River wasn’t expecting this.
“I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid I will have to ask you to move on.”
And in a back garden somewhere in Oxfordshire…
If you’ve been here for a while, you will remember that I while ago I wrote a less-than-complimentary piece about the new range of Doctor Who action figures – a creative move to a smaller size that results in set incompatibility with the larger figures (unless you want to do some sort of Hobbit story, or a stop-motion adventure about a shrinking Doctor), not to mention colossal loss of detail. On the one hand it’s great, because I no longer spend cash we don’t have on the new stuff. On the other hand I don’t have a Twelfth Doctor – or a Clara, for that matter.
Still. Who’d have thought there were so many five-inch figures we didn’t have from the original waves that I actually wanted?
The games and books all came from other people, but we bought the figures. For the boys. Honest. Unfortunately I took this in a hurry and you can’t see Lilith, the Carrionite from ‘The Shakespeare Code’, nestling behind Brannigan, the cat person from ‘Gridlock’. She has a little difficulty standing upright, and is thus supported by the television set containing the Wire, which came along with the faceless grandmother. The Smiler’s head rotates, and Doctor Constantine’s changes altogether. Oh, and the Daleks are, from left to right, the Emperor’s Guard Dalek from ‘Evil of the Daleks’, the Supreme Dalek from ‘Day of the Daleks’ and the Saucer Pilot Dalek from ‘Dalek Invasion of Earth’. (Gareth will tell me if I got that the wrong way round.)
Full-size figures aside, Thomas got the Doctor Who Adventures advent calendar this year, which came in handy when we were decorating the Christmas cake.
“We should have used a larger TARDIS,” Emily said, “except it won’t fit now. You’ll have to get in quick next year and stick it on as a centrepiece before they can put other things on.” Honestly, she’s obsessed.
The full line-up, if you were interested, is here.
The Weeping Angel and Silurian at the back weren’t part of the calendar; they were two of those build-it-yourself monsters that came with a previous issue, and that I always dread opening because I can never get them to stay together, and you always lose bits. Nonetheless the effect here is rather like one of those photos of colossal families, the sort that the Daily Mail love to hate, unless they can’t actually find anything bad to say about them.
Anyway, this – and the Minecraft stuff – kept them quiet for a couple of days while we drank port and caught up with Holby. After the first lot of festivities was over and I’d managed to weasel out of showing the boys ‘Last Christmas‘ by telling them it was “too complicated, too scary and you don’t really learn anything new”, we high-tailed it down to Shropshire for New Year. The previous week my mother-in-law had showed me a wonderful hand-knitted Nativity (knitivity?) set that a friend of hers had produced, all featuring brightly-clad characters, including a wise man who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Sixth Doctor.
So while we’re on that, I should also mention that my brother-in-law and his family and also gave two of us cheese bakers this year, and I have accordingly named them Tom and Colin.
The rest was Muppets and jigsaws and dried fruit, so I leave you with something not entirely Who-related: a joint of beef we ate on New Year’s Day that I thought looked a little like an Arrakis spiceworm, which led to this.
I’ve only seen Dune once, but it’s a David Lynch, and therefore it resonates. It resonates to the extent that the last time Joshua watched Rango I had an eyebrow-raising moment when we heard Ned Beattie’s ancient turtle explain to Johnny Depp that if you “Control the water, you control everything”. To which I distinctly remember thinking “No, I’m pretty sure it’s the spice…”
Assorted friends of mine are renowned for their ‘Emergency lack of party’ parties. These semi-impromptu events are basically excuses to pig out on Pringles and consume copious amounts of alcohol, on the pretext that far too much time has elapsed since any suitable occasion arose that granted you the opportunity. In other words, the calendar is bare, so we might as well empty the cupboards as well.
This was an ‘Emergency lack of video’ video. It’s been a while. The novel is moving full steam ahead and I seem to be producing quirky Photoshopped JPEGs almost daily, but the editing software has remained untouched. Various big projects are sitting in the sidelines, half done, largely because of all my talents, procrastination is in a league of its own. I’ll measure just how far ahead of my other abilities it actually is, when I get round to it.
In the meantime: Jean Claude Van Damme stood between two trucks last year and did great things. For the sake of simple comparison, here’s how it was.
As a parenthesis, those of you who were reading this blog in November may recall that Joshua was keen to emulate the stunt in the kitchen, using Morbius:
In taking it a step further, the Eleventh Doctor was the obvious choice. This has nothing to do with his gravitas or ability to make pretty speeches that up the Wikiquote hit counts. It’s simply because of all the Character Options five inch figures, his legs are by far the most pliable. You can’t quite stretch them out at ninety degree angles, as you can with Morbius, but it’s a close run thing. This means that I could feasibly take the Eleventh Doctor and make him look like he’s humping our River Song doll, if I were so inclined. Not that I’d do that. Honestly, that would be sick, and I don’t mean that in the new, trendy way that you kids mean it. (A clear sign of ageing is when you read YouTube comments for a video described as “well sick”, and find yourself thinking “I don’t see why; I thought it was in perfectly good tast – ah.”)
