Courtesy of George Takei (who I daresay found it somewhere else, but thanks George)…
Monthly Archives: May 2012
What lies beneath
In response to today’s DM story about the archaeological dig on Easter Island:
Is it just me? #5
Gareth sent me a snooker video this morning, and it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve never seen these two together. (Gareth attributes this to Blinovitch, which is as good an explanation as any.)
As seen on Twitter
Someone get out the horse tranquilisers; Moffat’s off on a rant again.
An article in today’s Metro quotes his comments to BAFTA Guru, in which he speaks about the “fairly stupid” people who dare to suggest that the shows he creates are too complicated. “They’re both huge international hits,” he allegedly fumed. “We make no apology. Don’t expect to do the ironing; sit down, pay attention and think about it.”
The image of ironing during Doctor Who (something I do when we’re watching the older, simpler stories) reminds me of a review I once read of Johnny Cash’s Unearthed box set – a posthumous compilation of outtakes and unreleased material from his various American Recording sessions with Rick Rubin. “This is not music,” said the review – which may or may not have been in Q magazine – “to have on in the background when you’re washing up, or in the car, or at dinner parties. This is music to be savoured, digested and above all listened to properly”. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the point: there are some things that need to be savoured. It’s too easy to let them gloss over you and ignore what’s going on. In a pleasing nod to the times when people used to really explore the music they acquired, Classic Album listening parties have recently become something of a hit.
It would be tempting to suggest that the stupid people to which Moffat refers are brain-dead, council estate-residing simpletons who think that what you see on The X-Factor is what actually happens, believe everything they read in the Daily Mail, consider Eastenders to be the summit of good drama and whose parents worshipped Diana and were big fans of “that lovely song from Titanic“. It would be tempting, but it would be inaccurate, because it would ignore the work of the hopeless Dan Martin, who obviously thought that Moffat’s complicated writing style warranted a front page Guardian article (OK, front page of the Guardian website, but isn’t that all anyone looks at these days?). Indeed, the web’s awash with debates and blog posts about whether the show is now too complicated for younger viewers – a sentiment that is as needlessly patronising as it is hideously inaccurate, given that most younger viewers can programme the Sky+ box with more adeptness than their parents, as well as outclassing them at video game events and even understanding the plot of Artemis Fowl. What we really mean, I suspect, is that it’s just too complicated for us.
When Russell T. Davies left the TARDIS at the end of the last decade, Doctor Who was still compelling television, even if it had deteriorated into soap. His obsession with grounding the Doctor and giving him a family (completely in opposition, one could argue, with the original spirit of the show) had detracted from some of the very good ideas he’d had, because all too often we were forced to watch the invasion stories through their eyes. Thus when John Simm used his DNA as a template for every human being on the planet, we were treated to three minutes of Catherine Tate crying on her mobile. When the Autons crashed through a shopping centre, we were forced to endure a screaming bout from Camille Coduri. And when the Children of Time (and don’t get me started on how much I detest that terminology) were trying desperately to get hold of the Doctor, the entire sequence was hampered by Billie Piper’s incessant whinging. Frankly the only extended family member on Doctor Who that never outstayed his welcome was Bernard Cribbins, who was never less than great, even when he’s dropped into the middle of a shameless Star Wars rip-off (14 minutes in, if you wanted to look).
Moffat’s response to all this was to tone down the domestic drama and bring in a string of plants and pay-offs, ontological paradoxes and general wibbly-wobbliness. Now, instead of remarks about disappearing bees, we’re given thirteen glimpses of Amy’s crack (Must. Not. Make. Jokes). Instead of the Doctor actually dying at the edge of the lake, we discover that he was hiding inside a robot we’d met earlier in the series (that one was, at least, faintly plausible). And all those random apparent continuity errors in series five were, in fact, an older Doctor who was wandering back through the memories of Amy Pond just before she rebooted the universe.
Which reminds me –
ANDY: Rimmer was a hand-picked special agent for the Space Corps. He had his memory erased and was programmed to behave like a complete twonk so no one would suspect he was on a mission to destroy Red Dwarf in order to guide Lister to his destiny as the creator of the second universe!
