Posts Tagged With: teletubbies

God is in the detail (11-01)

Ah, Steven Moffat. Now there was a man who loved teasing his audience. It was never enough just to put a twist in; his goal, played out with nigh-on obsessive abandon, was the trail of breadcrumbs. Whether it’s Sherlock surviving his fall from the roof, the true identity of Ms Utterson from Jekyll, or what was really in the Doctor’s room in that creepy hotel, it wasn’t genuine Moffat without a puzzle for everyone to solve. It’s a far cry from the days when Doctor Who was aired once and then had to be revisited via Target novels because no one had a video recorder and in any case the BBC had already wiped the tapes. Repeat viewing is not only encouraged, it’s practically mandatory, along with all the bells and whistles of online discussion, dissection and deconstruction.

Still, Moffat’s gone now, so we can’t do that anymore, right? Wrong!

If you’re new here, you won’t know that I spend much of my time during series broadcasts going back through last week’s episodes searching them for things that will come back to haunt us later. Because as everyone in the Doctor Who production offices knows, there is NO SUCH THING as an accident. Every sign, every prop, every seemingly inconsequential bit of detail – from the shape of buildings to the seemingly random use of filming locations – is a potentially VITAL CLUE that gives us CLEAR AND SIGNIFICANT FORESHADOWING for events later in the series.

And guess what? Chibnall has apparently inherited Moffat’s clue fixation. Because when I went back through ‘The Woman Who Fell To Earth’ I found a whole bunch of stuff – and today, dearest reader, I bring it to you, served up with a salad garnish and a complimentary Americano. Come with us now as we explore a world of signs and wonders that will LITERALLY make your head explode.

We start on a train.

Observe the two numbers by the wall panel – one directly above Jodie Whittaker’s head, one at the upper left of the screen. We’ll get to that one in a moment, but let’s look at 68509 first. It is – as if you hadn’t guessed – a reference to the zip code for Lincoln, Nebraska, where the TARDIS crew are set to land in an episode from Series 12. The Nebraska DHHS is here, which will presumably be a plot point as the Doctor refuses to go anywhere that’s just initials.

Do acronyms count? Because there’s a very prominent one just above – UNIT. And the numbers that follow – 9110, for ease of reference – refer EXPLICITLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to UNIT. Why is this? Well, the first two allude to Marc Platt’s novelisation of ‘Battlefield’, released in print form in July 1991, while the 10 refers to 2010, the year in which The Sarah Jane Adventures broadcast their 2010 crossover episode ‘The Death of the Doctor’, which saw Sarah Jane team up both with the Eleventh Doctor and former member of UNIT staff Jo Grant, as played by Katy Manning. We’ve been asking for another appearance from Jo for years, and it looks like we might finally be about to get our wish.

(As an aside, this is a good time to mention that I finally met Katy Manning last December. She was absolutely lovely, despite me squealing like a fanboy. I have it on good authority that she is like that with everyone.)

But was it a nod to Jo Grant, or was it actually about Matt Smith? Consider this screen grab from Ryan’s YouTube monologue.

There are a number of things going on here, in a quite literal sense. Ryan’s thumbs up rating sits at Eleven (capitalisation intentional) while his thumbs down is sitting at two. Leaving aside the question of exactly what sort of callous bastard would rank down a video where you were talking about your dead grandmother, we also need to consider what number you get when you add eleven and two.

I will leave it to you, dear reader, to do the math(s).

Ryan’s view count is nineteen, which is a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS reference to Paul Hardcastle’s iconic song about the Vietnam War, indicating a likely story arc for Series 12. And his subscriber count is sitting pretty at thirty-seven, which is not a random number and certainly NOT A COINCIDENCE. Thirty-seven, you will recall, is the age of Dennis the political peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail – a film that introduced us to the delightful Tim the Enchanter. You see? There was a whopping great clue about the identity of this episode’s villain smack bang in the middle of the opening scene, and not ONE of you noticed. Not one. I’m not angry, folks, I’m just disappointed.

A funeral next, because we need to talk about the balloons.

There are sixteen balloons, which allude to the thirteen canonical Doctors, plus John Hurt, Richard Hurndall and David Bradley: in short, sixteen actors who have played the Doctor onscreen in official BBC stories. (There are probably more; don’t tell me about them because it’ll spoil the pattern.) Note that the Eighth Doctor is directly over Bradley Walsh’s head. Also note that Paul McGann’s Holby City storyline seems to be drawing to a natural close – it may have wrapped up by the time you read this and it may even have wrapped already, as I’m writing it. We’re two episodes behind so please don’t spoil it for me.

Additionally, notice the colour scheme. There are three:

Never mind the subtle but CLEAR-CUT indication that Lalla Ward will soon be back as Romana – has anyone else noticed that there’s one missing? The short, scooter-riding one? The one who shares her name with a famous author?

There are a number of episode titles we could mash here, such as The Tell-Tale Hearts, or The Satan Pit and the Pendulum, or simply The Oblong Box, which doesn’t need any modification. But could the imminent appearance of the great writer himself – a man whom the Doctor has encountered several times before – be any more clear cut? To borrow one of Gareth’s jokes, quoth the raven: “Again again!”

We’ll conclude at the end of the episode, in this scene in the charity shop where the Doctor picks out her outfit.

“But how can you tell it was a charity shop?” some people on Facebook have been whining, to which the answer is “Of course it’s a bloody charity shop”. I mean, look at it. There are books on the shelves and there’s a pile of bric-a-brac near the clothes racks. Yes, the changing room is unusually big. Maybe Cardiff has an obesity problem. Besides, where else are you going to find that sort of mismatched ensemble, other than in the dressing up box at a local children’s centre?

I mentioned this to Emily, who said “Well, of course it’s a charity shop. I can just picture her going through those t-shirts. ‘Ooh, look, this one says Sarah-Jane Smith. That rings a bell’.”

I laughed, and then said “Listen, if Sarah-Jane was still stitching name labels in her clothes in her her mid-twenties, I’m glad the Doctor left her in Aberdeen.”

But I’m sidetracking. Because there’s a reason they went to this particular charity shop (or thrift store, if you’re reading this in the other side of the Atlantic). Where is it? If you’re in Cardiff  you could probably have told me without having to look it up, but I had to do a bit of legwork – a word which in this context means ‘look at Google Maps’. There are plenty of charity shops in Cardiff, but we may narrow it down by using the Domino Pizza emporium on the other side of the street as an anchor.

To cut a long story short, it is this one:

“KIDNEYS!”

This is loaded with detail. Never mind the fact that there is a phone box RIGHT THERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STREET, indicating that not only is the much-anticipated Bill & Ted 3 movie finally out of production hell, but that IT WILL BE A DOCTOR WHO CROSSOVER – never mind all that, have you seen the sign just above the housing association window? You know, the one about landlords? Are we heading back to Bristol? Could David Suchet’s Series 10 character be about to make a sudden, unanticipated return? Well, it’s no longer anticipated, is it? We called it, right here. Watch this space.

But wait! There’s more. The address for this particular map reference is 202 Cowbridge Road, and in production history we find that story 202 was ‘The End of Time’, a CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS nod to the IMMINENT RETURN of Rassilon, presumably in the Christmas special. Sadly there’s no word on whether he’ll be played by Donald Sumpter, so we may need to look further afield. Anyone got Jeremy Irons’ phone number?

But wait! There’s STILL more. Look across the street.

Let’s ignore the near miss on that sign, shall we? I suspect the owners are very grateful that it’s the U that’s missing, rather than the O. Besides, we’re now in Series 6 territory: Canton referring, of course, to Canton Everett Delaware III, the Doctor’s erstwhile companion during his battle with the Silence, and who has by the present day moved into local radio, producing a couple of hours of disco-themed music on a weekly basis for online radio station NTS, broadcasting from London, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Manchester. Who else saw that coming? I know I didn’t.

But as if this weren’t enough, scroll back up to that first picture again and note the Registered Charity Number on the sign above the Kidney Research window. It’s 252892 – seemingly innocuous, right? Wrong again. Because a curious thing happens if you stick this into the hex box for an RGB colour converter. I know because I did it, and I could scarcely believe the shade that appeared on the display:

Mind. LITERALLY. BLOWN.

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Walk Like An Egyptian: The Boohbah edition

I know where this started. It started in three places: Stratford-upon-Avon, Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Teletubbyland.

Let’s begin at the end. The Teletubbies are amazing. Parents do not understand them because parents are not supposed to understand them. People who complain about the gibberish and repetition are missing the point. Conversely, people who complain about Tinky Winky’s penchant for skirts and handbags (not to mention the colour purple) may be on to something. That’s another argument for heads wiser and less cluttered with cultural references than mine. Still, I’ve raised four boys on this stuff and they’ve all thought it was brilliant.

Heck, when I was a student even thought it was brilliant. Teletubbies were bright and cute and somehow rebellious, a cultural revolution of peace, love, harmony and sloth in a world that was increasingly pre-occupied with Getting Stuff Done. I was nineteen and could feel the elbow in the ribs about careers fairs. Teletubbies was regression therapy in a world that demanded you were clever, in a world of Wittgenstein and Beckett and Virginia Woolf. They were great. Years later my wife and I will use the theme for the first dance at our wedding. I have some of it on video. No, you can’t see it.

Meanwhile, back in the more or less present day, someone does this.

It’s one of those moments when you realise why God gave us Joy Division. It shouldn’t work, but it does. It is the sort of thing Ian Curtis would have loved. Actually, scratch that, Ian Curtis wouldn’t have loved it at all. He’d have said “I don’t want my song laid over those fookin’ Muppets”, or something similar. I wouldn’t have blamed him for this. It is the same in Doctor Who: I love ‘The Horns of Nimon’, but Tony Read does not, and I can’t say I hold that against him.

Also 1997: John Cusack, then just about Hollywood’s hottest property, stars in Grosse Pointe Blank, in which a disillusioned hitman returns to his home town for a high school reunion. It is worth seeing if only for the scenes between Cusack and Dan Aykroyd, in one of his finest ever roles. But there is one scene where they are inside the high school gym and everybody is getting their groove on to The Bangles. It may have been that moment I sat bolt upright in my chair and thought “Holy shit, ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ is awesome. How come I never noticed?”

It really is awesome. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a band trading verses, which is exactly what happens here. Boyzone’s ‘No Matter What’ is notorious for it. And on Heaven For Everyone, the final, effectively posthumous studio album, there’s a song called ‘Let Me Live’ – to all intents and purposes a rewritten ‘Take Another Piece Of My Heart’ – in which Freddie, Roger and Brian all take a verse each, and it sounds like one of those lovely communal efforts even though you know it probably wasn’t. John is characteristically silent, unless they decided they didn’t like his vocals, which is reportedly what happened to the Bangles’ drummer. Never work with children, animals or your siblings.

There is a bit in that video that I remember vividly from my childhood, and that’s the moment when –

Supposedly Susanna Hoffs was looking at different members of the audience, which explains the eye movement. Whether it really was to overcome stage fright we may never really know, but it’s an important point and we will come back to it later.

Fast forward to 2003, and Emily and I are poking around the shops in Straford. It is our first weekend away together. We will visit the bard’s house, try out a few of the pubs and go to see Taming Of The Shrew (still the best Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen, even after all these years). It is release day for Order of the Phoenix: I insist on finding a local independent bookshop to buy it. Two years later, with far less cashflow, I will have abandoned such pretentions, although perhaps not entirely.

Ragdoll Productions have their offices in Stratford, and there is a shop at the quieter end of town: amidst all the cuddly Teletubbies and Rosie & Jim memorabilia there is a TV showing something that will terrify me to the depths of my soul, and it is this.

“What on earth are we looking at?” I ask the young man on the till.

“Oh, it’s, like their new thing,” he says. “It’s called The Boohbahs.”
“Boohbahs? What are they, when they’re at home?”
“They’re atoms of energy. And they do dancing and there are story bits.”

That’s basically it. A pod full of bulbous particles who rest in cryosleep until awoken to do a bit of cavorting in a huge white space while frightened children watch from the comfort of their living rooms. It is Teletubbies, minus the charm. The central concept is much the same: colourful characters who dance around and tell a story. The problem is that the story and the Boohbahs aren’t really allowed to mix. There is an opening dance number (more on that in a moment), before a group of ethnically diverse children push a gigantic parcel through a portal into what passes for the real world, where its contents are delivered to a strange extended family. There’s Mr Man (who resembles a portly Laurence Fishburne), Mrs Lady, Brother and Sister – presumably on some sort of overseas student programme, from the way they’re dressed – two grandparents, and a dog. After the story – delivered exclusively in narrated mime, presumably to aid international dubbing – we return to the pod, where the Boohbahs do another dance which is loosely related to the events of the episode, before going back to bed.

