Monthly Archives: October 2015
There’s an old joke. A married couple are sitting by the fireside one evening – perhaps she’s reading, perhaps he’s sewing, just for the sake of gender equality. She looks up from the Times and says to her husband “Would you come and rescue me in distress?”
“Of course,” he replies. “Wouldn’t make any difference what you were wearing.”
There is a dress in this week’s list of VERY IMPORTANT THINGS. I sometimes wonder whether my lists of VERY IMPORTANT THINGS are getting closer and closer to the mark. Perhaps this sort of guesswork is all a matter of practice, the sort of thing you have to spend ten thousand hours mastering (thus far, I’ve managed about fifty-six). Or perhaps it’s that if you make enough wild stabs you’re bound to hit the correct answer sooner or later.
Let’s have a look at the dress.
Regular readers of this blog might be aware that I spend my August bank holidays at Greenbelt festival – a fine event, although it has meant that I’ve missed several series openers over the last few years. Greenbelt is an intoxicating mix of art, literature, worship and music – it’s a feast for the eyes and ears and every year is different, but if you’re a regular attendee the sculptures dotted around site tend to burn their way into your brain after a while. Take this.
Greenbelt has, for the last two years, taken place at Boughton House, Northamptonshire, visible in the top right corner of the map below – with its previous venue, Cheltenham Racecourse, visible bottom left.
Sandwiched between the two is Banbury, famous for cakes, and this:
Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white horse;
Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
And she shall have music wherever she goes
Let’s deconstruct this. The Doctor rides a horse in this story, so we needn’t dwell on that. ‘Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes’ refers unambiguously to ‘The Gunfighters’, a promising story marred by the omnipresent ‘Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon’, which bookends EVERY. SINGLE. SCENE. Curiously the ballad was sung by Lynda Baron, who also appears in ‘Enlightenment’, dressed as a FINE LADY who happens to be a pirate captain.
A cock-horse is a children’s toy. Those of you who recall ‘Closing Time’ will recall the Doctor’s job in the toy department of a big shop, working undercover in order to investigate mysterious electrical activity – a shop that featured Lynda Baron among its staff. From this we can draw the UNAMBIGUOUS CONCLUSION that this is all connected somehow with Peter Purves. There is no other possible explanation.
And music? Wherever she goes? What do you hear in the TARDIS whenever history is altered / the universe is about to explode / the Doctor’s left the iron on? Yes, that same ominous bell. But there’s more! Because there’s an alternative verse:
Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To buy little Johnny a galloping horse;
It trots behind and it ambles before,
And Johnny shall ride till he can ride no more
‘Johnny’ is undoubtedly connected with John Smith, the well-worn pseudonym adopted by the Doctor, particularly during his time with UNIT. But it’s the words ‘Trots behind and ambles before’ I want to examine, referring as they do to the notion of being from the future and the past simultaneously. In other words –
Let’s move on from dresses, and look at the crystal pendant thing the Doctor and Ashildr recovered from Lucie Fanshawe’s house.
There are twenty-four studs decorating the outer edge. Thirty-four sit round the next layer, and eighteen surround the jewel. This refers to the following stories in the sequence:
018 – Galaxy 4
024 – The Celestial Toymaker
034 – The Macra Terror
Conclusion? This is a ploy by the BBC to point us towards the missing episodes they’ve secretly found but DON’T WANT US TO KNOW ABOUT YET. Further proof of this may be found when we examine the Chumblies, the friendly robots encountered in Galaxy 4, which are layered in four tiers in an eerily similar fashion.
Oh, and two of those stories feature Peter Purves. Just saying.
Moving on: when Sam Swift is led to the gallows we get a fairly good (if brief) glance at the wanted posters that are stuck to the wall in Tyburn.
It’s a little blurry, but about the best I could do, and it’s enough to see (just about) that the posters on the left are concerned with ‘HEAVEN’S SPEEDIE’. To clear things up, this is a reference to Missy. But it’s also a reference to Heaven’s Speedie Hue and Cry, a seminal pamphlet produced by Henry Goodcole in the seventeenth century that expanded upon the traditional method of writing about murderers and criminals to place them within a greater sociological context. (Look it up; it’s quite interesting.)
Now, we could talk about the fact that Henry Goodcole is an anagram of ‘Hoed Necrology’, itself an apt description of ‘Death in Heaven’. Or we could talk about Hue and Cry, a reference to the Scottish pop duo most famous for ‘Labour of Love’, which is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to ‘Blink’, most notably its “Look to your left” catchphrase. If you think I’m being silly about this, take a look here and here. It’s the third time this series.
Finally, here’s the Doctor, chatting with Ashildr.
Let’s ignore the large book on the stand next to the fireplace which is OBVIOUSLY A History of the Time War, and look instead at the other detail. There are five scrolls on the left-hand side of the desk (as we see it), referring to the five Doctors (including John Hurt) that we’ve seen since 2005, and a further eight on the right. Moreover, there are eight bookshelves, each containing twelve books – a clear indication that Ashildr designed her library to foreshadow the second coming of the Twelfth Doctor.
Of the books Ashildr has in this shot, seventeen are invisible or partially obscured. A further nine (over on the left) are partially hidden in shadow, although just about visible. Twenty-six books. Twenty-six missing stories. This couldn’t be more obvious if you stuck a great big sign on top of the shelves saying “THIS IS WHY THE PAGES WERE RIPPED OUT; MAISIE WILLIAMS WAS AT ST BARTHOLOMEW’S, WITH PETER PURVES”.
By the way, the hook shape in the fireplace isn’t just there for decoration; it’s an indication that they’ve already cast the next Doctor, or are at least thinking about it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Colin O’Donoghue.
It would work. You know it would work.
Apparently the new Sherlock episode – the Victorian-set Christmas special – will be titled ‘The Abominable Bride’.
Presumably this means that Steven Moffat is planning a 2016 story entitled ‘The Runaway Snowmen’.
Anyway, here’s my suggested artwork. You’re welcome.
There’s a scene about two thirds into this week’s Doctor Who episode that speaks volumes. We’re in an ornate, well-furnished house in Stuart-ruled England, and Ashildr – who last week had a heart attack under the strain of defeating the Mire, before being resurrected – is railing at the Doctor. “Human life is fleeting,” she says. “People are mayflies, breeding and dying, repeating the same mistakes. It’s boring. And I’m stuck here. Abandoned by the one man who should know what eternity feels like.” I’m not sure whether it was at this point that I realised we’d gone right through the fourth wall, but I do remember looking over at Emily, and realising what we were experiencing: a Doctor Who episode that, for the second time this series, dumped all over its predecessor’s potential, a good idea squandered in a sea of worthiness and the mire (no pun intended) of a mind-numbingly tedious narrative.
The problem with both of these episodes was that the settings and stories were to all intents and purposes immaterial, playing second (third / fourth) fiddle to the concept of killing Maisie Williams and then bringing her back. If last week saw the Doctor acting on impulse, ‘The Woman Who Lived’ (in which he catches up with her, albeit by accident) sees him reaping what he sowed, as the ‘new’ Ashildr is quite different: cold, self-centred and violent. It’s clear what we’re supposed to think: Ashildr is what the Doctor fears Clara may eventually become (and which she seemed in danger of becoming in series 8). The Doctor, for his part, regrets staying away quite so long, although to be fair the last time he saw her she was setting up a leper colony, so the misunderstanding was forgivable.
That’s not a bad idea for a theme, as long as it has some sort of narrative to support it. Unfortunately in the process of dealing with the ramifications of functional immortality – to use the Doctor’s own terminology – Catherine Tregenna (four of the weaker episodes of Torchwood, which should tell you all you need to know) got so hung up on the emotional pathos that she forgot to include anything we might feasibly call a story. Instead we have thirty-five minutes of the Doctor chatting with Maisie Williams about how shit it is being immortal. Really this two-parter is an acting showcase: a chance to show contrasting sides of the same character, one young, fresh and paranoid; the other jaded and world-weary. (It’s telling that Ashildr’s abandoned her Viking lineage and goes around referring to herself as ‘Me’, which is one step away from adopting the name ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’.)
And it’s that sense of weariness that drags this second instalment down into the murky depths, from which (despite best efforts) it is never really able to extract itself. Narrative inadequacies may have plagued ‘The Girl Who Died’, but that didn’t stop it being fun. It mined enough clichés to wake a balrog (horns! dragons! VALHALLAAAAAAA!), but the episode was – at least until its final seven minutes – delivered with a sense of humour, to the extent that even the baby poetry didn’t matter that much. ‘The Woman Who Lived’ fares far less well, simply because somewhere along the line it had all the fun zapped out of it. It’s not even Who-by-numbers, which is a criticism I levelled at ‘Into the Dalek’ last year. It’s New Who at its most preachy and ponderous: a whole episode of brooding about the Doctor’s tendency to make monsters out of good people. At least in ‘Journey’s End’ we just had a bit of gloating from Julian Bleach, a clenched jaw from Tennant and a quick montage. This is an entire episode of seriousness, with no real life or soul to it.
That’s not to say Tregenna doesn’t have a go. It’s just the results are a dismal failure. Listen, years ago there was a Big Finish story called ‘Bang-Bang-a-Boom‘ in which the Seventh Doctor and Mel find themselves involved in an intricate conspiracy surrounding an intergalactic singing competition. It is literally half Star Trek, half Eurovision. It is also quite marvellous, although one criticism would be that the Star Trek bits try way too hard from time to time, resulting in occasional awkwardness.
Now, take that awkwardness and crank it up to eleven, and you have ‘The Woman Who Lived’. The producers cast a stand-up comedian as a highwayman who also happens to be a stand-up comedian. You could forgive a character like this the odd joke here and there, but this isn’t enough for Tregenna. She inserts (perhaps at the behest of Steven Moffat, perhaps not) a plot-crucial scene in which he actually does stand-up. By a gallows. With the Doctor. Whose delivery is on a par with Yodel. It’s not even fun in a silly, “Ha ha this is my day job” sort of way. It’s just self-consciously naff. It’s like casting Katharine Jenkins as a beautiful maiden with a tragic backstory and then getting her to save the universe with her singing.
Before we get to the stand-up at the gallows (featuring a mob with farming tools, which is in its own way immensely gratifying) there is an earlier scene in which the Doctor and Ashildr sneak through a mansion in order to find a thing that I don’t particularly care about, although it is blue and sparkly. The moment in which they attempt to hide from the snoozing guards by ducking behind tables is ostensibly bedroom farce, although it reminded me rather of the moment in ‘The Horns of Nimon’ where the Doctor, Seth (not Adric, as I erroneously wrote earlier) and Romana hide behind server cabinets in the Nimon’s laboratory: a scene that works because ‘The Horns of Nimon’ is deliberately pantomime, and stylistically consistent, even if Anthony Read doesn’t like it. (The moment in question is at 6:15, if you’re interested.)
If you’re going to run a sequence like this in contemporary Doctor Who, you need to use actors who possess at least a modicum of on-screen chemistry. Capaldi and Williams have precisely zero. It would have worked with Clara, but she’s off doing something else. This is just embarrassing. It’s like watching the Eleventh Doctor and River: a screen test that gets onto the DVD, rather than the sort of thing that results in a casting decision. It’s not that Williams is bad – although the change to her character was perhaps better embodied by the mute, fifty-second time lapse that closed the previous episode than by anything she says and does this week – it’s just that even a Game of Thrones veteran can’t polish a turd. You just get mashed-up turd smeared everywhere, making a horrible mess.
What else? Well, there’s a playful nod to ‘The Visitation’. There is this week’s plant and payoff (Google it) in the form of the second health patch, saved for a crucial moment. Oh, and there’s a cat, who does nothing of any consequence except breathe a bit of fire. I’m fairly sure this happened in at least three or four Tom and Jerry episodes, all of which had more story and dramatic conflict than the forty-five minutes of my life that I’m never getting back (ninety, when you consider that I now have to watch this story again in the company of my children).
At the end, various questions are unanswered. How does Ashildr know the Doctor has a ship? What was in those missing diary pages? Could the foreshadowing of Clara’s supposed death be any more obvious? Did Peter Capaldi have a set number of guitar scenes written into his contract? Why on earth didn’t Clara notice Ashildr outside Coal Hill if she’s been stalking the Doctor? And have none of those people who said Leandro looked like Vincent from Beauty and the Beast seen ‘Warrior’s Gate’?
Most of all, do I actually care anymore? What does it say about me that I no longer want to talk about this show with my children, that I’m tired of good actors wasted and decent ideas squandered? The fan in me still doesn’t really want to believe that Doctor Who is in trouble, but the worst part is how little I find it concerns me these days. And who can blame me? When you serve up a hatchet job like this, BBC, how can you expect me to keep caring?
This was very nearly a Back to the Future post. You know I’m always one to throw a grappling hook in the direction of a receding bandwagon, clinging on for dear life even as it disappears into the distance. I mean, I was going to write about how strange it was that Doctor Who‘s become a show about a middle-aged man who becomes fixated with a schoolteacher named Clara.
But we won’t do it. I’m bloody sick of the Back To The Future crap that’s been clogging my timeline for the past eighteen months, before the internet went into meltdown yesterday. We’re celebrating a fictional day visited by characters in an eighties movie and sneering about all the things the writers got wrong when THEY WEREN’T EVEN TRYING? We’re making fake products and producing trailers for fake films that got seven seconds of screen time? Is this really where our creativity’s taken us? I’m tired of it. I’m tired of all the memes that did the rounds two or three years ago warning that “The day they visited” was imminent, and which fooled about ninety per cent of the internet, when it should have been criminally obvious to anyone who ever saw the films that THEY DON’T GO ANYWHERE THAT DOESN’T END IN A FIVE. And I’m sorry, but the conversation between Lloyd and Fox just upset me, because it’s sad to see Michael looking so ill.
I mean, it’s a movie. It’s a big part of my childhood but this was just saturation point. Listen up, everyone: BTTF 2 isn’t even that good. It’s convoluted, confusing and Jeffrey Weissmann is crap. Moreover, it contains a whopping great paradox in that it would have been impossible for Biff to return the De Lorean to Marty and Doc’s 2015 timeline – he’d have gone to a parallel future where they’d have been somewhere else entirely. Once you realise that, absolutely nothing makes any sense.
No, we’ll look instead at ‘The Girl Who Died’, although I’ve ranted a bit so I may have to cut this one short.
Notice the white tree next to the Doctor. Those of you who know your Tolkien will have this figured out straight away: for the rest of you, the tree is (as the LOTR Wiki puts it) “fashioned in the image of Telperion, elder of the Two Trees of Valinor”: ‘Telperion and Valinor’ may be rearranged to form ‘Adopt Nonlinear Liver’, which is a CLEAR REFERENCE to Ashildr’s new hybrid form come the end of the story. (The flowering of the white tree also symbolises new hope and life, which is rather more obvious, and thus not the sort of thing Moffat would have done. No, this is right.)
Also note that there are two visible stumps in this picture, both to the left of the white tree. This, coupled with the fallen trunk on the right hand side, is a clear reference to cricket, and the IMMINENT RETURN OF THE FIFTH DOCTOR.
Now, have a look in the banqueting hall / lodge / whatever the Vikings called it and let’s be honest who cares because THEY HAD HORNS.
The candelabra (centre) is a gift from Odin. Two tiers. Eight on the bottom, four on the top, corresponding exactly with the number of canonical Doctors. Beneath them, a dragon. And what does this have to do with Doctor Who? Well, those of you familiar with prime time fantasy costume drama that isn’t Game of Thrones will remember this:
Coincidentally, David Schofield – co-starring as the fake Odin in ‘The Girl Who Died’ – also appeared in Merlin as King Alined: a word that can be rearranged to form ‘Denial’, which is precisely how the Vikings spend half the episode before the Doctor agrees to train them, but which is also a river in Egypt, the home of Queen Nefertiti, who was in ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, which also featured an appearance from Richard Hope, who was in Poldark, and A DARK POLE IS HOLDING UP THE CANDELABRA. LOOK AT IT. But not too long or it will etch certain words into your mind, making you a target for ghosts, or telesales pests.
