Have things to write. Honestly. But I just started the new book, which is exciting, so you’re going to have to make do with a bunch of Stranger Things quotes mashed up with Doctor Who images.
I mean, that’s not such a bad way to end a week, is it?
Have things to write. Honestly. But I just started the new book, which is exciting, so you’re going to have to make do with a bunch of Stranger Things quotes mashed up with Doctor Who images.
I mean, that’s not such a bad way to end a week, is it?
“Dude! You did it! You won a fight!”
Stranger Things is one of those programmes I put off watching. It was nothing personal; we just tend to avoid anything that’s really popular, largely because when it’s hyped to death it seldom lives up to the press coverage. We avoided Lost, Prison Break and Game of Thrones largely for the same reason. (And yes, I recognise that avoiding press coverage isn’t exactly rocket science, but when you’re in my line of work, you have to keep your feet in the water.)
Then – following a Saturday evening viewing of Super 8 – Emily and I decided to give it a go, and found ourselves suitably enthralled. After a slowish beginning (the first series is all about buildup, and the unfolding of a delicate, exquisitely teased mystery before everything explodes) the programme abruptly kicks into gear, as the Duffer brothers dole out epic scaled battles and small moments of domestic dysfunction with the expertise of master craftsmen. We binged the first three series in just over a month, which is something that never happens in our house. If you’ve seen it, you can understand why. This really is good TV: self-aware without being snide; nostalgic without being vacuous.
I could write more. But I think we’ll do that as we go. I don’t pretend this list is exhaustive, or definitive – it’s just the bits I liked. If I missed your favourite, tell me in the comments.
Spoilers follow. If you’ve not watched the thing, I’d advise against reading any further.
1. Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
No eighties period drama is complete without the iconic soundtrack, right? For most of us, at least people my age, the Clash’s anthem is most synonymous with a jeans advert it accompanied when it was rereleased: in the show it’s used early on as a bonding exercise between the missing Will Byers and his older brother Jonathan. Distraught and distressed but not yet broken, mother Joyce (Winona Ryder, in a career highlight) wanders through their ramshackle home to find the song blasting from Will’s cassette player, right before the lights go haywire and something starts to come out of the wall. This is probably the first time the show was decently scary, but what makes it is the moment the terrified Joyce runs out to her Ford Pinto, sits her with hands clutching the wheel…right before her face sets into a determined grimace, and she leaves the car and walks back into the house.
2. Barb’s Death
Horror movie sex is usually a death sentence – only on this occasion, the death happens to someone else, literally a world away. As Barb runs through the Upside Down, stalked by a largely unseen Demogorgon, Nancy is back in Steve’s expensive house, and the two of them are getting it on to Foreigner. This is all about symbolic juxtaposition – Nancy’s approaching orgasm mirrored with Barb’s helpless scream, as her hands reach out for Steve’s while her soon-to-be-dead best friend is holding on for dear life.
3. The Body
Yes, yes. If you’ve seen the rest of the series you’ll be aware that Will survives his ordeal in the Upside Down and lives to become a host for a parasite. Still, there was a point early on where it really looked like he was done for, as the police fish a body from the lake, the dismayed Hopper looking on as Peter Gabriel’s sombre cover of ‘Heroes’ plays over the closing montage. This whole scene smacks of convoluted scheming that serves no purpose other than to provide a narrative feint – why on earth would you go to these lengths to produce a fake body when it would be much easier to char a corpse and mock up dental records? – but still, it packs a heck of an emotional punch.
4. The Undoing of Troy
For the most part, there isn’t a single wasted character in the entire show. We might make an exception for Troy – a contemptible bully with no apparent redeeming features whatsoever, whose sole purpose is to abuse and belittle the Party. Having already been humiliated a couple of episodes back, he’s now out for blood – but what’s astonishing about this scene is the depth of friendship that exists between these children: Mike couldn’t have known that he’d be spared, and seems genuinely prepared to dive from a cliff in order to save his friend. As it turns out he doesn’t have to, as Eleven shows up in the nick of time in order to levitate Mike away from certain death, right before breaking Troy’s arm. Eat your heart out, E.T.
5. Drunk Nancy
There’s nothing particularly important about this scene. Nothing world-shattering. It’s just two people having an argument at a party. But it features some of the best acting in the series. Natalie Dyer slurs and rants as the camera dips and dives, reflecting both her inebriation and fragile mental state. It’s an astonishing moment, and despite being great in everything that followed, I don’t think Nancy was ever quite so compelling, or so watchable, as she was here.
6. Splitting Hairs
If there’s one curveball in particular the Duffer Brothers threw from their mitt, it’s the development of Steve Harrington. Initially the preppy dickhead who smashed Jonathan’s camera, he escaped the axe (Steve is one of those characters who was supposedly not going to survive the show’s first season) only to become altogether kinder, funnier and more responsible. There’s a certain growth borne out of humiliation – by season 3 Steve has failed to get into college and is reduced to working in an ice cream parlour while he rethinks his future – but key to his success as a fan favourite is the decision to pair him up with Dustin, and any scenes the two have together usually serve as comedic highlights. This first encounter, in which they discuss hair products while on the way to bait a carnivorous monster, set the tone for much of what follows.
Poor Sean Astin. Having successfully paid off his family’s mortgage in The Goonies, and carried Frodo to the top of Mount Doom some eighteen years down the line, his more recent career seems to consist mostly of a series of memorable deaths. Not content with having choked on poison gas in 24, he finally gets to play the hero in Stranger Things’ second season, only to meet a violent end at the hands of a rampaging demogorgon. What’s clever about this is that it doesn’t quite unfold the way you think it will: the moment (just before this clip) where the camera swoops onto the forgotten pistol is, we’re convinced, something that Bob will come to regret later on, but as it turns out he never stood a chance. The rest of it unfolds in a series of slow motion cliches, and there is a lot of screaming and stretching, but it works, and it gives Joyce something to do, and that final shot of creatures feasting on Astin’s lifeless corpse is worthy of Romero himself.
8. The Snowball
Proposal: the final episode of Stranger Things‘ second series is one of the finest hours of television ever made. That’s largely because it finishes early and leaves plenty of time for the wind-down: a blissful, ten-minute sequence that takes place near Christmas, with Mike finally getting to fulfil the promise he made a year ago. If Eleven’s return at the end of episode seven was akin to the reunion in Casablanca, this is the Bogart and Bergman scene we never got to see, which makes it all the more satisfying. As the camera pans around the hall, Will learns that being a misfit has its advantages, Max and Lucas share a first kiss – oh, and Dustin is dancing with Nancy. Even before that mesmerising final (and quite literal) twist, this is absolutely glorious work.
9. Hopper vs the Russian
It’s all a bit silly, is this, but that’s not a bad thing. Having gone full-on Magnum P.I. the moment he threw on that floral shirt (prompting waves of applause from anyone old enough to remember it and waves of confusion in just about everybody else), we get, in this scene, a full-on fistfight. The jump cutting veers into Quantum of Solace territory at times, but this is both funny and frightening, the seemingly indestructible Russian making the most of the pistol Joyce accidentally throws at him, before the two heroes and the programmer they’ve abducted flee from a volley of machine gun fire in an unreliable car, barely escaping with their lives.
10. Back to the Future
We bloody love Robin. Played to quirky perfection by Maya Hawke, she is the model of open-minded serenity, adapting to new scenarios and life-threatening situations like a backpacker switching trains. Her coming out to Steve is artfully rendered, taking place in adjacent bathroom stalls, but it’s this scene that sticks in my memory – as the two weary fugitives, blood-soaked and under the influence of drugs, debate the finer points of Back To The Future before giggling at the ceiling. Marvellous.
11. The Sauna Test
I’ll be honest. There are moments, early on in Stranger Things 3, when you wonder if the show’s lost its way a bit. Then the third episode ends with a bang (I’m not getting into it here; I’ll just say “Don McLean”), and you spend much of ‘The Sauna Test’ wondering how on earth they’re going to top that. And then this happens. I dearly wish I could show you the whole thing, but this oft-reconstructed sequence – the subject of a thousand Reaction videos – is absolutely sensational work. The way the kids are grouped, Eleven standing in front with her arms outstretched in defiant protection. The incredible makeup job on Peggy Miley’s face. The lighting and the sensible camera work and the sweat. The scream that emenates from Mille Bobby Brown’s throat the moment she finally throws Billy through the wall. It’s an astounding scene, and nothing Doctor Who has done in the past five years has come even close.
12. Dustin and Suzie sing
For most of season three, Dustin’s girlfriend Suzie languishes in a quantum state – real and not real, existing or not existing depending on who’s handling the observation – and her eventual reveal is a classic plant-and-payoff. That said reveal takes the form of a song, delivered over radio waves between Salt Lake City and Indiana, is a stroke of genius, Gaten Matarazzo and Gabriella Pizzolo belting out the Limahl classic as if the universe depended on it – which, of course, it does. In a dark, frightening and unremittingly sombre episode, this is a moment of sheer unbridled joy.
No one knows the agony of waiting like a Doctor Who fan, except anyone who has stood at a Reading bus stop on a Sunday. It seems like only seven and a half months since we last saw Jodie Whittaker, blasting across our screens in the company of her fam, along with fan favourite Captain Jack Harkness as they broke out of a hi-tech prison and then took on an army of Daleks. Since then details about the new series have been scant and hard to find. But here at Digital Spy / The Radio Times / The Teal Mango / We Got This Covered, we’ve collected together all the information you already knew and then rearranged it slightly differently to make it look like we’re bringing something fresh to the table. You may hate us for this but it’s the middle of the silly season and there’s nothing else happening until the BBC’s autumn trailer drops. So read on, and be enlightened.
When is the new series of Doctor Who?
The new series of Doctor Who will air sometime in 2021. As there isn’t that much of August left, it is likely to be September. Or October. Maybe November. Almost definitely November because otherwise it’s nearly Christmas. It’ll be on a Sunday because it usually is, at a time that interferes with whatever’s on the other side. We don’t have a release date, despite basically implying that we did. Possibly 2022.
Who will be starring in the new series?
Jodie Whittaker will be returning as the Thirteenth Doctor for her final full series, having already done two full series, series 11 and series 12, before that. Joining her is Mandip Gill playing Yaz, and John Bishop as new companion Dan. Not appearing in the series will be previous companions Ryan Sinclair and Graham O’Brien, played by Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh, because they left in ‘Revolution of the Daleks’, just in case you’d nodded off during that protracted finale. Game of Thrones actor Jacob Anderson will be joining the show as a man called Vinder, and although we know nothing about him we’ve got a few random fan theories about him being a new incarnation of Rassilon that we’re going to use to pad out space. We know that you could have got all this from Google but we like you to look at our pages rather than anyone else’s, because ads help pay the rent. We also just looked up the word ‘Vinder’ in the Urban Dictionary and really wish we hadn’t.
What will happen in the new series and how many episodes are there?
There are eight episodes in all but the main series will consist of six episodes that form one continuous arc. This is big news because it has never happened before, except for all the times that it did. This is the part where we show you a picture of Colin Baker. We don’t know what will happen in the stories because the teaser trailer was just a bunch of random pictures repeated two or three times before being analysed to breaking point, but some guy on Twitter took a few pictures of Weeping Angels on a telephoto lens, so we’ll drop that in along with a rumour about an origin story so we can make a pointless reference to Timothy Dalton’s obvious metaphor at the end of ‘The End Of Time’. We also have “QUOTE OF EMPTY CONTENT” from Chris Chibnall, in which he promises it will be “brilliant” and “ground-breaking” and a few other hyperbolic superlatives, so we’re embedding that somewhere so it looks like we’ve done our research.
Who will be the new Doctor and when will we find out who they are?
Pass, on both counts. The only certainty is that they will be either A BRILLIANT CHOICE or ABSOLUTELY THE WRONG CHOICE and people will talk about how this is a great forward step for the show or a return to the dark days when Doctor Who was on a Wednesday and Bonnie Langford screamed a lot. We could, if we wanted, name a bunch of currently topical actors who’ve popped up in the Mirror recently, because it keeps people talking, particularly if one of them ticks an LGBTQ+ box or is called Idris Elba. The current favourite is Michael Sheen, who is someone people would like to see in the role because he’s been in Doctor Who before, plus he worked with David Tennant a couple of years back and he’s famous and a good actor, even though to the best of our knowledge he’s not actually been approached and this is all in here purely for Search Engine Optimisation.
Who will be the new Doctor Who showrunner?
It will be a man or a woman who has worked in television before. Probably not an American because the BBC don’t like hiring them, at least we don’t think so based on a rejection letter Stephen King’s son had back before the Covid pandemic.
So in short, you actually don’t know a whole lot.
No, but please don’t tell anyone. They put us in the chokey if we don’t keep the hit counts above water.
You’re not being very helpful, are you?
Oh, bugger off.
Don’t say: I’m sure this is actually going to be all right, you know.
Do say: LIBERAL LEFTY SJW WOKE PC DUMPSTER FIRE GARBAGE CHINBALLS SPITS ON THE GRAVE OF HARTNELL!
‘Allo. Been a while, but nice to see you. More videos you’d be wanting, is it? Righto then, let’s see what we’ve got in stock.
1. Doomsday: Alternate Ending (March 2021)
The more a scene is revered, the more likely it is that I’ll end up mocking it. And they don’t get much more revered than the tearful, overwrought beach farewell that wrapped up series 2; watching Rose puff out her cheeks is still enough to get me giggling. Not enough with adding a laugh track a while ago, I decided – purely for the sake of producing something for the first time this year – to spice it up with another of the Doctor’s famous lines. It’s not one of my better ones, but it gets a laugh.
2. Stay Outside (April 2021)
Now, this one. This one I am proud of. You will remember, last spring, that the first lockdown saw a spate of government advice telling us all to stay in our homes and only leave when absolutely necessary, and don’t forget your physical jerks and we have always been at war with Eurasia. I dealt with some of the cabin fever by accompanying one of the radio announcements with scenes from ‘Heaven Sent’, which worked quite well.
This time around, we’re out of lockdown but we’re still supposed to be cautious – and thus here’s Dr. Hilary Jones (yes, he of This Morning) to tell us all about the things we should and shouldn’t be doing. And here’s Matt Smith, trying to social distance from a group of murderous pensioners in Ledworth. Ain’t life grand?
3. The Masked Singer: Rhino’s Got A Bad Throat (April 2021)
Rhino? Rhino, you say? Well, that’ll be a Judoon reference, then. I had the misfortune of catching a solitary episode of The Masked Singer not long before Covid first hit, and thought it a good idea, poorly executed (a couple of structural changes and you’d have yourself a far more entertaining experience, but what do I know?). Still, it’s going strong in the UK and America – Kermit the Frog, of all people, making a recent appearance when he was eliminated early on – but it was this particular chap (in reality baseball star Barry Zito) who caught my attention, to the extent that I wound up redubbing some of his performances to a throaty rendition of ‘Rapper’s Delight’. I don’t know, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Ko Ro So.
4. The Geoffrey and Bungle Videos (April – June 2021)
Lurking somewhere on Facebook there’s a series called The Same Video of The Same Guys Dancing To A Different Song. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know it (and the varying success to which it works): if you’ve not, you get the idea. Suffice it to say that they’re pushing on towards five hundred of these and whether or not an embedded song fits the two fellas strutting their stuff is dependent on two factors: how well the rhythm fits, and the impact of whatever happens at the thirty second mark when the second guy joins in. The one they did to Cher’s ‘Believe’ was particularly good.
Anyway: I’m not about to try and replicate that particular stunt, but having decided to hook up Geoffrey and Bungle with Peter Howells’ arrangement of the Doctor Who theme a couple of years back, I opted to revisit familiar territory and see how many of these I could make using different songs. It wasn’t difficult – it’s just a question of working out the tempo and Googling to see songs that fit. Some worked better than others, but the ones that didn’t work (‘Livin’ on a Prayer’; ‘Pinball Wizard’) I elected not to upload. The one you can see below enjoyed brief popularity on Twitter, for reasons I have yet to fully discern, but I also recommend you check out Stealer’s Wheel, and probably Hammer. U can’t touch this…
You’ll have to have these largely without comment, I’m afraid. I mean we lost. We lost and the fans are thugs. We lost and the fans are thugs and Rashford and Saka got a shedload of abuse, empowered by our corrupt, inept government. The sort of government who goes to Harrods for sofa covering and Poundland for flags.
I mean it started quite well. We made it to the semi-final without conceding a goal. Early on – the day of the first group match, when the leaked lineup caused consternation (too defensive, and WHERE’S GREALISH???) – I’d tweeted suggesting that it was possible, just possible, that Gareth Southgate knew more than we gave him credit for, and that perhaps the #Southgateout abuse was premature. I received a flurry of replies, some of which were supportive, others less so, but I made a point of muting anyone who disagreed, simply because I didn’t feel qualified to argue back. Weeks later all the naysayers were suspiciously quiet, although I stopped short of turning it into a pinned tweet, simply because the final was as far as the team got, and you’d still have a bunch of people telling you that they could have done a better job than Southgate did.
So, you know. Don’t give them the inch they crave. Thank heavens we don’t get this in Doctor Who.
It was those early games that were perhaps the most hotly contested, given that we were doing…well, reasonably, against less than stellar opposition. It was more about the spectacle than the quality of football, given that the much-hyped second group match – the British derby against Scotland – was touted as the epic confrontation between two rivals, with hundreds of years of history behind it. I mean I get that the Scots hate the English, but I don’t think it works the other way round. Not really. We know that Braveheart is made up and we don’t judge you for it. And who doesn’t love a good haggis? In the end, of course, it was a goalless draw, and not a terribly interesting one to boot, with all the bloodlust and hatred north of the border conveniently shelved until the angry tweets after the semi-final, and let’s face it – we all know that’s really just a preamble for the Six Nations.
“Three Ryans on a shirt…”
The semi-final, of course, was where the controversy kicked in – with England thanks to a soft penalty, Kane bouncing in the rebound after Kaspar Schmeichel deflected the ball but failed to catch it. It was a crummy way to win and you did feel sorry for the Danes, who’d nearly reached the end under some very trying circumstances, but to be fair to them England were denied an obvious penalty earlier in the match, so it’s swings and roundabouts. “Sometimes it goes in your favour,” quoth a wise man, “and sometimes it doesn’t. And if you add them all up over the season, they balance out.” Said wise man was Alex Ferguson, who knows a thing or two about football, as well as being Scottish.
Really, the controversy in that semi-final was caused by a laser torch that appeared to be pointed at Schmeichel during the penalty in question, although it supposedly didn’t affect his performance and it was in any case impossible to tell where it was coming from.
It ended in tears, with violence and thuggery following a game played by sportsmen who’d conducted themselves with dignity: the team deserved a win, even if the fans didn’t. Could we say Italy played dirty? Perhaps.
But even if they hadn’t, there were mistakes made and some questionable tactics that I don’t really understand because my area of expertise is dramatic structure, not sport. I do know that I felt a sense of pride – not in my country, as such, but simply in the team, and the manager who’s become the best sort of role model for the young men on the pitch and the children watching at home; eloquent and considered and rational and graced with more dignity and compassion than a hundred political buffoons. I’m mindful of the fact that children my sons’ age look up to sportsmen, and for the first time in a long while that doesn’t worry me. You can lose graciously, which is kind of like winning, even if you don’t get to lift the trophy.
Still, at least we’ve got the Olympics, right? Something else they had to postpone until after lockdown.
Last time we spoke, I was telling you about art. Well, not art so much; more the practice of curating it. There are probably rules to this, although I’ve never bothered to learn them; it’s more a matter of common sense. Bench positioning is crucial. Watch your lighting. Galleries with wallpaper are a gamble: everything looks better on white. You need to make the most of blank space, to hang with care and consideration, allowing the artwork room to breathe.
I can’t remember at which point I decided to build a TARDIS interior, but it made perfect sense. Here was a space you could fashion from the ground up with walls and doors placed more or less wherever you want: the notion of a space that opened out onto a seemingly infinite expanse was actually quite easy to do. I called it, for want of a better title, @biggerontheinside.
What I really wanted was to do a nice sort of walkthrough where I film myself wandering around the place, telling you all about it. But my ageing PC is simply not up to the job, and the 7 FPS bit of test footage I managed to cobble together was enough to convince me that this was, at least for now, a terrible idea. I may rethink a little further down the line – everyone likes videos – but for the moment you will have to put up with still images and a bit of narrative from yours truly.
We start out in the Twelfth Doctor’s study.
Well, sort of. You can get a vague idea of it, can’t you? I mean there are bookshelves and wine bottles and a desk of sorts, although it’s way too big. The mirror over at the far end is a teleport that leads you back to my main gallery, and the window beside it overlooks a pleasant little courtyard. But it’s the blue wall in the corner you need to look at. As entrances go it’s pretty terrible, but it’s where the magic begins.
The main console room, if you hadn’t guessed, is designed to be a variant of the one Capaldi was using. You can’t easily do round rooms in OWW, but it sort of works, particularly if you’ve got one of those fish-eye effect filters on your phone. The main problem was assembling a central column which had a sufficiently convincing time rotor, or at least something that might pass as a time rotor. I got round it by using a tree.
Dotted all around the TARDIS are little passive-aggressive exchanges between the Doctor and Nardole. I realised they’d spent about a thousand years together, so they’re basically flatmates. This first one is a nod to ‘The Pilot’.
Can I say at this point that I was really quite pleased with the corridor lighting? It isn’t often you find something in OWW that just fits what you’re trying to do, but this one really gels.
Wander a little further along and you’ll encounter the library – specifically the one Clara wanders into during ‘Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS’. You can’t see it properly here, but it’s a vast, multi-levelled thing, and thankfully nowhere near the swimming pool.
It’s no great secret that ‘Journey’ ranks among one of my least favourite episodes – seriously, it’s a great big turkey of a tale – but it did provide me with a fair bit of inspiration for this little collection. One of the silliest things about the episode was the Architectural Reconfiguration Suite (you remember, the one with the Stuff That Can Make Other Stuff), but I’ll go out on a limb – pun intended – and admit that it was quite fun to build. Lighting is very resource-hungry in OWW, but I managed to pull this off without overloading the system. You know, apart from the crashing.
Now we get to a bit that’s entirely made up. It occurred to me, fairly early on, that I really ought to put some actual art into this place, and thus I came up with the idea of the Memory Garden, a place in which the Doctor stores paintings and mementoes of his previous exploits, sort of like the Batcave. This is half Oxford college quadrangle, half National Trust driveway.
I tried to make sure that everything in this room had at least some Doctor Who connection, no matter how tenuous. This is the ‘City of Death’ pillar; Van Gogh has one all to himself.
When you examine a piece of art in the in-game AI, you have the opportunity to leave comments about it, both positive and negative. That photo on the right has a thread full of people saying “DON’T BLINK!”
‘Journey’ wasn’t the first Doctor Who story to feature extensive exploration of the TARDIS. We also saw a fair bit in ‘The Invasion of Time’, although for some reason in that story the corridors resembled an abandoned hospital. Still, wander down the stairs in my TARDIS and you’ll discover a whole basement full of nods to this particular story. Here, I’ve tried to recreate the Undergallery.
Baker didn’t always hang out in the white room. At times he favoured a secondary chamber done out in panelled wood, and that was an opportunity to try out something a little different. As I think I mentioned before, console rooms are a pain in the neck to do, because it’s extremely difficult to build a hexagonal structure, so this will have to suffice. At least the wood is convincing.
Just along the corridor from the secondary console room was the botanical garden, as seen in ‘Invasion’. There are a lot of plant and tree assets in OWW, so I made the most of them. If it looks a mess, that’s deliberate.
Perhaps the bit I’m most proud of is the swimming pool. It’s not the one we saw in ‘Journey’ – that dimly lit Olympic sized one that Clara witnesses as she’s wandering the corridors, although I daresay I could have had a go at that if I really wanted. No, this is the one in which Leela takes a plunge just before they head back to Gallifrey at the beginning of ‘Invasion of Time’. It’s a more little art deco than it was on TV, and I don’t know why the Doctor’s built a sauna at the far end, but ours is not to reason why.
I may have mentioned before that the default floor in OWW is water. So it was dead easy to build a pool: you just create it at ground level and the water is filled in for you automatically. See the mosaic on the right? I built that, tile by tile. It took ages, but as with everything else in this inconsequential little vanity project, it was totally worth it.
And that’s your lot. I’m still building in OWW, irregularly, but the latest project is going to be a long time coming, given that it’s a full scale recreation of Portmeirion, as seen in The Prisoner, right down to the plastic bubble on the beach. When it’s done, you can see it. Until then? Be seeing you.
Today, gentle reader, and after a protracted absence – hey, it’s sunny and we’re allowed out now! – we delve deep into the heady realms of art, and how it’s displayed. And yes, there is a definite Doctor Who link, but you’ll have to read on (or casually scroll to the bottom; it’s bad manners but I’ll be none the wiser) to find out exactly what it is.
It’s a strange name for a video game, but then Occupy White Walls is a strange sort of game. That’s if you can call it a game at all. It’s more of a virtual art curator / gallery-building experience. Broadly speaking you’re given a sea of blank space (literally: the game opens on a pleasant oceanic backdrop and an island of floating white floor in the middle of it) and encouraged to build your own gallery. You do this by placing blocks – different floors, different walls, ceilings, lighting, architecture – wherever you want them. You’re free to redesign your space at will, change colours, move and even delete structures entirely: some objects will snap into place, but as a general rule nothing is off limits. When you’re ready, you hang artwork on the walls. Well, it’s a gallery, right?
Said art can be aquired from DAISY, the in-house virtual AI, who lists paintings seemingly at random and then learns over time to filter them according to the sort of stuff you like. This never really seemed to work in practice for me – I’d find renaissance art and dull Victorian portraits all over the place, despite concentrating almost exclusively on modern art and photography – although I gather things have improved since I stopped buying new art. Paintings vary in size and scale, from small photos that you have to squint to examine to the likes of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, which is so big it required me to build a new room (well, outside platform) in which to house it. Artists range in scope – traditional landscape painters, religious artworks and surrealist masterpieces are all represented, and anything has the potential to be included provided they’ve either struck a deal or it’s in the public domain (so there is, alas, no Dali as of yet).
Expanding your gallery space costs money – which takes place in the form of virtual currency known simply as ‘cubes’ – and you earn more of these by opening your viewing space to the public in thirty-minute sessions, whereupon it may be visited either by anyone who happens to be logged in, or a collection of bots who phase in and out of the gallery space, nod appreciatively at whatever you happen to have hanging there and perform the occasional backflip. Opening and closing repeatedly is the quickest way to level up, which means there’s a certain amount of grinding early on, but once you reach level 30 you unlock all the assets in the range and things really start to get interesting.
If you want the gist of how the whole thing works, you could do a lot worse than read this, but the biggest selling point of OWW is that it’s got no selling point at all – it’s available at no cost, bar a supplementary soundtrack album (which you are under no compulsion to buy, although I did) and the option to upload your own artwork at $9 a pop. And if it seems a little silly, having your own space on which to buy and hang virtual art, it’s worth bearing in mind that the game came out not long before Covid hit, and given that we spent much of last year stuck indoors, its presence on Steam couldn’t have been any more timely. Certainly the nature of the experience – log on, do a little world-building, casually and graduallly expanding your rooms, changing the sky, re-imagining the floors, filling a room with statues, perhaps adding an extra wing when you’re particularly flush…there’s something vastly therapeutic about it. It’s not a substitute for the Tate, but it’s a good start.
I’ve seen a fair bit in OWW – celestial glass-walled viewing areas looking out onto the wilds of the universe; vast Nordic-themed lakeside galleries; underwater treasure troves; homages to the London underground where Monet and Renoir jostle for space next to the ‘MIND THE GAP’ signs; even a recreation of the space station from 2001, with a door that leads into the hotel room that Keir Dullea reaches at the film’s conclusion. But it doesn’t really do a lot when it’s written down. Walking round a virtual gallery or two really is the best way to fire up your imagination, and it was only when I’d seen what other people had achieved that I started to come up with a creative vision of what I could do with a workspace limited only by funds and my ageing computer’s memory.
Scroll up a bit. That overhead shot you can see? The one with the chess board in the middle? That’s my gallery. Well, a part of it. The waterfront theme didn’t really kick into gear until I built the pier you can see just above. It takes its cue from the one at Boscombe: long and minimalist, and there’s a copy of The Scream hanging on one of the glass walls at the end. From its edge, you can see the corners of the bricked industrial area and the large installation space where I hung a Mondrian and then built an enormous replica out of coloured walls to go alongside it. The whole space grew organically, and owes quite a lot to Frank Lloyd Wright, but I didn’t realise this when I was expanding – it was all about just adding rooms to offset the tedium of lockdown.
But why stop at one gallery? Why just one, when you can do this?
The Highway is perhaps the work I’m most proud of. I’d already made the Chapel – a church interior designed as a place of reflection and remembrance – but wondered what would happen if I built a long, straight road that stretched off into the distance, as far as I could, and just put things alongside it. There is an abandoned, crumbling warehouse and an electrical substation. There is a gaudy sixties bridge and a tunnel that leads to nowhere. Halfway up there is a memorial garden. And there is a vast slab of grey stretching off to the right, all tall oppressive corridors, that opens out into a large open plaza where I built a mosaic on the walls.
But there was another reason to build the Highway, and this, oh faithful reader, is where the Doctor Who connection kicks in. Because if you wander up, you’ll notice that the Angel of the North overlooks a nondescript-looking building that might be just a wee bit familiar.
