Our (almost) Daily Doctor Who Routine

I have been watching through original Doctor Who with my kids from the very first William Hartnell episode. We’re enjoying it, so I thought I’d share our DW routine to maybe inspire other parents, fans, or New Who folks to give it a try.

My pair are 7 and 9, and we’ve been watching from the very beginning for a while now. At this point we’re into Patrick Troughton’s last season. In fact, we’re now up to part three of  The Space Pirates.

Watching is a part of our morning school routine – get up, eat brekky, get dressed, brush hair, one 25 minute episode, then out to catch the school bus. If they’re going a bit slow I remind them, “If you don’t hurry up, there won’t be time for today’s Doctor Who!”

That gets them moving!

Every month or two they ask for some old Warner Brothers cartoons or My Little Pony for a few mornings, then I find them slightly more reluctant to break that habit and go back to DW. Kids like routine, so if the routine changes they quickly become comfortable with the new one. But after a few mornings I tell them that I’m watching the next episode of Who, if they don’t want to they can do something else. Within minutes of it starting they’re back in the groove and it’s our schoolday routine once more.

In fact, it’s too much a school routine. Come the holidays we’re flat out getting around to a single episode. But that’s okay, the break just makes us more eager for it when school starts again.

Now with showing them stories, I do my best to keep all the surprises. I don’t tell them anything about the episode we’re watching – except for when a companion dies. They like to know in advance on that stuff because they find it really upsetting. So I usually warn them at the start of the story, and again when the actual episode comes around.

With regards to hiding the surprises, I take the hiding info to silly extremes.

So episode 10 of The War Games is S06E44 and… wait… E45?!

I dump my DVDs down to the computer, and then across to a flash drive. On the flash drive the only info they have is what season and what episode number it is – no names. That way they have no idea of story lengths, which works especially well in the early era when episode length varied quite markedly. Not knowing when a story will end adds to the thrill for them. [1]

When starting a new story I’ve gotten into the habit of skipping the opening titles, too. That way they don’t get told it’s a Dalek story in the title, then have a bunch of characters talking about the evil enemy they’re up against, that they never quite get around to naming, only to have a “shock reveal” at the cliffhanger – Yes, I’m looking at you, Terry Nation!

I also refuse to tell them when a regeneration story is coming. Oh, the number of stories where the Doctor gets hurt and they start to worry that it’s a regeneration story. And of course that meant they were completely blindsided by Hartnell’s regeneration when it came about.

I suspect Troughton’s is going to shock them too, when the time comes. Of course now I’ve taken to pretending to film them towards the end of random episodes. First time I did it, they thought it was a regeneration, which was the point. Doing it a few more times before his last episode.

As an aside, I also managed to keep the Doctor’s regeneration into a woman quiet from my daughter.  Son found out three months out, but he did a great job of not telling his sister, so she got the full effect at the end of Capaldi’s run.

For me the lengths are worth it. When I was a kid, the only way to experience the majority of these stories was to read about them in novelisations, articles, or books. So when one finally, and often unexpectedly, got the chance to see them, you already knew that it was the first appearance of whatever, or that such and such left, or that the Doctor regenerated.

I’m trying to give them all the surprises I was denied.

I do it with films, too. Showed them Planet of the Apes as soon as they were old enough to understand the significance of the ending, but before it could be ruined for them because it’s a pop cultural touchstone. Same with the reveal in The Empire Strikes Back. I’ll do the same with Citizen Kane, Psycho, and Fight Club one day.

You might notice I’m avoiding spoilers here for everything I’m talking about. There’s always somebody for whom the thing you’re discussing is new. I feel in a more general discussion it doesn’t hurt to talk around such details because everyone who has seen it knows exactly what you mean, and you’re still saving the surprise for those that haven’t had the chance.

Some folks might think that kids wouldn’t take to the old show. Sorts of things I hear are the effects are too crappy for modern day kids, or the stories are too slow.

First up, my children are sci-fi savvy. They’ve seen a range of stuff including most of the Star Wars films, and when they recently saw this spaceship in Wheel in Space

Yes, this spaceship blew away kids who’ve seen Star Wars – you have to check your preconceptions

Their reaction was a genuine and enthusiastic “Oh wow!”

