Posts Tagged With: the fires of pompeii

Have I Got Whos For You (shameful catch-up edition)

You’re not supposed to apologise when you’re a politician. Dominic Cummings didn’t. Boris hasn’t. Trump certainly didn’t; I don’t think he’s capable of remorse. But I probably should: I’ve let you all down. You’ve been sitting there, on tenterhooks, awaiting something new and bloggish from the BoM crew (a crew consisting of one balding middle-aged man in a severely untidy study), and what happens? Nada. Zip. Zilch. I can picture you all, crying into your beds at night, anxiously hitting the refresh buttons on phones and tablets and sobbing at children and significant others: “ALL I WANTED WAS SOMETHING TO HELP ME THROUGH LOCKDOWN AND HE CAN’T EVEN MANAGE THAT!”

What? What do you mean you haven’t?

There have been…difficulties in the house over the last few weeks, and while we’re stumbling towards a temporary and uneasy equilibrium I’ve kind of had my hands full. And on the occasions they’ve been empty, I’ve been drained. Lockdown seems to have done that to people; we’ve all slowed down a bit. Perhaps I’d be able to cope with this better had we not been in the throes of a pandemic; there’s nothing better for destroying your motivation to do stuff than the knowledge that you more or less have to do it because you can’t go out.

That’s not to say I haven’t been producing content. There’s loads of it, and it’s all stacked up like an M20 Brexit run. Shall we clean out the pipes?

We start in early January, with the news that archaeologists in Pompeii had dug out the remains of what appeared to be a Roman fast food stand, complete with serving holes and some questionable artwork.

I’d love to visit Pompeii. I’d love to visit anywhere, come to think of it; you don’t appreciate small local jollies until that’s all you can do. Last May was Thomas’ birthday: we drove out to East Hendred, not too far from here, and walked through a small patch of woodland. At any other time of year it would have been a mundane afternoon out. In the midst of a pandemic, it was an adventure.

There’s always TV, of course. For example, early February saw the Super Bowl, which led to the obligatory Photoshop.

While the rest of the UK languishes inside, Boris is spotted riding his bike in Olympic Park. How do we know this?

Meanwhile in the TARDIS: Exhausted, disheartened and under-equipped, Rory is in desperate need of assistance as he battles to save the life of his patient. Fortunately the Doctor and Amy are on hand with a solution.

Of course, the big news so far this year (I use the word ‘news’) loosely concerns the rumours about Jodie Whittaker’s imminent departure, with ‘a source’ leaking the announcement to the Mirror. The BBC have neither confirmed nor denied this information, which is a euphemism for ‘it’s probably true’. It would certainly fit the mould: three series and that’s your lot, it seems, and I wonder what would happen if Whittaker were to actually regenerate in front of a companion who clearly loves her, or who is if nothing else becoming excessively clingy. If nothing else it’d be a bit of a laugh.

Say what you like about the Mirror, but they have form: they knew about the shift to Sundays, they knew about Walsh and Cole, and they clearly have a man on the inside, even if that man turns out to be Chibnall. But until it turns out to actually be the truth, it’s probably best if we treat such rumours with a heavy dose of salt.

Speaking of salt – well, no. Not salt, per se, but Weetabix toppings. In one of the least likely pairings since fish fingers and…well, you know, Weetabix have teamed up with Heinz to offer what is for many of us a frankly unorthdox breakfast solution. I’m fine, I don’t eat the stuff anyway, but it’s caused a furore over social media, largely because we’re in the middle of lockdown and there’s sod all else to do; not even a field trip.

We’re told to work from home, which is fine unless you’re a freelance piano teacher and your pupils don’t actually want to have online lessons, or your internet connection is rubbish, or you happen to be a cat.

But however bad things have been, chances are you’re having a better time of it than Donald Trump. Having spectacularly failed to mount the coup he’d allegedly been inciting – despite the best efforts of armed protesters who stormed the Capitol – the 45th President of the United States found his options running out and his supporters waning (well, some of them) and ultimately he had no choice but to slink off with another Donald who’d found himself suddenly removed from office.

