Posts Tagged With: jack harkness

The Face of Boe / Captain Jack connection

Sometimes, when you’re creating, you inadvertently open a can of worms. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it is the only way to catch fish. But sometimes you wonder why you bothered. Actually, it’s less that, and more a sense of frustration that the joke has been missed, or that people would rather concentrate on the theory than the comedy. I suppose that’s the nature of fandom, but it is a little like banging your head against a brick wall. Truthfully there is not much to be said about the comedy for this little instalment – it sort of speaks for itself – and thus we will concentrate on the theory, at least for this morning. Business as usual next time, folks.

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. I was toying with the idea of redubbing the Face of Boe with Jack’s voice for a while last year: it was an easy edit, it makes total sense, and it has reasonable comic potential. The Face of Boe appears (properly; ‘Utopia’ doesn’t count, nor does ‘Journey’s End’) in precisely three episodes but there isn’t enough malleable footage in ‘The End of the World’; I stuck therefore with ‘New Earth’, in which the Face of Boe is dying and then isn’t, and ‘Gridlock’, in which he isn’t but then is. Mashed-in dialogue is partly from Doctor Who, partly from Torchwood, and inevitably there’s a bit of singing. Jack is by turns kinky and unexpectedly remorseful, which wasn’t quite the vibe I’d intended, but it sort of works. I had wanted to include ‘The Doctor And I’, but it just didn’t fit somehow. I don’t think we suffer for its absence.

Anyway: I uploaded the thing and it got a few laughs – but it also caused a reasonable amount of confusion in the community. “But…he – he is the Face of Boe!!” spluttered one user. “He said it in an episode! It was confirmed!” Other people were a little less spluttery but still a little put out. “He knew the Doctor,” said someone else. “Called him old friend when they’d never met. Last time he saw Jack outside of the Christmas special he told the Doctor back home they called him the Face of Boe. River Song’s vortex came from a handsome time traveller the headless monks got. It’s him.”

I won’t tell you what I said in private, because it probably breaks obscenity guidelines, but I did take it upon myself to reply to a few of those comments. The truth is – and thinking about it this, more than anything else, is what may have given me the idea to actually put this together – the Jack / Boe thing is one of the most frequently asked technical questions in any of the Doctor Who groups I visit. (The others, incidentally, are “Why did the Doctor start regenerating at Lake Silencio if he was on his final incarnation?”, and “Is the War Doctor really the Ninth Doctor?”, but seriously, let’s not go there today.)

It was the June 2007 when they first aired ‘The Last of the Time Lords’. I was twenty-nine and had just become a second-time father. Thomas wasn’t the easiest of babies and that summer was a heady mixture of sleepless nights, screaming fits and constant feeding, all accompanied by a red sling in which he had to be carried almost constantly, because it was the only way to stop the wailing. Emily would nap when she could and it was for this reason that I watched the series 3 finale without her: she would catch up later, with me standing in the doorway, hovering behind her whispering “Doctor…Doctor…” at the crucial moment. You have to have some fun.

But I remember watching that finale and then grabbing an old friend for a water cooler moment at the office the next morning. “Oh my gosh,” I said. “CAPTAIN JACK IS THE FACE OF BOE!” From what I’ve read, my reaction mirrored that of Barrowman, who allegedly jumped up and down and squealed a bit. Across the nation – the world, come to that, at least the parts of the world that got access to BBC programmes – the reaction was much the same, in all but one quarter, which would be the BBC herself. Because when the episode was repeated with a producer’s commentary, Russell T Davies was heard to mutter “Well, it’s as good an explanation for the Face of Boe as any”, only to have Julie Gardner tell him to “Stop backpedalling”.

Except…it’s watertight, isn’t it? It’s an established fact that Jack spends billions of years evolving into a giant head, isn’t it? Well, actually it isn’t. Things are never that concrete in Whovania, because if they were then we’d have no leeway for fan fiction. If the Fifth Doctor and Peri had gone straight from Sarn to Androzani, years of Big Finish releases with Peri and Erimem would be rendered obsolete. If we’d seen McGann regenerate into Eccleston at the beginning of ‘Rose’, there would be no place for the War Doctor. And if it were definitively and unambiguously established that the TARDIS had developed a fault on its journey to visit the Tribe of Gum, we’d never have had Hunters of the Burning Stone, and the world would be a much better place.

Here are the facts in the case of Jack vs. Boe:

1. The Face of Boe calls the Doctor ‘old friend’ when they meet in ‘New Earth’, despite only having met him the once (according to the Doctor).

2. An abandoned sequence in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ would allegedly have seen Jack literally lose his head at the hands of the Headless Monks, surviving – but only as a head. This was shelved because of Barrowman’s involvement in Miracle Day.

3. In ‘The Pandorica Opens’, River states that she got her vortex manipulator “fresh off the wrist of a handsome time agent”, although that’s all the information we get.

4. As Jack bids farewell to the Doctor and Martha at the end of ‘The Last of the Time Lords’, he ruminates on his fear of physical ageing – something that is apparently happening, albeit as slowly as it affects Wolverine – and wonders what he will look like at the age of a million. He then mentions in passing that this sense of vanity was partly instilled by his youth, when his good looks made him a poster boy for the Boeshane Peninsula. “The Face of Boe, they called me,” he says, before trotting off to what turns out to be a memorable entrance in ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’. (If you haven’t seen it, do so. He has a fight with Spike from Buffy. In a bar. With Blur playing in the background. It’s great.)

Let’s take them more or less one at a time. In the first instance, there’s no reason to suspect that Boe and the Doctor didn’t meet again after Platform One. It could be that the Doctor’s forgotten. Or that he’s lying. That’s something I get told a lot: whenever there is an apparent continuity error there is a chorus of comments reading “Rule one: the Doctor lies”. It’s mindlessly irritating, seeing as it’s not the Doctor’s rule, it’s actually River’s, and it’s a cheap way of explaining away an ambiguity that would probably make sense if you actually took the time to think about it, but it beats “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey”, so I suppose I can live with it. It’s further possible that the Doctor and Boe had an adventure they agreed not to speak about with anyone, including each other. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing: perhaps that’s how the Boekind greet people they know. Or perhaps the Face of Boe has been ruminating on the fact that the Doctor saved his life a few years back, and considers him a friend as a consequence. Perhaps they’ve been messaging each other on Facebook. Pick one.

The scene with the Headless Monks is awkward simply because it was never filmed. It’s an abandoned sequence that is thus as canonical as, say, Lungbarrow – a story that effectively gave us the Doctor’s real name, but which sits rather uncomfortably within the whopping great list of Things You Can Believe If You Want To (a concept to which we’ll return, so remember it). If they didn’t show it, it didn’t happen. Actually, even if they did show it there’s a fair bit of leeway with retconning: 24 aired the death of a prominent character in season 5 but a couple of years later he was back, when it was discovered that we did not see what we thought we saw. River’s vortex manipulator may have come from Jack (with, it is implied, the hand still attached to it), but it does not follow from this that he had a run-in with the Monks – although the Monks aren’t necessary for Jack to become Boe, which I’ll explore in a moment.

The ‘Last of the Time Lords’ scene is a little more concrete, but even then it’s not exactly unambiguous. It’s connection by association – look, this is how tabloid newspapers work. They’ll tell you that there’s a new CBeebies series starring a female engineer, and then mention in passing that they no longer show Bob the Builder, and leave you to fill in the gaps. Before we know it there’s a minor frenzy about the BBC eschewing old favourites in favour of new, politically correct content, and everyone’s conveniently forgotten the fact that the Beeb washed their hands of Bob when HIT Entertainment gave him that disastrous makeover and a stupid Midlands accent.

Similarly, all this scene tells you is that Jack was called the Face of Boe by a bunch of people who might have already known about the real Face and thus applied it as a nickname. Because we’ve been wondering about the Face of Boe all series, it’s natural to assume the two are connected, but there’s no reason why they would be. As it stands, it’s clumsy shoehorning. It may have had the fans jumping out of their seats, but it’s a dreadful way to finish a scene. The dialogue is terrible. You don’t say “The Face of Boe, they called me” and then saunter away to an invisible door. It’s an unnecessary conversation dangle. No one does it. Not unless they’re deliberately baiting the Doctor and Martha, not to mention the people watching at home…oh, wait.

The funny thing about all this is that Jack could quite easily evolve into Boe without any of the kerfuffle with the Monks. We saw it in a Philip K. Dick short story, The Infinites, in which a three-man crew investigate a strange planet and find themselves undergoing rapidly accelerated evolution – millions of years pass in just a few hours. It has highly irradiated sentient hamsters made of pure energy. I swear I’m not making this up. The point is that the changes are marked by degenerating limbs and greatly swollen head size, marking an increased reliance on the cerebral cortex and, one would assume, the decrease of motor functions. From this, it’s quite feasible to imagine that Jack could turn into a giant head the older he gets. Perhaps it’s the way we’re going. It’s certainly the way it was going in WALL-E, where everyone was fat because they’d spent years puttering about in a small land. Sudden cosmic storms aside, you and I will probably never know.

Out on the convention circuit, the vibe among the cast and crew has come down in favour of Jack and Boe being one and the same. Barrowman believes it. So does Gardener. So, up to a point, does Davies, although that’s a bit more complicated. I’m not listing my sources; it’s well-documented. It has to be said that of the above, Davies is the only one who gets a vote, being largely responsible for the genesis and development of the character (yes, I know that Moffat penned those first episodes and half of Torchwood was written by Chibnall; work with me here). But even then it’s dangerous to assume that originating writers have total responsibility for the characters they create for the rest of time. There needs to be a handover point: otherwise it’s a slippery slope to the sort of petty legal wrangling we had after the Brigadier’s grandfather / great-uncle showed up in the Christmas episode. Or you get someone making an obvious joke about Jenny crashing into an asteroid and then the fans are up in arms because Big Finish have brought her back and WHAT ABOUT THE SANCTITY OF CANON? (And yes, I realise I talked earlier about the whole “If it didn’t happen on screen, it’s not canon” thing. It’s my blog; I’m allowed the occasional double standard.)

The bottom line is that this has been kept as ambiguous as possible simply because it’s better that way. It grates against the sensibilities of the modern Doctor Who fan. Unresolved plot strands do not sit comfortably with them: why not explain something if you can? But sometimes it’s better if you don’t know. The Italian Job has one of the best endings to any film ever, simply because it is left hanging, in the most literal sense of the word. We never found out if Fran and Peter survived at the end of Dawn of the Dead, but there is a fleeting sense of hope as they fly off into the sunset; the same sense of hope permeates The Shawshank Redemption (this is the novella we’re talking about – not the film, which ends on a more definitive point and which is arguably less successful as a result). No one gets the end of 2001, but drawing your own conclusions to the Rorschach that is the film’s final ten-minute sequence is, many ways, far more satisfying than anything that’s cleared up in the books.

Davies knows this. The man does have his faults, but he – like most sensible people – realised that giving Jack a designated end point essentially kills the joke. It also deflates any sense of tension in Torchwood, because you know that Jack will at some point be wheeled around in a glass case and get pregnant again, but that’s a by-product. Here’s my point: it’s actually fine if people want to believe that Jack becomes the Face of Boe. I more or less believe it myself. It’s as good an explanation for the character as we’ve come across, and the evidence for it – whilst not exactly overwhelming – is still a clear collection of hints that point towards a likely plot strand. “None of these things is any good on its own,” the boy’s grandmother tells him in The Witches. “It’s only when you put them all together that they begin to make a little sense.”

Still: a little sense may be as far as we get. Because it’s more fun if we don’t know. There is a greater sense of narrative satisfaction – at least there is for me – in having a character whose fate is unresolved than one whose life cannot be changed; Ebenezer Scrooge endeavoured to sponge away the writing on his gravestone and we must believe the same of Jack, however much a definitive ending to his story might please some of the fans. Jack might be the Face of Boe, and then next week it could all be undone in a heartbeat – that is the nature of the programme we love, and while I went through a period of getting annoyed about this, in recent months I’ve kind of got used to it. Certainty is the path to arrogance, and the older I get the less certain I am about things, and I’m learning to embrace, even revel in the ambiguities. So let’s rejoice in the fact that for all the speculation and fan theory and arguments about intended meaning, when all is said and done we really don’t know Jack. Christopher Bullock said that it was “impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes”. In the Whoniverse, we don’t even have the first one, and it’s better that way.

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Back to the Future

If you were watching TV in the 1980s, there are certain things you will remember. The Vietnam veterans who were brilliant at taking down loan sharks despite their inability to actually shoot straight. David Hasselhoff running into the ocean in slow motion – and then, regrettably, running back out again. Richard Dean Anderson building a small explosive out of three rolls of parcel tape and a paperclip. Scott Bakula in a wig and heels. David Hasselhoff again, upstaged by a Trans Am. David Duchovny, in a wig and heels. And Tom Selleck somehow managing to make Hawaiian shirts look almost cool.

There was a technique to producing a memorable intro, and that was to talk over it. I say “In 1972”, you say “a crack commando unit”. I say “A shadowy flight into the dangerous world”, you say “of a man WHO DOES NOT EXIST”. I say “…hoping each time that his next leap”, you say “will be the leap home”, the unavoidable lump in your throat stemming from the knowledge that he never quite managed it. We knew those voiceovers as well as we knew the opening themes that followed, whether they were by Mike Post, or – actually, they were all by Mike Post, so let’s leave it there. In any event those voiceovers have entered fan lore and it is impossible to imagine the show without them. We still do them at parties. Perhaps that’s just me.

But Doctor Who has always had that opening theme, and it’s always been…well, very of its time, somehow, whatever time that happened to be. The titles have always been played over stars, or a swirling vortex, or weird camera effects – something abstract and general. You can’t really imagine it any other way. It’s difficult to envisage a Doctor Who that emulates that cheesy montage-style opening, replete with freeze frame stills of the leads, and shots of at least one explosion, or Dwight Schultz with a glove puppet.

Hence this.

Technical stuff first. It had to be Tennant. The ‘Voyage of the Damned’ speech that makes up the bulk of his narration practically lends itself to an 80s style intro (the BBC used it for at least one trailer back in 2007) and even if it hadn’t, there was no one else who could have pulled off that debonair, slightly irritating leading man pastiche. Smith is just too…English. As much as I love the Eleventh Doctor, his predecessor’s monumental impact with fans is easy to analyse: he’s the sort of person they grew up watching in the 1990s. He’s Fox Mulder, right down to the suit. Barrowman’s presence was a given. Casting a companion was trickier – I almost plumped for a selection until the moment I realised the shot of Tennant closing the TARDIS door with his fingers was ripe for inclusion – and he’s with Donna, so the decision was more or less made.

“Why Max?” asked Gareth, and various other people, so I explained. “It is scientific fact that any American sci-fi / private detective drama from the 1980s had an eccentric older character played by an established veteran, and he was usually called Max.”
“Is it? I can’t think of any at the moment. What examples are there? (So that I can say “oh, really?” or “ah, I haven’t seen that”.)
Hart To Hart. And. Um. Max from Ben Ten? OK, that may be it.”

Details aside, the casting of the comic relief veteran was standard practice, as evidenced by Macgyver and Magnum P.I., among others. Actually, when I think about it this whole thing was really just a reaction to this trailer, which I did years back and which I was unable to post on Facebook.

Right down to that shot of Barrowman hefting the gun. Which may be iconic one day. But not today. Tomorrow doesn’t look good either.

Music was provided by Philip Chance – I wandered around YouTube looking for appropriate rights-free synth-and-drum-machine combos for a good long while before I found what I was looking for. The post-production work was done in Adobe After Effects – which I downloaded specially – although I couldn’t have managed the grainy VHS look without the help of this tutorial. Basically it’s a question of whacking up the contrast and pasting over some noise effects. If you look at the bottom of the screen you’ll see a jagged line running throughout, which is supposed to be that poor tracking you always had when the heads needed cleaning.

“Do you see what I mean about the old-style 3D-ness, though?” said Gareth.

“I do,” I said, “because the process is basically the same. Basically you split the picture into three separate signals and then isolate the colour in each – one red, one blue, one green – and overlay them. Then you shift each one a few pixels to the left and right so that the different colours are very slightly out of sync. It’s not enough to make it look any worse than a less-than-brilliant VHS transfer – real 3D signals are completely separate and are headache inducing when watched with the naked eye – but it’s a similar principle.”

“These days, I’m all about wearable technology.”

It’s not perfect, but I got bored. Some projects have a clear beginning, a middle and an end. When you’re doing a montage you’re looking for clips that work. Intro parodies (as with the Magnum one above) are trickier but narrow down your scope considerably, so that it’s easy to tell when it’s done. When mashing up dialogue it’s usually a question of finding enough material that works and then chipping away at the bits that you don’t need until you’re telling the best story you can.

With something like this it’s harder. Should I move that frame a little more to the right? Up the blur to 60 rather than 50 per cent? How authentic does this need to look? What’s it going to look like after encoding? In the end I settled for “Well, you get the idea”, which is sometimes about the best you can do when you’re not actually getting paid for doing this stuff. At least you don’t have to worry about copyright.

Reaction was…variable. Lots of people liked it, but more than a few missed the point.

“Umm, shouldn’t it be ‘If NuWho was produced in the 80s’? Because there were new episodes of Doctor Who coming out in the 80s.” (Reaction: Yeah, I was being vague. It helps with the hit count.)

I will never understand the fetishization of VHS. (Reaction: That’s TOTALLY NOT WHAT I’M DOING, it’s just about authenticity.)

“One thing – Tennant would have been a pimply teenager in the 80s (or possibly a little kid, I’m not sure how old he is), and Capaldi looked more like Colin Baker.” (Reaction: Yeah, he does look like Colin Baker.)

“Have people actually forgotten that doctor who was in fact around during the eighties and still looked better than this?” (Reaction: No one’s forgotten. Why have you reminded us?)

“Doctor Who was around in the 80s and before and shot on video so what’s the point of this?” (Reaction: Ah yes. The old ‘What’s the point?’ maxim. It’s people like you who get arts funding cut.)

“But… there already were episodes made in the 80s…” (Reaction: You’re really not getting this, are you?)

Gaah. Look, it’s a parallel universe, right? A parallel universe where we never moved beyond VHS and cassette tapes and gigantic brick-sized mobile phones (glances at Samsung S7 on desk, shifts uncomfortably in office chair) and contemporary Doctor Who, when they eventually made it, looked like this. And you had to tape it off the TV and find you’d missed the last five minutes because the Videoplus got the timing wrong, so you’ll never see Peter Capaldi bust through that wall. And it looks rotten because when you see 1980s TV recordings uploaded to YouTube, they look rotten as well. Savvy? I’M TIRED OF HAVING TO EXPLAIN THIS SHIT TO YOU PEOPLE.

Missing the point is something that happens quite a lot in fandom. It’s appropriate that we’ve just had Mothering Sunday, because last year I published the meme you can see below, which was picked up by a fan page (as opposed to Peter Capaldi himself – a man who is not on social media, although it’s sorely tempting to pretend he is and is reading my stuff). Comments varied from ‘LOLOLOL’ (which doesn’t even make sense) to the acidic ‘That’s horrible, and so are you’ – but it was one particular remark that caught my eye and then twisted a sharp stick into the socket over the course of the head-against-the-brick-wall conversation that followed. It is reprinted below as is: I have no qualms about embarrassing the girl / boy, because that’s not a real photo and that’s almost definitely not her / his real name.

I despair.

Then along comes John, who gets it instantly. “We found the Americanized Who!” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied. “That’s what I should have called it.” Dammit.

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No, I’ve met cat people

It was a Wednesday, and I was giving Edward a bath, when Emily popped her head round the door and announced she was going to work.

“What time will you be back?” I asked.

“No idea,” she said. “I’ll probably get drawn into something.”

So I have drawn her into this picture of the Tenth Doctor. I rock.


In our ongoing Nu Who marathon, we passed ‘Fear Her’ months ago, and the Tenth Doctor has long since regenerated. Indeed, the Eleventh is currently into his ‘new lease of life after Amy and Rory phase’, cavorting around the rings of Akhaten with Clara. (I seem to be the only one who actually likes this episode, or at least I thought I was until a recent reappraisal saw its other fans emerging from the woodwork, like the slaves at the end of Spartacus.) What’s annoying is that he has yet to shed a single tear over any of the deaths, or any of the departures. I know I didn’t either, but it’s hardly the point.

That doesn’t stop Daniel having an appreciation for Classic Who, of course, judging by the scene he played out with the Character Creations set last week: not content with building a wall and casting Peter Davison’s incarnation in the role of Donald Trump, I came in the other day to find the Sixth and the First Doctors emerging in what looked an awful lot like cosplay.

I only wish I could find the Seventh Doctor. Can somebody (hello Gareth) come up with an amusing, series-related suggestion?

Also this week: Daniel told us he had a dream where the Eleventh Doctor was having an adventure with Rose, “only she had an emoji face and she threw Captain Jack from the roof of a building”.

It took me all morning to find the right building, but eventually –


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Standing corrected (part one)

“It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you make up. The rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I’d believe it, but before the universe? Impossible. Doesn’t fit my rule. Still, that’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.”

(The Doctor, ‘The Satan Pit’)

I am, by my nature, an opinionated sort. I probably wouldn’t have a blog if I wasn’t, at least not one like this. I’d stick to a tumblr account and fill it with memes and gifs. Instead I’ll write reams and reams of text about anything that suits – whether that’s in a dedicated post, or a comment thread on a newspaper website. Never use a single word, I’ve learned over the years, when a hundred will do.

But I have a confession to make: a lot of what I’ve learned over the years was garnered from YouTube hits, Wikipedia entries and a fair bit of bluffing. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to much online debate I’m often far more ignorant than I may come across, having relied instead on the ability to weave an argument rather than actually give it any substance. If you can be convincing enough in your tone, it’s relatively easy to persuade your audience. A little flash and sparkle goes a long way. In this, I’m reminded of Richard Gere singing ‘Razzle Dazzle’ near the end of Chicago, a song I now have stuck in my head and which I thus won’t quote here for fear of inflicting the earworm upon the rest of you.

But insofar as popular culture is concerned I can talk about Doctor Who with reasonable authority, at least up to a point. I can say whether a story was good TV or bad Who, or the reverse. I can deconstruct an episode and talk about what worked and what didn’t (although Gareth does it better). I can view it within the context of the series as a whole (although again, Gareth does it better). I even have a decent-ish knowledge of Classic Who (three strikes, you’re outta there). I can even look at an episode from the point of view of a small child, purely through having watched every episode of New Who at least once with Joshua. (As a result, I can now see the merits in ‘The End Of The World’ and am far more appreciative of ‘Love and Monsters’, even though the oral sex joke is still a colossal misfire.)

Where I fall down, as it happens, is my tendency to make predictions that turn out to be spectacularly and indelibly wrong. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to be talking about just a few of them.

This fits thematically but I have no idea whether or not it's any good. Gareth could tell you.

This fits thematically but I have no idea whether or not it’s any good. Gareth could tell you.

“Bringing Donna back is a disaster waiting to happen.”

“No good will come of this,” I remember saying. And you know, you can hardly blame me. Donna Noble was an irritating trollop the first time we saw her. I don’t care that she was ‘feisty’ where Rose was doe-eyed and soppy (largely because feistiness has been the single defining trait of every single companion the Doctor’s had since 2008, with the notable exception of Rory). She had a voice like a foghorn. I was a big Catherine Tate fan, but she essentially aged Lauren Cooper by fifteen years and stuck her in a wedding dress. I spent the whole of ‘The Runaway Bride’ waiting for the inevitable “Am I bovvered?”, and in a way it was almost disappointing they didn’t include it – rather like a famous pantomime dame who’s not allowed to deliver his TV catchphrase.

I should have figured that Unenlightened Donna (which makes her sound like the crap version of Rimmer from Red Dwarf’s ‘Back To Reality’) was thoroughly unsuitable material for an entire series, and that Davies would have to develop her. He did this by taking out the mouth – although the feistiness remains – and getting her to cry in front of an Ood. It’s an overwrought scene, but it solidifies her, if only because her response – to plead with the Doctor to make it stop – is so utterly real. Donna had a moment of clarity at the end of ‘The Runaway Bride’, in which she suggests that the Doctor needs a companion because “sometimes you need someone to stop you”. Davies takes this as his starting point and has her become the Doctor’s conscience in a series where the Time Lord Triumphant is waiting in the wings.

Oh come on, admit it. This scene was hilarious.

Oh come on, admit it. This scene was hilarious.

And oh, it was refreshing to have a companion who wasn’t constantly flirting with the Doctor! As is usual with these things they took the situation to the other extreme and ran a whole series of “We’re not together” gags that were typical examples of the lady who doth protest too much, but Davies (like his successor) is always one for his recurring gags, and you can’t have everything. Donna treated the Doctor like a mate, and he responded in kind, and the two worked wonderfully together as a result – indeed, the chemistry between Tennant and Tate was good enough to see them take to the stage the following year in Much Ado About Nothing.

In the end it all got very tedious and companion-centric, as we’re treated to yet another series finale where the Doctor’s closest ally becomes the most important thing in the universe (I don’t know, what was wrong with just travelling with him?). This is always a mistake, because it kills any sense of empathy we might have with the character – it gets very hard to like Donna once she starts spouting technobabble and teaching the Children of Time how to fly the TARDIS. Then the Doctor takes it all out of her head, in another death-that-wasn’t-really-a-death – it’s a cheap trick, but that final, wordless scene in the control room is stupendous (particularly when you then read that Davies originally intended for the Doctor’s brooding fit to be interrupted by Cybermen, which would have ruined the episode). Series four wasn’t always an easy ride (the Sontaran story is still rubbish), but Donna’s easily one of my favourite companions, and Tate played her to perfection. Much missed.

Torchwood’s gonna be great.”

I refer you to something I wrote on October 17th, 2005.

“It sounds like a cross between The Lone Gunmen and Spooks, with a dash of Queer as Folk. Whatever you think about Davies’ political agenda with Captain Jack, he was an interesting and compelling character whom I liked a lot. In terms of character arc he was there to provide a suitably gung-ho replacement for the previously violent tendencies of the Doctor – once Eccleston’s incarnation decides to stop being a war hero and goes back to pacificism (notably after ‘Dalek’), he became more like some of the previous, more peaceful regenerations. At the same time, he retains a vicious streak: while Jack isn’t violent for the sake of violence he is nonetheless far more comfortable handling a gun, and in that sense he almost seems to be a projection of the Doctor’s own buried sense of violence; a necessary character. For all that rambling, he was one of the most fun aspects of the last season, and I can’t help thinking he deserves his own show.

It could all go horribly wrong, of course, but just consider the alternatives – they could have decided to make a spin-off series entitled The Further Adventures of Mickey.”

Ah, Torchwood. It could have been so glorious. A lot of people don’t like Jack Harkness, but I confess I always found him watchable, whether he was flirting or shooting – often both at the same time. The prospect of a darker, more adult-themed show, able to discuss the issues that Doctor Who, with its family audience and prime time slot, couldn’t touch? With Barrowman at the centre? Bring it on.

What we got was episode after episode of inane plotting, unnecessary swearing and ephemeral fucking. Barrowman spent most of the first series standing on a rooftop looking broody. It’s like Davies had cutscenes from Devil May Cry 2 playing on a loop when he was approaching deadline. Episode two was centred around sex as a plotline (ha!) but it was embarrassing rather than appropriately carnal. And I don’t mind a bit of language, I really don’t, but not when it comes across like the work of ten year old schoolboys who have been left alone with a tape recorder, charged to produce a radio report but unable to resist the temptation to goad each other into muttering the occasional rude word.

Torchwood eventually got much better. I nearly gave up after that first series, but in the second they all stopped fighting amongst themselves, gelled as a team and had a lot more fun. James Marsters turned up. Oh, and it has one of the funniest series openers I’ve ever seen. A couple of years later there was Children of Earth, a five episode miniseries that stands amongst RTD’s finest work, at least for the BBC, and which upset a good number of people for killing off a much beloved character – a brave decision and the sort the show has never shied away from, taking its cue from the likes of 24. Then it all went to pot again with Miracle Day, which took the formula stateside, without much success (although it does have a mesmerising performance from Bill Pullman). The finale of this features Barrowman saving the world by depositing his bodily fluids inside a gigantic crack. The irony of this is not lost on me.

Spot the girl who didn't make it past episode one.

Spot the girl who didn’t make it past episode one.

So I was right, I suppose, if you count those middle two series, but I’ve always seen Torchwood as a missed opportunity. It’s not entirely down to the writing, which was uneven but occasionally brilliant, but the whole show never seemed entirely sure whether it should be appealing to the teenage market or the adults who watched Doctor Who with their kids. In the end, it never fully appealed to either, which is a shame because Barrowman is a great actor, and there were some wonderful moments amidst the dross, particularly once the show stopped taking itself too seriously – such as the time Jack and Ianto were searching an empty office block for their quarry. “Check the roof,” Ianto mutters. “You’re good with roofs.” More scenes like that, and we’d have had the makings of a classic.

(FWIW, I also think Martha and Mickey: Bounty Hunters definitely has wings.)

Tomorrow: we look at theories concerning one of the biggest conundrums the show’s thrown up since its revival, and how I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Eleventh Doctor…

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The Gold Road

Something for Valentine’s Day…

I may be misremembering the classic series, but it strikes me that the new Doctors – particularly Tennant – are far more hands on than their predecessors. It helps that Tennant’s Doctor, despite his occasional cockiness, was a very human character. This was also the age of the Russell T. Davies soap approach, where every companion was embroiled in a story of unspoken love / unrequited love / love in denial. (I’m being a little unfair to the Doctor / Donna story, really, which – despite once more placing the companion at the centre of the universe, thereby negating our ability to relate to them – was one of the less irritating series arcs. The recurring “Oh no, we’re not a couple” gags were tiresome, but they were a darn sight better than Freema Agyeman’s incessant sulking.)

Actual moments of romance were (out of necessity) few and far between, and that’s as much a trait of the series in general as it is of the Doctor. I actually wonder if there’s a rule book somewhere in the dim and misty archives of the BBC (you know, the room where Terry Wogan did Auntie’s Bloomers) that dictates the Laws of Time:

  • The Doctor’s real name must never be announced. Never. We will at some point throw in ‘Theta Sigma’ as an old college nickname because some people will probably be stupid enough to think that’s who he really is.
  • If the Doctor kisses anyone, it doesn’t really count. (cf. ‘Journey’s End’, where the kiss is performed by a human Doctor clone, ‘, or ‘Family of Blood’, where he’s lost his memory.) The Doctor himself, on the other hand, may be kissed by someone else for awkward comic relief effect, as often as necessary.
  • The Doctor must never, ever be played by an actor who looks better with / is synonymous with having a beard. (And no, ‘The Leisure Hive’ doesn’t count.)

Anyway. Leaving aside the romantic slush, have you noticed the bear hugs? There are a lot. I mean an awful lot. There are comedy hugs, unnecessary hugs, farewell hugs laced with dramatic irony, bittersweet hugs, hugs that you really want to see develop into something else and hugs that you frankly didn’t want to see at all (Jack? I’m looking at you. Now sit down and put it away). Doctor Who has become very dark over the years, but there are moments of light and fluffiness, and when you put them all together it’s a bit like chomping through an economy size bag of Haribo: over in a flash, because they’re so compulsively moreish, but you feel sick afterwards.

About twelve years ago I was doing hospital radio. Our status as a registered charity meant we could play more or less what we wanted, within certain ethical parameters, and one of my favourite records to play on a Saturday was ‘Thank You For Being A Friend’ (notably used as the theme from ‘The Golden Girls’), which at the time I absolutely adored. It took a few years of detachment for me to realise that it’s a dreadful, dreadful song – it’s almost inconceivable that the man who could have penned ‘Lonely Boy’ could have come up with something so dire. (I actually blogged about this quite extensively some years back, so there’s no point going into my particular hang-ups again.) But when I was twenty and naïve, it was the best song in the world. At some point I went off it, and the CD then spent the best part of a decade on its shelf, sandwiched between Genesis and Goldfrapp, a safe distance away from anything that could turn those little bits of data into recognisable sound.

Then, when Andrew Gold died last year (somewhat prematurely, at the tender age of 59) I listened to it again, and realised it held a certain kitsch value. It’s nicely produced and competently performed; it’s just the sentiment I can’t stand. At the time I was in the middle of another Who video – that’ll come next week – but I suddenly had the idea of combining two different types of cheese. Because it strikes me that the Barney-like hugging of the family-friendly Whoniverse that Tennant’s Doctor inhabits – encompassing a whole network of allies and spinoff shows – was perfect for a montage. As a result this was extremely easy to put together, at least in terms of finding suitable clips, because it was just a question of forwarding through to the end of each episode, which is when the mushy stuff invariably happens.

Andrew Gold’s back catalogue is owned by the UMG, and their somewhat draconian stance on copyright meant that I originally couldn’t post this on YouTube, because it was blocked worldwide. I have thus placed it on Viddler instead, as recently as this evening when I uploaded a new version that got rid of a couple of old glitches that annoyed me. Looking at it again, I’m conscious that it didn’t actually start out as a love story – that was never my intention – but in some respects that’s basically what it became. A bit like my life, really. Happy Hallmark Day.

Edit, 3 Feb 2013: the UMG copyright stance appears to have shifted somewhat – I had a go at uploading this yesterday, purely on a whim, and it got through! The link has been updated as a result.

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From the Facebook archives, #6

Saturday, September 17th 2011

I was recounting the last episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day to Emily, as she’s refused to watch it since the end of season 1.

Her response: “Right, let me get this straight. Saving the world was ultimately dependent upon John Barrowman depositing his bodily fluids inside an enormous crack?”

They really didn’t think this one through, did they?

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