Occupy White Walls Does Doctor Who (part one)

Today, gentle reader, and after a protracted absence – hey, it’s sunny and we’re allowed out now! – we delve deep into the heady realms of art, and how it’s displayed. And yes, there is a definite Doctor Who link, but you’ll have to read on (or casually scroll to the bottom; it’s bad manners but I’ll be none the wiser) to find out exactly what it is.

It’s a strange name for a video game, but then Occupy White Walls is a strange sort of game. That’s if you can call it a game at all. It’s more of a virtual art curator / gallery-building experience. Broadly speaking you’re given a sea of blank space (literally: the game opens on a pleasant oceanic backdrop and an island of floating white floor in the middle of it) and encouraged to build your own gallery. You do this by placing blocks – different floors, different walls, ceilings, lighting, architecture – wherever you want them. You’re free to redesign your space at will, change colours, move and even delete structures entirely: some objects will snap into place, but as a general rule nothing is off limits. When you’re ready, you hang artwork on the walls. Well, it’s a gallery, right?

Said art can be aquired from DAISY, the in-house virtual AI, who lists paintings seemingly at random and then learns over time to filter them according to the sort of stuff you like. This never really seemed to work in practice for me – I’d find renaissance art and dull Victorian portraits all over the place, despite concentrating almost exclusively on modern art and photography – although I gather things have improved since I stopped buying new art. Paintings vary in size and scale, from small photos that you have to squint to examine to the likes of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, which is so big it required me to build a new room (well, outside platform) in which to house it. Artists range in scope – traditional landscape painters, religious artworks and surrealist masterpieces are all represented, and anything has the potential to be included provided they’ve either struck a deal or it’s in the public domain (so there is, alas, no Dali as of yet).

Expanding your gallery space costs money – which takes place in the form of virtual currency known simply as ‘cubes’ – and you earn more of these by opening your viewing space to the public in thirty-minute sessions, whereupon it may be visited either by anyone who happens to be logged in, or a collection of bots who phase in and out of the gallery space, nod appreciatively at whatever you happen to have hanging there and perform the occasional backflip. Opening and closing repeatedly is the quickest way to level up, which means there’s a certain amount of grinding early on, but once you reach level 30 you unlock all the assets in the range and things really start to get interesting.

If you want the gist of how the whole thing works, you could do a lot worse than read this, but the biggest selling point of OWW is that it’s got no selling point at all – it’s available at no cost, bar a supplementary soundtrack album (which you are under no compulsion to buy, although I did) and the option to upload your own artwork at $9 a pop. And if it seems a little silly, having your own space on which to buy and hang virtual art, it’s worth bearing in mind that the game came out not long before Covid hit, and given that we spent much of last year stuck indoors, its presence on Steam couldn’t have been any more timely. Certainly the nature of the experience – log on, do a little world-building, casually and graduallly expanding your rooms, changing the sky, re-imagining the floors, filling a room with statues, perhaps adding an extra wing when you’re particularly flush…there’s something vastly therapeutic about it. It’s not a substitute for the Tate, but it’s a good start.

I’ve seen a fair bit in OWW – celestial glass-walled viewing areas looking out onto the wilds of the universe; vast Nordic-themed lakeside galleries; underwater treasure troves; homages to the London underground where Monet and Renoir jostle for space next to the ‘MIND THE GAP’ signs; even a recreation of the space station from 2001, with a door that leads into the hotel room that Keir Dullea reaches at the film’s conclusion. But it doesn’t really do a lot when it’s written down. Walking round a virtual gallery or two really is the best way to fire up your imagination, and it was only when I’d seen what other people had achieved that I started to come up with a creative vision of what I could do with a workspace limited only by funds and my ageing computer’s memory.

Scroll up a bit. That overhead shot you can see? The one with the chess board in the middle? That’s my gallery. Well, a part of it. The waterfront theme didn’t really kick into gear until I built the pier you can see just above. It takes its cue from the one at Boscombe: long and minimalist, and there’s a copy of The Scream hanging on one of the glass walls at the end. From its edge, you can see the corners of the bricked industrial area and the large installation space where I hung a Mondrian and then built an enormous replica out of coloured walls to go alongside it. The whole space grew organically, and owes quite a lot to Frank Lloyd Wright, but I didn’t realise this when I was expanding – it was all about just adding rooms to offset the tedium of lockdown.

But why stop at one gallery? Why just one, when you can do this?

The Highway is perhaps the work I’m most proud of. I’d already made the Chapel – a church interior designed as a place of reflection and remembrance – but wondered what would happen if I built a long, straight road that stretched off into the distance, as far as I could, and just put things alongside it. There is an abandoned, crumbling warehouse and an electrical substation. There is a gaudy sixties bridge and a tunnel that leads to nowhere. Halfway up there is a memorial garden. And there is a vast slab of grey stretching off to the right, all tall oppressive corridors, that opens out into a large open plaza where I built a mosaic on the walls.

But there was another reason to build the Highway, and this, oh faithful reader, is where the Doctor Who connection kicks in. Because if you wander up, you’ll notice that the Angel of the North overlooks a nondescript-looking building that might be just a wee bit familiar.

