Videos

The Smallerpictures video dump (part two)

Hello again. The catch-up session showcasing the most average Doctor Who material on the internet continues in earnest this morning – with four videos, all done over the course of a single month. This is unprecedented but they’re all fairly short and I was on a roll. And if you missed part one, you can find it here.

Right, where were we?

 

5. The Badger Song

The Badger Song is older than YouTube. I will let that sink in for a moment.

It hails from the days when Flash was cheap and easy to stream (and this is the moment some smart alec shows up in the comments and tell me it was animated with a different package). There’s something lovably silly about it; this fusion of badgers and fungi and SNAAAAAKES, a novelty record that is so thoroughly pointless that its lack of purpose itself becomes the point. The song turned fifteen at the beginning of September, so for obvious reasons I married it with footage from ‘The Sontaran Experiment’, ‘The Green Death’, ‘Kinda’ and ‘Snakedance’ – but first and foremost from ‘The Monster of Peladon’. MUSHROOM! MUSHROOM!

 

6. Day of the Doctor, Bonus Edition

Oh, Steven. What a can of worms you opened with this scene. It was a delicious, genuinely crowd-pleasing moment, but it makes no sense. I can accept that Capaldi turns up because the calculations weren’t quite done yet – but if that’s the case, how come Smith remembers the whole thing? Surely the persistence of memory is a luxury reserved solely for the oldest Doctor in residence? Or does it not count because there are several TARDIS doors and a few miles of space between them? And come to think of it, why is the First Doctor – whose control of his craft was so poor he could have shot for the moon from six feet away and missed – suddenly able to expertly pilot his TARDIS to precisely the right location at the exact moment he’s needed?

I wrote a little vignette over the summer that comes to explain – via extreme headcanon – precisely how the Twelfth Doctor came to be present in the skies over Gallifrey, but why on earth would you stop there? Because even if he’s the last, there are still a bunch of other Doctors you could use. Peter Cushing, for example, now that he’s supposedly canon. Or Rowan Atkinson. Or…well, I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say there were other incarnations I’d like to have shoehorned, but the lack of decent quality footage made it rather difficult. Needless to say I got some flak from this, largely from people who complained that it was anti-Whittaker. It categorically isn’t. But paranoia runs deep within the Whovian fandom; we live with it.

 

7. Ceiling Drop

Ha ha. Yes, we get it. It’s a glass ceiling and she’s broken it. Or somebody did. Either way it shatters, the fragments whirling and swirling around the new Doctor in a visually impressive, Matrix-style swoop. It’s not exactly subtle, and it does smack of troll-baiting, which may not be a bad thing (and certainly not something I’m about to condemn, seeing as it’s a hobby of mine). Whittaker glances through the fourth wall and mutters “Whoops”, which apparently gave her opponents all the ammunition they needed – “LOOK AT HER! SHE’S NOT A CARING DOCTOR!”. The rest of us rolled our eyes.

Several people pointed out that the ceiling is not unlike the one that Tennant fell through at the close of ‘The End of Time’ (supposedly Tredegar House in Newport, although having never watched Doctor Who Confidential I have no idea how they did that spaceship jump). I decided to splice them into a single sequence, kept deliberately short for the sake of not milking the joke. It just about hangs together, which is more than you can say for the ceiling.

 

8. There’s No Noddy

Believe it or not there is fan fiction about this scene. It features a flashback to the Eighth Doctor hanging out with Noddy and the other Toytown inhabitants. I think they were in a cave somewhere. Sadly there aren’t enough pictures of McGann’s Doctor on the internet and in any case no one does the deer-in-headlights look quite like Tennant, with the exception of Capaldi, and that doesn’t even make sense. I have thus pushed poor old Gareth Roberts’ amusing aside to breaking point, but the Photoshops were fun to do. You may be interested to learn that this little montage was playing in my head for years before I actually got round to making it, and it was always scored to ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard’. So that’s what you can hear.

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The smallerpictures video dump (part one)

If you’re a regular reader here at the not-so-hallowed halls of Brian of Morbius, you will notice that one particular category has been somewhat neglected of late. The videos tab hasn’t seen any action in months. I used to do a separate blog entry for every video I created. Extensive notes on the genesis, making-of process and public reaction. Some of them ran to over a thousand words.

I don’t get time anymore. Part of it is actually having the time but having more worthwhile things to fill it with. I used to chip away at paragraphs when I was supposed to be working, during the quiet moments or the hours I simply couldn’t face doing that report. It was irresponsible and dishonest and it’s a miracle I didn’t get caught. These days I’ll vacuum the lounge. Well, when you have four kids and you had rice the previous evening, it’s the only way to stop things growing on the carpet.

The long and the short of it is that we’ve had a bunch of stuff appearing on YouTube over the last few months and most of it hasn’t even got a mention. If I were of a mind to do so, I’d give each video its own separate entry, the way I used to. But I have another book to start and in any case we’re about to get crazy with series 11. So a two-part digest – with a couple of paragraphs’ commentary for each video – is all you get, and will probably make for a better piece as a result.

If you subscribe to the smallerpictures YouTube channel you’ll have seen these already – the same applies if you’re following me on Facebook. If you’re not doing either, may I take this opportunity to politely extend an invitation? We could chat and everything.

In the meantime:

1. March: The Doctor’s Wife, Revisited

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy turned forty this year. We’re the same age, although we don’t share a birthday. Everyone has their own favourite iteration of Douglas Adams’ magnum opus, although no one likes the film very much; even two famous Bills (Nighy and Bailey) and the great Alan Rickman weren’t enough to save it from desperate mediocrity. But the TV series is still quite wonderful, as I found out when I watched it again recently with the kids. Joshua has this year finished the quintet and has even attempted to read And Another Thing, the Eoin Colfer-penned follow-up that nobody asked for and comparatively few people enjoyed.

Somewhere along the line I thought it would be fun to drop Eddie, the ship’s computer, into ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ as a replacement for House. I know I didn’t come up with the idea for this all by myself. It may or may not have been one of those group posts where I asked people for help, which is what happens when I get stuck. I genuinely can’t remember. Sadly the end result is a disaster. It’s clunky and disjointed and Eddie’s dialogue really doesn’t work; it feels enjambed, like the worst bits of Moffat’s dialogue. The bit where Amy is kneeling over Rory’s corpse and the computer is singing? Yeuch. Horrible. What the hell was I thinking? It’s worse than the Star Wars Holiday Special; I ought to pulp it from existence.

The one saving grace is Talkie Toaster. That kind of works. The rest is crap. It’s here for curation purposes only. You’ve been warned. Don’t watch it. Move on. Scroll. C’mon, scroll, dammit.

 

2. April: Love and Monsters, reversed

For the most part, backwards videos are a quick fix: they come about when I have a pressing need to do something but comparatively little time. You just run the score free dialogue track through semi-decent audio editing software and then sync it with the muted video, and then cut and paste as you see fit. You don’t even have to worry about copyright infringement, providing you’re using rights-free background music, and there’s plenty of that hanging around.

Every time I do a backwards video someone brings up the bloody Twin Peaks thing, and so on this occasion I set out to do something that was as David Lynch as…well all right, it’s not really David Lynch, but it’s a good deal more David Lynch than some of my other stuff. This isn’t an isolated scene, more a carefully arranged sequence (yes, sometimes there is actually some thought involved in these things) that spans the entire episode, from the opening Scooby Doo reference to Elton’s closing monologue. The end result is, I hope, a little bit spooky – or at least weird; weird is acceptable middle ground. I adore ‘Love And Monsters’, which gets trashed for all the wrong reasons, but various people who didn’t like it have cited this as an improvement, so I guess that’s a win.

 

3. May: Peppa Pig Still Can’t Whistle

We don’t watch Peppa Pig in our house. It’s not a protest or anything. We just can’t get Channel 5. In any case, iPlayer keeps everyone busy and I can do without accidentally running into the ridiculous travesty that is Thomas The Tank Engine. But even I couldn’t avoid this, which went all over BuzzFeed (no, I’m not linking; they don’t need the traffic) – the Peppa episode that has Peppa grousing that she can’t whistle, before hanging up on Suzie (who can) in spectacular style. The clip went viral, and the animated GIFs were used as a reaction for just about everything. My initial thoughts were to have Peppa call the Eleventh Doctor, but as it turns out this conversation with Donna (actually two, if you look carefully) from the 2008 Sontaran episodes fitted perfectly. Oink.

 

4. June: Fraggle Rock

This is exactly what it says on the tin. I hadn’t done an intro sequence for what felt like ages, and when someone posted the opening credits to Jim Henson’s 1980s classic on Facebook I noticed that an awful lot of it consisted of Gobo running down up and down corridors. Something clicked, and the rest was easy. Not to blow my own air horn too much, but I have to say I’m quite proud of this one.

 

Part two is available here.

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The War Master in the Night Garden

In 2007, Doctor Who fans were gifted with the finest Master to grace the screen since Roger Delgado. He was suave, he was eloquent, he was angry and malicious, he was…well, he was British, which probably helped. Unfortunately he lasted only a minute and a half before getting shot by an insect and regenerating into John Simm.

It was such a pity. Derek Jacobi was born to play the Master, and for just a moment or two, he did it brilliantly. His replacement was a gurning, dancing clown, manic and ridiculous and – it must be acknowledged – perfectly matched opposite Tennant, but not always an easy watch. Things didn’t improve when he returned with a hoodie, an inexplicable penchant for cannibalism and a secret plan for cloning himself, leading to what is affectionately known as the show’s Being John Malkovich moment. It would be years before we saw the version of the Simm Master that I’d always wanted to see – sneering, reserved and (for a change) respectably dressed, and even if that turns out to be his last appearance, his turn in ‘The Doctor Falls’ was a cracking way to go out.

But enough of this, because we were here to discuss Jacobi – who, having turned in a memorable performance in ‘Utopia’, promptly toddled away back into the land of romantic comedy-dramas, bad sitcoms and the occasional CBeebies bedtime story. He tangoed in Halifax, helped build the Titanic and endured a love-hate relationship with Magneto. Recently we saw him lock horns with the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society in A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. But of his Master, there was nothing – until last December, when he teamed up for a Big Finish audio series entitled Only The Good, in which we got to see the reincarnated renegade in action during the Time War, before he fled to the end of the universe.

What to say about the War Master set? Well, it’s broadly good, although it opens with a largely inconsequential opening story with people I didn’t care about on a forgettable planet that’s being besieged by Daleks. Stories two and four are better, although in one of them the Master is at his most un-Masterlike (the title of this particular story is ‘The Good Master’, so it’s not exactly a spoiler) and it’s initially rather disconcerting to witness him behaving like the disguised human he would eventually become. Of the four, ‘Sky Man’ is far and away the best, despite – or perhaps because – it is a story in which the Master barely features, instead allowing his erstwhile companion Cole to take centre stage. Cole himself is worthy, if rather dull, but if the story’s conclusion is more or less mapped out in its opening conversation it’s still devastatingly effective when it happens.

It also definitively answers one of the questions that the fans have been arguing about for years: namely, was it really Jacobi’s Master in the Time War? The naysayers point out that he states he was ‘a naked child found on the coast of the silver devastation’; similarly John Smith remembers growing up in Ireland with his parents Sydney and Verity, but that’s fabricated, fourth wall-breaking codswallop. This is a slightly younger, sprightlier version of the man we saw in ‘Utopia’ – a man saddled with the weight of twenty years of fruitless labour and a lifetime of false memories, plus the aforementioned insect. Bringing him back was a no-brainer. If you want a resurrected Time War Master, and Jacobi is a narrative fit, why the hell wouldn’t you sign him up if he was available and willing?

It’s a pity we won’t get to see this incarnation meet up with John Hurt: that would have been a heck of a show (and yes, I know it kind of undermines the series 3 arc; don’t tell me they couldn’t have found a workaround for that). But three decent stories out of four seems to be par for the course for BF sets these days, and it’s fun to hear Jacobi casually toss aside supporting characters like sacrificial pawns, outwit the Daleks and occasionally struggle with his conscience – or at least appear to struggle. Unfortunately the story’s conclusion makes a second series rather difficult, for reasons I won’t give away (although you’ve likely figured them out already), and it seems a shame to essentially ditch this new incarnation of the Master just as we’re getting to know him.

But here’s how you terrify your kids: you get them to sit through ‘Utopia’ just before bed, and then you put the In The Night Garden soundtrack on the bedroom CD player.

My views on In The Night Garden are well-documented, if by well-documented you mean eight hundred and fifty words defending the BBC and a couple of doctored photos. I love it because it works and because I do not understand why it works. If that sounds a little odd, it’s because these days it’s mostly anomalous – fan theory is endemic in just about everything, and it is a strange phenomenon, in this enlightened age, to enjoy something because you don’t get it. Twenty-first century media is all about the How and Why, and it’s killing the industry: the rare glimpses behind the scenes that we got in the 70s and 80s are now a regular fixture; outtakes and bloopers have spread like a rash on YouTube; we know everything about a story before we see even the first trailer. One can only hope that Chibnall’s reign – taking place, as it does, behind a security net to rival a Presidential visit, or even a Blade Runner location shoot – goes some way towards reinvigorating the show and bringing back the sense of wonder it once had, and he’s only going to manage that if he slows down on the goddamn press releases.

But no, In The Night Garden is wonderful television: calm, serene and just the right side of weird. Of course grown-ups find it odd. Grown-ups aren’t the target audience. This is TV for the very young, meticulously researched and painstakingly constructed, something that seems to escape the notice of the many parents I talk to who still seem to labour under the ridiculous misapprehension that when the BBC are making TV programmes they simply turn up in a TV studio and wing it. That’s not how it’s done, and the end results look weird because to babies and toddlers the whole world looks weird. (If people really think this is a new thing, they’d be wise to hop onto YouTube and find the little surviving footage that still exists of the oft-forgotten Wizbit. If you’re going to tell me that they’re screwing up our children, it is vital to acknowledge that the process began at least thirty years ago, and probably long before that.)

A while ago, I did a mashup that fused footage from Bing Bunny with some of Mark Rylance’s Wolf Hall dialogue. It was reasonably coherent, and exploring the darker side of Flop’s affable, endless patient personality was the most fun I’d had in a good long while. It also got me into hot water with Aardman, who didn’t like the juxtaposition of ‘adult material’ with programmes meant for kids. The bottom line is that however many disclaimers you include in the description – and however many warnings you tag on the front end – parents are going to let their children watch it, and Aardman were understandably twitchy about compromising the sickeningly wholesome reputation of one of their flagship programmes. (There was the small matter of copyright infringement as well, which I’ve always thought was a little petty given that it was an unmonetised video, but that’s their prerogative.)

But there I was, listening to the War Master set and thinking…wouldn’t it be wonderful to fuse some of the dialogue from this and dump it into a few of the Night Garden episodes? What if the lurid, excessively safe world of Igglepiggle and his friends were bombarded by a quite different and overtly sinister narrator who sounded exactly like the one whose unreconstructed tenor warbles through each of the show’s 100-odd episodes? What if we piled on the filters, added a bit of slow motion and ran the theme song through the editing suite? What could possibly go wrong?