It gets worse. Next thing you know the public at large is demanding Trump’s removal from Home Alone 2, a cameo filmed in one of his hotels and which he allegedly bullied the production team in order to secure. It rarely gets played in network broadcasts these days – it’s easier, I suppose, to simply avoid the headache – but the stills are out there on the internet, lingering like smears in the bathtub, and it seems the planned course of action from the clicktivists is to saturate Google with Photoshopped images that show Macaulay Culkin in conversation with someone else, so as to bump the displaced President down the search results.

Oh well. In for a penny.

But perhaps Trump’s biggest disaster was the loss of his Twitter account – a potent and powerful tool that enabled him to spread false information, rally his troops and (if nothing else) stay in the headlines of a press who hung on every misleading, poorly-spelled word. The permanent suspension that eventually hit in January was too little, too late, but you can’t entirely blame Twitter for not taking action until it was certain they wouldn’t be hit with an executive order demanding they cease and desist all operation immediately (which is, let’s face it, exactly what he would have done). As it stands, I’ve heard he took some rather drastic steps in an attempt to get himself reinstated.

We’ll finish with some of those Bernie memes. You know. The ones that got everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Who knew the simple act of sitting cross-legged on a chair wearing a pair of mittens could have such a gargantuan impact on web traffic? What happened to us all to make us lose our minds like this? And yes, I’m using the third person quite deliberately, because this really was a gift to those of us who do this sort of thing more or less daily. And thus I made a few myself.

See you again soon for more silliness, and possibly even something with a bit of substance to it. But don’t hold your breath…

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Have I Got Whos For You (part 46)

It was a little after one in the afternoon and the six of us were gathered round the dining table. The conversation had – for reasons I now can’t recall – turned to the subject of boobs.

I mean, what is it with young boys and inappropriate table talk? If it’s not boobs or bottoms it’s fecal deposit, the colour and texture of vomit or the ins and outs (quite literally) of sex. We have a set of dining rules stuck on the wall, and number ten – the one I call them out on most frequently – is “Don’t talk about anything unsuitable for mealtimes.” Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps it’s like a magnet, an invitation to see how far they can push us before we inevitably snap.

“Anyway,” I eventually said, not entirely seriously but with an attempt to restore a modicum of decorum to proceedings. “You really shouldn’t say ‘boobs’. You should say ‘bosoms’.”
“Oh,” said Josh. “I thought that was that religion.”
“That’s Buddhism.”

Honestly? It’s easy to mishear things. Particularly if there’s one word that you’re accustomed to, and another less-used word sort of sounds a bit like it.

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Is it a coincidence that I started to eat a lot of Brie right around the time I last saw ‘Fear Her’? I genuinely don’t think so.

My father grew up in Tunbridge Wells, and while my grandparents were alive we often went back there. You spend enough time hanging around Royal Victoria Place, certain things stick. I can still remember the grubbiness of the local Our Price, the semi-organised clutter of the small independent video game shop that was – as was so often the case with such things – there and then not there, like something from Terry Pratchett. And I can remember Fenwick, the department store that my grandmother insisted we visit one Saturday morning to have lunch, planning the whole thing with military precision and presenting, perhaps for the first time, an indication that her mental faculties were not what they were.

So in years to come, when I would familiarise myself with old Doctor Who stories, it was easy to misread ‘The Curse of Fenric’ as something entirely different.

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Anyway: the whole thing with Buddhism reminded me of a conversation I’d had with Daniel a year or so ago in which we’d discussed watching New Who: I was at that stage still trying to pick out random episodes I thought he’d like, before we eventually made the decision to watch them all.

“I think you’d enjoy The Fires of Pompeii, actually.”
“What’s Pompeii?” he asked.
“It’s an ancient Roman city. They had a volcano.”
“Oh. I thought it was those crisps.”
“That’s Pom-Bear.”

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Fireworks

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This? This is why you never go shopping with a Time Lord on Black Friday.

Why am I photoshopping pictures of Troughton into shots from ‘Day of the Doctor’? It’s all connected with a piece I wrote for The Doctor Who Companion about how Matt Smith’s Doctor borrowed from Troughton. Highlights include recorders, jumping and Batman – if that’s the sort of thing that interests you, you are welcome to read the whole thing.

It’s partly down to recap. I got the idea because since about June or July Daniel and I have been going through every episode (except ‘The Waters of Mars’, which he requested we skip) from 2005 onwards, in an attempt to watch them all before spring, and series 10. Last week we got to ‘The Eleventh Hour’ – an episode notorious for that opening scene where the Doctor pokes his head out from the wrecked TARDIS, demanding an apple. It would be quite feasible to swap it with the Second Doctor, asking for a sandwich.

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Watching New Who with Daniel has been a fun experience, although I’m not sure how I felt about the fact that he read the 2017 annual over the weekend (a Christmas grotto gift) and now knows what River Song did and, more importantly, who she is. I know I talk about how spoilers are overrated (and how a show dependent upon them is destined to fail); simultaneously, if the only reason to actually put up with River for a third time is to see your child’s jaw drop when she announces “I’m your daughter” at the end of ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, how on earth am I going to cope now that this tantalising prospect has been removed?

Wine may be involved, I suspect. On the upside, it does mean that I no longer have to field a constant barrage of questions about “Who is she? Can you give me a clue? When do we see her again? What’s going on?”. Or that time we took a train into Reading to see the pantomime (Dick Whittington, starring Justin Fletcher, and not too bad at all) and we got into a discussion about which ones he might enjoy.

Me: I think you’d like The Fires of Pompeii, actually.

Daniel: What’s Pompeii?

Joshua: It’s an ancient Roman city. They had a volcano.

Daniel: Oh. I thought it was those crisps.

Me: That’s Pom-Bear.

fires_pombear

The other thing I did recently was to compose an only slightly ridiculous alternate history for Doctor Who, commencing in 2003 when Russell T Davies decided to remake ‘Scream of the Shalka’ and turn it into the first of his New Who stories, casting Richard E. Grant as the Ninth Doctor and sticking Derek Jacobi in the TARDIS as an android Master. If you’ve read The Writer’s Tale, you’ll recall Davies telling Benjamin Cook that the Shalka Doctor was the only component of the expanded franchise he had to knock on the head, purely to avoid confusion. But what if he’d decided not to? What if they’d built on the existing continuity rather than tearing it down? What if they’d never cracked the States?

Writing all this down turned out to be very easy; the hard part was finding decent photos of Grant and Jacobi to make up this composite.

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Grant’s still not quite right. (This was, by the way, a fan-made photoshoot; I just changed the heads. Well, it worked in last year’s Christmas episode.)

Anyway, before you know it, you’ve gone off in all sorts of directions, and Tennant’s a recurring guest actor in all number of roles and you’ve cast Anna Maxwell-Martin as the Doctor.

With Russell Tovey.

And Jane Horrocks as the Master.

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It could happen. It totally could.

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The New Who Top Ten: #10

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It seems funny to think that it’s been ten years since I was a young upstart working in academic publishing, making the most of the office broadband connection in order to read BBC articles about the upcoming revival of Doctor Who. It was early spring 2005, and everyone was fairly excited. We’d seen trailers showing animated shop dummies, ghosts and a spaceship crashing into Big Ben (well, the clock tower that contains it, although I’m sure they hit the bell on their way down). Farting aliens, irritating love stories and the arm-folding shouts of ‘Fantastic’ that would define at least the first series of Russell T. Davies’ reign were still a world away, and in the meantime the imminent ‘series one’ was little more than an intoxicating world of wonders waiting to be discovered.

A decade later, with four more children than I had the first time Eccleston put on the leather jacket, I’ll admit that I’m very jaded about this revived Doctor Who. Those of you who read this regularly will know that I spend a lot of time whinging about story arcs, companion-centric universes and ontological inanity – to the extent that the list that begins today will feature, you will note, absolutely nothing from the last series. It’s nothing personal. I’m a big fan of this new Doctor. Capaldi’s fiery and glacial and wonderful, embodying Hartnell and Pertwee and even bits of Colin Baker. He just doesn’t have the stories he deserves, although I live in hope that this will change.

But enough of that for now. It would be nice to spend a couple of weeks accentuating the positive. Over at Metro, where I write occasionally, the very talented Cameron McEwan is doing a top ten countdown of New Who episodes, one story a day – so it makes perfect sense to do our own here, in parallel. Well, sort of parallel. He’s writing “episodes you have to see”, which is a little different to the somewhat more subjective “best episodes”. But it may be interesting to see how our lists compare, so I will link to Cameron’s posts as we go (not that he needs the traffic). And we start with…

Vesuvius_Erupts

Number 10: ‘Fires of Pompeii’ (2008)

Let’s get one thing straight: I bloody love Donna Noble. If New Who were a recruitment consultancy staffed by giggly hormonal teenage girls (and many recruitment consultancies are), she would be the branch manager, older and wiser and more grounded. She crash-lands in the TARDIS as the most irritating sidekick since Mel – with hair to match – and then is completely transformed. She is that rare breed: a New Who companion who undergoes a character arc that doesn’t leave me fired up with loathing and irritation.

Oh, for sure it all goes to pot in those final episodes. The Doctor-Donna thing is mind-numbingly tedious, and the Dalek-crushing, super-intelligent Donna in ‘Journey’s End’ is borderline offensive (what, she couldn’t save the universe on her own; she needed the Doctor’s brains?). But her transformation prior to that convergence is wonderful, and most refreshingly of all it’s done with comparative restraint, at least for this period in the show’s history: it’s nice to have a companion in the TARDIS who genuinely doesn’t want to shag the Doctor, and while the “No, we’re not a couple” gags quickly become tiresome, just for a change, the lady doth not protest too much.

"WOTAN!"

“WOTAN!”

‘Pompeii’ is early Donna. It’s her baptism of fire, in an almost literal sense. She is a willing traveller and the Doctor the most reluctant of hosts (the look on Tennant’s face at the end of ‘Partners in Crime’ as Tate loads her suitcases into the TARDIS is absolutely priceless). She reacts to the site of ancient Rome (or what she and the Doctor believe to be Rome) by addressing one of the street vendors in Latin, just to see what will happen. She takes the sight of fiery volcanic monsters in her stride, crying “You fought her off with a water pistol; I bloody love you!”. And she implores the Doctor to intervene in a raging, tear-stained exchange as Pompeii burns – although her high point arguably comes a few scenes earlier, when she clasps a hand over the Doctor’s inside the escape pod, as the two of them silently make history together. (It’s a scene Moffat would visit – however unconsciously – years later, at a pivotal moment in ‘Day of the Doctor’.)

But good as she is, Tate isn’t even the best thing about this episode. That honour goes to Phil Davis, in a performance described as “scowling” by Digital Spy: Lucius is a wrathful soothsayer who starts out intense and builds to fire and brimstone of Biblical proportions. It’s possibly the most angry performance in New Who and Davis hams it up like the villains of old. Not for him the balanced, morally ambiguous Machiavellian of ‘Timelash’ or the complex morality of ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. This is Omega territory. We could be back in 1973. In a way, we very nearly are. The entire episode has an almost overblown feel to it, as if James Moran wanted to write a contemporary story in the style of the Doctor Who he knew years ago.

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‘Fires of Pompeii’ is infamous, of course, for featuring an early appearance from a red-swathed Karen Gillan as well as a supporting role from a future Doctor. It gave Moffat the excuse for yet another over-arching mystery in a tedious scene in ‘Deep Breath’ (one to which I’m sure we’ll return at some point) but the episode really deserves a stronger legacy than this. ‘Fires of Pompeii’ is gratuitously ham-fisted, and is as invested in silliness as it is in the moral debate that forms the narrative thrust of the third act. But there’s a satisfying consistency that runs right through to the ending, and the Doctor’s decision to save Caecilius and his family – however inconsequential in the grand scheme of things – feels as much in character as does his initial decision to abandon them. When Tennant opens the door of his TARDIS, bathed in light, peeking through the fourth wall and beckoning both the helpless Romans and the entire audience to “come with me”, you can’t help but cheer. And that’s my general reaction to the entire episode. It’s crowd-pleasing, but sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Even with Doctor Who.

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Cameron’s Episode: ‘Turn Left’

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