Monthly Archives: April 2012

Adric?

This morning Joshua asked if every regeneration was performed standing up. I answered no, of course it wasn’t. And then later on we viewed one of those YouTube montages that are like a rash all over the web, showing every regeneration from the first to the most recent (which – given that we’ve just started season four – I refused to show him, much to his annoyance).

Anyway, my favourite one is undoubtedly this one.

(I apologise for the ads; if I can find a commercial-free version I’ll post it.)

I really should do a post on regeneration at some point, but my reason for mentioning it right now is that Thomas – who sat in on the video – seemed as taken with this particular rebirth as I was. After questioning the identity of the bearded ham (thus far he’s only encountered John Simm, which is a terrible pity) he then spent the rest of the evening wandering around the house muttering “Don’t die, Doctor. Don’t die, Doctor. Don’t die – no, die, Doctor. DIE, DOCTOR!”.

I am, I admit, rather pleased about this. And also a bit nervous.

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Categories: Classic Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Events occur in real timey-wimey

My knowledge of American drama series is, for the most part, very patchy. I get by with a mixture of self-proclaimed ignorance and bluffing. I’ve got no ideological hang-ups with any of it; I accept that the first series of Heroes was great and that Desperate Housewives was like Blue Velvet for teenage girls. I just don’t have the time. There is also a part of me that is, I admit, quite proud of the fact that I’ve only ever seen one episode of The West Wing. It feels deliciously subversive. There is one exception: the only contemporary drama I feel able to talk about with any real authority (seasons one to six of The X-Files aside) is 24.

This is an unpopular view, but I’m of the conviction that 24 never jumped the shark. In eight seasons, largely due to its capacity to endlessly reinvent itself, it dazzled and confounded us with a thousand twists, betrayals and feints. Its political sensibilities are ambiguous and there is, I’ll admit, a part of me that feels ashamed of the glee I experience when Jack Bauer is twisting the knife (metaphorically or, sometimes, quite literally) into the spine of a scheming terrorist bastard. I have been told that I cannot enjoy this show and call myself a liberal. I answer that it satisfies a certain morbid testosterone drive possessed by most men of my age.

Key to the success of 24 is its merciless attitude towards its cast: no one – apart from Bauer himself – is safe, and regular and beloved characters are shamelessly gunned down / blown up / poisoned without a moment’s thought. Sometimes these deaths are signposted, but the most effective are the ones you don’t see coming (the opening of season five, for example, was particularly memorable – if you’ve seen it you’ll know why). In playing with our expectations, of course, the show was also guilty of setting up certain conventions, so that by the end of its run we knew how things worked. For example, a seemingly-deceased character was never actually dead unless you saw the corpse (and even then, that wasn’t always enough to keep them from popping back).

Other conventions were the behavioural patterns of unexpected turncoats after they’re unmasked. We usually learn about them at least one episode before the CTU chief does, and it’s generally accepted that as soon as we find out, their previously impeccable mask of respectability will slip completely, and they’ll suddenly find it incredibly difficult to keep up the pretence. This is usually because one a turncoat has been unmasked to the audience it’s not long before everyone else finds out as well, if only because it keeps the show moving. Indeed, such rapid narrative progression is something 24 does particularly well: seasons are rarely about the stuff we think they’re about, and apparent main antagonists are dispatched with gleeful abandon quite early on in a season, revealing layers of conspiracy that usually go right to the top, and someone with considerable political clout.

So Emily and I devoured it. I can still remember the look on her face the night she discovered the identity of the mole at the end of the first season; she spent the rest of the evening wandering round the house, occasionally muttering “I can’t believe it was them!”. But part of the show’s appeal is rooted in its sometimes unintentional humour. We know, for example, that the beloved Chloe is supposed to be funny, and that her Asperger’s renders her prone to bouts of tactlessness (“I just think we need to be really nice to Michelle, you know, because of Tony getting shot in the neck”). But it’s hard not to chuckle when you hear presidential advisor Lynn Kresge announce that “I just got off with the Secretary of Defence”, at least if you’re British. And how am I supposed to take an assassin seriously when, at the beginning of season eight episode three, we get this?

I know they don’t have a monopoly on the name, but honestly.

All of which set me thinking. A Who / 24 mashup would be difficult, purely in terms of how you’d reconcile the very human political / terrorist threats of Fox’s drama with Doctor Who’s extraterrestrial sensibilities, but perhaps a more telling problem might be how the two protagonists would get on – or rather wouldn’t. Jack Bauer gets the job done, but he kills people. You might as well team the Doctor up with Frank Castle. But if it did happen, and if it was, say, the Tenth Doctor because I find his inanities easiest to write, it might go a little like this…

—-

EXT. INDUSTRIAL AREA. NIGHT.

[A large patch of grass and sand, surrounded by a chain link perimeter fence. Clusters of bushes, shrubs, the occasional oak. The sun is going down in the distance, and the autumn breeze rustles. Six or seven GUARDS patrol, machine guns cocked. There’s no indication of what they’re guarding. Nearby, just behind a tree, a familiar-looking blue box. Floodlights illuminate the area, but their reach only partially extends to the tree and TARDIS.

