Monthly Archives: December 2016

Review: ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’

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There’s a thing that’s always bothered me about Superman. It’s not the disguise. Henry Cavill recently proved there was a lot of mileage in a pair of spectacles with his recent New York stunt. No, it’s the fact that Clark Kent is surrounded by a supposedly cracked team of journalists, all of whom enjoy a close working relationship with him, and none of them – at least at first – are able to work out what’s really going on. A reporter who showed up in town the same time Superman did, who disappears at the first sign of trouble but who manages to bag all the exclusives? It’s too much of a stretch to think that someone wouldn’t have put two and two together by now – whether that someone is Lois Lane, the self-absorbed A-lister who loves one man and who is loved in turn by both – or Perry White, who spends most of his time with his sleeves rolled up shouting, but who’s obviously never heard of facial recognition software.

It depends which version you’re watching. Christopher Reeve, in all four of his films – from the glorious first to the dismal fourth – is a revelation, and anyone who doubted his skills as an actor would do well to look at scenes where he’s playing first Clark Kent and then Superman and note the differences. Reeve fumbles with the thick frames, smearing the lenses and only just managing to avoid damaging them. The posture changes, the body language becomes awkward and fidgety, and the whole voice goes up half an octave. Then go and watch Dean Cain – who, in The New Adventures, plays basically the same character with and without his glasses – and marvel at the fact that he gets away with it for so long.

That Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne manage to maintain and separate their public / private personas so consistently and successfully is down to three things. First, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief – the same resource we have to tap in order to accept that neither character seems to have aged very much despite both having been around for the better part of a century. Second, at least one blind eye has been turned to the telescope – Commissioner Gordon could easily figure out Batman’s true identity, but has presumably seen enough torture scenes to have realised that it’s in his best interests not to know. Similarly, Perry White is too bold and experienced not to put two and two together, but has chosen not to. Journalistic integrity is still alive and well, even in the twenty-first century.

But fundamentally the disguise conundrum plays on Shakespearian conventions. It was a running joke that the true identity of a disguised character in a Shakespeare play should be obvious to everyone except the characters onstage – it’s bled over into pantomime, and in Doctor Who it happened every time Roger Delgado stepped onto the screen. And thus, when it happens in ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’, it’s done as a joke that’s glaringly transparent to all but the girl who’s caught in the middle of it, and on this occasion it’s the Doctor who’s rolling his eyes.

‘Mysterio’ is, in essence, a crossover episode – the closest Doctor Who is likely to delve into the worlds of Supergirl or The Flash – and the creative team have the sense to play on this. Origin stories are revealed in flashback (tellingly, and with some degree of appropriateness, said origin story features the Doctor himself). There are numerous shots of characters hovering outside windows. And a crucial conversation between the basso-inflected superhero and his would-be girlfriend – with the Doctor listening in – is rendered with a three-way frame split. The superhero in question, a caped wonder whose body armour resembles that of Nightwing, doubles as a mild-mannered nanny when he’s not wearing the costume, zooming from house fire to traffic accident to bedroom, a baby monitor permanently attached to his waist.

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The net result of all this is that the Doctor feels rather like a supporting character in his own story. Having unwittingly created the whole situation through a simple misunderstanding, just about the only thing Capaldi is able to do this week is react as the narrative unfolds around him. Not that much unfolding actually happens – in origami terms, ‘Mysterio’ is more a twice-folded letter than a concertina. The story is the sort of conventional secret invasion fluff that wouldn’t be out of place in either a series of Doctor Who or a Superman comic, and is perhaps the episode’s weakest element: a couple of expository monologues aside, we never really get to know or understand the brain-swapping aliens behind Harmony Shoals, nor do we much care what they’re up to. (And really, didn’t we milk the unzipped head thing to death last Christmas?)

Tellingly, that’s not a criticism. Regular visitors here will know that I’m the first one to complain when I watch an episode of Who without any tangible story, but as it turns out this matters far less when people are having fun (which is not something I could say for, say, ‘The Woman Who Lived’). That the episode concludes with a colossal spacecraft falling on New York is far less exciting than it ought to be, simply because ultimately that’s not what ‘Mysterio’ is about. There’s a far greater tension in the fact that in order to save the Earth, the Ghost must reveal his true identity to a single person – and while the image of Justin Chatwin holding up the spacecraft with a single outstretched hand is uproariously funny, there is a far greater sense of narrative satisfaction in the kiss that follows it.

It helps that both Grant and Lucy are fun and likeable, even though we’re given comparably little time to get to know them. There are all sorts of questions that could be asked about the fact that he repeatedly leaves a small child unattended, although it’s made apparent at the mid-point that he’s able to race from one side of the city to the other in about the same time it takes a parent to climb a staircase, and the Doctor is only able to get there first because he cheats. Grant’s mutual, unconsumated attraction to Lucy calls to mind the tale of Craig and Sophie, and while the love story here doesn’t hold the same sort of narrative credence that was there in ‘The Lodger’, there’s something very satisfying in the fact that Lucy prefers her heroes with their spectacles on.

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Elsewhere, pathos remains. There are references to River Song (whose name would have been better left unsaid, although you can’t blame Moffat for wanting to avoid an epidemic of tedious fan speculation and Twitter theory) and a sense of melancholy loneliness that bubbles under the surface without ever really breaking through the skin. The net result is a story that is accessible and satisfying but somehow sad, as befits the best Christmas entertainment, with everyone making the most of the limited screentime that 2016 has granted them. He may not have a great deal to do besides watch and eat sushi, but Capaldi’s clearly enjoying himself this week, even though the Doctor isn’t.

I’ve got nine paragraphs in without mentioning Nardole, but that’s largely because he works so well. Comic actors in semi-serious drama is a lottery – Frank Skinner was a roaring success, Rufus Hound a dismal failure – and the fact that the reassembled Nardole is far less irritating than he ought to have been is a testament both to Moffat’s writing and Lucas’ ability to reign it in. Discounting an anomalous, cringeworthy opening sequence, Nardole is inhabited with the sort of understated, bumbling charm that’s been greatly missing in the TARDIS since Rory was trapped in New York, and he has some enlightening conversations with the Doctor. It’s too early to tell how this will play out in series 10, in which Lucas is purported to make a series of appearances, but we might currently file it under ‘Well, that was a pleasant surprise’, perhaps alongside ‘Donna Noble’.

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There’s a much-quoted and not entirely accurate cliché suggesting that absence makes the heart grow fonder. When the announcement was made, back in January, that we’d have to wait for almost a full year without the Doctor, the sense of lamentation among fandom was so great that you could hear it on Mondas. But whatever else may have happened during the past year (it’s tempting to look back at 2016 as an annus horribalis, although I suspect history may be rather more generous) there were some of us who took it as an opportunity to take stock and look at exactly what it was we enjoyed about the show, and after a long period of soul-searching I concluded that if they’d decided to rest it completely, I wouldn’t mind. Perhaps we’re at the stage where it doesn’t matter whether Doctor Who is on or not, and where we can stop complaining about the number of episodes per year, and make the most of what we have. I don’t think it’s something that comes naturally, not to me, and not to fandom generally – when writing this one up, I stayed off Twitter, stayed away from Facebook, and didn’t read a single review, because I knew what many of the comments are going to say.

I’ve often wondered whether the concept of making the most of things is a reason we’re overly charitable to ‘Rose’, although to conclude thus probably does it a disservice. It’s no secret that the last forty-five seconds of the TV broadcast of ‘Mysterio’ consisted of a glib, action-filled trailer for series 10 that introduces an already irritating companion whom most of us have seen fit to judge before she even steps into the TARDIS. As someone who’s a willing advocate of that ‘God she’s irritating’ mindset I’d nonetheless suggest that I was wrong about Donna, wrong about Smith being too young and wrong (at least this week) about Nardole. And perhaps it doesn’t matter either way. If there’s one thing that a year without Doctor Who has taught me it’s to take it far less seriously than I have been, and treat at least some of its shortcomings as a by-product of a difficult production process. Perhaps all the show has to be, in the end, is enjoyable, rather than good, but perhaps that’s partly our responsibility, rather than simply the writer’s. Perhaps this is what happens when you allow obsession to dissolve into apathy, but I wonder whether we’d enjoy the experience far more if we’re willing to occasionally put a blind eye up to the telescope.

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A Trumpmas Carol

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You know what’s great about Christmas? Ghost stories.

I had a story I’d planned to share with you – it stars the Third Doctor and a familiar-looking Santa Claus creating havoc at a Christmas party – but I haven’t had time to finish it. Still, that’s OK, because Josh has stepped into the breach. His school project this term was to produce something in the Dickens vein – a stage adaptation, a graphic novel, a contemporary retelling, or a fact file about the man himself. After a brief family discussion, he opted to retell A Christmas Carol (chiefly because it is, as you may expect of a boy of eleven, the only one he really knows well) starring you-know-who.

It’s been done before. But this is his version, and he’s proud of it, and I felt it warranted sharing. I get the feeling that this is the only year I’d get away with printing this here – while Donald Trump is, as we go to press, still President Elect instead of President. I wonder if, a year down the line, it might be something we no longer want to talk about – or perhaps the miracle will happen and there’ll be no need. In any event you will forgive the inevitably unrefined political views therein, coming as they do from a first-year secondary schoolboy (who is, nonetheless, rather wiser than his years, and I suspect wiser than many of the electorate). It was done with minimal help from us – a few creative nudges aside, the ideas and the story are by and large entirely his own. I cleaned up the grammar and punctuation a little but didn’t touch anything else, restricting myself instead to the Photoshopping (with the exception of that image at the top, which I nabbed – and you can tell, because it’s the only one that’s wholly successful).

Take it away, Josh. And incidentally, a Happy Christmas to all of you at home.

A Trumpmas Carol

The day Donald Trump was elected great cheers erupted from his supporters. He grinned and made his speech: “Fellow Americans, to celebrate my victory I will start building this great wall to stop Mexicans entering our homeland, our country, our city!” More cheers. “I will start building it on Christmas morning, 8:00 AM to be to exact, also all Mexicans who happen to live in here will be thrown out back into Mexico!” At that exact point every Mexican in America sighed dismally but the ones who sighed the most were the Gonzalez family as they sat in a house the size of a shoe box right next to the Whitehouse.

