Monthly Archives: October 2016

Remastered: Whistle and I’ll Come To You, Explained

In the darkness, something stirs. There’s a scratching at the door. John Hurt lies on an old bed, fingering a ring he found on the beach with almost Hobbit-like intimacy. There are noises. We never find out what’s causing the disturbance. There is an ending, but as with the best horror stories, it makes comparatively little sense.

It terrified me. It terrified both of us, as I remember: the heightened emotions of Yule and the thrill of a ghostly tale told beneath a darkened, wintry sky; the sight of a suddenly lucid Gemma Jones sitting on the bed, staring directly at the camera. The moment it finished I turned on all the lights. Neither of us slept well.

“There were just lots of noises,” Emily said, when I asked her why it had affected her so much. “And nasty things happening. And I couldn’t understand it!”. This, I suppose, is the whole point: we fear what we do not understand, and the nature of the haunting that the ageing professor was experiencing was never fully explained. In the meantime I managed to spook my wife by scratching on the side of the bed, and crawling across it towards her, bellowing “I’M STILL HERE!”

I accept – without reservation – that the original is better, despite never having seen it; one set of wandering blankets is enough, thank you very much. And I wouldn’t say that the video that followed – which I completed a few weeks later, at the dawn of 2011 – was therapy. But perhaps in a way it was. Perhaps the best way to defuse the tension is to kill it with a joke. This was my favourite episode of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em and it was such an obvious fit. It pairs Frank Spencer with the War Doctor. The end result jars, which is partly the type of film used and partly the aspect ratio. But the story works.

If you’ve been following this blog more or less since its inception – or if you’ve had the dedication to go back and read through all the archives, for which I thank you profusely – you’ll remember that this video is the first one I did, and the first one I wrote about here. Deciding to revisit it again this autumn (purely for the purposes of uploading it to Facebook) meant a host of mostly cosmetic changes. I fixed a couple of rough edits and took care of a couple of sound issues that I was never quite happy with. The actual structure is more or less unaltered, because it works as is. I got my fair share of negative feedback, given that it doesn’t really give the concrete answer that people might have expected from the title. It’s an explanation, but a comedic one. I honestly think people expect to be spoon-fed.

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But I do recall another night not long after we’d seen Whistle, lying in bed, cuddled, the electric moon candles I gave her for Christmas the only light in the room.

“I looked it up, and there seem to be a couple of theories,” I was telling her. “One is that the whole thing was psychosomatic. The other is that she was haunting him because he believed she was nothing more than an Alzheimer’s-ridden shell. But I don’t know.
“Something strange, though. You remember the ugly bust they had in the bedroom? Apparently Neil Cross, the writer, was staying in a hotel in Devon, probably for research or something. And that same bust was in his room and he remembered it looking inappropriately creepy for hotel decor and that probably fuelled the creative process. Later on, when they were assembling the set in the Surrey mansion they were using, he realised it would look good in John Hurt’s room so he contacted the hotel, and asked if they could borrow it. And apparently…it never existed. He showed them photos, and they said yes, it’s our hotel and it’s our room, but this bust was never here.”

Emily said nothing.

“So they had a replica made, because he could remember what it looked like, but the original just wasn’t there. Creepy stuff, isn’t it? Anyway, goodnight.”
“Shithead.”

Happy Halloween.

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Conversion. It’s a Bing thing

Today, boys and girls, we’re going to ruin ‘Earthshock’.

A while ago I did a video that combined Wolf Hall with Bing Bunny. Mark Rylance starred in both and it seemed like a natural crossover, partly because it seemed to go against the grain of everything that Bing stood for. Because if you’ve seen it – more to the point if you’re a mother or father who’s seen it – you’ll know that there is nothing to stir feelings of parental inadequacy than that wretched bunny, or more specifically the diminutive guardian who looks after him. Bing’s an emotionally precocious child with the uncanny ability to grasp important concepts more or less at the first time of asking, but his full time carer is saintly to the point of other worldliness. Flop, you feel, is the one who has it down pat – attentive, nurturing, and impeccably responsible. Bing breaks his mobile, chucks it in the bin and then hides under a blanket. Flop doesn’t bat an eyelid. As role models go there is none finer, but there is only room for one up on that pedestal. In an age of right-on hipster parenting, he’s Jesus.

But as a dad who defends his right to shout at the kids while trying to wash up, tidy the lounge and deal with the mother of all headaches, I confess I’m a little sick of all the Facebook memes that encourage me to ‘find my inner Flop’. When I can’t get into Joshua’s room because of the mountain of yoghurt cartons and greasy spoons, when Edward’s broken my laptop again and someone’s pissed all over the toilet seat for the third time that afternoon, the inner Flop is about as far away from my thoughts as Donald Trump is from publishing his tax return. I don’t want to clear up shards of broken glass from the kitchen floor and tell them that it’s no big thing. It damn well is a big thing because we can’t eat the trifle. It will cease to be a big thing only after copious amounts of wine. I’m not a fan of the ‘look at me, I’m a shit parent’ alcohol-quaffing pyjama-wearing chicken nugget-baking slummy mummy brigade (I defend your right to raise your children that way, just stop preaching about it on Facebook) but I’m human, and it’s sometimes a little tedious to be a captive audience for parenting lessons given by a creature that is categorically not.

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So it was fun exploring that darker side of Flop, combining the sinister machinations of Thomas Cromwell with the cute adventures of Bing and his friends. Unfortunately Aardman weren’t very amused, and had it pulled – it was partly copyright, partly the combination of child-friendly material with adult themes. They had a point. It would be nice to think that young people’s YouTube activity is monitored by their parents / guardians / anthropomorphic sack toys, but you and I both know that isn’t the case, and all the advisory warnings in the world count for nothing because people don’t read these things.

So when it came to doing this one I was a little more careful. I’d like to hope it’s harder to find and the likelihood of some unsuspecting child stumbling across it is minimised. The irony is that this is arguably far less adult-themed than The Dark Side of Flop, given that it relies on the premise of a Cyber Leader dubbed over with dialogue from Bing until he’s…well, you’ve watched it by now, you see how he is. He’s a nutcase. Trudging through thirty-five episodes of Bing to find appropriate sound clips was no fun at all, but I had a riot actually matching things up and making them work. My favourite scene is still the bit in the TARDIS, which is the only one I think really works, but everything else just about hangs together.

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Why ‘Earthshock’? It’s David Banks, really. Because when I look back through the history of the Doctor’s encounter with the Cybermen, he’s the one I remember. The problem with Cybermen is that by and large they lack personality, and thus the stories have to be truly frightening in order to have any real impact (which is why everything after ‘The Age of Steel’ is generally a dismal failure). The Cyber Leader in ‘Earthshock’ has personality in spades. It’s tempting to say that this is nothing more than an anomaly, but over the years I’ve been cultivating a theory: that the biggest mistake we can make about the Cybermen is to say that they have no emotions. I no longer believe that’s the case. Written within the confines of a single sentence such an idea sounds patently ludicrous, but I explain it all here. Go and have a read, then we’ll talk.

‘Earthshock’ was the first Doctor Who story I remember from my childhood, did I ever tell you that? It is quietly marvellous: the surprises, for the initiated, come thick and fast, and the ending is still gut-wrenchingly moving, loathing of Adric aside. Even if you know what’s coming, it’s still great – but it’s better still if you don’t. (I had a lovely conversation with someone recently who was watching it for the first time, having no idea at all that the Cybermen were about to show up. I didn’t think that sort of spoiler-free access was possible these days.) Put it this way: I think there’s a reason why that shattered badge and the silent credit crawl is my first memory of the show, and I do wonder if I managed to exercise a few demons this week.

In many respects this is a spiritual successor to Dalek Zippy, and is in fact the middle act in a trilogy, the climax of which is still under construction (with Willo The Silent the embarrassing spin-off that no one really talks about). It was a hard graft but worth it. It made my children laugh and it is their approval, above all others, that I seek. And it keeps me out of mischief and stops me wondering what other dreadful things I can be doing with Bing and Flop and the other inhabitants of their bright and colourful world.

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Oh God, you really didn’t see this. Move along.

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The inevitable Doctor Who / Donald Trump thing

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Disclaimer: I’m not a blue collar American. I didn’t grow up with the right to bear arms, or healthcare you pay for without help from the state. I don’t pretend to really understand politics. I do have a rudimentary awareness of how the media works: that the best way to shift units is to pick the underdog (the more contemptible the better) and ridicule them to the extent that there is a tangible shift in public sympathy, evening the race and making it more interesting, and thus more newsworthy. That’s the way it goes. Deal with it.

There are those who suggest that choosing between Clinton and Trump is like choosing between crucifixion and being buried alive. There are others who suggest that of the two, Clinton is the lesser of two evils. There are those who suggest the opposite. Clinton’s past is supposedly murky, but the assassination conspiracies are the screaming rage of people who will see what they want to see. Of the two, Clinton – while far from the model of integrity that Obama appeared to be – is balanced, rational and compassionate. I can’t say the same for Trump.

Because Trump’s a bullying narcisstic egomaniac. Does that in itself make him a bad choice for President? Perhaps not. But it does make him a wildcard. I can’t understand why you’d publicly endorse a man who brings out the worst in people. Only a blinkered fool would look at him and see anything other than a liability. And nowhere does this make itself plainer than the vitriol that comes out of his mouth.

So I found a selection of quotes this week and I married them with images from Doctor Who. I don’t care that some of them are out of context, or have had their accuracy disputed. I won’t apologise for the occasional ickiness: Donald certainly never does.

And for those who’d say that, as a white British male, the election of the American President is none of my business, I’d suggest that if we’re talking about a man who has significant impact on the UK’s foreign policy and his finger on the big red button, I’d say that it darn well is.

Wouldn’t you?

One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don't go into government. My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body..

I have so many fabulous friends who happen to be gay, but I am a traditionalist.

Thanks sweetie. That's nice.

My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure; it's not your fault.

The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.

The other candidates — they went in, they didn't know the air conditioning didn't work. They sweated like dogs…How are they gonna beat ISIS? I don't think it's gonna happen.  You know, it really doesn't matter what the media write as long as you've got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.  Number one, I have great respect for women. I was the one that really broke the glass ceiling on behalf of women, more than anybody in the construction industry.

Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, [Republican rival Marco Rubio] referred to my hands: ‘If they're small, something else must be small.' I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee.

I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I'm more honest and my women are more beautiful.It's freezing and snowing in New York – we need global warming! All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That's to be expected. I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.

The point is, you can never be too greedy. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.

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‘Have you ever seen a bride with pockets?’

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I married Emily twelve years ago today. It was one of those faintly crisp, reasonably sunny mornings in early autumn: the trees were turning, but the piles of leaves carpeting the ground, ripe for kicking and rustling, would be some weeks away. We’d had an argument with my aunt the night before and another argument with the insurance company the morning of the service. After the rehearsal we’d spent hours cleaning and tidying the bungalow with my prospective in-laws ready for an ill-timed house inspection that was due to take place while we were honeymooning.

Come the ceremony, Emily was ten minutes late, but everything went off without a hitch. We walked down the aisle to the theme from Octopussy. We held a ceilidh in a Newbury hotel and danced the night away. In an attempt to emulate a wedding we’d attended the previous summer, we arranged a series of open mic sessions around a borrowed keyboard. Em and I sang ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’, just for the hell of it. She was beautiful – she still is, but that day she glowed.

I spent most of yesterday rehashing a few of the photos. When we married, the revived Doctor Who was cast and filming and presumably the BBC were wrangling with the Nation estate even as we set off for Genoa. Doctor Who was something we both knew and occasionally talked about but it was yet to saturate our lives. I wonder how things might have been different if we’d held this wedding in, say, 2008. I would have asked for Daleks. She’d have refused. In the event we actually used Trumptonshire as a theme, so it works.

Veterans to this blog will remember that I did this back in 2012. A couple of these are from that original session – one thing I have learned to do since then is improve my Photoshop skills a little bit, so the new ones are generally an improvement. I confess I am quite proud of the last two. The one of her floating in space is actually a composite of three photos – one top half, one bottom half and one arm, which seems very ‘Doctor’s Wife’, somehow. That one took me ages. But you know what? That’s her influence. She makes me strive to be better. I dedicated my first (unpublished) book to her, and described her as ‘the most faithful companion’. But on most days, she’s more like the Doctor – storming through life, fascinating and awesome and sometimes unapproachable – while I’m the clueless idiot at her side who needs everything explained to him. Ours is a relationship of mutual support, but I sometimes wonder if she ends up doing the lion’s share.

So happy anniversary, Em. The Doctor tells us we need a hand to hold. I’m glad I ended up with yours.

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