Posts Tagged With: science fiction

The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part eight)

Hello, folks. Anyone got cabin fever yet? I’ve heard there’s an app for that…

We’re still ploughing through the videos, folks, but – joy of joys! – we’ve finally reached the very last of the 2019 content. So while you’re all under house arrest you can listen to a bit of incoherent rambling about political smear campaigns and school sickness policies. Oh, and there are quite a few Daleks. Don’t worry, you can thank me later.

 

1. The Doctor Has No Plan (November 2019)

We’re not going to talk about the election, because it’s four months on and it still depresses me. But we are going to talk about something that happened in the buildup: notably when the Conservative Party’s media crew released a doctored clip of Keir Starmer appearing to experience a rabbit-in-headlights moment during an interview on Good Morning Britain, captioning it with the words ‘Labour has no plan for Brexit’. Sharp-eyed viewers – or rather those who were actually watching the thing when it was aired – were quick to point out that during the live session Starmer had answered the question without pause or hesitation and that this was nothing but a dirty tricks campaign. It was, of course, but they still won, because people didn’t care, and everyone knew that on a different day Labour would have done the same thing.

In any case, it set me thinking: what defining moment of decision and assertion could I rejig in order to suggest that the Doctor was clueless? In other words, how could I seize on something topical and give it a vaguely Doctor Who-related flavour so I could share it in the few groups that allow political content? There was an obvious answer, and it was this one. I do think it more or less works, although I’m not about to start editing political press footage for a living. Even I have some integrity.

 

2. A-NI-MATE! (November 2019)

I can still remember the conversation: the deputy headteacher at Edward’s school, insistent that we should keep him off for forty-eight hours despite the fact that he wasn’t actually ill. It’s a district guideline, he said. I explained that he’d been sick at his birthday party and that we didn’t want to send him on a trip the next morning but that it wasn’t an infection, just a bit of over-tiredness. It’s just what they’re told to do, he said. No it isn’t, I said, because it’s inconsistently applied. He’ll look into that, he said. Why doesn’t it apply with colds? I said. He doesn’t know, he’s not a doctor, he said. I can see that, I said.

Anyway: after I’d ranted about over-caution and general managerial incompetence, Edward and I spent the day together, and I suggested we have a bit of fun with the Doctor Who figures, going so far as to create a rudimentary animation, in which…well, watch and you’ll see what happens. Then he helped me pick music and effects and we strung the whole thing together and uploaded it. It performed unexpectedly well on Tumblr (26,000 reactions, which is something of a record for me) although I can’t help thinking some people thought Edward did this single handed, thus giving it more credit than it’s actually due. Perhaps I should tell them. Either way we had fun, which is the only thing that actually counts.

 

3. Spyfall: Alternate Ending (January 2020)

“I’m thinking,” I told a particular Doctor Who group, way back in January, “of mashing up the ending of [Spyfall Part 2] so that when the Doctor exits her TARDIS, she’s not looking out at you-know-where, she’s somewhere else. I just need something that’ll fit. Any advance on Teletubbyland?”

It was Richey who suggested it. He initially thought about the binary sunset on Tattooine, before having a rather better idea. I won’t spoilt it for you. Perhaps the best thing about this is the lighting, which – just for a change – matched almost scene for scene. “And I don’t believe in miracles…”

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Review: Praxeus

Greetings, fellow foodies! This week’s recipe is an exotic one, submitted by Pete and Chris; a calorific concoction of intriguing flavours wrapped in a flash casing, guaranteed to bring sparkle to even the drabbest Sunday evening. Some caution is needed: Pete tells me the last time he and Chris made one they briefly set fire to the internet, so make sure you don’t do the same!

Ingredients:

  • Three continents (if you don’t have these lying around you can re-use the same footage from the recipe we made three weeks ago; neon signs are usually available in all good home & garden stores)
  • Two grizzled sidekicks, gay for preference (I always like to season their backstory in advance)
  • Two tonnes of plastic
  • One obviously robotic bird (make sure you change the batteries first)
  • More plastic references
  • Three hazmat suits and a couple of gas masks
  • Seven tablespoons of BBC interference
  • Did we mention plastic?

Time: 50 minutes

Difficulty: Amiable to infuriating

Method: 

1. First, grease a large baking sheet with marketing hype. I find it helps to do this in layers, but you’ll need to include a really good press release talking about the environmental themes.

2. Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6. This won’t take long as it should still be fairly hot from our last bake.

3. Separate your characters into three piles. Then, in three separate bowls, mix them until they start to combine. This is a lengthy process but they’ll eventually form a loose sort of dough. Be careful not to prod it, though, or it’ll break apart.

4. Place one Doctor in each bowl. Leave to stew.

5. Over a low heat, boil up three technobabble dumplings. Start this early, so they have time to boil dry – the drier the better.

6. While the technobabble is simmering, blend up three McGuffins – I tend to use human-shaped McGuffins – into thousands of pieces. This will be your layer of unpleasant death.

7. Combine all three bowls until the mixture just about clumps together. Crimp the edges with a pathogen reference.

8. Now it’s time to add our flavouring. Dip the hazmat suits very briefly into the mixture and then pull them out straight away; you want only the mildest hint of them. Sprinkle the layer of unpleasant death over the top.

9. When this is done, drizzle with social commentary. I find it helps to do this slowly and laboriously, really allowing the juices to soak in: you’ll probably find it gets concentrated in one area, and will almost certainly drift to the bottom, but your dinner guests will expect this so it doesn’t matter too much. They’ll eat it anyway.

10. The pudding is now ready to be over-egged. You know what to do, right?

11. Place in the oven. While it’s baking, you could catch up on Twitter.

12. It’s vital that you remove your Praxeus from the oven midway through the cooking time. This will ensure it’s half-baked and collapsing in the middle.

13. Garnish with a twist of half-expected villain and, if you have one, a sprig of noble self-sacrifice.

14. If prepared to perfection, the Praxeus should be stodgy and sweet, but leave a mildly unpleasant aftertaste.

 

And that’s it. In two weeks: Dry Roasted Cybermen, guaranteed nut (and bolt) free.

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Review: Orphan 55

My American contacts sometimes tell me they have to watch Doctor Who with subtitles. “It’s the accent,” they insist. “It’s just too thick. We can’t understand what people are saying.” Having dug a little deeper, I’ve determined that the accent is only part of the equation: the real reason, it turns out, is the relentless pace at which dialogue drops out of the air, as if the cast had a sweepstake going to see how quickly Jodie Whittaker could get through a scene. For someone who claims not to have watched a great deal of Doctor Who she certainly knows her Tennant: nobody did caffeine-fuelled exposition quite like he did; at least nobody until now.

Whittaker’s penchant for technobabble almost proves her undoing tonight – “You talk too much”, one supporting character observes, and indeed it is this insistence on explaining everything at breakneck speed that causes the Doctor to drain her oxygen supply at the most inconvenient of moments. But that’s all right, because she’s just bumped into the surprisingly affable Dreg Chief, emerging from the shadows in a heaving mass of muscles and teeth to provide a crucial plot development. The Dregs, you see, are what humanity is destined to become if we don’t get our act together: mindless, permanently enraged half-people, attacking in mobs and incapable of anything resembling coherent language. Is this science fiction, or have they been at a Britain First rally?

‘Orphan 55’ is the tale of what happens when you don’t tell your friends why you’re miserable: having beaten off an unnamed, mostly unseen tentacled monstrosity just before we catch up with them at the story’s opening, the gang elect to take a holiday on Tranquility Spa, which looks rather like a European conference centre with an outdoor pool. Greeted by an unsightly dog (we really are in Spaceballs territory here), the Doctor swiftly finds herself alone and abandoned as her pals go off to explore on their own – and although it’s literally a matter of seconds before trouble starts, Whittaker looks, for a moment, just about as vulnerable and human as we’ve ever seen her. It is a lovely vignette that is over before it’s had the chance to really begin, and its brevity sets the tone for what follows: forty-five minutes of guns and explosions and noble self-sacrificing geriatrics, where ecosystems and corporate structures and scientific principles are all half-discussed, half-shouted in a flurry of exposition while several people run down a darkened corridor or panic over a computer terminal. It’s all horribly confusing in places, and if Ed Hime’s last effort (the atrocious ‘It Takes You Away’) suffered heavily from the complete absence of a plot, his follow-up suffers from having rather too much of one, which presumably means that Chibnall has to invite him back next year to see if he can nail it the third time.

Said plot revolves around the rather excessive security forces populating the facility, not to mention the sudden brownouts, which are enough for the Doctor to smell a rat – or at least a worm, which she yanks from Ryan’s mouth in what is the episode’s funniest sequence. Elsewhere Yas has bumped into a cheerful elderly pair and Graham just wants to lounge on a deckchair in a cardigan like a Kay’s catalogue model, but it isn’t long before the lights go out and the sirens go up, and then there is a gunfight in a corridor and the first of several deaths. Tranquility Spa is an onion of intrigue, hiding layers of revelatory insight, each layer darker and more intriguing than the last, and so the Doctor and her friends leave the safety of the hotel’s gleaming interiors to uncover them all – although it’s a decision that at least three of them will live to regret.

Along the way they run into the usual motley crew of supporting characters. Bella (Gia Re) is a troubled young woman hiding a dull family secret. Vilma (Julia Foster) is a surprisingly spritely pensioner who provides the catalyst for the story’s second act when the Doctor launches a rescue operation to find her kidnapped boyfriend. Nevi (James Buckley) is a middle-aged Oompa Loompa who didn’t realise that Bring Your Child To Work Day was last week; his role is to stand around looking entirely gormless while his son Silas (His Dark Materials’ Lewin Lloyd) does all the thinking. None of these people are very interesting and I have gone to the trouble of writing down their names and who played them in order to give you a handy reference guide, because you will have forgotten every single one of them by Wednesday, if not sooner. You’re welcome.

The second half of ‘Orphan 55’ is pure Terry Nation: there’s a bomb, and someone twists an ankle. The gang split off into factions to try and save themselves from certain death, with lessons learned and familial bonds strengthened at the eleventh hour. That said, I can’t for the life of me remember what Yas was doing: a couple of early scenes aside, Mandip Gill really has been horribly underwritten this series, to the extent that if she had slipped into the crack of erasure that swallowed Rory Williams, not even the audience would notice. It’s a shame, because there is an innocent sweetness to Gill that made her one of the most endearing facets of Whittaker’s first year, and to see her confined to the sidelines in this manner is frustrating, particularly when she’s clearly talented.

All inadequacies aside, it’s at least a lot of fun to watch, and things are breezing along quite well until the last minute and a half, when a dejected crew stand around the TARDIS console wondering if there’s any point to anything. It’s left to their captain to reveal, with all the subtlety of a presidential Tweet, that this apocalyptic future happened because of man’s inhumanity to man – and, what’s more, we can change it. Which would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that generally speaking we can’t: awkward moments in ‘Pyramids of Mars’ aside, Doctor Who is very much a predestination show, the parallel timelines of Back to the Future confined gracefully to the waste bin of unused plot devices, except when it’s really important to the narrative or the writers are simply bored. Or when some suited executive sends down a fax asking them to tone it down so the kids don’t get too scared, because they really want to stay on the right side of Ofcom now the election’s over, and isn’t Greta going to find it all a bit defeatist? Or perhaps Chibnall felt the story needed a rewrite. Or perhaps there was no tinkering at all: perhaps it was simply Hine erecting a soapbox in the TARDIS (which is understandable; Whittaker’s only five foot six). The net result, regardless of its point of origin, is a watered-down environmental message that undoubtedly serves its purpose, assuming that purpose was to send the episode crashing through the floor right at the end of its denoument. “It’s only a possible future,” the Doctor insists, calmly, to which there really ought to be a unilateral cry of ‘Bollocks’.

There was a Guardian thinkpiece this week – I’m not linking to it; it’s ridiculously misguided – that said Doctor Who wasn’t woke; it was more offensive than ever, and proceeded to tell us why (their argument was basically “Token trans characters and the black people died”). At the other end of the scale, I was told this evening that including a climate change message was pandering to the Woke brigade – something I don’t fully understand, as there’s nothing Woke about climate change and there never really has been; it’s simple common sense. I don’t know where we go from there, but if you’re in a place where Doctor Who is offending both sides of the fandom, you’re either getting it colossally right or colossally wrong. I really would like to say it’s the former, but every week it becomes harder to make that call. Someone, somewhere, is making a lot of bad decisions this year – it may be Chibnall, it may be someone else, but the net result is a TV programme that’s in danger of losing its identity – at least last year we knew what Doctor Who was, even if it wasn’t something we immediately recognised, and if these last three weeks have proven anything it’s that indulging in transparent fan service is only going to erode whatever identity you were in the process of forging (which is what happened to the last Star Wars film). There is, somewhere underneath, a terrific show in series 12 waiting to get out, but it’s not one we’ve thus far been allowed to see. Instead we’re presented with a glossy, outwardly respectable veneer – a Tranquility Spa of slick marketing videos and idyllic publicity stills and a hype train loaded with goodness – that hides a dark underbelly of something rotten. It’s just a question of how long everyone can survive before the walls cave in.

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Bottom of the Barrel

It was one of those things that trends for no apparent reason. Well, it trended because it was funny; it’s just it came out of nowhere. Anyway, there it was, stuck near the top of my feed: those three little words you could append to classic movies in order to change their meaning, or (to put it another way) #ruinafilmbyaddingupyourbum.

There’s a bunch of them: Lord of the Rings Up Your Bum. The Third Man Up Your Bum. You’ll have your own favourites. Run Lola Run Up Your Bum, Carry On Regardless Up Your Bum, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Up Your Bum and yes, I am reading from my DVD shelf now. Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same. I need to stop, though, because I tend to italicise film titles and it didn’t work for this particular gag, and it’s making me uncomfortable.

Anyway, it turns out it works for Doctor Who stories as well. So I have gone through the lot and picked out my own particular favourites, presented here in no particular order. I tried to prioritise the ones that actually made some sort of joke, so stuff like…I don’t know, The Aztecs Up Your Bum is not here, simply because it’s a bit obvious. But this isn’t intended to be exhaustive, so do tell me about the ones I missed. That’s what the comments box is for – well, that and the hate mail.

Allons-y!

 

Listen Up Your Bum

Invasion of the Dinosaurs Up Your Bum

Dark Water Up Your Bum

The Doctor Dances Up Your Bum

Flesh and Stone Up Your Bum

Hide Up Your Bum

Kerblam! Up Your Bum

Survival Up Your Bum

The Tenth Planet Up Your Bum

Inferno Up Your Bum

The Woman Who Lived Up Your Bum

It Takes You Away Up Your Bum

Full Circle Up Your Bum

Rise of the Cybermen Up Your Bum

The Big Bang Up Your Bum

Fury From The Deep Up Your Bum

State of Decay Up Your Bum

The Sontaran Experiment Up Your Bum

Face The Raven Up Your Bum

The Crimson Horror Up Your Bum

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The One with the Friends Titles

In many ways it feels like yesterday. That sense of envy, the homage to stressed-out Village life (capital intentional) where people are happy and unhappy at the same time, where humdrum jobs and complicated (or non-existent) love lives are made bearable by the people you hang out with. I was almost seventeen and it seemed such a carefree way to live: these twenty-somethings who existed in a hubbub of late films and spontaneous baking sessions and endless cups of coffee. I had just found, in the real world, an uneasy point of entry into a peer group in which I never really belonged and in which I was, for the most part, an outsider: a Gunther to everybody else’s Ross and Rachel, surrounded by ostensibly lovely people who would never actually call me.

But when you’re that age recognition of any sort is important, and you start to draw parallels. During more reflective moments, in evening conversations conducted over cider or Grolsch in our local pub, I would compare myself to Ross – heartfelt, sincere and slightly pathetic Ross. The analogy worked: Ross really was a bit of a dickhead. I didn’t see it at the time, seeing as I only recognised what how awful I was years down the line. Still, Phoebe was always my favourite – good old Phoebe, who was unable to think a sentence through in her head before saying it out loud (“There isn’t always time!”) and whose songs alone made the show worth watching, if only to detract from the tedium that was the Ross and Rachel love story. They wound up having a baby (by accident) and settling down, presumably in Scarsdale where the schools are good. We don’t know. I still don’t think I’ve seen that last series; the novelty had long worn off and my life had moved on.

