Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Geordie Moths of Interpretative Mime

Well, now Ulrika-ka-ka-ka's been dropped from Dancing on Ice, I don't know who any of the contestants are. That's three out of three for the celebrities I actually recognise being voted off. Anyway.

Come back, Doctor Who!!

The latest DVD rental is black-and-white DW adventure The Web Planet. I had actually had second thoughts about even renting this one after seeing quite a long clip somewhere (probably in a documentary on another DW DVD), but what the hell?

I think approaching this story while slightly drunk and looking for laughs was probably the right decision. Billy Hartnell certainly thought so, if his "happy pills" performance in the first episode is anything to go by. Also starring: the Welsh/Geordie Moths of Interpretative Mime (their accents keep changing, but I think I've got them pinned down to those two), the Zarbi, alien ants who look large, fake and plastic (Jo: "They should have called them the Barbi"), and a race of underground woodlouse-people whose leader speaks with the voice of Ray Ellington. Well, on balance it's better than I expected - I was expecting it to be near unwatchable. It's actually a pretty fair Mid Average, with allowance for low budget. We particularly admired the painted backdrop. Might be jumping the gun a bit, though, as we've only made it through four episodes so far, and the full splendour of Martin Jarvis' moth performance is yet to come.
(Edit: no, it held up well, although the sixth episode is actually an episode of the Tellytubbies in monochrome. I stand by it: The Web Planet was better than Carnival of Monsters. Wotta shocker.)

Also recently rented: Earthshock, yet another '80s Who that really does look better with the CGI effects switched on. I don't know why they should only work with the '80s stories. Perhaps the production crew at the time were trying too hard (and failing) to make the show look like a big-budget film instead of a cosy TV show. Figging awful dialogue though. "It is a word like any other. As is 'destruction'. Which is what we are going to do to that planet." Oh for fig's sake, Saward, just resign now and let Pip and Jane Baker write it!

But wait, yet more Who! For the first time ever I intentionally watched one of UKTV Gold's stupidly early repeats! (Having previously caught the last hour of psychedelic Pertwee escapade The Mutants unexpectedly while kipping at a friend's house in London some years ago.) I'd like to fill in more of the gaps in my Who awareness, but y'know, waking up at 6am at the weekend just doesn't seem right. But what the hell? The really terrible thing is, it's one that I could've rented on DVD if I'd been a little more patient - but it's on the TV, we've got the magic set-top box, it seems a shame not to use it once at least. It was...

Carnival of Monsters. Low Average. Touched by the curse of the Completely Inexpressive Floppy Full-Face Rubber Mask (a curse that has touched at least one other Pertwee story I've seen) - I speak of course of the Functionaries. Not sure why they and their political oppression were included at all (one gets shot for daring to climb some stairs) when the Doctor didn't even notice them, and so their oppression continues. A little bit of world-building, undoubtedly, but wasted on a world solely represented by one plaza, when the main action of the story is happening elsewhere. Lucky they didn't overspend on the masks, then. The Drashigs were pretty good though - as giant screaming flesh-eating sock-puppet caterpillars go, they came across well.

It has been said by others that Katy Manning's acting can curdle milk, and this was beyond all competition her most milk-curdling performance that I've seen - easily on a par with the worst of Bonnie Langford. Most likely thing to deter me from ever watching this story again. My other gripe is that so many Who fans who criticise anything post-Tom Baker claim that the '80s stories are just set pieces cobbled together, yet Carnival of Monsters strikes me as a prime example of just that.

The funny thing is, my opinion of the story was bad at the time of watching, but improved afterwards. I know a lot of Who fans rate it very highly, so there's kind of a sense that I ought to like it (but then I could say the same about Genesis of the Daleks, lord and master of the overrated stories). I chuckled at the first cliffhanger, where a giant hand reaches down and plucks up an obvious model TARDIS, all badly superimposed over the main shot, yet on reflection this became a tremendous post-modern coup in my mind. Actually having someone reach in and adjust the model shots while the Doctor stares aghast - that beats Vengeance on Varos' cliffhanger into a cocked hat! On yet more reflection I'm not sure what to think of it. The Who Fan Code demands that I not laugh at the effects and look at what the story's trying to say - which seems to be "Zoos are bad", and that's about it. No real substance underneath. That's why I've left it at Low Average.

(Edit: Well, there is also the self-referentiality of the Doctor being stuck inside a kind of futuristic telly for the entertainment of naive punters. It's also been pointed out that the outlandish showpeople who own the Miniscope nicely parallel the Doctor and his companion. All of this, I agree, should make me love this story. And yet. I'm used to seeing referential bits like this turn up as bonus moments in DW, but I'm not entirely used to seeing them carry the entire story on their own. Vengeance on Varos offers a critique of the "video nasty" furore, and more broadly of the media's influence on politics and vice versa - it's not just self-referential. Carnival of Monsters looks like it might be nothing but. I'll have to keep trying at it, I think.)

News that actually relates to the real world - the flat move looms on the horizon, and is due to take place over most of the rest of February, starting next weekend.

Funeral of The Lovely Jo's great-grandmother last week. The two surprising things I learned about her: her first name was Marguerita (which initially made me think of Bulgakov, although the second thing I thought of was the alcoholic drink), and she was name-checked in one of Kenneth Horne's sketches. The third surprising thing, which I had already heard from Jo, was that her earliest memory was of being taken up onto the roof to watch the Kaiser's Zeppelins gliding overhead. Beats my donkey ride.


Ben said...

Manning could curdle milk but at least she doesn't scare it back into the cow like Langford would.

One finds Michael Wisher's slimy, cynical, power-mad bureaucrat to be one of the most compelling features of Carnival of Monsters. One may feel moved to include him in one of one's future publications.

John Toon said...

Michael Wisher gives good eyebrow, I'll grant you.

As far as Dames Manning and Langford go, I maintain that a comparative re-evaluation of those two is long overdue. The only problem is that, although I can name stories in which Katy Manning *doesn't* curdle milk, I can't think off-hand of any scenes in which Bonnie Langford's performance was good, save those in which she was unconscious.

Ben said...

Or in a different show altogether.

Methinks I feel a lactose-related assistant-rating scale coming on. Sutton - milk would just sit there because so was so terminally uninteresting. Waterhouse - milk leaps out of the bowl and tries to block off his air passages. Sladen - milk bows down and politely offers to make itself into whatever dairy product she chooses to name, as all right-thinking sentient lifeforms anywhere are hers to command.

John Toon said...

Cheese? No, that's cruel - and cheap, and untrue. Can't help but agree with your lactic assessments there. Perhaps on the dairy scale, Sarah Sutton is skimmed? Nicola Bryant would probably have to be considered "gold top", fnerk. Harry Sullivan - yoghurt?

I'm itching to describe a companion as "cappuchino" (strong body but frothy head), but no obvious contender suggests him/herself. Possibly Jamie in his dafter moments?