Posts Tagged With: adric

The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part five)

I seem to have a backlog of videos to embed, so what better way to spend a Saturday morning than writing about some of them? Today, we’re looking at political Cybermen, irritating mathematical geniuses and fudged Italian opera, so without further ado, let’s delve into the ridiculous world of tenuous connections and ridiculous mashups that is my head. Bring that slab of Kendal; at least one of us is liable to get hungry.

 

1. Doomsday: Strong and Stable Edition (June 2019)

There is something about Yvonne Hartman’s final words that resonates with me. We’re supposed to be moved as she stands on a staircase moping about queen and country and leaking oil (something I never want to see again, ever). In truth she sounds like a politician falling back on soundbites to get out of a quandary. It is a silly scene in a dreadful episode and thus when it comes to potential redubbing opportunities it is very much top of the list.

If you remember Theresa May’s farewell speech, all the way back in June, you will recall the moment her voice cracked as she spoke of serving the country she loved, before walking back into Downing Street for what we were supposed to believe was the last time (the likely truth is she had to go back in later when she forgot her purse). Meanwhile I was making notes, ripping out highlights and then running her voice through a couple of filters so that she sounded reasonably Cyberish (is that a word? I’m making it a word). The end result is something I confess I quite like. It is one of those transient videos, which stopped being funny as soon as the internet had moved on to the next thing (which took all of a week), but for a moment there, people were laughing.

 

2. Earthshock Redux (June 2019)

This is absolutely ridiculous, and I still don’t think it quite works, but it’s the best episode I could find of making the joke I’m not about to give away here. If you’re familiar with the ads, you’ll see what I was trying to do. If you’re not, then it will fly over your head like Concorde. That was a reference to Time Flight, by the way, in case anyone had failed to realise. At least you get to see Adric explode, which is no bad thing.

 

3. Jon Pertwee sings (July 2019)

How did I mark the Pertwee centenary? With this. Pertwee is easily the most musical of the Doctors, at least on screen – forever breaking into song as he’s driving or tinkering, and on more than one occasion a musical interlude proves to be a lifesaver. (Unfortunately it’s exactly the same monster and exactly the same song, two years down the line, which does rather cheapen the effect.)

Speaking of effects, wouldn’t it be far more fun if Pertwee’s voice was contaminated with helium? In recent weeks I’d finally worked out how to adjust vocal tracks so that the pitch is adjusted without the speed being compromised. At some point I’ll be applying it to River’s wedding scene, which will probably make it bearable. In the meantime, I tagged Pip Madeley in the Twitter upload, and he gave it his seal of approval, which is extremely gratifying. Anyone else fancy a bit of John Denver?

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The Doctor Who ‘Mindfulness’ Collection, part 1

Note: the following is a composite of several conversations, thrown together for the sake of coherence.

“What I don’t understand,” said Emily, “is why you’ve called it the Mindfulness Collection.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I know you were poking fun, but Mindfulness is actually a thing. It’s recognised and it’s supposed to work. It’s all about meditation and focus.”
“I know all that. That’s not really my target. I’m poking fun at this ridiculous culture we have.”
“Adult colouring?”
“Adult colouring among other things. It was fine at first but now it’s got completely out of hand. The whole unique and beautiful snowflake philosophy. I know it’s supposedly about learning the compassion but it all seems very goal-focused and selfish when it’s applied in our society.”

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—–
“And it doesn’t mean anything .”
“It doesn’t. It’s just a bunch of idioms thrown together in the form of a composite. It’s like this whole obsession with ‘spirituality’, which is basically religion for people who don’t want all the difficult stuff.”
“Not just spirituality,” she said. “Vague Sense of Spirituality, remember?”
“What annoys me about the colouring,” she said, “is that I was doing it first and then it became a huge thing and now I just feel like I’m following a trend.”
“You set the trend,” I said.
“I am good at that.”

DWMindfulness_03

—–
“I’m not opposed to the principle of Mindfulness per se,” I said. “Just the relentless Westernisation of it. I mean they even do it in offices now. They have seminars. The tree-hugging hippy crap I found in that Ladybird book I told you about.”
“Absolutely. As long as you take into account that’s not actually Mindfulness.”
“Tell you what. If I call it the ‘Mindfulness’ collection, would that work?”
“Yes,” she said. “That’ll work.”

 

DWMindfulness_02

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The E-Space Trilogy Trilogy: Part Two (State of Decay)

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‘State of Decay’ is a story I’ve loved since my childhood. It has three menacing villains, all of whom happen to be vampires. It has a cautious message about the dangers of allowing myth and superstition to usurp the use of technology. It also has a genuinely exciting ending, at least on paper. Of all the Doctor Who stories in the Classic run, this is quite possibly the one I remember the most vividly, with the likes of “SEE! THE GREAT ONE RISES!” becoming part of my vocabulary long before I reached puberty, which is when that line took on a whole new meaning. Yes, ‘State of Decay’ has been a favourite for years.

But I only saw it for the first time two weeks ago.