LISTER: You what?!
ANDY: Yeah! You know the bit where Lister jump starts the second big bang with jump leads from Starbug?
RIMMER: [Incredulous] Jump starts the second big bang?
ANDY: Well, that’s the final irony, isn’t it? Lister, the ultimate atheist, turns out in fact to be God!
Meanwhile, back on planet Who, the Amy Pond who’s wearing the eye patch is a parallel Amy Pond who’s not married to Rory. She’s not the same Amy Pond as the Amy Pond who visited the Gangers with the Doctor and Rory, or who dressed up as a pirate in ‘Curse of the Black Spot’, because that turned out to be the Ganger version of Amy. Nor is it the future Amy who has (despite no formal training) become highly competent with a sword, even if she’s got the odd wrinkle. The real Amy was in fact in some sort of medical bay about to have a child. But even this Amy is re-imagined from her own memory.
Which reminds me:
[RIMMER sits on the edge of his bunk, thoroughly depressed. What’s about to happen will not alleviate this state.]
RIMMER: [VO, muffled] I don’t want you to panic, Arnold, but I’ve had a jolly good think, and I think I know how to explain this to you.
[He sticks his head above the table. His past self stares at him with a mixture of fear, shock and abject horror.]
PAST RIMMER: Hi. I’m staying calm this time.
[Just then CAT and LISTER enter. The past RIMMER does a double take, looking from the LISTER on the bunk to the one in the doorway.]
LISTER: Yo, Rimmer, there you are. I’ve been looking everywhere.
RIMMER: Not now, Lister.
PAST RIMMER: [very tense] TWO Listers? And a strange man with large teeth!
CAT: Hey, I’m a cat!
PAST RIMMER: [not a well man] Oh, of course you’re a cat! Come in, sit down, there’s plenty of room.
[Just then who should drop by but the just-married couple, LISTER and KOCHANSKI.]
FUTURE LISTER: Yo!
PAST RIMMER: [losing it fast] THREE Listers!! Splendid!!! Perhaps Lister here would like to go over to the fridge and open a bottle of wine for Lister and Lister!!!! Rimmer here doesn’t drink, because he’s dead, but I wouldn’t mind a glass!!!!!
RIMMER’S VOICE: I don’t want anyone to get into a flap here, but I’m the RIMMER who’s from the double-double future.
[He rises from the dresser in the corner and steps forward. He is dressed in a tux, and has a thin moustache.]
FUTURE RIMMER: I’m the Rimmer who’s with the Lister who married Kochanski. Now, from this point on, things get a little bit confusing…
PAST RIMMER: Please! Before anyone says anything else, I’d just like to make a little speech. GO AWAAAYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!
Or, as Kryten might have put it, “Now I have to go back in time so that I can sacrifice myself, so that we can end up in the mess we’re in now. All in all, today’s been a bit of a bummer, hasn’t it sir?”.
The point is that general paradoxes and silliness were fun in Red Dwarf because the pudding was deliberately over-egged. It was television that made you think – the time travel-themed episodes, in particular, were always complicated – but there was never any question of the science being allowed to overshadow the comedy, and you knew that as soon as Robert Llewellyn had finished making one of his complicated expository speeches, Chris Barrie would interject with a snide comment and steal the scene (or Danny John-Jules would just play dumb, which was also amusing, at least for a couple of episodes). Now, you have River Song revealing herself as the long-lost daughter of Amy and Rory, whom they first met in what was (we presume) her second incarnation, before seeing her again towards the end of her life, and then encountering her again as a child, who regenerated into the girl they grew up with who then regenerated into – anyway, the point is that none of this is funny and that at the end of it, we’ve still got River. Nothing has been gained, and much time has been wasted having to endure Alex Kingston admiring her own arse.
Essentially, the ontological wizardry of Doctor Who seems to have become its entire mythos. The show has become a show that is about time travel, rather than an adventure story with time travel as a central element. In the old days, the Doctor would go somewhere and have an adventure, and then disappear. There was no mucking about with history, no sudden appearance of gigantic black bats, no talk of fixed points or time being in flux (well, there was occasionally, but not every sodding week). When the jacketed Doctor in ‘Flesh and Stone’ who tells a blinded Amy that she has to start trusting him is revealed to be the later Doctor who is about to be erased from history, I don’t think “Ooh, how clever”. I think “You smug bastard, Steven”. Because (and I’m sure I’ve said this before) it smacks of showing off. I know that he uses predestination and parallel realities to drive home an emotional point – something that worked particularly well in ‘Blink’ and in ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’, and to a certain extent in the first River Song story before she became the irritating hussy she is now – but it feels these days that it’s more about making the programme complex and involved simply to up your game, rather than because it’s the right thing for the Doctor. In other words, our chief writer sticks these things in as ‘rewards’ for fans who deconstruct each episode to oblivion on the blogosphere – while Davies hated internet geeks, his successor seems to relish their work, as long as they’re not revealing spoilers.
But there’s always a danger in pandering too much to one community. The central problem under Davies’ reign was that Doctor Who was trying too much to be lightweight Saturday entertainment, losing something of its original self in the process. With Davies’ departure some of the original spirit has arguably returned – there’s still too much of Amy and Rory working out their marital discord, but at least we don’t have to spend every other episode wandering around Cardiff. Doctor Who has evolved in this manner at the cost of some of its abrasive charm: it’s an overblown, epic drama these days, and perhaps they’re so far down that road they’ll never be able to return, but the narrative would arguably work better if the writers would learn that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that while most sensible people can follow the intricate dot-to-dot patterns they sketch out, we’re so exhausted by the time the picture is completed that we no longer care what it is. So I don’t think Moffat’s approach to the show is excessively complicated. I just think it’s needlessly complicated. There’s a difference.
How ‘The Wedding of River Song’ should have ended
Call me picky or devoid of any sense of fun, but personally I found ‘The Wedding of River Song’ to be a bloated, incoherent mess. It was just Moffatt showing off. There’s a ludicrous teaser, with pterodactyls and generic CG and unnecessary cameos from Simon Callow. Then the story gets going and it’s all downhill from there. It solves certain problems – one rather cleverly, and with less irritating smugness than usual, but so much of it is wrong (and makes no sense) that it’s too little, far too late. There must, I told myself, be a way to improve this monstrosity somehow?
But there wasn’t. It’s just too far gone to be properly redeemed, and you will instead have to be content with this, which is not a rewrite of that tedious marriage ceremony, nor an abbreviated scene in Amy’s back garden that removes all of Alex Kingston’s dialogue. Instead this is just a little coda I tacked on to the end, and I suspect it will go over the heads of anyone who’s not pretty familiar with the film it rips off, in addition to having a working knowledge of the events of series six.
This took me less than an hour once I had all the components – that in itself took some time, as I really didn’t want to fork out a fortune on Amazon to buy a foreign language dub of a film I already owned. Instead, I had to wait until I got lucky after a chance encounter in the local British Heart Foundation one lunchtime. Even then, I was unable to edit it exactly as I wanted; I had a vision in my head of how it should look, and finding the right segments in the original footage proved difficult, if not impossible. The point is made, but it is not the clip I wanted it to be. Still, Gareth liked it, and he’s a tough sell, so on that basis alone, it works.
Kind, but extremely firm
Anyone who gets bored and types random search terms into Google, or who spends as much time on Facebook as I do, will have probably by now seen something like this:
Which is just fine and dandy. But I’ve been going through diary entries this last week and a half, and came up with something from a few years ago. Flashback to August 2006:
Conversation in the office this morning:
“I made the yummiest lasagne last night,” Louise was saying. “And there was loads of it! It was like the feeding of the five thousand.”
I sat up in my chair, always eager to talk about Biblical stuff. “Do you know there’s a theory behind that?”
Michelle raised a sceptical eyebrow. “Tell me, is this a James theory?”
“No,” I replied, patiently. “It’s established. It’s more of a sceptic’s theory.”
“Go on, then.”
“Well, the hypothesis goes that the feeding of the five thousand was less a miracle of science and more a social coup. You see, in that sort of communal situation where you had a bunch of people – however large – gathered together, and someone started to share food, everyone else who had food with them was morally obliged to share their food as well. It wasn’t a legal requirement, just the done thing. Anyway, when Jesus took the bread and fish and started to divide it amongst the people, the sceptic tells us that everyone else there who had food started to share out theirs as well, and because there were a lot of people carrying food, they all had plenty.”
“Absolutely. Mind you, I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this. It’s an interesting idea but maybe that’s all it is.”
Victoria, who started yesterday, said “I don’t think I’m comfortable with it either. I’m just taken with the image of Jesus pulling fish out of his sleeve, as if from nowhere. ‘And another one! And another one!'”
“Yes, it’s like Mary Poppins and her bag,” I said.
“Oh, don’t get me started on the bag,” said Louise. “I mean, when she pulls out that lamp stand…”
“It’s the mirror that does it for me. It’s simply that she has a bag that’s bigger on the inside than on the outside. It’s the same science as they use in – hey, wait a minute!” I said, leaping up in the realisation that I was actually onto something. “That’s it! Mary Poppins is a Timelord!”
Alison, sitting behind, guffawed.
“No, seriously. Think about it. She comes out of nowhere and disappears again into the ether. She can understand dogs. And where else is she going to get that kind of technology?”
The moral of this little tale? Sure it’s a meme. But, much like the Doctor himself, it’s older than you think.
Things to do on a wet bank holiday
The other week, Joshua and his brothers went to visit their friend Yinka, who lives a few streets away. Visits to and from Yinka are a regular activity. Yinka loves the Smurfs and anything pink, but somehow she and Joshua get on like a house on fire.
Yinka has an interesting book in her collection: Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt’s You Choose, a teeming mass of images with minimalist accompanying text, asking its reader to consider what sort of house they would like, or what sort of clothes they like, or whom they would most like to meet. From one point of view it is an absurd endorsement of consumer culture. From another it is choice fatigue in a nutshell and could thus be psychologically damaging. From yet another – and this may be the correct way – it is a fun, stimulating discussion point that is the cause of arguments when everyone wants to look at it at the same time.
Joshua was particularly taken with the book, but it wasn’t until yesterday that he suggested creating his own version. He had initially had the idea of drawing the pictures, but Emily found an old scrapbook in the craft cupboard and foraged around the living room and study salvaging whatever catalogues she could find. I spent half my morning cutting, and in the afternoon we stuck, once he’d decided where each image would be placed. As I go to press this evening the work is incomplete – I need to find pictures of houses and toys – but as a work in progress it’s looking quite promising.
It was perhaps inevitable that Who would feature in there somewhere, because half the magazines we used turned out to be old copies of Doctor Who Adventures. Anyway, here is his Doctor Who page:
It’s missing the question, because text is yet to be added, but you get the general idea. Josh was initially going to ask “Who would you most like to meet?” but then we added the Jammie Dodger, which does kind of kill the mood a little. We then toyed with the idea of ‘What would you most like to happen?’, which doesn’t even make sense. As it stands I suspect that we will end up asking the first question, the one that must never be asked, hidden in plain sight…”Why don’t you switch off your TV set and do something less boring instead?”.
Bromyard is one of those towns my family encounters frequently but never actually experiences properly. It’s situated on the A44, equidistant – or near enough – between Worcester and Leominster (two great examples of English place names that sound nothing like their spelling would suggest they do). It is a place we drive through if we are returning to or from Emily’s parents’ Shropshire abode – assuming we’re going the pretty way (i.e. the route that doesn’t involve tedious, tank-emptying stretches of the M40). The problem with the non-motorway route is that while it saves on fuel it does tend to take longer, particularly on the lengthy A44 stretch, as it is a favourite route of caravans, milk tankers, tractors or slow-moving pensioners, and you can count the number of safe overtaking spots on the fingers of Homer Simpson’s left hand. Normally when I’ve driving through Bromyard I’m either exhilarated that we’re making reasonable time, or drumming my fingers on the wheel, and praying that the slowcoach in front with an upper speed limit of thirty-five miles an hour (including in built-up areas, which really irritates me) is going to turn off soon.
