Sunday, 29 November 2015

Heaven Sent (time shift)

We are what we repeatedly do.
- Aristotle

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

"Just you think about it," said Crowley relentlessly.  "You know what eternity is?  You know what eternity is?  I mean, d'you know what eternity is?  There's this big mountain, see, a mile high, at the end of the universe, and once every thousand years there's this little bird-"
- Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens

Me:  What did you think?

Him:  I think it's a terrible name.  What did you think?

Me:  About the Doctor's descent into the Underworld?  I thought it was really good.

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  Even having seen Cube, Triangle, The Prestige, Timecrimes and Dark City.1

Him:  Oh, you'd already written down The Prestige?

Me:  Yeah.

Him:  Before I told you it?

Me:  Uh huh.  I think if we're just going to say positive stuff we need to talk about Peter Capaldi's performance...

Space Badger!

Him:  It was...  Yeah...  I can't even put it into words.  He...  He just had to talk to himself.  But he did it really well.  

Me:  It was great.  The moment-  Oh!  Groundhog Day. 

Him:  It gets away with the Groundhog Day element though, because it uses it in a different way.

Me:  Yeah. 

Him:  It uses it in a really clever way. 

Me:  It was good, wasn't it?

Him:  Yes. 

Me:  I think Steven Moffat should get...  Well.  Some praise, or maybe an award, for that. 

Him:  Really?

Me:  Yeah.  That's the one he's been building towards.  It's the one he wants an award for, isn't it?  And next week, with Gallifrey being back and everything...  So, the Hybrid.  Did that come as a shock?

Him:  That was a very big surprise.

Me:  Ha!  How long've we been predicting that now?  Eleven weeks?2

Him:  I think I'm going to have a heart attack and die from that surprise.

Me:  And that's why he left Gallifrey, and it'll turn out he's half-human on his mother's side...  Do you think he's going to regenerate next week?  Who's regenerating, do you think?

Him:  Probably Clara.

Me:  Ha!  Also...  Fair play to Murray Gold. 

Him:  Do you think he did well in that one?

Me:  I thought the music was really good, yeah.  I liked the little tiny moment that sounded just like-

Him:  That sounded like Peter Davison stuff?

Me:  Yeah, that callback.

Him:  Sort of keyboard, synthesiser type music.  As opposed to the orchestral music.

Me:  So, I suppose technically I was right, and it was a multi-Doctor episode. 

Him:  Yes, with many, many, many, many Doctors.  I liked the way that episode starts about a third of the way through. 

Me:  Seven thousand years in-

Him:  Seven thousand years, but...  It doesn't start at the start. 

Me:  No, it doesn't.

Him:  Because it wouldn't have been as effective. 

Me:  But then, the film Triangle doesn't start at the start either. 

Him:  No.  But you said the trailer spoils everything with that.

Me:  Yeah, it does.  I'm looking forward to next week now.  There's not much else we can say beyond that, other than that it was great.

Him:  Yeah.  Something...  I'm glad they didn't show it as well. 

Me:  The Veil?

Him:  The Veil.  Because...  there's something a lot scarier about the unknown. 

Me:  The thing you don't show is more frightening.

Him:  And I loved the concept of being able to see what it sees, but not being able to see it.  There's a boss in Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass that does that, but for such a short period of time that you wonder why they even did it.  It's an invisible crab thing, but you can see what it sees on the top screen-

Me:  Oh, right.

Him:  -and you have to try and line it up.  I really liked it, but it lasts, like I said, for about ten seconds.  Heaven Sent did it quite effectively, because he's got to spend ages figuring out how it all works, where it is at all times, how you can get away from it for the maximum amount of time...

Me:  Yeah.  You don't remember the butler from Tomb Raider training levels?

Him:  Sadly not.

Me:  Okay.  I don't think there's much else we can say here.  We'll have to wait until next week now really.  It's the middle part of a three-parter. 

Him:  What was with the bit with all the arrows pointing to the sand? 

Me:  I'm not hundred per cent sure about that.  He didn't seem to do anything with it, did he?

Him:  No.

Me:  And we didn't see him drawing the arrows.  And we don't see who wrote 'I am in 12' either.3

Him:  Well, he must've written it. 

Me:  And then buried it?  'Cause it resets, doesn't it?

Him:  Yeah.  But...  Which is weird, because why did it reset and leave that written under there?  If that room with the arrows reset, why are the arrows still there?

Me:  I dunno.

Him:  And why...  It doesn't entirely reset, because, for instance, the clothes were still there.  And like I said, at one point, the very first Doctor to've gone there must've been wandering around naked after leaving his clothes there.  It's the only way they could've been left by the fire.  But it was cool how they repeatedly traded them off, so it does explain why they didn't rot or anything like that.

Me:  Yeah.  It's an ongoing process that just goes on and on and on and on.

:  I feel that falling into the lake would... not exactly have been a terrifying experience for the first twenty or so of them.  Until the skulls started becoming visible.

Me:  Yeah, it was clever.  Steven Moffat's kind of declared that the one he's written for Christmas was going to be the final story he was going to write.  So, I think what we're going to see here - even though he's still going to carry on, because he's been 'persuaded to stay' or whatever -

Him:  This is going to be what he's always been building up to.

Me:  Yeah, this is wrapping it up.  This is really the end of the Time War. 

Him:  Well, that was...  That was brilliant.

Me:  It was, wasn't it.  It was excellent.  I'm hoping next week's is as good.  And seeing as -  You were saying about the magic beans and...  I think the money's being spent on next week's episode.  And I think that's why this series has had so much talking and everything. 

Him:  The talking's been effective though.

Me:  It has.  It's good.

Him:  We haven't even commented on the harder-than-crystal wall.  That is... amazing.  It's really clever.

Me:  Just bashing his way through it over time.  Speleogenesis: making a cave. 

Him:  And after seven thousand years, there's still been no dent in it.

Me:  And on that bombshell.

Him:  Yeah.

1.  And Moon - forgot about Moon - amongst many, many others. 

2.  It's ten.  It could still turn out to be Ashildr, but I think that's thinking too small for Moffat.  The half-human and Valeyard trap-doors still need to be shut...  

3.  Who's in 12?  Gallifrey?  The Hybrid?  The Valeyard?

Monday, 23 November 2015

Face the Raven (time shift)

For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow but phone calls taper off.
- Johnny Carson

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

Everybody has got to die, but I've always believed an exception would be made in my case.
- William Saroyan
Him:  Your notes are very sparse.

Me:  I'm interested in your take on it.  I found it really... 

A Long Day's Journey Into Space Badger.

Me:  I thought it was really good.

Him:  Yes.  It had...  It had a good effect.

Me:  Mmm?

Him:  And, once again, the speech...  It tends to be the speeches that make these episodes.

Me:  Yeah.  A lot of what we've been predicting's there.  It's the start of the three-parter that'll conclude the series; Ashildr kills Clara because she had to.  I don't think we'll see Missy next week - I think she'll be back the week after that - 'cause it's obviously been set up by Missy.  The whole thing.  Y'know?  To get the-

Him:  Obviously.

Me:  Obviously.  The weird thing is that the TARDIS landed in 'London' in the same location that Danny Pink was killed, which I thought was an interesting nod.  Some of Steven Moffat's voice was in that.  There was a little bit of rewriting, I think.  But I thought that Sarah Dollard's script was really good. 

Him:  It was a lot better than you thought it would be?

Me:  There's a lot - again, as we had last week as well - there were an awful lot of Neil Gaiman references, amongst other things.  You've also got the Harry Potter thing - the city that's next to us that we don't see-

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  But there's two, specifically...  Two...

Him:  I thought actually it was just a sad little alleyway, and that was it.

Me:  That was all that was there.  There's a Neil Gaiman story - a Sandman story - that's about a bloke that wanders down a street that he's never seen before and gets lost in the dreams of the city.  So that's one.1  Also, there's Neverwhere:2 London Above and London Below; the London that we don't get to see.  You haven't watched that one.  There were similarities with that in it.  Also, there were echoes of Clive Barker's Nightbreed and Night of the Demon - once you get a curse you can't pass it on.3  That was alright.  Because they couldn't go full-Adric anymore - although Clara's death is basically the same as Adric's-

Him:  Yeah.  I was actually thinking that.  I was wondering if this was the same sort of effect that Adric's death would've had on the audiences back then?4

Me:  Well, the thing is that back then we didn't know it was going to happen and we got a silent credit sequence at the end.  It was a shock, because the Doctor couldn't save him and he just... died.  Adric 'faced the raven' by himself, as it were.  Or 'faced the Earth' as it came up to meet him.

Him:  "I wonder if it'll be friends with me."

Me:  Ha!  He didn't get an eight minute speech, and then a slow-motion walk out to-

Him:  The slow-motion was...

Me:  It was really funny.

Him:  Yeah.  It was not necessary.  But the speech was good.

Me:  The speech was really good.

Him:  And the fact that - that she wasn't crying, but that her eyes were really shiny...  Worked as well.

Me:  I thought Jenna Coleman's performance was brilliant.

Him:  Yes.

Me:  And Peter Capaldi was fantastic in that one.

Him:  He always is.

Me:  I'm really looking forward to next week, and then I'm looking forward to the conclusion-

Him:  What if the conclusion's terrible?

Me:  I don't think it will be.  It's going to be the Time War, isn't it?  It's going to turn out to've been Missy and the Daleks.  Or Missy at least.  And the Time War conclusion'll bring it back to...  This time as well, I thought...  I thought it was a bit rushed, killing her off.  Having her hanging out of the TARDIS, doing all the...  She's become more of a thrill-seeker this episode-

Him:  Of all the characters to bring back, why Rigsy?  I guess they had to bring someone back.