Finally: farm animals.
The chickens at the side have so many layers of meaning we don’t have time to unpack them all. Suffice to say that they appear in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’ (an episode referenced heavily) and also ‘City of Death’ (see below). However, most significant is the Doctor’s affirmation in ‘Blink’ that his Timey-Wimey Detector (which goes ding when there’s stuff) can also boil an egg from up to thirty paces, “so I’ve learned to stay away from hens”. This is one of two major scenes for the Doctor in ‘Blink’, the other being a video conversation in which he instructs Sally Sparrow to, among other things, to “Look to your left”.
How did you find those chickens? Where did you have to point your eyes? Yes, that’s right. (Or rather left.)
You will also notice three ducks, centre stage. Ducks are mentioned in the very first Amy Pond story, in which the newly-regenerated Eleventh Doctor enquires why there are no ducks on the Leadworth duck pond. Veterans will also note that the Ponds’ penultimate story was ‘The Power of Three’. Three ducks. Count ’em. THREE.
But there’s more. The Three Ducks is a hostel on Place Etienne Pernet in Paris, location for ‘City of Death’. Here’s the hostel on Google Maps, along with assorted locations from the shoot, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
(For more details, see here.)
Now watch what happens when we add the two parks (which are significant for obvious reasons that I won’t go into here) and then join the lines up.
IT IS CLEARLY AN UPTURNED TARDIS. As in the one that appeared in this episode.
(Those of you who know your Big Finish will also be aware that Sophie Aldred voiced a military duck with an assault rifle in ‘Zagreus’, but I really thought that was a step too far.)
Before anyone says anything, I know that this isn’t a real review. At some point I will get around to actually writing proper reviews again. Consider this one more of a lighthearted redux of Saturday night’s episode – a story I enjoyed, even though the Vikings were essentially an irrelevance, there to provide historical context for certain things to happen. You will find assorted whining about historical detail, but this reflects what I’ve read online, rather than the way I actually feel about it personally. Seriously, complaining about period detail in Doctor Who is like whinging about the mixture of predatory and preyed-upon animals that populate the Jingly Jangly Jungle in Raa Raa the Noisy Lion. Don’t worry about it. Just enjoy the story, or don’t.
Besides, this is the way it went down, isn’t it? Right?
[The Doctor and Clara are being frogmarched into a Viking settlement. The Doctor is wearing Patrick Troughton’s trousers. Clara is wearing the same spacesuit she wore the last time she faced off against evil spiders.]
CLARA: But they’ve got horns. Vikings didn’t have horns, except when they’d been away from their wives a really long time.
DOCTOR: And you call yourself a teacher. Why’d you think they raided the monasteries?
CLARA: I’m just saying, we’re two days’ boat ride from the TARDIS and I can understand everything they’re saying. Why is the translation circuit still working?
DOCTOR: That’s the way the TARDIS works. Wide radius of effectiveness.
CLARA: Don’t give me that. By that rationale you’d have whole countries of people who could suddenly understand everything in other languages every time you parked. GCSE French lessons would be a nightmare.
DOCTOR: Must be that range extender I got on Ebay. More powerful than I thought. Look. Don’t mess with it. It suits the needs of the writers, it has never been consistent and it probably doesn’t matter.
VIKING: Grrr. [Snaps Doctor’s sunglasses.]
DOCTOR: I feel as though you’ve just killed an old friend.
CLARA: No, he’s killed a new friend that none of us really liked and everyone hoped you would eventually realise was a bad influence.
[Ashildr comes out of a doorway, singing ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, accompanied by random chickens.]
CLARA: Ooh look! It’s Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones!
DOCTOR: Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones? She’s in this week’s episode?
CLARA: Yes. Did you know she was in Game of Thrones?
DOCTOR: I did. But they don’t like to go on about it or anything.
CLARA: Does this explain the rough and ready quasi-historical setting?
DOCTOR: Yes, I think that was the intention.
CLARA: And this is the part where you dazzle them with a plastic toy.
[The Doctor reaches for his yo-yo, when – ]
WEIRD SKY GOD: BOO!
[There is a Star Trek special effect and half the men in the village disappear, along with Ashildr and Clara.]
CLARA: Ooh, look. A door. I bet we could-
VIKING: A moving wall! Quick! Push against it!
CLARA: Guys? There’s a door.
VIKING: Push! Push, we can brace it!
ASHILDR: THERE’S A BLOODY DOOR!
VIKING: If I could just…reach…my Viking…utility belt…
CLARA: Oh, screw it. Darwin was right.
[There is a close-up of a propellor, and then – ]
WEIRD SKY GOD / FAKE ODIN: Behold! I’m drinking Warrior Juice!
ASHILDR: Dude. Seriously kinky.
CLARA: I don’t think this ever happened on Game of Thrones.
[Later. A recovering Clara is sitting in a barn, drinking ale. The Doctor is flipping through his diary.]
DOCTOR: I really can’t believe some of the stuff I wrote in this when I was younger. Listen to this: “Thursday. Dear Diary. I’m beginning to think that maybe Jack likes me, but – ”
CLARA: I still can’t believe they have horns.
DOCTOR: Oh, shut up. It doesn’t matter. You think people watch us because they want historical accuracy? The Robin Hood story we did was absolutely full of anachronisms. And A Town Called Mercy was like walking into a movie from the fifties. What we really should be worrying about is what we’re going to do when the Mire show up.
NOLLARR: We care not. We have lived full and epic lives. We shall die honourably on the blood-soaked battlefield, and WE SHALL BE TAKEN TO THE MIGHTY HALLS OF VALHALLAAAAAA!!!!!
DOCTOR: I’ll admit that this grates after a while.
[The Doctor is addressing a line of blacksmiths, farmers and generally weedy men. There are probably chickens.]
DOCTOR: Right, you lot! This is the comic relief bit, so I’m renaming you all. [He travels along the line, pointing as he goes.] You: amusing pop culture reference number one. You: amusing pop culture reference number two. You –
LOFTY: Can we have swords now?
DOCTOR: Oh well, what harm can it do?
[Back in the barn. Everyone’s looking very glum.]
DOCTOR: Oh, thou bounteous mammary gland. I shall die in torment ere I see thee again. Break, heart, I prithee, break.
CLARA: This totally wasn’t what happened the last time you spoke baby.
DOCTOR: It’s a different period, Clara. They all speak like they’re in epic costume dramas. Even the kids.
CLARA: By epic costume dramas, you mean Game of Thrones.
ASHILDR: I was in Game of Thrones.
CLARA: Really? You were in Game of Thrones?
DOCTOR: Hang on. The baby’s given me an idea. We use the eels.
CLARA: You mean the electric eels that are native to the Amazon Basin, thousands of miles from anywhere the Vikings have pillaged?
DOCTOR: Maybe they were given them as a present. It’s a stretch, but it’s not impossible.
CLARA: They’re not even eels! They’re more like catfish!
DOCTOR: And you’re a whining like a puppy that just had to sit through The Twin Dilemma. Now, go and bond with the girl from Game of Thrones. I need to practice my Pertwee references.
[Banqueting hall. The Mire have beamed down, set phasers to kill and are looking menacing, or would if we could see behind those helmets.]
CLARA: Ashildr. You set?
ASHILDR: Oh, I’d never have had to do this on Game of Thrones.
FAKE ODIN: YOU WILL DIE IN YOUR BEDS!
DOCTOR: Smithers! Release the hounds! And fire the electric eels we’re not supposed to have!
[The eels do their magic, and the Mire drop like flies. Then a giant CG snake appears, juxtaposed with the great big puppet thing.]
CLARA: That’s rubbish.
DOCTOR: It’s better than the one in Kinda.
CLARA: Anyway, here’s your MP4. I’ve added the Benny Hill theme.
DOCTOR: That was quick. Has it occurred to you that about half our audience have probably heard the Benny Hill theme on that rave video doing the rounds on YouTube, without having a clue who Benny Hill is?
CLARA: We should probably keep it that way, shouldn’t we?
[The barn. A party is in full swing and has been for about half an hour. The Doctor is leading a conga round the room.]
DOCTOR: Lofty! Crack open another cask. Then I’m going to play you all a little song I know, called Stairway-
CLARA: Hang on. Has anyone seen Ashildr?
DOCTOR: Bollocks. She’s still wearing the helmet.
[They dart over and remove the helmet, whereupon Ashildr collapses to the floor, dead.]
DOCTOR: Oh dear.
NOLLARR: Oh, my sweet daughter.
CLARA: I once saw this exact same thing happen in a hair salon.
[The Doctor and Clara, brooding over Ashildr’s corpse.]
DOCTOR: All this time, and I still can’t figure out why I look like Peter Capaldi. It just makes no sense. Why couldn’t I look like Tom Hardy? Or George Clooney? Christ, even Jeremy Renner would do.
CLARA: I think they wanted you as a grumpy father figure again. It’s one of those full circle things.
DOCTOR: You know what? I’m a Time Lord. I can fix this. DO YOU HEAR ME? I SAID I CAN FIX IT! AND I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK! I’M NOT LISTENING, DO YOU HEAR? DID YOU HEAR ME SAY I’M NOT LISTENING? I AM TALKING, BUT I’M NOT LISTENING! YOU CAN’T HURT ME ANYMORE! I…HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF…YOU!
CLARA: Do you realise you’re talking to thin air?
DOCTOR: To everyone else, it’s thin air. To me, it’s –
CLARA: Thin air.
[The Doctor does something clever, and Ashildr takes a big breath the way that revived corpses always do in films, unless they’ve been reanimated as zombies.]
DOCTOR: Right, we’re off before the implications of all this sink in. One thing, Game of Thrones girl: take this.
ASHILDR: What is it?
DOCTOR: The number of a friend of mine. He’s in a similar spot, and he’ll help you out.
ASHILDR: Ooh, thank you.
DOCTOR: You’re very welcome. Just – well, keep him away from your chickens.
Folks! New thing.
