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Review: The Eaters of Light

You have to feel a bit sorry for Rona Munro. There she is, making history – the first Classic Who writer to pen an episode for the new series, and the first story we’ve had from a woman since…well, ‘Survival’ that wasn’t either half-baked or utterly dreadful. For anyone who had doubts (and there’s no reason for you to have had doubts, but I will momentarily allow you that luxury), this week ought to be enough to dispel them utterly: women can write great sci-fi and they can write Doctor Who and ‘The Eaters of Light’ proves it in abundance. And what’s everybody talking about? Bloody John Simm.

Even I did it. Five hours after my episode 10 deconstruction I scheduled another Metro post that discussed the new promotional image for the series finale. There are YouTube clips from the Tenth Doctor’s confrontation with Rassilon, and quotes from Andrew Marvell. You go with the Twitter trends. I did, at least, decide that I’d make up for the shortfall in here. Because Rona’s tale of loyalty, empire and monsters in the darkness turns out to be one of the best episodes of Doctor Who this year, and possibly in a long time.

‘The Eaters of Light’ is one of those times when Doctor Who puts its own spin on an unsolved riddle. Agatha Christie, the Great Fire of London and the Mary Celeste have all had similar treatments (although really, spin-off material aside, why haven’t they done JFK yet?). And yet its windswept opening shows how much Bill has developed as a companion, given that the Doctor is, for once, letting her lead: she’s determined to find out what happened to the missing Ninth Legion, which may or may not have vanished in Europe some time in the second century, with the Time Lord taking the role of reluctant designated driver, in the manner of a father escorting a group of excited children to a Disney screening. From the outset to the conclusion, and all Tumblr-baiting monologues aside, we’re never in any doubt that Bill’s in charge: if this were a musical episode, she’d be singing ‘I’ve Got A Theory’, and Nardole would publicly admit his debilitating fear of squirrels.

It’s an interesting reversal: typically episodes open with a companion lamenting the fact that they’re on yet another grimy spacecraft, while the Doctor leaps around expressing enthusiasm for the workmanship. On this occasion it’s Capaldi’s turn to be grumpy: Aberdeenshire (all right, the Brecon Beacons) may be beautiful but the Doctor, you sense, is less than thrilled to be here. “It’s Scotland,” he harrumphs when Nardole complains about the weather. “It’s supposed to be damp.” Nardole, meanwhile, is stumbling over the rocks in his dressing gown like someone attempting an awkward Arthur Dent impression, but seemingly manages to ingratiate himself into the tribe within seconds of the Doctor stepping in to explore the cairn (although it’s been two days for everyone on the hill). Time passes much slower inside the portal than outside, acting as a neat forerunner to next week’s story.

In the meantime, Bill is making friends with what remains of the missing Ninth Legion, and is disturbed to find herself in the company of a bunch of teenagers: it’s like watching a sixth form caving trip gone horribly wrong. They’re hiding out in the woods, with low supplies and a visible sense of cabin fever, and despite some outward displays of bravado Bill is the Wendy they’ve clearly needed for quite some time. (I have an old friend who, in the aftermath of divorce, decided to go travelling; she seems to spend a lot of time hanging out with random twenty-somethings she meets in the hostels but in Thailand she ran into a group of male students who more or less adopted her for a bit, and watching Bill with Lucius and the others was not unlike how I imagine it was for her.)

It’s here that we’re forced to endure a ghastly vignette about equality and lesbianism – Bill, you see, is expecting a cacophony of awkwardness when she admits to Lucius that she bats for the other team, only to find that Lucius bats for both, and considers himself ‘ordinary’ – “I think it’s really sweet,” he adds, “that you’re so restricted.” We can see where they were going with this: ‘Ha ha,’ the BBC are saying, ‘look at you millennials, with your political correctness and cultural appropriation and so called enlightenment. You’re not the generation who invented sex, or non-binary.’ I’m not disagreeing, but that doesn’t mean it works dramatically – it sticks in the throat, a bitter, insoluble pill that you failed to swallow.

Thankfully that’s the only duff moment. Everything else just works. This is a self-contained narrative that is sure of its own identity. It is well-constructed and frightening when it needs to be, with decently-realised set pieces. Even the finale, which feels rushed and madly convenient (oh look, it’s the self-sacrifice trope again) is reasonably good. And Murray Gold – presumably on retainer at the moment – seems to have actually composed something of substance this week, with some pleasant enough New Age Celt things.