JACK BAUER is lying flat at the crest of a nearby hillock, a couple of hundred yards away. He surveys the scene through binoculars.]

Jack [into cell phone]: Chloe? It’s Jack. I’m at the rendezvous. I don’t see any sign of Curtis or his team yet.

Chloe [over phone]: I just spoke to him. He’s about twenty minutes out.

Jack: Dammit. That doesn’t give us enough time. We need to intercept now, before they move the nuke.

Chloe: I’ve tracked the energy readings to somewhere in this area. Look for anything unusual. They don’t know we’re coming, so you should be able to see it.

[Jack scans with his binoculars. He stops when he notices the TARDIS.]

Jack: Chloe, I think I have a visual. Moving in but I need a hostile count.

Chloe: I’ve got seven.

Jack: Roger that.

Chloe: Jack? Please be careful.

[One of the guards is standing at his post, surveying the area, when he flinches as he is grabbed from behind. It’s Jack, with a knife at his throat.]

Jack: Now listen carefully. Do exactly as I say and I won’t have to hurt you. I am going to move away from you a short distance, and when I do, I want you to lie down on the ground, face down.

[He carefully disengages and the guard begins to crouch, but in the process of doing so grabs his gun and makes to shoot Jack. Jack swiftly plunges the knife into his neck. The guard can’t help screaming as he goes down.]

Jack: Stupid.

[All of a sudden, there are shouts as the other guards come running. The air is awash with yelled instructions in Russian, and gunfire. Jack swiftly drops to his knees and pulls out a pistol. He fires once, twice. He empties the chamber. He ducks and rolls. He uses the shrubs and trees as cover. One by one, the guards buy the farm.

After thirty breathless seconds it’s all over. Jack gets up, catching his breath, recovering.]

Jack [into phone]: Chloe, it’s Jack. All hostiles are down. Repeat, all hostiles are down. I’m moving in on the energy reading.

[With his gun still drawn, Jack moves across the grass towards the oak where the TARDIS is hidden. Suddenly, he stops. He points the handgun straight. He can see someone, standing, unseen. Reflexively, Jack points his gun at the figure in the shadows.]

Jack: HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE ‘EM!

[The figure raises its hands.]

Jack: Now I want you to walk slowly towards me. One false move, one sign that you’re not following my instructions, and I will put you down.

[Slowly, the figure emerges into the light. It is, of course, the TENTH DOCTOR, in trademark brown suit and coat.]

Jack: Who are you?

The Doctor: I’m the Doctor.

Jack: I don’t have time to play around. What’s your name?

The Doctor: Just the Doctor.

[Jack fires a warning shot that zips past the Doctor’s shoulder. The Doctor flinches, but not much.]

Jack: GIVE ME A NAME!

The Doctor: Just…the Doctor. [He starts to wander forwards.]

Jack: Don’t move.

The Doctor: I’m just getting a little closer, that’s all. I don’t have any names except the Doctor. Not an alias, not a nom de plume, that’s just what everyone calls me. The Doctor. That’s all you need to know. Now tell me your name.

Jack: My name is Jack Bauer. I’m a federal agent on an assignment to locate a nucular weapon in this vicinity. That’s all you need to know. I don’t want to have to kill you, but I will not hesitate to pull the trigger if you can’t give me what I want.

The Doctor: God, what is it with people I know called Jack? You’re the second one I’ve met with a trigger-happy disposition. Mind you, you’re not as bad as the last one. He couldn’t wait to get his gun off. Preferably with everyone he met.

Jack: What are you talking about?

The Doctor: Oh, nothing, really, I suppose I’m just sidetracked. But I’ll tell you something, Jack. You put the gun down…I can help you.

Jack [cocks]: Why should I believe you?

The Doctor: Oh, I think you already do. I’ve met your type before, Jack. You’re the shoot-first type, not because you like it, but because it’s the only way you’ve stayed alive so long. You could count the number of people you really trust, I mean *really* trust, on the fingers of one hand, am I right? And everyone close to you, or at least nearly everyone, has died. You walk through this world and you do good, but you leave a trail of fire and devastation behind you, and there are days you can barely look at yourself in the mirror.

[He is still walking slowly forwards. Jack keeps the pistol trained, but he’s clearly thinking this through.]

The Doctor: The life you’ve lived has made it hard for you to really trust anyone. But the real reason you’ve stayed alive so long, Jack Bauer, is because you’ve learned to rely on your gut. You react purely on instinct. So tell me, Jack. What does your gut tell you…right now?

[Jack stares. There is a long, considered pause. Then he lowers and holsters the gun.]

The Doctor: Now, that’s more like it.

Jack: We don’t have a lot of time.

The Doctor: Yeah, I gathered. Tell me about this bomb.

—-

INT. TARDIS.

[The door opens, and Jack and the Doctor step in. Jack stares around him, in amazement, or as amazed as we ever see Jack get about anything.]

