My darling wife has a birthday.
I’m not going to tell you how old she is. But to mark the occasion, I’ve Photoshopped her into scenes from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
(We really should make tea as well.)
My darling wife has a birthday.
I’m not going to tell you how old she is. But to mark the occasion, I’ve Photoshopped her into scenes from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.
(We really should make tea as well.)
Pigs. You couldn’t move for them yesterday. The revelation that Prime Minister David Cameron may (as we go to press) or may not have inserted his genitals into the mouth of a dead pig during a societal initiation set the internet on fire. The press had a ball. Twitter almost imploded. It was a good day to bury bad news, which was presumably the entire point.
Certainly it doesn’t come as a total surprise. It’s the sort of thing fraternities do. That it allegedly happened to Cameron is not in itself important – we all do stupid things when we’re young, and it has no bearing on his ability or otherwise to run the country. If nothing else it’s a good chance for the left to get its own back after all the Corbyn-baiting that’s been going on over the past few weeks (one particularly amusing image I saw yesterday features an exchange between the two at the Battle of Britain memorial service – Cameron is asking “Why weren’t you singing?”, to which Corbyn responds “I felt safer with my mouth shut”). At the same time, it’s telling when the general reaction is not one of revulsion and disgust, but a series of knowing winks. Or, as a friend of mine put it, “What does it say about you when someone says ‘that man fucked a pig’ and half of the country goes ‘Yeah. I figure he probably did…’?”
Anyway. This doesn’t translate easily into Doctor Who – the hastily concocted image at the top aside, of course. If I really wanted to I could do something with the space pig that appears halfway through ‘Aliens of London’ but I’m really more inclined to delve deeper into history – at the extended version of Peter Davison’s appearance in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, for instance.
Certainly when the story broke my first instinct, bizarrely, was to recall an early sequence in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, in which this doesn’t quite happen:
Phillip: Say, Terrance, what did the Spanish priest say to the Iranian gynecologist?
Terrance: I don’t know, Phillip. What?
[Phillip farts on Terrance’s face, and both get into hysterics over it]
Terrance: You’re such a pigfucker, Phillip!
Phillip: No, Terrance, that’s the British Prime Minister!
Terrance: Oh yeah! [farts]
Still. It’s not the first time a reckless, irresponsible blue Muppet got one of his extremities caught up in a pig.
You see what I mean.
This started with the image at the bottom – a joke for which Gareth is responsible, stemming as it does from a conversation we had a while back as to whether the First Question was, in fact, the same as the Ultimate Question of life, the universe and everything, and whether or not the answer was thus ’42’. And one thing led to another and so here are a group of badly-produced Photoshop memes, most of them Doctor Who / HitchHiker’s Guide To The Galaxy mashups, along with one that isn’t.
I made two images for the Marvin one which had different connotations, but went with the one I preferred. I’m fun like that…
We’re on the home straight now for clues and conspiracies, but there’s still plenty more to see. Here’s a look at ‘Dark Water’, whereby we may be privy to the secrets within if we are willing to tap the surface.
First, have a look in the park.
There are thirteen visible pillars in that central structure, a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to the thirteen canonical Doctors, including John Hurt. Note also the sun spots. The furthest pillar to the right (but one) has a sun spot above it, making it clear that this refers to the Tenth Doctor, who was briefly possessed by a sun in ’42’.
’42’ was also the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything, a concept developed by Douglas Adams, who was script editor for Doctor Who during the reign of the Fourth Doctor, whom we’ve already discussed in depth. Look closely and you’ll see that the figure at the base of the plinth appears to be holding up a lower case ‘B’, clearly alluding to Tom Baker.
But where is Danny, anyway? Well, he’s in Alexandra Gardens, in Cardiff, specifically walking past the Welsh National War Memorial, dedicated to soldiers who died in World War I – featured as an ephemeral plot point in ‘The Family of Blood’, an episode starring The Tenth Doctor. And then there’s the use of the gardens in ‘Last of the Time Lords’, which also starred…well, you know.
