Monthly Archives: November 2016

Fireworks

eleven_two

This? This is why you never go shopping with a Time Lord on Black Friday.

Why am I photoshopping pictures of Troughton into shots from ‘Day of the Doctor’? It’s all connected with a piece I wrote for The Doctor Who Companion about how Matt Smith’s Doctor borrowed from Troughton. Highlights include recorders, jumping and Batman – if that’s the sort of thing that interests you, you are welcome to read the whole thing.

It’s partly down to recap. I got the idea because since about June or July Daniel and I have been going through every episode (except ‘The Waters of Mars’, which he requested we skip) from 2005 onwards, in an attempt to watch them all before spring, and series 10. Last week we got to ‘The Eleventh Hour’ – an episode notorious for that opening scene where the Doctor pokes his head out from the wrecked TARDIS, demanding an apple. It would be quite feasible to swap it with the Second Doctor, asking for a sandwich.

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Watching New Who with Daniel has been a fun experience, although I’m not sure how I felt about the fact that he read the 2017 annual over the weekend (a Christmas grotto gift) and now knows what River Song did and, more importantly, who she is. I know I talk about how spoilers are overrated (and how a show dependent upon them is destined to fail); simultaneously, if the only reason to actually put up with River for a third time is to see your child’s jaw drop when she announces “I’m your daughter” at the end of ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, how on earth am I going to cope now that this tantalising prospect has been removed?

Wine may be involved, I suspect. On the upside, it does mean that I no longer have to field a constant barrage of questions about “Who is she? Can you give me a clue? When do we see her again? What’s going on?”. Or that time we took a train into Reading to see the pantomime (Dick Whittington, starring Justin Fletcher, and not too bad at all) and we got into a discussion about which ones he might enjoy.

Me: I think you’d like The Fires of Pompeii, actually.

Daniel: What’s Pompeii?

Joshua: It’s an ancient Roman city. They had a volcano.

Daniel: Oh. I thought it was those crisps.

Me: That’s Pom-Bear.

fires_pombear

The other thing I did recently was to compose an only slightly ridiculous alternate history for Doctor Who, commencing in 2003 when Russell T Davies decided to remake ‘Scream of the Shalka’ and turn it into the first of his New Who stories, casting Richard E. Grant as the Ninth Doctor and sticking Derek Jacobi in the TARDIS as an android Master. If you’ve read The Writer’s Tale, you’ll recall Davies telling Benjamin Cook that the Shalka Doctor was the only component of the expanded franchise he had to knock on the head, purely to avoid confusion. But what if he’d decided not to? What if they’d built on the existing continuity rather than tearing it down? What if they’d never cracked the States?

Writing all this down turned out to be very easy; the hard part was finding decent photos of Grant and Jacobi to make up this composite.

shalka

Grant’s still not quite right. (This was, by the way, a fan-made photoshoot; I just changed the heads. Well, it worked in last year’s Christmas episode.)

Anyway, before you know it, you’ve gone off in all sorts of directions, and Tennant’s a recurring guest actor in all number of roles and you’ve cast Anna Maxwell-Martin as the Doctor.

With Russell Tovey.

And Jane Horrocks as the Master.

horrocks_martin-1024x330

It could happen. It totally could.

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The inevitable Doctor Who / John Lewis thing

buster

It’s a dog. On a trampoline.

I mean, I can’t get too excited about it. I really can’t. They were doing so well. That old man with the telescope was a work of genius, despite being scientifically implausible and mawkishly sentimental. It said something important. It was touching. It made me cry, dammit. This one was tedious. It’s not even funny. Bad Buster. Go to your kennel.

John Lewis’ Christmas advertising always makes the headlines, as people discuss the adverts, the thinking behind them, the music, the emotional fallout, the fact that this is just going to encourage parents to buy trampolines and dogs, the risk of bovine TB…do you ever think that there’s such a thing as internet pollution? I know I do. It’s just so much rubbish, with perhaps a greater emphasis than one might expect from ‘so much’ – a myriad different websites all saying more or less the same thing. It passes the time, but I wonder how much we really stand to gain from saturating the web in this way.

Anyway. This post started life as a simple collection of Photoshopped images – the Man on the Moon image, produced last year, was the first, and the others followed yesterday. But a curious thing happened while I was cutting and pasting and adjusting hues and shadows. The moment of clarity occurred when I stopped to consider the fact that the twisted snowmen who appeared in Doctor Who turned up the same Christmas that John Lewis had their own snowman trekking across the wilderness to find a present for his soon-to-be-a-puddle playmate. This by itself means nothing, until you stop and consider the fact that the developments John Lewis took with their seasonal narratives echo (with uncanny precision) the way that Doctor Who has been written and produced these past few years.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look. (For obvious reasons, these concentrate on the past few years – the period when John Lewis actively started telling stories in their Christmas ads. And for what it’s worth, I tried – I really did – to work in 2011 as well. But it just didn’t fit.)

2012 – The Journey

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: An anthropomorphic snowman embarks on an epic quest to find a scarf.

In Doctor Who: A grumpy Time Lord, fond of scarves, embarks on an epic quest to investigate an anthropomorphic snowman.

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jl_comp_2012

2013 – The Bear and the Hare

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: A tired, grizzly, world-weary bear is chronologically displaced when his hibernation is rudely interrupted. It turns out to be the best thing that could have happened. Features a hare.

In Doctor Who: A tired, grizzly, world-weary Time Lord is chronologically displaced when his destruction of Gallifrey is rudely interrupted. It turns out to be the best thing that could have happened. Features a rabbit.

jl_dw_01

jl_comp_2013

2014 – Monty the Penguin

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: A young boy spends Christmas with a penguin, whose living, breathing presence turns out to exist only in his imagination. He is observed by a parent, who watches as another imaginary penguin emerges from a box that appears to be bigger on the inside.

In Doctor Who: A young English teacher spends Christmas with her boyfriend, whose living, breathing presence turns out to exist only in his imagination. She is observed by a parental figure, emerging from a box that is bigger on the inside, and who once travelled with a penguin.

jl_dw_02 jl_comp_2014

2015 – Man on the Moon

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: A lonely old man, clearly not of this world, is re-invigorated thanks to the affection of a small child. And a telescope.

In Doctor Who: A lonely old man, clearly not of this world, is re-invigorated thanks to the affection of a bisexual English teacher. And an electric guitar.

Moon-Cybermen

jl_comp_2015

2016 – Buster the Boxer

In the John Lewis Christmas ad: An over-excited girl eagerly awaits the arrival of Christmas morning, only to find that her new present has been invaded by small woodland animals, and she has to wait until the dog has finished jumping on it.

In Doctor Who: A horde of over-excited fans eagerly await the arrival of a new series, only to find that it’s been delayed and that the new assistant looks a little bit like a dog, and they have to wait until the spin-off has finished.

jl_dw_04 jl_comp_2016

Spooky, isn’t it? Next week in Brian of Morbius: the nesting habits of tuna.

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A trip to the moon

“No cheese, Gromit. Not a bit in the house!”

That? That was Edward. Specifically Edward back in May or June. He’s walking in and out of the lounge with a Jacob’s cream cracker in one hand and a cuddly tiger in the other. I am standing at the side of the room, grinding my teeth.

Let me explain. Edward’s obsessions tend to go in phases. For a while it was Hey Duggee!. Then it was Bing. The earliest memory I have, in fact, of his engagement with the TV is of him sitting on the floor rocking back and forth to the Twirlywoos theme. We are just now coming out of the Kazoops era, for which I am profoundly grateful: if I have to hear that wretched song about the Big Red Button one more time I’m going to kill a pig and dump the blood all over Jeanie’s head at the senior prom.

kazoops_bacon

Sandwiched somewhere in between all the CBeebies stuff was Wallace & Gromit. He watched them daily. Sometimes more often than that. I got thoroughly sick of brass band music. He took to quoting them liberally at every turn, and we’d join in. I have yet to road-test the flawed masterpiece that is The Curse of the Were Rabbit – a little too long and a little too scary is my current rationale for holding it in reserve – but the others he devoured. He sings along with the theme without the slightest provocation. He refers to Gromit as ‘Gromit lad’. We haven’t the heart to correct him.

Gromit, of course, is one of the world’s greatest silent film stars – the most soulful of creatures who manages to express a myriad different moods simply through eyes and body language. He’s broken out of prison, is a whizz with electronics and bakes a decent loaf of bread to boot. He’s intelligent, sensible and steadfastly loyal. We enjoy all of their adventures, although I think there are probably few moments as great as the scene when, towards the end of The Wrong Trousers, Gromit picks up the spare model railway pieces and starts building the track on the fly.

spare-track

Still, A Grand Day Out was Edward’s favourite. And I think it may have been Joshua who suggested “Ooh, you know what? You could do something with that John Lewis advert.”

You remember. It was last Christmas and everyone was crying buckets at the sight of a little girl sending a telescope up to the moon so the old man who lived up there wouldn’t be so lonely. It required a suspension of disbelief that rivals the prerequisite for Armageddon, but it made a serious point about loneliness and ageing, and for that I am willing to forgive all manner of structural flaws. After the idiocy that was Monty the Penguin I thought I’d become too cynical to be moved by these things, but that finale had me crying in my office chair.

John Lewis responded to the near-unanimous praise for this heartfelt story by following it with a ridiculous, selfishly materialistic piece of rubbish about a dog on a trampoline. It is bollocks. I am not getting into it here, but you can read my not-entirely-serious rebuttal in Metro, if you like. It was basically a bit of fun but I do seem to have earned the wrath of the Facebook community. There have been calls for my head. “The person who wrote this,” said one person, “probably voted out and supports Trump”. That’s gone on the testimonials page. I’m keeping that one.

Anyway: if you look at the man on the moon video it lends itself to some sort of tribute, and I found it in A Grand Day Out. It’s a strange tale that takes in Méliès and adds a walking oven. The apparent presence of oxygen is never explained, but then again John Lewis didn’t explain it either. The character designs are a bit rough and ready but Peter Sallis is clearly having fun, and the story – though inconsequential – is engaging.

Putting this together was relatively simple; it was just a question of restructuring the episode and making it look as if the two of them had gone there specifically to drop off a present for a lonely robot, rather than having said robot try and kill Wallace with a truncheon. The song you can hear is Aurora’s cover of ‘Half The World Away’ – I used the sound from the TV ad, as this had a pleasant instrumental section that isn’t in her recording. Unfortunately this meant having to find something to accompany the sound of playing children, but the chattering mice in the basement provided that. And it ends, much like A Grand Day Out, with the oven skiing across the surface of the moon. It’s not quite telescopes and smiling pensioners. But it works. Merry Christmas. Goodwill to all men, women and dogs.

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Laughing matters

clown

Clowns have never frightened me. Even Pennywise, the demented clown in Stephen King’s It that started this whole thing, has never frightened me, although the book’s pretty good and the Tim Curry teleplay was reasonable enough. (If that sounds like damning with faint praise, bear in mind that ‘reasonable enough’ is about as good as it gets when it comes to most Stephen King adaptations, at least the ones based on his horror stories.) The nearest any clown ever came to frightening me was the Joker, as presented in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, which I read back in 1989 just after I’d seen the first Batman film. There was something about the eyes – empty and black one minute, wide and crazed the next – that haunted my sleep that night. (I was eleven. I think that gets me off the hook.)

This whole ‘killer clown’ thing really is mindlessly silly, but that’s what happens when you have too much free time: a simple idea gets completely out of hand. There are several kids round our way, although I’ve yet to see them: it’s all good clean fun jumping out and shouting at people until your victim happens to have a heart condition. I was told the other day that it’s because we don’t have enough youth clubs, which strikes me as the worst kind of liberal bollocks: sitting in your bedroom bored out of your skull is, as far as I’m concerned, all part of growing up. It’s how you learn to be useful. Or else you get a hobby. I used to tape video game music onto C90s. I had very few friends. But I have not a jot of sympathy for these entitled millennials. Not one. Holy smokes I’m getting old.

I’ve thought for a while about doing some sort of ‘Greatest Show in the Galaxy’ montage scored to ‘Ashes To Ashes’, which seems an obvious choice, but that’s going to take me a while, so in the meantime you can have this instead.

galaxy_four

How do actual clowns, I wonder, feel about this sort of cultural appropriation? Has anyone asked them? Should we get a statement from Yuri Nikulin, only to be met with a wall of silence? (We could do the same with Marcel Marceau, but you probably wouldn’t have got much out of him even when he was still alive.) How do they feel about their identities, their whole tragedy-as-comedy persona, being hijacked in this way by idiotic teenagers posing with fake machetes? Is there a convention where they discuss these things? Does every panel end in a massive pie fight? And how many parking spaces do they need?

we're a culture not a costume this is not who i am and this is not okay

Yes, well.

 

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