Months passed as Trump got his blueprints ready for the wall and on Christmas Eve he had just arrived home to check the blueprints and as he was looking at them they shifted around to form Margaret Thatcher’s face. Donald Trump suddenly dropped the blueprints into the fire. They burst into flame but Margaret T was not done yet. From out of the smoke arose her ghost and she said in a grave, gravelly voice “Donald Trump, you will be visited by three Mexicans at midnight!” before drifting off into the night air…

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Donald Trump could not sleep, every time his eyes closed fear and anxiety twisted his insides violently, forcing him to stay awake. All was silent excluding the large grandfather, “Tick Tock Tick Tock!” it screamed. “Oh great,” he muttered. Tiredly he walked towards the door but the door slammed shut before he got to it. The clock chimed midnight. The room went cold. Very very cold. Very very very cold.

Suddenly through the (locked) window came a small Mexican girl. She grinned and took out a list of her and started reading the list, her eyes scanning down it, “T… T… T… Thomas… Thompson… whoa you Americans have some funny names, aha Trump. Oh my name’s Maria by the way” she said as she pulled him out the (still locked) window.

Whilst in flight Donald Trump spent most of his time picking glass off of his dressing gown while Maria kept apologizing, “listen Donald I’m sorry, okay. I forgot about the mortals can’t fly through windows rule.”
“Whatever, just wondering what’s that big blue light?”

Maria looked off into the distance. “Ladies and gentlemen you reached your destination, please fasten your seat-belts and hold on tight!” then… silence… nothing… they were blasted into an icy cold void.

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“Yay, let’s do that again!”
“No let’s not!” Donald Trump had nearly fainted and also dripping wet. While Maria observed the area, “Look Trumpy a fight! Who is against who? Look Trumpy you’re fighting someone!!… soon punches were being delivered by either side. Then with his last burst of strength Donald Trump pounded the other kid to the floor. Then there was a bright flash of white light and the ghost, the school field and the school where he grew up in faded away.

Somewhere in the distance a clock chimed one o’clock.

Donald Trump was back in his bedroom when a cry like thunder shook the room making him jump. “HELLO AMIGO MY NAME’S PABLO!” said a big booming voice…

Donald Trump gaped as a massive bulk of a man came crashing through the roof almost crushing the enormous four-poster bed, which moaned and groaned as he plunked his heavy backside on it. This big bulking figure made Donald Trump look like an ant. In one hand he was holding a mug the size of a barrel full to the brim of beer. In the other hand he was holding a ripped untidy list full of names in scratchy untidy handwriting. He took a sip of beer and burped loudly. Then he grabbed Donald Trump by his shirt collar and lifted him off the ground…

Donald Trump was not aware were they were going nor did he know what travelling by giant was like but he soon found out the answers to both of these questions. First off travelling by giant was absolutely preposterous. He settled down on a comfy spot (as comfy as sweaty matted hair can get) and tried to get some rest but soon discovered it was impossible to rest when head-lice the size of horses are chasing after you.

Answer two: the Gonzales family house. “Why are we here?” asked Donald Trump. “Why won’t you shut up!” shouted the giant. Then he bent over and shook Donald Trump off his head. Even though he was only a couple of metres off the ground when he landed he felt a searing pain in his left leg. Donald Trump looked at the cracked shards of glass that they called a window. The children were tying pine-cones onto some string as they were too poor to afford real baubles.

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“Santa will love these I hope I’ll get another bag of cheese crisps, they lasted for months,” said the youngest, “mummy do you think Santa will like my decorations?”
“I’ll bet he will Antonio” said Elisabeth Gonzales. “Now why don’t you get to bed and maybe…” There was the sound of church bells chiming and all was still…

There was a looming menace in the air as a ghostly hand drifted through the key hole and ushered him out of his bedroom and towards the graveyard. “Where are we going?” The streets were full of people going around shouting “HE’S DEAD YESSS HE’S REALLY DEAD”. Donald Trump stared at these strange people. “Who’s dead?” The hand said nothing…

The graveyard was an unpleasant place filled with unpleasant corpses in unpleasant and rather ugly graves while he was there he saw one gravestone that caught his eye: RIP the Gonzales family: died of hypothermia. A tear welled up inside his eye as he respected those people, those good good people but there was no time to lose the hand dragged him on to a shallow grave already with a gravestone: RIP Donald John Trump: the nightmare is over then in his own handwriting was written “No, it’s only just beginning”…

Donald Trump was falling… falling… falling… down… down… down… into a bottomless pit falling… falling… Then he landed in hell’s fiery depths. It was so hot in there that I’m rather surprised these pages weren’t scorched to a crisp. But like it said on the gravestone the nightmare was only just beginning. The devil walked up towards him, a permanent sneer was fixed on his face. Then he said two words. “You’re fired!”

