Posts Tagged With: day of the doctor

The inevitable Doctor Who / John Lewis thing

buster

It’s a dog. On a trampoline.

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

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

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

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

2012 – The Journey

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

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

jl_dw_03

jl_comp_2012

2013 – The Bear and the Hare

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

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

jl_dw_01

jl_comp_2013

2014 – Monty the Penguin

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

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

jl_dw_02 jl_comp_2014

2015 – Man on the Moon

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

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

Moon-Cybermen

jl_comp_2015

2016 – Buster the Boxer

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

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

jl_dw_04 jl_comp_2016

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

Categories: Crossovers | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Twelfth Doctor Regenerates

All13

It’s kind of hard to miss those eyebrows, isn’t it? They’re all over the top of this blog (unless, of course, you’re reading this a couple of years from now and I’ve changed it, to Idris Elba’s sideburns or Ben Wishaw’s navel, or whatever). For the meantime that shot is borderline iconic: the first glimpse of a Doctor who’s never quite had the scripts he deserves, but who was awaited, thanks to this single scene-within-a-scene, with an almost insane amount of antici…….pation.

Capaldi’s future in the show is still under discussion, of course. I had – actually, I managed not to have – a number of conversations the other week with people who genuinely thought that Matt Smith was going to come back to the show full time. I’m not a futurist (I was wrong about Missy) but I believe we may sensibly discount this, and I sort of explain why here, albeit in an article that’s aimed at casual fans. I’m not ruling out an appearance – a ‘Deep Breath’ style cameo, or even a full-on episode share. But bringing him back permanently? Honestly, no. You could do it, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the BBC will, or that it’s a sensible decision. It’s tabloid speculation stretched to saturation point. There’s a pattern: Moffat says something vague and teaseworthy, while elsewhere in the entertainment section a notable actor (preferably one with a history with the show, the tighter the better) expresses their desire to return. And bang, you’ve got yourself a headline. Catherine Tate’s a good example. And all this is fine – goodness knows it fills in the gaps between series – except when stupid people assume that it has any credibility. But this is what happens when you have a show in which characters can be switched in and out at the drop of a fez, never dying, changing and then changing back. That doesn’t mean it would be a sensib-

Actually, who am I kidding? It’s exactly the sort of thing Moffat would do.

moffat-5

But I was thinking the other week about that first time we saw Capaldi – no, not the first time we saw him properly, but that first thrilled, unanticipated glimpse in November 2013. And it occurs to me that it’s a scene we haven’t actually seen yet. And I know that it’s one Moffat’s been running over in his head, because not long after Capaldi turned up he told Doctor Who Magazine that “At some point, the Twelfth Doctor’s going to get a phone call”.

And whether or not this turns out to be Capaldi’s last year, I have a feeling we’re heading back to that scene. And when I raised the issue in a Facebook group, someone else mentioned that it would be even more likely to occur right at the end of his timeline: in other words, the determined Doctor we glimpse in ‘Day of the Doctor’ is one who is just about to regenerate. Presumably the eyebrows will darken in colour (and probably become a little thinner). That would be a very Moffat thing to do, somehow. It seems nicely circular, the way that the crack appeared in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and was then explained just before Smith took off his bow tie for the last time. It closes the loop, and if there’s one thing I’ll say about the chief writer, it’s that he loves closing his loops, even if some of them have to be fastened with sticky tape.

And then I thought: seeing as we don’t know yet, there’s no harm in imagining how such a scene might play out. And the more I thought about it, the more it crystallised into something tangible. And so I made this. And I hope you enjoy it. Not that I’m arrogant enough to assume that this is what the BBC might do when they eventually do the regeneration. But it’ll be interesting to find out. And in the meantime I’ve produced something that works dramatically (if you ignore the changing TARDIS interiors and continuity errors), however off-base the idea turns out to be.

Tell you what, Steven – when you do write it, Copyright Donna Noble. OK?

Categories: Videos | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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

Oh, the man loved his wheatfields.

London_2016 (09)

I’m no art critic, but there are two things that jump out at me every time I look at this. One is the cloud formation. I don’t know what sort of day it was when he painted this, but they’re billowing. It’s a swirling mass of cumulus, dancing in some sort of abstract Rorschach formation, enticing you to see what you want to see. To the right, there are the cypresses, tall and dark and imposing like the edges of a sinister forest, the dark against the light.

