Jon Pertwee was the best ever Doctor Who

•4 December, 2017 • Leave a Comment

This is the third in a series of monthly articles.

It was 1969. BBC TV was about to become all-colour and Doctor Who’s future was in question. Its star, Patrick Troughton, saw himself as a jobbing actor, and therefore didn’t do chat show appearances to promote the Saturday night staple. Ratings were in a steady decline, Troughton was leaving, colour filming was expensive, and a new production team were coming in to face these challenges. In a million universes, Doctor Who limped on for a year or two in the seventies before being shot like a lame horse.

Outgoing producer Derek Sherwin had created a new format for the show. To save money, it would be set on Earth and would centre around a military organisation set up to deal with the top secret and the paranormal. The production team’s choice for a new Time Lord to replace Troughton was… Ron Moody.

Moody would have likely played a character in the vein of the two previous incarnations. Not very physical, mostly cerebral, a Quatermass figure among the military hardware of early seventies Doctor Who. We can only speculate whether the series would have survived with Moody at the helm. When Moody declined, the role was offered to light entertainment actor Jon Pertwee. When he asked the production team how to play the character, he was told to play it as Jon Pertwee. He later said that he had to work out who “Jon Pertwee” really was.

It turned out that ex racing driver and Naval Intelligence operative Pertwee was a Venusian martial artist, car enthusiast, protector of the underdog, and advocate of peace and co-operation. His personality leapt off the screen and his man-of-action persona made for a smooth fit with fictional military division UNIT.

The new, colour Doctor Who quickly moved from being a flagging teen show to once again being a British cultural icon. This was in no small part due to the sheer charisma of its new lead. Never having worked in drama before, Pertwee’s natural talent as a character actor lent itself readily to both his gritty first series and the more child-friendly tone that the production team moved to as the decade continued. Doctor Who was still Doctor Who: despite the car chases and fight choreography, the character was still at heart a scientist. He designed gadgets, tinkered with computers, and pushed for the non-military solution in the face of alien invasion. Over the course of five years in the role, Pertwee’s Doctor Who was a show that went from strength to strength.

Despite Pertwee being a seventies alpha male, he had his female co-stars’ backs on set. Likewise, he saw the character as something of a “mother hen”. This action Doctor with both charm and a huge heart could stand today, even away from seventies mores. I could see Sean Pertwee reprising the role, maybe annoying Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor some with his patronisation, but still showing the strong moral centre of the character and his never-say-die approach to saving the universe.

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Animal Sentience and Clause 30

•30 November, 2017 • Leave a Comment

And so, apparently, I’m back to politics.

Late to the party though I am, I want to talk about last week’s hoo-ha because the entire media coverage of it has been misleading. And the way Caroline Lucas MP has presented this personal little commons defeat has been downright disingenuous. Worse still, the government are in such a position that a media soundbite can’t explain what’s happened, but nobody in the general public is prepared to listen to an explanation longer than the original headline.

What categorically did NOT happen was the Evil Tories voting that animals are not sentient.

I’ve read the legislation now – namely the clauses of the Lisbon Treaty and the Animal Welfare Act (2006) – and I’ve read Hansard’s transcript of the debate. So I’d like to tell you what really happened and what the implications are.

Bear in mind at the start that the purpose of the EU Withdrawal Bill is to make sure that things don’t drop out of British law just because we’ve left the EU. It is to give us time to make our own, proper legislation and take as long as we need to do so properly. Yes, it could be fucking decades before every clause is repealed, but this bill exists to be repealed. Anything in the bill is intended to be temporary.

Lucas proposed a clause, Clause 30, that would include as part of the copying over of EU law a guideline in the Lisbon Treaty, namely Article 13. The text of Article 13 reads as follows:

In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.

What happened next was that the Temporary Chair added that alongside this clause, a handful of other environmental clauses would be discussed. After three hours of discussion, Clause 30 was put to a vote and voted down at 295 ayes to 313 noes. That Clause 30 specifically went to a vote is because the legislation that the environmental clauses were intended to cover was already a work in progress (Michael Gove has been a very busy bunny since he became Environment Secretary) and risked passing through parliament at the same time as the EU Withdrawal Bill, which would make a mess if either contradicted the other.

Lucas had hoped that Clause 30 would be formality. I mean, we all agree animals are sentient, right?

Parliament certainly does. The key issue here is that the government’s position is that the Animal Welfare Act (2006) already recognises animals as sentient. Lucas’s beef with that is that the word “sentient” isn’t actually used. Let’s look at the wording of the Act for a moment:

1 Animals to which the Act applies:

(1) In this Act, except subsections (4) and (5), “animal” means a vertebrate other than a man.

(2) Nothing in this Act applies to an animal while it is in its foetal or embryonic form.

(3) The appropriate national authority may by regulations for all or any of the purposes of this Act–

(a) extend the definition of animal so as to include vertebrates of any description;

(b) make provision in lieu of subsection (2) as respects any invertebrates included in the definition of “animal”;

(c) amend subsection (2) to extend the application of this Act to an animal from such earlier stage in its development as may be specified in the regulations.

(4) The power under subsection (3)(a) or (c) may only be exercised if the appropriate national authority is satisfied, on the basis of scientific evidence, that animals of the kind concerned are capable of experiencing pain or suffering.

(5) In this section, “vertebrate” means any animal of the Sub-phylum Vertebrata of the Phylum Chordata and “invertebrate” means any animal not of that Sub-phylum.

Sure, the word “sentient” isn’t used. But a definition of “sentience” is given (“capable of experiencing pain or suffering”) and all vertebrates are assumed by the Act to be sentient in that respect. Furthermore, the definition of “animal” in the act is extended by the recognition of an invertebrate’s sentience. Compare this and the provisions of the body of the Animal Welfare Act to the insipid provision of the Lisbon Treaty, and it’s fairly obvious that Article 13 of the Treaty is already more than covered. In fact, the Animal Welfare Act would be the legislation that would include the repeal of Clause 30 of the EU Withdrawal Bill if it hadn’t already been enacted in 2006.

There are two ways to read last week’s media blow-up and Caroline Lucas’s part in it: the mean-spirited way, or the deeply cynical way. The mean-spirited way would be to read from this that Lucas has pushed for this clause and cried to the papers when it didn’t go her way because she is simply not intelligent enough to read and understand all the big words in the Animal Welfare Act. The cynical way is a bit more convoluted.

Caroline Lucas is the only MP for the Green Party, a party that is always in danger of being rendered irrelevant under media coverage of the Labour Party. She is also a voice for remaining in the EU (a worthy cause, as far as I’m concerned). As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, despite half-arsedly campaigning to Remain, is a Eurosceptic at heart, Labour have provided as less-than effective opposition to the government’s cack-handed handling of the exit negotiations. This leaves people like Lucas to do that work.

Clause 30, because we already have a comprehensive Animal Welfare Act, might never be repealed. Dominic Raab called it a wrecking clause, and he is right insofar as it would leave us with a legislative tie to the Lisbon Treaty that we’re never going to get around to an Act to repeal – the bill that such a repeal would be contained in is already law. But Lucas may be playing a shrewder game than that.

She campaigned in the 2017 General Election as a Labour shill, calling for left-wing coalition against the Tories despite the fact that a winning Labour Party would never let her anywhere near the top table. Her share of the vote in her constituency grew, so at least virtually campaigning for Labour didn’t backfire for her. And as UK politics is becoming more tribalised, she needs to keep a high profile. Clause 30 may have been for bragging rights. If it goes through, she gets to claim that she struck a historic blow for animal rights (despite the reality that it was a petty and unnecessary piece of legislation). When the vote failed, members of the Green Party got to write articles in the Guardian and Independent about what unspeakable bastards the Tories are. It’s been win-win for Lucas if she is indeed a political operator.

Harlequin’s Kiss in Autumn – Part Three

•30 November, 2017 • 1 Comment

Continued from last Monday.

So the day of what we knew was going to be our biggest gig this year had rolled around, and we were missing a support act. Our original support gave me a recommendation, and it turned out to be a guy that I’d seen before and enjoyed. So I dropped him a message on facebook, along with putting out some posts on the various West Midlands musician groups I’m part of. I took three calls that afternoon. Two were from pro covers bands that were demanding higher fees than the venue could support, and hadn’t twigged (despite my saying that I was looking for a support act) that I wasn’t looking for the last-minute replacement of the whole show. The other was from a guy that I’d had the fortune to work with before.

Dylan O’Dell is the events organiser for the Queen’s Head in Redditch, and he had picked us up earlier in autumn to open a Saturday night there. It was a fun night, and the venue had a great vibe – I look forward to a future gig there. Anyway, Dylan is also involved with an acoustic rock covers combo, and he offered their services to save my bacon. Relieved, Ed and I headed out to the studio to do some last minute rehearsals with the band before heaving the gear to the Gunmakers Arms.

The pub doesn’t really have an indoor stage, and the layout, what with the venue having expanded across three narrow houses over the course of two centuries, is not conducive to the visual side of our show. That said, the area we had to play in was surprisingly spacious, and it was nice to use our own gear to put on a show with the sound that we get every week in the rehearsal studio. There has been an association between Harlequin’s Kiss and the Gunmakers Arms for five years, and their Sunday night events have been pulling crowds for a few months now, so we knew that we were going to be showcasing our best sound in front of a big audience made of both well-wishers and people discovering us for the first time.

