Posts Tagged With: heaven sent

The Smallerpictures Video Dump (2020, part three)

I wish I could tell you that I’d got on with that novel while we’ve been stuck at home. Or that I’d learned to sew, or reached a sense of inner peace, or at least slowed down a bit. But my life was already fairly slow and empty, and I rather liked it that way. My world now, instead, is a world of hastily improvised routines of family breakfasts and Zoom webinars and P.E. with Joe; of virtual meetings with my church housegroup; of listening, every Thursday, to the sound of no one in our street clapping for the NHS; of refusing out of principle to partake in those watchalongs because if there’s one thing DW fans know how to do it’s take a good idea and flog it to death, or at least until all the novelty has well and truly worn off. We’re fortunate, where we are, but oh dear God this road is long – and there are no winding turns, simply a series of erratic curves.

Anyway, how are the Doctors spending lockdown? Today, we catch up with just three of them. But they’re the three everyone likes, so that’s a good start.

 

1. Public Safety Announcement (April 2020)

You know we never stoop to cliche here at Brian of Morbius, but if we did, this would be the point at which I told you this will all be over by Christmas. That’s actually based on scientific insight, correct (at least theoretically) as we go to press, which dictates that under an idealised plan of social distancing and appropriate quarantine the virus could be squashed by 4 December. Now, you and I both know that this is unlikely, but I do at least hope we’ll be allowed out by then – and not stuck in Caerphilly Castle with Peter Capaldi, who’s been wandering its dimly-lit corridors for the better part of four billion years.

This was a lot of fun to put together, largely because it was simply a question of going through the episode and finding appropriate (yes, all right, inappropriate) clips to match up with the government advice. Sometimes that’s a long, hard slog – unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, and generally I don’t, then you have to rely on memory and association and transcript searches. But sticking with a single episode restricts you, which makes that endless scrubbing back and forth all the easier to endure. Every one of this clips is taken from ‘Heaven Sent’ – with one exception. Can you spot it?

 

2. The Ninth Doctor channel hops (April 2020)

The Twelfth Doctor’s been dive-bombing a lake and getting his skull melted by a Dickens reject. Three regenerations back, one of his predecessors is stuck in a flat with Jackie Tyler. I know where my sympathies lie. Sorry, Peter; you’re on your own.

Eccleston is notoriously catty about some of his former roles. Thor 2, for example, was “like having a gun in your mouth”. He’s not much happier about G.I. Joe. I also read that he hated to be asked about Raymond Calitri, which is why it’s in here – but supposedly he’s cooled off about that over the years, so perhaps a reconciliation with the MCU may be on the cards. Although somehow I doubt it; he’s not exactly in a hurry to go back to Doctor Who.

But everyone has a breaking point. What would it take for Eccleston to relive those hours in the makeup chair? Watch it, and you’ll see.

 

3. The Tenth Doctor in Lockdown (May 2020)

Now, this was a departure. Not because it’s particularly different in tone or approach – awkward enjambment of two contrasting sources is something I’ve been doing since year dot – but because I managed, after some trial and error, to get a picture-in-picture effect when the Doctor’s watching the screen. It lasts for approximately three seconds and it’s by no means perfect (look closely and you can see Tennant’s head walking through the bottom of the image) but it’s vital, because it establishes that he’s looking at it there and then in the heart of the Crucible. You nail that, and everything else follows.

Oh, and I make no apologies for anyone I might offend with this, because I think the only person who’s likely to be offended is Ian Levine. And Ian Levine is, for want of a better word, a complete cockwomble.

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The Smallerpictures Video Dump (2020, part two)

The clock ticks, the politicians dither, and you’re still all stuck inside. But fear not, constant reader: we’re here to entertain you, probably by throwing on a gingham dress and clucking like a chicken. (This will either make sense or it won’t; if it doesn’t I’m not about to explain it.)

There’s a musical theme to today’s collection. That was an accident, a coincidence of scheduling. But I’m not complaining: these are usually arranged solely in the order in which I did them, so it’s nice when they actually have something in common for a change.

Shall we?

