Modes of TV spectacle in the Jodie Whittaker era of Doctor Who
Contributing to an academic field that is beginning to appreciate spectacle in television drama, just as in the cinema, Dene October’s chapter on filming the new Doctor Who series focuses on three main areas: the contemplation of setting; curiosity and criticality of content; and personalized viewing pleasures. Contemplation of setting involves stopping and staring; curiosity and criticality of content points to an awesome presentation of the environment while messages about green management are still being enforced and recognized; while personalized viewing pleasures, for instance, include the private erotic spectacle of the worldwide reveal of the thirteenth Doctor. In concentrating on these topics, October sets out the ways in which spectacle enhances audience engagement and agency.
This chapter considers official and unofficial Doctor Who responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and the first-wave UK lockdown of 2020. In particular, Matt Hills focuses on how the thirteenth Doctor appeared in lockdown fiction, extras and short-form videos, both those that were branded by the BBC and those that moved beyond BBC authorization. Rather than representing paratextual additions to a main TV text, unusually these gift-texts became central online experiences for fans seeking solace. Hills examines how such texts mirrored lockdown experiences and provided ‘ontological security’ and ‘sperosemic interpretations’ by offering reassuring sources of inspiration, comfort and hope for fans of all ages. The chapter also considers how – in a suspension of standard industrial practices and partly as a result of COVID disruptions – Doctor Who’s current showrunner, previous showrunners and writers, and professionalized fans such as Emily Cook from Doctor Who Magazine, were all united in terms of producing new Who gift-texts for a somewhat captive, locked-down audience. Playfully dubbed ‘the Emily Cook era’ on Twitter, this also became not so much a multi-Doctor story as a temporary multi-showrunner story.
Temporal and cultural diversity in Segun Akinola’s music for Doctor Who
The first things that we see and hear in an episode of Doctor Who are the title sequence and the series theme, and David Butler’s chapter focuses on variations of musical themes in the Chris Chibnall / Jodie Whittaker era. Drawing on new interview material with the British-Nigerian composer Segun Akinola, Butler begins by showing how Akinola’s rearrangement of the series theme (first realized in the 1960s by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop) has hauntological links to the past while simultaneously moving forwards. Butler proceeds to examine the exceptional score for the episode ‘Demons of the Punjab’, including its variation of the end-titles music to reflect multiculturalism, before considering the thirteenth Doctor’s theme, and how the Doctor Who title theme has also been played at key moments within episodes to provide authenticity. By contrast, in ‘Rosa’ the Doctor’s theme can be usurped by Rosa Parks’s theme.
Chapter 4 reconstructs the stardom of Bill Haley to explore the ‘rock ’n’ roll riots’ that accompanied the first screenings of Rock Around the Clock in British cinemas. The film was a low-budget feature that showcased many of the most popular rock ’n’ roll musicians and performers of the day. The British Board of Film Censors considered the film ‘harmless’ and classified it ‘U’ (Universal) for family audiences to enjoy. Nonetheless, screenings of Rock Around the Clock caused the dreaded ‘organised hooliganism’ that British censors had worked so hard to avoid. In time, the censors were accused of being ‘oblivious’ to the ‘intoxicating’ effects of the exciting ‘live’ performances of Haley and the Comets; the media sensationalised localised outbreaks that pitted Teddy boys and girls against cinema managers and police. The chapter argues that ‘riots’ were the logical outcome of the censors’ generational disconnection from British teenagers and their enthusiasm for rock ’n’ roll. The BBFC was widely criticised by the press and prominent members of the clergy for failing to anticipate and avert these public disturbances. Proving a phenomenal success at the box office, Rock Around the Clock introduced mainstream audiences to rock ’n’ roll. The chapter provides a timely exhibition history by recounting the interactive in-cinema behaviours of British teenagers, which anticipated the participatory screenings of cult movies. Furthermore, a homely appearance and scathing reviews did not hinder Haley’s rise to fame; he toured the UK with his Comets. In this way, his British stardom demonstrates the unflagging ‘power’ of the teenage consumer.
Reconstructing the discursive surround of his early film appearances, Chapter 5 demonstrates that Elvis Presley was promoted in Britain as ‘the rock and roll rebel of the screen’ and as Marlon Brando’s and James Dean’s logical successor. Focusing on the films, Jailhouse Rock and King Creole, the chapter illustrates that Presley was reformulated as the archetypal juvenile delinquent imbued with the popular currency of rock ’n’ roll music. Ensuing public censure of Presley’s music and sexualised performance style invigorated the discourses of Americanisation. In contrast to the amiable Bill Haley, who had recently made a nationwide tour of Britain, film (and music) critics disliked Presley and reported concern over his anticipated (and dreaded) live performances. The chapter demonstrates that Presley’s British fame was developed and sustained by the purchasing ‘power’ of his young fans in spite of (and because of) the widespread criticism and apathy of an older generation. As such, the chapter considers Presley’s stardom as the glorification of a humble American working-class ‘Teddy boy’ adulated by ordinary teenage consumers. In addition, the chapter argues that the blueprint of his fame (and his enormously successful branding) was used by entrepreneurial producer-managers to nurture and develop a new stable of British talent. Adam Faith and Billy Fury, among others, became popular for their proletarian qualities. Regional or cockney accents no longer hindered careers in the performing arts but, rather, recommended emerging stars to those teenage consumers with surplus income, eager to worship home-grown heroes.
James Baldwin was a vocal critic of Hollywood, but he was also a cinephile, and his critique of film was not so much of the medium itself, but of the uses to which it was put. Baldwin saw in film the chance to transform both politics and art—if only film could be transformed itself. This essay blends readings of archival materials, literature, film, and print culture to examine three distinct modes in Baldwin’s ongoing quest to revolutionize film. First, I argue, literature served as a key site to practice being a filmmaker, as Baldwin adapted cinematic grammars in his fiction and frequently penned scenes of filmgoing in which he could, in effect, direct his own movies. Secondly, I show that starting in the 1960s, Baldwin took a more direct route to making movies, as he composed screenplays, formed several production companies, and attempted to work in both Hollywood and the independent film scene in Europe. Finally, I explore how Baldwin sought to change cinema as a performer himself, in particular during his collaboration on Dick Fontaine and Pat Hartley’s documentary I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1982). This little-known film follows Baldwin as he revisits key sites from the civil rights movement and reconnects with activist friends as he endeavors to construct a revisionist history of race in America and to develop a media practice capable of honoring Black communities.
Chapter 1 contextualises Marlon Brando’s early stardom in Britain to re-evaluate why the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) chose to impose a fourteen-year ban on The Wild One. Conversely, it chronicles how some local authorities and private clubs overturned the ban and screened the film. Brando’s early persona as a wayward but talented stage-trained actor, who became a Hollywood ‘anti-star’, meant that he occupied a unique position in cinema. This partly explains why the BBFC was overly concerned with releasing a film that allied an established and forceful method actor with reckless juvenile delinquency. The censor board publicly defended its decision to ban the film (deny it a certificate) through recourse to the excessive screen violence. Confidential records demonstrate that British film censors actually considered Brando’s screen delinquent to be too ‘attractive and imitable’ and worried that the film was a blueprint for yet more ‘organised hooliganism’ by British Teddy boys. Through an analysis of Marlon Brando’s early popularity, sustained by his persuasive interpretation of method acting techniques, his kudos with film critics and his appeal to British film fans, the chapter demonstrates that Brando’s stardom was the major factor behind the controversial decision to ban the film. Paying close attention to the aspects of mise en scène which heighten Brando’s sexuality and sympathetic qualities, the chapter demonstrates how his screen delinquent emerged as an admirable anti-hero – a far more complex and enduring character than anticipated, which surpassed even Hollywood’s expectations.
James Baldwin’s arrest in Paris in December 1949 gave birth to his perfect storm. His ten days in Fresnes jail weakened him physically and emotionally. He made it out, but upon release he was mired in self-doubt and enveloped in a bout of depression. He returned to his hotel, ready to try to get back to his life, however daunting that effort would be. The hotelier’s demand that he settle his bill, and do it quickly, awakened his obsession with suicide. He simply could not handle one more obstacle in his path; he chose to kill himself in his room. Ironically, he saved his life when he jumped off a chair with a sheet around his neck. In a matter of seconds his death wish was replaced by his equally obsessive need to write, witness, think, party, drink, challenge, and love.
The distinguished critic Professor Cheryl A. Wall (1948–2020) was the
Board of Governors Zora Neale Hurston Professor of English at Rutgers
University, New Brunswick. Her path-breaking scholarship in two highly
influential monographs, Women of the Harlem Renaissance (1995)
and Worrying the Line: Black Women Writers, Lineage, and Literary
Tradition (2005), helped to ensure that twentieth-century Black
women writers were recognized and valued for their power, genius, and
complexity. Her most recent book, On Freedom and the Will to Adorn: The
Art of the African American Essay (2018), places the essay form at
the center of African American literary achievement. Throughout her long career
she supported and enabled Black students, and championed racial diversity and
gender equality at every level of the university. An Associate Editor of
James Baldwin Review, she was the most generous and astute
of readers, as well as a wise editor. In this memorial section, fifteen
colleagues, former students, and interlocutors share their remembrances and
honor her legacy.
The book’s in-depth analysis of six case studies, comparisons to other British and Hollywood films on similar themes, demonstrates the currency of juvenile delinquency during a period of intense media interest in the teenager. In its wider application, the book offers a British history of several iconic Hollywood stars: Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elvis Presley. By exploring their influences and impact on British fans and their disruption to British culture, the book historicises the discourses of Americanisation and teenage consumerism. The conclusion explores some of the legacies of the Hollywood rebel trope, and argues for the ways in which elements and motifs were assimilated into New Wave cinema with representations of Angry Young Men, as a popular and emergent British masculinity (Albert Finney in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, for example). The chapter also extends previous arguments that Elvis Presley’s success as a rock ’n’ roll rebel offered a ‘blueprint’ of fame, forming the basis of many imitative careers, including those of Tommy Steele and Cliff Richard, each hailed as ‘the British Elvis Presley’. The epilogue argues for the cross-cultural exchange that followed Presley’s career and star meanings in Britain (his impoverished childhood, his spectacular success, the degenerative effects of rock ’n’ roll) and the Beatlemania that pervaded American popular culture in 1961. Spearheading the British invasion, the Beatles, with their proletarian origins and rebellious iconography (their irreverent interview style and ‘mop tops’, for example) confronted American conservativism and generated discourses of cultural protectionism.