FC

"Finn Clark"

24/12/2003 11:31 AM

REVIEW: Scream of the Shalka (NO SPOILERS)

NO SPOILERS

Scream of the Shalka (animated webcast)
Written by Paul Cornell
Animated by Cosgrove Hall
Released Nov-Dec 2003

Dear Diary. I'm currently trying to get around to watching the complete
Scream of the Shalka and maybe writing a review, but unfortunately so far
I've only watched two episodes. It failed the "can't be bothered to tune in
for part three" test, alas, though it's not actually *bad*.

All right, I watched my way through it eventually. :-)

Scream of the Shalka is... okay. It's hard to imagine anyone hating it,
but it's hard to imagine anyone being blown away by it either. Its best
feature stays in the TARDIS and its most prominent feature is underplayed
and over-signposted, but it's always watchable. It's Doctor Who - no more
and no less. That's its chief ambition, to give the Who-loving masses what
they (presumably) want. It's a pilot for a prospective new series and it
takes no risks whatsoever in its mission to recreate what we imagine Doctor
Who to have been in the seventies. Watching Scream of the Shalka gave me a
much healthier appreciation of the 1996 TVM.

I'm serious! Look at all the criticisms of what the TVM *wasn't*... it
didn't have an invasion, it didn't have monsters, etc. It wasn't Who as we
remembered it, basically. Scream of the Shalka is so busy ticking all those
boxes that it doesn't have room to breathe. It's trying to be witty, but
it's not. Whereas the TVM was a blast of fresh air and wonderfully
entertaining from start to finish. In what way exactly is that not Doctor
Who?

In many ways Shalka's script is quite good. Unfortunately it's up against a
production team and lead actor that aren't quite on the same wavelength.
Funny lines aren't funny. Worse still, self-aware lines like "while you get
to be superior and eccentric" are delivered dead straight and just become
embarrassing. The visuals don't help either. Cosgrove Hall's animation is
lovely, full of atmosphere and dramatic imagery, but it's rather less
impressive when anyone's talking. Hopefully it'll look better on the DVD.
It's as if Paul Cornell's script was being directed by Ridley Scott but
acted by a village amateur dramatic society - which isn't meant as an
aspersion on the rather good actors providing the voices.

[In fact the production's funniest moment is purely visual, when the Shalka
stop screaming to look at some dustbins. The jokes in the script, except
for Derek Jacobi's, fall flat. But I haven't yet showered enough praise on
the images; I loved the console room, the subterranean vistas and even a
moment as simple as a leaf blowing in the alleyway where the TARDIS
materialises.]

The cast is good, with Jacobi and Jim Norton being the standouts for me.
They're obviously having fun with the material - and I loved Norton's accent
as Major Thomas Kennet. Craig Kelly and Sophie Okonedo do reasonable work
with the fairly bog-standard roles of Joe and Alison, but unfortunately the
big disappointment is Richard E. Grant as the Doctor. He's too one-note,
playing it slightly angry much of the time and hardly ever allowing himself
a lighter touch. Perhaps he was trying to play the character as written,
but even so I think he misjudged. Check out his reading of "sorry about the
house", for instance. There's not enough oddness and quirkiness. The
script is trying its little socks off to forge an eccentric Doctor, but
Grant keeps playing it dead straight. He's obviously a high-class performer
and could surely make different choices if he ever returned to the role, but
for his first 'real' outing as the Doctor I think he got it wrong.

However that isn't the Shalka Doctor's only problem. This being a pilot for
a potential series of animated webcasts, Paul Cornell worked like a dog to
establish its new Doctor. Unfortunately he's obviously trying too hard. I
swear we hear the word "eccentric" more than during the show's entire TV
run, which is wrong on so many levels. Someone who actually describes
himself as eccentric isn't eccentric but putting it on. The script is full
of such manifesto phrases... "Don't you ever offer me a gun again!" "I'm a
homeless person myself; it's the first thing I am."

Then there's the characterisation of the Doctor. In some ways this is quite
fun, and the only way in which the script betrays the hand of its author.
Some of the Doctor's actions from episode three onwards are funky, almost
like an attempted return to the selfish, less heroic Doctor of the Hartnell
era.

Unfortunately this Doctor isn't really a bastard. He's angst-ridden because
he did a bad thing. Hmmm, where have I seen that before... oh yes, the
last four years of the 8DAs! This characterisation feels *old*. The 8DA
Doctor's guilt over Gallifrey's destruction has seemed to drag on forever,
but now the Shalka Doctor is singing from the same hymn sheet. Oh joy.
What's more, at the end of the day we know the Doctor *will* intervene
despite his attempts to bugger off, so arguments with Army Guy etc. just
come across as formulaic posturing. To boil it down to essentials, a
character who doesn't want to get involved in this week's adventure will
either:

(a) not do anything.

(b) eventually swing into action after all, though only after much
soul-searching.

(a) isn't an option, so I'm contemplating with some gloom the prospect of a
series of very predictable stories all based around (b). I'd love to see
more animated adventures, but I'm less enthusiastic about the Shalka Doctor
and his backstory.

I should also say a few words about regenerating the Doctor into Richard E.
Grant instead of casting McGann (or one of his predecessors). Personally I
was never wild about the idea, but even I admit that the Russell T. Davies
series announcement was an unexpected blow. That's awful luck.
Nevertheless regenerating the Doctor was basically an attention-grabbing
gimmick and it shouldn't surprise anyone that such gimmicks have the
capacity for backfiring. Effectively this has become another Unbound Doctor
in the year of the fifteen Doctors and I'd be slightly surprised if it ended
up being regarded as 'canon', whatever that means.

But despite all these gripes, Scream of the Shalka is still Paul Cornell
putting the Doctor at the heart of the story. Whatever way you cut it,
that's good news. Our hero's first scene with the Shalka Prime is so good
that even Richard E. Grant can't screw it up, and I love the bit where the
Doctor asks Alison to sacrifice herself. As with Unnatural History's Dark
Sam, even a mediocre character will shine if given plenty of important
screen time by a quality writer. When that character's the Doctor, all the
better.

Oh, and head-on shots of the Grant Doctor make him look as if he's wearing a
purple bubble on his head.

I probably seem to be bashing Shalka, but there's quite a bit I admire about
it. It has nice moments and fun scenes. However the best thing about it by
a gazillion miles is Sir Derek Jacobi, who is FAN-bloody-TASTIC. Kudos to
Cornell and Jacobi for that one. I could watch those scenes over and over,
no matter that I'm a little worried about how this story element might
continue in an ongoing series. Theoretically it could get repetitive fast.
But for these six mini-episodes Jacobi's character is pure gold, every last
moment, and well worth your time for him alone. I won't go into detail for
fear of spoilers, but suffice to say that it's a thought-provoking
development of a notion one could arguably follow back through twenty years
of Who (and far more interesting than the Shalka Doctor).

Random comments:

1. The bit where everyone starts being noisy in episode two needed a lot
more justification. On rewatching the episode I pieced together the reason
why, but on first viewing that was a real WTF?? moment.

2. The final scene is really annoying!

3. "You don't use Euros yet"... oh dear.

4. "Go and find someone else to play your filthy games with!" is begging
for the comeback "But I've never met anyone else who'll wear the peep-hole
rubber bondage suit!"

5. A drum track on the theme music... hurm. Let's just say it's an
experiment I'm not wild to see repeated.

Interestingly, this time around I liked much better the episodes I'd seen
before. The talking heads were less of a problem and the story seemed to
flow more. Maybe 'twas my fannish expectations, or maybe 'tis the DWM comic
strip problem of a story being better than its individual episodes.
Certainly Shalka part one isn't a great introduction to animated Doctor Who,
being a slow burn towards payoff in later episodes rather than an instant
attention-grabber.

The Shalka themselves are okay. They're deliberately traditional Who
monsters rather than Cornell villains like the Aubertides or Cavis and
Gandar, so it could have been worse. They're nothing we haven't seen
before, really, but at least they have an imaginative background and look
cool. [They also have points of similarity with Giger's Aliens, but that
isn't necessarily a bad thing.]

Scream of the Shalka comes across as Paul Cornell doing the Pertwee era.
It's got the Pertwee logo, the Pertwee titles, a Pertwee-like Doctor dressed
in Pertwee-like clothes and a script that constantly seemed to be asking
"What would Barry Letts have done here?" But despite everything I've said,
I'm still keen to see more animated Who. I don't mind what it is (hell, I'd
get excited about animated reconstructions of lost stories), but we've
barely started exploring the potential of the medium and given time it could
blow our socks off. I'll certainly buy the DVD and the novelisation when
they come out. For once fandom's opinions *matter*. Scream of the Shalka
is a pilot for future stories, but whether or not they happen will depend in
large part on the reception of this one. Watch Shalka. Tell your friends
to watch too. The follow-up webcast will probably be even better.

Finn Clark.


This topic has 5 replies

vC

[email protected] (Cora Buhlert)

in reply to "Finn Clark" on 24/12/2003 11:31 AM

26/12/2003 4:16 PM

"Finn Clark" <[email protected]> wrote

> 3. "You don't use Euros yet"... oh dear.

Actually, that was one of the lines that really was funny. Several of
the other supposed jokes weren't. Plus, it nicely echoes Susan's
problems with the decimal system in the very first episode.

And I agree with you, Derek Jacobi was the best thing about this
webcast.

DB

"Daniel Burnett"

in reply to "Finn Clark" on 24/12/2003 11:31 AM

25/12/2003 4:56 PM

----- Original Message -----
From: "Finn Clark" <[email protected]>



Watching Scream of the Shalka gave me a
> much healthier appreciation of the 1996 TVM.
>

The TVM was delightful in places, but let's face it, the biggest problem it
has it that it tries to alter the fundemental workings of time in the Doctor
Who universe. Now don't get me wrong, I hate continuity freaks, in fact I
love when things are contradicted and they struggle to make up absurd
explanations for it, but that was going too far. They decided to solve the
problem of Grace being dead, and the Earth being destroyed by travelling
backwards. I fail to see how that helps unless it means they're turning back
time- as said earlier in the TVM, instead of "travelling" back through time.
The pointless American master was a disaster and so much of the plot was
just silly, but not in a british way. It was trying to be The X Files, only
it was filled with horrible things like Eric Roberts. In short, the TVMs
main failing is that fundemental change, unecessary and confusing. I don't
think Shalka should be pinned up as being worse than that.
>

> I'm serious! Look at all the criticisms of what the TVM *wasn't*... it
> didn't have an invasion, it didn't have monsters, etc. It wasn't Who as
we
> remembered it, basically. Scream of the Shalka is so busy ticking all
those
> boxes that it doesn't have room to breathe. It's trying to be witty, but
> it's not. Whereas the TVM was a blast of fresh air and wonderfully
> entertaining from start to finish. In what way exactly is that not Doctor
> Who?
>

I just explained. The TVM had some wonderful moments. In fact, the first
half of the movie isn't too bad, although perhaps a bit too dark. But when
The Doctor gets his memory back it all seems to turn into a bad hollywood b
grade, straight to video release. That Chang kid was good, a great
character. The TARDIS was awesome (it had a brake!). We got to see McCoy
die, horribly after being shot (again a plus) and The Doctor was suitably
strange and delightful to see searching for himself. McGann ran the show, no
doubt about it. When he gets his memory back, there's rubbish about the
TARDIS sucking the Earth into it, lots of bad Master scenes which only makes
him make less sense (why didn't he die? Why is he a snake? Why can he spit
on people turning them to goop? Why does a fire hydrant hurt him?)
Mind you my favourite part in the whole thing was when the Master corrects
Grace in her grammar. Pure gold.


> In many ways Shalka's script is quite good. Unfortunately it's up against
a
> production team and lead actor that aren't quite on the same wavelength.
> Funny lines aren't funny. Worse still, self-aware lines like "while you
get
> to be superior and eccentric" are delivered dead straight and just become
> embarrassing. The visuals don't help either. Cosgrove Hall's animation
is
> lovely, full of atmosphere and dramatic imagery, but it's rather less
> impressive when anyone's talking. Hopefully it'll look better on the DVD.
> It's as if Paul Cornell's script was being directed by Ridley Scott but
> acted by a village amateur dramatic society - which isn't meant as an
> aspersion on the rather good actors providing the voices.
>

Nonsense. The script was medicore at best and REG saved it 90% of the time.
He was delightful to hear, he had all the wit charm and you really got the
sense he was an alien. Absolutely delightful, I haven't seen anything that
good since Tom Baker.
>


> [In fact the production's funniest moment is purely visual, when the
Shalka
> stop screaming to look at some dustbins. The jokes in the script, except
> for Derek Jacobi's, fall flat. But I haven't yet showered enough praise
on
> the images; I loved the console room, the subterranean vistas and even a
> moment as simple as a leaf blowing in the alleyway where the TARDIS
> materialises.]
>

Agreed, they were great.
>

> The cast is good, with Jacobi and Jim Norton being the standouts for me.
>

The cast was absolutely amazing. Jacobi was amazing as the Master. It's
just a shame there's absolutely no reason for him to be there. Why use him
at all, I don't understand. So the Doctor wanted a robot companion to stop
him having a human one. So what? Why make it the master? Why did he "build"
him? What the hell? I might have liked it if there was some really amazing
explanation, but there wasn't even much of a bad one. Disappointing. Jacobi
was amazing though. I'd kill every one of you to see more of that!
>

> They're obviously having fun with the material - and I loved Norton's
accent
> as Major Thomas Kennet. Craig Kelly and Sophie Okonedo do reasonable work
> with the fairly bog-standard roles of Joe and Alison, but unfortunately
the
> big disappointment is Richard E. Grant as the Doctor.
>


Twaddle. He's got the natural flare that so many Doctors have missed. He's
naturally a nutcase and it just oozes through. This guy is the next Tom
Baker.
>


He's too one-note,
> playing it slightly angry much of the time and hardly ever allowing
himself
> a lighter touch. Perhaps he was trying to play the character as written,
> but even so I think he misjudged. Check out his reading of "sorry about
the
> house", for instance. There's not enough oddness and quirkiness. The
> script is trying its little socks off to forge an eccentric Doctor, but
> Grant keeps playing it dead straight. He's obviously a high-class
performer
> and could surely make different choices if he ever returned to the role,
but
> for his first 'real' outing as the Doctor I think he got it wrong.
>


I disagree. The Doctor has always said off and funny lines in a serious and
mysterious way.
>


> However that isn't the Shalka Doctor's only problem. This being a pilot
for
> a potential series of animated webcasts, Paul Cornell worked like a dog to
> establish its new Doctor. Unfortunately he's obviously trying too hard.
I
> swear we hear the word "eccentric" more than during the show's entire TV
> run, which is wrong on so many levels. Someone who actually describes
> himself as eccentric isn't eccentric but putting it on.
>


Or making fun of themself.
>


The script is full
> of such manifesto phrases... "Don't you ever offer me a gun again!" "I'm
a
> homeless person myself; it's the first thing I am."
>


Lines that were what made this thing bearable! Grant pulled them off so
damn well, he's a one stop sass machine baby! BAM!
>


> Then there's the characterisation of the Doctor. In some ways this is
quite
> fun, and the only way in which the script betrays the hand of its author.
> Some of the Doctor's actions from episode three onwards are funky, almost
> like an attempted return to the selfish, less heroic Doctor of the
Hartnell
> era.
>


I see it as more of a touch to Tom Bakers darker moments. He often appeared
not to care, being an alien and all, as if he wasn't attatched, but he
always came through in the end. Look at Zygons for instance, Baker
practically spits bile at the start but then gets involved.
*


> Unfortunately this Doctor isn't really a bastard. He's angst-ridden
because
> he did a bad thing. Hmmm, where have I seen that before... oh yes, the
> last four years of the 8DAs! This characterisation feels *old*. The 8DA
> Doctor's guilt over Gallifrey's destruction has seemed to drag on forever,
> but now the Shalka Doctor is singing from the same hymn sheet. Oh joy.
>


