Thursday, March 23, 2006

"Dead" Ahead

This week’s episode of Doctor Who, “The Unquiet Dead”, is the installment that many old school fans felt was the first of the new series to really “get it right”. Odd that. I’m an old school Who fan and of the first three eps (which form a sort of time travel mini arc ("Rose" – the present, "The End of the World" – the future, "The Unquiet Dead" – the past), it was actually my least favorite, which is not to say it isn’t any good because it is a "cracking-good" yarn. I can see why people would be stoked by the piece. It cranks up and turns out the kind of story old Who often did so well: period pieces.

I recently read something from Russ Davies that struck me as noteworthy about new Who: much of it is shot on location - far more so than most sci-fi series, which are largely studio-bound works. Take Galactica for instance. Aside from the stuff on Caprica or Kobol, basically the entire show is made on a handful of sets, and often times the same set.

This trend seems to have started largely with Star Trek: The Next Generation. So much of that series took place aboard The Enterprise. A big difference between old Trek and new is that you can tune in to any TOS episode and say within seconds, “This is the one where…!” That isn’t always the case with TNG. If you stumble across it on TV, you’ve got to keep watching for a few minutes to figure out which episode you’re viewing, because they all look the same!

The mold of frequently setting sci-fi shows aboard a ship or an ongoing location has afflicted many series, even my beloved Farscape, which frequently fell back on Moya-bound episodes as a means of saving a few bucks. (In all fairness to Farscape, some of their very best episodes resulted from having to “get creative” on the ship; the eps “Out of Their Minds” and "Crackers Don’t Matter" both leap to mind.)

While a TARDIS-bound episode wouldn’t be impossible to do on Doctor Who (in the old series, it occurred a couple times), it’s something that’s highly unlikely to happen any time soon. In fact, setting a story entirely within the confines of the TARDIS might be one of the biggest risks the creative team could take, as it’d be anything but the norm.

But back to “The Unquiet Dead”. With this episode, the creative team had the challenge of designing a location that represented Victorian Cardiff, smack in the middle of Christmastime, snow and everything. Since the show premiered here in the States last week, I’ve seen numerous people across the ‘net bagging on the effects work or saying the show looks "cheap". There are so many aspects of new Who that buck typical sci-fi trends, that only the most unimaginative (or perhaps uninformed) of viewers would fall back on, “But that ship didn’t look 100% real!” Maybe, maybe – but in the next episode they perfectly recreate Victorian Wales! I’d like to see the Galactica set designers tackle that one. (For the record, I'm a big fan of the new BSG.)

In reading bits and pieces of interviews with David Tennant (the new new Doctor) and also the tidbits that have dribbled out from Chris Eccleston concerning his departure, Doctor Who sounds like an exhausting series to make. In addition to all the location work, the series, also unlike most other sci-fi fare, relies squarely on two lead actors. There is no ensemble cast to go back and forth between and the leads are almost always on the go and I gather get very few days off. This is a series made with a huge amount of dedication and perseverance from all parties involved. And if you think the effects work is subpar, I invite you to blow me…or develop an imagination, whichever you prefer.

Check out this song "Android Men" by McAllister. It’s a great little tune by another dedicated artist. Imagine Angelo Badalamenti producing David Bowie and you'll groove with it. Hopefully it pleases.

UPDATED!: This has nothing to do with Doctor Who, but I didn't want to create a whole new entry for it. I updated the old Blue Velvet entry so it links to this trailer for a "movie" called "Something Blue". I'm fairly certain David Lynch would approve.