Monthly Archives: May 2013

Is it just me? #7

We’ve just finished watching ‘Underworld’, and Emily spotted this one. It may well have been intentional, but it is uncanny.

Minion

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I went to the shops and I bought

The local toy emporium were having a better-than-half-price day. Marked up RRP is always something to worry about (yes, those chocolates are fifty per cent off the RRP, but who would have sold them at £12 anyway?!?) – still, at £3.99 a pop these were reasonably priced. So…

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Now, can I justify £48 on that set of classic figures…?

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Call off the search (the Brian of Morbius edition)

In the first instance, I’m going to copy-and-paste the paragraphs below from a similar post (with quite different specifics) over on one of my other blogs. So apologies in advance if what you’re about to read is familiar, but I couldn’t think of a better introduction. Scroll down to the search terms if you want. Go on. I don’t mind.

The other week, SJ and I were having a conversation about post popularity – not a period of time that chronologically follows popularity, but popularity of blog posts. “I wonder,” she said (I’m paraphrasing), “just how many of my so-called followers actually read what I’m writing. I’ll bet a fair number of them are spam”.

I have the same thoughts – you wonder how many of the people who blindly click the ‘follow’ button are actually digesting your missives and thoughts. I know a good number of you do, and for that I am grateful. To the rest, well, you’re excused. Lip service is part of the WordPress way, it seems, and I’d be lying if I said I had never followed blogs that I don’t read properly.

Among the regular readers, of course, there are the people who drop in because they’re looking for something. Sometimes some of my posts can provide answers – other times, judging by some of the search terms, they’ve just happened to tap in a number of words that the Googlebots determine exist in random places on different parts of my home page. So the words ‘vaseline’, ‘pornography’ and ‘live goats’ are in completely different and entirely unconnected posts, honest guv. And the money was just resting in my account.

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Every so often, I’ll scan through the site stats and make a list of some of the more interesting search terms that people have been using on their wayward journey through cyberspace – a journey that led them here, however long their rest stop. Here’s a selection from the last quarter, presented as is, including typographical errors.

– gay lesbian “brianofmorbius”
– clara tardis meh meh
– ghostbusters cardboard house with kinder eggs
– why would I give her my screwdriver
– kiefer Sutherland as morbius
– scooby doo is stupid

I’m not sure what to make of the Ghostbusters query. Nor indeed can I fathom out that first term. Did I say anything particularly profound / stupid about lesbianism that would warrant someone to look me up, either to gasp in awe or in horror? And speaking of stupid, who the hell came up with that last one? Scooby Doo is a great show. It’s a little formulaic, but that’s why it’s lasted for this long and in spite of Scrappy Doo. I would blog about this further but I’m still trying to work out whether Kiefer Sutherland would make a convincing Morbius (and I’m assuming that the Morbius in question was the Marvel vampire, as opposed to the renegade Time Lord).

But. But! That’s only the half of it. Because I’ve discovered that a bunch of search engine terms take the form of questions. (Actually, the fourth entry in that list above is technically a question, but it’s also a direct quote, and I presume it was searched with that in mind.) And I’m figuring that if you don’t try and address what your would-be readers want to know, aren’t you missing out on something? I have therefore picked up on a few of the more interesting questions I’ve had this last quarter and reprinted them below – again, verbatim – with my answers.

– on flesh and stone you can see the doctor wearing a suit when the angel had already taken him away

Indeed you can. This is one of those ‘puzzles’ the chief writer set us throughout series five, and when it happened in ‘Flesh and Stone’ I was willing to let it go, as the concept was relatively fresh. This has been covered in more blogs than I could count, so it seems somewhat redundant to include it here, but basically the Doctor’s got his jacket back because it’s not the same Doctor. It’s the Doctor from a few weeks later, travelling backwards along his own timeline just before he’s obliterated from existence. (Yes, I know it sounds silly. It really was.)

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– brian eyes burning like fire

Bright. BRIGHT EYES. I know Art Garfunkel’s diction was waning even in the 1970s, but sheesh.

I know it's scrappily done, but it almost works. Almost.

I know it’s scrappily done, but it almost works. Almost.

– does anyone understand numberjacks

No one understands Numberjacks. They just think they do. On the surface it’s an accessible children’s show about elementary mathematics problems that are solved by anthropomorphic numbers who live in a sofa. But beneath this CG-driven exterior there’s a sinister Groundhog Day-like undertone to the whole thing, as epitomised by the fact that the room they leave is constantly empty, the Numberjacks have to display the profile of every villain they face every time, and the fact that the cat is always sitting on the sofa. There’s also the white elephant that is the buddy block, the fact that the characters are apparently able to hack local CCTV (and also have cameras in places that really shouldn’t have cameras) but can’t tell the difference between a circle and an oval – oh, and the enigma of the dancing cow.

So no, nobody’s figured it out, and anyone who tells you they have is either hopelessly naïve, or just lying. (We’ve tried, though. Gareth recently asked me whether I thought Number Four was ever sad that no one was able to give him a high five, as well as observing that pink was an unfortunate choice of colour for Number Three.)

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never confuse efficiency with a liver complaint meaning

Oh, look, it’s quite simple. Katie Nanna is perpetually grumpy, correct? Her sternness and strictness were qualities that the Banks evidently looked for in their incoming nannies, requiring as they did someone to keep the children in line. But George Banks blamed her health – in particular the itching, swelling and fatigue that are early signs of liver damage – and posited that this was what was making her cross, not a natural disposition towards effective discipline.

Katie Nanna. Fond of the gin, that one.

Katie Nanna. Fond of the gin, that one.

– a town called mercy shit

Yes. Yes it is.

'A Town Called Mercy'. A low point, at least until 'Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS'.

‘A Town Called Mercy’. A low point, at least until ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’.

– if a weeping angel sees the silence will it forget?

Ah, the old Angels vs. Silence question, a match-up rivalled in sheer tedium only by the prospect of the Daleks vs. the Cybermen. Anyway, Joshua asked me this a while back, so I’ve had time to think it over. If an Angel is able to move towards the Silent, unobserved, then it’ll be able to attack as it normally would. The moment the Silent turns to see it, the Angel freezes like it normally would. But I’m not convinced that the Silence’s weapon of choice (that stupid Force Lightning) would have any effect on granite, so the best thing to do would be to just bow out gracefully. Observe this hastily-sketched diagram.

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Presumably the Silent would need to manoeuvre itself round the back of the Angel so that it could no longer be observed, keeping an eye on it at all times (and seeing as the Silence do not appear to blink, it would have a distinct tactical advantage in this department). When it leaves the room, the Angel unfreezes, but presumably forgets why it came in there in the first place, which is something that I gather happens a lot when you’re extremely old and prone to seizing up at the most inopportune moments.

– scooby doo boobies

Dude. Seriously. Get help.

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The Paranoid Android Invasion

Today, I will mostly be carrying a towel.

SJ has blogged elsewhere about her love for Douglas Adams, and a better introduction to the series you could not wish for, so I suggest you open up that post in a separate window and read it after you’ve finished with this one. In the meantime, to celebrate 25 May, I bring you this.

I first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy as a teenager. At the time I don’t think I realised what I had. Here was the satirical science novel to end all satirical science novels and all I could think about was how it related to the Discworld, in which I was ensconced, if that’s the right word. I enjoyed the adventures of Arthur and Ford but was far more interested in Death and his granddaughter Susan. Then I went to university and immersed myself in James Joyce and Virginia Woolf because we were supposed to. Then I grew up, and stopped reading the classics precisely because that’s what I’d been told to read for the past thirteen years, and ever since then I’ve read little except comic books, music biographies and science fiction (and Dan Brown). Sci-fi aside, my world is one great big ocean of trash lit, and I love it.

I first saw the series years ago, but I can’t remember at what point I figured out that Marvin the Paranoid Android was ripe for a smash-and-grab redub. I was probably showering or driving. Nonetheless, some sort of mashup seemed inevitable. Marvin is a work of unparalleled genius, the sort of chap you’d be happy to have along for the ride purely for comic relief and so long as you can mute him, voiced to perfection by Stephen Moore (who also turned up in Doctor Who some years later, playing an elderly Silurian in the otherwise forgettable ‘Cold Blood’). He remains so popular years after the fact because there is something inherently British in his misery; he’s like the pensioners I encountered on the bus after days of continuous rain who were complaining about the heat. Marvin is never satisfied with his lot, and we love him for it.

Earlier this year, Emily and I watched ‘The Robots of Death’, which also features robots getting slightly miserable. D84 lacks Marvin’s sour perspective, but does have one of the most fragile voices ever to grace artificial intelligence, practically shedding tears when he laments of his failure, before gasping “Goodbye…my…friend”, with pauses that would have impressed even Harold Pinter, as he (metaphorically) breathes his last. He also gets one of the story’s funniest scenes (along with Borg’s reaction to the Doctor’s offer of a jelly baby), when Leela takes him for an attacker and hurls a spare appendage from a previous assassin in his direction, causing D84 to respond with “Please do not throw hands at me”. It’s a masterful performance from Gregory de Polnay, to the extent that I was hesitant to mess with it, but in terms of redubbing Marvin, it seemed an obvious choice.

Stephen Moore provided the definitive Marvin, of course, but not the only one. Emily and I met at the cinema, some ten years ago now, and for a while we marked the occasion with annual visits to the same cinema, every May bank holiday. In spring 2005, when she was thick with pregnancy, we saw the remake of Hitchhiker’s – hopelessly miscast and structurally uneven, the net result was a film so bad it made Douglas Adams seem dull, which I’d hitherto thought impossible. It’s so atrocious that no one seems to even care that it’s on YouTube as a full-length stream. The best thing about it, of course, is Alan Rickman, who brings a sardonic whine to Marvin that suits him well, particularly in his new, squat form.

But you can’t use the film, because it’s covered in score, so I went back to the classic series. This involved watching it again (along with Emily, who was seeing it for the first time – I really should have done a Wife In Space type thing) and ripping out the dialogue later. Then I basically put the thing together over the course of one very long evening, surviving on coffee and M&Ms (and coming up with the idea, just now, for coffee-flavoured M&Ms, which I know would be a work of genius).

The first time I viewed the rough cut, it was a disaster. It didn’t gel at all. Then I added a single sound effect – the drone-like hum that you can hear throughout – and something clicked. The only thing I wish I’d changed is a contraction of the opening credits, because while it feels more episode-like as a result, you need to get in quick if you’re going to hook an audience, and I worry about wandering attention spans. The ending, of course, also differs from ‘The Robots of Death’ because I couldn’t bring myself to let Marvin / D84 stay dead, which is why he pops up just before the Doctor and Leela leave in the TARDIS.

One thing that came out of this was the decision that from this point forward, Gareth would be the arbiter of quality before I went public with anything. He it was who suggested that the ‘Don’t Splink!’ video I produced a while back would arguably work better without the tacked-on coda, and I also wish I’d listened to him about the Yoho Ahoy! redub, which seems a little messy with Cybermen that don’t really fit. When I showed him the first (and now deleted) version of this, his reaction was that it would be improved if Dask or Leela sounded more like Frankie and Benjy. (And yes, I know that video is from the film, but I couldn’t find an appropriate TV series equivalent.) Dask couldn’t be touched without also tainting the score, but I did manage to rework Leela (although, as Gareth then pointed out, “It’s now rather hard to work out what she’s actually saying!”. I should have included subtitles.

