Hello Docklands

Out Run.

That’s how it started. The ZX Spectrum port of Out Run. When you grow up with an eight-bit home computer you learn to make concessions, particularly where racing games are concerned. In the arcades, Out Run was a slick, fast-paced (and, it must be said, somewhat repetitive) racing experience, all sun-kissed beaches, billowing palm trees and beautiful girls. It was the American coast bursting onto a CRT in all its glory, and for a young boy living in suburban Reading this was as glamorous and exotic as it gets.

The Spectrum port, on the other hand, is like driving through treacle.

(And that’s the 128 version. Some of us didn’t even have in-game music.)

As if to concede the crushing sense of disappointment that would-be racers must have felt upon getting to that wretched bridge sequence and then having to pause the tape again so the multi-load could find the right block, the distributors saw fit to include a cassette of the soundtrack for your listening pleasure: extracts from ‘Passing Breeze’, ‘Splash Wave’ and ‘Magical Sound Shower’. Original versions and mods and remixes are all over YouTube and I will not link to them here: if you’ve played them, you will right now be humming your favourites. Those of us with a particularly glossy setup could cue a separate tape player next to our TV and arrange to have the music playing in the background, determinedly fast-forwarding to your particular favourites when you get to stage three. I couldn’t work out how they got the sounds, whether that guitar was real (it wasn’t) and why the constant ocean samples didn’t annoy me, but thus it was that my love affair with digital music was born.

Fast forward two years: it’s 1989 and I’m watching Black Box perform ‘Ride on Time’ on Top of the Pops. ‘Perform’ may be stretching it a bit. A more accurate description is that Davoli, Limoni and Semplici are gyrating awkwardly round their keyboards, bashing out something that almost syncs to the backing track, even if they’re jumping up and down octaves like Fry and Laurie performing ‘Hey Jude’, while Katrin Quinol is waving her arms and trying to make it look like her vocal track was actually recorded rather than heavily stitched. The cut-and-paste job is one I will grow to admire, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that my eleven-year-old self is thoroughly oblivious to it. My eyes are on the Roland that’s being used to bash out that famous piano riff. “Do you wish you could play the keyboard like that, James?” my mother asks. One day I will, although I will never play Black Box.

Fast forward. It’s December 1989. I’m listening to a cassette that Sinclair User gave away with their November issue. It contains music from Silkworm, Gemini Wing, Continental Circus, Double Dragon II, Shinobi and Ninja Warriors. I am thrilled beyond belief as I go to press tonight to find this on YouTube. I remember listening to the cassette that evening and having a furious argument with my mother halfway through the Double Dragon theme about why I’m not listening to it on my Walkman, which leads to accusations that the Walkman is missing. It is not, but she refuses to believe me. These days, shortly after my eldest has lost his mobile and will not admit it, I understand why she was so angry. Next time (and every time) I listen to the tape, I skip Double Dragon.

Fast forward. It’s 1990. I wander into the music department one lunchtime – my not-quite friend Ewan is playing ‘Magical Sound Shower’ on a Casio and HE DOESN’T HAVE MUSIC. He’s playing it brilliantly and he has a samba rhythm going and HE DOESN’T HAVE MUSIC. I make a vow that I will learn to play it in the same way. I annoy him by doing this remarkably quickly. It turns out that picking things up by ear is one of the few things I can do really well. Ewan is cross with me and then we get along. It’s the start of a friendship that spans over twenty years.

Fast forward. It’s 1991. Ewan has got me listening to a synthesizer outfit called Project D. My favourite songs on there are the Jarre ones, and also one called ‘Autobahn’. Years later I will listen to the original and wonder at how stripped down it is in comparison, but eventually learn to appreciate it. I hear songs for the first time that I will eventually discover in their inceptive forms, which is what happens to everyone when they are growing up, and I do not judge them for it.

Fast forward. It’s 1991 and as far as we are concerned. KLF is the biggest thing on the planet. Ewan has me listening to American hip hop and Californian rock and to Jean-Michel Jarre. I am taken aback by the orchestrations in ‘Rendezvous II’ and bored stiff by ‘Waiting For Cousteau’: I am an impatient thirteen-year-old yet to discover Brian Eno. Revolutions is my favourite album, with its industrial clanking and bleeping and general eclecticism.