Sadly, there is no sign of a gigantic chicken. But that’s OK.

We were in the National Gallery, which (you will remember) was where they airlifted the TARDIS in the opening scenes of ‘Day of the Doctor’. The Doctor (resplendent in tweed) strides across Trafalgar Square to a slightly embarrassed Kate Stewart, who apologises, before they all go off to look at some pictures. It’s like an episode of Millionaire Matchmaker. (The gallery’s interior, I’m told, was in Cardiff. Do not make the mistake of gallivanting round London trying to find it. That’s something that happens in The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, and that it doesn’t end in tears is largely thanks to John Barrowman.)

DD_3

We’d really only gone to the National to see the Van Gogh. We were, as you might imagine after Friday, rather weary of looking at pictures. Plus it was a Saturday, and the place was crammed full of tourists all crowding round The Hay Wain. Within five minutes, Thomas had had enough. “This is boring,” he said. “It’s just paintings of people and stuff.”  Call it an autism reaction: he responds better to the abstract, which enables you to form your own impressions in a way that the concrete does not. I can see his point. Even the Constable is basically a horse pulling a cart across a river, which no one wanted to buy until it was revered by a Frenchman.

It made me think about the value of art, and whether things are considered great because great minds think them great. If someone of influence and authority takes a particular shine to something that was previously considered mediocre, isn’t that a fast-track to the sort of validation that it might otherwise have taken decades to earn? Put it this way. If someone like…oh, I don’t know, Philip Pullman was to talk about the merits of ‘Boom Town’, wouldn’t that push it up the polls a bit? Or if Hilary Mantel was to tell you that ‘The Twin Dilemma’ was among her favourite stories, wouldn’t Baker’s cluttered debut merit something of a re-appraisal? If people of literary talent and assumed knowledge (and perhaps this is why I don’t listen to critics, who typically show evidence of one, but not the other) argue in favour of something, perhaps they influence our own views.

Perhaps it would explain the enduring appeal of the Mona Lisa, a painting whose reputation I’ve never really understood. There are many theories: the identity of the girl in the picture, the enigmatic smile, the eyebrows (or lack thereof). People tell me it’s because Da Vinci was doing things with form that no one had done before, which is venturing into an area of art criticism I don’t really want to visit, largely because I’ll be out of my depth. Perhaps they’re right, but I’ve never been convinced. It’s a pretty painting, for sure, and I’ve not seen it in the flesh (oil. Whatever) but I wonder how much of its immortality may be ascribed to people telling you it’s great. Art is subjective but it is generally agreed that the Mona Lisa is wonderful. Citizen Kane is similarly bold and innovative, and enormously influential, but also rather dull – nonetheless, if you tell people it’s the greatest film ever made with sufficient regularity they will, eventually, start to believe it.

Peabody_1

The main entrance to the impressionists’ wing was closed, so we had to hunt for The Sunflowers. They sit on a wall facing north-west, this unassuming bunch of dried-up flora, a still half-life, “somewhere between living and dying; half-human as they turn to the sun”. There’s a reverence to them, something bold and tortured that jumps out as you stare at the thing, a sense of awe somewhat undermined by the people with iPhones. But I took one anyway, just to say that I’d done it.

London_2016 (08)

“You should have done a selfie,” said Emily, not entirely seriously. “That way people would know you’d actually been, rather than just taking a photo off the internet.”

“I’d need a stick,” I said. “You know I can’t stand selfie sticks.”

I went to Philadelphia a few years back; did I ever tell you that? The art gallery there – arguably more famous for the ascending staircase that leads up to its entrance than anything inside – houses several Gilbert & George works, a couple of Warhols – oh, and this.

Philadelphia_28

This is the repetition of the third version (the original third hangs in Munich), while the one at the National is the (original) fourth. (In Whovian terms, that’s presumably Katy Manning impersonating Jon Pertwee.) It looks rather unassuming on screen, the oils crystallised as pixels, a tribesman missing his soul. Seeing things like this up close is unique because you can get close enough to see the brushwork, the hours of labour, the years of psychosis. And yet I wonder how much of my love of Van Gogh and his childish scribbling is thanks to Doctor Who. Is it possible to appreciate the birth of impressionism for what it is and simultaneously be indifferent to the Lisa del Giocondo? Perhaps it isn’t. It’s times like this I wish I really understood art, so I could at least make you think I knew what I was talking about.

