Posts Tagged With: the rings of akhaten

The Queen and I

Greenbelt, August 2019. We are at the close: a raucous singalong under the canopy, led by the house band. Sensing what is coming, I lead the family quietly away before the last encore. But it’s too late: they are finishing with ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, the song my mother requested at her funeral, which was four days ago. My children burst into tears. And supporting relatives come and put their arms aroud us, and we are united in grief.

I can still recall the minister some days before, saying “You may find it’ll take a while to be able to listen to the song again”. He was basically right, although I found the sadness had lessened by the time it turned up in Sonic The Hedgehog the following February. Eventually you learn to live with things. Besides, it’s a fitting way to remember her: my mother was judgemental as heck in November 1991, telling us how much that man had wasted his life, but she still listened to the music. We both did.

I’ve loved Queen for years, although it was a bumpy start. My aunt and godmother, looking for inspiration for Christmas gifts, was advised to buy me some Queen albums on cassette: she plumped for Queen II, which years later remains a personal favourite, and Hot Space, which…well, doesn’t. It doesn’t help that when you’re young you tend to miscategorise music tremendously; I would say, when asked, that I enjoyed “Heavy metal, like Queen”. Years later I discovered Slayer, and the penny dropped.

Hot Space is a big hot sparse mess of an album and we won’t dwell on it, but Queen II is its polar opposite: an over-indulgent, over-produced slab of absolutely brilliant fantasy rock. How can you fail to love a record that features a song called ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’, references Poe, and then leads out with ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’? And that’s before we get to all the powerhouse riffs and Beach Boys nods in ‘Father To Son’, which is possibly my favourite Queen track of the early 70s. Sure as heck beats anything from The Game.

Years later I heard ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the first time; it grew on me and now I rather enjoy it, although it’s overplayed and over-referenced and singalongs are a nightmare because people always, ALWAYS add that extra “No!” before the second “We will not let you go”, which is fine unless you’re trying to play the damned thing at a party. I use the word ‘play’ with a certain looseness; mostly I just bash out the chords and then let the drunken guests take over for the changes my untrained fingers have never quite been able to handle, although I daresay they could if I practiced hard enough. There was one particular evening, in the student bar at Devonshire Hall, Leeds, in September 1996 that is forever etched on my brain. They kept bringing me drinks and I kept bringing them songs; we jammed to ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and I was, for the only time that year, the most popular person in the room. That was a good night.

Then you get round to buying all the albums on CD and introducing them to your children (‘Good Company’ is a particular favourite), and before you know it it’s 2019 and they’ve done a biopic which gets, at least, the music right, provided you can live with the anachronisms about when things were written. I watched ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in a village hall with the two eldest; most of the film was spent tutting at things that didn’t happen and looking at cats, but at least it looks pretty, and I watched the final blistering twenty minutes with a big grin on my face, which I suppose is the point. Still, it’s hard not to be a little annoyed at some of the dramatic license – from the silly (Freddie accidentally inventing his portable microphone stand during their first ever gig) to the eyebrow-raising (basically everything from Hot Space to Berlin).

And can we please, for the love of sanity, have a music film other than Almost Famous that doesn’t depict all journalists as callous bastards? Some of us work very hard for what little coffers they pay and it’s debasing to see us reduced to a blank-faced stereotype at a press conference. I wouldn’t mind, but Bohemian Rhapsody is largely presented as fact, or at least the version of fact that the surviving members of the band wanted to tell; it’s clumsy and formulaic next to Rocket Man, which sets up an unreliable narrator in its first five minutes and then allows you to fill in the gaps yourselves. It is truth disguised as fiction, whereas Rhapsody is the complete opposite. Still, Gwilym Lee’s quite good.

Anyway. Here we are, and I’m doing my lyric-to-screenshot thing. It was tricky, because it isn’t: Queen often delved into the realms of sci-fi and fantasy (they have two movie soundtracks to their name) and it’s comparatively simple to find obvious lyrics. I have deliberately tried to plump for the obscure: there is nothing from ‘Princes of the Universe’ or the like, because it isn’t funny. Hopefully these are.

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Have I Got Whos For You (shameful catch-up edition)

Gosh. Has it really been a month? I’m sorry. I’d make the excuse that we were away – that usually works – but we weren’t away that much; I think things have just got on top of me a bit. There are reasons. You don’t get to hear them. Still, it’s time we got back into the swing of things – I have a bunch of new videos to show you, the second half of that Production Myths debacle that landed me in hot water in at least one Facebook group, and…well, who knows? But we’ll talk about something, usually Doctor Who. Come with me, semi-constant reader, as we tread the fine line between social distancing and all-out lockdown that will hopefully take us to Christmas, and a new episode that is bound not to live up to the hype.


First, this.

Cue brief Facebook explosion.



Thorpe Park, and it looks like we’re all screwed.

