Monthly Archives: October 2014

Creative Thinking

I’m in Cambridge with no access to my files, so God is in the Detail will have to wait until next week. Instead, I bring you this leftover from the Orient Express episode.


Thomas had a school garden project to complete before half term. If you’ve been here a while you may recall that Joshua had something similar a couple of years back, and that we did it with Lego, and then had the Cybermen trash the place. This time, Emily produced a quite wonderful winter-themed garden in about five minutes flat (winter’s always popular; I blame Frozen) rendered in cotton wool and filled with stuff they’d found out the back, to add a touch of authenticity.

Then I undid all the authenticity by adding a TARDIS.


I’m no good with cotton wool, but I manage in other ways. The week before, Edward and I had gone to the local children’s centre for our weekly play session. On this occasion they’d got out the Stickle Bricks – toys I remember from my childhood and never really liked. The meshing system never works symmetrically, because the interlocking fingers never quite match up, so that if you try and jam a selection of bricks together it just looks uneven (this is impossible to explain, but if you’ve ever done it you’ll know exactly what I mean). What’s more, the gaps between the fingers get filthy, like the teeth of a comb, gripped by small hands who haven’t washed, and eventually they break off completely, leaving ugly edges that don’t stick together nearly as well as they do in the commercials, where bright and shiny children with perfect teeth produce immaculate, intricate models that wouldn’t look out of place in a modern art gallery.

Anyway, we made the best of things, and on this particular morning we built a stickle brick Ice Warrior, and also a Dalek. As you do.

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Review: ‘In the Forest of the Night’


This morning, we watched the first episode of the new series of Dinopaws. It’s a show I’ve written about before, and I won’t elaborate here, but suffice to say it contained a tiny plant that grew (over the course of ten minutes) into an impressive grapevine, as our intrepid threesome guarded it from the intense heat of the desert and a small army of colourful slugs, desperate all the while not to give in to their own hunger. The moral was clear: if you nurture your babies (real and metaphorical) in infancy, they will eventually look after you.

I mention this now because there was more tension, story and excitement within that ten minute CBeebies broadcast than there was in forty-five minutes of Doctor Who on Saturday. ‘In the Forest of the Night’ may have had an abundance of greenery, but it had no roots whatsoever. Seldom have I seen the talents of a great writer (Frank Cottrell-Boyce, penning his first episode) so utterly squandered. Steven Moffat is quoted as saying “Frank’s script is pure magic – and everything I could have hoped for from the genius behind the Olympics opening ceremony. Doctor Who is born anew in the mind of a genius.” Presumably he’s either talking about some future episode we haven’t seen yet, or the first draft of this one, before it was butchered.


There’s nothing wrong with the setup. Danny and Clara have just concluded a sleepover at a London museum (which raises all sorts of questions about what they might have been up to after lights out, but let’s not go there) and awaken, Sleeping Beauty style, to find that a forest has grown over their kingdom. It turns out, as is revealed by one of those generic newsreel montages featuring real reporters, that it’s not just London – it’s the whole world. (At least we don’t have Huw Edwards saying that it’s a forest of hope and love, which I suppose is something to be grateful for.)

Meanwhile, the Doctor is in town, having been alerted to the situation by a young girl called Maebh, who has wandered away from Coal Hill’s Gifted and Talented group (read: children in need of counselling) and found the TARDIS. She did this because the voices in her head told her to – specifically an imaginary Clara Oswald, or “Miss”, as Maebh refers to her, fuelling the fires of debate as the fans confuse generic classroom terminology for actual clues about the identity of the series 8 enigma. The Doctor’s response to the adults’ medical treatment of Maebh’s condition is typical moralistic obnoxiousness: the voices in her head are obviously real, he muses (and of course, this turns out to be true) and the adults’ wish to silence them is tantamount to child abuse. It’s a similar approach to the one that Richard Curtis employed in ‘Vincent and the Doctor’, an episode that worked better because it was about a long-dead artist, rather than a vulnerable teenager.

I’m overreacting. But it strikes me that dealing with important topics in this haphazard manner – as they did in ‘Kill the Moon’ – is borderline irresponsible. Maebh’s condition, indeed, turns out to be the catalyst for what is presumably supposed to be the plot: the forest, she insists, is her creation, coinciding as it does with the imminent arrival of a solar flare that threatens to engulf the Earth. By the time the Doctor’s figured this out, it may be too late to do anything – this sort of ‘catastrophe’ is a regular occurrence, he insists, and is necessary for planetary growth and development.

What basically appears to have happened is that Cottrell-Boyce read a pop science book on gaiaism and then forgot that his story needed an ending – either that, or he wrote one which was then swept away from him in favour of the juddering halt that’s used instead. Like ‘Listen’ before it, the monster-related twist in ‘Forest’ is that there is no monster, the trees’ plan benevolent to the last. It is we, the cruel humans, who are the monsters, epitomised here by the sort of sinister, faceless men in biohazard suits that turned up at Elliot’s home in the latter half of E.T. The last time Doctor Who waded this deeply into spiritualism was ‘Kinda’, a story that also deals with complex themes but which does, at least, feature a gigantic snake.

I wouldn’t mind if this policy of non-intervention were a one-off, but it’s the third time this series that the “do nothing and wait” solution has been presented, and it wore out its welcome even before ‘Kill The Moon’. As in that story, the only intervention necessary on the part of the Doctor and / or his companions is a frantic telephone call to the rest of humanity, echoing, in many ways, the nonsensical approach of Clara’s wide-eyed plea a few episodes back. “Everybody on the earth,” says Maebh. “You don’t know who I am or what I’m talking about and mostly don’t speak English but if you want to avoid a serious suntan, put your pesticide sprays away now. Also, don’t let the fact that I sound exactly like Peppa Pig put you off.”

The defenders of this sort of damp squib would point out that it’s churlish to criticise such implausibility in a story that deals with a forest that grows overnight and then vanishes, leaving roads and pavements miraculously intact with no collateral damage. I might have been willing to let it go if it had felt like an ending of any sort – even a ridiculous one – but as it stands I was refilling my glass, checking my watch and wondering what I’d do with the extra hour when the clocks went back overnight. (See this one again with the children? That’s that sorted then.)

The worst thing is that ‘Forest’ isn’t a complete disaster. The last time we had one of those, it was mid-2013 ad I was tearing my hair out during ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, an episode that failed catastrophically on just about every level. I couldn’t say that about ‘Forest’, which smacks instead of a good idea done badly, and which (despite its multitude of flaws) I almost enjoyed in places. Structurally it never gets off the ground, even though the trees do – but visually it works reasonably well, establishing a young, impromptu forest that’s decently rendered and effectively lit. The fairytale aspect of Maebh’s pursuit through the woods also draws deep from the Grimm Brothers’ well, although why the Doctor chose to establish this in a tedious and unnecessary monologue is anyone’s guess.

Tedious signposting aside, Cottrell-Boyce has a flair for dialogue that’s borne out through some decent production choices. Cleverly, the producers have cast child actors who manage to inhabit their characters without quite straying into stereotypes (although they occasionally come dangerously close), with the net result that the Gifted and Talented kids are easily the most watchable thing about this week. Abigail Eames, in particular, shines as Maebh, while Ashley Foster does a very good job as Bradley (“When I’m stressed, I forget my anger management”), and Harley Bird – who plays Ruby – is downright hysterical. I suspect these children are best utilised as one-story characters – but if Moffat chose to bring them back, I don’t think I’d object.

Danny’s discovery of a pile of marking in the TARDIS, meanwhile, is a lipstick-on-your-collar moment that thankfully isn’t overplayed – indeed, Danny is easily the more likeable of the two sidekicks this week, leading the kids with flair and enthusiasm, eventually dispatching a tiger with a torch. It’s more than can be said for his girlfriend, who is clearly always going to be a companion first and a teacher second: for someone who was ranting about duty of care while she was on the moon, Clara’s behaviour this week is borderline irresponsible, and her drippy affirmations that the uncertain Doctor is simply ‘playing for time’ are irritating in the extreme.

Curiously, Clara’s developmental arc this series mirrors that of the Tenth Doctor and Rose in 2006, whereby they became increasingly reliant upon one another in order that the pain of separation on the beaches of Wales Norway would be that much greater. Unfortunately in the process of doing so they also became smug and irritating to an extreme, and so too the adulterous, deceptive Clara demolished the last vestiges of her appeal long before the apparent ‘twist’ hinted at in next week’s trailer (although I suspect there’s more to it, and that the twist is that she hasn’t turned at all). I don’t like the idea of companion-centred developmental arcs, but if we must have them, then Coleman deserves better than this – and so, for that matter, does Clara herself.

I suspect that regular readers of this blog are probably getting a little tired of the whinging that constitutes my review section at the moment. Even the compliments I make about “good” episodes are usually backhanded (last week was a particularly potent example). A friend of mine said the other day – not to me directly, although I’m sure I fall within his intended audience – that “if a TV show makes you repeatedly cross, it’s probably better to watch something else. Life’s too short.” He has a valid point, although I said in response (and yes, it basically is the same thing) that you don’t give up on your football team simply because they’re not playing very well at the moment.

It’s the wasted potential that irritates me. Years ago, Arsenal (whom my younger brother has supported ever since he was a spotty teenager) signed David Platt – a decision that came back to haunt them, when they were unable to utilise him effectively. In the same way, Doctor Who has a talented production team, a decent set of actors and some talented writers who (this year at least) seem to make it their life’s mission to spin gold into straw. It’s frustrating because when ‘Kinda’ came out it had to achieve the impossible on a far smaller budget (even allowing for inflation) than Who has now, and still managed to come up with an imaginative, effectively rendered story, even if the snake was the sort of thing that makes the comedy clip shows. Thirty-two years later, ‘In The Forest of the Night’ took an interesting idea and then forgot to take it anywhere. It’s fundamentally pointless, neither a good story nor an effective game-changer, instead abandoned and lost and aimless, wandering around the unstructured confines of its own jungle.



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Go, Fourth, and Multiply

Here’s this week’s collection of random images from yours truly, all Tom Baker related.

I am making my first foray into the world of peripatetic music tuition, and teaching the piano to the boy round the corner. And, you know, one thing sort of led to another…


Teaching the piano is a welcome distraction from Facebook, because my news feed has been full of those irritating ‘bets’. You know. The one where you post a pregnancy test result and if anyone falls for it they then have to change their profile picture to a sloth. Or the breast cancer ones aimed at gender solidification, where you post ‘secret’ answers to questions that only women know about.


I should mention at this point that my sister-in-law gave birth to a healthy baby boy yesterday. They have called him Noah. In honour of the event I suggested that we all dress up in green bubble wrap and lurch around Southmead Hospital. This was vetoed. Some people just don’t understand culture.

Question: how far do you go to get a pun? Particularly when the target audience is someone who knows their Doctor Who and Metal Gear Solid into the bargain?

This far.

An hour of sourcing and chopping and filtering. Totally worth it.

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God is in the detail (part xx)

This week we’re looking at ‘Flatline’, an episode high on visual content and rife with clues pointing to VERY IMPORTANT THINGS THAT WILL HAVE SIGNIFICANCE LATER ON.

As is customary, I’ll be jumping around, rather than going through chronologically. We’ll start at the halfway point, and you’ll observe, in this shot, the arrival of Clara and her new friends at the train depot.

Flatline Detail (2)

The first character on the side of the carriage is partially obscured, but we’ll assume that it’s an incomplete letter ‘Q’. Let’s deal with 8503 first – a number which refers to an Australian visa condition requiring the holder to depart the country in order to apply for another visa. This is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to Tegan Jovanka, who had to leave the series (at the end of ‘Time Flight’) in order to return to it, and to whom we referred extensively in a previous entry in this series.

However, this is a double-barrelled clue: 8503 also applies to an oil rig, currently in the Gulf of Mexico. The Third Doctor and Jo spend lengthy periods on an oil rig in Alistair Reynolds’ Harvest of Time, which also features the Master. The ‘Q’ is thus a link to Qatar, a country rich in oil and the host of the 2022 World Cup, and from this we conclude that series nine will feature the Doctor and Tegan visiting Qatar and witnessing an earlier incarnation (the Eleventh Doctor, obviously) scoring the winning goal in the last minute of extra time, releasing a hundred tiny aliens into the stratosphere in the process.

While we’re on the subject of trains, have a look here.

Flatline Detail Trains

113 refers, significantly, to ‘The Dancing Floor’, episode three of ‘The Celestial Toymaker’, whose IMMINENT RETURN is foreshadowed by the animated floors present in this week’s installment. Decoding the second train is a little trickier, as it refers not to episode 65, but rather episode 65 in the Second Doctor’s run, to which the ‘2’ alludes. This turns out to be part two of ‘Fury From The Deep’, a story with which Matt West seems to be quietly obsessed. It was also Deborah Watling’s last story. UNTIL NOW.

Deep within the tunnels, we can see a sign on the door.

Flatline Detail (7)


Except it’s not that simple.

‘W D’ is, instead, an obvious reference to Willem Dafoe, who is thus pegged to be the 17th Doctor. Except, of course, Dafoe’s not getting any younger, and we’re still on Doctor no.12, so either Moffat is planning on casting an ageing Doctor, or he’s going to bring in some wibbly wobbly trick and cast him in a year or two as a future incarnation travelling back along his own timeline. It’s been a while since we had a Valeyard conspiracy, so perhaps that’s where we’re headed.

Or is it?

Let’s see what happens when we mix up that text a little.

Flatline Detail chalk)

The last time the Doctor had mail, it turned out to be a psychic container from another Time Lord – a long-dead Time Lord, as it turned out, but this is CLEARLY a sign that there are others out there. Iris Wildthyme must be due a TV appearance by now. Does anyone have Katy Manning’s number? Not that it matters, as she seems to have the Doctor’s.

Moving on, when is a door not a door?

Flatline Detail (3)

When its handle gets flattened, that’s when, but ignore the door and look at the cryptic numbers to its left. 26038 ostensibly refers to a particular type of diesel locomotive, but that’s only part of the story: it’s also the zip code for Glen Dale, a city in West Virginia and home to country singer Brad Paisley. The connections to Doctor Who seem slim at best, until we recall this scene from ‘Victory of the Daleks’:

DOCTOR: All right, Prof. Now, the PM’s been filling me in. Amazing things, these Ironsides of yours. Amazing. You must be very proud of them.

BRACEWELL: Just doing my bit.

AMY: Not bad for a Paisley boy.

BRACEWELL: Yes, I thought I detected a familiar cadence, my dear.

And I think we all know what this means, don’t we…?

Next: a flat.

Flatline Detail (1)

Notice the two horses, which refer to the Black and White Guardians, as encountered by the Fourth and Fifth Doctors. The clock on the mantelpiece reads 12:44 pm, which in itself does not seem significant until we examine this:


(Retrieved from here.)

Valdore is a Romulan Admiral in assorted Star Trek: Enterprise stories, played by Brian Thompson, who significantly played the Alien Bounty Hunter in The X-Files. CLEARLY a Mulder and Scully investigation of the Doctor’s activities, along with a crossover with UNIT, cannot be far away. (In fanfiction terms, of course, it’s already a distant memory.)

Meanwhile, back in the train yard:

Flatline Detail (4)

2055 marks the year after the Martian expedition that took centre stage in ‘The Waters of Mars’, so it’s CLEARLY A YEAR OF GREAT SIGNIFICANCE.

Of course:


You can read more about this (including the various arguments rebuffing it) in a reddit comment thread I discovered last night. I mean, honestly. These people are the same sorts of people who think you can predict the apocalypse by adding up ages in the Bible.

It’s a good thing we’re not so silly here, isn’t it?

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Review: ‘Flatline’

In many ways, it’s a pain in the arse when Doctor Who is good. It makes it harder to write about it. I seem to do all my best work when I’m criticising an episode for lacklustre pacing, inconsistent or non-existent characterisation or lousy dialogue. This is mostly down to habit. I’ve spent so long wallowing through second-rate stories that the ability to dissect them has become almost second nature, so when something enjoyable comes along, I become well and truly stumped.

‘Flatline’ is one of those stories that probably caused major headaches at the readthrough, because so much of it is visual. From the outset, where a bearded, nameless chap makes a cryptic phone call before vanishing into the floor, the ‘show, don’t tell’ mantra is working non-stop. Despondent-looking murals hang on subway walls. Furnishings bleed and melt into wooden floorboards. Doorknobs flatten and then pop back into existence. The BBC’s audio description unit must have filed for overtime.

It’s telling that the last time we had an episode in which paintings come to life, it was an absolute disaster. It featured a troubled estate, a talented young black artist and a bunch of council workers. It also ended with ball bearings and the Olympic torch, both of which ‘Flatline’ mercifully lacks. Instead we are graced with a tedious exchange about the nature of goodness. In my laundry list of poor episode traits in that opening paragraph, I mentioned lousy dialogue, and it’s a shame to report that ‘Flatline’ has it in spades. It manages when the science takes centre stage, but anything human – and there is, once again, far too much riffing about Danny and Clara – is frankly painful. Based on his performance this week and last, Jamie Mathieson is capable of decent gags but stumbles when it comes to getting two people (human or otherwise) to have a conversation that doesn’t sound like a first draft of a spec script – which, for all we know, is exactly what this was.


But whereas ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ had nothing to fall back upon save some pleasant surroundings and an overused monster, ‘Flatline’ has its central premise: people disappearing into the walls. The disappearances on what is presumably a lower-class council estate are largely ignored by the local authorities (this week’s bit of social commentary couldn’t be more overstated if you gave it a fluorescent sandwich board and made it stand on a street corner) and derided by the unpleasant Fenton, a sneering jobsworth who refreshingly lives to the end scene with his nastiness entirely intact. Fenton is there chiefly to give Clara someone to rub up against, but his obvious shallowness is easy to overlook in the wake of an entertaining performance by Christopher Fairbank, famous for Auf Wiedersehn, Pet and for being dangled over the edge of a roof by Michael Keaton.

