That’s the story of Wall-E and EVE, the story of a love between a good-‘hearted’ regular Joe, and the hottest, coolest, most ass-kicking environmentalist on the planet. Love, it tells us, is a matter of who you are, how you feel, what you share, and what you do when the chips are down, rather than what you look like or how high-falutin’ your job may be. It doesn’t matter if you’re rusty, with lappy caterpillar tracks and a squeak and a sense of purpose which others might see as pathetic and hopeless. Be you, live your truth, and love can find you.
Wall-E, for those who’ve never seen the movie, is a plucky, resilient trash-compacting robot, left alone on the planet that once was Earth, to tidy up the garbage heap it’s become by the time human beings leave it and head out to the stars. He’s the least considered, most forgotten janitor in the history of the world, but he doesn’t whinge, doesn’t wail about his lot in life – he does what he was built to do – searching the garbage, compacting what he can, making use of what’s around, playing with his buddy, a cockroach, and more or less filling his days with work and what could be described as a positive mental attitude. He’s been doing his job, uncomplaining, for 700 years by the time we meet him.
It’s only when Wall-E allows himself some chillaxing time at the end of a day that we see what’s really missing in his life – observing a view, or a movie, he’s come to understand the need for someone to share it with. Seven hundred years of thankless, relentless slog on a mostly barren planet has taught him loneliness.
But loneliness is just another part of the job, and Wall-E powers up the next day and gets on with his work. In fact the movie takes great pains to show us that loneliness is by no means all that seven hundred years of cleaning up the crud left behind by an absentee humanity has taught him – in the great traditions of both Disney heroes like Dumbo, Pinocchio, Bambi and Baymax from Big Hero 6, and other unconventional film heroes like Number 5 in Short Circuit, ET and Chappie, we’re shown early on that he’s developed an insatiable curiosity, a taste for music, an understanding of kindness to other creatures, and a sense of stewardship that goes beyond emulation, both in terms of the giant skyscrapers he builds and of the world in general. When he finds what looks to be something entirely new – a living plant on the dead garbage-world – he doesn’t pluck it, doesn’t allow harm to come to it, but takes it and the soil in which it’s grown home in an old boot.
We’re also shown early on that Wall-E in himself and his curiosity is special, unique, the last of his kind – other Wall-E units are shown dotted about the cityscape, having stopped in their tracks one day. Wall-E, our Wall-E keeps on going, getting a daily solar recharge and going out to do his job, with the kind of chirpy (but not too chirpy) sticktoitiveness which the initial American audience, and then the audience around the world would be proud to think was an emulation of some of the best characteristics in humanity, contrasting sharply against many of the worst traits we have as a species, personified by the actual humans in the movie. This one little robot has kept on keeping on, powered by sunlight and that curiosity for new things, doing the jobs we never cared quite enough to do. That, in essence, is the ‘heart’ of Wall-E, the thing that deserves to find a companion to watch his love stories with.
None of that would matter of course if there wasn’t someone around to see the beauty of his heart. Enter EVE, a super-duper slick search and rescue droid, being sent out by ‘humanity’ to find signs of sustainable growth in Earth’s planetary soil.
Their relationship is built on a realistic, humanistic pathway – he first falls for her when he sees her free of the responsibilities of work, flying and effectively dancing like there’s nobody watching, and the beauty and expressive creativity of it enflames his curiosity about her. Slowly, they grow to accept each other’s presence on the planet, and some similarities emerge between them despite their technological differences – she, like him, giggles at the tickling presence of his cockroach friend in her systems. And when he saves her from a smogstorm and takes her home to his place, she gets to see everything he’s done, and he, like many guys trying to impress a girl throughout history, shows her his best treasures – the movie that he watches, the lighter that she instantly ignites, bringing a new flame to their relationship, the simple joy of popping bubble wrap and of dancing. His ingenuity impresses and his klutziness makes her laugh. But when he presents her with his ultimate prize, his plant in its boot, it rocks her world on a whole new level, and she shuts down. Then we see Wall-E the carer, keeping her dry and getting wet (and electrocuted) himself, taking her with him when he has to go somewhere, protecting her from future storms. All he knows is that she’s something absolutely special, and that he’d really like to hold her hand. That inspires him to keep her safe, and when she gets ‘EVEnapped’ by a spaceship, Wall-E the ultimate homebody doesn’t think twice before leaving his home and cockroach buddy behind, and clinging to the outside of a spaceship to be near her.