Children don’t view these things the way we do. We’re denying them a chance to connect with something if we decide for them that they won’t like it. It’s one thing to cater to their tastes and avoid things they find distressing, it’s another to hamstring storytelling variety without giving them the chance to experience it.

They have also seen various Ray Harryhausen films and the first Jurassic Park film. Shortly after Jurassic Park we watched Invasion of the Dinosaurs because I’d mentioned a DW story had dinosaurs. Here’s one of the dinosaurs –

This dinosaur is kinda the star, it appears all through the story, often in close up.

My children’s reaction? Well, initially there was a bit of “They look a bit rough,” but in a very short space of time, they were caught up in the story. They were scared for the characters, even though they could easily identify the use of puppets and Chromakey, and they got really upset when one dinosaur was being hurt.

This is the thing many adults forget. Children love stories. Effects and budget are only a delivery system for the storytelling.

Most kids are wonderfully empathic and thoughtful about appreciating a story on its own terms. That’s why even if you’re not good at reading stories aloud, they still love you doing it – they don’t care about the medium, they care about the story and characters.  You reading it to them adds an extra layer of special to that.

If the story and characters are good, it doesn’t matter to kids if it’s told with sock puppets, stick figures, or shadows. Yes, they like pretty graphics, but they care about good storytelling a lot more.

This also addresses the storytelling pace of old Doctor Who. Many children I know of like the slower pace. Old DW is told at a pace and in a way where everything is quite clear. The nature of television from that period demanded it because it was only ever made to be seen once and never again. Kids have time to take in the characters and the story and really get a handle on what is happening.

Children want to understand as much of the story as possible and the slower storytelling makes them feel more in control as an audience member.

Don’t get me wrong. My kids love fast paced stuff, but they seem to enjoy slower storytelling a lot more. And I don’t get anywhere near as many questions about what is happening. When I do get questions the answer is almost always, “Watch and listen, and you’ll find out.”

Also, with regards to pacing, even the slowest story is easy to take when only watched at the rate of one 25 minute episode per day. We’ve had a lot of stories that many adult fans consider boring (usually they’ve watched them in one sitting), where my kids have been demanding the next episode immediately, because they didn’t want to wait until the next day. I made them wait, of course!

I suppose the last element to address is watching reconstructions of the missing episodes. I go for telesnap reconstructions because, well, it’s usually photos from the actual story. Combined with the existing soundtracks, and occasionally a bit of existing footage, this is pretty much as close as one can get to watching a missing episode.

Again, this is something that a lot of adults seem to think kids won’t like. But it’s really no different to those Read-Along books that come with a CD (or tape, or record, if you’re an old bugger like me) where the story is told and you turn the page at the sound. They still sell these and it’s because children love them!

The telesnap reconstructions often have text on screen to explain bits of the action that aren’t obvious. When we started going through these stories I had to read out the actions for my daughter, but she’s old enough that she’s reading them all herself now.

The first story we watched that was reconstructed was Marco Polo, of course. Out of the first four stories, Marco Polo was my daughter’s favourite – even over the first Dalek story. The kids quickly got used to telesnap reconstructions to the point where my son would occasionally be halfway through an existing episode of a mostly missing story before he came out with, “Hey, this episode has footage!”

Much as I’m a Doctor Who fanboy, Marco Polo is one of the very few stories I’ve ever rated 10/10

There are of course official animated reconstructions of a few stories and episodes available on DVD. I haven’t shown the kids any of these as I personally find them highly variable. Some are very good, some feel somewhat lacklustre. I think Power of the Daleks is one of the best there is, but I still prefer the recon.

That said, I will let them watch the animated ones on later viewings, if that’s their preference.  For now, I want them to get the as close as possible to the original experience.  Many of the telesnap reconstructions can be found on Youtube now!

There are also numerous fan animations on Youtube. I steer clear of most of these as I just found too many that decided to make things cooler by adding in elements that wouldn’t have been doable in the original show, such as flying Daleks in the jungles of Kembel, or sweeping impractical camera moves.

And as I said, my kids have been completely fine with the telesnap recons. They react to revelations and excitement at about the same level as they do with existing stories.

So that’s it. That how we’ve been approaching watching from the beginning. It’s also been good because there were a handful of Troughton stories I’d never gotten around to seeing, and I got to watch a couple of them for the first time ever with my kids. Have seen two of them, now just have Space Pirates and War Games[2] to go!

