Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Doctor Is Out On Her Rounds

So, dearest blog reader, the announcement on Sunday that the next Doctor in Doctor Who would be played by the very righteous Jodie Whittaker - a ladygirl, just in case you didn't know - brought a predictably 'mixed' response from some of the, ahem, darker corners of Doctor Who fandom and, indeed, some of the darker corners of the wider media. All sorts of people who have never shown the slightest bit of interest in Doctor Who before were having their say on this matter, from politicians, to the scummier end of tabloid journalists, to ... other people. It was quite a sight, to be honest. But this blogger wasn't particularly interested in any of that nonsense. You know what they say, dear blog reader, 'there is no such thing as bad publicity ... Unless it involves Operation Yewtree.' This blogger thinks Jodie will be great. End of.
Of course, some of the press chose to concentrate many of their column inches on the furious deranged rantings of a handful of alleged Doctor Who 'superfans' (whatever that ridiculous descriptor entails. And, yer actual Keith Telly Topping says that under due advisement given the fact that he was actually described as such his very self whilst appearing on BBC local radio this week. More on that malarkey later). In particular, much attention was focused on one particular 'big name' Doctor Who fan of long standing - who often appears to resemble an overgrown school bully, now in his sixties (and, it might be quite nice if he acted like he's a grown adult rather than a petulant, sugar'd-up teenager once in a while) who usually has a rant or two available for tabloid publication on request. Maybe he should make a protest record about Jodie. You know, something along the lines of 'This is absurd/The Doctor is not a bird/We fans must be heard/The Doctor is not a bird/This is not a joke/The Doctor is a bloke/We are in distress/The Doctor's in a dress.' That kind of thing. Stick a disco beat on it and get a few unemployed former members of S Club Seven and Steps to sing it, it'll out-sell 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters' no problem.
That particular individual - and several others, to be fair - have, not for the first time, claimed that this is 'the end' of Doctor Who for them and that they are now 'finished' with the BBC's popular long-running family SF drama. Okay, that's no problem then; Great Britain is a very fine democracy, people are free to watch, or not watch, whatever they chose on their tellyboxes. What's the betting, however, that come Christmas Day when the next Doctor Who episode is broadcast - the first to feature Jodie - the majority of people who have been making such claims will be watching it? And then, twenty seconds after the episode has finished, they'll all be online - on Twitter, on Facebook, on Gallifrey Base (or on all three) - whinging to anyone that will listen (and, indeed, anyone that won't) about ... something or other. Probably Jodie Whittaker. Or Chris Chibnall. Or both. 'Wheel turns, civilisations rise ...' It's always nice to be able to shoehorn a Doctor Who quote in somewhere. (There is, incidentally, a very useful list of all the - numerous - times Doctor Who has, allegedly, been 'ruined' in the past here.)
There was, of course, lots of discussions on Facebook about these very shenanigans on Sunday evening. This blogger, for instance, noted the following: 'I'll tell you what is really great about Jodie's casting. It's looking through my Facebook newsfeed, seeing all of the "this is the END of Doctor Who after fifty three years of genius (PS: I am not a sick sexist twit [sic], oh no, perish the thought ... I just have a problem with a woman being cast in a TV show)"-type comments from individuals whom I never knew were members of Those People before but now have definitive proof of their rank and terrible glakery ... And then remembering exactly what Facebook's excellent block facility is for. You should all try it, Facebook fiends - zero tolerance policy - it's very liberating and strangely fulfilling!' See, yer actual Keith Telly Topping is also into spectacular and self-important grandstanding for the masses. (Though, let it be duly noted, the thread which followed this grandiose announcement was almost wholly positive and, in three days, this blogger has blocked a total of but four of his two-and-a-half thousand Facebook fiends over anti-Jodie Whittaker comments. Seems not everyone on the Interweb is scum, dear blog reader. At least, not the vast majority of the people that this blogger chooses to hang around with. Which he sort-of knew anyway.)
