Posts Tagged With: doctor who

Review: Demons of the Punjab

“While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again…is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

(Jo Cox, MP)

The last time Doctor Who did a Remembrance episode it culminated in fire, levitating Cybermen and a grotesquely reanimated military hero. Capaldi (then still getting into his stride) saluted a stunt double from the opposite side of a cemetery while Jemma Redgrave slumbered, Cybermen all around the world burned, and in Oxfordshire I nearly threw my wine glass at the TV. It was not a good story. More to the point it was insulting. It felt like a line had been crossed. Four years (and a great deal of very turbulent water under the bridge) later the sting has subsided a little bit, but the memories remain: and if there’s one lesson to be learned from ‘Death In Heaven’ it’s that perhaps some things shouldn’t be touched, or at least not touched by Steven Moffat.

‘Demons of the Punjab’ put a new spin on things. Here, we were told, was a war that put Hindu next to Sikh next to Muslim next to Catholic, only for each one of them to return home to division, with the resulting atrocities a notorious (if seldom discussed) dark mark in twentieth century history. It’s too complicated to blame the whole thing on the British, and Vinay Patel – this week’s writer – neatly sidesteps the issue by leaving the colonial overlords offscreen; consequently the only deaths occur as a result of internal unrest that had presumably been brewing for some time. The point, surely, is that people will happily turn on their neighbour given any excuse or opportunity, and not for the first time this series, the monster is us.

Is this patronising? Perhaps. I was going to write something about how this is a lesson the kids need to learn, even if we don’t – but then I logged into a couple of Facebook groups and remembered exactly why I unsubscribed from their feeds. Here’s something: we never did the Partition of India at school. We studied Celts, Romans, both World Wars and spent quite a lot of time in late Georgian / early Victorian England. But we never touched India. We never touched Cromwell, come to that, and years later I glean most of my knowledge of the Civil War from English Heritage properties. The point is this: surely it’s not a bad thing if you tell such a tale, provided you do so with sensitivity? I mean, I learned something last night – never mind the children.

But stepping back into history is nothing if you don’t put some sort of contemporary spin on it, and this week the time-travelling quartet (I cannot and will not bring myself to refer to them as ‘Team TARDIS’) travel back to 1947 to discover the roots of a story that Yaz’s grandmother refuses to tell. The notion of delving into the past to solve untapped mysteries is one that’s naturally going to appeal to just about everyone (while I’m not about to go into details, it’s one I’ve been thinking about a lot this past week) and while it inevitably turns out to be a Pandora’s box, there’s never any question that it was an adventure not worth having. As Yaz notes, “What’s the point in having a mate with a time machine if you can’t go back and see your nan when she was young?”

Still. Doctor Who has become, over the years, an exercise in not dabbling in history. When Hartnell’s incarnation protests, in the sternest of voices, that “You can’t rewrite history – not one line!” it feels like a commandment: as it stands, it’s more like an inevitability. By and large we find that the Doctor’s place in global events is at best incidental and at worst pre-determined – in other words, things happen because they were supposed to happen, not because anyone shifted the narrative. There are notable exceptions – ‘Father’s Day’, for example, which (while being a richly satisfying episode packing a strong emotional punch) is responsible for more misunderstandings about the way Doctor Who generally works than any other episode in the show’s history. Back To The Future posits that your future is whatever you make of it: for the Doctor and their companions, the future is what it is and there’s nothing much you can do to change things.

So before you know it we’re trundling round the Punjab two days before they draw a line in the sand and neighbour makes war upon neighbour. There are resentful siblings and an upcoming wedding to a man that no one recognises – and the woods are littered with alien technology. The twist, of course, is that the titular demons turn out to be nothing of the sort, becoming instead a paradigm for a wiser, older version of humanity, roaming the universe and honouring unobserved deaths as an act of penance. Introducing such a concept so soon after ‘Twice Upon A Time’ is a narrative risk – Big Finish’s monthly range has suffered in the same way – but if anything, the Assassins of Thijar (what do we call them? Thijarians? Anybody know?) are a better fit. Masked, armoured and imposing, appearing from the shadows like a cut-price Predator, they are obvious villains in the same way that the Fisher King was, and the fact that they turn out to be entirely benevolent (if ultimately impassive) is a harsh lesson in judging by appearances.

Needless to say this week is mostly about Yaz, and it’s curious that Patel doesn’t give her a great deal to do. There’s a lot of staring with those wide eyes (no one does the “Did I leave the iron on?” look quite like Mandip Gill) but for the most part she heeds the Doctor’s advice about leaving history unchanged with the sort of steadfast obedience we haven’t seen since the eighties. This is, above all, a story about reacting – the consequences of being in a situation you can’t change, a sort of virtual reality history lesson that is likely not to sit well with some people. “All we can strive to be,” notes Graham, in a lump-inducing moment with Prem that is by far this week’s high point, “is good men”. Graham, indeed, is the one to watch this week – moving from childlike fascination to helpless abandonment with the precision of an actor at the top of his game. Elsewhere, Ryan spends most of his screen time kicking up the dust, while the Doctor officiates at the wedding (in a speech that’s likely to outlive Tumblr itself, never mind do the rounds on it). But even if they’re only chewing up the scenery, at least they do it with a certain panache. The supporting characters, too, acquit themselves well, although Amita Suman rather lets the side down, giving a performance as wooden as the huts that sprinkle the roads.

As with the first Lord of the Rings movie, the real star is the scenery. The Doctor and her companions stride through the fields and lanes of rural Punjab (actually Granada), given a warm, almost sepia-tinted glow by Sam Heasman’s exemplary cinematography. The forest sparkles in the low sun of afternoon, and the camera lingers over the poppies that bloom in the fields. The cavernous interior of the Thijar spacecraft is bland and fundamentally pointless, somehow, and yet again the TARDIS barely gets a look-in (did they only have that set for half an hour, or something?), but both are forgivable offences when everything else looks so pretty.

Doctor Who seems to be transitioning lately. This is not just a tonal shift; there’s an entirely new blueprint on the table in Chris Chibnall’s office. The stories are less complicated, the dynamic has subtly (all right, not so subtly) altered, and the average age for the audience the show is apparently trying to reach seems to have dropped by about fifteen years. The result has been an uptake in new viewers – and a resurgence from older ones who had become disillusioned – but there has been fallout.  Some people, from what I read, are clearly not happy with things. There is a growing concern among various pockets of fandom, old and new alike, that this is somehow “not Doctor Who“, although that archetype is in itself so head-scratchingly abstract it’s hard to know just how to break it down.

Question: has anybody actually asked the kids what they think about all this? Or are we too busy complaining that it’s not the show we know and love? What do we do about the fact that for years Doctor Who was a messy hybrid of itself, endeavouring to be smug and grown-up and sophisticated at precisely the same time as it needed to be accessible and viewer-friendly, and not really managing either? Is there really a point at which we can no longer call this programme by its allocated name, because if the Trigger’s Broom principle applies then surely that ship sailed long ago? Isn’t it better to say that for some of us, Doctor Who is moving on, and that we have outgrown it?

I genuinely don’t know any more. But I do know that last night’s story felt important, somehow – worthy without being dull, tastefully scored and elegantly photographed and (by and large) decently performed. It’s not a Doctor Who I easily recognise but that does not make it wrong. Series 11 is shaping up to be a long and occasionally difficult rebirth: the labour pangs of something that is still not quite ready. And perhaps that’s not a bad thing. Perhaps that’s what it needs to be at the moment in order to survive: perhaps the previous format has run its course and this new path is the only way to avoid stagnant repetition, which inevitably results in devolution. This is an experiment – one that is perhaps doomed to failure, but things were not working as they were, and something had to give. “When it works,” Tim Burton says of his own approach to filmmaking and direction, “it’s fun. When it doesn’t, at least I tried something.”

Russell T Davies closed 2007 with ‘Voyage of the Damned’. It contains a coda in which the obnoxious stockbroker vanishes into the distance while the Doctor glowers at him. The life lesson that follows (delivered by Clive Swift, far less grumpy on screen than he reportedly was on set) is clumsy, but necessary. Last night’s closing scene – in which Yaz met with her aged grandmother in a Sheffield tower block – was clumsy, but necessary. Perhaps there’s a more subtle way of delivering these messages; perhaps it is beyond the abilities of the current writing team to do so. Perhaps this is the series we deserve, rather than the one that we need: perhaps it is the other way round.

Or perhaps it is both. We’re in a world where subtlety has all but vanished from the face of the earth, and everything is delivered in stark black and white because that’s the only language that people speak. We were told – in no uncertain terms – that people are superstitious and fickle, and that monsters appear without warning at the drawing of a line in the sand, but that ultimately we were stronger when we learned to work together. Is this acceptable for a Sunday evening’s light entertainment? Is it right that Doctor Who wields its moral baton with such unerring transparency? That’s another post. But either way, I can’t help thinking that Jo Cox would have approved.

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God is in the detail (11-05)

It’s a complicated business, having a baby. There you are, flat out on the hospital bed, squeezing an object the size of a melon out through a hole the size of….yes, well, let’s leave out the specifics, shall we? I’m sure many of you know are familar with the process, and I know I am; I’ve watched it four times, although my wife was doing most of the pushing.

Anyway, if you’re on a hospital bed – as poor Yoss was, in last week’s ‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’, you won’t have much time for pattern spotting. And thus it’s possible that the likes of Yoss allowed the whole of episode 5 to pass without being made aware of a single VERY IMPORTANT DETAIL. Which is a shame, because there were tons of them this week – so many I’ve had to skimp on the text a bit, and allow the pictures to speak for themselves. All those gleaming white corridors are full of secrets; a number of them concern screens. We like screens. Screens only look like gibberish – the sort of thing that’s roughed in the BBC’s graphics department during post-production – and to the uninitiated reader that’s exactly what they are. It’s a good thing you and I can read between the lines, isn’t it?

We begin with a star chart. Let’s cut to the chase: there is, along the zip-like curve stretching from left to right, a singular point which serves as the start and end for a clearly mapped trajectory. Using a particularly select (and far too complicated to explain) set of criteria I have thus determined that the asteroid field is in fact a set of waypoints that produces the following:

In other words, LTA is (gestures) that way.

But what is LTA? Local Traffic Authority? Licensed Travel Agency? The Lawn Tennis Association? It’s none of the above, although you’d be forgiven for thinking it was. No, LTA in fact stands for Lost Time Accident. Superficially this refers to any accident that prevents an employee from returning to work the next day. Of course, in Doctor Who it means something completely different: it is any episode in which the characters find themselves displaced in time, or finding that time has passed without them. The arrow is pointing to the right, suggesting that this concept will feature in a future installment: could we be set for a fiery, Moffat-inspired series finale? Perhaps one that features, I don’t know, monsters that displace people in time? Monsters made…from STONE? (And yes, I know what Chibnall said. Rule one: Chibnall lies.)

Next we’ll take a look at the conveniently small bomb stored in the anti-matter drive.

It looks like a simple rejig from the designs department, mildly steampunk in appearance. Doesn’t it? But there was a reason they made it look this way – and once annotated, we uncover a wealth of information.

And you thought it was just a prop.

Let’s move on to the set itself now. For the most part the scenery was relatively minimalist – a lot of gleaming white corridors and hospital waiting rooms – but there were some intriguing moments in some of the labs. Take this shot, for example, of Eve and Ronan.

(It’s telling that Suzanne Packer’s character was so bland I couldn’t remember her name. I had to Google it. Is there any chance of having interesting supporting characters who aren’t there for comic relief?)

Anyway: the scenery here is loaded with symbolism and foreshadowing – throwbacks, imagery and clues about what is to come. Observe:

I mean, the Guardians really are due a revival, and they can be anyone they want, as long as they get the outfits right. Can we have Liam Neeson?

Screens again. There is a crucial wall panel displayed about a third of the way in, when Durkas (had to look that one up as well) is searching for information on his sister.

There are two things we need to be looking at. In the first instance, you’ll notice the three circular patterns in the centre of the image, each of which contains four dots, followed by a further dot at the bottom: a reference to twelve of the thirteen canonical Doctors, plus the War Doctor at the bottom. Which twelve, I hear you ask? That would be Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, Baker, Davison, Baker, McCoy, McGann, Eccleston, Smith, Capaldi and Whittaker. And no, I didn’t deliberately type out their names to help with search rankings. Honest guv.

Those of you who recite these names in your prayers before bedtime will have noticed immediately that one of them is missing. To answer the question of exactly where David Tennant is, it is necessary first to look at the top of the image, and then superimpose something on top of it.

So now you know.

Last but not least, another screen.

This is a deceptively confusing image, because despite having many apparent layers, we’re only looking at one thing – and that’s the grid on the right. Starting from the very top and then moving to the right and then down, in rows, I’ve made a note of the highlighted squares and their correlating numbers, assuming that the first, unoccupied square in the grid corresponds to one. The sequence runs like this:

At first glance it looks like a lottery draw that got hideously out of control, but this is, in point of fact, a very deliberate and cleverly coded message. In order to unscramble it we have to glance back through story lists, whereupon we can ascribe each number as follows:

2 – The Daleks
3 – The Edge of Destruction
15 – The Space Museum
25 – The Gunfighters
31 – The Highlanders
34 – The Macra Terror
37 – The Tomb of the Cybermen
40 – The Enemy of the World
44 – The Dominators
52 – The Silurians
54 – Inferno
61 – The Curse of Peladon
62 – The Sea Devils
67 – Frontier in Space
69 – The Green Death
70 – The Time Warrior
79 – Revenge of the Cybermen
83 – The Android Invasion

Finally, if you take the fifth line of dialogue from each script, and arrange them in (just about) chronological order, this is what happens.

