Doctor Who: The Master in the 1990s – “I’m glad one of us is amused”

TV Movie The Master Eric Roberts

 

One MaRCHster long-read to unite them all…

As the Doctor Who: The Movie reaches 20 years old, this is it – a special bonus MArchSTER looking at 1996’s peculiar and divisive incarnation of the Master. An irresistible glance, as oddly, the cycle of the Doctor’s Time Lord rival almost came full circle…

“Humans, always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there”

OVER A DECADE AFTER DOCTOR WHO’S SUCCESSFUL RETURN TO BRITISH TELEVISION, THE WEIGHT OF HINDSIGHT HANGING OVER THE DOCTOR’S SHORT FORAY ACROSS THE ATLANTIC COULDN’T BE GREATER. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a film that struggled to accommodate the wealth of the show’s history, while refusing to fully reboot from the roots of its original run, ended up dipping into the past so much. And through the trials and tribulations that marked its emergence, despite its resolutely fin de siècle setting, how fitting that the American TV Movie paid tribute to the Master in the decade of his first appearance…

The Television Movie (1996)

A history of villainy

“You want me to kill you?”

The path Doctor Who took to America was long and tortuous. Even when it reached production, the sheer number of stakeholders on both sides of the Atlantic made tough going. There’s no doubt that between the stand-offish/love the property found at the BBC of the time and evangelistic/waning interest among American production companies, casting demands, excessive script notes and strengthening Canadian dollars that impacted its Vancouver production, what reached the screen wasn’t quite what anyone expected.

Philip Segal was the producer who saw the opportunity and pushed to bring the property, left fallow by the BBC. Having fond memories of watching the show while growing up in the UK, before he emigrated to the US and ultimately joined Steven Spielberg’s Amblin, His single-minded passion lies behind its very existence.

When pre-production finally swung into gear after years of protracted placing of jigsaw pieces, creating the Bible for the potential American series fell to writer John Leekley. A writer who grew an obsession with Pertwee era-Who during development, but was set to become one of the franchise’s lost figures. His outline was canon-defying, pitching previous Doctor Who mentor, ally and enemy Cardinal Borusa as the Doctor’s grandfather, aiding his grandson on a quest to find the Doctor’s his missing father Ulysses. The plot of what would become the series’ back-door pilot, drafted in 1994, fell to the Doctor’s escape from Gallifrey, a trip to London and a meeting with Churchill during World War II. Segal blamed this on his Third Doctor and UNIT obsession and a “bad case of Dad’s Army”. Leekley’s ensuing Indiana Jones-styled script pushed Steven Spielberg out of the frame, coincided with the arrival of Trevor Walton, Fox’s head of TV movies, and ultimately forced the writer’s removal. Robert de Laurentiis entered, steering the script away from Borusa, introduced a comic companion but retaining Leekley’s concept of the Master as the scripts main antagonist.

When the script fell to writer Matthew Jacobs in 1995, a wonderfully unruffled interviewee on the subject, whose father incidentally had a guest appearance in the 1966 serial The Gunfighters, he was aided by the BBC’s Jo Wright in an executive producing (and key holding) role during the sharp run-up to production. As Jacobs has said, ““My script was basically Doctor Who am I?” World War II was out, Gallifrey too, and continuity returned with the inclusion of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. With minimal dialogue, he was set to regenerate into Paul McGann who had seen off a number of rivals including his brother Mark to land the main role. With the canon reinstated, the Master was confirmed, continuing the antagonism that led back to his first appearance in 1971’s Terror of the Autons.

But in a production that aside from its great BBC investment, enjoyed a British director, star, two executive producers and writer, at least, the villain was what Segal called a “line in the sand”. Fox and Universal insisted on a named American actor from a prescribed list, which Segal circumspectly added was a triumph of “commercialisation over creative rationale”. And so the Master took an unexpected new form… Read more…

1966: Pet Sounds at 50

1966 Pet Sounds at 50

God Only Knows what would have happened without this LP…

The first of Jokerside’s tributes to the mighty cornerstone of pop culture that was 1966. It’s May 1966 and the arrival of the first of two particular musical landmarks that heralded the start of something new. It didn’t have long to prove itself… The Beach Boy’s Pet Sounds, released 50 years ago today.

 “1966”. IT SOUNDS GREAT. IT’S ALSO SOAKED IN FIVE DECADES OF HAILING ITS ACHIEVEMENTS. Their importance is obvious, but almost impossible to calculate within the confines of a standard year. I mean, 1967 was good, 1965 rather enjoyable…. Of course, 1966 sits in history now, a year of change amid a decade of cultural expansion. But if you were to pick out one year from that decade that pipped the others, that pulled everything together and set a new direction from the morass of creativity it’s the one satisfyingly named ’66.

Coming of age

Culture was ready to explode..

I once wrote of 1963, the year that launched James Bond on America, Doctor Who on British TV and the Beatles on the world, that’s there’s no coincidence it fell 18 years after the end of the Second World War. Culture was ready to explode, and as the last of the war children came of age it was impossible to contain the cultural blast that forged that remain with us today. And by that same logic we’re now 50 years on from the year that marked the 21st birthday of the first of the baby boomers.

The 50th anniversary birthdays marked this year are almost too many to remember, from film to music and that’s ignoring other defining events in the UK alone, from England hosting and winning the World Cup to elections and the opening of Longleat Safari Park. It was truly a cultural explosion, with a lasting impression that can be heard at any time of the day in 2016, often catching us by surprise. So sometimes it’s good to be overwhelmed by just a small slice of it…

To name four long players that 1966 brought us, Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence, Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, and of course The Beatles’ Revolver and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Singles released that year included Paint it Black, California Dreamin’, Uptight (Everything’s Alright), Strangers in the Night, You Don’t have to Say You Love Me, Wild Thing, Summer in the City, Sunny, You Can’t Hurry Love, Last Train to Clarksville, Mellow Yellow, Sugar Town… Other songs recorded but not necessarily released included A Well Respected Man, Bang Bang, Born Free, Eight Miles High, Friday on my Mind, Hey Joe, I’m a Believer, I Can’t Let Go, It Takes Two, Mame, Mission:Impossible, No Milk Today, Rain, Shape of Things, Solitary Mind, Spoonful, This Old Heart of Mine and… The Batman TV theme. It was the year that the Jimi Hendrix Experience formed and, er, don’t tell DJ Johnnie Walker, the Bay City Rollers emerged.

There wasn’t a simple zeitgeist or trend, one stand-out song that defined a summer. It truly was a cultural explosion, unprecedented since the years of stark warfare or when the Renaissance or Enlightenment had a good day. And that small smattering, although too big for this blog, sums up the diverse forces at work. There have been culturally defining years since, in Britain it’s particularly easy to see what 2012 was lacking and see the range that 1997’s Cool Britannia couldn’t quite muster. But in 1966, the shackles didn’t so much loosen and drop so many years on from that generation-defining conflict, but were thrown to the moon as new conflicts arrived amid new methods of thinking. It was the well-earned age of cultural landmarks, and it threw up the most unexpected casualties without borders. Read more…

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