The inevitable Doctor Who / Star Wars trailer thing

TheHeadlessMonks

Four a.m. All right? That’s when I went to bed. That’s pretty much a record from someone who’s frequently tried to pull an all-nighter only to decide at the eleventh hour that sleep – any amount, however small – really would be better. If you have children you will understand this. If you have my children, you’ll tell me I’m being an idiot for staying up so late on a school night.

Anyway, that Star Wars trailer. You’ve all seen it, haven’t you? The one that was announced with a flurry of trumpets and had Twitter in meltdown. The one with the ominous voiceover from Luke, who basically repeats his I-am-your-sister monologue from Return of the Jedi, to a woman whom I’m informed is probably his niece. The one that’s already been analysed to death as people try and work out whether the black stormtrooper is a good guy or a bad guy (surely ‘both’ is the only sensible answer?), why Lando still hasn’t fixed the Millennium Falcon’s deflector dish, and whether you could park a plane in one of the crags on Harrison Ford’s face. It’s standard “this is what should be in a Star Wars trailer” fare, telling us precisely nothing about exactly why the Force is awakening or in whom (although I can make an educated guess) followed by the welcome sight of Han Solo – whose absence is what killed the prequel trilogy and whose presence here got the kid in me all excited. (Actually, the kid in me is about ninety per cent of my active personality, so it was quite spectacular.)

You haven’t seen it? Well, go and watch it now. Otherwise you’re going to be horribly confused by what follows, which is my version. And here it is.

The last time they did a Star Wars teaser, I produced a selection of memes. This time I went one better, opting for a full-on reconstruction. The result is rather like the Magnum P.I. trailer I produced a while back. Anyone can do a fancy trailer with appropriate footage, designed for maximum emotional / comedic impact. Producing something that actually looks a little bit like the thing you’re trying to copy is considerably trickier, and requires time, patience and – in this case – an almost encyclopedic knowledge of New Who. I have none of the above, but where’s the fun in going into something totally prepared?

I started and finished this in a single evening, mostly as a shameless land grab. The abundance of black screen helped – there was less to do. Certain stories jump out at you as being obvious targets, if like me you’ve spent time watching them with a cynical, “They nicked that from Star Wars” eye. (This isn’t really fair, of course.  The original Star Wars trilogy is, in its own way, thoroughly derivative, and that’s the reason it works so well – it fuses western with Arthurian legend and dumps it in space.) But there are obvious contenders. I never thought I’d actually be able to do anything with ‘Planet of the Dead’, but it really was a gift for something like this. And there’s not a single shot of Lee Evans.

Episodes used, in order of first appearance:

‘Planet of the Dead’
‘The Time of the Doctor’
‘School Reunion’
‘Forest of the Dead’
‘Aliens of London’
‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’
‘A Good Man Goes To War’
‘Asylum of the Daleks’
‘Doomsday’
‘The Stolen Earth’
‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’
‘Voyage of the Damned’
‘Victory of the Daleks’
‘The Crimson Horror’
‘The Eleventh Hour’
‘Fires of Pompeii’
‘Utopia’

It works reasonably well. I wish, wish, wish I’d remembered to fix the text justification in that opening title. And what’s even more irritating is that for all the shot reversals I included, I didn’t reverse the opening walk to the Tritovore spacecraft across the San Helios desert, and this is silly. At least it’s a contrast. Aside from that, you will note the obvious inclusion of the lightsaber-toting monks in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, and the the less obvious inclusion of the pteranodons from ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’. That closing image was the hardest one to pick, and even now I’m not entirely sure it’s the right one, but by this point it was half past two and my brain was bleeding.

All the while I was producing this it made sense to do a side-by-side comparison to accompany it, just to see how close I was, or wasn’t. But I bought that split-screen enabled editing software, and I’m damn well going to use it. So here it is. May the Force, and all that.

 

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Identity Parade

Doctor Who Adventures, which we buy monthly / fortnightly / weekly (depending on frequency, which fluctuates) for Thomas, runs a series of Where’s Wally? type pictures containing the Doctor hidden amidst an army of Sontarans, a clan of Ice Warriors or a gathering of permanently frozen Weeping Angels. They are quite fun to do, and the resulting collections – titled Where’s The Doctor? and When’s The Doctor? – have kept many a small child content on long car journeys, at least in our house. Well, it’s only a matter of time before they get into Big Finish.

But the current issue has something else entirely – although I can’t lay my hands on the previous issues to find out whether this is the first in a series or a continuation of one. It carries an unavoidable New Who bias, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many nods there were to previous Doctors – well, one or two in particular…

 

Who_Where

(Sorry about the folds. I miss the office A3 scanner.)

It’s Coal Hill School, so of course education is the name of the game. That’s why the Krillitane appear (although where on earth is Sarah Jane?), that’s why there are so many Daleks, and that’s presumably why Romana is wearing her St. Trinian’s outfit. I am particularly pleased by the inclusion of Michael Sheard, who I always felt was underused in Classic Who.

Notes:

1. I know that there probably aren’t that many in the target of audience who’ve actually seen ‘The Robots of Death’, but calling it a “scary robot” is incredibly lame. It’s a Voc. Even my six-year-old can use Google.

2. “Oh,” said Gareth. “That’s meant to be Ace!  I briefly thought it was Ewan McGregor hitting a Dalek with a lightsaber.”

3. Is the Angel wearing dark glasses for any reason other than because it’s summer? Is there some sort of adverse quantum effect? Perhaps Angels who wear sunglasses can’t see other Angels (in the same way that a pair of Ray-Bans is apparently all you need to protect a vampire from sunlight exposure).

4. “Also,” said Gareth, “I briefly wondered why Sergeant Major Zero was floating between Missy and Tom Baker.” I was going to say that those Toclafane were disproportionately large, but footage from ‘Last of the Time Lords’ has convinced me otherwise. Still, there are similarities.

Toc-Zero

Anyway, I did think it would be fun to do an annotated version of this picture, identifying as many of the characters as we can, for the benefit of the uninitiated or people who could have sworn they recognise such-and-such but can’t quite figure it out. As of 16 April, this list is mostly complete, but I’ll upload expanded / corrected versions as and when people tell me stuff I’ve missed, and the ones I’ve got wrong.

Who_Where_annotated

You’ll note that I haven’t labelled most of the obvious ones, with the exception of the different Dalek factions (the bronze Daleks are, as far as I can see, just bronze Daleks). I can’t work out whether the kid in the bottom right corner – standing next to the soldiers – is anyone significant or just another pupil. The same applies to the girl in the window next to the Cybershade. And there’s a creature in that lower right window – just above the Dalek – which is on the tip of my tongue.

Otherwise, we have:

  1. Barbara Wright
  2. Ian Chesterton
  3. Lunar spiders
  4. Krillitane
  5. Is that a Star Trek mask? Ben, that’s got to be you.
  6. Twelfth Doctor
  7. Adipose
  8. Snowman
  9. Jeremy Baines
  10. Raston Warrior Robot
  11. Renegade Daleks
  12. Teller
  13. Judoon
  14. Auton
  15. Special Weapons Dalek
  16. Abzorbaloff
  17. Kid reading Doctor Who Adventures
  18. Missy
  19. Toclafane
  20. Fourth Doctor
  21. John Smith
  22. Cybershade
  23. Tritovore
  24. First Doctor
  25. Susan Foreman
  26. Courtney Woods
  27. Romana (II)
  28. Mr Bronson* / Headmaster
  29. Slitheen
  30. Skovox
  31. Ace
  32. Empty Child
  33. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart
  34. Osgood
  35. Ood
  36. Adric
  37. Turlough
  38. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart
  39. Clara Oswald
  40. Voc Robot
  41. Mondas Cyberman
  42. Space Pig
  43. Dalek Sec
  44. Scientist Dalek
  45. Imperial Dalek
  46. Zygon
  47. Mummy
  48. Scaroth

* Grange Hill fans only.

Meanwhile, Joshua got a Horrible Histories magazine, which had no mention of Doctor Who whatsoever.

Capaldi_Caesar

Well, more or less.

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Take a letter, Miss Jones

It’s Peter Davison’s birthday. It’s also World Scrabble Day. I’ve combined the best of both worlds, and tonight I bring you a Doctor Who themed Scrabble board centred around the Fifth Doctor.

IMAG0822

Yes, I could have used more tiles, but I managed a respectable score. Besides, I have a birthday party to plan.

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“And when I turned round…”

Today’s Katie Hopkins wish fulfillment meme.

Katie_Cyberman

 

(The Cyberman, in case you were wondering, is from ‘The Wheel in Space’, and yes, I think that is an accordion.)

I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t even watch her on TV. When an appearance on This Morning or Loose Women is announced, I run in the other direction. I will not waste any more time on the stupid bint than is strictly necessary for a freelance journalist. I know she’s a pantomime villain who thrives on the Twitter hit count she gets from the media headlines (and the cheque from the follow-up interviews) and while I suspect most people get a sense of superiority from detesting her the same way they might have detested the Phelps family, I think it’s a great shame that we live in a world where a woman can say detestable things – most of which, I suspect, she doesn’t actually mean – and make a respectable living from it. It smacks of horribly misplaced priorities and too much free time. Still, for all the ranting about society at large, I do wish she’d shut the fuck up. As someone said last night, “If there were no Katie Hopkins, it would be necessary to – actually no. That would be fine.”

Anyway, by and large I restrict my viewing to Holby and CBeebies, because I don’t have to worry about the sociological ramifications of either of them. Actually, CBeebies was on last night, largely because Emily was trying to entertain a grisly Edward with clips from Boogie Beebies, which hasn’t been on for years.

This is my favourite episode and I warn you that if you listen to that song in its entirety you are going to get a six-week earworm. Even now I can feel it once more burrowing into my brain, to the extent that I may have to go and listen to the theme from Space Pirates to get rid of the damned thing. Part of the appeal of Boogie Beebies lies in Boogie Pete’s ‘TV presenter you wanted to be your best mate’ appeal, in the same vein as Chris Evans (if you’re really, really young or inherently masochistic) and Timmy Mallett. He’s got that chirpy, not-quite London vibe about him. Still, it was Thomas who pointed out that Pete (Pete Hillier, now works for Stagecoach Northampton) was actually a combination of Mister Maker and the Tenth Doctor. Insofar as timings are concerned we’re in chicken and egg territory, but strictly aesthetically he does have a point.

Boogie_Pete

Not that Tennant’s the sort of chap to do frivolous dancing. Not at all.

Dave_Supermarket

 

And yes, you can’t unsee that…

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MacArthur Clarkson

Somebody give Jeremy Clarkson a steak. Quickly.

Clarkson_Hulk

 

The idea of producing a Hulk version was entirely Gareth’s idea, as was “You wouldn’t like him when he’s hungry”.

A few days later I was in a charity shop in Reading, and found myself playing around with the displays. I confess I am quite pleased with this.

Clarkson_Books

Hey, we don’t always have to talk about Doctor Who

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The Fool on the Hill

I’m guessing that there wasn’t a single person who took my April 1st post seriously. Over on Facebook several people were taken in, including a music teacher, which I count as a personal triumph. Actually a couple of people think it might even be a good idea, which proves that many a true word may be spoken in jest. I simply need to get a Joseph coat from somewhere, and then we can do stuff like this:

Time for the Dr

And this:

E-Space

Certainly Doctor Who has had its fair share of April Fool gags in the past. Back in 2003, before the new series had been greenlit, a friend of mine convinced her partner that Doctor Who was shortly to return with Caroline Quentin stepping into the TARDIS. (I still maintain that could work, although Tamsin Grieg might be better.) A glance over at Doctor Who TV has found a selection of stories, including one that I actually did myself last year, in a different format (and with no knowledge of theirs). Meanwhile, Kasterborous linked to, among others, a story suggesting a return for RTD, and it says something for my current views on Who that I actually live in hope that this could still happen.

Gareth, meanwhile, sent me a link to this thread on the Big Finish forums.

Very_Exciting

“Some people,” he remarked, “really don’t get how to do it, do they?”

“I know,” I said. “The mind boggles.”

“Aww,” he said. “I’m now picturing that as a Second Doctor story, with ‘boggles’ being a noun – like ‘The Brain Weasels’.  I wonder what a Boggle is in this sense.”

