Tag Archives: subtitles

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…


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:


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.

Access for all?

The ability to adapt is a very human characteristic, and us deafies are no exception. Thanks to the various barriers thrown at us, we often have to think up ways to get around them. I have a small example – last night I attempted to use my shiny new Subtitles app, which I frothed about yesterday, to watch Season One of Sanctuary, a TV series.

It was rubbish. Turns out; it’s great for films, not so good for TV series made a few years ago. It was all over the place, incomplete, misspelled and just… rubbish. But I was not about to be thwarted when I was so close to finding out what actually happened in the first series of Sanctuary. I tried having a look at online subtitle download sites, but was defeated by technical jargon which seemed to rely on me having downloaded the thing to watch, rather than watching it on a DVD.

So I went old-school. I used my iPad to find online transcripts of the show, found an episode guide with full transcripts, matched transcript to episode and went on a Sanctuary binge.

It was a little more effort than the subtitles app, but it worked. I had to keep looking from iPad screen to laptop screen, but positioning iPad just so on my laptop keyboard allowed me to flick the transcript onwards and read it quickly before darting back to screen. It required a little more concentration, and it helped to skim the transcript before watching the episode and using said transcript, but the episodes made sense and I got all the quick-witted one-liners, which I would surely have missed without this wonderful toy.

However, just because I’ve managed to find a way around the woeful lack of subtitles on some DVDs doesn’t give production and distribution companies a free pass. I’ve been forced to adapt by the lack of access; how much easier would it be for me and for millions of people who for various reasons have trouble following speech if all DVDs had subtitles? Not everyone has a laptop and an iPad. Not everyone has a wi-fi connection. But everyone should be able to access mainstream entertainment.

What made the lack of subtitles on the Sanctuary Season One region 2 DVD even more bitterly disappointing is that the lead actress and executive producer of the show, Amanda Tapping, a woman whose work I really admire, is a patron of Hearing Dogs for the Deaf and in response to an online chat question revealed she had spent a summer learning to sign for a role in a production of ‘Children of a Lesser God’.

If even a DVD of a show exec produced by someone with such deaf awareness pedigree doesn’t have subtitles, what hope is there? I did email the UK distributors to ask about the lack of subtitles but got only platitudes back.

Me, I’d make it a law that all DVDs distributed in UK have to have subtitles and audio description, to guarantee access for anyone who wants to watch them. There are roughly 9 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss, and roughly 2 million with sight loss, so it’s not like there isn’t a market. If anything, it’s got to be cost-effective in terms of increased distribution. In fact, I wonder if there may be a case under the Equality Act 2010…

Heavenly Delights

Ooh dear. The last few posts have been fun to write, and very cathartic, but I wonder if I’m getting too down on the world. Really, it’s not that bad. I was led to realise this last night, when I settled down to watch LoveFilm’s latest offering, Nina’s Heavenly Delights. I recently bought myself a post-xmas present, from me, to me, an iPad2. This will become relevant to the story. I put the DVD in my laptop. I made myself comfortable – Penguin biscuits; check. Cushions; check. Refreshing drink; check. The menu screen came up. Play Movie, Scenes, and Play Trailer. No setup or audio options. No hidden button (that I could find anyway) saying “for subtitles click HERE”. Sighing and wishing that LoveFilm made it more clear on their listings whether a DVD is subtitled or not, and plotting a new email asking about such, I took out the DVD, put it back in its envelope and got ready to seal it, ready to send it back the next day. Wait a minute… hold the phone.

Didn’t I download an app a few days ago…? Quick, have a look… yes! Yes! Yes!

Subtitles! That’s the name of the app, Subtitles, and it has access to oodles of files of subtitles for oodles of films. Simply search the title of the film and the app will find subtitles for it. Not only that, once you’ve downloaded the subtitles, the iPad will display the subtitles in sync with the film (just make sure you start them at the right moment). Literally, portable subtitles. This is fantastic. Who came up with this? I need to know so I can nominate them for a medal. But the test – would the app be able to find subtitles for a film so apparently low-budget that they couldn’t even be arsed to put subtitles on the DVD, despite it being made fairly recently in 2006?

Yes it could! So the DVD got a reprieve, was put back in the laptop, and I was able to enjoy a film that didn’t come with subtitles for the first time in… well, ever. Ever. And I checked, and it seems that it also has subtitles for Sanctuary, a DVD I bought many moons ago only to be bitterly disappointed when I discovered it wasn’t subtitled. I’m so happy about this I’m actually giddy.

True, it wasn’t perfect, the subtitles weren’t totally in sync so occasionally I had to tap the button to skip on a bit, or rein them back. It meant I had to concentrate a bit more on keeping up with the film, but that’s not the point. The point is that I was keeping up with it, a heavenly delight indeed! And enjoying it, despite a tendency to fade to black just as things were getting interesting. What a marvellous app, just needs a little ironing out and it’ll be perfect. Portable subtitles. Marvellous.

And this led me to consider; the 21st century in the UK isn’t so bad for the deaf after all. True, we still have to put up with a certain amount of ignorance; if you doubt me just read some of my previous blogs. But look what we have now. Smartphones. I couldn’t live without my BlackBerry now. Emails, text messages, Whatsapp, Facetime, Skype, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, there’s so many alternatives to the humble telephone now that I wonder why most corporations still haven’t caught up. My mother is also deaf, and tells me that attitudes have really improved since her time; some of her stories are worthy of a blog post to themselves. Subtitles on a lot of TV content, even if it’s going backwards at the moment with the current fashion for ‘live’ subtitles – what utter crap. Why live subtitle something that’s not being broadcast live? It just annoys. I digress. Subtitled cinema, and now for those films that aren’t subtitled, portable subtitles. Did I mention the portable subtitles? Now we need a version of that for plays and theatre, oh wait, we do, StageText. Big events like Sencity and Clin d’Oeil. iPads with all their wonderful apps and delights. There’s so much going for deaf people right now that we’ve got to capitalise on it and try and make this world even better.

More subtitled cinema! More captioned and interpreted plays! Banks that routinely offer text message services to deaf customers! Legal requirements for DVDs to be accessible! Sign language lessons for children! More interpreters! Dream big!

We’ve already got smartphones, emails, social websites and portable subtitles. How can we improve things tomorrow? If you’re like Charlie Swinbourne, you’ll set up a new website for news, info and opinions about and for the deaf community, and call it – what else? – limpingchicken.com. Naturally. 🙂

BBC’s response to Sara Cox complaint

Well, the BBC have got back to me fairly quickly, an email arrived in my inbox at 5.30 this morning, full of, well… it made the right noises “we fully appreciate your disappointment”, but I couldn’t help but notice striking similarities to the response sent to PeskyPeople yesterday. Judge for yourself:

Dear Ms Williams,

Reference CAS-885218-413GXD

Thanks for contacting us.

I understand that you were unhappy with comments made on twitter by Sara Cox regarding subtitled films as you found them to be offensive.

We can’t comment on Sara Cox’s messages on her own personal twitter account.

The off-air (non-BBC) activities of our presenters should not undermine the public’s perception of the impartiality, integrity and objectivity of the BBC. We have strict guidelines which state the BBC’s policy in this area and include advice on maintaining impartiality; declaring conflicts of interest; acceptability of outside commitments; political activities; commercial, business and financial interests; personal benefits and commercial advertising.

I do however fully appreciate your disappointment with the comments therefore please be assured that I’ve registered your complaint in our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks once again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind regards,

Jonathan Dunlop
BBC Complaints

And PeskyPeople’s BBC response here: http://www.peskypeople.co.uk/2011/07/bbc-response-to-complaint-about-dj-sara-coxs-twitter-comments/

The letters may be signed by different people, but I’m not fooled. There is a positive spin on this though, and I hope it’s true; the BBC have been deluged by so many complaints about Sara Cox’s behaviour that they’ve been forced to come up with a standard response in order to cope with the sheer volume of outrage. This would also explain the gap between PeskyPeople’s response and mine – the time it took to wade through the complaints to get to mine. I really, really hope that’s true, so the next time a jumped-up BBC ‘personality’ thinks it’s a good idea to bash access for others, and then insult those others when they object, they might think twice.

Don’t sugar the pill honey, tell us how you REALLY feel…

…about subtitled cinema. As one of many deaf or HoH people up and down the country, I was amazed by Sara Cox’s comments on twitter regarding a subtitled showing of Bridesmaids that she happened to show up at. Rather than go into it all again, I’m simply going to post the complaint I just sent to the BBC.

Dear BBC,

I am a deaf licence fee payer, and I see no reason why I should be insulted by an employee of the BBC. The fact that it was done by a BBC public figure on a social media website who has nigh on 280,000 followers is bad enough, but the levels of ignorance displayed by Sara “For all you gobshites…” Cox and the support that she garnered from some of her followers in the face of fierce criticism “Don’t worry about it hen, some people go out of their way to be offended” was frankly depressing.

Of course I was offended. If I was hearing, I could walk into the cinema of my choice, at the time of my choice, and watch the film of my choice and enjoy it at my leisure. Instead, as someone who relies completely on subtitles, I have to wait until my local cinema shows a subtitled screening at some random hour on a random day of the week (in my area, usually Tuesdays and Sundays). If I turn up, and the promised subtitles don’t work, it’s an uphill battle to get my money back from the cinema. So to look at twitter and see Sara Cox not only complaining about the subtitles; “If I was wearing my specs, I cd’ve just put a thin strip of gaffer tape across the bottom of the lenses to block out the subs” etc, but asking for half her money back because they were there, was just unbelievable. If they had actually given her any money back for it, I think I would have had a heart attack.

There are an estimated 10 million people in the UK with some form of hearing loss, and yet there are precious few service providers, such as cinemas, who recognise this and act accordingly. So much of cinema is inaccessible to the deaf, and to complain about access for other people struck me as ignorant and selfish. Unfortunately, as some of her followers made clear, such attitudes are commonplace.

I believe that Sara Cox should apologise publicly and make amends by doing something to raise awareness of the unfairness that deaf people have to face every day. Failing that, perhaps make her sit in a cinema with no sound and no subtitles. Maybe then she would fully appreciate why so she upset so many people with her comments.

Yours sincerely

Donna Williams

Whilst it’s not as eloquent as that posted by PeskyPeople: http://www.peskypeople.co.uk/2011/07/my-complaint-to-bbc-about-the-offending-tweets-made-by-dj-sara-cox/ I hope it will get a response, and if Sara Cox is eventually forced to eat humble pie, so much the better.

My prize for best twitter response goes to Charlie Swinbourne for: @sarajcoxsee usually, it’s advertised and when deafies turn up, the subtitles don’t work. Kind of ironic that the reverse pissed you off. charlie_swin

Well said.

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!