The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part seven)

After several months of catch-up, we are – almost – at the point where the videos are being blogged in the same season (if not quite the same month) that they were originally produced. That probably means you’ll see fewer of them on here for a bit, which is not a bad thing as we’re all a bit thick with series 12 stuff at the moment – although if you’re tired of reading about heavy-handed social commentary and politics then this may come as a welcome relief. Except one of today’s batch features the Prime Minister, so maybe not.

Shall we crack on, then?

 

1. Hulk Boris (September 2019)

September seems an age ago now, so let me play the magic harp sting that signals the beginnings of a flashback: it was one of those things that was trending, briefly, for no reason other than it was a Sunday and we were bored. “Banner might be bound in manacles,” Boris told the Mail, “but when provoked he would explode out of them. Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be – and that is the case for this country.”

He’s missed the point, but I’m not interested in deconstructing his argument; I will leave that to the likes of Mark Ruffalo, who had plenty to say. I just thought it would be fun to take some footage of Boris and score it to the Lonely Man theme from the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV series – you know, the moment at the end of every episode where Bill Bixby hoisted a small knapsack over his shoulder (presumably he’d just buy a new shirt in the next town) and then walk off down a tree-lined road, thumbing for a lift that never came, while the world’s most miserable piano music tinkled away in the background. That’s Boris, here. It doesn’t quite come off, but it was fun to throw together.

 

2. The Churchill Dog Does Back To The Future (October 2019)

Here’s something I’ve never told anybody: if you watch our wedding video, when I’m saying my vows, I am nodding my head up and down like a dog in the back of a car. I can’t remember why I was doing it; it was just the heady mix of nerves and passion and the maelstrom of chemicals that surge through you when you get married to someone you love. Emily calls it my Churchill performance, and it has become one of those running jokes that is amusing to you and you alone. I don’t even know why I’m writing about it.

Anyway. October last year – a few days before our anniversary, as it happens – and Churchill Car Insurance unveil a new advertising campaign, in which their iconic bulldog – now given a fresh lick of paint – is seen skateboarding along through a bustling urban locale while some pleasant ambient muzak drifts along in the background. It’s all very nice and calm and done rather well, but I really felt like they missed a trick by not using ‘The Power of Love’. So I stuck it in, and I can’t help thinking it’s an improvement.

 

 

3. Yellow: The Jodie Whittaker Version (October 2019)

OK, this one sort of exploded a bit.

Back in early autumn – it may have even been the dying embers of summer, depending on your geographical perspective – we got wind of an upcoming charity compilation for Children In Need, with various stars of stage and screen set to lend their vocal talents to a covers album. Said list included Adrian Lester, Jim Broadbent and Olivia Coleman, who is in everything. But the biggest news was Jodie Whittaker, who was covering ‘Yellow’. You can say what you like about Coldplay, who disappeared completely up their own arses after they became the backing music for just about every entertainment montage or charity video that TV could throw at us, but Parachutes is a great album, and ‘Yellow’ is a wonderful three minutes of unpretentious pop. Noticable from the preview footage was that Whittaker was opting to perform in her native accent, leading to various remarks (including one or two from me) suggesting that she’d actually be singing “…and it were all yeller”.

The album itself is quite good – Helena Bohnham Carter smashes ‘Both Sides Now’, Tennant supplies a servicable ‘Sunshine on Leith’ (although is there ever any point to a Proclaimers song that isn’t sung by the Proclaimers?) and the whole cast unites for a chirpy cover of ‘It Must Be Love’. But it’s Whittaker we want to focus on here, if only because setting her rather heartfelt vocal (delivered, as it turned out, while she was looking at a picture of her deceased nephew, to whom the song is silently dedicated) to a sequence of series 11 images really was a bit of a no-brainer. Why would you not?

I wasn’t the first. But publishing it on the anniversary of ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ turned out to be a helpful move; people were, I think, a little more kind as a result. You inevitably get a bit of trolling when you launch something like this – I had to block several people from my YouTube channel (hello Michael McGrath, are you still out there waving your toxic micropenis?), but I left as many negative comments up there as possible, which annoyed me less than it usually does given that the vast majority of them seemed to be focussing on the song, with ‘autotuned’ being the prevailing sentiment among her critics. Other people liked it. “You may have single-handedly revived the fortunes of Doctor Who” read one bit of feedback that landed on my timeline. Well, I really wouldn’t go that far. But I do know that Mandip Gill liked it, and that’s good enough.

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Review: Orphan 55

My American contacts sometimes tell me they have to watch Doctor Who with subtitles. “It’s the accent,” they insist. “It’s just too thick. We can’t understand what people are saying.” Having dug a little deeper, I’ve determined that the accent is only part of the equation: the real reason, it turns out, is the relentless pace at which dialogue drops out of the air, as if the cast had a sweepstake going to see how quickly Jodie Whittaker could get through a scene. For someone who claims not to have watched a great deal of Doctor Who she certainly knows her Tennant: nobody did caffeine-fuelled exposition quite like he did; at least nobody until now.

Whittaker’s penchant for technobabble almost proves her undoing tonight – “You talk too much”, one supporting character observes, and indeed it is this insistence on explaining everything at breakneck speed that causes the Doctor to drain her oxygen supply at the most inconvenient of moments. But that’s all right, because she’s just bumped into the surprisingly affable Dreg Chief, emerging from the shadows in a heaving mass of muscles and teeth to provide a crucial plot development. The Dregs, you see, are what humanity is destined to become if we don’t get our act together: mindless, permanently enraged half-people, attacking in mobs and incapable of anything resembling coherent language. Is this science fiction, or have they been at a Britain First rally?

‘Orphan 55’ is the tale of what happens when you don’t tell your friends why you’re miserable: having beaten off an unnamed, mostly unseen tentacled monstrosity just before we catch up with them at the story’s opening, the gang elect to take a holiday on Tranquility Spa, which looks rather like a European conference centre with an outdoor pool. Greeted by an unsightly dog (we really are in Spaceballs territory here), the Doctor swiftly finds herself alone and abandoned as her pals go off to explore on their own – and although it’s literally a matter of seconds before trouble starts, Whittaker looks, for a moment, just about as vulnerable and human as we’ve ever seen her. It is a lovely vignette that is over before it’s had the chance to really begin, and its brevity sets the tone for what follows: forty-five minutes of guns and explosions and noble self-sacrificing geriatrics, where ecosystems and corporate structures and scientific principles are all half-discussed, half-shouted in a flurry of exposition while several people run down a darkened corridor or panic over a computer terminal. It’s all horribly confusing in places, and if Ed Hime’s last effort (the atrocious ‘It Takes You Away’) suffered heavily from the complete absence of a plot, his follow-up suffers from having rather too much of one, which presumably means that Chibnall has to invite him back next year to see if he can nail it the third time.

Said plot revolves around the rather excessive security forces populating the facility, not to mention the sudden brownouts, which are enough for the Doctor to smell a rat – or at least a worm, which she yanks from Ryan’s mouth in what is the episode’s funniest sequence. Elsewhere Yas has bumped into a cheerful elderly pair and Graham just wants to lounge on a deckchair in a cardigan like a Kay’s catalogue model, but it isn’t long before the lights go out and the sirens go up, and then there is a gunfight in a corridor and the first of several deaths. Tranquility Spa is an onion of intrigue, hiding layers of revelatory insight, each layer darker and more intriguing than the last, and so the Doctor and her friends leave the safety of the hotel’s gleaming interiors to uncover them all – although it’s a decision that at least three of them will live to regret.

Along the way they run into the usual motley crew of supporting characters. Bella (Gia Re) is a troubled young woman hiding a dull family secret. Vilma (Julia Foster) is a surprisingly spritely pensioner who provides the catalyst for the story’s second act when the Doctor launches a rescue operation to find her kidnapped boyfriend. Nevi (James Buckley) is a middle-aged Oompa Loompa who didn’t realise that Bring Your Child To Work Day was last week; his role is to stand around looking entirely gormless while his son Silas (His Dark Materials’ Lewin Lloyd) does all the thinking. None of these people are very interesting and I have gone to the trouble of writing down their names and who played them in order to give you a handy reference guide, because you will have forgotten every single one of them by Wednesday, if not sooner. You’re welcome.

The second half of ‘Orphan 55’ is pure Terry Nation: there’s a bomb, and someone twists an ankle. The gang split off into factions to try and save themselves from certain death, with lessons learned and familial bonds strengthened at the eleventh hour. That said, I can’t for the life of me remember what Yas was doing: a couple of early scenes aside, Mandip Gill really has been horribly underwritten this series, to the extent that if she had slipped into the crack of erasure that swallowed Rory Williams, not even the audience would notice. It’s a shame, because there is an innocent sweetness to Gill that made her one of the most endearing facets of Whittaker’s first year, and to see her confined to the sidelines in this manner is frustrating, particularly when she’s clearly talented.

All inadequacies aside, it’s at least a lot of fun to watch, and things are breezing along quite well until the last minute and a half, when a dejected crew stand around the TARDIS console wondering if there’s any point to anything. It’s left to their captain to reveal, with all the subtlety of a presidential Tweet, that this apocalyptic future happened because of man’s inhumanity to man – and, what’s more, we can change it. Which would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that generally speaking we can’t: awkward moments in ‘Pyramids of Mars’ aside, Doctor Who is very much a predestination show, the parallel timelines of Back to the Future confined gracefully to the waste bin of unused plot devices, except when it’s really important to the narrative or the writers are simply bored. Or when some suited executive sends down a fax asking them to tone it down so the kids don’t get too scared, because they really want to stay on the right side of Ofcom now the election’s over, and isn’t Greta going to find it all a bit defeatist? Or perhaps Chibnall felt the story needed a rewrite. Or perhaps there was no tinkering at all: perhaps it was simply Hine erecting a soapbox in the TARDIS (which is understandable; Whittaker’s only five foot six). The net result, regardless of its point of origin, is a watered-down environmental message that undoubtedly serves its purpose, assuming that purpose was to send the episode crashing through the floor right at the end of its denoument. “It’s only a possible future,” the Doctor insists, calmly, to which there really ought to be a unilateral cry of ‘Bollocks’.

There was a Guardian thinkpiece this week – I’m not linking to it; it’s ridiculously misguided – that said Doctor Who wasn’t woke; it was more offensive than ever, and proceeded to tell us why (their argument was basically “Token trans characters and the black people died”). At the other end of the scale, I was told this evening that including a climate change message was pandering to the Woke brigade – something I don’t fully understand, as there’s nothing Woke about climate change and there never really has been; it’s simple common sense. I don’t know where we go from there, but if you’re in a place where Doctor Who is offending both sides of the fandom, you’re either getting it colossally right or colossally wrong. I really would like to say it’s the former, but every week it becomes harder to make that call. Someone, somewhere, is making a lot of bad decisions this year – it may be Chibnall, it may be someone else, but the net result is a TV programme that’s in danger of losing its identity – at least last year we knew what Doctor Who was, even if it wasn’t something we immediately recognised, and if these last three weeks have proven anything it’s that indulging in transparent fan service is only going to erode whatever identity you were in the process of forging (which is what happened to the last Star Wars film). There is, somewhere underneath, a terrific show in series 12 waiting to get out, but it’s not one we’ve thus far been allowed to see. Instead we’re presented with a glossy, outwardly respectable veneer – a Tranquility Spa of slick marketing videos and idyllic publicity stills and a hype train loaded with goodness – that hides a dark underbelly of something rotten. It’s just a question of how long everyone can survive before the walls cave in.

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God Is In The Detail (12-02)

Good morrow, fair citizens. Perchance you tuned in here for the latest in our round-up of HIGHLY IMPORTANT CLUES AND REFERENCES in this week’s Doctor Who? You did? Well, that’s marvellous. Pull up a chair and let me tell you about all the stuff you missed in the second part of ‘Spyfall’. Today we’ll be dealing with hidden signs, fake numbers and the return of an old companion. Anyone bring biscuits?

We’re off to Jodrell Bank first. You’ll recall that, in war torn Paris, the Doctor alluded to a previous encounter she’d had with the Master, which ended in a large fall from a radio telescope and a regeneration. Never mind the fact that ‘Logopolis’ wasn’t actually filmed at Jodrell Bank, or even set there – that’s either Chibnall demonstrating ineptitude or carelessness or deliberately trolling the fanbase, depending on whom you ask. The implication is obvious: it’s supposed to be about the Fourth Doctor’s tumble from the tower, and one of the most moving handovers ever committed to film. It doesn’t take an idiot to figure that out, even if you can quibble about whether the idiot himself is the current chief writer.

So the Master asks if he’s ever apologised for it, and the Doctor says no he hasn’t, and the Master simply replies “Good”. And this seemingly innocuous exchange means nothing at all, until you figure out that it’s actually foreshadowed EARLIER IN THIS EPISODE. And if you doubt me, look at the numbers on Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine.

Note two things: first, the presence of the large black rod that marks the place where the number 5 is supposed to be; second, the number of teeth (12) that sit across the bottom part of that cog, which refers specifically to the number of times the Doctor regenerated before reaching the end of his first cycle. The significance of the numbers of the right I will leave for you to fathom. Be warned that the discovery is not a pleasant one.

From 1830s London we’re shifting gears to contemporary Essex – well, it’s not Essex, but I’ll explain why in a moment. Here’s Bradley, Tosin and Mandip, examining maps in the middle of a bustling town.

I did Google it, without success, but the Facebook Hive Mind has confirmed that this was shot in Barry, specifically at King Square – location map as follows:

There are several things to note, not least of which is the large human figure sitting on top of a gym ball (see below). But it’s the geography of the neighbouring streets that I want you to examine, because believe it or not it’s all tied up with none other than Martha Jones. A quick Street View perusal of the area reveals the following, within close proximity:

Superdrug
Cats Protection
Guardian Jewellery

Hmm. Cats? In a story with drugs? On a street that’s been designated one way for more than half its length (southwestbound) in order to alleviate GRIDLOCK? You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? But why Martha specifically? Well, that’s tied up partly with street names – one of the roads leading off King Square is the B4294, which relates DEFINITIVELY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to ’42’, which also starred Martha. But I also want you to think back to ‘The Infinite Quest’, in which the Doctor and Martha embarked on a series of adventures to recover various items of jewellery From this we can conclude that Martha will return in a story featuring the Black Guardian, who seeks a magic ring that will allow him to wield ultimate power unless it is melted in the fires of Mount Doom a trinket of some sort.

Oh, I promised you that gym ball, didn’t I? Here it is.

Next, a phone number.

For those of you who have yet to look this up, let me save you the trouble: 01632 pertains to a fictional area code that is, for the present, the exclusive domain of TV and film. In other words, it’s when they want to show a phone number but they don’t want everyone freeze-framing the TV and trying to call the Ghostbusters Firehouse, or Torchwood Three, or God. Try it. You’ll get nowhere.

But it’s the number that follows – ascribed to that payphone in the middle of ‘Essex’ – that is curious. Because 960470 actually refers to something very specific. It’s not a pantone reference. It’s not a Nissan part number. It’s not an Amazon product code. Well, actually it’s all three, and then some, but that’s not why we’re here. It actually refers to a photo uploaded to Geograph, taken by a chap named Tony Aitken, on the Camel Trail near Nanstallon in Cornwall. Not far from Bodmin, home to a substantial Masonic Hall, several nice churches and an enormous mythological cat. And if you’ve ever wondered why Doctor Who hasn’t done Bodmin Moor yet, now you know. It’s coming next year. We called it.

Finally, we’re back at the start of the episode, during the scene where Ryan’s crawling across the burning plane to find…this.

You didn’t need me to tell you, but this is all connected with anagrams. ‘SEAT POCKET’ can be rearranged to form the words ‘CASKET POET’, clearly alluding to a story in which the Doctor encounters a deceased writer. That’s about half the poets on the block, and then some. It’s a good start, but where do we go from there? Which poet is he talking about? Shelley? Keats? Byron? Shakespeare?

Oh look, there she is again. You’ve had your turn, Martha, now sit down.

No, actually, stand up. Because the truth – stranger than fiction – is linked to the words ‘Dead Poets Society’, the 1989 coming-of-age drama starring Robin Williams as the unorthodox Mr Keating. In other words, this doesn’t just refer to one poet: it’s a whole bunch of them. But it’s the initials I want you to examine, because DPS is not only the abbreviated form of Peter Weir’s Oscar Nominated Magnum Opus – it also stands for Descent Propulsion System, a rocket engine used in the Apollo moon landings. An event which was witnessed by Martha. In a story that’s just featured in a crossover comic starring the Thirteenth Doctor. You’re welcome.

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 12 edition, part one)

Halloo! There will be fresh a conspiracy theory roundup very soon – of course there will – but to tide you over until then, here’s the first bi-weekly edition of memes from this year’s Doctor Who series, along with topical stuff that simply couldn’t wait. I am tapping this while waiting for the shopping to arrive, and Tesco do have a tendency to be early, so let’s crack on, shall we?

‘Spyfall’ first: and, in a joke that is probably going to appeal to a maximum of three people, there’s a major upset when the Doctor tries to decode the Kasaavin signal.

In the year 200,000 there’s much hilarity on Twitter when Billie Piper botches an easy question.

Taking refuge during a Kansas cyclone, young Dorothy Gale gets a nasty shock when she looks out of the window.

And fresh from his appearance in a Japanese TV trailer, Baby Sonic dashes from the Green Hill Zone to the fields of Provence to give his flower to a very special painter.

In a Trenzalore cemetery, a whispered conversation reveals the truth behind the controversy around last year’s Christmas blockbuster.

And stranded on Earth and forced to live through most of the twentieth century, the Master takes a job at the BBC.

“Do you know any sci-fi?”

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Review: Spyfall (Part Two)

Spoilers follow.

It’s 1988, and Keanu Reeves has just stepped into a phone box. It will be over a decade before he does this to escape from a hammy Man In Black; on this occasion it’s strictly academic, in the most literal sense. Keanu, you see, is playing one half of a time travelling twosome who need to pass a history test in order to save the world. In the company of Alex Winter (who did Freaked and then dropped off the radar faster than Change UK), Keanu travels back and forth through time picking up various historical figures, getting in and out of scrapes, and playing air guitar a lot. Towards the end of the film, he and Alex are in something of a predicament: how, the two of them ponder, can their report be salvaged when there’s no time left to break people out of the lockup? The only solution is to go back and do it afterwards and leave everything they’ll need lying around, so that’s exactly what they do. Three years later, while waging war with an unpleasant P.E. teacher / would-be dictator in the middle of a Battle of the Bands contest, they win by using the same strategy. It’s cheating, really, but it works.

By and large – and this is not a criticism – Doctor Who doesn’t do it. Oh, there are moments. ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’ builds its entire opening episode around the conceit, as Rowan Atkinson and Jonathan Pryce trade insults and wave metaphorical tackle over opposing sides of a castle banqueting hall. It’s something apparently dear to the heart of Steven Moffat, and there would be periods, much later on, where it would become a convenient escape device from a seemingly impossible situation (cf. ‘Blink’, ‘The Big Bang’), or even a multi-episode plot device (hello series 6, pull up a chair and have a custard cream). But stories in which time travel is used as a plot device, rather than a convenient method of establishing a setting, seem to be on the wane in this bold new vision of the show. For better or worse, it seemed like these were days we’d left behind: that the complicated bootstrap paradoxes of ‘Before The Flood’ were largely – and do excuse the pun – a thing of the past. And so they were, until tonight.

That Chibnall uses it twice in the same episode (once to resolve a cliffhanger, once to save the Earth) isn’t necessarily a problem. A surreptitious rewiring is the sort of thing the Doctor does all the time; it’s how he cheats death in ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ and ‘Evolution of the Daleks’, so why shouldn’t it work when it’s applied across multiple time periods? It doesn’t even feel like Chibnall’s out of his depth, particularly: there are undoubtedly holes in the blanket but you could say that of any of Moffat’s stories, and thus it seems churlish to look for them. And for those of us who were expecting a last-minute spiriting away to the Master’s TARDIS, accompanied by the words “I’d much rather enjoy the satisfaction of watching the Doctor’s friends die while she was here to witness it” (which is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to happen) it came as a pleasant surprise when Ryan crawled commando-style up the floor of the jet only to see his name written on the wall, like discovering your name on a gift underneath an explosive Christmas tree that’s now caught fire. Landing a plane with a mobile phone? Well, Bond did it with a car. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, particularly when it can spirit you away from white glowing aliens, or men with guns.

No, the problem with ‘Spyfall: Part Two’ has nothing to do with silly plot devices; it’s simply that the pacing is off. Having the Doctor travel two hundred years into the past to pick up Ada Lovelace is absolutely fine. The pages of exposition seemingly necessary to explain her importance, however, are downright tedious. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in 1830s London with Charles Babbage or war torn Paris with the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo; Whittaker paces and monologues and gushes about the admirable pioneering qualities of the people whose memories she will eventually wipe, reeling out the history, seemingly unaware that she’s left her mates in 21st century Essex. It’s like watching a BBC Schools presenter on crack. I’m being unnecessarily unkind, but there is a reason why the Doctor is not allowed to travel alone; occasionally she needs someone to tell her to shut up.

The story – such as it is – concerns a secret conspiracy by tech guru Daniel Barton to wipe the minds of most of the planet’s populace (presumably with some sort of temporary infrastructure on standby to compensate for the socioeconomic cataclysm that would inevitably follow) in order to satisfy the whims of an alien race who, it is hoped, we will see again, if only so they can give us something by way of character motivation. There are plans to enslave the Earth, but we don’t know why; nor are we particularly concerned about any of it. The mysterious non-space between worlds is given no decent explanation, even though it is clearly crying out for one; nor do we get any real clue as to why the Kasaavin were tracking the development of technology, not least a prototype computer that never really worked to begin with. Considering they’re clearly up for teaching a bit of history it would have been nice to include at least a couple of lines about what Lovelace and Babbage were actually doing, but we don’t even get that, which makes it all the trickier to work out why the otherworldly beings were sniffing around 1830s Marylebone. Even the Gelth – as featured in Mark Gatiss’ greatly troubled ‘Unquiet Dead’ – had more of a backstory.

It’s left to the companions to fill in the gaps, which they do with varying degrees of success: Graham is clearly enjoying his laser shoes, operating them with pixel-perfect precision even in the absence of a manual (seriously, did none of this lot watch The Greatest American Hero?), while Ryan whoops and tries not to clap too loudly for fear of launching a missile from his forearms. Yas, on the other hand, has clearly been on one secondment too many, as she seems to have forgotten that she’s a police officer: finding jobs for three companions is tricky at the best of times, which was why Nyssa was always getting headaches, but Gill’s role this week is to sit in darkened warehouses looking clueless while the men have all the fun. There is a melancholy about Yas as she does this; perhaps she’s seen the scripts for the rest of the series and realised that they’re establishing a pattern.

While all this is going on, the Doctor is travelling back and forth (but mostly forth) throughout history, pursued by the new Master, adorned in any number of period costumes in the manner of a recurring Highlander villain (his induction into the Aryan-fetishising Gestapo is, at least, explained, although you can’t help thinking it didn’t really need to be). Unmasked, unleashed and quite possibly unhinged, Sacha Dhawan once again proves himself to be the best thing about this new series by a mile, trading insults with the Doctor atop la Tour Eiffel and getting trigger happy with his Tissue Compressor in polite company. The two of them even get to indulge in a bit of telepathy (after repeatedly spelling out the letter ‘H’ on a Morse transmitter) in a scene that will either make Classic fans cheer or howl with rage, depending on whether we’re talking about Gatiss or Ian Levine. Deadly when roused and even deadlier when quiet, Dhawan wears the skin of the Master like a well-fitted suit, toning down the craziness of his brief introduction last week in order to gloat and glare, before smouldering with rage when he reveals exactly who was responsible for Gallifrey’s apparent destruction.

Ah yes, that. There’s something slightly amateurish about the sight of that ashened, ruined wasteland some ten or fifteen minutes after we’ve heard the Master talking about it. It gives the Doctor a reason to pop over there (something she can apparently do at will now, even though the Time Lords are seemingly unable or unwilling to reciprocate) – still, how much better might it have been for us to first glimpse the ruined citadel completely unwarned? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a maxim that gets thrown about far too much, but it still feels as if this was the perfect opportunity to use it – as it stands there is no shock value to the scene because we know it is coming, and the BBC presents only the most cursory of vistas, prompting only the mildest of reactions from the person looking at it. Would it have been too much to see the Doctor cry, or at least show some visible signs of upset besides sitting against a TARDIS wall, looking as blank and forlorn as Yas did earlier in the story?

Or perhaps that’s the point – perhaps this, too, is the calm before the storm, a storm the Doctor can only weather with the help of friends she is currently content to leave in the dark, thus setting the stage for six or seven episodes of skirting around the question of who she really is before a final, explosive confrontation. And perhaps that’s the only way to reinvent Gallifreyan history – something, it seems, Chibnall is about to do – without it becoming tedious. And it is destined to be tedious, this game of gods and monsters and prophecy. It is an awkward fact that stories about Time Lords – the anomaly of ‘Deadly Assassin’ aside – tend towards dullness, and it is difficult to see how the current regime could reinvent them. But it does, at least, give us something to ponder as the weeks unfold and the awkwardness in the console room builds towards an inevitable crescendo. Like it or not, we’re going back to Gallifrey, and all that remains now is to see how much of the fandom Chibnall can poke with a stick without losing the casual viewers. It’s a dangerous game, but so is getting out of bed, so one more step along the road we go.

Maybe Graham could bring along his laser shoes. That’d be fun.

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God Is In The Detail (12-01)

Rejoice, Doctor Who fans! After a year-long break – and then some – we’re back with another round of unearthed conspiracies, wild fan theory and VERY IMPORTAND AND SECRET INFORMATION, as we dissect and discuss the episodes in this year’s series.

For the uninitiated – and there may be a few of you – this aspect of Brian of Morbius all stems from a single episode of Sherlock – or, specifically, the interviews that followed it. Questioned, after the events of ‘The Reichenbach Fall’, as to how Benedict Cumberbatch could possibly have survived his topple from that roof, Steven Moffat replied that there was “a clue that everybody missed”. It prompted a flurry of speculation and enough wild goose chases to fill an Anna Paquin movie. But there was a truth to it, because Moffat did this sort of thing all the time, particularly when he was running Doctor Who, loading his stories with clues and signs as to the fantastical directions they were destined to take.

And so I set about finding them. Seven years later, we’re still going strong – it’s a mantle Chibnall seems to have inherited – and that’s why whenever a series comes out, you’ll find this blog filled with discussion about the SIGNIFICANT AND CLEARLY SIGNPOSTED CLUES AND HINTS as to where the series arc is going. Today we’re looking at part one of ‘Spyfall’, so I advise you not to read any further if it’s a story you have yet to see – but if you have, you may not have realised that it was full of hidden references, some of which took some considerable time and effort to dig up. Join us now, constant reader, as we take a tumble down the rabbit hole. Be warned that this way lies temporary madness, but also blissful enlightenment. And did you bring a tin opener?

We will start, as we almost invariably do, with a control panel.

“BE ALERT!” the monitor readout doesn’t quite say. “THE WORLD NEEDS LERTS!” I nearly compiled an annotated version of this, but there’s not an awful lot to do: note, however, a couple of things that may not be immediately obvious, particularly the 1959 in the top centre. 1959 was, of course, the year that the Seventh Doctor and Mel landed in Shangri-La, the Welsh holiday camp hiding a dark secret (no, not Michael Barrymore) – a CLEAR AND TRANSPARENT indication that Sylvester McCoy is set to make a return appearance, presumably alongside Belinda Mayne. There are a number of reasons why I’ve reached this conclusion, but one thing at a time.

Of significantly more interest is ‘G-BGUX’ on the right hand side, below the display. ‘Gux’, according to the Urban Dictionary, is a Swiss German colloquialism both for ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’. GB – referring, of course, to Great Britain – thus exists in a quantum state of both unification and division (did we mention Sylvester McCoy was Scottish and that parts of the show are still filmed in Wales?). Time is in flux, and our actions over the next twelve months could be crucial. And you thought Chris Chibnall was done with Brexit jokes.

The GR-AH reference, of course, should be self-explanatory, so I won’t waste my time unpacking that one. Now, have a look at this.

There are two key themes to this week’s collection of signs and portents: the Seventh Doctor (more of him in a bit) and the Master, whose sudden appearance at the end of the series 12 opener shocked and stunned the fandom. At least, it shocked and stunned those of us who didn’t know it was coming – something that was obvious in hindsight, or if you were simply paying attention. For instance, the computer monitor above contains three eye-shaped maps, corresponding DIRECTLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to the first three Doctors – and it is during the reign of the Third Doctor, the highlighted map, that the Master first appears. Moreover the shape of the maps is significant on a number of levels, pertaining as it does to the Eye of Harmony, the portable black hole that powered the TARDIS, first seen in full in ‘The Deadly Assassin’, which featured the Master, and then later in Doctor Who: The Movie, which featured the Seventh Doctor and also…well, you can see where this is going.

But if you watch ‘Spyfall’ properly you’ll find there are clues to the Master’s return hidden right at the beginning, notably in the secret message that the unnamed agent reads in the toilet in the pre-titles teaser. I had to tinker with this to get the clearest image, but it was worth it, because there is a wealth of information embedded in those numbers.

You see? It was right there in plain sight, and you all missed it. Look carefully next time. I can’t do all this on my own.

Next: a map. I love maps. [Affects Yorkshire accent, does slightly leery grin]

So far, so so-so. Alas there is no way of actually ascertaining the precise coordinates to which this map refers: you will be reassured, constant reader, that I spent many fruitless hours perusing the internet, the London and Sheffield street atlases and the Ordnance Survey archive at my local library in order to glean this information, but to no avail. I got through six bottles of Ribena last night trying to figure this out and I really need a wee.

Hang on.

Right, back. No, listen: there’s a good chance that the location is important, and I’m still waiting for my network of Dark Web contacts (who go under the pseudonyms of Lamster, Hedgehog and Glumpy) to dig up the goods. But in the absence of that, I did a little drawing of my own, and look what happens if you connect the occurrences of the word ‘DIE’.

Bad…WF? WF? What does that refer to? Bad Wolf is an obvious answer, if we were to find an O and an L from somewhere (probably down the back of the sofa; that’s the last time I saw the TV remote). But here’s a thing. You may be interested to know that Ian Lavender, star of Dad’s Army (and once seen by this reporter in pantomime in Canterbury, the winter of 1994) celebrates his birthday on 16 February – a Sunday, and the same day that the as-yet untitled episode 8 of series 12 is due to air. And if we insert the initials IL into WF, we get…Wilf.

What could could this mean? Is an ageing Bernard Cribbins set to return to Doctor Who taking the role of a darkened, decaying version of Donna’s grandfather, perhaps someone who’s had his body stolen? Is there some sort of crossover coming involving the heart of the TARDIS and Billie Piper’s teeth? Do we take any significance from the fact that this is episode 8, and that the Eighth Doctor made his debut in 1996 – fifty years to the year, incidentally, after Ian Lavender was born – facing off against Eric Roberts? Do we further take any significance from the fact that the aforementioned Lavender starred in Eastenders alongside the aforementioned Bonnie Langford?  I don’t know, and neither do you. But lest we forget, Wilf made his final appearance at the beginning of 2010 – that’s ten years ago, folks, TEN – in which he urged the Doctor to take up arms and kill the Master. But you’ll have to draw your own conclusions, I’m afraid. I know I have.

We’re almost done but there are two more things to show you. The first is this.

 

Two things to note: the fact that ’89’ is clearly visible on the readout, referring UNAMBIGUOUSLY AND EXPLICITLY to the year that Doctor Who was cancelled, right after ‘Survival’ (which featured, as we have previously noted, both the Seventh Doctor and the Master), and also the two pale orange lights near the top of the dial. Because here’s how it works: taking these as season numbers, and where the very first blue light at the top of the dial refers to 1963’s season 1, these two amber lights refer respectively to seasons 38 and 39 – in other words, taking into account a continuous numbering from Hartnell through to Whittaker, this year’s series and next. In other words, constant reader, this is a long game, and one that won’t be over until Whittaker’s third and likely final run of episodes, and episode 10 (which may be denoted by the percentage sign, if you examine it at just the right angle) is going to end on a massive cliffhanger.

And it’s worth remembering, of course, precisely where Ryan and Graham’s roulette ball chose to land.

Anyway, the tea’s getting cold. See you next time.

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Review: Spyfall

   

Warning: a plethora of spoilers follow.

The other night, my family and I sat down to watch Johnny English Strikes Again. It’s been on the to-do list for a while and we had a spare ninety minutes, which is all it takes for David Kerr to tell his tale of a haphazard secret agent pulled out of retirement when all the other active agents across the globe become suddenly and inexplicably compromised. The man responsible? A seemingly benevolent tech billionaire from Silicon Valley with designs on taking over the world. And only Rowan Atkinson, with his reliance on old school techiques and prowess with a baguette (if you’ve seen the film you’ll know what this is about) can stop him.

