Tag Archives: BBC America

Changing the Channel

Forgive the recent interruption in your regular scheduled program of nonsense; it can be blamed almost exclusively on the addition of proper television to our household. Where previously we survived on a diet of Netflix and Hulu, we are now the proud owners of 6 million pointless channels and 3 or 4 acceptable ones.

BBC America is, of course, my favourite treat. It’s a little lacking in its Russell Howard and a bit urgent in its Gordon Ramsay (and, inexplicably, Star Trek: The Next Generation), but it does keep the lads from Top Gear on my screen almost 24 hours a day.

I am also an avid fan of the ability to record almost every channel at once. This comes in handy when I can’t work out where in the channel list I’ve ended up and find myself stranded, flopping about like a helpless fish, somewhere between the pay-per-view porn and the mountain of movie channels all showing the same three films.

But what I mostly want to discuss with you people is your advertising. At first I was astonished by the pointy fingers, because in England one is not allowed to call one’s competition names in the pursuit of sales. “We’re better than [insert relevant brand]” is a definite no-no where I hail from, although I’m already sufficiently indoctrinated that I can no longer work out why.

Then I became fascinated by the content of the adverts themselves. My all-time favourite U.S. advertisement was for a Wendy’s fish fillet burger, featuring numerous helicopter shots of icebergs and glaciers, gleaming frostily in the Arctic sunshine. This did not suggest an irresistible taste experience to me; I was, rather, left wondering if fish fillets are cold and a bit crunchy.

I thought nothing could possibly top that advert for absurdity… until this week. It began innocently enough, with various shots of husbands staring lovingly at their wives as they displayed the tics and oddities with which the husbands fell in love in the first place. One wife is startled by a horror movie, for example, while the husband looks on fondly.

I believe the idea of the set-up was to advise us all to keep appreciating the little things about each other, even when many years have passed. A heart-warming sentiment, I think you’ll agree. But then the television began bellowing at me:

“AND THAT’S WHY YOU NEED TO BUY OUR ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION PILLS, SO YOU CAN KEEP APPRECIATING THE LITTLE THINGS.”

I was so surprised, both by the sudden change in direction and by Viagra being advertised on my tellybox – in the middle of the afternoon, to boot – that I burst into a giggling fit that ran unchecked for many minutes. I thought I had seen it all. I had not – but I’ve got 6 million channels now, so I’m sure I will have soon.

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I Wear a Stetson Now. Stetsons are Cool.

What a wonderful example of serendipity: Doctor Who, one of my favourite televisual delights, will be following me to the prairies for the next season. He wears a stetson now. Stetsons are cool.

Hubby is jealous of our Doctor Who tradition, as he can’t think of an equivalent this side of the ocean. For those of you who have never heard of the show: it’s one of our longest running series, having first aired the day after JFK was shot. You might be wondering whether the title character is now in his dotage, but actually he’s in his late twenties. The Doctor, you see, is a Timelord, which means he can regenerate when badly hurt. Every so often the series receives a reboot in the shape of a new actor, with new quirks and traits, and new companions to travel all of time and space by his side.

Matt Smith: new Doctor, best Doctor

Every time this happens, the nation mourns. Until last Christmas, the Doctor was played by David Tennant. He was much-loved and, on hearing of his imminent sort-of-death, we all swore we’d hate the new Doctor. Most of England scowled at footage of his successor, Matt Smith, muttering that he would never be a proper Doctor and that we’d probably have to boycott the show.

David Tennant (left): used to be the best Doctor

We do this every time. Five minutes into Matt Smith’s first episode, we adored him and had forgotten all about our beloved David Tennant, except to declare that he can’t have been as good as we remembered because Matt Smith is the best Doctor there has ever been.

All of us have our own Doctor: the one we watched first, the one we mourned first, the one we quickly forgot all about first. For me, it’s Sylvester McCoy, who, in hindsight, was barking bloody mad. My granddad actually managed to despise him for his entire run, thus entering the history books as the only recorded case of Doctor Hatred that lasted past the first episode.

Sylvester McCoy: weird bleeder

Hubby now has his own Doctor, of course, but it’s not the same. Particularly as he managed to go backwards before he went forwards, replacing David Tennant with Christopher Eccleston before coming back to David Tennant in time for the Matt Smith regeneration. David Tennant is doubly his Doctor, you might say.

I hadn’t really thought about it until he explained his envy, but the US doesn’t work quite the same way when it comes to long-running shows. In England, we appear to have mastered the art of refusing to let things die: Blue Peter, Coronation Street, Eastenders, Emmerdale, Antiques Roadshow and many others have been gracing our screens since before I was born. In the US, a ten-year run seems to be the maximum, according to Hubby (whose knowledge I trust, as he does love his tellybox).

Matt Smith: definitely the best Doctor

Perhaps this is a product of the BBC being our first broadcasting company. They can pretty much do whatever they like (as long as the licence payers are happy about it) and what they seem to like is 50-ish years of hokey science fiction that made our parents hide behind the sofa in terror when they were wee.

Whatever the reason, the upshot is that England has several shows that have gone on for long enough to have been absorbed into our culture in general. No matter our age, we all have our own Doctor, and, for a high percentage of Brits, we discovered him in childhood. It’s a similar story with other shows: we all have our own specific Blue Peter presenters (and dog), we all think of the Queen Vic in Eastenders as belonging to someone in particular.

Lots of Doctors: none of these are the best Doctor

But Doctor Who is the best example of all. You can watch it on BBC America, which will happily be running only a week behind the UK when the new season begins in the spring, and I strongly recommend it, but you might need a bit of a primer first, as it’s got terribly complicated over the years:

1) Matt Smith is the best Doctor ever, as previously affirmed. He is a Timelord, hundreds of years old, and each iteration has his own personality. Matt’s is the best. Yes. We know him only as the Doctor, we have never been told his real name.

2) The Doctor is not only a Timelord, he is the last of the Timelords. His arch enemy, the Master, keeps popping back up, but he’s a crap Timelord because he’s naughty and just wants to take over things willy nilly. The rest of the Doctor’s race was destroyed in the Time Wars, fought against the Daleks.

3) Talking of Daleks, you’re not allowed to laugh when you first see one. We are all aware they look like bollards with a plunger and a whisk taped to them, yes, but wait till one comes at you shrieking “EXTERMINATE”. You won’t be giggling then. You’ll be behind the sofa with my mum.

Amy Pond: best companion to the best Doctor

4) The Doctor travels with a companion at almost all times. Currently, his companion is Amy Pond, the first one not to drive me up the wall since I forgave Billie Piper for her “singing career” and allowed her to charm me as Rose. Some companions end up as loved as the Doctor they travel with; Sarah-Jane, for example, now has her own spin-off. I doubt any companions will ever be as loveable as Matt Smith though. He’s the best Doctor ever.

5) The Doctor travels in a Tardis, which looks like a 50s police box, which in turn looks a lot like a telephone box and/or portapotty, depending on your reference point. It’s bigger on the inside. There’s a swimming pool and a library in there somewhere (at one point they were in the same place, but that wasn’t on purpose).

Inside the Tardis. See? Bigger.

6) The Doctor does not kill people. He’s never armed, unless you count his Sonic Screwdriver and his rather brilliant brain. He commands a healthy respect out there in the universe: several invading alien armies have recently fled in terror when they spotted him on the Earth. He sees himself as our protector, as he has a soft spot for the human race.

It’s sometimes cheesy, was made on a shoestring until recently and the humour is very, very English, but it’s meant to be that way, the stories are always amazing and Matt Smith is the best Doctor ever. Seriously. So, if you’ve yet to spot it on your tellybox schedules and you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you could do a whole lot worse than making Matt Smith YOUR doctor.