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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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The Doctor Who Fiction Collection

I recently finished a wonderful book called The Night Circus. It features, close to its conclusion, a seemingly minor character lecturing another on the importance of stories. “Someone needs to tell those tales,” he says. “When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.”

Sometimes you write because you have the idea. Other times, you write because there’s a project, or simply because you need to, and the idea comes when you’ve brainstormed and head-scratched and run down a hundred different scenarios, none of them particularly good. And then sometimes the scenario will evolve out of a seed of an idea, reworked into something tangible and even, dare we say it, quite good. And sometimes it won’t, and you’ll go for a walk or brush the kitchen floor and wait for some unsuspecting narrative spark to drift past that you can pluck from the air. Most of all the process of writing is not always pleasant. Sometimes it is arduous and laboured and you press on, head to the wind, hand shielding your eyes against the storm, secure in the knowledge of nothing except the fact that this is not your best work, but at least it is work, and it is easier to rewrite a mess than it is a blank page.

But writing fiction using TV characters is the MFI (sorry, Ikea; I’m showing my age) of story construction. The characters come pre-assembled: you just have to put them together. You still have the job of establishing a setting – and, unless you’re playing it really safe, a supporting cast – but much of the work is done for you, the arduous task of establishing likeable protagonists already completed long ago by your intended audience. From one perspective it is cheating. From another, it is a template to enable ease of use, allowing you more time to concentrate on the story. Pick one.

I will, as a general principle, leave the character development to the novels: when I’m writing short fiction, it tends to be about Doctor Who. This particular collection spans a little over four years. Some of it is better than others: that’s as it should be. If every tale was only as good as the one that came before then we’d have a problem (if it was worse than the one that came before, we’d have a serious problem). There are Ice Warriors and Weeping Angels; the Doctor tangles with disgruntled matriarchs and angry villagers and, more than once, himself. You will have your favourites – I have mine. You don’t get to hear what they are. But you do get to read the stories. Enjoy them.

 

Sleep No More: Behind The Scenes

(Brian of Morbius, November 2015)

We start, ironically, with something that isn’t really a story at all, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. To give a little context: in late 2015 I was burned out, bummed out and very nearly wanted out. Doctor Who had lost its sheen, and I spent most of series 9 drumming my fingers on a table top (in a rather irritating four-beat pattern) waiting for it to end. I’m over it now, but those were dark days. To cope with a lackluster and occasionally frustrating series I began to get creative in my reviews, and this one – which tackles, ironically, an episode I’ve come to rather enjoy – is perhaps the silliest of the lot, being one of those fictionalised fly-on-the-wall documentary type things that became big business the moment Ricky Gervais first stepped foot into Wernham Hogg. It would be interesting to find out whether any conversations like the ones depicted ever actually took place. I’d be willing to bet there were at least a couple.

 

Dickensian

(The Doctor Who Companion, December 2016)

Write a Christmas-themed short story for The Doctor Who Companion? In 1500 words? No problem. Mostly. In this seasonal tale the Third Doctor is visited on Christmas Eve by a couple of spirits, with an obvious TARDIS-related twist. What I like about this is the stripped back Aristotle-esque nature of the setting: getting in and telling a story in one room and getting out again is something I really don’t do very often, so it was fun to rise to that particular self-imposed challenge. Oh, and there are jokes about vol-au-vents, because you always have to have a joke about vol-au-vents.

 

Day of the Dead

(The Doctor Who Companion, October 2017)

The year after the run of Christmassy stories over at the DWC, the site’s fiction editor organised a Halloween project. The brief was simple: write a story about a monster in which the Doctor does not feature at all. One of the most challenging things about this was finding a way to bring the Angels to life and make them scary when everyone already knows what they are – everyone, that is, except for the poor sap who encounters them. This is ramshackle in places, but I think it just about hangs together. If you forward it on, you have to promise not to give away the ending.

 

The Twelfth Doctor Gets A Phone Call

(The Doctor Who Companion, August 2018)

I’ve often wondered about the first time we see Peter Capaldi. His unanticipated blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in ‘Day of the Doctor’ – “No, sir – all thirteen!” – was one of the show’s key talking points, if only because you never hear about it again. It’s always possible that the Twelfth Doctor just turned up, knowing that was where he needed to be and when, but I’ve always liked to think that his immediate predecessor got in touch – something that could likely only happen once he knew there would be another Doctor coming along, which should give you some idea as to when this all takes place. The whole thing is a bit meta, but I quite like doing meta; it keeps me sane in between all the fan bitching.

 

Love That In A Family Dwells

(The Doctor Who Companion, December 2018)

We don’t get Christmas specials any more, it seems. We certainly didn’t last year, a schedule change that caused a great deal of fuss amongst the online community, most of whom were suitably disgruntled that they would have to spend December 25th actually hanging out with family members rather than simply crashing in front of the TV. I seem to have been one of the few people who wasn’t bothered – I never enjoy Christmas Day episodes because when you’re in my line of work there is a sudden and immediate urge to blog about them, something I’ve frankly never wanted to do after several sherries and a bucket load of mince pies. New Year’s Day is a much better candidate, although I accept that I’m in a minority.

Anyway, to plug the gap between Ranskoor and ‘Resolution’, I came up with this, which tells the story of what happens when the Doctor and her fam visit…look, you’ll just have to read the thing and find out, won’t you? One advantage of doing a story which is deliberately comic in tone is that you can advance the plot and cram in all sorts of expository information simply by including as many unexpected non-sequiteurs as possible: it’s a creative risk, but it works, provided you get the tone just right. I still don’t know if I did, but it was one of those occasions where I actually enjoyed the writing process, as opposed to simply having written. Those moments are gold dust, and must be seized without fear.

 

A Martian Sends A Postcard Home

(The Doctor Who Companion, August 2019)

Every summer, when we can, my family and I head down to the same camping field on the coast of Pembrokeshire. There we’ll indulge in campfire singalongs, quaff the local ale and spend hours on the beach looking for starfish and crabs. It usually buckets it down at least once, the clouds rolling in off the Irish Sea like an advancing invasion force, but you’re in Wales, and you basically come to expect it. In any case, that particular location (right down to a reasonably accurate depiction of its topography) is the setting for this little tale involving a lost Ice Warrior who winds up shipwrecked and blunders into, of all things, a village fete. Does the Doctor make an appearance? You’ll have to keep reading to find out – but it’s not a spoiler to reveal that several of the supporting characters are named after DWC staff, something I still don’t think they’ve noticed.

 

Wedding Crasher

(Brian of Morbius, October 2019)

Emily and I celebrated fifteen years of marriage this autumn. I still remember that morning as if it were yesterday: rising, sleepily as we both drove to separate houses in Reading to prepare; the argument I had with the insurance company, ripe and bruising after the argument we’d had with my aunt the previous evening over the reception place markings. Eating brioche with the best man and his wife in their housing estate semi, the pacing in the vestry when she was ten minutes late, and then that thrilled, anticipated moment where you see her walking down the aisle, at her most radiant. On balance, it was a good day.

The wedding of Harriet and Nick does not go to plan. But they might get their happy ending, thanks to an unexpected interruption. This was written in a rush job, and it shows, but it hangs together by the thread of a poorly-tied ribbon long enough to load it into the back of the car to open after the honeymoon. A disclaimer: Nick is not based on me, and Harriet is not based on Emily, and while Harriet’s mother was cut from the cloth of a real person, that person was not my mother-in-law. Probably.

 

Furby From The Deep

(The Doctor Who Companion, December 2019)

It’s the UNIT Christmas party, and the Third Doctor is reluctantly in attendance – along with Jo, the Brigadier, Yates, Benton and some sinister-looking toys. What could possibly go wrong? I’ve been wanting to write this for years – I even started it once, but there were technical problems and it was necessary to begin again from scratch. The intent was always to make it feel like something Terrance Dicks might have churned out, which means it concentrates more on the story it’s telling than the way it’s being told: Dicks had a flair for prose but was never one for literary flourishes, except where they were really needed. Does it feel like him? Probably not, but it has a beginning and a middle and an end, which is perhaps the best you can hope for. This will take you a while, so I strongly advise making a cup of tea first.

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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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Wedding Crasher

Figuratively speaking, Harriet had cold feet.

It was October, and while there was a nip in the air there was still a bit of warmth left in the Hampshire sun. The days may have been shortening, as the year performed its merry dance with the gusto of a drunken relative at a sixtieth birthday ceilidh, but you couldn’t exactly call it cold. It was more the expectation of cold, an opening act for the chill to come, as if autumn were in the middle of an acoustic set before abruptly vanishing into the wings just in time for the main event.

Whenever she actually thought about it, Harriet decided the whole notion that the changing day lengths were something to be remarked upon was quietly ridiculous. It would start in late June – right after the equinox – with the words “Well, that’s it now, the nights will start drawing in”. The process took six months, through summer beach holidays and festival season and the apple collecting and the ridiculous Halloween costumes that were in the shops on the first of September every year without fail, through fireworks and John Lewis Christmas adverts until just a few particularly short days before the bank holiday. The return journey, back to hazy afternoons and thundery barbecues, took another six months, rounding out the year quite nicely. The nights were always growing progressively longer or progressively shorter, and there was never a time when they weren’t. The whole system was perpetually in flux. So why even mention it?

No: Harriet’s cold feet had nothing to do with temperature, but she always thought it was important to denote the difference. She looked down at her actual feet, encased in a pair of ridiculous white shoes that she had never worn before – save ten minutes’ breaking in the week before the wedding – and would likely never wear again, unless she and Nick wound up visiting Ascot, or somewhere like it. And seeing as neither of them were the betting sort – “Gamble responsibly?” Nick would snort at the TV ads, before declaring it an oxymoron – this was probably not going to happen.

Harriet smoothed down an imaginary crease in her dress, and was gazing in the mirror when the door opened. Her mother, all red velvet and feathers. The hat would probably get stuck in a sliding door. That would be a story and a half. Harriet found herself chuckling inwardly at the thought, although she kept her face as pokerish as she possibly could.

“I’m about ready.” The woman bustled about the room, shutting windows and turning off the lamps. “Took me nearly fifteen minutes to straighten the plumage on this thing. Still, we can go now.”

“Because, of course, it’s all about you.”

“Oh, don’t start.”

“I really don’t want to start anything. We’re late enough as it is.”

“He’ll wait.” Her mother shrugged. “Least, he will if he’s got any sense.”

“Mum…” Harriet leaned on one arm, tentatively.

The eyebrows narrowed. “Oh dear. I know that look. Fine, what is it?”

“Why am I marrying him?”

“Because he’s adequately handsome, reasonably educated, and financially solvent. And more to the point, he puts up with you.”

“I think he’s terrified of you,” said Harriet.

“Good. That’s precisely the way it should be. Now come on – ” and her mother tugged her off the bed with one arm, re-adjusting her hat with the other – “before the salmon starts to decompose.”

 

* * * * *

 

Nick was on his penultimate fingernail – the rest chewed down to rags – when the vicar opened the door to the vestry. “Here. Finally.”

Nick was already a bundle of nerves and took exception to his tone. “We’re not paying you by the hour, you know.”

“I wish you were. I’d make a fortune. Are you set?”

“Give me a moment.” The groom stood, adjusting his corsage. “Where’s Bill?”

“Your best man is outside, placating a few guests who are even more anxious than you are. A moment ago he was reassuring your elderly aunt that he can get her back to the hospice in time for Strictly.”

“That’ll be Iris,” muttered Nick. “Never mind ballroom dancing, she’s a complete drama queen.”

“Look,” said the vicar, crossly. “Do you want to get married or not? Only I’ve got another wedding this afternoon and a sermon to write for tomorrow.”

“Well, that’s the question.” Nick stared through the frosted glass that was the vestry window, the exterior beyond an unreadable collage of blacks and greens and greys. “I mean, I thought I did. So did Harriet. But lately it just seems like it’s – ”

 

* * * * *

 

“ – too soon,” Harriet was saying. “You know, it was three months. Three! And he was drunk. And so was I, and one thing led to another and we wound up visiting the outlet centre for an engagement ring because it was late night shopping.”

Her mother shut the door of the rental. “And they say romance is dead.”

She leaned through the window. “Park it in the short stay and come back. We don’t want to get ticketed.”

The driver nodded and pulled away from the kerb. Harriet stared at the busy road, counting the cars. Red. Green. Silver. Blue. Another silver. The sky was a rich azure, pockmarked with dark grey clouds, the biggest of which threatened to block out the sun. Harriet wondered if it would rain, and then wondered whether that would be appropriate.

Her mother was stabbing at the screen of an ageing smartphone.

“What are you doing?”

“Just checking in on Foursquare.”

“Nobody uses that any more.”

“I do.” Her mother glared at her frostily. “You can use the thirty seconds’ breathing space to get yourself presentable.”

Harriet turned away – and almost collided with a man in his thirties, wearing a long brown coat, who was pelting up the street in a tremendous hurry. Harriet tottered on her heels, struggling to keep herself from falling. “Hey! Watch it!”

The man in the coat turned and gave her the briefest of apologetic waves. “Sorry!”

Harriet seethed as he disappeared round a corner, and then turned her attention back to the present.

“The thing is,” she said, as her mother picked up the train on her dress and moved it away from the gutter into which she’d absent-mindedly allowed it to trail, “I just don’t know if he’s the sort of person who’d jump in front of me to stop a bullet. How can I marry him not being sure of that?”

“What a ridiculous cogitation.” Her mother straightened her jacket, which had wandered skewiff in the car. “Who gets the chance to know a thing like that? Who, apart from the military or people who meet in those ridiculous films your father always enjoyed? Nobody.” She had her hands on her hips now, which meant she was both attentive and cross. “That’s who.”

Harriet sighed. “Still, you know what I me-”

“No. I don’t. I never do. Your mind works on a different level to me, and I’ve accepted it. I accepted it long ago. But I don’t understand you. Here you are, minutes away from the chance to be happier than I ever was, and we’re standing in the street discussing…”

She fumed. “Keanu flippin’ Reeves.”

“I just – ”

“Yes. You just. As in just now. Why couldn’t we have had all this out in the car?”

“BECAUSE YOU WERE ON YOUR BLOODY MOBILE TRYING TO REBOOK THE OSTEOPATH! ON A SATURDAY!”

“AND I WOULDN’T HAVE HAD TO IF YOU HADN’T – ”

“Excuse me. Ladies?” said a polite voice.

The two-person bridal party ceased its affectations, and turned in the direction of the voice: the best man was standing by the church doorway, trying to look casual and not quite managing it.

“Are you ready to get married?” said Bill. “Only the caretaker forgot to adjust the heating this morning and they’ve had to keep the doors open, and I think everyone inside can hear you.”

 

* * * * *

 

Harriet had misjudged the length of the church. This meant she was already at the front while the organist was still halfway through Haydn’s Trumpet Voluntary, which meant that she had to stand next to her husband-to-be for an embarrassing length of time while everyone waited for him to finish.

Nick used the time to pay compliments. “You look amazing.”

She kept her eyes fixed straight ahead. “Thanks.”

“I mean it,” Nick said. “It’s just the most incredible dress I’ve ever – ”

“I know,” Harriet hissed. “You said. Thank you.”

“Right. I’m sorry, I’m just nervous.”

The organist finished with a flourish. A couple of people clapped, which was frankly awkward, as it wasn’t generally done, and the vicar made his displeasure known by glowering at them.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began – ‘Dearly beloved’ having gone out of style round about the time Hugh Grant was caught in a BMW with a prostitute – and that was about as far as he got before all the windows shattered.

 

* * * * *

 

The thing on the church carpet was reptilian in appearance, scaled and grimy, the shape of a horse and the size of a large rhino. Two human-length arms protruded from its front, in addition to the four legs upon which it was now crouching. A coral-coloured fin and two bulbous, empty eyes adorned its long, sleek head, while at the creature’s rear end a spiked tail lashed back and forth in front of the lectern.

Harriet was up on her feet, staring hard. Oddly her first thought had not been one of abject terror – although from the looks of her wedding guests there was plenty of that to go around in any case – but rather a scientific conundrum, namely how a single animal could have been responsible for the destruction of every window in the church when it had presumably come through just one. Her question was answered as the creature opened its mouth and roared – a piercing, ear-shattering noise that would surely have broken all the glass in the room had there been any more glass to break.

Harriet glanced over at Nick. He was standing next to her, his head lopsided, a look of utter incredulity plastered to his whitened face, as if he could not quite believe what he was seeing. His breathing had quickened and there was a rip in the shoulder of his jacket that was staining crimson where the glass had torn it, along with some of the flesh beneath. He seemed not to have noticed, and Harriet decided that this was probably not the time to bring it up.

“This is a dream,” Nick was muttering. “And I know it’s a dream, so I can wake up.”

“It’s not a dream,” Harriet said.

“I can wake up I can wake up I can – ”

“It’s not a bloody dream!” she snapped.

The creature was shaking bits of glass out of what Harriet assumed must be its mane. It whinnied (if that was the right word) and stamped. Then it reached out an arm and grabbed the vicar, who would very soon wish he’d got out of the way sooner.

“No!” was all the unfortunate clergyman had time to get out before the creature propelled him into a wall, whereupon he slumped to the floor with a dismal thud, then lapsing into silence.

Harriet looked around for her mother, who was cowering behind the organ. “Don’t just stand there!” she hissed, when they made eye contact. “Come and hide!” She was beckoning frantically, and the feathers in her hat were dusted with tiny shards of glass.

Harriet shook her head. “We’d never make it.”

The beast was directly in their path to the organ, and Harriet sensed – correctly, as it turned out – that any attempt to cross that path was liable to end in tears. She risked a glance at the congregation, who were in the process of either fainting, sobbing or running. She observed Bill running out into the street and away from the carnage that was presumably about to unfold, and felt a pang of annoyance, even though she’d never much liked him.

She turned to Nick. “What do we – ”

The church had a rear door; it led through to the vestry and the back exit and it was through this door that the newcomer arrived. He half ran, half fell through into the main body of the church, skidding to a halt in front of the creature, beholding it with something that resembled quiet and considered alarm, but not surprise. He was out of breath, although no sweat seemed to glisten across his forehead.

Harriet recognised his coat. It was the man in the street, the one with whom she had almost colli- no, wait a minute, the one who had almost collided with her. Now that he was standing there, she could see him properly. He looked to be in his late thirties, with dark spiked hair that rose from the top of an angular head. He was attractive but not threateningly so, well-defined and perhaps just a shade too thin. The coat swamped a pinstriped brown suit and necktie; on another day he wouldn’t look out of place selling houses in London, and for all Harriet knew that was what he did anyway.

“Sorry,” he said. “Hello.”

Something inside Harriet snapped. “Hello?” she echoed. “This – this thing comes through the window and nearly kills us, and still might, and all you can say is ‘Hello’?”

“Well, it’s a start,” said the man. “I mean, I was going to say ‘Is everybody all right?’, before you interrupted.”

“What is it?” said Harriet, indicating the monster, which seemed to be pacing up and down the width of the church, leering at her. “Is it something to do with you?”

“No. Well, kind of.” The stranger wore an expression that might have been construed as guilt. Harriet thought his eyes looked old, or at least older than the rest of him. “It got out.”

“Out of where?”

“Doesn’t matter. Listen.” He turned to her, staring hard – there was fear in those eyes, she noticed, or at least a quiet desperation. “You need to get everybody out of here now, so I can contain it.”

“Can’t you just take it away somewhere without people?”

The stranger seemed to consider this, before changing his mind. “Could, but no. Too risky. He seems to have stopped here for the moment. I think I need to subdue him before he moves again.”

“It’s a he, then?”

“Probably. I mean, the noisy ones generally are.”

“So we move, then.”

“Yes. And keep quiet about it. The more noise you make, the more – ”

“Harriet!” In the excitement she had almost forgotten her mother, who was still hissing beside the organ, although it was now less of a hiss and more an anguished squeak. “Who on earth is this travelling salesman and why isn’t he doing anything to help?”

“Excuse me?” the stranger addressed her in the way you might expect a disgruntled maths teacher to address a disobedient child. “Helping is top of the list, thank you very much, if you’ll kindly stop panicking and let me get on with it.”

The woman bristled. “Just who are you, anyway? And what the hell is this thing?”

“I’m the Doctor. And this is a Myrka. Nasty things, usually bred for war. And when they’re cornered they get agitated, so I’d appreciate it if you could just calm – ”

The monster reared and rallied. The head threw back and it gave another roar, rising onto its hind legs, which were flailing wildly in mid-air.

Too late, Harriet realised that when they came down, they would most likely land on her head.

 

* * * * *

 

When she thought about it later, Harriet recollected that things seemed to happen in slow motion. First there was that horrid pause as the legs stopped flailing and began their downward descent, then there was a cry of “NO!”, and then she felt herself being pushed out of the way as Nick suddenly barged in front of her, standing directly in the path of the descending hoof as it came down onto his temples.

Harriet didn’t have time to scream, and then Nick was falling, falling and clutching the top of his head, but – what was this? – he actually didn’t look too badly hurt, and now the monster was flailing wildly from some sort of aggravation it was evidently experiencing, and then it turned with a crash and landed directly on top of the organ which had thankfully been vacated just seconds before, its tail three inches from Harriet’s mother’s chest.

There was a sudden and eerie silence.

The dust settled. The congregation got to their feet, shaky and upset and still trying to work out exactly what was going on. Harriet’s mother came out from behind the organ and ran over to embrace her daughter. Harriet herself was kneeling over the unconscious Nick, trying to work out if he was in fact unconscious or actually dead.

The man called the Doctor was brushing his coat.

“Let’s have a look,” he said, dropping to a squat and pulling a small tube-shaped device from his pocket – Harriet took it to be some sort of multi-purpose thermometer or torch – and shining it into Nick’s temples, once he’d rolled back the eyelids. “Brilliant! Don’t worry, he’s just unconscious.”

