Posts Tagged With: doctor who series 7

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 (Star Wars-tinted interlude)

We open with a deleted scene from ‘Cold War’.

You always wondered why they favoured close-ups for that scene, didn’t you? Well, now we know.

I was up at six this morning scrubbing through the Rise of the Skywalker trailer for stuff to Photoshop. Heaven knows there was no other reason. I was about to say I can’t remember when Star Wars trailers got so dull, but actually I can: it was the moment they released the full trailer for The Last Jedi, which was to all intents and purposes a direct copy of the one they did for The Force Awakens, and the moment that you realised that not only had they decided to emulate the teasers, they were also doing the same for everything else. I know I probably shouldn’t moan about this but there is something very lazy about the whole process: this idea that because something works you do it again, in exactly the same way, purely because people expect it.

So in no particular order, you have…ominous voiceovers! People glaring through the blades of ignited lightsabers! Running through forests / corridors / the snow! Wide shots of battle fleets! Cruise ships! Spacecraft flying through explosions! Ambiguous shots of first generation characters who might be killed off! General tedium! Next time, can we have a little information on the actual story? I’m not suggesting the entire story – the world does not need another Double Jeopardy – but something, anything that the gossip rags can talk about with actual substance, rather than combing Reddit threads for fan theory. God the rumour mill is tedious this time around. If it’s not mind games about Rey’s parentage or the redemption of Kylo Ren, it’s people trying to decide whether C-3PO is going to turn evil or sacrifice himself for the rest of the crew, or possibly both. At the same time.

They also talk about Matt Smith, of course – whom we assume was cast as the Emperor, although there was some fun to be had going back through the trilogy working out who else he might be playing.

What else has been going on? Well, the fallout about whether Doctor Who has become too politically correct continues in earnest, with the Real Fans on one side and the True Whovians (I leave it to you, dear reader, to determine which is which) on the other, and the likes of yours truly in the middle – wondering whether history is destined to repeat itself, wondering when “bad writing” became a cop-out soundbite for describing something you didn’t particularly enjoy without actually making the effort to explain why, and also wondering how it’s possible for a bunch of human beings to be so obnoxious and generally shitty to each other about a wretched television programme.

I mean God almighty. Still, on the upside, it’s something to read while you’re trying to circumnavigate Occupied London.

“How are we supposed to get through that lot?”

I’m not sure how I feel about Extinction Rebellion. I’m not sure how I feel about Greta Thunberg either, to be honest, but I suppose that’s the point – just as E.R. wouldn’t exactly be doing anything of consequence if we didn’t find them a nuisance and a pain. They’re getting out there and doing stuff, and perhaps that’s better than not doing anything, which is what I do. There are conversations to be had about their use of Starbucks and McDonalds, rather than the home-grown organic fair trade produce I presume people expected them to be carrying in those cotton rucksacks – either you can criticise them for double standards, or you can applaud them for doing what they can and acknowledge that everybody’s human, with the possible exception of some residents of South Dakota. I tend to veer between one extreme and the other, according to how generous I’m feeling. Still, it’s better than the Mercedes van-driving idiot who appeared on Good Morning Britain dressed as a vegetable – and who then, having already crossed the line between effective parody and preposterous nonsense while most of us were still in bed, proceeded to drag out a banana from his pocket and pretend it was a phone, in a scene worthy of Bert and Ernie. Now there’s a Rubbish Monster waiting to happen.

“Yeah, the red one next to the – hold on a second. Ah, Doctor. We meet again.”

To take our minds off all this, Emily and I elected to catch up on Holby City – we’d watched the episode where the plucky Scottish nurse was trapped in the holiday cottage with baited breath, and then lost interest when it sputtered out in a disappointed sigh as things failed to resolve the way we hoped (i.e. with a corpse). Here’s a fun fact: if you unravel the small intestine in any adult male, it will stretch to precisely the same length as this ludicrous Chloe and Evan story arc, where the locum doctor followed the predictable path from ex-boyfriend to current squeeze to husband to demented abuser within the space of a few weeks, before finally meeting his death when the respitory machine malfunctioned and Kate Stewart’s son left it just a little too late before telling anybody. Suffice it to say the bastard had it coming – he was a slippery customer and would almost certainly have weaseled his way out of things, as we were told in a clumsy monologue that reinforced, with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to a walnut, precisely how justified Cameron had been in his breaking of the Hippocratic oath. Evan was a nasty piece of work – a plot device used for issue highlighting, which is always Holby at its most annoying – and he would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for that meddling kid.

Things are back to normal now, except Sacha Levy appears to have gained the ability to teleport across from the hospital entrance to the taxi rank, completely unobserved, as long as the cameras aren’t on him. Weeping Angel, anyone?

It was Emily wot noticed. That should probably go on record, because she gets huffy when I don’t acknowledge her as the source for these things. (It reminds me of a paper that arrived in the proofreading pile some years ago: the first draft read “Professor ____ also acknowledges his wife, H.C. _____, who read through the original submission”. When the corrected proof came back from the authors, the final paragraph read “Professor ____ also acknowledges his wife, H.C. _____, who read through the original submission and provided many helpful amendments”.)

And she has been brilliant these past months: has that been written down yet? She is so much better than she realises: the rock and the anchor and the port in the storm and all the other cliches you can think of – but a cliche doesn’t invalidate truth. She is the best of both of us, and in a world where everything is hazy and grey and mad, she will carry you home.

Seriously. I could do this all day.

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Have I Got Whos For You (pie and mash edition)

Here’s how Jodie Whittaker spent her 19 September.

I mean honest to god. What the hell is it all about, really, apart from the whims of a single internet user, gone viral in an annual marketing extravaganza? It’s just an excuse for more pitiful emails from people trying to sell you stuff. It’s worse than Star Wars Day, and at least that one was rooted in a joke.

I am a little grumpy this evening, as you might perhaps have guessed, so I am cheering myself up by looking back at one of the finest albums ever made. I did my dissertation on the Beatles – the department head took some convincing and some twenty years later I’m still not sure there was really any actual substance, but I scraped an upper second so it can’t have been that bad. In any case it gave me the excuse to listen to wall-to-wall Beatles: something I still do from time to time, although I always come back to their final studio production, which is a fitting swansong for a quartet of musical legends, graced with an iconic cover, and forty-three minutes of sheer unrivalled brilliance. Plus ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’.

Elsewhere, a host of freshly unearthed transcripts reveal Admiral Nelson’s actual last words.

And on a train in Denmark, Greta Thunberg gains a new lunch buddy.

It may have escaped your notice, but the other week was Batman Day. We’re celebrating eighty years of the sexually ambigous, morally ambivalent flying rodent with a latex fetish; it’s quite fashionable, in these supposedly ‘enlightened’ times, to bash the bat for misappropriation of his philanthropic funds into a score of expensive cars and gadgets and imported weaponry that’s illegal on just about every high street, but I’m having none of it. Batman doesn’t owe you or anyone diddly squat. He’s Batman, and that’s all there is to it. Yes, he’s a multi-millionaire who beats up the mentally ill. You say that like it’s a bad thing.

Anyway, any excuse.

“This has nothing to do with Doctor Who.”
“Clara is in it.”
“BATMAN HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH DOCTOR WHO.”
“Look, tenuous mashups are what I do. Besides, it works on a number of levels. There’s Clara’s omnipresence. There’s the fact that Batman has been played a number of different ways by a number of different actors over the years, with varying degrees of severity. And there’s the fact that the Oswin doll is deliberately arranged so that she’s imitating the hug she has with Capaldi at the end of ‘Listen’. But hey, report me if you want.”

I mean honestly.

Finally this week, there are rumblings over in one of the Hogwarts classrooms.

“Hello, I’m the Doctor, and I’ll be taking you for Defence Against The Dark Arts this year…”

 

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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 (Part 379)

There’s nothing like a bit of dumbing down, is there? I mean it even happens in here. There was a time when this site was more than simply a glorified meme collection, but most of my sensible writing is reserved for other pages these days. I do have another video collection coming up, but that’ll have to wait for a bit.

What’s been happening this week? Well, the staff at Holby City had to deal with a devastating Cyber attack.

(Yes, that is a Cyberman smoking a fag in the background. You get ’em outside every hospital.)

If you actually saw the thing, it was a two-part story which incorporated various characters from both shows interacting in a joint storyline which put two of their finest on the operating table. While Connie tried desperately to save Ian, who’d overdosed to get away from his incredibly annoying sister, rival queen bee Jac Naylor was fighting to get to the sole working theatre in the building in order to save Sacha, who was clearly in a worse state than he was prepared to let on after he climbed out of the car he’d just crashed. (Inevitably they wound up saving each other’s patients, and everybody learned a valuable lesson.) Meanwhile Sacha’s daughter was downstairs with Essie, who’d had a diabetic attack and was lying prone on the floor of the radiology department, which led to Ric Griffin crawling through the ventilation ducts in a scene that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Alien. All the while, the lights were going out along the corridor, one by one, which is really not how power cuts tend to work.

It did rather remind me of The Stolen Earth. Josh watches Casualty on Thursdays with Em (yes, I know it’s broadcast on Saturdays, but they watch it on Thursdays), and Em and I watch Holby once a week. She is the only one who watches both, which led to Josh filling me in on the Casualty cast and vice versa. But when you drop in characters to both shows it gets awfully confusing. Or, as Gareth put it when Ianto and Gwen were facing off against that Dalek, “Oh great. More people from spin-offs I don’t watch and therefore don’t care about”.

Last Friday, of course, was Women’s International Day.

What? Oh. Oh well, have this anyway.

“Why oh why oh WHY,” someone said, after a fashion, “did you go with a picture of Davison when he didn’t like the idea of a female Doctor? Or are you deliberately trying to get someone to retaliate?”

“I just went with the cricket vibe,” I said. “I don’t think it matters.” You can have great fun mashing up things like this. It annoys the heck out of the traditionalists, and people who don’t understand why you’ve posted this in a Classic Doctor Who group when it’s been tainted with the ineffable stench of something that was created nine years (or sixteen, depending on how you count) after a designated cut-off point. I mean, there’s a market for separating old and new, for certain, because they are very different shows. But it inevitably leads to fallout. How long is that going to last, do we think? Will there be a point at which it’s all…I don’t know, Doctor Who?

Presumably, if and when that happens we’re going to have to find new ways of annoying the puritans. Luckily I’ve got a stack of them lined up.

This one was funny. I had someone tell me that the Daleks were older than Vader.

“No they’re not,” I said.

21 December 1963 to 1 February 1964 first appearance of the Daleks. 1977, first appearance of Darth Vader. Yes yes they are :/

“No, no they’re not. The Genesis of the Daleks happened thousands, if not millions of years in our future. Star Wars happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

“The Daleks have a time machine and were created outside of time and space by a fallen Time Lord. There’s nothing stating that it happened in the future but according to several episodes the Daleks and their creators were at war with the Daleks in the time before time began. Ergo still older.”

“Somewhere along the line I fear you may have rather missed the point of all this.”

“No, I caught on when you commented but decided to just continue being sassy. :P”

GAAAH. I hate it when they catch me out.

What else has been happening? Well, there was tension at a house in London when Dr Simeon elected not to dress up for World Book Day.

And in politics, Theresa May isn’t having the best of weeks, but she did have time to upload this to her Twitter account.

(If you missed the reference, have a read of this. It was almost certainly down to the person who runs the Downing Street Twitter account, and as is the case with most things of this nature, it is very churlish to blame her directly. Watching her handle this train crash of a government I happen to think she’s probably a very nice woman in an impossible situation, and whatever my misgivings about Brexit she’s the best of a very bad lot. I also imagine she’s a lot of fun at parties.)

Much of the Brexit campaigning, of course, consisted of both sides telling us about dreadful things that would happen if we stayed in / left the EU, most of which probably weren’t true at all. It was done largely to scare people, which in turn distracts us from the really important issues and drives up internet traffic, and what was weird about it was that it isn’t something that normally happens, at least not in popular culture.

Away from fake scare stories there has, at long last, been word from the Disney front about the upcoming Aladdin remake, with a full length trailer finally released this week. And for all you Doctor Who fans, there was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Easter Egg during the magic carpet sequence.

“A whole new w-”

THUD.

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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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Remastered: A Town Called Mercy, Silent Movie Style

There are different types of YouTube comments. Some heap undeserved praise to the point of sycophancy. People will tell you that a mediocre product is the best thing they’ve ever seen on the internet; it is crucial above all else to ensure that you do not start to believe your own hype, because therein lies artistic complacency and the excessive inflation of ego. At the other end of the scale are the downright abusive. I used to be polite; these days I’m inclined to argue back, albeit without letting them see that they’ve got to me. I’m not suggesting you should ever feed the troll, but sometimes you can poke it with a stick.

Somewhere in the middle there is a sweet spot; a small compartment of users who offer something that actually might be considered constructive feedback – the people who say “I liked this, but have you tried…?”. For instance, there was the chap who told me my Kraftwerk montage was a little too long. He was quite right, and were I to redo it now I’d go for a shorter edit. There were the numerous people who pointed out the mistakes in the Red Dwarf mashup – a hard lesson learned about when less is more – to the extent that I gave it a substantial overhaul in the tail end of last year and made something I actually almost liked.

Then there’s the silent movie I did three and a half years ago. Generally people seemed to like it, but a comment I got a few months back got me thinking. “Speed it up just a little more and put it slightly out of focus,” said a user named cemeterymaiden1. “It will look authentic I think! :D”

And that’s great. I can work with that. It did need to be faster, and it did need a little blurring round the edges. That’s the sort of comment I love receiving, because it is constructive without being disrespectful. It makes a welcome change from this –

I’ve decided, after careful reflection, that most Doctor Who fans are fucking idiots.

[coughs]

In any event: when I decided to retouch a few old projects that never quite lived up to their potential, this one seemed like a prime candidate. Most of the changes are cosmetic – loose frames tucked, timings adjusted. Then I ran it through a gaussian blur and tinted it with sepia, rather than the black and white I originally used. I’m still not sure how authentic this makes it as a result – my knowledge of silent movie production techniques isn’t as comprehensive as it ought to be – but it’s a Western, dammit. It looks cooler.

“Don’t you think,” said Gareth when I posted the original, back before ‘Day of the Doctor’, “that the joke about the Eccleston cameo is going to date rather quickly?” He was right, of course – it’s not something that bothered me at the time, given that all it did was time stamp the original, but the remaster replaces it with a gag that’ll never go out of style, even if the BBC eventually follow through on it.

The original is still up there, if you want to take a peek. But I’m happier with this one. Some things don’t need changing. But sometimes you reap the benefits when you do. Happy trails, y’all.

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Unused Doctor Who Monsters (part four)

If you don’t know your British chocolate, Wispas are bubbly chunks of goodness, first available in 1981 and then brought back a few years ago. Arguably more successful, at least in this form, than their homophonic counterparts.

The second one ought to be self-explanatory.

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‘Hide’ – 1970s style

Watch this first.

There’s a bit about a third of the way through the first episode of ‘The Mind of Evil’ that more or less encapsulates Doctor Who as it was in the 1970s. The Doctor is attending a demonstration of a new machine that purports to suck the evil out of men’s minds. When the Doctor raises valid ethical concerns, the egotistical professor in charge asks what he could possibly find objectionable. Pertwee adopts a theatrical flourish in his response. “UNIT, sir, was set up to deal with new and unusual menaces to mankind,” he says. “And in my view, this machine of yours is JUST THAT!”

[DRAMATIC MOOG MUSIC AS THE DOCTOR STOMPS AWAY]

If you’re so inclined you can watch it here. Skip to the eight minute mark.

Anyway, Emily and I were watching this very episode a number of weeks ago, and when this happened we both roared with laughter.

“What I’d really like,” said Emily, “is for them to do a modern episode of Doctor Who that plays like one of these. Maybe he gets stranded in time and winds up in 1980s U.N.I.T. And they have wobbly sets and weird special effects and a funky score.”

Just because the Doctor gets to leap around in time, it doesn’t mean the show doesn’t age. The problem with any episode of a programme about time travel is that whenever it’s set historically, it’s always going to be aesthetically bound by the period in which it was filmed. In other words, if you shoot a story that’s set in medieval Italy, but do so in the 70s, it’s still going to have that visual style attached to it, even if your costumes are authentic. Likewise, if you shoot a story on a distant alien planet, but fill the background music with orchestral hits and Korg samples, it’ll come across as being very 80s. Big explosion? Drop in a white-out. Someone’s having their mind probed? Put swirly effects all over the screen. And don’t forget the facial zooms, the sort of thing that Mike Myers and Dana Carvey would later parody extensively on Saturday Night Live.

This was standard practice, of course. There were certain things you did back then, simply because everyone else did. I couldn’t find a decent version on YouTube, but anyone who’s seen the first Superman film will remember the moment when Christopher Reeve discovers Margot Kidder’s car with her lifeless corpse inside: his reaction as he takes in the scene is filmed from multiple angles, and while it might seem old hat now, it heightens the emotional pathos no end. Or there’s the scene in Carrie where John Travolta and Nancy Allen approach the blood-soaked titular teenager on her way home from the prom, and Carrie’s acts of telekinetic revenge are preceded by jerky zooms. Watch it and not only will you see what I mean, you’ll also recall you’ve seen a hundred things from the same period that did things this way. Fast forward a quarter of a century, of course, and every action film post-Matrix features tedious bullet time camerawork and excessive use of slow motion, with the refreshing (and intentional) exception of The Expendables.

This is not a criticism. Not really. You’re tied to what’s perceived as cutting edge. It’s become very fashionable to sneer at the stop-motion used in the likes of Robocop and Ghostbusters. But I do wonder if we’ll look back in twenty years at episodes like ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ and laugh at them as naff and silly. And I can’t help thinking that this will be futile. The point is that while sneering at the Thunderbirds effects at the end of ‘State of Decay’ may make for an amusing documentary soundbite, it ignores the fact that at the time they never let plastic doors and rickety staircases stop them telling a good story. It’s common knowledge that the ‘cheap production values’ of Doctor Who were laughed at even back in the 70s in the wake of Star Trek and Star Wars, but by and large the people cracking the jokes today are the very same people who were hiding behind the sofa during the likes of ‘Earthshock’. Or, as Colin Baker puts it, “I get a bit impatient when people say ‘I loved watching Doctor Who because of the shaky sets’. No you didn’t, you liar. You loved watching because you believed it and you were scared.”

In any case, Emily’s ruminations on contemporary Who filmed in a 70s style got me thinking. We might call it a parody. But it needn’t be. Part of the appeal of Hot Fuzz (a film you really should see, if you haven’t already) is that while it takes the conventions of the action blockbuster and changes the setting to a sleepy English market town, it works precisely because it refuses to send up the genre it’s referencing – it’s a tribute, rather than a parody. (The same cannot be said of Scary Movie, a sneering, puerile effort that fails partly because it sends up a film that was itself a parody, although the main reason it doesn’t work is that it simply isn’t funny.)

So it’s a fine line to walk. Still, the idea of reworking modern Doctor Who and changing it a little bit was an appealing one. ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’ has dated in many ways (giant rats, anyone?) but the episode five cliffhanger in which Leela pulls off Magnus Greel’s mask to reveal a hideous, deformed face underneath is one of the great episode endings, right up there with the ascending Dalek and, well, this:

Second rate story, but oh my.

Anyway: when it came to actually picking an episode, ‘Hide’ seemed the obvious choice. It’s structurally flawed, but it has some lovely Doctor / Clara moments, is appropriately scary at given points, and it has Jessica Raine. The Doctor’s hop through time is a gratuitous use of the CG budget, but the monster is reasonably convincing, and the National Trust property they used for the mansion’s interior could have come straight out of the Baker / Pertwee era.

I’ll try not to bore you too long with the technical stuff, but here it is. The trickiest stage was choosing a suitable clip, because so many of them are riddled with fancy camera angles and quick jump-cuts, so that they’d still look contemporary even if you changed everything old. In the end I plumped for a scene about halfway through where the Doctor and Clara get a scare on the landing, before the ‘ghost’ appears downstairs, accompanied by a spinning black disc. It builds in intensity, without being too effects-heavy. I stripped out the score and replaced it, and then re-sequenced things so that the jokes were gone and the spinning disc formed the cliffhanger. After that it was a question of filtering to death – I think I used about three different filters, stretched and reprocessed across two software packages – in order to make it look as if it were shot under the harsh lighting of an old studio. The ‘effects’ – polarising filters, a spontaneous zoom at a crucial moment and one of those grainy things that break up the picture at the end – were the last thing to be added.

In case you were wondering, the score samples used are (in order):

  • The Mutants (from ‘The Mutants’)
  • The Axons Approach (from ‘The Claws of Axos’)
  • Keller Machine Appears and Vanishes (from ‘The Mind of Evil’ – this was the pulsing effect used in the last forty seconds)

Does it work? More or less. The filtering isn’t as I’d have liked it, and I’m sure that someone with more technical expertise could have improved the processing. But even if it doesn’t really look like an old episode of Doctor Who, it does at least look a little bit like a new episode that’s purposely trying to look old. Which was the entire point, so I guess we can call that a win.

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A Town Called Mercy: The Silent Movie

Remakes are endemic to Hollywood. Like sequels, they enable you to revisit an established cash cow with minimal creative input: the characters and basic premise are there, and all (all!) you need to do is come up with a decent story. Sometimes, if you have an established name in the title, you can get away without even doing that, which may be why Batman and Robin, Attack of the Clones and Spider-Man 3 all sucked.

With remakes it’s a slightly different story: you take existing material and add your own spin. This is why of all the remakes I’ve seen, Gus Van Sant’s take on Psycho must count as the most pointless: a shot-for-shot rehash that apparently came with Hitchcock’s supernatural approval (they held a seance to ask for his blessing from beyond the grave; the portly director apparently granted it, and then gave technical advice). In interviews, Van Sant has explained that his rationale was to “bring the movie to a whole new generation”. Fine. So you colourise the original, if you must. You don’t do it over with a new cast who (William H. Macy aside) aren’t a patch on the likes of Perkins and Leigh. Why mess with borderline perfection?

I’m of the opinion that Hollywood should concentrate on remaking bad movies – or, more specifically, movies with unrealised potential. You know – the ones that sucked but had a spark about them, a glimmer of a good idea let down by poor acting or sloppy direction or atrocious dialogue. As an example, consider Playing For Keeps, which I saw some years ago in a Philadelphia hotel room – a 1980s flick about some wayward teens who decide to do up a dilapidated hotel in small town America, overcoming resistance from the hostile locals and a corrupt sheriff. It was truly appalling, but the worst thing about the whole experience was that it could have worked – a good idea, well and truly squandered.

All of which leads me to this. I seem to be producing videos at a rate of knots at the moment. They’re mostly small projects. I’ve learned that anything over a couple of minutes doesn’t always gets watched, at least not in its entirety. That doesn’t mean that the big magnum opuses, in the manner of Darth Gene or Wheatley the Navigator, have been retired. They remain among my best work. I’m just going through a short-but-sweet phase. You might call them mini-episodes.

This one came about because of a little dabbling with filters, and a current preoccupation with The Three Amigos. Silent Movie style Doctor Who is nothing new, of course, as a YouTube search will reveal. But ‘A Town Called Mercy’ lent itself perfectly, being the only time New Who has ventured properly into the American Old West (all right, Spain). When I think of silent movies, for some reasons the defining images that jump out at me are moustache-twirling villains with tremendous eyebrows, cowboys, and Buster Keaton.

“I’m surprised you did it,” said Gareth, “because presumably it involved watching the episode again”. It’s a fair point. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know all about my hostility towards ‘A Town Called Mercy’, which remained (for me) the worst episode of the New Who canon (at least until a few months later, when they broadcast ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’). Revisiting it the other week did, as Gareth suggests, filled me with some trepidation – but on the other hand, I had the sound off.

An early realisation was that if you’re going to try and improve ‘Mercy’ the best way is to indulge in a little deconstruction. So this doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a series of in-jokes and fourth wall demolitions. There are two Red Dwarf references – see if you can spot both – and a nod to an old Lucasarts graphic adventure that I’m not going to bother explaining – you’ll know it if you see it.

The Three Amigos footage works on two levels. It’s a cowboy silent movie that I didn’t have to touch – just paste in – and it enabled me to do a juxtaposed mashup for no real reason other than that I could. And everyone loves The Three Amigos, and it’s been a while since the antics of Short, Martin and Chase have graced our DVD player. But of course there’s also the recognition that ‘Mercy’ does, in itself, use the climax of The Three Amigos in its final act (although I’m willing to concede, if challenged, that The Three Amigos got the idea from somewhere else).

I knocked up the captions in Fireworks. I think they’re reasonably authentic, stylistically at least. The projector effect was found after a brief YouTube trawl, and music came from a variety of different sources, all of which I mention in the end credits. The star find was Keeper1st’s piano rendition of the Doctor Who theme, which seemed to fit the mood perfectly. I used MPEG Video Wizard for the editing, and then ran the old movie filter from Movavi, as it was better. So this one really has been through the mill a bit, but I think the end results are reasonably good.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. I’m off to spend some time with the boys. It’s Sunday afternoon, which means film day, and I get to pick. Guess what we’re watching?

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