Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Doctor Who: 2000

After episode 696 (Doctor Who): Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) - A Man of Substance
First broadcast: 8.50pm on Saturday, 22 April 2000
<< back to 1999

"I wonder if you could help me?"
Tom Baker in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)
In the long years that Doctor Who was off the air, the belief seemed to be that television viewing habits had changed and there was no longer an audience for family entertainment on a Saturday evening.

Instead of TV drama, it seemed, the general population were more interested in light entertainment that put ordinary people on screen, often live to make it more of an event. There was Noel’s House Party, The Generation Game, Stars in Their Eyes and the string of shows presented by Michael Barrymore or Ant and Dec.

Yet the BBC persisted in making shows for a Saturday evening that had a sci-fi / fantasy element: Bugs (1995-8), Crime Traveller (1997), Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (2000-1) and Strange (2002). I’d be tempted to include Jonathan Creek (1997- ) in that list, too.

Like Doctor Who, each of these shows tended to involve a peculiar, even outlandish, mystery and would then build up to a chase. Each had a certain tongue-in-cheek knowingness, a sense that the production teams didn’t expect us to take anything too seriously. (You see the same thing in reviews of sci-fi: a reviewer feels the need to tell us that they know the events depicted weren’t real.)

I really liked the revived Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). It had a good mix of the eerie and daft, with lead actors it was easy to warm to. It's also beautifully shot and directed. The last episode of the first season, A Man of Substance is particularly good - strange and unsettling, funny and sinister, with a ridiculous plot that it plays perfectly straight. It hinges on Marty Hopkirk having to choose between his friends and his every desire, and right to the end we're not sure what he'll decide. At the time, I thought it a perfect template for how Doctor Who might be done - not the plot, just the feel of it.

It's still a brilliant episode, but watching it again I'm surprised by several key elements: the heavy drinking, the sex, the whole blokey attitude. The show is riffing on the style and tone of the original Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), but watching it now it feels like having Gene Hunt in Life On Mars but without the moderating influence of Sam.

I said of 1991 that the New Adventures books were no different from Batman or James Bond at the time in being darker and more violent, and excluding children. This was simply how drama was done. In Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), I think there's a glimpse of what Doctor Who might have been like had anyone else brought it back to TV.

The belief was that there wasn't a family audience for TV drama on a Saturday night. Russell T Davies, though, knew that was wrong.
"Early on in the Doctor Who production process, Davies knew he had the Saturday night 7pm slot, and it informed the feel of the programme he was going to make. 'If you channel-hop on a Saturday night,' he says, 'you're up against the big Light Entertainment shows, like Ant and Dec, with a shiny black floor and a huge audience. With background music behind everything. They're phenomenally loud, those shows, and I believe that's what draws an audience. So we decided to make Doctor Who really noisy.'"
Next episode: 2001 

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