Posts Tagged With: the master

Doctor Who series 12: the executive summaries (part one)

It’s a good discipline, writing for other sites besides your own. It gives you an awareness of different audiences. Blogs make for a tendency towards self-indulgence; it’s easy to embark on bouts of madcap silliness, unnecessary sidetracking anecdotes that could easily be trimmed; or excessive waffle. None of this is particularly harmful, but when you’re working for someone else – whether paid or unpaid – you generally have to rein it in.

I’ve been writing for The Doctor Who Companion for the last four years, and its predecessor, Kasterborous, for some time before that. It is an eclectic mix of features and analysis, run by a team of writers with diverse views and opinions, united by their love of Doctor Who. My pieces for them tend to be features, exploring particular aspects: for example, what do TARDIS reveals tell us about the companions witnessing them? Is there a case to be made for headcanon? And if the Doctor were a biscuit, what sort would she be? The editor is a thoroughly nice chap, willing to indulge my occasionally ridiculous prose and lengthy discourses, (“I don’t care that it’s long,” he tells me. “The readers can take it. We’re not BuzzFeed.”)

Series reviews work like this: episodes are assigned to individual writers (or we volunteer for them) and published soon after initial broadcast. A few days later, we’ll publish collective reviews from the other writers, three-hundred word summaries of their thoughts and feelings on the story of the week. And it’s a tradition at BoM that I’ll eventually gather them up and reproduce all my contributions in here.

This year’s assembly took a little longer than originally anticipated – the DWC was offline for quite some time in early spring as we rebuilt it, and then all this happened. So it’s been a good few months since ‘The Timeless Children’, which may not be a bad thing because we were all thoroughly sick of the shouting, weren’t we? For some of you, this collection of rambling thoughts will be a chance to revisit and reappraise episodes you haven’t seen in a while; you may find that your opinions have changed. For others, it’ll be a reminder of pointless cameos and tedious plot twists. If that’s the case, I’d advise you to keep your head down over the next week or so, because I’m doing these in batches.

Links to the full write-ups have been provided where they exist, but unfortunately a few articles got lost in the migration process and we’re still trying to get them back. At least you’ll be able to read my contributions, if nothing else. Oh, and as you go through these, you may eventually come to the conclusion that I wasn’t taking this brief entirely seriously. You’d be right. I no longer take Doctor Who seriously; as a consequence, I now find it tremendously fun to watch.

 

Spyfall, Part One

Somewhat awkwardly for an opener, I reviewed this one, so there is no summary. But here’s a paragraph that’s as good a precis as I can provide:

‘I’m not sure I can say with a clear conscience that this was any sort of classic, but neither was it a car crash (although it features one or two). Spyfall strides the awkward middle line between haphazard fun and mediocre buffoonery, equal parts cringe to crowdpleasing, and there is a sense, as its closing credits roll, of having watched something that was basically candy floss: enjoyable while it lasts but flimsily and loosely constructed, and prone to falling apart the second you poke at it. That’s probably okay: some people like candy floss.’

DWC write-up

Spyfall, Part Two

‘There’s something slightly amateurish about the sight of an ashened, ruined Gallifrey some 10 or 15 minutes after we’ve heard the Master talking about its destruction. It gives the Doctor a reason to pop over there (something she can apparently do at will now, even though the Time Lords are seemingly unable or unwilling to reciprocate) – still, how much better might it have been for us to first glimpse the torched citadel completely unwarned? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a maxim that gets thrown about far too much, but it still feels as if this was the perfect opportunity to use it – as it stands, there is no shock value to the scene because we know it is coming, and the BBC presents only the most cursory of vistas, prompting only the mildest of reactions from the person looking at it. Would it have been too much to see the Doctor cry, or at least show some visible signs of upset besides sitting against a TARDIS wall, looking blank and forlorn?

Or perhaps that’s the point – perhaps this, too, is the calm before the storm, a storm the Doctor can only weather with the help of friends she is currently content to leave in the dark, thus setting the stage for six or seven episodes of skirting around the question of who she really is before a final, explosive confrontation. And perhaps that’s the only way to reinvent Gallifreyan history – something, it seems, Chibnall is about to do – without it becoming tedious. And it is destined to be tedious, this game of gods and monsters and prophecy. It is an awkward fact that stories about Time Lords – the anomaly of Deadly Assassin aside – tend towards dullness, and it is difficult to see how the current regime could reinvent them. But it does, at least, give us something to ponder as the weeks unfold and the awkwardness in the console room builds towards an inevitable crescendo. Like it or not, we’re going back to Gallifrey, and all that remains now is to see how much of the fandom Chibnall can poke with a stick without losing the casual viewers. It’s a dangerous game, but so is getting out of bed.

The rest of it is average: Graham is enjoying his laser shoes, while Yaz has apparently forgotten how to be a police officer, having decided that her role this week is to sit in the corner and look helpless while the men get to have all the fun. But the biggest problem with Skyfall Part 2 is that the pacing is off. Having the Doctor travel 200 years into the past to pick up Ada Lovelace is absolutely fine – the pages of exposition seemingly necessary to explain her importance, however, are downright tedious. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in 1830s London with Charles Babbage or war torn Paris with the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo; Whittaker paces and monologues and gushes about the admirable pioneering qualities of the people whose memories she will eventually wipe, reeling out the history, seemingly unaware that the only people who tend to listen are stranded in 21st century Essex. It’s like watching a BBC Schools presenter on crack. There is a reason why the Doctor is not allowed to travel alone; occasionally she needs someone to tell her to shut up.’

DWC write-up

Orphan 55

INT. RAINBOW HOUSE. DAY

[On an unimpressive CRT television, the Rainbow personnel – GEORGE, ZIPPY, BUNGLE and GEOFFREY – are watching the closing credits of Orphan 55.]

GEORGE: Ooh, that was wonderful, Geoffrey! So exciting!

GEOFFREY: Yes, it was, George, wasn’t it?

BUNGLE: Yes! All those aliens and things blowing up! Ka-BOOOOM!!! But I did wonder, Geoffrey –

GEOFFREY: What did you wonder, Bungle?

BUNGLE: Why did the Doctor take everyone with her to go and rescue Benni? Wasn’t it dangerous for them all?

GEOFFREY: Well, I expect it would have been quite dangerous for them to have stayed, wouldn’t it? All those creatures running around trying to gobble them up. I know what you mean, though. I thought they might have put something in about that.

GEORGE: Perhaps we just couldn’t hear it, Geoffrey. They do talk awfully fast, don’t they?

BUNGLE: Yes. Still, at least there weren’t any frogs this time.

ZIPPY: Huh. Well, I thought it was rubbish. All those stupid monsters!

GEOFFREY: Didn’t you find them scary, Zippy? I know George did. [George is clutching at his blanket and whimpering softly.]

ZIPPY: Why would I find them scary when I share a bed with this lot? And the ending was boring.

BUNGLE: It was supposed to be warning us about climate change, Zippy!

ZIPPY: I already know that, Bungle Bonce. I still thought it was silly. Why did they have to go on and on about saving the planet?

GEOFFREY: Well, because it’s important, Zippy! We’ve only got one planet, haven’t we? We’ve all got to work together to take care of it.

ZIPPY: I do take care of it!

GEORGE: Is that why you always throw your crisp packets over the garden wall?

ZIPPY: I don’t!

GEOFFREY [brandishing a selection of cellophane wrappers]: Oh, yes you do. I found three of them there this morning!

ZIPPY: Yes but – well… [He harrumphs and rests his head on a floppy hand.]

BUNGLE: It’s funny, though. I don’t remember seeing Yas this week. What was she doing?

[There is a thoughtful silence, with gratuitous head scratching and chin-rubbing, as the four of them consider this.]

GEOFFREY: Oh well, never mind. I expect she was there somewhere. The Doctor needs to have someone standing around looking gormless.

ZIPPY: Yeah. You’d know about that, Geoffrey.

GEORGE: Oh, Zippy. You’re such a tw*t.

BUNGLE: Well, I do know one thing. I don’t think I’d want to go on holiday to a place like Tranquility Spa.

GEOFFREY: Oh? Why not, Bungle? Are you worried about furry things that look even less realistic than you do?

BUNGLE: No! I haven’t got any swimming shorts that fit me!

ZIPPY: You walk around the house stark naked!

BUNGLE: Well, yes, but I put my pyjamas on at bedtime, don’t I?

GEORGE: That engineer was funny, wasn’t he? His little boy knew much more than him. I felt like that was trying to tell us something, but I can’t really work it out.

BUNGLE: Ooh, Geoffrey! Rod, Jane and Freddie know a song about dysfunctional family relationships, don’t they?

GEOFFREY: Yes, you’re right, Bungle. Do you know, I think I’ve got a cassette somewhere. I’ll see if I can fish it out. But before we listen to it, I think we’d better say goodbye, don’t you? [Through the fourth wall] We’ll see you again soon. Take care of yourselves. Goodbye!

OTHERS: Buh-bye!

DWC write-up

 

Nikola Tesla’s Night Of Terror

‘I have a question for the floor. Why is it that, whenever Number Thirteen meets anyone famous, it takes half the episode for the penny to drop? Mistaken identity often enhances a narrative, but it jars when the pudding is overegged. Are we really supposed to believe that there isn’t a visual dictionary in the library, or that no one checks the readouts to see when and where they’ve actually landed? It’s happened twice this year, once with Ada Lovelace and once with the pioneering inventor who graced last night’s episode, and on both occasions the audience has been quicker on the uptake than the Doctor – who manages to wander into and escape from the Niagara Falls power station without having a clue that she’s in the presence of the man responsible for building it.

I’m not going to say that’s my only hang-up with this episode – we could also talk about the historical revisionism, the TARDIS crew’s apparent apathy to new wonders and situations and the sub-par villains (honestly, when did Doctor Who monsters get so dull?) but this was, perhaps, the first time this year it’s felt like we were actually watching the show as it used to be, for better or worse. Here’s a litmus test: you remove Whittaker from the equation and you substitute another Doctor and it still works. In this case, it’s quite easy to imagine Tesla happening with Tennant at the helm, perhaps in the company of the perenially clueless Martha. Certainly the story has that vibe to it: a world on the brink of destruction, the tortured nature of misunderstood genius and the hungry prejudice of a placard-carrying mob.

We might question why the Skithra opted for Tesla, rather than someone who’s actually going to understand the technology they’re throwing at him, but this was never really about them: it’s about Tesla and Edison and the rivalry between them. That Tesla is whitewashed while Edison is made something of a pariah should come as no great surprise to anyone, but it’s to Nina Metivier’s credit that she avoids turning the light bulb pioneer into an out-and-out villain: Edison gloats and generally behaves rather selfishly, but he also expresses remorse over the loss of his staff (“These were men with families!”), he doesn’t cut and run, he doesn’t try and sell out Tesla to the villain of the week, and at the end he extends a hand of friendship, even if he’s only following the money. A well-rounded supporting character. In Doctor Who. And there was me thinking we’d left those days behind.’

The DWC writeup is currently missing. We are checking behind the sofa.
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Have I Got Whos For You (statuesque edition)

“For god’s sake, Danny, stop urinating on them.”

It’s been a week of (self) righteous anger. The ‘self’ is optional; you can put it on if you like. The world we live in is one in which no sin goes unpunished, no tweet unmocked; a world in which armchair judgement has become second nature. No one is safe: it doesn’t matter if it’s angry protesters throwing statues in the river or multi-millionaire authors throwing their weight around.

It’s dull, and I’m tired of writing about it, so let’s look at this week’s news roundup. There are troublesome scenes in central London when Missy can’t remember where she parked her TARDIS.

And on a routine visit to a parallel Earth, the Doctor and Rose are unsettled when they run into a queue for the re-opening of Primark.

Meanwhile, as fury reigns over the expungement of classic episodes and series from on-demand services, a trawl through the Gallifreyan Matrix reveals that even the Time Lords have grown concerned over sensitive content.

In Surrey, Thorpe Park opens after lockdown as a flurry of punters rush to make the most of the good weather.

And an abandoned concept still from the new Bill and Ted trailer reveals that studio execs were suggesting a very different look for the phone box.

“Dude. They’ve, like, totally redecorated.”

 

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Have I Got Whos For You (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs edition)

OK, we’ll make this a quick one; I’m supposed to be doing home educating this morning. Here’s this week’s news roundup.

On lockdown at her home in Los Angeles, Karen Gillan finds an unorthodox way of celebrating Earth Day.

“Brannigan? I’m off to the supermarket. You want anything?”

“OK, this is where it gets complicated.”

“Yes, I know we’ve got a Cobra briefing, but Dipsy’s about to get on the scooter and the Noo Noo’s still hoovering up the custard.”

“Yeah, how do we clap again?”

“Bollocks. I knew there was something I’d forgotten to do this evening.”

 

See you in a few days, when we’ll have something very special. Well, a bit. Hopefully.

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The Smallerpictures Video Dump (2020, part one)

Population 51,201. Possibly not for much longer.

One good thing about a lockdown: I’ve had a chance to amalagamate all the leftover copy I’d not got round to filing these last few months. Which means we’re in for a busy few weeks here at BoM, as we go through series retrospectives, how-to guides, and even a bit of myth debunking along with all the meme roundups and general idiocy. But we’ve also got a few videos to get through, so let’s rewind to the beginning of the year, when we were all still allowed out.

 

1. The Name of the Master (January 2020)

Don’t get me wrong. ‘Spyfall Part 2’ was quite fun, but this whole thing really was a bit dom / sub, wasn’t it? Never mind that the relationship between the Master and the Doctor is already tapping a wealth of unresolved sexual tension, long before either of them swapped genders: a scene like the Master’s ‘Kneel before Zodd’ moment took it to the next level, and it really is like handing a silver platter to the fan fiction writers along with a note reading “Go on then, you win”.

It was Pip Madeley who turned this into a Fifty Shades of Gallifrey type thing – he may even have called it that; the Tweet is proving elusive so we may never know. My own version is a good deal less suggestive and not terribly funny, relying as it does on the conceit of the Doctor forgetting (either deliberately or through sheer scattiness; you pick) exactly whom she’s supposed to be addressing. The tricky part was dropping in names that weren’t saturated in background noise (something I’m not particularly adept at removing), which meant several otherwise viable candidates had to be removed. Still, there were enough left, and the end result hangs together. Just.

 

2. Twice Upon A Time: The Deleted Scene (January 2020)

This seemed like an obvious joke, so I ran with it. It was a crazy week: everyone was busy arguing whether Jo Martin’s Doctor was pre-Hartnell or pre-Pertwee (the consensus: it had to be the latter, because she had a police box and otherwise EVERYTHING HARTNELL DID IS RUINED). Then ‘The Timeless Children’ came out and all hell broke loose, given that it essentially validated just about every tinpot headcanon theory in existence. In the meantime, I’d been making this: having promised the others he’ll be quite some time David Bradley takes a walk into the snow, and then pops back to his TARDIS, only it’s not his TARDIS. Nor is it Capaldi’s. You see where we’re going, don’t you?

 

3. The Angels Take Manhatten, Rescored (March 2020)

Wrestling. That was it. There was content to show and plot lines to advance (and, one suspects, a series of expensive contracts to fulfil) and so the WWE, in their infinite wisdom, elected to broadcast Wrestlemania 36 within the confines of a studio instead of an arena. There were no queues, no gigantic foam fingers or homemade banners, no jubilant teenagers fired up on coffee and Red Bull giving their predictions. Just a lot of thirty-year-old men, pumped with steroids and rehearsing their lines in a mirror. Yes, I know you could hear the trash talk. I don’t want to hear the trash talk; I just want them to work the crowd. If there’s no crowd, it’s all rather flat.

The fans seemed to know this as well, which is why a Twitter user who goes by the name of SideEye elected to overdub a heartfelt confrontation between Brad Wyatt and John Cena with, of all things, the Laura Palmer theme from Twin Peaks. It was mad, but it worked (and it was, as you’ll see in the article I’ve referenced, not the first time someone had paired professional wrestling with Angelo Badalamenti). There is something about that music that is both emotionally overwrought and just a little bit artificial, which is the entire point of Twin Peaks and one reason why it’s so brilliantly unsettling. And while I concede they’re very different shows, it really ought to work with Doctor Who as well, surely?

It does. If you can time it so that final, climactic change from minor to major happens at the precise moment Amy vanishes, everything else just sort of slots into place. Who knew?

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Have I Got Whos For You (Coronavirus edition)

Yes, well, I think two weeks of radio silence is long enough. I spent quite a lot of it building a TARDIS-themed virtual art gallery (coming soon to a WordPress feed near you!) and rolling my eyes at people on Facebook who still have no idea who Brendan actually was, or are convinced that Chibnall’s shat all over the legacy of Doctor Who, or who think the Master is lying, or any combination of the above. That’s until we all started talking about getting coughs instead; I’m frightened for my elderly father and the schools are about to shut, but at least the moral outrage over Series 12 is dying down.

Anyway: there are quite a few unrealised blog posts lying around in my drafts folder, and seeing as we’re all going to be stuck at home for the forseeable future you might as well have something to read. But before we get to any of them, we really ought to do a news update.

First, there’s the fallout from Rishi Sunak’s publicity phot, as a certain other high-ranking politician with dodgy scruples asks if you would like the good tea or the bad tea.

Over on the Naismith Estate, Max Von Sydow is upset that he and Timothy Dalton have both turned up at the Time Lords’ New Year’s Eve party wearing the same dress.

And it turns out some members of the public have an unorthodox approach towards celebrating No Smoking day.

Secret recordings reveal the real culprit behind Prince Harry’s prank call from Greta Thunberg.

At the BBC, there are internal complaints that the new sanitisation procedure is borderline excessive.

Donna Noble regrets not packing her own bog roll.

Sometimes washing your hands isn’t quite enough.

And on the streets of Cardiff it seems that not everyone is taking government guidelines seriously.

“Jesus. Clara. SOCIAL DISTANCING.”

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 12 edition, part four)

“I should say a reassuring thing now, shouldn’t I?”

(Sorry.)

In Whoville this week, a familiar blue hedgehog gets upset that he can’t share the Doctor’s toys.

The Twelfth Doctor celebrates World Radio Day by dragging out his clockwork squirrel.

 

Elsewhere, the Thirteenth Doctor hangs about, waiting for Christian Grey.

Here’s an early concept still for ‘Ascension of the Cybermen’.

And over at Hogwarts:

And the Doctor is embarrassed when she runs into an old friend.

“Seriously, you had one job.”

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God Is In The Detail (12-02)

Good morrow, fair citizens. Perchance you tuned in here for the latest in our round-up of HIGHLY IMPORTANT CLUES AND REFERENCES in this week’s Doctor Who? You did? Well, that’s marvellous. Pull up a chair and let me tell you about all the stuff you missed in the second part of ‘Spyfall’. Today we’ll be dealing with hidden signs, fake numbers and the return of an old companion. Anyone bring biscuits?

We’re off to Jodrell Bank first. You’ll recall that, in war torn Paris, the Doctor alluded to a previous encounter she’d had with the Master, which ended in a large fall from a radio telescope and a regeneration. Never mind the fact that ‘Logopolis’ wasn’t actually filmed at Jodrell Bank, or even set there – that’s either Chibnall demonstrating ineptitude or carelessness or deliberately trolling the fanbase, depending on whom you ask. The implication is obvious: it’s supposed to be about the Fourth Doctor’s tumble from the tower, and one of the most moving handovers ever committed to film. It doesn’t take an idiot to figure that out, even if you can quibble about whether the idiot himself is the current chief writer.

So the Master asks if he’s ever apologised for it, and the Doctor says no he hasn’t, and the Master simply replies “Good”. And this seemingly innocuous exchange means nothing at all, until you figure out that it’s actually foreshadowed EARLIER IN THIS EPISODE. And if you doubt me, look at the numbers on Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine.

Note two things: first, the presence of the large black rod that marks the place where the number 5 is supposed to be; second, the number of teeth (12) that sit across the bottom part of that cog, which refers specifically to the number of times the Doctor regenerated before reaching the end of his first cycle. The significance of the numbers of the right I will leave for you to fathom. Be warned that the discovery is not a pleasant one.

From 1830s London we’re shifting gears to contemporary Essex – well, it’s not Essex, but I’ll explain why in a moment. Here’s Bradley, Tosin and Mandip, examining maps in the middle of a bustling town.

I did Google it, without success, but the Facebook Hive Mind has confirmed that this was shot in Barry, specifically at King Square – location map as follows:

There are several things to note, not least of which is the large human figure sitting on top of a gym ball (see below). But it’s the geography of the neighbouring streets that I want you to examine, because believe it or not it’s all tied up with none other than Martha Jones. A quick Street View perusal of the area reveals the following, within close proximity:

Superdrug
Cats Protection
Guardian Jewellery

Hmm. Cats? In a story with drugs? On a street that’s been designated one way for more than half its length (southwestbound) in order to alleviate GRIDLOCK? You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? But why Martha specifically? Well, that’s tied up partly with street names – one of the roads leading off King Square is the B4294, which relates DEFINITIVELY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to ’42’, which also starred Martha. But I also want you to think back to ‘The Infinite Quest’, in which the Doctor and Martha embarked on a series of adventures to recover various items of jewellery From this we can conclude that Martha will return in a story featuring the Black Guardian, who seeks a magic ring that will allow him to wield ultimate power unless it is melted in the fires of Mount Doom a trinket of some sort.

Oh, I promised you that gym ball, didn’t I? Here it is.

Next, a phone number.

For those of you who have yet to look this up, let me save you the trouble: 01632 pertains to a fictional area code that is, for the present, the exclusive domain of TV and film. In other words, it’s when they want to show a phone number but they don’t want everyone freeze-framing the TV and trying to call the Ghostbusters Firehouse, or Torchwood Three, or God. Try it. You’ll get nowhere.

But it’s the number that follows – ascribed to that payphone in the middle of ‘Essex’ – that is curious. Because 960470 actually refers to something very specific. It’s not a pantone reference. It’s not a Nissan part number. It’s not an Amazon product code. Well, actually it’s all three, and then some, but that’s not why we’re here. It actually refers to a photo uploaded to Geograph, taken by a chap named Tony Aitken, on the Camel Trail near Nanstallon in Cornwall. Not far from Bodmin, home to a substantial Masonic Hall, several nice churches and an enormous mythological cat. And if you’ve ever wondered why Doctor Who hasn’t done Bodmin Moor yet, now you know. It’s coming next year. We called it.

Finally, we’re back at the start of the episode, during the scene where Ryan’s crawling across the burning plane to find…this.

You didn’t need me to tell you, but this is all connected with anagrams. ‘SEAT POCKET’ can be rearranged to form the words ‘CASKET POET’, clearly alluding to a story in which the Doctor encounters a deceased writer. That’s about half the poets on the block, and then some. It’s a good start, but where do we go from there? Which poet is he talking about? Shelley? Keats? Byron? Shakespeare?

Oh look, there she is again. You’ve had your turn, Martha, now sit down.

No, actually, stand up. Because the truth – stranger than fiction – is linked to the words ‘Dead Poets Society’, the 1989 coming-of-age drama starring Robin Williams as the unorthodox Mr Keating. In other words, this doesn’t just refer to one poet: it’s a whole bunch of them. But it’s the initials I want you to examine, because DPS is not only the abbreviated form of Peter Weir’s Oscar Nominated Magnum Opus – it also stands for Descent Propulsion System, a rocket engine used in the Apollo moon landings. An event which was witnessed by Martha. In a story that’s just featured in a crossover comic starring the Thirteenth Doctor. You’re welcome.

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 12 edition, part one)

Halloo! There will be fresh a conspiracy theory roundup very soon – of course there will – but to tide you over until then, here’s the first bi-weekly edition of memes from this year’s Doctor Who series, along with topical stuff that simply couldn’t wait. I am tapping this while waiting for the shopping to arrive, and Tesco do have a tendency to be early, so let’s crack on, shall we?

‘Spyfall’ first: and, in a joke that is probably going to appeal to a maximum of three people, there’s a major upset when the Doctor tries to decode the Kasaavin signal.

In the year 200,000 there’s much hilarity on Twitter when Billie Piper botches an easy question.

Taking refuge during a Kansas cyclone, young Dorothy Gale gets a nasty shock when she looks out of the window.

And fresh from his appearance in a Japanese TV trailer, Baby Sonic dashes from the Green Hill Zone to the fields of Provence to give his flower to a very special painter.

In a Trenzalore cemetery, a whispered conversation reveals the truth behind the controversy around last year’s Christmas blockbuster.

And stranded on Earth and forced to live through most of the twentieth century, the Master takes a job at the BBC.

“Do you know any sci-fi?”

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Review: Spyfall (Part Two)

Spoilers follow.

It’s 1988, and Keanu Reeves has just stepped into a phone box. It will be over a decade before he does this to escape from a hammy Man In Black; on this occasion it’s strictly academic, in the most literal sense. Keanu, you see, is playing one half of a time travelling twosome who need to pass a history test in order to save the world. In the company of Alex Winter (who did Freaked and then dropped off the radar faster than Change UK), Keanu travels back and forth through time picking up various historical figures, getting in and out of scrapes, and playing air guitar a lot. Towards the end of the film, he and Alex are in something of a predicament: how, the two of them ponder, can their report be salvaged when there’s no time left to break people out of the lockup? The only solution is to go back and do it afterwards and leave everything they’ll need lying around, so that’s exactly what they do. Three years later, while waging war with an unpleasant P.E. teacher / would-be dictator in the middle of a Battle of the Bands contest, they win by using the same strategy. It’s cheating, really, but it works.

By and large – and this is not a criticism – Doctor Who doesn’t do it. Oh, there are moments. ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’ builds its entire opening episode around the conceit, as Rowan Atkinson and Jonathan Pryce trade insults and wave metaphorical tackle over opposing sides of a castle banqueting hall. It’s something apparently dear to the heart of Steven Moffat, and there would be periods, much later on, where it would become a convenient escape device from a seemingly impossible situation (cf. ‘Blink’, ‘The Big Bang’), or even a multi-episode plot device (hello series 6, pull up a chair and have a custard cream). But stories in which time travel is used as a plot device, rather than a convenient method of establishing a setting, seem to be on the wane in this bold new vision of the show. For better or worse, it seemed like these were days we’d left behind: that the complicated bootstrap paradoxes of ‘Before The Flood’ were largely – and do excuse the pun – a thing of the past. And so they were, until tonight.

That Chibnall uses it twice in the same episode (once to resolve a cliffhanger, once to save the Earth) isn’t necessarily a problem. A surreptitious rewiring is the sort of thing the Doctor does all the time; it’s how he cheats death in ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ and ‘Evolution of the Daleks’, so why shouldn’t it work when it’s applied across multiple time periods? It doesn’t even feel like Chibnall’s out of his depth, particularly: there are undoubtedly holes in the blanket but you could say that of any of Moffat’s stories, and thus it seems churlish to look for them. And for those of us who were expecting a last-minute spiriting away to the Master’s TARDIS, accompanied by the words “I’d much rather enjoy the satisfaction of watching the Doctor’s friends die while she was here to witness it” (which is exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to happen) it came as a pleasant surprise when Ryan crawled commando-style up the floor of the jet only to see his name written on the wall, like discovering your name on a gift underneath an explosive Christmas tree that’s now caught fire. Landing a plane with a mobile phone? Well, Bond did it with a car. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, particularly when it can spirit you away from white glowing aliens, or men with guns.

No, the problem with ‘Spyfall: Part Two’ has nothing to do with silly plot devices; it’s simply that the pacing is off. Having the Doctor travel two hundred years into the past to pick up Ada Lovelace is absolutely fine. The pages of exposition seemingly necessary to explain her importance, however, are downright tedious. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in 1830s London with Charles Babbage or war torn Paris with the cast of ‘Allo ‘Allo; Whittaker paces and monologues and gushes about the admirable pioneering qualities of the people whose memories she will eventually wipe, reeling out the history, seemingly unaware that she’s left her mates in 21st century Essex. It’s like watching a BBC Schools presenter on crack. I’m being unnecessarily unkind, but there is a reason why the Doctor is not allowed to travel alone; occasionally she needs someone to tell her to shut up.

The story – such as it is – concerns a secret conspiracy by tech guru Daniel Barton to wipe the minds of most of the planet’s populace (presumably with some sort of temporary infrastructure on standby to compensate for the socioeconomic cataclysm that would inevitably follow) in order to satisfy the whims of an alien race who, it is hoped, we will see again, if only so they can give us something by way of character motivation. There are plans to enslave the Earth, but we don’t know why; nor are we particularly concerned about any of it. The mysterious non-space between worlds is given no decent explanation, even though it is clearly crying out for one; nor do we get any real clue as to why the Kasaavin were tracking the development of technology, not least a prototype computer that never really worked to begin with. Considering they’re clearly up for teaching a bit of history it would have been nice to include at least a couple of lines about what Lovelace and Babbage were actually doing, but we don’t even get that, which makes it all the trickier to work out why the otherworldly beings were sniffing around 1830s Marylebone. Even the Gelth – as featured in Mark Gatiss’ greatly troubled ‘Unquiet Dead’ – had more of a backstory.

It’s left to the companions to fill in the gaps, which they do with varying degrees of success: Graham is clearly enjoying his laser shoes, operating them with pixel-perfect precision even in the absence of a manual (seriously, did none of this lot watch The Greatest American Hero?), while Ryan whoops and tries not to clap too loudly for fear of launching a missile from his forearms. Yas, on the other hand, has clearly been on one secondment too many, as she seems to have forgotten that she’s a police officer: finding jobs for three companions is tricky at the best of times, which was why Nyssa was always getting headaches, but Gill’s role this week is to sit in darkened warehouses looking clueless while the men have all the fun. There is a melancholy about Yas as she does this; perhaps she’s seen the scripts for the rest of the series and realised that they’re establishing a pattern.

