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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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The Inevitable Eurovision write-up

We open, as you knew we would, in a sepia-tinted art gallery.

Ah, Madonna. I had to slap down someone on a Facebook group this morning who compared her to Cassandra from ‘The End of the World’, largely by leaving “MOISTURISE ME!” gags on every thread I posted. When I asked him to explain himself, he said (and we paraphrase) “Well, because she’s old and she’s had so much surgery”.

I’m fairly open minded, even as I stumble on towards the inevitable midlife crisis part of my forties. But I confess I don’t find this sort of thing particularly amusing, largely because it’s symptomatic of an unpleasant type of humour: namely the idea that women of a certain age are there to be mocked if they do anything to physically defy that age. Madonna, presumably, is ripe for the pickings because she’s rich and famous and she can take it, and besides she was flat when she sang ‘Like A Prayer’. From one perspective it’s harmless fun and this is a free country and can’t you take a joke? From another, it’s sneering, condescending and judgemental and it’s an unpleasant reminder of how we treat women in these supposedly enlightened times. You pick. When I called out this behaviour I was accused of having a sense of humour bypass, so I think I’ll leave the judgement to someone else.

We might reasonably call out Madonna for not really producing a decent record since Ray of Light, with Saturday evening’s clearly rehearsed ‘Music’ singalong a cynical headline grab. That’d be a more reasonable target for a poison arrow, rather than her spandex-clad buttocks. But in many ways it was textbook Eurovision: glossy, overblown and a little bit controversial but seldom making the headlines for the right reasons. That makes her the perfect choice, because it’s not about the music, and for all our attempts to pretend that Eurovision used to be a singing competition, it never really was. Madonna also made waves on the forums, not least because her eye patch thing wasn’t the only Doctor Who reference she managed to include over the course of a nine minute set.

This was just after she lined up on a set of steps to perform ‘Like A Prayer’ with a set of cowled, possibly headless monks. Go figure.

It was the closing ‘statement’, of course, that was responsible for most of the eyebrow raising. I missed the dual flags entirely (perhaps the BBC cut away from it, or perhaps I was just looking at my phone). It was marginally less controversial than the stunt that Iceland pulled, although this isn’t the place to discuss any of that: I have my opinions and you do not get to hear them. Eurovision has always been a hotbed of whatever’s topical – political squabbles, military skirmishes and financial disrespute dressed up in a negligee of supposed togetherness and solitary brother / cisterhood…seriously, don’t get me started on France. At least I could understand the words to that one: over the course of the evening the automated subtitle generator interpreted Malta as ‘melter’, ‘multi’ and ‘Mulder’. Thank goodness Jools Holland wasn’t there.

There were highlights. Denmark (“like a Tesco advert”, to quote the thirteen-year-old) was chirpy and fun, vocalist Leonora ascending a set of steps to a giant chair with her pals, while Graham Norton noted that the “WhatsApp group will probably be deleted around midnight”. And San Marino’s entry – the delightfully retro ‘Say Na Na Na’, which supposedly took five minutes to write (well, one minute and then another four scrolling through Facebook) was both naff and brilliant, and probably would have done quite well a couple of decades ago (I thought much the same about Scooch’s grotesquely comic ‘Flying The Flag’, a 2007 entry that turned up at the party at least eleven or twelve years after its friends had all gone home to bed). And the whole thing was slick and decently compered – Eurovision presenters tend to be dreadful, but this lot weren’t bad, even if there were only four of them so they could cover the entire arena at once. (And why, in these days of twenty-first century open plan introvert’s nightmares, do they still insist on calling it a green room? It isn’t a room of any sort. It’s a roped-off VIP area a meticulously timed short walk from the stage. You can’t even duck under the tables for an illicit shag.)

Anyway: gallery of memorable moments follows. All thoughts are from yours truly unless I tell you otherwise.

1. To kick off, here’s Cyprus’ Tamta, modelling the next Rani outfit.

2. Meanwhile, as Middle Earth burns around her, Albania’s Jonida Maliqi is despondent that she didn’t head into the West with the other Elves.

3. North Macedonia. I have this sudden urge for Quality Street.

4. “Lister, they’ve got to learn.”

5. Serbia? It’s Mike. He wants his tubular bells back.

6. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Elton John.

