Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Twelfth Doctor Regenerates

All13

It’s kind of hard to miss those eyebrows, isn’t it? They’re all over the top of this blog (unless, of course, you’re reading this a couple of years from now and I’ve changed it, to Idris Elba’s sideburns or Ben Wishaw’s navel, or whatever). For the meantime that shot is borderline iconic: the first glimpse of a Doctor who’s never quite had the scripts he deserves, but who was awaited, thanks to this single scene-within-a-scene, with an almost insane amount of antici…….pation.

Capaldi’s future in the show is still under discussion, of course. I had – actually, I managed not to have – a number of conversations the other week with people who genuinely thought that Matt Smith was going to come back to the show full time. I’m not a futurist (I was wrong about Missy) but I believe we may sensibly discount this, and I sort of explain why here, albeit in an article that’s aimed at casual fans. I’m not ruling out an appearance – a ‘Deep Breath’ style cameo, or even a full-on episode share. But bringing him back permanently? Honestly, no. You could do it, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the BBC will, or that it’s a sensible decision. It’s tabloid speculation stretched to saturation point. There’s a pattern: Moffat says something vague and teaseworthy, while elsewhere in the entertainment section a notable actor (preferably one with a history with the show, the tighter the better) expresses their desire to return. And bang, you’ve got yourself a headline. Catherine Tate’s a good example. And all this is fine – goodness knows it fills in the gaps between series – except when stupid people assume that it has any credibility. But this is what happens when you have a show in which characters can be switched in and out at the drop of a fez, never dying, changing and then changing back. That doesn’t mean it would be a sensib-

Actually, who am I kidding? It’s exactly the sort of thing Moffat would do.

moffat-5

But I was thinking the other week about that first time we saw Capaldi – no, not the first time we saw him properly, but that first thrilled, unanticipated glimpse in November 2013. And it occurs to me that it’s a scene we haven’t actually seen yet. And I know that it’s one Moffat’s been running over in his head, because not long after Capaldi turned up he told Doctor Who Magazine that “At some point, the Twelfth Doctor’s going to get a phone call”.

And whether or not this turns out to be Capaldi’s last year, I have a feeling we’re heading back to that scene. And when I raised the issue in a Facebook group, someone else mentioned that it would be even more likely to occur right at the end of his timeline: in other words, the determined Doctor we glimpse in ‘Day of the Doctor’ is one who is just about to regenerate. Presumably the eyebrows will darken in colour (and probably become a little thinner). That would be a very Moffat thing to do, somehow. It seems nicely circular, the way that the crack appeared in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and was then explained just before Smith took off his bow tie for the last time. It closes the loop, and if there’s one thing I’ll say about the chief writer, it’s that he loves closing his loops, even if some of them have to be fastened with sticky tape.

And then I thought: seeing as we don’t know yet, there’s no harm in imagining how such a scene might play out. And the more I thought about it, the more it crystallised into something tangible. And so I made this. And I hope you enjoy it. Not that I’m arrogant enough to assume that this is what the BBC might do when they eventually do the regeneration. But it’ll be interesting to find out. And in the meantime I’ve produced something that works dramatically (if you ignore the changing TARDIS interiors and continuity errors), however off-base the idea turns out to be.

Tell you what, Steven – when you do write it, Copyright Donna Noble. OK?

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Gotta catch ’em all

That Pokemon Go, eh? Everyone’s at it.

Doct_Pokemon

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All your TARDIS are belong to us

“So what’s Paper Mario like, then?”
“It’s great,” said Jon, as he gunned the engine and drove the battered old Nissan through the Friday evening traffic. “There’s this bit where you face off against a boss and he shouts ‘SNACK ON MY WRATH, FINK RATS!!!'”.

Do you know Jon? He’s one of Stack Overflow’s biggest celebrities, apparently. People even stop him in the street. His wife, Holly, is a respected children’s author, and also Thomas’s godmother. But I knew them as the people who opened their doors on Fridays (and Saturdays. And Sundays, and often during the week) and gave me a second home back when the millennium turned. Those Friday evenings consisted of cinema visits, followed by Holly’s pasta and wine accompanied by long games of Siedler or Super Smash Bros – usually in the company of our friend Douglas – and the four of us would talk until the stars came out.

I haven’t seen them for years, although we still keep in touch. I miss those Fridays, not least because we liked the same things but had different experiences of them, which always made conversation interesting. Jon was a big Resident Evil fan back in the day, and we loved the creepiness of those early instalments, before it became gung ho and ridiculous. But over the years I’ve managed to remove the rose tints from my glasses. It’s hard to suspend your disbelief when you are faced with such ridiculous dialogue. “Jill?” says Barry Burton, early in the first game. “Here’s a lockpick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you.”

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I still giggle about this, even though it’s fairly typical of the style. I can never work out whether these things are badly translated or simply badly written. In this instance I suspect it’s the latter, and there’s a part of me that laments the fact that designers have obviously poured their collective hearts and souls into refining a project’s gameplay, soundtrack and visual flair, only to stumble at the first hurdle when it came to finding a decent script. I thoroughly enjoyed the first Devil May Cry but it is hard not to stare at the screen and mutter “Whu…..?” when Dante cradles his (supposedly) dead girlfriend in his arms and sobs “I should have been the one to fill your dark soul with LIGHT!!!”.

On the other hand, House of the Dead 2 – or Typing of the Dead, as we came to know it – had pedestrian dialogue, very badly performed, but it doesn’t matter. Gratuitous over-acting is par for the course in many bigger titles, whether it’s Harry Mason’s B-movie schlock in the first Silent Hill, or Roy Campbell’s angst-ridden cries of “SNAAAAAAAAAAAAKKKKE!!!!” in Metal Gear Solid. That’s actually OK. Sometimes the acting suits the mood. And House of the Dead is unquestionably brilliant.

Anyway. When I was a teenager, there was a game called Zero Wing. I’m told it was a reasonable success in the arcades, but I only ever knew it on the Sega Megadrive (or Genesis, if you’re reading in the U.S.). It is a generic side-scrolling shooter with nothing in particular to single it out from all the other side-scrollers that were endemic in late 1980s culture, save its intro. Because said intro has passed into legend as being one of the worst translations in video game history, to the extent that “ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US” was a meme even before memes were officially invented. There is even a Bohemian Rhapsody version, if you are so inclined. It is not great – stretching a joke to snapping point seldom is – but it deserves brownie points for trying.

The irony is that the original Japanese dialogue – when tralsated properly – is actually not too bad at all. Observe:

TITLE CARD:
In A.D. 2101
The battle began

Captain: What happened!?
Mechanic: Someone detonated bombs all around us!
Operator: Captain! Incoming transmission!
Captain: What!?
Operator: Image coming through on the main monitor.
Captain: You… you are…!!
CATS: You appear to be preoccupied, gentlemen. Thanks to the cooperation of the UN forces, all of your bases now belong to CATS. Your ship too, shall soon be destroyed.
Captain: Im.. Impossible! (or F.. Foolishness!)
CATS: We thank you for your cooperation. Enjoy the remaining moments of your lives….Hahahahaha ….
Operator: Captain!?
Captain: Launch all ZIG fighters! All we can do is entrust it to them…Give us hope for our future…We’re counting on you, ZIG!!

With this:

TITLE CARD:
In A.D. 2101
War was beginning

Captain: What happen?
Mechanic: Somebody set up us the bomb.
Operator: We get signal.
Captain: What !
Operator: Main screen turn on.
Captain: It’s you!!
CATS: How are you gentlemen!! All your base are belong to us. You are on the way to destruction.
Captain: What you say !!
CATS: You have no chance to survive make your time. Ha ha ha ha…
Operator: Captain !!
Captain: Take off every ‘ZIG’!! You know what you doing. Move ZIG. For great justice.

Anyway.

I can’t remember the exact moment I thought a Doctor Who rendition of this would be a good idea, but I finally got round to doing it last week. I will spare you the technical details, except that I used different software in order to get the font the way I wanted it, and said software (which I will not name) proved to be more trouble than it was worth, but we got there eventually. Footage is all New Who based because it saved fiddling with aspect ratios (and besides, the ‘Cat’ substitute actually works pretty well). If it looks somewhat grainy, that’s all part of the fun. This whole experience has kind of put me off doing intros for a while, but when I eventually take it up again I really ought to work in that line from Paper Mario, simply because it’s great. It’s just a question of figuring out how to do it.

Jon would know. Maybe I’ll email him.

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Politik

#1. The Chilcot.

Chilcot_Slitheen

 

#2. The Jeremy Hunt.

Hunt

 

#3. The Nicky Morgan.

Morgan_Doctor

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Time flies by when I’m the driver of a train

Murray

The first time I really became aware of television was the early 1980s. There were four channels filled with light entertainment, grainy video-shot soaps and the slightly creepy atonal horn motif that denoted the Open University programmes. The thought of an entire station dedicated to children’s broadcasts – let alone four or five – was a distant novelty. We had to put up with the odd half an hour of cartoons in the mornings (mostly The Pink Panther) and half an hour after lunch, and that’s your lot.

I’m a sucker for details when it comes to things like this. There are various programmes I remember, many of which subsequently passed into obscurity and which my friends and colleagues would categorically deny existed until – oh, sweet rapture! – the arrival of YouTube, and decent quality, ready-to-stream video that proved (once and for all) that I was right all along. Oh, it’s easy when it’s something like Chock-a-Block – the antics of Fred and Carol and their electric cars were familiar talking points around many a primary school water fountain – but when I talked about Wattoo Wattoo Super Bird I got met with a sea of blank looks. And then it was on YouTube and the rest was history. I dearly wish I could find a version of that in English, but at least I can now prove I wasn’t making this shit up.

A programme whose existence you never had to contest was Camberwick Green, which – to those of us growing up in the 1970s and 1980s – was as regular in the fixtures as Bagpuss or You and Me. “Here is a box,” announced narrator Brian Cant (omnipresent in more than one sense of the word; was there a BBC children’s programme in 1981 that didn’t involve him in some aspect or other?). “A musical box. Wound up and ready to play.” And thus the box would open – its triangular spikes retracting like some sort of art deco prison – and the character for the day’s episode would rotate upwards through the opening, peering through the deconstructed fourth wall and seemingly not caring that there was a huge head in the sky looming over the set, watching Trumptonshire’s every move like a hawk, or at least a very interested chaffinch.

Camberwick Green was one of those idyllic rural places where nothing much happened, and the nothing much happened very slowly. It was a village (supposedly in Sussex, but who knows?) where millers wore smocks, women gossiped and everyone knew everyone else. The postman danced with his postmistress before delivering the mail. The aforementioned miller rode a tricycle and played chicken with the windmill sails. The local doctor led a protest to stop a destructive piece of urban development that turned out to be a simple misunderstanding. Oh, it was all going on in Camberwick Green. On the outskirts of the village sat Pippin Fort, where six raw but well-intentioned recruits would parade and solve local problems, and then presumably get hopelessly drunk in the village pub (never seen or mentioned, which retrospectively seems a little odd).

Camberwick Green was launched in 1966, some fifty years ago last January, and adventures in Trumpton and Chigley followed a couple of years later. Trumpton was a fully working town in its own right, complete with a carpenter’s workshop, Miss Lovelace’s hat emporium and the much beloved Trumpton Fire Station, whose crew (due to technical limitations) never had to actually put out a fire, leaving plenty of time to rescue lost hats, erect bill posters (or, to be specific, fail to do so) and practice for the daily band concerts, where they would always play the same tune. “There were no fires in the afternoons,” Trumptonshire Web puts it, “but then there were no fires in the mornings either.” Meanwhile, Chigley was a tranquil but industrious hamlet nearby that revolved around a local biscuit factory, owned by the affable Lord Belborough – a dignitary rather too in touch with his inner child, given that he would leave the solitude of Belborough Hall on the slightest whim to travel up and down the local branch line on Bessie the steam engine, ably assisted by his trusty manservant, Brackett.

For people who skipped the 1990s it’s hard to explain just how much these characters permeated popular culture. There was the episode of Whose Line is it Anyway? in which Tony Slattery and Josie Lawrence redubbed a scene from Camberwick Green between Mickey Murphy and local gossip Mrs Honeyman. Years before Life on Mars?, there was the Spitting Image thing. Most of all there was the music, whether it came in the form of Half Man Half Biscuit’s riotous (almost literally) take on ‘Time Flies By’, or the bizarre, done-on-a-shoestring / could-this-be-any-more-1992 acid anthem that was ‘A Trip To Trumpton’.

You see what I mean.

There was an innocence to the whole thing, even in the notorious scene in which Windy Miller gets drunk on his homemade cider (or ‘sleepy’, as Cant puts it). It’s the sort of innocence that came to later define programmes like Balamory – a show about adults who behave a little like children, and solve their problems in much the same way. There was something sweet about a fire crew whose greatest challenge was a stranded cat (did they attend the same training academy as the crew from Pleasantville, by any chance?) and the tortoise and hare encounter that is Windy’s race with Jonathan Bell the farmer. But as with many children’s programmes, the greater the innocence, the more marked the contrast when you undermine that innocence – there are, for instance, assorted urban legends about Gordon Murray’s decision to burn all the puppets in his back garden after completing filming (although he may have kept one or two). It’s the sort of vibe that Radiohead presumably tapped into when they commissioned their video for ‘Burn the Witch’, a stop-motion affair that mashes up Camberwick Green with The Wicker Man – a film whose director, by curious coincidence, also died this week. It’s the sort of thing that really shouldn’t work, but it does.

You can’t call the deaths of Robin Hardy or Gordon Murray in any way tragic, given that Hardy batted for 86 and Murray was just five shy of a century. But it’s difficult not to feel a sense of nostalgia at the passing of Murray (we’ll deal with The Wicker Man another time, but suffice to say that nostalgia wasn’t exactly on the radar yesterday). The success of Trumptonshire owes much to Cant – and also to scriptwriter Alison Prince, whose narratives were always engaging without being complicated, and necessarily formulaic without being repetitive – but ultimately it was Murray’s creation, and we thank him for it: this fabulous county of hedgehogs and fishmongers, of biscuits and six o’clock dances, of parks and bandstands, and of nattily dressed doctors travelling round the countryside in vintage cars.

Mopp_Pertwee

Yes. Well.

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