Harriet blinked away her tears, stunned. “He’s – he’s not – ”

“No,” said the Doctor, drawing out the sound of the word and drawing in his breath at the same time, giving it a warm, gutteral emphasis it arguably didn’t deserve. “The hoof clipped the side of his head. Just a scratch. He’s gonna have a whopper of a headache when he wakes up, though.”

Harriet shook her own head. “I was so sure it was going to crush him.”

“It nearly did. ‘Til I threw it off balance.”

“How?”

“With this.” The Doctor waved the thermometer at her. “Sonic feedback resonance cascade. Inaudible to humans; gave the poor old Myrka here the fright of his life. Bit of a last resort – I always find it rather cruel, mostly because they usually lose a bit of their hearing. But we were out of options. It was that or watch it crush your fiancé.”

Despite everything, Harriet smiled. “You saved him.”

The Doctor gave her a meaningful look. “And he saved you.”

Harriet was still processing the implications of this when she glanced over at the Myrka. “What about that? Is it dead?”

“No, just stunned,” said the Doctor. “I’ve got a few friends who can come and take care of him, get him to a place where he can’t be harmed. And where he can’t harm anyone else, of course,” he added, quickly.

“Just who are you?” Harriet’s mother demanded. “Coming in here with your weird gadgets and your mysterious friends and – ”

From the far wall of the church there was a groan.

“Sylvia,” said the Doctor, clearly anxious to kill two birds with one stone, “Go and check on the vicar, will you?”

Harriet’s mother bristled. “My name’s not Sylvia.”

The Doctor shrugged. “Well, if the cap fits.”

 

* * * * *

 

A few minutes later, when the men in uniforms had come with their trucks and taken the Myrka away to what Harriet assumed was some sort of heavily-armoured paddock, they were all sitting at the front of the church, recovering. The guests were subdued, a damp cocktail of relief and quiet reverence, as if they had been privy to something terrible which was now over without anyone fully understanding what had happened.

The Doctor was applying a bandage to Nick’s head, and dabbing it with alcohol. “Sorry,” he said, as the groom winced. “Haven’t done this for a while. Bit out of practice.”

“I thought you said you were a doctor,” Nick said.

“Well, yeah, but not of medicine. Though…” He paused, staring off into the distance in reflection. “Actually, no. I did do medicine. Glasgow, 1880s. Can’t remember.”

Harriet glanced over at the vicar, who was sitting on a plastic chair with a cup of tea. “What about him?”

“He’ll be fine,” announced her mother, who had bustled over with a bunch of towels. “He doesn’t even seem to have any concussion, though I’ve told him to get it checked out. After that we’ll need to set another date – ”

“No we won’t,” said Harriet. “We’ll give him a few minutes, then we’ll carry on.”

Her mother looked at her, speechless. “You can’t be serious.”

Harriet got to her feet. “You know what, Mum? For the first time in a while I think I actually am.”

“But – not like this! Surely not like this? And don’t you want to think about thi-”

“Mum.” Harriet’s voice was calm, self-assured, decisive. “There’s no thinking. We’re getting married, and we’re getting married now.”

She turned to Nick. “That is, if you still want to.”

Nick grinned. It was a grin that abruptly faded when the simple matter of logistics kicked in. “What about Bill?”

“I’ve tried getting hold of him,” said Harriet. “But he jumped on a non-stop to Plymouth, and he won’t be back for ages.”

“He was useless anyway,” Nick shrugged. “But we can’t have a wedding without a best man.”

They both looked at the Doctor.

“Oh, all right,” he said.

 

* * * * *

 

Rings or no rings, everyone agreed it was a lovely ceremony – even if some of the photos were a trifle unorthodox. What was more the hotel had managed to keep everything on ice and thus the fears about decaying salmon were unfounded.

The Doctor was currently in shovelling a forkful of it into his mouth. Harriet had insisted he come along. “You’ve saved our lives,” she had said. “It’s the least we can do.”

The Doctor had looked momentarily indecisive. “I should…I mean, I should really…the Ood, they keep…hmm. Oh, why not?” he had replied after the sort of dithering that would have impressed even Hugh Grant. “Really not my thing, but another day can’t hurt. It’s all relative.”

Harriet hadn’t understood any of this, but there were a lot of things she hadn’t understood about today, and she was coming to the conclusion – as she crossed the floor to where the Doctor was standing – that it probably wasn’t a bad thing. “Enjoying the food?” she said.

The Doctor put down his plate. “It’s delicious,” he said, wiping an oily mouth clean with a napkin. “Haven’t had salmon like this since Greenland, 1808. Coronation of Frederick the sixth. Lovely man. Very fond of darts.”

“Right,” Harriet, wondering how she was supposed to respond to these ersatz monologues.

The Doctor glanced over at her. “Are you all right?”

“I am, actually,” said Harriet. It was partly the wine, but her heart felt lighter, while her head was gradually vacuuming away the fog. “Just between you and me, I’d been having second thoughts. And then…you know. Gone.”

The Doctor nodded. “Speaking of which, where is he?”

Harriet surveyed the dimly-lit function room, and spotted Nick, in the middle of an intense conversation with a visibly upset pensioner. “Over there,” she said. “I think he’s trying to placate Aunt Iris. She’s upset about missing Strictly. Started half an hour ago.”

The Doctor appeared to be formulating some sort of idea in his head. “Well, I could…you know. I could probably do something about that.”

Harriet’s eyebrow arched. “How?”

The Doctor scratched his ear. “I’ve got a time machine.”

Harriet nearly spat out her wine, but managed at the last minute to swallow. “You know the weird thing? I actually believe that.”

“Just a small number, mind you, and doesn’t always work properly, but I could probably drop her off, say, an hour ago.”

“Really?”

“Yes. But you can’t tell anyone. It’s not something I do except in dire emergencies, which seems to apply here. Still, we can’t let it get out. I’ll never live it down.” The Doctor sighed. “Look at me, going soft in my old age.”

“But hold on.” Harriet’s face darkened. “If you could go back in time, couldn’t you just…I don’t know. Nip back and fix things? So all the stuff earlier won’t happen?”

“Doesn’t work like that.” The Doctor swigged his lemonade. “I can’t go back along my own timeline. Creates a paradox. Seven shades of hell break loose. Anyway. When you think about it, would you really have wanted this afternoon to be any different?”

Harriet thought about it and decided she probably didn’t.

“But if you’re from the future,” she continued, “which you must be, seeing as you have a time machine, do you know about us? I mean what happens to us?”

“Not offhand,” said the Doctor. “Big universe, lots of people. Can’t keep track of everyone.”

“But you could find out.”

“Theoretically,” he replied. “But I’m not going to.”

Harriet nodded, a little disappointed and also relieved.

“You wanted to know if you lived happily ever after,” the Doctor said, probing her thoughts. “Didn’t you?”

Harriet shrugged, and gave a small smile.

“Nobody does, you know. Not really. But you make the best of whatever you’re given. And you promise each other that that’ll be enough. And then, whenever things are bad, you push on.”

Harriet’s smile widened. Yes. That would do.

“Speaking of pushing on,” the Doctor said, putting down his glass, “I really should be making a move. Places to see, planets to liberate, that sort of thing. I’ll go and collect your aunt.”

