Monthly Archives: September 2013

Top left, meet bottom right

Stella Creasy, as she appears in today’s Guardian. I assume this was an accident.

Creasy

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Even Ray Cusick had to start somewhere

He wanted to be a Dalek.

Human_Dalek

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Notes from the sofa

Second child and I are blazing our way through series three. Josh and I have already done it, of course, but it’s a different experience watching with Thomas. When he’s engaged, he won’t take his eyes from the screen. When he’s bored, I keep having to pull him back. It’s not his fault. It’s difficult for him to concentrate for long periods, and that goes with the territory. Too much dialogue and he loses interest. We have had to abandon several episodes because they simply didn’t work for him (which was a shame; I always did enjoy ‘The Impossible Planet’).

But he’s also surprised me. ‘The Girl in The Fireplace’, with all its ontological trickery and quiet, understated romance, had him glued to the screen. Conversely he didn’t want to know about ‘Gridlock’, which features flying cars, humanoid cats and an enormous crab. The other week we were watching ’42’, and he became visibly agitated during the finale, in which the Doctor is infected with a parasite that renders him makes him overact, Francine Jones deals with her daughter’s Electra complex, and Martha herself doesn’t quite fall into the sun (while a random actress from Eastenders does). Thomas sat there as the clock ticked down, his face hidden behind his hands, crying out “I can’t watch!”. (Neither can I, kid, but for entirely different reasons.)

Over the weekend, we went through the ‘Human Nature’ / ‘Family of Blood’ two-parter. It’s still one of my favourite post-2005 stories, if only because Tennant gets to act out of character and I don’t want to whack him over the head (because the last time we saw him really doing it was in ‘New Earth’ where he pretends to be Zoe Wanamaker, and that’s just an embarrassment). His chemistry with Jessica Hynes is lovely, the Edwardian locale is elegantly realised, and Harry Lloyd (Baines) is a revelation. Oh, and it has Thomas Sangster, who is wonderful, even if the war scenes don’t convince.

So it’s tremendous, but Thomas was struggling. The whole concept of John Smith being a person in his own right was confusing him. He enjoyed the scarecrows, but in the scenes where Smith debates the ethics of surrendering his life so that his counterpart may be restored, Thomas declared “The Doctor’s going to die!”.

“No, no, he isn’t,” I reassured him. “John Smith is going to die.”
“But he’s the Doctor.”
“He’s sort of like the Doctor. But he’s a person in his own right.”
“Is he the Doctor or not?”
“…Not. Not really.”
“But the Doctor’s going to die!”
“Right,” I said. “Come with me.”

I led him into the kitchen, and filled two plastic cups.

Cups

“This one,” I said, pointing to exhibit A, “is the Doctor. And the cup is the watch he’s hiding inside. OK?”
“OK.”
“Meanwhile, this one is John Smith, inside the Doctor. So this cup is the Doctor’s body. Now, can I pour the Doctor back into this cup?”
“No.”
“Precisely. It’s already full. If the Doctor is going to go back from the watch inside his body, the only way to do it – ” and I demonstrated, feeling inexplicably doleful about the whole thing – “is to pour John Smith down the drain.”

That seemed to satisfy him, and he was breathtakingly silent during Baines’s chilling voiceover explaining how the Doctor granted the Family their own twisted versions of immortality. I recalled a conversation we had a few months previously, where I’d taken him out of my nephew’s dedication service and we’d wandered around the churchyard for a while, looking at the graves and explaining about where things go. Children with autism often struggle with abstractions – that’s why we use visual timetables and why, when I’m offering him a sandwich, I’ll get jars out of the cupboard so he can see what he’s looking at – and I suppose the concept of a soul was going to be even trickier to grasp for someone whose comfort zone is the tangible. My fear is that he’ll now go to funerals believing that when people die all their inner orange squash leaks out, but I guess I can live with a different sort of theology.

This evening’s episode is ‘Blink’. At least that one isn’t complicated, right?

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The Grail of Holiness

As is customary with my video postings, I suggest you watch this first. Then we’ll talk. Go on, I can wait. Or you can just watch it and ignore the commentary below; I’m good with that.

Emily and I are halfway through the Key to Time series. Thus far we’ve seen Ian Cuthbertson set up a con for a despotic military tyrant, and we’ve watched Bruce Purchase bellow at the Doctor. Last weekend we got to ‘The Stones of Blood’, in which the Doctor visits the Rollright Stones and bumps into an elderly (but feisty) archaeologist and fends off an ancient demonic entity, while Mary Tamm falls off a cliff.

If you’ve not seen ‘Stones…’ I don’t want to give too much away, but there is a scene later on set on board a spacecraft in which the Doctor and Romana bump into Tinkerbell and one of the other fairies. Said fairies – actually justice machines acting as a kind of disembodied judge, jury and executioner – are there to provide a comic relief of sorts, although there is a sinister undercurrent to their banter. They play a crucial role in the story, but it is in the first encounter with the Doctor and Romana that the seeds of this video were sown. Because as we watched the two Time Lords sneaking away up the corridor, leaving the two Justice Machines talking to thin air until they realise what’s happened, I instantly recalled the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the three-headed knight turns to devour a now absent Sir Robin, only to declare “He’s buggered off!”. (I found out later that Gareth had exactly the same thought.)

It’s one of my favourite lines in the film, along with Tim the Enchanter and the oft-quoted “You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you”. But Saturday night saw my head in a flurry, joining dots and making connections. Sleep was slow to come and broken. Because this needed to be done, but why stop there? There are other Doctor Who / Monty Python mashups, of course. Someone has rather cleverly stuck a ring mod on John Cleese’s French Knight and then pasted the .wav files into ‘Dalek’. It works rather well. But something told me that Classic Who would work best here, so that’s where we started.

The first problem you have is the sheer wealth of material. There are certain characters and scenes that cry out to be included, and as much as the Knights Who Say Ni irritate me (when you have a friend who does the entire scene over and over, on busses and at parties and in the pub, it tends to lose its appeal) they had to go in. So, too, did the flying rabbit. But when it comes to matching this up with Doctor Who there’s an abundance of exterior shots on bleak moors and masked characters who can be easily redubbed. So I stuck with what I knew best, which was Baker.

The rabbit scene that opens was about the first thing I did. Both this and the Camelot ‘model’ near the end were almost afterthoughts designed to vary the routine a bit – three minutes of redubbed characters can get a bit tedious, even if they’re all from Monty Python. Frustrations kicked in when I was doing the guards outside Swamp Castle – considering how much running there is in Doctor Who, it was almost impossible to find one of Tom Baker running towards the camera in an exterior setting, with the exception of the shot in ‘Terror of the Zygons’, which wasn’t really long enough and which in any case I’d already used. So you have a bit from ‘The Deadly Assassin’ instead, and I suppose it works well enough.

The scene in the dungeon with the sinister monks is from ‘The Masque of Mandragora’, and actually consists of two separate episodes – Hieronymous never addresses Sarah Jane in this manner, but the ‘sacrifice’ exchange was just too good to leave out. Similarly, I’ve wanted to do something with Magnus Greel ever since I first saw ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’ a few years back, and both this and the ‘Stones of Blood’ interrogation were drawn up in a similar manner. Less is more here, which is why they’re all quite short. The whole thing could easily have been double its current length, but I’m trying to reign it in, because it’s easier to hold people’s attention when you’re not waffling (a lesson I really should learn when I’m writing).

And the song at the end? I needed something to finish, but really didn’t want to include the whole thing, so you get a heavily edited version. It draws on the really quite brilliant Star Trek version as its inspiration, although I wasn’t nearly so clever (on purpose; jump cuts would have thrown off the pace).

There is a better version of this waiting to be made – one that includes more Classic Doctors, more appropriate footage and some expanded dialogue. One day I may even do it myself. But this came together in a day, allowing for appropriate screen breaks and childcare duties, and that works in its favour. Ni!

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“Look out! Muppets!”

Off the back of Saturday’s poster mashup, here’s something Gareth found which has tickled my ribcage. Source unknown, but someone who’s clearly very talented with a pencil.

Muppet_Doc

Needless to say this went onto Facebook immediately, where a friend wanted to know what would happen if they ever cast a female Doctor, and “Which Muppet would she be…?”

It’s tempting, of course, but in truth Miss Piggy is rather a lot like the Third Doctor. She has a great sense of style, she’s trapped in a dead-end job, surrounded by general mayhem and constantly dreaming of escape, and her closest friend is a mild-mannered, long-suffering figure in green. And she knows karate.

And Gareth? “I still say it’s a shame that they couldn’t think of one for the Eleventh Doctor,” he said, “and so just used Matt Smith himself…”

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The Doctors Take Manhattan

Sorry.

If you’re horribly confused by that, this should explain things.

(Don’t forget – the rest of these little Photoshop jobs, if you really want to see them, are here.)

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Day of the Doctor(s)

A dual offering for today. The first one is Gareth’s. The second is mine.

Gareth’s is nicely subtle. Mine would probably work better if Peter Capaldi didn’t look like Liberace.

Don’t forget you can see all the submissions thus far at any time, by clicking the ‘Day of the Doctor’ category on the right.

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Dawn of the Doctor

Cheers Gareth.

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Night of the Living Doctor

OK, so they’re calling it ‘Day of the Doctor’, which works. And the official poster is a caption writer’s dream waiting to happen.

So here’s the first in a new series. I’ll add more as I think of them but I suspect that most people out there are funnier than I am and I’m happy to take suggestions, either below or by email, for future editions.

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An Adventure in Space, Time and Cliche

If you watch The Big Bang Theory, you may be familiar with a third season episode entitled ‘The Staircase Implementation’. Told principally in flashback, it has Leonard recount to Penny the time he moved into the apartment, his first encounters with Sheldon, and the tentative formation of the dysfunctional friendship group as it existed before the cute girl moved in across the hall – and, at long last, we find out why the elevator doesn’t work.

The episode’s humour exists on two main levels. On the one hand, we get to see how Sheldon has changed under the influence of his peer group. It’s a classic exploitation of the sitcom cliché whereby an unpleasant / inept character is temporarily replaced by someone who is so gut-wrenchingly awful, the other characters realise that the misery they’d previously experienced actually wasn’t so bad after all. (I’m sure this technique has a name, but I can’t find it on TV Tropes.) It’s been used in Father Ted, Black Books and Red Dwarf, with varying degrees of success, and here it’s an excuse for Jim Parsons to turn the crankiness up to eleven.

THE BIG BANG THEORY

The other thing the episode does – rather less effectively – is rely on a series of dramatic irony-laden gags, most frequently at Sheldon’s expense, about cultural references. In the same way that The Wedding Singer had the sweet little florist announce that the couple-in-denial that she’d mistaken for an actual couple were destined to be as happy as “Donald and Ivana…and Woody and Mia…and Burt and Lori”, so here does Sheldon proclaim his love of Firefly, assuring Leonard that “It’s going to be on for years,” before later declaring that “You’ll be sorry you wasted your money on an iPod when Microsoft comes out with theirs”. I’m sure the writers came up with a whole string of stuff like this, plumbed from the archives of ‘stupid things people said that are actually only stupid in hindsight’. It’s designed to make Sheldon look foolish, as if to take him down a peg or two from the general omniscience that is his usual personality in an episode where he’s being even more irritating than usual.

I normally love The Big Bang Theory, but writing like this is lazy and sloppy. It relies on the ability to sneer at the past, and laugh at decisions that were made years ago in earnest and with the best intentions. Dick Rowe refuses to sign the Beatles? Of course he did: they were rubbish back then. Closer to home, I was convinced that MP3 was a fad and that minidiscs would be the future, because the Internet – while it was taking off – was nowhere near what it was today, and even if you had ADSL the sound quality of some of those early MP3s was rather like dragging a Walkman through a bathtub, inserting a chewed C90 and then playing it back through the cheapest headphones the local discount store has to offer. (I may be exaggerating a little, but not much.)

Anyway. My point (and I do have one) is that if you’re going to write a show about the past, you don’t need to pepper it with stuff like this. Life on Mars did it only sparingly, despite ample opportunity, and it is all the richer for it. It is very easy to drop in jokes about how stupid we all were back in the day, but we do so at our peril, because in a couple of decades’ time our children will be doing exactly the same. Gareth describes the cliché of sneering at the past as “the sort of ‘knowing wink at the audience’ lines that work because we have fifty years of knowledge that the characters don’t. [They] make me wince, but bizarrely make certain people whoop with delight. (Like New Who randomly referring to a planet/race/event in Old Who – to me it just goes clunk painfully.)”

An-Adventure-in-Space-and-Time-hartnell-tardis-int-zoom

And what does all this have to do with Doctor Who? Well, those of you who know your TV will be aware that later in the autumn we’re going to see a brand new drama about the show’s creation, with an impressive cast (Brian Cox, Jessica Raine and David Bradley as William Hartnell) and cameos by Carole Ann Ford and William Russell which have annoyed Gareth, as “now I’ll probably feel I have to watch it”. An Adventure In Space And Time will chart the story of Doctor Who from its inception through to…well, I have no idea when they’re planning on finishing the narrative, but the casting of Reece Shearsmith as Patrick Troughton would suggest that they will go at least as far as 1966. In fact, that’d be a good place to stop, because Hartnell’s deterioration will be the dramatic focus for the latter third of the show, with the programme’s future in doubt until Lambert decides to recast the Doctor. The stage is set for a thrilling whistlestop tour of the early 1960s, and a candid insight into the mechanics and politics of the BBC as it was back then.

Except it’s written by Mark Gatiss.

You remember Mark Gatiss. He’s the man who managed to defy the laws of physics and engineering by producing experimental Spitfires from nothing but a theoretical blueprint before getting them to the dark side of the moon in under twenty minutes. The one who had a Victorian crowd singing ‘Jerusalem’ years before it was written. The one who built an entire episode around a character fainting every time he saw something unusual. It’s not that Gatiss is necessarily a bad writer, he’s just lazy, apparently figuring that if he doesn’t care about a repeated gag or logical inconsistency, neither should the rest of us. This is Doctor Who, of course, and not Godel, Escher, Bach, but even children’s TV has its limits.

Gatiss is capable of surprising us all. For all his inadequacies he did produce the best two episodes of this year’s run, and I will admit to enjoying ‘The Idiot’s Lantern’, despite its writer’s conviction that blustery shouting matches in a London terrace actually have any place outside Eastenders. But he’s not the man to be given a job like this. For one thing it will involve some restraint, which is something that does not seem to come easily. For another, I do not trust him to tell the story accurately. I’m not opposed to a bit of dramatic license, but I can see huge liberties being taken in the name of cheap entertainment, and much ruffling of feathers.

Of course, it may be Gatiss’ way of atoning for the last time he wrote anything about the making of Doctor Who, some fourteen years ago when he contributed three sketches for a BBC theme night. Gatiss is capable of good comedy writing, but this isn’t it. The last sketch, in particular, is excruciating in its structure and execution, consisting of a potted history of the show and a series of ‘jokes’ about Doctor Who’s idioms, climaxing in some rather mean-spirited remarks directed towards Davison, Baker (II) and McCoy. (Legend has it that McCoy, ostensibly described in the sketch as “any old fucker with an Equity card”, was approached by Gatiss in an art gallery, but when Gatiss said hello, McCoy’s response was to shout “Bollocks!” before storming off.)

Gatiss

It would be nice to hope that Gatiss has learned his lesson, and certainly he’s expressed remorse, but I still have my doubts. I’m convinced that despite best intentions, An Adventure In Space And Time is going to consist largely of the sort of knowing winks that I was criticising a few paragraphs back. You know, the sort of thing that we laugh about now, or the idiosyncrasies that have become part of the show but which were once very big production decisions. Given his past form, odds are that Gatiss is going to skim over the substance and go for the irony-laden punch line. I know that I’m often wrong about these things (to the extent that I even blogged about it) but I suspect the temptation to avoid stuff like this is just too great. So here, gentle reader, is a list of the sort of thing you can probably expect to hear in November, or whenever the programme is aired.

“These Daleks will never catch on. What’s scary about a dustbin carrying a sink plunger?”

“Oh, wipe them. It’s not as if anyone’s going to want to watch it again in fifty years.”

“Change the lead actor? It’s suicide. The show will never survive this. It would be like trying to re-cast James Bond.”

“Fine, you bring in the bug-eyed monsters if you want. But mark my words: in years to come, people will look back and decide that Doctor Who was a fine educational programme that lost its way once they started dabbling in science fiction.”

“Yes, but it’s a children’s show. It’s hard to imagine kids wanting to watch it once they’ve grown up.”

“There’s no tune. It’s just a bunch of tape glued together. Sure, it suits the mood, but it’s not as if they’ll ever play it at the Proms.”

“You want the hemline shorter? Listen, I don’t think we’re in the business of casting young ladies specifically so the men in the audience can ogle them, are we?”

“I know it was called ‘Fury From The Deep’, and I know it was an accident, but you didn’t need to actually drop it in the river.”

Have any more? Let me know below!

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