If you’re someone with children who has been thinking about watching the classic series, I’d recommend it. Experiencing these stories with my children has allowed me to view the show through fresh eyes, which has been something of a gift in itself. Seeing their excitement, the way they connect and get scared or elated – it’s really a lovely thing to share.

Cheers,
Danny

 

 

 


 
1. In fact, as we near the end of season 6, I’ve actually labelled the first few episodes of of the seventh season as S06E45, E46, E47 just to further muddy the waters. Kids are smart, they soon learn to pick up on little clues. BACK TO POST
  
 


  
2. Yes, I haven’t seen War Games. Some years ago I decided I wanted to see it in the context of the other stories. But every time I was working through all the Troughtons, I’d get most of the way through season 5 and something would happen to stop me watching for months and months.

So, when I was finally ready to go again, it’d been that long I either started again at the start of the Troughtons, or in one case, back at the Hartnells. And then life would blow up again at some point in season 5! BACK TO POST

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Marebito

Marebito – 7/10

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Marebito is a surreal, and literate, little film. It’s also really bloody hard to describe.  One’s never quite sure what the true reality of the situation is meant to be. Mythology, science fiction history, mental health – the film touches on a variety of subjects as it explores its narrative.

It’s a movie I should have found irritating in the non-focused way it approaches its ideas, but instead I found things to be quite the opposite. It made me curious as to what the answers were, and the fact that it kept giving me different possibilities actually worked for it instead of against it. So many films will throw out multiple possibilities in an effort to appear clever. This was a film that I genuinely believed to be a bit clever, and to have more than a passing knowledge of the material it was referencing.

It has its nasty moments, but those are less the point than the strangeness of the world the main character inhabits, and our changing ideas as to what is happening and why. I get that it could be cosmic horror, but it could also be a tale of madness, of mythology intruding into the real world, of prophecy…

I can see that it wouldn’t work for some folks, but for me it was intriguing right to the end, and is one I shall certainly rewatch at some point.

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Godzilla (1954)

Gojira_1954_Japanese_poster

Recently I rewatched the original Godzilla film a couple of times. Once with my kids, where I had to read out the subtitles to them, and the other after I’d listened to the Godzilla episode of the Skiffy and Fanty Show. The podcast gave me a fresh appreciation for various aspects of the film including various influences of Japanese culture and history of which I was previously unaware.

So I think it meant that on the most recent rewatch I was simply more aware of everything than I had been previously, picking up on elements and aspects of the film that I hadn’t spotted on other viewings. I doubt there’s anything new here for the many kaiju fans who of course have a much better understanding and appreciation of the film than myself, but for the more casual viewer, you might find some of this of interest.

Out of necessity, there are major spoilers about most of the important beats of the film within this article, so if you haven’t seen Godzilla, you may wish to watch it first so you can get its full effect without knowing all the surprises. Continue reading

Witch Hunt

Witch Hunt – 6/10

I’ve included Witch Hunt in the Cosmic Horror list only because of its relation to Cast a Deadly Spell. Witch Hunt is in no way Cosmic Horror.

Witch Hunt

An indirect sequel to Cast a Deadly Spell, it’s stronger in some ways than the original, but has flaws that can’t help but damage it.

I call it an indirect sequel because, while it has some of the same characters – Private Detective Phillip Lovecraft, and licensed witch Hypolyta Kropotkin – there are a few small changes to Lovecraft’s motivations and the like. But nothing important.

The story is set in the 1950’s, and presents us with a McCarthy-istic Senator hell-bent on ridding America of magic. As with the first film, a lot of fun is had with the ideas and concepts of a world in which magic is an everyday thing which almost everybody uses.

Lovecraft is played by Dennis Hopper, who isn’t quite sure what to do with the role. Hopper talked about the film as being the strangest he had ever done, and at times he looks a little out of place, but still puts in an okay performance, with small highlights here and there.

Except for his voiceover.

Over the years I have heard many people complain about Harrison Ford’s voiceover in Blade Runner, saying it was lacklustre and awful. Personally I never had a problem with it. However Hopper’s narration for Witch Hunt is dreadful. He sounds like he’s reading the world’s most boring book.

