Monthly Archives: November 2013

‘It’s only a model’

I knew that Character Building set would come in useful.

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As Gareth pointed out, “Some of these look more realistic, too.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say it,” I replied. “Largely because I knew you would.”

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Review: ‘Day of the Doctor’

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Warning: contains a plethora of spoilers.

Picture the scene. It’s October 2012. In an old, oak-panelled tavern in the heart of London, two prominent BBC people are having lunch. One is Nicholas Briggs, best known on television as the voice of the Daleks / Cybermen / any other monster that needs doing. To call him the Frank Welker of Doctor Who is overstating the case, because Welker’s got a variety of voices, whereas Briggs only has the one. But Briggs also writes, and right now he’s working on the anniversary special for Big Finish, called ‘The Light At The End‘.

The other chap is Steven Moffat. And today he’s sharing stories with Briggs.

“So how does it end?”
“Well,” says Briggs, “It’s the TARDIS. Basically the Master is about to erase the Doctor from existence completely. But with a bit of – well, you’d call it wibbly-wobbliness, the Sixth Doctor is able to get all seven of his other selves – that’s all eight – to work in sync to ram the Master’s TARDIS, which saves the day. There’s a bit of technical wizardry involved, but essentially every Doctor turns up at once.”
Moffat looks crestfallen. “You’re kidding.”
“What’s the matter?”
“That’s what I’m planning.”
“Shit.”

There’s a brief, considered pause. Glasses clink in another corner of the pub. The barman wipes surfaces and pretends not to eavesdrop.

Then Moffat says “Well, we could do it anyway.”

‘Day of the Doctor’ is a weirdly schizophrenic beast. It’s an episode that’s steeped in nostalgia, whilst simultaneously pretending it’s not. It’s also a game-changer, not in the sense of redefining who the Doctor is, but what he’s done. Just as Davies pulled the rug out from under the collective feet of John Nathan Turner and every one of his predecessors, so Moffat’s done the same with Davies. How? Well, basically he changes the end of the Time War.

There is a thing in fandom where you airbrush bits and pieces from continuity if you don’t like them. So, for example, the Eighth Doctor’s ‘half human’ remark is frequently ignored by many people, who don’t like its implications and therefore attribute it to rule one. Some fans take it further still, and disregard the 1996 film entirely because of what it did to the Master. With ‘The Day of the Doctor’, Moffat’s working with extremes. The Doctor has been a genocidal warmonger since the day Eccleston took the hand of Piper and told her to run. The implication is that the Doctor has done dreadful things, and today they all got undone.

Except they didn’t. Because history probably isn’t changed – it’s just completed, and this was the day we found out. It’s not that Gallifrey was once destroyed and now isn’t; it was never destroyed in the first place. But crucially, come the end of the episode, the Doctor doesn’t know. There is a telling line halfway through when the War Doctor – John Hurt in sparkling, likeable form – talks to Clara. “How many worlds”, he says to her, “has his regret saved?”. And despite the rewriting of history (or, at least, history as we knew it), there’s a bitter irony in Hurt’s realisation that he’s going to forget everything that’s happened, because of contrasting time streams. Tennant’s Doctor, too, is forced to retreat once more into the dark shell he inhabited for much of the latter half of his run. Only Smith’s Doctor is able to escape with his memories seemingly intact, even if he then starts experiencing hallucinations in the middle of the National Gallery, ending the episode convinced he’s seen Tom Baker.

One of the nice things about ‘Day of the Doctor’ is that it doesn’t overstretch itself. Oh, the set pieces are intact, although the episode mirrors The Empire Strikes Back by putting the most impressive stuff in the opening act. Smith dangling from the edge of the TARDIS wasn’t exactly an easy secret to keep, so Moffat places it more or less at the beginning and makes it completely incidental to the plot. Also incidental – but warmly nostalgic – is the fact that Clara is now teaching at Coal Hill School. She’s clearly recovered from her thousand life ordeal, and is happy to pop off in the TARDIS at a moment’s notice.

Unshackled from her previous role as a McGuffin, Clara’s fun to watch, but she has to share the limelight. Jemma Redgrave returns as Kate Stewart, who’s apparently been living with Anne Robinson and raiding her wardrobe. Kate spends a good chunk of the episode arguing with herself from opposites side of a table, before three British character actors stick their hands in the air and all the lights go out. It’s like watching one of Beckett’s television plays.

Less nattily turned out than Redgrave is Billie Piper, who returns as a sentient consciousness that possesses three times as much personality as Rose and at least twice as much charm. If that seems harsh, bear in mind that I still have to undergo local anaesthetic before I can sit through ‘Tooth and Claw’. It’s the first time Piper’s been watchable in Who since 2005, and if she spends most of the episode impersonating Suranne Jones, her scenes are all the better for it. Even the Quantum Leap undertones (an invisible guide that only the War Doctor can see and hear) are somehow unimportant when she’s so downright sparkly, and it’s a telling reminder that our Billie can act when she’s got the right material.

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Tennant’s Doctor doesn’t have to interact with Rose, which makes his presence far more enjoyable. Instead, he’s romancing Joanna Page, playing a Queen Elizabeth who would seem more at home in The History of Tom Jones, one suspects, than at court. There are picnics and countryside frolics, and then the Doctor meets a Zygon horse. And then there’s a fez, thrown repeatedly through a big swirly thing.

The problem with the Zygon story is that it begins as the main storyline but then gets relegated to the sidelines when we realise that this is actually about the Time War, and having apparently run out of steam, Moffat doesn’t know how to resolve things. So he ends with a bunch of characters in a vault brokering a peace deal that we presume was successful, because that’s the last we hear about it. They have a role in the morality play, for certain, and their use of technology is something of a Chekhov’s gun, but overall you get the feeling that Moffat wanted the unavoidably phallic Zygons purely because he wanted the Zygons, and not because he had anything he really wanted to do with them. One of the great, criminally underused monsters of Classic Who is thus relegated to a forgettable storyline that’s been seen by millions of people who probably won’t understand what all the fuss was about.

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But if the Zygons are a disappointment, the interplay between the three Doctors makes up for it. Things start badly, with unnecessary gags about sonic screwdriver length (“Compensating for something?” mutters Tennant at seeing his successor’s longer model). But then they’re joined by an earlier incarnation and the story shifts up a gear. The three exploit their strengths to the full, making the most of every environment they occupy and turning in very different, but still very physical performances. As a result their scenes together are easily the best in the story, even if some of the dialogue is obvious and rather poorly performed (when the Tenth Doctor remarks that he doesn’t like the new TARDIS interior, one suspects that the look of indignation from Smith stems from a knowledge that he managed it better in ‘Closing Time’.)

Still, it works. Hurt’s performance helps tremendously. There was a concern that the War Doctor would be a grumpy, battle scarred veteran or a dark and sinister, almost unrecognisable figure. Instead Hurt plays him like a prospective father-in-law on a stag weekend, with a touch of Midsomer Murders. You could almost visualise him poaching rabbits from a nearby forest before seeing something he shouldn’t and winding up face down in a patch of mud, skewered by one of his own bear traps. His story has a beginning, a middle and an end – an end we finally get to see, even if the regeneration borrows directly from the very first, and is cut slightly short.

It is by this point in the story – and the subsequent scene with Baker – that you should have realised Moffat’s not taking himself too seriously. And it’s when he’s doing that that he’s at his best. Hence there is some dreadful but ultimately forgivable shoehorning. Classic lines are dumped in with as much abandon as they were in An Adventure in Time and Space, but here they work precisely because ‘Day of the Doctor’ is ultimately all about demolishing that fourth wall. As a result, the silliness all feels like part of the fun – the sort of sketches you might have at a Christmas party, and this is after all a fifty-year anniversary. I was even able to smile when Tennant discusses Trenzelore with Smith as if it’s a prospective holiday location. “We need a new destination,” he remarks as he enters his TARDIS at the end of the episode. “‘Cause I don’t wanna go”. Whereupon Smith turns to Coleman and quips “He always says that.”