While all this is going on, the Doctor is trapped inside a shrinking TARDIS – the ‘Logopolis’ / ‘Planet of Giants’ parallels come to an abrupt halt once you realise that it’s only the TARDIS shrinking, and not the Doctor himself. This is basically an excuse for some amusing sight gags, most notably the image of Capaldi’s head pressed up against the undersized door, staring through the fourth wall as if daring you to laugh at his predicament. It echoes the end of episode four of ‘Miracle Day’, in which an unpleasant politician meets an untimely un-end in a car crusher, but this tendency to stare mid-episode would arguably be more effective if (at least in the UK) we weren’t presented with that same pre-episode continuity interruption EVERY SINGLE WEEK. (Those of you watching elsewhere, or on iPlayer, will have no idea what I’m talking about, but anyone who recorded it will be nodding right about now.) The image of the Doctor facing the camera, talking to some unseen adversary (or ally) has been a common sight since the show switched to the single-camera format in 2005, but rarely has any Doctor stared at the audience (as opposed to just past it) as much as Capaldi seems to. He’s probably anxious to show off his eyebrows.


Splitting the two time travellers up works quite well, as it turns out. Whereas ‘The Lodger’ (operating on much the same premise) minimised Amy’s role so that the Doctor could banter with James Corden, ‘Flatline’ subverts things by having Clara ostensibly assume centre stage while Capaldi shouts down a radio mic like Danny Glover in Bat 21. Let no one fool you with this ‘Clara is the Doctor’ rubbish. She’s not. Capaldi is the Doctor, and never allows us to forget it, whether he’s pursing his lips with wide eyes when she says something that sounds vaguely Doctorish, or passing out in the TARDIS when it’s turned into an exact replica of the collectible Pandorica cube you could buy with the series five action figures. The Doctor never allows confinement to stop him being the centre of attention, as is epitomised in the scene where he trundles off a railway line, away from the path of an approaching train, using his fingers. It’s a tense but deeply comical moment, simply by virtue of being so utterly ridiculous, and to his credit Mathieson gets the Addams Family gag out of the way before we even have a chance to think of it.



In terms of narrative and setting, this week’s episode pays obvious homage to the satirical Flatland, or at the very least one of the subsequent film adaptations, and the relatively foggy explanation of the unnamed alien race’s origins or motivations leaves the story open-ended for a Twelfth Doctor novel at some point (in TV terms it’s a one-story idea, and I have a feeling Big Finish won’t touch it with a barge pole, even if they can get the rights). We know as little about the Killer Graffiti by the end as we did when they claimed their first (on-screen) victim, but the Doctor’s futile attempts to communicate with them before he ultimately destroys them echo, strangely enough, the moral appeasement of Bill Pullman halfway through Independence Day, when a mental link with the invading aliens leaves him with the knowledge that “they’re like parasites”, and the moral justification to launch all out war. When the Doctor steps forth from his rejuvenated TARDIS into the tunnel it’s a powerful moment, unfortunately undermined by some quite unnecessary monologuing, but it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without The Big Speech. Even McCoy had his share.

Besides, those aliens are downright creepy. They look like TV distortion – for a moment I thought tonight’s low atmospheric pressure had knackered the signal, but a glance online tells me that no, it’s a deliberate design feature. They are wordless, relentless, and almost featureless. Stylistically they vaguely resemble the scramble suits used in A Scanner Darkly, but in science fiction it seems there is nothing new under the sun, and I’m prepared to let that go. And they presumably had a generation of children glancing uneasily at the pictures on their wall tonight, waiting perhaps for the eyes to move like in Scooby Doo, and perhaps that’s as it should be.


It’s ironic: an episode of Doctor Who that deals with life in two dimensions, and that manages to be somehow more solid and substantial than almost anything else we’ve seen this series. Oh, there was moralistic whinging about whether victory ought to be celebrated in the wake of so much death, a conversation that was presumably there for the kids. There was the Clara and Danny thing. And there was the unnecessary inclusion of Missy, who cannot possibly be interesting, whoever she turns out to be. And if you step back from the visuals and examine what was going on the whole thing really was a little bit pointless. But when a story is as fast-paced, visually appealing and downright fun as ‘Flatline’ was, you find that the superficial stuff actually matters far less than perhaps it ought to. The other week I said that you could either write a decent domestic drama or an outright scary story. Both Mathieson and Moffat still have some way to go to come up with anything about the Clara / Danny / Doctor triangle that’s going to make me interested. But they came up trumps with the monster this week, and delivered something that was elegantly directed, decently performed, and supremely entertaining. And for that, I’m very grateful.



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God is in the detail (part xix)

Jelly babies.

They’re not just delicious confectionary, you know. Jelly babies have layers of importance. And as we saw in ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’, which we’ll be talking about today, even the most innocent looking sweet can be charged with hidden meaning and THINGS THAT WILL BECOME VERY IMPORTANT LATER.

Mummy_Detail (2)

You’ll observe, in the first instance, the presence of ten jelly babies in the tin, an UNAMBIGUOUS reference to the first ten Doctors, as presented in chronological order and discounting the War Doctor. We know this to be so because Moorhouse – whose hand you can see reaching into the tin – is clearly about to take the fourth jelly baby in the sequence, thus establishing the link between the bag of sweets and the Fourth Doctor, who used them more than any other, even when his efforts were rebuffed.

You will also notice the use of yellow to indicate the Ninth Doctor’s conviction that he is a “coward, any day”, but it is the Fifth Doctor I want you to be looking at, because Moffat’s decision to use a black jelly baby here is almost certainly a link to the Black Guardian, and his IMMINENT RETURN. I will throw out a curveball here and point out that Missy is always seen in black, and that she is apparently a gatekeeper. (Presumably Rick Moranis is already weighing up his options.)

But it’s not just the Black Guardian we need to be thinking about, because the presence of the Fourth Doctor (which I’ve covered in various other posts in this series) extends far beyond a cigar tin full of jelly babies. The beach is significant, but colours are also important here, so the best way to explain is visually. For instance –

Mummy_Detail (6)





And – I don’t think we need to go on, do we?

The kitchen next. Have a look at this.

Mummy_Detail (3)

The clock on the wall, as you’ll have guessed, is the focus of our attention. That’s meant in a literal sense, because the screen grab I have taken is from when it is at its clearest throughout the Foretold’s kitchen stalk – i.e. the moment we’re supposed to be looking at it. You will note that it reads 10:11 precisely, which is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to both Tennant (who spent time on another iconic mode of transport that happened to be floating in space) and Smith (who frequently dressed as if he was about to). The countdown clock in the corner is at 50.1 seconds – or, to put another way, 50+1, i.e. the year after the anniversary. This year, in other words. THIS IS HAPPENING IN THE SERIES FINALE.

Also note the second hand, which is at fifty-nine seconds, thus providing the year in which the Seventh Doctor and Mel visited Shangri-La in Wales, the setting for ‘Delta and the Bannermen’. It is also the year Paul McGann was born, but I think that’s a step too far.

OR IS IT? In order to explore this further, I bring you the Excelsior Life Extender.

Mummy_Detail (1)

Excelsior, as any true fan knows, is the villain in ‘The Last‘, a 2004 Big Finish drama starring – yes, you guessed it – the Eighth Doctor. Set in a war-ravaged apocalyptic wasteland, the Doctor, Charlie and C’Rizz come face to face with a despotic power-crazed dictator doomed to subject her people to approximately the same dismal scenario over and over until she gets it right. Never mind the fact that this sounds like the past three series: we are clearly about to see the return of the Divergent universe and Rassilon.

Additionally, the homophonic doppelganger for ‘Excelsior’ is ‘Ex sells Eeyore’, and in the next Eighth Doctor audio adventure, ‘Caerdroia‘, the Doctor is split into three differently-faceted components – his measured, intellectual side, as well as an excitable eccentric and grumpy cynic whom Charlie (a former, or ex-companion of the Doctor) names Tigger and Eeyore respectively. NONE OF THIS IS A COINCIDENCE.

Moving on: here’s this week’s episode numbers roundup.

Mummy_Detail (5)

Cast your mind back to my review of ‘The Caretaker’, if you bothered to read it, and you may recall a brief conversation about the eyebrows – a gag which had already worn out its welcome the second time it was used, and which, we’d thought, had escaped inclusion this week. But a closer inspection reveals that this is CLEARLY not the case.

Look at the numbers in the image above. Episode 255 is part two of ‘Spearhead from Space’, in which this happens.

DOCTOR: My dear Brigadier, it’s no earthly good asking me a lot of questions. I’ve lost my memory, you see?

BRIGADIER: How do I know that you’re not an imposter?

DOCTOR: Ah, but you don’t, you don’t. Only I know that. What do you think of my new face, by the way? I wasn’t too sure about it myself to begin with. But it sort of grows on you. Very flexible, you know. Could be useful on the planet Delphon, where they communicate with their eyebrows.

“But why is it listed twice?” I don’t hear you ask. Well, HOW MANY EYEBROWS DO YOU HAVE?

Both the Tenth Doctor and the Third Doctor turn up covertly when we look at some of the other numbers. 098, for instance, refers to ‘Volcano’, from ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’. You will recall the scene in ‘Deep Breath’ in which the Doctor accosts a homeless man on the streets of London, asking about the significance of both his eyebrows and also the face he had – alluding to ‘Fires of Pompeii’, and its climactic volcano.

To the left of ‘Gus’, you’ll see 349 and 259, which refer to episodes from the Third Doctor’s run (‘Planet of the Daleks’ and ‘Doctor Who and the Silurians’ respectively). If I were to say that this refers to the IMMINENT RETURN OF JO GRANT, you’d probably think this required a greater leap of faith than you were able to muster. However, have a look at this:

Mummy_Detail (4)

Which, as you’ll remember, is the flag upon the wall in the science lab where the second half of the episode takes place. The alien symbols that the Doctor successfully decodes when he manages to deactivate the Foretold may look like innocent runes, until you twist them.


The resulting acronym – TDFF, obviously – can mean a number of things, but is likely to refer to Third Derivative Functional Form, which CLEARLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY refers to the Pertwee era, as extensively referenced in the numbers breakdown. This still applies even if you choose to read TDFF as TOFF instead, for reasons that should be fairly obvious if you’ve ever seen the Third Doctor swish his cape.

(Incidentally, other entries for TDFF include the Tracy Demonstration Fish Facility and the Toronto Dog Film Festival. I swear, I’m not making this up. Truth is always stranger than fiction, unless you’re reading Valis…)

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Can we fix it? No, it’s the chameleon circuit

When I’m doing freelance stuff, I have to immerse myself in the press to find out what everyone else is reading – what’s trending, what’s popular and what people are going to want to see. It means I have read rather more than I’d have liked about the iPhone6, the Ebola virus and the ISIS thing – all important issues (well, except for the first one, unless you happen to be Steven Fry) but media saturation about how crap the world is can get you down.

Metro – for whom I write regularly – have a spider fixation. Stories about the autumnal arachnid invasion are all over the newspapers at this time of year, but 2014 coverage seems more extensive than ever, presumably because some of the spiders appear to have evolved or at least been immersed in the sort of growth formula that mutated the Ninja Turtles. If you read my ‘Kill The Moon’ review, you will recall the particular hangup I have about certain eight-legged creatures of the hairy kind, and we will not dwell on that, except to say that I have still not quite forgiven Chris Woodson (not his real name) for repeatedly shoving page eight of the biology textbook in front of my face during those GCSE science lessons. Emily calls me a wuss, and she is right.

However, I did this. Obviously.


