Part of the mass upload from British Pathe, this short film is a fascinating glimpse of the “fashionable” Waistcoat Club. As a long time wearer of the waistcoat, I feel this is one club I’d happily sign up for. Very envious of Jon Pertwee’s collection, which apparently spans three centuries.
It’s hard to remember how the fights began. He comes to suspect she would rather fight than not. But he too is implicated in crimes of escalation. A gesture, a willing misinterpretation, a row. Some evenings everything is a symptom of something else. Bitter feuds about good and evil arise from tiny disputes over sitcoms. The trivial becomes the essential, moral lines drawn with the fervour of fundamentalists and then crossed at will. Arguments are shapeless and violent, annexing whole continents of disputed territory. The next night, the argument is reversed; the territory reclaimed.
These are the things they fought about:
A missed turn.
Whose fault it was neither could decide which film to rent.
A left turn.
Whose mother was needier.
A fucking hook turn.
Which of them was most judgmental.
Slamming a car door.
Holding a door open.
Whose turn it was to apologise.
Leaving a party.
Staying at a party.
New Year’s Eve.
Whether Morrissey could sing.
When David Bowie turned crap.
The Smiths again.
Which of them was Withnail. And which of them was I.
Which of them was most broken.
Which of them wanted to be most broken.
They fight in public for sport. Tearing themselves apart with glee. In cafés. In pubs. In supermarkets. In cinemas. In car parks. On the first night of a weekend away, in a small country town, outside a fish and chip shop. Turning boxer’s circles in the middle of the street. A crowd applauding from the kerb. Headlights ringing in the next round.
Afterwards, her watching sister says: You were enjoying that.
Now it is merely what they do, a mid-to-late evening ritual. Repeating the same scenes as if they are only rehearsing, trying to get them right. Love is never in question. Love raises the stakes. When love isn’t doubted, everything else is, and both of them are pushing. Pushing to find spaces where one of them ends and the other begins; where pain starts and the pleasure is done.
I like it when you’re angry, she says. There is sweat on her top lip.
It reminds me you’ve got guts.
I hate you.
I love you.
Love is thick, love is sticky. Hot jam in the veins.
I love you, he says. She says. I love you. I can’t stop. I want to stop. I hate it. I can’t.
I love you. These are heavy words, dropped on tight air, pulling them into each other, onto each other, forever. I love you.
The happy times are nothing. A few weeks of cautious peace, old smiles and new leaves, before an abrupt resumption of hostilities. They wear each other down to the foundations and then keep digging. Neither can remember what they’re looking for. Drilling into empty graves that only spit out dust and memories. They are ghosts now.
I’ve just remembered who you are, he says one morning, sitting up in her bed. It’s summer, not too long before Christmas. The honeyed scent of jacaranda wafts through the flywire.
I can see you. The girl from school.
She says: I think I remember you too.
He says: I’m sorry, although he can’t remember a fight.
She says: So am I.
But it is too late. Already they are fading from view. By lunchtime, they are ghosts again.
Every day, he wakes up further from her. At night, he lies sleepless in her bed and wonders what keeps him there. What leads any ghost to haunt the same house, across endless nights? Pain, he thinks. Pain and fear. Fear that everything might mean nothing if the hauntings ever stop.
“Britpop was officially sanctioned when Kurt Cobain died. No one wanted to think about rock stars blowing their brains out.”
I wrote a piece for The New Daily, looking back on the last great British music scene. It’s a subject that remains very close to my heart. The only real difficulty was choosing five Britpop tracks for listicle at the bottom of the page.
The Snark Net.
An occasional series in which I praise the underrated, unacknowledged or unmentionable.
The internet’s capacity for negativity and outrage is probably its most tiring aspect for me. I use Twitter quite a bit, for example, and my feed is often flooded with CAPITALISED, vehement opinions about everything from breastfeeding to The Hobbit. Some fights are worth fighting, of course, but there’s a hunger for outrage and unpleasantness — a desperate hunt for offence — that (in my opinion) only makes the world an uglier place. I’m all for being decent, excellent even, to one another.
In that spirit, I thought I’d start a semi-regular blog in which I come to praise, not bury. The fact is, even the most shoddily assembled art usually has some redeeming features. Why not focus on those for a change, rather than the innumerable failures? So this is The Snark Net, where cheap jibes and snorting derision are unwelcome.
As it’s Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary this week, I thought I should start with something Who-related. Thanks to last week’s minisode The Night of the Doctor, my first pick is a topical one.
The truth is, I love Doctor Who: The Movie (the 1996 half-American TV movie with Paul McGann). It’s an incarnation of the long-running show that, at best, seems to be tolerated by Whovians. Given it was an unsuccessful attempt to relaunch the then-dead programme as an American, X-Files-type series, there’s a general air of failure that lurks over it. The kindest words said usually amount to: Great Doctor, lousy script.