There was considerable humour around too. Take, for instance this blogger's good mate Danny, who suggested the following: 'It's entertaining right now to picture Jodie Whittaker - ideally in some swishy long velvet coat with boots - striding across an inhospitable, misty, rocky landscape, sonic in hand (or sonic watch activated, or whatever they go for), spouting some marvellous bollards like "We need to deactivate that relay terminal before The Bandrils get there, Captain, or it will be the end of this planet - and your career!" All in a broad Yorkshire accent, with a raised eyebrow. I am so looking forward to this.' This blogger responded: 'Funnily enough I had more or less exactly the same mental image. Only the costume was different. High-heels, stockings, mini-skirt, tight blouse, riding crop, top hat ... But the rest, spot on. Especially the bit about The Bandrils!' (Joking, just in case anyone from The Sisterhood is reading this and is - rightly - aghast at this blogger's crass and casual sexiness. This is 'humour', it's an English invention in which one says something that one does not, necessarily, mean. For the purposes of merriment and japery. Honest. No, really.)
'Whilst spending the last couple of hours in your delightful company dear Facebook fiends, I've also had one eye on the movie Speed on E4,' this blogger wrote late on Sunday evening after spending about five hours taking non-stop about Jodie Whittaker. 'I don't know if you know the plot. It's about this deranged sneering madman trying to stop a bunch of people from having a good time by blowing up their world and the plucky girl who won't let him get away with it. So, that's the Jodie Whittaker announcement, couldn't tell you what the film is all about.' Laugh, y'miserable sods!
Keith Telly Topping did manage to get himself into one or two minor tiffettes. When one 'Not We' - who is a good lad, incidentally, this blogger hastens to add that - posted: 'It's lovely to see the Doctor Who c*nts [sic] getting into a tizz about something else for a change. They're normally just telling us that football is shit and that the rest of us are really racist or something for liking it,' Keith Telly Topping got his proper and discombobulated sark right-on: 'As a "Doctor Who c*nt [sic]" - and bloody proud of it - who has no problem whatsoever with change in all its forms, loves Jodie Whittaker the mostest, baby, and was a season ticket holder at St James Park for the best part of thirty five years, thank you so much for that incisive and witty deconstruction of the complexities of fandom. I'm sure your own contributions to society are many, and large!' (Hi, Gav!)
There was also a jolly interesting - and, I do mean that - debate which erupted when one of this blogger's American chums posted that she was more 'concerned' about Chris Chibnall's forthcoming role on the show than Jodie Whittaker's. 'Why are you "concerned"?' this blogger asked,genuinely surprised. 'He's a man producing a TV show, what on Earth is there to be "concerned" about? You live in a country with a President who might start World War III at any moment, I think to be honest you've got slightly more important things to be worried about than Chris Chibnall and what he may, or may not, produce on Doctor Who.' This led to an interesting thread. One contributor noted: 'Concerned he'll make the unforgivable pig's ear of Doctor Who that he made of Torchwood, I imagine.' Okay, valid point. 'And that's a "concern"?' this blogger opined in his usual self-righteous and rather annoyingly haughty way which he reserves for those moments when he'd much rather be saying 'listen, just shut up, I am right and you are wrong. End of discussion!' 'The world is full of stuff over which one is entirely justified in being "concerned." I would argue - and others may chose to disagree if they wish, it's a free country - that "a man who may (or may not, we don't know cos he hasn't started work yet) produce a TV show in a way I don't like" really isn't one of them. But, there you go that's me, full of radical suggestions.' And, later, Keith Telly Topping added: 'I'm quite prepared to be disappointed by Chris's take on Doctor Who - particularly as I've been such a big fan of the works of the previous two showrunners. But, and this is the important thing, I'm not going in there expecting to be disappointed. Because, that way, I almost certainly would be. Regardless of how one feels about Chris Chibnall's past work, on Doctor Who and elsewhere, the fact remains that the last thing he wrote and showran was a drama that was massively popular - with, you know, "normal people" - and got many millions of viewers. If he does that with Doctor Who, regardless of whether I like it or not, then he's doing a good job. And that should be the way every single Doctor Who "fan" should feel. To feel any other way would, frankly, be selfish in the extreme.' The other chap did not agree. So, we agreed to disagree. Democracy in action, dear blog reader. Although, Keith Telly Topping is still right and he's still wrong. Or, so yer actual Keith Telly Topping believes.