Well there I do agree with you. They did take the angst thing too far.
>


> What's more, at the end of the day we know the Doctor *will* intervene
> despite his attempts to bugger off, so arguments with Army Guy etc. just
> come across as formulaic posturing. To boil it down to essentials, a
> character who doesn't want to get involved in this week's adventure will
> either:
>
> (a) not do anything.
>
> (b) eventually swing into action after all, though only after much
> soul-searching.
>
> (a) isn't an option, so I'm contemplating with some gloom the prospect of
a
> series of very predictable stories all based around (b). I'd love to see
> more animated adventures, but I'm less enthusiastic about the Shalka
Doctor
> and his backstory.
>


The fact they didn't explain it enough annoyed me. Although it was mostly
the master thing that I hated,
>


> I should also say a few words about regenerating the Doctor into Richard
E.
> Grant instead of casting McGann (or one of his predecessors). Personally
I
> was never wild about the idea, but even I admit that the Russell T. Davies
> series announcement was an unexpected blow. That's awful luck.
> Nevertheless regenerating the Doctor was basically an attention-grabbing
> gimmick and it shouldn't surprise anyone that such gimmicks have the
> capacity for backfiring.
>


We got to hear the marvellous REG as The Doctor. That's made my whole year.
>


Effectively this has become another Unbound Doctor
> in the year of the fifteen Doctors and I'd be slightly surprised if it
ended
> up being regarded as 'canon', whatever that means.
>


Agreed. But he might become the new TV Doctor, you never know.
>


> But despite all these gripes, Scream of the Shalka is still Paul Cornell
> putting the Doctor at the heart of the story. Whatever way you cut it,
> that's good news. Our hero's first scene with the Shalka Prime is so good
> that even Richard E. Grant can't screw it up, and I love the bit where the
> Doctor asks Alison to sacrifice herself. As with Unnatural History's Dark
> Sam, even a mediocre character will shine if given plenty of important
> screen time by a quality writer. When that character's the Doctor, all
the
> better.
>


I found it got worse as things proceeded. The end of the world is nice, but
it happened all too fast. Bit too much too soon.
>


> Oh, and head-on shots of the Grant Doctor make him look as if he's wearing
a
> purple bubble on his head.
>


Stop taking those pills.
>


> I probably seem to be bashing Shalka, but there's quite a bit I admire
about
> it. It has nice moments and fun scenes. However the best thing about it
by
> a gazillion miles is Sir Derek Jacobi, who is FAN-bloody-TASTIC. Kudos to
> Cornell and Jacobi for that one. I could watch those scenes over and
over,
> no matter that I'm a little worried about how this story element might
> continue in an ongoing series. Theoretically it could get repetitive
fast.
> But for these six mini-episodes Jacobi's character is pure gold, every
last
> moment, and well worth your time for him alone. I won't go into detail
for
> fear of spoilers, but suffice to say that it's a thought-provoking
> development of a notion one could arguably follow back through twenty
years
> of Who (and far more interesting than the Shalka Doctor).
>
> Random comments:
>
> 1. The bit where everyone starts being noisy in episode two needed a lot
> more justification. On rewatching the episode I pieced together the
reason
> why, but on first viewing that was a real WTF?? moment.
>
> 2. The final scene is really annoying!
>
> 3. "You don't use Euros yet"... oh dear.
>


Oh dear why? Get over it, it's funny.
>



> 4. "Go and find someone else to play your filthy games with!" is begging
> for the comeback "But I've never met anyone else who'll wear the peep-hole
> rubber bondage suit!"
>
> 5. A drum track on the theme music... hurm. Let's just say it's an
> experiment I'm not wild to see repeated.
>


It was ok. Not boring, not great, just ordinary.



>
> Interestingly, this time around I liked much better the episodes I'd seen
> before. The talking heads were less of a problem and the story seemed to
> flow more. Maybe 'twas my fannish expectations, or maybe 'tis the DWM
comic
> strip problem of a story being better than its individual episodes.
> Certainly Shalka part one isn't a great introduction to animated Doctor
Who,
> being a slow burn towards payoff in later episodes rather than an instant
> attention-grabber.
>


What the heck? The first episode is the best one. Lovely and atmospheric,
that's WHO at its best. The later episodes were rushed and convulted with an
ending that was stupid. But the start, oh yes it was 70s Hincliffe worthy.

>
> The Shalka themselves are okay. They're deliberately traditional Who
> monsters rather than Cornell villains like the Aubertides or Cavis and
> Gandar, so it could have been worse. They're nothing we haven't seen
> before, really, but at least they have an imaginative background and look
> cool. [They also have points of similarity with Giger's Aliens, but that
> isn't necessarily a bad thing.]
>

They were too ordinary for my liking. Seemed like they belonged in Star
Trek too much.

>
> Scream of the Shalka comes across as Paul Cornell doing the Pertwee era.
> It's got the Pertwee logo, the Pertwee titles, a Pertwee-like Doctor
dressed
> in Pertwee-like clothes and a script that constantly seemed to be asking
> "What would Barry Letts have done here?"
>

I don't get that impression. The Pertwee era was more for adventure and
things, wheras this is darker. I think it's trying to be the Tlm Baker era,
but the end kind of ruins it all.

But despite everything I've said,
> I'm still keen to see more animated Who. I don't mind what it is (hell,
I'd
> get excited about animated reconstructions of lost stories), but we've
> barely started exploring the potential of the medium and given time it
could
> blow our socks off. I'll certainly buy the DVD and the novelisation when
> they come out. For once fandom's opinions *matter*. Scream of the Shalka
> is a pilot for future stories, but whether or not they happen will depend
in
> large part on the reception of this one. Watch Shalka. Tell your friends
> to watch too. The follow-up webcast will probably be even better.
>

I certainly hope the delightful REG is involved!

-Daniel Burnett

PA

Paul Andinach

in reply to "Finn Clark" on 24/12/2003 11:31 AM

25/12/2003 7:18 PM

"Daniel Burnett" <[email protected]> wrote in
news:[email protected]:

-snip-


For future reference: it is, to put it midly, extremely impolite to
post spoilers in a message marked "NO SPOILERS".


Paul
--
The Pink Pedanther

dT

[email protected] (The Doctor)

in reply to "Finn Clark" on 24/12/2003 11:31 AM

26/12/2003 8:05 PM

In article <[email protected]>,
Cora Buhlert <[email protected]> wrote:
>"Finn Clark" <[email protected]> wrote
>
>> 3. "You don't use Euros yet"... oh dear.
>
>Actually, that was one of the lines that really was funny. Several of
>the other supposed jokes weren't. Plus, it nicely echoes Susan's
>problems with the decimal system in the very first episode.
>
>And I agree with you, Derek Jacobi was the best thing about this
>webcast.
>

Cornell does have a way with words. I did like the Euro line myself.
This reminds me the Britain are a unique type. Euros, how dare you??
Cornell does a job of capturing the British soul on this one.
--
Member - Liberal International On 11 Sept 2001 the WORLD was violated.
This is [email protected] Ici [email protected]
Society MUST be saved! Extremists must dissolve.
Merry Christmas 2003 and Happy New Year 2004

PA

Paul Andinach

in reply to "Finn Clark" on 24/12/2003 11:31 AM

25/12/2003 11:18 PM

"Finn Clark" <[email protected]> wrote in
news:[email protected]:

> Unfortunately this Doctor isn't really a bastard. He's
> angst-ridden because he did a bad thing. Hmmm, where have I
> seen that before... oh yes, the last four years of the 8DAs!

> To boil it down to essentials, a character who doesn't want to
> get involved in this week's adventure will either:
>
> (a) not do anything.
>
> (b) eventually swing into action after all, though only after
> much soul-searching.
>
> (a) isn't an option, so I'm contemplating with some gloom the
> prospect of a series of very predictable stories all based
> around (b).

I don't think there's actually anything to worry about on this point,
even if 'Shalka' does get a sequel - the impression I got was that
this was the Doctor *coming off* an eternity of angst, and that from
here on he's going to be better.


Paul
--
The Pink Pedanther


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