Moving on a bit, I felt like doing some drawing today. So I did. We started by looking at the disco ball that houses the souls of the dead.
If you assume that the prominent red dots each symbolise one incarnation of the Doctor (as we did the other day) you can then concoct a visual representation of the stories in which they interact. (For reasons that should be obvious, this does not include regeneration stories.)
Finally, if we isolate the colours:
The three letters at the bottom – COI – could apply to the now-defunct Central Office of Information, but are more likely to refer to Coi, a restaurant in San Francisco – the setting for the 1996 Doctor Who movie starring Paul McGann (and again, we’ve discussed him before), battling against THE MASTER. Could we be about to see the return of Grace Holloway?
Curiously, COI can be rearranged into ICO, a particularly fine PlayStation game, and one which has no reference to anything here, but it’s included because Gareth and I both love it (and knowing him, he’ll know come up with some sort of plot-related connection between the game and the Whoniverse).
Look now at
Steven Moffat’s Clara’s post-it note collection.
The white owl on the shelf alludes to the owl owned by Ted Moss in ‘Image of the Fendahl’, featuring the Fourth Doctor. It is white because it also refers to the White Guardian, destined to make a reappearance soon.
Also examine the three notes arranged in a column beneath the John Lennon autobiography on the upper shelf, whose title is only partly visible. It’s apparent that these are important, because the role of Lennon was played by the Ninth Doctor:
They read ‘Saibra’, ‘Vastra’ and ‘Robin Hood’ – words which can be combined and rearranged to form ‘Bravo! Historians abroad’. This is an opaque reference to ‘Marco Polo’, WHICH HAS CLEARLY BEEN FOUND. ‘Marco Polo’ also stars Mark Eden in the titular role, and from here we may trace links to Cornwall’s Eden Project and the site of what must surely be a 2015 story, presumably involving Sontarans.
If this connection seems somewhat tenuous, let me add some cement. The architect for the Eden Project was Nicholas Grimshaw – a surname adopted by various Who actors in other roles, most notably William Hartnell (in Carry on Sergeant) and, um, Bruno Langley (in Coronation Street), whose appearance most people would probably rather forget. But it was an episode with the aforementioned Christopher Eccleston, so IT STILL COUNTS.
And if you needed any more proof, consider that the Eden Project is built on top of a clay pit, which was formerly used as the surface of Magrathea when the BBC were filming The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – which was written by…
Today, I will mostly be carrying a towel.
SJ has blogged elsewhere about her love for Douglas Adams, and a better introduction to the series you could not wish for, so I suggest you open up that post in a separate window and read it after you’ve finished with this one. In the meantime, to celebrate 25 May, I bring you this.
I first read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy as a teenager. At the time I don’t think I realised what I had. Here was the satirical science novel to end all satirical science novels and all I could think about was how it related to the Discworld, in which I was ensconced, if that’s the right word. I enjoyed the adventures of Arthur and Ford but was far more interested in Death and his granddaughter Susan. Then I went to university and immersed myself in James Joyce and Virginia Woolf because we were supposed to. Then I grew up, and stopped reading the classics precisely because that’s what I’d been told to read for the past thirteen years, and ever since then I’ve read little except comic books, music biographies and science fiction (and Dan Brown). Sci-fi aside, my world is one great big ocean of trash lit, and I love it.
I first saw the series years ago, but I can’t remember at what point I figured out that Marvin the Paranoid Android was ripe for a smash-and-grab redub. I was probably showering or driving. Nonetheless, some sort of mashup seemed inevitable. Marvin is a work of unparalleled genius, the sort of chap you’d be happy to have along for the ride purely for comic relief and so long as you can mute him, voiced to perfection by Stephen Moore (who also turned up in Doctor Who some years later, playing an elderly Silurian in the otherwise forgettable ‘Cold Blood’). He remains so popular years after the fact because there is something inherently British in his misery; he’s like the pensioners I encountered on the bus after days of continuous rain who were complaining about the heat. Marvin is never satisfied with his lot, and we love him for it.
