Monthly Archives: July 2012

Postcards from the edge

Found this in the Brilliant Book 2012, and thought it worth sharing. Apparently Amy and Rory’s honeymoon didn’t start on that cruise liner…

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Eldrad must live

When Rose Tyler left Doctor Who, it was announced with a three-month build-up, a flurry of trumpets, a blitzkrieg of press releases, a cacophony of  strings (scored by Murray Gold) and a bucketful of mournful looks from The Doctor, along with assorted sobbing from Billie Piper. There was a reference to Face/Off as both characters stand on opposite sides of a wall that’s a universe thick. Then there is a scene on a beach (Southerndown, passing for Norway) that makes me retch. Then there is a lot of mourning and anguish and then a period of denial, and then an inexplicable return (with incredible teeth) which basically undermines the pathos of the entire departure.

When Sarah Jane left Doctor Who, thirty years earlier, there was a thirty second monologue and then the Doctor drops her off in Aberdeen. And that’s it. In the next story (which I’ll explore another day) he’s on his own. Things were simpler in those days and we were allowed to move on, a luxury that is seemingly missing from much of New Who (at least until Moffat’s mini-reboot, which required that we move on quickly from the Davies era but simultaneously memorise absolutely everything that the new chief writer chose to tell us, because even the presence or absence of the Doctor’s jacket was important). These days, we are forced to acknowledge, with an undercurrent of tinkling piano, that these departures are A BIG DEAL FOR THE DOCTOR AND THEY HURT HIM. AND IF HE IS UPSET, WE SHOULD BE. ARE YOU SAD YET? ARE YOU? I SAID ARE YOU?

(I was about to write “For a departure story, especially one that features the loss of such an established character, ‘The Hand of Fear’ is surprisingly low key”. Then I thought better of it, simply because in those days, things generally were. Heavy sigh.)

The BBC re-screened ‘The Hand of Fear’ last spring, in the wake of Elisabeth Sladen’s death. Given that it’s her final Classic Who story (until ‘The Five Doctors’, which doesn’t really count) it was, I suppose, an obvious choice, but it’s a strange and slightly uneven four-part narrative that jumps about from place to place and never quite finds its footing – ‘The Time Warrior’ or ‘Pyramids of Mars’ are better tales (and both are trumped, of course, by ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, but that’s really more about Michael Wisher). ‘The Hand of Fear’ does, however, feature some of the most outlandish Sarah Jane moments in the original canon, which we’ll get to later, so whatever its flaws it’s never less than interesting.

We open with a shot of a paperweight sitting in a Blue Peter volcano.

The arctic base on Kastria (as it is known) is inhabited by a couple of mysterious hooded figures facilitating the execution of treacherous war criminal Eldrad. Eldrad has been blasted into space and his rocket is due to be detonated, but conditions on the planet are getting worse, and the hooded figures are forced to do this before they’re ready. The looks on their faces say it all.

I’m Bobbin. Are you my mother?

There is a risk that a part of Eldrad may survive. You’ll never guess which part.

Cut to Earth, some time later, and the Doctor and Sarah Jane emerging from the TARDIS.

It’s traditional for classic Doctor Who to be set on rocky alien surfaces that happen to look like quarries, but this time – believe it or not – they’ve landed in an actual quarry, as Baker takes great delight in telling Sarah Jane (with more than a slight wink to the audience). The pair haven’t much time to sightsee, however, before they’re caught up in an explosion. The Doctor escapes with minor injuries, but they have to dig poor Sarah out of the rubble. When they recover her, she’s clutching Thing from The Addams Family.

Creepy. Kooky. Altogether ooky.

Unfortunately, possession of the hand has some dastardly side effects, and when Sarah wakes up, she’s turned into Andy Pandy.

Seriously, woman, what the hell are you wearing?

