Posts Tagged With: doctor who series 8

Have I Got Whos For You (Apocalypse Now Edition)

Excuse the radio silence these last weeks, but I’ve been away. And busy. And now I’m neither. Which is a blessing, but it comes with the realisation that I’m rather behind. So let’s crack on with this week’s meme roundup, shall we?

First and foremost:

I haven’t seen Good Omens yet. Needless to say the interest of the DW community was piqued when someone (it might have been Gaiman, it might have been Tennant) happened to mention that there were some Doctor Who references in there, which instantly led to people freeze-framing number plates and street corners to try and find them. By far the most hysterical conversation I witnessed was an American who was convinced that they’d seen a red TARDIS, which was in fact a telephone box. It’s a cultural misunderstanding, but you know how these things work: even when it’s been explained to you, you don’t want to back down.

Anyway, I was trawling the web, looking for Easter Eggs, and –

[coughs]

In politics this week, a leaked mock-up shows a rather different set of prospective nominees for the backstabbing skirmish that is the Conservative leadership battle.

(It’s going to be Boris, isn’t it? Dear God, it’s going to be Boris.)

Entertainment now. And as the new face of Worzel Gummidge is unveiled, the old one reveals that he doesn’t like it.

I never read the books, but Mackenzie Crook’s appearance is supposedly based on the idea that Worzel was supposed to have a turnip head, as opposed to looking like Jon Pertwee covered in soil. This is fine, and understandable, but he looks like someone who’s been prematurely aged (see: Beetlejuice, The X-Files and various episodes of Doctor Who) and the plant strands that serve for a beard remind me a little bit of Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. The problem is that irrespective of faithfulness to the source material, Pertwee’s iconic rendition has all but usurped it. Worzel Gummidge is like The Wizard of Oz: everyone remembers how it looked, rather than how it read.

Elsewhere, in gaming: as Forza Horizon 4 unveils its new Lego-themed expansion, the Doctor has a nagging feeling that he should move the TARDIS.

When I posted this, various people were keen to point out that the TARDIS would be fine, since it had extrapolator shields. To which the obvious response is “Yes, but the car doesn’t!”

 

Finally, it’s been – can you believe it – five years since the death of Rik Mayall, which makes me sad that he was never involved in Doctor Who in some way. He was an extremely talented actor – both in straight and comedic roles – with a tremendous screen presence. He even makes Drop Dead Fred semi-interesting – although you’d have to use him carefully. There is no place for the man in a Dalek story. Bottom was – to all intents and purposes – the Waiting for Godot of sitcoms, so it would have to be something ostensibly mundane, where characters are lulled into a false sense of security and mostly just sit around waiting for things to happen.

“IT’S NOT BLOODY DOING ANYTHING!”

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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 (Kenneth Horne edition)

This week, a deleted scene from The Last Jedi gives us the crossover the fandom deserves, if not the one it needs.

Elsewhere in the same film, Peter Capaldi makes another unexpected appearance in the caves below the island.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Matt Smith joins David Tennant in revealing the more unusual places fans have accosted him for attention.

And this abandoned concept sequence from the original Star Wars shows that George Lucas had plenty of controversial ideas before Peter Harness did.

d

Happy Star Wars day…

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 978)

This week: as the recent series of The X-Files draws to a close, speculation mounts as to exactly what happened in ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’, and what it could possibly have to do with Doctor Who.

News breaks of Christopher Eccleston’s impending arrival at Comic Con.

And Peter Capaldi turns sixty. To which we say Happy Birthday, sir. May all your camels be fertile, and may the wind be always at your back, except when you’re standing at the edge of the harbour.

D

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Interlude

Posted without comment.

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Review: ‘Last Christmas’

LastChristmas_05

There’s an episode of Buffy that’s always got to me. It’s called ‘Normal Again’, and within it Buffy has an encounter with the Trio and is left believing that her existence in Sunnydale as a Slayer has been a delusion experienced during a stay at the psychiatric institution in which she still resides. Within the ‘delusion’, Buffy becomes increasingly confused and Willow tries to get her to drink the antidote. Back in ‘reality’, her mother is still alive and married to her father, and a kindly doctor is trying to explain that the reason the stories have become so ridiculous lately is because the delusion is breaking down, which almost feels like an apology. The episode cuts back and forth between the two until it’s established that the institution is a hallucination, and order is restored. Or is it? Tellingly, the very last scene of the episode shows a catatonic Buffy seated in her hospital room, while the doctor examines her unresponsive pupils and admits that “We lost her”.

‘Last Christmas’ was a story about layers of reality. It established the concept of false reality painted to look real in order to entrap the viewer. Having dealt with this fairly early on, the story then throws a curve ball when the Doctor reveals (and then reveals again, and then again) that what we believe is real is actually another layer of the dream. Thus characters believe themselves to have woken from a nightmare only to find that there’s another one still going on. This is, perhaps not surprisingly, all tied up with the presence of Santa. ‘Last Christmas’ also broke the mould by becoming the first episode of New Who that I’ve actively decided not to show my children, although more on that later.

Things open on what we assume is Christmas Eve, and a scene that most of you probably watched on YouTube. Clara is awoken by a noise from outside her house and finds Santa on the rooftop, arguing with two of his elves (Misfits‘ Nathan McMullen and semi-regular Dan Starkey, bereft of the Sontaran makeup but still playing the comic relief). Before we have the opportunity to examine just why Clara was almost on the naughty list at the age of nine, the TARDIS materialises and the Doctor whisks Clara away to the Arctic, although not before asserting that “No one likes the tangerines” (which, by the way, is really not true, at least in our house).

The bulk of the narrative takes place in an Arctic base that deliberately (and quite self-consciously) rips off The Thing. Indeed, the entire story is basically a homage to a number of different horror movies, Ridley Scott being the most obvious example – the awakening dream crabs are a cross between the facehugger from Alien and the adult form of the egg that it hatches, with teeth to match. As is now traditional with a new monster under Moffat’s reign, the crabs have a metaphysical twist: they are only active when they’re either observed or being thought about, leading a surrounded Doctor and Clara to frantically screw their eyes closed while Emily shouted “BLINK!”.

LastChristmas_08

If the crabs are reasonably frightening, the fantasy in which they dump Clara is positively sugar-coated, although this is presumably all for effect. The production team soften the lighting, Murray Gold’s score becomes annoyingly intrusive and Moffat gives us the farewell scene between Clara and Danny that he presumably thought we wanted to see. It wasn’t enough to have them sobbing in a graveyard before he exploded over London; we now get to see Samuel Anderson wearing a Santa outfit (which will give the fan-fiction writers something to do, I suppose). It’s all very tear-jerking, although it’s more about Clara dealing with her grief than actually saying goodbye to Danny, given that she’s effectively talking to a hallucination. The net result is really not like Ghost; it’s more like A Beautiful Mind. (That’s not a compliment, by the way.)

In more quasi-fan pacification, the nature of Jenna Coleman’s hesitancy over her contract with the BBC is handled with one of Moffat’s false endings: the Doctor arrives back at Clara’s house sixty-two years late, the sort of cock-up with repercussions that would make even the Ninth Doctor wince. This is, as it turns out, still Only A Dream, but just for a couple of minutes, we’re led to believe that it’s the end of the road. It’s really an excuse to reverse the cracker scene from last year, and that in itself works quite well – but it’s a shame that the makeup used to age Coleman is so utterly unconvincing, leading Emily to remark “Ooh, it’s Yoda!”. Well, not quite, but Yoda is arguably an improvement.

The remainder of the episode is a bunch of characters that warrant minimal emotional investment, seeing as they are mostly plot devices. Shona is by far the most interesting – clearly potential companion material, presumably in the mould of someone as delinquently troublesome as Ace or Leela. Michael Troughton is as good an actor as his father, but is given little to do except read from an instruction manual and chew up the scenery. Said scenery is admittedly impressive, the closing flyover echoing any number of Christmas classics, while the Arctic base is claustrophobically rendered in muted tones. Likewise, the dream crabs have clear action figure potential, even if – as a friend of mine pointed out – their hosts look they have Brussels sprouts on their heads.

“Oh, not sprouts. I hate sprouts.”
“Oh, will you stop whinging Eddie! Nobody likes sprouts.”
“Then why are we having them, then?”
“BECAUSE IT’S CHRISTMAS!”

The most ridiculous thing to happen in ‘Death in Heaven’, of course (besides the Cyber-Brigadier, which still makes me angry) was the appearance of Nick Frost at the door of the TARDIS. Moffat plays on this during ‘Last Christmas’ by making the entire story one long knowing wink: Santa arrives at the Arctic base just in the St. Nick of time (or not, as it turns out) with an army of slinkies and toy robots, riding a reindeer like the Lone Ranger mounted Silver and handling a tangerine like a grenade. Meanwhile, Starkey has an orange balloon gun. It’s purposely silly, and indeed the appearances of Santa in the episode have a whiff of the absurd about them: Santa the action hero, Santa the gunslinging hero, and Santa the saviour of humanity.

Actually, that’s the problem. Because the presence of Santa in ‘Last Christmas’ becomes something of a litmus test: in other words, as the Doctor assures his companions, they know they’re dreaming because Father Christmas himself is there to put things right. We may assume, indeed, that the entire last scene of the series finale was itself a dream, presumably one that Capaldi had after watching too many Russell T Davies episodes. Somewhere between that first low-angled establishing shot and the final rescue in the snow, we’re told in no uncertain terms that Santa is – at least in this case – a group hallucination made flesh, a gestalt entity that drops out of the sky in what I have no choice but to label sleighus ex machina.

That’s fine. But at the risk of sounding like Mary Whitehouse, has anyone stopped to think about the children? Look, I’m not opposed to the idea of dramatic presentations where people don’t believe in Santa. Miracle on 34th Street constructed an entire narrative around the concept (a reference that Moffat openly admits to, when he has one of the surviving characters unfold a sheet of paper that contains her Christmas TV schedule and the writer’s apparent influences for the episode, presumably to avoid having to stick ‘The works of H.R. Giger and John Carpenter are acknowledged’ in the credits). There are plenty of grumpy people who grew up too fast and become the voice of cynicism in such festive tales, refusing to believe even the evidence of their own eyes.

LastChristmas_04

But here’s the thing: even if I manage to describe the various dream states and layers to my seven-year-old so that he knows whether the characters are asleep or awake (“This is an episode,” said Emily, “that they’re just not going to understand at all”), how the hell do I explain the deliberate fictionalisation of a character he still believes in? Santa’s existence here isn’t just something that’s contested by the stuffy grown-ups before he reads off their Christmas wishes from behind his Google glasses; his status as something we’ve dreamed up to help us is more or less concrete. And no, an ambiguous tangerine on a windowsill doesn’t count.

It’s possible, of course, that I’m going to re-read this tomorrow and decide that I’ve got the whole thing wrong. Even then, the opening scene on the rooftop makes for uncomfortable viewing, with Clara suggesting that her “Mum and Dad” were the ones who delivered presents. I don’t think that’s yet occurred to any of my children, and if the episode had stopped there, with doubts about Santa then quickly rebuffed, then that would have been fine. But then making the whole story about this seems not only unnecessarily metaphysical but also downright unpleasant somehow, with Clara’s final affirmation that yes, she believes in Father Christmas, but that “he looks a little different to me”, frankly a little insulting. I’d accept that our interpretation was perhaps skewed by a cynical take on Moffat’s writing, but an episode of a family show that questions the existence of Santa on so many levels, irrespective of their resolution, seems to be entering dodgy territory.

LastChristmas_06

Of course, the tangerine has two possible meanings, and choosing between them is obvious. Presumably we’re supposed to infer that it’s the calling card for a real-life Santa Claus, because the alternative is another layer of reality: in other words, this is still a dream. It’s far less ambiguous than the ending of ‘Normal Again’,  I’ll grant, and this is ironic given that the dream state isn’t actually as unattractive a proposition as you might think. If nothing else, it would explain why the story was so preposterous and downright confusing.

Come to think of it, can we track the beginnings of the head crabs back to the ending of ‘Kill the Moon’, when Clara telephones the entire planet? Or perhaps ‘Listen’, with its ridiculous Gallifreyan lullaby? Actually, can we just write off the entire last series as a lucid dream and start again from the moment Capaldi staggers out of the TARDIS at the beginning of ‘Deep Breath’? I know I complain about narrative tangents, but to be honest, that’s a twist I could handle.

LastChristmas_Chart

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God is in the detail (part xxiii)

I’ve been procrastinating a bit on this final entry, largely because it’s a week until Christmas and we still have to finish tidying the house. But needs must. I don’t want to let you down; I know how hotly debated these posts are at the conventions and on Reddit threads. Oh, the sacrifices I make for you lot.

First, let’s follow through on something we started mid-series. You will remember some weeks ago, I talked about the precise line of dialogue that occurred at 31:59, and how these dialogue snippets formed a rough conversation if you were to stitch them together. For the first time tonight, I can reveal the entire exchange, as it occurs at these time points throughout each episode of the series.

“It says lunch, but not when and where.”
“How?”
“Such a pretty thing. What a queen she would have made.”
“Do me a favour. Take my advice. When you get home, stay away from time travel.”
“My face fits. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must take the Teller to its hibernation. You two, dispose of our guests.”
“If it comes back Thursday night, are you sure about that? ‘Cos you said the chronodyne is unstable.”
“We just need to make up our minds, that’s all. Well, you know him.”
“Am I close?”
“What’s going on? Why the red light?”
“I can save you and Danny.”
“We’ve all heard it.”
“I’m leaving.”

And backwards:

“I’m leaving.”
“We’ve all heard it.”
“I can save you and Danny.”
“What’s going on? Why the red light?”
“Am I close?”
“We just need to make up our minds, that’s all. Well, you know him.”
“If it comes back Thursday night, are you sure about that? ‘Cos you said the chronodyne is unstable.”
“My face fits. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must take the Teller to its hibernation. You two, dispose of our guests.”
“Do me a favour. Take my advice. When you get home, stay away from time travel.”
“Such a pretty thing. What a queen she would have made.”
“How?”
“It says lunch, but not when and where.”

And I think we all know what that means, don’t we?

Let’s think visual, now. Examine this image of the exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Heaven Detail (1)

As you’ve probably guessed, it’s the chocolate orange-like segments that we’re looking at. Numbers are important here at God Is In The Detail Central, and we may see that there are precisely 22 spikes on display. The 22 April 2011 is the date on which the Doctor was gunned down by an astronaut at Lake Silencio in Utah – words that can be rearranged to form ‘Eek! Sil in Cola’.

Swire Coca-Cola have a prominent Utah production base. And yes, ‘Sil’ is a real word; he’s a nasty character who first turns up in ‘Vengeance in Varos’, story number two in season number 22 of Doctor Who‘s original run.

The number 22 is also known in bingo language (bingo lingo? it should really be called bingo lingo) as ‘Two little ducks’, for obvious reasons. This is a CLEAR AND UNAMBGIUOUS reference both to the use of ducks in ‘The Eleventh Hour’, in which the newly-regenerated Doctor enquires as to the lack of ducks on the duck pond, and also 1986’s Howard The Duck, which starred Lea Thompson as the young musician who forms an ethically dubious relationship with an extraterrestrial waterfowl. As if the fact that Howard the Duck’s production coincided with the original broadcast of season 22 weren’t enough of a coincidence, Lea Thompson is also famous for starring in films about astronauts and time-travelling teenagers. This isn’t just serendipity, THIS IS PLANETARY ALIGNMENT.

(Incidentally, as well as owning a cuddly panda named Amble, Gareth also has a cuddly bat named Eek!. But you can take these things too far.)

As a brief parenthesis, and jumping right to the end of the episode, here’s a sight that no one ever thought they’d see in the TARDIS.

Heaven Detail (6)

The sudden appearance of Jeff Santa Claus was both the episode’s big cliffhanger and – for those viewers who found ‘Death in Heaven’ as miserable as I did – something of a welcome relief from all the angst. But of course, there’s a chilling (quite literally, as it turns out) subtext to the appearance of a supernaturally powerful omnipresent figure in a red suit, whose name can be rearranged.

could-it-be-satan

Oh, bugger off, Church Lady.

No, I’m talking about the casting of Nick Frost. FROST! At CHRISTMAS! We can only conclude that Michael Troughton will be bringing along a huge quantity of fish, or possibly a narrow (and extremely heavy) feeding container for animals, depending on whether we’re talking about phonetics or spelling.

Meanwhile, in the morgue…

Heaven Detail (2)

What’s curious about this image? The eye wash poster on the wall. I’d make reference here to the Big Finish Dark Eyes series, except I have yet to listen to it and Gareth has warned me not to do so, because (and I quote) “[spoiler] first appears in [spoiler], where the revelation is [spoiler], and this happens before [spoiler]. I think it might be too big a spoiler to tell you much more of that, unless you’re already spoiled for it. Suffice it to say that you should listen to [spoiler] before [spoiler].”

But if we were to spell these words using the NATO phonetic alphabet, we get:

Echo
Yankee
Echo

Whiskey
Alpha
Sierra
Hotel

Which refers, in turn, to the following episodes:

‘Deep Breath’ (in which the Doctor drinks whiskey)
‘The Curse of Peladon’ (featuring Alpha Centauri)
‘Asylum of the Daleks’ (filmed in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain)
‘The God Complex’ (obviously)

(Coincidentally, episode four of ‘Marco Polo’ was ‘Five Hundred Eyes’, which is the equivalent of two hundred and fifty Cybermen. There are no direct links to this number of Cybermen in any of the non-fan fiction stories I could locate, but the Bad Wolf Bay farewell scene at the end of ‘Doomsday’ topped the list of top 250 sci-fi moments in issue 250 of SFX, while Dr. Harold Shipman is purported to have murdered 250 patients. Call it clinical detachment, but it’s hard to say which of these horrifies me more.)

We look now at the reforming Cybermen in their graves.

Heaven Detail (3)

You will recall that the resurrection programme was initially only patchy, and that only a handful of corpses in each cemetery were being reconstructed. It would be easy to assume that this was totally random. Except – EXCEPT! – a closer examination reveals this is not the case.

First let’s look at the Greek letters for Delta Theta Sigma, which – as we are all aware – refers to the Doctor’s college nickname and the incarnation that introduced it.

delta-sigma-theta

Now examine the patterns generated by the placement of the reanimated Cybercorpses.

Heaven Detail (4)

And finally, look again at that opening image of Saint Paul’s.

Heaven Detail (5)

 

Well now. Isn’t that special?

church_lady

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The Christmas Special, and why it matters

In the first instance, this.

It’s less than a fortnight until the Christmas episode, and we still know bugger all about it. Here’s a quick fact check:

  • ‘Last Christmas’ (and you didn’t say that, you sang it) sees the Doctor meet Santa, who seems to have turned up in time to put wrong things right, like a sort of bearded Mr Pink-Whistle, without the cat. He’s accompanied by two elves (one of whom is Dan Starkey, usually seen surrounded by prosthetics, serving tea for the glory of the Sontaran empire).
  • In the clip above, Santa chats to Clara for a while, before the Doctor shows up, whereupon the two drop into the sort of intense, absolutely serious conversation that made Airplane! so intentionally amusing.
  • We have no idea yet what the Doctor is going to face, although it looks like the designers have taken inspiration from H.R. Giger.
  • There is a tangerine, which has already been labelled an object of Deep Significance.

It’s the first time we’ve actually seen Saint Nicholas actually appear onscreen, but on the other hand –

 

Look. I don’t want to be all Captain Grumpy again. But at the risk of pouring cold water over this roaring hearth of publicity, the episode is already in potentially murky waters based on that Children In Need clip alone. I’m alluding, of course, to the suggestion that many people believe Father Christmas is fake. Yes, there’s a lot of clever-clever winking and cries of “Of course he’s real!”. But Clara’s assertion that her annual yuletide benefactors were ‘Mum and Dad’ is going to raise awkward questions, at least from the youngest of viewers. Normally I have to stop my children from watching Doctor Who because the monsters were too frightening; only in recent years have I had the cause to worry about sexual content, but at the risk of overreacting I’ve already made the conscious decision not to show the Children in Need preview to any of them until I’ve seen what follows. The implications contained in this scene alone make ‘Last Christmas’ sound like a story that we’ll have to watch on our own first, which surely isn’t the point of a family show.

That may sound overly harsh, if not a little cantankerous (although let’s be honest, that’s more or less what you’ve come to expect from me). But just this once, there’s a reason for it. Here’s something that might not have occurred to you – and apologies if you’ve read the ‘Doctor, Widow, Wardrobe’ review, but I’m going to repeat myself – watching a Doctor Who winter special is, to a certain extent, rather like going to church on Christmas morning.

Why is this? Well, one thing consistent church attendance has taught me is how we cater for people at different times of the year. And there’s something in particular about Christmas where church gets perhaps a little more accessible. Or at least it should. Because the fact is that some people come to church at Christmas and then that’s their fix for the next twelve months, apart from the occasional wedding. And perhaps because of that we need to make things a little easier and more comfortable, and a little less automatic. We need to give context, explain things and show that we’re not entirely stuck in our ways: cut off, exclusive, or inapproachable.

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The Christmas Special has become, to a considerable extent, Doctor Who for people who don’t normally do Doctor Who. It’s an episode viewed by people watching with relatives or friends, dragged in because The Gruffalo’s Child has finished and the remote is buried beneath mounds of wrapping paper. Elderly aunts and uncles may watch out of pure curiosity, having not seen the TARDIS materialise since Pertwee.

That we are now in this position is a bone of contention for some, but it is what it is, and when it comes to December 25 it can go both ways. Some stories (‘Voyage of the Damned’ springs to mind) are immediately accessible, generally occurring at pivotal, transitional moments where the Doctor is between companions or arcs. Others (‘The Time of the Doctor’, ‘The End of Time’, ‘The Snowmen’) are nigh-on impenetrable for newbies or visitors, relying heavily on knowledge of previous stories. (The first example above is particularly guilty in this department, hearkening back as it does to stuff that happened in 2010, and haphazardly tying every single plot thread together in a jumbled, confusing mess.)

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. But it should. It matters because there’s an ambassadorial aspect to being a Doctor Who fan. You’ll often find yourself in the position of having to describe or even defend the show to people who haven’t watched it in years – if they’ve ever watched it at all. Christmas is a chance to do just that. They watch the Christmas special and perhaps they’ll tune in to the next season. Then they might go back and explore Tennant or Smith. Then you convince them that actually, the original series is not only worth a look, it surpasses everything they’ve done since the revival. Before you know it they’re watching recons and downloading Big Finish audios by the terabyte. But it’s hard to actually get the non-fan interested if all they’ve got to go on is an inaccessible story. And more than this, you don’t want to spend half an hour on Christmas night actually answering the rhetorical “I don’t know what you see in that…” when you’d rather be getting drunk and playing Pictionary.

Seriously, Steven. You owe us. It’s been nearly three years since the last decent Christmas episode, and goodness knows we could do with a bit of light relief after watching the stilted farewell between the Doctor and the increasingly irritating Miss Oswald (right after her dead boyfriend turned into a firework). I know I place too much value on what folks say online, but it would be nice, to be honest, if I could switch on my computer on Boxing Day and read comments from people saying “I’ve not watched Doctor Who in years, but I switched on last night and was pleasantly surprised – it was lighthearted, appropriately seasonal, and it didn’t take itself too seriously. And Peter Capaldi really was very good.”

Although presumably his initial response to the sight of Father Christmas will be “Jeff?!?”.

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Review: ‘Death in Heaven’

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Warning: Contains a whole lot of spoilers.

Let me save you some time. If you wanted a precis of ‘Death in Heaven’, you could do worse than look at Steven Moffat’s To-do list.

“Here’s the problem,” said Emily, as we packed away half-eaten bags of Chinese nuts, finished off the plum and blackberry wine (homemade, although not by us) and tried to keep Edward away from the Lego. “Generally speaking you see occasional bad episodes of Doctor Who and you think all right, fine, perhaps they’re building to something a bit more interesting. And then you get this, and you realise they’re doing nothing of the sort.”

This little observation came at the end of a discussion (complete with quotes, in silly voices, from yours truly) that tried to determine whether tonight’s finale was in fact better or worse than ‘Fear Her’, ‘A Town Called Mercy’, ‘Evolution of the Daleks’ or ‘Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS’. It’s telling when you find yourself having to drudge the back of your memory to recall those stories you’d sooner best forget in order to cushion the blow that is the mess you’ve just experienced. It’s the equivalent of doing a Tequila slammer, in which you fill your mouth with pungent, fiery liquid while juxtaposing it with sourness to counteract the general unpleasantness of the whole concoction. Some people like Tequila slammers, of course. Myself, I’ve never seen the point.

You know how you get some New Who episodes that chuck a bad idea at you and it’s bad and you hate it? And then you move onto something else very quickly that perhaps isn’t quite so bad and you sort of forget about the bad bit until the end when you look back? Well, ‘Death in Heaven’ is worse. It’s not one bad idea, it’s a whole heap of bad ideas thrown at you with the sort of merciless onslaught that grave robbers probably got when they were sitting in the medieval stocks. Not since ‘The Wedding of River Song’ have I wanted an episode so badly to end before it completed its running time, and not since that very same episode have I seen such a cacophony of stupid, pointless and empty concepts dressed up as storytelling, only to find myself in an apparent minority when it comes to appraising an episode that everyone else seems to be describing as a ‘classic’.

Where to start? Well, we’ll begin with the Cybermen, whose role tonight was to stand in a cemetery. The plans borne out by Missy in ‘Dark Water’ came to fruition with the latest upgrade in Cyber technology: the natives of Mondas have, it seems, found a way to resurrect the dead. Hence the consciousnesses of the deceased were harvested inside the Matrix until they were ready to be reborn: “Every tiny particle of a Cyberman,” explains the Doctor, “contains the plans to make another Cyberman”. The U.N.I.T. chap he’s explaining this to (Sanjeev Bhaskar, this week’s stunt casting) looks as incredulous as we do at this revelation. The one-size-fits-all ‘nanotechnology’ solution is thus implemented as an excuse to have an army of the dead rise from their graves in order to destroy and then enslave humanity, the day before Remembrance Sunday, while a dead soldier looks on.

It could be that Moffat didn’t plan this on purpose. Its questionable timing may be nothing more than simple bad luck. Or perhaps the BBC knew what would happen and knew that they’d be able to bat down any complaints using the “this storyline was handled with dignity and respect and we are sorry for any offence that may have been caused” card, figuring that the show’s advocates on Gallifrey Base would do the rest. The other week I complained about the abortion subtext in ‘Kill the Moon’, suggesting that you can’t handle big issues within the confines of a forty-five minute drama. The problem with ‘Death in Heaven’ is that it doesn’t really handle anything; it basically digs up a hundred thousand graves and then leaves the ground covered with soil.

So am I overreacting when I suggest that the theme was in poor taste? Perhaps. But the fact of the matter is that while I’ll defend the BBC to the grave, I find it increasingly difficult to trust them. After years of being stuffy and responsible they seem to have found a second childhood, and now the corporation behaves like the teenager that you allow to have some freedom in the hope that (s)he’ll grow up a bit, only to find that said teenager has been rather reckless on social media and is frankly misspending his pocket money. They can handle themselves without my input, I daresay, but you can’t help shaking your head in despair.

I’d leave it at that. But the fact that the nano-conversion debacle isn’t the worst thing in the episode is, I think, a measure of how far down the slope we’ve come. Danny Pink, as it turns out, is back, but wearing armour, having been able (somehow) to retain his humanity even as he’s crammed into a metal suit. It’s almost disappointing when he doesn’t start weeping oil. If they’d had the usual nonsense they use in stories of robotic possession, where the mutated hero has a gun trained at the head of his sidekick, who is urging “Fight it! Fight it, Sam! You’re still in there! Don’t let it take you!” then I’d still be rolling my eyes, but at least we’d have seen some sort of conflict. Instead we are left to assume that love conquers all, even enforced robotic conversion, and I really thought we’d left all that behind in 2011.

Danny, at least, gets the exit he deserves, basically saving the world while the Doctor makes a couple of speeches and banters with Michelle Gomez. It’s a send-off of sorts for Samuel Anderson, even though (despite the episode’s final scene) I suspect we have seen neither the last of him nor his girlfriend, who gets to do a pointless opening monologue where she pretends to be the Doctor – a scene concocted, as Emily put it, in order to create an ambiguous teaser. I may have been wrong about Missy being the Master (even though it wasn’t a serious guess) but it was patently obvious that Clara’s apparent character transformation was nothing more than clever editing. Her final scene with the Doctor is quietly dignified, at least, as she wanders off down the same street they landed upon in ‘Deep Breath’ (and which, at least within the context of the show, is supposed to be Glasgow, making very little sense).

Pulling the strings of the Cyber puppets, Michelle Gomez is just about the most watchable thing this week. She manages to be sinister without being irredeemable, and crackpot insane without descending into the sort of overacting we saw in every scene featuring John Simm. Far too much is made, unfortunately, of the nature of madness, but there are some lovely moments with the Doctor and with Osgood, even if having her singing “Oh, Missy, you’re so fine” to the tune of ‘Mickey’ seems like far too much of a stretch.

Unfortunately, we see far too little of her. Moffat crams a hundred things into an hour of television, and you’re left with a whistle-stop tour of great ideas unused; seeds that have been left to gather dust on the stony path where they’ve landed. The Doctor’s role as President, for example, is given next-to-no context beyond the words “Emergency protocols”, and is not explored because there simply isn’t time for him to actually do anything before his Air Force One is attacked. There is also the ludicrous question of the flying Cybermen, who now have rocket boots simply because the plot demands that they have rocket boots. There’s no context given: the Cybermen are now basically the writer’s dream, a monster you can change according to how you need an episode to run. “We are being told that these metal men are known as Cybermen,” a radio DJ announces early in the episode. “But unlike the accounts we have on file, they now have the ability to fly.”

That doesn’t stop Kate Stewart (the ever-watchable Gemma Redgrave) dumping a 1968 Cyberman’s helmet on the ground in the opening scenes, effectively throwing down the gauntlet – a challenge to which the 2014 Cybermen respond by later sucking her out of a plane. It’s such a sudden and undignified end (at least Ingrid Oliver gets a few last words before being zapped into oblivion) that you know there is no possible way that it can be final – this isn’t Buffy, after all. Deaths here are long and drawn out, and usually accompanied by tinkly pianos.

But the discovery of Kate at the end of the episode is coupled with what is perhaps the most horrid thing that happens this week, when the One Good Cyberman turns out to have a body double. “Hooray for the Brigadier,” read the GB comments. “He finally got to kill the Master!”. Or “Oh, I am LITERALLY weeping buckets. So sad.” Perhaps (s)he had turned over to The X-Factor by mistake, just in time to catch someone securing a place in next week’s show before even singing a note by dedicating a performance to their dead grandmother. Or perhaps I’m just dead inside, given that the only thing I wanted to do when the Doctor saluted (which was in no way foreshadowed and not obvious at all) was throw things at the TV. Never mind the fact that no explanation whatsoever is given for the Brigadier’s ability to override the Cybermen’s programming (at the expense of any other deceased human being who might have been similarly impassioned); it’s a pitiful, horrible way to deal with the death of a soldier. “Wish hard enough,” Moffat seems to be suggesting, “and you too can rise from the grave to kill Hitler.”

 

Teasingly, ‘Death in Heaven’ offers up a false ending, interrupting the story’s downbeat conclusion with what is quite possibly the most ludicrous thing to happen in Doctor Who since Hugh Quarshie attempted an American accent. It’s as if we’re being offered, at this point, that most unlikely of scenarios: a happy ending. The fact that this message is delivered in the way it is almost suggests a nod and a wink on the part of the creative team – an acknowledgement, in a way, that what we’ve just had to witness was both stupid and depressing, but that they’re going to put things right. The Office – the British version, at least – ended its second series on a depressing note but gave us a Hollywood ending in a two-part special that saw Tim finally pair up with Dawn, while an understanding blind date offered a glimmer of redemption for David Brent. Could this frankly disastrous series of Doctor Who be about to spin round and offer a fun, light-hearted and yet emotionally satisfying conclusion?

After everything I’ve been complaining about these past few weeks, it’s almost too much to hope for. But it is nearly Christmas.

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Categories: Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

God is in the detail (part xxii)

We’re on the home straight now for clues and conspiracies, but there’s still plenty more to see. Here’s a look at ‘Dark Water’, whereby we may be privy to the secrets within if we are willing to tap the surface.

First, have a look in the park.

Dark Water Detail (2)

There are thirteen visible pillars in that central structure, a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to the thirteen canonical Doctors, including John Hurt. Note also the sun spots. The furthest pillar to the right (but one) has a sun spot above it, making it clear that this refers to the Tenth Doctor, who was briefly possessed by a sun in ’42’.

’42’ was also the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything, a concept developed by Douglas Adams, who was script editor for Doctor Who during the reign of the Fourth Doctor, whom we’ve already discussed in depth. Look closely and you’ll see that the figure at the base of the plinth appears to be holding up a lower case ‘B’, clearly alluding to Tom Baker.

But where is Danny, anyway? Well, he’s in Alexandra Gardens, in Cardiff, specifically walking past the Welsh National War Memorial, dedicated to soldiers who died in World War I – featured as an ephemeral plot point in ‘The Family of Blood’, an episode starring The Tenth Doctor. And then there’s the use of the gardens in ‘Last of the Time Lords’, which also starred…well, you know.

Moving on a bit, I felt like doing some drawing today. So I did. We started by looking at the disco ball that houses the souls of the dead.

Dark Water Detail (1)

If you assume that the prominent red dots each symbolise one incarnation of the Doctor (as we did the other day) you can then concoct a visual representation of the stories in which they interact. (For reasons that should be obvious, this does not include regeneration stories.)

Dark Water Detail (4)

Finally, if we isolate the colours:

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The three letters at the bottom – COI – could apply to the now-defunct Central Office of Information, but are more likely to refer to Coi, a restaurant in San Francisco – the setting for the 1996 Doctor Who movie starring Paul McGann (and again, we’ve discussed him before), battling against THE MASTER. Could we be about to see the return of Grace Holloway?

Curiously, COI can be rearranged into ICO, a particularly fine PlayStation game, and one which has no reference to anything here, but it’s included because Gareth and I both love it (and knowing him, he’ll know come up with some sort of plot-related connection between the game and the Whoniverse).

Look now at Steven Moffat’s Clara’s post-it note collection.

Dark Water Detail (3)

The white owl on the shelf alludes to the owl owned by Ted Moss in ‘Image of the Fendahl’, featuring the Fourth Doctor. It is white because it also refers to the White Guardian, destined to make a reappearance soon.

Also examine the three notes arranged in a column beneath the John Lennon autobiography on the upper shelf, whose title is only partly visible. It’s apparent that these are important, because the role of Lennon was played by the Ninth Doctor:

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They read ‘Saibra’, ‘Vastra’ and ‘Robin Hood’ – words which can be combined and rearranged to form ‘Bravo! Historians abroad’. This is an opaque reference to ‘Marco Polo’, WHICH HAS CLEARLY BEEN FOUND. ‘Marco Polo’ also stars Mark Eden in the titular role, and from here we may trace links to Cornwall’s Eden Project and the site of what must surely be a 2015 story, presumably involving Sontarans.

If this connection seems somewhat tenuous, let me add some cement. The architect for the Eden Project was Nicholas Grimshaw – a surname adopted by various Who actors in other roles, most notably William Hartnell (in Carry on Sergeant) and, um, Bruno Langley (in Coronation Street), whose appearance most people would probably rather forget. But it was an episode with the aforementioned Christopher Eccleston, so IT STILL COUNTS.

And if you needed any more proof, consider that the Eden Project is built on top of a clay pit, which was formerly used as the surface of Magrathea when the BBC were filming The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which was written by…

 

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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