Meanwhile, Bob the Builder is in trouble, having been given a trendy new image in the wake of a new series, causing the sort of outcry on social media that makes headlines, at least when bored journalists have nothing else to write about (if we cared as much about terrorism as we seem to about TV remakes or The Great British Bake Off, there would be no wars). Facebook and Twitter ‘exploded’ with criticism, with various social media users saying that the BBC had ‘ruined their childhood’, which depresses me partly because it makes me feel very old, but mostly because it has nothing to do with the BBC at all. This is usually established outright in any news report or Wikipedia article, but it goes in one ear and out the other. It’s not really a big deal, I suppose, but it’s typical of the sort of casual misunderstanding that plagues the British public, who are, I’ve decided, largely quite stupid, or at least more stupid than I am, and that’s saying something.

If this is a little harsh, consider the Peppa Pig story that broke a few weeks ago when an obviously satirical video generated headlines, memes and general outrage, including extensive coverage in several national newspapers who frankly ought to have known better. (That’s non-negotiable. Either they fell for it, or they knew it was a spoof and played off the fears of the British public; either way it’s irresponsible journalism.) This sort of thing doesn’t stop people spreading images round the internet even after all the fuss has died down, because they’re incapable of reading or researching. Most of these folks – some of whom I would tentatively call friends – aren’t stupid, or even nasty. They’re just lazy, and they’ll hear what they expect and want to hear. You know the sort of person I mean; the sort that doesn’t realise that The X-Factor is rigged from day one, who finds it hard to distinguish between a soap opera villain and the actress who plays them, and who actually thinks that there has never been a better Doctor than David Tennant. I’m being harsh again, but I get tired of having to explain this shit over and over simply because social media is only good at spreading the wrong sort of news. I am a naturally forgiving person – perhaps too much so – but people who propagate rubbishlike this should have to shampoo my crotch.

And you’re probably going to see this sort of thing on a far-right Facebook page at some point:


Anyway. We were discussing the character’s new look yesterday, and one of us – I think it might have been Thomas – pointed out that it was a bit like regeneration. And, you know, one thing sort of led to another.

It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for.

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Review: ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’


This week saw the release of Alien: Isolation. A first-person survival horror experience where you can bizarrely see your feet when you look down, it casts you as Amanda (daughter of Ellen) Ripley, exploring a ravaged space station at the back of beyond in search of your mother’s black box. The success of the game is rooted in its threatening atmosphere and its use of a single, apparently invulnerable Alien. You cannot destroy it: you can only run from it, hide from it and occasionally outmanoeuvre it.

The nature of the omnipresent xenomorph also affects how you actually look at it, in a quite literal sense. If you can actually see the alien, it in all likelihood can also see you. This tempers your visual exposure of the creature down to brief glances and occasional, leering full body shots, which usually happen when you are about to die. In other words, Alien: Isolation works as a survival horror experience (irrespective of its other shortcomings) because you are discouraged from looking too hard at the thing that’s chasing you. Curiously, this also mirrors the stylistic approach to the films, which – as any fan will tell you – generally decrease in effectiveness over the course of the series, the more we see of the Alien. Aliens is off the hook in this respect because it’s stylistically a very different film, but it’s generally taken as read that Alien: Resurrection is a low point.

‘Mummy on the Orient Express’, last night’s episode of Doctor Who, suffered from much the same problem. A monster that is visible only to those it is about to kill is an intriguing concept, rooted as it is in folklore. Visually, also, the Mummy (I really don’t want to have to call it the Foretold) was a treat – elegantly realised with grubby, crumbling bandages loosely wrapped over disintegrating flesh, and a toothy, blank-eyed stare. It’s usually seen from the perspective of its victims, stumbling towards camera as that face gets closer and closer, arms outstretched, ready to pounce.


The first time we see this – in the episode’s pre-credits teaser – it’s extremely effective. The effectiveness wanes, however, with the fact that every single encounter with the mummy (and there are several) is more or less identical. Shots of the Foretold are borderline gratuitous – the BBC are clearly proud of the job their costume department has done this week, as well they should be, but I can’t help feeling that the sort of brief, angled approach that Nick Hurran took to directing the Minotaur in ‘The God Complex’ would have worked better here. The Minotaur is a creature we only saw in detail in its final scenes, and it was all the more effective as a result. A similarly tempered methodology would have worked wonders here, whereas Paul Wilmshurt’s overexposure of the creature simply means that we become bored of it very, very quickly.

Structurally, ‘Mummy…’ loosely resembles a murder mystery, as well as serving as a last hurrah for the Doctor and for Clara, who spends most of the episode in denial. That Jamie Mathieson – writing his first Who story – has been saddled with the emotional fallout from ‘Kill the Moon’ is somewhat unfortunate, as it essentially means that Clara has to spend most of this week locked in a storage room brooding about her double life. Meanwhile, the Doctor paces about the train trying to work out what’s going on, while the Mummy singles out and dispatches its next victim, in precisely the same way. There is more angst from Clara, and more puzzling from the Doctor, and then another murder – repeat more or less ad nauseum until the last act when it all comes together.

It’s not that the setting doesn’t work. The train’s claustrophobic interiors are successfully realised – one would take a guess that this was the cheap episode in the series, but that isn’t a bad thing – and the obvious resemblance to ‘Voyage of the Damned’ isn’t to the story’s detriment. Supporting characters, with one exception, are mostly effective, even though the appearance (and media saturation) of Foxes is brief and pointless, and seems to be there to reference both Shaun of the Dead and The Great Gatsby within the same scene.

However, the revelation that the villain of the week is the ship’s computer, and that the whole thing has been set up as a scientific experiment, is a colossal disappointment. The nods to Murder on the Orient Express (which I won’t spoil) are understandable, but the execution sucks a lot of life out of the story. We spend much of the final reel trying to determine who is pulling the strings, wondering if Gus is actually speaking his lines aloud or whether there’s a Man Behind That Curtain, and frankly this makes it harder to concentrate on (or care about) what’s happening onscreen. It feels as if Mathieson came up with an idea and was ordered to work in the arc, and the episode suffers as a result. What’s worse, the most interesting stuff – teleportation, frantic bomb rewiring – happens off screen, neatly summarised during the Doctor’s monologue to Clara, in a scene that screams “we ran out of cash, but here’s a CG backdrop that’ll have all the fans speculating as to whether it’s New New Earth”.

It’s a shame, also, that Clara’s role in this story has been reduced to that of Waif on the Phone, stuck in a locked room with Daisy Beaumont, a character seemingly written exclusively as a plot device. Maisie has nothing interesting to contribute, and is in the locker simply so that Clara doesn’t spend twenty minutes talking to herself, before she’s allowed into the research lab in order to serve as the Doctor’s source of redemption. The reversal scene, in which we believe he’s luring her to her death, is effective in how it manages to add another layer to his character, but it would have worked much better if Mathieson had used someone that we actually found interesting or had time to care about. As it stands, watching Maisie is like watching Rory, condensed into three quarters of an hour – plots once again driving characters, rather than the other way round.

If Coleman’s role is largely pointless, Capaldi at least is generally on fine form throughout, taking charge of proceedings with the same sort of brash authoritativeness that we’ve come to expect from his Doctor, and approaching the mystery with the cold objective mind of a scientist rather than the empathetic tact of an investigating police officer. He spars well with Professor Moorhouse (Christopher Villiers) and with Captain Quell (David Bamber), neither of whom make it to the end credits – but he is most effective in his scenes with Frank Skinner, playing Perkins the engineer. Skinner himself is a revelation, a fan who has been given the chance to fulfil a boyhood dream and – crucially – doesn’t blow it, playing the character utterly straight rather than lapsing into the sort of misplaced comedy I had feared. Perkins’ decision not to join the TARDIS crew, reasoning that “That job could change a man”, smacks of disappointment on behalf of Skinner himself, never mind the character he’s playing, and the wistful look on his face doesn’t feel like acting.

It’s a shame, then, that the rest of the story is such a disappointment, albeit one we can’t wholly blame on the writer. ‘Mummy’ really does feel like a good idea for an episode that had a lot of overarching plot ideas unnecessarily crammed in – exactly the same thing happened in ‘The God Complex’, which changed into something else entirely in its closing ten minutes, but here the whiny pathos punctuates the entire narrative from the moment Clara and the Doctor step onboard the train. The use of the clock is effective, but the Mummy’s appeal is long gone before we find out what it is, and Paul Wilmhurst’s direction seldom rises above pedestrian. Even several amusing nods to the original – Clara’s bubble wrap joke, and the jelly babies in the cigar tin – aren’t quite enough. ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’ is a story about two travellers solving a mystery while working out their own problems, and in the right hands this could have worked very well. As it stands, it takes a good idea and wraps it in excess baggage. Consistent with the rest of the series, but don’t delude yourself into thinking that this is a good thing.



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God is in the detail (part xviii)

Rather late with God Is In The Detail this week – it was our tenth wedding anniversary, and some things are just more important than Doctor Who. Besides, it gives me an excuse to show this.


‘Kill The Moon’ was a tricky one to do, largely because quite a lot of it is set on the surface of the moon, where there is nothing of any interest to look at. However, inside the Mexican base there are numbers. And we love numbers, because they show us the HIDDEN SECRETS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO THE ARC.

First: here’s Clara and Courtney.

Moon Detail (3)

Ignore the massive white pencil next to Courtney’s left shoulder and have a look at the 517 (printed, rather bizarrely, on what seems to be a car registration plate). 517 refers to the last episode of ‘The Creature From The Pit’, starring the Fourth Doctor, whose IMMINENT RETURN we’ve discussed in some detail a few weeks back. However, season 5 episode 17 also refers to the first episode of ‘Enemy of the World’, in which the Doctor plays on a beach in his long johns and tries to build a sandcastle. (I’m not kidding, this really happens.)

The enemy of the world in this instance is clearly Clara herself, who saves the moon at the possible expense of humanity – and the story’s finale and Salamander’s ultimate fate (which I will not spoil) UNAMBIGUOUSLY mirrors what’s going to happen to Missy. Both stories feature actors from Emmerdale. The two also share an uncanny duality in that ‘Enemy’ was written by a man named David (Whitaker) under the direction of a script editor called Peter (Bryant), while ‘Kill The Moon’ was written by Peter (Harness) under the direction of David (P Davis). In the meantime, the whole thing calls to mind the alternative poster art that Gareth and I constructed for ‘Enemy of the World’ at the tail end of last year.



Now have a look at this intense conversation with the Doctor and Clara.


In the background you’ll see the letters UDF. All innocent enough until you do this.

Moon Detail Fan

Regular viewers will recall that the concept of fans has arisen twice in recent years – possibly more, but there are two that are of particular significance. In the first instance, the Fifth Doctor casually dismisses his successor as ‘a fan’ in ‘Time Crash’ – a story that indirectly references Blinovitch (mentioned in ‘Kill the Moon’) by having a man interact with his own timeline. The second obvious example is ‘The Unquiet Dead’, in which the word is misconstrued by a Victorian gentleman who asks the Ninth Doctor “How exactly are you a fan? In what way do you resemble a means of keeping oneself cool?” The gentleman in question was Charles Dickens. More on him later, although if you were watching carefully, you may know what’s coming.

More numbers now. Look. It’s the final countdown. (And you didn’t say that, you sang it.)

Moon Detail (7)

If we take the seven lines of dialogue being uttered at this moment during the past seven episodes, we get the following:

“It says lunch, but not when and where.”
“Such a pretty thing. What a queen she would have made.”
“Do me a favour. Take my advice. When you get home, stay away from time travel.”
“My face fits. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must take the Teller to its hibernation. You two, dispose of our guests.”
“If it comes back Thursday night, are you sure about that? ‘Cos you said the chronodyne is unstable.”
“We just need to make up our minds, that’s all. Well, you know him.”

(Episodes: ‘Deep Breath’, ‘Into the Dalek’, ‘Robot of Sherwood’, ‘Listen’, ‘Time Heist’, ‘The Caretaker’, ‘Kill The Moon’, in that order.)

Curiously this also works backwards.

“We just need to make up our minds, that’s all. Well, you know him.”
“If it comes back Thursday night, are you sure about that? ‘Cos you said the chronodyne is unstable.”
“My face fits. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must take the Teller to its hibernation. You two, dispose of our guests.”
“Do me a favour. Take my advice. When you get home, stay away from time travel.”
“Such a pretty thing. What a queen she would have made.”
“It says lunch, but not when and where.”

The solution of this mystery is clearly pending, with its significance only fully revealed when we look at the series as a whole, but clearly lunch is going to be involved. Presumably sandwiches.


Now, here’s another conversation, this time between the Doctor and Lundvik.

Moon Detail (2)

Notice the Spanish writing on the container. ‘FILTRACION DE AGUA’ can be rearranged to form, among other things:

– A Frantic Dialogue
– A Fagin Elucidator
– Fugal Eradication

Never mind the references to the contemporary writing style, and ‘The Next Doctor’ (that last one) – we’re back with the Dickens again. However, more significantly, it can be rearranged to form ‘Clara, unified goat’, which suggests that we’re CLEARLY not done with the impossible girl timeline fracture story yet – except that this time it’s going to involve farm animals. Well, she was in Emmerdale.

Now, here’s this:

Moon Detail (4)

In which, just behind the Doctor, you can see 23/77 and 23/80. The twenty-third episode aired in 1977 is the first episode of ‘Image of the Fendahl’, which features a supposedly shattered planet stored in a Time Loop – a clear reference to an episode we mentioned above.

1980 is a little more difficult to establish, because strike action at the BBC meant that one story was unaired, and thus the number of broadcast episodes stops at eighteen. However, if we take into account the number of scheduled episodes, allowing for a parallel timeline in which ‘Shada’ was broadcast, then episode 23/80 was supposed to be episode three of ‘State of Decay’, CLEARLY and UNAMBIGUOUSLY referring to the moon’s imminent collapse here.

There’s more. You’ll recall that episodes in the First Doctor’s run have specific titles, loosely collected under the story titles that were later assigned. (Hence, the first four episodes that detail Ian and Barbara’s adventures with the Tribe of Gum are collected under the title ‘An Unearthly Child’, which actually only really refers to the first episode of the story.) Taking the numbers 23, 77 and 80 and applying them to actual episode numbers in a chronological sequence, we come up with stories from ‘The Keys of Marinus’, ‘The Chase’ and ‘The Time Meddler’. However, it’s the episode titles themselves that prove most interesting:

023 The Screaming Jungle
077 The Planet of Decision
080 A Battle of Wits

Now, watch what happens when we rearrange all this.

“Of the decision? A screaming battle of wits. The jungle planet.”

Which describes that last scene in the TARDIS, and also serves as a CLEAR INDICATION that we’re going back to Deva Loka, WHICH THE FIFTH DOCTOR VISITED in ‘Kinda’, and which we mentioned the other week. That’s assuming, of course, that Clara manages to mend the bridges she’s burned with the Doctor. Perhaps she just needs time to think, in her classroom.

Moon Detail (8)

Oh look. Dickens!

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“Very good, Louis. Short, but pointless.”

There are a number of pointless things I’ve seen this week. SJ sent me the first.


We are both in agreement that it’s quite hideous. It says nothing, except that the First Doctor was bristly and the Tenth Doctor was arrogant and obnoxious. It’s badly composed – one of those filtered Photoshop jobs designed to look cartoon-like, but the font placement is a disaster. I’m at a loss as to why you’d come up with this sort of thing. If you’re reading this, and you happen to have created it, perhaps you could get in touch to let me know what the hell you thought you were trying to achieve. And then you can stay in during morning break WHILE YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU DID.

(Update: Gareth has pointed out the lack of commas. “Hartnell is presumably saying ‘And what, may I ask, are you?’, but he seems to be asking what he’s allowed to ask.”)

SJ has also been delving into the depths of fan conspiracy, and found proof that certain people shouldn’t be allowed to use the internet.


Look, you’re entitled to your opinion, but you’re wrong. I suggest you go and argue with this person, who has written TWO AND A HALF THOUSAND WORDS on why Missy is actually the Rani. It has bullet points and everything. I didn’t get to part two. I didn’t even notice there was a part two at first, because by the time I reached the end of part one my brain was basically soup. The funny thing is I produce the God Is In The Detail posts in other to satirise these things, but I sometimes wonder why I bother, seeing as they do such a great job of satirising themselves, whether they mean to or not.

On an apparently unrelated note, I’ve also been reading about Twitter pranks directed towards famous people. The NME (among others) reports that Billy Ray Cyrus was sent a photo of Jimmy Savile, with requests for a message for his “grandad”. Cyrus, who presumably had no knowledge of Savile or what he had done, then retweeted the message, causing much hilarity amongst the snooty left.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump also fell victim, after getting this:

I can sympathise with Trump, who presumably retweeted for one of the following reasons:

– He didn’t know who the Wests were (for which I’d forgive him; he’s American)

– He didn’t know what they looked like (for which I’d also forgive him; they’re not exactly distinctive)

– Neither of the above applied, but he thought “Oh, these two look vaguely like a couple of serial killers from twenty years ago, but that’s probably just a coincidence”.

“I don’t really see the point of those kinds of tricks,” said Gareth. “It’s the sort of humour that Chris Morris used occasionally, tricking celebrities who were either too old to know the current slang or not from the right country. E.g., he was talking to Claire Rayner, asking her whether she would beat off muggers who tried to attack her.  She said yes.  He said “so, you would beat them off”.  She said yes.  Much mirth.  Utterly dull.”

Susanna Reid, of course, fell victim to just that quite recently – entirely of her own volition – when this happened:


Reid isn’t off the hook, because (forgive the expression) she’s young enough to know better. Of course, it’s possible she knew exactly what she was doing, and the whole thing was a hit-grabbing publicity stunt. I genuinely can’t tell these days. I’m mystified as to why, because all it proves is that she doesn’t know her slang, but heaven knows they could use a ratings boost.

Anyway, I follow Gareth Roberts on Twitter, and the other night sent him this:

He got the joke, although I can’t help feeling he’d be less amused had he read my review of ‘The Caretaker’…

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