In her autobiography, Sladen notes that the increasingly ridiculous costumes were her way of putting a stamp on the character: Sarah Jane starts out relatively straight, but travelling with the Doctor has made her dress sense almost as erratic as his own. This is known throughout the Whoniverse and fan base in general as ‘The Andy Pandy outfit’, and indeed that’s how one of the scientists refers to her, just after she’s knocked him out and legged it out of the hospital with the hand.

“Back up a minute”, I can hear you saying. “Did you say ‘knocked him out’? Has she let herself get hypnotised again?” To which I’d respond “Well, yes. It’s Sarah Jane. What did you expect?”. I make this the fourteenth, at last count. What’s special about this one, of course (aside from the fact that it’s her last) is the oft-quoted “Eldrad must live”, which became the line Sladen was most frequently asked to repeat over the years. If the internet had been around in those days, it would have become a meme. These days – well, actually, it’s a meme. Presumably there’s a t-shirt somewhere on Ebay.

The hypnotised Sarah’s destination of choice is a local nuclear power station, which she enters with frightening ease, despite her newfound ability to knock people out by raising her hand.

The Abba ‘You Can Dance’ Wii marathon wasn’t going Sarah’s way.

Yes, I know it’s silly, but bear in mind that nearly three decades later the Doctor fixed a nano-virus by raising his hands and waving them around a bit. Recurring themes are important.

The Doctor has been busy in the lab, but sets off in hot pursuit as soon as he finds out about Sarah. Unfortunately he doesn’t get there in time to stop her hiding in the reactor, and he’s forced to try and negotiate over the intercom. This is unsuccessful, because Sarah’s preoccupied with a colour wheel.

Presumably it’s another side effect of the Andy Pandy thing.

While all this is going on, the plant has entered meltdown, and it’s left to Professor Watson – who runs the place – to try and keep order. He chiefly does this by addressing the workers over the PA in the manner of a union boss.

Glyn Houston. He stayed at his post when the trainees ran.

I’ve not yet mentioned any of the story’s guest performers, so now would be a good time. Houston himself is probably the most watchable, taking the mandatory role of human-who-thinks-guns-would-be-a-good-idea, but for all his reliance on nuclear technology he’s rational, measured and brave, assisting the Doctor as much as he can and remaining in the complex even when it’s seemingly about to explode. He is assisted in his endeavours by Miss Jackson (Frances Pidgeon, who’d previously played a handmaiden in ‘The Monster of Peladon’). A romantic relationship is implied, but never really confirmed, and we like it that way.

The other main human of note is Dr Carter, who initially works with the Doctor to find out the secrets of Eldrad’s hand, but who – like Sarah – winds up possessed by it. This gives the writers an excuse to screen what is possibly the most unconvincing fake spanner in living history.

It’s cardboard, I tell you. It’s bloody cardboard.

This, in turn, is followed by a fall from a metal staircase that actually looks more like an acrobatic flip.

News of the local hosepipe ban brought the Olympic diving event to a premature end, but it was too late to inform the first of the competitors.

Despite such setbacks the Doctor manages to get to the reactor, but Sarah isn’t coming out to play.

Ooh, look at that face. It’s a face of pure deviousness.

Suffice to say that Sarah is restored to normal, but not before events are set in motion to also bring back Eldrad. The military men outside take the conventional step of ordering a nuclear strike (which allows Baker the opportunity to swagger on the back of a truck, completely unconcerned about the radiation in one of those “You humans!” moments he did so well). Radiation, of course, is exactly what Eldrad needs to regenerate, although when he appears from his chamber, he’s apparently turned into Mystique.

“That’s remarkable, Mr. Henderson. You died at six o’clock this morning and you’ve changed sex.”

I am loathe, to be honest, to tell you any more. Suffice to say there are a couple of interesting twists, a drastic change in setting, and an innovative use of Baker’s scarf. Oh, and Roy Skelton, who’s always great. Perhaps part of the problem of the story is that you never really feel the world is under threat, because comparatively few of the characters take it seriously – Sladen, for example, is aware it’s her final role and hams it up mercilessly at every opportunity, never more so than when she’s under hypnosis. Baker, meanwhile, is laid-back and good-humoured – “Stop making a fuss, Sarah. You’re from South Croydon” – dashing to and fro round the power station and watching Eldrad melt through the door of the reactor before remarking “This is intensely interesting, don’t you think?”.

