Posts Tagged With: city of death

The Queen and I

Greenbelt, August 2019. We are at the close: a raucous singalong under the canopy, led by the house band. Sensing what is coming, I lead the family quietly away before the last encore. But it’s too late: they are finishing with ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, the song my mother requested at her funeral, which was four days ago. My children burst into tears. And supporting relatives come and put their arms aroud us, and we are united in grief.

I can still recall the minister some days before, saying “You may find it’ll take a while to be able to listen to the song again”. He was basically right, although I found the sadness had lessened by the time it turned up in Sonic The Hedgehog the following February. Eventually you learn to live with things. Besides, it’s a fitting way to remember her: my mother was judgemental as heck in November 1991, telling us how much that man had wasted his life, but she still listened to the music. We both did.

I’ve loved Queen for years, although it was a bumpy start. My aunt and godmother, looking for inspiration for Christmas gifts, was advised to buy me some Queen albums on cassette: she plumped for Queen II, which years later remains a personal favourite, and Hot Space, which…well, doesn’t. It doesn’t help that when you’re young you tend to miscategorise music tremendously; I would say, when asked, that I enjoyed “Heavy metal, like Queen”. Years later I discovered Slayer, and the penny dropped.

Hot Space is a big hot sparse mess of an album and we won’t dwell on it, but Queen II is its polar opposite: an over-indulgent, over-produced slab of absolutely brilliant fantasy rock. How can you fail to love a record that features a song called ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’, references Poe, and then leads out with ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’? And that’s before we get to all the powerhouse riffs and Beach Boys nods in ‘Father To Son’, which is possibly my favourite Queen track of the early 70s. Sure as heck beats anything from The Game.

Years later I heard ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the first time; it grew on me and now I rather enjoy it, although it’s overplayed and over-referenced and singalongs are a nightmare because people always, ALWAYS add that extra “No!” before the second “We will not let you go”, which is fine unless you’re trying to play the damned thing at a party. I use the word ‘play’ with a certain looseness; mostly I just bash out the chords and then let the drunken guests take over for the changes my untrained fingers have never quite been able to handle, although I daresay they could if I practiced hard enough. There was one particular evening, in the student bar at Devonshire Hall, Leeds, in September 1996 that is forever etched on my brain. They kept bringing me drinks and I kept bringing them songs; we jammed to ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and I was, for the only time that year, the most popular person in the room. That was a good night.

Then you get round to buying all the albums on CD and introducing them to your children (‘Good Company’ is a particular favourite), and before you know it it’s 2019 and they’ve done a biopic which gets, at least, the music right, provided you can live with the anachronisms about when things were written. I watched ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in a village hall with the two eldest; most of the film was spent tutting at things that didn’t happen and looking at cats, but at least it looks pretty, and I watched the final blistering twenty minutes with a big grin on my face, which I suppose is the point. Still, it’s hard not to be a little annoyed at some of the dramatic license – from the silly (Freddie accidentally inventing his portable microphone stand during their first ever gig) to the eyebrow-raising (basically everything from Hot Space to Berlin).

And can we please, for the love of sanity, have a music film other than Almost Famous that doesn’t depict all journalists as callous bastards? Some of us work very hard for what little coffers they pay and it’s debasing to see us reduced to a blank-faced stereotype at a press conference. I wouldn’t mind, but Bohemian Rhapsody is largely presented as fact, or at least the version of fact that the surviving members of the band wanted to tell; it’s clumsy and formulaic next to Rocket Man, which sets up an unreliable narrator in its first five minutes and then allows you to fill in the gaps yourselves. It is truth disguised as fiction, whereas Rhapsody is the complete opposite. Still, Gwilym Lee’s quite good.

Anyway. Here we are, and I’m doing my lyric-to-screenshot thing. It was tricky, because it isn’t: Queen often delved into the realms of sci-fi and fantasy (they have two movie soundtracks to their name) and it’s comparatively simple to find obvious lyrics. I have deliberately tried to plump for the obscure: there is nothing from ‘Princes of the Universe’ or the like, because it isn’t funny. Hopefully these are.

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A Portrait of the Modern Artist as a Young Time Lord (part one)

“I do not think,” my friend Jay once said to me, over a network connection, “that you can possibly write me an email with the subject line ‘Empty shells, ghosts’ and escape with your dignity intact. Unless you were planning on using up your entire 1998 stock of irony now, I think you might want to reconsider.”

At the time, I was hurt. Retrospectively he was quite correct, and I wonder what Jay would say if he could see the rubbish title I’ve given this post. Oh, it fits, of course – but aren’t you, he’d say, in that Estuary English voice he has, in danger of devolving into that pretentious idiot you once were? To which I’d shrug and say “Perhaps he never really left”.

Anyway, artistic pretension is kind of the topic. And we’ll start here.

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What was I doing at the Tate Modern? We were on a Cultural Visit. I’d pulled the boys out of school (all pre-approved, of course) and we went on one of Emily’s Grand Excursions, all timetabled and planned to the last detail so as to avoid long periods of inactivity and waiting around – not because either of us are impatient but because the boys get restless when they have to queue. It’s the way of things for us, and something I’ve learned to tolerate. It was the reason we didn’t go to the Natural History Museum and the start of the chain of events that led to me threatening to delete Thomas’s Xbox profile.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get back to the converted power station. Visiting the place was an experience – a good one, by and large, but the sort of thing that has you scratching your head. I’ve decided, in the first instance, that I will never understand Marcel Duchamp.

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I mean, it’s a bloody toilet. I don’t care that removing it from its intended setting and labelling it ‘art’ gets it a glass case. If I was to nail a door handle to a piece of chip board and call it art, would you give me a wing to myself? I don’t bloody think so. What’s that? A snow shovel? Oh, very well. Just let me deal with the burglars first.

One floor down, and we found a room full of enormous Polaroids where people’s heads had been exchanged with different fruits. It’s supposed to be a statement on rejoining with nature. It looked like something I do in Fireworks for the sake of a cheap pun. This person had a gallery to themselves. A gallery! In another room, we found twelve TV sets, each displaying a different piece of looped footage; the installation was entitled Workers Leaving the Factory in 11 Decades, and included scenes from Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory in Lyon (thought to be the first film ever made) through to Dancer in the Dark, a film I’d hoped never to see again. Bjork’s lovely, but I still don’t understand how David Morse ever got his equity card.

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On the other hand, there were some wonderful pieces. They have Warhol, which Thomas (who developed something of an interest after a school topic) refused to believe was genuine. They have a large, primal-coloured Lichtenstein taking up most of a wall. They have a magnificent stack of radios, floor to ceiling, designed to emulate information overload. And in a darkened screening room they were running loops of Hito Steyerl’s How Not To Be Seen, which was simultaneously  bizarre and, I think, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.

Oh, and they have this. It is thirty feet high and it reminds me of the last time I had to clean the bathroom wall.

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“I mean, seriously,” I said. “You could have done that.”

Josh glanced up at the thing, clearly interested. “Maybe it’s supposed to be a cyclone.”

“…You know, it does look uncannily like a cyclone.”

“Or my bedroom.”


What does all this have to do with Doctor Who? Well we’ll get to that another day, when I’ve processed the myriad ideas I have in my head about how to reconcile Doctor Who and modern art. In the meantime, we should be grateful that the TV show was never quite so pretentious.


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God is in the detail (9-5)

This was very nearly a Back to the Future post. You know I’m always one to throw a grappling hook in the direction of a receding bandwagon, clinging on for dear life even as it disappears into the distance. I mean, I was going to write about how strange it was that Doctor Who‘s become a show about a middle-aged man who becomes fixated with a schoolteacher named Clara.

But we won’t do it. I’m bloody sick of the Back To The Future crap that’s been clogging my timeline for the past eighteen months, before the internet went into meltdown yesterday. We’re celebrating a fictional day visited by characters in an eighties movie and sneering about all the things the writers got wrong when THEY WEREN’T EVEN TRYING? We’re making fake products and producing trailers for fake films that got seven seconds of screen time? Is this really where our creativity’s taken us? I’m tired of it. I’m tired of all the memes that did the rounds two or three years ago warning that “The day they visited” was imminent, and which fooled about ninety per cent of the internet, when it should have been criminally obvious to anyone who ever saw the films that THEY DON’T GO ANYWHERE THAT DOESN’T END IN A FIVE. And I’m sorry, but the conversation between Lloyd and Fox just upset me, because it’s sad to see Michael looking so ill.

I mean, it’s a movie. It’s a big part of my childhood but this was just saturation point. Listen up, everyone: BTTF 2 isn’t even that good. It’s convoluted, confusing and Jeffrey Weissmann is crap. Moreover, it contains a whopping great paradox in that it would have been impossible for Biff to return the De Lorean to Marty and Doc’s 2015 timeline – he’d have gone to a parallel future where they’d have been somewhere else entirely. Once you realise that, absolutely nothing makes any sense.

No, we’ll look instead at ‘The Girl Who Died’, although I’ve ranted a bit so I may have to cut this one short.

Firstly: trees.

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Notice the white tree next to the Doctor. Those of you who know your Tolkien will have this figured out straight away: for the rest of you, the tree is (as the LOTR Wiki puts it) “fashioned in the image of Telperion, elder of the Two Trees of Valinor”: ‘Telperion and Valinor’ may be rearranged to form ‘Adopt Nonlinear Liver’, which is a CLEAR REFERENCE to Ashildr’s new hybrid form come the end of the story. (The flowering of the white tree also symbolises new hope and life, which is rather more obvious, and thus not the sort of thing Moffat would have done. No, this is right.)

Also note that there are two visible stumps in this picture, both to the left of the white tree. This, coupled with the fallen trunk on the right hand side, is a clear reference to cricket, and the IMMINENT RETURN OF THE FIFTH DOCTOR.

Now, have a look in the banqueting hall / lodge / whatever the Vikings called it and let’s be honest who cares because THEY HAD HORNS.

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The candelabra (centre) is a gift from Odin. Two tiers. Eight on the bottom, four on the top, corresponding exactly with the number of canonical Doctors. Beneath them, a dragon. And what does this have to do with Doctor Who? Well, those of you familiar with prime time fantasy costume drama that isn’t Game of Thrones will remember this:

Coincidentally, David Schofield – co-starring as the fake Odin in ‘The Girl Who Died’ – also appeared in Merlin as King Alined: a word that can be rearranged to form ‘Denial’, which is precisely how the Vikings spend half the episode before the Doctor agrees to train them, but which is also a river in Egypt, the home of Queen Nefertiti, who was in ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, which also featured an appearance from Richard Hope, who was in Poldark, and A DARK POLE IS HOLDING UP THE CANDELABRA. LOOK AT IT. But not too long or it will etch certain words into your mind, making you a target for ghosts, or telesales pests.

Finally: farm animals.

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The chickens at the side have so many layers of meaning we don’t have time to unpack them all. Suffice to say that they appear in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ (an episode referenced heavily) and also ‘City of Death’ (see below). However, most significant is the Doctor’s affirmation in ‘Blink’ that his Timey-Wimey Detector (which goes ding when there’s stuff) can also boil an egg from up to thirty paces, “so I’ve learned to stay away from hens”. This is one of two major scenes for the Doctor in ‘Blink’, the other being a video conversation in which he instructs Sally Sparrow to, among other things, to “Look to your left”.

How did you find those chickens? Where did you have to point your eyes? Yes, that’s right. (Or rather left.)

You will also notice three ducks, centre stage. Ducks are mentioned in the very first Amy Pond story, in which the newly-regenerated Eleventh Doctor enquires why there are no ducks on the Leadworth duck pond. Veterans will also note that the Ponds’ penultimate story was ‘The Power of Three’. Three ducks. Count ’em. THREE.

But there’s more. The Three Ducks is a hostel on Place Etienne Pernet in Paris, location for ‘City of Death’. Here’s the hostel on Google Maps, along with assorted locations from the shoot, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.


(For more details, see here.)

Now watch what happens when we add the two parks (which are significant for obvious reasons that I won’t go into here) and then join the lines up.


IT IS CLEARLY AN UPTURNED TARDIS. As in the one that appeared in this episode.


(Those of you who know your Big Finish will also be aware that Sophie Aldred voiced a military duck with an assault rifle in ‘Zagreus’, but I really thought that was a step too far.)

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“I have a deep regard for you as well, Doctor”

I went on a school trip the other week: Thomas’s class were visiting the local cinema to see Mr. Peabody & Sherman. The (somewhat tenuous) curricular connection concerned the fact that a portion of the time-hopping animated movie is set in ancient Greece – specifically by the walls of Troy, where a group of brawny warriors are sitting inside a large wooden rabbit badger horse. For the uninitiated, the film is about Mr. Peabody – a scientifically brilliant (but emotionally aloof) anthropomorphic dog with a fondness for bow ties – and the human he adopts. Mr. Peabody and Sherman build a time machine and and the rest, as they say, is history.

If this is all sounding a little bit familiar, it’s the Ouroboros effect: the original Mister Peabody preceded Doctor Who by some years, and the influence of one on the other are uncharted. Certainly Mr. Peabody as visualised here is a well-meaning but borderline inapproachable genius in the manner of Tom Baker, although he’s also a dab hand at mixing a cocktail. There is also yet another explanation as to how the sphinx lost its nose. In any event, Dreamworks did acknowledge the similarities between the two in a trailer they released last November.

Much of the film is spent dealing with characters and situations the Doctor seems to have avoided, at least in his TV adventures – but there are connections, if you know where to look. The visualisation of the time vortex, for example, is quite striking.


But if you’re going to do a Peabody / Who mashup you really can’t just Photoshop the TARDIS into the blue swirly thing and leave it at that. There’s also the fact that they visit sixteenth century Florence, just as Da Vinci is finishing off the Mona Lisa, and so –

Meanwhile, back in New York, there’s a Blinovitch effect when two Shermans meet –

(And yes, the heads are horribly over-sized. It fits with the film, and Dick and Dom got an entire show out of it.)

Finally, in the fields near Troy, Steven Taylor has clearly forgotten to pull up the handbrake on the wooden horse.

And yes, unless you’re familiar with ‘Mawdryn Undead’, ‘The Myth Makers’ and ‘City of Death’, those are going to pass you by. Still, there’s this.

If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well hastily, while primary school children are pulling at your arm and nagging to use the computer. I’d say that we should stop there before we go too far, but I fear that ship has sailed.

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Conversations with Thomas (part one)

It’s a Tuesday evening, and I have just put ‘City of Death’ into the DVD player.


Me: Apparently, this is supposed to be one of the best stories ever.

Thomas: Have you not seen it before?

Me: Not this one, no.

Thomas: Not even in the future?

Me: …I really don’t know how to answer that.

Thomas: Guess what. I ate some food and it tasted like triangles.


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