The Doctor: Welcome to the TARDIS!

Jack: How are you doing this?

The Doctor: It’s complicated. I’d explain, but I don’t really think you’d –

[The monitor starts to beep.]

The Doctor: Hello, what’s this? [He starts flipping switches.] Looks like a signal, some sort of video conference, but it’s no one I recognise, and I don’t know – hang on.

[He punches a button, and Chloe’s face appears on the monitor.]

The Doctor: Hello.

Chloe: Is Jack with you?

Jack: I’m here, Chloe, and I’m unharmed.

The Doctor: Sorry, who are you?

Chloe: I’m Chloe O’Brian. CTU.

The Doctor: Chloe! Good to meet you, Chloe. [pauses, reflects] I knew a Chloe once. No, Zoe, that was it. She had her memory wiped in the end. Sad day, that one.

Chloe [wearing her I’ve-just-crapped-in-my-pants look]: OK.

The Doctor: Anyway, never mind that. What on earth are you doing on my monitor?

Chloe: I used Jack’s cellphone to run a GPS trace. Then I narrowed down the electrical signals to find a match for nearby closed circuit displays. Then I isolated the feed and managed to broadcast on the same frequency to find you.

The Doctor: …OK.

Chloe: Jack, you look like you’re inside a chamber or something, but according to my readouts the only building within two hundred yards of your current position is a public phone booth. Is there some kind of underground thing that’s not on the blueprints?

The Doctor: Ah. No, that’d be me. It’s my ship. It’s kind of – well, bigger on the inside.

Chloe: Bigger on the inside?

The Doctor: In a manner of speaking, yeah.

Chloe: How is that even possible?

The Doctor: It’s a sort of wibbly-wobbly…timey-wimey…thing.

Chloe: Fine. Whatever…

The Doctor: Anyway. Seeing as you’re here, Chloe, you can help us find this bomb.

Chloe: That’s kind of what I was doing.

Jack: Chloe, we don’t have time for this. Where did you get to on the Geiger emissions?

Chloe: I’ve isolated them and come up with a likely match. The only problem is they’ve already moved the bomb, so you’re going to have to follow the trail.

Jack: Fine. Send it to my screen.

The Doctor: No, wait. Send it to mine.

Chloe: Which one? There’s like seven of them.

The Doctor: The chrono-analysis LED tracker.

Chloe: That doesn’t help me.

The Doctor [exasperated]: Oh, the yellow one.

Chloe: On its way.

The Doctor [dashing over to the yellow screen, takes 3D glasses out of his pocket, puts them on, stares, takes them off]: Right. According to this the emissions were tracking south by southwest at a latitude of seven degrees, so all I should need to do is –

[All of a sudden, the TARDIS shakes violently. Jack and the Doctor are practically knocked off their feet.]

Jack: Doctor? What’s going on?

The Doctor [tapping buttons, running from one screen to another with his ‘concerned’ look]: Some kind of heat signature. It’s ruptured the TARDIS’s readouts and started a small fire in the engine core. For some reason I can’t access the controls, unless I can patch it from here – [he points his screwdriver into the circuitry of an open panel, and it fizzes in a most alarming fashion] – aaaargh! [The Doctor withdraws, clutching his hand] No good. I’ll have to get down to the main circuit room. Probably die in the process. Still, there’s always regeneration. Probably.

Chloe: Give me the details. Maybe I can help remotely.

The Doctor: No, it’s complicated, it’s Gallifreyan and you wouldn’t understand! I haven’t got time to explain it in layman’s terms!

Chloe: I’d appreciate it if you please wouldn’t patronise me like this. It makes it very hard to do my job effectively.

The Doctor [seething, mostly to himself]: Oh, you humans are so awkward! Fine, it’s a basic algorithm from the expanded Fibonnaci sequence, and you have to embed a crossover into the subroutine that’s based on an ASCII array. Then you have to patch the new source code on top of the original binary.

Chloe: Well, why didn’t you say so? I’ve been handling that sort of coding since I was twelve. Hold on.

[She taps rapidly. The TARDIS is lurching and shaking.]

The Doctor: Chloe! You’re going to have to hurry!

Chloe: Working on it!

[Steam is pouring from the vents now, and the vibrations are louder. The cloister bell can be heard in the next room.]

Jack: Chloe, we’re running out of time!

Chloe: I know, Jack! Stop interrupting!

[Her fingers punch the keys with increasing intensity and the sweat pours off her brow. All of a sudden, the TARDIS comes to an abrupt stop, the systems returning to normal. Jack gets to his feet and dusts himself off; the Doctor is leaning on a panel, steadying himself upright, breathing in and out.]

Jack: Chloe, you did it. We’re back in control.

The Doctor: Chloe, I don’t know what to say.

Chloe: Well, ‘thank you for saving my ship’ would probably be a start. Along with ‘I’m sorry for assuming you were a moron’.

