Spoiler alert: I’m assuming you’ve seen the Dr Who anniversary episode. If not, why not??
The French National Front has, in the past, been very big on hijacking Joan of Arc as an icon of their values. The Brits, on the other hand, have never been big on that. Winston Churchill sort of fills that particular void, but even then only from a distance. Despite being right on the single most important decision of his life, opposing Hitler, Churchill held opinions that would alienate many on both the modern right and left. Eurosceptics shift uncomfortably at his support for a United States of Europe, and in government after the war he was economically left wing and a union appeaser. The left remember his opposition to Indian independence. Still, one can’t be too picky. JFK was elected in a rigged election. FDR imprisoned Japanese Americans. An icon is supposed to be soothing from a distance but not looked at too closely.
Having said that, watching the 50th anniversary of Dr Who, I couldn’t help thinking that if there is anything that sums up modern Britain, it’s The Doctor. It’s hard to imagine any country where the identity of the actor playing a fictional character on a children’s (yes, that is who it is aimed it, even if it has made efforts to include the whole family) TV show is a source of enormous national debate and media coverage. The Americans don’t do the same about Superman. Even James Bond doesn’t demand the same loyalty.
But Dr Who is different. Possibly because TV is a more intimate form of culture than film, and by the sheer nature of TV producing much greater episodic quantity than film, and the fact that it is family friendly, and the fact that nearly three generations of TV viewers have now grown up with him, The Doctor has managed to find a particular niche.
But there’s more to it than that. Unlike James Bond, Dr Who has modernised to reflect modern Britain, and more to the point, is at ease with it (Prediction: we’ll see a female Dr by 2017). He’s cheeky, informal, comfortable with different cultures and even sexual orientations, and suspicious of big power in whatever form. He’s also from a former superpower long neutered, yet still with cultural impact throughout the galaxy.
To Eurosceptics, he could be an icon for an independent Britain not afraid to face down Brussels. To pro-Europeans he’s someone who recognises the need to work with allies, often by convincing them of his leadership ability in pursuit of a common goal.
But you know why he’s a national hero? I’m not a Brit, but even I felt the hairs rise on the back of my neck when Tom Baker’s voice is heard in the final scene, because it means something. There’s a line in the episode when Rose his companion points out to The War Doctor that the wheezing sound the TARDIS makes is now synonymous with hope, and it’s the truest line in the whole episode, because for every fan from 1963 that’s exactly what the sound meant. That in the middle of an episode, when people were in what seemed like desperate hopeless danger, the sound of the TARDIS materializing always meant one thing: Here Comes Help.
Is there a Brit over six years old who doesn’t know that sound, or not know that a blue police box has absolutely nothing to do with either the police or telephones?
“Midnight Caller” ran from 1988-1991, and starred Gary Cole, who’d later become known to ”The West Wing” fans as Vice President ”Bingo” Bob Russell (and cult “Office Space” boss Bill “Yeah” Lumbergh).
Cole played Jack Killian, a former cop turned late night radio host. It was stylish for its day (especially as nearly every episode seemed to be set at night, which is hardly surprising, given its title), and was famous for Killian’s ”Goodnight, America, wherever you are” signoff. Cool theme music too.
Thought I’d repost this on the news that Guy Ritchie has begun filming a remake.
When I was watching TV in the mid-eighties, just entering my teens, my two favourite TV shows had been off the air for half a decade before I had even been born. Curiously, both were about international organisations dedicated to maintaining global peace and destroying the plans of world domination by various nefarious individuals, and I often wonder did that subconsciously shape my political beliefs? The first was the British show “The Champions”, which was an Avengers style show. The second, and my favourite, was “The Man from U.N.C.L.E”.
“The Man from U.N.C.L.E” was created by Norman Felton, a US TV producer who got the idea of recruiting Ian Fleming to help devise a new TV spy show in 1963. Fleming came up with the idea of a character named Napoleon Solo, and pretty much stopped there, as the producers of the Bond movies were not enthused about the creator of 007 creating another fictional spy.
Felton went on to flesh out the show, devising a concept of an American and Russian spy working together, just months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, to defend world peace. Robert Vaughn (now in BBC’s Hustle) played Solo, with David McCallum (“Ducky” in NCIS) as his partner Ilya Kuryakin. What made the show was not just the action and outlandish plots (silent gun battle in a crowded cinema, anyone?) to take over the world but the witty repartee between the womanising Solo (there were A LOT of pretty girls) and the acerbic Kuryakin. And, of course, we can’t forget the baddies, the Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity, UNCLE’s evil twin, more commonly known as THRUSH. Bless.
“Ah great, here they are. Dusty Bin on steroids. What’s that? Masters of the known universe? Gimme strength. You crowd couldna master ma SkyPlus. One narrow corridor and you all stand there with your plungers in your hands like Oliver Letwin at an orgy, with a face like Justin Bieber leafing through The Economist. See that? That’s called swivelling yer hips. Ye didna think o’ that, did ya, ya ribbed for pleasure toasters? See that sonic screwdriver? I’ll stick that so far up ya, your eye’ll be backlit. Clara love, pop into the Tardis and put the kettle on. And see if there’s any Jammie Dodgers left. And where’s me phone?”
“The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer” is a curious one, although worth a look. A black comedy about the political rise of the mysterious Michael Rimmer (Played by Peter Cook), it’s not laugh out loud funny, but pretty far-sighted for its time (1970) about the way politics was going. The movie was a flop at the time, and Cook got slated for his wooden acting, yet his performance has a curious Blairite charisma to it.
Full of the television comedy stars of its day (John Cleese, Arthur Lowe, Ronnie Corbett and the beautiful Valerie Leon, whom you’ll know when you see her) the plot is actually quite interesting as a satirical comment on British politics, with a very interesting conclusion and a final shot in the movie which is quite chilling.
It also boosts a simple but ingratiating theme music that’ll you’ll find yourself humming for hours. Pick it up if you see it going cheap.