Me:  He was very good as well, actually. 

Him:  Yeah.  Maybe that's why they brought him back.

Me:  I thought that the chap with the Harry Potter glasses wasn't terrific, but...  Maisie Williams was good in this.  There's a bit in Sandman as well, where a character called Thessaly saves another character - I think it's Lyta Hall - and it's a similar kind of thing.  The warning that...  "I might've saved you, but you better run."

Yeah, it was competent.  It was nicely done.  The music was...  Some of the music was really good, but we're a long way on from Doomsday

Him:  Whatcha mean?

Me:  Well, Doomsday had an original and... quite gutsy way of using the music to accompany the scene.  That-

Him:  I thought you hated Doomsday.

Me:  No.  Doomsday was great.  The music was brilliant.  Y'know, when Rose gets stuck beyond the wall and everything, and you've got the single bass guitar going, and then it builds up and runs over minutes...  That was...  This time it's more orchestra again.

Him:  It wasn't bad in Face the Raven though.  It wasn't as bad as...  It wasn't DUM DE DUM DUMM MURRAY MURRAY DUM DE DUM DUM DUMMM!

Me:  Ha!

Him:  It wasn't that.

Me:  No, it wasn't.  And, I think the term 'retcons'...  I reckon that might've been suggested by Steven Moffat.  Other than that...  yeah, I thought it was really good.  But then, it's been building to this. 

Him:  With such classics as...  The Zygon Invasion.

Me:  Yeeeeah.  Oh, grief, yeah.  And Sleep No More.

Him:  Before the Flood.

Me:  Before the Flood was alright.  And Under the Lake was brilliant.

Him:  Sleep No More was best of the series.  Ten out of ten.

Me:  Oh, you!  Anyway...  Go on.  Make some more dust noises then. 

Him:  No, I've got to make a raven noise.

Me:  Make a raven noise.

The Him makes a raven noise.

Me:  And on that bombshell.

Him:  You've got to make one too.

The Me makes a noise.

1.  Yeah, yeah, Danny the Street too.  But we don't talk about Alan Moore's Scottish Tribute Act here.

2.  And that's the one that conspiracy theorists should latch onto.  Especially after Nightmare in Silver.

3.  Okay, that's not quite right, but you know what I mean.  Rigsy's tattoo serves the same purpose as Karswell's 'Three months were allowed'.

4.  I want to answer this in proper detail, but first I'll have to explain why this 'review' was delayed.  Ready?

Yes, yes it is.

Since Saturday, lots of people have been expressing lots of opinions about Face the Raven.  Some of them are rational, some of them aren't; some of them are reasonable, some of them aren't; some of them are objective, most of them aren't.  Here's mine.

The Him and myself don't venture out of the Arctic very often.  In fairness, we don't venture out of the Hut that much either.  We spent the first part of day of the Raven in a helicopter flying the cold and clear Type-40 blue skies hanging over Britain.  Snow lay across the anorak-shouldered hills like dandruff.  I forgot to take any pictures, so you'll have to take my word for it.  We landed in Euston but our guide Bev was trapped elsewhere - in what Jaques 'Jaques' Liverot memorably described as a 'conspiracy' - so we had to amuse ourselves, like bumpkins down the ages, by pretending not to be tourists. 

It's a tradition, or an old charter, or something.

I showed the Him where Comics Unmasked used to live, before we walked by the massive abandoned dolls house guarding King's Cross.  We soon found the queue to the Hogwarts Express.  I embarrassed taught the now-shivering Him the poached savant variation rules of Mornington Crescent using only a wall-sized tube map and over-enthusiastic hand gestures.  Bev arrived soon after and treated us to some traditional London cuisine (mostly so we could all warm up whilst sneakily recharging our phones using the sockets under the seats).  After that, the Him encountered the Underground in colour for the first time on the way to Trafalgar Square to meet our second guide of the day, Kev.  

Somewhere, there's a daguerreotype, probably hidden in a linty drawer, that shows the person I used to be perched between the paws of one of the lions that was stunt-cast for In the Forest of the Night.  Seemed only polite to try to recreate the image while we had the chance.  Well, it was that or lunchtime arsing about, dodgy salutes, hide-and-seek or Osgood's cover story.5
Photo: Bev
Our two guides led us through the chilled crowds, into the labyrinthine sensory overload of Covent Garden.  Someone else I used to be, performed here a century ago.  I didn't see him, so he's probably died in the meantime. 

After stopping for an exquisite vegetarian curry, we were guided through more bewildering and overcrowded Blade Runner sets until we arrived at our early Christmas present. 

Everything's connected.5
The audience had to sign NDAs, so I'm forbidden from telling you any more details.  Can't even confirm or deny whether Mr Brown wears a massive clock mask (as the photo above unfortunately seems to suggest).  I'm largely convinced he's the Devil.  It's the only explanation that fits all the facts.  Hell of a show.

