Things that Vex Keith Dunn… Just Harping! On
Keith Dunn & Tony Gallichan argue about Doctor Who's Graham Harper
Published: 31st July 2006
With the start of the new Cyberman story it has once again kicked off a old argument between myself, Keith, and Tony. As every one else is fed up with us two old farts shouting at each other across the room, we decided to email each other.
So to this end may I present to you
JUST HARPING! ON
A GREAT DIRECTOR OR NOT?
- Let's take the Caves of Androzani, the look and feel of the story seems to come from an earlier season (about mid-70). Every thing up that point had a very glossy colourful look (yes I do agree that some of it was badly over lit) but there was a consistency that ran from Warriors through to Planet of Fire. Then along comes Caves and we've suddenly gone drab and cheap, did the money run out?
- Caves, whilst possibly having budgetary constraints due to its place in the season, did have a drab look, to an extent... it was meant to... this is a planet that's been at war for a good while, the soldiers are all tired etc. As for consistency, I might point you in the direction of Snakedance... I still say we need to look at the producer's influence and point to the good atmosphere of Caves - partly due to how it was directed and also partly due to the fact that Harper went back to Roger Limb of the Radiophonic Workshop and made him redo the score as the first one was pants, apparently. Aside from the magma beast - which was, frankly, poor, I might point out that we got one of THE great cliff-hangers... end of part 3 of Caves... yes, there's the writer to consider - but its the direction and the passion the director brings out of the actors...
- Okay, drab for the cave system and the base on Androzani Minor they were at war for a long time as you say. But what about the office of Morgus with its soothing pastels (yes I know I've just answered my own question there) but it was an opportunity to show a different environment but instead we get more drab, it would have been nice to counterpoint drabness of the war environment with the opulence of Androzani Major.
- Ah, but its a set very much of its time... Context is everything. That's how they thought, at the time; a futuristic office would look... an executive's office. Its VERY eighties... I'm thinking pastels etc. And, comparatively, it WAS opulent. No mud, for a start :P
- As for SnakeDance I'm sorry but I don't get the reference season 20 was of a consistent quality all the way through.
- I agree... that consistent quality being average to poor....
- Lets take a look-see, shall we, Dunn, eh? eh?
- Arc of Infinity... oh look... its an anti matter chicken... worse than the magma beast, I think, myself, anyway.... badly lit also... Gallifrey became an over designed cafe... Roger Limb's music was APPALLING!!!! Thank god Harper went back and told Limb to redo his score for Caves... Oh... and Omega... hmm... lets see now... he's anti matter... opposite of us... tell ya what we can do.. lets plop a neg effect on him... yes, that shows how anti matter he is... dear me, lack of imagination or what...? Clunky capitol guard uniforms also... poor Ezmerelda...
- Snakedance... badly lit, poorly directed, to be honest... very bland in places... there were some good ideas in the script but still...
- Mawdryn Undead... this is a hard one for me... I enjoy Mawdryn a lot, but can still see the faults... oh look... more powerful lighting... Paddy Kingsland's worst score for Who (though he did return to it in the Generic Sci-Fi Quarry). Again, flatly directed and someone should have reigned in Valantine Dyall... though he does get worse over the next two stories... The ship... very opulent, but it felt like an over lit studio.
- Terminus... well, short-term memory is always the first to go... dear me, what were they thinking of with Liza Goddard's costume and hair? goodness... but of course, that's down to the director, isn't it... poor Mary Ridge... bet she must have really tried hard to get costume to change it... or not...
- Enlightenment... not too bad, this one, though again, the score is Malcolm Clarke at his fartiest... one success with Earthshock and he just repeats the formula... though I do like the banquet music.
- King's Demons.... we sing in praise of total whaarrrr... or something... It's a hammy Ainley everyone! wonder what the director did about it?
- The whole of season 20 really needs a kick up the arse, to be honest... it's flat... for a celebratory season it could have been so much more... as an ordinary season, it could have been so much more... I'm just glad that the Dalek story fell through and they remounted it for the following year...
- I will cede the producer angle, having read Cartmel's book the ego was something of a force of nature, but as director its your vision that is to be seen on the screen, to be a director you have to have a large ego yourself and brook no interference!!
