Posts Tagged With: sci-fi

The Kasterborous Archive, #6: Everything has its time and everything dies

Author’s notes:

This is an interesting one.

It stems from the tail end of series 9. I was in a bad place generally, which didn’t help – but was also fed up with Doctor Who. It precedes a year-long absence for the show that reinvigorated my enthusiasm, to a certain extent; series 10 was certainly a dramatic improvement, largely thanks to Bill. Simultaneously the article (which pre-dates any announcements about the departures of Capaldi or Smith) has a lot to say about holding on to things until they crumble into dust; the fans often don’t know when they’ve had too much of a good thing, and as the Doctor wandered wearily into the TARDIS at the end of Hell Bent, there was a part of me that wished he’d just shut the door and stay there and let the show die naturally. Have I shifted my position since then? Yes. Do I stand by what I said in 2015? Also yes. There’s nothing wrong with embracing your contradictions.

Everything has its time and everything dies

Published: 29 November 2015

Coming soon to a newspaper near you: an article about ratings. Ratings or contracts. Ratings or contracts or BBC cuts. The future of Doctor Who, it seems, has never been so shaky or uncertain. Rumours abound about the prospect of the show being put on hiatus, or cancelled altogether amidst fears of falling popularity and failure to put up a fight against The X-Factor (which seems to be having troubles of its own). Those of us who browse the press and the forums will know that this is nothing new. But the most disturbing thing about the current trend, at least for me, is how little I actually care about it. For the first time in a long while, the prospect of the show’s cancellation, however unlikely (and we’ll get to that), fills me with far less dread than it ought to.

It’s a great job, getting paid to write about Doctor Who. I wouldn’t swap it for all the elephants in Mumbai. Is it worth the affront you experience when you receive a critical drubbing from people who’ve missed the point, or (far worse) the heartache and disappointment that bites when a piece is routinely ignored? Yes, it is. Is it worth the long, coffee-fuelled 2am finishes every Sunday morning scribbling reviews and opinion pieces and uploading endless GIFs in order to make deadline and beat the web traffic? Of course it is. Is it worth the torture of having to endure the atrocity that was Before the Flood not once but twice so that I can explain it to my children? Yes, just about. Is it worth the sense of weariness my wife experiences when I persuade her to sit through yet another tedious episode because my reviews are always better when I can feed off her witty and acerbic remarks? Well, you’d have to ask her that, although she’d probably sigh a little bit and give you a smile that speaks volumes.

But the problem is that it’s now the writer in me that is pleading for its continued renewal, rather than the fan. Writing semi-professionally about something you love is a dangerous tightrope, and one that many of us walk. I’d hate for it to become any sort of crutch, but writing about Who – in whatever capacity – is one of the few things I know how to do reasonably well, and it’s for that reason alone that I pray that the continuous reports of the show’s imminent demise are nothing more than an exaggeration designed to shift units.

Pay particular attention to that word ‘alone’, because it’s where I’ve been going with this. Because the fan in me no longer cares about New Who. Seriously, I don’t. I’m worn out with high expectations that are constantly dashed. I’m tired of the ominous looks that plagued this series whenever Capaldi was alone with Clara, leading to a death scene that lasted seven minutes longer than it should have. I’m tired of the mysteries and arcs and things that are supposed to be important and the stupid tendency the show has now to make great, bold affirmations about why the Doctor left Gallifrey / grew up scared of his own shadow / bought a new toaster when it doesn’t actually matter. I’m tired of inconsistent writing and good ideas squandered. I’m tired of humourless gravitas and awkward, ill-fitting social commentary shoehorned into poor scripts (the Zygon stories were a notable exception). I’m tired of all the sodding electric guitar references (although I don’t dispute that Peter can play). And I’m tired of the cult of smugness that surrounds it: the press saturation and stunt casting and the feeling that this should somehow be BAFTA-standard high drama, rather than lightweight family entertainment.

Moffat sits in a different chair to the one occupied by John Nathan-Turner, but ultimately it’s the same situation: outstaying your welcome. The longer he’s here, the more we allow him to do: not content with having undermined everything Russell T Davies achieved (I’m not going to expand on this; if you can’t figure it out it’ll give you something to argue about), he’s now making his mark in other ways, too numerous and obvious to mention here. Somewhere, I’m convinced he has a list of “Things I want to do before I step down”, and presumably if he manages to tick off everything on the list then Mark Gatiss has to buy him a PlayStation 4.

Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt. There was a time, not long after the 2005 resurrection, where I’d rebuff any criticism of the show with “Yes, I agree, but it’s Doctor Who. Isn’t it better that it’s back?” There was a time when I truly believed that. There was a time when if asked to choose between episodes like Fear Her and cancellation, I’d plump for the former in a double heartbeat. The frightening thing is that if you’d asked me the same question after viewing The Woman Who Lived a few Saturdays ago, or the dirge that was Face The Raven just the other week, I genuinely don’t know what I’d have said. Are stories like this really the best we can do? Is this the height of quality for a flagship programme, for prime time Saturday night television?

The fact of the matter is that the years when Doctor Who was not on air were some of the most productive and fruitful in the history of the show. The Big Finish franchise – now a bloated and distorted mutation of its former self – was established in order to make the stories that the BBC no longer wanted, and did it brilliantly. The New Adventures, Past Doctor Adventures and the webcasts all came out of the fans’ desire to fill the vacuum that Michael Grade had created. Oh, not everything worked. (Have you read Eye of Heaven? It’s appalling.) Still, some of the most interesting stories and ideas ever featured in Doctor Who came out of that period. The Americans don’t want Paul McGann? Fine. We’ll give him a whole history. We’ve even got a companion who gets turned into a fish.

I was reiterating this to my children just the other day. “There are hundreds of old stories you’ve not watched,” I told them. “And most of them are worth a look. There are hundreds of books and hundreds of audio dramas and comics and even I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer. If they stopped making new Doctor Who stories tomorrow it’d still take aeons to get through everything.”

I once met a Christian speaker who talked eloquently on the matter of dying churches. The crux of his argument ran thus: if churches filled with an ageing population are in danger of becoming empty, perhaps we shouldn’t be so desperate to refill them. If clubs and organisations are winding down, perhaps we should let them. Perhaps Doctor Who is drawing to a natural conclusion that we should allow to happen before it reaches series-too-far territory (a ship which I’m sure many people would argue has already sailed long ago). Perhaps, as the Ninth Doctor famously says to Rose at the close of The End of the World, everything has its time and everything dies. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that. Perhaps instead we’re more concerned that everybody lives, whatever the cost.

At the same time, a thought occurs: Doctor Who is probably not going to be cancelled, and in its current form it is not going to change. Moffat shows no signs of leaving; he outlasted Smith and he may well outlast Capaldi. For as long as he’s willing to believe his own hype (in the weekly cries of “Genius” and “OMG BEST EPISODE EVER I AM LITERALLY CRYING BUCKETS!” that frequent forums and Tumblr feeds) then there’s no reason why he should. The rants of old fogeys like me will not shake him, nor should they. I’ll shout into the wind for as long as I feel the need, but I seldom expect anyone to actually hear, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. And truth be told I like a man who stands by his convictions, even if we’re polar opposites in terms of how we approach things.

So I’ll keep watching – I have a vested interest in the show’s continuation, after all – and I’ll keep complaining because I’m not a sycophant, I can’t heave my heart into my mouth, and eventually after all this shouting into the wind there is at least a distant possibility that someone is going to listen (just as there is a possibility that an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite number of typewriters will eventually produce a script better than Evolution of the Daleks). At the same time, if the front page exclusive tomorrow morning read “DOCTOR WHO CANCELLED” I think I can say, for the first time in ten years, that I probably wouldn’t care that much. I mean, I’d have to find something else to fill my Saturday evening. But that’s fine. It’s been years since I watched The X-Factor.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 9 3/4)

Scooby Ood.

 

Scooby Ood

Actually, while we’re on the subject –

You were all thinking it, weren’t you?

And while we’re combining cartoons with that series finale, have a few Peanuts.

See you next time, my Sweet Babboo.

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The Kasterborous Archives, #5: Are we worrying too much about Doctor Who spoilers?

Author’s notes:

Updated header picture aside, I did this two years ago. My opinion on spoilers generally hasn’t really changed, although my contempt for Moffat has subsided quite substantially. I still think he (and the audience) worry too much about spoilers, and I still think that says more about the way Doctor Who is written than it does about anything else. But I no longer harbour any sort of grudge about it. I’ve seen enough shouts of “SPOILERS!” on the web over the past few months – and we’re talking about episodes that are two or three years old here – to make me realise that the whole thing is taken far too seriously by much of the fandom and that no one is going to change that; certainly not me.

Perhaps the most profound thing about this piece is the one thing that wasn’t actually mine – the quote from the respected DW writer that lurks in its closing paragraphs. I could tell you who it is, but I don’t want to give away the ending.

Are we worrying too much about Doctor Who spoilers?

Published: 11 July 2015

I still remember the Sun headline. It was a Thursday, and I never could get the hang of Thursdays. The news page listed an indexed article entitled “ROSE TO BE KILLED OFF”, or words to that effect. It wasn’t even a link to a story that contained a spoiler warning – which I could have thus avoided (thus having only myself to blame if I subsequently read it). This was a feature title visible from their main news page (weeks before the story was due to air, I might add) that ostensibly gave away the ending of Doomsday without you even having to look at it.

She didn’t die, of course, but that was hardly the point. I vividly recall that sense of outrage (an appropriate post-2010 response is “I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS!”) and it’s funny how things have changed. These days my reaction is far more ambivalent – and that’s because I wonder whether the Whoniverse as a whole (the writers, the fandom, the general approach) has cultivated an unhealthy obsession with spoilers. I wonder whether, in the quest to provide the shock of the new, we’ve wound up with a programme that’s become more about surprise than it has about story.

Spoilers do count; it would be foolish to say otherwise. I went to great lengths to keep the ending of The Stolen Earth – and its abhorrent, anti-climactic denouement – from all of my children, simply because I knew there would be a period when they’d obsess over the resolution of that cliffhanger in much the same way that their father once did. I have embarked upon a media blackout for Game of Thrones, because I anticipate watching it all one day and I’d like to know as little as possible. Sometimes the best way to squeeze the maximum amount of pleasure from something is to go into it as cold as possible: the less you know, the lower your expectations and the happier you’ll be.

But it’s not as black and white as all that. For instance, I watched the early series of 24 slightly out of order, and thus went through the very first armed with the foreknowledge that a certain person – whom we’d previously deemed more or less untouchable – would turn out to be dodgy. Conversely, when the mastermind of series five was revealed some years later, their identity came as a complete surprise. But did the knowledge that the CTU mole was <spoiler> mean that I enjoyed that first series less than the one in which I didn’t know that <spoiler> was responsible for the murder of <spoiler>? Honestly, the answer has to be no. It just makes for a different viewing experience, particularly when you don’t tell your wife. You get to grin like a satisfied idiot while she’s pacing around the room after that penultimate episode, shouting “I can’t believe it was <spoiler>!”.

Besides, the issue here isn’t about the twist itself, or even knowing about it – it’s when the twist is inserted as a substitute for anything we might ordinarily refer to as ‘substance’. For example, The Wedding of River Song is an episode that solves a puzzle. That is its function: to get the Doctor out of the desert, and to get Alex Kingston out of that spacesuit (stop sniggering at the back there, or I’ll make you stay behind). Once you have resolved that particular enigma, there’s nothing left. Aside from the two major revelations (the Doctor’s hiding in the robot / The First Question is mind-numbingly inane) it serves absolutely no purpose. It has no real story, nothing important to say, and the dialogue is shockingly poor. It is forty-five minutes of inconsequential drivel, surpassed only by Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS in the queue of Stories I Wish I Could Unsee.

This is a series finale. This is supposed to be the big finish (excuse pun). Other tales fare equally badly: see, for example, A Good Man Goes To War and Let’s Kill Hitler (both of which get away with it, by the skin of their teeth, simply by being utterly outrageous), and also Utopia (minimally redeemed by the presence of Derek Jacobi). The Name of the Doctor cocks so many things up during its run time that by the time the New Doctor shows his bearded, weathered face I’m already wondering why I still care. This is event television at its worst: plot twists stretched to three quarters of an hour, padded out by nonsense. Doctor Who is not the only contemporary show guilty of this, but it’s a shame it’s apparently had to follow the herd in order to adapt to the supposed demands of a twenty-first century audience.

