May 3rd, 2016

politics

Interesting Links for 03-05-2016

shocked and surprised

JN-T: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner, by Richard Marson

Second to fourth paragraphs of third chapter:
John [Nathan-Turner], never backward in coming forward, took advantage of tis to lobby [Bill] Slater about his aspirations to produce. "One day, during an annual interview," he recalled in his memoirs, "I restated my ambition yet again. 'Well, if you're serious, you'd better learn the PUM's job [Production Unit Manager] by doing it, then the script editor's job, then we'll talk again.'
'When do I start?'
'Tomorrow, as far as I'm concerned.'
There is no more controversial figure in the history of Doctor Who than John Nathan-Turner, the show's producer for the last 11 years years of its first run. And, apart from the man himself, there can surely be few better qualified to write about it than Richard Marson, who cut his teeth as a teenage correspondent for Doctor Who Magazine and then went into television production himself. On the strength of this I went out and bought Marson's biography of Verity Lambert.

It's a very good biography, portraying its central character warts and all, through his own interviews, interviews with others at the time, interviews with his co-workers and friends and lovers specially for the biography (Peter Davison comes across as a particularly thoughtful commentator on Nathan-Turner, Doctor Who and what was really going on), and the copious documentary evidence that is available from various sources. It's difficult to imagine anyone doing a better job (or indeed wanting to).

As in his own memoirs, JN-T comes across as a gifted but flawed character. He was addicted to spectacle and activity rather than plot, characterisation or reflection; without really trusting them sufficiently he relied too much on his script editors, the longest-serving of whom, Eric Saward, savagely and viciously turned on him. He was usually drunk by the afternoon and often bad-tempered (perhaps not unconnected). Some blame must attach to the BBC hierarchy, who could find nobody else to take on Doctor Who, and could find no other use for him, leaving both to slowly spiral into decline.

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Marson's forensic analysis of what actually happened during the Great Cancellation Crisis of 1986 is surely going to be the classic account; he recounts what happened in the last week of February 1985 almost hour by hour, JN-T stuck at a convention in America as the story raced out of control behind him. He also has a decently brief but clear account of the circumstances of Patrick Troughton's demise. And the story of JN-T's decline into ill health and early death (at 54, on 1 May 2002) is a very sad one of talent misdirected and eventually wasted.

Most of this book will only be really interesting to Who fans, because Doctor Who took up most of JN-T's career (he was hired by the BBC in 1968, and worked on Doctor Who almost continuously from 1977 until he was fired in 1990). But I think there are some wider lessons as well, about the shift of BBC internal culture leaving some people behind who were not ready for change, about the interactions between show-runners and fans, and about the ways in which creativity can be a curse to individual creators.
shakespeare

30 Days of Shakespeare: Day 14 - your favourite fight scene

It's a close run between this and the play I'm going to talk about tomorrow, but I think the end of Macbeth has it. It combines a strong dramatic closure to the violence of Macbeth's story with the punchline about Macduff. It's also the root of the Ngaio Marsh novel, Light Thickens, which I mentioned earlier.

Macbeth: Of all men else I have avoided thee:
But get thee back; my soul is too much charged
With blood of thine already.
Macduff: I have no words:
My voice is in my sword: thou bloodier villain
Than terms can give thee out!
[They fight]
Macbeth: Thou losest labour:
As easy mayst thou the intrenchant air
With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed:
Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;
I bear a charmed life, which must not yield,
To one of woman born.
Macduff: Despair thy charm;
And let the angel whom thou still hast served
Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother's womb
Untimely ripp'd.
Macbeth: Accursed be that tongue that tells me so,
For it hath cow'd my better part of man!
And be these juggling fiends no more believed,
That palter with us in a double sense;
That keep the word of promise to our ear,
And break it to our hope. I'll not fight with thee.
Macduff: Then yield thee, coward,
And live to be the show and gaze o' the time:
We'll have thee, as our rarer monsters are,
Painted on a pole, and underwrit,
'Here may you see the tyrant.'
Macbeth: I will not yield,
To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet,
And to be baited with the rabble's curse.
Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane,
And thou opposed, being of no woman born,
Yet I will try the last. Before my body
I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff,
And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'
[Exeunt, fighting. Alarums]

Here's Patrick Stewart, being brutally killed by Michael Feast in a Stalinist version of eleventh-century Scotland. It's pretty graphic.



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