The Doctor: Mnyeah, I suppose we could start with the thank you. But no, I mean it, you’re – brilliant. I’ve never seen that sort of technical wizardry in any human. You don’t have a fob watch, do you?

Chloe: Actually yes. It was my grandmother’s.

The Doctor: Yeah? Does it work?

Chloe: Well yeah, of course it does. Why on earth would I keep it if it didn’t?

The Doctor: …Right. Forget I asked.

Jack: Doctor. Now that we’ve fixed things, I need you to use your vehicle to help me track the nucular bomb.

The Doctor: Oh, Jack Bauer, federal agent, I can do better than that. I can take you right there! [He does the hop-around-the-TARDIS dance, twisting dials, pulling levers, holding on to things and pretending it’s a plan.]

Jack [above the TARDIS noise]: What are you doing?

The Doctor: The TARDIS is zeroing in on the Geiger emissions from the bomb. We should be able to get pretty close. Well, within a few yards. Hopefully not right on top, or it’ll be in here. I still remember the last time that happened. Took weeks to clean up.

[The TARDIS comes to a lurching halt.]

Jack: Where are we?

The Doctor [all serious]: It should be just outside.

—-

INT. HANGAR

[The TARDIS door opens. Jack and the Doctor step out into a dimly lit hangar. Jack draws his revolver.]

The Doctor: You’re not gonna use that, are you?

Jack: Only if I have to.

The Doctor: How did your lot ever survive this long?

[Warily, Jack stalks through the hangar. The Doctor follows. A large, coffin-shaped object lies at the side, hidden between a pile of crates.]

Jack: I think we have a visual. Chloe, are you getting this?

Chloe: Yeah. The readings are through the roof. I think it’s the bomb. But I don’t understand why it’s unguarded.

[Jack and the Doctor lean over the edge of the device. The display is marked with complicated, unfamiliar symbols marked out in red.]

Jack: Chloe, we’ve found it. But I don’t recognise the design.

The Doctor: I think I do.

Jack: What can you tell me?

The Doctor: It’s alien. It comes from the Peradon Cluster. They used to use them for mining. You dump the bomb, it explodes, it’s quick radiation dispersal so you can go back in a week, collect the gold, get rich. Devastated the local area, of course. They were outlawed eventually. Obviously a few slipped the net. But that’s not the worst of it, Jack.

Jack: What?

The Doctor: It’s armed. That’s why it’s unguarded. And I don’t know how to stop it.

Jack: What’s the detonation time?

The Doctor: I’d say….within the hour.

Jack: DAMMIT!

—-

"KHAAAAAAAAANNNNN!!!!"

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

One year on

We miss you, Lis. The Whoniverse is just that little bit less colourful without you.

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Willo the Silent

Come here for a minute. That’s right. Just a little closer. This should probably be whispered, or at least murmured, because I fear it’s not going to make me popular. OK, I’m going to lower my voice a little. Can you still hear me? Good. Well, listen carefully because I won’t be saying it a second time.

I don’t like the Silence.

I mean it. They were billed as this creepy, horrifying Who villain and I found them inexorably dull: lanky aliens in CIA suits who speak in throaty voices, facially resembling a Munsch painting. It’s like Moffat went to the design-your-own-monster website and clicked three buttons at random, or perhaps he and the other writers were playing that game where you write something on a piece of paper and then fold it over and pass it on to the next person in the group. I know what they’re supposed to be, and I sort of like the concept of them having been here for millennia unnoticed because we can’t see them when we’re not looking at them, but the whole hidden-influence-memory-wipe thing was done to death when Men In Black came out. (One of my favourite ways to torture sci-fi buffs is to challenge them to prove that Men In Black didn’t happen. It always provokes a fun argument.)

Perhaps it was the media hype machine that did it. The Silence were, after all, billed as ‘the scariest monsters in the show’s history’ in the heavily-publicised run-up to series six, which proves that while Matt Smith is a damned fine Doctor, he’s obviously never seen ‘Pyramids of Mars’ (or ‘The Empty Child’, come to that). The press releases, the teaser clips, the organised leaks and the fact that they’re mentioned throughout the ENTIRE FIFTH SERIES meant that most of their novelty value had been lost before we even saw them, much like one of those tedious email jokes you get which has pages and pages of blank lines reading “Scroll down…you’re nearly there…wait for it…” before finally arriving at a punch line that really isn’t that funny at all. Conversely, the Weeping Angels were – in ‘Blink’ at least – the most frightening thing to appear on TV since the beginning of the revival, and their success may have been because they weren’t introduced with nearly as much fanfare. (Or perhaps they were, and I was just reading the wrong stuff. The Angels are, in any case, sadly deteriorating into parodies of themselves, largely because every time we see them they seem less effective. I shudder when I think of what Moffat may be planning this autumn.)

It also doesn’t help that the first time we see any of the Silence it’s in a scene that features Ruby Wax’s irritating younger sister. (The offending moment is at 26:17.) Just watch it again. I have nothing against them casting Americans in Doctor Who but they could at least cast Americans who don’t sound like British people doing bad American accents, which is exactly what Nancy Baldwin does here. The dialogue doesn’t do her any favours, but you’re frankly relieved when the lightning comes out and she explodes. I always felt that one of the chief failures of xXx (that third-rate Vin Diesel action flick) was that you wound up siding and empathising with the terrorists, and the same applies here. We want Joy to meet a sticky end, not in the conventional sense of being shocked and appalled (“Hurrah, here comes the villain and they’re going to do something dreadful”) but simply because she’s an annoying cow.

Another problem I have with the Silence is that they really don’t seem to be that malevolent. Aside from their tendency to kill anyone who gets in their way (and annoying women in toilets bathrooms) what proof do we have that their interference in humanity’s development and progression (a sort of subversive 2001 monolith, without the monolith) has been negative? If they’ve always been here, one would assume that they’ve helped us with the wheel, the development of tools, the invention of currency and the industrial revolution, all so they can – what – get us to design a space suit? So they have the technology to fly to Earth and blend in unnoticed for millennia, but they need us to do the suit? Of course, it later transpires that they’re all part of the tedious plot to destroy the Doctor, but by then they’ve already lost what credibility they’ve had, so the damage has been done.

One would assume that the Silence can remember each other even when they’re looking the other way. It would be awfully inconvenient if they couldn’t. Gareth pointed out that a Silence Olympics would, for example, be farcical, because whoever dashed into the lead would instantly forget that there was anyone behind him, and he’d then wonder “Why am I running?”, and then stop and let everyone else overtake him, and then the whole cycle would begin again with someone else. (I’d also have thought that the Angels were similarly hampered, simply because they can’t ever look at each other. Weeping Angel tennis matches must be short.)

It was Lawrence Miles who came up with one of the funniest deconstructions of ‘Day of the Moon’ I read – more overstating his case, but we laughed a lot. My own response was to make this video. I can’t remember the exact moment I thought that the Silence were due for a redubbing. Redubbing monsters with static mouths is, as I’ve said before, very easy, and there’s lots of footage, so perhaps it was inevitable. I was probably in the kitchen. I get lots of ideas in the kitchen. Something about being surrounded by food gets the creative juices flowing.

Why Willo the Wisp? Blame the multitalented Kenneth Williams. One show, one voice, but so many characters. It struck me that if the Silence were to have comedy voices we’d have to have a little variety, so it was this or The Goon Show. (I may eventually produce one with the Goons, if only because it would be lovely to have one of them shout “YOU ROTTEN SWINE, YOU!” as River blasts him at the end of ‘Day of the Moon’.) But Willo the Wisp recently turned thirty and is thus ripe for a revival. Listening to it again brought back a sea of childhood memories, and I laughed out loud every time the Moog showed up. A live action film must be on the way at some point.

Willo the Wisp is also almost devoid of incidental music, aside from the occasional sting whenever Evil Edna appears, which made this very easy to rip. I assembled the rough cut in an evening, although it was a late one. There was an inspired moment when I realised that Mavis Cruet spends quite a lot of time addressing the caterpillar by name with a melodramatic “Oh ARTHUR!”, which led to a couple of very obvious gags. After that it was a simple matter of papering over the rough spots, which occurred mostly in ‘Day of the Moon’ when I had to re-insert the score in the moments when I was dubbing over the Silence, not always very cleanly. It more or less hangs together, though, and I was particularly pleased with the credits.

I am currently contesting BBC Worldwide’s copyright stance – I have argued for fair use on the grounds that a redubbed, parodic video really isn’t going to hurt their ability to shift copies of season six – but there’s a fair chance this will be lifted from YouTube at some point. In the meantime, enjoy it. And then keep it on your screen and then look away so you forget what you were doing, and then turn back and watch it again. It all helps with the hit count.

Update: A few days after my post, on Friday 20 April, BBC Worldwide released its copyright claim and sanctioned my fair use argument. Which is a great result all round. The Beeb gets a lot of bad press, and most of it’s utterly unfair. God bless ’em.

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

Father-of-mine of the bride

From Gareth:

“It occurs to me that ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ could be summarised somewhat as not so much losing a daughter, but gaining a Song.

(I also wondered whether the final episode could be not losing a Song but gaining a Doctor.)”

I swear.

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Track record

Given how much the original scene is ingrained in my memory, I really shouldn’t find this funny. But I do.

Categories: Classic Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In the flowerpot

Some years ago, I used to be fairly active on the local amateur dramatics circuit. This all came through one outlet – our local church, where I was one of the pianists in residence. The stuff we did could be divided into two camps: on the one hand, we performed a trilogy of musicals over the course of three years, beginning with Godspell in the millennium year and ending up with Jesus Christ Superstar in 2002, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat sandwiched neatly between, usually mounting these big productions in spring and summer. When the weather turned, we would arrange a succession of annual revue and sketch shows at the end of each November, known as Chaotic Chorus.

(Parenthesis: if you want to skip the pre-amble, jump straight to paragraph five. I need to give some context but I don’t want to bore you!)

There was a deeply religious angle to all of this – members of the theatre group were bound by faith and by our dedication to each other. We left the politics to one side, and there was none of the backstabbing or upstaging that you often see in local am dram, to the extent that our story would make a rubbish documentary. Egos – mine exempt, I fear – were checked at the door, and by far the biggest problems I had to deal with as musical director were working out what to do with the doddery chap who had an absurdly inflated view of his own (limited) acting abilities, finding keys that people could sing in, and getting everyone to learn their lines. They were good days. I was single, but the evenings kept me busy, and I was never for want of friends or company.

Moving away, getting married and – eventually – having children has reduced my available hours significantly. These days I get time to play once a month on a Sunday morning, but that’s about it. There’s no board-treading or occasional solo numbers or panicking and refusing to eat before the evening performance. I don’t have the energy to miss it, nor do I feel unfulfilled as a result, having found other ways to exploit my creative side. But I was looking through those old running orders and sketches quite recently, and feeling dangerously nostalgic. I still haven’t seen the video of Joseph, in which I made a rare appearance in front of the piano, rather than behind it. They asked me to play the title role, which involves quite a lot of reacting and less singing than you’d expect (given that the Narrator is the real star). I had to wear a ridiculous hospital gown, but it was nice to do something different and tread the boards, rather than spending the whole evening hearing them squeak above you.

Nor have I seen any of the Chaotic Chorus videos, which I’d no doubt now find embarrassing to watch, purely in terms of all the mistakes I’m sure I made on the night. I make no apology for this: I’ve always been an unconventional accompanist, eschewing sheet music in favour of what sounds right, and when you have twenty-five songs to remember over the course of an evening, and when you have to cope with Terry’s arrhythmia and Nina’s occasional memory lapses, you can perhaps be forgiven the odd bum note yourself. The songs and sketches sound so much better in my head than they probably will on grainy VHS, so perhaps it’s better they stay there. I’m also glad that – as a copyright concession to the Really Useful Group and owing to the fact that it was an act of worship – we never recorded Superstar in any form. Sometimes you gain a greater sense of value from keeping things in the moment.

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because the Chaotic Chorus evenings were arranged on a variety of themes – we did war songs, hits from the 60s and 70s and songs from the shows, amongst others, but one of the recurring images was that of Doctor Who. This came about in mid to late 2000 when I was putting together the spec for the show with Jon Skeet, a Cambridge graduate / programmer who now works for a major international corporation and won’t tell me what he does. He was my best man, in more ways than one. He was a writing partner, co-producer and director and the one with all the ideas. He also has a fine singing voice and an obsession with The West Wing, which I confess I still haven’t seen.

Jon is friends with Gareth. That should give you some idea. Like Gareth, he is one of the cleverest people I know. He’s mercifully easier to please than Gareth, which means that the protracted arguments about the relative merits of New Who didn’t happen with him; instead, back in the days where we spent a lot of time together, we’d go and see bad films and try and work out whether he enjoyed Hollow Man more than I did because of all the Pro Plus he’d taken that evening or because it’s better than I’ll give it credit for. Those Friday evening sessions were glorious: I’d knock off my dead-end admin job at quarter to six, do a little shopping and meet Jon and his wife Holly (and, quite frequently, our other friend Douglas) at the local Warner Village for popcorn and Sprite, and then head back to casa del Skeet for pasta and late night sessions of Die Siedler von Catan, which he would invariably win. If we were working on a show, we’d brainstorm. I was very good at finding songs. Jon was great at staging them. Between us (and with a lot of help from Holly) we did great things and made a lot of people happy but it was always done out of love of simply doing it, and I think that’s what kept me from losing interest.

That 2000 production was Songs From Across The Century, moving from Gershwin and music hall through Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, finishing up with the Spice Girls (don’t look at me like that; we had a number of teenage girls in the cast and you have to give them something). I adapted an old I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again sketch and added a ditzy sound effects girl (played with great gusto by the minister’s wife, who was also Mrs Potiphar in Joseph and Yvette in the ‘Allo ‘Allo sketches we did). Come the finale we had the whole audience singing ‘White Christmas’, which is as good a show-closer as any. And stage right: my father, in an absurd scarf and black fright wig, sweltering in my dark blue overcoat.

If you’re going for an iconic Doctor, it needs to be the Fourth. It’s the one everybody recognises. I still don’t know where we got the scarf, but it was perfect. Sadly the only photos I have of my father in that outfit are blurry and also feature me, which is why you don’t get to see them. Our props master / set builder constructed a TARDIS, from which we had the Doctor emerge in the opening sequence, in order to invite a group of bored children on a trip to see the Bee Gees. Naturally it goes awry and they spend the rest of the show trekking through the twentieth century, munching jelly babies. Every time one of the kids had to ask the Doctor to clarify one of the suggestive jokes, he would look flustered and reply “I’ll explain later”. In his first entrance we sequenced a flushing toilet to immediately follow the TARDIS materialisation effect, which got the biggest laugh of the night. (I also made the classic mistake of having the Doctor refer to himself as ‘Doctor Who’, which I think can be excused on the grounds that the BBC were doing that in the credit crawl as late as 1981.)

