Posts Tagged With: doctor who series 3

The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part six)

Midnight. Not a sound from the pavement. Until the unmistakeable noise of boots on concrete, a plaintive, distant roar, and the cry of “DOCTOOOOOOORRR!”

There are cats in today’s video roundup; of such things you may be sure. But we’ll get to that. First, the Doctor’s off to Norway.

 

1. Doomsday: The Sitcom Version (July 2019)

It’s no great secret that I’ve long found the ending of ‘Doomsday’ unintentionally amusing. Oh, I know it tugs at the heartstrings. I know there is a great tragedy in the story of Rose’s death and eternal separation from the Doctor, where ‘death’ means ‘dropped off a stack of papers at the council registry office’ and ‘eternal separation’ means ‘off screen for a year so Billie Piper can get her teeth done’. At the time, it was like the end of the world. For some of us. I was sitting there wondering if Davies would be able to outdo his “I think you need a Doctor” line from ‘Parting of the Ways’. I was not disappointed. The Doctor flits in and out of vision on a beach in Glamorgan and bottles out of the conversation in the middle of a sentence when the signal drops. He even burns up a star, for pity’s sake. The TARDIS carbon footprint must be astronomical.

So here’s a thought: if it’s funny by accident, what if we made it funny on purpose? What if I stuck in a laugh track? And the theme from Me and My Girl? How many Tennant fangirls and humourless puritans could I annoy? As it turns out the answer is ‘quite a lot’, although doing a quick headcount I do think I made more friends than enemies. It works reasonably well, given that this was a first attempt, and I know what I need to change for next time. “It would work better,” someone said, “if you had less general tittering and stuck to some belly laughs. As it stands, it becomes a lot of white noise.” Which is a perfectly valid criticism. “OH MY GOD YOU SICK UNFEELING BASTARD HOW COULD YOU MAKE THIS?”, I’m afraid, is not.

 

2. The Cats Trailer, Doctor Who style (July 2019)

The Cats motion picture is the new Class. It’s a film nobody asked for and nobody really wanted. It exploded onto the internet in a nightmarish display of peculiarity: a half-lit freakshow, filled with pawing and acrobatics and bizarre, decontextualised choreography. James Corden bounces and Taylor Swift sits in a hammock and Judi Dench plays Judi Dench, only in a wig. It was horrible. “And besides,” said hundreds of Doctor Who fans everywhere, “we had cats in Doctor Who and they looked much better than this lot”. Which is true, of course, although it’s not exactly fair: we’re talking about two largely separate mediums, and the requirements for the two types of role are completely different. It doesn’t help that I actually can’t stand Cats, although I do love a bit of Lloyd Webber: it is a disjointed melee of stories and ‘character’ songs, some of which work, some of which do not, and a tedious, oversung finale.

Within a day of the first trailer drop, someone had uploaded their own version, which married the footage with the music used in the trailer to Us, with alarmingly good results. And however misguided the complaints about makeup and CGI, there was – I realised, just in the nick of time – a definite market for a Who-themed remake. And so I took footage from ‘Gridlock’ and ‘The Shakespeare Code’ and stuck in a couple of carefully chosen soundbites and then put the whole thing together on one fevered, insomnia-drenched evening back in the summer. To answer a frequently asked question, the cats from Doctor Who aren’t in here because they simply wouldn’t have worked next to this lot: you’d just have a weird and confusing juxtaposition of different styles of feline and sometimes it’s best to just keep these things simple. As it is it hangs together, much like Tabitha is currently hanging from the edge of my tablecloth. For heaven’s sake, I’ll feed you in a minute.

 

3. Flatulent Clara (August 2019)

Fart jokes are brilliant, aren’t they? I make no apology for loving them to bits. Russell T Davies built an entire recurring villain around them. Dropping in a fart gag, in any capacity, is a good way to sort the wheat from the chaff, because supposedly sophisticated people are always very quick to tell you how juvenile you’re being and how toilet humour is the lowest form of humour. Sod the lot of you, I say. Fart jokes are funny, just like a pie in the face is funny. I love a bit of Oscar Wilde as much as the next man, but who can honestly say that The Importance of Being Earnest wouldn’t have been improved if Lady Bracknell had tripped over the handbag and landed flat on her arse?

There are plenty of brilliant fart redubs on YouTube – a Star Trek one and a quite spectacular reimagining of the restaurant sequence from ‘Deep Breath’ are just two of the mashups I’ve seen comparatively recently – but when I was dipping a toe into the murky waters of flatulence gags, it was Clara, of all people, who stood out. I think it’s the eyes. Jenna Coleman does most of her acting with her eyes, whether she’s gazing fearfully at a rampaging monster or staring incredulously at the Doctor, waiting for him to finish monologuing. There are lots of moments like that, and it struck me that – as good as her acting was – many of them would have been improved with a couple of gas bombs in the background.

This originally started life as a single scene – the notorious console room ballet that opens ‘The Rings of Akhaten’, in which Clara and the Doctor are seen cavorting round the TARDIS interior like a couple of tryouts for Swan Lake. Try as I might, I was unable to get it to gel, but it then occurred to me that Clara’s penchant for meaningful pauses and penetrating stares extends far beyond that one story, so I widened the scope to encompass the whole of series 7B. Akhaten still has a reasonable part to play, but you’ll also see shots from ‘Hide’, ‘Cold War’ and ‘The Crimson Horror’, among others. I tried to do something similar the other week with Jodie Whittaker, with only limited success – despite the scrunching she really doesn’t lend herself to that sort of humour. I might have another look. In the meantime, Clara’s done three series. Keep the clothes pegs on standby.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Multi-Doctor Special)

I think this’ll be the last batch post for a while. We’ve taken a good chunk out of the meme backlog, and while there are still quite a few to go up, they can stagger in as and when, like drunk students crashing back into halls of residence after a night down the union. At least one of them might involve a traffic cone.

Today’s theme – if you hadn’t guessed – involves images involving more than one Doctor, which is something I do quite a bit when the ideas come. They do seem to come thick and fast these das, which is an indicator that I have more free time than is strictly healthy, but at least one family member appears to be following in my footsteps. This is both encouraging and slightly alarming. A bit like life, really.

We begin with a couple of Doctors celebrating the summer solstice, which should give you an idea just how long some of these have been hanging around.

Meanwhile, in a nearby playground.

Time Lord songwriter’s workshops.

Impromptu lightsaber battles.

Derby walking tours.

Family reunions.

Posted without comment.

“This mirror’s brilliant; I look years younger.”

So there’s this guy I found on Facebook who takes pet photos and one thing sort of led to another.

“Bugger off, David.”

Time Lord mid-air collisions.

Edward set this up. Edward is five. I am worried about Edward.

Finally, in the TARDIS…

“Yeah, I’d give it five minutes.”

 

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Five Doctor Who episodes to help you deal with grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I miss my mum.

 

Twice Upon A Time

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

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth

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

 

Heaven Sent

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

 

The Rings of Akhaten

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

 

Blink

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

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Have I Got Whos For You (half rice, half chips edition)

In the news this week: there is general panic in supermarkets up and down the country as Donna and Martha struggle to keep the Tenth Doctor away from the ice cream.

An alternative, previously unseen angle from the Apollo 11 moon launch fifty years ago throws up a disturbing sight.

And the full, unseen edition of the poster for Patrick Stewart’s new Star Trek vehicle shows exactly what Picard was staring at off to the right.

Elsewhere, the Thirteenth Doctor’s pleased when her Amazon order shows up.

And a deleted exchange from ‘The Sound of Drums’ proves to be oddly prophetic for Boris Johnson.

Talking of Boris, his announcement during last week’s debate that “we must get off the hamster wheel of doom” kind of gave me an idea.

Finally, this week’s recipe, which has no ingredient lists or method, and consists instead of a single instruction from the War Doctor. “Great men are forged in fire,” he tells us. “It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”

Be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful. And if you can’t manage that, remember the date.

 

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Have I Got Whos For You (Easter special)

I’m going to be poking a sizeable portion of the fandom with a stick in a few days, folks, so do tune in later this week if you want to see the fireworks. I should point out that there’s nothing sensationalist about it; I just felt like a bit of a rant. You know, like when you’re in a Subway and they’ve stopped heating the sandwiches even though it’s only half past eight and they’re not closing for another hour and a half and THEY DIDN’T TELL YOU, and the only seating available is next to five black bin bags that have been left on the floor and the drinks machine is basically flavoured water, and your nacho beef subs don’t actually contain any nachos because they ran out and THEY DIDN’T TELL YOU, and they can’t give a refund because it’s just the two of them and there’s no manager.

I mean, hypothetically.

Anyway, that can wait for a bit. In the meantime, here’s a bumper roundup of news from the last fortnight or so. First: Record Store Day. Which I missed, which wasn’t a bad thing because the so-called vinyl revival is nothing but a fad purported by specialist retailers and music snobs. It did, however, reach the TARDIS.

I sometimes wonder if Levine sees anything I write about him. God I hope not. I do try and have a bit of patience with the man, but he makes it so piggin’ difficult.

If you follow the news, you’ll be aware that scientists have released a photo of a black hole – to be specific, the event horizon of a black hole, as the hole itself is impossible to photograph due to being…well, black. (“The thing about space,” Hattie Haydridge once explained in Red Dwarf, “is…”) Some 55 million light years from earth, the thing was 6.5 billion times bigger than the sun, which meant you had to have eyes as big as the Earth in order to photograph it. Or something. But a closer examination of the image reveals some interesting debris floating across not too far from the singularity.

(Eagle-eyed viewers will notice there’s a mistake in that. Bloody BBC interns. Never could get the staff.)

Back down to Earth now, and a leaked promo image for a new Brexit-themed mashup which goes under the working title ‘Fury from the DUP’.

If you were in the UK, it was a gorgeous weekend: we spent part of it in London, which was full of environmental protesters, selfie-snapping tourists and the smell of cannabis. There were new things at the Tate Modern and we got lost in Canary Wharf, but the Cabot Centre has a piano, so all was well. In the meantime, the Doctor and her friends were out enjoying the sunshine, but nobody spotted Darth Vader sneaking off with the Easter Eggs.

“Hmm,” says every single person to leave a comment. “I can’t see anything in that picture.” I knew I should have used a bloody Cyberman. Question: if you’re looking at one of the Silence / Silents, and then you look away, do you really forget the whole scene? Surely that’s not the case? You only forget about the Munsch derivative; everything else – characters, scenery and so on – is completely intact. If you’re going to reference a series 6 low point, at least do it properly.

Some people unsub from Doctor Who groups when they want to avoid spoilers. Others unsub because the fandom can be toxic, or because they feel their opinions are unwanted. Personally, I unsub around this date every year when you can barely move for selfies and arm shots covered in fucking tally marks. “Ooh! I don’t know why I have all these marks all over me!” I don’t know either. Because you’re a twat?

Sticking with today, and turning away from things that just make me sour, we turn to William Shakespeare, who celebrates a birthday and deathday, and who is close to losing it completely with his new understudies.

(This is crying out for a caption. Anyone want to oblige? No? That’s fine.)

I’m not the only one who’s been hanging out on Twitter. It seems the Doctor is keen to broadcast his TV viewing habits.

Things happen when you’re away. Thankfully nobody died, or at least nobody I’d have wanted to write about, but I did miss the Episode IX announcement, with all its bells and whistles and the pleasing presence of Billy Dee Williams, who will presumably turn out to be Finn’s uncle (or a closer blood relation). It’s something of a disappointment to discover that the film will be titled The Rise of Skywalker. Still: being out of the loop at least meant that I missed (or largely missed) the furore surrounding the Emperor’s laugh, the significance of Leia’s ring, and whether Matt Smith is involved. I can’t remember when this stopped being interesting, although I daresay I’ll see it and enjoy it more than most of the people who purport to be fans. Thank God it’s never like this with Doctor Who.

But then you’re back in Oxfordshire and you need to scratch the creative itch, at least a little. “Can I – ” (I found myself wondering) “- reference the tenth anniversary of ‘Planet of the Dead’, David Tennant’s birthday and the new Star Wars trailer, all within the confines of a single image?”

Yes. Yes, I can.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 912)

If you’re reading this, chances are I’m in the wilds of Staffordshire, checking out Ilam. It is an old hostel in a grand, Gothic manor dating from the seventeenth century. It has no WiFi or phone signal. This is queued; of course it is.

Entertainment first, and a leaked still from a deleted scene in a recent Holby City episode has raised more than a couple of eyebrows.

(This was, as anyone watching will attest, a thoroughly ridiculous plot twist. We knew that Ange had a secret, and we’d worked out what it was, but the likelihood of her coming to the exact same hospital as her son, and then working alongside him for months before finding out who he is? This is worse than bloody Neighbours. As I write this it’s Monday evening and the follow-up episode has yet to air, but I predict that she will say “I already let you go once, and it was the biggest mistake of my life. I’m not doing it again.” Let’s reconvene a week or two from now and find out whether I was right, shall we?)

Elsewhere, it was apparently National Unicorn Day, although it’s fair to say that not everybody enjoyed it.

Not that the man’s bad on a horse, having come from the outside to make a last-dash sprint for the finish line in last weekend’s Grand National.

But it wasn’t all jollity and cheering. As Cambridge celebrated their double win on the banks of the Thames on a cold, grey afternoon, there was a moment of solemn reflection as the crowds paused to remember the year the boat race ended in tragedy.

There’s something on your back, Sarah-Jane…

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Have I Got Whos For You (February Made Me Shiver Edition)

This week in Whoville, there’s trouble in paradise.

This is from a film, right? They walk around wearing blindfolds for some reason. Is it like that bit in ‘Flesh and Stone’ where Amy has to navigate the Angels? Can someone enlighten me seeing as I can’t be bothered to Google this afternoon?

Elsewhere, it snowed, so obviously.

I was chatting to Christian Cawley on Twitter. “Having just finished PD’s memoirs,” he said, “Davison, Troughton and Pertwee pushing the snow onto Tom Baker might be more apt.”

“There were so many combinations,” I told him. “It was almost the Brigadier and Jo pushing the snow onto an unsuspecting Pertwee. I like the idea of Capaldi being caught out, but the real reason Baker and Pertwee are up there are simply because they’re the only ones who would balance.”

Still, you can’t keep a good Time Lord down. Not when there’s a big game on.

In case you were wondering, most of them are Falcon players. I went for the ones that were already transparent, as I couldn’t be bothered to do any cutting out. I have no idea if this makes any sort of statement on the quality of the game or the people that play it. I don’t even know what I’m looking at. I played an early John Madden game on the Sega Mega Drive but I never really got to grips with it; the whole thing seemed awfully stop-and-start. You will notice the Doctor is the only one not wearing any padding, and there’s a hint of sneering culture wars at play here: my feelings on American Football (or, as they call it, Football) aren’t exactly well-documented, except to say that over here we call it rugby. And we don’t use helmets.

But by the time you read this, of course, the Super Bowl will be a distant memory, because it’s all about Chinese New Year. Only with the Doctor, of course, it never goes to plan.

Gung hay fat choy…

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Have I Got Whos For You (World Cup Edition)

First and foremost:

I mean, it’s not, sadly. I missed a trick; I ought to have got this lot out yesterday, while we still had a chance. But that’s the way it works: if your timing is off, then things go awry, and you miss the train, get hit by the car, or land the TARDIS a year and a day after you left, instead of the morning after.

Veterans among you will remember that – at least in this country – the very first broadcast of ‘Rose’ clashed with the England vs. Northern Ireland match on ITV; a match we eventually won 4-0, after a slow start and an eventual flurry of second half goals. The following day was Sunday, and we were in church. “I don’t know if you watched any TV last night,” said the visiting preacher. “But if you did, you may have witnessed a bunch of lifeless wax figures suddenly wake up and parade menacingly around, causing terror and fear. Or you might have turned off the football and watched Doctor Who instead.”

Anyway, I made this. It took, I don’t know, an hour?

Disclaimer: there is a better version of this idea on the BBC Doctor Who Facebook page somewhere. It’s cleverly edited but sadly unwatchable now, focusing as it does on the idea that we might have actually had a chance at this thing; in the cold grey light of the morning after, the look of ecstatic joy on the face of Jodie Whittaker (who is, in reality, simply staring at her tits) is almost heartbreaking.

There’s a curious irony in some of the fan responses. It’s as if you’re allowed to be obsessed about one thing but not the other. “Ha!” says the Doctor Who fan. “Your fixation with kicking an inflated pigskin around a muddy field is preposterous, unlike my own fixation with a silly science fiction programme about a man in a flying police box.” To which the football fan grunts, or delivers a Glasgow kiss. That’s what they’re like, isn’t it? Violent and monosyllabic, the missing link alive and well and wearing an England shirt?

Look, it’s possible to like both (Gareth Roberts does, and Frank Skinner’s not doing a bad job either) and neither. The nation’s become briefly obsessed with football over the past few weeks because there was a chance there – a slim chance, mind you, but a chance nonetheless – that we might actually make it. It’s the sort of straw you clutch at until it shreds in your hand. Now it’s gone, and we’ll get back to normal. And for those of you who think it’s all pointless and silly, there was a time when we had the same sense of hopelessness about Doctor Who, during the wilderness years when it was off the air. We delude ourselves if we claim to be any different to the Chelsea mob: and no, we don’t stand on top of ambulances, but some of us have sent death threats to the writers, which isn’t so far off. Thirteen years of more or Nu Who has made us remarkably complacent, and we forget that there was a time when we were similarly despairing of the future of the thing we loved, and where the only morsel on offer at a very meagre feast (at least until Big Finish came along) were the odd little sketches, offering laughs, but also glimmers of hope for a revival. Well, except for ‘Dimensions In Time’. That was shit.

Here’s a forfeit: you have to share this post on social media if you, like me, have had a two-week ‘Three Lions’ earworm. I know perfectly well that shake of a head is a lie, by the way. It’s been all over the shop and unless you unplug from the internet (the TV, the radio, British society in general) you have no hopes of avoiding it. It’s even haunted my sleep – although that was probably because a few minutes earlier, Emily had suggested this one.

Sorry. We’ll stop now.

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The War Master in the Night Garden

In 2007, Doctor Who fans were gifted with the finest Master to grace the screen since Roger Delgado. He was suave, he was eloquent, he was angry and malicious, he was…well, he was British, which probably helped. Unfortunately he lasted only a minute and a half before getting shot by an insect and regenerating into John Simm.

It was such a pity. Derek Jacobi was born to play the Master, and for just a moment or two, he did it brilliantly. His replacement was a gurning, dancing clown, manic and ridiculous and – it must be acknowledged – perfectly matched opposite Tennant, but not always an easy watch. Things didn’t improve when he returned with a hoodie, an inexplicable penchant for cannibalism and a secret plan for cloning himself, leading to what is affectionately known as the show’s Being John Malkovich moment. It would be years before we saw the version of the Simm Master that I’d always wanted to see – sneering, reserved and (for a change) respectably dressed, and even if that turns out to be his last appearance, his turn in ‘The Doctor Falls’ was a cracking way to go out.

But enough of this, because we were here to discuss Jacobi – who, having turned in a memorable performance in ‘Utopia’, promptly toddled away back into the land of romantic comedy-dramas, bad sitcoms and the occasional CBeebies bedtime story. He tangoed in Halifax, helped build the Titanic and endured a love-hate relationship with Magneto. Recently we saw him lock horns with the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society in A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. But of his Master, there was nothing – until last December, when he teamed up for a Big Finish audio series entitled Only The Good, in which we got to see the reincarnated renegade in action during the Time War, before he fled to the end of the universe.

What to say about the War Master set? Well, it’s broadly good, although it opens with a largely inconsequential opening story with people I didn’t care about on a forgettable planet that’s being besieged by Daleks. Stories two and four are better, although in one of them the Master is at his most un-Masterlike (the title of this particular story is ‘The Good Master’, so it’s not exactly a spoiler) and it’s initially rather disconcerting to witness him behaving like the disguised human he would eventually become. Of the four, ‘Sky Man’ is far and away the best, despite – or perhaps because – it is a story in which the Master barely features, instead allowing his erstwhile companion Cole to take centre stage. Cole himself is worthy, if rather dull, but if the story’s conclusion is more or less mapped out in its opening conversation it’s still devastatingly effective when it happens.

It also definitively answers one of the questions that the fans have been arguing about for years: namely, was it really Jacobi’s Master in the Time War? The naysayers point out that he states he was ‘a naked child found on the coast of the silver devastation’; similarly John Smith remembers growing up in Ireland with his parents Sydney and Verity, but that’s fabricated, fourth wall-breaking codswallop. This is a slightly younger, sprightlier version of the man we saw in ‘Utopia’ – a man saddled with the weight of twenty years of fruitless labour and a lifetime of false memories, plus the aforementioned insect. Bringing him back was a no-brainer. If you want a resurrected Time War Master, and Jacobi is a narrative fit, why the hell wouldn’t you sign him up if he was available and willing?

It’s a pity we won’t get to see this incarnation meet up with John Hurt: that would have been a heck of a show (and yes, I know it kind of undermines the series 3 arc; don’t tell me they couldn’t have found a workaround for that). But three decent stories out of four seems to be par for the course for BF sets these days, and it’s fun to hear Jacobi casually toss aside supporting characters like sacrificial pawns, outwit the Daleks and occasionally struggle with his conscience – or at least appear to struggle. Unfortunately the story’s conclusion makes a second series rather difficult, for reasons I won’t give away (although you’ve likely figured them out already), and it seems a shame to essentially ditch this new incarnation of the Master just as we’re getting to know him.

But here’s how you terrify your kids: you get them to sit through ‘Utopia’ just before bed, and then you put the In The Night Garden soundtrack on the bedroom CD player.

My views on In The Night Garden are well-documented, if by well-documented you mean eight hundred and fifty words defending the BBC and a couple of doctored photos. I love it because it works and because I do not understand why it works. If that sounds a little odd, it’s because these days it’s mostly anomalous – fan theory is endemic in just about everything, and it is a strange phenomenon, in this enlightened age, to enjoy something because you don’t get it. Twenty-first century media is all about the How and Why, and it’s killing the industry: the rare glimpses behind the scenes that we got in the 70s and 80s are now a regular fixture; outtakes and bloopers have spread like a rash on YouTube; we know everything about a story before we see even the first trailer. One can only hope that Chibnall’s reign – taking place, as it does, behind a security net to rival a Presidential visit, or even a Blade Runner location shoot – goes some way towards reinvigorating the show and bringing back the sense of wonder it once had, and he’s only going to manage that if he slows down on the goddamn press releases.

But no, In The Night Garden is wonderful television: calm, serene and just the right side of weird. Of course grown-ups find it odd. Grown-ups aren’t the target audience. This is TV for the very young, meticulously researched and painstakingly constructed, something that seems to escape the notice of the many parents I talk to who still seem to labour under the ridiculous misapprehension that when the BBC are making TV programmes they simply turn up in a TV studio and wing it. That’s not how it’s done, and the end results look weird because to babies and toddlers the whole world looks weird. (If people really think this is a new thing, they’d be wise to hop onto YouTube and find the little surviving footage that still exists of the oft-forgotten Wizbit. If you’re going to tell me that they’re screwing up our children, it is vital to acknowledge that the process began at least thirty years ago, and probably long before that.)

A while ago, I did a mashup that fused footage from Bing Bunny with some of Mark Rylance’s Wolf Hall dialogue. It was reasonably coherent, and exploring the darker side of Flop’s affable, endless patient personality was the most fun I’d had in a good long while. It also got me into hot water with Aardman, who didn’t like the juxtaposition of ‘adult material’ with programmes meant for kids. The bottom line is that however many disclaimers you include in the description – and however many warnings you tag on the front end – parents are going to let their children watch it, and Aardman were understandably twitchy about compromising the sickeningly wholesome reputation of one of their flagship programmes. (There was the small matter of copyright infringement as well, which I’ve always thought was a little petty given that it was an unmonetised video, but that’s their prerogative.)

But there I was, listening to the War Master set and thinking…wouldn’t it be wonderful to fuse some of the dialogue from this and dump it into a few of the Night Garden episodes? What if the lurid, excessively safe world of Igglepiggle and his friends were bombarded by a quite different and overtly sinister narrator who sounded exactly like the one whose unreconstructed tenor warbles through each of the show’s 100-odd episodes? What if we piled on the filters, added a bit of slow motion and ran the theme song through the editing suite? What could possibly go wrong?

The results, I hope, speak for themselves – and if they’re a little freakish, that’s a good thing. This owes a lot to the black and white Teletubbies video that’s doing the rounds (you know, the one with Joy Division), although it’s less of a mood piece and more of a meditation; it even attempts to tell some sort of story. There are two bits of dialogue, by the way, lifted directly from ‘Utopia’ rather than the War Master set; bonus points to anyone who can work out what they are. And yes, the ending is a bit Blackadder. No apologies.

Oh, and it’s in black and white because it looks cool. Isn’t that a pip?

Categories: Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The New Who Top Ten: #5

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Number Five: ‘Blink’ (2007)

Should this be higher?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cameron’s Episode: ‘Blink (curiously enough)

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

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