Act of the Risen, Dylan’s group, arrived in good time, and we were able to get them set up relatively easily given that I’m not a trained sound engineer. They entertained the crowd with a barnstormer of a forty minute set of alt-rock covers, including some old favourites of mine that you don’t hear live often. And then, after a short break, Harlequin’s Kiss took the stage.

The feedback we had after the show was gratifying, to say the least. As well as the drinks and the back-patting, we were also glad to receive some constructive feedback from some long-standing regulars. Across the show, we saw many people gathered around the bar singing along to our covers, and just plain rocking out to our original material. And we even sold some t-shirts and CDs to boot.

Harlequin’s Kiss in Autumn – Part Two

•20 November, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Last week I told you about the build-up to the band’s busy November. We had entered a competition and just needed to supply a video to clinch our place at live audition shows. As it happened, I got my dates confused and thought the deadline was two days later than it really was. I got a call from Nathan asking where we were up to, and discovered to my horror that a video had to be posted to our facebook page in a matter of hours. I wasn’t finished with the engineering of the live track, never mind syncing it up with the video.

Fortunately, Nathan had a solution: his mother had taken a clip of us when we last appeared at the Roadhouse’s open mic night. The whole band was not in shot, but at least it could be uploaded quickly. I got Ed to set Nathan up as a page admin and his mum duly uploaded it.

We got through to the next round, much to our surprise. The video wasn’t of the quality that we had originally hoped to post, but we were invited to play a ten-minute show as part of a live audition round of the competition at the Victoria pub in Birmingham. There was, for us, a catch: the audition was on the day before our gig at the Gunmakers Arms.

We are always well-prepared. What we decided to do was rehearse on the Friday night for the Victoria audition, play the Soundwaves show, then immediately return to the studio to rehearse for the Gunmakers gig.

The day of the Soundwaves audition rolled around. We were one of the first acts to arrive and the first on stage for that session. We had some fun with a lady who sang Disney songs to a backing track and her friends, and things seemed to be mostly going to plan. Well, until we tried to get the gear back to the studio. The city centre was so badly gridlocked that it took us an hour to get around Hill Street to the Queensway. It didn’t leave us a lot of time before the studio closed to play through Sunday’s set, and we agreed to work on one or two things the next day in advance of setting up at the Gunmakers. Little did I know that my time the next morning was about to be eaten.

Because I’m paranoid, I’d left a facebook message with our support act on the Friday night to make sure that she was still able and up for Sunday’s show. When I got home on Saturday, I found bad news. She had managed to contract some kind of throat infection on Friday and was busy treating it. An hour’s set on Sunday was looking unlikely, but she would keep me posted. Inevitably, when we checked in again on Sunday morning, she still wasn’t fit to play. And so began a Sunday morning of phone calls and facebook messages.

Harlequin’s Kiss in Autumn – Part One

•16 November, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s been a busy month for Harlequin’s Kiss, and I’d like to let you in on what’s been going on behind the scenes.

Firstly, we were booked for a spot at the Gunmakers Arms. This venue is one that we hold quite dear to our hearts as the place where we played our first ever gig and the local to our studio – we hold most of our band meetings there. The brewery that took it over a couple of years ago have been positioning the venue as a cultural hub, and part of that has been weekend music. Their Sunday evening shows are usually for two, hour-long sets. Being a tad short on material for a two-hour show, we picked up a country singer-songwriter that we met at an open mic night to warm up the crowd for us. With posters produced and a buzz among the regulars for our return, it was looking set to be our biggest show of the year.

While this was in the pipeline, Nathan, our rhythm guitarist, signed us up to a national music competition called Soundwaves. The contact with the industry that the competition boasted looked good, as did the potential opportunity to play on the main stage at an O2 Academy venue. Nathan filled out the forms with a link to our music, and they wrote back to us to say that all we had to do next was send them a live video.

Back in November 2016, we headlined a show at the Roadhouse at the behest of a friend of Mike (our lead guitarist). The idea was that this friend would record the show from the mixing desk. We had even arranged to film the gig with the hope of putting the finished show on youtube. Our old rhythm guitarist, Matt, owned the main camera and we hadn’t got around to picking the video files up from him, but this seemed like an opportunity to get the project kick-started again.

Ed and I headed out to the Black Country to grab a copy of the files, and were almost at Matt’s home when we got the bad news. The version that he had worked on on his laptop hadn’t saved properly and he had scrubbed the camera’s SD card to make space. The only video we had for this gig was a shaky mobile phone shot of the latter half.

The audio for the show hadn’t been mixed and mastered. I had been supplied with raw versions of every mic feed, but I had to assemble and engineer the production myself. I made the decision to match the nature of the phone footage better by not making quite as polished a mix as I had first envisaged. I had done the bulk of the work but I still had to do a final mix and sync it with the video. It looked like things were going to work out okay – until I did something very silly.

Patrick Troughton was the best ever Doctor Who

•6 November, 2017 • 1 Comment

Rassilon appears to have smiled favourably on me, the timing working out such that I get to post this the day after the anniversary of Troughton’s début in the role. This is the second part of an ongoing series.

Patrick Troughton was the last of the era of created Doctors. From the 1970s onwards, there was always the expectation that Doctor Who would be played by a charismatic actor playing themselves. Troughton had a brief to work to, yet still made the character his own.

Consider this: recasting a lead role usually means keeping the same character and hoping that the audience adjusts. It has been done in soaps so many times, and by the late eighties and early nineties, sitcom Bread was re-casting at a rate of almost a role per series. Even Joey wasn’t safe. The way Doctor Who dealt with recasting could have gone spectacularly wrong. The production team had considered using the interference of a godlike being in the previous series to recast a similar actor to William Hartnell, but finally opted to “renew” the character, replacing Hartnell with a younger actor. But rather than simply rewinding the Doctor’s age, the production team and creator Sydney Newman went for a new personality. Backlash could have killed the series stone dead. It took a character actor of Troughton’s talent to keep the interest in the series.

I bear no ill will to Michael Craze and Anneke Wills, but Ben and Polly were among the least interesting of the Doctor’s companions across the 50 year run. The show was going to live or die on Troughton’s performance at a time when a changing Doctor was a revolutionary concept. The whimsical “space hobo” that Newman envisaged was such a completely different concept to the cantankerous grandfather that had preceded him that it would take real likeability and a little bit of mystery to keep the audience engaged – Troughton was able to provide both.

Often a show is loved by the audience because the actors’ pleasure in making it somehow bleeds out of the TV set. This was true of Robin of Sherwood, and it was true in many eras of Doctor Who. Troughton found an on-screen chemistry with Frazer Hines (who played companion Jamie for most of Troughton’s run) that kept the show fun to watch even as the production team turned late sixties Doctor Who from a whimsical children’s show to a tween horror series. And somehow Troughton was able to evolve the title character with this drastic change of tone. Doctor Who became a darker figure, but still kept his disarming, lop-sided smile and his fantastical charm.

That Doctor Who survived through the late sixties, against a change of lead and a shift in tone, is testament to Troughton’s work as a character actor, developing Sydney Newman’s brief and evolving it into a hero that could stand against the horrors. Troughton’s Doctor would still stand up in any era of the subsequent show – a gentle contrast to the military hardware of the early seventies, through to a reassuring teacher to Bill Potts. The “Nobody in the universe” scene with Victoria from Tomb of the Cybermen would still stand up in an episode today.

Improvements

•30 October, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It’s distressing how little I get out of the house at the moment. When I started this blog, way back in 2004, I was never short of things to post. I mean, I could keep up a weekly political commentary, but this was always meant to be a “day in the life” kind of blog. The fact that I’m only really leaving the house to sign on the dole and play gigs isn’t allowing me to have much in the way of adventures – “no money” means I can’t get up to too much mischief after shows.

After a badly disrupted few years, I’m working at getting my life back on track. It’s not easy. As I mentioned previously, I’m not settled into my new home yet and I’m suffering from the most serious bout of insomnia I’ve had in 16 years of shitty sleep. At least the insomnia seems to be easing off a bit – I’m getting to sleep within two hours every other night and only waking up in the middle once on most nights. It’s still horrible, but it’s an improvement on sleeping for four hours every other night.

Obviously, this doesn’t leave me with a lot of energy to get things done during the day. I have a long list of things to do, and my usual paralysis over what to address first is kicking in as well. My days are far less productive than I’d like.

On the other hand, I think I’m starting to find myself again. Losing parts of what I considered to be “me” has come at an unfortunate stage of my life. Developmentally, you become a complete person at 25, apparently. But my A-level psychology teacher said that your personality isn’t set in stone until you’re 30. I worry that I can’t separate becoming mature from the psychological damage I’ve suffered over that intervening five years. Given that the damage is manifesting as mental blocks over certain things, I’m not certain what inhibitions I should be losing for my own good and which ones would constitute obnoxiously pretending I’m still in my early twenties if I lost them. Nevertheless, I’m finding time and enthusiasm for things that I had let fall by the wayside. The fact that I’m blogging regularly again after a hiatus of around a year (my summer political rants don’t count) is a symptom of that. I’m also managing to put some mundane things back in my life that I used to be able to peg my week to. Maybe a little bit of routine will kick-start me into some serious productivity.

Of course, now that winter is setting in, we’re on the long drag to the grand disruption that is Christmas. Necessary though it is, it’s hard to live in the “now” rather than think of myself as setting up the dominoes to fall in the new year. Keeping this blog going is a start, I suppose. I just hope I can find better things to write about.