It’s a story with all eleven Doctors, however briefly they may appear (and however unconvincing those cardboard cutouts / wax models they used at the end – I don’t think it was coincidental that the National Gallery is only a couple of miles from Madame Tussauds). We cried for a glimpse of Eccleston, and we got him, and somehow it didn’t matter that it was old footage with dialogue borrowed from ‘The Parting of the Ways’. Even Capaldi put in a brief appearance, albeit in an extreme close-up (the kind that would have made Wayne Campbell proud) in a scene that was most likely borrowed from The Thick of It. And the inevitable arguments that are going to follow about whether Hurt counts as Eight or Nine are entirely missing the point – although if we must, let’s call him 8a and leave it at that.

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So, too, must we ignore any sense of significance at Baker’s appearance. The scarf foreshadowed it, for certain, but his cryptic remarks about who he really was can be put down to Moffat having a joke. If the rediscovery of Gallifrey shifts the narrative focus and gives Capaldi something to do for the next couple of years, then so be it – but whatever Moffat’s posturing about “the terrible old man” and “the children he becomes”, you get the feeling that he was looking at ‘The Five Doctors’ – which Gareth describes as “more of a romp” – for inspiration. And for all the lingering over the big red button there was a sense of joy about this episode, both in its unlikely happy ending and in the final shot where the Doctor joins his previous incarnations looking up at the night sky. And what we were left with, when the extended credits had rolled, was a story about the Doctor as he was, and is, and should be, and sort of never won’t be…sort of thing. A story of importance, and one that satisfies on a narrative level, but one that was delivered with a consistent knowing wink to the audience, and a reminder that this is, after all, a television programme, and should be enjoyed as such. From Steven Moffat. Who knew?

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Review: An Adventure in Space and Time

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Warning: contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ and don’t want to know the score, look away now!

For my father, there has only ever been one Doctor. It’s a conversation we’ve had often, along with interpretations of gospel writings, the ethics of civil service management and the relative merits of The Goon Show. (Do not – I repeat, do not ask me to start doing the characters. We’ll be here all day.) “The best Doctor, bar none,” he insists, in the face of my rebuffs about Baker and Smith, “was William Hartnell”.

I’d imagine that An Adventure in Space and Time was probably tailor-made for someone like Dad. Certainly it wasn’t the no-holds-barred, warts-and-all tour-de-force it could have been. (I tried for a record number of hyphens in that last sentence; can you tell?) This was family viewing in the same way that Doctor Who is family viewing. None of the principals got killed (or had their memories wiped, or got trapped in a parallel universe), there was no sex to speak of and the underdogs who fought against an oppressive regime for what they knew was right were ultimately rewarded. Oh, and there was a bit of time travel.

In a recent interview with Doctor Who Magazine, the looking-astonishingly-good-for-his-age Waris Hussein says (and I’m paraphrasing) that he didn’t believe Mark Gatiss could tell the whole story – “he had to tone it down a bit”. Certainly the hour and a half I sat through last night came across as the Doctor Who Confidential version of events. There was sparring and there was an old boy’s network and casual institutional racism – epitomised in an early scene where a frantic Hussein complains about the heat in the upstairs booth, only for someone on the ground to remark “You’d think he’d be used to it”. Meanwhile, Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine, in good form) is forced to defend her controversial producer’s appointment against a sneering establishment who’d prefer to see her typing letters, rather than getting TARDIS interiors delivered on time. How could this female, it is clearly felt, rise to the occasion?

Rise to the occasion she does, although it’s not without a little buoyancy from floating aid Brian Cox, who inhabits Sydney Newman with just about enough pomposity to keep from turning the Canadian hotshot into a complete caricature. Well-dressed, bombastic and with a cigar permanently glued to his lips, Newman saves Lambert from a disgruntled Hartnell early in the narrative, only to privately rebuke her with the words “Be a producer”. Verity turns from lamb to lion and marches into a previously dismissive designer’s office, taking a seat opposite him and refusing to budge until he’s started work on the TARDIS set – which he then constructs, Blue Peter style, from a cotton reel and bits of card in thirty seconds flat, in its final form.

