Author Archives: reverend61

Have I Got Whos For You (beachcombing edition)

“Right. This is gonna be fun.”

I’m at a loss. The hottest day of the year, and you go to the beach? Not only the beach, but one of the busiest, most popular beaches in the country? What, did you think that no one else was going to have the same idea? Or did you think it was like those voting cartoons where everyone assumes that they’re the only ones who feel this way and so nothing gets done?

I mean, it’s Bournemouth. We don’t go to Bournemouth, even though it’s the nearest place with any sand, at least as far from here. We’ll drive up the road to Southborne. Or Boscombe, which is quite pleasant since they did it up and which has its own police box. (Yes, it’s still there, at least it was last August.) If we’re feeling particularly adventurous we may – emphasis on the may – walk along to Bournemouth city centre (God knows you can’t park there), if it’s the middle of autumn, or a weekday. But in the middle of furlough, in thirty degree heat? Yes, I could have driven my family there, or I could have taken them on a hike through the Danakil Desert instead, which would have been mildly more sensible.

Anyway: it’s Canada Day, so here, for no reason at all, is a picture of Peter Capaldi accompanied by a moose.

My parents went to Canada years ago. They didn’t see any moose, although there was a bear or two. At the beginning of the year, before all this, Emily and I had a spa day at a local hotel – one of those Groupon things – and while we were swimming casual lengths the two of us considered blowing some of my mother’s inheritance on an all-out trip to New York and Canada in the summer. Then there were bats and jokes about coughing and then it all stopped being funny, so we’re glad we’d already postponed it until next year.

Meanwhile, the Eleventh Doctor’s been in lockdown so long, he’s beside himself.

There are many ways to cope. For example, I’ve been going back through Grand Theft Auto 5, doing all the bits I never got round to doing on my first playthrough, a few years back. You can cycle up mount Chilead, learn to fly a plane, get in a few rounds at the golf club – oh, and do yoga. I was perusing Google images on International Yoga Day, just the other week, when I noticed that one of the classes depicted in stock photos seemed to have picked up a stowaway.

 

Art news now, and in Spain, hidden cameras reveal the culprit in the botched restoration of Murillo’s The Immaculate Conception.

And as the entertainment world mourns the loss of venerated actor Sir Ian Holm, the Doctor introduces Clara to the new version of Handles.

We return briefly to politics, as Matt Hancock, having failed to correctly name Marcus Rashford on Good Morning Britain, drops another clanger outside Downing Street.

Deleted scenes from ‘Daleks In Manhattan’ clearly show the influence on Boris Johnson’s post-lockdown strategy.

And during a crisis at the local hospital, the Doctor inadvertently places the world in jeopardy when he elects to demonstrate his fitness levels to Amy and Rory.

“No, really. I’m fit as a butcher’s dog. I can do loads of press-ups. Hang on, I’ll show you…”

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Doctor Who series 12: the executive summaries (part three)

Our series writeup concludes with a look at the Cyber trilogy, and the episode that basically deconstructed canon. I think this may be the point at which I officially lost the plot. That’s OK, there wasn’t that much of a plot to begin with.

 

The Haunting of Villa Diodati

To the tune of Science Fiction Double Feature:

Jodie’s got a new jacket
And they’re making a racket
Just as loud as the wind and the rain
It’s the summer of darkness
But there’s no sign of Harkness
Still they said we won’t see him again

There’s a fixed point in time
A combining of minds
For an evening of terror and fear
But there’s no drive for mystery
They’d rather play Twister, least
That’s what it looked like from here

Science fiction, Sunday feature
With yet another disturbing creature
Just enjoy it, ignore the ratings
We could argue about UNIT dating
Or, I don’t know-oh-oh-ohh
Whether Jean-Luc Picard could make it so
On HBO
I wonder if we’ll see some more of Jo?

There’s a big metal beast
And a storm from the east
Seems all hope for humanity’s gone
Byron behaves like a cad
Even Yaz isn’t bad
And Graham’s lost on his way to the John

Ryan acts like a melon
Now the Doctor is yellin’
And the butler’s a corpse on the floor
If you ignore all the theories
It’s the best one this series
And I’m really quite anxious for more

Science fiction, Sunday feature
The BBC’s our reluctant teacher
Who would Yaz like to be kissing?
At least the rants and lectures are missing
But I don’t know-oh-oh-ohh
I think they’ve kept them in reserve for next week’s show
I don’t wanna go
My favourite Teletubby’s always Po
Ko Ro Bo So
Somewhere I think this song has lost its flow

DWC write-up

 

Ascension of the Cybermen

Here we go, then.

Feekat (Steve Toussaint) – Teacher. Suitably grizzled. Last seen at 15:27, when he’s offed by a marauding Ashad.

Ravio (Julie Graham) – That woman from Bonekickers hiding behind a lot of grime. Last seen flirting with Bradley Walsh. Presumably hiding a tragic past. Dialogue minimally more sensible than it was in Bonekickers.

Yedlarmi (Alex Austin) – If Fiore from Preacher had a Prozac addiction, he would be sort of like Yedlarmi. Last seen panicking in a Cybercarrier.

Fuskle (Jack Osborn) – Yedlarmi’s mute brother. Last seen at 09:55, when he’s caught in an explosion.

Bescot (Rhiannon Clements) – a pilot, or something. Feisty.

Ethan (Matt Carver) – More capable than his boyish appearance suggests. Makes it to the beach with the Doctor, but probably won’t make it much further.

Ko Sharmus (Ian McElhinney) – Episode 8 Luke Skywalker, but less grumpy. Either a disguised Rassilon or the Ruler of the Universe, in which case we’d like to see the cat next week.

Why, constant reader, have I gone to all this trouble? Well, it’s for largely selfish reasons; I have to make a note of them somewhere. Otherwise I can’t remember a thing. I’ll be looking back in the middle of a Series 13 write-up at a random thing that happened to a particular character in this story, and I’ll be as confused and empty-headed as Arnold Rimmer during an engineer’s exam. Age is part of it; comparative unfamiliarity (as I write this, Ascension has been viewed a single time in our house) is another factor – but sheer mundanity takes the lion’s share. This episode was a masterclass in How To Construct Generic Characters Who Amount To Nothing.

Seriously. There’s no spark, no life, no soul. You could have given their dialogue to a group of year seven drama students and it’d be similarly dead. There’s no problem with the performances per se – everyone makes the best of what they have – but it’s disheartening to watch a story in which bad things happen to supporting characters who disinterest me. It happened in Into The Dalek. It happened in Oxygen. And Empress of Mars, and – look, it’s not new; it was just particularly bothersome this week. A full cast of interesting secondaries is a pipe dream, of course, and Classic Who is crammed with generic three-line roles who were offed by the Daleks before they’d made their mark…still, you need at least one, surely? Otherwise, how are you supposed to care about people getting blown up or shot at when they don’t leave any sort of gap?

I’m sure it wasn’t always like this. I can still remember every one of the people from LINDA. They were fun and they were sparky and it wasn’t fair that they all got superglued to Peter Kay’s hips (to be fair, I wouldn’t wish that fate on Jacob Rees-Mogg). I don’t even think it’s the type of stories you tell. Voyage of the Damned is a glorified base-under-siege (with the notable exception that the base is falling to Earth), but the people in that were, if occasionally stereotypical, at least fully-formed stereotypes. Some of them even had a bit of spunk to them. And his track record proves Chibnall is perfectly capable of coming up with decent supporting characters when he pulls his finger out. Everyone slates The Tsuranga Conundrum – perhaps rightly so – but at least Yoss the pregnant man was fun to watch.

If you’re going to throw the fate of humanity into balance, it would be nice if you could at least give us some fully fledged humans to worry about. It’s not like I care about what’ll happen to the companions. We know they’ll survive, at least until next week (and almost certainly beyond, because Doctor Who hasn’t properly killed a full-time companion since Earthshock). Conversion is a possibility, of course, but it’s unlikely because the media (who’d already seen the episode) spent most of last week writing glorified press releases that asked “Is Ryan in danger?” coupled with that picture of him wired up to what was actually the ship’s control panel, rather than the Cyber-conversion unit we all knew it wasn’t. Besides, they did that three years ago and even Chibnall isn’t that much of a hack. Probably.

Bet he’s dusted off the Cyberwoman outfit just in case, though. I mean it might fit Yaz. God, there’s an image.

DWC write-up

 

The Timeless Children

‘Questions after this week’s Doctor Who:

  • Has anyone location-spotted that TARDIS house yet? Can we have a deleted scene where it suddenly dematerialises, and across the road Craig Owens rubs his eyes and then mutters “Not again….”?
  • If Brendan really was a projection of the Doctor’s origins, is Gallifrey in Ireland, or is Ireland in Gallifrey?
  • Assuming the rumours about Graham and Ryan are true, what are the odds of their last scene being shot in the cemetery where Grace is buried? And what are the odds Graham’ll say “We move on, but we never forget, and I think she’d be proud of both of us”, while looking forlornly at the headstone?
  • Did Ashad really greenlight that Cyber Lord plumage? Has he not stopped to consider the practicalities? How do they compensate for the extra weight? What happens if three of them are trying to squeeze into a Debenhams lift?
  • On a scale of 1 to 50, what’s the likelihood of Whittaker beginning her next conversation with Dhawan with the words “So, you escaped from Gallifrey then…?”
  • We’ve had Remembrance, Revelation, Resurrection, and now Revolution of the Daleks; can we have Remuneration of the Daleks next? With a behind-the-scenes look at Dalek accountants and payroll, like The Sun Makers but all about zero hours contracts? How about Renaissance, where they’ve all got artist’s berets and are elevating themselves up to the ceiling of the Sistine?
  • Coronavirus. Plot predictions. Please give reasons for your answers. __________
  • If the Master’s so good a hacker, how come he can unearth Gallifrey’s secret past and grisly backstory but he can’t recover Fury From The Deep?

Seriously; I think we should be told…’

DWC write-up

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Doctor Who series 12: the executive summaries (part two)

The lockdown writeup continues in earnest. Today, we’re looking at episodes five through seven – also known as the Dreammaker Revisited, the Plastics Rant, and The One That Changed Everything, not necessarily in that order. I’d been reading a lot about Mondrian during the mid-point of Series 12; possibly that comes across.

 

Fugitive of the Judoon

(We published this one as a separate piece, because…well, you’ll see why. It was far too long!)

 

Doctor: The streets of Gloucester are beset
With things to make you scream and fret
A great big stomping black platoon
Of horny, militant Judoon!
I think they want to make a capture
To transport like some ghoulish rapture.
Quick, Yas! To them you’ll have to speak
And earn your crust, at least this week.
All right?

Yas: Well, yes, I’ll try to play ’em
But hang on, aren’t we missing Graham?

Ruth: I’ll have to hide! It’s me they want
I’ll head for that baptismal font

Doctor: Too late! They’ve seen you, don’t you know
We’ll have to make a-

Ruth: KO BO SO!

Doctor: I didn’t know you spoke their tongue.

Ruth: Neither did I. And why’ve I flung
A rhino cop across the floor?

Doctor: The scene lacked pace. But here come more!
We’d better drive out to the coast
Or otherwise we’ll both be toast.

Ruth: But where’s your friends? You’re on your own
You’ve got no clue just where they’ve flown
Or what they’re doing, now they’re missing!

Doctor: I imagine mostly kissing.

Jack: You read my mind. Which one’s the Doc?

Graham: It isn’t me. But what a shock!
What did you want?

Jack: I had a plan.
Beware the lonely Cyberman
And – arrgh! They’ve pulled me from this joint!

Yas: That cameo really had no point.
We’ll have to see if Whittaker
Can find out what the answers are.

Doctor: I’ve dug and dug, and found a TARDIS!
I’m lost, although I’ve tried my hardest.

Ruth: Allow me to explain, my dear
I’ve just remembered why I’m here
It seems that I’m a Time Lord too
Another Doctor, just like you.

Doctor: You can’t be me! I won’t allow it
The fans’ll surely disavow it!
You cannot be me night or day
On Calufrax or Gallifrey
You can’t be me on Metabilis
Unless you tell me what the drill is.
You can’t be me in acid rain
Or –

Ruth: Please, let’s not do all that again.
I’m this year’s overarching query
Left to the mercy of fan theory.

Doctor: I simply do not have a clue
About these Doctors One and Two.
It makes no sense! I just can’t see
How I am you and you are me.
I’ll sulk for weeks in sheer frustration
About this mystery incarnation.
This duplicated wooden box
This ghastly temporal pair-o-docs.

Ruth: I understand now why you run.
The crowds’ll hate you for that pun.

Doctor: I like your dual role though, kitten.
It makes me feel quite underwritten.
We’re kicking up the hornet’s nest
The fandom’s going to be quite stressed.
As retcons go, this one’s encumbering
We haven’t even touched the numbering.
I need a break – you must agree
This story’s been enough for me.

Graham: Well, yeah, that’s true – but wait a minute,
Nothing really happened in it!

With apologies to another great Doctor.

 

Praxeus

‘I’m going to level with you: I spent certain key moments of Praxeus hiding my face in my hands. It’s nothing to do with virtue signalling. It’s simply because the type of death depicted this week – the scaling of the body, from fingertips to skull, followed by sudden facial disintegration – is something I’ve never been able to watch, and thus something I’ll avoid watching as much as possible. You remember that scene in Resident Evil where the guy gets sliced into cubes by the lasers? I don’t.