On Easter Monday, however, we stopped here, because there’s a town centre attraction I’ve been wanting to visit for years. You may remember a while back that I posted photos of the Doctor Who exhibition we went to in Cardiff – all bright lights, flashing models and relatively light on actual content. We’d driven through Bromyard and seen signs for the Time Machine museum there a number of times, but had never actually got round to going. Thomas can be a bit highly strung when it comes to stuff like this, and I was blowed if I was going to pay five quid for entry only to have him tear about the place in one of his moments of silliness. So the fact that he was, on this occasion, staying in Shropshire with his grandparents gave us the perfect excuse.
Daniel lasted a minute and a half. It didn’t help that he was tired. It also didn’t help that the moment you walk through the door there’s a whopping great Dalek in the entrance by the TARDIS door, as the Who music loops in the background: effective for conjuring up the spirit of the thing but not so good if you’re a sleepy three-year-old (or near enough) who is discovering lately that certain things frighten him more and more. We had, I think, been lulled into a false sense of security after Cardiff, when – being too young to really understand – he had been taken in by the sights and sounds; if I remember correctly it was Joshua we’d had to reassure and console. But today, Daniel was having none of it. We tried to show him that it was just a bunch of models and that nothing was real, but since Cardiff, he’s actually seen the show, and after five minutes of screaming and head-burying and cries of “I DON’T LIKE IT, IT’S TOO SCARY!” Em and I cut our losses and she took him back to the car, while I walked round with Josh. Then we switched. Daniel dozed on my shoulder while Josh went on his second circuit, gleefully pointing on each occasion at the stuff he recognised and, after coming across an enormous poster of two police officers posing by a Cortina, asking why The Master was in Life on Mars. (I confess I was too busy admiring Sam Tyler’s leather jacket – which I’m still annoyed I didn’t photograph – to give him a proper answer.)
Speaking of photos, these aren’t great, but they do give you a general idea. One of the lovely things about the place is that it’s stacked full of memorabilia from the show’s golden age – there is plenty of new stuff as well (including a substantial collection of barely-glimpsed alien costumes from the bar scene of ‘The End of Time’, gleefully mounted in every single display case with a sense of glee which frankly borders on overkill) but I was whooping with delight at the sight of Patrick Troughton dolls, old Cybermen and – most thrillingly of all – an actual Zygon. Elsewhere there’s a model Starbug (of Red Dwarf), and plenty of Thunderbirds stuff. It’s not huge, but you can spend a happy hour there looking at everything. I’d have enjoyed it more had we actually had the chance to go round it together, rather than having to work in shifts, but that’s the way it goes.
Those pictures, then…
Do go, if you get the chance. Just leave the three-year-old at home.
A brush with death
Last Thursday, my colleague popped over from Ireland. Jim works from his home in County Clare, and his visits to the UK are infrequent, so it was a good excuse for lunch. We held a team meeting in a pub in the middle of Abingdon, and drank ale and talked about old times.
Jim probably won’t mind me telling you that he bears an uncanny resemblance to Kenny Rogers – music, indeed, is one of his great passions and we’d often discuss the relative merits of Peter Case, Johnny Cash or Joy Division on the way to dinner in Oxford back when he was working and living in the UK. His other hobby is art – he paints and draws whenever the opportunity presents itself, and it was during a conversation last week that he reminded me of a project he’d been involved in a couple of years back in Ireland.
“Wallcandy street art project,” says the website, “has drawn together artists & designers with diverse skills to create pieces of art on walls and buildings around the town of Ennis. The aim of Wallcandy is to give artists the opportunity and freedom to conceive and create a piece of art that uses a particular site in an interesting and quirky way. The resulting artworks hope to engage, surprise and entertain viewers of all ages. All of the sites chosen have interesting or unusual features and, although some of the sites are a little run down or have deteriorated due to damage or neglect, they have been given an artistic twist that totally changes the way you see them.”
Why am I telling you this? Well, because I only just remembered what he did with the dingy wall near the Ennis grocer’s. Here it is.
After he’d worked his magic, it looked like this:
And here are the close-ups:
They may be seen in their original context here.
Sometimes I think some of us are wasted in our day jobs…