Posts Tagged With: heaven sent

Have I Got Whos For You (series 11 edition, part 3)

“Yeah. Like this, wasn’t it?”

You would not believe the flak I got from this one. I had to block three people. Some pointed out it was badly Photoshopped; it is. Others said “HOW DARE YOU DESECRATE THAT WONDERFUL MOMENT WITH THIS IMPOSTER”, or words to that effect. I said that it was there simply because I observed Whittaker walking through a forest and the image jumped out at me. I’d say that some people have too much free time, but that’s a bit pot-kettle, isn’t it?

The scenery in ‘Demons of the Punjab’ was, of course, one of the best things about it, although travelling through those wonderful grasslands and woodland glades does have a downside.

That’s to say nothing, of course, to what happens when you get to the edge of a cliff only to find there’s an unexpected visitor sneaking up behind you.

Oh, and finally this week: proof, as if any were actually needed, that episode five really was a conundrum.

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five things that Doctor Who could learn from Twin Peaks (part one)

It was a revival twenty-five years in coming. It was the revival we thought we’d never actually get and could scarcely believe was actually happening until the moment the first trailers dropped onto YouTube. It was confusing, horrifying, hysterical, perplexing, frustrating. It was brilliant. It was obscene. It was the second-best thing we saw on TV this year.

It was Twin Peaks, and I can’t help thinking that while its very uniqueness made it special, other shows would benefit by copying at least some of its examples. Whatever your feelings on the dark, twisted return to Washington and the evil in those woods – on the questions answered and the others that sprung forth from nothingness like an emerging tulpa – there can be no arguing that it was a unique spectacle. Love or hate it, there was nothing like it on TV this year, nor is there likely to be again.

Let’s start with a disclaimer: the immediate response to a blog title like this one is that Doctor Who is a very different show and it would be risky, if not downright irresponsible, to emulate the sort of example that Twin Peaks set with its layers of enigmas and disturbing content. Doctor Who is a tinpot sci-fi show for Saturday evenings. It is enjoyed by millions precisely because it is accessible. Turning it into Twin Peaks Lite would be nothing short of monstrous. They are cut from very different cloths: it’s forming a handkerchief out of cow hide. It would kill the appeal of the original stone dead; it’s Gershwin seeking piano lessons from one of his idols, only to be told that he’d be better off serving as a first-rate Gershwin, rather than a second-rate Ravel.

Doctor Who should not try and be the new Twin Peaks, even if the new showrunner spent three years on Broadchurch attempting that very gambit (with some or no success, depending on who you ask). Simultaneously there were moments we watched it when I found myself seething in frustration. “If Doctor Who did this,” I remember saying, at least once, “it’d be a much better show.”

Today – and tomorrow, because this turned out to be longer than I’d expected – we’re going to explore just some of the things that might turn a fun show into a great one, provided they’re tackled in the right way.

Warning: this is spoiler-heavy. If you don’t want to know what happened in Twin Peaks: The Return, you would be advised not to read any further.

 

1. Not everything needs to be explained

There’s a thread on the Doctor Who Facebook group I just had to mute. It concerned ‘The Almost People’. “Why,” this person was asking, “did the Flesh solidify into real people when they walked into the TARDIS, but Amy was still a Ganger?” There is a perfectly simple explanation for this – Amy’s avatar is more advanced, thereby rendering the TARDIS technology obsolete – but it wasn’t enough to deter the usual crowd of Moffat-bashers. “Shit writing,” we were told. “Typical of this showrunner. Be glad when he leaves.”

It isn’t shit writing, nor is it quite as concrete as we’d like it to be. It is a partially resolved loophole, delivered in the same manner as Amy and Rory’s final story (which has a convenient get-out clause that’s disgracefully overlooked, in order to maximise the emotional pathos of their departure without actually killing them off). I was told a few weeks ago that there was no such thing as a plot hole – just a need to look elsewhere. If something happened that didn’t make any sense, you could usually find the answer by listening to a particular Big Finish audio, locating an obscure book, or scouring through 1800 words in a Reddit thread. “This,” I remember replying, “is just the sort of thing I find monumentally tiresome. I don’t mind the occasional mental workout, but I don’t want to go through Doctor Who with a notepad so I can write down all the things I need to research so that the episode will make sense.”

Lately, though, I’ve been wondering whether I was wrong about that, and whether there might be any mileage in having stuff that doesn’t make sense, on any level. ‘Ghost Light’ is about the best Classic example, although ‘Warriors’ Gate’ comes a decent second. It’s not that they don’t make sense, it’s just that strange things happen for no apparent reason and we basically deal with it. There is no follow-up to ‘Warriors’ Gate’ that I know of, and thus much of the weirdness is endemic to the zen themes the story drifts around, not to mention its peculiar (and gloriously effective) directorial style. It’s fun because it’s about as abstract and indefinable as Who gets. Somewhere in a parallel universe there’s a director’s cut of ‘Heaven Sent’ that’s missing Capaldi’s voiceover, and it’s hailed as a masterpiece.

In one episode of Twin Peaks, Sarah Palmer is accosted by a man in a bar. The scene concludes when she opens up her face. It is nonsensical – and, in its own way, quietly horrifying. It has absolutely no bearing on anything that’s come before – a brief supermarket meltdown aside – and it’s not mentioned again. Sarah is a bereaved woman who has suffered much and who has, for whatever reason, got a monster living inside her. It reminded me of the ‘house-heads’ storyline from the 1991 Comic Relief graphic novel spin-off, which someone has (rejoice!) written up and reproduced here so that I don’t have to. What happens to Sarah is all the more horrifying given that it has no place in the story, and seems to have sprung into existence fully formed – King Lear may have told his youngest daughter that “Nothing will come from nothing”, but try telling David Lynch.

Elsewhere, there’s episode 8. No one understood episode 8. It is one of the most bizarre and disturbing things the director has ever committed to film, and that includes Eraserhead. There’s no denying that The Return was, in many ways, more pure Lynch than the original series – it felt like the show he’d always wanted to make, but couldn’t until he could find a way to get those nasty network executives off his back. It is unpleasant, grotesque, riddled with profanity and occasionally indecipherable (this is all a good thing, by the way, let me be clear on that) and episode 8 was arguably as indecipherable as it got. Beginning with an attempted murder, the episode’s centrepiece is a lengthy black and white segment which opens with the birth of BOB, seemingly from a mushroom cloud, blooming in slow motion from the force of the atomic explosion and accompanied, appropriately enough, by Penderecki’s Threnody. Then it gets weird. For those of you reading this without having seen it, I really can’t begin to explain. For the rest of you, anyone got a light?

Over in the Whoniverse, Rory Williams dies, and then gets erased from history. Come the series 5 finale, he’s back. When asked how this could happen, the Doctor says “Sometimes, impossible things happen, and we call them miracles.” And true to form, it’s eventually revealed that both Rory and the other Romans are a construct based on Amy’s school project (and, one assumes, a photo on the mantelpiece). But I like the first explanation better. I like the idea that it might be an unexplained miracle. Perhaps, sometimes, that’s all you need.

2. Remember what peace there may be found in silence

Regular readers will know that this is a particular bugbear of mine. Number one on my laundry list of Things Doctor Who Ought To Do is turn it down a bit. Murray Gold’s score has its moments, but the effect of them is diluted by a series of droning incidental tracks that don’t go anywhere, and merely serve to dampen the dialogue. Watch some of the scenes unscored and the sheer power of the acting shines through – and there is a goodness in Doctor Who’s acting, however much it may be drowned by an unwanted undercurrent of strings and pianos. There is a bravery in presenting your material naked and raw, allowing the audience to form its own emotional bond without the crutch of a score (used, at least in Doctor Who, in a similar manner to a laugh track) that tells you what you ought to be feeling and when.

Twin Peaks has a scene in its series 3 opener where Dr. Jacoby is spray-painting shovels. It takes place in more or less complete silence, with nothing but the wind, the ambient noise of the forest and the quiet hiss of the spray can accompanying the psychiatrist’s diligent work. The effect is calming, contemplative, meditative even. It appears at first glance to bear absolutely no relation to the plot: as was typical with The Return, many seeds that were sown earlier bore fruit many weeks later.

Even some of the musical scenes are quiet. Fairly early on in series 3 there’s a scene in which a man sweeps the floor of the Bang Bang Bar, accompanied by ‘Green Onions’. All of it, more or less. These scenes hold up as interludes, like the 1950s interludes the BBC used to show when they needed to fill an extra couple of minutes before the next broadcast. The effect – a series of seemingly unrelated sequences, built up over a number of weeks into a brightly covered but loosely strung patchwork – is startling. This is a programme that takes its time with just about everything, and that turns out to work in its favour.

When it comes to dialogue, Lynch sticks to his guns: the bulk of TP dialogue takes place with little or no soundtrack, save the occasional ambient drone. The effect this has is that when music does show up, it’s all the more memorable: there are a number of examples we could draw upon, but things perhaps reach a zenith in episode 16 when Cooper revives in the hospital. As he rises and dresses and makes phone calls, suddenly all business and more himself again than he’s been all season, the Twin Peaks theme plays quietly in the background, rising in volume as Cooper finally gets to say all the things he’s clearly been wanting to say since first being trapped in the stunted, almost catatonic state that defined much of the third series. “You’re a fine man, Bushnell Mullins,” he says, shaking the insurance mogul by the hand. “I will not soon forget your kindness and decency.”

As he turns to leave, the dumbstruck Mullins finds his voice. “What about the FBI?” Whereupon Cooper turns in the doorway, offers one of those reassuring smiles, stares directly through the fourth wall and says “I am the FBI.”

As the Man From Another Place might have said, “ELECTRICITY.”

Part Two available here.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

God is in the detail (9-11)

Let me deliver some news first: unless there happens to be anything catastrophically important in ‘Hell Bent’, this will be my last God is in the Detail entry of the year. I simply can’t keep up the pace. It’s Christmas in three weeks, for crying out loud. I haven’t wrapped a single present or written a single card. If I don’t get engaged with it soon we’re going to have a big fat pile of unpeeled chestnuts on Christmas Eve and everyone is going to be miserable. And I’d rather save the misery for Christmas Day itself, thank you very much.

You will have to look elsewhere for your conspiracy theories. The Radio Times, for example. Did anyone else read that story about the secret message? You know, the one on the wall? This one?

Heaven_Detail (5)

(I borrowed this image from the RT article; the arrows are nifty. I may steal that for next year.)

Anyway, the text reads:

As you come into this world,
something else is also born.
You begin your life
and it begins a journey.
Towards you.
Wherever you go.
Whatever path you take.
It will follow.
You will notice a second shadow next to yours.
Your life will then be over.

[Engage Double Rainbow guy voice mode] But WHAT DOES IT MEEEEEEEANNN???? [/voice mode off]

“TWO SHADOWS?” comments Chris Wilkinson (who, I suspect is a kindred spirit) in the Radio Times article’s comments section. “IS THIS A RIVER EASTER EGG?”. To which I say good try, Chris, but clearly not. No, it’s an unambiguous reference to Shadow Weaver, the shrouded sorcerer from She-Ra: Princess of Power. 

shadow_weaver_by_nightwing1975-d5h8n5v

How do we know this? Well, simply because we can rearrange ‘Hordak, Catra, Clawdeen’ to ‘Accord hate, warn Dalek’. I mean, there it is, folks. It doesn’t get much more concrete.

Some of the clues in ‘Heaven Sent’ aren’t visual. You remember that montage they stuck in the last few minutes whereby two billion years pass while the Doctor beats his way through the wall of Handwavium? Well, it’s a clue. You’re not just supposed to sit there and take it all in, you know. You have to be listening. And luckily for you, I’ve dug out all the Doctor’s battlement observations (you remember, when he looks up at the stars and says “If I didn’t know better, I’d say I’ve travelled seven thousand years into the future”, while we were all shouting at him to watch out for the approaching Veil). And here are the numbers he mentions:

7000
7000
12000
600000
1200000
2000000
20000000
52000000
1000000000
1000000000 (or well over)
2000000000

(For clarification of all these, I am indebted – as ever – to Chrissie’s Transcripts. She had a hell of a job with this one, and she did it brilliantly.)

Anyway. If we add all these together, we get this:

4075825000

But what does it mean? It turns out to be a telephone number. A Whitepages lookup only gives us very scant information, but does reveal that its owner is based in Orlando, Florida. Which ostensibly means nothing at all, until we remember Orlando: A Biography, a novel by Virginia Woolf in which the titular Orlando lives for hundreds of years and has a sex change halfway through.

And what can we glean from this?

– The Doctor’s next series will feature an adventure in Disneyworld
– He will encounter rogue CIA agents (whose headquarters are in Langley, Virginia)
– Billie Piper will appear in her raggedy costume
– THE NEXT DOCTOR WILL BE A WOMAN

Further proof – as if any were needed – may be acquired by rearranging the words ‘VIRGINIA WOOLF WROTE ORLANDO: A BIOGRAPHY’ into ‘LANGLEY WIFI AGGRAVATION – BORROW HOOD OR PI?’, which refers to so many episodes it would take more time than we have to unpack them, but you know what I mean.

Next:

9_11 Heaven_Detail (3)

[tumbleweed]

OK, I’m lost. I’m sure this has some sort of significance but it’s gone. Sorry. Please leave your thoughts on it below, if you have any.

Let’s take a look at something else.

9_11 Heaven_Detail (1)

I mean, here’s the Doctor, in the middle of his own prison, looking carelessly at a monitor and HOLY SHIT IT’S THE TARDIS.

No, it is. Seriously. Look, it’s even got a candelabra just above it to simulate the light on the top. The only difference is the number of windows. Three windows. As if to represent…I don’t know, three TARDISes?

Day_Tardis

Finally:

9_11 Heaven_Detail (4)

The numbers. Look at the numbers. 17 and 46 may be combined to form 1746, the year in which ‘The Highlanders’ took place, and the year to which Jamie was returned at the end of ‘The War Games’ with his memory erased – an act, by the way, perpetrated BY THE TIME LORDS. Also note that the Doctor is pointing towards the number 7 with his thumb – referring, of course, not to the Seventh Doctor, but the seventh episode of season 17, part three of ‘City of Death’, WHICH FEATURES THUMBSCREWS.

102 clearly refers to ‘Golden Death’, part of The Daleks’ Master Plan – Daleks got a mention above, and the word on the street is that we’ll see them in the series finale. But Golden Death is also an obvious nod to Jill Masterson’s violent death at the beginning of Goldfinger – a film that co-starred Honor Blackman, WHO APPEARED ALONGSIDE THE SIXTH DOCTOR IN THE TRIAL OF A TIME LORD STORY ARC. And what happens in this week’s story? Well, if you’ve seen the Next Time bit you’ll have already joined the dots and maybe started doodling round the edges of the page and adding a little moustache to the plumber you’ve drawn so that he looks a bit like Mario. Anyway, it all means I get to post this again.

Baked Alaska

 

Only a true Gryffindor could have pulled that out of the hat, Harry.

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: ‘Heaven Sent’

9_11 Heaven Sent_0.32.14.07

Warning: spoiler heavy.

In 1976, right after he’d dropped off Sarah Jane in Croydon (by way of Aberdeen), the Doctor found himself back on Gallifrey. There was a sinister plot to assassinate the President – perhaps unsurprisingly, the Master is behind it all – with the Doctor caught very firmly in the frame. But there are a couple of things I remember about ‘The Deadly Assassin’: one is the tense, dialogue-light episode three, which we’ll come to later, while the other is the very first part of the story, in which the Doctor wanders around the TARDIS and the Gallifrey Citadel, talking to himself.

Tom Baker’s mid-70s assertion that he could carry the show without a companion was quickly shot down by the producers, and it’s easy to see why. ‘The Deadly Assassin’ is a great story, but the early scenes are frankly excruciating. Baker is always at his best when he is bouncing off someone else, even if it’s John Leeson on the other end of a radio link. The rest of the story more than makes up for it, but it was, you felt, the sort of thing that should never be repeated. And yet this evening the BBC broadcast an entire episode that featured Peter Capaldi running round a castle for an hour with only a bedsheet for company – and amazingly, it works.

9_11 Heaven Sent_0.09.13.18

Bedsheets are frightening, of course. ‘Listen’ was an episode of two halves, but the half that worked – the first half – was as tense and chilling as anything the programme had done in years, and certainly since ‘The God Complex’. The monster-of-the-week here is a wordless, faceless phantasm that stalks the corridors of the castle, always present and prone, like Ridley Scott’s Alien, to jumping out at any given moment. We get to see the devastating effects of its touch late in the story: it kills the Doctor, and not just once. The castle, too, is an enemy, shifting and rotating like the stairways at Hogwarts, with doors opening onto blank walls and corridors leading nowhere. The surroundings themselves are as important as the stunning New Zealand backdrop that made Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies work so well, and if they get a generation of children interested in English Heritage properties, so much the better.

It helps that even though the Doctor is usually alone this week, he’s never just talking to himself. When he’s not addressing the Veil, he’s monologuing to Clara – seen, for the most part, with her back to the audience as she scratches questions on one of the TARDIS blackboards. Moffat’s decision to eventually show her (albeit for a moment) is slightly cheap, and the interchange between the two that results is one of the episode’s weaker moments, but it does at least answer the question of whether it was Jenna Coleman or her stand-in (and truth be told, it was probably both). Is it churlish to say that this silent, visually obscured Clara is Coleman’s finest performance in quite some time? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

9_11 Heaven Sent_0.11.44.16

9_11 Heaven Sent_0.29.18.10

But it’s Capaldi who’s the real star, here, breezing effortlessly through a script that requires him to be angry, smug, weary and frightened, often within the same scene. The Doctor stalks the corridors of the castle with wariness and scientific curiosity and a sense of genuine sadness – it seems anomalous somehow, given that he’s lost companions before, and Moffat really is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, but Capaldi is never less than absolutely compelling, whether he’s examining a skull on the castle battlements (a clear nod to the first and last acts of Hamlet) or chatting up a tree, for the second time in a decade. The TARDIS segments are less effective, capturing frozen moments in time with the same smugness that pervades Sherlock, but thankfully they are comparatively brief, allowing Capaldi to shine where he needs to. We all knew he could act, but it’s always nice when he gets to prove it.

It all threatens to go south as the plot unfolds proper. This is not a mind trip: it serves a purpose. If the Fourth Doctor entered the Matrix in order to find the Master, the Twelfth Doctor is dumped inside a prison of his making so that the Time Lords can eke the truth out of him, one nugget of information at a time. Once it becomes apparent that the Doctor we see is not the first one to arrive, nor will he be the last, the story threatens to unravel: the fact that every single narrative unfolds in precisely the same way, with the same outcome, seems alarmingly fatalist, while the Doctor’s two-billion year wall punch echoes a particular scene from Kill Bill. Oh, and we’ve not even discussed the metaphysical implications of the guy working with constant backups of himself from a hard drive, but I’m not touching that one with a three foot pole.

9_11 Heaven Sent_0.37.25.17

Besides…look, to be honest, ‘Heaven Sent’ is one of those stories that works better if you discard its surrounding mythology. I don’t care what’s in the Doctor’s confession dial. I don’t care why he left Gallifrey. I’m not interested in what the Time Lords are up to. The episode’s final punch line – “The hybrid is me” – is an obvious internet talking point, pitting those who think it refers to the Doctor’s much-disputed half-human origins against those who’ve worked out that it’s almost certainly Maisie Williams. It’s dull and unnecessary and, like the scene it follows, sets things up for a finale that I fear will be an absolute trainwreck.

But for the moment, absolutely none of that matters. Murray Gold’s innovative-but-intrusive score doesn’t matter. Even the wider implications of the tedious series arc don’t matter. This was an episode that dared to think outside the box a little: a risk-taking episode, simultaneously grand and claustrophobic, telling a story that succeeded on its own terms, irrespective of where it sits in the grand scheme of things. It echoed ‘The Mind Robber’ and ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and ‘Castrovalva’ and ‘Scherzo’. It echoed 2001. It even echoed The Stanley Parable, which I was by an uncanny coincidence playing this very evening. It was beautifully realised, impeccably acted, and thought-provoking and contained several genuine scares. Whatever happens next, for once I really can’t complain.

9_11 Heaven Sent_0.32.14.07

S9-11_Heaven

Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: