There is a book on my shelf that makes the list of Brilliant Charity Shop Finds of 2017. Entitled Figure Fantasy, it celebrates the work of Daniel Picard, who has turned the careful posing of costumed action figures into what is quite literally an art form. Here’s the Man of Steel etching “BRUCE WAYNE IS BATMAN” onto a wall with his heat vision. Here’s the Hulk bending a tree. Here’s Darth Vader propped up at a urinal, the toilet walls lined by stormtroopers anxiously trying to incline their heads in the opposited direction. Look him up; the guy’s a genius.
I do not have Picard’s photographic skills, swanky lighting or creativity. I also don’t have the time or the patience. I have trouble enough getting the ruddy things to stand upright on concrete without wobbling in a summer breeze. However, I do have a decent-sized garden and the occasional good idea. Which has meant that as the children have got older, and the tendency to re-enact the finale of ‘Blink’ recedes somewhat, our playtime sessions have been replaced by impromptu photos in the garden. “Give me a Capaldi,” I’ll say in the manner of a concentrating surgeon or experienced mechanic, not taking my eyes from the scene I’m semi-meticulously assembling. “Dalek. Cybermen. Damn, we’ve got a wobble. Blu-tac, quick! CAN I GET SOME HELP IN HERE PLEASE?!”
Look, Doctor Who toys deserve to come out of their plastic packaging, all right? I can’t understand – truly I can’t – the mentality of people who buy them simply to have them, in order to build up a collection that does nothing except gather dust, a factory line of plastic David Tennants that sit permanently bubbled in cellophane, their tiny arms and legs bound with those irritating little cable things. Oh, they’re worth more, are they? What’s worth? How do you measure that?
So one of my Angels is missing a wing and Morbius’s leg has a tendency to drop out of its socket unannounced, but at least they get used. And such is the extent to which I have neglected this blog this year that we have a whole stack of unposted pictures, enough for a small exhibition, all hastily composed and all equally ludicrous. So this week and next, while you’re all drumming your fingers waiting for ‘The Halloween Apocalypse’, I’ll stick them all out here.
We’ll start with this one.
“Oh great. We’re back on Trenzalore.”
Unused Fourth Doctor stories.
“Right. I don’t want to panic anyone, but there’s a leek in the boat.”
“Interesting look, Frobisher.”
Now showing on Britbox: Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes.
“Hello, old friend. And here we are, you and me, on the last page.”
“Seriously. You’ve been out for like a month and a half. Don’t you think you can stop doing that now?”
“When this baby hits eighty-eight miles an hour, you’re – GREAT SCOTT!”
“I’m sure you’ll get the…point, Doctor. He. He he he he.”
The Doctor and Graham get caught up in a game of Tetris.
“Hey, anybody seen a – you know what, never mind.”
Everybody enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend, then? Sally Sparrow did.
Before we go any further, I am saving the Prince Philip stuff. It’s coming later. In the meantime you will have to put up with pop culture instead, because I’ve gone through what I’ve collected for this morning and that seems to the be the common thread.
We start with Line of Duty – a show I have never watched, never intend to watch and hold absolutely no interest in, but even if you don’t tune in it’s hard to escape the buzz on social media. This last episode seems to have been all about killing off major characters and dropping in monumental cliffhangers about the identity of chief (heretofore unseen) villains, and how they might be related to people we know. I think. I mean I’ve not actually watched the damned thing. All I do know is that Ted Hastings has been trending for the last week, and it’s going to go through the roof if they actually kill him off.
Talking of Doctor Who (because that’s mostly how we roll) there’s a rumbling of intrigue from the fandom as they unveil the new trailer for The Suicide Squad, the upcoming sequel to 2016’s imaginatively titled Suicide Squad. I am trying to work out the logic behind this – it sounds a bit like releasing Empire Strikes Back under the name The Star Wars, as if dropping in a definite article is enough of a distinction. I mean aren’t people going to get confused? I know I already am, and I understand grammar.
Fun trivia: I once spent half an hour at a housewarming party listening to an argument between two roleplaying geeks who couldn’t agree on whether the first Star Wars film is called Star Wars or A New Hope. It was tremendously enjoyable to watch, although I still can’t remember how, or even if they resolved it. At least they weren’t arguing about Star Trek Into Darkness. We’d still be in that lounge.
Anyway, there’s been a fair amount of talk about Capaldi’s hair, or lack thereof, and it does seem that the Twelfth Doctor is imitating his style.