I can’t help thinking that such recent exposure to a swiftly flagging franchise renders me incapable of supplying an on-point and unbiased review after the spectacle we all just witnessed. Because it was hard not to feel a sense of already seen as we watched Jodie Whittaker bumble her way through an hour of awkard gags and mildly tedious chase sequences. Bond 25 is due in April and it was clear from the very first shot – a glorious African vista with a secret service operative hiding behind an oversized title card – that this was going to be a jetsetting tour-de-force of espionage and intrigue, with gadgets and guns and sharp-dressed villains. It was obvious enough from the trailer, which featured Lenny Henry shooting out the back of a moving car while Whittaker dons a tuxedo in the middle of a vineyard. This was clearly about cashing in on 007 while it’s hot – like the garage of a kleptomaniac roadworks operator, all the signs were there.

Still, needs must. I’m not sure I can say with a clear conscience that this was any sort of classic, but neither was it a car crash (although it features one or two). ‘Spyfall’ strides the awkward middle line between haphazard fun and mediocre buffoonery, equal parts cringe to crowdpleasing, and there is a sense, as its closing credits roll, of having watched something that was basically candy floss: enjoyable while it lasts but flimsily and loosely constructed, and prone to falling apart the second you poke at it. That’s probably OK: some people like candy floss.

When we last saw Team TARDIS, they were dematerialising into the sunset after the events of ‘Resolution’. A discarded calendar later, the three companions are about to go travelling again: Graham, winner of this year’s “Most likely to have his backstory sidelined” award, is having a check-up; Yas is explaining away yet another secondment; and Ryan has bunked off work for months by faking a series of health scares, including but not limited to a detached retina. (It’s played for laughs, but I had an ex-colleague who used to do this and it’s no joking matter when you spend half your working day covering someone else’s paperwork.) Meanwhile, the Doctor is in the process of changing a spark plug, or something. It’s not exactly a grand entrance, but at least she still has the steampunk eyewear.

Things kick off when the intrepid foursome are all but kidnapped by a bunch of government agents whose job it is to drive them from Sheffield to London: this being Doctor Who, the sat nav goes awry and tries to kill them en route. Before long they’re in the office of C (Stephen Fry, phoning it in from SW1), an MI6 executive whose job it is to look very grave just before he’s shot in the back of the head. It’s so sudden, Ryan almost has a facial movement. The assassins are strange, multi-dimensional chameleonic beings who can seep through walls and even into the console room, and once it becomes apparent that they’re all in danger, the Doctor decides that the best plan is for the four of them to pair off so they’re not as well protected. Thus, she and Graham fly the TARDIS to Australia to catch up with an old friend, while Ryan and Yas visit San Francisco to grill the shady internet mogul (Lenny Henry) who may be responsible.

We ought to say at this point in proceedings that for all her champing at the bit, the Doctor makes a rubbish spy. Her stratagem for getting results at Daniel Barton’s birthday party is to directly confront its host, with not a shred of tangible evidence beyond a couple of readouts, and she then wonders why he immediately jumps into a Bentley in order to escape from the crazy woman on the patio. Such a clumsily presented scene can only be there to lead us into yet another set piece, and indeed ‘Spyfall’ is full of such moments, jumping from one locale to the next with barely enough time to breathe or explore. A single scene with Yas and Ryan, perched outside an Australian cottage hiding a deep dark secret, is about the only real character-advancing moment we get: all the rest is sound and fury, signifying nothing.

It’s a shame, because Whittaker really is quite good: self-assured and endearing with just a pinch of the darkness we were hoping for. Whether it’s confusing Pontoon with Snap or using a wing mirror to deflect laser blasts in a malfunctioning vehicle, she approaches the role with grace and dignity and seems more Doctor-like than she did last year, even when Chibnall’s script hands her another clunky monologue. She even manages to make the technobabble work, just about. Likewise, the supporting cast do their thing well enough, although it’s a bit tiresome they all get on so well. No one wants another Adric and Tegan, but can’t we at least have a bit of an argument about the TARDIS lighting or something?

Two minutes from the end, the Master shows up. This isn’t strictly true, of course: he’s been there all the time, hiding beneath Sacha Dhawan’s amiable exterior. Dhawan (no stranger to Who, having played Waris Hussein in 2013’s ‘Adventure in Space and Time’) is already a likeable sidekick, but he makes for an even better villain, sneering and angry and possibly quite mad, all the things the Master should be, embodied in a single blazing sequence on board a booby-trapped passenger jet. We were promised a big bang to Episode 1, and for a change this one actually delivers, largely thanks to O’s abrupt heel turn into a character we all know, in an incarnation who is at once new and yet instantly recognisable, even if the fans are going to be arguing for weeks about the chronology. Having been set up as a feasible romantic foil for Yas, the renegade Time Lord engineers a sudden (some would say rushed) cliffhanger, with the Doctor spirited abruptly away from proceedings as her companions face almost certain death – although there’s a TARDIS with a functioning chameleon circuit just outside the window, so probably not.

There are good things about this besides Dhawan. Certainly the whole thing feels like Fleming on a BBC budget; it’s just a question of whether that’s the sort of thing that tickles your fancy or leaves you wondering why they bothered. There are briefcases full of laser shoes and near misses in plush corporate offices (although are we really supposed to believe that Barton didn’t see Yas and Ryan poking their heads three feet above that sofa?). The plot may be nonsensical but this is, at least, something that’s trying to entertain us, even if it’s occasionally trying much too hard. The visual style carries a flair of its own, matched by the score: composer Segun Akinola, having paid tribute to nineties-style Bond orchestrations in ‘Resolution’, delves into outright pastiche here as the camera pans up over the vineyards surrounding Barton’s birthday shindig. It’s ridiculous but it does the job, just like everything else.

But the giggles and surprises can’t mask the pitfalls of last series creeping in. Whether it’s the nondescript villains, the awkward social commentary, the pedestrian dialogue or Chibnall trolling the fandom as the Doctor explains her gender switch with the words “I’ve had an upgrade”, there’s a sense here that some lessons have been learned, but perhaps not quite enough. As hard as it tries, ‘Spyfall’ (at least this part) can’t help but feel like something that was so desperate to be Bond it forgot it also had to be Doctor Who. It’s gift horse and mouth territory so the temptation is to be kind, and it’s still the beginning of the run, so there’s time to get this right – and perhaps with Dhawan’s Master at the helm (or at least in the cargo bay, planting explosives), the series can get back on track without lapsing into tedium. Certainly by bringing him back in this manner Chibnall’s paved an avenue worth exploring, with a new Master / Doctor relationship ready for the harvest, like the grapes in Barton’s vineyard. “Our paths crossed very briefly once,” the Master explains to Graham, a few minutes from the end, referencing a scene that dearly deserves to be written, “when she was a man”. That’s the sort of backstory that deserves a bit of flesh, if only to find out which Doctor he was talking about. I can’t help wondering whether it was Rowan Atkinson.

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Have I Got Whos For You (May The Force Be With You Edition)

Lost wandering the plains and hills of an undisclosed location, the Thirteenth Doctor and her friends stop to ask for directions.

And over at Westminster, a minor Twitter war erupts during the Queen’s Speech at Westminster when no one can decide on the colour of her dress.

I went to the cinema this week. You can sort of guess what we saw, can’t you?

There’s a bit in Muppet Treasure Island that’s stuck with me. It’s the scene where the pirates are sitting around in a cave or or a hill fort or a jungle clearing or something in the aftermath of their not-quite mutiny against Long John Silver (played with customary brilliance by the now sadly retired Tim Curry). As they’re licking their wounds, one of them holds up a muppet skeleton. “Dead Tom’s dead!” he wails. “Long John shot him!”

It falls to one of the other pirates to point out that Dead Tom’s always been dead, and that this is in fact why they call him Dead Tom. And this, for reasons that ought to be obvious, is the scene that comes to mind every time some fanboy whines that Disney have killed Star Wars. Anyone complaining about supposed virtue signalling and bad plotting in The Last Jedi has clearly forgotten Attack of the Clones, which was crap from start to not quite finish.

Anyway, it turns out we weren’t the only ones there.

SPOILERS FOLLOW. Things I noticed:

1. That kiss came out of nowhere. I know Kylo and Rey had a psychic connection but in what universe was this building up to any sort of love story? (There’s also the fact that they had even less on-screen chemistry than Matt Smith and Alex Kingston, so it really seems a bit strange).

2. The C-3PO thing was one big fan troll. In the film it serves as an inconsequential comic relief side plot: the media speculation had us believing it was much, much more. The same goes for Dark Rey. Or perhaps it’s nothing to do with the way trailers are edited; perhaps it’s the way the press functions now. Sometimes I think there are too many of us, and we’d function better if we had a bit of a cull.

3. It’s kind of distracting watching Carrie Fisher and trying to work out which lines were redubbed, which scenes were recut and which shots were filmed with body doubles (that death scene certainly was).

4. Likewise, there’s something kind of off-putting about a film that spends its final half hour trying to be a straight up remake of Return of the Jedi, only falling rather short. As much fun as it was to see Finn and Mel B ride across the surface of a Star Destroyer before a last-gasp save from Lando Calrissian (Williams was the only actor, as far as I could tell, who appeared to actually be enjoying himself) the whole thing felt a little flat next to Jedi’s perfectly-paced third act. Having the Emperor repeat the exact same lines he spouted thirty-five years ago – give or take a conjunction – isn’t fan service; it’s simply lazy writing. The whole film read like an acknowledgement that The Last Jedi annoyed people, which is fine, except it never annoyed me. There’s nothing wrong with giving people what they want, but it’s a sad state of affairs when a bunch of whining thirty-somethings can hold a series to ransom.

5. Zorii – the masked beauty from the planet that got vapourised – was to all intents and purposes the Red Ranger.

6. There were so many unanswered questions you get the feeling Abrams shot another hour’s worth of footage in an attempt to do an Infinity War and then got his wrists slapped by Disney. Was the Scary Spice clone on a horse Finn’s romantic interest or long lost sister? And what was Finn about to tell Rey?

7. That cameo – you know, the one at the Death Star – was nothing short of marvellous.

8. Poe is a dickhead. Sorry.

SPOILERS END HERE.

We were finished in time to get back and not clean. Christmas preparations are in a state of some disarray. The house is not really tidy, the chestnuts are unpeeled and I haven’t wrapped Emily’s presents. It’ll get done. Probably.

“Ooh, exciting. I wonder what it is?”

Curiously, the only other thing playing at the cinema is the subject of our other news for this week, as the Daleks devise new and ever more ingenious methods of torturing the Doctor.

“There’s a whisper down the line at 11:39…”

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The Doctor Who Fiction Collection

I recently finished a wonderful book called The Night Circus. It features, close to its conclusion, a seemingly minor character lecturing another on the importance of stories. “Someone needs to tell those tales,” he says. “When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.”

Sometimes you write because you have the idea. Other times, you write because there’s a project, or simply because you need to, and the idea comes when you’ve brainstormed and head-scratched and run down a hundred different scenarios, none of them particularly good. And then sometimes the scenario will evolve out of a seed of an idea, reworked into something tangible and even, dare we say it, quite good. And sometimes it won’t, and you’ll go for a walk or brush the kitchen floor and wait for some unsuspecting narrative spark to drift past that you can pluck from the air. Most of all the process of writing is not always pleasant. Sometimes it is arduous and laboured and you press on, head to the wind, hand shielding your eyes against the storm, secure in the knowledge of nothing except the fact that this is not your best work, but at least it is work, and it is easier to rewrite a mess than it is a blank page.

But writing fiction using TV characters is the MFI (sorry, Ikea; I’m showing my age) of story construction. The characters come pre-assembled: you just have to put them together. You still have the job of establishing a setting – and, unless you’re playing it really safe, a supporting cast – but much of the work is done for you, the arduous task of establishing likeable protagonists already completed long ago by your intended audience. From one perspective it is cheating. From another, it is a template to enable ease of use, allowing you more time to concentrate on the story. Pick one.

I will, as a general principle, leave the character development to the novels: when I’m writing short fiction, it tends to be about Doctor Who. This particular collection spans a little over four years. Some of it is better than others: that’s as it should be. If every tale was only as good as the one that came before then we’d have a problem (if it was worse than the one that came before, we’d have a serious problem). There are Ice Warriors and Weeping Angels; the Doctor tangles with disgruntled matriarchs and angry villagers and, more than once, himself. You will have your favourites – I have mine. You don’t get to hear what they are. But you do get to read the stories. Enjoy them.

 

Sleep No More: Behind The Scenes

(Brian of Morbius, November 2015)

We start, ironically, with something that isn’t really a story at all, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. To give a little context: in late 2015 I was burned out, bummed out and very nearly wanted out. Doctor Who had lost its sheen, and I spent most of series 9 drumming my fingers on a table top (in a rather irritating four-beat pattern) waiting for it to end. I’m over it now, but those were dark days. To cope with a lackluster and occasionally frustrating series I began to get creative in my reviews, and this one – which tackles, ironically, an episode I’ve come to rather enjoy – is perhaps the silliest of the lot, being one of those fictionalised fly-on-the-wall documentary type things that became big business the moment Ricky Gervais first stepped foot into Wernham Hogg. It would be interesting to find out whether any conversations like the ones depicted ever actually took place. I’d be willing to bet there were at least a couple.

