Posts Tagged With: the master

Have I Got Whos For You (part 400)

God Is In The Detail is returning! And it will be with you later in the week. But in the meantime, here are the headlines from across the Whoniverse.

First and foremost, the fallout from the forced removal of a doctor from an American flight has drastic repercussions.

Fan reaction to the imminent return of John Simm continues to ignite the internet.

In fact this is Steven Moffat’s week, generally.

And an artist’s rendition of Kris Marshall in the TARDIS goes somewhat awry.

He’s just on the wrong planet, that’s all.

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In the woods there grew a tree

Here’s today’s media round-up. In television, it’s discovered that the Master spent the years following ‘Frontier in Space’ on a remote Scottish island catching up with some old friends.

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Wallace and Gromit’s new musical direction is unveiled.

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And finally, in the wake of new rules, it’s revealed that the BBC are prepared to take drastic steps in order to ensure you pay your license fee.

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I’m off to Wales. See you in a week.

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When Doctor Who meets Children in Need

I’m not going to talk about this:

Because it’s not particularly interesting and I’ll probably do a Metro column on it at some point anyway. (Someone has Tweeted that they wanted it to be called ‘The Santa Claus of Axos’, which I do think is inspired.)

If you’re reading in the USA and have no idea what Children in Need actually is, it’s one of those telethon things where newsreaders dance, singers try to act, and comedians appear in tear-jerking videos about abused children, accompanied by tinkly piano music that morphs into Coldplay. It’s all very worthy, but it encourages giving from people who probably don’t give to anything else, so I can live with the big cheques and poor attempts at comedy.

However. Those adverts are so formulaic. So after looking at a meme I made for other purposes last year, and seeing that it’s fairly topical following Missy’s revelation in ‘Dark Water’, I figured this one sort of worked.

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Review: ‘Dark Water’

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WARNING: Spoilers below.

Well, congratulations, Steven. You did it. For a change, you’ve surprised me. Not by producing a belter of an episode, something I thought was no longer within your abilities as showrunner. No, instead you managed the stupid-and-obvious route to a finale, rather than the stupid-and-obscure one.

‘Dark Water’ spends much of its time in a world of half-truths and guarded uncertainty, telling you things it then retracts or twists, and it’s only when we’ve had twenty minutes of nothing happening that you realise its purpose is largely to set up the chess pieces for next week’s explosive finale. It does this by delivering three significant plot developments, in the manner of one of those episodes of 24 that still gets talked about years after its broadcast. Facebook group comments are full of multiple punctuation marks (and poor spelling, but that’s par for the course). The #whoismissy tag clogs up Twitter feeds. Tumblr goes into general meltdown. Gareth informs me that the general mood on Gallifrey Base is “my jaw is still on the floor”.

The problem, as he then puts it, is this: “Surely, if you’re waiting for a revelation, you’re expecting it to be (say) the Master, the Rani or Romana (according to posts), then it’s not jaw-droppingly stunning when it turns out to be one of them?”. I’ve written about this before, but to re-iterate: years ago I saw The Sixth Sense, and figured out the twist halfway through solely because I was looking for it. If you know that something colossal is coming then to say that you were gobsmacked at the reveal is nothing but hyperbole. And yes, I know I’m making a fuss about inappropriate language. I’m an English graduate. It goes with the territory.

Inappropriate language is, indeed, all part of the fun this week, as the Doctor informs Clara that they’re about to ‘go to hell’ – a remark that she understandably interprets as a curse. It follows three minutes of fiery dialogue at the edge of a volcano, in a scene that really couldn’t be more Lord of the Rings even if Jenna Coleman were dancing around the edge with the TARDIS key, bellowing “Precious is ours!”. (Of course, if she were wearing nothing but a groin-covering cloth while doing so, it would have made for a better scene.)

The rot sets in early. The confrontation by the TARDIS is taking place in a kind of simulated reality, a hallucination that the Doctor has allowed to run its natural course. In a nutshell this means that you get to take events to a headline-grabbing extreme just before admitting that the footage that saturated the trailer – and all the speculation that follows – basically counts for nothing, because the whole thing was a dream. I don’t care what it says about Clara’s determination to win back Danny, it was a glorified publicity stunt. I was half expecting her to wake up in a hotel bedroom just as Matt Smith was stepping out of the shower.

“Except,” wail the fans who are convinced this was a masterstroke, “it did happen, because Clara saw it happen, and the Doctor saw it happen. So it sort of did.” Indeed, it sort of did, in the same manner that Amy Pond sort of murdered Madame Kovarian and Rose Tyler / Amy Pond / Donna Noble sort of died, and I didn’t much care for those storylines either. So yes, I can see why the Doctor got upset with Clara, even though it’s hard to believe that a man of his scientific bent would ever actually use the words “go to hell”, except perhaps in his confused, post-regenerative let’s-strangle-Nicola-Bryant phase.

Ironically, this little tete-a-tete follows the only truly effective moment in the episode, in which Danny Pink is killed – suddenly and (more or less) offscreen. When you think about it, the development is obvious – the Doctor and Clara needed a reason to visit the afterlife, and there is none more emotionally cogent – but it is still a powerful scene, Moffat’s tendency to deliver a punch via the use of technology once more working in his favour. There is no kneeling by the corpse, no tearful farewell – indeed, for an episode that is to all intents and purposes about Danny and Clara, the two of them share no screen time together. There is, instead, just Clara, reflecting in her kitchen that Danny’s death was, in Whovian terms, “boring”. And she’s right, and somehow that makes it worse.

What follows is a strange sort of Eurydicean descent into the underworld, with gender roles reversed and Capaldi playing a ferryman of sorts to Clara’s Orpheus. The Poppins-esque Missy is cast in the role of Hades, which would presumably make the amiable (if slightly sinister) Seb the Persephone equivalent. Seb (Chris Addison, doing the best he can with a dog’s breakfast) manages to stay on the watchable side of creepy by not coming across as the sort of bureaucrat you’d expect to find in a place so obviously obsessed with data trails as hell seems to be. He is, instead, the good cop (the contrasting white suit can’t have been an accident) to Missy’s bad: cheerful but agenda-focused, usually wearing the sort of expression worn by HR executives who know there’s been an official complaint against you even though they’re not supposed to talk about it, and trying not to use the word ‘app’. “iPads?” he sneers, when Danny points out this week’s obvious use of product placement. “We’ve got Steve Jobs.”

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The involvement of the Cybermen is the episode’s second big reveal, although there’s a little foreshadowing in the shape of an obvious visual motif: a shot of two sliding doors lurching to a close to reveal a familiar-looking design, while Murray Gold drops in his motif from ‘Rise of the Cybermen’. It has the subtlety of a house brick through the window of the only Indian family in the neighbourhood, or – if we’re talking filmic analogies, that moment in The Phantom Menace where Yoda muses with Samuel L Jackson as to whether they killed the Sith Master or whether he’s still out there, just before the camera lingers on Ian McDiarmid for what seems like an incredibly long moment. Or, while Star Wars is on the table –

That’s not a dig. This isn’t 1981. You can’t keep these things secret, and Moffat knows that – this particular cat was out of the bag, through the door and in a different house eating the fish pie on the windowsill before we’d even seen Capaldi fall out of the TARDIS for the first time. It’s a shame, because the reveal takes the form of slow filtering down a glass tank filled with ‘dark’ water, echoing both ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Wedding of River Song’, and it would have been reasonably effective if everyone in the universe apart from the Doctor hadn’t known it was coming. Instead, we get a lot of chin-scratching from Capaldi, who furrows his brow (and, thank God, doesn’t tell us he’s doing it) while muttering “there’s something very obvious I’m missing…”, in the manner of Inspector Gadget, or one of those TV security guards who’s busy on his Walkman while there’s a fight happening on one of the screens just behind him.

Such jesting is predictable and I thought we’d got it all out of the way in ‘Deep Breath’, but Capaldi does it with flair, and always remains watchable even when he’s been handed a lemon (which is often). The fourth wall breaking continues to be an overused trope, but it does allow for the odd comical moment – “Stop it with the eyes,” he says to Clara, when she’s upset early in the episode. “How do you do that anyway? It’s like they inflate.”

Eventually the Doctor and Clara find their way out of the mausoleum (which looks, by the way, suspiciously like the Temple of Peace) and then there are conversations about death that will “change your way of thinking”, because the dead – as it turns out – continue to feel pain. The short-term sensation of being burned alive, therefore, is presumably far worse to endure than the long-term reality of having your body slowly devoured by worms. There may be a further explanation pending next week, but I wouldn’t count on it.

And then there’s that last revelation. Slowly, tantalisingly, it’s teased out. There is a robot-related feint which fools nobody (except, again, the Doctor). Then there is the revelation that Missy is a Time Lord (“Time Lady, please”. And for a moment, for one glorious moment, you think that Moffat may actually be about to resurrect a long-gone character and give her a chance to shine. I’m not a big fan of arcs – that’s no secret – but if anyone deserves one, it’s her. It builds and builds. The Cybermen stomp across London, in scenes that echo ‘The Invasion’. Danny contemplates deletion. The Doctor panics. The whole thing seems, as far as Missy’s concerned, to be a colossal joke.

And then the punch line is utterly deflating.

Look, it’s not that I mind the idea of gender change on a physiological level. Regeneration isn’t a closed book – if anything, I’ve found the one-size-fits-all approach adopted since 2005 rather silly, and it was nice to see Moffat circumvent that back in January when Smith became Capaldi.

The problem is that this has territory-marking written all over it. You can almost visual the producer’s meetings, in which Moffat pleads with the powers that be to let him have a female Doctor. “Look, just one. Please. Tamsin Grieg’s free and wants to do it. Plus you know there’s a world of stuff I could do with the Long Game connection.”
“Steven, the answer’s no. It just creates far more problems than it solves. Have you not thought about the biological implications? You’ll have to do a parents’ leaflet.”
“But I’ve only got one more bet-you-can’t to do, and then Mark has to buy me a PlayStation.”
“Look, I don’t give a toss about what you get up to in the BBC bar, we’re talking about pissing all over a fifty-year-old institution.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“I’m still on ‘No’, Steven.”
“Can I bring back the Master and turn him into the Mistress?”
“…That is utterly, utterly lame. And that’s before we get to the S&M implications.”
“I can get Isobel Pickwell.”
“One series. That’s it.”

I know I go on about the territory marking far too much, but it’s difficult – after Clara, the War Doctor and heaven knows what else – not to read it into every situation. The Master returns, only he’s a woman, clarifying once and for all that Time Lords can lose more than their memories when The Big Change hits them. Seriously, Steven, you just couldn’t leave it alone, could you? You couldn’t leave it for the next showrunner to deal with; far more fun to have a go yourself without actually doing the central character any lasting damage. Plus, as Gareth points out, this is “ignoring that Big Finish did it – which, to be fair, we should, because it was an awful story“.

None of this is really fair on Michelle Gomez, either. The fact of the matter is that she acts her socks off in every scene she’s in, and is far more of a Master than John Simm ever was (Prime Minster or Hoodie mode). The kiss throws up all sorts of insinuations as to the nature of their relationship (and casts the whole ‘brother’ thing in an entirely new light) but it’s no worse than much of the fanfiction that’s flooded the internet, so it isn’t something to get upset about. Begrudgingly, if we have to have a female Master I’m glad it’s her. Following a similar train of thought, I have to go to the dentist in January to have a tooth extracted, and after the last time (during which I passed out in the chair) they’ve told me they’re going to sedate me. That’s all well and good, but it still doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy the experience.

There are good things in ‘Dark Water’. Clara is almost bearable. The Cybermen are always fun to watch, even in their bad stories, and they haven’t done a single Matrix zoom yet. Danny’s tragic past is at last put to bed, or at least put out into the open. The Nethersphere is visually impressive, once you get past the idea that the consciousnesses of the deceased are living inside a colossal disco ball. The writing, while far from Moffat’s best, isn’t exactly his worst, either. And Rachel Talalay directs with flair, teasing the best out of her performers.

It’s just the final, crushing disappointment of that last reveal. It’s a thoroughly inane solution to a potentially interesting problem, and my hunch – that it would be a colossal let-down – has sadly proven correct. As far as ridiculous cliffhangers go, it’s up there with ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, because in one foul swoop the arc has become all about Who Missy Is, as opposed to what (s)he might be up to: the more interesting question, by far (Doctor Who does the afterlife – potentially fascinating) but now destined to fade into the background so we can concentrate on the relationship between the Doctor and his erstwhile school chum, and how it might have changed now that they have to use separate showers in the gym. I’m not saying don’t bring back the Master. Just bring him back in episode one and let us get to know him properly. Don’t rock the boat under the pretence that you actually care about gender equality. Don’t give the internet any excuse to have conversations like this.

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Some months ago, when I sort-of reviewed ‘Deep Breath’, I remarked that “there are two possibilities: either the name ‘Missy’ is a deliberate clue pointing to something that sounds quite horrendous, or it’s a deliberate red herring designed to make the fans think that something’s going to happen, and this sort of tedious tomfoolery is exactly what makes the clue hunt so interminably dull.” The former, then. I’ll admit it caught me off guard, largely because it smacks of a man who’s finally decided that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and that’s a line that Moffat seldom, if ever, seems to tread. Unfortunately, while we still have to wait until next week to be sure, it seems to me that the line is pointing straight downwards.

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DarkWater_Chart

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There’ll be spaceships over the White Cliffs of Dover

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I was lucky enough to get freshly pressed this week (all right, luck had nothing to do with it; it was all thanks to SJ, to whom I am incredibly grateful). The post in question was a retrospective of my grandparents as seen through the eyes of an adult revisiting childhood haunts. We took the boys down to the town I visited every summer, and showed them round the sights.

But you don’t want to read all about that, do you?

Let me explain. A couple of weeks ago, Thomas and Emily and I started on ‘The Mind of Evil’. It is wonderful vintage Who. There is a mad scientist (all right, it turns out to be the Master) channelling an alien intelligence through a machine that sucks the evil out of men’s minds. In an early sequence in the story it does this to Neil McCarthy (later to be seen in ‘The Power of Kroll’), reducing him to a childlike simpleton. There’s a nuclear missile and poor Jo gets captured and recaptured so often I lost count. There are wobbly steps, less-than-substantial doors and the Brigadier gets to have a lengthy (and really pretty violent) gun battle towards the end of the tale. It’s wonderful, despite some occasionally questionable acting and the fact that four cliffhangers out of five feature the machine about to scare someone to death. (One of those is by proxy, but it still counts.)

It’s also shot at Dover Castle, its walls and battlements serving as the exterior of the prison where the bulk of ‘Mind’ is set. As is traditional with Classic Who many of the entrances were used more than once, but the central square that surrounds the great tower was immediately familiar.

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The observant among you will recall that this is the place where the Brigadier spoke through a loudhailer and then turned to gun down a prisoner who’d climbed on the wall behind him, causing the deceased convict to take a spectacular western-style tumble.

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Of course, we couldn’t do that, so I had to improvise.

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We almost didn’t make it to Dover Castle. This has nothing to do with chronic tiredness from the lengthy journey down the day before, or the fact that no one could find their water bottles, or that we got lost on the Folkestone one way system. No, it was because in the B&B the boys were anxious to explore the room next door to ours.

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I had to explain that no, it didn’t contain a crack in the fabric of the universe, although they were having issues with the plumbing.

I’m sure there are other Doctor Who related places to visit in Kent. But I didn’t have time to scout locations near our planned route or actually watch the stories they filmed there. Kit Pedler is buried in Graveney, which was too far away to visit, and I’d have found it hard to resist the urge to leave a can of oil or something at his graveside. But discovering this fact did make me wonder about doing a tour of deceased Who veterans’ resting places to pay respects in some form or another. It also made me wonder what they all got up to once they left the show – those that disappeared from the public eye (or who were never in it). Do they wake up one morning in a mysterious village with their identity stripped and where a giant balloon chases them every time they try to leave to work on other science fiction programmes? Do they all write books as gossipy and vindictive as Matthew Waterhouse’s autobiography? Or do they simply get other jobs?

Tom

Well, maybe.

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[Thwack]

It’s a Simm card.

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Never confuse efficiency with a liver complaint

It was raining, so we went to see Mary Poppins. The screening room was comfortably full of children in t-shirts and discarded waterproofs. The adults sat and steamed for a while. Joshua was rooted to the spot for over two hours; rarely have I seen him so engaged.

“She was wonderful, wasn’t she?” I said afterwards. “But did you notice something?”
“What’s that?”
“She turns up from nowhere, wearing a crazy scarf. She can speak dog. And she takes her companions on magical adventures. And then she disappears again, as if by magic.”
“…”
“Penny in the air?”
“Tell me what you mean.”
“She has a bag that’s much bigger on the inside.”
“Oh!”
“And the penny drops.”
“She’s a Time Lord?”
“Exactly.”

Those of you who have been following for a while will be aware that this is not the first time I mentioned the connection between Doctor Who and Mary Poppins. And, additionally, that I had the idea years before it became popular. Even despite the trappings and props, it’s the whole character: her English eccentricity, her aloofness, her sense of confident, assumed superiority…I have always been of the conviction that a female Doctor is not only unnecessary but would kill the show, but if we had to have one, I mean had to, I’d want it to be Julie Andrews.

“She’s clearly a Time Lord,” said Gareth when I mentioned it. “Her bag is obviously dimensionally transcendental. But since she’s clearly conducting subtle mental experiments on small children, I suspect that she’s an earlier (and slightly less evil) incarnation of the Rani. (I tried making a suitable anagram of MARY POPPINS, but only came up with MOPSY PP RANI, which is presumably how this gentler Rani signs her letters.”

“Maybe she’s like the Valeyard equivalent of the Rani,” I replied, “existing between her twelfth and thirteenth. But because the Rani is fairly sinister (as opposed to outright evil), the Valeyard Rani is fairly nice. This presumably means that somewhere out there is a Valeyard Master, rescuing injured puppies and giving children ice cream.”

Then Gareth found this.

I am frightened.

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The Faces of Evil

There’s an article in today’s Guardian (or is it ‘on today’s Guardian’? Or ‘on the Guardian website today’? I never know any more) which has made me cringe.

Look. I know these things are subjective. I know that if you asked ten different people to name their favourite villains you’d get ten different answers depending on whether they were my son’s age (Weeping Angels), or my age (1980s Cybermen) or my father’s age (anything with Hartnell, whom he maintains was the best Doctor, even after almost fifty years). And at least there are a couple of nods to Classic Who, althoughI am baffled (if nonetheless thrilled) by the inclusion of the Zygons, who (despite resembling enormous penises) are a firm favourite in our house, but who only appeared in one serial (and their share of audio dramas and novels, which the Guardian usually chooses to ignore). All the same, the whole article smacks of a homework piece that was scribbled down over breakfast on the Monday it’s due in. You can practically see the milk stains.

Let’s start here.

The Master
“First played by Roger Delgado, he debuted in a 1971 episode called Terror of the Autons. Since then, he’s been played by six different actors, his initial suave demeanour eventually collapsing into theatrical insanity when John Simm (pictured here) took on the role between 2007 and 2010.”

The Master appeared in at least twenty of the Classic Who serials in some form or other – about eight as Delgado and eleven or twelve (depending on how you count) as Ainley. And what do you use for a picture? Bloody John Simm in that bloody tracksuit. (And if we’re nitpicking, ‘Terror of the Autons’ is a serial, not an episode.)

The Silence
“Steven Moffat’s most recent addition to Who mythology (thought by some to be too scary for children) are terrifying not only to look at, but psychologically too. With their ability to erase themselves from the memory of anyone who’s seen them, they have been able to control humans from the shadows. The show’s creators have had fun with this idea. For instance: was the thin, faceless form of the Silence inspired by Edvard Munch’s The Scream – or was he, subconsciously, inspired by them? A brilliant, frightening creation… Wait, was I saying something?”

Oh, please. Spare me. The Grauniad’s relentless fawning to the Silence – who were, as I’ve said before, hyped to death – is one of the reasons I find them so tedious. They were derivative (from Moffat’s own work, no less, and self-borrowing in Who is usually pretty dull) and simply not particularly evil. You might as well embed ‘BBC press release’ as a watermark.

The Beast
“Russell T Davies’s tenure as show-runner didn’t exactly blow minds in terms of new villains – the farting farce of the Slitheen, anyone? But 2006 two-parter The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit (written by Matt Jones) changed all that with the introduction of the Beast, an imprisoned demon that claimed to be the basis of the devil as he appeared across all religions. It was a bold idea, and one that dragged the show to much darker places, challenging not only the Doctor’s own faith in logic and reason, but the profound mystery of religious origins in general.”

Which would suggest, perhaps, that you haven’t seen ‘Pyramids of Mars’. Or ‘The Daemons’.

Elsewhere (and again see the comments section) – the Daleks and Davros as separate entries? The Time Lords and the Master? Seriously. Must try harder. See me after physics. (Hmm, physics. Physics. Physics…I hope you’re getting all this down.)

Perhaps lists like this – due to the aforementioned subjectivity – are fundamentally pointless, simply because they’re the opinions of one person (or perhaps a straw poll taken on a Friday afternoon in between games of Angry Birds), rather than a newspaper. And a newspaper’s supposed to give facts or informed opinion from its commentators – but this is just a laundry list, and a rather poor one at that. I know the hype machine needs to keep grinding on with less than a fortnight to go until ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, but perhaps a better use of the Grauniad’s time would be a list of ‘monsters we’d like to see in Doctor Who’. It would at least be fun.

And in which case, you could probably do a lot worse than this…

Enjoy your Sunday.

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“Save me a costume. I love a knees up”

Subversive things to do at a Doctor Who-themed birthday party:

1. Give every new arrival a gas mask and when there are four or five, have them all wait in silence in the lounge. Now every time the doorbell rings, you usher the next guest into the hall and have everyone groan “Muuuuuummmmyyyyyyy…….”

2. Go as the Master, then shave your beard off halfway through, before re-emerging from the bathroom announcing you’ve regenerated.

3. Serve actual fish fingers with a custard dip. Right before home time.

 I have been vetoed from item three. Item one would have been the most fun, but gas masks are extremely hard to come by unless you have the cash, or access to a community theatre group who’ve just put doneOh! What a Lovely War. Item two is, of course, my choice completely, but even after scouring all the charity shops in town I can’t find a black turtle neck that’s going for less than thirteen quid – and given that I’m never going to wear the thing again, it seems like a bit of a waste. I love Josh dearly, but even I have my limits.

We will have to make do with this. Less daring, but it should keep them quiet.

And so on. Said images – four of which are included below – will be stuck around the house.

You get the idea. The numbers, by the way, are – well, you’ll figure it out. Really they’re just there to make sure the kids actually play the game properly, rather than just spending the first two minutes working out that the answer is ‘Sonic Screwdriver’. You have to fill up the time…

(We’re also going to play Musical Weeping Angels, which is like Musical Statues, except – well, you’ll figure it out. I promise photos.)

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“Why am I handcuffed? Why do you even have handcuffs?”

Oh God. I really should stop with the anagram generator.

Word games are endemic in New Who. There was Doctor Who >> Torchwood, for a start. Then there was Mister Saxon >> Master No. Six, which Davies maintained was a coincidence but which did, in any case, provide a convenient point of explanation for Josh when we got to the culmination of the series 3 story arc. More recently, and on a related note, I worked out that ‘James Moriarty’ is an anagram of ‘Majority Master’, which is funny when you consider the introduction of the Master as a Moriarty to Pertwee’s Holmes (as Terrence Dicks is fond of re-establishing in pretty much every 2 Entertain commentary). I even got an entire Who / Sherlock pastiche out of it.

But it turns out ‘Sonic Screwdriver’ can be rearranged to form ‘Doc screws in River’. Gareth pointed out that ‘Screwdriver’ more or less contains half this as is, so it’s not much of a stretch, but it’s still pretty lurid, and not something I should really be thinking about just before bed…

“I knew I shouldn’t have asked him to use the turbo setting.”

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