There is a book on my shelf that makes the list of Brilliant Charity Shop Finds of 2017. Entitled Figure Fantasy, it celebrates the work of Daniel Picard, who has turned the careful posing of costumed action figures into what is quite literally an art form. Here’s the Man of Steel etching “BRUCE WAYNE IS BATMAN” onto a wall with his heat vision. Here’s the Hulk bending a tree. Here’s Darth Vader propped up at a urinal, the toilet walls lined by stormtroopers anxiously trying to incline their heads in the opposited direction. Look him up; the guy’s a genius.
I do not have Picard’s photographic skills, swanky lighting or creativity. I also don’t have the time or the patience. I have trouble enough getting the ruddy things to stand upright on concrete without wobbling in a summer breeze. However, I do have a decent-sized garden and the occasional good idea. Which has meant that as the children have got older, and the tendency to re-enact the finale of ‘Blink’ recedes somewhat, our playtime sessions have been replaced by impromptu photos in the garden. “Give me a Capaldi,” I’ll say in the manner of a concentrating surgeon or experienced mechanic, not taking my eyes from the scene I’m semi-meticulously assembling. “Dalek. Cybermen. Damn, we’ve got a wobble. Blu-tac, quick! CAN I GET SOME HELP IN HERE PLEASE?!”
Look, Doctor Who toys deserve to come out of their plastic packaging, all right? I can’t understand – truly I can’t – the mentality of people who buy them simply to have them, in order to build up a collection that does nothing except gather dust, a factory line of plastic David Tennants that sit permanently bubbled in cellophane, their tiny arms and legs bound with those irritating little cable things. Oh, they’re worth more, are they? What’s worth? How do you measure that?
So one of my Angels is missing a wing and Morbius’s leg has a tendency to drop out of its socket unannounced, but at least they get used. And such is the extent to which I have neglected this blog this year that we have a whole stack of unposted pictures, enough for a small exhibition, all hastily composed and all equally ludicrous. So this week and next, while you’re all drumming your fingers waiting for ‘The Halloween Apocalypse’, I’ll stick them all out here.
We’ll start with this one.
“Oh great. We’re back on Trenzalore.”
Unused Fourth Doctor stories.
“Right. I don’t want to panic anyone, but there’s a leek in the boat.”
“Interesting look, Frobisher.”
Now showing on Britbox: Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes.
“Hello, old friend. And here we are, you and me, on the last page.”
“Seriously. You’ve been out for like a month and a half. Don’t you think you can stop doing that now?”
“When this baby hits eighty-eight miles an hour, you’re – GREAT SCOTT!”
“I’m sure you’ll get the…point, Doctor. He. He he he he.”
The Doctor and Graham get caught up in a game of Tetris.
“Hey, anybody seen a – you know what, never mind.”
You’ll have to have these largely without comment, I’m afraid. I mean we lost. We lost and the fans are thugs. We lost and the fans are thugs and Rashford and Saka got a shedload of abuse, empowered by our corrupt, inept government. The sort of government who goes to Harrods for sofa covering and Poundland for flags.
I mean it started quite well. We made it to the semi-final without conceding a goal. Early on – the day of the first group match, when the leaked lineup caused consternation (too defensive, and WHERE’S GREALISH???) – I’d tweeted suggesting that it was possible, just possible, that Gareth Southgate knew more than we gave him credit for, and that perhaps the #Southgateout abuse was premature. I received a flurry of replies, some of which were supportive, others less so, but I made a point of muting anyone who disagreed, simply because I didn’t feel qualified to argue back. Weeks later all the naysayers were suspiciously quiet, although I stopped short of turning it into a pinned tweet, simply because the final was as far as the team got, and you’d still have a bunch of people telling you that they could have done a better job than Southgate did.
So, you know. Don’t give them the inch they crave. Thank heavens we don’t get this in Doctor Who.
It was those early games that were perhaps the most hotly contested, given that we were doing…well, reasonably, against less than stellar opposition. It was more about the spectacle than the quality of football, given that the much-hyped second group match – the British derby against Scotland – was touted as the epic confrontation between two rivals, with hundreds of years of history behind it. I mean I get that the Scots hate the English, but I don’t think it works the other way round. Not really. We know that Braveheart is made up and we don’t judge you for it. And who doesn’t love a good haggis? In the end, of course, it was a goalless draw, and not a terribly interesting one to boot, with all the bloodlust and hatred north of the border conveniently shelved until the angry tweets after the semi-final, and let’s face it – we all know that’s really just a preamble for the Six Nations.
“Three Ryans on a shirt…”
The semi-final, of course, was where the controversy kicked in – with England thanks to a soft penalty, Kane bouncing in the rebound after Kaspar Schmeichel deflected the ball but failed to catch it. It was a crummy way to win and you did feel sorry for the Danes, who’d nearly reached the end under some very trying circumstances, but to be fair to them England were denied an obvious penalty earlier in the match, so it’s swings and roundabouts. “Sometimes it goes in your favour,” quoth a wise man, “and sometimes it doesn’t. And if you add them all up over the season, they balance out.” Said wise man was Alex Ferguson, who knows a thing or two about football, as well as being Scottish.
Really, the controversy in that semi-final was caused by a laser torch that appeared to be pointed at Schmeichel during the penalty in question, although it supposedly didn’t affect his performance and it was in any case impossible to tell where it was coming from.
It ended in tears, with violence and thuggery following a game played by sportsmen who’d conducted themselves with dignity: the team deserved a win, even if the fans didn’t. Could we say Italy played dirty? Perhaps.
But even if they hadn’t, there were mistakes made and some questionable tactics that I don’t really understand because my area of expertise is dramatic structure, not sport. I do know that I felt a sense of pride – not in my country, as such, but simply in the team, and the manager who’s become the best sort of role model for the young men on the pitch and the children watching at home; eloquent and considered and rational and graced with more dignity and compassion than a hundred political buffoons. I’m mindful of the fact that children my sons’ age look up to sportsmen, and for the first time in a long while that doesn’t worry me. You can lose graciously, which is kind of like winning, even if you don’t get to lift the trophy.
Still, at least we’ve got the Olympics, right? Something else they had to postpone until after lockdown.
You’re not supposed to apologise when you’re a politician. Dominic Cummings didn’t. Boris hasn’t. Trump certainly didn’t; I don’t think he’s capable of remorse. But I probably should: I’ve let you all down. You’ve been sitting there, on tenterhooks, awaiting something new and bloggish from the BoM crew (a crew consisting of one balding middle-aged man in a severely untidy study), and what happens? Nada. Zip. Zilch. I can picture you all, crying into your beds at night, anxiously hitting the refresh buttons on phones and tablets and sobbing at children and significant others: “ALL I WANTED WAS SOMETHING TO HELP ME THROUGH LOCKDOWN AND HE CAN’T EVEN MANAGE THAT!”
What? What do you mean you haven’t?
There have been…difficulties in the house over the last few weeks, and while we’re stumbling towards a temporary and uneasy equilibrium I’ve kind of had my hands full. And on the occasions they’ve been empty, I’ve been drained. Lockdown seems to have done that to people; we’ve all slowed down a bit. Perhaps I’d be able to cope with this better had we not been in the throes of a pandemic; there’s nothing better for destroying your motivation to do stuff than the knowledge that you more or less have to do it because you can’t go out.
That’s not to say I haven’t been producing content. There’s loads of it, and it’s all stacked up like an M20 Brexit run. Shall we clean out the pipes?
We start in early January, with the news that archaeologists in Pompeii had dug out the remains of what appeared to be a Roman fast food stand, complete with serving holes and some questionable artwork.
I’d love to visit Pompeii. I’d love to visit anywhere, come to think of it; you don’t appreciate small local jollies until that’s all you can do. Last May was Thomas’ birthday: we drove out to East Hendred, not too far from here, and walked through a small patch of woodland. At any other time of year it would have been a mundane afternoon out. In the midst of a pandemic, it was an adventure.
There’s always TV, of course. For example, early February saw the Super Bowl, which led to the obligatory Photoshop.
While the rest of the UK languishes inside, Boris is spotted riding his bike in Olympic Park. How do we know this?
Meanwhile in the TARDIS: Exhausted, disheartened and under-equipped, Rory is in desperate need of assistance as he battles to save the life of his patient. Fortunately the Doctor and Amy are on hand with a solution.
Of course, the big news so far this year (I use the word ‘news’) loosely concerns the rumours about Jodie Whittaker’s imminent departure, with ‘a source’ leaking the announcement to the Mirror. The BBC have neither confirmed nor denied this information, which is a euphemism for ‘it’s probably true’. It would certainly fit the mould: three series and that’s your lot, it seems, and I wonder what would happen if Whittaker were to actually regenerate in front of a companion who clearly loves her, or who is if nothing else becoming excessively clingy. If nothing else it’d be a bit of a laugh.
Say what you like about the Mirror, but they have form: they knew about the shift to Sundays, they knew about Walsh and Cole, and they clearly have a man on the inside, even if that man turns out to be Chibnall. But until it turns out to actually be the truth, it’s probably best if we treat such rumours with a heavy dose of salt.
Speaking of salt – well, no. Not salt, per se, but Weetabix toppings. In one of the least likely pairings since fish fingers and…well, you know, Weetabix have teamed up with Heinz to offer what is for many of us a frankly unorthdox breakfast solution. I’m fine, I don’t eat the stuff anyway, but it’s caused a furore over social media, largely because we’re in the middle of lockdown and there’s sod all else to do; not even a field trip.
We’re told to work from home, which is fine unless you’re a freelance piano teacher and your pupils don’t actually want to have online lessons, or your internet connection is rubbish, or you happen to be a cat.
But however bad things have been, chances are you’re having a better time of it than Donald Trump. Having spectacularly failed to mount the coup he’d allegedly been inciting – despite the best efforts of armed protesters who stormed the Capitol – the 45th President of the United States found his options running out and his supporters waning (well, some of them) and ultimately he had no choice but to slink off with another Donald who’d found himself suddenly removed from office.
It gets worse. Next thing you know the public at large is demanding Trump’s removal from Home Alone 2, a cameo filmed in one of his hotels and which he allegedly bullied the production team in order to secure. It rarely gets played in network broadcasts these days – it’s easier, I suppose, to simply avoid the headache – but the stills are out there on the internet, lingering like smears in the bathtub, and it seems the planned course of action from the clicktivists is to saturate Google with Photoshopped images that show Macaulay Culkin in conversation with someone else, so as to bump the displaced President down the search results.
Oh well. In for a penny.
But perhaps Trump’s biggest disaster was the loss of his Twitter account – a potent and powerful tool that enabled him to spread false information, rally his troops and (if nothing else) stay in the headlines of a press who hung on every misleading, poorly-spelled word. The permanent suspension that eventually hit in January was too little, too late, but you can’t entirely blame Twitter for not taking action until it was certain they wouldn’t be hit with an executive order demanding they cease and desist all operation immediately (which is, let’s face it, exactly what he would have done). As it stands, I’ve heard he took some rather drastic steps in an attempt to get himself reinstated.
We’ll finish with some of those Bernie memes. You know. The ones that got everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Who knew the simple act of sitting cross-legged on a chair wearing a pair of mittens could have such a gargantuan impact on web traffic? What happened to us all to make us lose our minds like this? And yes, I’m using the third person quite deliberately, because this really was a gift to those of us who do this sort of thing more or less daily. And thus I made a few myself.
See you again soon for more silliness, and possibly even something with a bit of substance to it. But don’t hold your breath…
“Seriously,” said Emily, from where she was perched on the far end of the sofa. “Who drinks tea when it’s poured straight into a cup? From a tea stand? It’s far too hot!”
‘Revolution of the Daleks’ begins in a roadside layby and ends on a hill above Sheffield. Its opening conceit – that the unsuspecting courier responsible for transferring the charred remains of the Dalek we met in ‘Resolution’ was ambushed – depends on a slightly convoluted chain of events, and it rather sets the tone for everything that follows, but that does seem to be the way that Doctor Who is written these days. Or perhaps it’s the way it’s always been written and we’ve only just noticed.
Dalek stories tend to follow a pattern: either the Daleks are simply trying to blow something up, or there are foolish humans who believe they can form some sort of alliance with them. ‘Revolution’ skates a rather awkward middle ground between the two; this time around it’s shady government minister Harriet Walter (Jo Patterson, who is never allowed to do anything more interesting than stand in a car park) who’s managed to reverse engineer Dalek technology in an attempt to build a robotic security force, heralding “The age of security”. To do this, she’s enlisted the help of shady business tycoon and former Presidential wannabe Jack Robertson (Chris Noth), last seen storming out of his hotel after mowing down a giant spider with a handgun, as toxic waste rumbled up from the ground beneath. Asking a man like this to be responsible for rolling out one of the biggest technological breakthroughs in decades is a bit like putting Montgomery Burns in charge of a green energy plan, but none of this seems to bother Harriet, who mumbles something about offshore bank accounts while standing under an umbrella. Clearly misery makes for strange bedfellows.
While all this is going on, Graham and Ryan are fretting about Yaz, who has established a base of operations in the spare time capsule that brought them all back to Earth at the end of ‘The Timeless Children’, and which is now covered in post-it notes. They’ve moved on, but the sleeping bag on the floor and the slightly glazed look in her eye is proof that Yaz clearly hasn’t, and that finding the Doctor is still job no.1. “I must be able to work it out,” she seethes, in the manner of Zosia March in Holby City, just before her eventual breakdown. It’s clear where this is going, and if the mental health issues Yaz is facing are only skirted around on this occasion we may assume that further fallout is coming, most likely when the TARDIS crew has shrunk a little bit.
As for the Doctor herself, she’s still stuck in the unnamed prison on the other side of the galaxy, bunged in a cell for unmentionable crime – no, really, it was seventy-five minutes long and I still don’t have a clue what they were – and forced to share a cell block with an angry P’Ting, a helpless Weeping Angel, a possessed Ood and even one of the Silence (“I forgot you were here”, she quips as the two come face to face). It feels like a missed opportunity – it’s quite sweet to have the Doctor address the security cameras as she passes them, but it would have been nice to see a little more of the effect it was having on her. A brief, clumsily-executed dalliance with Ryan later on is about all we get, and Whittaker is forced to convey the rest in a handful of awkward stares and quasi-meaningful silences.
Still, it isn’t long before she’s sprung from the joint, with the help of Jack Harkness (an increasingly craggy-looking John Barrowman), who turns up with a literal support bubble in which the two make good their escape. Said escape basically involves running down a corridor, which feels very much like home – there was a concern over whether these two would bond, but they manage to click together reasonably well (it helps that, in keeping with Doctor Who’s ongoing environmental concerns, most of Jack’s best lines are recycled). “My own TARDIS!” exclaims the Doctor as the two of them materialise within it, just in case the weird filters had left us in any doubt. Indeed, one of the biggest mysteries dropped on us last series is not whether or not the Doctor is in fact the Timeless Child, but why they can’t fix the lighting, which seems perennially off. Perhaps it’s to hide Barrowman’s wrinkles.
It’s nice – if a little predictable – that the TARDIS fam aren’t exactly thrilled when the Doctor shows up in Graham’s living room, but they don’t have long to ruminate on her ten-month absence before we’re off to Osaka, which is where the plot finally kicks into gear. Robertson has a secret factory producing Dalek clones – so secret that even he doesn’t know about its existence, prompting the incredulous industrialist to ask about how they could have signed the purchase orders. It’s all the work of the gravel-voiced, back-humping Reconnaissance Dalek, which has been breeding a secret army that can inexplicably teleport itself into Harriet Walter’s empty cases when the lighting changes. (‘Inexplicably’ may be the wrong choice of word. There is an explanation, it’s just mildly rubbish.)
Everything about ‘Revolution’ screams “Oh well, we know it’s silly, but there are Daleks”: whether it’s the Soylent Green nods in the factory, the 3D printing thing, or the Doctor’s plan to hide away from the Dalek fleet by parking her TARDIS on a rooftop just as they’re flying over (still, at least Jack will be happy). The dialogue is crammed with contemporary platitudes and self-referential gags (Robertson sneers about people being tired of experts, while Ryan proclaims that “It’s OK to be sad”). It’s fine that Doctor Who does this, but dialogue is not and has never been Chibnall’s forte, and box-ticking should never actually feel like box-ticking. There is, at least, a perfunctory attempt to flesh out Chris Noth’s character a little bit, and he evolves from one-dimensional Trumpalike to someone with the potential to be a bit more interesting and, at times, almost likeable; he waltzes off into the sunset with his reputation restored, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that the next time we see him the TARDIS will have once again landed inside the Oval Office.
Does it work? Just about. It’s preposterous and cringeworthy and you feel like a story of this nature really ought to have a little more in the way of explosions and fire fights, but it’s also a departure story and the Daleks were always going to play second fiddle to the characters. That’s not a problem when it’s done well, but it isn’t: Jack’s complicated relationship with the Doctor is touched upon only briefly, and even a couple of well-placed nods to ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ can’t save the two companion departures from being both cloying and overly sentimental. At least they make it out alive, which is presumably so that all the development can be left to a later story. As we watch Ryan – the young man who can sink a hoop from twenty yards and fling himself from platform to platform with the precision of Mario, but who still can’t ride a bike – struggle on top of the Sheffield hill where we first met him, it’s left to Graham to point out that the two of them have plenty of other things they could be doing, and somewhere in a house in London, Nicholas Briggs is already polishing his first draft.
We were talking about box-ticking, and ostensibly this delivers on what it promises. There are Daleks galore (they even have a standoff of sorts, although it’s basically a lot of shouting and scrapping, rather like one of those viral news videos you see on Twitter) and there are assorted loose ends tied and other knots left deliberately open, and in what has become an increasingly rare turn of events the Doctor saves the Earth with an actual plan. But it’s difficult not to be a little underwhelmed – that this was a story that tried to do a little too much of everything and didn’t really cover any of its bases as fully as we’d have liked; a bed sheet that’s shrunk in the wash and that doesn’t quite fit. If I were in any way cynical, I might call the John Bishop announcement (which occurred in the episode’s immediate aftermath) a matter of impeccable timing; something to distract us from the mediocrity we’d just experienced. But perhaps that’s unfair. And perhaps it doesn’t matter anyway. Perhaps running out of steam simply means you pootle along gently, in a state of affable content rather than world-beating splendour. And perhaps affable content isn’t such a dreadful thing these days, if it ever was. Perhaps Doctor Who has always been mediocre, and we’ve only just noticed.
Well. The new I’m A Celebrity lineup is shit, isn’t it?
I don’t know. They’re all in a castle. Isn’t this a bit of a missed opportunity? Couldn’t they get someone with stilts and a hood to chase them round and burn them? That’d be more entertaining than watching Shane Ritchie eat bugs. I swear, I’ve had dental work that was less painful.
We can, at least, console ourselves with the news that The Vicar of Dibley is making a long-overdue and ostensibly ‘welcome’ return, although it will probably be not terribly funny and there’ll be at least three people on Twitter complaining about fat shaming. Socially distanced Zoom-inspired innovation aside, I can’t help thinking this is something Curtis should have left buried, particularly given that half the cast are dead. Still, the BBC are milking this for all its worth, as evidenced by this publicity photo of Dawn French with co-star Roger Lloyd-Pack.
As I write this, Donald Trump’s legal campaign is still thrashing about in its death throes, determined to somehow gain some traction despite having produced absolutely no evidence. There are recounts and rumours of recounts and legal campaigns that are in and out faster than a priest in a brothel; it’s King Cnut (well, almost) shouting at the tide, although at least he possessed a modicum of self-awareness and was doing the whole thing as a joke. You really can’t say the same for the current POTUS, whose twitter feed is awash with false claims and heavily capitalised rants, as if the only viable route forward is to shout something loud enough until people start believing it.
Already the right-wing media are cutting and running, and Trump’s list of allies seems to be diminishing by the day, as the most powerful man in the world is reduced to muted press conferences from tiny desks. Around this time I would normally start to feel a bit sorry for him – he is human, despite his obvious faults – but I really find it incredibly difficult to muster any sympathy for such a graceless loser. It’s also a sad decline for Rudy Giuliani, who went from being a voice of hope and sanity after 9/11 to shouting his mouth off outside a gloomy-looking building in an industrial park, next door to a sex shop.
“Yeah, I’ve buggered this one up, haven’t I?”
Meanwhile, over in Utah (where of course they all voted red), a days-old mystery is solved when new footage emerges of a malfunctioning chameleon circuit.
There is a sense of irony about the timing. It’s funny that they just found it now, at the end of what has been for many people an annus horribalis; it’s as if some sentient alien race has been watching and waiting and is now playing a colossal joke. It’s curious that the first appearance of the 2001 monolith coincides with a tribe of knuckle-dragging monkeys smashing things up and yelling as loud as they can to assert their dominance. Go figure.
In the UK we’ve been watching all this with interest, because it takes our minds off the Brexit debacle, the arguing about ‘Fairy Tale of New York’, and the state of Amazon’s courier system.
Look, it doesn’t matter what Radio 1 does; no one over twenty listens to it and those that do probably have Spotify playlists, so if they want to censor the damned thing then that’s their prerogative. Better that we simply wait out the lockdown as quietly as possible and take comfort in simple pleasures, like board games. “Is he wearing glasses?”
Last night my feed pinged: the ‘Revolution of the Daleks’ trailer drops on Sunday evening, which means I’ll have something else to write about; you have no idea how difficult it is wringing every ounce of possible humour from such meagre pickings. I mean as a fan I don’t care; I can wait. As a creator, it’s frustrating. Still, as news drips through about the unavoidably delayed, inevitably divisive Series 13, a close-up from Jodie Whittaker’s inaugural season reveals exactly why this new one is going to be a bit shorter than usual.
I honestly don’t know why everyone’s complaining; there’s plenty of other stuff to be going on with. Take The Crown, for example, Netflix’s sumptuous costume drama detailing the history of the Royal Family: lavish as Game of Thrones, sensationalist as a National Enquirer exposé, and about as accurate as a Spanish art restorer. Not content with riding roughshod over Prince Philip’s marital history and fabricating scenes between his eldest son and Lord Mountbatten, they’ve now introduced Gillian Anderson as a fiery, uncannily authentic and disturbingly sexy Margaret Thatcher. I suppose it gives her something to do other than shine torches into dark warehouses.
Coleman is, in this image, the epitome of stern serenity, which is more than you can say for the arts world – which was rocked the other week by the unveiling of a new statue commemorating celebrated author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Ordinarily this would have made for a joyous afternoon, except she turned out to be about six inches high, and completely naked. It was all a bit miniscope, really. In fact you might even call it a nightmare. In silver.