Posts Tagged With: utopia

Have I Got Whos For You (half rice, half chips edition)

In the news this week: there is general panic in supermarkets up and down the country as Donna and Martha struggle to keep the Tenth Doctor away from the ice cream.

An alternative, previously unseen angle from the Apollo 11 moon launch fifty years ago throws up a disturbing sight.

And the full, unseen edition of the poster for Patrick Stewart’s new Star Trek vehicle shows exactly what Picard was staring at off to the right.

Elsewhere, the Thirteenth Doctor’s pleased when her Amazon order shows up.

And a deleted exchange from ‘The Sound of Drums’ proves to be oddly prophetic for Boris Johnson.

Talking of Boris, his announcement during last week’s debate that “we must get off the hamster wheel of doom” kind of gave me an idea.

Finally, this week’s recipe, which has no ingredient lists or method, and consists instead of a single instruction from the War Doctor. “Great men are forged in fire,” he tells us. “It is the privilege of lesser men to light the flame.”

Be good, and if you can’t be good, be careful. And if you can’t manage that, remember the date.

 

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The War Master in the Night Garden

In 2007, Doctor Who fans were gifted with the finest Master to grace the screen since Roger Delgado. He was suave, he was eloquent, he was angry and malicious, he was…well, he was British, which probably helped. Unfortunately he lasted only a minute and a half before getting shot by an insect and regenerating into John Simm.

It was such a pity. Derek Jacobi was born to play the Master, and for just a moment or two, he did it brilliantly. His replacement was a gurning, dancing clown, manic and ridiculous and – it must be acknowledged – perfectly matched opposite Tennant, but not always an easy watch. Things didn’t improve when he returned with a hoodie, an inexplicable penchant for cannibalism and a secret plan for cloning himself, leading to what is affectionately known as the show’s Being John Malkovich moment. It would be years before we saw the version of the Simm Master that I’d always wanted to see – sneering, reserved and (for a change) respectably dressed, and even if that turns out to be his last appearance, his turn in ‘The Doctor Falls’ was a cracking way to go out.

But enough of this, because we were here to discuss Jacobi – who, having turned in a memorable performance in ‘Utopia’, promptly toddled away back into the land of romantic comedy-dramas, bad sitcoms and the occasional CBeebies bedtime story. He tangoed in Halifax, helped build the Titanic and endured a love-hate relationship with Magneto. Recently we saw him lock horns with the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society in A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. But of his Master, there was nothing – until last December, when he teamed up for a Big Finish audio series entitled Only The Good, in which we got to see the reincarnated renegade in action during the Time War, before he fled to the end of the universe.

What to say about the War Master set? Well, it’s broadly good, although it opens with a largely inconsequential opening story with people I didn’t care about on a forgettable planet that’s being besieged by Daleks. Stories two and four are better, although in one of them the Master is at his most un-Masterlike (the title of this particular story is ‘The Good Master’, so it’s not exactly a spoiler) and it’s initially rather disconcerting to witness him behaving like the disguised human he would eventually become. Of the four, ‘Sky Man’ is far and away the best, despite – or perhaps because – it is a story in which the Master barely features, instead allowing his erstwhile companion Cole to take centre stage. Cole himself is worthy, if rather dull, but if the story’s conclusion is more or less mapped out in its opening conversation it’s still devastatingly effective when it happens.

It also definitively answers one of the questions that the fans have been arguing about for years: namely, was it really Jacobi’s Master in the Time War? The naysayers point out that he states he was ‘a naked child found on the coast of the silver devastation’; similarly John Smith remembers growing up in Ireland with his parents Sydney and Verity, but that’s fabricated, fourth wall-breaking codswallop. This is a slightly younger, sprightlier version of the man we saw in ‘Utopia’ – a man saddled with the weight of twenty years of fruitless labour and a lifetime of false memories, plus the aforementioned insect. Bringing him back was a no-brainer. If you want a resurrected Time War Master, and Jacobi is a narrative fit, why the hell wouldn’t you sign him up if he was available and willing?

It’s a pity we won’t get to see this incarnation meet up with John Hurt: that would have been a heck of a show (and yes, I know it kind of undermines the series 3 arc; don’t tell me they couldn’t have found a workaround for that). But three decent stories out of four seems to be par for the course for BF sets these days, and it’s fun to hear Jacobi casually toss aside supporting characters like sacrificial pawns, outwit the Daleks and occasionally struggle with his conscience – or at least appear to struggle. Unfortunately the story’s conclusion makes a second series rather difficult, for reasons I won’t give away (although you’ve likely figured them out already), and it seems a shame to essentially ditch this new incarnation of the Master just as we’re getting to know him.

But here’s how you terrify your kids: you get them to sit through ‘Utopia’ just before bed, and then you put the In The Night Garden soundtrack on the bedroom CD player.

My views on In The Night Garden are well-documented, if by well-documented you mean eight hundred and fifty words defending the BBC and a couple of doctored photos. I love it because it works and because I do not understand why it works. If that sounds a little odd, it’s because these days it’s mostly anomalous – fan theory is endemic in just about everything, and it is a strange phenomenon, in this enlightened age, to enjoy something because you don’t get it. Twenty-first century media is all about the How and Why, and it’s killing the industry: the rare glimpses behind the scenes that we got in the 70s and 80s are now a regular fixture; outtakes and bloopers have spread like a rash on YouTube; we know everything about a story before we see even the first trailer. One can only hope that Chibnall’s reign – taking place, as it does, behind a security net to rival a Presidential visit, or even a Blade Runner location shoot – goes some way towards reinvigorating the show and bringing back the sense of wonder it once had, and he’s only going to manage that if he slows down on the goddamn press releases.

But no, In The Night Garden is wonderful television: calm, serene and just the right side of weird. Of course grown-ups find it odd. Grown-ups aren’t the target audience. This is TV for the very young, meticulously researched and painstakingly constructed, something that seems to escape the notice of the many parents I talk to who still seem to labour under the ridiculous misapprehension that when the BBC are making TV programmes they simply turn up in a TV studio and wing it. That’s not how it’s done, and the end results look weird because to babies and toddlers the whole world looks weird. (If people really think this is a new thing, they’d be wise to hop onto YouTube and find the little surviving footage that still exists of the oft-forgotten Wizbit. If you’re going to tell me that they’re screwing up our children, it is vital to acknowledge that the process began at least thirty years ago, and probably long before that.)

A while ago, I did a mashup that fused footage from Bing Bunny with some of Mark Rylance’s Wolf Hall dialogue. It was reasonably coherent, and exploring the darker side of Flop’s affable, endless patient personality was the most fun I’d had in a good long while. It also got me into hot water with Aardman, who didn’t like the juxtaposition of ‘adult material’ with programmes meant for kids. The bottom line is that however many disclaimers you include in the description – and however many warnings you tag on the front end – parents are going to let their children watch it, and Aardman were understandably twitchy about compromising the sickeningly wholesome reputation of one of their flagship programmes. (There was the small matter of copyright infringement as well, which I’ve always thought was a little petty given that it was an unmonetised video, but that’s their prerogative.)

But there I was, listening to the War Master set and thinking…wouldn’t it be wonderful to fuse some of the dialogue from this and dump it into a few of the Night Garden episodes? What if the lurid, excessively safe world of Igglepiggle and his friends were bombarded by a quite different and overtly sinister narrator who sounded exactly like the one whose unreconstructed tenor warbles through each of the show’s 100-odd episodes? What if we piled on the filters, added a bit of slow motion and ran the theme song through the editing suite? What could possibly go wrong?

The results, I hope, speak for themselves – and if they’re a little freakish, that’s a good thing. This owes a lot to the black and white Teletubbies video that’s doing the rounds (you know, the one with Joy Division), although it’s less of a mood piece and more of a meditation; it even attempts to tell some sort of story. There are two bits of dialogue, by the way, lifted directly from ‘Utopia’ rather than the War Master set; bonus points to anyone who can work out what they are. And yes, the ending is a bit Blackadder. No apologies.

Oh, and it’s in black and white because it looks cool. Isn’t that a pip?

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Godel, Escher, Dalek

Thirteen years ago, an old friend – a programmer, musician and one of the smartest people I know – introduced me to the fabulous romp through logic that was Gödel, Escher, Bach.

I don’t pretend to understand any of what I read of it. Jon once told me that he couldn’t function in a world where he wasn’t allowed to express logic, and I, conversely, couldn’t function in a world where I am forced to do so. Logic works for me as a concept, but I have a lot of difficulty engaging with it. I have a copy of the book on my shelf these days, having finally bought it a couple of years ago, but it’s still in immaculate condition because I’ve only dipped into it a few times since then, attempting a serious read once or twice but never making it past the introduction. Nonetheless, it is on my list of desert island books, along with Ulysses and Don DeLillo’s Underworld – all books that I’d be happy to take to a desert island because there, bereft of social media and old Doctor Who, I’d have no excuse not to finish them

Back in a landlocked county, I fear it may be a while before I get through the damned thing. Still, I’ve toyed with it, and some parts resonate, and I have carried them with me for years. This is down to a marriage of form and content: Hofstadter’s turn of phrase is wonderful, and the ideas he generates are mindbending. The works of Lewis Carroll are a recurring theme, and in one sequence, he includes a translation of Jabberwocky in French and German. (Hofstadter wasn’t the first to do this, of course, but the verse-by-verse layout allows for an in-depth comparison.) Perhaps it’s because of the poem’s suspected origin, or perhaps it’s because of some of the language in the original, but it works much better in German. Consider these three opening verses:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

“Il brilgue: les tôves lubricilleux
Se gyrent en vrillant dans le guave.
Enmîmés sont les gougebosqueux
Et le mômerade horsgrave.”

“Es brillig war. Die schlichten Toven
Wirrten und wimmelten in Waben;
Und aller-mümsige Burggoven
Die mohmen Räth’ ausgraben.”

You see what I mean.

But it was the crab canon that always got me: the concept of a conversation that plays forwards and then backwards, where each line of dialogue acquires new meaning when then preceded by a line that initially followed it. This all sounds rather complicated, so here’s how Hofstadter does it.

[Achilles and the Tortoise happen upon each other in the park one day while strolling.]

Tortoise: Good day, Mr. A.
Achilles: Why, same to you.
Tortoise: So nice to run into you.
Achilles: That echoes my thoughts.
Tortoise: And it’s a perfect day for a walk. I think I’ll be walking home soon.
Achilles: Oh, really? I guess there’s nothing better for you than walking.
Tortoise: Incidentally, you’re looking in fine fettle these days, I must say.
Achilles: Thank you very much.
Tortoise: Not at all. Here, care for one of my cigars?
Achilles: Oh, you are such a philistine. In this area, the Dutch contributions are of markedly inferior taste, don’t you think?
Tortoise: I disagree, in this case. But speaking of taste, I finally saw that Crab Canon by your favorite artist, M.C. Escher, in a gallery the other day, and I fully appreciate the beauty and ingenuity with which he made one single theme mesh with itself going both backwards and forwards. But I am afraid I will always feel Bach is superior to Escher.
Achilles: I don’t know. But one thing for certain is that I don’t worry about arguments of taste. De gustibus non est disputandum.
Tortoise: Tell me, what’s it like to be your age? Is it true that one has no worries at all?
Achilles: To be precise one has no frets.
Tortoise: Oh, well, it’s all the same to me.
Achilles: Fiddle. It makes a big difference, you know.
Tortoise: Say, don’t you play the guitar?
Achilles: That’s my good friend. He often plays, the fool. But I myself wouldn’t touch a guitar with a ten-foot pole.

[Suddenly the Crab, appearing from out of nowhere, wanders up excitedly, pointing to a rather prominent black eye.]

Crab: Hallo! Hullo! What’s up? What’s new? You see this bump, this from Warsaw – a collosal bear of a man – playing a lute. He was three meters tall, if I’m a day. I mosey on up to the chap, reach skyward and manage to tap him on the knee, saying, “Pardon me, sir, but you are Pole-luting our park with your mazurkas.” But WOW! he had no sense of humor – not a bit, not a wit – and POW! – he lets loose and belts me one, smack in the eye! Were it in my nature, I would crab up a storm, but in the time-honored tradition of my species, I backed off. After all, when we walk forwards, we move backwards. It’s in our genes, you know, turning round and round. That reminds me – I’ve always wondered, “which came first – the Crab or the Gene?” That is to say, “Which came last – the Gene, or the Crab?” I’m always turning things round and round, you know. It’s in our genes, after all. When we walk backwards we move forwards. Ah me, oh my! I must lope along on my merry way – so off I go on such a fine day. Sing “ho!” for the life of a Crab! TATA! Ole!

[And he disappears as suddenly as he arrived.]

Tortoise: That’s my good friend. He often plays, the fool. But I myself wouldn’t touch a ten-foot Pole with a guitar.
Achilles: Say, don’t you play the guitar?
Tortoise: Fiddle. It makes a big difference, you know.
Achilles: Oh, well, it’s all the same to me.
Tortoise: To be precise one has no frets.
Achilles: Tell me, what’s it like to be your age? Is it true that one has no worries at all?
Tortoise: I don’t know. But one thing for certain is that I don’t worry about arguments of taste. Disputandum non est de gustibus.
Achilles: I disagree, in this case. But speaking of taste, I finally heard that Crab Canon by your favorite composer, J.S. Bach, in a concert the other day, and I fully appreciate the beauty and ingenuity with which he made one single theme mesh with itself going both backwards and forwards. But I am afraid I will always feel Escher is superior to Bach.
Tortoise: Oh, you are such a philistine. In this area, the Dutch contributions are of markedly inferior taste, don’t you think?
Achilles: Not at all. Here, care for one of my cigars?
Tortoise: Thank you very much.
Achilles: Incidentally, you’re looking in fine fettle these days, I must say.
Tortoise: Oh, really? I guess there’s nothing better for you than walking.
Achilles: And it’s a perfect day for a walk. I think I’ll be walking home soon.
Tortoise: That echoes my thoughts.
Achilles: So nice to run into you.
Tortoise: Why, same to you.
Achilles: Good day, Mr. A.

