Weazle Words (part two)

Last Friday, I posted an extract from the first chapter of my novel, with the promise that business would be concluded this week. If you haven’t yet read that post, I suggest you do so now if  you want the following to make any real sense. (It may still not, of course, but you stand a bigger chance.) A brief note: I wrote this before I either knew about or saw a certain episode from last year, and at this stage I’m inclined to leave the last exchange in there, even though it no longer makes any sense.

We rejoin the Doctor and Amy as we left them: trapped in the TARDIS kitchen with a small bundle of blue fur, and facing off against a monstrous plant…


Chapter One, Part Two

Somehow, the Doctor managed to seize the moss ball, spring into a standing position and turn a hundred and eighty degrees on the spot in one fluid motion. It was astonishing to watch these occasional displays of agility, Amy thought, from a man that she had come to know as practically dyspraxic. Or at least that’s what she would have been thinking, had she not been distracted by the gargantuan monstrosity that was now blocking the doorway.

The plant was easily twenty-five feet long, and bright orange: a poisonous, deadly orange that one might associate with a tree frog. The effect was enhanced by jagged black stripes that ran down the main stem, like a sort of reversed tarantula. The stem was two feet thick and made jarring snapping noises as it creaked. A solitary eye the size of a pig sat at the top, staring at them, unblinking. Then the stem protruded downwards, ending at a wide gelatinous base that housed a pool of glowing purple fluid. The fluid seemed to take a life of its own, bubbling and whirling without pattern or reason, but just because it could. Occasionally one of the plant’s many tentacles would reach into the pool and emerge with its end painted a bright, vivid mauve. Each tentacle contained a set of crocodile-like teeth.

For a man whose ship had been boarded by the kraken, the Doctor was unusually calm. “Amy, meet the snapweazle. Snapweazle, this is Amy.”

“Um…yeah. Hello,” said Amy, feeling slightly less ridiculous than she imagined she might. “I hope you’ve had lunch?”

The snapweazle lurched from left to right, tentacles lashing and billowing at random. The great eye surveyed them, moving a brilliant pupil that had the appearance of black marble from left to right and back again, surveying its surroundings. Then it began to rock forwards on its base, and it had done this for about seven seconds when it made the first jump.

It was shuffling through the doorway.

Any started. “Doctor, it’s – it’s walking!”

“So I see.”

“But plants don’t walk.”

The Doctor allowed himself the briefest sideways glance. “Neither does a statue.”


Illustration: Josh

The snapweazle was all the way through now, and advancing upon them It seemed to be growing bigger and more deadly by the second. Amy found herself involuntarily backing up against the Aga. Her hands reached behind the back of her waist to touch the cold metal handle. She noted that the Doctor had joined her, looking similarly panicky. “Please tell me,” she whispered, “that you have a way out of this.”

“Just one,” said the Doctor, as the tentacle reached out its pointed end. “How’s your operetta?”

Amy gave a start. “Truthfully, I’m a little rusty.”

The Doctor nodded, resigned, as if this were to be expected. “Fine. Just take your cue from me.” And to Amy’s astonishment, he cleared his throat, looked up at the menacing plant, and opened his mouth to sing:

“Your seedling hearts, ah, do not steel
to pity’s eloquent appeal
such conduct humble bipeds feel –
Sigh, sigh, all sigh!”

The Doctor glanced at Amy again, but this time it was purposeful. Amy got the hint, and managed a theatrical sigh. Turning back to the plant again, he continued:

“To plant or beast we rarely see
A girl or Time Lord bend the knee
Yet, one and all, they kneel to ye –
Kneel, kneel, all kneel!

We bipeds very seldom cry
And yet – I need not tell you why –
A tear-drop dews each saddened eye!
Weep, weep, all weep!”

He was no Leonard Osborn, but the effect was surprising, dramatic and almost instantaneous. The plant reared up, its tentacles quivering and its central column vibrating. Then it emitted a tremendous screeching noise, and then exploded.

It was about thirty seconds before Amy regained consciousness. The snapweazle’s combustion had included a shockwave that had shaken the floor of the TARDIS, and both Amy and the Doctor had been thrown against the Aga, before collapsing in a heap. When she awoke, a blurry vision of the kitchen swam into view, and she could make out the polished black work surfaces, the open fridge door, and the Doctor, who was still out cold. Amy felt a strange sensation, halfway between pleasant and painful, and looked down to see the moss ball chewing on her index finger.

She withdrew her hand quickly. The moss ball looked up at her, insofar as it was able to do so, considering it had no eyes. It looked almost ashamed of itself.

“There, there,” Amy said, with as much compassion as she could muster. “It’s OK. You’re still hungry? Here.” She picked up the carrot and held it to where she assumed the moss ball’s mouth must be. The carrot instantly became shorter, like a branch being dropped into a wood chipper. There was a moment’s silence, and then the creature belched.

There was movement from the floor beside her; the Doctor was shaking off the last vestiges of unconsciousness and propping himself upright. “Gosh. That was a close one. Lucky I remembered my Gilbert and Sullivan. Singing in the shower, Pond,” he said, wagging a bony finger at her. “More useful than you’d think.”

He jumped to his feet. “Right! Time to clean up, I think. There’s a mop in the cleaning cupboard, which is down the corridor on the left, next to the server room. If you can sort out the surfaces,” he said to Amy, “I’ll sort out the floors.”

Amy was still cradling the moss ball. “What about this one, Doctor?”

“Oh, him. He’ll be fine for a moment. If he’s eaten he won’t want to eat again for at least a week. I expect he’ll be happy just playing.”

“Are you sure? Because I don’t want to be cradling a moss ball in one hand and a J-cloth in the other. Can we not put him in a playpen, or a cot or something?”

“This is the TARDIS, Amy, not a crèche! We’ll just have to do the best we can. Heaven knows what the health and safety people would say if they walked in right now. Well, if I had any health and safety people. Either way, it’s important we clean up this mess before – ”

The Doctor stopped. Or rather he was encouraged to stop by the alarm call from the next room. The klaxon was low, heavy, and resonated into the kitchen. Amy looked up. “What’s that?”

“It’s the TARDIS emergency materialisation alarm. It’s programmed to go off in the event certain carbon-based life forms try and take over the ship. Well, that and leaving the iron on. But the snapweazle’s triggered it. Anyway – ” the Doctor continued, as he sprinted out of the kitchen and into the control room – “Long story short, we’re landing.”

“Well, can’t you shut it off? It’s not as if we need to worry about it now.”

“Can’t. The shutdown mechanism froze up some time ago and I hadn’t got around to fixing it. Easier if we just ride it out. Hold down that lever.”

They were at the controls now, the time rotor rising and falling with a juddering, stuttering motion – not the smoothness that Amy was used to, but at least it was working again, however imperfectly. The juddering apparently had knock-on effects throughout the whole ship, which was rumbling in a manner the young woman found somewhat unsettling. There had been rumbling before, she remembered. Beneath the soil, when she had disappeared down the rabbit hole and found a kingdom full of lizards. She had enjoyed a brush with the future in a context that was yet to be explained. But when she mentioned the Silurians, the Doctor would change the subject.

She wondered why. But not now. Now, the klaxon in her head was setting up a camp bed and getting under her feet, and introspection would have to wait. The Doctor was busy at the desk, spinning dials and punching buttons, his brow furrowed in concentration. The ship lurched, and the two of them almost lost their footing. Outside the TARDIS, it would have been an impressive sight: the battered police box swaying in the mists of the time vortex.



