Tuesday, March 12, 2013

7G2 - Dragonfire 2

Ever since seeing the dazzling visuals of The Caves of Androzani for the first time, I started developing a keen interest in television directing. As I was pretty much exclusively watching Doctor Who at that point in my life, the only frame of reference I had for directing for TV was Doctor Who, and seeing this Graeme Harper person go above and beyond in setting his style apart from the others represented the epitome of televisual art. (It still does). I wanted to know more about the art of directing and, indeed, the directors of Doctor Who, but there were precious few glimpses into the world behind the camera in either book or televised form. I was resigned to live in ignorance.

Then along came The Making of Doctor Who, a New Jersey PBS production from 1988 that aired on my local PBS station in the late summer of that year. It profiled the making of an upcoming Doctor Who story called Silver Nemesis, and featured not only interviews with the cast and crew, but also a fascinating sequence of takes of a relatively simple scene that was a great insight into how television was made. The director for this story was Chris Clough, a name that was new to me at the time, and it was Clough who was my gateway drug into seeing how people directed Doctor Who. I was fascinated. He seemed to know what he was doing, he wore a Los Angeles Rams hat - he was cool.

Little did I know, of course, that Clough, who admittedly has gone on to become a successful television producer, is not looked at as one of the upper echelon of Doctor Who directors. We'll deal with the afore-mentioned Silver Nemesis when the time comes, but Dragonfire must surely be Clough's worst offering. Some of the composite shots look okay and were certainly something relatively uncommon at the time. But no one seems to know whether Iceworld is slippery, cold, or both. Or neither. Sylvester McCoy plays it as the name of the place suggests - a world of ice. He blows on his hands upon leaving the TARDIS in Part One, while Bonnie Langford strolls out as if its any old BBC set. When The Doctor, Glitz, Ace, and Mel wander around the lower levels, McCoy is slipping everywhere (with diminishing comedic effect), while everyone else is as surefooted as mountain lions. A good director would have worked this out beforehand by saying something like, oh, "Everyone, Svartos is slippery and cold. Act like it." But that didn't happen.

Early in the episode, Ace and Mel discover The Doctor's umbrella hanging on the railing near the ledge where he inexplicably was left hanging at the end of the previous episode. In between establishing composite shots at the beginning and end of the scene, Clough covers the entire scene with just one camera, whose operator apparently received the following instructions: "Wide shot.....ok, zoom in a bit.......maybe tilt down a bit...ok, zoom in a bit more.....stop......zoom in a bit more there.....and, good. Cut. Next scene." It's so amateurish, it's positively Richard Martin-esque. When John Nathan-Turner took over as producer of Doctor Who before Season 18, one of the things he wanted to eliminate was the lazy attitude of some of the crew that more or less said "that'll do". Well, Chris Clough's lackadaisical direction here shows that the same creative indifference was invading the show again at a time when it desperately needed to make its mark on the British public and on the BBC bosses who were hell bent on burying the show for good.


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