Monthly Archives: March 2016

Legopolis (part one)

There was a time when you could sort of get Doctor Who Lego, and it was rubbish.

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At least some of you had this, right? That cut-price, flimsy, second-rate Lego knock-off that wouldn’t stick together and wouldn’t stay together, with its wobbly platforms and barely-functioning mechanisms (and I ought to know, I spent an entire afternoon trying to build the bloody thing). The Dalek set was no better: poorly designed, tedious to put together, and filled with cheap-looking Daleks. I know that Lego have a patent on their particular brick design and that the plastic they use is generally higher quality, but really. Oh, I have stared into the abyss with you, Character Building, and I have found you wanting.

The figures themselves weren’t bad, of course: I bought a set of all eleven some years back, along with a few of those £2 mystery bags that theoretically contained one of seven or eight different figures but which almost invariably contained the Eleventh Doctor. The boys and I had great fun playing with them, but they occasionally came in useful for other things.

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TOTD_Lego

Didn’t we have a lovely time the day we went to Gallifrey? Despite the abundance of assorted fan creations all over the internet, this was – alas – the nearest we thought we’d get to actual official Lego Doctor Who. Until last year, when this happened.

We’ve been here before, of course. Lego Dimensions was an attempt to cash in on the success of Skylanders and Disney Infinity: collectible toys used to unlock new areas and abilities in an expansive open world video game. Even before launch, the tabloid outrage had started in earnest. It was easy to see why, if you did some elementary mathematics: a starter pack would set you back something between eighty and ninety pounds, while level and team packs cost another thirty. Even the fun packs (containing a single character and a gadget of some sort) were fifteen pounds each. “It’ll cost you £350 if you buy everything!” screamed various media outlets, neglecting to mention the fact that you don’t have to spend anywhere near that amount to get a heap of enjoyment from the game.

There’s a certain sense of moral hand-wringing at work here. How dare you – we seem to be saying – how dare you, Lego, a capitalist venture, try and make money out of us by selling us things we don’t have to buy? Never mind the fact that you’re not the first to go down this road. We thought you were different. We thought you were on our side, rather than the exploiting, money-grabbing bastards at Disney. We thought you were all about the creativity, which is presumably why you’ve been re-releasing the same set of bricks all these years and never making new ones. You see? When you put it like that, the whole argument is ridiculous. The real problem here is peer pressure, and if you’re succumbing to that, you’re just not parenting properly.

In this case, the peer pressure came from me. Our kids have too much screen time and know too many swearwords (all of which they learned in the playground, rather than the house) but we’ve done one thing right: by and large, they don’t whine for stuff. Keeping commercial television at a minimum helps – any exposure to the minefield that is CITV is tempered by the running commentary I keep up through the advertising breaks, pointing out misleading product claims or gender stereotyping, until we got to the point that I didn’t have to do it anymore because the boys were doing it for me. So when it came to actually investing in this, they were all reasonably interested, but I was the one that pushed for it. “Because it’s Lego,” I said, “and because it’s Doctor Who Lego.”

It meant upgrading the Xbox. It was due, anyway – that 360 isn’t going to last forever, and if we were going to invest in the Dimensions set then some sort of futureproofing was in order. I wanted a PS4 (I still do) but the boys’ friends seem to have gone the Microsoft route, and it’s only a matter of time before they start doing online gaming, so the parent in me won out over the gamer.

You wonder why you bother, sometimes. Minecraft was tremendous fun for everyone until Thomas discovered the concept of griefing. Last year I set them off on Lego Star Wars, thinking that it might be a good way to introduce them to the series before we eventually moved on to Dimensions, but had forgotten that this early instalment does not have a split screen co-op mode, which led to great frustration when the experienced player was trapped at the edge of the play area as the camera zoomed ever outwards, waiting for the younger player to catch up. So I installed Viva Pinata instead, thinking that a multiplayer gardening game couldn’t possibly do any harm, only to find that they were far more interested in bashing the in-game A.I. assistant with a shovel.

Pinata

Split screen issues aside, the main problem with the Lego video games – as anyone who has followed the series will tell you – is that they’ve become increasingly complicated. This isn’t an issue if you’re a gaming veteran who’s used to upgrades and abilities and an increasing number of collectible items. Lego Indiana Jones 2 was the first to feature a large, fully interactive hub that made you actually hunt for the next level. Harry Potter featured an obscene number of items to collect, as well as game-breaking bugs that prevented you from doing just that. (Even after all these years, things have sadly not improved.) Lord of the Rings actively splits the gameplay so that in some levels, one character is teleported to an entirely different location and forced to do various things while someone else is having their own story, which rather spoils the effect of co-op.

It’s a far cry from Lego Star Wars – which, eleven years later, still holds up beautifully, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it is surprisingly minimalist. There are ten canisters per level, all used to build different vehicles that sit nicely in the cantina outside the hub. There are seven character types for accessing inaccessible areas (Lego Dimensions has 31). Characters you don’t unlock automatically may be purchased for a reasonable number of studs. There is one secret level, accessible when the main game has been completed, in which you get to stomp all over Princess Leia’s consular ship as Darth Vader. There are no gold or red bricks. Purple studs have yet to make an appearance. There’s not even any building, for heaven’s sake. There is just hours of unadulterated entertainment as you run through swamps and starships, hitting things and occasionally using the Force to move stuff.

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Lego Dimensions – as you’ll know if you’ve played it – features gold and red bricks, upgradable vehicles, hidden characters in need of rescuing, stuff to buy, stuff to renovate, minikit canisters, and…I stopped looking. I can’t keep up. The much-coveted 100% goal has eluded me since that second Indiana Jones game and I’m not inclined to try and reach it now. It is the proverbial bunch of grapes dangling tantalisingly out of reach of the hungry wolf’s mouth, and I am inclined to find it sour. There’s just too much: an absolute wealth of Easter Eggs, secret levels and other hidden delights. It’s information overload. The between-levels hub, at least, is pleasantly minimalist, consisting of a single, multi-floored area with a computer that takes you in and out of the different game levels. Shame it’s all so…blue.

I didn’t mention the toy pad and its circular, geometrically intricate hub, which took almost an hour for the kids to build and approximately thirty-five seconds for their two-year-old brother to destroy. The pad serves as an extra layer of gameplay: dropping minifigures on different sections takes them in and out of the world and allows access to new abilities and previously unavailable platforms and rooms, thanks to the puzzle design. If you have extra figures that can access hidden areas, dropping them onto the pad will bring them into the game (and if you haven’t bought them, you can purchase their abilities for thirty seconds at a time using studs you’ve collected). Keeping minifigures attached to the plastic base that functions as an identity chip therefore becomes absolutely vital if you don’t want to become hopelessly confused (although swapping them over is a great way to prank your children). It also necessitates storing them in a safe place, which has only failed to happen once. I wouldn’t mind if we ever got to play the bloody thing, but Traveller’s Tales have an annoying habit of doing this whenever I turn on the Xbox.

Xbox Update

I appreciate that they want to update things (although I’d appreciate it more if said updates actually fixed the bugs that made us play through that ridiculous Back to the Future Level again) but seriously, can’t they give us a choice? And yes, I’m aware that the always-on setting would allow an automatic update, but our carbon footprint is already through the roof and I’m not inclined to raise it any further. On the plus side, this made me all nostalgic for the days when I’d visit a friend’s house and he’d put the Chase HQ tape in his Spectrum cassette player, and then we’d go off downstairs and get a snack or something while it took ten minutes to load. Of course, these days it only takes two hours.

Lego Dimensions levels vary in quality. There’s the very good (Portal, Scooby Doo, Doctor Who), the good (Ghostbusters, which is curiously satisfying despite a general lack of atmosphere), the passable (The Simpsons) the irritating (Midway Arcade, which emulates Gauntlet very nicely but insists on splitting the screen when there’s more than enough room for two players at once) and the utterly dire (BTTF). The designers’ attempts to vary artistic style are largely successful – the land of Oz hums in glorious Technicolor, while the cel-shading in Scooby Doo is top notch.

And what of the Doctor Who level? Well, those of you who know your video games will be aware that there are two of them: a standalone level pack, ‘The Dalek Extermination of Earth’ – which I’ll write about when I’ve actually got round to playing it – and ‘A Dalektable Adventure’, the Who-themed level in the game’s central campaign. In the latter, Gandalf, Wyldstyle and Batman encounter Cybermen, Daleks and Weeping Angels. ‘Bad Wolf’ is scribbled on the walls, and overhead TV monitors replay the oh-god-it’s-coming-out-of-the-screen moment from ‘The Time of Angels’. The Doctor’s role is brief, although those of you who have played the rest of the campaign will be aware that he takes a much bigger role in the finale.

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Some of the best moments in Lego Dimensions are the little moments where you open up a tear in reality in order to pull through an object of use from another dimension (something they shamelessly nicked from Bioshock, although I’m not complaining). It leads to moments like the scene in the Portal level where you clear obstacles with the help of a screaming Homer Simpson, clinging to a wrecking ball. But the game speaks to anyone who has mashed up universes in creative play. In his bedroom, I’ve watched Daniel bash up Uruk-hai with Ninja Turtles and Spider-Man: in Lego Dimensions, GlaDOS has a conversation with HAL from 2001, the Joker stomps all over Springfield, and General Zod appears on the roof of the Ghostbusters’ firehouse. It’s a fanboy’s wet dream, but it’s more than that: it’s a testament to the power of creative thought. It’s also a cynical marketing stunt, of course – Lego have spent years shrugging off criticism that their current sets are too rigid and unimaginative, and eventually decided to fight fire with fire. It started with The Lego Movie, which embraced the concept of hybrid, non-linear thinking, and Lego Dimensions (despite the cataclysm that results when Lord Vortech starts fusing worlds) is a natural extension of that.

None of this would count for zip, of course, if the game wasn’t any good, but thankfully it is, despite the bugs. It encourages teamwork, perseverance and a certain degree of lateral thinking. Em and I enjoyed it very much. And of course, when the boys started playing it, they fought like tigers on heat. I had to referee. And then I had to supervise their sessions, ostensibly to lend a hand when they got stuck and were too busy arguing to work out the solution, although this only made things worse.

Oh, that’s another thing. I didn’t mention this, did I?

It’s brilliant. I always wondered how you’d handle the Angels in a third-person game, and the intermittent power failures fit the bill nicely. What this video doesn’t show you is what happens when you allow them to get too close, which leads to a bunch of close-up shots with gaping mouths, vicious-looking fangs and those soulless white eyes. It would have terrified Daniel, but he was already watching the thing from outside the room anyway, leaving the others to manage without him: not easy when you have to move the figures around the toy pad while you’re trying to move Gandalf around a disintegrating platform.

It came to a head one Sunday afternoon, the boys stuck in the first half of the Doctor Who level. “No, no,” I said. “No, you need to use the earth element on that. Josh, put him on green. No, GREEN. No, hang on, you’ve – Thomas, why did you deactivate the switch?”
“I didn’t!”
“Well, it was on, and now it’s off, and you were standing by it! Turn it on. That’s – no, look, you only need to press it once. Once! Now do it again. Daniel, what are you doing?”
“I’m bashing up the Batmobile.”
“You need the Batmobile to get over that ramp. That’s it. Reverse. Rever- no, look, just turn round. That’s it. Right round. Further! Now, go for- no, you need to slow down or you’re going to – see, you’ve gone over the edge.”
“I can’t do it.”
“You can do it, you just need to aim properly. No, right, right, RIGHT! Oh, look, give me the controller. There. Now, just drive straight over it. Thomas, have you turned the switch back on?”
“No.”
“Look, if you don’t turn the switch on you won’t be able to clear that swamp and we’re never going to be off this level. Right. Now, aim down at the – NO, NOT AT HIM! NOT AT HIM! LEFT! LEFT!”

From the dining table, Emily looked up from her painting. “You know who you sound like?” she said. “One of those soccer dads.”

I left the room, saturated with self-loathing. She was right, dammit.

But there are times – rare, shining moments – that they work together. Having discovered Clara Oswald stuck in a glass case, it was decided that they should spend fifty thousand of their hard-earned studs in order to hire the hero they needed to rescue her. This is a high-profile and important mission, so the task of actually breaking open the case within the thirty second time limit was entrusted to me, because the likelihood of me screwing it up was minimal.

So I freed Clara. There was much whooping and rejoicing. Then they spent the next five minutes chasing her round the base, kicking the crap out of her.

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May God bless her, and all who sail in her

Yes, I know. I was here this morning, plugging the new website. I’m only back again because we were watching the annual jaunt that is the Oxford / Cambridge boat race, which reminded me that I really ought to get round to posting this, before people stop remembering what it was about. (And because Cambridge won, which has put me in a good mood.)

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Anyway, two posts in one day? Must be Christmas.

Or not.

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A new body, at last

It’s Easter / Resurrection Sunday, so it seems the perfect time to mention this.

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You’re probably aware that I’ve spent much of the last year writing for Kasterborous, the Doctor Who news and features site. For a variety of reasons, the original team from Kasterborous have departed to set up this new venture, leaving Kasterborous itself to an uncertain fate that’s in the hands of its owner. As we go to press all of the old content seems to still be there, although I have no idea how long this will last.

But enough of that. The Doctor Who Companion has set out to be your guide through the crazy world of the Time Lords and the TARDIS, bringing you news, features, reviews and a bunch of other stuff. Oh, and did I mention that I’m joint editor for the Fandom section? That’s where we’ll be looking at “the strange alchemy that occurs when a talented artist, author, cosplayer, theorist, musician or sock puppeteer expresses their love for Doctor Who” – art, video, music, sculpture, and even TARDIS-themed crazy paving if we can find any.

There are two ways you can show your support:

  • Visit / bookmark / follow the site itself (to follow, click ‘The Doctor Who Companion’ at the bottom of any article, just above the comments, and then hit the ‘follow’ button)
  • Like our fledgling Facebook page.

We will, at some point, have a Twitter account, I’m sure.

We’re still in the very early days of producing and adding content, although I am really quite proud of the inaugural article I wrote about Rose – which aired eleven years ago yesterday evening, and if that doesn’t make at least some of you feel at least a little bit old, then you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din. It’s purposely chatty, but I think it reads better for it. The vibe I was aiming for was that press conference in Iron Man – you know, the one where he sits down to chat about the future of his industry, and declares he wants a cheeseburger? (I do not have a cheeseburger in the house, but as I write this the kebab shop is still open, so we could go and get Shawarma or something.)

We’re still responding to feedback about layout, setup and other things, so bear with us in this initial setting-up period, but I think it’s going to be quite special.

And look at the ears.

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A Portrait of the Modern Artist as a Young Time Lord (part two)

Oh, the man loved his wheatfields.

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I’m no art critic, but there are two things that jump out at me every time I look at this. One is the cloud formation. I don’t know what sort of day it was when he painted this, but they’re billowing. It’s a swirling mass of cumulus, dancing in some sort of abstract Rorschach formation, enticing you to see what you want to see. To the right, there are the cypresses, tall and dark and imposing like the edges of a sinister forest, the dark against the light.

Sadly, there is no sign of a gigantic chicken. But that’s OK.

We were in the National Gallery, which (you will remember) was where they airlifted the TARDIS in the opening scenes of ‘Day of the Doctor’. The Doctor (resplendent in tweed) strides across Trafalgar Square to a slightly embarrassed Kate Stewart, who apologises, before they all go off to look at some pictures. It’s like an episode of Millionaire Matchmaker. (The gallery’s interior, I’m told, was in Cardiff. Do not make the mistake of gallivanting round London trying to find it. That’s something that happens in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, and that it doesn’t end in tears is largely thanks to John Barrowman.)

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We’d really only gone to the National to see the Van Gogh. We were, as you might imagine after Friday, rather weary of looking at pictures. Plus it was a Saturday, and the place was crammed full of tourists all crowding round The Hay Wain. Within five minutes, Thomas had had enough. “This is boring,” he said. “It’s just paintings of people and stuff.”  Call it an autism reaction: he responds better to the abstract, which enables you to form your own impressions in a way that the concrete does not. I can see his point. Even the Constable is basically a horse pulling a cart across a river, which no one wanted to buy until it was revered by a Frenchman.

It made me think about the value of art, and whether things are considered great because great minds think them great. If someone of influence and authority takes a particular shine to something that was previously considered mediocre, isn’t that a fast-track to the sort of validation that it might otherwise have taken decades to earn? Put it this way. If someone like…oh, I don’t know, Philip Pullman was to talk about the merits of ‘Boom Town’, wouldn’t that push it up the polls a bit? Or if Hilary Mantel was to tell you that ‘The Twin Dilemma’ was among her favourite stories, wouldn’t Baker’s cluttered debut merit something of a re-appraisal? If people of literary talent and assumed knowledge (and perhaps this is why I don’t listen to critics, who typically show evidence of one, but not the other) argue in favour of something, perhaps they influence our own views.

Perhaps it would explain the enduring appeal of the Mona Lisa, a painting whose reputation I’ve never really understood. There are many theories: the identity of the girl in the picture, the enigmatic smile, the eyebrows (or lack thereof). People tell me it’s because Da Vinci was doing things with form that no one had done before, which is venturing into an area of art criticism I don’t really want to visit, largely because I’ll be out of my depth. Perhaps they’re right, but I’ve never been convinced. It’s a pretty painting, for sure, and I’ve not seen it in the flesh (oil. Whatever) but I wonder how much of its immortality may be ascribed to people telling you it’s great. Art is subjective but it is generally agreed that the Mona Lisa is wonderful. Citizen Kane is similarly bold and innovative, and enormously influential, but also rather dull – nonetheless, if you tell people it’s the greatest film ever made with sufficient regularity they will, eventually, start to believe it.

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The main entrance to the impressionists’ wing was closed, so we had to hunt for The Sunflowers. They sit on a wall facing north-west, this unassuming bunch of dried-up flora, a still half-life, “somewhere between living and dying; half-human as they turn to the sun”. There’s a reverence to them, something bold and tortured that jumps out as you stare at the thing, a sense of awe somewhat undermined by the people with iPhones. But I took one anyway, just to say that I’d done it.

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“You should have done a selfie,” said Emily, not entirely seriously. “That way people would know you’d actually been, rather than just taking a photo off the internet.”

“I’d need a stick,” I said. “You know I can’t stand selfie sticks.”

I went to Philadelphia a few years back; did I ever tell you that? The art gallery there – arguably more famous for the ascending staircase that leads up to its entrance than anything inside – houses several Gilbert & George works, a couple of Warhols – oh, and this.

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This is the repetition of the third version (the original third hangs in Munich), while the one at the National is the (original) fourth. (In Whovian terms, that’s presumably Katy Manning impersonating Jon Pertwee.) It looks rather unassuming on screen, the oils crystallised as pixels, a tribesman missing his soul. Seeing things like this up close is unique because you can get close enough to see the brushwork, the hours of labour, the years of psychosis. And yet I wonder how much of my love of Van Gogh and his childish scribbling is thanks to Doctor Who. Is it possible to appreciate the birth of impressionism for what it is and simultaneously be indifferent to the Lisa del Giocondo? Perhaps it isn’t. It’s times like this I wish I really understood art, so I could at least make you think I knew what I was talking about.

There is something rather special about sunflowers, I’ll give you that. They are used to striking effect in the finale of Everything is Illuminated, in which Jonathan Foer arrives at his destination, deep in the heart of Ukraine, having spent most the running time searching for the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II. Emily and I saw the film back in 2005 (being perhaps the only people in the country to do so, given the box office ratings) and one thing that struck us about it was Elijah Wood, who had spent much of the last decade playing a Hobbit. We’d already seen him earlier that year in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a film we often joke about not having seen, which you’ll understand if you know the plot) and now, it seemed, he’d finally shrugged off the last vestiges of potential typecasting, free to be his own man again. He sits in the cottage, eyes glistening a little as Augustina’s sister muses on the nature of journeys and the significance of the heirloom he carries. “The ring is not here because of you,” she says eventually. “You are here because of the ring.”

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Oh, and it was all going so well.

By the time we finished at the National Gallery everyone was about ready to come home. We’d spent the morning at the Science Museum, which houses more than you can reasonably examine in a single day, so we concentrated on the home life exhibition in the basement (Betamax! Pong! SPEAK AND SPELL!) before trooping up to the aviation centre. It was humbling, somehow, being surrounded by all those ancient engines and prototypes, strolling across the shoulders of giants. Amelia Johnson was in residence; she’s looking pretty sprightly for a woman of 112.

The second floor houses technology (antique mobiles! An original copy of Windows! A DRAGON 32!). There was an exhibit about the history of TV. Daniel was watching the coronation. So naturally I did this.

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I asked Daniel for his favourite part of the trip, which turned out to be a tie between the youth hostel we visited and the Tower of London, which we’d skirted the day before. It sits on the north bank of the Thames, not far from Fenchurch Street, brown and somehow unassuming. It’s not even much of a tower, really, at least not in the sense that Barad Dur is a tower, or Orthanc is a tower, or Stark Tower is – well, you get the idea. It’s more a fortress, which I suppose is the point.

“So why did you swear?” said Josh, as we strolled around the square outside.

“I didn’t swear,” I said. “That’s its name. The Tower of London, or the Bloody Tower.”
“So we can say ‘bloody’ without it being swearing?”
“Yes, but don’t make a habit of it.”

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If you read this blog regularly you’ll know I have a habit of tying up entrances and exits, and you’ll also remember that the Tower is now the new UNIT HQ, as visited by Amy and the Doctor in ‘The Power of Three’, (it was actually filmed at Caerphilly, but it still counts). It’s also host to one of my favourite scenes in ‘Day of the Doctor’, in which Jemma Redgrave is seen relaxing on a bench, gazing at Tower Bridge. “The ravens are looking a bit sluggish,” she says. “Tell Malcolm they need new batteries.”

I was thinking about this as we wandered around, slightly frustrated that I seem to be the only one who remembered it. It’s an excuse to watch DOTD again, I suppose, not that I need one. It remains a high point, infused as it is with an invigorating sense of wonder, understated (but carefully crafted) narrative and the best use of eyebrows in the history of the show. It was an episode that made me appreciate Doctor Who all the more, at the end of a year of borderline overkill (let’s not discuss the after-show party, please) and given my current sense of weariness about the whole thing, it’s one I often go back to. Perhaps that’s what it’s all about: surrounded by people who watch the show but don’t necessarily understand it, who just want to take photos and run…perhaps I’m a residential bird, tired and sluggish and in need of new batteries.

“Ooh, look!” cheered Emily, as we passed by one of the best views of the Tower, with a bunch of visitors all snapping away with selfie sticks. “It’s the London ravens, boys!”
“What on earth are you doing?” I said.”Those are pigeons.”
“I know,” she replied. “I’m just trying to confuse the tourists.”

 

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Walk the Dinopaw

At some point, I’ll write about the second half of our London trip, the as-yet unidentified companion, and a bunch of other stuff I’ve been thinking about. Funny how having no series of Doctor Who to look forward to keeps you busy.

In the meantime: this is one of the tightest (and most unified) things I’ve ever done. It was semi-commissioned by Alan Gilbey, who sort of asked for it after he saw the ‘Uptown Funk’ video. And it’s not as if we need an excuse to listen to ‘Walk The Dinosaur’.

Anyway, it gives you a good idea of what Gwen, Bob and Tony get up to when they’re not prepping for Towel Day. Enjoy your Sunday, won’t you?

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A Portrait of the Modern Artist as a Young Time Lord (part one)

“I do not think,” my friend Jay once said to me, over a network connection, “that you can possibly write me an email with the subject line ‘Empty shells, ghosts’ and escape with your dignity intact. Unless you were planning on using up your entire 1998 stock of irony now, I think you might want to reconsider.”

At the time, I was hurt. Retrospectively he was quite correct, and I wonder what Jay would say if he could see the rubbish title I’ve given this post. Oh, it fits, of course – but aren’t you, he’d say, in that Estuary English voice he has, in danger of devolving into that pretentious idiot you once were? To which I’d shrug and say “Perhaps he never really left”.

Anyway, artistic pretension is kind of the topic. And we’ll start here.

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What was I doing at the Tate Modern? We were on a Cultural Visit. I’d pulled the boys out of school (all pre-approved, of course) and we went on one of Emily’s Grand Excursions, all timetabled and planned to the last detail so as to avoid long periods of inactivity and waiting around – not because either of us are impatient but because the boys get restless when they have to queue. It’s the way of things for us, and something I’ve learned to tolerate. It was the reason we didn’t go to the Natural History Museum and the start of the chain of events that led to me threatening to delete Thomas’s Xbox profile.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to the converted power station. Visiting the place was an experience – a good one, by and large, but the sort of thing that has you scratching your head. I’ve decided, in the first instance, that I will never understand Marcel Duchamp.

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I mean, it’s a bloody toilet. I don’t care that removing it from its intended setting and labelling it ‘art’ gets it a glass case. If I was to nail a door handle to a piece of chip board and call it art, would you give me a wing to myself? I don’t bloody think so. What’s that? A snow shovel? Oh, very well. Just let me deal with the burglars first.

One floor down, and we found a room full of enormous Polaroids where people’s heads had been exchanged with different fruits. It’s supposed to be a statement on rejoining with nature. It looked like something I do in Fireworks for the sake of a cheap pun. This person had a gallery to themselves. A gallery! In another room, we found twelve TV sets, each displaying a different piece of looped footage; the installation was entitled Workers Leaving the Factory in 11 Decades, and included scenes from Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon (thought to be the first film ever made) through to Dancer in the Dark, a film I’d hoped never to see again. Bjork’s lovely, but I still don’t understand how David Morse ever got his equity card.

