Monday, July 19, 2010

7A2 - The Trial of a Time Lord 2

I mentioned recently (well, the last post, which was over two months ago!) about Doctor Who's permanent switch to videotape for location shooting. Many have decried this as making the entire series look cheap, as opposed to just the studio sequences, in relation to the crisp(!) 16mm film location footage that we've been treated to for most of the programme's history up until this point.

I disagree. Yes, videotape does seem to lack a certain depth in picture quality, but at least now the outside sequences look similar to the ones shot indoors. It not only makes for a much more polished and consistent visual product, but it also makes it less obvious where certain scenes were shot. For instance, there are a couple of sets seen in this episode, namely Katryca's hut and the smaller hut that serves as a prison for Glitz, Dibber, and Peri, that I'm still unsure whether they're studio sets are mockups/alterations made on location. Frankly, I don't want to know - television is about fostering an illusion and with wall-to-wall videotape, it's much less obvious where certain scenes are shot. If something looks cheap now, don't necessarily blame the designer. It must look that cheap in real life.

Another quality of using videotape for location sequences is that these scenes could now be shot using a multi-camera setup as opposed to the single camera technique used in the film days (although some single camera stuff was still evident). Whereas this now gave the actors and directors less control over each individual aspect of a particular scene, it allowed the natural rhythm of the actors to be captured in one single take. With a script written by Robert Holmes, still, even in these, his last days, one of the snappiest writers on Doctor Who, not having to rely on editing to capture the pace of a scene can only be seen as a benefit.

Speaking of benefiting from a new approach, I'll start my praise of Colin Baker now, only to warn you that it will continue for the rest of his all-too-brief tenure, as well. Baker is absolutely delightful in this episode and in this whole season, in general. It was a conscious decision on the the parts of Baker and Nicola Bryant to smooth over their tempestuous onscreen relationship, and it was a move that was long overdue. This relation is even at variance with the scripts. Look at what would have been a normal, spiteful conversation between the two in Episode One in their opening scene together. Both Baker and Bryant play against the vindictiveness of the dialogue and turn it into a rather playful exchange. One gets the impression that the Season 23 Doctor is the one that Baker had wanted to play all along. Baker's natural effervescence is now finally matched the scripts that he's given. Look at how Baker interacts with Merdeen and the train guards in this episode, and (especially) with Drathro and his two minions. He's sharp, witty, charming, funny - everything you want in a Doctor, and everything that Baker wasn't allowed to be in his first year in the role.

This is probably the same Colin Baker that John Nathan-Turner saw holding court at a wedding in 1983 enough for the producer to offer Baker the role of The Doctor. Seeing Baker in this, it's easy to see why JNT made that decision. I'd rank the Season 23 Colin Baker Doctor right up there with the best. As this season (his last) continues, it will become more and more apparent how much of a missed opportunity this characterization of the Sixth Doctor was.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see your return to the admirable task of the Chronic Hysteresis! Your praise of Colin Baker is also refreshing after continuously hearing his Doctor derided as one of the worst, if not the worst, Doctor of all time. I know that the Three Who Rule generally avoid the Doctor Who audio dramas but his characterization and performance in many of those programs fulfill the promise of his entire tenure. Perhaps we will one day see what you three think of his performance in "The Marian Conspiracy" and "The Holy Terror" (hope hope). Thank you so much for your work which consistently raises the discourse of Doctor Who fandom to an intelligent and appreciative level.

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