Monthly Archives: November 2015

Review: ‘Heaven Sent’

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Warning: spoiler heavy.

In 1976, right after he’d dropped off Sarah Jane in Croydon (by way of Aberdeen), the Doctor found himself back on Gallifrey. There was a sinister plot to assassinate the President – perhaps unsurprisingly, the Master is behind it all – with the Doctor caught very firmly in the frame. But there are a couple of things I remember about ‘The Deadly Assassin’: one is the tense, dialogue-light episode three, which we’ll come to later, while the other is the very first part of the story, in which the Doctor wanders around the TARDIS and the Gallifrey Citadel, talking to himself.

Tom Baker’s mid-70s assertion that he could carry the show without a companion was quickly shot down by the producers, and it’s easy to see why. ‘The Deadly Assassin’ is a great story, but the early scenes are frankly excruciating. Baker is always at his best when he is bouncing off someone else, even if it’s John Leeson on the other end of a radio link. The rest of the story more than makes up for it, but it was, you felt, the sort of thing that should never be repeated. And yet this evening the BBC broadcast an entire episode that featured Peter Capaldi running round a castle for an hour with only a bedsheet for company – and amazingly, it works.

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Bedsheets are frightening, of course. ‘Listen’ was an episode of two halves, but the half that worked – the first half – was as tense and chilling as anything the programme had done in years, and certainly since ‘The God Complex’. The monster-of-the-week here is a wordless, faceless phantasm that stalks the corridors of the castle, always present and prone, like Ridley Scott’s Alien, to jumping out at any given moment. We get to see the devastating effects of its touch late in the story: it kills the Doctor, and not just once. The castle, too, is an enemy, shifting and rotating like the stairways at Hogwarts, with doors opening onto blank walls and corridors leading nowhere. The surroundings themselves are as important as the stunning New Zealand backdrop that made Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies work so well, and if they get a generation of children interested in English Heritage properties, so much the better.

It helps that even though the Doctor is usually alone this week, he’s never just talking to himself. When he’s not addressing the Veil, he’s monologuing to Clara – seen, for the most part, with her back to the audience as she scratches questions on one of the TARDIS blackboards. Moffat’s decision to eventually show her (albeit for a moment) is slightly cheap, and the interchange between the two that results is one of the episode’s weaker moments, but it does at least answer the question of whether it was Jenna Coleman or her stand-in (and truth be told, it was probably both). Is it churlish to say that this silent, visually obscured Clara is Coleman’s finest performance in quite some time? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

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But it’s Capaldi who’s the real star, here, breezing effortlessly through a script that requires him to be angry, smug, weary and frightened, often within the same scene. The Doctor stalks the corridors of the castle with wariness and scientific curiosity and a sense of genuine sadness – it seems anomalous somehow, given that he’s lost companions before, and Moffat really is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but Capaldi is never less than absolutely compelling, whether he’s examining a skull on the castle battlements (a clear nod to the first and last acts of Hamlet) or chatting up a tree, for the second time in a decade. The TARDIS segments are less effective, capturing frozen moments in time with the same smugness that pervades Sherlock, but thankfully they are comparatively brief, allowing Capaldi to shine where he needs to. We all knew he could act, but it’s always nice when he gets to prove it.

It all threatens to go south as the plot unfolds proper. This is not a mind trip: it serves a purpose. If the Fourth Doctor entered the Matrix in order to find the Master, the Twelfth Doctor is dumped inside a prison of his making so that the Time Lords can eke the truth out of him, one nugget of information at a time. Once it becomes apparent that the Doctor we see is not the first one to arrive, nor will he be the last, the story threatens to unravel: the fact that every single narrative unfolds in precisely the same way, with the same outcome, seems alarmingly fatalist, while the Doctor’s two-billion year wall punch echoes a particular scene from Kill Bill. Oh, and we’ve not even discussed the metaphysical implications of the guy working with constant backups of himself from a hard drive, but I’m not touching that one with a three foot pole.

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Besides…look, to be honest, ‘Heaven Sent’ is one of those stories that works better if you discard its surrounding mythology. I don’t care what’s in the Doctor’s confession dial. I don’t care why he left Gallifrey. I’m not interested in what the Time Lords are up to. The episode’s final punch line – “The hybrid is me” – is an obvious internet talking point, pitting those who think it refers to the Doctor’s much-disputed half-human origins against those who’ve worked out that it’s almost certainly Maisie Williams. It’s dull and unnecessary and, like the scene it follows, sets things up for a finale that I fear will be an absolute trainwreck.

But for the moment, absolutely none of that matters. Murray Gold’s innovative-but-intrusive score doesn’t matter. Even the wider implications of the tedious series arc don’t matter. This was an episode that dared to think outside the box a little: a risk-taking episode, simultaneously grand and claustrophobic, telling a story that succeeded on its own terms, irrespective of where it sits in the grand scheme of things. It echoed ‘The Mind Robber’ and ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and ‘Castrovalva’ and ‘Scherzo’. It echoed 2001. It even echoed The Stanley Parable, which I was by an uncanny coincidence playing this very evening. It was beautifully realised, impeccably acted, and thought-provoking and contained several genuine scares. Whatever happens next, for once I really can’t complain.

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God is in the detail (9-10)

Edward’s had a birthday this week and I have a service to finish planning and I’m rather short on time, but I have spared as many hours as I could to bring you the latest installment of VERY IMPORTANT CLUES AND SIGNS in ‘Face The Raven’, in advance of tomorrow’s episode. I’m sure you’re all inundated with Black Friday emails and don’t want to spend a lot of time reading, so let’s get on, shall we?

First: this image.

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The smaller circles are red herrings (more on the colour red later): it is the larger one that we need to examine. It resembles a vinyl disc, but for the sake of the argument we need to assume it’s a clock. Note the presence of lines that refer to ‘Day of the Doctor’ and the minisodes that surrounded it:

9-10 Raven Detail (5b)

As a purely ephemeral point, while the outer circles do not in themselves allude to anything specifically Whovian, the image as a whole does chart the development of recorded music, from the vinyl record to the CD (bottom right) and finally digital downloads (the dots in the remaining circle CLEARLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY referring to fragmented sectors on a hard drive). And all in the space of a second or two. What other microcosmic technological histories are contained in other episodes? Shall we do a series? We might, in the new year. I’ll tell you, you’re lucky you have me to fish this stuff out.

Next:

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This has a number of connections to the Tenth Doctor, but also his immediate predecessor. It helps if we know that episode 526 of Doctor Who was part one of ‘The Leisure Hive’. First, there’s that word ‘Hive’ – an image which calls to mind the bees that the Doctor and Donna follow in ‘The Stolen Earth’. Also of note: ‘The Leisure Hive’ begins in Brighton, or Bright On, which is what happens in ‘Journey’s End’ when Donna becomes a super-genius (for about ten minutes) when she touches a glowing hand. Now look at the image scan of Riggsy on the monitor, in which assorted body parts highlighted with circles. The thighs are highlighted – we may rearrange ‘Thigh’ to ‘High T’, which occurs in Agatha Christie’s home (offscreen) during the events of ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’.

However, in order to unpack this fully, we must look at the number 526 in a different light. Note the presence of the HEXagon in the middle of the column of Gallifreyan symbols, and recall that Thomas Hector Schofield – Hex for short – travelled with the Seventh Doctor, and that we may obtain the number 7 by combining the digits 5 and 2, as shown on the right hand side of the screen.

What does all this mean? Well, if we examine the lyrics of Tim Rice, we find the following:

“All you will see is a girl you once knew
Although she’s dressed up to the NINES
At SIXES and SEVENS with you”

This, as any musical aficionado will tell you, is from ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’, and from this we may UNAMBIGUOUSLY CONCLUDE that the next series will feature an episode in South America. With the Ninth Doctor. Oh, and Jonathan Pryce was in the film version of Evita. I’m just saying.

Here’s Clara, Riggsy and the Doctor on the streets of London.

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Note that the sign points to several places: The City, the West End, Holborn and the Marble Arch. The fact that it is a young woman, or a GIRL, standing underneath the sign, is CLEARLY SIGNIFICANT, instantly calling to mind ‘West End Girls’, a song by the Pet Shop Boys. Lest we forget, David Tennant chose his stage name from frontman Neil, and thus THIS IS ALL CONNECTED WITH THE TENTH DOCTOR.

But it goes further. Holborn features heavily in ‘The Web of Fear’, while the Sixth Doctor finds the remnants of Marble Arch in ‘The Mysterious Planet’. Combining these two episodes with ‘City of Death’ and rearranging them slightly, we get ‘Demystify The Web Planet. Fear Her? Hotfoot, suit! Ace!’, which implies the THE IMMINENT RETURN OF THE ZARBI, AND SOPHIE ALDRED.

Finally, look at the large letter ‘C’ in a red circle. The Red Sea is an expanse of water sandwiched between Sudan and Saudi Arabia, and is indicated by the red marker on this map.

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Which, of course, means absolutely nothing until we do this.

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Oh – and that’s the ELEVENTH Doctor’s screwdriver. Just saying.

Last image of the week; we won’t dwell on it for long. But look in particular at the highlighted words.

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Yes, well. I think that tells you everything you need to know, right?

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Interlude

As much as I’d like to deliver the next exciting installment of ‘God is in the detail’, I’m afraid Edward’s second birthday is going to have to take priority. You’ll have to wait. But in the news, series nine guest star Maisie Williams plans a follow-up to John Barrowman’s foray into slightly filked musical showstoppers:

A previously unseen outtake from the first episode of ‘Death to the Daleks’ makes its way onto the internet:

And not everyone approves of showrunner Steven Moffat’s hopes of resurrecting an old enemy.

See you next time.

 

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Review: ‘Face the Raven’

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Warning: spoilers and general weariness therein. If you enjoyed this episode, I seriously suggest you don’t read any further. I am probably just going to make you cross.

It’s 1997. I’m in a university common room watching Star Trek: Generations. This is a film that’s been hyped up beyond belief, and one which will be notable for its decision to kill Captain Kirk not once, but twice. If you are William Shatner the author, neither occasion counts. As for the rest of us, we will sit and scratch our heads and wonder why on earth this was given such colossal media exposure, given that the end – when it does come – is really not that big a deal. Kirk is murdered by Malcolm McDowell; his final words, to a reflective Jean-Luc Picard, are “Oh my…”

It’s 2013. A pretty girl is strolling through a haunted house in the company of three talented British actors. She is light, sparkly and fun, unconsumed by gravitas, self-importance or nastiness. I like her. This will not last. She will become, as is the destiny for all modern companions, an exercise in sociology, something more than a cipher but less than a person, warping around stories that should, by rights, be warping around her. She will become a plaything of the writers, as all characters ultimately are, and she will suffer for it. But this week, she is allowed to be a companion – someone who follows and just enjoys herself. There will be times in the future that I lament the loss of this side to Clara. These days, when it is there, it has a kind of smugness attached to it.

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It’s 1998. I’m in a darkened cinema. On the screen Leonardo DiCaprio is clinging to a raft. The boat sank half an hour ago but Leo doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to die. There is clearly room for two on the raft, but Kate Winslet isn’t budging. The woman behind me to my left is using up an entire box of Kleenex, James Horner’s mournful score all but drowned out by sobbing and sniffling. Leo shivers and mutters something about going on. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I am thinking to myself, “WILL YOU PLEASE JUST FUCKING DIE?”

It’s 2001. I’m in another cinema watching a bunch of young child actors walk through a visually stunning set. It is an alley in a hidden part of London, cut off from the rest of the world. John Hurt is selling wands. It’s 2015 and I am looking at a different set but the same set. That in itself is not a problem. There are disguised aliens in human form. This is an excuse for another press release, one that says “Cybermen! Judoon! Sontarans! Ood!”, all of whom appear for approximately three seconds each. I am trying to ignore the fact that none of these creatures behaves the way you would expect them to, even in a refugee camp. I am wondering when they are going to do anything except whisper “Murderer”.

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It’s 2014. Steven Moffat is on the phone to Sarah Dollard. He says he would like her to write a crucial episode for series nine in which Clara dies. Sarah says she would love to but that she doesn’t have any ideas for stories. Steven says that’s not a problem: no story is needed, as long as Clara dies.

It’s 2009. A Time Lord has made a semi-noble sacrifice; he’s given up his life for Bernard Cribbins, whining like a puppy in the process. He wanders off to die. It will take fifteen minutes. It’s 2015. An English teacher who has snogged Jane Austen has become reckless. Earlier she was dangling out of the TARDIS. Now she has gambled with her life, and lost. She takes approximately seven minutes to die. I know this because I spend most of it looking at my watch.

It’s 2015. I’m watching Maisie Williams whine about how crap it is to be immortal, trudging through events feeling as if things will go on and on forever. It is something I can relate to. It is slightly later in 2015 and the character has turned up again, and is no more fun than she was last time. She has dark markings on her neck and a sinister connection to a large black raven. It is like watching Brandon Lee. The raven looks a bit fed up. I am wondering if the batteries need changing.

It’s earlier in 2015. I’m reading another press release about how heartbroken I’m going to be when Clara leaves. I cannot ignore these announcements because it is my job to read them. It’s 2015, this evening. Murray Gold is clearly making up for lost time after last week. The strings are like eating five buckets of candy floss in a single sitting and having to vomit into your own mouth. Clara walks into the middle of the street in slow motion. We see the death from about five or six angles. It is a technique often used in the 1970s. It doesn’t work here.

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It’s 2036. A fifty-year-old Jenna Coleman is being interviewed in a dark studio for a new DVD. She says she is proud of her final story. She says she hates it. She says she was pleased with the character arc. She says it was more fun just being a companion and that she fought against the changes Steven Moffat imposed. She says she thought Sarah Dollard turned in a terrific script. She says she wanted a stronger narrative. Pick one.

It’s 2015 and I am watching a middle-aged actor and his younger sidekick do their best with tedious dross. I watch Capaldi keep the Doctor’s rage in check. It is good but it is not enough to save the episode. Maisie Williams pouts and looks uncomfortable, as she always has. It’s 2015 and my wife says she fears she may be corrupting my ability to enjoy the programme. I point out that I watched ‘Before the Flood’ while she was in the bath and came away no happier.

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It’s 2015, early Sunday morning, and I watch the last five minutes of ‘Earthshock’. I am struck by how quick it is, even when you know it is coming. It’s 2015, two weeks ago, and I am watching ‘The Zygon Inversion’ and the Doctor has just made another cryptic remark about how sad he was to have thought that Clara was dead. I note how quickly he seemed to recover from Adric’s death. I remember that Adric was a douchebag.

It’s 2015. I am watching Jenna Coleman trying out for that BAFTA. I decide she’s done enough to secure a nomination. It’s 2015 and I am spent and exhausted and I need a new companion in the TARDIS and, if possible, a new chief writer at the helm. More to the point, it is not me who needs this; it is Doctor Who that needs this. It’s 2015 and I am looking out of the window at the tattoo parlour across the road, and wondering if it’s still open.

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God is in the detail (9-9)

Can you hear me? Right. Good. Important announcement: DO NOT READ THIS. You cannot unsee it. Insanity lies therein. It’s too late for me. I’m seeing patterns everywhere, and they haunt my dreams like images of childhood bullies and doing the school run stark naked. You still have a chance. Get out now, while you still can. Before it’s too late.

First, congratulations are in order to Chris Kibbey, for being the only person to take a public stab at last week’s homework – getting it absolutely correct into the bargain. The answer, as I’m sure you all know by now, is ‘START PAIN NOW LATER’, which is a clear and direct reference to the upcoming ‘Face the Raven’, in which it is looking increasingly likely that Clara will die, and which – according to Capaldi – is set to be “sad over a number of weeks”. Furthermore, having broken the cipher, we may rearrange the letters of this message to form ‘AIRPLANE TWATS TORN’, which hearkens back to the events of ‘Death In Heaven’. Obviously.

Anyway, well done Chris, and having dealt with this we may now move on to look at ‘Sleep No More’. There were the usual abundance of CRYPTIC BUT IMPORTANT messages hidden in assorted visual clues, but we start with one of those crew-identifying close-ups.

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First, look at the dots beneath Nagata’s 8/10 survival rating. Eight solid red, each corresponding to the first eight canonical Doctors. The subsequent black represents both the War Doctor and also the Valeyard, and we may therefore conclude that the Doctor will spend the series finale tussling once more with his darker self, before meeting up once more with John Hurt.

However: Nagata shares her name with Nagata Acoustics – which “provides comprehensive consulting to achieve the proper balance among architectural, acoustical, visual stage and other space requirements”, and which has offices operating out of Los Angeles, Paris and Tokyo. Of note: Los Angeles was visited by the Eleventh Doctor (‘The Doctor and the Nurse’), the Tenth Doctor visited Tokyo with Martha (‘Operation Lock-up’) and the Fourth Doctor famously hung out in Paris in ‘City of Death’. Note that the actors for ALL THREE DOCTORS appeared in ‘Day of the Doctor’. Figure that one out.

Now examine this:

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Once more, dots are the key. Each of the red dots on the visual display on the left corresponds to a different Doctor, thus forming a central chain of six Doctors around the cylindrical column in the centre. On the left and right, a further two, thus leading the total once more to eight. YOU WILL NOTE THAT THE FIRST IMAGE ALSO CONTAINED EIGHT. THIS IS LEADING UP TO THE RETURN OF PAUL MCGANN.

More than this, the presence of all eight Doctors surrounding the column neatly (and intentionally) summarises the finale of ‘The Light At The End’, in which the first eight Doctors perform a time ram on the Master’s TARDIS (which, in several stories, took the form of a column), thereby undoing his diabolical scheme.

Finally, consider the eye-type display at the bottom left. We’ve already discussed the Valeyard, an evil counterpart to the Doctor sandwiched between two late regenerations – and this is linked to him. Sit down for this next bit, because it’s something of a belter. The presence of the white dot on the bottom, positioned neatly between the ‘3’ and ‘4’ sections on the dial, purports to another Watcher, one that was present in UNIT in the 1970s / 80s / whenever, during the scene in ‘Planet of the Spiders’ when the Doctor regenerated.

Except that this Watcher was not needed; in the end, the Doctor’s regeneration was facilitated by the mystical Cho-Je. Therefore, this Watcher remained drifting, unused and unrealised; this Watcher thus become the Valeyard. (The close alphabetical proximity of ‘U’, ‘V’ and ‘W’ – used for significant words in that last sentence – is not a coincidence.)

Let’s move on. How’s your reading?

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As you’ve anticipated, numbers are the key. They repeat, so I’ve isolated the specifics:

39900076 – Gagan Rassmussen

8880234 – Osamu Chopra

633389 – Deep-Ando

HJSSLL56890 – Daiki Nagata

H999267 – Leverrier

474T000 – 474

00002458888C – The Doctor

Clara Oswald

And I’ll give you this, and we’ll say no more about it, except that I recommend opening it in a separate tab so you can read it properly.

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Finally, this piece of wall writing, which I’ve lightened for the sake of clarity.

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The ‘Fast Forward’ and ‘Rewind’ symbols are CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS INDICATORS that the next adventure will take place in both the Doctor’s past and also his future. Note that the figure beneath is both LOOKING TO and POINTING TO the LEFT. You know why that’s important. YOU KNOW.

However, that top image. It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Unless you’ve been to a supermarket recently.

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Why is this significant? Well, if you know your Big Finish you will recall that Arabella Weir played an alternate version of the Third Doctor, living out her exile on Earth in the guise of an alcoholic supermarket trolley stacker. There were VISITING TIME LORDS and DODGY TROLLEYS and a TIME LORD WHO HAD CHANGED GENDER. And there was vodka. All this points towards AN ENFORCED REGENERATION at the hands of the Time Lords, which will then be undone in time for the Christmas special.

And speaking of vodka, I think I need some now. I promise not to get trolleyed.

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Nap time

Three images for today, two from ‘Sleep No More’. One I can’t get quite right, despite best efforts, but never mind.

The second one will only make sense if you’ve seen Bing. To anyone who has, it was kind of obvious.

And talking of CBeebies, anyone who was watching last week will probably have seen the episode of Topsy and Tim in which Mossy the dog shuffled off this mortal coil – an episode that I really didn’t expect to have me in tears, but there you go. Blame the hormones. In the days following the episode’s transmission, the CBeebies Facebook page has been awash with memes showing Mossup (the real life dog who played Mossy) Photoshopped into various places, leading to some confusion from stupid people (“Hang on, isn’t she dead?”) and at least one person saying “THIS IS NOT APPROPRIATE!”, when a better choice of words would surely have been “I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS!”

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So naturally, I did one as well. Because why not?

 

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Review: ‘Sleep No More’

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Disclaimer: What follows is not exactly a review, because this is the sort of episode that defies conventional reviewing. It is a dramatised behind-the-scenes look with the reviewer’s opinions shoehorned in; it is completely fictional, and any similarity to real situations is pure luck. Please take it in the spirit in which it was intended, i.e. hastily written and not terribly funny.

 

INT. STEVEN MOFFAT’S OFFICE. DAY

[A Thursday afternoon sometime in December. MARK GATISS sitting on a sofa, in conversation with STEVEN MOFFAT – who, unbeknownst to Mark, is playing Candy Crush on Facebook, even while thumbing through a script on his desk.]

STEVEN: Sleep deprivation’s been done, Mark.

MARK: Not like this.

STEVEN: The X-Files managed it twenty years ago.

MARK: It’s topical. Didn’t you see that whole propaganda speech I put in about hyper-productivity and how everyone’s going to be able to do more? That sort of thing’s always fun to tear down. The junior doctors are going to love it.

STEVEN: I’ve already got Peter Harness doing immigration. We can be topical but I can’t be seen to be too left-wing. The Mail already have me on speed dial.

MARK: This isn’t like the others. They don’t go mad and start killing everyone.

STEVEN: They don’t?

MARK: Page thirty.

[Moffat thumbs. Reads. Nods.]

STEVEN: Anything else I should know?

MARK: I wanted the computer to sound like GLADos.

STEVEN: Fine, but I’m casting British. We don’t want a lawsuit.

MARK: Hey, you Frankenstein, me Igor.

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INT. DOCTOR WHO PRODUCTION OFFICES. DAY

[A read-through is in progress. JENNA COLEMAN, PETER CAPALDI, REECE SHEARSMITH, MARK GATISS, STEVEN MOFFAT all present.]

PETER [reading]: “What used to be sleep in your eye has turned into a carnivorous life form.”

JENNA: Oh, you are shitting me.

PETER: Yeah, that’s – I’m pretty sure that’s not in the script, Jenna.

[There is laughter, with an underlying tension.]

STEVEN: Problem, Jen?

JENNA: This is utterly ridiculous! You’ve written –

STEVEN [pointing at Mark]: Hey, he! He’s written –

JENNA: I mean, he’s written, whatever, he’s written a monster that’s made out of sleep dust.

MARK: It’s never been done before, though.

JENNA: No, because it’s a fucking stupid idea! It defies common sense and logic! It’s the worst kind of pseudoscience! It’s worse than Spitfires on the moon! This is supposed to be new levels of realism and my suspension of disbelief just had its strings cut.

STEVEN: Don’t hold back, Jenna, tell us what’s really bothering you.

JENNA: Shut up. Look, it’s as bad as that episode of Red Dwarf where Chris Barrie was gonna clone himself out of dandruff. And that was supposed to be funny.

PETER: Yeah, that one was funny, actually.

JENNA: Was. I don’t know. Yeah.

MARK: Look, it’s – they’re gonna look horrible. In my head, I mean, they’re like big brown things. Big wrinkled brown things with enormous mouths.

STEVEN [to the room]: Don’t spread that around, everyone, it’s not on the list of controlled leaks.

JENNA: Made of sleep crust.

MARK: Yeah.

[There is a very tense pause.]

JENNA: Probably a good thing this guy wasn’t trying to cure the common cold.

[A burst of laughter across the entire team, and the tension’s gone.]

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INT. BBC CAFETERIA. DAY

[Lunch. REECE SHEARSMITH is sitting with ELAINE TAN.]

ELAINE: So how’d you get the Adventures in Space gig, anyway?

REECE: Oh, Mark owed me a favour. I said I really wanted to play Troughton.

ELAINE: For one scene.

REECE: There was supposed to be more of it, but it’s on a cutting room floor somewhere.

ELAINE: It didn’t make the DVD?

REECE: No.

ELAINE: It wasn’t really acting, though, was it? You just sort of turned up in a wig and did a bad impression.

REECE: But it needed to be there. It’s the whole transition thing.

ELAINE: And by the time they found out you couldn’t actually do Troughton, it was too late.

REECE: Exactly.

[They clink cappuccino mugs.]

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INT. SET. DAY

[A chase is being filmed. JENNA is running up a corridor; all of a sudden she trips and falls.]

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Cut! OK, reset, we’ll go again.

JENNA: Owww! Shit, I think I twisted my ankle.

PETER: Oh, Terry Nation would’ve loved you.

JENNA: Shut it and help me up.

FIRST UNIT DIRECTOR: Jenna, you all right?

JENNA: These shoes are abominable. Why couldn’t I have worn the Faith ones? They were great. They were flat.

FIRST UNIT DIRECTOR: Listen, costume’s not really my department, but I think it was the cameras, they needed decent eyelines for the handhelds –

JENNA: It’s not my fault I’m short!

PETER: Listen, Caroline John managed a weir in a miniskirt, and that was in January. You can do cope with gratings.

JENNA: I’d like to see the Doctor manage this in heels.

PETER: So would half the audience, I think.

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INT. ANOTHER SET. DAY

[An abandoned power station somewhere. Neet Mohan and Bethany Black wander corridors.]

BETHANY: Quiet. Little too quiet.

NEET: Are you in character?

BETHANY: No, I mean generally. What is it? Something’s different.

NEET: No idea.

BETHANY: I think it’s Murray Gold.

NEET [sucks in teeth]: I knew there was something different about this week.

BETHANY: There it is.

NEET: I find it refreshing. Certainly a change from the usual overwrought stuff. At least you can hear the dialogue.

BETHANY: You say that like it’s a good thing.

NEET: It’s not?

BETHANY: The problem is it sounds like dialogue. It doesn’t – look, in real life situations, like the one this is supposed to be mirroring, people don’t do complete sentences. They talk over each other, they –

NEET: I know that, I’m just, I’m just saying –

BETHANY: – interrupt each other, there’s no –

NEET: – look, we don’t want to alienate the audience, right? If it’s too Woody Allen people are gonna switch off. We’re already pushing the envelope.

BETHANY: Please! The envelope is still on the table. The sealant is still applied. The corners are undamaged. The –

NEET: You know, I think I prefer you in Hulk Smash mode.

BETHANY: Whatevs.

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INT. ANOTHER SET. DAY

[PETER and JENNA are between takes.]

PETER: It’s different though, you’ve gotta give it that.

JENNA: It is different. It’s like nothing we’ve ever done before. But the rushes are giving me nausea.

PETER: Do we even have those anymore?

JENNA: You know what I mean. There are just so many cameras.

PETER: And for the first time I can look at them without the fanboys ranting about the fourth wall!

JENNA: It just wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be.

PETER: Listen, Blair Witch was low-tech because it wouldn’t have worked any other way. The multi-camera thing is part of the story.

JENNA: Yeah, about that, am I missing a page? Is this one of those things where they only send it out to you, and you’re not supposed to tell me?

PETER: No, I think Mark’s lobbying for a follow-up.

JENNA: Hence the ending.

PETER: Hence that.

[Awkward pause]

PETER: You’re not gonna say anything, are you? ‘Cause we don’t want a repeat of the read-through.

JENNA: I’m just saying, why don’t they turn on the sprinklers? Boom. Problem solved.

PETER: Because they don’t have sprinklers.

JENNA: They have space-sprinklers.

PETER: Don’t start that again.

JENNA: Hey, I got him to put it in.

PETER: Look, it’s not Ibsen, but it’s better than the Daleks one.

JENNA: My nephew’s written better than the Daleks one, and he’s seven. You’re just defending it because he gave you Shakespeare.

PETER: I really, really want that nomination.

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INT. STEVEN’S HOUSE. NIGHT

[STEVEN is sitting with his feet up; fingers thumb the surface of an iPad. SUE VERTUE is on a laptop on the other side of the room. An iPlayer broadcast of the episode has just finished: somewhat anomalously, the credits roll.]

SUE: Well, that’s gonna freak out the kids.

STEVEN: Always the plan. Come on, you have to hand it to him. A story about getting enough sleep, or else, broadcast just before bedtime.

SUE: Except everyone uses iPlayer these days.

STEVEN: Well, I can’t do everything.

SUE: How’s the Twitter feed?

STEVEN: Oh, it’s downright hysterical. There’s a guy here who decided to explain the word ‘pet’ to the Americans.

SUE: Just don’t go on the Guardian. You know it affects your blood pressure.

STEVEN: I won’t.

SUE: Coming to bed?

STEVEN: Shortly. Need to do the next set of soundbites for the press releases. See you so-

[He looks up from his iPad and notices that Sue is giving him a very odd look.]

STEVEN: Why are you staring at me like that?

SUE: Don’t stay awake too long.

[She dissolves into sleep dust. Steven screams. Cut to black.]

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

God is in the detail (9-8)

Ah. ‘The Zygon Inversion’. How do I analyse thee? Let me count the ways. Remember, this is the stuff the BBC DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT, so you’re very lucky to have me on hand to reveal the Hidden Truth. And there is a lot of hidden truth this week; enough to kill a small horse.

Let’s take a look first of all at the clock in Clara’s flat, at the very beginning of the episode.

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6:26 is, of course, a timestamp, and using the same methodology as last week we can draw out the exact lines of dialogue at the 6:26 mark across all previous episodes of the series. Assembling them in order, beginning with ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ and concluding with ‘The Zygon Invasion’, the list reads thus:

“We bring harm.”

“Help me!”

“Are you sure?”

“Listen, we’ve come from the future and you’re about to send a signal. How do you do it? Is it a special pen?”

“I AM ODIN.”

“My curioscanner! It scans for curios. I’m just realising how it got its name.”

“It’s her.”

Written out in this manner this is CLEARLY a conversation between a deity and a poor Earthbound worshipper asking for help, and this is a theme that develops further when the number ‘626’ is interpreted in other ways. The notion of mythological deities also figures when we examine episode 626 in the chronological run – part four of ‘The Twin Dilemma’, a story featuring twin boys named Romulus and Remus, both conceived with the help of the god Mars.

And it goes further. Consider season 6, episode 26 of the original run: episode three of ‘The Seeds of Death’, an episode which concludes with a pod that hides a deadly secret, in a story about malevolent warriors from the planet Mars, which features a character named Osgood. NONE OF THIS IS A COINCIDENCE.

Now, the boxes.

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This is this week’s snowglobe moment. Those of you who have seen The Matrix will note the OBVIOUS AND DELIBERATE reference to the two pills that Morpheus offers Neo; the red pill brings enlightenment, while the blue brings memory loss. Memory loss is a key theme to ‘The Zygon Inversion’, particularly during this scene. But there’s more to it than that…

Pokemon Red and Blue are two different entries in the phenomenally successful Japanese series, in which players capture monsters inside golf-sized balls that are clearly bigger on the inside. The Red and Blue Design Hotel is in Prague, a city visited by at least nine incarnations of the Doctor. And in football, Crystal Palace FC are known as the Red and Blue Army; the Crystal Palace was visited by the Eighth Doctor and C’rizz in ‘Other Lives’, and thus this is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS clue that the Eighth Doctor WILL BE IN THE SERIES FINALE.

Also of note: the Mire helmet, secured behind glass. Note that when the word ‘Mire’ is reversed (or INVERTED) it reads ‘Erim’, the name of a village in Turkey and also the surname of a number of at least two Turkish academics and one politician. We may therefore conclude that Mr Copper, the clueless tour guide from ‘Voyage of the Damned’, who believed that the people of Earth went to war with Turkey every December, will cameo in the Christmas special. There is no possible alternative. Just don’t tell anyone; the press leak is presumably still pending.

The Tenth Doctor shows up again here:

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Note the ROSE-coloured bottles of Rubicon hidden just behind the poor Zygon. In ‘Tooth and Claw’, the Tenth Doctor offers to take Rose to observe ‘Caesar crossing the Rubicon’. Note also that both of actors were in ‘Day of the Doctor’, although Billie Piper played a character with a different name who looked like Rose, just as this week Jenna Coleman played both Clara Oswald and someone who looks like her. Note that in ‘Tooth and Claw’ the Doctor and Rose meet Queen Victoria. Note that Queen Victoria is shortly to be played by Jenna Coleman. Note that Zygons have claws. Sort of. That’s enough notes to be going along with. My brain hurts.

Not-quite finally, observe Clara’s lounge / sitting room / snug / living room.

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[Parenthesis]

“Eddie! I think there’s someone in the drawing room!”
“The what-room?”
“The drawing-room!”
“I don’t think I’ve been in there. What, you mean we’ve got a room just for drawing in?”
“God, you’re so common, aren’t you? What do you call it, the snug or the saloon or something?”
“Oh, the lounge!”
“That’s it! Yes, the laaunge! There’s someone down in the laaunge!”

[Parenthesis ends; a moment of silence for Rik Mayall]

Note the three lamps, drawing clear parallels with the three separate Doctors featured in ‘Day of the Doctor’ – the last story featuring the Zygons. The one on the back wall is clearly the War Doctor, given his preoccupation with walls the first time we see him; additionally he is at the back of the room, just as the memory of the War Doctor was pushed (or at least acknowledgement of his existence) is pushed to the back of the Doctor’s mind. The one to its left is clearly the Tenth Doctor, situated as it is on a table with a RED CLOTH, signifying the Tenth Doctor’s RED TRAINERS. And on the right is the Eleventh Doctor, given that the shadow it casts on the wall looks partly like a Fez while simultaneously resembling a Trilby, as worn by –

4d60001827089e38d082d721138994f8-fourth-doctor

Who, of course –

day_03

Yes, well.

Finally, class, here’s your homework. I know we don’t tend to give homework but your task – should you choose to accept it – is to decode this.

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Just the headline in red, that is. I know what it means already, and I’ll tell you next week. But let’s see who can figure it out before I reveal the answer. First correct guess wins my seal of approval, and also a lollipop. A rose-coloured one. Go on, get cracking.

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: ‘The Zygon Inversion’

Spoilers, sweetie….

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“The other day a woman came up to me and said, ‘Didn’t I see you on television?’ I said ‘I don’t know. You can’t see out the other way.'”
(Emo Phillips)

I sometimes wonder what Russell T Davies makes of current Doctor Who. Certainly I’m not sure whether anyone ever asks him. You cannot move online for press snippets and paragraph-long teasers from the current showrunner about the ‘fun chase’ that the Christmas special is promising to be, or how devastated everyone will be when Clara departs. I’m of the opinion that Doctor Who ought to stop telling its audience how we ought to be feeling and allow the drama to breathe and speak on its own terms, but that’s another day and another blog post, and one I may write, so let’s not dwell on it now.

But does Russell (yes, my animosity towards the man has evaporated to the extent that I can call him that now) sit in his flat with a vodka and tonic and a curry and cheer on this new, reinvented Doctor? Does he lament the fact that his five-year legacy of the tortured soul has been all but undone? Does he sit and weep while this new chap, the ageing Scot with the impressive eyebrows (because I’ve just finished The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, and eyebrows get mentioned practically every page) talks about how close he was to an act of genocide before a soap actress pulled him back from the brink? Or does he nod and smile and say “Yes, that’s probably where I would have gone with it”, and then leave another message on Peter Davison’s voicemail?

We may never know, and in a way that’s fine. But I’ll bet he was watching last night, and thinking “Gosh. I could have had fun with the Zygons.”

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Certainly Moffat has. In a way, this sort of story fits with his writing style like Mary Tamm’s tailored outfits clung to her bosom. There are three ways of writing hidden identity narratives: make the audience aware and play on the dramatic irony; keep them entirely in the dark; alternatively, allow them to spend time believing one thing before pulling the rug out from under their feet. Moffat has done the last one so often that the rug has almost worn threadbare. Vital missing seconds from scenes change allegiances, set booby traps, resurrect the dead. Moffat uses the concept of time like a child experimenting with Playdough, twisting and reshaping it into anything he sees fit. Lest we forget, at the end of series six he built an entire dramatic conceit upon the single use of the word “Actually…”

Peter Harness may have been responsible for the story, but you can feel Moffat lingering at his shoulder. Having spent last week building up to the moment a previously trustworthy character revealed their duplicity, here he does the exact opposite. It’s a trick that doesn’t work quite so well second time around, largely because we do not see an awful lot of Kate until the final act, and she is given a single scene with the Doctor before revealing that her true colours. Still, Jemma Regrave does a convincing sneer.

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We know that we can trust Osgood and the Doctor, so it’s left to Coleman to thicken out the concept. Harness and Moffat achieve this by imprisoning her in a bricked-up flat, where the toothpaste tube is full of what looks like excrement and nothing much works except the TV. It’s a perfect opportunity for a Blake’s 7 marathon if ever I saw one, but Clara discovers that she has a limited control over her Zygon counterpart, as embodied by some rather silly hand movements.

In 1998, I saw a film called Sliding Doors, starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Helen – whose life branches in two directions depending on whether or not she catches a particular train. In the film, Happy Helen cuts her hair short and dies it blonde, presumably because blondes have more fun; Miserable Helen retains its original length and colour. So too this week Bonnie’s brisk and businesslike demeanour is embodied by a pony tail and bright red lipstick, while Clara spends most of the story looking like she’s just got out of bed. Bonnie strides with a glacial stare where Clara ambles; she could also learn a thing or two from Bonnie’s posture. Coleman brings a distinction to both roles; it’s the first time we’ve seen her play an out-and-out villain, and it works, despite occasional lapses into caricature.

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By the episode’s end Bonnie has assumed the identity of Osgood – so there are now two of them, at least one of which is a Zygon – but it would be inconceivable to think that Moffat will not use Coleman again at some point. “Clara,” he assures us, “will never return”, but at no point has he suggested that Bonnie will not. Indeed, if the nature of Clara’s death (assuming that’s where we’re going) is in any way ambiguous, who is to say that he couldn’t have the internet debating whether he actually killed Bonnie instead? That’s what he does, after all.

The plot of ‘The Zygon Inversion’ is essentially built around the nuclear option. The action sequences are sparse and consist largely of people running away: the Doctor and Osgood escape the police, and then pursue an unmasked Zygon in an empty supermarket only for him to commit suicide rather than spend his life unable to cloak. “I never wanted to fight anyone,” he insists, not long before pulling the trigger. “I just wanted to live here. Why can’t I just live?”

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If last week’s episode was largely about immigration policy and the expectation of assimilation, this week is largely about extreme options and final solutions. We are once more in the Black Archive, with Capaldi raging and shaking in a speech that couldn’t be more obviously ‘BAFTA nomination’ if they’d stuck a flashing subtitle underneath it. The sunglasses are off, the preaching comes thick and fast, and the fact that “Do nothing” is once more the solution is, for once, not to the story’s detriment. It’s an impressive moment, worthy of the best of McCoy, and destined indeed to be recreated by past Doctors at conventions and posted across the internet.

Various jokes pepper the script and some of them are very funny. Capaldi bails out of an exploding plane with a Union Jack parachute – the fact that Spectre opened only last week is almost certainly a coincidence, but it helps. London is described as “a dump”. And the Doctor’s look of incredulity when Osgood reveals she does not know what TARDIS stands for is priceless, even more so when she admits that this is because “I’ve heard a couple of different versions”.

 

wayne

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As with last week, there are misfires. The Doctor’s American accent is almost as dreadful as Missy’s (it’s nothing to do with Capaldi or Gomez, who manage fine; it’s just a criminally bad idea). Various scenes don’t make complete sense: the Doctor’s encounter with the police officers feels like it’s going somewhere and then doesn’t, while the ending is slightly muddled. Structurally, the whole thing feels slightly off-kilter, as if it would have benefited from a pacing rethink.

But in the grand scheme of things, this is nitpicking. We’re two thirds of the way through a series as bumpy and uneven as its immediate predecessor; mediocrity pervaded the Dalek story, the promising ghosts were ruined by time travel, and a fun romp through Valhalla was followed by dreary, plotless philosophy. There’s a risk that in calling ‘The Zygon Invasion / Inversion’ an obvious series highlight, I’m damning it with faint praise, and that’s unfair to everyone. In a year of lacklustre ideas and squandered potential, of course it stands out. But that doesn’t stop it being a darn good story in its own right. And just when all seemed lost. Tweak my diodes and call me Petronella.

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The inevitable John Lewis / Doctor Who thing

Sorry. It’s just that Christmas ad is everywhere today, and I couldn’t not do it.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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