The Doctor Who story game – 2017 edition

When I was ten, my year 5 teacher asked us to come up with a three sentence idea for a story we wanted to write. Then he bade us hand the idea to our desk partners, who would write the story we’d suggested, while we wrote theirs. I can see what he was doing, but as someone who’s always relished creative control over things like this, it was an uncomfortable experience for me, particularly as I was partnered with someone who hovered around the lower end of the gene pool. There’s something a little painful about reading a great idea you’ve had reduced to rack and ruin by a kid who was far more comfortable with a football than a fountain pen. I had to console myself by doing the best possible job with his idea, the bones of which I can still remember, nearly thirty years later.

I’ve grown up a fair bit since then, but the hoarding impulse remains: having a committee build a story is generally not a good idea. There are too many cooks hovering over a small pan. It’s why Snakes on a Plane was rubbish. On the other hand, as an exercise done purely for fun, it is a wonderful, almost humbling experience, a way of surrendering your ego and allowing someone else to take an idea and run with it. And so it was that a few weeks ago, while I was in the pub with an old friend putting the world to rights, a whole bunch of people were sitting at phones and laptops, eagerly adding sentences to a thread I’d started instructing them to help me build a Doctor Who story.

Did you ever play that consequences game where you tell a story one sentence at a time? Or where you write it down on pieces of concertinaed A4, the fragments forming a loose, nonsensical narrative? This was kind of like that. You lose creative control – and greet the absurd, occasionally incoherent direction that things take with a mixture of amazement and alarm. Alarm because it’s not the way you hoped it would go – but then you learn to relax and go with it. I won’t pretend that what follows makes any sense, or is even particularly good, but it was an awful lot of fun seeing it develop and grow.

Imagine, if you will, a large Facebook group – one of the largest Doctor Who groups on the entire site, if not the very largest – teeming with imagination and ideas. It was the perfect playground to try this out, although I ran the risk of being totally ignored – that’s what happens when you get so many posts. But the community came out in force. Old companions forged new alliances. Monsters were dropped in and flushed out with nary a mention. Tangents were briefly explored and then brushed aside as the story went somewhere else. The fourth wall was painstakingly demolished. And Steven Moffat wound up the subject of several wish fulfilment fantasies. Cosmetics aside, it is presented as is. The first and last lines are mine; everything else was from other people.

There weren’t many rules: any and every Doctor or companion was available, although when I read through the dialogue people had submitted I could hear Matt Smith’s voice, and thus it became a story about the Eleventh. When we were done – in other words, when things had ground to a natural halt – I locked the thread. Then I cleaned up the spelling, Anglicised the dialogue, chopped up a few bits here and there, and adjusted it so it was all in the correct tense, adding a few hastily assembled images to break up the text. It was fun, and we will probably do it again.

In the meantime, the story we wrote follows. I call it…

It was dark. Night had a habit of being like that.

Except night on Derrimilanicum, where night tends to be bright green due to the effects of a world-wide aurora. But it was dark still because it was cloudy. Derrimilanicum was a peaceful place…except for the night when the encroaching darkness known simply as the ‘Vashta Nerada’ came to invade.

The doctor sat in the TARDIS, eating a bagel. He remembered the Vashta Nerada painfully well…

He clapped his hands suddenly and stood up, as there was suddenly a knock at the Tardis door. The Doctor answered to find his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.

He was holding a fez – always a fez – and the Doctor threw it in the air just so it landed on his head. But it missed, the fez missed the Doctor’s head landing in a puddle. He picked it up and invited the Brigadier into the Tardis.

“Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart! What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be dead?” The Doctor asked gleefully. “And upon such a cloudy day?”

Then the Doctor lifted a finger and said, “Unless that hasn’t happened yet. I never quite know where in the time stream I am.”

“Coming from you, Doctor, that’s a relatively normal thing to say,” the Brigadier muttered from opposite the TARDIS console. “But you say I’m to die?”

The Brigadier looked shocked. “Did I say that?” the Doctor asked. “I don’t remember saying that.”

He rubbed his hands together quickly and said, “Ah well yes, uh, spoilers…foreknowledge is no good, dangerous even!”

“OK, OK…let’s forget that for now. We have bigger problems at hand,” said the Brigadier.

The Doctor straightened his bow tie. “Yes…the fish fingers are burning. And I need a bowl of custard to dip them in.”

“Now, Doctor, I really must insist…” began the Brigadier, only to find himself interrupted by a loud yelp coming from somewhere deep inside the TARDIS.

“Doctor, what was that?”

“Probably just Rose crying again”, said the Doctor. “She likes to cry when we run out of her favourite food; silly, really.”

“Sausages.”

The Doctor turned in confusion only to see that K-9 had come into the room to report on… sausages? Then he remembered that ‘sausages’ was an old codename for something long ago…long before the TARDIS was even created and thought lost in legend for all eternity.

The Doctor pondered whether he should get a new codename. “Could my new code name be ‘Sausages’?” he wondered.

“Run!” River yelled, emerging deep from the bowels of the TARDIS, rapidly firing shots behind her.

“RIVER, what are you doing here?” asked the Doctor.

“K-9 becomes a human girl,” said River, “and we’ve got to stop her!”

“Before she steals all of Rose’s cookies! Allons-y and onward!” proclaimed the Doctor. “And to think, all of this is Moffat’s fault,” he added.

Suddenly the TARDIS came to a jarring halt – just as the toaster popped; the Doctor, grabbing the toast, flung open the door, which revealed the barren landscape of a comic-con twenty minutes before opening.

“I never could get the hang of Blurgdays,” the Doctor muttered to himself, half-ruinously.

Just then, a young 20 something worker came up to the group and asked “Hey, Moffat wants to know if you’ll be dressed and ready to go for the Q&A panel in 10 minutes.”

The Doctor looked terribly confused at all this fourth wall breaking, and decided to tune it out. But then a loud *BANG* was heard coming from within the quite and empty comic-con.

“Crikey Moses!’ the Doctor exclaimed. “What on Gallifrey was that!”

“In fact it was me, said Strax, “looking for the Adipose.”

“Adipose?” said the Doctor. “What are they doing here?”

“Shall I drown them in acid?” asked Strax. “Or offer a hand grenade?”

“No, no,” replied the Doctor. “There’s going to be a convention here soon and we can’t have any of that going on, Strax! Just find me one and bring it to me – gently!”

“You ask me, a mighty Sontaran warrior, to be gentle? How dare you insult the glory of my nation!”

The Doctor placed a hand on Strax’s shoulder and looked at him tenderly. He gently broke it to Strax. “I’m not asking you. Steven is,” before popping a Jammy Dodger into his mouth, pulled from who knows where.

“At least you’re not plastic,” said Rory.

“Or dead,” said River.

“EXTERMINATE!!!!!!!” came many a cry from down the hall.

“Ohhhhhh, who invited them?!” growled the Doctor.

“Are you my mummy?”

“Shut up! We need to think!” The Doctor snarled.

“Well, well, well…it’s you again Captain. COME in! We’ve BEEN waiting for you…” the Doctor chuckled as he grabbed the arm of Jack and brought him into the circle hurriedly as he used his sonic to lock the doors behind him, only the door to the northwest opened that led through a red-linen walled hall; the Doctor tussled Jack’s hair in enthusiasm as he fixed his bow tie while he placed his sonic screwdriver into his coat, smirking smartly as he said to Captain Jack – who appeared a little shaken as he overheard – “Now, lad…have you seen what has been occurring through the masses of people and aliens here? Jack give me details, observations, inquiries – GO! Go!”

He clapped his hands briskly, looking to the others with a concerned, but lighthearted, eccentric face.

“U-uh, D-Doctor?” Rory looked at Jack with a stern, but frazzled scowl as he asked the Doctor quietly, “who the smeg is this?”

Captain Jack looked at Rory then back to the Doctor, tilting his head sideways. “We travelling with the crew from Red Dwarf now eh, Doc?”

Just then River came through the door, looked Jack up and down and said “Well, hello Sweetie.”

After giving a smirking Jack the side-eye, the Doctor turned to River and said “No!”

“Now, honey…” River pouted.

Jack turned to River. “You know the Doc has a problem with sharing.”

River smirked slightly, then turned to the Doctor. “Sweetie, you know there is more than enough of me to go around.”

While shaking his head, the Doctor threw his hands up in the air and shouted “We’ve got Daleks, Adipose and a lost kid wearing a gas mask to deal with – hanky panky LATER!”

Just then from behind them a small voice said “Are you my mummy?”

A rasping laugh filled the convention halls as, from out of the shadows, a beast of fathomless ages crept out, exuding a terrible horror. “I have the latest script for you,” the monster rasped, as he held out a finished script entitled ‘The Gasping Death by Steven Moffat’. He laughed evilly, knowing he was protected by his lack of continuity…but the giant stamping cartoon foot from Monty Python descended suddenly, with abrupt finality, and Moffat was no more.

Then out of nowhere… A PLOT TWIST!!! Steven Moffat was still alive to continue his evil plan. No one was safe, even us.

“How did you do that?” the Doctor asked, interested to learn about the apparent regeneration of humans.

“It’s in the script!” he cried.

“I shall melt him with acid,” Strax gleefully volunteered.

“No Strax! You can’t just kill people, even if they are evil!” said the Doctor.

“Wait, Moffat’s human?” asked Captain Jack suddenly confuzzled.

“Well technically yes,” said the Doctor, “but it’s relative, you see – and shut up, River!”

“I’ll shut up when you all hear what I’ve been trying to tell you!” insisted River. “There’s only two kinds of bathrooms at the comic-con conference, not seven! What shall we do?”

“Accept that humans have two genders?” Rory asked with a shrug half expecting to get punched by his more manly counterpart Amy.

The Doctor rolled his eyes a tiny-bit smugly, regaining his spunk as he led the way towards a glass observatory with various costumed people in it, smirking uncomfortably.

Then the Doctor, trying to be meta, jumped into the TARDIS, went back and made out with his father in law, Henry the VIII.

When he arrived, he found out that his father was actually none other than…THE MASTER!

“My father is the Master…MOFFAT!” the Doctor thought with a groan in his throat, as a vision of his next-two incarnations appeared next to him in his TARDIS; 12 looked a little…testy at 11, as did 13 – though she was shocked at her previous selves and Jack. Rory smirked.

“Who turned out the lights?”

“This,” sighed the Doctor, “is going to be a very long evening.”

 

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Next Step does Thomas The Tank Engine

I once saw a film called Billy Elliot. It was a grim and slightly edgy drama about an impoverished family in 1980s County Durham, in the heart of the miner’s strike. It was a story about the sacrifices we make to help the people we love, and a father and son discovering what was most important to them. Most of all it was about an eleven-year-old boy defying all the stereotypes to become a ballet dancer in a time when this was considered effeminate, sissy; something Boys Didn’t Do.

If the millennials reading this are having a hard time comprehending this state of affairs, here’s a confession: I have an aunt who got her son to do ballet when he was a child and the wider family generally disapproved. We never said so, at least openly, but there were fears that she was suppressing his masculinity by banning the footballs in favour of the pumps. This was not considered a particularly toxic viewpoint; my aunt, instead, was considered the odd one. She’s also a practising naturist, something else the family never quite squared, although Emily and I followed in her footsteps this summer on a beach near Swanage, where all six of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Essentially my opinion of her has softened quite a bit with the passing of several decades, which is kind of what happens when you get out from the echo chamber of your closest relatives.