Suddenly Donald Trump found himself tied to a large wooden catapult, like the ones they used in the middle ages to catapult rocks at a wall. This was going to be used for a far more grisly use. Before he knew it he was strapped on to this big lumbering beast then was in a room full of speakers. Soon the theme tune for The Apprentice filled the room. Then the wall of speakers directly ahead of him burned and was soon filled with shards of glass then he was catapulted toward them as two words came out of the speakers: his own voice said “You’re fired!” He screamed.

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Donald Trump woke up screaming with pain, surprisingly he did not wake up buried alive in a coffin but in his own bed in his own house in his own street in his own city in his own country, yes he was Donald Trump and he ruled the country. He looked over at his alarm clock, 7:30. Unless he wanted to end up in hell’s fiery depths again he would have to change quickly. Donald Trump smiled. Today was going to be a good day.

8:00 AM, that is what it said on the clock. His butler walked in “Excuse me mister president but it’s 8:00 AM,” Donald Trump looked over at the clock. “Yes yes, indeed it is, do you have the blueprints?” The butler nodded. “Here they are Mister President,”

Donald Trump looked at them then ripped them up into tiny little pieces. The butler looked astonished. “Mister President are you feeling oka…” Donald Trump laughed “Yes yes I’m feeling fine,” then he leaped out of bed and made a bolt for the door then he walked slowly back in. “Oh by the way is my car in the garage?”

Mexico was now one of the richest countries in the world now thanks to Donald Trump he told his chauffeur to drive around Mexico’s streets at 300 MPH (so it didn’t take too long). Then he attached bags of money from the wall building profit then a couple of hours later he was back and Mexico was rich as a fruitcake but Donald Trump still had one big bag full to the brim with bars of gold. He scrawled a quick invitation and stuck it on to the bag: Dear the Gonzales family you are invited for a Christmas party in the Whitehouse – Donald Trump…

Donald Trump was now poor, but he was also loved, and that’s what Christmas is all about.

The End

Epilogue

“Hank! I owe you 50$,” shouted Frank towards the vague direction of the kitchen. Hank walked in. “No you don’t.” Frank pointed at the headline. “He didn’t build the wall.” Hank shrugged. “Who cares. It’s Christmas!”

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I Believe in Father Christmas

It’s funny how, in putting this together, I had to go back and explore some of my least favourite stories.

Doctor Who at Christmas is an opportunity. Statistically, it’s the episode of the show that’s most likely to be watched by people who don’t normally watch it, existing as it does as a notch on the TV schedule at a time when most people are actually watching TV, accompanied by cheese and crackers and what’s left of the Christmas Eve gammon, and sandwiched somewhere between the BBC’s seasonal animation and a Two Ronnies compilation. Visiting family members perch awkwardly on the sofa, not quite sure what to make of this strange spectacle – a show that they might have watched in their childhood but haven’t seen since Tom Baker fell off the radio tower, or perhaps have never watched at all – as the resident enthusiast explains the basics. Or perhaps that’s just our house. Is it just our house? Please tell me it isn’t.

It’s therefore a crushing disappointment when they get it wrong. I suppose the sporting analogy would be taking your partner along to his or her inaugural game and have your team play an absolute damp squib instead of a blinder. They’ll wonder what on earth you see in this sort of recreational activity and you’ll find yourself prone to similar sudden introspection. The DW Christmas episode is, above all else, all about potential conversion and creating a story that’s accessible for the new or casual viewer (and it’s not just me, Peter Capaldi agrees). It’s not a time for endless continuity references and the resolution of complicated, series-long plot points: that sort of thing isn’t easy to stomach after a hard day’s feasting, unwrapping and shouting at the kids. I’d rather have something I can just watch and enjoy. (Judging the show’s seasonal installments in this manner, ‘The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe’ is a roaring success, while ‘The Time of the Doctor’ is a dismal failure.)

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My feelings on Christmas episodes are, at least within the context of this blog, well-documented (I’ll get a ‘Christmas’ tag done at some point, but if you’re really curious, check out some of the reviews or hover around the December point for each year of the archives). Externally, I wrote a little something for Metro a couple of years back that had earned the wrath of a few people who thought I’d got it totally wrong. Such is the cost of ranked lists, occurring as they do not within an objective vacuum but tainted by the personal views of whoever’s writing it, even if said personal views actually belong to a committee. In my case, I approached a recent Red Dwarf task by canvassing the opinions of various other people on Facebook, and coming up with a definitive order that reflected their views as much as my own. “Dude clearly wasn’t a red dwarf fan who made this post,” wrote one reader. “How can you not include quarantine. Rimmer in a gingham dress and MR flibbles!” To which my (unposted) answer is obviously “Because it’s my list, and not yours. Now bugger off.”

All the same. There’s something magical about even the worst of New Who when you view it out of context. The sleigh ride in ‘Last Christmas’. The lethal tree in ‘The Christmas Invasion’. Even those ridiculous snowmen. Taken as parts of lackluster episodes they’re tedious, but sandwiching them together seems to work. And there are many golden moments. Last year’s River Song episode was occasionally patchy, but the chemistry between Kingston and Capaldi far outweighed anything she’d achieved with his predecessor, and the moment when they’re standing on the balcony overlooking the Singing Towers is one of my favourite scenes in the Twelfth Doctor’s run.