The bit with the crab reads like Beckett, presumably on purpose, but the whole thing is brilliantly written, and I marvel upon it today just as I did over a decade ago.

“What does this have to do with anything?” you’re asking. Well, in the first instance, yesterday morning I stuck this on my Facebook wall timeline.

The end of top posting!

> What do we want?

Now!

> When do we want it?

Some among you will recognise this, of course, as an adaptation of an old joke:

A. Top posters.

Q. What’s the most annoying thing about usenet forums?

Later that morning, Gareth said “I wonder what Douglas Hofstadter thinks of top-posting, and what he could do with it.”

I replied:

“Curiously I had similar thoughts, although they mostly ran along the lines of ‘This reminds me of a passage in underground classic Gödel, Escher, Bach, a book I really should read again.’

Or, to put it another way:

A book I really should read again: Gödel, Escher, Bach, in a classic underground passage. Although they mostly ran along the lines. Curiously, I had similar thoughts.”

(Which works, up to a point, if by ‘underground’ you mean this.)

I then wondered about Doctor Who – a show which, in its most recent form, has become as obsessed with time travel as a form of narrative as, for example, certain episodes of Red Dwarf. Loops and holes and time-lagged conversations are all part-and-parcel of Moffat’s array of tricks and techniques. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. The across-the-years conversation in ‘Blink’, for example, as Sally fills in the gaps in the Doctor’s transcript, is absolutely breathtaking. His overuse of ‘Run, you clever boy, and remember’, on the other hand, is a disaster (not least because it’s a recurring phrase that’s different every time we hear it). You have to know when to stop, and Moffat seemingly doesn’t. But that’s OK, because he’s going to bring back the [spoiler] and then the [spoiler], and then [spoiler] will visit [spoiler] and [spoiler]. And that’s just the yellow ones.

But is there a way, perhaps, of making some Doctor Who scenes palindromic? In other words, could we tell them forwards and then backwards and have them make sense? One sequence in particular, from ‘Utopia’ (an episode I’ve watched recently) stood out, largely because the greeting between the Doctor and Jack Harkness could be interpreted as a greeting or a parting. For example, here’s how the scene reads forwards:

JACK: Doctor.

DOCTOR: Captain.

JACK: Good to see you.

DOCTOR: And you. Same as ever. Although, have you had work done?

JACK: You can talk.

DOCTOR: Oh yes, the face. Regeneration. How did you know this was me?

JACK: The police box kind of gives it away. I’ve been following you for a long time. You abandoned me.

DOCTOR: Did I? Busy life. Moving on.

JACK: Just got to ask. The Battle of Canary Wharf. I saw the list of the dead. It said Rose Tyler.

DOCTOR: Oh, no! Sorry, she’s alive.

JACK: You’re kidding.

DOCTOR: Parallel world, safe and sound. And Mickey, and her mother.

JACK: Oh, yes!

MARTHA: Good old Rose.

And backwards:

MARTHA: Good old Rose.

JACK: Oh, yes!

DOCTOR: Parallel world, safe and sound. And Mickey, and her mother.

JACK: You’re kidding.

DOCTOR: Oh, no! Sorry, she’s alive.

JACK: Just got to ask. The Battle of Canary Wharf. I saw the list of the dead. It said Rose Tyler.

DOCTOR: Did I? Busy life. Moving on.

JACK: The police box kind of gives it away. I’ve been following you for a long time. You abandoned me.

DOCTOR: Oh yes, the face. Regeneration. How did you know this was me?

JACK: You can talk.

DOCTOR: And you. Same as ever. Although, have you had work done?

JACK: Good to see you.

DOCTOR: Captain.

JACK: Doctor.

Which works surprisingly well. And, of course, it means that Martha is a crab, which I don’t think anyone would necessarily dispute.

“That’s all very well, James,” I can hear you not really asking. “But it would be better still if we could actually see it.”

Oh, go on then.

It’s as near-as-dammit a recreation as I could manage. Part of the problem is that certain lines of dialogue end on a shot of someone’s head, and it is to that same head that we cut when I paste in the previous line – resulting in an unfortunate twitch as the expression or position of their face changes from one frame to the next. I got round this by interposing shots of Martha, whose role is to stand there silently and look doe-eyed at the Doctor, but there are only so many times you can do that.

Still. The idea has potential. This could feasibly be the first in a series. There are other scenes that will work. Probably. I’ll find them, if I read through every transcript. Which I’ll probably do. But at some point I really should finish reading the Hofstadter.

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