Back in the present day, there’s a programme on CBBC that Daniel loves but pretends he doesn’t. It’s called The Next Step and it tracks the activities of a fictional dance studio in Toronto – one of those fake fly-on-the-wall documentaries, only not done terribly well. Characters fall in and out of love and creepy princes set up intense first dates wearing the sort of tuxedo that should have stayed in 1979 where it belonged. There are rivalries and egos and comical misunderstandings. There are girls crying in darkened rooms because they can’t go to Regionals and it’s, like, THE END OF MY CAREER. Most of all, there is dancing. Oh, so much dancing. It’s a shame they never dance to anything good. There’s no Prodigy. Not a whiff of Irene Cara. They don’t even have Walk The Moon, for the love of sanity. There’s a lot of generic stuff that leaves you utterly cold, which is kind of what –

– but hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you’ve seen it, you’ll know the tropes only too well. There’s the couple whose relationship Gets In The Way Of Things. There’s the squabbling over who gets to do the solo. Meanwhile, girl X has an injury but really needs to dance in this video, dammit, so continues to push herself and lie to everyone else that she’s fine when we all know she’s going to collapse in the middle of that crucial, placement-determining solo. And then there is the bitter rivalry between Michelle and Emily that escalated into a kind of Civil War scenario (which would effectively make Ozzy Peter Parker, right down to the spectacles). Previously, on The Next Step: Riley is tortured by the kiss that she shared with Alfie, but she can’t actually tell us how she’s feeling, so she’s going to express her emotional state using the medium of interpretive dance. You’re a tree, Riley. A single tree, billowing in the wind. Oh, you beautiful snowflake, you.

Most bizarre of all is their penchant for talking heads monologues conducted in the present tense about things that are actually happening at that moment. “I can’t believe Jacqui’s actually doing this,” says Noah, shaking his head. “There’s me, trying to get this segment together, and I asked her for contemporary, and she’s given me hip hop. This is not what I wanted.” This is during the scene, the monologue interspersed in between awkward pauses and some pretty intense staring. Or there’s Kingston, waxing lyrical about a particular routine, while he’s still in the middle of the routine. “The choreography’s tight and I’m enjoying myself,” he says to camera, between pirouettes. “This whole thing seems to be going pretty well”.

There are two conclusions we’ve drawn. Either this is all taking place later and for some unfathomable reason they’re describing it in the first person, or it’s all happening in their heads. I like that explanation – it’s a crummy studio with an inflated sense of self-importance, imagining its own documentary – and this tech-savvy daydreaming doesn’t detract from the authenticity of the experience (or, as Albus Dumbledore would have said, “Of course it’s happening in your head, Riley, but why on earth should that mean that it isn’t real, girlfriend?”). But perhaps there’s more to it than that, and perhaps there’s a bunch of cutting room floor stuff we’ll never get to see.

West [talking head]: I’m feeling pretty confident about this piece now, and getting into it. I like the way Eldon’s working with this piece, and I know I was sceptical about Emily’s choreo, but I’ve gotta say that –

James [off-camera]: West! For fuck’s sake, GET BACK HERE, IT’S NATIONALS!

Still, the great thing about The Next Step is that it features male and female dancers alike, doing all kinds of styles, and the whole idea of boys doing ballet is seemingly never mentioned. Everyone just gets on with it. The Next Step is thus absolutely geared towards both genders (yes, yes, and everything in between, don’t start on that), even if the bulk of the feedback I hear on TV appears to be from young girls. Daniel is now in the latter stages of fandom, having stopped denying that he enjoys it. And irrespective of the rather cynical tone I’ve taken today, I find it pretty compulsive viewing myself. The actors acquit themselves well and there are some beautifully executed moments, like when Elliot the duplicitous bastard (to give him his full rank and title) was exposed for the nob-end that he really was. No one likes you, Elliot. Go back to Broadway.

Elsewhere on the internet, some bright spark decides to take the theme from Thomas The Tank Engine and stick it underneath the ‘Single Ladies’ video, where it turns out to be the perfect accompaniment. So I thought I’d do the same thing, just for the hell of it. There are multiple episodes therein, and the sync isn’t quite as tight as I’d like it to be (thank you, YouTube upload process) but the whole thing just about hangs together. And god knows it’s better than some of the crap they dance to on the show. I just hope there’s no confusion and delay at TNS East. That’d be a disaster

Incidentally, my cousin’s turned out fine.

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

Have I Got Whos For You (part 48)

This week in Whovania: in Mashups We’d Like To See, here’s Harry and his Bucketful of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

A leaked promotional still from the BBC reveals what actually happened after the end of ‘Boom Town’.

And here’s a never-before-seen publicity shot of Count Olaf, Robbie Rotten and the Master looking for disguises in a costume shop.

Well, even supervillains have to go shopping, right?

 

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five things that Doctor Who could learn from Twin Peaks (part two)

 

Population 51,201. Possibly not for much longer.

(If you missed Part One, it’s available here.)

Now, where were we…?

3. Resolutions are for wimps

It’s funny how the words “What year is this?” sound great at the beginning of a Doctor Who episode but were a notorious let-down for many fans when they dumped them at the end of the Twin Peaks finale. As Cooper and the resurrected Laura / Carrie / whoever the hell she was leave the Palmer residence and stand in the street outside, Cooper’s mute hesitancy returns: dumbstruck and unable to do anything, his final line of dialogue is an unhelpful question that addresses nothing at all. It’s left to Laura to have the last word, although said last word is a scream that could outdo Bonnie Langford. In a parallel universe where Doctor Who was made in America, she’d have made a hell of a companion.

It was frustrating as hell, but there was something glorious about it. Having spent the last few weeks gradually building up to Cooper’s triumphant return, Lynch grants us a final confrontation with BOB (who is dispatched, somewhat bizarrely, by a cockney geezer wearing a single glove who punches him to death). You could probably have left it there, and we’d have been happy, more or less. Instead Lynch retcons the last twenty-five years (the ramifications of which are glossed over in Cooper’s warning that “There are some things that will change”) and then sends Cooper and Diane off on a fool’s errand: to find Laura Palmer. They cross (we presume) to a parallel universe, have sex in a motel, whereupon Cooper wakes up somewhere else. None of it makes sense. Oh, there are fan theories. There inevitably are. Where no explanation is provided, it is human nature to find one. But when it comes to the entity formerly known as Judy, no answer is given beyond the vaguest of explanations: Lynch, it seems, is happy to leave things as they are, perhaps for good.

There is a scene at the end of episode 16 that caused collective jaws to drop. You know the one I mean. It’s the one with Audrey. There is a moment you realise something is up: it’s when the master of ceremonies announces ‘Audrey’s Dance’, whereupon Ms. Horne slides seductively across a deserted dance floor, surrounded by onlookers – until the moment we flash-cut to a scene in a white room, where she’s staring into a mirror. The implication is that Audrey is in some kind of hospital (one would assume psychiatric) and that the scenario in which she found herself – a rich, embittered woman searching for a missing family member – was taking place entirely in her head, with her pedantic, hopelessly mismatched husband quite possibly a real life doctor who’d managed to work his way into the delusion. It is then that you realise that every conversation Audrey has had – every scene, come to that – has taken place in the company of this man and this man alone, thus leading us to imagine that somewhere along the line (presumably after she slept with Cooper) she went completely off the rails, and that everything we thought she’d seen was strictly in her head.

Still, that’s as far as it goes. It’s an implication because we never visit or hear from Audrey again, her plot strand left tantalisingly dangling. As a potential framing device it’s devastatingly effective, calling to mind Buffy’s ‘Normal Again’: just how much of the story, besides the scenes we know about, took place inside Audrey’s head? That’s a question we’d perhaps be unable to ask ourselves had we been party to any sort of further glimpse into her mental state; the more abstract the resolution, the greater the scope for filling the gaps. Similarly, the frustrating / glorious thing about the finale is that it opens up a world of possibilities and leaves them there, the same way that series 2 left things on a cliffhanger back when Cooper was sat in that bathroom. There is something nice about being able to answer the question yourself. Besides, cliffhangers are eventually resolved, after a fashion, even if it takes twenty-five years. We may not yet be done with Carrie Page and whatever it was she was running from.

Curiously there’s one episode of Doctor Who that actually does this quite well, if only because the planned sequel to ‘Sleep No More’ has yet to materialise and indeed is now looking increasingly unlikely. It means there are frequent requests on social media for clarification. It sadly also means the episode sits near the bottom of people’s lists of favourite stories, simply because some people don’t like its unresolved state. Well, I guess you can’t have everything.

 

4. You don’t have to make a point

I’ve just read a Tweet from Marie Claire that incensed me. They recently published an article in which they called out Taylor Swift for, among other things, remaining apolitical in the 2016 election. “Taylor is not required to be vocal about her politics,” they said, “…but it’s also fair to side-eye and question her decision to remain silent.”

No it bloody isn’t. When you’re thrust into the public eye you’re expected, up to a point, to be a role model for the impressionable young people who idolise you, but that only works so far. It is not the responsibility of any celebrity to state political allegiances, discuss social issues or make statements on abuse and feminism. That is a matter of personal choice, irrespective of how many people follow them on Twitter. They don’t have to say anything – and when they do, we inevitably tell them to shut up and keep recording music / making films / writing Harry Potter books, as if the creative process ought to be sufficiently fulfilling in itself. You can’t have it both ways. We lambast the political actors as much as we decry the ones who stay on the fence – or who are sensible enough to stay quiet on issues they don’t want to discuss. An apolitical outlook is not a mark of cowardice; it’s a sign of integrity.

Doctor Who is equally obsessed with Talking About Important Things. Actually, that’s not fair. It’s more that the BBC are equally obsessed. 300-word soundbite articles about social commentary are endemic. If it’s not the racism in ‘Thin Ice’ (a story which foreshadowed the Punch A Nazi phenomenon with uncanny precision) it’s the capitalism in ‘Oxygen’, or the gay thing in…oh, every sodding episode. Listen. ‘Oxygen’ is a great story because it is bloody scary. That’s it. It has space zombies and and that brilliant scene where they’re exposed to the vacuum. The air-as-commodity thing may be what drives the narrative but I don’t watch Doctor Who for its political content, astute (if somewhat heavy handed) as that may sometimes be. I watch it because it has monsters and because it makes me laugh, when it’s good. There’s plenty of political content in The Spectator; all futurism aside, why on earth would you look for it in a tinpot sci-fi show?

I’m not saying it’s wrong to use science fiction as a medium for this. That’s the joy of it; the detached setting allows you to say the things you can’t say about your contemporaries. There’s a reason ‘The Happiness Patrol’ is one of my favourites. But note the indefinite article there – a reason, not the reason. ‘Happiness’ is also great because it looks moody (on a shoestring) and it has a freakish Bertie Bassett monster. Do we remember ‘The Zygon Inversion’ because it frightens and occasionally surprises us, or because Harness uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut in that game-changing monologue? Would it have been improved with a closing fourth wall break to camera, the sort of thing they did in Masters of the Universe? Should the Doctor tell us to take care of ourselves, and each other?

What messages do you find in Lynch’s movies? Oh, there are plenty. The Straight Story was about family. The Elephant Man examines the Victorian freak show on two levels, both upstairs and downstairs. And there’s a heap of stuff about the darkness hidden beneath the surface of suburban respectability; that’s practically his entire output, although Blue Velvet was the archetype. Twin Peaks is about a man who rapes and murders his daughter but curiously that’s where it stops. There is no heavy-handed moral. Instead there is a quirky FBI agent with a caffeine addiction who rides into town admiring the trees, and the rapist father falls on top of his daughter’s coffin at the funeral.

Series 3 is even more abstract. Things happen because they happen: Richard is an irredeemable bastard simply because he is the offspring of Bob. Dougie Jones is a gambling addict in a bad way with the loan sharks, but the programme makes no comment on this beyond showing the impact it’s had on his marriage – a situation that is resolved, paradoxically, when Cooper wins big at the casino. Twin Peaks is a show about a good many things, but it has no real message to impart – merely a Rorschach collection of fragments, from which we may derive what we will. The only thing it has to say of any real substance, as it turns out, is death.

Speaking of which…

 

5. There is a right way and a wrong way to show death

My feelings on death in Doctor Who are complicated, but there’s a decent summary of them over at The Doctor Who Companion. Here’s the Cliff Notes: Doctor Who has it all wrong when it comes to death. Characters die and then show up again next episode. They’re given miracle cures, frozen hearts, parallel existences. Often, the word ‘death’ means something else entirely. You have seen all this and you do not need me to go through it again with you. In addressing its portrayal of the hereafter (or at least the end of the herebefore), the outgoing showrunner proclaims that “Doctor Who is a big-hearted, optimistic show that believes in kindness and love and that wisdom will triumph in the end. I don’t believe it’s the kind of show that says there are bitter, twisted, nasty endings because it’s not.”

Which is not a bad way to think, but it sidesteps the question. We’re not talking about a show where people face death and then manage, against all odds, to survive. I could live with that. We’re talking about a programme which actively kills its leads and then resurrects them, or in which death is rendered meaningless because of parallel universes, or time travel, or causality – or something that happened six episodes back that we didn’t see. That’s the Marvel approach to death. That’s cheating. I’m fine with happy endings. But don’t give us a happy ending when you’ve already given us a sad one. All it does is undermine death, and at the risk of sounding all Mary Whitehouse, that’s not a healthy mindset to induce in a young and impressionable audience.

Twin Peaks was always going to be different, because it’s a show about a murder, and a number of people die. But the greatest and most profound moment in the third series occurs in part 15, where the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Office gets its final phone call from Margaret Lanterman, known to most of us as The Log Lady. Having spent the entire series housebound, her cryptic announcements rendered in a series of conversations, the Log Lady admits in these final moments of her life that “There’s some fear…some fear of letting go”. Ultimately she embraces it, but not without trepidation, and as she signs off for the final occasion, the clouds cover the moon. There is a devastating poignancy in this elegy for a fallen mystic, both in the mournful tone of Lanterman’s final words and the the dignified silence they receive from Hawk. It is conducted more or less in silence, the gaps between dialogue forming a subtext that is almost Pinteresque. The fact that Catherine Coulson was herself dying when this scene was shot – passing away, if the urban legends have it correctly, a mere four days later – is the icing on a very rich, bitter cake.

 

And there you have it. It’s not all-inclusive, nor is it definitive. And it may be wrong. I’m always happy for people to tell me I’m wrong. But it’s one way we might revive the hopes of a stagnant (if still enjoyable) programme: look at what other people are doing, and learn from them. Times change and so must I, says the Doctor. Perhaps the extent to which things need to change is greater than anyone realises. Perhaps not. But it can’t do any harm to be talking about it.

The best thing we saw on TV this year, incidentally, was Midnight Sun. But perhaps I’ll save that one for another day.

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

Five things that Doctor Who could learn from Twin Peaks (part one)

It was a revival twenty-five years in coming. It was the revival we thought we’d never actually get and could scarcely believe was actually happening until the moment the first trailers dropped onto YouTube. It was confusing, horrifying, hysterical, perplexing, frustrating. It was brilliant. It was obscene. It was the second-best thing we saw on TV this year.

It was Twin Peaks, and I can’t help thinking that while its very uniqueness made it special, other shows would benefit by copying at least some of its examples. Whatever your feelings on the dark, twisted return to Washington and the evil in those woods – on the questions answered and the others that sprung forth from nothingness like an emerging tulpa – there can be no arguing that it was a unique spectacle. Love or hate it, there was nothing like it on TV this year, nor is there likely to be again.

Let’s start with a disclaimer: the immediate response to a blog title like this one is that Doctor Who is a very different show and it would be risky, if not downright irresponsible, to emulate the sort of example that Twin Peaks set with its layers of enigmas and disturbing content. Doctor Who is a tinpot sci-fi show for Saturday evenings. It is enjoyed by millions precisely because it is accessible. Turning it into Twin Peaks Lite would be nothing short of monstrous. They are cut from very different cloths: it’s forming a handkerchief out of cow hide. It would kill the appeal of the original stone dead; it’s Gershwin seeking piano lessons from one of his idols, only to be told that he’d be better off serving as a first-rate Gershwin, rather than a second-rate Ravel.

Doctor Who should not try and be the new Twin Peaks, even if the new showrunner spent three years on Broadchurch attempting that very gambit (with some or no success, depending on who you ask). Simultaneously there were moments we watched it when I found myself seething in frustration. “If Doctor Who did this,” I remember saying, at least once, “it’d be a much better show.”

Today – and tomorrow, because this turned out to be longer than I’d expected – we’re going to explore just some of the things that might turn a fun show into a great one, provided they’re tackled in the right way.

Warning: this is spoiler-heavy. If you don’t want to know what happened in Twin Peaks: The Return, you would be advised not to read any further.

 

1. Not everything needs to be explained

There’s a thread on the Doctor Who Facebook group I just had to mute. It concerned ‘The Almost People’. “Why,” this person was asking, “did the Flesh solidify into real people when they walked into the TARDIS, but Amy was still a Ganger?” There is a perfectly simple explanation for this – Amy’s avatar is more advanced, thereby rendering the TARDIS technology obsolete – but it wasn’t enough to deter the usual crowd of Moffat-bashers. “Shit writing,” we were told. “Typical of this showrunner. Be glad when he leaves.”

It isn’t shit writing, nor is it quite as concrete as we’d like it to be. It is a partially resolved loophole, delivered in the same manner as Amy and Rory’s final story (which has a convenient get-out clause that’s disgracefully overlooked, in order to maximise the emotional pathos of their departure without actually killing them off). I was told a few weeks ago that there was no such thing as a plot hole – just a need to look elsewhere. If something happened that didn’t make any sense, you could usually find the answer by listening to a particular Big Finish audio, locating an obscure book, or scouring through 1800 words in a Reddit thread. “This,” I remember replying, “is just the sort of thing I find monumentally tiresome. I don’t mind the occasional mental workout, but I don’t want to go through Doctor Who with a notepad so I can write down all the things I need to research so that the episode will make sense.”

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering whether I was wrong about that, and whether there might be any mileage in having stuff that doesn’t make sense, on any level. ‘Ghost Light’ is about the best Classic example, although ‘Warriors’ Gate’ comes a decent second. It’s not that they don’t make sense, it’s just that strange things happen for no apparent reason and we basically deal with it. There is no follow-up to ‘Warriors’ Gate’ that I know of, and thus much of the weirdness is endemic to the zen themes the story drifts around, not to mention its peculiar (and gloriously effective) directorial style. It’s fun because it’s about as abstract and indefinable as Who gets. Somewhere in a parallel universe there’s a director’s cut of ‘Heaven Sent’ that’s missing Capaldi’s voiceover, and it’s hailed as a masterpiece.

In one episode of Twin Peaks, Sarah Palmer is accosted by a man in a bar. The scene concludes when she opens up her face. It is nonsensical – and, in its own way, quietly horrifying. It has absolutely no bearing on anything that’s come before – a brief supermarket meltdown aside – and it’s not mentioned again. Sarah is a bereaved woman who has suffered much and who has, for whatever reason, got a monster living inside her. It reminded me of the ‘house-heads’ storyline from the 1991 Comic Relief graphic novel spin-off, which someone has (rejoice!) written up and reproduced here so that I don’t have to. What happens to Sarah is all the more horrifying given that it has no place in the story, and seems to have sprung into existence fully formed – King Lear may have told his youngest daughter that “Nothing will come from nothing”, but try telling David Lynch.

Elsewhere, there’s episode 8. No one understood episode 8. It is one of the most bizarre and disturbing things the director has ever committed to film, and that includes Eraserhead. There’s no denying that The Return was, in many ways, more pure Lynch than the original series – it felt like the show he’d always wanted to make, but couldn’t until he could find a way to get those nasty network executives off his back. It is unpleasant, grotesque, riddled with profanity and occasionally indecipherable (this is all a good thing, by the way, let me be clear on that) and episode 8 was arguably as indecipherable as it got. Beginning with an attempted murder, the episode’s centrepiece is a lengthy black and white segment which opens with the birth of BOB, seemingly from a mushroom cloud, blooming in slow motion from the force of the atomic explosion and accompanied, appropriately enough, by Penderecki’s Threnody. Then it gets weird. For those of you reading this without having seen it, I really can’t begin to explain. For the rest of you, anyone got a light?

Over in the Whoniverse, Rory Williams dies, and then gets erased from history. Come the series 5 finale, he’s back. When asked how this could happen, the Doctor says “Sometimes, impossible things happen, and we call them miracles.” And true to form, it’s eventually revealed that both Rory and the other Romans are a construct based on Amy’s school project (and, one assumes, a photo on the mantelpiece). But I like the first explanation better. I like the idea that it might be an unexplained miracle. Perhaps, sometimes, that’s all you need.

2. Remember what peace there may be found in silence

Regular readers will know that this is a particular bugbear of mine. Number one on my laundry list of Things Doctor Who Ought To Do is turn it down a bit. Murray Gold’s score has its moments, but the effect of them is diluted by a series of droning incidental tracks that don’t go anywhere, and merely serve to dampen the dialogue. Watch some of the scenes unscored and the sheer power of the acting shines through – and there is a goodness in Doctor Who’s acting, however much it may be drowned by an unwanted undercurrent of strings and pianos. There is a bravery in presenting your material naked and raw, allowing the audience to form its own emotional bond without the crutch of a score (used, at least in Doctor Who, in a similar manner to a laugh track) that tells you what you ought to be feeling and when.

Twin Peaks has a scene in its series 3 opener where Dr. Jacoby is spray-painting shovels. It takes place in more or less complete silence, with nothing but the wind, the ambient noise of the forest and the quiet hiss of the spray can accompanying the psychiatrist’s diligent work. The effect is calming, contemplative, meditative even. It appears at first glance to bear absolutely no relation to the plot: as was typical with The Return, many seeds that were sown earlier bore fruit many weeks later.

Even some of the musical scenes are quiet. Fairly early on in series 3 there’s a scene in which a man sweeps the floor of the Bang Bang Bar, accompanied by ‘Green Onions’. All of it, more or less. These scenes hold up as interludes, like the 1950s interludes the BBC used to show when they needed to fill an extra couple of minutes before the next broadcast. The effect – a series of seemingly unrelated sequences, built up over a number of weeks into a brightly covered but loosely strung patchwork – is startling. This is a programme that takes its time with just about everything, and that turns out to work in its favour.

When it comes to dialogue, Lynch sticks to his guns: the bulk of TP dialogue takes place with little or no soundtrack, save the occasional ambient drone. The effect this has is that when music does show up, it’s all the more memorable: there are a number of examples we could draw upon, but things perhaps reach a zenith in episode 16 when Cooper revives in the hospital. As he rises and dresses and makes phone calls, suddenly all business and more himself again than he’s been all season, the Twin Peaks theme plays quietly in the background, rising in volume as Cooper finally gets to say all the things he’s clearly been wanting to say since first being trapped in the stunted, almost catatonic state that defined much of the third series. “You’re a fine man, Bushnell Mullins,” he says, shaking the insurance mogul by the hand. “I will not soon forget your kindness and decency.”

As he turns to leave, the dumbstruck Mullins finds his voice. “What about the FBI?” Whereupon Cooper turns in the doorway, offers one of those reassuring smiles, stares directly through the fourth wall and says “I am the FBI.”

As the Man From Another Place might have said, “ELECTRICITY.”

Part Two available here.

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

Have I Got Whos For You (Mork and Mindy edition)

I’m not sitting here idle, you know. I’ve got something quite special planned for later in the week, but owing to a bunch of other stuff that’s happening right now it’s going to have to be later in the week, instead of today. To tide you over until then, here’s this week’s news roundup.

First, a spot of subliminal advertising lands John Lewis with a copyright lawsuit, as a precise freeze-frame shows what was really hiding under that kid’s bed.

In related news, abandoned concept artwork shows the spin-off that never was.

And after a bit of internet research, the inspiration for the Thirteenth Doctor’s promotional outfit becomes all too apparent.

See you at the weekend. Trust me, it’ll be worth the wait.

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Interlude

Posted without comment.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Mine song – Doctor Who edition

Bump. Bump. Bump. Can you hear that? That is the sound of the bandwagon, travelling along the rickety road. I was going to say it takes its time, but actually I’d be wrong. It speeds along in a frenzy, its wheels afire with Facebook trends and retweets and Buzzfeed mentions, and jumping upon it – as I am endeavouring to do, crouched here in the bushes – is not as easy as it looks. You run the risk of wobbling, losing your footing and falling off entirely, and even if you do manage to secure a hold and climb aboard, you’ll find the wagon already crowded with other poor souls who had similar ideas. The wagon may be mighty and fast, but it is full.

I had a go nonetheless, and for this you have my children to thank. I believe I’ve written before about the lunacy of some viral videos. I never understood ‘Charlie bit my finger’, for example, and yet apparently Osama bin Laden had it on his laptop. The Duck Song (I’m not linking; you can look it up) is tedious and cloying, as are its numerous follow-ups. And Thomas developed a rapt fascination with a ten-second clip of a singing dinosaur (and its related video, in which said dinosaur is the subject of a six hour loop), and a bizarre mashup that combines footage from He-Man with a badly produced cover of 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up?’. For the sake of posterity, both are embedded here.

What’s going on? I don’t know. Do you? To be fair, this is the sort of thing I do, although I wonder how much of it is apeing things the boys have shown me in the hope of creating something that’ll get more than a few dozen hits. Wandering in and out of the study and the bedroom and frequently catching something completely random has given me a window into a corner of the internet I didn’t know existed, and which serves a purpose I do not fully understand. And when it comes to LazyTown, things get even more bizarre. I think I’ve written about LazyTown once in here before – a while back, when we were talking about reversing that Fish Custard video. You may look there for further doses of randomness, should you experience the whim.

For the uninitiated: a young girl called Stephanie arrives in a brightly coloured small town where the lethargic inhabitants are under the thumb of local supervillain, the flamboyant Robbie Rotten, who spends most of his time slumped in his underground lair. Robbie’s posture is so poor it’s a wonder he hasn’t experienced serious back problems, but he’s paradoxically the most active citizen in the entire town, spending most of his free time dashing around its streets and gardens, in a variety of Shakespearean disguises, endeavouring to find ways to keep everyone else confined to the sofa. “I feel disgustingly healthy,” he grumbles at the end of the one episode where this is actually pointed out, and indeed, it’s a hallmark of the self-loathing that seems to drive his character.

Stephanie is aided in her efforts to revitalise the town’s energies by Sportacus – a tracksuited hyperactive sports nut who descends from his airship at the beginning of each episode, and with whom Stephanie establishes a strange, borderline inappropriate relationship. Mercifully, she also has her own peer group, all with their own foibles: Ziggy (sweets), Pixel (video games), and Trixie (no respect for authority; dresses like bad Iron Man cosplay). And then there’s Stingy, a haughty, selfish and deeply materialistic child who practically screams white male privilege; by no means irredeemable but known throughout the LazyTown cinematic universe as being an utter bastard.

It’s a curious fusion of techniques that hearkens back to Sesame Street. Stephanie, Sportacus and Robbie – being the most overtly physical people in LazyTown – are all played by live actors, while everyone else appears in puppet form. It’s the sort of thing that throws you when you’re visiting Butlins and catch the live show, in which the puppet characters appear as fully grown humans wearing character masks; the effect is rather like a freshly regenerated Matt Smith bellowing “LEGS! I’VE GOT LEGS!”. (Sesame Street Live is similarly disconcerting, although it’s partly because Elmo was so goddamned huge.)

Perhaps the saddest part about the whole thing is the news that Stefán Karl Stefánsson (extra credit: find me a more Icelandic name than that, if you can), who plays Robbie Rotten, is suffering from terminal cancer, although he’s apparently improved. Meanwhile Kim Jong-un is the picture of perfect health, and you wonder if there is a God.

LazyTown is replete with songs, most of which are downright irritating, but it’s two in particular that have made the viral rundown. There’s ‘We Are Number One’ – which you can see in the post linked above, although be aware that the version I embedded is backwards. And there’s the ‘Mine’ song – Stingy’s big solo, remixed and Photoshopped and warped beyond all measure all across the internet, whether it’s a ridiculous zooming effect or (a personal favourite) the coming of the apocalypse.

And there comes a point where you figure that joining them is better than failing to beat them, and that’s how we got here. This took about an hour and a half to put together, most of which was scouring transcripts for appropriate shouts of ‘mine’, not to mention ripping them from the Doctor Who episodes. And as a special prize, the first person to tell me every episode I used gets one of Ziggy’s sweets. And an apple. It’s what Sportacus would have wanted.

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

Have I Got Whos For You (Halloween special)

Sorry about the radio silence this last week, folks: I’ve been in Cheshire, where there is not much to report.

Over in Whoville, of course, things have been getting busy with the news of an upcoming Doctor Who themed musical from the writers of Les Miserables.

Well, everyone wanted Eddie Redmayne as the Doctor, didn’t they?

Elsewhere, unreleased concept art for ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ drifts to the surface, confirming many of our suspicions about Amy and Rory.

We sure picked a creepy night to land in a pocket universe, Scooby Doo.

And on a quiet street somewhere in Basingstoke, the Doctor frankly didn’t see it coming.

Enjoy your Halloween, and don’t let the bed bugs bite.

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Walk Like An Egyptian: The Boohbah edition

I know where this started. It started in three places: Stratford-upon-Avon, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Teletubbyland.

Let’s begin at the end. The Teletubbies are amazing. Parents do not understand them because parents are not supposed to understand them. People who complain about the gibberish and repetition are missing the point. Conversely, people who complain about Tinky Winky’s penchant for skirts and handbags (not to mention the colour purple) may be on to something. That’s another argument for heads wiser and less cluttered with cultural references than mine. Still, I’ve raised four boys on this stuff and they’ve all thought it was brilliant.

Heck, when I was a student even thought it was brilliant. Teletubbies were bright and cute and somehow rebellious, a cultural revolution of peace, love, harmony and sloth in a world that was increasingly pre-occupied with Getting Stuff Done. I was nineteen and could feel the elbow in the ribs about careers fairs. Teletubbies was regression therapy in a world that demanded you were clever, in a world of Wittgenstein and Beckett and Virginia Woolf. They were great. Years later my wife and I will use the theme for the first dance at our wedding. I have some of it on video. No, you can’t see it.

Meanwhile, back in the more or less present day, someone does this.

It’s one of those moments when you realise why God gave us Joy Division. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It is the sort of thing Ian Curtis would have loved. Actually, scratch that, Ian Curtis wouldn’t have loved it at all. He’d have said “I don’t want my song laid over those fookin’ Muppets”, or something similar. I wouldn’t have blamed him for this. It is the same in Doctor Who: I love ‘The Horns of Nimon’, but Tony Read does not, and I can’t say I hold that against him.

Also 1997: John Cusack, then just about Hollywood’s hottest property, stars in Grosse Pointe Blank, in which a disillusioned hitman returns to his home town for a high school reunion. It is worth seeing if only for the scenes between Cusack and Dan Aykroyd, in one of his finest ever roles. But there is one scene where they are inside the high school gym and everybody is getting their groove on to The Bangles. It may have been that moment I sat bolt upright in my chair and thought “Holy shit, ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ is awesome. How come I never noticed?”

It really is awesome. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a band trading verses, which is exactly what happens here. Boyzone’s ‘No Matter What’ is notorious for it. And on Heaven For Everyone, the final, effectively posthumous studio album, there’s a song called ‘Let Me Live’ – to all intents and purposes a rewritten ‘Take Another Piece Of My Heart’ – in which Freddie, Roger and Brian all take a verse each, and it sounds like one of those lovely communal efforts even though you know it probably wasn’t. John is characteristically silent, unless they decided they didn’t like his vocals, which is reportedly what happened to the Bangles’ drummer. Never work with children, animals or your siblings.

There is a bit in that video that I remember vividly from my childhood, and that’s the moment when –

Supposedly Susanna Hoffs was looking at different members of the audience, which explains the eye movement. Whether it really was to overcome stage fright we may never really know, but it’s an important point and we will come back to it later.

Fast forward to 2003, and Emily and I are poking around the shops in Straford. It is our first weekend away together. We will visit the bard’s house, try out a few of the pubs and go to see Taming Of The Shrew (still the best Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen, even after all these years). It is release day for Order of the Phoenix: I insist on finding a local independent bookshop to buy it. Two years later, with far less cashflow, I will have abandoned such pretentions, although perhaps not entirely.

Ragdoll Productions have their offices in Stratford, and there is a shop at the quieter end of town: amidst all the cuddly Teletubbies and Rosie & Jim memorabilia there is a TV showing something that will terrify me to the depths of my soul, and it is this.

“What on earth are we looking at?” I ask the young man on the till.

“Oh, it’s, like their new thing,” he says. “It’s called The Boohbahs.”
“Boohbahs? What are they, when they’re at home?”
“They’re atoms of energy. And they do dancing and there are story bits.”

That’s basically it. A pod full of bulbous particles who rest in cryosleep until awoken to do a bit of cavorting in a huge white space while frightened children watch from the comfort of their living rooms. It is Teletubbies, minus the charm. The central concept is much the same: colourful characters who dance around and tell a story. The problem is that the story and the Boohbahs aren’t really allowed to mix. There is an opening dance number (more on that in a moment), before a group of ethnically diverse children push a gigantic parcel through a portal into what passes for the real world, where its contents are delivered to a strange extended family. There’s Mr Man (who resembles a portly Laurence Fishburne), Mrs Lady, Brother and Sister – presumably on some sort of overseas student programme, from the way they’re dressed – two grandparents, and a dog. After the story – delivered exclusively in narrated mime, presumably to aid international dubbing – we return to the pod, where the Boohbahs do another dance which is loosely related to the events of the episode, before going back to bed.

But they’re seriously creepy. There’s no way around it. The whole presentation is halting and uncomfortable, replete with pauses and silences, broken by sneezes and 1970s sound effects. The Boohbahs themselves are silent puffballs with no visible presence and nothing to differentiate between them save the colour scheme: beyond this they are, to all intents and purposes, absolutely identical. There’s a futile attempt at a roll call: “Humbah! Zumbah! Zing Zing Zingbah! And the others whose names I’ve forgotten because they have no obvious personality!”. And they all line up, with almost military precision, staring hard into the camera like one possessed, before performing an array of oddly hypnotic dance moves. I pride myself on my ability to understand the way children’s programmes work but even I can’t explain this monstrosity. Is this why army recruitment is down?

The biggest problem with Boohbah, of course – and in all likelihood the reason it’s not repeated – is that it uses Chris Langham for the voiceovers. Not that I have any personal beef with Langham; he’s brilliant in The Thick Of It and whatever he may or may not have done I always believe in separating art from artist. But Langham’s history makes it awkward. This is perhaps being a little generous to Boohbah, of course, which could just as easily have been pulled from the schedules because it’s honestly a little bit crap. And in general, we try not to think about it.

Last scene of all: a couple of months ago. I’m watching YouTube videos with Edward and I notice this.

Heck, they dance, don’t they? Why not do something with that?

So I did. And here it is.

I make no apology, but I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.

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

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: