Monthly Archives: December 2015

The wolves are dawdling

I am too full of cake / cheese / salami to write anything substantial at the moment. You know how it is at Christmas. But I’ve been keeping these three puns in reserve for a day when I really ought to post anything, while lacking the momentum to actually do it.

First: one of those Lord of the Rings moments that would have arguably improved the scene if they’d actually done it.

Second: I’m not even going to explain this one, as you need to have read Wolf Hall to appreciate it, and if you haven’t, it won’t be funny even if I explain why.

 

 

And lastly: I know I’m not the first person to have thought of this, but it strikes me as very odd that more people haven’t done it.

 

Happy New Year. May all your camels be fertile.

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Review: ‘The Husbands of River Song’

9_X Husbands (3)

Spoilers follow.

I’ve thought for a while now that River Song is a little like Marmite. You either want to absorb her entirely, lusciously spread on toast, or burn her alive. You love or hate her and there is comparatively little middle ground.

While taste is always subjective, it’s a thing that doesn’t happen often. Few fans would argue, for example, against general conviction that Melanie Bush is an irritating carrot-obsessed fitness freak, at least on TV (Big Finish tells a different story, of course), or that Adric was a general twerp. On the other hand most people love Ian and Barbara. Still, River’s apparently ubiquitous presence in the seven years we’ve known her – and particularly in the last five – has generated as many detractors as it has fans, which is presumably why last night’s Christmas special, ‘The Husbands of River Song’, while actually being quite good, presumably had a good number of people pulling their paper cracker hats down in front of their eyes even before the opening credits. There is no middle ground with River, just as there is no middle ground with processed yeast extract. You either eat it by the jarful or you involuntarily gag as soon as it swims into view.

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But upon reflection, I don’t think it’s that simple. I think it’s possible to have your toast and eat it too. I’d had more than enough of River by the time we’d wrapped up ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, but getting her out again for ‘Husbands’ seems to have paid off. The plot – such as it is – revolves around an attempt to rob the despotic, disembodied King Hydroflax, who happens to be carrying a priceless diamond in his brain. It’s the excuse for the ridiculous sight gag of a head in a bag – almost as ridiculous as River’s sonic trowel (although it is a nice plant, if you’ll excuse the pun, for the inevitability of the Doctor’s Christmas gift). The honour of playing the head of Hydroflax goes to Greg Davies, who is almost as uptight as he was in Cuckoo, and just as much fun to watch.

Essentially ‘Husbands’ is exactly the sort of romp that you need after a heavy series; the sort of story that ‘Last Christmas’ really ought to have been, and wasn’t. Neatly compartmentalised into three locations, with differing moods in each, it calls upon Moffat’s stock trade of sinister, nondescript monsters (this particular one has a head that unzips), pathos-drenched love scenes and general wibbly wobbliness. There is a crashing starship. River and the Doctor have dinner (twice) and argue over who gets to drive. It’s like one of those middle-aged romcoms that are vehicles for Robert De Niro or Barbra Streisand. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

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The central conceit is that of poor communication – something (to paraphrase Verne the turtle in Over The Hedge) that families do very well, and perhaps rendering this more appropriate for Christmas than it would be at any other time of the year. River doesn’t recognise the Doctor simply because she’s never met this version, and the Doctor’s irregular attempts at telling her the truth are met by interrupting sidekicks, sudden explosions or knocks on the door of the TARDIS. There’s a kind of arrogance to her assumption that there would be no loophole to the Doctor’s twelve-regeneration limit, but the real problem River faces in ‘Husbands’ is that she stopped buying breakfast cereal in 2013, and the free ‘collect all twelve’ fact cards that she’s been accumulating are from an older set that’s now two years out of date. Or perhaps it’s headcanon in action: there are, I’m sure, various Who fans who gave up on the show after ‘The Time of the Doctor’ (or significantly before that) because they couldn’t accept the idea of new regeneration cycles. Why can’t River be one of those?

Moffat teases this out for as long as he possibly can, largely to milk its dramatic / comedic potential to saturation point. This is equivalent to a disguised Shakespearian protagonist wandering about the stage in a dodgy false beard observing the outrageous behaviour of allies or enemies: the jokes come thick and fast (even if they don’t always work) and the dramatic irony goes up to eleven. The Doctor visibly blanches as he reflects on River’s apparent bigamy, callous disregard for life and financial ruthlessness (all qualities we already knew she had, so the bigger mystery is surely why he’s so surprised?). Twenty minutes in, the Doctor has to pretend he’s seeing the inside of the TARDIS for the very first time, which gives Capaldi the opportunity to ham it up like a loon. “OH MY GOD!” he shouts. “MY ENTIRE UNDERSTANDING OF PHYSICAL SPACE HAS BEEN TRANSFORMED! THREE-DIMENSIONAL EUCLIDEAN GEOMETRY HAS BEEN TORN UP, THROWN IN THE AIR AND SNOGGED TO DEATH!”

9_X Husbands (5)

Such big speeches work well when they’re played for laughs, but like many of River’s other episodes, ‘Husbands’ suffers when it’s trying to be too serious. The story has its share of misfires, but the monologue that precedes River’s realisation that the Doctor is standing right next to her is simply embarrassing. I’ve never really bothered to find out whether Kingston can’t do dramatic speeches, or whether she simply can’t do dramatic speeches while playing this character, but either way it’s a low point. As low points go it’s not quite up there with the one at the end of ‘Wedding’, but it’s a top three.

Things are a little less clunky – although only just – come the end of the story, and it’s here that we realise that ‘Husbands’ is essentially a fifty minute build-up to get the Doctor and River to the Singing Towers. It’s Moffat finally writing the story he alluded to in ‘Forest of the Dead’, his own procrastination, perhaps, finding its way into the script when Kingston mentions that when it comes to the Doctor taking her to dinner, “You always cancel”. Or perhaps procrastination had nothing to do with it, and perhaps Moffat had always planned it this way. We’ll probably never know. Nonetheless, chronologically this is their last encounter before the Library, although the fact that a night on Darillium is twenty-four years long does rather sweeten the deal.

Indeed, the assumption here is that River will be back, either on Dirillium (which must have a Wyrmm’s nest somewhere, or at the very least a cave system containing frozen Ice Warriors). If Moffat had a theme song, it would be ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ (or, if you like, ‘It’s My Plotting And You’ll Cry If I Want You To’). Or, as Gareth puts it, “If this ‘last night’ is 24 years long, I assume that there’s no need for it to be their final meeting or final night together. As they can go off and meet lots and get back still during the same night.”

But given the manner in which it concludes, this is a story that couldn’t have happened before ‘Hell Bent’, and the lesson the Doctor learned about going too far resonates throughout his final speech. For all Kingston’s blustering about finding a way out, it’s a touching scene, expertly lit, the romance bubbling beneath the surface while being kept at bay by some pleasant, almost understated performances – particularly from Capaldi, who is always at his best when he’s turning it down. It helps that the two leads have a chemistry that Kingston never managed with Smith – perhaps it’s an age thing, but this feels far more natural than it ever did when the Doctor wore tweed. These are two people who give the appearance of being in their twilight years (the fact that the Doctor is clearly not is, for the moment, irrelevant) and this lends their love scenes a sensibility that grounds them even in the more overwrought moments. On balance, it works. ‘The Husbands of River Song’ lacks the accessibility of ‘The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe’ and the narrative oomph of ‘Voyage of the Damned’, but it substitutes an emotional core that winds up – just for a change – being far more than the sum of its parts. Of all the available Doctors that could have taken River to the Singing Towers, I’m glad it turned out to be this one.

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Christmas, Doctor Who style (part two)

At that time the Emperor Rassilon ordered a census to be taken throughout Gallifrey, and every Time Lord had to register in his own home town, which for most turned out to be the citadel. So each returned to the place of his birth. And lo, there was much confusion over what ‘birth’ actually means and whether Time Lords actually have parents or are extracted from one of Andrew Cartmel’s genetic looms. But there was an elephant in the room, or rather a donkey.

And meanwhile there was another decree from Rassilon that all the newborn babies should be killed, except they weren’t actually killed, but rather plucked from the moment of death by a time scoop and then dumped in the back room of a stolen TARDIS. And Clara’s waitress uniform did cause the wet dreams of a million fans. But the wise men returned to their land the long way round, having been warned in a dream not to go back to Rassilon. And Rassilon was so angry that he hit his head on the windowsill and regenerated, probably into a six-year-old girl.

And so it was that while the Doctor was wandering in the desert, he ran across a 2010 BBC production of the Nativity, and thought “Hmm, this chap looks awfully familiar.”

And it was a coincidence. But it came to pass that this was not so, for impossible it is to appear in Doctor Who twice in different roles, despite it happening to Colin Baker. And thus there was a convoluted explanation about chosen faces, and thus did the Doctor rail at the heavens “I’M THE DOCTOR, AND I SAVE PEOPLE!”. And the heavens did reply, “We heard you the first time.”

And then eventually, this happened.

Incidentally, a Happy Christmas to all of you at home.

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Christmas, Doctor Who style (part one)

This? Well, I just think it’s a better title.

[Coughs]

It’s late December, which means the usual selection of Doctored Christmas images. I did a little Photoshopping yesterday and came up with this.

Capaldi_ChristmasCarol

I don’t know, there are only so many times you can stick a Santa hat on top of Michelle Gomez, aren’t there? It sort of works, except that the three ‘ghosts’ are all from the Doctor’s past. And while I like the juxtaposition of the Twelfth Doctor with Sarah Jane, the Pirate Captain and the deformed Master, it doesn’t fit the Doctor’s timeline – they were just the most appropriate choices I could think of. So I did this instead, which works a little better.

But I really like that Twelfth Doctor photo. So imagine, if you will, that it’s Christmas 2014, whereupon this makes sense. Pick your favourite.

Coming next time: hybrids…

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The CBeebies Amalgamation (part two)

First of all, this.

I mean, I have no idea what’s going on here. I assume it’s some sort of satanic ritual before the Japanese airing of Dinopaws (or ダイナパウズ)たいそう, as they call it over there). The shouted names, the manic dancing…it’s obviously supposed to conjure up the spirit of long-dead reptiles. All that’s needed is a vial of incense and a couple of sacrificial chickens. I checked the ‘up next’ suggestions and there are a bunch of these, which I opted not to see because there’s only so much excitement you can take in one day.

Whovians amongst you, of course, will have figured out that the chap on the right does appear for some reason to be wearing the Sixth Doctor’s coat. Cosplay suggestions for his grinning companion are more than welcome; please leave them in the usual place.

Coat

Dinopaws is a programme we talk about quite a bit here at Brian of Morbius, mostly because it’s one of the most endearing and imaginative shows to hit CBeebies in years. It’s earned its share of bad press, of course, largely because of the language component: Gwen and Bob are still playing with the concept of language (Tony appears to have made up his own, and it’s strangely reminiscent of the sacred words held by the Knights Who Say / Who Until Recently Said ‘Ni’.) This leads to all manner of complaints about made-up words and language development delays from parents with nothing much else in their lives. Children learn language from the adults they interact with; anyone who is picking up permanent habits from TV is watching too much of it. To conclude that it’s the BBC’s responsibility to educate our children is to completely pass the parenting buck. Such stupidity also ignores the work of Lewis Carroll, Ogden Nash and Spike Milligan, but let’s not go over all that again.

There’s a darker component to Dinopaws, of course, when it comes to feedback, and that’s the inevitability of the creatures’ eventual demise at the hands of a massive meteor / comet / crashed spaceship containing an impetuous maths prodigy. Cue much doom and gloom across the Twittersphere from parents who find themselves unable to truly enjoy the programme because of the looming threat of a total extinction event. Except that’s not the way it works, because (as we keep saying) Dinopaws isn’t set on Earth. It’s set on another planet, called Marge, with all sorts of other things going on. Not convinced? Look at the sky! The sky is all over the place! That’s not a Pangean sky!

Look, why stop there? There’s a lack of realism all over the shop. Why not discuss the fact that the theme to Topsy and Tim really ought to contain the words “We can be / Anything / But only within the confines of particular gender stereotypes”?. (That one’s mine, so if you use it, copyright Donna Noble.) Or the happy-go-lucky Petal, Dash, Digger and Gobo, who spend their days in the barn in blissfully doomed contentment.

You’re not supposed to tell children about this, of course, which is presumably why a recent episode of Meet The Kittens – in which a mother cat brought back a dead rabbit for her babies – caused such a stir. There’s no blood in the scene, but they do spend a good deal of time filming the dead animal as it’s dragged across the staircase, and when the episode was re-shown this week the CBeebies Facebook page saw more than a few complaints. “Pretty discusted of seeing what i just saw,” wrote one user. “It upset my children as they love rabbits and i think it would upset other children yes show kittens with it mother but not a cat what has caught it prey and taking it to its kittens to feast on i do not want my children watching that kind of stuff on cbeebies i think u need to say sorry on air to all the viewers as that was unexceptable.”

That was one of the less vitriolic remarks. Others got very upset. One person, in particular, saw it as an opportunity to describe every parent who approved as one of the most disgusting people she’d ever met, and when she was called out on this hyperbole she became violently defensive. In the end she opted to leave the conversation because the longer it went on, the more people were not only disagreeing with her but also calling her out for her behaviour and somewhat judgemental tone, which she took very personally. How dare they, she seemed to be suggesting, how dare they have the audacity to tell her she was wrong when she was simply stating what she felt?

Herein lies the problem with most online debate. The moment a remark leaves your head and makes its way to a public forum, it’s no longer your property. It can be retweeted, re-posted, screen-grabbed and ripped to shreds, in a group or on someone’s profile or even in the pages of an online newspaper. There’s a right and a wrong way of doing this. I always make the point of looking at public profiles of anyone I’m about to have an argument with; it enables me to know whether I ought to make allowances or concessions, and it’s worth it even when you get called a ‘weirdo’ or a ‘stalker’. If you want to avoid the potential repercussions for inflammatory viewpoints then for God’s sake keep them private. Facebook is not private. Shouting on a Facebook forum is the metaphorical equivalent of standing up in a Q&A session and talking bollocks; no one will necessarily stop you at first, but you’ll reap what you sow when people start to answer back.

“But it’s MY OPINION,” comes the whiny response from Chantelle or Scott or Claire (or, worst of all, Leanne Logan’smummy). To which my standard response is “So what?”. This so-called right to an opinion is bullshit. It’s something they teach children now before they’re really ready for the responsibility of credible sources and elementary logic (and I know this, having seen it first hand) and we’re now experiencing the fallout on social media. If I told you that the sky was green and that it was my opinion, you’d still tell me I was wrong, and you’d be correct to do so. If I told you that you were a lousy footballer (or, more to the point, a bad parent) and my opinions contained not a shred of credibility you’d argue the toss, and once again you’d be correct. I post all manner of crap on here about Doctor Who and I’m ready to defend every single word of it when challenged. I would expect the same of any rational adult. I’ll routinely tell people this. And if I consider them semi-literate, I’ll point them towards this article here, which sums up my views on things better than I ever could.

tottie1

But listen. Listen carefully. When I was just shy of six years old, I saw an Oliver Postgate programme called Tottie: Story of a Doll’s House. It featured a glacially beautiful, morally twisted doll called March Payne who – in her endeavours to become the sole object of her owner’s affection – started a house fire with paraffin that resulted in the death of one of the other dolls. There was no detail, but it frightened me. And I got over it. When I was four, I saw a public information film in which a young girl ran out into the road and got hit by a car. It terrified me. From that day to this I have been careful when I cross the street, and I keep the gate shut.

Also when I was four, I saw the final episode of ‘Earthshock’, in which Adric dies at the hands of the Cybermen and the credits rolled in silence over a view of his shattered badge. It upset me. When I was seven, I saw an episode of Ulysses 31 in which the characters in suspended animation aged almost to death. It wasn’t the sort of thing that would normally frighten people but it gave me nightmares. When I was eight or nine there was a programme called Knightmare which featured dissolving flesh and cracking skulls. I can still see those images in my head if I concentrate, but it doesn’t matter. When I was nine or ten, there was an ITV show called Wizbit, and don’t get me started on that.

Children bounce back. I bounced back. In our haste to protect our loved ones from the monsters, we’ve forgotten that kid’s TV used to be absolutely horrible. That’s part of being young. You get over it. Memories are short and young minds are durable. That’s why I introduced mine to Doctor Who as soon as I felt they were ready, and why I watch them squirm at the gore with a curious delight. Up to a given point, it builds character. Discussing death builds character. Joshua has never forgotten the face-melting in Raiders of the Lost Ark but it hasn’t warped him psychologically. Part of this, I am convinced, stems from the time he watched our cat die when he was two years old. He accepts it, in a way that Logan-son-of-Leanne never could, because she’d rather wait “until he’s ready”, innit. That’s entirely her choice, but don’t call me out for doing it differently, and don’t accuse the BBC of negligence when you know nothing of its practices. This is a channel that routinely censors fairy tales to suit its intended audience. They’re not beyond reproach, but they know what they’re doing.

Alas, none of this matters when you’re arguing on Facebook. I shouldn’t be surprised. We’re in a world where university courses are censored because of complaints from students who take exception to ‘offensive content’. I’m not opposed to political correctness. I don’t advocate racial or gender stereotyping. I understand why they no longer broadcast It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. But I do wonder when we started to lose our backbone. More to the point, I wonder what these whining grown-ups with too much free time actually want from these emotive, expletive-ridden rants. What would it take to redress the balance? What would it take to make the act of a dead rabbit acceptable?

No, you really didn’t see this. Move along.

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The Hagbourne Invasion

A while back I mentioned that ‘The Android Invasion’ was filmed in East Hagbourne, just up the road from here. In something of an exclusive, here are some photos Emily found in a now defunct Facebook group, including one of Tom Baker holding a cat.

Baker 2

Baker 3

Baker

I have no idea who any of these people are, but there’s something curiously satisfying about that second image – and the last one is rather sweet, really. “Although,” says Gareth, “a ‘Tom Baker’ sounds like someone to keep away from cats.”

He adds “If you look for ‘tom baker cat’ on Google Images, you find a lot of pictures of Baker with cats. And also this ‘Dr. Who Neo Traditional cat tattoo’.”

tom-baker-inspired-customer-dr-who-neo-traditional-cat-tattoo-by-chessie-at-pride--glory-tattoo-studio-leigh-on-sea-essex-1

“Neo-traditional…?” we both said. Really, the mind boggles.

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Daleks: Lost in Translation

Watch this, and then cast your minds back a few weeks, to ‘The Witch’s Familiar’.

You remember that one, right? It sort of got forgotten, really, in the general melee of confusion that was series nine. There were Zygons and immortals and people hiding beneath bedsheets and eventually there were TIME LORDS, but before all that, we had Daleks. Specifically we had Clara Oswald hiding inside a Dalek in order to sneak into the Skaro citadel to find the Doctor.

Those of you who recall the scene in which she’s strapped in will remember the conversation she tries to have with Missy. “Say ‘I love you'”, says Missy, to which Clara replies “EXTERMINATE!”. Cue comedy scene with Michelle Gomez leading up to a chilling finale in which she eventually convinces the Doctor – after something of a narrow squeak – that she’s Clara, and not a disgusting mutant.

“Well,” says Gareth, “to be fair, no Dalek has ever said anything other than ‘exterminate’ and similar simple phrases. No conversations or speeches or anything. Honest. It’s a bit poor. And doesn’t really make sense – so when the Daleks want to exterminate you, and are threatening to exterminate you, and are preparing to exterminate you, they’re actually saying ‘do stay still, there’s a good chap’, and it just sounds like they’re saying ‘exterminate’?”

That’s entirely possible, of course, although it’s more likely that the Daleks would have been conditioned to say ‘Exterminate’ and that this is something that had been built into the travel unit in case it ever happens to be occupied by a non-Dalek, which makes about as much sense as there actually being room in there for Clara in the first place, but I think we can all agree that ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ stopped making sense the moment the vampire monkeys turned up, so I think we can let it go.

Letitgo

(Sorry. I’ve given you an earworm now, haven’t I? Both of you.)

Anyway. It was a silly scene but it did give me an idea: an idea that took me an hour to shape into something tangible. This was an easy one to do, as it was simply a case of finding appropriate Dalek-led exchanges and giving them appropriate subtitles. You could probably do this quite effectively with New Who as well, but given that I wanted to include a particular exchange in which a Dalek’s vision is impaired, I stuck exclusively to the 1970s and 80s. Stories used for this, in order of first appearance:

Planet of the Daleks
Destiny of the Daleks
Resurrection of the Daleks

The Doctor appears a couple of times, but this isn’t really about him at all, of course. And please don’t tell him about these problems the Daleks are having with their language filters. It’ll crush him.

By the way, if you’re not up on early 90s UK children’s TV, the blinded Dalek’s wails that he “cannae see!” are probably going to confuse you. In which case this suitably iconic TV moment might provide a little insight. For the rest of us, this is simple nostalgia.

Gosh, they look so young…

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That Wolf Hall / Bing Transcript

One of the most popular searches on this blog is for Bing Bunny – the Ted Dewan creation who currently has his own CBeebies programme, in which he stumbles through life with the help of Flop, his saintly guardian. It’s a popular show in our house, although my interest in Bing basically peaked when I produced a mashup that replaced Flop’s calm, reassuring dialogue with something altogether darker. If you’ve not read about that, I suggest you nip over to this post and do so. The resulting video was not one I showed my kids, but it was good, and I was proud of it.

And unfortunately, it’s not on YouTube. Aardman cited copyright infringement and a desire to avoid mixing children’s shows with adult material, which in a way is fair enough. Despite my warnings in the item description as well as at the very beginning of the video, I’m sure there are still children watching – and while I don’t advocate unfiltered YouTube access I have to accept the fact that there are many people in the world who are stupid. It’s a sad state of affairs, but there it is. Nor dare I risk it on Vimeo, in case Aardman are monitoring.

So I had to take it offline, but – as I said on the other post – there’s always a transcript, right? And now that series nine has wrapped I actually have time to get this done, and here it is. I won’t pretend that something isn’t lost in the telling, but if you can get someone to perform this with you, as well as someone else to play a lute in the background, you will at least get the general idea. Amateur dramatics: it’s a Bing thing.

For clarification –

  • All Flop’s dialogue is from Wolf Hall
  • For that matter, so is Pando’s (and he has Bernard Hill’s voice)
  • All Gilly’s dialogue is from Father Ted
  • Everything else is from Bing

Oh, and episodes used (in order of first appearance)

  • Goodbye
  • Storytime
  • Mine
  • Giving
  • Hide and Seek
  • Woof
  • Dark

Fade in…

TITLE:
It’s 15:38. Round the corner, not far away…

 

INT. LOUNGE. DAY

[Debbie Wiseman’s mournful score plays. Bing and Flop walk down the stairs; a dejected Sula sits nursing her sodden shoe.]

FLOP: Go on.

BING: I didn’t want to say goodbye.

SULA: But it isn’t a goodbye now. It’s a badbye.

FLOP: She hates you. She despises you. She wants you gone.

BING: Oh! [He runs off, excited]

Bing_Wolf (1)

 

INT. BATHROOM. NIGHT

[A naked Bing, in the bath. Flop is trying desperately to keep a book out of trouble.]

BING: Please, Flop. I really want a story.

FLOP [wrenching the book out of the path of dripping water]: Is that simple enough for your simple tastes?

Bing_Wolf (2)

 

INT. LOUNGE. NIGHT

[Bing, Flop, Pando and Padget, examining shells after a day on the beach. Bing holds one to his ear.]

BING: I can hear the sea!

PANDO: Bollocks.

PADGET [taking the shell and following suit]: Yes! [off Pando’s yawn] Oh, Pando, are you tired?

PANDO: Still bollocks.

Bing_Wolf (3)

 

INT. SHOP. DAY

[Bing plays with a toy truck, while trying to pick out a gift for Sula.]

BING: She likes her fairy wings. They’re sparkly. And she likes dancing. And her magic wand!

FLOP: She does, doesn’t she? I hear she can tell you where your dead relatives are.

Bing_Wolf (4)

 

INT. NURSERY. DAY

[Bing, Sula, Coco and Pando are playing hide and seek.]

COCO: One…two…three…four…

[Bing and Pando each hide in opposite ends of a fabric tunnel; there is not enough room for both of them.]

BING: I was here first, Pando!

PANDO: Oh, Jesus Christ! By the thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus. If I had a crossbow, I’d SHOOT YOUR FUCKING HEAD OFF!

EVERYONE ELSE: Oh, Pando!

Bing_Wolf (5)

 

EXT. PARK. DAY

[Bing and Flop are examining an apparently friendly dog.]

FLOP: She’s a fighter.

BING: Oh. But he’s got my ball!

FLOP [to the dog]: I could put my thumbs in your eyes, and you would sing ‘Green Grows The Holly’, if I asked you to.

BING: He’s licking me, Flop!

FLOP: I don’t like the way he looks at me.

Bing_Wolf (6)

 

EXT. GARDEN. NIGHT

[Bing and Flop explore the garden, Bing in his pyjamas, coat and wellies, carrying a torch. It’s like a really crap X-File.]

BING [calling over the fence to someone out of shot]: We’re having a venture! Hoppity’s all on his own, in the dark.

[Cut to window: we can see that the person Bing’s addressing is Pando, bouncing on his bed.]

FLOP: Tell him to let us in before I show his arse my boot.

BING: Night night Pando.

Bing_Wolf (7)

 

INT. BATHROOM. NIGHT

[Bing’s out of the bath, doing comically exaggerated story actions. The book perches precariously on the edge of the tub. Bing is blowing hard; all of a sudden the book plops into the water.]

FLOP: What’s that?

[The two of them lean over.]

BING: There’s my book!

FLOP: A fucking accident?

Bing_Wolf (8)

 

INT. NURSERY. DAY

[Back with hide and seek. Bing has just hidden inside a hamper; Pando is on his way over and clambering in.]

COCO: Five…six…

BING: Oh, get off! I’m here first!

FLOP: You didn’t find the apostles feeling each other’s bollocks, did you?

Bing_Wolf (9)

 

EXT. PARK. DAY

[Bing sits dejectedly next to Flop, while the dog runs over to its approaching owner.]

FLOP: What’s this? Oh, body of Christ. You just have to say some words, that’s all.

BING [crushed]: Oh…but I wanted to keep him.

GILLY: You big bastard.

FLOP: Hello!

GILLY: I’ll stick this effin’ pitchfork up your hole.

BING: I did. And Sunshine loves me!

GILLY: You can’t move for the bastards…

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INT. NURSERY. DAY

[Coco is creeping around, trying to find her hidden friends. Bing is in the hamper.]

FLOP: For Christ’s sake man, do you think you can crawl out of your hole?

BING: No! I can’t! Coco will see me, and I’ll be finded!

FLOP: Except you won’t. You don’t have the brain of a flea.

[Roll credits.]

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Categories: Crossovers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: ‘Hell Bent’

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There’s this bit towards the end of the first Bottom live show where Rik Mayall is about to commit suicide. Adrian Edmondson has wired up a makeshift electric chair. He pulls the lever: there is a colossal build-up, a wheezing and whining of unseen machinery, alarms, flashing lights. And then there is a fart, and the bang of a cheap firecracker, accompanied by a microscopic shower of sparks.

“Yes,” says Mayall, sighing. “Sort of a bit like having it off with Bonnie Langford, this really, isn’t it?”

It says something about the state of Doctor Who when your verdict of a series finale is “Not as dreadful as some of the others”. Might we say that we’ve sat through worse? Well, yes. ‘The Wedding of River Song’ was a low point, until we reached ‘Death In Heaven’, which had me throwing my Tenth Doctor action figure at the cat. The site of a resurrected Brigadier saluting at the Doctor across a graveyard seemed to vomit on the legacy of Nicholas Courtney and the Doctor who worked for him at UNIT, and those of you who were reading this will remember that I got very cross.

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There’s none of that this time. None of the grandiose, universe-shattering finales to which we’ve become accustomed. Oh, there’s a story about a prophecy that comes to nothing (more on that later). There are threats and recriminations and things that will probably come back to haunt the Doctor later, and a heap of unanswered questions (just where exactly is Gallifrey these days, given that they’ve moved it?) As a finale, it was empty and not terribly satisfying, but it could have been worse. With notable exceptions, that seems to be the best I can say for Doctor Who these days, which is something of a shame, but there it is.

To give credit where it’s due, ‘Hell Bent’ starts brilliantly. After a suitably enigmatic opening in a Nevada diner that – as is now customary with Moffat – will eventually subvert all our expectations, we move to Gallifrey, and a glorious, eight minute sequence in which the Doctor utters not a single word. It contains some of the best acting from Capaldi since he first complained about his kidneys, with the Doctor saying more with the simple act of picking up a spoon or dropping his confession dial in the dust than he could with the sort of monologue he got at the end of ‘The Zygon Inversion’, as good as that was.

Even after the Doctor starts talking, and the plot unfolds and the logic machine breaks beyond repair in a shower of cheap sparks, the acting remains impeccable – particularly from Donald Sumpter, who excels as the Time Lord President, a figure finally and unambiguously revealed to be the resurrected Rassilon. Sumpter plays Rassilon like a battle-hardened East End kingpin in a low-budget, independent gangster flick (something that Clara deliberately points out), chewing up the scenery and stealing every scene that he’s in. It’s a mesmerising performance, and it’s a great shame that there isn’t more of it.

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Instead we get a lot of back and forth about prophecy as the narrative twists in all sorts of directions. The Hybrid is the Doctor! No, that was an obvious joke and it’s Maisie Williams! No, it’s the Doctor! No, it’s the Doctor and Clara! It’s Missy! It’s Keyser Soze! Actually, it doesn’t matter because we’re going to leave this unsolved until Capaldi’s final episode! That’s a writer’s prerogative, but everything about ‘Hell Bent’ smacks of something that hasn’t been thought through. It’s like buying a washing machine when you live in a third floor flat with no lifts. It’s the same problem that dogs The Deathly Hallows, in which Harry, having spent most of book six looking for a set of objects, decides in book seven that there’s another set of objects he ought to be looking for instead. Similarly, the question of the Hybrid is teased throughout and then conveniently confined to the sidelines, another ball the Moff’s thrown in the air, teasing out his reign for as long as possible until all these questions are answered. He did precisely the same thing during Smith’s run, and I think most of us are wise to it by now.

This is, of course, an episode all about Clara, and having spent last week keeping her out of shot, Moffat places her firmly back into the limelight come the story’s second act. While I don’t dispute the unavoidably autobiographical nature of writing it seems ridiculous that Capaldi’s Doctor has become, to all intents and purposes, an extension of Moffat himself. He clearly can’t bring himself to kill Clara permanently, so the Doctor finds a way to save her. Perhaps I’m being churlish, but it says a lot about the way Doctor Who is written these days that the Doctor is prepared to move heaven and earth and break every law of time to save people he likes. You get the feeling that if ‘Doomsday’ had been a 2015 episode instead of a 2006 one, Rose’s separation from the Doctor would have been at the end of episode eleven and he’d have found a way to pop into the parallel universe to retrieve her almost immediately.

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I didn’t like ‘Face The Raven’. That’s no secret. But if nothing else, it did at least kill off a character in one fell swoop, even if it took longer than it should have done. The act of undoing that – simply because there’s a loophole – basically cheapens death. I have talked about this before and am reluctant to retread old ground because no one is listening anyway, but to see the writers take us this far and then pull a Davies (I think that’s what we call it now, isn’t it?) is seriously lame. If Doctor Who were action movies, we’d be in Taken 3 territory: losing your daughter once is unfortunate, two is frankly careless and three is just taking the piss.

On the other hand, ‘Hell Bent’ is crammed absolutely full of Things To Annoy The Fanboys; the sort of thing that sparks ferocious debate and keeps Twitter chugging over over Christmas until the turkey (no, I don’t mean ‘Before The Flood’) is a distant memory. The Doctor’s much-disputed half-human origins are teased. The head of security regenerates onscreen from a middle-aged white man into a younger black woman, ticking two equality boxes in one fell swoop. And it’s revealed that the Doctor left Gallifrey because he was told a scary story when he was a kid. There’s a bit more to it than that, but it’s the Whovian equivalent of Kevin from Home Alone coming face to face with the old man who carries the shovel, running out of the 7-11 and jumping on a bus bound for Nevada. Simultaneously, this isn’t Moffat re-establishing the canon, this is Moffat deliberately toying with us, and I’m not rising to the bait.

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Something else I’m still scratching my head about: we were told, through a variety of press releases, that we were going to be left “a tiny bit devastated”, and after watching an episode in which the Doctor sort-of-but-not-quite loses bits of his memory, takes over Gallifrey and regains his means of transportation, while a not-quite dead companion gets to wander the universe in a stolen TARDIS with an immortal eighteen-year-old…after all this, I’m still trying to work out where exactly I’m supposed to be devastated. Is it the memory loss, which counted for nothing the moment the Doctor saw Clara’s picture on the side of the TARDIS? Is it the fact that Clara is still destined to die on that trap street, presumably after a long and happy life of zooming around the galaxy in a floating restaurant? Is it the moment when the Doctor walks into his darkened TARDIS alone, just before he goes to spend Christmas with Alex Kingston and pick up another soap actress?

I mean, I’m always a tiny bit devastated at the end of ‘Earthshock’. Or ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’. Or Attack of the Cybermen’. Actually, most of Eric Saward’s stuff would do. There was a man who loved killing off supporting characters. I’m not saying I wanted the corpses piling up the way they do in ‘Warriors of the Deep’. I don’t even mind the fact that there wasn’t a single death this episode; it’s kind of par for the course when you’re doing a story about a species with a marvellous talent for self-healing, accompanied by a woman who is functionally immortal and another who was already dead. I’d just like to point out that for all the spiel about getting upset, the body count for this week is actually minus one.

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But there are elements of goodness. Gallifrey is pleasantly minimal, considering that in a decade of New Who we’ve never actually been there properly; it feels like a throwback to ‘The Five Doctors’. The retro TARDIS interior in which the final third of the episode takes place is a crowd pleaser; likewise the shattered corridor in which the end of the universe takes place is nicely realised. Even Maisie Williams throws in something that might almost be called a decent performance this week, which is a refreshing change after two hours of sulking.

Still, it’s not quite enough to save the story from mediocrity, largely because the story itself isn’t particularly interesting. The structure is as uneven as a toddler’s brick tower; it’s as if Moffat decided at the last minute to postpone his grand plan for another year and had nothing else to go in its place. I can’t say that I hated this episode as much as I did last year’s finale, or even ‘The Woman Who Lived’, but there must be, somewhere, the sort of finale that neatly straddles the road between Everything Happening, and Nothing Happening. If it sounds like I’m one of those impossible-to-please fans, I’d just point out that the crucial, series-defining moment in ‘Hell Bent’ is two characters debating whether or not they should press down on a piece of plastic. Honestly, it doesn’t get much more Bonnie Langford than that.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

God is in the detail (9-11)

Let me deliver some news first: unless there happens to be anything catastrophically important in ‘Hell Bent’, this will be my last God is in the Detail entry of the year. I simply can’t keep up the pace. It’s Christmas in three weeks, for crying out loud. I haven’t wrapped a single present or written a single card. If I don’t get engaged with it soon we’re going to have a big fat pile of unpeeled chestnuts on Christmas Eve and everyone is going to be miserable. And I’d rather save the misery for Christmas Day itself, thank you very much.

