Monthly Archives: August 2014

Review: ‘Into the Dalek’

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Warning: spoilers herein.

Yesterday morning, I watched ‘Deep Breath’ again with the boys. Daniel lasted half an hour, and then the dinosaur exploded and he wandered off to see his mother. Joshua watched the whole thing with academic interest. And Thomas kept his head half hidden under the duvet during the final act (everything from the basement onwards). Two eyes and a nose barely visible above a mound of fabric, like Wilson from Home Improvement or Wilfred from The Bash Street Kids. Watching it again I was able to plot my general interest level for the episode, and it looked like this.

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Total Film used to do similar graphs (and perhaps still do – I haven’t bought an issue in years) for every film they reviewed, and it was a very convenient way of checking how good something was without actually having to read the review properly. When it came to doing last night’s episode, the graph looked like this:

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(This was fun. I may do it every week.)

In the first instance, there was nothing inherently wrong with the Contractual Obligation story that was ‘Into the Dalek’, despite its pedestrian title. There were explosions. There was a bit of trickery from the Doctor. There was stoic support from Clara. More to the point, there wasn’t a single mention of soufflé or eggs. It could have all gone so horribly wrong. It could have been Clara sitting outside the Dalek brain during that final confrontation, reasoning with it, delivering an impassioned, empathetic monologue. “I’ve been a Dalek,” she’d say. “I know it’s difficult to believe to look at me, but it’s true. I’ve been a lot of places. Sometimes I choose not to remember, because if I remember, it’ll drive me crazy. So the door stays shut. But I know what it was like – I remember what it was like, just for a moment, to be a Dalek and despise myself. And I managed to channel that force for good, even though it meant the death of me.”

Instead, she got a boyfriend. Oh, he’s still only a maths teacher this week, barking out orders at the Coal Hill Cadet School one minute and then, some moments later, handing out a homework exercise that mysteriously skips the last question on page 32 (which is clearly something for the denofgeek comment boxes). I really didn’t want to have to tell you that Danny sounded like an adult version of Mickey Smith, but the truth will out. His early scenes with Clara are clumsy and forced – Coleman has, at this stage, far better chemistry with Capaldi – but that at least works within the context of the relationship they’re trying to create, and this is no doubt something that’ll change (or, if it doesn’t, we’ll be stuck with a Smith / Kingston pairing, and I’ll have something else to whine about). Structurally, Moffat drops a clanger in the opening segment by having Danny reveal his hand far too early, with the Deep Dark Secret manifesting itself through unexpected pauses and the shedding of a single tear. It would have been better to keep this for an end-of-episode reveal, or even a future instalment, but heaven knows there are enough arc references to drop in already, with the references to the Rani the Eyepatch Lady the post-op Master Missy. So we’re stuck with the crying. (And we’ll not talk about the end of ‘The Snowmen’, of course. That would just bring back bad memories.)

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But Danny’s introduction is merely a counterpoint to the Doctor’s own encounter with a group of human soldiers (the most emotionally prominent of which is the improbably named Journey Blue) gathered at an unspecified location at an unspecified point in the future, and the fact that they’ve captured a Dalek. This Dalek appears to have developed a fault, in that it now wants the destruction of all Daleks, so the Doctor, Clara and a bunch of expendable warriors we haven’t really had time to care about are shrunk and then placed inside the Dalek in order to find out what’s going on.

Those who are saying this is Doctor Who meets Fantastic Voyage are basically correct (the Doctor even acknowledges that it’s a “fantastic idea for a movie; terrible idea for a proctologist”), but we’ve been here before, of course, more than once. Visually, ‘Into The Dalek’ works reasonably well, even if it’s somewhat formulaic. The interior of the Dalek’s memory banks resembles the corridor of a worn-out spacecraft (the nods to 2001 are presumably intentional), while much of the highly radiated interior looks mysteriously like a pumping station – but it’s difficult to know exactly how you’re expected to render the inside of these things without resorting to CSO (which is what they did in ‘The Invisible Enemy’), or a big pile of jelly beans.

Carnival

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The last time I wandered around the middle of a Dalek, it was July 2013 and the Dalek was a giant hedge maze in York. It was hot, and the Sixth Doctor was there, in the form of pre-recorded information points. It was certainly a lot less metal. There were annoying children and the occasional wasp, but no steam or vents. Nor did we have to contend with the Dalek’s antibodies, who bear a passing resemblance to the Toclafane, and whom the visitors inadvertently manage to annoy not long after they arrive, upping the threat level and leading to the dispatch of the bearded Ross (Ben Crompton, whom viewers will recognise from Man Stroke Woman).

This week’s Callous Bastard moment: it’s not that the Doctor doesn’t try to save Ross, having accepted his inevitable death with the sort of blasé indifference that would cause James Bond to raise an eyebrow (Roger Moore’s, as theatrical as possible). It’s that he leads Ross – and the audience – to believe that he’s got a plan. It turns out that the pill he gave Ross will enable them to track his progress through the Dalek’s casing (“Top layer,” he later says, indicating a large pool of liquefied human remains, “If you want to say a few words”). This is the sort of pragmatism that we’re gradually coming to expect from the Twelfth Doctor, and Capaldi delivers his lines with a brash carelessness that is frankly a joy to watch. It’s going to upset people who are used to the sort of poignant farewell that was granted to Father Octavian in ‘Flesh and Stone’, but it’s kind of nice to see something a little less melodramatic than Tennant’s mournful stare and pleas that “some good may come from your death”, along with the declaration that he’s so, so sorry. And someone finally seems to have had a word with Murray Gold. Either that or I’ve managed to get the sound mixer settings on my TV balanced.

In the process of repairing a radiation leak, the Doctor manages to fix the Dalek, restoring its core programming and sending it out after the humans outside the surgery. Capaldi’s prejudices about inherent Dalek hatred and rehabilitation – along with Clara’s response, which is to slap him – carry a whiff of social commentary, but this is never really expanded upon, beyond an ironic twist in the final act when it is the Doctor’s hatred that successfully reprogrammes the Dalek to once more destroy its kind. Futilely protesting “There must be more than that”, the Time Lord’s latest incarnation looks out of his depth for the first time, in a scene that would have worked far better had they not blown the budget on the opening space battle, leaving us with some warped overlay that resembles a vintage pop video.

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Somewhere on the cutting room floor (do they still have cutting room floors? Do they still even have cutting rooms, or is it all done on a laptop in Steven Moffat’s office?) there’s a scene which explains exactly how the Doctor, Clara and Journey managed to actually get out of the Dalek and back to normal size, given that most of the personnel involved in the experiment are either dead or off doing other things. Or perhaps it happened, and I’d drifted off. There’s a slightly barbed farewell, echoing the Doctor’s callous treatment of (among others) the UNIT personnel in ‘The Sontaran Strategem’, and then the question of whether or not the Doctor is a good man is finally and definitively answered, with an “I don’t know, but keep trying”.

Ben Wheatley helms his second episode in a row, and does so with flair, reining in Capaldi so that we see the Doctor we’re expected to see – there is a sense that ‘Deep Breath’ was anomalous in a way that ‘The Eleventh Hour’ wasn’t. Favouring wide, mid-range shots over tight ones, he grants the action scenes an uneasy pace, and intercuts between Danny’s imagined conversation with Clara with the one that actually happened to amusing effect. Still, even he can’t resist including the two staple shots that appear to be part of every episode in the Dalek repertoire: the eyestalk close-up, and the eyecam shot.

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At the end of the day you come away feeling both underwhelmed and strangely relieved: a sense of watching an Who-by-numbers, rather than a story that will sit alongside ‘The God Complex’ or ‘Human Nature’. I measure my enjoyment of episodes by watch checks (seven) and grabs for the remote control (only one). That comes out at about average. But perhaps ‘average’ is enough. It’s certainly a step up from ‘shit’, which if I remember correctly is how I described the last time we encountered the metal dustbins in any real capacity beyond an extended cameo, in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. ‘Into the Dalek’ is nowhere near as smug or pointless. Neither does it plumb the depths of bad acting and rank stupidity displayed in ‘Evolution of the Daleks’, or the comic silliness and wild implausibility of ‘Journey’s End’. The fact of the matter is that we haven’t had a decent Dalek story since ‘Dalek’, and even that was based on a Robert Shearman audio drama that was frankly much better.

Familiarity breeds contempt, you see. I hate to generalise, but unless you’re the sort of person who actively scans ahead to the mid point of of ‘The Big Bang’ so that you can watch the stone thing trundling round the museum, rather than hitting the chapter skip button at the beginning of River’s “Mercy!” exchange, this was always going to be a non-starter. If we must have Daleks every series (and I accept that we must, in order to appease the Nation estate) then they’re never going to reach the heights of ‘Genesis’ or ‘Remembrance’ – people will never get the chance to miss them, and will never fool themselves into thinking that ‘Doomsday’ was actually any good, the way that everyone apparently did with ‘Revelation of the Daleks’. So ‘average’ and ‘a bit boring’ – both words Emily and I used last night – may not be particularly kind, and nor do they represent a show at the top of its game, but they’re an improvement on ‘rubbish’. And improvements I can deal with.

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The Ice Bucket Warriors, and other matters

I spend a lot of time pouring cold water on things here, so it was only a matter of time before we referenced ALS.

“I nominate…Mickey Smith, Davros, and Count Grendel. Geronimo!”

 

Also in the news this week: The Great British Bake Off hits murky waters when it transpires that one of its contestants left the show after his Baked Alaska was ostensibly sabotaged by a fellow baking rival (and Women’s Institute member). Cue outrage on social media (all grouped under the when-oh-when-will-they-stop-flogging-these-dead-horses hashtag bingate), and an awful lot of people calling for the head of Diana Beard (who, like ZZ Top’s Frank Beard, doesn’t have one). In a further twist we’ve now learned that Diana herself quit shortly afterwards because of ‘illness’ and that her actions were supposedly edited to make it appear that the ice cream had been out of the freezer for a long time. It’s kind of nice that people have a sense of natural justice, and I suspect the truth lies somewhere in between – but I do remember that dodgy editing plagued Highlander 2Quantum of Solace and ‘Nightmare in Silver’.

Anyway, I tried to mix this in with a Rani story, or something similar, but there are no Doctor Who stories about Baked Alaska, and comparatively few of them about the real Alaska. I asked Gareth for a pun, and while you really have to know your Sixth Doctor, this one does work rather well.

And now I want an Arctic roll. Can you still get Arctic roll?

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Review: ‘Deep Breath’

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I went off the grid for a few days at the tail end of last week, camping in Northamptonshire. More on that another day. It means that as far as Peter Capaldi’s debut is concerned, I’m a little late to the party. But at least I brought wine.

What follows is not actually a review. There are hundreds of them out there and at this comparatively late stage in proceedings I don’t think there’s anything I could say that hasn’t been written already with far more coherence than I could manage at half past one in the morning. Instead – and for one week only, unless for some bizarre reason it proves wildly popular – this is a one-stop hop through the general mess that was ‘Deep Breath’, with stuff that cropped up during a first (continuous) and second (stop and start) viewing, interspersed with random Fireworks images. I make no apology that some of it is puerile and some of it is crap. It’s the sort of stuff I would have tweeted, had I watched the episode live. “This way,” I explained to Gareth, “you’ll be saved the job of actually having to watch it.”

“Gosh,” was the response. “This from the person who encouraged me to give the new season at least two episodes before giving up?”

“I do want you to watch it”, I said, “because you might need a frame of reference for the rest of the series (and all the memes I’m going to do), but it’s an hour and a quarter, and you will be emailing me saying how much you hate it and want to give up watching way before the end. I’m just saving us that conversation.”

You will notice that I do not talk about the conclusion. This is largely because the arcs have become so tedious over the years I’m airbrushing them out of the discussion, except to say that there are two possibilities: either the name ‘Missy’ is a deliberate clue pointing to something that sounds quite horrendous, or it’s a deliberate red herring designed to make the fans think that something’s going to happen, and this sort of tedious tomfoolery is exactly what makes the clue hunt so interminably dull.

In the meantime, let’s have a look at that dinosaur, shall we?

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00:12 – OK, so we’ve been here before. More than once.

00:50 – Ah, look, it’s the Three Amigos looking up at the CGI. Vastra’s making veiled references (pun subconsciously intended) to female genitalia. Business as usual, except that Strax hasn’t said a word yet.

01:48 – Jenny: “It’s the TARDIS!”. Just in case we hadn’t spotted that.

02:43 – Oh, it’s Peter. First word: “Shush!”

03:15 – Dwarf jokes? Really? Weren’t the potato ones bad enough?

04:20 – Clara’s hair is amazing. Her role has thus far been to stand and look shocked and devastated, but she does it so well. Presumably she’s just seen the script for the series finale.

05:30 – He’s pissed out!

05:48 – Ah. And we’re back in ‘Planet of the Spiders’ territory. I do miss Nick Courtney.

06:00 – DEAR GOD WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO THE TITLES?!?

Oh, this is all wrong. The clocks, the cogs, the roman numerals, the planet alignments. Is this something to do with him travelling through time, by any chance? This is horrible to watch; it’s like they had a brainstorming session for new title sequence ideas and decided to use every post-it note on the flipchart. It looks like something a fan did. Oh, wait.

Murray Gold has done the impossible and managed to produce a theme arrangement that I hate even more than his 2010 edition. The strings are so screechy they make my ears bleed. When will the man learn that less is more?

“I’m going to have to leave the room every time this comes on,” says Emily. I have to agree. It also calls to mind a conversation I had with Gareth a few weeks ago, in which he directed me to a video I didn’t see until a few minutes ago:

Seriously. What sort of idiot applauds a screen graphic with a person’s name on it? “Woooo! It’s a typeface! SICK!”

07:00 – We’re in the bedroom. I don’t know if I’m watching an episode of Doctor Who or a BBC drama about dementia.

07:55 – Peter: “I like to skip ahead to my bit. It saves time.” Congratulations, Doctor, you’ve just described the internet.

08:30 – Smug monkey joke from Vastra, complete with feminist twist to make it acceptable. Also misses the point that the Doctor is a Time Lord. Presumably in there so that the pedants have something to moan about.

…wait a minute.

10:40 – Ah. Dinosaur soliloquy. This is admittedly quite good. The last time Moffat wrote dialogue this eloquent for someone lying in a bed, we were waiting for the rain to stop. Coincidentally that also featured a young woman talking to a would-be boyfriend who’d suddenly aged several decades.

12:13 – Bloody hell, it’s Ali G’s mate Dave! What happened to him, his voice finally break?

13:50 – All right. Clara may as well be wearing a t-shirt that reads “I LOVE MATT SMITH” and running a tumblr page. I can see what Moffat’s trying to do here but this really does come across as a fan lecture.

