Category Archives: TV

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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Deaf lad wins Big Brother!

Big Brother. Orwellian piss-take or a sad indictment of modern celebrity culture, or both? Either way, the subtitles are live – read, crap – so I’ve never bothered.

But then a deaf lad entered it. I never thought I’d see the day when a deafie willingly entered a house full of hearing fame-hunters, most likely totally un-deaf-aware and utterly clueless, and have to deal with them in front of cameras recording live. Every slip-up, every misunderstanding televised for the nation’s viewing pleasure. Not to mention spending every waking moment with them for weeks. Trapped. With literally nowhere to hide.

In short, I would only agree to go in the Big Brother house if you guaranteed me the £100,000 prize up-front.

Whilst I still don’t watch Big Brother, I’ve been keenly following Michelle Hedley’s updates on the Limping Chicken, and it seems that for the most part he relied on his lip-reading and speech skills, and on instructions printed on laminate for the Big Brother ritual humiliations, I mean tasks.

And it seems he survived. He not only survived, he endeared himself to the hearts of the nation enough that he won. He bloody won Big Brother, essentially a televised popularity contest. I give him all credit. As he struggles in large groups, it seems his tactic was to hang quietly in the background and make friends with individuals; exactly what I would have done. He even managed to spread some deaf awareness along the way, giving his real thoughts to Callum, telling him the truth about how hard it is to keep up sometimes.

I so understood what he meant. I identify with Sam on several levels. Like him, I wasn’t diagnosed until I was three, as doctors had told my worried parents that I was fine, just ‘lazy’ and ‘slow’. I went to mainstream schools, where I got a ‘good education’ – if a good education is one defined by average-to-good grades and zero social life – and yes, I relied on lip-reading and speech. I didn’t learn to sign fluently until I was 19.

And yes, it was bloody hard work. Always tired, getting headaches from concentrating, eye blur, and forget about group situations. Just forget them. My hearing aids suck in all noise, so no chance of hearing anything clearly, and it’s a game of follow the magical invisible conversational ball, which constantly changes shape and direction as it flies through the air. Actually that’s not a bad metaphor. I might try to work that into a poem.

Nowadays, I avoid hearing non-signer group situations like the plague. Why would I put myself through that? It’s frustrating and you’re basically treading water while everyone swims conversational circles round you. And on national TV? Show me the money.

I’ve seen on Facebook and Twitter some deafies giving Sam shit for not signing enough or for lip-reading and speaking all the time etc. I’m not sure what they wanted him to do – hijack a camera and climb on the roof of the Big Brother house, unfurling an FDP flag before launching into a Sign Song or a BSL translation of Shakespeare? Maybe he doesn’t overtly represent the deaf BSL users, but he has showed the country several important things;

Deaf people are not aliens
Deaf people do not have two heads
Deaf people can have a nice smile; they don’t bite
Deaf people can be funny
Deaf people can be romantic
Deaf people can be lost and insecure
Deaf people can participate in things if you give them half a chance
Deaf people can win Orwellian televised popularity contests if you give them half a chance

Plus, of the prize money, he said he was gonna give 25% to charity, 25% to his Mum and hold the rest for his future. Another thing he’s showed the nation:

Deaf people can be kind, smart and have a good head on their shoulders.

So I’m feeling the love for Sam. He took on the Big Brother house, a daunting enough prospect for someone who can hear everything going on round them, and won.

He bloody won.

Congratulations, Sam and I wish you all the best for the future. You’ll go far.

America is so far ahead.

Not in economic terms, but in terms of how deaf people are portrayed in mainstream TV, particularly those who use sign language. In America, signing deaf characters have featured in The West Wing, CSI, Law and Order:SVU and ER, to name but a few. Whilst here in the UK, Shameless has shown that a signing deaf person can be as conflicted, unpredictable, independent or even downright psychotically angry as any hearing counterpart with the character of Danny, very few other British shows have had such strong signing deaf characters. Danny’s leaving scene in Shameless was as stunning for the fact that a deaf person (Shock! Horror!) was shown being so incandescent with rage they actually beat their own father to death (but it seems the guy may have had it coming) as it was for the violence – nothing graphic, but a hell of a lot of beating. Good for you. That’s a deaf person doing it for themselves on national telly, that is.

Finally, being a geek has paid off. The Big Bang Theory has rewarded my years of loyalty with a signing deaf character – and not the kind that’s ever so brave, and deals with the world despite all that is thrown in their way etc, but the kind that got her claws into Raj and took him for everything she could get. Go girl! Most of the jokes were funny, though I did feel uneasy at all the talking to each other while the girl looked on, vaguely puzzled, while the boys got laughs, it just seems that the type of gal who would chew out Penny and Howard with a lot of *somethings* and stomp off in a huff would wanna know what was going on. That aside, she was independent, she was sassy, she was pretty, and in the end she was ruthless, breaking Raj’s heart when it became clear the supply of money had dried up. And she did it in a funny way. And she taught Raj to sign. Was there anything she couldn’t do?

And I loved the way that Penny’s claim that “Disabled people are nice. Everyone knows that.” was challenged for the generic fallacy it was; not that we aren’t nice, but aren’t we allowed to have bad days and be grumpy like everyone else? Assuming disabled people are nice all the time is like saying we’re not allowed to be as moody and unpredictable as ‘normal’ people. Just ask the train station guard I had a brief word with yesterday when I discovered that both the assigned disabled access gates (the ticket operated things that let you access the platforms) were letting people out, but not in. There was tutting, and there was a “what’s the big idea?” and a muttered, half-hearted “thanks” as I was finally allowed to hobble through. I doubt he’ll be voting me for the ‘genteel spice’ award anytime soon.

The Big Bang Theory – well written, hilarious, and good kudos for a strong signing deaf character and for challenging preconceptions. Clearly, the natural next step is to show a deaf or disabled scientist /  geek. We’re out there, you know.

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.

World Cup Subtitles are here!

I enjoy the world cup, and not just for the football – the weird and wacky live subtitles as they try to keep up with the commentary and cope with all the wonderful and interesting names provide almost as much, if not more, entertainment. I remember fondly the frequent mistakes of four years ago, as my mother and I laughed at the subtitler’s efforts – whilst being grateful that at least they were trying. Milosevic, for example, became Miles of itch, while the Czech, Japanese and South Korean teams provided much amusement.

We’re only a couple of days in, and I must say I’m impressed at the accuracy of the names thus far, the occasional blip notwithstanding, clearly someone’s invested in a better program or something to deal with them, but sentences are still refreshingly and entertainingly random. Sensible commentary has been interspersed with phrases such as:

They’re not playing with any urgency whats the weather

The covering defender of was birth

Intercepted by Castlerock Otto (Assou Ekotto, Cameroon)

Okuba is filed.

Foul by Matip on a Hannah

To name a just a few, but overall I must say the subtitles have been pretty good. It’s good that they’ve improved, but a little disappointing that we probably won’t return to the hilarity of the 1990 or 1994 efforts. Still, kudos to better subtitles!