A quick internet search reveals various Dungeons and Dragons links – an alternative spelling of a creature also known as the Bogle. Anyway, if it’s a Second Doctor story, it might look a bit like this.

Mind_Boggles

Happy Easter, however you spend it.

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Time to Key

I’m not just a freelance writer, you know. I have another sideline, but one I’m keen to advertise. But there are lots of peripatetic music teachers in our neck of the woods, and I had to find something that set me apart. Thanks to Emily, I now have a gimmick.

All shares and reblogs welcome, if only to plug the Facebook page.

 

Keyboard_Time

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The Clarkson Exposition

snickers-top-gear

I always try and have the coffee on by the time Emily gets back from work, but the other morning, I forgot. So I offered her a cold drink instead. She gave me a black eye. Then someone pointed out that she has more Facebook friends than I do and therefore I shouldn’t complain.

Put like that, it’s ludicrous, isn’t it? But what happened with the Top Gear host the other week isn’t really so different. There’s a lot of rank stupidity when it comes to media exposure these days. We live empty, leisure-filled lives where overreacting has become par for the course, and getting offended comes naturally when everything profound that’s said is usually said online – or on video, where it can be embedded online – to be dissected, retweeted, screengrabbed and analysed to death. The slightest complaint is a viral headline. So it’s easy to think that the news that Jeremy Clarkson had punched a producer was just another in a long line of “Oh, that Clarkson, he’s such a wag” stories by one of the ‘characters’ of BBC TV. We put up with Clarkson because he’s fun, and politically incorrect, and ‘tells it like it is’. (Well, so does Katie Hopkins, I’m informed, and she’s a provocative bitch whose views on mental health alone have made me physically nauseous – despicable if they’re genuine, and colossally unfunny even if they’re meant for pure headline-grabbing sensationalism. I’m not even going to link to them, because, you know, oxygen of publicity.)

But consider this. If a popular but immensely volatile member of your office staff decked one of the marketing heads, and wasn’t disciplined for it because of his exemplary sales record, wouldn’t you feel the teeniest sense of injustice? Wouldn’t you think that perhaps the disciplinary procedure was not quite as well-oiled as the HR department would have you believe? Wouldn’t you say “Hang on a minute, this really isn’t fair? There’s Pete with a broken nose and he has to suffer in silence, while all Bill gets is a slap on the wrists before sloping off down the pub? And this is after the racist joke he cracked the other week? There’s something fishy going on in that boardroom.”

Listen, Tom Baker was notoriously difficult in his final year, but I don’t think even he resorted to laying out the crew, even when Alan Bromly was directing. It’s not a question of putting up with the primadonnas because they bring in the coffers. It’s about having a chain of command. Clarkson’s not untouchable, nor should he be. This is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the camel has had enough. This will cost the BBC millions and I’m sure they didn’t strangle their golden goose without careful consideration; if they’re guilty of anything it’s that they never trained it to stop pecking. And you know what? Just because you pay your license, you don’t get a say in how they run their organisation. Throwing in a hundred quid a year and then whinging about it in a hundred Daily Mail threads does not make you a shareholder, nor does it give you a democratic right to dictate policy. Clarkson attacked a man for thirty seconds because the hotel had stopped serving hot food, because he’d been in the pub for hours. That’s not a delicately balanced hardworking trouper who’s suffered great misfortune for his art. That’s the hallmark of an obnoxious bully who’s fired up by Dutch courage. Wars have probably been started over less. And as for those who complain about the Jimmy Savile parallels, I’ve never heard such an outrageously misplaced analogy. It’s not even worth telling them how stupid it is.

Bracewell_Clarkson

I stopped reading the comments eventually. I’m not really a grammar snob – at least not online, where I’ve learned that it frequently doesn’t matter – but in this instance there really is a direct correlation between the ability of people to string a coherent and reasoned argument together and their ability to spell. “BOYCOT THE BEEB!” the Facebook comments scream in abusive capitals. “BRING BACK CLARKSON NOW OR WE DONT PAY NO MORE!” You cannot get through to these people. They’ll see what they want to see, and read what they want to read. It’s like the Dwarves at the end of The Last Battle. You can’t always open the eyes of the ignorant and stupid, nor can you consistently educate the naive.

So I have kept my distance. I don’t need the blood pressure. If anything, the whole incident proves that eating meat of any sort just leads to barbarism and that we’d be far better off switching to the sort of vegetarian tree-hugging lifestyle espoused by Clifford Jones in ‘The Green Death’.

Green-death

Anyway, Jeremy’s out of a job now and word on the street is that ITV, Sky and Channel 4 won’t touch him with a barge pole, so if he needs a new gig…

Clarkson_Tardis

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The New Who Top Ten: #1

VincentCrying

Number One: ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ (2010)

In many ways, this is a hard one to write. This is partly because I wrote about it comparatively recently, and there’s the challenge of keeping it fresh. But it’s also because there is so much in here to unpack; it’s like moving house and being surrounded by boxes, and not knowing where to start – so that, in the end, you do not. Where indeed do you start with what is quite possibly the most perfectly-constructed, moving and profound episode of Doctor Who since the show’s revival?

Last week we discussed ‘Midnight‘, a dialogue-heavy episode that dealt with an unseen adversary. And just yesterday I wrote about ‘The God Complex‘, in which the monster was purposely distorted until the final reveal at the story’s climax. ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ employs a similar conceit, the murderous creature only becoming visible in the briefest of moments. If you’re working with CG, it’s a decent cost-saving initiative, provided you have a story to go in its place. The episode in this instance relies heavily on social commentary – but once it is clear that the social commentary is the key to the narrative, rather than merely a component, things start to make sense. In other words, the horror elements of the story serve as part of its emotional core, and thus ‘Vincent’ avoids the mistakes made by ‘Kill the Moon’, which was a halfhearted abortion debate dressed up as an Aliens clone – both things at once, and neither successful.

Vincent_2 Vincent_1

What’s striking (if unsurprising) about ‘Vincent’ is how, given the comparative absence of the monster, the gaps are plugged elsewhere. Visual motifs of Van Gogh’s paintings are abundant, constructed carefully but by no means symmetrically, giving the impressionist eye room to work. The light from the reconstructed pavement cafe spills out into the evening, even before Vincent follows it. Shadows linger across the floor of the bedroom where the artist will eventually rest in torment. Crows take flight over a wheatfield. And, in one of the most striking moments, Amy sits outside the cottage in Arles, smiling from ear to ear even as her inner, repressed sadness gnaws away, surrounded by sunflowers, which Vincent himself describes as “always somewhere between living and dying”.

But ultimately this is a character piece, and Curtis sensibly keeps the characters to a minimum. The scholarly Dr. Black (an uncredited Bill Nighy, on fine form) is the twenty-first century enlightened human, while Van Gogh’s peers are reduced somewhat to sneering stereotypes – but this is necessary, in a way, in order to portray the pain of the artist. And even this has its subtext. The dialogue is comparatively colloquial, and Vincent’s exeunt from the cafe instantly recognisable: what future Van Goghs, Curtis appears to suggest, have we chosen to ridicule and demean in 2010?

VanGoghWhoSunflowers

 

Vincent_3

Discourses on art aside, this is an episode about bipolar disorder, perhaps the only time the series has ever tackled such an area, and certainly the most direct. It would have been comparatively simple to take the sensationalist route, and Curtis deserves nothing but praise for managing to handle it without lapsing into the cliches that haunt some of his other work. This is one of the most sensitively observed depictions of clinical depression I’ve ever seen in a family show, and – despite the finale – one of the most satisfying. It’s interesting that Van Gogh’s mid-episode breakdown, in which he confines himself to bed and demands that the Doctor leave, is triggered not by a traumatic incident but by a single careless line of dialogue. It’s a testament to the power of words to inflict wounds, and a cutting reminder that even the best of us make mistakes. Had the words come from Capaldi, we would have put it down to his brusqueness. But the Eleventh Doctor, while remote, is still good with people even when they do not understand him (cf. ‘The Lodger’), and this knowledge somehow cuts a little deeper – even more so when he tries to comfort the artist, only to simply make things worse.

The battle with the Krayafis is the story’s McGuffin, but Curtis gets it out of the way comparatively early in the third act, allowing time for a series of emotional denouements. Perhaps the most beautiful of these takes place as the Doctor, Amy and Vincent lie on their backs looking up at the night sky, which seamlessly transitions into The Starry Night. It is clear that Van Gogh’s ability to see the world the way he does – whatever the repercussions – is unique, but it is his ability to describe what he sees with words as well as with paintings that really comes across here. “It’s colour,” he admits, earlier in the episode. “Colour that holds the key. I can hear the colours. Listen to them. Every time I step outside, I feel nature is shouting at me.”

Picture22

But the Krayafis – orphaned and blind and fearful – itself becomes a metaphor, a testament both to the power of depression and those who do not understand it. As the three companions gather in silent homage over the creature’s unseen corpse, Van Gogh remarks “He was frightened, and he lashed out…like humans who lash out when they’re frightened”. Curtis fashions a monster that is both victim and antagonist, and as much a part of Vincent, in many ways, as his talent with a brush. It would have been comparatively simple to explain away the monster and, by turns, the artist’s mental state, with pseudoscience, but the writer does neither. There is a rational scientific explanation for the presence of the Krayafis – just as the rational scientific explanation for depression is a chemical imbalance – but this does not detract from its power to torment, or the fact that Vincent is the sole character who is fully aware of it.

Most tellingly of all, the Doctor is not able to ‘cure’ Vincent – nor, it seems, does he particularly want to. His decision to give the artist such a concrete vision of his future seems, at first, more than a little out of character, until the final scene in the gallery where it is revealed that the revelation has made only cosmetic details to Vincent’s life, with his suicide (and eventual legacy) untouched. Amy (and, by turns, the audience) is forced to learn the hardest of lessons: that the differences we make do not always amount to more than the sum of their parts. Crucially, it is Van Gogh himself who foreshadows this, when he admits that “On my own, I fear I may not do as well”.

curran 4

Perhaps one of the nicest things about the episode is the reverence with which Amy and the Doctor greet Van Gogh, without ever lapsing into sycophancy. Even in the final, rather overstated gallery sequence, they’re content to allow Bill Nighy to do the talking. There is none of the giggling of Rose’s encounter with Queen Victoria, or the name-dropping in Donna’s meeting with Agatha Christie. Indeed, for a Curtis script it’s comparatively light on humour, which is perhaps sensible. Smith blunders in and out of the situation with customary Doctorishness (is that a word? It should be a word), making all the usual mistakes that people make when they don’t know how to talk to people with depression. Gillan is sensitive and radiant, although it’s Amy’s inner, unspoken turmoil in this first post-Rory episode – an unspoken sense of grief, without knowing why – that enables her to handle Vincent as well as she does.

I’m sure I’ve said it before, but the fact that ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ manages to tackle such heavy subject matter and escape with its dignity intact is a credit to absolutely everyone concerned. It’s a credit to the designers and production team, who visualised nineteenth century France so vividly. It’s a credit to Richard Curtis – and Steven Moffat, who knew how to fashion and evolve his ideas into a script that delivers. Perhaps most of all, it’s a credit to the series regulars, and also Tony Curran, whose portrayal of Vincent is breathtaking. It’s an episode that paints the stark sadness of loneliness and juxtaposes it with the brilliance of inspired creativity – as Dr. Black says, “Pain is easy to portray, but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world…no one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again.” ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ is a reminder that the world is more wondrous than we could possibly hope to imagine – but most of all, it’s a reminder of exactly what it means to be human.

It’s my favourite episode since 2005, and I love it.

Cameron’s Episode: ‘Rose

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The New Who Top Ten: #2

god31

Number Two: ‘The God Complex’ (2011)

Doctor Who has always been about corridors. If you have a TV programme in which the chase is a recurring motif, then enclosed spaces are the way to go, particularly when you can then use the same constructed length of space again, shot from a different angle, and pretend it’s another part of the building. A chair here, a wall sign there, and the illusion is more or less intact. And if it isn’t, who cares?