Illustration: Daniel

“Amy!” bellowed the Doctor above the din. “That button! Now!”

Amy saw where he was pointing and stretched across. Skin found plastic. There was one final lurch, and then a sudden stop. The ground ceased to rumble and became stable. The lights went out. Smoke poured from vents, and two electrical cables sparked together in a most dangerous fashion near one of the hatches.

The Doctor looked over, alarmed. “Uh-oh. Better get that fixed, and sharpish.” He strode purposefully across the TARDIS, pulling a pair of rubber gloves from his jacket pocket as he went. Looping one end round a protruding hook in the wall and tying it so that it was secured far away from the other end of the cable, he turned to face his companion. “We made it, anyway. No broken bones, Pond?”

“No.” She rubbed the back of her forehead “Hell of a stiff neck, though. So where are we?”

“No idea. Let’s have a look.”The Doctor swivelled a monitor into view even as he reached the desk. “Hmm. That’s funny. Earth, apparently, in the late thirteenth century. 1285, to be exact. But nothing more specific.”

“So the TARDIS will tell you when we are, but not where?”

“Exactly. The readouts must have got damaged in the landing. I’ll fix them later. Meantime, we go and look.”

“Thirteenth century? That’s around the crusades, isn’t it? Robin Hood, Merry Men in the forest.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.” The Doctor’s face darkened “Ye gods, I hope we don’t run into him. I owe him a mackerel.”

“You owe Robin Hood a – ” Amy realised that continuing the discussion was pointless, because the Doctor was already heading for the doors. “Bring a coat, Amy. It’s October. Liable to be chilly.”

Categories: The Child Left Behind | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: ‘Under the Lake’

Under The Lake (1)

Toby Whithouse’s output for Doctor Who has been wildly inconsistent over the years. On the one hand he wrote one of the best episodes since 2005 (‘The God Complex’) – on the other hand he followed it the next year with one of the worst (‘A Town Called Mercy’). After something of a sabbatical, ‘Under The Lake’ is his first Who story under Capaldi’s run in the TARDIS. And to my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be a corker.

The base-under-siege thing is a concept that is almost as old as Doctor Who itself, arguably seeing its zenith in the late sixties (when I asked Gareth for his favourites, the reply was “Troughton, lots of Troughton and then some more Troughton”). Some are better than others: ‘The Ice Warriors’ is a fine example of how to do it well, while ‘Warriors of the Deep’ is a fine example of how to do it badly (although it does feature both halves of a pantomime horse). Either way, the concept is very simple: a self-contained installation (the more claustrophobic the better) under threat from intruders, with the Doctor and companion(s) thrust into the middle.

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This instantly creates a problem: why doesn’t the Doctor just bundle everyone into the TARDIS, get them away from the ship and then blow it up? Typically such a narrative hump is resolved by taking the TARDIS out of the loop for a while, or by inserting a McGuffin for the intruders to exploit, rendering the base’s contents invaluable. In the case of ‘Under The Lake’, the ‘ghosts’ only want to kill people: as it turns out there is a good reason for this, and it is left to the Doctor to not only figure this out but actively try and communicate with them.

It doesn’t start well, at least not for Clara. “I want a new adventure!” she vigorously insists, as she skips out of the battered old police box, strolling casually up the Drum’s corridor. “Come on, you feel the same!” Meanwhile it’s the Doctor who is uncharacteristically cautious – and with good reason, as it turns out, as the TARDIS has landed them in the middle of Scotland for no reason, which is never a good start. It’s obvious what Whithouse intends by this reversal of temperament – and to his credit he deals with it later on, in fine fashion – but for a moment it really is like watching Amy in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, and if I remember correctly that was the point at which I started to hate her.

Under The Lake (3)

Thankfully the ghosts turn up a few seconds later and we are spared Clara’s Violet Elizabeth Bott routine (Dan Martin, but I’m stealing it) – at least for the moment. Instead, the Doctor is dumped into a command situation, the psychic paper neatly dispelling the usual “falsely accused of murder and locked up” routines that would act as filler in so many old stories. (This wasn’t always a bad thing – ‘Colony in Space’ consists of practically nothing else, and it’s wonderful – but there just doesn’t seem to be time anymore.)

Given the slightly disjointed nature of the series’ opening instalment, it’s this episode that gives us the first chance to really explore the relationship between the Doctor and Clara and how it’s developed. Whithouse does this by including a frank conversation in the TARDIS in which the Doctor implores Clara not to “go native”. “There’s a whole dimension in here,” he insists, “but there’s only room for one me”. It’s an understated and genuinely touching moment, in which Coleman acts mostly with her eyes, in the best possible sense. This occurs just a few minutes after a wonderful scene in which she and the Doctor navigate their way through a series of cue cards she’s drawn up for when he fails to respond appropriately. Clara famously described herself as the Doctor’s carer as far back as ‘Into the Dalek’, but in many ways that’s exactly what she’s become, and it works.

Under The Lake (4)

But none of this would really count for anything if the ghosts weren’t scary – and in that respect, ‘Under The Lake’ delivers in spades. Appearing as soon as the lights go out (which happens with increasing frequency once they master the base’s ambient controls) they’re as chilling as anything the series has offered up since the blanket monster in ‘Listen’ – malevolent phantasms, stalking purposely but slowly through the murky interiors of the Drum. The burned-out eyes are frightening to behold (although Pritchard’s vague resemblance to Robin is unfortunate), but it’s the constant moving mouths that are the icing on a truly frightening cake, even though the impact is lessened somewhat once this turns out to be a vital plot point.

First time Who director Daniel O’Hara’s handles things competently, allowing for a slow but steady build up and then a series of brief, but effective set pieces: the moment when Clara realises that she’s standing in the room with a dead man is predictably chilling, while Lunn’s Alien 3-inspired encounter with the deceased Pritchard is quite wonderful. Most refreshing of all is the Doctor’s conviction that these really are ghosts, even though it flies in the face of everything he’s previously encountered and believed. “There was no such thing as socks and smartphones and badgers,” he reasons, “until there suddenly were”. It echoes Tennant’s conversation with Ida in the Satan Pit way back in 2006: “That’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.”

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There are minor niggles. It’s not enough to have a deaf person in charge of the base: she has to have a superpower as well (in this case, lipreading). The fate of the stupidly named Richard Pritchard can be seen a mile off, and the Peter Andre joke is a misfire (although I suspect I am now one of many thousands of people anxious to see the Doctor’s clockwork squirrel). And it’s all in danger of unravelling in the final few minutes. Closing explanations are a little confusing (but once again, that’s probably because we couldn’t hear Capaldi’s muttering) and the cliffhanger undoes at least some of Whithouse’s good work: by forcing the protagonist to undergo the same fate, you’re implying that the process is somehow reversible.

But on the other hand, this seems to be where we are. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that the one thing I missed the most about the new series (it seems niggly to call it ‘new’ when it’s been back on our screens for a decade, but there it is) was the absence of cliffhangers. Davies is largely to blame: his assertion that audiences couldn’t commit to serial drama may have been mildly insulting to anyone who grew up with Murder: One, but on the other hand his determination to make accessible, drop-in-drop-out television was arguably instrumental in making New Who the success that it grew to be while he was in the chief writer’s chair.