Earlier this year, Emily and I watched ‘The Robots of Death’, which also features robots getting slightly miserable. D84 lacks Marvin’s sour perspective, but does have one of the most fragile voices ever to grace artificial intelligence, practically shedding tears when he laments of his failure, before gasping “Goodbye…my…friend”, with pauses that would have impressed even Harold Pinter, as he (metaphorically) breathes his last. He also gets one of the story’s funniest scenes (along with Borg’s reaction to the Doctor’s offer of a jelly baby), when Leela takes him for an attacker and hurls a spare appendage from a previous assassin in his direction, causing D84 to respond with “Please do not throw hands at me”. It’s a masterful performance from Gregory de Polnay, to the extent that I was hesitant to mess with it, but in terms of redubbing Marvin, it seemed an obvious choice.
Stephen Moore provided the definitive Marvin, of course, but not the only one. Emily and I met at the cinema, some ten years ago now, and for a while we marked the occasion with annual visits to the same cinema, every May bank holiday. In spring 2005, when she was thick with pregnancy, we saw the remake of Hitchhiker’s – hopelessly miscast and structurally uneven, the net result was a film so bad it made Douglas Adams seem dull, which I’d hitherto thought impossible. It’s so atrocious that no one seems to even care that it’s on YouTube as a full-length stream. The best thing about it, of course, is Alan Rickman, who brings a sardonic whine to Marvin that suits him well, particularly in his new, squat form.
But you can’t use the film, because it’s covered in score, so I went back to the classic series. This involved watching it again (along with Emily, who was seeing it for the first time – I really should have done a Wife In Space type thing) and ripping out the dialogue later. Then I basically put the thing together over the course of one very long evening, surviving on coffee and M&Ms (and coming up with the idea, just now, for coffee-flavoured M&Ms, which I know would be a work of genius).
The first time I viewed the rough cut, it was a disaster. It didn’t gel at all. Then I added a single sound effect – the drone-like hum that you can hear throughout – and something clicked. The only thing I wish I’d changed is a contraction of the opening credits, because while it feels more episode-like as a result, you need to get in quick if you’re going to hook an audience, and I worry about wandering attention spans. The ending, of course, also differs from ‘The Robots of Death’ because I couldn’t bring myself to let Marvin / D84 stay dead, which is why he pops up just before the Doctor and Leela leave in the TARDIS.
One thing that came out of this was the decision that from this point forward, Gareth would be the arbiter of quality before I went public with anything. He it was who suggested that the ‘Don’t Splink!’ video I produced a while back would arguably work better without the tacked-on coda, and I also wish I’d listened to him about the Yoho Ahoy! redub, which seems a little messy with Cybermen that don’t really fit. When I showed him the first (and now deleted) version of this, his reaction was that it would be improved if Dask or Leela sounded more like Frankie and Benjy. (And yes, I know that video is from the film, but I couldn’t find an appropriate TV series equivalent.) Dask couldn’t be touched without also tainting the score, but I did manage to rework Leela (although, as Gareth then pointed out, “It’s now rather hard to work out what she’s actually saying!”. I should have included subtitles.
For the benefit of younger or non-UK readers, the “You Have Been Watching” credit style is a gimmick of Jimmy Perry and David Croft, two British sitcom giants. It might have worked better with applause. But you spend all your time looking back at these things and working out ways to improve them, and there has to be a point at which you stop, and admit that what you’ve done is good enough. There is, I’m convinced, a far more coherent version of this that could be made using Marvin’s dialogue from the radio series – a series which encompasses the later books – but I do not think this will be produced by me. What I’ve done is probably good enough, and I am happy to make the expanded version Somebody Else’s Problem.
Now, where did I put that towel…?
Watching ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ was, I thought this morning, rather like ordering the mixed starters in a Chinese restaurant. Rather than offering us a coherent narrative, Chris ‘mixed episodes of Torchwood’ Chibnall offered up a platter of random elements which more or less fit together. It was a stark contrast to last week, which at least tried to be consistent (even if it was dull). Chibnall didn’t even try here: there was, instead, a series of comedy vignettes loosely strung together by a frayed piece of string that we might call a plot. It was forty-odd minutes of insanity. And – let’s get this out of the way – I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This one was plugged as Snakes on a Plane, without the plane, or the snakes. Such comparisons are inevitable but not really fair: the snakes, in David Ellis’s 2007 misfire, are the whole point of the film, whereas the dinosaurs in this installment of Who, while impressive, are a McGuffin of comparatively little importance. Because what this episode is really about is Rory’s Dad. It had to happen: we’ve had two and a half years of the Ponds managing more or less by themselves, with Amy’s parents resurrected at the end of series five only to vanish into complete obscurity, while her husband hasn’t even got a look-in until now. Credit should go to Moffat for keeping away from the soap opera family sagas that dogged Davies’ run, but perhaps it’s the very absence of detail that’s made me curious: who is Rory’s family? Does he have one? Last night, we sort of found out.
After a madcap opening which saw us go from ancient Egypt to the plains of Africa, which echoed ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ and which, I feared, was setting us up for a catastrophic fall from grace, we visit the Ponds. Some time has elapsed since ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, and Rory’s dad, Brian
Pond Williams, is fixing a light bulb, which is something that Rory apparently can’t do himself. Brian’s a gruff, grumpy character quite unlike Arthur Weasley (who, for some reason, I somehow expected him to be playing) – quite stunned to find himself suddenly inside the TARDIS, which has materialised around them all. The Doctor takes everyone into the bowels of a colossal spacecraft “the size of Canada” (which enables them to go from beaches to jungles to grimy steel without worrying about the tone) and immediately jumps on Brian, before getting cross with Rory for bringing him along, much to Rory’s annoyance.
No one has time to be grumpy for long, because that’s when the main door opens, and we find out what the vessel is being used for. “Dinosaurs!” exclaims the Doctor. “On a SPACESHIP!” Which would be a wonderful reveal to take us into the opening credits, were it not for the fact that a) it’s the episode title, b) it’s been on all the promotional posters, c) it’s been flogged to death in the press releases.
So much for spoilers. There was at least one surprise in store, although given Chibnall’s Who-related history perhaps we should have seen it coming: the ship is an ark formerly piloted by the Silurians (presumably to escape the disaster that wiped out the dinosaurs, which the Doctor really should remember). Unfortunately, the one Silurian actually present in the episode is visible on camera in a thirty-second pre-recorded video, which we can’t really see properly anyway because Amy is blocking the view, and that’s yer lot. I know that the new Silurians shamelessly rip off V (at least physically; otherwise we’re in chicken and egg territory), but it’s hard not to feel a bit cheated. Perhaps more surprising is the revelation that it’s pronounced ‘sy-loor-ian’, which means I’ve been saying it wrong all these years. At first I thought Amy was bringing a Scottish lilt to things, in the manner of Kevin Lindsay’s mispronunciation of ‘Sontaran’ in ‘The Time Warrior’, but apparently not. Still, I suppose the occasional clanger on my part is to be expected when you do your Who correspondence over the internet.
There are no Silurians hanging around because, as it turns out, they’ve all been killed by the evil Solomon, who is nursing his injuries in a shuttle hidden in the depths of the ship. Solomon is played with sinister flair by David Bradley, recently seen in Harry Potter.
You can almost hear the phone call.
“David? It’s Keith. Got something. They want you to play an evil trader in Doctor Who. The writer describes it as ‘Half businessman, half Somali pirate’.”
“There’s a problem: They blew the entire costume budget on CGI and they want you to bring your own outfit. Do you still have the Filch costume?”
“Yes, as it happens. Warner Brothers didn’t want it for the museum. Apparently sadistic caretakers just aren’t glam enough for the displays.”
“Every cloud, though.”
On the other hand…
Well, we could be here all day.
In the absence of any other plan, the gang (as the Doctor refers to them – “It’s new”) – decide to split up and look for clues. It’s not entirely on purpose; an inconvenient teleport zaps Rory, Brian and the Doctor down to Glamorgan, only as it turns out they haven’t actually left the ship – the beach is nothing but an enormous engine, as we discover when the Doctor asks them to dig, and Brian inexplicably (but amusingly) produces a trowel from his pockets, in much the same manner as Mick pulls out salt and pepper from his jacket in The Caretaker. Or, on the other hand –
These scenes are really designed to give the three men a chance to Be Funny together, which – to be fair – they manage quite successfully. Smith seems to have regained his sense of humour after last week, boyishly declaring “I’m going to look at rocks!” before wandering off, although it isn’t long before they’re back and looking at a swanky computer screen.
While the Three Stooges are running away from pterodactyls, Amy has the rather tedious job of wandering round the rest of the ship, stumbling across a sleeping dinosaur that can’t be much bigger than a rhino before musing “At best guess, a tyrannosaurus rex”, suggesting that either she doesn’t know her dinosaurs or it was just a really, really small one. Her main role in this episode, however, consists of interacting with the two supporting characters, both of whom are there to provide crucial narrative support at one particular moment, rendering the rest of their appearance entirely pointless.
Amy deals with this by having the two of them argue about gender politics, before drawing their attention to the screen.
It really is mind-numbingly tedious. And so is Amy, who seems to have been so drastically rewritten this series it makes me wonder what on earth I saw in her the first place. Last week she was laughing in the face of danger; this week she’s pressing buttons, because apparently that’s the sort of thing the Doctor does. Rarely has Karen Gillan had me looking at my watch, and it isn’t really her fault, but for the first time last night I found myself grateful that we’re facing the imminent departure of the Ponds.
Meanwhile, the Doctor et al. appear to have met a triceratops, which, in This Week’s Funny Moment, slobbers all over Brian.
Which, in turn, calls to mind this little moment of comedy gold.
The triceratops, of course, behaves exactly like a dog, adhering to dinosaur film principle #1: any herbivorous creature must be friendly, sweet and not in the least intimidated by humans. The canine-like behaviour extends to the point that it runs to fetch the golf balls that Brian throws for it. The whole thing is very silly, but it’s hard not to raise a smile when the Doctor, Rory and Brian leap on its back and gallop through the halls of the spaceship, or feel a pang of sadness when Solomon and his robotic cronies subsequently gun it down.
Ah, yes. Those robots. I have no idea what the casting directors were playing at here, but bringing in Mitchell and Webb was a mistake: amusing for one line, when David Mitchell faces down the Doctor and says “We’re very cross with you”, and then swiftly grating. (Besides, if we’re going with hulking monstrosities with silly voices, Suburban Commando got there first.) Reduced to a one-scene cameo with amusing dialogue this could have been another celebrity cameo in the manner of Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride, or Bill Bailey in ‘The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe’. As it stands, their pre-recorded patter swiftly becomes tiresome: the robots-behaving-like-children thing ages faster than Sara Kingdom at the end of ‘The Daleks’ Master Plan’, and Mitchell saying “You’re going straight to the naughty step” would have been funny if he hadn’t said more or less exactly the same thing to Webb in the Mac advert campaign.
The ship is still speeding towards Earth, where the military has No Choice But To Shoot It Down, despite the Doctor’s reassurances that everything is OK. The ethical ‘dilemma’ as faced by the Earth is epitomised by the pained look of one particular commander.
Up on the ship, the Doctor has a plan, but he has time to chat to Amy first and reassure her that he’ll never leave her. “You’ll be there until the end of me,” he promises, to which Amy quips “Or vice versa”. This grants the Doctor the opportunity to give her a Very Serious and Worried Look.
Said look is presumably designed to dangle the prospect of Amy’s death in front of our noses until ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, in which Moffat will reveal that it was all a bluff just before he actually kills Rory.
Speaking of death, the end of the episode sees some dubious moral choices: the Doctor saves the dinosaurs by freeing Solomon’s ship, allowing him to escape, but reversing the signal so that the missiles pursue him instead of the dinosaurs. It’s technically possible for him to escape, just as it was technically possible for Johnny to have escaped at the end of Mad Max, but this is the closest the Doctor’s come to outright murder in a while, and it’s not a comfortable place for him to be. Meanwhile, Riddell the hunter has taken care of the approaching velociraptors – with the help of Amy, who has inexplicably developed fantastic shooting skills in the same manner that washerwomen and market traders develop chorographical skills in musical numbers. This is an excuse for another bit of fancy gunplay, as rather than take a side of the room and stick to it the two embark on a dazzling display of shooting-past-each-other, while finishing – as Gareth pointed out – in the middle of the room, whereas standing right by the door would surely have been the safer option. Riddell is, of course, using tranquilisers, which absolves him of moral responsibility so presumably we won’t feel bad when he heads back to Africa and starts shooting real animals again.
Brian gets to be a hero, piloting the ship out of danger with the help of his son, although Chibnall missed a trick here – there was the potential for more banter in the manner of parent-child driving lessons, but instead all we get is Williams shouting “I’M FLYING A SPACESHIP”. Nonetheless, he’s the focus of the nicest scene in the episode, which consists of nothing more than a quiet sandwich lunch (with Thermos) at the open door of the TARDIS, looking out over the Earth. It’s wordless, understated and really rather lovely.
Brian’s experience on the ship, of course, has given him the travel bug, and one of the final images in the episode is Amy and Rory’s kitchen wall, adorned with photoshopped postcards of his excursions. Well, being chased by pterodactyls and getting shot by robots is one way of curing hodophobia. It does rather recall the subplot in Amelie where the titular heroine gets her father out of the house by kidnapping his gnome.
For all its structural issues and inconsistencies, ‘Dinosaurs’ was a riot. It was silly, and outrageous, miscast and occasionally poorly written. It was also very, very hard to dislike (and I wanted to. I really did). Because stories like this need to be fun, in the way that Snakes on a Plane wasn’t. Regular readers here may remember that a couple of months ago I predicted that ‘Dinosaurs’ would be rubbish. And I stand by that, because it was, but it was a fun, silly, highly amusing sort of rubbish, and so in many ways not really rubbish at all. Perhaps it was the Chardonnay, but I enjoyed last night’s Who more than any other I’ve seen since 2010. That can’t be a bad thing.
In conversation with Gareth about the origins of humanity, which is the sort of thing we talk about. (Our email topics, as I daresay I’ve mentioned, tend to shift by degrees of association. This morning it was:
The Dark Knight Rises
>> Justice League film by 2015
>> flying cars by 2015 (courtesy of Back to the Future)
>> development of teleport technology as a possible alternative
>> Barclay’s conviction that there were “things” living in the transporter stream in The Next Generation
>> Philip K Dick story about primitive humans living in a ‘tunnel’ between two teleport stations
>> ontological paradoxes about future society being responsible for the development of humanity
>> aliens being responsible for the development of humanity
Cf. Battlestar Galactica, Planet of the Apes…oh, I could go on. And, of course, Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which (in Gareth’s words) “Ford and Arthur arrive on the Golgafrincham ‘B’ Ark, and they crash land on preshistoric Earth. Arthur tries to educate the primitive creatures there (e.g., playing Scrabble, leading to try to guess the Ultimate Question by drawing tiles, only to get “WHAT DO YOU GET IF YOU MULTIPLY SIX BY NINE”). Ford suggests that the human race ends up being descended from the Golgafrinchams rather than the intended people”.
“I wonder,” I said. “If ‘Doctor Who?’ is the ultimate (and therefore the first) question, and ’42’ is the answer, how can we make that work?
“Maybe the question got obscured,” replied Gareth. “And it began ‘What’s a really bad episode of’.”