Thursday, 15 November 2007

Doctor, Doctor

On Friday night, BBC1 will broadcast “Time Crash”, a seven-minute Doctor Who episode, as part of the annual Children in Need charity telethon. The rest of the evening will no doubt be given over to the usual mix of showbiz backslapping and maudlin handwringing. But the Doctor Who episode is likely to be worth a watch and a donation: it is by Steven Moffat, who has written some of the very best episodes of the revived series: “The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances”, “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink”. The hook is that Peter Davison will be reappearing as the fifth Doctor, alongside David Tennant’s tenth Doctor.

There’s something about charity appeals that brings multiple Doctors running. True, the last Doctor Who contribution to Children in Need, two years ago, was Tennant’s first solo outing. But back in 1983, “The Five Doctors” was broadcast as part of the appeal, and in 1993, the then-dead series was brought out of retirement for the night of Children in Need with the bizarre runaround “Dimensions in Time”, which was sunk under the weight of its gimmicks. Not only did every surviving Doctor appear (plus truly tasteless waxwork busts of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton), but so did as many of the old supporting cast as could be found, and every monster suit that could be dredged up. And it was a crossover with the popular soap opera EastEnders. And it was filmed in a new 3-D technique that required constant horizontal motion across the scene. Little wonder it was rubbish. But it probably raised some money.

The BBC’s other regular telethon is Red Nose Day, held every two years for the charity Comic Relief. Doctor Who cropped up in 1999 with “The Curse of Fatal Death”, an extended spoof which achieved the rare double of being both funny and faithful to the original, largely because it, too, was written by Steven Moffat. And this one, agin, featured multiple Doctors – all-new ones, this time, played by Rowan Atkinson, Jim Broadbent, Richard E Grant, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley.

Appropriately enough, Comic Relief has occasionally spawned comics. In 1993, Fleetway published The Comic Relief Comic. This too featured multiple Doctors, in a two-page crossover with Dan Dare, drawn by John Ridgway, a long-term artist on the comic strip for Marvel UK’s Doctor Who Magazine.

But more than that, the amount of crossover and collaboration on this comic beggars belief. The next few paragraphs are simply lists, because I can think of no better way of getting across the scale and scope of the thing. Remember, this was all in sixty pages, including covers.

The plot was by Richard Curtis (of Four Weddings and a Funeral), Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. The editors were Richard Curtis, Neil Gaiman and Peter Hogan.

The script was by (deep breath) Dan Abnett, Mike Collins, Richard Curtis, “the Dandy and Beano team”, Al Davison, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Dick Foreman, John Freeman, Neil Gaiman, Melinda Gebbie, Bambos Georgiou, Dave Gibbons, Igor Goldkind, Lenny Henry. Peter K Hogan, Alan Martin, Mark Millar, Peter Milligan, Grant Morrison, Paul Neary, John Smith, Si Spencer and “the Viz team.

And then there were the artists: Jeff Anderson, Jim Baikie, Simon Bisley, Philip Bond, Robin Boutell, Dougie Braithwaite, Mark Buckingham, Dondi Cox, Steve Dillon, D’Israeli, Hunt Emerson, Phil Gascoigne, Melinda Gebbie, Dave Gibbons, Martin Griffiths, Jamie Hewlett, Graham Higgins, David Hine, Bernie Jay, Paul Johnson, Nigel Kitching, Barry Kitson, David Lloyd, Mike McKone, Steve Parkhouse, Edmund Perryman, Sean Phillips, Warren Pleece, Arthur Ranson, John Ridgway, Will Simpson, Bryan Talbot, “the Viz team”, Phil Winslade and Steve Yeowell.

Had enough yet? Tough, ‘cause here’s a list of the celebrities and characters featured (at least the ones I recognise): Roger Mellie, the Man on the Telly, Lenny Henry (as himself and as Theophilus P Wildebeeste), Jonathan Ross, Griff Rhys-Jones, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Drake, Edmund Blackadder, Judge Dredd, Dan Dare, Captain Britain, Desperate Dan, Bruce Forsyth, the Teenage Mutant “Something” Turtles, Michael Caine, Dawn French, Ben Elton, Cliff Richard (the singer, not the Buffy artist), Alf Garnett, Anneke Rice, Thunderbirds, Digby, the Mekon, Treens, the first seven Doctors, Ace, Leela, Susan, K9, Ice Warriors, Cybermen, Draconians, the “Rover’s Return” pub from Coronation Street, Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, the Bash Street Kids, Esther Rantzen, Noel Edmonds, Terry Fuckwitt, the Fat Slags, Sid the Sexist, Johnny Fartpants, Biffa Bacon and family, Spoilt Bastard, Buster Gonad, Billy the Fish, the Pathetic Sharks, Superman, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Doctor Strange, the Fantastic Four, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner), Thor, Daredevil, Swamp Thing, Captain America, Blue Beetle, Fire, Iron Man, Batman, the Silver Surfer, Wolverine, the Young Ones, the Spanish Inquisition (Monty Python version), Tommy Cooper, Benny Hill, Lurcio from Up Pompeii!, Sid James and Barbara Windsor, Mr Humphries, the cast of On the Buses (God help us!), Tony Hancock, Vic and Bob, Norman Wisdom, Morecambe and Wise, Basil Fawlty, Sybil Fawlty and Manuel, Dick Emery, Buster Keaton and WC Fields.

So, with all that, was it any good? Well … no, not really. Too many cooks, and too many ingredients make for an indigestible mess.

But, hey, like it says on the cover, “all proceeds to Comic Relief.” And it is certainly a curiosity.

There’s no statement about where the proceeds were to go from sales of this year’s Comic Relief tie-in, Beano Max Issue 1, and it’s tempting to conclude that publishers DC Thomson had cynically bought a license as an exercise in promoting the launch of their new comic, a monthly spin-off from the Beano. Notably, there is no collaboration with other comics publishers here. Jonathan Ross and various other BBC presenters appear, but the only fictional characters to be seen who are not owned by DC Thomson are Wallace and Gromit, who share a poster with Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, and, yet again, Doctor Who. In “The Invasion of Bash Street”, Class 2B is menaced by a Dalek teaching assistant. The Dalek is overcome when the kids force-feed it school dinners (bringing it out in red nose-shaped boils), and the Doctor drops by to pick it up.

Despite my suspicious grumbles, this is a much more enjoyable read than the Comic Relief Comic. It’s a good, solid, straightforward children’s humour comic with a few guest stars.

The lesson of all this? Even if it is for charity, keep it simple. Don’t go overboard on the crossovers.

Unless you’ve got Steven Moffat writing.

No comments: