Saturday, April 04, 2009

Get Away!

According to news reports a record Easter exodus is already underway, with thousands fleeing the capital. It may be down to families taking their demon spawn on holiday now that the schools have broken up, although the more rational explanation may be that people are simply unplugging their televisions and running for their lives now that the BBC are running previews for the new Doctor Who episode that is going to be hawked up onto the screen over the Easter weekend.

Normally, when it comes to celebrating the first Sunday after the first full moon following the northern spring equinox, I tend to put my feet up and abstain from any festivities. This year I’m willing to be tied up in traffic as I head west again, spending the weekend with my folks. Heading home for the third time in five months may seem like an extreme measure to take but at least it means avoiding any contact with Planet of the Dumb, and as a bonus I get to take the Lovely Actress who just lives up the coast to a play being put on at a local theatre on the Saturday night.

I know Doctor Who should be dismissed as dumb fun for dummies, the way that this year’s four specials are aimed at an audience who would be politely termed “special”, but it’s the outright fucking plagarism I can’t stand. You can argue that that there are only a finite number of original stories and everything is just a variation on a theme. When it comes to the science fiction/fantasy genre there are the familiar tropes recycled again and again. But there are limits.

Back in the original days of Doctor Who, Robert Holmes used to thieve ideas and elements from the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sax Rohmer, which is a bit rich given that he started his career as a policeman, but when it came to the revival, Russell T. Davies (who once announced that Holmes’ writing was “up there with Dennis Potter”, which must be grounds for instant committal) went for grand larceny on a massive sale.

Some years back I suggested a spot-the-“lift” drinking game, with everyone taking a shot when a flagrant steal from someone else’s work appeared in an episode. If that had taken off everyone participating would easily be on their third liver transplant by now. What made it all the more irritating was that rather than trying to deny that he had stolen other people’s ideas or been chastened by the fact he had been caught out, Davies seemed to revel in the fact. As I mentioned before, after the two-part story that ended the second season virtually raped Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, in an interview in The Independent, Davies stated:

It's all there for the taking, I do it gladly. The ending of Doctor Who, where we had to separate the Doctor and Rose, that was unashamedly taken from the Phillip Pullman novels. They're brilliant, and every child reads them. So that creates a resonance, when they've got a story in one part of their minds and they see Doctor Who and think, 'Oh right! You can change stories!'

Some people (i.e. pond scum) may read that and agree with him, saying, sure, what’s the big deal. Here’s the thing. Over the years I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to track down an interview with Terry Gilliam. This was conducted after he had made Brazil and after an ad agency in the UK had produced a spot for, if I remember right, Hewlett Packard computers that ripped off the scene where De Niro’s Harry Tuttle disappears in a blizzard of newspaper.

Gilliam’s justified beef was that while people who saw his film first and understood the commercial had nicked his ideas, there was also a potential audience for his film who would have seen the commercial first and then, when they eventually got around to watching Brazil, would think he was the one who had stolen the concept and all his hard work to come up with something original would be for nought. If it hasn’t happened already, how aggrieved do you think Pullman is going to feel at some future book signing when some young walking fungus holds a copy of The Amber Spyglass up and accuses him of ripping off Doctor Who?

So whose works has Davies blatantly been dipping into for Planet of the Dumb? Well, it’s set on a desert planet. Would that be Arrakis? And, oh look, the characters got there on a double decker bus! Didn’t Doug Liman’s Jumper have a red London suddenly appear in the desert? Then comes the swarm of predatory creatures existing in the wasteland and obviously looking for dinner. That’s very Pitch Black, which makes it all the more disappointing. If Davies has to steal his ideas, he hasn’t even got the nous to steal from the best.


At 2:46 am, Blogger Jaded and Cynical said...

Stolen ideas. Cut-and-paste dialogue. Miscast central characters. And the whole thing looking like it was made by bunch of hapless meeja students.

And that's the BBC's flagship drama.

And a reference to Sax Rohmer? Ah yes, it was a simpler time when a six-foot-six English public school boy could throw on some slap, squint a bit and be cast as a Chinese villain.

At 10:18 pm, Blogger qrter said...

Only watched about 10 minutes, then the explanation for the wormhole came along - "Ah yes, these alien creatures fly round and round the planet and a wormhole opens up!".. it made me instantly forget how to laugh, so I ran out of the room instead.

Vintage Russel T. Davies, if you ask me.

At 3:04 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

I tripped over the first few minutes of it because they repeated the bastard yesterday, after seeing that it got absolutely caned in the ratings by ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent freak show.

Having watched most of Jekyll before it petered out as well as catching the odd episode of Bionic Woman, I was under the assumption that Michelle Ryan was a reasonably adequate television actress. Her turn as Lara Croft was shockingly atrocious. I’ve seen cardboard with more expression.

Once they hit the desert I switched it off. If the pull back to show the double decker in its new surroundings was supposed to be epic, it failed. That seems to be the major problem with the show: try to make it epic, miss wide of the mark and end up with something overblown and fall flat on its arse.

Shame I missed the wormhole explanation. Still, sometimes all this science goes over my head.

I’m not sure whether I have less respect for the deluded idiots that make it and say how brilliant it is or the dumb fuckwits who watch it and say how brilliant it is.

The fact that forty or fifty years on from the first couple decades of the show’s initial transmission, and some of those earlier stories are still far more entertaining (because the producers knew their limitations, maybe) than the current dross, simply shows what a fetid shallow puddle of excrement the current drama.


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