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Have I Got Whos For You (election omnibus edition)

As I write this, they’re still counting the ballots. Thus we open, perhaps inevitably, with a NASA update.

Waiting for this thing to wrap is like waiting for a new series of Doctor Who. Ninety per cent of it is simply reading arguments on Twitter, casually dissecting soundbites, tossing out manufactured evidence of hidden agendas and realising that whatever the end result, you’re going to have a whole bunch of people who aren’t happy with it. And inevitably James Corden is going to show up somewhere. It is tedious, this game of hourly refreshes and working out how fast the numbers are rising. And we endure it with the same morbid fascination we assign to a car crash, only this is considerably nastier. And so we endlessly swipe down on the phone, hoping that the display will refresh with something new and interesting and perhaps even definitive, and when it doesn’t we go back to the box sets.

“No, it’s just you need something to take your mind off it. Now, which one do you want to watch?”

Doctor Who has its fair share of displaced despots, of course. They usually come to a bad end. Sometimes they’re thrown from the roofs of convention centres. More often they’ll see the light at the eleventh hour, early enough for redemption, if not salvation. Usually they’re trying to forge a pact with the Cybermen, or (even more foolishly) the Daleks; these people have clearly never watched the show. But they have one thing in common: they usually die alone.

Even Fox News, who we thought would be stalwart Trump supporters to the end, have been gradually shifting their stance ever since the moment it became apparent that he might actually come in second. It began some months ago with a rare editorial that appeared to condemn his handling of certain issues, and then over the last few days there have been pockets of anomalies that have instantly trended: most notorious, the early calling of Arizona that prompted a furious phone call from Trump to Rupert Murdoch. It’s by no means done and dusted – I’ve had a friend tell me just this morning that he’s sat through half an hour of rhetoric that to all intents and purposes was an incitement to violence – but even within that there are pepperings of disapproval, the suggestion that he should accept defeat with dignity, which is a little like asking Bruno Tonioli to tone down the theatrics.

If I were an optimist I’d say that it reflects a more considered, editorially balanced stance, one that even leans in the direction of impartiality. But the likely truth is that Fox are the rats deserting the sinking ship. They called this months ago, and have spent the build-up to the election – and its immediate aftermath – in a gradual shift away from the apparent losers, mixed in with the same dogged approval in the vain hopes that we wouldn’t notice. And meanwhile, having lost all but his fiercest defenders, Trump remains, increasingly isolated and shouting at the advancing waves, insisting that he can win this even as every hour that passes only seems to reinforce the likelihood that he cannot.

“I STILL HAVE CONTROL OF THE CRUCIBLE!”

Did they cheat? Well, I’m really not in a position to say whether there’s been mail-in fraud: I’ve yet to see any evidence beyond viral videos of ballot burning that were later debunked, and whenever anyone from the GOP is asked to produce anything that’s actually credible the result is a spaghetti western’s worth of tumbleweed. Could it be that they’re just so determined to win at all costs they’ll say anything they like and hope that if they say it with sufficient volume and frequency, people will start believing it? Probably. It worked for Nigel Farage. It worked for the Mail. It probably works for Kim Jong-Un. And it rubs off. I’m not saying that everyone who voted for him is a deluded idiot – right or wrong, I suspect that it’s possible to come to the conclusion that he’s the right man for the job from a position of rational intelligence, as opposed to the slavish adulation that won him the vote. But the sensible people aren’t the ones who appear on TV. Certainly the image of Trump supporters, frantically bombarding the polling stations in undeclared states – demanding that all activity cease in states where he was winning and ardently continue in states where he was losing – brought one particular recollection to mind.

While all this has been going on, the UK has watched with a mixture of mirth and revulsion. The fact that America seems to be on the verge of a civil war is enough to conjure a certain sense of already seen, as the French might have said: when it comes to divisive political gambits that split the country we have form, I don’t think we’re in any position to be smug about it. Certainly the bulk of British people I’ve encountered online seem to see Trump as a joke, but he has his defendants, and they are as ardent (and frequently as ill-informed) as many of their Transatlantic counterparts. It all gets a little depressing when you’re scrolling through a Facebook feed to look for entertainment news, and everyone and their grandmother has an opinion about the election, and most of the time they can’t actually spell. But hey, at least there’s a new series of The Mandalorian.