Kev treated the four of us to an afterhours ice-cream in Leicester Square and then we headed back to his secret lair where we spent the rest of the night playing with cats.

Following an astonishing cooked Sunday breakfast courtesy of the wonderful Penny, we all watched an (extremely) time-shifted Face the Raven.  This was the first time since Deep Breath that me and Him've watched Doctor Who in company, and it was an agreeable experience.  As soon as it finished, the two of us dashed off to record our thoughts.  If a 'warts and all' reaction is good enough for Tom Baker, then it's good enough for me.  We all played with the cats some more and then said goodbye to Penny and the secret lair before Kev drove us back to the Euston helipad. 

Which brings me back to the Him's initial question: "I was wondering if this was the same sort of effect that Adric's death would've had on the audiences back then?" 

Clara's death scene's hilarious.  It`s so cheesy that it teeters on parody.  Adric's death was sudden and shocking. 

I've mentioned that I bore a striking resemblance to Matthew Waterhouse back around when the Doctor was still wearing Tom Baker.  The years've been kinder to Mr Waterhouse than they have to me.  I've written about how heartbreaking I found the death of a character that I identified with on a personal - and largely narcissistic - level several times before.6  And it was.  It was totally unexpected.

A lifetime later, I learned that I was wrong.  The correct opinion is that Adric was, after Zombo, the least-loved boy genius companion.  Of course, you can't help what you look like any more than what you like.  Having endured years of derision for loving comics and the wrong bands, dressing like a weirdo and hating sport (despite being naturally better at it than a lot of my detractors were), apologising for being me was a piece of piss.  There's a lot of it about.  Always has been.

Clara's slow-motion yomp to face her death?  Well, Dean Learner'd be proud.7  And then, Murray 'Itsa Me' Gold hits the 'Weep Now!' orchestral strings setting and takes it to a whole new level of scenery-gorging.

There's a lot made of John Nathan-Turner's decision to keep the return of the Cybermen (and Adric's noble end) from the Radio Times.  Currently, the BBC release spoilerific updates so freely that anyone with Doctor Who as a special interest would've known Clara's death was inevitable.8  It wasn't even a matter of when, but how.

Since Father's Day 2005, Doctor Who's been dealing with death in a way unavoidably influenced by the Petri dish of popular culture that it grows in.  The outside world's now a completely different shape to the one that spun through a lonely void a generation ago.  Communication's made it much smaller for a start.  And...

And, I don't think everyone's going to like what I'm about to type.

The only way that a companion's death in current Doctor Who is going to have the same effect on the original viewers of Adric's demise that his death did, is if it follows the Spooks storyline that The Zygon Invasion so wanted to be, to its logical conclusion.  "You want your grown-up Doctor Who?  Here's your grown-up Doctor Who!"

I blame the Wilderness Years (and people who misread - and continue to misread - Alan Moore) for this.

Doctor Who is a relay baton.  This gets forgotten.  It has to be handed on.  Yes, it belonged to you for a brief period of your life.  But that was your section of the race.  And now it's over.9

On the return helicopter journey, I checked some of the messages I'd been ignoring until after I'd watched Face the Raven.  One of them was from a chap who'd performed in Covent Garden the same lifetime ago.  His personal version of the Him's younger than mine, and therefore still part of Doctor Who's target audience.  I'm envious of the way this chap gets to watch Doctor Who through the eyes of someone it's supposed to be aimed at: someone who doesn't read forums or gossip sites or the Radio Times or Twitter or Facebook or magazines.  But that's entropy for you.

And, through those eyes: Clara's eight minute speech was essential.  Brave, important, truthful and - in a way that's kinder to Terry Nation's tropes than last week - justifies a truly noble self-sacrifice.  Clara's a hero to thousands and thousands of children.  Complaining about it won't change that.  She's a hero to them in the tradition of Greek Tragedy.  Yes, she is.

Clara's slow-motion walk to face the Raven is an astounding piece of bravery.  For thousands and thousands of children.  It's an astonishing lesson in taking responsibility for your actions; in doing the right thing, whatever.

The me that stood next to the lion in Trafalgar Square laughed at the artifice of Face the Raven.  I hope that the me that sat between its paws would be immature enough to appreciate the honesty.
This is still very funny, mind.
5.  None of this means anything/Synchronicity's a wonderful thing.  (Delete to confirm bias.)

6.  Here's one.  Here's another.  The second one's royalties go to Children in Need, but I know both of you already have a copy, so this is just blatant self-promotion.  Bah.

7.  This observation lovingly lifted from Bev.

8.  We've been predicting it since last year.  Not to be smug, but it was obvious.  Name one companion Steven Moffat hasn't killed under his watch.  I've made some comments in the past that suggest Mr Moffat reads the blog - and I'll do it again every time something I've suggested turns up in the show - but I don't really think he does.  It's a mixture of Apophenia (I can't keep covering for you - everyone knows you've met), confirmation bias and detachment.  Y'see, I know Doctor Who isn't - and should never be - made for me.  Or the fans.  Not any more anyway.9

9.  Big Finish make Doctor Who for Doctor Who fans, and do an excellent job of it.  So I'm told. 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Thousands of years ago, which can't be right...

