Posts Tagged With: the rings of akhaten

The Smallerpictures video dump (2019, part six)

Midnight. Not a sound from the pavement. Until the unmistakeable noise of boots on concrete, a plaintive, distant roar, and the cry of “DOCTOOOOOOORRR!”

There are cats in today’s video roundup; of such things you may be sure. But we’ll get to that. First, the Doctor’s off to Norway.

 

1. Doomsday: The Sitcom Version (July 2019)

It’s no great secret that I’ve long found the ending of ‘Doomsday’ unintentionally amusing. Oh, I know it tugs at the heartstrings. I know there is a great tragedy in the story of Rose’s death and eternal separation from the Doctor, where ‘death’ means ‘dropped off a stack of papers at the council registry office’ and ‘eternal separation’ means ‘off screen for a year so Billie Piper can get her teeth done’. At the time, it was like the end of the world. For some of us. I was sitting there wondering if Davies would be able to outdo his “I think you need a Doctor” line from ‘Parting of the Ways’. I was not disappointed. The Doctor flits in and out of vision on a beach in Glamorgan and bottles out of the conversation in the middle of a sentence when the signal drops. He even burns up a star, for pity’s sake. The TARDIS carbon footprint must be astronomical.

So here’s a thought: if it’s funny by accident, what if we made it funny on purpose? What if I stuck in a laugh track? And the theme from Me and My Girl? How many Tennant fangirls and humourless puritans could I annoy? As it turns out the answer is ‘quite a lot’, although doing a quick headcount I do think I made more friends than enemies. It works reasonably well, given that this was a first attempt, and I know what I need to change for next time. “It would work better,” someone said, “if you had less general tittering and stuck to some belly laughs. As it stands, it becomes a lot of white noise.” Which is a perfectly valid criticism. “OH MY GOD YOU SICK UNFEELING BASTARD HOW COULD YOU MAKE THIS?”, I’m afraid, is not.

 

2. The Cats Trailer, Doctor Who style (July 2019)

The Cats motion picture is the new Class. It’s a film nobody asked for and nobody really wanted. It exploded onto the internet in a nightmarish display of peculiarity: a half-lit freakshow, filled with pawing and acrobatics and bizarre, decontextualised choreography. James Corden bounces and Taylor Swift sits in a hammock and Judi Dench plays Judi Dench, only in a wig. It was horrible. “And besides,” said hundreds of Doctor Who fans everywhere, “we had cats in Doctor Who and they looked much better than this lot”. Which is true, of course, although it’s not exactly fair: we’re talking about two largely separate mediums, and the requirements for the two types of role are completely different. It doesn’t help that I actually can’t stand Cats, although I do love a bit of Lloyd Webber: it is a disjointed melee of stories and ‘character’ songs, some of which work, some of which do not, and a tedious, oversung finale.

Within a day of the first trailer drop, someone had uploaded their own version, which married the footage with the music used in the trailer to Us, with alarmingly good results. And however misguided the complaints about makeup and CGI, there was – I realised, just in the nick of time – a definite market for a Who-themed remake. And so I took footage from ‘Gridlock’ and ‘The Shakespeare Code’ and stuck in a couple of carefully chosen soundbites and then put the whole thing together on one fevered, insomnia-drenched evening back in the summer. To answer a frequently asked question, the cats from Doctor Who aren’t in here because they simply wouldn’t have worked next to this lot: you’d just have a weird and confusing juxtaposition of different styles of feline and sometimes it’s best to just keep these things simple. As it is it hangs together, much like Tabitha is currently hanging from the edge of my tablecloth. For heaven’s sake, I’ll feed you in a minute.

 

3. Flatulent Clara (August 2019)

Fart jokes are brilliant, aren’t they? I make no apology for loving them to bits. Russell T Davies built an entire recurring villain around them. Dropping in a fart gag, in any capacity, is a good way to sort the wheat from the chaff, because supposedly sophisticated people are always very quick to tell you how juvenile you’re being and how toilet humour is the lowest form of humour. Sod the lot of you, I say. Fart jokes are funny, just like a pie in the face is funny. I love a bit of Oscar Wilde as much as the next man, but who can honestly say that The Importance of Being Earnest wouldn’t have been improved if Lady Bracknell had tripped over the handbag and landed flat on her arse?

There are plenty of brilliant fart redubs on YouTube – a Star Trek one and a quite spectacular reimagining of the restaurant sequence from ‘Deep Breath’ are just two of the mashups I’ve seen comparatively recently – but when I was dipping a toe into the murky waters of flatulence gags, it was Clara, of all people, who stood out. I think it’s the eyes. Jenna Coleman does most of her acting with her eyes, whether she’s gazing fearfully at a rampaging monster or staring incredulously at the Doctor, waiting for him to finish monologuing. There are lots of moments like that, and it struck me that – as good as her acting was – many of them would have been improved with a couple of gas bombs in the background.

This originally started life as a single scene – the notorious console room ballet that opens ‘The Rings of Akhaten’, in which Clara and the Doctor are seen cavorting round the TARDIS interior like a couple of tryouts for Swan Lake. Try as I might, I was unable to get it to gel, but it then occurred to me that Clara’s penchant for meaningful pauses and penetrating stares extends far beyond that one story, so I widened the scope to encompass the whole of series 7B. Akhaten still has a reasonable part to play, but you’ll also see shots from ‘Hide’, ‘Cold War’ and ‘The Crimson Horror’, among others. I tried to do something similar the other week with Jodie Whittaker, with only limited success – despite the scrunching she really doesn’t lend herself to that sort of humour. I might have another look. In the meantime, Clara’s done three series. Keep the clothes pegs on standby.

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Five Doctor Who episodes to help you deal with grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I miss my mum.

 

Twice Upon A Time

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

 

The Woman Who Fell To Earth

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

 

Heaven Sent

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

 

The Rings of Akhaten

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

 

Blink

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

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Gotta catch ’em all

That Pokemon Go, eh? Everyone’s at it.

Doct_Pokemon

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The Rings of Akhtanen – Ulysses 31 edit

You know, I’m probably about the only person on the planet who freely admits to thoroughly enjoying ‘The Rings of Akhtanen’. Yes, it’s cheesy. Yes, the singing is overdone and the little girl is mildly annoying. Yes, the ending is drawn out, the Doctor’s speech is melodramatic and the bit with the leaf defies all logic. But that bazaar scene is wonderful. Smith is terrific. Even the Mummy, though ultimately pointless, is reasonably scary. It’s no classic, for certain, but next to ‘Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS’, it’s BAFTA material.

Anyway. Some clever clogs has taken it upon themselves to publish score-free versions of Doctor Who episodes online: in other words, downloadable MP3 files containing dialogue. From a layman’s perspective this is unnecessarily geeky and fundamentally pointless. For someone like me, it’s an absolute goldmine. I’ve mentioned before the problems I’ve had pasting dialogue into things with score, having to rely on downloaded music tracks that don’t always contain the bit you want, or (in the case of Darth Gene) bits you do want, but in a different key because of the PAL / NTSC thing. It’s a classic 80/20 distribution of work, where actually finding clips and assembling them in order takes no time at all, before I then have to spend many sleepless nights tearing out my hair during post-production.

So the opportunity to grab dialogue from New Who episodes without having Murray Gold’s intrusive, overwrought score was one I couldn’t pass up, and what results here is a bit of an experiment. It came about largely because Joshua and Daniel and I have – this week! – finally completed our run of Ulysses 31 episodes, some eight or nine months after starting them in October last year. It’s been a long haul, with lots of gaps between viewing sessions, but by the end they were all anxious to see the Odyssey get home (and I thought Joshua was going to cry, or at least sniff loudly and with abandon, when it looked like Ulysses was going to remain in Hades for eternity). Certainly for me it’s been wonderful to see it again: the effects are dated, and there are a few two many Everybody Laughs endings, but thematically it remains as fresh as it did over thirty years ago. The proposed film version has thankfully languished in development hell where it belongs (structurally it simply wouldn’t work) but the series itself is still TV gold.

If you’re familiar with Ulysses 31 you will probably be familiar with the music I’ve used here – mostly known as ‘The Curse of the Gods’, it’s a dramatic, striding piece, used when something dramatic (and usually bad) is happening on-screen. It was employed with particularly memorable effect in the episode where Ulysses encounters Cronus, Father of Time, and pushes back the hands of the universal clock to de-age his decaying companions. That episode gave me recurring nightmares for years, and as much of it was as due to the score as anything else – so when it came to putting this together, using it somewhere was an obvious choice. I briefly considered using the remixed and re-recorded version by Parallax, but when I stuck it in the video it sounded artificial (largely because the orchestration, crisp and clear as it is, was synthesized).

Of course, there’s a problem: the audio recordings appear to be very slightly out of sync with the DVDs I ripped (a matter of a few frames, but enough to tell the difference). So this was another 80/20 ratio, where I spent comparatively little time editing the Doctor’s final speech, and far more time than I’d have liked trying to get the audio to match. Even now it’s not perfect, although it must be said that the results in my final copy seem to be a little better than the embedded version above. Still, them’s the breaks.

Owing to the extravagant amount of unedited footage I included from ‘Rings’, this was automatically blocked on YouTube – a state I would have contested under fair use if I’d cared more about this, but there’s always the risk you’ll lose and it’s not worth the suspension of my account. So on Vimeo it goes. And there it will stay, in relative obscurity. This didn’t completely gel, but in terms of using the ripped audio it was a good start. I believe in starts. Once you have a start, the rest is inevitable.

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God is in the detail (vi)

I was chatting with Gareth about the appearance of the Great Intelligence at the end of ‘The Bells of Saint John’. He and I fear it’s going to be this series’ recurring theme, repeated with depressing abandon in every episode, like the Schrodinger’s pregnancy scan in series six.

“If it’s any consolation,” I said, “There were no references to it at all in the next story. There was a fair bit of stuff about Clara, but nothing on the G.I.”
“But you’re still going to do God is in the detail, presumably?”
“Oh, undoubtedly.”

So here’s the roundup for ‘The Rings of Akhaten’, an episode that was apparently loathed by almost everyone except me, and with a title I still have to Google to check spelling every time I write it down. I picked up on most of these last night, during a second viewing in the company of Josh and Daniel, both of whom had been away at the weekend. Daniel lingered by the door, as he is wont to do when we’re watching something he’s not sure about. Joshua sat next to me on the sofa and I reflected that it was far too long since we’d de-loused his hair. I only noticed this in particular because I’d failed to brush it that morning. What Lies Beneath doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Let’s start in that graveyard.

Akhaten_detail_1 

11 September was the date that series three of the original Doctor Who run was first broadcast (yes, it was 1965, but it still counts). We’re on the Doctor’s third chronological encounter with Clara’s character. The story in question was ‘Galaxy 4’, a mostly incomplete story that contains Steven Taylor, Vicki and an alien race called the Chumblies. Six months later, on 5 March 1966, the First Doctor took Steven and Dodo to meet the Monoids in the first episode of ‘The Ark’. Conclusions? Peter Purves is coming back.

Next: Clara does a little exploring.

Akhaten_detail_4

Don’t let that innocent-looking pillar fool you. That is quite clearly a SONTARAN HELMET. Just as the alien skull in the trophy room of the Predator’s ship spawned an entire franchise, it’s abundantly obvious that the secretly treacherous Strax is shadowing the Doctor and Clara throughout their intergalactic travels, ready to spring at the last minute with a well-placed grenade. Make no mistake: beneath all the jokes and that cuddly, spud-like exterior lies the cold and remorseless heart of a killer. I’d go further and argue that it was Strax who was responsible for the death of the 19th century Clara, whom he could have saved if he’d really wanted her to live. And what do you mean it looks nothing like the Sontaran helmet?

Now, observe!

Akhaten_detail_2

On the right? On top of the gigantic cotton reel of time? That’s clearly a pyramid. A pyramid of Mars, do you think?

Meanwhile, in the central arena:

Akhaten_detail_6

The grandstand is divided into ten clearly-marked components, which is IRREFUTABLE PROOF that we are returning here at the end of the series for the Doctor to have a final battle with Sutekh the Destroyer, observed and abetted by his ten previous incarnations.

But will it indeed be Sutekh? Or will it be the Daleks, given that the number 88 (the year ‘Remembrance of the Daleks was broadcast) is clearly printed below?

Akhaten_detail_3

No, it’s there. On the right. On the big oil drum thing. Tilt your head a bit. No, that way. Now squint.

Then there’s the so-called “lava lamp” in Clara’s bedroom.

 

Akhaten_detail_5

Most lava lamps resemble rockets, of course, but the fact that this lamp is sitting next to an illuminated globe cannot possibly be a coincidence. It’s a clear throwback to ‘The Seeds of Death’, in which the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe piloted a rocket to the moon when the T-Mat broke down. Conclusion: Jamie is coming back. (The clues, of course, exist elsewhere: the Tenth Doctor namechecks Jamie in ‘Tooth and Claw’, and before hitting the dizzy heights of Doctor Who, Jenna-Louise Coleman also starred in Emmerdale, a soap opera that had – once upon a time – carried a prominent role for Frazer Hines…)

And yet the web grows thicker, when we look very carefully at Ellie Oswald.

Akhaten_detail_8

There. Just above her left (stage-left) eyebrow. IT’S THE MOLE. Clearly, Ellie is not all that she seems.

Of course, the bottom line was that this was a fairly simple-to-follow episode, with little in the way of ontological paradox or wibbly-wobbliness. Which was just fine, as it meant that for once I didn’t have to sit there explaining everything to Josh. I just had to worry about coaxing Daniel out from behind the coffee table, where he’d hidden the moment he saw the mummy (calling, of course, for his own).

When we were done with the singing and the closing credits had rolled, Joshua turned to me and said “Well, I’m going to be scratching my head for the rest of the evening.”
“Why?” I asked. “Did you seriously not understand it?”
“No Daddy, I’ve still got nits.”

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Review: ‘The Rings of Akhaten’

Rings_4

In 1995, Bruce Willis – then undergoing something of a career renaissance – starred alongside Milla Jovovich in The Fifth Element. It’s a film I’ve always hated. It looks utterly beautiful, but I have no idea what’s going on most of the time, chiefly because Jovovich’s role is mostly to witter on incoherently. Then Gary Oldman turns up sporting an American accent to rival David Bowie’s turn in Twin Peaks. Oh, and then there’s Chris Tucker, about whom I could say a great many unflattering things.

But there’s one scene that always holds my attention, and it’s this one.

Why am I showing you this? Well, if you’ve seen it you’ll probably have guessed, but ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ was – to all intents and purposes – this scene, padded out to three quarters of an hour. Oh, there was a bit more to it than that. There were references to at least two sci-fi classics, a bit of backstory for Clara, and an ending so predictable even my five-year-old could have seen it coming. And I confess this openly and without malice: I thoroughly enjoyed it.

For sure, the opening was a bit creepy. The extended flashback where we got to see Clara’s parents meet and fall in love and then have children is quite sweet until you remember that the Doctor is casually observing it all, like some sort of extraterrestrial peeping tom. It ends with a teenage Clara standing at her mother’s graveside, seemingly unaware that she’s being watched from behind a tree.

Rings_1

And you know, you get the feeling the chief writer made sure this bit went in. You know. As a reminder.

Doc-Sherlock

After this, the Doctor dances. Almost literally. There’s a weird mating ritual going on round the TARDIS console. The two of them won’t keep still; it’s practically musical theatre. You keep expecting one of them to belt out a bit of Sondheim, or perhaps this:

Yes, I know, it’s a stretch (and the quality isn’t great), but any excuse to get this song in somewhere.

Rings_3

“Consider yourself / Well in…”

The story kicks off properly when they reach the Rings of Akhaten, which takes the form of a Cairo bazaar populated by at least half the residents of the Star Wars cantina. It’s a derivative (intentionally so, from what I’ve read) but impressive sequence that must have eaten up most of the budget, which would presumably explain why the rest of the episode takes place mostly in a dimly-lit stone chamber and a CG amphitheatre. (Last year, we visited a Doctor Who museum in Bromyard whose big pull was that the private collector who owned most of the exhibits had spent a small fortune amassing every alien you saw for the bar sequence in ‘The End of Time’. Presumably he was checking his available balance as soon as the closing credits for tonight’s episode started to roll.)

Rings_9

This was, I will admit, rather good.

The Doctor produces exotic fruit that looks like mood lighting, and then vanishes, leaving Clara to console a frightened princess, hiding from her guards for fear she’ll make a mistake in the big end of term concert. Clara is able to empathise, thankfully not by telling her about the time she blew an ‘A’ instead of a ‘G’ when the recorder group were performing ‘Go And Tell Aunt Nancy’ to the year threes, but about the time she got lost on Blackpool beach. (I once heard a story about Blackpool beach, about two lions who escaped from the local zoo and took a wander along the beach, whereupon one exclaimed to the other “Not many people about for a bank holiday”. I mention it here because it is quite frankly more interesting than Clara’s.)

Princess Merry (which, I’m sorry, sounds like something out of Enid Blyton, and not in a good way) is being pursued by the Vigil, who “look a bit like the Empty Child” – those quotes belong to Thomas, who was watching with us. The Vigil are another example of the classic Who opening act; we assume they’re the villain of the week but their prime role is to have a wand duel with Matt Smith in a scene that’s so Harry Potter it’s frankly embarrassing.

Rings_12

I’m getting ahead of myself here. First we have Merry singing, just before she’s spirited away to a grisly fate, which leads to the Doctor and Clara borrowing the rocket cycle from Flash Gordon.

Rings_13

The Vigil are guarding Grandfather, a sleeping god trapped in a glass box. His chamber is guarded by an impassable polystyrene door which the Doctor is able to penetrate solely with technobabble, before holding it open in this week’s Comedy Gold moment. The door rises and descends with such unerring swiftness it practically slides out of its groove. It’s so wobbly it’s like we’re back in The Hand of Fear. Let’s skip over that, shall we?

In a sudden twist, the god-in-a-box is revealed to be an alarm clock, which would explain why he’s so ticked off (you see what I did there). It turns out the mythical god in question is in fact the entire sun, albeit a sun that resembles a carved-out pumpkin.

Happy Halloween.

Happy Halloween.

The sun / god thing demands a sacrifice: it wants a shrubbery the soul of the Queen of Years. Except the Doctor isn’t playing ball, and is determined instead to take on the god himself. This leads to a beautifully lit but frankly embarrassing monologue from the Doctor, who talks about all the things he’s seen and done – food enough for any hungry god. It’s the sort of omnipotent weary traveller bluster I thought we’d seen the last of when the Ponds gallivanted off to Manhattan, but it would seem the Lonely God thing can still get hauled out of the archives when you need something to fill up that climactic minute. I was quite enjoying it at first, but when Smith started quoting Blade Runner, bellowing “I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe!”, I wanted to break his fingers.

Gorgeous lighting. Shame the dialogue deteriorates so quickly.

Gorgeous lighting. Shame the dialogue deteriorates so quickly.

And there’s another thing. Who remembers this?

Don’t watch the whole thing, it’s car-crash TV. Just skip to the two minute mark and that little scene with Gwen. You see what I mean.

Of course, it’s Clara who saves the day, because the god feeds on things of value, and Clara has the leaf that brought her parents together – the cryptic ‘first page’ from last week’s installment  Her argument is that the leaf represents potential, as in days unlived, and that this ought to be enough to satisfy any god. This makes about as much sense as Sir Bedevere’s assertion that witches burn because they’re made of wood, but since when did religious fundamentalism have anything to do with common sense?

Lame. Seriously lame.

Lame. Seriously lame.

Too much staring. But she's fun.

Too much staring as well. But she has a certain charm.

Oh, look, the whole thing was a mess. I know that. But it was a joyous mess. Smith and Coleman bounce off each other with flair, and it’s nice to see the Doctor actually enjoying himself again after the heavy brow that beset him in 2012. Coleman herself is including far too many ‘meaningful’ looks in her repertoire, but she’s not yet slipped into the irritating phase – something that I fear will happen the more we discover about her, as we did with River Song, but as an enigma she has a certain charm. Farren Blackburn directs with competence; Cross’s script is also competent, if melodramatic and occasionally silly (I could really have done without the dog barking), and thematically the thing hangs together pretty well, to the extent that I’m prepared to forgive some of its structural flaws and eyebrow-raising moments. In Clara, the Doctor has found a reason to travel again – and I, in turn, may have found a reason to watch.

Rings_6

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