But they’re seriously creepy. There’s no way around it. The whole presentation is halting and uncomfortable, replete with pauses and silences, broken by sneezes and 1970s sound effects. The Boohbahs themselves are silent puffballs with no visible presence and nothing to differentiate between them save the colour scheme: beyond this they are, to all intents and purposes, absolutely identical. There’s a futile attempt at a roll call: “Humbah! Zumbah! Zing Zing Zingbah! And the others whose names I’ve forgotten because they have no obvious personality!”. And they all line up, with almost military precision, staring hard into the camera like one possessed, before performing an array of oddly hypnotic dance moves. I pride myself on my ability to understand the way children’s programmes work but even I can’t explain this monstrosity. Is this why army recruitment is down?

The biggest problem with Boohbah, of course – and in all likelihood the reason it’s not repeated – is that it uses Chris Langham for the voiceovers. Not that I have any personal beef with Langham; he’s brilliant in The Thick Of It and whatever he may or may not have done I always believe in separating art from artist. But Langham’s history makes it awkward. This is perhaps being a little generous to Boohbah, of course, which could just as easily have been pulled from the schedules because it’s honestly a little bit crap. And in general, we try not to think about it.

Last scene of all: a couple of months ago. I’m watching YouTube videos with Edward and I notice this.

Heck, they dance, don’t they? Why not do something with that?

So I did. And here it is.

I make no apology, but I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.

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The tenuous Doctor Who / CBeebies connection, part 34 1/2

 

Five memes. Some are Who-connected. Most are not.

1. The obligatory Bing thing

Bing_TARDIS

2. The ‘two cultural references in one meme’ / ‘well, there’s sort of a Big Barn Farm connection’ thing.

Babe-Pig

3. The obligatory Dinopaws thing.

Dinopaws_23

4. The ‘vaguely topical’ / ‘why didn’t I think of this one earlier’ thing.

Messi_Okido

5. And finally, the ‘Catastrophic revelation’ one.

Maisie_Tele

 

Have a lovely Sunday!

 

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Why CBeebies is bad for your children

All right, here’s how it normally goes.

Complaining parent: I have just been watching Bing with my child. I object strenuously to the language. He talks nonsense and nobody corrects him!

Me: Well, Bing is supposed to be three. He’s still learning language. The adults do correct them, but they do it by example. If they made a show that was entirely about fixing grammatical errors, it would be mind-numbingly tedious. Plus if they all spoke perfect English it would just grate. I’ve seen shows that do that, and they’re tortuous to watch.

Complaining parent: Children are just going to pick up bad habits, though. It’s CBeebies’ job to give them role models.

Me: Not as such. It’s CBeebies’ job to entertain and educate. It does that by presenting realistic, rounded characters. We could argue back and forth about Bing – certainly Flop is far too patient to be even remotely plausible – but the use of language _is_ comparatively realistic.

Whining parent-who-is-probably-friends-with thread originator: Dinopaws is another one. “Thunk”. THAT’S NOT A REAL WORD!

Me: Dinopaws plays with language. The world is very new, remember? They’re trying things out, and part of that is the formulation of language, when applied to things they discover. That’s why they make up words occasionally.

Whining parent: I’m not having my children use made-up words.

Me: So presumably you won’t allow them to read Spike Milligan or Lewis Carroll, then? Or Shakespeare, who supposedly invented half the words in the dictionary?

Complaining parent: Well, it’s all very well, but children are like sponges. They learn from the TV.

Me: They really don’t. Before Bing, it was In The Night Garden. It goes right back to Bill and Ben. A generation has been exposed to Teletubbies and it hasn’t done them any harm.

Illiterate parent: i disagree i seen wot kids are sayin and they dont no how to talk proper and its not right, i thought Cbeebies was there to educate are children but thats just my opinion

Me: [considers re-evaluating previous statement]

Complaining parent: Well, there are children whose parents don’t speak to them enough and just let them watch telly all day and their children will pick up bad habits.

Me: Then they’re bad parents. And that’s something for which the BBC cannot and should not be held accountable.

Complaining parent: All the same, I don’t want my children exposed to language like this. I don’t think these shows should be on TV.

Me: So don’t watch. No one has a gun to your head. But these programmes are very popular and while I can’t exactly quantify the educational benefits, I don’t think they’re detrimental to language development.

Complaining parent: I disagree. I think they should be removed and CBeebies should be more responsible.

