is unimportant. Again, at this stage the audience are hooked to this. It is fascinating. Is Benedict Cumberbatch really going to read aloud from a fan’s work? It certainly seems so. Even better, Benedict’s next line is read in his Sherlock voice. For me personally, being in the same room as the actor who plays Sherlock actually playing Sherlock is phenomenal.

Martin responds with what I actually consider a very well written line of narrative – “John turned to the left, his body at attention” – before tilting his head in a knowing way towards the audience. The double entendre here causes plenty of merriment. Soon after this, another line read by Martin, “John swallowed” gives us the biggest laugh, and curiously, a round of applause. A ROUND OF APPLAUSE.

This is not awkward. This is not an unpleasant atmosphere. This is joyful – these two A-list actors are on stage sharing in something fanmade, to an adoring audience, who are loving every second. And I feel I should reiterate, the majority of the attendees are most certainly fangirls (and fanboys, if you include me).

After Martin read a further line, Benedict paused briefly. This was the main incident, which needs to be clarified. Benedict did pause. Martin turned to him, expecting him to continue with the story, but Benedict had turned to Caitlin to suggest ‘let’s stop it here’. Caitlin immediately obliged and announced “yes, shall we stop it here – this sounded a lot better in my head”. NOTE – VERY IMPORTANT– both Benedict and Martin laughed at that statement, asking “did you write it?”. They did not feel put upon, they were not forced into a corner, they were obviously having a good time. So much so, that Benedict actually asked Caitlin whether they were ruining anything by stopping early.

Caitlin, as can be seen on the video, was almost over-apologetic, thinking that the previous minute or two hadn’t been entertaining, but it had. There was nothing unpleasant, nothing derisive towards the author, except for one statement – that the last line was “clumsily written” – but we’re not exactly talking about a damning critique on the author’s work. It’s all there to see on the video.

Benedict then made a statement. And it is this statement which I feel has caused all the uproar against Caitlin Moran. If Benedict hadn’t said this, the backlash towards Caitlin would not have happened, I am sure.

Benedict’s statement was this: “It’s just a point, I mean the fans can do what they like, but there’s a point, we do what we do with it, and that’s the fun we have with our fiction of it, is to point out that that [a kiss between John and Sherlock] is ludicrous in our universe of this storytelling. So, sorry to be all ‘mmmmm’ about it…*adopts cockney accent* His nibs ain’t doing that”.

Caitlin at this point apologised, explained that she was very sorry, and throws it open to the audience. All is rosy again. This was lighthearted.

Benedict’s statement caused the problem. The issue we have is that Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the show and the hero to the fangirls, has just stated openly and publicly that he doesn’t like fan-fiction. This causes a problem, because the fans are not going to turn on him, are they? No chance. They’re not going to turn on the rest of the cast and crew either. No, they’re going to turn on the one easy target – Caitlin Moran.

And so, this is what happened. Even though everyone in that room thoroughly enjoyed the whole event, through countless generations of Chinese whispers and misheard/misunderstood comments, the whole Sherlock fandom formed an army against Caitlin Moran, bombarding her Twitter with all sorts of unpleasantness. She’s been accused of going into that Q+A with an agenda from the outset, to use Benedict and Martin as pawns in her carefully planned attack on the fandom. And then there’s the other angle, that the whole thing was a direct attack on fanfics and through that, a direct attack on feminism. To paraphrase Benedict, THAT’S ludicrous. It’s nonsense. Utter, utter nonsense.

I will state at this point that I am aware of the other issues people have raised in relation to the event, such as ‘was it morally/legally right for this author’s work to be performed without permission?’ or ‘what about the breaking of the fourth wall (mixing up fan-fiction with the actual original canon actors)?’ but these are questions for other people to discuss and debate. I just want to put the actual unbiased facts out there, as it’s obvious that a great deal of misinformation has been fed to people through blogs and Twitter.

At worst, the introduction of the fanfic to proceedings was an error of judgement on Caitlin’s part. Simply that, a mistake. And I do have sympathy for the writer of said fanfic, who has stated that she never wanted the cast to read her work. But it certainly wasn’t torn apart like it’s being suggested it was.

For those who launched their tirades against Caitlin for ‘breaking the fourth wall’ and sharing fan-created material with the stars of the show, I’m reminded of a talk some time ago, where Martin Freeman was asked by a young fangirl whether he would wear ‘red pants’ for the show, to which the whole room full of fangirls shrieked with excitement, while Martin called them ‘dirty minded f**kers’. This was a direct reference to fan-made material involving artwork featuring John Watson in red underwear, and a direct request for the actor to wear said underwear in the show. Interesting then how this fourth wall opinion has now changed, simply because Caitlin Moran is someone in the public eye.

I am not defending Caitlin Moran because of any political, or feministic, or any other reason. I don’t read The Times and I have not yet read her books. I’m defending her because I’m sick of seeing the pack mentality on Twitter, especially when it comes to fandoms, ganging up on someone for reasons they have only heard second, third or fourth-hand. Or from watching a three-minute video of an event which lasted three hours.

Thank you for reading this, if you did. If you share my opinion, great. If not, then equally great, it’s up to you. I’m just stating the facts.

Latersville.