Monthly Archives: August 2017

Have I Got Whos For You (part 2001 and a bit)

I’ve got more posts with ACTUAL CONTENT coming soon, folks, promise. But I’ve been away for two weeks and thick with Metro stuff, so they’re going to have to wait.

In the meantime, here’s a bumper collection of movie-themed memes. First, E.T.

Then this one, which (as I’ve had to tediously explain to a bunch of fans on the internet this week) is NOT A BLOODY RED DWARF REFERENCE.

Meanwhile, something looms disturbing over that collection of cardboard cutouts.

Back on Earth, we’re still in ‘Day of the Doctor’ territory, as Windy Miller recreates the famous bike-riding opening.

And finally, the Doctor does H.P. Lovecraft. Or rather, doesn’t.

Enjoy your bank holiday.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 354)

You know…you’d get these a lot faster if you visit and follow my Facebook page.

First: rejected monsters from series 10.

Meanwhile, in an art gallery in an undisclosed location, fandom implodes.

And in unrelated news, the Thirteenth Doctor’s companion is finally unveiled.

(You would not believe the fallout I had from that one.)

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Doctor Who meets Beauty and the Beast

Let me tell you a story, children. Once upon a time there was a concept called regeneration and it involved the transition of one actor to another. In the 60s, 70s and 80s this was achieved using filters and white-outs and whatever trickery the BBC could afford at the time. At its best, it was highly successful. At its worst, it was Sylvester McCoy in a blonde wig. In 1996, they experimented with facial morphing, presumably because of Terminator 2 and the ‘Black or White’ video. It was a little strange to behold – Doctor Who, in actual special effects shocker – but it sort of worked.

Then came the Golden Sparkly Energy thing. It’s been used ever since, in every disappointingly familiar regeneration (Smith’s aside; at least that one’s quick) and if it looks familiar, that’s because they nicked it from Disney. Specifically, that bit at the end of the otherwise splendid Beauty and the Beast where Belle succumbs to her Stockholm syndrome and her grizzly captor turns into an Aryan Chippendale. It’s a wretched scene, which – whilst nonetheless remaining true to the spirit of the original story – says an awful lot about Disney and its obsession with appearances, often at the expense of what was actually best for the customer. (You will know this if you visited Disneyland Paris, as I did, back in the early days: the place was immaculate, but the shuttle buses were an unruly scrum. They’d hired people to pick up litter, but no one who could facilitate a queue.)

There are other versions of this. It’s an obvious joke: cellular regrowth instigated by magical sparkliness. But this one attempts to match the dialogue. This involved an awful lot of chopping and changing and shifting things around, which is not in itself a bad thing because otherwise you have Disney on your back for copyright infringement. At the beginning Eccleston has a long monologue, which I opted to present as a voiceover while we established the castle: this is actually the opening pan out from the beginning of the film, reversed. Am I saying that the Ninth Doctor was the Beast and his impossibly sexy successor is the human (and incredibly vain) prince? You decide.

I sent the completed version to Gareth.

“It might have worked better,” he said, “if I knew anything about Beauty and the Beast!”
“You got the idea, surely?”
“She kisses him, and we learn that looks are more important than personality?”
“And that’s why I love Shrek.”

But I’d like to close by returning briefly to Colin Baker, who we were discussing over dinner just yesterday.

“So he didn’t film his regeneration?” Emily said.
“He didn’t,” I said.
“So what actually killed the Sixth Doctor?”
“We don’t know for sure. But the first thing that happens in that episode is that the TARDIS is attacked, and when the Rani steps on board, the Sixth Doctor is lying on the floor, face down. And then they turn him over, and – ”
“It’s Sylvester McCoy.”
“Yeah, in a wig.”
“And that’s all you get?”
“Well,” I said, “Big Finish eventually filled in the gaps. They gave him a proper send-off, and there was a whole story with the Valeyard and loads of other people. But on TV, just the wig.”
“So McCoy’s lying there,” she said, “and you can see it’s him, but in a wig?”
“The moment they turn him over, they stick a filter on the screen. One of those photo negative effects. So it’s obscured and you’re supposed to not be able to tell. Except of course you can. What can I say? They did the best they could under difficult circumstances.”
“Right, right,” she said. “But there’s no reason why the McCoy in a wig thing couldn’t have been an entirely new Doctor. You know, a secret regeneration.”
“What, another one? Who just happened to like the same clothes?”
“Yep. So you have the Sixth, and then he regenerates into the Seventh, but that’s not McCoy. Which would make – ”
“Which would make McCoy the Eighth,” I said. “Oh, I’m going to have sooo much fun trolling the fandom with this one.”

