Posts Tagged With: hell bent

The Queen and I

Greenbelt, August 2019. We are at the close: a raucous singalong under the canopy, led by the house band. Sensing what is coming, I lead the family quietly away before the last encore. But it’s too late: they are finishing with ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, the song my mother requested at her funeral, which was four days ago. My children burst into tears. And supporting relatives come and put their arms aroud us, and we are united in grief.

I can still recall the minister some days before, saying “You may find it’ll take a while to be able to listen to the song again”. He was basically right, although I found the sadness had lessened by the time it turned up in Sonic The Hedgehog the following February. Eventually you learn to live with things. Besides, it’s a fitting way to remember her: my mother was judgemental as heck in November 1991, telling us how much that man had wasted his life, but she still listened to the music. We both did.

I’ve loved Queen for years, although it was a bumpy start. My aunt and godmother, looking for inspiration for Christmas gifts, was advised to buy me some Queen albums on cassette: she plumped for Queen II, which years later remains a personal favourite, and Hot Space, which…well, doesn’t. It doesn’t help that when you’re young you tend to miscategorise music tremendously; I would say, when asked, that I enjoyed “Heavy metal, like Queen”. Years later I discovered Slayer, and the penny dropped.

Hot Space is a big hot sparse mess of an album and we won’t dwell on it, but Queen II is its polar opposite: an over-indulgent, over-produced slab of absolutely brilliant fantasy rock. How can you fail to love a record that features a song called ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’, references Poe, and then leads out with ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’? And that’s before we get to all the powerhouse riffs and Beach Boys nods in ‘Father To Son’, which is possibly my favourite Queen track of the early 70s. Sure as heck beats anything from The Game.

Years later I heard ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the first time; it grew on me and now I rather enjoy it, although it’s overplayed and over-referenced and singalongs are a nightmare because people always, ALWAYS add that extra “No!” before the second “We will not let you go”, which is fine unless you’re trying to play the damned thing at a party. I use the word ‘play’ with a certain looseness; mostly I just bash out the chords and then let the drunken guests take over for the changes my untrained fingers have never quite been able to handle, although I daresay they could if I practiced hard enough. There was one particular evening, in the student bar at Devonshire Hall, Leeds, in September 1996 that is forever etched on my brain. They kept bringing me drinks and I kept bringing them songs; we jammed to ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and I was, for the only time that year, the most popular person in the room. That was a good night.

Then you get round to buying all the albums on CD and introducing them to your children (‘Good Company’ is a particular favourite), and before you know it it’s 2019 and they’ve done a biopic which gets, at least, the music right, provided you can live with the anachronisms about when things were written. I watched ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in a village hall with the two eldest; most of the film was spent tutting at things that didn’t happen and looking at cats, but at least it looks pretty, and I watched the final blistering twenty minutes with a big grin on my face, which I suppose is the point. Still, it’s hard not to be a little annoyed at some of the dramatic license – from the silly (Freddie accidentally inventing his portable microphone stand during their first ever gig) to the eyebrow-raising (basically everything from Hot Space to Berlin).

And can we please, for the love of sanity, have a music film other than Almost Famous that doesn’t depict all journalists as callous bastards? Some of us work very hard for what little coffers they pay and it’s debasing to see us reduced to a blank-faced stereotype at a press conference. I wouldn’t mind, but Bohemian Rhapsody is largely presented as fact, or at least the version of fact that the surviving members of the band wanted to tell; it’s clumsy and formulaic next to Rocket Man, which sets up an unreliable narrator in its first five minutes and then allows you to fill in the gaps yourselves. It is truth disguised as fiction, whereas Rhapsody is the complete opposite. Still, Gwilym Lee’s quite good.

Anyway. Here we are, and I’m doing my lyric-to-screenshot thing. It was tricky, because it isn’t: Queen often delved into the realms of sci-fi and fantasy (they have two movie soundtracks to their name) and it’s comparatively simple to find obvious lyrics. I have deliberately tried to plump for the obscure: there is nothing from ‘Princes of the Universe’ or the like, because it isn’t funny. Hopefully these are.

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Have I Got Whos For You (shameful catch-up edition)

You’re not supposed to apologise when you’re a politician. Dominic Cummings didn’t. Boris hasn’t. Trump certainly didn’t; I don’t think he’s capable of remorse. But I probably should: I’ve let you all down. You’ve been sitting there, on tenterhooks, awaiting something new and bloggish from the BoM crew (a crew consisting of one balding middle-aged man in a severely untidy study), and what happens? Nada. Zip. Zilch. I can picture you all, crying into your beds at night, anxiously hitting the refresh buttons on phones and tablets and sobbing at children and significant others: “ALL I WANTED WAS SOMETHING TO HELP ME THROUGH LOCKDOWN AND HE CAN’T EVEN MANAGE THAT!”

What? What do you mean you haven’t?

There have been…difficulties in the house over the last few weeks, and while we’re stumbling towards a temporary and uneasy equilibrium I’ve kind of had my hands full. And on the occasions they’ve been empty, I’ve been drained. Lockdown seems to have done that to people; we’ve all slowed down a bit. Perhaps I’d be able to cope with this better had we not been in the throes of a pandemic; there’s nothing better for destroying your motivation to do stuff than the knowledge that you more or less have to do it because you can’t go out.

That’s not to say I haven’t been producing content. There’s loads of it, and it’s all stacked up like an M20 Brexit run. Shall we clean out the pipes?

We start in early January, with the news that archaeologists in Pompeii had dug out the remains of what appeared to be a Roman fast food stand, complete with serving holes and some questionable artwork.

I’d love to visit Pompeii. I’d love to visit anywhere, come to think of it; you don’t appreciate small local jollies until that’s all you can do. Last May was Thomas’ birthday: we drove out to East Hendred, not too far from here, and walked through a small patch of woodland. At any other time of year it would have been a mundane afternoon out. In the midst of a pandemic, it was an adventure.

There’s always TV, of course. For example, early February saw the Super Bowl, which led to the obligatory Photoshop.

While the rest of the UK languishes inside, Boris is spotted riding his bike in Olympic Park. How do we know this?

Meanwhile in the TARDIS: Exhausted, disheartened and under-equipped, Rory is in desperate need of assistance as he battles to save the life of his patient. Fortunately the Doctor and Amy are on hand with a solution.

Of course, the big news so far this year (I use the word ‘news’) loosely concerns the rumours about Jodie Whittaker’s imminent departure, with ‘a source’ leaking the announcement to the Mirror. The BBC have neither confirmed nor denied this information, which is a euphemism for ‘it’s probably true’. It would certainly fit the mould: three series and that’s your lot, it seems, and I wonder what would happen if Whittaker were to actually regenerate in front of a companion who clearly loves her, or who is if nothing else becoming excessively clingy. If nothing else it’d be a bit of a laugh.

Say what you like about the Mirror, but they have form: they knew about the shift to Sundays, they knew about Walsh and Cole, and they clearly have a man on the inside, even if that man turns out to be Chibnall. But until it turns out to actually be the truth, it’s probably best if we treat such rumours with a heavy dose of salt.

Speaking of salt – well, no. Not salt, per se, but Weetabix toppings. In one of the least likely pairings since fish fingers and…well, you know, Weetabix have teamed up with Heinz to offer what is for many of us a frankly unorthdox breakfast solution. I’m fine, I don’t eat the stuff anyway, but it’s caused a furore over social media, largely because we’re in the middle of lockdown and there’s sod all else to do; not even a field trip.

We’re told to work from home, which is fine unless you’re a freelance piano teacher and your pupils don’t actually want to have online lessons, or your internet connection is rubbish, or you happen to be a cat.

But however bad things have been, chances are you’re having a better time of it than Donald Trump. Having spectacularly failed to mount the coup he’d allegedly been inciting – despite the best efforts of armed protesters who stormed the Capitol – the 45th President of the United States found his options running out and his supporters waning (well, some of them) and ultimately he had no choice but to slink off with another Donald who’d found himself suddenly removed from office.

It gets worse. Next thing you know the public at large is demanding Trump’s removal from Home Alone 2, a cameo filmed in one of his hotels and which he allegedly bullied the production team in order to secure. It rarely gets played in network broadcasts these days – it’s easier, I suppose, to simply avoid the headache – but the stills are out there on the internet, lingering like smears in the bathtub, and it seems the planned course of action from the clicktivists is to saturate Google with Photoshopped images that show Macaulay Culkin in conversation with someone else, so as to bump the displaced President down the search results.

Oh well. In for a penny.

But perhaps Trump’s biggest disaster was the loss of his Twitter account – a potent and powerful tool that enabled him to spread false information, rally his troops and (if nothing else) stay in the headlines of a press who hung on every misleading, poorly-spelled word. The permanent suspension that eventually hit in January was too little, too late, but you can’t entirely blame Twitter for not taking action until it was certain they wouldn’t be hit with an executive order demanding they cease and desist all operation immediately (which is, let’s face it, exactly what he would have done). As it stands, I’ve heard he took some rather drastic steps in an attempt to get himself reinstated.

We’ll finish with some of those Bernie memes. You know. The ones that got everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Who knew the simple act of sitting cross-legged on a chair wearing a pair of mittens could have such a gargantuan impact on web traffic? What happened to us all to make us lose our minds like this? And yes, I’m using the third person quite deliberately, because this really was a gift to those of us who do this sort of thing more or less daily. And thus I made a few myself.

See you again soon for more silliness, and possibly even something with a bit of substance to it. But don’t hold your breath…

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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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Have I Got Whos For You (non-existent general election edition)

I’ll just leave this here.

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t have a more ostensibly disastrous week than this man. I have yet to meet a single person – even a Conservative – who actually thinks he’s the right person for the job. Clearly there must be a few of them, and they’re presumably all camped somewhere outside my echo chamber, completely ignoring its existence, but I’ve never known a Prime Minister who’s united the nation like this. Not since Thatcher, anyway, in her last years, when she was one of the most hated women in Britain, besides Mary Whitehouse. These days people are quick to sing her praises; either they have short memories or they were never around for the Poll Tax riots.

Anyway, the day after he lost in the Commons (on something or other; there were so many votes and I lose track) Boris went out on the campaign trail, only to be met with a sea of protesters telling him that he wasn’t really welcome. Or as Capaldi’s Doctor might have put it, “Please leave my planet.”

Let’s drift away from the politcs. Over at Hogwarts, Argus Filch reacted badly to the news that Dumbledore’s giving him a little extra help this year.

And in consumer affairs, there’s trouble in the TARDIS when the Eleventh Doctor does a little online shopping.

Coming right up to date, our fly-on-the-wall entertainment correspondent was on a bus and one thing sort of led to another and…

(Needless to say, I had to lock the comments on this one.)

Sports now, and in a national park somewhere in the North, on a beautiful afternoon in late summer, crowds gather to watch the annual DC / Time Lord Sidekick Carry-off.

And as the long evening draws to a close, it’s an opportune moment for the hardworking British man to kick back and relax after a blood, sweat and tears of a good day’s honest work.

“Shall we go?”
“We can’t.”
“Why not?”
“We’re waiting for Dodo.”
“Ah.”

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Have I Got Whos For You: End-of-August edition

There’s some interesting stuff currently cooling over at the Brian of Morbius foundry. We’ll have a new video dump, some debunking of myths and soon – when the time is right – I’m going to be plugging the short fiction I’ve been writing, in a lazy and half-hearted attempt to reinvent myself as a storyteller rather than a hack. Well, you have to move on.

That’ll have to wait a bit. In the meantime, here’s this week’s roundup – beginning with a blink of disbelief from the fanbase over Peter Capaldi’s current baldness.

Elsewhere, Chris Chibnall is knocked out in his flat and wakes up in a strange coastal village, surrounded by shadowy angry figures demanding to know why he didn’t resign.

Although there is, as it transpires, good reason to be worried about series 12, as this leaked promotional shot illustrates.

Onto lighter things now. On a break from his travels, the Twelfth Doctor is spotted with Ashildr and Clara at a Home Counties theme park.

And following a dangerous and potentially lethal interstellar musical publicity stunt, the Eleventh Doctor successfully manages to catch Taron Egerton, although sadly the piano was knackered.

And finally, in the unexpectedly leafy outskirts of Central London, there’s an unexpected visitor outside the TARDIS.

“Yeah, Disney don’t want me. Wanna hang?”

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Have I Got Whos For You (World Cup Edition)

First and foremost:

I mean, it’s not, sadly. I missed a trick; I ought to have got this lot out yesterday, while we still had a chance. But that’s the way it works: if your timing is off, then things go awry, and you miss the train, get hit by the car, or land the TARDIS a year and a day after you left, instead of the morning after.

Veterans among you will remember that – at least in this country – the very first broadcast of ‘Rose’ clashed with the England vs. Northern Ireland match on ITV; a match we eventually won 4-0, after a slow start and an eventual flurry of second half goals. The following day was Sunday, and we were in church. “I don’t know if you watched any TV last night,” said the visiting preacher. “But if you did, you may have witnessed a bunch of lifeless wax figures suddenly wake up and parade menacingly around, causing terror and fear. Or you might have turned off the football and watched Doctor Who instead.”

Anyway, I made this. It took, I don’t know, an hour?

Disclaimer: there is a better version of this idea on the BBC Doctor Who Facebook page somewhere. It’s cleverly edited but sadly unwatchable now, focusing as it does on the idea that we might have actually had a chance at this thing; in the cold grey light of the morning after, the look of ecstatic joy on the face of Jodie Whittaker (who is, in reality, simply staring at her tits) is almost heartbreaking.

There’s a curious irony in some of the fan responses. It’s as if you’re allowed to be obsessed about one thing but not the other. “Ha!” says the Doctor Who fan. “Your fixation with kicking an inflated pigskin around a muddy field is preposterous, unlike my own fixation with a silly science fiction programme about a man in a flying police box.” To which the football fan grunts, or delivers a Glasgow kiss. That’s what they’re like, isn’t it? Violent and monosyllabic, the missing link alive and well and wearing an England shirt?

Look, it’s possible to like both (Gareth Roberts does, and Frank Skinner’s not doing a bad job either) and neither. The nation’s become briefly obsessed with football over the past few weeks because there was a chance there – a slim chance, mind you, but a chance nonetheless – that we might actually make it. It’s the sort of straw you clutch at until it shreds in your hand. Now it’s gone, and we’ll get back to normal. And for those of you who think it’s all pointless and silly, there was a time when we had the same sense of hopelessness about Doctor Who, during the wilderness years when it was off the air. We delude ourselves if we claim to be any different to the Chelsea mob: and no, we don’t stand on top of ambulances, but some of us have sent death threats to the writers, which isn’t so far off. Thirteen years of more or Nu Who has made us remarkably complacent, and we forget that there was a time when we were similarly despairing of the future of the thing we loved, and where the only morsel on offer at a very meagre feast (at least until Big Finish came along) were the odd little sketches, offering laughs, but also glimmers of hope for a revival. Well, except for ‘Dimensions In Time’. That was shit.

Here’s a forfeit: you have to share this post on social media if you, like me, have had a two-week ‘Three Lions’ earworm. I know perfectly well that shake of a head is a lie, by the way. It’s been all over the shop and unless you unplug from the internet (the TV, the radio, British society in general) you have no hopes of avoiding it. It’s even haunted my sleep – although that was probably because a few minutes earlier, Emily had suggested this one.

Sorry. We’ll stop now.

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Christmas, Doctor Who style (part two)

At that time the Emperor Rassilon ordered a census to be taken throughout Gallifrey, and every Time Lord had to register in his own home town, which for most turned out to be the citadel. So each returned to the place of his birth. And lo, there was much confusion over what ‘birth’ actually means and whether Time Lords actually have parents or are extracted from one of Andrew Cartmel’s genetic looms. But there was an elephant in the room, or rather a donkey.

And meanwhile there was another decree from Rassilon that all the newborn babies should be killed, except they weren’t actually killed, but rather plucked from the moment of death by a time scoop and then dumped in the back room of a stolen TARDIS. And Clara’s waitress uniform did cause the wet dreams of a million fans. But the wise men returned to their land the long way round, having been warned in a dream not to go back to Rassilon. And Rassilon was so angry that he hit his head on the windowsill and regenerated, probably into a six-year-old girl.

And so it was that while the Doctor was wandering in the desert, he ran across a 2010 BBC production of the Nativity, and thought “Hmm, this chap looks awfully familiar.”

And it was a coincidence. But it came to pass that this was not so, for impossible it is to appear in Doctor Who twice in different roles, despite it happening to Colin Baker. And thus there was a convoluted explanation about chosen faces, and thus did the Doctor rail at the heavens “I’M THE DOCTOR, AND I SAVE PEOPLE!”. And the heavens did reply, “We heard you the first time.”

And then eventually, this happened.

Incidentally, a Happy Christmas to all of you at home.

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Review: ‘Hell Bent’

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There’s this bit towards the end of the first Bottom live show where Rik Mayall is about to commit suicide. Adrian Edmondson has wired up a makeshift electric chair. He pulls the lever: there is a colossal build-up, a wheezing and whining of unseen machinery, alarms, flashing lights. And then there is a fart, and the bang of a cheap firecracker, accompanied by a microscopic shower of sparks.

“Yes,” says Mayall, sighing. “Sort of a bit like having it off with Bonnie Langford, this really, isn’t it?”

It says something about the state of Doctor Who when your verdict of a series finale is “Not as dreadful as some of the others”. Might we say that we’ve sat through worse? Well, yes. ‘The Wedding of River Song’ was a low point, until we reached ‘Death In Heaven’, which had me throwing my Tenth Doctor action figure at the cat. The site of a resurrected Brigadier saluting at the Doctor across a graveyard seemed to vomit on the legacy of Nicholas Courtney and the Doctor who worked for him at UNIT, and those of you who were reading this will remember that I got very cross.

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There’s none of that this time. None of the grandiose, universe-shattering finales to which we’ve become accustomed. Oh, there’s a story about a prophecy that comes to nothing (more on that later). There are threats and recriminations and things that will probably come back to haunt the Doctor later, and a heap of unanswered questions (just where exactly is Gallifrey these days, given that they’ve moved it?) As a finale, it was empty and not terribly satisfying, but it could have been worse. With notable exceptions, that seems to be the best I can say for Doctor Who these days, which is something of a shame, but there it is.

To give credit where it’s due, ‘Hell Bent’ starts brilliantly. After a suitably enigmatic opening in a Nevada diner that – as is now customary with Moffat – will eventually subvert all our expectations, we move to Gallifrey, and a glorious, eight minute sequence in which the Doctor utters not a single word. It contains some of the best acting from Capaldi since he first complained about his kidneys, with the Doctor saying more with the simple act of picking up a spoon or dropping his confession dial in the dust than he could with the sort of monologue he got at the end of ‘The Zygon Inversion’, as good as that was.

Even after the Doctor starts talking, and the plot unfolds and the logic machine breaks beyond repair in a shower of cheap sparks, the acting remains impeccable – particularly from Donald Sumpter, who excels as the Time Lord President, a figure finally and unambiguously revealed to be the resurrected Rassilon. Sumpter plays Rassilon like a battle-hardened East End kingpin in a low-budget, independent gangster flick (something that Clara deliberately points out), chewing up the scenery and stealing every scene that he’s in. It’s a mesmerising performance, and it’s a great shame that there isn’t more of it.

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Instead we get a lot of back and forth about prophecy as the narrative twists in all sorts of directions. The Hybrid is the Doctor! No, that was an obvious joke and it’s Maisie Williams! No, it’s the Doctor! No, it’s the Doctor and Clara! It’s Missy! It’s Keyser Soze! Actually, it doesn’t matter because we’re going to leave this unsolved until Capaldi’s final episode! That’s a writer’s prerogative, but everything about ‘Hell Bent’ smacks of something that hasn’t been thought through. It’s like buying a washing machine when you live in a third floor flat with no lifts. It’s the same problem that dogs The Deathly Hallows, in which Harry, having spent most of book six looking for a set of objects, decides in book seven that there’s another set of objects he ought to be looking for instead. Similarly, the question of the Hybrid is teased throughout and then conveniently confined to the sidelines, another ball the Moff’s thrown in the air, teasing out his reign for as long as possible until all these questions are answered. He did precisely the same thing during Smith’s run, and I think most of us are wise to it by now.

This is, of course, an episode all about Clara, and having spent last week keeping her out of shot, Moffat places her firmly back into the limelight come the story’s second act. While I don’t dispute the unavoidably autobiographical nature of writing it seems ridiculous that Capaldi’s Doctor has become, to all intents and purposes, an extension of Moffat himself. He clearly can’t bring himself to kill Clara permanently, so the Doctor finds a way to save her. Perhaps I’m being churlish, but it says a lot about the way Doctor Who is written these days that the Doctor is prepared to move heaven and earth and break every law of time to save people he likes. You get the feeling that if ‘Doomsday’ had been a 2015 episode instead of a 2006 one, Rose’s separation from the Doctor would have been at the end of episode eleven and he’d have found a way to pop into the parallel universe to retrieve her almost immediately.

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I didn’t like ‘Face The Raven’. That’s no secret. But if nothing else, it did at least kill off a character in one fell swoop, even if it took longer than it should have done. The act of undoing that – simply because there’s a loophole – basically cheapens death. I have talked about this before and am reluctant to retread old ground because no one is listening anyway, but to see the writers take us this far and then pull a Davies (I think that’s what we call it now, isn’t it?) is seriously lame. If Doctor Who were action movies, we’d be in Taken 3 territory: losing your daughter once is unfortunate, two is frankly careless and three is just taking the piss.

On the other hand, ‘Hell Bent’ is crammed absolutely full of Things To Annoy The Fanboys; the sort of thing that sparks ferocious debate and keeps Twitter chugging over over Christmas until the turkey (no, I don’t mean ‘Before The Flood’) is a distant memory. The Doctor’s much-disputed half-human origins are teased. The head of security regenerates onscreen from a middle-aged white man into a younger black woman, ticking two equality boxes in one fell swoop. And it’s revealed that the Doctor left Gallifrey because he was told a scary story when he was a kid. There’s a bit more to it than that, but it’s the Whovian equivalent of Kevin from Home Alone coming face to face with the old man who carries the shovel, running out of the 7-11 and jumping on a bus bound for Nevada. Simultaneously, this isn’t Moffat re-establishing the canon, this is Moffat deliberately toying with us, and I’m not rising to the bait.

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Something else I’m still scratching my head about: we were told, through a variety of press releases, that we were going to be left “a tiny bit devastated”, and after watching an episode in which the Doctor sort-of-but-not-quite loses bits of his memory, takes over Gallifrey and regains his means of transportation, while a not-quite dead companion gets to wander the universe in a stolen TARDIS with an immortal eighteen-year-old…after all this, I’m still trying to work out where exactly I’m supposed to be devastated. Is it the memory loss, which counted for nothing the moment the Doctor saw Clara’s picture on the side of the TARDIS? Is it the fact that Clara is still destined to die on that trap street, presumably after a long and happy life of zooming around the galaxy in a floating restaurant? Is it the moment when the Doctor walks into his darkened TARDIS alone, just before he goes to spend Christmas with Alex Kingston and pick up another soap actress?

I mean, I’m always a tiny bit devastated at the end of ‘Earthshock’. Or ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’. Or Attack of the Cybermen’. Actually, most of Eric Saward’s stuff would do. There was a man who loved killing off supporting characters. I’m not saying I wanted the corpses piling up the way they do in ‘Warriors of the Deep’. I don’t even mind the fact that there wasn’t a single death this episode; it’s kind of par for the course when you’re doing a story about a species with a marvellous talent for self-healing, accompanied by a woman who is functionally immortal and another who was already dead. I’d just like to point out that for all the spiel about getting upset, the body count for this week is actually minus one.

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But there are elements of goodness. Gallifrey is pleasantly minimal, considering that in a decade of New Who we’ve never actually been there properly; it feels like a throwback to ‘The Five Doctors’. The retro TARDIS interior in which the final third of the episode takes place is a crowd pleaser; likewise the shattered corridor in which the end of the universe takes place is nicely realised. Even Maisie Williams throws in something that might almost be called a decent performance this week, which is a refreshing change after two hours of sulking.

Still, it’s not quite enough to save the story from mediocrity, largely because the story itself isn’t particularly interesting. The structure is as uneven as a toddler’s brick tower; it’s as if Moffat decided at the last minute to postpone his grand plan for another year and had nothing else to go in its place. I can’t say that I hated this episode as much as I did last year’s finale, or even ‘The Woman Who Lived’, but there must be, somewhere, the sort of finale that neatly straddles the road between Everything Happening, and Nothing Happening. If it sounds like I’m one of those impossible-to-please fans, I’d just point out that the crucial, series-defining moment in ‘Hell Bent’ is two characters debating whether or not they should press down on a piece of plastic. Honestly, it doesn’t get much more Bonnie Langford than that.

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Categories: New Who, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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