Posts Tagged With: martha jones

Have I Got Whos For You (statuesque edition)

“For god’s sake, Danny, stop urinating on them.”

It’s been a week of (self) righteous anger. The ‘self’ is optional; you can put it on if you like. The world we live in is one in which no sin goes unpunished, no tweet unmocked; a world in which armchair judgement has become second nature. No one is safe: it doesn’t matter if it’s angry protesters throwing statues in the river or multi-millionaire authors throwing their weight around.

It’s dull, and I’m tired of writing about it, so let’s look at this week’s news roundup. There are troublesome scenes in central London when Missy can’t remember where she parked her TARDIS.

And on a routine visit to a parallel Earth, the Doctor and Rose are unsettled when they run into a queue for the re-opening of Primark.

Meanwhile, as fury reigns over the expungement of classic episodes and series from on-demand services, a trawl through the Gallifreyan Matrix reveals that even the Time Lords have grown concerned over sensitive content.

In Surrey, Thorpe Park opens after lockdown as a flurry of punters rush to make the most of the good weather.

And an abandoned concept still from the new Bill and Ted trailer reveals that studio execs were suggesting a very different look for the phone box.

“Dude. They’ve, like, totally redecorated.”

 

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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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God Is In The Detail (12-02)

Good morrow, fair citizens. Perchance you tuned in here for the latest in our round-up of HIGHLY IMPORTANT CLUES AND REFERENCES in this week’s Doctor Who? You did? Well, that’s marvellous. Pull up a chair and let me tell you about all the stuff you missed in the second part of ‘Spyfall’. Today we’ll be dealing with hidden signs, fake numbers and the return of an old companion. Anyone bring biscuits?

We’re off to Jodrell Bank first. You’ll recall that, in war torn Paris, the Doctor alluded to a previous encounter she’d had with the Master, which ended in a large fall from a radio telescope and a regeneration. Never mind the fact that ‘Logopolis’ wasn’t actually filmed at Jodrell Bank, or even set there – that’s either Chibnall demonstrating ineptitude or carelessness or deliberately trolling the fanbase, depending on whom you ask. The implication is obvious: it’s supposed to be about the Fourth Doctor’s tumble from the tower, and one of the most moving handovers ever committed to film. It doesn’t take an idiot to figure that out, even if you can quibble about whether the idiot himself is the current chief writer.

So the Master asks if he’s ever apologised for it, and the Doctor says no he hasn’t, and the Master simply replies “Good”. And this seemingly innocuous exchange means nothing at all, until you figure out that it’s actually foreshadowed EARLIER IN THIS EPISODE. And if you doubt me, look at the numbers on Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine.

Note two things: first, the presence of the large black rod that marks the place where the number 5 is supposed to be; second, the number of teeth (12) that sit across the bottom part of that cog, which refers specifically to the number of times the Doctor regenerated before reaching the end of his first cycle. The significance of the numbers of the right I will leave for you to fathom. Be warned that the discovery is not a pleasant one.

From 1830s London we’re shifting gears to contemporary Essex – well, it’s not Essex, but I’ll explain why in a moment. Here’s Bradley, Tosin and Mandip, examining maps in the middle of a bustling town.

I did Google it, without success, but the Facebook Hive Mind has confirmed that this was shot in Barry, specifically at King Square – location map as follows:

There are several things to note, not least of which is the large human figure sitting on top of a gym ball (see below). But it’s the geography of the neighbouring streets that I want you to examine, because believe it or not it’s all tied up with none other than Martha Jones. A quick Street View perusal of the area reveals the following, within close proximity:

Superdrug
Cats Protection
Guardian Jewellery

Hmm. Cats? In a story with drugs? On a street that’s been designated one way for more than half its length (southwestbound) in order to alleviate GRIDLOCK? You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? But why Martha specifically? Well, that’s tied up partly with street names – one of the roads leading off King Square is the B4294, which relates DEFINITIVELY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to ’42’, which also starred Martha. But I also want you to think back to ‘The Infinite Quest’, in which the Doctor and Martha embarked on a series of adventures to recover various items of jewellery From this we can conclude that Martha will return in a story featuring the Black Guardian, who seeks a magic ring that will allow him to wield ultimate power unless it is melted in the fires of Mount Doom a trinket of some sort.

Oh, I promised you that gym ball, didn’t I? Here it is.

Next, a phone number.

For those of you who have yet to look this up, let me save you the trouble: 01632 pertains to a fictional area code that is, for the present, the exclusive domain of TV and film. In other words, it’s when they want to show a phone number but they don’t want everyone freeze-framing the TV and trying to call the Ghostbusters Firehouse, or Torchwood Three, or God. Try it. You’ll get nowhere.

But it’s the number that follows – ascribed to that payphone in the middle of ‘Essex’ – that is curious. Because 960470 actually refers to something very specific. It’s not a pantone reference. It’s not a Nissan part number. It’s not an Amazon product code. Well, actually it’s all three, and then some, but that’s not why we’re here. It actually refers to a photo uploaded to Geograph, taken by a chap named Tony Aitken, on the Camel Trail near Nanstallon in Cornwall. Not far from Bodmin, home to a substantial Masonic Hall, several nice churches and an enormous mythological cat. And if you’ve ever wondered why Doctor Who hasn’t done Bodmin Moor yet, now you know. It’s coming next year. We called it.

Finally, we’re back at the start of the episode, during the scene where Ryan’s crawling across the burning plane to find…this.

You didn’t need me to tell you, but this is all connected with anagrams. ‘SEAT POCKET’ can be rearranged to form the words ‘CASKET POET’, clearly alluding to a story in which the Doctor encounters a deceased writer. That’s about half the poets on the block, and then some. It’s a good start, but where do we go from there? Which poet is he talking about? Shelley? Keats? Byron? Shakespeare?

Oh look, there she is again. You’ve had your turn, Martha, now sit down.

No, actually, stand up. Because the truth – stranger than fiction – is linked to the words ‘Dead Poets Society’, the 1989 coming-of-age drama starring Robin Williams as the unorthodox Mr Keating. In other words, this doesn’t just refer to one poet: it’s a whole bunch of them. But it’s the initials I want you to examine, because DPS is not only the abbreviated form of Peter Weir’s Oscar Nominated Magnum Opus – it also stands for Descent Propulsion System, a rocket engine used in the Apollo moon landings. An event which was witnessed by Martha. In a story that’s just featured in a crossover comic starring the Thirteenth Doctor. You’re welcome.

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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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The New Who Top Ten: #5

Blink_main

Number Five: ‘Blink’ (2007)

Should this be higher?

A few years ago, it would have been an indisputable top slot. Even now I maintain it’s (mostly) impeccably structured, beautifully acted and immaculately presented. Few stories were as universally praised, or as talked about in weeks to come. Next to this, even the return of the Master seemed a relatively muted affair.

There are two problems with ‘Blink’. In the first instance, it launched a creature that swiftly became a Doctor Who sensation. Like many of Moffat’s creations, it is largely silent. Deaths, such as they are, occur offscreen. They even had their own catchphrase. But the Angels’ appeal lies in their instant familiarity, the everyday made sinister, epitomised in a final montage that’s there purely to scare the kids. If any statue can be an Angel – indeed, if any picture of a statue can be an Angel – then nowhere is safe, and I can’t help thinking that the prospect of being touched by an Angel was enough to keep many a primary school child wide awake for a night or two back in 2007.

Angel_bares_fangs

The big problem, of course, is that once you’ve done that, there’s nowhere for you to go. So Moffat branched in a new direction by having the next batch of Angels move, speak and even snap necks. It’s the sort of departure that has the Ninja Turtle fans up in arms, and the fact that comparatively few people seem to have complained about ‘Flesh and Stone’ is down to the fact that at time of broadcast, they were relatively new. The Tenth Doctor introduces them as “the only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely”, but once you’ve done that initial time travel story – and have them try and nick the TARDIS into the bargain – what do you do with them? The fact is that the Angels were one-story monsters, in the same way that the Silence were one-story monsters, the Spoonheads should have been no-story monsters and the Whispermen will probably be the subject of an out-of-court settlement with Joss Whedon.

I expanded on all the reasons the Weeping Angels are basically rubbish in a post called, appropriately, ‘Why the Weeping Angels are Rubbish‘ – written before ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’, a story that did nothing to enhance my opinion of them. But it seems churlish to pick on ‘Blink’ because of a less-than-impressive legacy. Better, instead, if we could point out that it’s actually a lot of razzle-dazzle, the problems hiding (for a change) not behind a sea of special effects but instead a whirling dervish of storytelling tricks, pretentiousness dressed up as paradox.

p00ndcny

The difficulty with many of Moffat’s episodes is that you’re encouraged to think, but not too much. He’s great with throwing in the clues and the mysteries and the wibbly-wobbly resolutions, but once you’re actively concentrating, as we are supposed to, the holes are as transparent as bullet-riddled tracing paper. With ‘Blink’, there are noticably fewer holes, principally because Moffat is trying to stretch an idea across a single episode, rather than an entire series. Hence ‘Blink’ hangs together with a greater coherence than, say, ‘The Wedding of River Song’. (Actually, my son’s first year art project hangs together with a greater coherence than ‘The Wedding of River Song’, so it’s perhaps not the best example.)

Nonetheless, there are traces of the misogyny for which we would know him later. Sally Sparrow is perhaps the strongest and most likeable female guest character in the last ten years. There have been petitions and campaigns to get her instilled as a regular character, one that the producers have denied on the grounds that she’s arguably too strong, and that the Doctor wouldn’t work well with such a resourceful, intelligent character. To which I say yes, of course, and ‘City of Death’ was a walking disaster. Nevertheless, the type of show they seem determined to make nowadays – where characters begin weak and feeble before developing an inner strength under the careful tutelage of the Doctor – doesn’t seem to work well with Sally’s mindset. (Somewhere in the creative ether there’s a story arc waiting to be written about a companion who travels with the Doctor and only leaves him once they’ve been well and truly messed up.)

550w_movie_awards_carey_mulligan6

And yet the episode only concludes when Sally is able to deal with her obsession with the Doctor and gain narrative closure – a development that enables her, in turn, to gain romantic happiness with Larry. The Doctor is that most metaphorical of ex-boyfriends, or at the very least an internet romance – and while Sally saves the day, her brief narrative arc is ultimately defined by love. Curiously, in 2007 this didn’t bother me. Years later, having Clara flirt with the Eleventh Doctor and then get embroiled in a tedious love story, it does.

If I’m being a little harsh today, it’s largely because I’m tired of people talking about the bloody Angels as paragons of brilliance and ‘Blink’ as the ultimate example of clever storytelling. ‘Colony in Space’ is clever storytelling. So is ‘The Face of Evil’. And ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’, come to that. Clever doesn’t mean you tie your audience up in knots. It means you tell a story effectively and with sufficient emotional resonance, and you do not sacrifice narrative trickery for character development. Beware the man who says he can offer you both. More often than not, you’ll end up with neither.

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At the same time – and I think this might be the reason I continue to hold ‘Blink’ in high regard (despite having spent six paragraphs basically slagging it off) is because in 2007 – after eight episodes of Martha’s fawning and so much kitchen sink at the hands of Rose and the wretched Tylers – it was a bit of a novelty. It is loaded with amusing, memorable dialogue: witness, for example, the incredulous reaction of Larry when he learns about Sally’s miniscule DVD collection, or Sally’s realisation that Kathy lied about her age. Moffat’s never been one for naturalism, and even when his characters are in a locked room with a ticking bomb they still sound like they’re in an Oscar Wilde play, but it’s hard not to be amused, for example, at Larry’s first impression of Wester Drumlins (“You live in Scooby Doo’s house”) or Sally’s ruminations on feeling sad (“It’s happy for deep people”). Larry is, indeed, an early prototype for Rory, right down to the slightly gormless expression, but that’s not a bad thing.

Moffat also manages to tug at the heartstrings during the hospital scene, which remains almost the finest thing he ever wrote (with the exception of Miss Evangelista’s ghosting, in an episode that didn’t make the top ten). If you can live with the ludicrous final line, it’s both moving and comparatively understated, thanks in no small part to some fine performances, particularly Michael Obiora as the elderly Billy. Indeed, one of the best things about the story is the absence of its key players: we do not suffer for the general lack of Doctor, and the fact that Martha turns up only briefly is frankly a welcome bonus.

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Plus, at its heart, ‘Blink’ is simply terrifying. The moment when the Angels eventually swoop on Sally and Larry, stalking them through the seemingly deserted house, is a fine example of how to do an effective set piece, with appropriate jump cuts and some great use of lighting. It’s hard not to feel unnerved when the Angels rock the TARDIS back and forth in their attempts to get in, and the moment when it then fades away, leaving them eternally quantum-locked (at least until someone buys up Wester Drumlins and decides to clear out the cellar), is one of initial horror followed by tremendous relief. It works. It works beautifully. It’s about the only time it ever really did, and while that’s not the only reason to single out ‘Blink’ as a miniature masterpiece, it’s certainly a good start.

Cameron’s Episode: ‘Blink (curiously enough)

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The New Who Top Ten: #7

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Number Seven: ‘Human Nature’ / ‘The Family of Blood’ (2007)

Welcome to screenwriting 101. Today’s tip: don’t be afraid to screw with your protagonist once in a while. They’re supposed to be dependable and consistent (up to a point, anyway) but history shows that if you want to spice up a dull TV show, an easy way to do it is to give your lead character a beard and have him kill people. It gets the fanzines / office conversation / internet buzzing. Anyone can do a parallel universe story; that’s easy. But stories where protagonists are playing against type are award magnets, for writers and actors alike.

‘Human Nature’ takes its cue from the Paul Cornell novel of the same name, in which the Seventh Doctor becomes human in order to forge an emotional connection with a grieving Bernice Summerfield. He takes up residence in a boys’ school shortly before the Great War. Fagging and flogging are abundant. A group of shapeshifting aliens (possessed humans in the TV adaptation) arrive in order to wreak havoc, but complicating things is the fact that the humanised Doctor has fallen in love.

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Crucially, the TV version sees the Doctor actively retreating from the Family of Blood in its opening moments, establishing a symbiotic relationship between the two parties that plays out rather like a surreal witness protection programme. The central tenet of the Doctor’s amnesia and parallel life echoes both Total Recall and, indeed, a storyline in a later series of Miami Vice in which Sonny Crockett genuinely believed himself to be his drug-dealing alter ego; similarly here, John Smith is registered as a separate entity who experiences death when he opens the fob watch. His past is murky (when Joan asks him if Gallifrey is in Ireland, he says “Yes, it must be”) but his consciousness makes him real, and makes his ultimate sacrifice all the more poignant.

This story is basically an opportunity for Tennant to do a Mr. Chips, except Smith doesn’t live long enough to collapse on his classroom floor. Indeed, we’re given hints that the marriage would have ended after many long and happy years, in the form of a fleeting set of images that show Smith and Joan tying the knot and raising a family. It borders on mawkish, but the fact that this is a facet of the Doctor himself lends the moment a degree of pathos it would otherwise be denied. Indeed, Tennant is astonishing throughout the entire two-parter, adopting an entirely new body language when under the guise of Smith, and managing a genuine chemistry with the equally compelling Jessica Hynes.

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But while it’s Smith’s story, it’s the Doctor who pronounces judgement, in a closing montage – wordless, save Harry Lloyd’s voiceover – in which the fury of the Time Lord is finally unleashed. Some people hate it. I don’t. There is something awful about the sight of a Doctor pushed beyond the limits of his patience; something grand and terrible and infinitely more believable, in the final analysis, than what we would see two years later in ‘Waters of Mars’. The idea that you should be careful what you wish for is borne out in a series of dreadful, fate-worse-than-death punishments, plus a nice little aside from Cornell about mirrors – “If ever you look at your reflection and see something move behind you, just for a second, that’s her. That’s always her”. For an episode that has had a real world grounding for over eighty minutes of its runtime, it’s a startling contrast, but it works.

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Elsewhere: the period detail is decently realised, Murray Gold’s score is (for a change) warm and moving, and the supporting cast – particularly Lloyd – are uniformly excellent. Basically, this is a story that gets more or less everything right – that it isn’t placed higher probably isn’t fair, but I’m constructing this list partly on a whim, and I suspect that in a different week the order might have been quite different (put another way, the closer you get to the top, the smaller the gaps between episodes become). It’s a story that exposes the futility of war without ever really pronouncing judgement upon it: when Martha assures Timothy Latimer that “you don’t have to fight”, his response is simply “I think we do”. At the same time it is a bittersweet love story that works precisely because of its anachronisms. About the only off thing in it is the ever-irritating Martha, but you can’t have everything.

I wonder if, looking back, Davies ever wished he’d resequenced stories when the pacing was clearly off. It seems to matter far less in Classic Who, when we’d get twenty-four weeks of four-part stories that had (with certain rare exceptions) little or no connection between them. For better or worse it gathers new significance when you’re dealing with story arcs, and I’ve always found it interesting that three of the worst episodes in the New Who canon (the Dalek Manhatten two-parter, and ‘The Lazarus Experiment’) are immediately followed by three of the very best – these two, and a certain other one. But we’ll deal with that another day…

The Family of Blood

Cameron’s Episode: ‘The Eleventh Hour

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Things to make and do when your baby won’t come out

Emily spent the last week of her pregnancy making the models from sets I found for her in a charity shop.

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If this seems like a strange gift to get your other half, bear in mind that when we first met, she had a paper-crafted DNA helix hanging from her bedroom ceiling. This is despite the fact that the two of us despise junk modelling, and inwardly groan every time the kids show an interest, although we’ll cooperate. I know that children adore cutting and sticking and making bits and pieces out of toilet roll holders. But when you’re not particularly coordinated, like me, and when your ability to glue and stick and paint is limited, all those junk modelling sessions at the children’s centre father’s mornings can be a bit of a bind. The glue never works properly. Your offspring have ambitious plans with sheets of crinkly paper to decorate the outside of a spaceship, but the margarine tubs you’re given are too flimsy and the holes you punch always end up in the wrong place. Pretty soon the kids have lost interest and you’re the one doing it on your own, and it’s no longer a bit of fun – it’s a quest, and you’ll finish this job come hell or high water even though no one’s enjoying it anymore. In the midst of noisy mayhem, scissor hogging and devilish stares at the obnoxious little girl on the other side of the table who pinched the plastic lid you really needed for the ship’s wheel, you find yourself longing for a drawing corner, a puzzle sheet or some good old-fashioned colouring in. You know where you are with colouring in.

Anyway, this didn’t involve any glue, and she completed them with minimal bad language. Plus it’s hyper-realistic, because Martha is completely two-dimensional.

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“No sir! I didn’t see you playing with your dolls again!”

I found them together like this.

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The Gold Road

Something for Valentine’s Day…

I may be misremembering the classic series, but it strikes me that the new Doctors – particularly Tennant – are far more hands on than their predecessors. It helps that Tennant’s Doctor, despite his occasional cockiness, was a very human character. This was also the age of the Russell T. Davies soap approach, where every companion was embroiled in a story of unspoken love / unrequited love / love in denial. (I’m being a little unfair to the Doctor / Donna story, really, which – despite once more placing the companion at the centre of the universe, thereby negating our ability to relate to them – was one of the less irritating series arcs. The recurring “Oh no, we’re not a couple” gags were tiresome, but they were a darn sight better than Freema Agyeman’s incessant sulking.)

Actual moments of romance were (out of necessity) few and far between, and that’s as much a trait of the series in general as it is of the Doctor. I actually wonder if there’s a rule book somewhere in the dim and misty archives of the BBC (you know, the room where Terry Wogan did Auntie’s Bloomers) that dictates the Laws of Time:

  • The Doctor’s real name must never be announced. Never. We will at some point throw in ‘Theta Sigma’ as an old college nickname because some people will probably be stupid enough to think that’s who he really is.
  • If the Doctor kisses anyone, it doesn’t really count. (cf. ‘Journey’s End’, where the kiss is performed by a human Doctor clone, ‘, or ‘Family of Blood’, where he’s lost his memory.) The Doctor himself, on the other hand, may be kissed by someone else for awkward comic relief effect, as often as necessary.
  • The Doctor must never, ever be played by an actor who looks better with / is synonymous with having a beard. (And no, ‘The Leisure Hive’ doesn’t count.)

Anyway. Leaving aside the romantic slush, have you noticed the bear hugs? There are a lot. I mean an awful lot. There are comedy hugs, unnecessary hugs, farewell hugs laced with dramatic irony, bittersweet hugs, hugs that you really want to see develop into something else and hugs that you frankly didn’t want to see at all (Jack? I’m looking at you. Now sit down and put it away). Doctor Who has become very dark over the years, but there are moments of light and fluffiness, and when you put them all together it’s a bit like chomping through an economy size bag of Haribo: over in a flash, because they’re so compulsively moreish, but you feel sick afterwards.

About twelve years ago I was doing hospital radio. Our status as a registered charity meant we could play more or less what we wanted, within certain ethical parameters, and one of my favourite records to play on a Saturday was ‘Thank You For Being A Friend’ (notably used as the theme from ‘The Golden Girls’), which at the time I absolutely adored. It took a few years of detachment for me to realise that it’s a dreadful, dreadful song – it’s almost inconceivable that the man who could have penned ‘Lonely Boy’ could have come up with something so dire. (I actually blogged about this quite extensively some years back, so there’s no point going into my particular hang-ups again.) But when I was twenty and naïve, it was the best song in the world. At some point I went off it, and the CD then spent the best part of a decade on its shelf, sandwiched between Genesis and Goldfrapp, a safe distance away from anything that could turn those little bits of data into recognisable sound.

Then, when Andrew Gold died last year (somewhat prematurely, at the tender age of 59) I listened to it again, and realised it held a certain kitsch value. It’s nicely produced and competently performed; it’s just the sentiment I can’t stand. At the time I was in the middle of another Who video – that’ll come next week – but I suddenly had the idea of combining two different types of cheese. Because it strikes me that the Barney-like hugging of the family-friendly Whoniverse that Tennant’s Doctor inhabits – encompassing a whole network of allies and spinoff shows – was perfect for a montage. As a result this was extremely easy to put together, at least in terms of finding suitable clips, because it was just a question of forwarding through to the end of each episode, which is when the mushy stuff invariably happens.

Andrew Gold’s back catalogue is owned by the UMG, and their somewhat draconian stance on copyright meant that I originally couldn’t post this on YouTube, because it was blocked worldwide. I have thus placed it on Viddler instead, as recently as this evening when I uploaded a new version that got rid of a couple of old glitches that annoyed me. Looking at it again, I’m conscious that it didn’t actually start out as a love story – that was never my intention – but in some respects that’s basically what it became. A bit like my life, really. Happy Hallmark Day.

Edit, 3 Feb 2013: the UMG copyright stance appears to have shifted somewhat – I had a go at uploading this yesterday, purely on a whim, and it got through! The link has been updated as a result.

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