Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Doctor Who Wants To Live Forever

Vi veri veniversum vivus vici.
- Dr. John Faust (attrib.)

This is the text of an audio ‘lecture’ that I’ll be delivering at some point in the near future.

The Queen1 once asked, somewhere else, “Who Wants to Live Forever?”  Leaving aside the fact that they then request that you touch their wart with your fingertips, let’s see if we can find an answer.  And maybe flag up why the thirty-fifth series of Doctor Who might be starting to wobble alarmingly.

Let’s start where we’ll end: Greece.  A while ago.  The Ancient Greeks had the idea that body and soul were united together eternally: first, last, always.  Of course, this was a time when mythic traditions were still being regarded as historically accurate – mostly because it didn’t do your family any harm to be related to a god a few generations back.  Even so, the Greeks noticed that bodies had an annoying tendency to… well… die.  Life was harsh and philosophy was taken seriously, but there had to be an explanation for what happened to the soul when the body refused to join in with debates for reasons other than grumpy stubbornness.  Okay, so they changed the ‘facts’ to fit their views, but hey.  Who doesn’t?

The Greeks worked on the assumption that the parts of eternity that the soul wasn't stumbling around driving a meat suit and fighting a constant losing battle against entropy, hemlock, maths and endless bloody slow-motion fights, it was in Hades.  And, as no self-respecting soul-above-ground would be seen dead without a body, they weren’t.   A soul without a body was seen as being dead.

The Greeks also had a thing for Tragedy and Gods.  We’ll come back to both in a bit, but seeing as we’ve already mentioned goths a couple of times let’s have a chat about Melmoth.  In 1820, a gentleman named Charles Maturin published his contribution to Romantic fiction, which was promptly lumped in with the Gothic novels, penny dreadfuls and other general moral-panicking works that wives and servants shouldn’t be reading.  The novel's main character swaps his soul for a bonus 150 years of world-wandering.  Melmoth bears a resemblance to – and is almost undoubtedly based on – the legend of the Wandering Jew, which itself had already been knocking around for 500 years at the time.  The Wandering Jew, so the story goes, mocked Jesus on his grim trudge to crucifixion and was cursed to walk the Earth until the Second Coming.  Both variations can be regarded as cautionary tales, carrying the same message that Rassilon delivers so plummily at the end of The Five Doctors.

A lot of the immortals in Greek myth/family history have a tendency to die and then be reborn, like Kenny Pond or Rory McCormick.  In a way this process isn’t dissimilar to god-myths all over the world (including one we’ve already touched on), the cycle of day and night, and the one genuinely immortal creature that science doesn't point at and laugh.  This intriguing wonder is
Turritopsis dohrnii, also known as 'the immortal jellyfish'.  Look it up, it’s fascinating.  Unfortunately, because Julia Roberts’ brother didn’t delightedly announce that the Doctor was half-jellyfish we’ll have to leave it noshing on plankton while we get back to why there’s so much talking in this series of Doctor Who.

You’ll have noticed all those two-parters we've been having recently.  You’ve probably also noticed the pace has slowed a little and allowed the characters to chat more.  It’s been particularly evident in the last two stories, The Girl Doctor Who Killed and The Woman Doctor Who Brought Back To Life.  Ashildr, or Lady Me, or the Knightmare Child, represents what TV Tropes might well describe as The Mistake That Returns.  Maturin’s Melmoth was part of the same movement as Mary Shelly’s wager-winning masterpiece, Frankenstein; Or; The Modern Prometheus which was published two years earlier.  In the original Prometheus legend, the Titan is punished by Zeus after giving humanity the secret of fire – his very immortality adding to the… 

Hang on.  A godlike figure who gave fire to humanity?  By Gum, that sounds familiar for some reason...

Anyway, just in case you aren’t up to speed with the story of Frankenstein (; Or; The Modern Prometheus), it's basically about a genius who, having not thought things through far enough, gives the godlike gift of life to something dead and then refuses to take responsibility for it.  (As a quick aside, apart from being an album by The Sisterhood, ‘gift’ is also German for 'poison'.)  The Monster in the book, and some of the films, is eloquent and lonely and, because of a lack of mates, punishes his creator by taking that most dear to him.  So, no potential parallels with the Doctor and Ashildr there then.  Unless there's a professionally incompetent teacher that might possibly be classed as ‘that most dear’ to the Gallifreyan? 

Yeah, Clara’s doomed. 

Other immortals in fiction include the alliterative Endless siblings who appear in Neil Gaiman’s epic Tragedy, The Sandman.  There’re many similarities between Gaiman’s Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams and Moffat’s Who, the Lord of Time, but the one that’s most obvious this week is the character of Hob Gadling.  Hob’s a gentleman who decides that living forever is easy (just plain refuse to die) and as a result of stating this slightly too loudly in the same pub as Morpheus and his sister Death, becomes part of a bet between the two.  Morpheus and Gadling agree to meet at the same tavern every hundred years until Hob's end.  No spoilers here, gang. 
Also, Morpheus’ son Orpheus descends into the underworld to retrieve the soul of Eurydice, ‘that most dear’ to him.  But that won’t be relevant until the final three-parter of this twelve-part, decade-long story.  Anyway, we’re running out of time and we need to get back to the original question.

“Who wants to live forever?” 

Let’s talk about the quote back at the start.  It’s taken from Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s astounding graphic novel, V For Vendetta.  V’s young charge Evey finds it inscribed on a mirror and asks V what’s… uh… the deal?  V tells her it means, “
By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.”  Which is pretty cool.  Evey asks where it's from, and V replies, “Nobody you’d have heard of.  A German gentleman named Dr. John Faust.”  But here V, like the Doctor, lies.  The phrase doesn’t appear anywhere in the Faust story as told by Marlowe, Goethe or Reuss.  It does however, crop up in Aleister Crowley’s The Vision and the Voice, but you'll have to wait until you're older to hear that one. 

Gods’re immortal, obviously, and the Doctor’s just told us that the Greek gods were alien.  Possibly, he’s thinking of the non-canonical story The Life Bringer that appeared in Doctor Who Comic (that’s what it’s called) a lifetime ago.  More likely he’s thinking back to The Myth Makers, when he appeared as Zeus and – as I’ve proved incontrovertibly elsewhere – became responsible for kick-starting Tragedy. 

A child destroying their parent happens a lot in Tragedy.  If you wanted to, you could argue that’s the theme of Frankenstein (; Or; The Modern Prometheus) without breaking a sweat.  It’s not a huge leap to also see it as an analogy for the process of regeneration that the immortal jellyfish undulates its way through, but let’s get back to why this season’s wobbly with some random speculation.  Ready?

Clara’s final story was told last year, she perfectly fits the role of the Hero in a textbook Tragedy structure.  Trust me.  But Jenna Coleman didn’t leave, and that knocked on into this series.   This series is a celebration of the last ten years of Doctor Who, and'll need to end with either a Time War or a slap-up party.  Slap-up parties need a lot of planning, and often cost a lot to throw.  Words however, are cheap.  Slowing down the action earlier in the run means fewer sets, costumes, special effects and so on, all the cash saved can then be splashed over a spectacular finale.

The problem is that there’s an impossible girl alive in the world who wasn’t alive before – or, at least possibly, wasn't alive last year when 2015’s arc was first being planned. 

Perhaps Ashildr’s taken over a role previously intended for someone Steven Moffat'd saved for it.  After all, how much more of a Tragedy would it be if the Doctor’s Monster turned out, rather than a random stranger created the previous week and then aged through an accelerated process, to be someone the audience already knew?

What if the Doctor’s Monster was never meant to be The Girl Who Died? 

What if she was actually The Doctor’s Daughter?

For Bev, Kev and Rev.

1.  Not that one.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Woman Who Lived (time shift)

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
- Plato

Or, if you want to be all obvious about it:

Inside every older woman is a young girl wondering what the hell happened.
- Cora Harvey Armstrong

Me:  Ye?  Ye?  Must we have that?

Him:  No, 'Me'.

Me:  Oh, 'Me'.  Yeah, okay.  Well, Ashildr's going to kill Clara and...  Osgood's going to die next week, I reckon.  I hope that they're quite careful with the way that they deal with what's obviously going to be stuff that got raised as a result of Robot of Sherwood last year.  Anyway, let's talk about-

Him:  What d'you mean?

Me:  It's...  It's going to be about ISIS. 

Him:  You sure?

Me:  Yeah, because I've seen Battlestar Galactica

Him:  I didn't think Battlestar Galactica was about ISIS.

Me:  It wasn't at the time, but-

Him:  "But it is now!"

Me:  Yeah.  Erm...  Right.  So, that was the Clara-lite episode, which means that later on there'll be an episode that's largely just got Clara in it.  Probably around about episode ten I would've thought.

Him:  It still felt like it had Clara in it.

Me:  Yeah, at the end.

Him:  Clara was in about, y'know, one fifth of the plot.

Me:  Ha!  Yeah, it felt surprisingly slight. 

Him:  It felt really short.

Me:  Which usually means you've enjoyed it. 


Him:  No, I...  I don't feel tired either, so maybe it did actually go by shorter.  Maybe that's time dilation in action.

Me:  Ha!  Could be.

Him:  That must be it.  It was moving at one-tenth the speed of light.

Me:  The start wasn't very strong.  The way it began... uh...  wasn't great.  It was better written than last week's.  Most of the dialogue was pretty good and delivered well.  I though the scenes between-

Him:  What abou-


Me:  I'll cut all that.  I'd better edit all that out.

Him:  Yeah.  Because-


Me:  Well, I don't want him reading it.  What did you think about the sonic shades?

Him:  I'm not a fan of the sonic shades. 

Me:  Did you think that when The Visitation got a mention there that the sonic shades were going to go the same way as the sonic screwdriver? 

Him:  They did that last week.

Me:  Yeah, but they'd come back.

Him:  They can't break them every week!  It can't be, "Oh my God!  They broke my sonic shades!"

Me:  I thought that, apart from some duff editing, it was well directed.  Some of the scenes between Maisie Williams and Peter Capaldi were really nicely played.  Felt quite strong.


Me:  Yes, Murray Gold, Murray Gold, Murray Gold, Murray Gold...  I think that someone might need to mention that not everything is improved by making it sound like Gremlins.  You don't need to have that much music going over everything, unless it's a cartoon. 

Him:  I still think they should just replace it all with music from Legend of Zelda.

Me:  I reckon they should get Peter Capaldi to do the music.  There's no subtlety with it.  It's really annoying.  Um...  Hades and the Underworld.  So, Clara's going to die and the Doctor's going to have to go back and get her and blah.  That's going to come up because this is... It's the whole problem with mortals and gods.  In many ways, what happened there is you've got Ashildr's - or Me's-

Him:  Ha!

Me:  She reflects the Doctor's immortality.  The two of them reflect each other back.1

Him:  But he's not immortal.  He's dying, remember?

Me:  He was at the start, but that's because Clara's not dead yet.  Although, I dunno.  Osgood's death - 'cause that's set at an earlier time...  Or it'll turn out to be the Osgood Zygon...

Him:  Maybe she gets better.

  If Osgood dies before Missy kills her, then that's going to mess up everything, isn't it?  But I think they're going to have to be very careful how they deal with it.  I'm...  I'm a little bit concerned that the time it's going out...  It feels a bit as though they're aiming, consciously, at an older audience, which is a very careless and dangerous thing to do, because this is not a show that can grow with its audience. 

Him:  Or eventually they will die.

Me:  Yes, exactly.  Y'know, 2000 AD's lifespan isn't going to be forever because it's tried to age with its audience.

Him:  They didn't think it was going to last anywhere near as long as it did, whereas Doctor Who should have a fairly good idea that it's not going to...  die anytime soon.

Me:  The themes of death and responsibility and immortality and life and living life to the full-

Him:  It's better than good versus evil.

Me:  The whole thing about mayflies and ageing...  being repeated constantly.  It feels tonally a little more confused than I thought it was.  Purple being the colour of death...

Him:  Purple's the colour of death.

Me:  Poor Prince. 

Him:  Gween is the colour of monsters.

Me:  True, yeah.

Him:  And yellow is the purple of defying death...  Or...  A portal closing.  Or...  Lion...

Me:  Did you enjoy that?

Him:  It was... More enjoyable than last week's.

Me:  Yeah, it was.  It looked good.  I dunno.  That didn't really work for me.  Okay.  So on that bombshell.

Him:  I don't even feel tired.

1.  I'm going to write a longer piece about...  stuff... so I'll keep this brief and just mention Hob Gadling, mostly to make sure that Neil Gaiman's Sandman series has been flagged up.  There are a lot of similarities between this current series and that one.2  Which is fascinating for a variety of reasons.  And, let's not forget Greek Tragedy, kids.  Or Sandman.  Or no good deed going unpunished.

2.  Anyone else reckon that the fellow from Thundercats'd watched The Unquiet Dead?  Just me then.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The Girl Who Died (time shift)

Of all the fatiguing, futile, empty trades, the worst, I suppose, is writing about writing.
- Hilaire Belloc

Or, if you want to be all obvious about it:

Curiously enough, the only thing that went through the mind of the bowl of petunias as it fell was Oh no, not again.
- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Me:  Well, I've got quite a lot I'd like to say about The Girl Who Died.  What would you like to say about it?

  I'll just let you have a go.

Me:  Ha!  Are you sure?

Slinky sea badger.

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  Okay.  So, we've got eyes and perception.  Again.  The Cloister Bell ringing .  Again.  It did feel a little like we got pulled out of a much more interesting story in order to descend into a Viking village.1

Him:  There was a more interesting story?

Me:  Yeah.  Before the titles started.  With Clara floating in space and-

Him:  Yeah.  I feel that the only link there was that that was also in the next time trailer from the previous episode. 

Me:  The TARDIS shots are really, really good this series.  When you've got someone walking out of the TARDIS and the Doctor's already-

Him:  Yes, but they do seem to be banking on that being the only thing that people notice.

Me:  Ha!  The opening section was slightly too edited.  There were no pauses at all, no beats between people's lines and it was...  It sounded really fake and false and just didn't work.  Unfortunately, an awful lot of the episode - which is quite a surprise considering who wrote it - felt forced and clunky.  Characterisation was sacrificed in favour of plot - and I think a lot of that got changed later on...  It smelled like a Matt Smith episode. 

Him:  What do you even mean by that?

Me:  Well...  Rory the Viking...  It felt like a Matt Smith story, with a couple of extra things bolted on desperately at the last minute.  It's not...  It's not as good as it thinks it is by a long chalk.  Very weak.  In my opinion.  Clara acting as the Doctor came back but didn't really get very far.

Him:  No.  What was she trying to do at the start?  What was she actually trying to do that had to be done right then?

Me:  I don't think it matters, that's not how it works.  It's supposed to be a 'rollercoaster ride'.  It was more The Romans than The Time Meddler, it was attempting to be a comedy episode, but I don't necessarily think it worked as a comedy episode.  If anything that felt like a massive step backwards.  A step backwards of about two or three years.

Him:  Lofty was weird.  He didn't belong in that time zone.

Me:  Well, he wasn't talking properly.  Although-2

Him:  That's what I mean.

Me:  There's no consistency.  It's like we we were saying previously, with Bors in The Doctor's Meditation,3 Daniel Hoffmann-Gill added a naturalism to dialogue that's written All In Capital Letters We Shall Speak Like This And There Shall Be No Shortening.  Really?  Why can't they just talk like people?4  It's alright if something like The Mire5 talk in capitals.  Russell T. Davies tended to do this when he needed to bring in prophecies that no-one'd heard of.  Speaking of which-

Him:  Would you like to list some?6

Me:  - this blinking foreshadowing of the Hybrid?  That's the second time.  It's blatantly the Doctor.  First time, oh, it's a mixture of Daleks and Time Lord and then this time, oh, it's Mire and Viking.  It's not.  It's half-human on its mother's side.  That's what it is, and that's what it'll turn out to be at the end of the series.7  I'm sure of it.  It's the only way that Steven Moffat can re-8

Him:  When's the Doctor going to remember that he's supposed to be dead?  Or dying?  Or something.

Me:  Well, he'll come back to that when he needs to.  The face explanation ties in with the whole Nuwhoniversary and gives us a chance to reflect back on the last ten years...  This is a celebration.  Which is why we got Vikings on a Spaceship.

Him:  We won't comment on that. 

Me:  And the Mire technology's essentially nanogenes, so that's a callback to all of the NuWho Doctors.

Him:  It's at least an explanation for him using the same face as someone who's already appeared.9

Me:  Yeah, it's good, it's good.  It's great as well, because it still means that Torchwood doesn't count.

Him:  Ha!

Me:  Ashildr.  Did you have any idea who she was?

Him:  I felt like I should have.  She looks familiar.

Me:  Well, she's Maisie Williams who plays a character in Game of Thrones which you won't have seen.

Him:  No.

Me:  She's very good. 

Him:  No.  She looks like a person I know.

Me:  Oh, really?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  Right. 

Him:  But I don't think it's her.

Me:  It'd been revealed that she was going to be in two episodes.10  She's a major guest star for the series and people've been guessing who'd she be for ages.  Whether she'd be Susan or Jenny or...7  But, what happened was that BBC Worldwide quite canningly in another-

Him:  'Canningly'?

Me:  Cunningly too.  There's a book coming out that ties in with all of the adventures that she gets up to between now and next week and they released the synopsis for it about a fortnight ago.  Yet, even today people were putting up lists like, 'Seven Guesses Who Maisie Williams Might Be Playing', whereas BBC Worldwide - as usual - had already told us.

Him:  You're not giving them their full name.

Me:  What? 'BBC (Licence-Fee Payers Enjoyed The Chance To Watch These Episodes For Free When They Were First Broadcast In The Sixties) Worldwide'?  Did you notice the way that babies fulfil the same role as a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias-

Him:  If they hadn't revealed whose baby that was I would've gone mad. 

Me:  Ha!

Him:  It was just everywhere.

Me:  Right, It can't be escaped.  Lot of Python in there, right up to having God in the sky.  Not very subtle.  The music was...  terrible.  Probably, largely, on purpose.  With its weird pseudo-Celtic/Scottish/Kate Bush b-side thing going on. 

Him:  But that's like the sort of things you listen to.  Only you'd listen to it remixed by Rob Zombie.

Me:  Rob Zombie doesn't do remixes but, other than that, yes.  I thought that when they suggested putting the Benny Hill Theme11 on - which Clara then somehow managed to do within seconds of having filmed it, so unless it's there as an app-

Him:  I was going to say it'll be an app.  

Me:  Yeah, okay. 

Him:  There's an app for that.

Me:  But when they suggested-

Him:  You actually did shout, "Don't give Murray Gold ideas!"

Me:  Exactly.  And then they did it.  Which is, by and large, what they've been doing with the music anyway.  It's been reined in a bit. 

Him:  Do you think they really do just use a Murray Gold app now?

Me:  Probab-  "People need to feel sad.  Track seven."

Him:  "Sad track."

Me:  "This is a funny one.  That's track five."  We haven't had that so much since Strax hasn't been in the series.  Continuing the weird references to Star Wars we had a re-enactment of the trash compactor scene.  And, the author's voice.  Now, I wonder if this was a line written in by Steven Moffat seeing as he helped co-write that, the whole "To Hell with you".12

Him:  Directed at you.

Me:  Ha!

Him:  But the Doctor wasn't breaking anything, this is the thing.  He's undoing the mistake that he's made but he's not actually causing a problem until he gives them the second one.

Me:  Yeah.

Him:  'cause, even when he does it initially it's a mistake because he doesn't realise it's going to make anyone immortal, but it's undoing the first mistake he's made. 

Me:  Do you reckon this'll be how they'll sort out killing off Clara? 

Him:  She hasn't been killed this season yet, has she? 

Me:  Well, there's got to be a way out of it.  As I've said before, we're in a time now where you can't go full-Adric again.  The author's voice and the "To Hell with you" is much weaker as a fatal flaw - and is much closer to Sandman's arc than Steven Moffat's Doctor Who usually rows.

Him:  That episode was very bizarre regardless.

Me:  Yeah. 

Him:  Do you want to complain about electric eels?

Me:  Do you want to complain about the electric eels?

Him:  That's not how they work.

Me:  What noise do electric eels make?

Him:  I don't know.

Me:  And on that bombshell.

Him:  No, no, no.  We haven't complained enough about electric eels.

Me:  Go on then. 

Him:  You're the one that's seen them.

Me:  I saw one on a show once - I'll have to double-check this now - I'm sure it was a science section on a kid's show when I was younger.  They were trying to test the voltage that was emitted from an electric eel and it blew up everything they had set up in the studio to record it. 

Him:  But they don't act like...

Me:  Batteries?  The idea was good.

Him:  I did like the idea.  I liked the concept.  The only problem is, that's not how eels work.  I guess it's not right for me to complain about it, because that's also not how time travel works. 

Me:  Well, exactly.  I think I'd probably better mention Seven Samurai, Hounds of Lucifer, Beowulf and Dad's Army as well, just to make sure I've got all of that in there. 

Him:  I thought Dad's Army was a comedy?

Me:  And on that bombshell.

1.  Or a theme park version of a Viking village anyway.  Whatever, it was nice to see St. Fagans back in Doctor Who.

2.  The word I'm about to start scrabbling for here is 'contractions'.

  Which doesn't count just as much as Jubilee doesn't, but stick with it.

4.  And if there's anything labelled 'Ye' or 'Olde' in next week's, then I'm afraid this season's tribute to the last decade might be resembling 2013's even more than the theory I'm currently flogging the ribs out of.

5.  Ah.  Nominative determinism, how we loves ya.

6.  "He Will Knock Four Times."  "You Are Not Alone."  "The Time Lord Victorious."  I mean, I could go on...

  blah blah it's the Master blah

8.  Okay, here's where that was going.  Steven Moffat's not going to leave Doctor Who without sorting out the half-human cobblers that's been stinking up the place like sprout-gas since 1996.  He sorted the regeneration issue by wrapping up the series that began in 1963 and starting it again from scratch.  (This is also the chap who, may or may not've sacrificed Idris to make a point.  And if that particular point wasn't clear enough, well, Nightmare in Silver can still be read in lots of different ways.)  In fairness, Moffat really enjoys slamming shut trap-doors opened by other writers, but isn't so great at closing the ones he's left open. 

9.  Especially if you ignore Maxil.

10.  At least.  Most of Moffat's seasons have some form of curtain-call, so I'm sure we'll see Ashildr again after next week - probably nearer when the book's out.  (Cap'n Jack's back!  Crack!  Or something.)

11.  Or Yakety Sax, to give it its actual name.

12.  Somewhere around episode eleven I predict this'll either be a line or the whole plot: "No, Doc Tor.  To Hell.  With YOU!"

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Before the Flood (time shift)

We arrived back at the lobby at zero-zero fifty-five and had to hide behind the potted palm to avoid confusion.
- Alan Moore, Chronocops, 2000 AD Prog 310

Or, if you want to be all obvious about it:

A paradox is only the truth standing on its head to attract attention
- G. K. Chesterton

Me:  Yeah...  Bootstrap paradox...

Him:  I feel like I've mentioned that at some point before.

Me:  You did.  It was Listen, last year.1

Him:  Was it?

Me:  Hmmm.  So, Beethoven.  The bit at the start where there weren't enough walls in the TARDIS...

When Yawns the Sea Badger.

Me:  Did you want to say anything about that?

Him:  Oh, yeah.  Too many walls.

Me:  Too many walls.  The fourth wall was well and truly missing there.2

Him:  Yeah, that was bizarre that bit.  What was that-?

Me:  What was that about?

Him:  "And a Merry Christmas to all of you at home."

Me:  Obviously it's just an illustration of the paradox and how it works, but it was very reminiscent of - I can't remember if it was a Time Twister or just a Future Shock, but it was in 2000 AD - about the guy who wrote Shakespeare's plays.  But that wasn't the only 2000 AD story that Before the Flood felt reminiscent of.  The other one was Chronocops by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons which was almost referenced exactly at one point, where they were hiding behind the toxic waste cans.  But there we go.  Okay.  The theme was definitely heavier.  It was different, wasn't it?

Him:  Oh yes.

Me:  In fact, I think Murray Gold's done more versions of the Doctor Who Theme than anyone else, seeing as he does twelve a year by the sounds of it. 

Him:  He doesn't tell anyone though.  Does Murray Gold do the theme music?

Me:  Yeah.  I think he changes the arrangements, yeah.

Him:  I would've thought they would've brought in...

Me:  Someone else?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  Corey Taylor from Slipknot?

Him:  Ipknot.

Me:  'Ipknot'. 

Him:  And Stone Sour.

Me:  I was a little bit disappointed he didn't go full-Cookie for that one, but there we go.  Did you recognise Peter Serafinowicz? 

Him:  No.

Me:  He was the voice of the Fisher King.  The guy who voiced Darth Maul. 

Him:  Did he not do Darth Vader?  No!  Darth Vader was the Green Cross-

Me:  Yeah, Dave Prowse.  Vader was voiced by Simba's dad, James Earl Jones.  Anyway, so the Minister of War's going to be coming up - we haven't seen that one yet. 

Him:  That might not be coming up for a very long time. 

Me:  It might not be.

Him:  It might be, y'know, an extreme trap door.

Me:  I'd give it... three weeks.  I think Clara's very dead.  She's very doomed.  

Him:  But you thought that last year.

Me:  She was doomed last year but Jenna Coleman saved her.  The way Clara behaved in that wasn't good.  And O'Donnell shouldn't have died.  O'Donnell's death was really stupid.

Him:  Well...  I get your point, but your wording could be better.  She had to die, but of the four cardinal directions available for her to check, she luckily didn't look behind her in the tiny room she'd just come out of, she didn't look in front of her because that was a wall, but she chose to look to the left - despite it being a dead end - and not to the right-

Me:  It was ridiculous.  It was obvious the Fisher King'd stopped walking right behind her.  That bit wasn't very well done.

Him:  The thing I don't get is...  It walked away.  It walked away and then it ninja'd its way back.

Me:  Ha!  I thought it was standing behind her.  The Fisher King was really good.

Him:  Walks with a purpose.

Me:  Walked with a definite purpose.  Rather than a porpoise.  It was interesting to see that Paul Kaye played Prentis as Mark Gatiss.

Him:  Yes!

Me:  Or a sort of League of Gentlemen character maybe. 

Him:  Just a general Mark Gatiss.

  It felt like Mark Gatiss, didn't it?

Him:  Yeah.  I'm surprised it wasn't to be honest.

Me:  I was a little bit disappointed with Prentis' death scene, where, for some reason, they played the wrong music over it.

  That was bizarre.  The death scenes in general were bizarre.  What was he doing to them?  Was he flicking them to death? 

  I dunno.  We never found out. 

Him:  Well, what happened?  What did he do?

Me:  We don't know. 

Him:  Why does Prentis die immediately when...  They have no wounds, no burn marks; their clothing isn't damaged.  Y'know, the Doctor in a rugby tackle did more damage to his clothing than the Fisher King could ever do.

Me:  I'm not a big fan of Slipknot, so I'm not going to say anything. 

Him:  Ipknot.

Me:  When O'Donnell was listing Martha and Rose and everything, she was really helping cement the fact that this is the NuWhoniversary...  This is a celebratory season... of the last ten years.  I think that came through very definitely there.  I thought Capaldi was brilliant.  Again, the acting was excellent throughout, but I don't think it was quite as successful as last week.  It was still very, very good indeed.

  This is what I don't get.  You can't seem to decide whether you liked it or not.  First of all you made this face after it was done, which, y'know, made it look like you wanted to kill it to bits. And then you were like, "It was great!  It was awesome!"

  There were a couple of off-beats.  The stuff that happened to O'Donnell.  That was wrong.

Him:  I think that was more bad directing than script-writing.

Me:  Well, I think it probably just said, "Peril Monkey turns here".  There was no-

Him:  The thing is though, right, she was dead regardless, the second that it knew she was there.  She wasn't getting out.  But, instead of devoting, like, two minutes to it - with her trying to hide or whatever - they just ended it like that, which is bizarre, but as far the script went, and as far as the scene and the set went...  She was dead. 

Me:  The bit with Moran pursuing Cass down the corridors, I thought that was well done.  I also though that it went on a bit too long.  The sound design was nice, but we didn't really need the Photoshop filter to show us how she sees things through sound.  Or, vibration even.

Him:  That did go on for quite a while.  I was kind of disappointed they didn't use the effects of the ghosts in the dark more often because it was really good.  They just... appear.

Me:  It was creepy.

  'Cause the first thing you see is the axe -

Me:  Yeah.

Him:  - despite the fact that the axe is behind him, because he's see-through.

Me:  It wasn't as good as last week, but the two of them together make a really strong story.  Oh yeah, and Clara is definitely, definitely doomed.  On that bombshell-

Him:  You don't want to make stagnant pond noises?

1.  No, Steven Moffat really doesn't read the blog.  Despite all the evidence to the contrary.

2.  For me it veered close to being over-pleased with itself.  And smug.  Also, the Magpie reference was, possibly, a bit too fanny.  Still, NuWhoniversary and all that.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Under the Lake (time shift)

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.
- James Thurber

Or, if you want to be all obvious about it:

I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which when you looked at it the right way, did not become still more complicated.
- Poul Anderson

These names.

Me:  So, what did you think of that then?

Him:  What did you think of that?

Me:  It reminded me a bit of The Satan Pit.  I liked the 'base under siege' aspect of it.  I thought it was incredibly strong.  It zipped by very quickly.  Really well-written, really well-acted, very well-directed.  It looked great.  Tense, edge-of-the-seat stuff.  I thought the music was really good.  I thoroughly enjoyed that.  That's the best episode we've had in a long time. 

Him:  I think I'm too tired to watch these properly.

Me:  Did you enjoy it?

Him:  Yeah, but I just don't remember any of it.

Me:  I think with this one - 'cause there're a few things that've leaked that you don't know about - this one's been told with part two first.  Which is...  Finally.  In a time-travel-

Him:  So, finally, more than fifty years into a time-travel related show they're doing something with the fact that it's a time-travel related show?

Me:  The way that it's structured - even though it's a two-parter - it does remind me of another Doctor Who story.

Him:  Okay.

Me:  It reminds me of The Ark.

Him:  Ooo...  Yeah.  That was about the only other - that was so long ago.1  That one was really good as well.

Me:  And the Monoids...  I think the Monoids might be coming back, 'cause we've seen them as hand puppets in Time of the Doctor.2

Him:  Yeah, The Ark was a good one.  The cliffhanger of the stature being finished-

Me:  Yes!

Him:  That was all really good.  That Monoid guy'd just waited there for them all to come back.

Me:  Under the Lake was very clever.  There's a named character in there, a character called Prentis, who we haven't met yet.  So, do you think the Doctor's dead?

Him:  Oh, yeah.  Definitely.

Me:  Uh huh.  There was a lot to do with sound and vision-

Him:  The second that there was the ghost out there I knew it was going to be the Doctor.  Because that's how it goes.

Me:  Well, yeah. 

Him:  It had to be, because the other ones were in the chamber and while they probably could've got out through the walls - I don't really know why they're stuck in that chamber in the first place...  Do all underwater bases have ghost-proof chambers?

Me:  Yeah, I think so.  It comes as standard.

Him:  Right.  If it had been one of the other people that went with the Doctor...  It doesn't really feel like a cliffhanger.  It feels like a spoiler. 

Me:  But if it'd been all three of them?

Him:  Yeah, that would've been cool.  But it wasn't.

Me:  That was the only bit that almost didn't work.  I knew it was going to be the Doctor - it had to be.

Him:  It had to be.

Me:  Otherwise it doesn't up the jeopardy.  It means that Clara's stuck-

Him:  I feel it would've been better if...  I dunno.  I felt like that bit lasted just slightly too long, with Clara going, "No!  No!  No!  No!  No!  NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!  NO!"


Him:  "NO!"

Me:  Ha!  It wasn't as bad as the Aliens of London one, was it?  There the endings just didn't stop.

  That at least had, like, five endings.  It wasn't one ending that was, "NO!  NO!  NO!"

Me:  We got the, "We need to talk," line in there, but it didn't go all Walking Dead which I thought was quite nice.  "But, don't you see?" got said twice.  Yeah.  Autons and the Nethersphere getting a mention was cool.  The Doctor came across as much more alien than he has done in a long time.  I like the idea that he's got the cards.

Him:  There's something bizarre with Peter Capaldi's Doctor.  He's been written in a really unique way, because he has almost no understanding of people, whereas in the past he's had complete understanding of people.

Me:  Yeah.  I know that the temptation is to say, like I just did, that he's more alien, but I think he's being written more as the god-like figure that he represents.  Like I've said before, the Doctor and the Master are essentially acting as gods and humans that encounter them...  In a weird way, humans are the fleeting ghosts that flicker through a Time Lord's existence.  Everything's temporary, because they're so much more-  Basically, they're gods.  They're immortal.  Near enough.  They could hang around forever.  It's very Greek.  The last two...  I think it's been dialled up a lot more.  Impressive stuff.  Very strong.  Were you expecting the Doctor to say it was a base under siege? 

Him:  Oh, yes.

Me:  That was great.  I've not really got much more to say.  Until we've seen the next part, it's hard to really say anything. 

Him:  It'd be easier to watch if it wasn't so late and I wasn't so tired.

Me:  It's very late now.  Can I act as a bit of a Cassandra?  Can I throw out a  semi-prediction here?  We know that the writing that the TARDIS can't translate - which, obviously we saw in The Satan Pit as well -

Him:  Why does he never assume it's just a scribble?

Me:  It's been scratched in as well.  The rest of it's-  Actually, it reminded me of Quatermass and the Pit.3

Him:  Quamertass and the Hole?

Me:  Ha!  You've got this buried thing...  It was nice seeing the Doctor put all the pieces together and uncover it as it's going along, but...  Here we go.  I think that this ghost process must be reversible.  And we know that Clara got 'infected' as well.  It must be a reversible process.  And I think that's probably going to come in...2

Him:  Maybe it's just really dark?

Me:  Could be, could be. 

Him:  "You want your grown-up Doctor Who?"

Me:  "Here's your grown-up Doctor Who!  Now, stop your weeping."

Him:  Ha!

Me:  I think we'll have to wait until next week to find out what's really going with that, but that's not a bad position to be in.  Are we going to make any noises?

Him:  I thought the next time trailer was bizarre. 

Me:  Any noises?

Him:  I just thought I'd, y'know, fling that in.

Me:  And on that bombshell!

1.  There was a really subtle nod to The Ark in The Magician's Apprentice, don't forget...

2.  I don't.

3.  And - as with Cold War - there's another underwater tribute to the Alien franchise.  Mr Fincher's this time, rather than Mr Scott's first bash.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Doctor Who and the Melting Internet

There are two classes of forecasters: those that don't know, and those that don't know they don't know.
- J. K. Galbraith

Or, if you want to be all obvious about it:

Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.
- Popular Mechanics, 1949

You join us mid-conversation, Lady and Gentleman.  Don't worry, you'll soon catch up.

Him:  I thought you meant personal news.

Me:  Ha!  No, it's not personal news.

Him:  That's why I was, like, "Am I going to hate this?"

Me:  "I'm afraid my legs're going to have to come off."

Him:  Yeah.  Or that we're moving to Uzbekistan.

Me:  Uzbekistan? 

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  No, we're not moving.  We're staying in the Arctic.

Him:  Okay.

Me:  I've got a suspicion that you didn't hear about this.

Him:  I don't think I did.

Me:  Yesterday, the BBC Doctor Who Twitter account did one of its-  It announced there was going to be an announcement.  You know like they do trailers for trailers?  This was an announcement for an announcement.  And that it was going to be 'HUGE'.  In capital letters.  And so some of the internet melted.  Then it was announced that the announcement was going to be announced at eleven o'clock.

Him:  Today?

Me:  No, no, last night.

Him:  Right.

Me:  You haven't heard about this have you?

Him:  No.

Me:  You're missing all of the promotion totally, aren't you? 

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  And, really, you're the target audience, so I'm not sure it's working as well as the BBC`d like.

Him:  Yeah, I don't know what they're trying.  Their target audience doesn't have Twitter accounts.

Me:  Ha!  I think some of them do.  Or they're on Tumblr.  So...  When they say it's going to be a huge piece of news - and this has come out of nowhere, it's all unexpected.  There's supposed to be an announcement on October 7th about something, but people seem to be thinking that's going to be about The Underwater Menace coming out on DVD at the end of the month, which everyone knows anyway-

Him:  It's coming out at the end of the month?

Me:  Yeah. 

Him:  I thought they weren't releasing it?

Me:  They're going to release it now, yeah.

Him:  You told me-

Me:  No, no, no.  It's coming out. 

Him:  But you said they were never-

Me:  They changed their minds.  Which is quite encouraging.  But, there's still been no announcement of what special features, if any, are going to be on it.  Or what's been done to cover the two missing episodes, whether they've been reconned or what, so the theory doing the rounds is still that, "It's all escaped from the BBC Canteen!"  So, when the official BBC Doctor Who account announces that it's going to give some HUGE news...  What do you imagine happens on the internet?

Sea badger!

Him:  People come up with theories.

Me:  Oh yes, oh yes.  There's  a big race - and I did it as well, of course.  What you do is come up with as many theories as possible-

Him:  In the hope that one of them's correct and you can then claim credit for it?

Me:  Yeah!  And just ignore all the ones that were wrong.  Yeah.  It's all part of the game.  And it's fun.  Right, so...  If it's going to be a HUGE piece of news about Doctor Who, what sort of theories do you think people were coming up with?  What comes to mind initially?

Him:  The Zarbi'll be back.

Me:  Ha!

Him:  That'll have been the top of everyone's list.  Ummmm.  They're going to recolour the TARDIS. 

Me:  Okay.

Him:  They're going to make it orange, to contrast with... normality.  Umm...  And, they're actually going to give the Doctor a giant man-eating rabbit as a companion.

Me:  That would've been cool.  The companion idea was one of the ones-

Him:  The man-eating rabbit?

Me:  No.  that there might be a companion-

Him:  Is the man-eating rabbit appearing?  Is that a thing that I've correctly guessed?

Me:  No, you haven't.  No-one got it right.  There's a new spin-off series.

Him:  Steven Moffat finally got his spin-off series?

Me:  Ha!  Sort of.  It's being written by someone who's not Steven Moffat though-

Him:  Oh.

Me:  And it's called Class.  So, what do you think that it might be about?

Him:  Are you sure it isn't being written by Steven Moffat?  'cause he sure managed to make Chalk disappear.

Me:  Ha!  Oddly enough, as soon as it was announced I did put up "Chalk Version 2.0"!  It's going to be set in Coal Hill school and it's going to follow teenagers-

Him:  That sounds incredibly dull.

Me:  It's going to follow teenagers and it's going to be all about alien inv-

Him:  It's either going to be incredibly dull or ethically wrong.

Me:  'Ethically wrong'?  Why 'ethically wrong'?

Him:  Because you shouldn't be going to schools...  It's just... No.  You shouldn't be involving children.  Especially not all these children who seem to have some kind of...  I can't tell if they're bad actors or if they're...  They were in some sort of-

Me:  Oh!  In the last-

Him:  Yeah.  The special care unit who can talk to the dead and speak to fairies and stuff.

Me:  Okay.

Him:  And who tell terrible jokes about finding x.  That's probably why Chalk failed.

Me:  The problem with Chalk-1

Him:  I wouldn't know, because it's gone.

Me:  Yeah, it's gone.  It doesn't exist anywhere, which is pretty good going 'cause-

Him:  I'd probably watch it, but it's not there.

Me:  You can get hold of Edison's Frankenstein film but you can't find Chalk.  It's really weird.  What else isn't out there?

Him:  Do you mean Go On?

Me:  'Go On'?

Him:  Go On.

Me:  Was this the Mrs Doyle spin-off series?

Him:  Ha!  No, this was one of Matthew Perry's series.

Me:  Oh!  This was the one that just vanished, wasn't it?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  They made, like, two episodes and it-

Him:  No, they made a whole season in 2012 and it was great.  It just doesn't exist anymore. 

Me:  It's weird, isn't it?  Very odd indeed.

Him:  And then you can't watch any of Matthew Perry's Second Chance.

Me:  Was it called Second Chance or Matthew Perry's Second Chance?

Him:  There was another TV show called Second Chance...

Me:  So it was called Matthew Perry's Second Chance?

Him:  But it's not, it was one of the first things he was in.

Me:  Oh!  Before he was in Friends?

Him:  Yeah.  He's really young in it.

Me:  So it wasn't even his second chance?

Him:  No, it was his first chance.  Only one episode of that seems to exist.


Him:  And I'd like to see the rest of it, because it's typical comedy where, y'know, people laugh at every joke and all the actors take pauses because they know the audience is going to be laughing.

Me:  Chalk... didn't... get that.  That was part of the problem.  It got commissioned for a second series before the first...  It was very unlucky.  Anyway, Class.  It was really clever the way the BBC did it.  The Doctor Who sections of the internet basically melted, Doctor Who fans-

Him:  They melted?

Me:  - of a certain age, had decided that obviously this meant there was going to be an announcement about the missing episodes.  Finally.

Him:  Definitely.

Me:  Yeah.  But no.  So, they're not happy.

Him:  There're going to be Matt Smith flavour sweets called... umm...

Me:  What flavour would Matt Smith be?  Licorice?

Him:  Yes.  And it's going to be called-

Me:  'Smiffies'.

Him:  I don't even know.  I spent about a minute there trying to think of something clever and... No.  There's nothing.

Me:  Well, I think Class is eight forty-five minute episodes and it's going to be on BBC3, which'll be online by then...  It's just going to be an online channel.2

Him:  Is it going to be any good?

Me:  Well, I hadn't heard of the guy who's writing it but-

Him:  Is this not what happened-

Me:  It's 'Young Adult' stuff.

Him:  Wasn't Futurama's goal to try and spend all the money they were making from The Simpsons so it would just die?  But then they both got really...

Me:  Successful?

Him:  A similar thing happened with Family Guy, I'm sure.  That has about nineteen spin-off series and they just won't die.  There's more money and, "I just don't wanna write this anymore."

Me:  I don't think it's that.  I think it's an attempt to replicate the success of Doctor Who3 or at least spin-off from the success of Doctor Who.  It'll help BBC3...  The problem is, a lot of Doctor Who fans seem to think the show's being made for them, which it isn't.  And it's easy to forget that.

Him:  But they're the only ones who get the Twitter updates, so...

Me:  Well, yeah, but the audience for this particular series will be on Twitter.  It's the 'Young Adult' thing again.  It's filling the 'gap' between The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood.

Him:  I don't really think a balance of those would be a good thing, mixing the cast of The Sarah Jane Adventures and the script of Torchwood.

Me:  Ha!  Well... yes.  You've not seen any Torchwood, have you?

Him:  No.

Me:  You've only heard my opinion-

Him:  You seem to think it's just awful, so...

Me:  Oh, it is.  It's absolutely appalling.

Him:  But you didn't watch the only one that's supposed to be watchable though.

Me:  No, I haven't.  Children of Earth.  Which was followed by Miracle Day, which was a return to form apparently and basically killed the series dead.

Him:  And what about that one phase in every transition to a Cyberman that they usually forget to show?

Me:  What?  The high-heel stage?

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  Good grief, that episode is so bad it's almost good.  It's awful.

Him:  Did you not have fun watching it to laugh at?  Or was it not that bad, or was it too bad?  Had it crossed the line twice?4

Me:  The first ten minutes of the first episode were okay.  I thought, "This could be alright."  And then, after that-4


Me:  - but that's just my take on it.  It's only an opinion.  No-one sets out to make bad...

Him:  You don't know that.

Me:  No.  Well, Curse of Fatal Death...  Just kidding.  So, fair play to the BBC, they did everything they needed to do and Class got HUGE promotion, so that's good.  This`ll be an unexpected update that`ll surprise people.

Him:  Okay.

Me:  And then back to usual.

Him:  Okay.  We don`t need to make noises because you`re typing it.

Me:  That`s true.  And on that bombshell!

1.  Kroll bless the melty internet...

2.  Which means that Class won't - and can't - be canon.

3.  Take a bow Primeval, Robin Hood, Merlin, Atlantis and so on.

4.  Okay, I'd better explain what happened between myself and Torchwood to balance this hatchet job out.

For the last ten years I've swapped Christmas Day and Boxing Day around.  Christmas Day has become a leap day for me.  Basically, I lounge around and watch a box set in one go - stopping for a curry at the halfway point.  The extended edition of Lord of the Rings wasn't a great idea - I was experiencing Orc Fatigue by the end of the fifth disc and I've not watched it since.  Anyway, Doctor Who'd come back all spangly, brash and exciting and there was I, living without TV or an internet connection.  I did share the cave with an invisible Wampa, but that's a whole other story.

I'd read about Torchwood in Doctor Who Magazine, one eye shut to avoid spoilers, and it sounded like a great idea, exciting and fresh and new.  So, I treated myself to the Season One boxset - which looks lovely to this day - and lined up the discs ready for full-on immersion.  It started so promisingly...

After the first ten or so minutes I was getting nervous.  Now, it's not impossible that all the fault for what I'm about to type lies with me.  Opinions and all that.  I made a conscious decision to stop watching TV in 2003 and that's not been a problem.  I still keep track of what's going on in the world and I'll happily shell out for a box set if it catches my fancy, but on the whole I find there's not enough hours in the day without TV.  Of course, this means that when I do watch TV shows, I'm coming at them from a slightly different place to a lot of the audience.  And ten minutes into the first episode of Torchwood I was getting nervous because what I was watching just wasn't very good.  And I really, really wanted it to be good.

If anything, it went downhill, gathering pace with each episode.  The tone was baffling, the show seemed to have no idea what it was or who it was aiming at, which is fair enough for a show that was, in its own way, trailblazing.  I'd had enough time away from Doctor Who to get the sense that this was the kind of show that the fans of the more adult-themed novels that pumped out relentlessly during the Wilderness Years really wanted.  Which is ludicrous.  I've said it before and I'll damn well say it again: Doctor Who cannot grow with its audience or, eventually, it won't have one.  Because they'll all be dead.  Sorry, but that's how life works. 

The main problem that Torchwood suffered from - in my opinion - was that it was fan fiction, pure and simple.  And fan fiction's not mainstream by its very nature.  The Sarah Jane Adventures was more successful as a series than Torchwood for several reasons, but the main one was its appeal.  Nostalgic Doctor Who fans could enjoy it just as much as the younger audience the show was targeted at.  It didn't hurt that the characters were sympathetic and, in many cases, the writing was sharper than both Torchwood and, I'd argue, several episodes of post-Doomsday Doctor WhoTorchwood just didn't have that.  It wanted to be an Angel to Doctor Who's Buffy, but that wasn't going to happen because Doctor Who already filled the Angel position in the Whoniverse.  It's a family show.  While it's fine to push the limits - Doctor Who's been "too scary for kids" since Barbara banged her head in that junkyard - there are limits.  Oddly enough, The Curse of Fatal Death remains a prime example of what happens when those limits are stumbled over, and many of its flaws are identical to Torchwood's.  Which is weird.

In the end, the only way I managed to get through the box set marathon - and I accept that it wasn't an ideal way of watching the show - was to pretend it was a modern Police Squad

I gave Torchwood the benefit of the doubt - trailblazing's not easy - and borrowed the first few episodes of the second series from a chum.  It... wasn't for me.  Later on, I tried listening to the audios that cropped up on Radio 4.  Same problems.  I know that Children of Earth has a great reputation - I still haven't seen it - and that Miracle Day doesn't.  I also know that any exploration of why the Doctor chose Peter Capaldi's face that might be coming up in the next few weeks can totally discount the actor's appearance in Children of Earth, because it has to. 

Doctor Who's a mainstream family show and... well.  That's it.  Nothing else matters.  Or counts.

I can see Torchwood as a brave experiment now; The Sarah Jane Adventures definitely learned from the mistakes its elder stablemate made.  We'll see how Class fares soon enough.  Class is going to benefit hugely from its association with Doctor Who, but it won't be Doctor Who.  It can, of course, build on the Time Lord's achievements and, hopefully it'll become something glorious, exciting, revolutionary and HUGE. 

Y'know, like Torchwood wasn't.