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Herein lies one of the problems faced by Adventure – it’s got four years of narrative to condense into ninety minutes, and as a result many things are glossed over. Delia Derbyshire’s wonderful tape loops, for example, get only the briefest of mentions, in the midst of a dramatic irony-laden monologue in which Verity and Waris assure a reluctant Hartnell that everything’s going to plan, while budgets go through the roof and scripts are thrown in the bin. Or as Gareth put it, “It made me twitch a little at times at how ‘neatly’ everything happened. ‘We need to do X’, followed immediately by exactly how X famously turned out’.”

Gareth has a similar hangup with ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, a story that we both agree is wonderful, with one notable disappointment: the Daleks that Davros designs are identical in all respects to the classic Raymond Cusick design that we know and love. Budgetary constraints probably made this unavoidable, of course, but it might have been nice to see a different, more rudimentary model. It’s the same here – with the notable exception of the botched pilot (which is transcribed to screen very well) there’s an inevitable lack of detail. Nation’s name is mentioned once – although in a clever piece of juxtaposition Newman’s verbal delivery of ‘The Survivors’ is played over the assassination of Kennedy, which occurred the day before ‘An Unearthly Child’ was broadcast – fifty years ago today, as it happens. Cusick doesn’t even get a look in. And all this is cannily dismissed in the space of one line, as delivered by Lambert to Hartnell over lunch – “So many people have been at the birth of the thing, we’d be here all day”.

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The paring down works, as it happens, because it allows the characters to live and breathe – and one thing that becomes apparent from the very beginning is that this is Hartnell’s story. Played to perfection by David Bradley, Hartnell is a grumpy bugger who is bored with typecasting and who shouts at his granddaughter. Sceptical and irascible to a fault, it is his transformation that forms the story’s principal arc. Despite a shaky first episode, Doctor Who turns out to be something of a fountain of youth for the man, as epitomised by a scene where a rejuvenated Hartnell leads a group of starry-eyed schoolchildren on an impromptu expedition through woodland, before doing a reasonable impersonation of a Dalek.

Such scenes are twee and in all likelihood apocryphal, but they grant Hartnell’s inevitable decline a keen emotional resonance that echoes long after the closing credits have rolled. There are many ways to chart an illness onscreen – Gatiss does it here with a series of Television Centre publicity shots showing an increasingly frail and confused Hartnell, and a dark and almost frightening studio breakdown where his mind seems to go totally blank. This follows an earlier scene where Hartnell’s wife implores Verity to scale back the BBC’s demands on him – emotional and overwrought dialogue that is somewhat undermined (purposely so, one expects) by the appearance of several costumed bees from ‘The Web Planet’. (It’s the sort of intervention that could have greatly improved the breakup scene in Spider-Man 3.) In either event, the outcome is clear: here is a character actor who finds that playing an old man gives him a key to connecting to and relating with the young. Russell T Davies really should take note.

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It doesn’t all work. The dialogue seldom ventures above second rate, and the expository summaries for the benefit of a young audience occasionally made me wince. Gatiss has clearly put himself on a tight leash but he still can’t resist dropping in the odd in-joke – Verity’s reassuring “Brave heart, darling” to a worried Hussein, Newman’s use of the word ‘regeneration’ years before it was used on the show proper, and the continual reference to the now famous Bug-Eyed Monsters. Even Bradley isn’t immune, weeping over his fireplace and copying David Tennant’s last words, as he confesses to his wife that “I don’t want to go”. Despite glossy production (the last programme to be filmed, as it turned out, at the now decommissioned Television Centre) and a decent score you do wonder what Aaron Sorkin would have been able to do with it.

But this is a show about nostalgia – about doing difficult things with limited resources – and while it’s all a little neat and self-congratulatory, it’s hard not to watch with a smile on your face. The final five minutes, in particular, are arresting in their depiction of Hartnell’s regeneration scene – once you’ve got over the image of Reece Shearsmith as the least convincing Patrick Troughton ever, they set up the cameras to roll, and Bradley / Hartnell looks up, and this is what he sees.