But if the finale is somewhat low-key, the resolution is worth waiting for. It all ends well, and the Earth is saved once again, but it’s been too much for Sarah. “I must be mad,” she says, slumped on the floor of the TARDIS as the Doctor – busy with his work – completely ignores her. “I’m sick of being cold and wet, and hypnotised left right and centre. I’m sick of being shot at, savaged by bug-eyed monsters, never knowing if I’m coming or going or been. I want a bath. I want my hair washed. I just want to feel human again.”

Simultaneously the Doctor gets a summons to Gallifrey, and he can’t take Sarah with him, so he has no choice but to return her to London. And Sarah tells us she’s bluffing – she doesn’t really want to go, she says. And at the same time somehow we know she’s had enough. And it’s this ambivalence which makes for the best scene in the story, touching in its brevity and in what it doesn’t say, as much as what it does. There is no tinkling piano, no mournful alto, no close-up of soulful eyes, no rain. There is, instead, a strained, slightly anxious parting in the TARDIS control room. Suitcase in hand, Sarah lingers near the door, knowing she has to face the inevitable, with the Doctor half turned away, and it is at this point that you realise both leads are no longer acting. There is a silence, with neither willing to actually make the jump, until Sladen remarks “Don’t forget me”, to which Baker responds “Oh, Sarah. Don’t you forget me.” And, of course, she never did.

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Enjoy the Silence

“So anyway, that’s the Silence in action. Scary?”
“A bit, Daddy. I thought they had guns.”
“No, just the lightning. Although that’s probably enough.”
“What did they mean by that thing that the Doctor must never know?”
“Spoilers, sweetie!”
“Oh, fine.”
“Anyway. Perhaps the scariest thing about the Silence, Josh, isn’t the voices or the lightning, it’s that when you look away from them you – hang on a minute, what were we doing?”
“I forgot.”

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On The Road Again

It’s been far too long since I posted a smallerpictures video.

When I was twenty years old, I got into Hospital Radio. There followed three not-so-glorious years of trailing round the Royal Berkshire Hospital orthopaedic wards meeting elderly ladies awaiting hip replacements and incapacitated bikers after work on a Friday, and then spending my Saturday mornings playing a curious mixture of Meat Loaf and Val Doonican on the request show. My co-host and I memorised the jingles and took it in turns to quote them aloud to each other while the microphone was off, which came in very handy on the day the cart machine broke and we managed to fulfil our quota of three an hour with a strictly a capella performance. I got to know the tricks, the techniques, the art of sequencing – which records to avoid (‘Spirit in the Sky’, ‘The First Cut Is The Deepest’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’) and the ones that we’d basically worn out due to endless re-requests (‘Release Me’, ‘Danny Boy’, ‘Distant Drums’ and that bloody Titanic song). And I was living at home and had no social life to speak of, so it filled up the weekends.

It all ended in tears, with me no longer on speaking terms with the committee – there were faults on both sides, me being young and outspoken while they were apathetic and inept – but boy, did I listen to a lot of music during that run. And I associate Canned Heat with that time, having acquired this particular song on a driving compilation I’d bought while I was still a sixth former (and can no longer find, which is annoying because it was one of my better Various Artists collections), but finding it was a decent way to fill five minutes (extended version) while you went to the loo. And the first thing that occurred to me when I heard it was wait a minute, what’s Kermit the Frog doing singing this?

Soundalike gags are nothing new. There was speculation years ago that Kermit might actually have been Michael Stipe under an assumed name (it’s probably the other way round, actually, but you get the idea). And I remember hearing Macy Gray singing ‘I Try’ for the first time, and – well, have a listen.

You see what I mean, right?

YouTube has an amusing video that sequences images from ‘Going Up The Country’ – Canned Heat’s other household hit – to stills from Muppet films, shows and album covers. I managed to go one better and do a reasonable lipdub – the 1979 feature film, with its road trip theme, being an obvious choice. This was uncomplicated in approach, if fiddly in execution to actually put together: finding appropriate imagery from the film to go along with the psychedelic blues was fairly easy (there are some priceless visual gags, and I got lucky with Rowlf and his harmonica). For the vocals, it was just a question of going through and finding mouth movements that more or less tied in with Alan Wilson’s vocals, and then moving back and forth a microsecond for the best fit possible. (I’m still convinced that the upload is slightly out, although my original is in sync.)

Oh, and see The Muppets. It’s worth it for 80s Robot alone…

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Go figure (part ii)

Those of you who’ve been here for a while may remember that two or three months ago I told you about Emily’s chance discovery of a horde of Doctor Who figures in one of our local charity shops; I also posted some photos of them all. Anyway, a few weeks ago I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, and finally spent my birthday money on this:

Oh, it is a thing of beauty. And one thing sort of led to another.

“You always insisted on calling me ‘the boy’ in The Five Doctors, but I’ve got at least two hundred years on you.”

“I can’t even tell you what I’m thinking right now.”

“All right, it was rubbish, and the half-human thing was a catastrophe. But at least I brought back the jelly babies.”

“Oh! The back of our head.”

The Doctors get down and funky for the annual Time Lords’ disco

“Someone really should tell Five and Six that breakdancing went out when Adric died.”

“If you’re supposed to be the superior race in the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?”
“EL-E-VATE!”
“Oh, bugger.”

“I know the bow tie isn’t exactly Saville Row, but I’m just saying there’s a line. There’s a line, and you crossed it.”

“Do-do-do, c’mon and do the conga…”

“Oh! The back of our arse.”

Drunken photocall.

If the lighting looks slightly inconsistent on some of them, that’s because I went back and re-shot some of the blurred ones the next morning when the sun was out. Oh how we suffer for our art. Coming soon: new and previously unseen photos of the great Time Lords’ dance-off. I shan’t tell you who wins. Spoilers, sweetie.

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Sooty and the Bannermen

Gareth and I were chatting yesterday and I pointed out that someone really should do a Doctor Who story where Matthew Corbett is playing the Doctor and Sooty, Sweep and Soo are playing his companions.

The Sooty Show has never been afraid to dabble in weirdness. There are the protracted dream sequences. The angular (and yet catchy) song and dance numbers. The notorious Prisoner episode. Sweep singing Stevie Wonder better than Stevie Wonder. (“Stevie Wonder sang with a dog?” / “Yes, but you must never tell him.”) And I could have sworn that some of those gags were not aimed at children. In one of Daniel’s favourite episodes, the hapless foursome are getting ready to go to the beach, and Sooty and Matthew are talking in the kitchen.

Matthew: Ah, there you are Sooty. Where’s Sweep?

Sooty: [whispers]

Matthew: He’s still in the bathroom? He’s been in there for ages! He must be having a very thorough wash.

Sooty: [whispers]

Matthew: He’s not having a wash? What’s he doing?

Sooty: [whispers]

Matthew: Is he?

It’s not just me. I know it isn’t.

 

Anyway. There is, as far as I am aware, no proper Sooty Show / Doctor Who parody, so I shall have to write one. While I get on with that, here’s a sourced-from-Tumblr image of Sweep pretending to be Davros.

Happy Wednesdays!

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Things to do on a Monday evening

You can see where we were going with this.

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The (Jurassic) Ark In Space

I’m sure Comic Con is great. And I’d love to see San Diego. But I’m glad I wasn’t there for the Q&A I’m going to talk about tonight, because I suspect it would have set my teeth on edge.

A lightly spoiler-ish article on io9 – forwarded to me by Gareth – details the Grand Moffat’s plan for the new series, and on the face of it, the outlook isn’t pretty. As much as I look forward to every new season of Who, hopeful that it’ll in some way eclipse the last in terms of quality – or, perhaps, atone for some of the sins of previous episodes (I’m looking at you, Ms. Raynor) – I think it’s fair to say that this one has me as unexcited about the show’s return in autumn as I’ve ever been.

Let’s start with the trailer.

To anyone under the age of ten or who happened to love Cowboys Vs. Aliens, this is undoubtedly brilliant. To anyone who was watching TV in 1993, or who happens to have seen TV that was made in 1993, it rips off at least two episodes of Red Dwarf. I was one of the few who thought ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ was overrated in the first instance; I have no wish to see it remade by the Doctor Who team. And that’s before we even get to that shot of a Dalek eyestalk, which is in itself oddly reminiscent of Return of the Jedi.

Yes, those Daleks. Moffat assures us that we’ll see

“more Daleks than you’ve ever seen in one place — and every generation of Dalek.” And it looks fantastic, now that the visual effects are just being completed. “Lots and lots and lots of Daleks. All the things you see when you close your eyes.”

Maybe I’m in a minority here, but when I have nightmares about Who, they don’t involve Daleks. They involve reruns of ‘Fear Her’. I’m not frightened by the Daleks; overexposure has rendered me completely indifferent to them. The Daleks are no longer scary, and thus no longer appealing. And there is a glint of fanboyish glee about Moffat’s desire to get the gang together, as if he were a chubby, bespectacled ten-year-old appearing on Blue Peter or The Antiques Roadshow with his collection.

I didn’t even object to the Power Rangers Daleks, despite the cynical (and rather obvious) collect-the-set marketing ploy. It’s just that I don’t trust anyone at the New Who offices to be able to do anything interesting with the Daleks. And making the Daleks interesting is crucial to their success, and the very reason why so many of the post-2005 Dalek episodes have been second / third-rate: include the Nation’s Finest, and you’ve got a clear ratings winner, so there’s no need to actually come up with a story, just a different setting (Daleks in Churchill’s England / depression-era New York / the Black Forest). Chuck in a couple of cries of ‘Exterminate!’, add some trigger-happy military types who don’t know what they’re dealing with and who are certain to meet early and untimely deaths, and you’ve got yourself an episode. I’m not unremittingly nostalgic for Classic Who, but the unfortunate truth is that Dalek stories are lazy, because the last time they did anything genuinely interesting was back in 1988.

Things don’t improve with the second episode of the series which will, apparently, be called ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, which calls to mind obvious (and, one would assume, quite intentional) parallels with Snakes on a Plane. No episode with such a title, you may think, could possibly fail on any level. I’d counter thus:

1. The last time Doctor Who did dinosaurs, they were shit. The story wasn’t, but the dinosaurs were. I know they were on a shoestring, but still. Just saying.

2. ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ is written by Chris Chibnall, who also wrote ’42’ and the season 5 Silurian episodes, all of which were shit.

3. Snakes on a Plane is also shit. It’s not even mindless entertainment, fine-if-you-don’t-take-it-seriously, so-bad-it’s-good shit. It’s just shit. Irredeemable shit.

I think that’s enough shit to be going on with, don’t you?

Meanwhile, at an arc level…

How did Moffat come up with the idea that the Doctor’s name was “the first question?” someone asks. “To be honest, it’s been there from a start. He never gives his name. Other Time Lords do, but he doesn’t. Clearly, his name is very important. Only I know why. We actually find out the truth” about the importance of the Doctor’s name.

That Doctor. His refusal to give his name is indeed unique, and categorically unacceptable. I was just discussing the sheer bloody-mindedness of it only the other evening, in the pub with my mates the Rani and the Master. That was before we were interrupted by the Other and the Meddling Monk, who wanted to borrow 20p for the pool table.

Elsewhere:

Someone brings up the idea that the Doctor leaves the brakes (the “blue boringers”) on when he flies the TARDIS — and Moffat notes that River Song was probably winding the Doctor up about that — because you might notice that when she flies the TARDIS, it still makes that same wheezing, groaning materialization noise.

Yawn, the brake-crunching, pull-to-open, needs-six-people-to-fly-it-TARDIS. But here’s a thought – and I voice it aloud despite the fact that it’s going to stomp all over everything I’ve just written. We might, to be honest, be at the stage where we have to stop taking these throwaway remarks seriously and just accept that the continuity of Who is one big mess. As, of course, one would it expect it to be, with a multitude of writers and guest writers and chief writers and script editors, all with their own ideas as to what the show should be, and that’s not to mention the novelisations and comics and BF productions, with inconsistencies and disputed canonicity. Consider, for example, the Doctor’s regeneration limit – established as twelve in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and adjusted accordingly thereafter until, in the SJA ‘Death of the Doctor’ story, it was mentioned by the Eleventh Doctor that “there isn’t one”, a story that was promptly picked up by the Guardian and made into a front page web article for a few hours on a Tuesday evening.

Moffat’s consistently making silly jokes, and while the remarks about the TARDIS brakes have no doubt stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate amongst the engineers who post at Outpost Gallifrey or wherever the fans hang out nowadays, there is nonetheless the strong possibility that he just put it in because he thought it was funny (and it could have been, except it came from River, who is irritating). Similarly, Father Christmas is probably not called Jeff (now that was funny) and the Doctor probably didn’t throw the TARDIS manual into a supernova (although I’m sure the story where he did just that exists somewhere). And yes, the pull-to-open thing in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ was wrong. But that’s the point. Under Moffat’s reign (and, to an extent, Davies’ before it), episode writing is a dialogue, a nod to the fans, an acknowledgement of their presence and – often – a subtle dig at them. Every episode is going to be pulled apart and analysed to death within hours of its transmission, and the writers know it. Such things are thus put in to purposely wind us up, and they succeed.

The truth is that Doctor Who can be whatever the chief writer wants it to be, because it’s transcended continuity. There are certain fundamental ground rules – no true love, no kissing, no beards – but that’s it. The fans have spent years shoehorning and explaining and reconciling continuity, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. For example, Tegan’s appearance in A Fix With Sontarans‘ is non-canon, because the story is non-canon, because it’s a story that occurs within the context of a children’s programme hosted by a chain-smoking northerner in a tracksuit – and the subsequent fanfiction attempts to reconcile Tegan with the Sixth Doctor, while undoubtedly well-meant, were frankly silly.

Besides, the Doctor lies. At least this one does, because that’s how Smith likes to play him and Moffat likes to write him – and ultimately they’re the ones calling the shots. Personally, I’d consider the revelation of the Doctor’s name to be a clear violation of one of the unwritten rules – but they’re myrules, not his. However much I may have whinged this evening, the fact remains that mine is a singular viewpoint, and my own views of what Who ought to be are always going to be different from even the most like-minded friend or colleague or fellow-blogger. Phillip Pullman said that writing isn’t a democracy, and Doctor Who – despite the collective input I mentioned earlier – isn’t really a Jungian collective. It’s whatever the person in charge makes it. The bottom line – and the only question we should really be concerning ourselves with, when all is said and done – is whether or not the creative decisions made at the top make for good television. Because ultimately that’s the only thing that really counts. So perhaps we should be viewing series 7 in that light. Roll on autumn – and bring on the dinosaurs.

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“PLEASE-PLACE-ALL-METAL-OBJECTS-IN-THE-TRAY-FOR-EXTERMINATION”

Good news, everyone: the Olympic security problem is apparently resolved.

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Sunshine and showers with a chance of Rainbows

Today, the weather in Scotland will be mostly Zippy.

(Cheers Gareth…)

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