Posts Tagged With: doctor who series 7

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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Unused Doctor Who Monsters (part four)

If you don’t know your British chocolate, Wispas are bubbly chunks of goodness, first available in 1981 and then brought back a few years ago. Arguably more successful, at least in this form, than their homophonic counterparts.

The second one ought to be self-explanatory.

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‘Hide’ – 1970s style

Watch this first.

There’s a bit about a third of the way through the first episode of ‘The Mind of Evil’ that more or less encapsulates Doctor Who as it was in the 1970s. The Doctor is attending a demonstration of a new machine that purports to suck the evil out of men’s minds. When the Doctor raises valid ethical concerns, the egotistical professor in charge asks what he could possibly find objectionable. Pertwee adopts a theatrical flourish in his response. “UNIT, sir, was set up to deal with new and unusual menaces to mankind,” he says. “And in my view, this machine of yours is JUST THAT!”

[DRAMATIC MOOG MUSIC AS THE DOCTOR STOMPS AWAY]

If you’re so inclined you can watch it here. Skip to the eight minute mark.

Anyway, Emily and I were watching this very episode a number of weeks ago, and when this happened we both roared with laughter.

“What I’d really like,” said Emily, “is for them to do a modern episode of Doctor Who that plays like one of these. Maybe he gets stranded in time and winds up in 1980s U.N.I.T. And they have wobbly sets and weird special effects and a funky score.”

Just because the Doctor gets to leap around in time, it doesn’t mean the show doesn’t age. The problem with any episode of a programme about time travel is that whenever it’s set historically, it’s always going to be aesthetically bound by the period in which it was filmed. In other words, if you shoot a story that’s set in medieval Italy, but do so in the 70s, it’s still going to have that visual style attached to it, even if your costumes are authentic. Likewise, if you shoot a story on a distant alien planet, but fill the background music with orchestral hits and Korg samples, it’ll come across as being very 80s. Big explosion? Drop in a white-out. Someone’s having their mind probed? Put swirly effects all over the screen. And don’t forget the facial zooms, the sort of thing that Mike Myers and Dana Carvey would later parody extensively on Saturday Night Live.

This was standard practice, of course. There were certain things you did back then, simply because everyone else did. I couldn’t find a decent version on YouTube, but anyone who’s seen the first Superman film will remember the moment when Christopher Reeve discovers Margot Kidder’s car with her lifeless corpse inside: his reaction as he takes in the scene is filmed from multiple angles, and while it might seem old hat now, it heightens the emotional pathos no end. Or there’s the scene in Carrie where John Travolta and Nancy Allen approach the blood-soaked titular teenager on her way home from the prom, and Carrie’s acts of telekinetic revenge are preceded by jerky zooms. Watch it and not only will you see what I mean, you’ll also recall you’ve seen a hundred things from the same period that did things this way. Fast forward a quarter of a century, of course, and every action film post-Matrix features tedious bullet time camerawork and excessive use of slow motion, with the refreshing (and intentional) exception of The Expendables.

This is not a criticism. Not really. You’re tied to what’s perceived as cutting edge. It’s become very fashionable to sneer at the stop-motion used in the likes of Robocop and Ghostbusters. But I do wonder if we’ll look back in twenty years at episodes like ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ and laugh at them as naff and silly. And I can’t help thinking that this will be futile. The point is that while sneering at the Thunderbirds effects at the end of ‘State of Decay’ may make for an amusing documentary soundbite, it ignores the fact that at the time they never let plastic doors and rickety staircases stop them telling a good story. It’s common knowledge that the ‘cheap production values’ of Doctor Who were laughed at even back in the 70s in the wake of Star Trek and Star Wars, but by and large the people cracking the jokes today are the very same people who were hiding behind the sofa during the likes of ‘Earthshock’. Or, as Colin Baker puts it, “I get a bit impatient when people say ‘I loved watching Doctor Who because of the shaky sets’. No you didn’t, you liar. You loved watching because you believed it and you were scared.”

In any case, Emily’s ruminations on contemporary Who filmed in a 70s style got me thinking. We might call it a parody. But it needn’t be. Part of the appeal of Hot Fuzz (a film you really should see, if you haven’t already) is that while it takes the conventions of the action blockbuster and changes the setting to a sleepy English market town, it works precisely because it refuses to send up the genre it’s referencing – it’s a tribute, rather than a parody. (The same cannot be said of Scary Movie, a sneering, puerile effort that fails partly because it sends up a film that was itself a parody, although the main reason it doesn’t work is that it simply isn’t funny.)

So it’s a fine line to walk. Still, the idea of reworking modern Doctor Who and changing it a little bit was an appealing one. ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’ has dated in many ways (giant rats, anyone?) but the episode five cliffhanger in which Leela pulls off Magnus Greel’s mask to reveal a hideous, deformed face underneath is one of the great episode endings, right up there with the ascending Dalek and, well, this:

Second rate story, but oh my.

Anyway: when it came to actually picking an episode, ‘Hide’ seemed the obvious choice. It’s structurally flawed, but it has some lovely Doctor / Clara moments, is appropriately scary at given points, and it has Jessica Raine. The Doctor’s hop through time is a gratuitous use of the CG budget, but the monster is reasonably convincing, and the National Trust property they used for the mansion’s interior could have come straight out of the Baker / Pertwee era.

I’ll try not to bore you too long with the technical stuff, but here it is. The trickiest stage was choosing a suitable clip, because so many of them are riddled with fancy camera angles and quick jump-cuts, so that they’d still look contemporary even if you changed everything old. In the end I plumped for a scene about halfway through where the Doctor and Clara get a scare on the landing, before the ‘ghost’ appears downstairs, accompanied by a spinning black disc. It builds in intensity, without being too effects-heavy. I stripped out the score and replaced it, and then re-sequenced things so that the jokes were gone and the spinning disc formed the cliffhanger. After that it was a question of filtering to death – I think I used about three different filters, stretched and reprocessed across two software packages – in order to make it look as if it were shot under the harsh lighting of an old studio. The ‘effects’ – polarising filters, a spontaneous zoom at a crucial moment and one of those grainy things that break up the picture at the end – were the last thing to be added.

In case you were wondering, the score samples used are (in order):

  • The Mutants (from ‘The Mutants’)
  • The Axons Approach (from ‘The Claws of Axos’)
  • Keller Machine Appears and Vanishes (from ‘The Mind of Evil’ – this was the pulsing effect used in the last forty seconds)

Does it work? More or less. The filtering isn’t as I’d have liked it, and I’m sure that someone with more technical expertise could have improved the processing. But even if it doesn’t really look like an old episode of Doctor Who, it does at least look a little bit like a new episode that’s purposely trying to look old. Which was the entire point, so I guess we can call that a win.

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A Town Called Mercy: The Silent Movie

Remakes are endemic to Hollywood. Like sequels, they enable you to revisit an established cash cow with minimal creative input: the characters and basic premise are there, and all (all!) you need to do is come up with a decent story. Sometimes, if you have an established name in the title, you can get away without even doing that, which may be why Batman and Robin, Attack of the Clones and Spider-Man 3 all sucked.

With remakes it’s a slightly different story: you take existing material and add your own spin. This is why of all the remakes I’ve seen, Gus Van Sant’s take on Psycho must count as the most pointless: a shot-for-shot rehash that apparently came with Hitchcock’s supernatural approval (they held a seance to ask for his blessing from beyond the grave; the portly director apparently granted it, and then gave technical advice). In interviews, Van Sant has explained that his rationale was to “bring the movie to a whole new generation”. Fine. So you colourise the original, if you must. You don’t do it over with a new cast who (William H. Macy aside) aren’t a patch on the likes of Perkins and Leigh. Why mess with borderline perfection?

I’m of the opinion that Hollywood should concentrate on remaking bad movies – or, more specifically, movies with unrealised potential. You know – the ones that sucked but had a spark about them, a glimmer of a good idea let down by poor acting or sloppy direction or atrocious dialogue. As an example, consider Playing For Keeps, which I saw some years ago in a Philadelphia hotel room – a 1980s flick about some wayward teens who decide to do up a dilapidated hotel in small town America, overcoming resistance from the hostile locals and a corrupt sheriff. It was truly appalling, but the worst thing about the whole experience was that it could have worked – a good idea, well and truly squandered.

All of which leads me to this. I seem to be producing videos at a rate of knots at the moment. They’re mostly small projects. I’ve learned that anything over a couple of minutes doesn’t always gets watched, at least not in its entirety. That doesn’t mean that the big magnum opuses, in the manner of Darth Gene or Wheatley the Navigator, have been retired. They remain among my best work. I’m just going through a short-but-sweet phase. You might call them mini-episodes.

This one came about because of a little dabbling with filters, and a current preoccupation with The Three Amigos. Silent Movie style Doctor Who is nothing new, of course, as a YouTube search will reveal. But ‘A Town Called Mercy’ lent itself perfectly, being the only time New Who has ventured properly into the American Old West (all right, Spain). When I think of silent movies, for some reasons the defining images that jump out at me are moustache-twirling villains with tremendous eyebrows, cowboys, and Buster Keaton.

“I’m surprised you did it,” said Gareth, “because presumably it involved watching the episode again”. It’s a fair point. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know all about my hostility towards ‘A Town Called Mercy’, which remained (for me) the worst episode of the New Who canon (at least until a few months later, when they broadcast ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’). Revisiting it the other week did, as Gareth suggests, filled me with some trepidation – but on the other hand, I had the sound off.

An early realisation was that if you’re going to try and improve ‘Mercy’ the best way is to indulge in a little deconstruction. So this doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a series of in-jokes and fourth wall demolitions. There are two Red Dwarf references – see if you can spot both – and a nod to an old Lucasarts graphic adventure that I’m not going to bother explaining – you’ll know it if you see it.

The Three Amigos footage works on two levels. It’s a cowboy silent movie that I didn’t have to touch – just paste in – and it enabled me to do a juxtaposed mashup for no real reason other than that I could. And everyone loves The Three Amigos, and it’s been a while since the antics of Short, Martin and Chase have graced our DVD player. But of course there’s also the recognition that ‘Mercy’ does, in itself, use the climax of The Three Amigos in its final act (although I’m willing to concede, if challenged, that The Three Amigos got the idea from somewhere else).

I knocked up the captions in Fireworks. I think they’re reasonably authentic, stylistically at least. The projector effect was found after a brief YouTube trawl, and music came from a variety of different sources, all of which I mention in the end credits. The star find was Keeper1st’s piano rendition of the Doctor Who theme, which seemed to fit the mood perfectly. I used MPEG Video Wizard for the editing, and then ran the old movie filter from Movavi, as it was better. So this one really has been through the mill a bit, but I think the end results are reasonably good.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. I’m off to spend some time with the boys. It’s Sunday afternoon, which means film day, and I get to pick. Guess what we’re watching?

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Doctor Hurt

It’s been far too long since we had a video, and today I bring you not one, but two.

There’s a catch, of course. They’re two different versions of the same piece, presented in two different forms for reasons I will shortly divulge. But the lesson you need to take from this today is that less is sometimes more. There’s a reason why ‘Midnight’ is one of my favourite episodes of series four, and the first instalment of ‘The Ark in Space’ is one of the best twenty minutes of 1970s television. Budget problems have cursed Doctor Who for decades, but doing things on the cheap does allow for inspired bouts of creativity in the right hands.

Anyway. That John Hurt chap. Who is he, and does anyone really care? Well, I don’t, because whatever they do with him he will be chronically underused. Hiring big names and giving them nothing to do seems to be the hallmark of series seven (cf. Richard E. Grant, David Warner, Diana Rigg) and already there is a shedload of speculation about whether John Hurt is playing the Ninth Doctor, an aged version of the Eighth, the Valeyard or even the very First Doctor, mostly in the form of lazy, semi-coherent YouTube vlogs recorded on badly-positioned webcams. Cue a hundred comments underneath, most of which involve poor spelling and a smattering of bad language, and that’s just the ones that bother talking about the show.

The short answer is we don’t know, and it’ll probably be disappointing – so instead of looking forward, I looked backward. Because it occurred to me, almost as soon as the episode aired, that Mr Hurt’s tied to certain visual images, at least in my head. One of them is the shot of him sitting in a car with Jason Priestley in the poster for Love and Death on Long Island. Another is the time he lampooned his role in Alien by giving birth to a singing extra-terrestrial baby, in a scene which parodies both Ridley Scott and Michigan J. Frog. And the third? Well, that would be Whistle and I’ll Come To You.

Those of you who’ve followed my video posts from the outset will recall that I’ve talked about Whistle and I’ll Come To You before. It was, indeed, the very programme that kick-started this little hobby, and revisiting it in the last week or two seemed oddly circular. If you haven’t seen it, you really should, largely because it’s utterly terrifying: there is no CGI, no overwrought score, and only a bare bones cast, with Andy De Emmony favouring slow buildups and long, dialogue-free passages where Hurt sits brooding in his hotel room or imagines he’s seen a ghost on the beach. It is apparently vastly inferior to the 1968 version, which I really should get round to seeing, but as a ghost story in its own right it’s minimalist and thoroughly successful, largely as a result of leaving so many questions unanswered come the closing credits.

This basically came about because of ‘The God Complex’, a similarly creepy episode of New Who, which manages to tease out the suspense by keeping the minotaur largely hidden for most of the story (it’s only in the closing minutes, with the final deconstruction of the hotel and the tacked-on epilogue, that the episode is in danger of unravelling). No one ever found out what was in the Doctor’s room, but for me the answer was apparent more or less the moment that John Hurt turned round at the end of series seven. It just seemed an obvious gag. Then I tried to turn it into a video, and all hell broke loose.

In the first instance, this was suffering from lack of clear direction. If you could use Whistle… as a basis for that hotel scene, why not stop there? Why not stick in footage from more of Hurt’s performances? And so I thumbed through the DVD collection to see what I could find. I’d envisaged him landing on LV-426 in his space suit and encountering David Tennant in ‘The Satan Pit’, or Matt Smith in ‘Hide’. Then I remembered that Fox are notoriously picky about what they allow online (YouTube footage from Alien, in particular, seems to be pretty sparse). Or I’d thought of him running into Daleks during his death scene in Hellboy, except that this sequence is compiled chiefly from over-the-shoulder angles that make it obvious he’s being interrogated by Karel Roden. There is an earlier scene which showed promise, but at this point I was bored with the idea.

Then there’s Harry Potter. Specifically there’s the bit  in Deathly Hallows Part II when Harry interrogates Ollivander in the upstairs bedroom of Shell Cottage. Which is fine, if you can find something suitable with which to match it. But all I wound up doing was wrecking emotionally laden scenes from ‘Blink’ and ‘Vincent and the Doctor’. So I gave up, and concentrated exclusively on Whistle…, which features various bedroom scenes (and that sounds far more kinky than it actually is, unless you’re mysteriously turned on by vanishing rugs and hammering on the door, which indicates you have a bedroom farce fetish). There are also a couple of beach sequences, which lent themselves to obvious throwbacks to – well, you’ve seen it now, so there’s no need to elaborate.

Except. Except! Our poor Mr Hurt spends half his time running away from ghosts when he’s on that beach. And I immediately thought of the pterodactyls-that-aren’t-really-pterodactyls in ‘Dinosaurs’. So I stuck that in as well, and then found that the lighting was completely off key, suggesting that they filmed that scene in the middle of winter. What you can see in the video at the bottom of this post is footage that’s had the brightness cranked up and the colour saturated, and even then it doesn’t look great. But I ran with it, because it basically hung together, by the skin of its teeth. The beach and hotel room scenes didn’t seem quite enough, at least not where the rule of three was concerned, so I added a bit where Hurt climbs the stairs and comes face to face with a Weeping Angel.

And it doesn’t really work. I mean, it sort of does. But I don’t have a clue what it’s doing there. Really, it should have been Hurt coming face to face with another Doctor, who stared back – a silent Mexican standoff. Or perhaps Gabriel Woolf in a gorilla mask. The whole thing felt rather flabby, and Gareth said so when I let him see the preview. “It would work better without the Angel,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing), “because I don’t see the point of it. And it’s confusing having the two Doctors stepping out of the TARDIS, and then seeing the Eleventh turn up. And there’s a jarring contrast in lighting between the dinosaur scenes and the John Hurt scenes.”

And he’s right, of course. So I uploaded a leaner version, and that’s probably what I’ll wind up using in emails and other plugs. Nonetheless, the original stays, and is accessible below, because it gives an idea of what I was trying to do – an experiment that didn’t quite work. Paradoxically Gareth and I were talking just last week about some of the extras on the 2 Entertain Doctor Who DVDs, and how some of them contain single jokes that are stretched to breaking point (a notable example of this being The Elusive David Agnew). And that’s something I could have done with remembering here. Sometimes if you scale things back, they’re far more effective.

Still. Dinosaurs. On a beach!

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What’s in a name?

Well, now you know.

Cushing

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Where’s Clara?

Gareth sent me this. It will probably be part of a series, soon, if it isn’t already. I suspect it’ll wind up with its own Tumblr page.

clara_sutekh

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Lords and Ladies

Q. A boy and his father get in a car accident and are rushed to hospital. The father goes to one room for surgery, and the boy is seen in another room. The doctor scheduled to perform the operation says “I can’t operate on this boy – this boy is my son.” How can this be?

A. The doctor is his mother.

When I was in my early twenties, I attended an annual event in Birmingham, organised by the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs. The gathering saw thousands of teenagers and their youth leaders, decked out in the organisation’s trademark green and yellow, walking through Birmingham (a poor substitute for London) for workshops, music events and ‘fun activities’. As a teenager I’d thought these weekends the greatest things on the planet. Now I found them tedious, although that was partly because the format had grown stale, and partly because the event had been scaled down considerably from what it was in its heydey.

One supposed ‘highlight’ of the weekend was the variety show at the NEC, attended by the (admittedly decent) youth orchestra and singers and a cast of hundreds, most of whom were admittedly reasonably talented. Shows had a theme, usually around social awareness of some sort. Basically it was an excuse for some contemporary musical numbers, skits that were ten years out of date and then awkwardly juxtaposed meditations about racism, followed by a random interpretive dance from the Midlands contingent. On this occasion, we saw (not for the first time) Commander Jane Bond, a long-haired teenage girl wearing glasses and a bowler hat over a pinstripe suit in what looked like cosplay before it was really fashionable. Jane Bond was given orders by MI6 to tackle the world’s most serious problems – unarmed, of course – which led to her dashing around the arena confronting tableaus of street violence, homelessness, drug abuse and, um, video piracy.

I will just let that sit for a minute.

Anyway, why am I telling you all this? Well, because we’ve had about four days since the announcement that Matt Smith will be stepping down after the Doctor Who Christmas Special, and already I’ve read more blogs, opinion columns and hack pieces about “Why the next Doctor should be black / Asian / female / Kim Kardashian” than I’ve seen in three years combined. Everyone, it seems, has their views about why it would be a wonderful / groundbreaking / crap idea to mix up the formula. And here’s mine, but I’m going to keep it simple. This little missive will be in two parts, and I’ve put them both together, because I’m nice like that.

dr+who+sue+perkins

1. Why The Next Doctor Probably Shouldn’t Be A Woman

The point of my opening story about Jane Bond was that for various reasons it was a chronic misfire. The video piracy thing was part of it. As someone who has been known to rip-and-burn the odd disc myself (although solely for personal use) I resent being lumped in with a serial child molester or narcotics pusher. But it was more than that: it was the whole concept. I don’t want to dump on the MAYC, because subverting the gender of established male heroes is hardly new – nor is it remotely harmful. It’s just awkward. It was as if the writers figured there was no way a man could be sufficiently compassionate to bring about an end to the world’s problems, and thus it had to be a woman. I’m reading too much into this, I know, but in any case, why on earth would you take a cold-blooded killer like James Bond, make him female and then have him act completely against character for the sake of having a well-known ‘secret agent’ fulfil a dangerous and complicated mission? It wasn’t an ideological hangup as such; it just looked out of place.

The awkward truth is that the same might be said of casting a woman to play the Doctor. Before we go any further, let’s deal with the first elephant (and this is going to involve some anatomical talk, so please try not to snigger): it’s not that the Doctor can’t be female. I roll my eyes at the fans who insist that Time Lords cannot change their gender when they’re being reborn. It implies a consistency about regeneration (and, indeed, Time Lord DNA) that simply isn’t there. With obvious exceptions, we know next to nothing about Gallifreyan physiology because for the most part we simply don’t need to know. The writers just shoehorn in explanations when it suits them. The Fifth Doctor’s celery explanation is a case in point. So too is the endless (and quite pointless) debate about how many times a Time Lord can regenerate, or the question of whether the Doctor’s first regeneration actually counts as a regeneration or not. It’s a case of throwaway lines taken to a literal extreme and used to form whole new schools of thought. (And those of you who think this doesn’t really matter might do well to remember that much organised religion starts in the same way.)

No, I’d be fine with the concept of a gender swap. Besides that bit in the Comic Relief special (17:50, if you can be bothered to skip past all the ads), Big Finish have already covered it in some detail in ‘Exile’, which broadcast as part of the ‘Unbound’ series. It charts an alternative history whereby the Second Doctor, awaiting trial following the events of ‘The War Games’, commits suicide – a process that sees him regenerate into Arabella Weir and get a job in a supermarket. David Tennant turns up playing a Time Lord, and the previous incarnation of the Doctor is played by Nicholas Briggs, who also wrote the thing (and who does have a tendency to steal the most interesting / noteworthy stories for his own commissions, as well as monopolising all the monster parts).

bella_weir_2092107b

The main problem with ‘Exile’, Gareth assures me, is not its central concept but that it simply isn’t very good. And I can’t help thinking we’d go down the same route with a female Doctor, and in a funny sort of way it’s precisely because this alternative universe never happened. Because I’ve been examining the history of the show and I’d say that there were two immense sea changes for Doctor Who over the years. The most recent was obviously the 2005 reboot, with its advances in filming methods and post production (resulting in a more cinematic look) and higher-quality effects (let’s just ignore the Slitheen), single-episode stories and an entirely different approach that arguably created as many problems as it attempted to solve.

But try and imagine watching back in 1970. For certain, the Hartnell / Troughton change probably shook you. You get used to a pompous old man and you’re suddenly faced with a slightly less pompous younger man with a Beatles haircut who plays the recorder. Then, just when you get used to him, he gets exiled! To Earth! With a non-functioning TARDIS! And a new haircut! And – goodness me – a family! AND IT’S IN COLOUR! Well, sort of. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t take long for certain elements – the Doctor’s alienness, the hum of the TARDIS, the planet-hopping – to return, but it must have been quite a transition if you were there to see it.

The-UNIT-Years-2

And it strikes me that this point – not 1981, not 2005, and certainly not now – would have been the ideal moment to bring in a female Doctor. Because the show was fairly established, but it was being shaken up. And doing a gender switch might have killed it, but it would have been one of a big list of changes, and thus less fuss would have been made. The problem, you see, is that the longer things carry on the way they are the harder it is to change them, simply because such a transformation looks increasingly gimmicky. It no longer becomes about who the character is, but solely about who’s playing him.

The fact of the matter is that the Doctor’s been a white British male for so long it’s very difficult to truly imagine him as anything else. You’re doing it now, aren’t you? You’ve got your eyes closed and you’re imagining Lenny Henry or Miranda Hart or Sanjeev Baskar or someone, anyone, who’s going to go against type. But doesn’t that run the risk of casting an actor because they’re different, rather than because they’re the right person? If you’re going to re-cast a show in this manner, go the whole hog. Go for an exclusively minority roll call. Otherwise you have a Doctor who stands out in the crowd, which is something he spent most of series seven trying to undo. In years to come you’ll have guides that list Pertwee as ‘The Dandy Doctor’, Tom Baker as ‘The Alien Doctor’ and Idris Elba as ‘The Black Doctor’.

mollyjon

A while ago, I (very briefly) entertained the possibility of an incarnation that carried a disability. You might have a Doctor who only had one arm, or who needed to walk with a crutch, or one who was deaf. How might this change the dynamic of the show, the Doctor’s dependence on his companion(s) and how the character is perceived by its disabled audience? But it’s a stupid idea, and this is why: the regeneration would ‘fix’ things. You’d have a Doctor who couldn’t walk who was now able to do just that, and that only highlights disability in a negative, something-to-be cured way, rather than something that must sometimes be dealt with for the rest of one’s life.

So, too, do you run the risk of alienating one or both sides of the audience by appointing a woman or someone of different ethnic persuasion. It opens the floodgates to a sea of stunt casting, something that must be outdone every time the current Doctor decides to jump ship and concentrate on the stage or break out in Hollywood or claim they want to avoid typecasting when the truth is they didn’t like the management. I don’t mind in the least that Doctor Who feels the need these days to fulfil a quota of racial representation. Nor do I mind the tendency to have strong female companions – that a series has occasionally become almost entirely about them is to the programme’s detriment, but god knows we had enough of Bonnie Langford screaming in the 1980s, and given the choice I’d rather have Rose. (Actually, given the choice I’d rather listen to ‘The One Doctor’, just one of many audio dramas featuring Langford, who is quite wonderful, particularly when she’s putting up shelves with Christopher Biggins.)

One of these has, to the best of my knowledge, never been in Doctor Who. There's still time.

(As it turns out, this photo is loaded with Who-related connections. Have a look at this.

Cheers, Gareth.)

But casting a woman is going to be all about stirring up the bloggers and maintaining interest in the show, or bringing in a different ‘dynamic’ that simply doesn’t need to be there. We’ve already done the regeneration from a female perspective, both in ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ (in which Romana behaves as if she’s trying on outfits before a dinner party) and in ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ (in which Alex Kingston is frankly embarrassing to watch). The BBC can’t write straightforward drama anymore; it has to be ‘about’ something, and while it’s fair to say that many of the best 1970s Who stories featured a healthy dose of satire or social commentary (‘The Sunmakers’, ‘Genesis of the Daleks’) there were also plenty of stories that were fun in their own right, and that did nothing more than spin a decent yarn.

CBeebies has a programme called Balamory. It’s about a bunch of slightly childlike adults who live on a remote Scottish island, and it’s brilliant, because it features a girl in a wheelchair who is a vibrant, useful member of the community, with a disability that is never mentioned. There is no episode that deals with Penny’s inability to climb stairs or reach something on a high shelf. Instead, she just gets on with things normally, and the wheelchair is entirely incidental. When it comes to Doctor Who I wish I could place at least some trust in the powers that be, but I can’t help thinking that the casting of a ‘different’ Doctor is too great a temptation for the production team to resist. There will be all sorts of running gags about genitalia, or the inability to run in a ballgown in the episodes where they’re at a party (you know, the sort of story where Smith would wear his tails, Tennant his dinner jacket and Eccleston would straighten up the neck of his jumper). Black Doctors will have their authority questioned by those who would have trusted Pertwee or McCoy, and there will be episodes that deal with segregation and being ‘unique’ or ‘alone’. It needn’t be like this, of course, but given the way the writing has gone in recent years that’s the way it will go, and no matter how much you think I’m grasping at straws here, I think you know that as well as I do.

It should be said that if it came to it, the ability of a ‘different’ performer to portray the character effectively is absolutely not in question. I reject the argument put forward by the Daily Mail that the only convincing role model for young boys is a man. I’ve got no doubts that you could have a strong black / Asian / female Doctor who ticks all the boxes and who could be played brilliantly by a black / Asian / female actor, and who comes across as appropriately Doctorish. The problem you’d have as a woman is not crossing that line that has you shamelessly emulating one of the male incarnations and coming across like a butch lesbian reading of the character. Tamsin Greig could probably have done it, but that’s just a name I picked out of a hat, and I’m sure there are plenty of others. Incidentally, while we’re on that, can we please stop with the Helen Mirren rumours? I mean it happens every time and it’s mind-numbingly tedious. It’s based on one or two quips in interviews and the BBC wouldn’t dare. They’d never be able to control her at conventions, for one thing. It would be all about how the Daleks’ quest for total domination is actually a veiled critique of U.S. foreign policy, or how the Silurian stories echo the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. Or perhaps that’s Vanessa Redgrave; I can’t remember which one is the outspoken one. In any event, if you’re still on this as a serious notion, you’re almost as naive as those people who genuinely thought that Amy Winehouse was in the frame to play the Doctor.

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You see, Doctor Who is too steeped in history, and all this talk of a fresh start is futile – like it or not, we’re simply too far down the road now. We’ve had the show for fifty years. I’m fine with breaking with tradition, but I can’t help thinking that this isn’t about tradition. It’s about what works. It’s not that a female Doctor could never have worked, it’s that it couldn’t work now. Which leads me neatly to…

2. Why The Next Doctor Probably Won’t Be A Woman

Why? Oh, because…well, see above. Look, Moffat knows all this. Despite the ‘mixed’ reaction to series seven and the whinge about the drop in episode rates, amidst the rumours of falling ratings, Doctor Who is still a cash cow, and the BBC know it. They’re not about to rock the boat. Bringing in a female Doctor is going to lose them half their audience – right or wrong – and it’s the last thing they want to do at what is a strategically questionable time for the show. There’s also the question of what you do with River Song, and the prospect of a lesbian relationship – although I confess I don’t mind that too much. (Certainly you couldn’t cast anyone, male or female, who is a less convincing partner than Smith, who – for all his qualities – has never gelled with Kingston.)

Whatever newspapers may say about the role being ‘up for grabs’, it’s almost certainly been cast already – I’d be surprised, indeed, if the regeneration scene hadn’t been filmed. We just need to sit and wait for the press release / controlled leak / careless tweet that gives away too much. I told Emily the other day that Ben Whishaw was in the frame, and she rolled her eyes at the notion – “I enjoyed him in Skyfall,” she said, “but he’s going to be exactly the same as the last two! That sort of clever, occasionally sneering academic type”.

Irrespective of the result, there will be the usual mixture of outrage, applause and photobombing on social media before the first official publicity shot is released. The community who don’t want the boat rocked (either for the reasons I’ve described above, or because they happen to be prejudiced) will be established as too protective of ‘their’ show by the media’s left, in much the same way that Neela Debnath has used her Independent column to rant about the racial undertones of the programme and its fans. But to suggest that the Doctor is now too established as a white Alpha Male is not sexist or racist. It’s simply where we are. The moment you subvert what has effectively become a part of mythology, the story becomes entirely about the subversion, rather than about anything the characters happen to be doing. Judy Corbalis’s The Wrestling Princess, which I can remember reading at the age of nine, is a case in point – while entertaining, the underlying point was that of stories that deliberately cast against type, and that always overshadowed anything interesting that the narrative had to say (and that was a shame, because there were several good jokes in there). Any stories with long-established archetypes will only remain fresh if you find a new way of telling the story that doesn’t feel like a publicity stunt. I don’t want a male Cinderella. Why do you want a female Doctor?

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Review: ‘The Name of the Doctor’ (spoilers)

I was teasing the boys on Saturday. “Of course, the Doctor might regenerate,” I said, knowing he wouldn’t. “We might see the Twelfth Doctor.” Thomas then proceeded to ask what he looked like, and of course I didn’t know. After lunch, he fetched the customisable sonic screwdriver set that Emily got me for Christmas and assembled his own version, calling it “the Twelfth Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, and I’m the Twelfth Doctor”. I nodded and smiled and took his photo, whilst working out what I’d say to him when it got to the end of the evening with no sign of a new Doctor.

Then we saw the episode.

The appearance of John Hurt – who, I confess, I’d entirely forgotten was going to appear – threw in a complete curveball at the very end. It wasn’t so much a cliffhanger as a game-changer, a reassessment of who the Doctor was and how we got here. It was also a shameless bit of stunt-casting. It was the First Doctor before he took on the appearance of Hartnell. It was an obvious reference to the Time War. It was the Other before he threw himself into the Looms. It was the final Doctor, who will not live to regenerate. It was brilliant. It was terrible. It was all of the above and none of the above, depending on what you read and what you want to believe. I think we’re beyond the stage now where it matters. This has either been the worst series since the revival or a dazzling return to form, and if you’re on one side then nothing the other can say is going to influence you. Perhaps we should stop arguing about it, stop polluting the pages of the web with our ramblings, and accept that we see things differently.

But this will fall on deaf ears. The enigma of Hurt’s Doctor and who he is will be shoved back and forth across blogs, Facebook groups, sycophantic Dan Martin Guardian columns, bitch-fests from Lawrence Miles and rambling fan videos from incoherent YouTube pundits, and it will long outlast its expected sell-by date. We’re all going to be horribly sick of it by November, and it’ll lead to a glorious anti-climax where you’ll be told something crushingly disappointing. Because ultimately, that’s what Moffat does. He asks you to guess what he’s thinking, but these days it’s seldom interesting or satisfying.

If nothing else, the “bit with Doctor Hurt” (as Thomas referred to it) puts an older actor in the role – something I’ve longed for, and something we’ve not had since Pertwee, who took over the role at 51. Of course, Pertwee embodied a dynamic, action-driven side to the Doctor, gleefully bringing down foes with skilfully choreographed martial arts courtesy of the stunt directors. It was something capitalised on by the relatively youthful Baker when he adopted the role some four years later, to the extent that the dashing sidekick who’d been brought in to do all the stunts was written out after several stories, having been used mostly to provide bumbling comic relief with occasional moments of brilliance. Still, the physical, action-orientated stance of the new incarnation of the programme has prevented the BBC from casting anyone who’s likely to get a heart attack from running along a corridor in a disused steelworks being chased by a monster that isn’t there.

This has meant a spate of younger Doctors; a trend that looks set to continue. Because let’s be clear on this: Hurt’s casting is atypical in that whoever it is, it is not a Doctor who is going to stay the course. He hasn’t said more than two dozen words yet and already we have established that he is a Doctor who either should not exist, a wibbly wobbly anomaly, or an incarnation who has been assigned to a crumbly CG-generated hell (filmed on location in urban Glasgow) because he did or will do something terrible. He is the Doctor’s dirty little secret, along with his secret stash of Sontaran pornography and what he and River really get up to with those handcuffs. (I suspect these two things probably aren’t mutually exclusive. There, that’s put images in your head, hasn’t it?)

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It’s a shame that in establishing this fact, Moffat resorted to the laziest, lamest trick in the writer’s book, which is to end an episode (and indeed a series) with that episode’s title. Some weeks ago, Gareth suggested to me that there would be a feint of some sort and that you’d have a bunch of characters charging into battle, dying in slow motion, bellowing “IN THE NAME OF THE DOCTOR!”. He was joking, but that’s only slightly more silly than what actually happened. I was so busy reeling from this that I didn’t even notice that Moffat also fulfilled Dorium’s “Fall of the Eleventh” prophecy by having the Doctor say “We don’t jump; we fall”.

I mean, honestly. This isn’t a clever reversal. It’s just bad writing. Confounding the expectations of your audience by deflating the balloon because it’s the last thing they were expecting is inexcusable. Making a joke out of a foreshadowing comment that is supposed to allude to the Doctor’s death doesn’t make you look clever or a master of your craft. It makes you look like a smug drama student. It’s like Bilbo Baggins getting Gollum to guess what’s in his pocket – a riddle he asked by accident and then exploited to get out of a life-or-death situation, but to the best of my knowledge no one is approaching Moffat across a slimy rock, threatening to eat him if he can’t guess what’s alive without breath and cold as death.

I remember being eight years old, and sitting at the side of the school field playing I Spy with a couple of friends. They tried, for a good two or three minutes, to guess the ‘B’ I said I’d seen, and eventually gave up, pronouncing me the winner. “Bus,” I said. “I saw one go past a while ago.” It’s cheating, and it’s unfair. But it was technically accurate. And thus it was a plot twist in the story of the game, one that eerily echoed the style of our current chief writer. Which is why the endless praise and shouts of “brilliant” baffle me.

“Yesterday,” said Gareth, “I gave a brief summary of the bits I knew of the episode. Try it, and about halfway through you’ll find yourself thinking ‘This is just really bad fanfic – if anyone had written it last year it would have been ridiculed’.” And he’s right. It reads like bad fanfiction and Moffat gets away with it because we still know him as the writer of ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ and we cannot quite wrench ourselves away from that image, or from the fact that a man capable of brilliance simply isn’t suited to a role like this.

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Of course, the question of who the Doctor is turned out fairly early on to be fundamentally unimportant, when the words “It is discovered” turned out not to allude to the Doctor’s name at all, but rather the location of his grave. This needn’t mean that the end of the show is in sight. An eventual death does not mean an imminent death, and there was no sign of any corpse inside the Trenzelore TARDIS. One could, perhaps, nitpick over the fact that the interior echoes the current design, but in the grand scheme of things I think there are other aspects upon which I could waste my time. Like the rotten dialogue, or the fact that the design of the Whispermen was strangely familiar.

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Certainly there were good things this week. When the Doctor is informed that his friends have been taken to Trenzelore, his reaction is to sit down on the sofa and burst into tears. It’s a mesmerising performance from Smith, so easy to forget in the blustery of what follows, but it’s arguably the most upset we’ve seen the Doctor since the revival of the show – a frail, fragile moment, and I wish we’d had a little more of that, and less of the angst-ridden silliness that followed.

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In all seriousness, this was good.

Performances aside, Saul Metzstein directed this as well as he’s directed any of his other episodes, with the darkness of Trenzelore effectively realised in the few shots we saw of it. This seemed to be a finale that dealt with metaphysics as much as anything else, and as such sets were almost theatrically abstract, with atmospheric, moody lighting standing in for actual detail. This was an episode of dread, and Metzstein (and cinematographer Neville Kidd) evoked this by juxtaposing tight, claustrophobic shots with wide, angled ones, as if someone were being observed from not far off.

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Similarly, the opening montage showed a certain visual panache, particularly if you didn’t know it was coming – as I didn’t. It was rough around the edges, for sure. The limitations of the BBC’s effects budget showed when Jenna-Louise Coleman was digitally pasted into old footage, standing looking confused in a park while someone who looks absolutely nothing like Patrick Troughton runs past her. But elsewhere, it worked. The tints and grains came out again as Clara jumped through different eras and went through costume changes at a rate that rivalled that of Madonna in Evita. This included a questionable CG-driven appearance from Jon Pertwee, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it encounters with the Eighth and Ninth. Davison was seen lying on a floor, presumably spouting dialogue from what I thought was ‘The Caves of Androzani’ (but which Gareth insists is probably from the beginning of his run), and Clara appeared to linger in the same corridor they used in ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’ as a tall man in the Sixth Doctor’s frock coat and a blonde wig wanders past. (Presumably it was Sylvester McCoy.)

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The fans’ reaction to this opening, I’m told, has been split: a mixture of yah-boo-sucks directed at the naysayers, while the cynical amongst us have pointed out that it was mostly a lot of smoke and mirrors. Still, it looked reasonably impressive, and there was one moment of apparent importance, with an eyebrow-raising encounter back on Gallifrey. Fans of ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ will recall that the Doctor did not steal the TARDIS; the TARDIS stole him. This always felt like unnecessary anthropomorphism to me – the sort of thing that people say about their cats when it simply isn’t true – but it was in this singular scene that the police box’s apparent love-hate relationship with Clara was reconciled: through Clara, the TARDIS is able to reach out to the Doctor and influence him. Clara thus becomes the equivalent of a surrogate, with all the complications that that relationship entails. And it’s still silly, because it doesn’t seem to fit. (“I thought from what I read,” said Gareth, “that her meeting the Doctor was trying to save him from the Great Intelligence’s interference somehow. Was the GI whispering ‘go on, take this TARDIS – it comes with its own baby dinosaur’?”.)

While we’re on that, it’s also worth bearing in mind, of course, that the entire falling through time sequence was built on a colossal and quite unnecessarily complicated plotline: that of (the again under-used) Richard E Grant entering the Doctor’s time stream and changing everything he’s ever done. I know that time is supposed to be a non-linear ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff (I have left out the pause, but it was there) – nonetheless, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Grant to go back and kill the Doctor outright before he stole the TARDIS, while he was a frail and feeble old man, and save himself the trouble of having to dimension hop for millennia? But that would have been far too simple, and instead we’re faced with the supposedly Great Intelligence jumping through time, changing history for the worse, with Clara in hot pursuit, striving to put right what once went wrong. It’s like watching five series of Quantum Leap over the course of a few seconds, and we didn’t even get to see Dean Stockwell in a red suit.

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And while I’m complaining, I would like to point out that River Song’s appearance in this was nothing short of a disaster. It’s not that Moffat can’t write love stories. He proved that he could with ‘Blink’ and ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’, both of whom have touching, unresolved matters of the heart at their core. But the love scenes with River are turgid and unconvincing and riddled with shocking dialogue (I feel a top ten coming on, but I’ll leave that for another day when I don’t feel quite so cross). See for example:

River: There has to be another way. Use the TARDIS. Use something! Save her, yes, but for God’s sake, be sensible! [She goes to slap him and he catches her wrist] How are you even doing that? I’m not really here.

The Doctor: You’re always here to me. And I always listen. And I can always see you.

River: Then why didn’t you speak to me?

The Doctor: Because I thought it would hurt too much.

River: I believe I could have coped.

The Doctor: No. I thought it would hurt me. And I was right.

How, exactly, are we supposed to cope when confronted with this drivel? It doesn’t help that there’s no chemistry at all between Smith and Kingston, but even Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton couldn’t polish a turd. Still, we can’t just blame the dialogue – it’s the whole setup. The other part of the problem, you see, is the nature of the Doctor having any sort of lover, simply because it sexualises him and calls to mind the question of what he’s like in bed. It’s an elephant in the room, but that’s what you were all thinking about during that kiss, wasn’t it?

But there was, again, that feeling of smoke and mirrors during the finale: the sense of a beginning, and not an ending. Moffat has a tendency to open up a new mystery just as he’s resolving an older one, and while we now understand the mystery of Clara and no longer care about the identity of the Doctor, another enigma has cropped up to take its place. I wouldn’t mind this, except that some three years later, I’m still not entirely clear on how or why the TARDIS exploded.

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This feels very much like the chief writer stretching out his run on the show to breaking point, and serving up mystery after mystery purely as a guarantee that they will extend his contract, until he can resolve that story arc and start up a new one at the end of the series. Seldom is there any real closure, the way there was even under Davies’ reign, because there is always a new puzzle to be debated and blogged. It’s a trick used in 24, which got away with it (just) on the grounds of being a show that was outlandishly silly. But Doctor Who is not supposed to be silly. It frequently is, and occasionally on purpose, but I seriously doubt that they sit down at tone meetings and say “Right: zany, off-the-wall looniness for that Dalek story, then”. It’s supposed to be a flagship of British family entertainment. It is a show that contains amusing moments and the occasional subtle fracturing of the fourth wall (mostly through a mockery of writer’s conventions that I will grant is done quite well), but it’s taken very seriously by everyone who produces it. Every episode is supposedly lovingly crafted to respect what has gone before and then build upon it for the future.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe we expect the show to look too much to the past. Perhaps Davies’ first series in charge was overlooked. For better or worse, he rewrote the rule book and appeared to have little, if any consideration for what had happened before, inventing new monsters galore and cutting all ties with the Time Lords and Gallifrey with a view to building up a new fanbase from the ground up. At the time, we called this disrespectful. We called it dumbing down, and not mindful of the legacy of the programme and its perennial viewers. And then everything changed. Some eight years later, we have a show that is so steeped in its own sense of history and self-importance it has become its own Episode 1: tired, humourless, and far too pompous to actually achieve its aims. Doctor Who is struggling with the millstone of history that is affixed round its neck – racing back and forth through its own history, too concerned with continuity to think about story. It has become the Doctor himself, in that final sequence, submerged and suffocated and seemingly entrapped within his own timeline. We wanted more respect for tradition, and we got it, but the price tag was heavy – and if we may take anything from Saturday evening, and this series in general, it’s that you should be careful what you wish for.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

God is in the detail (x)

At first, I didn’t think there was anything significant in ‘Nightmare in Silver’. It felt very cluttered, but not terribly coherent. I was struggling. But then a couple of light bulbs went on, and everything started to connect. And so – one day before the final episode of the series – here’s this week’s list of SEEMINGLY INSIGNIFICANT THINGS THAT WILL TURN OUT TO BE VERY IMPORTANT LATER ON.

Firstly, observe the countdown screen.

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You see the list of numbers on the left? Well, they refer to the first ten Doctors. Specifically the first one, who is highlighted with an X. This once again indicates the connection between Clara and the First Doctor. But that’s not all. Notice, also, the presence of the word ‘Armed’ in the middle, meaning that reading from the left you get ‘1 Armed’…one-armed what? One-armed bandit? One-armed man?

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Ah!

Mike, the one-armed man from Twin Peaks, as played by Al Strobel. Which, by a curious coincidence, is an anagram of ‘Laser Bolt’. WHICH IS HOW MADAME VASTRA IS GOING TO DIE TOMORROW.

There was also a one-armed man in The Fugitive, in which innocent man Richard Kimble was pursued across the United States by the diligent Inspector Gerard. I mention this not for the sake of random trivia, but because it’s VERY IMPORTANT. Because of this.

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It’s the Eastenders girl again, but she was expendable and irritating, so ignore her. Look instead at the windows in the background. Blue, aren’t they? And green. Which is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labour unions fighting for environmental causes. And the co-chair of their board of directors is the International President of United Steelworkers – a chap called Leo W. Gerard. Case closed.

(Coincidentally, in the 1993 film of The Fugitive, Gerard was played by Tommy Lee Jones, but that reminds me of Martha, so let’s not go there. Also Kimble was played by Harrison Ford, and a Ford is a shallow crossing on a River, so let’s really not go there.)

Blue also features here, in this image.

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You can see the flag, can’t you? The blue and white one? Blue and white, as in…oh, I don’t know. The state flag for Colorado?

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And, of course, the inclusion of a big letter ‘C’ on this flag is pure coincidence.

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Yessir. Pure coincidence.

Now, my friends, to Tolkien. Here’s the Unknown Soldier.

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Notice what she has? A nose ring? And what literary classic do we know that features a powerful ring? Let’s also remember, of course, that her eyes are angled left, and that if she were facing north she’d be gazing westward, which in turn recalls this:

“There’s a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving”.

Oh, you could do a whole story about ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and Doctor Who, but I don’t have the time. Still, the allusions run deeper, and then there’s a feint and another feint and it all twists in a new direction. Take a look here.

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This, if you remember, was the Cyberman’s head sitting on the pile of boxes that are blatantly a pile of boxes. But look at the sign. “Staff only”, I think you’ll find. And Who Carries a Staff? Yes, he does. (Sorry. You see what I did there, right?)

Gandalf carries a staff. Gandalf was played by Ian McKellen. Ian McKellen voiced the Great Intelligence, who appeared in ‘The Snowmen’. “Aha!” I hear you say, “this must mean that McKellen is coming back.” Well, no, it doesn’t. Because the other thing you need to know about Ian McKellen is that he’s currently starring in a dreadful sitcom called Vicious, in which he plays one half of a pair of ageing gay men in an antagonistic relationship. The other is played by Derek Jacobi, who also played The Master.

What does this mean? It means, of course, that we’ll deal with the Great Intelligence next week, and then in the last minute of the episode, Derek Jacobi’s hand will appear in shot and pinch the soldier’s nose ring.

I swear, sometimes I’m so brilliant I amaze even myself.

Categories: God is in the Detail, New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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