Corridors are a big part of this episode, although they don’t exist in a vacuum. They’re the conduit to dealing with your fears. This isn’t like any hotel, where the other rooms – and their occupants – are tantalisingly sealed. In this place, you’re actively encouraged to open up the doors until you find the one that happens to contain that childhood book with the horrible pictures, or the playground bully who abused you, or (if you’re a Time Lord) a large crack in the wall.

tgc2

The first time we get wind of this, it’s because of a gorilla. Yesterday I mentioned bananas, so it only seems fit to stretch the imagery a little further. The gorilla is enough to terrify a poor policewoman out of her wits and, in the process, unleash a fearsome (but unseen) adversary. She dies with a curious smile on her lips, and the psychological extent of this creature on the human mind is at least partially revealed, even if the creature itself is not. The gorilla vanishes.

It’s an electrifying moment, and rather than being one of those wonderful scenes in an average episode (see ‘Listen‘) it sets the tone. There are many things to admire in ‘The God Complex’, but its biggest joy, as it turns out, is the direction. Nick Hurran has long since been a safe pair of hands, his ability to tease out a shot managing to enliven even ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, but his work here is frankly exemplary. The monster reveal shots in the hotel rooms are a jarring mixture of fast and slow. Jump cuts are abundant. The minotaur stalks the hotel accompanied by lurid lighting and grotesque, Hammond-driven muzak. Crucially, the first time we even come close to seeing it properly, it is through a glass darkly. It is a trick that would have dramatically improved ‘Mummy on the Orient Express‘.

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None of this would matter if the narrative didn’t go anywhere – even the best directors can’t polish a turd – but Toby Whithouse delivers. Whithouse has never been the most consistent of Who writers, but ‘The God Complex’ is packed with ominous dread, cranking up the tension as the characters gradually succumb to the Minotaur. The story is a cross between Alien and the last three chapters of 1984, taking its stylistic cues from The Shining, and there are only so many ways you can make that interesting, but Whithouse does this by introducing a smorgasbord of characters who all react in different ways – from David Walliam’s devious Gibbis (the physical resemblance to a rat cannot be a coincidence) to Amara Karan’s Rita, a strong contender for the greatest Doctor Who companion who never was. Rita is calm and logical without being soulless and it’s a shame, in a way, that her death sentence is sealed before it actually happens, when she agrees to go with the Doctor after the story is concluded – which, unless you’ve already been in all the publicity shoots, is the metaphorical equivalent of sleeping with Jack Bauer.

Curiously, ‘The God Complex’ becomes – in its last ten minutes – something else entirely, by using one of the central relationship dynamics as a means to entrap the monster. There are no elephants within any of the hotel’s rooms, but there is one in the TARDIS – and the Doctor ultimately deals with it by forcibly breaking Amy’s faith in him so that she can concentrate on her marriage. It’s a gamble that doesn’t quite work, as ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ proved, and it’s a shame that this later story leaves such a nasty taste in the mouth when ‘The God Complex’ states so explicitly that Amy is relying too much upon the Doctor, and even more of a shame that in the end she can only make the choice when – at the end of ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ – her hand is forced.

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Still, that’s all to come. Back in the hotel, the Doctor solves the riddle, confronts the Minotaur and gives it the release it so desperately desires. It’s an unexpectedly touching scene – the dissolution of the hotel’s walls, revealing the holodeck behind it, is a metaphor for the Doctor’s psychological digging, with the Minotaur’s request for death a direct parallel with the series arc. I’d normally find this painful, but in an episode in which deaths necessarily occur off camera, it’s something of a catharsis, irrespective of the wider ramifications. If the finale feels tacked on – a scene Whithouse was asked to insert in light of sequencing – then he gets away with it by keeping it relatively understated, at least by New Who standards.

So there you have it: an episode that’s almost as close to perfect as it’s possible to get. I used to do a lot of recruiting, and the most painful part of the job was delivering bad news to an unsuccessful job candidate, particularly when it was someone you liked. Constructive feedback was the order of the day, but sometimes you struggled to find a valid reason why you’d had to turn someone down, because on any other day you’d hire them in an instant. It’s just that there happened to be someone better. And I suppose there’s no really good reason why ‘The God Complex’ shouldn’t be at the top of my list, because I can’t find a single reason to dislike it. It’s just that there happens to be one better.

But we’ll deal with that tomorrow…

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Cameron’s Episode: Midnight

Categories: New Who, Top 10 | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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