Sheryl Lee Ralph does a fabulous job as Hypolita Kropotkin, Lovecraft’s friend and landlord. Penelope Ann Miller is also well cast as Kim Hudson, who hires Lovecraft to look into her husband’s affairs. Eric Bogosian is mostly good as anti-magic Senator Larson Crockett, while Julian Sands is only okay as Finn Macha, mostly due to giving us an Irish accent that is almost indecipherable. Sands’ acting is fine, just hard to appreciate.

Most of the film is quite fun and watchable, but where it really falls down are the resolutions of its main and subplots. It really is going along quite well, building tension, giving us reasonable character motivations, and holding together okay, and then it drops the ball disastrously. Neither ending makes sense or works well, and certainly the resolution to the main plot is so awful as to be nonsensical. The writing there is seriously flawed in its logic, creating a situation that realistically should have made things worse, not better.

However, I wanted to finish on the film’s most positive aspect – its dialogue. There are some fabulous lines peppered throughout the story. Great moments like the actress Kim Hudson telling Lovecraft you’d ‘have to be as dumb as I look,’ not to realise what was going on. Or the couple of times Lovecraft gives a would-be tough guy his comeuppance. Those moments sing. The actors know they have a great line, and usually deliver it beautifully.

There’s a greater use of computer graphics this time around, but they are still used sparingly and to good effect. The direction in general varies. It’s mostly quite good, but there a couple of moments where things aren’t as clear as they should be.

Like Cast a Deadly Spell, it’s a fun watch. Yes, it has some serious flaws that hurt it, but most of the film is enjoyable and is definitely worth a look. I really wish HBO had done more films in the universe.

 

 

 

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Cast a Deadly Spell

Cast a Deadly Spell – 8/10

Cast a deadly spell

Sorry for a long absence, was down with a nasty virus, but I’m getting back to normal at long last.

So, Cast A Deadly Spell…

It’s 1948, magic is commonplace, and private detective Phillip Lovecraft is seemingly the only person who not interested in using magic for all manner of things.

The film is as much fun as it sounds. In fact it gets an extra point just for the fact it does have fun with the core concept, whilst staying a reasonable detective story. The only cosmic horror angle here is really some stuff to do with the The Great Old Ones, but who cares? It’s an enjoyable watch.

It also has a solid cast of character actors all doing a great job – Fred Ward, David Warner, Julianne Moore, Clancy Brown – play their parts as they should given the subject matter. And being a made for TV film from the early 90’s, most of the special effects are practical in nature, so while they may not be superbly flashy, they tell the story and never seem out of place because most of what you see is really there.

It’s not a perfect film, but it is enjoyable, and quite watchable.

 

 

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

The Beyond

The Beyond – 5/10

BEYOND, THE - Silver Ferox Design v1 web

The second of Lucio Fulci’s ‘Gates of Hell’ trilogy is… kinda so-so. The things I found to be strengths or at least evocative in his film City of the Living Dead don’t seem to work here. Apparently his was aiming for more of a dreamlike logic to this one, but it actually seems less surreal than the previous film.

There is plenty of gore for the gore fans, albeit 1980s low budget, and mostly to do with hurting eyeballs, though I think that was a conscious choice as sight seems to be important in this one.

Look, it wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t very good either. It has nifty ideas and some interesting horror moments, but mostly didn’t work for me. Having read a lot about what Fulci was supposedly attempting with this movie it might hold up better on a rewatch, but I’m not sure I could be arsed.

 

 

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Absentia

Absentia – 9/10

Absentia poster

Absentia is a low budget, crowd-funded film that is a fabulous watch. A woman tries to get on with her life after her husband vanished many years before. But he’s not the only one to have vanished in the area.

The film’s low budget works to its advantage. They don’t have the money for copious amounts of special effects and the like, and so it has to rely on story, characters, good lighting and camera work, and careful editing.

While it does have a couple of low-level, but really disturbing, gore moments, it really pulls off its chills by eliciting actual feelings of dread and tension. It’s also the first cosmic horror that I’ve watched with an ending I thought suited the movie and made a kind of sense. I’ll be buying this one.

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

Cthulhu

Cthulhu – 7/10

Cthulhu Title

Another Lovecraft adaption/inspired piece, this one plays with the same tropes as Die, Monster, Die! but does a slightly better job of the alienation and paranoia factors. That said, it falls down in other ways.

The thing is, it’s not actually that memorable a film. It’s not bad. I wasn’t bored by it while I was watching, but it doesn’t linger in the mind. Probably the two most memorable scenes are the sex scene and the ending. The sex scene because it’s beautifully shot, the ending because it’s stark and a bit nasty.

There is one other element I have to mention because it stood out so much. There was only one cast member I recognised in this film. That’s not a bad thing by any means, I’m all for little or unknown cast members. But this lady was terrible. The unknowns around her were giving better performances. And every time she cropped up, I’d be thinking two things – God she looks familiar, and bloody hell she’s awful. Fortunately she’s not actually in it very much at all.

Finally I got to the end credits and there was her name… Tori Spelling.

For links to the list of other cosmic horror films I’ve been watching, go here.

The Moffat Master Plan – Series 6 (part 2)

Warning – Some very minor spoilers for The Hand of Fear, and The Androids of Tara. Major spoilers for important bits of series five, six, and seven.
Also major spoilers for
The Tomorrow People episode, Hitler’s Last Secret.

Well, after a big gap, here is part three of my investigation of Steven Moffat’s story arcs.  Part two dealt with the first story of Series Six, and originally this part was to deal with the rest of that series, until I realised how overwhelmingly convoluted and inconsistent it was.  So now this bit will take us up to the penultimate story, and part three will be all about The Wedding of River Song.

(Late edit – Grant commented that I was applying a level of scrutiny that most stories wouldn’t hold up to – and he’s right.  So in order to be sightly fairer, I have coloured the bits that don’t really relate directly to the story or character arcs but are in fact individual episodic or story flaws.  So if you’re just interested in the arc bits, ignore the rest.)

 

Rory looks on in horror as the Doctor cold-bloodedly kills an innocent being for no very good reason.

So, after events in Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon we get various cameos with Madam Kovarian, and then we get The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. It’s a story about how Gangers are really, really honestly living sentient beings after all, and killing them is wrong, wrong, so terribly wrong.

That ends with the Doctor choosing to kill the Ganger of Amy.

Just because.

He say he needed enough information to block the signal to the Flesh.  The Doctor has already waited through a few stories previously, so it’s a bit off that once he has confirmed the Ganger origins and that Amy is a Ganger, he pretty much immediately chooses to kill her, rather than keep her alive and try to track the signal animating her.

But it was a nice, cool, shock ending.  One that helped make the Doctor look, at best, like a massive, unfeeling hypocrite.  At worst he’s a murderer.  Would the Doctor have dispatched an actual living being like that?  Oh wait, he spent the last two episodes arguing that the Gangers were real, living, feeling beings, so the answer must be yes.

I think it would have been more shocking if they way came up with to deal with Ganger Jennifer, that also took out the Gangers of the Doctor, Cleaves, and Amy.  There’s a lot of drama to be had from that, especially if it turns out the Doctor didn’t know for sure, so he’s almost as stunned and shocked as Rory.  And it avoids turning the Doctor into a cold-blooded killer.

But that’s not as cool or surprising, and one should always jettison good character stuff for cool.

So then we come to…   Continue reading

195. Sons of Steel (1988): A Torture Cinema “Adventure” w/ Danny Oz

I had a ball doing this podcast. The folks at Skiffy and Fanty are lovely, passionate, and a bit mad. We spent hours talking about one of my favourite Australian science fiction time travel musical films ever, Sons of Steel.

It’s a 3 hour podcast, twice as long as the film itself.  No wonder I was exhausted by the end of it!

The Skiffy and Fanty Show

80s hair bands, nuclear submarines, and mutant grunts, oh my!  In celebration of Australian cinema, we’re joined by Danny Oz to discuss his favorite terrible movie ever, Sons of Steel.  Trust me, you won’t want to miss this episode…

We hope you enjoy the episode!

Note:  If you have iTunes and like this show, please give us a review on our iTunes page, or feel free to email us with your thoughts about the show!

Here’s the episode (show notes are below):

Episode 195 — Download (MP3)

Sons of Steel Poster

Show Notes:

You can also support this podcast by signing up for a one month free trial at Audible.  Doing so helps us, gives you a change to try out Audible’s service, and brings joy to everyone.

Our new intro music is “Time Flux” by Revolution Void (

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