Posts Tagged With: blink

Five Doctor Who episodes to help you deal with grief

I’m writing this four days after my mother died.

It was one of those sudden, unexpected things: a phone call at five in the afternoon, the rain hammering on the roof of the folding camper as we laughed and giggled about nothing, and then the sudden, life-changing moment when you’re told the news, and then the denial (“No. No, no. You’re wrong“) and then…look. To be honest it’s a blur. But somehow things got done. And there was the inevitable back-and-forth between close family members and then we cancelled our day-old holiday and came back to deal with it. She had a heart attack despite having no history of heart trouble and that means a post mortem and a certain amount of limbo while you wait for the phone to ring.

It is a funny state of affairs. There is grieving without grieving. I think that, even after all this time, I am still in shock; a particularly lucid nightmare from which there is no chance to wake. You go onto autopilot: things happen because they must, and because the day needs to be traversed like some desolate, inexplicably familiar commute even though the circumstances are bizarre and frightening. It occurs to me that I have yet to cry about all this, and for once in my life the sense of overriding guilt that is my default emotional state is suddenly and notably absent, simply because I am keeping it at bay for fear that it would just about finish me off.

So I am currently fractured, and not in a good place, and when I’m not in a good place I tend to fall back on something creative. It’s that, or sit there and brood. For example, I have just rendered every single canonical Doctor in cartoon form using the Flipline Papa Louie Pals app; one of those random things you do when you’re waiting for the coffee to reach drinking temperature. I will post them here eventually, when I’ve sorted out the height variance. It seems almost frivolous, but it’s a way of getting through the day. No, it’s more than that: creativity is (and I dearly wish it weren’t) an outlet that is all too often fuelled by melancholy, where bad things lead to good things. In the (sometimes metaphorical) studio of every artist there is – or ought to be – a plaque reading “YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MISERABLE TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS”.

Or perhaps it’s just a way of shutting out the noise. And it is a noise, this confusing maelstrom of mixed moods, of memories both bad and joyful and sometimes both, of things said and unsaid and this realisation that there is no such thing as a positive or negative emotion, there is only an emotion, and that it is possible to feel both good and bad. “The sun rose steadily over Hogwarts,” writes Rowling at the end of The Deathly Hallows, “and the Great Hall blazed with life and light. Harry was an indispensible part of the mingled outpourings of jubilation and mourning, of grief and celebration.” How wondrous it might have been if we had actually seen that at the end of the film, instead of the mute and oddly soulless calm that David Yates and Warner opted to provide.

But Doctor Who can be like that. At its best (and that is a heady height that is reached all too rarely, it seems) it provides both the opportunity to celebrate life and also to mark its end, as characters die and are appropriately mourned, and death is the next stage on a journey, or a sacrifice worth making, or perhaps as simple as going to bed at the end of a very long day. This list is not exhaustive; nor is it definitive. Certain ‘obvious’ stories (Father’s Day) are missing; other choices will possibly strike you as odd. That’s fine. These are, for one reason or another, the episodes that have helped me, curiously not by revisiting them (I simply haven’t had the time) but purely in terms of remembering key themes and moments and dialogue from years of watching and dissecting and writing about them. And this week, doing that has comforted me. And if anyone is feeling what I’ve been feeling, and can in turn draw any comfort from anything I’ve written, either here or below, then my work is surely not fruitless, nor meaningless.

And I miss my mum.

 

Twice Upon A Time

What would you do, muses Steven Moffat in this Christmas special, if you had the chance to say goodbye again? If the dead were somehow stored as permanent memories, magically rendered flesh through the conduit of a glass avatar? What would you say to them – if, indeed, you could be sure it was them? And how would you know? That’s the mystery that the Doctor endeavours to solve, with the help of a long-vanquished former self, a dead woman and a melancholy army captain whose time is apparently up. There are gags about French restaurants and there is a Dalek, but it’s that idea of loss and survival that lingers long after the smoke from the death ray has dissipated into the air. The notion that we might somehow be able to talk to the deceased – or, more specifically, that they might talk to us – is one that is embossed throughout ‘Twice Upon A Time’, holding it together like the stitching on David Bradley’s hat. The avatar on the battlefield is both Bill Potts and not Bill Potts; both Clara Oswald and not Clara Oswald, both Nardole and…well, you get the idea. In the end, it is the memories of others that make us who we are, and that as long as there is breath in our bodies, they never truly leave us.

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Series 11 opens with the news of a death, only we don’t know that. Jodie Whittaker’s inauguration begins and more or less ends with a YouTube video, uploaded by a tearful young man mourning the loss of his grandmother. It is a grief that will eventually unite him with her second husband – a man who himself carries the weight of loss in his cancer-stricken body: a man with a broken heart living on borrowed time. And yet this is not in itself a bad thing. “I carry them with me,” says the Doctor, when asked how she copes with those she herself has lost. “What they would have thought and said and done. I make them a part of who I am.” It is a sentiment that will eventually save Graham, when faced (much later on) with the ghost of the woman he knew, and who is able to tell her apart from the real thing by remembering how she would have reacted. Still, it is always the Doctor who survives, and sometimes that hurts. And as good as it was, there was a sting to this particular tale when we re-examined its title: this notion that there were two women, both of whom had fallen to Earth, and that only one of them managed to get back on her feet.

 

Heaven Sent

Shaken and broken from the apparent death of his companion, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is marooned inside a watch that looks like a castle, chased by a ghost that wouldn’t look out of place on Scooby Doo, and spends four billion years punching through a wall. On paper it sounds almost ridiculous. In practice it is a stunning, almost groundbreaking entry in the Who logbook, a Groundhog Day of endless grief. But it is the mood of this one that strikes you: a sombre, semi-lit world of browns and greys and dark reds, where corridors shift and paintings decay and one is both always alone and never alone. Clara is both the Doctor’s muse and the object of his grief, manifest in a cacophony of half-glimpses, viewed from behind as she scratches with chalk before vanishing once more into the shadows – the decision to eventually show her one of the few narrative missteps in an otherwise impeccable production. “It’s funny,” muses the Doctor, halfway through this story, drumming his fingers on the arm of a chair. “The day you lose someone isn’t the worst. At least you’ve got something to do. It’s all the days they stay dead.” The following week (and presumably requiring something else to do) he would bust Clara from the trap street and she would run off with Maisie Williams in a stolen TARDIS, but we’re not going to discuss that one.

 

The Rings of Akhaten

Poor Neil Cross went through the wringer with this, and it really isn’t fair. Yes, it is overly sentimental and frequently ridiculous. Yes, the the final conceit (in which, during what is a bizarre twist on The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Clara destroys the monster by feeding it a leaf) really doesn’t work. Yes, the singing is a bit much. On the other hand you would be hard-pressed to find an episode of Doctor Who that matches this one in terms of ambition, grandeur and sheer unbridled joy: a rejuvenated Doctor, fresh off his leash, a companion dazzled by the wonders of the universe, a beautifully rendered interstellar market and a dozen good ideas that never quite bear fruit. The Doctor’s graveside stalking of Clara is uncomfortable to watch – it’s rather like reading your girlfriend’s diary – but the whole pre-title sequence is a beautiful and ultimately heart-rending vignette that shows us how someone might be defined by the people close to them. ‘Akhaten’ is about letting go of the things we love, but it treads this path with that sense of bittersweet sadness and joy I was talking about; the one that pervades the closing moments of Harry Potter. And this in the episode where Matt Smith has a wand duel.

 

Blink

Viewed from one perspective, ‘Blink’ is a story about bootstraps and puzzles and the frightening things that lurk in old houses. That’s usually how I approach it, and I wouldn’t blame you for doing the same. But it’s so much more than that: it is, at its core, a story about loss, as Sally Sparrow – the undisputed queen of Companions That Never Were – has her heart broken twice, once by an old acquaintance and once by a new one. This would count for nothing if the script were mawkish and sentimental, but it is neither: ‘Blink’ is one of those stories that works just as well when it is being sad as when it is being frightening, and the death of Billy Shipton (announcing, with a poetic abstractness that would eventually outstay its welcome, that he would live “until the rain stops”) is among the most poignant scenes that Moffat has ever committed to paper. And it’s here, in these moments of downtime when the statues are off camera and the score is quiet and understated, that the paradox of the Weeping Angels is revealed: that the tragedy that trails in their wake is visited not upon those who are taken but on those that are left behind. The Doctor calls this potential energy; at the risk of sounding tremendously cloying, we might just as easily call it love.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Disney special)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cast of Monsters, Inc. watch a video.

“One jump ahead of the Dalek…”

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

Poor unfortunate soul.

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The New Who Top Ten: #5

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Number Five: ‘Blink’ (2007)

Should this be higher?

A few years ago, it would have been an indisputable top slot. Even now I maintain it’s (mostly) impeccably structured, beautifully acted and immaculately presented. Few stories were as universally praised, or as talked about in weeks to come. Next to this, even the return of the Master seemed a relatively muted affair.

There are two problems with ‘Blink’. In the first instance, it launched a creature that swiftly became a Doctor Who sensation. Like many of Moffat’s creations, it is largely silent. Deaths, such as they are, occur offscreen. They even had their own catchphrase. But the Angels’ appeal lies in their instant familiarity, the everyday made sinister, epitomised in a final montage that’s there purely to scare the kids. If any statue can be an Angel – indeed, if any picture of a statue can be an Angel – then nowhere is safe, and I can’t help thinking that the prospect of being touched by an Angel was enough to keep many a primary school child wide awake for a night or two back in 2007.

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The big problem, of course, is that once you’ve done that, there’s nowhere for you to go. So Moffat branched in a new direction by having the next batch of Angels move, speak and even snap necks. It’s the sort of departure that has the Ninja Turtle fans up in arms, and the fact that comparatively few people seem to have complained about ‘Flesh and Stone’ is down to the fact that at time of broadcast, they were relatively new. The Tenth Doctor introduces them as “the only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely”, but once you’ve done that initial time travel story – and have them try and nick the TARDIS into the bargain – what do you do with them? The fact is that the Angels were one-story monsters, in the same way that the Silence were one-story monsters, the Spoonheads should have been no-story monsters and the Whispermen will probably be the subject of an out-of-court settlement with Joss Whedon.

I expanded on all the reasons the Weeping Angels are basically rubbish in a post called, appropriately, ‘Why the Weeping Angels are Rubbish‘ – written before ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, a story that did nothing to enhance my opinion of them. But it seems churlish to pick on ‘Blink’ because of a less-than-impressive legacy. Better, instead, if we could point out that it’s actually a lot of razzle-dazzle, the problems hiding (for a change) not behind a sea of special effects but instead a whirling dervish of storytelling tricks, pretentiousness dressed up as paradox.

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The difficulty with many of Moffat’s episodes is that you’re encouraged to think, but not too much. He’s great with throwing in the clues and the mysteries and the wibbly-wobbly resolutions, but once you’re actively concentrating, as we are supposed to, the holes are as transparent as bullet-riddled tracing paper. With ‘Blink’, there are noticably fewer holes, principally because Moffat is trying to stretch an idea across a single episode, rather than an entire series. Hence ‘Blink’ hangs together with a greater coherence than, say, ‘The Wedding of River Song’. (Actually, my son’s first year art project hangs together with a greater coherence than ‘The Wedding of River Song’, so it’s perhaps not the best example.)

Nonetheless, there are traces of the misogyny for which we would know him later. Sally Sparrow is perhaps the strongest and most likeable female guest character in the last ten years. There have been petitions and campaigns to get her instilled as a regular character, one that the producers have denied on the grounds that she’s arguably too strong, and that the Doctor wouldn’t work well with such a resourceful, intelligent character. To which I say yes, of course, and ‘City of Death’ was a walking disaster. Nevertheless, the type of show they seem determined to make nowadays – where characters begin weak and feeble before developing an inner strength under the careful tutelage of the Doctor – doesn’t seem to work well with Sally’s mindset. (Somewhere in the creative ether there’s a story arc waiting to be written about a companion who travels with the Doctor and only leaves him once they’ve been well and truly messed up.)

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And yet the episode only concludes when Sally is able to deal with her obsession with the Doctor and gain narrative closure – a development that enables her, in turn, to gain romantic happiness with Larry. The Doctor is that most metaphorical of ex-boyfriends, or at the very least an internet romance – and while Sally saves the day, her brief narrative arc is ultimately defined by love. Curiously, in 2007 this didn’t bother me. Years later, having Clara flirt with the Eleventh Doctor and then get embroiled in a tedious love story, it does.

If I’m being a little harsh today, it’s largely because I’m tired of people talking about the bloody Angels as paragons of brilliance and ‘Blink’ as the ultimate example of clever storytelling. ‘Colony in Space’ is clever storytelling. So is ‘The Face of Evil’. And ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’, come to that. Clever doesn’t mean you tie your audience up in knots. It means you tell a story effectively and with sufficient emotional resonance, and you do not sacrifice narrative trickery for character development. Beware the man who says he can offer you both. More often than not, you’ll end up with neither.

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At the same time – and I think this might be the reason I continue to hold ‘Blink’ in high regard (despite having spent six paragraphs basically slagging it off) is because in 2007 – after eight episodes of Martha’s fawning and so much kitchen sink at the hands of Rose and the wretched Tylers – it was a bit of a novelty. It is loaded with amusing, memorable dialogue: witness, for example, the incredulous reaction of Larry when he learns about Sally’s miniscule DVD collection, or Sally’s realisation that Kathy lied about her age. Moffat’s never been one for naturalism, and even when his characters are in a locked room with a ticking bomb they still sound like they’re in an Oscar Wilde play, but it’s hard not to be amused, for example, at Larry’s first impression of Wester Drumlins (“You live in Scooby Doo’s house”) or Sally’s ruminations on feeling sad (“It’s happy for deep people”). Larry is, indeed, an early prototype for Rory, right down to the slightly gormless expression, but that’s not a bad thing.

Moffat also manages to tug at the heartstrings during the hospital scene, which remains almost the finest thing he ever wrote (with the exception of Miss Evangelista’s ghosting, in an episode that didn’t make the top ten). If you can live with the ludicrous final line, it’s both moving and comparatively understated, thanks in no small part to some fine performances, particularly Michael Obiora as the elderly Billy. Indeed, one of the best things about the story is the absence of its key players: we do not suffer for the general lack of Doctor, and the fact that Martha turns up only briefly is frankly a welcome bonus.

Martha-in-Blink

Plus, at its heart, ‘Blink’ is simply terrifying. The moment when the Angels eventually swoop on Sally and Larry, stalking them through the seemingly deserted house, is a fine example of how to do an effective set piece, with appropriate jump cuts and some great use of lighting. It’s hard not to feel unnerved when the Angels rock the TARDIS back and forth in their attempts to get in, and the moment when it then fades away, leaving them eternally quantum-locked (at least until someone buys up Wester Drumlins and decides to clear out the cellar), is one of initial horror followed by tremendous relief. It works. It works beautifully. It’s about the only time it ever really did, and while that’s not the only reason to single out ‘Blink’ as a miniature masterpiece, it’s certainly a good start.

Cameron’s Episode: ‘Blink (curiously enough)

Categories: New Who, Top 10 | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Go figure (part 37)

Voyaging tonight into the totally random, here is our Doctor Who figure collection, as at January 2014.

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The Fez Doctor (there’s a Fez Doctor! THERE’S A FEZ DOCTOR!) is the most recent addition, but it must be said that I am extremely pleased with this lot – a purchase back in September – even if they did cost me the better part of sixty quid.

Figs_2014 (1)

Because, you know. Four characters from four fantastic stories, and two that saw at least a couple of outings, and who are far more convincing in their original form, as you will know if you have seen ‘Cold War’. (And if you really think the 2006 Cybermen were more frightening than the ones they used in ‘Earthshock’, I don’t want you reading this blog. Go on. Scat.)

I was procrastinating the other afternoon when I took this lot, reluctant to start tidying the house after the seasonal maelstrom on the grounds that it’ll become instantly untidy again. So I spent a good twenty minutes putting the entire collection into chronological order – in other words, the order in which each figure first appeared in the show.

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Start at the back. And this is my order, which means it’s a bit tenuous. That’s why the middle-aged version of Sarah Jane doesn’t appear until the series two set, while the Dalek placing is all over the shop. And yes, there are probably other mistakes. And no, I’m not doing it again. I have to vacuum.

We spent much of Christmas revisiting Classic Who – Thomas and I have watched ‘Spearhead From Space’ and ‘Terror of the Autons’, in single sessions for each story, which for him is nothing short of miraculous. All the same, I think certain people within the family need a little educating. Daniel came to me the other day carrying this:

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“Daddy!” he said. “It’s Andy from CBeebies, in A Christmas Carol!”

And it’s true, you rarely see them together.

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A friend of mine said she showed the Eighth Doctor action figure to her son, who gave her an identical response. “We are utterly failing in our mission to indoctrinate our children!” she said. “We must try harder!”

She has a point, although it’s not for lack of trying on my part. It doesn’t help that Daniel is notoriously spooked by anything scary, which is reasonable behaviour for a four-year-old. The scene with the doll in ‘Terror of the Autons’ passed more or less without incident, and he even enjoyed the death by plastic chair, but when Pertwee and Manning came face to un-face with those plastic policemen he ran straight out of the room and refused to come back in until UNIT had resolved the situation by doing something useful, which of course took an awfully long time.

And then there was the day we tried playing the DVD Board Game. “It’s fine,” I’d said to Daniel. “It’ll just be clips. Nothing scary. You can play it with us. Now, stop hovering by the door.”

And, of course, this was the first clip that came up.

There followed a series of wails and ear-piercing shrieks and I spent ten minutes trying to calm him down. For a moment or two, it was like ‘Dragonfire’ had never happened and Bonnie Langford was sitting in the front room.

In any event, I pointed out to Sally that any sort of TV indoctrination involving the Eighth Doctor would involve watching Eric Roberts foul up the Master even more than John Simm eventually did, so it’s a fine line to walk. And as much as I’m enjoying this little delve into the past while we wait nine months for Peter Capaldi to start being heroic, I don’t think I’m quite ready for that “half human on my mother’s side” scene just yet. We may just go back to the Master. The real one, I mean. It’s far more fun that way.

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(Don’t) SPLINK

I thought I’d follow up yesterday’s class excursion into the murky archives of the Central Information Office with another video mashup. If you’ve not yet read the Public Information Films digest, go and do so – or at least watch the last one, right at the bottom of the post hyperlinked above, because otherwise what follows is going to seem even more obscure than usual.

Done that? Right, we can move on, and I can show you this.

This was Gareth’s idea, and for that I am grateful, because it was a solid concept that took all of an hour to put together, so I call that a win. The toughest part was obtaining a decent quality version of the Doctor’s video that wasn’t hopelessly out of sync, although I’m told it’s a special feature on a DVD I don’t own. After that it was a question of splicing the two and trimming for pacing, right down to the frame.

It’s a curious beast, though, because the version you can see above is slightly edited. In my original upload I included a somewhat tacked-on ending, which I still think is funny, but which some people think detracts from the original point. In any case the full version is below (titled ‘better version’ not because of the ending but purely because the timing improves on an earlier cut I’d uploaded), so you can make up your own mind. Just remember to look both ways.

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Angel, don’t you weep no more

You may be aware that I also run a blog called Glurgewatch, aiming to collect together all those sickening images and urban legends that saturate the web.

All right – by the web, I actually mean Facebook. That seems to have become the place where the glurge gathers. An awful lot of conscience-easing takes place on Facebook: it’s a quick and lazy way of sharing trivial information about your life, and a quick and lazy way of showing that you ‘care’ about Stuff That Matters. For example, a group was set up last week (and sorry, I can’t find a link, but trust me on this) to register support for the family of a missing five-year-old, where the only rule was to give your name and current location as a gesture that you were thinking about them. At the other end of the spectrum of love, a twenty-year-old man has been jailed for being offensive, but predominantly stupid.

Upon superficial examination, the Matthew Wood thing is sickening, and the April Jones support group heartfelt and well-meant. But it’s never that simple. Matthew Wood was an eejit and I’m not about to debate the merits of free speech versus the responsibility to keep your mouth shut if what you have to say is so vehemently nasty (irrespective of whether or not he was joking, there’s a time and a place – at the same time, the support group is really just a way of generating Facebook traffic and reaching an obscene amount of comments and likes simply because you can. I don’t care what the organisers say; there is basically no merit in it whatsoever. It doesn’t find the girl. There are official groups for that, and I don’t know how far they’ve got. This is just something you can conveniently share as a status update that allows you to pay lip service for causes that you actually care about far less than who may have fixed this week’s X-Factor. The petition-signing / armchair justice-advocating / virtual candle-lighting charade has no real purpose; it merely allows us all to further harbour the delusion that there’s any kind of mass community on Facebook, when really it’s only ever been about pockets and hubs. It’s stuff for people who want to say they care without actually doing anything, which is perhaps worse than simply not caring at all.

Anyway, this clicktivism irritates the hell out of me, because I have never understood the point of plastering photos of disabled children all over my timeline in order to remind people that disabled children exist and that we shouldn’t stare at them. Nor do I comprehend why I should be emotionally blackmailed into copy-and-pasting a status about cancer / welfare / mental illness, with the implication that any refusal on my part would be taken as a sign that I didn’t care about the issue in question. You know the sort: “If you don’t post this photo of a girl with only one arm and a cleft palate, it means you kill puppies, eat babies and HAVE NO SOUL”. I have good friends who insist on wallowing in the cesspit of such inanity, and I can never figure out why, but my real gripe is with the idiots who actually start them going in the first place. I’m a fairly tolerant sort, by the standards of your average centre-left Englishman – but seriously, the people who come up with this garbage should have to shampoo my crotch.

But I’m ranting.

Anyway, I am doing my own. First of all, there was the chicken.

Then, just the other day, I did this.

And within twenty minutes of that going on my wall, Gareth had created this.

It’s the little things that count.

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Why the Weeping Angels are rubbish

Let’s get this out of the way. ‘Blink’ is my favourite episode of New Who. Moffat achieves more in the forty-odd minutes of that than he’s achieved in two bloated, choppy series as head writer. There have been some wonderful Eleventh Doctor moments, and Matt Smith has been terrific, but – as we feared – the quality of Moffat’s writing has suffered. The time was that everything he did was wondrous. These days, for every ‘Eleventh Hour’ there’s a ‘Beast Below’, and for every ‘Girl in the Fireplace’ there’s a ‘Wedding of River Song’. It’s unclear whether this has happened because Moffat simply no longer has the time to tighten and refine his scripts as before. That would be a normal explanation. What’s more likely, however, is that the habits and conceits that were effective over single episodes simply do not translate well to the season-length arcs for which he is now responsible.

Like Davies before him, Moffat has his recurring themes. The use of technology for emotional impact (across video screens, telephones or voice communicators) is one. The ontological paradox is another. ‘Blink’ was full of them, but a common trend these days is to stretch them over the course of a series or even beyond. (Series five eventually revealed that the cracks were caused by an exploding TARDIS, but even at the end of ‘The Big Bang’ we still had no idea about what ‘Silence will fall’ meant; there are days even now when I’m not entirely sure.)

At this point, you’re either nodding your head in recognition because you agree with me, or (more likely) shaking it in dissent wondering “Where the hell is he coming from, saying our beloved Weeping Angels are rubbish? I’d rather have them than a Dalek any day”. And in a way, you’d be right. Because in ‘Blink’, the Angels are terrific. They’re simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, relatively original and (in that first appearance) utterly terrifying. ‘Blink’ is the cheap episode and it shows, but credit where credit’s due: Moffat takes a shoestring budget and, much like the original production teams in Classic Who, uses his imagination to work wonders.

But less is more. And the truth of it is the Angels should have been a one-time appearance, like the Minotaur in ‘The God Complex’, the scarecrows in ‘The Family of Blood’ and the Absorbaloff in ‘Love and Monsters’ (albeit for quite different reasons). They’re unique to the story in that they’re exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to find in an old gothic mansion (all right, a big house) and that makes them all the more effective. If we’d left them there, never to be seen again, I’d have been happy. But Moffat has his favourites, and the Angels have now become the kid in class who’s popular with the sports teacher and is picked to captain all the teams, even those for sports he doesn’t play. And the more you analyse and explore them, the more the inconsistencies and problems come to light. Let me explain.

Blink

What’s The Time, Mr Bad Wolf?

Let’s begin with the central premise. In ‘Blink’, the Doctor describes the Angels as being quantum locked. In other words, they can only move if you’re not looking at them.

I’m not a physicist. I’m an English graduate. And, like me, the Doctor was renowned for being a rubbish student, so perhaps he’s simply out of his depth here. But my very limited understanding on quantum theory suggests that the word ‘observe’ does not mean ‘look’. Wikipedia defines it as “a measurable operator, or gauge, where the property of the system state can be determined by some sequence of physical operations. For example, these operations might involve submitting the system to various electromagnetic fields and eventually reading a value off some gauge”.

In other words, you don’t have to actually be looking at the Angel to freeze it. Touching it is enough. So a blind person in the presence of an Angel can ‘observe’ the Angel by touching it. And once observed, its presence is noted. You’re still aware of it even when you’re not looking at it. (Moffat would solve this problem with the Silence, who are also a bit silly.) Or presumably you could just train a video camera on the Angel or set up a thermal imaging unit or carry something to measure radiation, and you’d be observing the damn thing, and it would be stopped in its tracks forever. I know that not everyone owns portable Geiger counters, but you’d think River Song’s crew would have thought of packing them when they set off for the Byzantine.

Let’s assume – for the sake of the argument – that the ‘quantum locked’ thing is simply inaccurate and that what Moffat really means is “you just have to be looking at it”. I could just about buy this as a theory, except for one crucial element: if, as the Doctor says, the Angels have to be observed by living things in order to freeze into rock, does this mean sentient living things, or will anything with a pulse do? For example:

EXT. MEADOW. DAY

A beautiful sunlit meadow; two Angels are spreading out a picnic blanket. They do not look at each other.

FIRST ANGEL
There’s sand all over this rug. Did you remember to wash it after we went to Swanage?

SECOND ANGEL
I thought you’d done it.

FIRST ANGEL
You wash, I do the ironing, remember? Pass me the wet wipes, I need to give it a scrub. Oh, bugger.

SECOND ANGEL
What?

FIRST ANGEL
Ladybird.

SECOND ANGEL
Where?

FIRST ANGEL
That leaf. Just there. No, COME AROUND ME, DON’T LOOK OVER MY SHOULDER.

SECOND ANGEL
I don’t think it’s seen us yet.

FIRST ANGEL
Of course it hasn’t seen us, you twit. Would we be having this conversation if it had?

SECOND ANGEL
It still has its back to us. Hold on, it’s flying away.

FIRST ANGEL
I told you we should have gone to that abandoned shopping centre. That thing’s airtight.

SECOND ANGEL
We’d still have to watch out for spiders. And you remember the time we found that bee’s nest. We were there for over a month.

There is a sound of buzzing.

FIRST ANGEL
Speaking of winged insects –

A wasp flies past, freezing both Angels into rock. It passes and they unfreeze.

FIRST ANGEL
Well, let’s hope that’s the last we see –

It flies back the other way, lingers round the picnic basket for a second, then vanishes.

SECOND ANGEL
I bloody hate summer.

octavian-angel

The only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely

“Look, Steven. I know you want to bring back the Angels, and we don’t have a problem with that, except for one thing.”
“What’s the matter, Piers?”
“They’re not particularly evil, are they?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, they’re scary. I mean, truly scary. The way they jump out of the dark is great. But – well, they don’t really do much, do they? They sort of zap you into the past and live off your energy. Which by the way makes no sense, but let’s not go there just now.”
“Zapping you into the past is pretty evil, you know. Think about it. You have to start over from scratch. You won’t have any friends. The money you’re carrying is going to be worthless. Your family will never see you again. Plus it gave me a chance to write those heart-rending ontological scenes. Don’t you remember I-have-until-the-rain-stops?”
“Yes, I still cry at that. But it’s a one-story gimmick. Can’t you do something else?”
“I could have them try and nick the TARDIS again.”
“Been there, done that. Besides, that scene was silly. Why the hell did they think shaking it was going to open the doors? It’s not a toy fire engine.”
“I wasn’t really thinking straight; I just thought it looked cool.”
“Anyway, Steven. If we’re going to invest in a two-parter can’t you have them be a little bit more vicious?”
“Hmm. I could have them snap your neck when they get close enough.”
“…”
“Too much?”
“No, it’s good, let’s run with it.”
“Do you think we should worry about the continuity?”
“Oh, why start now?”

The main thing, of course, is that people who get zapped into the past always seem to end up in nice places where they manage to survive and thrive – compare this with (for example) Henry from The Time Traveler’s Wife, who always seems to end up naked and cold in the middle of locked museums, back alleys, or shooting ranges. Closer to home, poor Jamie McCrimmon has his memory wiped by the Time Lords in the closing chapters of ‘The War Games’, and is unceremoniously dumped in the middle of a highland battlefield with an angry redcoat swiftly bearing down on him. But in ‘Blink’, the characters all find themselves happy and contented and fulfilled, which leads me to question whether the Angels are really as nasty as they seem. You could almost picture two Angels taking high tea (with their backs to each other), perhaps in Wester Drumlins in its finer days, chatting:

“Now, Algernon, where are this week’s drop-off points?”
“Let me see. Royal Leamington Spa, 1937. The shores of Antigua. Oh, and Disneyland.”
“Splendiferous. You know, it really is a thankless task being an energy-sucking parasite, isn’t it? We spend all our time ensuring our victims are relocated to comfortable places, and we don’t get the tiniest bit of gratitude.”
“Way of the world, my dear. Anyway, I’m off to bed. See you in twenty-five years?”
“No, you won’t.”

carpark-tardis-angels

Against all odds, the Angels have the phone box

“That’s why they cover their eyes. They’re not weeping. They can’t risk looking at each other. Their greatest asset is their greatest curse. They can never be seen. The loneliest creatures in the universe.”

Fine. It was enough to defeat them at the end of ‘Blink’. But seriously, how did they get anything done? Picture, for example, two Angels playing tennis. Go on. Picture it. Now add an umpire. It’d be the slowest game in history. Even Stephen Hawking could have beaten them. How did the Angels manage to carry the TARDIS out of the police station garage without looking at each other? How would two Angels move a sofa? How does Angel chess work? Can Angels talk on Skype? How do they travel? I’m guessing they don’t drive, or if they do they don’t use car pools, because whoever’s in the back seat would freeze the driver into rock, which would result in chaos on the roads. I should imagine they’re okay at punting, but for the most part they presumably walk, largely at night, favouring wide open spaces where they can stroll along side by side.

“If they have quite narrow tunnel-ish vision,” says Gareth, “with not much peripheral vision, then they could walk in side-by-side chain, each going forwards until one of the ones behind sees them, then freezing until the others catch up. Or they could go forward in small groups, circling around, with each taking turns to be the one at the back who can actually move – a bit like cyclists taking it in turns to be the one at the front of the pack.”

And you thought the Silence Olympics was silly. The Doctor posits that the Angels have survived as long as the universe has by evolving “the perfect defence mechanism”. I’d suggest that they’ve survived this long because even a family meal takes over a century.

Doctor-Who-Time-of-Angels-Next-Time-17

“That which holds the image of an angel becomes itself an angel”

Oh, don’t get me started on this. I don’t deny it was a good scene. It’s creepy and effective – MY GOD, THEY’RE COMING OUT OF THE TV! – until you actually think about it. That would mean, for example, that you could never draw them, because the result would be death. It would be like drawing Mohammed. Time Lord academy art classes would result in carnage. On the other hand, it does explain how they procreate; they just set up a video camera and then leave it running while another Angel walks into shot. It’s certainly more clinical than Gareth’s proposed method, which involved both Angels wearing blindfolds, “with maybe a kinky Angel taking its blindfold off every now and then to taunt its partner”. This, presumably, is the ultimate BDSM, and the Weeping Angels’ favourite book is Fifty Shades of Grey Stone.

The point behind all of this is that the Angels in ‘Blink’ are built on a very shaky house of cards. And the moment you start to put turrets on top, which is what ‘Flesh and Stone’ tried to do, you get cards all over the place. For example, the ending of ‘Flesh and Stone’ – in which a blind Amy is told to advance through a horde of Angels who don’t know she’s blind – doesn’t work because the Angels figure out halfway through the walk that she can’t see them. But they don’t freeze voluntarily, keeping as still as they can like in a particularly nasty game of musical statues; they freeze because someone’s looking at them and they can’t unfreeze until that person is looking away. Concordantly, if Amy was blind they would never have been frozen in the first place, and she wouldn’t have been able to even start the walk. That’s unless, of course, the other-Doctor was there, wandering around before not quite coming into shot, but it’s a stretch (and likely the sort of thing that only gets inserted after the fact, when the fans start complaining).

You see what I mean, anyway. The whole mythology as it was built across the series five episodes made no real sense and just diluted the Angels to the point where they almost became parodies of themselves – a legacy that’s set to continue at Christmas in a series mini-finale that will ensure, as we have been assured by the chief writer, that “not everyone gets out alive”. And if I am weeping, it’s because I can’t bear to look, but for quite different reasons to those of the lonely assassins. The bottom line is that the Angels were one-story villains, and that’s how they should have stayed: frozen, locked in time, staring at each other, never to move again. Giving them voices was just about excusable, giving them a backstory was tenuous, and giving them visible movement was a disaster. And before we can say “Dancing Graham Norton” –

Sometimes you just need to know when to stop.

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The new girl

OK, so….

The Guardian has revealed that the new companion will be <spoiler> and that <spoiler>. And also <spoiler>. And, in episode <spoiler>, we’ll see <spoiler>.

Oh, what’s the point? I don’t want to tell you about it because I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did, which is to read the damned thing and encounter a WHOPPING GREAT REVELATION by the writer-in-chief. The Guardian didn’t really signpost this effectively – there was a little information at the top, but far more was revealed therein than I’d have liked to know. At the same time, the real focus of my ire is Moffat himself, because he’s really starting to piss me off these days. The writing style is brilliant, I’m not going to deny it, although I take issue with some of his plot arcs (more on that below). There are some fantastic one liners and some genuinely moving moments (the ghosting in ‘Silence in the Library’ still gives me the shivers), and the way he weaves technology and emotional involvement into a cohesive whole is reminiscent of 1980s anime.

At the same time, he annoys me, because he’ll rant about spoilers on TV A.M. (or whatever it is they call it now; ye gods I’m showing my age) and then tell us everything himself. And if he must insist on courting the press, he has to accept the consequences. Unless you want to make it illegal to disclose such information, you have to deal with the fact that people are going to tell all, and not get cross when it leaks out, and taking to the internet to complain with his customary self-righteous arrogance.

I am aware that I am ranting a bit. Because I don’t want to depress you, and because I don’t want to include anything of the new companion just yet, here’s a picture of a hamster.

And I am calm.

Joshua and I were watching ‘Blink’ last night – as you probably gathered from my previous entry – and I was reflecting this morning what a tightly focussed, brilliant little episode it is. The Weeping Angels, back when they were fresh and innovative and when they actually worked, because as interesting as ‘The Time of Angels’ was, it showed up the inadequacies of the Angels when you put them in an inappropriate setting, multiply them tenfold and then, unforgivably, have them move. Moffat can write good, continuous drama – Press Gang, Jekyll – but as a Who writer his best work has been standalone (and if River Song’s involvement with the show had ended with ‘Forest of the Dead’, I’d have liked her a lot more).

The central problem with the way the show is constructed these days that the ontological Ouroboros paradoxes work well in the context of single episodes, but break down when Moffat tries to make them fit over entire seasons, or even half seasons. The big bang / universe reboot that closed season five was an absurd piece of handwavium, the River story has devolved into mind-numbing tedium, and the charade that was the Doctor’s ‘death’ and the mirror universe built around it was so badly constructed it almost made ‘Last of the Time Lords’ work in comparison. I thus equate Moffat with Kate Bush during recording of The Dreaming. She’d just got a Fairlight, and she completely saturated the album with it. The result is a very full texture crammed with different ideas and innovations and experiments. And not all of it works. There’s some whopping clangers on there and a few moments of beauty. It’s a better album than it’s given credit for, because it tends to live in the shadow of Hounds of Love (which follows it and which she never bettered).

But it was basically a kid who was given complete control and who went a bit wild. And that’s how I see Moffat. Just a big kid who’s been given charge of something and wants to bring his standalone technique to a show that really doesn’t suit it. This isn’t the Black Guardian trilogy. It’s a mess.

I have, in any event, figured out what that crack in the universe actually was. It isn’t the TARDIS exploding. It’s the chief writer, stretching a literary conceit to fracturing point.

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Don’t Blink 182

“So Daddy?”
“Yes?”
“Why did they have all those statues?”
“Well, it’s because you have to take care on the streets. Because the Angels…[ominous voice]…are everywhere.”
“Yes, but Daddy, they don’t look like the Weeping Angels, do they?”
“…No, they don’t.”
“They don’t have their faces covered. They’re not even angels.”
“Also true.”
“So why did they put them in?”
“Well, because they wanted to scare the kids.”
“That’s it?”
“That’s it. Didn’t work, did it?”
“No.”

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“Don’t look away, and whatever you do, don’t blink”

Made this with the help of Joshua, courtesy of Doctor Who Adventures. Emily and I are currently in discussions as to whether or not it is a suitable adornment for the top of the Christmas tree. I think it is. Emily is not so keen.

I have a feeling she will win.

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