“Listen, we’re gonna get you out of here. But with the benefit of hindsight, I think you probably shouldn’t have tried to sing Rule Britannia.”

“Gavin? I think I’ve fixed that algorithm.”

Posted without comment.

And finally: we have the Prime Minister to thank for this one. Well, at least he’s good for something.

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The Smallerpictures Video Dump (2020, part two)

The clock ticks, the politicians dither, and you’re still all stuck inside. But fear not, constant reader: we’re here to entertain you, probably by throwing on a gingham dress and clucking like a chicken. (This will either make sense or it won’t; if it doesn’t I’m not about to explain it.)

There’s a musical theme to today’s collection. That was an accident, a coincidence of scheduling. But I’m not complaining: these are usually arranged solely in the order in which I did them, so it’s nice when they actually have something in common for a change.

Shall we?


1. REMASTERED: The Rings of Akhaten, new score (March 2020)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Ulysses 31 was a big part of my childhood. It didn’t matter that the first time I was encountering the monsters and sailors of the Odyssey was in a futuristic space setting. It didn’t matter that the episode with Chronos terrified the pants off me. It didn’t matter that the robot was annoying. The whole story was so epic in scale and ambition, visiting new universes, weaving complicated narrative threads of morality and free will, and telling a complete tale with a beginning and an ending. I even managed my own mashup of Doctor Who footage to accompany the theme song. It’s the sort of tale that really is ripe for some sort of revisit – I’d originally envisaged a trilogy of films but I now think that a limited run Netflix series would be better. Inevitably, of course, it would have to be updated, presumably by bringing in some sort of Freudian conflict between Ulysses and Telamachus (who was, in the original series, cloyingly loyal), as well as implementing a more contemporary score. Which is a shame, because the original (composed by Ike Egan, Denny Crockett, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy) really is a piece of work, encompassing disco, Focus-esque distorted rock and a full orchestra. Even on its own, it’s worth a listen.

Veteran readers here may remember that, way way back in the day, I had the idea of marrying up some of this music with the Doctor’s speech from ‘The Rings of Akhaten’. It was 2013, and I’d just discovered unscored audio, which exists in abundance if you know where to look – those lovely people who’ve isolated the dialogue and sound effects from Doctor Who stories so you can do what you want with them, chopping and changing bits without having to worry about background music. It made the editing process exponentially more satisfying, but it only works if you have an audio track that matches up with the video file you’re using, and thanks to differering frame rates and quirks of encoding, this isn’t always the case.

So the version I made years ago was, while well-intentioned, a complete mess. Seriously, it was all over the shop. I was chopping and changing and shifting and rearranging and still I could never get it quite right – there are moments where the Doctor’s tongue is somewhere and his voice is somewhere else, like a lagging Zoom call, and then – and then, after I’d torn out most of my hair trying to make it work, the bloody thing wouldn’t sit on YouTube because copyright. So I stuck it on Vimeo where no one ever goes, and consigned it to the bin of Things That Didn’t Quite Work and then tried to learn from the experience.

Years down the line, I had a go at remastering it, and this time I’m happy with it. And more to the point, both Facebook and YouTube are happy to host it. So that’s a win.


2. The Goats of Llandudno (March 2020)

We have kites nesting in the trees next to our garden. You can see them all over this part of Oxfordshire, but we see them a lot. Last weekend I was emptying the bins of an evening when I observed two of them, soaring and swooping in a dazzling aerobatic display, as they squabbled and scrapped over a piece of meat that one of them had collected and the other one wanted. For about a minute and a half. It was hypnotic, and of the moment, and I’m glad I didn’t try to film it.

Anyway, that set me thinking: just what, exactly, do our animals and birds make of this? They must be aware that something is different: that there are fewer people around (or that, at least, certain public areas are now quieter), that they can perhaps be a little bolder, that the air is a little less filled with carbon. That the planes are grounded. What does my cat think, for example, of the fact that we’re now all at home, every day? Certainly she must know something, even if she is happy to keep her opinions to herself – unlike my mother-in-law’s border collie, for example, who has had to adjust to the fact that she now only gets one walk a day.

Not long after they implemented the lockdown, a story broke about a goat infestation in the suddenly deserted streets of Llandudno (that’s in Wales, if you were wondering). I think I’ve been to Llandudno, or at least through it: it is a pretty place, if now a little less safe if you value your garden plants. There they were, hordes of horned beasts, chewing the hedges and kicking at the walls trampling manicured lawns underfoot (I was going to do the “This town is comin’ like a goats town”, but the Guardian got there first).

The Guardian got some great footage, but it was mostly silent, save the ambience. I had the idea of dropping in some of Murray Gold’s Doctor Who score – several things didn’t quite work, but the one that did was the music from ‘Heaven Sent’, notably the discordant, menacing rumble that fills Caerphilly Castle as the Veil casually stalks the Doctor. Matched with images of goats overrunning a village, it loses some of its potency. Still, it works.