 

1. REMASTERED: The Rings of Akhaten, new score (March 2020)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Ulysses 31 was a big part of my childhood. It didn’t matter that the first time I was encountering the monsters and sailors of the Odyssey was in a futuristic space setting. It didn’t matter that the episode with Chronos terrified the pants off me. It didn’t matter that the robot was annoying. The whole story was so epic in scale and ambition, visiting new universes, weaving complicated narrative threads of morality and free will, and telling a complete tale with a beginning and an ending. I even managed my own mashup of Doctor Who footage to accompany the theme song. It’s the sort of tale that really is ripe for some sort of revisit – I’d originally envisaged a trilogy of films but I now think that a limited run Netflix series would be better. Inevitably, of course, it would have to be updated, presumably by bringing in some sort of Freudian conflict between Ulysses and Telamachus (who was, in the original series, cloyingly loyal), as well as implementing a more contemporary score. Which is a shame, because the original (composed by Ike Egan, Denny Crockett, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy) really is a piece of work, encompassing disco, Focus-esque distorted rock and a full orchestra. Even on its own, it’s worth a listen.

Veteran readers here may remember that, way way back in the day, I had the idea of marrying up some of this music with the Doctor’s speech from ‘The Rings of Akhaten’. It was 2013, and I’d just discovered unscored audio, which exists in abundance if you know where to look – those lovely people who’ve isolated the dialogue and sound effects from Doctor Who stories so you can do what you want with them, chopping and changing bits without having to worry about background music. It made the editing process exponentially more satisfying, but it only works if you have an audio track that matches up with the video file you’re using, and thanks to differering frame rates and quirks of encoding, this isn’t always the case.

So the version I made years ago was, while well-intentioned, a complete mess. Seriously, it was all over the shop. I was chopping and changing and shifting and rearranging and still I could never get it quite right – there are moments where the Doctor’s tongue is somewhere and his voice is somewhere else, like a lagging Zoom call, and then – and then, after I’d torn out most of my hair trying to make it work, the bloody thing wouldn’t sit on YouTube because copyright. So I stuck it on Vimeo where no one ever goes, and consigned it to the bin of Things That Didn’t Quite Work and then tried to learn from the experience.

Years down the line, I had a go at remastering it, and this time I’m happy with it. And more to the point, both Facebook and YouTube are happy to host it. So that’s a win.

 

2. The Goats of Llandudno (March 2020)

We have kites nesting in the trees next to our garden. You can see them all over this part of Oxfordshire, but we see them a lot. Last weekend I was emptying the bins of an evening when I observed two of them, soaring and swooping in a dazzling aerobatic display, as they squabbled and scrapped over a piece of meat that one of them had collected and the other one wanted. For about a minute and a half. It was hypnotic, and of the moment, and I’m glad I didn’t try to film it.

Anyway, that set me thinking: just what, exactly, do our animals and birds make of this? They must be aware that something is different: that there are fewer people around (or that, at least, certain public areas are now quieter), that they can perhaps be a little bolder, that the air is a little less filled with carbon. That the planes are grounded. What does my cat think, for example, of the fact that we’re now all at home, every day? Certainly she must know something, even if she is happy to keep her opinions to herself – unlike my mother-in-law’s border collie, for example, who has had to adjust to the fact that she now only gets one walk a day.

Not long after they implemented the lockdown, a story broke about a goat infestation in the suddenly deserted streets of Llandudno (that’s in Wales, if you were wondering). I think I’ve been to Llandudno, or at least through it: it is a pretty place, if now a little less safe if you value your garden plants. There they were, hordes of horned beasts, chewing the hedges and kicking at the walls trampling manicured lawns underfoot (I was going to do the “This town is comin’ like a goats town”, but the Guardian got there first).

The Guardian got some great footage, but it was mostly silent, save the ambience. I had the idea of dropping in some of Murray Gold’s Doctor Who score – several things didn’t quite work, but the one that did was the music from ‘Heaven Sent’, notably the discordant, menacing rumble that fills Caerphilly Castle as the Veil casually stalks the Doctor. Matched with images of goats overrunning a village, it loses some of its potency. Still, it works.

