The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part four)

I’m not always making videos. But when I am, they invariably end up in here, sooner or later.

 

1. Doctor Who: The Blockbusters Edition (April 2019)

The Twitter conversation is still pretty clear in my head. It was the trailer from Pale Rider – that 1970s Clint Eastwood vehicle where he may or may not be a ghost – and what strikes you about it, if you’re British, is that it uses the Channel 4 News Theme. Or, to be precise, it uses a piece of stock music titled ‘Best Endeavours’ (composed for the library by Alan Hawkshaw, who also wrote the Countdown theme) that’s turned up all over the place, as stock music is wont to do. Anyway, there then followed a conversation about whether Jon Snow was actually a cowboy, and then somebody else quipped that in the original version of the Star Wars cantina sequences, the band was playing the music from Blockbusters.

Bang. There it is. Why has nobody done this before? Blockbusters is the eighties quiz show personified: all drum machines and synths and overly dramatic stings that made you feel the stakes were much higher than they were. It was staple viewing in our house – watching those incredibly grown-up looking sixth formers with Italian style shirts and mullets flounder over what ‘R’ defines an unsophisticated and rural person (Rustic, in case you were wondering). You tried to plot their pattern across the board, working out which spaces would be likely targets for the battling contestants, and you cheered when they won a Thailand holiday at the end of the Gold Run.

Plus the music was awesome, particularly when they were doing the hand jive on Friday evenings (and, unless my memory is playing tricks on me, singing some sort of lyric during a special anniversary show). It’s taken years – and a Wikipedia entry – for me to notice that it actually contains snatches of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which is the sort of thing you can never unhear once you’ve noticed, and (as a consequence of this) something that’s been stuck in my head for the last three months. Make no mistake: the Blockbusters theme is infectious.

And it works perfectly with Series 11. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps there was an inherent cheese factor in that as well – some people loved it, some didn’t, but no one can deny its presence. Making this was simplicity itself: it was simply a question of delving into the episodes for appropriate footage. Cole and Gill really do deserve their own title cards, but the whole thing’s only about forty seconds long and I had a lot to get through, so there had to be sacrifices. And the synchronised shoulder pat at the end turned out to be a happy accident, but the sort I’m always anxious to repeat. I don’t always feel pleased with my work, but this was one time I did. And it made The Poke, of all things, so it was a good day.

 

 

2. Bungle from Rainbow dances to the Doctor Who theme (April 2019)

Let me conjure a picture. It’s the very next morning after the Blockbusters video went live, and I’m wandering home from the school run in the fresh heights of an Oxfordshire spring, and of course I’m ignoring everything around me because I’m on my phone. And then a video pops onto the feed of Bungle doing a dance to…something. I can’t remember. It might have been Soft Cell. But it was the sort of thing that happened a lot on Rainbow, which is the price you pay for creating an inherently musical show featuring only one non-human character with legs. Bungle got the lion’s share of the soft shoe numbers (well, you can’t exactly do ballet in a furry onesie) and usually it was to some sort of Rod, Jane and Freddy throwaway they hadn’t used for a while, but my mind started wandering and  there was something about his turn in ‘The Show Offs’ (a 1986 story in which the entire cast get to act like dickheads) that struck a chord. In the story he’s dancing to an instrumental version of ‘We’re Singing A Little Song’, but…

This took me thirty-eight minutes. You can tell. It’s not quite in sync, which is something I probably could have fixed if I could be bothered. As it stands, I think the rough-and-ready nature probably works in its favour. And Peter Howell’s version of the Doctor Who theme is the one from my childhood and probably the best version of them all. Although I’m guessing Bungle was probably more of a Pertwee fan. Call it a hunch.

 

3. Tim Shaw the Enchanter (May 2019)

Yeah, this doesn’t quite work. But I’d been putting it off for months, and I really needed to confirm that it didn’t quite work. And now I have. And bits of it are good. Probably. Maybe. Anyone fancy rabbit stew?

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Have I Got Whos For You (Disney special)

I seem to have far more doctored images and bad jokes than I generally get round to posting in here. In many ways that’s a good thing – if your content creation ratio outweighs your posting ratio then you usually have a surplus, which is great if there’s a famine round the corner (or in my case, a holiday). But I’m mindful of the fact that there are a number of memes sitting on my hard drive that just haven’t been posted yet. And while it’s good to be in a Seven Years Of Plenty kind of place, I might as well use the downtime between series to catch up a bit.

Today’s batch is – you’ll have seen – all Disney-related, beginning with the news that WALL-E is about to have a very, very bad day.

