Everybody enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend, then? Sally Sparrow did.
Before we go any further, I am saving the Prince Philip stuff. It’s coming later. In the meantime you will have to put up with pop culture instead, because I’ve gone through what I’ve collected for this morning and that seems to the be the common thread.
We start with Line of Duty – a show I have never watched, never intend to watch and hold absolutely no interest in, but even if you don’t tune in it’s hard to escape the buzz on social media. This last episode seems to have been all about killing off major characters and dropping in monumental cliffhangers about the identity of chief (heretofore unseen) villains, and how they might be related to people we know. I think. I mean I’ve not actually watched the damned thing. All I do know is that Ted Hastings has been trending for the last week, and it’s going to go through the roof if they actually kill him off.
Talking of Doctor Who (because that’s mostly how we roll) there’s a rumbling of intrigue from the fandom as they unveil the new trailer for The Suicide Squad, the upcoming sequel to 2016’s imaginatively titled Suicide Squad. I am trying to work out the logic behind this – it sounds a bit like releasing Empire Strikes Back under the name The Star Wars, as if dropping in a definite article is enough of a distinction. I mean aren’t people going to get confused? I know I already am, and I understand grammar.
Fun trivia: I once spent half an hour at a housewarming party listening to an argument between two roleplaying geeks who couldn’t agree on whether the first Star Wars film is called Star Wars or A New Hope. It was tremendously enjoyable to watch, although I still can’t remember how, or even if they resolved it. At least they weren’t arguing about Star Trek Into Darkness. We’d still be in that lounge.
Anyway, there’s been a fair amount of talk about Capaldi’s hair, or lack thereof, and it does seem that the Twelfth Doctor is imitating his style.
He looks like he’s got half a dozen screwdrivers embedded in his skull, which presumably happened after a particularly ferocious argument with River. Or maybe it’s a fetish thing. You pick. And with speed, please, because I’m now actually thinking about this instead of merely writing it down. Oh god.
Anyway. Speaking of Star Wars, the casting for the Obi Wan Kenobi spin-off looks absolute shit.
(I’d love to say I had a few people who thought this was real, but the sad truth is that they didn’t get it. I guess my sense of humour is just a little too vague sometimes.)
You won’t have failed to notice, if you were following international news a while back, that a boat got stuck in the Suez Canal, presumably as a result of a bet as to whether its helmsman could manage a three point turn. It was there for weeks as the authorities tried everything to loosen it, including rubbing a bit of WD-40 on the hull, but without success, as the world and its neighbours all came along to have a look.
“For the sixteenth time, we’re not blowing it up.”
More movie news, and the revelation that a familiar face is to reappear in the upcoming, much anticipated Ghostbusters: Afterlife has prompted Doctor Who fans to scour through old episodes to find out what he’s been doing all these years. And lo and behold.
Anyway. For me, after weeks of kicking around, this is ending on something of a brighter note – because lockdown is more or less done with, kind of. We still can’t stay anywhere, and when we visited Chessington yesterday the Gruffalo ride wasn’t open, but I may actually be able to go back to work soon – and at least I can go out on a Friday and visit somewhere that isn’t B&M. Along with, you know, just about everyone else in the country.
“Listen, I’d love to stay and chat, but Primark’s about to open.”
My YouTube channel quietly turned ten years old in January this year. I’d completely forgotten until I noticed the date. It all started because of a TV show that Emily and I had watched one evening, and which we decided to make a little less scary by adding Michael Crawford to the mix. So when John Hurt is bothered by rattling doors, self-moving furniture and things that generally go bump in the night, it’s because he’s got Frank Spencer standing outside in the corridor. If you’d really like to know more, you’re welcome to watch the video that started everything off, although personally I’d prefer it if you went straight to its remastered equivalent, which is considerably slicker on the editing front.
Anyway: I’m still producing video content, although I’ve slackened off a little of late to get this novel finished. But every so often an idea comes up, and every so often I’ll be sat at the keyboard, frantically moving frames, replacing dialogue and saving the thing every ten seconds in case my software crashes (which happens a lot, alas). And there’s still a channel and while it’s never going to reach Mr Beast’s level of popularity, I remain quite proud of the body of work I’ve accumulated over the last decade. Here’s some of the stuff I was working on last year.
1. What Did The Doctor See Outside The TARDIS? (August 2020)
When we look back at how we handled Covid, and the people who got us through it, then Pip Madeley is likely to be featured in the list of heroes. Pip is great – amusing, naturally talented and one of those fans who just gets it, realising that the best way to enjoy Doctor Who is to actually enjoy it, preferably without taking either the show or yourself too seriously. And it was with this attitude in mind, presumably, that he came up with an ongoing series that entertained us all during those first few months: namely ‘What are the Movellans watching whilst in lockdown‘?
There were tons of them. Stuck on that spaceship the Movellans have been watching Eastenders, old commercials (many of which starred Who alumni) and even the train wreck that was the 50th anniversary afterparty, specifically when Jo Wiley tried to talk to One Direction over a satellite link. There were things on there we’d never seen before, and a bunch of stuff we’d not seen in years, rendered all the more ridiculous when mixed with gaping stares and stunned silence. Pip followed it up with a series set in the Big Finish car park.
Anyway. Fast forward (or rewind; time is relative) back to August last year and a limited edition series that I launched over ten days, which saw Peter Capaldi reacting to a bunch of different things when he was looking for Gallifrey at the end of ‘Death In Heaven’. They were easy to do, once I had the template, and quite a lot of fun into the bargain; the toughest part was working out the optimal order in which to sequence them. The one I’ve embedded below basically sets the pattern, but if you really wanted to you could watch the whole thing on YouTube – that said I particularly recommend day four, day eight and, if you watch nothing else, day ten…
2. The Lodger: Alternate Ending (October 2020)
Question. Can you take the scene where they’re running out of the flat-that’s-really-a-spaceship during the closing scenes of ‘The Lodger’ and splice it together with the bathtub descent in Paddington? Answer: no, you can’t. Not really. Not without looping the audio, which makes for a rather sloppy edit. But it had been ages since I’d done a video so it was the best I could manage at the time. In any event it gave a few people a few laughs, and that’s really only the ever reason why I do this.
3. The Handforth Parish Council Does Doctor Who (February 2021)
Well, this one exploded a bit.
My father worked as a clerk for a local council for some years, and he can testify as to the fact that what happened in Handforth – whilst going inexplicably viral early this year – is actually fairly typical for the sorts of things that go on at Parish Council gatherings, whether they’re happening in the flesh or online. There’s a kind of neutering effect to it. “It’s local politics, James,” he explained, “and many of the people who are involved wanted to be high-level politicans, but couldn’t, because other things got in the way, and so they have to test out all their high-scale dramas in small-scale meetings”.
It’s my view that no one comes out of the Handforth debacle smelling of roses – Jackie Weaver has been hailed the hero of the hour, and did the only thing she could under the circumstances, but the expelled councillor may nonetheless have been right to raise the objections that he did. Nonetheless the whole thing is wonderful to watch, whether it’s the misplaced order about standing orders (the remark on Jackie Weaver’s lack of authority has become the chief soundbite to be memed, but “READ THEM AND UNDERSTAND THEM!” has run a close second), the woman who forgets to mute herself while she answers the phone, or the whole disjointed pausing and talking over each other which is a staple part of every unedited Zoom call, but which in this case lent the whole sorry saga an extra layer of awkwardness.
This wasn’t the first Doctor Who video on the subject – nor was it necessarily the best – but I do think it more or less works. And while I’m not attributing its surge in popularity (at least by the standards of my usual hit count) as anything other than a general public fascination in all things Handforth, it was nice to get a hit count that made it out of double figures. If nothing else it’s an improvement on the original scene, which was dull as ditchwater. Plus Jackie Weaver gets to be a Dalek. What’s not to like about that?
It’s been a long old year for that abandoned TARDIS, hasn’t it?
Here we are, a year after lockdown began – something that for one reason or another people have decided to actively commemorate on social media this week. It’s a strange state of affairs, the weirdest of all frivolous anniversaries to talk about, particularly given that most of us had all sorts of Shakespearean intentions (hey look, here’s me having failed to learn Mandarin or get that hedge cut!). Why on earth are we still talking about the fact that none of us have written King Lear? And why is it a big deal if we haven’t? Shakespeare – assuming he existed – was a genius. Most of us are not. Why are we living up to such an impossible ideal?
But then there’s a strange tendency to mark the trivial, particularly when we have free time. Gosh, it’s been four years to the day since ‘Heaven Sent’. Michael Craze would have been seventy-six. I suppose it takes our mind off leaked set pictures and expensive (and seemingly needless) parliamentary reconfigurations where the cleaners forgot to finish tidying, but really. It’s so asinine, as I have to point out every November 23rd when people ask why the BBC aren’t marking the 54th / 55th / 56th / 57th birthday of their favourite show with some sort of marathon – “Because,” I explain, with varying degrees of patience, “if they did that for Doctor Who they’d have to do it for everything and nothing else would get done.” Hello Lyn; you’re cheerful considering it’s the first anniversary of your mother’s death.
On the other hand, arguing about pointless birthdays is a welcome distraction – and god knows we could do with a few more of them – from rumour control, specifically when set photos (I thought Chibnall was cracking down on this sort of thing?) lead to the children of time adding two and two and coming up with seven, or jumping to all sorts of ridiculous conclusions because one of the previous companions happens to be pally with one of the new ones, and was in any case in town filming a sitcom.
It breaks down like this.
Doctor Who Fans: I DON’T RECOGNISE THIS SHOW ANYMORE. WHERE ARE ALL THE CLASSIC MONSTERS AND FAN FAVOURITES?
Set Rumours Guy: Hey, here’s Catherine Tate.
DW Fans: WARRRGH CYNICAL RATINGS PLOY
BBC: Yeah, she’s not actually here.
DW FANS: THAT’S JUST WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK
“Hello Sal – what? They want me to do Doctor Who? What’s Doctor Who? I was in it? When?”
You can’t really blame the fans, I suppose. They’re itching for Doctor Who news, and Chibnall runs a closed set. Personally I like it that way – I would rather not be saturated with three hundred word press releases about how this year’s going to be ‘epic’ every five minutes. But if you’ve grown up used to the BBC blowing their own trumpet every five minutes it’s an adjustment period. Even telethons are a missed opportunity: all elegaic pianos and slow motion hugs and that phone number scrolling across the screen every thirty seconds, and very little that’s actually funny.
Last weekend also saw the release of The Lonely Assassins, a brand new PC / mobile game which sees you discover an abandoned phone, full of corrupted data and glitches and a weird angel-type figure that appears to be coming out of the screen. It’s your job to piece the data together, follow the clues and piece together the mystery of the phone’s former owner – one Larry Nightingale, he from ‘Blink’, and played once more by Finlay Robinson, a little older and saggier, but aren’t we all?
Thankfully you’re not alone in your quest, guided as you are by Petronella Osgood. Most of the interaction is SMS-based, although Ingrid Oliver lends her voice to the opening and her physical self for a video sequence that pops up near the end. Osgood is working from a secret UNIT base established after funding was put on hold and which as yet no one knows about. Well, that’d be a first.
After having played through and thoroughly enjoyed The Lonely Assassins I was slightly perturbed to discover that I’d completed only two of the ‘optional’ objectives, most of which seem pertain to archived newspaper cuttings referencing the appearance of an anomalous police box outside one building or another. Presumably investigating these further unlocks some sort of secret ending that offers more closure than the slightly disappointing climax the vanilla ending happens to offer. I’d have happily done this had I not had Osgood shouting (well, texting) in my ear every thirty seconds telling me to get a shift on. At a microcosmic level it’s somewhat reminiscent of the Zelda games, in which the endemic notion of leisurely exploration and discovery is undermined by the regular psychic messages from the titular princess. “Link, if you don’t reassemble the fragments / defeat the guardians / find all the scrolls, then ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL HAPPEN!”
I’m running out of time, now, because I have to get this music track mixed (that’s my lockdown skill), so we’ll deal with the rest of the news in brief. On ITV, an ex-Eastender took great offence at the caption used by Good Morning Britain during a Zoom interview.
Revelations at the identity of Snail on the US version of The Masked Singer called to mind this planned (but sadly abandoned) reveal for the beginning of ‘The Eleventh Hour’.
Millions sat down to fill out government forms about the occupants of their households, or risk a fine.
Oh, and the Sixth Doctor finally found the time to have a Covid test.
It’s a nice outfit. I know I mock it, and with good reason, but it was a decent reflection of his personality. I mean look at the example we have to follow in government. Rees Mogg is always immaculate, presumably because he’s other going to or coming from a gentleman’s club of one sort or another, but Dominic Cummings doesn’t seem to own a single tie. And we’re graced with a Prime Minister who looks like he just stumbled out of bed after a night on the razz, and who has a pathological aversion to combs, but that’s fine as long as we can stick a few Union Jacks in the background to deflect attention from incompetent idiocy, right?
Normally, about this time of year, I’m prepping the memes. Here at brianofmorbius we tend to favour the inappropriate: the worst possible choice for an image, amplifying the humour. The image of Bonnie Langford in Paradise Towers when they’ve announced the opening of leisure facilities. David Tennant surrounded by the ashes of an disintegrated spacecraft. With a click, the mouse scrubs back and forth along the video timeline, looking for that perfect frame. I get a few giggles. Job done.
This year I really don’t feel like doing that. Maybe it’s Covid. Maybe it’s a heightened sensitivity built around things that are happening in my life that I am electing not to broadcast. Or maybe I’m just tired of the drama. I see a lot of opinions on the web but not a lot of kindness. Being kind is not always the same as being nice; it’s important to make the distinction. The Doctor was usually kind but he also shouted at people when they deserved it. There is a marked difference between respecting the person’s right to a view and allowing rampant negativity to flourish. ‘Be kind’ does not mean ‘keep silent when an opinion is full of horseshit’. The Doctor wouldn’t, and if we must employ him as a role model (and generally I don’t), then that’s probably the best way of going about it.
But there is a thing about Doctor Who that has come to my notice this year, and it is this: for all its failings (and they are many, and frequent and not everything is because of Chibnall) it does a good job of giving the companions a backstory. The backstories are not always good, or even plausible, but they are there. They are there in a way that they generally weren’t during the sixties and seventies, where character histories were relegated to three or four lines of dialogue: Tegan’s aversion to ice cream; Jo’s failed science GCE. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most of us never had any expectation that Doctor Who should be grounded in reality; it’s a TV programme about a quasi-immortal shapeshifting alien with a magic box that travels in time and space. What do we care for the home lives of supporting characters? Give us an alien and a couple of explosions; that’ll do.
We started to care, I think, in the late 1980s, when Ace’s backstory became not just a tangible thing but a story arc. The other evening Emily and I were discussing Anne Reid, who’d popped up in a film we were watching. Emily pointed out – and I’d forgotten – that she appears in ‘The Curse of Fenric’. It is a wonderful story, perhaps the best of the McCoy era, but the overriding memory that I have of it consists of two things: the haemovores rising from the ocean, and Ace shouting at the Doctor. It was an archetype for everything that followed, just as Ace was the archetype for Rose and many subsequent companions who drew their shape from a similar gene pool. Here was a story in which family was not only acknowledged but pushed front and centre, at least for a few minutes.
And it strikes me now that family in Doctor Who is all too often dysfunctional. It has to be, because Doctor Who is about escape: the crew in Voyager were simply trying to get home; the TARDIS crew are generally trying to avoid it. The Doctor becomes a surrogate family man – a father, sister, older brother, love interest – to whomever is holed up in the bunk beds. That sort of relationship comes at a price, and the price is usually the relationship with one’s own family. It is a price worth paying in triplicate when that relationship is difficult or even non-existent.
There is a recurring trend on the Facebook groups: that single sentence. “If the TARDIS landed in your garden”, it says, “would you go?”. I never reply, simply because I would not, and it is both tedious and time-consuming to have to explain why. I wonder about the people (and they are many) who say they would jump at the chance. I wonder whether they are in denial, or haven’t thought through the possible consequences. Both are likely scenarios. And the whole thing is just a bit of fun and we must not take it seriously. But I also wonder whether there are people reading this posts whose own lives are so genuinely miserable that perhaps the TARDIS is a form of escape for them. There are people like this and I know there are people like this because I have spoken to them.
And how, I wonder, do these people react when they are presented with the dysfunctional families we see on screen? What do they make of feuding parents, of grief unspoken, of abuse and loss and pain? How do they react to companions who carry baggage like this through the TARDIS doors? How close to the knuckle do the stories cut?
And then I think about these parents and children. I think about Donna, saddled with a mother who could convey nothing but bitterness and disappointment. I think about Francine Jones, who made poor (if well-intentioned) choices and whose salvation lay in her daughter’s unconditional forgiveness. I think of Bill, whose relationship with her stepmother was toxic, and Clara, who – in addition to grieving her own mother – had to watch her father enter a relationship with a narcissistic sociopath. I even think of Ada Gillyflower, maimed and broken by her mother in a calamitous arrangement that foreshadowed what we learned about the Doctor in ‘The Timeless Children’.
I think of Amy, whose mother was quite literally ripped from existence, where even the memory of her was gone. What must that have been like? What sort of hole does it leave; how does it settle in the heart? And to then carry a pregnancy to term without having the first idea, no bonding and no reflecting and no preparing, only to have your child taken as if by an indifferent Catholic nun – and then to raise it again, unknowingly, in the most unorthodox of ways. “What you do,” says Rory, “isn’t all there is,” and how well we knew that by the end.
And I think of Sarah Jane, who found solace in motherhood without sacrificing her career, and Rose, whose mother – and I’ll admit I’ve sometimes being quite rude about her – was protective and honest and compassionate. And of the supporting players, the bit parts that resonate. Nancy, who saved the world by restructuring her relationship with her son. Willa Twist, determined to live out her mother’s legacy.
And I remember my own mother, and how complicated that relationship was, particularly in her last years. How a wave of maternal pride could be undone by a single barbed comment. The grudges she held and the prejudice she harboured. The difficulty of balancing my relationship with her against the one we have with my in-laws, avoiding blame, the endless juggling of calendars. Learning not to talk, under any circumstances, about Brexit. And how we skated around the edge of a lot of things we didn’t say and now never can.
And I loved her, but. There is always a but, and most days it doesn’t matter – most days you can archive it, remembering the good times. And there were many of those, and the constant edginess I felt in her presence became something I lived with, and I know that there are others who have had things much worse, and some of them are very close to me, and that is as much as I’m going to divulge on the subject. But if you are hurting today, and particularly if your pain is raw, then I think of you. Because everyone deserves love, even the worst of us. May you find yours, whatever form it takes.
Funny what she gets up when she thinks the cameras are off, isn’t it?
How do you do, fellow teenagers? I don’t have a single meme about Harry and Meghan; if you’re anything like me I imagine you’re heartily sick of the whole thing. This is a world of heroes and villains and ne’er the twain, it seems, shall meet: depending on who you talk to, Meghan Markle is either a strong, independent and blameless woman who’s become a victim of racist bullying, despised by the establishment because she didn’t fit the mould, or an opportunistic prima donna who was awful to the palace staff, contemptuous of Kate Middleton and whose modus operandi was to drive a wedge between Harry and his brother.
The fact that the most likely reality is an awkward combination of both does not seem to have occurred to anyone, at least anyone who reads the papers, but I suppose the world is so much easier when we can view it in black and white. No one likes an ambiguous, well-crafted villain with redeeming features. They want someone they can boo and hiss at. Anyway, enough. It’s way more complicated than I have time to discuss in this silly little blog.
We seem to have missed a few things, like St. David’s Day.
Or Valentine’s Day.
Or Pancake Day.
One of the big bits of Doctor Who news, of course – something we found out on New Year’s Day, immediately after the live broadcast (which I wasn’t watching, meaning I got to find out about it on Twitter) concerned the imminent arrival of incoming companion Dan, set to make his debut in the autumn, or whenever they get round to airing series 13. Dan’s a scouser, and you have absolutely no idea how difficult it was not to make jokes about nailing down bits of the console, but as it stands I managed to keep my humour contained. More or less.
News broke quite recently of the dissolution of Daft Punk, the dance hall stalwarts who’ve been making music together for nearly thirty years, and who’ve produced a shedload of songs that I’d forgotten they did. I do remember, some years ago, an appearance at a festival by Wurzel-esque comedy band Folk On, who were on fine form as ever but who managed to have everyone jigging along in the mud when they sang “We’re up all night to get some (milk!) / We’re up all night for good fun / We’re up all night to get folky…”. It’s a sad day for music, as while they were never really my thing I can’t deny that they’ve completely changed the scene and that ‘One More Time’ is a bangin’ masterpiece. Luckily the two of them seem to have already found another job.
We’re still in lockdown, whereby all but essential travel is banned – although that doesn’t seem to have stopped Banksy, who ventured from his native Bristol to my home town of Reading to scribble his latest drawing on the wall of the heritage masterpiece / public eyesore (delete as applicable) that is Reading Gaol. It’s Oscar Wilde, escaping with a typewriter, sheets tied together like in Colditz, something that never happened in real life. As far as we know, anyway.
“That’s it, nearly there. Just a little further. You know what, Yaz, I think I’m getting an idea.”
Elsewhere, in a forest in Hampshire, someone else is breaking lockdown:
My children have been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. The eldest two spent New Year’s Eve watching a few back to back with the horror movie Us; I’d say I don’t know what was the most terrifying part of the whole thing but earlier in the evening we’d all been watching Cats, so I think you have your answer. In any case, Ramsay is a good deal more sprightly than he was in Gordon Ramsay’s Bank Balance, a show that seems to have been almost universally panned, although it’s good to know that they’re managing to make the most of the old TARDIS sets.
“Our first contestants tonight are Amy and Rory, from Leadworth in Gloucestershire…”
I read an interesting thing in the press the other week about a scientific dig that yielded unexpected results, and the instant thing I thought of was Lovecraft and shoggoths and albino penguins. But I also did this. You couldn’t not, really.
Politics, and the news that the Prime Minister has designs on a colossal subterranean junction is met with the mirth and condescension it undoubtedly deserves.
We giggle at these fancies, but is it such a terrible idea? It’s certainly a more practical solution than teleportation, which (and why does nobody discuss this?) effectively kills you and reconstructs an identical copy at the other end, unless you’re in The Fly or something. And yet when we’re watching TV we’ll readily accept teleportation, and faster-than-light travel, and the existence of wormholes, or a police box that can fly and open its doors to a completely different place a few seconds later.
“Just through there, sir.”
And I would rather be anywhere else than here today. Still. This week – 9th March as I write this – marks the week the schools officially reopen (they never actually closed, of course, and teachers never stopped working), meaning a return to something awkwardly like normality. Well, kind of.
“It’s lovely to see you everyone back, and I’m pleased you’ve all remembered your masks…”
There’s a strong case to be made about Doctor Who: that it is a children’s show that appeals to adults. I am not going to be making that here, although I do happen to subscribe to that theory, and enjoy the programme far more as a result.
But you’d be surprised how many of the ridiculous Photoshopped images I produce are themed around children’s shows. We’ve had Teletubbies and jolly postmen. We’ve had Sooty and Sweep. And we’ve had those nightmarish In The Forest of the Night Garden pictures I did a few years back. You want a guaranteed slumber-free evening? You stick Makka Pakka outside the TARDIS with his bloody sponge. That’s enough to get any of us hiding under the bed.
Still. Here are a few I’ve been holding in reserve until I felt I had enough to warrant a decent-sized collection. Why not today?
We’ll start with a bit of Henson, because you can’t go wrong with a bit of Henson.
Meanwhile in the TARDIS, there’s a commotion on the console.
This one needs no caption.
Nor does this.
Doctor Who quotes, out of context.
Oh, and speaking of Rainbow, I think I did this for St. George’s Day, last year. That’s how long it’s been kicking around.
Anyone been to Legoland Windsor? There is a TARDIS outside the shop. Unfortunately there are no costumed minifigures wandering around, at least none that are Doctor Who themed. So I put some in.
In this evening’s stage performance of ‘Utopia’, the part of Captain Jack Harkness will be played by Lotso the Bear.
“Yeah, I dunno. It just sort of turned up one morning.”
“British Isles. 1950s. Late spring. Saturday. I’m sure I can hear a train somewhere.”
Ah, Papa Louie Pals. How do I love thee, and thy sandbox of delights? Let me count the ways. There are twenty-eight of them in this particular edition, mostly taking the form of Classic (pre-2005) companions. The list is extensive but not necessarily exhaustive (Grace, for example, isn’t featured, but I may save her for an odds and ends feature somewhere down the line). Some of these are better than others; a few of them are so generic they could probably be anyone, but if I tell you who they’re supposed to be, and if you squint, then perhaps you might just about manage to make out the superficial resemblances. Others will be fairly obvious from the get-go. None of them is perfect, but some are quite good. And, of course, if you missed the first part of the companion run, or even the Doctors I did a couple of years back, you’re welcome to go and check out both.
Right! Onwards. First, here are two that didn’t make the cut from the previous batch – Doctor Ruth, as I like to call her, and Sacha Dhawan’s Master. One of them looks just a little happier.
In keeping with the ‘newer characters I haven’t done before now’ theme, here’s Wilf. He’s standing next to Susan, who is wearing her classic stripy ensemble, as seen in ‘An Unearthly Child’ (that’s the final broadcast edition, as opposed to the pilot). Fun fact: she also wore stripes in her final story, when her grandfather threatened to smack her on the arse before abandoning her in a toxic wasteland with a man she scarcely knew.
Ian and Barbara next. Barbara’s hair is, I think, not quite right. But Ian’s quiff is right on the money, and the outfits are a reasonable match.
Here’s Victoria Waterfield, in a crudely rendered edition of the explorer’s outfit she wore while hiking around Wales the Himalayas in ‘The Abominable Snowmen’. She’s accompanied by Steven Taylor, who looks like he’s off to a Where’s Wally? convention.
Vicki and Katarina. For some reason I really struggled with these two. They’re both so…I don’t know, nondescript when it comes to outfit choices. I’m still not convinced I really nailed it. (Katarina’s dress is purple because I found an interesting piece of fan art where she was wearing purple, and besides, it’s my wife’s favourite colour…)
Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart. That moustache is a little too Air Force for my liking, and the hat is completely wrong, but at least it’s military. For Peri, I went with the pink outfit she wore in ‘Attack of the Cybermen’.
Dodo and Zoe. Dodo’s singlet is so near, and yet so far – what I’d have given for one with a donut! – but other than that it’s a reasonable likeness. Zoe is wearing the silver jumpsuit she wore when splayed over the TARDIS in ‘The Mind Robber’, where the camera lingers over her buttocks for far longer than is necessary. That may be why I picked it.
You couldn’t not put these two together, could you? I wanted a sailor outfit for Ben, but they didn’t have one. As a result he’s a bit nondescript – but stick him next to Polly, and they’re peas and carrots.
You’re spoilt for choice with Jo Grant – so many cracking outfits! – but in the end I plumped for the cowgirl ensemble she wore in ‘Day of the Daleks’, although mercifully you are unable to see up her skirt. I feel like Sarah Jane rather drew the short straw – she was the epitome of working chic for most of her run, right until that last story. But honestly, how could you not use it?!?
It’s a kilt, not a skirt, and I think I got the colours more or less right. Jamie is joined by Liz, who is in her Silurian outfit, and probably just about to run across a weir.
This was an easy one. All you need is the hair and it’s instantly Bonnie Langford, even without the deckchair polo shirt. Next to that, Ace looks positively Goth-like.
Tegan’s top is a little more strappy and a little less abstract than I’d have liked, but it’s a reasonable approximation and it does at least have that 1980s vibe about it. Inevitably, Turlough looks miserable. Well you would too if you went travelling in space and the only clothing you brought was your school uniform.
Both Romanas. Mary Tamm is a little..what’s the word…dull, and I’d have liked to do that rather splendid mauve thing she wore in ‘The Androids of Tara’, but there was nothing that matched, so the white gown won the day. Her later counterpart is dressed for running from Daleks.
Last but not least: Nyssa, wearing something that looks a little bit like a New Romantic cosplay on her ‘Keeper of Traken’ outfit. She’s in the company of Adric, who even has his badge for mathematical excellence, even if it has been placed rather awkwardly around his neck like an Olympic medal. He’s still a dick, anyway.
And that’s your lot. I’d love to do a monsters edition, but I don’t think they do sink plungers…
You’re not supposed to apologise when you’re a politician. Dominic Cummings didn’t. Boris hasn’t. Trump certainly didn’t; I don’t think he’s capable of remorse. But I probably should: I’ve let you all down. You’ve been sitting there, on tenterhooks, awaiting something new and bloggish from the BoM crew (a crew consisting of one balding middle-aged man in a severely untidy study), and what happens? Nada. Zip. Zilch. I can picture you all, crying into your beds at night, anxiously hitting the refresh buttons on phones and tablets and sobbing at children and significant others: “ALL I WANTED WAS SOMETHING TO HELP ME THROUGH LOCKDOWN AND HE CAN’T EVEN MANAGE THAT!”
What? What do you mean you haven’t?
There have been…difficulties in the house over the last few weeks, and while we’re stumbling towards a temporary and uneasy equilibrium I’ve kind of had my hands full. And on the occasions they’ve been empty, I’ve been drained. Lockdown seems to have done that to people; we’ve all slowed down a bit. Perhaps I’d be able to cope with this better had we not been in the throes of a pandemic; there’s nothing better for destroying your motivation to do stuff than the knowledge that you more or less have to do it because you can’t go out.
That’s not to say I haven’t been producing content. There’s loads of it, and it’s all stacked up like an M20 Brexit run. Shall we clean out the pipes?
We start in early January, with the news that archaeologists in Pompeii had dug out the remains of what appeared to be a Roman fast food stand, complete with serving holes and some questionable artwork.
I’d love to visit Pompeii. I’d love to visit anywhere, come to think of it; you don’t appreciate small local jollies until that’s all you can do. Last May was Thomas’ birthday: we drove out to East Hendred, not too far from here, and walked through a small patch of woodland. At any other time of year it would have been a mundane afternoon out. In the midst of a pandemic, it was an adventure.
There’s always TV, of course. For example, early February saw the Super Bowl, which led to the obligatory Photoshop.
While the rest of the UK languishes inside, Boris is spotted riding his bike in Olympic Park. How do we know this?
Meanwhile in the TARDIS: Exhausted, disheartened and under-equipped, Rory is in desperate need of assistance as he battles to save the life of his patient. Fortunately the Doctor and Amy are on hand with a solution.
Of course, the big news so far this year (I use the word ‘news’) loosely concerns the rumours about Jodie Whittaker’s imminent departure, with ‘a source’ leaking the announcement to the Mirror. The BBC have neither confirmed nor denied this information, which is a euphemism for ‘it’s probably true’. It would certainly fit the mould: three series and that’s your lot, it seems, and I wonder what would happen if Whittaker were to actually regenerate in front of a companion who clearly loves her, or who is if nothing else becoming excessively clingy. If nothing else it’d be a bit of a laugh.
Say what you like about the Mirror, but they have form: they knew about the shift to Sundays, they knew about Walsh and Cole, and they clearly have a man on the inside, even if that man turns out to be Chibnall. But until it turns out to actually be the truth, it’s probably best if we treat such rumours with a heavy dose of salt.
Speaking of salt – well, no. Not salt, per se, but Weetabix toppings. In one of the least likely pairings since fish fingers and…well, you know, Weetabix have teamed up with Heinz to offer what is for many of us a frankly unorthdox breakfast solution. I’m fine, I don’t eat the stuff anyway, but it’s caused a furore over social media, largely because we’re in the middle of lockdown and there’s sod all else to do; not even a field trip.
We’re told to work from home, which is fine unless you’re a freelance piano teacher and your pupils don’t actually want to have online lessons, or your internet connection is rubbish, or you happen to be a cat.
But however bad things have been, chances are you’re having a better time of it than Donald Trump. Having spectacularly failed to mount the coup he’d allegedly been inciting – despite the best efforts of armed protesters who stormed the Capitol – the 45th President of the United States found his options running out and his supporters waning (well, some of them) and ultimately he had no choice but to slink off with another Donald who’d found himself suddenly removed from office.
It gets worse. Next thing you know the public at large is demanding Trump’s removal from Home Alone 2, a cameo filmed in one of his hotels and which he allegedly bullied the production team in order to secure. It rarely gets played in network broadcasts these days – it’s easier, I suppose, to simply avoid the headache – but the stills are out there on the internet, lingering like smears in the bathtub, and it seems the planned course of action from the clicktivists is to saturate Google with Photoshopped images that show Macaulay Culkin in conversation with someone else, so as to bump the displaced President down the search results.
Oh well. In for a penny.
But perhaps Trump’s biggest disaster was the loss of his Twitter account – a potent and powerful tool that enabled him to spread false information, rally his troops and (if nothing else) stay in the headlines of a press who hung on every misleading, poorly-spelled word. The permanent suspension that eventually hit in January was too little, too late, but you can’t entirely blame Twitter for not taking action until it was certain they wouldn’t be hit with an executive order demanding they cease and desist all operation immediately (which is, let’s face it, exactly what he would have done). As it stands, I’ve heard he took some rather drastic steps in an attempt to get himself reinstated.
We’ll finish with some of those Bernie memes. You know. The ones that got everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Who knew the simple act of sitting cross-legged on a chair wearing a pair of mittens could have such a gargantuan impact on web traffic? What happened to us all to make us lose our minds like this? And yes, I’m using the third person quite deliberately, because this really was a gift to those of us who do this sort of thing more or less daily. And thus I made a few myself.
See you again soon for more silliness, and possibly even something with a bit of substance to it. But don’t hold your breath…
“Seriously,” said Emily, from where she was perched on the far end of the sofa. “Who drinks tea when it’s poured straight into a cup? From a tea stand? It’s far too hot!”
‘Revolution of the Daleks’ begins in a roadside layby and ends on a hill above Sheffield. Its opening conceit – that the unsuspecting courier responsible for transferring the charred remains of the Dalek we met in ‘Resolution’ was ambushed – depends on a slightly convoluted chain of events, and it rather sets the tone for everything that follows, but that does seem to be the way that Doctor Who is written these days. Or perhaps it’s the way it’s always been written and we’ve only just noticed.
Dalek stories tend to follow a pattern: either the Daleks are simply trying to blow something up, or there are foolish humans who believe they can form some sort of alliance with them. ‘Revolution’ skates a rather awkward middle ground between the two; this time around it’s shady government minister Harriet Walter (Jo Patterson, who is never allowed to do anything more interesting than stand in a car park) who’s managed to reverse engineer Dalek technology in an attempt to build a robotic security force, heralding “The age of security”. To do this, she’s enlisted the help of shady business tycoon and former Presidential wannabe Jack Robertson (Chris Noth), last seen storming out of his hotel after mowing down a giant spider with a handgun, as toxic waste rumbled up from the ground beneath. Asking a man like this to be responsible for rolling out one of the biggest technological breakthroughs in decades is a bit like putting Montgomery Burns in charge of a green energy plan, but none of this seems to bother Harriet, who mumbles something about offshore bank accounts while standing under an umbrella. Clearly misery makes for strange bedfellows.
While all this is going on, Graham and Ryan are fretting about Yaz, who has established a base of operations in the spare time capsule that brought them all back to Earth at the end of ‘The Timeless Children’, and which is now covered in post-it notes. They’ve moved on, but the sleeping bag on the floor and the slightly glazed look in her eye is proof that Yaz clearly hasn’t, and that finding the Doctor is still job no.1. “I must be able to work it out,” she seethes, in the manner of Zosia March in Holby City, just before her eventual breakdown. It’s clear where this is going, and if the mental health issues Yaz is facing are only skirted around on this occasion we may assume that further fallout is coming, most likely when the TARDIS crew has shrunk a little bit.
As for the Doctor herself, she’s still stuck in the unnamed prison on the other side of the galaxy, bunged in a cell for unmentionable crime – no, really, it was seventy-five minutes long and I still don’t have a clue what they were – and forced to share a cell block with an angry P’Ting, a helpless Weeping Angel, a possessed Ood and even one of the Silence (“I forgot you were here”, she quips as the two come face to face). It feels like a missed opportunity – it’s quite sweet to have the Doctor address the security cameras as she passes them, but it would have been nice to see a little more of the effect it was having on her. A brief, clumsily-executed dalliance with Ryan later on is about all we get, and Whittaker is forced to convey the rest in a handful of awkward stares and quasi-meaningful silences.
Still, it isn’t long before she’s sprung from the joint, with the help of Jack Harkness (an increasingly craggy-looking John Barrowman), who turns up with a literal support bubble in which the two make good their escape. Said escape basically involves running down a corridor, which feels very much like home – there was a concern over whether these two would bond, but they manage to click together reasonably well (it helps that, in keeping with Doctor Who’s ongoing environmental concerns, most of Jack’s best lines are recycled). “My own TARDIS!” exclaims the Doctor as the two of them materialise within it, just in case the weird filters had left us in any doubt. Indeed, one of the biggest mysteries dropped on us last series is not whether or not the Doctor is in fact the Timeless Child, but why they can’t fix the lighting, which seems perennially off. Perhaps it’s to hide Barrowman’s wrinkles.
It’s nice – if a little predictable – that the TARDIS fam aren’t exactly thrilled when the Doctor shows up in Graham’s living room, but they don’t have long to ruminate on her ten-month absence before we’re off to Osaka, which is where the plot finally kicks into gear. Robertson has a secret factory producing Dalek clones – so secret that even he doesn’t know about its existence, prompting the incredulous industrialist to ask about how they could have signed the purchase orders. It’s all the work of the gravel-voiced, back-humping Reconnaissance Dalek, which has been breeding a secret army that can inexplicably teleport itself into Harriet Walter’s empty cases when the lighting changes. (‘Inexplicably’ may be the wrong choice of word. There is an explanation, it’s just mildly rubbish.)
Everything about ‘Revolution’ screams “Oh well, we know it’s silly, but there are Daleks”: whether it’s the Soylent Green nods in the factory, the 3D printing thing, or the Doctor’s plan to hide away from the Dalek fleet by parking her TARDIS on a rooftop just as they’re flying over (still, at least Jack will be happy). The dialogue is crammed with contemporary platitudes and self-referential gags (Robertson sneers about people being tired of experts, while Ryan proclaims that “It’s OK to be sad”). It’s fine that Doctor Who does this, but dialogue is not and has never been Chibnall’s forte, and box-ticking should never actually feel like box-ticking. There is, at least, a perfunctory attempt to flesh out Chris Noth’s character a little bit, and he evolves from one-dimensional Trumpalike to someone with the potential to be a bit more interesting and, at times, almost likeable; he waltzes off into the sunset with his reputation restored, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that the next time we see him the TARDIS will have once again landed inside the Oval Office.
Does it work? Just about. It’s preposterous and cringeworthy and you feel like a story of this nature really ought to have a little more in the way of explosions and fire fights, but it’s also a departure story and the Daleks were always going to play second fiddle to the characters. That’s not a problem when it’s done well, but it isn’t: Jack’s complicated relationship with the Doctor is touched upon only briefly, and even a couple of well-placed nods to ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ can’t save the two companion departures from being both cloying and overly sentimental. At least they make it out alive, which is presumably so that all the development can be left to a later story. As we watch Ryan – the young man who can sink a hoop from twenty yards and fling himself from platform to platform with the precision of Mario, but who still can’t ride a bike – struggle on top of the Sheffield hill where we first met him, it’s left to Graham to point out that the two of them have plenty of other things they could be doing, and somewhere in a house in London, Nicholas Briggs is already polishing his first draft.
We were talking about box-ticking, and ostensibly this delivers on what it promises. There are Daleks galore (they even have a standoff of sorts, although it’s basically a lot of shouting and scrapping, rather like one of those viral news videos you see on Twitter) and there are assorted loose ends tied and other knots left deliberately open, and in what has become an increasingly rare turn of events the Doctor saves the Earth with an actual plan. But it’s difficult not to be a little underwhelmed – that this was a story that tried to do a little too much of everything and didn’t really cover any of its bases as fully as we’d have liked; a bed sheet that’s shrunk in the wash and that doesn’t quite fit. If I were in any way cynical, I might call the John Bishop announcement (which occurred in the episode’s immediate aftermath) a matter of impeccable timing; something to distract us from the mediocrity we’d just experienced. But perhaps that’s unfair. And perhaps it doesn’t matter anyway. Perhaps running out of steam simply means you pootle along gently, in a state of affable content rather than world-beating splendour. And perhaps affable content isn’t such a dreadful thing these days, if it ever was. Perhaps Doctor Who has always been mediocre, and we’ve only just noticed.
I was going to open this post with an explanation concerning the story you’re about to read. I swiftly abandoned the idea when I realised that I was basically just describing the text, and there’s nothing worse than having someone summarise the contents of a piece of fiction rather than letting it unfold itself as the author originally intended. In many ways it’s a shame, because it was good prose – still, I’ve consigned it to the Fiction Collection page, available elsewhere on this blog.
This particular one came about because over at The Doctor Who Companion we’ve been working on our first ever Christmas Annual – dedicated to the idea of companions and their seasonal escapades. The whole thing is available in PDF form, and in it you’ll find stories about the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, Bill and Heather, and even the Master. Do have a look; if nothing else it’ll give you something to do while we’re all waiting for ‘Revolution of the Daleks’.
Anyway, here’s mine. Cast your mind back, constant reader – all the way back to 2011…
Rory thinks: This will be the last year.
He looks out. The tail end of the winter sunlight has bled away, leaving the sky a deep Prussian blue, like the cloth of a military uniform. Somewhere beyond the exosphere, there are stars, although the house is in a well-lit terrace and you can’t really see them. Rory scratches his head to think that he might, at some point, have visited some of those stars, or at least their nearest neighbours. The man from Leadworth, skipping across the universe in a double heartbeat. Not to mention his other life, half-remembered and best forgotten: 2000 years of plastic solitude, hiding behind a locked door.
In his quieter moments he allows the concept to overwhelm him. And then there is a snap and he is back in the room. In his head, he can hear the Doctor. Don’t be ridiculous, Rory. That’s Iota Trianguli. I’d never take you there; they worship carrots.
He still remembers his encounter with the octopus barbers of Cirrus Minor; how they’d crooned in Gaelic while they snipped and trimmed. He had only gone in to ask for directions, but there had been a cultural misunderstanding and the next thing he knew he was being suckered to a plastic chair. Walking back to the blue box, where the others were waiting, under the twilight of a topaz yellow sun. They had offered sympathy and condolence, and then hidden all the mirrors.
Amy is much better at this stuff, he thinks to himself.
Rory has always felt two chapters behind, as if the Doctor and Amy were discussing plot points he was yet to reach. There are conversations about the travels they had without him, in the days – weeks? months? – before they started travelling together, the failed attempts at piloting the TARDIS, the bedroom with its matching Transformers quilts and electric train set. And then they were here, and the chapter began anew, and still he often feels as if there are pages he has neglected to read.
From the next room: laughter, the sound of Eric Morecambe menacing Arthur Lowe with a replica pistol. Then applause, and the familiarity of Bring Me Sunshine. Rory would quite like to be watching it, but he is keeping an eye on the stuffing.
Amy enters from the shed, carrying something metallic and roughly cylindrical. “This the one?”
“We have more than one blowtorch?”
“I found three. I think two of them may not be ours.” She rests the one she’s carrying on the kitchen worktop. “So. How does this improve the pudding?”
“Caramelisation. It’s like doing a crème brulee.” Rory picks up the blowtorch, dusting it with the sleeve of his cardigan. “I saw it on YouTube.”
Amy purses her lips very slightly and gives him the fish-eye. “Just don’t set fire to the kitchen. You know. Again.”
Rory feels his own eyes involuntarily roll. He puts down the torch and goes back to the cutlery drawer. Pulls out two knives, two forks, two spoons. The cutlery glints by the light of the kitchen.
He hesitates, looking over at the table. Then back at Amy, who has just finished pouring herself another glass of Shiraz. “Are we – ?”
She looks over at him, at the silverware in his hand. “What? Oh. Yeah. Definitely!”
It is a tonal shift from confusion to incredulity, managed in four words. Communication failures are the loose tiles in the marital roof, he has always thought, and this is one of them. He broaches the matter every Christmas. For Amy, it is a question that need never be asked. But they have never really resolved this, and thus it lingers, hanging in the air like an invisible stalactite, made of glass.
Rory reaches into the drawer, rummages, and pulls out another set. He sucks in his teeth.
“I can hear you doing that.”
She does not look round. Rory sighs. “I just – ”
“What? I mean, he’s our friend.”
“Yeah, and he never shows up. Because he thinks we think he’s dead.” Rory takes a split second to process that sentence, checking it for coherence. He decides that it works, despite being somewhat haphazard. Later he will decide that this is probably how Amy views him.
“Except that River knows we know. And she’ll tell him. And he probably told her knowing that she’d tell us, eventually. So he didn’t tell us because he knew she would, probably because he told her not to. Hey.” She flips the tea towel she has been using over her shoulders as if hoisting a knapsack. “It’s what he does, isn’t it?”
Rory has not been this confused since the poison scene in The Princess Bride. It pops into his head now, fully formed. He says, “Right.”
Amy sighs; it is a hand-thrown-to-the-air sigh, which is never a good one. “I know you think it’s pointless, but I’m not giving up.”
Is it pointless? Rory muses on this as he polishes the cutlery, fetching an extra plate from the cupboard to warm with the others. They have waited for the Doctor’s return for years; for some reason Amy always expects him at Christmas, “Because it’s the most inconvenient time, and so that’s exactly when he’ll show up”. He pulls at the oven door and then slides the plate inside: there is the scrape of glazed earthenware. The same ritual since Demon’s Run, since they got this house, since a parallel anomaly that he can no longer fully remember. Every December. This will be their third.
“I don’t like to see your hopes – I don’t know. Dashed. Every year,” he tells her.
“Don’t make this all about me. Besides, it’s Christmas. Christmas is about tradition.”
Rory thinks: So is seppuku.
Rory says: “I just don’t understand why anyone would voluntarily choose to have dinner with their in-laws.”
“Well, maybe not yours.” She tips him a wink; Rory is thrown by the sudden playfulness. A smile momentarily crosses his lips – The Princess Bride is back, the flirting of Buttercup and Westley.
Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he jolts at a repeated word: inconceivable, its dual meaning spiked with black venom. The other thing they do not discuss.
Rory looks away. Amy says “Is that spoon going on the table? Or do you – do you just like holding it?”
The sentences are losing cohesion, which means that Amy is more upset than she is prepared to admit. Rory is suddenly struck with something he will later determine was guilt; in the moment, it feels rather more like a desire to hug his wife.
He puts down the spoon, and then puts his arms around her, trying to somehow press out the anger, squeezing it away like the juice of an orange. Amy buries her face in the wool of his cardigan. It is only the side of her face, indicating a partial acquiescence to his affection as opposed to the total surrender he would prefer, but it will do for a start.
Amy pulls away, seethes. “Who! Who does it today? They’re supposed to show up on cosy winter evenings when you’ve just finished wrapping the presents. Bit of Holly and the Ivy, mince pie, and then on to the next house.” She is storming across the kitchen; now she reaches up to a shelf, pulling down the yellow plastic gun that is usually kept in reserve for next door’s cat.
The sink tap is turned on, and then off again. From the lounge they can hear the theme to Pointless, and then a second knock. Amy’s battle cry echoes as she marches down the hall. “If that is more carol singers, I have a water pistol!”
There is a Jewish tradition at the Passover Seder: an empty place left for Elijah, longed for and anticipated. And there are other stories, too, of unexpected stars, of unlikely gifts received with bewildered gratitude, of barren women who eventually bore prophets. There are choices and consequences and the two do not always match. We’re all stories in the end, he can remember Amy telling him once, although she couldn’t recall quite where she’d heard it. He wonders how this one will finish, and what choices he might have to make, and whether the two of them will ever be on the same page.
Rory wanders out of the kitchen to see who was at the door.
You can download the 2021 Doctor Who Companion Annual here.