It helps that director Charles Palmer takes his visual cue from Nick Hurran by showing us the monster only sparingly. A single establishing shot of the Pictish beast racing towards the cairn (and a couple of illuminated flashes inside it) is about as substantial as it gets: the rest is all flourishes in the dark and wriggling tentacles. It is the ground itself that appears to have come to life: this is, of course, not the case at all, but it’s hard not to be a little unnerved when Bill is running through the woods with certain death right behind her. It’s notable that, like its spiritual companion, ‘Eaters’ suffers a little from a slightly tacked-on epilogue, but there has been a great deal written about that elsewhere and it’s not something I’m inclined to explore until I’ve seen exactly where it’s going.

Supporting cast are the usual mixture of affable, headstrong and irritating, but it’s the leads – and particularly the Doctor – who excel. Sidelined to an extent during ‘Empress’, Capaldi is in full flow this week, tossing his moods between scornful P.E. teacher and the dark sage we met at the end of ‘The Zygon Inversion’, although with considerably less shouting. It’s curious that in his two key scenes he’s addressing the same person, with varying degrees of contempt. “You got a whole Roman legion slaughtered,” he says to Kar about halfway through, “and you made the deadliest creature on this planet very very cross indeed.” It’s not the sharpest dialogue in the world, but it’s a moment where Capaldi sounds so incredibly like the Seventh Doctor you can picture McCoy sitting at home, saying “I could have done that. Actually I basically did, didn’t I?”

Still, it’s later (and not much later) that the actor really gets his chance. “Are you sulking?” he says. “When you want to win a war, remember this: it’s not about you. Believe me, I know.” It is whispered and understated, with Capaldi’s native Scots perhaps even more pronounced than usual, the way that newly repatriated residents often find their accents slipping back towards the native when they go home. It’s a stunning scene, worthy of the best of Tennant, but you sense that of the newer actors only Capaldi could really have pulled it off. If this series doesn’t win him a BAFTA, there is no justice.

Doctor Who episodes are too often rather hastily appraised. Much of the unsavoury reputation attributed to ‘Fear Her’ is down to its proximity to ‘Love and Monsters’; likewise I tend to view ‘In The Forest Of The Night’ with some disdain because ‘Do nothing’ is the solution to the problem twice in almost as many weeks. Similarly, there’s a very real risk that the good stories are being overshadowed this year because of headline-grabbing departures, regeneration rumours and long-anticipated character reappearances. What Munro has created this week is poetic and beautiful, but it will almost certainly be ignored in the weeks to come while excitement about the Master reaches fever pitch. It’s no secret that most fans seem more preoccupied with the words ‘Give us a kiss’ – and what that kiss might MEAN, BECAUSE IT’S IMPORTANT – than anything the Doctor said or did this week.

Because the inconvenient truth is that ‘The Eaters of Light’ is, at the moment, once more consigned to the undergrowth from which it came until the buzz dies down. For many fans it is a narrative hurdle, a story that was good fun but in which John Simm failed to appear. For still others there was resentment: where, I was asked more than once, was Rory the Roman? Why couldn’t we get a cameo? At least a nod? And I lament that this is how we do things now; that it is somehow expected that writers cater to the whims of fans simply because the fans now have an easy way of making their feelings known in advance. Never mind the fact that they had a legitimate excuse as far as the Telegraph was concerned, given that someone erroneously hit the ‘publish’ button six or seven hours before the episode went out. Are we really now at the stage where Doctor Who fans think they’re stakeholders in the writing process? (It is at times like this that I miss Points of View. At least you could only complain about stuff when it had already been broadcast.)

So much for fandom. Will end-of-series retrospectives and future rankings judge Munro’s masterpiece more kindly? Or is this a squandered opportunity, a story that will forever be resented for the things it chose not to do – and with good reason – than for the many things it did brilliantly? And good reviews don’t count. I want to see enthusiasm among the community. I want the audience to be jumping up and down and seeing this story the way I saw it, rather than with the nonchalance I witnessed on Sunday from those who thought it was ‘filler’, or ‘dull’, or ‘a good episode, I guess, but I’m stoked for the finale’. That’s not good enough. I want them to see it the way I saw it – to see that this is one of the best stories in years, and certainly one of the best the current series has offered. Can we get there? Against all odds, can we get there?

Time will tell. It always does. But sometimes they’ve already cancelled your show.

 

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God is in the detail (10-09)

Something a little different today.

Let’s be honest. This week’s Doctor Who was not about the visual stuff. Most of it was caves. There were shots of tea. But there was nothing you might really call substantial. Nothing that gave us the IMPORTANT CLUES AND SIGNS that we’ve become accustomed to.

But something strange and wonderful happens when you examine the script. Specifically, certain portions of the script. Even more specifically, every twelfth word (for reasons that ought to be obvious). In fact, I went through the script and wrote down every twelfth word – that’s spoken dialogue, you understand, not stage directions – and here is the final list, in handy chronological order.

Thanks, Chrissy.

So far, so bewildering. But you can rearrange those words to form…well, have a read. Note that this is not the entire collection: twelve words were kept back as a tithe to appease our Time Lord masters. It should be obvious what’s going on – but if it helps, imagine two battle-weary soldiers, in the still of the night, looking out over battlements under a strange alien sky.

“You do look busy.”
“I wasn’t asleep.”
“OK. Isn’t Alice here?”
“Yes. Sarge is receiving the Vikings.”
Sergeant. Rhino warriors?”
“Human. Trapped in a Sarcophagi under the surface of Mars.”
“Quite a game with mankind. Taking over a British company…”
“A gouged carapace.”
“Swing your board at it.”
“Your will is my command.”
“Please yourself.”
“Got to. This Friday is oh, so long.”
“This is temporary. There’s no life.”
“Isn’t that a thing? This bio-mechanical world…for all God’s riches…tired, dead. No grass.”
“Like you knew.”
“I need a woman.”
“Our little blue monarch. Didn’t you make plans together?”
“Oh, details. This…first question…”
“Don’t speak of it. You show that to be unwise.”
“My pleasure.”
“There’s a service this Friday.”
“Here?”
The execution of the War Doctor. He was here.”
“Doctor Who?”
“Go hang. He hears you. We’re obliged to that poor beggar.”
“They could have asked me for help.”
“Yet you never ask.”
“No can do. I will miss the TARDIS though. I value war but want to stop.”
“You and your patriotic manner.”
“I liked gold. Seems we jump out twice minted. Everybody who is kind gave.”
“And so they sent you down.”
“Dawn. First thing…five.”
“For you take from here.”
“These forms…well, rope is right. This way is ever just. Though we used to…”
“Up to him, son. Been getting him down. Or us.”
“One here, one going. So come.”
“Yes. Hold here.”
“Forgive me. I had forgotten the munificence of the indigenous warriors.”
“It has taken you forward. You really must board the rocket.”
“Ice came to everything…and to us.”
“And a whole new theme in ice. I’ll survive. All things considered, I will survive.”

With calculations primed, as Mars is awoken, the Doctor is going home.

Roll credits.

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God is in the detail (10-08)

Hail, brethren! The Monks may be gone, but do not weep, even though you have full cause of weeping. We shall discard the ephemeral and the propaganda and dig through the contents of ‘The Lie of the Land’ until we find THE TRUTH THAT IS HIDDEN. Because, as you all know by now, each episode of Doctor Who is replete with VERY IMPORTANT THINGS THAT WILL COME BACK LATER ON IN THE SERIES.

First, let’s look at a map.

You will note the cross, showing us the location of the Monks’ lair. In real world terms this translates to the Guildhall, marked below.

The connections here link back to none other than the Eleventh Doctor – by way of C.S. Lewis. First, note that the Guildhall is bordered by Gresham Street – referring to C.S. Lewis’ wife, Joy Gresham. Things become even more complicated when we consider the namesake Guildhall & Barrow Surgery in Bury St. Edmunds – referring both to Edmund Pevensie, core character in Lewis’ Narnia books, and also chapter eight of Fellowship of the Ring, ‘Fog on the Barrow Downs’ – written by J.R.R. Tolkien, friend of Lewis.

(As a brief aside, namesakes also figure elsewhere: Simon and Marek, the authors of The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who, appeared at the Guildhall Arts Centre, Grantham, on 22 September 2016. There is no obvious connection here except that 22 September is Billie Piper’s birthday. Why do I mention this? Just keep reading.)

Also note brief references to the Fourth and Tenth Doctors (Little Britain, top left, just above Postman’s Park; also Noble Street, a couple of blocks to the right). But the largest green space is occupied by the Festival Gardens…just below Paternoster Row.

We’ll just let that sink in for a moment.

This is all linked with Matt Smith, then. But why? Well, you’ll find out later. But in the meantime, here’s the interior of the Doctor’s office, on board the prison hulk.

First, examine the shelves: two racks, with four separate compartments on each. The decorative bottles are thus situated on compartments 1 and 9, thus referring to both Hartnell and Eccleston. Note also the appearance of said bottles: the first is cylindrical, a CLEAR AND DIRECT reference to the shape of the undisguised Type 40 TARDIS that Hartnell’s incarnation is seen pilfering in ‘The Name of the Doctor’, and the bubble-shaped appearance of the Ninth Doctor’s bottle, referring to the time-locked, self-contained war that he can no longer access.

Just out of shot: a bottle in slot 14. Ooh, Moffat, you TEASE.

Note also the statue of the Monk, pointing directly at the black box on the wall by the doorway: itself positioned horizontally above (and apart from) the bottles, and therefore connected with them without being directly aligned. It’s almost as if we’re looking for an alternate Doctor, who favours black.

Finally: Black and White guardians – long overdue for a return, and THIS IMAGE CONFIRMS IT’S HAPPENING! The switch is black, the bottles are white: that’s your first clue. But there’s more to it than that. Consider the contents of the Doctor’s desk: the book, the pen and the telephone.

A brief Google finds instructions on a craft website titled Chicaandjo for an upcycling activity that enables you to recycle a phone book into a pen organizer. I’ll say that again: recycle a PHONE BOOK into a PEN organizer.

So what? I hear you ask. Well, note the date on this entry: 24 February 2009. Ostensibly an unimportant day in the Whovian calendar, except that it happens to be the thirtieth anniversary of the Black Guardian’s first appearance, at the end of ‘The Armageddon Factor’ – part six of which was broadcast on 24 February 1979. Get ready, folks. An epic cosmic clash is coming.

Let’s move on and look at that radar.

This is, as you’d probably gathered, about the First Doctor. The position of the blip on the radar – at one o’clock – is testament enough, as is the fact that north is angled in the same direction on the compass. But that compass deserves special attention, chiefly because of the numbers that surround it – increments of 30, rising from 0 to 360.

But that’s surely just degrees, isn’t it? Well, not if you translate them into episode numbers:

30 The Aztecs: The Day of Darkness (Part 4)
60 The Web Planet: Escape to Danger (Part 3)
90 The Daleks’ Master Plan: The Nightmare Begins (Part 1)
120 The Savages: Part 3
150 The Moonbase: Part 3
180 The Ice Warriors: Part 2
210 The Dominators: Part 2
240 The Space Pirates: Part 4
270 The Ambassadors of Death: Part 7
300 The Daemons: Part 3
330 The Three Doctors: Part 2

Now: watch what happens when we notate the FIRST line of dialogue from each episode.

“Open this, Ixta. Ixta, please. Please open it.”
“The Doctor’s speaking to someone. Why can’t we hear what he’s saying?”
“He has a very strange sickness. Can you not help him?”
“Five point one. Zero. Five point six. Zero. Six point one. Zero. Six point seven. Zero. Seven point one. Zero.”
“Stand back. Stand back from that door.”
“Jamie!”
“Bring them inside.”
“Oh, Doctor, are you all right?”
“What are you doing?”
“Hold this!”
“Steady now, Sergeant. He knows what he’s doing. At least I hope he does.”

Which should tell you all you need to know, shouldn’t it?

Incidentally we did a little non-destructive testing on the numbers referenced in the Savages episode, but there is no significance in them. Even I have my limits.

Finally, here’s Nardole’s hand, resting on that map.

First and foremost, we need to examine the hulk’s equidistance between Orkney and Shetland, and the fact that Northlink Ferries runs a service between them operating out of Aberdeen, WHICH IS WHERE THE FOURTH DOCTOR DROPPED SARAH JANE AT THE END OF THE HAND OF FEAR. However, things get even more interesting when we examine two of the other marked places on Nardole’s map, notably Bergen and Stavanger: two cities approximately 124 miles apart.

This relates – as you’ve probably twigged – to the end of ‘Doomsday’, specifically the scene in which Rose explains that Dårlig Ulv-Stranden – or Bad Wolf Bay, as we call it – is located “about fifty miles out of Bergen”, ROUGHLY EQUIDISTANT BETWEEN THESE TWO POINTS. In other words (and you may find it helpful to look at the image again) if you head due east from here, you’ll bump into it.

Can I also point out that we heard this courtesy of Rose, and that I’VE ALREADY TALKED ABOUT BILLIE PIPER?

Now watch what happens when we add a line from the approximate position of Bad Wolf Bay to Aberdeen, connecting it to the ones that Nardole has already drawn. And tell me if a particular item of neckwear doesn’t instantly jump out at you.

We knew they were cool. We just didn’t know they were so important.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 65536)

In this week’s edition: the Bank Holiday celebrations continue inside the Pyramid, although not everyone is keen.

The influence of Game of Thrones on the current series of Doctor Who becomes more and more apparent.

And elsewhere, the Bride catches up with her final target.

Toodle-pipski!

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 90001)

Today’s Who roundup: first, an exclusive BBC production still of the contents of the Vault.

Meanwhile there is chaos over at Bagpuss & Co when Emily brings in her latest Lost Thing for repair.

In fact, just, you know, this in general.

Sorry.

 

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God is in the detail (10-05)

Space. It’ll kill you if you don’t tread carefully. Lucky you’ve got me on hand, eh? Come with me now, because we’re going to explore the murky and sinister world of ‘Oxygen’ – a tale of corporate greed and sentient workwear, but also replete with IMPORTANT CLUES AND SIGNS that indicate the delights (and the horrors) that still await us.

This week, you’ll find it’s mostly about the First Doctor. Let’s take a look at that skull.

Count the stars. It’s not just the number, it’s the way they’re grouped. Not only does each star refer to a different Doctor, they also refer specifically to regeneration and a number of other things. Don’t believe me? Just watch:

You will note:

– The line that tracks the Second Doctor’s transition to the Third

– The two ‘eyes’ that represent the show in the 1980s and in its post-Y2K revival, and the Eighth Doctor’s uncomfortable positioning between both (but on the left hand side, clearly tying him to the ‘old’ era)

– The placement of the Fourth Doctor at the top of the triangle, or pyramid, signifying ‘Pyramids of Mars’

– The identical placement of the Twelfth Doctor at the top of a similar pyramid, indicating ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’, in which the Doctor is due to regenerate

– The two tangential lines that lead down below the Tenth Doctor, indicating the split path followed by his metacrisis duplicate

– The six lines across the bottom: this should be obvious

Screens figure big this week, as you’ll see here.

First: note the five figures shown on the monitoring display. This refers to five Doctors, but not the five you were expecting. The Second Doctor is first: We know this because the first figure is directly beneath the word ‘POWER’, which is thus a reference to ‘Power of the Daleks’.

Let’s assume that the subsequent words each correspond to the separate figures. The words ‘CORE’ and ‘COOLANT’ both refer to ‘Inferno’, the Third Doctor story that saw a group of scientists who were endeavouring to drill down to the Earth’s core, which is flooded by coolant in order to abate the disaster. ‘And ‘SYSTEM’ refers to System Wipe, an Eleventh Doctor novella.

If we group these numbers together, including the last one – to which I’ll come in a moment – we get this:

Look at that number. Study it hard. Memorise it if you can. We’ll return to it later.

Let’s get back to that fifth figure for a moment. He doesn’t have a word of his own, but this is the First Doctor. And it is the numbers you really need to examine, if you want to know why – so let’s zoom in. (All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.)

Macomb, Illinois, I hear you ask? I have my reasons. You can rearrange them to form ‘Albinic loom sim’, a clear and unambiguous reference to the events of Lungbarrow. And this week’s episode was about breathing. I’m sure your minds are blown, so here’s a GIF of a dancing panda, just to bring you down to normality for a second.

Maps next. Specifically this one.

Note the presence of green brackets – denoting the Zombies’ intended location – around the section marked A6: specifically, the idea of death, represented here by green brackets, surrounding a number 6? Something to do with the words GREEN and DEATH? A SIX-PART STORY, PERCHANCE?

Hmmm. I’ll let you figure that one out.

We can take this further. Because each number refers to a separate story, as denoted by their different parts. Specifically

Section 11 – The Daleks’ Master Plan (twelve parts, minus the disallowed ‘Destruction of Time’
Section 07 – Marco Polo (seven parts)
Section 06 – The Web Planet (six parts)
Section 04 – The Gunslingers (four parts)
Section 03 – Planet of Giants (three parts)

And what do those all have in common, hmm? And what do they have in connection with ‘The Green Death’? I’ll let you figure that out. I’m not doing all your homework for you, you’re quite old enough.

But we should take particular notice of the fact that this is administered by Ganymede systems. Ganymede is the largest of the 67 known moons of Jupiter, taking its name from the Greek mythical hero Ganymede (why hello, transparent reference to ‘The Myth-Makers’, pull up a chair and put the panda on the TARDIS console). It completes a revolution around its mother planet every seven days and three hours, which CLEARLY REFERS to part three of the seventh story in the canon, ‘Hidden Danger’ – also known as episode three of ‘The Sensorites’- because of the Doctor’s blindness, thus hiding the danger from him, at least in a strictly literal sense.

However, the parallels run deeper. Episode 3 of series 7 is ‘Cold War’, an UNAMBIGUOUS nod both to the Ice Warriors and also ‘The Tenth Planet’, which was set in Antarctica – get it? A war? In a cold place? A COLD WAR? You see what I did there? But what, I hear you ask, perhaps in slightly worried tones while you try and unpick the ropes that are securing you to that office chair, if it isn’t episode 3 of series 7, but episode 7 of series 3?

Well – that turns out to be ’42’. THE THING IN THE VAULT IS MARTHA JONES’ MUM.

Finally, let’s get back to the beginning of the episode – and that first shot of the oxygen display on the suit gauntlet.

What’s going on here? Well, first consider the presence of nine – only NINE bars on the credit meter. This CLEARLY AND DEFINITIVELY refers to the IMMINENT RETURN of Christopher Eccleston. We know this if we examine the letters at the far right: ‘CF’ refers to ‘Christopher – Finish’, while ‘T2’ refers not to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but rather Trainspotting 2 – a film centring on Mark Renton, as played by Ewan McGregor, WHO CO-STARRED WITH ECCLESTON IN SHALLOW GRAVE. And if you want to know how long this has been building, consider what the Doctor is doing here.

However, what’s most interesting here is ETO-2 at the bottom, and I’ll admit it took me a while to figure this out – and it wasn’t until I realised that the ‘2’ was a massive red herring that I was able to make progress. But a little creative Googling led me to the Express Tax Office in Queensland. Situated in Lake Street (as in ‘Under The Lake’) in the middle of Cairns City, the ETO processes tax returns for couples, students, sole traders and even non-residents, such as those trying to find a way into Australia – to do, say, a Chemical Engineering job.

Oh look. THERE it is.

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Review: Knock Knock

Seriously, why didn’t they run with this title years ago? Is it one of those things the BBC always vetoed, on the grounds that you wouldn’t be able to take it seriously? The sort of title that you embargo because it’s loaded with playground gags? Is that why they went with the horror angle, as if to suggest that yes, there’s an obvious joke, but this story is about sentient woodlice swarms and a woman who looks like the love child of Pinocchio and Medusa? And Poirot is guest-starring?

(As an aside, I should mention that Edward has clearly been watching too much Doctor Who, because the other day we had this:

EDWARD: Knock Knock.
EMILY: Who’s there?
EDWARD: Doctor.
EMILY: Doctor…what?
EDWARD: I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS!

He’s three, for crying out loud. Three.)

‘Knock Knock’ opens with a montage. Bill and her friends are exploring properties for a house share – one of them, enthusiasts will note, is comically undersized and about half the height of its immediate neighbours, calling to mind the ‘transformed’ flat that appears briefly at the end of ‘The Lodger’. It seems that no six-bedroomed residence is big enough, so rather than do the sensible thing and siphon off a couple of the less desirable members of the group so they can afford to be less picky, the gang consigns itself to defeat – until salvation arrives in the form of the rather sinister Landlord, who apparently has no name to speak of. Alarm bells ought to be ringing, perhaps, except that one of the unwritten laws of Who states that week on week everyone is supposed to put their trust in a mysterious stranger who won’t tell anyone his name, so to a certain extent it’s business as usual.

The concept explored here is that of separation: the Doctor struggles to bridge the generation gap that suddenly appears when Bill spends time with her peer group. It’s not unlike the episode of Friends when Ross witnesses his student girlfriend caught up in a water balloon fight and realises the relationship isn’t going anywhere. Bill’s desire for a quiet night in is a hybrid of two different sorts of trepidation – her realisation that the Doctor is a magnet for trouble, fused with her need to be a whole and independent person in a way that Rose could never manage. It makes for some awkward moments (the sight of the Doctor dancing to Little Mix is amusing, but the episode would have worked better without it); nonetheless Bill’s desire to keep work and home separate is commendable in an always-on digital age, and it’s kind of sweet that she’s willing to keep the Doctor within grabbing distance but without letting him dominate it the way that Rose and Martha did. “This,” she tells him gently, “is the part of my life you’re not in.”

The central problem with ‘Knock Knock’ is that it simply isn’t very frightening. There’s nothing wrong with the setup: six people in an overly large house with dodgy electrics and a seemingly inaccessible tower, presided over by a sinister, seemingly omnipresent figure with the ability to suddenly pop into existence as if from nowhere, like a podgy Q from Star Trek. The contract is signed with nary a second glance at the small print – if anything, Bartlett has written a morality fable for the EULA generation that emphasises the importance of reading the terms and conditions. Only Bill remains wary – but even she is keen to avoid discussing the obvious problems lurking in the house, clearly seeing it as a means of escape. The students’ nonchalance is the sort of behaviour that usually has the audience screaming at the TV, but it’s very easy to do that when you’ve already heard the screams of the house’s first victim, and a seemingly blasé attitude is at least consistent with the jumping in feet first attitude that Doctor Who typically seems to espouse. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is – but how might we apply that logic to ‘the gateway to everything that ever was, or ever can be’?

Even before the credits have rolled the house has already claimed its first victim – Pavel, sucked into a wall as his record player catches in the background (a stylistic conceit that turns out to be a minor plot point) – but the students treat his apparent self-imposed isolation as a trademark characteristic, and it is left to the Doctor to point out, quite late on, that ‘no one does that’. What ‘Knock Knock’ needs is a little more of this and a little less of the mundanity that punctuates the earlier scenes: conversations about Bill’s sexuality spring to mind, as does the question of whether the Doctor is her father or grandfather…actually, can we just deal with that? Because it’s basically the sort of thing that gets shoehorned in to serve as workable fan theory, hearkening back as it does to the moment the Doctor glances both at the photograph of Susan and at his new pupil, as if to draw some sort of connection. It’s obvious where we’re supposed to think this is going, and while I wouldn’t want to hedge my bets as to whether it actually was, I did rather hope that it was the sort of thing they were leaving behind.

The episode improves. If the first half is a series of awkward social encounters, the second half is an old-fashioned ghost story, all shifting walls, banging shutters and things crawling out of the woodwork – in both a literal and metaphorical sense, as family revelations cast the horrific events of the last few minutes into a new light. It’s easy to scorn the Landlord’s behaviour until his relationship with Eliza is flipped on its head, and the new information we receive as a result of Bill’s deduction grants him unexpected sympathy. “There isn’t a little boy alive that wouldn’t tear the world apart to save his mummy,” the Doctor muses in ‘The Doctor Dances’, “and this little boy can.”

The set works well enough – Fields House in Newport, first seen in ‘Blink’, providing exactly the sort of gothic scare that ‘Knock Knock’ needs – and Bill Anderson brings the same sort of directorial flair he brought to ‘Thin Ice’, albeit with rather less success. The supporting cast really don’t have much to do except complain about the phone reception and then get eaten, but Suchet is reasonably watchable, alternating for the most part between Kindly Grandfather and Psychotic Bookshop Owner – at least until the final reveal, when his voice jumps an octave. Indeed, music figures prominently, from the Bach that opens the episode (stuttering and repeating odd bars, like a DJ’s loop) to the Beethoven that concludes it. Quite why the Master / Rani / Next Doctor / whoever the hell is in that vault decides to follow ‘Fur Elise’ with ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ is anyone’s guess, but even if it doesn’t mean anything yet, it will by the time the fans have finished with it.

It would be churlish to call ‘Knock Knock’ a bad story: rather it’s a good story with less-than-perfect execution, wobbly and uneven and occasionally tiresome. That it is somehow less than the sum of its parts is partly down to the writing, which is sub-par, and partly the BBC’s heavy emphasis on the horror angle – but without the gumption that, say, Robert Eggers (The Witch) might have mustered. This was clearly an experiment, and while the list of gripes (the fallback on conventional horror tropes; the Doctor’s effective relegation to sidekick status; the Freudian thing) is plentiful, they don’t make for an experience that is unilaterally bad, just one that feels like a disappointment after the last three weeks. But perhaps it’s not a bad thing that the bubble has burst. If this is the first time in the series we’ve had call to say ‘Meh’, then that’s a surefire indication that on the whole, they’re getting it right.

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The Child Left Behind – now available!

OK, I think it’s done.

 

If you want to skip the pre-amble, here’s the download link, but I’ll paste it again after the FAQ to save you having to scroll back up.

The Child Left Behind zip

(Contains PDF, EPUB and MOBI files. The link will take you to a new window where you should be able to right-click and save.)

 

So what’s all this, then?

The Child Left Behind is an original, entirely unsanctioned full length Doctor Who novel. By me.

So it’s basically fan fiction.

If you like. It’s not some episodic thing I churned out for A Teaspoon and an Open Mind and then cobbled together. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. I prefer to think of it as Fan Fiction, rather than fan fiction.

With the Eleventh Doctor? And Amy?

You noticed. It’s a series 5 story, taking place between ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ and ‘The Lodger’, although that much will become obvious when you read it.

How come you’re publishing it here?

As far as I’m aware, Doctor Who doesn’t accept unsolicited fiction. I’d dearly love to get it published one day, but in the meantime – and on the advice of another writer I met last year – I thought the best thing to do was just get it out there.

At no cost?

Of course not. That’s blatant copyright infringement. All I ask is that if you enjoy the book, you’ll tell your friends. And that if you don’t, you’ll tell me.

Fair enough. So what’s the story in Balamory?

Well, you’ll have to read it to find out.

Aww, come on. Not even a hint?

Oh, if you insist. Here’s the blurb from the back cover.

Hamelin was still reeling from an immeasurable tragedy. And then the murders began.

The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Amy to thirteenth century Germany, and a community that is grieving for its lost children. The Doctor senses something is amiss, but how can he investigate in a town already suspicious of strangers? What really happened here six weeks ago? Is the forest on the hill really haunted? And what’s that glinting at the bottom of the river?

As the Doctor and Amy watch their lives become entwined with a dysfunctional family, a world-weary bartender and a watchful Constable, they must race to find the answers – before something unspeakable happens to the people of Hamelin…

Cryptic. So the title doesn’t refer to Amy?

No, it doesn’t, but now that you mention it, that’s something that had honestly never occurred to me until it was pointed out.

Cool cover art, by the way.

It’s great, isn’t it? It’s the work of Yvain Bon, an artist I met in a Facebook group who specialises in alternative covers for stories. I asked him if he’d do something for this, and he turned my vague ideas into the image you see above – quickly and brilliantly. In return I promised I’d interview him for The Doctor Who Companion – which reminds me, I really should email him.

This is about the Pied Piper, isn’t it? I seem to remember that’s been done before. 

It has, yes – in various places (although not on TV). Doctor Who has been around for a long time and there is nothing new under the sun. But to the best of my knowledge it’s never been done quite like this.

So who’s the monster?

Not saying.

Not even a hint?

Oh, you are WORSE THAN MY CHILDREN.

I want a biscuit.

Dinner’s in half an hour. If you’re hungry, have an apple.

So what’s in the zip?

Right, yes: there’s a PDF. There are also EPUB and MOBI files for Kindles and Kobos or whatever else you use. E-Readers have hundreds of different calibrations and settings and I’m not entirely sure what you’ll need, but there should be something in there you can use. I’m not, I’m afraid, an expert on how to transfer files to your device – I’d suggest Googling that if you find you have any difficulties.

One thing – I know that the cover for the MOBI files is a little on the small side. I’m working on it.

How much knowledge of the show should I have before reading?

It’s tricky. The story’s chronology gives context to the way certain characters are behaving (it’s set after ‘Cold Blood’ but before ‘The Pandorica Opens’, if you catch my drift). Basic knowledge is therefore enough. Of course, the more you know about the show’s history, the more you’ll appreciate certain gags and so on. But I aimed for this to be accessible on a number of levels, and if there are certain things that go over your head a little bit, that’s all the more reason to delve into the archives.

Anything else I should know?

Just that it’s never going to be perfect. I’ve proofread and proofread and have got rid of as many mistakes as I can but you can bet I’ve missed something. Please do let me know and I’ll amend it for a future edition. The same goes for technical problems with the EPUB and MOBI files – I’ve sanity checked as much as I can but if anyone has any feedback let me know and I’ll try and improve them.

Oh, and one more thing: if you’re surprised by anything, please don’t spoil it for others!

Can I have that download link again?

Yep –

The Child Left Behind zip

(Contains PDF, EPUB and MOBI files. The link will take you to a new window where you should be able to right-click and save.)

Happy reading!

EDIT: It’s been brought to my attention that the public link I posted yesterday didn’t work unless you had a Dropbox account, a change apparently made recently but which had escaped my notice. I’ve therefore re-uploaded the file to OneDrive and updated the link. Hope it’s now OK!

Categories: The Child Left Behind | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inspirational Star Wars Quotes

“I have been giggling at this,” said Sara, “for ten minutes.

impossible-possible

I didn’t even get the reference, which supposedly comes from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, a show I’d never even heard of, let alone seen. But it works, even though it loses points for missing out a full stop in that second frame.

Star Wars spirituality is a very real concept. We’re living in a country where nearly four hundred thousand people put ‘Jedi’ as their religion on the 2001 census, for crying out loud. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, provided it’s a token protest against atheism and not something you’re actually supposed to take seriously. If that sounds rather too obvious a point for me to need to actually state openly, it’s worth bearing in mind that I’ve spent a week or so reading through status updates on a Facebook group where people genuinely seem to think that the Doctor is really out there flying around in his TARDIS, simply because you’re unable to categorically prove that he isn’t.

So I’m fine with life lessons from Who, and the Everything I Ever Needed To Know I Learned From Star Trek business model, but you can get too obsessed. And when people delve into these shows as if it’s the only thing that gives their lives meaning, I am torn between the desire to feel sorry for them or openly mock them. Sometimes it’s a simple combination of both.

“Also,” said Sara’s friend Kimberley, “I think a whole series of Star Wars / spiritual memes is in order.”

And she was right. So we spent a pleasant evening doing them, as and when they came to us.

And somewhat predictably, I made a whole set. And here they are.

If Plan A didn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters

If God is all you have you have all you need

Be somebody nobody thought you could be

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience we are spiritual beings having a human experience

Courage is being yourself every day in a world that tells you to be someone else

Don’t let the behaviour of others destroy your inner peace

Until you spread your wings you will have no idea how far you can fly

The truth of human freedom lies in the love that breaks down barriers

Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people

Embrace the glorious mess that you are

May the Force be with you. “And also with you.”

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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