Elsewhere, the Potts gang are having a lovely time of things, until the Eleventh Doctor drops in.

Here’s a little cutting room floor footage from Aladdin.

Fan theory: a new explanation for the breakdown of Amy and Rory’s marriage.

The Tenth Doctor wonders if this might be a good spot to surreptitiously ditch his new companion.

And the Mulan remake opts to recreate the opening of ‘Day of the Doctor’.

Over in the pridelands, alternate dialogue recorded for The Lion King foreshadows the final words of the Twelfth Doctor.

There are scenes of general dismay when Bill Potts returns home to visit her family.

The cast of Monsters, Inc. watch a video.

“One jump ahead of the Dalek…”

And finally, as news of The Little Mermaid splashes across the internet, the Doctor confesses she’s really not sure about this new aerial.

Poor unfortunate soul.

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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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Have I Got Whos For You (Boris Bumpus Maximus)

We open in a quarry somewhere in the home counties. Following a disastrous headline-grabbing scandal, the producers of Doctor Who have elected to stage a photoshoot in order to salvage the reputation of the show, featuring current stars Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford. Only the public smell a rat, and of course are having none of it.

Do I think Boris’s private life makes him a poor choice for prime minister? Not necessarily, no. It simply makes him a twat. There is, as Kenneth Clarke pointed out on Radio 4 this week, ample evidence of Johnson’s general cluelessness when it comes to Brexit and pretty much anything of political substance – The Sketch makes that clear, and it should be obvious to all but his most strident followers by now that the clownish exterior is going to wear very thin indeed once we all remember that we’ve just given him the keys to the Big Red Button. Kenny Roger’s Gambler made a career out of reading people’s faces; Boris has made a career out of having other people read his, and generally giggle. He exists in a state of perpetual frivolity, apparently unable to take either himself or anything else seriously; whatever he gets up to in his flat, do we really want a man like this running the country?

Anyway, there was something fishy about that publicity stunt the other day, as this leaked shot from behind the scenes attests.

Yes. Well.

The second half of this week’s instalment incorporates a bumper crop of birthdays – including mine, come to think of it, although I spent the day tidying and then driving to and from Oxford with the boy. For years I’d thought the piece de la resistance of my birthday-sharing duties was Igor Stravinsky (along with Methodism founder John Wesley, who was renowned for taking the gospels to localities other denominations couldn’t reach). But it eventually transpired that I share a birthday with none other than Jodie Whittaker.

Oh, and Arthur Darvill, who is pictured here with another Arthur.

Supposedly it was Paddington’s birthday yesterday – although the duffel-clad bear has two birthdays, rather like the queen..

(Hmm. I’m still not sure I pasted that TARDIS in quite the right place. It looks like it’s floating.)

Also celebrating a birthday this week: Tim Burton’s Batman, the film that arguably saved superhero films (at least for a while), although it opened a floodgate of Interesting Actors Playing Established Characters that, it could be coherently argued, was ultimately damaging to Hollywood’s ability to craft original stories. When was the last time you truly latched on to someone who saw their genesis on the big screen? No, I mean someone who isn’t in Star Wars? And let’s not forget that, for all its brooding brilliance, Batman is guilty of some pretty shocking departures from the source material. Alfred gives away Batman’s secret identity, for pity’s sake. Oh, and at the end of the film an injured, borderline psychotic caped crusader lunges at the Joker in the belfry of Gotham Cathedral, furiously announcing that he’s going to kill him. I mean, it’s good, but…well, had it happened today there would be a hundred and fifty BuzzFeed articles, all of them dreadful, so let’s be grateful it was back in the 80s and the worst you had to contend with was a bit of griping in the fanzines.

Anyway, here’s Batman on downtime in the Batcave.

Episodes used: ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’, ‘State of Decay’, ‘The Mind of Evil’, ‘The Romans’, ‘Caves of Androzani’, ‘Vampires of Venice’, (you will notice a bat theme going on here), ‘Twice Upon A Time’, and a couple I can no longer identify – oh, and ‘The Witchfinders’. Which is mostly there to annoy the Jodie haters. Who will doubtless leave angry emojis, JUST BECAUSE THEY CAN.

“OK, you wanna get nuts? C’mon. Let’s get nuts.”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Apocalypse Now Edition)

Excuse the radio silence these last weeks, but I’ve been away. And busy. And now I’m neither. Which is a blessing, but it comes with the realisation that I’m rather behind. So let’s crack on with this week’s meme roundup, shall we?

First and foremost:

I haven’t seen Good Omens yet. Needless to say the interest of the DW community was piqued when someone (it might have been Gaiman, it might have been Tennant) happened to mention that there were some Doctor Who references in there, which instantly led to people freeze-framing number plates and street corners to try and find them. By far the most hysterical conversation I witnessed was an American who was convinced that they’d seen a red TARDIS, which was in fact a telephone box. It’s a cultural misunderstanding, but you know how these things work: even when it’s been explained to you, you don’t want to back down.

Anyway, I was trawling the web, looking for Easter Eggs, and –

[coughs]

In politics this week, a leaked mock-up shows a rather different set of prospective nominees for the backstabbing skirmish that is the Conservative leadership battle.

(It’s going to be Boris, isn’t it? Dear God, it’s going to be Boris.)

Entertainment now. And as the new face of Worzel Gummidge is unveiled, the old one reveals that he doesn’t like it.

I never read the books, but Mackenzie Crook’s appearance is supposedly based on the idea that Worzel was supposed to have a turnip head, as opposed to looking like Jon Pertwee covered in soil. This is fine, and understandable, but he looks like someone who’s been prematurely aged (see: Beetlejuice, The X-Files and various episodes of Doctor Who) and the plant strands that serve for a beard remind me a little bit of Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. The problem is that irrespective of faithfulness to the source material, Pertwee’s iconic rendition has all but usurped it. Worzel Gummidge is like The Wizard of Oz: everyone remembers how it looked, rather than how it read.

Elsewhere, in gaming: as Forza Horizon 4 unveils its new Lego-themed expansion, the Doctor has a nagging feeling that he should move the TARDIS.

When I posted this, various people were keen to point out that the TARDIS would be fine, since it had extrapolator shields. To which the obvious response is “Yes, but the car doesn’t!”

 

Finally, it’s been – can you believe it – five years since the death of Rik Mayall, which makes me sad that he was never involved in Doctor Who in some way. He was an extremely talented actor – both in straight and comedic roles – with a tremendous screen presence. He even makes Drop Dead Fred semi-interesting – although you’d have to use him carefully. There is no place for the man in a Dalek story. Bottom was – to all intents and purposes – the Waiting for Godot of sitcoms, so it would have to be something ostensibly mundane, where characters are lulled into a false sense of security and mostly just sit around waiting for things to happen.

“IT’S NOT BLOODY DOING ANYTHING!”

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Have I Got Whos For You (salted caramel edition)

By the time you read this, I’ll be somewhere in Warwickshire, probably trying to erect an awning and shouting at the kids. But you don’t want to hear about that, so here’s a largely text-free roundup of the week’s news.

First, there is an air of familiarity about the Game of Thrones finale, in which democracy was not quite ushered in.

Over on ITV, we take a sneak peek at Jeremy Kyle’s new gig.

The news that a familiar face is returning to Doctor Who series 12 is somewhat overshadowed by a leaked picture revealing Jodie Whittaker’s new hairstyle.

(There was another one of these doing the rounds. It is so much better than mine. I’m not linking to it, though, purely out of public shame.)

As the new trailer for Toy Story 4 drops, there are sightings of a countryside recreation of ‘Day of the Doctor’.

On the subject of transport, it’s not been a great week for Nigel Farage.

There is a certain double standard at work here. When it’s Farage, I don’t care. When it’s an ageing veteran in a suit standing outside a polling station I get uneasy, even if he does happen to be supporting the Brexit party. I’m all for exposing fascism but this really is the sort of thing that eradicates sympathy.

When it comes to Farage, of course, you wonder who’s doing the throwing.

“OK, here he comes. Drop ’em on three.”

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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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The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part three)

Videos. You know the drill by now. And I’ve got a Holby I haven’t watched yet, so what say we dive straight in?

 

1. Things the Thirteenth Doctor loves (February 2019)

It was Emily who noticed. We were tidying the lounge one Monday morning, the day after ‘The Witchfinders’ (unless you had Amazon, in which case you’d probably already seen it), and talking about Series 11 and the way it was written. And Emily picked up on something about the new Doctor that I’d missed. “She doesn’t have a catchphrase as such,” she said, “but she does tell us about stuff she likes, doesn’t she? ‘Oh, a conspiracy. I love a conspiracy.'”

I looked through the transcripts, and it’s all over the place. I think almost every episode is referenced in the video below – ‘Rosa’ is missing, as is ‘Resolution’ and ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’, although in fairness the Doctor spent half of that one lying on a sofa. But everything else has at least one, and some have several. It’s the sort of thing that’s easy to criticise, if you’re not a fan of Chibnall, although this is somewhat pointless as Moffat did much the same thing with Smith, who had a tendency to say “And then you did that. Why did you do that?”. It became something of a trope, although it’s trickier to actually source the dialogue. I’m of the conviction that Doctor Who does not need catchphrases, and that (Baker aside) the fandom’s attempts at finding them are scrappy at best, but if we must have one these days I’m not sorry that it’s manifested as it has here. I know we’re giggling about it, but at least there’s a bit of variety.

I had a lot of fun making this one. Whatever you think of the writing, Whittaker has a sense of fun about her that I hope comes across. There is something particularly endearing about the way she bellows “APPLE BOBBING!”. Oh, and in reference to number 7, it was explained to me (via a YouTube comment) that the they’re talking about Hamilton, the Broadway musical dedicated to the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, which opened a couple of years ago and which, according to the Doctor, is destined to have more revivals than Cher’s musical career. You learn something new every day, don’t you?

 

2. The Bohemian Rhapsody edit (March 2019)

Quantum of Solace is a big pile of shit, isn’t it? Well, perhaps that’s a little harsh. It’s better than View To A Kill, at least, although I confess I’ve undergone tooth extractions which were less arduous than having to watch that one. But Solace – which has an interesting premise – is completely massacred by Marc Foster’s fondness for jump cuts. There are sometimes two or three a second, usually in the action sequences (the boat chase springs to mind), pummelling the viewer with shots of flying fists and the chains and the fizz of surf, as Bond and some random guy whose name I can never be bothered to remember duke it out in an exotic locale that we can’t even see anyway because the bloody camera won’t stay still. It is impossible to follow. I have no idea what’s going on and I refuse to put this down to old age: it’s just incomprehensible garbage.

Compare this to the fight scene in Atomic Blonde. You know, the one in the stairwell? Or John Woo’s 2 minutes, 42 seconds in the frenetic final act of Hard Boiled. Or, if we’re thinking about 007, the beautiful, single tracking shot that opens Spectre, where Bond wanders in and out of hotel rooms and across roofs as the dizzying spectacle that is the Day of the Dead unfolds below him. That, film students, is how you open a blockbuster. It’s all studio trickery, of course – so is Atomic Blonde, come to that – but it doesn’t matter: the only real difference between the two of them is that Atomic Blonde has an outstanding fight sequence couched in a generally wonderful movie, whereas Spectre is graced with a mesmerising opening and then it’s downhill all the way.

Anyway, I thought we were done with frantic jump cuts, until I heard about Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s a film I got to see quite recently and, as a word of reassurance, most of it’s fairly straight-laced, perhaps too much so. There is a press conference which mines every cliche in the book and there is a dramatic climax outside, at night, in the rain. Because obviously. On the plus side, the band look and sound the part (even if certain songs are dropped in earlier or later than they should have been) and the Live Aid set is so well done you can forgive the liberties they take with history. Besides, it’s kind of hard to concentrate on the anachronisms given that you spend about fifty per cent of the running time staring at cats.

Still. There’s one scene. You remember. It’s the one at the pub. The one that has more edits than the ITV version of Robocop. There are 52 in all, making the average shot around 1.57 seconds long (someone else’s homework, not mine). I’m told there are reasons for this; that narrative shifts after the scene was shot meant it no longer made sense and they had to go back and re-sequence it, but that doesn’t stop it inducing migraines. The film was Oscar-nominated for best editing; go figure. Interesting times at the Academy.

How to translate this into Doctor Who? It had to be something dialogue heavy, something featuring a number of people who could form different focus points, something where everyone stayed roughly stationary to keep the continuity fluid, and something I knew reasonably well. This one was an obvious choice: it is my favourite scene in an otherwise patchy episode and I do find it rather sweet, so I thought it might be fun to chop it up a little. The results speak for themselves, and not necessarily in a good way.

 

3. Doctor Who and the Vow of Silence (November 2018)

Yeah, I dunno. Thirteen years since ‘Rose’, and the Doctor still doesn’t have a clue.

 

Allons-y!

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Have I Got Whos For You (Winter Is Coming Edition)

To kick off today, we honour the late, great Peter Mayhew, as he interrupts the Doctor’s naptime.

Mayhew was a legend, a seven foot icon who managed seven Star Wars films and who was listed, somewhat bizarrely as ‘Chewbacca Consultant’ for The Last Jedi; my children didn’t notice he’d been replaced and in any case it’s the sort of thing very few people get to put on their CV, so I suppose he could retire happy. It’s difficult to tell just how much of the growling Wookiee’s endless appeal was down to the fact that he was a badass in a fire fight or the fact that he had a surprisingly tender side to him, as witness any scene where he gets to hug someone, or wail because Harrison Ford’s just fallen off a bridge. Star Wars has changed a lot over the years, but Chewbacca has been a constant – even though his cameo in Revenge of the Sith amounts to three or four seconds, the guy’s two hundred years old and you nonetheless know that whatever else is going on he’s kicking around somewhere in the galaxy, raising havoc (and a family) while Jake Lloyd rides off to do his Ben Hur thing. It’s like Mace Windu’s lightsaber: when asked, during Phantom Menace promotional interviews, why he didn’t have one, he replied “I did. I was wearing it.”

“But you didn’t actually use it.”

“Yeah,” replies Jackson, licking his lips. “But I was wearin’ it.” Intended meaning, it appears, counts for a lot.

Here’s a pet hate. Can we please have an embargo on ‘Rule one’? Rule one only applies for series 6, and even then it’s inconsistent, given that its most famous use comes courtesy of the world’s most unreliable narrator since Tyler Durden. Certainly it’s not something we should be using to cover up things we can’t be bothered to explain, which is what I see an awful lot. There is enough confusion in the real world without us having to deal with the reliability of TV characters. Can’t we just accept that they’re basically trustworthy and that sometimes we’re just mind-numbingly thick? There’s no other plausible explanation, surely, for the staggering levels of stupidity I see among the general populace, or the fact that a huge number of the votes cast in last week’s local elections were apparently protest votes. “You can’t deliver what you promised,” says Mr Finch of Tunbridge Wells, “so I’m voting for the independent candidate, despite the fact that I know bugger all about his policies and his leaflet was a copy editor’s nightmare”. Call me picky but that seems like a ludicrous way to decide who gets to sort out the local pot holes. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Of course, we talk about being in the dark about Brexit, but darkness is something we should all be accustomed to, at least lately.

Did I tell you I’ve never watched Game of Thrones? I’ll do so, perhaps, years down the line, having heard all the spoilers about the Night King and Ned Stark and poor old Hodor. I was chatting recently with a friend who told me about a prominent young Christian in his college church who had once told him that watching Game of Thrones was the path to ruin, and that as Church we must be in the world but not of the world, and that it leads to desensitisation and all sorts of other stuff you normally find in a Jack Chick tract. Call me a heretic but this sort of reaction has long since baffled me – not so much the wish to avoid such things (which is entirely a personal choice) but the fervent desire to preach it as gospel. If your faith is sufficiently wobbly – or dogmatic – that you do not feel you can engage with popular media, or if it’s some kind of principle that leads you to believe that fake people engaging in questionable activities is somehow unacceptable as entertainment, that’s entirely your business. But to teach it as some kind of worldview, and to tout your own approach not only as a feasible alternative but as the moral high ground, it’s…well, let’s just say it’s precisely the sort of thing I was talking about last week.

Still. It’s just never been particularly interesting, this tale of dragons and feuds and general silliness. I’m sure it’s lovely if you’re a fan, in the same way that Doctor Who is lovely if you’re a fan (unless you’re watching series 11, which apparently everybody hated except me). A lot of it is down to time. I barely get time to watch the stuff that actually interests me – most of which is Scandinavian – without having to wade into seventy-odd hours of Cornish scenery. You have to pick and choose, which is one reason I never watched Breaking Bad or The West Wing.

Sometimes you just have to prioritise, even if you’re a Time Lord.

It’s weird, though; I’ve watched ‘The Woman Who Lived’ at least a dozen times over the years and I’ve only just noticed this.

(You would not believe the social media reaction I got when I uploaded this one. Amidst the giggling, there were a number of people saying “Oh, wow, I can’t believe I didn’t see that before now! I feel stupid”. Sarcasm is difficult to detect on the internet but at least a few of them, it turned out, were absolutely sincere, which makes me weep for the future of humanity. At the other end of the spectrum was the woman who grumbled “Obvious Photoshop”, thereby completely missing the point. Middle ground: it’s nothing but a fable.)

It’s a different world, these days. Time was you’d get away with something like that. The wobbly sets on ‘The Aztecs’, for example, show up rather nastily on DVD but on a twelve-inch screen in 1963 no one bats an eyelid. These days it’s far easier to rewind and scrub and freeze frame and zoom with minimal pixellation, to the extent that repeated viewings to spot the hidden details are something that certain writers and directors actively encourage. Witness Steven Moffat, for example, who in his Sherlock interviews rambled about “a clue that everyone’s missed”, prompting eagle-eyed fans with too much time on their hands to go back and look again.

Still, at least he’s never done that sort of thing in Doctor Who.

Yes. Well.

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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