When they get to her home, the spaceship Axiom, their relationship goes through its mid-phase difficulty, but there’s a balance to it – she didn’t understand his world, but he kept her safe on it. He doesn’t understand hers either, and gets them both into monstrous amounts of trouble, but some robotic sense of loyalty, plus the mystery of what has happened to the ‘missing’ plant, leads her to keep him safe too, and his continuing sense of devotion, both to her and to the things that are important to her, breed in her a growing robotic ‘affection’ that sees them face down the threats of a system rigged to keep the status quo…quoing, and makes them fight, both side by side and separately, to expose the truth that Earth is once more capable of sustaining life, challenging and hard work though the revelation will be for the human crew of the Axiom, seven centuries into their ‘five year mission.’
They may be from different ends of the technological spectrum, but Wall-E’s curiosity, his sense of humour, his dedication to EVE and everything that matters tso her, extends a bridge between them, and Eve, to her credit as the ‘senior’ partner in their romance, appreciates the quirkiness of him. Sure, he’s dirty and from the wrong side of the tracks, but who else brings her bubble wrap and Christmas lights, who sings her silly songs and wants to hold her hand, and most of all, who will absolutely have her back against a system that tells her she’s defective just because she’s inconvenient? This story of robotic romance hits many very human beats, because stripped of its ecological theme (which incidentally is superbly delivered), and its metallic shells (and even really its notion of gender – we only really identify Wall-E as male and EVE as female because the names carry male and female connotations in our understanding), this is a story with which we can all fundamentally identify. Perhaps geeks identify with it more than most, feeling that we’ve all been in Wall-E’s caterpillar tracks, smitten from afar by the most amazing creature in creation, but really speaking, it’s the Prince and the Showgirl, or Aladdin, or Notting Hill, re-framed and delivered in a way that strips away the importance of wealth and takes that relationship back to what it really is – first love, playground love, love so pure and all-consuming that you’d follow the loved one through fire if they needed you to. The kind of love that childhood sweethearts are made of, if they ever find each other, and can appreciate each other for their individual strengths and quirks and oddness and love and loyalty, even when they drive each other crazy or…y’know…accidentally electrocute each other. Wall-E and EVE are a couple that probably grow old together, each doing their thing in their own way, and coming back together a little before shutdown each day, for a movie, and to share the new things they’ve experienced that day, and maybe even for a cockroach tickle, before powering down hand in hand, ready to reboot the next morning and do it all again. And that, when you get right down to it, is the stuff that Happily Ever Afters are made of.
Ahh, the Simpsons. America’s first family, they were teaching the world how to laugh at itself long before the Kardashians were a glint in a plastic surgeon’s eye, and despite being yellow, having a finger missing and being stuck with creepily Dorian Gray-style unaging children, they’re still more real than all the Real Housewives of wherever-the-hell-and-why-do-we-care.
The Simpsons are successful for a three-fingered handful of reasons. They’re relentlessly inventive, with a townfull of characters to keep the plotting fresh and suggest plenty of real-world and pop culture pastiche. They’re rarely afraid to be funny, even at the expense of sacred cows, and perhaps most particularly, the emotions almost always feel real. They’re frequently undercut with comedy, but not where they need to stand. Bart and Lisa annoy the young bejesus out of each other, and aren’t afraid to fight like normal siblings do, but they’re also, ultimately, realistic as brother and sister, able to see their connection as sometimes more important than their differences. The relationships rarely descend into schmaltz except for the purposes of undercutting, but The Simpsons are not afraid to let emotion have its moments.
If that’s true of Bart and Lisa, it’s so much more the case with Marge and Homer, the mother and father of the brood. They are, if anything, the best televisual representation in generations of the difference between love and romance, the difference between being in love, all hearts and flowers and grand romantic gestures, and loving someone, patiently, through the ups and downs of life.