You will have to look elsewhere for your conspiracy theories. The Radio Times, for example. Did anyone else read that story about the secret message? You know, the one on the wall? This one?

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(I borrowed this image from the RT article; the arrows are nifty. I may steal that for next year.)

Anyway, the text reads:

As you come into this world,
something else is also born.
You begin your life
and it begins a journey.
Towards you.
Wherever you go.
Whatever path you take.
It will follow.
You will notice a second shadow next to yours.
Your life will then be over.

[Engage Double Rainbow guy voice mode] But WHAT DOES IT MEEEEEEEANNN???? [/voice mode off]

“TWO SHADOWS?” comments Chris Wilkinson (who, I suspect is a kindred spirit) in the Radio Times article’s comments section. “IS THIS A RIVER EASTER EGG?”. To which I say good try, Chris, but clearly not. No, it’s an unambiguous reference to Shadow Weaver, the shrouded sorcerer from She-Ra: Princess of Power. 

shadow_weaver_by_nightwing1975-d5h8n5v

How do we know this? Well, simply because we can rearrange ‘Hordak, Catra, Clawdeen’ to ‘Accord hate, warn Dalek’. I mean, there it is, folks. It doesn’t get much more concrete.

Some of the clues in ‘Heaven Sent’ aren’t visual. You remember that montage they stuck in the last few minutes whereby two billion years pass while the Doctor beats his way through the wall of Handwavium? Well, it’s a clue. You’re not just supposed to sit there and take it all in, you know. You have to be listening. And luckily for you, I’ve dug out all the Doctor’s battlement observations (you remember, when he looks up at the stars and says “If I didn’t know better, I’d say I’ve travelled seven thousand years into the future”, while we were all shouting at him to watch out for the approaching Veil). And here are the numbers he mentions:

7000
7000
12000
600000
1200000
2000000
20000000
52000000
1000000000
1000000000 (or well over)
2000000000

(For clarification of all these, I am indebted – as ever – to Chrissie’s Transcripts. She had a hell of a job with this one, and she did it brilliantly.)

Anyway. If we add all these together, we get this:

4075825000

But what does it mean? It turns out to be a telephone number. A Whitepages lookup only gives us very scant information, but does reveal that its owner is based in Orlando, Florida. Which ostensibly means nothing at all, until we remember Orlando: A Biography, a novel by Virginia Woolf in which the titular Orlando lives for hundreds of years and has a sex change halfway through.

And what can we glean from this?

– The Doctor’s next series will feature an adventure in Disneyworld
– He will encounter rogue CIA agents (whose headquarters are in Langley, Virginia)
– Billie Piper will appear in her raggedy costume
– THE NEXT DOCTOR WILL BE A WOMAN

Further proof – as if any were needed – may be acquired by rearranging the words ‘VIRGINIA WOOLF WROTE ORLANDO: A BIOGRAPHY’ into ‘LANGLEY WIFI AGGRAVATION – BORROW HOOD OR PI?’, which refers to so many episodes it would take more time than we have to unpack them, but you know what I mean.

Next:

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[tumbleweed]

OK, I’m lost. I’m sure this has some sort of significance but it’s gone. Sorry. Please leave your thoughts on it below, if you have any.

Let’s take a look at something else.

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I mean, here’s the Doctor, in the middle of his own prison, looking carelessly at a monitor and HOLY SHIT IT’S THE TARDIS.

No, it is. Seriously. Look, it’s even got a candelabra just above it to simulate the light on the top. The only difference is the number of windows. Three windows. As if to represent…I don’t know, three TARDISes?

Day_Tardis

Finally:

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The numbers. Look at the numbers. 17 and 46 may be combined to form 1746, the year in which ‘The Highlanders’ took place, and the year to which Jamie was returned at the end of ‘The War Games’ with his memory erased – an act, by the way, perpetrated BY THE TIME LORDS. Also note that the Doctor is pointing towards the number 7 with his thumb – referring, of course, not to the Seventh Doctor, but the seventh episode of season 17, part three of ‘City of Death’, WHICH FEATURES THUMBSCREWS.

102 clearly refers to ‘Golden Death’, part of The Daleks’ Master Plan – Daleks got a mention above, and the word on the street is that we’ll see them in the series finale. But Golden Death is also an obvious nod to Jill Masterson’s violent death at the beginning of Goldfinger – a film that co-starred Honor Blackman, WHO APPEARED ALONGSIDE THE SIXTH DOCTOR IN THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD STORY ARC. And what happens in this week’s story? Well, if you’ve seen the Next Time bit you’ll have already joined the dots and maybe started doodling round the edges of the page and adding a little moustache to the plumber you’ve drawn so that he looks a bit like Mario. Anyway, it all means I get to post this again.

Baked Alaska

 

Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat, Harry.

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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