There is a book on my shelf that makes the list of Brilliant Charity Shop Finds of 2017. Entitled Figure Fantasy, it celebrates the work of Daniel Picard, who has turned the careful posing of costumed action figures into what is quite literally an art form. Here’s the Man of Steel etching “BRUCE WAYNE IS BATMAN” onto a wall with his heat vision. Here’s the Hulk bending a tree. Here’s Darth Vader propped up at a urinal, the toilet walls lined by stormtroopers anxiously trying to incline their heads in the opposited direction. Look him up; the guy’s a genius.
I do not have Picard’s photographic skills, swanky lighting or creativity. I also don’t have the time or the patience. I have trouble enough getting the ruddy things to stand upright on concrete without wobbling in a summer breeze. However, I do have a decent-sized garden and the occasional good idea. Which has meant that as the children have got older, and the tendency to re-enact the finale of ‘Blink’ recedes somewhat, our playtime sessions have been replaced by impromptu photos in the garden. “Give me a Capaldi,” I’ll say in the manner of a concentrating surgeon or experienced mechanic, not taking my eyes from the scene I’m semi-meticulously assembling. “Dalek. Cybermen. Damn, we’ve got a wobble. Blu-tac, quick! CAN I GET SOME HELP IN HERE PLEASE?!”
Look, Doctor Who toys deserve to come out of their plastic packaging, all right? I can’t understand – truly I can’t – the mentality of people who buy them simply to have them, in order to build up a collection that does nothing except gather dust, a factory line of plastic David Tennants that sit permanently bubbled in cellophane, their tiny arms and legs bound with those irritating little cable things. Oh, they’re worth more, are they? What’s worth? How do you measure that?
So one of my Angels is missing a wing and Morbius’s leg has a tendency to drop out of its socket unannounced, but at least they get used. And such is the extent to which I have neglected this blog this year that we have a whole stack of unposted pictures, enough for a small exhibition, all hastily composed and all equally ludicrous. So this week and next, while you’re all drumming your fingers waiting for ‘The Halloween Apocalypse’, I’ll stick them all out here.
We’ll start with this one.
“Oh great. We’re back on Trenzalore.”
Unused Fourth Doctor stories.
“Right. I don’t want to panic anyone, but there’s a leek in the boat.”
“Interesting look, Frobisher.”
Now showing on Britbox: Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes.
“Hello, old friend. And here we are, you and me, on the last page.”
“Seriously. You’ve been out for like a month and a half. Don’t you think you can stop doing that now?”
“When this baby hits eighty-eight miles an hour, you’re – GREAT SCOTT!”
“I’m sure you’ll get the…point, Doctor. He. He he he he.”
The Doctor and Graham get caught up in a game of Tetris.
“Hey, anybody seen a – you know what, never mind.”
Been a little quiet in here of late, hasn’t it? There will come a day when I get back to posting regular content, but it is not this day. It’s likely to be the beginning of November, when we’re in the thick of Series 13. I used to post memes here regularly, and I may get back to doing that again, but a lot of the time the media interest has come and gone and it feels a bit more like lip service, or obsessive archiving for the simple reason of having done it, and for one reason or another that doesn’t sit right with me any more.
In the meantime I’m doing a little administration for a database website I run, and working on the book, and still creating regularly. As you’ll see…
1. Closing Time: Alternate Ending (August 2021)
My children tell me that my contempt for James Corden is rooted in the observation that he’s fat and successful, whereas I am fat and unsuccessful. There is probably some truth to this. At the same time I can’t help but wonder at the enduring appeal of the man, just as I can’t help but wonder at the enduring appeal of tailgating, or Bette Midler. He’s just so…there, and not in a good way. Rumours of unpleasant offscreen behaviour abound, and I probably wouldn’t mind so much were the man not so omnipresent, propping up musicals, chat shows and reunion specials with an overly familiar sycophancy that borders on excitable mawkishness. Even when he’s acting Corden is seemingly only able to play himself, and when said self is an outright dickhead, it doesn’t make for comfortable viewing.
I mean, he’s all right in Doctor Who. There’s a chemistry of sorts with Smith, who – thanks to Gareth Roberts’ flair for dialogue – bounces off him nicely. But I can’t be the only one who watched the end of ‘Closing Time’ with my teeth gritted. And so I changed it. And I can’t help thinking this new take, juvenile as it may be, is nonetheless slightly more believable than blowing up Cybermen with love. But then I’m fat and unsuccessful. What do I know?