“Nick’s aunt,” Harriet corrected him. “Listen, – ”

“Don’t thank me again,” said the Doctor, his hand up. “There’s really no need.”

“No, I was going to ask. What about you? Is there – ”

The Doctor smiled at her. It was the sort of smile that spoke volumes; it seemed to hide a wealth of sadness, of heartbreak and recollection and pushing on. There were stories, she sensed, that she would never get to hear, and she realised – in that moment, she finally realised – that they’d been in the presence of a man who was full of secrets, who played only the bare minimum of the cards he kept strapped to his chest, and that this sort of intervention, this breezing in and out of lives, was what he did every day.

“Good luck to you Harriet,” he said, and with a wink he was gone.

Harriet watched him leave, a straight-backed gentlemen pushing a wheelchair, disappearing as if he’d never really been there in the first place.

Nick joined her at the buffet table. “I’ve tried calming her down, but nothing doing,” he said. “I don’t know why they can’t stick iPlayer on a couple of the nursing home TVs.”

“I don’t think you need to worry,” said Harriet, gesturing at the departing Doctor. “It’s all in hand.”

She squeezed Nick’s palm. “And speaking of which,” she said, “I think you owe me a dance, my darling husband.”

Nick smiled. “It worked out in the end, didn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Harriet. “I think it did.”

“But there’s one thing I don’t understand.”

She looked at him, incredulous. “Only one?”

“Well. I mean, there’s a bunch of – but look, who was he? He waltzes in, there’s chaos, I get a whopping headache, then he’s off again, like he’s never been here. We didn’t even know his name.”

Harriet gave her new husband a kiss.

“Does it matter?”

 

For Emily, fifteen years after ‘I do’.

 

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The One with the Friends Titles

In many ways it feels like yesterday. That sense of envy, the homage to stressed-out Village life (capital intentional) where people are happy and unhappy at the same time, where humdrum jobs and complicated (or non-existent) love lives are made bearable by the people you hang out with. I was almost seventeen and it seemed such a carefree way to live: these twenty-somethings who existed in a hubbub of late films and spontaneous baking sessions and endless cups of coffee. I had just found, in the real world, an uneasy point of entry into a peer group in which I never really belonged and in which I was, for the most part, an outsider: a Gunther to everybody else’s Ross and Rachel, surrounded by ostensibly lovely people who would never actually call me.

But when you’re that age recognition of any sort is important, and you start to draw parallels. During more reflective moments, in evening conversations conducted over cider or Grolsch in our local pub, I would compare myself to Ross – heartfelt, sincere and slightly pathetic Ross. The analogy worked: Ross really was a bit of a dickhead. I didn’t see it at the time, seeing as I only recognised what how awful I was years down the line. Still, Phoebe was always my favourite – good old Phoebe, who was unable to think a sentence through in her head before saying it out loud (“There isn’t always time!”) and whose songs alone made the show worth watching, if only to detract from the tedium that was the Ross and Rachel love story. They wound up having a baby (by accident) and settling down, presumably in Scarsdale where the schools are good. We don’t know. I still don’t think I’ve seen that last series; the novelty had long worn off and my life had moved on.

It’s become fashionable to sneer at Friends, to dump the word ‘problematic’ into discussion as if that covered the multitude of readings: as if it is as simple as calling it homophobic (it isn’t), fat-shaming (guilty) and disproportionately white (so were the social lives of most people watching it). As ever, things are more complicated and as ever, the internet isn’t interested in grey, not least when black and white looks so much prettier. As far as I’m concerned Friends lost some of its sheen once it became markedly less Jewish, at least in terms of the humour it was producing, and when the characters disappeared up their own backsides in order to become stereotypical parodies of themselves, instead of rounded people: in other words, taking what the audience found funny and building the entire show around it, rather than writing something that could actually be called interesting. But I had this conversation a couple of years back, if you can call ‘conversation’ an eight-hundred word pot-stirrer I did for Metro that actually did reasonable traffic, not least because there were a number of people willing to haul me over the coals for it – or, as a particularly cynical American wrote on Twitter, ‘The one where the straight white man gets to have his say’.

What’s left? A series of eight stills from Doctor Who, accompanied by (hideously in)appropriate Friends episode titles. I have eschewed the obvious ones – hence, The One With The Flashback isn’t there, simply because it wouldn’t be funny. The rest of it sort of works. I don’t watch Friends anymore, for the same reason I don’t re-watch Doctor Who: there is too much TV out there I haven’t seen yet. But it  was a big part of my life for years, and it would be churlish to deny it that sense of cultural importance, at least on a deeply personal level: programmes like this are a comfort blanket, a sense of reassurance, a Friday spent in familiar company even if the conversation is only ever one way. It would be nice if we could just view it as that, instead of having all this other baggage. It would be nice, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, which is why I tend to keep out of it these days.

Anyway, those images.

How you doin’…?

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The One Where We Visited The Doctor Who Experience

The chamber is amber and sparsely lit. We gather around metal walkways, surrounded by broken remnants of machinery, things long past, in a battle-scarred landscape drenched by a setting sun. Our guide warily picks himself through the throng to what is presumably the optimal vantage point for addressing the whole group. Suddenly a hatch opens. Pressing further into the room we can make out a bulky shape, sloped with odd protrusions: the cylindrical minimalism of a familiar-looking sink plunger, counter-balanced on the other side by what looks rather like an egg whisk. The lights go on, just in time for a grating recorded voice to bellow “EXTERMINATE!”.

That’s when the eight-year-old says “I need the toilet.”

They don’t let you take photos in the first part of the Doctor Who Experience. I’ve probably broken some sort of contractual law just by telling you about that bit – we didn’t sign anything, of course, but there’s presumably some sort of Mafia, and I’ll wake up tomorrow with a Slitheen’s head on my pillow. Not that it matters, really, given that the entire first paragraph was constructed almost entirely from memory and is almost certainly false, or at least inaccurate. Certain things slip out through the cracks. There were Daleks; I do remember that much, but the rest is a bit of a haze.

It worries me because it was only a couple of years ago. I can recollect sixth form parties from a quarter-century hence with more clarity. On the other hand were distracted that day; we spent most of our time wandering around worrying about Daniel, who had made it through to ‘Day of the Doctor’ but who still ran screaming from the room whenever a Weeping Angel turned up (or swiftly covered his eyes, which in itself is curiously ironic). A couple of months before I’d briefly encountered Steven Moffat at a press screening for ‘The Pilot’, and had passed on – at Daniel’s request – the information that his favourite episode was ‘Blink’. Not that this is in itself unusual – the Angels’ inaugural (and, we might argue, only really successful) venture is regularly at the top of the polls, or at least top five, but to be honest I think he’s just pleased he got through the damned thing without wetting himself.

That’s in very real danger of happening today, though, and it is for that reason that Emily never actually got to do the Experience properly. But I’m getting ahead of myself: we’re going to rewind several hours and shuffle a few hundred yards to the west, where the six of us are standing in front of an eight-year-old shrine to a dead fictional character.

“So when did he die?”
“Hmm?” I say to Josh. “Oh, it was 2009. I mean this is a spoiler, really, but the aliens gassed the chamber, and – ”
“No, not him. The actor who played him.”
“He’s not dead.”

Josh looks at me quizzically, so I explain. “This is the shrine for his character,” and I swear I can see him rolling his eyebrows.

Don’t get me wrong. I was as affected by ‘Children of Earth’ as the rest of you. Peter Capaldi confronting the 456 is still among the most electrifying moments Torchwood has to offer. Jack kills his own grandson, for pity’s sake. And yes, the climax of episode 4 – a sobbing Ianto dying in Barrowman’s immortal arms – is sudden, shocking and unexpectedly moving. But the public outpourings of grief have long perplexed me, particularly given the propensity of many fans to refuse to forgive Davies for killing one of his darlings. Eight years for a Welsh admin assistant? Isn’t that over-egging the pudding just a tad? Mind you, we’re in a world where people old enough to know better routinely travel to King’s Cross in order to visit a platform that doesn’t exist and celebrate a day that doesn’t exist, where characters who didn’t exist were about to travel to a place that didn’t exist, on a magical steam engine. Perhaps a few dried bouquets down by the lapping surf are small fry in comparison.

Our timed tickets for the Experience proper don’t start until after lunch, so I’ve suggested we come here first, just so I can show the kids what happens when you let fandom get the better of you. This whole day is a birthday present from Emily, as we’ve talked about coming for years and have learned, comparatively recently, that the thing is closing, which has led to a public outcry from fans who haven’t got around to actually seeing it yet but will, honestly. I scratch my head at such responses. I would very much like to go to the Who North America store, for example, but Indiana is beyond my travelling budget and if it were to suddenly close up shop tomorrow I’d feel a small pang of regret for the staff and then I’d move on. Listen: the Experience at Porth Teigr was only ever supposed to be a five year plan and it only closed so they could move it somewhere else. There’s no sense in throwing your toys out of the pram because you have to scrub something off the bucket list, or at least move it down a couple of notches. Change is the very nature of the show; deal with it.

But it’s easy to say that when you’re in South Oxfordshire and Cardiff is an hour and a half on the M4, and perhaps I didn’t do myself any favours by sneering about it the way I did at the time. It’s a lesson in kindness, and it’s one you learn the hard way. It’s something I’m trying to correct, although not always successfully. A part of it is knowing the difference: being kind doesn’t mean you can’t hold certain people in withering contempt, depending on their actions (one minute Capaldi’s ranting about how important kindness is, the next he’s chiding the Master for his “stupid round face”). Silly ideas are still silly and poorly-conceived logic is stilll…well, you get the idea. It’s all in the way you tell people, and sometimes you probably shouldn’t.

What happens in the Doctor Who Experience is this: you enter a series of rooms, led by a costumed Time Lord, and interact with Peter Capaldi (the earlier, grumpier version), who appears on screen via a series of pre-recorded interludes. There are buttons to press and things to carry – at one point you get to fly the TARDIS – and over the course of your journey you encounter a variety of creatures, but notably Daleks and Weeping Angels. We know this because we have done a little research – nothing spoiler-heavy but our family’s needs more or less demand it – and the eight-year-old does a good line in ‘suddenly queasy’. Or perhaps he really was feeling ill; it’s a hot day and while the Experience’s dark corridors and atmospheric rooms (“It’s not a restaurant for the French!”) are decently air-conditioned there’s only so much you can do when you’re suddenly inundated by sweating tourists.

Emily knows how much this means to me, and when Daniel says he feels sick she offers to take him out, so the Time Lord guide briefly breaks character to shepherd them through the fire doors. We continue the walkthrough without them, and they catch up with us in 1963 London, which is where you wind up when you’re finished. What remains is two floors of props and scenery and costumes – oh, so many costumes – from fifty-four years (as was) of Doctor Who, ranging from vintage Daleks to the Veil that pursued the Twelfth Doctor in ‘Heaven Sent’. There are antique consoles, an interesting Radiophonic Workshop display and there’s a bit where you can hide inside a Dalek and dance like a Cyberman. Or something like that.

It’s all very comprehensive, of course – the costume centrepiece, in particular, is like the final frame of ‘Day of the Doctor’, only we all missed the Rapture. But there’s something a little sterile about the whole thing, something oddly flat and almost clinical, the lighting a little too harsh, the monsters arranged in neat displays in the manner of a police lineup, rather than the immersive casket of wonders from which you’ve recently ventured. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so we won’t dwell on it, but the original Cardiff exhibition over at the Dragon Centre was better: darker and more thrilling, a coherent whole rather than two disjointed halves. In layman’s terms it’s ‘Blink’, while Porth Teigr is….oh, I don’t know, ‘The Girl Who Died’ and ‘The Woman Who Lived‘. You will have your own choice, but you can see where this is going.

It’s a shame, because there are some lovely pieces. My family are all fans – even Edward – but I’m the one who knows it best, and in places like this I’m like a puppy off a leash, prancing and jumping around the exhibition like Willy Wonka in the Inventing Room or Matt Smith early in ‘Rings of Akhaten’ (“Panbabylonians…a Lugal-Irra-Kush…some Lucanians…a Hooloovo!”). Here there was a 1980s Cyberman. Over there the Special Weapons Dalek, the Fisher King from Series 9 and BLOODY HELL THAT’S A MANDREL!

They gave Emily a commemorative sick bag. It was a good few months before it became sufficiently tatty to wind up in the bin; we never did get round to auctioning it on Ebay like we’d planned. Better still, she’s managed to grab a slot in the day’s final tour, which is quiet, and so she and Daniel get to do it all again, at least until they get to the Daleks, which is when he announces he needs the toilet and they have to once more make a swift exit through the fire doors. The two of them eventually join us in the park, half a mile round the bay, my son sheepish and insistent that it really was his bladder and nothing to do with the Angels; my wife quietly simmering.

“Well,” I say, trying to make her feel better, “The best bits were in the first half. You didn’t really miss much.”

She gives me a look. “Oh, don’t say that. It just makes the whole thing worse.”

I have more photos than paragraphs, today, so what remains is the gallery: Daleks and pinballs and round things. What are the round things? No idea. I’m glad we went, if only for the first half – which does make you feel like you’re in an episode of Doctor Who, even if it’s one of the slightly rubbish ones. To those of you who never got the chance: fret not; there’ll be another one along soon, presumably with Jodie Whittaker on the other side of the screen and presumably involving some sort of story where you have to save the world from bigots or internet trolls or people who don’t flush the toilet when they’re done, complete with enormous monsters made up of festering excrement.

Actually that might be half-decent. They could call it The Doctor Loo Experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Papa Louie Pals Presents: The Doctors

I’m the odd one out in our house. I seem to be the only one of the six of us – and yes, that includes Edward – who’s never played a Papa Louie game.

“That makes two of us,” I can hear many of you say, and who can blame you? For the Papa games – which began life as a Flash-based platform game that spawned a wealth of culinary spin-offs – are fun and popular, but they’re not exactly mainstream. It’s the sort of private joke that takes too long to explain: this notion of working your way through hundreds of customers who want hot dogs and sandwiches and pizza and…well, you name it, they’ve covered it. Papa’s Wingeria does chicken. Papa’s Freezeria deals with all things ice cream. Papa’s Donuteria does – look, I’m not going to read out the whole thing. Suffice it to say Flipline have done well out of this little franchise, although my own idea for a spin-off – a toilet maintenance game entitled Papa’s Diarrhea – has thus far been met with nothing but a resounding silence.

But I never got into it. I just didn’t have the time; there were too many other games to be playing. I was content to sit, lounged in bed or next to Emily on the sofa, while the tinkly music tinkled and my better half tried to get an even spread of tomato paste and cursed when I jogged the bed and made her drop her pancake. We got used to throwing our arms up in the air with a broad grin when evening meals arrived on the table. If you have played any of the games you will appreciate this. If you have not, I’m not about to explain it to you. Perhaps you had to be there, or at least be in the immediate vicinity of someone who was – a role I was (it seemed) more than content to play.

Still. Then they made Papa Louie Pals, which is the subject of today’s post. Papa Louie Pals enables you to create more or less anyone you like, from a series of pre-defined style templates, faces and skin tones and outfit variations. The basic humanoid shape is the same for everyone – with minimal adjustments to things like girth and neck length – but all that aside there’s a considerable amount of customisation potential, even more so if you’re prepared to pay for additional content (I’m not; the new stuff is largely cosmetic).

And of course, I’ve made an entire set of Doctors.

Actually, I didn’t stop at the Doctors. I did the companions as well. But that’s content overload so we will deal with them another time. Today, you can have fourteen incarnations of the Doctor, in no particular order, randomly paired according to the way the screen grabbing worked, which led to some interesting if not unpleasant juxtapositions. Some of them are better than others. But I did painstakingly adjust the height of each incarnation so it was more or less accurate. Colour me proud, Jack. Colour me proud.

 

First up: the War Doctor and the Thirteenth Doctor. I don’t think her shoes are quite right, but I’m quite pleased with the hair. (Look very closely and you’ll see a bum bag poking out from beneath her coat.)

We’ll have the two Bakers next. There’s no option for multi-coloured scarves, so I’ve gone for his Season 18 look, which is reasonably good, although he really ought to be a little more grumpy. The same colours problem occurred when constructing the Sixth Doctor, and what’s presented here is about as close as I could manage. There’s a little too much red, but you get the idea.

I’m not very happy with the Eighth; his hair is completely wrong but there really was nothing else that fit. There’s probably the capacity for creating his ‘Night of the Doctor’ look, of course – but then you’re basically in War Doctor territory, so a distorted 1996 take will have to suffice. Next to him is McCoy; the jumper is off kilter but the hat, at least, is quite good.

These two came out quite well, really, largely because of Troughton’s eyes, grin and trousers. The Eleventh Doctor is halfway through the events of ‘Flesh and Stone’.

The Twelfth Doctor is a tricky one to do because there are three of him, depending on which series you’re watching: of all the contemporary incarnations he’s been the one who’s arguably changed the most. Next to him is Pertwee, who has the wrong hair, although it’s the best I could come up with.

The old man and the Time Lord who lived too long. Tennant was about the easiest one to do, although I do think those trousers ought to be a little darker (and the stripes are a bit, I dunno, deckchair). Still, his hair, like the werewolf Warren Zevon saw at Trader Vic’s, is perfect.

I nearly skipped Nine, just to see how people would react, but he was such an easy one I didn’t quite have it in me. Davison – with a hat that’s a little flatter than I’d like – rounds off the set. Shame there’s no celery.

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Five Doctor Who episodes to help you deal with grief

I’m writing this four days after my mother died.

It was one of those sudden, unexpected things: a phone call at five in the afternoon, the rain hammering on the roof of the folding camper as we laughed and giggled about nothing, and then the sudden, life-changing moment when you’re told the news, and then the denial (“No. No, no. You’re wrong“) and then…look. To be honest it’s a blur. But somehow things got done. And there was the inevitable back-and-forth between close family members and then we cancelled our day-old holiday and came back to deal with it. She had a heart attack despite having no history of heart trouble and that means a post mortem and a certain amount of limbo while you wait for the phone to ring.

It is a funny state of affairs. There is grieving without grieving. I think that, even after all this time, I am still in shock; a particularly lucid nightmare from which there is no chance to wake. You go onto autopilot: things happen because they must, and because the day needs to be traversed like some desolate, inexplicably familiar commute even though the circumstances are bizarre and frightening. It occurs to me that I have yet to cry about all this, and for once in my life the sense of overriding guilt that is my default emotional state is suddenly and notably absent, simply because I am keeping it at bay for fear that it would just about finish me off.

So I am currently fractured, and not in a good place, and when I’m not in a good place I tend to fall back on something creative. It’s that, or sit there and brood. For example, I have just rendered every single canonical Doctor in cartoon form using the Flipline Papa Louie Pals app; one of those random things you do when you’re waiting for the coffee to reach drinking temperature. I will post them here eventually, when I’ve sorted out the height variance. It seems almost frivolous, but it’s a way of getting through the day. No, it’s more than that: creativity is (and I dearly wish it weren’t) an outlet that is all too often fuelled by melancholy, where bad things lead to good things. In the (sometimes metaphorical) studio of every artist there is – or ought to be – a plaque reading “YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MISERABLE TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS”.

Or perhaps it’s just a way of shutting out the noise. And it is a noise, this confusing maelstrom of mixed moods, of memories both bad and joyful and sometimes both, of things said and unsaid and this realisation that there is no such thing as a positive or negative emotion, there is only an emotion, and that it is possible to feel both good and bad. “The sun rose steadily over Hogwarts,” writes Rowling at the end of The Deathly Hallows, “and the Great Hall blazed with life and light. Harry was an indispensible part of the mingled outpourings of jubilation and mourning, of grief and celebration.” How wondrous it might have been if we had actually seen that at the end of the film, instead of the mute and oddly soulless calm that David Yates and Warner opted to provide.

But Doctor Who can be like that. At its best (and that is a heady height that is reached all too rarely, it seems) it provides both the opportunity to celebrate life and also to mark its end, as characters die and are appropriately mourned, and death is the next stage on a journey, or a sacrifice worth making, or perhaps as simple as going to bed at the end of a very long day. This list is not exhaustive; nor is it definitive. Certain ‘obvious’ stories (Father’s Day) are missing; other choices will possibly strike you as odd. That’s fine. These are, for one reason or another, the episodes that have helped me, curiously not by revisiting them (I simply haven’t had the time) but purely in terms of remembering key themes and moments and dialogue from years of watching and dissecting and writing about them. And this week, doing that has comforted me. And if anyone is feeling what I’ve been feeling, and can in turn draw any comfort from anything I’ve written, either here or below, then my work is surely not fruitless, nor meaningless.

And I miss my mum.

 

Twice Upon A Time

What would you do, muses Steven Moffat in this Christmas special, if you had the chance to say goodbye again? If the dead were somehow stored as permanent memories, magically rendered flesh through the conduit of a glass avatar? What would you say to them – if, indeed, you could be sure it was them? And how would you know? That’s the mystery that the Doctor endeavours to solve, with the help of a long-vanquished former self, a dead woman and a melancholy army captain whose time is apparently up. There are gags about French restaurants and there is a Dalek, but it’s that idea of loss and survival that lingers long after the smoke from the death ray has dissipated into the air. The notion that we might somehow be able to talk to the deceased – or, more specifically, that they might talk to us – is one that is embossed throughout ‘Twice Upon A Time’, holding it together like the stitching on David Bradley’s hat. The avatar on the battlefield is both Bill Potts and not Bill Potts; both Clara Oswald and not Clara Oswald, both Nardole and…well, you get the idea. In the end, it is the memories of others that make us who we are, and that as long as there is breath in our bodies, they never truly leave us.

