Doctor Who and the Misplaced Consonants (Part Three)

While I put off writing anything that actually has any substance, here are some memes to keep everybody ticking along. The Misplaced Consonants started well and then sort of stopped, so after a six-month hiatus, we’re back with round three. Clicking the category tag for this post will show you the other stuff I’ve done in this thoroughly pointless series.

 

9. The Warm Machines

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10. Statue of Decay

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11. The Nice Warriors

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12. The Creature from the Spit

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Doctor Who: Switching Channels

In 1992, John Ritter (Three’s Company, It) and Pam Dawbey (Mork and Mindy) starred in Stay Tuned, in which an unmotivated couch potato and his long-suffering spouse inadvertently make a deal with Satan and wind up stuck inside their TV. There they are forced to escape from a variety of pastiches – The Dukes of Hazzard, Wayne’s World and Star Trek all feature – before winding up in a Salt-N-Pepa video. It is thoroughly silly, and twenty-five years later, it is ripe for a remake.

This is not that remake. But it is as close as I’m ever going to get to it, given my limited editing skills. And it has Muppets.

Switching Channels – as I have called this, even though I’m not entirely sure that’s the right title – started life as something very different. I’d originally envisaged a sweeping, rambling narrative that took in the entire Pond backstory, from encounters in Leadworth to farewells in Manhattan, by way of spaceships and mines and factories. It was going to be called The Ballad of Amy and Rory, and it was going to be epic. The Doctor and Amy would look up at the sky in horror to see a giant Zebedee jumping over the hedge, as in this Goodies episode (I haven’t timestamped the link, but the moment in question is at 7:10, if you were wondering). River’s announcement that “I’m your daughter” would segue into the Eastenders theme, because I always thought that would have made for a better ending. (Actually, the episode really ought to have finished with Amy bellowing “I’m not telling you what to do. I am not your mother!”, before River screams “YES YOU ARE!”.)

Best of all, I was going to juxtapose the Doctor’s tearful farewell to Amy in the New York cemetery with extracts from this.

It would have been fun, and I almost managed it, but in the end I couldn’t find a decent helium-recorded version of ‘Annie’s Song’ that didn’t have dialogue playing underneath it. Someone clever could probably rip it from the foreign language DVD and re-pan the stereo tracks. I even went down that road myself. So maybe another time.

But there was also going to be another segment in the middle that saw Amy and Rory fall into a TV set, and it was during the process of becoming increasingly frustrated with the other bits that I realised that a little streamlining was in order. So out went the other bits, and in came the the metaphysical post-modern silliness that you’ve hopefully just watched, unless you decided to scroll down and read this first (in which case scroll up again. Go on; we’ll wait for you).

The main inspiration for this stems from 1990s children’s television. If those of you who’ve never heard of Tots TV could bear with us a second:

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You see what I mean.

Look, I’m aware that some things probably shouldn’t be thrown together. Baileys and Coca-Cola, for example (I know this from experience, having tried it). The happy, carefree, multi-lingual world of the three small puppet children in Ragdoll’s 1990s extravaganza is streets away from the thoroughly twisted sight of Amy the Peg Doll careering through George’s doll’s house in the final act of ‘Night Terrors’. But I refuse to accept that there wasn’t at least a part of the concept design that wasn’t influenced by it, however subconsciously. It was therefore an obvious starting point – and from there, other influences followed. The Scooby Doo / Doctor Who thing, for example, is something I’ve talked about before, but if you don’t fancy reading all that, just have a look here:

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And so on and so on.

There are rough spots. The Third Doctor scene isn’t as I’d hoped it would be, because of the non-existence of certain lines that Arthur Darvill never said (and probably never will). I shot the animation over the course of a single hour, and boy does it show. I make no excuses for this except that I was on childcare duty and Edward kept wandering in and jogging the table (which is why the landscape keeps moving around). The lighting is inconsistent and the figure placement even more so, but the animation itself is comparatively smooth by my standards. I’d love to be Oliver Postgate working in his garage, but it’s the middle of the summer and I have to keep breaking up the Minecraft squabbles. Besides, our garage is full of junk; you couldn’t swing a cat in there, let alone a Soup Dragon.

There is a point at which any artist or creator has to stop with the polishing. I’m comparatively scrupulous over my blog posts – even more so when it’s paid work – but I often think that with the videos I draw the ‘stop polishing’ line somewhat prematurely. It’s cost me in the past – I still regret the occasional glitches and random, almost subliminal frames in some of the early stuff that wasn’t trimmed properly – but I’m also at the stage in my life where I care less than perhaps I should. When you have only so much time, and (in my case) only so much technical expertise, it is sometimes better to get something done than to get it perfect. Russell T. Davies knows this, perhaps, better than anyone, as his confessions in The Writer’s Tale only re-affirm.

So I’m happy with this being rough. The Beatles’ first album was notoriously rough, and everyone loves that. Besides, being ‘rough’ means that it’s finished. And I’m glad it’s finished, because now I can go and do something else. That tribute to ‘Logopolis’, for example, or the Withnail and I mashup I’ve been tinkering with for months. I have more ideas than capacity to implement them successfully, but this isn’t a career; this is a bit of fun. And I’m happy for it to be fun, and nothing else.

Still, I wish I’d managed to fix ‘Annie’s Song’.

(Incidentally, if you were wondering about the significance of the blocks in the background during the animated bit, they’re there for a reason. But I’m not going to tell you. It really ought to be obvious.)

 

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Dinopaws Revisited

You’ll have to wait a few more days for the more substantial post I have planned; it’ll go up when I’m not thinking about packing for festivals. In the meantime, Dinopaws. Because Dinopaws is great, and it’s been a while.

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Look to your left

An opening: if you’ve been following the UK news this last week you won’t have failed to notice the DWP scandal that saw the Government release leaflets about benefit sanctions that featured false testimonials. Said leaflets were awash with remorseful tales from chagrined claimants who’d been shown the error of their ways by a wise, thoughtful ‘work coach’ who is absolutely not disillusioned, incompetent or under desperate pressure to fulfill sanction targets. Unfortunately the testimonials were fake, and the photos of ‘Zac’ and ‘Sarah’ were stock. “They have now been removed,” the DWP assures us, “to avoid confusion”.

In recent days, and as a damage control exercise, events have taken a more bizarre turn.

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This isn’t the place for debate about the DWP – suffice to say I spent a few years working for them and saw for myself how the organisation recruits from the bottom of the barrel and how it is dispirited, overly bureaucratic and afraid of its own shadow, and that was before we elected a Tory government. In any event the Left is loving this, if only because it gets to dump on Iain Duncan Smith, and also because it diverts attention away from the political in-fighting that’s going on during its election campaign. (The Labour party is hardly unique in this regard – Louise Mensch’s aborted smear campaign is proof enough – but it is amusing watching Andy Burnham threaten to challenge the result only to get smacked down by Harriet Harman.)

The last time they had a leadership campaign, of course, we wound up with Ed “Don’t call me Dave” Miliband, whom I’ve always contested looks rather like Richard David-Caine from Swashbuckle – sentiments only re-affirmed since he recently grew a beard.

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Here’s the thing. Miliband is ideologically very different to Tony Blair, his most recent-but-one predecessor, but one thing that strikes you when you look at the body language and the rhetoric is how much he’s obviously been groomed in the same manner by the party’s spin doctors. In fact, you could say that spinning him in this manner was part of his political undoing: Labour under-performed in the last election, particularly considering the exit poll, the result costing Miliband his leadership of the party.

Bringing the conversation back to Doctor Who, we may thus infer from this that Ed Miliband is Anthony Ainley to Tony Blair’s Roger Delgado. However good Ainley was, he will always be remembered as “someone who was told to play it like Delgado”, and this is to his detriment as a performer. There are some great Master moments during the 1980s, but half the time Ainley comes across as a rather camp Delgado impersonator, rather than someone who was allowed to develop the character in his own right. (This also makes Geoffrey Beevers Gordon Brown, which sort of works if you see him without makeup.)

The one to watch in this campaign, of course, is Jeremy Corbyn, who is in favour of nationalisation and higher taxes for the one per cent. People wiser about these sorts of things than I am tell me that his election would potentially obliterate the Labour party, “because people don’t want a socialist government”. I really don’t have a clue how true this is, and it’s for this reason that I don’t usually talk about politics on this blog. I leave that for people with greater interest and less cynicism, such as the friend of a friend who wrote this:

“He is eccentric and beardy, with distinctive slightly retro dress sense. He has traveled alone for a long time though is now looking for a companion. They say he’s going to take us back to 1983 with him, but he’s actually more interested in taking us to the future. He’s stood alone as a fighter for his beliefs and dropped from view during the nineties but has had a massive resurgence in popularity in recent times. He’s been pictured with people the world sees as villains but would prefer to talk to them rather than fight them. He believes that speaking honestly can be effective even to those robotic types who want to take over the world. His position on jelly babies is unclear but apart from that, Jeremy Corbyn is basically the Doctor.”

It’s a good argument, although it stumbles at the first hurdle with the mention of beards, because (‘Leisure Hive’ / ‘Day of the Moon’ / ‘Wedding of River Song’ aside) the Doctor himself is not beardy, with the exception of John Hurt, who plays someone who does not refer to himself as the Doctor. So I’m still on my Master analogy, although Gareth – when pressed – said that he looked a bit like Rorvik from ‘Warrior’s Gate’.

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He does, sort of, although Rorvik’s a slave-driving (in a quite literal sense) despot, hopeless to the last, so perhaps that’s why I’m still not sure about the analogy – the Master may be despicable, but at least he’s got a winning personality. “Actually,” said Emily, “Jeremy Corbyn looks like a whole bunch of middle-aged men with short beards”.

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They’re both right.

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Pictures at an Exhibition

Right. Month of self-imposed blogging exile over. I’ve not been entirely idle; in fact I’ve been making waves over at Kasterborous this week, complaining about the slapping in Doctor Who – a point of view which has caused much ire among a community that is getting hot under the collar about a supposed overreaction, while still avoiding the issue.

Anyway. What were we doing in Aylesbury? Well, the two eldest had gone horse riding –  one of these summer activity things – which left us with time to kill and a museum to visit. Said museum is the Buckinghamshire County Museum, an interesting collection of artifacts and hands-on activities. (A word of advice: this is not in the County Hall, and do not ask anyone in the County Hall for directions; they are useless.) There is a mock-up Tudor house, a fairly impressive taxidermy collection and a wall-sized photo of a man with a nose piercing that freaked out Daniel, to the extent that he had to enter the room backwards in order to avoid its gaze.

There is also – at least for the next few weeks – a pop-up Doctor Who exhibition, consisting of fan-donated memorabilia. The room in which it is housed is reasonably sized and the collection – while understandably not exactly vast – is free to view and refreshingly eclectic. There are signed posters (the collector’s name is Susan, which caused much amusement) and there are books ancient and modern and there is even a copy of Dalek Attack, the 1992 Amiga game that I’ve never played, although there’s plenty of YouTube footage of the Doctor running through London streets zapping Ogrons and being most un-Doctorish (‘Day of the Daleks’ aside, anyway). But the first thing that hits you – thankfully not literally – is the fan-made Dalek opposite the door.

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The Aylesbury branch of Oxfam has a collection of the Target novels, for the princely sum of £3.99 each, if you’re so inclined. I confess I am not, but fine if you have that sort of cash.

You can’t see it very well but the action figures at the bottom of this case really are the pits. I’d call them a low point in the history of toy manufacturing but I think we reached that particular nadir when Character Options released their first five-inch figure collection last year, and we’ve already done all that.

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And in the middle of it – oh, frabjous day! It’s the ‘State of Decay’ audiobook recording I had when I was a kid. For all I know it’s the very same copy, which as far as I’m aware was given away by my parents years ago. But it probably isn’t.

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Yes, it is a TARDIS Easter Egg, and for a change we’re not talking about a scene of the Doctor having half a conversation while Martha whines about how the dinner’s on the table (and can we, at some point, please deal with the fact that every time we see Martha in 1969 she’s still wearing the same leather jacket and jeans, despite having lived there for months?). These TARDISes / TARDISi (you pick) dominate the right hand wall, and seem to lead the way naturally down to a full size one in the far corner.

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Directly opposite, we have the Russian dolls. I’m still not sure whether ordering Doctors 1-6 in this fashion is the right way round, or the wrong way round, or a combination of both.

 

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The TARDIS sits next to the dressing up box. In a rare break from tradition (at least for this new, non-anonymous version of the blog), I’m even including a picture of Edward.

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It was round about this time I got chatting to a visiting party, one of whom was picking ‘favourite Doctors’ from one of Susan’s signed wall charts. She’d tied Pertwee and Baker (I) for first, with Colin Baker coming second. I was telling her how nice it was to meet someone who likes the man’s TV work when Edward starting attacking the displays, so we made a run for it.

Upstairs there is a drawer unit full of bug specimens and a display on beekeeping. “They could do a Doctor Who bee story,” Emily mused. “You know, something about the bees going home, but actually doing something with it. And the monsters are beekeepers with nothing under their hoods.” Which is sort of back in ‘Three Doctors’ territory, but (if you’ll forgive the obvious pun) I think it has wings. Certainly Daniel was hiding behind me when we got up here, although he has recently seen E.T., which may not have helped.

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I was still mulling this over in my head as we wandered back out into Aylesbury. The town centre itself is the usual collection of charity shops, pedestrianised precincts and indoor centres, but it does have a few decent-looking pubs to its name. It was market day, and the traders were out in force, peddling phone cases and mangoes and plastic toys. “Who’s that, Daddy?” asked Daniel as we passed by a statue overlooking the square.

I looked on the plinth and explained that it was Benjamin Disraeli, a former chancellor and, eventually, Prime Minister.

“It looks kind of like Jon Pertwee,” he said.

And you know what? It does.

 

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Have I got Whos for you

By the time you read this I will be on my way to Pembrokeshire. This post, therefore, takes the form of one of those final “We leave you with news…” segments on Have I Got News For You.

First, archive and previously unseen images from the ‘Day of the Doctor’ filming sessions cast two of the Doctor Who actors in a rather unpleasant light.

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Meanwhile, reports from Comic-Con suggest some inconsistent turnouts.

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And there’s tension on the set of CBeebies favourite Old Jack’s Boat, when star Bernard Cribbins hooks up with Don Gilet.

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See you in two weeks.

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The Doctor Who Trailer Deconstruction (part three)

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Today, our little trailer recap draws to a close, as the Eleventh Doctor tries to figure out how the same girl can be in three places at once, before sneezing in the TARDIS and turning into Peter Capaldi. But before we get to that…

 

 

Series 7 (part one)

Yes, well. There were five episodes in this initial set, and only two of them were any good, so I am always going to look back at this period of Who with disdain. What comes across in this is a sense of scale: five stories, told grandly (although there is nothing – nothing – from ‘The Power of Three’). Amy is at her most irritating (her piggybacking of the Doctor’s catchphrase is almost as awkward as Tony Blair quoting Baddiel and Skinner) while Rory just sort of stands there, as per usual. The location work is impressive, even though the writing wasn’t: this series marks the Doctor’s ‘difficult, teenage phase’, the triceratops joyrides awkwardly juxtaposed with the moral angst he experiences when debating whether or not to turn Kahler Jex over to the Cyborg. Oh look, now he’s in his bedroom, and I think he’s smoking weed. I’m not angry, Doctor. I’m just disappointed.

Number of booms: 2

Fiery explosions: 3

The Doctor Runs: 3 (plus one horse ride and one dinosaur gallop)

Darkness factor: 6 (points lost for grinning at dinosaurs, gained for shouting at Amy)

It’s a mystery: Ooh, is Amy really dead?

Identifiable monster count: 6 (and Daleks count as one. You got me? One.)

 

 

Series 7 (part two)

The Cybermen are back! So is the Doctor, really, gaining a new sense of joie de vivre after the events of ‘The Snowmen’. There are numerous costume changes, impressive alien vistas (clearly the theme for this part of the series is ‘off-planet’) and shots of Dan Starkey running down a corridor. Interesting that the relationship between the Doctor and Coleman’s character, while a clear recurring theme in series 7, is established as being far more open in this trailer than it actually was – in reality Clara spends most of the eight episodes in the dark, her brief illumination almost immediately extinguished by the convenient plot device that is wibbly wobbly memory loss. (Curiously this happens at the end of  ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, an episode which might be best experienced in the company of a big red button that’ll immediately erase your memory of the preceding forty-five minutes.)

Number of booms: 5

Fiery explosions: 1

The Doctor Runs: 1 (although Clara tells him to)

Darkness factor: 5

It’s a mystery: Clara, of course.

Identifiable monster count: 7

 

Series 8

Oy vey. This is the first of the ‘new breed’ of trailers, where things start to go downhill. Lots of jump cuts of briefly-seen monsters; nothing tangible, but enough for a quick screen grab and discussion on the forums. Capaldi looks sinister and ambiguous: this is a dark Doctor, who has traded ballet for moral indifference and acidic quips about rubbish humans. Coleman has the wide eyes of someone who’s just experienced regeneration for the first time, despite having travelled back and forth along the Doctor’s time stream and hanging out with both Bakers, as well as failing to get McCoy down from that ice wall in ‘Dragonfire’. One thing I will say for this (and for series 8 in general) is that the cinematography really started to pick up in Doctor Who once they reached ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, and it shows. And Murray Gold, for once, stays out of things. Which is more than we can say for the next time…

Number of booms: 4 and a half

Fiery explosions: 3

The Doctor Runs: “I don’t think I’m a running person now.”

Darkness factor: 9

It’s a mystery: Just WHO IS THE DOCTOR NOW? And do we really care?

Semi-identifiable monster count: 7

 

 

Series 9

Holy mackerel, TURN IT DOWN, MURRAY! IT’S TOO LOUD! THERE ARE PEOPLE TRYING TO SLEEP! We’ve now reached the stage where the trailers clearly have boxes to tick, and are arranged in order to make this happen. Moody lighting? Check. Dalek close-up? You betcha. Obvious mystery that’s going to have everyone talking past saturation point? Oh, yes yes and thrice yes. There are numerous things that could be monsters. The Doctor does look chirpier, mostly thanks to the hair, which is emulating Pertwee’s in the same way his clothes did last series. The rest of it seems to be a maelstrom of unconnected ambiguities that are about nothing at all, designed to keep the Tumblr feeds ticking over until September. Am I confused because this is the only trailer I’m not able to view with the benefit of hindsight, or is this stuff actively getting worse? Patrick Troughton’s trousers make a cameo, but about the only really appealing moment in this jumbled mess is the moment when the ‘lightened’ Doctor smiles at the camera, and shrugs, because all of a sudden we’re right back where we started.

Number of booms: 10

Fiery explosions: 3 and a bit

The Doctor Runs: Maybe. He sort of canters a bit.

Darkness factor: 7.8

It’s a mystery: “Who was that masked woman?”

Semi-identifiable monster count: 10? 11? I lost count, and I don’t care any more.

 

So what have we learned from all this? Well, I’ve learned I need to stop watching trailers, at least for a while. I’ve learned there’s more than one way to skin a cat, or re-invent the wheel, or flog a dead horse. I’ve learned that Doctor Who trailers often say more about the tone of the show they’re portraying than perhaps they intend. I’ve learned that Murray Gold really needs to rein it in, although that’s hardly headline news. But perhaps most of all I’ve learned that I still want to come with the Doctor, particularly if it isn’t safe – because however it’s presented it always is and always will be the trip of a lifetime.

I could just do with it being a little quieter…

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The Doctor Who Trailer Deconstruction (part two)

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You remember the other day we were talking about progression? Well, I mean that in a literal sense. There’s an obvious gap between series 1-3 and the rest of the Doctor Who trailers, because after the departure of Martha, the Doctor stops talking to the camera. Perhaps he’s done showing off. Perhaps it’s an indication of the darkening of Tennant’s Doctor and the series in general – something that would continue under Moffat, however comically amusing Matt Smith turned out to be when he was throwing a plate across the lawn. Or perhaps, with three seasons under its belt, the revived Doctor Who no longer felt the need to prove itself.

But when we count up through the rest of the trailers, the line is much harder to draw. Yes, you can sort of do a rough squiggle in furry felt tip after the departure of Smith, but even before he regenerates you can spot stylistic shifts in the way these minute-long previews are produced and presented. So I have drawn the line mathematically, for the sake of easy reading. Four trailers today, and the remaining four next time. Most of the categories are self-explanatory, although I’d point out that this is where the tedious ‘mysteries’ begin to poke through (emerging with a vengeance later on). We open in 2008, with Bernard Cribbins sitting on a hill in a red woolly hat. That’s always a good way to begin.

 

Series 4

“It’s OK,” this one lets us know at the outset. “I know this is Donna, but look! She’s gone all sensible and calm! She’s taken up astronomy! SHE’S SPEAKING IN A REASONABLY PACED VOICE BELOW 95 DECIBELS!.” This embodiment of a grounded, mature Ms Noble is almost immediately followed by the memorable scene from ‘Partners in Crime’ in which the Doctor-Donna mug at each other through two panes of glass, unaware that Sarah Lancashire is watching, but it was an amusing moment, so we’ll let that one go. This is where the booming starts big time – you know, the big, heavily reverberated THUD that accompanies each fresh image; it is a contemporary harbinger of doom. A shame, in a way, that they drop in the massive spoiler that is The Rose Revived (sorry, that’s probably only funny if you live in Oxfordshire and know your pubs) but I suppose it had leaked already.

Number of booms: 10 1/2

Fiery explosions: 1 (finally!)

The Doctor Runs: 4

It’s a mystery: What the hell is Rose doing there?

Identifiable monster count: 5, if you count Clone Martha / 6 if you count Billie Piper’s teeth

 

 

Series 5

Oh look, Amy’s speaking through an open-air microphone. This isn’t a bad introduction to the Eleventh Doctor, although Rory is almost entirely absent, while there’s far too much of River. Several of the showcase shots from the series (most of which appear to involve characters floating just outside the TARDIS) are used to reasonable effect but what strikes you throughout is the use of colour – greens and blues dominate, at the expense of the reds and browns that dominated much of Tennant’s time. Loses marks for including those wretched Spitfires.

Number of booms: 5

Fiery explosions: 1/2

The Doctor Runs: 2

It’s a mystery: How does Mark Gatiss continue to get writing gigs?

Identifiable monster count: 8

 

 

Series 6 (part one)

Right, guys: this is where it gets tedious. This one is heavy on the first two stories (although it shows refreshingly little of the Silence). “Somewhere different,” muses the Doctor as the camera rolls over the Utah desert; “somewhere brand new” – coded language for HEY, AMERICA! WE SPENT SHIT LOADS OF MONEY TRYING TO MAKE YOU ENJOY THIS! A naked Alex Kingston is spotted, presumably resulting in complaints to OFCOM even as legion of fan-fiction writers are running for their laptops.

Number of booms: 4

Fiery explosions: None, although the TARDIS fizzes a little. Presumably the Doctor spilled some Tizer over it.

The Doctor Runs: He doesn’t. Everyone else is running to him.

It’s a mystery: Why has the Doctor been running, aside from the fact that he always does?

Identifiable monster count: 4

 

 

Series 6 (part two)

Also known as: the story arc so tedious the BBC procrastinated for four months while they figured out whether or not they ought to inflict it upon us. This is really where the mystery starts to monopolise things. There are numerous brief shots of things you can only just see (to call them ‘identifiable’, as I have done, is something of a stretch) and there is a lot of tedious exposition about the Doctor’s supposed death: clearly we are supposed to care more about what the series is actually about than its episodic contents. There is also an awful lot of that Stetson. Did it negotiate a union fee?

Number of booms: 1

Fiery explosions: None. Obviously all the pyrotechnic budget went on those CG pterodactyls.

The Doctor Runs: He doesn’t, but he does appear to leap through a window.

It’s a mystery: Why is the Doctor’s time running out? And couldn’t he just slip back an hour or so and put some more money in the parking meter?

Identifiable monster count: 7. Does Madame Kovarian count? Certainly that eye patch is a cosplay disaster.

 

Next time: Into darkness. Whether you like it or not.

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The Doctor Who Trailer Deconstruction (part one)

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I’m having a bad day. I’d really rather not tell you why. But bad days need to be flushed out with constructive creativity, otherwise they fester. So my response is to blog. (And Emily is buying bacon, because bacon is good.)

Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ll have seen the series nine trailer. I’m not even going to link to it, because it’s all over the web, usually followed by tedious “permission to squee!” comments. I am at best ambivalent, for reasons we’ll get to. Suffice to say Doctor Who trailers stopped being interesting when they became formulaic. It’s like The X-Factor. Once you can see what’s going on and how they do it, much of the appeal is lost. But perhaps that’s trailers in general. Just the other day I watched a four minute preview of the Batman Vs. Superman film Warner have slated for 2016, and rarely have I been so bored – it’s a trailer I again choose not to link to, largely for fear of inducing narcolepsy. Perhaps it’s the relentless boom-boom-boom of shadowy figures, cracking pavements and ominous quotes: different films packaged in exactly the same way each time. Perhaps I just have superhero fatigue.

Have I ever experienced films in the cinema that were significantly worse than their trailers suggested? You bet. The Avengers (we’re talking the 1998 adaptation of the 60s classic, not the Marvel thing) is an obvious example. The trailer made it look quite promising, given that it revealed nothing of the nonsensical plot – or lack thereof – nor the ridiculous dialogue and excruciating acting, particularly from Thurman. Part of the problem, for example, was the scene in which Peel and Steed walk across the ocean towards August De Wynter’s base in what appear to be giant hamster balls – an impressive moment in the trailer, rendered inconsequentially ridiculous in the film when it is given absolutely no explanation. The trailer’s job is not to explain but to pique your curiosity: but if that’s as far as explanations go, you’re inevitably going to be disappointed.

Alien: Resurrection (coincidentally the same year as The Avengers) was another one. The trailer – or at least the one I saw – avoids most of the mistakes the film made by showing us very little of the alien (perhaps the biggest criticism of Alien: Resurrection is that we see Giger’s ghastly creatures far too much, and far too often). It also doesn’t allow Winona Ryder to speak. Curiously my biggest gripe with the film stems from a single moment, in which a doomed mercenary whispers “Who are you?” to the sinister Ripley clone, who’s just informed him that he’s got a monster growing inside him. In the trailer, her response is a grin, which would have been the perfect way to end the scene – and it was only when I finally saw the thing that I discovered they’d had her say “I’m the monster’s mommy”. Alien always worked best when it was holding back, something the writers would have done well to remember.

But I went back through the ten years of Doctor Who trailers that the BBC have used since the show’s 2005 revival, and there are patterns. More than this, there’s development. I noticed a marked progression, and it is for this reason that we compartmentalise them into three separate posts, showing the shift in styles that gradually darkens the tone, from warmth down to sub-zero. Today, we’ll look at the early years – because it was during those first three series that the Doctor chose to break the fourth wall.

 

Series 1 (2005)

Looking back on it now, it’s amazing to think how radical this was: the Ninth Doctor actively extending his invitation to Rose to the audience at large, in precisely the same words. The goal of this is primarily to hook an unsuspecting public, many of whom expected the show to fail – and the effect is rather like a telethon, in the way that its central character broke with the previously established convention of keeping the focus confined entirely within the set.* Amazingly, it works. The delay on Eccleston’s monologue is borderline irritating, but it sort of emphasises the time travel theme.

* ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’ notwithstanding, of course.

Smugness factor: 4

Fiery explosions: 1 (although we see it three or four times)

Identifiable monster count: 1 (but it’s a Dalek)

 

Series 2

Meh. This seems to sum up many of the worst things about the Tenth-Rose series: the two of them against the world, armed only with a mortgage. It doesn’t help that only one of the first five episodes of series 2 was actually any good, and that’s the only one conspicuous in its absence. Tennant is sleeping on the floor of the TARDIS – the implication, surely, is post-regeneration – before inviting the audience along in much the same way Eccleston did, with twice the panache and none of the sincerity. Piper has one line, and even then she comes across as irritating, which more or less sets the tone for the series at large.  Some of the in-TARDIS visual effects are borderline 90s pop video, and I suppose in the grand scheme of things that isn’t too far out.

Smugness factor: 8

Fiery explosions: none (although watch out for the lightning)

Identifiable monster count: 4 (plus flying monks)

 

Series 3

If the Doctor spent most of 2006 fawning over Rose, he spent most of 2007 completely ignoring Martha, and the series-wide gap between them is manifest here in the split-screen effect that dominates the first half of the trailer. There’s an awful lot of Judoon, but I suppose they were the flagship monster that year. Tennant seems a little calmer this time, but the arrogance remains. “Anything you can do, I can do better…”

Smugness factor: 7

Fiery explosions: none (seriously, why did I make this a thing?)

Identifiable monster count: 4 (depending on how you count)

 

Coming soon: the girl who waited, the perils of travelling alone, and Billie Piper’s teeth.

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

In the Forest of the Night Garden

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Let me tell you why, in the grand scheme of things, I’ll back the BBC to the hilt. It stems from the winter of 2009, when Daniel was quite literally a babe in arms, and on the occasions he had trouble sleeping at night (which was often) we would be beset by a screaming child, thrashing in his bed, at two or three in the morning or any other time of night that suited him. Absolutely nothing would comfort him apart from episodes of In The Night Garden on the BBC iPlayer, which had an inexplicably mesmeric effect. The inconsolable baby would become instantly calm and serene as he stared at the colourful characters and the gentle stories in which they were embroiled. I don’t know how Kay Benbow did it, but after that, I’m willing to forgive the BBC for just about anything.

In The Night Garden burst onto our screens almost a decade ago as the spiritual successor (and, in many ways, direct emulator) of Teletubbies. It featured a beautiful, tranquil forest populated by a cast of happy creatures of varying shapes and sizes. There’s the cave-dwelling Makka Pakka, whose stone-stacking and face-washing borders on obsessive compulsive. There is Upsy Daisy, who has a skirt that flares up, Marilyn Monroe style, when she wants to dance, and a bed that follows her around (which is surely a Dragon’s Den patent in waiting). There are the Tombliboos, who live in a bush in a sort of multi-tiered structure, playing loud music and constantly having to hitch up their trousers. There are the Pontipines – a family of ten, dressed a little like Catholic cardinals, living in a tiny house under a tree – and the Wottingers, their rarely seen, blue-garbed neighbours. Most intriguing of all is Igglepiggle, who doesn’t appear to actually live in the garden, given that he travels there at the beginning of every episode, security blanket in hand. There is thus the speculation that Igglepiggle is some embodiment of the consciousness of the sleeping child seen in the opening credits, perhaps an avatar of some sort. Well, they got the skin colour right.

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The formulaic approach to In The Night Garden is part of its charm. The star-swept night sky bursts into flowers just as Igglepiggle’s boat ascends into the heavens, and then we’re in the Night Garden itself, where we are told to hang about while the Pinky Ponk catches up, or run in abject fear from the Ninky Nonk (why? Is it some kind of terrifying self-driving truck intent on running over whichever Pontipine gets in its way? Is this Duel, dressed up for the bedtime hour?). The characters have some sort of inconsequential adventure, they may or may not have a dance on the carousel, there’s a peculiar chant from the Tittifers (stop sniggering at the back there) and then we spend ten minutes saying goodbye to everyone. Nonetheless, particular episodes stand out. There’s ‘Sad and Happy Tombliboos’, in which the Tombliboos play free jazz, which makes everyone in the garden miserable. There’s ‘Mind the Haahoos’, an incredible high octane chase through the garden as the Ninky Nonk weaves in and out of the trees, only narrowly missing the giant balloons that inhabit the spaces in between. And then there’s ‘Igglepiggle’s Tiddle’, in which – oh, you figure it out.

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The whole thing is voiced by Derek Jacobi, who does a cracking job, particularly with the singing. In The Night Garden contains the sort of nonsense language that would have made Spike Milligan proud, and those who level criticisms against both the characters’ apparent gibberish and the overall strangeness of the experience have broadly missed the point: this is not for you. It’s for your children, and children love it. They don’t just foist stuff like this upon an unsuspecting audience without checking it over. Kay Benbow knows what she’s doing. The phenomenal success of Teletubbies is testament to that.

“Honestly, though,” said my father, who mostly knows him as Cadfael. “All those ridiculous words. What must Derek Jacobi have made of it? What was he thinking when he recorded it?”

“The money, Dad?” I suggested.

(Side note: how to freak out your children, class 101. You show them the series three episode of Doctor Who in which Jacobi turns out to be the Master. And then you put them to bed with the songs and music from In The Night Garden playing on the iPod. On a loop.)

Anyway: I don’t know why I didn’t think of mashing up In The Night Garden with Frank Cottrell Boyce’s ‘In the Forest of the Night’ when it aired last autumn. Perhaps it was Edward’s recent fascination with the show (that’s In The Night Garden now, not the Doctor Who story, although he does like the tiger). Either way I spent much of Wednesday evening busy with Fireworks (my image manipulator of choice, although at some point I really ought to learn how to use Photoshop). It wasn’t plain sailing: I spent almost an hour getting the one with the Haahoos not quite right, but it is here anyway as an experiment gone wrong, and the rest aren’t too bad. At any rate they made my children laugh. Ultimately, isn’t that why I do this?

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Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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