Posts Tagged With: the time of angels

Doctor Who Myths Debunked

There are certain things you get tired of saying more than once. This is particularly applicable if you happen to be me and if you have a bad habit of not letting matters rest. I spent decades saddled with a “Must win the argument” mindset that I have spent the last year or two trying to destroy. It’s partly a desire to be kind; partly a knowledge that none of us are getting any younger. There are too many other things I could be doing rather than arguing with Karen on Facebook, particularly when it’s about Doctor Who.

But still. When urban legends pop up in my feed, it’s a trigger. Because there is a sense of irritation about oft-repeated tales of supposed improvisation on set, of strange production decisions and the reconciliation of purposely ambiguous plot lines. For one thing it tends to grant Doctor Who a reverence it doesn’t really deserve, a series plucked out of the air or weaved into existence by magic, TV as alchemy – which undermines the months of hard graft, sweat and on-set bitching that is the cold reality of producing the show. For another it proves that people are inclined to believe everything they read on the internet as long as it makes for a nice story. It is important – and this will be said again and again until everyone understands – that people do not love Doctor Who too much, and do not assume that it is some sort of miracle; it is also important that we scrutinise and evaluate the stories we have been told, rather than simply believing them because we want to. That is the reason I burst people’s bubble; at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m frantically pasting links to verified sources and dissecting badly-written Tumblr posts for the third time in as many days.

With that in mind, these particular hornet’s nests have been aggravated for my own convenience as much as anyone else’s, because it’s easier to post a link to your blog than it is to write it all down again. Here’s a trigger warning for the rest of you: this post contains cynicism, sarcasm, sanctimonious self-righteousness, and doesn’t pull any punches. I suggest you approach it with a pinch of salt and refrain from leaving angry responses that tell me how wrong I am about all this. Save that for part two. And yes, there will be a part two. I’m already writing it.

 

 

1. No, the TARDIS doesn’t make that noise because the Doctor leaves the sodding brakes on

This little gem is usually accompanied by the words “I was today years old when…” or “Mind literally blown”. We will circumvent, for the most part, the eye-rolling silliness of those two internet tropes (although seriously, how is it possible to be ‘today’ years old? You’re literally naming the date). Let’s think back instead to that moment in ‘The Time of Angels’ where River parks the TARDIS alongside the wrecked Byzantium, seemingly without a single VWORP, VWORP. When the Doctor protests, River’s response is classic Moffat: “It’s not supposed to make that noise. You leave the brakes on.”

Our great departed showrunner is often accused of a certain misogyny, at least in the way he writes women. I’m not about to get into that, but this is one of those times when the TARDIS is to all intents and purposes a car and women drivers are better. After the early years of broken fluid links, poorly-judged time hops and a general sense that the Doctor didn’t have a clue how to actually fly the thing, we’ve seen a gradual shift in tone as his piloting skills have become more and more accomplished, at least until a moment like this comes along to blow them out of the water. Two possibilities spring to mind. Either River (having achieved a greater sense of understanding vis a vis the workings of time and space capsules) is actually telling the truth, and the Doctor, the Monk, the Rani and also the Master all leave their brakes on – plausible but ridiculous – or she’s somehow dampened the noise, and is simply winding the Doctor up.

But there’s a third option, and that’s that it’s neither, or both, and Moffat simply put it in as a joke, much the same way he did when he mentioned the supposed destruction of the TARDIS manual, or the Doctor’s past as a little girl (a throwaway line that had Chibnall reaching for his notebook). Because Moffat never treated Doctor Who with any more reverence than it deserved, and thus you shouldn’t either. We may make these things real if we choose, or we may discard them. The Doctor is an unreliable narrator, of both his own history and that of others; River is much the same. I’m happy if you choose to take this particular joke seriously. Doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.

 

 

2. Captain Jack isn’t necessarily the Face of Boe

This is the one that always ruffles feathers, and very few people seem to understand the point I’m trying to make with it, but let’s have one more try. In the first instance: yes, Jack does call himself ‘The Face of Boe’ at the end of series 3. And yes, that’s clearly what Russell T. Davies wants you to think, however much he backpedals in the episode commentaries. We’ve never seen the product of a billion years of human evolution but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that, after much toing and froing, a seemingly immortal Jack might find himself morphing into a giant head over the course of many, many millennia. Philip K. Dick had the same idea (see The Infinites, which posits that humanity would basically go this way). Such a physiological change is even more plausible had Moffat gone down the road he supposedly considered for ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, which would see Jack decapitated by the Headless Monks – a plotline he only abandoned after it became clear that Barrowman was, for one reason or another, unavailable during the filming block.

But that word ‘think’ is incredibly important. Let’s look at the evidence, or rather the lack of it. We don’t see him become the Face of Boe. It’s never confirmed onscreen or anywhere in the literature (Davies has, for reasons we’re about to discuss, taken great pains to ensure that it isn’t). The sole basis for this theory – honestly, the only one there is – is a single conversation between Jack and the Doctor in which he jokes about grey hairs and then wraps up by mentioning his childhood nickname, having heard the Doctor and Martha talk about it two episodes back. It’s the power of association; put two unrelated things together with the most tenuous of connections in an emotionally charged situation and people will join the dots, even if they’re the Doctor. So don’t tell me you take Jack seriously. He’s had a year manacled to a metal fence to come up with this ruse.

Having said that, it is fairly obvious that you were supposed to take him seriously, if only for a moment. This was before Children of Earth, before Miracle Day, before…well, I needn’t continue. The problem is that once you establish Jack’s eventual fate you kill off any sense of interest in the character, because you know they’ll walk out of jeopardy at the other end. Davies knew this, and he wasn’t about to strangle a golden goose. He also knew, as I do, that the key to the success of this moment lies not in the revelation that Jack will become the Face of Boe but in the fact that he might; it’s all about what you don’t see. Just for a minute or two, one of the Doctor’s most cryptic supporting characters is given just a little more meat on the bone (not that there’s much bone, beyond the skull), and the hint is ultimately far more powerful than anything they could have shown to definitively link the two, given that the audience is allowed, for once, to fill in the gap.

So this isn’t Davies telling you Jack’s future. This is him giving you options. Nothing upsets TV viewers more than the ambiguous, but personally I’ve always thought it’s more fun not knowing. Barrowman and Tennant say they believe Jack / Boe are one and the same, but neither of them get a vote – I’m sorry, I know you all love hearing what actors think about their characters, but the writer’s opinion is final, and the writer is commitment phobic, at least on this matter. Let me be very clear: having Jack evolve, over the course of millions of years, into the enigmatic sage who gives his life for New Earth is perfectly acceptable headcanon. It is the shortest distance between two points, and it would be a fitting end to Jack’s story line. Nonetheless, headcanon is all it is.

On that subject, I tend to think headcanon ought to actually stay in your head, but seeing as so many people are seemingly determined to voice theirs to anyone who will listen (and more than a few who aren’t really interested), let’s set some ground rules for terminology. It’s fine to say “I think Jack becomes the Face of Boe”. It is wrong to say that he definitely does, and to argue the toss with anyone who believes otherwise. It is also wrong to do the opposite. This is the paradox of the story, because let’s face facts – Davies put this in to keep us all arguing for years, and left it ambiguous for that purpose (“The moment you explain it,” he said, “the joke dies”), and that is why you get people like me on the forums, forever balancing the equation against anyone who states what they ‘know’ to be true. There are no definites in this story; this is an optical illusion rendered on screen. Some of you see the vase, some of you see the faces. That’s absolutely fine, just as long as you acknowledge that they’re both part of the picture.

 

 

3. David Tennant didn’t ad lib his “Are you my mummy?” line in The Poison Sky

This one really gets my hackles up.

Here’s the gist. It’s September 2007, and they’re on set in Pontypool, filming a particularly memorable scene in episode 5. As UNIT prepare to unveil their secret weapon, the Doctor is briefed by Colonel Mace, who is explaining firing stock. The two of them are wearing gas masks, and when the Colonel asks him what he thinks, the Doctor quips “Are you my mummy?” The urban legend that instantly sprang up around this is that Tennant made up the line on the spot, having forgotten what he was supposed to say, and when everyone had finished laughing they elected to leave it in. And lo, Tennant’s legend as a clown and a genius and an uber fan gains further traction.

The problem with that little nugget – as there is with many such stories of this ilk – is that there is not a single citable reference for it. Not one. I’ve looked. It is mentioned in precisely zero commentaries. I cannot find any interviews that confirm it. Let’s be clear: twelve years have elapsed since this episode was first broadcast. That’s over a decade, which is plenty of time to clear things up. If it were true, we’d know about it, because factoids like this take root in convention anecdotes, magazine columns, press releases; we could go on. To the best of my knowledge (which, by no means exhaustive, is not inconsiderable) that’s never actually happened. There are no sources to confirm this story except the entirely anecdotal one that does nothing more than tell you it is true. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told, over the years, that this categorically and undeniably happened on set, only to have the person I’m arguing with crumble like handmade fudge the moment I ask them to prove it (to be fair, they don’t normally crumble; they just block me).

Seriously. They fly up like doped pheasants only to be instantly shot down. “I read it somewhere”, is the usual response. Yes, you did, you read it on Tumblr – in a post that’s now infamous because it’s been quoted so many times people simply assume it is fact. “It’s in the Confidential“, one person said. No, it isn’t; I looked. “It was on a Graham Norton interview just after the episode aired.” Really? In this country? Because I checked the BBC schedules for that night. You’re simply feeling the Mandela effect. There is no evidence at all, unless it’s hidden in a Nigerian shed somewhere. That’s why I haven’t provided any links to corroborate my views, because there are no links to provide.

Written down in the cold light of day, it seems a silly thing to argue about. Faced with a stubborn old mule who refuses to budge, the person I’m arguing with tends to shift the conversation down one of two roads. “You can’t prove that it didn’t happen,” I’m told, which is more or less true, at least within my admittedly limited capabilities – although if I were particularly inclined I could contact Helen Raynor (who, to the best of my knowledge, is not on Twitter). I can’t prove it didn’t happen in the same way I can’t prove a pink elephant with wings didn’t land on the field over the back of our house last night before rustling one of the fir trees and promptly taking off again. When I was at university they used to talk about the Oxford Rabbit. “Imagine a rabbit,” my philosophy tutor said. “The rabbit has no physical presence, no odour, and is blind, mute and makes no noise. Does the rabbit exist?”

A word in your ear about TV production: ad libs and on-set improvisation are less common than you might expect, unless you’re shooting a Woody Allen film. They certainly don’t apply very much to the world of high stakes TV drama where most of it is about deadlines and getting the thing in the can before the union turns out the lights. Tennant flubs his lines and they decide to keep it in because it’s better than the alternative? Don’t be ridiculous. If I were feeling charitable, I might – might – be prepared to believe that it happened at a read-through. But they probably weren’t wearing gas masks at the read-through. Go figure.

This leads me on to my second point, which is “Well, it’s a nice story, so what does it matter?” It matters because it undermines the writer. I’ve no great love for Raynor’s TV work, at least on Who, and I speak from the position of unavoidable bias, but writers work hard. They get very little of the credit when things go well and most of the flak when they don’t. Tennant is a brilliant actor, but that’s what he does: he responds to a set of dialogue, and for the most part sticks to what he’s given. Is it so hard to imagine that one of the most successful (if clumsily rendered) jokes in the episode is actually the work of its designated storyteller? And what does it tell you about the general attitude towards writers – both male and female, present and past – if you find that sort of concept difficult to swallow?

 

We’ll be back with more of these in a week or two. In the meantime I need to go and hide from the mob.

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Have I Got Whos For You (June special)

God but it’s been a week. I don’t really want to talk about it. I’m not going to give you a lecture on Why Black Lives Matter because I don’t have the energy, and besides you’ve read all that elsewhere written to a much higher standard. What’s happened is appalling, and the whole thing is a mess, but I have enough going on here without trying to implement a sea change. You will have to rid the world of prejudice by yourselves. Right now I need to look after my family.

I’ve written paragraphs about Cummings, about his disregard for protocol, about his puppet mastery of the government, about the use of autism as a sympathy card (in fairness this is not him, but the sycophants who champion his acquittal, largely out of fear), and about his refusal to apologise for absolutely anything, with an arrogance that is simply breathtaking. I have deleted it. You know it all already, and I don’t want you to have to go over it again. This is the way of things now: this puppet government, this man who will not be made to resign because he knows where the bodies are buried. This is how people voted and many people simply don’t care. I have, I will admit, been feeling largely helpless, and have hit out with a series of Photoshopped memes, because that’s about all I know how to do these days.

What’s the natural human response to all this? Stay at home, adhering to lockdown protocol, and be sensible and responsible? Or say “Ah, feck it” and head off to the beach, because if the elite can’t keep the rules then why should we? The latter, of course, as these scenes of people attempting to jump from Durdle Door clearly indicate.

In the middle of all this, Anonymous turned up with new video material, broadcasting what some people had suspected all along.

There was some good news. Elon Musk’s long-awaited SpaceX launch finally happened under the clear-sky window they desperately needed, although there was momentary panic when one of the astronauts left the door open and they lost the Zero G dinosaur.

As the world mourned the loss of yet another rock and roll icon, archeologists examining the oldest writing in the universe made a startling discovery.

Oh, and Pac-Man turned forty.

More space news, and the ESO was thrilled to discover a twist that looked like the formation of a new planet inside the gas disc burning around AB Aurigae, although there were a little surprised when an unexpected flying object clouded their telescope view.

Closer to home, and after a lengthy break, Ikea stores nationwide began once more to open, with customers desperate for flat pack furniture, cheap tupperware and frozen meatballs seemingly content to sit in a baking hot car for half an hour so that they could stand outisde in the sun for another three, although a few customers came up with some innovative ways of beating the queues.

And as traffic stretched around the block to the newly opened McDonalds drive thrus, news reporters broke lockdown protocols in order to get up close to the action and find out exactly what was causing all the delays.

“Yeah, I want six hundred hamburgers, three hundred and eighty orders of fries, four hundred and twenty-six McFlurries, and a Diet Coke.”

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Have I Got Whos For You (Interlude)

All is not well in Planet Who, folks. There is discontent over the absence of a trailer, anticipatiion fatigue over the BBC’s continuing refusal to name a date, and a general sense of ambivalence about whether it’s going to be any good considering the writers they’ve got on board for next series. And over in a Viking village, Edgar’s let his sneeze get the better of him again.

I spent half an hour yesterday trying to interpolate footage from this year’s John Lewis advert into footage of explosions and disintegrating snowmen and the cracking of ice. It did not go well. My heart simply wasn’t in it, which is never a good beginning. So I cleaned the bathroom instead. There’s no video this week, but at least the house smells fragrant. We’ve done John Lewis before – more than once – and that comparative post I did back in 2016 really is due a revamp. Maybe next year. Maybe.

There was a pile of good things. Georgia Tennant posted a photo on Instagram of her new baby’s induction into the world of Doctor Who, although there was some concern over the episode that she was watching.

“HUNGRY,” said one FB user I occasionally interact with, to which the response from me was “Wrong episode.”

“Close, though, right?”

“Five years out. So in the grand scheme of things…”

If we’re talking series 12, of course, you have to work with what you’ve got. For example, a few weeks back we became aware of a suspected leaked image from an upcoming sequel to ‘Flatline’, although there was immediate speculation as to whether or not it was fake.

It’s not fake, surely? I mean it’s got lighting and everything.

One thing that definitely isn’t fake is the Dalek redesign, which was recently spotted on Clifton Suspension Bridge during a closed ‘maintenance’ slot which was actually booked for the BBC. There was immediate uproar over the apparent redesign, which served no purpose except to highlight the double standards inherent in the assessment of such things, because the Cybermen have been going for almost as long as the Daleks and the new ones are basically unrecognisable, whereas the Daleks have hardly changed at all over the years and the moment they do there’s wailing and crying and gnashing of teeth. Maybe that’s the whole problem. Perhaps a general evolution would have made the removal of the sink plunger an acceptable thing. Perhaps they’ve signed up to a twenty-four hour callout service and there’s no longer any need to do it themselves.

Anyway, it turns out there’s a reason for it.

I’ve been struggling a little bit with Thomas’s school this week, who have been perhaps less than understanding about some of his additional needs, even though they usually do a good job. We have explained to him that while copying out the question before you add the answer does seem rather pointless, you sometimes simply have to toe the line and pick your battles. We live in a system of assessments and targets and indecipherable lingo, and with four kids at four schools it really can be a bit of a minefield.

Anyway, Thomas is basically happy, but I do wish he’d read more. It’s Ripley’s Believe it or Not or a Beano annual or something in the Big Nate range, and while I’m not a reading snob of any sort there’s a wealth of great stuff out there he’s missing out on simply because he can’t be bothered. Occasionally – just occasionally – you can find something that’ll interest him, like we did when we found a Derren Brown book about hypnotism and the power of suggestion. He’d developed something of an interest in the man after regular visits to Thorpe Park this year where we all got rather attached to the Derren Brown ghost train – a ride I’m not allowed to spoil, because they ask you not to. Then this book showed up in a charity shop and he was riveted. It’s the sort of thing that makes me shudder, just faintly, because whether it’s genuine psychic ability or a simple confidence trick Brown is a piggin’ genius and the thought of Thomas going down that road makes me wonder what the consequences would be. It’s like giving the supersoldier serum to Red Skull. “No man should have that kind of power.”

I was trying to find something for him the other week when I stumbled upon this hideously inappropriate Doctor Who novel. I could still let him read it; the joke would probably sail over his head.

Audiobook available soon from all good streaming services.

Star Wars updates now – and cometh the man, cometh the Mandalorian.

It’s not just me, is it? Tell me it’s not just me.

I am trying to put my finger on the moment I lost interest in the Star Wars franchise. It might have been the Clone Wars movie. It might actually have been Shadows of the Empire, Lucas’ 1997 foray into episode 5.5 territory that tried several approaches, none of which really worked. The book was particularly disastrous. Years down the line and we’re bombarded with spin-offs no one asked for and comparatively few people watched and now there’s a TV series about a masked bounty hunter who may or may not be Boba Fett (is he Boba Fett? I haven’t bothered to find out) and oh look, George Lucas has changed the Greedo death AGAIN. If I’m grouchy about this it’s because Disney has announced this week that they’re pulling the Lego Star Wars exhibit from Legoland Windsor because for some unfathomable reason the sight of tiny brick men in a dimly-lit walkthrough will be enough to prevent people going to their own Star Wars-themed parks, most of which are in another country. I am one of the few people who objected to Disney buying the thing a few years back – as far as I was concerned they couldn’t come up with a bigger mess than Attack of the Clones, and thus far I’ve been proved right – but this annoys me. Next time I might just take the kids to a museum instead.

I mean honestly.

We conclude with politics, and Kay Burley has an empty chair in her studio.

I had a conversation with Trevor Baxendale about this: he’d said it didn’t work for him because the Silence wasn’t actually invisible (a mistake many Who fans seem to make when they’re making jokes about them online), so surely she’d be able to see it? We were back and forth for a bit, with me explaining myself and the two of us eventually agreeing that the actual concept of the Silence was so vague there is wiggle room. Better yet that we should concentrate on episodes of Doctor Who that actually work. Like ‘Heaven Sent’, for example, seeing as we seem to be on a bit of a series 9 kick this morning. I had cause to rewatch ‘Heaven Sent’ this week – for reasons that will become apparent another time – and one thing that strikes me is how meticulously constructed the whole thing is; aside from certain questions about where the first set of dry clothes came from it really hangs together quite well.

“What?”

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Have I Got Whos For You: End-of-August edition

There’s some interesting stuff currently cooling over at the Brian of Morbius foundry. We’ll have a new video dump, some debunking of myths and soon – when the time is right – I’m going to be plugging the short fiction I’ve been writing, in a lazy and half-hearted attempt to reinvent myself as a storyteller rather than a hack. Well, you have to move on.

That’ll have to wait a bit. In the meantime, here’s this week’s roundup – beginning with a blink of disbelief from the fanbase over Peter Capaldi’s current baldness.

Elsewhere, Chris Chibnall is knocked out in his flat and wakes up in a strange coastal village, surrounded by shadowy angry figures demanding to know why he didn’t resign.

Although there is, as it transpires, good reason to be worried about series 12, as this leaked promotional shot illustrates.

Onto lighter things now. On a break from his travels, the Twelfth Doctor is spotted with Ashildr and Clara at a Home Counties theme park.

And following a dangerous and potentially lethal interstellar musical publicity stunt, the Eleventh Doctor successfully manages to catch Taron Egerton, although sadly the piano was knackered.

And finally, in the unexpectedly leafy outskirts of Central London, there’s an unexpected visitor outside the TARDIS.

“Yeah, Disney don’t want me. Wanna hang?”

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Have I Got Whos For You (series 11 edition, part 4)

And….we’re back from commercial. Right, did everybody enjoy Thanksgiving? ‘Cos the Doctor’s got the turkey on.

(Mr Bean did it first, of course, and to arguably better effect.)

Thanksgiving is typically more about spending time with your family than it is about exchanging gifts – but there have been scores of references to packaging all over the internet after ‘Kerblam’, and not in a good way.

Elsewhere in the Whoniverse this week there was consternation when an Amazon Prime scheduling cockup meant that American subscribers to their streaming video service got to watch episode eight before they’d seen episode seven.

As for me, I’ve been tinkering with grainy, near-unusuable shots from ‘Kerblam!’ (do I have to type out the exclamation mark every time? It’s incredibly tedious) in order to produce more obscure connections to CBeebies programmes, although feedback for this one does suggest I’m not alone.

But I did find time to get hold of this exclusive preview shot from next week’s Holby City.

Hoopy Froobs!

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The Time-lapse of Angels

Children won’t settle? Do what I did two nights ago: download these five Weeping Angel shots from Photobucket, courtesy of Cerebral-Delirium, and set them as desktop wallpaper, timed to change every ten seconds.

Then wait for the boys to go into the study.

doctor_who____weeping_angel_changing_desktop_by_cerebral_delirium-d5tzt5k

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Why the Weeping Angels are rubbish

Let’s get this out of the way. ‘Blink’ is my favourite episode of New Who. Moffat achieves more in the forty-odd minutes of that than he’s achieved in two bloated, choppy series as head writer. There have been some wonderful Eleventh Doctor moments, and Matt Smith has been terrific, but – as we feared – the quality of Moffat’s writing has suffered. The time was that everything he did was wondrous. These days, for every ‘Eleventh Hour’ there’s a ‘Beast Below’, and for every ‘Girl in the Fireplace’ there’s a ‘Wedding of River Song’. It’s unclear whether this has happened because Moffat simply no longer has the time to tighten and refine his scripts as before. That would be a normal explanation. What’s more likely, however, is that the habits and conceits that were effective over single episodes simply do not translate well to the season-length arcs for which he is now responsible.

Like Davies before him, Moffat has his recurring themes. The use of technology for emotional impact (across video screens, telephones or voice communicators) is one. The ontological paradox is another. ‘Blink’ was full of them, but a common trend these days is to stretch them over the course of a series or even beyond. (Series five eventually revealed that the cracks were caused by an exploding TARDIS, but even at the end of ‘The Big Bang’ we still had no idea about what ‘Silence will fall’ meant; there are days even now when I’m not entirely sure.)

At this point, you’re either nodding your head in recognition because you agree with me, or (more likely) shaking it in dissent wondering “Where the hell is he coming from, saying our beloved Weeping Angels are rubbish? I’d rather have them than a Dalek any day”. And in a way, you’d be right. Because in ‘Blink’, the Angels are terrific. They’re simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar, relatively original and (in that first appearance) utterly terrifying. ‘Blink’ is the cheap episode and it shows, but credit where credit’s due: Moffat takes a shoestring budget and, much like the original production teams in Classic Who, uses his imagination to work wonders.

But less is more. And the truth of it is the Angels should have been a one-time appearance, like the Minotaur in ‘The God Complex’, the scarecrows in ‘The Family of Blood’ and the Absorbaloff in ‘Love and Monsters’ (albeit for quite different reasons). They’re unique to the story in that they’re exactly the sort of thing you’d expect to find in an old gothic mansion (all right, a big house) and that makes them all the more effective. If we’d left them there, never to be seen again, I’d have been happy. But Moffat has his favourites, and the Angels have now become the kid in class who’s popular with the sports teacher and is picked to captain all the teams, even those for sports he doesn’t play. And the more you analyse and explore them, the more the inconsistencies and problems come to light. Let me explain.

Blink

What’s The Time, Mr Bad Wolf?

Let’s begin with the central premise. In ‘Blink’, the Doctor describes the Angels as being quantum locked. In other words, they can only move if you’re not looking at them.

I’m not a physicist. I’m an English graduate. And, like me, the Doctor was renowned for being a rubbish student, so perhaps he’s simply out of his depth here. But my very limited understanding on quantum theory suggests that the word ‘observe’ does not mean ‘look’. Wikipedia defines it as “a measurable operator, or gauge, where the property of the system state can be determined by some sequence of physical operations. For example, these operations might involve submitting the system to various electromagnetic fields and eventually reading a value off some gauge”.

In other words, you don’t have to actually be looking at the Angel to freeze it. Touching it is enough. So a blind person in the presence of an Angel can ‘observe’ the Angel by touching it. And once observed, its presence is noted. You’re still aware of it even when you’re not looking at it. (Moffat would solve this problem with the Silence, who are also a bit silly.) Or presumably you could just train a video camera on the Angel or set up a thermal imaging unit or carry something to measure radiation, and you’d be observing the damn thing, and it would be stopped in its tracks forever. I know that not everyone owns portable Geiger counters, but you’d think River Song’s crew would have thought of packing them when they set off for the Byzantine.

Let’s assume – for the sake of the argument – that the ‘quantum locked’ thing is simply inaccurate and that what Moffat really means is “you just have to be looking at it”. I could just about buy this as a theory, except for one crucial element: if, as the Doctor says, the Angels have to be observed by living things in order to freeze into rock, does this mean sentient living things, or will anything with a pulse do? For example:

EXT. MEADOW. DAY

A beautiful sunlit meadow; two Angels are spreading out a picnic blanket. They do not look at each other.

FIRST ANGEL
There’s sand all over this rug. Did you remember to wash it after we went to Swanage?

SECOND ANGEL
I thought you’d done it.

FIRST ANGEL
You wash, I do the ironing, remember? Pass me the wet wipes, I need to give it a scrub. Oh, bugger.

SECOND ANGEL
What?

FIRST ANGEL
Ladybird.

SECOND ANGEL
Where?

FIRST ANGEL
That leaf. Just there. No, COME AROUND ME, DON’T LOOK OVER MY SHOULDER.

SECOND ANGEL
I don’t think it’s seen us yet.

FIRST ANGEL
Of course it hasn’t seen us, you twit. Would we be having this conversation if it had?

SECOND ANGEL
It still has its back to us. Hold on, it’s flying away.

FIRST ANGEL
I told you we should have gone to that abandoned shopping centre. That thing’s airtight.

SECOND ANGEL
We’d still have to watch out for spiders. And you remember the time we found that bee’s nest. We were there for over a month.

There is a sound of buzzing.

FIRST ANGEL
Speaking of winged insects –

A wasp flies past, freezing both Angels into rock. It passes and they unfreeze.

FIRST ANGEL
Well, let’s hope that’s the last we see –

It flies back the other way, lingers round the picnic basket for a second, then vanishes.

SECOND ANGEL
I bloody hate summer.

octavian-angel

The only psychopaths in the universe to kill you nicely

“Look, Steven. I know you want to bring back the Angels, and we don’t have a problem with that, except for one thing.”
“What’s the matter, Piers?”
“They’re not particularly evil, are they?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, they’re scary. I mean, truly scary. The way they jump out of the dark is great. But – well, they don’t really do much, do they? They sort of zap you into the past and live off your energy. Which by the way makes no sense, but let’s not go there just now.”
“Zapping you into the past is pretty evil, you know. Think about it. You have to start over from scratch. You won’t have any friends. The money you’re carrying is going to be worthless. Your family will never see you again. Plus it gave me a chance to write those heart-rending ontological scenes. Don’t you remember I-have-until-the-rain-stops?”
“Yes, I still cry at that. But it’s a one-story gimmick. Can’t you do something else?”
“I could have them try and nick the TARDIS again.”
“Been there, done that. Besides, that scene was silly. Why the hell did they think shaking it was going to open the doors? It’s not a toy fire engine.”
“I wasn’t really thinking straight; I just thought it looked cool.”
“Anyway, Steven. If we’re going to invest in a two-parter can’t you have them be a little bit more vicious?”
“Hmm. I could have them snap your neck when they get close enough.”
“…”
“Too much?”
“No, it’s good, let’s run with it.”
“Do you think we should worry about the continuity?”
“Oh, why start now?”

The main thing, of course, is that people who get zapped into the past always seem to end up in nice places where they manage to survive and thrive – compare this with (for example) Henry from The Time Traveler’s Wife, who always seems to end up naked and cold in the middle of locked museums, back alleys, or shooting ranges. Closer to home, poor Jamie McCrimmon has his memory wiped by the Time Lords in the closing chapters of ‘The War Games’, and is unceremoniously dumped in the middle of a highland battlefield with an angry redcoat swiftly bearing down on him. But in ‘Blink’, the characters all find themselves happy and contented and fulfilled, which leads me to question whether the Angels are really as nasty as they seem. You could almost picture two Angels taking high tea (with their backs to each other), perhaps in Wester Drumlins in its finer days, chatting:

“Now, Algernon, where are this week’s drop-off points?”
“Let me see. Royal Leamington Spa, 1937. The shores of Antigua. Oh, and Disneyland.”
“Splendiferous. You know, it really is a thankless task being an energy-sucking parasite, isn’t it? We spend all our time ensuring our victims are relocated to comfortable places, and we don’t get the tiniest bit of gratitude.”
“Way of the world, my dear. Anyway, I’m off to bed. See you in twenty-five years?”
“No, you won’t.”

carpark-tardis-angels

Against all odds, the Angels have the phone box

“That’s why they cover their eyes. They’re not weeping. They can’t risk looking at each other. Their greatest asset is their greatest curse. They can never be seen. The loneliest creatures in the universe.”

Fine. It was enough to defeat them at the end of ‘Blink’. But seriously, how did they get anything done? Picture, for example, two Angels playing tennis. Go on. Picture it. Now add an umpire. It’d be the slowest game in history. Even Stephen Hawking could have beaten them. How did the Angels manage to carry the TARDIS out of the police station garage without looking at each other? How would two Angels move a sofa? How does Angel chess work? Can Angels talk on Skype? How do they travel? I’m guessing they don’t drive, or if they do they don’t use car pools, because whoever’s in the back seat would freeze the driver into rock, which would result in chaos on the roads. I should imagine they’re okay at punting, but for the most part they presumably walk, largely at night, favouring wide open spaces where they can stroll along side by side.

“If they have quite narrow tunnel-ish vision,” says Gareth, “with not much peripheral vision, then they could walk in side-by-side chain, each going forwards until one of the ones behind sees them, then freezing until the others catch up. Or they could go forward in small groups, circling around, with each taking turns to be the one at the back who can actually move – a bit like cyclists taking it in turns to be the one at the front of the pack.”

And you thought the Silence Olympics was silly. The Doctor posits that the Angels have survived as long as the universe has by evolving “the perfect defence mechanism”. I’d suggest that they’ve survived this long because even a family meal takes over a century.

Doctor-Who-Time-of-Angels-Next-Time-17

“That which holds the image of an angel becomes itself an angel”

Oh, don’t get me started on this. I don’t deny it was a good scene. It’s creepy and effective – MY GOD, THEY’RE COMING OUT OF THE TV! – until you actually think about it. That would mean, for example, that you could never draw them, because the result would be death. It would be like drawing Mohammed. Time Lord academy art classes would result in carnage. On the other hand, it does explain how they procreate; they just set up a video camera and then leave it running while another Angel walks into shot. It’s certainly more clinical than Gareth’s proposed method, which involved both Angels wearing blindfolds, “with maybe a kinky Angel taking its blindfold off every now and then to taunt its partner”. This, presumably, is the ultimate BDSM, and the Weeping Angels’ favourite book is Fifty Shades of Grey Stone.

The point behind all of this is that the Angels in ‘Blink’ are built on a very shaky house of cards. And the moment you start to put turrets on top, which is what ‘Flesh and Stone’ tried to do, you get cards all over the place. For example, the ending of ‘Flesh and Stone’ – in which a blind Amy is told to advance through a horde of Angels who don’t know she’s blind – doesn’t work because the Angels figure out halfway through the walk that she can’t see them. But they don’t freeze voluntarily, keeping as still as they can like in a particularly nasty game of musical statues; they freeze because someone’s looking at them and they can’t unfreeze until that person is looking away. Concordantly, if Amy was blind they would never have been frozen in the first place, and she wouldn’t have been able to even start the walk. That’s unless, of course, the other-Doctor was there, wandering around before not quite coming into shot, but it’s a stretch (and likely the sort of thing that only gets inserted after the fact, when the fans start complaining).

You see what I mean, anyway. The whole mythology as it was built across the series five episodes made no real sense and just diluted the Angels to the point where they almost became parodies of themselves – a legacy that’s set to continue at Christmas in a series mini-finale that will ensure, as we have been assured by the chief writer, that “not everyone gets out alive”. And if I am weeping, it’s because I can’t bear to look, but for quite different reasons to those of the lonely assassins. The bottom line is that the Angels were one-story villains, and that’s how they should have stayed: frozen, locked in time, staring at each other, never to move again. Giving them voices was just about excusable, giving them a backstory was tenuous, and giving them visible movement was a disaster. And before we can say “Dancing Graham Norton” –

Sometimes you just need to know when to stop.

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From the Archives #4

Tuesday, May 4th 2010

“Why did you buy a statue of an angel?”

“What?”

“The statue of an angel that’s in the garden.”

“Don’t do that to me. You know how scared I got. They’re just uber-villains that don’t even move, and then they kill you, just like that.”

“I noticed.”

“It’s all right for you! I was the one having to look at the screen constantly, not blinking. I couldn’t even turn my head away. You were happily burying your head in a laundry basket, not bothered at all.”

“I was sorting the washing!”

“Yes, while I had to hold the fort! I know it was a job you needed to do but you let the side down this evening, Emily. You wouldn’t have cared about laundry if that thing had snapped your neck. You’d be dead. I’d be sitting in here and your disembodied vocal chords would have paged me on the internal phone, saying ‘Come to bed, James, come to bed now,’ and I’d have wandered along the corridor, and there’d be this great mix of fangs and stone and then lots and lots of blood.”

“Hey, why’d you put it in the kitchen? Why’d you move it?”

“All right, stop it. This is creeping me out.”

“James? Come here and look. Come and look, James. It’s really good, but you have to come and look. It’s OK, promise. Come and look. Come and look, James. All right, I’m actually scaring myself now. I don’t think I can go to the car and get my book. Will you come with me and get my book?”

“No.”

“Oh well, it’ll have to stay there…”

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“Don’t look away, and whatever you do, don’t blink”

Made this with the help of Joshua, courtesy of Doctor Who Adventures. Emily and I are currently in discussions as to whether or not it is a suitable adornment for the top of the Christmas tree. I think it is. Emily is not so keen.

I have a feeling she will win.

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