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Series 11 opens with the news of a death, only we don’t know that. Jodie Whittaker’s inauguration begins and more or less ends with a YouTube video, uploaded by a tearful young man mourning the loss of his grandmother. It is a grief that will eventually unite him with her second husband – a man who himself carries the weight of loss in his cancer-stricken body: a man with a broken heart living on borrowed time. And yet this is not in itself a bad thing. “I carry them with me,” says the Doctor, when asked how she copes with those she herself has lost. “What they would have thought and said and done. I make them a part of who I am.” It is a sentiment that will eventually save Graham, when faced (much later on) with the ghost of the woman he knew, and who is able to tell her apart from the real thing by remembering how she would have reacted. Still, it is always the Doctor who survives, and sometimes that hurts. And as good as it was, there was a sting to this particular tale when we re-examined its title: this notion that there were two women, both of whom had fallen to Earth, and that only one of them managed to get back on her feet.

 

Heaven Sent

Shaken and broken from the apparent death of his companion, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is marooned inside a watch that looks like a castle, chased by a ghost that wouldn’t look out of place on Scooby Doo, and spends four billion years punching through a wall. On paper it sounds almost ridiculous. In practice it is a stunning, almost groundbreaking entry in the Who logbook, a Groundhog Day of endless grief. But it is the mood of this one that strikes you: a sombre, semi-lit world of browns and greys and dark reds, where corridors shift and paintings decay and one is both always alone and never alone. Clara is both the Doctor’s muse and the object of his grief, manifest in a cacophony of half-glimpses, viewed from behind as she scratches with chalk before vanishing once more into the shadows – the decision to eventually show her one of the few narrative missteps in an otherwise impeccable production. “It’s funny,” muses the Doctor, halfway through this story, drumming his fingers on the arm of a chair. “The day you lose someone isn’t the worst. At least you’ve got something to do. It’s all the days they stay dead.” The following week (and presumably requiring something else to do) he would bust Clara from the trap street and she would run off with Maisie Williams in a stolen TARDIS, but we’re not going to discuss that one.

 

The Rings of Akhaten

Poor Neil Cross went through the wringer with this, and it really isn’t fair. Yes, it is overly sentimental and frequently ridiculous. Yes, the the final conceit (in which, during what is a bizarre twist on The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Clara destroys the monster by feeding it a leaf) really doesn’t work. Yes, the singing is a bit much. On the other hand you would be hard-pressed to find an episode of Doctor Who that matches this one in terms of ambition, grandeur and sheer unbridled joy: a rejuvenated Doctor, fresh off his leash, a companion dazzled by the wonders of the universe, a beautifully rendered interstellar market and a dozen good ideas that never quite bear fruit. The Doctor’s graveside stalking of Clara is uncomfortable to watch – it’s rather like reading your girlfriend’s diary – but the whole pre-title sequence is a beautiful and ultimately heart-rending vignette that shows us how someone might be defined by the people close to them. ‘Akhaten’ is about letting go of the things we love, but it treads this path with that sense of bittersweet sadness and joy I was talking about; the one that pervades the closing moments of Harry Potter. And this in the episode where Matt Smith has a wand duel.

 

Blink

Viewed from one perspective, ‘Blink’ is a story about bootstraps and puzzles and the frightening things that lurk in old houses. That’s usually how I approach it, and I wouldn’t blame you for doing the same. But it’s so much more than that: it is, at its core, a story about loss, as Sally Sparrow – the undisputed queen of Companions That Never Were – has her heart broken twice, once by an old acquaintance and once by a new one. This would count for nothing if the script were mawkish and sentimental, but it is neither: ‘Blink’ is one of those stories that works just as well when it is being sad as when it is being frightening, and the death of Billy Shipton (announcing, with a poetic abstractness that would eventually outstay its welcome, that he would live “until the rain stops”) is among the most poignant scenes that Moffat has ever committed to paper. And it’s here, in these moments of downtime when the statues are off camera and the score is quiet and understated, that the paradox of the Weeping Angels is revealed: that the tragedy that trails in their wake is visited not upon those who are taken but on those that are left behind. The Doctor calls this potential energy; at the risk of sounding tremendously cloying, we might just as easily call it love.

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Doctor Who Does The Smiths

It all started on Sunday afternoon, when the BBC used Kylie’s Glastonbury set to unveil a new Series 12 monster.

I’ve had great fun winding up the Thirteen haters this week. “Jesus H. Christ,” said someone who clearly doesn’t follow the English music scene (or German popular culture) yesterday. “If that’s a monster we’re in for another series of the same crap.”

“He’s right,” echoed someone who had thankfully got the joke. “We should stick to recurring monsters. Better the devil you know, and all that.”

“I don’t know why you’re complaining,” I said. “I made this especially for you.”

“Hmm. I should be so lucky.”

Kylie was lovely. I’ve enjoyed her music for years, unashamedly and without regret. It’s plastic pop for the masses but ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ is a stroke of brilliance – Kylie’s best songs may be written by other people but she knows how to pick ’em, and she seemed genuinely overcome on Sunday. The tabloids broke the news that a secret reunion with Jason Donovan would be part of the set, and when he didn’t show – awkwardly leaving the male parts of ‘Especially For You’ to the backing singers and the audience – you suspected that a last-minute cancellation was the likely reason. Perhaps he had another Dairy Milk commercial. Either way, we didn’t miss him, not when we had Nick Cave.

Elsewhere, there was bad language from Stormzy and Bad Wolf from The Cure. The highlight of the Killers’ set, of course, was the moment when they took a short breather – just about long enough to nip down to the 1980s to retrieve the Pet Shop Boys. When the melody of ‘Always on My Mind’ popped up, just before they joined the band onstage (one in a ridiculous parka, the other in Patrick Troughton’s hat) I nearly jumped off the sofa. Then Neil Tennant opened his mouth, and it was all downhill from there.

To give the man his due, he warmed up – he’s sixty-four and you really can’t expect him to hit the high notes like he used to. And it’s a relief to know that, even after all these years, Chris Lowe still doesn’t smile. It may not have been vintage PSB, but it was authentic PSB, and it was lovely to see Flowers and co. paying tribute to their early musical influences.

They did the same thing a few minutes later, in the company of Johnny Marr – who also managed to finish the set whilst looking as stony faced as my mother always did whenever Red Dwarf was on (I can hardly help it if the first episode she happened to see was ‘Holoship’). It was wonderful to watch Flowers croon his way through ‘This Charming Man’ (a song that seemed almost tailor-made) and I know the Smiths weren’t exactly the cheeriest lot, but is some sort of facial recognition honestly too much to ask for? I mean really? A part of me wonders what would have happened if they’d also got Morrissey, without telling Marr, but I suspect there would have been a frosty avoidance of eye contact, even before the hurtled bottles of urine started to litter the stage.

Anyway: this set me thinking, and without further ado, and for no really good reason, here’s a collection of Smiths lyrics, accompanied by semi-appropriate Doctor Who references. If your favourite lyric is not included, leave it in the box at the bottom and I’ll find something that fits. Probably.

 

Punctured bicycle on a hillside desperate

 

There were times when I could have strangled her, but you know I would hate anything to happen to her

 

I would go out tonight but I haven't got a stitch to wear

 

If a double decker bus crashes into us to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die

 

I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I'm miserable now

 

Life is very long when you're lonely

 

Now I know how Joan of Arc felt as the flames rose to her Roman nose and her Walkman started to melt

 

I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving England is mine and it owes me a living

 

So you go and you stand on your own and you leave on your own and you go home and you cry and you want to die

 

hang the dj

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