While all this is going on, the Doctor is travelling back and forth (but mostly forth) throughout history, pursued by the new Master, adorned in any number of period costumes in the manner of a recurring Highlander villain (his induction into the Aryan-fetishising Gestapo is, at least, explained, although you can’t help thinking it didn’t really need to be). Unmasked, unleashed and quite possibly unhinged, Sacha Dhawan once again proves himself to be the best thing about this new series by a mile, trading insults with the Doctor atop la Tour Eiffel and getting trigger happy with his Tissue Compressor in polite company. The two of them even get to indulge in a bit of telepathy (after repeatedly spelling out the letter ‘H’ on a Morse transmitter) in a scene that will either make Classic fans cheer or howl with rage, depending on whether we’re talking about Gatiss or Ian Levine. Deadly when roused and even deadlier when quiet, Dhawan wears the skin of the Master like a well-fitted suit, toning down the craziness of his brief introduction last week in order to gloat and glare, before smouldering with rage when he reveals exactly who was responsible for Gallifrey’s apparent destruction.

Ah yes, that. There’s something slightly amateurish about the sight of that ashened, ruined wasteland some ten or fifteen minutes after we’ve heard the Master talking about it. It gives the Doctor a reason to pop over there (something she can apparently do at will now, even though the Time Lords are seemingly unable or unwilling to reciprocate) – still, how much better might it have been for us to first glimpse the ruined citadel completely unwarned? ‘Show, don’t tell’ is a maxim that gets thrown about far too much, but it still feels as if this was the perfect opportunity to use it – as it stands there is no shock value to the scene because we know it is coming, and the BBC presents only the most cursory of vistas, prompting only the mildest of reactions from the person looking at it. Would it have been too much to see the Doctor cry, or at least show some visible signs of upset besides sitting against a TARDIS wall, looking as blank and forlorn as Yas did earlier in the story?

Or perhaps that’s the point – perhaps this, too, is the calm before the storm, a storm the Doctor can only weather with the help of friends she is currently content to leave in the dark, thus setting the stage for six or seven episodes of skirting around the question of who she really is before a final, explosive confrontation. And perhaps that’s the only way to reinvent Gallifreyan history – something, it seems, Chibnall is about to do – without it becoming tedious. And it is destined to be tedious, this game of gods and monsters and prophecy. It is an awkward fact that stories about Time Lords – the anomaly of ‘Deadly Assassin’ aside – tend towards dullness, and it is difficult to see how the current regime could reinvent them. But it does, at least, give us something to ponder as the weeks unfold and the awkwardness in the console room builds towards an inevitable crescendo. Like it or not, we’re going back to Gallifrey, and all that remains now is to see how much of the fandom Chibnall can poke with a stick without losing the casual viewers. It’s a dangerous game, but so is getting out of bed, so one more step along the road we go.

Maybe Graham could bring along his laser shoes. That’d be fun.

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God Is In The Detail (12-01)

Rejoice, Doctor Who fans! After a year-long break – and then some – we’re back with another round of unearthed conspiracies, wild fan theory and VERY IMPORTAND AND SECRET INFORMATION, as we dissect and discuss the episodes in this year’s series.

For the uninitiated – and there may be a few of you – this aspect of Brian of Morbius all stems from a single episode of Sherlock – or, specifically, the interviews that followed it. Questioned, after the events of ‘The Reichenbach Fall’, as to how Benedict Cumberbatch could possibly have survived his topple from that roof, Steven Moffat replied that there was “a clue that everybody missed”. It prompted a flurry of speculation and enough wild goose chases to fill an Anna Paquin movie. But there was a truth to it, because Moffat did this sort of thing all the time, particularly when he was running Doctor Who, loading his stories with clues and signs as to the fantastical directions they were destined to take.

And so I set about finding them. Seven years later, we’re still going strong – it’s a mantle Chibnall seems to have inherited – and that’s why whenever a series comes out, you’ll find this blog filled with discussion about the SIGNIFICANT AND CLEARLY SIGNPOSTED CLUES AND HINTS as to where the series arc is going. Today we’re looking at part one of ‘Spyfall’, so I advise you not to read any further if it’s a story you have yet to see – but if you have, you may not have realised that it was full of hidden references, some of which took some considerable time and effort to dig up. Join us now, constant reader, as we take a tumble down the rabbit hole. Be warned that this way lies temporary madness, but also blissful enlightenment. And did you bring a tin opener?

We will start, as we almost invariably do, with a control panel.

“BE ALERT!” the monitor readout doesn’t quite say. “THE WORLD NEEDS LERTS!” I nearly compiled an annotated version of this, but there’s not an awful lot to do: note, however, a couple of things that may not be immediately obvious, particularly the 1959 in the top centre. 1959 was, of course, the year that the Seventh Doctor and Mel landed in Shangri-La, the Welsh holiday camp hiding a dark secret (no, not Michael Barrymore) – a CLEAR AND TRANSPARENT indication that Sylvester McCoy is set to make a return appearance, presumably alongside Belinda Mayne. There are a number of reasons why I’ve reached this conclusion, but one thing at a time.

Of significantly more interest is ‘G-BGUX’ on the right hand side, below the display. ‘Gux’, according to the Urban Dictionary, is a Swiss German colloquialism both for ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’. GB – referring, of course, to Great Britain – thus exists in a quantum state of both unification and division (did we mention Sylvester McCoy was Scottish and that parts of the show are still filmed in Wales?). Time is in flux, and our actions over the next twelve months could be crucial. And you thought Chris Chibnall was done with Brexit jokes.

The GR-AH reference, of course, should be self-explanatory, so I won’t waste my time unpacking that one. Now, have a look at this.

There are two key themes to this week’s collection of signs and portents: the Seventh Doctor (more of him in a bit) and the Master, whose sudden appearance at the end of the series 12 opener shocked and stunned the fandom. At least, it shocked and stunned those of us who didn’t know it was coming – something that was obvious in hindsight, or if you were simply paying attention. For instance, the computer monitor above contains three eye-shaped maps, corresponding DIRECTLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY to the first three Doctors – and it is during the reign of the Third Doctor, the highlighted map, that the Master first appears. Moreover the shape of the maps is significant on a number of levels, pertaining as it does to the Eye of Harmony, the portable black hole that powered the TARDIS, first seen in full in ‘The Deadly Assassin’, which featured the Master, and then later in Doctor Who: The Movie, which featured the Seventh Doctor and also…well, you can see where this is going.

But if you watch ‘Spyfall’ properly you’ll find there are clues to the Master’s return hidden right at the beginning, notably in the secret message that the unnamed agent reads in the toilet in the pre-titles teaser. I had to tinker with this to get the clearest image, but it was worth it, because there is a wealth of information embedded in those numbers.

You see? It was right there in plain sight, and you all missed it. Look carefully next time. I can’t do all this on my own.

Next: a map. I love maps. [Affects Yorkshire accent, does slightly leery grin]

So far, so so-so. Alas there is no way of actually ascertaining the precise coordinates to which this map refers: you will be reassured, constant reader, that I spent many fruitless hours perusing the internet, the London and Sheffield street atlases and the Ordnance Survey archive at my local library in order to glean this information, but to no avail. I got through six bottles of Ribena last night trying to figure this out and I really need a wee.

Hang on.

Right, back. No, listen: there’s a good chance that the location is important, and I’m still waiting for my network of Dark Web contacts (who go under the pseudonyms of Lamster, Hedgehog and Glumpy) to dig up the goods. But in the absence of that, I did a little drawing of my own, and look what happens if you connect the occurrences of the word ‘DIE’.

Bad…WF? WF? What does that refer to? Bad Wolf is an obvious answer, if we were to find an O and an L from somewhere (probably down the back of the sofa; that’s the last time I saw the TV remote). But here’s a thing. You may be interested to know that Ian Lavender, star of Dad’s Army (and once seen by this reporter in pantomime in Canterbury, the winter of 1994) celebrates his birthday on 16 February – a Sunday, and the same day that the as-yet untitled episode 8 of series 12 is due to air. And if we insert the initials IL into WF, we get…Wilf.

What could could this mean? Is an ageing Bernard Cribbins set to return to Doctor Who taking the role of a darkened, decaying version of Donna’s grandfather, perhaps someone who’s had his body stolen? Is there some sort of crossover coming involving the heart of the TARDIS and Billie Piper’s teeth? Do we take any significance from the fact that this is episode 8, and that the Eighth Doctor made his debut in 1996 – fifty years to the year, incidentally, after Ian Lavender was born – facing off against Eric Roberts? Do we further take any significance from the fact that the aforementioned Lavender starred in Eastenders alongside the aforementioned Bonnie Langford?  I don’t know, and neither do you. But lest we forget, Wilf made his final appearance at the beginning of 2010 – that’s ten years ago, folks, TEN – in which he urged the Doctor to take up arms and kill the Master. But you’ll have to draw your own conclusions, I’m afraid. I know I have.

We’re almost done but there are two more things to show you. The first is this.

 

Two things to note: the fact that ’89’ is clearly visible on the readout, referring UNAMBIGUOUSLY AND EXPLICITLY to the year that Doctor Who was cancelled, right after ‘Survival’ (which featured, as we have previously noted, both the Seventh Doctor and the Master), and also the two pale orange lights near the top of the dial. Because here’s how it works: taking these as season numbers, and where the very first blue light at the top of the dial refers to 1963’s season 1, these two amber lights refer respectively to seasons 38 and 39 – in other words, taking into account a continuous numbering from Hartnell through to Whittaker, this year’s series and next. In other words, constant reader, this is a long game, and one that won’t be over until Whittaker’s third and likely final run of episodes, and episode 10 (which may be denoted by the percentage sign, if you examine it at just the right angle) is going to end on a massive cliffhanger.

And it’s worth remembering, of course, precisely where Ryan and Graham’s roulette ball chose to land.

Anyway, the tea’s getting cold. See you next time.

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

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