Posts Tagged With: john barrowman

Doctor Who series 12: the executive summaries (part two)

The lockdown writeup continues in earnest. Today, we’re looking at episodes five through seven – also known as the Dreammaker Revisited, the Plastics Rant, and The One That Changed Everything, not necessarily in that order. I’d been reading a lot about Mondrian during the mid-point of Series 12; possibly that comes across.

 

Fugitive of the Judoon

(We published this one as a separate piece, because…well, you’ll see why. It was far too long!)

 

Doctor: The streets of Gloucester are beset
With things to make you scream and fret
A great big stomping black platoon
Of horny, militant Judoon!
I think they want to make a capture
To transport like some ghoulish rapture.
Quick, Yas! To them you’ll have to speak
And earn your crust, at least this week.
All right?

Yas: Well, yes, I’ll try to play ’em
But hang on, aren’t we missing Graham?

Ruth: I’ll have to hide! It’s me they want
I’ll head for that baptismal font

Doctor: Too late! They’ve seen you, don’t you know
We’ll have to make a-

Ruth: KO BO SO!

Doctor: I didn’t know you spoke their tongue.

Ruth: Neither did I. And why’ve I flung
A rhino cop across the floor?

Doctor: The scene lacked pace. But here come more!
We’d better drive out to the coast
Or otherwise we’ll both be toast.

Ruth: But where’s your friends? You’re on your own
You’ve got no clue just where they’ve flown
Or what they’re doing, now they’re missing!

Doctor: I imagine mostly kissing.

Jack: You read my mind. Which one’s the Doc?

Graham: It isn’t me. But what a shock!
What did you want?

Jack: I had a plan.
Beware the lonely Cyberman
And – arrgh! They’ve pulled me from this joint!

Yas: That cameo really had no point.
We’ll have to see if Whittaker
Can find out what the answers are.

Doctor: I’ve dug and dug, and found a TARDIS!
I’m lost, although I’ve tried my hardest.

Ruth: Allow me to explain, my dear
I’ve just remembered why I’m here
It seems that I’m a Time Lord too
Another Doctor, just like you.

Doctor: You can’t be me! I won’t allow it
The fans’ll surely disavow it!
You cannot be me night or day
On Calufrax or Gallifrey
You can’t be me on Metabilis
Unless you tell me what the drill is.
You can’t be me in acid rain
Or –

Ruth: Please, let’s not do all that again.
I’m this year’s overarching query
Left to the mercy of fan theory.

Doctor: I simply do not have a clue
About these Doctors One and Two.
It makes no sense! I just can’t see
How I am you and you are me.
I’ll sulk for weeks in sheer frustration
About this mystery incarnation.
This duplicated wooden box
This ghastly temporal pair-o-docs.

Ruth: I understand now why you run.
The crowds’ll hate you for that pun.

Doctor: I like your dual role though, kitten.
It makes me feel quite underwritten.
We’re kicking up the hornet’s nest
The fandom’s going to be quite stressed.
As retcons go, this one’s encumbering
We haven’t even touched the numbering.
I need a break – you must agree
This story’s been enough for me.

Graham: Well, yeah, that’s true – but wait a minute,
Nothing really happened in it!

With apologies to another great Doctor.

 

Praxeus

‘I’m going to level with you: I spent certain key moments of Praxeus hiding my face in my hands. It’s nothing to do with virtue signalling. It’s simply because the type of death depicted this week – the scaling of the body, from fingertips to skull, followed by sudden facial disintegration – is something I’ve never been able to watch, and thus something I’ll avoid watching as much as possible. You remember that scene in Resident Evil where the guy gets sliced into cubes by the lasers? I don’t.

It’s an exercise in empathy, this cowering behind the fingers, because my ten-year-old was similarly freaked. And I suppose this was an episode for him, in a way, given the message it was conveying, delivered with the same sense of understated reserve we’ve come to expect from Chibnall’s time on Doctor Who. It isn’t enough simply to show the effects our disposable culture is having on the oceans; we have to get a hastily delivered lecture as well, Whittaker pacing and gesticulating with the ferocity of a BSL interpreter during a Stormzy gig, pausing to dip her head and lower her register during the important bits. Regular readers at the DWC will know that I was one of the few champions of Series 11, and I stand by everything I said in 2018, but even I’m finding this a bit much.

That’s a shame, really, because the more this run of episodes continues the more Jodie seems to be hitting her stride. She really is very good this week: confident and calm, pulling off precise TARDIS manoeuvres without breaking a sweat and appearing, it seems, in all corners of the world at a moment’s notice with the sort of omnipresence that Jennifer Saunders’ character managed in Muppet Treasure Island. Indeed, Praxeus is one tribute act after another, paying homage both to The Birds and Hot Fuzz almost within the same minute. Indeed, there’s a glossiness to Praxeus that lends it an elegant, packaged feel: who cares if the scenery is largely recycled when it looks this good?

But as good as it is – and there is much to enjoy this week, from Graham’s heartfelt, beautifully photographed beach conversation with Jake to the happy ending we arguably didn’t deserve – it’s very much Been There, Done That. The timing doesn’t help – we’re only three weeks after Orphan 55, remember – but it’s hard not to shake the feeling that someone high up at the BBC is sending down notes, mostly along the lines of “Needs a monologue”. Would it hurt to simply mention things and then drop an advisory message at the end of the programme so that people can look things up on the internet? Because we’ve got 490 minutes a year, which really isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, and I’d really not be wasting any more of them listening to another lecture about how plastic is killing the environment. Not when the BBC have just greenlit another line of action figures.

Oh, and just as an afterthought: somewhere, millions of years ago on prehistoric Earth, a charred and bloodstained young maths prodigy is crawling out of a wrecked spacecraft. And he’s really, really pissed off.’

The DWC write-up is still missing. 

 

Can You Hear Me?

“James, are you sure you want me to use this?”
“Yeah, sorry. I just don’t have time to write anything this week.”
“Yet you somehow found time to throw this together.”
“…”

DWC write-up

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Doctor Who Myths Debunked

There are certain things you get tired of saying more than once. This is particularly applicable if you happen to be me and if you have a bad habit of not letting matters rest. I spent decades saddled with a “Must win the argument” mindset that I have spent the last year or two trying to destroy. It’s partly a desire to be kind; partly a knowledge that none of us are getting any younger. There are too many other things I could be doing rather than arguing with Karen on Facebook, particularly when it’s about Doctor Who.

But still. When urban legends pop up in my feed, it’s a trigger. Because there is a sense of irritation about oft-repeated tales of supposed improvisation on set, of strange production decisions and the reconciliation of purposely ambiguous plot lines. For one thing it tends to grant Doctor Who a reverence it doesn’t really deserve, a series plucked out of the air or weaved into existence by magic, TV as alchemy – which undermines the months of hard graft, sweat and on-set bitching that is the cold reality of producing the show. For another it proves that people are inclined to believe everything they read on the internet as long as it makes for a nice story. It is important – and this will be said again and again until everyone understands – that people do not love Doctor Who too much, and do not assume that it is some sort of miracle; it is also important that we scrutinise and evaluate the stories we have been told, rather than simply believing them because we want to. That is the reason I burst people’s bubble; at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m frantically pasting links to verified sources and dissecting badly-written Tumblr posts for the third time in as many days.

With that in mind, these particular hornet’s nests have been aggravated for my own convenience as much as anyone else’s, because it’s easier to post a link to your blog than it is to write it all down again. Here’s a trigger warning for the rest of you: this post contains cynicism, sarcasm, sanctimonious self-righteousness, and doesn’t pull any punches. I suggest you approach it with a pinch of salt and refrain from leaving angry responses that tell me how wrong I am about all this. Save that for part two. And yes, there will be a part two. I’m already writing it.

 

 

1. No, the TARDIS doesn’t make that noise because the Doctor leaves the sodding brakes on

This little gem is usually accompanied by the words “I was today years old when…” or “Mind literally blown”. We will circumvent, for the most part, the eye-rolling silliness of those two internet tropes (although seriously, how is it possible to be ‘today’ years old? You’re literally naming the date). Let’s think back instead to that moment in ‘The Time of Angels’ where River parks the TARDIS alongside the wrecked Byzantium, seemingly without a single VWORP, VWORP. When the Doctor protests, River’s response is classic Moffat: “It’s not supposed to make that noise. You leave the brakes on.”

Our great departed showrunner is often accused of a certain misogyny, at least in the way he writes women. I’m not about to get into that, but this is one of those times when the TARDIS is to all intents and purposes a car and women drivers are better. After the early years of broken fluid links, poorly-judged time hops and a general sense that the Doctor didn’t have a clue how to actually fly the thing, we’ve seen a gradual shift in tone as his piloting skills have become more and more accomplished, at least until a moment like this comes along to blow them out of the water. Two possibilities spring to mind. Either River (having achieved a greater sense of understanding vis a vis the workings of time and space capsules) is actually telling the truth, and the Doctor, the Monk, the Rani and also the Master all leave their brakes on – plausible but ridiculous – or she’s somehow dampened the noise, and is simply winding the Doctor up.

But there’s a third option, and that’s that it’s neither, or both, and Moffat simply put it in as a joke, much the same way he did when he mentioned the supposed destruction of the TARDIS manual, or the Doctor’s past as a little girl (a throwaway line that had Chibnall reaching for his notebook). Because Moffat never treated Doctor Who with any more reverence than it deserved, and thus you shouldn’t either. We may make these things real if we choose, or we may discard them. The Doctor is an unreliable narrator, of both his own history and that of others; River is much the same. I’m happy if you choose to take this particular joke seriously. Doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.

 

 

2. Captain Jack isn’t necessarily the Face of Boe

This is the one that always ruffles feathers, and very few people seem to understand the point I’m trying to make with it, but let’s have one more try. In the first instance: yes, Jack does call himself ‘The Face of Boe’ at the end of series 3. And yes, that’s clearly what Russell T. Davies wants you to think, however much he backpedals in the episode commentaries. We’ve never seen the product of a billion years of human evolution but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that, after much toing and froing, a seemingly immortal Jack might find himself morphing into a giant head over the course of many, many millennia. Philip K. Dick had the same idea (see The Infinites, which posits that humanity would basically go this way). Such a physiological change is even more plausible had Moffat gone down the road he supposedly considered for ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, which would see Jack decapitated by the Headless Monks – a plotline he only abandoned after it became clear that Barrowman was, for one reason or another, unavailable during the filming block.

But that word ‘think’ is incredibly important. Let’s look at the evidence, or rather the lack of it. We don’t see him become the Face of Boe. It’s never confirmed onscreen or anywhere in the literature (Davies has, for reasons we’re about to discuss, taken great pains to ensure that it isn’t). The sole basis for this theory – honestly, the only one there is – is a single conversation between Jack and the Doctor in which he jokes about grey hairs and then wraps up by mentioning his childhood nickname, having heard the Doctor and Martha talk about it two episodes back. It’s the power of association; put two unrelated things together with the most tenuous of connections in an emotionally charged situation and people will join the dots, even if they’re the Doctor. So don’t tell me you take Jack seriously. He’s had a year manacled to a metal fence to come up with this ruse.

Having said that, it is fairly obvious that you were supposed to take him seriously, if only for a moment. This was before Children of Earth, before Miracle Day, before…well, I needn’t continue. The problem is that once you establish Jack’s eventual fate you kill off any sense of interest in the character, because you know they’ll walk out of jeopardy at the other end. Davies knew this, and he wasn’t about to strangle a golden goose. He also knew, as I do, that the key to the success of this moment lies not in the revelation that Jack will become the Face of Boe but in the fact that he might; it’s all about what you don’t see. Just for a minute or two, one of the Doctor’s most cryptic supporting characters is given just a little more meat on the bone (not that there’s much bone, beyond the skull), and the hint is ultimately far more powerful than anything they could have shown to definitively link the two, given that the audience is allowed, for once, to fill in the gap.

So this isn’t Davies telling you Jack’s future. This is him giving you options. Nothing upsets TV viewers more than the ambiguous, but personally I’ve always thought it’s more fun not knowing. Barrowman and Tennant say they believe Jack / Boe are one and the same, but neither of them get a vote – I’m sorry, I know you all love hearing what actors think about their characters, but the writer’s opinion is final, and the writer is commitment phobic, at least on this matter. Let me be very clear: having Jack evolve, over the course of millions of years, into the enigmatic sage who gives his life for New Earth is perfectly acceptable headcanon. It is the shortest distance between two points, and it would be a fitting end to Jack’s story line. Nonetheless, headcanon is all it is.

On that subject, I tend to think headcanon ought to actually stay in your head, but seeing as so many people are seemingly determined to voice theirs to anyone who will listen (and more than a few who aren’t really interested), let’s set some ground rules for terminology. It’s fine to say “I think Jack becomes the Face of Boe”. It is wrong to say that he definitely does, and to argue the toss with anyone who believes otherwise. It is also wrong to do the opposite. This is the paradox of the story, because let’s face facts – Davies put this in to keep us all arguing for years, and left it ambiguous for that purpose (“The moment you explain it,” he said, “the joke dies”), and that is why you get people like me on the forums, forever balancing the equation against anyone who states what they ‘know’ to be true. There are no definites in this story; this is an optical illusion rendered on screen. Some of you see the vase, some of you see the faces. That’s absolutely fine, just as long as you acknowledge that they’re both part of the picture.

 

 

3. David Tennant didn’t ad lib his “Are you my mummy?” line in The Poison Sky

This one really gets my hackles up.

Here’s the gist. It’s September 2007, and they’re on set in Pontypool, filming a particularly memorable scene in episode 5. As UNIT prepare to unveil their secret weapon, the Doctor is briefed by Colonel Mace, who is explaining firing stock. The two of them are wearing gas masks, and when the Colonel asks him what he thinks, the Doctor quips “Are you my mummy?” The urban legend that instantly sprang up around this is that Tennant made up the line on the spot, having forgotten what he was supposed to say, and when everyone had finished laughing they elected to leave it in. And lo, Tennant’s legend as a clown and a genius and an uber fan gains further traction.

The problem with that little nugget – as there is with many such stories of this ilk – is that there is not a single citable reference for it. Not one. I’ve looked. It is mentioned in precisely zero commentaries. I cannot find any interviews that confirm it. Let’s be clear: twelve years have elapsed since this episode was first broadcast. That’s over a decade, which is plenty of time to clear things up. If it were true, we’d know about it, because factoids like this take root in convention anecdotes, magazine columns, press releases; we could go on. To the best of my knowledge (which, by no means exhaustive, is not inconsiderable) that’s never actually happened. There are no sources to confirm this story except the entirely anecdotal one that does nothing more than tell you it is true. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told, over the years, that this categorically and undeniably happened on set, only to have the person I’m arguing with crumble like handmade fudge the moment I ask them to prove it (to be fair, they don’t normally crumble; they just block me).

Seriously. They fly up like doped pheasants only to be instantly shot down. “I read it somewhere”, is the usual response. Yes, you did, you read it on Tumblr – in a post that’s now infamous because it’s been quoted so many times people simply assume it is fact. “It’s in the Confidential“, one person said. No, it isn’t; I looked. “It was on a Graham Norton interview just after the episode aired.” Really? In this country? Because I checked the BBC schedules for that night. You’re simply feeling the Mandela effect. There is no evidence at all, unless it’s hidden in a Nigerian shed somewhere. That’s why I haven’t provided any links to corroborate my views, because there are no links to provide.

Written down in the cold light of day, it seems a silly thing to argue about. Faced with a stubborn old mule who refuses to budge, the person I’m arguing with tends to shift the conversation down one of two roads. “You can’t prove that it didn’t happen,” I’m told, which is more or less true, at least within my admittedly limited capabilities – although if I were particularly inclined I could contact Helen Raynor (who, to the best of my knowledge, is not on Twitter). I can’t prove it didn’t happen in the same way I can’t prove a pink elephant with wings didn’t land on the field over the back of our house last night before rustling one of the fir trees and promptly taking off again. When I was at university they used to talk about the Oxford Rabbit. “Imagine a rabbit,” my philosophy tutor said. “The rabbit has no physical presence, no odour, and is blind, mute and makes no noise. Does the rabbit exist?”

A word in your ear about TV production: ad libs and on-set improvisation are less common than you might expect, unless you’re shooting a Woody Allen film. They certainly don’t apply very much to the world of high stakes TV drama where most of it is about deadlines and getting the thing in the can before the union turns out the lights. Tennant flubs his lines and they decide to keep it in because it’s better than the alternative? Don’t be ridiculous. If I were feeling charitable, I might – might – be prepared to believe that it happened at a read-through. But they probably weren’t wearing gas masks at the read-through. Go figure.

This leads me on to my second point, which is “Well, it’s a nice story, so what does it matter?” It matters because it undermines the writer. I’ve no great love for Raynor’s TV work, at least on Who, and I speak from the position of unavoidable bias, but writers work hard. They get very little of the credit when things go well and most of the flak when they don’t. Tennant is a brilliant actor, but that’s what he does: he responds to a set of dialogue, and for the most part sticks to what he’s given. Is it so hard to imagine that one of the most successful (if clumsily rendered) jokes in the episode is actually the work of its designated storyteller? And what does it tell you about the general attitude towards writers – both male and female, present and past – if you find that sort of concept difficult to swallow?

 

We’ll be back with more of these in a week or two. In the meantime I need to go and hide from the mob.

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Review: Fugitive of the Judoon

Warning: many spoilers below. Read at your peril.

There are some episodes of Doctor Who that, when you examine them under a bright light, actually aren’t terribly good. ‘Extremis’ is perhaps the most obvious contemporary example. ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ is another. ‘Utopia’ a third. None of these stories is particularly memorable, in the grand scheme of things. ‘Utopia’ sees the Doctor and Martha (with an old friend in tow) explore the end of the universe while being pursued by the carnivorous remnants of what used to be humanity. ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ assembles a ragtag bunch of waifs and strays and pits them against a silent religious order, in more than one sense of the word. ‘Extremis’ marks the beginning of the Monk trilogy – the low point for series 10 – in a story that is memorable solely because it pulls the rug from under our feet in its closing minutes. (Well, that and the scene with the Pope. That was quite funny.)

But they’re all stories we remember because Things Happened. ‘Fugitive of the Judoon’ was event television. There was absolutely nothing special about it, in terms of the story it endeavoured to tell; it’s certain key moments that stand out. It starts innocently enough. Bereft and miserable, the Doctor is finally distracted from her hours of TARDIS console vigil by an alert from Gloucester: the Judoon have landed outside a cafe, and are in the process of throwing their monosyllabic weight around while they search for a dangerous fugitive. They’re still inflexible and brutal, and the Doctor is keen to intercede before things get too nasty – and intercede she does, although the can of worms she opens as a result is dark, slimy and full of entrails…look, basically it’s a complete dog’s breakfast. She should never have let them talk to Yas.

At first, it seems the Judoon are after an elusive, perenially nervous Stroud native called Lee (Game On‘s Neil Stuke, looking jumpy and perpetually hungover), nice enough but clearly hiding something. Lee is married to Ruth (Jo Martin, recently decorating the boardroom at Holby City), who is celebrating her birthday by handing out flyers for city tours that no one is booking – at least until the Judoon show up, all leather and pointed helmets, stomping through houses and cathedrals and killing anyone who gets in their way, while Whittaker makes awkward jokes about canals. That the fugitive turns out to be Ruth is no real surprise; that Lee meets an early demise twenty minutes in is predictable television; that Ruth is harbouring a buried past and hidden skills is more or less what everyone expected.

That she turns out to be the Doctor, of course, is something of a twist.

In a way, you have to hand it to Chibnall (the script is Patel’s, but this idea was almost certainly not) for actually surprising his audience. The buzzing about altered backstories has been an omnirumour since late 2018, but it wasn’t until last night that it appeared to actually have legs, and its unveiling was reasonably spectactular, Whittaker digging in the dirt for a buried TARDIS while Martin smashes the glass panel inside a lighthouse (the only thing that could have upped the symbolism levels would have been to make it a ceiling) and before changing her clothes. So catastrophic is the anticipated fallout from a move like this it’s tempting to disengage yourself from the fandom entirely: suffice it to say the decision to insert (or at least appear to insert) an earlier incarnation, with all that insinuates, and then cast a black woman in the role was not only a bold move but also an extremely savvy piece of trolling from the chief writer. Even if it’s not up there with ‘The Name of the Doctor’ – in terms of reveals, it’s more of a ‘Death In Heaven’ moment – it is, at least, guaranteed to get the internet talking about Doctor Who in a way that no one has for quite some time. I’d imagine it was a long night for bowlestrek.

At moments like these the temptation to shout “Bollocks!” (as I did during ‘Orphan 55’) is stronger than ever. But any doubts that Martin really is the Doctor (or at least a Doctor of sorts) are instantly dispelled by the synchronised, ‘Midnight’-esque conversation that follows – along with certain behavioural aspects that seem fairly authentic, albeit at the Colin Baker end of the scale. Acting is a big part of it: Martin’s demeanour change from human to Time Lord is powerful but understated; two halves of the same character, pompous and serious while Whittaker looks increasingly confused and out of her depth. It could still turn out to be an elaborate ruse, but honestly I’m not convinced that this current production team are capable of that sort of feint: this feels more like the sort of game-changing reveal that prompts an explosion of fan theory. She’s the Doctor from a parallel universe. A future Doctor with memory loss. A hidden incarnation sandwiched between Troughton and Pertwee. A buried secret past, Chibnall’s rumoured ‘Thirteen Previous’ cycle coming to fruition. Pick one.

It makes it a difficult episode to review. The story itself is bland and inconsequential, serving solely to advance the series arc: more than anything, ‘Fugitive’ feels not so much like the first part of a two-part story but a filler episode that we’ll revisit in a month or two, or perhaps even next year if the rumours have any substance. The TARDIS fam have next to nothing to do this week, to the extent that they’re removed from the narrative entirely by the most unexpected of guest stars, materialising in a gloomy spacecraft in the company of Captain Jack Harkness. Older, a little grizzled around the jaw but still as flirtatious as ever, Barrowman wastes no time in snogging Graham and complimenting him on his temples before evading a barrage of laser fire from the unseen monsters who want their ship back. As much fun as it is, the inconvenient truth is that Jack’s cameo serves absolutely no purpose, other than to have the fans squealing and jumping out of their seats, something I’ll admit I did. He’s there to deliver a cryptic message to the Doctor (disappointingly, the two never meet – perhaps they’re saving that for later), but surely he could have sent an email or something? On the other hand it’s lovely to see him, and it says something about the pace of an episode when a cameo from a long-departed guest actor is one of the least interesting things about it.

The other inconenient truth is that, despite its good intentions, ‘Fugitive’ wasn’t exactly a rug sweeper. It feels, more than anything, that those days are over: that the two-way feedback now supposedly deemed essential to the production process has rendered this a series of games and one-upmanships; television reduced to a series of “Gotcha!” moments. For all its jaw-dropping revelations (and there were several) it’s hard not to feel ever so slightly cheated; that this was an event, rather than anything of any substance. Moreover it was an event inserted purely for shock value, a cynical headline-grab in the manner of Moffat’s decision to tinker with the numbering (something no amount of garbage about writer’s block can ever really justify). Doctor Who isn’t produced in a vacuum, and while Whittaker maintains she doesn’t read the papers it should be fairly self-evident by now that Chibnall does. It is impossible not to conclude that this decision was made to deliberately upset certain people. And while I don’t object to big changes, as long as they work, and while I’d be happy to see Martin again on the strength of her performance this week, I’m not sure how I feel about the the BBC poking the fandom with a stick. Although let’s face it, that’s something the Doctor does particularly well.

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Papa Louie Pals Presents: The Companions (Part 1)

Hello! Welcome to Good Burger, home of the good burger; may I take your order?

As you’ll have seen the other week, I spent large parts of August assembling a plethora of Doctors with the help of Flipline Studio’s Papa Louie Pals, which enables you to create your own characters in the vein of the developer’s cutesy, animated consumers and baristas. In other words, you too – in the comfort of your own home – can make the sort of people who wander in to Papa’s Tacoreria and order…well, tacos. Or burritos, or whatever else they sell; I’m sure I don’t know. I haven’t played them, remember?

But give me an app that lets me be a bit creative and it’s like a red rag to a bull, and – having done all the Doctors – I elected to spend a little time creating the companions as well. We start, today, with the New Who brigade: most of the big players are in there, although I’m kicking myself for not including Wilf. Just for good measure, I stuck a couple of villains in as well (all right, one villain in multiple forms, which does rather narrow it down). Oh, and I couldn’t bring myself to do Adam, largely because he’s a twat.

Still. Everyone else is here, just about. And yes, there is a Classic Who companions gallery in the works, at some point when I get round to it. I may even take requests, as long as they’re more imaginative than “Please stop doing this”.

Let’s get cooking…

We’ll get these two out of the way first. There are lots of ways to do Rose; I have gone with her series one look, which is a little more chavvy and a little less refined than the slicker haircut and more revealing outfits she wore in series 2. Donna looks like a slightly younger version of herself, but that’s not a bad thing.

Nardole is…well, he’s a little taller than I’d like, or a little slimmer; pick one. But he looks vageuly Nardole-ish. And I’m quite pleased with Bill; I even remembered to put the bow in her hair.

The Masters, next (yes, there are multiple versions). Simm’s 2007 look is basically a man in a black suit; take away the evil eyes and he could be auditioning for Reservoir Dogs. He’s accompanied here by River Song, sporting her classic vest-and-skirt combination, as worn in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ and probably other episodes I can’t be bothered to Google.

Two more Masters: the hooded monstrosity from ‘The End of Time’ and the restrained, bearded 2017 Master I always hoped we’d get to see. That’s my favourite contemporary take on the character, and it’s irritating that he really doesn’t work here: the hair is too shaggy, the beard (while being the closest I could manage) is wrong, and the tunic is more chef than rogue Time Lord. he looks like an evil sensei from a Japanese martial arts movie.

Missy, on the other hand, came out a treat, even if she does vaguely resemble a sinister version of Lucy from Peanuts. That’s presumably what Mickey Smith is thinking, unless it’s “Did I leave the iron on?”.

Series 11 now. Graham and Ryan first. Note that Graham’s smile is slightly smaller than the rest: this is deliberate.

And here’s Yas – along with Captain Jack, who is probably staring at her bottom.

The Ponds! They’re wearing matching shirts, which happened because I was feeling a bit lazy that morning, but it’s rather cute.

Lastly, Martha – whose jacket is just about perfect – and Clara. Specifically Oswin, although that dress isn’t quite as figure-hugging as I’d like. Still, she looks pleased with it.

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Have I Got Whos For You (half rice, half chips edition)

In the news this week: there is general panic in supermarkets up and down the country as Donna and Martha struggle to keep the Tenth Doctor away from the ice cream.

An alternative, previously unseen angle from the Apollo 11 moon launch fifty years ago throws up a disturbing sight.

And the full, unseen edition of the poster for Patrick Stewart’s new Star Trek vehicle shows exactly what Picard was staring at off to the right.

Elsewhere, the Thirteenth Doctor’s pleased when her Amazon order shows up.

And a deleted exchange from ‘The Sound of Drums’ proves to be oddly prophetic for Boris Johnson.

Talking of Boris, his announcement during last week’s debate that “we must get off the hamster wheel of doom” kind of gave me an idea.

Finally, this week’s recipe, which has no ingredient lists or method, and consists instead of a single instruction from the War Doctor. “Great men are forged in fire,” he tells us. “It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”

Be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful. And if you can’t manage that, remember the date.

 

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Back to the Future

If you were watching TV in the 1980s, there are certain things you will remember. The Vietnam veterans who were brilliant at taking down loan sharks despite their inability to actually shoot straight. David Hasselhoff running into the ocean in slow motion – and then, regrettably, running back out again. Richard Dean Anderson building a small explosive out of three rolls of parcel tape and a paperclip. Scott Bakula in a wig and heels. David Hasselhoff again, upstaged by a Trans Am. David Duchovny, in a wig and heels. And Tom Selleck somehow managing to make Hawaiian shirts look almost cool.

There was a technique to producing a memorable intro, and that was to talk over it. I say “In 1972”, you say “a crack commando unit”. I say “A shadowy flight into the dangerous world”, you say “of a man WHO DOES NOT EXIST”. I say “…hoping each time that his next leap”, you say “will be the leap home”, the unavoidable lump in your throat stemming from the knowledge that he never quite managed it. We knew those voiceovers as well as we knew the opening themes that followed, whether they were by Mike Post, or – actually, they were all by Mike Post, so let’s leave it there. In any event those voiceovers have entered fan lore and it is impossible to imagine the show without them. We still do them at parties. Perhaps that’s just me.

But Doctor Who has always had that opening theme, and it’s always been…well, very of its time, somehow, whatever time that happened to be. The titles have always been played over stars, or a swirling vortex, or weird camera effects – something abstract and general. You can’t really imagine it any other way. It’s difficult to envisage a Doctor Who that emulates that cheesy montage-style opening, replete with freeze frame stills of the leads, and shots of at least one explosion, or Dwight Schultz with a glove puppet.

Hence this.

Technical stuff first. It had to be Tennant. The ‘Voyage of the Damned’ speech that makes up the bulk of his narration practically lends itself to an 80s style intro (the BBC used it for at least one trailer back in 2007) and even if it hadn’t, there was no one else who could have pulled off that debonair, slightly irritating leading man pastiche. Smith is just too…English. As much as I love the Eleventh Doctor, his predecessor’s monumental impact with fans is easy to analyse: he’s the sort of person they grew up watching in the 1990s. He’s Fox Mulder, right down to the suit. Barrowman’s presence was a given. Casting a companion was trickier – I almost plumped for a selection until the moment I realised the shot of Tennant closing the TARDIS door with his fingers was ripe for inclusion – and he’s with Donna, so the decision was more or less made.

“Why Max?” asked Gareth, and various other people, so I explained. “It is scientific fact that any American sci-fi / private detective drama from the 1980s had an eccentric older character played by an established veteran, and he was usually called Max.”
“Is it? I can’t think of any at the moment. What examples are there? (So that I can say “oh, really?” or “ah, I haven’t seen that”.)
Hart To Hart. And. Um. Max from Ben Ten? OK, that may be it.”

Details aside, the casting of the comic relief veteran was standard practice, as evidenced by Macgyver and Magnum P.I., among others. Actually, when I think about it this whole thing was really just a reaction to this trailer, which I did years back and which I was unable to post on Facebook.

Right down to that shot of Barrowman hefting the gun. Which may be iconic one day. But not today. Tomorrow doesn’t look good either.

Music was provided by Philip Chance – I wandered around YouTube looking for appropriate rights-free synth-and-drum-machine combos for a good long while before I found what I was looking for. The post-production work was done in Adobe After Effects – which I downloaded specially – although I couldn’t have managed the grainy VHS look without the help of this tutorial. Basically it’s a question of whacking up the contrast and pasting over some noise effects. If you look at the bottom of the screen you’ll see a jagged line running throughout, which is supposed to be that poor tracking you always had when the heads needed cleaning.

“Do you see what I mean about the old-style 3D-ness, though?” said Gareth.

“I do,” I said, “because the process is basically the same. Basically you split the picture into three separate signals and then isolate the colour in each – one red, one blue, one green – and overlay them. Then you shift each one a few pixels to the left and right so that the different colours are very slightly out of sync. It’s not enough to make it look any worse than a less-than-brilliant VHS transfer – real 3D signals are completely separate and are headache inducing when watched with the naked eye – but it’s a similar principle.”

“These days, I’m all about wearable technology.”

It’s not perfect, but I got bored. Some projects have a clear beginning, a middle and an end. When you’re doing a montage you’re looking for clips that work. Intro parodies (as with the Magnum one above) are trickier but narrow down your scope considerably, so that it’s easy to tell when it’s done. When mashing up dialogue it’s usually a question of finding enough material that works and then chipping away at the bits that you don’t need until you’re telling the best story you can.

With something like this it’s harder. Should I move that frame a little more to the right? Up the blur to 60 rather than 50 per cent? How authentic does this need to look? What’s it going to look like after encoding? In the end I settled for “Well, you get the idea”, which is sometimes about the best you can do when you’re not actually getting paid for doing this stuff. At least you don’t have to worry about copyright.

Reaction was…variable. Lots of people liked it, but more than a few missed the point.

“Umm, shouldn’t it be ‘If NuWho was produced in the 80s’? Because there were new episodes of Doctor Who coming out in the 80s.” (Reaction: Yeah, I was being vague. It helps with the hit count.)

I will never understand the fetishization of VHS. (Reaction: That’s TOTALLY NOT WHAT I’M DOING, it’s just about authenticity.)

“One thing – Tennant would have been a pimply teenager in the 80s (or possibly a little kid, I’m not sure how old he is), and Capaldi looked more like Colin Baker.” (Reaction: Yeah, he does look like Colin Baker.)

“Have people actually forgotten that doctor who was in fact around during the eighties and still looked better than this?” (Reaction: No one’s forgotten. Why have you reminded us?)

“Doctor Who was around in the 80s and before and shot on video so what’s the point of this?” (Reaction: Ah yes. The old ‘What’s the point?’ maxim. It’s people like you who get arts funding cut.)

“But… there already were episodes made in the 80s…” (Reaction: You’re really not getting this, are you?)

Gaah. Look, it’s a parallel universe, right? A parallel universe where we never moved beyond VHS and cassette tapes and gigantic brick-sized mobile phones (glances at Samsung S7 on desk, shifts uncomfortably in office chair) and contemporary Doctor Who, when they eventually made it, looked like this. And you had to tape it off the TV and find you’d missed the last five minutes because the Videoplus got the timing wrong, so you’ll never see Peter Capaldi bust through that wall. And it looks rotten because when you see 1980s TV recordings uploaded to YouTube, they look rotten as well. Savvy? I’M TIRED OF HAVING TO EXPLAIN THIS SHIT TO YOU PEOPLE.

Missing the point is something that happens quite a lot in fandom. It’s appropriate that we’ve just had Mothering Sunday, because last year I published the meme you can see below, which was picked up by a fan page (as opposed to Peter Capaldi himself – a man who is not on social media, although it’s sorely tempting to pretend he is and is reading my stuff). Comments varied from ‘LOLOLOL’ (which doesn’t even make sense) to the acidic ‘That’s horrible, and so are you’ – but it was one particular remark that caught my eye and then twisted a sharp stick into the socket over the course of the head-against-the-brick-wall conversation that followed. It is reprinted below as is: I have no qualms about embarrassing the girl / boy, because that’s not a real photo and that’s almost definitely not her / his real name.

I despair.

Then along comes John, who gets it instantly. “We found the Americanized Who!” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied. “That’s what I should have called it.” Dammit.

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Interlude

As much as I’d like to deliver the next exciting installment of ‘God is in the detail’, I’m afraid Edward’s second birthday is going to have to take priority. You’ll have to wait. But in the news, series nine guest star Maisie Williams plans a follow-up to John Barrowman’s foray into slightly filked musical showstoppers:

A previously unseen outtake from the first episode of ‘Death to the Daleks’ makes its way onto the internet:

And not everyone approves of showrunner Steven Moffat’s hopes of resurrecting an old enemy.

See you next time.

 

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Standing corrected (part one)

“It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you make up. The rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I’d believe it, but before the universe? Impossible. Doesn’t fit my rule. Still, that’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.”

(The Doctor, ‘The Satan Pit’)

I am, by my nature, an opinionated sort. I probably wouldn’t have a blog if I wasn’t, at least not one like this. I’d stick to a tumblr account and fill it with memes and gifs. Instead I’ll write reams and reams of text about anything that suits – whether that’s in a dedicated post, or a comment thread on a newspaper website. Never use a single word, I’ve learned over the years, when a hundred will do.

But I have a confession to make: a lot of what I’ve learned over the years was garnered from YouTube hits, Wikipedia entries and a fair bit of bluffing. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to much online debate I’m often far more ignorant than I may come across, having relied instead on the ability to weave an argument rather than actually give it any substance. If you can be convincing enough in your tone, it’s relatively easy to persuade your audience. A little flash and sparkle goes a long way. In this, I’m reminded of Richard Gere singing ‘Razzle Dazzle’ near the end of Chicago, a song I now have stuck in my head and which I thus won’t quote here for fear of inflicting the earworm upon the rest of you.

But insofar as popular culture is concerned I can talk about Doctor Who with reasonable authority, at least up to a point. I can say whether a story was good TV or bad Who, or the reverse. I can deconstruct an episode and talk about what worked and what didn’t (although Gareth does it better). I can view it within the context of the series as a whole (although again, Gareth does it better). I even have a decent-ish knowledge of Classic Who (three strikes, you’re outta there). I can even look at an episode from the point of view of a small child, purely through having watched every episode of New Who at least once with Joshua. (As a result, I can now see the merits in ‘The End Of The World’ and am far more appreciative of ‘Love and Monsters’, even though the oral sex joke is still a colossal misfire.)

Where I fall down, as it happens, is my tendency to make predictions that turn out to be spectacularly and indelibly wrong. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to be talking about just a few of them.

This fits thematically but I have no idea whether or not it's any good. Gareth could tell you.

This fits thematically but I have no idea whether or not it’s any good. Gareth could tell you.

“Bringing Donna back is a disaster waiting to happen.”

“No good will come of this,” I remember saying. And you know, you can hardly blame me. Donna Noble was an irritating trollop the first time we saw her. I don’t care that she was ‘feisty’ where Rose was doe-eyed and soppy (largely because feistiness has been the single defining trait of every single companion the Doctor’s had since 2008, with the notable exception of Rory). She had a voice like a foghorn. I was a big Catherine Tate fan, but she essentially aged Lauren Cooper by fifteen years and stuck her in a wedding dress. I spent the whole of ‘The Runaway Bride’ waiting for the inevitable “Am I bovvered?”, and in a way it was almost disappointing they didn’t include it – rather like a famous pantomime dame who’s not allowed to deliver his TV catchphrase.

I should have figured that Unenlightened Donna (which makes her sound like the crap version of Rimmer from Red Dwarf’s ‘Back To Reality’) was thoroughly unsuitable material for an entire series, and that Davies would have to develop her. He did this by taking out the mouth – although the feistiness remains – and getting her to cry in front of an Ood. It’s an overwrought scene, but it solidifies her, if only because her response – to plead with the Doctor to make it stop – is so utterly real. Donna had a moment of clarity at the end of ‘The Runaway Bride’, in which she suggests that the Doctor needs a companion because “sometimes you need someone to stop you”. Davies takes this as his starting point and has her become the Doctor’s conscience in a series where the Time Lord Triumphant is waiting in the wings.

Oh come on, admit it. This scene was hilarious.

Oh come on, admit it. This scene was hilarious.

And oh, it was refreshing to have a companion who wasn’t constantly flirting with the Doctor! As is usual with these things they took the situation to the other extreme and ran a whole series of “We’re not together” gags that were typical examples of the lady who doth protest too much, but Davies (like his successor) is always one for his recurring gags, and you can’t have everything. Donna treated the Doctor like a mate, and he responded in kind, and the two worked wonderfully together as a result – indeed, the chemistry between Tennant and Tate was good enough to see them take to the stage the following year in Much Ado About Nothing.

In the end it all got very tedious and companion-centric, as we’re treated to yet another series finale where the Doctor’s closest ally becomes the most important thing in the universe (I don’t know, what was wrong with just travelling with him?). This is always a mistake, because it kills any sense of empathy we might have with the character – it gets very hard to like Donna once she starts spouting technobabble and teaching the Children of Time how to fly the TARDIS. Then the Doctor takes it all out of her head, in another death-that-wasn’t-really-a-death – it’s a cheap trick, but that final, wordless scene in the control room is stupendous (particularly when you then read that Davies originally intended for the Doctor’s brooding fit to be interrupted by Cybermen, which would have ruined the episode). Series four wasn’t always an easy ride (the Sontaran story is still rubbish), but Donna’s easily one of my favourite companions, and Tate played her to perfection. Much missed.

Torchwood’s gonna be great.”

I refer you to something I wrote on October 17th, 2005.

“It sounds like a cross between The Lone Gunmen and Spooks, with a dash of Queer as Folk. Whatever you think about Davies’ political agenda with Captain Jack, he was an interesting and compelling character whom I liked a lot. In terms of character arc he was there to provide a suitably gung-ho replacement for the previously violent tendencies of the Doctor – once Eccleston’s incarnation decides to stop being a war hero and goes back to pacificism (notably after ‘Dalek’), he became more like some of the previous, more peaceful regenerations. At the same time, he retains a vicious streak: while Jack isn’t violent for the sake of violence he is nonetheless far more comfortable handling a gun, and in that sense he almost seems to be a projection of the Doctor’s own buried sense of violence; a necessary character. For all that rambling, he was one of the most fun aspects of the last season, and I can’t help thinking he deserves his own show.

It could all go horribly wrong, of course, but just consider the alternatives – they could have decided to make a spin-off series entitled The Further Adventures of Mickey.”

Ah, Torchwood. It could have been so glorious. A lot of people don’t like Jack Harkness, but I confess I always found him watchable, whether he was flirting or shooting – often both at the same time. The prospect of a darker, more adult-themed show, able to discuss the issues that Doctor Who, with its family audience and prime time slot, couldn’t touch? With Barrowman at the centre? Bring it on.

What we got was episode after episode of inane plotting, unnecessary swearing and ephemeral fucking. Barrowman spent most of the first series standing on a rooftop looking broody. It’s like Davies had cutscenes from Devil May Cry 2 playing on a loop when he was approaching deadline. Episode two was centred around sex as a plotline (ha!) but it was embarrassing rather than appropriately carnal. And I don’t mind a bit of language, I really don’t, but not when it comes across like the work of ten year old schoolboys who have been left alone with a tape recorder, charged to produce a radio report but unable to resist the temptation to goad each other into muttering the occasional rude word.

Torchwood eventually got much better. I nearly gave up after that first series, but in the second they all stopped fighting amongst themselves, gelled as a team and had a lot more fun. James Marsters turned up. Oh, and it has one of the funniest series openers I’ve ever seen. A couple of years later there was Children of Earth, a five episode miniseries that stands amongst RTD’s finest work, at least for the BBC, and which upset a good number of people for killing off a much beloved character – a brave decision and the sort the show has never shied away from, taking its cue from the likes of 24. Then it all went to pot again with Miracle Day, which took the formula stateside, without much success (although it does have a mesmerising performance from Bill Pullman). The finale of this features Barrowman saving the world by depositing his bodily fluids inside a gigantic crack. The irony of this is not lost on me.

Spot the girl who didn't make it past episode one.

Spot the girl who didn’t make it past episode one.

So I was right, I suppose, if you count those middle two series, but I’ve always seen Torchwood as a missed opportunity. It’s not entirely down to the writing, which was uneven but occasionally brilliant, but the whole show never seemed entirely sure whether it should be appealing to the teenage market or the adults who watched Doctor Who with their kids. In the end, it never fully appealed to either, which is a shame because Barrowman is a great actor, and there were some wonderful moments amidst the dross, particularly once the show stopped taking itself too seriously – such as the time Jack and Ianto were searching an empty office block for their quarry. “Check the roof,” Ianto mutters. “You’re good with roofs.” More scenes like that, and we’d have had the makings of a classic.

(FWIW, I also think Martha and Mickey: Bounty Hunters definitely has wings.)

Tomorrow: we look at theories concerning one of the biggest conundrums the show’s thrown up since its revival, and how I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Eleventh Doctor…

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From the Facebook archives, #6

Saturday, September 17th 2011

I was recounting the last episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day to Emily, as she’s refused to watch it since the end of season 1.

Her response: “Right, let me get this straight. Saving the world was ultimately dependent upon John Barrowman depositing his bodily fluids inside an enormous crack?”

They really didn’t think this one through, did they?

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