Review: Revolution of the Daleks

“Seriously,” said Emily, from where she was perched on the far end of the sofa. “Who drinks tea when it’s poured straight into a cup? From a tea stand? It’s far too hot!”

‘Revolution of the Daleks’ begins in a roadside layby and ends on a hill above Sheffield. Its opening conceit – that the unsuspecting courier responsible for transferring the charred remains of the Dalek we met in ‘Resolution’ was ambushed – depends on a slightly convoluted chain of events, and it rather sets the tone for everything that follows, but that does seem to be the way that Doctor Who is written these days. Or perhaps it’s the way it’s always been written and we’ve only just noticed.

Dalek stories tend to follow a pattern: either the Daleks are simply trying to blow something up, or there are foolish humans who believe they can form some sort of alliance with them. ‘Revolution’ skates a rather awkward middle ground between the two; this time around it’s shady government minister Harriet Walter (Jo Patterson, who is never allowed to do anything more interesting than stand in a car park) who’s managed to reverse engineer Dalek technology in an attempt to build a robotic security force, heralding “The age of security”. To do this, she’s enlisted the help of shady business tycoon and former Presidential wannabe Jack Robertson (Chris Noth), last seen storming out of his hotel after mowing down a giant spider with a handgun, as toxic waste rumbled up from the ground beneath. Asking a man like this to be responsible for rolling out one of the biggest technological breakthroughs in decades is a bit like putting Montgomery Burns in charge of a green energy plan, but none of this seems to bother Harriet, who mumbles something about offshore bank accounts while standing under an umbrella. Clearly misery makes for strange bedfellows.

While all this is going on, Graham and Ryan are fretting about Yaz, who has established a base of operations in the spare time capsule that brought them all back to Earth at the end of ‘The Timeless Children’, and which is now covered in post-it notes. They’ve moved on, but the sleeping bag on the floor and the slightly glazed look in her eye is proof that Yaz clearly hasn’t, and that finding the Doctor is still job no.1. “I must be able to work it out,” she seethes, in the manner of Zosia March in Holby City, just before her eventual breakdown. It’s clear where this is going, and if the mental health issues Yaz is facing are only skirted around on this occasion we may assume that further fallout is coming, most likely when the TARDIS crew has shrunk a little bit.

As for the Doctor herself, she’s still stuck in the unnamed prison on the other side of the galaxy, bunged in a cell for unmentionable crime – no, really, it was seventy-five minutes long and I still don’t have a clue what they were – and forced to share a cell block with an angry P’Ting, a helpless Weeping Angel, a possessed Ood and even one of the Silence (“I forgot you were here”, she quips as the two come face to face). It feels like a missed opportunity – it’s quite sweet to have the Doctor address the security cameras as she passes them, but it would have been nice to see a little more of the effect it was having on her. A brief, clumsily-executed dalliance with Ryan later on is about all we get, and Whittaker is forced to convey the rest in a handful of awkward stares and quasi-meaningful silences.

Still, it isn’t long before she’s sprung from the joint, with the help of Jack Harkness (an increasingly craggy-looking John Barrowman), who turns up with a literal support bubble in which the two make good their escape. Said escape basically involves running down a corridor, which feels very much like home – there was a concern over whether these two would bond, but they manage to click together reasonably well (it helps that, in keeping with Doctor Who’s ongoing environmental concerns, most of Jack’s best lines are recycled). “My own TARDIS!” exclaims the Doctor as the two of them materialise within it, just in case the weird filters had left us in any doubt. Indeed, one of the biggest mysteries dropped on us last series is not whether or not the Doctor is in fact the Timeless Child, but why they can’t fix the lighting, which seems perennially off. Perhaps it’s to hide Barrowman’s wrinkles.

It’s nice – if a little predictable – that the TARDIS fam aren’t exactly thrilled when the Doctor shows up in Graham’s living room, but they don’t have long to ruminate on her ten-month absence before we’re off to Osaka, which is where the plot finally kicks into gear. Robertson has a secret factory producing Dalek clones – so secret that even he doesn’t know about its existence, prompting the incredulous industrialist to ask about how they could have signed the purchase orders. It’s all the work of the gravel-voiced, back-humping Reconnaissance Dalek, which has been breeding a secret army that can inexplicably teleport itself into Harriet Walter’s empty cases when the lighting changes. (‘Inexplicably’ may be the wrong choice of word. There is an explanation, it’s just mildly rubbish.)

Everything about ‘Revolution’ screams “Oh well, we know it’s silly, but there are Daleks”: whether it’s the Soylent Green nods in the factory, the 3D printing thing, or the Doctor’s plan to hide away from the Dalek fleet by parking her TARDIS on a rooftop just as they’re flying over (still, at least Jack will be happy). The dialogue is crammed with contemporary platitudes and self-referential gags (Robertson sneers about people being tired of experts, while Ryan proclaims that “It’s OK to be sad”). It’s fine that Doctor Who does this, but dialogue is not and has never been Chibnall’s forte, and box-ticking should never actually feel like box-ticking. There is, at least, a perfunctory attempt to flesh out Chris Noth’s character a little bit, and he evolves from one-dimensional Trumpalike to someone with the potential to be a bit more interesting and, at times, almost likeable; he waltzes off into the sunset with his reputation restored, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that the next time we see him the TARDIS will have once again landed inside the Oval Office.

Does it work? Just about. It’s preposterous and cringeworthy and you feel like a story of this nature really ought to have a little more in the way of explosions and fire fights, but it’s also a departure story and the Daleks were always going to play second fiddle to the characters. That’s not a problem when it’s done well, but it isn’t: Jack’s complicated relationship with the Doctor is touched upon only briefly, and even a couple of well-placed nods to ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ can’t save the two companion departures from being both cloying and overly sentimental. At least they make it out alive, which is presumably so that all the development can be left to a later story. As we watch Ryan – the young man who can sink a hoop from twenty yards and fling himself from platform to platform with the precision of Mario, but who still can’t ride a bike – struggle on top of the Sheffield hill where we first met him, it’s left to Graham to point out that the two of them have plenty of other things they could be doing, and somewhere in a house in London, Nicholas Briggs is already polishing his first draft.