It’s an exercise in empathy, this cowering behind the fingers, because my ten-year-old was similarly freaked. And I suppose this was an episode for him, in a way, given the message it was conveying, delivered with the same sense of understated reserve we’ve come to expect from Chibnall’s time on Doctor Who. It isn’t enough simply to show the effects our disposable culture is having on the oceans; we have to get a hastily delivered lecture as well, Whittaker pacing and gesticulating with the ferocity of a BSL interpreter during a Stormzy gig, pausing to dip her head and lower her register during the important bits. Regular readers at the DWC will know that I was one of the few champions of Series 11, and I stand by everything I said in 2018, but even I’m finding this a bit much.

That’s a shame, really, because the more this run of episodes continues the more Jodie seems to be hitting her stride. She really is very good this week: confident and calm, pulling off precise TARDIS manoeuvres without breaking a sweat and appearing, it seems, in all corners of the world at a moment’s notice with the sort of omnipresence that Jennifer Saunders’ character managed in Muppet Treasure Island. Indeed, Praxeus is one tribute act after another, paying homage both to The Birds and Hot Fuzz almost within the same minute. Indeed, there’s a glossiness to Praxeus that lends it an elegant, packaged feel: who cares if the scenery is largely recycled when it looks this good?

But as good as it is – and there is much to enjoy this week, from Graham’s heartfelt, beautifully photographed beach conversation with Jake to the happy ending we arguably didn’t deserve – it’s very much Been There, Done That. The timing doesn’t help – we’re only three weeks after Orphan 55, remember – but it’s hard not to shake the feeling that someone high up at the BBC is sending down notes, mostly along the lines of “Needs a monologue”. Would it hurt to simply mention things and then drop an advisory message at the end of the programme so that people can look things up on the internet? Because we’ve got 490 minutes a year, which really isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, and I’d really not be wasting any more of them listening to another lecture about how plastic is killing the environment. Not when the BBC have just greenlit another line of action figures.

Oh, and just as an afterthought: somewhere, millions of years ago on prehistoric Earth, a charred and bloodstained young maths prodigy is crawling out of a wrecked spacecraft. And he’s really, really pissed off.’

The DWC write-up is still missing. 

 

Can You Hear Me?

“James, are you sure you want me to use this?”
“Yeah, sorry. I just don’t have time to write anything this week.”
“Yet you somehow found time to throw this together.”
“…”

DWC write-up

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Doctor Who series 12: the executive summaries (part one)

It’s a good discipline, writing for other sites besides your own. It gives you an awareness of different audiences. Blogs make for a tendency towards self-indulgence; it’s easy to embark on bouts of madcap silliness, unnecessary sidetracking anecdotes that could easily be trimmed; or excessive waffle. None of this is particularly harmful, but when you’re working for someone else – whether paid or unpaid – you generally have to rein it in.

I’ve been writing for The Doctor Who Companion for the last four years, and its predecessor, Kasterborous, for some time before that. It is an eclectic mix of features and analysis, run by a team of writers with diverse views and opinions, united by their love of Doctor Who. My pieces for them tend to be features, exploring particular aspects: for example, what do TARDIS reveals tell us about the companions witnessing them? Is there a case to be made for headcanon? And if the Doctor were a biscuit, what sort would she be? The editor is a thoroughly nice chap, willing to indulge my occasionally ridiculous prose and lengthy discourses, (“I don’t care that it’s long,” he tells me. “The readers can take it. We’re not BuzzFeed.”)

Series reviews work like this: episodes are assigned to individual writers (or we volunteer for them) and published soon after initial broadcast. A few days later, we’ll publish collective reviews from the other writers, three-hundred word summaries of their thoughts and feelings on the story of the week. And it’s a tradition at BoM that I’ll eventually gather them up and reproduce all my contributions in here.

This year’s assembly took a little longer than originally anticipated – the DWC was offline for quite some time in early spring as we rebuilt it, and then all this happened. So it’s been a good few months since ‘The Timeless Children’, which may not be a bad thing because we were all thoroughly sick of the shouting, weren’t we? For some of you, this collection of rambling thoughts will be a chance to revisit and reappraise episodes you haven’t seen in a while; you may find that your opinions have changed. For others, it’ll be a reminder of pointless cameos and tedious plot twists. If that’s the case, I’d advise you to keep your head down over the next week or so, because I’m doing these in batches.

Links to the full write-ups have been provided where they exist, but unfortunately a few articles got lost in the migration process and we’re still trying to get them back. At least you’ll be able to read my contributions, if nothing else. Oh, and as you go through these, you may eventually come to the conclusion that I wasn’t taking this brief entirely seriously. You’d be right. I no longer take Doctor Who seriously; as a consequence, I now find it tremendously fun to watch.

 

Spyfall, Part One

Somewhat awkwardly for an opener, I reviewed this one, so there is no summary. But here’s a paragraph that’s as good a precis as I can provide:

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

DWC write-up

Spyfall, Part Two

‘There’s something slightly amateurish about the sight of an ashened, ruined Gallifrey some 10 or 15 minutes after we’ve heard the Master talking about its destruction. It gives the Doctor a reason to pop over there (something she can apparently do at will now, even though the Time Lords are seemingly unable or unwilling to reciprocate) – still, how much better might it have been for us to first glimpse the torched citadel completely unwarned? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a maxim that gets thrown about far too much, but it still feels as if this was the perfect opportunity to use it – as it stands, there is no shock value to the scene because we know it is coming, and the BBC presents only the most cursory of vistas, prompting only the mildest of reactions from the person looking at it. Would it have been too much to see the Doctor cry, or at least show some visible signs of upset besides sitting against a TARDIS wall, looking blank and forlorn?

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

The rest of it is average: Graham is enjoying his laser shoes, while Yaz has apparently forgotten how to be a police officer, having decided that her role this week is to sit in the corner and look helpless while the men get to have all the fun. But the biggest problem with Skyfall Part 2 is that the pacing is off. Having the Doctor travel 200 years into the past to pick up Ada Lovelace is absolutely fine – the pages of exposition seemingly necessary to explain her importance, however, are downright tedious. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in 1830s London with Charles Babbage or war torn Paris with the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo; Whittaker paces and monologues and gushes about the admirable pioneering qualities of the people whose memories she will eventually wipe, reeling out the history, seemingly unaware that the only people who tend to listen are stranded in 21st century Essex. It’s like watching a BBC Schools presenter on crack. There is a reason why the Doctor is not allowed to travel alone; occasionally she needs someone to tell her to shut up.’

