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The Doctor, Jo Grant and Serendipity.

May 12, 2013 1 comment

“New Who” has made quite a big deal out of its companion character arcs, quite blatantly asking us to emotionally invest in characters such as Rose, Donna and Amy and then to weep incessantly at their exit.  I make no apology for admitting that, despite the lengthy emotional drama that surrounded the departure of each of them, I neither wept heartily or felt so much as a lump in my throat at Rose getting trapped in an alternate dimension, Donna losing her memory or Amy and Rory’s exile into the past.  I love New Who but am still a little frustrated by its insistence on driving the point home to its viewers sometimes.

The daisiest Daisy

The daisiest Daisy

 Watching Jo Grant’s departure at the end of The Green Death made me realise that not only was this how it ought to be done, but Jo’s subtle relationship with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was exactly how I, personally, wanted to see a Doctor/Companion relationship.  I’m not talking about this in terms of ideological representation of course, Jo is very much a product of 70s family viewing, a woman who can come out of the kitchen so long as she’s sure not to step in and threaten masculine dominance, and as such she can be a stereotypical dumb blonde at times, silly, air-headed, clumsy and annoying.  So much so that during her first adventure Terror of the Autons, after the wonderfully liberating Liz Shaw I found her an affront to good taste and a step backwards for the show.  Notably during their introductory scene the Doctor feels somewhat the same way, that she was gifted a position at UNIT and not remotely up to the task of being his companion.  And yet she’s managed to work her way into the hearts of the Doctor and of fans of the show, and just three seasons later I found her departure to marry and travel the world with Cliff Jones to to be deeply moving.

jogrant

Come back and see us sometimes?

Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning had undeniable chemistry together but it’s not until their second season when arguably the actual adventures started to get a little weaker that the depth of friendship between the two really started to emerge on-screen.  And it’s this chemistry (alongside the clear joy fun they showed working alongside Roger Delgado’s Master) that raises up those perhaps mediocre adventures and makes this a truly great era for the show regardless of occasional scripting issues.  There were many times watching these adventures when the closing theme would roll and I’d think to myself how much I’d enjoyed a little scene, a little moment shared between the two; small moments of characterisation that for all its breakneck pyrotechnics the newer show is unable to indulge itself in unless it’s in the service of driving the week’s story ceaselessly onwards.  To name a few that stood out, mostly from adventures that are otherwise ill-favoured:

– Just before the end credits close in Curse of Peladon episode 4 the two have a brief exchange about seeing a coronation and the Doctor says “you know I haven’t seen a coronation since Elizabeth I’s .. or was it Queen Victoria”  Jo looks at the Doctor and laughs freely “namedropper”.  It’s significant because it’s not so much a joke as an intimate moment shared between the two.  a minute later The Doctor tenderly strokes her face and says “I wouldn’t like to lose you” when the possibility of Jo’s staying on Peladon with the King arises.

– Jo looks distraught in the Sea Devils (I forget which episode!) as the Doctor steals a plate of sandwiches from her saying she doesn’t have time to eat them, promptly eats one, offers them around to everyone else and then hands an empty plate back to her much to her dismay. (continuing a running gag started in Day of the Daleks on a similar food theft theme)

– The well known Daisiest Daisy scene in episode 6 of The Time Monster, a ridiculously twee monologue from Pertwee which works so well because of the intimacy of the moment between the two.  The Doctor apologises, saying “I’m sorry I brought you to Atlantis” and she replies determinedly “I’m not”.

– Finally, my favourite is a monologue delivered by Manning in Frontier in Space episode 4.  The two are planning an escape but watched over security cam by The Master and so talk endlessly in an attempt to distract him.  Jo ends up rambling for what feels like 5 minutes of screentime as the Doctor slopes off in a scene that pulls you in comedically and emotionally as Jo reminisces, talks about life at UNIT (and being considered tea-lady!) and complains about the Doctor’s attitude, even suggesting that he be nicer to The Master!

The points I’m making here are twofold.  Firstly, that the classic show, Doctor Who, never once tells us that we’re supposed to care immensely about the relationship that is forming between the Doctor and Jo, it simply allows us to observe as a bond forms between them as they have adventures together and we, the viewers, share those adventures. And secondly that the way it doeshighlight the Doctor/Companion relationship is through moments that are not obsessively driving the story or plot-arc forward.  Part of this is necessity of course, the 25 min episode  serialised format of the show in 1972 is very different from the 45 min adventure of 2005-13 and in the former even the tightest stories have time and dead space to fill up, whereas the latter frequently struggles to get everything in.  But that’s, I suppose, Serendipity…

metebelis

There’s some frighteningly scary FX work over there!

Which brings me to the excellence of The Green Death, an undoubted highlight of the Pertwee era which provides a more than fitting closure to the duo’s onscreen relationship.  The events of this serial had already cleverly been foreshadowed in Planet of the Daleks, as Thal Latep asks Jo to stay with him on Skaro.  Jo sadly declines realising that she’s not cut out for a life away from Earth.  The Doctor looks relieved and asks her where she wants to go and she replies “back home to Earth”  The Doctor is a little confused by this, since he can’t so much as imagine her not wanting to travel time and space, but willingly obliges.

The Green Death opens with the Doctor excited about a trip he wants to make with Jo to Metebelis Three.  Jo has other ideas since she’s interested in issues of pollution and corporate corruption on Earth.  She defies the Doctor’s excitement and the Brigadier’s orders to go to Wales and help protest.  This time the Doctor is less understanding and insists on going to Metebelis Three anyway, suggesting that it’s her loss.  Episode One then sees the Doctor and Jo split and we’re actually offered a little side-plot with the Doctor journeying to Metabelis Three and having an adventure that only loosely has bearing on the Green Death plot (he picks up a crystal that turns out to be useful for resisting mind-control).  What’s notable about it is that it’s both amusing, frightening and a little emotionally heartbreaking.  The Doctor wanders around Metebelis Three seemingly a little lost with Jo, encountering huge scary monsters in a wild, unforgiving landscape. We frequently see shots of a monster followed by a horrified or scared face from Pertwee.  The ferocity of Metebelis Three is clearly meant to represent and foreshadow the pain and loss The Doctor feels and will come to feel without Jo by his side.

That’s from episode one and the rest of The Green Death story contains no overt emotion or hand-wringing, although what’s coming is obvious if you know to look for it.  Jo’s increasingly close relationship with Cliff Jones is nicely developed and similarly sees the biologist at first infuriated by her clumsy airheaded demeanour, but later enchanted by her sweet, good humoured and optimistic nature.  However, it’s not essentially that different to the story of any other companion falling in love and choosing to leave the Doctor except through the way it is handled at the close of episode 6

pert1

Again, the show takes time out – but not an extraordinary amount – to allow for a quiet conversation between the two companions.  There’s no flash, no forced partings, no histrionic orchestra, just a farewell conversation that is tinged with sadness and regret and which in my view is far deeper than the tear-fuelled scenes we see in the more show’s more modern incarnation.

Jo asks “You don’t mind do you?”

“Mind?  Might even be able to turn you into a scientist

“Don’t go too far away will you?  And if you do, come back and see us sometimes…”

…and Jo’s words could melt the iciest heart.

In conclusion The Doctor decides he should give Jo a wedding present, which turns out to be the Sapphire that he got from Metebelis Three, a fitting gift since it represents his separation from her and perhaps some of the sadness that he’ll feel from having to travel without her by his side.

They hug, Jo is pulled away and Pertwee’s Doctor doesn’t offer another word, slipping quietly out the door whilst the Brigadier toasts the happy couple.  Jo turns round to see him gone, a look of sadness on her face, a long shot sees the Doctor walk up to bessie whilst music plays in the background, he gets in the car, pauses, listens and almost sheds a tear before driving off … into a sunset that now looks remarkably like the landscape of Metebelis Three.

closing

Brief Thoughts: A Lifestyle Too Extreme – Glee’s Rocky Horror is Censorsational

May 31, 2011 1 comment

Brief thoughts on the horror of watching Glee’s Rocky Horror.

I remember watching The Rocky Horror Show when I was around 13/14 and simply having no reaction at all to what I’d seen. it seems wholly possible to me now that my brain simply deleted parts of the movie that it couldn’t process leaving behind a few good memories of the Time Warp, Meatloaf and Susan Sarandon in her underwear. In hindsight I’m surprised that I handled the thing so well and surprised that my parents allowed the experience. Despite English suburbia not being the most progressive place to grow up I’m grateful my background allowed for it.

