We sure picked a creepy night for a drive, huh, Scooby Doo?
Let us delve, constant reader (I do have one, and you know who you are) into a world of the dark and freakish, where things go bump in the night and lightning flashes are timed with jump scares, and when someone hears a noise and calls out “Frank? Is that you?” it’s never Frank. Some of these are new – others I’ve been saving. (One is at least two years old. I don’t know what that says about me.)
We open (because this is Doctor Who) in deep space.
I must apologise to Cyanide and Happiness, whose work I have shamelessly reappropriated. Still, it kind of works.
Elsewhere on a near identical freighter:
I honestly don’t know what I was thinking with this one. It wasn’t Alien Day, because I covered that elsewhere. An appropriate caption might be “You’ve let yourself go, Peri.”
Back to Earth now, and a forest in Norway:
“Ah, we’ll take him with us. He looks harmless enough.”
I confess I got a little catty with this one. “What is it?” said more than one person. I explained. “Oh, right. Minecraft,” was the response. “That thing for little kids. No wonder I’m not interested.” This was on a Doctor Who forum. I mean honestly.
Of course Doctor Who is for kids. Just look at the warm and welcoming expression on Tennant’s face. He never stood a chance.
Meanwhile, in an old motel twenty miles outside Fairvale, California, an unsuspecting Matt Smith throws his case on the bed, his clothes on the floor, and takes a shower.
“It’s been a while since I bought women’s clothes.”
The Bates Motel is, of course, exactly the sort of place the TARDIS would land, given its propensity towards taking the Doctor to the most incessantly horrible places in the universe. Which has nothing to do with Gaiman’s “Where you needed to go” bollocks; it’s just if you’re on a tropical beach surrounded by dolphins there’s no story, unless said story involves singing dolphins and a heavy-handed message about plastic in the water. Oh well, it’s better than having sex with the fish.
Of course, in such circumstances the best thing to do is to hot-foot it to the TARDIS and simply go to the pub, assuming you pick a good one.
“That you, Clara?”
And pan out, and of course it’s revealed that all of this is taking place in a snow globe being held by a prince.
“Hang on, they’ve got the Paradigm Daleks. Can we go in?”
I think this’ll be the last batch post for a while. We’ve taken a good chunk out of the meme backlog, and while there are still quite a few to go up, they can stagger in as and when, like drunk students crashing back into halls of residence after a night down the union. At least one of them might involve a traffic cone.
Today’s theme – if you hadn’t guessed – involves images involving more than one Doctor, which is something I do quite a bit when the ideas come. They do seem to come thick and fast these das, which is an indicator that I have more free time than is strictly healthy, but at least one family member appears to be following in my footsteps. This is both encouraging and slightly alarming. A bit like life, really.
We begin with a couple of Doctors celebrating the summer solstice, which should give you an idea just how long some of these have been hanging around.
Meanwhile, in a nearby playground.
Time Lord songwriter’s workshops.
Impromptu lightsaber battles.
Derby walking tours.
Posted without comment.
“This mirror’s brilliant; I look years younger.”
So there’s this guy I found on Facebook who takes pet photos and one thing sort of led to another.
“Bugger off, David.”
Time Lord mid-air collisions.
Edward set this up. Edward is five. I am worried about Edward.
I seem to have a backlog of videos to embed, so what better way to spend a Saturday morning than writing about some of them? Today, we’re looking at political Cybermen, irritating mathematical geniuses and fudged Italian opera, so without further ado, let’s delve into the ridiculous world of tenuous connections and ridiculous mashups that is my head. Bring that slab of Kendal; at least one of us is liable to get hungry.
1. Doomsday: Strong and Stable Edition (June 2019)
There is something about Yvonne Hartman’s final words that resonates with me. We’re supposed to be moved as she stands on a staircase moping about queen and country and leaking oil (something I never want to see again, ever). In truth she sounds like a politician falling back on soundbites to get out of a quandary. It is a silly scene in a dreadful episode and thus when it comes to potential redubbing opportunities it is very much top of the list.
If you remember Theresa May’s farewell speech, all the way back in June, you will recall the moment her voice cracked as she spoke of serving the country she loved, before walking back into Downing Street for what we were supposed to believe was the last time (the likely truth is she had to go back in later when she forgot her purse). Meanwhile I was making notes, ripping out highlights and then running her voice through a couple of filters so that she sounded reasonably Cyberish (is that a word? I’m making it a word). The end result is something I confess I quite like. It is one of those transient videos, which stopped being funny as soon as the internet had moved on to the next thing (which took all of a week), but for a moment there, people were laughing.
2. Earthshock Redux (June 2019)
This is absolutely ridiculous, and I still don’t think it quite works, but it’s the best episode I could find of making the joke I’m not about to give away here. If you’re familiar with the ads, you’ll see what I was trying to do. If you’re not, then it will fly over your head like Concorde. That was a reference to Time Flight, by the way, in case anyone had failed to realise. At least you get to see Adric explode, which is no bad thing.
3. Jon Pertwee sings (July 2019)
How did I mark the Pertwee centenary? With this. Pertwee is easily the most musical of the Doctors, at least on screen – forever breaking into song as he’s driving or tinkering, and on more than one occasion a musical interlude proves to be a lifesaver. (Unfortunately it’s exactly the same monster and exactly the same song, two years down the line, which does rather cheapen the effect.)
Speaking of effects, wouldn’t it be far more fun if Pertwee’s voice was contaminated with helium? In recent weeks I’d finally worked out how to adjust vocal tracks so that the pitch is adjusted without the speed being compromised. At some point I’ll be applying it to River’s wedding scene, which will probably make it bearable. In the meantime, I tagged Pip Madeley in the Twitter upload, and he gave it his seal of approval, which is extremely gratifying. Anyone else fancy a bit of John Denver?
I’m the odd one out in our house. I seem to be the only one of the six of us – and yes, that includes Edward – who’s never played a Papa Louie game.
“That makes two of us,” I can hear many of you say, and who can blame you? For the Papa games – which began life as a Flash-based platform game that spawned a wealth of culinary spin-offs – are fun and popular, but they’re not exactly mainstream. It’s the sort of private joke that takes too long to explain: this notion of working your way through hundreds of customers who want hot dogs and sandwiches and pizza and…well, you name it, they’ve covered it. Papa’s Wingeria does chicken. Papa’s Freezeria deals with all things ice cream. Papa’s Donuteria does – look, I’m not going to read out the whole thing. Suffice it to say Flipline have done well out of this little franchise, although my own idea for a spin-off – a toilet maintenance game entitled Papa’s Diarrhea – has thus far been met with nothing but a resounding silence.
But I never got into it. I just didn’t have the time; there were too many other games to be playing. I was content to sit, lounged in bed or next to Emily on the sofa, while the tinkly music tinkled and my better half tried to get an even spread of tomato paste and cursed when I jogged the bed and made her drop her pancake. We got used to throwing our arms up in the air with a broad grin when evening meals arrived on the table. If you have played any of the games you will appreciate this. If you have not, I’m not about to explain it to you. Perhaps you had to be there, or at least be in the immediate vicinity of someone who was – a role I was (it seemed) more than content to play.
Still. Then they made Papa Louie Pals, which is the subject of today’s post. Papa Louie Pals enables you to create more or less anyone you like, from a series of pre-defined style templates, faces and skin tones and outfit variations. The basic humanoid shape is the same for everyone – with minimal adjustments to things like girth and neck length – but all that aside there’s a considerable amount of customisation potential, even more so if you’re prepared to pay for additional content (I’m not; the new stuff is largely cosmetic).
And of course, I’ve made an entire set of Doctors.
Actually, I didn’t stop at the Doctors. I did the companions as well. But that’s content overload so we will deal with them another time. Today, you can have fourteen incarnations of the Doctor, in no particular order, randomly paired according to the way the screen grabbing worked, which led to some interesting if not unpleasant juxtapositions. Some of them are better than others. But I did painstakingly adjust the height of each incarnation so it was more or less accurate. Colour me proud, Jack. Colour me proud.
First up: the War Doctor and the Thirteenth Doctor. I don’t think her shoes are quite right, but I’m quite pleased with the hair. (Look very closely and you’ll see a bum bag poking out from beneath her coat.)
We’ll have the two Bakers next. There’s no option for multi-coloured scarves, so I’ve gone for his Season 18 look, which is reasonably good, although he really ought to be a little more grumpy. The same colours problem occurred when constructing the Sixth Doctor, and what’s presented here is about as close as I could manage. There’s a little too much red, but you get the idea.
I’m not very happy with the Eighth; his hair is completely wrong but there really was nothing else that fit. There’s probably the capacity for creating his ‘Night of the Doctor’ look, of course – but then you’re basically in War Doctor territory, so a distorted 1996 take will have to suffice. Next to him is McCoy; the jumper is off kilter but the hat, at least, is quite good.
These two came out quite well, really, largely because of Troughton’s eyes, grin and trousers. The Eleventh Doctor is halfway through the events of ‘Flesh and Stone’.
The Twelfth Doctor is a tricky one to do because there are three of him, depending on which series you’re watching: of all the contemporary incarnations he’s been the one who’s arguably changed the most. Next to him is Pertwee, who has the wrong hair, although it’s the best I could come up with.
The old man and the Time Lord who lived too long. Tennant was about the easiest one to do, although I do think those trousers ought to be a little darker (and the stripes are a bit, I dunno, deckchair). Still, his hair, like the werewolf Warren Zevon saw at Trader Vic’s, is perfect.
I nearly skipped Nine, just to see how people would react, but he was such an easy one I didn’t quite have it in me. Davison – with a hat that’s a little flatter than I’d like – rounds off the set. Shame there’s no celery.
Excuse the radio silence these last weeks, but I’ve been away. And busy. And now I’m neither. Which is a blessing, but it comes with the realisation that I’m rather behind. So let’s crack on with this week’s meme roundup, shall we?
First and foremost:
I haven’t seen Good Omens yet. Needless to say the interest of the DW community was piqued when someone (it might have been Gaiman, it might have been Tennant) happened to mention that there were some Doctor Who references in there, which instantly led to people freeze-framing number plates and street corners to try and find them. By far the most hysterical conversation I witnessed was an American who was convinced that they’d seen a red TARDIS, which was in fact a telephone box. It’s a cultural misunderstanding, but you know how these things work: even when it’s been explained to you, you don’t want to back down.
Anyway, I was trawling the web, looking for Easter Eggs, and –
In politics this week, a leaked mock-up shows a rather different set of prospective nominees for the backstabbing skirmish that is the Conservative leadership battle.
(It’s going to be Boris, isn’t it? Dear God, it’s going to be Boris.)
Entertainment now. And as the new face of Worzel Gummidge is unveiled, the old one reveals that he doesn’t like it.
I never read the books, but Mackenzie Crook’s appearance is supposedly based on the idea that Worzel was supposed to have a turnip head, as opposed to looking like Jon Pertwee covered in soil. This is fine, and understandable, but he looks like someone who’s been prematurely aged (see: Beetlejuice, The X-Files and various episodes of Doctor Who) and the plant strands that serve for a beard remind me a little bit of Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. The problem is that irrespective of faithfulness to the source material, Pertwee’s iconic rendition has all but usurped it. Worzel Gummidge is like The Wizard of Oz: everyone remembers how it looked, rather than how it read.
Elsewhere, in gaming: as Forza Horizon 4 unveils its new Lego-themed expansion, the Doctor has a nagging feeling that he should move the TARDIS.
When I posted this, various people were keen to point out that the TARDIS would be fine, since it had extrapolator shields. To which the obvious response is “Yes, but the car doesn’t!”
Finally, it’s been – can you believe it – five years since the death of Rik Mayall, which makes me sad that he was never involved in Doctor Who in some way. He was an extremely talented actor – both in straight and comedic roles – with a tremendous screen presence. He even makes Drop Dead Fred semi-interesting – although you’d have to use him carefully. There is no place for the man in a Dalek story. Bottom was – to all intents and purposes – the Waiting for Godot of sitcoms, so it would have to be something ostensibly mundane, where characters are lulled into a false sense of security and mostly just sit around waiting for things to happen.
This week in Whoville, there’s trouble in paradise.
This is from a film, right? They walk around wearing blindfolds for some reason. Is it like that bit in ‘Flesh and Stone’ where Amy has to navigate the Angels? Can someone enlighten me seeing as I can’t be bothered to Google this afternoon?
Elsewhere, it snowed, so obviously.
I was chatting to Christian Cawley on Twitter. “Having just finished PD’s memoirs,” he said, “Davison, Troughton and Pertwee pushing the snow onto Tom Baker might be more apt.”
“There were so many combinations,” I told him. “It was almost the Brigadier and Jo pushing the snow onto an unsuspecting Pertwee. I like the idea of Capaldi being caught out, but the real reason Baker and Pertwee are up there are simply because they’re the only ones who would balance.”
Still, you can’t keep a good Time Lord down. Not when there’s a big game on.
In case you were wondering, most of them are Falcon players. I went for the ones that were already transparent, as I couldn’t be bothered to do any cutting out. I have no idea if this makes any sort of statement on the quality of the game or the people that play it. I don’t even know what I’m looking at. I played an early John Madden game on the Sega Mega Drive but I never really got to grips with it; the whole thing seemed awfully stop-and-start. You will notice the Doctor is the only one not wearing any padding, and there’s a hint of sneering culture wars at play here: my feelings on American Football (or, as they call it, Football) aren’t exactly well-documented, except to say that over here we call it rugby. And we don’t use helmets.
But by the time you read this, of course, the Super Bowl will be a distant memory, because it’s all about Chinese New Year. Only with the Doctor, of course, it never goes to plan.
I am working on something resembling new content, honest, but I’m also writing a book. So you’re going to have to be patient, OK?
With that in mind, here’s two scenes, sandwiched together. Obviously.
Elsewhere, the Sixth Doctor’s new companion gets a facelift in the wake of a new merger between Panini and Dreamworks.
And there was sad news in the entertainment world yesterday as we learned of the death of Jim Bowen – late of Last of the Summer Wine, but best known for the long-running darts quiz Bullseye. Which, unbeknown to many, once guest-starred Jon Pertwee…
Today, boys and girls, you have a choice. You can read this through, or you can skip to the bottom. That’s where the video is. I will not hold it against you, and I’ll never know you did it. Your time is precious. But do, at least, spare five minutes to watch the Thing At The End, because that’s the whole point.
Somewhere in the home counties – I’m thinking Surrey, although it’s never clear – in a cheerfully painted house, a fluffy gay hippo is carefully stacking blocks. To his left, there is a weird orange thing that may or may not be extraterrestrial, doing a puzzle. There is a piece missing: in his frustration, he chucks the box in the direction of the hippo, upsetting his tower. “Ooh, Zippy!” complains the hippo, rife with melodrama. “Zat’s very naughty! Now I’ve got to start again!”
“Oh, well, never mind George,” says the alien. “You can always make another one.”
Stage right, there is a large brown bear reading a comic. “Oh, Zippy,” he sighs. “You are careless.”
“Yes, well, it’s not my fault!” says the alien. “He shouldn’t have been building right next to my jigsaw!”
Their greying foster carer – all sensible shirts and white trainers – walks in, carrying a basket of washing that is inexplicably full given that he’s the only person in the house who wears any clothes. Scenes like this no longer astound or surprise him the way they once did: he’s watched every episode of The Dumping Ground and accepts most of his job is firefighting the squabbles and arguments his young charges have daily. He suspects the alien may have ADHD. He has caught the bear rewiring the electrics once or twice and has asked him not to. The hippo is constantly put upon by his would-be siblings, and the people down the road are always holding impromptu glee clubs in his front room. This, he reflects, was not how he saw his life going when he signed up for this gig.
When we were children, Rainbow was a part of the furniture. It had been around so long that no one gave its murky origins a second thought. There were all manner of questions about the setup in the house – who were these strange anthropomorphic characters and why were they living with this middle-aged storyteller? What did they do for money? And are the frequent fourth wall breaks some sort of indication that they’re in some sort of kids’ version of Big Brother, mercifully without the sex? But no one really asked. It was just something we accepted. It was, like Doctor Who, more about the situation, and the hijinks that ensued, than anything that might have led to them.
It’s strange when you reflect upon how much things have changed. I often read comments on the CBeebies Facebook page about The Tweenies, usually complaining about something obnoxious that Bella is doing. It is inconceivable that a show like that would be made today. Everyone spends all their time arguing. The characters are real, but they’re not a good influence, and even though their behaviour usually results in consequences and discipline, that’s lost on today’s thou-shalt-parent-my-children-for-me audience. While it’s hard to pinpoint precisely where it happened, somewhere along the line we lost the concept of dramatic irony.
There was – I swear I’m not making this up – an episode of Rainbow where Rod, Jane and Freddy sang a song that went “A flying saucer / In our garden / It must have come from outer space…”. Whereupon Zippy poked his head out of the window and offered them a trip to the stars, which they gleefully accepted, finishing the song along the way. It was, to my mind, the best origin story for Zippy that we’ve ever had. There is no other explanation for a creature with a zip sewn into its mouth, other than one that evolved on a planet where it’s an essential survival feature. Perhaps he was expelled from his home world for being thoroughly obnoxious – it would explain why ‘cousin’ Zippo is so mind-numbingly placid, at least until that later episode where he develops a bad American accent and starts talking about crisps.
Little moments like this are integral to our understanding of Rainbow. There are episodes where Geoffrey randomly ‘has to go out’. We never know where he goes (unless he returns with something plot-related) or why. Sessions at the dole office immediately spring to mind. So too do images of Geoffrey attending a drug deal or hiring himself out as a gigolo. It all depends on the mood I’m in. So you can understand why I’d latch onto the image of Zippy emerging from a wrecked spacecraft and setting up home with a bear and a hippo, which is to all intents and purposes what the song implies. (It also implies, of course, that Rod, Jane and Freddy were actually housed together in some sort of communal living situation, which corroborates many 1980s tabloid rumours.)
Then there’s…um. Rainbow cosplay.
I mean, seriously. What the hell is that? It’s like Zippy ate him. At least he can still breathe, which is presumably a situation that can be quickly altered with the swipe of a zip at the top. Come to think of it why does this have a working zip anyway, given that its sudden closure by an external party is likely to render the occupant airless and blind in an instant? Is this some sort of gimp outfit you use for fetish games? Does Christian Grey have one? It is only marginally less disturbing than the Rainbow comics which hit the stands back in the 1990s, in which every character looks basically normal except for George, who bears the haunted, blank-eyed stare of a hippo possessed.
(If you enjoy exploring the seedy underbelly of the animals in the house, you would be well-advised to check out World of Crap, who have devoted pages and pages to rewritten Rainbow comics with amusing captions.)
I’ve dabbled with Rainbow before, of course, in a video that I still quite like, some six years after its creation (not to mention Roy Skelton’s death, which upped the hit count considerably). But Zippy’s only one part of the trio – and while he’s the obvious candidate for voice transposition, that doesn’t mean the others don’t have potential. Except that George is timid and often stumbles over his words, of course, which makes placing him difficult. That left Bungle, who is usually well-spoken, as well as prone to bouts of pomposity. When it came to finding a Doctor Who character for him to replace, there really was only one choice, and that was Omega.
It’s not that I don’t like ‘The Three Doctors’. I think it’s overrated, not to mention structurally problematic – one of those stories that is beloved because it was the first multi-Doctor fusion (and even then, it fails to deliver on its title’s promise). The bickering between Pertwee and Troughton is about the best part of the story – although an unexpected highlight occurs when Benton walks into the TARDIS for the first time, and refuses to state the obvious. The Gel guards are quite fun, but this one is perhaps the epitome of the ‘Stupid Brigadier’ phase, in which U.N.I.T.’s finest devolves into a reactionary simpleton who refuses to accept the evidence of his own eyes.
Then there’s Omega, a villain so melodramatic it’s impossible to see him as a serious threat. Omega’s role in ‘The Three Doctors’ is to shout. In ‘Arc of Infinity’, it’s to shout some more, and then decompose at the edge of a river, just after bonding with a small child over the sight of an organ grinder. In ‘Omega’, the 2003 Big Finish audio drama, his role is to convince you that he’s the Doctor, which he manages with aplomb. But for the most part it’s just a lot of shouting. There must be a reason for all that anger. You almost want Tennant to lean round the door of his chamber, survey Omega’s colossally oversized mask and mutter “Compensating for something?”
Still, masks are handy. I use masks a lot, simply because it makes the dubbing much easier. And there’s something fun about having a supposedly sinister character rendered ridiculous. In the case of Omega, it only half works. You can make him ridiculous all right; he just isn’t very sinister.
When it came to putting this together, I wanted it to feel as close to an actual episode of Rainbow as possible, so I started with the animations. There are two of them, built up in that slow, frame-by-frame style (the sound effects, by the way, are all ripped directly from the show). Originally it was just going to be K-9, but I put the other one in just for the heck of it – the same might be said for the Rod, Jane and Freddy song that shows up later, although that’s partly the silliness of Pertwee’s slow motion fight with Omega.
The biggest problem was Bungle’s voice, which is less consistent than you imagine (unlike Zippy, who always sounds like Zippy). It’s perhaps most obvious in the opening scene, in which the changes are obvious. This being a Classic episode, I didn’t have the luxury of score-free dialogue, which meant dealing with ambience and the occasional sting from Dudley Simpson (who recently turned 95, if you want another entry to your list of Entertainment Veterans You Hadn’t Realised Weren’t Dead Yet). As a result it’s rather rough around the edges, and I almost like it that way.
The first time I really became aware of television was the early 1980s. There were four channels filled with light entertainment, grainy video-shot soaps and the slightly creepy atonal horn motif that denoted the Open University programmes. The thought of an entire station dedicated to children’s broadcasts – let alone four or five – was a distant novelty. We had to put up with the odd half an hour of cartoons in the mornings (mostly The Pink Panther) and half an hour after lunch, and that’s your lot.
I’m a sucker for details when it comes to things like this. There are various programmes I remember, many of which subsequently passed into obscurity and which my friends and colleagues would categorically deny existed until – oh, sweet rapture! – the arrival of YouTube, and decent quality, ready-to-stream video that proved (once and for all) that I was right all along. Oh, it’s easy when it’s something like Chock-a-Block – the antics of Fred and Carol and their electric cars were familiar talking points around many a primary school water fountain – but when I talked about Wattoo Wattoo Super Bird I got met with a sea of blank looks. And then it was on YouTube and the rest was history. I dearly wish I could find a version of that in English, but at least I can now prove I wasn’t making this shit up.
A programme whose existence you never had to contest was Camberwick Green, which – to those of us growing up in the 1970s and 1980s – was as regular in the fixtures as Bagpuss or You and Me. “Here is a box,” announced narrator Brian Cant (omnipresent in more than one sense of the word; was there a BBC children’s programme in 1981 that didn’t involve him in some aspect or other?). “A musical box. Wound up and ready to play.” And thus the box would open – its triangular spikes retracting like some sort of art deco prison – and the character for the day’s episode would rotate upwards through the opening, peering through the deconstructed fourth wall and seemingly not caring that there was a huge head in the sky looming over the set, watching Trumptonshire’s every move like a hawk, or at least a very interested chaffinch.
Camberwick Green was one of those idyllic rural places where nothing much happened, and the nothing much happened very slowly. It was a village (supposedly in Sussex, but who knows?) where millers wore smocks, women gossiped and everyone knew everyone else. The postman danced with his postmistress before delivering the mail. The aforementioned miller rode a tricycle and played chicken with the windmill sails. The local doctor led a protest to stop a destructive piece of urban development that turned out to be a simple misunderstanding. Oh, it was all going on in Camberwick Green. On the outskirts of the village sat Pippin Fort, where six raw but well-intentioned recruits would parade and solve local problems, and then presumably get hopelessly drunk in the village pub (never seen or mentioned, which retrospectively seems a little odd).
Camberwick Green was launched in 1966, some fifty years ago last January, and adventures in Trumpton and Chigley followed a couple of years later. Trumpton was a fully working town in its own right, complete with a carpenter’s workshop, Miss Lovelace’s hat emporium and the much beloved Trumpton Fire Station, whose crew (due to technical limitations) never had to actually put out a fire, leaving plenty of time to rescue lost hats, erect bill posters (or, to be specific, fail to do so) and practice for the daily band concerts, where they would always play the same tune. “There were no fires in the afternoons,” Trumptonshire Web puts it, “but then there were no fires in the mornings either.” Meanwhile, Chigley was a tranquil but industrious hamlet nearby that revolved around a local biscuit factory, owned by the affable Lord Belborough – a dignitary rather too in touch with his inner child, given that he would leave the solitude of Belborough Hall on the slightest whim to travel up and down the local branch line on Bessie the steam engine, ably assisted by his trusty manservant, Brackett.
For people who skipped the 1990s it’s hard to explain just how much these characters permeated popular culture. There was the episode of Whose Line is it Anyway? in which Tony Slattery and Josie Lawrence redubbed a scene from Camberwick Green between Mickey Murphy and local gossip Mrs Honeyman. Years before Life on Mars?, there was the Spitting Image thing. Most of all there was the music, whether it came in the form of Half Man Half Biscuit’s riotous (almost literally) take on ‘Time Flies By’, or the bizarre, done-on-a-shoestring / could-this-be-any-more-1992 acid anthem that was ‘A Trip To Trumpton’.
You see what I mean.
There was an innocence to the whole thing, even in the notorious scene in which Windy Miller gets drunk on his homemade cider (or ‘sleepy’, as Cant puts it). It’s the sort of innocence that came to later define programmes like Balamory – a show about adults who behave a little like children, and solve their problems in much the same way. There was something sweet about a fire crew whose greatest challenge was a stranded cat (did they attend the same training academy as the crew from Pleasantville, by any chance?) and the tortoise and hare encounter that is Windy’s race with Jonathan Bell the farmer. But as with many children’s programmes, the greater the innocence, the more marked the contrast when you undermine that innocence – there are, for instance, assorted urban legends about Gordon Murray’s decision to burn all the puppets in his back garden after completing filming (although he may have kept one or two). It’s the sort of vibe that Radiohead presumably tapped into when they commissioned their video for ‘Burn the Witch’, a stop-motion affair that mashes up Camberwick Green with The Wicker Man – a film whose director, by curious coincidence, also died this week. It’s the sort of thing that really shouldn’t work, but it does.
You can’t call the deaths of Robin Hardy or Gordon Murray in any way tragic, given that Hardy batted for 86 and Murray was just five shy of a century. But it’s difficult not to feel a sense of nostalgia at the passing of Murray (we’ll deal with The Wicker Man another time, but suffice to say that nostalgia wasn’t exactly on the radar yesterday). The success of Trumptonshire owes much to Cant – and also to scriptwriter Alison Prince, whose narratives were always engaging without being complicated, and necessarily formulaic without being repetitive – but ultimately it was Murray’s creation, and we thank him for it: this fabulous county of hedgehogs and fishmongers, of biscuits and six o’clock dances, of parks and bandstands, and of nattily dressed doctors travelling round the countryside in vintage cars.
There are plenty of essays and articles about the social commentary and technical realisation of ‘The Mutants’, all over the internet. This is not one of them. However.
1. The old man who meets a premature death (but only just) in the opening credits is a dead ringer for – well….
To be fair, I am really not the first to pick up on the Monty Python’s Flying Circus thing. It’s all over the internet, and Barry Letts spotted it in 1972. It’s kind of hard to miss.
2. More subtly, the colonists’ outfits do seem to have had some sort of influence on Steven Kynman’s Robert the Robot costume, as worn in Justin’s House.
Or perhaps I just watch too much CBeebies. Actually I think we could safely say I watch too much CBeebies anyway, irrespective of any influences here, perceived or otherwise.
3. Whenever Geoffrey Palmer turns up in Doctor Who, you can guarantee he will last two episodes tops. (That two-episode limit is imposed by ‘And The Silurians’, in which he takes a comparatively long time to die, eventually managing it in style not far from a London railway station. Apart from that, he’s usually dead within twenty minutes.)
Actually, looking at that ‘Voyage of the Damned’ image again, it really does look as if he’s fallen asleep at the (ship’s) wheel.
Palmer’s tendency to die on-screen is far from unique, of course. Kevin Stoney meets the Doctor three times and only in ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ does he live to fight another day. And Michael Sheard appears in no fewer than six Classic Who stories, dying on-screen in two of them and left to an uncertain fate in ‘Castrovalva’. But heavily recurring actors is for another day and another blog entry, so watch this space.
4. There’s a lovely scene in episode 5 when the execution squad come into the Marshal’s office, ready to kill Jo and the others, and two of them turn on cue, while the other one apparently forgets, then awkwardly shuffles round so he’s facing the same way as the others. Here it is: start at 3:21, if the embed code doesn’t work properly.
(Apologies for the unskippable ads, if you see them first. My hands were cuffed.)
5. The story is renowned for its eclectic range of accents and (for 1972) diverse casting. But primarily I noticed John Hollis, playing a (presumably Dutch) scientist who’s a dead ringer for Lex Luthor.
6. ‘The Mutants’ is two parts social commentary to one part sci-fi: it can’t decide whether it’s mainly about decolonisation or slave labour. By and large it balances in favour of the former, but it’s also interesting that the role of Cotton, a redeemed lackey originally written with a Cockney’s voice in mind, was given to Rick James.
Hang on, what’s this? An ACTUAL BLACK MAN cast in 1970s Doctor Who? Well, this is a turn-up for the books. Or it would be, were it not for the fact that Rick James is dreadful. The dialogue doesn’t help. I can imagine lines like “He’s sort of a mate o’ mine” delivered by Barry Jackson in ‘The Armageddon Factor’, but as rendered here it’s simply clunky. James is clearly out of his depth, and is churning up a lot of foam simply trying to stay afloat. I daresay given the right script he’s wonderful. Sadly, this isn’t it.
Still, you can’t entirely blame the casting. Not when you have scenes like this.
(Start at 23:05.)
I know we ranted a lot about series 8, but I do think that Ruby’s panicky exclamation in ‘Forest of the Night’ was a considerable improvement.
Well, I knew that episode would eventually be good for something.