Doctor Who Week: 3am Television

There's a rather notable quote about famed "worst director ever" Ed Wood's most infamous movie, Plan 9 From Outer Space: "No matter what time of day you watch Plan 9 From Outer Space - it always feels like three in the morning." I've also read of this concept--"3am cinema"--being applied to David Lynch's work.

The point of the quote is, Wood could sustain a mood and though the movie's awful, the acting sucks, and the dialogue is embarrassing, one doesn't forget Plan 9 in part because of that "three in the morning" feeling it transfers over to viewers. A narcotic, whirlpool of images and sounds with some semblance of plot poking out here and there. I'd like to append the term to the old Doctor Who series. Call it 3am television.

There's often a weird, hard-to-articulate power in work that though, edging towards the amateur or unprofessional, can also tap into something a more polished, more corporate thing just can't. This is what marks the resurrected Doctor Who series from its 1963-1989 incarnation(s). Inscrutable plots come off lot worse when the whole thing's coated in CGI and shot single-camera style. There's no room for chaos. The new Doctor Who is like a fan-film with the biggest budget ever. A lot of the ideas are there, it's all put together with love, but it's a heartless facsimile of the real thing.

All the things smoothed-out, made shiny and nice by the new series is precisely what made the old show so good. The way episodes would lumber back and forth between a shot on video soundstage scene and filmed on-location action sequence. The weird balance between really awesome effects and "that'll do" stuff, sometimes occupying the same sequence. Tom Baker both totally selling the reality of the show and possessing a kind of ironic detachment from it all, teetering on making the show meta. The same corridor presented as three different corridors and they've only slightly changed the lighting. A very real-world location (an indoor swimming pool, a rock quarry, etc.) presented unadorned and sold to the viewer as another world. A scene that's full of theatrically-trained actors and guys in weird suits as whirling, droning synths quiver in the background.

But there's something perfect--almost form meeting content--about a show dealing with time travel and displaced time that features a schizophrenic mise en scene that indeed, gives the viewer the feeling of it being three in the morning, right?


Martin said...

Well put, Brandon, my opinion of the new Doctor Who seems to correspond with your own. I think your fan-film comparison is a good one. If the new style is what the Beeb and the audience wants, that's fine, but to me, it's not Doctor Who. Not "my" Doctor Who, anyway.

brandon graham said...

I feel like it's that same suspention of disbelief that it takes to believe the special effects and crude monsters of the old show that also alows me to forgive the slick mistakes of the recent stuff.

That 3 in the am feeling feels like the monotone of sunday afternoon to me--but maybe I was watching the Doctor in a diffeent time zone.

brandon said...

That makes sense. I guess for me, one is suspension of disbelief and one is denial.