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They may be drinkers, Robin, but they’re also human beings

In the first instance, this.

We watched the 2010 version of Green Lantern one Friday a few weeks ago when we had nothing much else to do. I think Emily and I may be among the few people who actually like it. Oh, it’s hokum. It’s poorly acted and thoroughly ridiculous and over-reliant on CGI. On the other hand you’re talking about a flying superhero who can summon up things purely by thinking about them: CGI kind of goes with the territory. Besides, Greeen Lantern has one of the best disguise-penetrating scenes in any superhero film ever. “I’ve known you my whole life!” splutters Carol Ferris (Blake Lively). “I’ve seen you naked! You don’t think I would recognise you because I can’t see your cheekbones?!?”

It’s fun, but we seem to be in a minority. That’s fine. From general consensus, I think we’re also among only a handful of people who loved the 2004 / 2007 Fantastic Four movies. with Ben Grimm and his “Stupid buttons” scene in the phone booth. Both films are ridiculous, but they’re also about superheroes who actually enjoy it, rather than superheroes who are burdened with all that responsibility. That sort of thing doesn’t happen too much these days, presumably out of fear that a less-than-melodramatic script will push you into Batman & Robin territory (more on them in a moment). I’m happy for the Richards family to be given a lighter touch. But I think that’s what happens when you’re not overly attached to the source material – nothing else, I suspect, could explain my love of the Lord of the Rings movies. I’m not a cheerleader for Tolkien: he writes about amazing worlds but his prose is often plodding. And I enjoy the films, as stupid as they are. Sometimes stupid is OK.

The thing with Green Lantern – as I’m sure I’ve written before – is that he’s actually a pretty dreadful superhero, and for this I hand over to my longtime friend, Jonathan Oliver, who was once quizzed about the galactic defender in a panel discussion at a festival I attended some years ago. “He’s basically rubbish,” he said. “You have this incredible ring that can do anything you want, and because they needed a flaw, it has no effect on the colour yellow.”

The panel’s moderator nodded in agreement. “It’s funny when you think that in a straight fight, Laa Laa could have him.”

Too much power is a dangerous thing: that’s why, over in the Whoniverse, they ditched both K-9 (or found ways of keeping him in the TARDIS) and the sonic screwdriver. Not that I lament its return. It is, like the psychic paper, that most convenient of plot devices when you’re trying to tell a story in 45 minutes instead of 96. It’s easy to complain about quick fixes but let’s be honest: having the Doctor and his companions accused of murder or espionage and constantly locked up really was tedious, at least in the 1970s when it happened every week – sometimes you don’t have enough story without a bit of enforced captivity, and the narrative was certainly padded, even if the cells weren’t.

Finding a workable Kryptonite is the sort of thing that doesn’t happen in Batman, because you’re dealing with a costumed character whose only superpower is a seemingly limitless piggy bank. It’s always quite fun to see Batman crack ribs, tear ligaments and generally get the crap beaten out of him. It makes it all the more satisfying when he inevitably triumphs and it serves as a reminder that any of us could theoretically put on the cape and fight crime, given the right investors and a couple of dead parents. I mentioned money as his superpower: perhaps, in all honesty, it’s actually an unquenchable thirst for justice.

Not that we had much brooding back in the sixties, when Batman was a happy-go-lucky caped crusader whose history of orphandom (that’s supposedly not a word, but I’m inventing it) was barely mentioned – if ever – when he was gallivanting round Gotham City in the company of Burt Ward. The Batman TV show was splendid until you got to its third series, when it swiftly jumped the shark (immediately before Adam West sprayed the rubber prop with his Bat Shark Repellant). But as a child I loved it: the cliffhangers were ridiculous and the whole thing was as gay as a daffodil but that’s all part of the charm. It’s why I was absolutely thrilled to find a set of TV show figures on sale in our local branch of TK Maxx some months ago – Batman and Robin and three of the Big Four (Catwoman, Joker, Penguin). Curiously the Riddler is absent; I assume he’s off planting clues in Arkham City.

It’s a far cry from the renaissance the character experienced back in the 80s when Frank Miller did The Dark Knight Returns and everything changed. It’s a horrible (if brilliant) story but even its most grotesque scenes have nothing on All Star Batman and Robin, which is an insult both to the character and the fans, for reasons I can’t be bothered to unpack here. Miller’s one of those writers whom you initially like before realising that not only has his quality of work gone down the tubes, he’s actually keen to live out his worldview: reading Sin City, for example, it swiftly becomes apparent that this is not a nightmarish dystopia, this is actually the way Frank Miller would like the world to be. Oh look, Vicki Vale’s got her tits out. Didn’t see that coming.

Far better, instead, that we should concentrate on the good stuff – and The Dark Knight Returns, whatever its flaws and uncomfortable legacy, is a masterpiece, answering empirically the question of who’d win in a fight between Batman and Superman years before Affleck and Cavill squared off in Dawn of Justice. More to the point, it’s actually interesting and fun, in a way that the much-anticipated Dalek / Cybermen face-off in ‘Doomsday’  – the Who equivalent of such a contest – really wasn’t. I’ve always contested that you should be wary of giving the fans what they want, but perhaps if you get Miller to write it, you can make it work.

In any event, here’s what I’ve always thought would happen if he wrote Doctor Who.

“I’m glad,” said someone in a group I frequent, “that you left out the word ‘retarded’.”

“I confess part of me didn’t want to,” I replied. “You know, the puritanical artist part. But that’s the sort of thing that gets you banned.”

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The Kasterborous Archives, #4: Slap in the Face – Why Doctor Who’s Domestic Violence Has To Stop

Author’s notes:

Tackling this sort of subject matter is always going to be tricky. In the process of doing so I encountered a few people who thought I was overreacting and one or two feminists who felt it trivialised male-on-female violence. I contend that neither statement is true and that I’m making a valid point – but I would add that this was written before series 9, which seemed to fix many of the problems we’d had. Whether that was down to a general lightening of the Doctor’s character, a shift in tone, or perhaps a growing realisation that casual slapping was both dramatically lazy and downright irresponsible, I’ll never know. The third option is somehow unlikely.

Thinking back, I wonder if I shouldn’t have used the words ‘domestic violence’. But I stand by the content, so I trust you’ll forgive the occasional lapse into sensationalism.

Slap in the face: Why Doctor Who’s domestic violence has to stop

Published: 19 August 2015

Picture the scene. The TARDIS’s lights glow eerily. Up at the console, the Doctor flicks switches, pulls a couple of levers in quiet desperation. Finally, with an anguished sigh, he gives up. “It’s gone,” he tells Clara. “Gallifrey. Completely gone. I’ll never see it again.”

Clara, who is feeling particularly mean this afternoon, gives a nonchalant shrug. “You were the one who lost it in the first place. Can’t leave you alone with anything, can they?” Whereupon the Doctor turns from the console, striding across the floor of the TARDIS and slapping her savagely across the face.

The inclusion of a moment like this is more or less unthinkable. Even if you could write the characters this way, the OFCOM fallout would be potentially catastrophic. The tabloids would have a field day. The Mail’s headline would be a smug “BBC GOES TOO FAR”. The forums would be clogged with debates about whether the Doctor has become irredeemably dark, irreversibly unpleasant, and whether we need to see violence against women represented at this scale – counter-balanced against the views of those who simply see it as a natural progression, a chance for the show to journey into uncharted waters.

You’ve probably already seen where I’m going with this, but just in case it needs pointing out, when the reverse happens – as it does, with increasing frequency – the net result is a string of animated GIFs and YouTube compilations and the sound of much laughter. Because slapping in Doctor Who is something that they seem to do a lot, and while it’s undoubtedly a source of much hilarity to most of the Tumblr brigade, I’m not one of them. And every time it happens, I get very uncomfortable.

There’s certainly been a history of Doctor-companion violence. Perhaps one of the most notable early stories was The Edge of Destruction, with its strangulation cliffhanger and the notorious scene where Susan attacks Barbara with a pair of scissors. It was a stage in the production history where they were still working out tone and it’s almost inconceivable that it would have happened even, say, a year later. Meanwhile, strangulation rears its ugly head again in The Twin Dilemma, as a paranoid, post-regeneration Doctor shouts poetry at Peri before trying to throttle her. I’ve had dates like this, but it’s a nasty scene in a largely ridiculous story, and we will not dwell on it.

Besides, such things seem to be anomalies in twenty-five years of comparatively chaste television, in which the relationship the companion has with their Doctor is seldom discussed openly. For better or worse, a companion-based intensity is central to the dynamic of New Who, and generally you either love it or hate it. The Ninth Doctor famously tells Rose that he doesn’t “do domestic”, but that almost feels like Eccleston himself protesting against the tide of relationship issues that clogged the show both during and after his stint in the leather jacket.

That’s a different debate, of course, but it has fallout. The Doctor is slapped by Jackie Tyler for taking away his daughter. Francine Jones slaps him because she believe he’s a threat. A bolshy, pre-enlightened Donna Noble slaps him because she thinks she’s been kidnapped (and then again when she thinks he’s making light of a serious situation). Martha slaps the Doctor to bring him out of his self-induced fugue.

Some of these are understandable within the context of the narrative, even if we could question the writers’ decision to subsequently make light of them (the Doctor and Rose share a joke about Jackie on a rooftop, while a reeling Tennant remarks “Always the mothers” while he’s getting up). But that’s television. The comedy value of a good slap in the face is, apparently, worth its weight in gold, whether it’s Tasha Lem in Time of the Doctor, or Clara’s assault on the Cyberplanner Doctor in Nightmare in Silver. It would be churlish to single out Doctor Who for this sort of thing. It happened practically every week in Friends. It goes back to the golden age of television and beyond. Every short film Leon Errol ever made would end when his wife hit him over the head with a vase.

Perhaps comedy slapping has its place, given the right characters and context. But there’s been a shift over the years from a literal slapstick – the Eleventh Doctor hitting himself for his own stupidity – towards a darker, violence-as-reaction ethos, and perhaps that’s what makes me uncomfortable. I’ve mentioned the mothers, but the rot truly sets in when Matt Smith enters his second series: River’s reaction upon seeing an apparently resurrected (but actually two hundred years younger) Doctor is to slap him. She does it again when he fixes her broken wrist. Clara’s about the most violent of the lot, particularly when she’s working with Capaldi: thoughtless behaviour is punished with physical abuse in both Last Christmas and Into the Dalek, while she threatens, in Kill the Moon, to “smack you so hard you’ll regenerate”.

“But surely,” I can hear people arguing, “It’s OK, because the Doctor’s an alien?” And yes, the Doctor’s not human. He’s already demonstrated amazing resistance to injuries. He’s probably got a healing factor. He’s like an abrasive, declawed Wolverine, so that makes it OK. Besides, thumping non-human life forms isn’t a problem: if Han Solo’s response to being captured by the Ewoks had been to punch one of them in the face, I’m sure that would have been entirely acceptable to most children. It’s a poor analogy, but it illustrates that the line’s very hard to draw. To what extent do we disavow the actions of a character on the grounds that the humanoid patriarch they’ve thumped has two hearts instead of just one?

“Or,” the argument continues, “he deserves it, right?” Well, yes, of course he does. The Twelfth Doctor’s an alienating (in a quite literal sense of the word), clinically detached sociopath, at least in his worst moments. He says the horrible things we’re all thinking, only the little switch inside his head that stops you saying them out loud doesn’t seem to be working. That’s a perfectly justifiable reason for casual domestic violence. He deserves it in the same way that provocatively dressed women presumably deserve to be raped.
Why even question the motives of the one doing the slapping, when the one being slapped is so obviously asking for it?

I watch quite a lot of Jeremy Kyle on the weekday mornings I’m folding laundry instead of writing, and a couple of months ago one particular guest recounted the time he was locked in his flat by a girlfriend who supposedly beat him. The authenticity of his narrative was ultimately disputed, of course, but long before that happened Kyle had taken the audience to task for laughing. “If this was the other way around,” he said, “and if a woman was sat here and a bloke had locked her in a flat and she’d been forced to jump out and injure herself you would not be laughing. You would be saying he is a complete nightmare, he should be locked up and that’s disgraceful, but somehow if it happens to a bloke that’s funny. That’s not funny.”

If I could say that the show were making a valid point about this sort of thing, I’d probably be more tolerant. But it doesn’t: moral debate is sandwiched into inappropriate contexts where it is dealt with poorly and rapidly (Kill The Moon again) or, more often, sidestepped entirely. So by turns we’re supposed to laugh, or shake our heads in dismay and mutter “Well, he was asking for it”. We laugh because it’s a powerful Time Lord being brought down off his pedestal by a weak and feeble human. And we shouldn’t, because when it’s supposed to be funny, it usually isn’t, and when it’s supposed to be angst-ridden, it just comes across as nasty. Besides, it’s not just the Doctor. In Asylum of the Daleks, Amy slaps Rory twice. At least that’s consistent. Amy spends most of that story being an absolute bitch, whether it’s the arrogant smugness that pervades the early scenes, or the tirade of fury directed at her ex-husband for considering himself the wronged party (“Plastic man standing outside in the rain for two millennia? Pah. I THREW YOU OUT OF THE HOUSE BECAUSE I CAN’T HAVE YOUR BABIES!”).

I’m not advocating a reduction of violence. I approach many of these situations – inevitably and unavoidably – from the perspective of a parent, but that doesn’t mean I think the show is too unpleasant. I recently showed The Deadly Assassin, arguably the peak of 1970s unpleasantness, to my eight-year-old (and was thrilled when, just last week, he remembered an obscure detail while forming an analogy). The most sensible response to stories that cross your own particular line of acceptable viewing is to simply not watch them.

But I am worried about the show I’m watching. Perhaps Series 8 was Capaldi’s Twin Dilemma moment, borne out across twelve weeks, and the lighter touch hinted at in Series 9 will mean Clara no longer needs to react in anger. Or perhaps not. Perhaps this is the way Moffat and the producers choose to do things; a sort of counterbalance to the sexism charges thrown his way last year. But I know we live in a world where The Sun spearheads a campaign to highlight battered women with one hand and dismisses a marital assault charge against its (female) editor as “a silly argument” with the other. I know it’s a world where domestic violence against men is granted less credence than its (admittedly more common) antipode. Once again, that’s another debate for another day. But above all I know this: it’s not the sort of thing I want to see in Doctor Who.

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Remastered: A Town Called Mercy, Silent Movie Style

There are different types of YouTube comments. Some heap undeserved praise to the point of sycophancy. People will tell you that a mediocre product is the best thing they’ve ever seen on the internet; it is crucial above all else to ensure that you do not start to believe your own hype, because therein lies artistic complacency and the excessive inflation of ego. At the other end of the scale are the downright abusive. I used to be polite; these days I’m inclined to argue back, albeit without letting them see that they’ve got to me. I’m not suggesting you should ever feed the troll, but sometimes you can poke it with a stick.

Somewhere in the middle there is a sweet spot; a small compartment of users who offer something that actually might be considered constructive feedback – the people who say “I liked this, but have you tried…?”. For instance, there was the chap who told me my Kraftwerk montage was a little too long. He was quite right, and were I to redo it now I’d go for a shorter edit. There were the numerous people who pointed out the mistakes in the Red Dwarf mashup – a hard lesson learned about when less is more – to the extent that I gave it a substantial overhaul in the tail end of last year and made something I actually almost liked.

Then there’s the silent movie I did three and a half years ago. Generally people seemed to like it, but a comment I got a few months back got me thinking. “Speed it up just a little more and put it slightly out of focus,” said a user named cemeterymaiden1. “It will look authentic I think! :D”

And that’s great. I can work with that. It did need to be faster, and it did need a little blurring round the edges. That’s the sort of comment I love receiving, because it is constructive without being disrespectful. It makes a welcome change from this –

I’ve decided, after careful reflection, that most Doctor Who fans are fucking idiots.

[coughs]

In any event: when I decided to retouch a few old projects that never quite lived up to their potential, this one seemed like a prime candidate. Most of the changes are cosmetic – loose frames tucked, timings adjusted. Then I ran it through a gaussian blur and tinted it with sepia, rather than the black and white I originally used. I’m still not sure how authentic this makes it as a result – my knowledge of silent movie production techniques isn’t as comprehensive as it ought to be – but it’s a Western, dammit. It looks cooler.

“Don’t you think,” said Gareth when I posted the original, back before ‘Day of the Doctor’, “that the joke about the Eccleston cameo is going to date rather quickly?” He was right, of course – it’s not something that bothered me at the time, given that all it did was time stamp the original, but the remaster replaces it with a gag that’ll never go out of style, even if the BBC eventually follow through on it.

The original is still up there, if you want to take a peek. But I’m happier with this one. Some things don’t need changing. But sometimes you reap the benefits when you do. Happy trails, y’all.

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No, I’ve met cat people

It was a Wednesday, and I was giving Edward a bath, when Emily popped her head round the door and announced she was going to work.

“What time will you be back?” I asked.

“No idea,” she said. “I’ll probably get drawn into something.”

So I have drawn her into this picture of the Tenth Doctor. I rock.

 

In our ongoing Nu Who marathon, we passed ‘Fear Her’ months ago, and the Tenth Doctor has long since regenerated. Indeed, the Eleventh is currently into his ‘new lease of life after Amy and Rory phase’, cavorting around the rings of Akhaten with Clara. (I seem to be the only one who actually likes this episode, or at least I thought I was until a recent reappraisal saw its other fans emerging from the woodwork, like the slaves at the end of Spartacus.) What’s annoying is that he has yet to shed a single tear over any of the deaths, or any of the departures. I know I didn’t either, but it’s hardly the point.

That doesn’t stop Daniel having an appreciation for Classic Who, of course, judging by the scene he played out with the Character Creations set last week: not content with building a wall and casting Peter Davison’s incarnation in the role of Donald Trump, I came in the other day to find the Sixth and the First Doctors emerging in what looked an awful lot like cosplay.

I only wish I could find the Seventh Doctor. Can somebody (hello Gareth) come up with an amusing, series-related suggestion?

Also this week: Daniel told us he had a dream where the Eleventh Doctor was having an adventure with Rose, “only she had an emoji face and she threw Captain Jack from the roof of a building”.

It took me all morning to find the right building, but eventually –

 

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What really happened to the Pink Windmill kids

windmill_catrina

Hi. My name’s Catrina…

If something goes viral on the internet it’s usually a combination of market awareness and serendipity. (Occasionally talent is involved as well, but the ludicrous success of Charlie Bit My Finger is ubiquitous proof, as if any were needed, that this isn’t necessarily the case.) Sometimes you just need to get noticed by the right people. And sometimes it’s because it’s the end of an annus horribalis and we could all do with some light relief, which is why everyone spent December watching a bunch of stage school teenagers in leggings cavorting around a TV set.

For many of us, this was like opening up a box in the attic and fishing out a thirty-year-old diary. You forgive yourself for particular habits, but it’s difficult not to cringe. I don’t remember whether I actually thought The Pink Windmill Show was cool, but I watched it every week without fail, so they must have done something right. The clip doing the rounds was new to me, but I must have seen it – it’s just that in the 1980s, out-camping the Village People was standard practice. We didn’t question it because it happened so frequently. No one questions the over-reliance on sob stories in The X-Factor, do they? It’s just what we do now.

Not that it always worked. At the bargain basement end of Rod Hull’s prime time glamour, there was a children’s show called You Should Be So Lucky – a sort of amateur talent competition run by Colin Bennett, supported by a group of sparkly child dancers. Each week you’d have a different group of stage school prodigies (at least half of whom were named Tiffany) taking to the floor to deliver music hall numbers, indulge in a spot of amateur magic – or, worst of all, do a monologue. It ran for twelve episodes. It was trainwreck television: indeed, I can find no footage on the internet save a recording of the theme music, accompanied by a single still of Bennett and his Purettes gathered at the back door of a caravan.

lucky

Listening to that now – and reading some of the comments – I think it’s become apparent that it was a programme I misjudged. I remember being horrified by it, even at the age of ten – and I wonder if Bennett’s saccharine-drenched, prozac-infused host wasn’t playing a caricature, a man who’d watched a promising career go down the tubes and who was as appalled by his current situation as we were. Had the show continued past its first series he would, no doubt, have had some sort of breakdown on stage, in the manner of Michael Caine’s character in Little Voice. As it was we got an impassioned plea to get out and watch some live theatre, before it was too late.

(As an aside, the article I’ve just linked to references the words “Bran Barrel!”, something I do recall them saying quite a lot – but for the life of me I can’t remember why. If there’s someone reading this who does, perhaps you might care to enlighten me.)

But The Pink Windmill Show has survived, even if Rod Hull sadly hasn’t. Falling from the roof of his home while fixing the TV aerial during a football match not long before the millennium turned, Rod had survived a declining career and bankruptcy and was trying to make the best of things at a shepherd’s cottage in Essex. Resentment towards the puppet that had typecast him notwithstanding, he seemed to drift towards his death with a cheery optimism – “Complaining about your life,” he was heard to say (I’m paraphrasing) “is all codswallop”. Which is what makes things even worse. I reflected, when I heard the news, that I hadn’t heard about him for years, which I suppose makes it worse.

Back at the windmill, there’s somebody at the door. Oh look, it’s the screamer.

Sit down, Bonnie. Have a glass of carrot juice.

Even at the age of six or seven, some of those scripted exchanges were frankly awkward. And the formulaic approach nagged and teased at my inner pedant. Why, in the name of sanity, were the kids able to memorise complicated dance routines seemingly off the cuff, but unable to remember that the witch always turns up to kidnap someone in the audience at precisely the same moment? “DON’T ANSWER THE DOOR!” I can remember shouting on more than one occasion. “IT’S ALWAYS GROTBAGS THE SECOND TIME!”

grotbags

Grotbags – the creation of the sensational Carole Lee Scott – was, of course, the best thing about The Pink Windmill, whether she was stomping across the studio with a brat under one arm or bickering with her hapless minions, Croc the cringing crocodile, Grovel the sycophantic manservant, and an effeminate mechanical butler called Robert Redford. By the end of it we didn’t care whether the kids she’d abducted had actually won anything – it was more fun watching the banter. The image of Grotbags leering through the fourth wall with her goth-decorated eye makeup and missing teeth – before breaking into a song about UFOs – was something that most of us never really got out of our heads. The 1980s were rather short on iconic children’s TV moments, but this was one of them – and when CBeebies launched their hugely successful soft play pirate show, Swashbuckle, some years later, the influence of Rod and the Windmill was undeniable.

Still. Some things are best consigned to the past: audiences don’t know when they’ve had enough. It’s why, when I read that the cast had reunited for a Comic Relief sketch, my heart sank. It’s bad enough that they’re revisiting Love Actually, in order to show us what a bunch of fictional characters we never really cared about in the first place are doing fourteen years after a film that gets far more press attention than it deserves. I know I’m in full-on grumpy old man mode now but I do get a bit fed up with this obsession with nostalgia and revivals; it’s not so much that we’ve run out of ideas, more that an age of anniversary-themed news (something I willingly contribute towards) and ‘Remember when…?’ articles have led to a culture where everyone over the age of twenty-five is prone to excessive navel gazing, convinced that their past was better than your past, and you’d better get used to it.

I’m right about this. Three or four of the Lord of the Rings actors go out for a drink and it’s a fucking reunion? Seriously? People who think televised cast reunions are a good idea should have to shampoo my crotch. It’s like watching foreign tourists go to the Costa del Sol and eat fish and chips and drink English lager. When revivals work (The X-Files) they’re great. When they don’t (also The X-Files) they make for horrible, horrible television. (Twin Peaks, it must be noted, has a get-out-of-jail-free card, because it ended on a massive cliffhanger that was supposedly going to be resolved twenty-five years later, so that’s fine.)

For all my whinging, it must be said that the new version of the Pink Windmill dance is quite fun, and it’s for a good cause. Spencer is notably absent, due to ‘personal commitments’, a euphemism for ‘I work in advertising now and don’t want to make a tit of myself on national television’. But everyone else is present, correct and inevitably a little thicker round the waist, although that could be said of me, so I’m not judging.

Besides, it gave me an idea. “Why don’t you make your own version?” asks Joe at the end. So I did.

Only mine, of course, has Cybermen.

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Inspirational Star Wars Quotes

“I have been giggling at this,” said Sara, “for ten minutes.

impossible-possible

I didn’t even get the reference, which supposedly comes from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, a show I’d never even heard of, let alone seen. But it works, even though it loses points for missing out a full stop in that second frame.

Star Wars spirituality is a very real concept. We’re living in a country where nearly four hundred thousand people put ‘Jedi’ as their religion on the 2001 census, for crying out loud. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, provided it’s a token protest against atheism and not something you’re actually supposed to take seriously. If that sounds rather too obvious a point for me to need to actually state openly, it’s worth bearing in mind that I’ve spent a week or so reading through status updates on a Facebook group where people genuinely seem to think that the Doctor is really out there flying around in his TARDIS, simply because you’re unable to categorically prove that he isn’t.

So I’m fine with life lessons from Who, and the Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned From Star Trek business model, but you can get too obsessed. And when people delve into these shows as if it’s the only thing that gives their lives meaning, I am torn between the desire to feel sorry for them or openly mock them. Sometimes it’s a simple combination of both.

“Also,” said Sara’s friend Kimberley, “I think a whole series of Star Wars / spiritual memes is in order.”

And she was right. So we spent a pleasant evening doing them, as and when they came to us.

And somewhat predictably, I made a whole set. And here they are.

If Plan A didn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters

If God is all you have you have all you need

Be somebody nobody thought you could be

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience we are spiritual beings having a human experience

Courage is being yourself every day in a world that tells you to be someone else

Don’t let the behaviour of others destroy your inner peace

Until you spread your wings you will have no idea how far you can fly

The truth of human freedom lies in the love that breaks down barriers

Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people

Embrace the glorious mess that you are

May the Force be with you. “And also with you.”

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Class War

Coal Hill. It was a battleground for Daleks and a killer robot. Various time travellers used it as a hub. And now there’s a rift inside it, and all hell has (almost literally) broken loose.

Class was the spin-off that nobody wanted and that not many people watched, and that in itself is grotesquely unfair. It was unveiled amidst a flurry of cryptic tweets from the official Doctor Who account promising ‘a big announcement’, leading to much speculation about missing episodes, new companions or even new Doctors. When the big news arrived the reaction was akin to opening an exciting-looking cardboard box on your birthday and discovering that it complains a pressure washer. No one was quite sure what to make of it.

I wonder if that attitude continued during the show’s original broadcast, given its comparatively poor ratings. Certainly one of the biggest criticisms you could level at the show was that it arguably doesn’t fit the ethos of the Whoniverse. It has sex and graphic violence, for one thing. Of course it does. It’s aimed at teenagers. Teenagers love sex and graphic violence. But that’s always made us slightly uncomfortable. Sex has become an unavoidable part of life in the TARDIS ever since Jackie Tyler first flirted with the Doctor in her dressing gown, but with a couple of exceptions it’s always been comparatively chaste – more Mills and Boon than Fifty Shades of Grey.

Where Class succeeds where Torchwood failed is that nothing about it feels gratuitous. The bad language in Torchwood felt like a bunch of teenage boys given access to a computerised speech package and who decide to get it to swear, just for the giggle factor. In Class, when people have sex, there’s a reason. (Yes, all right, Miss Quill’s spontaneous shag with Ballon was slightly ridiculous, but the two of them had just been to hell and back, in a quite literal sense.)

Class is based around four or five students (do we count Matteusz? He’s in every episode but he rarely appears on the promotional shots) who fight alien incursion with the reluctant assistance of their A-Level physics teacher. Said physics teacher is tough, resourceful and the best thing in the show, even if it is not clear why she has a tartan shopping trolley. The students – placed under her charge by a certain time-travelling alien – are by turns black, Asian, gay, Polish and disabled-by-proxy, ticking just about every positive discrimination box on the worksheet.

Said time-travelling alien turns up only once, but it’s an electrifying moment. You know it’s coming, but when it finally happens you want to cheer. It helps that the original broadcast occurred within a self-imposed wilderness period for the show, which was off air until Christmas – this was all we were going to get of the Doctor until he turned up in New York, and the BBC knew it. Capaldi’s appearance may have been fleeting, but it gave the show the shot in the arm it needed.

The students at Coal Hill have their own personal demons to fight, in a figurative as well as literal sense. Charlie – secretly a Rhodian prince – is weighed down with the responsibility of being the last of his species, just as his captive protector is the last of hers. His boyfriend Matteusz appeals to his conscience whenever the nuclear option looms, hovering on his shoulder like a Polish Jiminy Cricket, but has to deal with with his own problems when he is rejected by his family. Tanya struggles both with a domineering mother, dead father and the stigma of being the youngest member of the group. And April has one parent in a wheelchair and the other in prison: the two incidents are not unconnected. She also shares a heart with a craggy alien warlord, but who hasn’t?

Then there’s Ram, who has ‘most likely to get burned out on drugs and destroy a promising football career’ scribbled in his yearbook, but who becomes the target of an early running gag when he is repeatedly soaked in the blood of people who’ve been viciously executed right in front of him. It all sort of peters out in later episodes as he hooks up with April, only to have things go horribly wrong as the series arc draws to its murky conclusion. Ram’s the only one who displays any real common sense in the finale, rationalising that the best thing to do is run, but morally he doesn’t have a leg to stand on (and if you’ve seen the early stories, you will understand why this is funny).

I’ve been a little remiss when it comes to discussing the show at Brian of Morbius. There just wasn’t time. You’re welcome, of course, to pop over to The Doctor Who Companion, who graciously allowed me to review three episodes for them –

Nightvisiting

The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did

The Lost

(I am particularly proud of the interest graph on that second one.)

And now Class is facing the chop, it seems: the OFSTED reports are in, and highlight poor attendance and student boredom among the most obvious failings. Nothing has been decided, at least it hasn’t as we go to press, but unless a miracle happens Stateside I suspect the death knell might be ringing for Miss Quill and her crew. We will never find out when the Weeping Angels plan to invade, how April managed to get out of Corakinus’ body, or whether Ram ever managed to get his shirt clean.

In the meantime, you can have this. It’s no coincidence that some of the highlights in that first series involved Miss Quill – so it made sense to assemble them into a montage. This was new territory for me as it was the first time I’d actively stripped out the score from a TV episode myself rather than simply relying on someone else to do it for me (verdict: comparatively simple, provided you have the right software and a decent 5.1 mix). And eventually, this is what we had.

The music, incidentally, is the instrumental version of ‘Come With Me’, the Puff Daddy / Jimmy Page collaboration that takes Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ and sticks a rap on top of it. I can’t help thinking it works much better without Puff Daddy…

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Pen Pineapple Apple Pen

Sorry.

Actually, I’m not.

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(If you’re still oblivious, this will reveal all. But I should warn you the earworm will burrow deeper than that Ceti eel did into Chekhov’s head.)

 

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The Kasterborous Archives, #3: How I Learned To Enjoy Love & Monsters

Author’s notes:

I’ve always been a champion for the underdog, and of all the Doctor Who episodes that had a generally unfavourable reception over the years, it was this story that struck me as being perhaps the least deserving of its unsavoury reputation. There’s a lot to unpack here: for one thing it’s billed as a kid’s episode, as if that were some unforgivable transgression, rather than a programme deliberately trying to cater for a large part of its target audience. But it is – if you look a little harder – as ruthless and poignant a deconstruction of contemporary fandom as you’re likely to find anywhere, with Elton and his friends excelling in their role of new, enthusiastic fans, worn down by the experts who know their stuff, but who’ve lost that sense of unbridled joy that drew them to the show in the first place. And Victor Kennedy? Well, we know who he’s supposed to be…

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How I learned to enjoy Love & Monsters

Published: 29 June 2015

Two of my four sons have, in the last few years, learned to play the violin. If you have ever been in the same house as a small child who has just picked up a stringed instrument, you will know what excruciating torture this is, at least in the first couple of weeks. It is how I imagine a cat sounds when it is being strangled. But I never say anything. As a parent, you don’t. You smile and nod and offer supportive words of encouragement, and part your hair so that the earplugs don’t show.

The truth is that parenting makes you lower your standards. You find yourself watching films and TV programmes that, ordinarily, would be given the sort of wide berth that you usually reserve for charity collectors outside the supermarket. If you have ever sat through Horrid Henry: The Movie you will understand what I mean. Oh, I’ll bitch about these things afterwards. But at the time you join in with your children’s enthusiasm, because your engagement clearly means a lot to them. (I make an exception for stereotypical gender-based advertising, which I’ll routinely deconstruct, in the hopes that they’ll follow suit.)

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I have a very good friend who’s forgotten more about Doctor Who than I’m ever likely to know, and whose acidic quips and insightful observations turn up regularly on my blog. By and large his attitude towards nuWho ranges from general indifference to active dislike, and he’s annoyingly right about most things. But I occasionally wonder whether his worldview might be different if he had children.

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Let me unpack this: one of the things you have to deal with as both a fan and a parent of fans is the tendency for children’s views to not only conflict with your own but actively influence them. For example, when prepping for this article I asked two of my children (age 5 and 9) to pick their favourite nuWho stories. Both chose In the Forest of the Night – an episode I disliked intensely, partly because Frank Cottrell Boyce threw in all sorts of amusing gags and Gaiaist philosophy, but forgot to add any sort of plot; and partly because for the third time in Series 8, “Do nothing” becomes the answer to the problem. At the same time, the kids (particularly Maebh) are brilliant, and it’s hard not to join in with my eldest’s riotous laughter when Ruby shouts “Oh my God! Maebh’s lost in the forest! MAEBH’S GONNA DIE!!!!”.

And the funny thing is, when you’re watching a bad story with young people who are clearly enjoying it, you occasionally find their enthusiasm infectious. I don’t think there are many out there who would rate Fear Her among their top ten episodes – unless you turn the list on its head so you can read it upside down – but even I can’t stop myself grinning from ear to ear when the Doctor mounts that podium in front of the cheering crowd to light the Olympic Torch. Would I be reacting this way if I didn’t have children? Perhaps. But sometimes I don’t think so.

I’m not saying being a parent makes you more appreciative of bad episodes of Who. I’m simply saying I’m inclined to be less fussy than perhaps I would have been otherwise. That’s a personal benchmark, not a yardstick with which to generalise. Sadly there’s no litmus test. Somewhere there’s a parallel universe (several, in all likelihood) in which my wife and I never sired any descendants, and it would have been interesting to see our reactions to everything since 2005 in that sort of circumstance. As it stands, the only thing I had to go on was the Eccleston series – which wrapped up shortly before my eldest child popped out of the womb, two weeks late – and even that’s atypical in many respects.

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But the patterns I see on forums and Facebook pages – “I hated it, but my children liked it” – and so on do suggest that having children present for both the series itself and the media storm that surrounds it makes for an entirely different viewing experience. As parents, we’re the ones who complain when the Beeb goes too far (which I’ve never done, although I did have serious gripes about the 2014 Christmas Special that I’ll save for another day). As parents, we’ll often find we relate to the weirdest things (I hold A Good Man Goes To War, for example, in higher regard than perhaps I should, because it plays on my fears of losing a child). And as parents, we’re the target market (or a part of it) for the stuff in the show that’s Obviously Geared Towards Children.

Let’s take the Slitheen. To a great many of us, the Slitheen were ridiculous; about as irritating as the Ewoks, and as popular. Let me tell you something: if you’re ten or under (and perhaps even older than that) the Slitheen are hysterical. More to the point, if you’re the parent of someone who’s ten or under, and if you squint, the Slitheen are hysterical. They’re comically bulbous aliens who fart a lot. They make jokes about nakedness. They spend entire stories acting like children, and Davies deliberately writes them that way. The idea that the grotesque, clinically obese teacher you despise might secretly be an alien is one that finds its way into most playground games, and beyond. (I have almost forgiven my now six-year-old for the time we visited the Cardiff exhibition a few years back, and he looked up from his buggy at the enormous Slitheen mounted on the podium, pointed, smiled in recognition and shouted “Daddy!”.)

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And while we’re at it, let’s deal with a very large, Peter Kay-shaped elephant, because there’s a moment in Doctor Who Series 2 that seems tailor-made (although it frays at the edges) for the younger members of the audience, and I think it’s unfairly maligned as a result. Here’s the truth: whatever anyone says, Love & Monsters really is an episode for kids. You can say that it isn’t – you can talk about the darkness of a man losing both his mother and the memory of the occasion, or the in-jokes about fandom, or the fact that the death toll almost reaches Eric Saward proportions, but it’s clearly designed for that post-Sarah Jane Adventures audience.

Love & Monsters opens with a chase from Scooby Doo, for pity’s sake. Marc Warren monologues to camera in the manner of a Saturday morning children’s TV host (for fairly obvious reasons, he reminds me more than a little of Boogie Pete). And the Abzorbaloff is the token fat monster in the short story homework assignment of every kid under twelve – and designed by a nine-year-old to boot. This may be the reason why the love scenes feel off (although the lack of chemistry, which I suppose is part of the point, between Coduri and Warren doesn’t help). It’s light and relatable and it’s a great shame when Davies undoes much of his good work in the closing scene with a completely unnecessary oral sex gag.

But I just mentioned The Sarah Jane Adventures, and I do wonder how much of this is about expectation. Because my other half and I blanche at dreadful plot holes and ridiculous dialogue when they occur in Who, whereas when silly things happen in Sarah Jane we’re far more inclined to let it go (and you didn’t read that, you sang it). The fact that Doctor Who is billed as a family show – therefore, much like the BBC itself, both feted and cursed to be all things to all people – is the very thing that sometimes undermines its success. It has to be funny and scary and often succeeds in doing neither: it is lukewarm television, of the kind that I am inclined to spit out of my mouth. So perhaps that’s why the episodes that are clearly geared towards children work better, because they can be appreciated on a different (not better) level. It’s just a level that – irrespective of empathy – you may not be able to relate to fully unless you’re watching it in a house where you can’t hide behind the sofa, because the kids are already there.

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Doctor Who Quotes – Out of Context

Firstly:

I bet you're gonna have a really great year.

There is a Doctor Who Facebook group I frequent where certain patterns of behaviour may be observed. There is person X, who publishes regular links to YouTube videos that are basically him rambling incoherently for twenty minutes at a time with a static image in the background about various missing episode rumours and speculation, and who bristles at all the negative feedback he gets. There is that tendency you get for the same tabloid headline to be posted in several different threads with the same conversations going on in each. There are the regular birthday listings – from people who had substantial roles to people who had a single line of dialogue. And there’s me – usually posting memes or videos or blog articles, some of which go down quite well, while others are completely ignored, but them’s the breaks, kid.

Then there’s Steve.

Steve isn’t his real name – although it may be, given that the name he uses is a Who-related moniker (which is something I’ve never liked on Facebook; it’s a personal preference but I find it difficult to engage with someone who calls themselves Melody Oswald, or Gillian LogansMummy Bear). Steve occasionally posts on different topics but his favourite activity is the Sad Quote. You know the sort of thing I mean. It’s a picture of Matt Smith on a swing. It’s Capaldi, alone in the TARDIS. Or it’s Tennant standing in the rain. These images are accompanied by the ‘sad’ moments from the show – the Doctor’s farewell after he wipes Donna’s memory, the moment he admits to Rose that death is inevitable, the bit where Amy Pond says “And this is how it ends.” I’m not even going to include them here; you can have this one instead.

I'm burning up a sun just to say goodbye.

(I’m amused by the fact that when I posted this, more than a few people didn’t get the joke.)

I’m not opposed by the fact that people want to wallow in misery over some of Doctor Who’s supposedly melancholy moments. This is watched by angst-ridden teenagers – some of whom, I’m convinced, genuinely believe that the Doctor is really out there somewhere, and that he’ll come and pick them up one day. It’s easy to scoff at this, but I’m not going to. When you’re young and the world overwhelms you, you need some semblance of escapist hope, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But really. It saturates certain portions of the internet. “This is why,” someone said when I brought it up, “I don’t use Tumblr.” And truth be told, I don’t use Tumblr either – I just periodically post stuff there to generate web traffic, as it’s a decent market. But when Tumblr bleeds across into Facebook, we have a problem, in that the epidemic of Doctor / Clara / Rose posts sets my teeth on edge. “Such an upsetting scene,” says someone who from their profile pic is old enough to know better. The ‘sad’ emoticon features in abundance. Cut to Matt Smith, crying on a sofa. Oh, the feels.

Anyway: I propose a solution. Because it struck me – having made a particular random association one morning when I was more bored than you can imagine – that one way to counteract the Sad Meme thing is to decontextualise them. In other words, miserable quotes presented in different scenarios.

And that’s what I’ve done. Enjoy.

There's a lot of things you need to get across this universe. Warp drive... wormhole refractors... you know the thing you need most of all? you need a hand to hold

I don't age. I regenerate. But you, you wither and you die. You can spend the rest of your life with me. But I can't spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on, alone.

before i go, i just wanna tell you, rose tyler, you were fantastic. Absolutely fantastic. And you know what? So was I.

I don't wanna go

But then there's other people and you meet them and you think not bad, they're okay, and then you get to know them, and their face sort of becomes them, like their personality's written all over it

Never trust a hug. It's just a way of hiding your face

Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.

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