Let’s make no bones about this – Marge Bouvier was going places. She had the brains and, compared to her two sisters at least, she had the beauty and the joie de vivre in the Bouvier clan, however much she was scarred by her mother’s socially conservative (and, more to the point, socially accepted at the time) instructions to take all her negativity and doubt and push it deep down inside herself. She had just begun to find her voice as a student when she discovered Homer J Simpson. To be fair, even then, it was hardly love at first sight – at least not on Marge’s part. Despite agreeing to go to the prom with Homer, she went off with the slicker, more handsome Artie Ziff on the night. Only when Ziff proved himself to be a creep did Marge really see Homer, and when she did, she was impressed by the simplicity of his adoration and his need of her.
Homer J Simpson is a not wholly inaccurate distillation of white male American confidence and self-belief. He embodies the shortcut, the get-rich-quick, the half-assed at the expense of real applied effort, and he succeeds in spite of himself, a point that’s been made in the show’s universe more than once. He’s not afraid to try anything, and expects to be good at it irrespective of not having any experience, and he never does anything as much of a downer as ‘learning from his past.’ In one sense of course this can make him a wrong-headed, self-aggrandising, entitled boor of a man, and in his marriage to Marge, we’ve winced at his actions many times – from forgetting anniversaries to dashing the hopes of young daughter Lisa, to stealing the thunder of his diligent, artistic wife by suddenly becoming the infant terrible of the fashionable art scene, to getting the Simpsons deported from a couple of handfuls of countries, events, and holiday destinations.
But, and this is the important thing, his dunderheaded refusal to learn that he’s not the be-all and end-all is endearing to Marge, and to us, because it represents something positive at the core – the have-a-go, grab-life-by-the-throat spirit that says to each of us, yes, just maybe, we too can tour with a rock band, jump a gorge on a bike, become a famous artist, go into space or win the love of our life. Maybe we can’t, maybe we’ll fall flat on our face or fall painfully into the gorge – but we can’t know that for certain until we try. Homer’s winning of Marge, and their subsequent life together, is proof that there are no ‘leagues’ in love and attraction except the ones we construct in our own heads. Anything is possible if you let your heart speak through you.
That said, it’s also important that Homer’s brash self-centred stride through the world depends on everything being all right with Marge and the kids. He assumes it is until they forcibly tell him it isn’t, but if and when that happens, Homer always, always means well, and wants to fix it. That sense of the importance of having a happy wife, and kids that at least aren’t heartbroken goes through the flabby yellow core of Homer J Simpson, perhaps stemming from his own upbringing of heartbreak when his mother left, and the brusque wisdom of his dad. He takes it as a point of principle to do his best for Marge and the kids. Even at the expense of his hopes and dreams, Homer does the right thing – as when he had finally achieved his pin-money dream job, and then Maggie was announced. Homer felt the wrench of pride, certainly, but he ate it, grovelled to get his family-supporting job at the power plant back, and sentenced himself to a life of drudgery again, because of that fierce commitment to his wife and family. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, he gets things wrong, he lets them down in his self-important, macho strides into the world, he makes Marge cringe sometimes in the execution of some hare-brained scheme or other. But that’s what she sees in him – that commitment to doing the right thing, and that absolute adoration of her.
Both the senior Simpsons in their time and their turn have felt the pull of temptation, the opportunity of another life, the hope for more with someone else than they have together. But both in their own way know that what they have together is strong, is special, and is worth sacrificing other dreams for. Homer’s goodness is simple, and in a complicated world, Marge responds to it. Marge’s kindness is pure, and Homer breathes it like he breathes oxygen. Ultimately, they’re in this world together for the long run, prepared to back each other even through their doubts, their dull patches, their fights and silences. Marge and Homer are a couple of genuine grown-ups, not afraid to still act like teenagers now and then. More than the laundry-white but other-judging Flanders and Lovejoys, and certainly more than the Van Houtens, who went the other way and found they didn’t have enough in common to weather the storms of mid-life opportunity, Marge and Homer are a functional, loving couple who will grow (at least in flash-forward) old together. They’re the epitome of long-term love in an uncertain TV world.