He looks like he’s got half a dozen screwdrivers embedded in his skull, which presumably happened after a particularly ferocious argument with River. Or maybe it’s a fetish thing. You pick. And with speed, please, because I’m now actually thinking about this instead of merely writing it down. Oh god.
Anyway. Speaking of Star Wars, the casting for the Obi Wan Kenobi spin-off looks absolute shit.
(I’d love to say I had a few people who thought this was real, but the sad truth is that they didn’t get it. I guess my sense of humour is just a little too vague sometimes.)
You won’t have failed to notice, if you were following international news a while back, that a boat got stuck in the Suez Canal, presumably as a result of a bet as to whether its helmsman could manage a three point turn. It was there for weeks as the authorities tried everything to loosen it, including rubbing a bit of WD-40 on the hull, but without success, as the world and its neighbours all came along to have a look.
“For the sixteenth time, we’re not blowing it up.”
More movie news, and the revelation that a familiar face is to reappear in the upcoming, much anticipated Ghostbusters: Afterlife has prompted Doctor Who fans to scour through old episodes to find out what he’s been doing all these years. And lo and behold.
Anyway. For me, after weeks of kicking around, this is ending on something of a brighter note – because lockdown is more or less done with, kind of. We still can’t stay anywhere, and when we visited Chessington yesterday the Gruffalo ride wasn’t open, but I may actually be able to go back to work soon – and at least I can go out on a Friday and visit somewhere that isn’t B&M. Along with, you know, just about everyone else in the country.
“Listen, I’d love to stay and chat, but Primark’s about to open.”
Normally, about this time of year, I’m prepping the memes. Here at brianofmorbius we tend to favour the inappropriate: the worst possible choice for an image, amplifying the humour. The image of Bonnie Langford in Paradise Towers when they’ve announced the opening of leisure facilities. David Tennant surrounded by the ashes of an disintegrated spacecraft. With a click, the mouse scrubs back and forth along the video timeline, looking for that perfect frame. I get a few giggles. Job done.
This year I really don’t feel like doing that. Maybe it’s Covid. Maybe it’s a heightened sensitivity built around things that are happening in my life that I am electing not to broadcast. Or maybe I’m just tired of the drama. I see a lot of opinions on the web but not a lot of kindness. Being kind is not always the same as being nice; it’s important to make the distinction. The Doctor was usually kind but he also shouted at people when they deserved it. There is a marked difference between respecting the person’s right to a view and allowing rampant negativity to flourish. ‘Be kind’ does not mean ‘keep silent when an opinion is full of horseshit’. The Doctor wouldn’t, and if we must employ him as a role model (and generally I don’t), then that’s probably the best way of going about it.
But there is a thing about Doctor Who that has come to my notice this year, and it is this: for all its failings (and they are many, and frequent and not everything is because of Chibnall) it does a good job of giving the companions a backstory. The backstories are not always good, or even plausible, but they are there. They are there in a way that they generally weren’t during the sixties and seventies, where character histories were relegated to three or four lines of dialogue: Tegan’s aversion to ice cream; Jo’s failed science GCE. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most of us never had any expectation that Doctor Who should be grounded in reality; it’s a TV programme about a quasi-immortal shapeshifting alien with a magic box that travels in time and space. What do we care for the home lives of supporting characters? Give us an alien and a couple of explosions; that’ll do.
We started to care, I think, in the late 1980s, when Ace’s backstory became not just a tangible thing but a story arc. The other evening Emily and I were discussing Anne Reid, who’d popped up in a film we were watching. Emily pointed out – and I’d forgotten – that she appears in ‘The Curse of Fenric’. It is a wonderful story, perhaps the best of the McCoy era, but the overriding memory that I have of it consists of two things: the haemovores rising from the ocean, and Ace shouting at the Doctor. It was an archetype for everything that followed, just as Ace was the archetype for Rose and many subsequent companions who drew their shape from a similar gene pool. Here was a story in which family was not only acknowledged but pushed front and centre, at least for a few minutes.
And it strikes me now that family in Doctor Who is all too often dysfunctional. It has to be, because Doctor Who is about escape: the crew in Voyager were simply trying to get home; the TARDIS crew are generally trying to avoid it. The Doctor becomes a surrogate family man – a father, sister, older brother, love interest – to whomever is holed up in the bunk beds. That sort of relationship comes at a price, and the price is usually the relationship with one’s own family. It is a price worth paying in triplicate when that relationship is difficult or even non-existent.