Obviously, with the Jodie Whittkaer casting being such 'big news' (because, there was nothing else remotely important going on in the world other than an actor being cast in a TV show, was there?) every BBC local radio station in the country dragged their own 'tame Doctor Who fan' out of the cupboard for some quality airtime. Or, if they didn't have one, they interviewed the very lovely Tom Spilsbury from The Doctor Who Magazine instead. This blogger was very much included. Early on Monday morning, Keith Telly Topping had a call from someone at the local radio station asking if he would appear at 9.40am on The Breakfast Show and talk to Keith Telly Topping's old mucker and sometime-writing partner The Legend That Is Alfie Joey about Jodie Whittaker's casting. 'Yes, I'd be quite prepared for that eventually' said Keith Telly Topping, beautifully channelling George Harrison in A Hard Day's Night. 'And, can I ask, are you a Doctor Who fan?" the producer then asked. To which this blogger replied: 'If I'm not then why, exactly, are you ringing me and asking me to go on the radio to talk about it?!' That flummoxed him! Anyway, despite such dreadful impertinence, this blogger did, indeed, appear on BBC Newcastle's Alfie & Anna At Breakfast chatting for a few minutes about the fact that Alfie still owes this blogger a coffee, how great Jodie Whittaker was/is/will be, why all fandoms have a conservative element and are resistant to change, 'The Doctor Template', Twitter not being The Sole Arbiter of The Worth of All Things and why "Whovian" is such a Goddamn hateful word that no one with an ounce of dignity or self-respect actually uses. Except ironically. If you want to check it out - and, if you do, dear blog reader, why for the love of God, why? - it will be available for around the next four weeks here. This blogger is on for about five minutes from, roughly, two hours and forty minutes into the show (just after The Supremes, which seems rather appropriate). And, even if Keith Telly Topping does say so his very self, he was as entertaining a lard!
The Sun and the Scum Mail Online have been accused of being 'reductive and irresponsible' after publishing nude photographs of Jodie Whittaker in articles covering the announcement that she is the new Doctor, according to the Gruniad. And, for once, the Middle Class hippy Communists at the Gruniad are entirely right to be furious in their stroppy indignation and their horror. Reporting the BBC's announcement on Sunday that Whittaker would be the first female Doctor, both publications ran articles about Whittaker appearing naked in her previous acting work, illustrating the stories with stills from the movie in question. Equal Representation for Actresses, a campaign group, said that it was 'surprised and disappointed' by the publications' coverage of Whittaker. This blogger is also disappointed. But, 'surprised'? From the Sun and the Scum Mail? Not really. ERA said: 'We are delighted by the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the thirteenth Doctor. Or the fourteenth if you count John Hurt. Or ... [continued on page twenty eight]. However, we are surprised and disappointed by the Daily Mail and the Sun's reductive and irresponsible decision to run a story featuring pictures of Jodie in various nude scenes.' The Sun published the photographs under the headline Dalektable. The article covered pages four and five of the newspaper and described Whittaker's 'saucy screen past' with specific reference to her appearance in nude scenes in the - excellent - 2007 movie Venus. The Scum Mail Online's article was headlined Doctor Nude! (I think it's actually the exclamation mark that makes this doubly sneering and offensive). This did also featured naked and topless photos of previous male Doctors, including Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant and Matt Smith. The Sun ran a separate news article welcoming Whittaker's casting on its front page, while the Daily Scum Mail did not publish the topless photos in Monday's edition. Because, they're the Daily Scum Mail and they don't do that sort of thing. Except online in the sidebar of shame. Of course all of this is a jolly useful reminder, dear blog reader, that there are some good people in the world, some bad people and then there are some folks who are just bloody scum. And, that most of them work for tabloid newspapers.
The Daily Mirra - which, still hasn't commented on the claims they made, allegedly based on an anonymous (alleged) 'source' six months ago that Kris Marshall would be the next Doctor, for definite, no question - the Daily Scum Express and the Daily Lies also published photos. Theresa May was among those who welcomed the announcement of the first female actor to play The Doctor. Responding to questions about the news, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: 'She was pleased.' Last year May told the Radio Times that she always tried to watch Doctor Who at Christmas 'if possible.' This year, it almost certainly will be possible since the chances of her still being in her current job in December are somewhat remote.
She's gonna be great, dear blog reader. Jodie Whittaker, that is, not Theresa May. Trust this blooger, has he ever led you astray? Okay, don't answer that.
On Monday morning, just before he got the radio call, this blogger was rather disappointed to awake and find that the Interweb hadn't melted overnight. Only, nearly. He was then faced with the actual big question of a Monday morning. Not should The Doctor be a ladygirl a) yes or b) definitely yes. No, it was which of the two programmes he had recorded overnight on Sky, Game Of Thrones or Twin Peaks was he to watch first. That was a toughie. (In the end, he went for Peaks, followed by Thrones. And, both were great, so that was all right.)
In the first three series of the television show Mission: Impossible (1966 to 1969), Martin Landau, who has died this week aged eighty nine, played the ace impersonator Rollin Hand, one of the specialists used by the Impossible Missions Force. Hand was described as' a “man of a million faces.' Landau's own face was instantly recognisable, with its haunted eyes, wide mouth and furrowed brow; even when he broke into a smile, he could seem to be frowning. Martin was disguised beneath heavy make-up for his best known film role, as the horror actor Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood (1994), Tim Burton's biopic of the cross-dressing director of trashy movies. Landau's Lugosi is a tragicomic creation: his wife has left him, he is addicted to morphine and most of Hollywood thinks he is dead. 'This business, this town,' he sighs, 'it chews you up and then spits you out. I'm just an ex-bogeyman.' Martin would have known where Lugosi was coming from. After Mission: Impossible, he had been largely typecast, appearing in genre fare with titles that would have shamed Wood himself (such as 1981's The Harlem Globetrotters On Gilligan’s Island). But his career was rehabilitated by three films for quality directors: Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker: The Man & His Dream (1988), Woody Allen's Crimes & Misdemeanours (1989) and Ed Wood. All three earned Landau Oscar nominations for best supporting actor; the third resulted in victory (over Samuel L Jackson and Paul Scofield, among others). Lugosi was, he said in his speech, 'the part of my life.'
Born in Brooklyn, Martin was the son of Jewish parents, Morris, an Austrian-born machinist who attempted a career as a singer and his wife, Selma. After attending James Madison high school and Pratt Institute, Martin was employed from the age of seventeen as a cartoonist on the Daily News. He worked on Billy Rose's syndicated column Pitching Horseshoes and assisted Gus Edson on the comic strip The Gumps. Although offered promotion at twenty two, he decided to leave the newspaper and concentrate on acting. He juggled a dozen roles in summer stock in New England and auditioned for the Actors Studio in New York: Landau and Steve McQueen were the only two hopefuls admitted from a batch of two thousand applicants in 1955. That year was overshadowed by the death in a road accident of Landau's close friend, James Dean, whom he had met at a TV audition years before. At the Actors Studio, Landau was taught by the best – Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan, Harold Clurman – and began a relationship with fellow student Marilyn Monroe. They split up after several months; Martin said he found Monroe 'too complicated' and was defeated by her frequent costume changes on their dates. When he became a teacher himself, Landau's students included Jack Nicholson, Anjelica Huston and Harry Dean Stanton. With Mark Rydell, he later ran the Hollywood-based branch of the Actors Studio, set up in 1967. After a handful of TV appearances, Landau broke into film when Alfred Hitchcock saw him on stage in Los Angeles in a touring production of Paddy Chayefsky's Middle Of The Night and cast him for a small, but crucial, role opposite Cary Grant in North By Northwest (1959). When Landau asked why he had been chosen for the role of James Mason's henchman, Hitchcock replied: 'Martin, you have a circus going on inside you.' Landau decided to make the character gay, adding an extra dimension to the relationship between boss and underling.
He came to specialise in a particular type of unsettling, debonair heavy. In the epic Cleopatra (1963), Landau was General Rufio, hailing Rex Harrison's Caesar and doing his dirty work (consulting the auguries, finding the rest of the decapitated Pompey) and later memorably pleading with a bathing Elizabeth Taylor from behind a screen. He had a considerable amount of screen time, yet claimed his best scenes were left on the cutting-room floor. Later came a part as the Jewish high priest Caiaphas in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and horse operas big and small, including Nevada Smith (1966) with McQueen who was a good friend. In the comedy western The Hallelujah Trail (1965) Martin was a deadpan Sioux tribesman, Chief Walks-Stooped-Over, leading an attack on a wagon train in a fierce sandstorm.
