My ten favourite Doctor Who directors

An often undersung aspect of Doctor Who is the work put in behind the scenes by directors. Sure, the script is important but the director, as with all media, has an instrumental part in realising a project. Whilst a bad director (especially in the classic era) can botch a perfectly decent script and make it poorer, conversely a good director can turn even the worst scripts into something at least visually interesting. Whilst many directors of Doctor Who have been forced into an “in-house” style of directing accommodating the showrunner, many have defined stories and eras with their excellent directing. So we’re here to celebrate the best, on Doctor Who Day Eve, whilst tomorrow we’ll talk about five different, new types of episode the show could explore. I won’t rank them but go in order of their episodes, and will try and focus on discussing their directing and not review the episodes as a whole, as sometimes the directing is the best part of the story.

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Don’t despair over the episode count of Doctor Who Series 13! This is an opportunity for change

Today the news as to how Doctor Who will be produced in a post Covid landscape was announced – next season, due sometime next year, will have eight episodes to reduce costs and production in order to keep the cast and crew safe, which of course should take priority.

Now, the fact that we’re getting a series at all is a miracle, and I’m cautiously excited for how Chibnall will pull it off. With such a limited episode count I don’t think a conventional season will cut it. We can’t have a big two part opener and closer with a bunch of filler in the middle, every episode needs to punch hard. Not all of them have to be 10/10 masterpieces, but all should be good and fit a purpose. In fact, I think this new eight episode season could be beneficial as a whole.

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Mandatory Halloween blog post – Let’s compare Draculas!

Over the past few months I’ve watched three different Dracula films. The Count of Transylvania is an immortal literary, film and horror icon and naturally, since the dawn of film he’s had a fair share of adaptations. I love the book and consider it one of my favourites – it’s a fascinating story of late Victorian era science vs faith and the underlying fears of empire and occupation, and I’ve always meant to write about it.

Really going for the Nosferatu riff aren’t you Penguin?

There are way too many interpretations on the Dracula mythos for me to count, so for this year’s obligatory October horror post I’m going to be focusing on the three versions I’ve seen, all iconic in their own ways. I’ll be looking at Universal Picture’s 1931 adaptation, Hammer Horror’s 1958 adaptation, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation. 

I don’t want to start this however without acknowledging Max Schreck in 1922’s iconic German expressionist Nosferatu. Due to legal issues with Stoker’s estate, director FW Murnau couldn’t actually adapt the book, so he just changed the names and went ahead and did it, only to get sued anyway. However, it’s still clearly an adaptation, and the “Nosferatu” vampire look is probably the second most iconic vampire look after Lugosi. Everything from the 70’s Salem Lot to the Master in Buffy to What We Do In the Shadows takes from him, so we can’t exclude him from the vampire pantheon. But, alas, I have not seen the film (yet) so for fairness’s sake we’ll leave him out. But let’s be honest, none of the three we’ll discuss have a moment quite as iconic as this.

Right, on with the contest. I’ll be judging the films on four criteria – the Dracula, the Van Helsing, the rest of (or lack of) the other characters and faithfulness to Bram Stoker’s original text. We’ve already been through the Counts and Van Helsing is the only other character to get equal focus in all adaptations so he gets a separate category. The rest of the characters are often condensed, reduced or cut out entirely so we’ll explore which one does the best job with this juggling act. Lastly, which one gets the spirit and meaning of the novel? Thematic depth and focus on the story’s subtext will be the focus here. Let’s begin –

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The art of a good DVD commentary

In the age of streaming, video on demand and rentals, it’s easy to forget that DVDs were, and to an extent still are, a valuable form of media consumption. A DVD shouldn’t just contain the film, it should be a package that’s worth your money – on top of the film (which you would have already seen, given how I highly doubt people would pay ten pounds for a film they don’t know if they like), you should be getting extras like interviews, deleted scenes, bloopers and documentaries. But for me, the cherry on the top of a DVD is the audio commentary. A good audio commentary can improve a viewing experience completely. So in defence of this often neglected aspect of a DVD/Blu Ray, I’m going to look at some great ones.

An audio commentary is essentially when creatives involved with the production – usually the director, writers or cast members – watch the film and talk over it, giving the audience insights into their perspectives and viewpoints. They’re not for everyone, but I love them, especially when I already love the work in question.

For me, the greatest DVD commentaries are the fantastic ones that come with classic series Doctor Who DVDs. All 150+ stories have commentaries with the actors and crew members remembering the good, bad and ugly. I’ve only watched a fraction, mostly the ones with Peter Davison because he is. HILARIOUS. Davison is utterly on point with the problems in his run and 80’s Who as a whole and does not hold back on criticism when he feels like the story is flawed. 

Doctor Who - Black Orchid DVD | Deff.com

The best example of this is Black Orchid, an… OK story, but the commentary is wonderfully sarcastic. Some find him and Janet Fielding too negative, but when the story is good they will complement and discuss it fairly, whilst also making fun of it. Kinda and Snakedance are two such examples, but as much as I love hearing anecdotes from great stories it’s the way less than stellar stuff like Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity (which sees Colin Baker also join in the fun) is torn to pieces that brings me back to Davison’s commentaries. Warriors of the Deep is a fascinating commentary, with the cast and crew perfectly aware of the awful nature of it but also pointing out how it went wrong, such as the director’s complete inexperience with a story of that scale. But my favourite Davison commentary is him, Nicola Bryant and Graeme Harper on The Caves of Androzani, where Harper’s discussions on how he directed it and the state of television directing then and now being a major insight into why he’s considered one of the best Doctor Who directors ever.

Other great commentaries I’ve listened to are Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen looking back on their first story Robot and The Leisure Hive, where script editor Christopher Bidmead criticises director Lovett Bickford’s direction, with Bickford also in the commentary! It’s still interesting though as I find the story very well directed and hearing the behind the scenes was great. Colin Baker is, in contrast to his Doctor, quite mellow and calm with his criticisms even with legendary failure The Twin Dilemma, where he is both honest and fair in what went both right and wrong.

I hardly listened to any new series commentaries, but that’s because there aren’t that many! RTD’s seasons have commentaries for all episodes (I have listened to the Midnight commentary, a very insightful and great discussion on a great episode) but Moffat and Chibnall’s seasons only have select commentary for episodes. Also, unlike the Classic Who DVD’s where the participants can be honest, I have a feeling the commentaries are moderated to stop cast members from being too negative on certain episodes as the show is in production and it’ll be a bit awkward to have cast members mock the show – I doubt we’ll get a Black Orchid style riffing on Fear Her, Kill the Moon or Orphan 55. Maybe in the future we’ll hear the cast’s TRUE thoughts on certain episodes.

The other TV show with a load of commentaries is Futurama, which has an audio track for every single episode and Matt Groening is on basically all of them. I personally find these a bit more mixed, as sometimes there are about six or seven people on the commentary and with only 20 minutes to cover sometimes the episode itself isn’t discussed too much. But all I’ve heard have merit, especially when the writers are discussing the writer’s room, an American writing concept I don’t really understand (how many producers do you need?) or how the insane ideas were conceived or animated.

I first got into commentary tracks during my time at college, where I would frequently borrow DVDs from the library and watch films for the first time with the director’s commentary as subtitles with the film playing at the same time. As many commentators point out, having commentary on a first watch is a bad idea, which I soon learnt. For example, I watched Get Out for the first time on DVD with Jordan Peele’s commentary as text on the bottom. All well and good apart from the fact that he (understandably) discusses the twist before it happens so… whoops. 

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner commentary is great – we were studying the film as part of the course but due to timing we couldn’t watch the film in class so we were expected to watch the film at home. I’d already seen it so decided to watch with commentary and, say what you will about his films, but Scott is a master director when he puts his mind to it and has something to say about everything, particularly the meticulous set design and stylistic choices. 

Rewatching a film you love with commentary is just as rewarding as rewatching it for the first time. John Carpenter and Kurt Russell are so much fun on the Big Trouble in Little China track – they only discuss the film about half the time but the rest of the time they’re discussing each other’s work, the state of films, random action films and it’s an absolute blast. Commentaries are always better when the participants clearly want to be there, and Carpenter and Russell definitely want to be there. But no one puts more work into their commentary tracks than Edgar Wright. My Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy box set is one of my prized possessions, not just because of the films but also the commentaries. Let’s break them down –

Buy The Three Flavours Cornetto® Trilogy - Microsoft Store

Shaun of the Dead has four commentaries – one with Wright and Simon Pegg as the writers/director commentary, then one with the main cast, then one with Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton, and finally one with some of the zombie extras. I’ve only listened to the first one with Wright and Pegg (and it’s GLORIOUS), but the fact that there are so many is proof that this is a guy who cares about giving someone their money’s worth on a DVD.

Hot Fuzz has FIVE tracks – the Wright/Pegg one, one with the Sanford police actors, one with the Neighbourhood Watch actors, one with two Wells police officers who served as consultants and one with Wright and Quentin Tarantino. I haven’t heard any of these yet but look forward to doing so.

The World’s End was, naturally, the first commentary I listened to when I got the set. There are three – the Wright/Pegg double act, which was, of course, fantastic. These two are a script writing team made in heaven and have such a clear understanding and passion of their own work and manage to be intelligent and discuss many different aspects of the film without losing the carefree vibe of a casual commentary track. The other two are a cast commentary and one with Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope that I really should listen to as I love Pope’s work with Wright, Sam Raimi and the Wachowskis. Edgar Wright also has multiple commentary tracks on Scott Pilgrim (which I have on DVD so should probably watch) and Baby Driver (which I do not, yet) but I greatly admire his dedication to the commentary track as they really are a valuable insight into a film’s background.

Sadly, many DVDs now do not have commentary tracks. But the Blu Rays do. My Marvel Blu Rays have commentaries (including Endgame, which I look forward to rewatching with commentary immensely) and now we have a Blu Ray player we can now get more obscure releases with more commentaries and extras. If you’re paying more, surely you should get a good set of extras? Many distributors seem to think extras don’t matter, certainly not commentaries – “what’s the point? Surely people just want to watch the film?”. But no. Many people value the special features and if I just wanted to just watch the film I would simply rent it. I wish streaming services would offer the commentary track as a language option as I really love listening to them if the participants are interesting, which they usually are. 

No real conclusion here, just appreciating commentary tracks and the people and companies that put extra effort into them.

Five Doctor Who companion ideas for Chibnall to tackle

We still don’t quite know when Doctor Who Series 13 will be out due to coronavirus affecting filming all around the country, but one thing is clear – a change in the guard is coming. Yaz, Ryan and Graham are on their way out – possibly, maybe, it’s so vague with Chibnall in charge as we never get any information! Regardless, I highly highly doubt all three will survive Revolution of the Daleks. So I’m going to spend today exploring five types of companions I think would make character dynamics in the show far more interesting –

  • A companion who is older than the Doctor travelling on their own

Part of the reason Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is so beloved on Big Finish is because the company gave him Evelyn Smythe. A middle aged history professor, Evelyn meets the Doctor when he’s investigating a time portal linked with Mary I. Following this encounter, Evelyn becomes the Doctor’s companion, acting as a maternal figure to Six’s boisterous attitude and softening him (the audios take place after Trial of a Time Lord). This is a dynamic that has barely been explored on television- a companion who is, physically, older than the Doctor. The Doctor is thousands of years old so naturally a 50-60 year old would be far younger but as The End of Time portrayed beautifully, the Doctor acts young if they’re in a young body. Continue reading “Five Doctor Who companion ideas for Chibnall to tackle”

My favourite comic book stories of all time

I’ve talked a lot about comic book properties, whether they’re DC, Marvel or something else entirely. What I have never done however is discussed the comic books themselves. Over the years I’ve read so many comic books and compiling a list of my favourites was hard. Whilst I have always been more inclined to DC with regards to the comics (and television, and pretty much anything that AREN’T films) there are equally good and iconic stories from Marvel. I need to read more from outside the Big Two and am working on it but for now, here are a list of my favourites. I’m not ranking them but will specify favourites from certain companies or characters. With that said, let’s get going-

  • The Dark Knight Returns

Before Frank Miller went mad he wrote some of the best and most acclaimed comic book stories of all time. 1986 was a landmark year for comic books, in part due to Miller’s defining work on Batman, The Dark Knight Returns. Picturing a post-apocalyptic version of Gotham, where Superman is used as a weapon for the military, an ageing Batman goes out of retirement to bring back law to what has become a lawless city. This story needs no introduction- it’s arguably the most well regarded story in Batman’s mythology. The old Bruce Wayne is a fascinating character, trying to escape his past but also trying to uphold the legend of the Dark Knight. Carrie Kelly is my favourite Robin, the commentary on the Cold War and American media is on point and still relevant today and the final battle is iconic and timeless. Packed with powerful imagery and themes, this comic is a must read for any DC fan.

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Every film I saw in August 2020

I saw LOTS of films this month. Lots. So why waste any time? Let’s get straight to it!

  • The Void

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How many Hot Fuzz jokes can I make in one post about Wells? Let’s find out!

Haven’t done one of these in a while! Yes, on top of random musings about pop culture, I do occasionally talk about my trips across the country and the world. This time however, it’s absolutely EVERYTHING to do with pop culture. Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz was filmed almost entirely in England’s smallest city (technically smallest free standing city, but whatever) and his hometown, Wells. But it’s not just a tiny city in Somerset, it also has a large cathedral, considered one of the finest in the country. And you know me, I’m a sucker for these things. So I ticked off two birds with one stone – filming locations and cathedrals, and hey, I have enough for a piece of writing! Next year I’m doing a series of blog posts on Edgar Wright as a lead up to his upcoming horror film Last Night in Soho, so I considered this trip research for my Hot Fuzz sections.

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No, Doctor Who being political is not a bad thing

Recently, even though there has been no Doctor Who for over five months and far more pressing concerns going on globally, there has been a rise in discourse about whether Doctor Who is “woke” or “too political”. This argument is rubbish now and has always been rubbish. Since the very beginning, Doctor Who has been politically charged and has always represented what science fiction should be – a reflection on current times and using fantastical stories to address contemporary issues.

HMM GEEE I WONDER WHAT THIS IS A METAPHOR FOR? VERY SUBTLE TERRY NATION

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The Books of Stephen King: Cujo, or, “I would say this is why I’m more of a cat person but he has to go make them scary in a later book as well so we’re doomed”

Right, back to the good old bibliography of Stephen King. I have now read everything up to the late 80’s, so the next few books should be quick to get through. Let’s take a look at the book he can’t even remember writing, Cujo.

Continue reading “The Books of Stephen King: Cujo, or, “I would say this is why I’m more of a cat person but he has to go make them scary in a later book as well so we’re doomed””