Fast forward. It’s later in 1991 and War of the Worlds is my latest discovery. Ewan has the idea of writing a sequel. We team up with a few others and vow to keep it a secret until it’s done. I spill the beans to some of my friends. Ewan does not speak to me for days.

Fast forward. It’s 1995. Blur are huge. Oasis are even bigger. I start listening to stuff with guitars. Ewan is in Chichester but we still talk. I fall in love, out, in, out again. I discover jazz; Ewan is by and large disgusted. I discover Eels; he concedes they’re quite good.

Fast forward again. It’s 2002 and I’m re-listening to The Concerts in China. I am taken aback by the difference in tone between the muted applause of Beijing and the cheering in Shanghai. I ask Ewan about it. He says “They hadn’t had any western musician playing there in decades. That concert was all ageing politicians and rich businessmen. They didn’t know what to make of him. What the fuck did you expect?”

Fast forward. It’s 2011. For some reason or another, I stop speaking to Ewan.

Fast forward. It’s 2012. On a cold winter’s evening I listen to Autobahn. It leads to a surge of interest in Kraftwerk. I do a little downloading. In January 2013 I have the idea of mixing up ‘Showroom Dummies’ with ‘Rose’. It just about works.

Fast forward. It’s 2013. I extend a couple of half-hearted olive branches to Ewan. I get nowhere and concede that’s probably it.

Fast forward. It’s early 2016 and I find this.

Fast forward. It’s June. I am playing through Grand Theft Auto V. I am enjoying the soundtrack – unintrusive ambient electronic music with a distinctive eighties vibe, as befits the listening tastes of one of the game’s protagonists. I make a note to research Tangerine Dream. I discover their back catalogue consists of over a hundred albums. I decide not to swim in this particular pool at the moment.

Fast forward. It’s August this year. I’m at a festival in Northamptonshire. We are hanging around in the kids’ area; Lego spills out of the nearby tents, the nursery gazebo resembles a Little Tikes showroom, and junk modelling festoons the lawn. We’re early for the family talent show and they’re prepping the venue. The chap on the desk is doing his sound check: it’s the Revolutions album. I have not heard it in almost a decade. But today I hear Hank Marvin playing the guitar solo on ‘London Kid’ and I nearly burst into tears.

Fast forward. I come home. I rationalise that a marriage between ‘Revolution, Revolutions’ and Doctor Who will probably work quite well. I listen to it again and remember the fun I used to have with my friend, translating the lyrics into French: “SEX….PAS DE – PAS DE – PAS DE SEX!”. I go through twelve years of Who. And, eventually, I make the video you see at the top.

It’s for Ewan. And he’ll probably never know.

 

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Fireworks

eleven_two

This? This is why you never go shopping with a Time Lord on Black Friday.

Why am I photoshopping pictures of Troughton into shots from ‘Day of the Doctor’? It’s all connected with a piece I wrote for The Doctor Who Companion about how Matt Smith’s Doctor borrowed from Troughton. Highlights include recorders, jumping and Batman – if that’s the sort of thing that interests you, you are welcome to read the whole thing.

It’s partly down to recap. I got the idea because since about June or July Daniel and I have been going through every episode (except ‘The Waters of Mars’, which he requested we skip) from 2005 onwards, in an attempt to watch them all before spring, and series 10. Last week we got to ‘The Eleventh Hour’ – an episode notorious for that opening scene where the Doctor pokes his head out from the wrecked TARDIS, demanding an apple. It would be quite feasible to swap it with the Second Doctor, asking for a sandwich.

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Watching New Who with Daniel has been a fun experience, although I’m not sure how I felt about the fact that he read the 2017 annual over the weekend (a Christmas grotto gift) and now knows what River Song did and, more importantly, who she is. I know I talk about how spoilers are overrated (and how a show dependent upon them is destined to fail); simultaneously, if the only reason to actually put up with River for a third time is to see your child’s jaw drop when she announces “I’m your daughter” at the end of ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, how on earth am I going to cope now that this tantalising prospect has been removed?

Wine may be involved, I suspect. On the upside, it does mean that I no longer have to field a constant barrage of questions about “Who is she? Can you give me a clue? When do we see her again? What’s going on?”. Or that time we took a train into Reading to see the pantomime (Dick Whittington, starring Justin Fletcher, and not too bad at all) and we got into a discussion about which ones he might enjoy.

Me: I think you’d like The Fires of Pompeii, actually.

Daniel: What’s Pompeii?

