Random things I noticed from watching ‘The Mutants’

There are plenty of essays and articles about the social commentary and technical realisation of ‘The Mutants’, all over the internet. This is not one of them. However.

1. The old man who meets a premature death (but only just) in the opening credits is a dead ringer for – well….

Mutants_Python

To be fair, I am really not the first to pick up on the Monty Python’s Flying Circus thing. It’s all over the internet, and Barry Letts spotted it in 1972. It’s kind of hard to miss.

 

2. More subtly, the colonists’ outfits do seem to have had some sort of influence on Steven Kynman’s Robert the Robot costume, as worn in Justin’s House.

Mutants_Robert

Or perhaps I just watch too much CBeebies. Actually I think we could safely say I watch too much CBeebies anyway, irrespective of any influences here, perceived or otherwise.

 

3. Whenever Geoffrey Palmer turns up in Doctor Who, you can guarantee he will last two episodes tops. (That two-episode limit is imposed by ‘And The Silurians’, in which he takes a comparatively long time to die, eventually managing it in style not far from a London railway station. Apart from that, he’s usually dead within twenty minutes.)

Palmer

Actually, looking at that ‘Voyage of the Damned’ image again, it really does look as if he’s fallen asleep at the (ship’s) wheel.

Palmer’s tendency to die on-screen is far from unique, of course. Kevin Stoney meets the Doctor three times and only in ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ does he live to fight another day. And Michael Sheard appears in no fewer than six Classic Who stories, dying on-screen in two of them and left to an uncertain fate in ‘Castrovalva’. But heavily recurring actors is for another day and another blog entry, so watch this space.

 

4. There’s a lovely scene in episode 5 when the execution squad come into the Marshal’s office, ready to kill Jo and the others, and two of them turn on cue, while the other one apparently forgets, then awkwardly shuffles round so he’s facing the same way as the others. Here it is: start at 3:21, if the embed code doesn’t work properly.

(Apologies for the unskippable ads, if you see them first. My hands were cuffed.)

 

5. The story is renowned for its eclectic range of accents and (for 1972) diverse casting. But primarily I noticed John Hollis, playing a (presumably Dutch) scientist who’s a dead ringer for Lex Luthor.

Mutants_Lex

 

6. ‘The Mutants’ is two parts social commentary to one part sci-fi: it can’t decide whether it’s mainly about decolonisation or slave labour. By and large it balances in favour of the former, but it’s also interesting that the role of Cotton, a redeemed lackey originally written with a Cockney’s voice in mind, was given to Rick James.

Cotton

Hang on, what’s this? An ACTUAL BLACK MAN cast in 1970s Doctor Who? Well, this is a turn-up for the books. Or it would be, were it not for the fact that Rick James is dreadful. The dialogue doesn’t help. I can imagine lines like “He’s sort of a mate o’ mine” delivered by Barry Jackson in ‘The Armageddon Factor’, but as rendered here it’s simply clunky. James is clearly out of his depth, and is churning up a lot of foam simply trying to stay afloat. I daresay given the right script he’s wonderful. Sadly, this isn’t it.

Still, you can’t entirely blame the casting. Not when you have scenes like this.

(Start at 23:05.)

I know we ranted a lot about series 8, but I do think that Ruby’s panicky exclamation in ‘Forest of the Night’ was a considerable improvement.

Forest_Ruby

Well, I knew that episode would eventually be good for something.

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Five little monkeys

I have something slightly more substantial coming in the next couple of days, once Thomas’s birthday party is done and dusted.

Today: a nursery rhyme. Because Edward loves them.

Five_Monkeys

 

(And, just in case you missed it, a re-post…)

Five Little Men

It doesn’t scan so well, but I can’t help thinking it’s an improvement.

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The Gospel of John: the Elbow version

It’s been a busy week, all told. Thomas’s party (improbably Lemony Snicket-themed) is next Wednesday and we are still up to our ears in cake plans, brainstorming sessions for games and the sheer rigmarole of chasing people for RSVPs. (Dealing with a few ambiguous or non-existent responses is comparatively easy if you’ve invited thirty or forty children: worst case scenario, you wind up overcatering. When you’ve only invited seven or eight, that’s half the party.)

I am also leading worship on Sunday, and this led to the thing you see above. I wanted to depict the resurrection (the subject of this week’s service) in montage form, rather than just playing a couple of clips.  The first problem was finding suitable source material, and The Gospel of John – from the Visual Bible series – turned out to be a second choice. Son of God, which reuses footage from the 2014 Bible TV series and combines it with new material, has more striking visuals, owing in part to its larger budget. Sadly, there just wasn’t enough – the resurrection and ascension are dealt with in about four minutes flat, so it’s gone on the back burner for another time. (There is also the 1999 Jesus mini-series, but it’s so horribly Americanised I really didn’t want to touch it.)

What strikes me throughout this was the ambiguous mood. I’d anticipated a gradual buildup to the reveal of Christ (that first clear shot, in the Garden of Gethsemane, is quite deliberately placed) and then a jubilant release for the coda, with multiple shots of smiling, overjoyed disciples. In the end, you make do with what you have, and that turned out to be a sea of troubled faces. But that works, largely because I can’t help thinking my own reaction to a resurrected Jesus would be one of similar ambivalence – elation at seeing him again, coupled with shame and despair that I’d let him down a couple of days back.

The song choice was never up for debate. I’ve been wanting an excuse to assemble something to ‘One Day Like This’ ever since discovering Elbow a few years back. While not quite their creative peak (Build A Rocket Boys is a better album) there are few anthems by them – by any band, come to that – which carry such a sense of euphoric triumph. The song’s about waking up next to someone and realising that you love them, but it seems to fit the mood. And as much as I live in fear that it’s set to become our generation’s ‘Hey Jude’ – with a wrinkled, balding Guy Garvey hoisted out onto the stage in thirty years’ time to lead the Olympic crowd in a grand singalong of a tune that’s been played to death – I’m glad I finally got to use it.

My brother-in-law, incidentally, does not share my fears about the fate of ‘One Day Like This’, stating that he “can’t see Guy Garvey allowing that to happen”. And he’s probably right. Elbow can fill an arena in ten minutes, but when it comes to creative choices, I really can’t see them selling out.

Elbow

Well, probably not.

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The inevitable Doctor Who / General Election thing

I have no idea which political party the Doctor would plump for. He’d probably spoil his paper, or write ‘THIS IS A FAKE’ on the back. I can be reasonably confident that the UK Independence Party would not get a look in. The Third Doctor was, of course, a big part of the establishment he claimed to despise, namedropping left right and centre (in the political sense). Mind you, he does the same thing with Horatio Nelson, so I don’t suspect that most people paid any attention. (John Lennon presumably had the same problems. It’s difficult to take seriously a man who said “All you need is love” the same year he said “I am the walrus”.)

Anyway. I’d say that the last of these images is only funny if you’ve seen ‘Pyramids of Mars’, but I think you’ll get the general idea even if you haven’t.

 

DW_Election_2

DW_Election_3

DW_Election_4

DW_Election_1

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Doctor Who meets Samuel Beckett (part two)

Hey, you there. Yes, you. My audience of one. You’re the niche market, you know that? The person who likes Doctor Who, Samuel Beckett and who reads this blog. I mean, I always suspected this is going to be one of those videos whose appeal is always going to be as slim as the crack in Amy’s wall, but it’s good to know someone enjoyed it. It’s you and me against the world, kiddo. Nice to have you along.

If you’ve read my introductory piece you’ll probably have seen this coming, if only because it was ‘part one’. I said then that I’d been thinking for a while about precisely how we’d match Beckett and Doctor Who. But before we get to that, I ought to explain the why – you see, it’s all about the pace (’bout that pace, no treble…). Because twenty-first century Doctor Who is a whirling dervish of fast. Stories are begun and concluded within forty-five minutes. Supporting characters are introduced, established and then killed off or abandoned at an episode’s conclusion. It’s the way TV works, I appreciate that. But sometimes you wish they’d just run a little less, talk a little more and even just pause for breath occasionally.

There is a Geoffrey Palmer-narrated documentary on ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ DVD that illustrates this perfectly. It establishes that Classic Who – particularly the long, drawn-out stories of the first three Doctors (am I the only one who thinks that the pace starts to pick up when we get to Hinchcliffe?) – creates a deep structural contrast to the fast-in, fast-out narratives of the present day. Taking two particular extremes, it juxtaposes a scene from ‘Ambassadors’ – the Doctor and Liz, working leisurely on an antibody in the Doctor’s laboratory – with a frantic piece of expository monologuing from ‘World War Three’, in which the Ninth Doctor establishes in thirty seconds the kind of detail that used to take half an episode to solidify properly. These are two different shows, and while I love those long, drawn-out seven-parters, it’s easy to understand why a more contemporary audience might become fidgety.

Beckett’s a different story, of course. His use of silence, while not exactly like that of Pinter (whose silence was filled with unspoken dialogue) is one of the first things that strikes you. The repetition is another: dialogue is thrown back and forth all over the place, in scenes that often appear devoid of meaning, at least until you really unpack them. That, more than anything, was the kind of thing that I wanted to get across here: the sort of scene that doesn’t get into Doctor Who largely because it is superficially barmy. Beckett found comedy and tragedy alike in the absurd and the mundane, with the most ordinary things granted disproportionate emotional weight, and that may be one of the reasons I’ve warmed to him over the years.

Endgame

 

Um.

The_mutant_is_revealed

[coughs]

Beckett shares a birthday with Peter Davison, and it was learning this fact that persuaded me to get off my arse and actually put this video together, after months of procrastination. A Fifth Doctor episode would have been a more appropriate fit, perhaps, but the Fifth Doctor stories are already pretty leisurely and I couldn’t think of anything that would create sufficient contrast. Besides, there was only ever really one candidate – a scene from ‘Day of the Doctor’ in which Kate Lethbridge-Stewart confronts her Zygon duplicate at UNIT headquarters, with mirrored camera angles and moody lighting that I suggested, in my review, to ‘like watching one of Beckett’s television plays’.

Assembling this was awkward, time-consuming and not entirely satisfying. When you don’t know precisely what you want to do with something – except to make it “a bit like so-and-so” – actually reaching an end point that pleases you is nigh-on impossible. The truth is that after hours of getting it as good as I could, I gave up. Because getting it done was fiddly and repetitive and I’d had enough. The fact that the unscored audio didn’t quite synch was a bad start. The fact that there were fewer silences and usable shots (in this case, shots where nothing was happening) than I’d previously thought was another hurdle. I got round it by a lot of reversals, a fair amount of slow motion and a bit of zoom here and there – the accompanying whirr for these close-ups is to give the impression that the characters are being viewed through a security camera, which I hope excuses the grainy appearances.

I’m pleased with the Doctor’s bits. ‘Day of the Doctor’ is atypical in that the closing monologue is oddly poetic, and bits of it slotted right in. Stylistically, the whole thing is supposed to resemble What Where, which features assorted confrontations in large darkened chambers, interspersed with the ‘thoughts’ of the main characters, delivered in voiceover. The Beckett on Film version I used as my basic starting point is not, as far as I can see, on YouTube, but this adaptation gives you the basic idea.

The clarinet music was a last-minute drop-in but I think it adds something. The full version is available here, and it’s really quite lovely, if you like that sort of thing. Actually, “if you like that sort of thing” could pretty well sum up this entire project. If you don’t understand what’s going on, you’re probably not the intended audience. As a technical exercise I think it’s a valiant effort but ultimately a failure. As an exercise in pretentiousness, I think it succeeds on all levels.

And I might…eventually….do a Pinter video.

Pause.

Yes. Perhaps I’ll do a Pinter one.

Silence.

But not today.

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Doctor Who meets Samuel Beckett (part one)

No, no, not this one.

Sam-dr-sam-beckett-31211598-766-535

Not that I have anything against Quantum Leap. There’s plenty of scope for a Who / Leap collaboration – fan-fiction certainly points to that possibility, and I also found a titles mashup that is produced, at least in its first half, exactly the way I would have done it, and which is worth watching if only so you can see who gets to play Al.

But that’s not the Samuel Beckett I was talking about. I’m talking about this chap.

Beckett

That face is wonderfully chiselled, isn’t it? It hides a wealth of character, and the way in which the eyes stare at you – sternly, but with a hint of melancholy – basically sum up everything he stood for. The fact that he’s wearing a black polo neck against a black background gives the head the curious visual appearance of being disembodied, which is something else the man did quite a bit in his plays (That Time shows only a head, while Not I doesn’t get further than the mouth).

I first encountered Beckett in the late 1990s when I was in the final year of an English degree at Reading University. Reading, if you didn’t know, is the place to study Beckett – the resources are wonderful (I’m told; I was a do-it-on-the-fly student who never looked) and some of the most authoritative scholars in the world are there. One of these is John Pilling, who took our Beckett module, and whom I gather is still around. He was scholarly and authoritative but always patient and understanding when it came to indulging the fanciful readings of inarticulate twenty-somethings. He will not remember me, but I remember him.

Actually, looking back at it I wasn’t impressed at all. It didn’t help that the Beckett seminars were run back to back with a Pinter module, and of the two of them Pinter has long been my favourite. I took more from Pinter’s pregnant pauses and arguments about cheese rolls than I ever got from Beckett’s ramblings. He was, I remained convinced, a pretentious existentialist nihilist. Oh, I enjoyed some of it. Ohio Impromptu, with its lingering sense of finality, is quite wonderful, particularly in the Beckett on Film adaptation that casts an Jeremy Irons in the dual role of both listener and speaker. But I couldn’t get on with Endgame, in which a blind middle-aged man rambles on about god knows what and keeps his parents in the dustbin. Even the supposedly astounding Waiting For Godot, with its verbal tennis matches and lengthy monologues, left me cold – although this, when it first did the rounds, was quite funny.

Scene: a ROAD running DSL to DSR, with exits. Upstage Centre, ONE WHITE TREE.Two men, FARAMIR and ARAGORN are sitting by the TREE.

FARAMIR: So, can we go now ?

ARAGORN: No, not yet.

FARAMIR: Why not ?

ARAGORN: Because we’re waiting for Frodo …

Continue in like style for 1200 pages of text, three films, a radio series, innumerable spinoffs …

It was some years later that I realised what I had. It was thanks largely to an old friend who sat across the office from me in my first publishing gig, and with whom I would while away the hours talking about the merits of Father Ted, the logistical problems in producing The Straight Story: On Ice, and the most inappropriate choices to play the next Doctor (this was 2001, you understand, when it was still just a pipe dream – and in case you were wondering, John Inman emerged as a clear winner). Jon it was who convinced me that there was far more to Beckett than the labels of ‘pretentious wank’ that I’d previously foisted upon him, and to cut a long story short, when the opportunity arose some time later to purchase the reasonably expensive Beckett on Film collection, I took it. I went back to Beckett, fetching down the hefty Complete Dramatic Works that still sits on the bookshelf in my study, and realising that the man was a lyrical genius, and that the apparent opacity of his work was easily breached if you knew the way in.

Beckett on Film, by the way, is brilliant. A jointly funded Channel Four / Irish Film board enterprise, it collects nineteen stage plays and features a star-studded cast and a host of notable directors. Alan Rickman appears from the top of an urn at the beginning of Play, while Penelope Wilton’s Rockaby is both moving and unsettling. Krapp’s Last Tape, in particular, is a revelation: an elderly man wheezing around the stage, reflecting on all that he has lost as his younger self ruminates on an archived recording: “Perhaps my best days are gone…but I wouldn’t want them back”. It’s the epitome of self-denial, and Krapp’s inherent loneliness is such that he can make the act of eating a banana both downright hilarious and utterly tragic.