We were talking about box-ticking, and ostensibly this delivers on what it promises. There are Daleks galore (they even have a standoff of sorts, although it’s basically a lot of shouting and scrapping, rather like one of those viral news videos you see on Twitter) and there are assorted loose ends tied and other knots left deliberately open, and in what has become an increasingly rare turn of events the Doctor saves the Earth with an actual plan. But it’s difficult not to be a little underwhelmed – that this was a story that tried to do a little too much of everything and didn’t really cover any of its bases as fully as we’d have liked; a bed sheet that’s shrunk in the wash and that doesn’t quite fit. If I were in any way cynical, I might call the John Bishop announcement (which occurred in the episode’s immediate aftermath) a matter of impeccable timing; something to distract us from the mediocrity we’d just experienced. But perhaps that’s unfair. And perhaps it doesn’t matter anyway. Perhaps running out of steam simply means you pootle along gently, in a state of affable content rather than world-beating splendour. And perhaps affable content isn’t such a dreadful thing these days, if it ever was. Perhaps Doctor Who has always been mediocre, and we’ve only just noticed.

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Hic Manebimus Optime

I was going to open this post with an explanation concerning the story you’re about to read. I swiftly abandoned the idea when I realised that I was basically just describing the text, and there’s nothing worse than having someone summarise the contents of a piece of fiction rather than letting it unfold itself as the author originally intended. In many ways it’s a shame, because it was good prose – still, I’ve consigned it to the Fiction Collection page, available elsewhere on this blog.

This particular one came about because over at The Doctor Who Companion we’ve been working on our first ever Christmas Annual – dedicated to the idea of companions and their seasonal escapades. The whole thing is available in PDF form, and in it you’ll find stories about the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, Bill and Heather, and even the Master. Do have a look; if nothing else it’ll give you something to do while we’re all waiting for ‘Revolution of the Daleks’.

Anyway, here’s mine. Cast your mind back, constant reader – all the way back to 2011…

Rory thinks: This will be the last year.

He looks out. The tail end of the winter sunlight has bled away, leaving the sky a deep Prussian blue, like the cloth of a military uniform. Somewhere beyond the exosphere, there are stars, although the house is in a well-lit terrace and you can’t really see them. Rory scratches his head to think that he might, at some point, have visited some of those stars, or at least their nearest neighbours. The man from Leadworth, skipping across the universe in a double heartbeat. Not to mention his other life, half-remembered and best forgotten: 2000 years of plastic solitude, hiding behind a locked door.

In his quieter moments he allows the concept to overwhelm him. And then there is a snap and he is back in the room. In his head, he can hear the Doctor. Don’t be ridiculous, Rory. That’s Iota Trianguli. I’d never take you there; they worship carrots.

He still remembers his encounter with the octopus barbers of Cirrus Minor; how they’d crooned in Gaelic while they snipped and trimmed. He had only gone in to ask for directions, but there had been a cultural misunderstanding and the next thing he knew he was being suckered to a plastic chair. Walking back to the blue box, where the others were waiting, under the twilight of a topaz yellow sun. They had offered sympathy and condolence, and then hidden all the mirrors.

Amy is much better at this stuff, he thinks to himself.

Rory has always felt two chapters behind, as if the Doctor and Amy were discussing plot points he was yet to reach. There are conversations about the travels they had without him, in the days – weeks? months? – before they started travelling together, the failed attempts at piloting the TARDIS, the bedroom with its matching Transformers quilts and electric train set. And then they were here, and the chapter began anew, and still he often feels as if there are pages he has neglected to read.

From the next room: laughter, the sound of Eric Morecambe menacing Arthur Lowe with a replica pistol. Then applause, and the familiarity of Bring Me Sunshine. Rory would quite like to be watching it, but he is keeping an eye on the stuffing.

Amy enters from the shed, carrying something metallic and roughly cylindrical. “This the one?”

“We have more than one blowtorch?”

“I found three. I think two of them may not be ours.” She rests the one she’s carrying on the kitchen worktop. “So. How does this improve the pudding?”

“Caramelisation. It’s like doing a crème brulee.” Rory picks up the blowtorch, dusting it with the sleeve of his cardigan. “I saw it on YouTube.”

Amy purses her lips very slightly and gives him the fish-eye. “Just don’t set fire to the kitchen. You know. Again.”

Rory feels his own eyes involuntarily roll. He puts down the torch and goes back to the cutlery drawer. Pulls out two knives, two forks, two spoons. The cutlery glints by the light of the kitchen.

He hesitates, looking over at the table. Then back at Amy, who has just finished pouring herself another glass of Shiraz. “Are we – ?”

She looks over at him, at the silverware in his hand. “What? Oh. Yeah. Definitely!”

It is a tonal shift from confusion to incredulity, managed in four words. Communication failures are the loose tiles in the marital roof, he has always thought, and this is one of them. He broaches the matter every Christmas. For Amy, it is a question that need never be asked. But they have never really resolved this, and thus it lingers, hanging in the air like an invisible stalactite, made of glass.

Rory reaches into the drawer, rummages, and pulls out another set. He sucks in his teeth.

“I can hear you doing that.”

She does not look round. Rory sighs. “I just – ”

“What? I mean, he’s our friend.”

“Yeah, and he never shows up. Because he thinks we think he’s dead.” Rory takes a split second to process that sentence, checking it for coherence. He decides that it works, despite being somewhat haphazard. Later he will decide that this is probably how Amy views him.

“Except that River knows we know. And she’ll tell him. And he probably told her knowing that she’d tell us, eventually. So he didn’t tell us because he knew she would, probably because he told her not to. Hey.” She flips the tea towel she has been using over her shoulders as if hoisting a knapsack. “It’s what he does, isn’t it?”

Rory has not been this confused since the poison scene in The Princess Bride. It pops into his head now, fully formed. He says, “Right.”

Amy sighs; it is a hand-thrown-to-the-air sigh, which is never a good one. “I know you think it’s pointless, but I’m not giving up.”

Is it pointless? Rory muses on this as he polishes the cutlery, fetching an extra plate from the cupboard to warm with the others. They have waited for the Doctor’s return for years; for some reason Amy always expects him at Christmas, “Because it’s the most inconvenient time, and so that’s exactly when he’ll show up”. He pulls at the oven door and then slides the plate inside: there is the scrape of glazed earthenware. The same ritual since Demon’s Run, since they got this house, since a parallel anomaly that he can no longer fully remember. Every December. This will be their third.

“I don’t like to see your hopes – I don’t know. Dashed. Every year,” he tells her.

“Don’t make this all about me. Besides, it’s Christmas. Christmas is about tradition.”

Rory thinks: So is seppuku.

Rory says: “I just don’t understand why anyone would voluntarily choose to have dinner with their in-laws.”

“Well, maybe not yours.” She tips him a wink; Rory is thrown by the sudden playfulness. A smile momentarily crosses his lips – The Princess Bride is back, the flirting of Buttercup and Westley.

Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he jolts at a repeated word: inconceivable, its dual meaning spiked with black venom. The other thing they do not discuss.

Rory looks away. Amy says “Is that spoon going on the table? Or do you – do you just like holding it?”

The sentences are losing cohesion, which means that Amy is more upset than she is prepared to admit. Rory is suddenly struck with something he will later determine was guilt; in the moment, it feels rather more like a desire to hug his wife.

He puts down the spoon, and then puts his arms around her, trying to somehow press out the anger, squeezing it away like the juice of an orange. Amy buries her face in the wool of his cardigan. It is only the side of her face, indicating a partial acquiescence to his affection as opposed to the total surrender he would prefer, but it will do for a start.

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Amy pulls away, seethes. “Who! Who does it today? They’re supposed to show up on cosy winter evenings when you’ve just finished wrapping the presents. Bit of Holly and the Ivy, mince pie, and then on to the next house.” She is storming across the kitchen; now she reaches up to a shelf, pulling down the yellow plastic gun that is usually kept in reserve for next door’s cat.

The sink tap is turned on, and then off again. From the lounge they can hear the theme to Pointless, and then a second knock. Amy’s battle cry echoes as she marches down the hall. “If that is more carol singers, I have a water pistol!”

There is a Jewish tradition at the Passover Seder: an empty place left for Elijah, longed for and anticipated. And there are other stories, too, of unexpected stars, of unlikely gifts received with bewildered gratitude, of barren women who eventually bore prophets. There are choices and consequences and the two do not always match. We’re all stories in the end, he can remember Amy telling him once, although she couldn’t recall quite where she’d heard it. He wonders how this one will finish, and what choices he might have to make, and whether the two of them will ever be on the same page.

Rory wanders out of the kitchen to see who was at the door.

You can download the 2021 Doctor Who Companion Annual here.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Seasonal Edition)

We’ve got something quite special turning up here at Brian of Morbius over the next day or two, but right now it’s half past six in the morning and I’m just taking a few minutes to do a meme catchup before these go completely out of date. In culinary terms, this is the blogging equivalent of that thing where you get all the leftovers out of the fridge and whisk them into a soup. I suppose. Sorry if that doesn’t work, I’ve not had coffee yet…

We open with a deleted scene from the recent finale to The Mandalorian, indicating that the series’ big reveal was originally planned much, much earlier.

I don’t know what it is; I tried every which way but when you paste it onto Matt Smith’s body it just doesn’t look like Luke Skywalker. Is this because it never did? And we simply bought it because the he had a lightsaber in his hand, had just jumped out of an X-Wing and the whole thing bore an uncanny resemblance to the ending of Rogue One? Or is my Photoshopping off this week? I’d say I think we should be told, but I can’t help thinking it’s not important in the grand scheme of things.

In any case, it’s not the first time I’ve done a Doctor Who / Mandalorian crossover and I suspect it won’t be the last.

<coughs>

Elsewhere, in a TARDIS somewhere in England, the rollout of the much-anticipated Covid vaccine is not going down with everyone, in a quite literal sense.

There are complaints when it’s revealed the Brexit Deal wasn’t quite as oven-ready as we were told.

And having nothing else to do, movie fans have launched into an epidemic of overreacting to unnecessary changes and miscast musical roles.

“AND THAT’S FOR RUINING THE PROM, YOU TWAT!”

We couldn’t end without doing something Christmassy. So here’s an unused still from series 12, part five.

—–

Trouble looms when Clara pops round to Matt Smith’s TARDIS to ask whether he’s got the turkey on.

—–

And trouble also looms beneath a Christmas tree in Oxfordshire when two unsuspecting action figures come up against a deadly enemy.

“Run, Bill! It’s Santa Claws!”

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Have I Got Whos For You (WE WON THE ELECTION edition)

Well. The new I’m A Celebrity lineup is shit, isn’t it?

I don’t know. They’re all in a castle. Isn’t this a bit of a missed opportunity? Couldn’t they get someone with stilts and a hood to chase them round and burn them? That’d be more entertaining than watching Shane Ritchie eat bugs. I swear, I’ve had dental work that was less painful.

We can, at least, console ourselves with the news that The Vicar of Dibley is making a long-overdue and ostensibly ‘welcome’ return, although it will probably be not terribly funny and there’ll be at least three people on Twitter complaining about fat shaming. Socially distanced Zoom-inspired innovation aside, I can’t help thinking this is something Curtis should have left buried, particularly given that half the cast are dead. Still, the BBC are milking this for all its worth, as evidenced by this publicity photo of Dawn French with co-star Roger Lloyd-Pack.

As I write this, Donald Trump’s legal campaign is still thrashing about in its death throes, determined to somehow gain some traction despite having produced absolutely no evidence. There are recounts and rumours of recounts and legal campaigns that are in and out faster than a priest in a brothel; it’s King Cnut (well, almost) shouting at the tide, although at least he possessed a modicum of self-awareness and was doing the whole thing as a joke. You really can’t say the same for the current POTUS, whose twitter feed is awash with false claims and heavily capitalised rants, as if the only viable route forward is to shout something loud enough until people start believing it.

Already the right-wing media are cutting and running, and Trump’s list of allies seems to be diminishing by the day, as the most powerful man in the world is reduced to muted press conferences from tiny desks. Around this time I would normally start to feel a bit sorry for him – he is human, despite his obvious faults – but I really find it incredibly difficult to muster any sympathy for such a graceless loser. It’s also a sad decline for Rudy Giuliani, who went from being a voice of hope and sanity after 9/11 to shouting his mouth off outside a gloomy-looking building in an industrial park, next door to a sex shop.

“Yeah, I’ve buggered this one up, haven’t I?”

Meanwhile, over in Utah (where of course they all voted red), a days-old mystery is solved when new footage emerges of a malfunctioning chameleon circuit.

There is a sense of irony about the timing. It’s funny that they just found it now, at the end of what has been for many people an annus horribalis; it’s as if some sentient alien race has been watching and waiting and is now playing a colossal joke. It’s curious that the first appearance of the 2001 monolith coincides with a tribe of knuckle-dragging monkeys smashing things up and yelling as loud as they can to assert their dominance. Go figure.

In the UK we’ve been watching all this with interest, because it takes our minds off the Brexit debacle, the arguing about ‘Fairy Tale of New York’, and the state of Amazon’s courier system.

Look, it doesn’t matter what Radio 1 does; no one over twenty listens to it and those that do probably have Spotify playlists, so if they want to censor the damned thing then that’s their prerogative. Better that we simply wait out the lockdown as quietly as possible and take comfort in simple pleasures, like board games. “Is he wearing glasses?”

Last night my feed pinged: the ‘Revolution of the Daleks’ trailer drops on Sunday evening, which means I’ll have something else to write about; you have no idea how difficult it is wringing every ounce of possible humour from such meagre pickings. I mean as a fan I don’t care; I can wait. As a creator, it’s frustrating. Still, as news drips through about the unavoidably delayed, inevitably divisive Series 13, a close-up from Jodie Whittaker’s inaugural season reveals exactly why this new one is going to be a bit shorter than usual.

I honestly don’t know why everyone’s complaining; there’s plenty of other stuff to be going on with. Take The Crown, for example, Netflix’s sumptuous costume drama detailing the history of the Royal Family: lavish as Game of Thrones, sensationalist as a National Enquirer exposé, and about as accurate as a Spanish art restorer. Not content with riding roughshod over Prince Philip’s marital history and fabricating scenes between his eldest son and Lord Mountbatten, they’ve now introduced Gillian Anderson as a fiery, uncannily authentic and disturbingly sexy Margaret Thatcher. I suppose it gives her something to do other than shine torches into dark warehouses.

Coleman is, in this image, the epitome of stern serenity, which is more than you can say for the arts world – which was rocked the other week by the unveiling of a new statue commemorating celebrated author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Ordinarily this would have made for a joyous afternoon, except she turned out to be about six inches high, and completely naked. It was all a bit miniscope, really. In fact you might even call it a nightmare. In silver.

“PROTECT THE ARTEFACT!”

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The Smallerpictures Video Dump (2020, part four)

This morning, I’m treading through the archives. There are a fair few videos that haven’t been written up yet: here are the first of them. I hope they are as enjoyable for you to watch as they were frustrating for me to assemble, although that’s possibly overestimating the fun factor.

Still. Lead on, Macduff…

1. Think About Things: The Doctor Who Performance (May 2020)

I write this during our second, not-exactly lockdown – but I want to take you back. Back to May, when we were still cloistered in our homes, and relying on Facebook live streams, Zoom webinars and specially recorded entertainment to keep us from going insane. Did it work? Well, I’m still here, although some days I think I’m dangerously close to fractured.

I’d rather hoped that this year’s Eurovision would be a respite from that – a couple of hours of silly entertainment where we could forget, just for a while, about the situation in which we found ourselves. Instead the show’s producers opted to show lots of videos of people stuck in their homes earnestly reminding us that “We are strong and WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS”, while scarcely featuring the songs at all. I still don’t know what Latvia were planning, because I went to the toilet at the start of that segment and when I came back it was done. Oh I know they meant well, but even so. It was all thoroughly miserable, and more than a little frustrating.

But there was one clear winner, and that was Iceland. The deep, distinct voice of Daði Freyr Pétursson is perhaps the best aspect of ‘Think About Things’, but really, as a package you can’t fault it. The the sharp, Jamiroquai-esque hooks, the eighties synths, the catchy melody, the close part harmonies…and, of course, the video, in which Pétursson and his gang interrupt a family recital in order to frighten assorted aunts and grandparents. Why not intersperse with reactions from Doctor Who characters, I thought? So I did. Well, anything to keep Jackie Tyler away from the drinks cabinet. You know how she gets after she’s had a few.

2. Everybody’s Been At The Helium (May 2020)

If there’s one thing we love doing here at Brian of Morbius, it’s ruining classic scenes. You know, the ones that make people cry. I did it earlier this year by adding a laugh track to the end of ‘Doomsday’. I reimagined the Eleventh Doctor as a creepy stalker. Oh, and I’ve made Clara fart. So taking classic scenes and cranking up the pitch so they all have squeaky voices? Why didn’t I do this years ago?

Largely because I didn’t really know how to do it. The process basically refined itself during lockdown, through other projects. It was simply a matter of finding appropriate footage (which exists in abundance; I was spoilt for choice) and sequencing it. There will inevitably a be a follow-up, probably starring Capaldi, but while you’re waiting for that you can enjoy the sight of River Song losing her rag like a prodigious eight-year-old in a year school production. Meanwhile somebody on YouTube pointed out that it sounded like those Haribo commercials where they overdub sweet-munching adults with the voices of children – and that’s exactly what I was trying to emulate, so job done.

3. Sesame Street’s Wegman Dogs Do David Lynch (June 2020)

I loved Sesame Street. Particularly as a teenager. The catchy songs, the bright and colourful direction, the unexpected celebrity cameos, and perhaps more than anything the sheer variety of what was on offer. I can still remember the moment in my grandmother’s house when we watched the full length version of ‘Put Down The Duckie’ – a song I’m still able to quote, almost word for word, nearly thirty years after I first heard it – and marvelled at the presence of John Candy, Ellen De Generes and Jeremy Sodding Irons.

But variety can be a double-edged sword, and there was one element of Sesame Street I always felt was tonally off. I’m talking about the dogs. You remember. The Weimeraners. They’d appear in regular situations – or rather their heads would appear, superimposed onto human bodies by William Wegman, who also owned the dogs he filmed. And hence we would watch the ‘dogs’ bake cakes and paint houses and do god knows what else, accompanied by cheesy musak and some absurd narration – thanks in no small part to Wegman’s deadpan, borderline creepy delivery.

If you still don’t know what I’m talking about and would like to watch an untainted clip before moving on to the below, then here is a good place to start. Anyway, something about this series always sat uncomfortably with me, and it wasn’t until years later that I figured out what it was. Because this is essentially David Lynch’s Rabbits, years before its time. And so I set about Lynchifying some of the Wegman scenes, as best I could. The results are mixed, but I think the laugh track probably helps. If nothing else you will now get to experience this Children’s Television Workshop staple the same way it was always playing in my head, so I suppose we can call that a win. Oh, and the skipping children? That’s a nod to Lynch as well. If you’re familiar with his early work, you’ll know why.

4. The Thirteenth Doctor Reveal: Revisited (July 2020)

We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Oh, I don’t mean the reveal. You know, the one that broke the internet during the Wimbledon final and had many fans leap for joy while others cried into their strawberries. Suffice it to say that the nation’s collective jaw well and truly dropped: when, some months later, I married up the promo clip with footage from series 8, jaws dropped rather less, but people were at least amused, and it became one of my most popular videos, at least on Facebook.

Fast forward to July this year, and in need of another video to post, I opted to do it again, only this time…well, you’ll see. And don’t panic – the Doctor has been here before, and there’s usually another TARDIS hanging around somewhere.

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Have I Got Whos For You (election omnibus edition)

As I write this, they’re still counting the ballots. Thus we open, perhaps inevitably, with a NASA update.

Waiting for this thing to wrap is like waiting for a new series of Doctor Who. Ninety per cent of it is simply reading arguments on Twitter, casually dissecting soundbites, tossing out manufactured evidence of hidden agendas and realising that whatever the end result, you’re going to have a whole bunch of people who aren’t happy with it. And inevitably James Corden is going to show up somewhere. It is tedious, this game of hourly refreshes and working out how fast the numbers are rising. And we endure it with the same morbid fascination we assign to a car crash, only this is considerably nastier. And so we endlessly swipe down on the phone, hoping that the display will refresh with something new and interesting and perhaps even definitive, and when it doesn’t we go back to the box sets.

“No, it’s just you need something to take your mind off it. Now, which one do you want to watch?”

Doctor Who has its fair share of displaced despots, of course. They usually come to a bad end. Sometimes they’re thrown from the roofs of convention centres. More often they’ll see the light at the eleventh hour, early enough for redemption, if not salvation. Usually they’re trying to forge a pact with the Cybermen, or (even more foolishly) the Daleks; these people have clearly never watched the show. But they have one thing in common: they usually die alone.

Even Fox News, who we thought would be stalwart Trump supporters to the end, have been gradually shifting their stance ever since the moment it became apparent that he might actually come in second. It began some months ago with a rare editorial that appeared to condemn his handling of certain issues, and then over the last few days there have been pockets of anomalies that have instantly trended: most notorious, the early calling of Arizona that prompted a furious phone call from Trump to Rupert Murdoch. It’s by no means done and dusted – I’ve had a friend tell me just this morning that he’s sat through half an hour of rhetoric that to all intents and purposes was an incitement to violence – but even within that there are pepperings of disapproval, the suggestion that he should accept defeat with dignity, which is a little like asking Bruno Tonioli to tone down the theatrics.

If I were an optimist I’d say that it reflects a more considered, editorially balanced stance, one that even leans in the direction of impartiality. But the likely truth is that Fox are the rats deserting the sinking ship. They called this months ago, and have spent the build-up to the election – and its immediate aftermath – in a gradual shift away from the apparent losers, mixed in with the same dogged approval in the vain hopes that we wouldn’t notice. And meanwhile, having lost all but his fiercest defenders, Trump remains, increasingly isolated and shouting at the advancing waves, insisting that he can win this even as every hour that passes only seems to reinforce the likelihood that he cannot.

“I STILL HAVE CONTROL OF THE CRUCIBLE!”

Did they cheat? Well, I’m really not in a position to say whether there’s been mail-in fraud: I’ve yet to see any evidence beyond viral videos of ballot burning that were later debunked, and whenever anyone from the GOP is asked to produce anything that’s actually credible the result is a spaghetti western’s worth of tumbleweed. Could it be that they’re just so determined to win at all costs they’ll say anything they like and hope that if they say it with sufficient volume and frequency, people will start believing it? Probably. It worked for Nigel Farage. It worked for the Mail. It probably works for Kim Jong-Un. And it rubs off. I’m not saying that everyone who voted for him is a deluded idiot – right or wrong, I suspect that it’s possible to come to the conclusion that he’s the right man for the job from a position of rational intelligence, as opposed to the slavish adulation that won him the vote. But the sensible people aren’t the ones who appear on TV. Certainly the image of Trump supporters, frantically bombarding the polling stations in undeclared states – demanding that all activity cease in states where he was winning and ardently continue in states where he was losing – brought one particular recollection to mind.

While all this has been going on, the UK has watched with a mixture of mirth and revulsion. The fact that America seems to be on the verge of a civil war is enough to conjure a certain sense of already seen, as the French might have said: when it comes to divisive political gambits that split the country we have form, I don’t think we’re in any position to be smug about it. Certainly the bulk of British people I’ve encountered online seem to see Trump as a joke, but he has his defendants, and they are as ardent (and frequently as ill-informed) as many of their Transatlantic counterparts. It all gets a little depressing when you’re scrolling through a Facebook feed to look for entertainment news, and everyone and their grandmother has an opinion about the election, and most of the time they can’t actually spell. But hey, at least there’s a new series of The Mandalorian.

“Yeah, they want it back now.”

Speaking of entertainment news, it was mostly about one man this week: the Hollywood legend and whisky aficionado (and, we must acknowledge, beater of women) that is Sean Connery. The first man to play James Bond on the big screen, he remains for many the definitive 007 (although the definitive Bond film is arguably The Spy Who Loved Me; certainly that’s the best of them). In later years his career was defined by memorable supporting roles in average films – The Untouchables springs to mind – along with a few absolute clangers (step forward, The Avengers) and one or two genuine classics (Finding Forrester).

But there was a point at which Connery ceased to be an actor and became an icon. It happens to many of the best: it’s happened to Michael Caine, who, as good as he is in the likes of Children of Men, is always playing Michael Caine. Similarly, at an unspecified point in cinema, right about the time he became a national treasure, Sean Connery largely stopped playing characters and started playing Sean Connery. And it didn’t matter whether he was playing Richard the Lionheart, Allan Quatermain, or Indiana Jones’ dad.

“What about the boat? We’re not going on the boat?”

Connery was, of course, one of those people we thought would never leave us, who lived out his twilight years quietly on the other side of the ocean, except when the press wanted a soundbite about Scottish independence. It is difficult to imagine Trump going gently into that good night: he’s more the David Tennant type, thrashing and screaming and eking out every last available second of his allocated time, arguably overstaying his welcome, before standing alone, even as he can hear the knocks on the door, murmuring “I don’t wanna go…”

If nothing else, it’s taken our minds off Covid, inasmuch as anything really can. We’ve supposedly entered Lockdown 2.0, although I’m really not sure how that works because we never really had a 1.1 or 1.4 or any sort of beta, unless you count the regional isolation programmes that hit the north of England in September and October. Indeed, the government is keen to avoid the word ‘lockdown’, precisely because of the negative connotations it brings to mind, and prefers to call it an advanced containment programme or something else I can’t be bothered to Google.

Myself, I prefer to call a spade a spade (is that racist now? Please tell me if it is; I can’t find a reliable source). Apart from bubbles and schools, it’s more or less as it was. The pubs are closed, and we’re not allowed to go out, except to exercise and acquire essentials. I guess it’s back to the Series 10 rewatch.

“You’ve been panic buying, haven’t you?”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Halloween special)

We sure picked a creepy night for a drive, huh, Scooby Doo?

Let us delve, constant reader (I do have one, and you know who you are) into a world of the dark and freakish, where things go bump in the night and lightning flashes are timed with jump scares, and when someone hears a noise and calls out “Frank? Is that you?” it’s never Frank. Some of these are new – others I’ve been saving. (One is at least two years old. I don’t know what that says about me.)

We open (because this is Doctor Who) in deep space.

I must apologise to Cyanide and Happiness, whose work I have shamelessly reappropriated. Still, it kind of works.

Elsewhere on a near identical freighter:

I honestly don’t know what I was thinking with this one. It wasn’t Alien Day, because I covered that elsewhere. An appropriate caption might be “You’ve let yourself go, Peri.”

Back to Earth now, and a forest in Norway:

“Ah, we’ll take him with us. He looks harmless enough.”

I confess I got a little catty with this one. “What is it?” said more than one person. I explained. “Oh, right. Minecraft,” was the response. “That thing for little kids. No wonder I’m not interested.” This was on a Doctor Who forum. I mean honestly.

Of course Doctor Who is for kids. Just look at the warm and welcoming expression on Tennant’s face. He never stood a chance.

Meanwhile, in an old motel twenty miles outside Fairvale, California, an unsuspecting Matt Smith throws his case on the bed, his clothes on the floor, and takes a shower.

“It’s been a while since I bought women’s clothes.”

The Bates Motel is, of course, exactly the sort of place the TARDIS would land, given its propensity towards taking the Doctor to the most incessantly horrible places in the universe. Which has nothing to do with Gaiman’s “Where you needed to go” bollocks; it’s just if you’re on a tropical beach surrounded by dolphins there’s no story, unless said story involves singing dolphins and a heavy-handed message about plastic in the water. Oh well, it’s better than having sex with the fish.

Of course, in such circumstances the best thing to do is to hot-foot it to the TARDIS and simply go to the pub, assuming you pick a good one.

“That you, Clara?”

And pan out, and of course it’s revealed that all of this is taking place in a snow globe being held by a prince.

“Hang on, they’ve got the Paradigm Daleks. Can we go in?”

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The Picture Round

Greetings, brethren! Today, I bring you a selection of coasters.

Well, not really. But here’s how it breaks down: in my mother-in-law’s parlour, deep in the bosom of semi-rural Shropshire, there is a collection of tableware that has long fascinated me. Each coaster contains a number of drawings, ostensibly unrelated, but sharing a common link – for example:

Solving these is a simple matter of breaking down the phonetics – so the first, for example, is Austria, or Horse-Tree-R. Number two is Pear-Egg-Y (Paraguay), and I’m sure you can figure out the rest yourselves. These rather dreadful puns are the work of Simon Drew, an illustrator who lives and works in Devon – a fellow Reading alumnus, and who Wikipedia tells me came joint first in a 2011 episode of Come Dine With Me. Which may be something to look up one day when I’m ironing, although you can of course never really watch a single episode of Come Dine With Me; you have to watch an entire block, and I seldom have enough shirts to cover the amount of time this takes.

Drew’s work extends far beyond cryptic visual puns, but that’s as far as we’re going this morning. Because it was on a Thursday a couple of weeks ago that I had the idea of turning various Doctor Who phrases into visual picture clues, and the six I produced before running out of steam are reproduced below. Some are fairly obvious. Some are obscure. Some will require a certain cultural awareness, but in those cases when you don’t know who you’re looking at you should, I hope, be able to come up with enough surrounding information to fill the gaps.

Have fun. I may do another one of these days, but right now I really need to get on with the ironing.

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4.

5.

6.

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Doctor Who and the Misplacement of Criticism

A curiously serendipitous thing happened the morning I got up to write this post. I was reading about Tom Ellis (he of Lucifer and ‘Last of the Time Lords’), and his secret and not-terribly-surprising hope that they’d ask him to play Doctor Who. The piece’s only comment came from a person I shall not name, in words I shall subtly paraphrase rather than quote directly, but it read “That would have been great. Somewhere there’s a parallel universe where this happened. And better yet, we wouldn’t have Chibnall.”

There’s something head-scratching about all this. It’s not the criticism, which is a democratic right, and perhaps not entirely baseless. It’s the context – or specifically the lack thereof. Here we have a press snippet about an actor who appeared in the show thirteen years back, playing a relatively minor role, and who – while he features heavily on the fans’ Most Wanted list – has had absolutely bugger all to do with it since his brief, one-episode foray. And yet here was Marcus (yes, that’s a pseudonym) using it as a sounding board to tell anyone who would listen about the current state of Doctor Who and just how rubbish it has become.

Why does it happen? Because it’s everywhere. I’m not talking about threads that ask for your favourite episodes from Chibnall’s run to date, or listicles that detail our Hopes For Series 13. I’m not talking about pictures of Jodie Whittaker in a dress and makeup in front of a grey background accompanied by the words “Love her”. I can understand why fans vent their frustrations about current story arcs when it comes up naturally in conversation, although the frequency and ferocity of these vents is something we may come back to.

But on a post about ‘Snakedance’? Or the War Doctor? Or, I don’t know, fruit? “I hate apples,” reads the Tumblr post. “Apples are rubbish.” In the next panel, an image of the Doctor throwing a plate through the open door of Amelia Pond’s house, accompanied by the words “AND STAY OUT!”. “That’s what we should be saying to Chibnall,” says someone further down. Or it’ll be a post announcing that it’s been thirty-two years since ‘The Happiness Patrol’, upon which it’s a cast iron guarantee that at least one smart-alec will quip “Still better than anything from the last two years.”

In all fairness, a remark such as this is only marginally less interesting than the revelation that we’re celebrating the thirty-second anniversary of ‘The Happiness Patrol’ (something I never really want to know about, as much as I enjoy it), but this is hardly the point. What’s to be gained here? Do these fans really feel so marginalised and helpless and believe in Doctor Who so passionately that they see it as essential to state their case at every conceivable opportunity? Is it a form of addiction, where you have to do it every so often or else you’ll get the shakes? Because I sometimes feel it’s like walking into a McDonalds and shouting “Wow, THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE ONE IN HEADINGTON”. There’s nothing illegal about it, but it’s idiotic behaviour.

I can’t help feeling that at the heart of this is a deep-rooted personal insecurity, whereupon the value of your life is measured not in afternoons and coffee spoons but in how much noise you can make. These people need the attention that comes from speaking their mind, and the anonymity and remoteness of the internet makes it all the easier. Why bother to account for yourself when the worst that happens is a ban or a block? Why learn social graces when Facebook and Twitter are the very hub for misanthropic discourse – disguised, with a most delicious sense of irony, under the false moniker of Social Media? You can hardly move for posts wishing death or castration on the man at the top. Did it happen under Moffat? It certainly did, although I think it was far less prevalent. Is that because we have a woman in the TARDIS? I’m not saying.

“Yes,” we’re told, “but THE WRITING SUCKS”. And all right, yes. Sometimes it does. There is a place for adhering to certain standards: we must acknowledge that ‘It Takes You Away’, for all its quirkiness, is not a good episode; that the dialogue is sometimes clunky and awkward; that there is a shoehorning of Positive Values that occasionally grates. I’ve written about all this elsewhere and it does not need rehashing. Doctor Who is not always very good; it may be that it is currently not as good as it has been in previous years. Those of us who lived through Sylvester McCoy have been here before, but that’s not necessarily an excuse: there are periods where it’s really very good and quite popular, and periods where it isn’t. We’re in one now, or we’re not, depending on whom you ask.

But I do not think that it needs the spitting of feathers. I do not think that repeated comments in decontextualised conversations achieve anything. They only wind up the rest of us. The BBC do not care about the grumblings of a few white men (and they are almost always white men, these gatekeepers; make of that what you will). They have a new demographic in mind. There is a core audience who feels marginalised and abandoned but who is ultimately unwilling to accept, as perhaps we must accept, that Doctor Who has moved on without us: that it is not the show we knew when we were growing up, and that it is this sense of abandonment that has allowed it to survive this long. And yet here you are, Marcus, with your comments about how disappointed you were with the supposed destruction of a continuity that actually never existed in the first place. You’re losing your rag over a children’s show. And here I am, losing my rag with someone losing their rag over a children’s show. Sometimes I wonder which of us is the bigger idiot.

Criticism is fine, when it’s in the right place, and when it’s invited. Everything else is by turns toxic, unhelpful, and unpleasant. Mansplaining is endemic: so is the tendency to back up your beliefs with comments about audience views. From your perspective, it is apparently not enough that you do not enjoy Doctor Who; it’s far more important that no else does either. And all this was in response to a question about Susan. Congratulations, Marcus, you win this week’s award for the most pointless non-sequitur. The mind boggles.

