Posts Tagged With: time heist

The Queen and I

Greenbelt, August 2019. We are at the close: a raucous singalong under the canopy, led by the house band. Sensing what is coming, I lead the family quietly away before the last encore. But it’s too late: they are finishing with ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, the song my mother requested at her funeral, which was four days ago. My children burst into tears. And supporting relatives come and put their arms aroud us, and we are united in grief.

I can still recall the minister some days before, saying “You may find it’ll take a while to be able to listen to the song again”. He was basically right, although I found the sadness had lessened by the time it turned up in Sonic The Hedgehog the following February. Eventually you learn to live with things. Besides, it’s a fitting way to remember her: my mother was judgemental as heck in November 1991, telling us how much that man had wasted his life, but she still listened to the music. We both did.

I’ve loved Queen for years, although it was a bumpy start. My aunt and godmother, looking for inspiration for Christmas gifts, was advised to buy me some Queen albums on cassette: she plumped for Queen II, which years later remains a personal favourite, and Hot Space, which…well, doesn’t. It doesn’t help that when you’re young you tend to miscategorise music tremendously; I would say, when asked, that I enjoyed “Heavy metal, like Queen”. Years later I discovered Slayer, and the penny dropped.

Hot Space is a big hot sparse mess of an album and we won’t dwell on it, but Queen II is its polar opposite: an over-indulgent, over-produced slab of absolutely brilliant fantasy rock. How can you fail to love a record that features a song called ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’, references Poe, and then leads out with ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’? And that’s before we get to all the powerhouse riffs and Beach Boys nods in ‘Father To Son’, which is possibly my favourite Queen track of the early 70s. Sure as heck beats anything from The Game.

Years later I heard ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ for the first time; it grew on me and now I rather enjoy it, although it’s overplayed and over-referenced and singalongs are a nightmare because people always, ALWAYS add that extra “No!” before the second “We will not let you go”, which is fine unless you’re trying to play the damned thing at a party. I use the word ‘play’ with a certain looseness; mostly I just bash out the chords and then let the drunken guests take over for the changes my untrained fingers have never quite been able to handle, although I daresay they could if I practiced hard enough. There was one particular evening, in the student bar at Devonshire Hall, Leeds, in September 1996 that is forever etched on my brain. They kept bringing me drinks and I kept bringing them songs; we jammed to ‘Three Lions’ and ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ and I was, for the only time that year, the most popular person in the room. That was a good night.

Then you get round to buying all the albums on CD and introducing them to your children (‘Good Company’ is a particular favourite), and before you know it it’s 2019 and they’ve done a biopic which gets, at least, the music right, provided you can live with the anachronisms about when things were written. I watched ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in a village hall with the two eldest; most of the film was spent tutting at things that didn’t happen and looking at cats, but at least it looks pretty, and I watched the final blistering twenty minutes with a big grin on my face, which I suppose is the point. Still, it’s hard not to be a little annoyed at some of the dramatic license – from the silly (Freddie accidentally inventing his portable microphone stand during their first ever gig) to the eyebrow-raising (basically everything from Hot Space to Berlin).

And can we please, for the love of sanity, have a music film other than Almost Famous that doesn’t depict all journalists as callous bastards? Some of us work very hard for what little coffers they pay and it’s debasing to see us reduced to a blank-faced stereotype at a press conference. I wouldn’t mind, but Bohemian Rhapsody is largely presented as fact, or at least the version of fact that the surviving members of the band wanted to tell; it’s clumsy and formulaic next to Rocket Man, which sets up an unreliable narrator in its first five minutes and then allows you to fill in the gaps yourselves. It is truth disguised as fiction, whereas Rhapsody is the complete opposite. Still, Gwilym Lee’s quite good.

Anyway. Here we are, and I’m doing my lyric-to-screenshot thing. It was tricky, because it isn’t: Queen often delved into the realms of sci-fi and fantasy (they have two movie soundtracks to their name) and it’s comparatively simple to find obvious lyrics. I have deliberately tried to plump for the obscure: there is nothing from ‘Princes of the Universe’ or the like, because it isn’t funny. Hopefully these are.

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God is in the detail (part xvi)

Right. I’m running a little behind with these, so let’s crack on, shall we?

Tonight, we’re looking at ‘Time Heist’, which was a visual feast, rich with detail. We will hone in on just a few of the choice moments and determine those little bits which were VERY IMPORTANT TO THE SERIES AS A WHOLE.

First – here’s Psi, in the vault in the heart of the bank.

Heist Detail (1)

We will come back to this vault later, but notice the painting in the background – out of focus, but containing an interesting large-busted woman in a pose not dissimilar to the one that Jenny is doing here, in ‘Deep Breath’.

Deep Breath Pose

Take a look. Don’t linger too long, of course, because this is a family show. The pose is reversed, which indicates MIRRRORS. In ‘The Family of Blood’, the Tenth Doctor traps Sister of Mine in a mirror – every mirror, in fact. Mirrors also figure heavily in the finale of ‘Kinda’, which we didn’t quite reference in the deconstruction of ‘Into the Dalek’.

But the Tenth Doctor has described the Fifth Doctor, on at least one occasion, as “my Doctor”, so it’s clear that there is a link between them, and that both are fond of mirrors. CLEARLY we are about to enter some sort of mirror universe where everything is the same but reversed: The Daleks are benevolent scholars, Gallifrey didn’t get destroyed, and Noel Clarke is capable of acting.

Now let’s have a look at the Ice Warrior on display here.

Heist Detail (6)

Innocent enough, yes? No. Because the numbers are important. Oh, so important. We can break it down like this.

Heist_Tegan

So now you know. Never mind the fact that Janet Fielding was recently observed on set. SHE’S FILMED A CAMEO.

Now – here’s the lock sequence that Psi was trying to break while Clara was being chased by the Teller.

Heist Detail (5)

You will observe the series of 24 lights, which CLEARLY AND UNAMBIGUOUSLY refers to the Doctor’s various incarnations – or, more specifically, the actors who played them. The first three, highlighted in green, refer to Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee, all of whom are deceased. The remainder – from approximately two o’clock round in sequence – are Baker, Davison, Baker, and so on, all the way round to the top. The use of 24 is not a coincidence, but a subtle foreshadowing from the BBC as to how many Doctors we will get through before they knock the show on the head.

You’ll note two things about this. First, if we assume that the first red marker refers to Baker, Davison is lit very brightly, CLEARLY indicating another on-screen appearance from him, alongside Janet Fielding. This assumes, of course, that we do not include Hurt among the central ring, which makes sense given that he did not intially refer to himself as ‘Doctor’ and is thus unnumbered. You will also notice that the positioning of the Tenth Doctor contains another red dot on the outer rim, clearly alluding to his dual regeneration and the meta-crisis Doctor. The War Doctor is thus positioned in the centre, at the eye of the storm, while the Valeyard sits out on the fringe, at about nine o’clock. Clearly we’re not done with him yet.

And yes, there is another dot, just out of shot and positioned alongside Troughton. Well, you have to stick Peter Cushing in there somewhere.

Back in the real world, we have Clara’s mysterious card.

Heist Detail (4)

251 and 339 both refer to stories in the classic run featuring assorted Time Lords – episodes from ‘The War Games’ and ‘Frontier in Space’ respectively. P was the medieval number for ‘400’ – the approximate age gap between the War Doctor and the Eleventh – while V clearly alludes to 5, and the Fifth Doctor. Meanwhile, if you add the numbers 251 and 339 together, you get 590, which refers to episode three of ‘Mawdryn Undead’, in which the despicable Mawdryn pretends to be a new incarnation of the Doctor, only to be ousted by – yes, that’s right – Peter Davison. And once again, THIS CANNOT BE A COINCIDENCE.

Now look at this.

Heist Detail (7)

The Brigadier, who starred in ‘Mawdryn Undead’ also stars in ‘The Ambassadors of Death’, which features characters called Cornish, Wakefield and Rutherford. You will note that while the Doctor is busy opening box 251 (‘The War Games’), Clara’s right hand is poised over box / episode 265 (‘The Ambassadors of Death’, part one) while her left is pointing at 271 (‘The Ambassadors of Death’, part seven). Conclusion: not only will Jemma Redgrave be returning as the Brigadier’s daughter Kate Stewart (which we know for a fact), but the story will be set in the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, in Oxfordshire, which is coincidentally almost equidistant (by a matter of seven miles) both from Wakefield in Yorkshire and the Cornish border.

But that’s not all. Let’s go back to that vault.

Heist Detail (8)

The sarcophagus is a CLEAR AND DIRECT reference to the upcoming ‘Mummy on the Orient Express’, while the perfectly preserved lion statue obviously refers to ‘The Crusade’, which is clearly one of those stories that Phillip Morris has recovered, but which the Beeb are keeping under wraps until the Isis thing has blown over. However, it’s the golden sculpture of what looks like the London Eye that I want you to look at, because if it is the London Eye, and it’s in gold, then it’s a clear reference to the Golden Rose, given the landmark’s prominent usage back in the series 1 opener in 2005 – particularly significant at Easter, when the episode was first aired. Clearly we are destined to see the resurrection of a prominent figure, thought dead and gone, having given his life for others. Never mind that Jesus Christ was the son of David. Or, if you like, a DAVISON.

Of course, it could just as easily be a reference to the Rose d’Or, which Doctor Who has never won. But I like my version better.

Categories: God is in the Detail | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The moment has been prepared for”

Just an observation.

Categories: New Who | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: ‘Time Heist’

Warning: spoilers lie herein. If you don’t want to find out what happens, don’t read any further.

Time Heist (7)

There’s a telling remark at the end of this week’s episode of Doctor Who. The titular time-travelling titan (try saying that with a memory worm in your ear) is in the TARDIS, laughing and joking with his erstwhile companions. “Cesare Borgia,” he says, “Mucho scary hombre, says to me ‘What do you think of our Leaning Tower of Pisa?’. I say – ” and here he leans to one side, eyes widening like an Adipose caught in headlights – “‘It looks OK to me!'”.

It’s one occasion when I don’t think we could accuse Moffat of fourth wall demolition, but the experience that was ‘Time Heist’ was a little like that. As a hand-crafted exercise in writing, I’ve seen better. It wasn’t particularly new, or innovative, or even very clever. But viewed from a slanted angle, with the subtitles on (because that distortion effect, whilst effective, was nonetheless impregnable) and taken with the sort of salt pinch only an Ice Warrior could manage, it was jaunty fun.

Yes, there is colossal self-borrowing. There is also an unimaginable amount of borrowing from other sources (and we’ll get to that). But in this sort of story it didn’t matter. There was also a liberal sprinkling of timey-wimey bollocks that turned out to be of integral importance to the plot (as well as the prime mover behind a colossally predictable plot twist). That Moffat and Thomson get away with it – just – is testament to the episode’s self-containment. In other words, this was not an important story, just as ‘Blink’ was (at least canonically) not an important story, even though stylistically it changed everything.

 

From the beginning, we’re duped, deluded and tricked, in much the same way that we are in Memento (which I think I’ve seen, although I now can’t remember). There are reasons for this, and while I have yet to examine the Gallifrey Base threads to see what the fans are saying, Moffat’s tracing paper approach remains: you only have to hold the intricate design up to the light to see all the holes. But there are holes in most heist movies as well – impossible hacks, unbelievably stupid security guards and stunts that defy the laws of physics (cars don’t explode when they crash, and it is impossible, under any circumstances whatsoever, to outrun a fireball.)

I’m rambling. It transpires, of course, that the bank robbery wasn’t a robbery at all: it was a time-hopping rescue. The first clue you get is the strait jacket that surrounds the colossal, Minotaur-like Teller, which is obviously there against its will. The love story at the core of this takes its cue from at least one other recent episode, and it really feels like it’s too soon to pull off this sort of trick again, but the creature itself is visually impressive and a Character Options action figure in waiting. The biceps on the thing could heft forklifts, but the Teller is designed to detect guilt. It does this by extracting memories and then hitting you over the head with an invisible iron bar.

Time Heist (3)

If the design feels a little derivative, it’s already a familiar concept even before the Monster of the Week is unveiled for the first time. The references come thick and fast right from the outset. Clara has barely had time to dress for what is supposedly a date (but which we all know is secretly a Rat Pack tribute party) when the Doctor makes the mistake of answering the phone. Before we know it the pair are sitting in a room with a supporting character from a 2000 AD strip and an X-Men reject, and no one can remember how they got there or why. This is the sort of thing that happens all the time in Eastenders stag parties, so quite why it should be a major plot device here is anyone’s guess.

The bank itself consists of airy, high-ceilinged halls (part-CG , part Cardiff location scouting, ornate lifts and power station interiors for the grungy sub-levels. It’s how you would expect a hi-tech futuristic bank to look, right down to the security doors – the sort of place where just because you can’t see the locks, it doesn’t mean they’re not there. The vault itself – and the McGuffin of the week – is surrounded by a bunch of wide subterranean corridors, which provide convenient hiding places for the Doctor and Clara when they’re being stalked by the Teller. It’s a pity that Douglas Mackinnon’s direction, exemplary in ‘Listen’, is so utterly pedestrian here, with no real sense of tension to offset Psi’s hack, and far too many lingering close-ups of Clara’s head. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love Jenna Coleman and almost everything her character has finally been allowed to become, but even I have my limits.

 

After the floor disintegration, the bonding with Rogue Saibra and the moment when you realise that the characters have genuinely been sent back in time to the moment a ferocious and unanticipated storm strikes an important place, the puzzle suddenly starts to make sense. It’s the sort of ontological paradox Moffat does to death, but it’s far more effective in single episodes than it is over an entire series, as both ‘Blink’ and the entirety of series six proved, for the best and worst reasons respectively. I have complained before that Doctor Who has basically become a programme that is about time travel, rather than a programme in which time travel is the thing that enables you to get to a time and place where you can tell an interesting story, but I can excuse the wibbly wobbliness of episodes like this when they keep you hooked. Little clues are dropped in throughout the dialogue, so even before the memory gaps are filled in, we know that something is up (and if you think I’m being unfair when I describe the reveal as ‘predictable’, bear in mind that my cognitive abilities are generally quite substandard, so when a plot twist is so lame that even I figure it out before the end, we really are in trouble).

What’s disturbing is that this is the third week in a row where we haven’t seen an obvious reference to Missy’s soul quest, which has left me wondering about the disintegration ampoules. With both supporting cast members dead halfway through, it looks like a long night for Clara, at least until two minutes later when they both show up, miraculously alive and with no real information as to how they got back down so quickly from the escape ship, never mind where / how they got the guard uniforms. Heads were scratched all round in our living room, but the more I think about it the more it really does feel like one of those ‘clues’ we’re supposed to come back to at the end of the series, when it’s revealed that Missy isn’t collecting the souls of the dead, but the not-quite-dead bodies of the about-to-die. It would feel very ‘Wedding of River Song’, somehow – although the idea of atomic disintegrators that actually turn out to be teleportation devices is hardly a new thing.

Bad Wolf Ray

 

As an aside – and conveniently ignoring the fact that ‘Bad Wolf’ also opens with the Doctor and his companions waking up in a strange place with no idea how they got there – when you think about it, a teleportation device is exactly the same thing as an atomic disintegrator; it’s just that it has a mirror device at the other end that works in reverse. It destroys the body, saves the pattern and then re-establishes an exact physical copy at the other end. Star Trek has touched on the ethical ramifications of this – particularly the consideration of the soul – more than once, and it’s surprising that Doctor Who never has. Perhaps we’re about to, but I suspect the truth may be depressingly pedestrian. And will probably involve River Song.

But ignore all of that, because the story in itself works fine, with nods to crime flicks and sci-fi and beyond (Mackinnon says that he has “watched virtually every heist movie there’s ever been”, and boy does it show). Not everything works, of course. If Ocean’s Eleven was (at least in its remake form) a film about robbing a casino chiefly because its owner was an arsehole, ‘Time Heist’ should, at least, have a decent antagonist watching the CCTV screens – and this is sadly the episode’s biggest disappointment. Keeley Hawes, so dazzling to watch in the likes of Ashes To Ashes, is reduced to a power-dressing dominatrix type with Deirdre Barlow spectacles and no real trace of personality. While it turns out there is a reason for this, even the glammed-up, ‘alternate’ Keeley we meet in the final reel is no more engaging, leaving the under-developed Ms Delphox looking rather like a clone (pun intended) of Miss Foster from ‘Partners in Crime’, only rather less interesting.

Time Heist Deirdre

But Hawes is the weak link in an otherwise rigorous chain. ‘Time Heist’ is a story of a gang of misfits who break into a bank and get away with it, and just as Psi and Saibra escape not only intact but renewed, so too does the series feel fresher and funnier after this week. There are problems, and some truly shocking dialogue, but whereas ‘Listen’ failed because it tried to be inappropriately profound, ‘Time Heist’ is smart enough to recognise its own limitations. We needed a light-hearted episode of Doctor Who that wasn’t written by Mark Gatiss, and on that level, at least, Moffat and Thompson have come up with the goods. Just remember to keep your head slanted.

Time Heist (2)

 

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