The results, I hope, speak for themselves – and if they’re a little freakish, that’s a good thing. This owes a lot to the black and white Teletubbies video that’s doing the rounds (you know, the one with Joy Division), although it’s less of a mood piece and more of a meditation; it even attempts to tell some sort of story. There are two bits of dialogue, by the way, lifted directly from ‘Utopia’ rather than the War Master set; bonus points to anyone who can work out what they are. And yes, the ending is a bit Blackadder. No apologies.

Oh, and it’s in black and white because it looks cool. Isn’t that a pip?

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The Thirteenth Doctor Revealed. Sort of

Ha! She’s fallen out of the TARDIS! That’s funny, innit? OBVIOUSLY the TARDIS doesn’t want a woman Doctor and OBVIOUSLY it was reacting to this BLASPHEMY and OBVIOUSLY I’m going to ignore the fact that this has happened every time the Doctor’s regenerated, at least since 2005. You may take this as a sign, my friends, a sign that the show we know and love is doomed. I’m now going to sit back and relax over the next few months and watch as Doctor Who goes completely down the pan. And when it does, I won’t say I told you so. Well, I will. Repeatedly, and as loudly as I possibly can.

I unfollowed a Who-themed group this week after it became saturated with people who have made it their life’s work to complain about Jodie Whittaker’s casting. It’s what happens when you’re hands off with moderation. It’s also what happens when you get a bunch of idiots complaining that IF YOU DO NOT LIKE THE NEW DOCTOR YOU ARE NOT A TRUE FAN”, which is confrontational, unnecessary and also complete bollocks. For one thing, the words ‘true fan’ are an absurdly reductionist maxim of a notoriously complicated subject, one that it is not possible to assess objectively simply because Doctor Who is so many things to so many people. No one gets to make that call, not even me. There are plenty of sane, sensible people who are wary about the new Doctor, and to suggest that cautious optimism or blind ambivalence is a sign of a deep-rooted misogyny and pathological fear of change is frankly laughable.

So there are two types of fans: those who shout that the new Doctor will be a disaster, and those who shout back. Those of us in the middle, pleading for moderation and constructive discussion on both sides, have found ourselves largely neutered. I have put up with it for as long as I can. I’m not someone who actively avoids toxic situations – journalists build a career out of conflict, and if you stray too far into the echo chamber it is impossible to find your way out, but even I have my limits. There are better groups run and populated by people with calmer dispositions and sensible genital size. Enough. I will stick to the ridiculous memes, and the occasional video.

Last year I figured out something. People are far more likely to engage with video content if it’s on Facebook. Never mind the number of people you reach; actual post engagement is much higher. In other words, it apparently takes less effort to click and watch a video when it is embedded directly in a timeline feed than it does to click and watch a video that is on YouTube. I refuse to accept that this is a technical issue. I think it’s just laziness, but I can live with that.

The upshot of this is that my YouTube stats are, with one or two exceptions, looking a little bit sad these days, but that’s OK. That’s a reflection of evolving viewing habits. Times must change, and so must I, as a wise man once said, before he aged twenty-five years and then turned into a woman, which is like a Greek myth or something.

So no one has watched the YouTube version of this, but on Facebook, it sort of exploded a bit.

Seriously, this took me, like, an hour. Well, a little longer. I also had to watch enough of Trust Me to find something that would work for the Doctor’s punch line; it’s not quite the ‘bollocks’ I was  hoping for but it’ll do. It’s a little weird that the TARDIS lands in a forest twice in the same series, but it did make editing a little bit easier. The ambient music in the background comes, needless to say, from Cryo Chamber, who are my new favourites.

My page likes jumped about ten per cent off the back of this one video. It’s not even very good, to be honest. I can’t think what else to write about it, except that it seemed like such an obvious joke I’m amazed I didn’t think it up months ago. A few of the dissenters used it as ammunition – “Ha! Yes, of course that’s what the Twelfth would do if he found he’d grown a pair of tits”, but that’s something I can live with. Matthew Graham didn’t expect Gene Hunt to become a poster boy for the Daily Mail, but that’s exactly what happened, so I suppose on a lesser scale I’m in good company. Brilliant.

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The Face of Boe / Captain Jack connection

Sometimes, when you’re creating, you inadvertently open a can of worms. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it is the only way to catch fish. But sometimes you wonder why you bothered. Actually, it’s less that, and more a sense of frustration that the joke has been missed, or that people would rather concentrate on the theory than the comedy. I suppose that’s the nature of fandom, but it is a little like banging your head against a brick wall. Truthfully there is not much to be said about the comedy for this little instalment – it sort of speaks for itself – and thus we will concentrate on the theory, at least for this morning. Business as usual next time, folks.

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. I was toying with the idea of redubbing the Face of Boe with Jack’s voice for a while last year: it was an easy edit, it makes total sense, and it has reasonable comic potential. The Face of Boe appears (properly; ‘Utopia’ doesn’t count, nor does ‘Journey’s End’) in precisely three episodes but there isn’t enough malleable footage in ‘The End of the World’; I stuck therefore with ‘New Earth’, in which the Face of Boe is dying and then isn’t, and ‘Gridlock’, in which he isn’t but then is. Mashed-in dialogue is partly from Doctor Who, partly from Torchwood, and inevitably there’s a bit of singing. Jack is by turns kinky and unexpectedly remorseful, which wasn’t quite the vibe I’d intended, but it sort of works. I had wanted to include ‘The Doctor And I’, but it just didn’t fit somehow. I don’t think we suffer for its absence.

Anyway: I uploaded the thing and it got a few laughs – but it also caused a reasonable amount of confusion in the community. “But…he – he is the Face of Boe!!” spluttered one user. “He said it in an episode! It was confirmed!” Other people were a little less spluttery but still a little put out. “He knew the Doctor,” said someone else. “Called him old friend when they’d never met. Last time he saw Jack outside of the Christmas special he told the Doctor back home they called him the Face of Boe. River Song’s vortex came from a handsome time traveller the headless monks got. It’s him.”

I won’t tell you what I said in private, because it probably breaks obscenity guidelines, but I did take it upon myself to reply to a few of those comments. The truth is – and thinking about it this, more than anything else, is what may have given me the idea to actually put this together – the Jack / Boe thing is one of the most frequently asked technical questions in any of the Doctor Who groups I visit. (The others, incidentally, are “Why did the Doctor start regenerating at Lake Silencio if he was on his final incarnation?”, and “Is the War Doctor really the Ninth Doctor?”, but seriously, let’s not go there today.)

It was the June 2007 when they first aired ‘The Last of the Time Lords’. I was twenty-nine and had just become a second-time father. Thomas wasn’t the easiest of babies and that summer was a heady mixture of sleepless nights, screaming fits and constant feeding, all accompanied by a red sling in which he had to be carried almost constantly, because it was the only way to stop the wailing. Emily would nap when she could and it was for this reason that I watched the series 3 finale without her: she would catch up later, with me standing in the doorway, hovering behind her whispering “Doctor…Doctor…” at the crucial moment. You have to have some fun.

But I remember watching that finale and then grabbing an old friend for a water cooler moment at the office the next morning. “Oh my gosh,” I said. “CAPTAIN JACK IS THE FACE OF BOE!” From what I’ve read, my reaction mirrored that of Barrowman, who allegedly jumped up and down and squealed a bit. Across the nation – the world, come to that, at least the parts of the world that got access to BBC programmes – the reaction was much the same, in all but one quarter, which would be the BBC herself. Because when the episode was repeated with a producer’s commentary, Russell T Davies was heard to mutter “Well, it’s as good an explanation for the Face of Boe as any”, only to have Julie Gardner tell him to “Stop backpedalling”.

Except…it’s watertight, isn’t it? It’s an established fact that Jack spends billions of years evolving into a giant head, isn’t it? Well, actually it isn’t. Things are never that concrete in Whovania, because if they were then we’d have no leeway for fan fiction. If the Fifth Doctor and Peri had gone straight from Sarn to Androzani, years of Big Finish releases with Peri and Erimem would be rendered obsolete. If we’d seen McGann regenerate into Eccleston at the beginning of ‘Rose’, there would be no place for the War Doctor. And if it were definitively and unambiguously established that the TARDIS had developed a fault on its journey to visit the Tribe of Gum, we’d never have had Hunters of the Burning Stone, and the world would be a much better place.

Here are the facts in the case of Jack vs. Boe:

1. The Face of Boe calls the Doctor ‘old friend’ when they meet in ‘New Earth’, despite only having met him the once (according to the Doctor).

2. An abandoned sequence in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ would allegedly have seen Jack literally lose his head at the hands of the Headless Monks, surviving – but only as a head. This was shelved because of Barrowman’s involvement in Miracle Day.

3. In ‘The Pandorica Opens’, River states that she got her vortex manipulator “fresh off the wrist of a handsome time agent”, although that’s all the information we get.

4. As Jack bids farewell to the Doctor and Martha at the end of ‘The Last of the Time Lords’, he ruminates on his fear of physical ageing – something that is apparently happening, albeit as slowly as it affects Wolverine – and wonders what he will look like at the age of a million. He then mentions in passing that this sense of vanity was partly instilled by his youth, when his good looks made him a poster boy for the Boeshane Peninsula. “The Face of Boe, they called me,” he says, before trotting off to what turns out to be a memorable entrance in ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’. (If you haven’t seen it, do so. He has a fight with Spike from Buffy. In a bar. With Blur playing in the background. It’s great.)

Let’s take them more or less one at a time. In the first instance, there’s no reason to suspect that Boe and the Doctor didn’t meet again after Platform One. It could be that the Doctor’s forgotten. Or that he’s lying. That’s something I get told a lot: whenever there is an apparent continuity error there is a chorus of comments reading “Rule one: the Doctor lies”. It’s mindlessly irritating, seeing as it’s not the Doctor’s rule, it’s actually River’s, and it’s a cheap way of explaining away an ambiguity that would probably make sense if you actually took the time to think about it, but it beats “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey”, so I suppose I can live with it. It’s further possible that the Doctor and Boe had an adventure they agreed not to speak about with anyone, including each other. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing: perhaps that’s how the Boekind greet people they know. Or perhaps the Face of Boe has been ruminating on the fact that the Doctor saved his life a few years back, and considers him a friend as a consequence. Perhaps they’ve been messaging each other on Facebook. Pick one.

The scene with the Headless Monks is awkward simply because it was never filmed. It’s an abandoned sequence that is thus as canonical as, say, Lungbarrow – a story that effectively gave us the Doctor’s real name, but which sits rather uncomfortably within the whopping great list of Things You Can Believe If You Want To (a concept to which we’ll return, so remember it). If they didn’t show it, it didn’t happen. Actually, even if they did show it there’s a fair bit of leeway with retconning: 24 aired the death of a prominent character in season 5 but a couple of years later he was back, when it was discovered that we did not see what we thought we saw. River’s vortex manipulator may have come from Jack (with, it is implied, the hand still attached to it), but it does not follow from this that he had a run-in with the Monks – although the Monks aren’t necessary for Jack to become Boe, which I’ll explore in a moment.

The ‘Last of the Time Lords’ scene is a little more concrete, but even then it’s not exactly unambiguous. It’s connection by association – look, this is how tabloid newspapers work. They’ll tell you that there’s a new CBeebies series starring a female engineer, and then mention in passing that they no longer show Bob the Builder, and leave you to fill in the gaps. Before we know it there’s a minor frenzy about the BBC eschewing old favourites in favour of new, politically correct content, and everyone’s conveniently forgotten the fact that the Beeb washed their hands of Bob when HIT Entertainment gave him that disastrous makeover and a stupid Midlands accent.

Similarly, all this scene tells you is that Jack was called the Face of Boe by a bunch of people who might have already known about the real Face and thus applied it as a nickname. Because we’ve been wondering about the Face of Boe all series, it’s natural to assume the two are connected, but there’s no reason why they would be. As it stands, it’s clumsy shoehorning. It may have had the fans jumping out of their seats, but it’s a dreadful way to finish a scene. The dialogue is terrible. You don’t say “The Face of Boe, they called me” and then saunter away to an invisible door. It’s an unnecessary conversation dangle. No one does it. Not unless they’re deliberately baiting the Doctor and Martha, not to mention the people watching at home…oh, wait.

The funny thing about all this is that Jack could quite easily evolve into Boe without any of the kerfuffle with the Monks. We saw it in a Philip K. Dick short story, The Infinites, in which a three-man crew investigate a strange planet and find themselves undergoing rapidly accelerated evolution – millions of years pass in just a few hours. It has highly irradiated sentient hamsters made of pure energy. I swear I’m not making this up. The point is that the changes are marked by degenerating limbs and greatly swollen head size, marking an increased reliance on the cerebral cortex and, one would assume, the decrease of motor functions. From this, it’s quite feasible to imagine that Jack could turn into a giant head the older he gets. Perhaps it’s the way we’re going. It’s certainly the way it was going in WALL-E, where everyone was fat because they’d spent years puttering about in a small land. Sudden cosmic storms aside, you and I will probably never know.

Out on the convention circuit, the vibe among the cast and crew has come down in favour of Jack and Boe being one and the same. Barrowman believes it. So does Gardener. So, up to a point, does Davies, although that’s a bit more complicated. I’m not listing my sources; it’s well-documented. It has to be said that of the above, Davies is the only one who gets a vote, being largely responsible for the genesis and development of the character (yes, I know that Moffat penned those first episodes and half of Torchwood was written by Chibnall; work with me here). But even then it’s dangerous to assume that originating writers have total responsibility for the characters they create for the rest of time. There needs to be a handover point: otherwise it’s a slippery slope to the sort of petty legal wrangling we had after the Brigadier’s grandfather / great-uncle showed up in the Christmas episode. Or you get someone making an obvious joke about Jenny crashing into an asteroid and then the fans are up in arms because Big Finish have brought her back and WHAT ABOUT THE SANCTITY OF CANON? (And yes, I realise I talked earlier about the whole “If it didn’t happen on screen, it’s not canon” thing. It’s my blog; I’m allowed the occasional double standard.)

The bottom line is that this has been kept as ambiguous as possible simply because it’s better that way. It grates against the sensibilities of the modern Doctor Who fan. Unresolved plot strands do not sit comfortably with them: why not explain something if you can? But sometimes it’s better if you don’t know. The Italian Job has one of the best endings to any film ever, simply because it is left hanging, in the most literal sense of the word. We never found out if Fran and Peter survived at the end of Dawn of the Dead, but there is a fleeting sense of hope as they fly off into the sunset; the same sense of hope permeates The Shawshank Redemption (this is the novella we’re talking about – not the film, which ends on a more definitive point and which is arguably less successful as a result). No one gets the end of 2001, but drawing your own conclusions to the Rorschach that is the film’s final ten-minute sequence is, many ways, far more satisfying than anything that’s cleared up in the books.

