Review: Praxeus

Greetings, fellow foodies! This week’s recipe is an exotic one, submitted by Pete and Chris; a calorific concoction of intriguing flavours wrapped in a flash casing, guaranteed to bring sparkle to even the drabbest Sunday evening. Some caution is needed: Pete tells me the last time he and Chris made one they briefly set fire to the internet, so make sure you don’t do the same!

Ingredients:

  • Three continents (if you don’t have these lying around you can re-use the same footage from the recipe we made three weeks ago; neon signs are usually available in all good home & garden stores)
  • Two grizzled sidekicks, gay for preference (I always like to season their backstory in advance)
  • Two tonnes of plastic
  • One obviously robotic bird (make sure you change the batteries first)
  • More plastic references
  • Three hazmat suits and a couple of gas masks
  • Seven tablespoons of BBC interference
  • Did we mention plastic?

Time: 50 minutes

Difficulty: Amiable to infuriating

Method: 

1. First, grease a large baking sheet with marketing hype. I find it helps to do this in layers, but you’ll need to include a really good press release talking about the environmental themes.

2. Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6. This won’t take long as it should still be fairly hot from our last bake.

3. Separate your characters into three piles. Then, in three separate bowls, mix them until they start to combine. This is a lengthy process but they’ll eventually form a loose sort of dough. Be careful not to prod it, though, or it’ll break apart.

4. Place one Doctor in each bowl. Leave to stew.

5. Over a low heat, boil up three technobabble dumplings. Start this early, so they have time to boil dry – the drier the better.

6. While the technobabble is simmering, blend up three McGuffins – I tend to use human-shaped McGuffins – into thousands of pieces. This will be your layer of unpleasant death.

7. Combine all three bowls until the mixture just about clumps together. Crimp the edges with a pathogen reference.

8. Now it’s time to add our flavouring. Dip the hazmat suits very briefly into the mixture and then pull them out straight away; you want only the mildest hint of them. Sprinkle the layer of unpleasant death over the top.

9. When this is done, drizzle with social commentary. I find it helps to do this slowly and laboriously, really allowing the juices to soak in: you’ll probably find it gets concentrated in one area, and will almost certainly drift to the bottom, but your dinner guests will expect this so it doesn’t matter too much. They’ll eat it anyway.

10. The pudding is now ready to be over-egged. You know what to do, right?

11. Place in the oven. While it’s baking, you could catch up on Twitter.

12. It’s vital that you remove your Praxeus from the oven midway through the cooking time. This will ensure it’s half-baked and collapsing in the middle.

13. Garnish with a twist of half-expected villain and, if you have one, a sprig of noble self-sacrifice.

14. If prepared to perfection, the Praxeus should be stodgy and sweet, but leave a mildly unpleasant aftertaste.

 

And that’s it. In two weeks: Dry Roasted Cybermen, guaranteed nut (and bolt) free.

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God Is In The Detail (12-05)

Give me a minute here, folks. I am running around the internet frantically trying to cram all these worms back into their can. Good grief what a week it’s been. You drop one little reveal and everyone and their sister thinks they have all the answers about where Chibnall’s going with his New Doctor. I’ve heard every single theory on offer – she’s Jenny, she’s Romana, she’s the Rani, she’s before Hartnell, she’s the Metacrisis Doctor – and I think we can agree on one thing and one thing alone, and that is that the eventual explanation will be a crushing disappointment, irrespective of how and when it occurs. Whatever happens next, you’ll all feel let down. I won’t say “I told you so”, except I probably will.

In the meantime the press have also got in on the act. Half the journalists writing are also fans (it makes, in my experience, for the very worst kind of reviews, but let’s not go there) and nothing gets people nattering like a bit of speculation. For better or worse, ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ may have been the most talked-about episode since ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’, and it’s given Radio Times the perfect opportunity to tell us all how clever it was, when they published a list of hidden clues and hints as to Ruth Clayton’s real identity.

I mean, I’ve taken a look, and it’s pitiful. It’s the work of a rank amateur – probably an unpaid intern with access to Wikipedia and a copy of The Doctor: His Lives and Times. They didn’t even pick up on the clock face, beyond the most cursorary of glances. My grandmother could have managed better, and she’s been six feet under since 2003. No, listen: if you want to know what was really going on, beneath all the bluster and the talk about the Timeless Child and the secret history of Gallifrey, you just need to dig a little deeper than the cryptic remarks these hacks think will suffice. Because if you examine ‘Fugitive’ – I mean REALLY EXAMINE it – there’s a shedload of hidden information and secret signs that reveal Ruth’s identity right from the get-go.

Let’s start at the very beginning – with the very first shot, in fact.

Ah, yes. Time, the enemy in us all. But you’ve noticed the hand positioning, haven’t you? Let’s break it down: the minute hand, you’ll see, is stuck at twelve, while the hour hand is firmly at eight, alluding to Doctors Capaldi and McGann respectively. Superficially this makes little sense until we look at the second hand, hovering between ten and eleven – alluding both to the Metacrisis Doctor, but also a meeting between Tennant and Smith.

You can see where this is going, can’t you? This is all about 2013, and ‘Day of the Doctor’ – the ‘Night of the Doctor’ minisode providing the McGann connection – and is a CLEAR AND TRANSPARENT suggestion that there were more than thirteen TARDISes in orbit round Gallifrey. Remember, just because you didn’t see Doctor Ruth’s TARDIS, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. You know, like genital herpes. Apparently. According to a friend of mine.

We move on, with rampant swiftness.

