Have I Got Whos For You – part 321

It’s been a bad week for Theresa May at the Gallifrey Party Conference.

Elsewhere, the Twelfth Doctor is down with the kids, innit?

And finally, here’s that photo of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage in an elevator, only…

Enjoy your weekend, kids.

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The Rainbow Connection

Today, boys and girls, you have a choice. You can read this through, or you can skip to the bottom. That’s where the video is. I will not hold it against you, and I’ll never know you did it. Your time is precious. But do, at least, spare five minutes to watch the Thing At The End, because that’s the whole point.

Somewhere in the home counties – I’m thinking Surrey, although it’s never clear – in a cheerfully painted house, a fluffy gay hippo is carefully stacking blocks. To his left, there is a weird orange thing that may or may not be extraterrestrial, doing a puzzle. There is a piece missing: in his frustration, he chucks the box in the direction of the hippo, upsetting his tower. “Ooh, Zippy!” complains the hippo, rife with melodrama. “Zat’s very naughty! Now I’ve got to start again!”

“Oh, well, never mind George,” says the alien. “You can always make another one.”

Stage right, there is a large brown bear reading a comic. “Oh, Zippy,” he sighs. “You are careless.”

“Yes, well, it’s not my fault!” says the alien. “He shouldn’t have been building right next to my jigsaw!”

Their greying foster carer – all sensible shirts and white trainers – walks in, carrying a basket of washing that is inexplicably full given that he’s the only person in the house who wears any clothes. Scenes like this no longer astound or surprise him the way they once did: he’s watched every episode of The Dumping Ground and accepts most of his job is firefighting the squabbles and arguments his young charges have daily. He suspects the alien may have ADHD. He has caught the bear rewiring the electrics once or twice and has asked him not to. The hippo is constantly put upon by his would-be siblings, and the people down the road are always holding impromptu glee clubs in his front room. This, he reflects, was not how he saw his life going when he signed up for this gig.

When we were children, Rainbow was a part of the furniture. It had been around so long that no one gave its murky origins a second thought. There were all manner of questions about the setup in the house – who were these strange anthropomorphic characters and why were they living with this middle-aged storyteller? What did they do for money? And are the frequent fourth wall breaks some sort of indication that they’re in some sort of kids’ version of Big Brother, mercifully without the sex? But no one really asked. It was just something we accepted. It was, like Doctor Who, more about the situation, and the hijinks that ensued, than anything that might have led to them.

It’s strange when you reflect upon how much things have changed. I often read comments on the CBeebies Facebook page about The Tweenies, usually complaining about something obnoxious that Bella is doing. It is inconceivable that a show like that would be made today. Everyone spends all their time arguing. The characters are real, but they’re not a good influence, and even though their behaviour usually results in consequences and discipline, that’s lost on today’s thou-shalt-parent-my-children-for-me audience. While it’s hard to pinpoint precisely where it happened, somewhere along the line we lost the concept of dramatic irony.

There was – I swear I’m not making this up – an episode of Rainbow where Rod, Jane and Freddy sang a song that went “A flying saucer / In our garden / It must have come from outer space…”. Whereupon Zippy poked his head out of the window and offered them a trip to the stars, which they gleefully accepted, finishing the song along the way. It was, to my mind, the best origin story for Zippy that we’ve ever had. There is no other explanation for a creature with a zip sewn into its mouth, other than one that evolved on a planet where it’s an essential survival feature. Perhaps he was expelled from his home world for being thoroughly obnoxious – it would explain why ‘cousin’ Zippo is so mind-numbingly placid, at least until that later episode where he develops a bad American accent and starts talking about crisps.

Little moments like this are integral to our understanding of Rainbow. There are episodes where Geoffrey randomly ‘has to go out’. We never know where he goes (unless he returns with something plot-related) or why. Sessions at the dole office immediately spring to mind. So too do images of Geoffrey attending a drug deal or hiring himself out as a gigolo. It all depends on the mood I’m in. So you can understand why I’d latch onto the image of Zippy emerging from a wrecked spacecraft and setting up home with a bear and a hippo, which is to all intents and purposes what the song implies. (It also implies, of course, that Rod, Jane and Freddy were actually housed together in some sort of communal living situation, which corroborates many 1980s tabloid rumours.)

Then there’s…um. Rainbow cosplay.

I mean, seriously. What the hell is that? It’s like Zippy ate him. At least he can still breathe, which is presumably a situation that can be quickly altered with the swipe of a zip at the top. Come to think of it why does this have a working zip anyway, given that its sudden closure by an external party is likely to render the occupant airless and blind in an instant? Is this some sort of gimp outfit you use for fetish games? Does Christian Grey have one? It is only marginally less disturbing than the Rainbow comics which hit the stands back in the 1990s, in which every character looks basically normal except for George, who bears the haunted, blank-eyed stare of a hippo possessed.

(If you enjoy exploring the seedy underbelly of the animals in the house, you would be well-advised to check out World of Crap, who have devoted pages and pages to rewritten Rainbow comics with amusing captions.)

I’ve dabbled with Rainbow before, of course, in a video that I still quite like, some six years after its creation (not to mention Roy Skelton’s death, which upped the hit count considerably). But Zippy’s only one part of the trio – and while he’s the obvious candidate for voice transposition, that doesn’t mean the others don’t have potential. Except that George is timid and often stumbles over his words, of course, which makes placing him difficult. That left Bungle, who is usually well-spoken, as well as prone to bouts of pomposity. When it came to finding a Doctor Who character for him to replace, there really was only one choice, and that was Omega.

It’s not that I don’t like ‘The Three Doctors’. I think it’s overrated, not to mention structurally problematic – one of those stories that is beloved because it was the first multi-Doctor fusion (and even then, it fails to deliver on its title’s promise). The bickering between Pertwee and Troughton is about the best part of the story – although an unexpected highlight occurs when Benton walks into the TARDIS for the first time, and refuses to state the obvious. The Gel guards are quite fun, but this one is perhaps the epitome of the ‘Stupid Brigadier’ phase, in which U.N.I.T.’s finest devolves into a reactionary simpleton who refuses to accept the evidence of his own eyes.

Then there’s Omega, a villain so melodramatic it’s impossible to see him as a serious threat. Omega’s role in ‘The Three Doctors’ is to shout. In ‘Arc of Infinity’, it’s to shout some more, and then decompose at the edge of a river, just after bonding with a small child over the sight of an organ grinder. In ‘Omega’, the 2003 Big Finish audio drama, his role is to convince you that he’s the Doctor, which he manages with aplomb. But for the most part it’s just a lot of shouting. There must be a reason for all that anger. You almost want Tennant to lean round the door of his chamber, survey Omega’s colossally oversized mask and mutter “Compensating for something?”

Still, masks are handy. I use masks a lot, simply because it makes the dubbing much easier. And there’s something fun about having a supposedly sinister character rendered ridiculous. In the case of Omega, it only half works. You can make him ridiculous all right; he just isn’t very sinister.

When it came to putting this together, I wanted it to feel as close to an actual episode of Rainbow as possible, so I started with the animations. There are two of them, built up in that slow, frame-by-frame style (the sound effects, by the way, are all ripped directly from the show). Originally it was just going to be K-9, but I put the other one in just for the heck of it – the same might be said for the Rod, Jane and Freddy song that shows up later, although that’s partly the silliness of Pertwee’s slow motion fight with Omega.

The biggest problem was Bungle’s voice, which is less consistent than you imagine (unlike Zippy, who always sounds like Zippy). It’s perhaps most obvious in the opening scene, in which the changes are obvious. This being a Classic episode, I didn’t have the luxury of score-free dialogue, which meant dealing with ambience and the occasional sting from Dudley Simpson (who recently turned 95, if you want another entry to your list of Entertainment Veterans You Hadn’t Realised Weren’t Dead Yet). As a result it’s rather rough around the edges, and I almost like it that way.

Oh, and make sure you watch to the end…

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Have I Got Whos For You (part P45)

This week, we take you to war-torn Skaro. I think I watched ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ before I got round to seeing ‘Trial Of A Time Lord’ – but when I did, the connections seemed obvious.

Does anyone know who pioneered the hand-shooting-up thing, anyway? It’s been used to brilliant effect in Carrie (included in this montage I found), Gremlins turns it into a recurring gag, and presumably if League of Extraordinary Gentlemen hadn’t cut away from that grave scene when it did, the shot would have concluded with Connery’s rejuvenated arm punching through. Myself, I always think about that scene from Labyrinth. You remember. “We’re helping hands!” They should remake Labyrinth. That always ends well.

Elsewhere on the same battlefield:

My instincts tell me that Capaldi is saying “Don’t worry Matt, I’m sure we’ll find your keys over there somewhere”, but if you can think of a better caption I’m open to suggestions.

Anyway, it’s funny the sorts of people you meet while you’re out and about, isn’t it?

“BY THE POWER OF GALLIFREY!”

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The inevitable Doctor Who / The Prisoner thing

October, 2011. Emily and I are celebrating our anniversary in Harlech. The bedroom in our B&B is all frills, pink and a myriad fragile-looking ornaments. It is like Dolores Umbridge’s study. We go out for Indian food, wander round the castle and watch trashy TV.

Sunday morning the two of us take a hike in the drizzle over to the estuary. In the distance, Portmeirion looms: a picture postcard collection of patchwork models glued to the forest. We make it within throwing distance before the sand becomes too deep, sucking and gurgling. I suggest going back to the car and driving round to the village’s entrance, if she wants.

Emily smiles. “No,” she says. “I think I like it better this way. It’s more authentic.” And back we head, pursued by a large balloon.

The Prisoner is one of those shows that entered and left national consciousness without anyone ever really noticing. It was all going so well. Navy striped blazers? Check. The threatening, omnipresent Rover? Check. All this, and the show’s best-loved catchphrase: “I am not a number,” bellows McGoohan, running across a beach at sunset, “I AM A FREE MAN!”. It was the perfect soundbite to stick at the end of a newsgroup post, a middle finger extended eloquently against authority. Even Matthew Corbett was at it. (Sooty does The Prisoner. Wonders will never cease.)

These days everyone just uses the word ‘Sheeple’ and thinks they’re being terribly clever. These days, I’m having to explain what The Prisoner is to a whole new generation – actually two generations if you count my mother, who systematically denies repeatedly saying “I am not a number” when my brother and I were growing up despite my insistence that it was a stock part of conversation (along with “No” and “Were you born in a barn?”). Outside the family circle I’m met with a blank stare whenever I do that ‘Be seeing you’ thing. Honestly, Star Trek never had these problems.

Perhaps that’s part of it. Gene Roddenberry didn’t just create a TV show, he created an entire universe and filled it with planets and civilisations. The world of The Prisoner is comparatively small – micro, rather than macroscopic. It has to be: by its very nature the Village needs to be enclosed, and the bulk of Number 6’s adventures taking place there, while those that aren’t are usually hiding something. (‘Living In Harmony’ is about the best known example of this, predating the holodeck by a good twenty years and showing that there’s very little you can’t do with a few cardboard cut-outs, some mild hallucinogenics and a raid on the ITV props department.)

I’m not a big fan of the words ‘cult following’ – they seem to imply a kind of snobbery in one direction or another – but perhaps that’s the most appropriate terminology to explain the programme’s mass appeal among its fan base, even after all these years. Certainly there can be few programmes as impenetrable, and few endings as discussed and dissected. The Prisoner was either captivating (no pun intended), or challenging, or just plain weird, depending on the level of commitment you were willing to offer. It was uncompromising television that explained very little and then subverted what you thought you knew.

It’s the sort of programme I wish they’d make more often, but that doesn’t seem to be the way that the world works now: there is an expectation that every gap should be plugged, every flashback explained, every origin story given flesh. “Worst bit of nerd culture: the need to fill in the blanks,” tweeted Gideon Defoe on 21 September. “Ooh, the Kessel Run, sounds evocative, must see it in grindingly prosaic detail.”

Doctor Who fans are no better. It’s not enough for Turlough to have attended a private school while on the run from the authorities: said school now has to be established (step forward, Nick Briggs) as a school that deals especially with alien children, so we can know how he got there. It’s not enough for the Doctor to have left Gallifrey: we need to know why. And it’s not enough for the random women standing behind Rassilon to be whomever you’d most like them to be: we have to have fan fiction explaining who they are and how they got there and which of the high council they shagged along the way (because this is fan fiction, and thus Rule #34 applies in abundance).

There is an episode of Sherlock that annoys me immensely, because we get to see not one but three resolutions to the Sherlock Falls From The Roof story. One of them is (probably) the truth, although it’s told to us by a madman, which rather tests its narrative reliability. The others are fanwank – quite literally, as one of them seems to rely on a fan suggestion. It is possibly the most meta of all the Sherlock episodes, dealing as it does with the public reactions to the detective and how he interacts with his audience, allowing them to make up the history for him. There is a laziness and smugness about it that is unbecoming. Far better it would have been, surely to have the detective sweep back into Watson’s life and refuse to explain anything at all, even to the audience?

But a blank slate is maddening, and perhaps that’s the reason that The Prisoner is now called ‘obscure’ (one unnamed publication, three days ago). The planned origin story for Number Six’s arrival mercifully never materialised, and all we had to go on was that iconic opening montage, largely wordless: Patrick McGoohan drives his car, storms angrily in and out of an office and is then rendered unconscious in his London home before waking up on the Welsh coast. (In 1987, twenty years after The Prisoner, ITV launched Knightmare, in which a series of would-be adventurers ventured through an artificially generated dungeon. Every time a fresh room was entered the kid in the over-sized helmet would ask “Where am I?”, and watching years later it’s almost disappointing that the answer was never “In the village”.)

There is a rule about TV: give your programme a historical setting and you instantly sidestep the likelihood of it becoming dated (which is why Dad’s Army is frequently repeated while Bless This House is not). The Prisoner sidesteps this by giving the show’s location a timeless feel: there are elements of Connery’s Bond, and a Beatles track that plays over the final episode, but we could be watching this in any decade. Most of it works. The writing is consistently good, and the show takes risks that you generally don’t see in contemporary British TV (episode seven, ‘Many Happy Returns’, features no almost no spoken dialogue for the first twenty minutes).

If you’ve never seen The Prisoner I am about to ruin it for you, and I strongly suggest that you drop to the end of the section I’m just about to write, but we need to talk about ‘Fall Out’. Not every show is defined by its finale – The Avengers wasn’t – but when, in early 1968, Number Six was taken to meet Number One, a nation of jaws dropped. Everything about the programme’s closing instalment is baffling – the hooded rabble in the courtroom, the apparent resurrection of Leo McKern, the obfuscating speech by the judge, the song and dance, the jive dude…and fact that Number Six barely utters a word throughout, although on the few occasions that he tries the mob are quick to silence him.

Then there’s a huge gunfight and Patrick McGoohan in a gorilla mask, and then that long drive home, with Angelo Muscat closing the door. Roll credits.

There’s a legend that says that when the series finale aired, the public backlash was so ferocious that McGoohan had to flee the country to avoid the mob. I still don’t know if I believe that, but it makes for a nice story, and the sort of fitting scene that closes a docudrama – rather like Ed Wood driving away with Kathy just after the screening of Plan 9, oblivious to the reaction it presumably received. Certainly ‘Fall Out’ is one of those stories that remains impenetrable, perhaps the only episode of the series that was. It doesn’t help that Alexis Kanner is playing a completely different character to the one he played in ‘Living In Harmony’, and yes, I know this sort of thing happens in Doctor Who all the time without any explanation, but this was one occasion I really felt we deserved one.

Seriously. God knows what’s going on here. I mean, I get the rest. I don’t care why Number 6 / John Drake / whoever the hell he was resigned, or what the purpose of the Village really is, but I can at least follow the narratives – even ‘A, B and C’, which is a head trip best enjoyed under the influence of alcohol, or at least a notepad and biro. But then we get here, and all hell breaks loose. You thought the Twin Peaks finale was weird? You don’t know you’re born, kid, although right now I’m not entirely sure whether Laura Palmer was either.

Gareth says that it’s simply a question of punctuation: when McGoohan asks (every week) about the identity of Number One, he’s told “You are Number Six”, but if you add a comma it reads “You are, Number Six”, which makes a whole lot more sense, or at least as much sense as anything in The Prisoner ever really did. Whether there’s a conspiracy, a case of mistaken identity, or whether the whole thing was simply a fugue state in the mind of a delusional man we’re never really sure.

[Spoilers more or less end here.]

Perhaps it’s better that way. Perhaps giving an answer to a story like this is the quickest way of killing it. That’s what happened in Lost – a programme that attempted to explain its own mythology and came apart at the seams as a result, to the extent that no one really talks about it now. Perhaps that’s what McGoohan learned during his time on the show: by steadfastly refusing to explain what’s going on, you give people something to talk about for the rest of their lives.

That’s a lesson that the fans, if not necessarily the writers of Doctor Who will eventually lead to learn as well: it is a children’s show, and thus deserves a degree of transparency, but a programme can become consumed by its own mythos and wind up drowning in it. As I write this I am attempting to convince a well-meaning chap in Dakota that when Timothy Dalton spoke about the two dissenters being “like the Weeping Angels”, he didn’t mean they were actually Weeping Angels, and no, we do not need to know where the Weeping Angels came from. Similarly we don’t need to know the Master’s backstory. Nor what Rory got up to in the two thousand years he was humping Amy round Europe. Nor about the adventures the Doctor and Martha had while holed up in 1969 (particularly whether or not they had sex, an inexactness which some fans seem unhealthily desperate to have resolved). We watch a show that has a question for a title: questions do not always need to be answered, and not everything needs to be connected.

Maybe that’s why I do things like this: if Doctor Who aficionados are obsessed with in-universe continuity, perhaps this is a drive to counter-balance that. It’s funny, because if there’s one thing The Prisoner really doesn’t have, it’s a sense of continuity. One clever conceit the show employs is to pit Number Six against a succession of chair-dwelling superiors – everyone has their favourites, and most of them are Leo McKern. It allows for an ever-changing dynamic: you want panicky incompetence, you cast Patrick Cargill (‘Hammer Into Anvil’); if it’s polite dignity, you cast Anton Rogers. In the background, Muscat lingers and serves tea, leading to speculation that he may be more than simply a butler. The shifting cast reminds me, for obvious reasons, of a certain Other Programme, which led to this.

The new Number Two.

Logically the only possible response is “Who is William Hartnell?”. And logically the only possible response to that is “You are Colin Baker.” Or, if you want, “You are, Colin Baker.” Which is closer to the truth than anyone might care to admit.

Meanwhile, over in the Village, the poor old War Doctor is ruminating.

Now, John Hurt as Number Two. That would have been something.

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Doctor Who: the alternative headlines

When you work in the press, in whatever capacity, you’re surrounded by headlines. They’ve always been important, but in the digital age they’re the very lifeblood of what we do. In a world where success is monitored by the hit counter, first impressions are vital. That’s why clickbait is such big business: when a deadline is looming but you have nothing interesting to say, make it look as though you have. This revelation came to me quite recently, but what happened next will astound you.

In all seriousness: there’s nothing wrong (all right, rephrase: there’s nothing particularly new) about sexing up a headline a little bit, so long as you don’t tell any outright lies. Part of the problem stems from expectations – before the birth of the internet you could scan the body text beneath the headline and get an idea of the piece without having to actually read it in full, or at the very least ascertain its length. These days, if you’re being fed a juicy story, chances are it’ll be on social media, where the headline and covering image has been scrupulously prepared for maximum impact so as to grab your attention, with the actual text lurking on another page – and by the time you’ve worked out it wasn’t worth your time, you’ve already clicked.

People react to this with varying degrees of annoyance – personally, I’d say it’s all part of the way that online news has developed, and that the pious “There, I saved you a click” brigade really need to grow a sense of humour. But I would say that, seeing as it’s what passes for a day job. What annoys me is the tedious, over-excited headlines we draw from all those conveniently-worded soundbites that you get at the press screenings, convention appearances and Doctor Who Magazine editorials. Let me give you a few examples from the last year:

  • Jenna Coleman thinks Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor Who casting is “genius”
  • The next series of Doctor Who will feel like “the first episode you ever see”
  • Is this the greatest scene in modern Doctor Who history?
  • A scene in the Doctor Who Christmas special had the Doctors “almost blubbing”
  • Steven Moffat drops hints about Jodie Whittaker’s first Doctor Who scenes: “She’s given us the Doctor we’ve always known”

Don’t get me wrong. The BBC wants to sell its own product, and I’m OK with that. You need to be outwardly enthusiastic; any producer who said they thought they had a turkey on their hands would likely be given their cards, and we all know what happens when the stars dare to insult the directors. But still. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told I’ll be stunned, amazed, upset and blown away by what’s going to happen in the next series of Who, or how things were going to be truly fantastic.

Can I plead, perhaps, for a little more honesty? Or if that’s really not something we do (“The truth, Minister? You can’t expect Her Majesty’s Government to start telling the truth!”) then perhaps a little more humility, however false? And with that in mind I’ve come up with a few ideas for headlines that I’d like to see, however unlikely their appearance on the news feeds.

 

 

 

 

I am very ‘umble to the present moment, Master Copperfield…

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The Kasterborous Archive, #6: Everything has its time and everything dies

Author’s notes:

This is an interesting one.

It stems from the tail end of series 9. I was in a bad place generally, which didn’t help – but was also fed up with Doctor Who. It precedes a year-long absence for the show that reinvigorated my enthusiasm, to a certain extent; series 10 was certainly a dramatic improvement, largely thanks to Bill. Simultaneously the article (which pre-dates any announcements about the departures of Capaldi or Smith) has a lot to say about holding on to things until they crumble into dust; the fans often don’t know when they’ve had too much of a good thing, and as the Doctor wandered wearily into the TARDIS at the end of Hell Bent, there was a part of me that wished he’d just shut the door and stay there and let the show die naturally. Have I shifted my position since then? Yes. Do I stand by what I said in 2015? Also yes. There’s nothing wrong with embracing your contradictions.

