Monthly Archives: November 2014

Doctor Who: The Spin-offs of Madness

In my head, I can hear that post title delivered by the woman who does the 2 Entertain DVDs. I have no idea who she is, or how much she got paid for reading out all those titles, but presumably she only had to say “To select audio navigation, press enter now” on just the one occasion (Did she do titles for the missing stories? I can visualise her saying “Doctor Who: Fury From The Deep. Eventually.”)

“When I rule the world,” says Gareth, “I will make sure that DVDs don’t play snippets of the programme over the menu.  It gets very annoying to have the same bit on a loop repeatedly, or playing every time you go to the Special Features menu.  There’s one Davison where the Special Features menu has Tegan saying ‘Doctor, look!’ immediately, and you get this every time.  It’s become something of a joke here.” And, of course, it ruined ‘Earthshock’, the first-episode twist of which I was trying to keep secret from Thomas.

Anyway. I was thinking the other week about Rose Tyler: Earth Defence, and wondering if the world’s a poorer place for its absence. It strikes me that you could do Further Adventures of… for all the companions, even the dead ones (Adric’s journey through the Underworld, where he meets Orpheus and Saddam Hussein, would have been splendid.) There’s plenty of mileage in Peter Purves trying to rule a kingdom and screwing it up royally (in a quite literal sense), and I still think Martha and Mickey: Bounty Hunters has mileage, even though Gareth and I have agreed never to talk about it again.

Actually, I just Googled Earth Defence, and someone has made this, and I confess I rather liked it.

Consider –

Commander Benton’s Officer School

What Have The Romanas Ever Done For Us?

The Further Adventures of Zoe, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bum

Still. It’s children’s programmes that rule the roost in our house. When the TV is on during the day it’s either showing CBeebies or repeats of Superted. Occasionally I can sway them towards The Muppets, provided Horrid Henry has finished for the day. I can’t name you a single contestant on this year’s I’m A Celebrity, but I do know every single character in Everything’s Rosie. (They’re all quite fun, except for Bluebird, who irritates the pants off me.)

With all this in mind, last night there was Photoshopping (Fireworksing, in truth, which doesn’t seem to slip off the tongue quite as well – it sounds like something teenagers do on a Friday night in Burnley). Some time and several glasses of wine later, we had this lot. You’ll have seen one of them before. And unless you’re British, and of a certain age, at least a couple of them are going to pass you by. And the last one really is a bit…well. But I don’t care, because I have bacon.

 

dw_Charley

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Interlude

All right, Edward. Seeing as you won’t let me build a magnetic Dalek without ripping it to pieces, I’m going to stomp all over one of your favourite nursery rhymes.

 

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“I have a deep regard for you as well, Doctor”

I went on a school trip the other week: Thomas’s class were visiting the local cinema to see Mr. Peabody & Sherman. The (somewhat tenuous) curricular connection concerned the fact that a portion of the time-hopping animated movie is set in ancient Greece – specifically by the walls of Troy, where a group of brawny warriors are sitting inside a large wooden rabbit badger horse. For the uninitiated, the film is about Mr. Peabody – a scientifically brilliant (but emotionally aloof) anthropomorphic dog with a fondness for bow ties – and the human he adopts. Mr. Peabody and Sherman build a time machine and and the rest, as they say, is history.

If this is all sounding a little bit familiar, it’s the Ouroboros effect: the original Mister Peabody preceded Doctor Who by some years, and the influence of one on the other are uncharted. Certainly Mr. Peabody as visualised here is a well-meaning but borderline inapproachable genius in the manner of Tom Baker, although he’s also a dab hand at mixing a cocktail. There is also yet another explanation as to how the sphinx lost its nose. In any event, Dreamworks did acknowledge the similarities between the two in a trailer they released last November.

Much of the film is spent dealing with characters and situations the Doctor seems to have avoided, at least in his TV adventures – but there are connections, if you know where to look. The visualisation of the time vortex, for example, is quite striking.

 

But if you’re going to do a Peabody / Who mashup you really can’t just Photoshop the TARDIS into the blue swirly thing and leave it at that. There’s also the fact that they visit sixteenth century Florence, just as Da Vinci is finishing off the Mona Lisa, and so –

Meanwhile, back in New York, there’s a Blinovitch effect when two Shermans meet –

(And yes, the heads are horribly over-sized. It fits with the film, and Dick and Dom got an entire show out of it.)

Finally, in the fields near Troy, Steven Taylor has clearly forgotten to pull up the handbrake on the wooden horse.

And yes, unless you’re familiar with ‘Mawdryn Undead’, ‘The Myth Makers’ and ‘City of Death’, those are going to pass you by. Still, there’s this.

If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well hastily, while primary school children are pulling at your arm and nagging to use the computer. I’d say that we should stop there before we go too far, but I fear that ship has sailed.

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When Doctor Who meets Children in Need

I’m not going to talk about this:

Because it’s not particularly interesting and I’ll probably do a Metro column on it at some point anyway. (Someone has Tweeted that they wanted it to be called ‘The Santa Claus of Axos’, which I do think is inspired.)

If you’re reading in the USA and have no idea what Children in Need actually is, it’s one of those telethon things where newsreaders dance, singers try to act, and comedians appear in tear-jerking videos about abused children, accompanied by tinkly piano music that morphs into Coldplay. It’s all very worthy, but it encourages giving from people who probably don’t give to anything else, so I can live with the big cheques and poor attempts at comedy.

However. Those adverts are so formulaic. So after looking at a meme I made for other purposes last year, and seeing that it’s fairly topical following Missy’s revelation in ‘Dark Water’, I figured this one sort of worked.

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The Doctor Who Quiz

Right. I think we could all do with a little light relief after the intensity of the last few weeks – and it’s coming courtesy of my other half, while I procrastinate over that final God is in the Detail entry.

Emily doesn’t blog (unless there’s some secret LiveJournal thing written under an assumed name. Do people still do LiveJournal?). She doesn’t spend hours creating memes to host on Tumblr. She doesn’t create random video mashups for an intended audience of single figures. But she does a lot of online courses, and when she’s not learning about neurology, philosophy or economic theory, she’s an avid quizzer. In the event of a pub trivia quiz, she is a good person to have on your team, largely because she knows an awful lot of stuff about an awful lot of things (whereas I just ace the Spot The Intro round and then bury my head in the sand when it comes to the Sports category).

Emily’s a member of a quiz team at Funtrivia.com, and as well as taking part in tournaments, quickfire games and events, she occasionally creates her own quizzes. When, the other week, she said she was thinking of doing a Doctor Who themed one, I decided that it was just about the most romantic thing she’d done in all our years of marriage. This illusion was quickly shattered.

“No, it’s just that I don’t really watch much other TV. Well, apart from Holby.”

We talked for a while about possible topics – I suggested a companions quiz, a quotes quiz and a regeneration-themed quiz, but in the end, and having a better grasp of her audience than I did, she decided that it would be more fun to have a general knowledge quiz that new fans (or even non-fans) would be able to answer. For example:

Quiz

 

 

Each answer is annotated by interesting facts courtesy of my other half (with no input from me whatsoever). For example, this one reads “In reality, The Doctor regenerates when they want the character to be played by a different actor. He is not a mogwai or a lycanthrope.”

Anyway: the quiz is available here. You don’t have to be a member to play it, but if you enough people join (using this link), she gets a badge. And – well, you know.

it_s-a-badge.-i-wear-badges-now._17459_

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Review: ‘Death in Heaven’

Heaven_06

Warning: Contains a whole lot of spoilers.

Let me save you some time. If you wanted a precis of ‘Death in Heaven’, you could do worse than look at Steven Moffat’s To-do list.

“Here’s the problem,” said Emily, as we packed away half-eaten bags of Chinese nuts, finished off the plum and blackberry wine (homemade, although not by us) and tried to keep Edward away from the Lego. “Generally speaking you see occasional bad episodes of Doctor Who and you think all right, fine, perhaps they’re building to something a bit more interesting. And then you get this, and you realise they’re doing nothing of the sort.”

This little observation came at the end of a discussion (complete with quotes, in silly voices, from yours truly) that tried to determine whether tonight’s finale was in fact better or worse than ‘Fear Her’, ‘A Town Called Mercy’, ‘Evolution of the Daleks’ or ‘Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS’. It’s telling when you find yourself having to drudge the back of your memory to recall those stories you’d sooner best forget in order to cushion the blow that is the mess you’ve just experienced. It’s the equivalent of doing a Tequila slammer, in which you fill your mouth with pungent, fiery liquid while juxtaposing it with sourness to counteract the general unpleasantness of the whole concoction. Some people like Tequila slammers, of course. Myself, I’ve never seen the point.

You know how you get some New Who episodes that chuck a bad idea at you and it’s bad and you hate it? And then you move onto something else very quickly that perhaps isn’t quite so bad and you sort of forget about the bad bit until the end when you look back? Well, ‘Death in Heaven’ is worse. It’s not one bad idea, it’s a whole heap of bad ideas thrown at you with the sort of merciless onslaught that grave robbers probably got when they were sitting in the medieval stocks. Not since ‘The Wedding of River Song’ have I wanted an episode so badly to end before it completed its running time, and not since that very same episode have I seen such a cacophony of stupid, pointless and empty concepts dressed up as storytelling, only to find myself in an apparent minority when it comes to appraising an episode that everyone else seems to be describing as a ‘classic’.

Where to start? Well, we’ll begin with the Cybermen, whose role tonight was to stand in a cemetery. The plans borne out by Missy in ‘Dark Water’ came to fruition with the latest upgrade in Cyber technology: the natives of Mondas have, it seems, found a way to resurrect the dead. Hence the consciousnesses of the deceased were harvested inside the Matrix until they were ready to be reborn: “Every tiny particle of a Cyberman,” explains the Doctor, “contains the plans to make another Cyberman”. The U.N.I.T. chap he’s explaining this to (Sanjeev Bhaskar, this week’s stunt casting) looks as incredulous as we do at this revelation. The one-size-fits-all ‘nanotechnology’ solution is thus implemented as an excuse to have an army of the dead rise from their graves in order to destroy and then enslave humanity, the day before Remembrance Sunday, while a dead soldier looks on.

It could be that Moffat didn’t plan this on purpose. Its questionable timing may be nothing more than simple bad luck. Or perhaps the BBC knew what would happen and knew that they’d be able to bat down any complaints using the “this storyline was handled with dignity and respect and we are sorry for any offence that may have been caused” card, figuring that the show’s advocates on Gallifrey Base would do the rest. The other week I complained about the abortion subtext in ‘Kill the Moon’, suggesting that you can’t handle big issues within the confines of a forty-five minute drama. The problem with ‘Death in Heaven’ is that it doesn’t really handle anything; it basically digs up a hundred thousand graves and then leaves the ground covered with soil.

So am I overreacting when I suggest that the theme was in poor taste? Perhaps. But the fact of the matter is that while I’ll defend the BBC to the grave, I find it increasingly difficult to trust them. After years of being stuffy and responsible they seem to have found a second childhood, and now the corporation behaves like the teenager that you allow to have some freedom in the hope that (s)he’ll grow up a bit, only to find that said teenager has been rather reckless on social media and is frankly misspending his pocket money. They can handle themselves without my input, I daresay, but you can’t help shaking your head in despair.

I’d leave it at that. But the fact that the nano-conversion debacle isn’t the worst thing in the episode is, I think, a measure of how far down the slope we’ve come. Danny Pink, as it turns out, is back, but wearing armour, having been able (somehow) to retain his humanity even as he’s crammed into a metal suit. It’s almost disappointing when he doesn’t start weeping oil. If they’d had the usual nonsense they use in stories of robotic possession, where the mutated hero has a gun trained at the head of his sidekick, who is urging “Fight it! Fight it, Sam! You’re still in there! Don’t let it take you!” then I’d still be rolling my eyes, but at least we’d have seen some sort of conflict. Instead we are left to assume that love conquers all, even enforced robotic conversion, and I really thought we’d left all that behind in 2011.

Danny, at least, gets the exit he deserves, basically saving the world while the Doctor makes a couple of speeches and banters with Michelle Gomez. It’s a send-off of sorts for Samuel Anderson, even though (despite the episode’s final scene) I suspect we have seen neither the last of him nor his girlfriend, who gets to do a pointless opening monologue where she pretends to be the Doctor – a scene concocted, as Emily put it, in order to create an ambiguous teaser. I may have been wrong about Missy being the Master (even though it wasn’t a serious guess) but it was patently obvious that Clara’s apparent character transformation was nothing more than clever editing. Her final scene with the Doctor is quietly dignified, at least, as she wanders off down the same street they landed upon in ‘Deep Breath’ (and which, at least within the context of the show, is supposed to be Glasgow, making very little sense).

Pulling the strings of the Cyber puppets, Michelle Gomez is just about the most watchable thing this week. She manages to be sinister without being irredeemable, and crackpot insane without descending into the sort of overacting we saw in every scene featuring John Simm. Far too much is made, unfortunately, of the nature of madness, but there are some lovely moments with the Doctor and with Osgood, even if having her singing “Oh, Missy, you’re so fine” to the tune of ‘Mickey’ seems like far too much of a stretch.

Unfortunately, we see far too little of her. Moffat crams a hundred things into an hour of television, and you’re left with a whistle-stop tour of great ideas unused; seeds that have been left to gather dust on the stony path where they’ve landed. The Doctor’s role as President, for example, is given next-to-no context beyond the words “Emergency protocols”, and is not explored because there simply isn’t time for him to actually do anything before his Air Force One is attacked. There is also the ludicrous question of the flying Cybermen, who now have rocket boots simply because the plot demands that they have rocket boots. There’s no context given: the Cybermen are now basically the writer’s dream, a monster you can change according to how you need an episode to run. “We are being told that these metal men are known as Cybermen,” a radio DJ announces early in the episode. “But unlike the accounts we have on file, they now have the ability to fly.”

That doesn’t stop Kate Stewart (the ever-watchable Gemma Redgrave) dumping a 1968 Cyberman’s helmet on the ground in the opening scenes, effectively throwing down the gauntlet – a challenge to which the 2014 Cybermen respond by later sucking her out of a plane. It’s such a sudden and undignified end (at least Ingrid Oliver gets a few last words before being zapped into oblivion) that you know there is no possible way that it can be final – this isn’t Buffy, after all. Deaths here are long and drawn out, and usually accompanied by tinkly pianos.

But the discovery of Kate at the end of the episode is coupled with what is perhaps the most horrid thing that happens this week, when the One Good Cyberman turns out to have a body double. “Hooray for the Brigadier,” read the GB comments. “He finally got to kill the Master!”. Or “Oh, I am LITERALLY weeping buckets. So sad.” Perhaps (s)he had turned over to The X-Factor by mistake, just in time to catch someone securing a place in next week’s show before even singing a note by dedicating a performance to their dead grandmother. Or perhaps I’m just dead inside, given that the only thing I wanted to do when the Doctor saluted (which was in no way foreshadowed and not obvious at all) was throw things at the TV. Never mind the fact that no explanation whatsoever is given for the Brigadier’s ability to override the Cybermen’s programming (at the expense of any other deceased human being who might have been similarly impassioned); it’s a pitiful, horrible way to deal with the death of a soldier. “Wish hard enough,” Moffat seems to be suggesting, “and you too can rise from the grave to kill Hitler.”

 

Teasingly, ‘Death in Heaven’ offers up a false ending, interrupting the story’s downbeat conclusion with what is quite possibly the most ludicrous thing to happen in Doctor Who since Hugh Quarshie attempted an American accent. It’s as if we’re being offered, at this point, that most unlikely of scenarios: a happy ending. The fact that this message is delivered in the way it is almost suggests a nod and a wink on the part of the creative team – an acknowledgement, in a way, that what we’ve just had to witness was both stupid and depressing, but that they’re going to put things right. The Office – the British version, at least – ended its second series on a depressing note but gave us a Hollywood ending in a two-part special that saw Tim finally pair up with Dawn, while an understanding blind date offered a glimmer of redemption for David Brent. Could this frankly disastrous series of Doctor Who be about to spin round and offer a fun, light-hearted and yet emotionally satisfying conclusion?

After everything I’ve been complaining about these past few weeks, it’s almost too much to hope for. But it is nearly Christmas.

Heaven_08

Heaven_Chart

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God is in the detail (part xxii)

We’re on the home straight now for clues and conspiracies, but there’s still plenty more to see. Here’s a look at ‘Dark Water’, whereby we may be privy to the secrets within if we are willing to tap the surface.

First, have a look in the park.

Dark Water Detail (2)

There are thirteen visible pillars in that central structure, a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to the thirteen canonical Doctors, including John Hurt. Note also the sun spots. The furthest pillar to the right (but one) has a sun spot above it, making it clear that this refers to the Tenth Doctor, who was briefly possessed by a sun in ’42’.

’42’ was also the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything, a concept developed by Douglas Adams, who was script editor for Doctor Who during the reign of the Fourth Doctor, whom we’ve already discussed in depth. Look closely and you’ll see that the figure at the base of the plinth appears to be holding up a lower case ‘B’, clearly alluding to Tom Baker.

But where is Danny, anyway? Well, he’s in Alexandra Gardens, in Cardiff, specifically walking past the Welsh National War Memorial, dedicated to soldiers who died in World War I – featured as an ephemeral plot point in ‘The Family of Blood’, an episode starring The Tenth Doctor. And then there’s the use of the gardens in ‘Last of the Time Lords’, which also starred…well, you know.

Moving on a bit, I felt like doing some drawing today. So I did. We started by looking at the disco ball that houses the souls of the dead.

Dark Water Detail (1)

If you assume that the prominent red dots each symbolise one incarnation of the Doctor (as we did the other day) you can then concoct a visual representation of the stories in which they interact. (For reasons that should be obvious, this does not include regeneration stories.)

Dark Water Detail (4)

Finally, if we isolate the colours:

Dark Water Detail (6)

The three letters at the bottom – COI – could apply to the now-defunct Central Office of Information, but are more likely to refer to Coi, a restaurant in San Francisco – the setting for the 1996 Doctor Who movie starring Paul McGann (and again, we’ve discussed him before), battling against THE MASTER. Could we be about to see the return of Grace Holloway?

Curiously, COI can be rearranged into ICO, a particularly fine PlayStation game, and one which has no reference to anything here, but it’s included because Gareth and I both love it (and knowing him, he’ll know come up with some sort of plot-related connection between the game and the Whoniverse).

Look now at Steven Moffat’s Clara’s post-it note collection.

Dark Water Detail (3)

The white owl on the shelf alludes to the owl owned by Ted Moss in ‘Image of the Fendahl’, featuring the Fourth Doctor. It is white because it also refers to the White Guardian, destined to make a reappearance soon.

Also examine the three notes arranged in a column beneath the John Lennon autobiography on the upper shelf, whose title is only partly visible. It’s apparent that these are important, because the role of Lennon was played by the Ninth Doctor:

Christopher-Eccleston-cov-006

They read ‘Saibra’, ‘Vastra’ and ‘Robin Hood’ – words which can be combined and rearranged to form ‘Bravo! Historians abroad’. This is an opaque reference to ‘Marco Polo’, WHICH HAS CLEARLY BEEN FOUND. ‘Marco Polo’ also stars Mark Eden in the titular role, and from here we may trace links to Cornwall’s Eden Project and the site of what must surely be a 2015 story, presumably involving Sontarans.

If this connection seems somewhat tenuous, let me add some cement. The architect for the Eden Project was Nicholas Grimshaw – a surname adopted by various Who actors in other roles, most notably William Hartnell (in Carry on Sergeant) and, um, Bruno Langley (in Coronation Street), whose appearance most people would probably rather forget. But it was an episode with the aforementioned Christopher Eccleston, so IT STILL COUNTS.

And if you needed any more proof, consider that the Eden Project is built on top of a clay pit, which was formerly used as the surface of Magrathea when the BBC were filming The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which was written by…

 

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God is in the detail (part xxi)

As the series draws to a close, the conspiracy theories come thick and fast. What’s Missy’s endgame? Is Danny really dead, or has he just had an out-of-body experience, like Bill Cosby in Ghost Dad? And how did Clara’s face get so improbably round?

Two GIITD posts to do before Saturday. Let’s start with ‘In the Forest of the Night’. Here’s Trafalgar Square.

Forest Detail (1)

Things we can observe here: first, have a look at Nelson. Significantly, Nelson is missing his right hand, which he lost at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797, along with most of the arm attached to it. Viewers of New Who will recall that the Tenth Doctor also lost his right hand in a battle with the Sycorax commander, above the Earth on Christmas Day 2006.

Tenerife is in the Canary Islands, which ostensibly means nothing, until you remember that the Tenth Doctor fought the battle of Canary Wharf, which he won, although it led to the (temporary) loss of Rose. This all points towards I. Nelson Rose, author and world expert on gambling and gaming law, and also the Horatio Nelson Rose, the sort of thing that Harrison Chase would have in his collection.

And significantly, Harrison Chase encountered the Fourth Doctor. THE FOURTH DOCTOR. Conclusions? We’ll meet the Curator again, inside a casino.

It gets better. The digits in 1797 can be rearranged to form 1977, which was the year that the Brigadier ran into Nyssa and Tegan at Brendon Public School. Things get really interesting when you rearrange the letters in ‘Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife’ only to get ‘Abacus trident zealot efferent’, a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to Kate Lethbridge-Stewart’s plan to drag UNIT away from its occasionally violent past, as well as her father’s teaching career in ‘Mawdryn Undead’.

Curiously, you can also see the London Eye, which itself has an eye on the (unseen) National Gallery, which featured in ‘Day of the Doctor’, which also starred David Tennant. I leave the conclusion to you, dear reader.

Let’s move on. Introducing Clara Oswald, Lord of the Rings.

Sorry. I mean this.

Forest Detail (2)

The number of vertical lines in this picture is 63, the year Doctor Who started. The number of horizontal lines is 26, the total number of Doctors if the Doctor ends his life at the end of this regeneration cycle. Significantly, the large red line is THE TENTH ONE UP. Perhaps Tennant got to be ginger after all, even if it was only in a tree.

63 multiplied by 26 is 1638, the setting for ‘Silver Nemesis’, WHICH INCLUDES THE CYBERMEN. Even without the publicity for ‘Death in Heaven’, only an idiot couldn’t have seen this coming.

Trees figure significantly in ‘Mark of the Rani’, in which –

mark-of-the-rani3

If I’d been writing this before ‘Dark Water’, I’d have concluded that MISSY IS ACTUALLY THE RANI. However, seeing as Moffat’s put that one to bed, we may now theorise that THE RANI IS RETURNING NEXT YEAR IN THE BODY OF A MAN. My money’s on Ross Kemp.

Now, here’s a lovely picture, courtesy of Maebh.

Forest Detail (4)

“We were supposed to draw a picture,” says Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. “Anything we wanted. I drew a man. He got hurt in the neck by another man with a screwdriver. Everyone got upset. They had a meeting. Mom started crying. I don’t draw like that anymore.”

[…]

Sorry, I copied down that quote fifteen minutes ago, and then got distracted watching YouTube videos of Haley Joel Osment. Where were we? Yes.

Three (well, almost three) red dots. Three (well, almost three) Doctors. ‘The Three Doctors’ (1973)? Yes, because ‘The Three Doctors’ sees an end to the Doctor’s exile, setting up his next story, ‘Carnival of Monsters’, in which he spends quite a lot of time on a boat. AND THE WORD BOAT IS PRINTED IN THAT PICTURE.

However, we may also look at ‘Day of the Doctor’, which includes THE TENTH DOCTOR, but also a cameo by Tom Baker. Baker’s first adventure was ‘Robot’. And in order to deal with the rogue lump of metal causing havoc around the English countryside, the Brigadier (mentioned earlier) deploys a tank.

AND THE WORD TANK IS PRINTED IN THAT PICTURE.

Lastly: you will recall that the opening of ‘Day of the Doctor’ sees the TARDIS airlifted to The National Gallery (which we’ve already discussed) by helicopter. AND THE WORD HELICOPT-

Oh, you really don’t want me to go on, do you?

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Review: ‘Dark Water’

DarkWater_05

WARNING: Spoilers below.

Well, congratulations, Steven. You did it. For a change, you’ve surprised me. Not by producing a belter of an episode, something I thought was no longer within your abilities as showrunner. No, instead you managed the stupid-and-obvious route to a finale, rather than the stupid-and-obscure one.

‘Dark Water’ spends much of its time in a world of half-truths and guarded uncertainty, telling you things it then retracts or twists, and it’s only when we’ve had twenty minutes of nothing happening that you realise its purpose is largely to set up the chess pieces for next week’s explosive finale. It does this by delivering three significant plot developments, in the manner of one of those episodes of 24 that still gets talked about years after its broadcast. Facebook group comments are full of multiple punctuation marks (and poor spelling, but that’s par for the course). The #whoismissy tag clogs up Twitter feeds. Tumblr goes into general meltdown. Gareth informs me that the general mood on Gallifrey Base is “my jaw is still on the floor”.

The problem, as he then puts it, is this: “Surely, if you’re waiting for a revelation, you’re expecting it to be (say) the Master, the Rani or Romana (according to posts), then it’s not jaw-droppingly stunning when it turns out to be one of them?”. I’ve written about this before, but to re-iterate: years ago I saw The Sixth Sense, and figured out the twist halfway through solely because I was looking for it. If you know that something colossal is coming then to say that you were gobsmacked at the reveal is nothing but hyperbole. And yes, I know I’m making a fuss about inappropriate language. I’m an English graduate. It goes with the territory.

Inappropriate language is, indeed, all part of the fun this week, as the Doctor informs Clara that they’re about to ‘go to hell’ – a remark that she understandably interprets as a curse. It follows three minutes of fiery dialogue at the edge of a volcano, in a scene that really couldn’t be more Lord of the Rings even if Jenna Coleman were dancing around the edge with the TARDIS key, bellowing “Precious is ours!”. (Of course, if she were wearing nothing but a groin-covering cloth while doing so, it would have made for a better scene.)

The rot sets in early. The confrontation by the TARDIS is taking place in a kind of simulated reality, a hallucination that the Doctor has allowed to run its natural course. In a nutshell this means that you get to take events to a headline-grabbing extreme just before admitting that the footage that saturated the trailer – and all the speculation that follows – basically counts for nothing, because the whole thing was a dream. I don’t care what it says about Clara’s determination to win back Danny, it was a glorified publicity stunt. I was half expecting her to wake up in a hotel bedroom just as Matt Smith was stepping out of the shower.

“Except,” wail the fans who are convinced this was a masterstroke, “it did happen, because Clara saw it happen, and the Doctor saw it happen. So it sort of did.” Indeed, it sort of did, in the same manner that Amy Pond sort of murdered Madame Kovarian and Rose Tyler / Amy Pond / Donna Noble sort of died, and I didn’t much care for those storylines either. So yes, I can see why the Doctor got upset with Clara, even though it’s hard to believe that a man of his scientific bent would ever actually use the words “go to hell”, except perhaps in his confused, post-regenerative let’s-strangle-Nicola-Bryant phase.

Ironically, this little tete-a-tete follows the only truly effective moment in the episode, in which Danny Pink is killed – suddenly and (more or less) offscreen. When you think about it, the development is obvious – the Doctor and Clara needed a reason to visit the afterlife, and there is none more emotionally cogent – but it is still a powerful scene, Moffat’s tendency to deliver a punch via the use of technology once more working in his favour. There is no kneeling by the corpse, no tearful farewell – indeed, for an episode that is to all intents and purposes about Danny and Clara, the two of them share no screen time together. There is, instead, just Clara, reflecting in her kitchen that Danny’s death was, in Whovian terms, “boring”. And she’s right, and somehow that makes it worse.

What follows is a strange sort of Eurydicean descent into the underworld, with gender roles reversed and Capaldi playing a ferryman of sorts to Clara’s Orpheus. The Poppins-esque Missy is cast in the role of Hades, which would presumably make the amiable (if slightly sinister) Seb the Persephone equivalent. Seb (Chris Addison, doing the best he can with a dog’s breakfast) manages to stay on the watchable side of creepy by not coming across as the sort of bureaucrat you’d expect to find in a place so obviously obsessed with data trails as hell seems to be. He is, instead, the good cop (the contrasting white suit can’t have been an accident) to Missy’s bad: cheerful but agenda-focused, usually wearing the sort of expression worn by HR executives who know there’s been an official complaint against you even though they’re not supposed to talk about it, and trying not to use the word ‘app’. “iPads?” he sneers, when Danny points out this week’s obvious use of product placement. “We’ve got Steve Jobs.”

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The involvement of the Cybermen is the episode’s second big reveal, although there’s a little foreshadowing in the shape of an obvious visual motif: a shot of two sliding doors lurching to a close to reveal a familiar-looking design, while Murray Gold drops in his motif from ‘Rise of the Cybermen’. It has the subtlety of a house brick through the window of the only Indian family in the neighbourhood, or – if we’re talking filmic analogies, that moment in The Phantom Menace where Yoda muses with Samuel L Jackson as to whether they killed the Sith Master or whether he’s still out there, just before the camera lingers on Ian McDiarmid for what seems like an incredibly long moment. Or, while Star Wars is on the table –

That’s not a dig. This isn’t 1981. You can’t keep these things secret, and Moffat knows that – this particular cat was out of the bag, through the door and in a different house eating the fish pie on the windowsill before we’d even seen Capaldi fall out of the TARDIS for the first time. It’s a shame, because the reveal takes the form of slow filtering down a glass tank filled with ‘dark’ water, echoing both ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Wedding of River Song’, and it would have been reasonably effective if everyone in the universe apart from the Doctor hadn’t known it was coming. Instead, we get a lot of chin-scratching from Capaldi, who furrows his brow (and, thank God, doesn’t tell us he’s doing it) while muttering “there’s something very obvious I’m missing…”, in the manner of Inspector Gadget, or one of those TV security guards who’s busy on his Walkman while there’s a fight happening on one of the screens just behind him.

Such jesting is predictable and I thought we’d got it all out of the way in ‘Deep Breath’, but Capaldi does it with flair, and always remains watchable even when he’s been handed a lemon (which is often). The fourth wall breaking continues to be an overused trope, but it does allow for the odd comical moment – “Stop it with the eyes,” he says to Clara, when she’s upset early in the episode. “How do you do that anyway? It’s like they inflate.”

Eventually the Doctor and Clara find their way out of the mausoleum (which looks, by the way, suspiciously like the Temple of Peace) and then there are conversations about death that will “change your way of thinking”, because the dead – as it turns out – continue to feel pain. The short-term sensation of being burned alive, therefore, is presumably far worse to endure than the long-term reality of having your body slowly devoured by worms. There may be a further explanation pending next week, but I wouldn’t count on it.

And then there’s that last revelation. Slowly, tantalisingly, it’s teased out. There is a robot-related feint which fools nobody (except, again, the Doctor). Then there is the revelation that Missy is a Time Lord (“Time Lady, please”. And for a moment, for one glorious moment, you think that Moffat may actually be about to resurrect a long-gone character and give her a chance to shine. I’m not a big fan of arcs – that’s no secret – but if anyone deserves one, it’s her. It builds and builds. The Cybermen stomp across London, in scenes that echo ‘The Invasion’. Danny contemplates deletion. The Doctor panics. The whole thing seems, as far as Missy’s concerned, to be a colossal joke.

And then the punch line is utterly deflating.

Look, it’s not that I mind the idea of gender change on a physiological level. Regeneration isn’t a closed book – if anything, I’ve found the one-size-fits-all approach adopted since 2005 rather silly, and it was nice to see Moffat circumvent that back in January when Smith became Capaldi.

The problem is that this has territory-marking written all over it. You can almost visual the producer’s meetings, in which Moffat pleads with the powers that be to let him have a female Doctor. “Look, just one. Please. Tamsin Grieg’s free and wants to do it. Plus you know there’s a world of stuff I could do with the Long Game connection.”
“Steven, the answer’s no. It just creates far more problems than it solves. Have you not thought about the biological implications? You’ll have to do a parents’ leaflet.”
“But I’ve only got one more bet-you-can’t to do, and then Mark has to buy me a PlayStation.”
“Look, I don’t give a toss about what you get up to in the BBC bar, we’re talking about pissing all over a fifty-year-old institution.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“I’m still on ‘No’, Steven.”
“Can I bring back the Master and turn him into the Mistress?”
“…That is utterly, utterly lame. And that’s before we get to the S&M implications.”
“I can get Isobel Pickwell.”
“One series. That’s it.”

I know I go on about the territory marking far too much, but it’s difficult – after Clara, the War Doctor and heaven knows what else – not to read it into every situation. The Master returns, only he’s a woman, clarifying once and for all that Time Lords can lose more than their memories when The Big Change hits them. Seriously, Steven, you just couldn’t leave it alone, could you? You couldn’t leave it for the next showrunner to deal with; far more fun to have a go yourself without actually doing the central character any lasting damage. Plus, as Gareth points out, this is “ignoring that Big Finish did it – which, to be fair, we should, because it was an awful story“.

None of this is really fair on Michelle Gomez, either. The fact of the matter is that she acts her socks off in every scene she’s in, and is far more of a Master than John Simm ever was (Prime Minster or Hoodie mode). The kiss throws up all sorts of insinuations as to the nature of their relationship (and casts the whole ‘brother’ thing in an entirely new light) but it’s no worse than much of the fanfiction that’s flooded the internet, so it isn’t something to get upset about. Begrudgingly, if we have to have a female Master I’m glad it’s her. Following a similar train of thought, I have to go to the dentist in January to have a tooth extracted, and after the last time (during which I passed out in the chair) they’ve told me they’re going to sedate me. That’s all well and good, but it still doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy the experience.

There are good things in ‘Dark Water’. Clara is almost bearable. The Cybermen are always fun to watch, even in their bad stories, and they haven’t done a single Matrix zoom yet. Danny’s tragic past is at last put to bed, or at least put out into the open. The Nethersphere is visually impressive, once you get past the idea that the consciousnesses of the deceased are living inside a colossal disco ball. The writing, while far from Moffat’s best, isn’t exactly his worst, either. And Rachel Talalay directs with flair, teasing the best out of her performers.

It’s just the final, crushing disappointment of that last reveal. It’s a thoroughly inane solution to a potentially interesting problem, and my hunch – that it would be a colossal let-down – has sadly proven correct. As far as ridiculous cliffhangers go, it’s up there with ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, because in one foul swoop the arc has become all about Who Missy Is, as opposed to what (s)he might be up to: the more interesting question, by far (Doctor Who does the afterlife – potentially fascinating) but now destined to fade into the background so we can concentrate on the relationship between the Doctor and his erstwhile school chum, and how it might have changed now that they have to use separate showers in the gym. I’m not saying don’t bring back the Master. Just bring him back in episode one and let us get to know him properly. Don’t rock the boat under the pretence that you actually care about gender equality. Don’t give the internet any excuse to have conversations like this.

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Some months ago, when I sort-of reviewed ‘Deep Breath’, I remarked 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.” The former, then. I’ll admit it caught me off guard, largely because it smacks of a man who’s finally decided that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that’s a line that Moffat seldom, if ever, seems to tread. Unfortunately, while we still have to wait until next week to be sure, it seems to me that the line is pointing straight downwards.

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