Posts Tagged With: torchwood

The One Where We Visited The Doctor Who Experience

The chamber is amber and sparsely lit. We gather around metal walkways, surrounded by broken remnants of machinery, things long past, in a battle-scarred landscape drenched by a setting sun. Our guide warily picks himself through the throng to what is presumably the optimal vantage point for addressing the whole group. Suddenly a hatch opens. Pressing further into the room we can make out a bulky shape, sloped with odd protrusions: the cylindrical minimalism of a familiar-looking sink plunger, counter-balanced on the other side by what looks rather like an egg whisk. The lights go on, just in time for a grating recorded voice to bellow “EXTERMINATE!”.

That’s when the eight-year-old says “I need the toilet.”

They don’t let you take photos in the first part of the Doctor Who Experience. I’ve probably broken some sort of contractual law just by telling you about that bit – we didn’t sign anything, of course, but there’s presumably some sort of Mafia, and I’ll wake up tomorrow with a Slitheen’s head on my pillow. Not that it matters, really, given that the entire first paragraph was constructed almost entirely from memory and is almost certainly false, or at least inaccurate. Certain things slip out through the cracks. There were Daleks; I do remember that much, but the rest is a bit of a haze.

It worries me because it was only a couple of years ago. I can recollect sixth form parties from a quarter-century hence with more clarity. On the other hand were distracted that day; we spent most of our time wandering around worrying about Daniel, who had made it through to ‘Day of the Doctor’ but who still ran screaming from the room whenever a Weeping Angel turned up (or swiftly covered his eyes, which in itself is curiously ironic). A couple of months before I’d briefly encountered Steven Moffat at a press screening for ‘The Pilot’, and had passed on – at Daniel’s request – the information that his favourite episode was ‘Blink’. Not that this is in itself unusual – the Angels’ inaugural (and, we might argue, only really successful) venture is regularly at the top of the polls, or at least top five, but to be honest I think he’s just pleased he got through the damned thing without wetting himself.

That’s in very real danger of happening today, though, and it is for that reason that Emily never actually got to do the Experience properly. But I’m getting ahead of myself: we’re going to rewind several hours and shuffle a few hundred yards to the west, where the six of us are standing in front of an eight-year-old shrine to a dead fictional character.

“So when did he die?”
“Hmm?” I say to Josh. “Oh, it was 2009. I mean this is a spoiler, really, but the aliens gassed the chamber, and – ”
“No, not him. The actor who played him.”
“He’s not dead.”

Josh looks at me quizzically, so I explain. “This is the shrine for his character,” and I swear I can see him rolling his eyebrows.

Don’t get me wrong. I was as affected by ‘Children of Earth’ as the rest of you. Peter Capaldi confronting the 456 is still among the most electrifying moments Torchwood has to offer. Jack kills his own grandson, for pity’s sake. And yes, the climax of episode 4 – a sobbing Ianto dying in Barrowman’s immortal arms – is sudden, shocking and unexpectedly moving. But the public outpourings of grief have long perplexed me, particularly given the propensity of many fans to refuse to forgive Davies for killing one of his darlings. Eight years for a Welsh admin assistant? Isn’t that over-egging the pudding just a tad? Mind you, we’re in a world where people old enough to know better routinely travel to King’s Cross in order to visit a platform that doesn’t exist and celebrate a day that doesn’t exist, where characters who didn’t exist were about to travel to a place that didn’t exist, on a magical steam engine. Perhaps a few dried bouquets down by the lapping surf are small fry in comparison.

Our timed tickets for the Experience proper don’t start until after lunch, so I’ve suggested we come here first, just so I can show the kids what happens when you let fandom get the better of you. This whole day is a birthday present from Emily, as we’ve talked about coming for years and have learned, comparatively recently, that the thing is closing, which has led to a public outcry from fans who haven’t got around to actually seeing it yet but will, honestly. I scratch my head at such responses. I would very much like to go to the Who North America store, for example, but Indiana is beyond my travelling budget and if it were to suddenly close up shop tomorrow I’d feel a small pang of regret for the staff and then I’d move on. Listen: the Experience at Porth Teigr was only ever supposed to be a five year plan and it only closed so they could move it somewhere else. There’s no sense in throwing your toys out of the pram because you have to scrub something off the bucket list, or at least move it down a couple of notches. Change is the very nature of the show; deal with it.

But it’s easy to say that when you’re in South Oxfordshire and Cardiff is an hour and a half on the M4, and perhaps I didn’t do myself any favours by sneering about it the way I did at the time. It’s a lesson in kindness, and it’s one you learn the hard way. It’s something I’m trying to correct, although not always successfully. A part of it is knowing the difference: being kind doesn’t mean you can’t hold certain people in withering contempt, depending on their actions (one minute Capaldi’s ranting about how important kindness is, the next he’s chiding the Master for his “stupid round face”). Silly ideas are still silly and poorly-conceived logic is stilll…well, you get the idea. It’s all in the way you tell people, and sometimes you probably shouldn’t.

What happens in the Doctor Who Experience is this: you enter a series of rooms, led by a costumed Time Lord, and interact with Peter Capaldi (the earlier, grumpier version), who appears on screen via a series of pre-recorded interludes. There are buttons to press and things to carry – at one point you get to fly the TARDIS – and over the course of your journey you encounter a variety of creatures, but notably Daleks and Weeping Angels. We know this because we have done a little research – nothing spoiler-heavy but our family’s needs more or less demand it – and the eight-year-old does a good line in ‘suddenly queasy’. Or perhaps he really was feeling ill; it’s a hot day and while the Experience’s dark corridors and atmospheric rooms (“It’s not a restaurant for the French!”) are decently air-conditioned there’s only so much you can do when you’re suddenly inundated by sweating tourists.

Emily knows how much this means to me, and when Daniel says he feels sick she offers to take him out, so the Time Lord guide briefly breaks character to shepherd them through the fire doors. We continue the walkthrough without them, and they catch up with us in 1963 London, which is where you wind up when you’re finished. What remains is two floors of props and scenery and costumes – oh, so many costumes – from fifty-four years (as was) of Doctor Who, ranging from vintage Daleks to the Veil that pursued the Twelfth Doctor in ‘Heaven Sent’. There are antique consoles, an interesting Radiophonic Workshop display and there’s a bit where you can hide inside a Dalek and dance like a Cyberman. Or something like that.

It’s all very comprehensive, of course – the costume centrepiece, in particular, is like the final frame of ‘Day of the Doctor’, only we all missed the Rapture. But there’s something a little sterile about the whole thing, something oddly flat and almost clinical, the lighting a little too harsh, the monsters arranged in neat displays in the manner of a police lineup, rather than the immersive casket of wonders from which you’ve recently ventured. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so we won’t dwell on it, but the original Cardiff exhibition over at the Dragon Centre was better: darker and more thrilling, a coherent whole rather than two disjointed halves. In layman’s terms it’s ‘Blink’, while Porth Teigr is….oh, I don’t know, ‘The Girl Who Died’ and ‘The Woman Who Lived‘. You will have your own choice, but you can see where this is going.

It’s a shame, because there are some lovely pieces. My family are all fans – even Edward – but I’m the one who knows it best, and in places like this I’m like a puppy off a leash, prancing and jumping around the exhibition like Willy Wonka in the Inventing Room or Matt Smith early in ‘Rings of Akhaten’ (“Panbabylonians…a Lugal-Irra-Kush…some Lucanians…a Hooloovo!”). Here there was a 1980s Cyberman. Over there the Special Weapons Dalek, the Fisher King from Series 9 and BLOODY HELL THAT’S A MANDREL!

They gave Emily a commemorative sick bag. It was a good few months before it became sufficiently tatty to wind up in the bin; we never did get round to auctioning it on Ebay like we’d planned. Better still, she’s managed to grab a slot in the day’s final tour, which is quiet, and so she and Daniel get to do it all again, at least until they get to the Daleks, which is when he announces he needs the toilet and they have to once more make a swift exit through the fire doors. The two of them eventually join us in the park, half a mile round the bay, my son sheepish and insistent that it really was his bladder and nothing to do with the Angels; my wife quietly simmering.

“Well,” I say, trying to make her feel better, “The best bits were in the first half. You didn’t really miss much.”

She gives me a look. “Oh, don’t say that. It just makes the whole thing worse.”

I have more photos than paragraphs, today, so what remains is the gallery: Daleks and pinballs and round things. What are the round things? No idea. I’m glad we went, if only for the first half – which does make you feel like you’re in an episode of Doctor Who, even if it’s one of the slightly rubbish ones. To those of you who never got the chance: fret not; there’ll be another one along soon, presumably with Jodie Whittaker on the other side of the screen and presumably involving some sort of story where you have to save the world from bigots or internet trolls or people who don’t flush the toilet when they’re done, complete with enormous monsters made up of festering excrement.

Actually that might be half-decent. They could call it The Doctor Loo Experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Have I Got Whos For You (Part 6)

This week, in Whovania, Bill rises to the Tide Pod challenge.

“And you’re sure it’s OK for me to eat this?”

Elsewhere, a deleted scene from ‘The Zygon Inversion’ shows that Peter Capaldi wasn’t on his own in that playground.

A new publicity still from Torchwood does the rounds on social media.

And the Doctor explains to Clara just why he got kicked off that United Airlines flight.

Happy World Book Day!

Categories: Have I Got Whos For You | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Face of Boe / Captain Jack connection

Sometimes, when you’re creating, you inadvertently open a can of worms. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it is the only way to catch fish. But sometimes you wonder why you bothered. Actually, it’s less that, and more a sense of frustration that the joke has been missed, or that people would rather concentrate on the theory than the comedy. I suppose that’s the nature of fandom, but it is a little like banging your head against a brick wall. Truthfully there is not much to be said about the comedy for this little instalment – it sort of speaks for itself – and thus we will concentrate on the theory, at least for this morning. Business as usual next time, folks.

Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. I was toying with the idea of redubbing the Face of Boe with Jack’s voice for a while last year: it was an easy edit, it makes total sense, and it has reasonable comic potential. The Face of Boe appears (properly; ‘Utopia’ doesn’t count, nor does ‘Journey’s End’) in precisely three episodes but there isn’t enough malleable footage in ‘The End of the World’; I stuck therefore with ‘New Earth’, in which the Face of Boe is dying and then isn’t, and ‘Gridlock’, in which he isn’t but then is. Mashed-in dialogue is partly from Doctor Who, partly from Torchwood, and inevitably there’s a bit of singing. Jack is by turns kinky and unexpectedly remorseful, which wasn’t quite the vibe I’d intended, but it sort of works. I had wanted to include ‘The Doctor And I’, but it just didn’t fit somehow. I don’t think we suffer for its absence.

Anyway: I uploaded the thing and it got a few laughs – but it also caused a reasonable amount of confusion in the community. “But…he – he is the Face of Boe!!” spluttered one user. “He said it in an episode! It was confirmed!” Other people were a little less spluttery but still a little put out. “He knew the Doctor,” said someone else. “Called him old friend when they’d never met. Last time he saw Jack outside of the Christmas special he told the Doctor back home they called him the Face of Boe. River Song’s vortex came from a handsome time traveller the headless monks got. It’s him.”

I won’t tell you what I said in private, because it probably breaks obscenity guidelines, but I did take it upon myself to reply to a few of those comments. The truth is – and thinking about it this, more than anything else, is what may have given me the idea to actually put this together – the Jack / Boe thing is one of the most frequently asked technical questions in any of the Doctor Who groups I visit. (The others, incidentally, are “Why did the Doctor start regenerating at Lake Silencio if he was on his final incarnation?”, and “Is the War Doctor really the Ninth Doctor?”, but seriously, let’s not go there today.)

It was the June 2007 when they first aired ‘The Last of the Time Lords’. I was twenty-nine and had just become a second-time father. Thomas wasn’t the easiest of babies and that summer was a heady mixture of sleepless nights, screaming fits and constant feeding, all accompanied by a red sling in which he had to be carried almost constantly, because it was the only way to stop the wailing. Emily would nap when she could and it was for this reason that I watched the series 3 finale without her: she would catch up later, with me standing in the doorway, hovering behind her whispering “Doctor…Doctor…” at the crucial moment. You have to have some fun.

But I remember watching that finale and then grabbing an old friend for a water cooler moment at the office the next morning. “Oh my gosh,” I said. “CAPTAIN JACK IS THE FACE OF BOE!” From what I’ve read, my reaction mirrored that of Barrowman, who allegedly jumped up and down and squealed a bit. Across the nation – the world, come to that, at least the parts of the world that got access to BBC programmes – the reaction was much the same, in all but one quarter, which would be the BBC herself. Because when the episode was repeated with a producer’s commentary, Russell T Davies was heard to mutter “Well, it’s as good an explanation for the Face of Boe as any”, only to have Julie Gardner tell him to “Stop backpedalling”.

Except…it’s watertight, isn’t it? It’s an established fact that Jack spends billions of years evolving into a giant head, isn’t it? Well, actually it isn’t. Things are never that concrete in Whovania, because if they were then we’d have no leeway for fan fiction. If the Fifth Doctor and Peri had gone straight from Sarn to Androzani, years of Big Finish releases with Peri and Erimem would be rendered obsolete. If we’d seen McGann regenerate into Eccleston at the beginning of ‘Rose’, there would be no place for the War Doctor. And if it were definitively and unambiguously established that the TARDIS had developed a fault on its journey to visit the Tribe of Gum, we’d never have had Hunters of the Burning Stone, and the world would be a much better place.

Here are the facts in the case of Jack vs. Boe:

1. The Face of Boe calls the Doctor ‘old friend’ when they meet in ‘New Earth’, despite only having met him the once (according to the Doctor).

2. An abandoned sequence in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’ would allegedly have seen Jack literally lose his head at the hands of the Headless Monks, surviving – but only as a head. This was shelved because of Barrowman’s involvement in Miracle Day.

3. In ‘The Pandorica Opens’, River states that she got her vortex manipulator “fresh off the wrist of a handsome time agent”, although that’s all the information we get.

4. As Jack bids farewell to the Doctor and Martha at the end of ‘The Last of the Time Lords’, he ruminates on his fear of physical ageing – something that is apparently happening, albeit as slowly as it affects Wolverine – and wonders what he will look like at the age of a million. He then mentions in passing that this sense of vanity was partly instilled by his youth, when his good looks made him a poster boy for the Boeshane Peninsula. “The Face of Boe, they called me,” he says, before trotting off to what turns out to be a memorable entrance in ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’. (If you haven’t seen it, do so. He has a fight with Spike from Buffy. In a bar. With Blur playing in the background. It’s great.)

Let’s take them more or less one at a time. In the first instance, there’s no reason to suspect that Boe and the Doctor didn’t meet again after Platform One. It could be that the Doctor’s forgotten. Or that he’s lying. That’s something I get told a lot: whenever there is an apparent continuity error there is a chorus of comments reading “Rule one: the Doctor lies”. It’s mindlessly irritating, seeing as it’s not the Doctor’s rule, it’s actually River’s, and it’s a cheap way of explaining away an ambiguity that would probably make sense if you actually took the time to think about it, but it beats “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey”, so I suppose I can live with it. It’s further possible that the Doctor and Boe had an adventure they agreed not to speak about with anyone, including each other. Perhaps it’s a cultural thing: perhaps that’s how the Boekind greet people they know. Or perhaps the Face of Boe has been ruminating on the fact that the Doctor saved his life a few years back, and considers him a friend as a consequence. Perhaps they’ve been messaging each other on Facebook. Pick one.

The scene with the Headless Monks is awkward simply because it was never filmed. It’s an abandoned sequence that is thus as canonical as, say, Lungbarrow – a story that effectively gave us the Doctor’s real name, but which sits rather uncomfortably within the whopping great list of Things You Can Believe If You Want To (a concept to which we’ll return, so remember it). If they didn’t show it, it didn’t happen. Actually, even if they did show it there’s a fair bit of leeway with retconning: 24 aired the death of a prominent character in season 5 but a couple of years later he was back, when it was discovered that we did not see what we thought we saw. River’s vortex manipulator may have come from Jack (with, it is implied, the hand still attached to it), but it does not follow from this that he had a run-in with the Monks – although the Monks aren’t necessary for Jack to become Boe, which I’ll explore in a moment.

The ‘Last of the Time Lords’ scene is a little more concrete, but even then it’s not exactly unambiguous. It’s connection by association – look, this is how tabloid newspapers work. They’ll tell you that there’s a new CBeebies series starring a female engineer, and then mention in passing that they no longer show Bob the Builder, and leave you to fill in the gaps. Before we know it there’s a minor frenzy about the BBC eschewing old favourites in favour of new, politically correct content, and everyone’s conveniently forgotten the fact that the Beeb washed their hands of Bob when HIT Entertainment gave him that disastrous makeover and a stupid Midlands accent.

Similarly, all this scene tells you is that Jack was called the Face of Boe by a bunch of people who might have already known about the real Face and thus applied it as a nickname. Because we’ve been wondering about the Face of Boe all series, it’s natural to assume the two are connected, but there’s no reason why they would be. As it stands, it’s clumsy shoehorning. It may have had the fans jumping out of their seats, but it’s a dreadful way to finish a scene. The dialogue is terrible. You don’t say “The Face of Boe, they called me” and then saunter away to an invisible door. It’s an unnecessary conversation dangle. No one does it. Not unless they’re deliberately baiting the Doctor and Martha, not to mention the people watching at home…oh, wait.

The funny thing about all this is that Jack could quite easily evolve into Boe without any of the kerfuffle with the Monks. We saw it in a Philip K. Dick short story, The Infinites, in which a three-man crew investigate a strange planet and find themselves undergoing rapidly accelerated evolution – millions of years pass in just a few hours. It has highly irradiated sentient hamsters made of pure energy. I swear I’m not making this up. The point is that the changes are marked by degenerating limbs and greatly swollen head size, marking an increased reliance on the cerebral cortex and, one would assume, the decrease of motor functions. From this, it’s quite feasible to imagine that Jack could turn into a giant head the older he gets. Perhaps it’s the way we’re going. It’s certainly the way it was going in WALL-E, where everyone was fat because they’d spent years puttering about in a small land. Sudden cosmic storms aside, you and I will probably never know.

Out on the convention circuit, the vibe among the cast and crew has come down in favour of Jack and Boe being one and the same. Barrowman believes it. So does Gardener. So, up to a point, does Davies, although that’s a bit more complicated. I’m not listing my sources; it’s well-documented. It has to be said that of the above, Davies is the only one who gets a vote, being largely responsible for the genesis and development of the character (yes, I know that Moffat penned those first episodes and half of Torchwood was written by Chibnall; work with me here). But even then it’s dangerous to assume that originating writers have total responsibility for the characters they create for the rest of time. There needs to be a handover point: otherwise it’s a slippery slope to the sort of petty legal wrangling we had after the Brigadier’s grandfather / great-uncle showed up in the Christmas episode. Or you get someone making an obvious joke about Jenny crashing into an asteroid and then the fans are up in arms because Big Finish have brought her back and WHAT ABOUT THE SANCTITY OF CANON? (And yes, I realise I talked earlier about the whole “If it didn’t happen on screen, it’s not canon” thing. It’s my blog; I’m allowed the occasional double standard.)

The bottom line is that this has been kept as ambiguous as possible simply because it’s better that way. It grates against the sensibilities of the modern Doctor Who fan. Unresolved plot strands do not sit comfortably with them: why not explain something if you can? But sometimes it’s better if you don’t know. The Italian Job has one of the best endings to any film ever, simply because it is left hanging, in the most literal sense of the word. We never found out if Fran and Peter survived at the end of Dawn of the Dead, but there is a fleeting sense of hope as they fly off into the sunset; the same sense of hope permeates The Shawshank Redemption (this is the novella we’re talking about – not the film, which ends on a more definitive point and which is arguably less successful as a result). No one gets the end of 2001, but drawing your own conclusions to the Rorschach that is the film’s final ten-minute sequence is, many ways, far more satisfying than anything that’s cleared up in the books.

Davies knows this. The man does have his faults, but he – like most sensible people – realised that giving Jack a designated end point essentially kills the joke. It also deflates any sense of tension in Torchwood, because you know that Jack will at some point be wheeled around in a glass case and get pregnant again, but that’s a by-product. Here’s my point: it’s actually fine if people want to believe that Jack becomes the Face of Boe. I more or less believe it myself. It’s as good an explanation for the character as we’ve come across, and the evidence for it – whilst not exactly overwhelming – is still a clear collection of hints that point towards a likely plot strand. “None of these things is any good on its own,” the boy’s grandmother tells him in The Witches. “It’s only when you put them all together that they begin to make a little sense.”

Still: a little sense may be as far as we get. Because it’s more fun if we don’t know. There is a greater sense of narrative satisfaction – at least there is for me – in having a character whose fate is unresolved than one whose life cannot be changed; Ebenezer Scrooge endeavoured to sponge away the writing on his gravestone and we must believe the same of Jack, however much a definitive ending to his story might please some of the fans. Jack might be the Face of Boe, and then next week it could all be undone in a heartbeat – that is the nature of the programme we love, and while I went through a period of getting annoyed about this, in recent months I’ve kind of got used to it. Certainty is the path to arrogance, and the older I get the less certain I am about things, and I’m learning to embrace, even revel in the ambiguities. So let’s rejoice in the fact that for all the speculation and fan theory and arguments about intended meaning, when all is said and done we really don’t know Jack. Christopher Bullock said that it was “impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes”. In the Whoniverse, we don’t even have the first one, and it’s better that way.

Categories: Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The inevitable Doctor Who / Fifty Shades of Grey thing

Warning: today’s post contains adult material.

Yes, yes, all right. I’ll concede there’s nothing inevitable about this. Except to say that my ‘Doctor Who does porn‘ entry has done better, generally speaking, than anything else I’ve written recently, and while the whole https thing means I can no longer see what most of you are tapping into your search engines, I do know that at least a few of you are searching for Doctor and Tegan sex fanfic, you dirty rascals.

Anyway: E.L. James and her BDSM juggernaut. I read the first book a couple of years back and confess I enjoyed the story, while wanting to gloss over the frankly excruciating sex scenes. Curiously this is the exact opposite of what you’d normally do in a porn movie, according to a friend of mine. The sex itself was hard to stomach (not the submission thing, I just found it tedious) but I found myself mysteriously compelled towards the character of Christian Grey, wanting to know more about him. Much like the Doctor himself, he’s a man of hidden depths who plays his cards close to his chest. Plus the first time we meet him he’s in a hardware store buying cable ties, which seems a very Doctorish thing to do, even if the intended purposes are probably somewhat different.

There was a thing doing the rounds on Facebook:

Grey_1


I changed it to:

Grey_2

Disappointingly,” said Gareth, “that image contains all 256 shades of grey. I was hoping its creator had been sneaky.”

Anyway. I got busy with Fireworks yesterday and there are two images below. First, for those of you who were wondering what happened to Jack Harkness’s wayward brother after he got out of Torchwood cold storage:

(Let’s just ignore that disastrous neckline, shall we? I had spent ages trying to sync the colours of the only suitable image of Gray so that it didn’t show, and I had shopping to do.)

Meanwhile, in the TARDIS:

Geddit? Shades? Cybershades? Yeah? [tumbleweed]

There are exactly fifty of them, by the way; I counted. Some are hidden behind the heads of Smith and Tennant. And yes, I did find those images by Googling for ‘Doctor Who naked’. And no, you don’t want to see what’s in there. Trust me on this. You really don’t. Really.

Categories: Crossovers | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doctor Who: The Spin-offs of Madness

In my head, I can hear that post title delivered by the woman who does the 2 Entertain DVDs. I have no idea who she is, or how much she got paid for reading out all those titles, but presumably she only had to say “To select audio navigation, press enter now” on just the one occasion (Did she do titles for the missing stories? I can visualise her saying “Doctor Who: Fury From The Deep. Eventually.”)

“When I rule the world,” says Gareth, “I will make sure that DVDs don’t play snippets of the programme over the menu.  It gets very annoying to have the same bit on a loop repeatedly, or playing every time you go to the Special Features menu.  There’s one Davison where the Special Features menu has Tegan saying ‘Doctor, look!’ immediately, and you get this every time.  It’s become something of a joke here.” And, of course, it ruined ‘Earthshock’, the first-episode twist of which I was trying to keep secret from Thomas.

Anyway. I was thinking the other week about Rose Tyler: Earth Defence, and wondering if the world’s a poorer place for its absence. It strikes me that you could do Further Adventures of… for all the companions, even the dead ones (Adric’s journey through the Underworld, where he meets Orpheus and Saddam Hussein, would have been splendid.) There’s plenty of mileage in Peter Purves trying to rule a kingdom and screwing it up royally (in a quite literal sense), and I still think Martha and Mickey: Bounty Hunters has mileage, even though Gareth and I have agreed never to talk about it again.

Actually, I just Googled Earth Defence, and someone has made this, and I confess I rather liked it.

Consider –

Commander Benton’s Officer School

What Have The Romanas Ever Done For Us?

The Further Adventures of Zoe, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bum

Still. It’s children’s programmes that rule the roost in our house. When the TV is on during the day it’s either showing CBeebies or repeats of Superted. Occasionally I can sway them towards The Muppets, provided Horrid Henry has finished for the day. I can’t name you a single contestant on this year’s I’m A Celebrity, but I do know every single character in Everything’s Rosie. (They’re all quite fun, except for Bluebird, who irritates the pants off me.)

With all this in mind, last night there was Photoshopping (Fireworksing, in truth, which doesn’t seem to slip off the tongue quite as well – it sounds like something teenagers do on a Friday night in Burnley). Some time and several glasses of wine later, we had this lot. You’ll have seen one of them before. And unless you’re British, and of a certain age, at least a couple of them are going to pass you by. And the last one really is a bit…well. But I don’t care, because I have bacon.

 

dw_Charley

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Standing corrected (part one)

“It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you make up. The rules. If that thing had said it came from beyond the universe, I’d believe it, but before the universe? Impossible. Doesn’t fit my rule. Still, that’s why I keep travelling. To be proved wrong.”

(The Doctor, ‘The Satan Pit’)

I am, by my nature, an opinionated sort. I probably wouldn’t have a blog if I wasn’t, at least not one like this. I’d stick to a tumblr account and fill it with memes and gifs. Instead I’ll write reams and reams of text about anything that suits – whether that’s in a dedicated post, or a comment thread on a newspaper website. Never use a single word, I’ve learned over the years, when a hundred will do.

But I have a confession to make: a lot of what I’ve learned over the years was garnered from YouTube hits, Wikipedia entries and a fair bit of bluffing. The fact of the matter is that when it comes to much online debate I’m often far more ignorant than I may come across, having relied instead on the ability to weave an argument rather than actually give it any substance. If you can be convincing enough in your tone, it’s relatively easy to persuade your audience. A little flash and sparkle goes a long way. In this, I’m reminded of Richard Gere singing ‘Razzle Dazzle’ near the end of Chicago, a song I now have stuck in my head and which I thus won’t quote here for fear of inflicting the earworm upon the rest of you.

But insofar as popular culture is concerned I can talk about Doctor Who with reasonable authority, at least up to a point. I can say whether a story was good TV or bad Who, or the reverse. I can deconstruct an episode and talk about what worked and what didn’t (although Gareth does it better). I can view it within the context of the series as a whole (although again, Gareth does it better). I even have a decent-ish knowledge of Classic Who (three strikes, you’re outta there). I can even look at an episode from the point of view of a small child, purely through having watched every episode of New Who at least once with Joshua. (As a result, I can now see the merits in ‘The End Of The World’ and am far more appreciative of ‘Love and Monsters’, even though the oral sex joke is still a colossal misfire.)

Where I fall down, as it happens, is my tendency to make predictions that turn out to be spectacularly and indelibly wrong. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to be talking about just a few of them.

This fits thematically but I have no idea whether or not it's any good. Gareth could tell you.

This fits thematically but I have no idea whether or not it’s any good. Gareth could tell you.

“Bringing Donna back is a disaster waiting to happen.”

“No good will come of this,” I remember saying. And you know, you can hardly blame me. Donna Noble was an irritating trollop the first time we saw her. I don’t care that she was ‘feisty’ where Rose was doe-eyed and soppy (largely because feistiness has been the single defining trait of every single companion the Doctor’s had since 2008, with the notable exception of Rory). She had a voice like a foghorn. I was a big Catherine Tate fan, but she essentially aged Lauren Cooper by fifteen years and stuck her in a wedding dress. I spent the whole of ‘The Runaway Bride’ waiting for the inevitable “Am I bovvered?”, and in a way it was almost disappointing they didn’t include it – rather like a famous pantomime dame who’s not allowed to deliver his TV catchphrase.

I should have figured that Unenlightened Donna (which makes her sound like the crap version of Rimmer from Red Dwarf’s ‘Back To Reality’) was thoroughly unsuitable material for an entire series, and that Davies would have to develop her. He did this by taking out the mouth – although the feistiness remains – and getting her to cry in front of an Ood. It’s an overwrought scene, but it solidifies her, if only because her response – to plead with the Doctor to make it stop – is so utterly real. Donna had a moment of clarity at the end of ‘The Runaway Bride’, in which she suggests that the Doctor needs a companion because “sometimes you need someone to stop you”. Davies takes this as his starting point and has her become the Doctor’s conscience in a series where the Time Lord Triumphant is waiting in the wings.

Oh come on, admit it. This scene was hilarious.

Oh come on, admit it. This scene was hilarious.

And oh, it was refreshing to have a companion who wasn’t constantly flirting with the Doctor! As is usual with these things they took the situation to the other extreme and ran a whole series of “We’re not together” gags that were typical examples of the lady who doth protest too much, but Davies (like his successor) is always one for his recurring gags, and you can’t have everything. Donna treated the Doctor like a mate, and he responded in kind, and the two worked wonderfully together as a result – indeed, the chemistry between Tennant and Tate was good enough to see them take to the stage the following year in Much Ado About Nothing.

In the end it all got very tedious and companion-centric, as we’re treated to yet another series finale where the Doctor’s closest ally becomes the most important thing in the universe (I don’t know, what was wrong with just travelling with him?). This is always a mistake, because it kills any sense of empathy we might have with the character – it gets very hard to like Donna once she starts spouting technobabble and teaching the Children of Time how to fly the TARDIS. Then the Doctor takes it all out of her head, in another death-that-wasn’t-really-a-death – it’s a cheap trick, but that final, wordless scene in the control room is stupendous (particularly when you then read that Davies originally intended for the Doctor’s brooding fit to be interrupted by Cybermen, which would have ruined the episode). Series four wasn’t always an easy ride (the Sontaran story is still rubbish), but Donna’s easily one of my favourite companions, and Tate played her to perfection. Much missed.

Torchwood’s gonna be great.”

I refer you to something I wrote on October 17th, 2005.

“It sounds like a cross between The Lone Gunmen and Spooks, with a dash of Queer as Folk. Whatever you think about Davies’ political agenda with Captain Jack, he was an interesting and compelling character whom I liked a lot. In terms of character arc he was there to provide a suitably gung-ho replacement for the previously violent tendencies of the Doctor – once Eccleston’s incarnation decides to stop being a war hero and goes back to pacificism (notably after ‘Dalek’), he became more like some of the previous, more peaceful regenerations. At the same time, he retains a vicious streak: while Jack isn’t violent for the sake of violence he is nonetheless far more comfortable handling a gun, and in that sense he almost seems to be a projection of the Doctor’s own buried sense of violence; a necessary character. For all that rambling, he was one of the most fun aspects of the last season, and I can’t help thinking he deserves his own show.

It could all go horribly wrong, of course, but just consider the alternatives – they could have decided to make a spin-off series entitled The Further Adventures of Mickey.”

Ah, Torchwood. It could have been so glorious. A lot of people don’t like Jack Harkness, but I confess I always found him watchable, whether he was flirting or shooting – often both at the same time. The prospect of a darker, more adult-themed show, able to discuss the issues that Doctor Who, with its family audience and prime time slot, couldn’t touch? With Barrowman at the centre? Bring it on.

What we got was episode after episode of inane plotting, unnecessary swearing and ephemeral fucking. Barrowman spent most of the first series standing on a rooftop looking broody. It’s like Davies had cutscenes from Devil May Cry 2 playing on a loop when he was approaching deadline. Episode two was centred around sex as a plotline (ha!) but it was embarrassing rather than appropriately carnal. And I don’t mind a bit of language, I really don’t, but not when it comes across like the work of ten year old schoolboys who have been left alone with a tape recorder, charged to produce a radio report but unable to resist the temptation to goad each other into muttering the occasional rude word.

Torchwood eventually got much better. I nearly gave up after that first series, but in the second they all stopped fighting amongst themselves, gelled as a team and had a lot more fun. James Marsters turned up. Oh, and it has one of the funniest series openers I’ve ever seen. A couple of years later there was Children of Earth, a five episode miniseries that stands amongst RTD’s finest work, at least for the BBC, and which upset a good number of people for killing off a much beloved character – a brave decision and the sort the show has never shied away from, taking its cue from the likes of 24. Then it all went to pot again with Miracle Day, which took the formula stateside, without much success (although it does have a mesmerising performance from Bill Pullman). The finale of this features Barrowman saving the world by depositing his bodily fluids inside a gigantic crack. The irony of this is not lost on me.

Spot the girl who didn't make it past episode one.

Spot the girl who didn’t make it past episode one.

So I was right, I suppose, if you count those middle two series, but I’ve always seen Torchwood as a missed opportunity. It’s not entirely down to the writing, which was uneven but occasionally brilliant, but the whole show never seemed entirely sure whether it should be appealing to the teenage market or the adults who watched Doctor Who with their kids. In the end, it never fully appealed to either, which is a shame because Barrowman is a great actor, and there were some wonderful moments amidst the dross, particularly once the show stopped taking itself too seriously – such as the time Jack and Ianto were searching an empty office block for their quarry. “Check the roof,” Ianto mutters. “You’re good with roofs.” More scenes like that, and we’d have had the makings of a classic.

(FWIW, I also think Martha and Mickey: Bounty Hunters definitely has wings.)

Tomorrow: we look at theories concerning one of the biggest conundrums the show’s thrown up since its revival, and how I couldn’t have been more wrong about the Eleventh Doctor…

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

From the Facebook archives, #6

Saturday, September 17th 2011

I was recounting the last episode of Torchwood: Miracle Day to Emily, as she’s refused to watch it since the end of season 1.

Her response: “Right, let me get this straight. Saving the world was ultimately dependent upon John Barrowman depositing his bodily fluids inside an enormous crack?”

They really didn’t think this one through, did they?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“He never got out of the cockadoody car!”

Joshua and I differ in our love of Doctor Who in one respect: cliffhangers. I love them, and he can’t stand them.

Age is part of it. The problem with each successive generation is that they expect things to be done faster. There is a certain amount of raw nostalgia in my recollection of the time – only a decade ago – when it would take me fifteen minutes to burn a CD. I can remember loading software from floppy disks. I can remember tapes. I can remember sitting in front of my Spectrum for ten minutes waiting for Chase HQ to finish loading, and cursing with all the swearwords an eleven-year-old could conjure when it crashed thirty seconds from the final block. I can remember having to rewind VHS videos that I’d left cued at the end credits of Superman IV. I can remember mail order services that took weeks, rather than days.

(A friend of mine recently pointed out the semantic irony in that the universal symbol for saving is – of course – a floppy disk. When was the last time any of you actually used a floppy disk? These symbols arose because they fitted the times in which they were created, and this icon has now become so synonymous with its function that most of us, I expect, could never imagine using anything else. But paradoxically we’re raising a generation of children who need explanations of once self-explanatory visual cues like disk drives and gramophones and eight-tracks, explanations that I suspect we’re failing to provide, and – like the monkeys in the cage – many children have no idea why we use certain symbols, except for the normal explanation of “That’s just the way it’s done round here”.)

These days, I get grumpy when my download speed drops below 100K a second. I fire up a dual layer dub and look at the estimated time left and despair. I become frustrated when I place an Ebay order at eight in the morning and it doesn’t ship the same day, even though the terms and conditions said it would go within three. I drum impatient fingers when emails I’m telling people I’m sending while I speak to them over the phone fail to materialise instantly. I glance anxiously at the dashboard clock at every red light my Zafira encounters, and stare at my watch at every raised signal. I know that if you’re reading this you will be nodding in recognition at having done at least some of the above. We live in a society that enables us to do more than ever, if we want it, and somehow it’s never fast enough. What hope for us, and what hope for our children?

So perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that Joshua wants instant resolution. When you’re a child the world moves slowly. I have an iPod app that counts off the sleeps until Christmas. Joshua starts asking me for the numbers in June, right after his birthday. When December 25th has been and gone, I am asked for the time that has to elapse until his birthday. We are trying to teach him the value of patience by making him wait for certain things. It is not working. And actually that isn’t true. I should say, rather, that it works inconsistently, depending on mood.

I don’t tell him that the cliffhangers are coming, because when I do he spends the entire episode whinging “But Daddy, why does this one have to be a cliffhanger?”. And I’ve run out of patience because I always give him the same answer: “Because it just is. The writers found it necessary. And they thought it would make it more exciting.”

“Oh, but I want to find out what happens next.”
“Well, then, you’ll have to wait.”
“Can you tell me?”
“No.”
“Just give me one clue.”
“Certainly not. It’ll spoil it.”
“Come on, just one.”

And so on, all the way down to the bathroom and beyond.

Here’s the thing.  I grew up with Old Who. That’s important, because it explains my current position, which is not altogether impartial. There are several hallmarks of Old Who that didn’t fully survive the transition: wobbly sets, frantic over-acting and the multi-episode cliffhangers. These days we have CGI, and ‘worthy’ performances that are usually relatively low-key, even if they’re less fun to watch (you may imagine that I found Phil Davis, in ‘The Fires of Pompeii’, an absolute breath of fresh air). As for the cliffhangers, that’s a problem with the episode structure in general: forty-two minutes, now, being the operative time to introduce everyone, tell your story and wrap it up.

Most weeks it works, but there’s something missing. The pace is up, up, up: tight cuts, shouted explanations while Tennant or Smith is running down a corridor, and fairly bog-standard character development. It was notable that for Children of Earth, the third series of Torchwood, Russell T. Davies’ writing improved immeasurably: he elected to tell a single story over the course of five hours, a story that (crucially) could probably have been told in two or three with a bit of trimming. Free of the shackles of the standard runtime there was room for more reflection, more space, and pauses – the scene in which John Frobisher first engages with the 456, through a glass darkly, is the unquestionable series highlight, if only because it’s so – oh, just have a look, you’ll see what I mean:

You see? It’s jarringly slow (jarringly in the best of ways, because there are no lingering close-ups of Barrowman with tortured eyes and an obvious lump in his throat, under soft piano and strings). I wish I could have shown you the whole sequence, which consists of protracted introductions between Frobisher and the 456, with the sort of pacing that a bog-standard hour-long episode couldn’t accommodate.

When it came to Who, though, something had to change come the revival: gone were the cliffhangers and multi-episode storylines, and instead you simply got in and got out. Because, according to the powers that be, audiences were fickle and couldn’t commit to the same thing week after week. (Anyone at the BBC who truly believes that has obviously never watched 24, The Wire, or Murder One.) As a token gesture we are given the series arc: a series of linked references to the finale, where cards are held close to Davies’ manly chest, and lots of rambling about the Bad Wolf or Harold Saxon.

Then Davies jumped ship, and in strides Moffatt, who writes an entire season the way he used to construct episodes: the ontological paradoxes of ‘Blink’ are sustained for an entire season, with mixed results, and you really do have to watch every episode to figure out what the hell’s going on. In a way that’s an improvement, but it’s also needlessly convoluted. Everything is potentially significant, which means that nothing occurs at face value – there are all sorts of hidden meanings and codes and layers, and sometimes I just want to watch something entertaining without constantly rewinding to pick up on the significance of this or that. I’m difficult to please, I appreciate that. It’s more substantial than Davies’ soap opera, and yet unnecessarily so. There has to be a middle ground.

But there was a middle ground. It was called Old Who, and it worked quite well, thank you very much. In the series as it was once structured you’d have separate stories of between three and six episodes, with an obligatory cliffhanger every twenty-five minutes or so. Said cliffhangers were, to be honest, usually quite silly. Let’s be honest. Either the Doctor or a companion would be forced into some sort of life-or-death situation, cornered perhaps by a grisly monster, or about to fall a great distance (as Sarah Jane memorably did in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, only for us to discover, the following week, that she’d only dropped about ten feet). The most effective cliffhangers usually involved the Time Lord himself, preferably in the presence of a female companion who could bellow “DOCTOOOOR!” at full blast just before the end credits rolled.

Then they’d have a week’s grace period, and the resolution of said cliffhanger would typically be fairly naff. ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is a prime example: the sheer joy / abject horror of seeing a Dalek levitate, as its eye stalk zooms in on a terrified Doctor, trapped at the top of a staircase, makes it all the more tedious when an unconscious Ace manages to wake up and get the door open just in the nick of time. That’s the best they could have done? Really? A few years previously, ‘Mark of the Rani’ saw Colin Baker zooming down the Blists Hill incline towards certain death in a mine cart only to be rescued, rather incredibly, by George Stephenson (whose presence in the story is foreshadowed, but still, yawn).

But all that’s forgivable, really, because the whole point behind getting the Doctor into a sticky situation would be so that you’d worry about him, and worrying about the Doctor was what keeps the show going. It was something to talk about in the playground or over the water cooler, in the days when people actually did that instead of just discussing everything on Facebook. It’s not so much that you were worrying about whether he would escape, because you knew he would, but rather that you were trying to figure out exactly how he (or, typically, someone else) would manage it. The protagonists of shows like Doctor Who are granted a sort of unofficial immortality (in the case of Doctor Who, said immortality is even given its own name, context and rulebook) and there’s an unwritten law that states that their death must be given its own gravitas and significance, and cannot be shoehorned into a backed-against-the-wall-while-the-monster-approaches situation. Consequently, central characters would seldom die in cliffhangers, and the Doctor himself never really did (regeneration usually occurred at the end of an episode, but typically as the climax of a story, rather than as an ooh-what-will-happen-next type of thing).

Perhaps that’s why I felt so let down by the end of season four, because it really felt like they were going to do something different for once, and actually regenerate the Doctor with no warning. And it’s not just the fact that it’s a crappy resolution, it’s the fact that it’s dealt with so rapidly (and yes, I know that it comes back to haunt us later with the Human Doctor, but THAT’S NOT THE POINT) and the fact that Tennant is so smug in the way that the Tenth Doctor always was when he was at his most irritating (which is right about now). And oh look, as if we needed any more shots of fawning Rose, here’s her looking upset. With teeth you could use to open beer bottles.

In contrast, New Who has thrown up a couple of spectacular two-parters, with cliffhangers that work by varying degrees of success – but this is my favourite:

I mean, it’s bloody brilliant. Aren’t you getting goose bumps just seeing it again? The story as a whole is second-rate, but having the Doctor stand up to the Daleks (and comment pithily on his own resourcefulness with a single line of dialogue) is an extraordinary moment and almost worth waiting a whole series to see. It was the first time I truly believed in Eccleston as the Doctor, and he bowed out in the next episode, which is a shame.

Anyway, here’s a quick summary. The traditional cliffhangers were usually fairly inconsequential. The resolutions were predictable or silly, in equal measure. All the same, it was a part of the show, as central and integral to its structure as the cliffhanger in a two-part Batman story. Again, those would see the dynamic duo tossed into a ludicrous situation that usually relied on Batman’s possession of an obscure gadget in his utility belt that would do the job quite nicely, thank you, and there was never any real doubt of their escape and subsequent victory at the end of the story, but altering the structure would have felt somehow cheap.

I therefore miss the multi-part Who stories, and could frankly live without Moffat’s season-length meandering, with ‘clues’ that only a mindreader could spot. I’d just like to have him – the Doctor, I mean, not Moffat, although if he throws up another episode like ‘The Wedding of River Song’ I may reconsider – strapped to a table as a mad scientist tries to cut him open, or about to be fed into a compost machine, or dangling precariously from a wire by his umbrella (no, on second thoughts, let’s never go there again). It doesn’t matter how silly it is, because silliness is part of what made Classic Who so much fun. These days it’s far slicker, far more evenly structured, and almost doomed to implode from gorging on its own worthiness, but the change in format has, I think, made it lose a part of itself. Still, Josh is happy, so I suppose that has to count for something.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: