Dr Who: the Inside Story

Okay, the world can release its bated breath now because I’ll tell you what I thought of the new Dr Who.

And what I thought was good, made better by the fact that my approval went steadily up as the episode progressed. Pre-credits: oh dear, oh dear, yet more of the RTD-era (see how it’s already an era?) codswallop. London by night. Doctor doing silly things with TARDIS. Oh come on.

Thankfully it ended, progressing into the new credit sequence which was … um. And ahem. Endoscopic is the first word to come to mind. And indeed the last. I mean, did Moffat have a certain procedure performed whilst exercising his brain as to how the new sequence should look, and happened to glance at the screen, whereupon he leapt off the couch (ouch!) shouting “That’s my new sequence!” We may never know. This is probably good.

But then we get some classic Moffat – lonely little girl, creepy house, things unseen – only briefly interrupted by more RTD silliness (I thought the food gag would never end) and then it started getting really good. And what makes it better is: it wasn’t just good because it was a Moffat script, it was also good because it had a darned good actor in the leading role. The Doctor of old always had a certain authority that let him walk into any situation and, sometimes unaccountably, be taken seriously. Tennant, for all his strengths, never quite had that. The Boy Smith does. He also has nipples and a scattering of chest hair, not that we needed to know that. (Mind you, so did Pertwee – and a tattoo, if you look closely around the 50 second mark.)

But, back to those credits. The very first Dr Who credits were simplicity itself yet hugely evocative: abstract whooshes and curls generated by the simple feedback of pointing a camera at its own monitor. Thereafter they got more sophisticated –Doctor’s face addedintroduction of colour, then slit-scan – until their apotheosis in the Baker-era credits, which are timeless even today. But always abstract. This came to a screeching halt at the end of the Baker-era with the introduction of new, computer generated credits – that’s 1979 computer generated – which looked rubbish and dated from the word go, emphasised the space bit as opposed to the time bit and from which the series never really recovered. The New Who credits went some way towards rectifying this – they kept the space but brought back the abstract – and now … well, I’ll say this much, it’s new. Neither time nor space, just … endoscopy.

I await the fan fiction with interest.

My name in Dnepropetrovsk is cursed / when he finds out I publish first

J.K. Rowling is being sued (again) for alleged plagiarism. In this case the estate of the now-deceased author of the 30pp self-published Adventures of Willy the Wizard(published 1987) claims (a) that by some miracle Rowling became aware of this opus and nicked bits of it for Goblet of Fire, because (b) it is inconceivable, inconceivable I tell you that anyone else could possibly imagine a society of wizards taking everyday life as we know it (sports competitions, chess, trains) and adding their own magical twist to it. QED.

Prognostications for the plaintiff are not good and this may well be the last you hear of it.

If you want a case that just might have merit, however, tune into BBC1 on 10 April (and make sure you do because I’m calling you all as witnesses), which is when “The Beast Below”, the second episode of the new Dr Who series will be shown. According to the Beeb’s publicity lords:

“The Doctor takes Amy to the distant future, where she finds Britain in space. Starship UK houses the future of the British people, as they search the stars for a new home.”

Sound of screeching brakes. Now, hold on just a minute! Starship UK? Starship UK?? Why, that’s almost exactly the same as:

“UK-1 … the largest spaceship ever built – seventeen massive wheels in space spinning around a common axis. The last redoubt of the exiled House of Windsor.” (His Majesty’s Starship, 1998)

Note that even though HMSS was published in 1998, I sent it to my agent in early 1995. Later in 1995 I spoke on the phone to Steven Moffat, then a mere script writer a decade before he would achieve the status of Hugo-winning Dr Who Deity with “The Empty Child” and 15 years before he would take over series production from Russell T. Davies. Now, my memories of the conversation are mainly that we coordinated ideas for our forthcoming stories in the Decalog 3 collection: but I put it to you, is it entirely impossible that the conversation could have gone:
[Gentle Scottish burr] “So, Ben, what else have you written?”
[Crisp, eager, slightly naive English accent] “Well, I’ve just turned in my first novel, which includes the UK in space, based on a giant spaceship and ruled by the guy who would be king if Britain was still a monarchy.”
[Slightly more acquisitive Scottish burr] “Fascinating! Tell me more …”
Not at all impossible, I’m sure you’ll agree. The fact that I don’t remember it is obviously because I dismissed it as unimportant. The phone call was about our stories, after all, not my novel, and anyway, I trusted the man, trusted, I tell you.
I will hold my horses for the time being. I have still to watch this episode, and I’ll wait for Willy the Wizard vs Rowling‘s inevitable dismissal, because I wouldn’t want my chances affected by any perceived similarity to such an obviously futile, money-grabbing case.