Davies knows this. The man does have his faults, but he – like most sensible people – realised that giving Jack a designated end point essentially kills the joke. It also deflates any sense of tension in Torchwood, because you know that Jack will at some point be wheeled around in a glass case and get pregnant again, but that’s a by-product. Here’s my point: it’s actually fine if people want to believe that Jack becomes the Face of Boe. I more or less believe it myself. It’s as good an explanation for the character as we’ve come across, and the evidence for it – whilst not exactly overwhelming – is still a clear collection of hints that point towards a likely plot strand. “None of these things is any good on its own,” the boy’s grandmother tells him in The Witches. “It’s only when you put them all together that they begin to make a little sense.”

Still: a little sense may be as far as we get. Because it’s more fun if we don’t know. There is a greater sense of narrative satisfaction – at least there is for me – in having a character whose fate is unresolved than one whose life cannot be changed; Ebenezer Scrooge endeavoured to sponge away the writing on his gravestone and we must believe the same of Jack, however much a definitive ending to his story might please some of the fans. Jack might be the Face of Boe, and then next week it could all be undone in a heartbeat – that is the nature of the programme we love, and while I went through a period of getting annoyed about this, in recent months I’ve kind of got used to it. Certainty is the path to arrogance, and the older I get the less certain I am about things, and I’m learning to embrace, even revel in the ambiguities. So let’s rejoice in the fact that for all the speculation and fan theory and arguments about intended meaning, when all is said and done we really don’t know Jack. Christopher Bullock said that it was “impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes”. In the Whoniverse, we don’t even have the first one, and it’s better that way.

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The Next Step does Thomas The Tank Engine

I once saw a film called Billy Elliot. It was a grim and slightly edgy drama about an impoverished family in 1980s County Durham, in the heart of the miner’s strike. It was a story about the sacrifices we make to help the people we love, and a father and son discovering what was most important to them. Most of all it was about an eleven-year-old boy defying all the stereotypes to become a ballet dancer in a time when this was considered effeminate, sissy; something Boys Didn’t Do.

If the millennials reading this are having a hard time comprehending this state of affairs, here’s a confession: I have an aunt who got her son to do ballet when he was a child and the wider family generally disapproved. We never said so, at least openly, but there were fears that she was suppressing his masculinity by banning the footballs in favour of the pumps. This was not considered a particularly toxic viewpoint; my aunt, instead, was considered the odd one. She’s also a practising naturist, something else the family never quite squared, although Emily and I followed in her footsteps this summer on a beach near Swanage, where all six of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Essentially my opinion of her has softened quite a bit with the passing of several decades, which is kind of what happens when you get out from the echo chamber of your closest relatives.

Back in the present day, there’s a programme on CBBC that Daniel loves but pretends he doesn’t. It’s called The Next Step and it tracks the activities of a fictional dance studio in Toronto – one of those fake fly-on-the-wall documentaries, only not done terribly well. Characters fall in and out of love and creepy princes set up intense first dates wearing the sort of tuxedo that should have stayed in 1979 where it belonged. There are rivalries and egos and comical misunderstandings. There are girls crying in darkened rooms because they can’t go to Regionals and it’s, like, THE END OF MY CAREER. Most of all, there is dancing. Oh, so much dancing. It’s a shame they never dance to anything good. There’s no Prodigy. Not a whiff of Irene Cara. They don’t even have Walk The Moon, for the love of sanity. There’s a lot of generic stuff that leaves you utterly cold, which is kind of what –

– but hang on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you’ve seen it, you’ll know the tropes only too well. There’s the couple whose relationship Gets In The Way Of Things. There’s the squabbling over who gets to do the solo. Meanwhile, girl X has an injury but really needs to dance in this video, dammit, so continues to push herself and lie to everyone else that she’s fine when we all know she’s going to collapse in the middle of that crucial, placement-determining solo. And then there is the bitter rivalry between Michelle and Emily that escalated into a kind of Civil War scenario (which would effectively make Ozzy Peter Parker, right down to the spectacles). Previously, on The Next Step: Riley is tortured by the kiss that she shared with Alfie, but she can’t actually tell us how she’s feeling, so she’s going to express her emotional state using the medium of interpretive dance. You’re a tree, Riley. A single tree, billowing in the wind. Oh, you beautiful snowflake, you.

Most bizarre of all is their penchant for talking heads monologues conducted in the present tense about things that are actually happening at that moment. “I can’t believe Jacqui’s actually doing this,” says Noah, shaking his head. “There’s me, trying to get this segment together, and I asked her for contemporary, and she’s given me hip hop. This is not what I wanted.” This is during the scene, the monologue interspersed in between awkward pauses and some pretty intense staring. Or there’s Kingston, waxing lyrical about a particular routine, while he’s still in the middle of the routine. “The choreography’s tight and I’m enjoying myself,” he says to camera, between pirouettes. “This whole thing seems to be going pretty well”.

There are two conclusions we’ve drawn. Either this is all taking place later and for some unfathomable reason they’re describing it in the first person, or it’s all happening in their heads. I like that explanation – it’s a crummy studio with an inflated sense of self-importance, imagining its own documentary – and this tech-savvy daydreaming doesn’t detract from the authenticity of the experience (or, as Albus Dumbledore would have said, “Of course it’s happening in your head, Riley, but why on earth should that mean that it isn’t real, girlfriend?”). But perhaps there’s more to it than that, and perhaps there’s a bunch of cutting room floor stuff we’ll never get to see.

West [talking head]: I’m feeling pretty confident about this piece now, and getting into it. I like the way Eldon’s working with this piece, and I know I was sceptical about Emily’s choreo, but I’ve gotta say that –

James [off-camera]: West! For fuck’s sake, GET BACK HERE, IT’S NATIONALS!

Still, the great thing about The Next Step is that it features male and female dancers alike, doing all kinds of styles, and the whole idea of boys doing ballet is seemingly never mentioned. Everyone just gets on with it. The Next Step is thus absolutely geared towards both genders (yes, yes, and everything in between, don’t start on that), even if the bulk of the feedback I hear on TV appears to be from young girls. Daniel is now in the latter stages of fandom, having stopped denying that he enjoys it. And irrespective of the rather cynical tone I’ve taken today, I find it pretty compulsive viewing myself. The actors acquit themselves well and there are some beautifully executed moments, like when Elliot the duplicitous bastard (to give him his full rank and title) was exposed for the nob-end that he really was. No one likes you, Elliot. Go back to Broadway.

Elsewhere on the internet, some bright spark decides to take the theme from Thomas The Tank Engine and stick it underneath the ‘Single Ladies’ video, where it turns out to be the perfect accompaniment. So I thought I’d do the same thing, just for the hell of it. There are multiple episodes therein, and the sync isn’t quite as tight as I’d like it to be (thank you, YouTube upload process) but the whole thing just about hangs together. And god knows it’s better than some of the crap they dance to on the show. I just hope there’s no confusion and delay at TNS East. That’d be a disaster

Incidentally, my cousin’s turned out fine.

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The Mine song – Doctor Who edition

Bump. Bump. Bump. Can you hear that? That is the sound of the bandwagon, travelling along the rickety road. I was going to say it takes its time, but actually I’d be wrong. It speeds along in a frenzy, its wheels afire with Facebook trends and retweets and Buzzfeed mentions, and jumping upon it – as I am endeavouring to do, crouched here in the bushes – is not as easy as it looks. You run the risk of wobbling, losing your footing and falling off entirely, and even if you do manage to secure a hold and climb aboard, you’ll find the wagon already crowded with other poor souls who had similar ideas. The wagon may be mighty and fast, but it is full.

I had a go nonetheless, and for this you have my children to thank. I believe I’ve written before about the lunacy of some viral videos. I never understood ‘Charlie bit my finger’, for example, and yet apparently Osama bin Laden had it on his laptop. The Duck Song (I’m not linking; you can look it up) is tedious and cloying, as are its numerous follow-ups. And Thomas developed a rapt fascination with a ten-second clip of a singing dinosaur (and its related video, in which said dinosaur is the subject of a six hour loop), and a bizarre mashup that combines footage from He-Man with a badly produced cover of 4 Non Blondes’ ‘What’s Up?’. For the sake of posterity, both are embedded here.

What’s going on? I don’t know. Do you? To be fair, this is the sort of thing I do, although I wonder how much of it is apeing things the boys have shown me in the hope of creating something that’ll get more than a few dozen hits. Wandering in and out of the study and the bedroom and frequently catching something completely random has given me a window into a corner of the internet I didn’t know existed, and which serves a purpose I do not fully understand. And when it comes to LazyTown, things get even more bizarre. I think I’ve written about LazyTown once in here before – a while back, when we were talking about reversing that Fish Custard video. You may look there for further doses of randomness, should you experience the whim.

For the uninitiated: a young girl called Stephanie arrives in a brightly coloured small town where the lethargic inhabitants are under the thumb of local supervillain, the flamboyant Robbie Rotten, who spends most of his time slumped in his underground lair. Robbie’s posture is so poor it’s a wonder he hasn’t experienced serious back problems, but he’s paradoxically the most active citizen in the entire town, spending most of his free time dashing around its streets and gardens, in a variety of Shakespearean disguises, endeavouring to find ways to keep everyone else confined to the sofa. “I feel disgustingly healthy,” he grumbles at the end of the one episode where this is actually pointed out, and indeed, it’s a hallmark of the self-loathing that seems to drive his character.

Stephanie is aided in her efforts to revitalise the town’s energies by Sportacus – a tracksuited hyperactive sports nut who descends from his airship at the beginning of each episode, and with whom Stephanie establishes a strange, borderline inappropriate relationship. Mercifully, she also has her own peer group, all with their own foibles: Ziggy (sweets), Pixel (video games), and Trixie (no respect for authority; dresses like bad Iron Man cosplay). And then there’s Stingy, a haughty, selfish and deeply materialistic child who practically screams white male privilege; by no means irredeemable but known throughout the LazyTown cinematic universe as being an utter bastard.

It’s a curious fusion of techniques that hearkens back to Sesame Street. Stephanie, Sportacus and Robbie – being the most overtly physical people in LazyTown – are all played by live actors, while everyone else appears in puppet form. It’s the sort of thing that throws you when you’re visiting Butlins and catch the live show, in which the puppet characters appear as fully grown humans wearing character masks; the effect is rather like a freshly regenerated Matt Smith bellowing “LEGS! I’VE GOT LEGS!”. (Sesame Street Live is similarly disconcerting, although it’s partly because Elmo was so goddamned huge.)

Perhaps the saddest part about the whole thing is the news that Stefán Karl Stefánsson (extra credit: find me a more Icelandic name than that, if you can), who plays Robbie Rotten, is suffering from terminal cancer, although he’s apparently improved. Meanwhile Kim Jong-un is the picture of perfect health, and you wonder if there is a God.

LazyTown is replete with songs, most of which are downright irritating, but it’s two in particular that have made the viral rundown. There’s ‘We Are Number One’ – which you can see in the post linked above, although be aware that the version I embedded is backwards. And there’s the ‘Mine’ song – Stingy’s big solo, remixed and Photoshopped and warped beyond all measure all across the internet, whether it’s a ridiculous zooming effect or (a personal favourite) the coming of the apocalypse.

And there comes a point where you figure that joining them is better than failing to beat them, and that’s how we got here. This took about an hour and a half to put together, most of which was scouring transcripts for appropriate shouts of ‘mine’, not to mention ripping them from the Doctor Who episodes. And as a special prize, the first person to tell me every episode I used gets one of Ziggy’s sweets. And an apple. It’s what Sportacus would have wanted.

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Walk Like An Egyptian: The Boohbah edition

I know where this started. It started in three places: Stratford-upon-Avon, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Teletubbyland.

Let’s begin at the end. The Teletubbies are amazing. Parents do not understand them because parents are not supposed to understand them. People who complain about the gibberish and repetition are missing the point. Conversely, people who complain about Tinky Winky’s penchant for skirts and handbags (not to mention the colour purple) may be on to something. That’s another argument for heads wiser and less cluttered with cultural references than mine. Still, I’ve raised four boys on this stuff and they’ve all thought it was brilliant.

Heck, when I was a student even thought it was brilliant. Teletubbies were bright and cute and somehow rebellious, a cultural revolution of peace, love, harmony and sloth in a world that was increasingly pre-occupied with Getting Stuff Done. I was nineteen and could feel the elbow in the ribs about careers fairs. Teletubbies was regression therapy in a world that demanded you were clever, in a world of Wittgenstein and Beckett and Virginia Woolf. They were great. Years later my wife and I will use the theme for the first dance at our wedding. I have some of it on video. No, you can’t see it.

Meanwhile, back in the more or less present day, someone does this.

It’s one of those moments when you realise why God gave us Joy Division. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It is the sort of thing Ian Curtis would have loved. Actually, scratch that, Ian Curtis wouldn’t have loved it at all. He’d have said “I don’t want my song laid over those fookin’ Muppets”, or something similar. I wouldn’t have blamed him for this. It is the same in Doctor Who: I love ‘The Horns of Nimon’, but Tony Read does not, and I can’t say I hold that against him.

Also 1997: John Cusack, then just about Hollywood’s hottest property, stars in Grosse Pointe Blank, in which a disillusioned hitman returns to his home town for a high school reunion. It is worth seeing if only for the scenes between Cusack and Dan Aykroyd, in one of his finest ever roles. But there is one scene where they are inside the high school gym and everybody is getting their groove on to The Bangles. It may have been that moment I sat bolt upright in my chair and thought “Holy shit, ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ is awesome. How come I never noticed?”

It really is awesome. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a band trading verses, which is exactly what happens here. Boyzone’s ‘No Matter What’ is notorious for it. And on Heaven For Everyone, the final, effectively posthumous studio album, there’s a song called ‘Let Me Live’ – to all intents and purposes a rewritten ‘Take Another Piece Of My Heart’ – in which Freddie, Roger and Brian all take a verse each, and it sounds like one of those lovely communal efforts even though you know it probably wasn’t. John is characteristically silent, unless they decided they didn’t like his vocals, which is reportedly what happened to the Bangles’ drummer. Never work with children, animals or your siblings.

There is a bit in that video that I remember vividly from my childhood, and that’s the moment when –

Supposedly Susanna Hoffs was looking at different members of the audience, which explains the eye movement. Whether it really was to overcome stage fright we may never really know, but it’s an important point and we will come back to it later.

Fast forward to 2003, and Emily and I are poking around the shops in Straford. It is our first weekend away together. We will visit the bard’s house, try out a few of the pubs and go to see Taming Of The Shrew (still the best Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen, even after all these years). It is release day for Order of the Phoenix: I insist on finding a local independent bookshop to buy it. Two years later, with far less cashflow, I will have abandoned such pretentions, although perhaps not entirely.

Ragdoll Productions have their offices in Stratford, and there is a shop at the quieter end of town: amidst all the cuddly Teletubbies and Rosie & Jim memorabilia there is a TV showing something that will terrify me to the depths of my soul, and it is this.

“What on earth are we looking at?” I ask the young man on the till.

“Oh, it’s, like their new thing,” he says. “It’s called The Boohbahs.”
“Boohbahs? What are they, when they’re at home?”
“They’re atoms of energy. And they do dancing and there are story bits.”

That’s basically it. A pod full of bulbous particles who rest in cryosleep until awoken to do a bit of cavorting in a huge white space while frightened children watch from the comfort of their living rooms. It is Teletubbies, minus the charm. The central concept is much the same: colourful characters who dance around and tell a story. The problem is that the story and the Boohbahs aren’t really allowed to mix. There is an opening dance number (more on that in a moment), before a group of ethnically diverse children push a gigantic parcel through a portal into what passes for the real world, where its contents are delivered to a strange extended family. There’s Mr Man (who resembles a portly Laurence Fishburne), Mrs Lady, Brother and Sister – presumably on some sort of overseas student programme, from the way they’re dressed – two grandparents, and a dog. After the story – delivered exclusively in narrated mime, presumably to aid international dubbing – we return to the pod, where the Boohbahs do another dance which is loosely related to the events of the episode, before going back to bed.

But they’re seriously creepy. There’s no way around it. The whole presentation is halting and uncomfortable, replete with pauses and silences, broken by sneezes and 1970s sound effects. The Boohbahs themselves are silent puffballs with no visible presence and nothing to differentiate between them save the colour scheme: beyond this they are, to all intents and purposes, absolutely identical. There’s a futile attempt at a roll call: “Humbah! Zumbah! Zing Zing Zingbah! And the others whose names I’ve forgotten because they have no obvious personality!”. And they all line up, with almost military precision, staring hard into the camera like one possessed, before performing an array of oddly hypnotic dance moves. I pride myself on my ability to understand the way children’s programmes work but even I can’t explain this monstrosity. Is this why army recruitment is down?

The biggest problem with Boohbah, of course – and in all likelihood the reason it’s not repeated – is that it uses Chris Langham for the voiceovers. Not that I have any personal beef with Langham; he’s brilliant in The Thick Of It and whatever he may or may not have done I always believe in separating art from artist. But Langham’s history makes it awkward. This is perhaps being a little generous to Boohbah, of course, which could just as easily have been pulled from the schedules because it’s honestly a little bit crap. And in general, we try not to think about it.

Last scene of all: a couple of months ago. I’m watching YouTube videos with Edward and I notice this.

Heck, they dance, don’t they? Why not do something with that?

So I did. And here it is.

I make no apology, but I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.

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The Rainbow Connection

Today, boys and girls, you have a choice. You can read this through, or you can skip to the bottom. That’s where the video is. I will not hold it against you, and I’ll never know you did it. Your time is precious. But do, at least, spare five minutes to watch the Thing At The End, because that’s the whole point.

Somewhere in the home counties – I’m thinking Surrey, although it’s never clear – in a cheerfully painted house, a fluffy gay hippo is carefully stacking blocks. To his left, there is a weird orange thing that may or may not be extraterrestrial, doing a puzzle. There is a piece missing: in his frustration, he chucks the box in the direction of the hippo, upsetting his tower. “Ooh, Zippy!” complains the hippo, rife with melodrama. “Zat’s very naughty! Now I’ve got to start again!”

“Oh, well, never mind George,” says the alien. “You can always make another one.”

Stage right, there is a large brown bear reading a comic. “Oh, Zippy,” he sighs. “You are careless.”

“Yes, well, it’s not my fault!” says the alien. “He shouldn’t have been building right next to my jigsaw!”

Their greying foster carer – all sensible shirts and white trainers – walks in, carrying a basket of washing that is inexplicably full given that he’s the only person in the house who wears any clothes. Scenes like this no longer astound or surprise him the way they once did: he’s watched every episode of The Dumping Ground and accepts most of his job is firefighting the squabbles and arguments his young charges have daily. He suspects the alien may have ADHD. He has caught the bear rewiring the electrics once or twice and has asked him not to. The hippo is constantly put upon by his would-be siblings, and the people down the road are always holding impromptu glee clubs in his front room. This, he reflects, was not how he saw his life going when he signed up for this gig.

When we were children, Rainbow was a part of the furniture. It had been around so long that no one gave its murky origins a second thought. There were all manner of questions about the setup in the house – who were these strange anthropomorphic characters and why were they living with this middle-aged storyteller? What did they do for money? And are the frequent fourth wall breaks some sort of indication that they’re in some sort of kids’ version of Big Brother, mercifully without the sex? But no one really asked. It was just something we accepted. It was, like Doctor Who, more about the situation, and the hijinks that ensued, than anything that might have led to them.

It’s strange when you reflect upon how much things have changed. I often read comments on the CBeebies Facebook page about The Tweenies, usually complaining about something obnoxious that Bella is doing. It is inconceivable that a show like that would be made today. Everyone spends all their time arguing. The characters are real, but they’re not a good influence, and even though their behaviour usually results in consequences and discipline, that’s lost on today’s thou-shalt-parent-my-children-for-me audience. While it’s hard to pinpoint precisely where it happened, somewhere along the line we lost the concept of dramatic irony.

There was – I swear I’m not making this up – an episode of Rainbow where Rod, Jane and Freddy sang a song that went “A flying saucer / In our garden / It must have come from outer space…”. Whereupon Zippy poked his head out of the window and offered them a trip to the stars, which they gleefully accepted, finishing the song along the way. It was, to my mind, the best origin story for Zippy that we’ve ever had. There is no other explanation for a creature with a zip sewn into its mouth, other than one that evolved on a planet where it’s an essential survival feature. Perhaps he was expelled from his home world for being thoroughly obnoxious – it would explain why ‘cousin’ Zippo is so mind-numbingly placid, at least until that later episode where he develops a bad American accent and starts talking about crisps.

Little moments like this are integral to our understanding of Rainbow. There are episodes where Geoffrey randomly ‘has to go out’. We never know where he goes (unless he returns with something plot-related) or why. Sessions at the dole office immediately spring to mind. So too do images of Geoffrey attending a drug deal or hiring himself out as a gigolo. It all depends on the mood I’m in. So you can understand why I’d latch onto the image of Zippy emerging from a wrecked spacecraft and setting up home with a bear and a hippo, which is to all intents and purposes what the song implies. (It also implies, of course, that Rod, Jane and Freddy were actually housed together in some sort of communal living situation, which corroborates many 1980s tabloid rumours.)

Then there’s…um. Rainbow cosplay.

I mean, seriously. What the hell is that? It’s like Zippy ate him. At least he can still breathe, which is presumably a situation that can be quickly altered with the swipe of a zip at the top. Come to think of it why does this have a working zip anyway, given that its sudden closure by an external party is likely to render the occupant airless and blind in an instant? Is this some sort of gimp outfit you use for fetish games? Does Christian Grey have one? It is only marginally less disturbing than the Rainbow comics which hit the stands back in the 1990s, in which every character looks basically normal except for George, who bears the haunted, blank-eyed stare of a hippo possessed.

(If you enjoy exploring the seedy underbelly of the animals in the house, you would be well-advised to check out World of Crap, who have devoted pages and pages to rewritten Rainbow comics with amusing captions.)

I’ve dabbled with Rainbow before, of course, in a video that I still quite like, some six years after its creation (not to mention Roy Skelton’s death, which upped the hit count considerably). But Zippy’s only one part of the trio – and while he’s the obvious candidate for voice transposition, that doesn’t mean the others don’t have potential. Except that George is timid and often stumbles over his words, of course, which makes placing him difficult. That left Bungle, who is usually well-spoken, as well as prone to bouts of pomposity. When it came to finding a Doctor Who character for him to replace, there really was only one choice, and that was Omega.