Most of us have been Ginny Weasley at some point in our lives. We’ve had that special person on the fringes of our world that makes us awestruck, about whom we bore the pants off everyone we know, but around whom we can’t speak a word, for fear they might actually…y’know…hear us or something.
Ginny, when we first meet her, is just ten, and is the shy girl who knows all about the wonder that is Harry Potter, so powerful even as a baby that he could defeat the greatest dark wizard of the age. When Harry becomes best friends with, of all people, her brother, Ginny is both delighted and mortified, in the way only the young can be. When the great Harry Potter talks to her like she’s a normal person, even an equal, Ginny runs away, unable to cope with the wow factor and the sudden pressure of having to speak to him. You wouldn’t, perhaps, think of them as a natural-born couple.
When Ginny starts her schooling at Hogwarts, Harry remains an object of amazement and wonder to her, and Ginny has a desperate journey – writing all her feelings down in the mysterious diary that answers back, which, in a cogent metaphor of false friendship, uses all her secrets against both her and Harry. When he and brother Ron rescue her from a basilisk, Ginny’s mortification actively increases – not only has her hero had to rescue her (way to go, Girl Power!), but she’s the one who actually put him in danger in the first place by telling the false friend diary all about him and his story.
It’s not really until The Order of the Phoenix that Ginny Weasley and Harry Potter begin to seem like there might be something to them beyond her devastating girlish pre-and-early teen crush. After seeing something of the world, Ginny grows up a little, getting a non-Harry boyfriend, which allows her for the first time to talk to him as an equal. Where (to be fair, following her mother’s example) Ginny has always been one thing to her brothers – spirited and a devil with a bat-bogey charm, as is almost demanded of her by little sisters of brothers throughout the ages – and another thing entirely to Harry, in The Order of the Phoenix, while still too young to be allowed into the Order’s meetings, she’s able to be in a room with Harry without blushing and running away. In fact, it’s there that we get the first sense of Ginny having that most crucial of equalities, the equality of anger, when she tears the increasingly reclusive Harry a new one for having neither the balls nor the gumption to confide in her, given her history of being possessed by Voldemort and his fear that he too has been a vessel of the Dark Lord, used to attack her father. It’s in the quiet honesty of their shared emotions about that fear – the fear of being forced to do something against their will, of possibly hurting someone that they care about because they weren’t strong enough to fight off their attacker – that something new begins to form between Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley, something not born of legends or objective adoration, but born of the bond of survivors. Make no mistake, the violation of them both by Voldemort has an analogue right there in the non-wizarding world, though it’s one that might spoil readers’ enjoyment of the books and movies. The idea of an adult using their bodies for his own ends, and of the inherent violation, the misplaced guilt, the sense of isolation, of believing no-one will want or need them around any more, is true, and real, and horrifying, and Harry and Ginny begin to bond over their ability to share those emotions, those feelings with each other, when they can’t make anyone who hasn’t been in that situation understand how it feels.
As Order of the Phoenix goes on, Ginny comes more and more out of her shell – giving Dumbledore’s Army its name, and showing a rare perspicacity in its choice: “It’s their greatest fear,” she remarks, cutting to the heart of the opposition’s weakness. She also surprises everyone, and impresses Harry, with some of her spellcasting prowess.
But none of this explains why Harry and Ginny end up as lovers, as partners, and as parents. That’s relatively simple, though. Apart from their bonding over what Voldemort has done to them, Ginny is removed enough from the strum und drang of Harry’s seven year fight against the Dark Lord that, when he needs a place of calm, of quiet, of simple understanding and acceptance, it’s not Hermione he turns to. Not Luna. Not anyone, but Ginny, who doesn’t demand explanations, who isn’t complicated by the fight, who knows the burden he carries, and only asks to share it for as long as she can, to lighten his life and bring his smile back to him. Peculiarly, by books six and seven, it’s Ginny Weasley who understands Harry Potter best of all, Ginny who sees beyond the hype he never asked for, and the name he makes for himself, beyond the aloof isolationism and the sense of responsibility, who sees Harry as just Harry, and knows what he needs. She never tries to push herself into the centre of the action, never becomes something else for Harry to feel he has to worry about, but she’s more than ready, come the Battle of Hogwarts, to do her last full measure of devotion in the fight. She has that simplicity of approach – some things must be fought, and she will fight them as she can. She’s invested in his battle, but separate from it too, the place in a crowded, complicated wizarding world where the would-be auror can find peace and an equal, a force of nature who’s always been there, but who stepped out of the crowd to change his world.
In him, she sees not Harry Potter the legend of her childhood, not the rock star wizard, but the man who does what he thinks is right, even when it’s so hard than any reasonable man would fail or buckle, would take the easy path. In a very real sense, it’s Ginny Weasley who shows us as readers or viewers the moral of the Harry Potter stories. She sees the boy become the man who does the right thing, not the easy thing, and loves him for it. And we love them both right back as a result.
The Bond series is always supposed to be ‘modern’ in that it’s supposed to keep pace with the times and threats of its particular era, and deliver technology that is, perhaps, just a little ahead of those times. But if we’re looking at ‘modern Bond’ in 2015, before the arrival of Spectre, then Goldeneye represents the beginning of our era. Not a bad achievement when you consider it’s actually 20 years old, being released in 1995.
It had been six years since Timothy Dalton’s last Bond film, and the world had been turned upside-down in the meantime. The 80s were an era of phenomenal change, but it was the 90s that really began to see the effects of those changes – the Berlin Wall had fallen between the end of Dalton’s era and the making of Goldeneye. All change was the order of the day – Goldeneye brought not only a new Bond, but a new M, and a female one at that, Judi Dench taking the top job, as well as a new Moneypenny, Samantha Bond.
The end of the Cold War allowed for a looser backdrop – experience for hire, rather than dogmatic obedience – and it also allowed a shift in focus to perhaps a more realistic, less idealised view of the Secret Service as an organisation that got things wrong, that had consequences – and that sometimes would have to clean up the bodies and the mess of its malfunctions.
Stepping in to the tuxedo of death was suave Irish actor Pierce Brosnan, who had been in the frame for years to pick up the Walther, but who, on his closest previous brush with Bond, had been tied into contracts on TV’s fiction-within-a-fiction detective show, Remington Steele.
There are loose theories that Bonds are divisible by type – there are the harder, more intense Bonds (Connery, Dalton, Craig), and the smoother, more wisecracking ones (Lazenby, Moore – and Brosnan). That’s the alchemy at play in Goldeneye – the story is ultimately about an MI6 mistake, and the way the organisation has to be able to coldly move on with its business, while those with licenses to kill also have obligations to die. But against such intense, grim fare, you put a smoother, more smiling Bond in the middle to deflect and charm the audience.
If you want further proof that Goldeneye is the beginning of our modern era of Bonds, you could do worse than compare its skeleton with that of the latest Bond movie, Skyfall – both movies seem to be about shady villains, but are actually about former MI6 operatives gone spectacularly rogue. Both movies bring info-war and the power of computer aggression to the fore too, giving a distinctly similar feeling – betrayed ‘sons’ of the Service, using computing power to wreak havoc and pull off the ultimate crime.
It’s not all new of course – as once there was Pussy Galore, so Goldeneye brings us Xenia Onatopp, a villainess with a disconcerting sado-masochistic streak who kills men by crushing them between her thighs of steel. Jane Fonda, eat your heart out. And of course, it wouldn’t be Bond without a couple of staggering, outrageous set-pieces – the pre-credits bungee jump is positively quease-making, and the tank chase scene is sheer, wonderful, what-can-we-do-now camp bliss, most especially when Bond drives through a statue, and carries its figure, perfectly balanced for several blocks, including a couple of sharp turns. Delicious. Nonsensical in the extreme, but delicious.
Equally delicious is the inclusion of Sean Bean, towards the start of what is now his notorious career of not making it to the end of movies, as Alec Trevelyan, 006 – a kind of Moriarty to the Holmes of this new Bond. Bean and Brosnan are well matched – hard-edged, but quipping, Bean essentially giving us his Bond (because clearly, there could never be a blond Bond… erm…), but showing in three dimensions the dichotomy of Bond that’s highlighted by M when she calls him a Cold War dinosaur. Where Bond essentially belongs to an older generation (the generation that originally spawned him – Ian Fleming’s generation), Bean’s Trevelyan is able to point out his inconsistencies, his weaknesses and the contradictions of his personal recklessness and borderline sociopathy with his ‘Queen and Country’ Boy Scout motivation, and to expose those values we think of as being archetypally Bond as potentially quite outdated in the real world of the 90s. Not for nothing, but it’s another way in which Goldeneye provides the blueprint for Skyfall, this equal and opposite Devil’s advocate, pointing out the uncomfortable truth.
The central MacGuffin, the Goldeneye, is basically your traditional supervillain devastation-from-the-sky uberweapon, and the plot is actually a vengeance-against-London/let’s-get-incredibly-rich/financial-meltdown triple whammy, but there’s a certain Thunderbirds joy about it all as the film dispenses with all the Russian shenanigans and gets down to the clash of ideologies between Trevelyan and Bond, the boys with toys. On balance, Trevelyan’s got the better gizmos – giant antennas that emerge from under the water, space-based Star Wars weaponry firing EMPs to wipe every computer in Greater London and send a leading financial hub ‘back to the Stone Age,’ etc. The tone is always one of duality, with Bond and Trevelyan trading insults and Freudian analyses, and yet both showing the power of the MI6 mindset, doing whatever is necessary to get the job done. The final showdown on the giant antenna is where the psychology is played out, and Trevelyan’s assumption of Bond’s Boy Scoutism – the idea that he’ll always favour the mission before everything else – comes fatally unstuck when Bond essentially settles the score of what he feels is Trevelyan’s personal betrayal of him, rather than his treasonous betrayal of Queen and country.
Goldeneye began a new age of Bond movies – Brosnan lightening the portrayal of the character wherever possible, but still delivering an inner steel in terms of doing his job. The film brought Bond into the properly computer age, and perhaps more importantly, it did away with a lot of the baggage of rigidly dogmatic and nationalistic villains – the arch-villains Brosnan’s Bond would go on to face would frequently be rogues, individuals with personal agendas, or even ultra-capitalists, reflecting the post-Cold War realities of the world the audience understood. Perhaps most crucially of all though, to balance the essential machismo of Bond, the advancement of a female M would go on to give the Brosnan and early Craig Bond movies both a modernity and a tension that would elevate them above many of the earlier entries in the series. Goldeneye held the key to Bond’s future in the post-Cold War world, and it delivered complexity, deception, and ultimately a parable of two brothers with different takes on the same life. It delivered fun, action, even cod psychology, and a car chase with a tank.
As Bean’s Trevelyan remarks when he sees it – ‘Bond. Only Bond.
The countdown has begun to a new era for Doctor Who. Peter Capaldi, known for both his dramatic and comedic roles since the 80s, known as Malcolm Tucker, the William Wallace of filth from The Thick Of It, known for his Medusa stare and his Eyebrows of Doom, is about to become our favourite Time Lord. The news has divided the great and invincible fandom, with those old enough to remember the “Classic” series largely greeting the casting as overwhelming positive, and those more used to the stripling Doctors of recent years shrugging and saying “Well, I’ll give him a go, but…”
Capaldi’s already much-used publicity shot as the Doctor crystalises the divide around the question “Yes, but does he look like the Doctor?”
To some New-Whovians, no, he looks like the Doctor’s dad, poncing about and pointing at nothing. To the Classicists though, the answer is an emphatic yes. Tall, thin, imposing, dressed in no-nonsense clothes and looking not a little like he’s ready to kick the Daleks to death and tear the Cybermen’s heads off for dessert, he is, to all intents and purposes, the perfect fantasy Doctor for fans of a certain age. Not only does he reawaken the dream that they themselves are not too old to be the Doctor, or to act like him, the look carries with it the promise of perhaps a rather more grown-up and maybe even a slightly more serious tone to be taken in the Capaldi years.
It’s an impression that’s been encouraged by almost everything that’s come out of the production office of late – the intense stare crowbarred into the 50th Anniversary special; the initial teaser trailer, all dark and brooding and set against a background of an exploding Tardis; and the follow up, with talk of seeing hatred in the Doctor’s soul. All very dark and gritty and serious stuff.
There’s a danger in all this, inasmuch as it has a tendency to foster expectations of some new dark arc, some new realism, some new gritty edge to the show.
Within boundaries, this will probably be the case – each Doctor’s era has a tone, from Eccleston’s survivor-guilt coupled with the soapification of Who, through Tennant’s ‘one-chance’ chatterbox, that brought the fun back front and centre, to Smith’s fairy tale ‘thing-in-progress’ with a post office, a wife and occasional flashes of old-man rage. It’s to be hoped that Capaldi’s era will see the language of the Teletubbies retired (wibbly wobbly timey wimey byesie wysie?) in a post-War Doctor reaction to such infantilism, and a return to good honest pseudo-scientific gobbledegook (your fathers and grandfathers reversed the polarity of the neutron flow, dammit, and so will you – and you’ll like it!), but the boundaries within which the show can ‘grow up’ are very, very significant.
While the Classicists tend to complain about the relentless humour, the romance, River Song’s sexy banter and what they call a generalised “childishness” in New Who, it would be a huge mistake to think that the casting of an older Doctor is going to necessarily address all these things. The degree to which they can be addressed is actually pretty limited, because they’re fundamental ingredients that have hooked Doctor Who its largest worldwide audience – ever.
The point is that while it has always been a family show, Doctor Who’s core audience is a nation, and now a world of eight year-olds. And eight year-olds today are not the creatures they were in the 60s, 70s or even 80s – to which decades the Classicists refer when they claim that the show never needed all this modern stuff to be wonderful back then. Eight year-olds today exist in a world of greater equality, where anyone twisting an ankle while running away (irrespective of gender) would be thought of as a useless prawn and not a respectable companion. They live in a world more saturated with either explicit or implicit sexualisation in every ad break, and at potentially every click of a mouse. (This is not to imply anything Savillian or creepy, just that today’s eight year-olds know more about romance, about partnership, and about sex than eight year-olds generally in any previous generation, and they accept its presence in the world as the norm. They expect people who look like grown-ups to have complex relationships, and that includes hero figures like the Doctor). More than anything, they live in a world of speed: speed of thought, speed of talk, speed of decision-making. New Who reflects the world of New eight year-olds, just as Classic Who reflected the world of eight year-olds back then. It’s a very different place, and this modern world cannot be ignored if the show wants to retain and expand its armies of eight year-old fans.
So while there’s the potential with an older-looking Doctor to tell different stories to those you can effectively tell with Matt Smith at the Tardis console, it would be a mistake for fans of the Classic series to think Capaldi’s Doctor will ditch all the things about New Who they dislike – those things have become part of the core of the show in the 21st century. If we go into Series 8 expecting an all-dark, grown-up Doctor, with less “silliness” and banter, we could find ourselves in the peculiar situation where Capaldi’s greatest fans before he started in the role find themselves disappointed, and those who weren’t that keen on him deciding he’s not all that bad after all. The programme can never be made to principally appeal to the millions of 40 year-olds dressed up at Comic-Con – that would be Game of Thrones you’re thinking of. Who will continue to be aimed first and foremost at the eight year-olds and their families who tune in or download or stream it. Capaldi’s era may see the show grow up a little. But don’t expect it to take itself as seriously as the average adult fan.
Having a fascination for the UK TV show Doctor Who, Tony Fyler joined the bank of contributors to successful multi-fandom website, www.warpedfactor.com. his first piece for the site, an appreciation of the John Simm Master, was very well received – including by the John Simm Society, who retweeted the piece and gained it an additional thousand readers in the space of an hour.
There are two types of Master: there’s the natural Master, who comes by his body by the normal process of regeneration, and the unnatural Master, either disembodied or forced to steal an existence in order to survive. The first tends to play the role for character, the second, mostly for plot.
There’s also a loose correlation between the ‘type’ of Master and the success with which he has been historically played, and also with his ‘fit’ to a particular Doctor.
Roger Delgado, despite being in real life a very pleasant and amiable man, could have been born to play the dead-eyed gentleman psychopath of the universe, and he rarely, if ever, looked forced on-screen. He was chosen specifically to be the Anti-Pertwee.
The two ‘crispy critter’ Masters – Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers – were not chosen specifically to play the Anti-Baker, and such was their emaciation they were forced to play the role largely on plot, to find their way back to a body. Anthony Ainley’s Master was not Doctor-specific either, and having stolen his body, he was forced from the beginning to be a Masteralike of Delgado’s version; it was more important that he looked like what had come before than it was to let him be his own villain. While little is ever heard from the CGI-snake Master, Eric Roberts (bless him, what did he think he was doing up there?) played the Master, again having stolen a body in his outing, purely driven by the plot to get more bodies, rather than as any kind of appropriate Anti-McGann.
When the series became a hit again in 2005, it was more or less certain that the Doctor would face off with his ultimate adversary again. But which Master would it be? Another re-tread of the Delgado Imprimatur, all beard and convoluted plans and gloating? Or someone new and naturalistic, someone that would be genuinely fearsome and scary and funny and dark and aimed squarely at providing the antithesis of whichever Doctor he encountered?
John Simm blew the doors off the part within the first five minutes.
Having had just about that long of Sir Derek Jacobi delivering the Anti-Hartnell, the Simm Master exploded on screen and began immediately matching David Tennant’s Doctor, trait for trait. There was the post-regenerative chattiness, there was the techno-skill, flying the Tardis with gusto, there was the glint of mad humour and the smile. And there – right there at the end of Utopia – was something new and modern. When the Doctor says “I’m sorry”, Simm’s spitting of “Tough!” is visceral and dangerous, it’s a boot to the Doctor’s face, and a note of the savagery behind Delgado’s suavity, Ainley’s chuckle and Roberts’s…whatever-that-was.
Simm went on to imitate Delgado not in any of the trappings of his Master (though the red-lined jacket was a nice touch), but in the fundamental philosophy of what a ‘natural’ Master was. This time, he was absolutely the Anti-Tennant, and the terrifying thing about the script of The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords is that it’s the ultimate version of the Pertwee scripts – disguise, hypnosis, cunning plans and world domination – but given a brave new twist. Simm’s is the Master who won. This is a devastating proposition, because the Master is no ordinary villain – he’s the philosophical opposite of everything the Doctor stands for, embodied in an equal, who can argue his corner and make the viewer question the Doctor’s position. It’s the combination of the scale of what the Master does to the Earth once he’s won it – “the only person to get out of Japan alive…”, and the unbridled glee with which Simm delivers his ‘stark raving bonkers’ Master, complete with dancing, disco and decimation, that make his Master something fresh and vibrant in those two episodes.
And then of course, the production team, having well and truly had its cake with a fantastic, energised Anti-Tennant Master, decided to eat it too, and gave us Simm as the body-snatching Master, the ‘other’ Master. And like disembodied Masters before him, Simm had no option but to play the character subsumed by plot, this time knowing his body was ‘born to die’ but multiplying almost endlessly and aiming to stop the drumming in his head. The End of Time is a busy script, but Simm manages to deliver the furious need of a disembodied Master more effectively in the burger-chomping scene than either Pratt or Beevers were allowed, because he keeps (largely) his own face and delivers the performance through his own interpretation of the Master as a creature propped up and kept sane by nothing more than ravenous consumption. Again, the Master is victorious in this story, though it feels (like the character himself) more hollow and reversible this time, and when events spin out of his control, the Master falls back on another old trope – the idea of joining forces with the Doctor to confront the greater threat. What is unique in the Master’s long on-screen history though is what Simm does in his final moments – he makes us sympathise with the Master, driven mad by ‘grown-ups’ who abused his mind if not his body; he is the child who never stood a chance, and grew up determined to be noticed. Simm’s exit might be a cliché, but it’s arguably the best and most worthwhile cliché in fifty years of Doctor Who.