And I will, but in the meantime –

God bless you, Deviant Art. God bless you.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 9 3/4)

Scooby Ood.

 

Scooby Ood

Actually, while we’re on the subject –

You were all thinking it, weren’t you?

And while we’re combining cartoons with that series finale, have a few Peanuts.

See you next time, my Sweet Babboo.

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I Wasn’t Expecting That. Or This

Look, I’ll be honest: I hate this song.

Oh, there’s nothing wrong with it per se. It ticks all the boxes for structure, the production is sparse but musically pleasant, and it sounds so much like Ed Sheeran my supposedly trained musical ear was convinced it really was him until I actually Googled it. It’s just very 21st century: acoustic, casual and shamefully manipulative, the sort of thing that Radio 2 presenters love, appealing as it does to the middle aged, middle of the road sensibilities of much of their audience, as well as grieving husbands and wives everywhere. You want to do a Jeremy Vine segment about terminal illness? Stick this on the decks and watch the Twitter feed jump through the roof.

What’s more, the lyrics are dumb. “It was only a smile / But my heart it went wild / I wasn’t expecting that”, sings Jamie Lawson, which is all well and good, but this is a man who apparently goes through his entire life surprised by everything it throws at him, which suggests he ought to work on honing his instincts. I don’t mean to be disparaging, but seriously, if every single aspect of your love life comes as a complete and total surprise then you have no control over it, and that basically means you’re coasting, relying solely on the decision-making abilities of people close to you. I’m imagining it’s the girl wot wears the trousers in this relationship, and who, despite putting up with him for two or three decades (long enough to raise a family and push them out into soulless flat shares and dead end telesales jobs) laments certain recurring traits and phrases.

“Steve, any chance you could help me with this Ikea cupboard?”
“Yep.”
“Oh, that’s strange. I thought we’d ordered beige. This one is teal.”
“Hmm. I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Oh, fuck off.

‘I Wasn’t Expecting That’ also makes the mistake of spending most of its running time talking about the early stages of the romance, before suddenly cramming thirty years – and a sudden death – into the last thirty seconds. It’s like watching ‘Heaven Sent’, although at least that one sort of worked. I said before that structurally it was sound: retrospectively I’m not so sure.

Still, people seemed to like it, and there is an obvious Doctor Who tie: Matt Smith’s oft-quoted outburst from ‘The Lodger’, one of his funniest and most underrated episodes (and I genuinely don’t understand the hatred for James Corden; Craig is awesome). I can’t remember where I was when it struck me that this would be a perfect song for the Eleventh Doctor’s karaoke session – probably the shower, that’s usually how it works – but it was a starting point. Sometimes starting points are notoriously difficult to flesh out. This one, once I’d severely truncated the song to remove the verses that weren’t going to work, came quite easily.

What the official video does is actually quite clever: like ‘The Scientist’ before it, it tells the story in reverse, so the wife is dying on a hospital bed at the beginning and meeting her husband-to-be for the first time just as Lawson is singing about cancer. I thought briefly about replicating that, but then discovered someone else had done the same thing with the Doctor and Rose (always Rose. Why is it never Romana?). Instead, this actually takes its cue from a Christmas video. There are lots of them about, but one of the best I’ve ever seen was this one.

I’m beginning to regret even embedding that, to be honest, and it’s not even because it’s still the middle of summer. I mean it puts my feeble efforts to shame. Look, Babelcolour are the people us amateurs all aspire to be, OK? And sometimes that needs a public acknowledgement. Sometimes we must pay tribute to the gods and recognise our own unworthiness.

Anyway, the best bit of that Shakin’ Stevens offering is around the 2:30 mark, after the key change, when all hell breaks loose. That’s the kind of vibe I wanted, although it’s more of a slow build-up, in which one gradually realises (following Capaldi’s guitar-playing) that this is not to be taken seriously, than a sudden explosion of silliness. It’s simply a question of finding inappropriate clips – disembodied hands, dissolving babies, or that bit where Suranne Jones sinks her teeth into the Doctor’s neck. It’s like kissing, only there’s a winner.

The whole thing is a bit rough around the edges, but I think we just about got there. If nothing else it has a nun falling down a lift shaft. You weren’t expecting that, were you?

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The Kasterborous Archives, #5: Are we worrying too much about Doctor Who spoilers?

Author’s notes:

Updated header picture aside, I did this two years ago. My opinion on spoilers generally hasn’t really changed, although my contempt for Moffat has subsided quite substantially. I still think he (and the audience) worry too much about spoilers, and I still think that says more about the way Doctor Who is written than it does about anything else. But I no longer harbour any sort of grudge about it. I’ve seen enough shouts of “SPOILERS!” on the web over the past few months – and we’re talking about episodes that are two or three years old here – to make me realise that the whole thing is taken far too seriously by much of the fandom and that no one is going to change that; certainly not me.

Perhaps the most profound thing about this piece is the one thing that wasn’t actually mine – the quote from the respected DW writer that lurks in its closing paragraphs. I could tell you who it is, but I don’t want to give away the ending.

Are we worrying too much about Doctor Who spoilers?

Published: 11 July 2015

I still remember the Sun headline. It was a Thursday, and I never could get the hang of Thursdays. The news page listed an indexed article entitled “ROSE TO BE KILLED OFF”, or words to that effect. It wasn’t even a link to a story that contained a spoiler warning – which I could have thus avoided (thus having only myself to blame if I subsequently read it). This was a feature title visible from their main news page (weeks before the story was due to air, I might add) that ostensibly gave away the ending of Doomsday without you even having to look at it.

She didn’t die, of course, but that was hardly the point. I vividly recall that sense of outrage (an appropriate post-2010 response is “I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS!”) and it’s funny how things have changed. These days my reaction is far more ambivalent – and that’s because I wonder whether the Whoniverse as a whole (the writers, the fandom, the general approach) has cultivated an unhealthy obsession with spoilers. I wonder whether, in the quest to provide the shock of the new, we’ve wound up with a programme that’s become more about surprise than it has about story.

Spoilers do count; it would be foolish to say otherwise. I went to great lengths to keep the ending of The Stolen Earth – and its abhorrent, anti-climactic denouement – from all of my children, simply because I knew there would be a period when they’d obsess over the resolution of that cliffhanger in much the same way that their father once did. I have embarked upon a media blackout for Game of Thrones, because I anticipate watching it all one day and I’d like to know as little as possible. Sometimes the best way to squeeze the maximum amount of pleasure from something is to go into it as cold as possible: the less you know, the lower your expectations and the happier you’ll be.

But it’s not as black and white as all that. For instance, I watched the early series of 24 slightly out of order, and thus went through the very first armed with the foreknowledge that a certain person – whom we’d previously deemed more or less untouchable – would turn out to be dodgy. Conversely, when the mastermind of series five was revealed some years later, their identity came as a complete surprise. But did the knowledge that the CTU mole was <spoiler> mean that I enjoyed that first series less than the one in which I didn’t know that <spoiler> was responsible for the murder of <spoiler>? Honestly, the answer has to be no. It just makes for a different viewing experience, particularly when you don’t tell your wife. You get to grin like a satisfied idiot while she’s pacing around the room after that penultimate episode, shouting “I can’t believe it was <spoiler>!”.

Besides, the issue here isn’t about the twist itself, or even knowing about it – it’s when the twist is inserted as a substitute for anything we might ordinarily refer to as ‘substance’. For example, The Wedding of River Song is an episode that solves a puzzle. That is its function: to get the Doctor out of the desert, and to get Alex Kingston out of that spacesuit (stop sniggering at the back there, or I’ll make you stay behind). Once you have resolved that particular enigma, there’s nothing left. Aside from the two major revelations (the Doctor’s hiding in the robot / The First Question is mind-numbingly inane) it serves absolutely no purpose. It has no real story, nothing important to say, and the dialogue is shockingly poor. It is forty-five minutes of inconsequential drivel, surpassed only by Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS in the queue of Stories I Wish I Could Unsee.

This is a series finale. This is supposed to be the big finish (excuse pun). Other tales fare equally badly: see, for example, A Good Man Goes To War and Let’s Kill Hitler (both of which get away with it, by the skin of their teeth, simply by being utterly outrageous), and also Utopia (minimally redeemed by the presence of Derek Jacobi). The Name of the Doctor cocks so many things up during its run time that by the time the New Doctor shows his bearded, weathered face I’m already wondering why I still care. This is event television at its worst: plot twists stretched to three quarters of an hour, padded out by nonsense. Doctor Who is not the only contemporary show guilty of this, but it’s a shame it’s apparently had to follow the herd in order to adapt to the supposed demands of a twenty-first century audience.

I read a comment on a neighbouring article the other day that suggested – I’m paraphrasing – that the wibbly-wobbliness is subsiding under the reign of the Twelfth Doctor. That’s all well and good, but the arcs in themselves remain, and they have not improved. The series eight antagonist only became interesting the moment we learned her identity; the rest was a tedious riddle. How would the creative team have coped if it had leaked – unambiguously and irrevocably – that Missy was the Master? Would the finale have been reshot, scenes where she talks about being the Rani hastily scribbled / reinserted?  To what extent does the integrity of the spoiler usurp the credibility of the script? Is it more important that a thing remains secret than the content of the secret itself? Perhaps not. Perhaps you’re laughing at such a notion. Or perhaps it’s the glimpse of the future, in which mobile technology improves to the extent that showrunners decide to use whatever ending hasn’t already leaked, and just make the best of that.

Rewind thirty-three years, and consider this: it is possible to watch Earthshock knowing that the Cybermen are about to turn up and still enjoy it, because their presence – while a surprise for the uninitiated – is not in itself a game-changer. Conversely, it is much harder to enjoy Army of Ghosts once you know that the silly glowing Watcher wannabes are actually Cybermen, or that the thing in the basement contains four Daleks, because the story has nothing else going for it. That’s the sort of comparison that makes me sound like a nostalgia freak, but I don’t want to turn this into an Old / NuWho thing if I can help it. There were plenty of mistakes when the sets still wobbled. By way of example, it’s difficult to enjoy Time-Flight whether or not you know the eccentric alien mystic in the cave is actually Anthony Ainley, underneath prosthetics. It’s still better than Arc of Infinity, anyway.

(One of the most catastrophically silly reveals occurs at the end of the first episode of a Pertwee story. The Doctor removes the cloak of invisibility from a thing that is obviously a Dalek, having already encountered a race who are universally associated with the Daleks, and having had a conversation in which Daleks are mentioned, in a story called Planet of the Daleks. And then he cries out “Daleks!”)

Perhaps certain things are untouchable. I’m still not speaking to Eddie Izzard, for example, over his revelation about The MousetrapThe Sixth Sense is never the same again on a repeat viewing, as once you know about The Twist, you spend the entire running time looking for clues. (I was going to suggest that perhaps M Night Shyamalan could have improved The Last Airbender by introducing a final reel twist, but having reflected, I suspect the best way to improve The Last Airbender is to erase all copies from existence.)

But Moffat himself has described his approach to writing both Who and Sherlock as (more paraphrasing from yours truly) ‘television you’re supposed to watch more than once’. We’re the generation that doesn’t watch Doctor Who live: that is why God invented iPlayer. Digital drama that can be scrutinised and analysed – frame by frame – has opened up a world of possibilities, but it’s come at a price, and that price is occasionally manifest in excruciatingly bad television. (I’m aware, throughout the process of articles like this one, that I come across as something of a Moffat-hater, but the way I approach the situation is this: the man’s getting paid a reasonable sum of money by the BBC to oversee and write one of their flagship programmes, and while I’ve never subscribed to the notion held by many that paying an annual license fee grants you the same democratic rights as a majority shareholder, if I can see an obvious way for him to be doing his job better, I’m damn well going to say so.)

I am probably risking bad karma if I quote Lawrence Miles, but he it was that suggested the most promising solution I’ve ever heard to this particular problem. “Possibly,” he says, “just possibly, the best way to deal with ‘spoilers’ is to make stories that remain watchable even if you know what’s going to happen. Rather than, say, stories that depend on relentless story-arc twists and idiotic clues as to what’s going to be at the end of the season. Y’know. Just a thought. From someone who knew the ending of Genesis of the Daleks several years before he actually saw it.”

As is customary, Miles overstates his case, but in essence he’s absolutely right. Perhaps, on some levels, that’s why Moffat gets so cross about spoilers. Divulging them exposes the vacuum, like exposing the head of Omega or peeling back the faces of the Whisper Men, and reveals absolutely nothing of any substance. And why watch then? Once you know what’s coming, what else is there?

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