If you’re a regular at Brian of Morbius, you can’t have failed to notice a shiny new widget on the sidebar (and, if you’re particularly eagle-eyed, on the menu at the top). For some time now I’ve been keeping a Facebook page designed to promote my YouTube stuff (and, I rather hoped, encourage submitted content from others). It has been a dismal failure. I think it’s largely because the videos usually go on my own timeline as well, and get shared in groups etc. in much the same way. Self-promotion was never my great love (there’s nothing that irritates me more than reading an article and finding the first comment is “Great piece! Check out my own semi-related thoughts below”) and when it comes to actually doing it, partly out of the necessity to network, I’m simply not very good at it.
It occurred to me yesterday that perhaps the best way to consolidate web traffic to and from Facebook was to have one page that does for everything: Metro / Kasterborous articles, videos and blog entries, as well as random other things that come along. Thus, The Smallerpictures of Reverend Brian of Morbius was born. (As a title it’s not strictly accurate. It implies a certain eponymity, and as I point out on the About Page, my name is neither Brian, nor Morbius. But some people seem to think that anyway, and it works rather well, and it was suggested by a friend of mine, and she does have a tendency to be right about these things.)
So I’m asking a favour. If you read this blog on a regular or semi-regular basis – or even if you’re just popping in and like what you see – and could find it in your heart of two hearts to like the page, it would be a fantastic way for a struggling freelancer to slowly and painfully increase what little publicity he manages to claw from a blog that hardly anyone reads and YouTube videos that tend to flounder like minnows in the three hundred hours of footage uploaded to the site every minute (and yes, I had to look that up). It may seem like a pointless thing to do, if you already get email notifications, but it would mean a lot to me personally, and I would be very grateful. I thank you in advance.
Of course, doing this does mean I’ll know your real name, but I won’t necessarily match that with your WordPress ID – and even if I do, we’ll keep that between us, eh?
I really didn’t want to have to think too hard about this episode; it’s on my list of things I may get round to seeing again if I ever run out of X-Files, the likelihood of which is minimal. But a gentleman’s dedication to his crusade to find the SERIOUS AND IMPORTANT CLUES in these stories knows, it seems, no bounds, or at least relatively few. Pay attention, class: we could be here for the duration.
In the first instance, look at this opening image of the Drum, as used in the recap.
The word ‘Previously’ is in the process of forming, but it’s no coincidence that when I was scanning for clues and subtleties, my image grabbing software stopped on this THREE TIMES. Clearly this image is watermarked in some way. But what does it mean? Well, for a start the word ‘sly’ is derived from the Old Norse word ‘sloegr’, meaning ‘cunning and crafty’, and as we’re all aware VIKINGS ARE GOING TO FEATURE IN NEXT WEEK’S EPISODE.
But let’s leave the etymology aside, and look at the word as an acronym. An acronym for Safety, Liquidity and Yield – stock market lingo, but also a CLEAR AND TRANSPARENT reference to the contents of the episode (Clara and the others in the Drum spend the whole time trying to find a place of safety; the Doctor is almost forced to yield to his seemingly inevitable death; and the whole thing takes place underwater). And, of course, SLY is the airport code for Salehard. WHICH IS IN RUSSIA. (Salehard is, coincidentally, the closest town to the Polar Circle, WHICH IS WHERE THE LAST CHRISTMAS SPECIAL WAS SET.)
Here’s the Doctor, in the abandoned military town.
Look at those twin dolls. Are they Russian? No, they appear to be standing still. Note their twin-like appearance. This is an UNAMBIGUOUS reference to the Grady twins, who appeared in The Shining, a film set in a haunted hotel – just like another episode of Doctor Who that happened to have been written by Toby Whithouse. I’d say “You couldn’t make it up”, but that’s because NOBODY DID – IT’S ENTIRELY DELIBERATE.
Twins also feature in The Parent Trap, the 1961 Disney comedy in which Hayley Mills played twins Sharon and Susan, which also happens to be the names of two of the Doctor’s companions (yes, there was a Sharon; look it up). The songs for ‘The Parent Trap’ were written by the Sherman brothers, both of whom also provided songs for Mary Poppins – a film that has strong ties with Doctor Who – while rearranging the letters in ‘Sharon McKendrick’ leads to ‘ark mensch dornick‘, both a reference to ‘The Ark In Space’, and its immediate successor, ‘The Sontaran Experiment’, in which the Doctor goes off to look at rocks.
Here’s a spookily empty lounge.
One word: snow globe. And we’re back with St. Elsewhere (see this entry) and the conviction that this is NOT REAL. Note also the presence of the Autons in the back – human pretenders who are NOT REAL. Note also the lampshade, which is pink. Note that the last time we saw Danny Pink was in an episode where things are NOT REAL. I don’t think we need elaborate any further. I’ve got a nagging feeling somewhere in the back of my head that we should, but I am dismissing it, as it is NOT REAL.
Next: El Doctor, wandering once more through the town.
The poster – as you might have guessed – is our focus here. The six tanks evoke six different stories:
‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, in which the Doctor rides into a medieval banqueting hall on top of a tank
‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’, in which the Monk’s TARDIS briefly assumes the shape of a tank
‘The Power of Three’, in which UNIT roll a tank over a Shakri cube
‘Robot’, in which the Brigadier unsuccessfully endeavours to destroy the K1 robot with a tank (and in which an organisation entitled Think Tank features prominently)
‘The Runaway Bride’, in which the Webstar is annihilated with the aid of tank fire
‘The Time of the Doctor’, in which a broken tank is spotted on Trenzalore.
What do all these stories have in common? Well, I think you know that, don’t you? So we needn’t dwell on it. It is obvious to anyone who isn’t an idiot. Suffice to say that the THREE Dalek stories, not to mention the POWER OF THREE, the fact that ‘The Runaway Bride’ is the first episode of series THREE, and the fact that the newly regenerated Fourth Doctor tries on THREE costumes before deciding upon his iconic scarf and hat combination should give you some clue.
But it’s the chap on the right that is of particular interest. Clearly his pose is meant to mimic this one.
River Song, of course, and her triumphant entry into the TARDIS. The longest river in Russia is the Yenesei-Angara-Selenge River – words that can be rearranged to form ‘Venereal energy series, again’. Those of you who have not blanked the first series of Torchwood from your heads will recall ‘Day One’, the early episode that dealt with Carys Fletcher, sexual predator in a quite literal sense, as her victims exploded at the point of climax. THIS IS A CLEAR SIGN THAT CAPTAIN JACK WILL COME AGAIN.
Of course, this chap also looks a little like the Mandarin, so…
Well, you know, red and all that.
Finally, to the TARDIS.
OK, kids. Here’s where it gets complicated.
The trick here is to examine the shapes. The circles are a dead giveaway, although we must ignore the one at the bottom, which is a red herring, for obvious reasons. But the presence of the Doctor himself is significant, and suggests an obvious arch-type shape. Hence, with a bit of trickery:
Note also that there are two Doctors in this scene, necessitating the doubling of such a thing. Look, to cut a long story short, if we mash all this together we get this:
Case closed, and padlocked, and lost on a luggage carousel somewhere in Bulgaria. Or maybe Salehard.
Warning: this is not exactly a review. Not really. I mean, I just gave up this week. But it does have spoilers.
Once upon a time there was a race called the Weeping Angels. Their in-universe title was The Lonely Assassins, which sounds like an American alt rock pub band. They spawned a wealth of t-shirts, desktop wallpaper and supposedly iconic phrases. They worked for one story. The last time anyone saw them for more than a couple of minutes, they were trashing Manhattan, in a jumbled, confusing narrative about predestination, cheating death and avoiding fate, and dying and dying again. It was like watching bad film noir, but was for some reason hailed as a classic. Some people prefer to think of it as a once good idea, badly squandered.
Once upon a time there was a writer called Toby and he wrote stories that were either wildly good or wildly dreadful. And then he surpassed expectations by managing both in the space of one two-part story. And the result was Schrodinger’s Doctor: both alive and dead at the same time, in more than one sense.
Once upon a time there was another writer – not famous, or even particularly good – who sat on the sofa one evening with a small child who probably had head lice and wondered at what point Doctor Who could have been said to lose its way. And he wondered whether it was the multiple deaths, the moment it became a show about time travel rather than a show that simply featured time travel, or the moment Billie Piper tried to do an American accent.
Once upon a time there was a film called Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, in which two guitar-playing time travellers go back in time in a phone box and meet Beethoven, who does a mean Turkish Rondo, performed on a Yamaha.
Once upon a time there was a writer called Toby and he invented a comedy alien that sort of worked in one story but then turned up again in another where he was clearly not welcome and didn’t fit, and where he only became watchable once the monster-of-the-week had killed him. And he had a single scene where he wasn’t playing a ghost, and even that was too much. And lo, the Mr Tumnus comparisons were uncanny.
Once upon a time there was a film called Back to the Future where a young time traveller got to see himself wandering around simply by going back in time a few minutes. And there was a Doctor Who episode where this happened, only history was changed, on the first of many occasions, which resulted in monsters coming out of the woodwork to sterilise the wound, only to be never seen again in any other story. Once upon a time there was another episode of Doctor Who where this happened and the two groups of people didn’t meet because one group was having a homoerotic wrestling match behind a dustbin.
Once upon a time there was a Time Lord who was prepared to let other people die, including himself, but not his companion, because she was a BBC commodity, and that’s the way they do it since 2005.
Once upon a time there was a writer called Toby, and he had a deaf girl wandering down a corridor pursued by the ghost of a black man carrying an axe, which threw up all sorts of questions about emancipation and empowerment. And it was good. And then the deaf girl managed to sense the presence of the ghost by feeling the vibrations, which was fair enough. And then we saw the axe rendered in some kind of low light enhanced vision mode, WHICH WAS LIKE SOMETHING FROM FUCKING DAREDEVIL.
Once upon a time there was a chiselled adventurer who escaped the destruction of a mocked-up town by hiding inside a large plastic box. Once upon a time there was a monster in a Predator mask who was in one scene and who killed two people, both off-screen, and whose biggest selling point was celebrity voice casting. And lo, there was relief that it was not, at least, the omnipresent Nicholas Briggs.
Once upon a time there was a time traveller who cheated death by hiding inside a life-sized robot, and then managed it by psychologically manipulating his not-girlfriend to have a nice word with his employers, who immediately granted him a whole new set of continues. Then he cheated death by not actually dying at all, but just making it look as if he had, in order to frighten children, impress his not-girlfriend and keep the Twitter feeds buzzing. And by this point nobody actually cared anymore.
Once upon a time there was a writer called Toby and he took a fantastic idea and then turned it into a time travel story that it didn’t need to be. Once upon a time there was an episode of Neighbours where a character called Lance thought he was getting a surfboard for his birthday, and it turned out to be an ironing board. And this was a similar experience, with similar levels of colossal disappointment.
Once upon a time there was a media management team who spent hours building up to a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT about Doctor Who, leading to wild speculation about missing episodes, new companions or new audio material, and it turned out to be a spin-off that nobody asked for and most people didn’t want, and you could feel the collective sigh of apathy when the Coke bottle turned out to have no fizz whatsoever.
Once upon a time that other, not-famous writer sat on his sofa with the aforementioned small child, watching him applaud the end credits of the episode they’d watched, which is cute because he’s a toddler, but wondering what he’d just watched, and whether indeed they’d watched the same thing. And he scratched his head in what he presumed was puzzlement, but then again it could have been the lice.
If you’ve been reading around, you won’t have failed to notice the visual nods to Star Trek that showed up in ‘Under The Lake’. There were two fairly obvious ones, and a couple that slipped under the radar. For a start, there was the use of a bay door that featured the number 1701B – which, coincidentally, was the serial number of the fourth Enterprise. This ties up neatly with the mysterious spacecraft that’s the cause of all the trouble – a craft that resembles a Federation shuttle – as well as the whole design of the Drum, as established in that opening shot:
Most of all, however, there was this.
Ha ha, I hear you saying. Yes, very good. A nice couple of Easter Eggs dropped in to please the Trekkies. To which I say ‘Certainly not’, but in a particularly loud and vivacious voice, in the manner of the Eleventh Doctor bellowing “I WAS NOT EXPECTING THIS!”. The truth – and here at God Is In The Detail Central that’s our only currency – is that the episode is absolutely full of BLATANT AND VERY IMPORTANT STAR TREK REFERENCES THAT CANNOT BE IGNORED. And don’t worry, you don’t have to go on the hunt for them – I’ve done it for you. So what are we waiting for? Warp factor five, and don’t take your eyes off that glowing circular thing on the screen. Oh, and for heaven’s sake, try and keep your shirt on.
Let’s look at the dots.
There are eighteen concentric dots in that outer circle, and a further nine in the next two, along with a single circle in the middle. The number nine has great significance in the Star Trek universe: there are nine principal characters in The Next Generation (Picard, Riker, Data, Troi, Worf, Dr Crusher, Geordi, Gaia and Will Wheaton). Voyager’s de-Borgified scientist Annika Hansen went by the name Seven of Nine (and as a side note, Doctor number Seven starred in a Big Finish Star Trek pastiche known as ‘Bang-Bang-a-Boom!’). And the desert filming for ‘Arena’, episode eighteen of the original series, took place on 9 November. Coincidence? I DON’T THINK SO.
18-9-9 is a type of particularly nitrogen-heavy fertiliser. In the episode ‘The Passenger’, a fire broke out on a Kobliad transport ship – a fire that was extinguished by Major Kira Nerys, with the help of a nitrogen fire extinguisher. This happened in Episode nine of series one of Deep Space Nine. Two nines are eighteen. Draw your own conclusions. (No, really, do draw them. We could do with some more pictures to brighten the place up.)
Finally, the ninth film in the Star Trek series (Insurrection) was released in 1998: a number which may be rearranged to form 18-9-9. ALL OF THIS IS CLEARLY IMPORTANT.
Now look at this.
Examine the circular structure that forms the right hand side of the picture. The three large rooms allude to the landing party that energises in every episode in order to explore whatever planet they happen to have discovered (centre). McCoy and Spock (top and bottom) form two ideologically opposite ends, while Kirk (centre right) is the middle ground, charged with listening to both. The two circles containing horizontal lines, just to the left, are CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS references to the redshirts who would join them on each occasion, only to get zapped almost immediately.
Now look at the passages to the left. Each room represents a different Trek series, all branching out from the single, spherical hub. This one represents the original series, while the cube-shaped ones signify The Next Generation and Voyager, insofar as both feature encounters with Borg Cubes. Meanwhile, the hexagonal one in the middle represents Deep Space Nine, given that this was the first series to include a Ferengi in Starfleet, with Ferengi display devices (PADDs) being hexagonal in shape. Oh, and the rectangular one at the bottom? That’s Enterprise, but we won’t dwell on it.
Lastly, note that there are three passages. The instrument of choice for an exploratory landing party was a TRICORDER. I think we all know where this is going, don’t you?
It’s not just Star Trek that gets a look in, of course. There are plenty of nods to George Lucas as well. Witness the symbols inside the shuttle:
Which unambiguously depict iconic moments from the Star Wars franchise:
You will note that none of these are from the prequels, for the simple reason that the prequels are crap.
It’s back to Star Trek for our final image.
The clue here is in the upended chairs that scatter the floor. To fully understand this, we must turn our attention to the films, specifically parts two and ten (The Wrath of Khan / Nemesis). Both featured the deaths of prominent characters: Data (on the left) and Spock (on the right). The uniform colours give this away:
Meanwhile, the orange chair signifies Kirk’s death in Generations, tied up as it is with the upturned yellow chair that is almost perpendicular, signifying that Kirk died not once, but twice.
Now, you’ll notice we’ve been rather light on Doctor Who-related content this time around, but finally, observe what happens when we join up these chairs.
The resulting shape is, of course, a pyramid. And this episode was broadcast the week they found water on Mars, even though they had filmed it sometime before. They knew. THE BASTARDS KNEW.
Set phasers for ‘overkill’…