It’s the candles I want you to look at here, because their placement is not random, nor is it without significance. In order to understand the varying lengths, we need to do a little detective work, because each candle corresponds to a different Doctor, according to the number of episodes in which they featured. Hence the tallest candle (the second one from the left) refers to Tom Baker – who, at 172 episodes, is the longest-running Doctor of all time. And so on and so forth.

It took a little time, and I had to physically count the pixels, but we got there, and the end result looks like this:

(If you’re interested in where I got my information, by the way, you can take a look at the IMDB reference here. It’s a little out of date, as it doesn’t feature Whittaker’s Doctor, but it works for the purposes of what we’re doing.)

With me so far? Good. Written down from left to right the numbers look like this:

10  4  12  3  11     7  2  6  1  5

The first half – thrown together it reads 10412311 – is a product number for a bead collection produced by a company called Grace Lampwork Beads (I know. I know!!!). The product in question is a cluster called Deep Sea Wonder. Are you ready to see it? And before you do, have you ever wondered what an inside-out TARDIS console room might resemble? Because if you haven’t, think about it right now. Your mind is about to be literally blown.

You see what I mean.

The second half refers to a date – 7/26/15, an Americanised version of 26 July 2015. It’s the date Chris Froome won the Tour De France, but it’s also the date Leif Ove Andsnes performed Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the BBC Proms season. This works on two levels: superficially, it’s a nod to ‘Before The Flood’, specifically the moment the Doctor monologues about Beethoven’s Fifth (symphony, rather than piano concerto, but the cat’s still out of the bag). However, you’ll be stunned to discover that ‘Leif Ove Andsnes’ is an anagram of ‘invade onself‘, WHICH IS LITERALLY WHAT HAPPENS IN THIS EPISODE.

That’s enough numbers: let’s look at some of the more visual stuff. Very early in the episode, Ruth’s seen having breakfast, in a single shot that’s so loaded with detail I’ve had to annotate it.

There’s nothing much else to say about this, except for a health and safety observation: seriously, who keeps a wooden chopping board right next to a hob?!? I mean really. It’s all fun and games until the kitchen burns down. I just hope her smoke alarm batteries are working.

Finally, here’s a map. Ostensibly useless, but there’s a very, VERY big thing happening in this one.

Now, I want you to pay very close attention to that blue line. It takes its cue from the Soup Line, a concept Bill Drummond (of the KLF) envisaged a few years back. You draw a line on a map of the British Isles, intersecting Belfast and Nottingham (if you’ve done it right, you’ll end up at Ipswich). Should your house fall on the line, Bill Drummond promises to pay you a visit and make soup, simply because he likes soup. I have no idea whether he still does this, but I would like to hope so.

Now let’s take a look at this particular line, transposed to real world locations.

You can’t see it clearly, but having examined Google Maps I can confirm that the line intersects the following:

A – Aberdyfi

B – Knighton

C – Moreton-in-Marsh

D – Gravesend

And you don’t need me to tell you what this means, but for the sake of anyone who’s just wandered in here (help yourself to sausage rolls by the way; they’re still warm) then we’ll elaborate: the much-discussed “More than a Time Lord” scene from ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is coming to fruition, via knights from Knighton and Arthur’s Morgana (a corruption of ‘Moreton’) in a pitched battle on the Welsh coast, leading to the eventual revival of THE SEVENTH DOCTOR. Which is obvious, really – we always knew he was Merlin; it’s just there’s no reason why Merlin had to be a man. Lest you’d forgotten, it’s all building to a revisit to Trenzalore (Gravesend), and the question that must never be answered, which is not “Doctor Who”, but “Should Great Britain leave the European Union or…”

Need we mention that Drummond was also partially responsible for ‘Doctorin’ The TARDIS’? We need not. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Radio Times.

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 12 edition, part two)

I’m sure you’re all reeling from Sunday. I know the internet in general is. It’s been the usual heady mixture of excitement, outrage and fear: How dare they, the haters seem to be asking, how dare they spring another Doctor on us AND SCREW UP THE NUMBERING? Never mind the fact that THERE CAN’T POSSIBLY BE ANY EARLIER DOCTORS THAN HARTNELL BECAUSE HARTNELL, and it could be between Troughton and Pertwee because, you know, we never actually saw that and BESIDES THE TWO DOCTORS, and…oh, look, you get the idea. It’s funny what happens when you set a precedent – there we all were, grumbling about how every Doctor is announced years in advance with a flurry of trumpets, and then all of a sudden Chibnall drops a new one on us out of nowhere and absolutely no one knew it was coming, and now it’s supposedly a disaster. I say be careful what you wish for.

Anyway, while we work on this week’s conspiracy post (and it’s going to be a cracker, you just wait) here’s a little oasis of calm and tranquility, taking the form of a meme roundup from episodes three and four. First –

Having brought Graham his highball, the Doctor asks if she can take off the butler’s uniform.

It must be said: this year’s Love Island looks shit.

Having gone out early, Jodie Whittaker curses to herself when she remembers what day it is.

And somewhere else entirely (or maybe not) the Twelfth Doctor picks up a couple of hitchhikers.

“Yeah, I can take you as far as Canada…”

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Review: Fugitive of the Judoon

Warning: many spoilers below. Read at your peril.

There are some episodes of Doctor Who that, when you examine them under a bright light, actually aren’t terribly good. ‘Extremis’ is perhaps the most obvious contemporary example. ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ is another. ‘Utopia’ a third. None of these stories is particularly memorable, in the grand scheme of things. ‘Utopia’ sees the Doctor and Martha (with an old friend in tow) explore the end of the universe while being pursued by the carnivorous remnants of what used to be humanity. ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ assembles a ragtag bunch of waifs and strays and pits them against a silent religious order, in more than one sense of the word. ‘Extremis’ marks the beginning of the Monk trilogy – the low point for series 10 – in a story that is memorable solely because it pulls the rug from under our feet in its closing minutes. (Well, that and the scene with the Pope. That was quite funny.)

