Posts Tagged With: first doctor

Papa Louie Pals Presents: The Doctors

I’m the odd one out in our house. I seem to be the only one of the six of us – and yes, that includes Edward – who’s never played a Papa Louie game.

“That makes two of us,” I can hear many of you say, and who can blame you? For the Papa games – which began life as a Flash-based platform game that spawned a wealth of culinary spin-offs – are fun and popular, but they’re not exactly mainstream. It’s the sort of private joke that takes too long to explain: this notion of working your way through hundreds of customers who want hot dogs and sandwiches and pizza and…well, you name it, they’ve covered it. Papa’s Wingeria does chicken. Papa’s Freezeria deals with all things ice cream. Papa’s Donuteria does – look, I’m not going to read out the whole thing. Suffice it to say Flipline have done well out of this little franchise, although my own idea for a spin-off – a toilet maintenance game entitled Papa’s Diarrhea – has thus far been met with nothing but a resounding silence.

But I never got into it. I just didn’t have the time; there were too many other games to be playing. I was content to sit, lounged in bed or next to Emily on the sofa, while the tinkly music tinkled and my better half tried to get an even spread of tomato paste and cursed when I jogged the bed and made her drop her pancake. We got used to throwing our arms up in the air with a broad grin when evening meals arrived on the table. If you have played any of the games you will appreciate this. If you have not, I’m not about to explain it to you. Perhaps you had to be there, or at least be in the immediate vicinity of someone who was – a role I was (it seemed) more than content to play.

Still. Then they made Papa Louie Pals, which is the subject of today’s post. Papa Louie Pals enables you to create more or less anyone you like, from a series of pre-defined style templates, faces and skin tones and outfit variations. The basic humanoid shape is the same for everyone – with minimal adjustments to things like girth and neck length – but all that aside there’s a considerable amount of customisation potential, even more so if you’re prepared to pay for additional content (I’m not; the new stuff is largely cosmetic).

And of course, I’ve made an entire set of Doctors.

Actually, I didn’t stop at the Doctors. I did the companions as well. But that’s content overload so we will deal with them another time. Today, you can have fourteen incarnations of the Doctor, in no particular order, randomly paired according to the way the screen grabbing worked, which led to some interesting if not unpleasant juxtapositions. Some of them are better than others. But I did painstakingly adjust the height of each incarnation so it was more or less accurate. Colour me proud, Jack. Colour me proud.

 

First up: the War Doctor and the Thirteenth Doctor. I don’t think her shoes are quite right, but I’m quite pleased with the hair. (Look very closely and you’ll see a bum bag poking out from beneath her coat.)

We’ll have the two Bakers next. There’s no option for multi-coloured scarves, so I’ve gone for his Season 18 look, which is reasonably good, although he really ought to be a little more grumpy. The same colours problem occurred when constructing the Sixth Doctor, and what’s presented here is about as close as I could manage. There’s a little too much red, but you get the idea.

I’m not very happy with the Eighth; his hair is completely wrong but there really was nothing else that fit. There’s probably the capacity for creating his ‘Night of the Doctor’ look, of course – but then you’re basically in War Doctor territory, so a distorted 1996 take will have to suffice. Next to him is McCoy; the jumper is off kilter but the hat, at least, is quite good.

These two came out quite well, really, largely because of Troughton’s eyes, grin and trousers. The Eleventh Doctor is halfway through the events of ‘Flesh and Stone’.

The Twelfth Doctor is a tricky one to do because there are three of him, depending on which series you’re watching: of all the contemporary incarnations he’s been the one who’s arguably changed the most. Next to him is Pertwee, who has the wrong hair, although it’s the best I could come up with.

The old man and the Time Lord who lived too long. Tennant was about the easiest one to do, although I do think those trousers ought to be a little darker (and the stripes are a bit, I dunno, deckchair). Still, his hair, like the werewolf Warren Zevon saw at Trader Vic’s, is perfect.

I nearly skipped Nine, just to see how people would react, but he was such an easy one I didn’t quite have it in me. Davison – with a hat that’s a little flatter than I’d like – rounds off the set. Shame there’s no celery.

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Skip Nine

I’ve decided that hanging around Doctor Who forums is a bit like hanging out in a shopping centre with a bunch of teenagers on a Sunday evening. Occasionally you’ll witness a witty exchange of banter, a decent rap battle, a spot of genuine affection from a young couple, a dazzling display of skateboarding. But most of it is people trading insults and showing off. Occasionally a bottle of alcopop gets thrown at a window, although if you’re lucky you can avoid the crossfire: ‘Hide post’ is the equivalent of taking an abrupt right turn into the alley that cuts through past Card Factory and the back of New Look and through to the bus stop, where (mother of mercy) the 8:13 will be along any time now.

Why do it? I get this question thrown at me regularly, mostly by people who are far more sensible and who have full time jobs and who don’t understand (or have simply forgotten) the blood, sweat and tears that go into procrastination when you’re filling in the spare minutes between piano lessons or waiting for an article to go live. Yes, I know the kitchen needs cleaning; I’ll do it later. In all seriousness it’s mostly about people watching. It is by observing them, lurking silently and engaging when you have to, that you find out what makes them tick. There are sociological benefits: we think we understand the fans, but perhaps we cannot say this is truly the case until we have walked a mile in their Converse boots, or at the very least followed at a respectable distance, clearing up the misunderstandings.