It occurred to me from the outset that this was going to look rubbish. For one thing, I would have to film it live. I knew that trying to adjust the Daleks and Doctor step by step for stop-motion animation was just going to end in disaster, however much sellotape I used. And there was no other way of adding the swirling vortex effect, which is a clean title sequence ripped from YouTube and played back on our lounge TV. At the risk of creating a rod for your own back, having the Doctor do a stunt like this in the time vortex seemed the obvious next step up from having Chuck Norris do it with a plane. (Yes, I know it’s fake, but he still won the internet, or at least the creative team did.)
I framed this little concoction within the context of a special effects budgetary restriction, because that was the only possible way I could upload it with any sense of dignity intact. I mean, it’s all over the place. You can’t really see any of this, but I was leaning forward with the Flip camera – which wouldn’t focus properly on the Doctor’s face because of the lighting conditions in the worst room in the house to shoot or photograph anything (but nonetheless the one where the TV happens to be). I did it at night, convincing myself that natural light would just diminish the time corridor effect on the screen, but really it’s because I’m impetuous and impatient. Then I tilted the camera back, trying hard to rock it slightly to emulate (or at least imitate) the motion of the original, and then tried to tighten the legs of the tripod without knocking the thing over, and then pulled the Daleks from either side with pieces of string. The Daleks moved at different speeds because one of them is heavier than the other, so I had to improvise: in the final take they were perched on impromptu Lego trolleys that
were supported by four colossal elephants riding through space on the back of an enormous turtle were stood on a book, in order to get the proper height. Despite trying to do them both at the same speed, I overcompensated on the gold and it tipped on its side, to slightly comedic effect. While all this was going on, Emily was looking in at what I was doing, hand on hips, shaking her head with an expression that read “And to think I married a sane person once”. And I knew this WITHOUT HAVING TO EVEN TURN AROUND.
So the effect is…urrrggh. But hopefully the audio – which is if nothing else reasonably authentic – makes up for it a bit. That was, at least, quite fun to put together and edit. The rest of it wasn’t. Trying to fix frame rates when you’re encoding video footage of a TV or computer screen is a living hell. But at least something got created, eventually. For that, I suppose we should be grateful.
Now, where did I put that River Song doll…?
I’m thumbing through the latest issue of Doctor Who Adventures yesterday afternoon, and this is what I see.
I’m sorry. What?
In the first instance, I should mention that I don’t buy the figures these days. Not since they dropped the size from 5 inches down to 3.75. Overnight, the Whoniverse characters shrunk from respectable, chunky ones that took up a good portion of a fist when you were holding them down to piddly little things that easily fall out of pockets. To give you an idea:
I’m reliably informed that the new figures are about the size of the original (and, for all I know, contemporary) Star Wars figures that your friends used to have in the playground back in the 1980s. Maybe that’s why they changed them; it allows for greater cross-play between universes, presumably inspiring numerous scenarios in which Clara goes doe-eyed at Lando Calrissian and it is established that neither Han nor Greedo shot first; it was the Doctor, playing around with a laser pistol on the other side of the room and not realising that the safety was off.
I haven’t bought any of the new size figures; they look ridiculous alongside the original range, and it gives me an excuse to concentrate on DVD purchases, as well as dithering over whether I really want to spend £25 on that ‘Three Doctors’ set with the Brigadier and Jo Grant. The fact that I won’t be able to buy a decent scale version of the Twelfth Doctor annoys me, but there’s no sense getting too cross about it. It just means they don’t get any more of my money. Their loss, and I’m sure it’s minimal.
But these? Colossal fail.
Let’s start with the good stuff. They have, at least, not managed to fuck up the Dalek. Presumably doing so would incur threats of insane legal action from the Nation estate (even though Nation had bugger all to do with how the thing actually looks, beyond a vague description). If I were going to be picky I’d question whether you could really justify releasing two practically identical models where the only difference was the dome colour and the weapon attachment, and then charging £12 for each, but I think that ship already sailed back in 2010. The Weeping Angel, too, is reasonably functional. Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, meanwhile, resembles the androgynous singer in a New Romantic pop group, all impeccably smooth skin and hints of what looks suspiciously like lipstick, although if you examine closely, I don’t think it is.
Capaldi’s Doctor is facially intact, if again the skin looks far too smooth for a man of his age. I recognise that some loss of detail is inevitable when you scale down your sizes, but one of the most interesting aspects of Doctor Who was their tendency – at least until 1981 – to avoid casting oil paintings. Sorry, but colouring his hair grey won’t do it; it looks like he’s had the sort of disastrous facial surgery that lands you on the right hand column of the Daily Mail’s home page, photographed by the paparazzi. The whole thing reminded me of an episode of Dad’s Army called ‘Keep Young And Beautiful’, in which the most elderly men in the platoon get makeovers from the undertaker in order to make themselves appear young enough to avoid being drafted into the ARP; the sight of the elderly Arnold Ridley, skin stretched so much that (in the words of Captain Mainwaring) “he looks like Madame Butterfly”, is enough to reduce me to fits of hysterical laughter every time.
But it’s arguably poor Clara who’s suffered the most. I mean, have another look.
She’s practically obese. At the very least she looks like she’s suffering from the mumps. Now, I’m not suggesting that all Doctor Who companions need to be slim and beautiful. I got as cross as you did when Disney did an extreme Photoshop job on Princess Merida from Brave. But the fact is, Clara is pretty slim – no Kate Moss, by any means, but the fact of the matter is that this doesn’t look anything like Jenna Coleman, and if I were here I’d be seriously mortified, or at least stomping around my house like David Huddleston in Santa Claus: The Movie, muttering “Is that how they think I look?”.
Well, it is, if you do this.
And yes, it looks dreadful, but so does the figure.
(Seriously, there must be people out there who could do a better job of fattening up Clara’s face than I’ve managed in two minutes with a three-month-old baby on my lap. Anyone want to have a go?)
“The Zygon looks quite good,” said my eldest child.
“Josh, it looks like Bungle,” I said, having been apprised of this by Gareth some time before. And, of course, it does.
I’m not a toy manufacturer. I know nothing about plastic moulds, cost control or the limits of manufacturing technology. Still, even I can see that this is a massive turkey. I’m not asking for a return to five inch scales (although I do think that might fix some of the facial detail problems). But I think the only way they could make this lot any creepier would be for the things to come alive on the back seat of the car on the way back from the toy shop.
Now, there’s a concept.
When it comes to Christmas and birthdays, I’m pretty easy to buy for, really. I have a wish list the length of a small novella, and if all else (or Amazon) fails you can always buy me chocolate. But generally speaking, my family know that if you slap the Doctor Who logo on something and stick it in a box, I’ll be pleased with it.
With that in mind –
The TARDIS-shaped USB hub (centre) was a particular find and as soon as I’m finished here I’m going to try it out. Also amusing was the fez rendering of the Eleventh Doctor, which I didn’t even know existed. I wonder if they do a stetson version?
When it came to buying for Thomas, we plumped for these, among others.
The one on the left was a do-it-yourself thing. The December issue of Doctor Who Magazine came with a set of collector’s cards, which I assembled in an A5 folder with a homemade cover. He loved it. We were worried about the board game, after our experience with the 24 board game (which is dreadful), but the reviews were good. It’s for the kids. Honestly.
Finally, we had a visit a couple of days ago from a friend of mine who worked on the set of series 7, and who gave me his complimentary fleece. This went well with the jumper I’d bought Emily, shown below.
Never one to mince words, her reaction was “Why have you got me this?”
“I don’t know. I just thought it looked fun. And you look nice in just about anything.”
“It does look warm. I imagine it’s bigger on the inside.”
“It might be a decent camping jumper,” I said.
“Just as long as you don’t expect me to wear it in public.”
She did anyway…
I knew that Character Building set would come in useful.
As Gareth pointed out, “Some of these look more realistic, too.”
“Well, I wasn’t going to say it,” I replied. “Largely because I knew you would.”
The local toy emporium were having a better-than-half-price day. Marked up RRP is always something to worry about (yes, those chocolates are fifty per cent off the RRP, but who would have sold them at £12 anyway?!?) – still, at £3.99 a pop these were reasonably priced. So…
Now, can I justify £48 on that set of classic figures…?
OK. Watch this first. Better yet, watch it and then go to the YouTube page and click the ‘like’ button. God knows I could use the hit count, and I’d rather get it fairly than resort to artificial inflation.
The Wizard of Oz is one of those films that has followed me round for most of my life. You may remember, some months ago, that I blogged about our household’s first video recorder and the many viewings of Ghostbusters that followed. The Wizard of Oz may have been the fourth or fifth pre-recorded tape we bought. I’d already got through the book and wasn’t quite prepared for the glossy Technicolor buoyancy that followed. It would be years before I learned about the mythology that sprung up around the film, with the in-fighting amongst the cast, the problems with Garland’s breasts, the near-omission of ‘Over The Rainbow’ and the urban legend about the dead Munchkin.
I was saying to sj only the other week that the interesting thing about The Wizard of Oz on film is its utter trashing of the ending. While it takes a number of liberties with the book, with many characters dropped and many adventures abandoned, the biggest thing that happens is the solidification of Dorothy’s Kansas life, giving her a reason to come home. But it’s more than this: the very end of the film is a direct reversal of the very end of the novel, in which Dorothy arrives out of nowhere and lands on the grass outside the house that her parents are rebuilding. In the film, the entire journey to and from Oz – and, crucially, all the inhabitants therein – are seemingly imagined constructs, with friends and nemeses taking on counterpart roles when she and Toto set off along the Yellow Brick Road.
In other words, in the film Dorothy doesn’t actually go to Oz. She only thinks she does. The novel – and its many sequels – establish Oz as a real place that’s not on any map, but which anyone can visit (and indeed, Dorothy and her Aunt and Uncle eventually uproot and take up permanent residence there in one of the later books). In the film, she gets concussion during the cyclone and wakes up in her own room some hours later none the worse for her ordeal, with no one willing to believe that she’s been gone for days. This isn’t revealed until the very end of the film, unlike, say, Life on Mars – a show that was in many ways a direct homage to Oz – which featured a protagonist who spent most of his time trying to work out whether he had in fact time-travelled or was merely trapped in his own subconscious. The show’s sequel, Ashes to Ashes, explained everything (and nonetheless posed as many questions as it had provided answers), but perhaps the best explanation to this conundrum came from Albus Dumbledore near the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in which he reassures our eponymous hero that “Of course it’s happening in your head, Harry. But why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?”.
And I’m rambling.
This all started with the scarecrow. I picked him up in Cancer Research one Friday evening for a bargain price. As I snapped the lid on the plastic tub that contains the Doctor Who figure collection, making a mental note to do another photo-shoot some time, I noticed that if you were to team him up with one of the Cybermen, and – ooh, I don’t know, the Werewolf from ‘Tooth and Claw’, you’d have the three sidekicks from The Wizard of Oz. And after that, all you really need is Dorothy and Toto.
Casting was the real joy here. Pantomime is a big part of Christmas – at least it is in this country – and The Wizard of Oz is on every holiday, so I took the approach of the Who figures staging their own amateur dramatics production, sort of like the characters in Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation. There was no question of who to cast as Toto, and with that in mind there was really only one choice for Dorothy (unless I can find a Leela or Romana figure, anyway). Sarah Jane’s a bit long in the tooth here, admittedly, but so was Garland.
The Wizard of Oz features an amusing turn by Frank Morgan, who not only plays the Wizard himself (and his real-world counterpart, Professor Marvel) but also the Emerald City gatekeeper, the cab driver and the weeping sentry outside the Wizard’s inner sanctum. It’s the sort of multi-role casting that Eddie Murphy now seemingly does in every single movie he makes, but in 1939 it worked beautifully – and when it came to casting the Wizard (which obviously has to be the First Doctor, who looks the part), it made sense to cast some of his other regenerations in these supporting roles. The wish-fulfilment scenes of John Barrowman getting run over by the pirate ship / eaten by Joshua’s Playmobil clam were something I stuck in at the last minute when I realised I really wanted to feature Jack, without having anything for him to actually do. (Those familiar with musical theatre will have worked out that he’s singing – or attempting to sing – ‘The Doctor and I’, an adapted version of ‘The Wizard and I’, from Wicked, itself an unofficial prequel to Oz. I love joining up those dots!)
MGM are notoriously hot on copyright when it comes to The Wizard of Oz. They allow for short scenes on YouTube, but will block certain iconic moments (like Dorothy’s arrival in Munchkinland) and I read of several people who had seen videos deleted or audio disabled because it infringed copyright. So I took no chances and stuck instead to a four-minute summary of the entire film, in short bursts that tell the story (sans music) without ever telling too much of it at once. The result is a video that jumps all over the place, but it works, more or less.
I shot this over an evening and a morning, and then it was just a question of synching the photos with the narrative. I didn’t feel confident enough to venture into stop motion on this occasion, so you’re stuck with the pictures, but they do – wherever possible – mimic the positioning of the actors in the film. The sets are dreadful, of course, but I was working with Duplo and Playmobil. Likewise the lighting is second-rate – if I’m going to start doing this properly I really ought to invest in a decent studio area with spot lamps, but at least you can see it.
It’s the credit visuals I’m quite pleased with. Here they are again, without all those words getting in the way.
The scarecrow, as a friend of mine pointed out, is a surprisingly good breakdancer. Who knew?