Category Archives: Television

Design: Time Bandits vs. Doctor Who

I don’t know why I missed this for so long, but catching the tail end of Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits on television including the end titles, I was reminded not just of the map, the central device throughout the film, but the design of the map.

And with fresher eyes, I noticed the similarities between the map’s design and the re-imagined Gallifreyan written language on the revived series of Doctor Who. It’s a good thing the artists working on Doctor Who took the time to focus on the language of the Time Lords, as the classic series did a horrible job with the task. Watching the show as a kid, I remember coming up with some kind of story why the language looked like Greek and/or mathematical equations.

The new Gallifreyan written language is based on circles (let’s invent the word circumography — or are they circumglyphs?), similar to the Time Bandits cartography. Here’s a screenshot of the map from the film next to an image of Gallifreyan writing.

Time Bandits vs Doctor Who

What do you think? Is there a similarity? Would you even say that Doctor Who ripped off the design of Gallifreyan script from Time Bandits?

The one classic Doctor Who villain the new series should not bring back.

The new series of Doctor Who appeals to fans of the classic series by occasionally referring to events or characters who appeared in the show before its return to the small screen in 2005. We’ve had reappearances of companions like Sarah Jane Smith and K-9, revisitations to locations like Gallifrey and the I.M. Foreman scrap yard, and reinvasions by evildoers familiar like Daleks and Cybermen.

Production design, at least by the 1980s, worked for television. The scriptwriting ranged from somewhat interesting to enlightening. It certainly held my attention as a kid. Today, as viewers have come to expect higher production values, where television dramas are more like mini-films than British television drama of the twentieth century, rewatching the classic series can be a painful experience.

A strong villain like the Zygons can come back to the new series thirty years since their only appearance in the classic series and still be acceptable for new viewers, as Stephen Moffat showed the audience in the 50th anniversary special. But even as late as the 1980s, as I’ve discovered while watching Tom Baker’s final season and the first season with producer John-Nathan Turner at the helm of Doctor Who, there are some things from the classic series that could never make the jump to today’s audience.

Yet there are also aspects that have stood the passing of time. I remember these early 1980 episodes most from my first watching due to the music. At the time, I was a big fan of synth, and Doctor Who was probably my biggest exposure to that music. The music surprisingly holds up to listening in 2013. It’s clearly a style that fits the late 1970s and early 1980s, but it is composed well and goes a long way to assist the on-screen drama.

MeglosCharacters, especially aliens, from this era of the show don’t hold up as well. Meet Meglos, the villain in the series of the same name, the second story in season 18 of the classic series, aired in 1980. The freelance writers hired for this episode apparently drew inspiration from a wilting cactus in their English flat.

The design of the alien monster was approved because it was something that hadn’t been seen on Doctor Who in the show’s previews 17 years. And it hasn’t been seen since.

That said, there’s always a possibility that the show’s current creative team could take one of the worst aspects of the classic series and give it a rebirth for a new series. That might be a good idea for old aspects that have a strong foundation. Good writers could turn yesterday’s garbage into something fresh and engaging. But why bother when you can start from scratch?

Unfortunately for the series as a whole, Meglos, the character, story, and the broadcast, is what exemplifies the typical opinion of the series by non-fans: ridiculous costumes, unbelievable design concepts, and bad acting.

Next time you’re driving through the desert in Arizona, you may look at the landscape differently after watching this story. Let’s let this villain die.

War of the Worlds

Happy 75th birthday, Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

Having lived much of my childhood close to Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, this broadcast was always mystical to me. I’ve driven past Grover’s Mill, located in West Windsor Township, and imagined what it would have been like if Martians had landed in the farm fields nearby.

And I’ve thought about how easy it was to convince many radio listeners that the events described in the broadcast were real. People were used to getting their news from the radio. They were used to emergency interruptions with news about the war. People were nervous about the state of the world, and this broadcast, although many people understood an alien invasion is the work of fiction, were primed to cognitively accept this kind of disaster. The medium legitimized the story; reading a book is one thing, but a news story on the radio lends authority to the story, despite the prevalence of drama on the radio.

Imagine yourself in your sitting room a night in October of 1938, with the radio as the centerpiece. And spend the hour listening to the broadcast.

Saving the day.

In the end, the Doctor always saves the day. And that’s what the BBC is asking the world to do for 23 Nov 2013, the Day of the Doctor.

On that day, one month and one day from today, the 50th anniversary episode of my favorite sci-fi television program from across the (Amy) Pond, Doctor Who, will be simulcast in 3-D around the world. See the first trailer full of interesting Easter eggs for fans.

Save the day.

How I met your mother, season 9.

Initially, How I Met Your Mother was set to run eight seasons on CBS, but after improved ratings, the show’s producers added one season to wrap up the story.

The ninth season, twenty-two half-hour episodes, takes place over one weekend leading up to the Wedding of Barney and Robin. It’s forced. Ted-ius. But there is one bit of good news: the role of the Mother is portrayed by Cristin Milioti, hot off the Once stage on Broadway.

Cristin is sometimes an adequate proxy for Marketa Irglova in Once, playing the part of “Girl” that originated in the movie, but she should shine in HIMYM. Nevertheless, if her character isn’t given any depth — and I don’t see how t possibly could have any depth if she’s only a regular for several episodes — the inspired casting choice will be rendered irrelevant.

Life is too short for bad writing, but I want to see how the show ends. Is that so terrible?