 

3. Twin Peaks characters dancing to the Doctor Who theme (April 2020)

Oh, this is just a bit of fun. And the idiot on Facebook who said “Can’t you make something better?” can piss off. Seriously, piss off.

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Have I Got Whos For You (isolated bank holiday edition)

OK. You remember that boot thing that was doing the rounds this week? Well…

It was a silly thing that took me ten minutes and I’m not even the first to do it, but it sort of exploded. An awful lot of Rocky Horror memes, and quite a few Barrowman references. Which kind of fits, I suppose.

Elsewhere: it’s World Naked Gardening Day, although some people are keener on the idea than others.

Speaking of Mr Capaldi, here he is celebrating World Penguin Day.

Sometimes when you’re bereft of ideas, you just have to check the trending column. Every day is a celebration of some sort; even the most ridiculous, mundane things (National Beard Day? Really?) get their own hashtag, sparking all sorts of inane chatter and, if you’re me, some hasty Photoshopping to catch the traffic. I won’t pretend I’m proud of this, not least because all the time I’m doing that I’m not writing the book, but we’re on lockdown and I keep telling myself it’s a mindfulness activity.

For example, 26 April was Alien Day, named as it is for colony LV426. It’s a little flimsy, but so is Pi day (which doesn’t work, incidentally, if you’re British, any more than the “Hey, look at that van go!” ones do). Still, any excuse.

The Thirteenth Doctor’s been doing the rounds a bit this week. Here she is at a table tennis match.

“No, honestly, it’s me; I’ve just lost a bit of weight since then.”

I can’t work out whether the others have seen something off camera or are simply bored. Either way it looks like it’s all about to head south. Perhaps they’re better off staying closer to home.

“Yeah, you remember I mentioned the Woolly Rebellion…?”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Interlude)

All is not well in Planet Who, folks. There is discontent over the absence of a trailer, anticipatiion fatigue over the BBC’s continuing refusal to name a date, and a general sense of ambivalence about whether it’s going to be any good considering the writers they’ve got on board for next series. And over in a Viking village, Edgar’s let his sneeze get the better of him again.

I spent half an hour yesterday trying to interpolate footage from this year’s John Lewis advert into footage of explosions and disintegrating snowmen and the cracking of ice. It did not go well. My heart simply wasn’t in it, which is never a good beginning. So I cleaned the bathroom instead. There’s no video this week, but at least the house smells fragrant. We’ve done John Lewis before – more than once – and that comparative post I did back in 2016 really is due a revamp. Maybe next year. Maybe.

There was a pile of good things. Georgia Tennant posted a photo on Instagram of her new baby’s induction into the world of Doctor Who, although there was some concern over the episode that she was watching.

“HUNGRY,” said one FB user I occasionally interact with, to which the response from me was “Wrong episode.”

“Close, though, right?”

“Five years out. So in the grand scheme of things…”

If we’re talking series 12, of course, you have to work with what you’ve got. For example, a few weeks back we became aware of a suspected leaked image from an upcoming sequel to ‘Flatline’, although there was immediate speculation as to whether or not it was fake.

It’s not fake, surely? I mean it’s got lighting and everything.

One thing that definitely isn’t fake is the Dalek redesign, which was recently spotted on Clifton Suspension Bridge during a closed ‘maintenance’ slot which was actually booked for the BBC. There was immediate uproar over the apparent redesign, which served no purpose except to highlight the double standards inherent in the assessment of such things, because the Cybermen have been going for almost as long as the Daleks and the new ones are basically unrecognisable, whereas the Daleks have hardly changed at all over the years and the moment they do there’s wailing and crying and gnashing of teeth. Maybe that’s the whole problem. Perhaps a general evolution would have made the removal of the sink plunger an acceptable thing. Perhaps they’ve signed up to a twenty-four hour callout service and there’s no longer any need to do it themselves.

Anyway, it turns out there’s a reason for it.

I’ve been struggling a little bit with Thomas’s school this week, who have been perhaps less than understanding about some of his additional needs, even though they usually do a good job. We have explained to him that while copying out the question before you add the answer does seem rather pointless, you sometimes simply have to toe the line and pick your battles. We live in a system of assessments and targets and indecipherable lingo, and with four kids at four schools it really can be a bit of a minefield.

Anyway, Thomas is basically happy, but I do wish he’d read more. It’s Ripley’s Believe it or Not or a Beano annual or something in the Big Nate range, and while I’m not a reading snob of any sort there’s a wealth of great stuff out there he’s missing out on simply because he can’t be bothered. Occasionally – just occasionally – you can find something that’ll interest him, like we did when we found a Derren Brown book about hypnotism and the power of suggestion. He’d developed something of an interest in the man after regular visits to Thorpe Park this year where we all got rather attached to the Derren Brown ghost train – a ride I’m not allowed to spoil, because they ask you not to. Then this book showed up in a charity shop and he was riveted. It’s the sort of thing that makes me shudder, just faintly, because whether it’s genuine psychic ability or a simple confidence trick Brown is a piggin’ genius and the thought of Thomas going down that road makes me wonder what the consequences would be. It’s like giving the supersoldier serum to Red Skull. “No man should have that kind of power.”

I was trying to find something for him the other week when I stumbled upon this hideously inappropriate Doctor Who novel. I could still let him read it; the joke would probably sail over his head.

Audiobook available soon from all good streaming services.

Star Wars updates now – and cometh the man, cometh the Mandalorian.

It’s not just me, is it? Tell me it’s not just me.

I am trying to put my finger on the moment I lost interest in the Star Wars franchise. It might have been the Clone Wars movie. It might actually have been Shadows of the Empire, Lucas’ 1997 foray into episode 5.5 territory that tried several approaches, none of which really worked. The book was particularly disastrous. Years down the line and we’re bombarded with spin-offs no one asked for and comparatively few people watched and now there’s a TV series about a masked bounty hunter who may or may not be Boba Fett (is he Boba Fett? I haven’t bothered to find out) and oh look, George Lucas has changed the Greedo death AGAIN. If I’m grouchy about this it’s because Disney has announced this week that they’re pulling the Lego Star Wars exhibit from Legoland Windsor because for some unfathomable reason the sight of tiny brick men in a dimly-lit walkthrough will be enough to prevent people going to their own Star Wars-themed parks, most of which are in another country. I am one of the few people who objected to Disney buying the thing a few years back – as far as I was concerned they couldn’t come up with a bigger mess than Attack of the Clones, and thus far I’ve been proved right – but this annoys me. Next time I might just take the kids to a museum instead.

I mean honestly.

We conclude with politics, and Kay Burley has an empty chair in her studio.

I had a conversation with Trevor Baxendale about this: he’d said it didn’t work for him because the Silence wasn’t actually invisible (a mistake many Who fans seem to make when they’re making jokes about them online), so surely she’d be able to see it? We were back and forth for a bit, with me explaining myself and the two of us eventually agreeing that the actual concept of the Silence was so vague there is wiggle room. Better yet that we should concentrate on episodes of Doctor Who that actually work. Like ‘Heaven Sent’, for example, seeing as we seem to be on a bit of a series 9 kick this morning. I had cause to rewatch ‘Heaven Sent’ this week – for reasons that will become apparent another time – and one thing that strikes me is how meticulously constructed the whole thing is; aside from certain questions about where the first set of dry clothes came from it really hangs together quite well.

“What?”

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Five Doctor Who episodes to help you deal with grief

I’m writing this four days after my mother died.

It was one of those sudden, unexpected things: a phone call at five in the afternoon, the rain hammering on the roof of the folding camper as we laughed and giggled about nothing, and then the sudden, life-changing moment when you’re told the news, and then the denial (“No. No, no. You’re wrong“) and then…look. To be honest it’s a blur. But somehow things got done. And there was the inevitable back-and-forth between close family members and then we cancelled our day-old holiday and came back to deal with it. She had a heart attack despite having no history of heart trouble and that means a post mortem and a certain amount of limbo while you wait for the phone to ring.