And here’s said banana, being consumed (in an eerie foreshadowing of the Bananas Are Good meme that would follow some years later) by none other than John Hurt.

Beckett

Anyway, my recent foray back into video production saw me revisit an idea I’d been germinating for some while. But we’ve gone on far too long, so more on that next time. In the meantime, here’s a little Damien Hirst. Because you know you want to.

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Calls from mobiles will be considerably higher

Jeremy-Kyle

I have said before that I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, but if I did, I suppose The Jeremy Kyle Show would be one of them.

It’s a horrible, spiteful programme. I know perfectly well that it’s manipulated to breaking point. The guests are usually in a bad situation that’s made worse by a team of gossiping runners who stick them in separate dressing rooms and lie to them (or, at least, heavily embellish the truth) about what the other party may or may not have said, just before they’re hauled out onstage and shouted at by a womanising bully. The whole thing is then edited for maximum dramatic impact, reasoned conversation truncated or omitted entirely. The tabloids pick it up and social media – which Kyle himself so frequently decries, typically with frustrated shouts of “Oh, FACEBOOK!” – is a juggernaut of hatred and snap judgements. Jeremy calls it “conflict resolution in a controlled environment”, arguing that if he didn’t do it, they’d be doing it in the streets. He has a point, but it’s rather like throwing whiskey onto a bonfire. Or it’s like Bill Hicks’ routine about Jack Palance in Shane (a scene that doesn’t actually happen, at least not the way that Hicks describes, but you can see what he means).

At the same time, I can’t stop watching it. The inconvenient truth is that for all the manipulations of the show, many of its guests are rotten to the core. It’s not even a question of Jeremy making them look bad; they do that well enough for themselves. There are twenty-year-old cannabis-smoking layabouts, unable to hold a decent posture, most of whom have already fathered several children. There are fifty-year-old screamers who are guilty of emotional abuse. (Julie – who was on the show the other morning – I’m looking at you.) Some of these people have had dreadful upbringings and never stood a chance, and need the sort of comprehensive long-term counselling that the dubious and ambiguous ‘after-show care’ is in all likelihood not going to provide. But all the liberal apologetics in the world (and I’m as left as they come) can’t undermine the undeniable fact that some people are simply bastards. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy it. I enjoy the moral superiority I get over simply being incompetent and moody, rather than a bastard.

Anyway, I was thinking about New Who the other day, largely in the context of continuity. And given the myriad twists and turns taken in series six, it struck me that this is how ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ ought to have ended.

Jeremy_2

Yes, I know the Photoshopping is dreadful. It was the best I could do. River’s top doesn’t reveal nearly enough neckline, and Rory looks a bit like he’s been on the growth enhancement pills. The tattoos are a nice touch, anyway.

But why stop there? Here’s Jeremy giving writing advice.

Jeremy_3

(I live for the day that Jeremy challenges someone to put something on the end of it, only for them to reveal their Catholicism. I wonder if he’d have a comeback.)

Here’s Jeremy tackling those bathtub stains that other domestic cleaners can’t reach.

Jeremy_4

To be fair, I don’t think he’s ever actually used that word. Oh, it comes across in the heavily implied loathing of some of his contestants (deservedly so; I know they’re edited badly and not always portrayed in the best light but some of these people really are dreadful). ‘Waste of space’ is a popular one. ‘Silly little boy’ is another. But I don’t remember him actually calling anyone ‘scum’, at least outside this video.

Of course, if he did, we could do this.

Jeremy_Nimon

And finally –

Jeremy_1

And I really should stop harping on about him now. I have to go and shoot at some chavs. See you next time.

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How to ruin a romantic moment in four words

The #RuinARomanticMomentin4Words hashtag was trending on Twitter the other night, so here’s my contribution.

#1. The Doctor and River

romantic_1

 

#2. The Star Wars edition

Romantic_2

 

#3. Amy and Rory

Romantic_3

 

I think that covers all the bases, but I do take requests, even if they’re just “please stop doing this crap”.

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WhoTube

A while back, there was a circulated post doing the rounds containing a bunch of ‘honest’ logos and slogans. Here are four of my favourites.

Logos

It’s that last one that always gets the biggest laugh. YouTube is ten years old this week, and while we may talk about the way it’s redefined the music industry, the film / TV business and the way we use the internet in general, it’s the cats that stand out. The very first video uploaded was a guy standing in front of elephants at the zoo, revealing nothing even remotely interesting. That wasn’t the point, but I do wonder if people watched that first video – uploaded merely to show that you could, rather than because it had something significant or amusng to say – and thought that this was the intended ethos.

It would certainly explain a lot of what follows. I like to think of YouTube as a colossal ocean, where the whales take the form of cats, pandas, Psy videos and Minecraft tutorials. Underneath you have the sharks – film trailers, celebrity vloggers and X-Factor clips (and, somewhere, Katie Hopkins). By and large, Doctor Who videos are the tropical fish that populat coral reefs – there in abundance, but when you’ve seen one clownfish you’ve seen them all.

If the videos themselves are the fish (and the rights departments are those colossal trawlers that plough through the waters, lapping up fish left right and centre) then the video comments are presumably one gargantuan oil slick. There are occasional moments of brilliance, but most popular YouTube videos are saturated by spam, illiterate stupidity and right wing bile. The ability to type in ‘funny cat videoz’ requires minimal intellect, which is presumably why all the stupid people hang out here. The worst thing you can do is respond to it, but people do, either out of boredom or because they’re not aware that you should never feed the troll.

Amidst the sharks and turtles and catfish there are the minnows. You know – the ones that never get beyond a thousand hits. They’ll show up in the searches eventually, if you’re prepared to trawl through the thousands of near-identical bigger fish that are easier to spot. But generally they just swim around their own patch of the ocean, not really being seen by anyone. Sometimes they’ll pick the company of bigger fish, largely in the hopes of being noticed along with them, which is fine if you don’t get eaten alive.

Most of my videos are minnows. I’m OK with that. I don’t think I’m ever going to make the impact on the blogosphere that I’d like to, and in many ways that’s a good thing. Notoriety can be a poisoned chalice. I’ve learned over the years that the act of creativity – of putting something back, and being a contributor rather than a consumer – is enough of a reason to keep going, even if I’d be lying if I said the remote prospect of fame didn’t matter at all. Each time I hit the upload button I live in hope that whatever it is I’ve spent hours putting together will go viral. Nothing has, as yet, although I’ve had a few that have performed reasonably well, in chicken feed terms.

I started this purely as a hobby – a chance remark that Emily made at the beginning of 2011 that gave me an idea, that led to more ideas, and so on. There are millions of people like me all over the world – and for most of us, mashing is the closest we’ll ever get to doing anything tangible within the film industry. For most of us, this is enough.

Today, to celebrate ten years of YouTube, I’m re-posting five of the Who-related videos I made that I’ve always wished had done better. Someday they might. But if they don’t, that’s fine too.

The Whole of the Moon

 

A Town Called Mercy – The Silent Movie

 

Dalek Johnny (Doctor Who / Fast Show)

 

Everybody Hurts: The Gridlock Edition

Doctor Who Meets the Goodies

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“And when I turned round…” (part two)

Those of you who are interested might want to have a look at some of my more recent Metro posts, which include:

A tongue-in-cheek examination of the Paul McGann movie (which has upset at least one person)

Doctor Who characters who’ve cheated death (which arguably worked better over Easter weekend, when it was posted)

Fifteen thoughts every parent has while watching children’s TV (which has nothing to do with this blog, but it touched a nerve)

Today, though: Mary Poppins, revisited.

Cyber-bird

 

You will feed the birds, or you will become like us.

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