DWC write-up

Orphan 55

INT. RAINBOW HOUSE. DAY

[On an unimpressive CRT television, the Rainbow personnel – GEORGE, ZIPPY, BUNGLE and GEOFFREY – are watching the closing credits of Orphan 55.]

GEORGE: Ooh, that was wonderful, Geoffrey! So exciting!

GEOFFREY: Yes, it was, George, wasn’t it?

BUNGLE: Yes! All those aliens and things blowing up! Ka-BOOOOM!!! But I did wonder, Geoffrey –

GEOFFREY: What did you wonder, Bungle?

BUNGLE: Why did the Doctor take everyone with her to go and rescue Benni? Wasn’t it dangerous for them all?

GEOFFREY: Well, I expect it would have been quite dangerous for them to have stayed, wouldn’t it? All those creatures running around trying to gobble them up. I know what you mean, though. I thought they might have put something in about that.

GEORGE: Perhaps we just couldn’t hear it, Geoffrey. They do talk awfully fast, don’t they?

BUNGLE: Yes. Still, at least there weren’t any frogs this time.

ZIPPY: Huh. Well, I thought it was rubbish. All those stupid monsters!

GEOFFREY: Didn’t you find them scary, Zippy? I know George did. [George is clutching at his blanket and whimpering softly.]

ZIPPY: Why would I find them scary when I share a bed with this lot? And the ending was boring.

BUNGLE: It was supposed to be warning us about climate change, Zippy!

ZIPPY: I already know that, Bungle Bonce. I still thought it was silly. Why did they have to go on and on about saving the planet?

GEOFFREY: Well, because it’s important, Zippy! We’ve only got one planet, haven’t we? We’ve all got to work together to take care of it.

ZIPPY: I do take care of it!

GEORGE: Is that why you always throw your crisp packets over the garden wall?

ZIPPY: I don’t!

GEOFFREY [brandishing a selection of cellophane wrappers]: Oh, yes you do. I found three of them there this morning!

ZIPPY: Yes but – well… [He harrumphs and rests his head on a floppy hand.]

BUNGLE: It’s funny, though. I don’t remember seeing Yas this week. What was she doing?

[There is a thoughtful silence, with gratuitous head scratching and chin-rubbing, as the four of them consider this.]

GEOFFREY: Oh well, never mind. I expect she was there somewhere. The Doctor needs to have someone standing around looking gormless.

ZIPPY: Yeah. You’d know about that, Geoffrey.

GEORGE: Oh, Zippy. You’re such a tw*t.

BUNGLE: Well, I do know one thing. I don’t think I’d want to go on holiday to a place like Tranquility Spa.

GEOFFREY: Oh? Why not, Bungle? Are you worried about furry things that look even less realistic than you do?

BUNGLE: No! I haven’t got any swimming shorts that fit me!

ZIPPY: You walk around the house stark naked!

BUNGLE: Well, yes, but I put my pyjamas on at bedtime, don’t I?

GEORGE: That engineer was funny, wasn’t he? His little boy knew much more than him. I felt like that was trying to tell us something, but I can’t really work it out.

BUNGLE: Ooh, Geoffrey! Rod, Jane and Freddie know a song about dysfunctional family relationships, don’t they?

GEOFFREY: Yes, you’re right, Bungle. Do you know, I think I’ve got a cassette somewhere. I’ll see if I can fish it out. But before we listen to it, I think we’d better say goodbye, don’t you? [Through the fourth wall] We’ll see you again soon. Take care of yourselves. Goodbye!

OTHERS: Buh-bye!

DWC write-up

 

Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror

‘I have a question for the floor. Why is it that, whenever Number Thirteen meets anyone famous, it takes half the episode for the penny to drop? Mistaken identity often enhances a narrative, but it jars when the pudding is overegged. Are we really supposed to believe that there isn’t a visual dictionary in the library, or that no one checks the readouts to see when and where they’ve actually landed? It’s happened twice this year, once with Ada Lovelace and once with the pioneering inventor who graced last night’s episode, and on both occasions the audience has been quicker on the uptake than the Doctor – who manages to wander into and escape from the Niagara Falls power station without having a clue that she’s in the presence of the man responsible for building it.

I’m not going to say that’s my only hang-up with this episode – we could also talk about the historical revisionism, the TARDIS crew’s apparent apathy to new wonders and situations and the sub-par villains (honestly, when did Doctor Who monsters get so dull?) but this was, perhaps, the first time this year it’s felt like we were actually watching the show as it used to be, for better or worse. Here’s a litmus test: you remove Whittaker from the equation and you substitute another Doctor and it still works. In this case, it’s quite easy to imagine Tesla happening with Tennant at the helm, perhaps in the company of the perenially clueless Martha. Certainly the story has that vibe to it: a world on the brink of destruction, the tortured nature of misunderstood genius and the hungry prejudice of a placard-carrying mob.

We might question why the Skithra opted for Tesla, rather than someone who’s actually going to understand the technology they’re throwing at him, but this was never really about them: it’s about Tesla and Edison and the rivalry between them. That Tesla is whitewashed while Edison is made something of a pariah should come as no great surprise to anyone, but it’s to Nina Metivier’s credit that she avoids turning the light bulb pioneer into an out-and-out villain: Edison gloats and generally behaves rather selfishly, but he also expresses remorse over the loss of his staff (“These were men with families!”), he doesn’t cut and run, he doesn’t try and sell out Tesla to the villain of the week, and at the end he extends a hand of friendship, even if he’s only following the money. A well-rounded supporting character. In Doctor Who. And there was me thinking we’d left those days behind.’

The DWC writeup is currently missing. We are checking behind the sofa.
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Have I Got Whos For You (statuesque edition)

“For god’s sake, Danny, stop urinating on them.”

It’s been a week of (self) righteous anger. The ‘self’ is optional; you can put it on if you like. The world we live in is one in which no sin goes unpunished, no tweet unmocked; a world in which armchair judgement has become second nature. No one is safe: it doesn’t matter if it’s angry protesters throwing statues in the river or multi-millionaire authors throwing their weight around.

It’s dull, and I’m tired of writing about it, so let’s look at this week’s news roundup. There are troublesome scenes in central London when Missy can’t remember where she parked her TARDIS.

And on a routine visit to a parallel Earth, the Doctor and Rose are unsettled when they run into a queue for the re-opening of Primark.

Meanwhile, as fury reigns over the expungement of classic episodes and series from on-demand services, a trawl through the Gallifreyan Matrix reveals that even the Time Lords have grown concerned over sensitive content.

In Surrey, Thorpe Park opens after lockdown as a flurry of punters rush to make the most of the good weather.

And an abandoned concept still from the new Bill and Ted trailer reveals that studio execs were suggesting a very different look for the phone box.

“Dude. They’ve, like, totally redecorated.”

 

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Doctor Who Myths Debunked

There are certain things you get tired of saying more than once. This is particularly applicable if you happen to be me and if you have a bad habit of not letting matters rest. I spent decades saddled with a “Must win the argument” mindset that I have spent the last year or two trying to destroy. It’s partly a desire to be kind; partly a knowledge that none of us are getting any younger. There are too many other things I could be doing rather than arguing with Karen on Facebook, particularly when it’s about Doctor Who.

But still. When urban legends pop up in my feed, it’s a trigger. Because there is a sense of irritation about oft-repeated tales of supposed improvisation on set, of strange production decisions and the reconciliation of purposely ambiguous plot lines. For one thing it tends to grant Doctor Who a reverence it doesn’t really deserve, a series plucked out of the air or weaved into existence by magic, TV as alchemy – which undermines the months of hard graft, sweat and on-set bitching that is the cold reality of producing the show. For another it proves that people are inclined to believe everything they read on the internet as long as it makes for a nice story. It is important – and this will be said again and again until everyone understands – that people do not love Doctor Who too much, and do not assume that it is some sort of miracle; it is also important that we scrutinise and evaluate the stories we have been told, rather than simply believing them because we want to. That is the reason I burst people’s bubble; at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m frantically pasting links to verified sources and dissecting badly-written Tumblr posts for the third time in as many days.

With that in mind, these particular hornet’s nests have been aggravated for my own convenience as much as anyone else’s, because it’s easier to post a link to your blog than it is to write it all down again. Here’s a trigger warning for the rest of you: this post contains cynicism, sarcasm, sanctimonious self-righteousness, and doesn’t pull any punches. I suggest you approach it with a pinch of salt and refrain from leaving angry responses that tell me how wrong I am about all this. Save that for part two. And yes, there will be a part two. I’m already writing it.

 

 

1. No, the TARDIS doesn’t make that noise because the Doctor leaves the sodding brakes on

This little gem is usually accompanied by the words “I was today years old when…” or “Mind literally blown”. We will circumvent, for the most part, the eye-rolling silliness of those two internet tropes (although seriously, how is it possible to be ‘today’ years old? You’re literally naming the date). Let’s think back instead to that moment in ‘The Time of Angels’ where River parks the TARDIS alongside the wrecked Byzantium, seemingly without a single VWORP, VWORP. When the Doctor protests, River’s response is classic Moffat: “It’s not supposed to make that noise. You leave the brakes on.”

Our great departed showrunner is often accused of a certain misogyny, at least in the way he writes women. I’m not about to get into that, but this is one of those times when the TARDIS is to all intents and purposes a car and women drivers are better. After the early years of broken fluid links, poorly-judged time hops and a general sense that the Doctor didn’t have a clue how to actually fly the thing, we’ve seen a gradual shift in tone as his piloting skills have become more and more accomplished, at least until a moment like this comes along to blow them out of the water. Two possibilities spring to mind. Either River (having achieved a greater sense of understanding vis a vis the workings of time and space capsules) is actually telling the truth, and the Doctor, the Monk, the Rani and also the Master all leave their brakes on – plausible but ridiculous – or she’s somehow dampened the noise, and is simply winding the Doctor up.

But there’s a third option, and that’s that it’s neither, or both, and Moffat simply put it in as a joke, much the same way he did when he mentioned the supposed destruction of the TARDIS manual, or the Doctor’s past as a little girl (a throwaway line that had Chibnall reaching for his notebook). Because Moffat never treated Doctor Who with any more reverence than it deserved, and thus you shouldn’t either. We may make these things real if we choose, or we may discard them. The Doctor is an unreliable narrator, of both his own history and that of others; River is much the same. I’m happy if you choose to take this particular joke seriously. Doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.

 

 

2. Captain Jack isn’t necessarily the Face of Boe

This is the one that always ruffles feathers, and very few people seem to understand the point I’m trying to make with it, but let’s have one more try. In the first instance: yes, Jack does call himself ‘The Face of Boe’ at the end of series 3. And yes, that’s clearly what Russell T. Davies wants you to think, however much he backpedals in the episode commentaries. We’ve never seen the product of a billion years of human evolution but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that, after much toing and froing, a seemingly immortal Jack might find himself morphing into a giant head over the course of many, many millennia. Philip K. Dick had the same idea (see The Infinites, which posits that humanity would basically go this way). Such a physiological change is even more plausible had Moffat gone down the road he supposedly considered for ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, which would see Jack decapitated by the Headless Monks – a plotline he only abandoned after it became clear that Barrowman was, for one reason or another, unavailable during the filming block.

But that word ‘think’ is incredibly important. Let’s look at the evidence, or rather the lack of it. We don’t see him become the Face of Boe. It’s never confirmed onscreen or anywhere in the literature (Davies has, for reasons we’re about to discuss, taken great pains to ensure that it isn’t). The sole basis for this theory – honestly, the only one there is – is a single conversation between Jack and the Doctor in which he jokes about grey hairs and then wraps up by mentioning his childhood nickname, having heard the Doctor and Martha talk about it two episodes back. It’s the power of association; put two unrelated things together with the most tenuous of connections in an emotionally charged situation and people will join the dots, even if they’re the Doctor. So don’t tell me you take Jack seriously. He’s had a year manacled to a metal fence to come up with this ruse.

Having said that, it is fairly obvious that you were supposed to take him seriously, if only for a moment. This was before Children of Earth, before Miracle Day, before…well, I needn’t continue. The problem is that once you establish Jack’s eventual fate you kill off any sense of interest in the character, because you know they’ll walk out of jeopardy at the other end. Davies knew this, and he wasn’t about to strangle a golden goose. He also knew, as I do, that the key to the success of this moment lies not in the revelation that Jack will become the Face of Boe but in the fact that he might; it’s all about what you don’t see. Just for a minute or two, one of the Doctor’s most cryptic supporting characters is given just a little more meat on the bone (not that there’s much bone, beyond the skull), and the hint is ultimately far more powerful than anything they could have shown to definitively link the two, given that the audience is allowed, for once, to fill in the gap.

So this isn’t Davies telling you Jack’s future. This is him giving you options. Nothing upsets TV viewers more than the ambiguous, but personally I’ve always thought it’s more fun not knowing. Barrowman and Tennant say they believe Jack / Boe are one and the same, but neither of them get a vote – I’m sorry, I know you all love hearing what actors think about their characters, but the writer’s opinion is final, and the writer is commitment phobic, at least on this matter. Let me be very clear: having Jack evolve, over the course of millions of years, into the enigmatic sage who gives his life for New Earth is perfectly acceptable headcanon. It is the shortest distance between two points, and it would be a fitting end to Jack’s story line. Nonetheless, headcanon is all it is.

On that subject, I tend to think headcanon ought to actually stay in your head, but seeing as so many people are seemingly determined to voice theirs to anyone who will listen (and more than a few who aren’t really interested), let’s set some ground rules for terminology. It’s fine to say “I think Jack becomes the Face of Boe”. It is wrong to say that he definitely does, and to argue the toss with anyone who believes otherwise. It is also wrong to do the opposite. This is the paradox of the story, because let’s face facts – Davies put this in to keep us all arguing for years, and left it ambiguous for that purpose (“The moment you explain it,” he said, “the joke dies”), and that is why you get people like me on the forums, forever balancing the equation against anyone who states what they ‘know’ to be true. There are no definites in this story; this is an optical illusion rendered on screen. Some of you see the vase, some of you see the faces. That’s absolutely fine, just as long as you acknowledge that they’re both part of the picture.

 

 

3. David Tennant didn’t ad lib his “Are you my mummy?” line in The Poison Sky

This one really gets my hackles up.

Here’s the gist. It’s September 2007, and they’re on set in Pontypool, filming a particularly memorable scene in episode 5. As UNIT prepare to unveil their secret weapon, the Doctor is briefed by Colonel Mace, who is explaining firing stock. The two of them are wearing gas masks, and when the Colonel asks him what he thinks, the Doctor quips “Are you my mummy?” The urban legend that instantly sprang up around this is that Tennant made up the line on the spot, having forgotten what he was supposed to say, and when everyone had finished laughing they elected to leave it in. And lo, Tennant’s legend as a clown and a genius and an uber fan gains further traction.

The problem with that little nugget – as there is with many such stories of this ilk – is that there is not a single citable reference for it. Not one. I’ve looked. It is mentioned in precisely zero commentaries. I cannot find any interviews that confirm it. Let’s be clear: twelve years have elapsed since this episode was first broadcast. That’s over a decade, which is plenty of time to clear things up. If it were true, we’d know about it, because factoids like this take root in convention anecdotes, magazine columns, press releases; we could go on. To the best of my knowledge (which, by no means exhaustive, is not inconsiderable) that’s never actually happened. There are no sources to confirm this story except the entirely anecdotal one that does nothing more than tell you it is true. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told, over the years, that this categorically and undeniably happened on set, only to have the person I’m arguing with crumble like handmade fudge the moment I ask them to prove it (to be fair, they don’t normally crumble; they just block me).

Seriously. They fly up like doped pheasants only to be instantly shot down. “I read it somewhere”, is the usual response. Yes, you did, you read it on Tumblr – in a post that’s now infamous because it’s been quoted so many times people simply assume it is fact. “It’s in the Confidential“, one person said. No, it isn’t; I looked. “It was on a Graham Norton interview just after the episode aired.” Really? In this country? Because I checked the BBC schedules for that night. You’re simply feeling the Mandela effect. There is no evidence at all, unless it’s hidden in a Nigerian shed somewhere. That’s why I haven’t provided any links to corroborate my views, because there are no links to provide.

Written down in the cold light of day, it seems a silly thing to argue about. Faced with a stubborn old mule who refuses to budge, the person I’m arguing with tends to shift the conversation down one of two roads. “You can’t prove that it didn’t happen,” I’m told, which is more or less true, at least within my admittedly limited capabilities – although if I were particularly inclined I could contact Helen Raynor (who, to the best of my knowledge, is not on Twitter). I can’t prove it didn’t happen in the same way I can’t prove a pink elephant with wings didn’t land on the field over the back of our house last night before rustling one of the fir trees and promptly taking off again. When I was at university they used to talk about the Oxford Rabbit. “Imagine a rabbit,” my philosophy tutor said. “The rabbit has no physical presence, no odour, and is blind, mute and makes no noise. Does the rabbit exist?”

A word in your ear about TV production: ad libs and on-set improvisation are less common than you might expect, unless you’re shooting a Woody Allen film. They certainly don’t apply very much to the world of high stakes TV drama where most of it is about deadlines and getting the thing in the can before the union turns out the lights. Tennant flubs his lines and they decide to keep it in because it’s better than the alternative? Don’t be ridiculous. If I were feeling charitable, I might – might – be prepared to believe that it happened at a read-through. But they probably weren’t wearing gas masks at the read-through. Go figure.

This leads me on to my second point, which is “Well, it’s a nice story, so what does it matter?” It matters because it undermines the writer. I’ve no great love for Raynor’s TV work, at least on Who, and I speak from the position of unavoidable bias, but writers work hard. They get very little of the credit when things go well and most of the flak when they don’t. Tennant is a brilliant actor, but that’s what he does: he responds to a set of dialogue, and for the most part sticks to what he’s given. Is it so hard to imagine that one of the most successful (if clumsily rendered) jokes in the episode is actually the work of its designated storyteller? And what does it tell you about the general attitude towards writers – both male and female, present and past – if you find that sort of concept difficult to swallow?

 

We’ll be back with more of these in a week or two. In the meantime I need to go and hide from the mob.

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Have I Got Whos For You (June special)

God but it’s been a week. I don’t really want to talk about it. I’m not going to give you a lecture on Why Black Lives Matter because I don’t have the energy, and besides you’ve read all that elsewhere written to a much higher standard. What’s happened is appalling, and the whole thing is a mess, but I have enough going on here without trying to implement a sea change. You will have to rid the world of prejudice by yourselves. Right now I need to look after my family.

I’ve written paragraphs about Cummings, about his disregard for protocol, about his puppet mastery of the government, about the use of autism as a sympathy card (in fairness this is not him, but the sycophants who champion his acquittal, largely out of fear), and about his refusal to apologise for absolutely anything, with an arrogance that is simply breathtaking. I have deleted it. You know it all already, and I don’t want you to have to go over it again. This is the way of things now: this puppet government, this man who will not be made to resign because he knows where the bodies are buried. This is how people voted and many people simply don’t care. I have, I will admit, been feeling largely helpless, and have hit out with a series of Photoshopped memes, because that’s about all I know how to do these days.

What’s the natural human response to all this? Stay at home, adhering to lockdown protocol, and be sensible and responsible? Or say “Ah, feck it” and head off to the beach, because if the elite can’t keep the rules then why should we? The latter, of course, as these scenes of people attempting to jump from Durdle Door clearly indicate.

In the middle of all this, Anonymous turned up with new video material, broadcasting what some people had suspected all along.

There was some good news. Elon Musk’s long-awaited SpaceX launch finally happened under the clear-sky window they desperately needed, although there was momentary panic when one of the astronauts left the door open and they lost the Zero G dinosaur.

As the world mourned the loss of yet another rock and roll icon, archeologists examining the oldest writing in the universe made a startling discovery.

Oh, and Pac-Man turned forty.

More space news, and the ESO was thrilled to discover a twist that looked like the formation of a new planet inside the gas disc burning around AB Aurigae, although there were a little surprised when an unexpected flying object clouded their telescope view.

Closer to home, and after a lengthy break, Ikea stores nationwide began once more to open, with customers desperate for flat pack furniture, cheap tupperware and frozen meatballs seemingly content to sit in a baking hot car for half an hour so that they could stand outisde in the sun for another three, although a few customers came up with some innovative ways of beating the queues.

And as traffic stretched around the block to the newly opened McDonalds drive thrus, news reporters broke lockdown protocols in order to get up close to the action and find out exactly what was causing all the delays.

“Yeah, I want six hundred hamburgers, three hundred and eighty orders of fries, four hundred and twenty-six McFlurries, and a Diet Coke.”

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The Smallerpictures Video Dump (2020, part three)

I wish I could tell you that I’d got on with that novel while we’ve been stuck at home. Or that I’d learned to sew, or reached a sense of inner peace, or at least slowed down a bit. But my life was already fairly slow and empty, and I rather liked it that way. My world now, instead, is a world of hastily improvised routines of family breakfasts and Zoom webinars and P.E. with Joe; of virtual meetings with my church housegroup; of listening, every Thursday, to the sound of no one in our street clapping for the NHS; of refusing out of principle to partake in those watchalongs because if there’s one thing DW fans know how to do it’s take a good idea and flog it to death, or at least until all the novelty has well and truly worn off. We’re fortunate, where we are, but oh dear God this road is long – and there are no winding turns, simply a series of erratic curves.

Anyway, how are the Doctors spending lockdown? Today, we catch up with just three of them. But they’re the three everyone likes, so that’s a good start.

 

1. Public Safety Announcement (April 2020)

You know we never stoop to cliche here at Brian of Morbius, but if we did, this would be the point at which I told you this will all be over by Christmas. That’s actually based on scientific insight, correct (at least theoretically) as we go to press, which dictates that under an idealised plan of social distancing and appropriate quarantine the virus could be squashed by 4 December. Now, you and I both know that this is unlikely, but I do at least hope we’ll be allowed out by then – and not stuck in Caerphilly Castle with Peter Capaldi, who’s been wandering its dimly-lit corridors for the better part of four billion years.

This was a lot of fun to put together, largely because it was simply a question of going through the episode and finding appropriate (yes, all right, inappropriate) clips to match up with the government advice. Sometimes that’s a long, hard slog – unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, and generally I don’t, then you have to rely on memory and association and transcript searches. But sticking with a single episode restricts you, which makes that endless scrubbing back and forth all the easier to endure. Every one of this clips is taken from ‘Heaven Sent’ – with one exception. Can you spot it?

 

2. The Ninth Doctor channel hops (April 2020)

The Twelfth Doctor’s been dive-bombing a lake and getting his skull melted by a Dickens reject. Three regenerations back, one of his predecessors is stuck in a flat with Jackie Tyler. I know where my sympathies lie. Sorry, Peter; you’re on your own.

Eccleston is notoriously catty about some of his former roles. Thor 2, for example, was “like having a gun in your mouth”. He’s not much happier about G.I. Joe. I also read that he hated to be asked about Raymond Calitri, which is why it’s in here – but supposedly he’s cooled off about that over the years, so perhaps a reconciliation with the MCU may be on the cards. Although somehow I doubt it; he’s not exactly in a hurry to go back to Doctor Who.

But everyone has a breaking point. What would it take for Eccleston to relive those hours in the makeup chair? Watch it, and you’ll see.

 

3. The Tenth Doctor in Lockdown (May 2020)

Now, this was a departure. Not because it’s particularly different in tone or approach – awkward enjambment of two contrasting sources is something I’ve been doing since year dot – but because I managed, after some trial and error, to get a picture-in-picture effect when the Doctor’s watching the screen. It lasts for approximately three seconds and it’s by no means perfect (look closely and you can see Tennant’s head walking through the bottom of the image) but it’s vital, because it establishes that he’s looking at it there and then in the heart of the Crucible. You nail that, and everything else follows.

Oh, and I make no apologies for anyone I might offend with this, because I think the only person who’s likely to be offended is Ian Levine. And Ian Levine is, for want of a better word, a complete cockwomble.

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Have I Got Whos For You (generally vague edition)

It’s a beautiful morning here in lockdown city – and, having pulled an all-nighter, here’s the Doctor waiting patiently for the Epic Games store to refresh so he can download GTA 5.

You will have watched the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday with…well, I don’t know. There was a lot of conflicting information and I was thoroughly incensed by it. Not so much the confusion over whether or not you’re supposed to go to work – it’s a moot point in our house – but the denial of culpability, a broadcast that was intentionally vague not because we have an idiot in Downing Street but because we have someone who is in fact very clever, and who knows that if he words things correctly he’s off the hook.

Let me (or, rather, let someone else) put it this way:

Sir Humphrey: We’ve issued a clarification of the slogan, Prime Minister.

Jim Hacker: Good. Will we be withdrawing the campaign?

Sir Humphrey: No, Prime Minister, it’s important that the message gets out.

Jim Hacker: What, even if people don’t understand it?

Sir Humphrey: Especially if they don’t understand it. That way, if the restrictions are too stringent and cause economic problems then we can say our message supported relaxing them, and if they’re too lax, and cause a second wave, then we can say our clarification clearly said the rules weren’t being relaxed.

Jim Hacker: So the purpose of the clarification is to put us in the clear?

Sir Humphrey: Yes, Prime Minister.

“Yes,” I can hear the Tory supporters chanting, “but the British public need to be free to make up their own minds! They don’t deserve to be treated like children!”. To which I will respond with “Boaty McBoat Face”, and drop the mic.

Anyway, the only real response from lunacy like this is to mock it, so here’s a deleted still from ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’.

The slogan itself was memed to death, mostly with pop lyrics (most of which were very funny, although I do wish I’d got to ‘Hot Dog / Jumping Frog / Alberquerque’ before someone else). There were also nods to Father Ted (‘Down with this sort of thing!’ / ‘Careful now’ / ‘Will you have a cup of tea?’). Me, I spent ages thinking about how you could spin it into a Doctor Who reference before coming up with this one:

Then there are the alert slogans, which had no sense of scale or timing but which were nonetheless self-explanatory. At least they are now I’ve put Daleks in them.

Oh, and there’s the alert scale; we’re currently at amber, and I do wonder if when we go up to red someone’s going to say “Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb.”

