Posts Tagged With: the halloween apocalypse

Doctor Who: Flux – The Executive Summaries (part 1)

You remember this, don’t you? The silliness that comes between stories; those miniature reviews knocked off in cafes and spare moments that evolved, gradually, into skits and songs and random observations. Pack ’em up, parcel ’em off and lo and behold, the editor at The Doctor Who Companion rolls his eyes and pastes them into this week’s communal writeup.

It didn’t start out this way. There was a time when I was trying to do this properly, to give decent opinions that reflected how I actually felt about an episode, all neatly packaged into condensed three-paragraph summaries. Somewhere along the line, I got bored. Or just fed up. Or a combination of both. It’s not easy, being one of the few DWC writers who actually enjoys the show at the moment. You feel like you do in primary school when they ask the class to vote for an end-of-term video, and you stick your hand up for The Famous Five while everyone else votes for Labyrinth. It’s not that you’re wrong, you’re just a minority.

This time around, I elected not to actually share my opinion of the stories, at least not with any transparency. Oh, certain things slip through. You can feel the scorn, particularly when it was something I really didn’t like. But there are advantages to hiding behind a metaphor: you can just tell people that you’re having a laugh, and to take everything with a grain or two of salt. Besides, it’s far more fun being a little creative. “Are we poor?” my children sometimes ask me. “No,” I tell them. “We’re bohemian.”

These are quite long, so I’ve elected to give you the first two today and the rest in a future installment. There are links to the communal write-ups on the DWC website, if you wanted to read something more sensible, or something that affiliates with your own views. But before we do that, we need to drop in on Matt Strevens’ office.

The Halloween Apocalypse

“Right, Chris. What sort of state are we in for the new series?”

“Matt! Matt, I was thinking. Do you think you could ever make a Zygon sexy?”

“I – I don’t – “

“I mean they’re sort of very distinct, aren’t they? They have a peculiar shape. It’s a bit phallic. But I’m just remembering Coneheads, that Saturday Night Live sketch with Dan Aykroyd, and I was wondering, if you got a Zygon to lounge in just the right way – “

“Chris – “

“I’m just remembering the Katy Manning photoshoot, and – “

“Chris! Can we focus?”

“Fine, yes, sorry, yep. Series 13, then.”

“Series 13. What are we planning?”

“Right. I thought in episode one we’d blow up the universe.”

“Okay, so high stakes. Like it. I presume you mean some sort of threat that overshadows the whole series and that the Doctor deals with at the last minute?”

“No, we actually blow it up.”

“…Right, and then?”

“Don’t know. Something.”

“It’s kind of a narrative cul-de-sac, isn’t it?”

“Only a little bit. And besides, we introduce a bunch of other stories and characters first. I’ve got scenes in the Arctic, scenes in Victorian London, scenes in a desolate alien prison that looks like the edge of hell – “

“Where are we planning on filming that?”

“Swindon. Then we’ll bring in all these new people and have them dig tunnels and stuff. And there’s this woman who knows the Doctor but they haven’t met yet.”

“That’s kind of been done to death, Chris.”

“Yes, but she gets touched by an Angel. And then there’s this fella, Dan. He works as a formula one driver.”

“That sounds prohibitively expensive.”

“All right, he works in a food bank.”

“Better.”

“And he’s kidnapped by a six-foot dog. From the North.”

“Yorkshire or Lancashire?”

“Is there a difference?”

“I – never mind. Are you going to explain who all these people are and what they’re doing?”

“No! That’s the brilliant part. We just leave the audience to figure it out.”

“And then fill in the blanks later.”

“If I remember, yeah. The thing is, they’re always complaining I’m too heavy-handed and obvious. This’ll really fox ’em.”

“The thing is, Chris, you’re not exactly good with dialogue.”

“I know! That’s the joy of it! We throw enough ideas at people, they won’t even care. Give ’em the old razzle-dazzle. How can they see with sequins in their eyes?”

“Chris! Sit down. This really isn’t the time for a soft-shoe. And my office isn’t big enough.”

“Sorry.”

“Anyway. You need to have some​ dialogue. How are you going to cover for your complete inability to string a sentence together?”

“We turn up Akinola and blame it on poor post-production.”

“I’ll have to smooth things over with the sound editors, but all right.”

“Meanwhile I’ve got this big bad villain who escapes from his cell and dissolves people.”

“Please tell me he doesn’t snap his fingers.”

“No, but I had this idea about a PELVIC THRUST OF ANNIHILATION, and – “

“Chris!”

“Right. I’ll redraft. So there’s a bit of a chase and there’s the bit where Dan discovers the TARDIS and Yaz and the Doctor have a bit of banter.”

“And then we blow up the universe.”

“Precisely, Matt. Precisely.”

“I assume we keep this a closely-guarded secret so people’s jaws drop when it happens?”

“No, not at all. I’m planning on telling everyone in all the interviews.”

“Won’t they be disappointed?”

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

“You’ve obviously never met Lance Armstrong. Fine, I think we’re done here.”

“Brilliant. Are there any Smarties left?”

“No. You ate them all.”

“Really? I hadn’t even noticed.”

“I had.”

DWC write-up

War of the Sontarans

From: First Corporal Erskib, Location Scout for 14th Noble Batallion of the Outer Southwest Fringes of the Great and Indomitable Sontaran Empire

To: Brigadier General Prazan, Central Command

Subject: Field Report

Brigadier General, 

I trust this report finds you well and in rude health, and that the war against the Rutans is going swimmingly. I am sure you have awaited this write-up of what the Sontaran Press have already dubbed ‘Wokgate’ with interest and anticipation, and I am hopeful that my thorough investigation of things will shed some light onto exactly what happened during the latest failed conquest of strategic withdrawal from the planet known as Earth.

Before we go any further, I feel I must apologise for the incident with the cat. I honestly didn’t know it would explode. Had I been aware of this, I would certainly not have inserted the probe until you yourself had moved from splattering distance. No words have actually been said about the matter, but I am of sufficiently sound mind to determine that it was this unfortunate upset that has led to my recent demotion and subsequent reassignment to this backwater hellhole. No matter: I have learned my lesson. Res fiunt, as we say on Sontar – or, as the Judoon might have put it, ‘Ko Blo Ro So Fo Jo No-No’.

Investigating incidents on Earth is, you are aware, fraught with complications. Chief amongst them is the fact that we have been here before, on multiple occasions, and that it has never ended well. There are rumours that one deserter may still be living here in a time period we have yet to identify. We do not know precisely where he is, but there is a trail of confectionary bills. However, on this occasion, the mess was not difficult to spot: Commander Riksaw, for reasons of his own choosing, opted to begin his establishment of Operation: Outpost Earth in 19th Century Europe, supposedly because he had developed an affinity for the local wildlife. We have a word for people like that on Sontar, but sadly the inbuilt censorship filter will not allow me to use it in this missive.

It was all going swimmingly until the irritating human known as the Doctor blundered onto the scene. She used to be a girl, and now she’s a boy. I simply can’t understand how it all works and why things can’t stay as they are. One woman – sorry, one man on his own should not have been able to penetrate our defences, let alone muster enough firepower to blow them up. Where on earth did they get enough dynamite? How did they move it? My investigation has revealed that there was some help at hand: two humans, one of whom has the unenviable job of performing puncture repairs to the skins of wounded humans. Surveillance footage from the black box recording has revealed she has some spunk about her: sadly the human military general that accompanied her was about as interesting as a freshly-plastered wall, and about as two-dimensional.

I have seen the footage of the battle in a Crimean field, and this at least was a glorious day for the might of Sontar. Sadly our excursions some years later seem to have gone rather awry, owing to the antics of a rogue native who managed to knock out half a platoon with a cooking implement. This is the price you get for landing in Merseyside. We should have gone to Tijuana; at least that has a beach. I would also raise questions, Brigadier General, as to how half a dozen troops can empty their magazines from ten feet away without landing a single shot on target. The onboard ship’s computer – a sentient model I have named Angela – recommended a piece of Earth culture entitled Star Wars. After watching this piece of drivel I know more and understand even less. 

My recommendations:

  • Up the border security on the secret military encampments – we’re a clone army; surely they can spare a few people to watch the perimeter
  • Mandatory shooting range exercises to be introduced daily for all troops
  • Can we please, please get the scientists to do something about the probic vent? Honestly, it’s embarrassing. I can’t even stand at a urinal without having to crane my neck every couple of seconds.

Signing off now, Brigadier General. While I wait for the dropship I am examining a little more of Earth culture, particularly its cuisine. I have learned of a local creature known as a poodle. I hear they’re delicious.

Sontar-HA!

Cordially yours,

First Corporal Erskib, Mrs.

DWC write-up

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God is in the detail (13-01)

The other day, I told you I didn’t do fan theory in my reviews. There’s a simple reason: I save it for the follow-up posts. And oh, have we woven the tangliest of webs in our forays across the strange and inevitable, constant reader! We’ve seen the patterns in the readouts and the drawings in the maps. We’ve delighted upon the hidden significance of strange objects and the cryptic portents of the etchings on a bracelet. Because a lot of people think Chris Chibnall is an idiot, but you and I know better. He’s playing a long game, and everything you saw in ‘The Halloween Apocalypse’ (and I do mean absolutely everything) was placed there for a reason. There is method in madness and marvel in the mundane. And so – because there’s no other choice – I bring you the latest in this series of VERY IMPORTANT CLUES that you definitely missed when you were watching on Sunday evening.

Having examined the archives, I note that the last time I did one of these was when we’d just met the Fugitive Doctor. I don’t know what happened to the rest of that series. Perhaps I burned out. Or perhaps there just weren’t any clues. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. We’ll make up for lost time.

Starting with this…

Blink and you’ll miss it. Seen clutched by the Doctor and Yaz in the opening scene, this seemingly innocent metal bar actually holds a wealth of detail. For a start, think of it as a clock – with a black space between six and eight. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, of course. It’s not like there were any references to the McCoy era during that opening sequence. I mean, it’s not as if she was talking about Nitro 9 or anything. Oh, wait. She was. I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks yourself, but please don’t forget that Sophie Aldred wrote a book last year. An upcoming cameo is CLEARLY AND TRANSPARENTLY on the cards.

The other thing about this? Well, orientate it ninety degrees to the left and paint it yellow and you’ve got Pac-Man. First unveiled in 1980, the pill-popping pizza has two birthdays depending on how you count: 22 May, when he was first unveiled, and 10 October, when the game was released in America. It’s this second date that interests us the most, given that it is one day before the broadcast of ‘Meglos’ – specifically episode two, in which the cactus-like shapeshifter assumes the appearance of the Doctor, as played by Tom Baker. While he’s off getting involved in all manner of shenanigans, the real Doctor is trying to get out of a time loop with the help of Romana and K-9.

The other thing about this? Well, orientate it ninety degrees and paint it yellow and you’ve got Pac-Man. First unveiled in 1980, the pill-popping pizza has two birthdays depending on how you count: 22 May, when he was first unveiled, and 10 October, when the game was released in America. It’s this second date that interests us the most, given that it is one day before the broadcast of ‘Meglos’ – specifically episode two, in which the cactus-like shapeshifter assumes the appearance of the Doctor, as played by Tom Baker. While he’s off getting involved in all manner of shenanigans, the real Doctor is trying to get out of a time loop with the help of Romana and K-9.

Can I point out that whether you’re on this side of the pond or the other, 10 October 1980 is written as 10-10-80? Can I further point out that there are two version of the Tenth Doctor running around the multiverse and that only one of them is the genuine article? Did you know that story number 80 in the Doctor Who sequence is ‘Terror of the Zygons’, which deals with duplicates and doppelgangers? While we’re on it, has anyone failed to recall that the last time we saw David Tennant on screen he was fighting off Zygons, and that Tom Baker showed up?

Numbers next. I love numbers.

We were racking our brains in the BoM offices over this one. To what could it possibly refer? Story-and-episode? No, because ‘The Moonbase’ has but four episodes, while ‘Planet of Giants’ has only three. Doctor numbers? No, that’s just grasping at straws, and I don’t mean the useful plastic ones that you can’t get in the pub anymore, but rather those stupid paper models they have in McDonalds which are COMPLETELY USELESS WHEN YOU HAVE A MILKSHAKE. (Not that you can actually get milkshakes at the moment, thanks to bloody Brexit.)

We tried coordinates. And…bingo!

We’re in Tunisia. Tunisia! A matter of miles away from Tataouine, which stood in for its virtual namesake in the first Star Wars movie. How do you spell ‘crossover’? Is now a good time to mention the upcoming Obi-Wan TV show? Might we be seeing a cameo from Matt Smith, whose cancelled role in The Rise of Skywalker is now common knowledge? Can anyone else anticipate a Disney Doctor Who buyout within the next few years?

Also worth mentioning: this grid reference is situated on highway C211, which corresponds DIRECTLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY with episode 211 – also known as part two of ‘The Dominators’, in which the Quarks flap their arms a bit, and also story 211, ‘The Lodger’. Because I’d like to point out that Alfie is about nine years old now, which is optimum age for another appointment with the Doctor, assuming James Corden pauses for breath between musicals.

Now take a look at this picture.

It’s a ‘Liverpool’ food bank, except it was filmed in Cardiff. We know this because the sign from the building next door is for Beamrite Aerials, provider of quality cables and satellite equipment, who have their showroom on Broadway. A curious thing happens when you slide over to Street View, given that within the immediate vicinity of the shop you’ll find a Chinese called The Golden Cow, and two businesses – TWO! – that use the word ‘Angels’. You don’t need to be an idiot to see where this is going, but you do have to know your Old Testament to remember that the golden calf was an idol built for the wandering Israelites by their de facto second-in-command, Aaron. Which is where we draw a blank, because sadly there’s no one in Doctor Who by that name.

Oh wait a minute.

(In all seriousness for a moment, a couple of doors along from Beamrite you’ll find a charity called The Rainbow Of Hope, and I’ve got a sneaky suspicion that they’re the food bank in which Dan was seen loitering early in the episode. Either that or it’s just a lockup and they whacked in a few crates. But in any event, they’re probably worth a look, because these places are usually high on costs and low on donations, so you should consider giving them a few quid.)

I’m throwing you another screen now, in Vinder’s cockpit over at Outpost Rose. There was a lot to say about this one, so I stuck with simply annotating it.

Doppelgangers. Doubles. Clones. Omega. We’ve not seen him in a while, have we? I mean he’s scarcely seen himself since he lost his head. But here we have the biggest clue yet that this whole series is somehow about him. Makes a change from the Master, doesn’t it?

Finally:

Cast your minds back a year and a half or so, to ‘Orphan 55’. No, wait, humour me. I know that people generally want to wipe ‘Orphan 55’ from their memory. I get it. Really I do. But it has some lovely moments early on, particularly when Ryan – the son of the aforementioned Aaron, don’t forget – becomes ill after buying crisps from a vending machine. And these, folks, were the crisps he bought. Now, take some deep breaths and suck your thumb. Oh, and watch out for the space bats.

If you were to Google the word ‘Kplap’ you’d throw up some interesting results. Unfortunately most of them aren’t in English, so we’re forced to use the little grey cells. Because I was toying with anagrams and I threw up something very interesting, and that’s this: ‘K’PLAPS CRISPS‘ can easily be rearranged to form ‘RIPS KPS CLASP‘. Which makes no sense at all, at least until you look up KPS and discover that they’re an established company who deliver piping systems for fossil fuels and chemicals. A transparent clue about fossil fuels? In a story about a scorched Earth? Seen here in a story about the end of the universe? Oh, we can see where this is going, sure enough. It’s the strongest sign yet that ‘Orphan 55’ wasn’t a one-off story we’d all like to consign to the list of episodes we don’t discuss. It was part one of a two-part story. And the second part is coming up soon. You heard it here first, folks.

By the way. If you add 5+5, you get Ten. Just saying.

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Review: Flux Part One – The Halloween Apocalypse

Roll up! Roll up! Get your reviews here! Nice and fresh, straight off the rack! Only the best, mind you. None of that speculative dross about ulterior motives or disguised identities. You won’t find no wild theories ‘ere, madam. Here at BoM we like to keep it simple. Classic and timeless, that’s my way of working. Got me this far. [Sighs, looks around messy office, rubs unkempt chin] However far that is.

Look. Writing episode reviews is just no fun anymore. Either you’re doing it to get paid, in which case you find yourself forced to skirt the company line – which usually means reining in your contempt in order to stay in the BBC’s good books (and, more importantly, on their preview list) – or you’re like me, and you’re not getting paid and no one reads it. It’s a single opinion in a fandom that has never been more opinionated or vocal. And never mind what you write: because your opinion doesn’t have the weight of an established publication behind it, it is generally assumed (although seldom acknowledged) that you are a failed writer and that your opinion is bupkis, unless you happen to write something that by some miracle of literary synergy happens to tie in with what other people happen to be thinking. And how can you do that, when their thoughts are so frequently muddled?

Take this evening. I find myself this moment – this very moment – engaged in conversation with a woman I’m going to refer to as Melissa, although this is not her real name. We’re talking about the Swarm, the mysterious partial-faced man who emerges from an interstellar prison early in the episode, looking a little like Arnold Vosloo in The Mummy and sounding rather like a spiky-faced Lord Voldemort. The Swarm clearly has a history with everyone’s second-favourite Time Lord, which is more interesting (just) than the fact he can apparently disintegrate people by touching them. “But who is he?!?” Melissa wants to know. “And how does he know the Doctor?”

“I would assume that’s the overarching mystery,” I tell her, to which Melissa replies “This episode ended with a lot of unanswered questions”.

“Well, yeah,” is my answer. “At the risk of mansplaining, that’s entirely deliberate. It’s a single story and we haven’t got a clue what’s going on yet.”

“I know. It’s gonna drive me nuts.”

Perhaps the biggest mystery here is why Melissa is watching Doctor Who in the first place, but I can’t help thinking I’m being rather snide even thinking this, and so I don’t tell her. I just nod politely and duck out of the conversation. The thing is, I have a degree of sympathy with Melissa, and others like her, because I’m relatively seasoned at this – and certainly not new to the idea of overarching mystery and multiple threads – and I’m still trying to get my head around what I just watched. Was it good? Was it smoke and mirrors? Was it all spectacle and no substance? Yes, yes, and yes. And also no. In that order.

‘The Halloween Apocalypse’ is what happens when you have a brainstorming session that lasts until about three minutes before script deadline, which gives you barely enough time to get a Starbucks refill before the script has to be on the producer’s desk. It’s got that panicked eleventh hour homework vibe that comes when something was seemingly written in an awful hurry because the inbox was filling up with reminder emails. Actually coming up with something that works is out of the question: instead, you turn in the ideas sheet and plonk a little bit of filler at the beginning and the end, a sort of introductory paragraph and half-baked conclusion. There’s even a sheepish post-it attached – in the form of a Tweet on the official account – reading “Will this do?”.

This is hyperbole, but you get the idea. The general feeling is that of being overwhelmed. From the very outset we’re torpedoed with characters and monsters and more locations than your average David Attenborough documentary, usually accompanied by large white text captions (oh, it’s the Arctic Circle? Great. That’d explain the snow). There are old enemies with new faces, appearing from the woodwork without explanation, and unfamiliar figures appear to be several chapters ahead of both the Doctor and everyone who’s watching. There is a bombardment of ideas and themes and expository dialogue, all wrapped up in technobabble that’s frequently hard to hear above Segun Akinola’s thudding score, although that might just be our TV. It’s like the bit in Cat In The Hat when the cat is balancing the contents of the house’s toy chest on his paws (along with a rake and a goldfish) while bouncing up and down on a ball, and we all know how that ended. Just before the final credits roll the universe blows up, and it’s almost a relief.

Thrown into this maelstrom is the saintly and unsuspecting Dan Lewis (John Bishop), who doesn’t like soup – although he’s right, no one does – and who is first seen leading a tour party through a Liverpool museum, just before he’s thrown out by a one-handed love interest. I don’t know if we were supposed to notice the arm. Something about the camera angle seemed to make it just a little more obvious than it needed to be. Perhaps I’m just jumpy about these things. Dan works in a food bank, although his own cupboards are empty – we are mercifully spared a ponderous lecture about poverty, although there’s presumably time for that in a future episode. Besides, he’s only been in his kitchen five minutes when a six-foot dog busts through the wall and introduces himself as Barf and drops the unsuspecting Scouser into a booby-trapped cage, legging it halfway across the galaxy before you can say ‘down the banks’. Cue the Doctor and Yaz, who only succeed in shrinking his house.

It’s nice to see Yaz again. She’s almost experienced what we might call character development, having cultivated a snippy co-dependence on the Doctor, as well as a competent grasp of technology. I’m still not sure they spark, quite, but the early scenes in which they banter back and forth are at least an improvement on the stilted final moments of ‘Revolution of the Daleks’, although we don’t have long before the two of them are on an alien spacecraft unlocking doors and dodging lasers. As it turns out the supposed abduction wasn’t an abduction at all, but a rather heavy-handed rescue attempt. Earth – nay, the entire universe – is at risk from a cosmic obliteration that is wiping out stars and planets with all the ferocity of a drugged-up Thanos. We’re supposed to be horrified, but the team either didn’t know or didn’t care that Flux is another name for diarrhea. It’s difficult not to snigger when Karvanista describes it as “a hurricane, ripping through the structure of this universe”.

The problem isn’t that Chibnall can’t write. It’s that he can’t really write dialogue. There’s no real feel for the ebb and flow of a conversation, something Davies – for all his flaws – grasped very well. When Davros confronted the Tenth Doctor on board the Crucible, you could feel the electricity, even behind the ham. Chibnall has his lead antagonist stomp across a floodlit quarry towards a terrified soldier. “I waited,” he says, when she asks him what he’s been doing. “I planned. And now…I’m going to execute”, as if it were some ghastly payoff, instead of something you’d read in bad fan fiction. Elsewhere, Dan has an awkward encounter with a man on his doorstep clutching a beer can and a box of eggs. “You’re not even dressed up!” he exclaims, to which the visitor responds “Neither are you”. It simply doesn’t work. Moffat could be similarly pointless at times, but at least he was able to be funny about it.

And ultimately that’s how ‘The Halloween Apocalypse’ plays out: an explosion of ideas and concepts purposely designed to masquerade some absolutely terrible scriptwriting. And I don’t mean ‘terrible’ in terms of story structure; it’s clear that this is carrying on the Timeless Child arc, a narrative I didn’t personally object to, despite the fact that people have been arguing about it for a year and a half. Just as the Doctor isn’t afraid to use a mallet to fix the TARDIS, Chibnall isn’t afraid to use a sledgehammer to crack a gigantic misogynistic nut, and I don’t hold that against him, even if I’ve had to spend eighteen months explaining time and again that no, he didn’t screw with the continuity, the continuity has spent fifty-five years screwing with itself. Things are more interesting and less defined, and I like it that way. There is a long game being played out with these threads and characters and mini-stories, and while I don’t hold out much hope that the rest of Flux is going to tie them up the way the BBC have promised, a few loopholes never hurt anyone. They didn’t ruin Revenge of the Sith; they probably won’t ruin Doctor Who either.

But I can’t help thinking that we can do better than this – less clumsy, less prosaic, less…well, dull, for want of a better word. Can’t we have this story, but with a better, slightly more sophisticated use of Whittaker’s talent? Because this is a kid’s show, but that doesn’t mean it has to be clunky and obvious. We get enough of that on Nova Jones. Would it be too much to ask for the BBC’s flagship programme to display a little more panache? Take the long way round, spice up the banter, give the social commentary a little more window dressing? I’ve been saying for years that Doctor Who has always been basically rubbish, and that once you acknowledge this – even if you choose not to air such views publicly – then you enjoy it a lot more. I made my peace with that a long time ago. I just wish it didn’t have to be so transparently rubbish. If this is the bar they’ve set, then roll on armageddon.

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