3. Twin Peaks characters dancing to the Doctor Who theme (April 2020)

Oh, this is just a bit of fun. And the idiot on Facebook who said “Can’t you make something better?” can piss off. Seriously, piss off.

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The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part six)

Midnight. Not a sound from the pavement. Until the unmistakeable noise of boots on concrete, a plaintive, distant roar, and the cry of “DOCTOOOOOOORRR!”

There are cats in today’s video roundup; of such things you may be sure. But we’ll get to that. First, the Doctor’s off to Norway.


1. Doomsday: The Sitcom Version (July 2019)

It’s no great secret that I’ve long found the ending of ‘Doomsday’ unintentionally amusing. Oh, I know it tugs at the heartstrings. I know there is a great tragedy in the story of Rose’s death and eternal separation from the Doctor, where ‘death’ means ‘dropped off a stack of papers at the council registry office’ and ‘eternal separation’ means ‘off screen for a year so Billie Piper can get her teeth done’. At the time, it was like the end of the world. For some of us. I was sitting there wondering if Davies would be able to outdo his “I think you need a Doctor” line from ‘Parting of the Ways’. I was not disappointed. The Doctor flits in and out of vision on a beach in Glamorgan and bottles out of the conversation in the middle of a sentence when the signal drops. He even burns up a star, for pity’s sake. The TARDIS carbon footprint must be astronomical.

So here’s a thought: if it’s funny by accident, what if we made it funny on purpose? What if I stuck in a laugh track? And the theme from Me and My Girl? How many Tennant fangirls and humourless puritans could I annoy? As it turns out the answer is ‘quite a lot’, although doing a quick headcount I do think I made more friends than enemies. It works reasonably well, given that this was a first attempt, and I know what I need to change for next time. “It would work better,” someone said, “if you had less general tittering and stuck to some belly laughs. As it stands, it becomes a lot of white noise.” Which is a perfectly valid criticism. “OH MY GOD YOU SICK UNFEELING BASTARD HOW COULD YOU MAKE THIS?”, I’m afraid, is not.


2. The Cats Trailer, Doctor Who style (July 2019)

The Cats motion picture is the new Class. It’s a film nobody asked for and nobody really wanted. It exploded onto the internet in a nightmarish display of peculiarity: a half-lit freakshow, filled with pawing and acrobatics and bizarre, decontextualised choreography. James Corden bounces and Taylor Swift sits in a hammock and Judi Dench plays Judi Dench, only in a wig. It was horrible. “And besides,” said hundreds of Doctor Who fans everywhere, “we had cats in Doctor Who and they looked much better than this lot”. Which is true, of course, although it’s not exactly fair: we’re talking about two largely separate mediums, and the requirements for the two types of role are completely different. It doesn’t help that I actually can’t stand Cats, although I do love a bit of Lloyd Webber: it is a disjointed melee of stories and ‘character’ songs, some of which work, some of which do not, and a tedious, oversung finale.

Within a day of the first trailer drop, someone had uploaded their own version, which married the footage with the music used in the trailer to Us, with alarmingly good results. And however misguided the complaints about makeup and CGI, there was – I realised, just in the nick of time – a definite market for a Who-themed remake. And so I took footage from ‘Gridlock’ and ‘The Shakespeare Code’ and stuck in a couple of carefully chosen soundbites and then put the whole thing together on one fevered, insomnia-drenched evening back in the summer. To answer a frequently asked question, the cats from Doctor Who aren’t in here because they simply wouldn’t have worked next to this lot: you’d just have a weird and confusing juxtaposition of different styles of feline and sometimes it’s best to just keep these things simple. As it is it hangs together, much like Tabitha is currently hanging from the edge of my tablecloth. For heaven’s sake, I’ll feed you in a minute.


3. Flatulent Clara (August 2019)

Fart jokes are brilliant, aren’t they? I make no apology for loving them to bits. Russell T Davies built an entire recurring villain around them. Dropping in a fart gag, in any capacity, is a good way to sort the wheat from the chaff, because supposedly sophisticated people are always very quick to tell you how juvenile you’re being and how toilet humour is the lowest form of humour. Sod the lot of you, I say. Fart jokes are funny, just like a pie in the face is funny. I love a bit of Oscar Wilde as much as the next man, but who can honestly say that The Importance of Being Earnest wouldn’t have been improved if Lady Bracknell had tripped over the handbag and landed flat on her arse?

There are plenty of brilliant fart redubs on YouTube – a Star Trek one and a quite spectacular reimagining of the restaurant sequence from ‘Deep Breath’ are just two of the mashups I’ve seen comparatively recently – but when I was dipping a toe into the murky waters of flatulence gags, it was Clara, of all people, who stood out. I think it’s the eyes. Jenna Coleman does most of her acting with her eyes, whether she’s gazing fearfully at a rampaging monster or staring incredulously at the Doctor, waiting for him to finish monologuing. There are lots of moments like that, and it struck me that – as good as her acting was – many of them would have been improved with a couple of gas bombs in the background.

This originally started life as a single scene – the notorious console room ballet that opens ‘The Rings of Akhaten’, in which Clara and the Doctor are seen cavorting round the TARDIS interior like a couple of tryouts for Swan Lake. Try as I might, I was unable to get it to gel, but it then occurred to me that Clara’s penchant for meaningful pauses and penetrating stares extends far beyond that one story, so I widened the scope to encompass the whole of series 7B. Akhaten still has a reasonable part to play, but you’ll also see shots from ‘Hide’, ‘Cold War’ and ‘The Crimson Horror’, among others. I tried to do something similar the other week with Jodie Whittaker, with only limited success – despite the scrunching she really doesn’t lend herself to that sort of humour. I might have another look. In the meantime, Clara’s done three series. Keep the clothes pegs on standby.

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Five Doctor Who episodes to help you deal with grief

I’m writing this four days after my mother died.

It was one of those sudden, unexpected things: a phone call at five in the afternoon, the rain hammering on the roof of the folding camper as we laughed and giggled about nothing, and then the sudden, life-changing moment when you’re told the news, and then the denial (“No. No, no. You’re wrong“) and then…look. To be honest it’s a blur. But somehow things got done. And there was the inevitable back-and-forth between close family members and then we cancelled our day-old holiday and came back to deal with it. She had a heart attack despite having no history of heart trouble and that means a post mortem and a certain amount of limbo while you wait for the phone to ring.

It is a funny state of affairs. There is grieving without grieving. I think that, even after all this time, I am still in shock; a particularly lucid nightmare from which there is no chance to wake. You go onto autopilot: things happen because they must, and because the day needs to be traversed like some desolate, inexplicably familiar commute even though the circumstances are bizarre and frightening. It occurs to me that I have yet to cry about all this, and for once in my life the sense of overriding guilt that is my default emotional state is suddenly and notably absent, simply because I am keeping it at bay for fear that it would just about finish me off.

So I am currently fractured, and not in a good place, and when I’m not in a good place I tend to fall back on something creative. It’s that, or sit there and brood. For example, I have just rendered every single canonical Doctor in cartoon form using the Flipline Papa Louie Pals app; one of those random things you do when you’re waiting for the coffee to reach drinking temperature. I will post them here eventually, when I’ve sorted out the height variance. It seems almost frivolous, but it’s a way of getting through the day. No, it’s more than that: creativity is (and I dearly wish it weren’t) an outlet that is all too often fuelled by melancholy, where bad things lead to good things. In the (sometimes metaphorical) studio of every artist there is – or ought to be – a plaque reading “YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MISERABLE TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS”.

Or perhaps it’s just a way of shutting out the noise. And it is a noise, this confusing maelstrom of mixed moods, of memories both bad and joyful and sometimes both, of things said and unsaid and this realisation that there is no such thing as a positive or negative emotion, there is only an emotion, and that it is possible to feel both good and bad. “The sun rose steadily over Hogwarts,” writes Rowling at the end of The Deathly Hallows, “and the Great Hall blazed with life and light. Harry was an indispensible part of the mingled outpourings of jubilation and mourning, of grief and celebration.” How wondrous it might have been if we had actually seen that at the end of the film, instead of the mute and oddly soulless calm that David Yates and Warner opted to provide.

But Doctor Who can be like that. At its best (and that is a heady height that is reached all too rarely, it seems) it provides both the opportunity to celebrate life and also to mark its end, as characters die and are appropriately mourned, and death is the next stage on a journey, or a sacrifice worth making, or perhaps as simple as going to bed at the end of a very long day. This list is not exhaustive; nor is it definitive. Certain ‘obvious’ stories (Father’s Day) are missing; other choices will possibly strike you as odd. That’s fine. These are, for one reason or another, the episodes that have helped me, curiously not by revisiting them (I simply haven’t had the time) but purely in terms of remembering key themes and moments and dialogue from years of watching and dissecting and writing about them. And this week, doing that has comforted me. And if anyone is feeling what I’ve been feeling, and can in turn draw any comfort from anything I’ve written, either here or below, then my work is surely not fruitless, nor meaningless.

And I miss my mum.


Twice Upon A Time

What would you do, muses Steven Moffat in this Christmas special, if you had the chance to say goodbye again? If the dead were somehow stored as permanent memories, magically rendered flesh through the conduit of a glass avatar? What would you say to them – if, indeed, you could be sure it was them? And how would you know? That’s the mystery that the Doctor endeavours to solve, with the help of a long-vanquished former self, a dead woman and a melancholy army captain whose time is apparently up. There are gags about French restaurants and there is a Dalek, but it’s that idea of loss and survival that lingers long after the smoke from the death ray has dissipated into the air. The notion that we might somehow be able to talk to the deceased – or, more specifically, that they might talk to us – is one that is embossed throughout ‘Twice Upon A Time’, holding it together like the stitching on David Bradley’s hat. The avatar on the battlefield is both Bill Potts and not Bill Potts; both Clara Oswald and not Clara Oswald, both Nardole and…well, you get the idea. In the end, it is the memories of others that make us who we are, and that as long as there is breath in our bodies, they never truly leave us.


The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Series 11 opens with the news of a death, only we don’t know that. Jodie Whittaker’s inauguration begins and more or less ends with a YouTube video, uploaded by a tearful young man mourning the loss of his grandmother. It is a grief that will eventually unite him with her second husband – a man who himself carries the weight of loss in his cancer-stricken body: a man with a broken heart living on borrowed time. And yet this is not in itself a bad thing. “I carry them with me,” says the Doctor, when asked how she copes with those she herself has lost. “What they would have thought and said and done. I make them a part of who I am.” It is a sentiment that will eventually save Graham, when faced (much later on) with the ghost of the woman he knew, and who is able to tell her apart from the real thing by remembering how she would have reacted. Still, it is always the Doctor who survives, and sometimes that hurts. And as good as it was, there was a sting to this particular tale when we re-examined its title: this notion that there were two women, both of whom had fallen to Earth, and that only one of them managed to get back on her feet.


Heaven Sent

Shaken and broken from the apparent death of his companion, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is marooned inside a watch that looks like a castle, chased by a ghost that wouldn’t look out of place on Scooby Doo, and spends four billion years punching through a wall. On paper it sounds almost ridiculous. In practice it is a stunning, almost groundbreaking entry in the Who logbook, a Groundhog Day of endless grief. But it is the mood of this one that strikes you: a sombre, semi-lit world of browns and greys and dark reds, where corridors shift and paintings decay and one is both always alone and never alone. Clara is both the Doctor’s muse and the object of his grief, manifest in a cacophony of half-glimpses, viewed from behind as she scratches with chalk before vanishing once more into the shadows – the decision to eventually show her one of the few narrative missteps in an otherwise impeccable production. “It’s funny,” muses the Doctor, halfway through this story, drumming his fingers on the arm of a chair. “The day you lose someone isn’t the worst. At least you’ve got something to do. It’s all the days they stay dead.” The following week (and presumably requiring something else to do) he would bust Clara from the trap street and she would run off with Maisie Williams in a stolen TARDIS, but we’re not going to discuss that one.


The Rings of Akhaten

Poor Neil Cross went through the wringer with this, and it really isn’t fair. Yes, it is overly sentimental and frequently ridiculous. Yes, the the final conceit (in which, during what is a bizarre twist on The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Clara destroys the monster by feeding it a leaf) really doesn’t work. Yes, the singing is a bit much. On the other hand you would be hard-pressed to find an episode of Doctor Who that matches this one in terms of ambition, grandeur and sheer unbridled joy: a rejuvenated Doctor, fresh off his leash, a companion dazzled by the wonders of the universe, a beautifully rendered interstellar market and a dozen good ideas that never quite bear fruit. The Doctor’s graveside stalking of Clara is uncomfortable to watch – it’s rather like reading your girlfriend’s diary – but the whole pre-title sequence is a beautiful and ultimately heart-rending vignette that shows us how someone might be defined by the people close to them. ‘Akhaten’ is about letting go of the things we love, but it treads this path with that sense of bittersweet sadness and joy I was talking about; the one that pervades the closing moments of Harry Potter. And this in the episode where Matt Smith has a wand duel.



Viewed from one perspective, ‘Blink’ is a story about bootstraps and puzzles and the frightening things that lurk in old houses. That’s usually how I approach it, and I wouldn’t blame you for doing the same. But it’s so much more than that: it is, at its core, a story about loss, as Sally Sparrow – the undisputed queen of Companions That Never Were – has her heart broken twice, once by an old acquaintance and once by a new one. This would count for nothing if the script were mawkish and sentimental, but it is neither: ‘Blink’ is one of those stories that works just as well when it is being sad as when it is being frightening, and the death of Billy Shipton (announcing, with a poetic abstractness that would eventually outstay its welcome, that he would live “until the rain stops”) is among the most poignant scenes that Moffat has ever committed to paper. And it’s here, in these moments of downtime when the statues are off camera and the score is quiet and understated, that the paradox of the Weeping Angels is revealed: that the tragedy that trails in their wake is visited not upon those who are taken but on those that are left behind. The Doctor calls this potential energy; at the risk of sounding tremendously cloying, we might just as easily call it love.

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Gotta catch ’em all

That Pokemon Go, eh? Everyone’s at it.