For the benefit of younger or non-UK readers, the “You Have Been Watching” credit style is a gimmick of Jimmy Perry and David Croft, two British sitcom giants. It might have worked better with applause. But you spend all your time looking back at these things and working out ways to improve them, and there has to be a point at which you stop, and admit that what you’ve done is good enough. There is, I’m convinced, a far more coherent version of this that could be made using Marvin’s dialogue from the radio series – a series which encompasses the later books – but I do not think this will be produced by me. What I’ve done is probably good enough, and I am happy to make the expanded version Somebody Else’s Problem.

Now, where did I put that towel…?

Categories: Crossovers, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Tweets from 1972

You think whinging and moaning about the Doctor Who anniversary special is a new thing? Think again.

(Thanks to SJ for showing me this one.)

1972-Tweets

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Review: ‘The Name of the Doctor’ (spoilers)

I was teasing the boys on Saturday. “Of course, the Doctor might regenerate,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t. “We might see the Twelfth Doctor.” Thomas then proceeded to ask what he looked like, and of course I didn’t know. After lunch, he fetched the customisable sonic screwdriver set that Emily got me for Christmas and assembled his own version, calling it “the Twelfth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, and I’m the Twelfth Doctor”. I nodded and smiled and took his photo, whilst working out what I’d say to him when it got to the end of the evening with no sign of a new Doctor.

Then we saw the episode.

The appearance of John Hurt – who, I confess, I’d entirely forgotten was going to appear – threw in a complete curveball at the very end. It wasn’t so much a cliffhanger as a game-changer, a reassessment of who the Doctor was and how we got here. It was also a shameless bit of stunt-casting. It was the First Doctor before he took on the appearance of Hartnell. It was an obvious reference to the Time War. It was the Other before he threw himself into the Looms. It was the final Doctor, who will not live to regenerate. It was brilliant. It was terrible. It was all of the above and none of the above, depending on what you read and what you want to believe. I think we’re beyond the stage now where it matters. This has either been the worst series since the revival or a dazzling return to form, and if you’re on one side then nothing the other can say is going to influence you. Perhaps we should stop arguing about it, stop polluting the pages of the web with our ramblings, and accept that we see things differently.

But this will fall on deaf ears. The enigma of Hurt’s Doctor and who he is will be shoved back and forth across blogs, Facebook groups, sycophantic Dan Martin Guardian columns, bitch-fests from Lawrence Miles and rambling fan videos from incoherent YouTube pundits, and it will long outlast its expected sell-by date. We’re all going to be horribly sick of it by November, and it’ll lead to a glorious anti-climax where you’ll be told something crushingly disappointing. Because ultimately, that’s what Moffat does. He asks you to guess what he’s thinking, but these days it’s seldom interesting or satisfying.

If nothing else, the “bit with Doctor Hurt” (as Thomas referred to it) puts an older actor in the role – something I’ve longed for, and something we’ve not had since Pertwee, who took over the role at 51. Of course, Pertwee embodied a dynamic, action-driven side to the Doctor, gleefully bringing down foes with skilfully choreographed martial arts courtesy of the stunt directors. It was something capitalised on by the relatively youthful Baker when he adopted the role some four years later, to the extent that the dashing sidekick who’d been brought in to do all the stunts was written out after several stories, having been used mostly to provide bumbling comic relief with occasional moments of brilliance. Still, the physical, action-orientated stance of the new incarnation of the programme has prevented the BBC from casting anyone who’s likely to get a heart attack from running along a corridor in a disused steelworks being chased by a monster that isn’t there.

This has meant a spate of younger Doctors; a trend that looks set to continue. Because let’s be clear on this: Hurt’s casting is atypical in that whoever it is, it is not a Doctor who is going to stay the course. He hasn’t said more than two dozen words yet and already we have established that he is a Doctor who either should not exist, a wibbly wobbly anomaly, or an incarnation who has been assigned to a crumbly CG-generated hell (filmed on location in urban Glasgow) because he did or will do something terrible. He is the Doctor’s dirty little secret, along with his secret stash of Sontaran pornography and what he and River really get up to with those handcuffs. (I suspect these two things probably aren’t mutually exclusive. There, that’s put images in your head, hasn’t it?)

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It’s a shame that in establishing this fact, Moffat resorted to the laziest, lamest trick in the writer’s book, which is to end an episode (and indeed a series) with that episode’s title. Some weeks ago, Gareth suggested to me that there would be a feint of some sort and that you’d have a bunch of characters charging into battle, dying in slow motion, bellowing “IN THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR!”. He was joking, but that’s only slightly more silly than what actually happened. I was so busy reeling from this that I didn’t even notice that Moffat also fulfilled Dorium’s “Fall of the Eleventh” prophecy by having the Doctor say “We don’t jump; we fall”.

I mean, honestly. This isn’t a clever reversal. It’s just bad writing. Confounding the expectations of your audience by deflating the balloon because it’s the last thing they were expecting is inexcusable. Making a joke out of a foreshadowing comment that is supposed to allude to the Doctor’s death doesn’t make you look clever or a master of your craft. It makes you look like a smug drama student. It’s like Bilbo Baggins getting Gollum to guess what’s in his pocket – a riddle he asked by accident and then exploited to get out of a life-or-death situation, but to the best of my knowledge no one is approaching Moffat across a slimy rock, threatening to eat him if he can’t guess what’s alive without breath and cold as death.

I remember being eight years old, and sitting at the side of the school field playing I Spy with a couple of friends. They tried, for a good two or three minutes, to guess the ‘B’ I said I’d seen, and eventually gave up, pronouncing me the winner. “Bus,” I said. “I saw one go past a while ago.” It’s cheating, and it’s unfair. But it was technically accurate. And thus it was a plot twist in the story of the game, one that eerily echoed the style of our current chief writer. Which is why the endless praise and shouts of “brilliant” baffle me.

“Yesterday,” said Gareth, “I gave a brief summary of the bits I knew of the episode. Try it, and about halfway through you’ll find yourself thinking ‘This is just really bad fanfic – if anyone had written it last year it would have been ridiculed’.” And he’s right. It reads like bad fanfiction and Moffat gets away with it because we still know him as the writer of ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and we cannot quite wrench ourselves away from that image, or from the fact that a man capable of brilliance simply isn’t suited to a role like this.

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Of course, the question of who the Doctor is turned out fairly early on to be fundamentally unimportant, when the words “It is discovered” turned out not to allude to the Doctor’s name at all, but rather the location of his grave. This needn’t mean that the end of the show is in sight. An eventual death does not mean an imminent death, and there was no sign of any corpse inside the Trenzelore TARDIS. One could, perhaps, nitpick over the fact that the interior echoes the current design, but in the grand scheme of things I think there are other aspects upon which I could waste my time. Like the rotten dialogue, or the fact that the design of the Whispermen was strangely familiar.

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Certainly there were good things this week. When the Doctor is informed that his friends have been taken to Trenzelore, his reaction is to sit down on the sofa and burst into tears. It’s a mesmerising performance from Smith, so easy to forget in the blustery of what follows, but it’s arguably the most upset we’ve seen the Doctor since the revival of the show – a frail, fragile moment, and I wish we’d had a little more of that, and less of the angst-ridden silliness that followed.

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In all seriousness, this was good.

Performances aside, Saul Metzstein directed this as well as he’s directed any of his other episodes, with the darkness of Trenzelore effectively realised in the few shots we saw of it. This seemed to be a finale that dealt with metaphysics as much as anything else, and as such sets were almost theatrically abstract, with atmospheric, moody lighting standing in for actual detail. This was an episode of dread, and Metzstein (and cinematographer Neville Kidd) evoked this by juxtaposing tight, claustrophobic shots with wide, angled ones, as if someone were being observed from not far off.

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Similarly, the opening montage showed a certain visual panache, particularly if you didn’t know it was coming – as I didn’t. It was rough around the edges, for sure. The limitations of the BBC’s effects budget showed when Jenna-Louise Coleman was digitally pasted into old footage, standing looking confused in a park while someone who looks absolutely nothing like Patrick Troughton runs past her. But elsewhere, it worked. The tints and grains came out again as Clara jumped through different eras and went through costume changes at a rate that rivalled that of Madonna in Evita. This included a questionable CG-driven appearance from Jon Pertwee, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it encounters with the Eighth and Ninth. Davison was seen lying on a floor, presumably spouting dialogue from what I thought was ‘The Caves of Androzani’ (but which Gareth insists is probably from the beginning of his run), and Clara appeared to linger in the same corridor they used in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ as a tall man in the Sixth Doctor’s frock coat and a blonde wig wanders past. (Presumably it was Sylvester McCoy.)

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The fans’ reaction to this opening, I’m told, has been split: a mixture of yah-boo-sucks directed at the naysayers, while the cynical amongst us have pointed out that it was mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors. Still, it looked reasonably impressive, and there was one moment of apparent importance, with an eyebrow-raising encounter back on Gallifrey. Fans of ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ will recall that the Doctor did not steal the TARDIS; the TARDIS stole him. This always felt like unnecessary anthropomorphism to me – the sort of thing that people say about their cats when it simply isn’t true – but it was in this singular scene that the police box’s apparent love-hate relationship with Clara was reconciled: through Clara, the TARDIS is able to reach out to the Doctor and influence him. Clara thus becomes the equivalent of a surrogate, with all the complications that that relationship entails. And it’s still silly, because it doesn’t seem to fit. (“I thought from what I read,” said Gareth, “that her meeting the Doctor was trying to save him from the Great Intelligence’s interference somehow. Was the GI whispering ‘go on, take this TARDIS – it comes with its own baby dinosaur’?”.)

While we’re on that, it’s also worth bearing in mind, of course, that the entire falling through time sequence was built on a colossal and quite unnecessarily complicated plotline: that of (the again under-used) Richard E Grant entering the Doctor’s time stream and changing everything he’s ever done. I know that time is supposed to be a non-linear ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff (I have left out the pause, but it was there) – nonetheless, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Grant to go back and kill the Doctor outright before he stole the TARDIS, while he was a frail and feeble old man, and save himself the trouble of having to dimension hop for millennia? But that would have been far too simple, and instead we’re faced with the supposedly Great Intelligence jumping through time, changing history for the worse, with Clara in hot pursuit, striving to put right what once went wrong. It’s like watching five series of Quantum Leap over the course of a few seconds, and we didn’t even get to see Dean Stockwell in a red suit.

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And while I’m complaining, I would like to point out that River Song’s appearance in this was nothing short of a disaster. It’s not that Moffat can’t write love stories. He proved that he could with ‘Blink’ and ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’, both of whom have touching, unresolved matters of the heart at their core. But the love scenes with River are turgid and unconvincing and riddled with shocking dialogue (I feel a top ten coming on, but I’ll leave that for another day when I don’t feel quite so cross). See for example:

River: There has to be another way. Use the TARDIS. Use something! Save her, yes, but for God’s sake, be sensible! [She goes to slap him and he catches her wrist] How are you even doing that? I’m not really here.

The Doctor: You’re always here to me. And I always listen. And I can always see you.

River: Then why didn’t you speak to me?

The Doctor: Because I thought it would hurt too much.

River: I believe I could have coped.

The Doctor: No. I thought it would hurt me. And I was right.

How, exactly, are we supposed to cope when confronted with this drivel? It doesn’t help that there’s no chemistry at all between Smith and Kingston, but even Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton couldn’t polish a turd. Still, we can’t just blame the dialogue – it’s the whole setup. The other part of the problem, you see, is the nature of the Doctor having any sort of lover, simply because it sexualises him and calls to mind the question of what he’s like in bed. It’s an elephant in the room, but that’s what you were all thinking about during that kiss, wasn’t it?

But there was, again, that feeling of smoke and mirrors during the finale: the sense of a beginning, and not an ending. Moffat has a tendency to open up a new mystery just as he’s resolving an older one, and while we now understand the mystery of Clara and no longer care about the identity of the Doctor, another enigma has cropped up to take its place. I wouldn’t mind this, except that some three years later, I’m still not entirely clear on how or why the TARDIS exploded.

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This feels very much like the chief writer stretching out his run on the show to breaking point, and serving up mystery after mystery purely as a guarantee that they will extend his contract, until he can resolve that story arc and start up a new one at the end of the series. Seldom is there any real closure, the way there was even under Davies’ reign, because there is always a new puzzle to be debated and blogged. It’s a trick used in 24, which got away with it (just) on the grounds of being a show that was outlandishly silly. But Doctor Who is not supposed to be silly. It frequently is, and occasionally on purpose, but I seriously doubt that they sit down at tone meetings and say “Right: zany, off-the-wall looniness for that Dalek story, then”. It’s supposed to be a flagship of British family entertainment. It is a show that contains amusing moments and the occasional subtle fracturing of the fourth wall (mostly through a mockery of writer’s conventions that I will grant is done quite well), but it’s taken very seriously by everyone who produces it. Every episode is supposedly lovingly crafted to respect what has gone before and then build upon it for the future.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we expect the show to look too much to the past. Perhaps Davies’ first series in charge was overlooked. For better or worse, he rewrote the rule book and appeared to have little, if any consideration for what had happened before, inventing new monsters galore and cutting all ties with the Time Lords and Gallifrey with a view to building up a new fanbase from the ground up. At the time, we called this disrespectful. We called it dumbing down, and not mindful of the legacy of the programme and its perennial viewers. And then everything changed. Some eight years later, we have a show that is so steeped in its own sense of history and self-importance it has become its own Episode 1: tired, humourless, and far too pompous to actually achieve its aims. Doctor Who is struggling with the millstone of history that is affixed round its neck – racing back and forth through its own history, too concerned with continuity to think about story. It has become the Doctor himself, in that final sequence, submerged and suffocated and seemingly entrapped within his own timeline. We wanted more respect for tradition, and we got it, but the price tag was heavy – and if we may take anything from Saturday evening, and this series in general, it’s that you should be careful what you wish for.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

God is in the detail (x)

At first, I didn’t think there was anything significant in ‘Nightmare in Silver’. It felt very cluttered, but not terribly coherent. I was struggling. But then a couple of light bulbs went on, and everything started to connect. And so – one day before the final episode of the series – here’s this week’s list of SEEMINGLY INSIGNIFICANT THINGS THAT WILL TURN OUT TO BE VERY IMPORTANT LATER ON.

Firstly, observe the countdown screen.

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You see the list of numbers on the left? Well, they refer to the first ten Doctors. Specifically the first one, who is highlighted with an X. This once again indicates the connection between Clara and the First Doctor. But that’s not all. Notice, also, the presence of the word ‘Armed’ in the middle, meaning that reading from the left you get ‘1 Armed’…one-armed what? One-armed bandit? One-armed man?

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Ah!

Mike, the one-armed man from Twin Peaks, as played by Al Strobel. Which, by a curious coincidence, is an anagram of ‘Laser Bolt’. WHICH IS HOW MADAME VASTRA IS GOING TO DIE TOMORROW.

There was also a one-armed man in The Fugitive, in which innocent man Richard Kimble was pursued across the United States by the diligent Inspector Gerard. I mention this not for the sake of random trivia, but because it’s VERY IMPORTANT. Because of this.

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It’s the Eastenders girl again, but she was expendable and irritating, so ignore her. Look instead at the windows in the background. Blue, aren’t they? And green. Which is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labour unions fighting for environmental causes. And the co-chair of their board of directors is the International President of United Steelworkers – a chap called Leo W. Gerard. Case closed.

(Coincidentally, in the 1993 film of The Fugitive, Gerard was played by Tommy Lee Jones, but that reminds me of Martha, so let’s not go there. Also Kimble was played by Harrison Ford, and a Ford is a shallow crossing on a River, so let’s really not go there.)

Blue also features here, in this image.

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You can see the flag, can’t you? The blue and white one? Blue and white, as in…oh, I don’t know. The state flag for Colorado?

Colorado

And, of course, the inclusion of a big letter ‘C’ on this flag is pure coincidence.

cyberman2_preview_featured

Yessir. Pure coincidence.

Now, my friends, to Tolkien. Here’s the Unknown Soldier.

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Notice what she has? A nose ring? And what literary classic do we know that features a powerful ring? Let’s also remember, of course, that her eyes are angled left, and that if she were facing north she’d be gazing westward, which in turn recalls this:

“There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving”.

Oh, you could do a whole story about ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and Doctor Who, but I don’t have the time. Still, the allusions run deeper, and then there’s a feint and another feint and it all twists in a new direction. Take a look here.

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This, if you remember, was the Cyberman’s head sitting on the pile of boxes that are blatantly a pile of boxes. But look at the sign. “Staff only”, I think you’ll find. And Who Carries a Staff? Yes, he does. (Sorry. You see what I did there, right?)

Gandalf carries a staff. Gandalf was played by Ian McKellen. Ian McKellen voiced the Great Intelligence, who appeared in ‘The Snowmen’. “Aha!” I hear you say, “this must mean that McKellen is coming back.” Well, no, it doesn’t. Because the other thing you need to know about Ian McKellen is that he’s currently starring in a dreadful sitcom called Vicious, in which he plays one half of a pair of ageing gay men in an antagonistic relationship. The other is played by Derek Jacobi, who also played The Master.

What does this mean? It means, of course, that we’ll deal with the Great Intelligence next week, and then in the last minute of the episode, Derek Jacobi’s hand will appear in shot and pinch the soldier’s nose ring.

I swear, sometimes I’m so brilliant I amaze even myself.

Categories: God is in the Detail, New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Eggwatch, part 9

If, like me, you’re still wondering whether the alleged early release of the box set was actually a colossal publicity stunt designed to revive interest in a series that’s been almost universally crap, you may be in need of a little distraction this week. Certainly there has been a lot of talk about it, but no actual substance, leading me to wonder whether the people who claim to have seen the last episode (“But, you know, I can’t give you any details”) are actually having a bit of a joke. God knows what we’re supposed to make of the fact that most of the fake torrents on The Pirate Bay actually contain black gay porn, or rips of ‘Love and Monsters’. (I know which I’d rather see. Sorry, Elton.)

Anyway! Eggs.

I am still behind on this, so we’re still having to do two episodes at a time, which is probably not a bad thing as the egg references seem to vary from week to week. Certainly ‘Hide’, which was next on the list, has relatively little to show for its forty-five minutes. At one point, Emma Grayling appears to be wearing a blue painted egg.

Eggs_Hide_2

Except it’s not really an egg at all, it’s more of a gem. I’m grasping at straws with this one, because the only other time we get even close to that is when the Doctor gets a bottle of milk out of the fridge.

Eggs_Hide_1

 

Oh, you know. Milk. Eggs. The whole…soufflé thing…

[Tumbleweed]

But then – then – we get to ‘Journey of the Centre of the TARDIS’, and all is forgiven. Because while I had to watch this one with the sound off so I wouldn’t have to listen to that excruciating dialogue, there are plenty of egg references in this episode. Let’s start with the more abstract images, like the door to the Exploding Room of Lava.

Eggs_TARDIS_1

 

There’s also the Eye of Harmony itself, which – while circular – appears to have a jelly bean / egg hybrid attached to it, like some kind of interstellar wart.

Eggs_TARDIS_2

 

But these are trivialities next to the revelation that two of the main plot devices are egg-shaped. First there are the luminous objects that sit on the end of the tendrils that form the architectural reconfiguration system.

Eggs_TARDIS_3

 

And then, of course, there’s this, which is not only egg-shaped, but also just about the right size.

Eggs_TARDIS_4

So there you go. It was a shit episode, but from the depths of despair we draw new life. Anyone fancy a Big Friendly Omelette?

Categories: Eggwatch, New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: ‘Nightmare in Silver’

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The first time Neil Gaiman wrote for Doctor Who, it was an episode that many people seemed to love. It had sparkling dialogue, some reasonably clever sequences and a wonderful central performance from Suranne Jones, whose role was the sort of thing you’d expect from Helena Bonham Carter (only without the body odour). In a season that began with an ineffective monster and closed with an ineffective twist, with comparatively little of substance in between, it was a breath of fresh air. The problem with ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, of course, is that for all its goodness it’s far less clever and original than the Confidential contributors would like to think it is, and the episode has coasted on a false sense of ‘innovation’ for the past two years. It’s a debt that Gaiman paid, to a certain extent, last Saturday evening, in a Cybermen story that was so shamelessly and openly derivative that it almost came across as cheeky. Almost.

I’m never sure of the extent to which the walking metal hulks that have graced our screens since 1966 were a direct influence on the design and concept of the Borg. Certainly there are elements: a seemingly unstoppable force of former humans fused with machinery, bereft of emotion, stomping across the galaxies, seeking to convert others to their cause, in a quite literal sense. But the whole point behind the original Cybermen was that they’d encased themselves in metal purely as a defence mechanism, in order to survive. Universe conquerors they were not. That came later, and it was to their detriment, because we realised that for a seemingly lethal force the Cybermen were actually a bit crap in battle, once you figured out they were allergic to gold. This particular weakness was taken to ridiculous conclusions in the latter years of the show: the Doctor’s explanation about gold dust corroding their circuits was plausible, but having Ace fire pound coins from a catapult in ‘Silver Nemesis’ was not. And they wonder why the show got cancelled.

(The gold thing always struck me as a bit silly, to be honest. It was a generic weakness inserted when the writers figured they needed a quick resolve on how to beat the Cybermen with limited resources. It’s rather like Green Lantern’s supposedly omnipotent power ring that apparently has no effect on yellow, simply because its extraterrestrial designers didn’t know what yellow looked like. This was being discussed at a seminar I once attended that basically rubbished GL, with the panel leader pointing out that in a straight fight, Laa-Laa could have him.)

But what Gaiman does in ‘Nightmare in Silver’ is give the Cybermen a thoroughly Borg-like makeover. It’s like watching Mission Impossible II: a film that borrows (intentionally or otherwise) from The Matrix, which itself borrows from earlier John Woo. Rather than standard programming instructions, they now work as part of a hive mind, a collective consciousness (which proves to be a vital plot point towards the end of the story). They upgrade using nano-technology (more on that later) rather than big saws and conversion units. What’s more, their resistance to previously effective weaponry increases as the episode moves forward, with attacks that kill one Cyberman proving ineffective on the next, as the metal warriors become impervious to the guns with the tedious repeated phrase “Upgrade in progress”. The gold allergy remains, of course, as epitomised in a scene where the Doctor appears to fight off a nano-infection with a sweet wrapper.

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All right, it’s a golden ticket. Still, the damage is done.

There is an early sequence in which a lone Cyberman ambushes a squad of unprepared soldiers, but I spent too much time shouting “CYBERMEN DON’T DO THAT!” to actually enjoy it very much. The troops are dreadful – a bunch of misfits sent to the backwards end of the universe for their collective failure to obey orders, only to encounter a threat that is very real – but it’s hardly their fault that the Cyberman is able to outrace the Flash and bend time like Neo. It gives them an edge that we haven’t previously seen, and a battle advantage that makes them more threatening than they’ve ever been (a necessary act, given that for the bulk of the story there are only two or three of them) but it’s hardly fair. Actually it just looks silly.

For ref., Cybermen don't do this.

For ref., Cybermen don’t do this.

Or this.

Or this.

But once you’re past the twaddle of this bit, the story kicks off proper and Gaiman has a blast being as silly as he can be with the airport security nightmares. They remove their limbs! They rotate one hundred and eighty degrees, owl-like, so you can’t disable them with a crafty EMP! And, of course, they set up cunning booby traps by placing disembodied heads on a pile of boxes so that an unsuspecting soldier will sneak up unawares, allowing the headless Cyberman to attack her from behind – even though, on a repeat viewing, the apparent Cyberman-in-waiting is so OBVIOUSLY A HEAD ON A PILE OF BOXES that the silly hussy frankly deserves an early grave. Honestly, it’s Darwin in action.

Seriously. My myopic uncle could have seen this coming.

Seriously. My myopic uncle could have seen this coming.

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So much for the Cybermen. What of their reasons for being there, and the story itself, given that it has come from the pen of one of the great storytellers of our age? Well, unfortunately it simply isn’t very good. Opening in a disused, rundown amusement ‘planet’, the Doctor and his companions step out onto a mock-up of the moon’s surface similar to the one that NASA used when they faked the Armstrong landing back in 1969. Clara’s brought her employer’s children along, essentially to fulfil their blackmail request, and curiously no one sees fit to mention the extraordinary coincidence of them only discovering the photos of her since she’s been travelling with the Doctor, when (according to the predestination laws of the Whoniverse) they’ve presumably been in the textbooks for years. Luckily there are also no Silence, so I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies.

The Doctor is carrying a golden ticket – a setup I really should have seen coming, but in the first instance it gives Gaiman the excuse to introduce them to the park’s well-dressed owner, Webley, played by Jason Watkins, whom regular BBC viewers may recognise from Dirk Gently. He’s obviously carrying off the Willy Wonka look, right down to the cane.

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Webley has a lone Cyberman holed up in his lair, controlled by Warwick Davis in this week’s bit of stunt casting. Davis is fun enough to watch, but his role is basically to fawn over Clara and wax lyrical about the nature of morality in sloppy, obvious hints that he’s hiding something. The unresolved would-be love story is a dig at social conventions, but it feels cheap. This is probably because there is comparatively little of Porridge (as we must unfortunately call him), because he has to share the screen with both the aforementioned misfit soldiers and Clara’s charges, neither of whom would look out of place in the Tracy Beaker dumping ground, and both of whom have the acting skills to match.

What’s worse, the only reason Angie and Artie are there is so they can get captured, which gives the Doctor something to do before the implosion of the planet. That’s it. This is foreshadowed in a stunning lack of judgement by the Doctor himself – who, at the end of a smashing day out, elects not to return the children to their planet of origin and instead decides to stick around and investigate the strange insects (must we refer to them as Cybermites?) that are scurrying around the complex. Having decided that he wants to stay, the Doctor then leaves Angie and Artie in an unguarded room and tells them specifically (and rather heavy-handedly) ‘not to wander off’. Yes, Gaiman is poking fun. But it’s the sort of staggering sloppiness I’d have expected from Mark Gatiss or Helen Raynor. Why not lock them in the TARDIS, which is the safest place for them to be? Just leave them by the swimming pool and tell them not to touch anything. It would have been more sensible, if not necessarily foolproof. Gaiman then attempts to redeem the insufferable Angie by having her solve an important mystery in the closing scenes of the episode, but it’s far too little, far too late. It isn’t helped by Smith mugging into the camera in one of those look-this-is-a-monitor shots, resolving to rescue the children he never should have taken his eyes off in the first place.

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It is at this point that things get interesting, when the Doctor is himself affected by the parasitic insects and partially transformed into the Cyberplanner, a throwback to the 1960s, with the remainder of the episode taken up by his struggle to maintain control. The battle for the Doctor’s brain takes place in three places: an empty sound stage that allows Mr Smith room to jump about a bit; in front of a reasonable CG-mock-up that echoes the insides of the Doctor’s head; and – for much of the second half of the episode – over a chess board.

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Truth be told, it is Smith’s performance once the partial transformation takes place that redeems the episode. Able to let loose as never before, he turns the Cyberplanner into everything Toby Stephens’ Dream Lord was, and more – by turns sneering, malicious and sarcastic, with the scene in which he attempts to dupe Clara (thoroughly unsuccessfully) a particular stand-out moment. If we remember Smith for nothing more than ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and this, it cements him as a tremendous actor, who shows us a side to the Doctor that we seldom see, making it all the more powerful when we do. It doesn’t completely work, of course – the Doctor’s attempts to control his arm are a clumsy parodic echo of Body Parts, and there was something about those multiple camera angles that seemed…oh, I don’t know…familiar.

Smeagol-Gollum

[Coughs]

While all this is going on, Clara has undergone an awkward metamorphosis into a military leader, whose task is to fortify the defences against a rampaging horde of CG Cybermen. Faced to draw on reserves she never knew she had, Clara has plenty of good ideas, but there’s no hesitancy, no second thought to anything she does, and that – after such a relatively short period in the TARDIS – makes her transformation all the more unconvincing. She holds it together for the sake of the soldiers she is commanding, and stands her ground when challenged, but we never once see the mask slip, making it a superficial performance. That’s bad enough, but the team she’s commanding is made up largely of expendable female soldiers who don’t need to be named, and two characters of relative importance who never get beyond being The Fat One and The Geeky One.

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(I’ll leave you to work out which is which.)

Still, it does at least solve the mystery of whatever happened to Charlie Pringle from Postman Pat.

The finale, too, is a bitter disappointment. The Doctor wins the chess game by cheating, and Porridge reveals his true colours and destroys the planet, successfully vanquishing the horde of Cybermen with far too many seconds to spare. The children return home, alive and seemingly unaffected by the ordeal of having been hypnotised by a demonic artificial intelligence and out-acted by a mute extra in a metal suit. There is no point, no lesson learned, no moral quandry. I’m not asking for a public service announcement in the manner of Masters of the Universe, but for a villain as complex and potentially interesting as the Cybermen, such superficiality can’t help but leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

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It could all have ended in tears. Ultimately, however, the story escapes by the skin of its teeth, thanks to the battle lines that are drawn after the Doctor’s infection and Stephen Woolfenden’s tight, focused direction in the second half. The sequences with Clara were tedious, but the Doctor’s schizophrenic arguments with himself constituted the most entertaining scenes I’ve witnessed in the show since ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’. The Cybermen themselves are played largely for laughs, and not always in a good way, but there is an undercurrent of menace that we haven’t seen for a while – and if Gaiman only managed to make them threatening again by cheating, then perhaps we should not hold it against him, if he can write the Doctor so effectively. ‘Nightmare in Silver’ is a poorly-structured, ill-conceived episode with little to recommend it except Smith, and the things he does with the words he’s been given. But that, in itself, might almost be enough. Almost.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Doctor’s Name – Revealed

I’m holed up in Shropshire and unable to watch ‘Nightmare in Silver’ until – ooh, Monday, but never mind that for now. I have something far more interesting.

Forget Merlin.

Forget The Other.

Forget Chrístõdavõreendiamondhærtmallõupdracœfiredelúnmiancuimhne de Lœngbærrow.

Here’s the real answer to the First (and thoroughly tedious) Question.

The chief writer is insistent – absolutely insistent – that no one has the answer about Clara yet. This strikes me as the sort of arrogance that is typical of Moffat. What he should have said, perhaps, was that no theory he had read had the right answer (and that may in fact have been what he said, but I’m in a Moffat-bashing mood). The internet is a vast and mysterious place and a large amount of what’s actually out there doesn’t filter into Google – so I’d suggest that if you look hard enough, and search for long enough, the odds are you’re going to find someone who has got a decent approximation of what’ll happen in a week or so.

Put another way, if you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters the collected works of Shakespeare is going to be a long time in coming, but odds are they will, at least, be able to produce a nursery rhyme or two after some effort. That’s unless, of course, Moffat’s theory is so left-field and downright insane that no one out there thinks him stupid enough to do what he’s about to do. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time.

I’ve given up with the Mystery of Clara thing, and instead Gareth and I are ploughing all our efforts into deciphering the Doctor’s real name, because God knows YOU’RE NOT GOING TO FIND OUT NEXT WEEK. All right? I’m sorry to have to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s just not going to happen. Oh, it’ll be a vital-and-tedious plot point, for certain. That doesn’t mean you’re going to find out. Moffat may have spent the last year or two shedding any respect I may have had for him by the barrel-load, but he’s not stupid. This is just a very long game.

But. But. But! Gareth figured it out. Because it’s there, in plain English. Literally. I shall explain.

Those of you who’ve watched the excrement that was ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ will recall the scene in which Clara wanders into the TARDIS library and discovers a great big book on a lectern in the middle of the room, and just happens to open the book at more or less the exact space where the Doctor’s name is mentioned in one corner. And she can read it. Which suggests that the book is in English, or that the TARDIS is translating Gallifreyan, or that she can read Gallifreyan, and NONE OF THIS IS IMPORTANT, ALL RIGHT? Stop with the memes and conspiracy theories. It’s perfectly feasible that the Time Lords got bored with speaking high Gallifreyan for millions of years and switched to a different language, just for the fun of it. God knows they’ve had nothing else to do since ‘The Invasion of Time’.

S7_7_0.16.35.13

Anyway. Here’s what Gareth has to say.

“I haven’t seen the episode – with this big book in the library, do we see anything in it at all? Because I just imagined it like the front page of Clara’s book, with the ages listed and “this book belongs to”.

Maybe that massive tome just says

This book belongs to [name of Doctor], aged

8
9
10
11

449
450
451

703
704

953
954

900 (again)

1500

900 (again!)

which is why the book was so big. This might then suggest that the Doctor’s true name is ‘The Time War’ (assuming that it was ‘The Book of the Time War’). [Editor’s note: it was.]

That would certainly be a plausible name for him, and maybe we got our word for ‘war’ from him. (Like Moffat’s previous suggestion that his name is ‘Doctor’ and we got that word from him, and how it means other things on other worlds.)”

Me again. You see? IT ALL FITS. The Doctor is the oncoming storm. He’s the mushroom cloud. John Rambo said “To survive war, you have to become war”, and for the Doctor this is LITERALLY TRUE. And this isn’t a recent concoction. This stretches right back to ‘The Time Warrior’, which was supposedly meant to describe the Sontaran, but was in fact about Jon Pertwee. Specifically, we hear the story from the point of view of one Sarah Jane Smith, who met the Third Doctor for the first time in this story and who was thus introduced to a Time Warrior – no, no, the Time Warrior – who was actually the Doctor himself.

Told you this was coming back later. Didn't we?

Told you this was coming back later. Didn’t we?

Prove us wrong. Go on. We dare you.

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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