Posts Tagged With: donna noble

Have I Got Whos For You (June special)

God but it’s been a week. I don’t really want to talk about it. I’m not going to give you a lecture on Why Black Lives Matter because I don’t have the energy, and besides you’ve read all that elsewhere written to a much higher standard. What’s happened is appalling, and the whole thing is a mess, but I have enough going on here without trying to implement a sea change. You will have to rid the world of prejudice by yourselves. Right now I need to look after my family.

I’ve written paragraphs about Cummings, about his disregard for protocol, about his puppet mastery of the government, about the use of autism as a sympathy card (in fairness this is not him, but the sycophants who champion his acquittal, largely out of fear), and about his refusal to apologise for absolutely anything, with an arrogance that is simply breathtaking. I have deleted it. You know it all already, and I don’t want you to have to go over it again. This is the way of things now: this puppet government, this man who will not be made to resign because he knows where the bodies are buried. This is how people voted and many people simply don’t care. I have, I will admit, been feeling largely helpless, and have hit out with a series of Photoshopped memes, because that’s about all I know how to do these days.

What’s the natural human response to all this? Stay at home, adhering to lockdown protocol, and be sensible and responsible? Or say “Ah, feck it” and head off to the beach, because if the elite can’t keep the rules then why should we? The latter, of course, as these scenes of people attempting to jump from Durdle Door clearly indicate.

In the middle of all this, Anonymous turned up with new video material, broadcasting what some people had suspected all along.

There was some good news. Elon Musk’s long-awaited SpaceX launch finally happened under the clear-sky window they desperately needed, although there was momentary panic when one of the astronauts left the door open and they lost the Zero G dinosaur.

As the world mourned the loss of yet another rock and roll icon, archeologists examining the oldest writing in the universe made a startling discovery.

Oh, and Pac-Man turned forty.

More space news, and the ESO was thrilled to discover a twist that looked like the formation of a new planet inside the gas disc burning around AB Aurigae, although there were a little surprised when an unexpected flying object clouded their telescope view.

Closer to home, and after a lengthy break, Ikea stores nationwide began once more to open, with customers desperate for flat pack furniture, cheap tupperware and frozen meatballs seemingly content to sit in a baking hot car for half an hour so that they could stand outisde in the sun for another three, although a few customers came up with some innovative ways of beating the queues.

And as traffic stretched around the block to the newly opened McDonalds drive thrus, news reporters broke lockdown protocols in order to get up close to the action and find out exactly what was causing all the delays.

“Yeah, I want six hundred hamburgers, three hundred and eighty orders of fries, four hundred and twenty-six McFlurries, and a Diet Coke.”

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Have I Got Whos For You (generally vague edition)

It’s a beautiful morning here in lockdown city – and, having pulled an all-nighter, here’s the Doctor waiting patiently for the Epic Games store to refresh so he can download GTA 5.

You will have watched the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday with…well, I don’t know. There was a lot of conflicting information and I was thoroughly incensed by it. Not so much the confusion over whether or not you’re supposed to go to work – it’s a moot point in our house – but the denial of culpability, a broadcast that was intentionally vague not because we have an idiot in Downing Street but because we have someone who is in fact very clever, and who knows that if he words things correctly he’s off the hook.

Let me (or, rather, let someone else) put it this way:

Sir Humphrey: We’ve issued a clarification of the slogan, Prime Minister.

Jim Hacker: Good. Will we be withdrawing the campaign?

Sir Humphrey: No, Prime Minister, it’s important that the message gets out.

Jim Hacker: What, even if people don’t understand it?

Sir Humphrey: Especially if they don’t understand it. That way, if the restrictions are too stringent and cause economic problems then we can say our message supported relaxing them, and if they’re too lax, and cause a second wave, then we can say our clarification clearly said the rules weren’t being relaxed.

Jim Hacker: So the purpose of the clarification is to put us in the clear?

Sir Humphrey: Yes, Prime Minister.

“Yes,” I can hear the Tory supporters chanting, “but the British public need to be free to make up their own minds! They don’t deserve to be treated like children!”. To which I will respond with “Boaty McBoat Face”, and drop the mic.

Anyway, the only real response from lunacy like this is to mock it, so here’s a deleted still from ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’.

The slogan itself was memed to death, mostly with pop lyrics (most of which were very funny, although I do wish I’d got to ‘Hot Dog / Jumping Frog / Alberquerque’ before someone else). There were also nods to Father Ted (‘Down with this sort of thing!’ / ‘Careful now’ / ‘Will you have a cup of tea?’). Me, I spent ages thinking about how you could spin it into a Doctor Who reference before coming up with this one:

Then there are the alert slogans, which had no sense of scale or timing but which were nonetheless self-explanatory. At least they are now I’ve put Daleks in them.

Oh, and there’s the alert scale; we’re currently at amber, and I do wonder if when we go up to red someone’s going to say “Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb.”

“What about radiation?” someone asked on Twitter. “Or plague?” I told them I’d run out of numbers.

There has been some actual Doctor Who news this week, as Moffat admits in an interview that he’s always thought of Colin Salmon’s antivirus character from series 4 as a future Doctor, living in the library computer to keep River Song company; it’s utter bollocks of course, particularly as it’s only come to light now, but I suppose after series 12 anything’s possible.

The warm weather last weekend brought out the crowds, of course, with beaches flooded with tourists, although some people were at least willing to enforce social distancing.

Elsewhere the nation was out in force to celebrate V.E. Day, as thousands of households marked the defeat of the Axis with street parties and mass singalongs, of a kind not seen since the last spate of street parties to celebrate the Queen having some sort of birthday or something. I’m not one to kill the mood but there was something almost jingoistic about the furore of national pride, given that it was marked in the Daily Mail as ‘A Victory over Europe’ (possibly a typo, but almost certainly a Freudian Slip) and that in the midst of waving union flags and shouting about taking our country back people seem to have forgotten that it wasn’t a British victory, it was an Allied victory, and that we wouldn’t have won it without the Russians and the Yanks. And I’m really not sure how I feel about marking every sodding anniversary with another blowout, even if this one had to be observed from behind closed doors. I do Remembrance Sunday, because it’s important we mark it somehow, but…well, let’s just say that this wasn’t really about the Second World War, was it? Nonetheless, I accept I am a minority view, and I share my views with people who will understand them, as well as occasionally dumping them on a blog no one reads.

Of course, not all of it went smoothly, as evidenced by this screen grab from Katharine Jenkins’ performance outside Buckingham Palace.

You do wonder what on Earth Churchill would have made of it all, although even if he were around to ask, I can’t help thinking our questions might have taken a different tack.

“Come on, be reasonable. It’s a bank holiday and I’ve not been outside in weeks.”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Coronavirus edition)

Yes, well, I think two weeks of radio silence is long enough. I spent quite a lot of it building a TARDIS-themed virtual art gallery (coming soon to a WordPress feed near you!) and rolling my eyes at people on Facebook who still have no idea who Brendan actually was, or are convinced that Chibnall’s shat all over the legacy of Doctor Who, or who think the Master is lying, or any combination of the above. That’s until we all started talking about getting coughs instead; I’m frightened for my elderly father and the schools are about to shut, but at least the moral outrage over Series 12 is dying down.

Anyway: there are quite a few unrealised blog posts lying around in my drafts folder, and seeing as we’re all going to be stuck at home for the forseeable future you might as well have something to read. But before we get to any of them, we really ought to do a news update.

First, there’s the fallout from Rishi Sunak’s publicity phot, as a certain other high-ranking politician with dodgy scruples asks if you would like the good tea or the bad tea.

Over on the Naismith Estate, Max Von Sydow is upset that he and Timothy Dalton have both turned up at the Time Lords’ New Year’s Eve party wearing the same dress.

And it turns out some members of the public have an unorthodox approach towards celebrating No Smoking day.

Secret recordings reveal the real culprit behind Prince Harry’s prank call from Greta Thunberg.

At the BBC, there are internal complaints that the new sanitisation procedure is borderline excessive.

Donna Noble regrets not packing her own bog roll.

Sometimes washing your hands isn’t quite enough.

And on the streets of Cardiff it seems that not everyone is taking government guidelines seriously.

“Jesus. Clara. SOCIAL DISTANCING.”

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Papa Louie Pals Presents: The Companions (Part 1)

Hello! Welcome to Good Burger, home of the good burger; may I take your order?

As you’ll have seen the other week, I spent large parts of August assembling a plethora of Doctors with the help of Flipline Studio’s Papa Louie Pals, which enables you to create your own characters in the vein of the developer’s cutesy, animated consumers and baristas. In other words, you too – in the comfort of your own home – can make the sort of people who wander in to Papa’s Tacoreria and order…well, tacos. Or burritos, or whatever else they sell; I’m sure I don’t know. I haven’t played them, remember?

But give me an app that lets me be a bit creative and it’s like a red rag to a bull, and – having done all the Doctors – I elected to spend a little time creating the companions as well. We start, today, with the New Who brigade: most of the big players are in there, although I’m kicking myself for not including Wilf. Just for good measure, I stuck a couple of villains in as well (all right, one villain in multiple forms, which does rather narrow it down). Oh, and I couldn’t bring myself to do Adam, largely because he’s a twat.

Still. Everyone else is here, just about. And yes, there is a Classic Who companions gallery in the works, at some point when I get round to it. I may even take requests, as long as they’re more imaginative than “Please stop doing this”.

Let’s get cooking…

We’ll get these two out of the way first. There are lots of ways to do Rose; I have gone with her series one look, which is a little more chavvy and a little less refined than the slicker haircut and more revealing outfits she wore in series 2. Donna looks like a slightly younger version of herself, but that’s not a bad thing.

Nardole is…well, he’s a little taller than I’d like, or a little slimmer; pick one. But he looks vageuly Nardole-ish. And I’m quite pleased with Bill; I even remembered to put the bow in her hair.

The Masters, next (yes, there are multiple versions). Simm’s 2007 look is basically a man in a black suit; take away the evil eyes and he could be auditioning for Reservoir Dogs. He’s accompanied here by River Song, sporting her classic vest-and-skirt combination, as worn in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ and probably other episodes I can’t be bothered to Google.

Two more Masters: the hooded monstrosity from ‘The End of Time’ and the restrained, bearded 2017 Master I always hoped we’d get to see. That’s my favourite contemporary take on the character, and it’s irritating that he really doesn’t work here: the hair is too shaggy, the beard (while being the closest I could manage) is wrong, and the tunic is more chef than rogue Time Lord. he looks like an evil sensei from a Japanese martial arts movie.

Missy, on the other hand, came out a treat, even if she does vaguely resemble a sinister version of Lucy from Peanuts. That’s presumably what Mickey Smith is thinking, unless it’s “Did I leave the iron on?”.

Series 11 now. Graham and Ryan first. Note that Graham’s smile is slightly smaller than the rest: this is deliberate.

And here’s Yas – along with Captain Jack, who is probably staring at her bottom.

The Ponds! They’re wearing matching shirts, which happened because I was feeling a bit lazy that morning, but it’s rather cute.

Lastly, Martha – whose jacket is just about perfect – and Clara. Specifically Oswin, although that dress isn’t quite as figure-hugging as I’d like. Still, she looks pleased with it.

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Have I Got Whos For You (Tenth Doctor Special)

You know how this works by now, folks, so let’s crack on. Today we examine the lighter, darker and more idiosyncratic sides of poll winner and sex symbol extraordinaire, David Tennant – better known as the Tenth or Tenth and Eleventh or Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, depending on how you count. But seriously, let’s not go there this morning. I haven’t the stomach for it, particularly not after all that Photoshopping.

First and foremost: alternative Alien 3 casting.

Boring Doctor Who episodes, #53.

Star Wars revisited.

Alarming discoveries in the Antarctic.

David Tennant, reluctant trumpet player.

Seasonal observations, part one.

We did Roald Dahl the other week, but any excuse.

“What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again…”

If you’ve seen Akira, then…

There, I fixed it.

I fixed it here as well.

And talking of beach farewells.

“When I finally do what frozen things do in summer…”

David Tennant, reluctant Oxford tryout.

Presented without apology.

“Ah.”

In later years, the Meta-Doctor would experience a midlife crisis, and an exasperated Rose would eventually leave him.

“Parachute? PARACHUTE?!?”

Seasonal observations, part two.

David Tennant, reluctant sunflower.

“I don’t wanna – actually, yeah. Yeah, I do.”

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Have I Got Whos For You (half rice, half chips edition)

In the news this week: there is general panic in supermarkets up and down the country as Donna and Martha struggle to keep the Tenth Doctor away from the ice cream.

An alternative, previously unseen angle from the Apollo 11 moon launch fifty years ago throws up a disturbing sight.

And the full, unseen edition of the poster for Patrick Stewart’s new Star Trek vehicle shows exactly what Picard was staring at off to the right.

Elsewhere, the Thirteenth Doctor’s pleased when her Amazon order shows up.

And a deleted exchange from ‘The Sound of Drums’ proves to be oddly prophetic for Boris Johnson.

Talking of Boris, his announcement during last week’s debate that “we must get off the hamster wheel of doom” kind of gave me an idea.

Finally, this week’s recipe, which has no ingredient lists or method, and consists instead of a single instruction from the War Doctor. “Great men are forged in fire,” he tells us. “It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”

Be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful. And if you can’t manage that, remember the date.

 

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The Smallerpictures video dump (part two)

Hello again. The catch-up session showcasing the most average Doctor Who material on the internet continues in earnest this morning – with four videos, all done over the course of a single month. This is unprecedented but they’re all fairly short and I was on a roll. And if you missed part one, you can find it here.

Right, where were we?

 

5. The Badger Song

The Badger Song is older than YouTube. I will let that sink in for a moment.

It hails from the days when Flash was cheap and easy to stream (and this is the moment some smart alec shows up in the comments and tell me it was animated with a different package). There’s something lovably silly about it; this fusion of badgers and fungi and SNAAAAAKES, a novelty record that is so thoroughly pointless that its lack of purpose itself becomes the point. The song turned fifteen at the beginning of September, so for obvious reasons I married it with footage from ‘The Sontaran Experiment’, ‘The Green Death’, ‘Kinda’ and ‘Snakedance’ – but first and foremost from ‘The Monster of Peladon’. MUSHROOM! MUSHROOM!

 

6. Day of the Doctor, Bonus Edition

Oh, Steven. What a can of worms you opened with this scene. It was a delicious, genuinely crowd-pleasing moment, but it makes no sense. I can accept that Capaldi turns up because the calculations weren’t quite done yet – but if that’s the case, how come Smith remembers the whole thing? Surely the persistence of memory is a luxury reserved solely for the oldest Doctor in residence? Or does it not count because there are several TARDIS doors and a few miles of space between them? And come to think of it, why is the First Doctor – whose control of his craft was so poor he could have shot for the moon from six feet away and missed – suddenly able to expertly pilot his TARDIS to precisely the right location at the exact moment he’s needed?