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The Rings of Akhtanen – Ulysses 31 edit

You know, I’m probably about the only person on the planet who freely admits to thoroughly enjoying ‘The Rings of Akhtanen’. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, the singing is overdone and the little girl is mildly annoying. Yes, the ending is drawn out, the Doctor’s speech is melodramatic and the bit with the leaf defies all logic. But that bazaar scene is wonderful. Smith is terrific. Even the Mummy, though ultimately pointless, is reasonably scary. It’s no classic, for certain, but next to ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, it’s BAFTA material.

Anyway. Some clever clogs has taken it upon themselves to publish score-free versions of Doctor Who episodes online: in other words, downloadable MP3 files containing dialogue. From a layman’s perspective this is unnecessarily geeky and fundamentally pointless. For someone like me, it’s an absolute goldmine. I’ve mentioned before the problems I’ve had pasting dialogue into things with score, having to rely on downloaded music tracks that don’t always contain the bit you want, or (in the case of Darth Gene) bits you do want, but in a different key because of the PAL / NTSC thing. It’s a classic 80/20 distribution of work, where actually finding clips and assembling them in order takes no time at all, before I then have to spend many sleepless nights tearing out my hair during post-production.

So the opportunity to grab dialogue from New Who episodes without having Murray Gold’s intrusive, overwrought score was one I couldn’t pass up, and what results here is a bit of an experiment. It came about largely because Joshua and Daniel and I have – this week! – finally completed our run of Ulysses 31 episodes, some eight or nine months after starting them in October last year. It’s been a long haul, with lots of gaps between viewing sessions, but by the end they were all anxious to see the Odyssey get home (and I thought Joshua was going to cry, or at least sniff loudly and with abandon, when it looked like Ulysses was going to remain in Hades for eternity). Certainly for me it’s been wonderful to see it again: the effects are dated, and there are a few two many Everybody Laughs endings, but thematically it remains as fresh as it did over thirty years ago. The proposed film version has thankfully languished in development hell where it belongs (structurally it simply wouldn’t work) but the series itself is still TV gold.

If you’re familiar with Ulysses 31 you will probably be familiar with the music I’ve used here – mostly known as ‘The Curse of the Gods’, it’s a dramatic, striding piece, used when something dramatic (and usually bad) is happening on-screen. It was employed with particularly memorable effect in the episode where Ulysses encounters Cronus, Father of Time, and pushes back the hands of the universal clock to de-age his decaying companions. That episode gave me recurring nightmares for years, and as much of it was as due to the score as anything else – so when it came to putting this together, using it somewhere was an obvious choice. I briefly considered using the remixed and re-recorded version by Parallax, but when I stuck it in the video it sounded artificial (largely because the orchestration, crisp and clear as it is, was synthesized).

Of course, there’s a problem: the audio recordings appear to be very slightly out of sync with the DVDs I ripped (a matter of a few frames, but enough to tell the difference). So this was another 80/20 ratio, where I spent comparatively little time editing the Doctor’s final speech, and far more time than I’d have liked trying to get the audio to match. Even now it’s not perfect, although it must be said that the results in my final copy seem to be a little better than the embedded version above. Still, them’s the breaks.

Owing to the extravagant amount of unedited footage I included from ‘Rings’, this was automatically blocked on YouTube – a state I would have contested under fair use if I’d cared more about this, but there’s always the risk you’ll lose and it’s not worth the suspension of my account. So on Vimeo it goes. And there it will stay, in relative obscurity. This didn’t completely gel, but in terms of using the ripped audio it was a good start. I believe in starts. Once you have a start, the rest is inevitable.

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God is in the detail (vi)

I was chatting with Gareth about the appearance of the Great Intelligence at the end of ‘The Bells of Saint John’. He and I fear it’s going to be this series’ recurring theme, repeated with depressing abandon in every episode, like the Schrodinger’s pregnancy scan in series six.

“If it’s any consolation,” I said, “There were no references to it at all in the next story. There was a fair bit of stuff about Clara, but nothing on the G.I.”
“But you’re still going to do God is in the detail, presumably?”
“Oh, undoubtedly.”

So here’s the roundup for ‘The Rings of Akhaten’, an episode that was apparently loathed by almost everyone except me, and with a title I still have to Google to check spelling every time I write it down. I picked up on most of these last night, during a second viewing in the company of Josh and Daniel, both of whom had been away at the weekend. Daniel lingered by the door, as he is wont to do when we’re watching something he’s not sure about. Joshua sat next to me on the sofa and I reflected that it was far too long since we’d de-loused his hair. I only noticed this in particular because I’d failed to brush it that morning. What Lies Beneath doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Let’s start in that graveyard.


11 September was the date that series three of the original Doctor Who run was first broadcast (yes, it was 1965, but it still counts). We’re on the Doctor’s third chronological encounter with Clara’s character. The story in question was ‘Galaxy 4’, a mostly incomplete story that contains Steven Taylor, Vicki and an alien race called the Chumblies. Six months later, on 5 March 1966, the First Doctor took Steven and Dodo to meet the Monoids in the first episode of ‘The Ark’. Conclusions? Peter Purves is coming back.

Next: Clara does a little exploring.


Don’t let that innocent-looking pillar fool you. That is quite clearly a SONTARAN HELMET. Just as the alien skull in the trophy room of the Predator’s ship spawned an entire franchise, it’s abundantly obvious that the secretly treacherous Strax is shadowing the Doctor and Clara throughout their intergalactic travels, ready to spring at the last minute with a well-placed grenade. Make no mistake: beneath all the jokes and that cuddly, spud-like exterior lies the cold and remorseless heart of a killer. I’d go further and argue that it was Strax who was responsible for the death of the 19th century Clara, whom he could have saved if he’d really wanted her to live. And what do you mean it looks nothing like the Sontaran helmet?

Now, observe!


On the right? On top of the gigantic cotton reel of time? That’s clearly a pyramid. A pyramid of Mars, do you think?

Meanwhile, in the central arena:


The grandstand is divided into ten clearly-marked components, which is IRREFUTABLE PROOF that we are returning here at the end of the series for the Doctor to have a final battle with Sutekh the Destroyer, observed and abetted by his ten previous incarnations.

But will it indeed be Sutekh? Or will it be the Daleks, given that the number 88 (the year ‘Remembrance of the Daleks was broadcast) is clearly printed below?


No, it’s there. On the right. On the big oil drum thing. Tilt your head a bit. No, that way. Now squint.

Then there’s the so-called “lava lamp” in Clara’s bedroom.



Most lava lamps resemble rockets, of course, but the fact that this lamp is sitting next to an illuminated globe cannot possibly be a coincidence. It’s a clear throwback to ‘The Seeds of Death’, in which the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe piloted a rocket to the moon when the T-Mat broke down. Conclusion: Jamie is coming back. (The clues, of course, exist elsewhere: the Tenth Doctor namechecks Jamie in ‘Tooth and Claw’, and before hitting the dizzy heights of Doctor Who, Jenna-Louise Coleman also starred in Emmerdale, a soap opera that had – once upon a time – carried a prominent role for Frazer Hines…)

And yet the web grows thicker, when we look very carefully at Ellie Oswald.


There. Just above her left (stage-left) eyebrow. IT’S THE MOLE. Clearly, Ellie is not all that she seems.

Of course, the bottom line was that this was a fairly simple-to-follow episode, with little in the way of ontological paradox or wibbly-wobbliness. Which was just fine, as it meant that for once I didn’t have to sit there explaining everything to Josh. I just had to worry about coaxing Daniel out from behind the coffee table, where he’d hidden the moment he saw the mummy (calling, of course, for his own).

When we were done with the singing and the closing credits had rolled, Joshua turned to me and said “Well, I’m going to be scratching my head for the rest of the evening.”
“Why?” I asked. “Did you seriously not understand it?”
“No Daddy, I’ve still got nits.”

Categories: God is in the Detail, New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: ‘The Rings of Akhaten’


In 1995, Bruce Willis – then undergoing something of a career renaissance – starred alongside Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element. It’s a film I’ve always hated. It looks utterly beautiful, but I have no idea what’s going on most of the time, chiefly because Jovovich’s role is mostly to witter on incoherently. Then Gary Oldman turns up sporting an American accent to rival David Bowie’s turn in Twin Peaks. Oh, and then there’s Chris Tucker, about whom I could say a great many unflattering things.

But there’s one scene that always holds my attention, and it’s this one.

Why am I showing you this? Well, if you’ve seen it you’ll probably have guessed, but ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ was – to all intents and purposes – this scene, padded out to three quarters of an hour. Oh, there was a bit more to it than that. There were references to at least two sci-fi classics, a bit of backstory for Clara, and an ending so predictable even my five-year-old could have seen it coming. And I confess this openly and without malice: I thoroughly enjoyed it.

For sure, the opening was a bit creepy. The extended flashback where we got to see Clara’s parents meet and fall in love and then have children is quite sweet until you remember that the Doctor is casually observing it all, like some sort of extraterrestrial peeping tom. It ends with a teenage Clara standing at her mother’s graveside, seemingly unaware that she’s being watched from behind a tree.


And you know, you get the feeling the chief writer made sure this bit went in. You know. As a reminder.


After this, the Doctor dances. Almost literally. There’s a weird mating ritual going on round the TARDIS console. The two of them won’t keep still; it’s practically musical theatre. You keep expecting one of them to belt out a bit of Sondheim, or perhaps this:

Yes, I know, it’s a stretch (and the quality isn’t great), but any excuse to get this song in somewhere.


“Consider yourself / Well in…”

The story kicks off properly when they reach the Rings of Akhaten, which takes the form of a Cairo bazaar populated by at least half the residents of the Star Wars cantina. It’s a derivative (intentionally so, from what I’ve read) but impressive sequence that must have eaten up most of the budget, which would presumably explain why the rest of the episode takes place mostly in a dimly-lit stone chamber and a CG amphitheatre. (Last year, we visited a Doctor Who museum in Bromyard whose big pull was that the private collector who owned most of the exhibits had spent a small fortune amassing every alien you saw for the bar sequence in ‘The End of Time’. Presumably he was checking his available balance as soon as the closing credits for tonight’s episode started to roll.)


This was, I will admit, rather good.

The Doctor produces exotic fruit that looks like mood lighting, and then vanishes, leaving Clara to console a frightened princess, hiding from her guards for fear she’ll make a mistake in the big end of term concert. Clara is able to empathise, thankfully not by telling her about the time she blew an ‘A’ instead of a ‘G’ when the recorder group were performing ‘Go And Tell Aunt Nancy’ to the year threes, but about the time she got lost on Blackpool beach. (I once heard a story about Blackpool beach, about two lions who escaped from the local zoo and took a wander along the beach, whereupon one exclaimed to the other “Not many people about for a bank holiday”. I mention it here because it is quite frankly more interesting than Clara’s.)

Princess Merry (which, I’m sorry, sounds like something out of Enid Blyton, and not in a good way) is being pursued by the Vigil, who “look a bit like the Empty Child” – those quotes belong to Thomas, who was watching with us. The Vigil are another example of the classic Who opening act; we assume they’re the villain of the week but their prime role is to have a wand duel with Matt Smith in a scene that’s so Harry Potter it’s frankly embarrassing.


I’m getting ahead of myself here. First we have Merry singing, just before she’s spirited away to a grisly fate, which leads to the Doctor and Clara borrowing the rocket cycle from Flash Gordon.


The Vigil are guarding Grandfather, a sleeping god trapped in a glass box. His chamber is guarded by an impassable polystyrene door which the Doctor is able to penetrate solely with technobabble, before holding it open in this week’s Comedy Gold moment. The door rises and descends with such unerring swiftness it practically slides out of its groove. It’s so wobbly it’s like we’re back in The Hand of Fear. Let’s skip over that, shall we?

In a sudden twist, the god-in-a-box is revealed to be an alarm clock, which would explain why he’s so ticked off (you see what I did there). It turns out the mythical god in question is in fact the entire sun, albeit a sun that resembles a carved-out pumpkin.

Happy Halloween.

Happy Halloween.

The sun / god thing demands a sacrifice: it wants a shrubbery the soul of the Queen of Years. Except the Doctor isn’t playing ball, and is determined instead to take on the god himself. This leads to a beautifully lit but frankly embarrassing monologue from the Doctor, who talks about all the things he’s seen and done – food enough for any hungry god. It’s the sort of omnipotent weary traveller bluster I thought we’d seen the last of when the Ponds gallivanted off to Manhattan, but it would seem the Lonely God thing can still get hauled out of the archives when you need something to fill up that climactic minute. I was quite enjoying it at first, but when Smith started quoting Blade Runner, bellowing “I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe!”, I wanted to break his fingers.

Gorgeous lighting. Shame the dialogue deteriorates so quickly.

Gorgeous lighting. Shame the dialogue deteriorates so quickly.

And there’s another thing. Who remembers this?

Don’t watch the whole thing, it’s car-crash TV. Just skip to the two minute mark and that little scene with Gwen. You see what I mean.

Of course, it’s Clara who saves the day, because the god feeds on things of value, and Clara has the leaf that brought her parents together – the cryptic ‘first page’ from last week’s installment  Her argument is that the leaf represents potential, as in days unlived, and that this ought to be enough to satisfy any god. This makes about as much sense as Sir Bedevere’s assertion that witches burn because they’re made of wood, but since when did religious fundamentalism have anything to do with common sense?

Lame. Seriously lame.

Lame. Seriously lame.

Too much staring. But she's fun.

Too much staring as well. But she has a certain charm.

Oh, look, the whole thing was a mess. I know that. But it was a joyous mess. Smith and Coleman bounce off each other with flair, and it’s nice to see the Doctor actually enjoying himself again after the heavy brow that beset him in 2012. Coleman herself is including far too many ‘meaningful’ looks in her repertoire, but she’s not yet slipped into the irritating phase – something that I fear will happen the more we discover about her, as we did with River Song, but as an enigma she has a certain charm. Farren Blackburn directs with competence; Cross’s script is also competent, if melodramatic and occasionally silly (I could really have done without the dog barking), and thematically the thing hangs together pretty well, to the extent that I’m prepared to forgive some of its structural flaws and eyebrow-raising moments. In Clara, the Doctor has found a reason to travel again – and I, in turn, may have found a reason to watch.


Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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