 

Dickensian

(The Doctor Who Companion, December 2016)

Write a Christmas-themed short story for The Doctor Who Companion? In 1500 words? No problem. Mostly. In this seasonal tale the Third Doctor is visited on Christmas Eve by a couple of spirits, with an obvious TARDIS-related twist. What I like about this is the stripped back Aristotle-esque nature of the setting: getting in and telling a story in one room and getting out again is something I really don’t do very often, so it was fun to rise to that particular self-imposed challenge. Oh, and there are jokes about vol-au-vents, because you always have to have a joke about vol-au-vents.

 

Day of the Dead

(The Doctor Who Companion, October 2017)

The year after the run of Christmassy stories over at the DWC, the site’s fiction editor organised a Halloween project. The brief was simple: write a story about a monster in which the Doctor does not feature at all. One of the most challenging things about this was finding a way to bring the Angels to life and make them scary when everyone already knows what they are – everyone, that is, except for the poor sap who encounters them. This is ramshackle in places, but I think it just about hangs together. If you forward it on, you have to promise not to give away the ending.

 

The Twelfth Doctor Gets A Phone Call

(The Doctor Who Companion, August 2018)

I’ve often wondered about the first time we see Peter Capaldi. His unanticipated blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in ‘Day of the Doctor’ – “No, sir – all thirteen!” – was one of the show’s key talking points, if only because you never hear about it again. It’s always possible that the Twelfth Doctor just turned up, knowing that was where he needed to be and when, but I’ve always liked to think that his immediate predecessor got in touch – something that could likely only happen once he knew there would be another Doctor coming along, which should give you some idea as to when this all takes place. The whole thing is a bit meta, but I quite like doing meta; it keeps me sane in between all the fan bitching.

 

Love That In A Family Dwells

(The Doctor Who Companion, December 2018)

We don’t get Christmas specials any more, it seems. We certainly didn’t last year, a schedule change that caused a great deal of fuss amongst the online community, most of whom were suitably disgruntled that they would have to spend December 25th actually hanging out with family members rather than simply crashing in front of the TV. I seem to have been one of the few people who wasn’t bothered – I never enjoy Christmas Day episodes because when you’re in my line of work there is a sudden and immediate urge to blog about them, something I’ve frankly never wanted to do after several sherries and a bucket load of mince pies. New Year’s Day is a much better candidate, although I accept that I’m in a minority.

Anyway, to plug the gap between Ranskoor and ‘Resolution’, I came up with this, which tells the story of what happens when the Doctor and her fam visit…look, you’ll just have to read the thing and find out, won’t you? One advantage of doing a story which is deliberately comic in tone is that you can advance the plot and cram in all sorts of expository information simply by including as many unexpected non-sequiteurs as possible: it’s a creative risk, but it works, provided you get the tone just right. I still don’t know if I did, but it was one of those occasions where I actually enjoyed the writing process, as opposed to simply having written. Those moments are gold dust, and must be seized without fear.

 

A Martian Sends A Postcard Home

(The Doctor Who Companion, August 2019)

Every summer, when we can, my family and I head down to the same camping field on the coast of Pembrokeshire. There we’ll indulge in campfire singalongs, quaff the local ale and spend hours on the beach looking for starfish and crabs. It usually buckets it down at least once, the clouds rolling in off the Irish Sea like an advancing invasion force, but you’re in Wales, and you basically come to expect it. In any case, that particular location (right down to a reasonably accurate depiction of its topography) is the setting for this little tale involving a lost Ice Warrior who winds up shipwrecked and blunders into, of all things, a village fete. Does the Doctor make an appearance? You’ll have to keep reading to find out – but it’s not a spoiler to reveal that several of the supporting characters are named after DWC staff, something I still don’t think they’ve noticed.

 

Wedding Crasher

(Brian of Morbius, October 2019)

Emily and I celebrated fifteen years of marriage this autumn. I still remember that morning as if it were yesterday: rising, sleepily as we both drove to separate houses in Reading to prepare; the argument I had with the insurance company, ripe and bruising after the argument we’d had with my aunt the previous evening over the reception place markings. Eating brioche with the best man and his wife in their housing estate semi, the pacing in the vestry when she was ten minutes late, and then that thrilled, anticipated moment where you see her walking down the aisle, at her most radiant. On balance, it was a good day.

The wedding of Harriet and Nick does not go to plan. But they might get their happy ending, thanks to an unexpected interruption. This was written in a rush job, and it shows, but it hangs together by the thread of a poorly-tied ribbon long enough to load it into the back of the car to open after the honeymoon. A disclaimer: Nick is not based on me, and Harriet is not based on Emily, and while Harriet’s mother was cut from the cloth of a real person, that person was not my mother-in-law. Probably.

 

Furby From The Deep

(The Doctor Who Companion, December 2019)

It’s the UNIT Christmas party, and the Third Doctor is reluctantly in attendance – along with Jo, the Brigadier, Yates, Benton and some sinister-looking toys. What could possibly go wrong? I’ve been wanting to write this for years – I even started it once, but there were technical problems and it was necessary to begin again from scratch. The intent was always to make it feel like something Terrance Dicks might have churned out, which means it concentrates more on the story it’s telling than the way it’s being told: Dicks had a flair for prose but was never one for literary flourishes, except where they were really needed. Does it feel like him? Probably not, but it has a beginning and a middle and an end, which is perhaps the best you can hope for. This will take you a while, so I strongly advise making a cup of tea first.

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Have I Got Whos For You (seasonal cheer edition)

I’m on a bit of a clock today, so this is going to be light on the text front. We’ll just get on with the pictures, shall we?

This week in world news: while posing for that Time Magazine cover, Greta Thunberg inadvertently blunders into a scene from series 7.

There are disturbing developments at a pub in Suffolk.

And in a deleted scene from Game of Thrones, Bryn Terfel is coming.

Also coming soon: the Eleventh Doctor stars in The Collect Call of Cthulhu.

And Tom Hanks, fresh from promoting Mr Rogers or whatever he’s doing now, begins work on the upcoming Forrest of the Dead.

Speaking of the Eleventh Doctor, news emerges of an abandoned exchange from his regeneration story in which Clara voices what we’ve all been thinking for years.

And Chris Chibnall capitalises on Boris Johnson’s Love Actually parody to bring us this.

Last but not least: filming for the new Ghostbusters trailer is interrupted by an unexpected visitor.

“Seriously, Amy? Again?”

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