“Yeah, they want it back now.”

Speaking of entertainment news, it was mostly about one man this week: the Hollywood legend and whisky aficionado (and, we must acknowledge, beater of women) that is Sean Connery. The first man to play James Bond on the big screen, he remains for many the definitive 007 (although the definitive Bond film is arguably The Spy Who Loved Me; certainly that’s the best of them). In later years his career was defined by memorable supporting roles in average films – The Untouchables springs to mind – along with a few absolute clangers (step forward, The Avengers) and one or two genuine classics (Finding Forrester).

But there was a point at which Connery ceased to be an actor and became an icon. It happens to many of the best: it’s happened to Michael Caine, who, as good as he is in the likes of Children of Men, is always playing Michael Caine. Similarly, at an unspecified point in cinema, right about the time he became a national treasure, Sean Connery largely stopped playing characters and started playing Sean Connery. And it didn’t matter whether he was playing Richard the Lionheart, Allan Quatermain, or Indiana Jones’ dad.

“What about the boat? We’re not going on the boat?”

Connery was, of course, one of those people we thought would never leave us, who lived out his twilight years quietly on the other side of the ocean, except when the press wanted a soundbite about Scottish independence. It is difficult to imagine Trump going gently into that good night: he’s more the David Tennant type, thrashing and screaming and eking out every last available second of his allocated time, arguably overstaying his welcome, before standing alone, even as he can hear the knocks on the door, murmuring “I don’t wanna go…”

If nothing else, it’s taken our minds off Covid, inasmuch as anything really can. We’ve supposedly entered Lockdown 2.0, although I’m really not sure how that works because we never really had a 1.1 or 1.4 or any sort of beta, unless you count the regional isolation programmes that hit the north of England in September and October. Indeed, the government is keen to avoid the word ‘lockdown’, precisely because of the negative connotations it brings to mind, and prefers to call it an advanced containment programme or something else I can’t be bothered to Google.

Myself, I prefer to call a spade a spade (is that racist now? Please tell me if it is; I can’t find a reliable source). Apart from bubbles and schools, it’s more or less as it was. The pubs are closed, and we’re not allowed to go out, except to exercise and acquire essentials. I guess it’s back to the Series 10 rewatch.

“You’ve been panic buying, haven’t you?”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Halloween special)

We sure picked a creepy night for a drive, huh, Scooby Doo?

Let us delve, constant reader (I do have one, and you know who you are) into a world of the dark and freakish, where things go bump in the night and lightning flashes are timed with jump scares, and when someone hears a noise and calls out “Frank? Is that you?” it’s never Frank. Some of these are new – others I’ve been saving. (One is at least two years old. I don’t know what that says about me.)

We open (because this is Doctor Who) in deep space.

I must apologise to Cyanide and Happiness, whose work I have shamelessly reappropriated. Still, it kind of works.

Elsewhere on a near identical freighter:

I honestly don’t know what I was thinking with this one. It wasn’t Alien Day, because I covered that elsewhere. An appropriate caption might be “You’ve let yourself go, Peri.”

Back to Earth now, and a forest in Norway:

“Ah, we’ll take him with us. He looks harmless enough.”

I confess I got a little catty with this one. “What is it?” said more than one person. I explained. “Oh, right. Minecraft,” was the response. “That thing for little kids. No wonder I’m not interested.” This was on a Doctor Who forum. I mean honestly.

Of course Doctor Who is for kids. Just look at the warm and welcoming expression on Tennant’s face. He never stood a chance.

Meanwhile, in an old motel twenty miles outside Fairvale, California, an unsuspecting Matt Smith throws his case on the bed, his clothes on the floor, and takes a shower.

“It’s been a while since I bought women’s clothes.”

The Bates Motel is, of course, exactly the sort of place the TARDIS would land, given its propensity towards taking the Doctor to the most incessantly horrible places in the universe. Which has nothing to do with Gaiman’s “Where you needed to go” bollocks; it’s just if you’re on a tropical beach surrounded by dolphins there’s no story, unless said story involves singing dolphins and a heavy-handed message about plastic in the water. Oh well, it’s better than having sex with the fish.

Of course, in such circumstances the best thing to do is to hot-foot it to the TARDIS and simply go to the pub, assuming you pick a good one.

“That you, Clara?”

And pan out, and of course it’s revealed that all of this is taking place in a snow globe being held by a prince.

“Hang on, they’ve got the Paradigm Daleks. Can we go in?”

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The Picture Round

Greetings, brethren! Today, I bring you a selection of coasters.

Well, not really. But here’s how it breaks down: in my mother-in-law’s parlour, deep in the bosom of semi-rural Shropshire, there is a collection of tableware that has long fascinated me. Each coaster contains a number of drawings, ostensibly unrelated, but sharing a common link – for example:

Solving these is a simple matter of breaking down the phonetics – so the first, for example, is Austria, or Horse-Tree-R. Number two is Pear-Egg-Y (Paraguay), and I’m sure you can figure out the rest yourselves. These rather dreadful puns are the work of Simon Drew, an illustrator who lives and works in Devon – a fellow Reading alumnus, and who Wikipedia tells me came joint first in a 2011 episode of Come Dine With Me. Which may be something to look up one day when I’m ironing, although you can of course never really watch a single episode of Come Dine With Me; you have to watch an entire block, and I seldom have enough shirts to cover the amount of time this takes.

Drew’s work extends far beyond cryptic visual puns, but that’s as far as we’re going this morning. Because it was on a Thursday a couple of weeks ago that I had the idea of turning various Doctor Who phrases into visual picture clues, and the six I produced before running out of steam are reproduced below. Some are fairly obvious. Some are obscure. Some will require a certain cultural awareness, but in those cases when you don’t know who you’re looking at you should, I hope, be able to come up with enough surrounding information to fill the gaps.

Have fun. I may do another one of these days, but right now I really need to get on with the ironing.

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5.

6.

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Doctor Who and the Misplacement of Criticism

A curiously serendipitous thing happened the morning I got up to write this post. I was reading about Tom Ellis (he of Lucifer and ‘Last of the Time Lords’), and his secret and not-terribly-surprising hope that they’d ask him to play Doctor Who. The piece’s only comment came from a person I shall not name, in words I shall subtly paraphrase rather than quote directly, but it read “That would have been great. Somewhere there’s a parallel universe where this happened. And better yet, we wouldn’t have Chibnall.”

There’s something head-scratching about all this. It’s not the criticism, which is a democratic right, and perhaps not entirely baseless. It’s the context – or specifically the lack thereof. Here we have a press snippet about an actor who appeared in the show thirteen years back, playing a relatively minor role, and who – while he features heavily on the fans’ Most Wanted list – has had absolutely bugger all to do with it since his brief, one-episode foray. And yet here was Marcus (yes, that’s a pseudonym) using it as a sounding board to tell anyone who would listen about the current state of Doctor Who and just how rubbish it has become.

Why does it happen? Because it’s everywhere. I’m not talking about threads that ask for your favourite episodes from Chibnall’s run to date, or listicles that detail our Hopes For Series 13. I’m not talking about pictures of Jodie Whittaker in a dress and makeup in front of a grey background accompanied by the words “Love her”. I can understand why fans vent their frustrations about current story arcs when it comes up naturally in conversation, although the frequency and ferocity of these vents is something we may come back to.

But on a post about ‘Snakedance’? Or the War Doctor? Or, I don’t know, fruit? “I hate apples,” reads the Tumblr post. “Apples are rubbish.” In the next panel, an image of the Doctor throwing a plate through the open door of Amelia Pond’s house, accompanied by the words “AND STAY OUT!”. “That’s what we should be saying to Chibnall,” says someone further down. Or it’ll be a post announcing that it’s been thirty-two years since ‘The Happiness Patrol’, upon which it’s a cast iron guarantee that at least one smart-alec will quip “Still better than anything from the last two years.”

In all fairness, a remark such as this is only marginally less interesting than the revelation that we’re celebrating the thirty-second anniversary of ‘The Happiness Patrol’ (something I never really want to know about, as much as I enjoy it), but this is hardly the point. What’s to be gained here? Do these fans really feel so marginalised and helpless and believe in Doctor Who so passionately that they see it as essential to state their case at every conceivable opportunity? Is it a form of addiction, where you have to do it every so often or else you’ll get the shakes? Because I sometimes feel it’s like walking into a McDonalds and shouting “Wow, THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE ONE IN HEADINGTON”. There’s nothing illegal about it, but it’s idiotic behaviour.

I can’t help feeling that at the heart of this is a deep-rooted personal insecurity, whereupon the value of your life is measured not in afternoons and coffee spoons but in how much noise you can make. These people need the attention that comes from speaking their mind, and the anonymity and remoteness of the internet makes it all the easier. Why bother to account for yourself when the worst that happens is a ban or a block? Why learn social graces when Facebook and Twitter are the very hub for misanthropic discourse – disguised, with a most delicious sense of irony, under the false moniker of Social Media? You can hardly move for posts wishing death or castration on the man at the top. Did it happen under Moffat? It certainly did, although I think it was far less prevalent. Is that because we have a woman in the TARDIS? I’m not saying.

“Yes,” we’re told, “but THE WRITING SUCKS”. And all right, yes. Sometimes it does. There is a place for adhering to certain standards: we must acknowledge that ‘It Takes You Away’, for all its quirkiness, is not a good episode; that the dialogue is sometimes clunky and awkward; that there is a shoehorning of Positive Values that occasionally grates. I’ve written about all this elsewhere and it does not need rehashing. Doctor Who is not always very good; it may be that it is currently not as good as it has been in previous years. Those of us who lived through Sylvester McCoy have been here before, but that’s not necessarily an excuse: there are periods where it’s really very good and quite popular, and periods where it isn’t. We’re in one now, or we’re not, depending on whom you ask.

But I do not think that it needs the spitting of feathers. I do not think that repeated comments in decontextualised conversations achieve anything. They only wind up the rest of us. The BBC do not care about the grumblings of a few white men (and they are almost always white men, these gatekeepers; make of that what you will). They have a new demographic in mind. There is a core audience who feels marginalised and abandoned but who is ultimately unwilling to accept, as perhaps we must accept, that Doctor Who has moved on without us: that it is not the show we knew when we were growing up, and that it is this sense of abandonment that has allowed it to survive this long. And yet here you are, Marcus, with your comments about how disappointed you were with the supposed destruction of a continuity that actually never existed in the first place. You’re losing your rag over a children’s show. And here I am, losing my rag with someone losing their rag over a children’s show. Sometimes I wonder which of us is the bigger idiot.

Criticism is fine, when it’s in the right place, and when it’s invited. Everything else is by turns toxic, unhelpful, and unpleasant. Mansplaining is endemic: so is the tendency to back up your beliefs with comments about audience views. From your perspective, it is apparently not enough that you do not enjoy Doctor Who; it’s far more important that no else does either. And all this was in response to a question about Susan. Congratulations, Marcus, you win this week’s award for the most pointless non-sequitur. The mind boggles.

But seeing as you and others like you are determined to make unhelpful and unrelated rants about Chibnall a daily activity, I’ve made it easy. I took the liberty of finding some choice quotes from New Who and sexing them up a bit, so they’re nicely twisted to reflect your views. And the next time you want to hijack a Donna Noble appreciation thread, you can simply paste one in, just in time for me to show up and link to this piece to show everyone else what an idiot you’re being. Because I’m still watching you, you know. I’ve learned to intervene a little less, these days, because it seldom goes anywhere, but just occasionally, when you’re being particularly rancid, I’ll swoop. And I probably won’t win – the best we can hope for is a block-induced stalemate – but it’s quite fun watching you harrumph. Remember that, before you post.

Or, you know, you could simply find a new and less aggressive pastime. But we both know that’s not going to happen, don’t we?

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Have I Got Whos For You (two for the price of one edition)

Hello kids. Here, have a Pope meme. In fact, have two.

“You are consistent,” said Melinda Malovey (not her real name), discussing the first image, “in telling us in a passive-aggressive way that you don’t like the Thirteenth Doctor.”

Really? Gosh, that’s news to me. I assume it’s because the Pope is holding Whittaker in the same position that you’d hold the communion wafer that you’re about to break. So what, you figured he’s about to rip her in half? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to tear plastic? Maybe he’s about to part the legs and have a look to see if there’s anything up there, something I suppose we might ascribe to repressed Catholic sexuality. This is like a scene from Bottom or something.

No, listen: I wanted to do a Pope thing because everyone else was, and my initial idea was to have him holding Whittaker in the one hand and Darth Vader in the other, ostensibly as some sort of Who / Star Wars comparison, only when I actually did the Photoshopping it made more sense to leave her on her own. And people have jumped to conclusions because they only see half the stuff on your feed, and the Report button is just a swipe away. Which I suppose is the sort of thing that happens in groups; everyone makes assumptions, and everything betrays authorial intent.

If I sound a little testy it’s because I write this, dear reader, on an afternoon I’ve been muted for having a go at someone who refused to accept either the concept of male privilege or the fact that he was guilty of it, and when I challenged him on his (repeated) comments his reaction was “Oh, just leave me alone”. This was right before he became whiny and foul-tempered because I wouldn’t simply accept what the moderators referred to as “a difference of opinion” – there is, in some groups, a strong rule set that espouses Any And All Views, however insane, because it’s easier to lock the thread than it is to pick a side. So if you actually stand by your principles (something I do only sparingly these days) then you pay the price.

Anyway, these are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have others. There is political content in this blog, and on my page, and in groups that allow it. I make no apology for this. I see a lot of stuff I ignore, and if I’m arguing with you then there is usually because I feel strongly about it. And the government are fair game, particularly when they screw up the country as much as this elitist, xenophobic, dispassionate bunch of defund-the-BBC fuckwits are currently managing.

You know the worst thing about that Fatima photo? It was on a stock site, and they didn’t even ask permission – something they really should have done, given that her face is clearly visible. It’s another thing that was clearly Not Properly Thought Through – you know, like when you cut corners by killing the software design budget for your Track-and-Trace database, and doing it in Excel instead.

Anyway, Fatima’s OK now, and faces a bright future in ballet.

While we all sit around making jokes about reskilling, the Government have got on with the oh-so-serious business of dealing with the catastrophic state we find ourselves in by adhering to a needlessly complicated and logistically impractical workflow that aims to be both healthy and beneficial for schools and the economy and as usual doesn’t really manage to be either. In practice this means dividing up the UK into different segments and colouring them in. Their mandate for containing Covid has literally become a year seven geography lesson. I scoff, but it’s not funny at all if you’re in Liverpool.

It should be noted at this point that this applies to England only: Scotland and Wales have their own system. Indeed, Wales has gone on full alert, banning any visitors from Tier 3, with local law enforcement ramping up their security arrangements in order to repel would-be invaders.

Meanwhile, the 2020 U.S. Presidential campaign is hit by scandal, when a series of emails are discovered in the most unlikely of places.

“Dear Hunter, thank you inviting me to DC and – Jeff, is this your laptop?”

What else happened this week? Well, on Monday we got to see Jodie Whittaker research her family history, which proved to be far less interesting than I thought it was going to be – mostly because I’ve never watched an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? and hadn’t realised how shamelessly manipulative it all was. We were treated to numerous images of Jodie looking by turns wistful and reflective, reading out loud everything we could see on the screen just before Phil Davis told us exactly what had just happened, as if recapping after a commercial break that only happens on BBC America. “I’ve never met them,” says Jodie, wrapping a scarf around herself, as she stands by a grave. “But I feel like I know them.”

Anyway, I made a drinking game out of it, which was a productive use of the time. And it was lovely to see Sid’s Cafe again.

The kids and I have been gaming. I’m on Rise of the Tomb Raider; Thomas is working his way through Geometry Dash and enjoying the Minecraft DLC in Super Smash Bros, along with its questionable victory screen. One game we all enjoy is Among Us, the whodunnit smash that’s currently enjoying a lot of press coverage in the wake of the announcement that InnerSloth have cancelled the sequel so that they can improve the original. The game, for the uninitiated, is a multiplayer murder mystery on board a spaceship on an unknown mission, designed for quick play.

In each round you’re assigned a role – either a crewmate or, if you’re lucky, imposter. The crewmates all have tasks to perform. The imposter’s job is to sabotage those tasks, and murder as many people as they can without getting caught in the act. By turns, the surviving crewmates vote on who they think the murderer is: the most popular choice is ejected, irrespective of whether or not they’re actually guilty. Rounds begin with the announcement that “There is 1 imposter among us.”

“It’s the current regeneration,” said more than one person. “She’s the imposter. #notmydoctor.” I really should have seen it coming, shouldn’t I?

