Posts Tagged With: doctor who

What really happened to the Pink Windmill kids

windmill_catrina

Hi. My name’s Catrina…

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

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

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

lucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

grotbags

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

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

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

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

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

Only mine, of course, has Cybermen.

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Class War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nightvisiting

The Metaphysical Engine, or What Quill Did

The Lost

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

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

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

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

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Pen Pineapple Apple Pen

Sorry.

Actually, I’m not.

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

 

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

Author’s notes:

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

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How I learned to enjoy Love & Monsters

Published: 29 June 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doctor Who Quotes – Out of Context

Firstly:

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

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

Then there’s Steve.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s what I’ve done. Enjoy.

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

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

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

I don't wanna go

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

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

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

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Look to your left (part 304)

The other morning, I spotted this story in The Independent, and for reasons that ought to be obvious it reminded me of David Tennant.

obama

I mean, you can see why, can’t you? “Don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone…”

Anyway: I posted this in several Facebook groups with the words ‘Americans and Doctor Who fans. They’re not so different’, where it received a generally favourable response, and sparked a couple of interesting conversations about Theresa May. Except in one group (which I will not name), where one user (whom I will also leave anonymous) got quite hot under the collar about the fact that he wanted to talk about Doctor Who, and that we shouldn’t be mentioning politics. When I checked back later, the post was gone: given that I’ve posted other stuff in a similar vein there before, I am assuming that it’s because he complained.

I do try and avoid talking about butthurt in this blog, but this bothered me immensely. It bothers me for the same reason that people complain about religious leaders holding political views (or, for that matter, political leaders holding religious ones) or celebrities espousing particular values. J.K. Rowling is currently mocking supposed fans on Twitter who have seen fit to hold her to account for her views on Trump, suggesting that they might have missed the point of the books. Both holding and expressing political views is a cornerstone of democracy, and you do not forfeit the right to express those views because of a position of privilege. There is a right and a wrong way to do it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s off the agenda. Nor does it mean that political conversation is irrelevant or unwanted. It’s entirely possible to enjoy Doctor Who without having any idea of the allegories therein (my children do it all the time) but this does not in itself mean that a political reading is invalid. Or, as an acquaintance pointed out on Twitter the other day, “subtext clearly goes over people’s heads, but in the case of Harry Potter and Doctor Who, it’s text. It’s explicit!”.

helen_a_fifi

Anyway: here’s my open letter to the group, which explains things a little further.

I’m scratching my head a bit this afternoon.

Earlier I posted a photo of Barack Obama – making what I felt was a salient point about Americans who wanted the impossible, and comparing them to Doctor Who fans who also want the impossible. Eventually it was removed.

I am assuming this was because of political discourse: I had one person say “we don’t want this political crap”. That’s the sort of thing I hear quite a lot when I post things that touch on politics, mainstream or otherwise. The idea, supposedly, is that politics are off the agenda, although I can’t find anything within the guidelines to support this.

But here’s the thing: Doctor Who is a political show. It has been since the first Dalek raised its sink plunger back in 1964. It’s not a show that can be interpreted in that way if you want – it is a show that has been overtly political for a long time. It has a long line of left-leaning writers who held strong political views. It is a show that asks awkward questions and we love it precisely because of this. If you want to censor political discussion because it makes you uncomfortable, that’s fine. But you can’t stop there. You also need to ban discussion about The Daleks, The Mutants, The Curse of Peladon, The Green Death, The Silurians, The Sun Makers, The Happiness Patrol, World War Three, The Zygon Invasion / Inversion, Turn Left, The Christmas Invasion, and Kinda. Among others.

I don’t want to start an argument about Trump or Brexit or the alt right, and would dissuade any outright attempts to do so. I post these things without comment: they are there only to make people think, and I am hopeful that the bulk of group members would have the good sense to stop at the thinking part if they can feel an argument brewing. The role of art is to challenge and commentate as well as entertain – it’s been that way since ancient Greece – and this is occasionally done through the use of political satire. Doctor Who is no different in this respect from Yes Minister, or even Harry Potter. It’s not about possible interpretation, it’s about the actual subject matter.

So this is not a rant against the moderators, whose right to run the group the way they see fit I fully respect. But to those of you who complain (regularly) that “This is a Doctor Who group, can’t we leave politics out of it?”, I’d suggest that you’re not watching the show properly.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 103)

I will at some point write something sensible about Peter Capaldi’s not-entirely-unexpected departure at the end of 2017, but I was fighting general fatigue yesterday and insomnia last night. Today is thus not that day.

Tomorrow doesn’t look good either. After that, things will hopefully start looking Up.

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Meanwhile, over in Trumpwatch, the BBC makes a colossal boo-boo when programming its subtitles for the new President’s inauguration speech.

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And back in the TARDIS, the Twelfth Doctor is gobsmacked to find a couple of stowaways hanging out on the console room.

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Enjoy your Tuesday. I may go back to bed.

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Fish Custard: Reversed

I walked into the study on Monday morning to find the boys watching a Lazy Town video. Backwards.

It beats the hell out of some of the stuff I find in the internet history. I mean, I love YouTube. It’s a wealth of fantastic, entertaining material. It has recipes, educational videos, how-to guides and interviews. It’s enabled me to see programmes I haven’t seen in years and ones I’d forgotten about completely. It’s connected me with musical artists in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible, shown me ideas and concepts I could never have imagined and, for all the idiocy and bigotry, generally broadened my horizons.

And what were my kids watching the other week? Fucking Crazy Frog. Backwards.

It’s hardly Twin Peaks, is it? It’s quite amusing to watch Sportacus climb back into his cage while Robbie and his clones skip backwards over the wall, but you wonder what the point was. And then you look at the other stuff on the channel and you notice a pattern in the titles –

weare

HOW THE HELL HAS THIS GUY GOT SO MANY HITS? Do people like Lazy Town that much? Or is this another artificial inflation scam like the VEVO incident? I mean, here’s me, scrabbling for social media coverage, begging and borrowing and promoting like crazy just to creep into the hundreds, and this guy’s presumably living off his monetization. It’s enough to make you weep for the future of humanity; it really is.

The definitive use of reversed footage, of course, is in Red Dwarf, in an episode that isn’t really as funny as we’d like to think (gimmicky episodes seldom are, as ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’ proves in abundance). There are amusing moments in ‘Backwards’ but the best of the humour stems from Lister’s reactions (“Santa Claus – what a bastard!”), as well as that single shot of Cat, springing up from the bushes. But a better episode that series is ‘Marooned’, which is almost a two-hander, but which has some of the best gags in the history of the show. ‘Backwards’ has Lister falling off a bicycle. ‘Marooned’ has Rimmer doing the funniest Richard III you’ll ever see. Case closed.

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Anyway, I started to think about whether I could take anything from Doctor Who and run it backwards. I’ve occasionally reversed small clips in isolation – the Beckett video springs to mind – but was there any merit in anything longer? The problem was picking an appropriate scene, and seeing that inspiration was lacking I decided to ask Facebook. Someone suggested Clara’s death scene. “Anything with the Weeping Angels”, said someone else. “It’s just them backing away from people.”

There’s a lot of mileage in a scene like that but one obvious example – inspired, in part, by the scene in Red Dwarf where Rimmer and Kryten observe a woman regurgitating a cream cake – was the Fish Fingers and Custard sequence. Because it’s a wonderful moment that’s been done to death and had all the life sucked out of it with subsequent references (Why, in the name of sanity, does the TARDIS interface say ‘Fish fingers and custard’ to the Doctor when he’s lying on the floor halfway through ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’?). There is absolutely nothing new I can bring to that scene apart from reverse it and witness the Doctor’s telekinetic summoning of a reassembling plate across the garden, before sucking baked beans back into his mouth.

But what’s most striking about it is how similar it sounds to Nordic noir. As I was watching it – and particularly after I’d dropped in the background ambience, which comes courtesy of the lovely people at Cryo Chamber – it felt like I was watching a scene from The Bridge, or Modus, or Wallander (I assume; that’s one I’ve not seen yet). The analogy’s far from perfect, of course. Amelia’s house isn’t nearly Nordic enough. There’s not a single glass wall. She doesn’t even have decking. Nonetheless, the vibe is there. It’s the dialogue: it all sounds like Swedish.

And that’s given me another idea, but you’re going to have to let me finish it first…

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The Kasterborous Archives, #2: Eccleston is a great actor, but he never felt like the Doctor

Author’s notes:

OK, this one caused a rumpus. In its original form it garnered a fair number of comments, many of them negative and one or two calling for my head. Some of the best made it to the testimonials page. Timing was part of it; we published this on the tenth anniversary of ‘Parting of the Ways’ and Eccleston’s regeneration. It’s like holding an anti-war protest on Armistice Day. If that sounds like I’m overstating my case, you haven’t seen Doctor Who fans when they’re upset…

9th-ninth-doctor-the-parting-of-the-ways

Eccleston was a great actor, but he never felt like the Doctor

Published: 18 June 2015

I’ve loved Christopher Eccleston for years.

I loved him in Shallow Grave, where he played an unhinged Scot who drilled holes in the attic floor. I loved his brief, disconnected cameo in The Others, and his turn as sadistic Major Henry West in 28 Days Later. His performance in The Second Coming was a literal revelation. I even love him in Gone In Sixty Seconds, in which he makes the most of a dog’s breakfast as Raymond Calitri, a crime boss who gets to stick Nicholas Cage in a car crusher – which is something I think we’ve all wanted to do for years, or at least since 8MM. Calitri eventually falls to his death, but his best scene occurs earlier in the film, during an angry confrontation with Cage: “Am I an arsehole?” he asks directly. “Do I look like an arsehole?” (Cage’s response is a quiet “Yeah.”)

So let me repeat that disclaimer: I love Eccleston. He’s a talented actor and, if the rumours about his on-set conduct are to be believed, a man of great integrity. But I could never get used to him as the Doctor.

These things are always going to be relatively subjective. Everyone has their own ideas of what the Doctor ought to be, and what he isn’t, and what he… never won’t be… sort of thing. And I suppose that my Doctor is always going to be BBC English (all right David, I’ll settle for Estuary), with fashion sense that dallies between elegant and eccentric. Eccleston’s minimalist look is (purposely) as stripped back as his Doctor, and similarly direct. And it seems strange to me that I should find it as foreign as the idea of Shaggy wearing a business suit. All this is accompanied by remarks about “beans on toast” (a line I cannot hear in the mouths of any other Doctor, except perhaps the Sixth, in the same manner that he delivers the words “carrot juice?!?”). It all seems – and forgive me for this dreadful snobbery – it all seems a bit too working class. I know that’s the point, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

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It’s not the accent. I don’t think accent in itself is the problem, because I have no issue with Capaldi’s Glaswegian twang, even if I occasionally have to turn on the subtitles to make out what he’s saying above Murray Gold’s frankly intrusive score. It’s no problem having a Doctor who’s not from around here, although I think I was probably one of many people who was hoping that the Twelfth Doctor would use the words “Lots of planets have a Scotland” at some point in Deep Breath. (As it stands, we had the encounter in the alley, arguably more famous for being the first example of eyebrow fetish – and that regrettable scene with Vastra, in which Capaldi almost appears to be acting in a docudrama about Alzheimer’s.)

I watched Rose again recently with my six-year-old, and it’s sometimes tempting to wonder whether we’ve been more forgiving of that opening episode – of the series in general – than we would have been if it was in the middle of a Doctor’s run. How many of the shortcomings went unnoticed simply because it was Doctor Who, and it was back? Does it matter? I’d suggest it probably doesn’t, except when you line up all the Doctors in a row, whereupon Eccleston is the one that always sticks out like a sore thumb.

A friend of mine describes Vincent and the Doctor as “a good episode of something”, and in many ways he’s right: part of its charm lies in the fact that it’s relatively atypical. Similarly, Davies rewrote the rulebook in 2005 when he resurrected the show by effectively rebooting it. But it’s a trend that he and his successor spent the next ten years gradually undoing, and what we have now is a show that glorifies in its past, revisiting and rewriting it on a whim. And I wonder if the fact that the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors take obvious cues from previous Doctors – in a way that the first casting did not – has skewed my appraisal of the Ninth. In other words, to what extent is a failure to accept Eccleston a reflection of what’s come since, as much as what came before?

But there’s more to it than that. Not long before the 50th anniversary episode, I created (purely as a lark) a series of tables that charted the average effectiveness of each New Who Doctor when it came to dealing with the end-of-episode threats that he faced, at least when compared to any companions or supporting characters who wound up doing most of the work for him. In many ways the data is flawed, because he gets only one series in which to prove himself, but it should be no great surprise that the Ninth Doctor sits at the bottom of the list. He’s rubbish.

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It is his incompetence, indeed, which forms much of that first arc. That first batch of episodes is to all intents and purposes about the Doctor learning to be the Doctor again. The central concept was that of empowering the companions so that they are no longer screaming girls, and it is the Time Lord himself who is forced to diminish in order for this to happen. (When Rose admonishes the Doctor after their encounter with the Nestene in the series opener, proclaiming that he was “useless in there”, it more or less sets the tone.)

A brief analysis of that first series reveals a game of two halves. It’s all building up to Dalek – a good story, although the Big Finish drama upon which it is based is better. The finale of Dalek has the Doctor actively confront the monstrosity from Skaro, wielding the sort of gun you’d normally expect to handled by the likes of Jack (you almost expect Tennant to pop his head round the corner, raise an eyebrow and remark “Compensating for something?”). It’s a powerful moment, although anyone who seriously thinks it’s dramatically out of character clearly wasn’t watching the programme in the ’80s.

After Dalek – which I’ve always described as the Emperor’s Throne Room moment, given that it’s the point at which the central character comes close to losing the plot – Eccleston’s touch noticeably lightens. There is less brooding. At the end of The Doctor Dances he is boogieing around the TARDIS to the strains of Glenn Miller. But he still seems off somehow. The finale to that episode sees the Doctor fix the zombified patients simply by waving his hands. There’s excessive arm-folding. The ‘ape’ jokes are borderline offensive. It’s partly the scripts, but he feels like someone playing the part in a pantomime.

Then there’s a moment in Parting of the Ways where it clicks. It’s a small scene, in which the Doctor is on the floor of Satellite 5, assembling things out of cables and bits of circuits and chatting quietly with Rose. I like it because all of a sudden it feels right. I like it because, for just about the first and only time that series, Eccleston ceases to be the actor trying to play the Doctor, and actually becomes the Doctor.

And then a few minutes later, he regenerates.

Seriously. What an arsehole.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 46)

It was a little after one in the afternoon and the six of us were gathered round the dining table. The conversation had – for reasons I now can’t recall – turned to the subject of boobs.

I mean, what is it with young boys and inappropriate table talk? If it’s not boobs or bottoms it’s fecal deposit, the colour and texture of vomit or the ins and outs (quite literally) of sex. We have a set of dining rules stuck on the wall, and number ten – the one I call them out on most frequently – is “Don’t talk about anything unsuitable for mealtimes.” Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps it’s like a magnet, an invitation to see how far they can push us before we inevitably snap.

“Anyway,” I eventually said, not entirely seriously but with an attempt to restore a modicum of decorum to proceedings. “You really shouldn’t say ‘boobs’. You should say ‘bosoms’.”
“Oh,” said Josh. “I thought that was that religion.”
“That’s Buddhism.”

Honestly? It’s easy to mishear things. Particularly if there’s one word that you’re accustomed to, and another less-used word sort of sounds a bit like it.

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Is it a coincidence that I started to eat a lot of Brie right around the time I last saw ‘Fear Her’? I genuinely don’t think so.

My father grew up in Tunbridge Wells, and while my grandparents were alive we often went back there. You spend enough time hanging around Royal Victoria Place, certain things stick. I can still remember the grubbiness of the local Our Price, the semi-organised clutter of the small independent video game shop that was – as was so often the case with such things – there and then not there, like something from Terry Pratchett. And I can remember Fenwick, the department store that my grandmother insisted we visit one Saturday morning to have lunch, planning the whole thing with military precision and presenting, perhaps for the first time, an indication that her mental faculties were not what they were.

So in years to come, when I would familiarise myself with old Doctor Who stories, it was easy to misread ‘The Curse of Fenric’ as something entirely different.

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Anyway: the whole thing with Buddhism reminded me of a conversation I’d had with Daniel a year or so ago in which we’d discussed watching New Who: I was at that stage still trying to pick out random episodes I thought he’d like, before we eventually made the decision to watch them all.

“I think you’d enjoy The Fires of Pompeii, actually.”
“What’s Pompeii?” he asked.
“It’s an ancient Roman city. They had a volcano.”
“Oh. I thought it was those crisps.”
“That’s Pom-Bear.”

fires_pombear

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