Everything has its time and everything dies

Published: 29 November 2015

Coming soon to a newspaper near you: an article about ratings. Ratings or contracts. Ratings or contracts or BBC cuts. The future of Doctor Who, it seems, has never been so shaky or uncertain. Rumours abound about the prospect of the show being put on hiatus, or cancelled altogether amidst fears of falling popularity and failure to put up a fight against The X-Factor (which seems to be having troubles of its own). Those of us who browse the press and the forums will know that this is nothing new. But the most disturbing thing about the current trend, at least for me, is how little I actually care about it. For the first time in a long while, the prospect of the show’s cancellation, however unlikely (and we’ll get to that), fills me with far less dread than it ought to.

It’s a great job, getting paid to write about Doctor Who. I wouldn’t swap it for all the elephants in Mumbai. Is it worth the affront you experience when you receive a critical drubbing from people who’ve missed the point, or (far worse) the heartache and disappointment that bites when a piece is routinely ignored? Yes, it is. Is it worth the long, coffee-fuelled 2am finishes every Sunday morning scribbling reviews and opinion pieces and uploading endless GIFs in order to make deadline and beat the web traffic? Of course it is. Is it worth the torture of having to endure the atrocity that was Before the Flood not once but twice so that I can explain it to my children? Yes, just about. Is it worth the sense of weariness my wife experiences when I persuade her to sit through yet another tedious episode because my reviews are always better when I can feed off her witty and acerbic remarks? Well, you’d have to ask her that, although she’d probably sigh a little bit and give you a smile that speaks volumes.

But the problem is that it’s now the writer in me that is pleading for its continued renewal, rather than the fan. Writing semi-professionally about something you love is a dangerous tightrope, and one that many of us walk. I’d hate for it to become any sort of crutch, but writing about Who – in whatever capacity – is one of the few things I know how to do reasonably well, and it’s for that reason alone that I pray that the continuous reports of the show’s imminent demise are nothing more than an exaggeration designed to shift units.

Pay particular attention to that word ‘alone’, because it’s where I’ve been going with this. Because the fan in me no longer cares about New Who. Seriously, I don’t. I’m worn out with high expectations that are constantly dashed. I’m tired of the ominous looks that plagued this series whenever Capaldi was alone with Clara, leading to a death scene that lasted seven minutes longer than it should have. I’m tired of the mysteries and arcs and things that are supposed to be important and the stupid tendency the show has now to make great, bold affirmations about why the Doctor left Gallifrey / grew up scared of his own shadow / bought a new toaster when it doesn’t actually matter. I’m tired of inconsistent writing and good ideas squandered. I’m tired of humourless gravitas and awkward, ill-fitting social commentary shoehorned into poor scripts (the Zygon stories were a notable exception). I’m tired of all the sodding electric guitar references (although I don’t dispute that Peter can play). And I’m tired of the cult of smugness that surrounds it: the press saturation and stunt casting and the feeling that this should somehow be BAFTA-standard high drama, rather than lightweight family entertainment.

Moffat sits in a different chair to the one occupied by John Nathan-Turner, but ultimately it’s the same situation: outstaying your welcome. The longer he’s here, the more we allow him to do: not content with having undermined everything Russell T Davies achieved (I’m not going to expand on this; if you can’t figure it out it’ll give you something to argue about), he’s now making his mark in other ways, too numerous and obvious to mention here. Somewhere, I’m convinced he has a list of “Things I want to do before I step down”, and presumably if he manages to tick off everything on the list then Mark Gatiss has to buy him a PlayStation 4.

Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt. There was a time, not long after the 2005 resurrection, where I’d rebuff any criticism of the show with “Yes, I agree, but it’s Doctor Who. Isn’t it better that it’s back?” There was a time when I truly believed that. There was a time when if asked to choose between episodes like Fear Her and cancellation, I’d plump for the former in a double heartbeat. The frightening thing is that if you’d asked me the same question after viewing The Woman Who Lived a few Saturdays ago, or the dirge that was Face The Raven just the other week, I genuinely don’t know what I’d have said. Are stories like this really the best we can do? Is this the height of quality for a flagship programme, for prime time Saturday night television?