Anyway, the idea of imposters and sabotage on a galactic freighter – a sort of interstellar Cluedo – really is quite Whovian in its concept; it plays out like ‘The Robots of Death’. We’ve been here before, but there’s nothing new under the sun and I can’t help thinking that some sort of episode based around it – however meta we go – might actually stand a chance of working.

“Oh God. Did it vent? DID ANYBODY SEE IT VENT?”

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Have I Got Whos For You (aaannnddd…we’re into October edition)

Well. We’ve got a bumper crop of memes for you today. This is because I have spent much of September writing other things, and also because my WordPress account is playing up and I can only, for whatever reason, access this from Firefox. It has taken me all of a week to figure this out; clearly the technology is moving on without me. Cripes I feel old.

Not as old as this lot, who were discovered waiting for the new Bond movie.

What else has been going on? Well, the anti-lockdown demonstrations have continued in earnest, although an overheard conversation between two unmasked protesters indicates they’re not all as unified as we might have thought.

Elsewhere in London, the Doctor and Clara run out of corridor at the most inopportune moment.

And some of the other Doctors react to that recent Radio Times poll.

There are tensions on the alien mothership during the Sycorax leader’s re-election campaign.

In UK politics, on a publicity drive to highlight the Government retraining scheme, MPs take it upon themselves to visit a number of people from the arts sector trying out new careers.

“No. Absolutely not. Go away.”

Still, all the spin in the world can’t hide the fact that the NHS is sorely under-funded.

Of course, it happens on the other side of the pond as well.

“Hang on, Mike. Hold still. I think there’s something on you.”

“Don’t look at me like that. There’s more than six of them, and we’re supposed to call it in.”

And over in Downing Street, there’s an angry reaction when the powers that be discover that curfew laws apply to them as well.

“They shut the bar at ten? Bastards.”

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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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The 1975

My beloved Emily has a birthday this morning. She is the best of me: a constant, soothing presence in a difficult world, kind and beautiful but also strong and resilient; loving and faithful; considerate and considered; intelligent and practical; vulnerable and authentic. She drives me mad. I can’t do enough for her. We agree on the important things and disagree on the largely trivial. She is my reason for getting up and my solace when going to bed. She is my best friend and she has carried me – we have carried each other – through more tempestuous waters than I care to recount; suffice it to say it’s been a difficult year and we have fought our own separate battles, alone but never really alone, and I think we’re stronger because of it.

I was never any good at art. I can’t draw or paint. Hand me a chisel and I’ll split a hole in a wall with it. Even my photography isn’t up to much – those few shots worthy of note have been mostly down to luck and good timing. I’m sure that anyone can learn, but I also think you have to have a certain aptitude, which I do not posess: my human figures are inevitably disproportionate, with wobbly misshapen legs and huge heads, a sort of Peanuts meets the last eleven minutes of Akira. My art teacher (a man I recently bumped into outside my local Greggs, of all places) was a lovely man but I think he despaired of me.

But one thing I’ve got reasonably good at over the years is dabbling with Photoshop – that careful refining of hues and meticulous brushstroking around the edges of objects and people really is a form of mindfulness – and thus today I bring you four fresh offerings. Three of them are self-explanatory, not to mention Who-related: I am particularly pleased with one, although I’ll leave it to you to work out which. The last image stems from my growing realisation that, over the years, I’ve taken a disproportionate number of photos of Emily walking away or standing with her back to the camera – partly because she’s not always happy to be photographed face on – and quite a few of these seem to be on beaches.

So I took five of them across thirteen years of history (and a number of different beaches) and turned it into a quintet. What would happen, I’ve long since wondered, if you encountered a bunch of previous versions of you? So it’s a sort of Five Doctors thing. There, I knew there’d be a connection somewhere.

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Bottom of the Barrel

It was one of those things that trends for no apparent reason. Well, it trended because it was funny; it’s just it came out of nowhere. Anyway, there it was, stuck near the top of my feed: those three little words you could append to classic movies in order to change their meaning, or (to put it another way) #ruinafilmbyaddingupyourbum.

There’s a bunch of them: Lord of the Rings Up Your Bum. The Third Man Up Your Bum. You’ll have your own favourites. Run Lola Run Up Your Bum, Carry On Regardless Up Your Bum, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Up Your Bum and yes, I am reading from my DVD shelf now. Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same. I need to stop, though, because I tend to italicise film titles and it didn’t work for this particular gag, and it’s making me uncomfortable.

