Saturday, 12 December 2015

I don't know about this business of the Doctor standing in front of a blackboard giving us all a little lecture on something.  I don't think he's supposed to be breaking the fourth wall in this way. I know that Hartnell turned round and wished everyone a Merry Christmas once, but he probably just got his sight lines wrong and spoke into the wrong camera and anyway it was a Christmas episode - it's best just to ignore stuff that happens in Christmas episodes.... But actively giving us all a little face to face tutorial, as has happened a few times with Capaldi........hmmm... I suppose it helps to explain the more concept heavy episodes like the one with the scary kid under the blanket, but isn't asking questions about the confusing stuff supposed to be what the companions are for?

Companions ask the questions that we would ask, but they also help us to answer questions too - indeed they come with questions attached to them, sewn into their lapels as it were. Rose's question was: "What would happen if the Doctor fell in love with a companion?". Poor Martha got: "What if the Doctor didn't like this companion quite as much as he liked the last one?". Donna got: "What if they forgot all the love stuff and were just mates, but everyone else thought that they were in love - would that be funny?"... which it was.... sometimes..

I'm not sure what question Clara got.

At the start, they toyed with the idea of there being all sorts of versions of Clara scattered along the Doctor's timeline. The CV usually included work with kids and looking fantastic in Victorian dresses, but beyond that it could all be mixed up a bit. This was genius as it entirely removed the need to write her consistently, but when they dropped all of that I'm not entirely sure what Clara added up to in the end. They were still levering bits into her character right up until her demise, like the Tardis-dangling deathwish thing.

I think the question might have been: "What if the companion was better than the Doctor?".... and she was. Frequently she served as his heart, his conscience, his mooring, his foil  and frequently she was, far and away, the biggest person in the room. This implies no criticism of Capaldi. I love the fact that her colonisation of the moral high ground sometimes left him free to roam the realms of the dark and angry  - a velvet wraith of wrath, but, I'm not sure that he ever deserved her or always treated her well....(and I'm talking about Moffat here as well as The Doctor)

And now she is consigned to the limbo that all ex-companions inhabit: wandering the universe, one heart beat away from death, patiently awaiting the day when she will be summoned for a regeneration episode.

And let's face it, she's still better.... even her Tardis is better than his....

Friday, 13 November 2015

On one level, Tom Baker ruined Doctor Who for everyone else.

Clearly, not in every way, but he did nevertheless introduce the scarf and the scarf became a 'thing' and it was a good thing - but then everyone else had to have a 'thing'. The fact that the very next Doctor's 'thing' was cricket whites and a sprig of celery immediately indicated that most of these things really weren't going to be very good at all. Hartnell didn't need a 'thing', unless holding your lapels is a thing - and I'm not sure that it it is....

In this context, Ecclestone's decision not to have a thing, indeed to present himself as the dark, minimalist 'anti-thing' Doctor, was probably a wise one.

Even more interesting was Matt Smith's approach: He experimented with a range of things, consciously aware of the notion that 'things', if you got them right, could be 'cool'.

Of course a fez and a stetson and a bow-tie aren't cool, but he consistently, and rather pathetically, had a go anyway, endearingly exposing a lonely, alien-in-exile aspect to the last Time Lord. There was a point to these 'things', that was slightly more thought-provoking and layered than those things merely being 'cool'. His self conscious 'bow ties are cool' statements emphasised his awkward alien need to fit in, making him a bit like one of those teenage kids in the 80's who came back to school after the summer holidays having 'gone Goth'. Also, even though all of this stuff wasn't superficially cool, in a funny sort of elusive actually was.

But cool is a quantum concept... look at it too hard and it's gone... and this season, it really has gone hasn't it?

One of my (very few) criticisms of the new Mad Max film, is the inclusion of that guy swinging about on a truck in front of a huge stack of speakers. It strays beyond an exuberant, nihilistic, death wish response to an impossibly tough environment, into something that someone quite clearly thought 'would be cool'. Well, if you are an eight year old boy, any combinations of the following list will probably result in something 'cool': explosions, dinosaurs, rock guitars, tattoos, huge pieces of artillery. This doesn't mean that we are well-advised to combine them in Doctor Who.

I can almost hear the script meeting:

"Yeah, I know, lets have him enter playing guitar"

"In shades"

"Yeah!....on a tank!"

"Whoah.... that'll"

I am claiming no great authority to pronounce on such things, but really... it isn't is it? The only area of the BBC where an explosion, followed by the entry of a middle-aged man, in shades, playing electric guitar, on a tank is regarded as legitimately cool is in the now-defunct Top Gear production team.

Now, you may think I'm being harsh on a fun little moment from the start of the season that, had it featured in the Christmas episode, I would have laughed at in a moment of hazy, post-lunch goodwill - and fair enough I say..... but, as I feared, elements of this scene...the shades... the guitar.... went on to become a 'thing'.... and not a good thing.

Maybe I'm missing something? Some broader context?

I can have a go if you like...umh... maybe regeneration is being used as a vehicle to explore the groping for a new identity experienced during the male mid-life crisis.  Maybe slipping a timid little All Saints woollen hoodie into the Doctor's formal attire, whilst it doesn't exactly obscure him from any CCTV, does add that desperate note of "I'm trying to add a bit of street to my look".

But even your average mid-life crisis is a shade more nuanced than shades and a rock guitar...

This is Top Gear territory... not ours.... me and my fellows from the Wargaming club didn't nurture the flame of our hopes for decades for this.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Maybe I expect too much of them... but philosophers often fail on love don't they?  It's not my habit to view them as the go-to-guys on matters romance , and some of them (Schopenhauer, John Gray... I'm looking at you) are positively to be avoided..... but there's some fantastic stuff to think about from veteran lefty Alain Badiou in his lovely little book: 'On Love'.

His central point is that love between two people arises from chance and bold misadventure; it's a rift, a rupture, a transgression, a revolution to which we must be open. Most interesting is his point that, during the process of falling in love, contingency seems to congeal into necessity: random acts take on the appearance of destiny. As part of love's grand drama, the small, the random, the incidental queue up to take their part in an ongoing story that takes on the appearance of something that had to be.

"The absolute contingency of the encounter takes on the appearance of destiny. The declaration of love marks the transition from chance to destiny and that's why it is so perilous and so burdened with a kind of horrifying stage fright".

When I fell in love with my clever, attractive wife (the first time, not yesterday) there was a definite sense of trivial events nudging their way into their place in the grand alignment. In the preceding months, records that were going to become those records (our records) nudged their way into my bag. Tracks that were destined to become that  track, the orchestral backing for that moment, quietly coughed and announced themselves, walking almost unnoticed in my life, waiting for their key place in the forthcoming configuration. Random decisions, bold and inexplicable flatshare choices, unpromising job interviews, casual offers of a lift somewhere - all, in retrospect, are now best viewed tinted by the shades of destiny. She was coming, and a thousand quietly random events fell into place to delineate the space that she would fill.... waiting for her....


Now, in a conversational move that I fully expect to bitterly regret committing to online posterity in a few months time, I turn and wonder whether the same thing applies to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of The Labour Party. Politics is after all, alongside love, one of Badiou's four great 'truth procedures'. (The other two are 'art' and 'science' fact fans).  Our collective romance with the bearded one certainly seems to take on the same tone of necessity, as the random and incidental take their place, in hindsight, in a grander narrative that had to be.

With an hour to go until the close of nominations Corbyn was what seven.....nine... votes short of a place on the leadership ballot? A handful of folk  make what, at the time, were presented to us as rather flippant, almost whimsical, decisions to 'open up the debate'.... and from such moments of random contingency, a narrative of destiny is born.

Badiou says be bold.... go for this stuff..... in life and love.... so ...umh......yeah... "Jez We Can"... (cough)


And now, like one of those vicars who, with a subtle sleight of hand, steer any matter back to the New Testament - I say, what does this have to do with Doctor Who?..... Well, the whole thing is necessity with Nu-Who isn't it? The old days of contingency and chance, of  'whoops,the Tardis has broken down and I need some mercury - let's see if there's any lying around in that strange alien city over there...!" - all that has gone.

The Doctor is locked into a world of fate and destiny, of portents and prophesies and foreshadowing and signs and signals. Every moment is locked into a narrative nexus, with one eye on the end of season finale and another on a key scene broadcast one Saturday in 1975.

I know that this is what stories do, but seldom has the momentum been more obvious. It used to be a 'knock four times' here, a hastily scrawled 'Bad Wolf' there... a quiet muttering about a song coming to an end. Seldom however, has the marking of a  trajectory been so clearly obvious. We aren't hurtling towards a finale, last night it felt like we were there already.

There I was expecting the usual indifferent season opener: Bad guys shaped like spoons, something for the kids, Doctor rides up a skyscraper on a motorbike... all the usual stuff.....  but a Davros origin story? UNIT? The Master?.... and little shout outs everywhere... to everything... You would need a degree in Doctorology. I've no idea what my kids made of Tom Baker on screen with his small wires and big dilemma...

But still..... interesting times eh?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy? 
Caught in a landslide 
No escape from reality 

Flamboyant Queen frontman Freddie Mercury and father of modern philosophy Rene Descartes have two things in common: A predilection for exuberant moustaches and a nagging fear that it may'know, all be just a dream.....

It's only Freddie, however, who seems to grasp the fact that this particular question isn't half as interesting as everyone thinks it is. ("Anyone can see.....Nothing really matters ......nothing really matters to me")

Even Descartes wants to consider the question of our dreaming / not dreaming existence only to the extent that he can get it all out of the way and get on with looking at optics or meteorites or static fluids or something, without some smart-Alec saying: "ah-ha... but what if it's all'know..... a dream?"

In the end, Descartes decides life is not a dream, for the simple reason that God won't let it be a dream. (The Cartesian God is a bit like one of those English teachers at school who, with five minutes to go before the bell, regard it as rather bad form to write oneself out of a corner by suddenly ending a tale with the statement: "and then suddenly I woke up to discover it was all a just a dream")

It could be the case however, as Bishop Berkeley pointed out, that we are all living God's dream ....and in that case, it wouldn't matter half as much as you think it would : Wherever it is located, all Descartes and Berkeley need is a 'real' world that they can point to that is predictable and orderly and makes scientific sense, so that we can get on with the optics and the meteorites and the static fluids and stuff, in a way that appears coherent to everyone.........

Of course, this would mean nothing in the world of Doctor Who, which, asleep or awake, never makes any scientific sense at all. Back in the early 70's, when Jon Pertwee used to mutter about 'reversing the polarity on the neutron flow', there was at least an attempt to convey World-of-Who as a place which broadly complied with a range scientific principles - an understanding of which could help one repel this week's non-terrestrial invaders. Now, however, when folk can resist being converted into a Cyberman merely by thinking really hard about how much they really, really luv their kids or Davey Tennant can hurl a space lassoo around the world and pull it along with the Tardis, all pretense at a scientifically coherent outlook has gone.

No, if Doctor Who World is to have some consistent, coherent, predictable, shared reality, which its inhabitants can perhaps point to as an agreed 'non-dream' state, then it must conform to rules other than those of science. I would suggest that these rules are as follows:

1) All beings are in some way oriented to, or determined by, the Doctor. They all love him, or want to kill him (or, in the case of the Master, both)
2) Any being the Doctor encounters must in some way reflect some aspect of the Doctor's position, outlook or mental state.

So, within the confines of my my proposal, Father Christmas, as an, avuncular yet slightly-sinister seasonal visitor in outlandish clothing, who wants to give the Doctor a tangerine, CAN most definitely exist within a coherent World-of Who, but Danny Pink, as a fairly conventional young man who rather wishes that the Doctor would just quietly go away, is definitely a dream that Clara once had, probably whilst she was living inside a Dalek.....*

*I realise that the Danny Pink mournful soldier thing WAS written to reflect aspects of the Doctor, but I'd written myself into a corner, so don't stop me now, I'm havin' a good time, I'm havin' a ball....

Monday, 1 December 2014

Script Check

I love the idea of a circular Gallifreyan script....

It's obvious that for most of classic-Who, with all this 'High Gallifreyan' lark, they were just making it up as they went along, scrawling any old vaguely arabic-looking nonsense on the side of Rassilon's Tomb or in the Doctor's diary, but with Nu-Who they clearly got their act together and came up with the lovely circular script we see today:

A plain old bog-standard linear script is locked into time itself, everlasting but not eternal; running giddily from then to now and bubbling on ahead of itself, pregnant with possibility and fecund with the future. It's just like this post, this blog, this life.... dribbling on without end or goal in sight. Always a reference section, always an epilogue, a sequel, a counter-argument, a Phantom Menace, always more ....

But a circular script?... that's like God... It's a stroke of genius. A circular script is literally going nowhere: beautiful, eternal, whole, without beginning or end.

Linear script is fine for science or philosophy, or any open-ended quest for the future, but circular says complete, finished, sorted, done. It is all at once; outside of the then and now and the day and tomorrow.

There's an aesthetic to it as well: It floats above the world, even the merest additional footnote would mar it's circular perfection. It can't be extended - you can only elaborate upon it  within the confines of it's own circularity.

But that's means that really it's a dead language isn't it? A closed, ossified script, redolent of a civilisation that has reached its peak, locked into its own never-ending circularity. Circular scripts are, in the end, only good for elaborate pretty patterns or spells or poems or jokes - and that fits the Time Lords pretty well I think .

I hope they only bring them back for a little bit. They're like the Jedi, not as interesting as you think they'll be... best kept to the shadows with their pretty, little spinning laws of  time......

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Let it Go...

The point about stories is that they should end.... at the end...when we've put work into a complex emotional crescendo - not later, when we're back sniffing like a dog....

Exhibit A: Rose
Lovely moving story of doomed love. Trapped in separate dimensions, he burns up a sun just to say one last goodbye.
(But, then he pops back one season later to offer her a half-human, identical that's nice)

Exhibit B: Martha
She tries to replace Rose in his heart. She fails. She has enough dignity about her to walk away from him and his world, back to her old life, with her head held high.
(One season later, like the ultimate clingy ex, we find that she has joined his old firm and married Rose's ex-boyfriend)

Exhibit C: Amy
She outgrows childhood raggedy pal and chooses the nice, sensible boyfriend. In bizarre twist, her spurned imaginary companion materializes at the wedding to give the union his blessing ....aaah...clever that. You thought the challenge was going to be Daleks and Cybermen, but actually it was all about growing up...
(Next season she's back and finds out thatshe's unwittingly given birth to a glamorous, time-travelling psychopath, whilst a clone made of gooey stuff handles the maternity cover)

Exhibit D: Clara
Talented actress wrestles layered and convincing performance out of the mess that was the previous season. A relationship based on two characters who are never entirely at ease with each other or themselves, climaxes with a nicely judged symbolic hug that ensures that, even there at the end, they don't have to truly look each other in the eye.......
(oh no.... wait a minute......this Christmas she's back, bantering with Santa's elves on a roof )

"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly".
Proverbs 26:11

PLEASE.........LET THEM GO.........

Thursday, 13 November 2014

"Who wants to live forever?"

Let's return once again to 1968 my friends... let's send good companion Clara Oswald back along the timeline in our stead... The job is naturally hers, for there are profound messages and glimmers of destiny to impart to a small and frightened ten year-old boy.

Here he sits silently hunched before his flickering television set one Saturday evening, watching Cyberman epic 'The Invasion':

Clara: (whispering quietly in his ear) "Small boy, do you see the bold soldier on the screen before you? He of the trim moustache and military vigour?"

Boy: "Yes I do..."

Clara: "Well... one day it shall come to pass that he shall be a great leader of men - a defender of the Earth, dispatching the very Devil himself with five rounds rapid fire."

Boy: "Gosh....That certainly sounds exciting..."

Clara: "Oh it shall be young man. I can promise you, much action there is to come....and he will become  a great figure in the life of the Doctor - even getting his own Sugar Smacks pin badge..."

Boy: "Wow.....I shall certainly ensure that mother gets me one of those"

Clara: "But wait.....for like all old soldiers, in the end he shall fall after a lifetime of service to his cause and he shall be remembered with honour and dignity."

Boy: "That is certainly sad" (sigh)

Clara: "Sadder day, near half a century in the future, a very bad man will contrive to tear his rotting bones from the earth, wrap them in a metal suit and parade them through the streets once more, like the relics of a medieval saint, held aloft for the fervent to gain some kind of tenuous reconnection with the past".

Boy: "Crikey.....That sounds most disrepectful..."

Clara: "Worse still, they will strap rockets to his boots and fire him at a CGI airplane.... for naught but entertainments sake.."

Boy: "That is terrible... I will not let it happen... In fifty years time I shall write to the Radio Times again if I have to . It is too much to think of the memory of this proud and noble man dishonoured in such a way... I shall not stand for it...!"

Clara: (cackles): "Oh you will stand for it.... you'll stand and salute it, my clever boy..."