2. Doctor Who, Alan Partridge Style (August 2021)
Confession time: I’ve had this one on the back burner for years. I mean it. At least three. The idea of redubbing K-9 with Steve Coogan’s Presenter From Hell wasn’t entirely mine, but once someone had suggested it I realised that it would need to centre, quite obviously, around him being rude to Adric. So that was a starting point, and what followed was years of procrastination, until This Time came back for a second series and I realised that it was best to just get on and do it before the character falls completely out of favour. So what you’ve got here is material from the first series of I’m Alan Partridge – I’m a stickler for a laugh track – with a promise that there will be a sequel somewhere down the line. He does manage to be summarily rude to Adric: turning the tin dog into a lecherous creep was a side effect, but I largely think it works.
3. Flux Trailer (October 2021)
So everyone was complaining that there was no proper trailer for Series 13, and that we just had the odd few seconds of out-of-context material, looped for about a minute, along with a bit of mugging for the camera. A closed set is seldom a good sign – sure, everyone knows about the Angels and Sontarans but I can’t help thinking that this is going to be six weeks of heavily dissected silliness, and in a way I can’t wait for it to be over so we can all get back to our normal, casual bitching, instead of the high intensity catfights that take place while a series is on.
Still. Flux. That’s…dysentery, surely? Well, we opened with a fart; why not close with one? And a bit of follow-through? Anyway, you lot wanted a proper trailer, so now you’ve got one. Make sure you watch to the end.
‘Allo. Been a while, but nice to see you. More videos you’d be wanting, is it? Righto then, let’s see what we’ve got in stock.
1. Doomsday: Alternate Ending (March 2021)
The more a scene is revered, the more likely it is that I’ll end up mocking it. And they don’t get much more revered than the tearful, overwrought beach farewell that wrapped up series 2; watching Rose puff out her cheeks is still enough to get me giggling. Not enough with adding a laugh track a while ago, I decided – purely for the sake of producing something for the first time this year – to spice it up with another of the Doctor’s famous lines. It’s not one of my better ones, but it gets a laugh.
2. Stay Outside (April 2021)
Now, this one. This one I am proud of. You will remember, last spring, that the first lockdown saw a spate of government advice telling us all to stay in our homes and only leave when absolutely necessary, and don’t forget your physical jerks and we have always been at war with Eurasia. I dealt with some of the cabin fever by accompanying one of the radio announcements with scenes from ‘Heaven Sent’, which worked quite well.
This time around, we’re out of lockdown but we’re still supposed to be cautious – and thus here’s Dr. Hilary Jones (yes, he of This Morning) to tell us all about the things we should and shouldn’t be doing. And here’s Matt Smith, trying to social distance from a group of murderous pensioners in Ledworth. Ain’t life grand?
3. The Masked Singer: Rhino’s Got A Bad Throat (April 2021)
Rhino? Rhino, you say? Well, that’ll be a Judoon reference, then. I had the misfortune of catching a solitary episode of The Masked Singer not long before Covid first hit, and thought it a good idea, poorly executed (a couple of structural changes and you’d have yourself a far more entertaining experience, but what do I know?). Still, it’s going strong in the UK and America – Kermit the Frog, of all people, making a recent appearance when he was eliminated early on – but it was this particular chap (in reality baseball star Barry Zito) who caught my attention, to the extent that I wound up redubbing some of his performances to a throaty rendition of ‘Rapper’s Delight’. I don’t know, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Ko Ro So.
4. The Geoffrey and Bungle Videos (April – June 2021)
Lurking somewhere on Facebook there’s a series called The Same Video of The Same Guys Dancing To A Different Song. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know it (and the varying success to which it works): if you’ve not, you get the idea. Suffice it to say that they’re pushing on towards five hundred of these and whether or not an embedded song fits the two fellas strutting their stuff is dependent on two factors: how well the rhythm fits, and the impact of whatever happens at the thirty second mark when the second guy joins in. The one they did to Cher’s ‘Believe’ was particularly good.
Anyway: I’m not about to try and replicate that particular stunt, but having decided to hook up Geoffrey and Bungle with Peter Howells’ arrangement of the Doctor Who theme a couple of years back, I opted to revisit familiar territory and see how many of these I could make using different songs. It wasn’t difficult – it’s just a question of working out the tempo and Googling to see songs that fit. Some worked better than others, but the ones that didn’t work (‘Livin’ on a Prayer’; ‘Pinball Wizard’) I elected not to upload. The one you can see below enjoyed brief popularity on Twitter, for reasons I have yet to fully discern, but I also recommend you check out Stealer’s Wheel, and probably Hammer. U can’t touch this…
You’ll have to have these largely without comment, I’m afraid. I mean we lost. We lost and the fans are thugs. We lost and the fans are thugs and Rashford and Saka got a shedload of abuse, empowered by our corrupt, inept government. The sort of government who goes to Harrods for sofa covering and Poundland for flags.
I mean it started quite well. We made it to the semi-final without conceding a goal. Early on – the day of the first group match, when the leaked lineup caused consternation (too defensive, and WHERE’S GREALISH???) – I’d tweeted suggesting that it was possible, just possible, that Gareth Southgate knew more than we gave him credit for, and that perhaps the #Southgateout abuse was premature. I received a flurry of replies, some of which were supportive, others less so, but I made a point of muting anyone who disagreed, simply because I didn’t feel qualified to argue back. Weeks later all the naysayers were suspiciously quiet, although I stopped short of turning it into a pinned tweet, simply because the final was as far as the team got, and you’d still have a bunch of people telling you that they could have done a better job than Southgate did.
So, you know. Don’t give them the inch they crave. Thank heavens we don’t get this in Doctor Who.
It was those early games that were perhaps the most hotly contested, given that we were doing…well, reasonably, against less than stellar opposition. It was more about the spectacle than the quality of football, given that the much-hyped second group match – the British derby against Scotland – was touted as the epic confrontation between two rivals, with hundreds of years of history behind it. I mean I get that the Scots hate the English, but I don’t think it works the other way round. Not really. We know that Braveheart is made up and we don’t judge you for it. And who doesn’t love a good haggis? In the end, of course, it was a goalless draw, and not a terribly interesting one to boot, with all the bloodlust and hatred north of the border conveniently shelved until the angry tweets after the semi-final, and let’s face it – we all know that’s really just a preamble for the Six Nations.
“Three Ryans on a shirt…”
The semi-final, of course, was where the controversy kicked in – with England thanks to a soft penalty, Kane bouncing in the rebound after Kaspar Schmeichel deflected the ball but failed to catch it. It was a crummy way to win and you did feel sorry for the Danes, who’d nearly reached the end under some very trying circumstances, but to be fair to them England were denied an obvious penalty earlier in the match, so it’s swings and roundabouts. “Sometimes it goes in your favour,” quoth a wise man, “and sometimes it doesn’t. And if you add them all up over the season, they balance out.” Said wise man was Alex Ferguson, who knows a thing or two about football, as well as being Scottish.
Really, the controversy in that semi-final was caused by a laser torch that appeared to be pointed at Schmeichel during the penalty in question, although it supposedly didn’t affect his performance and it was in any case impossible to tell where it was coming from.
It ended in tears, with violence and thuggery following a game played by sportsmen who’d conducted themselves with dignity: the team deserved a win, even if the fans didn’t. Could we say Italy played dirty? Perhaps.
But even if they hadn’t, there were mistakes made and some questionable tactics that I don’t really understand because my area of expertise is dramatic structure, not sport. I do know that I felt a sense of pride – not in my country, as such, but simply in the team, and the manager who’s become the best sort of role model for the young men on the pitch and the children watching at home; eloquent and considered and rational and graced with more dignity and compassion than a hundred political buffoons. I’m mindful of the fact that children my sons’ age look up to sportsmen, and for the first time in a long while that doesn’t worry me. You can lose graciously, which is kind of like winning, even if you don’t get to lift the trophy.
Still, at least we’ve got the Olympics, right? Something else they had to postpone until after lockdown.
My YouTube channel quietly turned ten years old in January this year. I’d completely forgotten until I noticed the date. It all started because of a TV show that Emily and I had watched one evening, and which we decided to make a little less scary by adding Michael Crawford to the mix. So when John Hurt is bothered by rattling doors, self-moving furniture and things that generally go bump in the night, it’s because he’s got Frank Spencer standing outside in the corridor. If you’d really like to know more, you’re welcome to watch the video that started everything off, although personally I’d prefer it if you went straight to its remastered equivalent, which is considerably slicker on the editing front.
Anyway: I’m still producing video content, although I’ve slackened off a little of late to get this novel finished. But every so often an idea comes up, and every so often I’ll be sat at the keyboard, frantically moving frames, replacing dialogue and saving the thing every ten seconds in case my software crashes (which happens a lot, alas). And there’s still a channel and while it’s never going to reach Mr Beast’s level of popularity, I remain quite proud of the body of work I’ve accumulated over the last decade. Here’s some of the stuff I was working on last year.
1. What Did The Doctor See Outside The TARDIS? (August 2020)
When we look back at how we handled Covid, and the people who got us through it, then Pip Madeley is likely to be featured in the list of heroes. Pip is great – amusing, naturally talented and one of those fans who just gets it, realising that the best way to enjoy Doctor Who is to actually enjoy it, preferably without taking either the show or yourself too seriously. And it was with this attitude in mind, presumably, that he came up with an ongoing series that entertained us all during those first few months: namely ‘What are the Movellans watching whilst in lockdown‘?
There were tons of them. Stuck on that spaceship the Movellans have been watching Eastenders, old commercials (many of which starred Who alumni) and even the train wreck that was the 50th anniversary afterparty, specifically when Jo Wiley tried to talk to One Direction over a satellite link. There were things on there we’d never seen before, and a bunch of stuff we’d not seen in years, rendered all the more ridiculous when mixed with gaping stares and stunned silence. Pip followed it up with a series set in the Big Finish car park.
Anyway. Fast forward (or rewind; time is relative) back to August last year and a limited edition series that I launched over ten days, which saw Peter Capaldi reacting to a bunch of different things when he was looking for Gallifrey at the end of ‘Death In Heaven’. They were easy to do, once I had the template, and quite a lot of fun into the bargain; the toughest part was working out the optimal order in which to sequence them. The one I’ve embedded below basically sets the pattern, but if you really wanted to you could watch the whole thing on YouTube – that said I particularly recommend day four, day eight and, if you watch nothing else, day ten…
2. The Lodger: Alternate Ending (October 2020)
Question. Can you take the scene where they’re running out of the flat-that’s-really-a-spaceship during the closing scenes of ‘The Lodger’ and splice it together with the bathtub descent in Paddington? Answer: no, you can’t. Not really. Not without looping the audio, which makes for a rather sloppy edit. But it had been ages since I’d done a video so it was the best I could manage at the time. In any event it gave a few people a few laughs, and that’s really only the ever reason why I do this.
3. The Handforth Parish Council Does Doctor Who (February 2021)
Well, this one exploded a bit.
My father worked as a clerk for a local council for some years, and he can testify as to the fact that what happened in Handforth – whilst going inexplicably viral early this year – is actually fairly typical for the sorts of things that go on at Parish Council gatherings, whether they’re happening in the flesh or online. There’s a kind of neutering effect to it. “It’s local politics, James,” he explained, “and many of the people who are involved wanted to be high-level politicans, but couldn’t, because other things got in the way, and so they have to test out all their high-scale dramas in small-scale meetings”.
It’s my view that no one comes out of the Handforth debacle smelling of roses – Jackie Weaver has been hailed the hero of the hour, and did the only thing she could under the circumstances, but the expelled councillor may nonetheless have been right to raise the objections that he did. Nonetheless the whole thing is wonderful to watch, whether it’s the misplaced order about standing orders (the remark on Jackie Weaver’s lack of authority has become the chief soundbite to be memed, but “READ THEM AND UNDERSTAND THEM!” has run a close second), the woman who forgets to mute herself while she answers the phone, or the whole disjointed pausing and talking over each other which is a staple part of every unedited Zoom call, but which in this case lent the whole sorry saga an extra layer of awkwardness.
This wasn’t the first Doctor Who video on the subject – nor was it necessarily the best – but I do think it more or less works. And while I’m not attributing its surge in popularity (at least by the standards of my usual hit count) as anything other than a general public fascination in all things Handforth, it was nice to get a hit count that made it out of double figures. If nothing else it’s an improvement on the original scene, which was dull as ditchwater. Plus Jackie Weaver gets to be a Dalek. What’s not to like about that?
Normally, about this time of year, I’m prepping the memes. Here at brianofmorbius we tend to favour the inappropriate: the worst possible choice for an image, amplifying the humour. The image of Bonnie Langford in Paradise Towers when they’ve announced the opening of leisure facilities. David Tennant surrounded by the ashes of an disintegrated spacecraft. With a click, the mouse scrubs back and forth along the video timeline, looking for that perfect frame. I get a few giggles. Job done.
This year I really don’t feel like doing that. Maybe it’s Covid. Maybe it’s a heightened sensitivity built around things that are happening in my life that I am electing not to broadcast. Or maybe I’m just tired of the drama. I see a lot of opinions on the web but not a lot of kindness. Being kind is not always the same as being nice; it’s important to make the distinction. The Doctor was usually kind but he also shouted at people when they deserved it. There is a marked difference between respecting the person’s right to a view and allowing rampant negativity to flourish. ‘Be kind’ does not mean ‘keep silent when an opinion is full of horseshit’. The Doctor wouldn’t, and if we must employ him as a role model (and generally I don’t), then that’s probably the best way of going about it.
But there is a thing about Doctor Who that has come to my notice this year, and it is this: for all its failings (and they are many, and frequent and not everything is because of Chibnall) it does a good job of giving the companions a backstory. The backstories are not always good, or even plausible, but they are there. They are there in a way that they generally weren’t during the sixties and seventies, where character histories were relegated to three or four lines of dialogue: Tegan’s aversion to ice cream; Jo’s failed science GCE. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most of us never had any expectation that Doctor Who should be grounded in reality; it’s a TV programme about a quasi-immortal shapeshifting alien with a magic box that travels in time and space. What do we care for the home lives of supporting characters? Give us an alien and a couple of explosions; that’ll do.
We started to care, I think, in the late 1980s, when Ace’s backstory became not just a tangible thing but a story arc. The other evening Emily and I were discussing Anne Reid, who’d popped up in a film we were watching. Emily pointed out – and I’d forgotten – that she appears in ‘The Curse of Fenric’. It is a wonderful story, perhaps the best of the McCoy era, but the overriding memory that I have of it consists of two things: the haemovores rising from the ocean, and Ace shouting at the Doctor. It was an archetype for everything that followed, just as Ace was the archetype for Rose and many subsequent companions who drew their shape from a similar gene pool. Here was a story in which family was not only acknowledged but pushed front and centre, at least for a few minutes.
And it strikes me now that family in Doctor Who is all too often dysfunctional. It has to be, because Doctor Who is about escape: the crew in Voyager were simply trying to get home; the TARDIS crew are generally trying to avoid it. The Doctor becomes a surrogate family man – a father, sister, older brother, love interest – to whomever is holed up in the bunk beds. That sort of relationship comes at a price, and the price is usually the relationship with one’s own family. It is a price worth paying in triplicate when that relationship is difficult or even non-existent.
There is a recurring trend on the Facebook groups: that single sentence. “If the TARDIS landed in your garden”, it says, “would you go?”. I never reply, simply because I would not, and it is both tedious and time-consuming to have to explain why. I wonder about the people (and they are many) who say they would jump at the chance. I wonder whether they are in denial, or haven’t thought through the possible consequences. Both are likely scenarios. And the whole thing is just a bit of fun and we must not take it seriously. But I also wonder whether there are people reading this posts whose own lives are so genuinely miserable that perhaps the TARDIS is a form of escape for them. There are people like this and I know there are people like this because I have spoken to them.
And how, I wonder, do these people react when they are presented with the dysfunctional families we see on screen? What do they make of feuding parents, of grief unspoken, of abuse and loss and pain? How do they react to companions who carry baggage like this through the TARDIS doors? How close to the knuckle do the stories cut?
And then I think about these parents and children. I think about Donna, saddled with a mother who could convey nothing but bitterness and disappointment. I think about Francine Jones, who made poor (if well-intentioned) choices and whose salvation lay in her daughter’s unconditional forgiveness. I think of Bill, whose relationship with her stepmother was toxic, and Clara, who – in addition to grieving her own mother – had to watch her father enter a relationship with a narcissistic sociopath. I even think of Ada Gillyflower, maimed and broken by her mother in a calamitous arrangement that foreshadowed what we learned about the Doctor in ‘The Timeless Children’.
I think of Amy, whose mother was quite literally ripped from existence, where even the memory of her was gone. What must that have been like? What sort of hole does it leave; how does it settle in the heart? And to then carry a pregnancy to term without having the first idea, no bonding and no reflecting and no preparing, only to have your child taken as if by an indifferent Catholic nun – and then to raise it again, unknowingly, in the most unorthodox of ways. “What you do,” says Rory, “isn’t all there is,” and how well we knew that by the end.
And I think of Sarah Jane, who found solace in motherhood without sacrificing her career, and Rose, whose mother – and I’ll admit I’ve sometimes being quite rude about her – was protective and honest and compassionate. And of the supporting players, the bit parts that resonate. Nancy, who saved the world by restructuring her relationship with her son. Willa Twist, determined to live out her mother’s legacy.
And I remember my own mother, and how complicated that relationship was, particularly in her last years. How a wave of maternal pride could be undone by a single barbed comment. The grudges she held and the prejudice she harboured. The difficulty of balancing my relationship with her against the one we have with my in-laws, avoiding blame, the endless juggling of calendars. Learning not to talk, under any circumstances, about Brexit. And how we skated around the edge of a lot of things we didn’t say and now never can.
And I loved her, but. There is always a but, and most days it doesn’t matter – most days you can archive it, remembering the good times. And there were many of those, and the constant edginess I felt in her presence became something I lived with, and I know that there are others who have had things much worse, and some of them are very close to me, and that is as much as I’m going to divulge on the subject. But if you are hurting today, and particularly if your pain is raw, then I think of you. Because everyone deserves love, even the worst of us. May you find yours, whatever form it takes.
There’s a strong case to be made about Doctor Who: that it is a children’s show that appeals to adults. I am not going to be making that here, although I do happen to subscribe to that theory, and enjoy the programme far more as a result.
But you’d be surprised how many of the ridiculous Photoshopped images I produce are themed around children’s shows. We’ve had Teletubbies and jolly postmen. We’ve had Sooty and Sweep. And we’ve had those nightmarish In The Forest of the Night Garden pictures I did a few years back. You want a guaranteed slumber-free evening? You stick Makka Pakka outside the TARDIS with his bloody sponge. That’s enough to get any of us hiding under the bed.
Still. Here are a few I’ve been holding in reserve until I felt I had enough to warrant a decent-sized collection. Why not today?
We’ll start with a bit of Henson, because you can’t go wrong with a bit of Henson.
Meanwhile in the TARDIS, there’s a commotion on the console.
This one needs no caption.
Nor does this.
Doctor Who quotes, out of context.
Oh, and speaking of Rainbow, I think I did this for St. George’s Day, last year. That’s how long it’s been kicking around.
Anyone been to Legoland Windsor? There is a TARDIS outside the shop. Unfortunately there are no costumed minifigures wandering around, at least none that are Doctor Who themed. So I put some in.
In this evening’s stage performance of ‘Utopia’, the part of Captain Jack Harkness will be played by Lotso the Bear.
“Yeah, I dunno. It just sort of turned up one morning.”
“British Isles. 1950s. Late spring. Saturday. I’m sure I can hear a train somewhere.”
You’re not supposed to apologise when you’re a politician. Dominic Cummings didn’t. Boris hasn’t. Trump certainly didn’t; I don’t think he’s capable of remorse. But I probably should: I’ve let you all down. You’ve been sitting there, on tenterhooks, awaiting something new and bloggish from the BoM crew (a crew consisting of one balding middle-aged man in a severely untidy study), and what happens? Nada. Zip. Zilch. I can picture you all, crying into your beds at night, anxiously hitting the refresh buttons on phones and tablets and sobbing at children and significant others: “ALL I WANTED WAS SOMETHING TO HELP ME THROUGH LOCKDOWN AND HE CAN’T EVEN MANAGE THAT!”
What? What do you mean you haven’t?
There have been…difficulties in the house over the last few weeks, and while we’re stumbling towards a temporary and uneasy equilibrium I’ve kind of had my hands full. And on the occasions they’ve been empty, I’ve been drained. Lockdown seems to have done that to people; we’ve all slowed down a bit. Perhaps I’d be able to cope with this better had we not been in the throes of a pandemic; there’s nothing better for destroying your motivation to do stuff than the knowledge that you more or less have to do it because you can’t go out.
That’s not to say I haven’t been producing content. There’s loads of it, and it’s all stacked up like an M20 Brexit run. Shall we clean out the pipes?
We start in early January, with the news that archaeologists in Pompeii had dug out the remains of what appeared to be a Roman fast food stand, complete with serving holes and some questionable artwork.
I’d love to visit Pompeii. I’d love to visit anywhere, come to think of it; you don’t appreciate small local jollies until that’s all you can do. Last May was Thomas’ birthday: we drove out to East Hendred, not too far from here, and walked through a small patch of woodland. At any other time of year it would have been a mundane afternoon out. In the midst of a pandemic, it was an adventure.
There’s always TV, of course. For example, early February saw the Super Bowl, which led to the obligatory Photoshop.
While the rest of the UK languishes inside, Boris is spotted riding his bike in Olympic Park. How do we know this?
Meanwhile in the TARDIS: Exhausted, disheartened and under-equipped, Rory is in desperate need of assistance as he battles to save the life of his patient. Fortunately the Doctor and Amy are on hand with a solution.
Of course, the big news so far this year (I use the word ‘news’) loosely concerns the rumours about Jodie Whittaker’s imminent departure, with ‘a source’ leaking the announcement to the Mirror. The BBC have neither confirmed nor denied this information, which is a euphemism for ‘it’s probably true’. It would certainly fit the mould: three series and that’s your lot, it seems, and I wonder what would happen if Whittaker were to actually regenerate in front of a companion who clearly loves her, or who is if nothing else becoming excessively clingy. If nothing else it’d be a bit of a laugh.
Say what you like about the Mirror, but they have form: they knew about the shift to Sundays, they knew about Walsh and Cole, and they clearly have a man on the inside, even if that man turns out to be Chibnall. But until it turns out to actually be the truth, it’s probably best if we treat such rumours with a heavy dose of salt.
Speaking of salt – well, no. Not salt, per se, but Weetabix toppings. In one of the least likely pairings since fish fingers and…well, you know, Weetabix have teamed up with Heinz to offer what is for many of us a frankly unorthdox breakfast solution. I’m fine, I don’t eat the stuff anyway, but it’s caused a furore over social media, largely because we’re in the middle of lockdown and there’s sod all else to do; not even a field trip.
We’re told to work from home, which is fine unless you’re a freelance piano teacher and your pupils don’t actually want to have online lessons, or your internet connection is rubbish, or you happen to be a cat.
But however bad things have been, chances are you’re having a better time of it than Donald Trump. Having spectacularly failed to mount the coup he’d allegedly been inciting – despite the best efforts of armed protesters who stormed the Capitol – the 45th President of the United States found his options running out and his supporters waning (well, some of them) and ultimately he had no choice but to slink off with another Donald who’d found himself suddenly removed from office.
It gets worse. Next thing you know the public at large is demanding Trump’s removal from Home Alone 2, a cameo filmed in one of his hotels and which he allegedly bullied the production team in order to secure. It rarely gets played in network broadcasts these days – it’s easier, I suppose, to simply avoid the headache – but the stills are out there on the internet, lingering like smears in the bathtub, and it seems the planned course of action from the clicktivists is to saturate Google with Photoshopped images that show Macaulay Culkin in conversation with someone else, so as to bump the displaced President down the search results.
Oh well. In for a penny.
But perhaps Trump’s biggest disaster was the loss of his Twitter account – a potent and powerful tool that enabled him to spread false information, rally his troops and (if nothing else) stay in the headlines of a press who hung on every misleading, poorly-spelled word. The permanent suspension that eventually hit in January was too little, too late, but you can’t entirely blame Twitter for not taking action until it was certain they wouldn’t be hit with an executive order demanding they cease and desist all operation immediately (which is, let’s face it, exactly what he would have done). As it stands, I’ve heard he took some rather drastic steps in an attempt to get himself reinstated.
We’ll finish with some of those Bernie memes. You know. The ones that got everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Who knew the simple act of sitting cross-legged on a chair wearing a pair of mittens could have such a gargantuan impact on web traffic? What happened to us all to make us lose our minds like this? And yes, I’m using the third person quite deliberately, because this really was a gift to those of us who do this sort of thing more or less daily. And thus I made a few myself.
See you again soon for more silliness, and possibly even something with a bit of substance to it. But don’t hold your breath…
I was going to open this post with an explanation concerning the story you’re about to read. I swiftly abandoned the idea when I realised that I was basically just describing the text, and there’s nothing worse than having someone summarise the contents of a piece of fiction rather than letting it unfold itself as the author originally intended. In many ways it’s a shame, because it was good prose – still, I’ve consigned it to the Fiction Collection page, available elsewhere on this blog.
This particular one came about because over at The Doctor Who Companion we’ve been working on our first ever Christmas Annual – dedicated to the idea of companions and their seasonal escapades. The whole thing is available in PDF form, and in it you’ll find stories about the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, Bill and Heather, and even the Master. Do have a look; if nothing else it’ll give you something to do while we’re all waiting for ‘Revolution of the Daleks’.
Anyway, here’s mine. Cast your mind back, constant reader – all the way back to 2011…
Rory thinks: This will be the last year.
He looks out. The tail end of the winter sunlight has bled away, leaving the sky a deep Prussian blue, like the cloth of a military uniform. Somewhere beyond the exosphere, there are stars, although the house is in a well-lit terrace and you can’t really see them. Rory scratches his head to think that he might, at some point, have visited some of those stars, or at least their nearest neighbours. The man from Leadworth, skipping across the universe in a double heartbeat. Not to mention his other life, half-remembered and best forgotten: 2000 years of plastic solitude, hiding behind a locked door.
In his quieter moments he allows the concept to overwhelm him. And then there is a snap and he is back in the room. In his head, he can hear the Doctor. Don’t be ridiculous, Rory. That’s Iota Trianguli. I’d never take you there; they worship carrots.
He still remembers his encounter with the octopus barbers of Cirrus Minor; how they’d crooned in Gaelic while they snipped and trimmed. He had only gone in to ask for directions, but there had been a cultural misunderstanding and the next thing he knew he was being suckered to a plastic chair. Walking back to the blue box, where the others were waiting, under the twilight of a topaz yellow sun. They had offered sympathy and condolence, and then hidden all the mirrors.
Amy is much better at this stuff, he thinks to himself.
Rory has always felt two chapters behind, as if the Doctor and Amy were discussing plot points he was yet to reach. There are conversations about the travels they had without him, in the days – weeks? months? – before they started travelling together, the failed attempts at piloting the TARDIS, the bedroom with its matching Transformers quilts and electric train set. And then they were here, and the chapter began anew, and still he often feels as if there are pages he has neglected to read.
From the next room: laughter, the sound of Eric Morecambe menacing Arthur Lowe with a replica pistol. Then applause, and the familiarity of Bring Me Sunshine. Rory would quite like to be watching it, but he is keeping an eye on the stuffing.
Amy enters from the shed, carrying something metallic and roughly cylindrical. “This the one?”
“We have more than one blowtorch?”
“I found three. I think two of them may not be ours.” She rests the one she’s carrying on the kitchen worktop. “So. How does this improve the pudding?”
“Caramelisation. It’s like doing a crème brulee.” Rory picks up the blowtorch, dusting it with the sleeve of his cardigan. “I saw it on YouTube.”
Amy purses her lips very slightly and gives him the fish-eye. “Just don’t set fire to the kitchen. You know. Again.”
Rory feels his own eyes involuntarily roll. He puts down the torch and goes back to the cutlery drawer. Pulls out two knives, two forks, two spoons. The cutlery glints by the light of the kitchen.
He hesitates, looking over at the table. Then back at Amy, who has just finished pouring herself another glass of Shiraz. “Are we – ?”
She looks over at him, at the silverware in his hand. “What? Oh. Yeah. Definitely!”
It is a tonal shift from confusion to incredulity, managed in four words. Communication failures are the loose tiles in the marital roof, he has always thought, and this is one of them. He broaches the matter every Christmas. For Amy, it is a question that need never be asked. But they have never really resolved this, and thus it lingers, hanging in the air like an invisible stalactite, made of glass.
Rory reaches into the drawer, rummages, and pulls out another set. He sucks in his teeth.
“I can hear you doing that.”
She does not look round. Rory sighs. “I just – ”
“What? I mean, he’s our friend.”
“Yeah, and he never shows up. Because he thinks we think he’s dead.” Rory takes a split second to process that sentence, checking it for coherence. He decides that it works, despite being somewhat haphazard. Later he will decide that this is probably how Amy views him.
“Except that River knows we know. And she’ll tell him. And he probably told her knowing that she’d tell us, eventually. So he didn’t tell us because he knew she would, probably because he told her not to. Hey.” She flips the tea towel she has been using over her shoulders as if hoisting a knapsack. “It’s what he does, isn’t it?”
Rory has not been this confused since the poison scene in The Princess Bride. It pops into his head now, fully formed. He says, “Right.”
Amy sighs; it is a hand-thrown-to-the-air sigh, which is never a good one. “I know you think it’s pointless, but I’m not giving up.”
Is it pointless? Rory muses on this as he polishes the cutlery, fetching an extra plate from the cupboard to warm with the others. They have waited for the Doctor’s return for years; for some reason Amy always expects him at Christmas, “Because it’s the most inconvenient time, and so that’s exactly when he’ll show up”. He pulls at the oven door and then slides the plate inside: there is the scrape of glazed earthenware. The same ritual since Demon’s Run, since they got this house, since a parallel anomaly that he can no longer fully remember. Every December. This will be their third.
“I don’t like to see your hopes – I don’t know. Dashed. Every year,” he tells her.
“Don’t make this all about me. Besides, it’s Christmas. Christmas is about tradition.”
Rory thinks: So is seppuku.
Rory says: “I just don’t understand why anyone would voluntarily choose to have dinner with their in-laws.”
“Well, maybe not yours.” She tips him a wink; Rory is thrown by the sudden playfulness. A smile momentarily crosses his lips – The Princess Bride is back, the flirting of Buttercup and Westley.
Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he jolts at a repeated word: inconceivable, its dual meaning spiked with black venom. The other thing they do not discuss.
Rory looks away. Amy says “Is that spoon going on the table? Or do you – do you just like holding it?”
The sentences are losing cohesion, which means that Amy is more upset than she is prepared to admit. Rory is suddenly struck with something he will later determine was guilt; in the moment, it feels rather more like a desire to hug his wife.
He puts down the spoon, and then puts his arms around her, trying to somehow press out the anger, squeezing it away like the juice of an orange. Amy buries her face in the wool of his cardigan. It is only the side of her face, indicating a partial acquiescence to his affection as opposed to the total surrender he would prefer, but it will do for a start.
Amy pulls away, seethes. “Who! Who does it today? They’re supposed to show up on cosy winter evenings when you’ve just finished wrapping the presents. Bit of Holly and the Ivy, mince pie, and then on to the next house.” She is storming across the kitchen; now she reaches up to a shelf, pulling down the yellow plastic gun that is usually kept in reserve for next door’s cat.
The sink tap is turned on, and then off again. From the lounge they can hear the theme to Pointless, and then a second knock. Amy’s battle cry echoes as she marches down the hall. “If that is more carol singers, I have a water pistol!”
There is a Jewish tradition at the Passover Seder: an empty place left for Elijah, longed for and anticipated. And there are other stories, too, of unexpected stars, of unlikely gifts received with bewildered gratitude, of barren women who eventually bore prophets. There are choices and consequences and the two do not always match. We’re all stories in the end, he can remember Amy telling him once, although she couldn’t recall quite where she’d heard it. He wonders how this one will finish, and what choices he might have to make, and whether the two of them will ever be on the same page.
Rory wanders out of the kitchen to see who was at the door.
You can download the 2021 Doctor Who Companion Annual here.