Ever since the latest series of
Doctor Who ended, I’ve
been at a loose end. I’ve been left with
nothing to watch on TV except wall-to-wall soap operas,
chat shows and a highly artificial form of entertainment
TV’. This explains why I have been rummaging through
my stock of DVDs in search of something worth watching
of an evening.
The collaborative encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, has a good
entry on Firefly.
The entries on Farscape and Doctor Who are worth checking
Thank Heaven for Firefly! Perhaps the most intelligent
science fiction series (other than Dr Who, of course) to
have emerged in recent years. The scripts, the acting,
the wit and the style put better known series such as Star
Trek to shame.
Now, it’s quite possible that you’ve never
heard of Firefly. Even though it was created by the Joss
Whedon, the man behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly
has never been widely aired on mainstream TV channels.
This is explained by the fact that Fox TV, who commissioned
it, lost faith and pulled the plug at a very early stage.
Only one series of the show was ever made and Fox didn’t
even bother showing all the episodes.
In past times, if a TV network pulled a show, the best
that most fans could do would be to moan amongst themselves
or write angry letters for TV executive to toss into their
waste bins. These days, thanks for the Internet, fans have
a far more creative and visible outlet for their anger.
For Firefly, the first rallying point was an Internet campaign
called Firefly: Immediate Assistance (http://firefly-support.com).
In time, Firefly blogs and fan sites appeared such as http://www.fireflyfans.net/,
not to mention a Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly_(television_series).
All of which demonstrates that, while Fox TV may not
have liked Firefly, an awful lot of viewers did. Thankfully,
Whedon stuck with the project and set to work on a big
screen movie version called Serenity (http://www.serenitymovie.com/)
which will be at cinema near you in September. I only hope
it lives up to the TV series. That will certainly be a
hard act to follow….
A well coordinated Internet campaign can be a powerful
thing. Some campaigns are literally life-and-death struggles.
For example, the West Memphis Three site campaigns to overturn
what some people believe to be a miscarriage of justice
which has condemned three innocent men (http://www.wm3.org).
Other sites campaign for everything from freedom for Tibet
(http://www.freetibet.org/) to abolition of the death penalty
in the USA (http://www.nodeathpenalty.org/).
The aims of these campaigns are, of course, far more
serious than those of fans campaigning for the preservation
of TV series. However, few of them can hope to generate
the same degree of fervour as an online network of angry
fans. If only they could, their prospects of achieving
their aims would probably be much improved.
No, this isn't a picture of Huw taken while watching reality
It is, of course, the wonderful villain,
Scorpius, featured on the Watch Farscape site.
A dramatic example of concerted fan-power was provided
by the campaign to save Farscape. Just in case you missed
it (your loss, not mine!), I’d better explain that
Farscape was a science fiction series made in Australia
by the man behind the Muppets. Nope, I didn’t think
that sounded too promising when I first heard of it either.
In fact, Farscape proved to be some of the most innovative,
dramatic, funny, frightening and downright gripping television
of recent years. Unfortunately, it was also expensive to
make. When the Sci Fi channel decided not to pay for another
series in 2002, it looked as if Farscape was destined for
an early grave.
The fans were having none of it. Web sites, blogs and
forums sprung up like mushrooms after rain. Pretty soon
an aggressive email campaign had been launched, inundating
the Sci Fi Channel with pleas and complaints. The Save
Farscape web site (now called Watch
Farscape) was, at one
time, reputedly getting about 600,000 hits a day. In the
end, the fans won and a Farscape miniseries, ‘The
Peacekeeper Wars’ was produced, tying up many of
the loose ends that were left dangling at the untimely
end of the previous series. More on Farscape here: http://www.watchfarscape.com/ and here: http://starburstcards.com/KarlswebNewscape/index.htm and here: http://www.farscapeworld.com/.
Who’s That Man?
All of which brings me back to Doctor
Who. If you are unfamiliar
with Dr Who, I think I can safely say that you don’t
live in Britain. Dr Who is a TV institution in the UK.
The series tells the story of a time traveller whose time
machine, The Tardis, happens to look like a police phone
box. This itself is an anachronism since police boxes haven’t
been seen on the streets of Britain for many a long year.
The Doctor’s arch enemies are alien half-robot creatures
called the Daleks. Having typed the above sentences in
Microsoft Word, I am shocked to find that both ‘Tardis’ and ‘Dalek’ are
shown as spelling mistakes (the best suggestions Word can
make are ‘Tardifs’ and ‘Dale’).
How preposterous! ‘Tardis’ and ‘Dalek’ are
part of everyday speech in Britain.
At last the BBC seems to have regained confidence in Doctor
Visit the web site for information, pictures and video
Dr Who was first broadcast by the BBC way back in 1963.
Initially he was played (superbly) by William Hartnell
as a curmudgeonly old character. In subsequent years the
role was taken on by another six actors on TV and by Peter
Cushing in a couple of movies. The Doctor has a neat trick
of ‘regenerating’ when one actor leaves the
series and another arrives. With each regeneration, not
only his face but also his clothes and his personality
change, which means that no two doctors are alike.
While this is a neat trick, unfortunately what tended
to happen over time was that the rough edges of subsequent
doctors became more and more worn away. The spiky and unpredictable
character created by William Hartnell eventually turned
into a family-friendly and rather ‘cuddly’ chap.
It was increasingly apparent that the BBC had lost interest
in Dr Who. Towards the end the last series, in 1989, many
of the scripts were poor and the production values were
frequently abysmal (wobbly sets and aliens in rubber masks).
The Doctor was brought back for an ill conceived one-off
UK/USA coproduction in 1996 but I shall pass over that
Then, for almost a decade, Dr Who vanished from our screens.
New and old adventures occasionally popped up on the radio.
And a huge number of devoted fan sites kept the Doctor’s
memory alive on the Web. Finally, in 2003, the BBC yielded
to pressure and a new Doctor Who series was put into production
and was broadcast in the first half of 2005. The guiding
force behind the series was one Russell T Davies, a script
writer who was previously best known for a the series,
Queer As Folk, about gay men in Manchester.
Davies may have sounded like an odd choice for a series
which had previously been regarded as ‘something
for the kiddies’. Fortunately, the new series, with
Christopher Eccleston at the Doctor, provide to be a much
more grown up affair than its immediate predecessors. For
the first time since the ‘60s, a real darkness had
entered the series. Frightening and disturbing elements
rubbed shoulders with the downright silly and absurd.
Go to Dalek City to find out how to build a Dalek of your
For more information on Dr Who, see A
Brief History of Time Travel http://www.physics.mun.ca/~sps/drwho.html,
Who Space http://www.drwho.org/ , The
Dr Who Reference Guide http://www.drwhoguide.com/,
Outpost Gallifrey http://www.gallifreyone.com/ and
the fine BBC site which includes video clips from the
latest series and some older ones http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/.
Dalek fans should certainly visit Dalek
And if you have a bit of spare time on your hands, you
can build yourself a Dalek using the plans here: http://www.wilson203.freeserve.co.uk/Dalek%20Plans.html and
If you happen to live in part of the world in which Dr
Who hasn’t yet been broadcast on TV, you may be wondering
what you can do to rectify that sad situation?
May I suggest
that you launch an Internet campaign…