It’s not that I don’t like ‘The Three Doctors’. I think it’s overrated, not to mention structurally problematic – one of those stories that is beloved because it was the first multi-Doctor fusion (and even then, it fails to deliver on its title’s promise). The bickering between Pertwee and Troughton is about the best part of the story – although an unexpected highlight occurs when Benton walks into the TARDIS for the first time, and refuses to state the obvious. The Gel guards are quite fun, but this one is perhaps the epitome of the ‘Stupid Brigadier’ phase, in which U.N.I.T.’s finest devolves into a reactionary simpleton who refuses to accept the evidence of his own eyes.

Then there’s Omega, a villain so melodramatic it’s impossible to see him as a serious threat. Omega’s role in ‘The Three Doctors’ is to shout. In ‘Arc of Infinity’, it’s to shout some more, and then decompose at the edge of a river, just after bonding with a small child over the sight of an organ grinder. In ‘Omega’, the 2003 Big Finish audio drama, his role is to convince you that he’s the Doctor, which he manages with aplomb. But for the most part it’s just a lot of shouting. There must be a reason for all that anger. You almost want Tennant to lean round the door of his chamber, survey Omega’s colossally oversized mask and mutter “Compensating for something?”

Still, masks are handy. I use masks a lot, simply because it makes the dubbing much easier. And there’s something fun about having a supposedly sinister character rendered ridiculous. In the case of Omega, it only half works. You can make him ridiculous all right; he just isn’t very sinister.

When it came to putting this together, I wanted it to feel as close to an actual episode of Rainbow as possible, so I started with the animations. There are two of them, built up in that slow, frame-by-frame style (the sound effects, by the way, are all ripped directly from the show). Originally it was just going to be K-9, but I put the other one in just for the heck of it – the same might be said for the Rod, Jane and Freddy song that shows up later, although that’s partly the silliness of Pertwee’s slow motion fight with Omega.

The biggest problem was Bungle’s voice, which is less consistent than you imagine (unlike Zippy, who always sounds like Zippy). It’s perhaps most obvious in the opening scene, in which the changes are obvious. This being a Classic episode, I didn’t have the luxury of score-free dialogue, which meant dealing with ambience and the occasional sting from Dudley Simpson (who recently turned 95, if you want another entry to your list of Entertainment Veterans You Hadn’t Realised Weren’t Dead Yet). As a result it’s rather rough around the edges, and I almost like it that way.

Oh, and make sure you watch to the end…

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Rogue One: Kind of a Star Wars story

It’s not exactly cheery, is it?

I mean, it was never going to be. If you want to visit the first paragraph of that iconic title crawl and turn it into a movie, you immediately run into a problem. If the Rebels striking from a hidden base have managed to steal the plans for the Death Star, how come we never hear from them again? Why does the the entire revolution lie in the hands of a drippy farm boy, a cynical mercenary and a sexually frustrated royal? Tangentially, why is everyone so goddamned happy at the end of Episode IV when they’ve lost about thirty-six pilots on that trench run?

The solution is simple. You give the job to someone who takes it upon themselves to disappear from the limelight for a good while (which is what they did in Dark Forces) or you kill off everyone involved, which is exactly what happens in Rogue One. Specifically, you give it to a young woman with a ‘troubled’ past and family connections, stick her with a bunch of misfits and ‘a droid with more personality than any of the human characters’ (quoth Honest Trailers) and then you send them marching off to their deaths. Give them a few headline-generating filming locations to take in on the way. Night raid on craggy Imperial outpost? Check. Forests? Check. Desert world? Flights to Jordan already booked. And somewhere, in a bar on Mos Eisley, a retconned-out-of-existence Kyle Katarn is weeping into his Jawa Juice.

It looks spectacular, as one would expect. But perhaps the best thing we could say about it is that for the most part it doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars story – and that’s a compliment. The tropes are all present and correct, of course. K-2SO even says “I have a bad feeling about this” when he’s entering an elevator, although it’s almost disappointing when said elevator doesn’t subsequently cut him in half. But that’s where it stops. If the biggest crime committed by The Force Awakens was its scene-by-scene homage to Episode IV – a film that mirrors its predecessor so closely can never be a total success – Rogue One manages to take the Star Wars universe into different territory without ever quite abandoning the galaxy far, far away. This is a darker, grittier piece with a greater degree of moral ambiguity. Characters face death and find there is no last-minute reprieve or conveniently placed Wookiee. Instead there is a lot of self-sacrifice and that scene on a beach that basically rips off Deep Impact. I hear whispers of an alternative ending, perhaps never shot, in which Jyn and Cassian survived: perhaps a better homage would have been a dramatic freeze frame, fading to sepia, the almost-lovers locked in time, somehow cheating death.

It might have been a decent way to conclude the movie, because then we wouldn’t have had to put up with this.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the uncanny valley, but I can’t help feeling that this particular traversal was a colossal waste of time. Essentially it still looks fake. It’s like particularly good botox – wrinkle-free, but you can still tell. It’s not as bad as Jeff Daniels in Tron Legacy, but it’s close. And the moment it happens is worse than looking at a photo. It’s like that bit in Spaceballs where the effeminate commander yells “You’ve captured their stunt doubles!”. Would it have killed Ingvild Deila to keep her back to the camera? “And when I turned round…”

More successful – somewhat – is the resurrected Grand Moff Tarkin, played this time by Guy Henry, who (Rosie Marcel aside) is just about the best thing in Holby City, whether he’s being fatherly with Arthur Digby or getting punched in the face by Ric Griffin. He still looks fake, but it’s a believable kind of fake, somehow. What does this say about my preoccupation with women’s looks? Put another way, why can I accept a CG Peter Cushing, but not a Carrie Fisher? And at the opposite end of the spectrum I’m still annoyed that in the process of revisiting the First Doctor for the Christmas special they’ve cast an actor who is absolutely nothing like him, so perhaps it’s impossible to make me happy.

The film ends – you will know this, and if you haven’t I’m about to ruin it – literally minutes before A New Hope begins, with Princess Leia making a run for it with the stolen plans, the Empire in hot pursuit. Or perhaps it doesn’t. Perhaps there’s room for a whole slew of adventures in between, in which Leia picks up the two droids, meets Han Solo, bears his child and then has her memory wiped. If this were Doctor Who, that’d be what happens. There is a school of thought that suggests, for example, that the Ninth Doctor went off and travelled on his own for years in the five seconds that it takes Mickey and Rose to cross the car park before the TARDIS rematerialises and the Doctor asks “By the way, did I mention that it also travels in time?”. It is a silly theory, but you could shoehorn it if you really wanted.

All headcanon aside, the sense of familiarity that hits you in those final minutes is a blatant attempt at crowd-pleasing, just the same as the seeds for Episode IV were sown in the montage that closed Revenge Of The Sith. That one had twin suns on Tattoine, brooding stares from Darth Vader, and a partially constructed Death Star. Rogue One tries so hard to outdo this it comes across as posturing. It’s not necessarily bad posturing, particularly as it’s so much fun to watch Vader striding through the Alliance command ship, mercilessly throwing Rebel troops against the ceiling like someone playing Boom Blox on the Wii. But it’s really not very cheery, K-2SO’s quibbling aside. It’s jolly good, all told, but there must be a way to make it a little more fun.

And then it hit me. You add the Red Dwarf theme.

There, that’s much better.

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