But they’re all stories we remember because Things Happened. ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ was event television. There was absolutely nothing special about it, in terms of the story it endeavoured to tell; it’s certain key moments that stand out. It starts innocently enough. Bereft and miserable, the Doctor is finally distracted from her hours of TARDIS console vigil by an alert from Gloucester: the Judoon have landed outside a cafe, and are in the process of throwing their monosyllabic weight around while they search for a dangerous fugitive. They’re still inflexible and brutal, and the Doctor is keen to intercede before things get too nasty – and intercede she does, although the can of worms she opens as a result is dark, slimy and full of entrails…look, basically it’s a complete dog’s breakfast. She should never have let them talk to Yas.

At first, it seems the Judoon are after an elusive, perenially nervous Stroud native called Lee (Game On‘s Neil Stuke, looking jumpy and perpetually hungover), nice enough but clearly hiding something. Lee is married to Ruth (Jo Martin, recently decorating the boardroom at Holby City), who is celebrating her birthday by handing out flyers for city tours that no one is booking – at least until the Judoon show up, all leather and pointed helmets, stomping through houses and cathedrals and killing anyone who gets in their way, while Whittaker makes awkward jokes about canals. That the fugitive turns out to be Ruth is no real surprise; that Lee meets an early demise twenty minutes in is predictable television; that Ruth is harbouring a buried past and hidden skills is more or less what everyone expected.

That she turns out to be the Doctor, of course, is something of a twist.

In a way, you have to hand it to Chibnall (the script is Patel’s, but this idea was almost certainly not) for actually surprising his audience. The buzzing about altered backstories has been an omnirumour since late 2018, but it wasn’t until last night that it appeared to actually have legs, and its unveiling was reasonably spectactular, Whittaker digging in the dirt for a buried TARDIS while Martin smashes the glass panel inside a lighthouse (the only thing that could have upped the symbolism levels would have been to make it a ceiling) and before changing her clothes. So catastrophic is the anticipated fallout from a move like this it’s tempting to disengage yourself from the fandom entirely: suffice it to say the decision to insert (or at least appear to insert) an earlier incarnation, with all that insinuates, and then cast a black woman in the role was not only a bold move but also an extremely savvy piece of trolling from the chief writer. Even if it’s not up there with ‘The Name of the Doctor’ – in terms of reveals, it’s more of a ‘Death In Heaven’ moment – it is, at least, guaranteed to get the internet talking about Doctor Who in a way that no one has for quite some time. I’d imagine it was a long night for bowlestrek.

At moments like these the temptation to shout “Bollocks!” (as I did during ‘Orphan 55’) is stronger than ever. But any doubts that Martin really is the Doctor (or at least a Doctor of sorts) are instantly dispelled by the synchronised, ‘Midnight’-esque conversation that follows – along with certain behavioural aspects that seem fairly authentic, albeit at the Colin Baker end of the scale. Acting is a big part of it: Martin’s demeanour change from human to Time Lord is powerful but understated; two halves of the same character, pompous and serious while Whittaker looks increasingly confused and out of her depth. It could still turn out to be an elaborate ruse, but honestly I’m not convinced that this current production team are capable of that sort of feint: this feels more like the sort of game-changing reveal that prompts an explosion of fan theory. She’s the Doctor from a parallel universe. A future Doctor with memory loss. A hidden incarnation sandwiched between Troughton and Pertwee. A buried secret past, Chibnall’s rumoured ‘Thirteen Previous’ cycle coming to fruition. Pick one.

It makes it a difficult episode to review. The story itself is bland and inconsequential, serving solely to advance the series arc: more than anything, ‘Fugitive’ feels not so much like the first part of a two-part story but a filler episode that we’ll revisit in a month or two, or perhaps even next year if the rumours have any substance. The TARDIS fam have next to nothing to do this week, to the extent that they’re removed from the narrative entirely by the most unexpected of guest stars, materialising in a gloomy spacecraft in the company of Captain Jack Harkness. Older, a little grizzled around the jaw but still as flirtatious as ever, Barrowman wastes no time in snogging Graham and complimenting him on his temples before evading a barrage of laser fire from the unseen monsters who want their ship back. As much fun as it is, the inconvenient truth is that Jack’s cameo serves absolutely no purpose, other than to have the fans squealing and jumping out of their seats, something I’ll admit I did. He’s there to deliver a cryptic message to the Doctor (disappointingly, the two never meet – perhaps they’re saving that for later), but surely he could have sent an email or something? On the other hand it’s lovely to see him, and it says something about the pace of an episode when a cameo from a long-departed guest actor is one of the least interesting things about it.

The other inconenient truth is that, despite its good intentions, ‘Fugitive’ wasn’t exactly a rug sweeper. It feels, more than anything, that those days are over: that the two-way feedback now supposedly deemed essential to the production process has rendered this a series of games and one-upmanships; television reduced to a series of “Gotcha!” moments. For all its jaw-dropping revelations (and there were several) it’s hard not to feel ever so slightly cheated; that this was an event, rather than anything of any substance. Moreover it was an event inserted purely for shock value, a cynical headline-grab in the manner of Moffat’s decision to tinker with the numbering (something no amount of garbage about writer’s block can ever really justify). Doctor Who isn’t produced in a vacuum, and while Whittaker maintains she doesn’t read the papers it should be fairly self-evident by now that Chibnall does. It is impossible not to conclude that this decision was made to deliberately upset certain people. And while I don’t object to big changes, as long as they work, and while I’d be happy to see Martin again on the strength of her performance this week, I’m not sure how I feel about the the BBC poking the fandom with a stick. Although let’s face it, that’s something the Doctor does particularly well.

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The 1975

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

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

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

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

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Review: Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror

For Emily, the eye-rolling started early. It happened when Graham was giving a history lesson, three companions in Mufti (and a Doctor who seems happy to keep the braces on) gathered in a sparse office in early twentieth century New York. No one seemed to know anything about Nikola Tesla, including the mansplaining bus driver. They had just been walking through the streets asking about Times Square and the Empire State Building, both of which had yet to be built, and as far as my other half was concerned, this fresh display of ignorance was a bridge too far. “Honestly!” she spluttered. “Didn’t this lot learn anything at school? Don’t you need to have at least some GCSEs to become a police officer?”

I’d never studied or even learned about Tesla at school, and I told her so. “Didn’t you measure in Teslas?” she asked.

“Look,” I said, “I can’t remember a thing about Year 11 Physics. Except for that conversation with Mr Brame about whether the backwards universe from Red Dwarf was possible.”

I’ve learned a lot since secondary school, although Tesla is still a knowledge gap – one I recently attempted to fill by playing Tesla Vs Lovecraft, a twin-stick shooter which gives you an array of steampunk gadgetry and puts you on the streets against hordes of denizens conjured from other dimensions by Lovecraft himself, for reasons we’ve never quite managed to discern. It is ridiculous fun but I bought it, I will confess, largely for the Lovecraft connection – a man who has never and likely never will make any sort of appearance in Doctor Who, for reasons that ought to be obvious if you know anything about him, although his influence over the show has been prolific, from the outright pastiche that is ‘Image of the Fendahl’ to the tentacled mouths of the Ood.

All Nintendo Switch sessions aside, having the TARDIS fam wax lyrical in such a fashion of ignorance is, at least, familiar territory. But never mind Graham, Ryan and Yas meeting famous historical people without a clue whom they’re addressing – why on Earth doesn’t the Doctor know? Mistaken identity often enhances a narrative, but it jars when the pudding is overegged: are we really supposed to believe that there isn’t a visual dictionary in the library, or that no one checks the readouts to see when and where they’ve actually landed? It’s happened twice this year, once with Ada Lovelace and once with the pioneering inventor who graced last night’s episode, and on both occasions the audience has been quicker on the uptake than the Doctor – who manages to wander into and escape from the Niagara Falls power station without having a clue that she’s in the presence of the man responsible for building it.

In ‘Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror’ Nina Metivier re-imagines the eponymous Tesla – played with dignity and aplomb by ER’s Goran Višnjić as an impassioned immigrant (albeit one with a passport) who has pursued the American dream and found it as about as substantial and rewarding as a bag of cheese melt dippers. In his quest for fame and the pursuit of knowledge Tesla has run afoul of a ruthless business rival and a parasitic race of giant alien scorpions – in that order, although presented in reverse. Said business rival is of course Thomas Edison, who, in this week’s Classic revisitation, is played by Robert Glenister, last seen littering the floor in ‘The Caves of Androzani’. Edison is presented here as a ruthless and ambitious slanderer, a man of business above ideals, reaping the benefits of intellectual copyright theft. He’s first seen outside his impressive laboratory, shot from below, as if towering over the landscape like a giant. By the end of the story – and the closing conversation between the two men – the camera has shifted to favour Tesla, who looms subtly over his rival, having attained the moral high ground if not the financial victory he so desperately craved.

Tesla himself is somewhat whitewashed, in much the same way that Churchill was, but it’s to Metivier’s credit that she manages to string together a tale that avoids the preachiness of other recent instalments, even if it manages this by the skin of its teeth. Oh, there are moments. “Business is the American way,” Edison harrumphs for the umpteenth time, before grinning about the time he reduced his rival to ditch-digging. On the other hand he expresses remorse over the loss of his staff (“These were men with families!”), he doesn’t cut and run, he doesn’t try and sell out Tesla to the villain of the week, and at the end he extends a hand of friendship, even if he’s only following the money. It’s simplistic and it doesn’t always work, but to all those I’ve heard complaining about the anti-Trump, anti-American sentiment: are you absolutely sure we were watching the same episode?

Where Tesla and Edison are reasonably developed, considering this is Doctor Who, the villains are sadly lacking: Anjli Mohindra, caked beneath layers of makeup, plays a poor cousin to the already destitute Racnoss and manages to be the least interesting villain since…well, the one they did two episodes ago, if we’re nitpicking. There is nothing to say about the Skithra, except that they crawl over the interior of an uninteresting spacecraft, besiege Tesla’s out-of-town laboratory, and ransack the streets of New York (prompting an amusing chase sequence which will have all the advocates of the Fruit Cart Trope punching the air, or perhaps waving an angry fist and yelling obscenities in an unknown language). That they are dull and forgettable is precisely the point, but it’s a waste of Mohindra’s talent – she really was quite good in that thing with Simon Callow – and when Whittaker sneers that “When you die, there’ll be nothing left behind”, you wish it wasn’t all quite so meta.

Whittaker herself appears to be finally hitting the mark, even if the stories and dialogue don’t always do her justice. She references both Baker (“Nice place you’ve got here, probably”) and Hamlet while facing off against the Skithra, and is equally at home uncoupling a train carriage as she is cobbling together bits of machinery. There is a sense, more than ever, that the TARDIS is a family, with unscreened adventures referenced in every story, and Whittaker leads them with a madcap aloofness that puts you in mind of Tennant, on one of his good (read: less miserable) days. Indeed, ‘Night of Terror’ is easily the sort of story that might have taken place under his reign, perhaps in the company of Martha.

If there’s one thing we might say for the companions this series it’s that there’s something rather blasé about them. Gone is Ryan’s sense of awe at meeting Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, or Graham’s quiet observations in ‘Demons of the Punjab’. Instead there is an apathetic sheen to each new encounter. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to them that this is a Big Deal. Perhaps dropping in cries of “Wow!” and “Awesome!” is viewed as gauche or silly in these cynical, enlightened days, the sort of thing best left to Sophie Aldred. Perhaps the writers don’t have time to put them in, or simply assume that someone else has done it. Or perhaps they’ve all got travel fatigue. Come the end they’re all making jokes about average days, as if getting in and out of trouble was as natural as riding a bus or scrolling through a Facebook news feed. “First time here can be a lot,” Ryan notes to Dorothy Skeritt (Haley McGee) as the two of them chill in the TARDIS. “It certainly is a lot,” she retorts. “But you take it in your stride.”

Nonetheless: it was good, and it was solid – which sounds like faint praise, but in a series where Doctor Who seems to be in danger of losing its structural integrity it’s nice to have something that forms a bit of a foundation. ‘Night of Terror’ won’t exactly set the world alight, nor is it destined to make the top ten lists, but if kids didn’t know who he was before they certainly will by the end, even if it’s not exactly a balanced portrait. While not without its flaws, there’s more here that works than doesn’t: the guest cast are mostly very good, old New York is pleasantly rendered, and considering it’s her first time, Metivier seems to have more of an idea of what’s going on than many other writers. She can come again. But next time can we have a minigun and a bit of Cthulhu?

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God Is In The Detail (12-03)

Greetings, fair traveller. Welcome to Tranquility Spa, a place to relax and unwind and escape from the hubbub and stress of everyday life. We invite you to sit down, take the weight of your feet and catch up with this week’s list of VERY IMPORTANT CLUES AND SIGNS that you might have missed while watching the Doctor and her fam run around the scorched Earth. Luckily, I’ve written them all down. You may thank me later.

You’ll recall, fairly early during the episode’s running time, that the intrepid foursome ran out of the main building on Tranquility Spa and found themselves up against a brick wall – or at least a reasonably disguised barrier. To those of us who’d seen The Truman Show, it was familiar territory – and like everything else in the story it erupted at breakneck speed, which meant it was easy to miss what was going on when the Doctor examined that energy wall. Let’s slow down the action and take a closer look.

Believe it or not, this relates to Turlough. Notice the chequered pattern that makes up the slab’s exterior? We may, if we squint, count the Doctors in squares – the top line is Doctors 1-3, while 4-6 and 7-9 appear beneath. This means that the red square right in the middle of the board corresponds with Davison’s Doctor, and thus the portal we can see behind his square is themed around the idea of centres – the Doctor, of course, having visited the centre of the universe during the events of ‘Terminus’. (While we’re talking about red squares, we should also point out that the Eighth Doctor – represented directly beneath the Fifth – visited Red Square in Revolution Man. But of course you all knew that.)

“Yes, that’s all very well,” I can hear you all ask, “but why Turlough?” Well, have a look at this.

Notice the five illuminated markings round the edge? And the 20.5% in the middle? That wasn’t an accident. It stands, unless I’m very much mistaken (and I’m not) for Fifth Doctor, season 20, story 5 – also known as ‘Enlightenment’, in which Turlough faced up to the Black Guardian and redeemed himself, even though Tegan never fully trusted him. This probably all sounds a bit tunous, but lest we forget, the name Turlough comes from the Irish turlach, meaning ‘dry place’ – it’s a village in County Mayo and, more interestingly, a city in California with the zip codes 9538095381 and 95382 – corresponding DIRECTLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY with the years that Davison (represented by 5) signed the contract, first appeared on screen and then made his debut properly (80, 81 and 82 respectively). Oh, and the 3? The number of stories in the Black Guardian trilogy, of course. Need I point out that Mark Strickson was born in ’59, the reverse of 95? I need not.

The next image may be a little difficult to see close up, but suffice it to say that the cameras that make up its four separate sections are all numbered. Assuming that we can ascribe each number to a separate Doctor – and factoring in that Whittaker is technically the Fourteenth incarnation, if one factors in John Hurt – we can make connections as follows:

Let’s split it up and look for clues. As you can see, the top half of this is to do with zip codes: the numbers at the bottom of each video display each correspond to separate zip codes, creating a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS link to some unannounced (but long-rumoured) content from Big Finish. First up is an untitled Short Trip, narrated by Katie Manning, in which the Third Doctor and Jo visit Maine in 1984 and fall foul of a mysterious alien race wanting to invade Earth via the phone lines. There then follows an upcoming Sixth Doctor adventure in which the TARDIS materialises in nineteenth century Hartford, where they discover the inspiration for Injun Joe was a stranded Sontaran. According to the grapevine it features a sequence where the travellers keep missing Twain by a matter of minutes, prompting the Doctor to quip “And ne’er the Twain shall meet”, to which Peri rolls her eyes.

The bottom half is all about words: you’ll see that these two cameras are focused on the Tropical Vista Zone and the Peaceful Paradise Zone, both of which sound like levels from an abandoned Sonic The Hedgehog title. However, if we are to combine the words ‘Tropical Vista’ and ‘Peaceful Paradise’ and then rearrange the letters, you can see that we get ‘AFAR PLURAL APPOSITE VISIT’, which is a blatant reference to the recently released Thirteenth Doctor comic strip, in which Whittaker’s Doctor has a close enounter with Tennant’s Doctor during the events of ‘Blink’. Am I saying that the Scorched Earth we saw in ‘Orphan 55’ is linked to the unresolved cliffhanger from Class? No, I am not. I leave the dot-joining to you.

Next time: Melanie Brown…

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The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part seven)

After several months of catch-up, we are – almost – at the point where the videos are being blogged in the same season (if not quite the same month) that they were originally produced. That probably means you’ll see fewer of them on here for a bit, which is not a bad thing as we’re all a bit thick with series 12 stuff at the moment – although if you’re tired of reading about heavy-handed social commentary and politics then this may come as a welcome relief. Except one of today’s batch features the Prime Minister, so maybe not.

Shall we crack on, then?

 

1. Hulk Boris (September 2019)

September seems an age ago now, so let me play the magic harp sting that signals the beginnings of a flashback: it was one of those things that was trending, briefly, for no reason other than it was a Sunday and we were bored. “Banner might be bound in manacles,” Boris told the Mail, “but when provoked he would explode out of them. Hulk always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be – and that is the case for this country.”

He’s missed the point, but I’m not interested in deconstructing his argument; I will leave that to the likes of Mark Ruffalo, who had plenty to say. I just thought it would be fun to take some footage of Boris and score it to the Lonely Man theme from the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV series – you know, the moment at the end of every episode where Bill Bixby hoisted a small knapsack over his shoulder (presumably he’d just buy a new shirt in the next town) and then walk off down a tree-lined road, thumbing for a lift that never came, while the world’s most miserable piano music tinkled away in the background. That’s Boris, here. It doesn’t quite come off, but it was fun to throw together.

 

2. The Churchill Dog Does Back To The Future (October 2019)

Here’s something I’ve never told anybody: if you watch our wedding video, when I’m saying my vows, I am nodding my head up and down like a dog in the back of a car. I can’t remember why I was doing it; it was just the heady mix of nerves and passion and the maelstrom of chemicals that surge through you when you get married to someone you love. Emily calls it my Churchill performance, and it has become one of those running jokes that is amusing to you and you alone. I don’t even know why I’m writing about it.

Anyway. October last year – a few days before our anniversary, as it happens – and Churchill Car Insurance unveil a new advertising campaign, in which their iconic bulldog – now given a fresh lick of paint – is seen skateboarding along through a bustling urban locale while some pleasant ambient muzak drifts along in the background. It’s all very nice and calm and done rather well, but I really felt like they missed a trick by not using ‘The Power of Love’. So I stuck it in, and I can’t help thinking it’s an improvement.

 

 

3. Yellow: The Jodie Whittaker Version (October 2019)

OK, this one sort of exploded a bit.

Back in early autumn – it may have even been the dying embers of summer, depending on your geographical perspective – we got wind of an upcoming charity compilation for Children In Need, with various stars of stage and screen set to lend their vocal talents to a covers album. Said list included Adrian Lester, Jim Broadbent and Olivia Coleman, who is in everything. But the biggest news was Jodie Whittaker, who was covering ‘Yellow’. You can say what you like about Coldplay, who disappeared completely up their own arses after they became the backing music for just about every entertainment montage or charity video that TV could throw at us, but Parachutes is a great album, and ‘Yellow’ is a wonderful three minutes of unpretentious pop. Noticable from the preview footage was that Whittaker was opting to perform in her native accent, leading to various remarks (including one or two from me) suggesting that she’d actually be singing “…and it were all yeller”.

The album itself is quite good – Helena Bohnham Carter smashes ‘Both Sides Now’, Tennant supplies a servicable ‘Sunshine on Leith’ (although is there ever any point to a Proclaimers song that isn’t sung by the Proclaimers?) and the whole cast unites for a chirpy cover of ‘It Must Be Love’. But it’s Whittaker we want to focus on here, if only because setting her rather heartfelt vocal (delivered, as it turned out, while she was looking at a picture of her deceased nephew, to whom the song is silently dedicated) to a sequence of series 11 images really was a bit of a no-brainer. Why would you not?

I wasn’t the first. But publishing it on the anniversary of ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ turned out to be a helpful move; people were, I think, a little more kind as a result. You inevitably get a bit of trolling when you launch something like this – I had to block several people from my YouTube channel (hello Michael McGrath, are you still out there waving your toxic micropenis?), but I left as many negative comments up there as possible, which annoyed me less than it usually does given that the vast majority of them seemed to be focussing on the song, with ‘autotuned’ being the prevailing sentiment among her critics. Other people liked it. “You may have single-handedly revived the fortunes of Doctor Who” read one bit of feedback that landed on my timeline. Well, I really wouldn’t go that far. But I do know that Mandip Gill liked it, and that’s good enough.

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Review: Orphan 55

My American contacts sometimes tell me they have to watch Doctor Who with subtitles. “It’s the accent,” they insist. “It’s just too thick. We can’t understand what people are saying.” Having dug a little deeper, I’ve determined that the accent is only part of the equation: the real reason, it turns out, is the relentless pace at which dialogue drops out of the air, as if the cast had a sweepstake going to see how quickly Jodie Whittaker could get through a scene. For someone who claims not to have watched a great deal of Doctor Who she certainly knows her Tennant: nobody did caffeine-fuelled exposition quite like he did; at least nobody until now.

Whittaker’s penchant for technobabble almost proves her undoing tonight – “You talk too much”, one supporting character observes, and indeed it is this insistence on explaining everything at breakneck speed that causes the Doctor to drain her oxygen supply at the most inconvenient of moments. But that’s all right, because she’s just bumped into the surprisingly affable Dreg Chief, emerging from the shadows in a heaving mass of muscles and teeth to provide a crucial plot development. The Dregs, you see, are what humanity is destined to become if we don’t get our act together: mindless, permanently enraged half-people, attacking in mobs and incapable of anything resembling coherent language. Is this science fiction, or have they been at a Britain First rally?

‘Orphan 55’ is the tale of what happens when you don’t tell your friends why you’re miserable: having beaten off an unnamed, mostly unseen tentacled monstrosity just before we catch up with them at the story’s opening, the gang elect to take a holiday on Tranquility Spa, which looks rather like a European conference centre with an outdoor pool. Greeted by an unsightly dog (we really are in Spaceballs territory here), the Doctor swiftly finds herself alone and abandoned as her pals go off to explore on their own – and although it’s literally a matter of seconds before trouble starts, Whittaker looks, for a moment, just about as vulnerable and human as we’ve ever seen her. It is a lovely vignette that is over before it’s had the chance to really begin, and its brevity sets the tone for what follows: forty-five minutes of guns and explosions and noble self-sacrificing geriatrics, where ecosystems and corporate structures and scientific principles are all half-discussed, half-shouted in a flurry of exposition while several people run down a darkened corridor or panic over a computer terminal. It’s all horribly confusing in places, and if Ed Hime’s last effort (the atrocious ‘It Takes You Away’) suffered heavily from the complete absence of a plot, his follow-up suffers from having rather too much of one, which presumably means that Chibnall has to invite him back next year to see if he can nail it the third time.

Said plot revolves around the rather excessive security forces populating the facility, not to mention the sudden brownouts, which are enough for the Doctor to smell a rat – or at least a worm, which she yanks from Ryan’s mouth in what is the episode’s funniest sequence. Elsewhere Yas has bumped into a cheerful elderly pair and Graham just wants to lounge on a deckchair in a cardigan like a Kay’s catalogue model, but it isn’t long before the lights go out and the sirens go up, and then there is a gunfight in a corridor and the first of several deaths. Tranquility Spa is an onion of intrigue, hiding layers of revelatory insight, each layer darker and more intriguing than the last, and so the Doctor and her friends leave the safety of the hotel’s gleaming interiors to uncover them all – although it’s a decision that at least three of them will live to regret.

Along the way they run into the usual motley crew of supporting characters. Bella (Gia Re) is a troubled young woman hiding a dull family secret. Vilma (Julia Foster) is a surprisingly spritely pensioner who provides the catalyst for the story’s second act when the Doctor launches a rescue operation to find her kidnapped boyfriend. Nevi (James Buckley) is a middle-aged Oompa Loompa who didn’t realise that Bring Your Child To Work Day was last week; his role is to stand around looking entirely gormless while his son Silas (His Dark Materials’ Lewin Lloyd) does all the thinking. None of these people are very interesting and I have gone to the trouble of writing down their names and who played them in order to give you a handy reference guide, because you will have forgotten every single one of them by Wednesday, if not sooner. You’re welcome.

The second half of ‘Orphan 55’ is pure Terry Nation: there’s a bomb, and someone twists an ankle. The gang split off into factions to try and save themselves from certain death, with lessons learned and familial bonds strengthened at the eleventh hour. That said, I can’t for the life of me remember what Yas was doing: a couple of early scenes aside, Mandip Gill really has been horribly underwritten this series, to the extent that if she had slipped into the crack of erasure that swallowed Rory Williams, not even the audience would notice. It’s a shame, because there is an innocent sweetness to Gill that made her one of the most endearing facets of Whittaker’s first year, and to see her confined to the sidelines in this manner is frustrating, particularly when she’s clearly talented.

All inadequacies aside, it’s at least a lot of fun to watch, and things are breezing along quite well until the last minute and a half, when a dejected crew stand around the TARDIS console wondering if there’s any point to anything. It’s left to their captain to reveal, with all the subtlety of a presidential Tweet, that this apocalyptic future happened because of man’s inhumanity to man – and, what’s more, we can change it. Which would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that generally speaking we can’t: awkward moments in ‘Pyramids of Mars’ aside, Doctor Who is very much a predestination show, the parallel timelines of Back to the Future confined gracefully to the waste bin of unused plot devices, except when it’s really important to the narrative or the writers are simply bored. Or when some suited executive sends down a fax asking them to tone it down so the kids don’t get too scared, because they really want to stay on the right side of Ofcom now the election’s over, and isn’t Greta going to find it all a bit defeatist? Or perhaps Chibnall felt the story needed a rewrite. Or perhaps there was no tinkering at all: perhaps it was simply Hine erecting a soapbox in the TARDIS (which is understandable; Whittaker’s only five foot six). The net result, regardless of its point of origin, is a watered-down environmental message that undoubtedly serves its purpose, assuming that purpose was to send the episode crashing through the floor right at the end of its denoument. “It’s only a possible future,” the Doctor insists, calmly, to which there really ought to be a unilateral cry of ‘Bollocks’.

There was a Guardian thinkpiece this week – I’m not linking to it; it’s ridiculously misguided – that said Doctor Who wasn’t woke; it was more offensive than ever, and proceeded to tell us why (their argument was basically “Token trans characters and the black people died”). At the other end of the scale, I was told this evening that including a climate change message was pandering to the Woke brigade – something I don’t fully understand, as there’s nothing Woke about climate change and there never really has been; it’s simple common sense. I don’t know where we go from there, but if you’re in a place where Doctor Who is offending both sides of the fandom, you’re either getting it colossally right or colossally wrong. I really would like to say it’s the former, but every week it becomes harder to make that call. Someone, somewhere, is making a lot of bad decisions this year – it may be Chibnall, it may be someone else, but the net result is a TV programme that’s in danger of losing its identity – at least last year we knew what Doctor Who was, even if it wasn’t something we immediately recognised, and if these last three weeks have proven anything it’s that indulging in transparent fan service is only going to erode whatever identity you were in the process of forging (which is what happened to the last Star Wars film). There is, somewhere underneath, a terrific show in series 12 waiting to get out, but it’s not one we’ve thus far been allowed to see. Instead we’re presented with a glossy, outwardly respectable veneer – a Tranquility Spa of slick marketing videos and idyllic publicity stills and a hype train loaded with goodness – that hides a dark underbelly of something rotten. It’s just a question of how long everyone can survive before the walls cave in.

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God Is In The Detail (12-02)

Good morrow, fair citizens. Perchance you tuned in here for the latest in our round-up of HIGHLY IMPORTANT CLUES AND REFERENCES in this week’s Doctor Who? You did? Well, that’s marvellous. Pull up a chair and let me tell you about all the stuff you missed in the second part of ‘Spyfall’. Today we’ll be dealing with hidden signs, fake numbers and the return of an old companion. Anyone bring biscuits?

We’re off to Jodrell Bank first. You’ll recall that, in war torn Paris, the Doctor alluded to a previous encounter she’d had with the Master, which ended in a large fall from a radio telescope and a regeneration. Never mind the fact that ‘Logopolis’ wasn’t actually filmed at Jodrell Bank, or even set there – that’s either Chibnall demonstrating ineptitude or carelessness or deliberately trolling the fanbase, depending on whom you ask. The implication is obvious: it’s supposed to be about the Fourth Doctor’s tumble from the tower, and one of the most moving handovers ever committed to film. It doesn’t take an idiot to figure that out, even if you can quibble about whether the idiot himself is the current chief writer.

So the Master asks if he’s ever apologised for it, and the Doctor says no he hasn’t, and the Master simply replies “Good”. And this seemingly innocuous exchange means nothing at all, until you figure out that it’s actually foreshadowed EARLIER IN THIS EPISODE. And if you doubt me, look at the numbers on Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine.

Note two things: first, the presence of the large black rod that marks the place where the number 5 is supposed to be; second, the number of teeth (12) that sit across the bottom part of that cog, which refers specifically to the number of times the Doctor regenerated before reaching the end of his first cycle. The significance of the numbers of the right I will leave for you to fathom. Be warned that the discovery is not a pleasant one.

From 1830s London we’re shifting gears to contemporary Essex – well, it’s not Essex, but I’ll explain why in a moment. Here’s Bradley, Tosin and Mandip, examining maps in the middle of a bustling town.

I did Google it, without success, but the Facebook Hive Mind has confirmed that this was shot in Barry, specifically at King Square – location map as follows:

There are several things to note, not least of which is the large human figure sitting on top of a gym ball (see below). But it’s the geography of the neighbouring streets that I want you to examine, because believe it or not it’s all tied up with none other than Martha Jones. A quick Street View perusal of the area reveals the following, within close proximity:

Superdrug
Cats Protection
Guardian Jewellery

Hmm. Cats? In a story with drugs? On a street that’s been designated one way for more than half its length (southwestbound) in order to alleviate GRIDLOCK? You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? But why Martha specifically? Well, that’s tied up partly with street names – one of the roads leading off King Square is the B4294, which relates DEFINITIVELY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to ’42’, which also starred Martha. But I also want you to think back to ‘The Infinite Quest’, in which the Doctor and Martha embarked on a series of adventures to recover various items of jewellery From this we can conclude that Martha will return in a story featuring the Black Guardian, who seeks a magic ring that will allow him to wield ultimate power unless it is melted in the fires of Mount Doom a trinket of some sort.

Oh, I promised you that gym ball, didn’t I? Here it is.

Next, a phone number.

For those of you who have yet to look this up, let me save you the trouble: 01632 pertains to a fictional area code that is, for the present, the exclusive domain of TV and film. In other words, it’s when they want to show a phone number but they don’t want everyone freeze-framing the TV and trying to call the Ghostbusters Firehouse, or Torchwood Three, or God. Try it. You’ll get nowhere.

But it’s the number that follows – ascribed to that payphone in the middle of ‘Essex’ – that is curious. Because 960470 actually refers to something very specific. It’s not a pantone reference. It’s not a Nissan part number. It’s not an Amazon product code. Well, actually it’s all three, and then some, but that’s not why we’re here. It actually refers to a photo uploaded to Geograph, taken by a chap named Tony Aitken, on the Camel Trail near Nanstallon in Cornwall. Not far from Bodmin, home to a substantial Masonic Hall, several nice churches and an enormous mythological cat. And if you’ve ever wondered why Doctor Who hasn’t done Bodmin Moor yet, now you know. It’s coming next year. We called it.

Finally, we’re back at the start of the episode, during the scene where Ryan’s crawling across the burning plane to find…this.

You didn’t need me to tell you, but this is all connected with anagrams. ‘SEAT POCKET’ can be rearranged to form the words ‘CASKET POET’, clearly alluding to a story in which the Doctor encounters a deceased writer. That’s about half the poets on the block, and then some. It’s a good start, but where do we go from there? Which poet is he talking about? Shelley? Keats? Byron? Shakespeare?

Oh look, there she is again. You’ve had your turn, Martha, now sit down.

No, actually, stand up. Because the truth – stranger than fiction – is linked to the words ‘Dead Poets Society’, the 1989 coming-of-age drama starring Robin Williams as the unorthodox Mr Keating. In other words, this doesn’t just refer to one poet: it’s a whole bunch of them. But it’s the initials I want you to examine, because DPS is not only the abbreviated form of Peter Weir’s Oscar Nominated Magnum Opus – it also stands for Descent Propulsion System, a rocket engine used in the Apollo moon landings. An event which was witnessed by Martha. In a story that’s just featured in a crossover comic starring the Thirteenth Doctor. You’re welcome.

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