Mission: Impossible brought him primetime exposure and an opportunity to work with his wife, the actress Barbara Bain, whom he had married in 1957. The pilot episode found Rollin disguised as a dictator bent on nuclear destruction. After three - massively popular - series, more than seventy episodes, three EMMY nominations and a Golden Globes award, Martin left the series after a contract dispute. Bain, perhaps inevitably, although she had not been involved in the pay dispute, left with him.
In They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970), Martin was a preacher caught up in a murder investigation undertaken by Sidney Poitier's title character. The film gave him a fiery sermon, delivered with wild eyes and abundant sweat before a packed congregation. He and Bain moved to Britain in the early 1970s to star in the TV series Space: 1999, created by the husband-and-wife team of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. Landau was John Koenig, the commander of Moonbase Alpha, a character with integrity, humanity and authority. Martin was proud of how topical events were mirrored in the plots (one episode parallelled Henry Kissinger's role in the Middle East) and enjoyed his time in the UK, but he felt that the series 'became increasingly silly.' Which is true. It does have a cult following, however and this blogger was something of a fan - particularly of the first series and episodes like Dragon's Domain, Black Sun and Alpha Child. He was also superb in a memorable duel role in the 1973 Columbo episode Double Shock.
After leaving the show, Martin drifted in disappointing material for the next ten years. Then came Tucker: The Man & His Dream and a role to savour. Landau excelled as Abe, a financier who hustles up the money for an engineer, Preston Tucker (played by Jeff Bridges), to create 'the car of tomorrow, today.' Previously, Landau's height had mostly been imposing. As Abe, he walked with a hunch, as if carrying the weight of his past. Always complaining, Abe is the antithesis of the exuberant Tucker – the same dynamic would exist between Landau and Johnny Depp's characters in Ed Wood. Tucker was not a box-office hit, but Coppola's film put Landau back on the map and he was rewarded with a rich and unusually large role in Crimes & Misdemeanours. Allen cast Landau as Judah Rosenthal, who intercepts a letter from his mistress to his wife and, after grappling with his conscience, sanctions his mobster brother to arrange a professional hit. Judah is an ophthalmologist who feels the 'eyes of God' upon him; and Landau's troubled gaze, upon hearing that his brother has taken care of the situation, is the film's defining image. Off-set by a comic plot involving Allen and Alan Alda, Landau's performance is full of anxiety and panic. Unusually for an Allen film, Landau was shown the whole script before filming began (Allen's actors often just see their own section). He told Allen that viewers must be able to 'identify' with Judah and the character was adapted accordingly.
Another challenging part, as the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in the TV movie Max & Helen (1990), earned Martin a phone call from Wiesenthal himself: 'I have something to say to you. You were perfect.' After big-budget, bland choices, such as Sliver (1993) and Intersection (1994), Ed Wood gave Landau a dream role, if a daunting one. 'It's a Hungarian morphine addict alcoholic who has mood swings,' he said. 'That would be hard enough, but it has to be Bela Lugosi!' Ten years earlier, Landau had played the character of Dracula on stage with the same script that had been used for Lugosi's theatrical performance in the 1920s. Not only did Landau learn a Hungarian accent for Ed Wood, but he spoke the dialogue as if trying to conceal his heavy accent – just as Lugosi had. After playing Geppetto in a pair of Pinocchio films (1996 and 1999). having a tiny - but memorable - cameo in Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999) and appearing in the 1998 movie spin-off of the popular TV series The X-Files, Martin took a role in the Capra-esque The Majestic (2001), set against the backdrop of Hollywood in the 1950s. On TV, he was Abraham in an all-star biblical epic, In the Beginning (2000) and had recurring roles in both Without A Trace and Entourage that brought him another EMMy nominations. His greatest later project was the stop-motion animated film Frankenweenie (2012), which again reunited him with Burton. With a heavy accent, Landau was the voice of the sinister science teacher Mister Rzykruski, who terrifies his pupils and has shades of the actor's knockout performance as Lugosi. In Remember (2015), he played an Auschwitz survivor who helps Christopher Plummer with his revenge mission to track down a former Nazi officer. Martin and Barbara Bain divorced in 1993. He is survived by their daughters, Susan, a writer and producer and Juliet, an successful actress best know for her role as the vampire Drusilla in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and its spin-off, Angel.