17:35 – “Oh, look!” says Emily. “It’s Mary Poppins!” Capaldi is bouncing across the roof, a little like Patrick Troughton in ‘The Invasion’, minus the panache. Then the dinosaur explodes, and Vastra demands that Strax free the cabbage, which instantly makes me think of killer plants. This is like watching Second, Third and Fourth Doctor stories all at once.

20:00 – Peter: “Sorry sorry. Sorry. Sorry sorry.” Well, that’s the new catchphrase sorted then.

23:05 – Oh look, it’s the Short Funny One again. Don’t knock her out by throwing the newspaper through the window, Strax. Don’t knock her out by – shit.

26:20 – Gosh, Bill Oddie’s really let himself go.

27:30 – And we’re back to the face. FFS, WHY DOES THIS HAVE TO BE A THING? Did Colin Baker stride around the TARDIS console room saying “I look like Maxil; obviously the Time Lords are about to do something dreadful”?

Oh, wait.

28:40 – Ten years ago, Emily and I were living in a bungalow out in the sticks where the only pizza we could get delivered came courtesy of a bearded, leather jacket wearing chap in his late thirties – think of a short-haired Bill Bailey – who had incredible eyebrows. As he and I traded cash and hot food I noticed that his manner was vivacious and even hyperactive, as if he were watching out for a passing police car, while his eyebrows – two great bushy things – jerked constantly up and down in rapid succession, like two limbo-dancing caterpillars. I tell you all this because it’s frankly more interesting than the Doctor’s rambling monologue about the Independent State of Eyebrows. This is clearly Capaldi’s Ridiculous Chin moment.

30:16 – Oh, you’re married, are you? Thank you for pointing that out.

35:30 – The Doctor and Clara, in a restaurant. These two are sparking off each other wonderfully. It’s back and forth, back and forth, with overlapping sentences and a chemistry that is very different from the one that Coleman had with Smith, but no less effective. It’s like they’ve been working together for years.

38:12 – All right, this just kicked up a notch. Forty minutes of indifferent comedy and I’m suddenly enjoying it thoroughly. Wheatley’s direction is understated but effective and the score is, for a change, unintrusive.

42:45 – And all at once, Capaldi is the Doctor. It’s nothing specific, more a quirky eccentricity that underpins an absolute sense of self-control. It’s halfway between Tennant and Davison. Leaving it until now was a risky gambit, and Moffat’s only got away with it by playing to the strengths of his leading actor, but it works.

45:15 – So. That was Utter Bastard Scene #1, then.

47:10 – “Look!” squeals Emily. “It’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! She’s the music box doll from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!” And of course, she is.

50:02 – Ha! Clara’s just explained the second rule of classroom management: never make a threat unless you’re prepared to carry it out. As a failed teacher, I remember this one well. Moffat wins brownie points for its inclusion, or at least manages to slip back up the negative zone towards zero.

(The first rule of classroom management, in case you’re interested, is anticipate the problem in advance and plan things so that the likelihood of it happening is reduced. In other words, think about the worst things that could happen and develop a workaround that you can implement before it all goes south. Thinking about how bad things could possibly get was basically what got me through ‘Journey To The Centre of The TARDIS’.)

51:33 – Emily again: “Ooh. The Crème brûlées you could make with that torch.”

53:25 – “Rubbish robots from the dawn of time” might just be my quote of the week. And now Capaldi’s raging against mime, which ups the heroism quotient of his Doctor considerably.

54:48 – Jesus, was it really necessary to have Strax repeat Michelangelo’s comedy fall from the 2007 TMNT trailer?

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57:30 – So we have a Doctor who kills and drinks. ‘Dark’ is not the word. ‘Lazy’ might be.

59:45 – It’s a shame the controller isn’t nearly as creepy as the waiter was. The waiter sounded like a sinister Speak & Spell. The controller sounds like a shady villain in a BBC Dickens adaptation.

60:54 – I think I caught a Father Ted joke just then, but it’s hard to tell because Capaldi’s mumbling, or the score is too loud, or both. If I wanted to hear an angst-ridden Scot muttering unintelligibly, I’d be watching Gregor Fisher.

61:51 – Broom handles now. If they resurrect Only Fools and Horses, Moffat really should write for it.

63:15 – I don’t have a problem with the lesbian kiss from a moral standpoint. It just seems unnecessary. But I can’t think of a single kiss since 2011 that needed to be in there.

64:50 – Emily and I both just cried out “Ow! It really hurth! I’m going to need thome ithe cream…” Oh, and there it is. The hungover look. Coming soon to a Google image search near you.

67:10 – Give it up, Steven. Please. No more redecorating jokes. Or round thing jokes. In fact, don’t do jokes. Or love scenes.

68:10 – “What do you think?” Well, I think Jon Pertwee wants his jacket back.

69:40

Clara: Hello?

Eleventh Doctor [on phone]: Hello.

Clara: You realise this totally undermines your replacement.

Eleventh Doctor: Yes, but the teenage girls are upset. And there are little children fidgeting on the sofa because they don’t accept the grumpy old man.

Clara: Oh, come on. People got used to Colin.

Eleventh Doctor: No they didn’t. The show was suspended for a year and a half and the hiatus spawned the worst novelty single in history.

Clara: Point taken.

Twelfth Doctor: I do feel somewhat upstaged by this.

Eleventh Doctor: Shut it, Malcolm. This doesn’t work out, you have the Musketeers to fall back on. Clara, one last question: am I ginger?

Clara: …Not exactly.

Eleventh Doctor: Bollocks. [Hangs up]

Clara: Want to help me rebuild the Fourth Wall, Peter?

Twelfth Doctor: I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed.

Clara: Where are we, anyway?

Twelfth Doctor: Glasgow.

Clara: Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s Cardiff.

Twelfth Doctor: Close enough.

 

Next week: we travel inside a Dalek, and find several eggs, a repository of lint, and all those lost pens you thought were down the back of the armchair.

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Doctor Who Bible Stories

Last week I was helping out at a children’s holiday club in Shropshire. In between the madcap games, craft activities and singalongs, I spent most of my time thinking about the Second Doctor, for reasons I won’t divulge right  now. Perhaps echoing my subconscious thoughts, two of the girls in the junk modelling session we had one afternoon managed to produce this – which looks, I told them, rather like a Quark.

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“Or a War Machine!” suggested Verity, Gareth’s other half. “It could probably destroy a pile of boxes.”

The club itself detailed the story of David and his ascension from shepherd boy to king, along with some of the more memorable tales from the narrative, such as David’s encounter with the ill-fated Goliath. (One thing they don’t always tell you in Sunday School is that after David had felled Goliath with that pebble he found in the stream, he then cut off the giant’s head and paraded it round the camp, perched on the end of his sword. The Old Testament is full of grisly stories like this. The dogs licked up Jezebel’s blood, Herod committed blasphemy and was eaten by worms, and when Sisera, during a failed invasion of Israel, broke protocol and sought sanctuary inside the wrong camp, Heber’s wife Jael waited until he was asleep and then drove a tent peg through his head. And they complain about ‘The Deadly Assassin’.)

In any case, the encounter with Goliath set me thinking, and that’s when –

(The fact that the most appropriate image of Jamie and the Doctor I could find is actually from ‘The Abominable Snowmen’ is a welcome bonus.)

But why stop there? Why not look, for example, at ‘The Beast Below’, and the Doctor’s little dance with Amy in the mouth of the star whale?

Meanwhile, some of the Dalek stories deliberately lend themselves to this. I am still waiting for ‘Exodus of the Daleks’, but –

 

(I’m quite sure there’s more I could do with ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, as well, perhaps by tying it in with ‘Kinda’. But anyway)

Revelation aside, the blood and gore has died down a bit by the time we reach the New Testament. Still, there’s the Christmas story, with its tale of a squalid virgin birth in a crowded town, followed by ritual infanticide. The birth of Jesus is, as the Tenth Doctor puts it, a “long story. I should know; I was there. I got the last room.”

Well, of course he did.

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Cabbages and Kings

So I take a week-long holiday in Shropshire, and this is what I find when I get home.

I tell you this. If they use that line about redecorating one more time, I will break into the BBC props department, steal Capaldi’s screwdriver and ram it so far up the backside of the chief writer his throat will light up every time he opens his mouth. It’s not even that it’s no longer funny. It wasn’t funny back in November, when the Tenth Doctor used it.

Let’s be clear: the “You’ve redecorated – I don’t like it” line is not a recurring gag. It’s something that Troughton said twice. His delivery was impeccable on both occasions, as Troughton’s invariably was, even when he fluffed his lines (mostly because his Doctor was exactly the sort of person who might be appearing to fluff his lines in order to lull you into a false sense of superiority before he reveals his hand).

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Then Matt Smith does it in ‘Closing Time’, and it’s quite funny then, partly because Smith’s delivery is quite different, and James Corden’s look of outrage is plain silly. And it is, as Gareth said, “a little homage-y thing.” But then Tennant used it, and now it’s being ground into a catchphrase, in the same way that the fish fingers thing became a meme and the question “Doctor Who?” became a highly important plot line. (I will leave that dangling there for a moment, just so you can take in how ridiculous it sounds.)

Actually, I was looking at a video of the ‘redecorated’ stuff on YouTube, in between deciding whether or not it was worth Photoshopping Clara into Dulux catalogue images or screengrabs from DIY SOS, with speech bubbles reading “I don’t like it” (I decided it wasn’t worth it). And I found this:

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Sheesh, some of these fans are intense. I’m so glad I don’t engage in pointless debate like this.

“I wonder,” says Gareth of this latest insertion, “if the intention is so that it can be flipped around later, with hilarious effect? Maybe someone will say ‘Oh, I just love what you’ve done with the place!'”

Gareth also likens this whole thing to Clara’s observation (in ‘The Snowmen’) that the TARDIS thing is “smaller on the outside” – which, as he points out, “doesn’t make sense at all. (On the outside, it was the size that it was. You now see the inside and this is what you should comment on. It would work if you started in the TARDIS and then went outside.)”

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It’s a simple example of a scene being written to fit a joke. They wanted a pan inside the TARDIS, because that was new. But Moffat also wanted that joke, presumably because it makes Clara ‘different’. It’s a thinly disguised attempt at characterisation, but it doesn’t work with the moment that precedes it. But what does that matter to the tumblr feeds?

(Two of the greatest reactions to the TARDIS, incidentally, come not from full-time companions but from the supporting cast. In 1973, Benton – acting as a substitute for the unavailable Frazer Hines – is asked by a slightly put-out Doctor whether he’s going to mention that the TARDIS is bigger on the inside, because “everybody else does”. An incredulous Benton replies “It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” Thirty-five years and seven / eight Doctors later, depending on how you count, Bernard Cribbins is faced with the spaceship’s vast interior, only to remark that “I thought it’d be cleaner.”)

“Also,” says Gareth of the trailer, “why does the Silurian woman shout ‘free the carrots, now!’..? Maybe we’re getting a crossover with one of the silliest episodes of Lost In Space.”

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“It’s clearly ‘cabbage’, not ‘carrots’,” I said.

“It was more sort of ‘cabbots’,” said Gareth, “and I thought that freeing carrots sounded more plausible.”

“Find me a picture of a space cabbage,” I said, “and we have a blog entry.”

So he did. And we do.

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Doctor Who does porn

Warning: today’s post contains adult material.

That got your attention, didn’t it?

Not long before Friends jumped the shark, NBC aired an episode that saw Joey and Chandler inadvertently hook up to free pornography. This was basically an excuse to produce porn versions of movie titles – an academic exercise which the writers purportedly loved, if anecdotal evidence and their general track record was anything to go by. Hence we are told about the likes of Good Will Humping, as well as In & Out & In Again. Some years later, Phoebe’s sister Ursula breaks into the adult entertainment business with Buffay the Vampire Layer, Lawrence of a Labia (which, I’m told, actually exists) and Inspect Her Gadget. Cue much hilarity as a leather-clad Lisa Kudrow steals into a poorly-lit crypt where a gaunt man is waiting in a coffin. “Ah,” she says. “I thought I’d find you here, Nasforatool.”

When I was in my early twenties, bus rides home from work were often preceded by a visit to the video rental store (remember those?) where I’d peruse the latest releases, the world cinema section and (yes, I’m afraid so) the adult movies shelves. It would be nice to say that the mildly greasy (at least I hope it was grease) DVD boxes I found stacked up displayed the same level of titular wit as, say, Shaving Ryan’s Privates, which we all thought was a very clever pun. Sadly I think I came too late to the party, or perhaps arrived at the wrong house. I don’t think you can get that sort of thing in your local Blockbuster: we were saddled, instead, with the awkward faux erotica of Erotic Raider (in which Lara and her feisty assistant “get busy raiding each other’s tombs”, along with Sexy Scary Movie (which was neither) and Who Wants To Be An Erotic Millionaire (which doesn’t even make sense). There was nothing remotely sexy about any of them: they were formulaic softcore dross of the lowest order, according to a friend of mine.

Raider

Anyway.

“Just because I can,” I said to Gareth the other night, “I am coming up with a list of Doctor Who porn titles.” His first response was to point out that some of them already sound dodgy.

Full Circle
The Dominators
The Awakening
The Twin Dilemma

That’s before we get to the likes of New Who, which includes episodes entitled ‘The Beast Below’ and ‘Day of the Moon’ amongst its ranks. Then there’s ‘The Big Bang’, which Moffat himself (in Doctor Who Magazine) cites as “far too rude for Doctor Who” – knowing as he was writing it, that “this was the night that River Song was conceived aboard the TARDIS”.

Double entendres and smutty jokes in twenty-first century Doctor Who are par for the course. As Capaldi reveals that the upcoming series includes the line “No hanky panky in the TARDIS” (adding “for reasons which you’ll discover”, which alludes to something going on between Clara and Danny Pink), we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the show appears to have moved on from what I might term over-exposure. Part of it is the embarrassment of having to explain why Amy Pond is throwing herself at the Doctor to a six-year-old – I’m no prude, and we have plenty of baby-making books on the children’s shelf, but is it really necessary at half past seven on a Saturday evening? (Although ‘research’ shows that yes, it absolutely is.)

But it’s also that it seems incongruous. Having the Doctor snog River at the end of ‘The Name of the Doctor’s is one thing. Have her talk about screaming is another. I accept – with great reluctance – that contemporary Doctor Who has to deal with the romance thing, simply because if the show doesn’t, the fanfiction will (and already has, with numerous Doctors and multiple companions, often in the same room at the same time). I just think there’s a line. Torchwood crossed that line regularly, and was usually at its worst when it did (episode seven of Miracle Day aside). Torchwood dealt with alien invasion and any time it did sex felt like a gratuitous post-watershed shopping spree. The same could be said of the bad language – it was teenage boys writing rude words in the back of their maths books, or making the computers in the I.T. lab swear at them (never did this. Honest). There was an episode that dealt with a nymphomaniac alien that destroyed its victims at the point of orgasm, but aside from that most of the sexual encounters were mildly sordid (see Owen / Gwen, or Owen / just about anyone), or merely used for comic relief, rather than fitting with the narrative (although the irony of the Miracle Day series-closer, which saw an omni-sexual man save the world by depositing his fluids within an enormous crack, cannot be denied).

It’s not that it’s wrong to deal with sex – it’s just that neither show is really about sex, and thus its inclusion is always going to feel like a crowd-pleasing incongruity, rather than something that actually fits. There’s a story Gareth often tells me about John Nathan Turner and his tendency to provide a checklist of items that each story ought to include, whether they fit the narrative or not. “‘This one will be in Amsterdam.  And have Omega returning.  And a double of the Doctor.  And the return of Tegan.  And Nyssa’s outfit should look like [this], because it’s what the dads will want to see’ (this, as Janet Fielding points out often, from a gay man with a liking for Hawaiian shirts).” One suspects that Russell T Davies did much the same thing, only his mostly consisted of ‘gay jokes, catchphrases, and then the same gay jokes made in a different room’.

I accept there’s a certain amount of nostalgia inherent within this analysis, but we all bring our own baggage to readings of Who, whether we want to or not. The factor of the matter is that with a few notable exceptions, sex pre-2005 just didn’t seem to exist. Not really.

 

 

But if we’re really going there – and let’s face it, we can’t really not having come this far – and if we’re going to generate this list of Doctor Who porn titles, then this is the sort of thing we might expect from the back catalogue. Some of these are Gareth’s. I will leave it to you to work out which.

The Underwear Menace
Furry, Fun and Deep
Head From Space
Carnal Eve of Monsters
The Groin of Morbius
The Basque of Bandragora
The Hand-Job of Fear
Whore of Fang Rock
The Invasion of Tim
The Armageddon Fucked Her
The Horny of Nimon
Castrovulva
The High Penis Patrol
The Sontaran Slutty Gem
Flesh On Stone
Pandora Opens
The Angels Take Manny Hatton
Deep Breasts

This is not an exhaustive list. But I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Next time: sandwiches, and why they’re great.

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How to get as many Doctor Who references into a camping holiday as possible

“Take Who with you!” urged Gareth when I said I was going on a two-week camping excursion to the coasts of Pembrokeshire. I’d got in touch to tell him my Big Finish listening would have to go on hold for a fortnight, along with the dips into old stories. As tempted as I was to put ‘The Axis of Insanity’ on the iPod, I really don’t think that two hours of vaguely metaphysical ramblings was really the kind of thing I wanted to inflict on my family, even if Peter Davison was involved.

But there are other ways that you can take a break without taking a break from the show. For example, here’s my reading list.

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The Science of Doctor Who, in particular, is very good, and suitably all-encompassing, published as it was in 2006 with only the Eccleston series to draw upon in any great detail; it thus avoids the post-revival tendency towards revisionism, in which anything that happened between 1963 and 1989 is viewed as an irrelevance. I can’t speak for the scientific validity of the text, but Parsons’ Who-related knowledge is pretty impressive, although he loses points for getting his facts wrong about ‘Doomsday’. Then again, perhaps he – like me – could only bear to watch the episode once without the influence of alcohol, and has flushed it from his memory. (That’s the episode, not the alcohol, which is still sloshing about in my brain somewhere.)

Harvest of Time is still half-read as I go to press, so more on that on another occasion. Earthworld is a fun (and occasionally highly amusing) romp through a futuristic theme park, but it seems a strange choice for the Past Doctor Adventure reissue series, relying heavily as it does on an ongoing backstory. I could just about cope with the fact that the Doctor is suffering from partial amnesia and has forgotten that he’s just blown up Gallifrey (for the first time), and that one of the companions had recently suffered a major loss. But then there was cloning and multiple timelines and Blinovitch-related stuff that’s just confusing if you’re encountering this story arc for the first time, having been unceremoniously plonked in the middle of it. It’s rather like watching the original VHS release of ‘The Invasion’, with Nicholas Courtney’s between-episode summaries, or watching ‘The Time of the Doctor’ with no knowledge of what’s been going on for the past eight years, as a great many people presumably did on Christmas Day last year.

But anyway. We hadn’t been in Pembrokeshire long when we found the box of bricks at the Roch village fete. The Roch fete is a treasure trove of random, but instantly essential items. It has a vaguely Needful Things-esque quality to it. Three years ago we found a tea set that matches our coffee set. I don’t care that we’ve never used it and the dust layer is now three inches deep; it looks fantastic on the sideboard and that’s all that counts. The bricks we bought were mostly generic building blocks, but there was this.

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Which instantly put me in mind of the halfway point of ‘Logopolis’, and the incredible shrinking TARDIS – or the ending of ‘Hunters of the Burning Stone‘, which I’ve recently read (and which reads, by the way, like an on-spec script for one of Moffat’s Doctor Who stories, being thoroughly ridiculous). It wasn’t the first time I’d seen the TARDIS that week; it really does seem to be making an appearance here.

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(Yes, i know it’s a grain silo.)

In any case, there was a creative aspect to this that got my juices buzzing, and it turns out that you can make a Dalek out of just about anything.

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I have absolutely no idea what’s going on with that first photograph of the sand Dalek. It looks warped. I think I had the wrong lens on the camera. The stick figure in the second one, as added by one of our travelling companions, at least adds a bit of perspective.

Back up in the field, my brother-in-law was assembling wood for the campfire. It may have been this that triggered Joshua’s memories of cub camp, and he proceeded to teach the entire family the songs he’d learned, none of which were filthy, unfortunately. Having never attended cub camp myself (I was a Boys’ Brigade man, and even then only for four years and never under canvas) I could remember learning most of them in the course of one evening when the hall in which we held our choir rehearsals experienced a power cut, rendering the reading of sheet music all but impossible. We passed the time singing part songs while we waited for them to fix the lights. There was one song I’d learned that night which Joshua evidently hadn’t, and I taught it to him now:

“To stop the train in cases of emergency
Pull on the chain
Pull on the chain
Penalty for improper use: fifty pounds.”

I think the original was ‘five pounds’, but our choirmaster was allowing for inflation.

It wasn’t long before we were adapting this:

“To stop the TARDIS in cases of emergency
Pull on the brake
Pull on the brake
Penalty for improper use: THE ENTIRE OBLITERATION OF THE UNIVERSE.”

One of my in-laws’ favourite family songs is called ‘Goodbye Horse’ (nothing to do with the Q Lazarus song), which goes “Goodbye horse / Goodbye horse / I was saying goodbye to my horse / And as I was saying goodbye to my horse, I was saying goodbye to my horse”. You then repeat the song in all manner of silly voices, including (on this occasion, and entirely for my benefit) an agitated Dalek. I then discovered that you can actually sing ‘Goodbye Horse’ to the Doctor Who theme. Go on, try it. What do you mean you’re reading this at work?

Having a campfire is all well and good when the weather’s fine, but when the wind comes in over Newgale it blows the tent quite fiercely, at least in that upper field – it’s the price we pay for the view. As the rain set in and Emily rushed round outside securing the guy ropes (which she usually does herself, not so much out of choice, but more because I’m really not very good at it) I was left inside with Edward, who was watching the tent billow and flap with wide eyes. Rain inside a tent is loud, and you sometimes have to shout to be heard. The more musically astute amongst you will recall the scene in The Sound of Music where Julie Andrews comforts the Von Trapp children during a particularly nasty thunderstorm by singing about brown paper packages and apple strudels. But if you’re going to sing ‘My Favourite Things’ on a camping trip three weeks before a new Doctor is set to take off in the TARDIS, you probably ought to change the words.

“Autons and Zygons and Drashigs and Mara
Zoe and Leela and Peri and Clara
Bubblewrap aliens tied up with strings
These are a few of my favourite things

Cliffhanger endings with crap resolutions
Violence and carnage and phallic protrusions
Not-dead companions married to kings
These are a few of my favourite things

Comic Sontarans, bisexual Harkness
Peter is taking us off into darkness
That sense of doom when the cloister bell rings
These are a few of my favourite things

When the Beeb strikes, when the fans whinge
When the scripts are bad
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don’t feel so sad!”

Artistic license, of course – I really don’t like Strax, and I daresay lots of people don’t like the ending of ‘The Ultimate Foe’, but at least it scans, just about.

The whole thing is very silly, but it’s become something of a family joke. I’m relatively easy to buy gifts for: if you stick a Doctor Who logo on it, I’ll be happy. And yes, it is an obsession these days, and chances are if you wandered in here not knowing much about the show, having Googled for the ‘My Favourite Things’ lyrics, you’ll probably wonder what on earth my wife thinks about all this. The answer is she tolerates it, because she loves me, and because it’s the one thing I can actually profess to know a fair bit about without having to bluff. I’ve spent years as a jack of many trades and master of none, and if my writing topics these days have streamlined quite a bit, I do at least get to write about something I enjoy and can actually deconstruct without inadvertently toppling the tower and getting in a complete muddle. And if you can avoid keeping everything in-universe, you stay healthy. Doctor Who is often at its best when it’s an allegory for something, and it’s always fun to see how it relates to the real world, which sometimes isn’t so different.

I was reflecting on all this one evening, and called to mind a passage in Earthworld, which I’d just finished.

‘Even sky-blue pink?’ Anji asked. The Doctor looked quizzical. ‘It’s a sort of joke. A thing kids say. A mythical colour, because it can’t exist. If something’s pink, it can’t be sky-blue.’

The Doctor smiled. ‘But sometimes the blue sky can be flushed with pink. It can be quite beautiful. Maybe that’s what it means. Not everything’s black and white, you know. Although the sky can be black or white, of course.’

And of course, it can.

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