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I suspect this will have some fans applauding in their seats, and others up in arms. By this point the fourth wall is reduced to rubble, and certainly the presence of Matt Smith undermines the dramatic narrative. But it also doesn’t. It’s a chance for Hartnell to see the effects of his legacy – something the Doctor’s done before, and something you feel the actor deserves, however supernaturally ridiculous the premise. You may be gone, Gatiss seems to be saying, but the show has lasted this long because of the seeds you’ve sown and the sweat and the tears. There will never be another Doctor like Hartnell, simply because no actor will have the opportunity to make his mark on the character the way Hartnell did. As a tribute, there may be none finer – and on this matter, at least, I have a feeling my father would agree.

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A Town Called Mercy: The Silent Movie

Remakes are endemic to Hollywood. Like sequels, they enable you to revisit an established cash cow with minimal creative input: the characters and basic premise are there, and all (all!) you need to do is come up with a decent story. Sometimes, if you have an established name in the title, you can get away without even doing that, which may be why Batman and Robin, Attack of the Clones and Spider-Man 3 all sucked.

With remakes it’s a slightly different story: you take existing material and add your own spin. This is why of all the remakes I’ve seen, Gus Van Sant’s take on Psycho must count as the most pointless: a shot-for-shot rehash that apparently came with Hitchcock’s supernatural approval (they held a seance to ask for his blessing from beyond the grave; the portly director apparently granted it, and then gave technical advice). In interviews, Van Sant has explained that his rationale was to “bring the movie to a whole new generation”. Fine. So you colourise the original, if you must. You don’t do it over with a new cast who (William H. Macy aside) aren’t a patch on the likes of Perkins and Leigh. Why mess with borderline perfection?

I’m of the opinion that Hollywood should concentrate on remaking bad movies – or, more specifically, movies with unrealised potential. You know – the ones that sucked but had a spark about them, a glimmer of a good idea let down by poor acting or sloppy direction or atrocious dialogue. As an example, consider Playing For Keeps, which I saw some years ago in a Philadelphia hotel room – a 1980s flick about some wayward teens who decide to do up a dilapidated hotel in small town America, overcoming resistance from the hostile locals and a corrupt sheriff. It was truly appalling, but the worst thing about the whole experience was that it could have worked – a good idea, well and truly squandered.

All of which leads me to this. I seem to be producing videos at a rate of knots at the moment. They’re mostly small projects. I’ve learned that anything over a couple of minutes doesn’t always gets watched, at least not in its entirety. That doesn’t mean that the big magnum opuses, in the manner of Darth Gene or Wheatley the Navigator, have been retired. They remain among my best work. I’m just going through a short-but-sweet phase. You might call them mini-episodes.

This one came about because of a little dabbling with filters, and a current preoccupation with The Three Amigos. Silent Movie style Doctor Who is nothing new, of course, as a YouTube search will reveal. But ‘A Town Called Mercy’ lent itself perfectly, being the only time New Who has ventured properly into the American Old West (all right, Spain). When I think of silent movies, for some reasons the defining images that jump out at me are moustache-twirling villains with tremendous eyebrows, cowboys, and Buster Keaton.

“I’m surprised you did it,” said Gareth, “because presumably it involved watching the episode again”. It’s a fair point. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know all about my hostility towards ‘A Town Called Mercy’, which remained (for me) the worst episode of the New Who canon (at least until a few months later, when they broadcast ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’). Revisiting it the other week did, as Gareth suggests, filled me with some trepidation – but on the other hand, I had the sound off.

An early realisation was that if you’re going to try and improve ‘Mercy’ the best way is to indulge in a little deconstruction. So this doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a series of in-jokes and fourth wall demolitions. There are two Red Dwarf references – see if you can spot both – and a nod to an old Lucasarts graphic adventure that I’m not going to bother explaining – you’ll know it if you see it.

The Three Amigos footage works on two levels. It’s a cowboy silent movie that I didn’t have to touch – just paste in – and it enabled me to do a juxtaposed mashup for no real reason other than that I could. And everyone loves The Three Amigos, and it’s been a while since the antics of Short, Martin and Chase have graced our DVD player. But of course there’s also the recognition that ‘Mercy’ does, in itself, use the climax of The Three Amigos in its final act (although I’m willing to concede, if challenged, that The Three Amigos got the idea from somewhere else).

I knocked up the captions in Fireworks. I think they’re reasonably authentic, stylistically at least. The projector effect was found after a brief YouTube trawl, and music came from a variety of different sources, all of which I mention in the end credits. The star find was Keeper1st’s piano rendition of the Doctor Who theme, which seemed to fit the mood perfectly. I used MPEG Video Wizard for the editing, and then ran the old movie filter from Movavi, as it was better. So this one really has been through the mill a bit, but I think the end results are reasonably good.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. I’m off to spend some time with the boys. It’s Sunday afternoon, which means film day, and I get to pick. Guess what we’re watching?

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Stop the Press

OK, this is interesting.

No spoiling it for anyone else!

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God is in the detail (xi)

Goodness, it’s been a while.

Revisiting ‘The Name of the Doctor’ took things in an unexpected, food-related direction. It is said that oranges are not the only fruit, and we’ll reaffirm that sentiment tonight. Without further ado, then, here’s my list of SEEMINGLY INSIGNIFICANT THINGS in the seventh series finale that are going to be OF VITAL IMPORTANCE in ‘The Day of the Doctor’, or its seasonal successor, the swansong of Smith. (Aha! Alliteration…)

Early on, we’re greeted with a nice establishing shot of the sky over Glasgow.

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Simple, right? Wrong. Look at the placement of that chimney. It’s sandwiched neatly (all right, not terribly neatly) between the ‘L’ and the ‘A’ of Glasgow. We’re clearly supposed to look at that. LA, of course, is short for Los Angeles. In other words, chimneys in Los Angeles. Well, that’s a needle in a haystack. What do we do with that?

But wait! Disney have their main studio at Burbank, Los Angeles county. And in May to September 1963 (fifty years ago – I repeat, FIFTY YEARS AGO) they were filming a now little-known musical they called Mary Poppins, after the book on which it was (somewhat loosely) based. And, of course, a notable sequence in said film involves two children traveling up and down a chimney with a magical, other-worldly guardian who has a fondness for hats, umbrellas and bow ties, and who carries a bag that’s much bigger on the inside. But I didn’t need another excuse to show this.

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The chimney sweep of the film, of course, was played by Dick Van Dyke, who became famous in later years for playing Dr Mark Sloan, which in its full form, rearranged, becomes ‘Doctor Ark Man Sol’. This is a clear reference to ‘The Ark In Space’, in which Tom Baker comes across a ship containing the cryogenically frozen remnants of humanity orbiting the Earth. Oh, and where does Dick Van Dyke live? Malibu, which – like Burbank – is part of Los Angeles County. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Onwards. Here’s the Doctor wearing an impromptu blindfold.

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With blue diamonds. You know, sort of like this opening shot from ‘Midnight’.

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CLEARLY and UNAMBIGUOUSLY a reference to whatever life form crept along the surface of that planet. And to the Tenth Doctor, who starred. And also to David Troughton, who will ALMOST DEFINITELY appear in ‘Day of the Doctor’ playing the human child of the Second Doctor, now working at UNIT and godfather to Kate Stewart’s daughter.

Now, here’s a shot at the end of the episode, when Clara lands on the ground in the middle of the ruins of …ooh, somewhere in the Doctor’s head, where she’s saved by the Eleventh Doctor. But notice the pattern the branches make.

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It’s a bow and arrow, isn’t it? And those of you who know your New Who will recall David Tennant carrying a bow at the end of ‘Blink’.

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“Got to dash,” he tells Sally Sparrow. “Things happening. Well, four things. Well, four things and a lizard.” We’re led to assume that the hatching to which Martha refers is somehow connected with the lizard. But what if it’s not? In fact, I’m fairly certain that it’s not. I’m fairly certain that the lizard is Madame Vastra, and that the use of birds (Sparrow, Nightingale) was a cryptic reference back to Jenny, whose surname – I’d be willing to bet – was Wren. See? SEE? Moffat knew what he was doing even back in 2007.

Now: you will recall this image.

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Ignore the lovely lighting. Stand on your head. Actually, don’t, because it might be easier if I just do this.

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Here, the Strax / Jenny / Vastra have clearly formed a letter F. Which refers to Dorium’s earlier prophecy about ‘The Fall of the Eleventh’ – a fall unconnected, it is now apparent, with any sort of physical downwards pull, or even a bit of appalling wordplay on the part of the chief writer. Instead, the Fall of the Eleventh is happening around us, right now, because we’re in the middle of autumn – or, as it’s named on the other side of the pond, the fall. With me? It’s the first time we’ve seen the Eleventh Doctor on screen like this in the autumn, so THIS IS THE FALL OF THE ELEVENTH.

I’ve saved the best until last. Have a look at Clara’s bedroom.

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Under her bedsheet? Well, that’s a yellow duvet and pillow set, isn’t it? Well, no. It’s a banana.

Which means I get to do this:

It’s definitely a banana. There’s no getting away from it. Bananas are synonymous throughout Doctor Who – they even have their own page in the TARDIS Wikia. We could, for example, refer to images from ‘Ghost Light’.

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Or the conversation between the Doctor and Jack in ‘The Doctor Dances’ (written by Moffat).

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Or David Tennant’s embarrassing faux-drunk routine in ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ (also written by Moffat).

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Or the image of Alex Kingston threatening the Doctor with a banana in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ (you’re sensing a theme here).

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Or we could even go to the most convoluted explanation for any riddle in TV history, courtesy of Adam West and Burt Ward:

Batman [reading]: One: “What has yellow skin and writes?”
Robin: A ballpoint banana.
Batman: Right! Two: “What people are always in a hurry?”
Robin: Rushing people? Russians!
Batman: Right again! Now, what would you say they mean?
Robin: Banana… Russian… I’ve got it! Someone Russian is gonna slip on a banana peel and break their neck!
Batman: Precisely, Robin! The only possible meaning!

But if you need any proof that this is somehow connected with New Who, and what’s about to happen, here’s a picture of John Hurt eating a banana.

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I swear. THEY JUST COME DOWN OUT OF THE ETHER AND I GRAB THEM.

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The Great Doctor Who Title Sequence Comparison

Because once in a while you need to, right?

You’ll remember a couple of weeks ago I showed you the Magnum side-by-side comparison (which made BBC America, which pleased me). I thought I’d follow that up with a mashup of the four principal Doctor Who title sequences since the show was relaunched in 2005. It was at this point that the music budget went up substantially, going from eighties synths to an impressive synthetic orchestra in what we must begrudgingly refer to as Series One, before switching to a full orchestra for Series Two onwards.

Murray Gold’s frequently guilty of overwriting, of course, but he has his moments – and while he’s been Messing About With The Theme, it probably could have been worse. The counter-melody that undercuts the main theme is somewhat tiresome and undermines Ron Grainer’s original melody, but at least the sound’s become somewhat less orchestral as the revival’s set in, leading to the new setting used in the 2012 Christmas special and beyond – one that seems closer in scope, somehow, to the 1980s than anything that’s preceded it. (I rather like it, but I know a lot of people don’t. Gareth doesn’t, recently commenting “When did the Doctor Who theme get so rubbish?”. If nothing else, it’s arguably better than the arrangement used for the otherwise-quite-good Big Finish production ‘The Light At The End’ – a hideous amalgamation that sounds like it’s trying to encompass every period at once, and which fails to emulate any of them with any real degree of success. Gotta love those eighties trumpets.)

Of course, a true mashup would contain every title sequence at once, but that’s been done. As you can hear, it’s a bit of a mess, because there are different key signatures and the whole thing sounds rather like Arvo Pärt’s experimental phase, or perhaps ‘Music of the Spheres’. Mine takes four in the same key, and they almost-but-not-quite gel, falling apart towards the end as the at-first miniscule time differences become steadily more obvious. Still. It’s a joyous noise. I shudder to think what Delia Derbyshire would think, of course. It’s a shame she’s no longer here to ask. Where’s a time machine when you actually need one?

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Journey’s End

Yesterday, I left my job.

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I don’t want to go into all the details. Suffice to say that after twelve years, it was a wrench. But it’s time to move on. Like many I’ve been sucked into the complacency that comes with the familiar. It was a localised, unadventurous position which presented its share of challenges but which I could leave behind me at half past four. It was in its own way quietly fulfilling, and I’ve had a great time, but sometimes you need to pull off the band aid with a flourish. Getting out now was the right call, but the longer you’ve been in something the further you have to climb to get back to the surface.

Perhaps my inherent fear of change is one reason why I love Doctor Who so much. It’s a programme that has, after all, survived half a century by changing as often as it needs to, without fear of the consequences, and while there are certain conventions and rules and continuities, it’s fair to say that the show’s ability to adapt is what gives it its staying power and enduring appeal among a very diverse audience. Its willingness to take risks and embrace change as inevitable, whilst nonetheless maintaining a particular course (albeit one that has led it into some occasionally turbulent waters) have enabled it to survive far beyond the reach of many of its peers. More than this, the show at its best is the epitome of creative thinking and problem solving. Those effects teams had their backs against the wall and were shaking a virtually empty piggy bank, but they got round this by innovating and making the most of what they had – something I’ve always tried to encourage my team to do, particularly in the face of adversity.

People in the office know about my obsession with the folk of Gallifrey. I’ll drop references into any conversation where it suits the mood. The default notification tone on my S3 is a groaning TARDIS, which emits its wheezy rumbling every so often round the room when I’ve forgotten to put the thing on silent, much to everyone’s amusement. I’ll email video links and photos and dash down to the post room and back whenever I receive a DVD or book or figure selection in the mail, eagerly ripping off Amazon packaging and discarding manila envelopes with the enthusiasm of a six-year-old on Christmas morning.

So what do you do when your Who-fixated manager leaves and you want to mark the occasion? Well, you start with this.

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Then you hold a gathering. And there is cake. Oh, so much cake.

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If you know that your manager’s wife is expecting a fourth child, you do a little shopping on Ebay. And someone else in the team has a session with transfers and babygros.

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Hidden amongst the flowers and chocolates and wine and Lego (yes, really), there were other treasures, like this.

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Oh, and one of the team got busy with her knitting needles. And I’ve had to hang this on the door so you can see how long it was.

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And then you do a farewell speech which reduces said manager to tears, laden with quotes, and which is reproduced below, not out of vanity, but because I think it says more about the people I work with than it does about me.

“The universe is big. It’s vast and complicated and ridiculous. And sometimes, very rarely, impossible things just happen and we call them ‘James’.

Seriously: it is going to be tough to see your desk empty. I think I speak for everyone here when I say we will sincerely miss your kindness and generosity, your contagious sense of humour, your positive attitude, your nodding Jesus, the crazy TARDIS eye-trickery thing buried under all your paperwork and journals, and your brilliantly funny and never tumble-weedy jokes that you always manage to crack at the most appropriate moments. [Ed’s note: I don’t think she was being totally serious here.]

There’s a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive…wormhole refractors…you know the thing you need most of all? You need a hand to hold. You made me feel like a part of the family when I first started here. And I know that everyone who has worked with you over the years would say you have made them feel a part of that extended family and regularly brought a smile to their faces.

This is one corner of one country, in one continent, on one planet that’s a corner of a galaxy that’s a corner of a universe that is forever growing and shrinking and creating and destroying and never remaining the same for a single millisecond. And there is so much, so much to see. It just won’t be the same office without you. But we bid you farewell and sincerely hope you find happiness in all your future adventures. Do what the Eleventh Doctor does: hold tight and pretend it’s a plan. And if that doesn’t work, you can always console yourself with some fish fingers and custard.

A final piece of advice which may or many not be helpful to you, but I like it because it comes from my favourite Doctor. Always take a banana to a party, James. Bananas are good!”

I’ll miss that place. I really will. But if nothing else, I’ve got twelve years of re-runs.

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