Thursday, 5 January 2017

Now On The Big Screen

Whoniversal Pictures

Now On The Big Screen: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Doctor Who At The Movies
by Charles Norton Telos Publishing
ISBN: 978-1845839307

“Now you can see them in colour on the big screen...
closer than ever before. So close, you can feel their fire...”

Thus stated the original theatrical trailer to the 1965 movie Dr. Who And The Daleks, which is one of the many items under discussion in this, relatively, new book (2013/15) by Charles Norton. Which is what I found myself reading on Christmas Day this year since, for technical reasons, the new Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs novels had not yet found their way to me under their traditional, seasonal wraps. Don’t worry, said tomes were gifted to me a few days later once family members had been met and greeted so, if you’re waiting for my usual, annual review of the latest works by these two ladies... they will be coming soon (as soon as I get to finish them).

Instead, this somewhat marvellous tome given to me on Christmas morning gets to be my first book review of 2017 and, I have to say, it’s certainly an interesting project (as is often the way with unauthorised and, therefore, often more ‘honest’ editions). Writer Charles Norton not only attempts to document the origins, production and aftermath of the original and, to date, ‘only’ Doctor Who movies to be released in cinemas at the height of Dalekmania in the UK - the 1965 movie Dr. Who And The Daleks and the 1966 film Dalek Invasion Of Earth 2150AD (both starring Peter Cushing as scientist Dr. Who and Roberta Tovey as his grand daughter) - but he also, for the majority of the book, goes on to lift the curtain on all the various planned and aborted Doctor Who movies which have never made it to the screen in the intervening years. Some of these proposed projects came from names associated somewhat with the television history of the show itself and others, from less familiar quarters. And it’s a very interesting read for anyone who loves the colourfully depicted, distorted movie versions of the characters as played by Cushing and co as much as they do the television show.

The first two sections deal with the original motion pictures in quite some detail and even include, like I’ve seen done before in other important works that deal with British films of that era, some of the considerations of the BBFC (British Board of Film Censors, as the acronym more honestly stood for in those days) from the script submissions, before even a shot of frame was filmed. This is interesting in itself since we have an insight into some scenes which were scrapped and also some sequences which were shot and then later cut or modified, like the close-up shots of the Kaled inside one of the Daleks which the BBFC thought too disturbing to include in a family/children’s film (such as it was perceived back then). It also includes, as do all of the chapters dealing with other, more ill-fated productions, comments about the experience from various cast and crew culled from a number of credited sources over the years.

It’s good stuff and, as far as I can tell, the most definitive story 'behind the scenes' of the two Peter Cushing movies in print and, if it had just been these two movies that the book was solely about, then it would have still been a great read. As interesting though, are the next chapters which probably make up around three quarters of the book, which detail the likes of various projects by people who were trying to get another movie incarnation of the good Doctor to the screen... including a third continuation of these original two movies.

So we have a section, for example, devoted to Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, which was the long gestating brain child of the two writers who were also starring in the television series at the time the project was first mooted... Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) and the late Ian Marter (who played the Doctor’s fourth assistant Harry Sullivan, for a while, as a preliminary to going on to write various novelisations of the series for Target books, before dying tragically young). There are some nice reminiscences to be found here including the time when Tom Baker and Ian Marter went to the Dominion in London in 1977/8 to take a look at that new Star Wars movie which had just come out... only to leave the cinema dejected when they realised the budgetary goal posts for any big screen science fiction projects had just been dramatically changed and that they really had no hope in hell of getting something like that financed.

Along with a whole host of projects in the book, two of which would have featured one of my favourite ladies, Caroline Munro, in their genetic make-up, the tome also covers Douglas Adams’ proposed film project, Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen. Now Douglas Adams had a history of writing some episodes of the show (including the infamous ‘lost’, half filmed due to TV strikes, Tom Baker story Shada) but he is perhaps more famous, world wide, as the man who created and wrote the legendary Radio Show, series of novels, TV show, theatre production, movie and audio recordings that constitute The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Now, as soon as I’d read the title of his proposed Doctor Who movie I think I’d figured out what eventually became of it and, sure enough, this book confirms that it did end up being the basis of the third of the five Hitchhiker novels... Life, The Universe and Everything.

Now On The Big Screen does, in places, get a little dry and perhaps just a little tedious in some chapters but it’s all done in the name of enlightenment and you can’t knock author Norton’s quite thorough approach to digging up all he can about the material in this volume. Indeed, a synopsis of the script usually running between five and eight pages long is provided for pretty much all of the detailed movie projects in this book, which is absolutely invaluable. What it did, however, make me realise is that, as much as I’d love to see another new Doctor Who movie at some point in the future (and, call it a hunch, but I suspect we’re all a lot closer to that prospect than we are possibly aware of until the marketing machine gets into high gear) is that I’m really thankful, in some ways, that none of the stories summarised here never made it anywhere near the big screen because, honestly, they do mostly sound quite awful (although there’s surely still time for Caroline Munro to be offered a big part in the regular TV show, perhaps?).

After the main book has concluded, with a little on the background politics of the BBC that ushered in the new Russell T. Davies era of The Doctor’s adventures in televisionland, we also get another invaluable, much smaller section telling a little bit about the various, unauthorised, straight to home video spin offs featuring some of the actors, actresses and characters from the series... some of which are written by people who work on the show these days, such as Mark Gatiss. So this is a good little guide for further, non-Doctor adventures with characters like Sergeant Benton, Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge Stewart, Sarah Jane Smith, Liz Shaw and even the likes of Professor Travers and Victoria Waterfield, it would seem.

All in all, the information contained in this tome is of great interest to fans of Doctor Who and I’m really glad to have Now On The Big Screen on my book shelves (such as they are... might be the floor at this point). Charles Norton has done a great service to fandom when pulling this research all together here and its an absolutely invaluable addition to any Whovian’s library. So glad to have this one.

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