Posts Tagged With: twelfth doctor

The Kasterborous Archives, #3: How I Learned To Enjoy Love & Monsters

Author’s notes:

I’ve always been a champion for the underdog, and of all the Doctor Who episodes that had a generally unfavourable reception over the years, it was this story that struck me as being perhaps the least deserving of its unsavoury reputation. There’s a lot to unpack here: for one thing it’s billed as a kid’s episode, as if that were some unforgivable transgression, rather than a programme deliberately trying to cater for a large part of its target audience. But it is – if you look a little harder – as ruthless and poignant a deconstruction of contemporary fandom as you’re likely to find anywhere, with Elton and his friends excelling in their role of new, enthusiastic fans, worn down by the experts who know their stuff, but who’ve lost that sense of unbridled joy that drew them to the show in the first place. And Victor Kennedy? Well, we know who he’s supposed to be…

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How I learned to enjoy Love & Monsters

Published: 29 June 2015

Two of my four sons have, in the last few years, learned to play the violin. If you have ever been in the same house as a small child who has just picked up a stringed instrument, you will know what excruciating torture this is, at least in the first couple of weeks. It is how I imagine a cat sounds when it is being strangled. But I never say anything. As a parent, you don’t. You smile and nod and offer supportive words of encouragement, and part your hair so that the earplugs don’t show.

The truth is that parenting makes you lower your standards. You find yourself watching films and TV programmes that, ordinarily, would be given the sort of wide berth that you usually reserve for charity collectors outside the supermarket. If you have ever sat through Horrid Henry: The Movie you will understand what I mean. Oh, I’ll bitch about these things afterwards. But at the time you join in with your children’s enthusiasm, because your engagement clearly means a lot to them. (I make an exception for stereotypical gender-based advertising, which I’ll routinely deconstruct, in the hopes that they’ll follow suit.)

Why am I telling you all this? Well, I have a very good friend who’s forgotten more about Doctor Who than I’m ever likely to know, and whose acidic quips and insightful observations turn up regularly on my blog. By and large his attitude towards nuWho ranges from general indifference to active dislike, and he’s annoyingly right about most things. But I occasionally wonder whether his worldview might be different if he had children.

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Let me unpack this: one of the things you have to deal with as both a fan and a parent of fans is the tendency for children’s views to not only conflict with your own but actively influence them. For example, when prepping for this article I asked two of my children (age 5 and 9) to pick their favourite nuWho stories. Both chose In the Forest of the Night – an episode I disliked intensely, partly because Frank Cottrell Boyce threw in all sorts of amusing gags and Gaiaist philosophy, but forgot to add any sort of plot; and partly because for the third time in Series 8, “Do nothing” becomes the answer to the problem. At the same time, the kids (particularly Maebh) are brilliant, and it’s hard not to join in with my eldest’s riotous laughter when Ruby shouts “Oh my God! Maebh’s lost in the forest! MAEBH’S GONNA DIE!!!!”.

And the funny thing is, when you’re watching a bad story with young people who are clearly enjoying it, you occasionally find their enthusiasm infectious. I don’t think there are many out there who would rate Fear Her among their top ten episodes – unless you turn the list on its head so you can read it upside down – but even I can’t stop myself grinning from ear to ear when the Doctor mounts that podium in front of the cheering crowd to light the Olympic Torch. Would I be reacting this way if I didn’t have children? Perhaps. But sometimes I don’t think so.

I’m not saying being a parent makes you more appreciative of bad episodes of Who. I’m simply saying I’m inclined to be less fussy than perhaps I would have been otherwise. That’s a personal benchmark, not a yardstick with which to generalise. Sadly there’s no litmus test. Somewhere there’s a parallel universe (several, in all likelihood) in which my wife and I never sired any descendants, and it would have been interesting to see our reactions to everything since 2005 in that sort of circumstance. As it stands, the only thing I had to go on was the Eccleston series – which wrapped up shortly before my eldest child popped out of the womb, two weeks late – and even that’s atypical in many respects.

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But the patterns I see on forums and Facebook pages – “I hated it, but my children liked it” – and so on do suggest that having children present for both the series itself and the media storm that surrounds it makes for an entirely different viewing experience. As parents, we’re the ones who complain when the Beeb goes too far (which I’ve never done, although I did have serious gripes about the 2014 Christmas Special that I’ll save for another day). As parents, we’ll often find we relate to the weirdest things (I hold A Good Man Goes To War, for example, in higher regard than perhaps I should, because it plays on my fears of losing a child). And as parents, we’re the target market (or a part of it) for the stuff in the show that’s Obviously Geared Towards Children.

Let’s take the Slitheen. To a great many of us, the Slitheen were ridiculous; about as irritating as the Ewoks, and as popular. Let me tell you something: if you’re ten or under (and perhaps even older than that) the Slitheen are hysterical. More to the point, if you’re the parent of someone who’s ten or under, and if you squint, the Slitheen are hysterical. They’re comically bulbous aliens who fart a lot. They make jokes about nakedness. They spend entire stories acting like children, and Davies deliberately writes them that way. The idea that the grotesque, clinically obese teacher you despise might secretly be an alien is one that finds its way into most playground games, and beyond. (I have almost forgiven my now six-year-old for the time we visited the Cardiff exhibition a few years back, and he looked up from his buggy at the enormous Slitheen mounted on the podium, pointed, smiled in recognition and shouted “Daddy!”.)