I didn’t see the film again until I was 25. I fell in love with it’s vibrancy and the sheer joy in the material, despite what I initially read to be a wildly confused subtext regarding gender and sexuality. The problem was – or so I initially reasoned – if Rocky Horror is basically a comedic riff, or love letter to old sci fi B movies, and if it following the same conventions as those old B-movies. Frankenfurter, loveable transvestite though he is, is still the bad guy and Riff-Raff ultimately kills him off after he’s corrupted the heroes Brad and Janet by introducing them to a world of “deviant” sexualities (including crossdressing, bisexuality and orgies). In other words, I felt the film still fell into the queer evil guy trope. However, there’s something about the movie and its creator Richard O Brien – who has himself struggled to come to terms with his own gender identity and now identifies as third sex- that suggests the movie’s narrative is as joyfully subversive as it’s meant to be on the outside, and its only after repeat viewings that I’ve come to appreciate the fact that audience response and reaction to the film (and even moreso the stage show) is paradoxically as defining facet of its textual identity as the actual text itself.

Yes, America finds this offensive.

Audiences are notorious for participating in the experience of Rocky Horror, from dressing up in overtly sexual costumes that break down gender boundaries, to yelling out obscenities the entire way through; after a slow start the film became the biggest movie of all time on the cult midnight movies circuit and the Show has become a phenomenal success. This experience would hardly have been possible had the narrative lent itself to the obvious conclusions of my initial reading. Rather than become the cult, queer classic that it has, Rocky Horror would be the best friend of the conservative wing. It’s a very strange phenomenon but there’s something so powerful about Tim Curry’s entrance and something so cinematically unusual about seeing him strut his stuff in corset and suspenders with such confidence (and lack of prejudice) that despite the fact that, as an audience we know that Brad and Janet are the hero figures, our empathy switches straight to the villain. Any viewer with queer sympathies instantly wants this man to succeed (and “wants” him aswell, I imagine), since he’s so exciting and so honest, whereas Brad and Janet seem so plain, dull and annoying. As Brad and Janet fall under his spell during the course of the movie it’s pretty easy to agree that they’re better off for having discovered a new lifestyle. When Riff Raff shoots him, singing the words “your mission is a failure, your lifestyle’s too extreme” the captivated audience can only agree that the rest of the world probably isn’t ready for this, and that’s why he had to die.

Glee’s tribute to Rocky Horror goes a long way towards proving the point that, 30 years after it was made, Rocky Horror still encourages lifestyles that are too extreme for American audiences who will no doubt cite its “adult themes” as reason to keep it from primetime TV. Not a reason that ever kept Jack Bauer’s insane right wing violence and extreme behaviour off of our screens, but then again, that wasn’t liberal-sexual behaviour. It’s in-fact quite hard to see what prompted the decision of Glee’s creators to even tackle the show, since they clearly knew that censors would come down on them so harshly. During the show there’s a lot of talk about censorship and cuts and Sue Sylvester joyfullfully condemning the Glee club’s production of the show, but ultimately the schizophrenic episode sees Will Schuester agreeing that it was a terrible and inappropriate idea. There’s heaps of embrassment surrounding the production of the show, in particular adult/student interaction and students stripping down to their underwear, and none of it is made up for by a multitude of speeches about “being part of a community of outsiders” or repeated soundbytes about the importance of artistic expression. The problem is, the show tries to complain about this on the one hand but takes away from it on the other by conforming too wilfully to some of the most outrageous censorship I think I’ve seen. This takes place on two fronts that are both silent and aggressive.

Not quite the same….somehow.

Silently) What’s strange is that Kurt, the openly gay character who deals with issues surrounding his sexuality every week is muzzled during the Rocky Horror production. Frankenfurter is, of course, clearly bisexual and one can only assume from this that showing a camp gay character is Ok providing he’s quite clearly camp (and not infectious), but showing something on air that seemingly promotes bisexuality i.e. having sex without conforming to a well known stereotype is seen as very dangerous. The episode sidesteps this by not even discussing the sexuality of the piece, merely mentioning once or twice that it has “adult themes”. Those that don’t know would just presume it’s the fact that there’s a bit of nudity.

Aggressively) Frankenfurter’s now very famous entrance number “Sweet Transvestite” is sung by Mercedes, who happens to be a girl. Not a male transvestite. The director throws the audience who might care a quick bone by way of a reaction shot of extreme horror from Will when this decision apparently goes through over his head. It’s not nearly enough though and what should have been the highlight of the episode becomes a thoroughly conservative and boring rendition of the song without joy or abandon, and even has lyrics like “transexual” replaced by “sensational”. Amber Riley sings very well but this is the worst piece of miscasting since….forever, and I felt acutely embarrassed watching it.

Even though the episode wasn’t all terrible, I’ve never appreciated Glee less. I forget what a dull, normative world TV can be sometimes but it’s doubly sad when shows that I look towards to push boundaries, like Glee, come crashing down under the thumb of censorship like everything else.

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