But seeing as you and others like you are determined to make unhelpful and unrelated rants about Chibnall a daily activity, I’ve made it easy. I took the liberty of finding some choice quotes from New Who and sexing them up a bit, so they’re nicely twisted to reflect your views. And the next time you want to hijack a Donna Noble appreciation thread, you can simply paste one in, just in time for me to show up and link to this piece to show everyone else what an idiot you’re being. Because I’m still watching you, you know. I’ve learned to intervene a little less, these days, because it seldom goes anywhere, but just occasionally, when you’re being particularly rancid, I’ll swoop. And I probably won’t win – the best we can hope for is a block-induced stalemate – but it’s quite fun watching you harrumph. Remember that, before you post.

Or, you know, you could simply find a new and less aggressive pastime. But we both know that’s not going to happen, don’t we?

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Have I Got Whos For You (two for the price of one edition)

Hello kids. Here, have a Pope meme. In fact, have two.

“You are consistent,” said Melinda Malovey (not her real name), discussing the first image, “in telling us in a passive-aggressive way that you don’t like the Thirteenth Doctor.”

Really? Gosh, that’s news to me. I assume it’s because the Pope is holding Whittaker in the same position that you’d hold the communion wafer that you’re about to break. So what, you figured he’s about to rip her in half? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to tear plastic? Maybe he’s about to part the legs and have a look to see if there’s anything up there, something I suppose we might ascribe to repressed Catholic sexuality. This is like a scene from Bottom or something.

No, listen: I wanted to do a Pope thing because everyone else was, and my initial idea was to have him holding Whittaker in the one hand and Darth Vader in the other, ostensibly as some sort of Who / Star Wars comparison, only when I actually did the Photoshopping it made more sense to leave her on her own. And people have jumped to conclusions because they only see half the stuff on your feed, and the Report button is just a swipe away. Which I suppose is the sort of thing that happens in groups; everyone makes assumptions, and everything betrays authorial intent.

If I sound a little testy it’s because I write this, dear reader, on an afternoon I’ve been muted for having a go at someone who refused to accept either the concept of male privilege or the fact that he was guilty of it, and when I challenged him on his (repeated) comments his reaction was “Oh, just leave me alone”. This was right before he became whiny and foul-tempered because I wouldn’t simply accept what the moderators referred to as “a difference of opinion” – there is, in some groups, a strong rule set that espouses Any And All Views, however insane, because it’s easier to lock the thread than it is to pick a side. So if you actually stand by your principles (something I do only sparingly these days) then you pay the price.

Anyway, these are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have others. There is political content in this blog, and on my page, and in groups that allow it. I make no apology for this. I see a lot of stuff I ignore, and if I’m arguing with you then there is usually because I feel strongly about it. And the government are fair game, particularly when they screw up the country as much as this elitist, xenophobic, dispassionate bunch of defund-the-BBC fuckwits are currently managing.

You know the worst thing about that Fatima photo? It was on a stock site, and they didn’t even ask permission – something they really should have done, given that her face is clearly visible. It’s another thing that was clearly Not Properly Thought Through – you know, like when you cut corners by killing the software design budget for your Track-and-Trace database, and doing it in Excel instead.

Anyway, Fatima’s OK now, and faces a bright future in ballet.

While we all sit around making jokes about reskilling, the Government have got on with the oh-so-serious business of dealing with the catastrophic state we find ourselves in by adhering to a needlessly complicated and logistically impractical workflow that aims to be both healthy and beneficial for schools and the economy and as usual doesn’t really manage to be either. In practice this means dividing up the UK into different segments and colouring them in. Their mandate for containing Covid has literally become a year seven geography lesson. I scoff, but it’s not funny at all if you’re in Liverpool.

It should be noted at this point that this applies to England only: Scotland and Wales have their own system. Indeed, Wales has gone on full alert, banning any visitors from Tier 3, with local law enforcement ramping up their security arrangements in order to repel would-be invaders.

Meanwhile, the 2020 U.S. Presidential campaign is hit by scandal, when a series of emails are discovered in the most unlikely of places.

“Dear Hunter, thank you inviting me to DC and – Jeff, is this your laptop?”

What else happened this week? Well, on Monday we got to see Jodie Whittaker research her family history, which proved to be far less interesting than I thought it was going to be – mostly because I’ve never watched an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? and hadn’t realised how shamelessly manipulative it all was. We were treated to numerous images of Jodie looking by turns wistful and reflective, reading out loud everything we could see on the screen just before Phil Davis told us exactly what had just happened, as if recapping after a commercial break that only happens on BBC America. “I’ve never met them,” says Jodie, wrapping a scarf around herself, as she stands by a grave. “But I feel like I know them.”

Anyway, I made a drinking game out of it, which was a productive use of the time. And it was lovely to see Sid’s Cafe again.

The kids and I have been gaming. I’m on Rise of the Tomb Raider; Thomas is working his way through Geometry Dash and enjoying the Minecraft DLC in Super Smash Bros, along with its questionable victory screen. One game we all enjoy is Among Us, the whodunnit smash that’s currently enjoying a lot of press coverage in the wake of the announcement that InnerSloth have cancelled the sequel so that they can improve the original. The game, for the uninitiated, is a multiplayer murder mystery on board a spaceship on an unknown mission, designed for quick play.

In each round you’re assigned a role – either a crewmate or, if you’re lucky, imposter. The crewmates all have tasks to perform. The imposter’s job is to sabotage those tasks, and murder as many people as they can without getting caught in the act. By turns, the surviving crewmates vote on who they think the murderer is: the most popular choice is ejected, irrespective of whether or not they’re actually guilty. Rounds begin with the announcement that “There is 1 imposter among us.”

“It’s the current regeneration,” said more than one person. “She’s the imposter. #notmydoctor.” I really should have seen it coming, shouldn’t I?

Anyway, the idea of imposters and sabotage on a galactic freighter – a sort of interstellar Cluedo – really is quite Whovian in its concept; it plays out like ‘The Robots of Death’. We’ve been here before, but there’s nothing new under the sun and I can’t help thinking that some sort of episode based around it – however meta we go – might actually stand a chance of working.

“Oh God. Did it vent? DID ANYBODY SEE IT VENT?”

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