Sunday, 25 August 2013

Doctor Who 1.5: The Legacy of Peter Cushing

As Doctor Who fans hold their breath in expectation while the 12th incarnation of the Doctor prepares to make his big entrance, I'd like to spend a moment reflecting on the one I've  always seen as the forgotten Doctor. No I'm not talking about Hideyo Amamoto who played an identically named villain in the 1967 movie "King Kong Escapes.'  I'm actually talking about the second actor to play the good TARDIS dweller, Peter Cushing.

In 1965 the first Dalek TV story was adapted for the big screen as Doctor Who and the Daleks, which was followed by an adaption of the second Dalek story, Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD in 1966. To make the movie more accessible to international audiences unfamiliar with the show, popular British film actor Peter Cushing was chosen to play the role of Doctor Who. Famous for playing Baron Frankenstein, Van Helsing, Sherlock Holmes and many other wonderful characters, he brought a Doctor to the screen that was an extension of warm grandfatherly figure that the initially antagonistic television Doctor, played by William Hartnell, had evolved into.

At the mention of his name I can hear the cry of many purists, 'but he's not canon', 'he's presented as a human and not an alien' and 'he actually gives his name as "Doctor Who" rather than just "the Doctor". To me these are all hollow claims, seeing that at various points in the TV series he has been presented as human (Human Nature / The Family of Blood (2007), half human (The TV Movie (1994)) and even a human/timelord clone (Journey's End (2008). He has also been referred to as 'Doctor Who' during the course of a story (War Machines (1966) and the character was billed as such in the television credits from season 1 to 18. However the issue of canon is a sticky one, as his two cinematic outings in the role were merely retellings of two stories from the early television series, therefore making him a parallel version of the first incarnation of the Doctor. However in a fictional universe which is made up of 'wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff', canon is what you make it. In this universe all contradictions are merely as yet unexplained anomalies. But I think for too long Peter Cushing's stint as the Doctor has been overlooked and here I would like to present 10 points of varying gravity as to why I think his cinematic tenure needs to be celebrated by the Whovian mainstream.

Peter Cushing's Doctor Who movies...

1) Gave Doctor Who another face.
Since it's premier in 1963, the role of the Doctor was firmly in the hands of Sir William Hartnell. No one would have believed at that time that some one else could ever fill his shoes, let alone the succession of eleven actors (not counting alternate versions and stand ins). However in the 1965, the year before Patrick Troughton took over the role, Peter Cushing showed us that Doctor Who could have another face and personality.

2) Gave us bigger Daleks.
One of the main drivers of the success of the TV series was the popularity of the Daleks. It was because of this 'Dalekmania''that the good Doctor made the leap to the big screen. Compared to the television Daleks, their cinematic Daleks were bigger, had broader skirting and larger energy dispenser globes of their head domes. Not only was one of these cinematic Daleks eventually featured with in the show, albeit in a slightly modified form, but when the Daleks returned in 2005, the influence of the cinematic version in the design of these bigger Daleks was obvious.
 3) Gave us an internally lit TARDIS
One of the beautiful touches of the 2005 relaunch of the series was its use of a TARDIS prop that is internally lit. It gave the impression that there is something going on with in this strange blue box. This effect was previously only seen in the Peter Cushing films.