There is a recurring trend on the Facebook groups: that single sentence. “If the TARDIS landed in your garden”, it says, “would you go?”. I never reply, simply because I would not, and it is both tedious and time-consuming to have to explain why. I wonder about the people (and they are many) who say they would jump at the chance. I wonder whether they are in denial, or haven’t thought through the possible consequences. Both are likely scenarios. And the whole thing is just a bit of fun and we must not take it seriously. But I also wonder whether there are people reading this posts whose own lives are so genuinely miserable that perhaps the TARDIS is a form of escape for them. There are people like this and I know there are people like this because I have spoken to them.
And how, I wonder, do these people react when they are presented with the dysfunctional families we see on screen? What do they make of feuding parents, of grief unspoken, of abuse and loss and pain? How do they react to companions who carry baggage like this through the TARDIS doors? How close to the knuckle do the stories cut?
And then I think about these parents and children. I think about Donna, saddled with a mother who could convey nothing but bitterness and disappointment. I think about Francine Jones, who made poor (if well-intentioned) choices and whose salvation lay in her daughter’s unconditional forgiveness. I think of Bill, whose relationship with her stepmother was toxic, and Clara, who – in addition to grieving her own mother – had to watch her father enter a relationship with a narcissistic sociopath. I even think of Ada Gillyflower, maimed and broken by her mother in a calamitous arrangement that foreshadowed what we learned about the Doctor in ‘The Timeless Children’.
I think of Amy, whose mother was quite literally ripped from existence, where even the memory of her was gone. What must that have been like? What sort of hole does it leave; how does it settle in the heart? And to then carry a pregnancy to term without having the first idea, no bonding and no reflecting and no preparing, only to have your child taken as if by an indifferent Catholic nun – and then to raise it again, unknowingly, in the most unorthodox of ways. “What you do,” says Rory, “isn’t all there is,” and how well we knew that by the end.
And I think of Sarah Jane, who found solace in motherhood without sacrificing her career, and Rose, whose mother – and I’ll admit I’ve sometimes being quite rude about her – was protective and honest and compassionate. And of the supporting players, the bit parts that resonate. Nancy, who saved the world by restructuring her relationship with her son. Willa Twist, determined to live out her mother’s legacy.
And I remember my own mother, and how complicated that relationship was, particularly in her last years. How a wave of maternal pride could be undone by a single barbed comment. The grudges she held and the prejudice she harboured. The difficulty of balancing my relationship with her against the one we have with my in-laws, avoiding blame, the endless juggling of calendars. Learning not to talk, under any circumstances, about Brexit. And how we skated around the edge of a lot of things we didn’t say and now never can.
And I loved her, but. There is always a but, and most days it doesn’t matter – most days you can archive it, remembering the good times. And there were many of those, and the constant edginess I felt in her presence became something I lived with, and I know that there are others who have had things much worse, and some of them are very close to me, and that is as much as I’m going to divulge on the subject. But if you are hurting today, and particularly if your pain is raw, then I think of you. Because everyone deserves love, even the worst of us. May you find yours, whatever form it takes.
Funny what she gets up when she thinks the cameras are off, isn’t it?
How do you do, fellow teenagers? I don’t have a single meme about Harry and Meghan; if you’re anything like me I imagine you’re heartily sick of the whole thing. This is a world of heroes and villains and ne’er the twain, it seems, shall meet: depending on who you talk to, Meghan Markle is either a strong, independent and blameless woman who’s become a victim of racist bullying, despised by the establishment because she didn’t fit the mould, or an opportunistic prima donna who was awful to the palace staff, contemptuous of Kate Middleton and whose modus operandi was to drive a wedge between Harry and his brother.
The fact that the most likely reality is an awkward combination of both does not seem to have occurred to anyone, at least anyone who reads the papers, but I suppose the world is so much easier when we can view it in black and white. No one likes an ambiguous, well-crafted villain with redeeming features. They want someone they can boo and hiss at. Anyway, enough. It’s way more complicated than I have time to discuss in this silly little blog.
We seem to have missed a few things, like St. David’s Day.
Or Valentine’s Day.
Or Pancake Day.
One of the big bits of Doctor Who news, of course – something we found out on New Year’s Day, immediately after the live broadcast (which I wasn’t watching, meaning I got to find out about it on Twitter) concerned the imminent arrival of incoming companion Dan, set to make his debut in the autumn, or whenever they get round to airing series 13. Dan’s a scouser, and you have absolutely no idea how difficult it was not to make jokes about nailing down bits of the console, but as it stands I managed to keep my humour contained. More or less.
News broke quite recently of the dissolution of Daft Punk, the dance hall stalwarts who’ve been making music together for nearly thirty years, and who’ve produced a shedload of songs that I’d forgotten they did. I do remember, some years ago, an appearance at a festival by Wurzel-esque comedy band Folk On, who were on fine form as ever but who managed to have everyone jigging along in the mud when they sang “We’re up all night to get some (milk!) / We’re up all night for good fun / We’re up all night to get folky…”. It’s a sad day for music, as while they were never really my thing I can’t deny that they’ve completely changed the scene and that ‘One More Time’ is a bangin’ masterpiece. Luckily the two of them seem to have already found another job.
We’re still in lockdown, whereby all but essential travel is banned – although that doesn’t seem to have stopped Banksy, who ventured from his native Bristol to my home town of Reading to scribble his latest drawing on the wall of the heritage masterpiece / public eyesore (delete as applicable) that is Reading Gaol. It’s Oscar Wilde, escaping with a typewriter, sheets tied together like in Colditz, something that never happened in real life. As far as we know, anyway.
“That’s it, nearly there. Just a little further. You know what, Yaz, I think I’m getting an idea.”
Elsewhere, in a forest in Hampshire, someone else is breaking lockdown:
My children have been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. The eldest two spent New Year’s Eve watching a few back to back with the horror movie Us; I’d say I don’t know what was the most terrifying part of the whole thing but earlier in the evening we’d all been watching Cats, so I think you have your answer. In any case, Ramsay is a good deal more sprightly than he was in Gordon Ramsay’s Bank Balance, a show that seems to have been almost universally panned, although it’s good to know that they’re managing to make the most of the old TARDIS sets.
“Our first contestants tonight are Amy and Rory, from Leadworth in Gloucestershire…”
I read an interesting thing in the press the other week about a scientific dig that yielded unexpected results, and the instant thing I thought of was Lovecraft and shoggoths and albino penguins. But I also did this. You couldn’t not, really.
Politics, and the news that the Prime Minister has designs on a colossal subterranean junction is met with the mirth and condescension it undoubtedly deserves.
We giggle at these fancies, but is it such a terrible idea? It’s certainly a more practical solution than teleportation, which (and why does nobody discuss this?) effectively kills you and reconstructs an identical copy at the other end, unless you’re in The Fly or something. And yet when we’re watching TV we’ll readily accept teleportation, and faster-than-light travel, and the existence of wormholes, or a police box that can fly and open its doors to a completely different place a few seconds later.
“Just through there, sir.”
And I would rather be anywhere else than here today. Still. This week – 9th March as I write this – marks the week the schools officially reopen (they never actually closed, of course, and teachers never stopped working), meaning a return to something awkwardly like normality. Well, kind of.
“It’s lovely to see you everyone back, and I’m pleased you’ve all remembered your masks…”
There’s a strong case to be made about Doctor Who: that it is a children’s show that appeals to adults. I am not going to be making that here, although I do happen to subscribe to that theory, and enjoy the programme far more as a result.
But you’d be surprised how many of the ridiculous Photoshopped images I produce are themed around children’s shows. We’ve had Teletubbies and jolly postmen. We’ve had Sooty and Sweep. And we’ve had those nightmarish In The Forest of the Night Garden pictures I did a few years back. You want a guaranteed slumber-free evening? You stick Makka Pakka outside the TARDIS with his bloody sponge. That’s enough to get any of us hiding under the bed.
Still. Here are a few I’ve been holding in reserve until I felt I had enough to warrant a decent-sized collection. Why not today?
We’ll start with a bit of Henson, because you can’t go wrong with a bit of Henson.
Meanwhile in the TARDIS, there’s a commotion on the console.
This one needs no caption.
Nor does this.
Doctor Who quotes, out of context.
Oh, and speaking of Rainbow, I think I did this for St. George’s Day, last year. That’s how long it’s been kicking around.
Anyone been to Legoland Windsor? There is a TARDIS outside the shop. Unfortunately there are no costumed minifigures wandering around, at least none that are Doctor Who themed. So I put some in.
In this evening’s stage performance of ‘Utopia’, the part of Captain Jack Harkness will be played by Lotso the Bear.
“Yeah, I dunno. It just sort of turned up one morning.”
“British Isles. 1950s. Late spring. Saturday. I’m sure I can hear a train somewhere.”
You’re not supposed to apologise when you’re a politician. Dominic Cummings didn’t. Boris hasn’t. Trump certainly didn’t; I don’t think he’s capable of remorse. But I probably should: I’ve let you all down. You’ve been sitting there, on tenterhooks, awaiting something new and bloggish from the BoM crew (a crew consisting of one balding middle-aged man in a severely untidy study), and what happens? Nada. Zip. Zilch. I can picture you all, crying into your beds at night, anxiously hitting the refresh buttons on phones and tablets and sobbing at children and significant others: “ALL I WANTED WAS SOMETHING TO HELP ME THROUGH LOCKDOWN AND HE CAN’T EVEN MANAGE THAT!”
What? What do you mean you haven’t?
There have been…difficulties in the house over the last few weeks, and while we’re stumbling towards a temporary and uneasy equilibrium I’ve kind of had my hands full. And on the occasions they’ve been empty, I’ve been drained. Lockdown seems to have done that to people; we’ve all slowed down a bit. Perhaps I’d be able to cope with this better had we not been in the throes of a pandemic; there’s nothing better for destroying your motivation to do stuff than the knowledge that you more or less have to do it because you can’t go out.
That’s not to say I haven’t been producing content. There’s loads of it, and it’s all stacked up like an M20 Brexit run. Shall we clean out the pipes?
We start in early January, with the news that archaeologists in Pompeii had dug out the remains of what appeared to be a Roman fast food stand, complete with serving holes and some questionable artwork.
I’d love to visit Pompeii. I’d love to visit anywhere, come to think of it; you don’t appreciate small local jollies until that’s all you can do. Last May was Thomas’ birthday: we drove out to East Hendred, not too far from here, and walked through a small patch of woodland. At any other time of year it would have been a mundane afternoon out. In the midst of a pandemic, it was an adventure.
There’s always TV, of course. For example, early February saw the Super Bowl, which led to the obligatory Photoshop.
While the rest of the UK languishes inside, Boris is spotted riding his bike in Olympic Park. How do we know this?
Meanwhile in the TARDIS: Exhausted, disheartened and under-equipped, Rory is in desperate need of assistance as he battles to save the life of his patient. Fortunately the Doctor and Amy are on hand with a solution.
Of course, the big news so far this year (I use the word ‘news’) loosely concerns the rumours about Jodie Whittaker’s imminent departure, with ‘a source’ leaking the announcement to the Mirror. The BBC have neither confirmed nor denied this information, which is a euphemism for ‘it’s probably true’. It would certainly fit the mould: three series and that’s your lot, it seems, and I wonder what would happen if Whittaker were to actually regenerate in front of a companion who clearly loves her, or who is if nothing else becoming excessively clingy. If nothing else it’d be a bit of a laugh.
Say what you like about the Mirror, but they have form: they knew about the shift to Sundays, they knew about Walsh and Cole, and they clearly have a man on the inside, even if that man turns out to be Chibnall. But until it turns out to actually be the truth, it’s probably best if we treat such rumours with a heavy dose of salt.
Speaking of salt – well, no. Not salt, per se, but Weetabix toppings. In one of the least likely pairings since fish fingers and…well, you know, Weetabix have teamed up with Heinz to offer what is for many of us a frankly unorthdox breakfast solution. I’m fine, I don’t eat the stuff anyway, but it’s caused a furore over social media, largely because we’re in the middle of lockdown and there’s sod all else to do; not even a field trip.
We’re told to work from home, which is fine unless you’re a freelance piano teacher and your pupils don’t actually want to have online lessons, or your internet connection is rubbish, or you happen to be a cat.
But however bad things have been, chances are you’re having a better time of it than Donald Trump. Having spectacularly failed to mount the coup he’d allegedly been inciting – despite the best efforts of armed protesters who stormed the Capitol – the 45th President of the United States found his options running out and his supporters waning (well, some of them) and ultimately he had no choice but to slink off with another Donald who’d found himself suddenly removed from office.
It gets worse. Next thing you know the public at large is demanding Trump’s removal from Home Alone 2, a cameo filmed in one of his hotels and which he allegedly bullied the production team in order to secure. It rarely gets played in network broadcasts these days – it’s easier, I suppose, to simply avoid the headache – but the stills are out there on the internet, lingering like smears in the bathtub, and it seems the planned course of action from the clicktivists is to saturate Google with Photoshopped images that show Macaulay Culkin in conversation with someone else, so as to bump the displaced President down the search results.
Oh well. In for a penny.
But perhaps Trump’s biggest disaster was the loss of his Twitter account – a potent and powerful tool that enabled him to spread false information, rally his troops and (if nothing else) stay in the headlines of a press who hung on every misleading, poorly-spelled word. The permanent suspension that eventually hit in January was too little, too late, but you can’t entirely blame Twitter for not taking action until it was certain they wouldn’t be hit with an executive order demanding they cease and desist all operation immediately (which is, let’s face it, exactly what he would have done). As it stands, I’ve heard he took some rather drastic steps in an attempt to get himself reinstated.
We’ll finish with some of those Bernie memes. You know. The ones that got everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Who knew the simple act of sitting cross-legged on a chair wearing a pair of mittens could have such a gargantuan impact on web traffic? What happened to us all to make us lose our minds like this? And yes, I’m using the third person quite deliberately, because this really was a gift to those of us who do this sort of thing more or less daily. And thus I made a few myself.
See you again soon for more silliness, and possibly even something with a bit of substance to it. But don’t hold your breath…
I was going to open this post with an explanation concerning the story you’re about to read. I swiftly abandoned the idea when I realised that I was basically just describing the text, and there’s nothing worse than having someone summarise the contents of a piece of fiction rather than letting it unfold itself as the author originally intended. In many ways it’s a shame, because it was good prose – still, I’ve consigned it to the Fiction Collection page, available elsewhere on this blog.
This particular one came about because over at The Doctor Who Companion we’ve been working on our first ever Christmas Annual – dedicated to the idea of companions and their seasonal escapades. The whole thing is available in PDF form, and in it you’ll find stories about the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, Bill and Heather, and even the Master. Do have a look; if nothing else it’ll give you something to do while we’re all waiting for ‘Revolution of the Daleks’.
Anyway, here’s mine. Cast your mind back, constant reader – all the way back to 2011…
Rory thinks: This will be the last year.
He looks out. The tail end of the winter sunlight has bled away, leaving the sky a deep Prussian blue, like the cloth of a military uniform. Somewhere beyond the exosphere, there are stars, although the house is in a well-lit terrace and you can’t really see them. Rory scratches his head to think that he might, at some point, have visited some of those stars, or at least their nearest neighbours. The man from Leadworth, skipping across the universe in a double heartbeat. Not to mention his other life, half-remembered and best forgotten: 2000 years of plastic solitude, hiding behind a locked door.
In his quieter moments he allows the concept to overwhelm him. And then there is a snap and he is back in the room. In his head, he can hear the Doctor. Don’t be ridiculous, Rory. That’s Iota Trianguli. I’d never take you there; they worship carrots.
He still remembers his encounter with the octopus barbers of Cirrus Minor; how they’d crooned in Gaelic while they snipped and trimmed. He had only gone in to ask for directions, but there had been a cultural misunderstanding and the next thing he knew he was being suckered to a plastic chair. Walking back to the blue box, where the others were waiting, under the twilight of a topaz yellow sun. They had offered sympathy and condolence, and then hidden all the mirrors.
Amy is much better at this stuff, he thinks to himself.
Rory has always felt two chapters behind, as if the Doctor and Amy were discussing plot points he was yet to reach. There are conversations about the travels they had without him, in the days – weeks? months? – before they started travelling together, the failed attempts at piloting the TARDIS, the bedroom with its matching Transformers quilts and electric train set. And then they were here, and the chapter began anew, and still he often feels as if there are pages he has neglected to read.
From the next room: laughter, the sound of Eric Morecambe menacing Arthur Lowe with a replica pistol. Then applause, and the familiarity of Bring Me Sunshine. Rory would quite like to be watching it, but he is keeping an eye on the stuffing.
Amy enters from the shed, carrying something metallic and roughly cylindrical. “This the one?”
“We have more than one blowtorch?”
“I found three. I think two of them may not be ours.” She rests the one she’s carrying on the kitchen worktop. “So. How does this improve the pudding?”
“Caramelisation. It’s like doing a crème brulee.” Rory picks up the blowtorch, dusting it with the sleeve of his cardigan. “I saw it on YouTube.”
Amy purses her lips very slightly and gives him the fish-eye. “Just don’t set fire to the kitchen. You know. Again.”
Rory feels his own eyes involuntarily roll. He puts down the torch and goes back to the cutlery drawer. Pulls out two knives, two forks, two spoons. The cutlery glints by the light of the kitchen.
He hesitates, looking over at the table. Then back at Amy, who has just finished pouring herself another glass of Shiraz. “Are we – ?”
She looks over at him, at the silverware in his hand. “What? Oh. Yeah. Definitely!”
It is a tonal shift from confusion to incredulity, managed in four words. Communication failures are the loose tiles in the marital roof, he has always thought, and this is one of them. He broaches the matter every Christmas. For Amy, it is a question that need never be asked. But they have never really resolved this, and thus it lingers, hanging in the air like an invisible stalactite, made of glass.
Rory reaches into the drawer, rummages, and pulls out another set. He sucks in his teeth.
“I can hear you doing that.”
She does not look round. Rory sighs. “I just – ”
“What? I mean, he’s our friend.”
“Yeah, and he never shows up. Because he thinks we think he’s dead.” Rory takes a split second to process that sentence, checking it for coherence. He decides that it works, despite being somewhat haphazard. Later he will decide that this is probably how Amy views him.
“Except that River knows we know. And she’ll tell him. And he probably told her knowing that she’d tell us, eventually. So he didn’t tell us because he knew she would, probably because he told her not to. Hey.” She flips the tea towel she has been using over her shoulders as if hoisting a knapsack. “It’s what he does, isn’t it?”
Rory has not been this confused since the poison scene in The Princess Bride. It pops into his head now, fully formed. He says, “Right.”
Amy sighs; it is a hand-thrown-to-the-air sigh, which is never a good one. “I know you think it’s pointless, but I’m not giving up.”
Is it pointless? Rory muses on this as he polishes the cutlery, fetching an extra plate from the cupboard to warm with the others. They have waited for the Doctor’s return for years; for some reason Amy always expects him at Christmas, “Because it’s the most inconvenient time, and so that’s exactly when he’ll show up”. He pulls at the oven door and then slides the plate inside: there is the scrape of glazed earthenware. The same ritual since Demon’s Run, since they got this house, since a parallel anomaly that he can no longer fully remember. Every December. This will be their third.
“I don’t like to see your hopes – I don’t know. Dashed. Every year,” he tells her.
“Don’t make this all about me. Besides, it’s Christmas. Christmas is about tradition.”
Rory thinks: So is seppuku.
Rory says: “I just don’t understand why anyone would voluntarily choose to have dinner with their in-laws.”
“Well, maybe not yours.” She tips him a wink; Rory is thrown by the sudden playfulness. A smile momentarily crosses his lips – The Princess Bride is back, the flirting of Buttercup and Westley.
Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he jolts at a repeated word: inconceivable, its dual meaning spiked with black venom. The other thing they do not discuss.
Rory looks away. Amy says “Is that spoon going on the table? Or do you – do you just like holding it?”
The sentences are losing cohesion, which means that Amy is more upset than she is prepared to admit. Rory is suddenly struck with something he will later determine was guilt; in the moment, it feels rather more like a desire to hug his wife.
He puts down the spoon, and then puts his arms around her, trying to somehow press out the anger, squeezing it away like the juice of an orange. Amy buries her face in the wool of his cardigan. It is only the side of her face, indicating a partial acquiescence to his affection as opposed to the total surrender he would prefer, but it will do for a start.
Amy pulls away, seethes. “Who! Who does it today? They’re supposed to show up on cosy winter evenings when you’ve just finished wrapping the presents. Bit of Holly and the Ivy, mince pie, and then on to the next house.” She is storming across the kitchen; now she reaches up to a shelf, pulling down the yellow plastic gun that is usually kept in reserve for next door’s cat.
The sink tap is turned on, and then off again. From the lounge they can hear the theme to Pointless, and then a second knock. Amy’s battle cry echoes as she marches down the hall. “If that is more carol singers, I have a water pistol!”
There is a Jewish tradition at the Passover Seder: an empty place left for Elijah, longed for and anticipated. And there are other stories, too, of unexpected stars, of unlikely gifts received with bewildered gratitude, of barren women who eventually bore prophets. There are choices and consequences and the two do not always match. We’re all stories in the end, he can remember Amy telling him once, although she couldn’t recall quite where she’d heard it. He wonders how this one will finish, and what choices he might have to make, and whether the two of them will ever be on the same page.
Rory wanders out of the kitchen to see who was at the door.
You can download the 2021 Doctor Who Companion Annual here.
I’m at a loss. The hottest day of the year, and you go to the beach? Not only the beach, but one of the busiest, most popular beaches in the country? What, did you think that no one else was going to have the same idea? Or did you think it was like those voting cartoons where everyone assumes that they’re the only ones who feel this way and so nothing gets done?
I mean, it’s Bournemouth. We don’t go to Bournemouth, even though it’s the nearest place with any sand, at least as far from here. We’ll drive up the road to Southborne. Or Boscombe, which is quite pleasant since they did it up and which has its own police box. (Yes, it’s still there, at least it was last August.) If we’re feeling particularly adventurous we may – emphasis on the may – walk along to Bournemouth city centre (God knows you can’t park there), if it’s the middle of autumn, or a weekday. But in the middle of furlough, in thirty degree heat? Yes, I could have driven my family there, or I could have taken them on a hike through the Danakil Desert instead, which would have been mildly more sensible.
Anyway: it’s Canada Day, so here, for no reason at all, is a picture of Peter Capaldi accompanied by a moose.
My parents went to Canada years ago. They didn’t see any moose, although there was a bear or two. At the beginning of the year, before all this, Emily and I had a spa day at a local hotel – one of those Groupon things – and while we were swimming casual lengths the two of us considered blowing some of my mother’s inheritance on an all-out trip to New York and Canada in the summer. Then there were bats and jokes about coughing and then it all stopped being funny, so we’re glad we’d already postponed it until next year.
Meanwhile, the Eleventh Doctor’s been in lockdown so long, he’s beside himself.
There are many ways to cope. For example, I’ve been going back through Grand Theft Auto 5, doing all the bits I never got round to doing on my first playthrough, a few years back. You can cycle up mount Chilead, learn to fly a plane, get in a few rounds at the golf club – oh, and do yoga. I was perusing Google images on International Yoga Day, just the other week, when I noticed that one of the classes depicted in stock photos seemed to have picked up a stowaway.
Art news now, and in Spain, hidden cameras reveal the culprit in the botched restoration of Murillo’s The Immaculate Conception.
And as the entertainment world mourns the loss of venerated actor Sir Ian Holm, the Doctor introduces Clara to the new version of Handles.
We return briefly to politics, as Matt Hancock, having failed to correctly name Marcus Rashford on Good Morning Britain, drops another clanger outside Downing Street.
Deleted scenes from ‘Daleks In Manhattan’ clearly show the influence on Boris Johnson’s post-lockdown strategy.
And during a crisis at the local hospital, the Doctor inadvertently places the world in jeopardy when he elects to demonstrate his fitness levels to Amy and Rory.
“No, really. I’m fit as a butcher’s dog. I can do loads of press-ups. Hang on, I’ll show you…”
God but it’s been a week. I don’t really want to talk about it. I’m not going to give you a lecture on Why Black Lives Matter because I don’t have the energy, and besides you’ve read all that elsewhere written to a much higher standard. What’s happened is appalling, and the whole thing is a mess, but I have enough going on here without trying to implement a sea change. You will have to rid the world of prejudice by yourselves. Right now I need to look after my family.
I’ve written paragraphs about Cummings, about his disregard for protocol, about his puppet mastery of the government, about the use of autism as a sympathy card (in fairness this is not him, but the sycophants who champion his acquittal, largely out of fear), and about his refusal to apologise for absolutely anything, with an arrogance that is simply breathtaking. I have deleted it. You know it all already, and I don’t want you to have to go over it again. This is the way of things now: this puppet government, this man who will not be made to resign because he knows where the bodies are buried. This is how people voted and many people simply don’t care. I have, I will admit, been feeling largely helpless, and have hit out with a series of Photoshopped memes, because that’s about all I know how to do these days.
What’s the natural human response to all this? Stay at home, adhering to lockdown protocol, and be sensible and responsible? Or say “Ah, feck it” and head off to the beach, because if the elite can’t keep the rules then why should we? The latter, of course, as these scenes of people attempting to jump from Durdle Door clearly indicate.
In the middle of all this, Anonymous turned up with new video material, broadcasting what some people had suspected all along.
There was some good news. Elon Musk’s long-awaited SpaceX launch finally happened under the clear-sky window they desperately needed, although there was momentary panic when one of the astronauts left the door open and they lost the Zero G dinosaur.
As the world mourned the loss of yet another rock and roll icon, archeologists examining the oldest writing in the universe made a startling discovery.
Oh, and Pac-Man turned forty.
More space news, and the ESO was thrilled to discover a twist that looked like the formation of a new planet inside the gas disc burning around AB Aurigae, although there were a little surprised when an unexpected flying object clouded their telescope view.
Closer to home, and after a lengthy break, Ikea stores nationwide began once more to open, with customers desperate for flat pack furniture, cheap tupperware and frozen meatballs seemingly content to sit in a baking hot car for half an hour so that they could stand outisde in the sun for another three, although a few customers came up with some innovative ways of beating the queues.
And as traffic stretched around the block to the newly opened McDonalds drive thrus, news reporters broke lockdown protocols in order to get up close to the action and find out exactly what was causing all the delays.
“Yeah, I want six hundred hamburgers, three hundred and eighty orders of fries, four hundred and twenty-six McFlurries, and a Diet Coke.”