I am quite sure my friend John wouldn’t object to my publishing this painted Weeping Angel egg he made for his not-quite teenage daughter.
Happy Easter, everyone!
I am quite sure my friend John wouldn’t object to my publishing this painted Weeping Angel egg he made for his not-quite teenage daughter.
Happy Easter, everyone!
As spotted in this week’s TV Choice.
I love this, because – although perhaps to a slightly lesser extent in recent years – it’s BASICALLY THE ENTIRE SHOW.
There are – horrors! – only three more days until the Doctor is reunited with
Kevin Bacon Clara Oswin and they get to fly around the universe for a bit.
Well, three days for you lot, anyway. I have to wait until next week and we’re back from our Easter break, during which time I will probably be prevented from watching Doctor Who on the grounds that my mother-in-law doesn’t care for it and their internet signal really doesn’t allow that much broadband hogging for private viewing on the iPlayer. No matter. I can stay spoiler-free (it will be a good excuse to curb my Guardian website addiction), at least for a couple of days.
Readers who were around last autumn will recall a series of posts I did during series seven about SEEMINGLY UNIMPORTANT THINGS THAT WILL TURN OUT TO BE HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT. Of course, none of them are. It’s just that Moffat’s renowned for giving us puzzles to solve – where Davies would just drop in as many references as he could, with as much subtlety as River Song’s attempts at seduction, Moffat prefers to tease his audience. There was the whole Other Doctor Sightings list throughout series five, and then the question of the Doctor’s apparent assassination that wasn’t – and even now he’s still giving out press releases saying that Sherlock cheated death because “there’s a clue that everyone’s missed”.
At the time I realised my attitude could bend in two directions: I could go on and on about how irritating this is, or I could get in on the act. If you want to play catch-up, have a look here:
There is no entry for ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ because as an ending it’s fairly unambiguous. The same may not be said, of course, for ‘The Snowmen’, which kickstarts the new Mystery of the Series, namely who on earth is Clara Oswin?
So I went back through ‘The Snowmen’ this week and it turns out that there are, in fact, several OBVIOUS CLUES which will be considered below.
First: Madame Vastra’s conservatory.
Of course, in this still shot it looks like Vastra is using the ‘shhing’ technique that the Doctor used on Craig in ‘Closing Time’. But don’t think about that. Look at the flowers. They’re purple, right? And purple is an obvious gay colour, right? And Madame Vastra’s a lesbian, right? And Clara Oswin mentioned, in ‘Asylum’, “going through a phase”. This is a clear indication that she’s a regenerated version of Jenny, the wife of the Lizard Woman from the Dawn of Time.
But wait! It may not be that simple. Because look at this.
Notice the mole on Jenny’s cheek. And then remember this.
ANDY: How long did it take you to suss him out, then?
RIMMER: Ahh, I had him sussed right from the beginning.
ANDY: Really? You found the Captain’s message right away?!
RIMMER: [Taken aback] What Captain’s message?
ANDY: The one that’s hidden in the microdot in the ‘i’ in Rimmer’s swimming certificate. Well, that’s the clue, isn’t it? Rimmer having a swimming certificate and not being able to swim!
KRYTEN: That’s a clue?!
ANDY: It’s a blatant clue, isn’t it?
RIMMER: A blatant clue to what?
ANDY: A blatant clue to the truth behind Rimmer.
RIMMER: What truth?
ANDY: The truth to why he is such an insufferable prat.
Microdots. Moles. Jenny’s hiding something.
Maybe she’s hiding the fact that sailors and Jewish girls will figure in the next series.
If you haven’t seen Schindler’s List this one isn’t may have gone over your head, but the use of red here mirrors Spielberg’s epic and gives a clear indication that the Eleventh Doctor is off to finally get Hitler out of that cupboard. And then appear in an off-Broadway version of South Pacific. (Red also figures prominently in The Sixth Sense, which features a cupboard.)
But it all makes sense when you look at the Latimers’ front room.
Never mind the obvious borrowing of a name that has form in New Who. You’re thinking I’m going to talk about the red on the fireplace, aren’t you? Wrong. Look to your left, at the leopard coat on the chair. This is a clear and unambiguous reference to the imminent return of the Cheetah People from ‘Survival’, and Clara’s eventual unmasking as one of their number. So now you know.
Lastly, look at Clara’s earring.
It’s (roughly) circular, and an unbroken circle continues forever, which is how long Moffat’s planning on padding out this mystery. Or so it will seem.
Prove me wrong. I dare you!
Thomas: So Daddy, is a nurse a girl doctor?
Me: No, no. Nurses help doctors.
Thomas: I thought they were girl doctors.
Me: Doctors can be girls, and nurses can be boys. You know Rory from Doctor Who? He’s a nurse.
Thomas [thinks this through]: But are you sure he’s a boy?
He has a point.
You will recall the Lego Balamory I constructed the other week. It now lies in pieces around our bungalow, partly in the form of still-intact chunks of plastic masonry that sit in the jute basket that houses the other bricks; partly cannibalised for Joshua’s next project (more on that another time). But before I took the thing apart – which had to happen quickly, because it really wasn’t fair to hog most of the Lego in the house for the sake of a vanity project – I managed to get creative with the video camera. This was the result.
For those of you unfamiliar with the original, this is a recreation of the title sequence, up to a point – make sure you watch the whole thing! A two-pronged approach was necessary: first, I swooped in and out with the video camera, mimicking the pans of the original as closely as I could. The waving characters was done using the SLR, and some (very) simple stop-motion. The jerky positioning and inconsistent lighting hopefully masks the fact that half of them appear to be making obscene gestures. Some work better than others. I’m quite pleased with Archie; it’s a shame he looks so much like Lotso.
Try and ignore the fact that it was filmed on a folded zed bed in my spare bedroom, and that there’s a towel sitting behind the model, supposedly emulating forestry. Also ignore the yellow articulated trailer standing in for Edie McCredie’s bus, and the fact that you can clearly see my shadow just as the camera zooms in on the white house. Basically this is low-tech. It was off the back of it that I realised I needed a better approach to lighting and also a remote control for the camera shutter.
As a compare and contrast exercise, here’s the original – I referred to it when putting this together.
I’m still toying with the idea of a Lego Holmfirth. But maybe not yet.
Three random things I’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. Two of them are from Vikki.
First, the news that Dalek Sec wasn’t the first human / Dalek hybrid.
Second, I have a confession to make about the construction of that Snow Dalek the other week.
And last, and probably my favourite:
(Did I ever mention that I met my wife on the internet?)
(For part one, see here.)
“It’s the Flesh. Definitely the Flesh.”
I have to say, I don’t think I was totally off base with this one. Oh, you remember. Moffat writes himself into a corner. Just to show us he can also write himself out of it. The Doctor dies by the lake, except it turns out he was hiding inside a robotic duplicate, which also has the ability to grow facial hair. There’s a pointless wedding sequence on a rooftop and then Dorium asks the First Question, which unfortunately does not turn out to be “Rice, chips or half and half?”.
I have whinged about the inconsistencies of the Teselecta resolution before, so we won’t dwell on it. But oh, I was so sure it would turn out to be the Flesh. Because we’d not seen them for half a series, which is enough time to leave a dish to simmer before bringing it back to the boil. You have two Doctors running around for two hundred years, taking it in turns to wave at Amy and Rory from history books. There was no way I could be wrong about this. (On the other hand, I was also once convinced that the Flesh would turn out to be somehow related to the Zygons, so meh.)
Here’s the crux of my argument: we don’t actually see the Flesh Doctor die. It’s heavily implied, but by no means established – and you know as well as I do that unless you see a corpse, you can always cheat death (and, in some cases, even a corpse doesn’t mean anything). It would have been interesting to have the Flesh Doctor willingly surrender to the Real Doctor, who shoots him in order to make the Silence happy. Except the Real Doctor probably wouldn’t have done anything of the sort, so it would have been River instead. Meanwhile the Real Doctor is hiding in the back of Canton Delaware’s truck, playing Bejeweled on his iPhone.
But that’s the thing with twists. With Moffat you’ve come to expect them. The climax of ‘The Pandorica Opens’ – that dual revelation that Rory is an Auton and that the impenetrable prison was empty, and intended for the Doctor – was extremely effective, but it’s arguably the last time that a twist of that magnitude has worked (and it’s a shame that the closing episode of that series was so piss poor). By the time we get to ‘The Impossible Astronaut’, and the realisation that there is a twist of some sort coming (because a twist is the only way you can get out of the on-screen death and cremation of the Doctor), we no longer care.
As a recently graduated student still convinced of my own importance, I can remember seeing The Sixth Sense and then bragging afterwards to anyone who’d listen how I’d spotted the plot twist coming a mile off. To be honest, this isn’t strictly true. What actually happened was that I visited the cinema knowing there would be a twist, and then tried my utmost to figure it out. Which meant that when Haley Joel Osment drops a big hint halfway through (in a line that Shyamalan says he almost deleted), I picked up on that. If you know there’s a twist – i.e. if it’s been mentioned in every single review – you’ll look for it. But if you don’t know that, say, “______” has one of the most unexpected things to happen in any movie ever, despite gratuitous (if subtle) foreshadowing, it’ll catch you totally off guard. (I am purposely not mentioning the title here, but that underscore includes an IMDB link.)
Just to jump off into a tangent for a moment, I think I can speak about The Sixth Sense openly here because there can’t be that many people reading this blog who haven’t seen it. But if you’ve been living under a paving slab for the last thirteen years, now might be a good time to jump down to the next bit. See you there.
Right, he’s gone. We can continue. I can remember a conversation I had with Emily about this movie, and about how our respective parents had reacted.
“It was funny,” she said, “because mine figured it out straight away. We were watching and they had the opening bit where he gets shot, and my mother sniffed and said ‘Oh, I bet he’s dead now’, thereby ruining the film for my dad.”
“See, I had the exact opposite,” I replied. “We watched the entire film, and then they had the big revelation, and then the denouement where he says goodbye, and then the credits roll, and then halfway through the credits my mother suddenly sat up and cried out ‘Oh! So he’s been dead all the time!’. I despair of her, I really do.”
(Spoilers end here.)
Anyway, you see where I’m coming from. The first five series of the revived Doctor Who constructed their story arcs around obvious foreshadowing looming to a big climax. The sixth starts at the end and then works its way towards it in what is in many respects a colossal flashback. Moffat is essentially throwing down the gauntlet and asking us to solve a puzzle, something he’s done with increasing frequency over the years, as we ponder – even now – exactly how Sherlock could have survived that tumble from the roof. Forced to confront the issue, we find ourselves going through a myriad different solutions in order to come up with the most plausible (knowing, of course, that Moffat will then do something that’s neither plausible nor well-written). So I was convinced it would be the Flesh, and it wasn’t. But you can see how I got there.
“Matt Smith? Nooo. Way too young.”
I think it’s a coming of age thing. It’s not as big a deal as that first kiss, or a graduation – it’s a small milestone that you only really think about later on as one of those tiny moments when you realise your life is ticking away. I’m talking, if you hadn’t guessed, about the first time they cast a Doctor who’s younger than you are.
I was thirty when Matt Smith hit the big time. I can remember being at a petrol station in Craven Arms and seeing him on the wrinkled cover of The Sun, along with the headline “The New Doctor is Matt…Who?”. It was a fair question. He’d done his share of theatre, but wasn’t what you could call a household name. There was a lanky, floppy-haired young man grinning at me from the front page of the newspaper, and I was appalled.
“He’s too young,” I complained to Emily, when I got back in the car, carrying a crumpled receipt and the large bar of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut that would see us back to Oxfordshire. “They’re casting a hip-and-trendy bloke who’s going to be, like, the cool Doctor. I’m sure of it. He’s younger than I am!”
In one respect it turns out I was right about the ‘cool Doctor’ thing. My timing was a little off, though, because Smith – while the youngest actor to date – was only three years Peter Davison’s junior, at least with respect to the age he’d been when he got the job. So I was thirty, but Davison had been twenty-nine. Still, that wasn’t the point. When Davison was in the TARDIS I’d been three years old. He was a grown-up – a young grown-up, but still a grown-up. It wasn’t the same at all. Even after the reboot and Davies’ insistence that you have to cast younger actors because of the amount of running about, they were still looking at older, established actors for the part. (And besides, the Fifth Doctor was my Doctor.)
Things got worse not long afterwards, when the BBC released this publicity shot:
Which only made things worse. “Look at her! She doesn’t look a day over sixteen!” I remember bleating. “It’s like they’ve left a couple of kids in charge of the TARDIS!” I must have been fun to be with in those days.
The problem, as it turned out, was that I was imagining Smith as he’d been in the Sally Lockhart stories, or at least the two that were adapted for television. There he was young, permanently sheepish and borderline cockney, or at least that’s how I remember him. I was convinced he’d bring the same approach to Doctor Who. The series five trailer – which involved the Doctor punching out Bracewell in the execrable ‘Victory of the Daleks’ – didn’t help.
Then we got to Easter 2010, and ‘The Eleventh Hour’. And I think there’s a reason why this remains in my top ten New Who episodes some three years later. Over the course of sixty-five minutes, Moffat introduces a new Doctor, one-and-a-half new companions, a whole new approach to the show, a host of gags, an unfortunate meme-that-should-never-have-been-a-meme and a cameo from Patrick Moore. And a story, of sorts. The threat of Prisoner Zero and the Atraxi were hardly among the most interesting that the show has faced, but in an episode which basically served as a game-changer I think we can let that go.
It was fast and frenetic and incredibly English, but at the centre of it all was Smith himself, who absolutely blew me away. From his exasperation at the villagers’ reaction to the eclipse of the sun (“The end comes, as it was always going to, down a video phone”) to the moment he faces Prisoner Zero’s mimicry of his own as-yet undiscovered appearance with “That’s rubbish, who’s that supposed to be?”), Smith plays a character who’s simultaneously young and old – a pattern that was set to continue. Whatever you may think about Moffat’s done to the show (and I’ve written about that in ample detail, so we won’t re-tread old ground), and however much Smith’s current performance as the Doctor seems loaded with the same gravitas and weariness that was arguably Tennant’s undoing (it’s like they’ve learned nothing from ‘The End of Time’), there is a brilliance about this opening episode that solidified the Eleventh as a Doctor who could be fun without being smug, who was as utterly alien as Baker’s Fourth, and who would take things to the brink before saving the day. And in Amy, Moffat created a lovably off-the-wall character who became my favourite companion, at least for a while. I’d got it wrong before, of course. But seldom have I been so pleased about it.
I will get round to doing the second half of that post tomorrow, I promise. But right now there’s a Chinese takeaway just up the road with my name on it, so the introspective will have to wait.
To tide you over until then, here’s a very good way to improve a rotten episode: make sure you can barely understand a word of what’s being said.
“It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you make up. The rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I’d believe it, but before the universe? Impossible. Doesn’t fit my rule. Still, that’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.”
(The Doctor, ‘The Satan Pit’)
I am, by my nature, an opinionated sort. I probably wouldn’t have a blog if I wasn’t, at least not one like this. I’d stick to a tumblr account and fill it with memes and gifs. Instead I’ll write reams and reams of text about anything that suits – whether that’s in a dedicated post, or a comment thread on a newspaper website. Never use a single word, I’ve learned over the years, when a hundred will do.
But I have a confession to make: a lot of what I’ve learned over the years was garnered from YouTube hits, Wikipedia entries and a fair bit of bluffing. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to much online debate I’m often far more ignorant than I may come across, having relied instead on the ability to weave an argument rather than actually give it any substance. If you can be convincing enough in your tone, it’s relatively easy to persuade your audience. A little flash and sparkle goes a long way. In this, I’m reminded of Richard Gere singing ‘Razzle Dazzle’ near the end of Chicago, a song I now have stuck in my head and which I thus won’t quote here for fear of inflicting the earworm upon the rest of you.
But insofar as popular culture is concerned I can talk about Doctor Who with reasonable authority, at least up to a point. I can say whether a story was good TV or bad Who, or the reverse. I can deconstruct an episode and talk about what worked and what didn’t (although Gareth does it better). I can view it within the context of the series as a whole (although again, Gareth does it better). I even have a decent-ish knowledge of Classic Who (three strikes, you’re outta there). I can even look at an episode from the point of view of a small child, purely through having watched every episode of New Who at least once with Joshua. (As a result, I can now see the merits in ‘The End Of The World’ and am far more appreciative of ‘Love and Monsters’, even though the oral sex joke is still a colossal misfire.)
Where I fall down, as it happens, is my tendency to make predictions that turn out to be spectacularly and indelibly wrong. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to be talking about just a few of them.
“Bringing Donna back is a disaster waiting to happen.”
“No good will come of this,” I remember saying. And you know, you can hardly blame me. Donna Noble was an irritating trollop the first time we saw her. I don’t care that she was ‘feisty’ where Rose was doe-eyed and soppy (largely because feistiness has been the single defining trait of every single companion the Doctor’s had since 2008, with the notable exception of Rory). She had a voice like a foghorn. I was a big Catherine Tate fan, but she essentially aged Lauren Cooper by fifteen years and stuck her in a wedding dress. I spent the whole of ‘The Runaway Bride’ waiting for the inevitable “Am I bovvered?”, and in a way it was almost disappointing they didn’t include it – rather like a famous pantomime dame who’s not allowed to deliver his TV catchphrase.
I should have figured that Unenlightened Donna (which makes her sound like the crap version of Rimmer from Red Dwarf’s ‘Back To Reality’) was thoroughly unsuitable material for an entire series, and that Davies would have to develop her. He did this by taking out the mouth – although the feistiness remains – and getting her to cry in front of an Ood. It’s an overwrought scene, but it solidifies her, if only because her response – to plead with the Doctor to make it stop – is so utterly real. Donna had a moment of clarity at the end of ‘The Runaway Bride’, in which she suggests that the Doctor needs a companion because “sometimes you need someone to stop you”. Davies takes this as his starting point and has her become the Doctor’s conscience in a series where the Time Lord Triumphant is waiting in the wings.
And oh, it was refreshing to have a companion who wasn’t constantly flirting with the Doctor! As is usual with these things they took the situation to the other extreme and ran a whole series of “We’re not together” gags that were typical examples of the lady who doth protest too much, but Davies (like his successor) is always one for his recurring gags, and you can’t have everything. Donna treated the Doctor like a mate, and he responded in kind, and the two worked wonderfully together as a result – indeed, the chemistry between Tennant and Tate was good enough to see them take to the stage the following year in Much Ado About Nothing.
In the end it all got very tedious and companion-centric, as we’re treated to yet another series finale where the Doctor’s closest ally becomes the most important thing in the universe (I don’t know, what was wrong with just travelling with him?). This is always a mistake, because it kills any sense of empathy we might have with the character – it gets very hard to like Donna once she starts spouting technobabble and teaching the Children of Time how to fly the TARDIS. Then the Doctor takes it all out of her head, in another death-that-wasn’t-really-a-death – it’s a cheap trick, but that final, wordless scene in the control room is stupendous (particularly when you then read that Davies originally intended for the Doctor’s brooding fit to be interrupted by Cybermen, which would have ruined the episode). Series four wasn’t always an easy ride (the Sontaran story is still rubbish), but Donna’s easily one of my favourite companions, and Tate played her to perfection. Much missed.
“Torchwood’s gonna be great.”
I refer you to something I wrote on October 17th, 2005.
“It sounds like a cross between The Lone Gunmen and Spooks, with a dash of Queer as Folk. Whatever you think about Davies’ political agenda with Captain Jack, he was an interesting and compelling character whom I liked a lot. In terms of character arc he was there to provide a suitably gung-ho replacement for the previously violent tendencies of the Doctor – once Eccleston’s incarnation decides to stop being a war hero and goes back to pacificism (notably after ‘Dalek’), he became more like some of the previous, more peaceful regenerations. At the same time, he retains a vicious streak: while Jack isn’t violent for the sake of violence he is nonetheless far more comfortable handling a gun, and in that sense he almost seems to be a projection of the Doctor’s own buried sense of violence; a necessary character. For all that rambling, he was one of the most fun aspects of the last season, and I can’t help thinking he deserves his own show.
It could all go horribly wrong, of course, but just consider the alternatives – they could have decided to make a spin-off series entitled The Further Adventures of Mickey.”
Ah, Torchwood. It could have been so glorious. A lot of people don’t like Jack Harkness, but I confess I always found him watchable, whether he was flirting or shooting – often both at the same time. The prospect of a darker, more adult-themed show, able to discuss the issues that Doctor Who, with its family audience and prime time slot, couldn’t touch? With Barrowman at the centre? Bring it on.
What we got was episode after episode of inane plotting, unnecessary swearing and ephemeral fucking. Barrowman spent most of the first series standing on a rooftop looking broody. It’s like Davies had cutscenes from Devil May Cry 2 playing on a loop when he was approaching deadline. Episode two was centred around sex as a plotline (ha!) but it was embarrassing rather than appropriately carnal. And I don’t mind a bit of language, I really don’t, but not when it comes across like the work of ten year old schoolboys who have been left alone with a tape recorder, charged to produce a radio report but unable to resist the temptation to goad each other into muttering the occasional rude word.
Torchwood eventually got much better. I nearly gave up after that first series, but in the second they all stopped fighting amongst themselves, gelled as a team and had a lot more fun. James Marsters turned up. Oh, and it has one of the funniest series openers I’ve ever seen. A couple of years later there was Children of Earth, a five episode miniseries that stands amongst RTD’s finest work, at least for the BBC, and which upset a good number of people for killing off a much beloved character – a brave decision and the sort the show has never shied away from, taking its cue from the likes of 24. Then it all went to pot again with Miracle Day, which took the formula stateside, without much success (although it does have a mesmerising performance from Bill Pullman). The finale of this features Barrowman saving the world by depositing his bodily fluids inside a gigantic crack. The irony of this is not lost on me.
So I was right, I suppose, if you count those middle two series, but I’ve always seen Torchwood as a missed opportunity. It’s not entirely down to the writing, which was uneven but occasionally brilliant, but the whole show never seemed entirely sure whether it should be appealing to the teenage market or the adults who watched Doctor Who with their kids. In the end, it never fully appealed to either, which is a shame because Barrowman is a great actor, and there were some wonderful moments amidst the dross, particularly once the show stopped taking itself too seriously – such as the time Jack and Ianto were searching an empty office block for their quarry. “Check the roof,” Ianto mutters. “You’re good with roofs.” More scenes like that, and we’d have had the makings of a classic.
(FWIW, I also think Martha and Mickey: Bounty Hunters definitely has wings.)
Tomorrow: we look at theories concerning one of the biggest conundrums the show’s thrown up since its revival, and how I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Eleventh Doctor…