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Moffat’s been a different kettle of fish from the outset – he creates television that warrants watching, re-watching, dissecting and analysing in order to pick up on the myriad little things that are apparently important (which is why I spend hours each week producing satirical posts that do just that). His shows require a commitment, for better or worse. The return to regular episodic television – of a sort – was as inevitable as Whithouse’s decision to once again kill the Doctor at the end of this week’s story. Is this about being careful what you wish for, or making the best of what you get? I truly don’t know any more. I wonder if perhaps I’ve been a little too harsh on the constant decisions to close instalments with the deaths of someone important. It renders death meaningless, and that’s a problem, but perhaps this is the way television works now. Perhaps I’m not the intended audience.

So it was a silly cliffhanger, but the kids will love it. It was a silly cliffhanger, but it was a cliffhanger. Cliffhangers are back. Rejoice.

Under The Lake (7)


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God is in the detail (9-2)

I’m a little late on my rounds this week, for one reason and another (more on that another time). But it has meant plenty of time to digest and mull over the only slightly wibbly-wobbly orgy of delights that was ‘The Witch’s Familiar’. Without further ado, here are the SIGNS and CLUES that hint at BIGGER THINGS DOWN THE LINE.

Exhibit A: the Doctor, escaping from Davros’s room.

Witch_Detail (2)

There are eight segments in that initial tunnel. The Doctor is in the FOURTH. Furthermore eight is itself exactly divisible by FOUR. The two adjoining intersections that you may see are only roughly square in shape (technically octagonal), but they have FOUR corner sections. There are FOUR indecipherable symbols in the central right section. Davros’s chamber itself is made up of FOUR not-exactly-concentric layers that surround the central core. Lastly, the porthole through which we view this is surrounded by FOUR bolts that secure it to the wall.

We can therefore conclude, unambiguously, that this is linked to the Sixth Doctor. There is absolutely no other explanation.

Now look at this.

Witch_Detail (1)

Laser blasts, innit? WRONG. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG.

Tridents. That’s what they are. Well, two tridents and a bit that’s broken off. Don’t believe me? Just watch.


Tridents have been in the British news quite a lot lately, mostly thanks to Jeremy Corbyn. But Tridents featured heavily in Ulysses 31, the 1981 Japanese / French collaboration that saw a dashing hero wander aimlessly through an unknown universe, bereft of the ability to navigate, accompanied by a sentient spacecraft, a couple of children and an annoying tin robot.

…I mean, I could go on. What’s more, if you take the words “Mortals! You defy the Gods?”) and rearrange the letters, you get ‘Adders foetus mythology’, which obviously refers to Colony Sarff.


No, I said Sarff. SARFF.

And the bit that’s broken off? A CLEAR AND DELIBERATE reference to ‘Day of the Doctor’, which, like the Labour party, also featured a weathered, bearded man trying to relate to a youthful, slightly wary new breed. Two complete Doctors and one that isn’t quite, but you can’t miss him.

Finally, note there are seven of these. There were seven Doctors in the classic run. The Doctor is at this point being attacked by androids. ‘The Android Invasion’ (in which established characters were replaced with synthetic duplicates) celebrates its fortieth anniversary on 22 November, the day after episode 10 is due to air. Episode 10 is called ‘Face the Raven’. Ravens featured in ‘Day of the Doctor’. There you have it, my friends, in black and white, or at least black against a calming shade of peach. (Thank you, WordPress Adventurer Journal theme.)

Next up, here’s a bored-looking Davros, sitting in his chair.

Witch_Detail (5)

Not much to say about this one, except: Big ‘blue’ ‘button’ >> snow globe >> last episode of St. Elsewhere, in which the whole show was a fantasy in the head of a kid with autism. Conclusion: NONE OF THIS IS REAL. One word: head crabs.

Finally, here’s the Doctor, with a sixties-type thing in the background. Cool, isn’t it?

Witch_Detail (4)

Note the snake obscuring the white circle of light, which thus becomes a half moon. Half Moon Bay are an established online company, an “award-winning wholesaler of licensed and themed giftware”: their Doctor Who selection is substantial and impressive, but most interesting of all are the fact that they’re based in Bath. To join the dots here we must look at Longleat House, which has a long history associated with Doctor Who – from the 1983 anniversary convention (nearly ruined by Mark Strickson’s assertion that you can “just turn up”) to the exhibition that was there for years afterwards. And who lives in Longleat House? That’s right. The Marquis of Bath.

Note also the black circle with three dots of blue light – at 9, 12 and 3 o’clock respectively, a clear and unambiguous reference to Capaldi, Eccleston and Pertwee. But note also the dot of red light just up to the left – at 10 o’clock, by the way. Now watch what happens when we connect the dots.

Witch_Detail (4b)

Ostensibly it’s a rhombus, also known as a diamond. But if you squint, it’s a kite, or a parallelogram. I will say that again: a rhomBUS, a DIAMOND, a KITE (which, by the way, is a flying object, in at least two contexts), or a PARALLELogram.

From this we conclude: the human Tenth Doctor, currently trapped in a PARALLEL universe, is due to encounter someone with a fondness for DIAMONDS and other expensive things, in a BUS that FLIES.


Dum. Dum. Dum. Du-du-du-du…

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Weazle Words (part one)


It’s Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays. It’s October, which means the Great Pumpkin, harvest, and our wedding anniversary, not in that order. And over at Penguin, Justin Richards has released a new book entitled Time Lord Fairy Tales. Aimed at the 7-11 age bracket, it promises to be “A stunning illustrated collection of fifteen dark and ancient fairy tales from the world of Doctor Who.”

But which fairy stories, you may ask? Well, this is one of the digital download summaries:

The Scruffy Piper
Read by: Nicholas Briggs

Space Station Hamlyn is under siege. Thousands of small metal creatures are flying through space, sent by silver warriors to burrow inside the station. The crew’s only hope is a slightly scruffy-looking stranger, with a recorder and a mysterious blue box . . .


And I confess that when I read this synopsis, my first words were “Oh, bugger”. Because I’ve just spent eighteen months writing (and a good deal more time planning) a Doctor Who novel which runs along very similar lines.

There are differences, of course. Richards has produced a short story aimed at children. I’ve produced a full-length novel set in twelfth century Hamelin – specifically, Hamelin after the Piper has been and gone, when the Doctor arrives to find a town that’s a shell of its former self. The story of the Pied Piper tells of one lame child who did not make it through the rock face before it closed, and it was this that provided a starting point. How would such a boy be treated in the wake of such a terrible thing? Would he be a victim? A pariah? A political pawn? What about his parents? It’s into this situation that the Doctor is thrust – but he hasn’t been in Hamelin long when the murders begin…

Is there a bit of flag-planting going on here? Probably. Am I territory marking? Well, I’m trying not to. But I know how this works: I know that somewhere along the line, if this ever sees the light of day, I’m going to be told that I stole the idea. And I can deal with that. No one can copyright an idea and I’m sure that I’m not the first person to join the dots between the Piper and the Doctor (and that’s even discounting the quite splendid Challenge of the Piper). Do I think it’s better than some Past Doctor Adventures? Well, yes, to be honest. It’s not exactly Booker material, but at least it’s consistent and tells a reasonable story, which is more than you can say for [THIS TEXT HAS BEEN AUTOMATICALLY CENSORED BY THE AUTHOR’S INNER DIPLOMAT].