Let me explain. When I was ten I received a set of cassette tapes that contained an audiobook recording of a Doctor Who story I’d never encountered before. The cover featured the head and neck of a weary-looking Fourth Doctor, standing just outside the TARDIS, apparently frowning at something off camera. (It would take me years to discover that this was his default expression.) Tom Baker himself was reading, although I would eventually find out that it was something of an abridged version, and one which took certain liberties – the Doctor’s explanation of consonant shift, for example, is changed from the Brothers Grimm to the concept of Chinese Whispers, for reasons known only to its author. But I listened to it, and then listened to it again, and again, until I knew the thing – text, score and even Baker’s cadencing – more or less by heart.

Last year, to my great delight, I found the thing on YouTube, and here it is:

Sadly, the original version – with its godawful but strangely catchy ‘alternate’ theme, which sounds like something from a 1980s schools programme – seems to have been removed, but this is fine. (Besides, I have the original on MP3, so Thomas can listen to it, even if you can’t.)

If the E-Space trilogy is (as I mentioned last time) a series of contrasting stories with only the loosest of connections, that’s partly down to its production history. ‘State of Decay’ is easily the most conventional narrative of the three, coming across as curiously old-school – something that would have been better suited to the Hinchcliffe era. Which, of course, is exactly where it was supposed to go, with Terrance Dicks originally writing the thing with a view to including it in the Gothic period that now encompasses the likes of ‘Pyramids of Mars’ and ‘The Brain of Morbius’, among others. It’s now common knowledge that the BBC were, at the time, commissioning a new adaptation of Dracula, and wanted Doctor Who to steer clear of vampires on the grounds that they didn’t want them to take the piss.

Whether ‘State of Decay’ would have worked better as a Sarah Jane or Leela story is not for me to decide. Certainly it works fairly well as a Romana story, with Lalla Ward at her most clinical and detached – the sort of performance one might have expected more from Mary Tamm, perhaps. She is clearly still getting to know Adric; ‘Decay’ was filmed before ‘Full Circle’, and it shows. Adric is even more obnoxious here than he was in his previous outing, feigning brainwashing in order to subsequently botch a rescue attempt, when he’s not stealing food (again) or using elementary logic to outsmart K-9. The question of Adric siding with the villains is one that would be addressed again in ‘Four To Doomsday’, but here he’s as brattish as ever, snidely gloating “This is one time the goodies don’t get to win, after all”, and failing to come off either as a decent villain, or a decent hero pretending to be villainous. He’s no more than a pest. In fact I have refused to include him in any of the photos I’ve uploaded, so there.

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If Adric isn’t much cop (again) the supporting characters fare better. Arthur Hewlett (Quatermass and the Pit) excels as Kalmar, the ageing leader of a band of rebels who is using the need to accumulate knowledge as an excuse for not actually doing anything: in the Honey & Mumford questionnaire he would emerge on the far side of Theorist. Kalmar’s occasionally insubordinate deputies are desperate to free the village from the tyranny of the Three Who Rule, but Kalmar would rather watch television. This is, to all intents and purposes, an episode of South Park, with Hewlett playing the role of Eric Cartman. Small wonder that he wants to stay put, given that the computer in his den that contains ship’s manifests is none other than a BBC Micro, staple of school classrooms all over the country (when ‘computer time’ occurred once a term and was usually half an hour on the drawing software or a fruitless session with that wretched LOGO turtle). It all comes right in the closing minutes, naturally, when the Doctor persuades the rebels to mount an attack on the castle with a rousing speech.

Unfortunately, the attack is led by K-9. The incredulous looks from the rebels when the ” very useful tool…armoured…immune to hypnotism…dead shot with a nose laser” casually trundles out of the TARDIS is one of the story’s high points. The rebels’ world-weary scepticism is justified, to a point, because the adrenaline-soaked final attack on the tower consists largely of five or six bearded farmers shuffling along the corridor so they don’t fall over the tin dog. It’s like being stuck behind a pensioner on a staircase. Specifically, it’s like this man being stuck behind this pensioner on this staircase.

Most memorable in ‘State of Decay’ are the three villains. They rarely extend beyond camp and sinister – we are given only the briefest of glimpses into their former lives as officers on the Hydrax, and somehow this is not to the story’s detriment. It’s clear that Aukon is the leader of the trio, while the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ are essentially no more than figureheads, jealous that Aukon won’t share some of his toys. Both Rachel Davies and William Lindsay turn in fine, if functional performances, but Emrys James is a fantastically hammy Aukon, stealing one particular scene by bellowing “YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN! YOU HAVE BOTH BEEN CHOSEN!” with the sort of rapturous joy you saw all over the internet when ‘Night of the Doctor’ was released.

 

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It all looks very polished. Sets are ornate and well-realised (the designer admitting that she ‘nicked bits from other sets’, which was common practice), while location work is sparing but effective. And of course, Peter Moffatt’s direction really is rather good, even if some of his camera angles make me feel like I’m watching a mid-70s Abba video.

The ending of ‘State of Decay’ rather lets it down a bit, alas. In the first instance, it takes the Doctor an interminably long time to work out that the best candidate for a supersized bolt of steel is sitting right under his nose – or, rather, above it, in the scout ship at the top of the tower. It’s safe to say, in fact, that there is an awful lot of filler in those closing episodes, predominantly in the form of lengthy conversations between Baker and Leeson as they search through the TARDIS archives, presumably having a look at the crossword when the cameras aren’t rolling.

Then there’s the ship itself, which looks like an early production design for Thunderbirds but which moves like something from Button Moon, only somehow less convincing. It plunges back down in a straight vertical trajectory directly into the heart of something we can’t even see, except for the huge hand waving from the hole in the floor. “It’s just a bit silly,” as Gareth explains. “That it could be aimed that well, despite being a giant rocket that goes up and down, and despite the Doctor not knowing whereabouts the heart of the Great Vampire is going to be since it’s underground.  That it could pierce the heart, which would require a particular orientation of the Vampire – if it were more upright, then it would need to go in via the top of the head.  That it’s pointy enough, even though it is very pointy.  And that it’s a ‘stake through the heart’.”

Decay-5

“He’s been down there,” I suggested, “and he felt the heartbeat, so perhaps he could triangulate.”

One of the Past Doctor Adventures, the confusing, unnecessarily convoluted and not entirely satisfying Eye of Heaven, is particularly silly in that regard. Here’s an extract, from the point of view of the Fourth Doctor.

“The fish were a day old, the birds were tern, recently arrived on their yearly migration, the oil needed changing, the smoke was derived from cannabis, the rotting vegetable matter was carrot, the animal matter was dead rat (being eaten by several more live rats), the pitch was cooling upon the hull of a nearby ship, the dog was old, a canny purebreed turned to the wild (rather like myself, I fancied), and the burning wood was laced with human sweat and with teak oil, normally used to seal the decking of a ship.

“All of which told me that somewhere nearby, a sailor had just thrown part of his lunch to a stray dog before grinding a strong toke out beneath his bare heel upon the deck of a ship recently arrived from the Indies, whose hull he was currently engaged in repairing. The Manganese I had detected came, no doubt, from tiny nodules lodged within the damaged section of hull. The nodules definitely originated on the sea bed and could only have been disturbed by a major storm. The fish go without saying, obviously. And the rats? Well… there are rats at the docks in any century.

“Not all of them are animals.

“I compressed my sensory input to human normal. This is something I do from time to time, a little game which keeps me entertained and alert, and I stepped away from the TARDIS.”

I mean honestly. I know he’s good, but he’s not bloody Superman.

Where were we? Oh yes. The ludicrous death of the giant vampire is followed by a slightly more impressive ageing effect, where the vampire lords decompose in a matter of seconds, leaving the Doctor to quip, Bond style, that “they just went to pieces”. It’s not quite Indiana Jones – nor, for that matter, is it ‘Dragonfire’ – but it’s fairly good. Although, as Gareth points out, “it is rather funny how the three of them all wobble together”.

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Despite the structural unevenness and ridiculous ending, this is a cheerful and enjoyable romp. Baker is back to his usual animated self – he hasn’t been this upbeat since ‘The Horns of Nimon’ – and the narrative is full of amusing silliness amidst the bats and the blood and the screaming. Adric is lamentable, but thankfully has comparatively little to do (Dicks was apparently unsure how to write him in, and it shows). Even the filler material is fun, with Dicks both playing loyal tribute to Hammer motifs (Gothic tower / terrified villagers / foolhardy stranger walking into certain death despite being warned off) and seemingly getting his own back on the BBC executives who threw out his script some years previously. When the Doctor asks K-9 for information on vampires, the tin dog remarks “My folklore section contains vampire lore from seventeen inhabited planets. I will begin with Earth, the legend of Count Dracula.”

“No thank you,” interrupts the Doctor, hurriedly. “Not Dracula…”

 

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The E-Space Trilogy Trilogy: Part One (Full Circle)

 

E-Space

I have a lot of correspondence with Gareth, but one regular occurrence in my outgoing mail is a list of bullet points about whatever Doctor Who story I happen to have watched that week. Said lists usually contain all the random things jumped out at me during a viewing – things I knew about in advance, or things that surprised me. Examples include –

  • She turned him into a tree. SHE TURNED HIM INTO A TREE!!!
  • I know you’re a wise pacifist with excellent diplomacy skills. But you’re wearing a dress.
  • Amusing that they had the Doctor run through the same passenger deck four times, and had the extras dressed in identical suits so that no one would notice.
  • WHY IS HE CLIMBING OVER THE LEDGE? WHY? WHY???
  • What on earth was JNT thinking, getting rid of Dudley Simpson?
  • So a sprout priest who lives in a hole, bunkered away from everyone else, is happy to give up his life and destroy an entire species on the word of a man who he’s only met once? I don’t care if he’s a telepath, that’s bloody stupid.
  • Oh, the adjudicator is the Master. Well, I never saw that coming.
  • I love the bit where the ‘You’ve got mail’ noise clangs for the second time and Troughton turns to Wendy Padbury and says “Sounds a bit like a dinner gong”, when you know full well that’s exactly what it was.
  • Oh my gosh, it’s a GIGANTIC NOB!

I will leave it to you to work out which belongs to which story, except to say that none of them are from ‘Warriors of the Deep’, because I’ve determined that the comments from that probably warrant their own post, which I’ll do sometime. (Suffice to say ‘Warriors’ really isn’t one of my favourites, although it does feature a pantomime horse.)

“It amazes me,” Gareth has said on at least one occasion, “just how much Classic Who you haven’t seen.” Which is a fair point, although one I’ve spent the last couple of years rectifying in earnest. Just the other week, for example, I finally got round to watching the E-Space trilogy, in which a twilight Fourth Doctor gets trapped in a parallel universe courtesy of a Charged Vacuum Emboitment (a concept that is eventually explained in ‘Logopolis’). The three stories contained therein are a hodgepodge of different styles and approaches (for reasons we’ll explore over the course of the next week or so) with only the loosest narrative thread connecting them all, but their main narrative purpose is to bring in Adric and, in the process, ditch Romana.

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When you write it down like that, it really seems like an unfair trade, and so it is. Romana is a sophisticated (if unworldly) intellectual with charm, grace and a fashion sense that borders on the iconic. She looks good in jodhpurs but can also outsmart the keenest mathematician. This is no screaming wallflower, and it is small wonder that men and women love her in equal measure, in both incarnations. (I’ve always been firmly in Lalla’s camp, but Mary Tamm was also marvellous, and sadly missed.)

By contrast, Adric is a precocious brat who dresses like he’s in a school play. He thinks largely of his stomach. Self-confidence in his natural ability is manifest in the most aggravating arrogance. Gershwin was a genius and knew he was a genius, but never boasted – he simply avoided the cardinal sin that is false modesty. Adric is like the kid at the top of the class who wants everyone else to know about it. Not all of this is Matthew Waterhouse’s fault. The kid was eighteen and inexperienced. He’s probably lovely in real life – certainly on the Saturday Superstore segment contained on the ‘Warriors’ Gate’ DVD he comes across as modest and good-humoured and entirely affable. (Of unending curiosity, of course, is his decision to write an autobiography, Blue Box Boy, in the third-person.) But character of Adric, and the way in which he’s written, do young Matthew absolutely no favours. It’s also fair to say that a more capable performer might have rendered Adric’s more irritating tendencies with a greater degree of pathos than Waterhouse is able to manage. Usually the only time anyone actually feels sorry for Adric is the final three minutes of ‘Earthshock’. Too little, too late.

You really don't want to know what he's thinking about right now.

You really don’t want to know what he’s thinking about right now.

It also doesn’t help that ‘Full Circle’ sees Adric at his most obnoxious, irritating and useless. It’s established fairly early that Adric is part of the ‘clever’ bunch of colonists (or are they?) that inhabit the planet Alzarius, where the TARDIS has landed. One of the first things we see him do is steal watermelons – badly – in an early attempt to establish the character as a kind of Artful Dodger, a trait that was swiftly and probably wisely abandoned, although the vacuum it left was never filled with any real success. “Of course I’m better than you,” he arrogantly assures a supporting character in the middle of a cave. “I’m an Elite.” This wouldn’t matter so much if Adric didn’t subsequently spend much of the episode fainting, getting involved in rubbish hijack attempts and generally being useless. In the episode two cliffhanger, Romana is being attacked by giant spiders, and Adric’s attempt to open the doors results in dematerialisation. Whereupon the irritating fuckwit glances briefly through the fourth wall before admitting “I think I’ve pulled the wrong lever.”

 

 

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Well. No shit, Sherlock. I’d like to say things improve, but really the only thing he manages to do right in this story is half-inch a McGuffin that the Doctor needs at a crucial moment. The more I see of Adric the more he winds me up – and if this sounds like the musings of a grumpy old man, I’d point out that I absolutely love K-9, even if the production team didn’t. It’s telling that the only reason Adric is in ‘State of Decay’ – which we’ll cover next time – is because he’s hidden on board the TARDIS, and that the Doctor’s first reaction is to want to take him straight home. This is, to be honest, a little cruel: the chap’s just lost his brother, and it is only by viewing ‘Full Circle’ – and the bequeathing of his brother’s belt – that we can fully appreciate the gravitas of that final scene with Adric, some ten stories later.

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Aside from the less-than-enthralling introduction to an almost universally unpopular companion, ‘Full Circle’ manages to be half evolution fable, half base-under-siege narrative. The central concept is that of a group of colonists trapped on Alzarius, led (badly) by a group of inept bureaucrats ironically known as ‘Deciders’. The Deciders have turned the simple task of ship repairs into a kind of religion – or, at the very least, the beginnings of a mythology. This is played out by having James Bree (Nefred) bellow “Continue…the work…of maintenance”, in the sort of tones one usually finds in a Shakespearian soliloquy.

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The running joke in the story is the general inability of the Deciders to actually decide anything, as is epitomised by this scene – running like something from Yes, Minister – in which Login, the newest Decider, tries to convince his superiors that an imminent attack might be a good reason to close the door…

LOGIN: It might be possible to close this substructure.
GARIF: No, it seems as if the marsh creatures are already inside the main hull.
LOGIN: The bulkheads, sir?
NEFRED: One recourse, certainly.
LOGIN: Nefred, Garif, we must close these bulkheads and these, and we must gather the citizens in here at once.
GARIF: Yes, I see the plan has some merit in it.
LOGIN: And we must do it quickly.
NEFRED: We must certainly respond to this crisis on a real time basis, Decider Login, but appropriately.
GARIF: Decider Nefred is right, Decider Login.
NEFRED: I have been constructing the histories of our relationship with the marsh men.
GARIF: While a single defense response has a certain appeal, we must also consider the long-term consequences.
LOGIN: It’s not a defensive response.
NEFRED: We need a holistic approach, I think.
GARIF: I wonder if you’ve had time to consult this manual on the peripheral unit power supplies.

(Transcript, as ever, from Chrissie’s Transcript Site. Thanks again, Chrissie.)

It’s left to the Doctor to uncover the truth: the Deciders have been getting the colonists to take the ship apart and put it back together over and over again, over the course of hundreds of years, simply because no one knows how to fly it. I can sort of relate to this – the very same evening I watched this, Thomas spent fifteen minutes ‘tidying’ the bricks by putting them back in the tub and then taking them out again to build something. But while the concept makes utter sense to the Deciders, the visiting Time Lords find it utterly ludicrous. Or, as Timothy Spall would have put it, it’s like being stuck on the crap version of Rimmer for four years.

“That bit is a nice idea,” says Gareth. “Although it’s a bit silly when the Doctor just pulls away a rack of pigeonholes to reveal the technology beneath. No-one ever noticed?”

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Speaking of the Doctor, he’s arguably the weak link in the story. I love Tom Baker as much as anyone, but on the basis of this performance, he appears to have had enough. It’s a recurring theme of this season (see ‘The Leisure Hive’, in which the Doctor is clearly spent even before he ages a hundred years), but it’s particularly prevalent on Alzarius. Part of the apparent gloominess is almost certainly John Nathan Turner reigning him in, after the excesses of the Graham Williams / Douglas Adams era, but rarely has he been so sombre. Even the jokes lack their usual panache (“Short trips don’t usually work,” he quips to Adric. “Ah well. Here’s hopping”). It’s a shame, because some of the emotional pathos is undermined, and the Doctor’s general gloominess in supposedly upbeat scenes makes for a lesser contrast with the moments when he’s supposed to be genuinely angry. Late in the story, he fends off the approaching Marshmen with the severed head of the robot dog, in a sequence that ought to be comic, but which instead plays out like something from a Greek tragedy, or perhaps Dr. Faustus.

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Suffice to say this is the least interesting – and, ultimately, least worthy – entry in the set, but it was written by a seventeen-year-old, and its failings are as much down to pedestrian direction and thin characterisation as much as they are to anything else. In the end, the Marshmen are revealed as the genetic ancestors of the colonists themselves (who, as it turns out, “cannot return to Terradon”, because they “have never been there”). The Doctor and Romana give them a crash course – pun only half-intended – in how to fly a starship, and then disappear in the TARDIS to work out how they’ve got into this universe that hasn’t really been explained properly. It all comes out in the wash, along with the Doctor’s scarf, which has shrunk a little, although Peter Davison is about to unravel the thing in any case.

Besides, the Doctor’s stuck here now – at least for another couple of stories – so we might as well get used to it. Or I might as well get used to it. I was in Cambridge a few years ago attending a Christmas gathering, and one of the gifts unwrapped was Tom Baker’s autobiography, Who On Earth Is Tom Baker?. “Of course, the title’s wrong,” someone said. “Who on Earth is Jon Pertwee. Who in E-Space is Tom Baker…”

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Dum. Dum dum. Dum dum dumdumdumda-

I will write about Butlins next time I’m here, but two things happened there that bear a brief mention before I tackle a stack of dirty dishes.

In the first instance, we managed to survive almost the entire holiday without catching a sight of a certain wretched purple monstrosity, and the moment we inevitably didI had an instant idea for a Dinopaws mashup.

The second was that everyone spent the entire week, it seems, talking about the Eastenders live week, whether it was the papers speculating over whether guilt-ridden glances from Ian had unmasked him, or the idiot in the U.S. who genuinely thought the whole thing was a badly scripted / “obviously fake” fly-on-the-wall, with an air of criminal irresponsibility on the part of the producers – “Why didn’t they, like, go to the police?”. (Well, it’s either a genuine moron or a guy playing at being a moron and irritating me in the process. I’d link to it, except it’ll probably be gone by the time you read this.)

The truth was revealed on the Thursday, when it transpired that Lucy’s killer was none other than her younger brother Bobby, discovered in flashback, clutching the music box that delivered the fatal blow (I assume; I’ve not actually watched it). Which made me think about the opening to season 24, and how ‘Time and the Rani’ could have been much better if they’d done this.

 

 

Hey, Rani. Barney. It rhymes.

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Suitcase

If you haven’t seen the Classic Whovian Problems tumblr page, it is (like much of the content on tumblr) an amusing time-waster.

But seriously. Look.

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I mean, I don’t want to sound churlish, but I don’t think this was ever really a problem for anybody…

In other news, Thomas and I have been drawing up cast notes for a Character Building recreation of ‘Time of the Doctor’.

And finally, here’s what we can probably not expect from Big Finish any time soon.

Off on holiday. See you all in a fortnight!

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Track record

Given how much the original scene is ingrained in my memory, I really shouldn’t find this funny. But I do.

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Pond Life

The best way to prevent spoiler leakage? Pre-empt it by doing it yourself. You dictate your own terms, control the information that you want given out and gain tactical advantage. It’s like the conclusion of 8-Mile, which sees Jimmy Rabbit obliterate his opponent by listing his own failings before said opponent gets the chance. When the time comes to swap the microphone, the hard-as-nails, puffer-jacket-wearing Clarence (who goes to public school and whose parents are still together) is absolutely lost for words.

I don’t know if Steven Moffat’s an Eminem fan, but I wonder if something like this was going through his mind when he announced the imminent departure of the Ponds. The timing – a week in advance of the Christmas special – cannot be ignored. Nor indeed can Moffat’s rant about spoilers earlier this year, a moment in which he completely lost his rag, and a fair bit of my respect for him. The problem, of course, is that you can’t court the press and then expect them to play ball; nor can you tease the fans with shoot access and stills and then expect them to keep quiet. These are the days of instant file transfer, of photos being passed round the world faster than Polaroid development speeds, of tweeting and blogging and –

Sorry, where was I? The point is it’s easier to share information than ever, and as much as Moffat may rail against the people who choose to do such, to create and promote a culture when such controlled leaking is standard practice in your own institution hardly gives you the moral high ground. And what’s more, as various people have pointed out, if you cultivate a show whose success depends crucially on the retention of certain information – in other words, if spoilers are your be-all and end-all – then you’re in serious danger of writing yourself into a corner.

But that’s neither here nor there. I’ve touched upon it before and others have done so with more eloquence and attention to detail than I have the time or energy to commit to screen. For all our ranting about spoilers, the news of Amy’s departure is neither particularly surprising, nor (as such) is it particularly newsworthy: it was going to happen sooner or later, because no one wants to travel with the Doctor forever, unless they happen to be Rose Tyler, who couldn’t have been more irritating in her final episodes if she’d donned an orange fright wig, raised her voice a couple of octaves, lost the Danny Baker sheen and impersonated Mel. (Yes, I know she was better in Big Finish. But I still remember her for ‘Time and the Rani’, and that’s simply no fun.) Characters who never want to leave are in serious danger of wearing out their welcome, and it’s a good thing, in a way, that Amy lacked the see-the-stars wide-eyed schoolgirl wonder that her previous companions seemed to possess in abundance. When it came to dealing with time, and the consequences of time (perhaps that should be the Doctor’s campaign slogan: “Tough on time, tough on the causes of time”) I always got the feeling she learned to cope remarkably quickly.

Perhaps that was part of the problem some people had with her. Amy seemed to divide the viewers like no other companion before or since. Some people loved her. I did. Amy’s a character who’s been messed up by the Doctor and it shows. She’s crazy and that’s understandable, and the complex she gained after the fish custard incident has given her a wonderful zaniness that is consistently fun to watch (Amy is arguably at her least interesting, I’d suggest, when she’s being normal). Many have expressed a view to the contrary, but I don’t think her innate goofiness lessens our ability to relate to her, unless it means that those who can are in some way quietly crazy (“Oh yes, sir. Every time sir!”). Gillan has a wondrous gaze about her, and Amy speaks to the Doctor in a manner that no other companion has chosen to adopt since the revival, and whatever she’s doing, she always lights up the screen.

But there’s a flipside to this, and while many people found her a breath of fresh air, others found her irritating, kooky, with skirts of inappropriate length for a family show (hello? Leela? Peri?) and her treatment of Rory in rather poor taste. They may have a point about that – certainly the young Mr Williams (whom, I have to say, Arthur Darvill plays brilliantly) has the patience of a saint to have put up with Amy’s treatment of him over the past few years; it’s clear that he and Amy love each other, but he seems to alternate with the Doctor when it comes to playing gooseberry, and that’s no way for a marriage to survive. It was, finally, the Doctor who realised this come the end of ‘The God Complex’, and Rory and Amy’s subsequent exit was refreshing in its brevity and (relative) understatement; I remember wishing at the time that that could be it for them, but of course it was not to be.

Because, you see, companions don’t just leave in New Who. They have the most ridiculous, protracted departures imaginable. It’s strung out over three or four episodes (in the case of Donna, almost an entire series) and when it happens, you’re so anxious for it to happen that you can’t wait. This in itself is nothing new. I can recall, some fourteen years ago now, sitting in a darkened cinema on the outskirts of Reading – where I was living at the time – watching Leonardo Dicaprio clinging to an iceberg and muttering something incoherent and rambly through chattering teeth. James Horner’s music was building to a swirl, Kate Winslet was all doe-eyed and the girl behind me was sniffling through an entire box of Kleenex, and my only thought at the time, I can well remember, was “Will you please hurry up and fucking DIE???”. This was not, I’m sure, what James Cameron had in his mind when he filmed it, and concordantly this makes the scene, and indeed the film at large, a spectacular failure – although it is a visual spectacle, even now, with the sinking of the boat rendered effectively and with appropriate emotional pathos for many of the passengers. Take out the wraparound love story, and clean up the historical detail, and you’ve got yourself something with serious potential.

What irritates me most about New Who, though, is the way that death is trivialised. This has become particularly prominent under the obsession with ontological paradoxes that has epitomised Moffat’s two-season reign. One of the most beautiful moments in ‘Blink’ was the death of Billy Shipton, the police officer who dies in the hospital in the company of Sally Sparrow, because such a death has since become so rare. It’s terminal in a literary as well as literal sense: the character is never mentioned again, despite the fact that ‘Blink’ is a story that essentially eats itself. Conversely, the death of Miss Evangelista in ‘Silence in the Library’, and the subsequent ghosting scene that follows – one of the most glorious moments in the post-2005 canon – is seriously undermined when she re-appears in ‘Forest of the Dead’ dressed as a Photoshopped Woman in Black – before being magically restored, in the episode’s closing scenes, presumably no longer thick, and in the company of the ever-irritating River Song.

I remember my first entry to this blog was a brief discussion on the Classic Who episode I recall with most clarity – that of Adric’s death – and as I may have said then, I loved the fact that it’s final, at least in the official continuity. So when Moffat says that the exit of Amy and Rory will be “heartbreaking”, I am resolutely sceptical about what he actually means, but personally I would dearly love to see the death of a companion. And ideally I would like it to be Amy, and for Rory to blame the Doctor. Because that would be the right way to get rid of her. Take the inappropriate relationship to its logical conclusion: have her choose him, in that she’d die to defend him. Elton Pope, way back in ‘Love and Monsters’, talked of what happens when you touch the Doctor, and while the self-congratulatory Doctor Who Confidential has always spoken of taking the show “to dark places” (oh, thank the love of God it’s been canned), what I really want is for them to do something truly dark, and just have someone die. And when I say “die”, I don’t mean

  • Die in the sense of getting trapped in a parallel universe, separated from the man you love, with your records expunged so you’re legally dead
  • Die in the sense that you’ve had your memory wiped
  • Die, with subsequent erasure from existence, only to find yourself resurrected as plastic
  • Die, only to be resuscitated
  • Die, only to be resurrected inside a computer mainframe
  • Die, only to take astral form and drift out among the stars
  • Die, only to find out it’s a hallucination by your other half
  • Die, only it turns out to be an act of fakery to get you into Area 51
  • Die, only to later reveal that you were hiding inside a robotic head
  • …I don’t think we need any more
 
 

This would be grown-up. The audience can handle it. Transformers and the X-Men are constantly killing people (and later bringing them back, but that’s another bugbear of mine for another day). But at least they die and stay dead. You don’t see them again a few episodes later as a disembodied head, in a scene of pointless comic relief that provided no relief nor any sort of comedy.

Gareth has alerted me to a suggestion on the Big Finish forum that goes like this:

What could happen that would give the pair a “heartbreaking” end to their story?

DOCTOR: Ah, here we are on the planet Fixedpointintime. Oh no, Rory, look out for that falling piano!

AMY: Sigh. How long till he comes back to life this time?

DOCTOR: Ah. Well. You know what I said the planet was called….

It could work. It really could.

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1982

We start here:

Because that’s where I started. Sort of. There’s a reason memory doesn’t begin at birth. The trauma, I’d imagine, is too much. There’s this sensation of floating, perhaps a little cramped, perhaps with the muffled thrum of the outside world poking through, but still warm, safe. Foetal. Then there’s the sense of movement, and then a wall – a wall you must pass through, somehow, against all odds. Perhaps it’s like trying to get a really tight jumper over your head. They talk about the pain of childbirth, and having seen it first hand on three occasions I’m personally rather glad it’s something I will never have to go through myself – but I suspect it’s no picnic for the baby either. Then, once the pushing and squeezing is done, there’s the sense of breathing, really breathing, great big lungfuls of something that’s no longer liquid, but gaseous, and cold, and the overwhelming instinct to draw as much air as you can into those tiny, newborn lungs before expelling it out with the loudest noise you can make.

But perhaps life’s a little like that. You begin with the safety reins and then learn to walk the tightrope. And sometimes you fall, and perhaps knowing you might is as much a reason to keep going as it is to stay on the ground. Still, perhaps we block out these early encounters because it’s easier than having to remember what they were actually like.

It must be said that the death of a companion is a hell of an introduction to a classic series, but perhaps (paradoxically, given what I’ve just written) that’s the reason I remember it. Because I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been the first story I watched; it’s just the first one I remember. Love him or hate him (and a great many did), the departure of Adric was my first real brush with death – more real, and more tangible, somehow, than the untimely death of my beloved but barely remembered grandmother just a few months earlier. Adric’s death was solidified, visible – that broken badge still haunts my sleep – and more to the point, they never tried to bring him back. (And no, ‘The Boy That Time Forgot’ doesn’t count.)

Perhaps the reason I can still remember this now, just shy of thirty years after the fact, is significant. Perhaps we latch on to one death in particular – the first time it means something – and that’s the death that stays with us. It would explain why, when reading The Hobbit to my eldest son (who figures quite a lot in this narrative), he burst into tears after I’d recounted the Battle of Five Armies. It’s not as if he’s never seen death before. I was expecting trauma after The Lion King, which he survived without a single sniffle (unlike his father, who was in tears). When he was two we took him to see our beloved cat put down – it’s not as if it was a family excursion, but we thought it was for the best, some sort of closure. For years he’s been comfortable – I thought – with death. Then I read him the account of Thorin’s passing and his grief was tangible and thus as upsetting to me as it evidently was to him. This happened to him because over the weeks we’d spent reading the book I’d had time to build up a portrait of Thorin that you seldom get in the space of an hour or so of screen time. So it was effective – but for a while there, I felt like the worst father in the world.

My encounters with Doctor Who began round about here. I cut my teeth on Davison. When he eventually regenerated, my parents were less likely to have it on in the evenings, as neither of them were keen on Colin Baker – despite his possession of the same sort of blustering arrogance that my father so admired in Hartnell, his own favourite. When Baker became McCoy I jumped back into the swing of things and devoured every story, despite the fact that many of the early ones were dreadful. Then it was cancelled. A few years later they brought it back, in the form of a television movie that we don’t talk about in the circles I inhabit. There was much to admire about McGann, but the rest of it merely sullied fond memories.

By the time Doctor Who was resurrected some six years ago, I was married and about to become a father. Watching the show now has taken on a curious duality, as I’m able to view it from the perspective of the critical adult viewer who laments that its occasional childishness is symptomatic of a show that’s past its best, and simultaneously the child who is entering the Whoniverse for the first time and experiencing the wonders of the groaning TARDIS with fresh eyes. Joshua grew up knowing the characters from infancy (at the age of three he could pick out Dalek Sec in a lineup) but it wasn’t until Easter this year that I first introduced him to the television series. We started with Eccleston, which is as good an introduction to the show as I can think of for someone his age (at least until I get round to buying the Beginning box set) and as I write this we’re working our way through Tennant’s run with Piper (two episodes away from ‘Doomsday’).

I hadn’t intended to turn this into an autobiography, so this might be a wise place to stop: I simply wanted to give you some context for this blog, which is something I really should have started a while ago. I’m not – and have never been – an obsessive fan of the show; my experiences are confined to the TV series and the occasional comic story, and I do not own a single novel or Big Finish production. (A friend of mine has been trying to get me to listen to ‘Spare Parts’ for the past couple of years, and one of these days I swear I’ll get around to it.)

I tend to view Doctor Who from a writer’s perspective – I look at the structure, I look at the narrative, I look at the characterisation. I blanched in horror when the Doctor abandoned the TARDIS in ‘Curse of the Black Spot’ – it seemed such a pointless, out-of-character thing to do for the sake of confining him to the ship (even though it could have been justified with one simple change to the narrative). At the other end of the spectrum, I thought ‘Blink’ was the best forty-three minutes of television I saw in 2007, and some four years later I’ve yet to see the show do anything that surpasses it.

Away from the new episodes, my other half and I have been trawling through the archives and discovering Tom Baker, of whom I was always aware without really knowing him. We may therefore divide this blog into three main categories – thoughts on the classic series; retrospectives on the post-2005 episodes as I watch them with Josh; and anything else, including all the new stuff. It won’t be this clean-cut; the ambiguities and crossovers are as big a part of my writing style and approach as they are to the show in general. But that’s sort of how it’s going to work. My guess is that you’ve Googled for something else and just stumbled in here – in which case, welcome, and pull up a chair. Sorry I’ve eaten all the biscuits.

This will be part information dump, part pretentious meandering – inconsistent, schizophrenic, perhaps with an inflated sense of its own importance, much like Doctor Who itself. That isn’t intentional; it’s just me. The simple truth is that it’s been a big part of my life, on and off, for some thirty years – and if I spend much of my time (like many fans) simultaneously loving and hating it, it’s taught me a lot about a lot of things, and it’s rich with analogy and goodness, even within the confines of a prime time family show. It is when it is at its darkest and most unpleasant that the beauty of the show is at its most luminous: we spend our lives behind the sofa but we cannot resist peeping out because that’s when the best, most interesting stuff is happening. You have to pass through the darkness to reach the sun coming up, and sometimes bathing in the darkness is the only way to grow. And it’s curious, perhaps, that as a closing thought I should turn to the words of Elton Pope – protagonist of ‘Love and Monsters’, one of the worst New Who stories in the canon – who nonetheless, in this oft-quoted monologue, had one interesting thing to say:

“I’ve had the most terrible things happen, and the most brilliant. Sometimes, well, I can’t tell the difference. They’re all the same thing. Stephen King, he once said, ‘Salvation and damnation are the same thing.’ And I never knew what he meant. But I do now. ‘Cause the Doctor might be wonderful, but thinking back, I had this great thing going that was destroyed. And that’s not his fault. But maybe…that’s what happens when you touch the Doctor. Even for a second. When you’re a kid, they tell you it’s all…grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that’s it. But the truth is the world is so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.

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