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And while we’re at it, let’s deal with a very large, Peter Kay-shaped elephant, because there’s a moment in Doctor Who Series 2 that seems tailor-made (although it frays at the edges) for the younger members of the audience, and I think it’s unfairly maligned as a result. Here’s the truth: whatever anyone says, Love & Monsters really is an episode for kids. You can say that it isn’t – you can talk about the darkness of a man losing both his mother and the memory of the occasion, or the in-jokes about fandom, or the fact that the death toll almost reaches Eric Saward proportions, but it’s clearly designed for that post-Sarah Jane Adventures audience.

Love & Monsters opens with a chase from Scooby Doo, for pity’s sake. Marc Warren monologues to camera in the manner of a Saturday morning children’s TV host (for fairly obvious reasons, he reminds me more than a little of Boogie Pete). And the Abzorbaloff is the token fat monster in the short story homework assignment of every kid under twelve – and designed by a nine-year-old to boot. This may be the reason why the love scenes feel off (although the lack of chemistry, which I suppose is part of the point, between Coduri and Warren doesn’t help). It’s light and relatable and it’s a great shame when Davies undoes much of his good work in the closing scene with a completely unnecessary oral sex gag.

But I just mentioned The Sarah Jane Adventures, and I do wonder how much of this is about expectation. Because my other half and I blanche at dreadful plot holes and ridiculous dialogue when they occur in Who, whereas when silly things happen in Sarah Jane we’re far more inclined to let it go (and you didn’t read that, you sang it). The fact that Doctor Who is billed as a family show – therefore, much like the BBC itself, both feted and cursed to be all things to all people – is the very thing that sometimes undermines its success. It has to be funny and scary and often succeeds in doing neither: it is lukewarm television, of the kind that I am inclined to spit out of my mouth. So perhaps that’s why the episodes that are clearly geared towards children work better, because they can be appreciated on a different (not better) level. It’s just a level that – irrespective of empathy – you may not be able to relate to fully unless you’re watching it in a house where you can’t hide behind the sofa, because the kids are already there.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 103)

I will at some point write something sensible about Peter Capaldi’s not-entirely-unexpected departure at the end of 2017, but I was fighting general fatigue yesterday and insomnia last night. Today is thus not that day.

Tomorrow doesn’t look good either. After that, things will hopefully start looking Up.

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Meanwhile, over in Trumpwatch, the BBC makes a colossal boo-boo when programming its subtitles for the new President’s inauguration speech.

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And back in the TARDIS, the Twelfth Doctor is gobsmacked to find a couple of stowaways hanging out on the console room.

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Enjoy your Tuesday. I may go back to bed.

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The Curse of the Shoehorning Titles

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I recently finished The Time Lord Letters. One of those tie-ins (this one by Justin Richards) that do quite well for a while and then end up in The Works at £5.99, it revisits a number of stories in the form of imagined correspondence – letters, memos, the occasional post-it – usually revisiting the events of the narrative after the fact. The Tenth Doctor, for example, writes to Harriet Jones after he has a hand in deposing her. His immediate predecessor writes to Charles Dickens just after they’ve fought off ghosts in Cardiff. And the Fourth Doctor writes to the survivors of Storm Mine 4 (not that there are many) just after ‘Robots of Death’, apologising for leaving without waking them (cross-reference under hashtag #sorrynotsorry).

Sometimes the letters anticipate stories rather than reflect upon them: the Eleventh Doctor, for example, writes to a shop in Colchester asking for a job. Others dip into them in the middle of a narrative: there is a nice one from the Second Doctor to the Time Lords asking for help with the War Games. Still others skate around the lake of randomness: there’s one from a very young First Doctor to Borusa complaining about his school report (this is funnier if you’ve actually read said report, which is in another book). And the Twelfth Doctor’s reference for Clara is quite amusing, and very Twelfth Doctor. The whole thing is nicely presented, a variety of different (and usually well-chosen) fonts to illustrate the different Doctors’ handwriting styles, and it contains (a rarity in a New Who book) a pleasing mixture of Classic and Modern.

But there were bits of it that set my teeth on edge.

It’s not that Richards gets the tone wrong. For the most part I could imagine the Doctors (and other characters that occasionally contribute) speaking the words listed with utter conviction. That, in itself, is a big part of the problem. Because – well look, let me give you an example, occurring as it does in the form of the First Doctor’s farewell note to Susan.

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At a guess: you read that and then halfway through thought “Hang on, this is what he said inside the TARDIS! Word for word!” And indeed, it is.

Exactly the same thing happens when Martha leaves, as you’ll see when you find yourself quoting her speech.

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The implication behind both entries (it’s there in the note at the top) is that this is something the Doctor / Martha wrote down in case they didn’t have time to say it out loud, but it’s fine because they did. Using their exact words. As the Tenth Doctor does in his letter to Sally Sparrow, in which he says “There was a sort of a thing happening. Four things in fact. And a lizard.” Which is amusing when it happens in ‘Blink’, because it’s precisely the sort of improvised, disjointed thing you’d expect him to say in the heat of the moment, and a deliciously open-ended non-sequiteur at the end of an episode bent on being as self-contained as possible. Are we really expected to believe that in the aftermath, when he’d had time to think, the Doctor would have written those exact words? Again?

Perhaps Richards had a deadline and ran out of mojo. Or perhaps it was an authorial decision: the inclusion of great chunks of published dialogue instantly familiarises the audience. Perhaps I’m in a minority but I simply can’t get comfortable with it. Is it really necessary to have the Fifth Doctor write down his precise parting words to the Cranleighs after he leaves the house at the end of ‘Black Orchid’? Even when it’s not full text, there are needless references thrown in. The words ‘Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey’ appear far more than they should. The Twelfth Doctor goes on about tangerines in his letter to Santa (which concludes, amusingly enough, with ‘P.S. – do I really stick this up a chimney now?’). And when writing to Dickens, the Ninth Doctor mentions The Signalman. Again.

It’s a problem that doesn’t dog The Secret History of Twin Peaks – something Emily bought me for Christmas and which I’m enjoying tremendously. The town of Twin Peaks, as it turns out, has a long history stemming back to Lewis and Clark, by way of displaced Native Americans, assorted encounters with the military, and two feuding families. There is rather too much UFO stuff (indeed, the book contains references to pretty much every conspiracy theory known to man, and a few that weren’t) but perhaps this was inevitable after The X-Files, a show that arguably would not have happened without Twin Peaks. What’s interesting is that it explores the history of the town without making explicit references to anything the characters actually said, content instead to flesh it out with imagined press cuttings, meeting transcripts, and journal entries. And I think I’m just getting to the good bit.

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References to source material – cryptic or otherwise – are endemic in this age of digital television. It’s easier than ever to spot the small stuff (I should know; I made an entire series out of it). So when we’re told that there are Torchwood Easter Eggs in Sherlock, it’s not a great surprise. Indeed, the entire script is chock full of references to Conan Doyle’s characters, locations and other stories, whether it’s from a postcard on a fridge or the sign on a receptionist’s desk. It’s borderline saturation and is, in all likelihood, deliberately designed that way. If you spend every waking hour talking about obscure trivia, you barely have time to notice all the plot holes.

Nonetheless there’s a difference between subtle visual clues and the kind of shoehorning that happens in…look, I was going to give Lord of the Rings as an example, but that’s actually what I wanted to talk about, so let’s deal with the elephant in the room for a minute. Because while it’s one thing to have the Tenth Doctor awkwardly refer to himself as “James McCrimmon from the township of Balamory” at the beginning of ‘Tooth and Claw’, or mutter “Brave heart, Clara” as he’s leading her in the direction of a scream halfway through ‘The Crimson Horror’, these are minor transgressions compared to the stuff that happens under Peter Jackson’s watch.

Consider The Hobbit (we’re talking about the book, at least for the moment), and Bilbo’s despair when he and his Dwarvish companions are plunged into yet another bad situation. Tolkien picks up the thread:

“‘Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves!’ he said, and it became a proverb, though we now say ‘out of the frying-pan into the fire’ in the same sort of uncomfortable situations.”

And that, indeed, is the title of the chapter. And presumably Thorin has read the book, which is what prompts him to say “Out of the frying pan,” to which Gandalf adds “And into the fire!”. To be fair to him, Gandalf has form. He it was who languished by the fireside in Bag End, muttering “Riddles in the dark…”, although it is left to the Hobbits to awkwardly shoehorn another chapter title into an early scene (which, by the way, is nothing like it is in the book):

MERRY: That was just a detour. A shortcut.
SAM: A shortcut to what?
PIPPIN: Mushrooms!

Thankfully, that’s when the Nazgul turns up and they’re all too busy avoiding Morgul blades to think of jokes, at least until the Council of Elrond. “Nine companions?” says the sombre Elf. “So be it. You shall be…THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING!”

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Look, calling out chapter names is OK when it’s as bland as, I don’t know, ‘Helm’s Deep’. You wouldn’t have got very far without that. Theoden would have had to say “WE GO TO MY VALLEY CLUBHOUSE!”, which would have been rubbish. Similarly (and steering the conversation back towards Doctor Who), the whole concept of ‘Listen’ revolves around the act of listening – chiefly to oneself – and although it’s never really apparent why the Doctor comes out of his meditation bellowing that single word, except that it looks creepy on a blackboard, it more or less works. Less effective is having Rita say “That’s quite a God complex you have there” while the Doctor’s being all self-important, but if anything that’s because of the title of the episode, rather than anything in it. And yet the title works because of its multiple layers. Which is the chicken here, and which the egg?

Sometimes it does seem that Doctor Who is mocking the Jackson fetish for awkward insertions (and yes, I know he’s not the only culprit, but these films have been sycophantically fawned over for years and it really is time we talked about how rubbish they are in places). Having the Doctor bellow “Dinosaurs…ON A SPACESHIP!” is both self-indulgent and brilliant, and in an episode that was less ridiculous it would have stuck out like a sore thumb – in this case, it’s all just part of the fun. Having Mels shout “OK, LET’S KILL HITLER!” is somewhat less successful, but again the story gets away with it because of sheer silliness. (You will note that every episode I’ve mentioned here was broadcast within the last seven years – if there’s one thing Russell T Davies seldom had a problem with, it was titles.)

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There is, at least, one sin of which the Lord of the Rings films are not guilty, and that’s to end on a title. Their last words are generally fairly profound, or laced with hidden profundity as the characters gaze out at a beautiful / dismal / dazzling / foreboding skyline, wind machine optional. Ending on a title is just about the worst thing an author can do, apart from conclude a story with “…and then I woke up”. It’s the literary equivalent of concluding your drama class sketch with “That’s it”. It isn’t wrong, but we Just Don’t Do It. (Sue Townsend did, of course, and I still haven’t quite forgiven her.)

And yet authors do. It was endemic within the sort of dreadful novels my mother used to enjoy – the Domestic Sagas, light and easy to read, covers emblazoned with soft-focus pictures of impassioned romantic couples or resilient single parents. Examples that spring immediately to mind are Elizabeth Murphy’s A Nest of Singing Birds and a book called As The Crow Flies which could have been written by anyone, given the popularity of its title (and no, it was not the Damien Boyd one and it probably wasn’t the Jeffrey Archer one either). But the greats aren’t immune – Bill Bryson finished Neither Here Nor There, his great European travelling memoir, in exactly this fashion, and no, I don’t care that it’s a pun. It’s colossally lazy. If you must, just use a different title. Titles are easy. It’s endings that are hard.

Thank goodness Doctor Who never does this. Right?

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God is in the detail (10-X)

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It’s a good week for conspiracy theories. Nibiru is supposed to be returning. And the KLF – those enlightened Illuminati-conncted tricksters – have announced they’re planning something. Sort of. They’re not calling themselves the KLF these days, nor indeed was this anything other than a five-minute fad when viewed within the context of a thirty-year career. Still, they’re back, and thus there is much rejoicing.

But never mind that. We’re here to talk about ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’.

Christmas specials may be accessible, but that doesn’t mean they have to be simple. As is customary under Moffat’s reign, the latest episode of Doctor Who is in fact positively crammed full of IMPORTANT SIGNS AND CLUES that will be HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT later on. The problem is that most casual fans lack the time and the ability to decode them. Luckily you have me. So let’s unpack this treasure trove of layered meaning and find out what’s really going to happen in series 10, shall we?

I’ll start here.

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There are precisely 24 columns of jars in this image – each column containing three jars, totalling 72. You’ll be aware by now if you’ve been following this series that these numbers are never just a coincidence – and in this case it all points to the Seventh Doctor.

How may we infer that from this image? The use of 24 columns is a big giveaway, given that season 24 is the Seventh Doctor’s first. Moreover, 72 refers to the 72nd story in the canon, ‘Death To The Daleks’ – which, despite being a Third Doctor story, eerily foreshadows the Seventh Doctor’s destruction of Skaro in ‘Remembrance’, some 14 years later. (Tangentially, if we substract 14 from 24 we are left with 10, and we may thus infer that this will all be connected with a returning appearance from David Tennant – but we’ll come back to that when we explore one of the other images.)

The C-shape this forms is actually a whopping great red herring, because what you actually need to do is turn it on its side.

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Viewed from this angle it is obviously a horseshoe. Horses were ridden by the Cheetah People in the last televised Doctor Who story of the 1980s, which (not so coincidentally) starred the Seventh Doctor.

It is also worth noting that in order to acquire this particular viewpoint it is necessary to tilt your head on one side. THIS IS NOT A COINCIDENCE. The other recent villain known to adopt this perspective is the Family of Blood. Which, by the way, featured in a Tenth Doctor story.

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How many jars are featured in each column in that first image? Three. And what do you get if you subtract Seven from Ten? I’ll just leave the colossal implications of that dangling there for a moment, because we must speak of them in hushed tones. THEY ARE NOT TRIVIALITIES.

We’ll come back to the Tenth Doctor later but in the meantime let’s have a look at this.

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There’s that number again: 24. Specifically story 4 in series 2, ‘Dragonfire’, which introduced Sophie Aldred, WHO ALSO RODE A HORSE IN ‘SURVIVAL’ AND HELPED THE DALEKS BLOW UP SKARO AND WHO APPEARED IN TREE-FU TOM OPPOSITE DAVID TENNANT.

I know. Mind blown, right?

The column of green lights on the right of the screen ought to be self-explanatory, referring as they do to the twelve canonical Doctors (and omitting John Hurt) and leaving room for a further nine, making the BBC’s long term plan for Doctor Who as transparent as if they’d organised for it to be leaked by one of those ‘sources close to the show’. But what are we to make of the mysterious ‘tx’? Could it refer to the TX witnessed in the third Terminator film? The postal code for Texas, indicating a possible Doctor Who / Preacher crossover?

Now, that I’d watch. The truth, sadly, is far less spectacular, although it is still highly significant: it refers, instead, to the Tsukuba Express, the Japanese railway line linking Tokyo and Tsukuba. Launched in 2005 – the same year Doctor Who returned, which is not a coincidence – the route follows twenty stations, but it’s the name itself which causes most intrigue. Because the words ‘Akihabara and Tsukuba Station’ may also be reformed to make ‘AA! AA! AA! SKITTISH ABBOT UNDRUNK!’, which is an indication that PHILIP MORRIS HAS BEEN LYING TO US AND THEY HAVE ALREADY FOUND ‘THE MASSACRE OF ST BARTHOLOMEW’S EVE’.

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We also might point out that ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’ directly foreshadows this early in the episode when we observe the Doctor eating sushi (seen above). Although we might also conclude that its sudden disappearance when he’s walking down the stairs indicates the return of the Crack In Time. But that would be silly, and as everyone who reads this column is aware, I don’t do silly.

Now, take a look at Lucy’s kitchen.

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It’s those mugs on the counter you want to be examining. Note the striking multi-coloured design (favouring red) on the left and the plaid on the right. And you’d be forgiven, at first glance, for assuming that this was a reference to ‘The Two Doctors’. I mean, it’s obvious.

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But as is traditional with these multi-layered shots, the true meaning is hidden until you look closer. Note the proximity of that red mug to the toaster. Note also that the mug can be seen reflected in the surface of the toaster, and that THE SEVENTH DOCTOR LOATHES BURNT TOAST. Conclusion? We are going to revisit the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration story, only this time it will be televised in the form of a flashback experienced by the Twelfth. How do I know this? Consider the spoon dipped into the Sixth Doctor’s mug – the Twelfth Doctor’s weapon of choice, and the Seventh’s favoured musical instrument.

The other mug confirms this theory, given that it contains a cryptic reference to Spaceballs.

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The Doctor Who connection ought to be transparent: it’s Bill Pullman, last seen in series four of Torchwood. And any fan will tell you that this was also the last time we saw Jack – apart from The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, in which John Barrowman drives the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors from London to Cardiff. In doing so, he evicts David Tennant’s daughter from the car. From this we may IRREVOCABLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY CONCLUDE that next year’s Christmas special will feature a cameo by the Tenth Doctor, in the company of Jack.

Finally, this.

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Oh, there’s so much to unpack in here we barely have time. The most transparent of references is the Third Doctor story that’s playing at the cinema on the left hand side. (You will note also the proximity of the American flag, sticking out of the wall like the entrance to an embassy, and that ambassadors played a crucial role in this story.)

The references to ‘The Mind of Evil’ are reflected in the pizzeria across the street – owned and presumably operated by someone named Joe, a direct reference to the Third Doctor’s companion, both in ‘Mind’ and a great many others. But it’s the club in the middle that caught my eye, given that ‘The Missing’ is a CLEAR AND DIRECT reference to ‘The Lost’, the final episode of Class. If you’ve seen that, you’ll be aware that a familiar face pops up, and we may thus conclude that even if Class doesn’t get a second series they will continue that story here, using New York (or possibly the moon, which is prominently featured) as a location.

But it’s the pink that got me. Could it refer to Danny Pink, perhaps, who played a small but important role in ‘Kill The Moon’? Is it a reference to the Pink Ladies from Grease, indicating that there will at some point be a scientology episode, with John Travolta starring? We can only hope. But the answer, when it hit me, was like a bolt from the purple. Because I suddenly remembered where I’d seen a pink TARDIS.

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Oh, lucky Seven. It always comes back to you.

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Review: ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’

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There’s a thing that’s always bothered me about Superman. It’s not the disguise. Henry Cavill recently proved there was a lot of mileage in a pair of spectacles with his recent New York stunt. No, it’s the fact that Clark Kent is surrounded by a supposedly cracked team of journalists, all of whom enjoy a close working relationship with him, and none of them – at least at first – are able to work out what’s really going on. A reporter who showed up in town the same time Superman did, who disappears at the first sign of trouble but who manages to bag all the exclusives? It’s too much of a stretch to think that someone wouldn’t have put two and two together by now – whether that someone is Lois Lane, the self-absorbed A-lister who loves one man and who is loved in turn by both – or Perry White, who spends most of his time with his sleeves rolled up shouting, but who’s obviously never heard of facial recognition software.

It depends which version you’re watching. Christopher Reeve, in all four of his films – from the glorious first to the dismal fourth – is a revelation, and anyone who doubted his skills as an actor would do well to look at scenes where he’s playing first Clark Kent and then Superman and note the differences. Reeve fumbles with the thick frames, smearing the lenses and only just managing to avoid damaging them. The posture changes, the body language becomes awkward and fidgety, and the whole voice goes up half an octave. Then go and watch Dean Cain – who, in The New Adventures, plays basically the same character with and without his glasses – and marvel at the fact that he gets away with it for so long.

That Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne manage to maintain and separate their public / private personas so consistently and successfully is down to three things. First, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief – the same resource we have to tap in order to accept that neither character seems to have aged very much despite both having been around for the better part of a century. Second, at least one blind eye has been turned to the telescope – Commissioner Gordon could easily figure out Batman’s true identity, but has presumably seen enough torture scenes to have realised that it’s in his best interests not to know. Similarly, Perry White is too bold and experienced not to put two and two together, but has chosen not to. Journalistic integrity is still alive and well, even in the twenty-first century.

But fundamentally the disguise conundrum plays on Shakespearian conventions. It was a running joke that the true identity of a disguised character in a Shakespeare play should be obvious to everyone except the characters onstage – it’s bled over into pantomime, and in Doctor Who it happened every time Roger Delgado stepped onto the screen. And thus, when it happens in ‘The Return of Doctor Mysterio’, it’s done as a joke that’s glaringly transparent to all but the girl who’s caught in the middle of it, and on this occasion it’s the Doctor who’s rolling his eyes.

‘Mysterio’ is, in essence, a crossover episode – the closest Doctor Who is likely to delve into the worlds of Supergirl or The Flash – and the creative team have the sense to play on this. Origin stories are revealed in flashback (tellingly, and with some degree of appropriateness, said origin story features the Doctor himself). There are numerous shots of characters hovering outside windows. And a crucial conversation between the basso-inflected superhero and his would-be girlfriend – with the Doctor listening in – is rendered with a three-way frame split. The superhero in question, a caped wonder whose body armour resembles that of Nightwing, doubles as a mild-mannered nanny when he’s not wearing the costume, zooming from house fire to traffic accident to bedroom, a baby monitor permanently attached to his waist.

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The net result of all this is that the Doctor feels rather like a supporting character in his own story. Having unwittingly created the whole situation through a simple misunderstanding, just about the only thing Capaldi is able to do this week is react as the narrative unfolds around him. Not that much unfolding actually happens – in origami terms, ‘Mysterio’ is more a twice-folded letter than a concertina. The story is the sort of conventional secret invasion fluff that wouldn’t be out of place in either a series of Doctor Who or a Superman comic, and is perhaps the episode’s weakest element: a couple of expository monologues aside, we never really get to know or understand the brain-swapping aliens behind Harmony Shoals, nor do we much care what they’re up to. (And really, didn’t we milk the unzipped head thing to death last Christmas?)

