Friday, November 22, 2013

No Regrets or Anxieties - Plenty of (Happy) Tears, Though

Spoilers for An Adventure in Space and Time below the video (this song popped into my head for about the last ten minutes of the movie, so I'm including it in my reaction/review post) -

Mark Gatiss, I hate your stinking guts. I still love you, but right now - you suck! (she said through a curtain of tears)

Doctor Who runs the gamut of emotions. One minute, you're laughing with absolute delight. The next, you're sobbing your eyes out. So, why would a docudrama about the origins of the show be any different? I ask myself these things after I have spent the better part of twenty minutes trying to compose myself well enough to write anything at all about this movie. At least, something that didn't consist of Tumblr-speak about FEELS and DONE! and WHHHYYYYYYYY?????

If tomorrow's "The Day of the Doctor" is about moving on into the future, An Adventure in Space and Time was the tribute to the past.

When I was in high school, I had an English teacher who told us on the first day of class that history tells us what happened, but literature tells us how people felt when history was happening. So, I guess I should have remembered that going into this film. It's one thing to know that William Hartnell was the First Doctor and he played the part from 1963 to 1966 and he only quit because of ill health and then Patrick Troughton came in as his successor and the show has been about constant change ever since. But - seeing the people involved in those decisions - seeing how this show went from being regarded within the BBC as a silly little kids' show and even treated as a joke to becoming a national hit in Britain - and then seeing the people involved in the creation of the show moving on and having to understand why the changes are made… I'm never going to be able to watch "Dalek Invasion of Earth" without bawling. And forget "The Tenth Planet" (which I've never seen, but it's not going to be fun). I just… can't do it right now.

It's kind of stupid, really. That I would have this reaction, I mean. My hell, I know how this story ends. I know how things happened. Goodness knows I've listened to enough interviews and DVD commentaries and things to know the facts. But a dry laundry list of facts doesn't begin to tell the entire story. Something that the Doctor and his companions learn oh so well in every adventure in the TARDIS. You may "know" your version of events, but you haven't got a clue what's it really like. Not until you find yourself mistaken for an Aztec god and people worship you, but it also means that you have a shedload of responsibility that means life and death for these same strangers.

But damn - that ending!

That's what sent me over the edge. The tears were bubbling under the surface up to that point ("I don't want to go" - what the hell are you people DOING to me????) But then, William Hartnell looks over the console - and damn if it isn't Matt Smith staring back at him, not saying a word, looking apprehensive but excited about following in something that has become such a wonderful tradition. At first, I wasn't sure if Matt is supposed to be in character as the Doctor or if it's just Matt in costume. Either way, I guess it doesn't really matter. What matters is that it's reassurance to an old man who thought he was being put aside and the world was moving on without him - that the world never really moves on. They never forget and they never let go.

Over the past year, I've grown to appreciate and love the Hartnell-era of Doctor Who. There's so much greatness bubbling under the surface, just waiting to be discovered by anyone willing to give it a chance and not dismiss it over the black-and-white or the limitations of 1960s TV. Over this past week in particular, I took some time to review each episode in "An Unearthly Child" and go in depth - more in depth than some fannish overviews and power ranking lists do (I hate those lists. I truly, truly do - Eff you, io9!) So many times, the Hartnell stories are just glossed over as "Oh yeah, that's what they did before they really knew how to make Doctor Who - it didn't really get started until Patrick Troughton or Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker took over. William Hartnell was just this grumpy old man who was there until REAL and PROPER Doctor Who showed up."

Pardon my French, but that is complete and utter bullshit.

If anything, this exercise of mine - doing my little Unearthly Revisited series - has taught me that everything was already there. The seeds of amazing storytelling were planted by William Hartnell and Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman and Waris Hussein and William Russell and Jacqueline Hill and Carole Ann Ford from the get-go. Everything that has come out of Doctor Who since then has built up from these templates and foundations. Gallifrey, Time Lords, regeneration, companions, backstory, the Time War - everything can trace it's roots to "An Unearthly Child."

Even the Daleks - even the idea of a space monster that's more than simply looking scary and blowing crap up - it would not have worked without a sense of purpose and place for those deranged pepper pots to occupy within the bigger story. In fact, I adore the scene where Verity has to convince Sydney that the Dalek story is worth doing - and not for the monsters, but for what they represent and the moral challenge they present to Team TARDIS and, by extension, what people are going to get out of seeing a show like that. Because that's what Doctor Who is. And I wanted to jump up and shout for joy when Sydney gave the okay to use them (I limited myself to a celebratory punch-in-the-air because, dammit, it's the freaking DALEKS!)

Just - holy crap - so much good and so much to love. And so much love and respect in this film. David Bradley totally got Hartnell and Jessica Raine was the perfect Verity Lambert (there better be some shiny awards coming their way for this). I admired Verity from what I knew of her before, but this totally sent my love for that woman into the stratosphere and I am so very sad that she's passed on and there's never going to be any chance to meet her and tell her how wonderful I think she is.

Other Things I Liked -

- Something occurred to me (and it's probably just Mark Gatiss being a fan and giving fellow fans these little nods) - that several missing stories were alluded to in An Adventure in Space and Time - "Marco Polo" is the obvious one (seeing as it's completely missing, but there are some beautiful behind-the scenes color photos from the filming of that story). But also - they might have also included allusions to the two episodes of "The Reign of Terror" that are currently missing. Going by the costumes and the fact that William Russell was actually there for that filming day (he'd been on holiday for episodes 2 and 3) - it could very well be from the filming of the-now-missing episodes 4 and 5 (yes, yes, I know there were some artistic liberties taken with timing and stuff - just let me have this!) Plus, the opening and ending of the film is from the filming of "The Tenth Planet" episode 4 (which is mostly missing) - regeneration and all that.  So, if it was a conscious nod to those missing episodes, I loved it! (even if it wasn't - I'm going to pretend that it was).

- I loved the montage of the behind the scenes development of the show intercut with Verity telling Bill over lunch about how this show was going to have all the latest technology and best facilities. It was a good way to show how low-tech and ropey everything was back in the day (the best part was (presumably) Delia Derbyshire talking about how they created the TARDIS sound with a door key and piano strings). There are so many smaller stories within the bigger picture and the montage was a brilliant way to pay tribute to as many of these lovely little anecdotes as possible.

- Oh my poor, poor heart - the scene where Hartnell had to start the central TARDIS column moving up and down because he was the only one left who knew how it worked. And then the last time he ever did it (right before the Matt Smith cameo) - I was a sobbing mess by then ("I don't want to go" - DAMMIT GATISS!)

I can't say enough good about this. It's more than just presenting a bunch of facts about these events and people - it really cut to the heart of what Doctor Who has meant to so many people over the years. Not just to the fans (though those kids who followed Hartnell around in the park and asked for his autograph - oh my gosh, how can you stand it??) - but to the people involved in bringing it to life. For Verity, it was a chance to prove herself as a young, ambitious TV producer. For Bill, it was a chance to prove that he could still do something he loved and be relevant and have success.  And his interactions with his young granddaughter - just beautiful.  Beautifully done and beautifully paced.  The whole film was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.

This was a fitting tribute to something that started in such a humble way, but has grown to fill the world and to fill our hearts. No, not everyone gets it. For example, just yesterday I got a phone call from my dad and he said "I don't know what it is you're busy with - it's just a show." And that's okay. I don't expect everyone to have that same level of love for it. It makes it more special that way. But it's good to know that others get it too, you know? I want to give Mark Gatiss a big hug for this (after I finish cussing him out for making me cry like that).

I'm not really sure how to end this post.  Because I don't want it to end.  I guess all I can say is thank you.  Thank you to Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman and William Hartnell and everyone else involved in getting Doctor Who started.  This show - which I knew nothing about four years ago - has left an indelible mark on my life.  The Doctors, the companions, the stories, the people behind the scenes, even my fellow fans - I feel like they're my family.  I can't say how much Doctor Who has come to mean to me.  It's been right there in my happiest moments and in some of my darkest.  I'll never be able to express my gratitude or repay what's been done - but I am grateful for it.

No, there are no regrets or anxieties (still plenty of happy tears). Just me going forward in all my beliefs. And Doctor - you'll never be mistaken in yours.

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