Watched #29
“The usual Scottish greeting: ‘You’ll have had your tea?'” This is Dr Bill Ayles, dressed in three-piece Harris tweed,  brimming with the wisdom of a long life. He’s surrounded by paintings in his home on Edinburgh’s grandest street, the Moray Estate. He, in fact, looks rather like a painting. He has a storybook face, too good, too archetypal to be someone living now. There’s a portrait of his children, they’re doe-eyed, captured – again – in some place only known to history. “Richard – he died… It was a blow”. A picture of his wife. “Happy, very happy,” he chuckles. She’s now in a nursing home. Bill gently redirects the conversation, dabbing at his nose with a hankie. Looking at all his keepsakes: “I’m lucky to have it all”. But he’s a man left alone. “Now, you said you would like a drink. What would you like?”

The Secret History of Our Streets (BBC1 Friday, 9pm) has swept back onto TV. It begins with all the drama and promise of stepping into a grandly appointed hallway. Steven Mackintosh’s immaculate voice-over and the stirring music capturing  and then ushering us onwards, through mazes of corridors, new discoveries around every corner. The show is blessed with one of those simple concepts – peeling back the history of a thoroughfare – that simultaneously offers up amazing detail and understandable complications.

This episode, set among Edinburgh’s elite, could have won easy points by skewering the toffs and their privileges, yet it did anything but. People like Dr Bill Ayles – quiet people – were allowed their moment, or allowed not to take their moment (the route Bill mostly opted for). “Do you ever imagine what it must have been like when they would have balls in this room?” asks the filmmaker to Katy, having taken the time to set up a projector to splay archive footage of courtly dancing across her 19th century ceiling. “Not really, no,” she replied. Another sequence featured Patrick and Henrietta. She moved the wheelie bin out of view for their stately to-camera shot. Later we saw her crinkle into her hatchback: “Such a killing little thing”. As you can probably tell, I like these little incidents very much. Slightly comic, sometimes, but full of dignity.

One boggles at the man-hours involved in this programme; the amount of ferreting through historical documents and maps. How long was the line of inquiry that resulted in someone coming across a 1961 BBC schools’ programme covering the 1822 Feuing Plan Of Drumsheugh? The detail. Still more detail.

At the end of the hour the doughty residents of the Moray Estate lined up for a final magnificent crane shot. As they waved goodbye, one of the old guys took up his walking stick like a shot gun. As if we were the grouse, because that’s his life and that’s his sense of humour. Next week Secret History is in Duke Street, Glasgow. Another avenue, another line of doors. Another massive story winding through.

Tom’s Fantastic Floating Home (Channel 4 Sunday, 7pm) also aims for a sort of global view of things, literally when inventor Tom Lawton sends a camera attached to a weather balloon up to the edge of space. Tom’s got very blue eyes and ruffled-handsome-man’s hair. He talks with a smile to someone just off-camera and says, “I think there’s always the opportunity to make things better”. Which is why, despite having no experience of boating, and with only “a few months”, he’s converting a near-derelict vessel into something that approximates the imaginings of his six-year-old son Barney (whom, Tom tells us, sees the world through a six-year-old’s eyes). I can follow the first part of this equation, the making things better bit. But why that resolves itself in a boho houseboat still feels mysterious.

Tom spoke often as if he were opening up wonderful truths about life. Having capered around a field at sunset, looking for his equipment returned from somewhere just below the mesosphere, he said: “We sent a camera into space to get the best view, and then you get reminded that Earth’s got the best ones”.

For the record, I think Tom seems nice, and his inventions are also nice. But the relentless upbeat rhetoric, and the notion that a six-year-old’s fancies somehow come straight from a seam of innocent genius, aggravated me. What was that thing Barney had just drawn, wondered Tom, looking for more wonders. “They’re seats, you dumbo!

Sorry, but I  had even less time for Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy (E4 Thursday, 10pm). Again, he seems like a pleasant chap – he welcomes the viewers personally – but this is the kind of show which, if you’re not ready to go with it, it goes on without you. And I’m probably too old or something. To me, it was like an episode of The Banana Splits played out by truculent fifth formers. Of the cast, only Noel himself seemed enamored with their world, glorying in its self-consciously styled brand of slightly-crap zaniness. The others underplayed, resistant to it all. As if they too preferred to be left behind.

This is the last weekly review I’m going to post up onto the site for a couple of months. Let’s work towards the explanation why by touching on – we were always leading to this – Doctor Who (Horror Channel daily, various times). I wonder who watches these reruns. Presumably those who aren’t sufficiently interested to have bought the DVDs or downloaded whatever is available from the wide array of sources out there. And what do those people make of what they see? This week it was the very first story, from 1963. The alchemy of An Unearthly Child still persists. It’s an obtuse instalment, that’s true, being barely indicative of what’s to follow. But its mysteries still feel vital. The first hum of the TARDIS interior continues to startle. A switch is thrown, and a journey (to where?) begins.

As of next week, God and Tom Spilsbury willing, I’ll be working on reviews of the new series of Doctor Who for Doctor Who Magazine. They’ll most likely end up here at a later date. So I’m going to focus on that and put OTT and these ‘Watched’ things to bed for a while. That said, if something1 comes my way in the interim,  I’ll do some kind of update. Should that possibility interest you and you ‘do’ Twitter, feel free to follow the site’s account. Or even follow me if you wish. Like Noel Fielding, I’d try to make you welcome.

  1. Let’s be honest here, something low maintenance
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Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling... and the Yeti

Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling… and the Yeti

The Enemy of the World (1967) and The Web of Fear (1968) (with a reconstructed episode three) are now available to download from iTunes at www.iTunes.com/DoctorWho

Seems incredible, doesn’t it? Almost as unbelievable was the way this news was revealed to the press, a full-on PR launch at London’s Soho Hotel held on 10 October 2013 at midday. Hosted by Dan Phelan, Head of Communications for BBC Worldwide in the UK, we were repeatedly advised everything we were about to see and hear was embargoed until 12.01am on Friday.

Mark Gatiss was in attendance. “On Mark’s Twitter profile page he describes himself as actor, writer, strangler,” said Phelan. “But I’ve agreed with Mark that he’s come here today only in the first two capacities… as long as everyone agrees to stick to our midnight embargo.”

The event began with Roy Robinson, the archive coordinator at Television International Enterprises Archive Limited (TIEA) reading out a statement from Phillip Morris – the man who is responsible for the recovery of these episodes…

Phillip Morris’ statement

Welcome everybody to this historic occasion. Firstly I would like to thank everybody at BBC Worldwide and BBC Television for their mammoth support during this project. What you’re about to see has not been seen since its original transmission in 1968, which was 45 years ago. It is my greatest pleasure, in the 50th anniversary year of Doctor Who, in a joint project between my company TIEA and BBC Worldwide,  to unveil two classic adventures.

Sadly due to other archive commitments overseas, I am unable to be with you today. My work, as you appreciate, is endless, and as you know the search must continue.

I would like to dedicate these episodes to everyone who has ever worked on the show and to all Doctor Who fans around the world. I have the Doctor Who fans’ best interest at heart, believe you me. On behalf of myself and everyone at TIEA, thank you for your continued interest and I hope our paths will soon cross again.

Does that final sentence portend to further discoveries?

The statement was followed by a short video interview with Morris. Here’s the transcript…

Phillip Morris’ video interview

I’m the Director of Television International Enterprises Archive Limited, and we assist overseas stations with the storage and migration of their material, and on the outside of that, we recover lost British television programmes.

I wouldn’t describe myself in the manner that other people say. They normally describe me as “the Indiana Jones of the film world”.

Christmas seems to have come early for Doctor Who fans, in the 50th anniversary of the show. We’ve managed to recover two Doctor Who stories, The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World, starring Patrick Troughton, from the late 1960s. I think they’re pretty much classic adventures. Probably the largest haul of missing episodes recovered in the last 25, maybe 30, years. We’re very pleased to return them.

These episodes were discovered on a project we were working on in Nigeria. And they were found in a TV station in Jos, just sitting on the shelf. I remember, now, seeing a piece of masking tape, it said ‘Doctor Who‘ on it. And I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting”. I pulled the cans down. I read the story code. Instantly, of course, recognised what the stories were – The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World – and realised they were missing from the BBC’s archive. A lot of Doctor Who fans around the world are going to be very happy. So it was a very pleasing discovery, really.

I can remember when I was probably about six or seven years of age, my mum used to buy me the Target novels of the stories. They were something that one day I hoped I would see. And, guess what? Now I can.

These episodes come from Hong Kong and had been on what’s called a bicycle system, so they traveled from this country to the next country. And they came to be in Nigeria through this bicycle system. Not at the station in Nigeria they were actually sold to – they were at a relay station.

The kind of condition that those programmes were in when we found them, we were quite lucky considering the temperatures which can be the upper 30 degrees. Fortunately in this case they have been kept in the optimum condition.

I think the work the BBC does now with its archive and the restoration and recovery of these programmes is second-to-none. The quality they restore these programmes to for a new audience – as it were – is phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal.

I think the best thing about it, and the most fantastic thing is, these things that people thought were gone forever – no they’re not. They’re back, and you can enjoy them now. So, get watching…

And then an instalment from each was screened; episode one of Enemy and episode two (one already existed) of Web. There will be plenty of analysis of both out there – doubtlessly concentrating on Patrick Troughton’s hilarious dip in the sea in Enemy and his flirtation with Mary Peach’s Astrid. So let’s cut to the after-screening Q&A with Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling and Mark Gatiss.

Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling and Mark Gatiss face the press

Frazer Hines, Deborah Watling and Mark Gatiss face the press

A jolly affair – here are the edited highlights.

Deborah [on Pat rushing into the sea]: I remember the take. He said, “I’m not going to enjoy this”. But he did it. But, I remember, “Oh dear, it was freezing!”

Frazer: But I remember it was his idea to strip down to his long-johns. And that was it. It was cold and windy – you can see the wind was blowing our kilts and hair.

Deborah [on seeing the episodes again]: It’s not a foreign land to me, not at all. The music started, there was Pat’s face – and we went into the scene and I knew it. Extraordinary, after all these years. At one point, when Victoria was talking, I knew the next line she was going to say. Now that is eerie.

Frazer: You didn’t know it on the set, did you? It’s taken you 45 years to do the bloody line!

Deborah: Jack Watling – my father! He had a big part in that one. It was good. Saw my dad again on the screen – that’s brilliant. Lovely.

Deborah [on what made Troughton such a good Doctor]: Pat had a wonderful sense of humour and he always had a twinkle in the eye. And he was like – how can I describe it? – comic in a way. But he was a very, very good actor. He combined everything into that. And it came across on screen as you can see today. We all got on so well – we were like a family. And Pat was always to me like another dad or an uncle. We had a chemistry and I don’t think you can beat that. I think it showed today.

Frazer: He was that sort of an actor, he wasn’t, “I’m an ac-tor”. He never took himself seriously. We were always looking for a gag.  Looking at that today, Patrick, when he’s flirting with Mary Peach, which, you know, on the page it would just say, “The Doctor looks at her”, but Patrick would add that sort of thing. “I might be attracted to her”. So he would add little bits like that.

Mark: It’s worth saying how much you miss from reconstructions and stills and soundtracks. You think you’ve got the whole story until you see it on screen. With Patrick it’s the tiny nuances of his performance and the little flirtations. And the deathless, never celebrated line [from Enemy of the World  when Astrid is asking our hero if he’s a doctor of law or philosophy]: “Who’s law? Who’s philosophy?” That’s the Doctor, that’s it. No one’s ever talked about that before.

Deborah [on learning the episodes had been returned]: When I heard, I couldn’t quite believe it. There have been hoaxes before, let’s face it… But then after a few days it was sort of confirmed-ish. And I thought, “I’m still not going to believe it. I’m not going to raise my hopes thank you very much after all these years”. And then I got it from a higher authority and I thought, “My God – back on the screen again!” All these years later and I can see some of the work I did as a young 19-year-old. And it’s amazing. And I love watching it, and it brought back so much to me – and the people I worked with as well. I’m thrilled – that’s all I can say. I’m thrilled.

Frazer: Me too. Patrick was disappointed a lot of his stories were missing, but this gives me hope that more stories of Patrick’s will come out of the woodwork, so to speak… I found out – Debbie was at a convention. She said, “Have you heard the news?” I said, “What news?” “Oh, I can’t tell you”. So I gave her a Chinese burn. “Alright, I’ll tell you! We’re going to the Soho Hotel on Thursday to watch Doctor Who“.

Deborah: And he said, “I’m not booked! I’m going away, I’m going to Scotland!” I said, “No you’re not!”

Mark [on whether or not Doctor Who could do another story set on the underground]: We are due a return to the London Underground. In fact, the first episode of Sherlock – because I’m obsessed with the tube and I think it all comes from that story from when I was a kid – is explicitly about the London Underground for exactly that reason. Because I love The Web of Fear. But Doctor Who? Yes, I’m sure. Why not?

And here’s a thing. Leaving the screening we were presented with t-shirts – t-shirts! – with the following legends on front and back…

LOST FOUND

And finally, this is what you came to see, right?

The reel deal

The reel deal

Ends

Peter Capaldi revealed as the Twelfth Doctor

Peter Capaldi revealed as the Twelfth Doctor

The “Aneurin Barnard is the Twelfth Doctor” holding page on the BBC website? A nonsense, a ruse, I was told last night when I arrived at Elstree for Doctor Who Live. “But could you not tweet that for now? We want to keep it going for a little longer”.

As a piece of misdirection from the publicity team, it had been masterful. But not quite as masterful as the moment the whole evening was pointing at – the reveal of Peter Capadli as the Twelfth Doctor. Instantly, this just felt right. And as sad as I am that Matt Smith is going, I’m now mostly excited. That’s how this should work, right?

From whence Digital Spy filed

From whence Digital Spy filed

No.12 signs his first autographs

No.12 signs his first autographs

I was lucky enough to be in the press room before and after the recording. From here, the dailies and various news sites were going to be frantically filing copy.

The studio where the Muppets once lit the lights

The studio where the Muppets once lit the lights

For the main event, though, I watched the show sat beside Tom Spilsbury, editor of Doctor Who Magazine. Naturally, then, I took the opportunity to get his very first thoughts on Capaldi as soon as the recording finished – hence the background music and chatter – which you can listen to here.

Afterwards, we returned to the press room for a drink – and the news Steven Moffat was going to pop by. Here’s how that encounter between him and we journalists played out, in full…

Steven Moffat Steven Moffat

That’s brilliant casting.

Thank you.

It feels right.

I hope so.

When did he come on the radar?

Well a fair amount of time ago. I’m sorry, Morgan [from Digital Spy], I lied to you. Quite a while back. I happened to know he’s a very, very big fan. There’s something rather seductive about an utterly brilliant, arresting looking leading man actor – one of the most talented actors in Britain – who you happen to know is a big fan of the show. And you do start to think, “Maybe we should do something about that”. So quite a long time ago.

Did you have a short list?

Yes, the list went: Peter Capaldi.

A very short list.

A very, very short list. Honestly, there was only one audition this time. And it wasn’t an audition really so much as saying… he came around my house and we put him on video to see what he looked like as the Doctor and, gosh, he was terribly good. He’s been doing that most nights I think.

Are you disappointed it leaked online? And are you surprised how many people put bets on it?

Well, I’ve made a tidy profit out of it! Compared to some of our recent leaks it’s comparatively minor!

Do you think people are betting on it and making money – is there a leak problem? Is it a bit of a scandal that this is coming out? 1

I think there are bigger scandals in the world to worry about than this. Seriously. Let’s not get too worried about it.

You haven’t seen any of your staff getting a new Ferrari or anything?

I don’t think you’d get a Ferrari out of it. I got a pogo stick actually. Which is brilliant.

Did you ever shy away from it because in some ways he does feel so right?

No. That is the feeling when you get the casting right. I didn’t make it up when I said he did flick through my mind when we were replacing David, and it didn’t feel right at all. Actually, I think if you think about that, it wouldn’t have been right at all. Not then. But there’s something about Matt’s Doctor that paves the way for Peter’s Doctor.

So you think in the context of the previous guy?

It’s one character going… and that’s the important thing to remember in Doctor Who. One character going through his life played by a succession of different actors and you have to get to that place each time. I can somehow absolutely believe that the strange old-young Matt Smith will turn into the strange young-old Peter Capaldi. I have no problem with that.

What did you want Peter to bring to this?

A brilliance, but to be absolutely honest, let’s let Peter do that job. I’m not going to tell him how to play the Doctor. I’m going to write the Doctor. And you’d be surprised how similar the Doctors are on paper. They really are. If you look at discarded scenes from previous eras – so if you haven’t ever heard the Doctor say it – you’ll see he’s kind of always the same. When I put the three audition scenes online – or rather in Doctor Who Magazine, they went online – and everyone said, “Oh, they sound like Matt,” no they don’t. That’s the most dominant voice you’ve got in your head. One of them was an adapted Matt scene, one of them was an adapted David scene and one of them was an adapted Chris scene. It was the three that we’ve had in the modern era. It’s just that when you put him on paper, he’s just the Doctor. He’s just that very, very clever man. He walks around with a different voice and face. It becomes very different. I remember when I wrote ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and everyone said when I handed it in, “It’s exactly David”. And then a few weeks later we cast Matt, and everyone was complimenting me hugely – and I accepted the compliments – how well I’d rewritten it for Matt. I hadn’t touched a word. They were just looking at it and imagining Matt. The Doctor is the Doctor. That’s really, really important, but he’s going to have a new face and a new voice.

What did Peter do in the audition? Was there anything in particular he did that made you think, “Wow”?

I don’t think it is in particular. It’s just you know when the Doctor is in the room – you just do. I mean I’ve seen the Doctor not be in the room when people say those lines out loud. Me, for instance. I’m crap at it when I do that. Every night I try. And I’m never any good at it. You just know. Just to check we weren’t mad we showed it to, like, Ben [Stephenson, the BBC’s head of drama] and so on. And we just went, “Yes, obviously, that’s it – the Doctor is in the room.” When you watched him walk out tonight didn’t you just think, “Well there he is”? That’s the Doctor, isn’t it? Suddenly he’s the Doctor. Malcolm Tucker is knocked out of the way. He’s just suddenly this magnificent leading man. How did that happen? I don’t know.

Was there a conscious decision to go older this time?

Do you mean on my part? Yeah, I’ve been consciously aging for a while now. I could age the other way if I wanted. Not particularly. The apparent age of the Doctor makes no narrative sense at all. He’s been anything from his 20s to his 70s. Obviously he doesn’t care. He just sort of picks a face off the rack and goes with it. So, not especially. I think it’s good that we’ve got a different age, just because I cannot imagine what somebody in their 20s would do with the Doctor after Matt showed us all how to be a 20s Doctor. I don’t know what you would do after that because he was so perfect. You’d have to be an alternative or deliberate contradiction – it wouldn’t work, I don’t think. So it makes life easier I suppose that Peter is different. But that wasn’t the reason. The reason was the Doctor was in the room, and that’s it. You don’t argue with that.

How good are you at keeping a secret?

I’m not telling you. [Pause] That was a brilliant answer. Can I get a little more respect for that? That was a phenomenal answer. [Brief ripple of applause]

Well you kept Sherlock’s death and revival a secret.

He’s not dead, he’s behind a tree.

So how hard was it? Everybody quizzing you.

Well, it’s really not hard at all, you just say, “I’m not telling you”. Or you lie. I’m sorry again, Morgan.

Do you think you’ll be able to keep him in the role for a while? You want to keep him for as long as you can, don’t you?

Yes. To that end we have his family in the cellar. That’s the only way to go with that.

What kind of Doctor is he going to be?

Magnificent. I don’t know. The truth is we don’t know. We’ve seen… I’ve seen him do Doctor-ish stuff and it’s worked. I’ve seen him deal with the technobabble, I’ve seen him deal with the nonsense. I wrote scenes that were deliberately impossible, with deliberately impossible dialogue. Just to see: can you do the impossible even without gunk being poured on you? And now we’re going to pour gunk on you and throw a lizard at you and ask you to say all this stuff and explain the plot. So we don’t know yet. We’re going to work on that. And, as with Matt – you know how Matt developed hugely as he approached the part over the first few episodes – we will do the same with Peter.

What’s he going to wear?

Clothes. Anything else would just be really shocking. I don’t know. Nobody takes the slightest interest in any of my views on costume let me tell you. I’ve never had the slightest influence. I can’t imagine what.

How fraught was tonight to make happen?

I was absolutely thrilled that no one had mentioned the possibility of Peter at all(!) I mean, God, it must have been a shock when he walked out. I worry about the person who didn’t know and might not have been watching. I thought we should have phoned them and said, “Are you home? Well we’ll start the show when you are.” It was fraught – not for the reasons of the secrecy. Does it matter? No, not very much. It matters that people love the choice, that’s it. And what we were looking at when we saw there was some minor-degree hints out there that it was going to be Peter, everyone was rapturous about the idea. I said to Peter before he went on tonight – he was a little bit nervous, obviously – I was saying, “Imagine you weren’t Peter Capaldi and you had to walk out tonight. He’d be mown down. It has to be you. If it had been somebody else we would have kidnapped you and brought you to the studio.” We’d have no choice. So it wasn’t fraught from the point of view of the secrecy because, honestly, if the secret breaks, nothing happens. Nothing happens at all. Somebody makes a tremendous profit in the betting shop. Ben Stephenson.

Did you ever seriously consider a woman?

It’s absolutely narratively possible and when it’s the right decision, maybe we’ll do it. It didn’t feel to me, right now, right. I didn’t feel enough people wanted it. Oddly enough most people who said they were dead against it – and I know I’ll get into trouble for saying this – were women. Saying, “No, no, don’t make him a woman!” Not that I was influenced by that. I’m influenced by nothing. Obviously.

What will you say to Helen Mirren?

It’s time that a man played the Queen. Step aside for a man.

What’s the time-frame? When’s he start work?

Erm, he’ll do a very, very short scene at Christmas.

Ends

UPDATE!

Here’s Peter Capaldi’s 1970s sketch of a Sea Devil as published in Volume 1 of The Doctor Who Fanclub.

Sea Devil!

 

  1. I’m guessing this was a tabloid journalist looking for their ‘line’, but really, was there such a leak? Capaldi’s name certainly was out there, but alongside a good half-a-dozen contenders