I wrote a little vignette over the summer that comes to explain – via extreme headcanon – precisely how the Twelfth Doctor came to be present in the skies over Gallifrey, but why on earth would you stop there? Because even if he’s the last, there are still a bunch of other Doctors you could use. Peter Cushing, for example, now that he’s supposedly canon. Or Rowan Atkinson. Or…well, I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say there were other incarnations I’d like to have shoehorned, but the lack of decent quality footage made it rather difficult. Needless to say I got some flak from this, largely from people who complained that it was anti-Whittaker. It categorically isn’t. But paranoia runs deep within the Whovian fandom; we live with it.

 

7. Ceiling Drop

Ha ha. Yes, we get it. It’s a glass ceiling and she’s broken it. Or somebody did. Either way it shatters, the fragments whirling and swirling around the new Doctor in a visually impressive, Matrix-style swoop. It’s not exactly subtle, and it does smack of troll-baiting, which may not be a bad thing (and certainly not something I’m about to condemn, seeing as it’s a hobby of mine). Whittaker glances through the fourth wall and mutters “Whoops”, which apparently gave her opponents all the ammunition they needed – “LOOK AT HER! SHE’S NOT A CARING DOCTOR!”. The rest of us rolled our eyes.

Several people pointed out that the ceiling is not unlike the one that Tennant fell through at the close of ‘The End of Time’ (supposedly Tredegar House in Newport, although having never watched Doctor Who Confidential I have no idea how they did that spaceship jump). I decided to splice them into a single sequence, kept deliberately short for the sake of not milking the joke. It just about hangs together, which is more than you can say for the ceiling.

 

8. There’s No Noddy

Believe it or not there is fan fiction about this scene. It features a flashback to the Eighth Doctor hanging out with Noddy and the other Toytown inhabitants. I think they were in a cave somewhere. Sadly there aren’t enough pictures of McGann’s Doctor on the internet and in any case no one does the deer-in-headlights look quite like Tennant, with the exception of Capaldi, and that doesn’t even make sense. I have thus pushed poor old Gareth Roberts’ amusing aside to breaking point, but the Photoshops were fun to do. You may be interested to learn that this little montage was playing in my head for years before I actually got round to making it, and it was always scored to ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard’. So that’s what you can hear.

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Back to the Future

If you were watching TV in the 1980s, there are certain things you will remember. The Vietnam veterans who were brilliant at taking down loan sharks despite their inability to actually shoot straight. David Hasselhoff running into the ocean in slow motion – and then, regrettably, running back out again. Richard Dean Anderson building a small explosive out of three rolls of parcel tape and a paperclip. Scott Bakula in a wig and heels. David Hasselhoff again, upstaged by a Trans Am. David Duchovny, in a wig and heels. And Tom Selleck somehow managing to make Hawaiian shirts look almost cool.

There was a technique to producing a memorable intro, and that was to talk over it. I say “In 1972”, you say “a crack commando unit”. I say “A shadowy flight into the dangerous world”, you say “of a man WHO DOES NOT EXIST”. I say “…hoping each time that his next leap”, you say “will be the leap home”, the unavoidable lump in your throat stemming from the knowledge that he never quite managed it. We knew those voiceovers as well as we knew the opening themes that followed, whether they were by Mike Post, or – actually, they were all by Mike Post, so let’s leave it there. In any event those voiceovers have entered fan lore and it is impossible to imagine the show without them. We still do them at parties. Perhaps that’s just me.

But Doctor Who has always had that opening theme, and it’s always been…well, very of its time, somehow, whatever time that happened to be. The titles have always been played over stars, or a swirling vortex, or weird camera effects – something abstract and general. You can’t really imagine it any other way. It’s difficult to envisage a Doctor Who that emulates that cheesy montage-style opening, replete with freeze frame stills of the leads, and shots of at least one explosion, or Dwight Schultz with a glove puppet.

Hence this.

Technical stuff first. It had to be Tennant. The ‘Voyage of the Damned’ speech that makes up the bulk of his narration practically lends itself to an 80s style intro (the BBC used it for at least one trailer back in 2007) and even if it hadn’t, there was no one else who could have pulled off that debonair, slightly irritating leading man pastiche. Smith is just too…English. As much as I love the Eleventh Doctor, his predecessor’s monumental impact with fans is easy to analyse: he’s the sort of person they grew up watching in the 1990s. He’s Fox Mulder, right down to the suit. Barrowman’s presence was a given. Casting a companion was trickier – I almost plumped for a selection until the moment I realised the shot of Tennant closing the TARDIS door with his fingers was ripe for inclusion – and he’s with Donna, so the decision was more or less made.

“Why Max?” asked Gareth, and various other people, so I explained. “It is scientific fact that any American sci-fi / private detective drama from the 1980s had an eccentric older character played by an established veteran, and he was usually called Max.”
“Is it? I can’t think of any at the moment. What examples are there? (So that I can say “oh, really?” or “ah, I haven’t seen that”.)
Hart To Hart. And. Um. Max from Ben Ten? OK, that may be it.”

Details aside, the casting of the comic relief veteran was standard practice, as evidenced by Macgyver and Magnum P.I., among others. Actually, when I think about it this whole thing was really just a reaction to this trailer, which I did years back and which I was unable to post on Facebook.

Right down to that shot of Barrowman hefting the gun. Which may be iconic one day. But not today. Tomorrow doesn’t look good either.

Music was provided by Philip Chance – I wandered around YouTube looking for appropriate rights-free synth-and-drum-machine combos for a good long while before I found what I was looking for. The post-production work was done in Adobe After Effects – which I downloaded specially – although I couldn’t have managed the grainy VHS look without the help of this tutorial. Basically it’s a question of whacking up the contrast and pasting over some noise effects. If you look at the bottom of the screen you’ll see a jagged line running throughout, which is supposed to be that poor tracking you always had when the heads needed cleaning.

“Do you see what I mean about the old-style 3D-ness, though?” said Gareth.

“I do,” I said, “because the process is basically the same. Basically you split the picture into three separate signals and then isolate the colour in each – one red, one blue, one green – and overlay them. Then you shift each one a few pixels to the left and right so that the different colours are very slightly out of sync. It’s not enough to make it look any worse than a less-than-brilliant VHS transfer – real 3D signals are completely separate and are headache inducing when watched with the naked eye – but it’s a similar principle.”

“These days, I’m all about wearable technology.”

It’s not perfect, but I got bored. Some projects have a clear beginning, a middle and an end. When you’re doing a montage you’re looking for clips that work. Intro parodies (as with the Magnum one above) are trickier but narrow down your scope considerably, so that it’s easy to tell when it’s done. When mashing up dialogue it’s usually a question of finding enough material that works and then chipping away at the bits that you don’t need until you’re telling the best story you can.

With something like this it’s harder. Should I move that frame a little more to the right? Up the blur to 60 rather than 50 per cent? How authentic does this need to look? What’s it going to look like after encoding? In the end I settled for “Well, you get the idea”, which is sometimes about the best you can do when you’re not actually getting paid for doing this stuff. At least you don’t have to worry about copyright.

Reaction was…variable. Lots of people liked it, but more than a few missed the point.

“Umm, shouldn’t it be ‘If NuWho was produced in the 80s’? Because there were new episodes of Doctor Who coming out in the 80s.” (Reaction: Yeah, I was being vague. It helps with the hit count.)

I will never understand the fetishization of VHS. (Reaction: That’s TOTALLY NOT WHAT I’M DOING, it’s just about authenticity.)

“One thing – Tennant would have been a pimply teenager in the 80s (or possibly a little kid, I’m not sure how old he is), and Capaldi looked more like Colin Baker.” (Reaction: Yeah, he does look like Colin Baker.)

“Have people actually forgotten that doctor who was in fact around during the eighties and still looked better than this?” (Reaction: No one’s forgotten. Why have you reminded us?)

“Doctor Who was around in the 80s and before and shot on video so what’s the point of this?” (Reaction: Ah yes. The old ‘What’s the point?’ maxim. It’s people like you who get arts funding cut.)

“But… there already were episodes made in the 80s…” (Reaction: You’re really not getting this, are you?)

Gaah. Look, it’s a parallel universe, right? A parallel universe where we never moved beyond VHS and cassette tapes and gigantic brick-sized mobile phones (glances at Samsung S7 on desk, shifts uncomfortably in office chair) and contemporary Doctor Who, when they eventually made it, looked like this. And you had to tape it off the TV and find you’d missed the last five minutes because the Videoplus got the timing wrong, so you’ll never see Peter Capaldi bust through that wall. And it looks rotten because when you see 1980s TV recordings uploaded to YouTube, they look rotten as well. Savvy? I’M TIRED OF HAVING TO EXPLAIN THIS SHIT TO YOU PEOPLE.

Missing the point is something that happens quite a lot in fandom. It’s appropriate that we’ve just had Mothering Sunday, because last year I published the meme you can see below, which was picked up by a fan page (as opposed to Peter Capaldi himself – a man who is not on social media, although it’s sorely tempting to pretend he is and is reading my stuff). Comments varied from ‘LOLOLOL’ (which doesn’t even make sense) to the acidic ‘That’s horrible, and so are you’ – but it was one particular remark that caught my eye and then twisted a sharp stick into the socket over the course of the head-against-the-brick-wall conversation that followed. It is reprinted below as is: I have no qualms about embarrassing the girl / boy, because that’s not a real photo and that’s almost definitely not her / his real name.

I despair.

Then along comes John, who gets it instantly. “We found the Americanized Who!” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied. “That’s what I should have called it.” Dammit.

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The New Who Top Ten: #10

9-early

It seems funny to think that it’s been ten years since I was a young upstart working in academic publishing, making the most of the office broadband connection in order to read BBC articles about the upcoming revival of Doctor Who. It was early spring 2005, and everyone was fairly excited. We’d seen trailers showing animated shop dummies, ghosts and a spaceship crashing into Big Ben (well, the clock tower that contains it, although I’m sure they hit the bell on their way down). Farting aliens, irritating love stories and the arm-folding shouts of ‘Fantastic’ that would define at least the first series of Russell T. Davies’ reign were still a world away, and in the meantime the imminent ‘series one’ was little more than an intoxicating world of wonders waiting to be discovered.

A decade later, with four more children than I had the first time Eccleston put on the leather jacket, I’ll admit that I’m very jaded about this revived Doctor Who. Those of you who read this regularly will know that I spend a lot of time whinging about story arcs, companion-centric universes and ontological inanity – to the extent that the list that begins today will feature, you will note, absolutely nothing from the last series. It’s nothing personal. I’m a big fan of this new Doctor. Capaldi’s fiery and glacial and wonderful, embodying Hartnell and Pertwee and even bits of Colin Baker. He just doesn’t have the stories he deserves, although I live in hope that this will change.

But enough of that for now. It would be nice to spend a couple of weeks accentuating the positive. Over at Metro, where I write occasionally, the very talented Cameron McEwan is doing a top ten countdown of New Who episodes, one story a day – so it makes perfect sense to do our own here, in parallel. Well, sort of parallel. He’s writing “episodes you have to see”, which is a little different to the somewhat more subjective “best episodes”. But it may be interesting to see how our lists compare, so I will link to Cameron’s posts as we go (not that he needs the traffic). And we start with…

Vesuvius_Erupts

Number 10: ‘Fires of Pompeii’ (2008)

Let’s get one thing straight: I bloody love Donna Noble. If New Who were a recruitment consultancy staffed by giggly hormonal teenage girls (and many recruitment consultancies are), she would be the branch manager, older and wiser and more grounded. She crash-lands in the TARDIS as the most irritating sidekick since Mel – with hair to match – and then is completely transformed. She is that rare breed: a New Who companion who undergoes a character arc that doesn’t leave me fired up with loathing and irritation.

Oh, for sure it all goes to pot in those final episodes. The Doctor-Donna thing is mind-numbingly tedious, and the Dalek-crushing, super-intelligent Donna in ‘Journey’s End’ is borderline offensive (what, she couldn’t save the universe on her own; she needed the Doctor’s brains?). But her transformation prior to that convergence is wonderful, and most refreshingly of all it’s done with comparative restraint, at least for this period in the show’s history: it’s nice to have a companion in the TARDIS who genuinely doesn’t want to shag the Doctor, and while the “No, we’re not a couple” gags quickly become tiresome, just for a change, the lady doth not protest too much.

"WOTAN!"

“WOTAN!”

‘Pompeii’ is early Donna. It’s her baptism of fire, in an almost literal sense. She is a willing traveller and the Doctor the most reluctant of hosts (the look on Tennant’s face at the end of ‘Partners in Crime’ as Tate loads her suitcases into the TARDIS is absolutely priceless). She reacts to the site of ancient Rome (or what she and the Doctor believe to be Rome) by addressing one of the street vendors in Latin, just to see what will happen. She takes the sight of fiery volcanic monsters in her stride, crying “You fought her off with a water pistol; I bloody love you!”. And she implores the Doctor to intervene in a raging, tear-stained exchange as Pompeii burns – although her high point arguably comes a few scenes earlier, when she clasps a hand over the Doctor’s inside the escape pod, as the two of them silently make history together. (It’s a scene Moffat would visit – however unconsciously – years later, at a pivotal moment in ‘Day of the Doctor’.)

But good as she is, Tate isn’t even the best thing about this episode. That honour goes to Phil Davis, in a performance described as “scowling” by Digital Spy: Lucius is a wrathful soothsayer who starts out intense and builds to fire and brimstone of Biblical proportions. It’s possibly the most angry performance in New Who and Davis hams it up like the villains of old. Not for him the balanced, morally ambiguous Machiavellian of ‘Timelash’ or the complex morality of ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. This is Omega territory. We could be back in 1973. In a way, we very nearly are. The entire episode has an almost overblown feel to it, as if James Moran wanted to write a contemporary story in the style of the Doctor Who he knew years ago.

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‘Fires of Pompeii’ is infamous, of course, for featuring an early appearance from a red-swathed Karen Gillan as well as a supporting role from a future Doctor. It gave Moffat the excuse for yet another over-arching mystery in a tedious scene in ‘Deep Breath’ (one to which I’m sure we’ll return at some point) but the episode really deserves a stronger legacy than this. ‘Fires of Pompeii’ is gratuitously ham-fisted, and is as invested in silliness as it is in the moral debate that forms the narrative thrust of the third act. But there’s a satisfying consistency that runs right through to the ending, and the Doctor’s decision to save Caecilius and his family – however inconsequential in the grand scheme of things – feels as much in character as does his initial decision to abandon them. When Tennant opens the door of his TARDIS, bathed in light, peeking through the fourth wall and beckoning both the helpless Romans and the entire audience to “come with me”, you can’t help but cheer. And that’s my general reaction to the entire episode. It’s crowd-pleasing, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Even with Doctor Who.

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Cameron’s Episode: ‘Turn Left’

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The Wig Planet

It’s quite gratifying that when I do an image search for ‘Donna Noble Library’, this crops up in the first three lines of results.

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(You can read about why Thomas is doing that in this post from August 2012.)

I can’t even remember why we were talking about it, but it probably involved the fact that Emily was cutting my hair last night. “I mustn’t overdo it,” she said. “You’ll look like Donna did when she was attached to that node.”

Anyway –

And while we’re on that, this one seemed obvious.

Donna_Library2

In for a penny, in for a Pond, as the Seventh Doctor would probably have said.

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