The future is dark, the present burdensome.  Only the past, dead and buried, bears contemplation.

- G. R. Elton


It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.
- Anne Sexton

I'm listening to the first Grinderman album and waiting for payday.  It's not the first time.  Everything crossed it won't be the last.  November's been an odd month.  Odder than usual.

This blog's not really about Doctor Who, y'know.  It just looks like it is.  Well, most of the time anyway.  In much the same way that every picture is a self-portrait, every one of the two-hundred and thirty-summat posts me and him've posted're closer to amber-fixed (and permanently petrified) prehistoric insects than 'reviews' of a TV show.  (Not that Doctor Who's really a TV show - but that's a chat for another day.)

I've written elsewhere about how the Him cajoled me into submitting typing toward a book.  Things escalated in the way a handclap in a ski resort'll bring down the mountain.  I'm going to add some links to the things I've written since as a direct result of his initial encouragement in a moment, but only after I get the next three paragraphs out of my system.

I'm a lucky fellow, which is why I'm getting the chance to type this.  You, lady and gentleman, are equally lucky to be reading it.  Not lucky because I'm typing something worth reading, but because we're only occupying this particular moment as a result of chance occurrences that, currently, have totally failed to kill us.  They will eventually, but we've somehow blundered this far without terminal mishap, so let's pretend we're special for a moment.  Because we are.  We're shaping the future. 

Annoyingly, there's no guarantee I'm as lucky as you.  Y'see, you have to be alive to be reading this.  My existence isn't guaranteed after I 'publish' it.  I'm here now, but I might not be when you're reading this.1  Just in case I'm not, there're a couple of things I'd like to say/type here. 

Mostly, I had a blast.  Yeah, a lot of it was uphill, smelled a bit funny and seemed to consist of Fate kicking me in the face with big old boots, but...  I met some incredible people on the climb.  Wonderful, fierce, sparking and sparkling friends I'd give anything to hug in person/analogue rather than binary, but any connection is good.  We're a glorious species, chums.  All of us.  Let's get off this rock, eh?  Reignite the pioneer flame. 

Thanks for your indulgences.  Now, I'm going to ruin the mood by trying to flog stuff.

These're things I've written nearly-essays for as a direct result of the Him's encouragement.  The royalties all go to charity and the books're composed of insights into many different lives and voices.   No pressure at all.  Personally, I'm glad you're even reading this.  Have a hug.

The set can be collected here.  I'm in both, but don't let that and so on and so forth. 
All royalties to Children in Need.
Worth it for the logo and introduction alone. 
I managed to 'hide' all fifty-two story titles in my piece, but if I don't say that you won't notice. 
Again, all royalties to Children in Need.
This went live today
(My essay explains what The Prisoner was all about, finally and indisputably.) 
All proceeds to the Terrence Higgins Trust.

1. I'm still hoping to get a short story out of this idea, so I hope I am.  But bears drop out of the sky every day, so who knows?         

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Sleep No More (time shift)

With such an honest and inflexible openness to evidence, they could not fail to receive any real truth which might be manifesting itself around them.
- H.P. Lovecraft

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

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
- T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

Me:  Where shall we start?

Him:  How late on was that one?  Like, at night?

Me:  It was the same time.  2010 until 2100.

Him:  Do you think that the name was, y'know...?

Me:  I think that what we saw there was Mark Gatiss attempting to write a Steven Moffatesque script.  And, what he actually produced has the same problems - almost exactly - as Nightmare in Silver.  A lot of that would've looked great on paper, but just didn't work.  With the exception of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman, the performances weren't up to the script.  That might be a directing issue.  So...

A Space-Badger drifts by...

Me:  The found footage conceit...

Him:  Oh, it wasn't.  Let's just...  No.  It couldn't decide whether it wanted to be found footage or not, and I feel like it ended halfway through.

Me:  Well, that's 'cause it's set up things to come, hasn't it?  It's the first part in the-

Him:  In the 'Dust Saga'?

Me:  The 'Dust Saga'.  Yeah.  Okay.  I thought...  Reece Shearsmith brought his other performance to it, of the two that he usually delivers - with the exception of the third one he managed to get out in A Field in England.

Him:  I get it.  You don't like him, you don't like Mark Gatiss. 

Me:  It's not that I don't like them, it's just that I think that their best work is an awful long time behind them and that there's nothing actually very new taking place with what they do.  As far as pastiches go, which is what we usually see from Mark Gatiss, that episode referenced: Flesh and Stone, The Invisible Enemy, Predator, Alien, Judge Dredd, Sandman - and I can tell you which issue if you like1 - Oliver, Journey to the Center of the TARDIS, Spider Man 3, Event Horizon, Aliens, Peep Show, Prometheus, Macbeth, Sunshine, 42, Monty Python, Doom, Quake, Pertwee-era Doctor Who, Ring, The Space Pirates, a little bit of Inception and involved Mark Gatiss taking the mick out of Terry Nation while at the same time proving he's no Steven Moffat, because the author's voice throughout that was a bit too loud and far too smug.  It's not a found footage film either.

Him:  Spider Man 3?

Me:  Yeah, it's got Marvel's Sandman in it.  And similar effects when he all falls apart.

Him:  Right.  Was that really a reference?

Me:  Yeah.  Probably.  The way Rassmussen fell apart at the end was very reminiscent of the way that the Sandman falls apart in Spider Man 3.  It's also - oddly enough - not the first found footage Doctor Who.  It's just the first one that's canon.  Do you remember back to the flurry of VAM before Day of the Doctor?

Him:  Yeah, I do remember that. 

Me:  We had one then.  The Last Day.

Him:  The intro was reminiscent of that.  Very.

Me:  Yeah.  It's a cut scene.  Sleep No More comes across more like Peep Show than an actual found footage film.

Him:  But it's not found footage.  It kept cutting to bits that shouldn't have been recorded and perspectives that couldn't have been recorded.  And it was all edited together, which is...  What?

Me:  The only way they're going to get away with that is if it turns out we're still inside someone's dream. 

Him:  We are, aren't we?  We're still inside Clara's dream.2  But that's what I mean.  It ended half-way through.  It was never resolved.

Me:  I think that's going to turn into Clara's doom.3  She's going to turn into a great big pile of walking snot.  Which is Swamp Thing, so he can have that one too.  I thought that Peter Capaldi was really good.  We've got to come up with something positive we can say about it.  Was it scary?

Him:  I feel like it would've been better had we not seen them, 'cause they were essentially just giant humanoid things that were just mouths all the way down, and I've seen that kind of thing...

Me:  Yeah, it was in Nemesis the Warlock back in...  around about 1980?4

Him:  Yeah, there's an enemy in Digital Devil Saga 2 that looks like them as well, but it's orange and has teeth in the mouth. 

Me:  This all felt like...  There was nothing new there.  Nothing we haven't seen before.5  It wasn't brave.  It wasn't adventurous.  It wasn't challenging.  It was...  It was...

Him:  It was weird.

Me:  Yeah.  Again, I thought Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman performed really well, and I think that the supporting cast did the best they could, but...  It just goes to show why we don't get found footage stuff on TV. 

Him:  It wasn't found footage, this is the thing.  I think it would've been really good as found footage, 'cause you wouldn't have seen the dust-snot monsters. 

Me:  It's a straight lift - well, near enough - it's a straight lift from Sunshine.  Oh, I don't know.5

Him:  I never did finish watching Sunshine.

Me:  No.  So, on that bombshell...

Him:  Oh, I dunno, do you want to talk about next week's-

Me:  Face the Raven?

Him:  Is that what it's called?

Me:  Well, it's all about facing ravens, innit?

Him:  I've been trying to think of a pun involving Edgar Allan Poe and dust, but I just can't do it.

Me:  Well, you've got, "I will show you fear in a handful of dust,"6 which was used as advertising for Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, but that's not from Poe.  Which is a shame.

Him:  I've just been trying to think of... a Poen, if you will.

Me:  Ha!

Him:  But I can't.

Me:  Alright then.  D'you want to make a noise like a raven?  Or just some dust?

The Him makes the noise of just some dust.

Me:  And on that bombshell.

Nightmare in Silver 2: Electric Bogies - BOO!
1.  Sandman #3, March 1989.  But, seriously...

Sleep No More is an odd thing.  It's much less than the sum of its parts for a start, many of which're outlined above.  The story's sloppy, the acting quality haphazard and the directing not quite as tight as something like this needs to be.  It's also not found footage, did we mention that?

Whether you think found footage began in The Blair Witch Project rather than The Last Broadcast or Cannibal Holocaust - both of whom have much better claims - it's fair to say that Sleep No More fails the most basic format test by neglecting to kill off all its characters.  Nope, the 'found footage' label is just the high-concept tag, or gimmick, slapped on this episode to make it quicker to explain.  It's a shorthand for something that would've worked much better in almost any other medium.  It's a shame it wasn't pitched to a publisher or even Big Finish instead. 

Sleep No More's also far too pleased with itself to be let off lightly.  The final speech delivered by Rassmussen/Gatiss breaks through the already shattered fourth wall with its self-congratulatory - Kroll save us - attempts at metatextualised post-modernism.  And completely falls on its arse whilst doing so.  If the preceding forty-two (or so) minutes had earned such self-indulgence then fair enough, but they blatantly hadn't.  It also has the unfortunate effect of turning the opening speech about not watching this because you won't be able to unsee it, from story set-up to actual viewer advice.