Joshua: It’s an ancient Roman city. They had a volcano.

Daniel: Oh. I thought it was those crisps.

Me: That’s Pom-Bear.

fires_pombear

The other thing I did recently was to compose an only slightly ridiculous alternate history for Doctor Who, commencing in 2003 when Russell T Davies decided to remake ‘Scream of the Shalka’ and turn it into the first of his New Who stories, casting Richard E. Grant as the Ninth Doctor and sticking Derek Jacobi in the TARDIS as an android Master. If you’ve read The Writer’s Tale, you’ll recall Davies telling Benjamin Cook that the Shalka Doctor was the only component of the expanded franchise he had to knock on the head, purely to avoid confusion. But what if he’d decided not to? What if they’d built on the existing continuity rather than tearing it down? What if they’d never cracked the States?

Writing all this down turned out to be very easy; the hard part was finding decent photos of Grant and Jacobi to make up this composite.

shalka

Grant’s still not quite right. (This was, by the way, a fan-made photoshoot; I just changed the heads. Well, it worked in last year’s Christmas episode.)

Anyway, before you know it, you’ve gone off in all sorts of directions, and Tennant’s a recurring guest actor in all number of roles and you’ve cast Anna Maxwell-Martin as the Doctor.

With Russell Tovey.

And Jane Horrocks as the Master.

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It could happen. It totally could.

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The inevitable Doctor Who / John Lewis thing

buster

It’s a dog. On a trampoline.

I mean, I can’t get too excited about it. I really can’t. They were doing so well. That old man with the telescope was a work of genius, despite being scientifically implausible and mawkishly sentimental. It said something important. It was touching. It made me cry, dammit. This one was tedious. It’s not even funny. Bad Buster. Go to your kennel.

John Lewis’ Christmas advertising always makes the headlines, as people discuss the adverts, the thinking behind them, the music, the emotional fallout, the fact that this is just going to encourage parents to buy trampolines and dogs, the risk of bovine TB…do you ever think that there’s such a thing as internet pollution? I know I do. It’s just so much rubbish, with perhaps a greater emphasis than one might expect from ‘so much’ – a myriad different websites all saying more or less the same thing. It passes the time, but I wonder how much we really stand to gain from saturating the web in this way.

Anyway. This post started life as a simple collection of Photoshopped images – the Man on the Moon image, produced last year, was the first, and the others followed yesterday. But a curious thing happened while I was cutting and pasting and adjusting hues and shadows. The moment of clarity occurred when I stopped to consider the fact that the twisted snowmen who appeared in Doctor Who turned up the same Christmas that John Lewis had their own snowman trekking across the wilderness to find a present for his soon-to-be-a-puddle playmate. This by itself means nothing, until you stop and consider the fact that the developments John Lewis took with their seasonal narratives echo (with uncanny precision) the way that Doctor Who has been written and produced these past few years.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look. (For obvious reasons, these concentrate on the past few years – the period when John Lewis actively started telling stories in their Christmas ads. And for what it’s worth, I tried – I really did – to work in 2011 as well. But it just didn’t fit.)

2012 – The Journey

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: An anthropomorphic snowman embarks on an epic quest to find a scarf.

In Doctor Who: A grumpy Time Lord, fond of scarves, embarks on an epic quest to investigate an anthropomorphic snowman.

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2013 – The Bear and the Hare

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: A tired, grizzly, world-weary bear is chronologically displaced when his hibernation is rudely interrupted. It turns out to be the best thing that could have happened. Features a hare.

In Doctor Who: A tired, grizzly, world-weary Time Lord is chronologically displaced when his destruction of Gallifrey is rudely interrupted. It turns out to be the best thing that could have happened. Features a rabbit.

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2014 – Monty the Penguin

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: A young boy spends Christmas with a penguin, whose living, breathing presence turns out to exist only in his imagination. He is observed by a parent, who watches as another imaginary penguin emerges from a box that appears to be bigger on the inside.

In Doctor Who: A young English teacher spends Christmas with her boyfriend, whose living, breathing presence turns out to exist only in his imagination. She is observed by a parental figure, emerging from a box that is bigger on the inside, and who once travelled with a penguin.

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2015 – Man on the Moon

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: A lonely old man, clearly not of this world, is re-invigorated thanks to the affection of a small child. And a telescope.

In Doctor Who: A lonely old man, clearly not of this world, is re-invigorated thanks to the affection of a bisexual English teacher. And an electric guitar.

