Saturday, 27 August 2011

"Gee, Mr Hitler..."

You know how I keep pointing out that Moffat's idea of "How to Do Drama" is basically an Indiana Jones movie? All I'm saying is, this would be a lot neater if Michael Sheard were still around.

Hmmm. On the other hand... let's look at this scene again. A gormless-looking boy-man with a bow tie fixation, being thanked by Adolf Hitler for obvious "shock" value, even though he's clearly out of his depth in Nazi Germany and we're used to seeing a real extra-terrestrial champion deal with this type of situation. Why does that remind me of something?

Oh yeah.

Doctor Who, 2011: all the wit and subtlety you've come to expect from a sixty-year-old Superman comic. Next week, River Song becomes Lana Lang by temporarily gaining a disfiguring mutation and turning evil.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Weekend Geek Quiz #2

I'm not proud of this, y'know.

While we wait for the plot of Miracle Day to get a f***ing move on, you can use your skill, judgement, and borderline-autism to answer the following. Which of these ten noted individuals is the odd one out...

David Tennant; Jack Davenport; Sean Connery; Ben Kingsley; Christina Ricci; Steven Spielberg; Silas Carson (the voice of the Ood); Alfred Pennyworth; Doctor Octopus; and Winnie the Pooh?

Answer, ooh, sometime fairly soon I should expect.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Weekend Geek Quiz

Not necessarily a regular feature, I'm just in that sort of mood.

What do these four things have in common?
(a) The TARDIS chameleon circuit.
(b) James Tiberius Kirk.
(c) Kryptonite.
(d) Jedi Master Quinlan Vos.

Answer on Monday, or - more probably - when you use the internet.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Torchwood, Week Three

To be fair to Jane Espenson...

...most of the last season of Buffy was dull, inconsistently-characterised story-arc filler as well. Look, she wrote "Band Candy", she can't be all bad.

So here's something stupid and irrelevant to cheer us up. Which is best, Sutekh or the Decapitron?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Torchwood, Week Two

"Welsh On A Plane"

This programme is really stretching credibility. I simply refuse to believe that more than two black people work for the CIA.

Also, Sheldrake's morphic fields theory is science so bad that it's actually worse than saying "it's probably God or something" (c.f. "The Shakespeare Code", in which Davies-by-proxy is so paranoid about the idea of the Doctor believing in magic that he adds pseudo-science which makes less sense than interdimensional aliens having magic).

Nice chemistry, though. I mean the actual chemistry. I was tearfully reminded of Patrick Troughton making stinkbombs and killing giant crabs, although Troughton probably wouldn't have done the bitch-slapping.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Torchwood: Miracle Day

That was actually quite good.

Yeah... yeah, that was actually quite good.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Public Information Message

(Click to enlarge.)

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Why I Could Never, Etc (Volume II)

Situation: the Doctor has just realised the truth about River Song.

"But... but that means..."

"Yes. It does."

(Long pause. Eventually, the Doctor shrugs.)

"Oh well. Anyway, things to do. There's something interesting going on in Metatraxiad-4C9, so -"

"Doctor, you don't understand! I... I'm Amy's daughter."

(Shorter pause.)


"What do you mean, 'and'? I'm Amy's daughter."

"Yes, but how does that change anything?"


"You're exactly the same character you were a few minutes ago. Not even a very interesting character, to be honest. And let's face it, since you're a time-traveller who's intimately connected with my adventures and yet who traditionally refuses to reveal her origins, it's not much of a shocker. So does your parentage actually make the slightest bit of difference?"

"You don't understand. I'm Amy's -"

"Yes, yes, yes. But I only heard about Amy being pregnant a few weeks ago, it's not as if it's a great mystery of the universe or anything. I mean, have we honestly learned anything here? Other than that story-arcs are a very poor substitute for imagination? Because I've spent most of my recent life watching people wave fetishistic hardware around in blue-lit hangars, and frankly I've got better things to do. The thing with the fossilised hand and the androgynous rock-monster in the catsuit was more fun than this, and that wasn't even one of the good ones. I've been thinking about that a lot in the last few weeks, for some reason."

"Doctor -"

"Not to mention the fact that I had to come up with another army of Old Monsters to live up to that whole Pandorica mess. I should've thrown in a Pink Tereleptil while I was at it."

"Doctor! Don't you even care about the part I play in your destiny?"

"Nnnnno, not particularly. You carry a blaster so that you can kill aliens on the spot, then spin it around before you put it back in your holster because you think it looks cool. What are you, Robocop? I'm quite honestly embarrassed to think I had anything to do with your creation at all. Also, that schtick of 'hilariously' killing someone who's standing behind you without even looking...? That's the sign of a borderline psychotic, you vicious little twit. No, you're just... you're just awful."

"You don't realise the consequences. They've taken me as a baby -"

"Good! Let's hope they bring you up with a personality this time. Now go away, and let me explore the universe with a minimum of pointless angst."

Friday, 3 June 2011

Doctor Who Re-Launch: Action-Figure Exclusive

For years, the Doctor has confronted the irregularities of space and time with nothing more than his sonic screwdriver. This was all very well when stories depended on scientific inquiry and believable characterisation, but it leaves him ill-equipped to deal with the modern, action-driven, high-octane version of the series. No surprise, then, that BBC Wales has announced plans to "re-launch" the character. As a spokesperson put it: 'If he knows he's going to be fighting a giant CGI mutant or an army of heavily-armed assassins in an explosive set-piece, then what kind of idiot just carries a screwdriver? Duh! Besides, 78% of our core audience demographic consists of punters who are likely to see an X-Men movie in its first week of release or queue up to buy Tomb Raider 3-D when it comes out.'

Scripts are still being kept under wraps. But for marketing reasons, preliminary designs have already been passed on to Character, allowing them to launch their action-figure range at the same time as the debut of the Ultimate Doctor (TM). And thanks to a leak from this world of merchandising, we can present a sneak preview of things to come...

1. 4-D Visor. Internal head-up display automatically identifies any being, artefact, or exotic form of energy the Doctor may encounter, removing the need for tedious investigation or mystery. So as to "subvert" any head-up displays you might see in movies, this one is programmed to say something vaguely witty and English-sounding every one-in-six times the Doctor looks through it, like "a nice cup of tea" instead of "hyperdironic output at 84%". The other notable feature of the visor is that 'IT'S COOL!', as the Doctor will loudly exclaim when he puts it on for the first time.

2. Who-erang. The bow-tie is edged with a unique Time Lord alloy of iron, silver (in case of werewolf attack), and timeywimeyum. Can be thrown to disarm villains, but not kill them, except when it becomes necessary to kill them every other week. In the season finale, it transpires that the timeywimeyum element allows the Doctor to throw the Who-erang through time: in the first half of a two-parter, he randomly hurls it into a corner and sees it vanish, but it appears in exactly the same place at the end of part two when the arch-villain's standing there with the doomsday trigger in his hand. Because the Doctor saw that coming, somehow. Or did he...? He denies it, so yes.

3. Geography-Teacher-Chic Body Armour. All the protection of bulletproof neo-plastic and adolescent machismo, with a hint of eccentric Englishness that's apparently meant to justify its existence. Acts as a metaphor for the entire series. As an additional element of irony, jacket has elbow-patches made from the same indestructible material.