Admittedly, I can’t really defend the denouement, if only because I don’t really know what happens. Something about rewinding time and alarm clocks which, if examined too deeply, kind of spoils the potential for drama in every other episode of Who. But The Movie is hardly the first (or last) episode to rely on some last minute technical gobbledygook or sciencey magic to resolve a crisis.
What The Movie has is a genuine joie de vivre. From its opening moments, there’s an energy that earlier episodes never quite mustered. Sure, the voiceover is more mystifying than explanatory and starting a new series for a new audience inside your spaceship that is, astonishingly, bigger on the inside is a disastrous move. But the direction has such flair, sweeping through the spectacular TARDIS interior, whooshing us down to Earth, through some clever and startling cuts, that we can’t help but be swept along. This is Who at its most cinematic. Witness new companion Grace Holloway sprint down hospital corridors, dressed for the opera. For the first time, the show felt like proper drama, rather than the ephemeral Saturday night entertainment it was intended.
That’s not say the tone is note-perfect. Most of the humour works — it had been a long time since Who had actually contained intentional humour — but there are unquestionably moments of thudding joke-crapness. (Although I rather like those moments, for their quaint 90s-ness.)
Key to its success as a drama is, undoubtedly, the casting of a proper actor in the lead role. Following the series’ demise in 1989, newspaper rumours about new Doctors tended to go: Eric Idle, Tim Curry, John Cleese, Paul Daniels and Eric Idle. Always Eric Idle. McGann was not a comedian. McGann was not a lazy caricature of British eccentricism. McGann was a fine, young actor with a great body of dramatic work including The Monocled Mutineer, The Hanging Gale, Nice Town (which really deserves a DVD release) and Withnail & I.
Put simply, McGann makes the best debut of any Doctor to date. This is particularly impressive, given he spends much of his 60 minutes of screen time in an amnesiac state. He is charismatic, enigmatic, hydromatic (No, wait, that’s Greased Lightning) and romantic. He is at once the most human and most alien of Doctors. He seems more attuned to the emotional lives of others (to the point of telepathy) than previous incarnations, but keeps himself apart — even the much-criticised snog with Grace lacks any real passion. We’re charmed by him, but we’re not sure how much we trust him. It’s a shame that subsequent attempts (in spin-off fiction) to develop McGann’s Eighth Doctor focused more on the romance and the apparent sweetness than his slipperiness.
Cards on the table — McGann is my favourite Doctor. (Tom Baker aside, obviously. Nobody can compete with Tom.) He treats the part as a proper acting gig, rather than an excuse to flail around and hog the screen. As the recent minisode proved, he brings a welcome emotional weight to the role and despatches the required humour with subtlety. He understands that the funniest things are rarely those moments that are telegraphed as such. His disarming of a policeman is probably the single most perfect Doctorish moment yet seen on screen.
Grace Holloway, his quasi-companion, is no less wonderful. In the hands of Daphne Ashbrook, she is strong, funny, vulnerable and, again, more human than most of the Doc’s sidekicks. She has a dropkick boyfriend, she has a high-powered job, and she has a nice line in sarcastic banter. We know people like her and we like people like her. It’s a shame, perhaps, that the story doesn’t wholly belong to her. The structure would make a lot more sense if we began with her being called into hospital, to attend to a mysterious gunshot victim. When the series returned in 2005, writer Russell T Davies understood the drama in letting the mystery of the Doctor unfold from the companion’s perspective, rather than being cancelled out by an infodump.
For all of its alleged flaws, The TV Movie is great fun. When it first showed back in 1996, ordinary, sane people were talking about Doctor Who again. People who hadn’t watched the show for more than a decade. Remember, this was before Buffy brought a snappy self-awareness to sci-fi, which made it okay for the mainstream to tune in.
I honestly believe Who is at its best at its least geeky — when it caters to the mainstream by incorporating elements of other things we love. This is something the TV Movie does very well. People who don’t watch sci-fi will recognise elements of ER, The X-Files (okay, technically sci-fi, but more horror-based and massive at the time) and Sherlock Holmes. At the time, I appreciated the lack of bug-eyed monsters. This was Who attempting to ground itself in the proudly cynical 1990s, without losing any of its wit, invention or joy.
In the UK, the episode rated more highly than Who had for 20 years or would again until David Tennant was in full swing. It proved similarly popular in Australia, where it was repeated several times over the next couple of years. In the US, of course, it was killed by Roseanne. We never got to see where McGann’s Doctor would have taken us, but the recent glimpse suggests it would have been somewhere pretty fantastic.
I may have watched this a few times today. What can I say? It’s been a long time coming. (And he might just be my favourite Doc.)