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“Doctor Who” movie: 5 pieces of advice for director David Yates

“Doctor Who” movie: 5 pieces of advice for director David Yates (photo)

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Today’s report that “Harry Potter” director David Yates was planning to make a “Doctor Who” movie has caused no small amount of discussion around the online world, and public opinion seems to lie somewhere between “the worst idea ever conceived” and “the most brilliant project of our generation.”

Already a polarizing topic for fandom, some of Yates’ initial comments about adapting the beloved British television series have only seemed to add fuel to the fire. In discussing his plans to give “Doctor Who” a “radical transformation” en route to the big screen, Yates said he plans to “put aside” the current version of the series — which relaunched in 2005 but is steeped in almost 50 years of continuity — and “start from scratch” for the movie.

While Yates’ plans for “Doctor Who” will still unfold under the watchful eye of the BBC, longtime fans of The Doctor’s adventures can’t help but wonder how much will change in this new incarnation of the franchise. As a lifelong fan of “Doctor Who,” I have a few pieces of advice for Yates to consider if he wants to find success in The Doctor’s big-screen future while parting ways with the character’s past.

1. The Actor Makes The Doctor

One of the most unique elements of “Doctor Who” is the series’ ability to recast its lead on a regular basis. Along with current lead Matt Smith, ten other actors have played the role over the series’ long history, and each one has brought a particular set of mannerisms, fashion sense, and even a level of “humanity” (without forgetting that he is an alien, after all).

That’s why, when casting the “Doctor Who” lead, it’s important to keep in mind that the actor won’t simply be inhabiting an existing character — he’ll be creating his own version of The Doctor. And while that may seem like an appealing role for some actors, that blank slate can be as a daunting to an actor as a blank page of paper can be to a writer. There is no single performance to model The Doctor after, but rather 11 very different takes on the character that any new iteration will be measured against. When it comes to choosing the lead, make sure he’s up the challenge.

2. Don’t Let Effects Make The Doctor Ineffective

Even the most loyal “Doctor Who” fans will acknowledge that some of the series’ special effects haven’t been very, well… special. Still, “Doctor Who” has achieved success despite its famously low-budget digital effects and makeup, and Yates would do well to consider why that is. It’s probably not too off-base to assume some of that “radical transformation” he mentioned will be focused on the aliens and other effects-driven elements of the series. And that can certainly be a good thing, if handled properly.

Over the decades, “Doctor Who” has overcome its low effects budget by relying on great performances from its cast and letting its leads pull the audience along at a pace that doesn’t allow them too much time to ponder the rubber costumes or silly ray-guns — after all, when you craft a compelling story, the audience will fill in the fuzzy spots on its own. If Yates is looking to bring “Doctor Who” into the modern effects era, he should remember that the series’ fans would rather be told a good story than watch a sequence of fancy effects.

3. Companions Aren’t Sidekicks

In our era of superhero cinema, it’s easy to lump The Doctor’s companions in with traditional “sidekicks” and similar character archetypes whose purpose is to either be rescued or make a mistake whenever the story could use some exposition from its hero. In the “Doctor Who” universe, despite the fact that The Doctor is a brilliant alien who will outlive us all, he’s rarely framed as being “above” his human companions. Over the years, his companions have been his advisors, best friends, caretakers, confidantes, and in a few rare cases, his love interest. More often than not, though, they’re simply his traveling buddies.

When it comes to adapting “Doctor Who” for the big screen, Yates should avoid Hollywood’s need to establish a clear hero-and-sidekick dynamic. Let The Doctor’s companions treat him as their eccentric, time-traveling buddy and let him revel in showing them the universe. When it comes down to it, that’s the relationship dynamic that made the last 50 years of “Doctor Who” so enjoyable.

4. Remember: Keep It Fun

“Doctor Who” has had its share of serious, somber moments over the years, but at its heart the series has always been about the wonder of discovery, the thrill of adventure, and the joy of returning to a familiar, friendly place after all is said and done. At a time when every adaptation seems to be going after a “darker” version of the source material, “Doctor Who” is the sort of project that relies on its lighter elements for success. While the temptation might be to make “Doctor Who” a more serious affair when it heads to the big screen, it’s worth keeping in mind that everything is already world-threateningly dangerous when it comes to The Doctor.

One aspect of the series’ appeal is The Doctor’s ability to make light of scenarios that would have the average person crying on the floor while curled-up in the fetal position. Don’t give The Doctor a “Batman Begins” or “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” treatment that has him grimacing at the world. Don’t let the big-screen Doctor be a big downer.

5. The Past Can Still Be The Future

Sure, Yates said he wants to “put aside” The Doctor’s past and the 50 years of continuity that comes with it, but when former “Doctor Who” showrunner Russell T. Davies set about relaunching the program, he made sure to include ample nods to the decades of stories behind the character. At first, they were just vague references that only the longtime fans would catch, but as the series progressed, those references to the past became as important to the series’ success as all of the new characters and creatures that were created. Acknowledging the series’ history not only gives the show a sense of weight, but it also rewards fans for the time they’ve spent with The Doctor.

However, that’s not to say the movie should let itself be bogged down in decades of continuity (Davies and current “Doctor Who” showrunner Steven Moffat still play fast and loose with The Doctor’s fictional history), but rather that Yates shouldn’t shy away from making his big-screen version of The Doctor a product of his past. In the end, The Doctor is supposed to be brilliant, fun, and mysterious — and what’s more mysterious than someone who has had years and years of adventures in time and space that he hasn’t told you about yet?

And there you have it, fellow Whovians and “Doctor Who” newcomers: some words of advice for David Yates as he begins work on a task that will make the scrutiny he was under during the “Harry Potter” years seem tame by comparison. Whether you’re excited about the “Doctor Who” movie or terrified by the thought of it, the one thing to keep in mind is that we all want to see the best “Doctor Who” adventure possible — and that’s something everyone can agree on, right?

Chime in below or on Facebook or Twitter with your “Doctor Who” advice for David Yates.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.