7. So that’s what happened to Mad Max 5.

8. It was all going so well for Greece, until they brought out the Prisoner balloon.

9. SLOVENIAN STARING CONTEST! GO!

10. Workprint footage from those promo videos.

11. “NARNIA IS MINE!”

12. It’s the Wiggles! It’s the bloody Wiggles!

13. And finally, the inspiration for Spain’s set design proves fairly obvious.

Same time next year? I’ll bring the Prosecco.

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Skip Nine

I’ve decided that hanging around Doctor Who forums is a bit like hanging out in a shopping centre with a bunch of teenagers on a Sunday evening. Occasionally you’ll witness a witty exchange of banter, a decent rap battle, a spot of genuine affection from a young couple, a dazzling display of skateboarding. But most of it is people trading insults and showing off. Occasionally a bottle of alcopop gets thrown at a window, although if you’re lucky you can avoid the crossfire: ‘Hide post’ is the equivalent of taking an abrupt right turn into the alley that cuts through past Card Factory and the back of New Look and through to the bus stop, where (mother of mercy) the 8:13 will be along any time now.

Why do it? I get this question thrown at me regularly, mostly by people who are far more sensible and who have full time jobs and who don’t understand (or have simply forgotten) the blood, sweat and tears that go into procrastination when you’re filling in the spare minutes between piano lessons or waiting for an article to go live. Yes, I know the kitchen needs cleaning; I’ll do it later. In all seriousness it’s mostly about people watching. It is by observing them, lurking silently and engaging when you have to, that you find out what makes them tick. There are sociological benefits: we think we understand the fans, but perhaps we cannot say this is truly the case until we have walked a mile in their Converse boots, or at the very least followed at a respectable distance, clearing up the misunderstandings.

In any event – when you hang around the forums, certain phrases jump out at you. “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey” is bandied about more than a geek’s underpants in a school changing room. “The Doctor lies” is another. Both are typically employed in situations where someone wants to contribute to a technical discussion whilst having absolutely nothing of any value to say. Laura Marling titled her second album I Speak Because I Can, which is a noble sentiment unless all that comes out of your mouth is irrelevant drivel.

But here’s one I see a lot. It’s one that deserves discussion – decent, consolidated discussion, which basically means everything I’ve ever written about it on Facebook, conveniently collected into a lengthy fan-baiting article. It’s the “Don’t skip Nine” thing – for the uninitiated, the fearful, almost fanatical devotion that self-proclaimed ‘serious’ fans have towards respecting the legacy of Eccleston, to the extent that they will cajole, ridicule and bully any other fans who say that they’re not particularly taken with him.  And it strikes me, having encountered it for years, that we have to clear this up. We have to clear it up because it is a talking point, because it says a lot about what’s wrong with the fandom, and because posts about it are endemic. Seriously. I’m looking at one right now. “Respect the first series,” it says, “and don’t skip it”.

At first glance it seems there is a bit of a straw man thing going on here. I’ve been wallowing in the murky depths of fandom for longer than I care to count and, despite looking very hard, I have yet to actually encounter anyone who says “Do skip Nine”. There are plenty of people who advocate watching it however you want (which is – to throw in a spoiler – basically what I was planning on doing for the rest of this post). But then you do a little digging and you discover that all too often, the Eccleston series gets missed off the American network broadcasts, and as it turns out it is these broadcasts that provide the only Doctor Who that many people the other side of the pond get to see. And thus, when hard-up high school students who can’t afford Netflix grumble that they never get to see the Eccleston episodes and is it really worth seeking them out specially, they’re typically reassured by well-meaning fans who say “No, it’s fine, you can jump ahead if you wan-”

“DON’T SKIP NINE!!!!”

Or, if you want to be marginally more polite, “Respect the first series and don’t skip – ” Look, if I really have to unpack this then let’s get a few things straight: first and foremost, if we’re counting, it wasn’t the first series. It was the twenty-seventh. It’s the first if you count Nu Who as a reboot – which I kind of do, most days, because while many people maintain it’s a single show that gradually evolves, there are still watershed moments and there is a colossal sea change between 1989 and 2005. ‘Rose’ is incredibly different to ‘Survival’. Really it is. Oh, you can talk about common threads and nods to Pertwee, but stylistically, structurally and tonally there is a huge chasm between Seven and Nine: it’s like a great big fiery ravine, with the 1996 TV movie standing in as one of those wobbly bridges that is in danger of bursting into flames and collapsing at any moment.

I don’t think you need to cross that bridge, necessarily. There is no problem with starting in the modern era and leaving it there. The past is another country, a Shangri La (literally, if Ken Dodd has anything to do with it) of strange and wonderful delights, but let’s deal with the elephant in the room: a lot of Classic Who is slow and doddery and while I love it to bits, it really isn’t for everyone. If we’re ever going to move on, we need to accept that some of it is boring. I still haven’t seen ‘Meglos’. It’s partly because the Target cover scared the crap out of me when I found it, as an uninitiated ten-year-old, in our local library, but it’s also because I’ve just never bothered and from what I can gather I haven’t missed very much. Those of you who are in here regularly will know that I write for The Doctor Who Companion, which periodically puts out feelers for new staff. When Phil (the site’s co-founder and editor-in-chief) was on one of his previous recruiting drives he included the following: “You have to like the show, but it really doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen every episode”.

Here’s the thing: half the people who are shouting “Don’t skip Nine” (and I know this, because I’ve talked to them) are happy to wallow in blissful ignorance when it comes to their knowledge of pre-2005 Doctor Who. “Oh, it’s not the same thing,” they say when I bring it up. “Because, you know, it’s a clean break. But there’s so much in that first series that defines what follows. If you don’t watch Eccleston, you don’t know about how he met Jack and Rose and how he helped Jack and how Rose helped him. You don’t know about Bad Wolf and so ‘Day of the Doctor’ makes no sense, and you don’t know how the Ninth was born in battle, full of blood and anger and reven-”

OK, stop. You’re quoting now and it’s embarrassing. I mean, I get all that; honestly I do. But it works on the other side of the coin. I have never been comfortable with this idea of the Doctor as a composite – it always strikes me he’s a dazzlingly inconsistent character who was written to reflect whatever attitudes the writers of the day wanted to advocate. But if we must see him this way, then we need to start at the beginning. For example, if you skip Hartnell, the significance of companions in the Doctor’s life will be lost on you. You’ll never really understand Donna’s words at the end of ‘The Runaway Bride’, and why he really does need someone with him. If you skip Troughton, you’ll miss out on why the Doctor was running, and why the clownlike persona that later informs Smith’s era is actually a facade, even though a number of people find it irritating.

If you skip Pertwee, you don’t understand the Doctor’s ambivalent relationship towards the military, and how the Brigadier’s actions at the end of the Silurians are echoed, to a certain extent, in ‘The Christmas Invasion’, and you’ll fail to grasp the Doctor’s relationship with Sarah Jane; hence most of ‘School Reunion’ will go over your head. If you skip Baker (the first), you’ll never fully understand ‘The Witch’s Familiar’. If you skip Davison, you won’t understand why the death of Adric haunted the Doctor for years, and had a keen bearing on the way the Eleventh Doctor developed. If you skip Baker (the second), you’ll miss out on a crucial plot development that informs, at least in part, the War Doctor’s eventual decision to use the Moment. If you skip McCoy, you’ll miss out on the gradual darkening of the Doctor that is the first stage of his road towards the Time War.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

There’s a problem with that little rant, and it is this: it’s possible to enjoy ‘School Reunion’ without having seen ‘Hand of Fear’. Consequently, it is equally possible to enjoy ‘Utopia’ without having seen ‘Parting of the Ways’. And yet the Eccleston warriors persist in their hundreds, insisting that he must never be skipped. It’s all very noble (sorry, that’s the wrong companion, surely?) but it betrays a certain hypocrisy, because when you actually confront indignant fans – you know, the ones who insist there is only one way to watch Doctor Who, and that’s from the ‘beginning’, right the way through – then the argument collapses faster than a house of cards that was sitting on a table at the onset of a small, localised earthquake. It turns out that many of these people have not seen Troughton. For them, the beginning is 2005, and everything that precedes it is commentary. I know this because I have checked.

And it goes further: I have to have the same conversations with Classic puritans for whom 1963 was the Alpha and 1989 a kind of Omega, and everything that follows that is commentary. Both theories have their advocates, but what about Big Finish? If I was to say that the only way to have a full appreciation of the show was to listen to the hours of supplementary audio material that accompanies it, could you really argue with me? What about the books? The comics? The video games? Where do you draw the line? Canon, you say? All right, what’s that?

You get this sort of double standard all over the forums. Just the other day, for example, I had an altercation with a fan who took umbrage with the Thirteenth Doctor’s ‘cruel’ or ‘cowardly’ behaviour in a few hand-picked (and misrepresented) scenarios: her callous treatment of the spiders, for example, or the irresponsible manner in which she flushes the P’Ting into outer space where it will presumably inflict more damage. “Not only has this Doctor forgotten the promise,” he griped, “She doesn’t even know what the promise means.”

Well. First and foremost, the ‘promise’ is a shameless bit of retconning from Moffat, albeit retconning I’m happy to endorse on the grounds that it’s his remit (and, as this chap pointed out, “Every episode since 1963 is to all intents and purposes a retcon”. But that’s kind of the point. The ‘cruel and cowardly’ thing was an off-the-cuff Dicks remark that later became a myth, albeit of the fluffy sort. It’s mostly harmless, but preaching it as some kind of orthodox liturgy does the Doctor something of a disservice, given that he’s broken it on multiple occasions throughout the years: witness the destruction of Skaro, ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, the Ogron who got shot in the back, the climax of ‘The Dominators’ (and please don’t get me started on Hartnell). Frequently the Doctor will casually blow something up and then walk away without a second thought. Sometimes he’ll even crack a joke (sit down, ‘Vengeance on Varos’, the macaroons are in the oven). The Doctor has no business being a role model of any sort – and if you’re going to chew out Whittaker, you have to chew out every single one of them.

I don’t have a problem with people who think Eccleston’s series is important. It is, even though I never really took to him as the Doctor. I also agree with the notion that watching it gives you a decent grounding in things that happen later, just as I maintain that a decent knowledge of the Peladon stories is helpful when you’re watching ‘Empress of Mars’. Things only become unpleasant when you decide that your own particular approach is the only sensible way to watch Who – in other words, when it is used (as it frequently is on the internet) as a stick with which to beat other fans. That’s when it gets sticky, if you’ll pardon the obvious pun. When I eat scones, I start with butter, then add a layer of jam, and then a healthy dollop of cream. In Devon, they do it the other way round. Believe it or not, I’m OK with this, just as I am OK with people who have sugar in their coffee. Why should there be only one way to skin a cat?

If you wanted to watch Doctor Who, you could start at the very beginning and work your way through. Or you could start at 2005 and then go back to the Classic episodes when you’re done with series 11. Or you could do as I did, and dip in and out, watching old stories in between the new ones. Watch a different story for each Classic Doctor and then investigate the ones you like. Or skip the eighties entirely; many people do. There is no ‘right’ or ‘best’ way of doing it. There is the approach that works for you, and that’s all that matters. Certain things are improved when watched in order – ‘Earthshock’ loses a certain something, for example, if it is the first Adric story you’ve seen. Conversely you can watch ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ having never seen ‘An Unearthly Child’ – or anything with Davros, for that matter – and you’ll be quite content. This is a show about time travel, and if some things happen out of order, it’s not a big deal. Welcome to the Doctor’s universe.

So skip Nine if you want. No one worth their salt will care, and anyone who lectures you about it isn’t worth engaging with. As with any other Doctor, he lifts right out and it’s possible to enjoy the show for what it is having never seen him. You’ll miss out on the gas mask zombies, one of the finest (and most fearsome) creations ever to grace our screens, but you’ll also miss ‘Boom Town’. Every cloud has a silver lining, just as every rose has its thorn. And believe it or not, there are some Roses you don’t have to pick.

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“Garth. That was a haiku.”

This, dear children, is how I’ve been spending World Poetry Day. Because why not? And yes, a number of Doctors are missing, but I’ll write more next year. Probably. You might even get a sonnet.

In the meantime, have fun. And as a footnote, that last one is something that I actually read this week, and is perhaps the best example I can give right now of a fandom that is apparently broken.

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What is Jodie staring at?

I don’t know, it was probably in The Guardian or something.

It’s one of those enigmatic, thoughtful shots, and not just because of the critical thinking pose. The way the eyes are cast up, not necessarily in contemplation but in anticipation of something that is either out of shot or invisible to all but the woman looking at it. There are a bunch of publicity shots like these when the broadsheets are running an interview and usually the art is in the composition, but this is even more abstract than most. That doesn’t even look like a real table. It’s like a slab of blue, as if Jodie was folding her right arm over a JPEG.

Anyway, it was crying out for a Photoshop or something, and I kept getting ideas, and I wound up doing a whole series of them. So here they are, and if anyone has any requests, I’ll make more. You know where to write.

In the meantime…

 

 

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Are you the gatekeeper?

Here is a public service announcement: the following piece contains some strong language, and is also a bit of a rant.

Today, folks, we’re exploring fandom. It’s something I do quite a lot, probably too much, but the mysterious duplicity of it has long interested me. It is a source of both fascination and revulsion; a complicated hotbed of passion and devotion and hatred, a twisted car crash of a thing. Because sometimes fandom gets ugly. In a world of extremes it is the best and the worst of us.

If you’ve been around social media in the past week chances are you’ve run into this story, so I won’t recount it in detail, although the screen grabs are reproduced below. It tells the tale of an unpleasant encounter at SuperCon, which is apparently in Florida, although that was new information. It was posted by someone called valeria2067; I haven’t bothered looking her up. I don’t think it would make a difference in this case. She was approached by an older man at the food court – to be specific, her eleven-year-old daughter was – not long after they’d both met Peter Capaldi. I’ll let valeria take it from here.

As a journalist I have learned to read and report between the lines. You never get the full story; there are words left off the transcript, missing dates, unrecounted deeds. It’s very easy to read a single source and assume you have the full picture, or to read something emotive and feel exactly what you are expected to feel. I have – for reasons I don’t care to unpack – experienced this at close hand these past few months, with half-stories blown out of proportion, vital information left scandalously unreported. The other side is less interesting and therefore ignored, but it is no less worthy. There is is a crack in everything: that’s where the truth gets in.

So I have been turning this story over and over in my head, trying desperately to envisage a scenario in which this conversation may be the clumsily phrased small talk of a socially inept but nonetheless well-intentioned older man. This has nothing to do with apologetics, or gender defence. I just get angry when people jump to conclusions. There is a mob mentality about the world right now: this need for clear heroes and despicable villains. Did you ever see Titanic? Do you remember how Billy Zane played a narcissistic sociopath who was utterly one-dimensional, purely so we could applaud Kate Winslet for cheating on him? That’s kind of the way things are now. It is not enough for Donald Trump to be incompetent, he has to be downright evil as well. (He may be both, of course. Actually he probably is. I’m sure this was going somewhere.)

No, the truth is not the brilliant light of clarity but the murky grey of ambivalence. Perhaps this woman is not reporting the conversation as it happened – there are missing lines of dialogue, crucial game-changing giveaways that didn’t make the transcript. We’ll be here all day if we start down that road, so for the sake of the argument (and because I instinctively want to trust her) let’s assume that what she’s written down is what was said. Perhaps she overreacted. Perhaps the guy was being genuinely friendly, and just phrased his questions with the sort of awkwardness that comes from watching too much TV and conducting the bulk of your conversations over social media, where you get time to change a sentence before anybody gets to see or hear it. Years ago a friend of mine suggested a dystopian novel in which the internet crashes and millions of people find it impossible to engage in real-world dialogue because they’ve forgotten how, leaving a bunch of Luddites to rise up and take control of everything. I’m still waiting for her to write it; if she doesn’t I may pinch the idea myself.

That’s the sort of thing I could almost envisage happening here. Someone who is nice, but who doesn’t know how to talk to kids. Could that be what’s happened, perhaps? A nice man who wasn’t gatekeeping at all, but who was just trying to talk to a younger fan because he was lonely and none of the girls were interested? So I went through this woman’s post and picked it apart and tried to find the weak spots, the moments she built up a defensive wall, perhaps because of past experience, the inconsistencies, the nuances of assumed guilt that may have spawned from reading a situation in the wrong way.

And guess what? I found nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip.

Because there is no excuse for this man’s behaviour. None. This isn’t a nice guy engaging in an awkward conversation because he doesn’t know how to have a sensible one. This is a gatekeeping dickwad. There is no “other side” to this story, no get-out clause in the face of agenda setting. This is someone who makes the rest of us looks bad – not because he expresses his appreciation for a common interest through reprehensible behaviour, but because through our actions we have helped to create him.

Let’s start with the opening gambit: “Do you even know anything about Doctor Who?” That’s not how you start small talk. That’s a straight-up rhetorical question. That assumes lack of knowledge, based in all likelihood on age, gender and costume choice. He saw a kid meeting the Twelfth Doctor and instantly assessed her worth as a fan. It is value judgement central. It is an inappropriate way to begin a conversation with an adult; for a child it is unforgivable. This is not Alec Guinness diplomatically pleading with a child to watch something other than Star Wars, only for the conversation to be irrevocably warped by thirty years of Chinese whispers. This is just rudeness, plain and unambiguous.

I have no doubt that this man’s choices were marked by his engagement of and experience with younger members of the fanbase. There is a skewed bias towards Nu Who among the discussion groups because it is accessible and contemporary and frankly easier on the eyes than some of the old stuff. There is no point getting grumpy about it. No doubt this grizzled veteran is sick of the Best Doctor polls that routinely run in Facebook groups and online publications, in which Tennant is usually at the top. That’s what happens with polls. They’re filled out by a selective audience. Years ago there were two X-Factor finalists, and the less objectively talented one emerged victorious because he was younger, prettier and Scottish. That’s the way of things. It’s a karaoke competition; we move on.

Having assumed a lack of knowledge, he then fires off a list of questions, the sort of thing you get asked when you apply to join certain groups. When requested to stop, he attempts to justify himself, and fails simply because his cause is rooted in snobbery. How dare you, whispers the subtext behind every question, how dare you bring your daughter up as a fan without doing it the way I would? There is a sense of elitism about it: that certain Doctors are more worth your time, that if you don’t know this or you haven’t seen that then you’re not watching the show properly. The words ‘True Whovian’ are flung about by experienced and fresh and young and old alike, and they mean nothing and should be banned from usage full stop. (I don’t like the word ‘Whovian’ generally, actually, but let’s not go there just now.) Everyone sets the bar in a different place and thus the entire concept is meaningless – her idea of appropriate dedication is different to yours, so how come you get to be right and she doesn’t? It’s patently ludicrous. A fan is a fan regardless of whether they’ve seen only one series or [Googles] all thirty-seven.

Sometimes newer fans make mistakes, but that’s not an excuse for beating them over the head. Listen: uber-fandom is not a fucking badge of honour. There is nothing noble, nothing venerable, about knowing more than everyone else. It makes you a handy person to have on a pub quiz team, but that’s it. Gareth – yes, we’re still in touch – has forgotten more about Doctor Who than I’m ever likely to know, but do you think I spend hours emailing him purely because he knows things? He has seen and read just about everything pre-‘Robot of Sherwood’ (which is where he lost all interest) but he doesn’t brag about it. He answers questions when I ask him for help – usually with something I’m writing – but he has never set himself up as a source of all knowledge, and has never lorded it over me, because if he did I wouldn’t be talking to him.

Let’s move down the chain. I know more than many of the people I talk to online, largely because of the kind of groups in which I’ve made a home for myself. That in itself is nothing to be proud of. I use my knowledge to help people when they need it. Usually they’re polite. When they dig their heels in or are unpleasant, that’s when I get scornful. But I remember what it was like to know nothing. I remember hanging out with a bunch of Who fans in Cambridge and asking them about stories I’d never seen. There was no arrogance in their answers, no sense of superiority. They just told me what I needed to know. They were nice. Did you ever think there’s a place for that? Maybe we’re just not very nice these days, simply because there’s no time. We use our love of the show as a defence. Who cares how you treat other people, as long as Doctor Who is left untarnished?

Do I think Davison was better than Eccleston? Undoubtedly. Do I care that other people don’t? Not in the least. If someone thinks Tennant’s final episode was moving, then that’s fine. If they proclaim him as “the greatest Doctor ever” without having seen Pertwee, or Troughton, or Baker, I’ll probably say “That’s fair enough, I’m glad you like him, but have you considered watching…?”. But I’ll do so politely and in an appropriate context. I wouldn’t say it to an eleven-year-old. Or if I did, I certainly wouldn’t start a conversation with it, particularly when it was someone I didn’t know. I don’t even do it with my own children. Daniel is nine and has seen all the new stories and a few of the old. Tennant is his favourite. I don’t care. I have known wise twelve-year-olds who have memorised entire sequences from ‘The Dominators’; I have known octogenarians who got into the show in 2005. Age is irrelevant.