The fact of the matter is that the years when Doctor Who was not on air were some of the most productive and fruitful in the history of the show. The Big Finish franchise – now a bloated and distorted mutation of its former self – was established in order to make the stories that the BBC no longer wanted, and did it brilliantly. The New Adventures, Past Doctor Adventures and the webcasts all came out of the fans’ desire to fill the vacuum that Michael Grade had created. Oh, not everything worked. (Have you read Eye of Heaven? It’s appalling.) Still, some of the most interesting stories and ideas ever featured in Doctor Who came out of that period. The Americans don’t want Paul McGann? Fine. We’ll give him a whole history. We’ve even got a companion who gets turned into a fish.

I was reiterating this to my children just the other day. “There are hundreds of old stories you’ve not watched,” I told them. “And most of them are worth a look. There are hundreds of books and hundreds of audio dramas and comics and even I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer. If they stopped making new Doctor Who stories tomorrow it’d still take aeons to get through everything.”

I once met a Christian speaker who talked eloquently on the matter of dying churches. The crux of his argument ran thus: if churches filled with an ageing population are in danger of becoming empty, perhaps we shouldn’t be so desperate to refill them. If clubs and organisations are winding down, perhaps we should let them. Perhaps Doctor Who is drawing to a natural conclusion that we should allow to happen before it reaches series-too-far territory (a ship which I’m sure many people would argue has already sailed long ago). Perhaps, as the Ninth Doctor famously says to Rose at the close of The End of the World, everything has its time and everything dies. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that. Perhaps instead we’re more concerned that everybody lives, whatever the cost.

At the same time, a thought occurs: Doctor Who is probably not going to be cancelled, and in its current form it is not going to change. Moffat shows no signs of leaving; he outlasted Smith and he may well outlast Capaldi. For as long as he’s willing to believe his own hype (in the weekly cries of “Genius” and “OMG BEST EPISODE EVER I AM LITERALLY CRYING BUCKETS!” that frequent forums and Tumblr feeds) then there’s no reason why he should. The rants of old fogeys like me will not shake him, nor should they. I’ll shout into the wind for as long as I feel the need, but I seldom expect anyone to actually hear, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. And truth be told I like a man who stands by his convictions, even if we’re polar opposites in terms of how we approach things.

So I’ll keep watching – I have a vested interest in the show’s continuation, after all – and I’ll keep complaining because I’m not a sycophant, I can’t heave my heart into my mouth, and eventually after all this shouting into the wind there is at least a distant possibility that someone is going to listen (just as there is a possibility that an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite number of typewriters will eventually produce a script better than Evolution of the Daleks). At the same time, if the front page exclusive tomorrow morning read “DOCTOR WHO CANCELLED” I think I can say, for the first time in ten years, that I probably wouldn’t care that much. I mean, I’d have to find something else to fill my Saturday evening. But that’s fine. It’s been years since I watched The X-Factor.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 8.5 or 9, depending on how you count)

In the news this last fortnight, National Photograph Your Child In Front Of A Door Day reaches as far as the TARDIS.

Elsewhere, in the wake of the Bradley Walsh rumour, a BBC source leaks an exclusive set of unreleased screen tests for the next Doctor Who companion.

And the Doctors celebrate International Cosplay Weekend.

 

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Rogue One: Kind of a Star Wars story

It’s not exactly cheery, is it?

I mean, it was never going to be. If you want to visit the first paragraph of that iconic title crawl and turn it into a movie, you immediately run into a problem. If the Rebels striking from a hidden base have managed to steal the plans for the Death Star, how come we never hear from them again? Why does the the entire revolution lie in the hands of a drippy farm boy, a cynical mercenary and a sexually frustrated royal? Tangentially, why is everyone so goddamned happy at the end of Episode IV when they’ve lost about thirty-six pilots on that trench run?

The solution is simple. You give the job to someone who takes it upon themselves to disappear from the limelight for a good while (which is what they did in Dark Forces) or you kill off everyone involved, which is exactly what happens in Rogue One. Specifically, you give it to a young woman with a ‘troubled’ past and family connections, stick her with a bunch of misfits and ‘a droid with more personality than any of the human characters’ (quoth Honest Trailers) and then you send them marching off to their deaths. Give them a few headline-generating filming locations to take in on the way. Night raid on craggy Imperial outpost? Check. Forests? Check. Desert world? Flights to Jordan already booked. And somewhere, in a bar on Mos Eisley, a retconned-out-of-existence Kyle Katarn is weeping into his Jawa Juice.

It looks spectacular, as one would expect. But perhaps the best thing we could say about it is that for the most part it doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars story – and that’s a compliment. The tropes are all present and correct, of course. K-2SO even says “I have a bad feeling about this” when he’s entering an elevator, although it’s almost disappointing when said elevator doesn’t subsequently cut him in half. But that’s where it stops. If the biggest crime committed by The Force Awakens was its scene-by-scene homage to Episode IV – a film that mirrors its predecessor so closely can never be a total success – Rogue One manages to take the Star Wars universe into different territory without ever quite abandoning the galaxy far, far away. This is a darker, grittier piece with a greater degree of moral ambiguity. Characters face death and find there is no last-minute reprieve or conveniently placed Wookiee. Instead there is a lot of self-sacrifice and that scene on a beach that basically rips off Deep Impact. I hear whispers of an alternative ending, perhaps never shot, in which Jyn and Cassian survived: perhaps a better homage would have been a dramatic freeze frame, fading to sepia, the almost-lovers locked in time, somehow cheating death.

It might have been a decent way to conclude the movie, because then we wouldn’t have had to put up with this.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the uncanny valley, but I can’t help feeling that this particular traversal was a colossal waste of time. Essentially it still looks fake. It’s like particularly good botox – wrinkle-free, but you can still tell. It’s not as bad as Jeff Daniels in Tron Legacy, but it’s close. And the moment it happens is worse than looking at a photo. It’s like that bit in Spaceballs where the effeminate commander yells “You’ve captured their stunt doubles!”. Would it have killed Ingvild Deila to keep her back to the camera? “And when I turned round…”

More successful – somewhat – is the resurrected Grand Moff Tarkin, played this time by Guy Henry, who (Rosie Marcel aside) is just about the best thing in Holby City, whether he’s being fatherly with Arthur Digby or getting punched in the face by Ric Griffin. He still looks fake, but it’s a believable kind of fake, somehow. What does this say about my preoccupation with women’s looks? Put another way, why can I accept a CG Peter Cushing, but not a Carrie Fisher? And at the opposite end of the spectrum I’m still annoyed that in the process of revisiting the First Doctor for the Christmas special they’ve cast an actor who is absolutely nothing like him, so perhaps it’s impossible to make me happy.

The film ends – you will know this, and if you haven’t I’m about to ruin it – literally minutes before A New Hope begins, with Princess Leia making a run for it with the stolen plans, the Empire in hot pursuit. Or perhaps it doesn’t. Perhaps there’s room for a whole slew of adventures in between, in which Leia picks up the two droids, meets Han Solo, bears his child and then has her memory wiped. If this were Doctor Who, that’d be what happens. There is a school of thought that suggests, for example, that the Ninth Doctor went off and travelled on his own for years in the five seconds that it takes Mickey and Rose to cross the car park before the TARDIS rematerialises and the Doctor asks “By the way, did I mention that it also travels in time?”. It is a silly theory, but you could shoehorn it if you really wanted.

All headcanon aside, the sense of familiarity that hits you in those final minutes is a blatant attempt at crowd-pleasing, just the same as the seeds for Episode IV were sown in the montage that closed Revenge Of The Sith. That one had twin suns on Tattoine, brooding stares from Darth Vader, and a partially constructed Death Star. Rogue One tries so hard to outdo this it comes across as posturing. It’s not necessarily bad posturing, particularly as it’s so much fun to watch Vader striding through the Alliance command ship, mercilessly throwing Rebel troops against the ceiling like someone playing Boom Blox on the Wii. But it’s really not very cheery, K-2SO’s quibbling aside. It’s jolly good, all told, but there must be a way to make it a little more fun.

And then it hit me. You add the Red Dwarf theme.

There, that’s much better.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 2001 and a bit)

I’ve got more posts with ACTUAL CONTENT coming soon, folks, promise. But I’ve been away for two weeks and thick with Metro stuff, so they’re going to have to wait.

In the meantime, here’s a bumper collection of movie-themed memes. First, E.T.

Then this one, which (as I’ve had to tediously explain to a bunch of fans on the internet this week) is NOT A BLOODY RED DWARF REFERENCE.

Meanwhile, something looms disturbing over that collection of cardboard cutouts.

Back on Earth, we’re still in ‘Day of the Doctor’ territory, as Windy Miller recreates the famous bike-riding opening.

And finally, the Doctor does H.P. Lovecraft. Or rather, doesn’t.

Enjoy your bank holiday.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 354)

You know…you’d get these a lot faster if you visit and follow my Facebook page.

First: rejected monsters from series 10.

Meanwhile, in an art gallery in an undisclosed location, fandom implodes.

And in unrelated news, the Thirteenth Doctor’s companion is finally unveiled.

(You would not believe the fallout I had from that one.)

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