Have I Got Whos For You (Apocalypse Now Edition)

Excuse the radio silence these last weeks, but I’ve been away. And busy. And now I’m neither. Which is a blessing, but it comes with the realisation that I’m rather behind. So let’s crack on with this week’s meme roundup, shall we?

First and foremost:

I haven’t seen Good Omens yet. Needless to say the interest of the DW community was piqued when someone (it might have been Gaiman, it might have been Tennant) happened to mention that there were some Doctor Who references in there, which instantly led to people freeze-framing number plates and street corners to try and find them. By far the most hysterical conversation I witnessed was an American who was convinced that they’d seen a red TARDIS, which was in fact a telephone box. It’s a cultural misunderstanding, but you know how these things work: even when it’s been explained to you, you don’t want to back down.

Anyway, I was trawling the web, looking for Easter Eggs, and –

[coughs]

In politics this week, a leaked mock-up shows a rather different set of prospective nominees for the backstabbing skirmish that is the Conservative leadership battle.

(It’s going to be Boris, isn’t it? Dear God, it’s going to be Boris.)

Entertainment now. And as the new face of Worzel Gummidge is unveiled, the old one reveals that he doesn’t like it.

I never read the books, but Mackenzie Crook’s appearance is supposedly based on the idea that Worzel was supposed to have a turnip head, as opposed to looking like Jon Pertwee covered in soil. This is fine, and understandable, but he looks like someone who’s been prematurely aged (see: Beetlejuice, The X-Files and various episodes of Doctor Who) and the plant strands that serve for a beard remind me a little bit of Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. The problem is that irrespective of faithfulness to the source material, Pertwee’s iconic rendition has all but usurped it. Worzel Gummidge is like The Wizard of Oz: everyone remembers how it looked, rather than how it read.

Elsewhere, in gaming: as Forza Horizon 4 unveils its new Lego-themed expansion, the Doctor has a nagging feeling that he should move the TARDIS.

When I posted this, various people were keen to point out that the TARDIS would be fine, since it had extrapolator shields. To which the obvious response is “Yes, but the car doesn’t!”

 

Finally, it’s been – can you believe it – five years since the death of Rik Mayall, which makes me sad that he was never involved in Doctor Who in some way. He was an extremely talented actor – both in straight and comedic roles – with a tremendous screen presence. He even makes Drop Dead Fred semi-interesting – although you’d have to use him carefully. There is no place for the man in a Dalek story. Bottom was – to all intents and purposes – the Waiting for Godot of sitcoms, so it would have to be something ostensibly mundane, where characters are lulled into a false sense of security and mostly just sit around waiting for things to happen.

“IT’S NOT BLOODY DOING ANYTHING!”

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Have I Got Whos For You (salted caramel edition)

By the time you read this, I’ll be somewhere in Warwickshire, probably trying to erect an awning and shouting at the kids. But you don’t want to hear about that, so here’s a largely text-free roundup of the week’s news.

First, there is an air of familiarity about the Game of Thrones finale, in which democracy was not quite ushered in.

Over on ITV, we take a sneak peek at Jeremy Kyle’s new gig.

The news that a familiar face is returning to Doctor Who series 12 is somewhat overshadowed by a leaked picture revealing Jodie Whittaker’s new hairstyle.

(There was another one of these doing the rounds. It is so much better than mine. I’m not linking to it, though, purely out of public shame.)

As the new trailer for Toy Story 4 drops, there are sightings of a countryside recreation of ‘Day of the Doctor’.

On the subject of transport, it’s not been a great week for Nigel Farage.

There is a certain double standard at work here. When it’s Farage, I don’t care. When it’s an ageing veteran in a suit standing outside a polling station I get uneasy, even if he does happen to be supporting the Brexit party. I’m all for exposing fascism but this really is the sort of thing that eradicates sympathy.

When it comes to Farage, of course, you wonder who’s doing the throwing.

“OK, here he comes. Drop ’em on three.”

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The Inevitable Eurovision write-up

We open, as you knew we would, in a sepia-tinted art gallery.

Ah, Madonna. I had to slap down someone on a Facebook group this morning who compared her to Cassandra from ‘The End of the World’, largely by leaving “MOISTURISE ME!” gags on every thread I posted. When I asked him to explain himself, he said (and we paraphrase) “Well, because she’s old and she’s had so much surgery”.

I’m fairly open minded, even as I stumble on towards the inevitable midlife crisis part of my forties. But I confess I don’t find this sort of thing particularly amusing, largely because it’s symptomatic of an unpleasant type of humour: namely the idea that women of a certain age are there to be mocked if they do anything to physically defy that age. Madonna, presumably, is ripe for the pickings because she’s rich and famous and she can take it, and besides she was flat when she sang ‘Like A Prayer’. From one perspective it’s harmless fun and this is a free country and can’t you take a joke? From another, it’s sneering, condescending and judgemental and it’s an unpleasant reminder of how we treat women in these supposedly enlightened times. You pick. When I called out this behaviour I was accused of having a sense of humour bypass, so I think I’ll leave the judgement to someone else.

We might reasonably call out Madonna for not really producing a decent record since Ray of Light, with Saturday evening’s clearly rehearsed ‘Music’ singalong a cynical headline grab. That’d be a more reasonable target for a poison arrow, rather than her spandex-clad buttocks. But in many ways it was textbook Eurovision: glossy, overblown and a little bit controversial but seldom making the headlines for the right reasons. That makes her the perfect choice, because it’s not about the music, and for all our attempts to pretend that Eurovision used to be a singing competition, it never really was. Madonna also made waves on the forums, not least because her eye patch thing wasn’t the only Doctor Who reference she managed to include over the course of a nine minute set.

This was just after she lined up on a set of steps to perform ‘Like A Prayer’ with a set of cowled, possibly headless monks. Go figure.

It was the closing ‘statement’, of course, that was responsible for most of the eyebrow raising. I missed the dual flags entirely (perhaps the BBC cut away from it, or perhaps I was just looking at my phone). It was marginally less controversial than the stunt that Iceland pulled, although this isn’t the place to discuss any of that: I have my opinions and you do not get to hear them. Eurovision has always been a hotbed of whatever’s topical – political squabbles, military skirmishes and financial disrespute dressed up in a negligee of supposed togetherness and solitary brother / cisterhood…seriously, don’t get me started on France. At least I could understand the words to that one: over the course of the evening the automated subtitle generator interpreted Malta as ‘melter’, ‘multi’ and ‘Mulder’. Thank goodness Jools Holland wasn’t there.

There were highlights. Denmark (“like a Tesco advert”, to quote the thirteen-year-old) was chirpy and fun, vocalist Leonora ascending a set of steps to a giant chair with her pals, while Graham Norton noted that the “WhatsApp group will probably be deleted around midnight”. And San Marino’s entry – the delightfully retro ‘Say Na Na Na’, which supposedly took five minutes to write (well, one minute and then another four scrolling through Facebook) was both naff and brilliant, and probably would have done quite well a couple of decades ago (I thought much the same about Scooch’s grotesquely comic ‘Flying The Flag’, a 2007 entry that turned up at the party at least eleven or twelve years after its friends had all gone home to bed). And the whole thing was slick and decently compered – Eurovision presenters tend to be dreadful, but this lot weren’t bad, even if there were only four of them so they could cover the entire arena at once. (And why, in these days of twenty-first century open plan introvert’s nightmares, do they still insist on calling it a green room? It isn’t a room of any sort. It’s a roped-off VIP area a meticulously timed short walk from the stage. You can’t even duck under the tables for an illicit shag.)

Anyway: gallery of memorable moments follows. All thoughts are from yours truly unless I tell you otherwise.

1. To kick off, here’s Cyprus’ Tamta, modelling the next Rani outfit.

2. Meanwhile, as Middle Earth burns around her, Albania’s Jonida Maliqi is despondent that she didn’t head into the West with the other Elves.

3. North Macedonia. I have this sudden urge for Quality Street.

4. “Lister, they’ve got to learn.”

5. Serbia? It’s Mike. He wants his tubular bells back.

6. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Elton John.

7. So that’s what happened to Mad Max 5.

8. It was all going so well for Greece, until they brought out the Prisoner balloon.

9. SLOVENIAN STARING CONTEST! GO!

10. Workprint footage from those promo videos.

11. “NARNIA IS MINE!”

12. It’s the Wiggles! It’s the bloody Wiggles!

13. And finally, the inspiration for Spain’s set design proves fairly obvious.

Same time next year? I’ll bring the Prosecco.

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The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part three)

Videos. You know the drill by now. And I’ve got a Holby I haven’t watched yet, so what say we dive straight in?

 

1. Things the Thirteenth Doctor loves (February 2019)

It was Emily who noticed. We were tidying the lounge one Monday morning, the day after ‘The Witchfinders’ (unless you had Amazon, in which case you’d probably already seen it), and talking about Series 11 and the way it was written. And Emily picked up on something about the new Doctor that I’d missed. “She doesn’t have a catchphrase as such,” she said, “but she does tell us about stuff she likes, doesn’t she? ‘Oh, a conspiracy. I love a conspiracy.'”

I looked through the transcripts, and it’s all over the place. I think almost every episode is referenced in the video below – ‘Rosa’ is missing, as is ‘Resolution’ and ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’, although in fairness the Doctor spent half of that one lying on a sofa. But everything else has at least one, and some have several. It’s the sort of thing that’s easy to criticise, if you’re not a fan of Chibnall, although this is somewhat pointless as Moffat did much the same thing with Smith, who had a tendency to say “And then you did that. Why did you do that?”. It became something of a trope, although it’s trickier to actually source the dialogue. I’m of the conviction that Doctor Who does not need catchphrases, and that (Baker aside) the fandom’s attempts at finding them are scrappy at best, but if we must have one these days I’m not sorry that it’s manifested as it has here. I know we’re giggling about it, but at least there’s a bit of variety.

I had a lot of fun making this one. Whatever you think of the writing, Whittaker has a sense of fun about her that I hope comes across. There is something particularly endearing about the way she bellows “APPLE BOBBING!”. Oh, and in reference to number 7, it was explained to me (via a YouTube comment) that the they’re talking about Hamilton, the Broadway musical dedicated to the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, which opened a couple of years ago and which, according to the Doctor, is destined to have more revivals than Cher’s musical career. You learn something new every day, don’t you?

 

2. The Bohemian Rhapsody edit (March 2019)

Quantum of Solace is a big pile of shit, isn’t it? Well, perhaps that’s a little harsh. It’s better than View To A Kill, at least, although I confess I’ve undergone tooth extractions which were less arduous than having to watch that one. But Solace – which has an interesting premise – is completely massacred by Marc Foster’s fondness for jump cuts. There are sometimes two or three a second, usually in the action sequences (the boat chase springs to mind), pummelling the viewer with shots of flying fists and the chains and the fizz of surf, as Bond and some random guy whose name I can never be bothered to remember duke it out in an exotic locale that we can’t even see anyway because the bloody camera won’t stay still. It is impossible to follow. I have no idea what’s going on and I refuse to put this down to old age: it’s just incomprehensible garbage.