Me: CBeebies is more responsible than you realise. They don’t just turn up in a studio and make stuff. This is all researched, argued and discussed all the way up.

Complaining parent: Well, it’s just my opinion. I have a right to state my opinion.

Me: Yes, and I have a right to disagree with you if I see fit.

Complaining parent: Go away. It’s none of your business.

Me: You made it my business when you posted this in a public forum. If you’re that cross about this, send a private message to the BBC. If you’re going to post things on the internet, you have to accept the consequences: people are going to talk back.

Complaining parent: [deletes thread]

Bing_Blackboard

I’ve lost count. I mean it. I sometimes feel I ought to feed these stock phrases into a computer, like they do with children’s school reports, and print out standard responses to save me constantly having to type the same thing over and over. It’s not that the language thing is a majority viewpoint. It’s just that the ones who find it an issue see it as their moral duty to tell the people who made the programme what they’ve heard a hundred times before and don’t care about anyway, and unfortunately I see it as my duty to tell them where they’re going wrong. And so on and so on. It’s Forth Bridge territory (that’s the Forth Bridge as it used to be, before they got that shiny paint that lasts for decades). The worst thing is that such discussions nearly always seem to deteriorate into a slanging match – or, if you want to rework that Beach Boys / Crystals song:

I got into an argument on Facebook just the other day
Disagreed with someone who kept telling me to go away
She asked me why I did engage
I said it was a public page
She fell into a sweary rage
And then she blocked me.

Why do I continue to have this argument? Well, the BBC gets enough flak and is subjected to constant bashing from people who want it to be a bespoke organisation tailored to their own particular needs, and can’t (or won’t) understand why this can never happen. But I wrote an entire paragraph about learning from my own mistakes and wanting to inspire others, and then deleted it – because the inconvenient truth (and I’ve never shied away from this) is that, rather like C.S. Lewis, I like a good fight. Who doesn’t? And who doesn’t want to win and relish in winning? Some days I feel as if I’ve won a victory for common sense and rationality. Other times, after getting blocked by Stacey from Gillingham and threatened by her knuckle-dragging boyfriend, I feel like I’m punching below my weight, and I hate myself.

I didn’t want this to turn into a navel-gazing exercise, so we will abandon the introspection. For the curious, here are some facts:

– There is no BBC-led conspiracy to dumb down your children.

– If you really think an authentic portrayal of developing language is going to harm your children, you need to get out more.

– If you don’t like the gibberish, tough. You’re not the intended audience.

– “Please, won’t somebody think of the parents?” is the world’s worst campaign slogan.

That last one seems to be prevalent in abundance whenever the BBC bring back a supposedly annoying show – which happened late last year during the Teletubbies resurrection. “NOOOO!” was the standard response. “Can’t stand the annoying things, stunting our children’s development” – the sort of statement that shows they’d not only missed the point, they’d not even noticed the point is there: the point is a dot on the horizon, hidden behind one of those hills populated by a CG windmill, a suspiciously plump Dipsy and a nervous-looking rabbit.

“I hope,” said one particular person, who shall remain anonymous because I can’t be arsed trawling through the archives to find her, “that you will listen to these complaints about the new series of Teletubbies and not actually broadcast it. Because no one wants to see this rubbish.” Someone really should tell my two-year-old, who watches every episode of this rubbish with an unbridled sense of joy. The dancing, the repeated language, the colourful enthusiasm – it’s all tailor-made for his age group, and he knows it. I know it. There’s always the risk that he’s picking up bad habits, so the other day I tested him by singing the theme song.

Me: Tinky Winky…
Edward: Dipsy…
Me: La-La…
Edward: Po…
Me: Teletubbies…
Edward: Teletubbies…
Me: Say…hello!
Edward: Hello!

Q.E.D.

Of course, once the series actually aired the complaints died a sudden death, presumably because all the affronted parents had either seen the error of their ways or simply switched over to Milkshake, where you can endure the formerly great series that is Thomas and Friends and cultivate a sense of consumer greed and gender labelling in your children during those appalling ad breaks. In the end, the only things that made me seriously cross in the new series of Teletubbies were some of the cosmetic changes – the fact that the fabulous foursome now have to ask before doing big hugs (an adjustment that’s presumably wrapped up in the consent debacle), along with the freshly-painted Noo Noo, and the needless redecoration of the Home Dome.

Doc_Dome

There are always new parents on the CBeebies Facebook page, and always new people to be reassured, but back in November, after a hundred or so of these conversations, I’d had enough. There had to be a better way to get rid of some of the angst, and it turned out to be satire. You may cast the blame squarely at daytime TV, and the sort of heart-rending commercials that saturate ad breaks in between Judge Judy and the Come Dine With Me marathons. Adopt a snow leopard? Check. Heart disease? Yup, got it. Jean and his filthy water, gazing solemnly into the camera as the flies buzz around him? Oh, you’ve seen that one, haven’t you? I wouldn’t trade places with that poor kid for all the coffee in Brazil, but the cynic in me notes with appreciation how the emotional content of such campaigns is milked for maximum tissue effect. For better or worse there is a formula to these things, and if nothing else, I think I grasped it here.

I will spare you most of the production details. It was a troubled shoot, because one child wasn’t being particularly cooperative, although I managed to get some usable footage. Music was a public domain piece I found on YouTube and narration came courtesy of the splendid David Winstanley, whom some of you may remember from that spoof Public Information Film I did a while back about the dangers of playing in quarries. Most of my friends seemed to get the joke immediately, undoubtedly thanks to my Facebook arguments clogging up their timeline. But somewhat predictably, there were a good number of people who completely missed the satire. “You’ve written ‘biggerer’ at the end,” said one person. “Doesn’t that undermine your point?”

Then there’s Ian Bellis, whose YouTube comment deserves reproducing more or less in full. “I think it is time Cbeebies got took off BBC,” he says, “because it is doing those things to the children out there. Also there is a inappropriate TV show on there. Get well soon. It is because of a silly doctor named Doctor Ranj and he is talking about Wee, Poo and they dancing about being sick and singing too! Nobody wants to dance or sing when they are poorly! CBBC is more better! Chuggington is one annoying TV show, where trains jump up and down and turn quickly around bends. Nobody wants to ride on a Chuggington train! The only shows on Cbeebies which don’t affect your speech and make you learn about stuff is Go Jetters and Topsy and Tim! Cbeebies should not make shows that affect speeches and don’t make you grow up like a baby!”

If it’s meant to be ironic, he does a darn good job and he has yet to admit that he was joking. Either way, it’s a prime example of the principle “that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, parodies of extreme views will be mistaken by some readers or viewers for sincere expressions of the parodied views”- or, to give it its proper name, Poe’s law, after Nathan Poe, as opposed to Edgar Allan.

Po

Yes. Well.

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We want information

OK, question number one: who the hell is watching this?

At last count (this morning) I’d had over 47,000 hits. That’s treble the count of anything else I’ve done. In YouTube terms, of course, it’s chicken feed. The stats are gratifying, but it’s no Double Rainbow or Duck Song. There are days when I envy the creators of those videos and wish I could produce something that would genuinely go viral. And then I remember that YouTube is a big place and that everyone is shouting at once.

Still. It’s quite a lot for my little corner of the web. Laura – who works in my team – has a ready answer: “drunk students”. And she’s probably right. I don’t know why there is such a strong connection between attendance at an institution of higher education and a sudden urge to delve into the cupboards of nostalgia, or even contemporary viewing. Put another way, I have no idea why students went crazy for Teletubbies, except that to a certain extent the Teletubbies – who loafed in a communal household eating vast amounts of toast and custard (and apparently nothing else), sleeping excessively, watching too much TV, occasionally venturing outside for a spot of dancing or game of volleyball, babbling away in an indecipherable language and having to hire a cleaner to keep the premises tidy – were perhaps a better representation of student culture than anything from Ben Elton or even The Young Ones.

I actually asked Laura about this just now, and she associates it with being on the cusp of adulthood but not quite beyond adolescence, “which means you regress. It’s also about shared experiences with a new peer group, and finding those common bonds. Plus eighty per cent of the time you’re spending the morning sleeping off a hangover, so it’s that or Diagnosis Murder“. All of the above would explain why, some fifteen years ago (and still living at home, studying as I did in my home town) I had a Teletubbies poster on the study door. It would explain why Bagpuss is so  enduringly popular. It would also explain the viewing figures for this particular concoction. Or perhaps it doesn’t. Either way, it’s odd.

For a good while, Joshua had a thing about Numberjacks. It stemmed from an episode where he saw Numbers 3 and 5 become trapped inside a puzzle bubble, and at the time he was experiencing something akin to claustrophobic reactions (becoming deeply uncomfortable at several points near the end of Finding Nemo, for example). By the time this had passed, Daniel – his youngest brother – was also finding it slightly unpleasant, happy to sit in the lounge armchair and watch pretty much anything on CBeebies until the opening credits rolled, whereupon he’d request that the channel be changed. I have no idea why this is, except that it probably stems from the fact that Numberjacks is quietly creepy. There is something frightening about it, for all the offbeat slapstick. For one thing, there are numerous periods of quiet and silence and several pregnant pauses – an almost languid pace in today’s heady world of fast cuts and rapid plot development. (Have you seen Postman Pat recently? It’s like an action movie. It’s like watching The Transporter in Cumbria.) There’s also a refreshing lack of background music, which is nice.

For another thing, the villains are downright sinister. There’s Spooky Spoon, a shrieking anthropomorphic baking implement; the slimy freshly-picked-bogey that is the Problem Blob, and the calm, Simon Pegg-like Puzzler. Then there’s the Numbertaker, who looks like Simon Day from The Fast Show, dressed up for a cult funeral where everyone wears white. Even the Numberjacks themselves are a little bit freakish. And yet it’s extremely popular and I have to admit I enjoy it very much: the central problem-solving concept is well-explored, the stories are structured without becoming dull, and the fourth-wall-breaking at the end of each episode is quite effective. I also think there’s a market for an adult version of Numberjacks, complete with Pi, differentials and the occasional quadratic equation.

Such was our familiarity with Numberjacks (when you have three boys you sort of have to learn these things), it’s probably no wonder that when Emily and I finally sat down to watch The Prisoner at the beginning of last year, the connections were made almost instantly. To create a society when everyone is referred to solely by numbers…well, let’s just say the mashup was inevitable. And it’s surprising that no one had thought of it before – I think it was Emily who said “I am not a Numberjack, I am a free man!” (I’d favoured the more predictable “I’m a Numberjack and I’m OK”), and it was one of those quips I was sure would have been made in abundance already, but I could find comparatively little connection between The Prisoner and the Numberjacks online, which is an ideal opportunity for flag-planting, if you get in quick.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know my hang-ups with the overused ‘iconic’, but I am prepared to make a welcome exception for The Prisoner. It is wonderful, wonderful television – by turns baffling, captivating, innovative and groundbreaking. (It is impossible to truly appreciate the Austin Powers films without a working knowledge of the show.) It wasn’t afraid to deviate from its formula – see the western episode, for example – or resort to ridiculous plotlines for the sake of producing a decent hour of television (the bedtime story springs to mind). It was clever, funny, exciting (the first time we see Number Six trying to escape the Village is still extraordinary over forty years later) and decently performed. The final two episodes alone are extraordinary simply by virtue of being utterly different – a heavy-handed psychological war fought between Number Six and Number Two (and so horrible to film, apparently, that it gave poor Leo McKern a nervous breakdown, or a heart attack, depending on which version you read) – followed by the final instalment, which reveals absolutely nothing of any real value and which was received so negatively that Patrick McGoohan had to flee the country to avoid the mob. ‘Fallout’ is quite brilliant, in its own way, but I don’t pretend to understand it, and anyone who tells you he’s figured out what was going on is frankly telling you a whopping great lie.

Technically, this was an easy one to put together. It was just a question of matching the opening theme with a montage of the Numberjacks on their adventures (and synching the lightning with the ‘Brain Gain’ scenes). The trickiest part was sourcing enough wordless footage of Numberjack Six wandering around the suburban areas where the show’s action takes place. By sheer luck, I managed to find footage of him actually saying “Where am I?”, which matched up perfectly with McGoohan’s delivery in the much-quoted opening scene. The net result was quite satisfying, if a little off the wall. I played it to Gareth, who said that my only mistake was including Number One, “and he wasn’t even <massive spoiler>”. Which is a fair point.

Written feedback (i.e. user comments) has been scant and spam-like, and people generally seem to be confused. I can’t help thinking that the bulk of people viewing this are the folks looking up Numberjacks on YouTube, and then clicking on the related videos button and wondering what in the name of Holy Moses they’re watching. Which is fair enough. I think I had exactly the same reaction the first time I watched The Prisoner, and thus the world is as it should be. Be seeing you.

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