Tellingly, that’s not a criticism. Regular visitors here will know that I’m the first one to complain when I watch an episode of Who without any tangible story, but as it turns out this matters far less when people are having fun (which is not something I could say for, say, ‘The Woman Who Lived’). That the episode concludes with a colossal spacecraft falling on New York is far less exciting than it ought to be, simply because ultimately that’s not what ‘Mysterio’ is about. There’s a far greater tension in the fact that in order to save the Earth, the Ghost must reveal his true identity to a single person – and while the image of Justin Chatwin holding up the spacecraft with a single outstretched hand is uproariously funny, there is a far greater sense of narrative satisfaction in the kiss that follows it.

It helps that both Grant and Lucy are fun and likeable, even though we’re given comparably little time to get to know them. There are all sorts of questions that could be asked about the fact that he repeatedly leaves a small child unattended, although it’s made apparent at the mid-point that he’s able to race from one side of the city to the other in about the same time it takes a parent to climb a staircase, and the Doctor is only able to get there first because he cheats. Grant’s mutual, unconsumated attraction to Lucy calls to mind the tale of Craig and Sophie, and while the love story here doesn’t hold the same sort of narrative credence that was there in ‘The Lodger’, there’s something very satisfying in the fact that Lucy prefers her heroes with their spectacles on.

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Elsewhere, pathos remains. There are references to River Song (whose name would have been better left unsaid, although you can’t blame Moffat for wanting to avoid an epidemic of tedious fan speculation and Twitter theory) and a sense of melancholy loneliness that bubbles under the surface without ever really breaking through the skin. The net result is a story that is accessible and satisfying but somehow sad, as befits the best Christmas entertainment, with everyone making the most of the limited screentime that 2016 has granted them. He may not have a great deal to do besides watch and eat sushi, but Capaldi’s clearly enjoying himself this week, even though the Doctor isn’t.

I’ve got nine paragraphs in without mentioning Nardole, but that’s largely because he works so well. Comic actors in semi-serious drama is a lottery – Frank Skinner was a roaring success, Rufus Hound a dismal failure – and the fact that the reassembled Nardole is far less irritating than he ought to have been is a testament both to Moffat’s writing and Lucas’ ability to reign it in. Discounting an anomalous, cringeworthy opening sequence, Nardole is inhabited with the sort of understated, bumbling charm that’s been greatly missing in the TARDIS since Rory was trapped in New York, and he has some enlightening conversations with the Doctor. It’s too early to tell how this will play out in series 10, in which Lucas is purported to make a series of appearances, but we might currently file it under ‘Well, that was a pleasant surprise’, perhaps alongside ‘Donna Noble’.

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There’s a much-quoted and not entirely accurate cliché suggesting that absence makes the heart grow fonder. When the announcement was made, back in January, that we’d have to wait for almost a full year without the Doctor, the sense of lamentation among fandom was so great that you could hear it on Mondas. But whatever else may have happened during the past year (it’s tempting to look back at 2016 as an annus horribalis, although I suspect history may be rather more generous) there were some of us who took it as an opportunity to take stock and look at exactly what it was we enjoyed about the show, and after a long period of soul-searching I concluded that if they’d decided to rest it completely, I wouldn’t mind. Perhaps we’re at the stage where it doesn’t matter whether Doctor Who is on or not, and where we can stop complaining about the number of episodes per year, and make the most of what we have. I don’t think it’s something that comes naturally, not to me, and not to fandom generally – when writing this one up, I stayed off Twitter, stayed away from Facebook, and didn’t read a single review, because I knew what many of the comments are going to say.

I’ve often wondered whether the concept of making the most of things is a reason we’re overly charitable to ‘Rose’, although to conclude thus probably does it a disservice. It’s no secret that the last forty-five seconds of the TV broadcast of ‘Mysterio’ consisted of a glib, action-filled trailer for series 10 that introduces an already irritating companion whom most of us have seen fit to judge before she even steps into the TARDIS. As someone who’s a willing advocate of that ‘God she’s irritating’ mindset I’d nonetheless suggest that I was wrong about Donna, wrong about Smith being too young and wrong (at least this week) about Nardole. And perhaps it doesn’t matter either way. If there’s one thing that a year without Doctor Who has taught me it’s to take it far less seriously than I have been, and treat at least some of its shortcomings as a by-product of a difficult production process. Perhaps all the show has to be, in the end, is enjoyable, rather than good, but perhaps that’s partly our responsibility, rather than simply the writer’s. Perhaps this is what happens when you allow obsession to dissolve into apathy, but I wonder whether we’d enjoy the experience far more if we’re willing to occasionally put a blind eye up to the telescope.

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The inevitable Doctor Who / Donald Trump thing

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Disclaimer: I’m not a blue collar American. I didn’t grow up with the right to bear arms, or healthcare you pay for without help from the state. I don’t pretend to really understand politics. I do have a rudimentary awareness of how the media works: that the best way to shift units is to pick the underdog (the more contemptible the better) and ridicule them to the extent that there is a tangible shift in public sympathy, evening the race and making it more interesting, and thus more newsworthy. That’s the way it goes. Deal with it.

There are those who suggest that choosing between Clinton and Trump is like choosing between crucifixion and being buried alive. There are others who suggest that of the two, Clinton is the lesser of two evils. There are those who suggest the opposite. Clinton’s past is supposedly murky, but the assassination conspiracies are the screaming rage of people who will see what they want to see. Of the two, Clinton – while far from the model of integrity that Obama appeared to be – is balanced, rational and compassionate. I can’t say the same for Trump.

Because Trump’s a bullying narcisstic egomaniac. Does that in itself make him a bad choice for President? Perhaps not. But it does make him a wildcard. I can’t understand why you’d publicly endorse a man who brings out the worst in people. Only a blinkered fool would look at him and see anything other than a liability. And nowhere does this make itself plainer than the vitriol that comes out of his mouth.

So I found a selection of quotes this week and I married them with images from Doctor Who. I don’t care that some of them are out of context, or have had their accuracy disputed. I won’t apologise for the occasional ickiness: Donald certainly never does.

And for those who’d say that, as a white British male, the election of the American President is none of my business, I’d suggest that if we’re talking about a man who has significant impact on the UK’s foreign policy and his finger on the big red button, I’d say that it darn well is.

Wouldn’t you?

One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don't go into government. My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body..

I have so many fabulous friends who happen to be gay, but I am a traditionalist.

Thanks sweetie. That's nice.

My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure; it's not your fault.

The beauty of me is that I’m very rich.

The other candidates — they went in, they didn't know the air conditioning didn't work. They sweated like dogs…How are they gonna beat ISIS? I don't think it's gonna happen.  You know, it really doesn't matter what the media write as long as you've got a young, and beautiful, piece of ass.  Number one, I have great respect for women. I was the one that really broke the glass ceiling on behalf of women, more than anybody in the construction industry.

Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, [Republican rival Marco Rubio] referred to my hands: ‘If they're small, something else must be small.' I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee.

I think the only difference between me and the other candidates is that I'm more honest and my women are more beautiful.It's freezing and snowing in New York – we need global warming! All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That's to be expected. I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.

The point is, you can never be too greedy. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 36 and a half)

This week:

1. There is much consternation on Twitter when the Gallifrey Party posts this image of a Time Lord who was supposedly forced to lie down in the aisle because there were no unreserved seats on the shuttle.

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2. In soaps: I didn’t really like Jemma Redgrave’s Holby Trauma Unit badge, so I have made her a new one.

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3. In sports: new stills emerge from Mo Farah’s Olympic run.

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4. And finally: here’s a deleted scene from Saturday night’s X-Factor.

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Happy Sundays!

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The Twelfth Doctor Regenerates

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It’s kind of hard to miss those eyebrows, isn’t it? They’re all over the top of this blog (unless, of course, you’re reading this a couple of years from now and I’ve changed it, to Idris Elba’s sideburns or Ben Wishaw’s navel, or whatever). For the meantime that shot is borderline iconic: the first glimpse of a Doctor who’s never quite had the scripts he deserves, but who was awaited, thanks to this single scene-within-a-scene, with an almost insane amount of antici…….pation.

Capaldi’s future in the show is still under discussion, of course. I had – actually, I managed not to have – a number of conversations the other week with people who genuinely thought that Matt Smith was going to come back to the show full time. I’m not a futurist (I was wrong about Missy) but I believe we may sensibly discount this, and I sort of explain why here, albeit in an article that’s aimed at casual fans. I’m not ruling out an appearance – a ‘Deep Breath’ style cameo, or even a full-on episode share. But bringing him back permanently? Honestly, no. You could do it, of course, but that doesn’t mean that the BBC will, or that it’s a sensible decision. It’s tabloid speculation stretched to saturation point. There’s a pattern: Moffat says something vague and teaseworthy, while elsewhere in the entertainment section a notable actor (preferably one with a history with the show, the tighter the better) expresses their desire to return. And bang, you’ve got yourself a headline. Catherine Tate’s a good example. And all this is fine – goodness knows it fills in the gaps between series – except when stupid people assume that it has any credibility. But this is what happens when you have a show in which characters can be switched in and out at the drop of a fez, never dying, changing and then changing back. That doesn’t mean it would be a sensib-

Actually, who am I kidding? It’s exactly the sort of thing Moffat would do.

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But I was thinking the other week about that first time we saw Capaldi – no, not the first time we saw him properly, but that first thrilled, unanticipated glimpse in November 2013. And it occurs to me that it’s a scene we haven’t actually seen yet. And I know that it’s one Moffat’s been running over in his head, because not long after Capaldi turned up he told Doctor Who Magazine that “At some point, the Twelfth Doctor’s going to get a phone call”.

And whether or not this turns out to be Capaldi’s last year, I have a feeling we’re heading back to that scene. And when I raised the issue in a Facebook group, someone else mentioned that it would be even more likely to occur right at the end of his timeline: in other words, the determined Doctor we glimpse in ‘Day of the Doctor’ is one who is just about to regenerate. Presumably the eyebrows will darken in colour (and probably become a little thinner). That would be a very Moffat thing to do, somehow. It seems nicely circular, the way that the crack appeared in ‘The Eleventh Hour’ and was then explained just before Smith took off his bow tie for the last time. It closes the loop, and if there’s one thing I’ll say about the chief writer, it’s that he loves closing his loops, even if some of them have to be fastened with sticky tape.

And then I thought: seeing as we don’t know yet, there’s no harm in imagining how such a scene might play out. And the more I thought about it, the more it crystallised into something tangible. And so I made this. And I hope you enjoy it. Not that I’m arrogant enough to assume that this is what the BBC might do when they eventually do the regeneration. But it’ll be interesting to find out. And in the meantime I’ve produced something that works dramatically (if you ignore the changing TARDIS interiors and continuity errors), however off-base the idea turns out to be.

Tell you what, Steven – when you do write it, Copyright Donna Noble. OK?

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Doctor Who: The Day Before You Came

(If you’re reading this on a phone or tablet there is a chance that the embedded video may be unavailable to you. If that’s the case, I’ve left another version at Vimeo; that one should work.)

You say ABBA, you think ‘Dancing Queen’. You think Eurovision and ‘Waterloo’. You think Meryl Streep crying on a hill. You think Pierce Brosnan belting out ‘S.O.S.’ in the manner of someone having a prostate exam off camera (not my joke). You think flashy costumes and a certain joie de vivre.

Because no one likes to remember how utterly miserable they were by the time they disbanded. ABBA were a group who bore their hearts on their sleeves, or at least that’s the way it looked to the rest of us, whether it’s the raw emotion of ‘The Winner Takes It All’, the slightly manipulative but no less heartfelt sadness of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, the parenting anthem to end all parenting anthems (with the possible exception of ‘The Living Years’)…even something as outwardly upbeat as ‘When All Is Said And Done’ is amicably miserable (though it does include the line ‘not too old for sex’, so every cloud). I’m not saying we ignore the miserable bits, more that we tend to give more airspace to something like ‘Fernando’ than something like ‘One Of Us’. (I’ve never much cared for that song, although that’s the point at which Agnetha permed her hair and I stopped fancying her, so maybe that had something to do with it.)

The starkness plays out in that final album. The Visitors is possibly the best thing they ever did, tapping new and uncharted musical territory – an almost industrial technopop that was years ahead of its time and which Andersson and Ulvaeus would see come to fruition of a sort when they finished Chess, even though that’s still fairly theatrical. But it’s those two non-album singles – ‘Under Attack’ and ‘The Day Before You Came’ – that make the playlists, despite an initially lukewarm reaction from an audience that wasn’t ready for anything like this and had in any case more or less lost interest. Years later the latter regularly tops fan polls. I wonder if in years to come we’ll view ‘Fear Her’ with such retrospective acclaim.

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…No, I don’t think so either.

The Wikipedia entry for ‘The Day Before You Came’ is worth reading, but I’ll summarise the best bits –

– Despite the minimal backing track, what really stands out is Agnetha’s voice, which is by and large sung in her native Swedish accent, rather than the twang she would adopt for other recordings

– The song’s meaning is the subject of intense scrutiny and debate – is this a song to a boyfriend? An ex-boyfriend? A murderer? Did her mundane life change for the better when this mysterious figure arrived, or did it in fact get worse? (The video goes some way to explaining this, although if you need a video to explain a song, the song’s a failure, so I prefer to think of the video as an afterthought)

– She left at 8 am and was at work by 9:15; conversely she left at 5 pm and didn’t get home for three hours. I know the woman stopped to pick up a Chinese but even allowing for rush hour traffic there is something going on here.

– Myself, I’ve always liked the image of Agnetha alone in the studio, completing the final recording with the lights out, as a musical union that’s outlasted two marriages limps along to its final, scrappy conclusion. Roll credits.

Anyway. Why the hell hasn’t anyone done something with Doctor Who? When you consider the new series’ focus on companions and the way their lives are changed by the arrival (and eventual departure) of the Doctor, isn’t it an obvious fit? The Doctor has a habit of blustering in, acting as a catalyst for revolution and reform and then making a quiet exit so someone else can clean up the mess. Doesn’t he have a tendency to treat people the same way?

What annoyed me intensely was that all those departure / regeneration scenes I found myself mocking when I watched the episodes that contained them took on a sudden emotional resonance when I looked at them again. I mean, I was crying at the Doctor / Verity Newman scene in ‘The End of Time’. That scene is faintly ridiculous and here I am wiping my eyes clean. Then I was crying at Rose. Dammit, I’m one of the ones that smirks whenever this sort of thing shows up on the Tumblr feeds. WHY IS THIS UPSETTING ME? I’M SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD INSIDE!

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That’s a roundabout way of saying that I made this last week, feeling sad and not really knowing why. Perhaps I knew, on one level or another, that this week would be the way it was. And I do feel sad this week, more than I can tell you. The world seems to have no real sense of self, just a collection of squabbling factions and misunderstandings and hatred and bile. I feel as if we’ve broken something we’re not going to be able to fix in a hurry, and rather than actually sitting down and working out how it broke and what we can do to piece it back together, we’re just kicking the fragments round the playground like angry schoolchildren.

And I don’t know the answer. I don’t. But I know that’s no way to run a planet.

Postscript: episodes used, in order of first appearance – 

Rose
The Zygon Inversion
Smith and Jones
Partners in Crime
Last Christmas
The End of Time
Listen
Parting of the Ways
Day of the Doctor
The Bells of Saint John
The Wedding of River Song
Journey’s End
The Angels Take Manhattan
Doomsday
The God Complex
The Fires of Pompeii
Army of Ghosts
Hell Bent
Last of the Time Lords
Death in Heaven
The Eleventh Hour
Turn Left
The Name of the Doctor
Face the Raven
Fear Her

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Romana’s Round-up

This week at Meme Central, anticipation builds towards the latest Pixar release.

Dory_TARDIS

News comes in that Kathryn Bigelow is set to remake a Doctor Who version of The Hurt Locker.

HurtLocker

And in the wake of new truths concerning Captain America, comic fans react angrily to the latest developments in the adventures of the Twelfth Doctor.

Doc_Hydra

Enjoy your week.

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