My father would go on to compere Chaotic Chorus for the next three years. The first repeat appearance he once more played the Doctor, but in 2002 he elected to appear as himself, saying that the coat was just too hot to wear for the entire evening. He was persuaded back into it one last time for our 2003 show, which saw him gatecrash the Blue Peter set which had also, earlier in the sketch, been invaded by the Thunderbirds puppets. In full costume, he glances round, announces “Ah! Er…I’m not in this one, am I?”, before exiting to thunderous applause. If I had to pick a highlight from my five year involvement with the show, it would probably be that one.

The Thunderbirds puppets. That's Valerie Singleton on the left. Jon is the one dressed up as Brains.

Anyway. One Sunday afternoon when Jon and I were trading ideas, he began to write a Bill and Ben sketch that we used for the segment that sees the TARDIS stuck in the 1950s. It started out as a conventional sketch and then just got silly. Two of the girls played Bill and Ben, Jon narrated and his wife spent the entire skit standing in a flowerpot with a daffodil on her head, playing Little Weed. It took him no more than fifteen minutes to throw the thing together but I think there’s a reason why I still remember it over a decade later. You will have to imagine the flobadobs, which really were quite effective.

Curtains open. There are two large (cardboard) flower pots centre stage (apparently empty) with a weed between them. Weed knocks on each flower pot and Bill and Ben emerge.

Bill              Flob a lob?

Ben            Slob a dob a deb!

Narrator     (Off) Hello Bill. Hello Ben.

Weed         Weed!

Narrator     Yes, hello to you too, little weed.

Bill              Question

Narrator     No Bill, I can’t see the gardener anywhere. It’s safe to come out.

Bill and Ben emerge from their pots

Narrator    What are you doing today, Ben?

Ben          Long excited answer, including vigorous head nodding

Narrator     Really? How fun. What about you, Bill?

Bill              Shrugs. “I dunno” kind of answer.

Narrator     Oh, that’s a pity. Maybe Ben will let you come with him while he looks for a new flowerpot.

Bill              Asks Ben.

Ben            Answers briskly

Narrator     That’s not very nice Ben! I suppose you’ll have to amuse yourself Bill.

Bill              Okay” type response. Starts explaining things he could do.

Narrator     I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Bill. I don’t think the Property Committee Chairman would be very happy.

Bill              Brief and terse response.

Narrator     Now that really isn’t very nice!

Weed          (Tapping Ben on shoulder) Weed? (Points at Bill)

Ben           (“Hugs” Bill) “You can come too” type response.

Bill             “Yay!”

Narrator     Thank you Ben. That’s very kind. Do you know where you’re going to find your new flowerpots?

Ben            Some response

Narrator     In the shed? That’s a good idea.

Bill              (Gesturing) “I want a really big one!”

Narrator     A big one? Gosh. What about you, Ben? What kind do you want?

Ben            Some response

Narrator     A pretty one with engravings? That sounds lovely. But what are you going to do about the gardener? Won’t he notice?

Ben            Longish explanation

Narrator     You’re going to put your new one inside your old one? That’s a good idea.

Bill              (Dejectedly) “But that means I can’t have a really big one.”

Narrator     No, you won’t be able to have a bigger one and put it inside the one you’ve got now. We’ll have to think about this.

Weed         Weed? Weed weed weed. Weed!

Narrator     No little weed – putting the old one inside a new big one wouldn’t work either. I think the gardener would still notice!

Weed         (Hangs head.) Weeeed…

Ben            Rebukes narrator.

Narrator    You’re right Ben. I’m sorry little weed. It was a very good idea really.

Weed         (Lifts head.) Weed.

Narrator     How are you going to carry the pots back? Won’t they be heavy?

Bill              “We can do it together” (Ben nods head)

Narrator     You can do it together? What a nice idea. Perhaps it’s a good job Bill didn’t have other plans today after all, Ben.

Ben             “Yes.” (Bill and Ben look at each other and do very short happy dance.)

Narrator     You’d better go quickly, otherwise the gardener will come back. Off to the shed then.

Bill              “Right.” (Bill and Ben go off. Doctor enters.)

Weed          (Shouting) Weed!

Doctor        It’s all right little weed – I’m not the gardener. I am the Doctor.

Narrator     Doctor who?

Doctor        Yes, that’s right. How did you know?

Narrator     I am a Time Lord too. I was trapped in this garden when my TARDIS went astray.

Doctor        Yes, I know that feeling very well. Mine’s currently stuck as a police box.

Narrator     Mine’s currently disguised as a shed. Oh no…

Weed         (Distressed) Weed! Weed weed weed! Weeed!

Doctor        It’s all right – I’ll go and get them.

Narrator     Thank you. Go quickly – I think I hear the gardener coming, too…

Doctor        (Pokes head off stage.) Bill! Ben! The gardener’s coming! (Bill and Ben come running back on.)

Narrator     Are you all right?

Bill              (Puzzled) “Yes, but (etc)”

Narrator     Yes, I know it’s surprisingly roomy inside that shed…

Ben            Some response

Narrator     (Surprised) Yes, it is a TARDIS… but how did you know?

Ben            (Knowing look) Some response

Narrator     The Boys’ Big Book of Knowledge? Well I never.

Bill              Something

Narrator     A Dalek? Where is it now?

Ben            Some response

Narrator     It fell over on the steps? That was lucky. Well, I think you’d better get back into your pots now, don’t you? (They get back into their pots.) Good night Ben.

Ben            “Good night.”

Narrator     Good night Bill.

Bill              “Good night.”

Weed           Weed!

Narrator     Yes, little weed – good night to you too.

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Go figure

There are many, many reasons why I love my wife. The one I’m going to talk about tonight is her ability to spot a bargain. We live about ten minutes’ walk from the town centre (our immediate neighbours are a funeral director and a curry house, which I’ve always found slightly bizarre) and she’ll often stroll down the high street with Daniel after the school run. The town in which we live is peppered with charity shops, of varying degrees of interest and friendliness: the ones I like seem to be constantly closed, while our nearest Shaw Trust will say it’s open until five and then lock the doors at quarter to so they can vacuum. Conversely the nearby Cancer Research is open until half past and sometimes beyond. The chap who used to be in Action For Children on a Saturday looked and behaved like a nightclub bouncer, but the elderly ladies in Oxfam are a delight.I am in these places quite a lot, because the joy behind charity shops – besides picking up the odd slightly guilty bargain when you get something that you know should have been priced higher, because you know it’s more valuable than the person who priced it thought it was – is that you never know what you’re going to find in there. The contents of the shelves morph and shift on a daily basis as stock comes in and out. I can see piles of cluttered donations in the back rooms whenever I’m in there, as two or three middle-aged W.I. stalwarts go through the boxes and bags of mugs and books and old clothes, occasionally nipping out to the front to serve the person who’s buying a barely-thumbed copy of The Lost Symbol and a freezer bag full of Lego. Sometimes things stay out on the racks for weeks: Peculiar Adventures of Hector DVDs (God there are a lot of those), Spice Girl albums and Michael Palin books are the chief offenders, although you would be amazed at how many copies of Dina Carroll’s So Close I’ve found on the shelves next to whatever X-Factor runner-up has been dumped there recently.

My charity shop browsing usually involves a look round the toy racks, a quick examination of the trinkets shelves in search of kitsch mugs (it’s a long story, and you would find it dull) and a look through whatever CDs / DVDs / games they have that I’d not spotted weeks before. I am always on the lookout for Doctor Who items, but they usually manifest in the form of those tedious Tenth Doctor novels (typically the ones with Martha, which were a low point) or jigsaws that I won’t do and that Joshua has no patience for, or the DVDs I happen to own anyway. I’d love to come across a few of the Classic Who two-disc sets, or perhaps a vintage annual, but the people who own such things have, I suspect, sensibly realised that these items are worth a few bob and that they’d be much better off trying to shift them on Ebay or Amazon.

Then one day, a couple of weeks ago, Emily found the figures.

There were a lot. A box of Daleks and Cybermen sat by the shop door, and a whole load more festooned the shelves. Such items are never there for long, because other people grab them quickly, so my wife got in quick. At this point she was very sensible and bought only the ones that she thought we’d really want. Then she brought them back and showed them to me.

This is the first lot.

And I asked her if there were any more, and she cocked her head and then said “Yes…oh, I suppose it’s for a good cause”, which is the nearest you get to actual permission to go out and spend half your month’s paycheque on a bunch of (very reasonably priced) plastic.

So anyway, on my way back to work…

The second batch. (If this looks like a rather creepy wedding photo, that was deliberate.)

By the time I got round to photographing this lot (before the boys got to play with them and the inevitable scratches and breakages started happening) an impromptu convention was in the works, on the plastic dining table out on the patio.

“Are you my – no, forget it.”

By this time I was on a roll.

“Yeah, I’m down to do the shipping forecast next Sunday.”

“All right, ‘Evolution of the Daleks’ was shit. But did you see ‘Waters of Mars’?”

It was, at this point, essential to get a group shot before this lot got completely out of control. So I grabbed the stuff we already owned and put it all together. Note the positioning of the couples.

The whole gang, minus the Sycorax, who was out of the office, and it was too much of a faff to set it all up again.

Unfortunately, the table is flimsy and wobbly, and five seconds after I snapped the above, this happened.

I was mortified, and called proceedings to a swift halt. Fun while it lasted, anyway.

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Mistaken Identity

“Daddy, look! It’s a red TARDIS!”
“…No, that’s a phone box.”
“Oh…”

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Sir, you’re wanted on the deck

This free gift turned up in last week’s Doctor Who Adventures. I am happy.

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