Posts Tagged With: karen gillan

Remastered: A Town Called Mercy, Silent Movie Style

There are different types of YouTube comments. Some heap undeserved praise to the point of sycophancy. People will tell you that a mediocre product is the best thing they’ve ever seen on the internet; it is crucial above all else to ensure that you do not start to believe your own hype, because therein lies artistic complacency and the excessive inflation of ego. At the other end of the scale are the downright abusive. I used to be polite; these days I’m inclined to argue back, albeit without letting them see that they’ve got to me. I’m not suggesting you should ever feed the troll, but sometimes you can poke it with a stick.

Somewhere in the middle there is a sweet spot; a small compartment of users who offer something that actually might be considered constructive feedback – the people who say “I liked this, but have you tried…?”. For instance, there was the chap who told me my Kraftwerk montage was a little too long. He was quite right, and were I to redo it now I’d go for a shorter edit. There were the numerous people who pointed out the mistakes in the Red Dwarf mashup – a hard lesson learned about when less is more – to the extent that I gave it a substantial overhaul in the tail end of last year and made something I actually almost liked.

Then there’s the silent movie I did three and a half years ago. Generally people seemed to like it, but a comment I got a few months back got me thinking. “Speed it up just a little more and put it slightly out of focus,” said a user named cemeterymaiden1. “It will look authentic I think! :D”

And that’s great. I can work with that. It did need to be faster, and it did need a little blurring round the edges. That’s the sort of comment I love receiving, because it is constructive without being disrespectful. It makes a welcome change from this –

I’ve decided, after careful reflection, that most Doctor Who fans are fucking idiots.

[coughs]

In any event: when I decided to retouch a few old projects that never quite lived up to their potential, this one seemed like a prime candidate. Most of the changes are cosmetic – loose frames tucked, timings adjusted. Then I ran it through a gaussian blur and tinted it with sepia, rather than the black and white I originally used. I’m still not sure how authentic this makes it as a result – my knowledge of silent movie production techniques isn’t as comprehensive as it ought to be – but it’s a Western, dammit. It looks cooler.

“Don’t you think,” said Gareth when I posted the original, back before ‘Day of the Doctor’, “that the joke about the Eccleston cameo is going to date rather quickly?” He was right, of course – it’s not something that bothered me at the time, given that all it did was time stamp the original, but the remaster replaces it with a gag that’ll never go out of style, even if the BBC eventually follow through on it.

The original is still up there, if you want to take a peek. But I’m happier with this one. Some things don’t need changing. But sometimes you reap the benefits when you do. Happy trails, y’all.

Categories: Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Weazle Words (part one)

9781405920025

It’s Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays. It’s October, which means the Great Pumpkin, harvest, and our wedding anniversary, not in that order. And over at Penguin, Justin Richards has released a new book entitled Time Lord Fairy Tales. Aimed at the 7-11 age bracket, it promises to be “A stunning illustrated collection of fifteen dark and ancient fairy tales from the world of Doctor Who.”

But which fairy stories, you may ask? Well, this is one of the digital download summaries:

The Scruffy Piper
Read by: Nicholas Briggs

Space Station Hamlyn is under siege. Thousands of small metal creatures are flying through space, sent by silver warriors to burrow inside the station. The crew’s only hope is a slightly scruffy-looking stranger, with a recorder and a mysterious blue box . . .

 

And I confess that when I read this synopsis, my first words were “Oh, bugger”. Because I’ve just spent eighteen months writing (and a good deal more time planning) a Doctor Who novel which runs along very similar lines.

There are differences, of course. Richards has produced a short story aimed at children. I’ve produced a full-length novel set in twelfth century Hamelin – specifically, Hamelin after the Piper has been and gone, when the Doctor arrives to find a town that’s a shell of its former self. The story of the Pied Piper tells of one lame child who did not make it through the rock face before it closed, and it was this that provided a starting point. How would such a boy be treated in the wake of such a terrible thing? Would he be a victim? A pariah? A political pawn? What about his parents? It’s into this situation that the Doctor is thrust – but he hasn’t been in Hamelin long when the murders begin…

Is there a bit of flag-planting going on here? Probably. Am I territory marking? Well, I’m trying not to. But I know how this works: I know that somewhere along the line, if this ever sees the light of day, I’m going to be told that I stole the idea. And I can deal with that. No one can copyright an idea and I’m sure that I’m not the first person to join the dots between the Piper and the Doctor (and that’s even discounting the quite splendid Challenge of the Piper). Do I think it’s better than some Past Doctor Adventures? Well, yes, to be honest. It’s not exactly Booker material, but at least it’s consistent and tells a reasonable story, which is more than you can say for [THIS TEXT HAS BEEN AUTOMATICALLY CENSORED BY THE AUTHOR’S INNER DIPLOMAT].

I’m also not stupid: actual publication of this thing is (at time of writing) nothing more than a pipe dream. Unsolicited fiction is generally ignored these days, and everyone and their grandmother has written a Doctor Who novel. Thus when I visited a local writer’s event the other week I was advised – before I heard about this new book – to get the thing online in the meantime. “You might as well publish it,” the affable Australian to whom I was speaking said. “You won’t make any money, but there’s no law against it, and at least it’s out there.”

But I can’t bring myself to share the whole thing yet. It’s finished, but it’s not ready. It’s three hundred pages and on a good day it feels like a complete novel, with subplots and character development and an interesting story. On a bad day it feels like bad fanfic – desperate writing with a continuity obsession that rivals that of Ian Levine with a headache. There is a whole storyline that I’m still not convinced should actually be there – something that sort of works but which, I think, might be a colossal white elephant.

If you really want to read the whole thing, I’ll supply it on demand. But I’d rather get it polished first (Emily has, just this evening, pointed out that I need to establish whether or not Amy was in the Guides or the Scouts, as currently she’s in both). I am having it read by several people who will hopefully give me varying pieces of advice that I’ll take on board or politely discard.

However. The first chapter is, at the moment, about as good as I’m going to get it, and it’s incidental to the story, so you can read it. Here’s the first bit. The rest will follow next week. Hey, it worked for Dickens, and he got to hang out with the Doctor.

TARDIS_Kitchen

Chapter One, Part One

The time rotor in the middle of the TARDIS control console was stuck. Normally it glided up and down the column with a sort of calm fluidity, in the manner of a descending lavatory ballcock or a thirty-seven-year-old woman doing yoga. It was a graceful motion, one that seemed firmly at odds with the ship’s trademark wheezes and groans. But not today. Today it seemed to catch a few inches from its usual peak, where it would sit there, trying to move, but apparently caught fast.

The ship itself was not stuck, of course The Doctor had explained that while the time rotor’s mechanism appeared to be malfunctioning, the time rotor itself was not. “Still the same old TARDIS,” he said. “The rotor’s caught, but it’s still working. Except – ”

“Except what?” came the voice from below.

“Well, except that we’re careering backwards through time and I don’t know how to stop it,” the Doctor replied.
“That’s not exactly what I’d call working.”

“That’s not exactly what I’d call a skirt, Pond. You look like you forgot what you were doing halfway through getting dressed. Now hand me that spanner.”

The Doctor was perched on top of the console, legs spread slightly apart in order to minimise the likelihood of one of the sudden backwards tumbles for which his current incarnation seemed to be so notorious. It was no fun having to go through clumsy phases, the Doctor mused as he loosened one of the glass plates that hid the inner mechanism. That was the problem with regeneration. You never knew when loss of coordination would show up. It was like having to go through puberty again. The Doctor was fairly sure he’d done that on at least three occasions over the years, as a side effect of the body clock reset that hit him whenever he suffered a mortal wound. That was something they didn’t teach you at the academy.

Amelia Pond was leaning casually against one of the nearby columns, arms folded, watching with a composite of affection and amusement. The Doctor never seemed so at home as when he was knee deep in circuitry, she thought, or so frustrated. Many was the time she would enter the control room and find him cursing in what she assumed was Gallifreyan. He was one of these well-intentioned types who never read the manual. He reminded her of her own fath-

– Except she couldn’t remember her own father.

Why couldn’t she remember her own father?

Amy was comfortable with the idea of fathers as an abstract concept, of course. The notion sat with her. But it occurred to her now, within the quiet and solace of the time machine, even as the ancient elf behind her worked himself into a frenzy amidst a maelstrom of grunts and curses, that she never really thought about her parents. They seemed to exist in a vacuum; she didn’t know because it never occurred to her to ask about them. It wasn’t that her family history was entirely unknown. She could remember her aunt well enough, and those eerie, moonlit evenings at the house in Leadworth, where the beams floodlit the room and seemed to strike everything except the crack in her wall. But beyond that…it wasn’t a taboo topic, just one that had never come up. Amy wondered why she’d never asked.

This troubled her. There was something else; something that sat undiscussed. There was an elephant, and every so often it would stretch out a wrinkly, invisible trunk and tap her on the shoulder. It was a shadow in a mirror, a trick of the light, a thing that you could have sworn moved even though you saw nothing and knew it wasn’t possible. There was something that the Doctor wasn’t telling her.

Truth be told, there was plenty that the Doctor didn’t tell her. She didn’t know his name; that was off-limits. He wasn’t grumpy about it, but early conversations they’d had made it clear that this was like discussing an old marriage with a new partner, or like a kid she’d gone out with at seventeen who’d lost his sister to cancer and would clam up for the reset of the evening if her name was ever mentioned.

“Why on earth would you want to know my name, Pond?” the Doctor had asked her. And curiously, she’d been unable to come up with an answer that made any kind of sense, largely because when viewed in human terms it was a stupid question. But the Doctor, of course, wasn’t human. She knew that much. And he was the last of his kind; she knew that much as well. He didn’t talk about Gallifrey. That was off-limits, geographically and conversationally. Amy gave a mental shrug. There were other things to worry about. Such as why she could smell –

“– burning?”

Atop the control panel, the Doctor swivelled. “Burning? Are you sure?”

Amy nodded. “Over there.” She pointed to the east wall, or what the Doctor always referred to as the east wall, although how he had worked this out was beyond her comprehension. The TARDIS could reconfigure rooms any way she wanted – and frequently did, often just to perplex the Doctor – but currently the east wall led through to the kitchen.

The Doctor gave her a look. “Amy, did you leave the toaster on again?”

Despite herself, she felt her eyes rolling incredulously. “That one time -”

“Yes, and I’m still trying to get the smell out of the Bandulucian rug. Cost me a fortune, that rug did. And I had to pay extra postage. Honestly, Ebay. I ask you.”

“Definitely burning,” Amy said, trying to steer him back to the subject.

“Fine,” sighed her host, opening a panel below the handbrake and pulling out a small fire extinguisher and two bright green kite-shaped pieces of plastic that Amy supposed – correctly, as it turned out – were gas masks.

“Put this on,” he said, holding one to his face and hefting the extinguisher in the other hand. “In case of emergency, exits are over there.” He gestured over his shoulder at the TARDIS doors, and then turned his attention to the east wall. “Smells like it’s coming from one of the adjoining rooms, anyway. We’ll investigate, but keep directly behind me. And if I say run, run.”

“Where to?”

“Away from whatever is that’s chasing us. Honestly, do I have to start drawing pictures?”

 

The two of them left the deep blue of the control room and wandered through into a spacious kitchen area. Carved into a large U-shape measuring fifty square feet or more, the black marble work surfaces flanked a central breakfast area with metal bar stools arranged round a raised table. The worktops were late twentieth century in design but filled with gadgets and models from all epochs of culinary history, with a slight bias towards 1950s Earth. A well-thumbed Mrs Beeton sat propped up against a beige mixing bowl, which in turn sat next to a set of pan scales. When she’d first explored the kitchen, Amy had opened the book to find a faded inscription, scrawled in black ink: To my dear Doctor, with love as always. Thank you for the shortbread recipe.

There was no time for browsing today. The Doctor skirted elegantly round one side of the U-shaped counter, opening cupboards and checking behind jars and mug racks. Amy followed his lead and moved to the other end, ignoring the colossal fridge that dominated the far end. A minute or so later they had exhausted the last cupboard and found nothing. The Doctor spun on his heel and began pacing, chewing on a fingernail. “Nothing. No sign of anything.”

“I didn’t imagine it,” said Amy, with more than a trace of indignance.

“I know you didn’t. I can smell it as well, now. But there’s no trace of any loose wires, nothing left lying around.” His eyes wandered across to the far corner. “Did you check the fridge?”

“Why would I check the fridge?”

“It can still burn. I know it’s cold, but – ”

The Doctor stopped, mid-sentence. The fridge had wobbled.

“Did you see that?” The moment the words were out of Amy’s mouth she regretted them, but if the Doctor found her response banal, he was gentlemanly enough not to show it. “Yeah. Something in the fridge.”

“Something still alive?”

“Either alive or in the throes of death, hence the wobbling. Sadly it’s impossible to know, unless we open it.” The Doctor grinned, despite himself. “Schrödinger’s fridge.”

“How did it get in?” she asked.

“That market we visited on Roxx 3? It probably sneaked on there. You know, when I had the TARDIS doors open for a moment. But I still don’t know what it is.”

“It’s not gonna be, like, a huge dog sitting on top of a temple?”

“No, not in a fridge. Cat, possibly. Chinchilla, even.”

The Doctor inched closer to the door of the large white refrigerator. “Only one way to find out.”

Keeping at arm’s length, and holding the sonic screwdriver pointed forwards in his other hand, like a magic wand – which, in a way, it was – the Doctor grasped at the handle and swung the door open. Inside were several shelves stocked with yoghurt, shrink-wrapped vegetables – some of Earth origin, many not – and cheese, At the top, there was a large ice box.

At the bottom, there was a ball of blue fur. With ears.

The blue furball was eating a carrot. When it noticed the fridge light come on and the temperature start to creep up, it halted abruptly. The ears swivelled upwards like satellite dishes and faced the Doctor. The half-eaten carrot fell from what Amy assumed was a mouth and hit the plastic base of the fridge with a thud. It rolled forwards and out and landed on the kitchen floor.

The furball’s ears twitched slightly, as if waiting for a response from the Doctor. The Doctor squatted, beaming with delight. “A moss ball! My goodness, this is a blast from the past. And he’s hungry!” He cocked his head on one side and poggled the moss ball’s ears; not that there was much else to poggle. “That explains the burning smell, anyway. They’re always a little malodorous when they’re eating.”

Moss Ball

Amy glanced at him and then at the blue bundle of fluff, not really sure how she should respond. “A what?”

“A moss ball. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you.”

“It’s not – actually made of moss, is it?”

“No, it’s basically mammalian in composition. Well, half mammal, half arthropod. It comes from the sea forests of Hathendia.”

“That sounds like something out of a fantasy novel.”

“Oh, it is, Amy. It really is. Try and imagine the bluest, most brilliantly sparkly ocean you’ve ever imagined, right? Now, take that and turn it into a forest. With blue foliage on the trees. Plants that are aquamarine. Turquoise tree trunks.”

“What colour is the sun?”

“The sun is yellow, of course, but it hardly ever shines. Instead they have millions of fireflies, all lighting up the place. Completely harmless. Well, apart from the ones that aren’t.”

“And this – thing? It lives there?”

“Yes, it does.” The Doctor leaned in closer to get a better look at the stowaway. “The fur is basic camouflage, of course. It looks like any other plant. Which is very handy, because it’s preyed upon by a very nasty creature called the snapweazle.”

“OK,” said Amy. “That’s a seventies kids show waiting to happen.”

“Been there, done that. 1770s, of course, and a different planet. Anyway. The moss ball is a herbivore, but the snapweazle is a hundred per cent carnivorous. Nasty bite. And completely silent, so you seldom hear them coming.”

“Doctor – ”

“This little fellow looks positively starving. My guess is a snapweazle chased him out of the woods and he kept running – well, rolling – until he wound up in someone’s bag. And that someone was probably some sort of space tourist, and they went to Roxx 3, which is where it escaped from their baggage and found its way to the TARDIS. Hopefuly the snapweazle didn’t follow.”

“Doctor?” Amy’s voice carried an urgency that the Time Lord, who was now monologuing as if there were no tomorrow, missed completely.

“That’s the other thing about snapweazles, you see, Amy. They’re the most persistent psychotic plants in the known universe. Once they find a moss ball they like, they’ll pursue it across the stars. Well, never mind, little guy. You’re safe in here, aren’t you?” The Doctor gripped the furry ball in his hands and gave it a nose rub.

“Doctor…”

“And then, of course, there’s the fact that the snapweazle gets bigger and bigger the hungrier it gets. And it’s standing behind me right now, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

 

Read Part Two

Categories: The Child Left Behind | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Wig Planet

It’s quite gratifying that when I do an image search for ‘Donna Noble Library’, this crops up in the first three lines of results.

IMG20120824_002

(You can read about why Thomas is doing that in this post from August 2012.)

I can’t even remember why we were talking about it, but it probably involved the fact that Emily was cutting my hair last night. “I mustn’t overdo it,” she said. “You’ll look like Donna did when she was attached to that node.”

Anyway –

And while we’re on that, this one seemed obvious.

Donna_Library2

In for a penny, in for a Pond, as the Seventh Doctor would probably have said.

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: ‘A Town Called Mercy’

Picture the scene. It’s October 1993, and we’re in the middle of the first run of Red Dwarf VI. Already this is a show that’s past its prime; series IV and V have been wondrous, and VI is intermittently hysterical, but the cracks are already beginning to show. It’s still a few years before Chloe Annett springs forth from her parallel universe, bringing a wealth of “Does my bum look big in this?” angst with her, and in the meantime everyone is talking about an episode called ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’, in which the crew get chucked into a western.

For one reason or another, this is an episode that I don’t see: I am otherwise engaged and the video recorder is not working. It’s a pity, everyone tells me; it was hysterical, and the scene in the saloon was supposedly fantastic. ‘Gunmen’ goes on to win an Emmy, but it will be the summer of 1994 before I manage to catch a repeat. And when I do, I’m confused as to what all the fuss was about. It’s funny, in places, but it’s gimmick TV: sci-fi western with Cassandra’s dad from Only Fools and Horses, containing little in the way of decent gags, and a lot of general silliness as a substitute for an actual plot. It was as if Grant and Naylor thought Red Dwarf in the wild west would be enough, and while there are amusing moments the whole is infinitely less than the sum of its parts.

And so to ‘A Town Called Mercy’, Saturday night’s Who, and an episode that can best be described (as diplomatically as possible) as irredeemable shit. Not just substandard, or patchy, but dull, tedious shit. Toby Whithouse’s Who output has been of variable quality, ranging from the enjoyable dross of ‘School Reunion’ to the forgettable vagaries of ‘The Vampires of Venice’, but I’d thought – with ‘The God Complex’, which is in my top five post-revival stories – that he’d finally hit his stride. And then we get this: a collection of clichés by someone who admits that he’s never written a western before and thus felt it appropriate to drop in as much in the way of by-the-numbers scenes as possible. All the usual suspects are here – the sudden silence when the trio enters the saloon, the young man apparently destined towards a path of violence, the population sign with numbers crossed out, and the gleeful undertaker who’s never short of business. All that was missing was a whore with a heart of gold propping up the tavern bar, and a bunch of Mexicans firing their guns in the air.

Doctor Who has done westerns before, of course, even if Whithouse hasn’t. The First Doctor went there in 1966, but that was back in the cardboard set days. On this occasion he gets to go to Almeria, doubling for the town of Mercy. The Doctor eagerly strides into the local watering hole, and of course you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. The Doctor’s reaction is to adopt a third-rate Western drawl and order tea – “the strong stuff…and leave the bag in”.

Oh, that Doctor. Comedy gold.

This is not clever. Nor it is funny. When Rimmer walked into the bar in ‘Gunmen’ and asked for a dry white wine and Perrier, that was funny. This was gratuitously stupid. It more or less sums up Smith’s performance, which is wildly schizophrenic in a manner not seen since ‘The Twin Dilemma’: he’s either playing a dark and serious Doctor overwhelmed by moral choices and a sense of brooding anger (more on that in a moment) or a comedy Doctor who consistently fails to amuse. The script doesn’t help, but even when given lines that could have raised a chuckle Smith just isn’t trying very hard this week, assuming instead that the setting will be enough, when it frankly isn’t.

“Yeah, it was this big.”

“VOTAN!”

Smith may be second-rate, but he at least gets something to do, which is more than may be said for Gillan and Darvill – both abandoned, for the most part, to the sidelines. Rory’s job is to argue with his wife about ethical dilemmas and to run away a bit (essentially he’s Shaggy with brains). Meanwhile, Amy gets to be the voice of reason and conscience, and demonstrate that she really doesn’t know how to fire a gun.

It’s as if ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ never happened. It is Amy who is left to acquaint herself with Kahler-Jex, a ‘doctor’ whose craft has ‘crash-landed’, allowing him to ingratiate himself within the community and develop something of a reputation as a scientist and miracle worker amongst a community anxious to protect him from the mysterious Gunslinger. Amy’s determination to help Jex is fuelled by what is possibly the worst dialogue exchange since ‘Doomsday’, just after she drops a blanket round his shoulders:

Jex: You’re a mother, aren’t you?

Amy: How did you know?

Jex: There’s kindness in your eyes. And sadness. And ferocity too.

Seriously, no one talks like this. Not in westerns. Not in prime time drama. Not even in Bonekickers. Amy asks Jex if he’s a father himself, to which the not-so-cryptic response is “In a way, I suppose I am”, which makes the rest of the episode – including its denouement – painfully obvious.

Kahler-Jex, formerly of Gosford Park

While all this is going on, the Doctor is out in the desert on a horse with two names – ‘Joshua’ turns out in fact to be called ‘Susan’, and we are told that “he wants you to respect his life choices”. This is the sort of clunkiness I thought we’d left behind when Davies finished his run – I’m all for jokes like this when they’re woven into the fabric with some sort of coherence, but this sticks out as an Obvious Statement like a sore thumb. We learn all this because the Doctor can speak horse. Well, of course he can. This is crying out for a tumblr page called Doctor Wholittle. (And if it gets made, I get dibs on the naming rights.)*

Oh, I was rolling around in my seat when he said “I wear a Stetson now”. It was even better than the Fourth Doctor telling K-9 to shut up. Unrivalled genius. Anyway, all this comedy is just a precursor to the moment where the Doctor gets to clamber on top of an enormous Kinder Surprise.

(Inside: a little plastic spaceship, in two parts, with a set of self-destruct stickers, and a website where you have to register your email address if you want to deactivate the mechanism.)

I’m skipping all over the place here. I haven’t yet mentioned Isaac, who is the gruff-but-decent Sheriff who you know won’t make it to the final reel, played with competence by Ben Browder, of Farscape and Stargate SG-1.

Isaac. A man of honour and integrity. Dead before the halfway mark.

Also present: Biggs Darklighter, no less, playing Abraham the undertaker.

“No, THAT’S NOT HOW THEY DO PANTS!”

The Gunslinger himself is your standard cyborg fare, with a stiff walk, a big gun, a voice box Stephen Hawking would kill for and a passing resemblance to Peter Weller, which can’t have been a coincidence.

“Stay out of trouble.”

He also has Terminator Vision, albeit with a touch of Predator about it.

But all this is basically leading up to the Big Scene where Amy shouts at the Doctor. A future YouTube favourite, this epitomises what’s happening between Pond and Doctor in this series: Moffat’s having Amy and the Doctor explore as many facets of their relationship as possible just before the final separation (terminal or not) in a couple of weeks’ time. J.K. Rowling did basically the same thing in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince with Harry and Dumbledore – as the two moved from father / son closeness through a series of reprimands, co-conspiracy and then outright anger, finishing as more or less equals. Having them go through the emotional wringer more or less signposted the inevitable ending of the book, and in the case of Doctor Who it’s clear that in series seven, one of the dominant themes is What Amy Really Means To The Doctor.

The other theme, of course, is darkness – the Doctor’s mercy or lack thereof being the prime example. The fugitive Jex is a Nazi war criminal trying to atone for his ‘sins’, except, as the Doctor says, “You don’t get to choose”. His decision to prioritise the bloodlust of the victim over the rights of the criminal edge the episode into social commentary area, but ‘A Town Called Mercy’ is too short to really make this work, and the result instead comes across rather like ‘Boom Town’ – in which the Doctor faced a similar ethical dilemma, and which featured dialogue of similar quality.

Critics have said this is “out of character”, but I think that’s kind of the point.

“This is what happens,” Amy tells the Doctor as he brandishes a firearm, “when you travel alone for too long”. And indeed, we’ve just found out that the Doctor is now 1200, a decision that was presumably made to allow for bucketloads of Big Finish material (although, as Gareth points out, they’ve managed to squeeze in dozens of Fifth Doctor / Peri stories between ‘Planet of Fire’ and ‘The Caves of Androzani’, suggesting that “this sort of thing doesn’t worry them”). Anyway, this new revelation about the Doctor’s age leads to a lengthy deleted scene in which the people of Mercy decide to give him the bumps.

There’s a bit of squabbling outside the jail, where the angry mob arrives to take Jex out of town to leave him for the Gunslinger to discover. The Doctor’s having none of it, of course. And the next time we see him, he’s in the middle of the square, and it’s High Noon, and as the Gunslinger appears it’s apparent that the Doctor has come up with A Clever Idea. We are spared the A-Team style montage of assembly or preparation, and we have to work out what’s going on at the same time as the Gunslinger. I’m guessing that behind the scenes, the conversation went a little like this.

Doctor: Right. Here’s the plan, folks. First of all, I want some black marker pens. And some Jammie Dodgers, but they can wait. Pens first. Then I want you to sit and copy out the design on the side of Jeks’ head. Paint it on some of the townsfolk. It’ll confuse the cyborg and he won’t know where to shoot.

Rory: Hang on, you’re ripping off The Three Amigos?

Doctor: What?

Rory: [produces iPhone, finds this video]

Doctor: Interesting soundtrack.

Rory: Sorry, it’s the only version I could find.

Doctor: Anyway. Fair point, but we don’t have time to debate originality. Now. Volunteers to be the bait.

Amy: [hand in the air] I nominate Rory.

Rory: Oh, thanks.

Doctor: Good work, Ponds. Look at it this way, Rory, the merchandising opportunities are limitless. We can do two sets of everyone in the town, with and without splodges. Right, next: I want all the townspeople to hide in the church.

Amy: Hold on a sec, isn’t that a rather obvious place to look? I mean, wouldn’t it be better to find a cellar somewhere? I’m sure the town’s full of them.

Doctor: No, because that’s exactly what he’ll be expecting. Instead, I want you all to wait in the church and be impossibly quiet so he can’t hear you. Oh, and put some hymn books and bibles right on the edge of the seats. And make sure you have the children sitting there. It’ll induce some dramatic tension.

“It’s no use; I’ve been scrubbing for three hours and it still won’t come off.”

It all ends in a hurried moment of crushingly obvious self-sacrifice, and then a scene in which the Gunslinger stands alone on a hill in the distance, playing with a shiny badge. Oh, and a fake gunfight between the Doctor and the Kid Who Must Avoid The Road To Violence, in another Worst Moment Ever.

Lame. Lame. Lame.

The Protector of Mercy. Alone, but never – well, yes, alone.

Seriously, Toby, how could you do this to us? I was able to endure this episode only under the influence of red wine, and that’s really not a good place for Doctor Who to be. I am assuming that series seven is following the Star Trek formula, in that the odd numbered instalments have been dull (by that rationale ‘The Power of Three’ should be a riot). The production values on this were fairly impressive, and with the right story and script, it could have been great. As it stands, it was hurried in all the wrong places and laboured in all the wrong places, with second-rate performances of third-rate dialogue, inadequate characterisation, an unsatisfactory conclusion…really, as Gareth pointed out, the only thing that wasn’t totally one-dimensional was the scenery. You couldn’t view it as a missed opportunity, or a story with potential. It was just a mess. It was forty minutes of my life that I’m never going to get back – and that, to be honest, frightens me more than anything that Moffat has managed to do since he took over the show.

* As it turns out, it already exists. Just goes to show great minds think alike.

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Sir, you’re wanted on the deck

This free gift turned up in last week’s Doctor Who Adventures. I am happy.

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Strangers in a strange land

In a parallel universe somewhere, Bjork and Kate Bush were lovers. Somehow they managed to combine their DNA and produce a child, whom they named Natasha Khan. The child then found its way back through to our dimension and, under the nom de plume of Bat For Lashes, she hit the charts. The rest is history.

Bat For Lashes first came to my attention back in 2009, after the birth of our third child – who shares names with the Ivor Novello-winning ‘Daniel’. It was, quite frankly, a better song than the number one hit on the day he was born, Calvin Harris’s ‘I’m Not Alone’ (I know Harris has his fans but I’ve frankly never understood the fuss). I’ve made a point of buying physical copies of the number one records that correspond to all three of our sons’ birth dates – Joshua, back in 2005, had the dubious honour of being paired with ‘Ghetto Gospel‘, a stretched-to-breaking-point vocal from the long-deceased Tupac Shakur re-edited by Marshall Mathers and paired with cuts from an old Elton John song. (That was the summer that a certain remix of ‘Axel F’ hit the top spot for weeks, and I maintain to this day that the reason Josh was two weeks late was because he didn’t want to be associated with that fucking frog for the rest of his life.)

A couple of years later, Thomas was born under an Umbrella. Ella. Ella. Eh? Eh? Eh? You get the picture. (Icture. Icture. Ict. Ict. Ict.) That song was everywhere. It really shouldn’t make me cry, but it does. I have my reasons, and they were threefold. But whatever the banality of some of the tripe that made number one, when Calvin Harris hit the top spot, I confess to feeling a little disappointed that Daniel had to be born to such a nondescript record – this despite the fact that the number one spot and the singles chart in general mean bugger all these days – and was therefore relieved when my sister-in-law suggested this as an unofficial replacement, even though it only peaked at number thirty six (which simply proves that the majority of the singles-buying public have no taste).

Now, cut to last year, when through circumstances I can’t remember – probably a sale – I wind up acquiring both Fur and Gold and its follow-up, Two Suns. Both have their merits, although it’s the latter that I prefer, feeling as it does like the album Natasha Khan wanted to make first time around. There’s less tinkly piano and more use of synths (God, she’s even developing like Kate Bush). There’s a schizophrenic theme running through, or at least an alter ego. It’s a crazy, mixed-up record. I play it, and I play it again, and then again. One song in particular, ‘Two Planets’, makes me sit up: its bold percussive texture, omitting the crucial bass line and not suffering as a result, is extraordinarily reminiscent of key tracks from Hounds of Love (a record we’ll come back to in a few weeks). And the very first time I hear this, driving home from work, I am suddenly struck by a flood of images from Doctor Who.

The album’s cover is a deep, resonant blue, and for some reason I have applied this same colour to Matt Smith’s 2010 season. I have no idea why this is except to say that a mooted, almost mournful feel seems to take hold. Every season has, I think, a different colour: Martha’s was green. Eccleston’s was fiery orange. Last year’s was rust – dealing with, as it did, the desert and a dead Doctor. As someone who typically thinks aurally, rather than visually, it baffles me that I occasionally come to these sorts of conclusions (although presumably if you were to examine them closely, you’d find they simply didn’t work). I’m not suggesting that the directors are tinting everything in sepia like in Traffic. But there seem to be recurring colour schemes, although perhaps they’re in my head as much as anything else. You see what you want to see.

Anyway: I cut and re-cut and eventually came up with something resembling a montage – one that came together faster than anything else I’ve done but one that even today I’m not totally happy with. It feels like the pacing is a bit off. Looking back I’m not convinced that the song choice was quite right; there are gloriously appropriate lyrics within it that marry quite well with the visuals, but I relied on fewer quick cuts than I have in the past, and there are times when I wish the whole thing would hurry up a bit. It feels sluggish and amateur. At the same time, I think it fits thematically, because the lyrics are an eye-opener:

Show me moonlight on the sunrise
I’ve seen so many planets dancing
I’ve seen too many people hiding
Show me sunset and I won’t forget
That I am one of two planets dancing
I am part of two planets dancing

Shallow man!
Sign your name
On my sun!

The song of Solomon
Died in the battleground
The song of Solomon
Died in love’s battleground

I am full
Shattered by this sailing time
For all your suffering by night
Oh warm, but under bright
And life is so much dark and light
When day cannot exist without a night
And you are not separate from me
I am a heart that’s full of life

And to be shared
On this night
Feel my hands
Feel my life
For the Sun
And the stars
Are my Mother
And my sister
I know where the form is changing
I know that the stars will follow me

At first I suppose the second and third lines, taken literally, reminded me of the Doctor, and that may be where all this came from. And I didn’t realise at the time, but it basically seems to be the story of Amy, at least during her first season (before she became less interesting), and so it was a quirkily appropriate, if imperfect union. But who said marriage had to be perfect?

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Pond Life

The best way to prevent spoiler leakage? Pre-empt it by doing it yourself. You dictate your own terms, control the information that you want given out and gain tactical advantage. It’s like the conclusion of 8-Mile, which sees Jimmy Rabbit obliterate his opponent by listing his own failings before said opponent gets the chance. When the time comes to swap the microphone, the hard-as-nails, puffer-jacket-wearing Clarence (who goes to public school and whose parents are still together) is absolutely lost for words.

I don’t know if Steven Moffat’s an Eminem fan, but I wonder if something like this was going through his mind when he announced the imminent departure of the Ponds. The timing – a week in advance of the Christmas special – cannot be ignored. Nor indeed can Moffat’s rant about spoilers earlier this year, a moment in which he completely lost his rag, and a fair bit of my respect for him. The problem, of course, is that you can’t court the press and then expect them to play ball; nor can you tease the fans with shoot access and stills and then expect them to keep quiet. These are the days of instant file transfer, of photos being passed round the world faster than Polaroid development speeds, of tweeting and blogging and –

Sorry, where was I? The point is it’s easier to share information than ever, and as much as Moffat may rail against the people who choose to do such, to create and promote a culture when such controlled leaking is standard practice in your own institution hardly gives you the moral high ground. And what’s more, as various people have pointed out, if you cultivate a show whose success depends crucially on the retention of certain information – in other words, if spoilers are your be-all and end-all – then you’re in serious danger of writing yourself into a corner.

But that’s neither here nor there. I’ve touched upon it before and others have done so with more eloquence and attention to detail than I have the time or energy to commit to screen. For all our ranting about spoilers, the news of Amy’s departure is neither particularly surprising, nor (as such) is it particularly newsworthy: it was going to happen sooner or later, because no one wants to travel with the Doctor forever, unless they happen to be Rose Tyler, who couldn’t have been more irritating in her final episodes if she’d donned an orange fright wig, raised her voice a couple of octaves, lost the Danny Baker sheen and impersonated Mel. (Yes, I know she was better in Big Finish. But I still remember her for ‘Time and the Rani’, and that’s simply no fun.) Characters who never want to leave are in serious danger of wearing out their welcome, and it’s a good thing, in a way, that Amy lacked the see-the-stars wide-eyed schoolgirl wonder that her previous companions seemed to possess in abundance. When it came to dealing with time, and the consequences of time (perhaps that should be the Doctor’s campaign slogan: “Tough on time, tough on the causes of time”) I always got the feeling she learned to cope remarkably quickly.

Perhaps that was part of the problem some people had with her. Amy seemed to divide the viewers like no other companion before or since. Some people loved her. I did. Amy’s a character who’s been messed up by the Doctor and it shows. She’s crazy and that’s understandable, and the complex she gained after the fish custard incident has given her a wonderful zaniness that is consistently fun to watch (Amy is arguably at her least interesting, I’d suggest, when she’s being normal). Many have expressed a view to the contrary, but I don’t think her innate goofiness lessens our ability to relate to her, unless it means that those who can are in some way quietly crazy (“Oh yes, sir. Every time sir!”). Gillan has a wondrous gaze about her, and Amy speaks to the Doctor in a manner that no other companion has chosen to adopt since the revival, and whatever she’s doing, she always lights up the screen.

But there’s a flipside to this, and while many people found her a breath of fresh air, others found her irritating, kooky, with skirts of inappropriate length for a family show (hello? Leela? Peri?) and her treatment of Rory in rather poor taste. They may have a point about that – certainly the young Mr Williams (whom, I have to say, Arthur Darvill plays brilliantly) has the patience of a saint to have put up with Amy’s treatment of him over the past few years; it’s clear that he and Amy love each other, but he seems to alternate with the Doctor when it comes to playing gooseberry, and that’s no way for a marriage to survive. It was, finally, the Doctor who realised this come the end of ‘The God Complex’, and Rory and Amy’s subsequent exit was refreshing in its brevity and (relative) understatement; I remember wishing at the time that that could be it for them, but of course it was not to be.

Because, you see, companions don’t just leave in New Who. They have the most ridiculous, protracted departures imaginable. It’s strung out over three or four episodes (in the case of Donna, almost an entire series) and when it happens, you’re so anxious for it to happen that you can’t wait. This in itself is nothing new. I can recall, some fourteen years ago now, sitting in a darkened cinema on the outskirts of Reading – where I was living at the time – watching Leonardo Dicaprio clinging to an iceberg and muttering something incoherent and rambly through chattering teeth. James Horner’s music was building to a swirl, Kate Winslet was all doe-eyed and the girl behind me was sniffling through an entire box of Kleenex, and my only thought at the time, I can well remember, was “Will you please hurry up and fucking DIE???”. This was not, I’m sure, what James Cameron had in his mind when he filmed it, and concordantly this makes the scene, and indeed the film at large, a spectacular failure – although it is a visual spectacle, even now, with the sinking of the boat rendered effectively and with appropriate emotional pathos for many of the passengers. Take out the wraparound love story, and clean up the historical detail, and you’ve got yourself something with serious potential.

What irritates me most about New Who, though, is the way that death is trivialised. This has become particularly prominent under the obsession with ontological paradoxes that has epitomised Moffat’s two-season reign. One of the most beautiful moments in ‘Blink’ was the death of Billy Shipton, the police officer who dies in the hospital in the company of Sally Sparrow, because such a death has since become so rare. It’s terminal in a literary as well as literal sense: the character is never mentioned again, despite the fact that ‘Blink’ is a story that essentially eats itself. Conversely, the death of Miss Evangelista in ‘Silence in the Library’, and the subsequent ghosting scene that follows – one of the most glorious moments in the post-2005 canon – is seriously undermined when she re-appears in ‘Forest of the Dead’ dressed as a Photoshopped Woman in Black – before being magically restored, in the episode’s closing scenes, presumably no longer thick, and in the company of the ever-irritating River Song.

I remember my first entry to this blog was a brief discussion on the Classic Who episode I recall with most clarity – that of Adric’s death – and as I may have said then, I loved the fact that it’s final, at least in the official continuity. So when Moffat says that the exit of Amy and Rory will be “heartbreaking”, I am resolutely sceptical about what he actually means, but personally I would dearly love to see the death of a companion. And ideally I would like it to be Amy, and for Rory to blame the Doctor. Because that would be the right way to get rid of her. Take the inappropriate relationship to its logical conclusion: have her choose him, in that she’d die to defend him. Elton Pope, way back in ‘Love and Monsters’, talked of what happens when you touch the Doctor, and while the self-congratulatory Doctor Who Confidential has always spoken of taking the show “to dark places” (oh, thank the love of God it’s been canned), what I really want is for them to do something truly dark, and just have someone die. And when I say “die”, I don’t mean

  • Die in the sense of getting trapped in a parallel universe, separated from the man you love, with your records expunged so you’re legally dead
  • Die in the sense that you’ve had your memory wiped
  • Die, with subsequent erasure from existence, only to find yourself resurrected as plastic
  • Die, only to be resuscitated
  • Die, only to be resurrected inside a computer mainframe
  • Die, only to take astral form and drift out among the stars
  • Die, only to find out it’s a hallucination by your other half
  • Die, only it turns out to be an act of fakery to get you into Area 51
  • Die, only to later reveal that you were hiding inside a robotic head
  • …I don’t think we need any more
 
 

This would be grown-up. The audience can handle it. Transformers and the X-Men are constantly killing people (and later bringing them back, but that’s another bugbear of mine for another day). But at least they die and stay dead. You don’t see them again a few episodes later as a disembodied head, in a scene of pointless comic relief that provided no relief nor any sort of comedy.

Gareth has alerted me to a suggestion on the Big Finish forum that goes like this:

What could happen that would give the pair a “heartbreaking” end to their story?

DOCTOR: Ah, here we are on the planet Fixedpointintime. Oh no, Rory, look out for that falling piano!

AMY: Sigh. How long till he comes back to life this time?

DOCTOR: Ah. Well. You know what I said the planet was called….

It could work. It really could.

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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