There is something rather special about sunflowers, I’ll give you that. They are used to striking effect in the finale of Everything is Illuminated, in which Jonathan Foer arrives at his destination, deep in the heart of Ukraine, having spent most the running time searching for the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II. Emily and I saw the film back in 2005 (being perhaps the only people in the country to do so, given the box office ratings) and one thing that struck us about it was Elijah Wood, who had spent much of the last decade playing a Hobbit. We’d already seen him earlier that year in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (a film we often joke about not having seen, which you’ll understand if you know the plot) and now, it seemed, he’d finally shrugged off the last vestiges of potential typecasting, free to be his own man again. He sits in the cottage, eyes glistening a little as Augustina’s sister muses on the nature of journeys and the significance of the heirloom he carries. “The ring is not here because of you,” she says eventually. “You are here because of the ring.”

everything-is-illuminated

Oh, and it was all going so well.

By the time we finished at the National Gallery everyone was about ready to come home. We’d spent the morning at the Science Museum, which houses more than you can reasonably examine in a single day, so we concentrated on the home life exhibition in the basement (Betamax! Pong! SPEAK AND SPELL!) before trooping up to the aviation centre. It was humbling, somehow, being surrounded by all those ancient engines and prototypes, strolling across the shoulders of giants. Amelia Johnson was in residence; she’s looking pretty sprightly for a woman of 112.

The second floor houses technology (antique mobiles! An original copy of Windows! A DRAGON 32!). There was an exhibit about the history of TV. Daniel was watching the coronation. So naturally I did this.

London_2016 (10)

I asked Daniel for his favourite part of the trip, which turned out to be a tie between the youth hostel we visited and the Tower of London, which we’d skirted the day before. It sits on the north bank of the Thames, not far from Fenchurch Street, brown and somehow unassuming. It’s not even much of a tower, really, at least not in the sense that Barad Dur is a tower, or Orthanc is a tower, or Stark Tower is – well, you get the idea. It’s more a fortress, which I suppose is the point.

“So why did you swear?” said Josh, as we strolled around the square outside.

“I didn’t swear,” I said. “That’s its name. The Tower of London, or the Bloody Tower.”
“So we can say ‘bloody’ without it being swearing?”
“Yes, but don’t make a habit of it.”

London_2016 (01)

If you read this blog regularly you’ll know I have a habit of tying up entrances and exits, and you’ll also remember that the Tower is now the new UNIT HQ, as visited by Amy and the Doctor in ‘The Power of Three’, (it was actually filmed at Caerphilly, but it still counts). It’s also host to one of my favourite scenes in ‘Day of the Doctor’, in which Jemma Redgrave is seen relaxing on a bench, gazing at Tower Bridge. “The ravens are looking a bit sluggish,” she says. “Tell Malcolm they need new batteries.”

I was thinking about this as we wandered around, slightly frustrated that I seem to be the only one who remembered it. It’s an excuse to watch DOTD again, I suppose, not that I need one. It remains a high point, infused as it is with an invigorating sense of wonder, understated (but carefully crafted) narrative and the best use of eyebrows in the history of the show. It was an episode that made me appreciate Doctor Who all the more, at the end of a year of borderline overkill (let’s not discuss the after-show party, please) and given my current sense of weariness about the whole thing, it’s one I often go back to. Perhaps that’s what it’s all about: surrounded by people who watch the show but don’t necessarily understand it, who just want to take photos and run…perhaps I’m a residential bird, tired and sluggish and in need of new batteries.

“Ooh, look!” cheered Emily, as we passed by one of the best views of the Tower, with a bunch of visitors all snapping away with selfie sticks. “It’s the London ravens, boys!”
“What on earth are you doing?” I said.”Those are pigeons.”
“I know,” she replied. “I’m just trying to confuse the tourists.”

 

Categories: On Location | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

London_2016 (02)

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.

London_2016 (03)

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.

London_2016 (05)

London_2016 (06)

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.

London_2016 (07)

“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.

Right?

