Category Archives: Dr Who

The BBC are treating me like a second class Doctor Who fan

(originally published on the Limping Chicken)

Recently, there was a post on Pesky People, ‘Silence has fallen at the BBC’ written by a fellow Doctor Who fan, describing their troubles with trying to get a ticket to the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Celebration Convention. It’s quite the saga, it goes on for several blog posts, with various back and forth responses between Samantha and the BBC. But in short, the BBC have been so bloody-minded and inaccessible that they are causing a lifelong fan of the show to fall out of love with it.

Look at her pics. She is totally dedicated. This is the kind of fan that the BBC should be bending over backwards to accommodate, not driving away.

Sadly though, the Beeb seem not to share this view. No doubt they would much prefer it if she disappeared quietly into the ether and stopped making a fuss. That’s certainly been my impression from my dealings with the BBC when it comes to Doctor Who.

In short, the BBC is treating deaf and disabled Whovians like second class Doctor Who fans. And I don’t appreciate it. Not one bit.

Sometimes, though, the BBC can get it right. Check out this interview between Alison (director of Pesky People) and Samantha herself, at ‘Disability meets Digital’ in March, where they discuss the issues they’ve had with Doctor Who events, but when the BBC gets it right, they can get it really right. At 11 mins 30, they discuss the Doctor Who Theatre Experience, which not only had well-trained actors, they even had a set of actors who could use BSL, so if a deaf person came, they could sign the entire performance.

Samantha really hits it on the head when she says that “it really shows what really can be achieved when the will is there” (13.50). Unfortunately, when it comes to certain areas of the Doctor Who franchise, that will seems to be entirely absent.

First, let’s establish my Doctor Who fan credentials; this is my morning coffee cup…

Dr who cup

This is me at the Doctor Who exhibition at Land’s End a few years ago…

Me + TARDIS

This is my official bag from the convention in Cardiff last year, which still hangs proudly in my room…

Dr Who bag

Anyone remember the BSL interpreter on stage for the cast panel? And the make-up workshop? That was me and my good friend in the front row; I was the one mainlining Mentos to stay awake; I’d just got back from America two days before and was horrendously jetlagged. Dragging myself out of bed that morning, I felt like I was dragging myself out of a coma. I still made it. I had to eat a lot of Mentos to get through the day, but I made it.

Me and Ood Dr Who Convention

That’s how much I love Doctor Who.

I haven’t even got to my DVD collection (growing steadily as Amazon keeps telling me when Doctor Who DVDs are on special offer. Oh Amazon, you know me too well) or my various toys. Or my favourite T-shirt with a Dalek silhouette print. Or my planned sci-fi themed fancy dress birthday party in November, where I will most likely be a Doctor.

In summary, I really love Doctor Who.

So imagine my outrage when last year, the Doctor Who Christmas Special, ‘The Snowmen’ wasn’t subtitled on iPlayer. I missed the original broadcast as I was staying with friends and their TV signal was buggered. I tried threatening them, but it didn’t work. I had my heart set on watching the special on iPlayer that night, and I wasn’t prepared to listen to any excuses about the wifi and how long it would take to download; in the end, it took over three hours. Very kind of them to invite me over and everything. Love you, guys.

It wasn’t subtitled. It wasn’t bleeding subtitled!

Every day and night I went back to check. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Still not subtitled. Have you ever seen a junkie that can see a fix; it’s so close they can smell it and touch it, but someone keeps dangling it just out of reach? For me, that someone was the BBC. Eventually, after four long days, the BBC deigned to subtitle the Christmas Special of one of their most popular shows of all time. By that point, I was like this:

smashed-computer

I tried contacting them, believe me. I sent them constant error reports, I emailed them, nothing. For four days, nothing. And then eventually, a few days later, a pathetic email apologising for the inconvenience. The inconvenience? Did they have any idea of what they’d done? That they had effectively withheld a stonking episode from me for days, whilst the hearing population could watch it at any time? Discrimination. I had to watch the special another few times before I calmed down. Ah, the power of the fix…

But this is not what’s got me wound up. This was just one incident in a long line. The two prequels to The Snowmen, The Great Detective and Madame Vastra Investigates, were not subtitled.

I commented on the videos on YouTube and emailed the webmaster on the BBC official Doctor Who website, to no avail. I got zero reply. I found this incredibly annoying on several levels, but mainly that these were prequels intended to tantalise fans, to whet their appetites. All they did for me taunt me; that here was an official canon Doctor Who clip, possibly filled with verbal clues, that I could not access. I had no idea what any of them were saying.