Compare this to the fight scene in Atomic Blonde. You know, the one in the stairwell? Or John Woo’s 2 minutes, 42 seconds in the frenetic final act of Hard Boiled. Or, if we’re thinking about 007, the beautiful, single tracking shot that opens Spectre, where Bond wanders in and out of hotel rooms and across roofs as the dizzying spectacle that is the Day of the Dead unfolds below him. That, film students, is how you open a blockbuster. It’s all studio trickery, of course – so is Atomic Blonde, come to that – but it doesn’t matter: the only real difference between the two of them is that Atomic Blonde has an outstanding fight sequence couched in a generally wonderful movie, whereas Spectre is graced with a mesmerising opening and then it’s downhill all the way.

Anyway, I thought we were done with frantic jump cuts, until I heard about Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s a film I got to see quite recently and, as a word of reassurance, most of it’s fairly straight-laced, perhaps too much so. There is a press conference which mines every cliche in the book and there is a dramatic climax outside, at night, in the rain. Because obviously. On the plus side, the band look and sound the part (even if certain songs are dropped in earlier or later than they should have been) and the Live Aid set is so well done you can forgive the liberties they take with history. Besides, it’s kind of hard to concentrate on the anachronisms given that you spend about fifty per cent of the running time staring at cats.

Still. There’s one scene. You remember. It’s the one at the pub. The one that has more edits than the ITV version of Robocop. There are 52 in all, making the average shot around 1.57 seconds long (someone else’s homework, not mine). I’m told there are reasons for this; that narrative shifts after the scene was shot meant it no longer made sense and they had to go back and re-sequence it, but that doesn’t stop it inducing migraines. The film was Oscar-nominated for best editing; go figure. Interesting times at the Academy.

How to translate this into Doctor Who? It had to be something dialogue heavy, something featuring a number of people who could form different focus points, something where everyone stayed roughly stationary to keep the continuity fluid, and something I knew reasonably well. This one was an obvious choice: it is my favourite scene in an otherwise patchy episode and I do find it rather sweet, so I thought it might be fun to chop it up a little. The results speak for themselves, and not necessarily in a good way.

 

3. Doctor Who and the Vow of Silence (November 2018)

Yeah, I dunno. Thirteen years since ‘Rose’, and the Doctor still doesn’t have a clue.

 

Allons-y!

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Have I Got Whos For You (Winter Is Coming Edition)

To kick off today, we honour the late, great Peter Mayhew, as he interrupts the Doctor’s naptime.

Mayhew was a legend, a seven foot icon who managed seven Star Wars films and who was listed, somewhat bizarrely as ‘Chewbacca Consultant’ for The Last Jedi; my children didn’t notice he’d been replaced and in any case it’s the sort of thing very few people get to put on their CV, so I suppose he could retire happy. It’s difficult to tell just how much of the growling Wookiee’s endless appeal was down to the fact that he was a badass in a fire fight or the fact that he had a surprisingly tender side to him, as witness any scene where he gets to hug someone, or wail because Harrison Ford’s just fallen off a bridge. Star Wars has changed a lot over the years, but Chewbacca has been a constant – even though his cameo in Revenge of the Sith amounts to three or four seconds, the guy’s two hundred years old and you nonetheless know that whatever else is going on he’s kicking around somewhere in the galaxy, raising havoc (and a family) while Jake Lloyd rides off to do his Ben Hur thing. It’s like Mace Windu’s lightsaber: when asked, during Phantom Menace promotional interviews, why he didn’t have one, he replied “I did. I was wearing it.”

“But you didn’t actually use it.”

“Yeah,” replies Jackson, licking his lips. “But I was wearin’ it.” Intended meaning, it appears, counts for a lot.

Here’s a pet hate. Can we please have an embargo on ‘Rule one’? Rule one only applies for series 6, and even then it’s inconsistent, given that its most famous use comes courtesy of the world’s most unreliable narrator since Tyler Durden. Certainly it’s not something we should be using to cover up things we can’t be bothered to explain, which is what I see an awful lot. There is enough confusion in the real world without us having to deal with the reliability of TV characters. Can’t we just accept that they’re basically trustworthy and that sometimes we’re just mind-numbingly thick? There’s no other plausible explanation, surely, for the staggering levels of stupidity I see among the general populace, or the fact that a huge number of the votes cast in last week’s local elections were apparently protest votes. “You can’t deliver what you promised,” says Mr Finch of Tunbridge Wells, “so I’m voting for the independent candidate, despite the fact that I know bugger all about his policies and his leaflet was a copy editor’s nightmare”. Call me picky but that seems like a ludicrous way to decide who gets to sort out the local pot holes. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Of course, we talk about being in the dark about Brexit, but darkness is something we should all be accustomed to, at least lately.

Did I tell you I’ve never watched Game of Thrones? I’ll do so, perhaps, years down the line, having heard all the spoilers about the Night King and Ned Stark and poor old Hodor. I was chatting recently with a friend who told me about a prominent young Christian in his college church who had once told him that watching Game of Thrones was the path to ruin, and that as Church we must be in the world but not of the world, and that it leads to desensitisation and all sorts of other stuff you normally find in a Jack Chick tract. Call me a heretic but this sort of reaction has long since baffled me – not so much the wish to avoid such things (which is entirely a personal choice) but the fervent desire to preach it as gospel. If your faith is sufficiently wobbly – or dogmatic – that you do not feel you can engage with popular media, or if it’s some kind of principle that leads you to believe that fake people engaging in questionable activities is somehow unacceptable as entertainment, that’s entirely your business. But to teach it as some kind of worldview, and to tout your own approach not only as a feasible alternative but as the moral high ground, it’s…well, let’s just say it’s precisely the sort of thing I was talking about last week.

Still. It’s just never been particularly interesting, this tale of dragons and feuds and general silliness. I’m sure it’s lovely if you’re a fan, in the same way that Doctor Who is lovely if you’re a fan (unless you’re watching series 11, which apparently everybody hated except me). A lot of it is down to time. I barely get time to watch the stuff that actually interests me – most of which is Scandinavian – without having to wade into seventy-odd hours of Cornish scenery. You have to pick and choose, which is one reason I never watched Breaking Bad or The West Wing.

Sometimes you just have to prioritise, even if you’re a Time Lord.

It’s weird, though; I’ve watched ‘The Woman Who Lived’ at least a dozen times over the years and I’ve only just noticed this.

(You would not believe the social media reaction I got when I uploaded this one. Amidst the giggling, there were a number of people saying “Oh, wow, I can’t believe I didn’t see that before now! I feel stupid”. Sarcasm is difficult to detect on the internet but at least a few of them, it turned out, were absolutely sincere, which makes me weep for the future of humanity. At the other end of the spectrum was the woman who grumbled “Obvious Photoshop”, thereby completely missing the point. Middle ground: it’s nothing but a fable.)

It’s a different world, these days. Time was you’d get away with something like that. The wobbly sets on ‘The Aztecs’, for example, show up rather nastily on DVD but on a twelve-inch screen in 1963 no one bats an eyelid. These days it’s far easier to rewind and scrub and freeze frame and zoom with minimal pixellation, to the extent that repeated viewings to spot the hidden details are something that certain writers and directors actively encourage. Witness Steven Moffat, for example, who in his Sherlock interviews rambled about “a clue that everyone’s missed”, prompting eagle-eyed fans with too much time on their hands to go back and look again.

Still, at least he’s never done that sort of thing in Doctor Who.

Yes. Well.

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Skip Nine

I’ve decided that hanging around Doctor Who forums is a bit like hanging out in a shopping centre with a bunch of teenagers on a Sunday evening. Occasionally you’ll witness a witty exchange of banter, a decent rap battle, a spot of genuine affection from a young couple, a dazzling display of skateboarding. But most of it is people trading insults and showing off. Occasionally a bottle of alcopop gets thrown at a window, although if you’re lucky you can avoid the crossfire: ‘Hide post’ is the equivalent of taking an abrupt right turn into the alley that cuts through past Card Factory and the back of New Look and through to the bus stop, where (mother of mercy) the 8:13 will be along any time now.

Why do it? I get this question thrown at me regularly, mostly by people who are far more sensible and who have full time jobs and who don’t understand (or have simply forgotten) the blood, sweat and tears that go into procrastination when you’re filling in the spare minutes between piano lessons or waiting for an article to go live. Yes, I know the kitchen needs cleaning; I’ll do it later. In all seriousness it’s mostly about people watching. It is by observing them, lurking silently and engaging when you have to, that you find out what makes them tick. There are sociological benefits: we think we understand the fans, but perhaps we cannot say this is truly the case until we have walked a mile in their Converse boots, or at the very least followed at a respectable distance, clearing up the misunderstandings.

In any event – when you hang around the forums, certain phrases jump out at you. “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey” is bandied about more than a geek’s underpants in a school changing room. “The Doctor lies” is another. Both are typically employed in situations where someone wants to contribute to a technical discussion whilst having absolutely nothing of any value to say. Laura Marling titled her second album I Speak Because I Can, which is a noble sentiment unless all that comes out of your mouth is irrelevant drivel.

But here’s one I see a lot. It’s one that deserves discussion – decent, consolidated discussion, which basically means everything I’ve ever written about it on Facebook, conveniently collected into a lengthy fan-baiting article. It’s the “Don’t skip Nine” thing – for the uninitiated, the fearful, almost fanatical devotion that self-proclaimed ‘serious’ fans have towards respecting the legacy of Eccleston, to the extent that they will cajole, ridicule and bully any other fans who say that they’re not particularly taken with him.  And it strikes me, having encountered it for years, that we have to clear this up. We have to clear it up because it is a talking point, because it says a lot about what’s wrong with the fandom, and because posts about it are endemic. Seriously. I’m looking at one right now. “Respect the first series,” it says, “and don’t skip it”.

At first glance it seems there is a bit of a straw man thing going on here. I’ve been wallowing in the murky depths of fandom for longer than I care to count and, despite looking very hard, I have yet to actually encounter anyone who says “Do skip Nine”. There are plenty of people who advocate watching it however you want (which is – to throw in a spoiler – basically what I was planning on doing for the rest of this post). But then you do a little digging and you discover that all too often, the Eccleston series gets missed off the American network broadcasts, and as it turns out it is these broadcasts that provide the only Doctor Who that many people the other side of the pond get to see. And thus, when hard-up high school students who can’t afford Netflix grumble that they never get to see the Eccleston episodes and is it really worth seeking them out specially, they’re typically reassured by well-meaning fans who say “No, it’s fine, you can jump ahead if you wan-”

“DON’T SKIP NINE!!!!”

Or, if you want to be marginally more polite, “Respect the first series and don’t skip – ” Look, if I really have to unpack this then let’s get a few things straight: first and foremost, if we’re counting, it wasn’t the first series. It was the twenty-seventh. It’s the first if you count Nu Who as a reboot – which I kind of do, most days, because while many people maintain it’s a single show that gradually evolves, there are still watershed moments and there is a colossal sea change between 1989 and 2005. ‘Rose’ is incredibly different to ‘Survival’. Really it is. Oh, you can talk about common threads and nods to Pertwee, but stylistically, structurally and tonally there is a huge chasm between Seven and Nine: it’s like a great big fiery ravine, with the 1996 TV movie standing in as one of those wobbly bridges that is in danger of bursting into flames and collapsing at any moment.

I don’t think you need to cross that bridge, necessarily. There is no problem with starting in the modern era and leaving it there. The past is another country, a Shangri La (literally, if Ken Dodd has anything to do with it) of strange and wonderful delights, but let’s deal with the elephant in the room: a lot of Classic Who is slow and doddery and while I love it to bits, it really isn’t for everyone. If we’re ever going to move on, we need to accept that some of it is boring. I still haven’t seen ‘Meglos’. It’s partly because the Target cover scared the crap out of me when I found it, as an uninitiated ten-year-old, in our local library, but it’s also because I’ve just never bothered and from what I can gather I haven’t missed very much. Those of you who are in here regularly will know that I write for The Doctor Who Companion, which periodically puts out feelers for new staff. When Phil (the site’s co-founder and editor-in-chief) was on one of his previous recruiting drives he included the following: “You have to like the show, but it really doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen every episode”.

Here’s the thing: half the people who are shouting “Don’t skip Nine” (and I know this, because I’ve talked to them) are happy to wallow in blissful ignorance when it comes to their knowledge of pre-2005 Doctor Who. “Oh, it’s not the same thing,” they say when I bring it up. “Because, you know, it’s a clean break. But there’s so much in that first series that defines what follows. If you don’t watch Eccleston, you don’t know about how he met Jack and Rose and how he helped Jack and how Rose helped him. You don’t know about Bad Wolf and so ‘Day of the Doctor’ makes no sense, and you don’t know how the Ninth was born in battle, full of blood and anger and reven-”

OK, stop. You’re quoting now and it’s embarrassing. I mean, I get all that; honestly I do. But it works on the other side of the coin. I have never been comfortable with this idea of the Doctor as a composite – it always strikes me he’s a dazzlingly inconsistent character who was written to reflect whatever attitudes the writers of the day wanted to advocate. But if we must see him this way, then we need to start at the beginning. For example, if you skip Hartnell, the significance of companions in the Doctor’s life will be lost on you. You’ll never really understand Donna’s words at the end of ‘The Runaway Bride’, and why he really does need someone with him. If you skip Troughton, you’ll miss out on why the Doctor was running, and why the clownlike persona that later informs Smith’s era is actually a facade, even though a number of people find it irritating.

If you skip Pertwee, you don’t understand the Doctor’s ambivalent relationship towards the military, and how the Brigadier’s actions at the end of the Silurians are echoed, to a certain extent, in ‘The Christmas Invasion’, and you’ll fail to grasp the Doctor’s relationship with Sarah Jane; hence most of ‘School Reunion’ will go over your head. If you skip Baker (the first), you’ll never fully understand ‘The Witch’s Familiar’. If you skip Davison, you won’t understand why the death of Adric haunted the Doctor for years, and had a keen bearing on the way the Eleventh Doctor developed. If you skip Baker (the second), you’ll miss out on a crucial plot development that informs, at least in part, the War Doctor’s eventual decision to use the Moment. If you skip McCoy, you’ll miss out on the gradual darkening of the Doctor that is the first stage of his road towards the Time War.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

There’s a problem with that little rant, and it is this: it’s possible to enjoy ‘School Reunion’ without having seen ‘Hand of Fear’. Consequently, it is equally possible to enjoy ‘Utopia’ without having seen ‘Parting of the Ways’. And yet the Eccleston warriors persist in their hundreds, insisting that he must never be skipped. It’s all very noble (sorry, that’s the wrong companion, surely?) but it betrays a certain hypocrisy, because when you actually confront indignant fans – you know, the ones who insist there is only one way to watch Doctor Who, and that’s from the ‘beginning’, right the way through – then the argument collapses faster than a house of cards that was sitting on a table at the onset of a small, localised earthquake. It turns out that many of these people have not seen Troughton. For them, the beginning is 2005, and everything that precedes it is commentary. I know this because I have checked.

And it goes further: I have to have the same conversations with Classic puritans for whom 1963 was the Alpha and 1989 a kind of Omega, and everything that follows that is commentary. Both theories have their advocates, but what about Big Finish? If I was to say that the only way to have a full appreciation of the show was to listen to the hours of supplementary audio material that accompanies it, could you really argue with me? What about the books? The comics? The video games? Where do you draw the line? Canon, you say? All right, what’s that?

You get this sort of double standard all over the forums. Just the other day, for example, I had an altercation with a fan who took umbrage with the Thirteenth Doctor’s ‘cruel’ or ‘cowardly’ behaviour in a few hand-picked (and misrepresented) scenarios: her callous treatment of the spiders, for example, or the irresponsible manner in which she flushes the P’Ting into outer space where it will presumably inflict more damage. “Not only has this Doctor forgotten the promise,” he griped, “She doesn’t even know what the promise means.”

Well. First and foremost, the ‘promise’ is a shameless bit of retconning from Moffat, albeit retconning I’m happy to endorse on the grounds that it’s his remit (and, as this chap pointed out, “Every episode since 1963 is to all intents and purposes a retcon”. But that’s kind of the point. The ‘cruel and cowardly’ thing was an off-the-cuff Dicks remark that later became a myth, albeit of the fluffy sort. It’s mostly harmless, but preaching it as some kind of orthodox liturgy does the Doctor something of a disservice, given that he’s broken it on multiple occasions throughout the years: witness the destruction of Skaro, ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, the Ogron who got shot in the back, the climax of ‘The Dominators’ (and please don’t get me started on Hartnell). Frequently the Doctor will casually blow something up and then walk away without a second thought. Sometimes he’ll even crack a joke (sit down, ‘Vengeance on Varos’, the macaroons are in the oven). The Doctor has no business being a role model of any sort – and if you’re going to chew out Whittaker, you have to chew out every single one of them.

I don’t have a problem with people who think Eccleston’s series is important. It is, even though I never really took to him as the Doctor. I also agree with the notion that watching it gives you a decent grounding in things that happen later, just as I maintain that a decent knowledge of the Peladon stories is helpful when you’re watching ‘Empress of Mars’. Things only become unpleasant when you decide that your own particular approach is the only sensible way to watch Who – in other words, when it is used (as it frequently is on the internet) as a stick with which to beat other fans. That’s when it gets sticky, if you’ll pardon the obvious pun. When I eat scones, I start with butter, then add a layer of jam, and then a healthy dollop of cream. In Devon, they do it the other way round. Believe it or not, I’m OK with this, just as I am OK with people who have sugar in their coffee. Why should there be only one way to skin a cat?

If you wanted to watch Doctor Who, you could start at the very beginning and work your way through. Or you could start at 2005 and then go back to the Classic episodes when you’re done with series 11. Or you could do as I did, and dip in and out, watching old stories in between the new ones. Watch a different story for each Classic Doctor and then investigate the ones you like. Or skip the eighties entirely; many people do. There is no ‘right’ or ‘best’ way of doing it. There is the approach that works for you, and that’s all that matters. Certain things are improved when watched in order – ‘Earthshock’ loses a certain something, for example, if it is the first Adric story you’ve seen. Conversely you can watch ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ having never seen ‘An Unearthly Child’ – or anything with Davros, for that matter – and you’ll be quite content. This is a show about time travel, and if some things happen out of order, it’s not a big deal. Welcome to the Doctor’s universe.

So skip Nine if you want. No one worth their salt will care, and anyone who lectures you about it isn’t worth engaging with. As with any other Doctor, he lifts right out and it’s possible to enjoy the show for what it is having never seen him. You’ll miss out on the gas mask zombies, one of the finest (and most fearsome) creations ever to grace our screens, but you’ll also miss ‘Boom Town’. Every cloud has a silver lining, just as every rose has its thorn. And believe it or not, there are some Roses you don’t have to pick.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Marvel Edition)

We open with a plummeting coyote.

It’s all academic. To give you some idea of how far behind we are, I haven’t even seen The Winter Soldier yet. I know roughly what happens in each movie – that Ultron probably gets shot into space, that Ragnarok was a hotbed of comedy, and that at the end of Infinity War Thanos wipes out half the universe (along with the identities of at least some of the casualties). I’m sure it’ll all be fixed in Endgame, the way death invariably is in the Marvel universe. We did manage to squeeze in Doctor Strange (verdict: swooshy and fun, although I can’t get used to Cumberbatch with that accent), as well as Deadpool and the first Guardians movie, both of whom were absolutely ridiculous, in a good way. I am Groot? I am Groot.

We’ll get to them – my shelf is full of unwatched Blu-Rays – but they’re so bloody long. Emily is an early-to-bed person as a general principle, and once we’ve got the kids in bed (or at least out of the way) it’s usually gone half past eight and that’s too long even for the likes of Civil War, never mind the three hour magnum opus that wraps everything up. And no, I’m not watching them with the kids. No, not even as a special treat. Seriously, they natter all the way through. It’s incredibly irritating. They can ruin it for themselves; just not for me. Call me fussy, but I’d kind of like to enjoy Civil War without having to explain the plot to everyone because none of them were listening during the exposition.

Most of the memes in here are of the Time Lord variety, but I do occasionally dabble with Marvel; sometimes there’s a Doctor Who connection, usually there isn’t. And given that absolutely everyone is talking about Endgame, with its midnight showings, tightly-concealed plot and the promise that it will make you cry for the entire running time (including the ads) then it really is time I stuck them up here, simply so that they’re on the web. Some (the Spider-Man photo) are very old. Others – the Tree Fu Tom one, which came about after a visit to CBeebies Land last week – turned up in my head quite recently. Excelsior!

 

#1. To begin, Thor runs into trouble (quite literally) out on the Rainbow Bridge.

 

#2. Credit to Jon Oliver (not to be confused with John Oliver) for the text here. I just gave it life.

 

#3. Marvel does…Pinter. This is Spider-Man: The Homecoming.

 

#4. Everyone’s complaining about Disney ruining things, and concordently…

 

#5. Superhero crossovers we’d like to see.

 

#6. That’s an empty bottle. Promise.

 

#7. “It was inevitable.”

 

#8. I have actually done this.

 

#9. And lastly.

Is Capaldi yelling at Tennant, or is Tennant yelling at Capaldi? You decide.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Easter special)

I’m going to be poking a sizeable portion of the fandom with a stick in a few days, folks, so do tune in later this week if you want to see the fireworks. I should point out that there’s nothing sensationalist about it; I just felt like a bit of a rant. You know, like when you’re in a Subway and they’ve stopped heating the sandwiches even though it’s only half past eight and they’re not closing for another hour and a half and THEY DIDN’T TELL YOU, and the only seating available is next to five black bin bags that have been left on the floor and the drinks machine is basically flavoured water, and your nacho beef subs don’t actually contain any nachos because they ran out and THEY DIDN’T TELL YOU, and they can’t give a refund because it’s just the two of them and there’s no manager.

I mean, hypothetically.

Anyway, that can wait for a bit. In the meantime, here’s a bumper roundup of news from the last fortnight or so. First: Record Store Day. Which I missed, which wasn’t a bad thing because the so-called vinyl revival is nothing but a fad purported by specialist retailers and music snobs. It did, however, reach the TARDIS.

I sometimes wonder if Levine sees anything I write about him. God I hope not. I do try and have a bit of patience with the man, but he makes it so piggin’ difficult.

If you follow the news, you’ll be aware that scientists have released a photo of a black hole – to be specific, the event horizon of a black hole, as the hole itself is impossible to photograph due to being…well, black. (“The thing about space,” Hattie Haydridge once explained in Red Dwarf, “is…”) Some 55 million light years from earth, the thing was 6.5 billion times bigger than the sun, which meant you had to have eyes as big as the Earth in order to photograph it. Or something. But a closer examination of the image reveals some interesting debris floating across not too far from the singularity.

(Eagle-eyed viewers will notice there’s a mistake in that. Bloody BBC interns. Never could get the staff.)

Back down to Earth now, and a leaked promo image for a new Brexit-themed mashup which goes under the working title ‘Fury from the DUP’.

If you were in the UK, it was a gorgeous weekend: we spent part of it in London, which was full of environmental protesters, selfie-snapping tourists and the smell of cannabis. There were new things at the Tate Modern and we got lost in Canary Wharf, but the Cabot Centre has a piano, so all was well. In the meantime, the Doctor and her friends were out enjoying the sunshine, but nobody spotted Darth Vader sneaking off with the Easter Eggs.

“Hmm,” says every single person to leave a comment. “I can’t see anything in that picture.” I knew I should have used a bloody Cyberman. Question: if you’re looking at one of the Silence / Silents, and then you look away, do you really forget the whole scene? Surely that’s not the case? You only forget about the Munsch derivative; everything else – characters, scenery and so on – is completely intact. If you’re going to reference a series 6 low point, at least do it properly.

Some people unsub from Doctor Who groups when they want to avoid spoilers. Others unsub because the fandom can be toxic, or because they feel their opinions are unwanted. Personally, I unsub around this date every year when you can barely move for selfies and arm shots covered in fucking tally marks. “Ooh! I don’t know why I have all these marks all over me!” I don’t know either. Because you’re a twat?

Sticking with today, and turning away from things that just make me sour, we turn to William Shakespeare, who celebrates a birthday and deathday, and who is close to losing it completely with his new understudies.

(This is crying out for a caption. Anyone want to oblige? No? That’s fine.)

I’m not the only one who’s been hanging out on Twitter. It seems the Doctor is keen to broadcast his TV viewing habits.

Things happen when you’re away. Thankfully nobody died, or at least nobody I’d have wanted to write about, but I did miss the Episode IX announcement, with all its bells and whistles and the pleasing presence of Billy Dee Williams, who will presumably turn out to be Finn’s uncle (or a closer blood relation). It’s something of a disappointment to discover that the film will be titled The Rise of Skywalker. Still: being out of the loop at least meant that I missed (or largely missed) the furore surrounding the Emperor’s laugh, the significance of Leia’s ring, and whether Matt Smith is involved. I can’t remember when this stopped being interesting, although I daresay I’ll see it and enjoy it more than most of the people who purport to be fans. Thank God it’s never like this with Doctor Who.

But then you’re back in Oxfordshire and you need to scratch the creative itch, at least a little. “Can I – ” (I found myself wondering) “- reference the tenth anniversary of ‘Planet of the Dead’, David Tennant’s birthday and the new Star Wars trailer, all within the confines of a single image?”

Yes. Yes, I can.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 912)

If you’re reading this, chances are I’m in the wilds of Staffordshire, checking out Ilam. It is an old hostel in a grand, Gothic manor dating from the seventeenth century. It has no WiFi or phone signal. This is queued; of course it is.

Entertainment first, and a leaked still from a deleted scene in a recent Holby City episode has raised more than a couple of eyebrows.

(This was, as anyone watching will attest, a thoroughly ridiculous plot twist. We knew that Ange had a secret, and we’d worked out what it was, but the likelihood of her coming to the exact same hospital as her son, and then working alongside him for months before finding out who he is? This is worse than bloody Neighbours. As I write this it’s Monday evening and the follow-up episode has yet to air, but I predict that she will say “I already let you go once, and it was the biggest mistake of my life. I’m not doing it again.” Let’s reconvene a week or two from now and find out whether I was right, shall we?)

Elsewhere, it was apparently National Unicorn Day, although it’s fair to say that not everybody enjoyed it.

Not that the man’s bad on a horse, having come from the outside to make a last-dash sprint for the finish line in last weekend’s Grand National.

But it wasn’t all jollity and cheering. As Cambridge celebrated their double win on the banks of the Thames on a cold, grey afternoon, there was a moment of solemn reflection as the crowds paused to remember the year the boat race ended in tragedy.

There’s something on your back, Sarah-Jane…

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The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part two)

When I’m not prepping badly Photoshopped memes or writing lengthy discourses for The Doctor Who Companion, you will often find me hunched over entry level video editing software, trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I’ll strip out audio, chop and swap to avoid copyright infringement, download effects, spend an aeon scanning for rogue frames. It is a lonely and not always rewarding experience – the ideas never quite manifest on screen the way they do in my head, and the videos I upload to social media are, more often than not, a question of ‘that’ll do’ rather than ‘that’s good’. I learned a long time ago to stop beating myself up over this. There’s nothing wrong with striving for self-improvement, and I’m always looking for ways I can do things better, but ultimately this is a hobby. Video editing is like sex: even average results are better than no results. At least you’ve done something.

No one watches me on YouTube any more. Facebook seems to be where it’s at. But I like YouTube; it allows for a more permanent, easily accessible (and malleable) archive that I can herd into collective posts like this one. And today, I bring you another instalment: we’re in the late stages of 2018 now, with three short videos I knocked out at the tail end of last year. I don’t think they’ve been seen by anyone who is likely to offer me a job, and as far as I am aware none of them made the likes of Doctor Who Magazine. But that’s fine. When your audience is small but appreciative, as opposed to large and fickle, there’s no pressure to outdo yourself. In each case I looked at the final result and thought “Yeah, that’ll do” – and sometimes, that’s actually a good place to be.

Onwards!

 

1. Whovian Kombat: The Witchfinders vs. The Satan Pit (November 2018)

Regular readers here may remember that back in late 2018, I was counting Satans. Well, to be specific, the number of times the word was used in ‘The Witchfinders‘, an episode obsessed with exorcising the demon (hunches shoulders, closes eyes, breathes out, says ‘This house is clean’ in best Zelda Rubenstein voice). My gosh, there were a lot of them. You don’t notice until you string them together, which I did, just for the fun of it. Bearing in mind that everyone speaks in colloquial (or at least understandable) English in this story – at a point in history when the language as we know it was still evolving – you do wonder if it’s a TARDIS translation thing, and that the old girl has got bored of all the other names they’ve been churning out and has interpreted everything as ‘Satan’ simply because she can’t be bothered. Or maybe demon fatigue has nothing to do with it. The TARDIS is always a little bit wary when it comes to the divine: like Alistair Campbell’s Labour party, as a matter of principle it doesn’t do God.

Anyway, this sort of evolved into a new feature: Whovian Kombat, in which we take two hopelessly mismatched episodes of the show and dump them in the Thunderdome until one of them has beaten the other to a bloody pulp. And in this instance there was an obvious candidate; obvious, that is, in more ways than one. You’ll see what I mean – but as a public service announcement I am completely out of ideas for a sequel, so if anyone has any episodes they’d like to see thrown together in this manner I would welcome all your comments. If no one can think of any, that’s probably not a bad thing. Sequels have a tendency to be rubbish, as Mad Max 3 proved in abundance.

 

2. Doctor Who meets Kermit the Frog (November 2018)

I didn’t like the frog. A lot of people did; a lot of other people found it rather silly. It’s a shame, in a way, because it’s the sort of abstract surrealism that I usually go for in abundance. I loved ‘Warriors’ Gate’. And the cinematic, almost portentous direction in the first half of ‘Androzani’ – in which the camera lingers, spying through keyholes and following at strange angles – is one of my favourite moments in Classic Who. And yes, I get that Grace loved frogs and that they clearly set this up from the beginning. That doesn’t mean it works.

The truth is that final scene is the straw that breaks the back of an already stumbling camel. The narrative that precedes it is trite and laboured; the story (such as it is) is dull, the dialogue second-rate. By the time the Doctor steps into the cost-saving white space containing a chair with a frog on it, I was already fed up. Series 11 was a mixed bag – some of it was marvellous, a lot of it was pleasingly average, and some of it was frankly dreadful – but this was a nadir. Generally the fan response to such things is to write lengthy rants about it in grumpy, swiftly-locked Facebook posts, but over the years I’ve found the best way to rinse out the taste of a bad experience is to take the piss out of it, which is exactly what I did.

You have to watch what you’re doing when you’re redubbing Kermit. There are two of them (well, three since the last one threw in the towel) and while Whitmire does a more than adequate job of reproducing Henson’s affable tones, there are subtle differences that stand out when you put the two of them together. So with the exception of the beginning, which borrows from the ‘Coconut’ sketch in Kenny Rogers’ 1979 Muppet Show appearance, most of these are actually from the soundtrack to The Muppets, the movie that catapulted the frog and his pals firmly back into the limelight – largely because Kermit’s at his most raw and vulnerable, which seemed to fit the vibe. And, because it’s the Muppets, we finish on a song. Fifteen seconds to curtain, Ms. Whittaker.

 

3. Resolution Trailer: Recut (December 2018)

Chris Chibnall said, more than once, that series 11 was “the perfect jumping on point”. I don’t know why I’ve put that in quotes when I’m paraphrasing. But you get the idea: you can start, if you want to, from the moment Ryan Sinclair fails to ride his bike, having never seen a single episode of Doctor Who before, and you’ll be fine. Certainly it almost worked; this felt, as much as anything had in years, like a clean break – right down to the lack of familiar monsters and only the vaguest mentions of the past. Yes, there were nods to ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’. That could easily have been a joke, had you not known such an episode existed. It’s all a far cry from series 3, in which the Doctor sits down with Martha and tells her all about Gallifrey, just after they’d escaped an obscure Troughton monster that no one really remembers because no one has seen it properly for decades. And yes, I know they just released the thing on Blu-Ray. Work with me.

But in any case – and for better or worse – that was almost what happened this time. There were throwbacks to the past (some of which were apparently put in to troll the already disgruntled), but you got the feeling that there was a sense of ripping up the worksheet and starting over – and it is this, I’m convinced, that angered many of the fans who felt they were watching something that no longer felt like Doctor Who. That’s another debate for another day (and watch this space for that) but it was something that did at least feed quite nicely into the much hyped trailer for the New Year special, in which the name of what the Doctor describes as ‘the most dangerous creature in the universe’ was held back until the episode proper. We all knew what it was anyway, but it added nicely to the tension: if the Doctor is scared, then we should be starting to panic a little bit ourselves. What could possibly be scarier than a Dalek?

Barney. Barney the bloody purple dinosaur. That could.

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