Lazy Luddite Log


Perfect Imperfect

I sometimes find myself imagining ways in which I would like a fictional story to have been changed. However I also note that I only do that for things that are worth imagining improvements to. You never try to fix a total mess or something bereft of value. In that sense saying “they should have done this” is a form of compliment. Here I will discuss a few of the changes I have imagined for some of my favourite fictional franchises.

Doctor Who

Sometimes I get all fussy over trivial things like technology or costume design (I do this for Silurians here under 'Tragic Fan'). However at other times what matters to me is more important things like character and plot development.

I’m very satisfied with the recent Day Of The Doctor fiftieth anniversary special but even so I have wondered how things could have been if the producers had managed to secure the involvement (beyond the use of archival footage) of the first of the “New Who” actors in Christopher Eccleston. This was an absence I for one noticed and it makes sense for him to have been the incarnation that experienced the end of the Time War. However there are some lovely interactions that occur with the involvement of the fabulous John Hurt that would then have been missed. The result of this musing is the realisation that you cannot have everything – that there are different ways to do a good story but to do everything risks the integrity of a story.

Middle Earth

Now with Day Of The Doctor past us I can get excited for the next instalment of the Peter Jackson directed re-telling of The Hobbit. That story is unfolding but the later tale of Lord Of The Rings has been fully re-told by Jackson and I do wish some of it was done differently. Unlike many fans however I am happy for changes to have been made from the novel but I wish those changes were fully committed to. Consider Arwen.

Jackson effectively merges the characters of Arwen and Glorfindel. I was fine with the more independent and action-oriented Arwen we see in part one but by part three she had turned into a swooning fairytale character who will magically die if the heroes fail in their quest. What rot! Arwen could have stayed strong as much as her father Elrond. She could have insisted that the sword be re-forged and then taken it to Aragorn in Rohan. I only decided all this once the story had been fully told. Sometimes however one imagines what will happen between instalments of a continuing story.

Star Wars

There was a lot the matter with the Star Wars prequels and I think that the tale of political intrigue and decay could have worked so much better as a mini-series with an HBO feel. Nonetheless I still enjoyed the further exploration of an amazing setting and during the intervals between the movies I hoped for some things that never happened.

I pondered who the Sith Apprentice between Maul and Vader would be. I imagined a stealthy female assassin with mauve complexion wielding twin light-stilettos (I’m aware there is something like this in the expanded and non-canonical Star Wars universe). I think that the character played by Christopher Lee had a level of gravitas too close to that of his Sith Master. George Lucas only got him in because of how cool he had been as Saruman. Another more recent movie has suffered from such use of an actor who happens to be hot stuff at the moment.

Star Trek

Towards the end of the following post I criticise the use of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. This actor is good but so are other actors. But because he is the cool thing currently we suddenly had an Indian character who had been immortalised by a Mexican actor now re-interpreted by an English actor. This was annoying and resulted in me referring to the character by the alternate name of “Kaiser”. But lest you think I only ever want to expand the ethnic diversity of actors in movies read on…

James Bond

The most recent 007 movie Skyfall had a better balance of classic Bond elements than we have had for a while. I enjoyed it but had one issue with casting. In it we met an antagonist who was supposedly the best MI6 agent in the 80s till he was abandoned to his apparent death by M. The actor Javier Bardem depicted a convincing villain but I find it difficult to accept that an elitist British institution like MI6 would have had a Hispanic favourite a quarter century ago. Javier Barden could have always been Khan. But for Bond I would have loved to see that the abandoned favourite was effectively another incarnation of Bond and it would have been delicious to have him played by a sardonic Timothy Dalton.

* * * * *

With the exception of James Bond I tend to do this re-imagining stuff for those things that present a complete fictional universe and credit must be given to those who produce such settings because it is a very difficult thing to do. You are far more likely to fall short of perfection if your palette is an entire universe rather than just - say – a small English village in which a murder happens every week. If your canvass spans worlds then naturally there will be mistakes. It is still worth the effort for the sheer imaginative thrill that you give to others.

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Console Rooms

I’m writing within a week of the screening (both on big and small screens) of the Doctor Who Fiftieth Anniversary story. I’m getting rather excited but to share all my comments and speculation would be a breech of etiquette so I will herein simply discuss a rather mundane and safe topic – that of the TARDIS console rooms to date.

Mostly console rooms change as a result of deliberate refurbishment by the Doctor (known whimsically as “changing the desktop” in the revived series). However in the regeneration of the tenth to the eleventh Doctor (Tennant to Smith) we notice that the TARDIS alters the console room of its own accord and this got me thinking of fitting particular console rooms to particular Doctors in terms of personality and the resonance of the eras in which they are set. So once more I’m altering the time-line to match particular console rooms to each incarnation of the Doctor and finding this website useful in jogging my memory of this very long-running TV show.

William Hartnell (1963-1966)

The original console room is a classic which in many ways is reminiscent of so many 1950s science fiction movies in its depiction of futuristic technology. It also has many of the characteristics that have been preserved ever since. There is the hexagonal console with its central time rotor. There are the roundels set into the walls. There is the monitor (hanging from the ceiling). There is an overall impression of whiteness. There are also some wall-set computers and translucent panels that have been omitted from later and simpler designs. This all works well for the first Doctor.

Patrick Troughton (1967-1969)

The original console room or parts thereof was utilized till the end of the 60s but I feel that a somewhat later console room so much better fits the second Doctor. A console room only seen in one 1972 story (the set was accidentally damaged) has the innovation of these bowl-like roundels that look like something made by Tupperware. This room is so ‘Swinging Sixties’ and would have worked nicely for the second Doctor era with its kilted and mini-skirted companions.

Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)

It barely matters which console room to allocate to the third Doctor. He spends much of his time in exile on contemporary Earth and is often seen working in his lab at UNIT headquarters. The Police Box sits in a corner. Sometimes the console itself (now in colour transmission and seen to be an odd pastel green) is sitting in the lab and I wonder how it was removed from the TARDIS. For those times the Doctor is free to travel I think the Tupperware room would have done fine.

Tom Baker (1975-1981)

The fourth Doctor had by far the longest tenure so it is tempting to let him have console room changes. The room that he did have which by far and away fits him best for me is the auxiliary console room of 1976-77. It is specifically stated to be a separate chamber. It has all this wood panelling and brass railings and even a few stained-glass roundels. It introduces columns between wall panels which became a standard for the rest of the original series. Its console is markedly smaller and lacks a time rotor (the only thing it lacks I feel). Another innovation is that the console is on a platform (apparently this was to make life better for camera operators) which is something that has only returned in the revived series. I love this timber console room which so nicely fits the Bohemian eccentric that is the fourth Doctor.

Peter Davison (1982-84)

A fresh-faced fifth Doctor warrants a shiny new console room but possibly the phrase “everything old is new again” is relevant here. I think the console room that the fifth Doctor inherited works well for him. The classic white walls look is preserved but there are changes. The roundels are now translucent fixtures set into the walls (rather than depressions). The columns are there. The monitor dominates most of one wall. The console itself is back but with more standard white and silver science fiction livery. The time rotor has a lovely pinkish glow.

Colin Baker (1985-1986)

The sixth Doctor is all showy and glitzy and the changes introduced in the Twentieth Anniversary special fit him particularly well. The key change is to the console itself. Its base and time rotor are more complex and decorative but what draws the most attention is just how very busy the controls on all six panels are. This was the 80s and we had entered the digital age. The Twentieth Anniversary console reflects this. The mishmash of levers and dials and lights have been replaced by a tidy yet complex array of keypads and readouts. Sometimes science fiction makes the mistake of presenting contemporary advances as futuristic. Still it is very of its era and I’m happy for the sixth Doctor to have this.

Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989)

Now I intend to do something different and borrow a console room from another Timelord altogether for the seventh Doctor. The Rani had a tastefully designed console room of stone walls and a rounded console with a time rotor of optical illusion rings. I think this would nicely fit the combination of intrigue and reassurance represented by the seventh Doctor. The only significant change I would make would be the items displayed on the various stands arrayed around the room – replacing the macabre specimens of the Rani with more savoury curios collected from history by the Doctor.

Paul McGann (1996)

So much of what we now think of as the hallmarks of the revived series debuted in the 1996 telemovie. But what are now celebrated as innovations relevant to Twenty First Century audiences were back then dismissed as Americanizations in this Transatlantic co-production. But I digress. One of the new things in the telemovie was a much bigger and darker console room.

It seems to be ‘open-plan’ with corners of the space serving different functions from conservatory to library alcove. The console itself emulates the original hexagon but its fixtures evoke imaginings of the Time Machine by H G Wells (which indeed the Doctor is reading in the movie). This vintage look is accentuated further by the ironwork supports flanking the console. Finally the time rotor extends into the ceiling. In lots of ways this was the first console room of ‘New Who’. This moody and ornate chamber well suits the poetic and romantic eighth Doctor (which is just as well since he was only seen in this one telemovie and in the retrospective ‘minisode’ Night Of The Doctor screened online only last week).

Christopher Eccleston (2005)

What we have been calling the ninth Doctor is someone who has experienced some trauma and so the revived series console room fits him well. It is dimly lit and somewhat twisted with its almost organic curling supports flanking the console. The console itself is rounded but divided into six segments so referencing the hexagonal original. The rotor once more connects to the domed ceiling from which snaking cords array. The new thing here is that the console is on a platform and one can access mechanisms below it – a metaphor possibly for what is now hidden in the past of the Doctor. I think this one worked well but I also enjoyed what came next.

David Tennant (2006-2009)

The following Doctor persisted with the same console room but – I dunno – I have a hunch this rather self-centred incarnation would have jumped at the chance for a “new desktop” and the one that was introduced later in 2010 would have fit him well. That warmly lit multi-levelled console room with curving walls and seating and bells-and-whistles is a bit of a bachelor pad frankly. And who better to have a bachelor pad of a TARDIS than this Doctor who wilfully played with the emotions of assorted companions. Put me in there and feed me some dessert wine and I too may well succumb to your alien charms.

Matt Smith (2010-2013)

In truth the most recent Doctor has gotten two new console rooms during his tenure. And I must also admit that the “warmly lit” room was in other ways a fitting setting for the family vibe that companions Amy & Rory lent to the story. But I have to press on with my rigid concept of matching console rooms to incarnations and I think the latest console room works well for the Doctor who will take us into the Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations because it is the ultimate mix of the old and new. Yes it is new and shiny and full of steel reflections and blue light. But it is also a salute to the past white console room possibly as it wished to look rather than the way it did look. The console itself nicely references the original. Here you have a setting that is arrogantly technological and suddenly you remember that the TARDIS is a spaceship. I look forward to seeing more of it in a few days. I’m also impressed that you can use Google Earth to enter a police box in London and explore this fictional setting (try it yourself in Earls Court Road)...