It is a funny state of affairs. There is grieving without grieving. I think that, even after all this time, I am still in shock; a particularly lucid nightmare from which there is no chance to wake. You go onto autopilot: things happen because they must, and because the day needs to be traversed like some desolate, inexplicably familiar commute even though the circumstances are bizarre and frightening. It occurs to me that I have yet to cry about all this, and for once in my life the sense of overriding guilt that is my default emotional state is suddenly and notably absent, simply because I am keeping it at bay for fear that it would just about finish me off.

So I am currently fractured, and not in a good place, and when I’m not in a good place I tend to fall back on something creative. It’s that, or sit there and brood. For example, I have just rendered every single canonical Doctor in cartoon form using the Flipline Papa Louie Pals app; one of those random things you do when you’re waiting for the coffee to reach drinking temperature. I will post them here eventually, when I’ve sorted out the height variance. It seems almost frivolous, but it’s a way of getting through the day. No, it’s more than that: creativity is (and I dearly wish it weren’t) an outlet that is all too often fuelled by melancholy, where bad things lead to good things. In the (sometimes metaphorical) studio of every artist there is – or ought to be – a plaque reading “YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE MISERABLE TO WORK HERE, BUT IT HELPS”.

Or perhaps it’s just a way of shutting out the noise. And it is a noise, this confusing maelstrom of mixed moods, of memories both bad and joyful and sometimes both, of things said and unsaid and this realisation that there is no such thing as a positive or negative emotion, there is only an emotion, and that it is possible to feel both good and bad. “The sun rose steadily over Hogwarts,” writes Rowling at the end of The Deathly Hallows, “and the Great Hall blazed with life and light. Harry was an indispensible part of the mingled outpourings of jubilation and mourning, of grief and celebration.” How wondrous it might have been if we had actually seen that at the end of the film, instead of the mute and oddly soulless calm that David Yates and Warner opted to provide.

But Doctor Who can be like that. At its best (and that is a heady height that is reached all too rarely, it seems) it provides both the opportunity to celebrate life and also to mark its end, as characters die and are appropriately mourned, and death is the next stage on a journey, or a sacrifice worth making, or perhaps as simple as going to bed at the end of a very long day. This list is not exhaustive; nor is it definitive. Certain ‘obvious’ stories (Father’s Day) are missing; other choices will possibly strike you as odd. That’s fine. These are, for one reason or another, the episodes that have helped me, curiously not by revisiting them (I simply haven’t had the time) but purely in terms of remembering key themes and moments and dialogue from years of watching and dissecting and writing about them. And this week, doing that has comforted me. And if anyone is feeling what I’ve been feeling, and can in turn draw any comfort from anything I’ve written, either here or below, then my work is surely not fruitless, nor meaningless.

And I miss my mum.

 

Twice Upon A Time

What would you do, muses Steven Moffat in this Christmas special, if you had the chance to say goodbye again? If the dead were somehow stored as permanent memories, magically rendered flesh through the conduit of a glass avatar? What would you say to them – if, indeed, you could be sure it was them? And how would you know? That’s the mystery that the Doctor endeavours to solve, with the help of a long-vanquished former self, a dead woman and a melancholy army captain whose time is apparently up. There are gags about French restaurants and there is a Dalek, but it’s that idea of loss and survival that lingers long after the smoke from the death ray has dissipated into the air. The notion that we might somehow be able to talk to the deceased – or, more specifically, that they might talk to us – is one that is embossed throughout ‘Twice Upon A Time’, holding it together like the stitching on David Bradley’s hat. The avatar on the battlefield is both Bill Potts and not Bill Potts; both Clara Oswald and not Clara Oswald, both Nardole and…well, you get the idea. In the end, it is the memories of others that make us who we are, and that as long as there is breath in our bodies, they never truly leave us.

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth

Series 11 opens with the news of a death, only we don’t know that. Jodie Whittaker’s inauguration begins and more or less ends with a YouTube video, uploaded by a tearful young man mourning the loss of his grandmother. It is a grief that will eventually unite him with her second husband – a man who himself carries the weight of loss in his cancer-stricken body: a man with a broken heart living on borrowed time. And yet this is not in itself a bad thing. “I carry them with me,” says the Doctor, when asked how she copes with those she herself has lost. “What they would have thought and said and done. I make them a part of who I am.” It is a sentiment that will eventually save Graham, when faced (much later on) with the ghost of the woman he knew, and who is able to tell her apart from the real thing by remembering how she would have reacted. Still, it is always the Doctor who survives, and sometimes that hurts. And as good as it was, there was a sting to this particular tale when we re-examined its title: this notion that there were two women, both of whom had fallen to Earth, and that only one of them managed to get back on her feet.

 

Heaven Sent

Shaken and broken from the apparent death of his companion, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is marooned inside a watch that looks like a castle, chased by a ghost that wouldn’t look out of place on Scooby Doo, and spends four billion years punching through a wall. On paper it sounds almost ridiculous. In practice it is a stunning, almost groundbreaking entry in the Who logbook, a Groundhog Day of endless grief. But it is the mood of this one that strikes you: a sombre, semi-lit world of browns and greys and dark reds, where corridors shift and paintings decay and one is both always alone and never alone. Clara is both the Doctor’s muse and the object of his grief, manifest in a cacophony of half-glimpses, viewed from behind as she scratches with chalk before vanishing once more into the shadows – the decision to eventually show her one of the few narrative missteps in an otherwise impeccable production. “It’s funny,” muses the Doctor, halfway through this story, drumming his fingers on the arm of a chair. “The day you lose someone isn’t the worst. At least you’ve got something to do. It’s all the days they stay dead.” The following week (and presumably requiring something else to do) he would bust Clara from the trap street and she would run off with Maisie Williams in a stolen TARDIS, but we’re not going to discuss that one.

 

The Rings of Akhaten

Poor Neil Cross went through the wringer with this, and it really isn’t fair. Yes, it is overly sentimental and frequently ridiculous. Yes, the the final conceit (in which, during what is a bizarre twist on The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Clara destroys the monster by feeding it a leaf) really doesn’t work. Yes, the singing is a bit much. On the other hand you would be hard-pressed to find an episode of Doctor Who that matches this one in terms of ambition, grandeur and sheer unbridled joy: a rejuvenated Doctor, fresh off his leash, a companion dazzled by the wonders of the universe, a beautifully rendered interstellar market and a dozen good ideas that never quite bear fruit. The Doctor’s graveside stalking of Clara is uncomfortable to watch – it’s rather like reading your girlfriend’s diary – but the whole pre-title sequence is a beautiful and ultimately heart-rending vignette that shows us how someone might be defined by the people close to them. ‘Akhaten’ is about letting go of the things we love, but it treads this path with that sense of bittersweet sadness and joy I was talking about; the one that pervades the closing moments of Harry Potter. And this in the episode where Matt Smith has a wand duel.

 

Blink

Viewed from one perspective, ‘Blink’ is a story about bootstraps and puzzles and the frightening things that lurk in old houses. That’s usually how I approach it, and I wouldn’t blame you for doing the same. But it’s so much more than that: it is, at its core, a story about loss, as Sally Sparrow – the undisputed queen of Companions That Never Were – has her heart broken twice, once by an old acquaintance and once by a new one. This would count for nothing if the script were mawkish and sentimental, but it is neither: ‘Blink’ is one of those stories that works just as well when it is being sad as when it is being frightening, and the death of Billy Shipton (announcing, with a poetic abstractness that would eventually outstay its welcome, that he would live “until the rain stops”) is among the most poignant scenes that Moffat has ever committed to paper. And it’s here, in these moments of downtime when the statues are off camera and the score is quiet and understated, that the paradox of the Weeping Angels is revealed: that the tragedy that trails in their wake is visited not upon those who are taken but on those that are left behind. The Doctor calls this potential energy; at the risk of sounding tremendously cloying, we might just as easily call it love.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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(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. 

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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.

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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:

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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’

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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.

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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.

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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

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