Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

Working on novel and movie book - burned out as far as rant energy goes which is why I have not posted on the election yet...

In the meantime, as promised to various of you, the piece on the Ninth |Doctor and the HHGG movie that appeared in the TLS today
Which Doctor you regarded as the best, was one of those things that said something about you, like which Beatle you thought of as your special imaginary friend. Other fans would ask you the question and then look at you with cold eyes if you gave the wrong answer.

For people who were even mildly devoted to it, 'Doctor Who' was never just a programme. Like other mythopaeic objects of pop culture love - both Sherlock Holmes and Buffy the Vampire Slayer spring to mind here - the Doctor was a secular messiah, who both saved people and helped them save themselves. Like both of the two cited, only rather more often, he died and was reborn; far more than either of them, he was an alien enigma on to whom both fans, and new actors playing the part, could project whatever they chose.

Then there were his companions. Almost all such figures have sidekicks, to be rescued or occasionally to rescue, to sit still during expository speeches, to act as occasional voices of conscience or realism. Doctor Who had many such, usually eye candy for the parents of the children and adolescents at whom the show was aimed, but often rather more interesting than that would imply - the pragmatic barbarian Leila or the ultra-sophisticate Romana.

The fan audience is especially relevant when considering the show's return, because both its production team and its large starting audience reflect the continued loyalty of people who never entirely accepted the show's cancellation as a rational market decision. For those people who care, there was a falling off after the years in which Tom Baker played the Doctor's fourth version, but Sylvester McCoy, the Doctor at the time of cancellation, was far from the worst of his successors and had a particularly interesting companion. In fan mythology, cancellation was an arbitrary decision by Michael Grade and thus something which the BBC might take back at any time.

This seemed less likely after a failed co-production with Paul McGann as a rather more transatlantic version of the Doctor. However, the irresistible rise to prominence of the scriptwriter Russell T. Davies changed matters. As early as his ground-breaking 'Queer as Folk', Davies had put his cards on the table; that show's co-hero Vince was an obsessive Whovian. In an alliance with various other bright youngish A-list things - Mark Gattis of 'The League of Gentlemen' for example - Davies persuaded the BBC that the show was viable, again.

The first three episodes are at once enjoyable in themselves and a celebration of the show's past - the trip to the far future and the terrifying Victorian ghost story are both plots the show repeated time and time again, which is known, when viewed favourably, as playing to your strengths rather than as mere obsession. Christopher Eccleston is a hipper, sexier Doctor than we were used to in the past - less a scarily dour grandfather or a mad wonderful uncle than a friend's very cool elder brother.

One of the new show's principal strengths, though, is Billie Piper as Rose, the new companion. She is very clearly a post-Buffy companion, who can swing on a rope and knock an animated mannequin flying as to the manner born. She is also attractively vulnerable, seeing the wonder of the Earth's end, but also being upset by it, and possessed of a common sense that counterpoints the Doctor's sometimes naive idealism. She is also what is known as a Mary Sue - an unironic reflection of the writers' and fans' desire to get in there and help the Doctor out while looking pretty. At the same time, she is a modern working-class woman, and a non-gendered channel for audience participation.

Another product of endless fannish yearning is the big screen rescension of Douglas Adams' 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', a project on which Adams, himself at one point a script editor and writer on 'Doctor Who' was engaged at the time of his untimely death. Like the novel, the television show and the computer game, the film version is a recycling of the original radio serial as much as a reimagining of the material. It is like listening to Bach or Handel; you get a sequence of greatest hits moments you know well and then it takes off into an entirely different and new piece of passage work that you treasure almost as much.

This tendency to reprise affects many of the performances: Alan Rickman's delivery of Marvin the Android's lines - 'Brain the size of a planet...' are a reading as complexly endebted to Stephen Moore's in the radio show as Judi Dench's 'A Handbag?!' was to Edith Evans. Some of the reinvention is inspired - Mos Def as the alien Ford Prefect is hip enough to be aware of the possibility that the man you go off to find at the end of the world is perhaps not just your best friend.

Martin Freeman is attractively tousled as the film's Candide figure, Arthur Dent, yet convincing in the few moments in which Hollywoodization dictates that he not be entirely passive, that he have a capacity for irritation or heroism. Arthur Dent is not so much Everyman, as Every English Man, confronted with a world that was always alien to him even before he ended up travelling on spaceships.

Part of what fans look for is comfort - they want the new, but not the too new. Given this, the film was always going to have some problems. The television show used, in the moments that were extracts from the eponymous book, what were not in fact computer graphics, but look even now charming in their simplicity and wit; the film has to try, with mixed results, for something equally non-realistic. As designed by the Hensons' Creature Shop, the villainous bureaucratic Vogons have more warts than one's mental image, perhaps rather too many more. The sphere-on- sphere redesign of Marvin is too cute - it is pleasant to see the old TV cardboard boxes design in a crowd scene. As a film, 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' takes few risks, is a pleasant way to spend time and will create few new fans of its own.

Some of this got cut, but not that much...

Went to a lecture on Crowley and was amazed to find that I take the old fraud more seriously than most of the people there. How times change...Cigarette smokers are normally good about not doing it in crowded rooms very much - pipe smokers are unpleasantly insistent on their rights and all the more so the more noxious the type of shag they smoke. Dammit - I shall be coughing for days.
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