There is a book on my shelf that makes the list of Brilliant Charity Shop Finds of 2017. Entitled Figure Fantasy, it celebrates the work of Daniel Picard, who has turned the careful posing of costumed action figures into what is quite literally an art form. Here’s the Man of Steel etching “BRUCE WAYNE IS BATMAN” onto a wall with his heat vision. Here’s the Hulk bending a tree. Here’s Darth Vader propped up at a urinal, the toilet walls lined by stormtroopers anxiously trying to incline their heads in the opposited direction. Look him up; the guy’s a genius.
I do not have Picard’s photographic skills, swanky lighting or creativity. I also don’t have the time or the patience. I have trouble enough getting the ruddy things to stand upright on concrete without wobbling in a summer breeze. However, I do have a decent-sized garden and the occasional good idea. Which has meant that as the children have got older, and the tendency to re-enact the finale of ‘Blink’ recedes somewhat, our playtime sessions have been replaced by impromptu photos in the garden. “Give me a Capaldi,” I’ll say in the manner of a concentrating surgeon or experienced mechanic, not taking my eyes from the scene I’m semi-meticulously assembling. “Dalek. Cybermen. Damn, we’ve got a wobble. Blu-tac, quick! CAN I GET SOME HELP IN HERE PLEASE?!”
Look, Doctor Who toys deserve to come out of their plastic packaging, all right? I can’t understand – truly I can’t – the mentality of people who buy them simply to have them, in order to build up a collection that does nothing except gather dust, a factory line of plastic David Tennants that sit permanently bubbled in cellophane, their tiny arms and legs bound with those irritating little cable things. Oh, they’re worth more, are they? What’s worth? How do you measure that?
So one of my Angels is missing a wing and Morbius’s leg has a tendency to drop out of its socket unannounced, but at least they get used. And such is the extent to which I have neglected this blog this year that we have a whole stack of unposted pictures, enough for a small exhibition, all hastily composed and all equally ludicrous. So this week and next, while you’re all drumming your fingers waiting for ‘The Halloween Apocalypse’, I’ll stick them all out here.
We’ll start with this one.
“Oh great. We’re back on Trenzalore.”
Unused Fourth Doctor stories.
“Right. I don’t want to panic anyone, but there’s a leek in the boat.”
“Interesting look, Frobisher.”
Now showing on Britbox: Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes.
“Hello, old friend. And here we are, you and me, on the last page.”
“Seriously. You’ve been out for like a month and a half. Don’t you think you can stop doing that now?”
“When this baby hits eighty-eight miles an hour, you’re – GREAT SCOTT!”
“I’m sure you’ll get the…point, Doctor. He. He he he he.”
The Doctor and Graham get caught up in a game of Tetris.
“Hey, anybody seen a – you know what, never mind.”
Been a little quiet in here of late, hasn’t it? There will come a day when I get back to posting regular content, but it is not this day. It’s likely to be the beginning of November, when we’re in the thick of Series 13. I used to post memes here regularly, and I may get back to doing that again, but a lot of the time the media interest has come and gone and it feels a bit more like lip service, or obsessive archiving for the simple reason of having done it, and for one reason or another that doesn’t sit right with me any more.
In the meantime I’m doing a little administration for a database website I run, and working on the book, and still creating regularly. As you’ll see…
1. Closing Time: Alternate Ending (August 2021)
My children tell me that my contempt for James Corden is rooted in the observation that he’s fat and successful, whereas I am fat and unsuccessful. There is probably some truth to this. At the same time I can’t help but wonder at the enduring appeal of the man, just as I can’t help but wonder at the enduring appeal of tailgating, or Bette Midler. He’s just so…there, and not in a good way. Rumours of unpleasant offscreen behaviour abound, and I probably wouldn’t mind so much were the man not so omnipresent, propping up musicals, chat shows and reunion specials with an overly familiar sycophancy that borders on excitable mawkishness. Even when he’s acting Corden is seemingly only able to play himself, and when said self is an outright dickhead, it doesn’t make for comfortable viewing.
I mean, he’s all right in Doctor Who. There’s a chemistry of sorts with Smith, who – thanks to Gareth Roberts’ flair for dialogue – bounces off him nicely. But I can’t be the only one who watched the end of ‘Closing Time’ with my teeth gritted. And so I changed it. And I can’t help thinking this new take, juvenile as it may be, is nonetheless slightly more believable than blowing up Cybermen with love. But then I’m fat and unsuccessful. What do I know?
2. Doctor Who, Alan Partridge Style (August 2021)
Confession time: I’ve had this one on the back burner for years. I mean it. At least three. The idea of redubbing K-9 with Steve Coogan’s Presenter From Hell wasn’t entirely mine, but once someone had suggested it I realised that it would need to centre, quite obviously, around him being rude to Adric. So that was a starting point, and what followed was years of procrastination, until This Time came back for a second series and I realised that it was best to just get on and do it before the character falls completely out of favour. So what you’ve got here is material from the first series of I’m Alan Partridge – I’m a stickler for a laugh track – with a promise that there will be a sequel somewhere down the line. He does manage to be summarily rude to Adric: turning the tin dog into a lecherous creep was a side effect, but I largely think it works.
3. Flux Trailer (October 2021)
So everyone was complaining that there was no proper trailer for Series 13, and that we just had the odd few seconds of out-of-context material, looped for about a minute, along with a bit of mugging for the camera. A closed set is seldom a good sign – sure, everyone knows about the Angels and Sontarans but I can’t help thinking that this is going to be six weeks of heavily dissected silliness, and in a way I can’t wait for it to be over so we can all get back to our normal, casual bitching, instead of the high intensity catfights that take place while a series is on.
Still. Flux. That’s…dysentery, surely? Well, we opened with a fart; why not close with one? And a bit of follow-through? Anyway, you lot wanted a proper trailer, so now you’ve got one. Make sure you watch to the end.
‘Allo. Been a while, but nice to see you. More videos you’d be wanting, is it? Righto then, let’s see what we’ve got in stock.
1. Doomsday: Alternate Ending (March 2021)
The more a scene is revered, the more likely it is that I’ll end up mocking it. And they don’t get much more revered than the tearful, overwrought beach farewell that wrapped up series 2; watching Rose puff out her cheeks is still enough to get me giggling. Not enough with adding a laugh track a while ago, I decided – purely for the sake of producing something for the first time this year – to spice it up with another of the Doctor’s famous lines. It’s not one of my better ones, but it gets a laugh.
2. Stay Outside (April 2021)
Now, this one. This one I am proud of. You will remember, last spring, that the first lockdown saw a spate of government advice telling us all to stay in our homes and only leave when absolutely necessary, and don’t forget your physical jerks and we have always been at war with Eurasia. I dealt with some of the cabin fever by accompanying one of the radio announcements with scenes from ‘Heaven Sent’, which worked quite well.
This time around, we’re out of lockdown but we’re still supposed to be cautious – and thus here’s Dr. Hilary Jones (yes, he of This Morning) to tell us all about the things we should and shouldn’t be doing. And here’s Matt Smith, trying to social distance from a group of murderous pensioners in Ledworth. Ain’t life grand?
3. The Masked Singer: Rhino’s Got A Bad Throat (April 2021)
Rhino? Rhino, you say? Well, that’ll be a Judoon reference, then. I had the misfortune of catching a solitary episode of The Masked Singer not long before Covid first hit, and thought it a good idea, poorly executed (a couple of structural changes and you’d have yourself a far more entertaining experience, but what do I know?). Still, it’s going strong in the UK and America – Kermit the Frog, of all people, making a recent appearance when he was eliminated early on – but it was this particular chap (in reality baseball star Barry Zito) who caught my attention, to the extent that I wound up redubbing some of his performances to a throaty rendition of ‘Rapper’s Delight’. I don’t know, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Ko Ro So.
4. The Geoffrey and Bungle Videos (April – June 2021)
Lurking somewhere on Facebook there’s a series called The Same Video of The Same Guys Dancing To A Different Song. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know it (and the varying success to which it works): if you’ve not, you get the idea. Suffice it to say that they’re pushing on towards five hundred of these and whether or not an embedded song fits the two fellas strutting their stuff is dependent on two factors: how well the rhythm fits, and the impact of whatever happens at the thirty second mark when the second guy joins in. The one they did to Cher’s ‘Believe’ was particularly good.
Anyway: I’m not about to try and replicate that particular stunt, but having decided to hook up Geoffrey and Bungle with Peter Howells’ arrangement of the Doctor Who theme a couple of years back, I opted to revisit familiar territory and see how many of these I could make using different songs. It wasn’t difficult – it’s just a question of working out the tempo and Googling to see songs that fit. Some worked better than others, but the ones that didn’t work (‘Livin’ on a Prayer’; ‘Pinball Wizard’) I elected not to upload. The one you can see below enjoyed brief popularity on Twitter, for reasons I have yet to fully discern, but I also recommend you check out Stealer’s Wheel, and probably Hammer. U can’t touch this…
You’ll have to have these largely without comment, I’m afraid. I mean we lost. We lost and the fans are thugs. We lost and the fans are thugs and Rashford and Saka got a shedload of abuse, empowered by our corrupt, inept government. The sort of government who goes to Harrods for sofa covering and Poundland for flags.
I mean it started quite well. We made it to the semi-final without conceding a goal. Early on – the day of the first group match, when the leaked lineup caused consternation (too defensive, and WHERE’S GREALISH???) – I’d tweeted suggesting that it was possible, just possible, that Gareth Southgate knew more than we gave him credit for, and that perhaps the #Southgateout abuse was premature. I received a flurry of replies, some of which were supportive, others less so, but I made a point of muting anyone who disagreed, simply because I didn’t feel qualified to argue back. Weeks later all the naysayers were suspiciously quiet, although I stopped short of turning it into a pinned tweet, simply because the final was as far as the team got, and you’d still have a bunch of people telling you that they could have done a better job than Southgate did.
So, you know. Don’t give them the inch they crave. Thank heavens we don’t get this in Doctor Who.
It was those early games that were perhaps the most hotly contested, given that we were doing…well, reasonably, against less than stellar opposition. It was more about the spectacle than the quality of football, given that the much-hyped second group match – the British derby against Scotland – was touted as the epic confrontation between two rivals, with hundreds of years of history behind it. I mean I get that the Scots hate the English, but I don’t think it works the other way round. Not really. We know that Braveheart is made up and we don’t judge you for it. And who doesn’t love a good haggis? In the end, of course, it was a goalless draw, and not a terribly interesting one to boot, with all the bloodlust and hatred north of the border conveniently shelved until the angry tweets after the semi-final, and let’s face it – we all know that’s really just a preamble for the Six Nations.
“Three Ryans on a shirt…”
The semi-final, of course, was where the controversy kicked in – with England thanks to a soft penalty, Kane bouncing in the rebound after Kaspar Schmeichel deflected the ball but failed to catch it. It was a crummy way to win and you did feel sorry for the Danes, who’d nearly reached the end under some very trying circumstances, but to be fair to them England were denied an obvious penalty earlier in the match, so it’s swings and roundabouts. “Sometimes it goes in your favour,” quoth a wise man, “and sometimes it doesn’t. And if you add them all up over the season, they balance out.” Said wise man was Alex Ferguson, who knows a thing or two about football, as well as being Scottish.
Really, the controversy in that semi-final was caused by a laser torch that appeared to be pointed at Schmeichel during the penalty in question, although it supposedly didn’t affect his performance and it was in any case impossible to tell where it was coming from.
It ended in tears, with violence and thuggery following a game played by sportsmen who’d conducted themselves with dignity: the team deserved a win, even if the fans didn’t. Could we say Italy played dirty? Perhaps.
But even if they hadn’t, there were mistakes made and some questionable tactics that I don’t really understand because my area of expertise is dramatic structure, not sport. I do know that I felt a sense of pride – not in my country, as such, but simply in the team, and the manager who’s become the best sort of role model for the young men on the pitch and the children watching at home; eloquent and considered and rational and graced with more dignity and compassion than a hundred political buffoons. I’m mindful of the fact that children my sons’ age look up to sportsmen, and for the first time in a long while that doesn’t worry me. You can lose graciously, which is kind of like winning, even if you don’t get to lift the trophy.
Still, at least we’ve got the Olympics, right? Something else they had to postpone until after lockdown.
Today, gentle reader, and after a protracted absence – hey, it’s sunny and we’re allowed out now! – we delve deep into the heady realms of art, and how it’s displayed. And yes, there is a definite Doctor Who link, but you’ll have to read on (or casually scroll to the bottom; it’s bad manners but I’ll be none the wiser) to find out exactly what it is.
It’s a strange name for a video game, but then Occupy White Walls is a strange sort of game. That’s if you can call it a game at all. It’s more of a virtual art curator / gallery-building experience. Broadly speaking you’re given a sea of blank space (literally: the game opens on a pleasant oceanic backdrop and an island of floating white floor in the middle of it) and encouraged to build your own gallery. You do this by placing blocks – different floors, different walls, ceilings, lighting, architecture – wherever you want them. You’re free to redesign your space at will, change colours, move and even delete structures entirely: some objects will snap into place, but as a general rule nothing is off limits. When you’re ready, you hang artwork on the walls. Well, it’s a gallery, right?
Said art can be aquired from DAISY, the in-house virtual AI, who lists paintings seemingly at random and then learns over time to filter them according to the sort of stuff you like. This never really seemed to work in practice for me – I’d find renaissance art and dull Victorian portraits all over the place, despite concentrating almost exclusively on modern art and photography – although I gather things have improved since I stopped buying new art. Paintings vary in size and scale, from small photos that you have to squint to examine to the likes of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, which is so big it required me to build a new room (well, outside platform) in which to house it. Artists range in scope – traditional landscape painters, religious artworks and surrealist masterpieces are all represented, and anything has the potential to be included provided they’ve either struck a deal or it’s in the public domain (so there is, alas, no Dali as of yet).
Expanding your gallery space costs money – which takes place in the form of virtual currency known simply as ‘cubes’ – and you earn more of these by opening your viewing space to the public in thirty-minute sessions, whereupon it may be visited either by anyone who happens to be logged in, or a collection of bots who phase in and out of the gallery space, nod appreciatively at whatever you happen to have hanging there and perform the occasional backflip. Opening and closing repeatedly is the quickest way to level up, which means there’s a certain amount of grinding early on, but once you reach level 30 you unlock all the assets in the range and things really start to get interesting.
If you want the gist of how the whole thing works, you could do a lot worse than read this, but the biggest selling point of OWW is that it’s got no selling point at all – it’s available at no cost, bar a supplementary soundtrack album (which you are under no compulsion to buy, although I did) and the option to upload your own artwork at $9 a pop. And if it seems a little silly, having your own space on which to buy and hang virtual art, it’s worth bearing in mind that the game came out not long before Covid hit, and given that we spent much of last year stuck indoors, its presence on Steam couldn’t have been any more timely. Certainly the nature of the experience – log on, do a little world-building, casually and graduallly expanding your rooms, changing the sky, re-imagining the floors, filling a room with statues, perhaps adding an extra wing when you’re particularly flush…there’s something vastly therapeutic about it. It’s not a substitute for the Tate, but it’s a good start.
I’ve seen a fair bit in OWW – celestial glass-walled viewing areas looking out onto the wilds of the universe; vast Nordic-themed lakeside galleries; underwater treasure troves; homages to the London underground where Monet and Renoir jostle for space next to the ‘MIND THE GAP’ signs; even a recreation of the space station from 2001, with a door that leads into the hotel room that Keir Dullea reaches at the film’s conclusion. But it doesn’t really do a lot when it’s written down. Walking round a virtual gallery or two really is the best way to fire up your imagination, and it was only when I’d seen what other people had achieved that I started to come up with a creative vision of what I could do with a workspace limited only by funds and my ageing computer’s memory.
Scroll up a bit. That overhead shot you can see? The one with the chess board in the middle? That’s my gallery. Well, a part of it. The waterfront theme didn’t really kick into gear until I built the pier you can see just above. It takes its cue from the one at Boscombe: long and minimalist, and there’s a copy of The Scream hanging on one of the glass walls at the end. From its edge, you can see the corners of the bricked industrial area and the large installation space where I hung a Mondrian and then built an enormous replica out of coloured walls to go alongside it. The whole space grew organically, and owes quite a lot to Frank Lloyd Wright, but I didn’t realise this when I was expanding – it was all about just adding rooms to offset the tedium of lockdown.
But why stop at one gallery? Why just one, when you can do this?
The Highway is perhaps the work I’m most proud of. I’d already made the Chapel – a church interior designed as a place of reflection and remembrance – but wondered what would happen if I built a long, straight road that stretched off into the distance, as far as I could, and just put things alongside it. There is an abandoned, crumbling warehouse and an electrical substation. There is a gaudy sixties bridge and a tunnel that leads to nowhere. Halfway up there is a memorial garden. And there is a vast slab of grey stretching off to the right, all tall oppressive corridors, that opens out into a large open plaza where I built a mosaic on the walls.
But there was another reason to build the Highway, and this, oh faithful reader, is where the Doctor Who connection kicks in. Because if you wander up, you’ll notice that the Angel of the North overlooks a nondescript-looking building that might be just a wee bit familiar.
Designing the interior required a certain amount of improvisation, but after a bit of jiggery pokery I managed to get the counter area more or less the way I wanted it. The seats were trickier, because of what’s available – what you see here is a second draft, and it’s still not quite got the booth feel I really wanted, but it’s not a bad estimate. While it was impossible to recreate all the art they had in the original, I managed to at least capture the feel – and another mosaic on the back wall served as a decent substitute for the stars-and-stripes flag.
But the best bit? There’s a door at the back, and – well…
All right. It’s a disaster. You have no idea how difficult it was to build a convincing hexagonal structure that looked like it might pass for a console. What you can see is a collection of metal desks, awkwardly grouped together into something that looks vaguely right until you get too close. Oh, and there’s a single column of light stretching upwards; it doesn’t move but perhaps we could just say it’s parked? The round things are good, anyway. Even if I don’t know what they’re for.
It wasn’t the only TARDIS I built – but you’ll have to wait until next time to see that one, as it’s a whopper and it’s going to take us some time to walk around it properly. In the meantime, here’s a little post-credit scene. It takes place at Mr Webley’s World of Colour (yes, that is a ‘Nightmare in Silver’ reference). Unlike many of my other creations, this was always envisaged as a definitive place with a beginning and an end – a large, multi-storeyed building in which each room deals with aspects of a different slice of the rainbow, with lighting, decor and artwork to match.
You get the idea. It’s a one-way system (which was disturbingly prophetic) but there is a place of respite halfway along, taking the form of a rooftop garden of which I’m reasonably proud.
In case you’re wondering how I managed black and white, the black is a small dark room with a projector broadcasting looped footage from Un Chien Andalou – something a number of people have done. Although I’m pretty sure none of them have did what I did in the white room.
“And that,” says the First Doctor, “is a chair with a frog on it.”
Coming up next time: swimming pools that are not in the library, and a never-before-seen shot of the TARDIS toilet. Speaking of which, I’ll just leave this here…
Everybody enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend, then? Sally Sparrow did.
Before we go any further, I am saving the Prince Philip stuff. It’s coming later. In the meantime you will have to put up with pop culture instead, because I’ve gone through what I’ve collected for this morning and that seems to the be the common thread.
We start with Line of Duty – a show I have never watched, never intend to watch and hold absolutely no interest in, but even if you don’t tune in it’s hard to escape the buzz on social media. This last episode seems to have been all about killing off major characters and dropping in monumental cliffhangers about the identity of chief (heretofore unseen) villains, and how they might be related to people we know. I think. I mean I’ve not actually watched the damned thing. All I do know is that Ted Hastings has been trending for the last week, and it’s going to go through the roof if they actually kill him off.
Talking of Doctor Who (because that’s mostly how we roll) there’s a rumbling of intrigue from the fandom as they unveil the new trailer for The Suicide Squad, the upcoming sequel to 2016’s imaginatively titled Suicide Squad. I am trying to work out the logic behind this – it sounds a bit like releasing Empire Strikes Back under the name The Star Wars, as if dropping in a definite article is enough of a distinction. I mean aren’t people going to get confused? I know I already am, and I understand grammar.
Fun trivia: I once spent half an hour at a housewarming party listening to an argument between two roleplaying geeks who couldn’t agree on whether the first Star Wars film is called Star Wars or A New Hope. It was tremendously enjoyable to watch, although I still can’t remember how, or even if they resolved it. At least they weren’t arguing about Star Trek Into Darkness. We’d still be in that lounge.
Anyway, there’s been a fair amount of talk about Capaldi’s hair, or lack thereof, and it does seem that the Twelfth Doctor is imitating his style.
He looks like he’s got half a dozen screwdrivers embedded in his skull, which presumably happened after a particularly ferocious argument with River. Or maybe it’s a fetish thing. You pick. And with speed, please, because I’m now actually thinking about this instead of merely writing it down. Oh god.
Anyway. Speaking of Star Wars, the casting for the Obi Wan Kenobi spin-off looks absolute shit.
(I’d love to say I had a few people who thought this was real, but the sad truth is that they didn’t get it. I guess my sense of humour is just a little too vague sometimes.)
You won’t have failed to notice, if you were following international news a while back, that a boat got stuck in the Suez Canal, presumably as a result of a bet as to whether its helmsman could manage a three point turn. It was there for weeks as the authorities tried everything to loosen it, including rubbing a bit of WD-40 on the hull, but without success, as the world and its neighbours all came along to have a look.
“For the sixteenth time, we’re not blowing it up.”
More movie news, and the revelation that a familiar face is to reappear in the upcoming, much anticipated Ghostbusters: Afterlife has prompted Doctor Who fans to scour through old episodes to find out what he’s been doing all these years. And lo and behold.
Anyway. For me, after weeks of kicking around, this is ending on something of a brighter note – because lockdown is more or less done with, kind of. We still can’t stay anywhere, and when we visited Chessington yesterday the Gruffalo ride wasn’t open, but I may actually be able to go back to work soon – and at least I can go out on a Friday and visit somewhere that isn’t B&M. Along with, you know, just about everyone else in the country.
“Listen, I’d love to stay and chat, but Primark’s about to open.”
It’s been a long old year for that abandoned TARDIS, hasn’t it?
Here we are, a year after lockdown began – something that for one reason or another people have decided to actively commemorate on social media this week. It’s a strange state of affairs, the weirdest of all frivolous anniversaries to talk about, particularly given that most of us had all sorts of Shakespearean intentions (hey look, here’s me having failed to learn Mandarin or get that hedge cut!). Why on earth are we still talking about the fact that none of us have written King Lear? And why is it a big deal if we haven’t? Shakespeare – assuming he existed – was a genius. Most of us are not. Why are we living up to such an impossible ideal?
But then there’s a strange tendency to mark the trivial, particularly when we have free time. Gosh, it’s been four years to the day since ‘Heaven Sent’. Michael Craze would have been seventy-six. I suppose it takes our mind off leaked set pictures and expensive (and seemingly needless) parliamentary reconfigurations where the cleaners forgot to finish tidying, but really. It’s so asinine, as I have to point out every November 23rd when people ask why the BBC aren’t marking the 54th / 55th / 56th / 57th birthday of their favourite show with some sort of marathon – “Because,” I explain, with varying degrees of patience, “if they did that for Doctor Who they’d have to do it for everything and nothing else would get done.” Hello Lyn; you’re cheerful considering it’s the first anniversary of your mother’s death.
On the other hand, arguing about pointless birthdays is a welcome distraction – and god knows we could do with a few more of them – from rumour control, specifically when set photos (I thought Chibnall was cracking down on this sort of thing?) lead to the children of time adding two and two and coming up with seven, or jumping to all sorts of ridiculous conclusions because one of the previous companions happens to be pally with one of the new ones, and was in any case in town filming a sitcom.
It breaks down like this.
Doctor Who Fans: I DON’T RECOGNISE THIS SHOW ANYMORE. WHERE ARE ALL THE CLASSIC MONSTERS AND FAN FAVOURITES?
Set Rumours Guy: Hey, here’s Catherine Tate.
DW Fans: WARRRGH CYNICAL RATINGS PLOY
BBC: Yeah, she’s not actually here.
DW FANS: THAT’S JUST WHAT THEY WANT YOU TO THINK
“Hello Sal – what? They want me to do Doctor Who? What’s Doctor Who? I was in it? When?”
You can’t really blame the fans, I suppose. They’re itching for Doctor Who news, and Chibnall runs a closed set. Personally I like it that way – I would rather not be saturated with three hundred word press releases about how this year’s going to be ‘epic’ every five minutes. But if you’ve grown up used to the BBC blowing their own trumpet every five minutes it’s an adjustment period. Even telethons are a missed opportunity: all elegaic pianos and slow motion hugs and that phone number scrolling across the screen every thirty seconds, and very little that’s actually funny.
Last weekend also saw the release of The Lonely Assassins, a brand new PC / mobile game which sees you discover an abandoned phone, full of corrupted data and glitches and a weird angel-type figure that appears to be coming out of the screen. It’s your job to piece the data together, follow the clues and piece together the mystery of the phone’s former owner – one Larry Nightingale, he from ‘Blink’, and played once more by Finlay Robinson, a little older and saggier, but aren’t we all?
Thankfully you’re not alone in your quest, guided as you are by Petronella Osgood. Most of the interaction is SMS-based, although Ingrid Oliver lends her voice to the opening and her physical self for a video sequence that pops up near the end. Osgood is working from a secret UNIT base established after funding was put on hold and which as yet no one knows about. Well, that’d be a first.
After having played through and thoroughly enjoyed The Lonely Assassins I was slightly perturbed to discover that I’d completed only two of the ‘optional’ objectives, most of which seem pertain to archived newspaper cuttings referencing the appearance of an anomalous police box outside one building or another. Presumably investigating these further unlocks some sort of secret ending that offers more closure than the slightly disappointing climax the vanilla ending happens to offer. I’d have happily done this had I not had Osgood shouting (well, texting) in my ear every thirty seconds telling me to get a shift on. At a microcosmic level it’s somewhat reminiscent of the Zelda games, in which the endemic notion of leisurely exploration and discovery is undermined by the regular psychic messages from the titular princess. “Link, if you don’t reassemble the fragments / defeat the guardians / find all the scrolls, then ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WILL HAPPEN!”
I’m running out of time, now, because I have to get this music track mixed (that’s my lockdown skill), so we’ll deal with the rest of the news in brief. On ITV, an ex-Eastender took great offence at the caption used by Good Morning Britain during a Zoom interview.
Revelations at the identity of Snail on the US version of The Masked Singer called to mind this planned (but sadly abandoned) reveal for the beginning of ‘The Eleventh Hour’.
Millions sat down to fill out government forms about the occupants of their households, or risk a fine.
Oh, and the Sixth Doctor finally found the time to have a Covid test.
It’s a nice outfit. I know I mock it, and with good reason, but it was a decent reflection of his personality. I mean look at the example we have to follow in government. Rees Mogg is always immaculate, presumably because he’s other going to or coming from a gentleman’s club of one sort or another, but Dominic Cummings doesn’t seem to own a single tie. And we’re graced with a Prime Minister who looks like he just stumbled out of bed after a night on the razz, and who has a pathological aversion to combs, but that’s fine as long as we can stick a few Union Jacks in the background to deflect attention from incompetent idiocy, right?
Normally, about this time of year, I’m prepping the memes. Here at brianofmorbius we tend to favour the inappropriate: the worst possible choice for an image, amplifying the humour. The image of Bonnie Langford in Paradise Towers when they’ve announced the opening of leisure facilities. David Tennant surrounded by the ashes of an disintegrated spacecraft. With a click, the mouse scrubs back and forth along the video timeline, looking for that perfect frame. I get a few giggles. Job done.
This year I really don’t feel like doing that. Maybe it’s Covid. Maybe it’s a heightened sensitivity built around things that are happening in my life that I am electing not to broadcast. Or maybe I’m just tired of the drama. I see a lot of opinions on the web but not a lot of kindness. Being kind is not always the same as being nice; it’s important to make the distinction. The Doctor was usually kind but he also shouted at people when they deserved it. There is a marked difference between respecting the person’s right to a view and allowing rampant negativity to flourish. ‘Be kind’ does not mean ‘keep silent when an opinion is full of horseshit’. The Doctor wouldn’t, and if we must employ him as a role model (and generally I don’t), then that’s probably the best way of going about it.
But there is a thing about Doctor Who that has come to my notice this year, and it is this: for all its failings (and they are many, and frequent and not everything is because of Chibnall) it does a good job of giving the companions a backstory. The backstories are not always good, or even plausible, but they are there. They are there in a way that they generally weren’t during the sixties and seventies, where character histories were relegated to three or four lines of dialogue: Tegan’s aversion to ice cream; Jo’s failed science GCE. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most of us never had any expectation that Doctor Who should be grounded in reality; it’s a TV programme about a quasi-immortal shapeshifting alien with a magic box that travels in time and space. What do we care for the home lives of supporting characters? Give us an alien and a couple of explosions; that’ll do.
We started to care, I think, in the late 1980s, when Ace’s backstory became not just a tangible thing but a story arc. The other evening Emily and I were discussing Anne Reid, who’d popped up in a film we were watching. Emily pointed out – and I’d forgotten – that she appears in ‘The Curse of Fenric’. It is a wonderful story, perhaps the best of the McCoy era, but the overriding memory that I have of it consists of two things: the haemovores rising from the ocean, and Ace shouting at the Doctor. It was an archetype for everything that followed, just as Ace was the archetype for Rose and many subsequent companions who drew their shape from a similar gene pool. Here was a story in which family was not only acknowledged but pushed front and centre, at least for a few minutes.
And it strikes me now that family in Doctor Who is all too often dysfunctional. It has to be, because Doctor Who is about escape: the crew in Voyager were simply trying to get home; the TARDIS crew are generally trying to avoid it. The Doctor becomes a surrogate family man – a father, sister, older brother, love interest – to whomever is holed up in the bunk beds. That sort of relationship comes at a price, and the price is usually the relationship with one’s own family. It is a price worth paying in triplicate when that relationship is difficult or even non-existent.
There is a recurring trend on the Facebook groups: that single sentence. “If the TARDIS landed in your garden”, it says, “would you go?”. I never reply, simply because I would not, and it is both tedious and time-consuming to have to explain why. I wonder about the people (and they are many) who say they would jump at the chance. I wonder whether they are in denial, or haven’t thought through the possible consequences. Both are likely scenarios. And the whole thing is just a bit of fun and we must not take it seriously. But I also wonder whether there are people reading this posts whose own lives are so genuinely miserable that perhaps the TARDIS is a form of escape for them. There are people like this and I know there are people like this because I have spoken to them.
And how, I wonder, do these people react when they are presented with the dysfunctional families we see on screen? What do they make of feuding parents, of grief unspoken, of abuse and loss and pain? How do they react to companions who carry baggage like this through the TARDIS doors? How close to the knuckle do the stories cut?
And then I think about these parents and children. I think about Donna, saddled with a mother who could convey nothing but bitterness and disappointment. I think about Francine Jones, who made poor (if well-intentioned) choices and whose salvation lay in her daughter’s unconditional forgiveness. I think of Bill, whose relationship with her stepmother was toxic, and Clara, who – in addition to grieving her own mother – had to watch her father enter a relationship with a narcissistic sociopath. I even think of Ada Gillyflower, maimed and broken by her mother in a calamitous arrangement that foreshadowed what we learned about the Doctor in ‘The Timeless Children’.
I think of Amy, whose mother was quite literally ripped from existence, where even the memory of her was gone. What must that have been like? What sort of hole does it leave; how does it settle in the heart? And to then carry a pregnancy to term without having the first idea, no bonding and no reflecting and no preparing, only to have your child taken as if by an indifferent Catholic nun – and then to raise it again, unknowingly, in the most unorthodox of ways. “What you do,” says Rory, “isn’t all there is,” and how well we knew that by the end.
And I think of Sarah Jane, who found solace in motherhood without sacrificing her career, and Rose, whose mother – and I’ll admit I’ve sometimes being quite rude about her – was protective and honest and compassionate. And of the supporting players, the bit parts that resonate. Nancy, who saved the world by restructuring her relationship with her son. Willa Twist, determined to live out her mother’s legacy.
And I remember my own mother, and how complicated that relationship was, particularly in her last years. How a wave of maternal pride could be undone by a single barbed comment. The grudges she held and the prejudice she harboured. The difficulty of balancing my relationship with her against the one we have with my in-laws, avoiding blame, the endless juggling of calendars. Learning not to talk, under any circumstances, about Brexit. And how we skated around the edge of a lot of things we didn’t say and now never can.
And I loved her, but. There is always a but, and most days it doesn’t matter – most days you can archive it, remembering the good times. And there were many of those, and the constant edginess I felt in her presence became something I lived with, and I know that there are others who have had things much worse, and some of them are very close to me, and that is as much as I’m going to divulge on the subject. But if you are hurting today, and particularly if your pain is raw, then I think of you. Because everyone deserves love, even the worst of us. May you find yours, whatever form it takes.
Funny what she gets up when she thinks the cameras are off, isn’t it?
How do you do, fellow teenagers? I don’t have a single meme about Harry and Meghan; if you’re anything like me I imagine you’re heartily sick of the whole thing. This is a world of heroes and villains and ne’er the twain, it seems, shall meet: depending on who you talk to, Meghan Markle is either a strong, independent and blameless woman who’s become a victim of racist bullying, despised by the establishment because she didn’t fit the mould, or an opportunistic prima donna who was awful to the palace staff, contemptuous of Kate Middleton and whose modus operandi was to drive a wedge between Harry and his brother.
The fact that the most likely reality is an awkward combination of both does not seem to have occurred to anyone, at least anyone who reads the papers, but I suppose the world is so much easier when we can view it in black and white. No one likes an ambiguous, well-crafted villain with redeeming features. They want someone they can boo and hiss at. Anyway, enough. It’s way more complicated than I have time to discuss in this silly little blog.
We seem to have missed a few things, like St. David’s Day.
Or Valentine’s Day.
Or Pancake Day.
One of the big bits of Doctor Who news, of course – something we found out on New Year’s Day, immediately after the live broadcast (which I wasn’t watching, meaning I got to find out about it on Twitter) concerned the imminent arrival of incoming companion Dan, set to make his debut in the autumn, or whenever they get round to airing series 13. Dan’s a scouser, and you have absolutely no idea how difficult it was not to make jokes about nailing down bits of the console, but as it stands I managed to keep my humour contained. More or less.
News broke quite recently of the dissolution of Daft Punk, the dance hall stalwarts who’ve been making music together for nearly thirty years, and who’ve produced a shedload of songs that I’d forgotten they did. I do remember, some years ago, an appearance at a festival by Wurzel-esque comedy band Folk On, who were on fine form as ever but who managed to have everyone jigging along in the mud when they sang “We’re up all night to get some (milk!) / We’re up all night for good fun / We’re up all night to get folky…”. It’s a sad day for music, as while they were never really my thing I can’t deny that they’ve completely changed the scene and that ‘One More Time’ is a bangin’ masterpiece. Luckily the two of them seem to have already found another job.
We’re still in lockdown, whereby all but essential travel is banned – although that doesn’t seem to have stopped Banksy, who ventured from his native Bristol to my home town of Reading to scribble his latest drawing on the wall of the heritage masterpiece / public eyesore (delete as applicable) that is Reading Gaol. It’s Oscar Wilde, escaping with a typewriter, sheets tied together like in Colditz, something that never happened in real life. As far as we know, anyway.
“That’s it, nearly there. Just a little further. You know what, Yaz, I think I’m getting an idea.”
Elsewhere, in a forest in Hampshire, someone else is breaking lockdown:
My children have been watching a lot of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. The eldest two spent New Year’s Eve watching a few back to back with the horror movie Us; I’d say I don’t know what was the most terrifying part of the whole thing but earlier in the evening we’d all been watching Cats, so I think you have your answer. In any case, Ramsay is a good deal more sprightly than he was in Gordon Ramsay’s Bank Balance, a show that seems to have been almost universally panned, although it’s good to know that they’re managing to make the most of the old TARDIS sets.
“Our first contestants tonight are Amy and Rory, from Leadworth in Gloucestershire…”
I read an interesting thing in the press the other week about a scientific dig that yielded unexpected results, and the instant thing I thought of was Lovecraft and shoggoths and albino penguins. But I also did this. You couldn’t not, really.
Politics, and the news that the Prime Minister has designs on a colossal subterranean junction is met with the mirth and condescension it undoubtedly deserves.
We giggle at these fancies, but is it such a terrible idea? It’s certainly a more practical solution than teleportation, which (and why does nobody discuss this?) effectively kills you and reconstructs an identical copy at the other end, unless you’re in The Fly or something. And yet when we’re watching TV we’ll readily accept teleportation, and faster-than-light travel, and the existence of wormholes, or a police box that can fly and open its doors to a completely different place a few seconds later.
“Just through there, sir.”
And I would rather be anywhere else than here today. Still. This week – 9th March as I write this – marks the week the schools officially reopen (they never actually closed, of course, and teachers never stopped working), meaning a return to something awkwardly like normality. Well, kind of.
“It’s lovely to see you everyone back, and I’m pleased you’ve all remembered your masks…”
There’s a strong case to be made about Doctor Who: that it is a children’s show that appeals to adults. I am not going to be making that here, although I do happen to subscribe to that theory, and enjoy the programme far more as a result.
But you’d be surprised how many of the ridiculous Photoshopped images I produce are themed around children’s shows. We’ve had Teletubbies and jolly postmen. We’ve had Sooty and Sweep. And we’ve had those nightmarish In The Forest of the Night Garden pictures I did a few years back. You want a guaranteed slumber-free evening? You stick Makka Pakka outside the TARDIS with his bloody sponge. That’s enough to get any of us hiding under the bed.
Still. Here are a few I’ve been holding in reserve until I felt I had enough to warrant a decent-sized collection. Why not today?
We’ll start with a bit of Henson, because you can’t go wrong with a bit of Henson.
Meanwhile in the TARDIS, there’s a commotion on the console.
This one needs no caption.
Nor does this.
Doctor Who quotes, out of context.
Oh, and speaking of Rainbow, I think I did this for St. George’s Day, last year. That’s how long it’s been kicking around.
Anyone been to Legoland Windsor? There is a TARDIS outside the shop. Unfortunately there are no costumed minifigures wandering around, at least none that are Doctor Who themed. So I put some in.
In this evening’s stage performance of ‘Utopia’, the part of Captain Jack Harkness will be played by Lotso the Bear.
“Yeah, I dunno. It just sort of turned up one morning.”
“British Isles. 1950s. Late spring. Saturday. I’m sure I can hear a train somewhere.”