Posts Tagged With: doctor who series 10

Have I Got Whos For You (Winter Is Coming Edition)

To kick off today, we honour the late, great Peter Mayhew, as he interrupts the Doctor’s naptime.

Mayhew was a legend, a seven foot icon who managed seven Star Wars films and who was listed, somewhat bizarrely as ‘Chewbacca Consultant’ for The Last Jedi; my children didn’t notice he’d been replaced and in any case it’s the sort of thing very few people get to put on their CV, so I suppose he could retire happy. It’s difficult to tell just how much of the growling Wookiee’s endless appeal was down to the fact that he was a badass in a fire fight or the fact that he had a surprisingly tender side to him, as witness any scene where he gets to hug someone, or wail because Harrison Ford’s just fallen off a bridge. Star Wars has changed a lot over the years, but Chewbacca has been a constant – even though his cameo in Revenge of the Sith amounts to three or four seconds, the guy’s two hundred years old and you nonetheless know that whatever else is going on he’s kicking around somewhere in the galaxy, raising havoc (and a family) while Jake Lloyd rides off to do his Ben Hur thing. It’s like Mace Windu’s lightsaber: when asked, during Phantom Menace promotional interviews, why he didn’t have one, he replied “I did. I was wearing it.”

“But you didn’t actually use it.”

“Yeah,” replies Jackson, licking his lips. “But I was wearin’ it.” Intended meaning, it appears, counts for a lot.

Here’s a pet hate. Can we please have an embargo on ‘Rule one’? Rule one only applies for series 6, and even then it’s inconsistent, given that its most famous use comes courtesy of the world’s most unreliable narrator since Tyler Durden. Certainly it’s not something we should be using to cover up things we can’t be bothered to explain, which is what I see an awful lot. There is enough confusion in the real world without us having to deal with the reliability of TV characters. Can’t we just accept that they’re basically trustworthy and that sometimes we’re just mind-numbingly thick? There’s no other plausible explanation, surely, for the staggering levels of stupidity I see among the general populace, or the fact that a huge number of the votes cast in last week’s local elections were apparently protest votes. “You can’t deliver what you promised,” says Mr Finch of Tunbridge Wells, “so I’m voting for the independent candidate, despite the fact that I know bugger all about his policies and his leaflet was a copy editor’s nightmare”. Call me picky but that seems like a ludicrous way to decide who gets to sort out the local pot holes. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Of course, we talk about being in the dark about Brexit, but darkness is something we should all be accustomed to, at least lately.

Did I tell you I’ve never watched Game of Thrones? I’ll do so, perhaps, years down the line, having heard all the spoilers about the Night King and Ned Stark and poor old Hodor. I was chatting recently with a friend who told me about a prominent young Christian in his college church who had once told him that watching Game of Thrones was the path to ruin, and that as Church we must be in the world but not of the world, and that it leads to desensitisation and all sorts of other stuff you normally find in a Jack Chick tract. Call me a heretic but this sort of reaction has long since baffled me – not so much the wish to avoid such things (which is entirely a personal choice) but the fervent desire to preach it as gospel. If your faith is sufficiently wobbly – or dogmatic – that you do not feel you can engage with popular media, or if it’s some kind of principle that leads you to believe that fake people engaging in questionable activities is somehow unacceptable as entertainment, that’s entirely your business. But to teach it as some kind of worldview, and to tout your own approach not only as a feasible alternative but as the moral high ground, it’s…well, let’s just say it’s precisely the sort of thing I was talking about last week.

Still. It’s just never been particularly interesting, this tale of dragons and feuds and general silliness. I’m sure it’s lovely if you’re a fan, in the same way that Doctor Who is lovely if you’re a fan (unless you’re watching series 11, which apparently everybody hated except me). A lot of it is down to time. I barely get time to watch the stuff that actually interests me – most of which is Scandinavian – without having to wade into seventy-odd hours of Cornish scenery. You have to pick and choose, which is one reason I never watched Breaking Bad or The West Wing.

Sometimes you just have to prioritise, even if you’re a Time Lord.

It’s weird, though; I’ve watched ‘The Woman Who Lived’ at least a dozen times over the years and I’ve only just noticed this.

(You would not believe the social media reaction I got when I uploaded this one. Amidst the giggling, there were a number of people saying “Oh, wow, I can’t believe I didn’t see that before now! I feel stupid”. Sarcasm is difficult to detect on the internet but at least a few of them, it turned out, were absolutely sincere, which makes me weep for the future of humanity. At the other end of the spectrum was the woman who grumbled “Obvious Photoshop”, thereby completely missing the point. Middle ground: it’s nothing but a fable.)

It’s a different world, these days. Time was you’d get away with something like that. The wobbly sets on ‘The Aztecs’, for example, show up rather nastily on DVD but on a twelve-inch screen in 1963 no one bats an eyelid. These days it’s far easier to rewind and scrub and freeze frame and zoom with minimal pixellation, to the extent that repeated viewings to spot the hidden details are something that certain writers and directors actively encourage. Witness Steven Moffat, for example, who in his Sherlock interviews rambled about “a clue that everyone’s missed”, prompting eagle-eyed fans with too much time on their hands to go back and look again.

Still, at least he’s never done that sort of thing in Doctor Who.

Yes. Well.

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Have I Got Whos for You (Indicative Vote edition)

Keep your eyes peeled for another video roundup coming not-exactly-live and by-no-means-exclusive to Brian of Morbius. That’ll be online in a week or so, once I’ve written it.

In the meantime, here’s a little something we made earlier. Well, several somethings, collated. In the first instance, it was National Potato Chip Day the other week. I didn’t even know National Potato Chip Day (or Crisp Day, if you’re British) was a thing. And while I love a bag of salt and vinegar as much as the next man, I’m really not sure whether their adulation warrants an entire day.

Still, any excuse, right?

Also, can I take this opportunity to say how much I miss Brannigans? Oh, I know you can still buy them on the internet. But it’s not the same as wandering down to your local Rusts and getting a packet of beef and mustard to have along with the wine gums and ginger ale you were going to scoff while watching Heat on rented VHS. Those were the days. I’d rent three videos and watch them over the course of a weekend, on my own, because I had no life. Or I’d buy them in the 3-for-£12 sales they’d have every week at HMV. I never saw anybody, except my parents. But I did become quite au fait with the classics, and enjoyed a great many of them, even if I still think Citizen Kane is mostly shit.

…Where were we? Oh yes, International Day of Happiness.

We could all do with a little happiness right now. Certainly it feels as if Britain is temporarily broken. It’s not so much a problem with whether or not we leave the EU – I am resigned to the fact that we probably will, and I can’t help thinking it probably won’t be as bad as the militant Remainers insist it will be. Nor will it be as rosy, of course, as the Leave campaign insist it will be, although that could all change if they keep shifting the goalposts – first it was going to be marvellous and we’d get a fantastic deal; then it wasn’t going to be quite so marvellous and yes the NHS figures were fabricated but it would still be great; then it was going to be difficult but worth it in the long run and we knew that when we voted; then we’d be better off with no deal, then the deal we had might be the best option after all, and then there’s a lot of vagueness about WTO from people who don’t actually know the first thing about it.

I mean, I don’t have a clue. I don’t! But I voted Remain not because of any particular affinity towards the EU – I am always one to err on the side of caution in these matters, and defend the status quo unless the boat is in severe need of rocking – but because I could see this referendum for what it was from the outset. It was a grab for power: a vote-winning fiasco made by a desperate man who jumped ship (to extend the metaphor) as soon as it didn’t go his way. I firmly believe that you shouldn’t let the man in the street decide this sort of thing in any case – at least not these days, when people are so unilaterally thick – but if it’s unavoidable it needs to occur under the right sort of circumstances, and this was a political hotbed. How many people do you know who voted Leave simply because they despised Cameron? Exactly.

We saw this again in the Commons, just last night: support for Theresa May’s deal improved when she said she’d resign if they voted it through. If you can’t trust MPs – who are supposed to be sensible about these things – not to be fickle and spiteful (or, if you’re Rees-Mogg, just a shade Machiavellian) when it comes to making incredibly important decisions, then what hopes for the rest of us? This was not something that should ever have been decided by the ballot box, at least not under the current administration, who are too out of touch, too insular and frankly too incompetent to carry this through. I knew that back in 2016, and that’s largely why I stuck to the Remain camp. And three years later, I turned out to be right.

Certainly there is a tangible sign of Referendum Fatigue – as up in the hills, despite the local area being a strong Leave constituency, there is a disappointing turnout on Nigel Farage’s March For Brexit.

Here’s the problem. It’s not so much the deal or no deal fiasco: we will, eventually, get through that and come to some sort of slim majority that will be heralded as a great victory by the winning side and a fraudulent travesty by whoever came second. Parliament will move on, and we’ll survive Brexit, in whatever capacity it occurs, or doesn’t. But there is a schism across our country now. You’re either a Brexiteer or a Remainer, and there is apparently very little room for middle ground. There is a sense of division, as espoused by both sides, and the fact that most of the arguing takes place on social media (which is, let’s be honest, an absolute cesspit) doesn’t help matters. Theresa May has been appealing for calm and unity – shortly before she gave up and announced “That’s it, I’m off” like a geography teacher who’s fed up with a rowdy class – but it doesn’t help that her idea of unity is that everyone do exactly what she says, however ludicrous it might be. I don’t know where we go from here. I truly don’t.

In the midst of this week’s chaos the ‘official’ Facebook page for Britain Bites Back ran a poll about whether we should leave or not, only to throw their toys out of the pram when it didn’t go their way. They then ran a second poll, which had a similar response, and then proceeded to vent about how you should only be on their page if you agreed with their views, dismissing anyone who didn’t as a ‘hacker’. You can read all about the saga here, although the jury is out as to whether this really is a genuine page or a spoof. If it’s a spoof, it’s frighteningly convincing and Poe’s law is in full effect, but I can’t help thinking the joke’s over now and they ought to back away, because somewhere along the line it stopped being funny.

At any rate, a friend of mine asked me to do something Who-related with it. So –

We end today’s little missive on a lighter note, with the news that the Toy Story 4 trailer has finally dropped. Those of you who felt that the story drew to a natural conclusion at the end of the last movie – as the characters found a new home and said goodbye to Andy – will undoubtedly consign this to the ‘sequel too far’ drawer (you know, the one that’s chronically overstuffed and has just about fallen off its runners). I can’t help thinking you’re probably right, but I’ll see this anyway because the concept fascinates me: given that the new guest star, Sporky, is a piece of living cutlery, at what point do creatures in the Toy Story universe gain sentience? Is it all about loving something enough to make it real, like it was in The Velveteen Rabbit? Do you have to cast a spell, or breathe over them like Aslan does at the end of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe? Or is it simply a matter of sticking a pair of googly eyes on something and then standing back to watch the fireworks? I think we should be told, and even if we’re not I suspect there will be several BuzzFeed articles about it.

In any event, if you think you’ve seen Sporky before, he crops up in a deleted scene in ‘The Doctor Falls’.

“I’M NOT A COMPANION!!!!”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Summer Special)

Hello lovely people. And how are we doing?

Things have calmed down here a bit now that I’ve got a two week camping trip in Wales under my belt – along with a children’s holiday club and the first of two festivals. We’re in the eye of the storm just before the second one kicks off, and I’m using a couple of days’ respite to catch up on things I’ve not yet posted – beginning with Sooty, who recently celebrated his seventieth birthday.

“What’s that? You want to play your xylophone?”

For the uninitiated: Sooty is a mute glove puppet who speaks only in inaudible whispers. He’s fond of magic, pranks and general mayhem, and had he been created within the last ten years he’d have his own YouTube channel and be the subject of a dozen tabloid scandals: a picture of a soaking, pie-covered Boris Johnson accompanied by the words “HAS SOOTY GONE TOO FAR?”. Sooty is joined on his adventures by a squeaky-voiced dog and a talking panda, as well as whatever hapless human being happens to be looking after him – for years this was creator Harry Corbett, before his son Matthew took over the role, being responsible for the welfare of the exuberant trio and their cousin Scampy during my childhood. Matthew eventually handed the reins to Richard Cadell, and the titular bear is currently residing at Brean Park in Somerset. (Yes, I’ve been.)

Sooty’s been shown in a variety of situations and a variety of formats – the classic sitcom-in-a-house setup is perhaps the most famous, but Sooty’s also run a junk shop, a holiday camp and a hotel (in which Arthur Darvill once stayed). There was also a dreadful animated series, which failed principally because it gave Sweep the voice he’d always been denied, making him more or less unwatchable, but also because it gave the characters legs. I mean, honestly. It’s not the bloody Muppets. There’s a time and a place for these things. There are certain puppet characters who are doomed to be permanently legless.

Do you know who else is having a birthday this year? WALL-E. He turns ten. And he’s probably trundling around the repopulated Earth somewhere, tidying up the rubbish and watching old movies with EVA. They’re probably still trying to grow that pizza plant. When you think about it, WALL-E is basically a film about a binman who falls in love with a gardener, except they go into space and hang out with a bunch of fat people. Still, there’s something to be said for an animated feature where the villain is a wheel and the hero is a box.

I first saw WALL-E a few months after its release, when it came to the Saturday morning £1 bargain presentations at our local Cineworld. I took Josh, who (at the age of four) probably didn’t have a clue what was going on, although he didn’t say anything. He saved that for Megamind, in which he leaned over to me half an hour from the end and said “Daddy, I don’t understand any of this”. I defy any of you with children to adequately explain the plot of Megamind, with its duplicitous characters and twists and endless use of hologramatic disguises, to a six-year-old in a crowded cinema in a whisper. Go on. Try it. And then come back and tell me exactly what you said so that I can save it for when I eventually watch it with Edward.

Anyway. Let’s move on, shall we? To this, to be exact.

I mean, I don’t know. I thought doing a Civil War re-enactment (you see what I did there) would be fun. I know it makes no sense, but it’s just fun. And people seemed to like it – with one exception, who will be anonymised in the transcript that follows. It’s a closed group (of which she’s no longer a member) and I do have standards, so let’s call her, I don’t know, Haylee. She reminded me of a Haylee for some reason. Oh, and I’ve corrected all her typos, because I’m not totally without mercy.

Haylee: Why is Capaldi on the same side as the master? Is it because of his affection for his frenemy it something else I’m missing? (I didn’t get to see the whole season with Bill).

Me: He came like that, and I just couldn’t be bothered to move him over.

Haylee: Then what’s the point of making the image at all if you’re not going to make it properly representative?

Me: It’s not representative of anything. I just did it for a laugh.

Haylee: if there is no reason for Capaldi to be on the same side as the Masters, you have failed to capture a parody of Avengers Civil War. Parodies include juxtaposed meaning, not just similar imagery.

Me: Strewth. And I thought Star Wars fans overthought things.

Haylee: My comments come from being in the graphic design and theatre world where you need to have reasoning behind visual action. We overthink which shade of blue to use.

Me: Then I suspect you need to switch off a bit.

Haylee: Or you can deal with the true definition of parody and accept someone asking for the reasoning for your artistic choices. Simon [who chipped in with a couple of other semi-helpful interpretations about ‘sides’ that I haven’t bothered to include] did a great job of answering my initial question, giving reason to your art, when you ‘couldn’t be bothered.’ Bye Felicia.

Me: It’s not a parody of anything. I just had the idea for the image and picked the first caption that came into my head. If you want to get all authoritarian about the ‘true meaning’ of parody then that’s entirely up to you. I mean, seriously, you sound like the way I used to be. I have found this whole conversation greatly amusing, in an alarming sort of way, because it confirms just about every stereotype in the Joyless Overthinking Fan Handbook, right down to the ‘Bye Felicia’. I shall bring you a nice cup of tea to perk you up during your gatekeeping.

Haylee:  I give no shits from a fan perspective. I give shits from a visual communication perspective. I asked for clarification of the meaning of your image, and you straight up just said you were too lazy to care about creating a piece that was a good parody. You could have just answered “I didn’t think about that- it was just for fun” and that would have been fine. Instead what I heard in your answer was “I did a half ass job and wanted praise for my delicate male ego- how dare you critique my work.”

Our wonderful friend Simon created a wonderful bit of meaning that I thought the image may have been hinting at, adding greater depth to your image.

We can always do better in our craft and our communication. Being unwilling to hear how we can make a craft better is to nurse a weak ego. Creating images that we say hold a specific meaning or goal (in this case, a parody to Avengers Civil War) and then not putting in enough thought to complete the task encourages further mediocrity. It’s fine to say it’s just for fun. It’s fine to say you didn’t think about it. But to be “hey now, get your panty out of your butt – no one gets to give me critiques” is why I say bye Felicia. Again, thanks Justin for being a deep thinker who sees the multiplicities in the charters of this particular fandom. James, Keep making fun images. Keep making connections. Keep improving, even if it’s just a hobby and just for fun. Be willing to listen to people that aren’t me about how you can make your images have clearer and stronger meaning. It’s the creators that make things fun. It’s the collaborators that bring depth.

Me: I’m always up for constructive criticism where I think it improves things. Give me technical info. How could I sort out the interlacing? How could the structure of this piece be changed so it doesn’t drag? What should that caption actually say as it doesn’t read quite right? And how can I fix that annoying pop on the MP3 samples?

Don’t assume, merely because I scoffed at you, that I’m a rampant egomaniac who hates criticism of his work. I’ve been doing this shit since you were in elementary and I got reasonably competent (for an enthusiastic, part-time amateur) at it largely through listening to others. Or what, you think I’m going to tell you one of those hard graft stories where I take all the credit?

I just felt that in this instance you missed the mark. You wax lyrical about this supposedly definitive concept of ‘true parody’ (which has given my friends quite a titter, by the way) but you miss the point that this is purposely ambiguous, silly and – well, itself bereft of a point. This was never meant to be about Civil War. The image came first – or the idea of it – and the caption was something I tagged on because it sort of looked a bit like it, but I don’t really think it does and I don’t think anyone else does either. You’re trying to bring meaning where there is none, which is something fans do a lot, whether they’ve got a background in graphic design or they flip burgers at McDonald’s.

So please don’t assume that I don’t listen to criticism or take constructive comments on board. I just have a filter. A filter is necessary because otherwise you listen to everyone, which leads to the eradication of ego and the death of creativity. You may object to the criteria under which that filter operates, specifically because in this instance it excluded you, but them’s the breaks, and just because you’ve interpreted it in a particular way it does not mean you know me.

TL:DR – Don’t try and give things more significance than they deserve. I don’t get paid for this. Know when to critique and when not to. That’s a lesson I had to learn myself, and my life is richer for the experience.

Strewth. I don’t know why I bother.

Yes. Yes I do.

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Have I Got Whos For You (July Edition)

Howdy, peeps. How are we all coping with the hot weather? Anyone fancy an ice cream?

What’s been happening? Well, there’s leaked footage doing the rounds – I’ve seen it, although you will not see a link to it in here – and it’s all very…generic, isn’t it? Whittaker still doesn’t seem to quite inhabit the part yet, at least based on what’s out there – but it is the moment she meets her companions, very much post-regeneration, so it’s all going to be a bit weird. It’s a strange clip to show, in a way, because it won’t silence the haters – although I suspect the only thing that will is gag-shaped.

Anyway, in the absence of a new Doctor Who trailer, I sort of made my own.

 

For some reason or another, news broke of Who North America, situated just outside Indianapolis, and catering to all your Doctor Who merchandising needs, large and small. (They also have a Voyager arcade game, joy of joys.)

They acquired the property back in 2016, but last week that photos began circulating in earnest round social media, so perhaps they’ve only just opened their doors. Of course, it wasn’t long before this happened.

Elsewhere: National Selfie Day came and went.

And finally, news emerges of a brand new spin-off.

Bounce!

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Have I Got Whos For You (Part 6)

This week, in Whovania, Bill rises to the Tide Pod challenge.

“And you’re sure it’s OK for me to eat this?”

Elsewhere, a deleted scene from ‘The Zygon Inversion’ shows that Peter Capaldi wasn’t on his own in that playground.

A new publicity still from Torchwood does the rounds on social media.

And the Doctor explains to Clara just why he got kicked off that United Airlines flight.

Happy World Book Day!

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Review: Twice Upon A Time

Warning: contains spoilers.

This is, without doubt, the quietest regeneration story you’ll ever see. It begins and ends in the silence between gunshots. On the battlefields of war-torn France, two frightened, exhausted soldiers stare at each other down the barrel of a service revolver, locked in an awkward stalemate, a Mexican standoff that stems from a language problem. The bullet that will kill them both is never fired, because it is interrupted – as is the way of things – by a song that drifts on the air; a chorus of Silent Night, in the original German. Elsewhere, the cannons on another world are silenced by a reunion between two old foes that learned to get along. And the Doctor awaits his end in a frozen landscape – but it is a quiet end, soft and subdued, the way that snow renders things mute.

‘Twice Upon A Time’ is a story about consequences. The Doctor has faced down the Cybermen and paid the price; it’s appropriate that his younger self has reached the same stage in his journey, and thus it is here that we come in – up to a point. Nods to ‘The Tenth Planet’ are fleeting, the much-touted recasting of Ben and Polly reduced to a twenty-word exchange that is over in a matter of seconds and has no bearing on the plot other than to give the First Doctor an excuse to go outside, possibly for some time. Like every incarnation since 2005, the re-imagined First Doctor’s regenerating hand is seen to glow; it would be easy to complain about the retcon, but it serves as an appropriate visual shorthand, so perhaps we should turn a blind eye.

In a way, it’s going to be a disappointment. This is not a story in which the Twelfth Doctor weaves in and out of the scenery at the Antarctic base, endeavouring to hide from his younger self, like Marty McFly or Harry Potter or that episode of Red Dwarf where Lister steals his own kidneys. Nor is it the much-anticipated resolution of Capaldi’s very first appearance, a pair of ferocious eyebrows and the clank of a lever as the thirteen Doctors unite to save Gallifrey. The Hybrid – another plot strand that was never fully resolved – doesn’t even get a mention. Perhaps that’s something we’ll revisit further down the line. We can only hope it isn’t.

Instead, there is a tale about dying, and what happens afterwards. ‘The End Of Time’ gave us a Doctor refusing to face death; ‘Twice Upon A Time’ depicts a Doctor who is facing it with perhaps a little too readiness. Bill returns, seemingly from the afterlife, but the Doctor is mistrustful: is she all that she appears to be? The answer, of course, is yes – and also no, with this Bill comprising a composite of memories mapped onto a glass gestalt. We are given next to no information as to how this works: it is enough (or at least it ought to be enough) that it does, but there is commentary here about the nature of what is real and what isn’t, and whether we can really believe anything that anyone tells us about themselves, an analogy of constant, increasingly uncomfortable relevance in this most ambiguous of ages. “May you live in interesting times,” as the old Chinese curse goes, and the Twelfth Doctor’s concluding story, while not exactly high octane, is never less than interesting.

Having said all that, perhaps the most surprising thing about Moffat’s final episode is how little it surprises. It is no surprise at all to learn the Captain’s true identity; nor does the appearance of Clara raise any eyebrows, given that it occurs at a point in the narrative when we already know the host to be a shapeshifting intelligence capable of mimicking anyone it pleases. The moment this is finally explained to the Doctor, in the convivial hush of No Man’s Land not long after the football match, it becomes inevitable that Matt Lucas is waiting in the wings, brushing the crumbs from his duffle coat. Even the appearance of Rusty is foreshadowed by the head crabs that scour the ruins of Villengard; the resemblance to mutated Daleks is obvious, and the Doctor all but names them even before he climbs to the top of the tower.

The strange thing about the Rusty cameo is how pointless it seems. The Doctor’s requirement for a database that’s even bigger than the Matrix is tenuous at best: this is an excuse for a couple of explosions amidst a barrage of laser fire, something the episode otherwise lacks. It is, perhaps, a way for Moffat to revisit old stories he never quite resolved – something that Davies did with vigour back in 2009 – and indeed, the very presence of Villengard hearkens back twelve years to the chief writer’s very first tale for Nu Who. So too it provides an opportunity for us to see how much the Twelfth Doctor has changed; his trajectory from the manipulative apathy of ‘Into The Dalek’ to his plea for kindness in ‘The Doctor Falls’ (by way of the mid-life crisis that constitutes most of Series 9) is as wide ranging as character development gets, and if nothing else, a reappearance from the Good Dalek serves as a timely reminder of exactly how we got here.

Several things grate. The First Doctor was curmudgeonly and brusque, but no more bigoted than anyone else of his generation, or at least the generation he represented: it is not necessary to have quite so many nods to ‘casual chauvinism’, and while Capaldi does a good line in embarrassed outrage, it’s a joke that’s cracked at least five or six times more frequently than the episode needed. There are needless references to the notorious ‘smacked bottom’ scene from ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’; teamed with more conversations about Bill’s sexuality, it feels like political point-scoring, an exercise in ticking the diversity box juxtaposed with a desperate plea from the writers and actors not to turn this into a big deal. We’ve been trying, honestly, but you keep giving us ammunition: it was a recurring theme during Series 10, and perhaps the requests for press restraint would have been better served if the stable door hadn’t been closed when the horse was already halfway to Guildford.

Bradley himself is a curiosity, a visitation wrapped in an evening suit. Practically the first thing he does is grab his lapels, but that’s where the resemblance stops. Bradley does not take it upon himself to try and be Hartnell portraying the Doctor, nor does it follow that he should. The man’s twenty years older. He doesn’t even fluff his lines, for pity’s sake. But a curious thing happens: it more or less works. Bradley was a good Hartnell, and a less effective Doctor-played-by-Hartnell, but unshackled from the confines of scripts and scenes we know all too well, and given room to breathe as opposed to simply mimic, the suspension of disbelief suddenly becomes that much easier to maintain. There is a certain poetic license in his performance – this is an older, less assured First Doctor, perhaps closer to the character we saw in ‘The Three Doctors’ than anything that appeared on TV during the 1960s – but if you squint, you can almost imagine that this ageing Yorkshireman could inhabit the role that Hartnell made his own.

It ends, as one might expect, in fire and torment and the mother of all monologues: one that is disappointing if only because we’ve heard so much of it before. Capaldi paces the TARDIS with similar restlessness to his manner at the end of ‘The Doctor Falls’ – raging, it seems, against the old girl herself, as if her mechanisms were somehow guiding his transformation. (It’s really not so much of a stretch, given that so many of them have happened on the console room floor.) There are jokes about pears. Meanwhile, the more astute among us will no doubt be wondering why the soldiers were singing in German when there was a TARDIS parked just up the road. Is it because of the religious content? Is this another nod to ‘Extremis’? Or do two TARDISes cancel out the translation effect? And why am I even bringing this up, unless it’s to pick up on social media trends?

Finally – in the moment we were denied at the press screening – Whittaker emerges, staring at her reflection with a look of wide-eyed amazement, like someone who’s experiencing every birthday and Christmas in one go. It’s obviously not a controlled regeneration – it never is – but it’s clearly hoped that we’re as enamoured of her appearance as she is herself, even if you half expect Amy to pop her head out from the bedroom and ask if she wished really, really hard. Within seconds, the new Doctor is failing to fly the TARDIS in the most spectacular manner possible, plummeting to what we assume is Earth in the sort of slow motion you normally reserve for Hollywood action movies, and we’ve already forgotten about Mark Gatiss – who, it must be pointed out (because I haven’t yet) was actually not too bad at all.

Still, there is something good about all this. There is something right about a tale that does not need to rely on visual spectacle or the fate of the universe to make its point. There is something good about a Doctor who has already died in battle, and who is living on borrowed time: two Doctors, if you like. Stories that occur in frozen moments (hello, Key 2 Time, have a celery stick) are a big part of spinoff lore; rarely do they translate to the small screen, but the fact that ‘Twice Upon A Time’ works when it really shouldn’t is largely down to the chief writer’s decision to turn the narrative into an elegy that is actively about that moment, rather than an excuse to tell an unrelated story. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of unabashed escapism – god knows that’s what we had in ‘Voyage of the Damned’ – but a protracted, reluctant farewell seems a better fit, even though it won’t be to everyone’s tastes.

But it’s more than that. There’s a sense of cautious joy here, a bittersweet lament for the things we leave behind coupled with a willingness to look forward with hope, even in the face of the unknown. It’s not a call for unity. This isn’t Brexit. It’s a request to understand each other. “Sometimes,” Moffat seems to be telling us, “things don’t go wrong. Some motivations are sound. Some purposes are good. Sometimes even if something is seemingly too good to be true, it still happens. Things change, and no one likes it. And yes, people die, but sometimes opposing sides can reach a fragile, uneasy peace.” And perhaps that, more than anything else, is the message we need to hear this Christmas.

This review originally appeared in The Doctor Who Companion.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 354)

You know…you’d get these a lot faster if you visit and follow my Facebook page.

First: rejected monsters from series 10.

Meanwhile, in an art gallery in an undisclosed location, fandom implodes.

And in unrelated news, the Thirteenth Doctor’s companion is finally unveiled.

(You would not believe the fallout I had from that one.)

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Have I Got Whos for You (part 13)

In this week’s Doctor Who news, an oft-quoted fan mantra is given a new slant.

A much-anticipated deleted scene from ‘World Enough And Time’ is leaked into the internet.

And finally, David Tennant reacts to the upcoming 13th Doctor reveal.

 

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Doctor Who series 10: the executive summaries (part two)

Right, where were we?

(If you missed part one, it’s here.)

The Pyramid at the End of the World

‘If anything, The Pyramid at the End of the World suffers from Difficult Second Album Syndrome, or at least second act fatigue. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, except to say that nothing very much happens. That’s something we’ve got used to this series, but that it’s suddenly a problem is less a hallmark of collective boredom and more the fact that a ponderous narrative like this does not sit well with the alien invasion badge the episode wears at its heart. This is the middle part of a trilogy, a fact that we’re never really allowed to forget.

The basic problem is structure. The sort of personal journey that forms the story’s emotional core works fine when you’re watching a character piece – as we did with, say, The Pilot – but it’s less successful when large chunks of the episode revolve around the Doctor travelling from one place to another, interacting with supporting characters who are presumably baffled as to why they’re having to contend with a cantankerous retired prog rock guitarist, and wondering when the real hero’s going to show up. Far from the dashing, tedious hero we’ve encountered, this is a man who tactically misjudges an elementary problem and is doomed as a result. That needn’t be a bad thing. Stories in which the Doctor blunders into a bad situation and makes it worse can be marvellous. Unfortunately, this week’s wasn’t one of them.’

DWC write-up

The Lie of the Land

‘Certain things about The Lie of the Land grated. The structure is off, somehow, as if this were a very good two-part story crammed into 42 minutes, because the Monks had taken up two episodes already and they couldn’t stretch to another. Its voiceover is cloying and unnecessary: it is, to all intents and purposes, the Blade Runner of Nu Who, and it is only in the final reel that its purpose becomes apparent, Bill’s mother becoming not just a convenient expository sounding board but also a crucial plot device. The whole thing is very Rings of Akhaten with the same wind machine they used in The Pilot but you can, at least, understand why we’ve had to put up with half an hour of interior monologue.

There is an awful lot of decent material this week, even if it isn’t always used as effectively as it might be. The opening montage, which openly parodies Forrest Gump, is nothing short of marvellous, particularly with the addition of Capaldi’s soothing voiceover, bookended by the most sinister of grins. Capaldi, indeed, is absolutely the best thing about this week, whether he’s comforting a suddenly remorseful Missy or – in the episode’s high point – explaining his apparent change of heart to an incredulous Bill with such fortitude that for a second you’re almost prepared to believe it. Unfortunately, it’s a that scene concludes with a mildly ridiculous denouement, and a quite unnecessary regeneration from the Doctor – “A bit much?” he quips, mostly through the fourth wall, and thus confirming that the whole thing was more about deceiving the audience than it was about winding up Bill.

But the voiceover isn’t the only thing that jars. The society Whithouse creates is frightening and oppressive and reasonably convincing, but there frankly isn’t enough of it: fascist police states are encapsulated in single, cliche-driven boot-in-the-door scenes (first they came for the communists, and I did not speak out), where non-conformists are dragged away in full view of disapproving neighbours. How much more might we have benefited from a more comprehensive overview of those who rejected the Monks’ programming? The resistance movement, and the laughing men behind the guns that served under the Doctor? The figureheads in charge, kowtowing to the will of the Monks, struggling to remember a time when they succeeded or failed purely on the whims of political ambition? Even the Monks themselves, who linger in the background this week, motives untapped, barely uttering a word? How much better, indeed, might the story have been had it begun with the planet under a state of siege, with flashbacks to key moments from the Pyramid episode and all the ephemeral dialogue from last week scattered to the ashes and replaced with something a little more substantial? We’ll never know, but it doesn’t stop me wondering.’

DWC write-up

The Empress of Mars

‘What to say about Empress? It’s not profound. It makes no real political point, save the kind of digs at the British Empire you typically see on Horrible Histories (a show in which Gatiss has appeared, along with his League of Gentlemen co-stars). It has a lot of stuff about queen and country, including a pleasing Pauline Collins reference. It has an amusing, if fairly derivative cold open – excuse pun – that is enough to draw your interest, even if it does not quite reach the hyperbolic praise that Moffat ascribes to it (“The best pre-titles idea [he’d] ever heard”, according to Doctor Who Magazine, which rather overstates its supposed brilliance). It has a bunch of gung-ho British soldiers speaking an indecipherable language (‘rhino’ is mentioned; I honestly don’t know whether this is colloquially accurate or whether Gatiss is just making this s**t up). And it has a new form of squareness gun: it literally folds people up in a sort of fatal compression, useful for packing suitcases. Gatiss describes this as “a new way of killing people”, suggesting that he’s never read The Twits.

Basically, it has ‘filler’ stamped all over it, but there is nothing wrong with a decent filler. Some episodes of Doctor Who are destined to set the world alight. Gatiss’ latest will not, but that’s not the end of the world. If its supporting characters could do with a little more depth, that’s a by-product of the 40 minute structure (and something which, when Chibnall comes to the table, could do with a serious rethink). The leads acquit themselves more than adequately, even if the Doctor has little to actually do this week except react. And it has Ice Warriors doing Ice Warrior-ish things, in a self-contained narrative that, while popping the odd seam in its bag of containment, manages to just about stay inside it. Profundity can wait: this is fun. Really, what more do you want on a Saturday evening?’

DWC write-up

The Eaters of Light

‘There is a scene about fifteen minutes into The Eaters of Light which is borderline painful to watch. It involves Bill in an excruciating, needless discussion about her sexuality, and it sticks out like a sore thumb because the rest of the episode is so good. Everything else just works. This is a self-contained narrative that is sure of its own identity. It is well-constructed and frightening when it needs to be, with decently-realised set pieces: it helps, also, that director Charles Palmer takes his visual cue from Nick Hurran – and, in particular, The God Complex – by showing us the monster only sparingly, a wriggling, tentacle thing where the gaps are filled by the limits of the human imagination.

Supporting characters are affable enough, but it’s the leads who excel – with the Doctor as compelling as he has been all year. “Are you sulking?” he says to Kar. “When you want to win a war, remember this: it’s not about you. Believe me, I know.” It is whispered and understated, with Capaldi’s native Scots perhaps even more pronounced than usual, the way that newly repatriated residents often find their accents slipping back towards the native when they go home. It’s a stunning scene, worthy of the best of Tennant, but you sense that of the newer actors only Capaldi could really have pulled it off. If this series doesn’t win him a BAFTA, there is no justice.’

DWC write-up

World Enough and Time

‘Some episodes of Doctor Who fall under an umbrella we might label Event Stories. A Good Man Goes To War (and its immediate follow-up) might be a decent example; The Wedding of River Song is another. Monsters and threats are all present and more or less correct, but the McGuffins serve the dramatic purpose of padding out the running time between the twists. Put simply, these stories are not about the story; they’re about traversing the arc. Event Stories are usually the ones that people remember, because they are the game changers – the ones that kill, that resurrect, that shine a torch onto the identity papers of heretofore mysterious, enigmatic guest stars.

World Enough and Time is a classic case of an Event Story. This is not an episode that you watch for the meat, because by and large there isn’t any. Oh, there are Things That Happen. Many of the Things That Happen will have the fans talking: one or two undoubtedly resulted in the collective dropping of jaws. Nonetheless, it is the moments, rather than the whole, that you carry with you. That’s not to do it a complete disservice: Bill is as good as ever, the hospital is appropriately creepy, and Rachel Talalay shows once more exactly why she’s one of the best directors in the business. John Simm is marvellous as the Fagin-like, heavily accented Mr Razor, and Missy’s “Doctor Who” exchange with Bill and Nardole takes an axe to the fourth wall and essentially summarises every conversation I’ve ever had on Facebook. It’s just a shame that that moments like these couldn’t have occurred within the confines of an actual story – instead of a collection of vignettes and moments, stitched together into a Frankensteinian whole, much like the shambling abominations that haunt the corridors of the Mondasian spacecraft.’

DWC write-up

The Doctor Falls

‘It just wasn’t very good, really, was it?

I mean I could lie about it, if you want. That might have been the easier solution. I’ve had calls for my head this week. “When the show is cancelled,” someone said, in the wake of a negative write-up I gave it, “the finger will point at this, fair and square”. Clearly he’s overestimated the clout held by a single entertainment journalist, although I did appreciate the compliment.

Here’s the basic issue: the Doctor is old and tired and gives up. That’s it in a nutshell. His plan to get rid of the Cybermen is to blow up as many as he can while a group of colonists escape in a lift. It’s an excuse to write him into a situation where he is forced to regenerate – and then stubbornly refuses to, using pain as a stimulus in much the same way that Rutger Hauer staves off his death towards the close of Blade Runner. That’s the sort of corner that will prove difficult to write yourself out of the next time it happens, although that’ll be Chibnall’s problem, which largely explains why Moffat did it.

The leads, to be fair, acquit themselves brilliantly. Mackie is all tortured angst and wall demolition (she will, at least, be useful if the Doctor ever needs a knock-through); Lucas improbably gets a love interest, but his farewell is pleasantly understated; Gomez and Simm work well together, whether they’re dancing or (literally) at each other’s throats. Simm, in particular, is a revelation, the Master we could have done with ten years ago, instead of the mugging (if well-matched) idiot who came up against Tennant – each Master reflects the Doctor they’re encountering, and this older, less ridiculous version is the perfect foil for Capaldi. Speaking of Capaldi, we are once more in BAFTA territory, with the actor switching between tearful pleading and raging against the dying of the light, often within the same reel.

But the real problem with The Doctor Falls – aside from its failure to live up to the generally tremendous series that preceded it – is that Moffat once more sacrifices story for crowd-pleasing spectacle, Bill’s tedious (and overwrought) resurrection a depressing reminder of Clara’s. This is ultimately about pushing the envelope as far as possible before abruptly dropping it in the shredder: all you end up with is a bunch of plain white confetti, of little use to anyone. “Doctor Who,” says the chief writer, “shouldn’t really be about death. I don’t believe it’s the kind of show that says there are bitter, twisted, nasty endings because it’s not.” Keep telling yourself that, Steven.’

DWC write-up

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Doctor Who series 10: the executive summaries (part one)

When I’m not blogging here (which seems to be most of the time these days), and when I’m not writing for Metro, you’ll often find me over at the hallowed halls of The Doctor Who Companion, churning out think pieces and gently poking fun at fan theory. We are a small but dedicated and also very eclectic team, and the great thing about the DWC is the sheer variety of stuff that’s on offer – we don’t just do news and reviews, there’s an awful lot of other content, and if you’re not reading it, you really should be.

But reviews are where we’ve been at for the past twelve weeks, because that’s what you do when there’s a series on. To keep things interesting, the site’s editors had a different person review each episode, and then asked for two-hundred word summaries from the rest of us, which they pasted into single documents, serving as composites of alternative views and opinions to sit alongside the main review for that week. And it occurred to me, as we reached the end of the run, that these little vignettes were actually as good a summary of how I’ve felt about particular episodes as anything else.

So I’m reproducing them here. And if you’ve been reading my series 10 reviews, you’ll probably recognise much of the text, because it’s usually lifted word for word. But I daresay there were at least some of you who simply scrolled to the end to look at the interest chart, right? And now you’ll never have to worry about what I said. So here are episodes one through six, each linked to its DWC communal write-up so you can see how my opinions compared with the rest of the team (if you want to read the stuff I published here, it’s available from the Reviews tag). I didn’t do one for ‘The Pilot’, having actually written the main review for that week, but I’ve cobbled something together, and episodes seven through twelve will follow in a day or two.

 

The Pilot

‘The best way to describe The Pilot is ‘grounded’. Because this is an episode that is anxious to root itself (to use Peter Capaldi’s own words) before you’re allowed to go anywhere. This is not a Doctor who turns up and comically integrates himself (or rather fails to) into a community, as we saw in The Caretaker or The Lodger. This is a Doctor who’s already been on the scene a long time, who cannot possibly be as young as he looks, and who is visibly offended when people fail to point this out. But there’s more to it than that: this is not another Snowmen, in which the arriving companion breaks the Time Lord out of a funk overnight. It takes time. The Doctor’s tenure may be well-established but it still takes a good few months (read: minutes) for his new companion to discover what’s really going on.

The episode’s success lies largely in the fact that it doesn’t try to do too much. The cast are a big help – Capaldi is comfortable and self-assured as the Doctor, and his support make the most of what they have – but the strength of The Pilot lies in its concept of space, in a strictly terrestrial sense. It introduces new characters and gives them breathing room – hence the Doctor and Bill are flung together not by impossible forces, but by a sense of mutual loneliness and the driving need to explore. By the time the Doctor has temporarily abandoned his plans to guard whatever it is he’s guarding in that vault and whisk Bill away to the stars (tellingly with a line that echoes Christopher Lloyd’s reckless abandonment of responsibility at the end of Back to the Future), it feels like an inevitability – and we cheer with her.’

DWC write-up

Smile

‘The last time Frank Cottrell-Boyce wrote for Doctor Who, he produced something that – for better or worse – was unlike almost anything that had preceded it. In Smile, the references come thick and fast: The Happiness Patrol-esque drive for shallow optimism; the Vardy’s childlike misunderstanding, echoing the nanogenes in The Doctor Dances, only with the appetite of the Vashta Nerada; the Seeds of Doom bit… I could go on. Had Cottrell-Boyce delivered 45 minutes of tropes and no substance, I’d be glowering, but there’s plenty of meat on the bone (which is more than you can say for many of the colonists). With the help of some thoughtful dialogue, and a narrative sparsity that mirrors the vast, almost minimalist surroundings, the episode’s real joy is the chemistry between its two leads, an ostensibly chalk and cheese pairing that is showing real promise. There’s nothing wrong with homage when it works, and Smile does.’

DWC write-up

Thin Ice

‘Perhaps the best thing about Thin Ice is the wink it makes at the audience. It is not a story that pretends to be grand or significant. It is a story in which the Doctor rewrites Dickens and gets all fanboyish over a con artist. It is a story in which an unreconstructed Nicholas Burns does the splits as the ground cracks beneath him. It is a story in which you wonder whether the thing in the Vault is actually John Simm, and whether the final ‘boom’ that accompanies the words ‘NEXT TIME’ is a simple sting for the episode 4 trailer or that crucial fourth knock.

But at its heart, it’s a story about the necessity of exploration: to scratch and forage, to find both the joys and the darkness therein, the frozen river serving as metaphor for Bill’s discovery of her mentor’s darker side. The path to enlightenment, it is implied, lies not in the certainty of tradition but the willingness to think sideways, whatever the risk. “Only idiots know the answers,” the Doctor insists, in the episode’s latter third. “But if your future is built on the suffering of that creature, what’s your future worth?” Ultimately, Thin Ice speaks to us of the dangers of venturing deeper – the perils that lurk in the darkness and the fear of the unknown – but also of the unexpected clarity that results when you come back up to the surface.’

DWC write-up

Knock Knock

‘The central problem with Knock Knock is that it simply isn’t very frightening. There’s nothing wrong with the set-up: six people in an overly large house with dodgy electrics and a seemingly inaccessible tower, presided over by a sinister, seemingly omnipresent figure with the ability to suddenly pop into existence as if from nowhere, like a podgy Q from Star Trek. The contract is signed with nary a second glance at the small print – if anything, Bartlett has written a morality fable for the EULA generation that emphasises the importance of reading the terms and conditions. Only Bill remains wary – but even she is keen to avoid discussing the obvious problems lurking in the house, clearly seeing it as a means of escape. The students’ nonchalance is the sort of behaviour that usually has the audience screaming at the TV, but it’s very easy to do that when you’ve already heard the screams of the house’s first victim, and a seemingly blasé attitude is at least consistent with the jumping in feet first attitude that Doctor Who typically seems to espouse. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is – but how might we apply that logic to ‘the gateway to everything that ever was, or ever can be’?

What the episode needs is a little more of the scare factor that drips through in the much-improved second half, and a little less of the mundanity that punctuates the earlier scenes: conversations about Bill’s sexuality spring to mind, as does the rather tedious question of whether the Doctor is her father or grandfather. This was clearly an experiment, and while the list of gripes (the occasional fall-back on conventional horror tropes; the Doctor’s effective relegation to sidekick status; the Freudian thing) is plentiful: they don’t make for an experience that is unilaterally bad, just one that feels like a disappointment after the last three weeks. But perhaps it’s not a bad thing that the bubble has burst. If this is the first time in the series we’ve had call to say ‘Meh’, then that’s a sure-fire indication that on the whole, they’re getting it right.’

DWC write-up

Oxygen

‘Oxygen is one of those ‘worthy’ episodes. You know, the sort where everyone talks about the message. It happens a lot, and it’s a problem. It’s nice that people care about things, but the earnestness with which throwaway lines of dialogue and supposedly grand speeches are adopted as profile signatures and – just occasionally – life mantras is something that puzzles me immensely. It’s as if Doctor Who is no longer allowed to be important unless it means something. Robert Holmes showed you can be political, and thus this is something you ought to do at every conceivable opportunity, with episodes that say Important Things left on a pedestal, while the more superficial, disposable stories (sit down, Planet of the Dead, your chops and gravy are in the microwave) are critically lambasted for being disposable candy floss. There is bugger all social commentary in The Invasion; it’s Cybermen running around London. It is also tremendous fun. That really ought to be enough.

Thankfully, Oxygen has the fun factor in spades, whether it’s the Doctor effectively kidnapping Nardole in the opening scene, or the mesmerising, wordless spacewalk (when people say things like “You’re about to be exposed to the vacuum of space!” in Hollywood blockbusters it sounds corny as hell; Capaldi pulls it off); or the moment, just a short time later, when the Doctor abandons Bill in a corridor. It manages this despite a dearth of interesting supporting characters (indeed, the only one you notice is memorable precisely because he shouldn’t be) and a rather clumsy, overstated semi-cliffhanger. None of this matters when the rest of it is as good as it got this week. A triumph, from start to not-quite finish.’

DWC write-up

Extremis

‘I called this. I just want that noted for the record. I called it months ago and said that the idea of an unreliable Doctor – one who thought he was the Doctor, but wasn’t – was something the show hadn’t really done yet and that I wished it would. I know the overlap is all wrong, but I’m just going to leave that there. And yes, I know that you don’t have to be real to be the Doctor. But still.

Extremis is a story in which the dramatic climax is someone sending an email. On paper, it must have seemed ludicrous. In practice, it is stunningly effective: it is, like Let’s Kill Hitler, one of those stories where everything works because nothing works, full of crazy ideas and head-scratching nonsense. The action moves from the Vatican to the Pentagon to CERN for no reason other than it can, with a global conspiracy that is almost as needlessly elaborate as the Cyberman’s convoluted plot in The Wheel In Space. It is likely to be divisive. Some people will love it, others will hate it. On its own, it does not easily stand up: as part of a trilogy, history may judge it more kindly. Some will rail against its supposed cleverness; others (like me) will see this as an example of Moffat pushing things as far as he can, and perhaps not quite as far as he wanted (how more daring might it have been had we discovered that every previous episode, and not just this one, had been a simulation, and that it turned out that David Bradley was guarding the vault?). Some will cheer at the audacity of actually killing the Doctor; others will produce a Series 6 box set and cough gently. This is not one for the ‘generally good’ or ‘generally bad’ pile: it will tread the uneasy tightrope between the two, with fans and critics either side, anxious to give it a push one way or the other. In the grand scheme of things, it’s Marmite. But that’s OK. I happen to like Marmite.’

DWC write-up

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