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This Is Not A TV Blog

In which we discuss the passing of The Doctor


Through the last year, we’d managed to avoid watching the various Doctor Who specials that popped up around each bank holiday. The reason being, the last full series, back in 2008, really hadn’t grabbed us very hard. Despite having a few sparkling gems within it, there were too many painful moments and mystical endings. So: the one-off specials passed us by, as if they had never existed.

We did think, though: better make an effort to watch the Christmas specials. Because, after all, we knew the Doctor was going to regenerate, and we assumed that it would be done with as big a splash as possible. So: a date for the diary. We watched them, on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. And, generally, they made me think: well, I’m glad we didn’t bother with the other specials then.

K pointed out that Doctor Who isn’t, and never has, been aimed at People Like Us. It’s aimed at the people it always has been: immediately-pre-teenage children and their parents, who probably loved all the dramatic running about and look-there’s-The-Master’s-skeleton special effects. But one of the problems with new Doctor Who is that it’s been caught between several camps: trying to appeal to Camp A, the family audience; Camp B, the Doctor Who fans who can quote whole segments of tangled back-story; and Camp C, the people in-between who can vaguely remember that the old 1970s and 1980s show was pretty cool when they were in Camp A.

I used to assume, back when the resurrection first started, that Russell T Davies was a Camp B type of chap. Now I’ve watched a few series, I’ve changed my mind. Some of his writers may be Camp Bs, but now I think that RTD himself is a Camp C who wishes that he was in Camp B; not just that, but also wants the rest of Camp B to look up and adore him. To do it, he pulls in bits of random back-story and continuity whenever he wants to, but without any consistancy or pattern. Timothy Dalton’s character, for example, was described in the credits as either “Narrator” or “Lord President”; but the Doctor referred to him as Rassilon, a character from Doctor Who ages past, but not one whose past appearances fitted at all into the new story.

The story as a whole seemed awfully twisted and confused. I’m not always, I have to admit, the most perceptive of people, but I really couldn’t make much sense of the plot. What happened to the secret society trying to bring Saxon back, and why were they doing it? Who was that millionaire trying to make his daughter immortal, and why was he doing it? Was he really as plastic as he looked? Those “locked/open” cubicles in the control room – just why exactly were they there in the first place?* Why was Gallifrey “hell”? For that matter, why did it just pop into existance when the Time Lords were vaguely nearby? Why didn’t it cause massive tidal waves on Earth?** Who let the Time Lords’ soothsayer near the box of black biros? Was there meant to be a connection between the Weeping Angels, the Who monster invented by Steven Moffat, and the female Time Lords who kept sneaking messages to Bernard Cribbins? If so, what the hell was it? Was it anything more than Davies trying to derail a potentially-good monster created by his successor while he still had the chance?***

Maybe that’s the key. Certainly, the episodes might have made more sense if more time had been spent on storytelling. Instead, a good 10-15 minutes at the end was spent on the Doctor popping round to visit his previous companions for a cup of tea to lurk ominously in the background in a meaningful oh-my-painful-heart way. Not something that’s happened for any of his previous regenerations, as far as I know. K said, charitably, that maybe this was because David Tennant’s Doctor character was rather more emotionally attached to his companions and other human characters than previous Doctors.***** My interpretation is: it’s not about the Doctor regenerating and Tennant leaving at all. It’s about Davies leaving, and regretting it. That was his goodbye to his creations, not the Doctor at all. It was self-indulgent, and the programme would have been better without it. Maybe he’s not very happy about the degree of change that’s coming now he’s left: the programme now has a completely new logo, a much better one at that. That’s hopefully a sign that a lot is changing, more than just a name on the credits.****

Having said all that: there were a few good points. There were a few good scenes. Not very many at all, though. Apart from John Simm’s performance, though, there was nothing that I can put my finger on and say: “ah, that made The End Of Time worthwhile”. Give me a minute, and I’ll try to think of something that wasn’t John Simm.

(no, a bit longer than that)

Nope, nothing springs to mind. Doctor Who in general is a Good Thing, but in its specifics it’s lacking something. I have a nagging feeling, though, that back, back into the mists of time, that was always the case.

* I mean, I know why they ended up being there in plotting terms, but I didn’t at all get what their justification was. And while I’m on the topic: I was rather suspicious that the protective glass the cubicles were made from could apparently block all that dangerous radiation, but said radiation couldn’t make it through the gap around the edge of the door. It’s semi-plausible – microwaves can’t make it though the wire mesh in your oven door, for example – but really not that convincing.

** true “tidal waves”, in fact, not tsunamis.

*** If so it didn’t work, because the Blink-style Weeping Angels popped up in the trailer for the next series. I feel like adding “why did the Time Lords’ sublimation mean that the universe had to end?” to that list of questions but the key there is in the word “sublimation” for what the Time Lords wanted to do – I first came across the concept in Iain M Banks’s novels, where many races have done it, but there’s nothing to say that it has to work the same way in the Who universe.

**** I am very much hoping that the incidental music is one of the things that changes. I’m hoping that it’s possible to have an entire series of Doctor Who without the involvement of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and, in particular, without the involvement of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales Choral Section.

***** K also said: “why are you getting worked up about such insignificant stuff?”

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Signs I’m Getting Older

In which FP has lost interest in something


Signs I’m Getting Older, number 3267. Not only do I not remember that there’s a Doctor Who special on, I’m not particularly bothered when we realise we’re missing it.* And not only do I forget it’s on, I forget when it’s repeated. And don’t bother to watch it online, either.

OK, I did at least look up the repeat times. But in a mildly disinterested way. And I don’t have any particular urge to watch it, especially not after seeing the trailers many times. I’ll probably be able to raise a bit more interest next year when the next proper series starts; but for now, I’m not too bothered. Maybe I am starting to get older.

* because K phoned someone only to get: “why are you phoning me right now? Doctor Who‘s on!

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Quis Custodiet

In which we are the people who will be watching the Watchmen


We’ve noticed that trailers for the forthcoming Watchmen movie have started appearing on the telly, which means it can’t be long before it pops in to the cinema.

We’ll have to go and see it. Not because it’s going to be a good film – I don’t really think it will be* – but because the book is so iconic, seeing exactly what’s been done to it is an irresistible temptation. No doubt we will come out of the cinema going: “bah, they shouldn’t have filmed it that way,” “they shouldn’t have cut that part out,” and so on. We know, for a start, that the ending has been changed; which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the overall plot is hardly the most important aspect of the book. On that note, though: the overall design of the book is far more important, and what I’ve so far seen of the film design doesn’t look promising. It’s both too dark and too sharp, not dirty enough and not ambiguous enough.

Even though it will probably seem too slick, too polished, too computer-generated, we have to see it. Because if we don’t see it ourselves, we can hardly criticise it. When we have, though, we almost certainly will.

* As I haven’t seen 300,** my only experience of Zack Snyder’s previous work is his remake of Dawn Of The Dead; which was a good (and scary) film roughly up until the end of the opening credits, and undeadly dull thereafter.

** I do think a British version of 300 would potentially work rather well, though. Feel free to try and guess exactly which episode of British history it would be based on.

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Insert catchphrase here for easy headline

In which we get wary of the talent


As for Doctor Who: as you’ve probably heard, catchphrase-based comedian Catherine Tate is going to be back in the show for a whole series. It’s been in all the papers, after all, and lots and lots of people, who shudder in terror at the mere mention of the name Bonnie Langford, think it will all go horribly wrong. It might be interesting to see if Tate can act, rather than just mug through with a comic voice and lots of makeup until she gets to the catchphrase.

Russell T Davies has been widely quoted, in connection with this story, as saying:

We are delighted that one of Britain’s greatest talents has agreed to join us.

Strangely, though, his thoughts on Catherine Tate herself have not been mentioned.

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Running down a corridor, chased by a big scary monster

In which we wonder what career choices someone had


Two thoughts about last Saturday’s Doctor Who.* Firstly: if your name’s Lazarus, and you become a scientist, you must feel completely stereotyped. “I’m going to have to invent some cunning way to cheat death,” you’d say to yourself, “otherwise everyone’s going to take the piss.”

Secondly: why is it that all shape-shifting multi-limbed reptilian monsters, on shifting back into human form, can never quite get the neck right? Every time they shift, there’s always something in the neck, or around the collar bone, or somewhere, that doesn’t quite snap back into place; they have to wiggle their neck like a chiropracter to get it all to fit together properly. You’d think they’d have learned by now.**

H says that when Doctor Who does this, it’s a “homage to the genre”. I say it’s a dodgy cliche.

* Yes, I think slowly.

** Incidentally, has anyone heard The Queen making that sort of neck-clicking noise? Tony Blair? George W Bush? Because if noone ever has, David Icke must definitely be talking rubbish!

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This is not going to turn into a Doctor Who blog, honest

In which we try to guess the ending


Ardal O’Hanlon is bound to turn up in Doctor Who again, before long. The only question is, when:

  • Later in this series
  • Some time in the next series
  • Don’t be silly, Russell T Davies has already spent BBC Wales’s entire makeup budget for the next five years.

Answers on a postcard as usual, to Symbolic Towers, Iambic Avenue, By The Banks Of The Swampy Tea-Brown Swamps, The Forest.

Seriously, there’s logic behind this. The only minor characters to appear in both New Series One and New Series Two were your giant face chap, and Cassandra, both in the same episodes. The second of which also introduced Nurse Thingy Cat-Face.* Now, the only minor characters to return in New Series Three have been… your giant face chap again, and Nurse Cat-Face. Logic suggests that in the next series, then, Ardal O’Hanlon and his wife will come back, because they were the only decent characters at all in Saturday’s episode.** Logic, you know, is unarguable.

H rather liked Saturday’s episode, incidentally, for resurrecting a monster not seen since ye olde Black And White days. H is far more of a Doctor Who geek than I will ever be.

* Wikipedia suggests her proper name is Novice Hame, and that she’s apparently classed as a Henchman. Ooh!

** I keep trying not to imagine Mrs Brannigan giving birth, and failing. Must … wipe … mind …

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Bigger on the inside

In which we play “spot the plot hole”


Whilst we’re kind of on the subject, from yesterday: Doctor Who.

Who’s this Saxon chap, then? What’s he up to, and what’s he going to turn out to be? Some dirty politicking with an eye to mad-eyed global supremacy, is my guess to the first. The second: well, it could be anything really.

As to the episode itself: I’m sure Russell T Davies has a machine hidden in his basement somewhere which stamps out little, villainous old ladies. It’s not that he uses them a lot, just that when he does, they are instantly recognisable, always virtually the same as each other. The whole thing was: well, nothing special. What was going on with the Doctor temporarily dying from lack of blood, then being revived by CPR? How did that work? If people in the middle of the hospital were on the verge of death when it was returned to Earth, did any actually die? It would take a while, after all, for oxygen levels in the centre of the building to return to normal. What about people investigating the big crater the hospital left behind it – were they all squished when it returned? Answers on a postcard to Symbolic Towers, 4 Iambic Avenue… OK, maybe I’m being slightly too serious. It’s entertainment, after all. Doctor Who has always had plot holes, and it always will; I shouldn’t expect it to be harder-than-hard SF because it clearly never has been that. It did entertain me, and that’s all I should ask for.

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Painful

In which we recap on a few things


Not feeling very healthy at the moment; as I said on Monday, I have a nasty sore throat that just won’t go away. I know who I caught it off, too.

Small update: someone called martyn read this (from May), and possibly this, from April, and left a comment, about Christian SF writer Dilwyn Horvat. Which makes me think I should probably dig his books out some time, reread them, and review them properly. If I can find them, of course.

I still haven’t watched the Shimura Curves’ telly appearance from the other morning, incidentally. I had to leave for work before it came on, so taped it, but haven’t actually watched it yet.

One of the main sources of traffic to this site has always been people searching for the lyrics to the childrens’ hymn Autumn Days by Estelle White – you can find them here. The number of searches has jumped a lot in the past few weeks, though, to the point where new visitors were coming in looking for them every five or ten minutes the other day. It took me a while to realise that not only is it just coming into autumn, but all the schools have just started term again. If you’re a schoolteacher looking for the words, you really should go out and buy a hymnbook with it in, you know, such as Come And Praise or something similar. Copying the words off the internet just isn’t the Christian thing to do, honest.

More search requests, whilst we’re at it:
how to secure myself from harm in a forest – don’t go in it to start with! Haven’t you seen Blair Witch?
evan davies piercings
little box big box
covered in gunge
nostradamus prediction of gordon brown
gothic victorian desktop wallpaper
summary operation titan dilwyn horvat – see, I said I should review it
shimura curves pictures – there’s some fairly crap ones here
trafalgar square pervs

I think that’s enough of that for a while.

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Books I Haven’t Read (part six)

In which FP fails to read “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson


As I said last time this series popped up, it was originally supposed to be a bit more regular than this. This entry, too, feels slightly like I’m repeating what I’ve said before. Not only is it a science fiction book like the last one, it’s by an author who has cropped up previously. Today’s Book I Haven’t Read is Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

I’m not sure what it is about Stephenson books that makes them hard to get through on the first attempt. I certainly didn’t have any problem with the first one I read, Cryptonomicon, but for some reason the others have gone past much more slowly.

It’s not that it isn’t a good book; it’s just that it demands to be read slowly. The terminology, the language, the realised world, all demand effort on the reader’s part. I’m a lazy reader, especially if I’m reading last thing at night; the book was too difficult to make me care about it.

Now, I’m reading it again, as a lunchbreak book instead of an evening book. And, I’m appreciating the start of it much more on second reading. There are awkward passages; but not enough to distract a SF almost-novice. It’s a fast-moving book; which conflicts with its density. It’s still not an easy read, but this time I think I’m going to finish it.

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Books I Haven’t Read (part five)

In which we fail to complete Iron Sunrise by Charles Stross


Books I Haven’t Read was supposed to be a regular sequence of articles, but has been on pause since – ooh, last November, by the look of things. It fell by the wayside because of a post I never wrote, about a book I couldn’t finish because I came across a passage in it which seemed to have been blatantly lifted from an obscure Victorian memoir. I’ll manage to write about it, one day. In the meantime, here’s another book I haven’t read. Iron Sunrise by Charlie Charles Stross.

I’m not someone who reads much SF, but I do read some selected things. Iain M Banks, for example, because I liked his Iain Banks books* and wanted to expand. Neal Stephenson, because I liked his historical novels and, well, ditto. And Charlie Stross, because – although I don’t know him – we used to drink in the same pubs.

So, last July, I was heading down to London for work, for a week. Planning it all in advance, I bought an unread Stross book – Iron Sunrise – to read on the train. I was catching the train down to Kings Cross on Sunday, July 10th.

I got onboard my train at Doncaster and opened the book, hoping that it would distract me from worry. Unfortunately, it opens with a mass terrorism attack, one which destroys an entire planet. I struggled to read it until Peterborough, and gave up. I haven’t looked at it since then.

At the time, I didn’t even make the connection as to why I couldn’t read it. The planet-destroying opening was distressing for me to read, with characters in the midst of planning their lives, suddenly realising that their world is being completely destroyed. I didn’t draw the parallel, though, between the characters in the book, and the friend I was worried about.*** The thought would have been too raw at the time. Looking back, though, the connection is obvious.

I’m planning to go down to London again in a few weeks, and I’ve bought a different Stross book to read this time. Hopefully, I’ll be able to. Hopefully, too, I’ll be able to finish Iron Sunrise one day. I’m not sure I’m ready to try reading it again, though.

* in case you’ve never heard of him: he writes his SF books with his middle initial,** and his “literary” ones without.

** although you might think it would be easier to write them with a word-processor.

*** The characters in the book – at least, the ones who were worth writing about – realised exactly what was happening to them. I still hope, whenever I think about her, that the friend I’m talking about here didn’t know what was happening to her. Back on that train, it seemed certain that she must be still alive and in hospital unidentified somewhere.

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