Posts Tagged With: doctor who series 9

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 (Party Politics edition)

And introducing David Mellor as the Doctor.

(It’s fine, really. I’ve never liked him much but I maintain a chap has a right to have his hair however he wants. Still, it’s such an obvious joke…)

We have a couple of fan-baiting posts in the works over at Brian of Morbius, but I’m about to go on holiday and I’d very much like to be around to deal with the fallout when they land on social media, so that’ll have to wait. Instead, here’s a fresh selection – some hot off the press, some slightly older material I hadn’t yet got around to posting – and much of it of a political bent. You’ve been warned.

“Define ‘political’,” I hear you ask, when I’ve prodded you in the ribs and asked you to read it off the cue card. Well –

“What’s Trump doing there?” someone asked, whereupon I had to explain that no, this wasn’t Trump. “What are you talking about?” was the reply. “Of course it is.” And I suppose in a way she’s right, although not on purpose.

Speaking of Trump, he’s finally got that wall finished.

“Henry may be sad. Of course he’s sad. It’s what he deserves. Engines who don’t pull their weight get punished. No doubt the FAKE NEWS MEDIA will spew out their usual garbage about unions. Why don’t they go back to the cesspools they came from?”

Of course, if you really want something Who-related.

Talk to the hand, baby.

Elsewhere, in a pub somewhere in Norfolk, the Twelfth Doctor is trying unsuccessfully to get Kate Lethbridge-Stewart interested in Risk.

At a private function in the very same venue, John Bercow is realising that he’s missed his true calling all these years.

And somewhere in the void:

I think I’ll just go and eat worms…

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

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

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

“But you didn’t actually use it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Well.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Easter special)

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

I mean, hypothetically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes. Yes, I can.

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Have I Got Whos For You (World Cup Edition)

First and foremost:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry. We’ll stop now.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Part 6)

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

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

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

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

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

Happy World Book Day!

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The Kasterborous Archive, #6: Everything has its time and everything dies

Author’s notes:

This is an interesting one.

It stems from the tail end of series 9. I was in a bad place generally, which didn’t help – but was also fed up with Doctor Who. It precedes a year-long absence for the show that reinvigorated my enthusiasm, to a certain extent; series 10 was certainly a dramatic improvement, largely thanks to Bill. Simultaneously the article (which pre-dates any announcements about the departures of Capaldi or Smith) has a lot to say about holding on to things until they crumble into dust; the fans often don’t know when they’ve had too much of a good thing, and as the Doctor wandered wearily into the TARDIS at the end of Hell Bent, there was a part of me that wished he’d just shut the door and stay there and let the show die naturally. Have I shifted my position since then? Yes. Do I stand by what I said in 2015? Also yes. There’s nothing wrong with embracing your contradictions.

Everything has its time and everything dies

Published: 29 November 2015

Coming soon to a newspaper near you: an article about ratings. Ratings or contracts. Ratings or contracts or BBC cuts. The future of Doctor Who, it seems, has never been so shaky or uncertain. Rumours abound about the prospect of the show being put on hiatus, or cancelled altogether amidst fears of falling popularity and failure to put up a fight against The X-Factor (which seems to be having troubles of its own). Those of us who browse the press and the forums will know that this is nothing new. But the most disturbing thing about the current trend, at least for me, is how little I actually care about it. For the first time in a long while, the prospect of the show’s cancellation, however unlikely (and we’ll get to that), fills me with far less dread than it ought to.

It’s a great job, getting paid to write about Doctor Who. I wouldn’t swap it for all the elephants in Mumbai. Is it worth the affront you experience when you receive a critical drubbing from people who’ve missed the point, or (far worse) the heartache and disappointment that bites when a piece is routinely ignored? Yes, it is. Is it worth the long, coffee-fuelled 2am finishes every Sunday morning scribbling reviews and opinion pieces and uploading endless GIFs in order to make deadline and beat the web traffic? Of course it is. Is it worth the torture of having to endure the atrocity that was Before the Flood not once but twice so that I can explain it to my children? Yes, just about. Is it worth the sense of weariness my wife experiences when I persuade her to sit through yet another tedious episode because my reviews are always better when I can feed off her witty and acerbic remarks? Well, you’d have to ask her that, although she’d probably sigh a little bit and give you a smile that speaks volumes.

But the problem is that it’s now the writer in me that is pleading for its continued renewal, rather than the fan. Writing semi-professionally about something you love is a dangerous tightrope, and one that many of us walk. I’d hate for it to become any sort of crutch, but writing about Who – in whatever capacity – is one of the few things I know how to do reasonably well, and it’s for that reason alone that I pray that the continuous reports of the show’s imminent demise are nothing more than an exaggeration designed to shift units.

Pay particular attention to that word ‘alone’, because it’s where I’ve been going with this. Because the fan in me no longer cares about New Who. Seriously, I don’t. I’m worn out with high expectations that are constantly dashed. I’m tired of the ominous looks that plagued this series whenever Capaldi was alone with Clara, leading to a death scene that lasted seven minutes longer than it should have. I’m tired of the mysteries and arcs and things that are supposed to be important and the stupid tendency the show has now to make great, bold affirmations about why the Doctor left Gallifrey / grew up scared of his own shadow / bought a new toaster when it doesn’t actually matter. I’m tired of inconsistent writing and good ideas squandered. I’m tired of humourless gravitas and awkward, ill-fitting social commentary shoehorned into poor scripts (the Zygon stories were a notable exception). I’m tired of all the sodding electric guitar references (although I don’t dispute that Peter can play). And I’m tired of the cult of smugness that surrounds it: the press saturation and stunt casting and the feeling that this should somehow be BAFTA-standard high drama, rather than lightweight family entertainment.

Moffat sits in a different chair to the one occupied by John Nathan-Turner, but ultimately it’s the same situation: outstaying your welcome. The longer he’s here, the more we allow him to do: not content with having undermined everything Russell T Davies achieved (I’m not going to expand on this; if you can’t figure it out it’ll give you something to argue about), he’s now making his mark in other ways, too numerous and obvious to mention here. Somewhere, I’m convinced he has a list of “Things I want to do before I step down”, and presumably if he manages to tick off everything on the list then Mark Gatiss has to buy him a PlayStation 4.

Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt. There was a time, not long after the 2005 resurrection, where I’d rebuff any criticism of the show with “Yes, I agree, but it’s Doctor Who. Isn’t it better that it’s back?” There was a time when I truly believed that. There was a time when if asked to choose between episodes like Fear Her and cancellation, I’d plump for the former in a double heartbeat. The frightening thing is that if you’d asked me the same question after viewing The Woman Who Lived a few Saturdays ago, or the dirge that was Face The Raven just the other week, I genuinely don’t know what I’d have said. Are stories like this really the best we can do? Is this the height of quality for a flagship programme, for prime time Saturday night television?

The fact of the matter is that the years when Doctor Who was not on air were some of the most productive and fruitful in the history of the show. The Big Finish franchise – now a bloated and distorted mutation of its former self – was established in order to make the stories that the BBC no longer wanted, and did it brilliantly. The New Adventures, Past Doctor Adventures and the webcasts all came out of the fans’ desire to fill the vacuum that Michael Grade had created. Oh, not everything worked. (Have you read Eye of Heaven? It’s appalling.) Still, some of the most interesting stories and ideas ever featured in Doctor Who came out of that period. The Americans don’t want Paul McGann? Fine. We’ll give him a whole history. We’ve even got a companion who gets turned into a fish.

I was reiterating this to my children just the other day. “There are hundreds of old stories you’ve not watched,” I told them. “And most of them are worth a look. There are hundreds of books and hundreds of audio dramas and comics and even I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer. If they stopped making new Doctor Who stories tomorrow it’d still take aeons to get through everything.”

I once met a Christian speaker who talked eloquently on the matter of dying churches. The crux of his argument ran thus: if churches filled with an ageing population are in danger of becoming empty, perhaps we shouldn’t be so desperate to refill them. If clubs and organisations are winding down, perhaps we should let them. Perhaps Doctor Who is drawing to a natural conclusion that we should allow to happen before it reaches series-too-far territory (a ship which I’m sure many people would argue has already sailed long ago). Perhaps, as the Ninth Doctor famously says to Rose at the close of The End of the World, everything has its time and everything dies. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that. Perhaps instead we’re more concerned that everybody lives, whatever the cost.

At the same time, a thought occurs: Doctor Who is probably not going to be cancelled, and in its current form it is not going to change. Moffat shows no signs of leaving; he outlasted Smith and he may well outlast Capaldi. For as long as he’s willing to believe his own hype (in the weekly cries of “Genius” and “OMG BEST EPISODE EVER I AM LITERALLY CRYING BUCKETS!” that frequent forums and Tumblr feeds) then there’s no reason why he should. The rants of old fogeys like me will not shake him, nor should they. I’ll shout into the wind for as long as I feel the need, but I seldom expect anyone to actually hear, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. And truth be told I like a man who stands by his convictions, even if we’re polar opposites in terms of how we approach things.

So I’ll keep watching – I have a vested interest in the show’s continuation, after all – and I’ll keep complaining because I’m not a sycophant, I can’t heave my heart into my mouth, and eventually after all this shouting into the wind there is at least a distant possibility that someone is going to listen (just as there is a possibility that an infinite number of monkeys given an infinite number of typewriters will eventually produce a script better than Evolution of the Daleks). At the same time, if the front page exclusive tomorrow morning read “DOCTOR WHO CANCELLED” I think I can say, for the first time in ten years, that I probably wouldn’t care that much. I mean, I’d have to find something else to fill my Saturday evening. But that’s fine. It’s been years since I watched The X-Factor.

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Christmas, Doctor Who style (part two)

At that time the Emperor Rassilon ordered a census to be taken throughout Gallifrey, and every Time Lord had to register in his own home town, which for most turned out to be the citadel. So each returned to the place of his birth. And lo, there was much confusion over what ‘birth’ actually means and whether Time Lords actually have parents or are extracted from one of Andrew Cartmel’s genetic looms. But there was an elephant in the room, or rather a donkey.

And meanwhile there was another decree from Rassilon that all the newborn babies should be killed, except they weren’t actually killed, but rather plucked from the moment of death by a time scoop and then dumped in the back room of a stolen TARDIS. And Clara’s waitress uniform did cause the wet dreams of a million fans. But the wise men returned to their land the long way round, having been warned in a dream not to go back to Rassilon. And Rassilon was so angry that he hit his head on the windowsill and regenerated, probably into a six-year-old girl.

And so it was that while the Doctor was wandering in the desert, he ran across a 2010 BBC production of the Nativity, and thought “Hmm, this chap looks awfully familiar.”

And it was a coincidence. But it came to pass that this was not so, for impossible it is to appear in Doctor Who twice in different roles, despite it happening to Colin Baker. And thus there was a convoluted explanation about chosen faces, and thus did the Doctor rail at the heavens “I’M THE DOCTOR, AND I SAVE PEOPLE!”. And the heavens did reply, “We heard you the first time.”

And then eventually, this happened.

Incidentally, a Happy Christmas to all of you at home.

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Review: ‘Hell Bent’

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There’s this bit towards the end of the first Bottom live show where Rik Mayall is about to commit suicide. Adrian Edmondson has wired up a makeshift electric chair. He pulls the lever: there is a colossal build-up, a wheezing and whining of unseen machinery, alarms, flashing lights. And then there is a fart, and the bang of a cheap firecracker, accompanied by a microscopic shower of sparks.

“Yes,” says Mayall, sighing. “Sort of a bit like having it off with Bonnie Langford, this really, isn’t it?”

It says something about the state of Doctor Who when your verdict of a series finale is “Not as dreadful as some of the others”. Might we say that we’ve sat through worse? Well, yes. ‘The Wedding of River Song’ was a low point, until we reached ‘Death In Heaven’, which had me throwing my Tenth Doctor action figure at the cat. The site of a resurrected Brigadier saluting at the Doctor across a graveyard seemed to vomit on the legacy of Nicholas Courtney and the Doctor who worked for him at UNIT, and those of you who were reading this will remember that I got very cross.

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There’s none of that this time. None of the grandiose, universe-shattering finales to which we’ve become accustomed. Oh, there’s a story about a prophecy that comes to nothing (more on that later). There are threats and recriminations and things that will probably come back to haunt the Doctor later, and a heap of unanswered questions (just where exactly is Gallifrey these days, given that they’ve moved it?) As a finale, it was empty and not terribly satisfying, but it could have been worse. With notable exceptions, that seems to be the best I can say for Doctor Who these days, which is something of a shame, but there it is.

To give credit where it’s due, ‘Hell Bent’ starts brilliantly. After a suitably enigmatic opening in a Nevada diner that – as is now customary with Moffat – will eventually subvert all our expectations, we move to Gallifrey, and a glorious, eight minute sequence in which the Doctor utters not a single word. It contains some of the best acting from Capaldi since he first complained about his kidneys, with the Doctor saying more with the simple act of picking up a spoon or dropping his confession dial in the dust than he could with the sort of monologue he got at the end of ‘The Zygon Inversion’, as good as that was.

Even after the Doctor starts talking, and the plot unfolds and the logic machine breaks beyond repair in a shower of cheap sparks, the acting remains impeccable – particularly from Donald Sumpter, who excels as the Time Lord President, a figure finally and unambiguously revealed to be the resurrected Rassilon. Sumpter plays Rassilon like a battle-hardened East End kingpin in a low-budget, independent gangster flick (something that Clara deliberately points out), chewing up the scenery and stealing every scene that he’s in. It’s a mesmerising performance, and it’s a great shame that there isn’t more of it.

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Instead we get a lot of back and forth about prophecy as the narrative twists in all sorts of directions. The Hybrid is the Doctor! No, that was an obvious joke and it’s Maisie Williams! No, it’s the Doctor! No, it’s the Doctor and Clara! It’s Missy! It’s Keyser Soze! Actually, it doesn’t matter because we’re going to leave this unsolved until Capaldi’s final episode! That’s a writer’s prerogative, but everything about ‘Hell Bent’ smacks of something that hasn’t been thought through. It’s like buying a washing machine when you live in a third floor flat with no lifts. It’s the same problem that dogs The Deathly Hallows, in which Harry, having spent most of book six looking for a set of objects, decides in book seven that there’s another set of objects he ought to be looking for instead. Similarly, the question of the Hybrid is teased throughout and then conveniently confined to the sidelines, another ball the Moff’s thrown in the air, teasing out his reign for as long as possible until all these questions are answered. He did precisely the same thing during Smith’s run, and I think most of us are wise to it by now.

This is, of course, an episode all about Clara, and having spent last week keeping her out of shot, Moffat places her firmly back into the limelight come the story’s second act. While I don’t dispute the unavoidably autobiographical nature of writing it seems ridiculous that Capaldi’s Doctor has become, to all intents and purposes, an extension of Moffat himself. He clearly can’t bring himself to kill Clara permanently, so the Doctor finds a way to save her. Perhaps I’m being churlish, but it says a lot about the way Doctor Who is written these days that the Doctor is prepared to move heaven and earth and break every law of time to save people he likes. You get the feeling that if ‘Doomsday’ had been a 2015 episode instead of a 2006 one, Rose’s separation from the Doctor would have been at the end of episode eleven and he’d have found a way to pop into the parallel universe to retrieve her almost immediately.

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I didn’t like ‘Face The Raven’. That’s no secret. But if nothing else, it did at least kill off a character in one fell swoop, even if it took longer than it should have done. The act of undoing that – simply because there’s a loophole – basically cheapens death. I have talked about this before and am reluctant to retread old ground because no one is listening anyway, but to see the writers take us this far and then pull a Davies (I think that’s what we call it now, isn’t it?) is seriously lame. If Doctor Who were action movies, we’d be in Taken 3 territory: losing your daughter once is unfortunate, two is frankly careless and three is just taking the piss.

On the other hand, ‘Hell Bent’ is crammed absolutely full of Things To Annoy The Fanboys; the sort of thing that sparks ferocious debate and keeps Twitter chugging over over Christmas until the turkey (no, I don’t mean ‘Before The Flood’) is a distant memory. The Doctor’s much-disputed half-human origins are teased. The head of security regenerates onscreen from a middle-aged white man into a younger black woman, ticking two equality boxes in one fell swoop. And it’s revealed that the Doctor left Gallifrey because he was told a scary story when he was a kid. There’s a bit more to it than that, but it’s the Whovian equivalent of Kevin from Home Alone coming face to face with the old man who carries the shovel, running out of the 7-11 and jumping on a bus bound for Nevada. Simultaneously, this isn’t Moffat re-establishing the canon, this is Moffat deliberately toying with us, and I’m not rising to the bait.

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Something else I’m still scratching my head about: we were told, through a variety of press releases, that we were going to be left “a tiny bit devastated”, and after watching an episode in which the Doctor sort-of-but-not-quite loses bits of his memory, takes over Gallifrey and regains his means of transportation, while a not-quite dead companion gets to wander the universe in a stolen TARDIS with an immortal eighteen-year-old…after all this, I’m still trying to work out where exactly I’m supposed to be devastated. Is it the memory loss, which counted for nothing the moment the Doctor saw Clara’s picture on the side of the TARDIS? Is it the fact that Clara is still destined to die on that trap street, presumably after a long and happy life of zooming around the galaxy in a floating restaurant? Is it the moment when the Doctor walks into his darkened TARDIS alone, just before he goes to spend Christmas with Alex Kingston and pick up another soap actress?

I mean, I’m always a tiny bit devastated at the end of ‘Earthshock’. Or ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’. Or Attack of the Cybermen’. Actually, most of Eric Saward’s stuff would do. There was a man who loved killing off supporting characters. I’m not saying I wanted the corpses piling up the way they do in ‘Warriors of the Deep’. I don’t even mind the fact that there wasn’t a single death this episode; it’s kind of par for the course when you’re doing a story about a species with a marvellous talent for self-healing, accompanied by a woman who is functionally immortal and another who was already dead. I’d just like to point out that for all the spiel about getting upset, the body count for this week is actually minus one.

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But there are elements of goodness. Gallifrey is pleasantly minimal, considering that in a decade of New Who we’ve never actually been there properly; it feels like a throwback to ‘The Five Doctors’. The retro TARDIS interior in which the final third of the episode takes place is a crowd pleaser; likewise the shattered corridor in which the end of the universe takes place is nicely realised. Even Maisie Williams throws in something that might almost be called a decent performance this week, which is a refreshing change after two hours of sulking.

Still, it’s not quite enough to save the story from mediocrity, largely because the story itself isn’t particularly interesting. The structure is as uneven as a toddler’s brick tower; it’s as if Moffat decided at the last minute to postpone his grand plan for another year and had nothing else to go in its place. I can’t say that I hated this episode as much as I did last year’s finale, or even ‘The Woman Who Lived’, but there must be, somewhere, the sort of finale that neatly straddles the road between Everything Happening, and Nothing Happening. If it sounds like I’m one of those impossible-to-please fans, I’d just point out that the crucial, series-defining moment in ‘Hell Bent’ is two characters debating whether or not they should press down on a piece of plastic. Honestly, it doesn’t get much more Bonnie Langford than that.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

God is in the detail (9-11)

Let me deliver some news first: unless there happens to be anything catastrophically important in ‘Hell Bent’, this will be my last God is in the Detail entry of the year. I simply can’t keep up the pace. It’s Christmas in three weeks, for crying out loud. I haven’t wrapped a single present or written a single card. If I don’t get engaged with it soon we’re going to have a big fat pile of unpeeled chestnuts on Christmas Eve and everyone is going to be miserable. And I’d rather save the misery for Christmas Day itself, thank you very much.

You will have to look elsewhere for your conspiracy theories. The Radio Times, for example. Did anyone else read that story about the secret message? You know, the one on the wall? This one?

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(I borrowed this image from the RT article; the arrows are nifty. I may steal that for next year.)

Anyway, the text reads:

As you come into this world,
something else is also born.
You begin your life
and it begins a journey.
Towards you.
Wherever you go.
Whatever path you take.
It will follow.
You will notice a second shadow next to yours.
Your life will then be over.

[Engage Double Rainbow guy voice mode] But WHAT DOES IT MEEEEEEEANNN???? [/voice mode off]

“TWO SHADOWS?” comments Chris Wilkinson (who, I suspect is a kindred spirit) in the Radio Times article’s comments section. “IS THIS A RIVER EASTER EGG?”. To which I say good try, Chris, but clearly not. No, it’s an unambiguous reference to Shadow Weaver, the shrouded sorcerer from She-Ra: Princess of Power. 

shadow_weaver_by_nightwing1975-d5h8n5v

How do we know this? Well, simply because we can rearrange ‘Hordak, Catra, Clawdeen’ to ‘Accord hate, warn Dalek’. I mean, there it is, folks. It doesn’t get much more concrete.

Some of the clues in ‘Heaven Sent’ aren’t visual. You remember that montage they stuck in the last few minutes whereby two billion years pass while the Doctor beats his way through the wall of Handwavium? Well, it’s a clue. You’re not just supposed to sit there and take it all in, you know. You have to be listening. And luckily for you, I’ve dug out all the Doctor’s battlement observations (you remember, when he looks up at the stars and says “If I didn’t know better, I’d say I’ve travelled seven thousand years into the future”, while we were all shouting at him to watch out for the approaching Veil). And here are the numbers he mentions:

7000
7000
12000
600000
1200000
2000000
20000000
52000000
1000000000
1000000000 (or well over)
2000000000

(For clarification of all these, I am indebted – as ever – to Chrissie’s Transcripts. She had a hell of a job with this one, and she did it brilliantly.)

Anyway. If we add all these together, we get this:

4075825000

But what does it mean? It turns out to be a telephone number. A Whitepages lookup only gives us very scant information, but does reveal that its owner is based in Orlando, Florida. Which ostensibly means nothing at all, until we remember Orlando: A Biography, a novel by Virginia Woolf in which the titular Orlando lives for hundreds of years and has a sex change halfway through.

And what can we glean from this?

– The Doctor’s next series will feature an adventure in Disneyworld
– He will encounter rogue CIA agents (whose headquarters are in Langley, Virginia)
– Billie Piper will appear in her raggedy costume
– THE NEXT DOCTOR WILL BE A WOMAN

Further proof – as if any were needed – may be acquired by rearranging the words ‘VIRGINIA WOOLF WROTE ORLANDO: A BIOGRAPHY’ into ‘LANGLEY WIFI AGGRAVATION – BORROW HOOD OR PI?’, which refers to so many episodes it would take more time than we have to unpack them, but you know what I mean.

Next:

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[tumbleweed]

OK, I’m lost. I’m sure this has some sort of significance but it’s gone. Sorry. Please leave your thoughts on it below, if you have any.

Let’s take a look at something else.

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I mean, here’s the Doctor, in the middle of his own prison, looking carelessly at a monitor and HOLY SHIT IT’S THE TARDIS.

No, it is. Seriously. Look, it’s even got a candelabra just above it to simulate the light on the top. The only difference is the number of windows. Three windows. As if to represent…I don’t know, three TARDISes?

Day_Tardis

Finally:

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The numbers. Look at the numbers. 17 and 46 may be combined to form 1746, the year in which ‘The Highlanders’ took place, and the year to which Jamie was returned at the end of ‘The War Games’ with his memory erased – an act, by the way, perpetrated BY THE TIME LORDS. Also note that the Doctor is pointing towards the number 7 with his thumb – referring, of course, not to the Seventh Doctor, but the seventh episode of season 17, part three of ‘City of Death’, WHICH FEATURES THUMBSCREWS.

102 clearly refers to ‘Golden Death’, part of The Daleks’ Master Plan – Daleks got a mention above, and the word on the street is that we’ll see them in the series finale. But Golden Death is also an obvious nod to Jill Masterson’s violent death at the beginning of Goldfinger – a film that co-starred Honor Blackman, WHO APPEARED ALONGSIDE THE SIXTH DOCTOR IN THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD STORY ARC. And what happens in this week’s story? Well, if you’ve seen the Next Time bit you’ll have already joined the dots and maybe started doodling round the edges of the page and adding a little moustache to the plumber you’ve drawn so that he looks a bit like Mario. Anyway, it all means I get to post this again.

Baked Alaska

 

Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat, Harry.

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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