In any event – when you hang around the forums, certain phrases jump out at you. “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey” is bandied about more than a geek’s underpants in a school changing room. “The Doctor lies” is another. Both are typically employed in situations where someone wants to contribute to a technical discussion whilst having absolutely nothing of any value to say. Laura Marling titled her second album I Speak Because I Can, which is a noble sentiment unless all that comes out of your mouth is irrelevant drivel.

But here’s one I see a lot. It’s one that deserves discussion – decent, consolidated discussion, which basically means everything I’ve ever written about it on Facebook, conveniently collected into a lengthy fan-baiting article. It’s the “Don’t skip Nine” thing – for the uninitiated, the fearful, almost fanatical devotion that self-proclaimed ‘serious’ fans have towards respecting the legacy of Eccleston, to the extent that they will cajole, ridicule and bully any other fans who say that they’re not particularly taken with him.  And it strikes me, having encountered it for years, that we have to clear this up. We have to clear it up because it is a talking point, because it says a lot about what’s wrong with the fandom, and because posts about it are endemic. Seriously. I’m looking at one right now. “Respect the first series,” it says, “and don’t skip it”.

At first glance it seems there is a bit of a straw man thing going on here. I’ve been wallowing in the murky depths of fandom for longer than I care to count and, despite looking very hard, I have yet to actually encounter anyone who says “Do skip Nine”. There are plenty of people who advocate watching it however you want (which is – to throw in a spoiler – basically what I was planning on doing for the rest of this post). But then you do a little digging and you discover that all too often, the Eccleston series gets missed off the American network broadcasts, and as it turns out it is these broadcasts that provide the only Doctor Who that many people the other side of the pond get to see. And thus, when hard-up high school students who can’t afford Netflix grumble that they never get to see the Eccleston episodes and is it really worth seeking them out specially, they’re typically reassured by well-meaning fans who say “No, it’s fine, you can jump ahead if you wan-”

“DON’T SKIP NINE!!!!”

Or, if you want to be marginally more polite, “Respect the first series and don’t skip – ” Look, if I really have to unpack this then let’s get a few things straight: first and foremost, if we’re counting, it wasn’t the first series. It was the twenty-seventh. It’s the first if you count Nu Who as a reboot – which I kind of do, most days, because while many people maintain it’s a single show that gradually evolves, there are still watershed moments and there is a colossal sea change between 1989 and 2005. ‘Rose’ is incredibly different to ‘Survival’. Really it is. Oh, you can talk about common threads and nods to Pertwee, but stylistically, structurally and tonally there is a huge chasm between Seven and Nine: it’s like a great big fiery ravine, with the 1996 TV movie standing in as one of those wobbly bridges that is in danger of bursting into flames and collapsing at any moment.

I don’t think you need to cross that bridge, necessarily. There is no problem with starting in the modern era and leaving it there. The past is another country, a Shangri La (literally, if Ken Dodd has anything to do with it) of strange and wonderful delights, but let’s deal with the elephant in the room: a lot of Classic Who is slow and doddery and while I love it to bits, it really isn’t for everyone. If we’re ever going to move on, we need to accept that some of it is boring. I still haven’t seen ‘Meglos’. It’s partly because the Target cover scared the crap out of me when I found it, as an uninitiated ten-year-old, in our local library, but it’s also because I’ve just never bothered and from what I can gather I haven’t missed very much. Those of you who are in here regularly will know that I write for The Doctor Who Companion, which periodically puts out feelers for new staff. When Phil (the site’s co-founder and editor-in-chief) was on one of his previous recruiting drives he included the following: “You have to like the show, but it really doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen every episode”.

Here’s the thing: half the people who are shouting “Don’t skip Nine” (and I know this, because I’ve talked to them) are happy to wallow in blissful ignorance when it comes to their knowledge of pre-2005 Doctor Who. “Oh, it’s not the same thing,” they say when I bring it up. “Because, you know, it’s a clean break. But there’s so much in that first series that defines what follows. If you don’t watch Eccleston, you don’t know about how he met Jack and Rose and how he helped Jack and how Rose helped him. You don’t know about Bad Wolf and so ‘Day of the Doctor’ makes no sense, and you don’t know how the Ninth was born in battle, full of blood and anger and reven-”

OK, stop. You’re quoting now and it’s embarrassing. I mean, I get all that; honestly I do. But it works on the other side of the coin. I have never been comfortable with this idea of the Doctor as a composite – it always strikes me he’s a dazzlingly inconsistent character who was written to reflect whatever attitudes the writers of the day wanted to advocate. But if we must see him this way, then we need to start at the beginning. For example, if you skip Hartnell, the significance of companions in the Doctor’s life will be lost on you. You’ll never really understand Donna’s words at the end of ‘The Runaway Bride’, and why he really does need someone with him. If you skip Troughton, you’ll miss out on why the Doctor was running, and why the clownlike persona that later informs Smith’s era is actually a facade, even though a number of people find it irritating.

If you skip Pertwee, you don’t understand the Doctor’s ambivalent relationship towards the military, and how the Brigadier’s actions at the end of the Silurians are echoed, to a certain extent, in ‘The Christmas Invasion’, and you’ll fail to grasp the Doctor’s relationship with Sarah Jane; hence most of ‘School Reunion’ will go over your head. If you skip Baker (the first), you’ll never fully understand ‘The Witch’s Familiar’. If you skip Davison, you won’t understand why the death of Adric haunted the Doctor for years, and had a keen bearing on the way the Eleventh Doctor developed. If you skip Baker (the second), you’ll miss out on a crucial plot development that informs, at least in part, the War Doctor’s eventual decision to use the Moment. If you skip McCoy, you’ll miss out on the gradual darkening of the Doctor that is the first stage of his road towards the Time War.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point.

There’s a problem with that little rant, and it is this: it’s possible to enjoy ‘School Reunion’ without having seen ‘Hand of Fear’. Consequently, it is equally possible to enjoy ‘Utopia’ without having seen ‘Parting of the Ways’. And yet the Eccleston warriors persist in their hundreds, insisting that he must never be skipped. It’s all very noble (sorry, that’s the wrong companion, surely?) but it betrays a certain hypocrisy, because when you actually confront indignant fans – you know, the ones who insist there is only one way to watch Doctor Who, and that’s from the ‘beginning’, right the way through – then the argument collapses faster than a house of cards that was sitting on a table at the onset of a small, localised earthquake. It turns out that many of these people have not seen Troughton. For them, the beginning is 2005, and everything that precedes it is commentary. I know this because I have checked.

And it goes further: I have to have the same conversations with Classic puritans for whom 1963 was the Alpha and 1989 a kind of Omega, and everything that follows that is commentary. Both theories have their advocates, but what about Big Finish? If I was to say that the only way to have a full appreciation of the show was to listen to the hours of supplementary audio material that accompanies it, could you really argue with me? What about the books? The comics? The video games? Where do you draw the line? Canon, you say? All right, what’s that?

You get this sort of double standard all over the forums. Just the other day, for example, I had an altercation with a fan who took umbrage with the Thirteenth Doctor’s ‘cruel’ or ‘cowardly’ behaviour in a few hand-picked (and misrepresented) scenarios: her callous treatment of the spiders, for example, or the irresponsible manner in which she flushes the P’Ting into outer space where it will presumably inflict more damage. “Not only has this Doctor forgotten the promise,” he griped, “She doesn’t even know what the promise means.”

Well. First and foremost, the ‘promise’ is a shameless bit of retconning from Moffat, albeit retconning I’m happy to endorse on the grounds that it’s his remit (and, as this chap pointed out, “Every episode since 1963 is to all intents and purposes a retcon”. But that’s kind of the point. The ‘cruel and cowardly’ thing was an off-the-cuff Dicks remark that later became a myth, albeit of the fluffy sort. It’s mostly harmless, but preaching it as some kind of orthodox liturgy does the Doctor something of a disservice, given that he’s broken it on multiple occasions throughout the years: witness the destruction of Skaro, ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’, the Ogron who got shot in the back, the climax of ‘The Dominators’ (and please don’t get me started on Hartnell). Frequently the Doctor will casually blow something up and then walk away without a second thought. Sometimes he’ll even crack a joke (sit down, ‘Vengeance on Varos’, the macaroons are in the oven). The Doctor has no business being a role model of any sort – and if you’re going to chew out Whittaker, you have to chew out every single one of them.

I don’t have a problem with people who think Eccleston’s series is important. It is, even though I never really took to him as the Doctor. I also agree with the notion that watching it gives you a decent grounding in things that happen later, just as I maintain that a decent knowledge of the Peladon stories is helpful when you’re watching ‘Empress of Mars’. Things only become unpleasant when you decide that your own particular approach is the only sensible way to watch Who – in other words, when it is used (as it frequently is on the internet) as a stick with which to beat other fans. That’s when it gets sticky, if you’ll pardon the obvious pun. When I eat scones, I start with butter, then add a layer of jam, and then a healthy dollop of cream. In Devon, they do it the other way round. Believe it or not, I’m OK with this, just as I am OK with people who have sugar in their coffee. Why should there be only one way to skin a cat?

If you wanted to watch Doctor Who, you could start at the very beginning and work your way through. Or you could start at 2005 and then go back to the Classic episodes when you’re done with series 11. Or you could do as I did, and dip in and out, watching old stories in between the new ones. Watch a different story for each Classic Doctor and then investigate the ones you like. Or skip the eighties entirely; many people do. There is no ‘right’ or ‘best’ way of doing it. There is the approach that works for you, and that’s all that matters. Certain things are improved when watched in order – ‘Earthshock’ loses a certain something, for example, if it is the first Adric story you’ve seen. Conversely you can watch ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ having never seen ‘An Unearthly Child’ – or anything with Davros, for that matter – and you’ll be quite content. This is a show about time travel, and if some things happen out of order, it’s not a big deal. Welcome to the Doctor’s universe.

So skip Nine if you want. No one worth their salt will care, and anyone who lectures you about it isn’t worth engaging with. As with any other Doctor, he lifts right out and it’s possible to enjoy the show for what it is having never seen him. You’ll miss out on the gas mask zombies, one of the finest (and most fearsome) creations ever to grace our screens, but you’ll also miss ‘Boom Town’. Every cloud has a silver lining, just as every rose has its thorn. And believe it or not, there are some Roses you don’t have to pick.

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 8.5 or 9, depending on how you count)

In the news this last fortnight, National Photograph Your Child In Front Of A Door Day reaches as far as the TARDIS.

Elsewhere, in the wake of the Bradley Walsh rumour, a BBC source leaks an exclusive set of unreleased screen tests for the next Doctor Who companion.

And the Doctors celebrate International Cosplay Weekend.

 

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God is in the detail (10-05)

Space. It’ll kill you if you don’t tread carefully. Lucky you’ve got me on hand, eh? Come with me now, because we’re going to explore the murky and sinister world of ‘Oxygen’ – a tale of corporate greed and sentient workwear, but also replete with IMPORTANT CLUES AND SIGNS that indicate the delights (and the horrors) that still await us.

This week, you’ll find it’s mostly about the First Doctor. Let’s take a look at that skull.

Count the stars. It’s not just the number, it’s the way they’re grouped. Not only does each star refer to a different Doctor, they also refer specifically to regeneration and a number of other things. Don’t believe me? Just watch:

You will note:

– The line that tracks the Second Doctor’s transition to the Third

– The two ‘eyes’ that represent the show in the 1980s and in its post-Y2K revival, and the Eighth Doctor’s uncomfortable positioning between both (but on the left hand side, clearly tying him to the ‘old’ era)

– The placement of the Fourth Doctor at the top of the triangle, or pyramid, signifying ‘Pyramids of Mars’

– The identical placement of the Twelfth Doctor at the top of a similar pyramid, indicating ‘The Pyramid at the End of the World’, in which the Doctor is due to regenerate

– The two tangential lines that lead down below the Tenth Doctor, indicating the split path followed by his metacrisis duplicate

– The six lines across the bottom: this should be obvious

Screens figure big this week, as you’ll see here.

First: note the five figures shown on the monitoring display. This refers to five Doctors, but not the five you were expecting. The Second Doctor is first: We know this because the first figure is directly beneath the word ‘POWER’, which is thus a reference to ‘Power of the Daleks’.

Let’s assume that the subsequent words each correspond to the separate figures. The words ‘CORE’ and ‘COOLANT’ both refer to ‘Inferno’, the Third Doctor story that saw a group of scientists who were endeavouring to drill down to the Earth’s core, which is flooded by coolant in order to abate the disaster. ‘And ‘SYSTEM’ refers to System Wipe, an Eleventh Doctor novella.

If we group these numbers together, including the last one – to which I’ll come in a moment – we get this:

Look at that number. Study it hard. Memorise it if you can. We’ll return to it later.

Let’s get back to that fifth figure for a moment. He doesn’t have a word of his own, but this is the First Doctor. And it is the numbers you really need to examine, if you want to know why – so let’s zoom in. (All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.)

Macomb, Illinois, I hear you ask? I have my reasons. You can rearrange them to form ‘Albinic loom sim’, a clear and unambiguous reference to the events of Lungbarrow. And this week’s episode was about breathing. I’m sure your minds are blown, so here’s a GIF of a dancing panda, just to bring you down to normality for a second.

Maps next. Specifically this one.

Note the presence of green brackets – denoting the Zombies’ intended location – around the section marked A6: specifically, the idea of death, represented here by green brackets, surrounding a number 6? Something to do with the words GREEN and DEATH? A SIX-PART STORY, PERCHANCE?

Hmmm. I’ll let you figure that one out.

We can take this further. Because each number refers to a separate story, as denoted by their different parts. Specifically

Section 11 – The Daleks’ Master Plan (twelve parts, minus the disallowed ‘Destruction of Time’
Section 07 – Marco Polo (seven parts)
Section 06 – The Web Planet (six parts)
Section 04 – The Gunslingers (four parts)
Section 03 – Planet of Giants (three parts)

And what do those all have in common, hmm? And what do they have in connection with ‘The Green Death’? I’ll let you figure that out. I’m not doing all your homework for you, you’re quite old enough.

But we should take particular notice of the fact that this is administered by Ganymede systems. Ganymede is the largest of the 67 known moons of Jupiter, taking its name from the Greek mythical hero Ganymede (why hello, transparent reference to ‘The Myth-Makers’, pull up a chair and put the panda on the TARDIS console). It completes a revolution around its mother planet every seven days and three hours, which CLEARLY REFERS to part three of the seventh story in the canon, ‘Hidden Danger’ – also known as episode three of ‘The Sensorites’- because of the Doctor’s blindness, thus hiding the danger from him, at least in a strictly literal sense.

However, the parallels run deeper. Episode 3 of series 7 is ‘Cold War’, an UNAMBIGUOUS nod both to the Ice Warriors and also ‘The Tenth Planet’, which was set in Antarctica – get it? A war? In a cold place? A COLD WAR? You see what I did there? But what, I hear you ask, perhaps in slightly worried tones while you try and unpick the ropes that are securing you to that office chair, if it isn’t episode 3 of series 7, but episode 7 of series 3?

Well – that turns out to be ’42’. THE THING IN THE VAULT IS MARTHA JONES’ MUM.

Finally, let’s get back to the beginning of the episode – and that first shot of the oxygen display on the suit gauntlet.

What’s going on here? Well, first consider the presence of nine – only NINE bars on the credit meter. This CLEARLY AND DEFINITIVELY refers to the IMMINENT RETURN of Christopher Eccleston. We know this if we examine the letters at the far right: ‘CF’ refers to ‘Christopher – Finish’, while ‘T2’ refers not to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but rather Trainspotting 2 – a film centring on Mark Renton, as played by Ewan McGregor, WHO CO-STARRED WITH ECCLESTON IN SHALLOW GRAVE. And if you want to know how long this has been building, consider what the Doctor is doing here.

However, what’s most interesting here is ETO-2 at the bottom, and I’ll admit it took me a while to figure this out – and it wasn’t until I realised that the ‘2’ was a massive red herring that I was able to make progress. But a little creative Googling led me to the Express Tax Office in Queensland. Situated in Lake Street (as in ‘Under The Lake’) in the middle of Cairns City, the ETO processes tax returns for couples, students, sole traders and even non-residents, such as those trying to find a way into Australia – to do, say, a Chemical Engineering job.

Oh look. THERE it is.

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No, I’ve met cat people

It was a Wednesday, and I was giving Edward a bath, when Emily popped her head round the door and announced she was going to work.

“What time will you be back?” I asked.

“No idea,” she said. “I’ll probably get drawn into something.”

So I have drawn her into this picture of the Tenth Doctor. I rock.

 

In our ongoing Nu Who marathon, we passed ‘Fear Her’ months ago, and the Tenth Doctor has long since regenerated. Indeed, the Eleventh is currently into his ‘new lease of life after Amy and Rory phase’, cavorting around the rings of Akhaten with Clara. (I seem to be the only one who actually likes this episode, or at least I thought I was until a recent reappraisal saw its other fans emerging from the woodwork, like the slaves at the end of Spartacus.) What’s annoying is that he has yet to shed a single tear over any of the deaths, or any of the departures. I know I didn’t either, but it’s hardly the point.

That doesn’t stop Daniel having an appreciation for Classic Who, of course, judging by the scene he played out with the Character Creations set last week: not content with building a wall and casting Peter Davison’s incarnation in the role of Donald Trump, I came in the other day to find the Sixth and the First Doctors emerging in what looked an awful lot like cosplay.

I only wish I could find the Seventh Doctor. Can somebody (hello Gareth) come up with an amusing, series-related suggestion?

Also this week: Daniel told us he had a dream where the Eleventh Doctor was having an adventure with Rose, “only she had an emoji face and she threw Captain Jack from the roof of a building”.

It took me all morning to find the right building, but eventually –

 

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Look to your left (part 37)

In today’s news round up: stars of Doctor Who unite to commemorate the birthday of avant garde playwright Samuel Beckett.

Waiting_Dodo

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron and the Catholic Church both issue joint statements in the wake of the revelations contained in the Panama Papers:

Cameron-Ted

And as preparation continues for J.K. Rowling’s hugely anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, we can bring you this exclusive production photo of the cast on a break during rehearsals.

Lennon

Enjoy your Thursday.

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May God bless her, and all who sail in her

Yes, I know. I was here this morning, plugging the new website. I’m only back again because we were watching the annual jaunt that is the Oxford / Cambridge boat race, which reminded me that I really ought to get round to posting this, before people stop remembering what it was about. (And because Cambridge won, which has put me in a good mood.)

Boaty_TARDIS

Anyway, two posts in one day? Must be Christmas.

Or not.

DW_Easter

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Doctor Who: an overview (part one)

If you were reading this the other day, you’ll recall me talking about the talk I gave to the church group.

What follows is the script I was using. I mostly stuck to it, with the odd add-lib. I make no apologies for the simplification of certain concepts, or the general lack of detail, because it was all done with a particular audience in mind. I think they enjoyed it; I certainly enjoyed doing it.

The thing is so long I have opted to split it up a bit – so here’s part one, which, while not exactly finishing on a cliffhanger, does stop in the middle…

Part two is available here.

Talk_01

He walks in shadow. He arrives swathed in mystery and leaves without a backward glance. He topples empires, overthrows tyrants and helps the lost and helpless. He’s nattered with Nero, supped with Shakespeare and played chess with Churchill. He is, to use his own terminology, a mad man with a box. He is the Doctor. And he’s been a part of my life, in one way or another, for over thirty years. And this afternoon, I’m going to be telling you all about him.

Now, I’m aware that you’ve probably all got different levels of familiarity. I suspect some of you probably watched the show years ago, and perhaps you got bored and went on to something else. Perhaps you’re familiar with the old days but you have no idea about any of the new Doctors. Perhaps you watch everything you can, rather like me. Or perhaps you’ve never seen the show before and don’t have a clue what it’s about, beyond something about a police box and a thing called a Dalek that looks like a gigantic pepper pot. In any event, whether you’re a diehard fan or whether you think Davros is a Greek dancer on Britain’s Got Talent, I hope you’ll find something of interest today.

But I don’t want to turn this into a forty-five minute chat about the history of Doctor Who, even though I could easily talk about it for twice that length, because it’d bore you silly. Instead this is going to be something of a whistlestop tour through the show, from its 1963 beginnings all the way up to the present. We’ll talk a bit about the Doctor himself and some of the foes he’s faced – on and off-screen. Some of this is probably going to be familiar to at least some of you – some of it’s going to be new. There’s quite a lot of talking from me, but you’ll get to see the Doctor in action as well.

Talk_02

So come with me on a journey into the past – as we go back. Way back…to 1963. Harold Macmillan is in Downing Street, the first Bond film has just been released, and the Beatles are about to take over the entire world. And the new Head of Drama at the BBC, a man called Sydney Newman, has commissioned a new children’s show about a bunch of time travellers who flit around the universe, meeting important historical figures and generally getting into scrapes. The main characters were to be a dashing young couple, a teenage girl who was good at finding trouble, and an enigmatic middle-aged scientist with a mysterious past. (Is any of this sounding familiar?)

Talk_03

The Doctor was never even intended to be the central character – that’s something that changed as time went on – but the creative team wanted someone with gravitas, so they cast William Hartnell, famous for The Army Game. (My dad says there was only ever one Doctor, and William Hartnell was it.) Hartnell was getting tired of typecasting and he jumped at the chance to play something completely different. But if you go back and watch those old episodes again, what strikes you is how unpleasant the First Doctor is. He’s untrustworthy, crochety and mean. (Perhaps that’s why my Dad likes him. Sorry, that was a joke.)

Here’s where we meet him for the first time.

That was the very first episode, which went out on 23rd November 1963 – the day after….what?

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It’s said that everyone can remember where they were when they heard that Kennedy had been shot. Doctor Who went largely unnoticed, because everyone was watching the news. It didn’t make much of an impact at first, and in many ways that didn’t come as a surprise to the BBC. Doctor Who is about a man who is and always will be an outsider. It was co-created by a Canadian, its first director was an Indian and the first producer, Verity Lambert, was a young woman in a world dominated by men. And none of them were expected to actually succeed. However, a few weeks later, the show was facing an early cancellation. And then this happened.

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I think you all know what that was, don’t you? And thanks to the Daleks, Doctor Who hit the big time, as the Doctor met Marco Polo, smugglers, and giant flies. But William Hartnell was getting ill and couldn’t keep up with the constant filming pressures – twenty-four episodes a year – so it was decided to replace him with a younger actor.

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And in 1966, this happened. After battling the Cybermen, the Doctor collapsed in the TARDIS, and changed into a younger man. Now, in production terms this was a masterstroke. A show that can change its lead actor at any point can go on forever. Every new Doctor’s built on what’s come before while bringing something of themselves to the part. About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the TARDIS – and that, by the way, is only because it’s supposed to be camouflaged, blending in with wherever it happens to be, only it got stuck. (The funny thing is that camouflage changes. A police box was a common occurrence in 1963, but you don’t see them anymore. When my family and I were driving through Shropshire one afternoon, Josh pointed out of the window at a public phone box and shouted “Hey, look! A red TARDIS!”

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The other thing to mention at this point is that regeneration is a bit like giving birth. They used to tell you to do it lying down, but these days there are all sorts of positions. Compare this from 1974 with this from 2008. The Third Doctor’s lying down, but when we watched the Eleventh Doctor turn into the Twelfth, my mother asked why the Doctor was standing up, and I told her it was like medical advice; they keep changing it.

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So. The Second Doctor was younger, sprightlier, sillier, but still ran around the universe, generally saving the day. But eventually Patrick Troughton left the TARDIS and went on to do other things, and in 1970 Doctor Who switched to colour. Things were a bit different – the Doctor was now stuck on Earth, exiled by the Time Lords, and he worked with a military organisation called UNIT, led by Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. Eventually the exile was lifted, and Jon Pertwee was replaced by Tom Baker, who is probably the best known of all the Doctors, certainly the most visually iconic – as you will see from the way I’m dressed. Apart from that it was business as usual – Daleks and robots and things coming out of the swamp. Now I wanted to show you something that really summed up the way Doctor Who was in the 1970s, and here it is.

(I made that last year, just for the fun of it. I knew it would come in handy eventually.)

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The show had never been more popular, but all good things come to an end, and in the 1980s there was a gradual downward spiral. Stories got sillier, there were some questionable performances, the show lost its Saturday evening slot so nobody watched it, and eventually the new BBC controller had had enough. In 1985 it was suspended, and then it came back, and then it was finally cancelled. Now, it’s fair to say that it wasn’t the best of times, but there were still great moments, like this one.

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Doctor Who was languishing, alone, for years. The fans kept it going, but there was no sign of it on TV. There was an old joke that went “How many Doctor Who fans does it take to change a light bulb? None at all, they just complain and hope it’ll come back on.” Until 1996, when the BBC brought it back with a full-length movie, starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor.

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There’s only one problem with the movie, and that’s that it was rubbish. It was made by people who didn’t understand the show, for people who had never seen the show, and it was once again binned. But not for long! Because some years later, the BBC decided to bring it back, only this time they did it properly. The new Doctor Who was completely updated: it looked fresh, and modern, but it was still the show we knew and loved. Still, this was aimed at winning a new audience, and for many children – including at least one of mine – this was their very first glimpse of the Doctor.

It’s new, but it’s instantly recognisable. The dummies that Rose was running from are the Autons, whom the Third Doctor fought many years ago, and which many parents and grandparents would have remembered. They were trying to win over children, but broadly speaking this was definitely geared towards the family.

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Since then the show’s gone from strength to strength, through four and a half new Doctors (it’s a long story, don’t ask) and all manner of strange new creatures and enemies. But the central idea is still the same: the Doctor and whichever companion he happens to be with turns up in the TARDIS in the middle of a problem, and then solves the problem, just before moving on to the next one. He’s met Charles Dickens and Vincent van Gogh, he’s seen the end of the world and travelled to the end of the universe. Doctor Who turned fifty just a couple of years back, and the Doctor doesn’t show any signs of slowing down just yet.

But it’s funny how we place so much faith in such a mysterious character. It’s there in the title – Doctor Who? So let’s have a quick look at exactly what we do (and don’t) know about the Doctor.

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What is it about the Doctor that makes him so fascinating? Well, he’s famously non-violent (although if you look at the show, this really isn’t the case at all). He’ll give his enemies a chance to surrender and change their ways. He doesn’t suffer fools and he has no respect for empty authority, but he’ll preach about forgiveness. And he overcomes death, and routinely sacrifices himself in order to save humanity. If any of this is sounding a bit familiar, there are lots of arguments about religious interpretations of Doctor Who, although this is something the programme’s creators have always denied. “No,” they said. “We didn’t mean that at all.”

Um. Is it just me…?

The other thing about the Doctor is that he very rarely travels alone; he’ll usually have at least one or two companions along for the ride. And here are just a few of them.

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You will note that most of them are women, and most of them are pretty. I will not deny that this is to give the dads something to look at on a Saturday evening. I will not deny that I am one of those dads.

Please don’t tell my wife.

 

Click here for part two.

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In loving memory

If you’re one of the thirty-four (thirty-four!) people who follow me on Twitter, you will have seen everything that follows last night. For the rest of you, this all started with Colleen McCulloch.

When I was a kid, my parents had two books on their shelves that I particularly remember. One was The Thorn Birds, which I gather is something of a classic, both on the page and on screen. The one I actually read was Tim, about a mentally retarded adult (can we still say that? I genuinely can’t keep up these days) and his burgeoning friendship with an older lady. It’s mostly inoffensive, although there is an incident with a sausage sandwich that I still can’t really think about without feeling nauseous. It was made into a film in 1979, starring a very young Mel Gibson, along with Piper Laurie, who did not dress up as a man or lock anyone in the cupboard while she prayed over them. The sausage sandwich scene is mercifully gone and the ending is changed, but it really is quite good.

Colleen McCulloch was therefore a household name, at least in our house, while I was growing up, and it was with some sadness that I learned of her death a couple of days ago.  I also learned of a few other things I didn’t know: she spent much of the latter years of her life on a Pacific island to escape the pressures of fame, had an early career in neuroscience, and refused to write a follow-up to The Thorn Birds (as well as hating its adaptation). Tributes came flooding in, and obituaries were warm and generous in their appraisals.

Except, it seems, for The Australian. They opened their obituary with this.

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This is, I’m informed by more than one source, fairly typical of the Australian media, who frown upon successful women. I don’t have the time to research this properly, but irrespective of cultural norms there is absolutely no way you can justify such a monstrous opener. I have never held with the “Do not speak ill of the dead” maxim (are we really not allowed to tell the truth about Thatcher? Osama bin Laden? Hitler?) but this is just ridiculous. The article led to a sea of acidic responses from corresponding publications (which was predictable; there is nothing any media outlet likes more than having a pop at one of its rivals), and before we knew it, #myozobituary was trending on Twitter.

Anyway, having composed my own version of one of these (“Despite being arrogant, acne-ridden and obese, he nonetheless managed to manufacture enough sperm to sire four children”) I had an idea, and one thing sort of led to another.

 

  But why stop at the first? I didn’t, although one of these obituaries is not like the others. See if you can work out which.   

Second Doctor  

 

Third Doctor

  Fourth Doctor  

Fifth Doctor

  Sixth Doctor  

 

Seventh Doctor

  Bagpuss

 

I didn’t do any more; I think we’ve taken this to its logical breaking point.

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Review: An Adventure in Space and Time

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Warning: contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ and don’t want to know the score, look away now!

For my father, there has only ever been one Doctor. It’s a conversation we’ve had often, along with interpretations of gospel writings, the ethics of civil service management and the relative merits of The Goon Show. (Do not – I repeat, do not ask me to start doing the characters. We’ll be here all day.) “The best Doctor, bar none,” he insists, in the face of my rebuffs about Baker and Smith, “was William Hartnell”.

I’d imagine that An Adventure in Space and Time was probably tailor-made for someone like Dad. Certainly it wasn’t the no-holds-barred, warts-and-all tour-de-force it could have been. (I tried for a record number of hyphens in that last sentence; can you tell?) This was family viewing in the same way that Doctor Who is family viewing. None of the principals got killed (or had their memories wiped, or got trapped in a parallel universe), there was no sex to speak of and the underdogs who fought against an oppressive regime for what they knew was right were ultimately rewarded. Oh, and there was a bit of time travel.

In a recent interview with Doctor Who Magazine, the looking-astonishingly-good-for-his-age Waris Hussein says (and I’m paraphrasing) that he didn’t believe Mark Gatiss could tell the whole story – “he had to tone it down a bit”. Certainly the hour and a half I sat through last night came across as the Doctor Who Confidential version of events. There was sparring and there was an old boy’s network and casual institutional racism – epitomised in an early scene where a frantic Hussein complains about the heat in the upstairs booth, only for someone on the ground to remark “You’d think he’d be used to it”. Meanwhile, Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine, in good form) is forced to defend her controversial producer’s appointment against a sneering establishment who’d prefer to see her typing letters, rather than getting TARDIS interiors delivered on time. How could this female, it is clearly felt, rise to the occasion?

Rise to the occasion she does, although it’s not without a little buoyancy from floating aid Brian Cox, who inhabits Sydney Newman with just about enough pomposity to keep from turning the Canadian hotshot into a complete caricature. Well-dressed, bombastic and with a cigar permanently glued to his lips, Newman saves Lambert from a disgruntled Hartnell early in the narrative, only to privately rebuke her with the words “Be a producer”. Verity turns from lamb to lion and marches into a previously dismissive designer’s office, taking a seat opposite him and refusing to budge until he’s started work on the TARDIS set – which he then constructs, Blue Peter style, from a cotton reel and bits of card in thirty seconds flat, in its final form.

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Herein lies one of the problems faced by Adventure – it’s got four years of narrative to condense into ninety minutes, and as a result many things are glossed over. Delia Derbyshire’s wonderful tape loops, for example, get only the briefest of mentions, in the midst of a dramatic irony-laden monologue in which Verity and Waris assure a reluctant Hartnell that everything’s going to plan, while budgets go through the roof and scripts are thrown in the bin. Or as Gareth put it, “It made me twitch a little at times at how ‘neatly’ everything happened. ‘We need to do X’, followed immediately by exactly how X famously turned out’.”

Gareth has a similar hangup with ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, a story that we both agree is wonderful, with one notable disappointment: the Daleks that Davros designs are identical in all respects to the classic Raymond Cusick design that we know and love. Budgetary constraints probably made this unavoidable, of course, but it might have been nice to see a different, more rudimentary model. It’s the same here – with the notable exception of the botched pilot (which is transcribed to screen very well) there’s an inevitable lack of detail. Nation’s name is mentioned once – although in a clever piece of juxtaposition Newman’s verbal delivery of ‘The Survivors’ is played over the assassination of Kennedy, which occurred the day before ‘An Unearthly Child’ was broadcast – fifty years ago today, as it happens. Cusick doesn’t even get a look in. And all this is cannily dismissed in the space of one line, as delivered by Lambert to Hartnell over lunch – “So many people have been at the birth of the thing, we’d be here all day”.

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The paring down works, as it happens, because it allows the characters to live and breathe – and one thing that becomes apparent from the very beginning is that this is Hartnell’s story. Played to perfection by David Bradley, Hartnell is a grumpy bugger who is bored with typecasting and who shouts at his granddaughter. Sceptical and irascible to a fault, it is his transformation that forms the story’s principal arc. Despite a shaky first episode, Doctor Who turns out to be something of a fountain of youth for the man, as epitomised by a scene where a rejuvenated Hartnell leads a group of starry-eyed schoolchildren on an impromptu expedition through woodland, before doing a reasonable impersonation of a Dalek.

Such scenes are twee and in all likelihood apocryphal, but they grant Hartnell’s inevitable decline a keen emotional resonance that echoes long after the closing credits have rolled. There are many ways to chart an illness onscreen – Gatiss does it here with a series of Television Centre publicity shots showing an increasingly frail and confused Hartnell, and a dark and almost frightening studio breakdown where his mind seems to go totally blank. This follows an earlier scene where Hartnell’s wife implores Verity to scale back the BBC’s demands on him – emotional and overwrought dialogue that is somewhat undermined (purposely so, one expects) by the appearance of several costumed bees from ‘The Web Planet’. (It’s the sort of intervention that could have greatly improved the breakup scene in Spider-Man 3.) In either event, the outcome is clear: here is a character actor who finds that playing an old man gives him a key to connecting to and relating with the young. Russell T Davies really should take note.

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It doesn’t all work. The dialogue seldom ventures above second rate, and the expository summaries for the benefit of a young audience occasionally made me wince. Gatiss has clearly put himself on a tight leash but he still can’t resist dropping in the odd in-joke – Verity’s reassuring “Brave heart, darling” to a worried Hussein, Newman’s use of the word ‘regeneration’ years before it was used on the show proper, and the continual reference to the now famous Bug-Eyed Monsters. Even Bradley isn’t immune, weeping over his fireplace and copying David Tennant’s last words, as he confesses to his wife that “I don’t want to go”. Despite glossy production (the last programme to be filmed, as it turned out, at the now decommissioned Television Centre) and a decent score you do wonder what Aaron Sorkin would have been able to do with it.

But this is a show about nostalgia – about doing difficult things with limited resources – and while it’s all a little neat and self-congratulatory, it’s hard not to watch with a smile on your face. The final five minutes, in particular, are arresting in their depiction of Hartnell’s regeneration scene – once you’ve got over the image of Reece Shearsmith as the least convincing Patrick Troughton ever, they set up the cameras to roll, and Bradley / Hartnell looks up, and this is what he sees.

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I suspect this will have some fans applauding in their seats, and others up in arms. By this point the fourth wall is reduced to rubble, and certainly the presence of Matt Smith undermines the dramatic narrative. But it also doesn’t. It’s a chance for Hartnell to see the effects of his legacy – something the Doctor’s done before, and something you feel the actor deserves, however supernaturally ridiculous the premise. You may be gone, Gatiss seems to be saying, but the show has lasted this long because of the seeds you’ve sown and the sweat and the tears. There will never be another Doctor like Hartnell, simply because no actor will have the opportunity to make his mark on the character the way Hartnell did. As a tribute, there may be none finer – and on this matter, at least, I have a feeling my father would agree.

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