There is one thing we haven’t discussed, and that’s the possibility of learning difficulties. Thomas started secondary school the other week; his transition days in July proceeded mostly without incident although there was one run-in with a senior member of staff who assumed (incorrectly) that he and another boy with similar issues were being rude, merely because they phrased something rather differently to the way you would expect from someone who was neurotypical (or allistic, or whatever I’m allowed to say now). Basically he forgot about the autism; I’m keeping an eye on things. Is there a possibility this man had Asperger’s? The way the story is recounted – particularly in terms of his body language – it’s doubtful. Do we let him off the hook if he does? Yes, we probably do. But I don’t think it’s a factor. I’ve spent over a decade dealing with autism on a daily basis, and I’m not picking up any of the signs; there are no alarm bells ringing.

I don’t get angry too much these days. My list of pet peeves is a litany of small things. “I loathe burnt toast,” says McCoy, before reminiscing about bus stations. I get angry with tailgaters. Nuisance calls and scammers targeting old people are another target. There’s not much else. People on the internet make me sad, but that’s the way people are when they can say what they like without consequences. You shake your head and hug your family, and think no more on it.

But for one reason or another, this has made my blood boil. This is not the way the world should be. As fans, we need to do better. As men, we need to do better. As so-called adults, we need to do better. I don’t believe (and have never believed) that the message of Doctor Who is kindness, but it’s a lesson we could nonetheless do with learning. I saw it this morning: a new user started a thread in a group asking about numbering, and the response from the rest of the group was to troll him with GIFs and sarcastic comments. Not one of them, it seemed, stopped to consider that perhaps he was simply confused. There are others who start conversations saying how much they love Clara. They are trolled and ridiculed. And these same people, those doing the scoffing and jeering, are the ones ranting about conversations like the one Valeria experienced at SuperCon. Even I’m doing it – taking the moral high ground when I know that my behaviour online is often less than exemplary. Perhaps we should be cleaning our own house, ere we cast a broom round the kitchens of others.

Still. To the guy who did this? I know you’ve probably read all manner of unpleasantness in the last few days, and have languished in obscurity, desperate to come out and clear your name (as you consider it) but daring not to because of the abuse you’ll undoubtedly receive. I have a funny feeling the bulk of your critics will be women, because the rebuttals and defences I’ve encountered have been from men. But I do not want to turn this into a gender-based argument, because this is as much about the culture of fandom as it is about anything else. I could envisage an identical situation where you would have approached a small boy and treated him in the same manner; I suspect that your conscious decision was to practice age-based gatekeeping, but that you saw this girl as an easy target.

Gender isn’t the be-all and end-all, but it is a factor. So as a man myself, I say this. Shame on you. Shame on you for assuming your loyalty gives you a stake, an ownership, or any say at all in how other fans engage with your pet obsession. Shame on you for thinking you can dictate terms of fandom. Shame on you, and shame on us all, men and women and fans and non-fans alike, for breeding the sort of culture where we allow this to happen.

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Doctor Who Does Mindfulness

Hurrah! It’s Mindfulness Day, folks, whatever that is. Supposedly it’s a day to promote mindfulness – the concept of being focused on the here and now and being mindful of what you’re doing, which is something that happens less these days than we’d like to hope it dows. Mindful eating, for example, is tasting every mouthful, concentrating on the food as it passes over the teeth and across the taste nerves and down the back of the throat as it is chewed and swallowed. Mindful breathing is tantamount to meditation. At my son’s school they do mindful reading, or as I call it, ‘reading’.

We’ve briefly discussed mindfulness before – last time was a nod to the Ladybird books, and I really ought to think about doing a part two for that at some point. Today we’re going to talk about genuine mindfulness, and thus I have assembled a selection of quotes and mantras and Advice For Living, from a variety of sources. And I’ve married them with images from Doctor Who. All entirely appropriate and not at all silly. Honest, guv.

If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment live in the breath

Drama does not just walk into our lives either we create it invite it or associate with it

the present moment is full of joy and happiness if you are attentive you will see it

the things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand they are moments when we touch one another

do not dwell in the past do not dream of the future concentrate the mind on the present moment

to think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth the problem is to see reality as it is

open the window of your mind allow the fresh air new lights and new truths to enter

many people are alive but don't touch the miracle of being alive

you can't stop the waves but you can learn to surf

wherever you are be there totally

nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know

you only lose what you cling to

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