Monthly Archives: April 2014

The art of looking sideways

“I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.”

(The Eighth Doctor)

When one is deprived of meaning, one seeks to insert it. This is usually by mentally connecting dots that shouldn’t be connected. Doctor Who is the Rorschach test of imagination: you show the audience a murky ink blot and they’ll see a bat, or a butterfly, or the face of the Madonna or an undiscovered Shakespearian sonnet. But ultimately it is what it is – a vague and ambiguous shape, deliberately modelled as such in order to establish character through what is seen.

For example: there were any number of preposterous theories about Clara. That she was the Dalek Emperor. That she was Rose. That she was the Doctor himself. That her grandmother was Amy Pond, the wrong age, height and with an entirely different backstory. The truth is far more pedestrian – Clara is an ordinary young woman who deliberately fractured herself when she entered the Doctor’s time stream, thus establishing the very situation that caused him to seek her out in the first place and creating the sort of predestination paradox that the chief writer lives and breathes.

I still maintain that Moffat actually gets this stuff from the internet, and Googles for ‘Clara theories’, picking the one he likes the best in order to resolve a situation he didn’t know how to resolve. Certainly he did it on Sherlock, albeit as a joke. But maybe I shouldn’t spend the day picking on him again, because today I wanted to talk about Classic Who.


Or not. The name of the Doctor has been such a colossal McGuffin these past two series that it seems almost crass to ignore it. Moffat spun out the joke for months, beginning as he did with Dorium’s revelation that the First Question was, in fact, ‘Doctor Who?’ – a query so mind-numbingly dull that its analysis seems like the worst kind of fan-fiction. Subsequent episodes flitted between an overuse of the question and a teasing dalliance around its possible answer: it was, in ‘The Name of the Doctor’, of mild importance to the plot, but hardly the world-shattering revelation some of the more naive elements of the fanbase had come to fear. It wasn’t until ‘The Time of the Doctor’ that Moffat – through Clara – told us that the Doctor’s name didn’t matter at all, thereby ending the perennial wild goose chase with the tiniest of whimpers.

We’ve dealt with the concept of the Doctor’s name in New Who before (and yes, it’s hardly serious, but I’m still quite pleased with how it panned out). Still, it was an often-overlooked Tom Baker story that, while hardly revealing anything earth-shattering about the Doctor or his backstory, did at least add a little more meat to the bone. The revelation comes in episode five of ‘The Armageddon Factor’, in which the Doctor, trying to prevent a planet’s obliteration, meets an old friend from the academy, who addresses him as ‘Theta Sigma’.

DRAX: Hello, Theet. How you been, boy?


DRAX: It is Theet, innit? Theta Sigma? Yeah, ‘course it is. Remember me, ay?

Drax is a rogue Time Lord not unlike the Doctor, although years spent in Brixton have turned him into the sort of wheeler-dealer you’d see hanging around with David Jason in Only Fools and Horses. He divides fans and critics: Doctor Who Reviews cites him as “a particular source of hilarity”, while Shadowlocked dismisses him as “an irritating midget who looks a bit like Francis Rossi from Status Quo auditioning for Blake’s 7” (which is cruel, but in many respects quite true). It’s impossible to separate Drax from his role as The Deliverer of the Doctor’s Nickname, however, which may be as good a reason as any for his adulation / denigration as anything connected with the dialogue, the concept of a Gallifreyan wide boy or Barry Jackson’s performance. Drax comes with his own baggage, and it’s either a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it.

Theta Sigma pops up again in ‘The Happiness Patrol’, and later still (this time courtesy of River Song) in ‘The Pandorica Opens’, as well as on numerous occasions in print and in audio stories. Its reappearance thus gives it weight, at least according to many fans, and there has been a considerable amount of debate as to its relative importance or meaning. The internet has made all this possible: for the most part, fans had no real way to connect back in the show’s original run, which meant that discussions about what things might or might not signify were restricted to conventions, discussions in the student union or the painfully slow correspondence in fanzines. These days, everyone’s got an opinion, however insane, and the comparative democracy of online discussion means that we get to hear all of them.

It’s fair to say that saying something simply because you can seems to be of far more importance these days than saying something because it contains something of use or value. Doctor Who Answers, for example, doesn’t have any real answer at all beyond the most perfunctory, stating that “Theta Sigma are the Greek letters T S”, and that “what these letters stood for is unknown”. Elsewhere, Backward Glance suggests (among general ramblings, rather than anything concrete) that “Theta and Sigma are stars in the constellation of Orion. No doubt the Doctor and his schoolchums would know this.” Meanwhile, states that “theta sigma means DR in the ancient greek alphabet so that could be a set up name for him”.

More amusingly still is the thread on Comic Vine which states, among other ideas, that

– “The Doctor’s real name is actually a string of Mathematical and Greek symbols. Theta-Sigma would be a shortening of his full name, just as Romana is merely a shortening”

– “No Theta-Sigma Lungbarrow IS his full real name read Divided Loyalties there is a flash back where he tells Koschei (the master) of for calling him Theta”

– “John Natan Turner confirmered Theta-Sigma Lungbarrow was his name as it was planned to be reaveled in the Classic Series but it was cancled, it was never mentioned in the TV series, ever!!!!!!!!!!!
The Doctors real nickname is John Smith”


We could go on all day, but my whole reason for posting was to suggest an alternative explanation – one of an in-joke by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who in all likelihood knew full well that when you flip the letters sideways, you get this:


You see? it’s a joke. Nothing more. The shortest path between two points is always a straight line, and sometimes that’s the route you take.

A bit of Googling suggests that Gareth’s not the only person to have figured this out, but I did promise him I’d mention it in here. It’s no more than a theory, but I don’t think it’s far off the mark – neither of us claim to be right, but it feels far more grounded than some of the other stuff I’ve read this week – and as such we do need to spread the word to the fanboys. There are far more important things to discuss. The next series of I’m A Celebrity, for example.

On the other hand, the internet can be a lonely place, and perhaps wild and groundless speculation has become the new small talk: a precursor to something of actual substance. Perhaps the only way to cut your teeth in these sorts of conversations is to say the silliest of things until you learn how to contribute something of value. That’s an arrogant viewpoint, of course, because it establishes me as an arbiter of what constitutes ‘value’, but I make such a claim transparently and in the knowledge that every one of us does the same in all our interactions, both online and off. Besides, if it keeps them from speculating about Clara, perhaps it would be better if we left things as they are.

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Epic split: the plastic version

Assorted friends of mine are renowned for their ‘Emergency lack of party’ parties. These semi-impromptu events are basically excuses to pig out on Pringles and consume copious amounts of alcohol, on the pretext that far too much time has elapsed since any suitable occasion arose that granted you the opportunity. In other words, the calendar is bare, so we might as well empty the cupboards as well.

This was an ‘Emergency lack of video’ video. It’s been a while. The novel is moving full steam ahead and I seem to be producing quirky Photoshopped JPEGs almost daily, but the editing software has remained untouched. Various big projects are sitting in the sidelines, half done, largely because of all my talents, procrastination is in a league of its own. I’ll measure just how far ahead of my other abilities it actually is, when I get round to it.

In the meantime: Jean Claude Van Damme stood between two trucks last year and did great things. For the sake of simple comparison, here’s how it was.

As a parenthesis, those of you who were reading this blog in November may recall that Joshua was keen to emulate the stunt in the kitchen, using Morbius:


In taking it a step further, the Eleventh Doctor was the obvious choice. This has nothing to do with his gravitas or ability to make pretty speeches that up the Wikiquote hit counts. It’s simply because of all the Character Options five inch figures, his legs are by far the most pliable. You can’t quite stretch them out at ninety degree angles, as you can with Morbius, but it’s a close run thing. This means that I could feasibly take the Eleventh Doctor and make him look like he’s humping our River Song doll, if I were so inclined. Not that I’d do that. Honestly, that would be sick, and I don’t mean that in the new, trendy way that you kids mean it. (A clear sign of ageing is when you read YouTube comments for a video described as “well sick”, and find yourself thinking “I don’t see why; I thought it was in perfectly good tast – ah.”)

It occurred to me from the outset that this was going to look rubbish. For one thing, I would have to film it live. I knew that trying to adjust the Daleks and Doctor step by step for stop-motion animation was just going to end in disaster, however much sellotape I used. And there was no other way of adding the swirling vortex effect, which is a clean title sequence ripped from YouTube and played back on our lounge TV. At the risk of creating a rod for your own back, having the Doctor do a stunt like this in the time vortex seemed the obvious next step up from having Chuck Norris do it with a plane. (Yes, I know it’s fake, but he still won the internet, or at least the creative team did.)

I framed this little concoction within the context of a special effects budgetary restriction, because that was the only possible way I could upload it with any sense of dignity intact. I mean, it’s all over the place. You can’t really see any of this, but I was leaning forward with the Flip camera – which wouldn’t focus properly on the Doctor’s face because of the lighting conditions in the worst room in the house to shoot or photograph anything (but nonetheless the one where the TV happens to be). I did it at night, convincing myself that natural light would just diminish the time corridor effect on the screen, but really it’s because I’m impetuous and impatient. Then I tilted the camera back, trying hard to rock it slightly to emulate (or at least imitate) the motion of the original, and then tried to tighten the legs of the tripod without knocking the thing over, and then pulled the Daleks from either side with pieces of string. The Daleks moved at different speeds because one of them is heavier than the other, so I had to improvise: in the final take they were perched on impromptu Lego trolleys that were supported by four colossal elephants riding through space on the back of an enormous turtle were stood on a book, in order to get the proper height. Despite trying to do them both at the same speed, I overcompensated on the gold and it tipped on its side, to slightly comedic effect. While all this was going on, Emily was looking in at what I was doing, hand on hips, shaking her head with an expression that read “And to think I married a sane person once”. And I knew this WITHOUT HAVING TO EVEN TURN AROUND.

So the effect is…urrrggh. But hopefully the audio – which is if nothing else reasonably authentic – makes up for it a bit. That was, at least, quite fun to put together and edit. The rest of it wasn’t. Trying to fix frame rates when you’re encoding video footage of a TV or computer screen is a living hell. But at least something got created, eventually. For that, I suppose we should be grateful.

Now, where did I put that River Song doll…?



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She literally exploded

In my house, Facebook links to stories like this get ignored. I always consider them the equivalent of those emailed jokes you used to get that made you scroll down for ages, promising you that the punch line was worth it (of course, it never was). But I thought it might be fun to create one.



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The Drinking Games – Eleventh Doctor Edition

SJ’s drinkalongs have acquired something of a legendary status, at least in her own corner of the blogosphere. Designed to be communal, real-time events in which people sit down and consume vast quantities of alcohol while celebrating particular recurring traits / themes / dialogue in classic movies, they are usually (I gather) fairly vigorous affairs, in which the shots fly thick and fast in the wake of Matthew Broderick breaking the fourth wall in Ferris Bueller, or Wallace Shawn muttering “inconceivable!”. (If you’re going to try that first one, incidentally, I suggest you water down your drinks first, because otherwise you’re not going to get beyond the ‘Twist and Shout’ scene.)

I am on the other side of the Atlantic to SJ, and the time factor – among other things – has rendered me unable to take part in these affairs. My contribution is thus meant to be a semi-wry commentary on certain televisual idioms, and of course it’s Doctor Who related: a way of talking about all the things that bug you while minimising the acidic cynicism that tends to litter this blog when I’m going off on a rant. There are, I’m sure, various Who-themed drinking games littering the internet, and I deliberately didn’t consult a single one. But here is the first in a series, and for various reasons we are going to start with the most recent incarnation of the Time Lord, and work backwards.



This is far from an exhaustive list, of course, but I don’t think I should include any more. Your liver is far too important to me.

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Death or plumbing

Seriously, I have no idea what was going through Thomas’s head when he came up with this. But never mind. Happy Easter, everyone.


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The Time-lapse of Angels

Children won’t settle? Do what I did two nights ago: download these five Weeping Angel shots from Photobucket, courtesy of Cerebral-Delirium, and set them as desktop wallpaper, timed to change every ten seconds.

Then wait for the boys to go into the study.


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Review: ‘…ish’


I generally don’t do audio story reviews, and this is going to sail completely over the heads of anyone who’s not listened to it, but I am posting it in the vain hope that there may be two or three people out there who get the joke. Here we go, then:


Ish, ish ish ish. Ish. Ish ish. Ish!


“Sausage? SAUSAGE?!?!”


Ish. Ish ish Ish.

All in all, a triumph from Big Fin—.

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Unused Doctor Who Monsters (part four)

If you don’t know your British chocolate, Wispas are bubbly chunks of goodness, first available in 1981 and then brought back a few years ago. Arguably more successful, at least in this form, than their homophonic counterparts.

The second one ought to be self-explanatory.

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The Wig Planet

It’s quite gratifying that when I do an image search for ‘Donna Noble Library’, this crops up in the first three lines of results.


(You can read about why Thomas is doing that in this post from August 2012.)

I can’t even remember why we were talking about it, but it probably involved the fact that Emily was cutting my hair last night. “I mustn’t overdo it,” she said. “You’ll look like Donna did when she was attached to that node.”

Anyway –

And while we’re on that, this one seemed obvious.


In for a penny, in for a Pond, as the Seventh Doctor would probably have said.

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“It’s a disguise”

Crumbs. Screen grab from BBC News. (The actual page is currently unavailable, unfortunately; they seem to be having server problems this morning.)


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