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On the other hand, there were some wonderful pieces. They have Warhol, which Thomas (who developed something of an interest after a school topic) refused to believe was genuine. They have a large, primal-coloured Lichtenstein taking up most of a wall. They have a magnificent stack of radios, floor to ceiling, designed to emulate information overload. And in a darkened screening room they were running loops of Hito Steyerl’s How Not To Be Seen, which was simultaneously  bizarre and, I think, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.

Oh, and they have this. It is thirty feet high and it reminds me of the last time I had to clean the bathroom wall.

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“I mean, seriously,” I said. “You could have done that.”

Josh glanced up at the thing, clearly interested. “Maybe it’s supposed to be a cyclone.”

“…You know, it does look uncannily like a cyclone.”

“Or my bedroom.”

“…”

What does all this have to do with Doctor Who? Well we’ll get to that another day, when I’ve processed the myriad ideas I have in my head about how to reconcile Doctor Who and modern art. In the meantime, we should be grateful that the TV show was never quite so pretentious.

Right?

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Doctor Who and the Spin-offs of Death

If you thought ‘Rose Tyler: Earth Defence’ was a spin-off too far, then I think I may have found a way to beat it.

Downtime

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The Name of the Doctor

This turned up on my Facebook feed.

Batman_Doc

 

What’s my issue with this? Well –

1. It comes across as directly confrontational, which doesn’t help any sort of discussion, not that we need to have it (see below).

2. That Batman thing was only funny for five minutes – it’s been milked to saturation point and beyond, and in any case it doesn’t work here. (If you’re going to have Batman saying ‘Oh really?’ while slapping Robin he needs to be yelling it, otherwise the point is lost.)

I hadn’t even got round to posting this remark when the shouting started. “OK, PEEPS,” came the response from one young lady. “HE IS NOT CALLED DR WHO HE IS CALLED THE DOCTOR. TRUE WHOVIANS KNOW THIS. END OF.”

I’ve cleaned up the spelling and grammar and shortened it by about five hundred words. You get the idea, right?

“Please,” I said, “stop writing in capitals. It gives people headaches.”
“WHO GETS HEADACHES FROM WRITING IN CAPITALS?”
“It’s called shouting. It’s bad nettiquette. Trust me.”
“Do you use tumblr?”
“No, I’m not fourteen.”
“That explains it. Whole other universe.”

Really, the point she was making was that it was unacceptable to call him ‘Dr. Who’, even if ‘Doctor Who’ was OK. I explained, as patiently as I could considering the extent to which my teeth were grinding, that ‘Doctor Who’ was in-universe, and ‘Dr. Who’ was frequently used elsewhere, and that it wasn’t a big deal. It’s not worth making a ridiculous meme over, it’s not worth getting angry about in any capacity, and it’s certainly not worth the raised blood pressure.

Meanwhile, someone else –

Doc_Title

“Lesson one,” I said when she objected. “Never argue with professional pedants.”
“It’s still not OK to call him Dr. Who. That was my argument.”
“You don’t have an argument.”
“I AM SO DONE WITH THIS.”

Anyway. You know those knowledge / wisdom things all over the internet? Like this.

Knowledge-tomato

I don’t want to step all over the legacy of the wonderful Miles Kington, but you probably can stick tomatoes in a fruit salad if you’re able to offset their natural tangy flavour with something appropriately bland, like tinned peaches or something.

Here’s another example:

Knowledge-Frankenstein

“I saw that for the first time recently,” says Gareth, “and thought it a bit naff, because it was clearly someone trying to be deep and clever, like someone trying too hard to impress their GCSE English Literature teacher.  It read like we were supposed to go ‘Oooooh’, like the green aliens in Toy Story.”

He’s right, but I did my own.

Doctor_Wisdom

I don’t know. Maybe you could pass that on.

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The Talons of Weng-Jack Chiang: Father Ted Meets Doctor Who

It’s 1995. Channel Four – once subversive and edgy, these days a bloated, shockingly mainstream effigy of its former self – has launched a new sitcom about three Catholic priests living in a shared parochial house on a remote island. One is young and stupid. Another is old and mad (and seemingly in a state of constant intoxication). The titular Ted is middle-aged, secretly ambitious and has the unenviable job of being the straight man to three comic foils (I missed out the housekeeper, but we’ll get to her). Dropping in occasionally are rowing shopkeepers, grumpy bishops, and Graham Norton. It’s a foul-mouthed Last of the Summer Wine, without the scenery.

Fast forward a couple of decades and Father Ted has (at least on this side of the Atlantic) achieved legendary status, but I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that. T-shirts emblazoned with “DRINK! FECK! ARSE!” are all over Ebay. The phrase “Down with this sort of thing” is a surefire way of poking fun at any online argument. And ‘My Lovely Horse’ is the best Eurovision entry that Ireland never had. It’s lovely that the show has endured for so long and become so popular, but it’s hard to express how rebellious it felt back when it was first aired. I loved how it poked fun at the church without ever quite making up its mind about religion and faith (the show, indeed, contains almost as many examples of apparently genuine divine intervention as any mainstream religious novel). I remember the difficulty of trying to explain the small / far away gag to my friends and family, and was gratified to discover some years later that it’s now one of the best-remembered gags in the show. And most of all, I can still remember the unanticipated thrill of that very first episode, not least the moment when I fell off my sofa at the sight of The Spinning Cat.

The great thing about Father Ted was how it combined surrealism with observational comedy. The rumour that Ireland had deliberately toned down the quality of its Eurovision entries in order to avoid the bankruptcy it faced by having to continually hosting the event is explored to great effect in ‘A Song For Europe’. The third series story ‘The Mainland’ pokes fun at fandom, with Richard Wilson gleefully sending himself up and providing, in a way, an early template for Ricky Gervais’ Extras. And I have an old friend who lived next door to an Irish family who, he insisted, were “just like Mrs Doyle. Seriously. You put your head round the door returning a drill and they’re shoving a teacup in your face.”

Lineham and Matthews had already decided to hang up Ted’s cassock for the last time when Dermot Morgan died of a heart attack the very day after he’d filmed the show’s final episode. Said episode included a dance sequence that required multiple retakes and which, according to Tommy Tiernan, might have exacerbated an existing heart condition, but we’ll probably never know. I remember shots of Frank Kelly – who played Jack – on the news, and reflected that it was the first time I’d seen him out of costume. I was struck by his eloquence and gentleness, a world away from the fiery Jack, but the very best actors excel (and frequently revel) in playing complete opposites of themselves.

fatherjack1_3112635b

Kelly himself died just the other week, at the age of 77, eighteen years to the day after Morgan. My capacity for mourning an actor I never met who lived to a decent old age is, I’m afraid, a little limited, and I won’t line the walls with platitudes about his death being a ‘tragedy’, because it isn’t. Simultaneously, Kelly was a much loved and respected man whose CV, I later learned, ran deeper than I realised, extending to a prominent role in Emmerdale, among other things. And it really was time, I realised, that I got that Father Ted / Doctor Who mashup done.

I’ve dabbled with Mrs Doyle before, of course. If you want to completely destroy a children’s animated series, get one of the main characters swearing. But Jack himself seemed the obvious candidate for some sort of redub. It helps that it’s comparatively virgin territory: the YouTube content for Ted / Who juxtapositions is smaller than you’d think, consisting of a couple of title sequences and some stuff that almost works, along with stuff that doesn’t.

The trickiest part of this, ironically, was deciding on which villain to use. Sutekh was a strong possibility. So, too, was Mestor, the giant slug in ‘The Twin Dilemma’, and about the only thing in it worth watching. Omega was favourite for about ten minutes, until I remembered that I’m actually working on something else for him that I plan to do later in the year. In the end, for various dialogue-related reasons (some of which will become entirely transparent if you’ve watched it) Magnus Greel won out. Remove the dialogue from ‘Weng-Chiang’ and the first thing you notice is what a physical performance it is, with heaps of gesticulation. And he delivers practically every line from behind a mask, which makes dubbing that much easier.

This was fiddly, but a joy to put together. It’s cut almost as tight as I can (get in quick, get out quick seems to be the way I do things these days) which means you can fit more in – I didn’t, as my brother observed, use “every single thing he ever said”, but it was a close run thing. The punch line at the very end will probably confuse you unless you know your Ted, but it just about works. Just about. As for me, I shall, when I get the house straight, sit down with a bottle of whiskey and the box set that adorns our shelves, and raise a glass to the most hot-tempered – but eminently quotable – priest the Church has ever seen.

Anyway. Finish on a song, right?

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Dalek campfire singalong

Hello! Look, I really can’t stop today; I’m trying to get this place presentable for tomorrow’s visitors. Here, have a meme to keep you going.

Dalek_Campfire

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