I’d been toying with the idea of a Christmas montage for some weeks; it was just a question of picking the right song (copyright, as much as any artistic consideration, is a potential barrier). I’d just about chosen a track that I felt was appropriate (I’m not telling you what it is; I may use it in a year or two). Then Greg Lake – one third of the much-overrated prog rock tour de force that was Emerson, Lake and Palmer – died, and while his death was distressingly premature (2016, the year that just keeps on taking) it did at least make the song selection easier. Actually I think the end result is better than the video I would have made otherwise, which is about the only good thing I’m able to snatch from his death.

This probably won’t be my last post before the 25th – you’ll have to wait a few days for that – but it’s arguably the most Christmassy, and if we don’t speak again until the reindeer have eaten the mince pies, I hope your holiday season is peaceful and joyous, however you choose to spend it. And with that I’m off to watch ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Daniel, who’s been pleading for it since Saturday morning. If we’d waited until tomorrow it would have been the shortest day of the year, but real life, it seems, is never quite so neat and tidy. Still, that’s what makes it interesting.

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The Kasterborous Archives, #1: Should Doctor Who Abandon Continuity?

Author’s notes:

This was my first article for Kasterborous. You can tell, because it’s a respectable length: I was still trying to adhere to suggested word counts. It’s a little green around the edges, but it works. Have I changed my view on things? Actually, no…

 

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Should Doctor Who abandon continuity?

Published: 26 April 2015

There’s a documentary on the Day of the Daleks Special Edition that you really ought to see. It’s Toby Hadoke explaining the inconsistencies of UNIT dating. In a nutshell, it’s all going fine – just about – until Mawdryn Undead, which establishes the UNIT stories as taking place before the 1980 that Sarah Jane talks about so frequently. “The real question,” Toby suggests, “is does it matter?” before adding “OF COURSE IT DOES!”

He’s joking. But he’s onto something. Ultimately if you take this stuff too seriously it destroys you. Continuity never used to exist in Doctor Who (Terrance Dicks has said on more than one occasion that “History is what you can remember”). And then it did, and it’s impossible to really maintain it properly – but it still seems to matter, and as a result many fans are obsessive about seeing patterns in things that aren’t there. That’s why there are arguments about whether Clara’s grandmother is actually an elderly Amy (despite being too short, the wrong nationality, and about twenty years too young) or whether the Curator is actually a future Doctor or simply a gap in the fourth wall. Perhaps it’s all about making sense of an increasingly senseless world. Or perhaps we’re just bored these days. The internet has made the information available; why not use it? What else is it for, if not uploading videos of your cat?

There’s the question of age. Two Pertwee stories (The Silurians and Mind of Evil) both establish that the Doctor has lived for “several thousand years” – although that’s generally interpreted, I’m informed, to mean that he has seen things in several different millennia of times on Earth. But the retconning of the Doctor’s age in 2005 has nothing to do with his actual age (are we really going to ignore the six hundred years he spent on Orbis?) and is simply Russell T Davies picking a number out of the air. That’s his prerogative. I’m all for trying to make some sort of sense out of these things, but the people who try and produce accurate timelines of the Doctor’s lifespan – and then state that X couldn’t possibly have happened because it contradicts Y – are like the fundamentalists who try and date the world based on a literal reading of the Biblical timeline. It’s quite fun to watch, as long as you keep your head down during the ensuing fireworks.

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The truth is that Doctor Who can be whatever the chief writer wants it to be, because it’s transcended continuity. There are certain fundamental ground rules – no true love, no kissing, no beards – but that’s it. We’ve spent years shoehorning and explaining and reconciling continuity, and I sometimes wonder why. For example, Tegan’s appearance in A Fix With Sontarans is “non-canon”, because the story is “non-canon” – and the subsequent fan fiction attempts to reconcile Tegan with the Sixth Doctor, while undoubtedly well-meant, were frankly silly.

That’s all fine when we’re talking about fan fiction. It’s when it bleeds into the show that we all start to suffer. Attack of the Cybermen is a good story, but it suffers from needless references to previous adventures that are there purely to maintain continuity. I could put that down as anomalous, but it doesn’t stop with the eighties. Everything that Moffat’s done in the past couple of years has, it seems, been about maintaining continuity under the guise of revising it. He’s shoehorned in as many Important Changes as he can. We’ve seen the Doctor grow into the character we recognised through stories that are new to us. Origins have been rewritten (twice) at the hands of a companion that Moffat created. We’re even told that the Twelfth Doctor’s face matters; that it’s somehow significant (because casting a previously used actor in the title role is something that’s never been done before, honest). It’s been labelled as genius; personally I call it territory marking.

So I have a proposal. I’d like to suggest that Doctor Who more or less abandons the concept of continuity completely. I’d like to suggest that we don’t need it. I’d like to suggest that we ditch the idea of canonicity. It opens the door to a multitude of possibilities. It works for James Bond – where certain recurring themes, motifs and characters are just about the only thing connecting a group of completely different stories populated by completely different people, rendered in completely different styles. It works in the DC universe, whereupon the one constant throughout the myriad different versions of Batman that we’ve seen over the years is that he doesn’t kill (and even that’s occasionally up for grabs). We accept that Batman never ages because he’s Batman and because it’s a comic, but the Doctor’s ability to regenerate has saddled him with a millstone of continuity that I don’t think serves any particular purpose.

So why not abandon it? Why not have the Doctor fall readily in and out of love, go through periods of murderous rage, or even die? Why not have Dalek stories that contradict each other without having to retcon or justify your creative decisions? Why not have alternative origin stories, where the Doctor meets companions in different places, and says goodbye to them under different circumstances – and have them take place not in ‘parallel universes’, but in this one? Why not have writers who are allowed to place their own stamp on the show with more or less complete creative control, on the understanding that it doesn’t matter, because the next writer will also do their own thing? Why not start each series from scratch, and see where we go?

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Arguably, you do need what we’ll refer to as ‘local continuity’ (not my phrase, but I’m pinching it). A story probably shouldn’t contradict everything that happened last week. If you’re going to have a Doctor that’s thoroughly unpredictable every episode – that’s unpredictable in an unpredictable kind of sense, rather than an ‘abandon everyone on the moon and leave them to solve their own problems’ kind of sense – you stand to lose half your audience. If your companion is has a split personality people are going to become alienated unless you make it clear where you’re going. There’s a stark difference between development and plain inconsistency. Even the multi-faceted Claras that populated series seven weren’t so different from each other.

Still, even local continuity needn’t be a barrier. A competent writer might easily create an entire series full of stories that expressly contradict one another, as part of a wider mystery. By ‘wider mystery’ I don’t mean that the Doctor erroneously left his jacket on because of a production cock-up and the writers decided to turn it into a moment of great importance. I mean stories in which everything is purposely different, only for this to mean something – something that’s important, without actually overshadowing the narrative and merit of each individual story.

In the absence of that, I’d like to propose that even if the writers haven’t and are unlikely to abandon the concept of continuity, we need to stop being quite so precious about it. The word ‘we’ in this instance does not mean all of us. There are plenty of people I’ve spoken to who don’t give a damn about the contradictions. But lots of people do, both inside the business and out of it, and I wonder if perhaps the Whoniverse is suffering from people desperate to tie up every loose end, however much the picture is obscured as a result. And when that happens – when writers and fans alike are more concerned with what’s come before than what’s in front – we have a show and a fanbase that are knowledgeable and watertight, but ultimately full of nothing but hot air.

I don’t think that’s my kind of show. Is it yours?

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Introducing The Kasterborous Archives

Those of you who visit this page regularly will be familiar with the banner menu at the top, which leads to the external content I stick on the internet – YouTube material, paid journalism and the random things (most of which also appear here) that I post on Tumblr. Well, you’ve got to have something for the kids, right?

If you look today you’ll notice that one of the links is missing – specifically this one.

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The story of the decline of Kasterborous.com is a sad one, and I think enough water has passed under the bridge for me to be able to tell you some of what happened. It breaks down like this: for a number of years Kasterborous was a lively, entertaining Doctor Who website with a reasonably prolific output. It had a relatively small but very dedicated user base, a decent variety of content and a successful spin-off, The Podkast with a K, which is still going. The team of writers – led by Christian Cawley, the site’s editor – was focussed and dedicated but never took themselves too seriously. We were never going to be Den of Geek, but that was fine.

I started writing for Kasterborous in its twilight years, and it wasn’t long after I joined that Christian jumped ship. (There were a number of reasons for this, which I won’t go into, although it was down to external factors and I’m reasonably confident it had absolutely nothing to do with me.) Administration passed to Phil Bates, and the business of writing carried on as usual, but trouble was brewing below deck: we’d become increasingly concerned about the way in which content was displayed, with articles frequently saturated with adware links in the body text (I’m told this is called Text Enhance). None of us were stupid. We understood the need for advertising revenue to keep a site running. But it was borderline illegible in places – and it made for an uncomfortable, treacherous reading experience, finger hovering precariously over the mouse wheel, terrified of veering just a little too far to the left in case you accidentally pressed the button and navigated to a travel site. Even the picture ads that topped and tailed (and generally surrounded) articles seemed to be advertising porn or clickbait, or a combination of the two.

Eventually, Phil and the others decided they’d had enough. The only response from the site’s owner – whom they’d contacted repeatedly – was a perennial wall of silence. It was like talking to Chief Bromden in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Even their announcement that everyone was leaving was met with unresponsive indifference. We upped sticks and set up a new website, The Doctor Who Companion (more on that in a moment) and left Kasterborous as an online Mary Celeste.

I was going to say “…and we never looked back”, but that simply wouldn’t be true, because I’d left a lot of content on that site and I was curious as to what was going to happen to it. Under Phil’s advice I copied and pasted everything – this turned out to be a good move, for reasons that will become apparent – but while the site didn’t exactly grow, it didn’t suddenly vanish either. Our guess was that it was going to stay there until the owner (whom you’ll note I’ve neglected to name; this is quite deliberate) remembered about it and decided to let the domain renewal elapse. The last I’d heard, he’d sold it to a media outlet.

Then we woke up one morning and saw this.

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As if it weren’t bad enough that the article (which was badly written hack journalism of the lowest order) delved into an area we’d never even have considered exploring when the site was fully functioning, it was in its original form attributed to none other than Christian Cawley. Christian immediately jumped on it and demanded the removal of his name – this eventually happened, although not before a second piece a week later (also supposedly by him) which discussed a multi-Doctor poker game. It was clear where this was going, and Christian was plunged into a writer’s second-worst nightmare, with various theories abounding as to why the owners would want to sully him in this way – spite? Revenge? Or was this some sinister media conglomerate trumping over decent writers, simply because they could?

The truth, as is customary for these things, turned out to be far less sinister. Whether it was the threats of legal action or someone just actually taking a look at what they’d posted, both articles were suddenly attributed to the mysterious ‘Max’. Unfortunately, so was just about everything Christian had ever written. It was clear what had happened: the new writers had taken over the admin account, which presumably had Christian’s name on it, and weren’t clever enough to do a decent retrospective backdate. In short, Kasterborous was now being run by people with no clue as to what they were doing, or no real desire to do it properly. You pick.

It gets worse. Fast forward: some time later, this happens.

 

 

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If you can’t spot what’s going on here, it’s there in that bottom article: this is an old piece (from October 2015) republished as is. There were ten of them, all appearing simultaneously, all referring to long-aired episodes and long-finished conventions. It was like the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind where all the missing pilots suddenly turn up in the mountain as if nothing has happened. The general reaction was one of bemusement or casual anger, but we’d come to expect it. Was this some kind of ploy to keep the site in the search rankings and the revenue coming in when you had nothing to publish – this year’s contractual obligation Dalek story? We’d never know, because no one there was actually willing to talk about it; they just randomly deleted the negative comments.

Last week, the Podkast people visited the site, and this is what their browser said.

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Curiously the warning appears to have gone now – it pops up again intermittently, although I don’t intend to visit the site again to find out. Certainly it’s still active, although many of the pages appear to be defunct and many links are no-longer functioning. Even if you’re able to navigate through all the sludge the chances are you won’t be able to see what you’d like to see, and there’s a decent chance you’re going to be infected with malware.

So today’s little missive has two purposes. The first is to give another plug to The Doctor Who Companion. You may have visited it not long after its inception but suffice it to say the site has blossomed these last few months: we have themed weeks, regular reviews, and I write for them whenever I can. The formatting does take a little bit of getting used to but there is a wealth of goodness to be found in there. If your sense of devotion is particularly strong you could also head over to our Facebook page – all new visitors and page likes welcome.

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The second is to introduce a new feature here at Brian of Morbius: The Kasterborous archives, in which I’ll be publishing a selection of the stuff I wrote for them – by no means all of it, because some was effectively reblogged from here in the first place, and some has been republished over at the DWC. But it’ll be a way of getting the rest of it back online in a safe, legible format, away from link-saturated web pages bordered by ads for things that will absolutely astound you. (And for the record, I’ve been using the web for over twenty years and I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything that’s genuinely astounded me. Surprised, amused and occasionally amazed, but astounded? Still waiting.)

I had intended to start today, but we’re out of time. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow. As compensation, here’s a sad-looking Cyber Kettle.

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You literally won’t believe what happens next.

Categories: The Kasterborous Archives | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Hello Docklands

Out Run.

That’s how it started. The ZX Spectrum port of Out Run. When you grow up with an eight-bit home computer you learn to make concessions, particularly where racing games are concerned. In the arcades, Out Run was a slick, fast-paced (and, it must be said, somewhat repetitive) racing experience, all sun-kissed beaches, billowing palm trees and beautiful girls. It was the American coast bursting onto a CRT in all its glory, and for a young boy living in suburban Reading this was as glamorous and exotic as it gets.

The Spectrum port, on the other hand, is like driving through treacle.

(And that’s the 128 version. Some of us didn’t even have in-game music.)

As if to concede the crushing sense of disappointment that would-be racers must have felt upon getting to that wretched bridge sequence and then having to pause the tape again so the multi-load could find the right block, the distributors saw fit to include a cassette of the soundtrack for your listening pleasure: extracts from ‘Passing Breeze’, ‘Splash Wave’ and ‘Magical Sound Shower’. Original versions and mods and remixes are all over YouTube and I will not link to them here: if you’ve played them, you will right now be humming your favourites. Those of us with a particularly glossy setup could cue a separate tape player next to our TV and arrange to have the music playing in the background, determinedly fast-forwarding to your particular favourites when you get to stage three. I couldn’t work out how they got the sounds, whether that guitar was real (it wasn’t) and why the constant ocean samples didn’t annoy me, but thus it was that my love affair with digital music was born.

Fast forward two years: it’s 1989 and I’m watching Black Box perform ‘Ride on Time’ on Top of the Pops. ‘Perform’ may be stretching it a bit. A more accurate description is that Davoli, Limoni and Semplici are gyrating awkwardly round their keyboards, bashing out something that almost syncs to the backing track, even if they’re jumping up and down octaves like Fry and Laurie performing ‘Hey Jude’, while Katrin Quinol is waving her arms and trying to make it look like her vocal track was actually recorded rather than heavily stitched. The cut-and-paste job is one I will grow to admire, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that my eleven-year-old self is thoroughly oblivious to it. My eyes are on the Roland that’s being used to bash out that famous piano riff. “Do you wish you could play the keyboard like that, James?” my mother asks. One day I will, although I will never play Black Box.

Fast forward. It’s December 1989. I’m listening to a cassette that Sinclair User gave away with their November issue. It contains music from Silkworm, Gemini Wing, Continental Circus, Double Dragon II, Shinobi and Ninja Warriors. I am thrilled beyond belief as I go to press tonight to find this on YouTube. I remember listening to the cassette that evening and having a furious argument with my mother halfway through the Double Dragon theme about why I’m not listening to it on my Walkman, which leads to accusations that the Walkman is missing. It is not, but she refuses to believe me. These days, shortly after my eldest has lost his mobile and will not admit it, I understand why she was so angry. Next time (and every time) I listen to the tape, I skip Double Dragon.

Fast forward. It’s 1990. I wander into the music department one lunchtime – my not-quite friend Ewan is playing ‘Magical Sound Shower’ on a Casio and HE DOESN’T HAVE MUSIC. He’s playing it brilliantly and he has a samba rhythm going and HE DOESN’T HAVE MUSIC. I make a vow that I will learn to play it in the same way. I annoy him by doing this remarkably quickly. It turns out that picking things up by ear is one of the few things I can do really well. Ewan is cross with me and then we get along. It’s the start of a friendship that spans over twenty years.

Fast forward. It’s 1991. Ewan has got me listening to a synthesizer outfit called Project D. My favourite songs on there are the Jarre ones, and also one called ‘Autobahn’. Years later I will listen to the original and wonder at how stripped down it is in comparison, but eventually learn to appreciate it. I hear songs for the first time that I will eventually discover in their inceptive forms, which is what happens to everyone when they are growing up, and I do not judge them for it.

Fast forward. It’s 1991 and as far as we are concerned. KLF is the biggest thing on the planet. Ewan has me listening to American hip hop and Californian rock and to Jean-Michel Jarre. I am taken aback by the orchestrations in ‘Rendezvous II’ and bored stiff by ‘Waiting For Cousteau’: I am an impatient thirteen-year-old yet to discover Brian Eno. Revolutions is my favourite album, with its industrial clanking and bleeping and general eclecticism.

Fast forward. It’s later in 1991 and War of the Worlds is my latest discovery. Ewan has the idea of writing a sequel. We team up with a few others and vow to keep it a secret until it’s done. I spill the beans to some of my friends. Ewan does not speak to me for days.

Fast forward. It’s 1995. Blur are huge. Oasis are even bigger. I start listening to stuff with guitars. Ewan is in Chichester but we still talk. I fall in love, out, in, out again. I discover jazz; Ewan is by and large disgusted. I discover Eels; he concedes they’re quite good.

Fast forward again. It’s 2002 and I’m re-listening to The Concerts in China. I am taken aback by the difference in tone between the muted applause of Beijing and the cheering in Shanghai. I ask Ewan about it. He says “They hadn’t had any western musician playing there in decades. That concert was all ageing politicians and rich businessmen. They didn’t know what to make of him. What the fuck did you expect?”

Fast forward. It’s 2011. For some reason or another, I stop speaking to Ewan.

Fast forward. It’s 2012. On a cold winter’s evening I listen to Autobahn. It leads to a surge of interest in Kraftwerk. I do a little downloading. In January 2013 I have the idea of mixing up ‘Showroom Dummies’ with ‘Rose’. It just about works.

Fast forward. It’s 2013. I extend a couple of half-hearted olive branches to Ewan. I get nowhere and concede that’s probably it.

Fast forward. It’s early 2016 and I find this.

Fast forward. It’s June. I am playing through Grand Theft Auto V. I am enjoying the soundtrack – unintrusive ambient electronic music with a distinctive eighties vibe, as befits the listening tastes of one of the game’s protagonists. I make a note to research Tangerine Dream. I discover their back catalogue consists of over a hundred albums. I decide not to swim in this particular pool at the moment.

Fast forward. It’s August this year. I’m at a festival in Northamptonshire. We are hanging around in the kids’ area; Lego spills out of the nearby tents, the nursery gazebo resembles a Little Tikes showroom, and junk modelling festoons the lawn. We’re early for the family talent show and they’re prepping the venue. The chap on the desk is doing his sound check: it’s the Revolutions album. I have not heard it in almost a decade. But today I hear Hank Marvin playing the guitar solo on ‘London Kid’ and I nearly burst into tears.

Fast forward. I come home. I rationalise that a marriage between ‘Revolution, Revolutions’ and Doctor Who will probably work quite well. I listen to it again and remember the fun I used to have with my friend, translating the lyrics into French: “SEX….PAS DE – PAS DE – PAS DE SEX!”. I go through twelve years of Who. And, eventually, I make the video you see at the top.

It’s for Ewan. And he’ll probably never know.

 

Categories: Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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