Monthly Archives: January 2016

Farewell Janet and John

All right. Look, don’t watch the whole thing. Just the first few seconds, until he sits down.

I kind of love this. It’s Nicholas Cage back when he was young and edgy, working with the Coen Brothers and David Lynch and sporting that awful nasal voice he had in Peggy Sue Got Married. It predates Nicholas Cage the action hero (John Woo did his best stuff in Hong Kong, but was there ever a more quintessentially 90s movie than Face/Off?) and Nicholas Cage the safe romantic lead (City of Angels) and, most notoriously, Nicholas Cage the questionable casting choice (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin / Ghost Rider / The Wicker Man, although how that movie was greenlit is one of the biggest mysteries of Hollywood, along with the declining trajectory of Robert De Niro’s career and how Shia LaBeouf got to star in anything, ever).

Anyway. Never mind shirtless Nick. Pay attention to the interviewer. For those of you reading this in foreign climes who don’t recognise him, his name is – was, I am forced to correct, with something of a lump in my throat – Terry Wogan, and he’s been around longer than I can remember. In our house, Wogan was much a part of the furniture as the full length mirror that hung in the hall or the set of nesting tables that are now cluttering up my lounge. He was there every morning, as he was in thousands of households all tuned to Radio 2 and the sounds of the breakfast programme he hosted, with its innuendo and quirkiness and brilliant listener correspondence. His chatshow, Wogan, was notorious for giving us a drunken George Best, a deluded David Icke and an uncooperative David Bowie (whom Wogan later admitted he wanted to thump). And it was his acidic commentary that made Eurovision that little more bearable. “Who knows what hellish future lies ahead?” he quipped at the beginning of the 2007 show, before adding “Actually, I do. I’ve seen the rehearsals.”

And now he’s moved on, another victim of the disease that takes so many, and I feel like another part of my childhood is over. I can’t argue that 77 is a good innings, and I think you only really start to notice these things as you get older and more of the people you know are struck down, but I’ve never known the start of a year to be so depressing. Go home, 2016. You’re drunk.

Here’s where we’re going with this: every year Wogan co-hosted Children In Need, a telethon that continues without him, aimed at raising both awareness of and funds to aid underprivileged and disadvantaged children. It’s one of the BBC’s flagship events (another is Comic Relief, which takes place every second March). Children In Need usually features dancing newsreaders, lip-synching boy bands and a great many of those tearful appeals, accompanied by slow motion black-and-white-footage of upset children, with elegiac piano music morphing into ‘Fix You’.


If this seems like it’s taking the piss a bit, I should point out that Children In Need has always been quite good at showcasing Doctor Who. The Tenth Doctor had his first scene with Rose in the rather dreary ‘Born Again‘, before locking horns some years later with Peter Davison in the rather more memorable ‘Time Crash’. Off the TARDIS set, actors have frequently popped into the studio to chat with Wogan, who has become as synonymous with Children In Need as Lenny Henry has with Comic Relief or Peter Capaldi has with unnecessary eyebrow gags.

Anyway. here’s something I dug up from 1985: a moment Wogan opened the door of the TARDIS and produced a fanboy’s wet dream. It deserves to be seen again, because it’s about the best Who-themed tribute I could find for a man who was such a big part of my childhood, and who will be missed, even if he hadn’t actually done much in years.

I’d like to say that this will be the only post you read today that features both Patrick Troughton arguing with Jon Pertwee and Nicholas Cage doing a somersault, but I’d be lying…

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Ranking the Doctors from worst to best

Cameron McEwan – one of my fellow Metro writers – has done an article today that ranks every Doctor from worst to best.

Cameron’s entitled to his views, of course, but even allowing for the weighting of particular eras (McGann has an hour and a half, Hurt has less) he’s flat out wrong. What’s annoying is that he’s pipped me to the post, because I’ve been working on such a list myself. Factoring in audience approval ratings, average tenure in the role, aggregate DVD sales and online streaming figures, all fed into a precise and impossibly mathematical formula that I’m in the process of patenting, I can now supply THE DEFINITIVE LIST of Doctor rankings, starting at the bottom (worst) and moving up to the top (best).

And here it is.


13. Your thirteenth and least favourite Doctor.

12. Your twelfth favourite Doctor.

11. Your eleventh favourite Doctor.

10. Your tenth favourite Doctor.

9. Your ninth favourite Doctor.

8. Your eighth favourite Doctor.

7. Your seventh favourite Doctor.

6. Your sixth favourite Doctor.

5. Your fifth favourite Doctor.

4. Your fourth favourite Doctor.

3. Your third favourite Doctor.

2. Your second favourite Doctor.

1. Your favourite Doctor.


There. Told you it was definitive.

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Clara and Ashildr: The Long Way Round

I’m doing a River Song. Certain stories are being told out of sequence. I usually post videos in the order I create them. Today’s an exception, largely for the hell of it. What’s the point in having a self-imposed rule if you can’t break it sometimes? This might, of course, explain why I’m still fat.

Emily and I got home from the school quiz on Friday evening to discover the news that Chris Chibnall will shortly be replacing the departing Steven Moffat, after Moffat has produced series ten of Doctor Who – a series which has been delayed until 2017. I have my own views on this, which I’ll save for another day. If you want the Cliff Notes, here they are: a year off is probably going to do us all good. It’ll give me time to stop hating the direction the show has taken. I need breathing space. I need to watch the Sarah Jane Adventures with the kids. And goodness knows I ought to get that book finished.

But talking of spin-offs, this revelation came hot on the heels of a video I’d uploaded only hours previously. It was one of those things we talked about back in December, when such a thing seemed obvious. A few days ago I had the germ of an idea. I Googled it. The results were minimal enough to convince me I could offer something of substance that wouldn’t look like everything else that people are doing. Alternative title sequences for Doctor Who are all over the internet. Have you seen the Friends one? There are several, but I like this one better than most of the others, largely because John Simm seems far more convincing as a slightly crazed Murdock goofball than he ever was as the Master.

Still. You remember that series nine finale. When Ashildr (I cannot and will not bring myself to refer to her as ‘Me’) and Clara nicked the TARDIS – now permanently disguised as an American diner, which presumably made it impossible to actually park the thing – and went off for centuries of adventuring? I mean, I hated it. I really did. Clara’s dead. She’s pecked to death by a giant bird in the middle of Diagon Alley. She’s already had more than enough adventuring for someone her age. Why does she get to have more? Can’t she leave some for the rest of us? But still the cries of ‘spin-off! spin-off!’ ran thick and fast. Never mind the fact that Jenna’s off to play Queen Victoria and Maisie Williams is presumably still knocking around in Game of Thrones (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never seen it). It doesn’t matter. The fan-fiction writers are, I’m sure, out in force and I daresay that a lot of it comes under the Rule 34 subheading.

Photo: Simon Ridgeway

I mean, that’s good. I rather like that one. But you couldn’t possibly do a spin-off and not call it The Long Way Round, could you? It just seems such an obvious title. I can even forgive Moffat for using it twice. It works.

The most difficult part of this was finding music that worked. There is a decent Stereophonics song entitled ‘The Long Way Round’ – used for a biking documentary that was quite popular over here – but stylistically it didn’t fit. A close contender was ‘End of the Line’, which was eventually ditched because a poor facsimile of the song has served to underpin the New Tricks titles for years, and it just felt a bit like cheating. I consulted a Facebook group of which I’m a member. They were helpful, although I didn’t employ any of their suggestions. The idea of using ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ was one I feared would be fraught with difficulties until I discovered the 12-inch version. There was a lot of copy-and-pasting, and if you listen carefully you can hear the joins.

The trick is to use as many different outfits and contexts as possible. Coming up with a variation for Ashildr turned out to be easier than I thought, even though she only appears in four episodes. There’s understandably very little footage of her and Clara together, which is why I spliced a scene from ‘Cold War’ with the ending of ‘The Woman Who Lived’, in one of those things that’s so bad that people will hopefully just assume I was being artistic. The opening dialogue is a composite of Clara’s monologue at the beginning of ‘The Name Of The Doctor’ and various things she said in ‘Hell Bent’.

Overall, this straddles a fine line between Life on Mars and Cagney and Lacey, purposely emulating the former. In that respect, it works. You don’t see the Doctor at all, and that’s entirely deliberate. Someone else mentioned they’d like Jenny to be on board, and while I don’t think the TARDIS is quite that big, she could be a recurring character. She could pop in every series and slide under lasers or something, and then bounce off again. Or they could do a series finale where she goes all veiny and evil. I’d kind of like to see that one.

Oh, and that quiz I mentioned? We won. And there wasn’t a single Doctor Who question. Some days, you just throw a double six.

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This is Bill

I’ll just leave this here.


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Loving the alien


“Planet Earth is blue, and there’s nothing I can do…”

My A-level philosophy teacher was only seven years older than me. He had a long overcoat, a hatred of Blur and Friends and a great fondness for Quentin Tarantino, back when such a thing was acceptable. When I went to Leeds University – his old haunt – he pointed me in the direction of the best record shops and clubs, advising me to eschew “overrated, beery clubbing” for the underground scene – something I tried to do, with only limited success. He also loved David Bowie, which at first glance seems disappointingly mainstream. Didn’t everyone?

Yes and no. There were, in 1995, two Bowie albums in my collection. One was The Singles Collection, which took us all the way from ‘Space Oddity’ to ‘ Day In Day Out’, some twenty years later. I played it regularly, skipping tracks I didn’t like. ‘Space Oddity’ was a play-to-yourself-in-your-room song, the sort of late night opus reserved for those times when I was truly miserable, of which there were plenty (unrequited love will do that to you). My first encounter with ‘Changes’ had occurred some months previously when it turned up in a music exam. I’d never heard anything like it: the chromaticism, the unorthodox piano and string combination (was there ever a song so singularly influential on the musical direction of ELO?) and that pulsing, throbbing voice, singing and not singing, like an eroticised Rex Harrison.

The other album was 1.Outside, the first in an incomplete series of concept albums intended to chart the final five years of the millennium. 1.Outside was sprawling, vast and borderline incomprehensible. It told the story of Baby Grace, victim of an ‘art murder’ investigated by Detective Nathan Adler. Bowie intersects songs with spoken segues, assuming a variety of voices and characters, as was his wont. The world he depicted was dark and dystopian and simultaneously familiar. The songs ranged from industrial to grandiose to downright noisy, the pounding thud of ‘Hallo Spaceboy’ hinting at the musical direction he would later take with Earthling. It baffled many (“It would be good,” I remember reading in one magazine review, “to have him back down on Earth again”) but as someone who’d recently discovered Blade Runner I devoured it, determined to solve the mystery, devising anagrams for character names, looking for clues that probably weren’t there at all. It was just so coherent. Only the inclusion of ‘Strangers When We Meet’ – itself a leftover from The Buddha of Suburbia – seems somehow incongruous, although that doesn’t stop it being a darn good song in its own right.

That was – more or less – my introduction to David Bowie. Oh, I’d seen Labyrinth. We all had. My memory of that first time is a little sullied: Labyrinth was, at the age of ten, the video the class elected to watch as an end-of-term treat, winning by a landslide, while my own offering (a movie-of-the-week I’d taped from ITV) barely registered a single vote. That’s the sort of thing that can taint your enjoyment, but the truth is I watched and loved it along with the rest of the class, adoring Bowie’s costume and the colourful Muppet characters – and the songs, although I wouldn’t come to appreciate them until years later, largely thanks to an old friend who would occasionally rap the beginning of ‘Magic Dance’ in the office on those tedious Friday afternoons. Such exchanges also work very well on Facebook, except when this happens.

Me: You remind me of the babe.

Owen: What babe?

Donna-Marie: Labrynth!! ;D

Me: The babe with the power.

Donna-Marie: That’s the power of the babe!

Me: Arrrgh! Stop messing it up!

As an actor, Bowie was variable. On the one hand, Pontius Pilate. On the other hand, this.

I mean, Twin Peaks had its fair share of dreadful acting (James Marshall? I’m looking at you) but this is appalling. I know he’s supposed to be tortured and damaged but there’s no need to leave the audience in the same state. He looks like he’s just listened to both Tin Machine albums back to back. It would be tempting to mark this as a downward spiral, but it occurs some years before Basquiat, in which his portrayal of Andy Warhol lights up the screen. Yin and Yang.

Yesterday James Moran said “I love how we all found Bowie at different times, and all met a different person. He was a Time Lord, and we were briefly his companions.” Certainly Capaldi wanted him on board for series nine, and I have no doubt that he’d have been marvellous as an enigmatic villain. There is, somewhere, a parallel universe where Bowie was cast as the Sixth or Eighth Doctor, and the series was never cancelled. If Everett’s many-worlds interpretation rings true, there is equally another universe in which the show didn’t make it past ‘The Twin Dilemma’. Yin and Yang.

Perhaps that’s the thing. Perhaps we all have ‘our’ Bowies and then enjoy those others he became, in much the same way that we cling to different Doctors. “I like early Bowie,” said Gareth, when I asked him, “but then I’m generally much more of a fan of 70s sorts of things than more recent stuff: early Bowie, early Queen, Genesis with Gabriel, etc. I have his later albums, but I rarely listen to any of them except sometimes the Labyrinth soundtrack. It’s probably a testament to his constant reinventing that he produced things I think are great and also things I thought were terrible.”

I wish I could tell a story about my love of Bowie that actually resonates on some level – how his music helped me come to terms with my sexuality (I’m straight) or helped me deal with the bullies (it didn’t) or how I recognised something of a kindred spirit within him (I don’t). But that wouldn’t be true. Not for me the pithy epitaph that goes viral. He was always a musician first and foremost – I do not and have never worn eyeliner – and while I marvelled at the chord changes in ‘Motel’ or the piano solo in ‘Aladdin Sane’ I never tried to emulate them.

On the other hand, I own most of his studio albums and I have followed and admired him for years. On the other hand, Monday was a black day. I cancelled my morning commitments and wrote a little something for Metro: I do not pretend that it is authoritative, or all-encompassing, or balanced – but it is how I remember him. I look back on my life and realise how present he was, even though he never quite seemed to be one of us. I cried when Freddie Mercury left: months later, Bowie was singing at his memorial concert. I was miserable at university; Bowie was in his drum-and-bass phase. Come the millennium, teenage angst had given way to navel-gazing introspection, with ‘Hours…’ playing on a loop. When I was miserable throughout most of 2002, ‘Heroes’ kept me company. And when Sam Tyler jumped from his roof, he was accompanied one of my favourite songs. Through it all, Bowie is a constant, a dark angel, overseeing my life, and your life – someone who we assumed would be making music until he was ninety or beyond. He was edgy and dark and brilliant and sang and did things that defined us and would never have occurred to the rest of us – we could relate to him, and we never could, and that was his appeal. At the Brit Awards 1999 he burst forth onto the stage like a man who has fallen into the fountain of youth, showing the kids how it’s done while simultaneously becoming one of them.

We’ll go out as we came in. It’s 1995, and one of my favourite musicians duets with one of my favourite pop bands. The single mix is not exactly Bowie, at least in terms of how it sounds, but it’s a testament to his chameleonic tendencies that it works so well. And the video…well, it’s David Mallet, rather than Bowie, but I look at this, and I look at my own work, and I wonder if there was some influence there after all. Either way, we’ll have the music. We always will.

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A magnet hung in a hardware shop

I’ll just leave this here, shall I?


That centrepiece is a pepper mill, and no, it wasn’t bigger on the inisde. And yes, it’s all gone now. Sorry.

I’m an easy person to buy presents for, because if you stick a Doctor Who logo on it, I’ll lap it up. This year, my parents got me a sweatshirt emblazoned with ‘CLASS OF GALLIFREY 1963’ or something similar. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law gave me a lenticular jigsaw puzzle, and a set of Dalek fridge magnets. And here they are.


The lighting isn’t brilliant (despite my best efforts) but there’s Davros, second along, and that’s the weird one from ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ on the top row, sandwiched between the Pertwee Dalek and the Ironside model from ‘Victory of the Daleks’. Bottom row there are a couple of sixties classics, a 2005 contemporary design, the stupid New Paradigm one and – holy smoke, it’s a Dalek with legs.


Those of you who know your Fourth Doctor will recognise this from ‘Destiny of the Daleks’. The dynamite attached to the exterior is a dead giveaway; it comes from a sequence in which the Daleks wander round a quarry and then explode. It is not a great story, renowned perhaps more for the debut of the second Romana (and that notorious regeneration scene) than it was for anything of any substance. Terry Nation was quite the one for bombs and twisted ankles but he didn’t like to see his creations mocked, and I never did find out what he made of the scene in which the Doctor climbs up into an air vent, before taunting the disgruntled Dalek that’s pursuing him with the words “If you’re supposed to be the superior race in the universe, why don’t you try climbing after us?”.

Small wonder that Douglas Adams (who, as I understand it, did the lion’s share of the rewriting) gets screen credit. ‘Destiny’ is the first story of Adams’ reign as script editor, in a series that also includes ‘City of Death’ and ‘The Horns of Nimon’, about which I blogged extensively a while back. Still. Legs? On a Dalek? What’s going on?

Well.Gareth searched, and found this.


It looks like the sort of silliness you’d get in a Spike Milligan or Victoria Wood sketch, but it’s definitely a production still. “On rough terrain,” explains a person in a Doctor Who Facebook group I frequent, “this was the only way the people inside could maneuver them, the camera angles tried to hide it.” It’s certainly true: if you watch the story, the moving Daleks are typically shot from one of the quarry’s lower levels, hiding the fact that they’re actually waddling along the sand. Location work is all very evocative, but it’s a pain in the arse if you have wheeled vehicles, which explains why K-9 was always down for maintenance.

That’s all very well, but it doesn’t really explain why it’s featured on a fridge magnet. Was it an in-joke? Someone who put it in because of a secret love for ‘Destiny’, something that’d get the fans talking and people like me blogging? That would be nice, but the truth turns out to be as ridiculous as a simple production error. The owners of The Who Shop (Barking Road, Upton Park), whose integrity is apparently beyond reproach, have this to say: “We pointed it out to the production company when these were released, that it was from a rehearsal shot but ‘since it was from an official BBC source it must be correct’. In short, they couldn’t care less.”

So now you know…



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Uptown Funk: The CBeebies Edition

Do. Do-DO-Do, Do-DO-Do, Do-Do. You’re humming it now, aren’t you? Oh, it’s catchy. It’s one of the most cynically manipulative records since ‘The Living Years’, a cocktail of old sounds under a modern groove, several records ripped off (amateurs borrow, experts steal) in order to make a song that teenagers play loudly through their phones in those evening alcopop sessions in the park, even as their parents dance badly to it at the office disco. It is masterfully produced, expertly performed and I love it. Say what you like about the state of contemporary music; Mark Ronson’s a genius.

I first encountered ‘Uptown Funk’ at Butlins, in February last year, where it featured in the finale of Diversity‘s street dance act. They were tight, they were effortlessly entertaining and I was humming that song for weeks. Winter turned into spring and someone did a lipdub featuring hundreds of classic movies. Then someone else did a montage using dance sequences. Then someone else did the same thing with the Golden Age of Hollywood. I have not linked to any of these because chances are you’ve seen them, and because my own meagre offering – proud of it as I am – does tend to pale into insignificance. But that’s OK. “Always,” said Max Ehrmann, “there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

Here’s a reflection on parenting. When you’re faced with the prospect of bad behaviour, you can sometimes circumvent it by simply upstaging it. One evening in August I had to entertain four tired, slightly fractious children – and a very well-behaved dog – in the van in a Lidl car park while Emily shopped. I did this by turning up the radio, and singing along to ‘Uptown Funk’ at the top of my voice, accompanied by with the sort of extravagant, flamboyant Dad dancing that would make Carlton Banks raise an eyebrow. In doing so I attracted the attention of several passers-by, as well as the cashiers in Lidl, who stared in bemusement while Emily pretended she didn’t know who I was.

When we were done, Thomas said “Dad, that was really embarrassing.”

I said “You think that was embarrassing? You just wait and see what I’ve got planned for your teenage years.”


Fast forward to October, and the video you saw at the beginning. I won’t go into the details, except to say that I restricted myself to HD clips only, which is why certain programmes aren’t featured (I’d have loved to have included Big Cook, Little Cook, but the surviving footage on YouTube really is rather grainy). In a way, that sort of self-imposed limitation made things easier, because otherwise you find yourself floundering under the weight of serious choice fatigue. There are so many CBeebies programmes (past and present) in which dancing features. Several shows are featured more than once, partly because they fit but partly because I was exhausted and just wanted to finish the thing. This was as painstakingly down-to-the-frame as anything I’ve ever done, and hopefully it shows, at least in the decent parts.

The first person I showed it to was Alan Gilbey. “It’s good,” he said, “but it needs more Dinopaws!”. Which gave me another idea, but that’s still in the works, so you can’t see it yet. In the meantime, this went on YouTube and round the houses (I’ve been informed, anecdotally, that several people who are in it saw it and liked it) and there it now sits, drawing in a steady stream of visitors. Certainly the hit count – 105,000 as we go to press – is gratifying, and as close to ‘viral’ as I am ever likely to get.

Just in case you’re interested, here’s a list of all the shows featured, in order of first appearance:

Show Me Show Me
Let’s Play
The Elves and the Shoemaker
Number Raps
The Lingo Show
The Tweenies
Dinosaur Raps
CBeebies Pantos: Strictly Cinderella
Something Special: We’re All Friends
My Story
The Three Little Pigs
Tilly and Friends
Charlie and Lola
Furchester Hotel
Peter Rabbit
Tree Fu Tom
Make Way For Noddy
Justin’s House
Sarah and Duck
Mr Bloom: Get Set Grow
Small Potatoes
Grandpa in my Pocket
Wussywat the Clumsy Cat
Let’s Celebrate
Baby Jake
Hey Duggee
Lunchtime Song
Same Smile
Mister Maker Round The World
Old Jack’s Boat
Katie Morag
Carrie and David’s Pop Shop
Swashbuckle does ‘Happy’
CBeebies Prom
In The Night Garden
The Let’s Go Club

Would I do it differently now? Probably. There are vague synchronicity issues I’d like to fix, mostly near the beginning (I swear the original is correct; I think it happened during the YouTube encoding). On the other hand it mostly works. A couple of scenes still make me wince. But I am pleased, in particular, with the way it unfolds in the last minute. Don’t believe me? Just watch.

(Yeah, you knew that was coming.)

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