Tuesday 13 September 2016

PR of the Daleks

If you despise that throwaway feeling
From disposable fun
Then this is the one

- Martin L. Gore

(You fall through the clouds, damp tentacles clutch at your tingling cheeks.  Abruptly the opaque surroundings clear and you see that you’re plummeting toward a rather solid looking toy village.  The sun’s low in the distance and shadows stretch like inky sneezes towards the broccoli-wood that hedges the edges.  You don’t feel scared though; not until the screech of a dinosaur rudely wakes you.)

Me:   That’s a T. rex, isn’t it?

Him:  Baby T. rex.

Me:  Baby T. rex.  Okay. The exciting news that broke this week about The Power of the Daleks?

Him:  Oh, yeah.  I definitely know about that.

Me:  Okay, what do you know about it?

Him:  I know that you sent me a link, and the link said, “This does not exist.”

Me:  Yeah!  That’s because, in classic BBC ‘License-fee payers enjoyed the chance to watch these episodes for free when they were first broadcast in the Sixties’ Worldwide fashion they, once again, leaked what the secret reveal was.  All by themselves.

Him:  You have really red elbows.

Me:  Have I?  I suppose so…  There’s a two-disc version of The Power of the Daleks coming out.  It’s all been computer-animated, and it’s based on designs by Adrian Salmon and Mar-

Him:  What’s wrong with The Power of the Daleks animation that’s already on YouTube?

Me:  It’s great, isn’t it!  I do like that one.

Him:  I’ve got a soft spot for it.

Me:  That’s the one we watched when we did our previous ‘review’

Him:  We watched it for about five minutes.  You couldn’t handle it.

Me:  They hadn’t… quite captured Polly’s likeness…

Him:  Ha!  And that one scene with, “Oh yes, maybe this will work. Yes.  Yes, okay, I’ll take this bit and then…   Okay.”  And you’ve just got the little Patrick Troughton drawing standing there -

Me:  Just with the mouth moving.

Him:  - completely still.

Me:  There was that other computer-generated one where he slipped up the wall.  Do you remember that? 

Him:  No…

Me:  It was animated photographs and it was really creepy.  It was a bit like the Annoying Orange.  A little bit Uncanny Valley for my liking.  Soooooo.  There’s been some conjecture that if it’s going to be two discs, then that suggests…  Surely, you could fit six episodes on one disc if it’s just animation and no extras?  There’re rumours that it might contain missing footage, but I don’t think that it’s going to.  Why do you think this might be coming out?

Him:  Why do I think what might be coming out?

Me:  The Power of the Daleks.

Him:  I don’t understand why you think it is.  You sent me a link to-

Me:  Oh no, it is, it is.  The BBC’ve announced it and everything.  It’ll be available to download and you’ll be allowed to own the download after you’ve bought it; it’s coming out on DVD too.

Him:  You’re allowed to own the download?

Me:  The BBC’ve caught onto this new, modern idea.  This… y’know… valueless format.1

Him:  “404 – Daleks not found.”  Really, it’s not…  I don’t know why you think it’s coming out.  I could send you a link, right, having typed in, ‘www.bbc.com’-

Me:  ‘.co.uk’

(Potentially the final appearance of the sea-badger before Hallowe’en 2016…)

Him:  Nah, it’s BBC Worldwide, innit.

Me:  Ha!  If it’d been BBC Miami, I’d have understood.  The whole thing’s probably up there already.  I wonder if Marcel Carmego got his job back?  Anyway… 

Him:  ‘/The_Web_Planet_Episode_7_Through_9’ and saying they’d returned and that they’d been missing…  And we still don’t have the remaining episodes of The Web Planet, but seven through nine have at least returned…  I could’ve sent you that link and said, “Whoah!  Look at this!”  And you’d have clicked on the link and got, “Sorry, this web page doesn’t exist,” and you’d have been-

Me:  Web page!  Very good.  It did come back up at midnight.  I think, basically, what you’re looking at here is…  Because Top Gear’s curled up and died-

Him:  Well, no.  It just isn’t owned by the BBC.

  Yeah, they own Top Gear.

Him:  No, they lost it.

Me:  No, they’ve got Top Gear, because now it’s a spin-off from Friends and-

Him:  Didn’t it run away to Amazon?

Me:  -just lost the ex-Mr Billie Piper…  The presenters ran away to Amazon.

Him:  Did they?

Me:  Yeah.  That and Doctor Who were the BBC’s biggest brands.2  So now Doctor Who has to carry the torch since Top Gear died on its arse-

Him:  What about whichever one of the soap operas the BBC does?

Me:  EastEnders?  Yeah, but you don’t get EastEnders  box-sets.  You watch it once and then – meh.  It’s not got rewatch value at all.

Him:  It does if you’ve not seen it before.

Me:  If you’ve never seen it before, that’s really good.  It’s like never having bought a National Lottery ticket.3  Just kidding.  Obviously, it’s one of the most important breeding soups for new writers in the country. 

Him:  I thought that was Casualty?

Me:  Same sort of thing.

Him:  Casualty’s very important for new writers and new actors.  Everyone in the world has been on Casualty.

Me:  It’s like Rep.  Or The Bill.  It’s a rite of passage you have to pass in order to get your Equity card.

Him:  It really is, though!  But why?

Me:  Well, it depends.  If you haven’t got a mate running the programme then that’s the route you’ve got to take…

Him:  Even obscure voice actors who’ve only been a voice actor in one thing…  They’ve been in Casualty.

Me:  Of course.  Have you not…  I’ve been in Casualty, when’re you going to be in Casualty?  Have they not got in touch with you yet?  Everyone’s in Casualty.  Everyone in the country.

Him:  Casualty’s like jury duty.

Me:  Ha!

Him:  They send you a letter through and you have to be on Casualty, otherwise you can go to prison.

Me:  Yeah.  It’s a bit like jury duty or leader of the Labour Party.4

Him:  Is Casualty any good?

(Okay, maybe I was a bit hasty with my earlier sea badger prediction…  I did type ‘potentially’.)

Me:  So, anyway…  Paterson Joseph was great.

Him:  Ah!  You’ve got a signed thing from him in Casualty.

Me:  I have.  He played Mark Grace.

Him:  But was he in Casualty for more than one episode? 

Me:  He was.  He was a regular.  I think the reason the BBC’re doing it is because they know they’ve got around twenty-thousand… people… who will shell out for something that costs about 50p to make.

Him:  It costs more than 50p to animate it.

Me:  I meant to manufacture the physical DVD!

Him:  Have you ever manufactured a DVD?

Me:  No.  CDs though…  Once you’re producing a certain amount it gets cheaper with each one.  It’s the initial mastering that costs…  There’s no restoration required.  If the BBC’ve come up with the money in order to do the animation then…  What this one is, really, is something that’s just being sold-

Him:  Last week, I specifically remember you telling me that they were never going to release any more DVDs.  I said, “No, no.  They can still make money off them.”  And you were like, “No!  They’ve said they won’t!  And they never will again!”  And then, not a week later, not even a week later, you’re like, “HRRRR!  THEY’RE RELEASING NEW DVDs!”

Me:  I reckon they’ve got the Hut bugged.

Him:  Then, why even record this?  The BBC’ll put it up.

Me:  That’s true.

Him:  Although, to be honest, no-one’ll hear what I’m saying…  Just your replies…

Me:  Ha!  Let’s be fair, the reason the BBC’re doing this one is because it’s a regeneration story and it’s got Daleks in it.  Also, it’s a classic and they can really push it.

Him:  It’s not really a regeneration story.  Are regeneration stories spread across both stories?  I mean, that makes the TV Movie a regeneration story squared.

Me:  It’s a regeneration story in the same sense that Castrovalva is…  And remember, William Hartnell does appear in it.

Him:  How much d’you think he got paid for that appearance?

Me:  Nothing.  Almost certainly.  Or, very little.  Going on the fact that Bret Vyon vanished off the floor, ensuring Nicholas Courtney wouldn’t get an appearance fee, which was a bit harsh.

Him:  He did come back, I think.  Was he not an extra in one of the later stories?

Me:  I think so, yeah.  He turned up in something, outside a castle…  

Him:  Was he in Casualty?

Me:  He must’ve been.  Colin Baker was.  He had glowing green eyes.

  Was he in Casualty for a long time, or just the one episode?

Me:  He was one of the main characters-

Him:  Really?

Me:  Yeah.  He was the monster that lived in the hospital’s basement…  Or, am I confusing that with something by Lars Von Trier?  So, I think that if this is a success, we’ll probably get The Evil of the Daleks, which would explain the computer-generated Dalek Queen that was in that Doctor Who Adventures all that time ago…

Him:  I don’t think they’ll ever explain that.  Also, that must’ve been years ago.

Me:  It takes a long time to do this stuff.

Him:  It doesn’t take that long.

Me:  It takes a while.

Him:  It doesn’t take that long.

Me:  Alright.  Probably-

Him:  And, if they had a shot of it, then it means they’d probably already done it…

Me:  Could just be a design.  It depends on how this stuff sells.  If The Power of the Daleks sells really well, then it could open the rest of the stories for the DVD market.  If they can flog that one, then they can get away with milking the fans to buy the rest.  Having said that, the BBC’re going to have to start putting in some extra features.  It’s not like there’s any restoration that’s been paid for.  It’d put an end to the Omnirumour as well.

Him:  The ‘Omnirumour’?

Me:  Yeah, that’s the name for the rumour that all the missing episodes’ve been returned and they’re just sitting-

Him:  In the BBC Canteen?

Me:  Unable to escape.

Him:  You would get pretty sick of watching Feast of Steven on repeat.

Me:  Ha! 

Him:  It’s a bit upsetting because that one, it cannot return.

Me:  No.

Him:  Because the BBC were wiping it as they broadc-

(Tape runs out.)

1.  A chat we’ll have another time.

2.  Oddly enough, at the time of typing it’s just been announced that Auntie’s misplaced The Great British Bake Off as well, which really does put a lot of pressure on Doctor Who, a show that’s – basically – not even on this year.

Leaving aside the political scourging the BBC’s currently undergoing, some of it self-induced, it’s probably worth pointing out a few things that might be going on here.  First off, The Power of the Daleks isn’t the step backward some fans might think.  After Spearhead From Space and The Enemy Within, there’s no Classic series stories that’re genuinely suitable for BluRay treatment.  (BluRay’s not a terrific format either, it’s nowhere near the huge jump in quality between VHS and DVD for a start.  It arrived to the party slightly too late as well, with digital media already starting to infect the wider industry.  Even punishing DVD owners by only sticking extras on BluRay didn’t work.  After all, who wanted to buy a new player and TV to see what got chopped out of Prometheus?) 

The range of Doctor Who DVDs is very, very good indeed.  There are a few bad decisions – inverted Terreliptils, ‘improving’ rather than enhancing and a tendency to self-indulgent cronyism5 being the least-defensible – but the love that went into producing them really shines through.  The most impressive thing about the collection however, is also the T. rex everyone’s ignoring: the VAM.

With a few notable exceptions that we’ll get to, the Classic Doctor Who range contains a staggering amount of historical information about one of the most important1 TV shows ever made.  But there are gaps, and, despite what Auntie and other people may argue, those omissions are very, very hard to defend. 

There’s a definite air of The Tripods about TV Professionals Who Happen To Be Doctor Who Fans.  The Uncapped are cattle fit for milking and mocking and not much else.  Occasionally, one of these ‘Milkable Barkers’ will win a place at the side of the Chosen.  That these happy few seem to always hail from Arslikhan is just one of those things.  Like Derren Brown tossing ten heads in a row.  Or ‘needing’ a zombie to provide a jump-scare climax to a 28 Days Later homage that makes Pebble Mill’s Cyberman look like a herald of the Apocalypse.1 

Two Troughtons returned.  No extras.  Those days’re done.  Whatever the official reasons for vanilla releases with no accompanying documentaries, they’re bollocks.  Truly.  Not just a poor show, there’s no excuse.  There wasn’t at the time, and there isn’t now.  I’m sure that BBC ‘License-fee payers enjoyed the chance to watch these episodes for free when they were first broadcast in the Sixties’ Worldwide will disagree – these are the folk who gave us the Regeneration and Fourth Doctor boxsets after all – but it’s an attitude that’s smug and arrogant and, well, rather entitled.  The world’s changed – it might not even have very long left – so denigrating your customers while they still exist, should probably not be company policy.  (You might want to leave the knitting patterns alone too.)

In much the same way that record companies totally misunderstood how mp3 worked and criminalised it as a format (remember then, kids?), the BBC need to be very careful here.  It’s a no-brainer that The Evil of the Daleks and then Mission to the Unknown/The Daleks’ Master Plan are the next in line for production.  Both (yeah, yeah) stories have surviving episodes, which minimises the need for animated episodes, and both feature Daleks – which, let’s be fair – and Aaru never lie - are the main draw after the incumbent.  The Daleks’ll be back next year – AsBill’s intro presumably fulfilling the contractual obligations for 2016, we’ll see – so that’d be the time to relaunch them.  Give Mr Chibnall’s run a boost/fighting chance/Open-Airing (delete according to bias).

The BBC then have the opportunity to flog a box-set containing every Dalek story.  The DVD market-door’s closing, but folk out there might be tempted.  A download bundle’s one thing6, but A Complete Dalek Story Box-Set You Can Drive?  “Hey!  This cash prints itself!”7

Auntie’s not got long.  The twenty thousand (cit. needed) fanfolk she’s been exploiting won’t wait around forever.  There’re good quality reconstructions in the wild, complete with artwork that matches her own design better than she’s always managed.  DVDs are already a desktop-publishing market, and her market knows the production costs.8

If, y’know, being all speculative, the Dalek stories sell, then…  Well, within a limited timeframe…  There’s the potential for half-a-century’s double-dipping.  Forget Dalek and Cybermen and Doctor- themed box-sets, forget even the multiple season box-sets…

You see where I’m going?

The BBC’re currently running nostalgic reanimations of things they killed with bricks.  It’s desperate and sweaty, but understandable.  Imagine.  Just imagine.  A complete Doctor Who Collection box-set.  It’s Auntie’s only reliable brand.9  The potential’s incredible – for Humanity if nothing else.  Y’know, if Auntie doesn’t go full-Dodgson.10

3.  Other opinions are available.

4.  Triple-bluff for balance there.

5.  Still, that’s showbiz.1

  It’s, let’s be fair, the same as taping an album for a friend/reading a magazine in Smiths/finding a VHS in the street, and being charged full-price for the experience .1

  For Kroll’s sake, don’t throw in a ring modulator though.  If the peasants and livestock see behind that particular curtain, the outcry’ll be horrific.  Thankfully, Equity don’t seem to care. 

8.  If there’s an actual proper reason that The Enemy of the World and The Web of Fear cost so much to bring back to life there was nothing left in the budget for VAM, then the BBC shouldn’t shy from explaining what that reason was – when they can.  Barring the Destruction of Humanity, I can see this story running for a while yet.

9.  BC.

10.  She will, just you wait.  I’ve presented a potential business model for the brand11 that emphasises integrity and longevity in the long-term (I doubt I’m the first).  This isn’t a Barrowmenesque rejection of the facts.  Torchwoodthe ship that sank itself.  Hopefully Class’ll do better.  After all, it only exists to keep BBC 3 viable, and surely it can’t get that wrong…

11.  Ych y fi

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