Moon-Cybermen

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2016 – Buster the Boxer

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: An over-excited girl eagerly awaits the arrival of Christmas morning, only to find that her new present has been invaded by small woodland animals, and she has to wait until the dog has finished jumping on it.

In Doctor Who: A horde of over-excited fans eagerly await the arrival of a new series, only to find that it’s been delayed and that the new assistant looks a little bit like a dog, and they have to wait until the spin-off has finished.

jl_dw_04 jl_comp_2016

Spooky, isn’t it? Next week in Brian of Morbius: the nesting habits of tuna.

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A trip to the moon

“No cheese, Gromit. Not a bit in the house!”

That? That was Edward. Specifically Edward back in May or June. He’s walking in and out of the lounge with a Jacob’s cream cracker in one hand and a cuddly tiger in the other. I am standing at the side of the room, grinding my teeth.

Let me explain. Edward’s obsessions tend to go in phases. For a while it was Hey Duggee!. Then it was Bing. The earliest memory I have, in fact, of his engagement with the TV is of him sitting on the floor rocking back and forth to the Twirlywoos theme. We are just now coming out of the Kazoops era, for which I am profoundly grateful: if I have to hear that wretched song about the Big Red Button one more time I’m going to kill a pig and dump the blood all over Jeanie’s head at the senior prom.

kazoops_bacon

Sandwiched somewhere in between all the CBeebies stuff was Wallace & Gromit. He watched them daily. Sometimes more often than that. I got thoroughly sick of brass band music. He took to quoting them liberally at every turn, and we’d join in. I have yet to road-test the flawed masterpiece that is The Curse of the Were Rabbit – a little too long and a little too scary is my current rationale for holding it in reserve – but the others he devoured. He sings along with the theme without the slightest provocation. He refers to Gromit as ‘Gromit lad’. We haven’t the heart to correct him.

Gromit, of course, is one of the world’s greatest silent film stars – the most soulful of creatures who manages to express a myriad different moods simply through eyes and body language. He’s broken out of prison, is a whizz with electronics and bakes a decent loaf of bread to boot. He’s intelligent, sensible and steadfastly loyal. We enjoy all of their adventures, although I think there are probably few moments as great as the scene when, towards the end of The Wrong Trousers, Gromit picks up the spare model railway pieces and starts building the track on the fly.

spare-track

Still, A Grand Day Out was Edward’s favourite. And I think it may have been Joshua who suggested “Ooh, you know what? You could do something with that John Lewis advert.”

You remember. It was last Christmas and everyone was crying buckets at the sight of a little girl sending a telescope up to the moon so the old man who lived up there wouldn’t be so lonely. It required a suspension of disbelief that rivals the prerequisite for Armageddon, but it made a serious point about loneliness and ageing, and for that I am willing to forgive all manner of structural flaws. After the idiocy that was Monty the Penguin I thought I’d become too cynical to be moved by these things, but that finale had me crying in my office chair.

John Lewis responded to the near-unanimous praise for this heartfelt story by following it with a ridiculous, selfishly materialistic piece of rubbish about a dog on a trampoline. It is bollocks. I am not getting into it here, but you can read my not-entirely-serious rebuttal in Metro, if you like. It was basically a bit of fun but I do seem to have earned the wrath of the Facebook community. There have been calls for my head. “The person who wrote this,” said one person, “probably voted out and supports Trump”. That’s gone on the testimonials page. I’m keeping that one.

Anyway: if you look at the man on the moon video it lends itself to some sort of tribute, and I found it in A Grand Day Out. It’s a strange tale that takes in Méliès and adds a walking oven. The apparent presence of oxygen is never explained, but then again John Lewis didn’t explain it either. The character designs are a bit rough and ready but Peter Sallis is clearly having fun, and the story – though inconsequential – is engaging.

Putting this together was relatively simple; it was just a question of restructuring the episode and making it look as if the two of them had gone there specifically to drop off a present for a lonely robot, rather than having said robot try and kill Wallace with a truncheon. The song you can hear is Aurora’s cover of ‘Half The World Away’ – I used the sound from the TV ad, as this had a pleasant instrumental section that isn’t in her recording. Unfortunately this meant having to find something to accompany the sound of playing children, but the chattering mice in the basement provided that. And it ends, much like A Grand Day Out, with the oven skiing across the surface of the moon. It’s not quite telescopes and smiling pensioners. But it works. Merry Christmas. Goodwill to all men, women and dogs.

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Laughing matters

clown

Clowns have never frightened me. Even Pennywise, the demented clown in Stephen King’s It that started this whole thing, has never frightened me, although the book’s pretty good and the Tim Curry teleplay was reasonable enough. (If that sounds like damning with faint praise, bear in mind that ‘reasonable enough’ is about as good as it gets when it comes to most Stephen King adaptations, at least the ones based on his horror stories.) The nearest any clown ever came to frightening me was the Joker, as presented in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which I read back in 1989 just after I’d seen the first Batman film. There was something about the eyes – empty and black one minute, wide and crazed the next – that haunted my sleep that night. (I was eleven. I think that gets me off the hook.)

This whole ‘killer clown’ thing really is mindlessly silly, but that’s what happens when you have too much free time: a simple idea gets completely out of hand. There are several kids round our way, although I’ve yet to see them: it’s all good clean fun jumping out and shouting at people until your victim happens to have a heart condition. I was told the other day that it’s because we don’t have enough youth clubs, which strikes me as the worst kind of liberal bollocks: sitting in your bedroom bored out of your skull is, as far as I’m concerned, all part of growing up. It’s how you learn to be useful. Or else you get a hobby. I used to tape video game music onto C90s. I had very few friends. But I have not a jot of sympathy for these entitled millennials. Not one. Holy smokes I’m getting old.

I’ve thought for a while about doing some sort of ‘Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ montage scored to ‘Ashes To Ashes’, which seems an obvious choice, but that’s going to take me a while, so in the meantime you can have this instead.

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How do actual clowns, I wonder, feel about this sort of cultural appropriation? Has anyone asked them? Should we get a statement from Yuri Nikulin, only to be met with a wall of silence? (We could do the same with Marcel Marceau, but you probably wouldn’t have got much out of him even when he was still alive.) How do they feel about their identities, their whole tragedy-as-comedy persona, being hijacked in this way by idiotic teenagers posing with fake machetes? Is there a convention where they discuss these things? Does every panel end in a massive pie fight? And how many parking spaces do they need?

we're a culture not a costume this is not who i am and this is not okay

Yes, well.

 

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Remastered: Whistle and I’ll Come To You, Explained

In the darkness, something stirs. There’s a scratching at the door. John Hurt lies on an old bed, fingering a ring he found on the beach with almost Hobbit-like intimacy. There are noises. We never find out what’s causing the disturbance. There is an ending, but as with the best horror stories, it makes comparatively little sense.

It terrified me. It terrified both of us, as I remember: the heightened emotions of Yule and the thrill of a ghostly tale told beneath a darkened, wintry sky; the sight of a suddenly lucid Gemma Jones sitting on the bed, staring directly at the camera. The moment it finished I turned on all the lights. Neither of us slept well.

“There were just lots of noises,” Emily said, when I asked her why it had affected her so much. “And nasty things happening. And I couldn’t understand it!”. This, I suppose, is the whole point: we fear what we do not understand, and the nature of the haunting that the ageing professor was experiencing was never fully explained. In the meantime I managed to spook my wife by scratching on the side of the bed, and crawling across it towards her, bellowing “I’M STILL HERE!”

I accept – without reservation – that the original is better, despite never having seen it; one set of wandering blankets is enough, thank you very much. And I wouldn’t say that the video that followed – which I completed a few weeks later, at the dawn of 2011 – was therapy. But perhaps in a way it was. Perhaps the best way to defuse the tension is to kill it with a joke. This was my favourite episode of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and it was such an obvious fit. It pairs Frank Spencer with the War Doctor. The end result jars, which is partly the type of film used and partly the aspect ratio. But the story works.

If you’ve been following this blog more or less since its inception – or if you’ve had the dedication to go back and read through all the archives, for which I thank you profusely – you’ll remember that this video is the first one I did, and the first one I wrote about here. Deciding to revisit it again this autumn (purely for the purposes of uploading it to Facebook) meant a host of mostly cosmetic changes. I fixed a couple of rough edits and took care of a couple of sound issues that I was never quite happy with. The actual structure is more or less unaltered, because it works as is. I got my fair share of negative feedback, given that it doesn’t really give the concrete answer that people might have expected from the title. It’s an explanation, but a comedic one. I honestly think people expect to be spoon-fed.