4. UltraTARDIS Control. Finally, the TARDIS comes into its own as a truly chameleonic piece of hardware. By activating his belt-buckle mechanism, the Doctor can transform his mode of transport into a four-dimensional warship, able to hover over battlefields like an All-Destroying Harbinger of Doom (but still inlaid with blue panels, for branding reasons). He can then activate the TARDIS weapons arrays with mere will-power, via the telepathic circuits.

5. Mark III HyperSize Sonic Screwdriver. Eight times as large as the previous version, and capable of firing a bazooka-width band of energy to rip apart the molecular bonds of opponents. (Note: definitely not a gun. Can only be used against targets whose molecular bonds are traditionally weak, like aliens or Nazis.)

6. HyperSize screwdriver is also double-ended, allowing "it goes both ways" and "two at a time" innuendo when necessary.

7. Evil Hand. Spoiler alert. At the end of the preceding season, the Doctor comes into contact with "anti-being", a perverted version of Time Lord biomass which infects our newly-resurrected hero with "the force of Absolute Dark". Throughout the new-look Doctor's first season, the contaminated hand becomes increasingly powerful, a story-arc which eventually results in what fans are already calling "The Darkest Doctor". (Darkest Doctor action-figure available Christmas.)

8. Hypno-Whip. From the beginning, this production team's idea of visual storytelling has largely been based on the Indiana Jones movies. And now the Doctor can look even cooler than Harrison Ford, not only using the whip to bring down enemies who seem more or less human (and therefore can't be killed with the screwdriver), but also to engage them in a hypnotic mind-meld when it's convenient to the narrative. Like in "The Girl in the Fireplace", only probably less sexy.

9. Adamantium Claws. (Optional.)

10. Cyber-Boots. As part of the "darkening" of the Doctor (see point 7), the new-look Doctor will employ cyber-technology in the next season. Though he considers the Cybermen to be a moral horror beyond almost any other, he's still prepared to adapt their footwear into something that can literally "walk through dimensions", as long as there's angst or a long-term sinister consequence involved. Cyber-boots will also allow him to stamp on the throats of inferior beings, or anyone who tries to point out the difference between "drama" and "things happening very quickly".

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Why I Could Never Write for Doctor Who

Modern "emotive" drama requires its characters to behave in quite specific ways if the audience is going to gush properly, and a professional writer will bravely dispense with logical storytelling and/or consistent characterisation in order to get the full effect. Here we see a few examples of how the true pro handles things, and how the amateur (or even fan-fic-level) writer would be needlessly weighed down by notions of common sense or credible behaviour...

Situation: The TARDIS has fallen down a big hole on a newly-discovered planet, and the leader of the expedition has made it clear that they don't have the resources to recover it.

The Proper Version: "The TARDIS... is gone. We're trapped in this place and time forever. Oh, Rose... Rose, I'm so sorry." (Characters begin sobbing. Cue weepy Murray Gold music.)

The Amateur Version: "Right. First thing we do, we get a lift back to the nearest human colony-world. I've got technical skills about eighty-kerjillion years ahead of anyone else in this era, so we shouldn't have any trouble scraping together a few million credits that way... hold on, what am I saying? If the sonic screwdriver can defraud Earth's banking system even in the year 200,000, then in this century I can probably just get the money out of a cash machine. Then we fund our own return expedition to this planet, and hire a drilling team to dig out the TARDIS. Should take, ooh, a couple of months at most?" "Yeah, whatever. I could do with a break anyway."

Situation: The Doctor encounters a mysterious woman who treats him as an old, even intimate, acquaintance.

The Proper Version: "Who are you? How do you know who I am? Why do you keep acting as if we're friends?!? AARRRRRGHHH!" (Cue forty-five minutes of angst and friction, in line with the standards of romantic comedy / action-movie Unresolved Sexual Tension.)

The Amateur Version: "Who are you? How do you know who I am...? Oh, of course! I'm a time-traveller, we must know each other in the future. Surprising this doesn't happen more often, really. No, it's fine, you don't need to prove anything: believing in the decency of strangers is what I've been doing for the last six-hundred years or so, I don't see why I should arbitrarily start being all anxious and paranoid now. Right, enough of the pleasantries, let's put our heads together and work out how to get everyone here to safety."

Situation: Meat-puppet doppelgangers have become self-aware.

The Proper Version: "But... all those memories. Of when I was a little girl. They're real! They must be real!" (Cue weepy Murray Gold music. Sobbing intercut with shots of a speechless Rory, underlining the horror of the fact that he fancies her.)

The Amateur Version: "But... all those memories. Of when I was a little girl. They're real! They must be real! Oh, wait... they are real, aren't they? I mean, when you think about it, every atom in the human body gets lost and replaced within about a decade. So one way or another, we're all copies of ourselves. The important thing is that at least one of me is alive, yeah? Wow. Had a wobbly five minutes there. But, y'know, I come from a civilisation that can wear artifical bodies like T-shirts. It's not like we don't have the cultural apparatus to deal with this sort of thing. God, you should see what we do with the Flesh when we're off-shift, it's just sick. Oh, like we're not going to think about that as soon as we're shown how to use the machinery? And just look what I can do with my neck now! Result. Listen, on that subject... I know you've got a girlfriend and everything, but this whole incident is teaching us to reconsider the boundaries between self and other. So I was thinking..."

Situation: Due to some unimaginable flux in the timeline, Amy is simultaneously pregnant and not pregnant.

The Proper Version: Anxious, obsessive glances at the scanner by the Doctor... who remains silent, but ever-alert to the forces which may even now be enveloping the TARDIS and its crew.

The Amateur Version: "Amy, you know what you said about a baby with a time-head? Er, sorry. It might be true. I wasn't sure if I should tell you, but it is your body, and... well, if we're going to retain any pretence that you're an independent human being or that I have an ethical code of some description, then you've got a right to know. I kept looking at pictures of your womb, and it was getting stalkery. Besides, if I kept quiet about it, it'd obviously just go tits-up in the end." "Oh. Right. Well, um... I've sort of seen you die." "Really?" "Yeah. That horrible woman with the gun fixation? She burned your body and everything." "Ah! Well, we should probably investigate both of those things, then. They're almost certainly connected. Phew! Thank goodness we compared notes, rather than being icily mysterious for no morally or logically defensible reason."

(Update 28/05/11: Yeah... all right, that's a fairly logical reason. But it's still really quite unpleasant. You see? I told you I could never do this.)

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Public Heath Warning

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Secs Sell 2: "The Deadly Art of Doctor Who"

After all these years, the Magnedon finally has something to tell us.

Three and a half years ago - three and a half ruddy years ago, when I still had a fully-functioning liver, when Paul Cornell had just provided the Doctor with a love-interest who didn't come with a special patch in case she got a puncture, and when Life on Mars had given the BBC a time-travel double-whammy which briefly convinced someone, somewhere, that John Simm would make a better Master than Derek Jacobi - I wrote an article called "Secs Sells". It was, for the most part, about toys.