4) Gave us visible internal doors.
Through out the original run of the series there seemed to be no connection between the internal doors of the TARDIS and the external ones. This was a very different situation in the movies where the internal doors of the TARDIS actually look like the rear side of a set of police box doors. When the series returned in 2005, the movie style doors made their TV debut.
5) Gave us Doctor Who in colour.
From 1963 to 1969, Doctor Who was made in B&W. But on the big screen, the Doctor, Daleks and TARDIS could be seen in vivid colour for the first time. For many B&W intolerant fans of the current generation, these movies act as an olive branch from the Doctor's earlier years.
6) Gave the Doctor a cinematic legacy.
For many years in the parts of the world outside the Commonwealth, the Doctor Who television series was unknown. However due to these two movies, Doctor Who had a place, albeit not a big one, amongst the ranks of classic 60's science fiction cinema. Before the Doctor made his debut on US TV via the American PBS in the 1970's, he had already graced the big screen in the US long before.
7) Gave us Doctor Who on a bigger budget.
While the Doctor on television struggled to realise the vastness of time and space on a regular BBC drama budget, the cinematic version was able to present the good Doctor's Dalek adventures with much higher production values and on a bigger scale. Who can forget the amazing depiction of the Planet Skaro and the scenes of a ruined post apocalyptic London.
8) Gave us a Doctor with facial hair.
Well I know this might be clutching at straws, but we didn't see this in the TV series until Tom Baker played an prematurely aged Doctor with a beard in Leisure Hive (1980). We didn't see facial hair again until Matt Smith decided beards were cool…occasionally.
9) Gave us breakfast cereal product placement.
It appears that between 1966 AD and 2150 AD Sugar Puff Cereal didn't change it's ads. It is the Peter Cushing Doctor's equivalent of 'Bad Wolf', 'Sugar Puffs here, Sugar Puffs there'.
10) Gave us Bernard Cribbins as a companion.
One of the highlights of the last days of David Tennant's era was the character of  Wilfred Mott portrayed by comedy veteran Bernard Cribbins. Who can forget the tragic and moving scene as the Doctor sacrifices his 10th regeneration to save the life of this lovable man. However, those of us familiar with the Doctors' cinematic outings would have remembered Mr Cribbins' wonderful performance as Special Constable Tom Campbell in the Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD (1966). Few would forget Tom Campbell's hilarious attempt at infiltrating the ranks of the Robomen. I must mention too that the movies also gave us my clansman, Roy Castle, as a companion. This is a fact I try to use to illicit a favourable response when talking things "doctorish' with my non-Whovian parents.

Sadly Peter Cushing never made another Doctor Who movie. The plan was to adapt another Dalek TV story, The Chase (1965) for the big screen, but box office takings for the second feature failed to meet expectations and plans were abandoned. However although the Doctor Who movie series came to an end, the adventures of the Doctor continued on the small screen. Peter Cushing went on to play many more roles, such as the very 'doctorish', Dr Abner Perry in Edgar Rice Burroughs' At The Earths Core (1976) and as the ruthless Grand Moff Tarkin in some small space fantasy movie made by George Lucas. However in this 50th year of Doctor Who, I am determined that Peter Cushing's Doctor will not be forgotten and that from here on in he will be known as the.....

 1.5th DOCTOR



Sunday, 18 August 2013

On Earth As It Is In Heaven

Beneath the sounds of the guns and crying children in the warzones of the world, there is a new message stirring. It's blowing through the hallowed halls of learning and lapping at the judgemental cloisters of religion. Round the campfires in the desert and the water coolers in the office it's beginning to stir. It says 'it's not all about you, it's about us'. 'It's not all about us, but about them too'. It sees us all as individuals and part of a whole. It says 'love your neighbour as you love yourself.' It says 'do to others as you would have them do to you'. It says 'be gracious', 'have mercy', 'seek justice' and 'let love rule'. It's about seeing those who are different as being people just like you. The crazy thing is that this message is as old as time and lost on so many. It's the principle that brought together groups of strangers during the time of the Roman Empire to follow the teachings and example of a rebel Jewish teacher and helped cement the foundations of our society. It's the principle that brings healing to broken communities and hope to damaged individuals. And I've been excited as I've seen the idea of doing good to others discussed on TV and online recently(, as well as reading about the health benefits that acts of altruism has on the human body, including positive effects on the immune system and brain function ( Moses, the prophets, as well as many of the leading minds of human history (St Paul, St James, Mohammed, Rabbi Hillel, Ghandi, Buddha, Winston Churchill, Confucius etc.), promoted this as an important guide to living a just life. St Paul called it the 'Law of Righteousness' and we've come to know it as 'The Golden Rule'.

It is the law that underpinned the teaching of Jesus Christ about the relationship between God and humanity and between person to person.   And it was Jesus who reinforced the point that it is through following the 'Golden Rule' that we show our obedience to God and that when we do God comes and dwells within us (John 14: 23).  In fact Jesus made it clear that sin wasn't some arbitrary list of do's and don'ts but in essence our inability to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. The Gospel of Matthew  says,

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me (Matthew 26: 31-40 NIV)'.

I love the idea of God being present in the lives of, and in solidarity, with those who are suffering. Sin here is not your personal failings, sexual orientation or choice of music but the failure to love others in practical ways. It is the absence of justice and mercy. It's when we treat others as commodities to be used and act out of selfishness rather than love. It challenges the status quo and yells in the face of oppression. Loving one another is the language of the Kingdom of God and when we do it God's will is done 'as it is in heaven (Matthew 6: 10)'.