Designing the interior required a certain amount of improvisation, but after a bit of jiggery pokery I managed to get the counter area more or less the way I wanted it. The seats were trickier, because of what’s available – what you see here is a second draft, and it’s still not quite got the booth feel I really wanted, but it’s not a bad estimate. While it was impossible to recreate all the art they had in the original, I managed to at least capture the feel – and another mosaic on the back wall served as a decent substitute for the stars-and-stripes flag.

But the best bit? There’s a door at the back, and – well…

All right. It’s a disaster. You have no idea how difficult it was to build a convincing hexagonal structure that looked like it might pass for a console. What you can see is a collection of metal desks, awkwardly grouped together into something that looks vaguely right until you get too close. Oh, and there’s a single column of light stretching upwards; it doesn’t move but perhaps we could just say it’s parked? The round things are good, anyway. Even if I don’t know what they’re for.

It wasn’t the only TARDIS I built – but you’ll have to wait until next time to see that one, as it’s a whopper and it’s going to take us some time to walk around it properly. In the meantime, here’s a little post-credit scene. It takes place at Mr Webley’s World of Colour (yes, that is a ‘Nightmare in Silver’ reference). Unlike many of my other creations, this was always envisaged as a definitive place with a beginning and an end – a large, multi-storeyed building in which each room deals with aspects of a different slice of the rainbow, with lighting, decor and artwork to match.

You get the idea. It’s a one-way system (which was disturbingly prophetic) but there is a place of respite halfway along, taking the form of a rooftop garden of which I’m reasonably proud.

In case you’re wondering how I managed black and white, the black is a small dark room with a projector broadcasting looped footage from Un Chien Andalou – something a number of people have done. Although I’m pretty sure none of them have did what I did in the white room.

“And that,” says the First Doctor, “is a chair with a frog on it.”

Coming up next time: swimming pools that are not in the library, and a never-before-seen shot of the TARDIS toilet. Speaking of which, I’ll just leave this here…

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The Queen and I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Philip

We were in the car. I was gearing up for the triumphant final chorus of ‘Baker Street’ – you know, that incredible moment when you’re expecting the sax again and instead you get Hugh Burns’ guitar solo – when the radio went dead. This isn’t entirely out of character for Jack FM, who, while generally pretty reliable given their dependence on pre-recorded announcements and a queue of MP3s, are not averse to the odd bit of dead air. I tutted in annoyance, and carried on up the A34.

A minute or two later the tuner kicked into life again, only instead of bombastic voices spouting innuendo and bad puns it was two people having an actual conversation, something that simply doesn’t happen once the breakfast show’s finished. I caught the words ‘world tour’ and turned to Daniel. “Google Prince Philip,” I said.

He did, and then announced “Ah. Yes, he’s died.”

No more Gerry Rafferty, then. Instead we got all the stuff the BBC have kept stored on that petabyte hard drive for Operation Forth Bridge (presumably so named because it never seems to bloody end). We had the tributes, the historical documentaries, the archive footage, an entire afternoon’s worth of half-mast flags billowing in the breezes of early spring, and of course that inevitable bit when every single political commentator and writer and religious figure they could get without breaking Covid regulations crawls out of the woodwork to have a chat, saying almost precisely the same thing that the last person did. Meanwhile the only network channel broadcasting anything else is CBeebies, and even then people were complaining, either because a ‘BREAKING NEWS’ banner took up the bottom third of the screen or because Mister Tumble wasn’t wearing black.

“Yes, I know you don’t like the colour. But the BBC are putting their foot down, and it’s just for a couple of weeks.”

I know the Facebook groups well enough to leave the subject of Prince Philip well alone, particularly since the Harry and Meghan interview that seems to have damaged Anglo-American relations to an extent not seen since the Boston Tea Party. I don’t know, I assume it’s because Meghan’s one of theirs, and therefore any hostility she encountered within the Royal Family must have been racism or xenophobia or a little bit of each. It’s not at all possible that she didn’t get on with people simply because no one really gets on with their in-laws. Depending on what you read, Meghan Markle is either a strong, independent and blameless woman who’s become a victim of racist bullying, despised by the establishment because she didn’t fit the mould, or an opportunistic prima donna who was awful to the palace staff, contemptuous of Kate Middleton and whose modus operandi was to drive a wedge between Harry and his brother.The fact that the most likely reality is an awkward combination of both does not seem to have occurred to anyone, at least anyone who reads the papers, but I suppose the world is so much easier when we can view it in black and white.

Anyway. I watched one thread crumble into a horrendous argument between people who thought Prince Philip was a national treasure and people who thought he was a bigoted racist, and found myself wondering whether it was in fact possible to be both, and whether people’s faults do not eradicate their humanity; nor should their good qualities prevent us from addressing their flaws. No one is either fully good or fully evil, and Doctor Who fans should know this as well as anyone; still, it’s quite an eye-opener when social media reduces any sort of sensible conversation to an us-and-them slanging match where you’re either on one side or on the other, and as awkward as they are to read and moderate they do serve as a timely reminder that most people in the fandom aren’t nearly as enlightened as they’d like to think they are. It only takes the death of a contentious figure to bring out the ugliness in people, and if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that while it’s not always possible to be kind, it is comparatively easy to at least be silent.

Anyway. There we were, mid-Saturday, wandering around Legoland (which we booked long before the prince shuffled off his mortal coil), me having completely ignored my own lesson about kindness when I was shouting at the kids to get ready at eight o’clock that morning, because “every minute we waste here is ten minutes in traffic”. I needn’t have bothered. For all my fears about gridlock and hordes of crowds lining streets they’d been instructed to avoid, the streets of Windsor were all but deserted, and it seems that for once people actually listened. Well, most of them.

“Oh,” I said, scanning the news. “There’s a topless woman been arrested outside Windsor Castle.”

Emily snorted. “Is it Barbara?”

“Too soon…”

They stuck the Legoland flags at half mast and apparently things went off without a hitch. I didn’t watch it. I didn’t even read about it. I don’t want to hear from body language experts and lip readers and disgraced butlers. Families get the right to grieve in private, even the ones we pay for. My father tells me they dropped the coffin into the floor so it could be taken down to the vault, which gave me the idea of being cremated at Blackpool Ballroom so that they could lower my coffin into the floor with the organist.

“At least you watched it,” I said. “Mum would have been pleased you watched it. You were never one for the pageantry.”

“Ah,” he said. “But no one does pageantry like the British.”

Which is probably true.

“You’re supposed to be holding a minute’s silence, not a minute Silence.”

Anyway. What do I do at times like this? I head over to Fireworks and do a bit of image manipulation. And for this I have ransacked – I admit with a certain amount of shame – the glossy photo special in the Daily Mail. Only now Prince Philip’s all over Doctor Who instead. Which is probably OK; I mean the Queen’s a fan.

I declare this thing open, whatever it is.

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Have I Got Whos For You (edition speciale)

Everybody enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend, then? Sally Sparrow did.


Before we go any further, I am saving the Prince Philip stuff. It’s coming later. In the meantime you will have to put up with pop culture instead, because I’ve gone through what I’ve collected for this morning and that seems to the be the common thread.

We start with Line of Duty – a show I have never watched, never intend to watch and hold absolutely no interest in, but even if you don’t tune in it’s hard to escape the buzz on social media. This last episode seems to have been all about killing off major characters and dropping in monumental cliffhangers about the identity of chief (heretofore unseen) villains, and how they might be related to people we know. I think. I mean I’ve not actually watched the damned thing. All I do know is that Ted Hastings has been trending for the last week, and it’s going to go through the roof if they actually kill him off.


Talking of Doctor Who (because that’s mostly how we roll) there’s a rumbling of intrigue from the fandom as they unveil the new trailer for The Suicide Squad, the upcoming sequel to 2016’s imaginatively titled Suicide Squad. I am trying to work out the logic behind this – it sounds a bit like releasing Empire Strikes Back under the name The Star Wars, as if dropping in a definite article is enough of a distinction. I mean aren’t people going to get confused? I know I already am, and I understand grammar.

Fun trivia: I once spent half an hour at a housewarming party listening to an argument between two roleplaying geeks who couldn’t agree on whether the first Star Wars film is called Star Wars or A New Hope. It was tremendously enjoyable to watch, although I still can’t remember how, or even if they resolved it. At least they weren’t arguing about Star Trek Into Darkness. We’d still be in that lounge.

Anyway, there’s been a fair amount of talk about Capaldi’s hair, or lack thereof, and it does seem that the Twelfth Doctor is imitating his style.

He looks like he’s got half a dozen screwdrivers embedded in his skull, which presumably happened after a particularly ferocious argument with River. Or maybe it’s a fetish thing. You pick. And with speed, please, because I’m now actually thinking about this instead of merely writing it down. Oh god.

Anyway. Speaking of Star Wars, the casting for the Obi Wan Kenobi spin-off looks absolute shit.

(I’d love to say I had a few people who thought this was real, but the sad truth is that they didn’t get it. I guess my sense of humour is just a little too vague sometimes.)

Easter interlude!

You won’t have failed to notice, if you were following international news a while back, that a boat got stuck in the Suez Canal, presumably as a result of a bet as to whether its helmsman could manage a three point turn. It was there for weeks as the authorities tried everything to loosen it, including rubbing a bit of WD-40 on the hull, but without success, as the world and its neighbours all came along to have a look.

“For the sixteenth time, we’re not blowing it up.”

More movie news, and the revelation that a familiar face is to reappear in the upcoming, much anticipated Ghostbusters: Afterlife has prompted Doctor Who fans to scour through old episodes to find out what he’s been doing all these years. And lo and behold.

Anyway. For me, after weeks of kicking around, this is ending on something of a brighter note – because lockdown is more or less done with, kind of. We still can’t stay anywhere, and when we visited Chessington yesterday the Gruffalo ride wasn’t open, but I may actually be able to go back to work soon – and at least I can go out on a Friday and visit somewhere that isn’t B&M. Along with, you know, just about everyone else in the country.

“Listen, I’d love to stay and chat, but Primark’s about to open.”

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The Smallerpictures Video Dump (2020-2021)

My YouTube channel quietly turned ten years old in January this year. I’d completely forgotten until I noticed the date. It all started because of a TV show that Emily and I had watched one evening, and which we decided to make a little less scary by adding Michael Crawford to the mix. So when John Hurt is bothered by rattling doors, self-moving furniture and things that generally go bump in the night, it’s because he’s got Frank Spencer standing outside in the corridor. If you’d really like to know more, you’re welcome to watch the video that started everything off, although personally I’d prefer it if you went straight to its remastered equivalent, which is considerably slicker on the editing front.

Anyway: I’m still producing video content, although I’ve slackened off a little of late to get this novel finished. But every so often an idea comes up, and every so often I’ll be sat at the keyboard, frantically moving frames, replacing dialogue and saving the thing every ten seconds in case my software crashes (which happens a lot, alas). And there’s still a channel and while it’s never going to reach Mr Beast’s level of popularity, I remain quite proud of the body of work I’ve accumulated over the last decade. Here’s some of the stuff I was working on last year.

1. What Did The Doctor See Outside The TARDIS? (August 2020)

When we look back at how we handled Covid, and the people who got us through it, then Pip Madeley is likely to be featured in the list of heroes. Pip is great – amusing, naturally talented and one of those fans who just gets it, realising that the best way to enjoy Doctor Who is to actually enjoy it, preferably without taking either the show or yourself too seriously. And it was with this attitude in mind, presumably, that he came up with an ongoing series that entertained us all during those first few months: namely ‘What are the Movellans watching whilst in lockdown‘?

There were tons of them. Stuck on that spaceship the Movellans have been watching Eastenders, old commercials (many of which starred Who alumni) and even the train wreck that was the 50th anniversary afterparty, specifically when Jo Wiley tried to talk to One Direction over a satellite link. There were things on there we’d never seen before, and a bunch of stuff we’d not seen in years, rendered all the more ridiculous when mixed with gaping stares and stunned silence. Pip followed it up with a series set in the Big Finish car park.

Anyway. Fast forward (or rewind; time is relative) back to August last year and a limited edition series that I launched over ten days, which saw Peter Capaldi reacting to a bunch of different things when he was looking for Gallifrey at the end of ‘Death In Heaven’. They were easy to do, once I had the template, and quite a lot of fun into the bargain; the toughest part was working out the optimal order in which to sequence them. The one I’ve embedded below basically sets the pattern, but if you really wanted to you could watch the whole thing on YouTube – that said I particularly recommend day four, day eight and, if you watch nothing else, day ten

2. The Lodger: Alternate Ending (October 2020)

Question. Can you take the scene where they’re running out of the flat-that’s-really-a-spaceship during the closing scenes of ‘The Lodger’ and splice it together with the bathtub descent in Paddington? Answer: no, you can’t. Not really. Not without looping the audio, which makes for a rather sloppy edit. But it had been ages since I’d done a video so it was the best I could manage at the time. In any event it gave a few people a few laughs, and that’s really only the ever reason why I do this.

3. The Handforth Parish Council Does Doctor Who (February 2021)

Well, this one exploded a bit.

My father worked as a clerk for a local council for some years, and he can testify as to the fact that what happened in Handforth – whilst going inexplicably viral early this year – is actually fairly typical for the sorts of things that go on at Parish Council gatherings, whether they’re happening in the flesh or online. There’s a kind of neutering effect to it. “It’s local politics, James,” he explained, “and many of the people who are involved wanted to be high-level politicans, but couldn’t, because other things got in the way, and so they have to test out all their high-scale dramas in small-scale meetings”.

It’s my view that no one comes out of the Handforth debacle smelling of roses – Jackie Weaver has been hailed the hero of the hour, and did the only thing she could under the circumstances, but the expelled councillor may nonetheless have been right to raise the objections that he did. Nonetheless the whole thing is wonderful to watch, whether it’s the misplaced order about standing orders (the remark on Jackie Weaver’s lack of authority has become the chief soundbite to be memed, but “READ THEM AND UNDERSTAND THEM!” has run a close second), the woman who forgets to mute herself while she answers the phone, or the whole disjointed pausing and talking over each other which is a staple part of every unedited Zoom call, but which in this case lent the whole sorry saga an extra layer of awkwardness.

This wasn’t the first Doctor Who video on the subject – nor was it necessarily the best – but I do think it more or less works. And while I’m not attributing its surge in popularity (at least by the standards of my usual hit count) as anything other than a general public fascination in all things Handforth, it was nice to get a hit count that made it out of double figures. If nothing else it’s an improvement on the original scene, which was dull as ditchwater. Plus Jackie Weaver gets to be a Dalek. What’s not to like about that?

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Have I Got Whos For You (volume 34)

It’s been a long old year for that abandoned TARDIS, hasn’t it?

Here we are, a year after lockdown began – something that for one reason or another people have decided to actively commemorate on social media this week. It’s a strange state of affairs, the weirdest of all frivolous anniversaries to talk about, particularly given that most of us had all sorts of Shakespearean intentions (hey look, here’s me having failed to learn Mandarin or get that hedge cut!). Why on earth are we still talking about the fact that none of us have written King Lear? And why is it a big deal if we haven’t? Shakespeare – assuming he existed – was a genius. Most of us are not. Why are we living up to such an impossible ideal?

But then there’s a strange tendency to mark the trivial, particularly when we have free time. Gosh, it’s been four years to the day since ‘Heaven Sent’. Michael Craze would have been seventy-six. I suppose it takes our mind off leaked set pictures and expensive (and seemingly needless) parliamentary reconfigurations where the cleaners forgot to finish tidying, but really. It’s so asinine, as I have to point out every November 23rd when people ask why the BBC aren’t marking the 54th / 55th / 56th / 57th birthday of their favourite show with some sort of marathon – “Because,” I explain, with varying degrees of patience, “if they did that for Doctor Who they’d have to do it for everything and nothing else would get done.” Hello Lyn; you’re cheerful considering it’s the first anniversary of your mother’s death.

On the other hand, arguing about pointless birthdays is a welcome distraction – and god knows we could do with a few more of them – from rumour control, specifically when set photos (I thought Chibnall was cracking down on this sort of thing?) lead to the children of time adding two and two and coming up with seven, or jumping to all sorts of ridiculous conclusions because one of the previous companions happens to be pally with one of the new ones, and was in any case in town filming a sitcom.

It breaks down like this.

Doctor Who Fans: I DON’T RECOGNISE THIS SHOW ANYMORE. WHERE ARE ALL THE CLASSIC MONSTERS AND FAN FAVOURITES?

Set Rumours Guy: Hey, here’s Catherine Tate.

DW Fans: WARRRGH CYNICAL RATINGS PLOY

BBC: Yeah, she’s not actually here.

DW FANS: THAT’S JUST WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK

“Hello Sal – what? They want me to do Doctor Who? What’s Doctor Who? I was in it? When?”

You can’t really blame the fans, I suppose. They’re itching for Doctor Who news, and Chibnall runs a closed set. Personally I like it that way – I would rather not be saturated with three hundred word press releases about how this year’s going to be ‘epic’ every five minutes. But if you’ve grown up used to the BBC blowing their own trumpet every five minutes it’s an adjustment period. Even telethons are a missed opportunity: all elegaic pianos and slow motion hugs and that phone number scrolling across the screen every thirty seconds, and very little that’s actually funny.

Last weekend also saw the release of The Lonely Assassins, a brand new PC / mobile game which sees you discover an abandoned phone, full of corrupted data and glitches and a weird angel-type figure that appears to be coming out of the screen. It’s your job to piece the data together, follow the clues and piece together the mystery of the phone’s former owner – one Larry Nightingale, he from ‘Blink’, and played once more by Finlay Robinson, a little older and saggier, but aren’t we all?

Thankfully you’re not alone in your quest, guided as you are by Petronella Osgood. Most of the interaction is SMS-based, although Ingrid Oliver lends her voice to the opening and her physical self for a video sequence that pops up near the end. Osgood is working from a secret UNIT base established after funding was put on hold and which as yet no one knows about. Well, that’d be a first.

After having played through and thoroughly enjoyed The Lonely Assassins I was slightly perturbed to discover that I’d completed only two of the ‘optional’ objectives, most of which seem pertain to archived newspaper cuttings referencing the appearance of an anomalous police box outside one building or another. Presumably investigating these further unlocks some sort of secret ending that offers more closure than the slightly disappointing climax the vanilla ending happens to offer. I’d have happily done this had I not had Osgood shouting (well, texting) in my ear every thirty seconds telling me to get a shift on. At a microcosmic level it’s somewhat reminiscent of the Zelda games, in which the endemic notion of leisurely exploration and discovery is undermined by the regular psychic messages from the titular princess. “Link, if you don’t reassemble the fragments / defeat the guardians / find all the scrolls, then ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL HAPPEN!”

I’m running out of time, now, because I have to get this music track mixed (that’s my lockdown skill), so we’ll deal with the rest of the news in brief. On ITV, an ex-Eastender took great offence at the caption used by Good Morning Britain during a Zoom interview.

Revelations at the identity of Snail on the US version of The Masked Singer called to mind this planned (but sadly abandoned) reveal for the beginning of ‘The Eleventh Hour’.

Millions sat down to fill out government forms about the occupants of their households, or risk a fine.

Oh, and the Sixth Doctor finally found the time to have a Covid test.

It’s a nice outfit. I know I mock it, and with good reason, but it was a decent reflection of his personality. I mean look at the example we have to follow in government. Rees Mogg is always immaculate, presumably because he’s other going to or coming from a gentleman’s club of one sort or another, but Dominic Cummings doesn’t seem to own a single tie. And we’re graced with a Prime Minister who looks like he just stumbled out of bed after a night on the razz, and who has a pathological aversion to combs, but that’s fine as long as we can stick a few Union Jacks in the background to deflect attention from incompetent idiocy, right?

“Flag shagger.”

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Recollections on Mothering Sunday

Normally, about this time of year, I’m prepping the memes. Here at brianofmorbius we tend to favour the inappropriate: the worst possible choice for an image, amplifying the humour. The image of Bonnie Langford in Paradise Towers when they’ve announced the opening of leisure facilities. David Tennant surrounded by the ashes of an disintegrated spacecraft. With a click, the mouse scrubs back and forth along the video timeline, looking for that perfect frame. I get a few giggles. Job done.

This year I really don’t feel like doing that. Maybe it’s Covid. Maybe it’s a heightened sensitivity built around things that are happening in my life that I am electing not to broadcast. Or maybe I’m just tired of the drama. I see a lot of opinions on the web but not a lot of kindness. Being kind is not always the same as being nice; it’s important to make the distinction. The Doctor was usually kind but he also shouted at people when they deserved it. There is a marked difference between respecting the person’s right to a view and allowing rampant negativity to flourish. ‘Be kind’ does not mean ‘keep silent when an opinion is full of horseshit’. The Doctor wouldn’t, and if we must employ him as a role model (and generally I don’t), then that’s probably the best way of going about it.

But there is a thing about Doctor Who that has come to my notice this year, and it is this: for all its failings (and they are many, and frequent and not everything is because of Chibnall) it does a good job of giving the companions a backstory. The backstories are not always good, or even plausible, but they are there. They are there in a way that they generally weren’t during the sixties and seventies, where character histories were relegated to three or four lines of dialogue: Tegan’s aversion to ice cream; Jo’s failed science GCE. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most of us never had any expectation that Doctor Who should be grounded in reality; it’s a TV programme about a quasi-immortal shapeshifting alien with a magic box that travels in time and space. What do we care for the home lives of supporting characters? Give us an alien and a couple of explosions; that’ll do.

We started to care, I think, in the late 1980s, when Ace’s backstory became not just a tangible thing but a story arc. The other evening Emily and I were discussing Anne Reid, who’d popped up in a film we were watching. Emily pointed out – and I’d forgotten – that she appears in ‘The Curse of Fenric’. It is a wonderful story, perhaps the best of the McCoy era, but the overriding memory that I have of it consists of two things: the haemovores rising from the ocean, and Ace shouting at the Doctor. It was an archetype for everything that followed, just as Ace was the archetype for Rose and many subsequent companions who drew their shape from a similar gene pool. Here was a story in which family was not only acknowledged but pushed front and centre, at least for a few minutes.

And it strikes me now that family in Doctor Who is all too often dysfunctional. It has to be, because Doctor Who is about escape: the crew in Voyager were simply trying to get home; the TARDIS crew are generally trying to avoid it. The Doctor becomes a surrogate family man – a father, sister, older brother, love interest – to whomever is holed up in the bunk beds. That sort of relationship comes at a price, and the price is usually the relationship with one’s own family. It is a price worth paying in triplicate when that relationship is difficult or even non-existent.

There is a recurring trend on the Facebook groups: that single sentence. “If the TARDIS landed in your garden”, it says, “would you go?”. I never reply, simply because I would not, and it is both tedious and time-consuming to have to explain why. I wonder about the people (and they are many) who say they would jump at the chance. I wonder whether they are in denial, or haven’t thought through the possible consequences. Both are likely scenarios. And the whole thing is just a bit of fun and we must not take it seriously. But I also wonder whether there are people reading this posts whose own lives are so genuinely miserable that perhaps the TARDIS is a form of escape for them. There are people like this and I know there are people like this because I have spoken to them.

And how, I wonder, do these people react when they are presented with the dysfunctional families we see on screen? What do they make of feuding parents, of grief unspoken, of abuse and loss and pain? How do they react to companions who carry baggage like this through the TARDIS doors? How close to the knuckle do the stories cut?

And then I think about these parents and children. I think about Donna, saddled with a mother who could convey nothing but bitterness and disappointment. I think about Francine Jones, who made poor (if well-intentioned) choices and whose salvation lay in her daughter’s unconditional forgiveness. I think of Bill, whose relationship with her stepmother was toxic, and Clara, who – in addition to grieving her own mother – had to watch her father enter a relationship with a narcissistic sociopath. I even think of Ada Gillyflower, maimed and broken by her mother in a calamitous arrangement that foreshadowed what we learned about the Doctor in ‘The Timeless Children’.

I think of Amy, whose mother was quite literally ripped from existence, where even the memory of her was gone. What must that have been like? What sort of hole does it leave; how does it settle in the heart? And to then carry a pregnancy to term without having the first idea, no bonding and no reflecting and no preparing, only to have your child taken as if by an indifferent Catholic nun – and then to raise it again, unknowingly, in the most unorthodox of ways. “What you do,” says Rory, “isn’t all there is,” and how well we knew that by the end.

And I think of Sarah Jane, who found solace in motherhood without sacrificing her career, and Rose, whose mother – and I’ll admit I’ve sometimes being quite rude about her – was protective and honest and compassionate. And of the supporting players, the bit parts that resonate. Nancy, who saved the world by restructuring her relationship with her son. Willa Twist, determined to live out her mother’s legacy.

And I remember my own mother, and how complicated that relationship was, particularly in her last years. How a wave of maternal pride could be undone by a single barbed comment. The grudges she held and the prejudice she harboured. The difficulty of balancing my relationship with her against the one we have with my in-laws, avoiding blame, the endless juggling of calendars. Learning not to talk, under any circumstances, about Brexit. And how we skated around the edge of a lot of things we didn’t say and now never can.

And I loved her, but. There is always a but, and most days it doesn’t matter – most days you can archive it, remembering the good times. And there were many of those, and the constant edginess I felt in her presence became something I lived with, and I know that there are others who have had things much worse, and some of them are very close to me, and that is as much as I’m going to divulge on the subject. But if you are hurting today, and particularly if your pain is raw, then I think of you. Because everyone deserves love, even the worst of us. May you find yours, whatever form it takes.

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Have I Got Whos For You (edition 66)

Funny what she gets up when she thinks the cameras are off, isn’t it?

How do you do, fellow teenagers? I don’t have a single meme about Harry and Meghan; if you’re anything like me I imagine you’re heartily sick of the whole thing. This is a world of heroes and villains and ne’er the twain, it seems, shall meet: depending on who you talk to, Meghan Markle is either a strong, independent and blameless woman who’s become a victim of racist bullying, despised by the establishment because she didn’t fit the mould, or an opportunistic prima donna who was awful to the palace staff, contemptuous of Kate Middleton and whose modus operandi was to drive a wedge between Harry and his brother.

The fact that the most likely reality is an awkward combination of both does not seem to have occurred to anyone, at least anyone who reads the papers, but I suppose the world is so much easier when we can view it in black and white. No one likes an ambiguous, well-crafted villain with redeeming features. They want someone they can boo and hiss at. Anyway, enough. It’s way more complicated than I have time to discuss in this silly little blog.

We seem to have missed a few things, like St. David’s Day.

Or Valentine’s Day.

Or Pancake Day.

One of the big bits of Doctor Who news, of course – something we found out on New Year’s Day, immediately after the live broadcast (which I wasn’t watching, meaning I got to find out about it on Twitter) concerned the imminent arrival of incoming companion Dan, set to make his debut in the autumn, or whenever they get round to airing series 13. Dan’s a scouser, and you have absolutely no idea how difficult it was not to make jokes about nailing down bits of the console, but as it stands I managed to keep my humour contained. More or less.

News broke quite recently of the dissolution of Daft Punk, the dance hall stalwarts who’ve been making music together for nearly thirty years, and who’ve produced a shedload of songs that I’d forgotten they did. I do remember, some years ago, an appearance at a festival by Wurzel-esque comedy band Folk On, who were on fine form as ever but who managed to have everyone jigging along in the mud when they sang “We’re up all night to get some (milk!) / We’re up all night for good fun / We’re up all night to get folky…”. It’s a sad day for music, as while they were never really my thing I can’t deny that they’ve completely changed the scene and that ‘One More Time’ is a bangin’ masterpiece. Luckily the two of them seem to have already found another job.

We’re still in lockdown, whereby all but essential travel is banned – although that doesn’t seem to have stopped Banksy, who ventured from his native Bristol to my home town of Reading to scribble his latest drawing on the wall of the heritage masterpiece / public eyesore (delete as applicable) that is Reading Gaol. It’s Oscar Wilde, escaping with a typewriter, sheets tied together like in Colditz, something that never happened in real life. As far as we know, anyway.

“That’s it, nearly there. Just a little further. You know what, Yaz, I think I’m getting an idea.”

Elsewhere, in a forest in Hampshire, someone else is breaking lockdown:

My children have been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. The eldest two spent New Year’s Eve watching a few back to back with the horror movie Us; I’d say I don’t know what was the most terrifying part of the whole thing but earlier in the evening we’d all been watching Cats, so I think you have your answer. In any case, Ramsay is a good deal more sprightly than he was in Gordon Ramsay’s Bank Balance, a show that seems to have been almost universally panned, although it’s good to know that they’re managing to make the most of the old TARDIS sets.

“Our first contestants tonight are Amy and Rory, from Leadworth in Gloucestershire…”

I read an interesting thing in the press the other week about a scientific dig that yielded unexpected results, and the instant thing I thought of was Lovecraft and shoggoths and albino penguins. But I also did this. You couldn’t not, really.

Politics, and the news that the Prime Minister has designs on a colossal subterranean junction is met with the mirth and condescension it undoubtedly deserves.

We giggle at these fancies, but is it such a terrible idea? It’s certainly a more practical solution than teleportation, which (and why does nobody discuss this?) effectively kills you and reconstructs an identical copy at the other end, unless you’re in The Fly or something. And yet when we’re watching TV we’ll readily accept teleportation, and faster-than-light travel, and the existence of wormholes, or a police box that can fly and open its doors to a completely different place a few seconds later.

“Just through there, sir.”

And I would rather be anywhere else than here today. Still. This week – 9th March as I write this – marks the week the schools officially reopen (they never actually closed, of course, and teachers never stopped working), meaning a return to something awkwardly like normality. Well, kind of.

“It’s lovely to see you everyone back, and I’m pleased you’ve all remembered your masks…”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Children’s TV Edition)

There’s a strong case to be made about Doctor Who: that it is a children’s show that appeals to adults. I am not going to be making that here, although I do happen to subscribe to that theory, and enjoy the programme far more as a result.

But you’d be surprised how many of the ridiculous Photoshopped images I produce are themed around children’s shows. We’ve had Teletubbies and jolly postmen. We’ve had Sooty and Sweep. And we’ve had those nightmarish In The Forest of the Night Garden pictures I did a few years back. You want a guaranteed slumber-free evening? You stick Makka Pakka outside the TARDIS with his bloody sponge. That’s enough to get any of us hiding under the bed.

Still. Here are a few I’ve been holding in reserve until I felt I had enough to warrant a decent-sized collection. Why not today?

We’ll start with a bit of Henson, because you can’t go wrong with a bit of Henson.


Meanwhile in the TARDIS, there’s a commotion on the console.


“Raggedy Ann…goodbye!”


This one needs no caption.


Nor does this.

Doctor Who quotes, out of context.


Oh, and speaking of Rainbow, I think I did this for St. George’s Day, last year. That’s how long it’s been kicking around.


Anyone been to Legoland Windsor? There is a TARDIS outside the shop. Unfortunately there are no costumed minifigures wandering around, at least none that are Doctor Who themed. So I put some in.


In this evening’s stage performance of ‘Utopia’, the part of Captain Jack Harkness will be played by Lotso the Bear.


“Yeah, I dunno. It just sort of turned up one morning.”

“British Isles. 1950s. Late spring. Saturday. I’m sure I can hear a train somewhere.”


“Well, that was unexpected.”

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Papa Louie Pals Presents: The Companions (Part 2)

Ah, Papa Louie Pals. How do I love thee, and thy sandbox of delights? Let me count the ways. There are twenty-eight of them in this particular edition, mostly taking the form of Classic (pre-2005) companions. The list is extensive but not necessarily exhaustive (Grace, for example, isn’t featured, but I may save her for an odds and ends feature somewhere down the line). Some of these are better than others; a few of them are so generic they could probably be anyone, but if I tell you who they’re supposed to be, and if you squint, then perhaps you might just about manage to make out the superficial resemblances. Others will be fairly obvious from the get-go. None of them is perfect, but some are quite good. And, of course, if you missed the first part of the companion run, or even the Doctors I did a couple of years back, you’re welcome to go and check out both.

Right! Onwards. First, here are two that didn’t make the cut from the previous batch – Doctor Ruth, as I like to call her, and Sacha Dhawan’s Master. One of them looks just a little happier.


In keeping with the ‘newer characters I haven’t done before now’ theme, here’s Wilf. He’s standing next to Susan, who is wearing her classic stripy ensemble, as seen in ‘An Unearthly Child’ (that’s the final broadcast edition, as opposed to the pilot). Fun fact: she also wore stripes in her final story, when her grandfather threatened to smack her on the arse before abandoning her in a toxic wasteland with a man she scarcely knew.


Ian and Barbara next. Barbara’s hair is, I think, not quite right. But Ian’s quiff is right on the money, and the outfits are a reasonable match.


Here’s Victoria Waterfield, in a crudely rendered edition of the explorer’s outfit she wore while hiking around Wales the Himalayas in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’. She’s accompanied by Steven Taylor, who looks like he’s off to a Where’s Wally? convention.


Vicki and Katarina. For some reason I really struggled with these two. They’re both so…I don’t know, nondescript when it comes to outfit choices. I’m still not convinced I really nailed it. (Katarina’s dress is purple because I found an interesting piece of fan art where she was wearing purple, and besides, it’s my wife’s favourite colour…)


Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. That moustache is a little too Air Force for my liking, and the hat is completely wrong, but at least it’s military. For Peri, I went with the pink outfit she wore in ‘Attack of the Cybermen’.


Dodo and Zoe. Dodo’s singlet is so near, and yet so far – what I’d have given for one with a donut! – but other than that it’s a reasonable likeness. Zoe is wearing the silver jumpsuit she wore when splayed over the TARDIS in ‘The Mind Robber’, where the camera lingers over her buttocks for far longer than is necessary. That may be why I picked it.


You couldn’t not put these two together, could you? I wanted a sailor outfit for Ben, but they didn’t have one. As a result he’s a bit nondescript – but stick him next to Polly, and they’re peas and carrots.


You’re spoilt for choice with Jo Grant – so many cracking outfits! – but in the end I plumped for the cowgirl ensemble she wore in ‘Day of the Daleks’, although mercifully you are unable to see up her skirt. I feel like Sarah Jane rather drew the short straw – she was the epitome of working chic for most of her run, right until that last story. But honestly, how could you not use it?!?


It’s a kilt, not a skirt, and I think I got the colours more or less right. Jamie is joined by Liz, who is in her Silurian outfit, and probably just about to run across a weir.


This was an easy one. All you need is the hair and it’s instantly Bonnie Langford, even without the deckchair polo shirt. Next to that, Ace looks positively Goth-like.


Tegan’s top is a little more strappy and a little less abstract than I’d have liked, but it’s a reasonable approximation and it does at least have that 1980s vibe about it. Inevitably, Turlough looks miserable. Well you would too if you went travelling in space and the only clothing you brought was your school uniform.


Both Romanas. Mary Tamm is a little..what’s the word…dull, and I’d have liked to do that rather splendid mauve thing she wore in ‘The Androids of Tara’, but there was nothing that matched, so the white gown won the day. Her later counterpart is dressed for running from Daleks.


Last but not least: Nyssa, wearing something that looks a little bit like a New Romantic cosplay on her ‘Keeper of Traken’ outfit. She’s in the company of Adric, who even has his badge for mathematical excellence, even if it has been placed rather awkwardly around his neck like an Olympic medal. He’s still a dick, anyway.

And that’s your lot. I’d love to do a monsters edition, but I don’t think they do sink plungers…

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