Day 212: Vans Off The Wall… Literally

A deleted scene from “The Day Of The Doctor” featuring the hitherto unknown giants of Gallifrey…

July 31

Those green Vans really ruin the colour palette of today’s image, but this far into the challenge, I’m not fussy!

The BBC revealed recently that “Day Of The Doctor” was the most watched BBC drama of 2013. Not bad for a 50 year old show, and all those viewers got to see a hell of an episode. I loved it, bit then hey, I’m an unapologetic Who apologist (does that make sense?). I even liked Matt Smith’s final story, “The Time Of The Doctor” against the flow of fandom opinion. Not that I thought there weren’t problems with it (it didn’t make an awful lot of sense, and sold us short on explaining some ongoing mysteries), but there’s was so much fun to be had as well – especially some cracking dialogue and wooden Cybermen – I came away remembering what I did enjoy, rather than fixating on what I didn’t.

The Leftovers cult smoking

I’m increasingly finding that’s something that’s more and more difficult to do with a many American telefantasy series. I can see that there’s an awful lot to admire in shows like The Strain, Extant and The Leftovers (especially The Leftovers, actually, which has moments of near poetic visual beauty which tell the story without the need for reams of dialogue*). But they’re also near wall-to-wall dour. I like the fact that SF these days doesn’t have to be all silly and tinselly and cheesy dialogue, and that it’s allowed to deal with “real” human drama and big existential issues. But an hour of unrelenting grimness can be a tad wearying. (*Admittedly, The Leftovers can’t rely on dialogue all the time, as it features a cult of self-imposed mutes.)

the-strainNot that I’m suggesting these shows should all suddenly have a song and dance number and a pie fight every episode (though maybe The Strain could pull that off; it does have a comedy rat catcher after all) but a few variations in pace and tone would be welcome. Extant, especially, needs to stop worshipping at the altar of Stanley Kubrick when it comes to character interaction.

I find it especially odd that The Strain is so ponderous as times. Having seen three episodes now, I reckon they could easily have been tightened up into one much pacier episode. And this is a show partly written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro – a guy who clearly knows who to deliver a pacy film. It’s almost as if the shorter running time of a film forces him to make clever, economical storytelling choices (such as characters being defined in a couple of deftly-crafted establishing scenes) whereas the broader canvas offered by TV series and books allows him to go all flabby and wibbly.

A cliché that became more and more prevalent during my time on SFX was TV showrunners claiming, “We make a mini movie every week.” If only. These days we get seem to get one 120-minute movie stretched over 10 or 13 weeks.

I suppose it’s all a matter of taste, but I like the fact that with Doctor Who, even if the plots don’t always ultimately hang together, most scenes in any given episode will feature something fun or exciting to keep you entertained; whereas with a lot of US shows too many scenes seem to be included purely to further the plot and aren’t actually that much fun in and of themselves. It’s like all Aaron Sorkin’s innovations to inject some life into the dialogue scenes in The West Wing were for nothing.

Game-of-Thrones Purple WeddingYou know what? There is one currently telefantasy show that does both; it satisfies in terms of the bigger picture, but works hard to make sure each and every scene earns its place, using shocks, revelations, humour, action, power-plays, politicking, intriguing character dynamics, horror and even (let’s be honest) gratuitous soft porn to keep things varied and constantly watchable – Game Of Thrones.

See you tomorrow.

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One thought on “Day 212: Vans Off The Wall… Literally

  1. I haven’t seen most of the shows you refer to, as we do not have evil Murdoch’s sky, but considering two other series, “The tomorrow people” and “the 100” I would tend to agree. One problem might be the cast, which mostly consisted of vapidly good looking supposed teens(usually mid-twenties) whose acting skills are still in development. And as you say, plots that move at such a slow pace that they could be compressed into a commercial break without disturbing the continuity. Compare this to “The Invaders” which, bless them, the horror channel is repeating: actors who have clearly been trading the boards for some time and a cracking pace which means each episode is over almost before you realise.

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