Sunday, July 28, 2013



In 1972, Andrei Tarkovsky (the maestro who gave us such masterpieces as ANDREI RUBLEV, STALKER and SOLARIS and probably the most famous Russian director since Eisenstein) told critic Leonid Koslov his ten favourite films.  So here they are (in no particular order):
  • DIARY OF A COUNTRY PRIEST (dir. Robert Bresson)
  • MOUCHETTE (dir. Robert Bresson)
  • PERSONA (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
  • WINTER LIGHT  (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
  • WILD STRAWBERRIES  (dir. Ingmar Bergman)
  • NAZARIN  (dir. Luis Bunuel)
  • CITY LIGHTS (dir. Charlie Chaplin)
  • SEVEN SAMURAI  (dir. Akira Kurosawa)
  • UGETSU  (dir. Kenji Mizoguchi)
  • WOMAN IN THE DUNES  (dir. Hiroshi Teshigahara)
Also when asked whom were his favourite directors, Tarkovsky listed the above-mentioned Bergman, Bresson, Bunuel, Kurosawa and Mizoguchi as well as Jean Vigo, Michelangelo Antonioni and Carl Theodor Dreyer.  Not too shabby, there, Andy!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013



Any list of one's favourite Doctors must of necessity be subjective and, as they say, usually your first Doctor is your favourite.  And that stands true with me, I'm afraid.  It was, I believe, sometime in 1978 when family friend Ronnie asked my Dad if I'd seen that new British science fiction show they just started airing on the local PBS station.  I hadn't but I soon did!  I even remember the first episode I ever saw:  it was THE PYRAMIDS OF MARS and it featured those nearly forgotten "previously on Doctor Who" intros and outros narrated by Howard DaSilva (which can now be found as special features on some of the DVDs).  And since we all know which Doctor starred in THE PYRAMIDS OF MARS, I guess we all know my favourite Doctor then.  Am I bovvered?  Nah, cause it's. . .

1.  TOM BAKER  -  He'll always be the best Doctor for me.  The shock of curly brown hair, the toothy grin, the ridiculously immense scarf, the naughty Marx Brothers wit.  Oh, and that rich, brown voice!  All combine to make the perfect Doctor.  And besides all that, he walks in eternity as well!  When Tom Baker was on . . . he was ON!  During his "golden era" before he had gotten weary of the role, Baker had an almost infallible touch walking the line between heroic and humourous, charming and egotistical, dramatic and witty.  He was the longest-serving Doctor and had some of the best storylines in the history of the programme.  Possibly my favourite of them all is THE SEEDS OF DOOM:  an epic six-parter which combines THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD and THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and echoes of THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT for good measure.  The Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith are sent to an Arctic research station where Krynoid seed pods have fallen to earth (hey, shades of QUATERMASS 2 as well) which quickly infect a scientist who slowly transforms into a half human/half vegetable monster which starts growing and growing.  All this and an insane "Camp Freddie" playing organ music to his greenhouse full of plants and you've got a winner!  More of the best of the best Tom Baker storylines are: THE ARK IN SPACE,  GENESIS OF THE DALEKS,  PYRAMIDS OF MARS,  THE SEEDS OF DOOM,  THE ROBOTS OF DEATH,  THE TALONS OF WENG-CHIANG,  IMAGE OF THE FENDAHL,  THE STONES OF BLOOD,  CITY OF DEATH,  THE KEEPER OF TRAKEN.

2.  PATRICK TROUGHTON  -  Oddly enough, the second Doctor is number 2 on my list.  When first Doctor William Hartnell was being phased out of the programme due to ill health, prevailing wisdom would seem to dictate that that was the end of the TV series.  However, in a brilliant stroke of televisual genius, somebody (and I'm still not sure who) came up with the idea that, since the Doctor's an alien, why doesn't he just "regenerate" his form so we can cast another actor.  And the second brilliant coup was to cast Patrick Troughton.  The programme could've failed with the casting of an unsuitable actor, but Troughton not only managed to successfully take over the role but to increase ratings and make the role his own.  With his Beatles mop-top (some would also say Moe Howard's hairdo), his recorder, his giddy aunt and his "space hobo" ensemble, Patrick Troughton was a perfect fit for the role.  He specialized in playing dumber than he was in order to outwit his foes by making them disregard the Doctor as a serious threat.  Troughton was also beautifully adept at comedy and showed himself especially deft when he established the comedy double act of the Doctor and Jamie (Frazer Hines).  One of my favourite moments occurs in "TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN" when the Doctor and Jamie are trying to coax Victoria into the scary tomb entrance; thinking Victoria is following right behind them, both the Doctor and Jamie reach out to hold her hand but instead hold each other's hand as they mince in through the doorway -- then each turns to the other in a comedy take and hurriedly unclasp their hands.  Sadly, there are only a handful of surviving Patrick Troughton complete storylines still in existence after the BBC criminally wiped many of the tapes; but of what survives the best of the best Troughton stories are:  THE TOMB OF THE CYBERMEN, THE ICE WARRIORS, THE WEB OF FEAR (only the first episode exists but it's a corker), THE MIND ROBBER,  THE INVASION, THE SEEDS OF DEATH.

3.  MATT SMITH  -  The 11th Doctor's first story "THE ELEVENTH HOUR" is the best regeneration episode of any Doctor.  Full stop.  And that's when I knew Matt Smith was going to be something special.  Only 10 minutes into the episode, Smith owned the role.  The absolutely perfect performance between Matt Smith and Caitlin Blackwood (Amelia Pond) just had to make a believer out of any Doctor Who fan.  A recent examination of the 11th Doctor's tenure by the superb Verity podcast brought to my attention to particularly great rapport the 11th Doctor has with children and Matt Smith's first episode features some of the best moments in the entire half century of the programme!  Fish fingers and custard, indeed!  I haven't wanted to try some food concoction I saw on a TV show so badly since I saw Whoppcorn on SEALAB 2021!  And then, as if the charming/quirky/funny aspect of the character hadn't been established in the first episode, the second episode (THE BEAST BELOW) found Smith's serious acting chops on display and I knew he would make a formidable Doctor by the end of the second episode; his nearly-tearful outburst when he shouts he has nothing to say to humans today.  Stunning!  Matt Smith's quirky physicality (I believe Steven Moffatt has referred to his lead actor as being like a giraffe!), the bowtie (bowties are cool), the 12-year-old's physiognomy slapped onto a head that resembles an Easter Island statue and his immense charm make the 11th Doctor a keeper.  The best of the best of Matt Smith's stories (and they ain't finished yet, folks) are:  THE ELEVENTH HOUR,  THE BEAST BELOW,  THE TIME OF ANGELS/FLESH AND STONE,  THE PANDORICA OPENS/THE BIG BANG,  THE IMPOSSIBLE ASTRONAUT/DAY OF THE MOON,  A GOOD MAN GOES TO WAR/LET'S KILL HITLER,  THE GIRL WHO WAITED,  THE WEDDING OF RIVER SONG,  ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS,  THE ANGELS TAKE MANHATTAN,  THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR.

4.  JON PERTWEE  -  the dandy or the judo master?  Action man or clothes horse?  All of the above and more?  Known primarily for comedy roles, Pertwee took over as the third Doctor when immense changes were at work in DOCTOR WHO.  After some declining viewing figures and Troughton's departure, Pertwee was taking over as a Doctor who was being exiled to Earth like a Gallifreyan Silver Surfer.  In fact, we had just learned of the Time Lords' existence and now they forcibly cause the Doctor to regenerate and banish him to Earth in "the near-future" (let's not get into THAT whole debate as to exactly WHEN these stories occur in time) where he will land on the payroll of U.N.I.T. as the Earth becomes rather busy with alien invasions and the Master's (Roger Delgado) machinations.  Also, the programme would now be broadcast in colour for the first time.  Pertwee's ruffled shirts and velvet jackets, his Venusian martial arts and very action-friendly physicality, his love of gadgets and any vehicle that he could drive fast (and that includes his yellow roadster Bessie as well as the wacky "Whomobile"), and his tetchiness combined with a great warmth (especially towards Jo Grant [Katy Manning]) made his third Doctor often riveting to watch.  I think the best of the best of the Third Doctor's stories are:  SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE,  INFERNO,  THE DAEMONS,  THE SEA DEVILS,  THE GREEN DEATH.

5.  CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON  -  Every planet has a North and the 9th Doctor apparently comes from it.  Eccleston's Doctor successfully launched the 2005 "reboot" (Oh, how I hate that word); the revival of DOCTOR WHO could've easily been a flash in the pan and faded away almost as quickly as that 90's TV movie (more on THAT later) but Eccleston's Doctor managed to combine a forceful strength with a sometimes-goofiness (remember the scene when he and Rose were looking for something huge and round in the middle of the city?).  Grungy leather jacket and buzzcut hair made him look like no other Doctor and proclaimed the series had entered the 21st century but Eccleston grounded his performance firmly in the show's history.  Unfortunately, he only chose to stay for one series.  Unfortunately, he has since chosen to pretend like he never did the role (at least that's how it seems sometimes) and doesn't want anything further to do with it.  But these things don't take away from that wonderful year of stunning stories and a marvelous performance.  The best of the best of Eccleston's superb season are:  ROSE,  DALEK,  FATHER'S DAY,  THE EMPTY CHILD/THE DOCTOR DANCES,  BAD WOLF/THE PARTING OF THE WAYS

6.  DAVID TENNANT  -  Surprise, surprise!  Number 10 follows Number 9 on my list.  However, we have now moved from the first half of my list featuring Doctors I "love" to the second half featuring Doctors I "like".  Now, this isn't to say that I don't think Tennant was terrific in the role.  But he could be a little . . . well . . . over the top sometimes with his Tennantisms.  But who cares, his "hwooooaaaaawwwwws" and his mannerisms were still lovable and of the three "New Whos" he surely has the most reverence for DOCTOR WHO and it's fans.  And when the role called for it, Tennant could deliver a brilliantly-acted performance; the man can act.  And he cared.  Besides that, he could get practically every cast and crew member to march in place lip-synching the Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" song so who couldn't love that?!?!  The best of the best of Tennant's stories are:  SCHOOL REUNION,  THE GIRL IN THE FIREPLACE,  ARMY OF GHOSTS/DOOMSDAY,  GRIDLOCK,  HUMAN NATURE/THE FAMILY OF BLOOD,  BLINK,  PARTNERS IN CRIME,  TURN LEFT,  THE STOLEN EARTH/JOURNEY'S END.

7.  COLIN BAKER  -  WHAT?!?!?! I hear you gasp incredulously.  Especially after you think about who Colin Baker has beaten to this list.  And only a year ago, I'm sure old Sixie would've been down there near the bottom of my list.  However, I can explain.  Sure, Colin Baker's telly adventures were mostly crap.  Sure, his tenure as the sixth Doctor was sabotaged not only by the BBC's (especially the head of the BBC's) intense hatred of the show but also by producer John Nathan-Turner's continuous string of bone-headed "ideas" ranging from that horrendous outfit to having the Doctor regenerate into an unlikeable, obnoxious individual who strangles his companion in his first episode (admittedly this aspect of a regeneration gone bad is interesting but it went on far too long) to the insistence on having an American companion and then casting a British actress who couldn't do an American accent in the role.  Seriously, talk about an uphill battle; Colin Baker never stood a chance.  And that's a shame because he wanted to play it differently but what could he do.  He just had to soldier along amongst terrible ideas and corporate hostility until he was unceremoniously dumped from the role.  But a nice thing has happened in the intervening years:  Colin Baker has found something of a Doctor Who renaissance in his truly marvelous Big Finish audio adventures in which he has proven himself to be the hands-down best Doctor in these audio productions.  We can only sit back and lament that Colin Baker was so ill-used on television.  And that is why the best of the best of Colin Baker's storylines will feature the Big Finish audio adventures rather heavily in this list:  THE MARK OF THE RANI (even though it's near rubbish but it's got the Rani AND the Master so shtoom), THE TWO DOCTORS and . . . well that's pretty much all I can recommend as far as the telly adventures but next are the superb audio adventures (with more to be added as I listen to them, I'm sure):  THE MARIAN CONSPIRACY,  THE SPECTRE OF LANYON MOOR, DOCTOR WHO AND THE PIRATES, THE ONE DOCTOR.

8.  SYLVESTER MCCOY  -  The seventh Doctor suffered quite a bit from the same situation as the sixth Doctor.  McCoy's first story "TIME AND THE RANI" is universally (and rightly) considered to be awful.  And it is!  Indeed, much of the McCoy's early tenure in the role is pretty bad.  But again, that wasn't his fault.  He had a personality and a costume imposed upon him to a great extent by the ever-present (and ever-wanting-to-leave-the-show) John Nathan-Turner.  The cotton candy colour scheme of the early McCoy era is just atmosphere-killing and McCoy's comical bumpkin take on the part is not particularly enjoyable.  However, a funny thing happened on the way to the final season of DOCTOR WHO:  it got really good!  Unfortunately, it was a little bit of "too little too late" and the show would be "put on hiatis" in 1989 because the viewing figures by then were in the basement despite the vast improvement of the episodes.  McCoy got to put some mystery and some seriousness in the role and he was partnered with the wonderful Sophie Aldred as Ace.  It would've been so nice to see what the series would've gone on to become.  The best of the best of McCoy's era are:  REMEMBRANCE OF THE DALEKS,  BATTLEFIELD,  GHOST LIGHT,  THE CURSE OF FENRIC.

9.  WILLIAM HARTNELL  -  He was the first.  Crotchedy, bossy, petulant, often cross, sometimes cowardly.  What a take on the hero of a TV series!  But I must admit that, hard as he is to warm to, I've warmed somewhat to William Hartnell over the years.  Sure, he often disappeared from the middle of storylines and sure he suffered from outrageous "billy fluffs" but be fair, he was suffering from ill health and arteriosclerosis was causing him to forget his lines and fluff them.  But in spite of all that, Hartnell had a fairly passionate proprietary protectiveness for DOCTOR WHO and could display incredible flashes of warmth and caring in certain scenes as well as several very affective soliloquies.  He was more than just a grumpy old Time Lord and the best of the best of Hartnell's reign are:  AN UNEARTHLY CHILD (just the first ever episode and NOT the crap caveman storyline which followed in the next three episodes), THE AZTECS, THE REIGN OF TERROR, THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH, THE TIME MEDDLER, THE MASSACRE (only the audio exists), THE GUNFIGHTERS (yeah, you heard me!), THE WAR MACHINES. 

10.  PETER DAVISON  -  Some may be shocked at the rather low ranking of the fifth Doctor.  Some (among them David Tennant) consider him their favourite.  But I have always fallen into the camp that was rather underwhelmed by Davison's tenure as the Doctor and agree with Sue Perryman's evaluation that the fifth Doctor was rather wet.  Being the huge Tom Baker fan I am, there was a naturally letdown when Baker left the show and Davison took over.  This was the first time I'd gone through a regeneration of the Doctor and I was quite disappointed.  I remember I watched the beginning of "CASTROVALVA" (Davison's first story) and quickly neglected to watch DOCTOR WHO regularly after that.  Indeed, I only caught an episode here and there and only saw the vast majority of Peter Davison's stories in recent years on DVD.  And I must say that they're all rather bland.  I also always thought that Peter Davison (who I had watched for years before on "ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL") wasn't really playing the Doctor that much but was just being Peter Davison.  And fair is fair, Tom Baker as the Doctor was pretty much Tom Baker.  However, it worked for Tom because of his giant personality and Peter has . . . shall we say . . . a less giant one.  Be that as it may, I still very much like Davison as the Doctor . . . if that's not too much of a contradiction.  In fact, I like ALL the Doctors on this list very much indeed.  But there's gotta be a ranking and this is how they fell into place.  So the best of the best of Davison's storylines are:  THE VISITATION,  EARTHSHOCK,  THE FIVE DOCTORS (yes, even though it's rubbish),  THE CAVES OF ANDROZANI.

11.  PAUL MCGANN - Fair's fair; Paul McGann never had a fair shot at the role.  One (lousy) TV movie in 1996 does not a tenure make.  And that TV movie is just such a dog's breakfast that, no matter what McGann could do, he wasn't going to rank high on this list.  That having been said, McGann (like Colin Baker) has had his own renaissance as the Doctor thanks to his long run appearing in Big Finish's DOCTOR WHO audio adventures.  And this will account for my including in his best of the best some Big Finish audios - well of course I am.  I mean, he only appeared once so what else could I do?  And the Big Finish audios I've heard knock hell out of that dreary TV movie.  So the best of the best of the eighth Doctor are ALL audio adventures:  STORM WARNING,  THE CHIMES OF MIDNIGHT,  NEVERLAND.