“There’s been a forest fire. Everything’s sort of white and ashen.”
“Well, let me look at it.”
“Well, upon my soul, yes. Yes. Now isn’t that extraordinary? Yes, we were wearing those cloaks and things, weren’t we? Well, I must say, it’s going to save us a lot of bother changing. Yes. Now, lets see where we are, shall we?”
“Where do we all meet up with Seth?”
“Oh, it’s cold and damp.”
“That’s right.”
“What, these?”
“Oh, stop fussing, you two. Come on. ”
“I decided otherwise, Probationer Toba.”
“Come on, Bessie, be more co-operative. All mimsy were the borogroves, And the mome raths – ”
“Excuse me, Sir Keith?”
“Hepesh, you have already had your say in the Grand Council. The question has been discussed and decided.”
“We’re abandoning ship! We’re abandoning ship! Our position is – ”
“You can keep it. Spit and polish, cocktail parties and all those passengers?”
“It were a shame, that was.”
“Sour wine! Stinking meat! Sour wine. Is this how I am served?”
“Can’t stand the stuff, thanks all the same. So we could be anytime, anywhere?”
“Doctor?”

 

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

That’s all we have time for this week. Join me next time, when we’ll be looking at cranberries, and why they’re purple. Santé!

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Review: The Tsuranga Conundrum

Back in the dim and distant past, in the days when I actually had time to re-read things instead of going through them once and then consigning them to the charity shop pile, there was a well-thumbed volume on our study bookshelf called Action Movies. By an author whose name now escapes me, it took it upon itself to list, assess and score as many adrenaline-pumping gung ho films as it possibly could within a couple of hundred pages, giving them brief, irreverent write-ups. The best got five-gun ratings. The worst received the author’s withering contempt, which I’m sure had the likes of Michael Bay weeping into their satin-lined pillowcases.

Not that I suspect this author would have had it in for Bay; he prized quality of chase sequences over quality of writing and it is for this reason, perhaps, that his assessment of The Last Crusade sticks with me long after the book has found a new home. He’s not interested in the Ford / Connery dynamic, the fact that the narrative comes full circle, the religious themes or the fact that the film literally concludes with everyone riding off into the sunset – he’s more put out that it’s simply not quite as exciting as the first two. Ranking it three (Raiders and Temple both got five, of course) he notes that “This must be what an average Indiana Jones movie must feel like”. I still wonder, sometimes, what he’d have made of Crystal Skull.

We’re five episodes into the new Doctor Who series and it seems that fatigue is beginning to set in. Oh, I’m not talking about the show. I’m talking about the audience. There is a genuine sense of discomfort on social media at the moment, a sea of discontented viewers who are unimpressed when the story is average and formulaic rather than important and worthy – and that’s just the Radio Times, who were uncharacteristically scathing in yesterday’s write-up. Elsewhere, I’m seeing remarks from online acquaintances (and a few people I go out of my way to avoid speaking to) who are in a state of distress about a story that didn’t really do an awful lot, said far less, and yet somehow emerged relatively unscathed.

‘The Tsuranga Conundrum’ begins in an interstellar junkyard, jumps almost immediately to a hospital ship and then promptly stays there, allocating forty-seven minutes of its fifty-minute running time to a set of pristine white corridors and a couple of bedrooms. Nor, too, do the Doctor and companions have any real time to recover from the accident that put them there: no sooner have they regained consciousness than an unexplained object is tearing its way through space, eating through the ship’s hull and then the mechanical systems with the appetite (not to mention diet) of Ted Hughes’ Iron Man and the ferocity of Gnasher from the Beano. Before we know it, the ship is drifting helplessly through space, bereft of its clinical lead and left in the hands of two women with apparent confidence issues, hurtling towards a planet that’s quite anxious to blast it into smithereens because there’s a monster lurking in the vents.

The moment the Pting attacks is unfortunate for the cast but thankfully kicks things up a gear, because in its first fifteen minutes ‘Tsuranga’ is a godawful mess. The leads totter and stumble around the gleaming interior trying to make sense of things, meeting characters with no apparent pizzazz and learning snippets of information about a war that nobody cares about. Meanwhile Whittaker is lurching along the ship’s many corridors (specifically, the same corridor shot six times from different angles) hacking the systems and generally behaving like the know-it-all brats you often see in Holby City in an attempt to get them to reverse thrusters so she can get back to the junkyard. It’s not a bad thing to have a Doctor who – suddenly deprived of her TARDIS and still recovering from a life-threatening injury – is driven, maniacal and not a little selfish, but that doesn’t necessarily make it fun to watch.

Thankfully once we get our first glimpse of the carnivorous Stitch tribute the crisis is in place and things start moving along. The Pting is small but deadly, with an insatiable appetite and no apparent motive for its path of destruction, so the Doctor sets about finding one while a conveniently situated war hero is tasked with flying the ship, even though it will probably kill her (and ultimately does). Eve Cicero – named for the Roman statesman, although that’s where it ends – is played by a suitably dry Suzanne Packer, and is ably assisted by her brother Durkas (Ben Bailey-Smith, whom Daniel recognised from The Four O’Clock Club) and android Ronan (a sadly underused David Shields). Ronan is by far the most interesting character this week, and it’s a shame that we don’t get time to plumb his hidden depths – because if you’re doing a cute version of Alien, surely the robot’s going to turn out to be dodgy?

One potential pitfall behind a larger TARDIS crew in this day and age is the problem of how you keep them all busy, so while the Doctor’s orgasming over perfunctory anti-matter drives (this from a woman who keeps a black hole on her ship’s engine deck) and lying to planetary defence systems, Ryan and Graham are off delivering a baby. Said baby is the unwanted child of Yoss (Jack Shalloo), who is granted far more screen time than his character deserves and is there largely to up the threat level and help flesh out Ryan’s family relations, or lack thereof. That 67th century male pregnancies only last a week and end in involuntary caesarean (I was going to ask how else you’d get it out, but let’s not go there) is quickly cast aside as Yoss lies in the birthing chamber while Ryan is suitably reassuring and Graham conveniently plugs Call The Midwife. The concept of medical professionals who learn something from their patients is a narrative depth that both Holby and Casualty plumb on an almost weekly basis, but this idea of putting Graham and Ryan into difficult situations to get them to bond is swiftly getting old, and is inevitably going to conclude with Graham’s death just as Ryan calls him ‘Grandad’ for the first time. I was going to ask why we couldn’t just skip to that chapter now, but Bradley Walsh is still the best thing in the show right now and it would be nice to make the most of his screen time – but sometimes the road up the Green Mile is oh, so long.

Four years ago, in ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’, we had the Doctor stuck on a spaceship with a monster that was over-exposed. The single biggest problem with ‘Tsuranga’ – besides the narrative favouring of Ed Sheeran over David the Android – is the fact that an expensive and interesting creature is granted not nearly enough time in front of the camera, with its appearances largely confined to the reveal and the moment it’s flushed, Alien-like, from the ship’s airlock with exactly the level of clinical detachment that the Doctor ought to have observed when she was facing off against the mutated spiders last week. I know I tend to applaud whenever the Doctor Who team learn the value of restraint, but it does seem a shame to create something that’s given less screen time than baby Avocado. Still, that’s five for five adversaries the Doctor has singularly failed to kill. Perhaps they’re halfway through a series arc, or perhaps this is Chibnall’s brave new world – but God help us if it is, because these damp squib finales are starting to get a little tedious, even if they do manage to throw in a pop at the hipsters.

All that said, there’s nothing really wrong with any of it. What happens in ‘Tsuranga’ (a word I’ve had to self-correct five times this morning; why can’t they come up with titles I can spell?!?) is nothing earth-shattering or groundbreaking – but failing to set hearts alight is hardly a capital offence, and if we’re in a place where Doctor Who is only worth watching when it says something then we have officially moved into interesting times and I might have to find myself another show for my Sunday evenings. Ultimately this is innocuous, harmless fun, exactly the way Doctor Who should be. It is like the Pting itself: short and reasonably interesting and ultimately discarded until the next time it rolls around. This week was filler material: a pleasant way to pass an hour, nothing more, nothing less. It seems almost churlish to complain about that.

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 11 edition, part 2)

In between scribbling episode write-ups and wacky conspiracy theory parodies I’m still churning out the memes, and if we don’t keep on top of them we’ll probably land ourselves in hot water further down the line. So you may expect posts every fortnight or so. Hey, at least they don’t take long to read.

This week’s edition centres on deleted dialogue – first, a bit of timely social commentary from ‘Rosa’.

In addition to the Banksy reference, ‘Rosa’ was of course notorious for the moment Team TARDIS get thrown out of a restaurant after it’s revealed that certain skin colours are unwelcome. Ryan gets a great little piece of dialogue that was originally attributed to Muhammed Ali – although an early workprint of the first Star Wars film reveals that Malorie Blackman may in fact have been borrowing from George Lucas.

Finally, a couple of leaked cutting room floor moments from ‘Arachnids in the UK’. Shame they cut them, really.

While outside –

Enjoy your Halloween.

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Review: Arachnids in the UK

It’s 1988. I’m in the last year of primary school and I have a dream that gets inside my head, more or less permanently. It takes place in one of those alt-universe scenarios in which the school has been converted into a wildlife reserve, and what passed for a stationery cupboard and ICT suite thirty years ago has been designated ‘The Tarantula Room’. As the dream begins I’m walking out of that room into the main hall, which has been made over as a snow scene, where there is a tarantula the size of a park bench sitting near the piano. Back in the main enclosure, I come across two glass cases: one is filled with babies, the other is seemingly empty. As I approach, a colossal, black-and-orange arachnid is climbing into view, filling the entire cage. It’s smaller than the one in the hall, but it terrifies me, and I scream and I run for the doors – and find them locked.

That was three decades back and since then I can’t look at a tarantula without breaking into a sweat. Actually I don’t look at them at all. I leave the room during the first five minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I haven’t even bothered with Arachnophobia. Years ago I visited the cinema with a few friends; they ran the trailer for Eight Legged Freaks and I watched the whole thing from behind my hands, along with one other similarly afflicted member of our party who is now a respected children’s author. I just about made it through Return of the King, although I still haven’t quite forgiven Emily for running a hand up my arm when Shelob came out.

Still. Spiders are OK. Spiders are useful and clever and always welcome in our house. Spiders I can handle. Except. Except when…look, when I was four, my parents took me to the Cotswold Wildlife Park. It was all going well until we got to the giant tortoises. Tortoises are supposed to be something you can pick up and hold, which can have devastating consequences if you’re partially sighted and mistake them for a pasty or something. Coming face to face with one that’s as tall as you are was a bit of a shock. It’s a great shame because the Galapagos tortoises are dignified and wrinkled and command our respect. You’re not supposed to run away screaming, although the tortoise probably couldn’t do much if you did. It calls to mind the Eddie Izzard routine about the Attack of the Giant Land Snails. “They’re coming!….They’re still coming!”

This is basically the three-paragraph method of explaining that last night’s Doctor Who was, in many ways, a bit of a difficult one. But we got through it, largely because the kids came and sat on the sofa, giving my whitened knuckles a reassuring squeeze with one hand while using the other one to run their fingers up my arm. I am considering a will rewrite.

What happened in ‘Arachnids in the UK’? Well, the long-awaited “She’s in charge” scene finally reared its ugly head, although it flows nicely when it does. The Doctor is competent in a crisis and flustered by social niceties. Ryan’s into Stormzy. We get to meet Yaz’s family, who are disappointingly ordinary. Graham is seeing ghosts. And on the site of an abandoned coal mine, Donald Trump is building a hotel populated by giant spiders. These are house spiders, grown to a colossal size thanks to a combination of genetic experimentation and toxic fumes from the landfill that is sitting beneath the hotel’s foundations. It’s like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, except no one jumps on a skateboard.

There’s a scene at the beginning of the episode that is possibly its strongest moment. You’ll have seen it several times already because it’s the one the BBC used as their preview clip. It’s the bit where the Doctor lands in Sheffield, half an hour after she left, and releases her companions back into the wild, only for a guilt-stricken Yaz to ask her back for tea. It is a simple scene, with an obvious punch line, but it is absolutely endearing – not since the Duty of Care scene in ‘Under The Lake’ has the Doctor been quite so lovable – and nothing else ‘Arachnids’ throws at us quite matches it. Lesson learned? Hold back your strongest material, especially when people are going to watch you anyway.

Four stories in and the staples of Chibnall’s writing style – at least the ones he’s adopted for his tenure in charge – are starting to arrange themselves into patterns. There is the obligatory lesbian character. There is the moment Graham is refreshingly practical. There is the bit where Ryan flirts with Yaz. Some of it is good; some of it isn’t. The gay thing is, at least, dealt with with more subtlety than it was under Moffat, who insisted that it wasn’t a big deal that Bill was gay and then rammed it home just about every week, doing everything except giving her a badge to wear. Chibnall’s approach is to drop it in for a random character and then move on, and perhaps this is the best way forward. Perhaps the only way to meld this into the show’s philosophy is to do it in every episode until we stop realising it’s there. “How often does the train go past?” / “So often you won’t even notice it.”

The ending is another matter. I don’t know. I spoke last week about how this was to all intents and purposes a kid’s programme, and have written reams elsewhere explaining why this is and how we must accept it and move on – but I do wonder if kids are the audience for this. Don’t they know already that guns kill people? Wouldn’t we be better aiming something at the NRA? We can see from the outset that Robertson is an irredeemable bastard – cowardly, selfish, and ready to believe his own hype. He is Trump (or at least the left-wing media’s embodiment of Trump) in all but name – indeed, that particular elephant is dealt with halfway through the episode when it is revealed Trump is a business rival whom Robertson hates, leaving Chibnall free to poke jibes at the current President without fear of Cease and Desist notices from the White House legal team.

When you’re writing for the screen they go on and on about ‘show, don’t tell’ – but was it really necessary to have Robertson brandish his dead bodyguard’s firearm with an evil cackle like some 1990s supervillain? Even if it was, did we really need him to monologue, while the Doctor glowers about mercy, wearing a ridiculous spray gun kit on her back like some Blue Peter Ghostbuster? We were fine last week, because that was a story that was actively about social justice, but in something clearly designed to be a horror narrative (aired three days before Halloween) it feels like Chibnall’s trying to win a bet or something. I’m not adhering for stylistic unity, but moments like this just don’t fit.

It’s appropriate, in its own way. The last time the Doctor dealt with spiders we had twenty minutes of Hinchcliffe-inspired jump scares, followed by twenty further minutes of tedious social commentary, along with the revelation that the moon was an egg. I’m not so cross about that, but I do object to them shoehorning an abortion debate into what was, until that moment, a satisfying and frightening story. ‘Arachnids’ doesn’t suffer from quite the same structural issues, but its climax, in which a leering Robertson declares that guns are what will make America great again – within twenty-four hours of another mass shooting – is undoubtedly hot property, but something that frankly could have done with a bit less piety and a little more subtlety. That Robertson escapes unharmed (and without so much as a by-your-leave by any character except Graham) is a sure sign that we will be coming back to him later, and if we’re counting possible story arcs in a year that we’re not supposed to be having them, I make that four for four.

This was a great episode, until its last ten minutes. It’s frightening – the spiders are convincing, and the build-up to their reveal is decently handled, thanks to Sallie Aprahamian’s competent (if not exactly imaginative) direction. The leads acquit themselves well – Graham’s soft-eyed sightings of Grace are among this week’s quieter highlights, and Whittaker excels at just about everything, whether it’s striding through hotel corridors or trying not to eat Hakim’s dodgy pakora. The supporting characters are (for a change) interesting and engaging; Tanya Fear, in particular, excels as a scientist who is there solely to provide scientific exposition, but doing so with such flair that for once all the technobabble is actually fun to watch.

Does all that make up for things? Perhaps it does; perhaps this week the whole is greater than the sum. But there’s a sanctimonious tone to the conclusion of this story that taints it: the idea that all life is sacred, however many appendages you have. Has the Doctor never heard of pest control? Is she going after Rentokill next? When Robertson pulls the gun and announces that this is a ‘mercy killing’, you almost find yourself agreeing with him – and that, I’m convinced, is not how we’re supposed to be feeling. It all climaxes in a damp squib of a finale, the Doctor and her new friends (we’re not supposed to say ‘companions’ anymore, are we?) travelling off to new adventures in a sequence that’s supposed to be heartwarming, but simply isn’t. And as much as I’d like to put these moments out of my mind and concentrate on the good stuff, it’s scenes like this that linger like a bad smell. Perhaps it’s overstating the point, but how unfortunate that ‘Arachnids’ should end its life the same way the mother spider ended hers – on its back, disorientated and confused, with all its legs wriggling in the air.

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 11 edition)

I’m currently in Yorkshire, sampling the heady delights of rolling hills, ruined abbeys and the local chips – so you’ll have to wait a bit for more serious content. And yes, if you hadn’t noticed, the video reviews have been sadly absent. The first one took far longer to do than I thought it would and frankly I think there are other things I could be doing with my time. So I’m ditching it. Maybe another year, but not this one.

Have a few images to keep you going. We start with the obvious.

And yes, in answer to your question, I am working on a video version of this, but we need to wait for the unscored upload for ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ first. Otherwise it’s going to be all over the place.

Speaking of all over the place, the DW location scouts have been all over the place in their search for exotic filming spots. They found one off the coast of South Africa that stood in for the planet known only as Desolation, but there was still something rather familiar about some of the scenery.

Not to mention this.

You draw far too much attention to yourself, Ms. Whittaker.

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Review: Rosa

First and foremost: this is missing the chart. I am writing it on a Huawei mobile in the middle of a Yorkshire hostel. The kids are playing table football and Lara Croft Go, thankfully not at the same time. Emily – who is just opening the Merlot – has offered me the loan of her tablet, but I’m sure I can cope with this.

Doctor Who was screened in the hostel lounge over hastily concocted sandwiches and a bit of fiddling with the remote (volume down working, volume up not). We were joined by a woman and her two primary school age daughters, both wearing onesies. It was a first time for both of them – “We’ve only ever seen bits of it”, one of them explained, while the other did somersaults off the back of the chair as Rosa was escorted off the bus.

How might you react if this were your first ever episode of Doctor Who? It must happen. People tune in like that all the time, and the “How should I introduce my wife / child / friend / vet to the show?” question is one that comes up an awful lot in my groups. Curiously the most popular answer is ‘Blink’, which is surely a dreadful choice, given that it’s so atypical? Wouldn’t you be better off with ‘The Pilot’? ‘Smith and Jones’? ‘Spearhead’? Preferably something that gets in, does what it needs to do and gets out again with a reasonable body count? That said I did hear about one chap who was indoctrinated with ‘Blink’: it supposedly terrified him. He owns a sculptures yard.

Rosa Parks doesn’t work with sculptures. She’s a seamstress, putting in long hours adjusting the suits of rich white people before catching the bus home. She will eventually make history by refusing to give up her seat, which ultimately sparks the civil rights movement.

Except it may not. Because history is under threat from a sneering time traveller who is so inconsequential I’ve already forgotten his name. Deciding that this was the moment it all started to go wrong for mankind, he elects to nudge the course of history by way of the butterfly effect: a shift change here, a broken window there, and before anyone realises what’s happening years of progress are out of the window and segregation and institutional racism are alive and well in 2018.

I know what you’re thinking, but we’re not going there tonight. The Doctor didn’t, exactly. There were nods to the present: Ryan and Yas, in this week’s notch on the will-they-won’t-they bedpost, find themselves unexpectedly bonding while hiding outside a seedy motel room that doesn’t welcome coloured folks. “It’s not like Rosa Parks wipes out racism from the world forever,” Ryan laments. “Otherwise how come I get stopped by police way more than my white mates?”

Has Doctor Who shifted into sledgehammer and nut territory? It wouldn’t be the first time. But how else would you do it? There is no nice way to tell this story to its intended audience without talking about the way things are now, and no way to do so with the intended audience (kids, but we’ll get to that) unless you are fairly transparent about it. Yesterday evening I watched Alfonso Ribeiro on Strictly Come Dancing. This evening I was reminded of the episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air where Will and Carlton get arrested by a few obviously racist police officers. It’s heavy handed and preachy, as the show often was, with enough Very Special episodes to rival the likes of Blossom, or even Diff’rent Strokes.

And yet we love it. I love it! Why is this? Is it because they were funny? Was the acting better? Or is it simply more effective when it doesn’t come across as white guilt virtue signalling? Was this a stone that Doctor Who ought to have left unturned? A line that shouldn’t be crossed?

Perhaps not. Make no mistake: ‘Rosa’ is a throwback that is set to alienate a part of the fanbase as much for its style as for its content. This is as close to a straight historical as we’ve had in years, and that’s going to upset people. There are no monsters in the cupboard: merely an unpleasant man who could just as easily have stepped out of the house down the road as he could have warped in from the forty-ninth century. There is not a whiff of culture shock about Krasko (see, I remembered eventually) and that makes him dangerously close to home – and it is this, I am convinced, that is likely to fuel much of the inevitable resentment that we’re going to see online from people who “aren’t racist, but”. It’s already playing out in The Daily Star (I am not linking on principle). The fact is he’s much of a muchness: greater sins are committed by the people of Montgomery, and Krasko is bland and unrecognisable because he doesn’t need to be anything else. He’s not the villain. The villain is us, and all of us.

It plays like an episode of Quantum Leap. We’re in predestination turf again, the Doctor and her companions racing against the clock to try and readjust the timeline so that history runs its course – or perhaps adjust it the way it was always meant to be, with their presence a necessity rather than a potentially dangerous intervention. The specifics don’t really matter: it is perhaps the first time we see them working as a team and it is fun in a way that Hartnell’s crew was and Davison’s crew could never manage. If Whittaker doesn’t quite convince this week – it’s unfair to keep making this comparison but these are lines, you can’t help thinking, that would have sat better with Tennant – the other characters do, whether it’s Graham parking up with a fishing rod or the sound of Ryan’s jaw hitting the carpet when he meets Dr King. If it’s a bit Scooby Doo in places that’s not a bad thing. At least they’re all out doing something.

Listen. This is a kid’s show. You may not like hearing that, but it is. When I’d finished rolling my eyes at the closing video montage, as the TARDIS sailed out of Alabama and off to wherever the Doctor is needed next (Sheffield again, by the looks of the teaser) it was left to Emily to point out the one thing I’d missed. “Kids probably enjoyed it,” she said. “It told the story and it was a good episode for them -” and she indicated the boys, who were looking at the screen thoughtfully. “And, you know, I think black children needed to hear it. Especially right now.”

This would have been a very good Sarah Jane adventure. It is a good Doctor Who. It is by turns meandering and madcap, but one thing that is working beautifully this series – for all its worthiness and lackluster writing – is the way it allows the characters to breathe. They behave as you would expect them to behave, considering what they’ve been through. And it does seem to be a lot. There are thirteen other time / space destinations sitting between last week and this one, a gap presumably filled with the books, along with an awful lot of headcanon.

Still: it works. I do wonder what those two girls made of it. Perhaps I’ll find them and ask them. But first, I need a refill. Enjoy your week, folks. I’m going to look at rocks.

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God is in the detail (11-02)

When I first watched ‘The Ghost Monument’, my heart sank a little. For all my heartfelt belief that Chibnall had inherited the mantle of Chief Puzzler and Imp that Steven Moffat cast from his bosom ere he ran forth from the Doctor Who production offices clicking his heels and shouting “I’M FREE!” while dancing a merry jig, it seemed that the second episode was as dry as the desert in which it was filmed, barren and stagnant and utterly bereft of clues. There were no monitor readouts. No intricately decorated chambers. Not even a bus to look at. Just a lot of ruins. I was lost and helpless and out of inspiration. There were tears, I tell you. Actual tears.

But that second viewing was like a light bulb going on. Because when you dig beneath the surface (shortly before lying down on your back and throwing a cigar in the air) there is a whole bunch of VERY IMPORTANT SIGNS AND WONDERS in this story, pertaining to this year’s series arc and beyond. And today we bring you just a few of the very important CLUES AND HINTS that we noticed. Just a few, mind; I’m on holiday tomorrow and I need to pack.

And while I’m doing that, constant reader, perhaps you would be good enough to examine this.

They keep telling us to count the shadows: today I’m telling you to count the spotlights. There are ten in total, of varying sizes, alluding to Doctors One through Nine, including the war Doctor. The angle from which this was shot – in which identical-sized lights suddenly take on unique and distorted sizes – is itself highly important as it enables us to ascribe values to each spot. Because (and this is the crucial point) THESE DO NOT APPEAR IN ORDER. Taking into account the relative number of episodes that each Doctor has appeared in, we may number the spots like this.

Starting with 1 and working our way clockwise, we get the number 12759346885, and Googling this leads us to a French phone number lookup site. It runs off the acronym CACS, and is part of the OVH cloud computing network. But a curious thing happens when we rearrange these letters: we get ‘Cosh Vac’, which is an UNMISTAKABLE WARNING that in a subsequent episode Bradley Walsh will be whacked on the head and then thrown out into the vacuum of space (again), and that the cryptic sight of the Doctor blowing a kiss to her companions is the moment she’s going out to rescue him.

Also note that Whittaker is angling her head into the sweet spot between one and two, which refers to the much-desired and sadly missing final episode of ‘The Tenth Planet’, in which viewers saw William Hartnell regenerate onscreen into a scruffy cosmic hobo. But is it still missing, or is this a clue that they’ve found it? Could it be that Philip Morris’s rummaging through Nairobi skips and Saudi military compounds has finally borne fruit? Are they saving this for a Christmas download? Only time will tell, but I’d start digging out your piggy bank now, if I were you.

Next let’s look at this rather splendid piece of South African architecture.

You will observe:

  • The four pyramid-style pillars at the top, symbolising the first four Doctors
  • The pillar on the dunes below, positioned directly below the fourth pillar, therefore referring CLEARLY AND EXPLICITLY to the imminent return of the Curator, as played by Tom Baker
  • The general prettiness of the whole thing.

I mean it is rather grand, isn’t it? Beats a quarry in Suffolk, that’s for sure. Still, don’t let the aesthetics distract you – we’re not finished yet. You see the lines of square holes just above the sand? Examine the top layer. For this it’s necessary to resort to binary, taking the presence of a hole as a 1 and the absence of a hole as a 0.

Thus, if we read along that top layer of holes, we get the following: 10100100010001

which converts to decimal as

1051310

Or, in other words:

It’s when we examine this week’s guest cast that things get really interesting. First let’s look at Shaun Dooley, who played opposite John Simm and Olivia Coleman in Exile and David Tennant and Olivia Coleman in Broadchurch. And yes, there’s an old joke about the BBC having only a dozen actors and endlessly reusing them – but c’mon, folks. These actors? Can that really be a coincidence? I’m calling it here: The Thirteenth Doctor will meet with an alliance of Prisoner Zero and the Master in 2019, and will find herself aided and abetted by the Tenth Doctor. As if all this weren’t enough to whet your appetite, Dooley was also seen in The Woman In Black, THE COLOUR OF CHOICE FOR JODIE WHITTAKER’S THIRTEENTH DOCTOR REVEAL VIDEO. This is all building to something. Just watch.

Then there’s Art Malik, who appears in hologramatic form, sitting in a tent. But we have to rummage through his CV to get to the meat. First there’s his role in A Passage To India, A COUNTRY THAT WILL BE VISITED LATER IN THE SERIES. Then there’s his role in The Living Daylights, playing opposite Timothy Dalton – yes, him wot played Rassilon. Some years later, after fourteen months of unemployment and some nasty letters from the Inland Revenue, Malik resurfaced in what is probably his most popular role, playing a terrorist opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1994 blockbuster True Lies.

What do we make of this? The title itself is a blatant clue as to the existence of the series arc, given Chibnall’s insistence that he was speaking the truth about a non-existent series arc that now seems to be about to rear its toothy head. And, of course there were [coughs] one or two other things he may have been lying about, all the while feigning his innocence like a naughty schoolboy caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Need we point out the homophonic parallels between Malik and Dalek? We need not.

However: we may also rearrange the letters of Salim Abu Aziz (Malik’s True Lies character) into ‘Lamia is abuzz’, which CLEARLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY pertains to the Greek story of Lamia, a Libyan queen who was mutated into a child-murdering monster by her own grief. I will just remind you all that in the last episode we were warned about a timeless child. And I leave it to you, dear reader, to join the dots.

Susan Lynch was in Ready Player One, which features a TARDIS. Um.

Oh, and just before I sign off, has anyone noticed the cushions? The cushions that happen to be THE SAME COLOUR AS JODIE WHITTAKER’S TROUSERS? Who else saw that one coming?

Yep. Thought so.

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Review: The Ghost Monument

A little over four years ago, we saw the Doctor get pretty close to performing actual surgery. It happened when a group of military types decided to insert him into a Dalek. As written it sounds a little kinky (which was entirely deliberate on my part) – as it stands, there was miniaturisation technology, a cast of entirely forgettable military types and a bit where the Doctor appeared inside an eighties music video, as well as a seemingly abandoned plot strand involving the likely parentage of a soldier named Journey Blue.

If it seems strange that you’ve just been regaled with the plot for ‘Into The Dalek’ it’s largely because I basically had to remind myself. It’s the sort of episode that is so staggeringly average I can barely remember anything about it. My interest level for that week is a single flat line, like a close-up of a heart monitor in a medical drama. It was about as by-the-numbers as they come, with a couple of amusingly callous remarks from the (then) new Doctor the only thing that stands out in my memory. There was absolutely nothing that would make you want to experience it again; neither was there anything that made me want to throw things at the TV. It is the Whovian equivalent of Northampton: an inconsequential place you drive through in order to get to Sherwood Forest.

I’ve devoted two paragraphs to this because it strikes me that in years to come, ‘The Ghost Monument’ will be remembered in much the same way. In the tradition of ‘The Bells of Saint John’, ‘The Lazarus Experiment’ or ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ (insert your own), it is staggeringly average. Last week’s cliffhanger is resolved quite literally at the speed of light – the Doctor and her companions rescued from the vacuum of space faster than you can say ‘Bowl of petunias’, as two ships jump out of hyperspace looking for a planet that’s no longer there. It’s been knocked out of orbit, leading to a crash landing that is arguably the only really memorable set piece in the entire story.

The planet itself is the final waypoint for an intergalactic space race – think Cannonball Run, without the jokes – hosted by none other than Art Malik, appearing like a Grand Vizier in a tent that, at least from the outside, looks rather like the one where Sylvester McCoy once fought clowns and gods. There is none of that here, of course: this is all about getting enough cash to escape from poverty and ethnic cleansing, and you can bet that somewhere in a ramshackle tenement slum on some dystopian colony there is a middle-aged couple watching the whole thing on TV. The race has been narrowed down to two final contestants: Epzo, hostile, treacherous and harbouring Freudian resentment since the day he fell out of a tree, and Angstrom – tortured, pragmatic and conveniently lesbian. Both would kill each other given the chance, but violence results in instant disqualification, so in this week’s morality play the two must learn to put aside their differences if they’re going to get out alive.

Only the Doctor smells a rat. If this was once a thriving planet, she reasons, then where are all the people? It’s not long before we find out, although having Whittaker read the confession from a scientist’s log book somewhat lessens the horror: it’s clear what they’re trying to do, but talking scarves really aren’t much of a threat, and besides the sense of isolation was already done and dusted the moment the killer robots turned up.

You know, there was a time when you could get away with a quick remark about firearms and then that would be the end of it, but ‘The Ghost Monument’ makes it clear that ship has sailed (and docked, and sailed again, and struck an iceberg). It’s not enough for the Doctor to snap “No firearms!” when Ryan suggests gunning down the robots: instead, the aversion to shooting things is contextualised with a ludicrous set piece, where the young fella shouts “CALL OF DUTY!” before displaying an uncanny level of precision while handling a gun he’s never seen before and has no idea how to use. (For the record, I have played several of the Call of Duty games, and whatever Ryan says, the only thing you really learn is that Activision wouldn’t know a decent story if it clonked them over the head with a rifle butt and then locked them in a Gulag.)

Look, I don’t mind the social commentary. And I know this is for kids. But I was watching it with several kids, and at least two of them thought it was ridiculous, particularly when the Doctor then clarifies her remarks by systematically frying all the robots with a conveniently placed EMP, not long before she then blows up several pieces of fabric with this week’s Chekov’s Gun, which happens to be cigar-shaped. The lesson we learn from all this is that mindless violence is fine as long as it doesn’t involve shooting anything, because that’s something the Doctor left behind in the eighties. This in itself isn’t a problem – the concept of absurd double standards has been going on for years, and it’s pointless to complain about it now – it’s just the heavy-handed approach that has the audience rolling its collective eyes. It’s for the kids, but kids are smart, and they know when they’re being patronised. Maybe we could have a monologue to camera next week?

It should come as no great surprise that the titular Monument turns out to be the TARDIS. Chibnall sensibly gets it out of the way at the beginning, and the scene in which the Doctor is eventually reunited with her craft is understated and genuinely touching, although the gag about redecorating – with its obvious punch line – is a misfire. Indeed, some of the best things about this week involve character, from Yaz’s frank conversation with Angstrom about her family to Graham’s tentative sparring with Ryan. Perhaps it’s an age thing, but Graham is swiftly becoming my favourite character this year, with Bradley Walsh throwing himself into the role of reluctant adventurer with dignity and aplomb: Graham hasn’t got a clue what’s going on most of the time but he’s always willing to have a go, and that makes him great fun to watch.

It’s now apparent that Chibnall’s promise that these would be no series arc this year may have been a misdirection, as indicated by both the re-emergence of the Tenza and Whittaker’s apparent shock at being told about ‘the timeless child’, which may or may not have been the Doctor but probably is, in the same manner that Series 9’s Hybrid may or may not have been the Doctor but probably was. It’s too soon to know where we’re going with this but it keeps the press hot and the fan theories bubbling, so everybody wins. There was a brief window when the comparative novelty of an overarching narrative was just about enough for the show to escape with its dignity intact: such an approach had worn out its welcome by the end of Series 5 and by the time the Doctor was stomping across Gallifrey I was just about ready to throw in the towel and get on board that shuttle with Rassilon. Things may improve this year but there’s no point in shoehorning character development and sacrificing narrative for the sake of fulfilling a grand design, and if that’s really what’s about to happen again then the audience may be in for a long and tedious few weeks.

Still, at least they’ve got the TARDIS back. Now can we please talk about something else?

 

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God is in the detail (11-01)

Ah, Steven Moffat. Now there was a man who loved teasing his audience. It was never enough just to put a twist in; his goal, played out with nigh-on obsessive abandon, was the trail of breadcrumbs. Whether it’s Sherlock surviving his fall from the roof, the true identity of Ms Utterson from Jekyll, or what was really in the Doctor’s room in that creepy hotel, it wasn’t genuine Moffat without a puzzle for everyone to solve. It’s a far cry from the days when Doctor Who was aired once and then had to be revisited via Target novels because no one had a video recorder and in any case the BBC had already wiped the tapes. Repeat viewing is not only encouraged, it’s practically mandatory, along with all the bells and whistles of online discussion, dissection and deconstruction.

Still, Moffat’s gone now, so we can’t do that anymore, right? Wrong!

If you’re new here, you won’t know that I spend much of my time during series broadcasts going back through last week’s episodes searching them for things that will come back to haunt us later. Because as everyone in the Doctor Who production offices knows, there is NO SUCH THING as an accident. Every sign, every prop, every seemingly inconsequential bit of detail – from the shape of buildings to the seemingly random use of filming locations – is a potentially VITAL CLUE that gives us CLEAR AND SIGNIFICANT FORESHADOWING for events later in the series.

And guess what? Chibnall has apparently inherited Moffat’s clue fixation. Because when I went back through ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ I found a whole bunch of stuff – and today, dearest reader, I bring it to you, served up with a salad garnish and a complimentary Americano. Come with us now as we explore a world of signs and wonders that will LITERALLY make your head explode.

We start on a train.

Observe the two numbers by the wall panel – one directly above Jodie Whittaker’s head, one at the upper left of the screen. We’ll get to that one in a moment, but let’s look at 68509 first. It is – as if you hadn’t guessed – a reference to the zip code for Lincoln, Nebraska, where the TARDIS crew are set to land in an episode from Series 12. The Nebraska DHHS is here, which will presumably be a plot point as the Doctor refuses to go anywhere that’s just initials.

Do acronyms count? Because there’s a very prominent one just above – UNIT. And the numbers that follow – 9110, for ease of reference – refer EXPLICITLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to UNIT. Why is this? Well, the first two allude to Marc Platt’s novelisation of ‘Battlefield’, released in print form in July 1991, while the 10 refers to 2010, the year in which The Sarah Jane Adventures broadcast their 2010 crossover episode ‘The Death of the Doctor’, which saw Sarah Jane team up both with the Eleventh Doctor and former member of UNIT staff Jo Grant, as played by Katy Manning. We’ve been asking for another appearance from Jo for years, and it looks like we might finally be about to get our wish.

(As an aside, this is a good time to mention that I finally met Katy Manning last December. She was absolutely lovely, despite me squealing like a fanboy. I have it on good authority that she is like that with everyone.)

But was it a nod to Jo Grant, or was it actually about Matt Smith? Consider this screen grab from Ryan’s YouTube monologue.

There are a number of things going on here, in a quite literal sense. Ryan’s thumbs up rating sits at Eleven (capitalisation intentional) while his thumbs down is sitting at two. Leaving aside the question of exactly what sort of callous bastard would rank down a video where you were talking about your dead grandmother, we also need to consider what number you get when you add eleven and two.

I will leave it to you, dear reader, to do the math(s).

Ryan’s view count is nineteen, which is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to Paul Hardcastle’s iconic song about the Vietnam War, indicating a likely story arc for Series 12. And his subscriber count is sitting pretty at thirty-seven, which is not a random number and certainly NOT A COINCIDENCE. Thirty-seven, you will recall, is the age of Dennis the political peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail – a film that introduced us to the delightful Tim the Enchanter. You see? There was a whopping great clue about the identity of this episode’s villain smack bang in the middle of the opening scene, and not ONE of you noticed. Not one. I’m not angry, folks, I’m just disappointed.

A funeral next, because we need to talk about the balloons.

There are sixteen balloons, which allude to the thirteen canonical Doctors, plus John Hurt, Richard Hurndall and David Bradley: in short, sixteen actors who have played the Doctor onscreen in official BBC stories. (There are probably more; don’t tell me about them because it’ll spoil the pattern.) Note that the Eighth Doctor is directly over Bradley Walsh’s head. Also note that Paul McGann’s Holby City storyline seems to be drawing to a natural close – it may have wrapped up by the time you read this and it may even have wrapped already, as I’m writing it. We’re two episodes behind so please don’t spoil it for me.

Additionally, notice the colour scheme. There are three:

Never mind the subtle but CLEAR-CUT indication that Lalla Ward will soon be back as Romana – has anyone else noticed that there’s one missing? The short, scooter-riding one? The one who shares her name with a famous author?

There are a number of episode titles we could mash here, such as The Tell-Tale Hearts, or The Satan Pit and the Pendulum, or simply The Oblong Box, which doesn’t need any modification. But could the imminent appearance of the great writer himself – a man whom the Doctor has encountered several times before – be any more clear cut? To borrow one of Gareth’s jokes, quoth the raven: “Again again!”

We’ll conclude at the end of the episode, in this scene in the charity shop where the Doctor picks out her outfit.

“But how can you tell it was a charity shop?” some people on Facebook have been whining, to which the answer is “Of course it’s a bloody charity shop”. I mean, look at it. There are books on the shelves and there’s a pile of bric-a-brac near the clothes racks. Yes, the changing room is unusually big. Maybe Cardiff has an obesity problem. Besides, where else are you going to find that sort of mismatched ensemble, other than in the dressing up box at a local children’s centre?

I mentioned this to Emily, who said “Well, of course it’s a charity shop. I can just picture her going through those t-shirts. ‘Ooh, look, this one says Sarah-Jane Smith. That rings a bell’.”

I laughed, and then said “Listen, if Sarah-Jane was still stitching name labels in her clothes in her her mid-twenties, I’m glad the Doctor left her in Aberdeen.”

But I’m sidetracking. Because there’s a reason they went to this particular charity shop (or thrift store, if you’re reading this in the other side of the Atlantic). Where is it? If you’re in Cardiff  you could probably have told me without having to look it up, but I had to do a bit of legwork – a word which in this context means ‘look at Google Maps’. There are plenty of charity shops in Cardiff, but we may narrow it down by using the Domino Pizza emporium on the other side of the street as an anchor.

To cut a long story short, it is this one:

“KIDNEYS!”

This is loaded with detail. Never mind the fact that there is a phone box RIGHT THERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET, indicating that not only is the much-anticipated Bill & Ted 3 movie finally out of production hell, but that IT WILL BE A DOCTOR WHO CROSSOVER – never mind all that, have you seen the sign just above the housing association window? You know, the one about landlords? Are we heading back to Bristol? Could David Suchet’s Series 10 character be about to make a sudden, unanticipated return? Well, it’s no longer anticipated, is it? We called it, right here. Watch this space.

But wait! There’s more. The address for this particular map reference is 202 Cowbridge Road, and in production history we find that story 202 was ‘The End of Time’, a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS nod to the IMMINENT RETURN of Rassilon, presumably in the Christmas special. Sadly there’s no word on whether he’ll be played by Donald Sumpter, so we may need to look further afield. Anyone got Jeremy Irons’ phone number?

But wait! There’s STILL more. Look across the street.

Let’s ignore the near miss on that sign, shall we? I suspect the owners are very grateful that it’s the U that’s missing, rather than the O. Besides, we’re now in Series 6 territory: Canton referring, of course, to Canton Everett Delaware III, the Doctor’s erstwhile companion during his battle with the Silence, and who has by the present day moved into local radio, producing a couple of hours of disco-themed music on a weekly basis for online radio station NTS, broadcasting from London, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Manchester. Who else saw that coming? I know I didn’t.

But as if this weren’t enough, scroll back up to that first picture again and note the Registered Charity Number on the sign above the Kidney Research window. It’s 252892 – seemingly innocuous, right? Wrong again. Because a curious thing happens if you stick this into the hex box for an RGB colour converter. I know because I did it, and I could scarcely believe the shade that appeared on the display:

Mind. LITERALLY. BLOWN.

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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