It’s become fashionable to sneer at Friends, to dump the word ‘problematic’ into discussion as if that covered the multitude of readings: as if it is as simple as calling it homophobic (it isn’t), fat-shaming (guilty) and disproportionately white (so were the social lives of most people watching it). As ever, things are more complicated and as ever, the internet isn’t interested in grey, not least when black and white looks so much prettier. As far as I’m concerned Friends lost some of its sheen once it became markedly less Jewish, at least in terms of the humour it was producing, and when the characters disappeared up their own backsides in order to become stereotypical parodies of themselves, instead of rounded people: in other words, taking what the audience found funny and building the entire show around it, rather than writing something that could actually be called interesting. But I had this conversation a couple of years back, if you can call ‘conversation’ an eight-hundred word pot-stirrer I did for Metro that actually did reasonable traffic, not least because there were a number of people willing to haul me over the coals for it – or, as a particularly cynical American wrote on Twitter, ‘The one where the straight white man gets to have his say’.

What’s left? A series of eight stills from Doctor Who, accompanied by (hideously in)appropriate Friends episode titles. I have eschewed the obvious ones – hence, The One With The Flashback isn’t there, simply because it wouldn’t be funny. The rest of it sort of works. I don’t watch Friends anymore, for the same reason I don’t re-watch Doctor Who: there is too much TV out there I haven’t seen yet. But it  was a big part of my life for years, and it would be churlish to deny it that sense of cultural importance, at least on a deeply personal level: programmes like this are a comfort blanket, a sense of reassurance, a Friday spent in familiar company even if the conversation is only ever one way. It would be nice if we could just view it as that, instead of having all this other baggage. It would be nice, but I don’t think it’s going to happen, which is why I tend to keep out of it these days.

Anyway, those images.

How you doin’…?

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Have I Got Whos For You (Twelfth Doctor Special)

Unposted meme count is currently 126 and counting, which means it’s time for another bonus edition: stuff I haven’t got round to uploading yet, loosely themed simply because there are so many languishing in that folder that they’ve developed their own tribe system. Today it’s the turn of the Twelfth Doctor – the one whose hair became more and more difficult to Photoshop the longer he stuck around (God alone knows what would have happened if they’d got him to commit to a fourth series). There’s something very stern and serious about him, of course, which makes him the perfect Doctor to mesh with children’s programmes. And in many cases here, that’s exactly what’s happened.

The last time we did one of these, it was Thirteenth Doctor related and I got called a ‘retarded Jodie shill’ by an idiot. (That wasn’t all he said, but I blocked some of his other comments.) I suspect there will be no such remittance from today’s outing. Well, hopefully.

 

First, this. Appropriate, given what day it is.

Dr Venkman. Dr Stantz. Dr Spengler. Dr Smith.

Presented without apology.

“I suppose you’ll be wanting me to help you out of there in a moment.”

During a little downtime, the Twelfth Doctor and Darth Vader recreate the Hand of God.

“Are you sure we’ve never met?”

Doctor Who: Face The Ravenclaw.

I can’t believe I didn’t do this one years back.

“We’re not touching that with a barge pole.”

One day, in Teletubbyland.

“Yeah, tell you what, we’ll take it back to the yard, see if we can recycle any of it.”

Well, it sort of works.

“I think we’d better be heading back to the TARDIS, Bill.”

And finally.

Tune in next week: same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

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The One Where We Visited The Doctor Who Experience

The chamber is amber and sparsely lit. We gather around metal walkways, surrounded by broken remnants of machinery, things long past, in a battle-scarred landscape drenched by a setting sun. Our guide warily picks himself through the throng to what is presumably the optimal vantage point for addressing the whole group. Suddenly a hatch opens. Pressing further into the room we can make out a bulky shape, sloped with odd protrusions: the cylindrical minimalism of a familiar-looking sink plunger, counter-balanced on the other side by what looks rather like an egg whisk. The lights go on, just in time for a grating recorded voice to bellow “EXTERMINATE!”.

That’s when the eight-year-old says “I need the toilet.”

They don’t let you take photos in the first part of the Doctor Who Experience. I’ve probably broken some sort of contractual law just by telling you about that bit – we didn’t sign anything, of course, but there’s presumably some sort of Mafia, and I’ll wake up tomorrow with a Slitheen’s head on my pillow. Not that it matters, really, given that the entire first paragraph was constructed almost entirely from memory and is almost certainly false, or at least inaccurate. Certain things slip out through the cracks. There were Daleks; I do remember that much, but the rest is a bit of a haze.

It worries me because it was only a couple of years ago. I can recollect sixth form parties from a quarter-century hence with more clarity. On the other hand were distracted that day; we spent most of our time wandering around worrying about Daniel, who had made it through to ‘Day of the Doctor’ but who still ran screaming from the room whenever a Weeping Angel turned up (or swiftly covered his eyes, which in itself is curiously ironic). A couple of months before I’d briefly encountered Steven Moffat at a press screening for ‘The Pilot’, and had passed on – at Daniel’s request – the information that his favourite episode was ‘Blink’. Not that this is in itself unusual – the Angels’ inaugural (and, we might argue, only really successful) venture is regularly at the top of the polls, or at least top five, but to be honest I think he’s just pleased he got through the damned thing without wetting himself.

That’s in very real danger of happening today, though, and it is for that reason that Emily never actually got to do the Experience properly. But I’m getting ahead of myself: we’re going to rewind several hours and shuffle a few hundred yards to the west, where the six of us are standing in front of an eight-year-old shrine to a dead fictional character.

“So when did he die?”
“Hmm?” I say to Josh. “Oh, it was 2009. I mean this is a spoiler, really, but the aliens gassed the chamber, and – ”
“No, not him. The actor who played him.”
“He’s not dead.”

Josh looks at me quizzically, so I explain. “This is the shrine for his character,” and I swear I can see him rolling his eyebrows.

Don’t get me wrong. I was as affected by ‘Children of Earth’ as the rest of you. Peter Capaldi confronting the 456 is still among the most electrifying moments Torchwood has to offer. Jack kills his own grandson, for pity’s sake. And yes, the climax of episode 4 – a sobbing Ianto dying in Barrowman’s immortal arms – is sudden, shocking and unexpectedly moving. But the public outpourings of grief have long perplexed me, particularly given the propensity of many fans to refuse to forgive Davies for killing one of his darlings. Eight years for a Welsh admin assistant? Isn’t that over-egging the pudding just a tad? Mind you, we’re in a world where people old enough to know better routinely travel to King’s Cross in order to visit a platform that doesn’t exist and celebrate a day that doesn’t exist, where characters who didn’t exist were about to travel to a place that didn’t exist, on a magical steam engine. Perhaps a few dried bouquets down by the lapping surf are small fry in comparison.

Our timed tickets for the Experience proper don’t start until after lunch, so I’ve suggested we come here first, just so I can show the kids what happens when you let fandom get the better of you. This whole day is a birthday present from Emily, as we’ve talked about coming for years and have learned, comparatively recently, that the thing is closing, which has led to a public outcry from fans who haven’t got around to actually seeing it yet but will, honestly. I scratch my head at such responses. I would very much like to go to the Who North America store, for example, but Indiana is beyond my travelling budget and if it were to suddenly close up shop tomorrow I’d feel a small pang of regret for the staff and then I’d move on. Listen: the Experience at Porth Teigr was only ever supposed to be a five year plan and it only closed so they could move it somewhere else. There’s no sense in throwing your toys out of the pram because you have to scrub something off the bucket list, or at least move it down a couple of notches. Change is the very nature of the show; deal with it.

But it’s easy to say that when you’re in South Oxfordshire and Cardiff is an hour and a half on the M4, and perhaps I didn’t do myself any favours by sneering about it the way I did at the time. It’s a lesson in kindness, and it’s one you learn the hard way. It’s something I’m trying to correct, although not always successfully. A part of it is knowing the difference: being kind doesn’t mean you can’t hold certain people in withering contempt, depending on their actions (one minute Capaldi’s ranting about how important kindness is, the next he’s chiding the Master for his “stupid round face”). Silly ideas are still silly and poorly-conceived logic is stilll…well, you get the idea. It’s all in the way you tell people, and sometimes you probably shouldn’t.

What happens in the Doctor Who Experience is this: you enter a series of rooms, led by a costumed Time Lord, and interact with Peter Capaldi (the earlier, grumpier version), who appears on screen via a series of pre-recorded interludes. There are buttons to press and things to carry – at one point you get to fly the TARDIS – and over the course of your journey you encounter a variety of creatures, but notably Daleks and Weeping Angels. We know this because we have done a little research – nothing spoiler-heavy but our family’s needs more or less demand it – and the eight-year-old does a good line in ‘suddenly queasy’. Or perhaps he really was feeling ill; it’s a hot day and while the Experience’s dark corridors and atmospheric rooms (“It’s not a restaurant for the French!”) are decently air-conditioned there’s only so much you can do when you’re suddenly inundated by sweating tourists.

Emily knows how much this means to me, and when Daniel says he feels sick she offers to take him out, so the Time Lord guide briefly breaks character to shepherd them through the fire doors. We continue the walkthrough without them, and they catch up with us in 1963 London, which is where you wind up when you’re finished. What remains is two floors of props and scenery and costumes – oh, so many costumes – from fifty-four years (as was) of Doctor Who, ranging from vintage Daleks to the Veil that pursued the Twelfth Doctor in ‘Heaven Sent’. There are antique consoles, an interesting Radiophonic Workshop display and there’s a bit where you can hide inside a Dalek and dance like a Cyberman. Or something like that.

It’s all very comprehensive, of course – the costume centrepiece, in particular, is like the final frame of ‘Day of the Doctor’, only we all missed the Rapture. But there’s something a little sterile about the whole thing, something oddly flat and almost clinical, the lighting a little too harsh, the monsters arranged in neat displays in the manner of a police lineup, rather than the immersive casket of wonders from which you’ve recently ventured. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so we won’t dwell on it, but the original Cardiff exhibition over at the Dragon Centre was better: darker and more thrilling, a coherent whole rather than two disjointed halves. In layman’s terms it’s ‘Blink’, while Porth Teigr is….oh, I don’t know, ‘The Girl Who Died’ and ‘The Woman Who Lived‘. You will have your own choice, but you can see where this is going.

It’s a shame, because there are some lovely pieces. My family are all fans – even Edward – but I’m the one who knows it best, and in places like this I’m like a puppy off a leash, prancing and jumping around the exhibition like Willy Wonka in the Inventing Room or Matt Smith early in ‘Rings of Akhaten’ (“Panbabylonians…a Lugal-Irra-Kush…some Lucanians…a Hooloovo!”). Here there was a 1980s Cyberman. Over there the Special Weapons Dalek, the Fisher King from Series 9 and BLOODY HELL THAT’S A MANDREL!

They gave Emily a commemorative sick bag. It was a good few months before it became sufficiently tatty to wind up in the bin; we never did get round to auctioning it on Ebay like we’d planned. Better still, she’s managed to grab a slot in the day’s final tour, which is quiet, and so she and Daniel get to do it all again, at least until they get to the Daleks, which is when he announces he needs the toilet and they have to once more make a swift exit through the fire doors. The two of them eventually join us in the park, half a mile round the bay, my son sheepish and insistent that it really was his bladder and nothing to do with the Angels; my wife quietly simmering.

“Well,” I say, trying to make her feel better, “The best bits were in the first half. You didn’t really miss much.”

She gives me a look. “Oh, don’t say that. It just makes the whole thing worse.”

I have more photos than paragraphs, today, so what remains is the gallery: Daleks and pinballs and round things. What are the round things? No idea. I’m glad we went, if only for the first half – which does make you feel like you’re in an episode of Doctor Who, even if it’s one of the slightly rubbish ones. To those of you who never got the chance: fret not; there’ll be another one along soon, presumably with Jodie Whittaker on the other side of the screen and presumably involving some sort of story where you have to save the world from bigots or internet trolls or people who don’t flush the toilet when they’re done, complete with enormous monsters made up of festering excrement.

Actually that might be half-decent. They could call it The Doctor Loo Experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Doctor Who episodes to help you deal with grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I miss my mum.

 

Twice Upon A Time

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

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth

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

 

Heaven Sent

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

 

The Rings of Akhaten

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

 

Blink

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

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Have I Got Whos For You (Jodie Whittaker Special)

Today’s post is all about the haters. Yes, you. You there, at the back. The people who leave angry emojis on everything Thirteenth Doctor related – not because it’s not funny or because it’s obnoxious or overly cute; just because it’s her. I’ve seen you. You never comment, and you never explain yourself when you’re critiqued. It’s clearly a hang-up about Whittaker (I will accept, at a push, that some of it may be about Chibnall) because this sort of reaction doesn’t appear on any other post. Why do you do it? What’s the point? And don’t give me that bollocks about how you’re repressed, about how criticism of Whittaker has accusations of “SEXIST!” flung in your direction so you have no choice but to hide behind emojis, afraid to say what you think because of the online censors. This isn’t fucking North Korea. Man up.

In any case, here’s a bunch of Whittaker-themed stuff that I’d been stockpiling for an occasion like this. Enjoy it. Except you there, at the back. I know you won’t. Well, you can’t win ’em all.

First and foremost, here’s Jodie Whittaker celebrating Yorkshire Day.

Meet Jodie Whittaker, the other Fifth Beatle.

The Doctor and the Brigadier explore a nice part of the forest.

Memories of chips.

The princess and the frog.

Who wore it best?

Time Lord parents’s evenings.

Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber training isn’t going too well, until the Doctor comes up with a new strategy.

Exploring the corridors of the Tsuranga, the Doctor and her companions stumble upon the worst horror of all.

I think this one more or less speaks for itself.

“Oh great; we’ve got a squatter.”

A YouTube stunt goes horribly wrong over at the Kerblam! warehouse.

And finally, parked up in a forest, the Doctor has an unexpected visitor.

“Never heard of him. But I’m going that way; I can drop you…”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Boris Bumpus Maximus)

We open in a quarry somewhere in the home counties. Following a disastrous headline-grabbing scandal, the producers of Doctor Who have elected to stage a photoshoot in order to salvage the reputation of the show, featuring current stars Sylvester McCoy and Bonnie Langford. Only the public smell a rat, and of course are having none of it.

Do I think Boris’s private life makes him a poor choice for prime minister? Not necessarily, no. It simply makes him a twat. There is, as Kenneth Clarke pointed out on Radio 4 this week, ample evidence of Johnson’s general cluelessness when it comes to Brexit and pretty much anything of political substance – The Sketch makes that clear, and it should be obvious to all but his most strident followers by now that the clownish exterior is going to wear very thin indeed once we all remember that we’ve just given him the keys to the Big Red Button. Kenny Roger’s Gambler made a career out of reading people’s faces; Boris has made a career out of having other people read his, and generally giggle. He exists in a state of perpetual frivolity, apparently unable to take either himself or anything else seriously; whatever he gets up to in his flat, do we really want a man like this running the country?

Anyway, there was something fishy about that publicity stunt the other day, as this leaked shot from behind the scenes attests.

Yes. Well.

The second half of this week’s instalment incorporates a bumper crop of birthdays – including mine, come to think of it, although I spent the day tidying and then driving to and from Oxford with the boy. For years I’d thought the piece de la resistance of my birthday-sharing duties was Igor Stravinsky (along with Methodism founder John Wesley, who was renowned for taking the gospels to localities other denominations couldn’t reach). But it eventually transpired that I share a birthday with none other than Jodie Whittaker.

Oh, and Arthur Darvill, who is pictured here with another Arthur.

Supposedly it was Paddington’s birthday yesterday – although the duffel-clad bear has two birthdays, rather like the queen..

(Hmm. I’m still not sure I pasted that TARDIS in quite the right place. It looks like it’s floating.)

Also celebrating a birthday this week: Tim Burton’s Batman, the film that arguably saved superhero films (at least for a while), although it opened a floodgate of Interesting Actors Playing Established Characters that, it could be coherently argued, was ultimately damaging to Hollywood’s ability to craft original stories. When was the last time you truly latched on to someone who saw their genesis on the big screen? No, I mean someone who isn’t in Star Wars? And let’s not forget that, for all its brooding brilliance, Batman is guilty of some pretty shocking departures from the source material. Alfred gives away Batman’s secret identity, for pity’s sake. Oh, and at the end of the film an injured, borderline psychotic caped crusader lunges at the Joker in the belfry of Gotham Cathedral, furiously announcing that he’s going to kill him. I mean, it’s good, but…well, had it happened today there would be a hundred and fifty BuzzFeed articles, all of them dreadful, so let’s be grateful it was back in the 80s and the worst you had to contend with was a bit of griping in the fanzines.

Anyway, here’s Batman on downtime in the Batcave.

Episodes used: ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’, ‘State of Decay’, ‘The Mind of Evil’, ‘The Romans’, ‘Caves of Androzani’, ‘Vampires of Venice’, (you will notice a bat theme going on here), ‘Twice Upon A Time’, and a couple I can no longer identify – oh, and ‘The Witchfinders’. Which is mostly there to annoy the Jodie haters. Who will doubtless leave angry emojis, JUST BECAUSE THEY CAN.

“OK, you wanna get nuts? C’mon. Let’s get nuts.”

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