- But this is the Beeb... the producer DOES have a large say... listen to any Dr Who DVD commentary with Barry Letts, for example. And this was JNT's Big Time... have a read of some of the interviews with directors from that era and the struggles they had with him.
- The last thing Peter Grimwade directed was Earthshock after that he was relegated to the lowest position of writer (I admit I could be remembering this wrong) but I read that they had a falling out and JNT refused to use him again, did some one get thrown out of the directors gallery.He was the Director it was his job to do the best he could even if it meant he would never work on the series again, you don't do a half arsed job!
- I like Earthshock and Grimwade was one hell of a better director then writer... he also directed Logopolis, my fave story. I think most directors did the best with the resources they had at the time - including Harper.
- What Atmosphere was there, I don't remember there being any, I remember being very disappointed by it when it was first televised, it was ruined by the director showing high shots downwards revealing highly polished, smooth flat floors. I know cave floors in the studio is difficult, but in Frontios they covered in "gravel" lit it from only one source and kept floor shots to a minimum.
- The way the show is edited, how some of the shots are planned and executed give it that atmosphere, along with the music- see below for that - The cross focus of Jek and the Doctor as he arrives in Jek's base for the first time, for eg... the to camera asides of Morgus - though I'm not sure if they were scripted or added on by Harper, The striking image of the burning android in part 4 when the doc is stumbling through the caves, Salateen's death, the fact that the whole cast played it completely straight (something you cant say about all Who... may I give you Mr Darrow and his Wonderful Maylin of Karfel... As for the cave set etc... well, Harper wanted a feeling of height... inevitably the floor came into it... after all, he couldn't shoot upwards as he had no ceiling, just studio lights.
- As for the incidental music I admit that I didn't know about the re-scoring but the one that it went out with wasn't that remarkable from the typical 80's farty synth
- Compared to Limb's other scores for who, this one is remarkably subtle... more atmosphere then theme...
- I will censed the magma beast but was it necessary to have it walk towards the camera with its fixed roar, and that was a cliffhanger ending!
- Hmm... possibly the 'you have to show the monster' syndrome... bad as it was, I imagine that someone said that he couldn't keep the monster hidden, it had to be seen fully...
- The "great" cliff-hanger ending is down to the scriptwriter or the script editor not the Director.
- Oh, but it's directed so well... that cut as the planet zooms in, to the credits... its well written, well acted and well directed...
- If the story is bad then nothing can save it, if the script is good then it can be crippled by so many things, poor production, poor lighting, poor fx and poor directing don't get me wrong Caves is a good story but like Warriors of the Deep it was bungled quit badly.
- Hmm... comparing Warriors to Caves is really like comparing a nice bottle of posh wine to Kwik Saves' 99p lambrusco - a fave around here with the locals... I can see some similarities between murka and magma... but Warriors really had nothing going for it... the script, whilst having good ideas, degenerated - and of course, the showing of the hexachromite gas in part one with the added explanation that it affects reptiles isn't so much a case of loading the gun as giving a complete and detailed lecture of the history of guns, how they worked, what they may have been called had others created them, oh... and how a gun was loaded... Don't get me wrong, Caves isn't perfect. I give you that, but it is by no means anyway near the level of awfulness that you give it... it IS a classic, to use that awfully, overused word... it's something special.
- Right first an apology, I misunderstood your statement in my frothy frenzy, a Director has a lot to do with the composition of a story (that after all is the nub of my argument) but ep 3 cliff-hanger is such a well written it would be hard to screw up plus I think you can't play down what Mr Davidson brings to the screen (all hale the Davidson) it would have taken a complete dipstick to screw it up (stands up "hello my name is Keith and I am a complete dipstick") I think ep 3 cliff-hanger is great in spite of Mr Harper not because of. If he was so good what happened to the terrible pick up after ep 1 ( the firing squad and the fake fx bullet), the lets hide behind a very small stone from the fake monster at ep 2 !.
- Morgus's office may have been the Hight of 80's futuristic it is still very, very bland and empty. I've been in a few Directors offices in my time (for reasons I won't go in to here)and know the feel of a directors office, where were the awards for being a captain of industry, the little crystal statue from his peers the nick knacks that a ego and leader of his field and one who has the ear of the president collects, it would have added colour, Morgus's office is just an empty bland room!
- As for SnakeDance and the whole season 20, that is not the issue here but as you have included it, thank you for making my point for me, as you say season 20 is consistent in look, good or bad is not at argument here (perhaps another time but not now) but what is at issue is that two stories (Caves & Twins) suddenly look as if they were made 10 years earlier than the rest of the season.
- It may have been that the Beeb and Producers were heavy but this was the beginning of the end for JNT in a few months it all went belly up. Again I wave the ghost of Grimwade at you. I'm not denying that all director didn't try there best I'm just saying that some bests were better than others.
- The cave set, so what your telling me is that Mr Harper chooses to showcase a method that highlighted his sets shortcomings? They could have tried to put sections of green (or was it blue) sheeting over it and CSO the cave walls disappearing in to the distance (yes it may have been a bit fuzzy but you don't have to do it for every shot to give the impression of size)
- The burning android, director or in scriptwriters description I can't say. As for the camera asides from Morgus yes well that's another knotty problem. I'm told it as a very bold move, very Jacobean but this is a show that has mental domination in every other story (the Master, super computers, the Master, psychic aliens, the Master, the Daleks, the Master, the Cybermen, the Master, super intelligent shades of the colour blue and lets not forget the Master) they always talk off camera to their controllers. And to that we had the Master's monitor console in Jek's scrap pile sorry workshop and it all points to some out side influence. Only at the end we find out he's only talking to himself, do you know what's better than that anything! It's like unwrapping a huge glittery present only to find theirs nothing inside.
- Salateen's death is probably the best thing about him it might have dislodged the woodpecker on his leg did Mr Harper inspire that acting too.
- As for the music you know my tin ear farty is farty (sorry).
- But Warriors and Caves share so many similarities, do we have to count them okay, bad, very bad, very very bad pantomime monster, the Doctor 'dies' in the first episode, a traitor working in the 'good guys' camp, the Doctor losing complete control of the situation, badly handled "loaded gun" the Hexachromite is so obvious because we know its going to be Sea Devils and Silurians end in advance(well I know I did. When the planets liquid mud core is first mentioned in ep 1 I thought hello that's how it ends and how many times was it mention it seemed like at least once per episode nothing like ramming home the point. My point is this under the dross both have a good story fighting to get out, both your posh wine and lambrusco have a great tasting grape fighting to be heard.
- Where cave is concerned I feel like it's "the Emperors new cloths".
- Okay, thinking back, I believe the reason Grimwade wasn't invited back to direct was because when the Dalek story for series 20 fell through, he took his production crew out for lunch and didn't invite JNT... that was a big no no to the producer... I may be wrong about that, but I think that's what happened. Aside from the similarities in story line, I fail to see how you can compare Caves to Warriors from a direction point of view... the direction in warriors is just SO flat, the whole base is, again, hideously overlit, the acting on the whole is poor... Back to Morgus' office - its also a reflection on the character of the man himself... the pseudo flat delivery matched by the blandness of his surroundings - careful blandness as opposed to just typical eighties who blandness, this was planned... and, of course, the secret private elevator - again, showing that the character of Morgus has his shady bits to him. I disagree with you about the acting for Salateen... I thought it was very good indeed - though I'll admit, once we knew it was an android the sly sideways looks he gave were a bit panto. However, hows about Maddox in Warriors? Or maybe, dare I say it, Ingrid Pitt? I agree that Warriors could have been so much more. I remember Bill and I sitting down one evening, a little the worse for wear and deciding to watch it... we managed as far as the first time a Silurian spoke... after that we just pissed ourselves laughing at the whole thing. Caves has a great pace to it, event the bits that sorta feel draggy don't drag.
- Emperor's new clothes? Hmm... no... like I say, maybe not the great all conquering classic some say it is, but its certainly one of the best Who stories around. Another not the all conquering classic people say it is, has to be the Unquiet Dead... but that's an argument for another time.