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

Review: ‘The Zygon Invasion’

Zygon_Invas_4

Many years ago, I went to see X2. My abiding memory of the evening – aside from the realisation that Nightcrawler was the most awesome character in the history of comic books – was a deep sense of sadness that they’d killed Jean Grey. This was before I went away and read the Phoenix storyline, whereupon everything made sense, insofar as it ever does within the multi-layered and thoroughly confusing Marvel multiverse.

But what sets the second X-Men movie apart isn’t the blazing action sequences, or the stupid foreshadowing with Pyro, or its refreshingly forgiving take on contemporary Christianity. It’s the fact that it’s two parts social commentary to one part superhero flick. The X-Men are shunned and feared for their differences, distrusted and ostracised by society owing to the actions of a few: the fact that this was released fairly soon after 9/11 was not a coincidence. Later, the mutants are analogised with closeted homosexuality: in a notable second act scene, Bobby Drake effectively comes out to his parents, who ask “Have you tried…not being a mutant?”

Peter Harness’s 2014 Doctor Who episode was ‘Kill The Moon’. It was an episode I hated, partly because of the slapping but largely because of what it eventually became, as opposed to how it started. It was an initially terrifying horror story that slapped on an abortion message in the last twenty minutes, which was a colossal misfire – one that Harness avoids with ‘The Zygon Invasion’ by putting the political drama front and centre from the very opening image.

Because ‘Zygon’ is a tale of two societies that are struggling to get along. The nods to ‘Day of the Doctor’ come thick and fast – indeed, this story acts as a direct sequel – and the repercussions of the Doctors’ actions in that story become alarmingly clear right from the outset. The upshot is that twenty million Zygons have come to live in England, assimilating so as not to frighten the locals. An uneasy peace has existed for a while, but it’s now apparent that many Zygons are angered by what they see as extraneous pressure to adopt British values at the cost of their own cultural identity. This in turn has led to splinter factions operating terrorist activities out of a mountain base in a fictional Baltic state, to which the anticipated UNIT response is to bomb the shit out of all of them. It’s left to the Doctor to explain that the very activities of the rogue Zygon factions are intended to promote distrust and fear and paranoia, even though – as one particularly militant colonel explains to the Doctor halfway through – “It’s not paranoia if it’s real”.

This is possibly the most outright political commentary in Doctor Who since Russell T Davies’ Massive Weapons of Destruction, but it would be churlish to criticise Harness for being somewhat heavy-handed, because it’s no worse than most of the Pertwee era. Indeed, UNIT’s gung-ho tendencies in this story are a clear and presumably deliberate echo of the ‘shoot first, interrogate the corpse’ approach that the Third Doctor despised. It’s just that much of the social commentary of Pertwee’s stories has been lost in translation, particularly when viewed by a modern audience, which has no idea of historical context, layered symbolism or political leanings of the writers unless its members watch the documentaries. (Biblical parables, incidentally, work in much the same way – a contemporary audience will see them as interesting stories with a moral or theological point, but the intended audience of Hebrew farmers and fishermen would have understood a great many subtleties and references therein that we tend to miss.)

‘Invasion’ is a story that preaches, then, although it is sensible enough to include the viewpoints of both sides and garner some audience sympathy for both the assimilated Zygons and the trigger-happy military. Is this a story that works best in the UK, given the current climate? Perhaps, although countries facing similar immigration issues and terrorist threats would undoubtedly empathise. Immigration may be this year’s political hot potato, but the notion of welcoming strangers and expecting them to learn the language and ditch the hijab goes back to the Israelites in Egypt and probably before that. This is a story for our time, but also for all time – that said its prediction of the crisis in Syria is eerily uncanny.

Zygon_Invas_5

None of this would matter if the episode were all moral handwringing and no story, but that’s not the case. If anything, ‘Invasion’ suffers from having a little too much story (which compensates in a way for ‘The Woman Who Lived’, in which there was no discernible story at all). After the setup, everyone goes their separate ways: Kate Stewart heads to a ghost town in New Mexico (featuring ACTUAL TUMBLEWEED), the Doctor goes to the former Soviet Union to rescue Osgood, and Clara nips back to her flat to pick up some things. Or does she…?

The notion of doppelgangers works most effectively when it’s applied to the show’s main characters, and in this case the victim turns out to be the one person we thought we could trust. Viewers who have seen ‘Terror of the Zygons’, of course, will recall the moment in which the Zygon copy of Harry Sullivan attacks Sarah Jane in a hay barn. In that story the ruse was noticeable almost immediately – here, Harness allows us to spend almost an entire episode in the company of the Zygon Clara before giving away the secret, which turns out to be the game-changer, rather than the cliffhanger. With Kate Stewart similarly incapacitated, the stage is set for a fiery part two, although Harness sensibly keeps the stakes comparatively low, with the Doctor facing certain death aboard his private jet.

The script is chock full of references – subtle and otherwise. The Doctor has an early conversation with two children in a playground that faintly resemble the Grady twins in The Shining (and, in a refreshing twist, the two girls do actually turn out to be Zygons, thus avoiding the stock comedy scene where the schoolchildren are grossed out by the creepy old man). The scene in the lift has been done to death, but here it recalls similar moments in both ‘Paradise Towers’ and ‘Night Terrors’. And there is a wry nod to the UNIT dating controversy when Kate Stewart reminisces that ‘Terror of the Zygons’ took place in the “seventies or eighties”.

Not everything works. A scene in which the UNIT soldiers are greeted with Zygons posing as captured relatives may ostensibly recall Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Third Expedition’ (among other things) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t excruciating to watch. The dead remains that the Doctor and Colonel find in the church look like enormous cat hairballs. The narrative is occasionally head-scratchingly baffling, and while there’s absolutely no way to avoid this, the notion of previously trustworthy characters turning out to be alien duplicates is starting to feel tired, simply because Doctor Who’s done it so much. On the other hand, the Zygons are frightening for perhaps the first time in the show’s history, transformations occurring largely off camera (presumably for budgeting reasons) while the phallic monstrosities are shot from below, towering over their intended victims with menacing leers.

Zygon_Invas_7

On balance, ‘Invasion’ succeeds far more than it fails. It may all go south next week, of course: this series of Doctor Who has been, quite literally, a game of two halves, containing stories that are half great and half lacklustre. Unnecessary time travel trickery ruined ‘Under The Lake’ / ‘Before the Flood’, while more recently a superficial, enjoyable Viking story was paired with a dreary interchange on the nature of immortality that – rather like the space-bound Ashildr – wound up going precisely nowhere. But if nothing else we have a decent, proper Zygon story, decently acted, glossily produced and directed with flair. And just for once, the most underused monsters in the canon are given full backstage passes, rather than sharing the limelight with John Hurt before being relegated to the sidelines in the final twenty minutes. Irrespective of flaws – and whatever happens in a week’s time – this was a high point.

Zygon_Invas_6

S9-07_Zygon

Categories: Day of the Doctor, New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Have I got Whos for you

By the time you read this I will be on my way to Pembrokeshire. This post, therefore, takes the form of one of those final “We leave you with news…” segments on Have I Got News For You.

First, archive and previously unseen images from the ‘Day of the Doctor’ filming sessions cast two of the Doctor Who actors in a rather unpleasant light.

Meanwhile, reports from Comic-Con suggest some inconsistent turnouts.

And there’s tension on the set of CBeebies favourite Old Jack’s Boat, when star Bernard Cribbins hooks up with Don Gilet.

See you in two weeks.

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Five little monkeys

I have something slightly more substantial coming in the next couple of days, once Thomas’s birthday party is done and dusted.

Today: a nursery rhyme. Because Edward loves them.

Five_Monkeys

 

(And, just in case you missed it, a re-post…)

Five Little Men

It doesn’t scan so well, but I can’t help thinking it’s an improvement.

Categories: Day of the Doctor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doctor Who meets Samuel Beckett (part two)

Hey, you there. Yes, you. My audience of one. You’re the niche market, you know that? The person who likes Doctor Who, Samuel Beckett and who reads this blog. I mean, I always suspected this is going to be one of those videos whose appeal is always going to be as slim as the crack in Amy’s wall, but it’s good to know someone enjoyed it. It’s you and me against the world, kiddo. Nice to have you along.

If you’ve read my introductory piece you’ll probably have seen this coming, if only because it was ‘part one’. I said then that I’d been thinking for a while about precisely how we’d match Beckett and Doctor Who. But before we get to that, I ought to explain the why – you see, it’s all about the pace (’bout that pace, no treble…). Because twenty-first century Doctor Who is a whirling dervish of fast. Stories are begun and concluded within forty-five minutes. Supporting characters are introduced, established and then killed off or abandoned at an episode’s conclusion. It’s the way TV works, I appreciate that. But sometimes you wish they’d just run a little less, talk a little more and even just pause for breath occasionally.

There is a Geoffrey Palmer-narrated documentary on ‘The Ambassadors of Death’ DVD that illustrates this perfectly. It establishes that Classic Who – particularly the long, drawn-out stories of the first three Doctors (am I the only one who thinks that the pace starts to pick up when we get to Hinchcliffe?) – creates a deep structural contrast to the fast-in, fast-out narratives of the present day. Taking two particular extremes, it juxtaposes a scene from ‘Ambassadors’ – the Doctor and Liz, working leisurely on an antibody in the Doctor’s laboratory – with a frantic piece of expository monologuing from ‘World War Three’, in which the Ninth Doctor establishes in thirty seconds the kind of detail that used to take half an episode to solidify properly. These are two different shows, and while I love those long, drawn-out seven-parters, it’s easy to understand why a more contemporary audience might become fidgety.

Beckett’s a different story, of course. His use of silence, while not exactly like that of Pinter (whose silence was filled with unspoken dialogue) is one of the first things that strikes you. The repetition is another: dialogue is thrown back and forth all over the place, in scenes that often appear devoid of meaning, at least until you really unpack them. That, more than anything, was the kind of thing that I wanted to get across here: the sort of scene that doesn’t get into Doctor Who largely because it is superficially barmy. Beckett found comedy and tragedy alike in the absurd and the mundane, with the most ordinary things granted disproportionate emotional weight, and that may be one of the reasons I’ve warmed to him over the years.

Endgame

 

Um.

The_mutant_is_revealed

[coughs]

Beckett shares a birthday with Peter Davison, and it was learning this fact that persuaded me to get off my arse and actually put this video together, after months of procrastination. A Fifth Doctor episode would have been a more appropriate fit, perhaps, but the Fifth Doctor stories are already pretty leisurely and I couldn’t think of anything that would create sufficient contrast. Besides, there was only ever really one candidate – a scene from ‘Day of the Doctor’ in which Kate Lethbridge-Stewart confronts her Zygon duplicate at UNIT headquarters, with mirrored camera angles and moody lighting that I suggested, in my review, to ‘like watching one of Beckett’s television plays’.

Assembling this was awkward, time-consuming and not entirely satisfying. When you don’t know precisely what you want to do with something – except to make it “a bit like so-and-so” – actually reaching an end point that pleases you is nigh-on impossible. The truth is that after hours of getting it as good as I could, I gave up. Because getting it done was fiddly and repetitive and I’d had enough. The fact that the unscored audio didn’t quite synch was a bad start. The fact that there were fewer silences and usable shots (in this case, shots where nothing was happening) than I’d previously thought was another hurdle. I got round it by a lot of reversals, a fair amount of slow motion and a bit of zoom here and there – the accompanying whirr for these close-ups is to give the impression that the characters are being viewed through a security camera, which I hope excuses the grainy appearances.

I’m pleased with the Doctor’s bits. ‘Day of the Doctor’ is atypical in that the closing monologue is oddly poetic, and bits of it slotted right in. Stylistically, the whole thing is supposed to resemble What Where, which features assorted confrontations in large darkened chambers, interspersed with the ‘thoughts’ of the main characters, delivered in voiceover. The Beckett on Film version I used as my basic starting point is not, as far as I can see, on YouTube, but this adaptation gives you the basic idea.

The clarinet music was a last-minute drop-in but I think it adds something. The full version is available here, and it’s really quite lovely, if you like that sort of thing. Actually, “if you like that sort of thing” could pretty well sum up this entire project. If you don’t understand what’s going on, you’re probably not the intended audience. As a technical exercise I think it’s a valiant effort but ultimately a failure. As an exercise in pretentiousness, I think it succeeds on all levels.

And I might…eventually….do a Pinter video.

Pause.

Yes. Perhaps I’ll do a Pinter one.

Silence.

But not today.

Categories: Crossovers, Day of the Doctor, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Who Top Ten: #6

Doctor Who – 50th Anniversary Special - The Day of the Doctor

Number Six: ‘The Day of the Doctor’ (2013)

I have a problem today.

In the first instance, I don’t know that there’s a lot more I can say about this episode that I didn’t cover in the review I did back in 2013. I wrote reams. I wonder if we might have exhausted the list of available topics. But I can’t leave this blank, so we’ll try. And if we fail, we’ll fail at doing the wrong thing, as opposed to – oh, you can see what I’m doing there.

I once read a musicology volume in which the author decried the concept of summer novelty records, likening them to holiday romances. It was one thing, he surmised, dancing to the strains of ‘Agadoo’ or the bloody Macarena in an open air Spanish nightclub ten yards from the beach, the floor a pulsing melee of sweat and energy and the Margaritas flowing like a river. But when you hear the same record on a wet November afternoon in a nail salon in the middle of Slough, it’s the metaphorical equivalent of seeing that bikini-clad beauty you pulled in the Seychelles slouching round a supermarket in jogging trousers and a filthy t-shirt accompanied by a screaming child. It kind of takes a lot of the romance out of the situation.

Day-Of-The-Doctor-tom-baker-4th-doctor

There was always a chance that we were too forgiving with this episode. It was the peak of a year of celebration – retrospectives, revisitations and reinvention. Old Doctors were given new contexts, new Doctors reconciled their pasts, and one Doctor we didn’t even know existed appeared from nowhere (or at least one of Steven Moffat’s production meetings). And it didn’t stop with the characters. If ‘The Name of the Doctor’ was a game-changer, the anniversary story consolidated things by taking everything we thought we knew about eight years of history and rewriting the ending. Simultaneously, the Ninth Doctor is off the hook, because he doesn’t remember any of it. The darkness of the Eccleston series is thus intact, but it becomes more about the memory of events, rather than the events themselves. Or, as the War Doctor puts it, “How many worlds has that regret saved?”.

At other times, the rewriting would be annoying. When it happened in ‘The Name of the Doctor’ it was annoying. When it happened in ‘Listen’ it was downright insulting. But somehow, in ‘Day of the Doctor’, it works. Perhaps it’s because the twist, while smacking of the clever-cleverness that is endemic throughout much of Moffat’s revisionism, is one that at least concentrates on the last decade of the show, rather than trying to change everything that happened before. Somehow that’s more agreeable. There are two stories here that are basically about one story, the Zygons’ gambit seemingly incongruous when compared to the War Doctor’s inner struggle, until the nuclear stalemate becomes a metaphor for the Time War, and the alien technology that allows for the Zygon invasion in the first place becomes its unlikely solution.

But it’s not all about structure. There is a whole lot to love in ‘Day of the Doctor’. Production values are slick (the opening sequence has Smith dangling from the edge of the TARDIS as it is airlifted into Central London) but not at the expense of story. Tellingly, Moffat knows when to rein it in, keeping the action primarily Earth-bound – at least for the first hour or so – and only really branching out in the climactic final act. What follows is a consistency and unity that gives the narrative room to breathe without having to over-reach itself in order to cram in another set piece. Crucially, this is a story that doesn’t try to do much – in many ways, dare we say it, a story that actually doesn’t do very much at all. There are plenty of lengthy conversations between the three Doctors, which is precisely the sort of interplay that’s lacking in, say, ‘The Two Doctors’. Supporting characters get breathing space, if not an awful lot of development. It’s not exactly vintage Pertwee, but next to the breakneck pace to which we’ve become accustomed, it’s a refreshing change.

day-of-the-doctor-rose-wave

Then there’s Hurt himself, trailblazing across the screen with all the charisma and personality we’d expect from such an established veteran. Hurt’s gone on record as saying he didn’t have a clue what he was actually doing, but somehow that doesn’t matter at all. He conjures a side to the Doctor that is both new and instantly recognisable, the grumpiness of an embittered old soldier fused with the upstanding morality of a righteous man. Somewhere there is a universe full of stories about the War Doctor, except that most of them will be set on Gallifrey, and most of them will be thoroughly miserable. Perhaps you should be careful what you wish for.

Earlier in this piece I mentioned novelty records. You can’t polish a turd, but you can give a mediocre gift some temporary sheen by putting it in a nice box. That was the risk. But I watched ‘Day of the Doctor’ again a while back – free of the trappings of the fifty year celebrations, free of the fanfares and the parties and the general sense of wonder. I watched it when I was feeling particularly jaded, and it’s still good. When the Doctor walks through the TARDIS in slow motion at the end of the story, admitting that yes, of course he dreams, we are tempted to dream with him. The cardboard cutouts are still laughable, but what ‘Day of the Doctor’ achieves in fifty years is a loving testament to an established TV legend, that touches on its roots while avoiding the suffocating fog of unnecessary nostalgia. And it has Tom Baker. Really, what more could you want in seventy-five minutes?

dwreedit1

Cameron’s Episode: ‘Army of Ghosts’ / ‘Doomsday

Categories: New Who, Top 10 | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let’s do the time loop again

There’s a bit about halfway through ‘The Claws of Axos’ when Jo Grant and the Doctor are trying to escape from an alien spacecraft, and Jo is very close to losing it. In order to focus her, the Doctor is yelling multiplication sums in her ear, while Katy Manning (who really doesn’t have much else to do in this story) is screaming “I CAN’T! I CAN’T!”. It was great, largely because I’ve been in maths lessons just like it.

As I go to press it’s about 10 pm (GMT) on Groundhog Day, and Punxatawney Phil has predicted another six weeks of winter. That’s fine. His prediction rate levels out about 39%, of course (higher than the Met Office) but even if we’re destined to be surrounded by snow, I don’t really mind. Being English perhaps invalidates my opinion, of course, but I will never truly understand this particular quaint tradition. It’s one thing being afraid of your own shadow, but when we have to be afraid of a groundhog’s then I can’t help but wonder at the state of the world.

I didn’t watch the Bill Murray. I’ve seen it, more than once. I have wondered, many times, what I’d do if stuck in a similar loop. Probably finish that novel, except that presumably hard drives don’t survive the loop, and are ceremonially wiped at the end of each day. So, too, Phil’s body clock and physical state is reset at the beginning of each twenty-four hour period, so I couldn’t even write something and then save it to a Flash drive before swallowing it for safekeeping. Anomalously, throughout all of this the synaptic nerves in his brain were left absolutely intact, allowing the accumulation of knowledge, and suggesting perhaps that the loop was endured on a metaphysical, rather than purely scientific level. Groundhog Day may be the strongest cinematic argument we have for the existence of the soul, outside What Dreams May Come, which no one talks about, largely because it’s crap.

But I was watching ‘The Claws of Axos’ last week and the end of the final episode – in which the Doctor traps the Axons in a time loop – really did strike me as having great potential. If you’re going to have a scene that talks about a time loop, particularly in such a roundabout way, then it’s a joke waiting to happen. Red Dwarf got there first, of course, with a scene that has been done to death, but here it is for posterity.

“Most people seem to remember the RD scene for: ‘So what is it?’, ‘I’ve never seen one before – no-one has’, ‘I think we’ve encountered the middle of this conversation’ and ‘somebody punch him out’,” said Gareth. “And then say these in a random order.” It’s true; this one is up there with the Knights who say ‘Ni!’ for oft-quoted tediousness. (If you must quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail at parties, do Tim the Enchanter. It’s funnier, and if you get the inflection right you’ll have them rolling all over the kitchen.)

My initial thoughts were to try and emulate the scene from ‘White Hole’ by chopping and pasting it around so that the middle of the scene happened at the end, with the ending happening in between, and then random repetitions. It was a mess. It’s very hard to do that in a way that makes sense. So I abandoned that and had the Brigadier stuttering ‘T-t-t-time loop’ like Damien at the beginning of that godawful cover of the Rocky Horror song. It was ridiculous, and only when I could feel Nicholas Courtney turning over in his grave (presumably after being prepped for nano-conversion) did I have a rethink.

All of which led to the video you saw at the top. It took me an hour. It then took me another half hour after I showed a rough cut to Gareth and he suggested taking out some of the random silliness in the second half and focussing on the time loop. At some point I may show you that rough cut, but today is not that day. There’s always tomorrow.

That’s assuming, of course, that tomorrow comes at all…

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: