Monthly Archives: March 2021

Have I Got Whos For You (volume 34)

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?

“Flag shagger.”

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Recollections on Mothering Sunday

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.

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Have I Got Whos For You (edition 66)

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…”

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