I read a comment on a neighbouring article the other day that suggested – I’m paraphrasing – that the wibbly-wobbliness is subsiding under the reign of the Twelfth Doctor. That’s all well and good, but the arcs in themselves remain, and they have not improved. The series eight antagonist only became interesting the moment we learned her identity; the rest was a tedious riddle. How would the creative team have coped if it had leaked – unambiguously and irrevocably – that Missy was the Master? Would the finale have been reshot, scenes where she talks about being the Rani hastily scribbled / reinserted?  To what extent does the integrity of the spoiler usurp the credibility of the script? Is it more important that a thing remains secret than the content of the secret itself? Perhaps not. Perhaps you’re laughing at such a notion. Or perhaps it’s the glimpse of the future, in which mobile technology improves to the extent that showrunners decide to use whatever ending hasn’t already leaked, and just make the best of that.

Rewind thirty-three years, and consider this: it is possible to watch Earthshock knowing that the Cybermen are about to turn up and still enjoy it, because their presence – while a surprise for the uninitiated – is not in itself a game-changer. Conversely, it is much harder to enjoy Army of Ghosts once you know that the silly glowing Watcher wannabes are actually Cybermen, or that the thing in the basement contains four Daleks, because the story has nothing else going for it. That’s the sort of comparison that makes me sound like a nostalgia freak, but I don’t want to turn this into an Old / NuWho thing if I can help it. There were plenty of mistakes when the sets still wobbled. By way of example, it’s difficult to enjoy Time-Flight whether or not you know the eccentric alien mystic in the cave is actually Anthony Ainley, underneath prosthetics. It’s still better than Arc of Infinity, anyway.

(One of the most catastrophically silly reveals occurs at the end of the first episode of a Pertwee story. The Doctor removes the cloak of invisibility from a thing that is obviously a Dalek, having already encountered a race who are universally associated with the Daleks, and having had a conversation in which Daleks are mentioned, in a story called Planet of the Daleks. And then he cries out “Daleks!”)

Perhaps certain things are untouchable. I’m still not speaking to Eddie Izzard, for example, over his revelation about The MousetrapThe Sixth Sense is never the same again on a repeat viewing, as once you know about The Twist, you spend the entire running time looking for clues. (I was going to suggest that perhaps M Night Shyamalan could have improved The Last Airbender by introducing a final reel twist, but having reflected, I suspect the best way to improve The Last Airbender is to erase all copies from existence.)

But Moffat himself has described his approach to writing both Who and Sherlock as (more paraphrasing from yours truly) ‘television you’re supposed to watch more than once’. We’re the generation that doesn’t watch Doctor Who live: that is why God invented iPlayer. Digital drama that can be scrutinised and analysed – frame by frame – has opened up a world of possibilities, but it’s come at a price, and that price is occasionally manifest in excruciatingly bad television. (I’m aware, throughout the process of articles like this one, that I come across as something of a Moffat-hater, but the way I approach the situation is this: the man’s getting paid a reasonable sum of money by the BBC to oversee and write one of their flagship programmes, and while I’ve never subscribed to the notion held by many that paying an annual license fee grants you the same democratic rights as a majority shareholder, if I can see an obvious way for him to be doing his job better, I’m damn well going to say so.)

I am probably risking bad karma if I quote Lawrence Miles, but he it was that suggested the most promising solution I’ve ever heard to this particular problem. “Possibly,” he says, “just possibly, the best way to deal with ‘spoilers’ is to make stories that remain watchable even if you know what’s going to happen. Rather than, say, stories that depend on relentless story-arc twists and idiotic clues as to what’s going to be at the end of the season. Y’know. Just a thought. From someone who knew the ending of Genesis of the Daleks several years before he actually saw it.”

As is customary, Miles overstates his case, but in essence he’s absolutely right. Perhaps, on some levels, that’s why Moffat gets so cross about spoilers. Divulging them exposes the vacuum, like exposing the head of Omega or peeling back the faces of the Whisper Men, and reveals absolutely nothing of any substance. And why watch then? Once you know what’s coming, what else is there?

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Conversations I’ve had on Facebook this week

 

Grumpy Australasian: JOHN HURT HAS BEEN AIRBRUSHED FROM DOCTOR WHO HISTORY!

Me and several others: No he hasn’t.

GA: No one talks about him.

Me: They really do.

GA: No, check the mass media.

Me: I have. I’m afraid I just don’t see what you see.

GA: Oh, I’m sorry, Scully. This all a bit Loch Ness Monster, is it?

Me: Um.

Third party: That episode ought to have featured McGann or Eccleston.

GA: They wouldn’t fit.

Me: McGann would have fit. They were building to that in the Dark Eyes series. They just didn’t do it. Hurt fits the War Doctor narrative, but only because it was written around him.

GA: He’s still airbrushed from the media.

Me: I still can’t understand why you think that when there’s been so much coverage.

GA: I’m finding you an example.

Me: You’re finding me an example of where someone doesn’t talk about something, when I could just as easily find you several where the reverse applies?

GA: [Hits block button]

And not long after the trailer for ‘Twice Upon A Time’ had landed:

Fan: Is that the Brigadier???

Me: No.

Fan: But it might be.

Me: No, because they probably wouldn’t recast like that.

Fan: But he has a moustache.

Me:

Fan: I’m just saying, it could be him.

Me: It’s completely the wrong characterisation. And the story is set during the First World War.

Fan: Yes, but…wibbly wobbly timey wimey…

Me: [smashes monitor]

I swear. Fandom.

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Notes on the Thirteenth Doctor

Dear Fandom – 

1. Within certain social parameters, the role of Doctor Who is to entertain. The ideal candidate for the Doctor may be black, Asian, Inuit, Native American, gay, bisexual, androgynous, non-binary. Or it may be a thirty-something white male. You will have to deal with that.

2. The fans do not have control over the show. There is a good reason for this.

3. Just because we’ve never had a female Doctor before, it doesn’t mean it’s not going to work.

4. Just because we’ve never had a female Doctor before, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work.

5. New incarnations come and go all the time. Change is part of the show. I cannot believe we’re still having this conversation.

6. “Nurse Who”? Really? That’s the best you can manage?

7. Jodie Whittaker may be brilliant. Or she may be dreadful. You don’t know. Neither do I. But do not fill the gaps with a worst case scenario and think you’ve developed an unshakable prediction.

8. I thought Matt Smith was going to be a trainwreck. Then he opened his mouth, and all was forgiven. “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

9. The ‘Yeah, it really worked for Ghostbusters’ argument is founded on false logic and we both know it.

10. The notion that you believe your £150 license fee entitles you to any sort of stake in this is frankly laughable.

11. Stop calling Doctor Who a liberal left-wing show. It isn’t.

12. You do not get to say who is a ‘fan’ of the show, whether that person likes a particular Doctor or hates them. They’re just someone with an opinion. That opinion may be worthless, but the bar of acceptable levels of service to a particular programme is not and cannot be set by you. Sorry.

13. Those of you who say you’ll stop watching: we’ll believe it when we see it.

14. Whether you’re left or right wing, your ‘passion’ for the show and the fact that you love and care about it so deeply does not entitle you to be a dick. That’s the same argument Isaac used on Dom in Holby City to justify his emotional and physical abuse. Didn’t work then either.

15. To suggest that Whittaker got the part simply because she’s a woman – whether you’re a sceptic decrying such a move or a feminist celebrating it – is nothing short of insulting. It insults the performer, it insults the writer and producer and it insults the BBC.

16. Memo to the BBC: it doesn’t help my argument when you start talking about ‘a commitment to diversity’. Button it.

17. Women: please stop assuming that everyone who begins a sentence with “I’m not sexist, but…” really is sexist.

18. Men: please stop beginning sentences with “I’m not sexist, but…”. It just isn’t worth the hassle.

19. The fact that Ian Levine has gone on a complete rant about this should tell you all you need to know about how you should be reacting yourselves.

Cordially yours,

Brian

P.S. Please stop using the word ‘Whovian’. It is a silly name for silly people.

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God is in the detail (10-09)

Something a little different today.

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

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

Thanks, Chrissy.

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

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

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

Roll credits.

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Review: The Empress of Mars

I was at primary school with a kid called Steve. We all called him Spud, presumably because his head was unfortunately potato-shaped. He didn’t mind. Steve was a polite, if academically disadvantaged young man, and we were good friends. His parents divorced before we’d finished year 6, which was a bigger deal back in 1988 than it is now. He was a latchkey kid with access to the fridge and borderline unsuitable reading material. It was a different world.

One afternoon we were in the kitchen sharing a Diet Coke when I noticed his father was watching the end of something. The two of us looked round the door of the lounge: an actor, stabbed in the chest, staggering across a platform, evidently milking his death scene for all it was worth. He raised his face to the heavens and bellowed the single line of dialogue my brain recalls from that afternoon: “ODIIIIIINNNNN!!!!”