Anyway, it turns out it works for Doctor Who stories as well. So I have gone through the lot and picked out my own particular favourites, presented here in no particular order. I tried to prioritise the ones that actually made some sort of joke, so stuff like…I don’t know, The Aztecs Up Your Bum is not here, simply because it’s a bit obvious. But this isn’t intended to be exhaustive, so do tell me about the ones I missed. That’s what the comments box is for – well, that and the hate mail.

Allons-y!

 

Listen Up Your Bum

Invasion of the Dinosaurs Up Your Bum

Dark Water Up Your Bum

The Doctor Dances Up Your Bum

Flesh and Stone Up Your Bum

Hide Up Your Bum

Kerblam! Up Your Bum

Survival Up Your Bum

The Tenth Planet Up Your Bum

Inferno Up Your Bum

The Woman Who Lived Up Your Bum

It Takes You Away Up Your Bum

Full Circle Up Your Bum

Rise of the Cybermen Up Your Bum

The Big Bang Up Your Bum

Fury From The Deep Up Your Bum

State of Decay Up Your Bum

The Sontaran Experiment Up Your Bum

Face The Raven Up Your Bum

The Crimson Horror Up Your Bum

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Papa Louie Pals Presents: The Companions (Part 1)

Hello! Welcome to Good Burger, home of the good burger; may I take your order?

As you’ll have seen the other week, I spent large parts of August assembling a plethora of Doctors with the help of Flipline Studio’s Papa Louie Pals, which enables you to create your own characters in the vein of the developer’s cutesy, animated consumers and baristas. In other words, you too – in the comfort of your own home – can make the sort of people who wander in to Papa’s Tacoreria and order…well, tacos. Or burritos, or whatever else they sell; I’m sure I don’t know. I haven’t played them, remember?

But give me an app that lets me be a bit creative and it’s like a red rag to a bull, and – having done all the Doctors – I elected to spend a little time creating the companions as well. We start, today, with the New Who brigade: most of the big players are in there, although I’m kicking myself for not including Wilf. Just for good measure, I stuck a couple of villains in as well (all right, one villain in multiple forms, which does rather narrow it down). Oh, and I couldn’t bring myself to do Adam, largely because he’s a twat.

Still. Everyone else is here, just about. And yes, there is a Classic Who companions gallery in the works, at some point when I get round to it. I may even take requests, as long as they’re more imaginative than “Please stop doing this”.

Let’s get cooking…

We’ll get these two out of the way first. There are lots of ways to do Rose; I have gone with her series one look, which is a little more chavvy and a little less refined than the slicker haircut and more revealing outfits she wore in series 2. Donna looks like a slightly younger version of herself, but that’s not a bad thing.

Nardole is…well, he’s a little taller than I’d like, or a little slimmer; pick one. But he looks vageuly Nardole-ish. And I’m quite pleased with Bill; I even remembered to put the bow in her hair.

The Masters, next (yes, there are multiple versions). Simm’s 2007 look is basically a man in a black suit; take away the evil eyes and he could be auditioning for Reservoir Dogs. He’s accompanied here by River Song, sporting her classic vest-and-skirt combination, as worn in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ and probably other episodes I can’t be bothered to Google.

Two more Masters: the hooded monstrosity from ‘The End of Time’ and the restrained, bearded 2017 Master I always hoped we’d get to see. That’s my favourite contemporary take on the character, and it’s irritating that he really doesn’t work here: the hair is too shaggy, the beard (while being the closest I could manage) is wrong, and the tunic is more chef than rogue Time Lord. he looks like an evil sensei from a Japanese martial arts movie.

Missy, on the other hand, came out a treat, even if she does vaguely resemble a sinister version of Lucy from Peanuts. That’s presumably what Mickey Smith is thinking, unless it’s “Did I leave the iron on?”.

Series 11 now. Graham and Ryan first. Note that Graham’s smile is slightly smaller than the rest: this is deliberate.

And here’s Yas – along with Captain Jack, who is probably staring at her bottom.

The Ponds! They’re wearing matching shirts, which happened because I was feeling a bit lazy that morning, but it’s rather cute.

Lastly, Martha – whose jacket is just about perfect – and Clara. Specifically Oswin, although that dress isn’t quite as figure-hugging as I’d like. Still, she looks pleased with it.

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