The Original Doctor is Back!

Our house is a house that loves its science fiction. I’ve enjoyed that
genre since I was old enough to watch TV and read books. Some of that I’ve
successfully passed on to my children as Daniel now loves Star Wars. He
enjoys the movies, and loves playing Lego Star Wars on the Wii. But for me,
my first – and enduring – sci-fi love was Doctor Who.

The re-boot of Doctor Who has been fantastic – so much so that David
Tennant is almost up there with Tom Baker as my favourite Doctor. But I
still pine for the original Doctor Who, which was a huge part of by
childhood cultural experiences. It was an exciting time with a movie-length
story being split into 4 to 6 parts. With each week ending with a
cliff-hanger, it really built up anticipation for the next week’s episode.

Tom Baker, the fourth Doctor, as I’ve said remains my favourite. He really
brought an unpredictable eccentricity to the role and made it his own. Jon
Pertwee – Jane’s favourite – was the first Doctor I can remember on TV,
although I’ve read plenty of books featuring the first two Doctors. I’ve
seen the odd story featuring Patrick Troughton, and of course the first
ever story broadcast was re-broadcast in full recently during the 50th
anniversary celebrations.

Imagine my delight last week when Jane discovered that original Doctor Who
was being broadcast on the Horror Channel! Two episodes a day from 8.50pm.
Its now where Sky+ HD is coming into its own, and all stories are now being
recorded to be watched – and re-watched – at leisure. Yes, the production
may not be as polished as the current Doctor Who is, but then that was part
of its charm. As a child, the Doctor’s enemies – particularly the Daleks,
Cybermen and Ice Warriors were terrifying. The Cybermen in particular were
frightening because the appeared human, but were most decidedly ice-cold
automatons. Current Cybermen just look like big robots to me, and are now
seen as being cool!

The stories are being broadcast out of sync – we started with a Patrick
Troughton story, which was immediately followed by a Jon Pertwee story.
That’s the most minor of grumbles though, although I’d love it if the
Horror Channel broadcast the Ark in Space/Sontaran Experiment/Genesis of
the Daleks/Revenge of the Cybermen story arc consecutively. They remain my
favourite Doctor Who stories. But it was wonderful to see Patrick Troughton
as the Doctor. Perhaps the very early Doctors are forgotten – it was 45+
years ago – so its easy to forget how good they were. Troughton’s Doctor
introduced us to legendary characters like Brigadier Alistair
Lethbridge-Stewart, while Jon Pertwee brought us Jo Grant and the greatest
companion of them all, Sarah-Jane Smith (and Harry Sullivan of course.)

This week has been great though. The Seeds of Death, featuring the Ice
Warriors, has been followed by The Daemons, featuring the wonderful Roger
Delgado as The Master. If you’ve become a fan of Doctor Who since its
re-boot, don’t pass up the opportunity to see where it all begain. Without
William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker, there
wouldn’t be a Doctor Who today. For me, the series record has been enabled,
and I’m going to fill my boots on the original Doctor.


Adventure Time Weekend

As I may have reported a couple of weeks ago, Matthew and Daniel have a new obsession – the joys of being an autism parent – Adventure Time on Cartoon Network. Its a bizarre programme featuring a magical 28-year old (talking) dog, Jake and his companion Finn (the Human.) They discovered it on Sky On Demand and although there were only 3 episodes (of 2 stories each), they loved it instantly. It amusing and strange. Set in the Land of Ooo, with a diverse set of non-human characters, where Finn is in non-stop pursuit of Princess Bubblegum. Adventure Time focusses on Finn and Jake’s strange adventures.

I made the possible mistake of recording all of this week’s episodes (its on at least 3 times a day, so that’s a minimum of 6 episodes each day. Well, since then, the boys have been filling their boots on it. Its on constantly, and it won’t bother the boys if they see an episode 2 or 3 times in a day. This weekend has been Adventure Time weekend. This kind of obsessive behaviour is part of who Matthew and Daniel are. I suppose this is a reasonably healthy obsession, although it seems like every episode is a psychedelic adventure!

At least it has kept Daniel occupied and still while his knees have been healing following his op. That ‘s one of the difficulties with Daniel – even when he is unwell he doesn’t want to slow down. He’s on the go absolutely non-stop and it was a concern as to how we’d keep him from trying to slow down. Well, it seems that Adventure Time has done that nicely, and while it can get slightly wearing (I actually enjoy it too!) it has been performing a function this week. It has been quite hard trying to explain all of the gags, as the humour does seem pitched on multiple levels.

Its been a long week for Daniel. He has needed to be at home to help him get over his operation, and let his wounds heal. Were it not for Adventure Time keeping his special little brain active, it could have been infinitely longer! For the time being, we’re back off to the Land of Ooo for another adventure with Finn and Jake!

New TV Obsession for our Autistic Boys!

I’ve written a few times about the obsessive nature of our two boys – and autistic kids in general. Lego Star Wars is a great example for Daniel ( Well, I think we’ve got a new one. While we have Sky+ HD in our front room, Jane & I often watch TV upstairs thanks to old person treating the living room as personal living space. We’ve bemoaned the fact we get little chance to watch the programmes we record, or don’t see in HD. Well a couple of weeks ago we took the plunge and ordered Sky+ HD to replace our box upstairs. It finally arrived last Wednesday, and by the afternoon we had HD and On Demand TV.

Now, On Demand is something the boys love. There’s plenty of movies they love to see over and over, and that function allows them to indulge without searching for DVDs. One thing we noticed while we were playing with our new box was all the kids TV that was on demand. The boys have taken that, and have run with it. One game Daniel loves on his iPad is Adventure Time, with Finn the Human, and Jake (his (talking) dog.) Imagine their delight when they found it on demand. There’s only six episodes at the moment available, but since yesterday they’ve been watched maybe four or five times a day. I have to admit, they are so zany and ridiculous that they are in fact quite amusing. The dialogue between Finn and Jake is superbly done.

Its a new obsession and for the time being, Matthew has moved on from Garfield (also on demand, but yet to be noticed!) and Tom and Jerry (Well, some of that has been downloaded/recorded!) and its Adventure Time all the way. For the rest of us, we’d soon get bored of the same thing over and over, but for their special brains, its as fresh and interesting seeing it for the 10th time as it is seeing it for the first time. In a way, it can’t all be bad having your brain wired that way. Still, for now they have something new to enjoy, and at least they do move on from their obsessions to brand new ones after a while, so they are trying new things, and that’s fine.

We’ll see how long this one lasts!

Emotional Day of the Doctor

For 40-odd years or so, I’ve loved Doctor Who. The build up to the 50th anniversary episode was mixed for me though. I’ve not liked some of the things Steven Moffat has done with the Doctor, so my excitement has been tinged with apprehension. But the last week has swept me along, and I was so excited about The Day of the Doctor. But, would Moffat do it justice? Well, I needn’t have worried.

The story was an excellent one, with a superb mix of the Zygons (from one of my favourite storied featuring the “Dream Team” of Tom Baker, Lis Sladen, Ian Marter and Nicholas Courtney) and the Daleks (it had to be.) Moffat’s re-visiting of the Time War was a masterstroke and again it demonstrated how the Doctor is better than us. He may be alien, but time and time again, he displays such humanity (refusing to commit genocide against the Daleks?) that we can only dream of being as human as the Doctor. Maybe it removed the thread of guilt that’s been running through the show since its reboot, but refusing to destroy the Time Lords gave us a beautiful scene.

David Tennant, Matt Smith & John Hurt put in absolutely magnificent performances. The mix of humour and drama was a balancing act brilliantly performed by Steven Moffat. There was brilliant chemistry between the three doctors, which was added to be a fine performance too from Jenna-Louise Colman. She reinforces the Doctor’s conscience and you knew he was going to do the right thing.

But what made tonight so special for me was the memories it evoked of Doctor Who for me. The scene with the Doctors returning to Gallifrey with all Doctors – along with an enticing appearance from Peter Capaldi – was the first moment that a lump began to develop in my throat. I have so loved all the Doctors I’ve known since a 4/5 year old first tuned in to Jon Pertwee’s Doctor.

Then Moffat pulls the masterstoke. With the Time War ended, and the Time Lords surviving, its down to the Doctor to bring Gallifrey back into time. But before Matt Smith goes off  on his final adventure, we were given a moment I’ve been waiting 32 years for. Seeing Tom Baker as the Doctor one more time finally brought tears to my eyes I’m not ashamed to say. To me there will never be a Doctor like him. Thank you Steven Moffat for that moment. It was beautifully bittersweet.

The wonderful tribute to the Doctor was capped off by a lovely piece in the closing credits where we saw all 12 Doctors together. It was just too emotional, leading to more tears. The fiftieth anniversary tribute to the Doctor was over, and I was overwhelmed. I had feared that perhaps Steven Moffat wouldn’t deliver a fitting enough tribute. Well, he didn’t just deliver a fitting tribute. He went the extra mile to bring us laughter, tears, suspense and memories. Thank you Mr Moffat, and thank you to the BBC for delivering an evening that left Whovians everywhere breathless with excitement. Here’s to another fabulous 50 years of the Doctor.

Curious George

Part of the fun of being a parent is getting away with watching kids programmes & films on TV without feeling guilty about doing so. Some of the things we’ve watched in recent years are a trip back to our own childhoods (in this house anyway) – its a great opportunity to educated the boys in what we watched as kids, honest! Its been interesting to see Matthew and Daniel – Matthew more so – fall in love with Scooby Doo on Boomerang TV (obviously, the 70s SD pre-Scrappy is the best!) Matthew will watch it in all its forms over and over (and over and over) getting excited by each episode.

One thing that they’ve watched that I also quite enjoy is Curious George. For the completely uninitiated, Curious George is a small monkey who lives with Ted (aka the Man in the Yellow Hat) George and Ted met in the jungle in the feature length Curious George when Ted was searching for a lost idol that would save his museum. After a scrape or two in the jungle, George stowed away with Ted, and returned to (what I assume is) New York. George and Ted eventually become to know each other, and Ted “adopts” George. Its given rise to a second movie and a series on Disney Junior. But although its a children’s programme, there’s something about George that strikes a chord with me.

George is a dreamer. But unlike most of us when we have our dreams, George finds ways to make them happen. He doesn’t comprehend that there may be obstacles in the pay that will prevent those dreams from being realised. He sees the end result, then comes up with ways of making them happen. But most of all, George is so kind hearted, and is always thinking of people other than himself. Usually his dreams involve making other people – usually Ted – happy. He so wants to please others. He’s such an enjoyable character to watch that when we go on holiday and the boys are choosing their DVDs for watching in the evening, they always know to put in Curious George 2, as its one of my favourites.

The movie starts with Ted being in the running for the post of museum director at his boss’s museums. He’s so focussed on that, he loses sight of George’s need for his friendship. But Ted (and friend) take George to a magic show that features an elephant. George and Ted get up on stage to assist, and George befriends the elephant (Kayla.) It turns out Kayla misses her brother and sister, who are in an animal park in California. George escapes with Kayla, and eventually they (and Ted) embark on a cross country chase to California. All George wants to do is help Kayla. Eventually, Ted realises what a thrilling ride it was, and that he had lost sight of what was important in his life. George overcomes all the barriers in their way, and reunites Kayla with her family.

George’s dreaming and desire to help sometime make me think of Daniel. Daniel is so keen to help and please you that its so touching. It makes me think if George is a representation of a non-verbal autistic child. Maybe I just see similarities between his characteristics and Daniel (although he’s anything but non-verbal!) and two plus two is coming to five. Like Daniel though, George takes actions to make dreams work and doesn’t really think about anything other than the end result, usually leaving things in a mess, but ending with the people in his life being happy.

I know we often refer to Daniel as being a monkey, but maybe that’s not so far from the truth!

50 Years and Counting. The Doctor Goes On.

Last night, Jane & I clicked on to BBC to watch the Doctor Who documentary, Doctor Who – the Ultimate Guide. It was a great way to spend the evening, going through the Doctors and Companions that were part of my growing up. The re-boot has captured a new, younger legion of fans, and that may explain the Doctor Who related polls that constantly put new series Doctors & Companions in the top 5 lists and so on. To me, it’s a mystery that the current crop – I think with the exception of David Tennant – are favoured over “classic” Doctor Who, but times move on. New Whovians who have been watching the last few years will – like me (and people of my age) – have THEIR Doctor. So, to many David Tennant will be hard to beat. Same goes with Companions, with Rose coming out on top.

I’ve enjoyed the re-boot, with some of it coming as a surprise. Billie Piper didn’t fill me with anticipation when she landed the part of Rose, but she was indeed a very pleasant surprise as the Doctor’s companion. It helped that she was alongside 2 great Doctors. Chris Eccleston was excellent, but David Tennant was even better. Piper had a good chemistry with them both, and the scene in which Rose left the Doctor was a real tear-jerker. What was a huge surprise was Catherine Tate, aka Donna Noble. I wasn’t a fan of Tate’s show, and almost dreaded her time with the Doctor, but it was excellent. There was no romantic link between the Doctor and Donna, as it should be with Doctor Who. The companion is there to represent us. We want them to be asking the Doctor the questions we would ask. For me, its still the best partnership of the re-boot. Unfortunately, Matt Smith has been a bit disappointing for me, and I never took to Karen Gillan. Hers (and Arthur Darville, who I liked as Rory) was another lump-in-the-throat moment.

But “my” Doctor was Tom Baker. As a child in the 70s, Doctor Who was a huge part of my life. Saturday evening was a really high point of the week when a new episode of the Doctor appeared on our screens. The format was a good one – a short episode with a cliff hanger as part of a 4 or 6 part story. Modern attention spans seem to demand a much quicker, snappier delivery of stories, but not much beats the format of the original series. Jon Pertwee was a great Doctor (in my top 3 with Baker & Tennant) but it was the quirky portrayal of the Doctor by Tom Baker that did it for me. He was superbly partnered by the wonderful Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and Ian Marter as Harry Sullivan. It was much simpler then. No complex back stories, as their has been with Clara. Just battling the bad guys, with Sarah Jane getting into danger, and the Doctor winning the day.

The Doctor was definitely portrayed as a character aloof from human existence, but a keen observer of it nonetheless. Despite his humanoid form, there was no doubting he was different from us, and as a result was much better placed to observe humanity. Tom Baker did it brilliantly, and with both humour and solemnity. It was Baker as the Doctor who appeared in what remain my favourite stories, although Blink and The Pandorica Opens of the new series are up there too. The story arc that began with the Ark in Space then finally ended with Revenge of the Cybermen (via The Sontaran Experiment) was for me a golden period for Doctor Who. Thrilling battles with the Doctor’s most bitter enemies. But it was a story in amongst those that will forever stand out for me – Genesis of the Daleks. The Daleks (and Cybermen) were an enemy that were decidedly frightening for a 6/7 year old. It was YEARS before they are now considered “cool” by younger viewers. Even when Baker & Lalla Ward’s Romana fought the Daleks on Skaro in Day of the Daleks, the impending appearance of the Daleks was still a scary moment – to an 11 year old!

Genesis of the Daleks explored the Doctor’s deeper thoughts and showed that he does indeed have a conscience. Sent to Skaro by the Time Lords to destroy the Daleks, it turned out he couldn’t do it. The Dalek’s survived, but so did the Doctor’s humanity. I’ve watched it (of course I’ve got it on DVD!) with the boys, and Daniel in particular loves it. But of course, its just a one-off story for them, and not a part of their childhood as it was for me. As a result, Sarah Jane Smith will always remain untouched as the Doctor’s finest companion. Lis Sladen’s untimely death makes her last scene with Tennant’s Doctor even more poignant. Given the chance to see the people he most cared for, the Doctor saw Sarah Jane one more time, and I think he realised he cared for her most. At least, I like to think so! It was such a sad moment to see it again.

Other Doctors and Companions have struck a chord with me – I did like Peter Davison, who, like Matt Smith, had the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of a great Doctor. On balance, I think Davison did a better job, but Matt Smith did eventually grow into the role. There have been dozens of companions, but while none will ever match Sarah Jane, there have been some noteables for me. Ian Marter accompanied Sarah Jane, and was excellent, as was Liz Shaw & Jo Grant. Tegan Jovanka was also a favourite in Tom Baker’s latter years as the Doctor.

This week has been an opportunity to wallow in some of the finest science fiction television has ever seen. Its British Sci-Fi’s finest hour, and its been wonderful to be reminded of what it meant to me as a child. The boys have slowly gotten into it, and they now have their favourite Doctors. Matthew is a Matt Smith boy, while Daniel is a David Tennant lad, but we’re all looking forward to Peter Capaldi taking the role. He’s what Doctor Who needs – an older Doctor who will act as a father figure to his companions. I hope he is portrayed once again as the aloof observer of humanity. I think now the boys are fully aware of the Doctor, Capaldi will become “their” Doctor. After 50 years of the greatest time traveller we’ve known, its good to know that the Doctor will be loved by a whole new generation.

Have a happy 50th Doctor!

Late Night Movies

We’ve just been watching Big Bang Theory that finished with Leonard, Sheldon, and Amy  at the theatre to see Penny in A Streetcar Named Desire. I remember that of course from the 1951 movie with Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden & Kim Hunter. It was noteable for being the first movie to land Academy Awards for best supporting actor (Malden) and best supporting actress (Hunter) – as well as best actress for Leigh. I first saw it maybe 25 – 30 years ago watching late night TV. I became enthralled, particularly at Vivien Leigh’s performance, and was desperate to find out what happened to Blanche & Stella.

TV then was very different from now. Late night TV 30 years ago generally saw some great old movies on at 11pm or later, usually on a Friday night. Classic movies could be enjoyed in solitude, letting you fully appreciate some of Hollywood’s finest offerings from its golden age. Another was The Asphalt Jungle. Another movie that maybe isn’t bursting with all out action as modern movies are, but it still manages to draw you in. Somehow, seeing it late at night made it a better experience than seeing in the day time. I suppose we’re traditionally used to seeing movies in the evening. Jane and I only go to the cinema during the week when I have a day off, and it seems strange and somehow decadent to come out of the cinema in daylight!

It was late night though that brought me face-to-face with one of my top five movies of all time. Its the great British movie, A Canterbury Tale, starring Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price & John Sweet. I had already fallen in love with the movies of the 30s and 40s before I encountered this gem. Its loosely based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tale (of course) and its setting in wartime rural Kent paints an idyllic image of rural England. Ultimately the central characters make their way to Canterbury on a pilgrimage for their own personal reasons. Its a lovely movie that I never tire of seeing. I’ve bought it on dvd, and enjoy it ( every time I see it. I’m not sure what it is about this film I love so much – and other movies of the 30s and 40s. Maybe its the image some of them paint like that of rural England, or the biggest of Hollywood’s stars from that golden age (I also love Casablanca) – but these movies are wonderful.

All of these movies were available to me before we had dvd (or a VHS player even in our house) and I doubt if I’d come into contact with them in today’s TV age of dedicated movie channels. There’s been a shift in late night TV with movies being given the elbow, more-or-less. Its a shame really that some people won’t be able to enjoy some of Hollywood and British cinema’s finest offerings.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll watch A Canterbury Tale and remember back to my late childhood and reflect on how good late night TV was in years gone by.