Thirty years on, I still haven’t seen The Vikings. But Bill has – and I’d be willing to bet that Mark Gatiss has as well. And as it turns out, that isn’t a bad thing.

There are writers who strive to forge ahead – for whom the most important thing is to tell new stories, or find new ways of telling those stories. And then there are writers who take their cue from the past. Gatiss has always struck me as one of those: a man whose Who-related work is rooted in the 1970s, in a self-conscious manner that flits between mind-numbingly tedious and tremendously enjoyable, depending on the episode. The criticism he receives is somewhat mystifying, given that a great deal of it seems to come from the very same component of the fanbase who actively petition for David Tennant’s return: a stilted, insular, nostalgia-driven quadrant, for whom the only way to fix a show that’s well past its prime is to make it exactly the same as it was, which misses the point so drastically I don’t have the willpower to unpack it.

I first learned to love Mark Gatiss around the time ‘The Crimson Horror’ first hit: in a pondering, occasionally tedious series (and in the wake of an absolute clanger of an episode) it was a breath of fresh air, a story that wasn’t ashamed of its legacy and that eschewed self-importance in favour of…well, fun. It’s an underrated commodity. Stories like ‘Robot of Sherwood’ seldom make the top ten, but they’re fun. Sometimes we forget that Doctor Who is supposed to be fun, so consumed are we in telling everyone how important and groundbreaking it is. One of my favourite moments in the Harry Potter series occurs at the end of Goblet of Fire, where Harry finds a convenient use for the blood money he’s earned from the Tri-Wizard tournament, by investing in the Weasley twins’ joke shop business venture. “I don’t want it,” he says, “and I don’t need it. But I could do with a few laughs. We could all do with a few laughs. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to need them more than usual before long.”

What to say about ‘Empress’? It’s not profound. It makes no real political point, save the kind of digs at the British Empire you typically see on Horrible Histories (a show in which Gatiss has appeared, along with his League of Gentlemen co-stars). It has a lot of stuff about queen and country, including a pleasing Pauline Collins reference. It has an amusing, if fairly derivative cold open – excuse pun – that is enough to draw your interest, even if it does not quite reach the hyperbolic praise that Moffat ascribes to it (“The best pre-titles idea [he’d] ever heard”, according to Doctor Who Magazine, which rather overstates its supposed brilliance). It has a bunch of gung-ho British soldiers speaking an indecipherable language (‘rhino’ is mentioned; I honestly don’t know whether this is colloquially accurate or whether Gatiss is just making this shit up). And it has a new form of squareness gun: it literally folds people up in a sort of fatal compression, useful for packing suitcases. (Gatiss describes this as “a new way of killing people”, suggesting that he’s never read The Twits.)

More to the point, it has Ice Warriors. The throaty voices from ‘Cold War’ are back, but you don’t hear an awful lot of them: there is but one grunt, a tea-brewing local who is mostly silent, leading you to wonder at first whether we’re back in ‘Doctor’s Wife’ territory. The episode is also graced with a brand new Ice Warrior, the titular Empress, frozen in carbonite and equipped with a distinctive, Predator-style helmet that presumably comes with its own feed of 1980s action movies, beamed straight to the eyepiece. She moves a little like Eldrad and growls like Sarah Parish in ‘The Runaway Bride’, with a similar mindset. Not that Iraxxa is irrevocably genocidal, of course – like the most rounded supporting characters her mind can be swayed, although she only listens to reason when Bill pleads with her to stop the fighting. Do we take this as a feminist-tinged political commentary on current foreign policy? If so, would that make Bill Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry or Nia Griffith? Is this a conversation I really shouldn’t have started?

While all this is going on, Nardole is stuck on Earth, in a seemingly malfunctioning TARDIS, which has obviously put its brakes on for a reason, whether the forces implementing it turn out to be internal or external. There’s a certain amount of cast-thinning going on here; Mars is crowded enough and it’s no great secret that Nardole’s presence in the episode was somewhat last minute – we’re back in Nyssa and Jamie territory – so the solution Gatiss (or, come to think of it, most likely Moffat) adopts is to temporarily maroon him. The subsequent appearance by Missy is functional but unnerving, suggesting something else is going on, and the episode’s abrupt conclusion indicates another scene that might have been dropped. It doesn’t work, but one suspects that Gatiss’ hand was forced for the state of the arc.

There are film references galore – Bill’s response to strolling around the caverns of Mars is to liken it to the movies she’s seen, which some may seem as irritating but which is really just a reflection of how contemporary culture works. Relatively contemporary culture, anyway – I was going to write that it was a wonder that she didn’t try and Instagram a selfie with Friday, but the truth is that every film on Bill’s list is at over thirty years old, and it is left to the Doctor to drop in a reference to Frozen. This token nod to the millenials aside, the story is, like much of Gatiss’ best work, not so much a product of its time as much as a product of somebody else’s (or, as someone put it on Facebook last night, “Gatiss’ stuff was great when other people wrote it first in the 70s”).

That turns out to work. ‘Empress’ has ‘filler’ stamped all over it, but there is nothing wrong with a decent filler. It doesn’t do anything particularly profound, but it has enough in there to hopefully pique the curiosity of newer fans who have yet to encounter the Ice Warriors properly, without completely destroying anything that was good about the original. Indeed, the appearance of Alpha Centauri, two minutes from the end, was enough to make me jump out of my chair – it is reckless, crowd-pleasing shoehorning, there for no other reason than to appeal to the more experienced fanbase and up the hit counts in the Classic Who groups, but I can live with that, even if most newer fans were probably wondering who on Earth that squeaky-voiced bug-eyed alien was, and why their parents were getting so excited. (At least they have an excuse: the Telegraph, in a review which has subsequently been amended, genuinely thought it was Pauline Collins. I can live with the show being reviewed by non-experts – but seriously, how hard is it to read the credits?)

Some episodes of Doctor Who are destined to set the world alight. Gatiss’ latest will not, but that’s not the end of the world. If its supporting characters could do with a little more depth, that’s a by-product of the forty minute structure (and something which, when Chibnall comes to the table, could do with a serious rethink). The leads acquit themselves more than adequately, even if the Doctor has little to actually do this week except react. And it has Ice Warriors doing Ice Warrior-ish things, in a self-contained narrative that, while popping the odd seam in its bag of containment, manages to just about stay inside it. Profundity can wait: this is fun. Really, what more do you want on a Saturday evening?

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Inspirational Star Wars Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If God is all you have you have all you need

Be somebody nobody thought you could be

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

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

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

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

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

Happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people

Embrace the glorious mess that you are

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

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Don’t Panic

My darling wife has a birthday.

I’m not going to tell you how old she is. But to mark the occasion, I’ve Photoshopped her into scenes from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

(We really should make tea as well.)

em_hh_1 em_hh_7 em_hh_4 em_hh_6 em_hh_3 em_hh_5 em_hh_2

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Introducing The Kasterborous Archives

Those of you who visit this page regularly will be familiar with the banner menu at the top, which leads to the external content I stick on the internet – YouTube material, paid journalism and the random things (most of which also appear here) that I post on Tumblr. Well, you’ve got to have something for the kids, right?

If you look today you’ll notice that one of the links is missing – specifically this one.

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The story of the decline of Kasterborous.com is a sad one, and I think enough water has passed under the bridge for me to be able to tell you some of what happened. It breaks down like this: for a number of years Kasterborous was a lively, entertaining Doctor Who website with a reasonably prolific output. It had a relatively small but very dedicated user base, a decent variety of content and a successful spin-off, The Podkast with a K, which is still going. The team of writers – led by Christian Cawley, the site’s editor – was focussed and dedicated but never took themselves too seriously. We were never going to be Den of Geek, but that was fine.

I started writing for Kasterborous in its twilight years, and it wasn’t long after I joined that Christian jumped ship. (There were a number of reasons for this, which I won’t go into, although it was down to external factors and I’m reasonably confident it had absolutely nothing to do with me.) Administration passed to Phil Bates, and the business of writing carried on as usual, but trouble was brewing below deck: we’d become increasingly concerned about the way in which content was displayed, with articles frequently saturated with adware links in the body text (I’m told this is called Text Enhance). None of us were stupid. We understood the need for advertising revenue to keep a site running. But it was borderline illegible in places – and it made for an uncomfortable, treacherous reading experience, finger hovering precariously over the mouse wheel, terrified of veering just a little too far to the left in case you accidentally pressed the button and navigated to a travel site. Even the picture ads that topped and tailed (and generally surrounded) articles seemed to be advertising porn or clickbait, or a combination of the two.

Eventually, Phil and the others decided they’d had enough. The only response from the site’s owner – whom they’d contacted repeatedly – was a perennial wall of silence. It was like talking to Chief Bromden in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Even their announcement that everyone was leaving was met with unresponsive indifference. We upped sticks and set up a new website, The Doctor Who Companion (more on that in a moment) and left Kasterborous as an online Mary Celeste.

I was going to say “…and we never looked back”, but that simply wouldn’t be true, because I’d left a lot of content on that site and I was curious as to what was going to happen to it. Under Phil’s advice I copied and pasted everything – this turned out to be a good move, for reasons that will become apparent – but while the site didn’t exactly grow, it didn’t suddenly vanish either. Our guess was that it was going to stay there until the owner (whom you’ll note I’ve neglected to name; this is quite deliberate) remembered about it and decided to let the domain renewal elapse. The last I’d heard, he’d sold it to a media outlet.

Then we woke up one morning and saw this.

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As if it weren’t bad enough that the article (which was badly written hack journalism of the lowest order) delved into an area we’d never even have considered exploring when the site was fully functioning, it was in its original form attributed to none other than Christian Cawley. Christian immediately jumped on it and demanded the removal of his name – this eventually happened, although not before a second piece a week later (also supposedly by him) which discussed a multi-Doctor poker game. It was clear where this was going, and Christian was plunged into a writer’s second-worst nightmare, with various theories abounding as to why the owners would want to sully him in this way – spite? Revenge? Or was this some sinister media conglomerate trumping over decent writers, simply because they could?

The truth, as is customary for these things, turned out to be far less sinister. Whether it was the threats of legal action or someone just actually taking a look at what they’d posted, both articles were suddenly attributed to the mysterious ‘Max’. Unfortunately, so was just about everything Christian had ever written. It was clear what had happened: the new writers had taken over the admin account, which presumably had Christian’s name on it, and weren’t clever enough to do a decent retrospective backdate. In short, Kasterborous was now being run by people with no clue as to what they were doing, or no real desire to do it properly. You pick.

It gets worse. Fast forward: some time later, this happens.

 

 

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If you can’t spot what’s going on here, it’s there in that bottom article: this is an old piece (from October 2015) republished as is. There were ten of them, all appearing simultaneously, all referring to long-aired episodes and long-finished conventions. It was like the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind where all the missing pilots suddenly turn up in the mountain as if nothing has happened. The general reaction was one of bemusement or casual anger, but we’d come to expect it. Was this some kind of ploy to keep the site in the search rankings and the revenue coming in when you had nothing to publish – this year’s contractual obligation Dalek story? We’d never know, because no one there was actually willing to talk about it; they just randomly deleted the negative comments.

Last week, the Podkast people visited the site, and this is what their browser said.

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Curiously the warning appears to have gone now – it pops up again intermittently, although I don’t intend to visit the site again to find out. Certainly it’s still active, although many of the pages appear to be defunct and many links are no-longer functioning. Even if you’re able to navigate through all the sludge the chances are you won’t be able to see what you’d like to see, and there’s a decent chance you’re going to be infected with malware.

So today’s little missive has two purposes. The first is to give another plug to The Doctor Who Companion. You may have visited it not long after its inception but suffice it to say the site has blossomed these last few months: we have themed weeks, regular reviews, and I write for them whenever I can. The formatting does take a little bit of getting used to but there is a wealth of goodness to be found in there. If your sense of devotion is particularly strong you could also head over to our Facebook page – all new visitors and page likes welcome.

DW_Companion_Ad

 

The second is to introduce a new feature here at Brian of Morbius: The Kasterborous archives, in which I’ll be publishing a selection of the stuff I wrote for them – by no means all of it, because some was effectively reblogged from here in the first place, and some has been republished over at the DWC. But it’ll be a way of getting the rest of it back online in a safe, legible format, away from link-saturated web pages bordered by ads for things that will absolutely astound you. (And for the record, I’ve been using the web for over twenty years and I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything that’s genuinely astounded me. Surprised, amused and occasionally amazed, but astounded? Still waiting.)

I had intended to start today, but we’re out of time. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow. As compensation, here’s a sad-looking Cyber Kettle.

ck

You literally won’t believe what happens next.

Categories: The Kasterborous Archives | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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