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But I do recall another night not long after we’d seen Whistle, lying in bed, cuddled, the electric moon candles I gave her for Christmas the only light in the room.

“I looked it up, and there seem to be a couple of theories,” I was telling her. “One is that the whole thing was psychosomatic. The other is that she was haunting him because he believed she was nothing more than an Alzheimer’s-ridden shell. But I don’t know.
“Something strange, though. You remember the ugly bust they had in the bedroom? Apparently Neil Cross, the writer, was staying in a hotel in Devon, probably for research or something. And that same bust was in his room and he remembered it looking inappropriately creepy for hotel decor and that probably fuelled the creative process. Later on, when they were assembling the set in the Surrey mansion they were using, he realised it would look good in John Hurt’s room so he contacted the hotel, and asked if they could borrow it. And apparently…it never existed. He showed them photos, and they said yes, it’s our hotel and it’s our room, but this bust was never here.”

Emily said nothing.

“So they had a replica made, because he could remember what it looked like, but the original just wasn’t there. Creepy stuff, isn’t it? Anyway, goodnight.”
“Shithead.”

Happy Halloween.

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Conversion. It’s a Bing thing

Today, boys and girls, we’re going to ruin ‘Earthshock’.

A while ago I did a video that combined Wolf Hall with Bing Bunny. Mark Rylance starred in both and it seemed like a natural crossover, partly because it seemed to go against the grain of everything that Bing stood for. Because if you’ve seen it – more to the point if you’re a mother or father who’s seen it – you’ll know that there is nothing to stir feelings of parental inadequacy than that wretched bunny, or more specifically the diminutive guardian who looks after him. Bing’s an emotionally precocious child with the uncanny ability to grasp important concepts more or less at the first time of asking, but his full time carer is saintly to the point of other worldliness. Flop, you feel, is the one who has it down pat – attentive, nurturing, and impeccably responsible. Bing breaks his mobile, chucks it in the bin and then hides under a blanket. Flop doesn’t bat an eyelid. As role models go there is none finer, but there is only room for one up on that pedestal. In an age of right-on hipster parenting, he’s Jesus.

But as a dad who defends his right to shout at the kids while trying to wash up, tidy the lounge and deal with the mother of all headaches, I confess I’m a little sick of all the Facebook memes that encourage me to ‘find my inner Flop’. When I can’t get into Joshua’s room because of the mountain of yoghurt cartons and greasy spoons, when Edward’s broken my laptop again and someone’s pissed all over the toilet seat for the third time that afternoon, the inner Flop is about as far away from my thoughts as Donald Trump is from publishing his tax return. I don’t want to clear up shards of broken glass from the kitchen floor and tell them that it’s no big thing. It damn well is a big thing because we can’t eat the trifle. It will cease to be a big thing only after copious amounts of wine. I’m not a fan of the ‘look at me, I’m a shit parent’ alcohol-quaffing pyjama-wearing chicken nugget-baking slummy mummy brigade (I defend your right to raise your children that way, just stop preaching about it on Facebook) but I’m human, and it’s sometimes a little tedious to be a captive audience for parenting lessons given by a creature that is categorically not.

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So it was fun exploring that darker side of Flop, combining the sinister machinations of Thomas Cromwell with the cute adventures of Bing and his friends. Unfortunately Aardman weren’t very amused, and had it pulled – it was partly copyright, partly the combination of child-friendly material with adult themes. They had a point. It would be nice to think that young people’s YouTube activity is monitored by their parents / guardians / anthropomorphic sack toys, but you and I both know that isn’t the case, and all the advisory warnings in the world count for nothing because people don’t read these things.

So when it came to doing this one I was a little more careful. I’d like to hope it’s harder to find and the likelihood of some unsuspecting child stumbling across it is minimised. The irony is that this is arguably far less adult-themed than The Dark Side of Flop, given that it relies on the premise of a Cyber Leader dubbed over with dialogue from Bing until he’s…well, you’ve watched it by now, you see how he is. He’s a nutcase. Trudging through thirty-five episodes of Bing to find appropriate sound clips was no fun at all, but I had a riot actually matching things up and making them work. My favourite scene is still the bit in the TARDIS, which is the only one I think really works, but everything else just about hangs together.

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Why ‘Earthshock’? It’s David Banks, really. Because when I look back through the history of the Doctor’s encounter with the Cybermen, he’s the one I remember. The problem with Cybermen is that by and large they lack personality, and thus the stories have to be truly frightening in order to have any real impact (which is why everything after ‘The Age of Steel’ is generally a dismal failure). The Cyber Leader in ‘Earthshock’ has personality in spades. It’s tempting to say that this is nothing more than an anomaly, but over the years I’ve been cultivating a theory: that the biggest mistake we can make about the Cybermen is to say that they have no emotions. I no longer believe that’s the case. Written within the confines of a single sentence such an idea sounds patently ludicrous, but I explain it all here. Go and have a read, then we’ll talk.

‘Earthshock’ was the first Doctor Who story I remember from my childhood, did I ever tell you that? It is quietly marvellous: the surprises, for the initiated, come thick and fast, and the ending is still gut-wrenchingly moving, loathing of Adric aside. Even if you know what’s coming, it’s still great – but it’s better still if you don’t. (I had a lovely conversation with someone recently who was watching it for the first time, having no idea at all that the Cybermen were about to show up. I didn’t think that sort of spoiler-free access was possible these days.) Put it this way: I think there’s a reason why that shattered badge and the silent credit crawl is my first memory of the show, and I do wonder if I managed to exercise a few demons this week.

In many respects this is a spiritual successor to Dalek Zippy, and is in fact the middle act in a trilogy, the climax of which is still under construction (with Willo The Silent the embarrassing spin-off that no one really talks about). It was a hard graft but worth it. It made my children laugh and it is their approval, above all others, that I seek. And it keeps me out of mischief and stops me wondering what other dreadful things I can be doing with Bing and Flop and the other inhabitants of their bright and colourful world.

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Oh God, you really didn’t see this. Move along.

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The inevitable Doctor Who / Donald Trump thing

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Disclaimer: I’m not a blue collar American. I didn’t grow up with the right to bear arms, or healthcare you pay for without help from the state. I don’t pretend to really understand politics. I do have a rudimentary awareness of how the media works: that the best way to shift units is to pick the underdog (the more contemptible the better) and ridicule them to the extent that there is a tangible shift in public sympathy, evening the race and making it more interesting, and thus more newsworthy. That’s the way it goes. Deal with it.

There are those who suggest that choosing between Clinton and Trump is like choosing between crucifixion and being buried alive. There are others who suggest that of the two, Clinton is the lesser of two evils. There are those who suggest the opposite. Clinton’s past is supposedly murky, but the assassination conspiracies are the screaming rage of people who will see what they want to see. Of the two, Clinton – while far from the model of integrity that Obama appeared to be – is balanced, rational and compassionate. I can’t say the same for Trump.

Because Trump’s a bullying narcisstic egomaniac. Does that in itself make him a bad choice for President? Perhaps not. But it does make him a wildcard. I can’t understand why you’d publicly endorse a man who brings out the worst in people. Only a blinkered fool would look at him and see anything other than a liability. And nowhere does this make itself plainer than the vitriol that comes out of his mouth.

So I found a selection of quotes this week and I married them with images from Doctor Who. I don’t care that some of them are out of context, or have had their accuracy disputed. I won’t apologise for the occasional ickiness: Donald certainly never does.

And for those who’d say that, as a white British male, the election of the American President is none of my business, I’d suggest that if we’re talking about a man who has significant impact on the UK’s foreign policy and his finger on the big red button, I’d say that it darn well is.

Wouldn’t you?

One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don't go into government. My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body..

I have so many fabulous friends who happen to be gay, but I am a traditionalist.

Thanks sweetie. That's nice.

My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure; it's not your fault.

The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.

The other candidates — they went in, they didn't know the air conditioning didn't work. They sweated like dogs…How are they gonna beat ISIS? I don't think it's gonna happen.  You know, it really doesn't matter what the media write as long as you've got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.  Number one, I have great respect for women. I was the one that really broke the glass ceiling on behalf of women, more than anybody in the construction industry.

Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, [Republican rival Marco Rubio] referred to my hands: ‘If they're small, something else must be small.' I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee.

I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I'm more honest and my women are more beautiful.It's freezing and snowing in New York – we need global warming! All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That's to be expected. I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.

The point is, you can never be too greedy. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.

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‘Have you ever seen a bride with pockets?’

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I married Emily twelve years ago today. It was one of those faintly crisp, reasonably sunny mornings in early autumn: the trees were turning, but the piles of leaves carpeting the ground, ripe for kicking and rustling, would be some weeks away. We’d had an argument with my aunt the night before and another argument with the insurance company the morning of the service. After the rehearsal we’d spent hours cleaning and tidying the bungalow with my prospective in-laws ready for an ill-timed house inspection that was due to take place while we were honeymooning.

Come the ceremony, Emily was ten minutes late, but everything went off without a hitch. We walked down the aisle to the theme from Octopussy. We held a ceilidh in a Newbury hotel and danced the night away. In an attempt to emulate a wedding we’d attended the previous summer, we arranged a series of open mic sessions around a borrowed keyboard. Em and I sang ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’, just for the hell of it. She was beautiful – she still is, but that day she glowed.

I spent most of yesterday rehashing a few of the photos. When we married, the revived Doctor Who was cast and filming and presumably the BBC were wrangling with the Nation estate even as we set off for Genoa. Doctor Who was something we both knew and occasionally talked about but it was yet to saturate our lives. I wonder how things might have been different if we’d held this wedding in, say, 2008. I would have asked for Daleks. She’d have refused. In the event we actually used Trumptonshire as a theme, so it works.

Veterans to this blog will remember that I did this back in 2012. A couple of these are from that original session – one thing I have learned to do since then is improve my Photoshop skills a little bit, so the new ones are generally an improvement. I confess I am quite proud of the last two. The one of her floating in space is actually a composite of three photos – one top half, one bottom half and one arm, which seems very ‘Doctor’s Wife’, somehow. That one took me ages. But you know what? That’s her influence. She makes me strive to be better. I dedicated my first (unpublished) book to her, and described her as ‘the most faithful companion’. But on most days, she’s more like the Doctor – storming through life, fascinating and awesome and sometimes unapproachable – while I’m the clueless idiot at her side who needs everything explained to him. Ours is a relationship of mutual support, but I sometimes wonder if she ends up doing the lion’s share.

So happy anniversary, Em. The Doctor tells us we need a hand to hold. I’m glad I ended up with yours.

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Have I got Whos for you: bumper TV edition

We’ve got a meme backlog here at Brian of Morbius, so let’s take a look at what’s new in the wonderful world of the moving image.

First, I was looking at Jenna Coleman’s role in Victoria, and thought about the bit in ‘The Name of the Doctor’ where Clara got splintered all across time, and – well, one thing sort of led to another…

I’m not a costume drama fan, in general. I’ve never seen a single episode of Downton Abbey, although I rather enjoyed Dickensian. I have been enjoying Preacher tremendously: a show to which we’ll return, although I have given it a decent write up over at The Doctor Who Companion. If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand this. If you haven’t, it’d take too long to explain, but rest assured that it’s a programme worthy of your investment. It’s so…quirky!

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Too much TV is bad for you, of course, as this recent image from the Island of Sodor demonstrates.

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(Oh, I was bored.)

This week’s big news is The Great British Bake Off, a show that started from comparative obscurity and – thanks to a succession of great producers, some wonderful presenters and not a little scandal – became one of the BBC’s stalwart exports. At least it was, until Love Productions, who make the show, decided to move it to Channel 4, who were prepared to pay the £75 million that the BBC couldn’t find when it came to contract renewals.

Things you may not know: Love Productions allegedly had a number of out-of-court settlements with the Beeb over similar shows they later did (Hair, The Great Painting Challenge); programmes that (according to the obligatory ‘insider’) were stunningly similar in tone and format. Also: since 2014, Sky has had a 70% stake in the company. Go figure. Meanwhile, current hosts Mel and Sue have decided not to migrate with the show, and Mary Berry followed suit not long after. This leaves Channel 4 without three of the people who arguably made Bake Off the massive success it was, and while reinventions have worked in the past, alarm bells must surely be ringing in the Westminster boardrooms.

In any event, I think I have solved the problem: I therefore propose The Great British Baker Off.

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With the news that Channel 4 have effectively paid 25 million for a tent, some flour and Paul Hollywood (not my joke, but I’m stealing it), and the overwhelming probability that this will sink faster than the new series of Top Gear, speculation mounts as to who’s going to be at the helm when it goes down. I suspect that Davina McCall is already checking her diary. I can’t think of any show that’s completely replaced its core cast and managed to keep going. Can you?

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Well, stranger things have happened.

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