“What about radiation?” someone asked on Twitter. “Or plague?” I told them I’d run out of numbers.

There has been some actual Doctor Who news this week, as Moffat admits in an interview that he’s always thought of Colin Salmon’s antivirus character from series 4 as a future Doctor, living in the library computer to keep River Song company; it’s utter bollocks of course, particularly as it’s only come to light now, but I suppose after series 12 anything’s possible.

The warm weather last weekend brought out the crowds, of course, with beaches flooded with tourists, although some people were at least willing to enforce social distancing.

Elsewhere the nation was out in force to celebrate V.E. Day, as thousands of households marked the defeat of the Axis with street parties and mass singalongs, of a kind not seen since the last spate of street parties to celebrate the Queen having some sort of birthday or something. I’m not one to kill the mood but there was something almost jingoistic about the furore of national pride, given that it was marked in the Daily Mail as ‘A Victory over Europe’ (possibly a typo, but almost certainly a Freudian Slip) and that in the midst of waving union flags and shouting about taking our country back people seem to have forgotten that it wasn’t a British victory, it was an Allied victory, and that we wouldn’t have won it without the Russians and the Yanks. And I’m really not sure how I feel about marking every sodding anniversary with another blowout, even if this one had to be observed from behind closed doors. I do Remembrance Sunday, because it’s important we mark it somehow, but…well, let’s just say that this wasn’t really about the Second World War, was it? Nonetheless, I accept I am a minority view, and I share my views with people who will understand them, as well as occasionally dumping them on a blog no one reads.

Of course, not all of it went smoothly, as evidenced by this screen grab from Katharine Jenkins’ performance outside Buckingham Palace.

You do wonder what on Earth Churchill would have made of it all, although even if he were around to ask, I can’t help thinking our questions might have taken a different tack.

“Come on, be reasonable. It’s a bank holiday and I’ve not been outside in weeks.”

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The Smallerpictures Video Dump (2020, part two)

The clock ticks, the politicians dither, and you’re still all stuck inside. But fear not, constant reader: we’re here to entertain you, probably by throwing on a gingham dress and clucking like a chicken. (This will either make sense or it won’t; if it doesn’t I’m not about to explain it.)

There’s a musical theme to today’s collection. That was an accident, a coincidence of scheduling. But I’m not complaining: these are usually arranged solely in the order in which I did them, so it’s nice when they actually have something in common for a change.

Shall we?

 

1. REMASTERED: The Rings of Akhaten, new score (March 2020)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Ulysses 31 was a big part of my childhood. It didn’t matter that the first time I was encountering the monsters and sailors of the Odyssey was in a futuristic space setting. It didn’t matter that the episode with Chronos terrified the pants off me. It didn’t matter that the robot was annoying. The whole story was so epic in scale and ambition, visiting new universes, weaving complicated narrative threads of morality and free will, and telling a complete tale with a beginning and an ending. I even managed my own mashup of Doctor Who footage to accompany the theme song. It’s the sort of tale that really is ripe for some sort of revisit – I’d originally envisaged a trilogy of films but I now think that a limited run Netflix series would be better. Inevitably, of course, it would have to be updated, presumably by bringing in some sort of Freudian conflict between Ulysses and Telamachus (who was, in the original series, cloyingly loyal), as well as implementing a more contemporary score. Which is a shame, because the original (composed by Ike Egan, Denny Crockett, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy) really is a piece of work, encompassing disco, Focus-esque distorted rock and a full orchestra. Even on its own, it’s worth a listen.

Veteran readers here may remember that, way way back in the day, I had the idea of marrying up some of this music with the Doctor’s speech from ‘The Rings of Akhaten’. It was 2013, and I’d just discovered unscored audio, which exists in abundance if you know where to look – those lovely people who’ve isolated the dialogue and sound effects from Doctor Who stories so you can do what you want with them, chopping and changing bits without having to worry about background music. It made the editing process exponentially more satisfying, but it only works if you have an audio track that matches up with the video file you’re using, and thanks to differering frame rates and quirks of encoding, this isn’t always the case.

So the version I made years ago was, while well-intentioned, a complete mess. Seriously, it was all over the shop. I was chopping and changing and shifting and rearranging and still I could never get it quite right – there are moments where the Doctor’s tongue is somewhere and his voice is somewhere else, like a lagging Zoom call, and then – and then, after I’d torn out most of my hair trying to make it work, the bloody thing wouldn’t sit on YouTube because copyright. So I stuck it on Vimeo where no one ever goes, and consigned it to the bin of Things That Didn’t Quite Work and then tried to learn from the experience.

Years down the line, I had a go at remastering it, and this time I’m happy with it. And more to the point, both Facebook and YouTube are happy to host it. So that’s a win.

 

2. The Goats of Llandudno (March 2020)

We have kites nesting in the trees next to our garden. You can see them all over this part of Oxfordshire, but we see them a lot. Last weekend I was emptying the bins of an evening when I observed two of them, soaring and swooping in a dazzling aerobatic display, as they squabbled and scrapped over a piece of meat that one of them had collected and the other one wanted. For about a minute and a half. It was hypnotic, and of the moment, and I’m glad I didn’t try to film it.

Anyway, that set me thinking: just what, exactly, do our animals and birds make of this? They must be aware that something is different: that there are fewer people around (or that, at least, certain public areas are now quieter), that they can perhaps be a little bolder, that the air is a little less filled with carbon. That the planes are grounded. What does my cat think, for example, of the fact that we’re now all at home, every day? Certainly she must know something, even if she is happy to keep her opinions to herself – unlike my mother-in-law’s border collie, for example, who has had to adjust to the fact that she now only gets one walk a day.

Not long after they implemented the lockdown, a story broke about a goat infestation in the suddenly deserted streets of Llandudno (that’s in Wales, if you were wondering). I think I’ve been to Llandudno, or at least through it: it is a pretty place, if now a little less safe if you value your garden plants. There they were, hordes of horned beasts, chewing the hedges and kicking at the walls trampling manicured lawns underfoot (I was going to do the “This town is comin’ like a goats town”, but the Guardian got there first).

The Guardian got some great footage, but it was mostly silent, save the ambience. I had the idea of dropping in some of Murray Gold’s Doctor Who score – several things didn’t quite work, but the one that did was the music from ‘Heaven Sent’, notably the discordant, menacing rumble that fills Caerphilly Castle as the Veil casually stalks the Doctor. Matched with images of goats overrunning a village, it loses some of its potency. Still, it works.

 

3. Twin Peaks characters dancing to the Doctor Who theme (April 2020)

Oh, this is just a bit of fun. And the idiot on Facebook who said “Can’t you make something better?” can piss off. Seriously, piss off.

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