Tuesday

Back to the TARDIS

The BBC has resumed production on Doctor Who, the sci-fi cult favorite that ran for 26 seasons between 1963 and 1989. The new series is the brainchild of writer/producer Russell T. Davies, perhaps best known as the creator of the original British version of Queer as Folk, and stars Christopher Eccleston as the time-traveling enigma known only as “the Doctor.”

The ninth DoctorAt first glance, the latest Doctor appears to be quite a departure from previous incarnations of the character. His hair is shorn to a scalp-hugging fuzz, and he is dressed simply in a dark V-neck shirt, dark pants (possibly jeans), Doc Martens type boots, and a beat-up-looking leather jacket. In short, the formerly eccentric Time Lord now looks more like any typical yobbo fresh from the local pub. Seeing stills from the production of Eccleston in character did not inspire confidence.

However, perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction. Looking back, the eccentricities of the Doctor’s various wardrobes may have become exaggerated in my mind with the passing of time. The first Doctor, played by William Hartnell, was a crotchety old man dressed in Edwardian attire. However, at the time his episodes were originally broadcast -- the early 1960s -- his clothing was only 50 years out of date; and at the time people in general dressed more formally than they do today. Thus, the effect of his costume was more subtle. The Doctor seemed to be trying to blend in to 20th century Earth society, but, being a time-traveling alien, didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. To the modern eye, the character looks rather more odd than was intended.

The second Doctor, performed by Patrick Troughton as a “cosmic hobo,” wore a thrift-store ensemble that was a bit ill-fitting, but by no means outlandish. Baggy checked trousers, a rumpled shirt, and a crooked bow tie were topped off with a dark oversized coat with deep pockets. Occasionally, he would wear a big fur coat over it all, like some leftover 1920s college student. Again, the effect was to suggest an alien who didn’t really care to do more than approximate the look of a 20th century Englishman, using whatever garments were lying around.

The character veered off in a new direction when the role was taken over by Jon Pertwee. Now marooned on 20th century Earth, the Doctor dressed in frilly shirts and velvet smoking jackets, often wearing a flamboyant cape as well. Though he certainly cuts a rather bizarre figure now, in the early 1970s, he was on the cutting edge of men’s fashions. The third Doctor was not the only TV character to dress in such a dandified manner, as evidenced by the insanely popular (though now almost entirely forgotten) Jason King, a swinging crimefighter played by Peter Wyngarde in two series (Department S and Jason King). This incarnation of the Doctor was made to seem even more eccentric by normally appearing alongside military men in uniform and conservatively-dressed scientists, diplomats, and businessmen. But his fashion sense was in every respect a modern one.

The most famous Doctor, brought to life by Tom Baker, started out with a very elaborate costume that the actor gradually stripped down to the bare minimum. Returning to the “vagabond” theme, the character now wore a billowy white shirt, an argyle vest, a short brown jacket, a heavy overcoat, his trademark 17-foot striped scarf, and baggy wool slacks, with a shabby flop hat atop his unruly curls. Within a few years, however, the overcoat and scarf were all that “dressed up” the Doctor’s button-down white shirt and gray trousers, as the actor sought to have the force of his personality outweigh the visual aspect of the role. When a new producer took over the show, Baker was made to again adopt more of a “costume,” in an attempt to make the character more “marketable.” After a year under the new regime, the actor left the show. While the multicolored scarf made the Doctor appear rather eccentric, take it away and there was little else to make him stand out in a crowd.

The fifth Doctor was, to a greater degree than any of his predecessors, locked into wearing the same outfit episode after episode. Continuing the producer’s quest for “marketability,” the latest Doctor, played by Peter Davison, wore traditional cricket attire under a Victorian-era frock coat. While such an outfit may look particularly strange to an American audience, largely unfamiliar with cricket culture, in England it was more the frock coat itself -- and the stalk of celery pinned to the lapel – that denoted eccentricity. The fresh-faced and youthful Davison would not otherwise look out of place on a village green somewhere. The main effect of the outfit was carried by the fact that the Doctor wore his cricket-themed attire everywhere, from the towers of Castrovalva to the caves of Androzani. Thus, he was almost always dressed somewhat inappropriately to the context.

That idea was carried to the next level when Colin Baker became the sixth Doctor. Against the actor’s wishes, the producers dressed him in a truly bizarre, garish, and hideous outfit. Beyond the asymmetrical vest, yellow pants, and red spats was a patchwork frock coat of many colors. It was clear someone was trying rather too hard to make the Doctor “zany” and “frivolous,” perhaps in an attempt to undercut the actor’s imposing and somewhat belligerent manner. The experiment was a complete failure, and after two short seasons and one long hiatus, Baker was unceremoniously fired. However, he was the third Doctor in a row to wear a knee-length coat, apparently leaving the impression in many minds that this was an intrinsic character trait.

The seventh and final Doctor to appear during the series’ run marked a return to a more inconspicuous Doctor. As played by Sylvester McCoy, the Doctor seemed a bit professorial, and could be mistaken for an absent-minded university faculty member who had inadvertently chosen to wear his checkered pants, busily-patterned pullover, and paisley necktie all on the same day. He wore a short jacket and a straw hat, and to enhance the eccentricity factor, he always carried an umbrella with a large red question-mark handle. As with some of the early Doctors, his outfit was again composed of modern elements that didn’t quite manage to go together. At the conclusion of McCoy’s third season, the show was cancelled.

Other actors have also played the role of the Doctor, in spin-offs produced for the stage, television, and in feature films. Here a pattern emerges that shows what may be a common misconception as to what were the essential elements of the Doctor’s look. Veteran character actor Peter Cushing took on the role of the Doctor in two mid-sixties films made to cash in on the popularity of the villainous Daleks. Though he lived in modern-day London, Cushing’s Doctor was dressed as a very dapper Victorian gentleman, even sporting a well-trimmed moustache. A Victorian theme was also evident in the costume worn by Trevor Martin in a play staged during the 1974 Christmas season. A mishmash of the styles of the three Doctors then known, Martin looked more like a renegade from a Charles Dickens novel. In the 1996 TV movie shown on the Fox network, Paul McGann stepped into the role and, again, the Doctor appeared to be a Victorian gentleman, with long hair, a frock coat, and a shiny waistcoat. Rightly or wrongly, all these productions may have been inspired less by the actual Doctor Who series and more by the H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine, which in fact features a Victorian gentleman traveling into the future aboard a device of his own invention. Clearly, it is not necessary for any new Doctor to adopt such an anachronistic wardrobe to remain true to the spirit of the original TV series.

Still, there was always something -- some hook -- that made the Doctor’s costume fun, distinctive, and appealing. The fact that he was almost always overdressed for intergalactic wandering gave him a certain visual charm, and distinguished Doctor Who from the typically utilitarian costumes featured on other science-fiction shows of the time. It is that element of charm that seems to be missing from the unremitting blackness of Eccleston’s slovenly take on the character. And for an iconic hero like the Doctor, his “costume” is an extremely important element that can either make him instantly memorable, or leave him to fade into the ever-growing crowd of dark-garbed sci-fi adventurers.


For an excellent resource on all things Doctor Who, visit
Outpost Gallifrey.

Next: A Brief History of Gallifrey




Monday

The Tony Television Network

It was Newton Minow who, in 1961, declared television to be a "vast wasteland," an immortal phrase that is just as true now as it was then. However, Mr. Minow may have sung a different tune had he been privileged to view the stunningly original and outrageously envelope-pushing programming on The Tony Television Network!

Saturday night is a cavalcade of stars and a cornucopia of laughs on TTN! Check out our schedule of unbeatable shows, and stay tuned!



8:00 -- BLUE COLLAR MAN. Funnyman Dom Irrera stars as Domenic, a hardworking factory foreman who lives in a lower-middle class suburb with his wife Sandra (Amy Pietz) and their four precocious children. Top commedians Steven Wright and Elaine Boozler also star as their goofy neighbors Clyde and Cha-Cha.

8:30 -- BLACK AND WHITE. Sparks fly when a straight-laced white businessman named John Black (Tim Daly) must share a New York City apartment with a steetwise “jive-talkin’” black man named Scooter White (Shawn Wayans) in this irreverent social satire.

9:00 -- JESUS, MARY & JOSEPH. The place: Nazareth. The time: 15 AD. Average, everyday couple Joseph and Mary (Jere Burns and Nadia Dajani) have their hands full with a teenaged messiah (Cameron Findley). Fyvush Finkel co-stars as Nicodemus in this hilarious look at the generation gap.

9:30 -- MY DARK ANGEL. Based on the popular movie Dark Angel: the Ascent, this urbane comedy examines the life of a Los Angeles physician, Max Barris (Josh Saviano) and his young bride, a former demon from Hell, Veronica Iscariot (Christine Taylor). William Devane co-stars as thorn-in-the-side police captain Harris.

10:00 -- VIOLENCE, INC. Page Fletcher stars as Napoleon Smith in this action-packed adventure show. Smith leads a ragtag band of vigilantes in a cross-country battle with the forces of corruption. Also starring Julius Carry as gun-toting Stretch Johnson, Mark Frankel as handsome Luke West, Erika Eleniak as seductive Jenny McCracken, Adam Wylie as whiz-kid “Brains” Mason, and Robyn Lively as judo-expert Kimberly Bloomfontein. Yvonne Craig co-stars as their secret government contact, Dr. Alysyn Hardcastle. In the pilot episode, they prevent a renegade army colonel (Billy Drago) from unleashing a deadly computer virus.



TTN -- The Best TV Network Ever!!!


Next: More Tony Television!


Best Movies of All Time

A friend of mine recently asked me to compile a list of what I considered to be some of the best movies of all time, broken down into categories.

Here’s my list, with brief commentary.

Caveat: It’s more a totally subjective account of films that I have enjoyed and found memorable -- rather than an objective assessment of cinematic quality or cultural importance.

MODERN DRAMA:

Until the End of the World (1991) [d. Wim Wenders]: William Hurt, Solveig Dommartin, Sam Neill, Max von Sydow, and Jeanne Moreau star in a rambling, round-the-world journey of self-discovery. Good characters, interesting ideas, and a killer soundtrack. My number one favorite.

Blue Velvet (1986) [d. David Lynch]: Dennis Hopper menaces Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, and the audience in the purest expression of Lynch’s cinematic vision of America.

Jesus of Montreal (1989) [d. Denys Arcand]: A fascinating modern-dress allegorical exploration of the themes of the Christ mythos told through a troupe of amateur actors staging a cutting-edge passion play.

Love and Human Remains (1993) [d. Denys Arcand]: A dark vision of urban disaffection where good-looking young Canadians are sexually conflicted and miserable, full of ennui, weltschmertz, and schadenfreude; with Mia Kirschner looking tasty as a patent-leather-wearing dominatrix.

My Own Private Idaho (1991) [d. Gus Van Sant]: River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in the roles they were born to play as two street hustlers who meet a bunch of weirdoes, with some interesting imagery and creative visuals along the way.

Ice Station Zebra (1968) [d. John Sturges]: Patrick McGoohan kicks ass at the North Pole in this Cold War thriller; with Rock Hudson and Ernest Borgnine.

The Eiger Sanction (1975) [d. Clint Eastwood]: Clint Eastwood versus George Kennedy in the Swiss Alps. What more could you want?

Birdy (1984) [d. Alan Parker]: Nicholas Cage and Matthew Modine star in a story of a withdrawn young man and his frustrated best friend. I could relate.


CLASSIC DRAMA:

The Third Man (1949) [d. Carol Reed]: Orson Welles, at his amoral best, matches wits with the well-intentioned Joseph Cotten and the steely Trevor Howard in this noir classic. Unforgettable zither music will haunt you.

Stalag 17 (1953) [d. Billy Wilder]: William Holden rocks in this gripping tale of soldiers in a German POW camp during WW2. The inspiration for Hogan’s Heroes? You be the judge.

Charade (1963) [d. Stanley Donen]: Cary Grant is the manliest man ever and Audrey Hepburn looks delicious in this light-hearted thriller that I never get tired of watching. One of my all-time favorites.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) [d. Robert Mulligan]: Gregory Peck puts America to shame in this classic, starring my cousin’s best friend as “Scout.” No kidding!

The Naked Kiss (1964) [d. Samuel Fuller]: An early look at the dark underbelly of small-town America that was pushing the envelope in ’64. A hooker tries to get a fresh start, but can she escape her past? Perversion seethes under the surface of a Leave It to Beaver world.


SCIENCE FICTION:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [d. Stanley Kubrick]: Cold, creepy, and mind-boggling sci-fi classic that made the genre respectable. Viewers with A.D.D. need not apply.

Planet of the Apes (1968) [d. Franklin J. Schaffner]: Charlton Heston burns up the screen in one of the greatest films of all time. The remake, the old TV series, and the increasingly silly sequels only tarnish the reputation of the senses-shattering original.

Star Crash (1979) [d. Luigi Cozzi]: Christopher Plummer and half-naked Caroline Munro mince around unconvincing sets in the ultimate “spaghetti sci-fi” flick that was a staple on Houlihan & Big Chuck. Laughable low-grade trash that is nevertheless enjoyable and memorable. Great antidote to pompous tripe like Star Wars.


WESTERN:

My Name is Nobody (1973) [d. Tonino Valerii & Sergio Leone]: Terence Hill and Henry Fonda send up the “spaghetti western” genre in a funny, touching, and thoroughly enjoyable movie; with a fantastic score by Ennio Morricone.

Unforgiven (1992) [d. Clint Eastwood]: No holds barred as a gruesome-looking Clint gets revenge on Gene Hackman in a bleak and hopeless American West.


HORROR:

The Reflecting Skin (1990) [d. Philip Ridley]: The only scary movie that ever really scared me, it’s a tale of a boy whose imagination may or may not be running away with him in a desolate rural landscape.


BIZARRO:

Eraserhead (1977) [d. David Lynch]: The Lynchian classic of masculine angst and despair; works much better on the big screen, unfortunately. Somehow loses a lot when seen on a television set.

Prospero’s Books (1991) [d. Peter Greenaway]: John Gielgud does his only nude scene in this intriguing kaleidoscope of funky imagery set on a Shakespearean framework.

Girl on a Motorcycle (1968) [d. Jack Cardiff]: The Most Perfect Movie Ever Made features Marianne Faithfull as a leather-clad young adulteress making a masochistic stream-of-consciousness journey to her cold-hearted lover (Alain Delon) upon her surging Harley-Davidson amidst a psychedelic miasma of solarization.


COMEDY:

Dr. Strangelove (1964) [d. Stanley Kubrick]: Hilarious tour-de-force for Peter Sellers as three different characters in this classic nihilistic atomic-age satire. George C. Scott and Slim Pickens are unforgettable.

The Big Bus (1976) [d. James Frawley]: Joseph Bologna and Stockard Channing lead an all-star cast in this delirious spoof of disaster movies. A must-see for Stuart Margolin fans.

Time Bandits (1981) [d. Terry Gilliam]: Time-traveling midgets lead a little boy on a terrifying adventure to confront evil in its purest form. Fun for the whole family!

Night on Earth (1991) [d. Jim Jarmusch]: A series of vignettes set in taxi cabs operating simultaneously around the globe, moving us geographically from dusk till dawn, and offering some very funny characters. Awesome score by Tom Waits pulls it all together.

Bob Roberts (1992) [d. Tim Robbins]: Fake documentary about political hypocrisy hits all the right buttons as Giancarlo Esposito tries to expose the folk-singing right-wing candidate played by Robbins.


FOREIGN LANGUAGE:

The Bicycle Thief (1948) [d. Vittorio De Sica]: Touching story of a desperate dad in postwar Italy trying to provide for his family without losing his son’s respect. A deft touch makes a possibly maudlin premise into an all-time classic of the cinema.

Wings of Desire (1987) [d. Wim Wenders]: Introspective study of an angel (Bruno Ganz) who falls in love with the gorgeous Solveig Dommartin and crosses over from his black & white world into the overwhelming technicolor landscape of West Berlin. Requires truckloads of patience, but is ultimately rewarding.

Delicatessen (1991) [d. Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet]: A twisted fantasy wherein the rubber-faced Dominique Pinon tries to avoid being turned into supper for an apartment building full of kooky cannibals.


DOCUMENTARY:

Koyaanisqatsi (1983) [d. Godfrey Reggio]: A mind-bending collage of beautiful cinematography set to a haunting score by Philip Glass, illustrating the imbalances of modern life.

Triumph of the Will (1934) [d. Leni Reifenstahl]: A filmmaking genius transforms a short, ugly, Austrian fanatic into a god, making Nazism seem like the coolest thing since the Roman Empire. Must be seen to be believed.


Friday

Test Pattern

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz....

**crackle**

Is this thing on?

Is this -- **bzzzzzzzzz** -- Is this thing on?

*grzzzzptt**

Testing... testing...