If you recall, this sort of thing made sense in 2007. It was the year when Doctor Who seemed to swallow the world of consumer plastics like a great big Sumo Auton, when every sensible child's Christmas list proved that we had definitely won. Dalek Sec masks were being advertised on TV. You know, properly advertised. In the ad-breaks. Not just in black-and-white photocopied catalogues that made the action figures look like highly specialised marital aids, the way Dapol models used to be.

And yet... even then, even in the Winter of the Voice-Changer, there was something happening in Tesco's toy department that made us wonder if this wasn't still Dapol's World. The Character range was going pleasantly berserk, producing things that not even the world's least rational foetus would seriously play with rather than just collect. The Faceless Old Woman toy was my personal favourite, although the Burst Cassandra has since become legendary in its absolute uselessness, unless you're thinking of setting it on fire and making K-9 jump through it. Let's be honest, in a series which so routinely turns conventional items into potential threats, even monsters that work conceptually - which is to say, monsters that make perfect sense if you've seen the episode - become bizarre when moulded in plastic. A Weeping Angel figurine, out of context, is a very poor garden ornament. A little boy in a gas-mask would've seemed a perverse sort of plaything to our grandparents. A poseable Auton would've been pushing it even in Pertwee's day.

There were other oddities, like the 9" David Tennant in "Impossible Planet" space-gear, such a lost-looking throwback to Action Man's space-exploration phase that you had to wonder why he didn't have a voice-recorder in his backpack. Of the kind, O my Best Beloved, that you must particularly never take into the bath. Even though you may feel morally obliged to do so when there's a water-planet to explore. Remember, though, how New-School Doctor Who was itself undergoing a rather stressful adolescence at this point. I still maintain that "The Sound of Drums" was the point at which the programme Formally Jumped the Shark, not because it was singularly awful (we'd already had much worse), but because it was the point at which Russell T. Davies started writing scripts for the BAFTA audience rather than the general public. We ended up with an episode, and ultimately a series, in which television itself was the only reality.

So I said, at the time, that the best way of monitoring the series' impact on the Cultural Mass was to watch what happened to the toys. This seems like a good moment to come back to that idea. And not, as you may think, because we're now due for an action figure of Matt Smith in a f***ing Stetson. Instead, I'd like to go off a tangent that explores another way in which Doctor Who has traditionally interacted with the real world... especially at Play Time.

But to do that, I'm going to have to remind you all of Totally Doctor Who.

Now, I'm not a great supporter of (or, since around 2008, even a viewer of) Doctor Who Confidential. It made sense when the Great Journey of Life began again in 2005, but there's only so much to say behind-the-scenes before it becomes a celebration of... the idea that Doctor Who needs to be celebrated. Like DVDs that give you two hours of special features for every hour of movie, it's a work of fetishism above all else. Totally Doctor Who, now, that was remarkable. Simply by existing, perhaps even more unlikely than the victory of the Dalek Sec masks. Sorry? No, well, you weren't the target audience. Not even with someone as eminently capable as Kirsten "Yoghurt-Pants" O'Brien in front of the camera. It had to end, though, as soon as Catherine Tate became a regular fixture. If the emotional hook of a series involves someone who talks about temp work all the time, then no side-show is ever going to appeal to a schoolgoing audience. Nonetheless, the fact that Totally ran for two seasons has to be considered something of a triumph.

This is interesting, when you consider what's happening on CBBC in 2011. I may have to do some explaining here, because I sense that you're not as familiar with it as I might be, nor capable of joining in with most of the songs from Horrible Histories (incidentally, if you want to study the way anachronism has become the collage form of the twenty-first century, then this is at least as important as Doctor Who... plus, Viking rock ballad). Here I'm thinking particularly of Deadly 60. No? Very well. This is essentially the Extreme Sports version of natural history, in which Steve Backshall - mildly irritating at first, until you realise that he's genuinely excited about getting bitten by giant ants - goes in search of the sixty deadliest life-forms on the planet. Even as a method of presenting wildlife to children (ohhh yes, especially boys), this might be unbearable, if it weren't for the fact that Backshall doesn't do things by halves. We're exposed to hideous parasites and hugely unlikely species of squid-thing, not simply the Big Name Predators, and most of them make at least a token effort to savage the presenter. That said, the Big Name Predator footage is something special: David Attenborough's cameraman never came within two feet of getting his arms ripped off by a tiger, and it's genuinely terrifying to watch.

But Deadly 60 has its own pilot-fish programme, Deadly Art. This is the latest and most carnivorous offshoot of the Take Hart format (or Art Attack, if you're dead common), and you can probably see how it all fits together. We get a precis of the accompaying Deadly 60, and then two artists in the studio - usually young women, y'know, like with Tony Hart - make A GIGANTIC SODDING PRAYING MANTIS WITH GLOWING EYES OUT OF SCRAP METAL. Only pausing to run off a smaller version out of the sort of thing you might find, ooh, in your bins.

By now, you should be thinking: Wait a minute. Deadly 60 gets that as a spin-off, and we only get Doctor Who Confidential...? If you aren't, then you have no soul and I pity you, but I'll continue anyway.

The problem is, this comes closer to the nature of the way Doctor Who has traditionally functioned (and here "traditionally" goes at least up until 2007, possibly further) than any spin-off the programme has actually managed to create. Doctor Who was always a tactile thing, even when it came as close as the budget would allow to high-concept. Experiment is in its nature, and that rubs off on you. Yes, we did use wasteground to simulate quarries, either the kind which themselves simulated other planets or the kind where one might reasonably be expected to find a fossilised alien hand. I know for a fact, and from personal observation which under certain other circumstances might lead to a restraining order, that children in the Tennant era used cardboard boxes to reconstruct both monsters and architectures from the modern episodes ("YOU CAN'T TOUCH ME, I'M INSIDE THE TARDIS!"). Even the "Blink" game only works properly if you can play it in the presence of actual, definite statues.

Let me clarify this: if we imagine a theoretical Doctor Who Art, then we're not considering insipid "makes" a la Blue Peter. That would put Character out of business, and besides, you can probably tell from the awful bonus feature on "Talons of Weng-Chiang" that teeny-tiny reconstructions of Doctor Who stories were never popular even in the '70s (while the part about using your sister's violin-oil makes even me feel working-class). What's notable about Deadly 60's spin-off is how the materials of Termite Art, art made from accumulated bits and pieces, fit the subject matter so precisely. It'd be glib to suggest that Termite Art is good for making termites, but you can easily see how household detritus would resemble claws, scales, and pirranha-teeth rather than anything in classical sculpture.

As it was, so it should also be. Doctor Who has always been a creature of Found Parts, for reasons far beyond the BBC's make-do-and-mend requirements. We can trace this all the way back to 1963. The Magnedon, sharp-edged and slack-jawed in its petrified jungle, is a Hell of a lot like the kind of thing the Deadly Artists produce on a weekly basis. The idea of a Magnedon being a backyard project is... more than tempting, from an eight-year-old's perspective. "The Keys of Marinus" is even more obviously made of left-overs, and yes, I would like to build myself a statue that I can put my own arms through. Fine, we can keep "The Sensorites" for the inevitable model spaceship episode (yawn). But "The Aztecs"? "The Aztecs"...! I'm thinking, Barbara's headpiece. Maybe even an Aztec sacrificial mask. Okay, anyone who doesn't think that making an Aztec sacrificial mask would be cooler than an action figure of Matt Smith in a Stetson can now officially naff off and go back to watching Stargate.

The reason I'm examining this purely theoretical hybrid spin-off is really quite simple. I've argued that something along these lines is in Doctor Who's most primal nature, on-screen and off: for a programme that thrives on the palpable, that does wonders with men in big chunky monster costumes and goes belly-up when it tries to look like a CGI horror movie, this sense of stuff chimes with everything from the Very First Monster We Ever Saw to the Radio Times ad from 2006. (You may recall that when the RT first advertised on ITV, it began in the week of the "Rise of the Cybermen" cover. It involved a small boy making himself Cyber-armour out of tinfoil. See, I told you it wasn't entirely a twentieth-century thing.) But...? Yes, you knew there'd be a but. But at a time when a programme of this kind actually exists in a BBC children's slot, weirdly related to the real world rather than a haunted forest on a planet full of Daleks, Doctor Who itself... couldn't do it.

This lack of getting-your-hands-dirty-ness tells us a lot about what's changed, even more than we might have expected the toys to. It felt perfectly natural for the 2006 series to segue into something as DIY as Totally, and it would've felt almost as natural for it to link into a session of Termite Art (not in the case of every episode, although some awareness of the child-viewer's urge to create might have caused more people working on "Fear Her" to do their jobs properly). For the Smith Era... not so natural. Given Moffat's technique of making Doctor Who as much like a surrogate action-movie as budget allows, "Day of the Moon" was never going to resemble anything you can make out of packing material. "Curse of the Black Spot" is more likely to have an impact on real-world behaviour, if only in terms of shouting "arrr!", yet its strangeness comes from a lighting effect imposed on a supermodel. Rather annoyingly, "The Doctor's Wife" gives us a whole junkyard world - no, better than that, a TARDIS junkyard world - but then uses it as background. Even the moment of actual salvage is a plot convenience rather than a celebration of Found Parts.

Here we'll assume that playing in a skip is, at least symbolically, a good thing. (Symbolically, it's what virtually every pioneer in both the televisual arts and radiophonics did, so this is a safe assertion as long as you've got some iodine handy in case of scrapes.) On any level, this isn't the sort of thing Doctor Who encourages in the current phase. There are many niggling reasons for that, but it comes down to one key point: Doctor Who is now a brand. It says so on the back of the Michael Moorcock novel, in big letters, so it must be true. "One of the biggest brands in sci-fi," no less. But then, it's not as if we weren't forewarned. First we got the company logo, then we got the range of excitingly-coloured Daleks.

This isn't the first time it's been pitched this way. Just as Russell T. Davies became so bound up in his role as Toast of the Showbiz World that he started making a programme explicitly for people who work in TV, John Nathan-Turner became so bound up in his role as Toast of Fandom (this was in his early period, you understand, before fanzines started announcing fatwahs) that his version of programme-making became divorced from anything outside Doctor Who itself. He'd spend more and more time at conventions, where people would hang on his every word, and cheer whenever he'd say anything like "well, of course, the Ice Warriors might be back next year". The ultimate result, beyond "Attack of the Cybermen" and stories which treated the Rani meeting the Autons as a major selling-point, was to turn the Series Concept into something which largely existed to be sold and oversold to those who already believed in it. Personally, I can forgive the merchandising. The Doctor Who Cookbook at least wanted us to know it was ridiculous, or they wouldn't have put a Yeti in an apron on the cover; and despite Tat Wood's insistence, I've yet to see definite proof that Knit a TARDIS ever existed. No, the issue wasn't the bumf, it was the crippling sense of self-involvement.

Yet Doctor Who in the '80s at least retained one advantage: it was genuinely unique. Season Eighteen may have been in competition with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, but nobody ever really thought they were meant to have anything in common. And when ITV finally won its great victory circa 1985, with a version of Robin Hood that was demonstrably better (certainly more of-its-time) than "Timelash", you could at least truthfully say they weren't on the same turf. Now, though, Doctor Who isn't the only game in town. It does high-visibility, high-maintenance fantasy... and so does everybody else, from Hollywood downwards, if that's an accurate use of "downwards". The reason the series has to be branded is that it can't retain an identity any other way. We can see a difference, mainly because we're the kind of gits who remember the past too well, but the general audience no longer perceives a gulf between this and the Next Effects Series Along. Many excuses have been made for the relatively feeble viewing figures in 2011, although the most important point has been politely coughed over. The last series of Merlin got higher viewing figures while being threatened by X Factor than this does against pretty-much-nothing-at-all.

As in the '80s, the shift towards branding Doctor Who means appealing to the existing fan-base, if in a slightly different way. Whereas Nathan-Turner tried to do it by overloading episodes with Old Favourites...

(...sorry, I'd honestly forgotten "The Pandorica Opens" until that moment, and it took me a few moments to stop chuckling...)

...we note that all the factors used to keep the series solvent in the 20-teens are favourites of the modern sci-fi fan. You know the ones I mean, you can count 'em off yourselves. Ratings are always a treacherous guide, but is anyone really surprised that viewing figures went back up for "Curse of the Black Spot"? Doctor Who vs Pirates vs Mermaids isn't terribly original, yet at least it puts the programme in a different space from anything else on TV. Well, until the Johnny Depp movie a few days later. An Angel-age storyline about a time-baby pregnancy, or snatches of future events that aren't designed to be comprehensible even to the dedicated viewer, are of no interest to anyone except - ironically, given recent controversies - the kind of people who care about spoilers. If the Termite Art version of television provokes the viewer into going outside and poking around to see what's there (and I still hold that this is what most good telly does, especially children's telly), then this is more like siege conditions. Branding always closes the gates. This is your product, you don't need anything else.

Which brings us back to that other sort of product, the "real" toys and games that don't seem real at all. I was right about this, at the very least: you can tell the programme's status from whatever's in the shops. What we have in May 2011, heavily-pitched on commercial TV (and tellingly, often late at night), is the trading-card game that promises "awesome alien beatdowns". Wholly insular, and almost unplayable as a game unless you're already hooked on Yu-Gi-Oh, it exists to flog trading-cards to boys who've already been sold on the idea of buying trading-cards. While we could at least laugh at Tom Baker underpants, and while Dalek Sec seemed like a triumph even though we didn't necessarily like "Evolution of the Daleks" very much, this is... all right. Let's call it a different sort of phenomenon, and leave it at that.

You can't even make a shark out of it.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Thirty Books from Interrupted Worlds

Inspired by Philip Purser-Hallard's @trapphic Twitter-stream (a series of 140-character micro-stories, entirely original in his case). The following are all classic works of literature by well-remembered authors, abridged to exactly 140 characters for easy dissemination among the puny humans, but taken from those universes where events have been influenced by multiple timelines, anachronistic technologies, or Things That Should Not Be.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was an age of wisdom, it was an age of Roman legionnaires riding about on dinosaurs.
- Charles Dickens

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a time machine must be in need of a wife who's really his own nan.
- Jane Austen

It was only when she saw the tendril attached to the rabbit's back that Alice realised how the Xithraxi went "fishing" for psychic children.
- Lewis Carroll

After driving out the animals, the MetaTermites wrote on the side of the barn: FOUR LEGS GOOD. SIX LEGS BEST. Then the UltraSpiders arrived.
- George Orwell

"It is not only the Heights that seem so curiously disposed," Heathcliff warned, "but the Widths, Lengths, and... perhaps other dimensions."
- Emily Brontë

Disguised as a washer-woman, Mr Toad found it easy to slip past the jailer. The bizarre inconsistency in scale had destroyed the man's mind.
- Kenneth Grahame

"You mean I can't get out of this unless I kill my own grandfather, but if I kill my own grandfather, I won't be around to get out of this?"
- Joseph Heller

24 hours later, Fogg returned with Hitler's crown and the Grail of Saladin. His friends claimed he'd definitely said *one* world, 80 *days*.
- Jules Verne

It was chaos: when the boys on the island learned they were being killed by public vote, they tore off Davina's head and stuck it on a pole.
- William Golding

Now Mary understood the secret of Jamaica Inn. Its eerie mystique was a beacon, allowing the locals to kill and rob any curious Time Agents.
- Daphne du Maurier

"Why, you're a Son of Adam!" said Mr Beaver, delighted. "Our race has been interbreeding with yours for millennia. How are our death-spawn?"
- C. S. Lewis

On winter evenings, Beth would sit by the fire and sew Higgs-Bosons onto subatomic quilts, while Amy would carp about modern-day relativism.
- Louisa May Alcott

"Lolita, fire of my loins, light of my life. And apparently it isn't legal even if you use a tachyonic accelerator to make them look older."
- Vladimir Nabokov

"Oh bother!" said Pooh. "It's bad enough that my back half is stuck in Rabbit's kitchen, but my front half is in the universe of Nazi bees."
- A. A. Milne

"The warpship wreck had inverted space and time, marooning me on a single day, far from the present. Still, at least I had my Man Sideways."
- Daniel Defoe

- Salman Rushdie

"Its back shines like quicksilver," said Ahab, "and in its gut, Hell's own wrath. Aye, a uranium coin for the first to spy the Red October!"
- Herman Melville

riverrun, in stream of conscientiousness, wilfitfully scarding sense to halve the Horror from 'Cross Eternity and its rrravaging of rrreason
- James Joyce

Once she'd dug a well for the villagers, adding her own DNA drones to the water was simple. Oh yes: this town would be *exactly* like Alice.
- Nevil Shute

D'Artagnon's faith in "one for all, and all for one" was only tested when he felt the Musketeer Gestalt surreptitiously borrowing his liver.
- Alexander Dumas

"Yet on some whim, I Judas' nipple brushed / That cold tomb swung aside, and there revealed / A lower level still, that's like the Batcave."
- Dante

"You fool," growled his anti-world counterpart, as its claws tore through his duffelcoat. "Did you really think yours was the Darkest Peru?"
- Michael Bond

"Nanocure Kurtz-G318 has gone native inside the Congolese ambassador. We think it's arranged the cancer cells into its own personal empire."
- Joseph Conrad

Among those at the Paris barricade was Les Miserables, a '70s club comic who'd become unstuck in time. France remembered him subconsciously.
- Victor Hugo

The golden age ended in 1963, when a study found that not every tank-engine required AI to be efficient, especially on island branch-lines.
- The Reverend W. Awdry

Mina accepted her fate after realising that Dracula means "Son of the Dragon", and that he could give her rides "like in Neverending Story".
- Bram Stoker

"Reader: I married him. This was considered daringly metatextual, yet it was a preferable narrative device to the Fourth-Wall Siege Engine."
- Charlotte Brontë

Its four arms became helicopter blades; its turret, a great cannon. But Rotatron, leader of the Windmillcons, was about to meet its nemesis.
- Cervantes

El-Ahrairah gazed beyond the portal, at all the worlds his people would infest. From this day, he'd be the Prince with Nine-Billion Enemies.
- Richard Adams

"Long before becoming Emperor, I visited the Sybil at Cunae. She revealed to me a monstrous prophecy about a place called the Night Garden."
- Robert Graves

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Invader Debrief

Later, back at Silence HQ...

"Jesus, Barry. For someone who calls himself 'Silent', you've got a f***ing mouth on you."

"Er... what?"

"You should kill us all on sight? You actually said you should kill us all on sight? Into a mobile 'phone? Christ, why didn't you tell them to shag your sister while you were at it? It doesn't even make sense within the context of the dialogue, you twat!"

"Look, I'm sorry, all right? I was just... y'know... trying to sound hard. I wanted them to know we were going all the way with this. It's not like I meant to RUIN ALL OUR PLANS FOR WORLD CONQUEST."

"You're doing it again, Barry."

"I... oh yeah."

"Unbelievable. We've been working on this since the Stone Age, somehow. Jagaroth, Fendahl, Last of the Daemons... we've seen 'em all off. Millions of years spent on a foolproof masterplan. But ohhhh, no. It can't withstand Big-Mouth Barry, can it?"

"Okay, fine. You're upset. I'm upset too, yeah? You know I'd never deliberately do anything to SABOTAGE A SCHEME THAT'S BEEN AEONS IN THE MAKING."


"Crap. All right, if you've really got to know. It's my Tourette's, it always gets worse when I'm stressed. There's no need to BITE MY BALLS... ow."


Saturday, 23 April 2011

Cheap Shot Redux

Same schtick, but now with analysis.

The cover of this week's Radio Times...

...and what it looks like to me.

That piece of Radio Times cover sabotage was instinctive, if you can use the word "instinctive" to describe something that ultimately took about half an hour on PhotoShop. The point being, that really is how I see modern-day Doctor Who: the adventures of Jar Jar Binks and a blow-up doll, trying to look as if they smoulder against a bad CGI background. I was planning to leave it at that, but...

...but another week's exposure to the trailer has led me to realise something. Specifically, why the Gungan Doctor seems to fit this picture so perfectly.

Well, here we go again.

We know, by now, that there are certain... all right, let's be positive, and call them "tropes" rather than "clichés" or "acts of desperation". Certain tropes that Moffat will always use, the most obvious being the "going back in time and messing about with history in order to produce the desired result" idea. '90s-era fandom will know that this began with his Decalog story "Continuity Errors", the first (official) thing he ever wrote for Doctor Who, and magnificent in itself. "In itself" because he's pirated bits of it for almost everything he's done since. "Curse of the Fatal Death", "The Girl in the Fireplace", "Blink" (but perhaps more tellingly, the Sally Sparrow story that "Blink" was based on), "Silence in the Library", and then - finally, or at least, I hope it's finally - "A Christmas Carol", not so much a cannibalisation as a remake with festive icing. Although the most cloying example is obviously "The Eleventh Hour", because the moment you see two unnamed "Girls" in the Radio Times cast list, you know they're going to be two previous versions of the new companion and you know the Doctor is going to spend the whole twatty hour going backwards and forwards while being surprised by things that don't even surprise the audience. Even a mook like Charlie Brooker called it "business as usual".

Easy to see why Moffat is pulled towards this kind of thing, though. We can cover up its obviousness by giving it a cute nickname like "timey-wimey, in-and-outey", but we all instinctively know it's the product of a background in comedy. Jack Dee, during his BBC Britain's Best Sit-Com segment, argued that Fawlty Towers is the Perfect Farce. Rubbish: Moffat's comedy writing shows the same precision, yet he can do it in four dimensions, effectively sticking a turkey down the vicar's trousers EVEN BEFORE THE VICAR WAS BORN. It's what he's good at. A comic structure that intersects with itself in time, space, and slapstick.

Arguably, it's the only thing he's good at.

Put in the spotlight, Moffat returns to a stimulus-response kind of thinking. If he does something that works, something that people like, then he does it again. This is how all comedy writers, those who demand an instant reaction from the audience, are primed to think. He once told me that he found writing drama incredibly easy after writing comedy. Therein lies most of the problem. Drama isn't easy, it's just harder to see when you're not doing it properly. If you get comedy wrong, then the audience won't laugh. If you get drama wrong, then... hey! They'll still applaud politely. If your drama passes the time and doesn't frighten the horses, it'll get recommissioned. That doesn't mean it was actually dramatic, or that it hit its target.

No, this is getting too grandiose, so let's stick to the Moffat Era in specific. Moffat is trained to repeat what works. He specifically looks at the kind of thing People Who Watch Doctor Who like, and what might appeal to them again in future. In terms of People Who Watch Doctor Who, he's homed in on two main groups. One of which is a perfect partner for his going-back-in-time-and-fiddling-about model (what I'll hereafter call the Farcical Version, for the logical reason and because I enjoy it). That group is, of course, children.

It worked brilliantly in "The Girl in the Fireplace", and the logic seems sound. Four points here. Children watch Doctor Who; children are scared by Doctor Who; children idolise the Doctor; therefore, get the Doctor to interact directly with a child who's being threatened by a scary monster in the dark, and it'll be a winner. Perfect, yes? So much so that it can be repeated at every opportunity in order to get the children on-side. "Silence of the Library" (again), "The Eleventh Hour" (again), "A Christmas Carol" (again), and now - if the trailer's anything to go by - "The Impossible Astronaut". All of them bring the Doctor into direct contact with an audience-substitute child who's being menaced by something, since the suggestion is that this is what every under-twelve secretly wants. The excitement of danger, but the reassurance of a saviour who can - gee! - go anywhere in space and time.

And it's this tendency that truly links Moffat to his soul-twin, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman never had the excuse of being a comedy writer. He just wanted to spend the early '90s nicking all of Alan Moore's best ideas and then hanging around conventions in sunglasses, trying to impress the chicks. But modern Who-cynicism works the same way. Gaiman's odious Books of Magic provided, pre-Harry Potter, a bespectacled future messiah exactly like the typical reader of comic-books who used to get bullied at school; worse, Sandman turned Death (i.e. the obsession of all literate teenagers, especially the sort of pseudo-goths who might be interested in "alternative" culture) into every Teenage Boy Outsider's perfect blow-up doll and every Neurotic Girl Outsider's vision of what she wants to look like when she's at university. You can call this sort of drivel "writing" if you like, but it's actually closer to what advertising agencies do when they want to sell spot-cream. Moore was (and still is) a sometimes-genius who might get residual highs from licking his own eyeballs; Grant Morrison was (and may still be) a spiky little punkette who often got things wrong, but always went "RAAAAH!"; Gaiman has continually been that awful boy at sixth-form who tried to get into girls' pants by claiming that he'd rewritten the poems of Lord Byron to fit the meter of "The Joshua Tree". Yes, I went to college in the late '80s. The analogy still holds.

Moffat, meanwhile, sees children as half of his target demographic. This is also a problem, but mainly because his foundations are shaky. Let's look at those key four points again.

1. Children watch Doctor Who. Yep, that's true.

2. Children are scared by Doctor Who. Ahhhhh. Here we're walking on thin ice, if not clingfilm. In the '60s, children were definitely scared by Doctor Who: the sensation of never-before-seen luminous worlds and never-before-heard radiophonic sounds, coming out of a crackling box in the corner of the room, drove the young 'uns under the furniture. In the '70s, less so. I was never scared by it, as a child. As I (and many others) have already noted, I was terrified of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" video, but never of Daleks. Colour, and the sense of Doctor Who as an extension of Top of the Pops when Queen weren't on, made it exotic rather than pant-wetting. The younger viewers of the '80s remember being interested, not frightened. Post-2005...? Modern Doctor Who is, to the excited kidling, about playing games with fear rather than actually being afraid. Eight-year-olds in the time of Eccleston looked at the Autons and went "YESSSSSS!", but they didn't hide behind the sofa. "Blink", for all its terrible sitcom dialogue and dribbling "character" scenes, is a brilliant playground game. It didn't cause nightmares. "Keep watching that statue, Jay! We'll build something to stop it. No, don't turn round! DON'T TURN ROUND!"

In other words, the idea that children are scared by Doctor Who is based on the nostalgia of grown-ups, not on the way the programme works at its core. Let's face it, we're in 2011, where even pre-watershed-TV is full of CGI horror that the thing from "The Lazarus Experiment" is barely going to scratch. Any movie on Channel 5 is likely to supply the same mix of special effects and things going "bleuurugguughhh". The children aren't scared, they want to act in a manner that allows them to seem scared, primarily so they can fight it: the idea that Doctor Who is a scary programme may have led to a typically Pavlovian tendency for the Radio Times to squeal "IT'S THE SCARIEST ONE YET!" every other week, yet it's mainly based on the folk-memories of old gits like us. And likewise...

3. Children idolise the Doctor. No, they don't. Fans do, generally when they get older. Eight-year-olds don't want David Tennant to burst into their rooms and protect them: that's the desire of a rather more mature age-group, on both sides of the gender line (this is why "The Girl in the Fireplace" pulls it off, and why it's significant that the Little Girl rather unbelievably snogs the Doctor as soon as she's a Big Girl). Children don't ask for the Doctor's intervention, because children want to be able to do the job themselves. This may be why so many Moffat Era stories remind you of Time Bandits, but why none of them have ever been as good. Terry Gilliam at least knew that the child should be the smart one, not the one who's patronised for his intelligence by a particularly nerdy grown-up.

4. The final point is the most crucial: the idea that you make Doctor Who popular with children by getting the Doctor to interact directly with a child. And it's this that brings us back to what George Lucas did in 1999.

Now, when Lucas made The Phantom Menace, he specifically wanted to make an "innocent" film. He wanted to make an adventure story that focused on childhood, in the same way that Attack of the Clones focused on teenage angst and Revenge of the Sith focused on the failure to become a proper adult. In this, he succeeded. Geeks of all colours loathed Episode I, largely because they'd spent the previous twenty years pretending that Han Solo was the important one, and nauseating adolescents always hate to admit that anything designed for children might be any good. (When I was fourteen, I started hating the Muppets. Jesus! Can you imagine that...? Nobody good hates Muppets. Or Bagpuss.) Yet children rather liked The Phantom Menace, because it was... you know... fun. Not "dark". Not "scary". Not "full of Freudian terror, like we pretend The Empire Strikes Back is these days". Just... fun.

Yet Uncle George made two mistakes, or rather, one mistake twice. Since he was thinking about childhood, he included characters specifically designed to accord with children. This is always a bad move. Even in his own universe, no kid watching the original Star Wars needed prompting this way. Most children circa 1977 empathised with R2-D2, a sarcastic little bugger who saw things from a child's perspective, who could tell when the grown-ups were going astray and gently prod them in the right direction. Those with a more dynamic streak could empathise with Luke Skywalker as well, given his perpetual my-family-are-dead-and-now-I-have-to-save-the-galaxy-hooray-I-mean-boo-hoo demeanour. On a less boyish level, Leia was the first fairytale princess who kicked back. Children don't particularly like watching other children, but tend to stick with characters who express a child's frustration on a larger scale. The newly-spawned generation (all right, especially newly-spawned boys of that generation) who watched The Phantom Menace sided with Little Obi-Wan rather than Anakin, since Ewan MacGregor had a Liam Neeson-shaped father-figure to remind them of family life, but enough will of his own to make them feel he was "one of them". They didn't give a stuff about the actual sprog. And as for Jar Jar Binks...

Jar Jar Binks was designed to be Every Child's Imaginary Friend, a ditzy, rubbery-faced comical alien. Real children, of course, don't respond to that any better than the nauseating adolescents did. The point of an imaginary friend is that you want to be that friend: you don't want to laugh at him for pulling faces, you want to be able to fly / walk through walls / stop time like he does. Lucas got more right than we acknowledge, but this was his biggest error. Ironic, then, that Moffat makes it repeatedly. By forcing the Doctor to interact with children, he really has made Matt Smith a Jar Jar figure. If he does goofy things in your own kitchen, then the Doctor becomes unnecessary and rather annoying. We want to see him explore the universe on our behalf, we don't want him to be exactly like the magician who came to our sixth birthday party and did that rubbish trick with the string.

Again, remember that the "Fireplace" logic is ultimately there for us, for grown-ups who've ended up resorting to fetishism. Just like terrible party magicians are never hired by their audience, but by the audience's parents. And when the Doctor makes things worse by delivering horribly misplaced faux-macho action-movie dialogue ("there's one thing you don't put in a trap... me!!!"), you've got a script full of frustrated teenage hormones being delievered by characters who'd be better off saying "exsqueeeeeeze me!" and admitting that there's nothing remotely "dark" about it.

I'll wind this up with a personal reflection. Halfway through last year's season, I was on a train coming back from central London, sitting just behind a family who'd spent the day at the Natural History Museum. They had a stegosaurus-shaped helium balloon and everything. The mother mentioned Doctor Who, and the girl-child (I'd estimate eleven years old, although I'm not an expert) said in a semi-interested sort of way: "Yeah... yeah, I don't always watch it." This makes sense now, but would've been bizarre only three years earlier. I instinctively connect the urge to watch Doctor Who with the urge to go to museums. They're both about curiosity: rightly or wrongly, I feel that wanting to examine a diplodocus is much the same as wanting to know how someone from the fiftieth century might pretend to be an ancient Chinese god, and I can't put myself in the place of someone who'd be interested in one but not the other. In the Moffat Era universe, however, curiosity isn't a criterion. The Doctor never explores; he just changes the timeline until the universe suits him. The Doctor never discovers; he knows all the answers, so that he can make flip comments without having to think about what he's actually saying. The Doctor never investigates; he disposes of monsters because he's the Doctor, and therefore wins by default.

If you wanted to be really cynical, you could say that the Matt Smith version is the perfect Doctor for the consumerist world, making the universe comfortable for all the people who want comfort without imagination. But that tendency started on Tennant's watch. Moffat simply doesn't want to argue, because asking questions doesn't get an instant audience response, even if it makes better television and (ultimately) better people. In this remake of the universe, libraries and museums are there to be "creepy", not places you might actually enjoy or (God forbid) learn anything from. "Silence in the Library" forgets it's even about a library after the first ten minutes, and switches to a subplot in which the Doctor communicates with a child via a TV set. "The Big Bang" could only have been written by someone who thinks of museums as intrinsically alien rather than a second home. Moffat used to be a schoolteacher, of course. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that.

So if it isn't really doing anything for the children who keep appearing in it, then where's Doctor Who really being aimed...? The answer's even more obvious than it was a year ago: this is Twilight with time-travel, more interested in the Doctor's love-life than in going anywhere outside the sci-fi comfort zone. That's "sci-fi" in the sense of "sci-fi TV", naturally, not the good kind. We recall that Moffat refuses to read SF literature, which he considers saa-aad. This is why the new series is filled with all the clichés that a mid-'90s geek would like: Area 51, "tragic" Doctor-driven story-arcs, mysterious lovers who manage to be both two-dimensional and transdimensional, plus - inevitably - Neil sodding Gaiman.

So the final judgement on the Moffat Era, at least as it stands, will fit into two short sentences. At its best, Doctor Who was a programme for intelligent children. Now it's a programme for very stupid adolescents.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Of a Saturday Afternoon

The MarpleWho Drinking Game

During ITV3's twelve-hour Agatha Christie's Marple marathon, take a shot every time you see an actor who's been in Doctor Who and can still name the episode s/he was in. Out loud. Without slurring.

Been playing this all afternoon, and it's just... it's a great way of passing the weekend, you know? Oh look, there's Brian Cox. The actor, not the professor. Hahahah! He was an Ood.

You're my best mate, you are.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Exploding Rutan Pop-Trivia

I just noticed that...

...Crystal Gayle's "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" was released in September 1977. While "Horror of Fang Rock" was on telly.

That's all.

Monday, 28 February 2011

New Doctor Who Monsters, #2

The Kilquireen

You've seen them. We've all seen them. Men; fathers; young fathers, especially. They walk the streets with their offspring on their shoulders, toddlers with fat little legs wrapped round their dads' necks, a tower of generations that somehow never topples. In prehistoric times, a man would be satisfied with the task of re-purposing mammoths for food. The modern male needs reassurance that he can make his fatherly duties look macho and look twenty-first-century at the same time, and will therefore let his child (usually a son) ride bareback on his head. These men stalk the cities, occasionally pointing at things that look interesting but not too feminine, shouting "what an enormous bridge!" while secretly thinking see, I'm lifting my own child's weight, that proves I'm sensitive yet strong.

No, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that I'm going to present these shoulder-childer as parasitic aliens, controlling the minds of the ones they straddle. Not at all.

Step back. So far back that you can see both Earth and Raxacoricofallapatorius in the same shot. It should be obvious, from the Godfather-bloodlines we've already seen, that the people of the latter planet are much too proud of their genes. Their criminals have a profound sense of family loyalty, even if they are what any galactic Sweeney might call "slags". If you know anything about Raxacorican breeding procedures, then you'll understand why, but for now it's enough to say that appearances are important. A phrase like "blue blood" would be taken literally among these breeds. They feed on bio-stock more often than food (note their appetite when faced with the real stuff, plus their aversion to certain condiments), and the bio-stock is tailored to genetic groups in such a way that they really do end up with heraldic cardiovascular systems. Although this is most obvious when they explode.

Of the Raxacorican families, the Kilquireen are more blue-blooded than most. They're known for their turqoise skins, as well as their visible and strongly-pulsating veins, which some have described as giving them an appearance of great... ahem... intensity. Brainy on the outside. This is a deliberate ploy on their part, but then, what isn't? Humourless, pragmatic, and trained in a form of logic that denies the possibility of non-Kilquireen achievement, this is a bloodline that calls itself aristocratic because it believes it deserves to be.

They go out of their way to display their self-involvement. Their crania are massively over-extended. Their skulls stretch backwards from the face, rather than being rounded-off in the fashion of (say) the Slitheen: imagine the head as the latter part of a wasp, a bulbous, hard-shelled sac. A bishop's hat of a noggin. Because of all the extra brain-capacity...? No, of course not! Because they've grown their heads that way, in an adolescent coming-of-age rite that ties wires of futurite around the still-growing skull. Supposedly, this allows them to look both ways before crossing the timelines. It also squeezes their head-flesh into a shape which will, at a glance, cow any lesser species into believing they're the master chess-players of the galaxy. They planned it that way, however, so maybe they are master chess-players.

But this brings a problem, when moving among those people whom we'd call humanoid. A Slitheen can compact its girth into a skin-suit with mere dimensional corsetry, but a Kilquireen...? Its head can't be squashed so easily. And sometimes, one of their number will descend to our level, perhaps to cauterise the infection brought by one of its sibling-houses. Complete "re-rendering" of a world may occasionally be in order, and some other disguise may be needed in the midst of these cultures. Hats might be considered a good move, yet the higher the status of the Kilquireen, the more exuberant the head. A turban can only conceal so much.

Close-up on that man, with his child on his shoulders. You knew, didn't you? Something about his sense of superiority, the belief that the infant lump on his back put him on a different level of morality. Now he reaches up, above his own head, to the scalp of the child. He begins to unpeel the skin, using the zip that's hidden beneath the boy's pudding-bowl haircut. The space beyond reveals bright light and cyanide-coloured flesh. The zip goes down over the forehead, down through the chest and clothing, down to the belly-button... and there, the torso meets the man's own skin. Now the zip-line of light continues down his forehead, down his chin, splitting his throat in two. The entire child, previously so alert, becomes a floppy hood behind his neck.

And there he stands, the Kilquireen elder. His body, a skeleton wrapped in aquamarine blubber. His head, so immense that it could only be concealed by the outer skin of a three-year-old and kept afloat by its own telekinetic smugness. His eyes, big and black and powerful, seem to say: "This is most disagreeable. I've got better things to do."

Ah, but here's the problem.

They disguise their heads as children. But to make the disguise perfect, the children have to speak. Not difficult, for something as psychically well-drilled as a Kilquireen. The upper mouth of the skin-suit is designed to flap about a bit, so the wearer simply has to project an infantile voice from the upper part of his or her skull. Hah! Child's play. In fact, the Kilquireen rather enjoy it. And given that the very matter of their brains is trained to obey from an early age, sometimes you can even find a pair of lips manifesting itself in the forehead. An extension of whatever they have instead of a pineal gland.

Oh, yes, they enjoy it. A little too much.

And one day, a Kilquireen - revealing himself to his prey on Earth - explains that due to contamination by Slitheen technology, his victim will "have to be removed on a permanent basis".

And the lips on his forehead blow a raspberry.

And the Kilquireen says: "Behave yourself."

And the lips say: "G'wan, stiff him."

And the Kilquireen suddenly realises that... he's not controlling the lips any more.

The Kilquireen of Raxacoricofallapatorius. Serious. Amoral. Repressed. And now discovering that by pretending to be men with children on their backs, they've put children on their backs. Children who know everything they know, and have an awful lot of pent-up aggression to get rid of.

Let's be honest, Earth has turned them schizophrenic.

At least the Slitheen were predictable. From now on, the Kilquireen will blow up planets just because they didn't get any jelly.

Friday, 4 February 2011

New Doctor Who Monsters, #1


All demons are products of humanity; all versions of Hell are built on the belief that Hell exists. Whether we generate this sort of monster without knowing it, or the demons choose to mould themselves around our expectations, or they simply exist in a way we can only understand by descending into madness on the level of Bosch... this is open to debate. What we can say with some certainty is that, Silurians notwithstanding, we have no race-memory of primal evil. True demons are demons because of the things we are, not because we carry a genetic Original Sin that reminds us of a genetic Origin Story. True demons are shaped by our ideas, and our ideas are shaped by the words we use to describe them.

"Except," says the Doctor - probably while fiddling with wires, and speaking ultra-urgently to make it seem as if this exposition scene has some sort of dramatic impetus - "that people get words wrong."

Or at least, their meanings change. "Nightmare" has nothing to do with horses. The "mare" part comes from Ye Olde Pre-English "merren", to crush: a nightmare is an invisible terror that shifts its weight onto your helpless torso, forcing the air from your lungs and pinning down your spirit. Fuseli knew this, and his painting "The Nightmare" (if you think you haven't seen it, then believe me when I say that you have, even if you don't know the artist's name) gives us a hobgoblin of All Human Horrors crouching on the chest of its sleeping victim. But as a visual pun, Fuseli chose to include the head of a monstrous she-horse at the end of the bed, peering through the curtains of the four-poster. Night-mare. It was meant to be a joke, and yet in the years since, it's been routinely assumed that bad dreams have always had hooves.

And if nightmares can be palpable, as they can in a universe of Chronovores and Weeping Angels, then they do have hooves: these days, that's what we expect of them. Still... of these Semanticores, these monsters twisted out of shape by language, the worst aren't the nightmares. Nightmares are at least allowed a certain dignity.

"Pandemonium". Increasingly spelt "pandamonium", but originally "pandaemonium". Pan-daemon-ium: all demons are here. Milton's name for Hell's Metropolis.

It wasn't supposed to have anything to do with pandas.

But here they come, out of the abyss of the misspelt mass-mind. Eyes as black as the pit, blunt teeth that chew bone oh-so-slowly, almost as if it were bamboo. Why the big paws...? So they can rip out your soul. Imagine that rage, the schizophrenia of being pitied (pitied...!) for your inescapable doom while being mocked (mocked...!) for your failure. The horror of imagined impotence. In all of our dreams, nothing else has become such a symbol of despair. So loved and given so much contempt. A golem of hatred and muscle that was only ever treated as a punchline.

As an animal, near-extinct. As a demon, a living, shambling scream.

Now is the age of the on-line. Language evolves, faster than ever, and so do all Semanticores. Combine this with humanity's increasing sense of wrongness, a guilt-fear that injustice has been done to All God's Creatures, but an equally-balanced guilt-fear of doing anything about it. The result is inevitable.

Prepare for pandageddon.

Of course, it should be remembered that I liked "Love & Monsters" but find werewolves entirely silly.

Friday, 21 January 2011

At This Exact Moment...

...I'm attempting to watch "Flesh and Stone", for the first time, on BBC3.

It's like an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie with Jar Jar Binks as the hero.