I’m also not stupid: actual publication of this thing is (at time of writing) nothing more than a pipe dream. Unsolicited fiction is generally ignored these days, and everyone and their grandmother has written a Doctor Who novel. Thus when I visited a local writer’s event the other week I was advised – before I heard about this new book – to get the thing online in the meantime. “You might as well publish it,” the affable Australian to whom I was speaking said. “You won’t make any money, but there’s no law against it, and at least it’s out there.”

But I can’t bring myself to share the whole thing yet. It’s finished, but it’s not ready. It’s three hundred pages and on a good day it feels like a complete novel, with subplots and character development and an interesting story. On a bad day it feels like bad fanfic – desperate writing with a continuity obsession that rivals that of Ian Levine with a headache. There is a whole storyline that I’m still not convinced should actually be there – something that sort of works but which, I think, might be a colossal white elephant.

If you really want to read the whole thing, I’ll supply it on demand. But I’d rather get it polished first (Emily has, just this evening, pointed out that I need to establish whether or not Amy was in the Guides or the Scouts, as currently she’s in both). I am having it read by several people who will hopefully give me varying pieces of advice that I’ll take on board or politely discard.

However. The first chapter is, at the moment, about as good as I’m going to get it, and it’s incidental to the story, so you can read it. Here’s the first bit. The rest will follow next week. Hey, it worked for Dickens, and he got to hang out with the Doctor.


Chapter One, Part One

The time rotor in the middle of the TARDIS control console was stuck. Normally it glided up and down the column with a sort of calm fluidity, in the manner of a descending lavatory ballcock or a thirty-seven-year-old woman doing yoga. It was a graceful motion, one that seemed firmly at odds with the ship’s trademark wheezes and groans. But not today. Today it seemed to catch a few inches from its usual peak, where it would sit there, trying to move, but apparently caught fast.

The ship itself was not stuck, of course The Doctor had explained that while the time rotor’s mechanism appeared to be malfunctioning, the time rotor itself was not. “Still the same old TARDIS,” he said. “The rotor’s caught, but it’s still working. Except – ”

“Except what?” came the voice from below.

“Well, except that we’re careering backwards through time and I don’t know how to stop it,” the Doctor replied.
“That’s not exactly what I’d call working.”

“That’s not exactly what I’d call a skirt, Pond. You look like you forgot what you were doing halfway through getting dressed. Now hand me that spanner.”

The Doctor was perched on top of the console, legs spread slightly apart in order to minimise the likelihood of one of the sudden backwards tumbles for which his current incarnation seemed to be so notorious. It was no fun having to go through clumsy phases, the Doctor mused as he loosened one of the glass plates that hid the inner mechanism. That was the problem with regeneration. You never knew when loss of coordination would show up. It was like having to go through puberty again. The Doctor was fairly sure he’d done that on at least three occasions over the years, as a side effect of the body clock reset that hit him whenever he suffered a mortal wound. That was something they didn’t teach you at the academy.

Amelia Pond was leaning casually against one of the nearby columns, arms folded, watching with a composite of affection and amusement. The Doctor never seemed so at home as when he was knee deep in circuitry, she thought, or so frustrated. Many was the time she would enter the control room and find him cursing in what she assumed was Gallifreyan. He was one of these well-intentioned types who never read the manual. He reminded her of her own fath-

– Except she couldn’t remember her own father.

Why couldn’t she remember her own father?

Amy was comfortable with the idea of fathers as an abstract concept, of course. The notion sat with her. But it occurred to her now, within the quiet and solace of the time machine, even as the ancient elf behind her worked himself into a frenzy amidst a maelstrom of grunts and curses, that she never really thought about her parents. They seemed to exist in a vacuum; she didn’t know because it never occurred to her to ask about them. It wasn’t that her family history was entirely unknown. She could remember her aunt well enough, and those eerie, moonlit evenings at the house in Leadworth, where the beams floodlit the room and seemed to strike everything except the crack in her wall. But beyond that…it wasn’t a taboo topic, just one that had never come up. Amy wondered why she’d never asked.

This troubled her. There was something else; something that sat undiscussed. There was an elephant, and every so often it would stretch out a wrinkly, invisible trunk and tap her on the shoulder. It was a shadow in a mirror, a trick of the light, a thing that you could have sworn moved even though you saw nothing and knew it wasn’t possible. There was something that the Doctor wasn’t telling her.

Truth be told, there was plenty that the Doctor didn’t tell her. She didn’t know his name; that was off-limits. He wasn’t grumpy about it, but early conversations they’d had made it clear that this was like discussing an old marriage with a new partner, or like a kid she’d gone out with at seventeen who’d lost his sister to cancer and would clam up for the reset of the evening if her name was ever mentioned.

“Why on earth would you want to know my name, Pond?” the Doctor had asked her. And curiously, she’d been unable to come up with an answer that made any kind of sense, largely because when viewed in human terms it was a stupid question. But the Doctor, of course, wasn’t human. She knew that much. And he was the last of his kind; she knew that much as well. He didn’t talk about Gallifrey. That was off-limits, geographically and conversationally. Amy gave a mental shrug. There were other things to worry about. Such as why she could smell –

“– burning?”

Atop the control panel, the Doctor swivelled. “Burning? Are you sure?”

Amy nodded. “Over there.” She pointed to the east wall, or what the Doctor always referred to as the east wall, although how he had worked this out was beyond her comprehension. The TARDIS could reconfigure rooms any way she wanted – and frequently did, often just to perplex the Doctor – but currently the east wall led through to the kitchen.

The Doctor gave her a look. “Amy, did you leave the toaster on again?”

Despite herself, she felt her eyes rolling incredulously. “That one time -”

“Yes, and I’m still trying to get the smell out of the Bandulucian rug. Cost me a fortune, that rug did. And I had to pay extra postage. Honestly, Ebay. I ask you.”

“Definitely burning,” Amy said, trying to steer him back to the subject.

“Fine,” sighed her host, opening a panel below the handbrake and pulling out a small fire extinguisher and two bright green kite-shaped pieces of plastic that Amy supposed – correctly, as it turned out – were gas masks.

“Put this on,” he said, holding one to his face and hefting the extinguisher in the other hand. “In case of emergency, exits are over there.” He gestured over his shoulder at the TARDIS doors, and then turned his attention to the east wall. “Smells like it’s coming from one of the adjoining rooms, anyway. We’ll investigate, but keep directly behind me. And if I say run, run.”

“Where to?”

“Away from whatever is that’s chasing us. Honestly, do I have to start drawing pictures?”


The two of them left the deep blue of the control room and wandered through into a spacious kitchen area. Carved into a large U-shape measuring fifty square feet or more, the black marble work surfaces flanked a central breakfast area with metal bar stools arranged round a raised table. The worktops were late twentieth century in design but filled with gadgets and models from all epochs of culinary history, with a slight bias towards 1950s Earth. A well-thumbed Mrs Beeton sat propped up against a beige mixing bowl, which in turn sat next to a set of pan scales. When she’d first explored the kitchen, Amy had opened the book to find a faded inscription, scrawled in black ink: To my dear Doctor, with love as always. Thank you for the shortbread recipe.

There was no time for browsing today. The Doctor skirted elegantly round one side of the U-shaped counter, opening cupboards and checking behind jars and mug racks. Amy followed his lead and moved to the other end, ignoring the colossal fridge that dominated the far end. A minute or so later they had exhausted the last cupboard and found nothing. The Doctor spun on his heel and began pacing, chewing on a fingernail. “Nothing. No sign of anything.”

“I didn’t imagine it,” said Amy, with more than a trace of indignance.

“I know you didn’t. I can smell it as well, now. But there’s no trace of any loose wires, nothing left lying around.” His eyes wandered across to the far corner. “Did you check the fridge?”

“Why would I check the fridge?”

“It can still burn. I know it’s cold, but – ”

The Doctor stopped, mid-sentence. The fridge had wobbled.

“Did you see that?” The moment the words were out of Amy’s mouth she regretted them, but if the Doctor found her response banal, he was gentlemanly enough not to show it. “Yeah. Something in the fridge.”

“Something still alive?”

“Either alive or in the throes of death, hence the wobbling. Sadly it’s impossible to know, unless we open it.” The Doctor grinned, despite himself. “Schrödinger’s fridge.”

“How did it get in?” she asked.

“That market we visited on Roxx 3? It probably sneaked on there. You know, when I had the TARDIS doors open for a moment. But I still don’t know what it is.”

“It’s not gonna be, like, a huge dog sitting on top of a temple?”

“No, not in a fridge. Cat, possibly. Chinchilla, even.”

The Doctor inched closer to the door of the large white refrigerator. “Only one way to find out.”

Keeping at arm’s length, and holding the sonic screwdriver pointed forwards in his other hand, like a magic wand – which, in a way, it was – the Doctor grasped at the handle and swung the door open. Inside were several shelves stocked with yoghurt, shrink-wrapped vegetables – some of Earth origin, many not – and cheese, At the top, there was a large ice box.

At the bottom, there was a ball of blue fur. With ears.

The blue furball was eating a carrot. When it noticed the fridge light come on and the temperature start to creep up, it halted abruptly. The ears swivelled upwards like satellite dishes and faced the Doctor. The half-eaten carrot fell from what Amy assumed was a mouth and hit the plastic base of the fridge with a thud. It rolled forwards and out and landed on the kitchen floor.

The furball’s ears twitched slightly, as if waiting for a response from the Doctor. The Doctor squatted, beaming with delight. “A moss ball! My goodness, this is a blast from the past. And he’s hungry!” He cocked his head on one side and poggled the moss ball’s ears; not that there was much else to poggle. “That explains the burning smell, anyway. They’re always a little malodorous when they’re eating.”

Moss Ball

Amy glanced at him and then at the blue bundle of fluff, not really sure how she should respond. “A what?”

“A moss ball. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you.”

“It’s not – actually made of moss, is it?”

“No, it’s basically mammalian in composition. Well, half mammal, half arthropod. It comes from the sea forests of Hathendia.”

“That sounds like something out of a fantasy novel.”

“Oh, it is, Amy. It really is. Try and imagine the bluest, most brilliantly sparkly ocean you’ve ever imagined, right? Now, take that and turn it into a forest. With blue foliage on the trees. Plants that are aquamarine. Turquoise tree trunks.”

“What colour is the sun?”

“The sun is yellow, of course, but it hardly ever shines. Instead they have millions of fireflies, all lighting up the place. Completely harmless. Well, apart from the ones that aren’t.”

“And this – thing? It lives there?”

“Yes, it does.” The Doctor leaned in closer to get a better look at the stowaway. “The fur is basic camouflage, of course. It looks like any other plant. Which is very handy, because it’s preyed upon by a very nasty creature called the snapweazle.”

“OK,” said Amy. “That’s a seventies kids show waiting to happen.”

“Been there, done that. 1770s, of course, and a different planet. Anyway. The moss ball is a herbivore, but the snapweazle is a hundred per cent carnivorous. Nasty bite. And completely silent, so you seldom hear them coming.”

“Doctor – ”

“This little fellow looks positively starving. My guess is a snapweazle chased him out of the woods and he kept running – well, rolling – until he wound up in someone’s bag. And that someone was probably some sort of space tourist, and they went to Roxx 3, which is where it escaped from their baggage and found its way to the TARDIS. Hopefuly the snapweazle didn’t follow.”

“Doctor?” Amy’s voice carried an urgency that the Time Lord, who was now monologuing as if there were no tomorrow, missed completely.

“That’s the other thing about snapweazles, you see, Amy. They’re the most persistent psychotic plants in the known universe. Once they find a moss ball they like, they’ll pursue it across the stars. Well, never mind, little guy. You’re safe in here, aren’t you?” The Doctor gripped the furry ball in his hands and gave it a nose rub.


“And then, of course, there’s the fact that the snapweazle gets bigger and bigger the hungrier it gets. And it’s standing behind me right now, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”


Read Part Two

Categories: The Child Left Behind | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Watch out for Daleks, Charlie Brown

You’ve seen it, right? Half of you have probably changed your Facebook profile pictures. It’s not as flexible as it might be – there are fewer outfit options than I’d like – but for a web-based bit of fun it’s really rather good. I am, of course, talking about the Peanutizeme tool that enables you to create character likenesses in the Charles Schultz vein and pop them into assorted backgrounds, just in time for the Peanuts movie that’s due in November.

The second thing you do when you get a thing like this – after doing yourself, of course – is to think of a particular passion and try and render it. There are various Doctor Who versions doing the rounds, and most of them are better than mine: still, here are mine. First, the Ninth Doctor and Jack.


The Doctor isn’t too bad, although he has a little too much hair (the other choice was entirely bald, which simply didn’t work). Jack isn’t quite right (that’s supposed to be a vortex manipulator on his wrist, by the way) but that fiendish smile speaks volumes. Still, this one got a retweet from Paul Cornell, so I’m not complaining.

Next: the Tenth Doctor, with Sarah Jane and a rather grumpy-looking Rose, in ‘School Reunion’.


It’s not very fair to Rose, because by this point she’d really outgrown the Jeremy Kyle look, but I remember her being a general pain in this episode, and I have punished her accordingly. The robot Snoopy I found on the internet, and I now want one.

Finally: the Eleventh Doctor, accompanied by Amy and Clara.


I will leave it to you to work out which one is which. (Sadly there was no mullet option for the hair, and the jacket is the wrong colour, but aside from that it’s a reasonable likeness.)

And as for me? Well, yes, I did one. Actually I did the whole family. What’s that? You want to see it? Really?

Oh, go on then.


Categories: Crossovers | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: ‘The Witch’s Familiar’

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Well, that was shit.

Warning: Contains Spoilers

Some while ago, I wrote a couple of blog entries that dealt with foolish predictions. It was an exercise in humility, and a good excuse to showcase some of the times I’d got it spectacularly wrong. Matt Smith was covered in some detail. So was Donna Noble. I maintain I was right about ‘The Name of the Doctor’.

But I got it wrong last week. I assumed that the cliffhanger was going to have universe-wide ramifications, and in a way you can’t blame me, because that’s the sort of thing the chief writer does. It was therefore something of a blessed relief when we’d dealt with two of the supposedly destroyed things within the space of a minute and a half, while the third one languished in the background, turning up precisely when it was needed. It meant – in an instant – that the story no longer became a wibbly wobbly mess (well, it did, but only in the last few minutes) and instead became far more straightforward. Straightforward isn’t necessarily good, but at least I don’t have to start drawing the flow diagrams so I can explain this one to the kids.

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Those who complain (I haven’t checked, but I’m going to assume that people did) about the inadequate resolutions are entirely missing the point: Doctor Who’s cliffhanger denouements are supposed to be a bit rubbish. Sarah Jane falls three feet instead of thirty. Leela fires on the guards coming up the corridor. And the Doctor channels his regenerative energy into a convenient spare hand (we’re coming back to that later). As outcomes go, I’ve seen worse, although it features gratuitous use of slow motion. You can almost hear the score of The Matrix rising in the background.

The opening scene of this episode – in which Missy discusses said cliffhanger with a restrained, upended Clara (fifty-seven fan fiction writers just punched the air) – mirrored both the third series of Sherlock and, curiously, the opening of the second Monkey Island game; at least it did in my head. We’re going to assume that Missy’s explanation is correct, because otherwise we’ll be here all night and it is, in any case, of no real consequence. What follows is a prison break, of sorts, as the two reluctant allies navigate through the Skaro sewage system (ostensibly an excuse for lots of goo – actually a vital plot point) in search of the Doctor, who is still looking after Davros.

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‘The Witch’s Familiar’ is a story of two halves. The scenes with Missy and Clara are, for the most part, reasonably entertaining, largely because Clara is back in ‘nice’ mode and Gomez remains ambiguous and untrustworthy through to her very last encounter with the metal titans (in which, like Michael Caine, she is suddenly struck by a very good idea). The interdependence between the two is played out through a scene in which Clara hides inside the case of a Dalek – something you really feel she ought to be better at, given how her character was introduced – while Missy spouts off a bunch of stuff we didn’t know we didn’t know. “Emotion fires the gun,” she explains, when Clara comes very close to exterminating her. Speaking of ‘exterminate’, there’s a reason the Daleks say it so often: their translators have an auto-filter, and certain words are blocked, replaced with “I am a Dalek” (again, a vital plot point) and “Exterminate”. “That’s why they keep yelling ‘Exterminate’,” Missy insists. “It’s how they reload.”

This is so utterly lame I don’t even know where to begin, but if the Doctor is half human on his mother’s side, surely we can grant Missy a little headcanon. It jars, but it’s not of fundamental importance: just something to add to my list of gripes. (I don’t know how Missy managed to clear out a space designed for a mutant brain so that there was enough room for a fully-grown human, while still retaining all the essential circuitry, but no one asked that question in ‘The Space Museum’ or ‘Planet of the Daleks’ either, so this is nitpicking.) Thus, Gomez and Coleman go trundling off through walls of dead Dalek, coming to the rescue. While all this is going on, the Doctor has been messing around with dangerous electrical equipment and stealing an amputee’s wheelchair. I don’t know why they bothered.

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The problem is that the scenes with Davros are supposed to be an insight into the relationship between the two of them (I was going to use the words ‘eye-opener’ but that really may be a pun too far). Unfortunately they’re built on a colossal lie: Davros intended for the Doctor to heal him, and the Doctor, in turn, seems entirely unsurprised when the regenerative energy wakes up all the organic Dalek matter in the depths of the Dalek city, leading to its apparent destruction. This is two old enemies trying to outdo each other – it’s like ‘Curse of Fatal Death’ without all the boob gags – and any profundity that might have been lurking in their little exchanges is more or less rendered moot. Instead, all we do is shout at the screen in horror that the Doctor’s been taken in so easily, only to discover not long afterwards that he hasn’t.

Other parallels with Sherlock play out over the course of the story. We already witnessed Missy’s return from the dead – mirroring, to an extent, that of Moriarty. This week, it’s glasses: Charles’ Magnussen’s were a colossal red herring, while the Doctor’s sunglasses turn out to be more than just decorative. It leaves Capaldi with both hands free for eyebrow-plucking, I suppose. The Daleks, meanwhile, spend most of the episode in a single room, doing not an awful lot: it would feel like a colossal waste, were it not for the fact that this is almost certainly leading to something else, on another day, and probably evoked in Power Ranger yellow.

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There was good stuff. Missy’s opening explanation was the funniest thing I’ve seen in Doctor Who since the Addams Family gag in ‘Flatline’. Clara is her old likeable self, and the scenes inside the Dalek – while protracted – were fun, and creepily reminiscent of the closing moments of ‘Asylum’. Unfortunately the concept of Daleks infused with Time Lord DNA just doesn’t seem very…Dalek, really, and the convenient reappearance of the TARDIS is poorly done (although once more we are tantalisingly spared a peek at its interior). And someone really needs to have a word with the sound mixer, particularly when Michelle Gomez is speaking. We could hardly hear a thing, and that’s a shame because some of the dialogue really was quite fun.

Still, I’ll say this in closing. Gareth is not watching these episodes, but he just emailed me saying he’d read a ‘review’ which said something like “For God’s sake, Moffat, please can we just have a story with a beginning, a middle and an end?”. For the sake of giving him an easy summary, I have written one:

“In response to the ‘review’ you read: it turned out that all the stuff we saw last week was a red herring, and the Doctor had actually managed to save them both, we just didn’t know it. He did spend half the story thinking Clara was dead. Then he stole Davros’s chair and tried to escape. Meanwhile Missy and Clara, who were not dead, made their way back through the sewers, which are actually walls of dead Dalek (although they’re still awake).

Then Clara hid inside a Dalek. Meanwhile Davros was about to die and asked to see one last sunrise, and couldn’t open his eyes. So the Doctor used some golden sparkly regenerative energy to heal him. Except that Davros is connected to all the other Daleks via some tubes that were ACTUALLY SNAKES, and when the Doctor touched the tubes, they all got Time Lord powers. Except the ones in the sewer were also affected, and they rose up through the floor like big piles of poo and killed all the other Daleks.

Then the Doctor reassembled his TARDIS, using a pair of magic sunglasses.”

Put like that, it really was shit.

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

God is in the detail (9-1)

Behold! I return to sweep away the less plausible fan theories and the nonsense flooding the Doctor Who forums. Clear out the rot! Banish those stupid ideas about Missy! Yes, folks, we return once more to our regular series examining the CLUES and SIGNS from each new episode and WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN. And this time, WHAT THEY REALLY MEAN turns out to be the Tenth Doctor.

(Veteran readers of this blog will note a change in numbering style. I can’t keep on with those Roman numerals. I was having to Google them every week.)

Today, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’. First, have a look at Davros’ hospital on Skaro.

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Still not sure why that design is familiar? Look again.

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(I really wanted one of Zippy with his mouth closed, but in all of them his hand was in the way. Oh well.)

Roy Skelton voiced the classic Daleks in many original Doctor Who stories, as well as providing the voice for both Zippy and George in ITV’s Rainbow. And any excuse, of course, to drag out this.

Back in the minefield, we have a young Davros, surrounded by Things That Lurk In The Earth.

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There are forty-five discernible hands here. The number forty-five has a deep and tangible significance in the expanded Whoniverse: the Master once owned a Type 45 TARDIS; in Torchwood the 45 Club were a group of Miracle Day survivors who embarked upon a suicide pact by jumping forty-five floors; Forty-Five was also a set of Big Finish audio stories that all linked to the number in one way or another, produced to mark Doctor Who‘s forty-fifth birthday. Tenth Doctor David Tennant will be forty-five next birthday. Oh, and story number forty-five was ‘The Mind Robber’, known for being generally fantastic, and ripe for a revisit. Such as this one.

But there’s more. Doctor Who turned forty-five in 2008. And in 2008 series four was broadcast. With the Tenth Doctor. And Peter Capaldi. And Davros. THIS IS NOT A COINCIDENCE.

Now, examine the stickers on the window of Clara’s classroom.

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The butterfly. It’s a symbol of change and renewal. The fact that both the butterfly and the snowflake are placed at opposite ends of Clara’s head is a SUREFIRE AND CONCRETE INDICATION that her face is about to change. And what sort of faces change when they renew themselves? That’s right. TIME LORD FACES.

But what of the snowflake? Could it symbolise, for example, this?


Of course it does. The poses are identical. Moreover this particular scene takes place at Christmas, on Trenzalore, where it is usually snowing. From this we may therefore conclude that Clara will regenerate in the snow, and that her successor will be none other than Idina Menzel, who played Elsa in Frozen. How do we know? Well, her name is an anagram of ‘Inn? Lied! MAZE’, an explicit reference to Doctor Who in that it summarises ‘The God Complex’ in three words. It doesn’t get any more explicit or concrete than this. I swear.

Snowflakes also make an appearance here:

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There are twelve whole and visible snowflakes on those lower panels, which correspond to the twelve canonical Doctors. Up above, and on the left, there are a further three: the Watcher, the Valeyard and the War Doctor respectively. And the one that’s almost-but-not-quite there, just to the right? That’s Peter Cushing, obviously.

Finally, we’re back on the numbers. Take a look at the UNIT video screen.

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Ignore the text in the middle, and glance at the encircled numbers. Applying each to story titles, we get:

08 – The Reign of Terror

23 – The Ark

98 – The Ribos Operation

64 – The Time Monster

12 – The Romans

88 – The Deadly Assassin

It’s not obvious from the start, but every single one of these is linked to the Tenth Doctor. He visited Pompeii, which was inhabited by ‘The Romans’, and destroyed the Master’s tyrannical rule, or ‘Reign of Terror’. Lurking in the Satan Pit he found a ‘Monster’ that had been there since before the beginning of ‘Time’, and encountered Daleks who were protecting their Genesis ‘Ark’. And ‘The Ribos Operation’ is of course an anagram for ‘Barhop Notorieties’, which describes his last meeting with Jack.

Moreover, in ‘Blink’ the Tenth Doctor informs Sally Sparrow that the Weeping Angels were once known as ‘The Lonely Assassins’. Tenuous? How do you find these numbers when you examine the screen? That’s right. You look to your left. I will say that again in case it wasn’t clear. You LOOK. TO. YOUR. LEFT.

I think we all know what that means, don’t you? God, I missed this.

Categories: God is in the Detail, New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments



Pigs. You couldn’t move for them yesterday. The revelation that Prime Minister David Cameron may (as we go to press) or may not have inserted his genitals into the mouth of a dead pig during a societal initiation set the internet on fire. The press had a ball. Twitter almost imploded. It was a good day to bury bad news, which was presumably the entire point.

Certainly it doesn’t come as a total surprise. It’s the sort of thing fraternities do. That it allegedly happened to Cameron is not in itself important – we all do stupid things when we’re young, and it has no bearing on his ability or otherwise to run the country. If nothing else it’s a good chance for the left to get its own back after all the Corbyn-baiting that’s been going on over the past few weeks (one particularly amusing image I saw yesterday features an exchange between the two at the Battle of Britain memorial service – Cameron is asking “Why weren’t you singing?”, to which Corbyn responds “I felt safer with my mouth shut”). At the same time, it’s telling when the general reaction is not one of revulsion and disgust, but a series of knowing winks. Or, as a friend of mine put it, “What does it say about you when someone says ‘that man fucked a pig’ and half of the country goes ‘Yeah. I figure he probably did…’?”

Anyway. This doesn’t translate easily into Doctor Who – the hastily concocted image at the top aside, of course. If I really wanted to I could do something with the space pig that appears halfway through ‘Aliens of London’ but I’m really more inclined to delve deeper into history – at the extended version of Peter Davison’s appearance in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for instance.


Certainly when the story broke my first instinct, bizarrely, was to recall an early sequence in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, in which this doesn’t quite happen:

Phillip: Say, Terrance, what did the Spanish priest say to the Iranian gynecologist?
Terrance: I don’t know, Phillip. What?
[Phillip farts on Terrance’s face, and both get into hysterics over it]
Terrance: You’re such a pigfucker, Phillip!
Phillip: No, Terrance, that’s the British Prime Minister!
Terrance: Oh yeah! [farts]

Still. It’s not the first time a reckless, irresponsible blue Muppet got one of his extremities caught up in a pig.


You see what I mean.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’

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Big spoiler alert: don’t read this if you haven’t seen the episode. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

“It’s changing. What about you, Doctor?”

I wanted to love this. Really, I did. I have had enough of being grumpy. It’s no fun watching new Doctor Who episodes that you don’t enjoy. I don’t like being one of those people who spend all their time complaining about how the old light bulb was better. I have made a resolution this year to try and find the positive side for each story, and I’ll try and stick with that, but I can’t help it if the same old mistakes are cropping up time and again – and I’m talking about mine, as well as the ones the BBC are making.

The basic problem with ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ is the same one that’s dogged New Who ever since Moffat stepped into the chief writer’s chair. In the old days – and as recently as 2009 – the girl would be strapped to the table three feet from an advancing circular saw (as Terrance Dicks would have put it) and that would be the cliffhanger. Fast forward to 2015 and the cliffhanger is the scene in which she gets sawed in half, while the hero spends the next episode – or, in some cases, an entire series – stitching her back together.

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When this happened in series six, it was at least reasonably interesting, for about five minutes. You knew – of course you did – that the Doctor would manage to walk away from the lake, and that there would be a trick of some sort (although it didn’t stop conversation among several enthusiasts I knew who genuinely believed that this would be the end of the show). This was par for the course on Classic Who as well, albeit at a lower scale (which is part of the problem, but we’ll get to that). ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ – a story referenced both directly and indirectly in ‘Magician’ – features a notorious cliffhanger in which Lis Sladen falls three feet down a rocket silo. It is one of the weakest parts of the narrative, and yet it was somehow more effective than the end of tonight’s episode, if only because a low-key ending seems somehow more manageable (and believable) than dead companions and the prospect of a huge ripple effect from the Doctor’s actions.

The problem when you drop in a wibbly-wobbly bit of trickery like this on such a regular basis, you see, is that life as we know it ceases to have any real value. The first time I witnessed the death of Jean Grey – at the end of X-Men 2, in which she allows herself to be drowned so that the others can escape in the plane – I was genuinely upset. Then I went back to the comics, and discovered that Jean Grey dies every five minutes. Deaths ceased to mean anything in Marvel long ago; Charles Xavier has been reincarnated more often than Optimus Prime, and no one cares when Scott Summers carks it. I mean seriously, the guy’s a nob.

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The other difficulty is that by killing off leads (as the Daleks do tonight, in earnest) you automatically lose your audience’s interest. We know that the TARDIS will be back soon, and that Clara will return, because we’ve seen her in the rest of the series. Moreover, we can take a reasonable stab at how the Doctor’s going to do it, although the actual resolution will be stranger and more unnecessarily complicated than we can imagine. Hence the dramatic appeal lies entirely in the how, rather than the whether. This works on a week-by week basis when the girl is strapped to the table, because it becomes part of the routine, almost a recurring motif or in-joke. It is a transient thing, a means of structuring a story, and it is excusable because it is not ultimately what the story is about. When you repeatedly kill your babies, largely for the sake of getting the Twitter feeds buzzing, the supposedly devastating impact you’re aiming for is lost faster than the top half of Captain Kirk’s uniform. Or, as Clara says in ‘Deep Breath’, “Never start with your final sanction. You’ve got nowhere to go but backwards.”

There were some lovely moments. The monster-of-the-week is a man made of snakes who glides around on Heelys. The opening – in which Thals with bows fight off Kaleds with biplanes (at least I think it was that way round) – was suitably bleak, and the hand mines are one of Moffat’s better inventions, even if (or perhaps because) they evoke the finale of Carrie. Michelle Gomez is back – with no explanation – and still splendid, whether she’s casually blasting UNIT agents outside a cafe (supposedly in Italy, although as Emily pointed out, it was “probably Devon”), or singing opera on the floor of a prison cell. In many respects Missy is no more the Master than Simm was, but in all honesty perhaps our assessment of her is more lenient for her lack of male genitalia. The personality differences and pop culture references seem forgivable, somehow, as she herself is so different – and when she talks about her age-old friendship with the Doctor, you can almost believe it.

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The supporting cast are functionally competent, rather than outstanding, but that’s largely because they have comparatively little to do. Likewise, Hettie MacDonald’s direction fails to match the exemplary job she did on ‘Blink’, but this is not entirely her fault: the story (or lack thereof) is partly to blame. The one scene that will make the YouTube playlists for years to come is the Doctor’s triumphant emergence from the smoke on the roof of a tank in a twelfth-century castle in the middle of Essex, open-necked, and doing his best Pete Townshend. It’s a standout moment that is very hard to dislike, for all its cheesiness: here, we are told, is a new, less highly-strung Doctor (excuse the guitar pun), far more like Troughton than Hartnell, with dashes of Tom Baker here and there.

Moffat’s determination to resolve the Mystery of Peter Capaldi’s Face is manifest in several oblique references to the series in which Caecilius appears. The Shadow Proclamation is revisited (they’ve redecorated; we didn’t like it), with Kelly Hunter still in residence as the Architect. The big draw, of course, is a welcome return from Julian Bleach. I’ve long insisted that Bleach’s Davros impersonation is like a wheelchair-bound Emperor Palpatine, and indeed the end-of-episode confrontation between scientist and Time Lord directly mirrored the scene in Return of the Jedi in which Luke comes face to face with the Sith Lord, right down to the cuff release.

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Ethically, this is clearly the Doctor’s Hitler moment. The dilemma from ‘Genesis’ is played out in full, with Capaldi’s Doctor apparently about to pull the trigger. It’s evoked in a way that it wasn’t in series eight, in which ethical debate was unnecessarily shoehorned: the episode here is at least about the lesson, rather than an otherwise entertaining story with a pointless message tacked on, like a 1980s American children’s show. The Doctor steps out of the fog on the battlefield, pointing a Dalek gun at the terrified Davros and bellowing the one word I really hoped he wouldn’t say; it’s a line that perhaps shouldn’t be crossed, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to at least explore the possibility. Otherwise, how do we grow?

The problem is that several corners are cut to get there. Missy seems genuinely surprised when she gets vapourised. The TARDIS – this previously impenetrable shell that kept out the assembled hordes of Genghis Khan and even put up a fight against the Z-neutrino energy at the heart of the Crucible – crumbles in a matter of seconds against a few Dalek lasers. And on the basis of this episode the Doctor himself is pushed to breaking point far too easily. This is the man who would not go back for Adric, would not spare Gallifrey, would not save Pompeii, and yet he’s apparently ready to rip apart the universe for two people: one Moffat’s creation, the other his eunuch. I don’t want to go on about ego again, but it really feels like that’s where we’re going.

Magician (1)

Perhaps the ethical deliberation is coming next week, or later in the series – perhaps this, rather than sorrowful introspection, will be the subject of the Doctor-fixated episode eleven. Herein lies the other difficulty with watching ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’: structurally it’s all over the place, with cameos and references that evoke a series-wide arc rather than the sort of thing that fits a single story. The frozen plane stunt feels like an afterthought, a missed opportunity. Kate Stewart is come and gone in a flash. And crucially, it takes forty-five minutes for not a great deal to happen. But that’s the way it used to be. Nothing happens in the first episode of ‘The Mind Robber’, and yet it’s a masterpiece (Derrick Sherwin’s ability to spin straw into gold helps, of course). The first episode of ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ is mostly a group of scientists staring at a monitor. ‘The Ark in Space’ is one of my favourite stories, but it opens with three people walking around empty corridors for twenty minutes before one of them opens a cupboard. Viewed as part of a composite, they work because the rest of the stories morph around them.

The problem is that this isn’t the way New Who works: we are instead given standalone episodes that will never form part of a cohesive whole because the series dynamic has changed so much. It isn’t enough to say that series four is “dark”. Series four has ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’, which is about as silly an episode of New Who as you get in Tennant’s run. The story arcs we now endure tend to play out thematically but not stylistically. The buzz around series nine has been that of a return to the multi-episodic stories of the original series – certainly the cliffhangers are back this year, with a vengeance – but the 21st century production process may be more of a hindrance than an assist. Tonal consistency is easy to maintain across a single story that spans several episodes; it’s nigh-on impossible with an entire series with a multitude of writers and directors and approaches. I can see what they’re trying to do but I wonder if we’ve gone too far down the road to ever go back to the way things were, much as I might want to. And that’s the gamble: an episode in which nothing happens may, in the grand scheme of things, be the important preamble to a larger whole. That would be great. But given the way Doctor Who is produced these days, it may simply be remembered as an episode in which nothing happens.

Magician (2)


Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Early in the morning


Series nine starts tomorrow, which means that Brian of Morbius is going to consist largely of reviews, commentary and ridiculously speculative posts, at least for the next few weeks. So let’s take a breather before we dive in, shall we?

If you follow politics you can’t have failed to notice the scandal at the Battle of Britain commemorative service this week when socialist left-wing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, an agnostic republican, got into hot water for apparently refusing to sing a song that asks God to look after the Queen. Presumably this is entirely different hot water to the sort he’d be in if he’d actually sung it and the press had been able to run with “THE HYPOCRISY OF JEREMY CORBYN”.


In non-Who related news, I had a brief conversation on Facebook yesterday with a chap who said he constantly misheard one of the lines in the Postman Pat theme, which sounded like “Justice Day is dawning”. This in turn made him think you could reinvent Pat as some sort of muscly action hero, or at least a costumed vigilante, probably played by Bruce Willis, in the Batman vs. Superman vein.

Something like this.


Pat Bob

“Great idea!” I said. “Maybe Arthur Selby could stick a huge lantern up in Greendale Crags for whenever they need to summon him. ”

Pat Signal

And that in turn led to this, which is only funny if you know your Kevin Costner.


Pat Postman


See you on the other side.

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