Posts Tagged With: red dwarf

The Inevitable Eurovision write-up

We open, as you knew we would, in a sepia-tinted art gallery.

Ah, Madonna. I had to slap down someone on a Facebook group this morning who compared her to Cassandra from ‘The End of the World’, largely by leaving “MOISTURISE ME!” gags on every thread I posted. When I asked him to explain himself, he said (and we paraphrase) “Well, because she’s old and she’s had so much surgery”.

I’m fairly open minded, even as I stumble on towards the inevitable midlife crisis part of my forties. But I confess I don’t find this sort of thing particularly amusing, largely because it’s symptomatic of an unpleasant type of humour: namely the idea that women of a certain age are there to be mocked if they do anything to physically defy that age. Madonna, presumably, is ripe for the pickings because she’s rich and famous and she can take it, and besides she was flat when she sang ‘Like A Prayer’. From one perspective it’s harmless fun and this is a free country and can’t you take a joke? From another, it’s sneering, condescending and judgemental and it’s an unpleasant reminder of how we treat women in these supposedly enlightened times. You pick. When I called out this behaviour I was accused of having a sense of humour bypass, so I think I’ll leave the judgement to someone else.

We might reasonably call out Madonna for not really producing a decent record since Ray of Light, with Saturday evening’s clearly rehearsed ‘Music’ singalong a cynical headline grab. That’d be a more reasonable target for a poison arrow, rather than her spandex-clad buttocks. But in many ways it was textbook Eurovision: glossy, overblown and a little bit controversial but seldom making the headlines for the right reasons. That makes her the perfect choice, because it’s not about the music, and for all our attempts to pretend that Eurovision used to be a singing competition, it never really was. Madonna also made waves on the forums, not least because her eye patch thing wasn’t the only Doctor Who reference she managed to include over the course of a nine minute set.

This was just after she lined up on a set of steps to perform ‘Like A Prayer’ with a set of cowled, possibly headless monks. Go figure.

It was the closing ‘statement’, of course, that was responsible for most of the eyebrow raising. I missed the dual flags entirely (perhaps the BBC cut away from it, or perhaps I was just looking at my phone). It was marginally less controversial than the stunt that Iceland pulled, although this isn’t the place to discuss any of that: I have my opinions and you do not get to hear them. Eurovision has always been a hotbed of whatever’s topical – political squabbles, military skirmishes and financial disrespute dressed up in a negligee of supposed togetherness and solitary brother / cisterhood…seriously, don’t get me started on France. At least I could understand the words to that one: over the course of the evening the automated subtitle generator interpreted Malta as ‘melter’, ‘multi’ and ‘Mulder’. Thank goodness Jools Holland wasn’t there.

There were highlights. Denmark (“like a Tesco advert”, to quote the thirteen-year-old) was chirpy and fun, vocalist Leonora ascending a set of steps to a giant chair with her pals, while Graham Norton noted that the “WhatsApp group will probably be deleted around midnight”. And San Marino’s entry – the delightfully retro ‘Say Na Na Na’, which supposedly took five minutes to write (well, one minute and then another four scrolling through Facebook) was both naff and brilliant, and probably would have done quite well a couple of decades ago (I thought much the same about Scooch’s grotesquely comic ‘Flying The Flag’, a 2007 entry that turned up at the party at least eleven or twelve years after its friends had all gone home to bed). And the whole thing was slick and decently compered – Eurovision presenters tend to be dreadful, but this lot weren’t bad, even if there were only four of them so they could cover the entire arena at once. (And why, in these days of twenty-first century open plan introvert’s nightmares, do they still insist on calling it a green room? It isn’t a room of any sort. It’s a roped-off VIP area a meticulously timed short walk from the stage. You can’t even duck under the tables for an illicit shag.)

Anyway: gallery of memorable moments follows. All thoughts are from yours truly unless I tell you otherwise.

1. To kick off, here’s Cyprus’ Tamta, modelling the next Rani outfit.

2. Meanwhile, as Middle Earth burns around her, Albania’s Jonida Maliqi is despondent that she didn’t head into the West with the other Elves.

3. North Macedonia. I have this sudden urge for Quality Street.

4. “Lister, they’ve got to learn.”

5. Serbia? It’s Mike. He wants his tubular bells back.

6. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr Elton John.

7. So that’s what happened to Mad Max 5.

8. It was all going so well for Greece, until they brought out the Prisoner balloon.

9. SLOVENIAN STARING CONTEST! GO!

10. Workprint footage from those promo videos.

11. “NARNIA IS MINE!”

12. It’s the Wiggles! It’s the bloody Wiggles!

13. And finally, the inspiration for Spain’s set design proves fairly obvious.

Same time next year? I’ll bring the Prosecco.

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The smallerpictures video dump (part one)

If you’re a regular reader here at the not-so-hallowed halls of Brian of Morbius, you will notice that one particular category has been somewhat neglected of late. The videos tab hasn’t seen any action in months. I used to do a separate blog entry for every video I created. Extensive notes on the genesis, making-of process and public reaction. Some of them ran to over a thousand words.

I don’t get time anymore. Part of it is actually having the time but having more worthwhile things to fill it with. I used to chip away at paragraphs when I was supposed to be working, during the quiet moments or the hours I simply couldn’t face doing that report. It was irresponsible and dishonest and it’s a miracle I didn’t get caught. These days I’ll vacuum the lounge. Well, when you have four kids and you had rice the previous evening, it’s the only way to stop things growing on the carpet.

The long and the short of it is that we’ve had a bunch of stuff appearing on YouTube over the last few months and most of it hasn’t even got a mention. If I were of a mind to do so, I’d give each video its own separate entry, the way I used to. But I have another book to start and in any case we’re about to get crazy with series 11. So a two-part digest – with a couple of paragraphs’ commentary for each video – is all you get, and will probably make for a better piece as a result.

If you subscribe to the smallerpictures YouTube channel you’ll have seen these already – the same applies if you’re following me on Facebook. If you’re not doing either, may I take this opportunity to politely extend an invitation? We could chat and everything.

In the meantime:

1. March: The Doctor’s Wife, Revisited

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy turned forty this year. We’re the same age, although we don’t share a birthday. Everyone has their own favourite iteration of Douglas Adams’ magnum opus, although no one likes the film very much; even two famous Bills (Nighy and Bailey) and the great Alan Rickman weren’t enough to save it from desperate mediocrity. But the TV series is still quite wonderful, as I found out when I watched it again recently with the kids. Joshua has this year finished the quintet and has even attempted to read And Another Thing, the Eoin Colfer-penned follow-up that nobody asked for and comparatively few people enjoyed.

Somewhere along the line I thought it would be fun to drop Eddie, the ship’s computer, into ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ as a replacement for House. I know I didn’t come up with the idea for this all by myself. It may or may not have been one of those group posts where I asked people for help, which is what happens when I get stuck. I genuinely can’t remember. Sadly the end result is a disaster. It’s clunky and disjointed and Eddie’s dialogue really doesn’t work; it feels enjambed, like the worst bits of Moffat’s dialogue. The bit where Amy is kneeling over Rory’s corpse and the computer is singing? Yeuch. Horrible. What the hell was I thinking? It’s worse than the Star Wars Holiday Special; I ought to pulp it from existence.

The one saving grace is Talkie Toaster. That kind of works. The rest is crap. It’s here for curation purposes only. You’ve been warned. Don’t watch it. Move on. Scroll. C’mon, scroll, dammit.

 

2. April: Love and Monsters, reversed

For the most part, backwards videos are a quick fix: they come about when I have a pressing need to do something but comparatively little time. You just run the score free dialogue track through semi-decent audio editing software and then sync it with the muted video, and then cut and paste as you see fit. You don’t even have to worry about copyright infringement, providing you’re using rights-free background music, and there’s plenty of that hanging around.

Every time I do a backwards video someone brings up the bloody Twin Peaks thing, and so on this occasion I set out to do something that was as David Lynch as…well all right, it’s not really David Lynch, but it’s a good deal more David Lynch than some of my other stuff. This isn’t an isolated scene, more a carefully arranged sequence (yes, sometimes there is actually some thought involved in these things) that spans the entire episode, from the opening Scooby Doo reference to Elton’s closing monologue. The end result is, I hope, a little bit spooky – or at least weird; weird is acceptable middle ground. I adore ‘Love And Monsters’, which gets trashed for all the wrong reasons, but various people who didn’t like it have cited this as an improvement, so I guess that’s a win.

 

3. May: Peppa Pig Still Can’t Whistle

We don’t watch Peppa Pig in our house. It’s not a protest or anything. We just can’t get Channel 5. In any case, iPlayer keeps everyone busy and I can do without accidentally running into the ridiculous travesty that is Thomas The Tank Engine. But even I couldn’t avoid this, which went all over BuzzFeed (no, I’m not linking; they don’t need the traffic) – the Peppa episode that has Peppa grousing that she can’t whistle, before hanging up on Suzie (who can) in spectacular style. The clip went viral, and the animated GIFs were used as a reaction for just about everything. My initial thoughts were to have Peppa call the Eleventh Doctor, but as it turns out this conversation with Donna (actually two, if you look carefully) from the 2008 Sontaran episodes fitted perfectly. Oink.

 

4. June: Fraggle Rock

This is exactly what it says on the tin. I hadn’t done an intro sequence for what felt like ages, and when someone posted the opening credits to Jim Henson’s 1980s classic on Facebook I noticed that an awful lot of it consisted of Gobo running down up and down corridors. Something clicked, and the rest was easy. Not to blow my own air horn too much, but I have to say I’m quite proud of this one.

 

Part two is available here.

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Rogue One: Kind of a Star Wars story

It’s not exactly cheery, is it?

I mean, it was never going to be. If you want to visit the first paragraph of that iconic title crawl and turn it into a movie, you immediately run into a problem. If the Rebels striking from a hidden base have managed to steal the plans for the Death Star, how come we never hear from them again? Why does the the entire revolution lie in the hands of a drippy farm boy, a cynical mercenary and a sexually frustrated royal? Tangentially, why is everyone so goddamned happy at the end of Episode IV when they’ve lost about thirty-six pilots on that trench run?

The solution is simple. You give the job to someone who takes it upon themselves to disappear from the limelight for a good while (which is what they did in Dark Forces) or you kill off everyone involved, which is exactly what happens in Rogue One. Specifically, you give it to a young woman with a ‘troubled’ past and family connections, stick her with a bunch of misfits and ‘a droid with more personality than any of the human characters’ (quoth Honest Trailers) and then you send them marching off to their deaths. Give them a few headline-generating filming locations to take in on the way. Night raid on craggy Imperial outpost? Check. Forests? Check. Desert world? Flights to Jordan already booked. And somewhere, in a bar on Mos Eisley, a retconned-out-of-existence Kyle Katarn is weeping into his Jawa Juice.

It looks spectacular, as one would expect. But perhaps the best thing we could say about it is that for the most part it doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars story – and that’s a compliment. The tropes are all present and correct, of course. K-2SO even says “I have a bad feeling about this” when he’s entering an elevator, although it’s almost disappointing when said elevator doesn’t subsequently cut him in half. But that’s where it stops. If the biggest crime committed by The Force Awakens was its scene-by-scene homage to Episode IV – a film that mirrors its predecessor so closely can never be a total success – Rogue One manages to take the Star Wars universe into different territory without ever quite abandoning the galaxy far, far away. This is a darker, grittier piece with a greater degree of moral ambiguity. Characters face death and find there is no last-minute reprieve or conveniently placed Wookiee. Instead there is a lot of self-sacrifice and that scene on a beach that basically rips off Deep Impact. I hear whispers of an alternative ending, perhaps never shot, in which Jyn and Cassian survived: perhaps a better homage would have been a dramatic freeze frame, fading to sepia, the almost-lovers locked in time, somehow cheating death.

It might have been a decent way to conclude the movie, because then we wouldn’t have had to put up with this.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the uncanny valley, but I can’t help feeling that this particular traversal was a colossal waste of time. Essentially it still looks fake. It’s like particularly good botox – wrinkle-free, but you can still tell. It’s not as bad as Jeff Daniels in Tron Legacy, but it’s close. And the moment it happens is worse than looking at a photo. It’s like that bit in Spaceballs where the effeminate commander yells “You’ve captured their stunt doubles!”. Would it have killed Ingvild Deila to keep her back to the camera? “And when I turned round…”

More successful – somewhat – is the resurrected Grand Moff Tarkin, played this time by Guy Henry, who (Rosie Marcel aside) is just about the best thing in Holby City, whether he’s being fatherly with Arthur Digby or getting punched in the face by Ric Griffin. He still looks fake, but it’s a believable kind of fake, somehow. What does this say about my preoccupation with women’s looks? Put another way, why can I accept a CG Peter Cushing, but not a Carrie Fisher? And at the opposite end of the spectrum I’m still annoyed that in the process of revisiting the First Doctor for the Christmas special they’ve cast an actor who is absolutely nothing like him, so perhaps it’s impossible to make me happy.

The film ends – you will know this, and if you haven’t I’m about to ruin it – literally minutes before A New Hope begins, with Princess Leia making a run for it with the stolen plans, the Empire in hot pursuit. Or perhaps it doesn’t. Perhaps there’s room for a whole slew of adventures in between, in which Leia picks up the two droids, meets Han Solo, bears his child and then has her memory wiped. If this were Doctor Who, that’d be what happens. There is a school of thought that suggests, for example, that the Ninth Doctor went off and travelled on his own for years in the five seconds that it takes Mickey and Rose to cross the car park before the TARDIS rematerialises and the Doctor asks “By the way, did I mention that it also travels in time?”. It is a silly theory, but you could shoehorn it if you really wanted.

All headcanon aside, the sense of familiarity that hits you in those final minutes is a blatant attempt at crowd-pleasing, just the same as the seeds for Episode IV were sown in the montage that closed Revenge Of The Sith. That one had twin suns on Tattoine, brooding stares from Darth Vader, and a partially constructed Death Star. Rogue One tries so hard to outdo this it comes across as posturing. It’s not necessarily bad posturing, particularly as it’s so much fun to watch Vader striding through the Alliance command ship, mercilessly throwing Rebel troops against the ceiling like someone playing Boom Blox on the Wii. But it’s really not very cheery, K-2SO’s quibbling aside. It’s jolly good, all told, but there must be a way to make it a little more fun.

And then it hit me. You add the Red Dwarf theme.

There, that’s much better.

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I am the remaster, and you will obey me (part two)

Last week we were talking about old videos that I’d been re-doing. If you haven’t read part one, you can do so here.

Today, set a course for deep space, three million years in the future…

2. The Tenth Doctor Meets Holly

This was the only one of my videos to ever feature in The Daily Mirror. I am still grateful to Danny Walker for picking it up; the effect on traffic was pretty substantial. It’s the one that tends to get the lion’s share of the comments coming in, although they’re not all good. I had a delicious argument with a troll a while back who argued that there was no good British sci-fi. Americans, he contested, had Star Wars and Star Trek and Philip K. Dick. “You guys do fantasy great,” he conceded, but that was it.

“You don’t have Star Wars,” I told him. “It was written and produced by an American and some of the leads are American, but a significant chunk of the cast are British (the ones who can act, anyway) and an awful lot of it was filmed here with British crews.” I then gave him a list of seminal English sci-fi writers and casually insulted him: this was the point at which the troll realised he was being trolled back, whereupon he promptly vanished.

Well, honestly. You have to keep an eye on things. I have a self-imposed ‘never apologise, never explain’ rule to my Metro and Doctor Who Companion work, but when it comes to YouTube, I’m there like a rocket when the abuse comes in. Nine times out of ten you’re more intelligent than the person insulting you, and it can be fun running rings around them, as I did with Mr “Fuck you, I hate you more than my slow phone” last month. I know it’s juvenile. And I know you’re not supposed to feed the troll hater. But there’s a time and a place. If you were running a stand at a convention and someone came up and started being rude to you, you wouldn’t ignore them, you’d tell them to sling their hook. This is a bit like that.

But this video…eesh. The negative comments on this bugged me, because they were right. In its original form, it was far too long. In my quest to include more or less every usable clip I shoehorned in a lot of stuff that didn’t need to be there. For example, there’s a bit where the Doctor and Rose and Mickey are discussing the concept of parallel universes, so I included some speculation from Holly about Ringo Starr (from a series 2 episode called, astonishingly, ‘Parallel Universe’). It wasn’t funny. But in it went. There was an exchange with Harriet Jones that didn’t work. In it went. The ending didn’t work. The opening scene with Tennant works at its beginning and then doesn’t.

“Some of these,” said one user, “I felt were misjudged and kind of fell flat but the ones that were good, were really good.” Others were less kind: “A very nice idea,” somone said, “but very poorly executed”. The most scathing criticism came from Red Whovian, who (despite having a silly name) pointed out that “You’ve got to do more than just insert Holly in between Dr Who clips; a good editor can make the dialogue seem like it’s properly interacting.”

You can imagine at the time that this bugged me tremendously. It’s not much fun when someone takes the trouble to unceremoniously dump on this labour of love that took you hours and for which you didn’t get paid, and which cost them nothing to see. “Take their comments,” suggested a friend, “and look at them constructively. Ask yourself whether they might have a point about any of it. If they don’t, you don’t need to worry.”

When it came to look at this again, less was more. It was a lesson I’d already learned and put into practice when assembling other similar videos. I fixed the ambient sound and managed to re-crop some of the dialogue so that a couple of lines that were previously missing their very beginning (which is like, I don’t know, an MP4 circumcision) were now fully intact. But the most important thing was what was missing: lines were moved from one scene to another (Holly’s “Explain this” exchange now makes a modicum of sense), and whole exchanges were lost. The ending was re-jigged. Peter Jackson’s approach to ‘definitive cuts’ of Lord of the Rings was to add footage he had to remove from the theatrical version. When Ridley Scott went back to Blade Runner, it was all about what he wanted to remove. You can guess which I prefer.

It’s not perfect – still, it is, I hope, something of an improvement. Unless you’re watching on a slow phone, of course. But I can’t do everything.

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Let’s do the time loop again

There’s a bit about halfway through ‘The Claws of Axos’ when Jo Grant and the Doctor are trying to escape from an alien spacecraft, and Jo is very close to losing it. In order to focus her, the Doctor is yelling multiplication sums in her ear, while Katy Manning (who really doesn’t have much else to do in this story) is screaming “I CAN’T! I CAN’T!”. It was great, largely because I’ve been in maths lessons just like it.

As I go to press it’s about 10 pm (GMT) on Groundhog Day, and Punxatawney Phil has predicted another six weeks of winter. That’s fine. His prediction rate levels out about 39%, of course (higher than the Met Office) but even if we’re destined to be surrounded by snow, I don’t really mind. Being English perhaps invalidates my opinion, of course, but I will never truly understand this particular quaint tradition. It’s one thing being afraid of your own shadow, but when we have to be afraid of a groundhog’s then I can’t help but wonder at the state of the world.

I didn’t watch the Bill Murray. I’ve seen it, more than once. I have wondered, many times, what I’d do if stuck in a similar loop. Probably finish that novel, except that presumably hard drives don’t survive the loop, and are ceremonially wiped at the end of each day. So, too, Phil’s body clock and physical state is reset at the beginning of each twenty-four hour period, so I couldn’t even write something and then save it to a Flash drive before swallowing it for safekeeping. Anomalously, throughout all of this the synaptic nerves in his brain were left absolutely intact, allowing the accumulation of knowledge, and suggesting perhaps that the loop was endured on a metaphysical, rather than purely scientific level. Groundhog Day may be the strongest cinematic argument we have for the existence of the soul, outside What Dreams May Come, which no one talks about, largely because it’s crap.

But I was watching ‘The Claws of Axos’ last week and the end of the final episode – in which the Doctor traps the Axons in a time loop – really did strike me as having great potential. If you’re going to have a scene that talks about a time loop, particularly in such a roundabout way, then it’s a joke waiting to happen. Red Dwarf got there first, of course, with a scene that has been done to death, but here it is for posterity.

“Most people seem to remember the RD scene for: ‘So what is it?’, ‘I’ve never seen one before – no-one has’, ‘I think we’ve encountered the middle of this conversation’ and ‘somebody punch him out’,” said Gareth. “And then say these in a random order.” It’s true; this one is up there with the Knights who say ‘Ni!’ for oft-quoted tediousness. (If you must quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail at parties, do Tim the Enchanter. It’s funnier, and if you get the inflection right you’ll have them rolling all over the kitchen.)

My initial thoughts were to try and emulate the scene from ‘White Hole’ by chopping and pasting it around so that the middle of the scene happened at the end, with the ending happening in between, and then random repetitions. It was a mess. It’s very hard to do that in a way that makes sense. So I abandoned that and had the Brigadier stuttering ‘T-t-t-time loop’ like Damien at the beginning of that godawful cover of the Rocky Horror song. It was ridiculous, and only when I could feel Nicholas Courtney turning over in his grave (presumably after being prepped for nano-conversion) did I have a rethink.

All of which led to the video you saw at the top. It took me an hour. It then took me another half hour after I showed a rough cut to Gareth and he suggested taking out some of the random silliness in the second half and focussing on the time loop. At some point I may show you that rough cut, but today is not that day. There’s always tomorrow.

That’s assuming, of course, that tomorrow comes at all…

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The Tenth Doctor Meets Holly

Ah, Red Dwarf.

When I was growing up in the early 1990s, we didn’t have Doctor Who. A combination of poor writing, questionable casting choices, non-existent marketing and general apathy from the BBC had killed it stone dead. They didn’t even repeat it. We had to make do with Mandy from Eastenders chasing away the Rani. Instead, we got our science fiction kicks from four young(ish) men and a senile computer travelling through deep space. One of the travellers was dead, one had evolved from cats, and one had ‘a head shaped like a gelatinous ice cube’. There were nob gags and slapstick opportunities galore, but much of the humour derived from the sophistication offered by the outer space setting. Time travel was used frequently, along with parallel worlds, Asimov’s laws of robotics and astrophysics: in the climax of one episode, they play pool with planets to fix a temporal anomaly.

Everyone has varying opinions about Red Dwarf, of course, and this is mine: it’s ebbed and flowed and fallen down the pan and then crawled up from the abyss, and (while we’re doing cliché) the apple fell far from the tree but didn’t fall into the road, and is now sitting at the bottom of the trunk waiting for someone to make it into a pie. Which is another way of saying that the early episodes take a while to really gather steam but it’s in the second series that things really start to take off. Fast forward a couple of years, to Red Dwarf IV and V, and you reach the series I watched when I first discovered the show, and its arguable creative peak – ‘White Hole’ and ‘Back To Reality’ are as clever and inventive as they come, and ‘The Inquisitor’ has some wonderful interaction between Charles and Llewellyn, as evidenced by a scene in which Lister uses his doppleganger’s severed hand to open a security door:

Kryten: Logically there is only one way you could possibly have done that. I feel quite nauseous. Tell me. Where is it?

Lister: Where’s what?

Kryten: Oh, sir! You’ve got it in your jacket!

Series six is where the rot starts to set in, with a series of repeated gags and monster-of-the-week scenarios that varied in quality (although the finale, in which the crew encounter their hedonistic future selves, attained new levels of darkness, and was particularly memorable for it). By Red Dwarf VII the rot was seemingly terminal, thanks to the departure of Rimmer, the arrival of Chloe Annett (who I like, but she just doesn’t fit) and the transformation of Kryten into the show’s antagonist. His personality rendered jealous by Lister’s affection for Kochanski, the mechanoid is downright embarrassing to watch, particularly in ‘Duct Soup’, and his redemption arrived seemingly too late to save the show. But then in Red Dwarf VIII – a series that’s far better than it’s ever given credit for – Barrie returns, and while it’s not Red Dwarf as we remember it, that doesn’t mean it isn’t funny. By the time Red Dwarf X rolled around, the show seemed to have come full circle, and was back to four men in a spacecraft telling jokes, which worked nicely.

Sandwiched between these two is Back To Earth, of course, but we don’t talk about Back To Earth.

This whole thing spun out of a single joke. I’d always remembered the scene in ‘Queeg’ – the best Holly episode by a long shot – where the hapless computer forgets to give the crew vital information that nearly ends in disaster. Off the back of this, I watched ‘Voyage of the Damned’ at the tail end of last year with Thomas, and wondered what would happen if Holly were to appear on the screen in the Titanic shortly before the explosion that starts the chain of events that make up the rest of the episode –

Holly: Hold on. I’ve forgotten what I was gonna say now.

[Massive explosion, ship rocks from side to side, passengers scattered among debris and twisted metal]

Holly: That’s it. Yeah. A meteor is about to hit the ship. I knew it’d come back to me.

You can sort of guess the rest.

This was a two-prong process. Prong number one: I went through scripts for series I, II, VII and VIII – any episodes that feature Norman Lovett’s original and best rendition of Holly (sorry, Hattie, you were good, but Norman was better). I pulled out any dialogue that was potentially usable – less than you might think, given that much of it is delivered off screen. Then I went through Tennant’s episodes to find appropriate footage that more or less matched, and a rough shape (and even a narrative arc of sorts) grew out of a couple of evenings’ work. I’d initially thought of using Doctors Ten and Eleven, but found that there was more than enough Tennant to be going along with, which is why you don’t see Holly comforting Matt Smith as he weeps over Amy’s grave.

My one regret is that I couldn’t get the “Everybody’s dead, Dave” scene to work. It would have been perfect for the website obituary montage in ‘The Waters of Mars’ – indeed, Emily and I still recite it aloud whenever we’re forced to endure the episode (or even think about it). But it just didn’t hang together, largely because the Red Dwarf dialogue is accompanied by score. You win some, you lose some. There’s enough here to be going along with – although if the rumours about Lovett mending broken bridges with Doug Naylor are true, we could be looking at his return for the next series. Which means, of course, that I’ll have to do another edition of this. Curiously I’m rather looking forward to the prospect.

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God is in the detail (iv)

There are – horrors! – only three more days until the Doctor is reunited with Kevin Bacon Clara Oswin and they get to fly around the universe for a bit.

Well, three days for you lot, anyway. I have to wait until next week and we’re back from our Easter break, during which time I will probably be prevented from watching Doctor Who on the grounds that my mother-in-law doesn’t care for it and their internet signal really doesn’t allow that much broadband hogging for private viewing on the iPlayer. No matter. I can stay spoiler-free (it will be a good excuse to curb my Guardian website addiction), at least for a couple of days.

Readers who were around last autumn will recall a series of posts I did during series seven about SEEMINGLY UNIMPORTANT THINGS THAT WILL TURN OUT TO BE HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT. Of course, none of them are. It’s just that Moffat’s renowned for giving us puzzles to solve – where Davies would just drop in as many references as he could, with as much subtlety as River Song’s attempts at seduction, Moffat prefers to tease his audience. There was the whole Other Doctor Sightings list throughout series five, and then the question of the Doctor’s apparent assassination that wasn’t – and even now he’s still giving out press releases saying that Sherlock cheated death because “there’s a clue that everyone’s missed”.

At the time I realised my attitude could bend in two directions: I could go on and on about how irritating this is, or I could get in on the act. If you want to play catch-up, have a look here:

‘Asylum of the Daleks’ / ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’

‘A Town Called Mercy’

‘The Power of Three’

There is no entry for ‘The Angels Take Manhattan’ because as an ending it’s fairly unambiguous. The same may not be said, of course, for ‘The Snowmen’, which kickstarts the new Mystery of the Series, namely who on earth is Clara Oswin?

So I went back through ‘The Snowmen’ this week and it turns out that there are, in fact, several OBVIOUS CLUES which will be considered below.

First: Madame Vastra’s conservatory.

The Snowmen_0.26.04.16

Of course, in this still shot it looks like Vastra is using the ‘shhing’ technique that the Doctor used on Craig in ‘Closing Time’. But don’t think about that. Look at the flowers. They’re purple, right? And purple is an obvious gay colour, right? And Madame Vastra’s a lesbian, right? And Clara Oswin mentioned, in ‘Asylum’, “going through a phase”. This is a clear indication that she’s a regenerated version of Jenny, the wife of the Lizard Woman from the Dawn of Time.

But wait! It may not be that simple. Because look at this.

The Snowmen_0.07.57.17

Notice the mole on Jenny’s cheek. And then remember this.

Andy

ANDY: How long did it take you to suss him out, then?

RIMMER: Ahh, I had him sussed right from the beginning.

ANDY: Really? You found the Captain’s message right away?!

RIMMER: [Taken aback] What Captain’s message?

ANDY: The one that’s hidden in the microdot in the ‘i’ in Rimmer’s swimming certificate. Well, that’s the clue, isn’t it? Rimmer having a swimming certificate and not being able to swim!

KRYTEN: That’s a clue?!

ANDY: It’s a blatant clue, isn’t it?

RIMMER: A blatant clue to what?

ANDY: A blatant clue to the truth behind Rimmer.

RIMMER: What truth?

ANDY: The truth to why he is such an insufferable prat.

Microdots. Moles. Jenny’s hiding something.

Maybe she’s hiding the fact that sailors and Jewish girls will figure in the next series.

The Snowmen_0.21.13.21

If you haven’t seen Schindler’s List this one isn’t may have gone over your head, but the use of red here mirrors Spielberg’s epic and gives a clear indication that the Eleventh Doctor is off to finally get Hitler out of that cupboard. And then appear in an off-Broadway version of South Pacific. (Red also figures prominently in The Sixth Sense, which features a cupboard.)

But it all makes sense when you look at the Latimers’ front room.

The Snowmen_0.20.25.10

Never mind the obvious borrowing of a name that has form in New Who. You’re thinking I’m going to talk about the red on the fireplace, aren’t you? Wrong. Look to your left, at the leopard coat on the chair. This is a clear and unambiguous reference to the imminent return of the Cheetah People from ‘Survival’, and Clara’s eventual unmasking as one of their number. So now you know.

Lastly, look at Clara’s earring.

The Snowmen_0.42.27.18

It’s (roughly) circular, and an unbroken circle continues forever, which is how long Moffat’s planning on padding out this mystery. Or so it will seem.

Prove me wrong. I dare you!

Categories: God is in the Detail, New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: ‘A Town Called Mercy’

Picture the scene. It’s October 1993, and we’re in the middle of the first run of Red Dwarf VI. Already this is a show that’s past its prime; series IV and V have been wondrous, and VI is intermittently hysterical, but the cracks are already beginning to show. It’s still a few years before Chloe Annett springs forth from her parallel universe, bringing a wealth of “Does my bum look big in this?” angst with her, and in the meantime everyone is talking about an episode called ‘Gunmen of the Apocalypse’, in which the crew get chucked into a western.

For one reason or another, this is an episode that I don’t see: I am otherwise engaged and the video recorder is not working. It’s a pity, everyone tells me; it was hysterical, and the scene in the saloon was supposedly fantastic. ‘Gunmen’ goes on to win an Emmy, but it will be the summer of 1994 before I manage to catch a repeat. And when I do, I’m confused as to what all the fuss was about. It’s funny, in places, but it’s gimmick TV: sci-fi western with Cassandra’s dad from Only Fools and Horses, containing little in the way of decent gags, and a lot of general silliness as a substitute for an actual plot. It was as if Grant and Naylor thought Red Dwarf in the wild west would be enough, and while there are amusing moments the whole is infinitely less than the sum of its parts.

And so to ‘A Town Called Mercy’, Saturday night’s Who, and an episode that can best be described (as diplomatically as possible) as irredeemable shit. Not just substandard, or patchy, but dull, tedious shit. Toby Whithouse’s Who output has been of variable quality, ranging from the enjoyable dross of ‘School Reunion’ to the forgettable vagaries of ‘The Vampires of Venice’, but I’d thought – with ‘The God Complex’, which is in my top five post-revival stories – that he’d finally hit his stride. And then we get this: a collection of clichés by someone who admits that he’s never written a western before and thus felt it appropriate to drop in as much in the way of by-the-numbers scenes as possible. All the usual suspects are here – the sudden silence when the trio enters the saloon, the young man apparently destined towards a path of violence, the population sign with numbers crossed out, and the gleeful undertaker who’s never short of business. All that was missing was a whore with a heart of gold propping up the tavern bar, and a bunch of Mexicans firing their guns in the air.

Doctor Who has done westerns before, of course, even if Whithouse hasn’t. The First Doctor went there in 1966, but that was back in the cardboard set days. On this occasion he gets to go to Almeria, doubling for the town of Mercy. The Doctor eagerly strides into the local watering hole, and of course you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. The Doctor’s reaction is to adopt a third-rate Western drawl and order tea – “the strong stuff…and leave the bag in”.

Oh, that Doctor. Comedy gold.

This is not clever. Nor it is funny. When Rimmer walked into the bar in ‘Gunmen’ and asked for a dry white wine and Perrier, that was funny. This was gratuitously stupid. It more or less sums up Smith’s performance, which is wildly schizophrenic in a manner not seen since ‘The Twin Dilemma’: he’s either playing a dark and serious Doctor overwhelmed by moral choices and a sense of brooding anger (more on that in a moment) or a comedy Doctor who consistently fails to amuse. The script doesn’t help, but even when given lines that could have raised a chuckle Smith just isn’t trying very hard this week, assuming instead that the setting will be enough, when it frankly isn’t.

“Yeah, it was this big.”

“VOTAN!”

Smith may be second-rate, but he at least gets something to do, which is more than may be said for Gillan and Darvill – both abandoned, for the most part, to the sidelines. Rory’s job is to argue with his wife about ethical dilemmas and to run away a bit (essentially he’s Shaggy with brains). Meanwhile, Amy gets to be the voice of reason and conscience, and demonstrate that she really doesn’t know how to fire a gun.

It’s as if ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ never happened. It is Amy who is left to acquaint herself with Kahler-Jex, a ‘doctor’ whose craft has ‘crash-landed’, allowing him to ingratiate himself within the community and develop something of a reputation as a scientist and miracle worker amongst a community anxious to protect him from the mysterious Gunslinger. Amy’s determination to help Jex is fuelled by what is possibly the worst dialogue exchange since ‘Doomsday’, just after she drops a blanket round his shoulders:

Jex: You’re a mother, aren’t you?

Amy: How did you know?

Jex: There’s kindness in your eyes. And sadness. And ferocity too.

Seriously, no one talks like this. Not in westerns. Not in prime time drama. Not even in Bonekickers. Amy asks Jex if he’s a father himself, to which the not-so-cryptic response is “In a way, I suppose I am”, which makes the rest of the episode – including its denouement – painfully obvious.

Kahler-Jex, formerly of Gosford Park

While all this is going on, the Doctor is out in the desert on a horse with two names – ‘Joshua’ turns out in fact to be called ‘Susan’, and we are told that “he wants you to respect his life choices”. This is the sort of clunkiness I thought we’d left behind when Davies finished his run – I’m all for jokes like this when they’re woven into the fabric with some sort of coherence, but this sticks out as an Obvious Statement like a sore thumb. We learn all this because the Doctor can speak horse. Well, of course he can. This is crying out for a tumblr page called Doctor Wholittle. (And if it gets made, I get dibs on the naming rights.)*

Oh, I was rolling around in my seat when he said “I wear a Stetson now”. It was even better than the Fourth Doctor telling K-9 to shut up. Unrivalled genius. Anyway, all this comedy is just a precursor to the moment where the Doctor gets to clamber on top of an enormous Kinder Surprise.

(Inside: a little plastic spaceship, in two parts, with a set of self-destruct stickers, and a website where you have to register your email address if you want to deactivate the mechanism.)

I’m skipping all over the place here. I haven’t yet mentioned Isaac, who is the gruff-but-decent Sheriff who you know won’t make it to the final reel, played with competence by Ben Browder, of Farscape and Stargate SG-1.

Isaac. A man of honour and integrity. Dead before the halfway mark.

Also present: Biggs Darklighter, no less, playing Abraham the undertaker.

“No, THAT’S NOT HOW THEY DO PANTS!”

The Gunslinger himself is your standard cyborg fare, with a stiff walk, a big gun, a voice box Stephen Hawking would kill for and a passing resemblance to Peter Weller, which can’t have been a coincidence.

“Stay out of trouble.”

He also has Terminator Vision, albeit with a touch of Predator about it.

But all this is basically leading up to the Big Scene where Amy shouts at the Doctor. A future YouTube favourite, this epitomises what’s happening between Pond and Doctor in this series: Moffat’s having Amy and the Doctor explore as many facets of their relationship as possible just before the final separation (terminal or not) in a couple of weeks’ time. J.K. Rowling did basically the same thing in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince with Harry and Dumbledore – as the two moved from father / son closeness through a series of reprimands, co-conspiracy and then outright anger, finishing as more or less equals. Having them go through the emotional wringer more or less signposted the inevitable ending of the book, and in the case of Doctor Who it’s clear that in series seven, one of the dominant themes is What Amy Really Means To The Doctor.

The other theme, of course, is darkness – the Doctor’s mercy or lack thereof being the prime example. The fugitive Jex is a Nazi war criminal trying to atone for his ‘sins’, except, as the Doctor says, “You don’t get to choose”. His decision to prioritise the bloodlust of the victim over the rights of the criminal edge the episode into social commentary area, but ‘A Town Called Mercy’ is too short to really make this work, and the result instead comes across rather like ‘Boom Town’ – in which the Doctor faced a similar ethical dilemma, and which featured dialogue of similar quality.

Critics have said this is “out of character”, but I think that’s kind of the point.

“This is what happens,” Amy tells the Doctor as he brandishes a firearm, “when you travel alone for too long”. And indeed, we’ve just found out that the Doctor is now 1200, a decision that was presumably made to allow for bucketloads of Big Finish material (although, as Gareth points out, they’ve managed to squeeze in dozens of Fifth Doctor / Peri stories between ‘Planet of Fire’ and ‘The Caves of Androzani’, suggesting that “this sort of thing doesn’t worry them”). Anyway, this new revelation about the Doctor’s age leads to a lengthy deleted scene in which the people of Mercy decide to give him the bumps.

There’s a bit of squabbling outside the jail, where the angry mob arrives to take Jex out of town to leave him for the Gunslinger to discover. The Doctor’s having none of it, of course. And the next time we see him, he’s in the middle of the square, and it’s High Noon, and as the Gunslinger appears it’s apparent that the Doctor has come up with A Clever Idea. We are spared the A-Team style montage of assembly or preparation, and we have to work out what’s going on at the same time as the Gunslinger. I’m guessing that behind the scenes, the conversation went a little like this.

Doctor: Right. Here’s the plan, folks. First of all, I want some black marker pens. And some Jammie Dodgers, but they can wait. Pens first. Then I want you to sit and copy out the design on the side of Jeks’ head. Paint it on some of the townsfolk. It’ll confuse the cyborg and he won’t know where to shoot.

Rory: Hang on, you’re ripping off The Three Amigos?

Doctor: What?

Rory: [produces iPhone, finds this video]

Doctor: Interesting soundtrack.

Rory: Sorry, it’s the only version I could find.

Doctor: Anyway. Fair point, but we don’t have time to debate originality. Now. Volunteers to be the bait.

Amy: [hand in the air] I nominate Rory.

Rory: Oh, thanks.

Doctor: Good work, Ponds. Look at it this way, Rory, the merchandising opportunities are limitless. We can do two sets of everyone in the town, with and without splodges. Right, next: I want all the townspeople to hide in the church.

Amy: Hold on a sec, isn’t that a rather obvious place to look? I mean, wouldn’t it be better to find a cellar somewhere? I’m sure the town’s full of them.

Doctor: No, because that’s exactly what he’ll be expecting. Instead, I want you all to wait in the church and be impossibly quiet so he can’t hear you. Oh, and put some hymn books and bibles right on the edge of the seats. And make sure you have the children sitting there. It’ll induce some dramatic tension.

“It’s no use; I’ve been scrubbing for three hours and it still won’t come off.”

It all ends in a hurried moment of crushingly obvious self-sacrifice, and then a scene in which the Gunslinger stands alone on a hill in the distance, playing with a shiny badge. Oh, and a fake gunfight between the Doctor and the Kid Who Must Avoid The Road To Violence, in another Worst Moment Ever.

Lame. Lame. Lame.

The Protector of Mercy. Alone, but never – well, yes, alone.

Seriously, Toby, how could you do this to us? I was able to endure this episode only under the influence of red wine, and that’s really not a good place for Doctor Who to be. I am assuming that series seven is following the Star Trek formula, in that the odd numbered instalments have been dull (by that rationale ‘The Power of Three’ should be a riot). The production values on this were fairly impressive, and with the right story and script, it could have been great. As it stands, it was hurried in all the wrong places and laboured in all the wrong places, with second-rate performances of third-rate dialogue, inadequate characterisation, an unsatisfactory conclusion…really, as Gareth pointed out, the only thing that wasn’t totally one-dimensional was the scenery. You couldn’t view it as a missed opportunity, or a story with potential. It was just a mess. It was forty minutes of my life that I’m never going to get back – and that, to be honest, frightens me more than anything that Moffat has managed to do since he took over the show.

* As it turns out, it already exists. Just goes to show great minds think alike.

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Pyramids of Sodor

—-

Thomas the Tank Engine, or Thomas and Friends as we must now call it, is banned in my house. I should clarify: it is banned in its current form, which is a horrible, sticky mess. If I was going to be puritanical about this I could say that the rot started to set in after the departure of Ringo Starr at the end of the second series, although I profess to a certain admiration for the vocal talents of Michael Angelis. Besides, saying that you only like the first two series simply makes you sound like one of those people who think that Pink Floyd were never as good after Syd Barrett was given his cards. It isn’t wrong, but we just don’t do it.

In truth the first four or five series are quite good. It’s only in the sixth series, which hosts the introduction of a whole new set of characters (a trend that would continue for some years to come, to the extent that on the rare occasions I watch it nowadays I have NO IDEA AT ALL WHO ANY OF THESE ENGINES ARE), that things start to unravel. By the time of the eighth series, which features some drastic character deconstruction for Edward (the equivalent of what they did to Kryten in Red Dwarf VII), I’d stopped watching. Then they made the mouths move. Then they switched to full CGI and ditched the models. Then – oh, horror of horrors – they brought in different voice actors. These days it is an abomination, a holy nightmare, and the apple has fallen very far from the tree, then rolled across the road and down the same embankment that Gordon encountered at the end of ‘Off The Rails’.

But here’s the funny thing – and here’s where I’m going to borrow shamelessly from an old diary entry I wrote years ago – even in those earlier series, it’s abundantly obvious that Sodor’s railway service is appalling. It’s unreliable and full of whiny self-important engines with tremendous egos. They’re constantly breaking down and having accidents. There were always problems with the railway, and the odd accident, but unless I’m remembering it wrong I’m sure that in the original books the line ran fairly smoothly, largely because of Sir Topham Hatt’s authoritarian stance. “Engines on my railway,” he sternly explained to James, Gordon and Henry (who were on strike), “do as they are told”. This was broadcast on ITV in the days when the spirit of the miner’s unions was slowly being crushed, and even though Awdry had written it forty years previously, the Thatcherite overtones – and, indeed, the Conservative nature of the programme in general – were pretty transparent. There’s a reason that only one of the engines is painted red.

These days, however, there’s less industrial action and more calamity on the line. Part of this, I’m sure, is finance-related. The development of new technology, coupled with a budget that gradually crept up as revenue crept in, means that the technical team can do shedloads (engine shedloads?) of new stunts that they didn’t dare attempt in the earlier series. In 1984 the best you’d get was Gordon lifting very slightly off the rails and into an inch-deep pool of water that was supposed to be a ditch. These days you get engines that go flying off cliffs and into pools of lava (all right, coloured treacle), followed by trucks that explode. They have rock falls and grounded helicopters and goodness knows what else.

Consider this:

Harvey to the Rescue
Some trucks drag Percy down a hill and cause a derailment at Bulgy’s Bridge which blocks the road.

No Sleep for Cranky
Cranky the crane gets so annoyed with Bill & Ben’s constant chatter that he accidentally knocks over a shed, blocking the line.

A Bad Day for Harold the Helicopter
Harold has a chance to prove himself when a broken signal means Percy cannot get through with the mail, and whilst the workmen hastily try to repair it, the mail bags are loaded into Harold’s harness. He is feeling so clever that he decides to take them all at once, but the weight is far too much for him to handle. The mailbags get stuck in a tree and Harold finds himself diving nose-first into a haystack.

The Fogman
A landslide crushes the foghorn, so there is no way to warn the engines of the fallen rocks hidden in the fog. Thomas unfortunately hits the rocks and soon Cyril the fogman arrives to help warn engines he has been derailed.

Jack Jumps In
Jack the front loader ignores the warnings of the other quarry engines, and as a result, he tips over on the road and slides down the hill on his side in a pile of sand.

The World’s Strongest Engine
Diesel pulls so hard on a truck that the coupling breaks, sending him through a pair of buffers and landing on a barge.

Gordon Takes a Tumble
An impatient Gordon is pulling trucks when he is accidentally diverted onto an old branch line the next morning, and lands himself in trouble when the rails can’t take his weight.

Percy’s Chocolate Crunch
Percy is pushed under a coal chute (right as the operator starts pouring the coal), and gusts of wind from Harold the Helicopter’s rotor sends piles of ashes flying…right onto Percy! To help cope with the frustration, Percy takes some sugar vans that must be delivered to the Mr. Jolly’s chocolate factory. He approaches the factory on the sloped tracks that go up to the loading and delivery dock, which are coated with oil from a leaky truck. Percy applies his brakes, but the oil makes him skid past the dock and right into the factory wall. There are a series of gloops and splats from the heart of the factory, and Percy pops out the other end, covered in chocolate.

This is from one season, and these are only the accidents: we’ve also got trucks who cause bedlam, lost and broken whistles, damaged buffers and engines who’d rather sightsee, race buses or search for treasure than deliver the mail (or their passengers). The overall impression you get is one of total chaos, with a dictatorial (if occasionally kind-hearted) bureaucrat who is only just managing to hold the network together. Accidents are never investigated; instead random blame is allocated to whoever is by default the naughtiest engine, leaving hurt passengers and damaged goods and no satisfied customers. The parallels with Railtrack are obvious.

Here’s another thing: said crashes / derailments / industrial action are never the fault of the drivers. You can sort of understand the drivers wanting to jump clear when a train is about to crash – it’s the sensible thing to do. But having a sentient engine doesn’t mean that drivers are without blame. We saw the consequences of going off without your driver in ‘Thomas Comes To Breakfast’ (which I found in a charity shop a few years back, and which Josh, in his Thomas-loving days, greatly enjoyed). I’m therefore at a loss as to why, on all the other occasions when engines shunt trucks violently, the drivers are blameless. If I crashed my car, I couldn’t exactly stand there looking at the mangled wreckage by the crushed lamp post and say “Poppy / Suzie / Bertha, you have caused CONFUSION and DELAY!”. They’d think I was mad. On the other hand, if one of the Sodor trains runs on time it’s always the engine that’s praised and never the driver, so it’s swings and roundabouts. The drivers tend to just sit in the cab, unnoticed and unloved – a forgotten statistic, like Corey Feldman.

“You make a very valid point about the railway,” said my brother when I quizzed him about it, “because they have more problems than most lines. If you were stood on the platform at Reading station at 7.30 in the morning and some fat guy came over and said the train was delayed because it have some grief with some troublesome trucks a bit further up the line, quite frankly you wouldn’t buy it. There would be uproar. However, if the line ran smoothly and the engines weren’t self-important, there wouldn’t be much story. If Gordon took the express on time every week I probably wouldn’t bother watching.”

Ah yes, that Fat Controller. He – as you will have guessed by now, even if you haven’t actually watched the video – is the subject of today’s little foray into the world of Thomas. It occurred to me a while back that an authoritarian knight of the realm with a variety of facial expressions and whose mouth didn’t move was a perfect candidate for some sort of re-dubbing. I wracked my brains for weeks before I came up with two candidates on the same day: the other video will follow in a couple of months when I get round to doing it. In the meantime, the ‘abase yourself, insect’ attitude of Sutekh (one of my favourite Who villains) was ideal. You do have to be a bit careful with Sutekh, because he’s already been used for comic relief in this absurd making-of video on the ‘Pyramids of Mars’ DVD, but there was plenty of dialogue from the story I could rip, and all manner of appropriate Thomas clips with which to match it. I had a blast making this: it took a single evening, including all the cleanup and sound effects, and I’m really quite pleased with the end result. And Joshua (who has seen ‘Pyramids of Mars’ quite recently) enjoyed it – and I was really making it for him. At least that’s what I tell myself in the mirror every morning.

Categories: Crossovers, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I believe in Silicon Heaven!”

And behold, it is written that in the last days, the iron shall lie down with the lamp…

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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