Monthly Archives: March 2012

The weighted companion, cubed (ii)

It is perhaps an amazing coincidence that the very morning I’m reading in Elisabeth Sladen’s biography about ‘School Reunion’, Gareth chooses to send me this:

“Some aren’t great,” he says, “but Zoe is perfect. And life-size.”

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Beg, borrow or steal

I can’t remember the exact circumstances under which Gareth and I were talking about Ico. Our conversations tend to take these spirally twists and turns through one thing or another, by degrees of separation. For the most part we will steer clear of politics and personal stuff, concentrating on film and TV and gaming, or a mixture of all three. We both love anything by Tolkien, although he is far less keen on the cinematic incarnations than I am. He knows a ridiculous amount about Doctor Who. I, on the other hand, can quote extensive passages from A.A. Milne, whom he has never read, so it all balances out.

If you haven’t experienced Ico, by the way, I recommend you stop reading this right now and go and find a PS2 or 3 and play through it. The whole thing is ridiculously good. On its release it was described by Official Playstation Magazine as being “the gaming equivalent of a Ken Loach film” – elegiac, slow and calm. Trapped in a windswept castle on a cliff overlooking the ocean, your only means of escape is a delicate, timid young girl who can open locked doors, but who must be protected at various points from apparitions that will attack her, while seemingly ignoring you.

As you can see at 1:30, the creatures that pounce on Yorda take the form of smoke monsters, and it was this recollection that prompted me to theorise that J.J. Abrams looked to Ico as a source of inspiration when he was writing Lost. Smoke monsters are nothing new under the sun, of course, but we might as well cite the PlayStation as a source of inspiration, seeing as they seemed to be drawing as many different ideologies and themes as they possibly could during the show’s run. So I mentioned this possibility to Gareth, and we went from there:

Gareth:
I heard about Lost, and the premise sounded interesting at first. But then I decided that it was going to be a series with no actual planned conclusion, and which was going to wander drearily along until they threw some disappointing nonsense together, so didn’t bother watching it. (Did I turn out to be right?)

[He did, of course, and I told him so.]

Gareth:
Something-doing-something-that-something-else-did reminds me. I recently listened to a Big Finish Who story from a couple of years ago. And it was one of the Lost Stories, in this case one of the Sylvester McCoy stories that would have happened in his next season, had it happened. In it, we had the Doctor being “taunted to death” by being told how he uses others to do his dirty work, doesn’t care about them, etc. Lots of phrases that were quite familiar from recent Who. And the same story had a sentient planet, and to communicate one of the humans gets taken over and acts as the mouthpiece. Only it needs to be a female, because … well, for exactly the reason in the recent Christmas Who.

Me:
I do remember reading The Writer’s Tale, in which Davies goes through the process for writing ‘Journey’s End’ (and particularly that excruciating beach scene). Nowhere at all does he mention BF as a source of inspiration. But you wonder; is he just looking at the stuff people are chatting about on the internet and writing about that? Look at it this way – at some point in our online group discussion, during the first season of Torchwood, someone (I forget who) said “What’s the betting on Jack turning out to be The Face of Boe?”. And while I know that’s not exactly concrete, a few months later – when ‘Last of the Time Lords’ was broadcast – we thought “Ooh, uncanny perception!”. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe other people were saying the same thing elsewhere and RTD and Moffat just nicked all the ideas.

Gareth:
There was some fuss with Babylon 5 and someone suggesting a plot idea that JMS was already planning, or so I vaguely recall. Being the US, he then shelved the plot for a while and went through legal wranglings with the poster so that he could use it without being sued. (Not that the poster would really have done so – but to cover themselves.)

[Later that evening….]

Gareth:
Spooky. Earlier, I was listening to a Now Show from 2007. (I have lots of News Quiz, Now Show, etc, and listen to them while falling asleep.)

Anyway, this one was talking about Tony Blair’s departure. They talked about his conversion to Catholicism, and explained it as him believing he would become a saint, describing various miracles he had performed. And they also mocked his “legacy” world tour, dragging his departure out for months as he went to visit everyone famous he’d ever known.

Then I thought, hang on – his replacement (not counting Gordon Brown) was someone disturbingly young, with a strangely spongy face and not enough eyebrows.

So, hmm, we were talking about where RTD gets his ideas from…

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I am not a robot

While we were driving back from Swindon the other day, Joshua used the photo editing software on his Leapster Explorer to draw a Dalek in a field. Which was nice.

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Darth Gene

Masked characters are, for obvious reasons, very easy to redub. The better known the original voice, and the deeper the contrast, the more effective the result. Darth Vader is thus ripe for lampooning, being one of those few instances where the voice arguably supersedes the appearance of the character – in other words, as many people could tell you what he sounds like (usually in the form of awkward, barely recognisable impressions) as they could describe him visually. Thanks to James Earl Jones’ delivery, Vader’s voice is an integral, inseparable component of his character, to the extent that removing it means he’s simply not Darth Vader (cf. the end of Revenge of the Sith – you’ll know what I’m talking about). You do have to wonder how they cope in the foreign releases.

A glance over the internet finds any number of Star Wars parodies, many of which involve Jones, using dialogue from The Lion King and any number of other pictures that starred or featured him. For a bit of comic relief you could also do a lot worse than look up the original dialogue as recorded by Dave Prowse while he was stomping around the sets in character. The result is Darth Vader as performed by the Wurzels: a slightly effete pirate captain, perhaps. (There’s an urban legend that says that Prowse genuinely thought his own voice would feature in the final cut. I wish I could believe that.)

But it was the reuse of dialogue from Guy Ritchie’s Snatch – specifically the primary antagonist, Brick Top – that resulted in one of the funniest videos ever to hit YouTube. I am not including a link to it here, simply because Snatch Wars (go on, look it up if you must) is basically funnier than anything I’ve ever done and anything I’m likely to do. As redubs go, it’s the pinnacle, Everest, the holy grail. It’s where we’re all trying to reach. I was ambivalent about even mentioning it in this post, but I have to, simply because it was so influential.

The last videos I posted – i.e. the two Ashes to Ashes ones – were constructed while I was leafing through footage for this, almost as a side project. The idea of taking the hardest copper in Manchester / London and sticking his voice onto Vader the Grand Inquisitor was so obvious I couldn’t believe no one had done it before (I eventually found out why, but more on that later). Hunt is blessed with so many classic, instantly quotable lines throughout his forty-odd television appearances that this seemed as natural as breathing. So I rented the DVDs, ripped out the audio, and sat down at the computer.

And it took the entire summer.

All right, I was away for three weeks, here and there. But even leaving that aside I don’t think I had any idea what I was getting myself into. For a start, there was so much dialogue. I had to abandon my original idea of actually listening to every episode, and instead opted to read through transcripts for both shows, which I’d helpfully found online (although one is no longer available), and then skipping through each audio file to find the appropriate dialogue passages. Even then, a lot of stuff had to be ditched – lines and sequences which looked great on paper were, as it turns out, entirely unusable as they were undercut by music or background noises that meant their inclusion in Star Wars would have jarred completely. There were tears over some of the stuff I had to cut. Actual tears.

Even once you have enough dialogue – and there was enough, even with the net losses – actually putting the thing together was fiddly and problematic. The Dalek Zippy video had been much easier because I rarely had to contend with any sort of musical background; the score is minimal and where it did pop in I could remove it completely, because the Daleks were mostly speaking to each other. This doesn’t work in a film where half the time the character you’re dubbing has to react to dialogue from other characters, which means putting their lines in, and finding that you have to paste the appropriate part of the score back in underneath the dialogue you’ve inserted. And whatever section of the trilogy you happen to be watching, there is usually something playing in the background. Half the time I found I didn’t even have the right segment on what I’d assumed were fairly complete CD editions of John Williams’ music; even when it did exist I had to contend with the PAL DVDs of the trilogy, which were marginally faster. Have a look at the scene on the Death Star between Darth Vader and Moff Jerjerrod (yes, I looked that up; even I’m not that geeky) at 7:39 and you’ll see what I mean. It hangs together, but only just.

After all the technical stuff was done I had to sequence everything and come up with credits, and it was then that I had the idea of a little ‘next time’ preview at the end, which is worth watching even if you don’t watch the rest. And out of consideration to those of you who don’t really have sixteen minutes to spare, I have contracted the best of Darth Gene into its own two minute trailer, originally so that I could submit it to The Trailer Mash, but I found I liked the trailer even more than the full edition. What was strange was that I’d expected the whole production to be, like Dalek Zippy before it, a mixture of random moments and nothing more. I wasn’t expecting to tell the story that eventually took shape.

A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this, and that’s why the subsequent YouTube embargo – related to Fox’s ownership of the material – really sucked. I should have thought about it at the time (although copyright infringement isn’t really a reason not to do something like this, you just have to be careful about where you put it). It’s a bit of a downer to find that a video that was months in creation has been blocked worldwide. I tried unsuccessfully to contest it under not-for-profit fair use (which I think is a reasonable argument) but after weeks of non-response from Fox I gave up and uploaded it to Viddler instead, where it is left undisturbed but largely unwatched. (The subtext behind this? Please pass this on, if you like it. The more exposure the better.)

It is occasionally patchy, and a little rough around the edges, and could probably do with some trimming in the Jedi sequences. But it remains, perhaps, my favourite of all the videos I’ve done, simply because I learned so much from the process – how not to do it, as well as how to do it – and it may be a while before I attempt anything of this magnitude again. And may the Schwartz be with you.

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Dream car

This evening, I am procrastinating. Can you tell?

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

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One does not simply walk into Mordor

One of the blogs that I follow recently had a post on the difference between science fiction and fantasy. Lively discussion followed.

However, my main reason for mentioning it here is this image, which she got from Google and which I rather like…

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The drums, the drums, the neverending Tombliboo drums

How to mess up your children, #46: screen the episode of Doctor Who featuring Derek Jacobi as the Master, just before bed. Then put them to bed with In The Night Garden playing on the iPod.

I am such a bad father.

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The often-lethal Mercurian boomerang spoon

In other news: Joshua wants a Doctor Who-themed birthday party.

I am excited. It’s not until June, but any excuse to start planning, right? There will be pin-the-tail-on-the-werewolf. There will be a puppet show, almost certainly with Ice Warriors. There will be costumes. I will probably go as a Slitheen. I already have the build.

Emily and I have been racking our brains to find appropriate foods. Thus far, and with more than a little help from Gareth, this is what we’ve come up with.

Savouries

  • Monster Munch
  • Salami (see here)
  • Fish Fingers & Custard
  • Dalek Bread
  • Oodles (plate of noodles, with a glowing sphere attached)
  • Celery
  • Smith’s Crisps

Sweet stuff

  • Wafers of Mars
  • Jelly Babies
  • Eccles-ton Cakes
  • Black Forest of the Dead Gateau
  • Cakes with ball bearings on
  • Rutan (i.e. lime) Jelly
  • Weeping Angel Cake

For the adults (because we will need it in the evening)

  • Tennant’s lager
  • Bottle of wine, with the top half made to look like Dalek Sec

I fear a little refining may be in order, but what the hell, we’ve got three months. In the meantime I draw inspiration from last year, when (on a sunny afternoon when the warm weather went to our heads a bit) we combined the remnant’s of Daniel’s Makka Pakka cake with what was left of the TARDIS cake that one of Emily’s old friends – who was visiting – had made the day before. The results were intriguing:

You see what I mean. It’s like something out of MechWarrior, as imagined by a five-year-old. Tasted nice, though.

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Celebrity Undeathmatch

Responses needed for this one, folks.  Joshua would like to know who would win in a fight between a Weeping Angel – yes, them again – and the mother-obsessed Empty Child.

I have my suspicions. They involve the Empty Child getting spirited away by the Angel, who has touched him. But the Angel would then presumably contract the virus in the process, and wind up as a quantum-locked gas mask-wearing zombie angel. So ‘stalemate’ was my first impression.

On the other hand, the Empty Child gives no impression of either looking nor looking away, so would the Angel dare to move in on him? Come to think of it, does the Empty Child actually see anything at all, given that he’s technically deceased? Either way, I’m stuck. And I therefore need your help. Please comment. Otherwise I’ll look like one of these idiots with a blog that people follow but nobody actually reads. Which may be the case, but let’s not give the game away…

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The new girl

OK, so….

The Guardian has revealed that the new companion will be <spoiler> and that <spoiler>. And also <spoiler>. And, in episode <spoiler>, we’ll see <spoiler>.

Oh, what’s the point? I don’t want to tell you about it because I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did, which is to read the damned thing and encounter a WHOPPING GREAT REVELATION by the writer-in-chief. The Guardian didn’t really signpost this effectively – there was a little information at the top, but far more was revealed therein than I’d have liked to know. At the same time, the real focus of my ire is Moffat himself, because he’s really starting to piss me off these days. The writing style is brilliant, I’m not going to deny it, although I take issue with some of his plot arcs (more on that below). There are some fantastic one liners and some genuinely moving moments (the ghosting in ‘Silence in the Library’ still gives me the shivers), and the way he weaves technology and emotional involvement into a cohesive whole is reminiscent of 1980s anime.

At the same time, he annoys me, because he’ll rant about spoilers on TV A.M. (or whatever it is they call it now; ye gods I’m showing my age) and then tell us everything himself. And if he must insist on courting the press, he has to accept the consequences. Unless you want to make it illegal to disclose such information, you have to deal with the fact that people are going to tell all, and not get cross when it leaks out, and taking to the internet to complain with his customary self-righteous arrogance.

I am aware that I am ranting a bit. Because I don’t want to depress you, and because I don’t want to include anything of the new companion just yet, here’s a picture of a hamster.

And I am calm.

Joshua and I were watching ‘Blink’ last night – as you probably gathered from my previous entry – and I was reflecting this morning what a tightly focussed, brilliant little episode it is. The Weeping Angels, back when they were fresh and innovative and when they actually worked, because as interesting as ‘The Time of Angels’ was, it showed up the inadequacies of the Angels when you put them in an inappropriate setting, multiply them tenfold and then, unforgivably, have them move. Moffat can write good, continuous drama – Press Gang, Jekyll – but as a Who writer his best work has been standalone (and if River Song’s involvement with the show had ended with ‘Forest of the Dead’, I’d have liked her a lot more).

The central problem with the way the show is constructed these days that the ontological Ouroboros paradoxes work well in the context of single episodes, but break down when Moffat tries to make them fit over entire seasons, or even half seasons. The big bang / universe reboot that closed season five was an absurd piece of handwavium, the River story has devolved into mind-numbing tedium, and the charade that was the Doctor’s ‘death’ and the mirror universe built around it was so badly constructed it almost made ‘Last of the Time Lords’ work in comparison. I thus equate Moffat with Kate Bush during recording of The Dreaming. She’d just got a Fairlight, and she completely saturated the album with it. The result is a very full texture crammed with different ideas and innovations and experiments. And not all of it works. There’s some whopping clangers on there and a few moments of beauty. It’s a better album than it’s given credit for, because it tends to live in the shadow of Hounds of Love (which follows it and which she never bettered).

But it was basically a kid who was given complete control and who went a bit wild. And that’s how I see Moffat. Just a big kid who’s been given charge of something and wants to bring his standalone technique to a show that really doesn’t suit it. This isn’t the Black Guardian trilogy. It’s a mess.

I have, in any event, figured out what that crack in the universe actually was. It isn’t the TARDIS exploding. It’s the chief writer, stretching a literary conceit to fracturing point.

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