Still, we should be thankful for small mercies.  Murray Gold barely made his unnecessary presence felt. 

And at least it wasn't the two-parter the Baker Street Boys'd originally planned.

Well, not yet anyway.

2.  Okay, we're not.  But I don't think this time the audience can be blamed for not getting what was going on. 

And if it's anyone's dream, then it's Barbara's.

3.  I don't really.

4.  Actually it was August 1981, in 2000AD Prog 223.  Can't blame a guy for trying.

  I'm nearly convinced that the bits that looked like Reece Shearsmith was reading his lines from a board hidden just off-camera were an homage to The Three Doctors.  Perhaps to make up for the one that was, thankfully, left in the cutting room bin following the final edit of An Adventure in Space and Time.


Monday, 9 November 2015

Downtime (one last time)


Pass the crystal/Spread the tarot
- Eldritch, Alice

This ‘review’ of Downtime has been wandering around the internet in various forms for the last couple of years.  Seeing as Downtime itself is showing signs of escaping captivity within the next week, it seemed only fair to trot this disorientating chunk of text out for a final canter: let it feel the wind in its face, the sun in its fur, the screams in its ears – that sort of thing.

As with fairly much everything on this blog, it’s probably not about what it looks like it’s about.  You might want to scatter some breadcrumbs as you wander through it.  Y’know, in case you get lost.

It’s at this point that I feel obliged to state for the record that I’m not at this time, and have never been, a goth.


In illusion/Comfort lies
- Eldritch, Alice

It's been twenty-three years since Wembley.  The Doctor turned twenty-seven yesterday. 

Twenty-three years (and change) since Wembley.  In that time an ocean of river's run under more bridges than you'd even find in Hamburg.  New names; loads of pack-drill.

Shaved for the occasion.  Head right to the front, crush up against the barrier and get the sweating in early.  Every drop picks out tiny razor tears and magnifies them.

Lights.  Smoke.  Scream for speed, girls - here we go.

It's a different gig in the front.  Up with the gods twenty-three years (and a lifetime) ago, trying to guess which blur was which.  Now the Abyss looks right on back.  And points.

"It's for you.  It's all for you."   

Rise; reverberating.


No confusion/No surprise
- Eldritch, Alice

So, yeah, I loved The Sisters of Mercy.

I came to music fairly slowly.  When I was really small it didn’t bother me, I was much more into reading.  The writing, drawing and falling off things came later.  Books, comics, trees and toys – that’s where satori came from.  Childhood’s an odd state where everything’s incomprehensible and slightly bigger; dreams and colours are clearer than they’ll ever be again, you might say.  And I will.1

The first record I remember having was an accidental purchase.  I’d really, really wanted the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back – so this must’ve been 1980.  The WH Smiths in Newport used to be a double-level beauty crouching opposite the Market,2 with all the vinyl stocked on the first floor.  They didn’t have the record I was after, so I picked up Jeff Wayne’s Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds instead.6 After that, I was taping radio dramas, picking up soundtracks on cassette where possible and recording TV programmes onto cassettes, so I could listen to them later.  (Alfred Hitchcock Presents rather than Doctor Who, like you’d think.)

I graduated from soundtracks onto Adam and the Ants and a selection of compilation records that collected hits of the day.  These would either be picked up in branches of Boots, Smiths, Woolworths or from Seeley’s on Hill Road.  Nobody reading this’ll have a clue where that is, which is shame as it’ll almost crop up again after the next paragraph.

I’d listen to soundtracks while reading books or reading and drawing comics.  The soundtracks I liked the best were the ones that had moments of proper drama.  The truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark still sticks out.  I got the same trigger from the Burundi-influenced drum twins, Terry Lee Miall and Merrick7 and that started driving me toward more full-on music.  Well, that and puberty.  After a brief dalliance with metal in its hairiest forms, I settled on early The Queen, which in turn led to The Sisters of Mercy, long hair, cowboy boots and recording studios.

My first gig was in a venue you can see in M*****man.8  The third was in an underground bar opposite Seeley’s and hidden in fog.  We did a lot of Sisters songs but none by The Queen.  Over Christmas we recorded a demo in Bristol’s Rizound Studios and in the New Year we headlined the Bierkeller.  We did one more gig and then split up due to ‘physical differences’.  I went to college and formed another band along with a chap who’d already had a letter published in Doctor Who Comic (that’s what it’s called).  We listened to a lot of Sisters but didn’t cover any. 

In 1995 I formed a new band with a Frenchman.  We played Floorshow for a while before moving on to other things. In the University of East Anglia, similar madness was taking place, albeit on a much grander scale.

Downtime9 is a sequel to The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear.  Although it wasn’t endorsed by the BBC, they sure let a lot of their staff have a crack at it.  The Reeltime film came out as a video premiere in September.  Written by Marc (Ghost Light) Platt, it begins with Victoria Waterfield returning to Det-Sen Monastery fifteen years ago and continues in a fan-pleasing vein for much of the rest of its sixty-seven minutes.  Familiar faces, lines and locations make an appearance in something that should really be unwatchable, but isn’t.  I’m not going to give the story away, because it would be nice if this cropped up as VAM on a future “Yeti Tales” boxset.  Well, a guy can dream. 

I was going to say a lot of clever things about the character of Hinton being a double-bluff – referencing both the late Craig Hinton and the inventor of the tesseract – designed with Moffatian precision to distract the fan from what’s actually going on.  I planned to point out the themes of education, aging, technology and the way that time is a perceptive illusion.  Platt’s lifted moments of (almost) occult mathematics from the gutters of From Hell - check out the two guys on the beach in the dream sequence if you don’t believe me.  This is a writer who totally understands the Cartmel Masterplan.  Throughout, the whole thing's suffused with the terror of the Millennium Bug: its huge wings and invisible teeth.

This makes sense to me.

In 1999 things were going gooey.  I screamed a pop song that wasn’t into a Maida Vale microphone in the same building that gave us the Greatest Theme in the History of Ever.  Laughing at the bear under the stairs as it eats off your leg isn’t really a career move.  These things only look cool if you can get the angle right.

Whatever’s wrong with it, Downtime is made from love and high-energy enthusiasm.  Every penny is on the screen.  The old chums shine, the guests…  Not so much. 

Other criticisms?  The music tries too hard; the camera direction’s inconsistent; the editing’s flabby and you can see the seeds of Craig Hinton’s greatest term in every in-joke that plays to the inner-circle.  That’s about it though.  It’s on a par with School Reunion and The Sontaran Stratagem by dint of spawning them, which is about all you really need to know.   

Fan love manifests in strange ways.  Sometimes it’s a success; sometimes it’s weird; sometimes it makes a difference, sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes you can’t tell what’s happened.  Or how you ended up wherever the hell it is you are.

So, yeah, I loved The Sisters of Mercy.  Seriously loved them. 

Still do.

1.  And did.  “If I have to explain then you’ll never understand.” 

2.  Newport Market was a treasure trove for a while.  When I was heading toward my teens, I found that the second-hand bookshop on the balcony also sold comics and seemed to have back issues of all the must-have titles that couldn’t be found anywhere.  I still hadn’t heard about comic shops at this point, so most of my periodical-excavating was being done in newsagents.3

Later on I discovered where they hid the record shops.  In fact, for a while there – around the age of 14 - I could sniff out shops selling comics or records in a city that I’d never visited before. These days I don’t go anywhere new.

3. There used to be three comic shops/stalls in Cardiff.  One was in Jacob’s Market where the Abzorbaloff later lived; one was stocked by the Roach brothers (only half of whom now draw the really black bits of the Doctor Who Comic strip) slightly above where the Philharmonic4 spewed onto Saint Mary Street and the last one was Roath Books which sat on City Road.  Roath Books was fantastic.  I’d spend hours in there.  Saturdays would fade away to the flicking sound of mylar bags as I went through every single box, the proprietor chatting to the weird little goblin creature while it distracted him from whichever sign he was painting that week.5 

I’ll tell you about Adam Warlock one day. 

4.  Years later, the band played many gigs there; a couple were doomed, one got bootlegged and one got written up by the Big Issue. 

5.  I remember when all this were motorway/jumpers for goalposts/Spangles/Yorkies made your gums bleed etc. etc. 

6.  I’ve told you about the time that I didn’t meet Phil Lynott, yeah?  Very strange.  The pub it happened in, the Park Vaults, doesn’t seem to exist anymore.5 

7.  Years later the band recorded a version of Kings of the Wild Frontier as part of a radio session for BBC Wales, closing something shaped a bit like a circle.  The Adam and the Ants Fan Club said they liked it and gave it a bronze medal at a convention.

8.  See The Payphone Story and Judge Minty blog posts for the gory details. Oddly enough, the story in question was reprinted by Marvel a couple of months ago.  It was quite a big deal.  Probably in almost every comic shop in the country.  That wheel keeps spinning.

9.  For a week there, every Doctor Who spin-off had a compound word for a title.

Most of this ‘review’ of Downtime was originally published in the Travers Tales Winter Special. 
It then went through a couple of revisions which’re here and here.
This (final) revision is dedicated to 
my long-suffering PA.

Extra blame (in no particular): 

 the encyclopaedic for release dates and images   
(I should really have laid everything on the floor, climbed a stepladder and just taken a photo),
, Bev, Kev, Rev (not that one),

Gruff, Giz, Brian, Rob,
Stony, Mark, Tony,
 Phil, Way, Dr. Will, Sklav,
, Emma, Adam, Glyn,

the Rev (not that one), Rated, Dems, Rhods

It also comes with 

an extra-special cheery wave of the arms to all the folk in the Heartland.