This wasn’t the first time the BBC had pulled this stunt. When they released a prequel for The Big Bang, with Rory tearfully talking to Amy’s lifeless form, that wasn’t subtitled either. I tweeted and commented on that occasion too, and got nothing. In fact, a big fat nothing has been the BBC’s M.O. thus far.

It gets worse. This is the BBC official Doctor Who website. Click on ‘clips’. Click on a clip. Any clip. Pick one. It doesn’t matter which you pick, because not a goddamned one is subtitled. I’m sure ‘Songtaran Carols’ is funny as hell, but to me, without subtitles, it’s worse than meaningless. This has been a source of frustration for a while, and believe me I have tried everything I can think of to attract the BBC’s attention to this.

I left comments (under DeafFirefly) on YouTube videos linked to the Doctor Who website, with no reply, I used the Doctor Who website contact form to send a message to the webmaster, twice, with no reply, I emailed the BBC accessibility team at accessibilityteam@bbc.co.uk twice, with no reply, and most recently, I went through a phase where I tweeted the official @bbcdoctorwho account every day for two weeks to complain about the lack of subtitles, with no reply, and at one point comparing the @bbdoctorwho overseers to Tivolians (A reference to a species famed for their cowardice and lack of will) again with no reply. Every single attempt I have made to raise this issue has been totally ignored.

In the end, I begged a kind geek, Chakoteya, who does transcripts of Doctor Who episodes voluntarily, to do transcripts for the prequels for me. This she did and I thank her wholeheartedly, it really helped, at least now I knew what they were saying. She has continued to do transcripts for canon prequels, they’re available with all her other transcripts in episode order. Thanks Chakoteya! Really, really appreciate it.

In all honesty, though, it’s not the same as watching a clip with subtitles; with a transcript one has to either remember the dialogue while watching the clip and match it to any visible lip movements (panning shots, ha!) or flick constantly back and forth between transcript and clip, making a supposedly enjoyable experience hard work.

It would be much easier to watch a subtitled clip and thus enjoy full and equal access to what the hearing Doctor Who fans are getting. This is the BBC’s job. Why am I having to ask kind people to do transcripts for me when the BBC surely has enough resources at its disposal to provide access themselves? How unreasonable is it to expect the BBC’s biggest internationally-selling show to subtitle a few videos?

(*cough* Equality Act, reasonable adjustments *cough*)

In sticking it to loyal fans like this, not only is the BBC doing deaf and HOH Doctor Who fans and themselves a great disservice, they’re also flouting Ofcom’s Codes on Television Access Services, and their own policies on accessibility. The BBC accessibility policy even includes this great piece of lip service:

“This is an area of importance for the BBC. In keeping with our public-service remit, and our obligations under the Equality Act, we are committed to ensuring that BBC digital services are as accessible to disabled and elderly people as reasonably possible. We aim for a consistently high level of usability for our entire audience across all of our websites, following best-practice accessibility guidelines. We engage with disabled, non-disabled and elderly people throughout website development to fully understand user requirements and ensure we produce sites that meet these.”

As lip service is indeed all it is.

I’ve had a look at BBC accessibility help and found this page that proudly boasts that among other shows, online content for Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood, both Doctor Who spin-offs, are subtitled. Irony, anyone?

You think this post is long? You should see the formal complaint that I’ve written, for the attention of the BBC Trust. It goes to three pages, which I managed to achieve by shuffling the margins a little to squeeze it all in. Three chock-full pages of quotes from BBC access policy, subtitling guidelines, codes of practice and Ofcom. Let’s see them ignore that.

I really did not want to have to do this. I tried all the methods I could think to contact the BBC so we could sort it out like reasonable people. But that’s impossible when one side of the dialogue is apparently a brick wall.

I did not want to have to write a formal complaint, quote the BBC’s own policies at them, nor tell them that if I do not receive a satisfactory response within 10 days, my next step is a formal complaint to Ofcom and to explore other options. Not to my favourite show. Look what they made me do.

Whilst I’m not yet falling out of love with Doctor Who, the BBC are severely testing my patience.

I love Doctor Who, but I really don’t like being treated like a second class Doctor Who fan.

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Feel the Music!

On 23rd October, I went to a ‘Feel the Music’ concert, performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales at BBC Hoddinot Hall at the Wales Millennium Centre. It was held in conjunction with Music and the Deaf, and led by Dr Paul Whittaker OBE, founder and artistic director of same, and Andy Pidcock, creative musician, and the whole thing was conducted by Grant Llewellyn, who has conducted the BBC Doctor Who proms, no less. I just hope I’ve spelt his name right.

It was a stellar cast, with a great orchestra and many more working behind the scenes, and it paid off in droves.

It was brilliant! It was my first concert, and I’m glad I picked this one to go to. It had deaf people firmly in mind, with lots of audience interaction, palantypists, big screens with subtitles and ‘visual representations’ of the music (think psychedelic shapes morphing in time to the music), an interpreter, Tony Evans, who kept up his enthusiastic terping for well over an hour, towel and a bucket for that man please and a very enthusiastic and colourful orchestra. There were lots of children and some NDCS volunteers in attendance, and I certainly embraced my own inner child!

Before the concert proper, there was the chance to talk to members of the orchestra as they milled around with their instruments, happy to explain them to anyone who asked. I met a bass clarinet player (think giant clarinet; a bastard offspring of a clarinet and a saxophone) who explained the concept of a bass clarinet – genuinely new to me – and as a violinist wandered along, I had the opportunity to ask them what was so bad about ‘bum notes’. It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen on subtitles, usually as hearing people wince and flinch, but I’ve never been bothered by them nor understood what the fuss was about; it’s just a wrong note. How bad can it be?

The clarinettist and violinist did their best to explain that it’s when two notes clash together – then they demonstrated it for me. They played together, then deliberately did a ‘bum note’ for me, right next to me, and damn.

To explain to my fellow deaf readers who may, like me, not have appreciated a ‘bum note’ in its full glory, find a blackboard. Run your fingernails down it. Feel how the weird vibration sets your teeth on edge and makes your hair rise? That’s what a ‘bum note’ feels like when you’re next to it. Is that what hearing people feel every time they hear a bum note? No wonder they hate it so much, the poor darlings! And bless those two players for their patient explanations and personal demonstrations, really felt like they were only too happy to help me understand elements of music that have passed me by.

One of the things the various orchestra members did was to play their instruments and encourage us to touch the instrument while they were playing – a brilliant idea. Now I know what a violin feels like when it’s played and I think I have a better understanding of why hearing people like it so much; I didn’t really ‘get’ violins before, as they produce a ‘soft’ sound that I perhaps I don’t really appreciate, but they sound nice up close and feel nice when played. Another win for the concert! The best instrument for this though, was the double bass; it feels like a really deep purr, and putting my head on the body of the instrument (yes, really) felt like a deep purr buzzing through my skull. Believe it or not, it was actually quite soothing. Bbbbrrrrrrrrrrrrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……

The concert proper began with some interactive explanations of basic music concepts, with Andy turning it into a game where the audience could ‘boomerang’ sound and bounce it back and forth. There was also a demonstration of the ‘speaker box’ – basically a wooden box on the ground, positioned above a speaker so whatever sound there was blasted through the speaker and made the box vibrate. Andy got a couple of kids to demonstrate it by getting them to stand on it and giving them a microphone, and one innocent little boy was so enthralled with feeling his own voice that he started jumping up and down on it going ‘Oh! Ah! Oh! Ah! Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh! Ah! Yes! YES! YES!’… Whilst my hearing-aids don’t usually pick up low-level sounds, I’ll swear I heard muffled chuckles coming from all around me. Or maybe that was just me – stop it woman, he’s just an innocent little munchkin discovering the vibration of his voice, don’t laugh. A thought process I suspect occurred in many of the adult section of the audience…

I digress. The concert as a whole was enthusiastically delivered, by everyone, and it was a great atmosphere. The kids were really getting into it, and so was I, I loved it. During some of the pieces of music, the audience was invited to go into the orchestra where empty seats had been set up strategically within the orchestra where people could easily be led there and sit down amongst the music, brilliant idea. It’s like being in the middle of a wall of musical sound, it was great. Even better, a guide was asking people in turn if they would like to come and touch an instrument as it was being played as part of an orchestra, and of course I said yes when she came to me. I was led to a violin, which I duly touched, though it did feel a bit strange to touch a stranger’s instrument while they were playing it (get your mind of the gutter, readers) and it was great – seriously, if you can arrange it, sit in the middle of an orchestra in full flow and touch the violin; you‘ll feel the vibrations of not just the violin, but underneath it, the symphony of the whole orchestra. Huh. This must be why hearing people like orchestra music so much. It does actually feel – and sound – quite nice.

I presume the invasion of personal space by random deaf members of the public had already been cleared with the orchestra in advance, but I was still impressed that having people led to them and having them touch their stuff while they were playing didn’t seem to put them off at all, and indeed one of the cutest things I saw that whole evening was a violinist and a little girl:

The guide led the little girl to the violinist. The little girl reached up to touch the violin, but couldn’t quite reach it. The violinist, without breaking stride, gently leaned down so the little girl could touch the violin, still playing all the while. Aw. I wanted to give that violinist a hug. The little girl seemed quite happy as well. Bless. Double bless.

I did that every time we were invited, it was great fun. There was also ‘who wants to be a conductor?’ which was very popular; the children practically rushed the stage and unfortunately I was too slow in making up my mind that I’d like to have a go. Not to worry, it was fun to watch the kids take the orchestra through their paces – and it was amazing to watch the skill of the orchestra that they were able to play to random baton-waving by a child they’d never seen before – kudos! About 20 kids (and adults) did this, with varying levels of knowledge and skill, but I’m pretty sure they all had fun! There were a few show-stealers among them, possible future conductors if I’m any judge, but every single one of them got a round of applause from the audience. The atmosphere was so positive and encouraging, I wish we could have bottled it.

For me one of the highlights of the evening, as a Dr Who fan, was being invited back into the orchestra for the Dr Who theme. And by luck or serendipity, I ended up near the drum section, and as they were inviting us to come and touch instruments, I got to go and touch the biggest bass drum I’ve ever seen. Until that evening, I wasn’t that bothered by the theme tune. It was just weird whistling noises while the TARDIS swirled around.

But standing within the actual BBC National Orchestra of Wales whilst they played it, with my hand on a big bass drum that soaked up every vibration from the orchestra was just fucking magical. It turns out the Dr Who theme tune is far more complex than I had thought. Who knew? In fact I think I’m going put that down as one of the highlights of my life.

Post-concert, I had the chance to chat with several people involved with the show, and was impressed by their enthusiasm; I got the impression the feeling was mutual! Everyone in the audience I spoke to had loved the show, and everyone involved I spoke to had loved doing it. All in all, a great success, and I’m delighted to say that this concert was only the pilot for more concerts planned in February, I’ll definitely be going!

Thanks to everyone involved for such an accessible, educational and thoroughly enjoyable concert! What a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed by an enthusiastic and varied cast, thanks again! And I look forward to the next one 🙂

P.S. BBC’s National Chorus of Wales and Dr Paul Whittaker OBE are teaming up for Handel’s Messiah at St David’s Hall on 14th December, no doubt a more formal event but I’ll be taking a look 🙂

Doctor Who, subtitles, and Elisabeth Sladen

I love Doctor Who, and like many who have any passing association with this creative, ingenious, deservedly long-running programme, I was shocked and saddened by the news of the passing of Elisabeth Sladen, an amazingly talented actress who brought one of my favourite Doctor Who characters ever to life.

The truth is; I would never have got into Doctor Who without subtitles. Deaf as I am, sentences such as “I’m doing a fold-back on the temporal isometry” and “We’re jumping time tracks in the slipstream!” would have entirely passed me by. And just how do you lip-read a Dalek? Or a Cyberman, for that matter?

Without the subtitles to hook me in, I would never have been bemused by a box that seemed to be bigger on the inside, seen Jon Pertwee vault a table, cloak flying, or seen Tom Baker with his floppy hat, incredibly long scarf and mad grin being chased by (dare I say it, slightly unconvincing) floating sentinels, or seen Sarah Jane Smith rescue the Doctor before promptly declaring that “This isn’t a rescue, it’s a capture!” and having him dragged off by a bunch of locals.

I must have been about eight or nine when I saw those BBC repeats in the early nineties, and whilst those early memories of Doctor Who are hazy, I was hooked. When the new series began, I was all aquiver, and became a hopeless Doctor Who fan once again, having been briefly distracted by Stargate, Farscape and Buffy, and soon discovered the DVDs on Amazon – and everything came with subtitles as standard! I won’t disclose how many Doctor Who DVDs I have now, let’s just say it’s a few.

When Sarah Jane Smith’s return to Doctor Who was announced, I was thrilled that a character who represented some happy childhood memories would be in my favourite show, and I was not disappointed. She argued, fought and ran like she’d never left, but managed a few tender moments in between telling off the Doctor for being such a thoughtless bastard (not a direct quote) and a great catfight with Rose. Elisabeth Sladen played it all perfectly.

She thoroughly deserved her own show, and yes I watched it, and yes I enjoyed reliving some of my childhood with it. I loved seeing “Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, at your service” in it, and Nicholas Courtney (“Chap with the wings there – five rounds, rapid!”) is another sad loss. I have no idea what’s going to happen now, but one thing is for sure – Sarah Jane Smith will not be forgotten.

I’m glad that subtitles gave me the opportunity to appreciate the show and characters as much as anyone else. Elisabeth Sladen, I salute you, and my thoughts go out to all those who knew you.