Designing the interior required a certain amount of improvisation, but after a bit of jiggery pokery I managed to get the counter area more or less the way I wanted it. The seats were trickier, because of what’s available – what you see here is a second draft, and it’s still not quite got the booth feel I really wanted, but it’s not a bad estimate. While it was impossible to recreate all the art they had in the original, I managed to at least capture the feel – and another mosaic on the back wall served as a decent substitute for the stars-and-stripes flag.
But the best bit? There’s a door at the back, and – well…
All right. It’s a disaster. You have no idea how difficult it was to build a convincing hexagonal structure that looked like it might pass for a console. What you can see is a collection of metal desks, awkwardly grouped together into something that looks vaguely right until you get too close. Oh, and there’s a single column of light stretching upwards; it doesn’t move but perhaps we could just say it’s parked? The round things are good, anyway. Even if I don’t know what they’re for.
It wasn’t the only TARDIS I built – but you’ll have to wait until next time to see that one, as it’s a whopper and it’s going to take us some time to walk around it properly. In the meantime, here’s a little post-credit scene. It takes place at Mr Webley’s World of Colour (yes, that is a ‘Nightmare in Silver’ reference). Unlike many of my other creations, this was always envisaged as a definitive place with a beginning and an end – a large, multi-storeyed building in which each room deals with aspects of a different slice of the rainbow, with lighting, decor and artwork to match.
You get the idea. It’s a one-way system (which was disturbingly prophetic) but there is a place of respite halfway along, taking the form of a rooftop garden of which I’m reasonably proud.
In case you’re wondering how I managed black and white, the black is a small dark room with a projector broadcasting looped footage from Un Chien Andalou – something a number of people have done. Although I’m pretty sure none of them have did what I did in the white room.
“And that,” says the First Doctor, “is a chair with a frog on it.”
Coming up next time: swimming pools that are not in the library, and a never-before-seen shot of the TARDIS toilet. Speaking of which, I’ll just leave this here…
Greenbelt, August 2019. We are at the close: a raucous singalong under the canopy, led by the house band. Sensing what is coming, I lead the family quietly away before the last encore. But it’s too late: they are finishing with ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, the song my mother requested at her funeral, which was four days ago. My children burst into tears. And supporting relatives come and put their arms aroud us, and we are united in grief.
I can still recall the minister some days before, saying “You may find it’ll take a while to be able to listen to the song again”. He was basically right, although I found the sadness had lessened by the time it turned up in Sonic The Hedgehog the following February. Eventually you learn to live with things. Besides, it’s a fitting way to remember her: my mother was judgemental as heck in November 1991, telling us how much that man had wasted his life, but she still listened to the music. We both did.
I’ve loved Queen for years, although it was a bumpy start. My aunt and godmother, looking for inspiration for Christmas gifts, was advised to buy me some Queen albums on cassette: she plumped for Queen II, which years later remains a personal favourite, and Hot Space, which…well, doesn’t. It doesn’t help that when you’re young you tend to miscategorise music tremendously; I would say, when asked, that I enjoyed “Heavy metal, like Queen”. Years later I discovered Slayer, and the penny dropped.
Hot Space is a big hot sparse mess of an album and we won’t dwell on it, but Queen II is its polar opposite: an over-indulgent, over-produced slab of absolutely brilliant fantasy rock. How can you fail to love a record that features a song called ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’, references Poe, and then leads out with ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’? And that’s before we get to all the powerhouse riffs and Beach Boys nods in ‘Father To Son’, which is possibly my favourite Queen track of the early 70s. Sure as heck beats anything from The Game.
Years later I heard ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the first time; it grew on me and now I rather enjoy it, although it’s overplayed and over-referenced and singalongs are a nightmare because people always, ALWAYS add that extra “No!” before the second “We will not let you go”, which is fine unless you’re trying to play the damned thing at a party. I use the word ‘play’ with a certain looseness; mostly I just bash out the chords and then let the drunken guests take over for the changes my untrained fingers have never quite been able to handle, although I daresay they could if I practiced hard enough. There was one particular evening, in the student bar at Devonshire Hall, Leeds, in September 1996 that is forever etched on my brain. They kept bringing me drinks and I kept bringing them songs; we jammed to ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and I was, for the only time that year, the most popular person in the room. That was a good night.
Then you get round to buying all the albums on CD and introducing them to your children (‘Good Company’ is a particular favourite), and before you know it it’s 2019 and they’ve done a biopic which gets, at least, the music right, provided you can live with the anachronisms about when things were written. I watched ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in a village hall with the two eldest; most of the film was spent tutting at things that didn’t happen and looking at cats, but at least it looks pretty, and I watched the final blistering twenty minutes with a big grin on my face, which I suppose is the point. Still, it’s hard not to be a little annoyed at some of the dramatic license – from the silly (Freddie accidentally inventing his portable microphone stand during their first ever gig) to the eyebrow-raising (basically everything from Hot Space to Berlin).
And can we please, for the love of sanity, have a music film other than Almost Famous that doesn’t depict all journalists as callous bastards? Some of us work very hard for what little coffers they pay and it’s debasing to see us reduced to a blank-faced stereotype at a press conference. I wouldn’t mind, but Bohemian Rhapsody is largely presented as fact, or at least the version of fact that the surviving members of the band wanted to tell; it’s clumsy and formulaic next to Rocket Man, which sets up an unreliable narrator in its first five minutes and then allows you to fill in the gaps yourselves. It is truth disguised as fiction, whereas Rhapsody is the complete opposite. Still, Gwilym Lee’s quite good.
Anyway. Here we are, and I’m doing my lyric-to-screenshot thing. It was tricky, because it isn’t: Queen often delved into the realms of sci-fi and fantasy (they have two movie soundtracks to their name) and it’s comparatively simple to find obvious lyrics. I have deliberately tried to plump for the obscure: there is nothing from ‘Princes of the Universe’ or the like, because it isn’t funny. Hopefully these are.
We were in the car. I was gearing up for the triumphant final chorus of ‘Baker Street’ – you know, that incredible moment when you’re expecting the sax again and instead you get Hugh Burns’ guitar solo – when the radio went dead. This isn’t entirely out of character for Jack FM, who, while generally pretty reliable given their dependence on pre-recorded announcements and a queue of MP3s, are not averse to the odd bit of dead air. I tutted in annoyance, and carried on up the A34.
A minute or two later the tuner kicked into life again, only instead of bombastic voices spouting innuendo and bad puns it was two people having an actual conversation, something that simply doesn’t happen once the breakfast show’s finished. I caught the words ‘world tour’ and turned to Daniel. “Google Prince Philip,” I said.
He did, and then announced “Ah. Yes, he’s died.”
No more Gerry Rafferty, then. Instead we got all the stuff the BBC have kept stored on that petabyte hard drive for Operation Forth Bridge (presumably so named because it never seems to bloody end). We had the tributes, the historical documentaries, the archive footage, an entire afternoon’s worth of half-mast flags billowing in the breezes of early spring, and of course that inevitable bit when every single political commentator and writer and religious figure they could get without breaking Covid regulations crawls out of the woodwork to have a chat, saying almost precisely the same thing that the last person did. Meanwhile the only network channel broadcasting anything else is CBeebies, and even then people were complaining, either because a ‘BREAKING NEWS’ banner took up the bottom third of the screen or because Mister Tumble wasn’t wearing black.
I know the Facebook groups well enough to leave the subject of Prince Philip well alone, particularly since the Harry and Meghan interview that seems to have damaged Anglo-American relations to an extent not seen since the Boston Tea Party. I don’t know, I assume it’s because Meghan’s one of theirs, and therefore any hostility she encountered within the Royal Family must have been racism or xenophobia or a little bit of each. It’s not at all possible that she didn’t get on with people simply because no one really gets on with their in-laws. Depending on what you read, 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.
Anyway. I watched one thread crumble into a horrendous argument between people who thought Prince Philip was a national treasure and people who thought he was a bigoted racist, and found myself wondering whether it was in fact possible to be both, and whether people’s faults do not eradicate their humanity; nor should their good qualities prevent us from addressing their flaws. No one is either fully good or fully evil, and Doctor Who fans should know this as well as anyone; still, it’s quite an eye-opener when social media reduces any sort of sensible conversation to an us-and-them slanging match where you’re either on one side or on the other, and as awkward as they are to read and moderate they do serve as a timely reminder that most people in the fandom aren’t nearly as enlightened as they’d like to think they are. It only takes the death of a contentious figure to bring out the ugliness in people, and if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that while it’s not always possible to be kind, it is comparatively easy to at least be silent.
Anyway. There we were, mid-Saturday, wandering around Legoland (which we booked long before the prince shuffled off his mortal coil), me having completely ignored my own lesson about kindness when I was shouting at the kids to get ready at eight o’clock that morning, because “every minute we waste here is ten minutes in traffic”. I needn’t have bothered. For all my fears about gridlock and hordes of crowds lining streets they’d been instructed to avoid, the streets of Windsor were all but deserted, and it seems that for once people actually listened. Well, most of them.
“Oh,” I said, scanning the news. “There’s a topless woman been arrested outside Windsor Castle.”
Emily snorted. “Is it Barbara?”
They stuck the Legoland flags at half mast and apparently things went off without a hitch. I didn’t watch it. I didn’t even read about it. I don’t want to hear from body language experts and lip readers and disgraced butlers. Families get the right to grieve in private, even the ones we pay for. My father tells me they dropped the coffin into the floor so it could be taken down to the vault, which gave me the idea of being cremated at Blackpool Ballroom so that they could lower my coffin into the floor with the organist.
“At least you watched it,” I said. “Mum would have been pleased you watched it. You were never one for the pageantry.”
“Ah,” he said. “But no one does pageantry like the British.”
Which is probably true.
Anyway. What do I do at times like this? I head over to Fireworks and do a bit of image manipulation. And for this I have ransacked – I admit with a certain amount of shame – the glossy photo special in the Daily Mail. Only now Prince Philip’s all over Doctor Who instead. Which is probably OK; I mean the Queen’s a fan.
I declare this thing open, whatever it is.