Posts Tagged With: cyberman

Have I Got Whos For You (WE WON THE ELECTION edition)

Well. The new I’m A Celebrity lineup is shit, isn’t it?

I don’t know. They’re all in a castle. Isn’t this a bit of a missed opportunity? Couldn’t they get someone with stilts and a hood to chase them round and burn them? That’d be more entertaining than watching Shane Ritchie eat bugs. I swear, I’ve had dental work that was less painful.

We can, at least, console ourselves with the news that The Vicar of Dibley is making a long-overdue and ostensibly ‘welcome’ return, although it will probably be not terribly funny and there’ll be at least three people on Twitter complaining about fat shaming. Socially distanced Zoom-inspired innovation aside, I can’t help thinking this is something Curtis should have left buried, particularly given that half the cast are dead. Still, the BBC are milking this for all its worth, as evidenced by this publicity photo of Dawn French with co-star Roger Lloyd-Pack.

As I write this, Donald Trump’s legal campaign is still thrashing about in its death throes, determined to somehow gain some traction despite having produced absolutely no evidence. There are recounts and rumours of recounts and legal campaigns that are in and out faster than a priest in a brothel; it’s King Cnut (well, almost) shouting at the tide, although at least he possessed a modicum of self-awareness and was doing the whole thing as a joke. You really can’t say the same for the current POTUS, whose twitter feed is awash with false claims and heavily capitalised rants, as if the only viable route forward is to shout something loud enough until people start believing it.

Already the right-wing media are cutting and running, and Trump’s list of allies seems to be diminishing by the day, as the most powerful man in the world is reduced to muted press conferences from tiny desks. Around this time I would normally start to feel a bit sorry for him – he is human, despite his obvious faults – but I really find it incredibly difficult to muster any sympathy for such a graceless loser. It’s also a sad decline for Rudy Giuliani, who went from being a voice of hope and sanity after 9/11 to shouting his mouth off outside a gloomy-looking building in an industrial park, next door to a sex shop.

“Yeah, I’ve buggered this one up, haven’t I?”

Meanwhile, over in Utah (where of course they all voted red), a days-old mystery is solved when new footage emerges of a malfunctioning chameleon circuit.

There is a sense of irony about the timing. It’s funny that they just found it now, at the end of what has been for many people an annus horribalis; it’s as if some sentient alien race has been watching and waiting and is now playing a colossal joke. It’s curious that the first appearance of the 2001 monolith coincides with a tribe of knuckle-dragging monkeys smashing things up and yelling as loud as they can to assert their dominance. Go figure.

In the UK we’ve been watching all this with interest, because it takes our minds off the Brexit debacle, the arguing about ‘Fairy Tale of New York’, and the state of Amazon’s courier system.

Look, it doesn’t matter what Radio 1 does; no one over twenty listens to it and those that do probably have Spotify playlists, so if they want to censor the damned thing then that’s their prerogative. Better that we simply wait out the lockdown as quietly as possible and take comfort in simple pleasures, like board games. “Is he wearing glasses?”

Last night my feed pinged: the ‘Revolution of the Daleks’ trailer drops on Sunday evening, which means I’ll have something else to write about; you have no idea how difficult it is wringing every ounce of possible humour from such meagre pickings. I mean as a fan I don’t care; I can wait. As a creator, it’s frustrating. Still, as news drips through about the unavoidably delayed, inevitably divisive Series 13, a close-up from Jodie Whittaker’s inaugural season reveals exactly why this new one is going to be a bit shorter than usual.

I honestly don’t know why everyone’s complaining; there’s plenty of other stuff to be going on with. Take The Crown, for example, Netflix’s sumptuous costume drama detailing the history of the Royal Family: lavish as Game of Thrones, sensationalist as a National Enquirer exposé, and about as accurate as a Spanish art restorer. Not content with riding roughshod over Prince Philip’s marital history and fabricating scenes between his eldest son and Lord Mountbatten, they’ve now introduced Gillian Anderson as a fiery, uncannily authentic and disturbingly sexy Margaret Thatcher. I suppose it gives her something to do other than shine torches into dark warehouses.

Coleman is, in this image, the epitome of stern serenity, which is more than you can say for the arts world – which was rocked the other week by the unveiling of a new statue commemorating celebrated author and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Ordinarily this would have made for a joyous afternoon, except she turned out to be about six inches high, and completely naked. It was all a bit miniscope, really. In fact you might even call it a nightmare. In silver.

“PROTECT THE ARTEFACT!”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Halloween special)

We sure picked a creepy night for a drive, huh, Scooby Doo?

Let us delve, constant reader (I do have one, and you know who you are) into a world of the dark and freakish, where things go bump in the night and lightning flashes are timed with jump scares, and when someone hears a noise and calls out “Frank? Is that you?” it’s never Frank. Some of these are new – others I’ve been saving. (One is at least two years old. I don’t know what that says about me.)

We open (because this is Doctor Who) in deep space.

I must apologise to Cyanide and Happiness, whose work I have shamelessly reappropriated. Still, it kind of works.

Elsewhere on a near identical freighter:

I honestly don’t know what I was thinking with this one. It wasn’t Alien Day, because I covered that elsewhere. An appropriate caption might be “You’ve let yourself go, Peri.”

Back to Earth now, and a forest in Norway:

“Ah, we’ll take him with us. He looks harmless enough.”

I confess I got a little catty with this one. “What is it?” said more than one person. I explained. “Oh, right. Minecraft,” was the response. “That thing for little kids. No wonder I’m not interested.” This was on a Doctor Who forum. I mean honestly.

Of course Doctor Who is for kids. Just look at the warm and welcoming expression on Tennant’s face. He never stood a chance.

Meanwhile, in an old motel twenty miles outside Fairvale, California, an unsuspecting Matt Smith throws his case on the bed, his clothes on the floor, and takes a shower.

“It’s been a while since I bought women’s clothes.”

The Bates Motel is, of course, exactly the sort of place the TARDIS would land, given its propensity towards taking the Doctor to the most incessantly horrible places in the universe. Which has nothing to do with Gaiman’s “Where you needed to go” bollocks; it’s just if you’re on a tropical beach surrounded by dolphins there’s no story, unless said story involves singing dolphins and a heavy-handed message about plastic in the water. Oh well, it’s better than having sex with the fish.

Of course, in such circumstances the best thing to do is to hot-foot it to the TARDIS and simply go to the pub, assuming you pick a good one.

“That you, Clara?”

And pan out, and of course it’s revealed that all of this is taking place in a snow globe being held by a prince.

“Hang on, they’ve got the Paradigm Daleks. Can we go in?”

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Have I Got Whos For You (two for the price of one edition)

Hello kids. Here, have a Pope meme. In fact, have two.

“You are consistent,” said Melinda Malovey (not her real name), discussing the first image, “in telling us in a passive-aggressive way that you don’t like the Thirteenth Doctor.”

Really? Gosh, that’s news to me. I assume it’s because the Pope is holding Whittaker in the same position that you’d hold the communion wafer that you’re about to break. So what, you figured he’s about to rip her in half? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to tear plastic? Maybe he’s about to part the legs and have a look to see if there’s anything up there, something I suppose we might ascribe to repressed Catholic sexuality. This is like a scene from Bottom or something.

No, listen: I wanted to do a Pope thing because everyone else was, and my initial idea was to have him holding Whittaker in the one hand and Darth Vader in the other, ostensibly as some sort of Who / Star Wars comparison, only when I actually did the Photoshopping it made more sense to leave her on her own. And people have jumped to conclusions because they only see half the stuff on your feed, and the Report button is just a swipe away. Which I suppose is the sort of thing that happens in groups; everyone makes assumptions, and everything betrays authorial intent.

If I sound a little testy it’s because I write this, dear reader, on an afternoon I’ve been muted for having a go at someone who refused to accept either the concept of male privilege or the fact that he was guilty of it, and when I challenged him on his (repeated) comments his reaction was “Oh, just leave me alone”. This was right before he became whiny and foul-tempered because I wouldn’t simply accept what the moderators referred to as “a difference of opinion” – there is, in some groups, a strong rule set that espouses Any And All Views, however insane, because it’s easier to lock the thread than it is to pick a side. So if you actually stand by your principles (something I do only sparingly these days) then you pay the price.

Anyway, these are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have others. There is political content in this blog, and on my page, and in groups that allow it. I make no apology for this. I see a lot of stuff I ignore, and if I’m arguing with you then there is usually because I feel strongly about it. And the government are fair game, particularly when they screw up the country as much as this elitist, xenophobic, dispassionate bunch of defund-the-BBC fuckwits are currently managing.

You know the worst thing about that Fatima photo? It was on a stock site, and they didn’t even ask permission – something they really should have done, given that her face is clearly visible. It’s another thing that was clearly Not Properly Thought Through – you know, like when you cut corners by killing the software design budget for your Track-and-Trace database, and doing it in Excel instead.

Anyway, Fatima’s OK now, and faces a bright future in ballet.

While we all sit around making jokes about reskilling, the Government have got on with the oh-so-serious business of dealing with the catastrophic state we find ourselves in by adhering to a needlessly complicated and logistically impractical workflow that aims to be both healthy and beneficial for schools and the economy and as usual doesn’t really manage to be either. In practice this means dividing up the UK into different segments and colouring them in. Their mandate for containing Covid has literally become a year seven geography lesson. I scoff, but it’s not funny at all if you’re in Liverpool.

It should be noted at this point that this applies to England only: Scotland and Wales have their own system. Indeed, Wales has gone on full alert, banning any visitors from Tier 3, with local law enforcement ramping up their security arrangements in order to repel would-be invaders.

Meanwhile, the 2020 U.S. Presidential campaign is hit by scandal, when a series of emails are discovered in the most unlikely of places.

“Dear Hunter, thank you inviting me to DC and – Jeff, is this your laptop?”

What else happened this week? Well, on Monday we got to see Jodie Whittaker research her family history, which proved to be far less interesting than I thought it was going to be – mostly because I’ve never watched an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? and hadn’t realised how shamelessly manipulative it all was. We were treated to numerous images of Jodie looking by turns wistful and reflective, reading out loud everything we could see on the screen just before Phil Davis told us exactly what had just happened, as if recapping after a commercial break that only happens on BBC America. “I’ve never met them,” says Jodie, wrapping a scarf around herself, as she stands by a grave. “But I feel like I know them.”

Anyway, I made a drinking game out of it, which was a productive use of the time. And it was lovely to see Sid’s Cafe again.

The kids and I have been gaming. I’m on Rise of the Tomb Raider; Thomas is working his way through Geometry Dash and enjoying the Minecraft DLC in Super Smash Bros, along with its questionable victory screen. One game we all enjoy is Among Us, the whodunnit smash that’s currently enjoying a lot of press coverage in the wake of the announcement that InnerSloth have cancelled the sequel so that they can improve the original. The game, for the uninitiated, is a multiplayer murder mystery on board a spaceship on an unknown mission, designed for quick play.

In each round you’re assigned a role – either a crewmate or, if you’re lucky, imposter. The crewmates all have tasks to perform. The imposter’s job is to sabotage those tasks, and murder as many people as they can without getting caught in the act. By turns, the surviving crewmates vote on who they think the murderer is: the most popular choice is ejected, irrespective of whether or not they’re actually guilty. Rounds begin with the announcement that “There is 1 imposter among us.”

“It’s the current regeneration,” said more than one person. “She’s the imposter. #notmydoctor.” I really should have seen it coming, shouldn’t I?

Anyway, the idea of imposters and sabotage on a galactic freighter – a sort of interstellar Cluedo – really is quite Whovian in its concept; it plays out like ‘The Robots of Death’. We’ve been here before, but there’s nothing new under the sun and I can’t help thinking that some sort of episode based around it – however meta we go – might actually stand a chance of working.

“Oh God. Did it vent? DID ANYBODY SEE IT VENT?”

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Doctor Who series 12: the executive summaries (part three)

Our series writeup concludes with a look at the Cyber trilogy, and the episode that basically deconstructed canon. I think this may be the point at which I officially lost the plot. That’s OK, there wasn’t that much of a plot to begin with.

 

The Haunting of Villa Diodati

To the tune of Science Fiction Double Feature:

Jodie’s got a new jacket
And they’re making a racket
Just as loud as the wind and the rain
It’s the summer of darkness
But there’s no sign of Harkness
Still they said we won’t see him again

There’s a fixed point in time
A combining of minds
For an evening of terror and fear
But there’s no drive for mystery
They’d rather play Twister, least
That’s what it looked like from here

Science fiction, Sunday feature
With yet another disturbing creature
Just enjoy it, ignore the ratings
We could argue about UNIT dating
Or, I don’t know-oh-oh-ohh
Whether Jean-Luc Picard could make it so
On HBO
I wonder if we’ll see some more of Jo?

There’s a big metal beast
And a storm from the east
Seems all hope for humanity’s gone
Byron behaves like a cad
Even Yaz isn’t bad
And Graham’s lost on his way to the John

Ryan acts like a melon
Now the Doctor is yellin’
And the butler’s a corpse on the floor
If you ignore all the theories
It’s the best one this series
And I’m really quite anxious for more

Science fiction, Sunday feature
The BBC’s our reluctant teacher
Who would Yaz like to be kissing?
At least the rants and lectures are missing
But I don’t know-oh-oh-ohh
I think they’ve kept them in reserve for next week’s show
I don’t wanna go
My favourite Teletubby’s always Po
Ko Ro Bo So
Somewhere I think this song has lost its flow

DWC write-up

 

Ascension of the Cybermen

Here we go, then.

Feekat (Steve Toussaint) – Teacher. Suitably grizzled. Last seen at 15:27, when he’s offed by a marauding Ashad.

Ravio (Julie Graham) – That woman from Bonekickers hiding behind a lot of grime. Last seen flirting with Bradley Walsh. Presumably hiding a tragic past. Dialogue minimally more sensible than it was in Bonekickers.

Yedlarmi (Alex Austin) – If Fiore from Preacher had a Prozac addiction, he would be sort of like Yedlarmi. Last seen panicking in a Cybercarrier.

Fuskle (Jack Osborn) – Yedlarmi’s mute brother. Last seen at 09:55, when he’s caught in an explosion.

Bescot (Rhiannon Clements) – a pilot, or something. Feisty.

Ethan (Matt Carver) – More capable than his boyish appearance suggests. Makes it to the beach with the Doctor, but probably won’t make it much further.

Ko Sharmus (Ian McElhinney) – Episode 8 Luke Skywalker, but less grumpy. Either a disguised Rassilon or the Ruler of the Universe, in which case we’d like to see the cat next week.

Why, constant reader, have I gone to all this trouble? Well, it’s for largely selfish reasons; I have to make a note of them somewhere. Otherwise I can’t remember a thing. I’ll be looking back in the middle of a Series 13 write-up at a random thing that happened to a particular character in this story, and I’ll be as confused and empty-headed as Arnold Rimmer during an engineer’s exam. Age is part of it; comparative unfamiliarity (as I write this, Ascension has been viewed a single time in our house) is another factor – but sheer mundanity takes the lion’s share. This episode was a masterclass in How To Construct Generic Characters Who Amount To Nothing.

Seriously. There’s no spark, no life, no soul. You could have given their dialogue to a group of year seven drama students and it’d be similarly dead. There’s no problem with the performances per se – everyone makes the best of what they have – but it’s disheartening to watch a story in which bad things happen to supporting characters who disinterest me. It happened in Into The Dalek. It happened in Oxygen. And Empress of Mars, and – look, it’s not new; it was just particularly bothersome this week. A full cast of interesting secondaries is a pipe dream, of course, and Classic Who is crammed with generic three-line roles who were offed by the Daleks before they’d made their mark…still, you need at least one, surely? Otherwise, how are you supposed to care about people getting blown up or shot at when they don’t leave any sort of gap?

I’m sure it wasn’t always like this. I can still remember every one of the people from LINDA. They were fun and they were sparky and it wasn’t fair that they all got superglued to Peter Kay’s hips (to be fair, I wouldn’t wish that fate on Jacob Rees-Mogg). I don’t even think it’s the type of stories you tell. Voyage of the Damned is a glorified base-under-siege (with the notable exception that the base is falling to Earth), but the people in that were, if occasionally stereotypical, at least fully-formed stereotypes. Some of them even had a bit of spunk to them. And his track record proves Chibnall is perfectly capable of coming up with decent supporting characters when he pulls his finger out. Everyone slates The Tsuranga Conundrum – perhaps rightly so – but at least Yoss the pregnant man was fun to watch.

If you’re going to throw the fate of humanity into balance, it would be nice if you could at least give us some fully fledged humans to worry about. It’s not like I care about what’ll happen to the companions. We know they’ll survive, at least until next week (and almost certainly beyond, because Doctor Who hasn’t properly killed a full-time companion since Earthshock). Conversion is a possibility, of course, but it’s unlikely because the media (who’d already seen the episode) spent most of last week writing glorified press releases that asked “Is Ryan in danger?” coupled with that picture of him wired up to what was actually the ship’s control panel, rather than the Cyber-conversion unit we all knew it wasn’t. Besides, they did that three years ago and even Chibnall isn’t that much of a hack. Probably.

Bet he’s dusted off the Cyberwoman outfit just in case, though. I mean it might fit Yaz. God, there’s an image.

DWC write-up

 

The Timeless Children

‘Questions after this week’s Doctor Who:

  • Has anyone location-spotted that TARDIS house yet? Can we have a deleted scene where it suddenly dematerialises, and across the road Craig Owens rubs his eyes and then mutters “Not again….”?
  • If Brendan really was a projection of the Doctor’s origins, is Gallifrey in Ireland, or is Ireland in Gallifrey?
  • Assuming the rumours about Graham and Ryan are true, what are the odds of their last scene being shot in the cemetery where Grace is buried? And what are the odds Graham’ll say “We move on, but we never forget, and I think she’d be proud of both of us”, while looking forlornly at the headstone?
  • Did Ashad really greenlight that Cyber Lord plumage? Has he not stopped to consider the practicalities? How do they compensate for the extra weight? What happens if three of them are trying to squeeze into a Debenhams lift?
  • On a scale of 1 to 50, what’s the likelihood of Whittaker beginning her next conversation with Dhawan with the words “So, you escaped from Gallifrey then…?”
  • We’ve had Remembrance, Revelation, Resurrection, and now Revolution of the Daleks; can we have Remuneration of the Daleks next? With a behind-the-scenes look at Dalek accountants and payroll, like The Sun Makers but all about zero hours contracts? How about Renaissance, where they’ve all got artist’s berets and are elevating themselves up to the ceiling of the Sistine?
  • Coronavirus. Plot predictions. Please give reasons for your answers. __________
  • If the Master’s so good a hacker, how come he can unearth Gallifrey’s secret past and grisly backstory but he can’t recover Fury From The Deep?

Seriously; I think we should be told…’

DWC write-up

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

“I should say a reassuring thing now, shouldn’t I?”

(Sorry.)

In Whoville this week, a familiar blue hedgehog gets upset that he can’t share the Doctor’s toys.

The Twelfth Doctor celebrates World Radio Day by dragging out his clockwork squirrel.

 

Elsewhere, the Thirteenth Doctor hangs about, waiting for Christian Grey.

Here’s an early concept still for ‘Ascension of the Cybermen’.

And over at Hogwarts:

And the Doctor is embarrassed when she runs into an old friend.

“Seriously, you had one job.”

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Review: Ascension of the Cybermen

Late 2001, and I’m coming out of a Reading multiplex with a couple of friends. (One is a programmer of some renown; the other will eventually become a highly successful children’s author.) We’ve just finished the first Lord of the Rings, which everyone agreed was very good, even if perhaps the scenery was the best thing about it. We have discussed the Balrog, and the relative brilliance of Legolas (who, it is agreed, is probably the person you’d want at your back in a barroom brawl), and now we’re onto Sean Bean. In what has become something of a career trope, he plays a character who doesn’t make it to the end credits.

Jon – who is not one for reading cast announcements, and in any case the internet is not what it will eventually become – says “The thing about the Council of Elrond was that I kind of assumed it was Boromir, because who else would it be? But they didn’t actually announce him or call him by name until Frodo dropped the ring in the snow. Everyone else gets a mention. Not him.”

I’m telling you this because it’s been two hours since I finished watching ‘Ascension of the Cybermen’ and the reverse has happened. We had five or six supporting characters and I cannot remember a single thing about any of them. Oh, there are bits. One of them was clearly hitting on Graham, which will make next week all the more traumatic when she finds herself at the wrong end of a Cyberman’s blaster. I think one of them mentioned that he was a teacher and that they were sick of running, which is a surefire indication that you should set your alarm forward by fifteen minutes and catch an earlier bus. And one of them had a brother who barely spoke, and who spoke even less when he was killed off, which happened almost immediately.

But that’s it. I couldn’t tell you the name of a single actor, or what they’d been in – not that I necessarily expect this, being generally out of touch with any TV that doesn’t come with hard-coded subtitles (it’s snobbish, but those Nordic dramas are just so pretty); still, at least I could be telling you something interesting about them. God knows there was nothing in the actual episode to give them any sense of lasting appeal. They were sounding boards for the regulars to bounce off: people to keep them company on the long, desperate pilgrimage across space, where your biggest fear is a flying head, or Graham’s infernal optimism; a cockney, cardiganed Wilkins Micawber, breezing from one disaster to another safe in the knowledge that sumfink will always turn up.

Or perhaps that’s the point – perhaps these people are supposed to be anonymous because that’s the point of the story. And perhaps we’ve got so used to Chibnall ramming the point of the story down our throats, or bashing it over the heads of the collective fandom like a TARDIS blue Mallet’s Mallet, that any engagement with subtlety is going to be a misstep. “We’re refugees,” laments one character [consults notes; it’s Steve Toussaint]. “We’ve all lost everything and everyone, and nobody cares.” “We care,” affirms the Doctor, before sending her companions off to an uncertain fate while she tries to bargain with the Lone Cyberman – who’s picked up a couple of pals along the way. Presumably we now have to call him something else? What’s that you say? He’s the Cyberium? Well I’m not calling him that; it’s silly. Cyberium is the sort of unobtanium that’s crying out to be used in a seventies comic, probably featuring the slightly effeminate Cybermen who minced. Something with the Fourth Doctor and K-9. ‘The Shadow of Cyberium’. Yes, I can see it now, in all its multi-panelled, black-and-white glory. Copyright Donna Noble.

At least the social commentary is done and dusted fairly quickly and we can get onto the real meat of the episode, which is mostly about flying heads. Yes, the heads come off and fly now, did we mention that? Hence in an early scene we witness the Doctor, her pals and the aforementioned people I don’t care about running away from a barrage of drone fire and a fresh batch of budget-gobbling CGI explosions, as half a dozen heads pursue them across the burning ruins of what looks curiously like urban Glasgow. It’s like that scene with the model plane in Short Circuit 2, only marginally less exciting. The whole thing is very silly, but it’s not really any sillier than anything in ‘Nightmare in Silver’, and for some reason people seem to really like that one. Chibnall constructs two branching narratives, containing less story combined than Maxine Alderton managed in a single episode last week, and while Ryan and Yas explore gloomy starships and pull off reckless (if effective) manouevres in deep space, the Doctor is snapping at Ryan and –

[consults notes again]

Matt Carver. You see what I mean.

No, the problem isn’t what’s happening, it’s that I don’t care about it. These people are the last remnants of humanity and it’s all the Doctor’s fault, but we’re not given any real opportunity to reflect on that, or the fact that it’s her that got them into this mess: it’s all conveniently brushed aside so Chibnall can lay a trail of breadcrumb-shaped set pieces, leading to whatever ghastly wooden structure he’s spent the last few months hammering. Ashad revives the Cybermen, seemingly giving them back their emotions (there’s a point to it, I’m sure, and undoubtedly we’ll be told next week) and as the episode closes Graham and Yas are holding the door against an onslaught of newly awakened Cybertroops, while the Doctor is gazing into this week’s McGuffin – a portal that leads to salvation – and discovering that the answers she’s seeking are quite close to home, in an absolutely literal sense. Oh look, it’s Sacha Dhawan. Because when you haven’t got a clue how to shoehorn a cliffhanger, a surprise reveal usually does the trick. Not even the presence of Ian McElhinney, robed, wizened and strolling up and down a windswept beach like a genial Luke Skywalker (acting everyone else off the screen in the process), is enough to alleviate the tedium.

About the most interesting thing that happens this week is interesting only because it’s left unexplained. It’s the tale of Brendan, a foundling left in the road in what appears to be Ireland; raised to adulthood by his adoptive parents; who takes a slow motion fall from a cliff and wakes, Highlander-style, completely unharmed; and who is greeted upon his retirement by two father figures who inexplicably look two or three decades younger than he does. This is all clearly connected somehow – whether it’s some sort of Cyber experiment, an origin story to explain Ashad, a CIA trick or whether the Time Lords are somehow involved has yet to be cleared up, although the only certainty is that the discussion will almost certainly be more interesting than the resolution.  “We have to get rid of everything, I’m afraid,” Brendan is told, seconds before his mind is seemingly wiped. “Thank you for your service. We’re only sorry you won’t remember it.”

I can’t help thinking that as far as ‘Ascension’ is concerned, those words might be oddly prophetic.

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Review: The Haunting of Villa Diodati

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller, 
Knocking on the moonlit door…

Well. Since you ask me for a tale of ghosts and chills and things that go bump in the night, I shall provide not a story from my own collection, but rather I shall defer to the pen of Emmerdale writer Maxine Alderton. For our entertainment tonight, she would like to transport us across the waters, where there’s a storm blowing in over ninteenth century Switzerland. It’s been the year without a summer – hardly a phenomenon if you’re in the UK, but we’ll let that go – and in a pretty house on the shores of Lake Geneva, a group of writers are trying to outspook each other on a night that’s destined to change literary history. Except right now it isn’t, because Percy Shelley’s gone missing and the others are more interested in playing Twister (they might have been having a dance, but that’s not what it looked like) than doing any writing. As observations about procrastination go it’s painfully astute, but something is quite clearly off, and luckily the four newcomers on the doorstep have arrived just in time to put things right.

The Doctor’s met Mary Shelley before, of course, and even travelled with her for a bit – something ‘The Haunting of Villa Diodati’ wisely elects to ignore completely, much to the chagrin of various fans for whom a steady and sensible continuity is the be all and end all (what did these people do during ‘Genesis of the Daleks’?). We get a similar story – in the Big Finish audios it is an encounter with a pair of Cybermen in Vienna that sets the creative cogs a-turning, but here the encounter is framed within the simple narrative conceit that is the haunted house. And haunted it certainly is: lightning flashes at opportune moments (when it follows a declaration that the Doctor is from “the North” you will spit your cocoa), strange shapes appear in the doorway, skeletal hands lurk the corridors and vases fly across the hall. It’s all explained by the plot, with the exception of the mysterious peasant woman who brings Graham his supper, but that’s all part of the fun.

If anything, the explanation feels a little frenzied. At first we’re at a loss as to why the Doctor’s got a headache and why Polidori is able to phase shift through a wall and why the rooms are looping back on themselves (yes, Pete, I know it saves on set-design, but the article still needs an in-universe explanation). It’s all very Escher, in a good way, and it is inevitably leading to a brain dump – which you can just about follow, providing you concentrate. At first it’s all running from disembodied Hammer hands and wondering what happened to Shelley. And then, twenty-five minutes after the TARDIS crew have arrived, the story kicks well and truly into gear when a familiar-looking monster turns up in the driveway, shaking the mud from its thick metal boots. I say familiar: it’s had a couple of refits, its emotions are still working and half the visor is missing. This is a redesigned Cyberman for an age of gothic horror, both tragic and deadly, arguably more human than many of the human characters bedding down for the night at the sunless villa.

If you know your Highlander, you’ll know that Byron faked his own death, and lived for hundreds of years, turning up in 1960s California in the guise of Jim Morrison, and eventually losing his head to Duncan MacLeod. His first quickening gives Mary Shelley the idea for Frankenstein: similarly here it is the monstrous Cyberman (theatre veteran Patrick O’Kane), lurching through the villa in a mangling of limbs, perhaps the most human cyborg we’ve seen since Lytton, that provides the creative spark she needs. It’s a literal spark, the Cyberman taking energy from a lightning strike that is enough to recharge its power cells, and in what is far and away the standout scene, a frightened Mary pleads with the monster’s remnant of humanity – it’s a gambit that seems certain to pay off, until it doesn’t. If Graham’s confrontation with Tim Shaw in ‘The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos’ was irritatingly formulaic, ‘Haunting’ shows what can happen when you shake the net a little. And all the while, Byron’s whimpering in a corner and using an innocent woman as a human shield.

The other thing about this scene is the Doctor. Faced with a seemingly impossible decision – kill Shelley or doom humanity – Whittaker’s lake is finally ruffled when Ryan elects to make the decision for her, and in an instant we see all the fire and fury of Tennant at Pompeii; of Smith as he frets over the star whale; of Capaldi at the edge of the volcano. Even if the possible consequences of Shelley’s death are overdone slightly, it still works, and (just about) manages to make its point without overstating it. There have been angrier Doctors, and there has been better dialogue, but it’s welcome relief to see Whittaker finally uncaged as she turns on her companions: “Sometimes,” she spits at them, “this team structure isn’t flat. It’s mountainous, with me at the summit, in the stratosphere alone.” It’s an astonishing moment – it won’t be enough to silence the naysayers, but you can’t have everything.

To all intents and purposes, ‘Haunting’ is this year’s ‘Utopia’: a contextually disconnected narrative that feeds directly into the finale, as the Doctor dashes to the future in order to save it from an unavoidable mistake. It nonetheless manages to be more self-contained and standalone than its spiritual predecessor, a story about the telling of stories and what happens when they’re left untold. Just how much, we’re asked to ponder, is society dependent upon the arts? It’s a stretch to imagine that Whittaker’s arrival was enough to inspire Byron to write ‘Darkness’, but not a wildly implausible one. These people aren’t just writers talking shop: their actions would go on to reshape the world, with more ideas and narrative conceits than can be dreamt of in your philosophy. I speak from the unavoidable bias of being someone who’s often mocked for having an arts degree, but this stuff counts, dammit, and in the days that curricula are being drastically restructured and the BBC looks set to lose its license fee it feels more topical than ever. Quoth Churchill: “Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due.” (At the risk of watering the argument he did not, at any point, say “Then what are we fighting for?” when asked to cut arts funding.)

Not everything is perfect, but then no episode of Doctor Who ever was. I mentioned a slightly hurried info dump; elsewhere it’s a little frustrating to see Graham sidelined as this week’s comic relief, reduced to quibbling over sandwiches and being frightened by the butler while in search of a toilet. Ryan’s ‘believe in yourself’ encounter with Mary is decently written but clumsily rendered, and it’s left to Yas to provide the most malleable of this week’s companion encounters, as she ruminates with Claire Claremont over a possible love interest – it could theoretically be Ryan, it’s more likely to be the Doctor and if fan theory is correct it will turn out to be the Master. Whittaker herself is the subject of Byron’s wandering eye, although she promptly rebuffs him; something of a shame, as the fan fiction from that alone would be absolute gold dust.

But just when your interest is starting to dip then bang! The candles flicker or the staircases shift or there’s another corpse. Crammed but not quite overstuffed with ideas, this is a thrilling, compelling and downright frightening piece of television, impeccably lit (in the traditional sense of the word) and, for the most part, decently directed, although you sometimes wish Emma Sullivan would angle the cameras a little more. An unexpected gem in a lackluster and frustrating season, it is as singularly enjoyable an episode of Doctor Who as we have seen in a long time, due in no small part to Alderton’s sparkling teleplay. The next time there’s a gathering of great literary minds, they could do a lot worse than inviting her along.

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

This week? Well, among other things, I’ve been thinking about Terry Jones.

In the streets of Gloucester, Marcia is surprised when Colin Baker turns up early to collect his scarf.

I’m posting this one without comment, because I think we’ve all had enough of experts, haven’t we?

Meanwhile, Hollywood mourns the death of the legendary Kirk Douglas – who, at the age of 103, really seemed to be like one of those people you thought would go on forever…

Bodega Bay, March 1963: the TARDIS makes an unexpected stop that leaves the Doctor and her companions with a distinct sense of deja vu.

Dallas, November 1963: Atop a grassy knoll, the Lone Cyberman watches and waits and bides his time.

Madagascar, 2019.

And in a fictional hospital in Bristol, a certain Jo Martin does her rounds.

“Yeah, just ‘Doctor’ is fine.”

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