In Defence Of…Corridors
When Lenny Henry parodied Doctor Who in the 1980’s, after telling a Peri-esque assistant to stop screaming and shut up, he and the assistant then proceeded to run up and down lots of corridors. Not quite as much a cliché as men in rubber suits, running up and down corridors is still a considerable hallmark of the cheap naffness of Classic Who.
When the story is going nowhere and you’ve got to drag it out in order to reach the cliffhanger, have The Doc and/or his chums get caught, then escape (by running down a corridor) and then get caught (after running up a corridor) again. It fills out the runtime. It’s cheap; the same stretch of walls can be relit and dressed to make the city/caves/space station/etc seem so much larger and more epic. And it’s an excuse for action too, people actually moving from one place to another is far better than people sat in one location and talking.
But the corridor, and the action happening within it, is much maligned. It’s a sign of poor plotting and desperate story-telling; a sign of limited resources stretched to and beyond breaking point.
Take the Troughton/Ice Warriors thriller “The Seeds of Death”. It isn’t a bad story; the Ice Warriors, now joined by an “Ice Lord”, are suitably villainous but the moonbase where the bulk of the story takes place is a sterile and uninspired piece of design. Can you get a more generic “base” than this? A lot of the story takes place while our heroes and heroines are getting chased around it.
However, good design doesn’t necessarily save poor corridor work. Take “Warriors of the Deep” (no please, take Warriors of the Deep). This IS a bad story (I don’t care what my chum from the last “In Defence Of…” piece says) but the underwater base does look pretty good. However, it’s what you do with it that counts. Making the base interiors glow like Tom Cruise’s teeth does not help the Myrka look any less like some kind of mutated pantomime horse.
Then there is poor design and poor story charging in together to create such horrors as “The Invasion Of Time” – even Tom Baker can’t resist taking the piss. The production team (with time and money pushed far beyond breaking point) seemed to find the world’s largest public toilet complex to stand in for the labyrinth of corridors within the TARDIS. It reminds me of a recurring bad dream I have where I really need a pee and find myself running round and around just finding toilets that can’t be used. Add a pursuing Sontaran tripping over a sun lounger and that’s what Episode 6 of “The Invasion Of Time” is exactly like.
But all of Classic Who was subject to the same constraints of time, resources and money. Yet the creative geniuses behind the world’s greatest science fiction show overcame the restrictions to pull off masterpieces of pop culture. And the corridors weren’t simply part of these masterpieces – they ARE the making of these masterpieces. There are examples in all periods of Classic Who. As JNT’s flashy hand made its mark on the show we get “Full Circle”. The interiors of the Starliner are solid and real, yet have their own style and not just another set of Starship Enterprise workspaces. The story is about the slow attack of the Marshmen on the Starliner, any running around IS the story, not padding.
Jump back seven or eight years to the planet and Citadel of Peladon – pretty much two whole stories set in nothing but corridors and caves! Dark, atmospheric corridors and caves, rich with torches, statues, tapestries and the same cowardly weasel from “The Seeds Of Death” being less cowardly but more weasely. Back again to almost the infancy of Doctor Who with the Dalek city on Skaro we see in “The Daleks” – surely the corridors that sealed the show’s success? Yes, the Nazi mutant pepperpot things were sort of interesting, but Cusick’s city is a classic of design. To my mind the supreme Corridor story is, of course, “Warrior’s Gate”. There are space-ship corridors, medieval castle corridors, stately-home garden corridors… Hell, the story is called “Warrior’s Gate”, in effect the whole thing is about a corridor. A corridor between universes, no less! Surely, the biggest, most fundamental corridor of them all?
New Who is less notable for its corridors. The overly hurried pace and restricted running time means that while The Doc and his chums are frequently running down corridors, they rarely run back up them.
Do not join the easy mockery of Classic Who corridors. Sure, there are times they are just a cheap way to fill up the empty minutes but, more often than not, the genius writers, designers and accountants use the humble corridor to expand the story’s setting beyond a limited collection of rooms, to imply rich, diverse worlds. Celebrate the running up and down – where else can a terrifying monster chase you so slowly, yet so terrifyingly? The corridor is why we love Classic Who. There are times when they are embarrassing but, when the Corridor is used well, we see imaginations at work, running like The Doctor and his companions through the narrow confines of tiny budgets, tiny timeframes and tiny special effects. Often, they are caught and confined. But so more often they will escape again.
Written and edited by Richard Barnes