Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Magic Time Angel

Right, let’s get this off my chest once and for all. This’ll be the final time I mention the subject. I promise not to keep banging on about it afterwards. Honest I won’t. Probably.

Today we’re going to talk about a BBC programme which should have been called The Magic Time Angel, but which for reasons which increasingly elude me, they continue to refer to as Doctor Who.

By Timothy it winds me up.

Look, I don’t want you to get the impression that I‘m about to go off on a long, rambling, apoplectic rant without any attempt at a balanced and fair assessment of the show, oh no. I’m going to be completely fair about this and list everything I like about the latest series as well.

So here goes – everything I like about Doctor Who, series 5:


So that’s that done with, now let’s get on to all the bits that bug me. Make yourselves comfortable – I’m about to start cutting…

Bambi McPoutface or whatever the toss the redheaded helper girl is called. Does she actually have more than the one facial expression? Does she though? You know the one: big brown round eyes, startled eyebrows, fat kissy lips puckered up like she’s going to plant a restylane-swollen smacker on the cameraman at the first opportunity. I just don’t get it - I’ve seen Karen Gillan in Doctor Who Confidential – she has at least three whole facial expressions at her disposal in real life, so why on earth is her on-screen character only capable of looking like a timid woodland animal about to bolt from a big bad wolf?

And then there’s her costume. Honestly, the leg-baring – how feckin’ cold-bloodedly calculated to please the dads is that? Utterly ridiculous. I’d much prefer it if they got rid of her and kept her seven-year old counterpart knocking around the TARDIS instead. At least she’s closer to the target audience’s age. And it would be rather good to have an actual child in peril every week, rather than a succession of sexualised young women who continually turn out to be Cosmically Significant (apart from Martha, who was just there to be a bit black for a while).

They should’ve kept old Wilf as the companion – an 80-year old granddad hobbling around time and space was a great change from the girlies, but hey.

What else? Oh yes, of course. Him. The Doctor - goonish, rubber-faced bowtie-wearing, girly skipping embarrassment that he is. And that horrible, horrible, ugly, grey costume. I thought we were getting somewhere with the fez in The Big Bang, but it was not to be, alas. And really, what is his character all about? Nothing but a disjointed series of motormouthed non-sequiturs and second-hand David Tennant impressions. They still keep giving him the odd “Brilliant!”, like they’ve got some old Tennant dialogue lying around at the back of the fridge that has to get used up before it goes off.

And what’s with those increasingly annoying Shouty Speeches to the bad guys, wherein the doctor gives a manically breathless monologue about how he going to defeat the monsters, rescue the girl and save the day, despite (and here’s the bit that really bugs me) being outnumbered, outgunned and completely unarmed? This goes all the way back to Eccleston’s speech to the Daleks in Bad Wolf – I’m sure he even rounds it off with something like “And doesn’t that scare you to death?” To the Daleks. And his successors have got exactly the same treatment – just look at Doctor Rubberface at Stonehenge shouting up at the assembled Space Legion Of Evil: “No plan, no back up, no weapons worth a damn” – he even bloody tells them he’s got nothing. Dude, that is not a cunning poker bluff, that’s telling the bad guys you’re in fact a total pussy. Which you are. Not clever psychology, just rubbish writing.

Then there’s the aliens, those bloody hunchbacked Daleks for a start. I notice that they didn’t inflict the entire multi-coloured line-up on us in The Pandorica Opens episode. Maybe Mr Blue and Mr Orange were on another job, being Strategic or Scientific or what have you. Which is a pity for the Daleks coz that means they couldn’t all merge into a giant Megazord without The Power Of Five. Probably. I also note that we didn’t seem to get any side or rear views of the ‘new paradigm’ Daleks in the last episodes – maybe the creators of the show realised that pronounced kyphosis of the spine is not a strong look for the most ruthless beings in the universe.

The Sontarans. Remember when they didn’t used to be dwarfs? I do. Linx or Styre, or whatever one he was, bloody terrified me with his humpty head and fully-grown stature. That’s a proper Sontaran, pal. I just can’t see Mike from the Young Ones as a credible threat, sorry. The only little guy in the history of Doctor Who to have been legitimately scary was Mr Sin, the Peking Homunculus. Sontarans should be man-size, not 12-year old size. And lose the Vogon noses – I keep expecting them to start spouting dreadful poetry.


Grumpy, or possibly Sneezy:

Then there’s the Silurians, or as I like to think of them, the Repticons from the Silurian Quadrant. Apparently we have a choice of looks for the modern Silurian – the budget-friendly but unthreatening big blank-eyed mask (why oh why can’t they have spooky vertical pupils? They’d be proper freaky then) or the Star Trekky lumpy-headed human look reserved for one or two actors with speaking parts (see also Sontarans and those rhino guys).

The magic, oh lordy the magic. Remember when the Doctor was just a smart guy in a time machine who had a device that could open some doors? Remember how he didn’t actually hop around in time mid-story, and couldn’t "cross his own time-stream"? Remember when he didn’t have telepathy whenever the plot required it? Remember when the TARDIS just went to places without coating its passengers in magical time-dust? Remember when it didn’t reroute phone calls from Historically Significant Figures to River bloody Song and her stupid hypno-lipstick? Yeah, the old Doctor called the TARDIS “old girl” and said it “almost had a mind of its own”, but I swear we’re just one series away from the blue box manifesting a frigging sexy hologram image of itself called Tara. Before you know it she’ll have a remote holo-emitter and start running around, getting captured and learning more about human emotions.

Remember when the sonic screwdriver was referred to by its full name, and not the adjective? Calling it ‘the sonic’ is like calling it ‘the electric’ or ‘the green’ or the ‘fairly useful’ It’s ungrammatical, goldarnit! And it sounds like a blue hedgehog. Remember when the sonic screwdriver wasn’t an all-powerful magic wand? It does not repair devices and heal wounds and it certainly doesn’t reprogram mobile phones so that they work anywhere in time and space for Rassilon’s sake. It’s a constant surprise to me that Dr Goonface doesn’t yell “Expelliarmus!” when he whips it out. Oh wait, I think he did (“Good old J.K.!” – arg.)

And the bloody music. I know I’m a little hard of hearing and I sometimes need to ask people to repeat themselves, but do you know which are the only two television programmes that I need subtitles for? The Wire and Doctor Who. The former because it legitimately uses fast-paced, strongly accented street slang and police jargon, the latter because Murray Gold’s perfectly decent orchestral efforts have been inexplicably turned up to 11 and so drown out the dialogue. Could it be that the producers don’t want anyone to listen to the script too hard? Perhaps they’re afraid that people might start to notice that the frenzied plot exposition that Matt Smith and his forebears have been compelled to spout often makes no arsing sense whatsoever? Honestly, I’ve lost count of the number of times he’s chattered some old toot out about "conflugalising the chronion particles within the space-time rift", but unless you resort to subtitles or lip-reading you wouldn’t know that because they’re pumping out “The Doctor’s Theme” at 110 decibels. And don’t get me started on the actual theme tune. Look, I get that they felt they wanted to update it a bit when they brought the show back in 2005, but did they have to bugger about with it completely in 2010? It barely has any whiddly-woo in it at all now. The sainted if peculiar Delia Darbyshire must be spinning in her grave, or more likely, being struck by stupid lightning bolts as her coffin foolishly bounces around the time stream. Yes, I hate the new opening visual sequence too. At least we don’t get a cosmic image of Sylvester McCoy winking at us.

Finally, let’s not forget the poor old TARDIS which has gone through some radical makeovers through the years. I remember the bendy girders in a candlelit warehouse design from the McGann movie, and of course the start it with a bicycle pump version from the Eccleston/Tennant era. They were OK, even if I did have to blank the bicycle pump from my mind. But now what have we got? A console with an old typewriter? Gramophone speakers? A TARDIS that looks like it’s been rebuilt from the set of Steptoe And Son by the look of it. And don’t try fobbing me off some old “It’s from Totters Lane” excuse – I’m just not buying it. The whole thing smacks of a concerted decision by Steven Moffatt and /or BBC Wales to emphasise the silliest aspects of the show and handwave it all away with the increasingly lame excuse: “Look, this is a family show.” That’s not going to wash with me, buddy. I do not accept a TARDIS made out of cack leftovers from a Sunday car boot sale. You are making Doctor Who silly, with its typewriters and its bowties and its swimming pools sloshing about. Silly! Damn you, damn you all to Hell!

So here’s my proposal for the next series of Magic Time Angel: Rory, in a sensible TARDIS with a screwdriver that open doors. Sonically.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

In Memory Of Barry

I’m adopting a sombre tone for this edition of the pouch, as I remember Barry, my dear friend for many years, who left us this month.

I first met Barry in 1999, in Bishops Stortford. My father arranged it all, as was often the way in those days. Barry and I were complete strangers of course, but Dad assured me that we would come to come to like and understand each other as time passed, as sure enough we did.

Of course I was nervous at first: Barry was younger and far larger than my ex, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to handle him, especially when he really got going. But my fears were groundless as it turned out – the two of us were soon getting on like a house on fire, and before you could say contrived-car-as-boyfriend-metaphor, we were planning our first holiday together.

That trip nearly finished our relationship off in its first month, and left Barry a physical wreck, for in my eagerness to get going on our long journey, I had foolishly neglected to replace his oil cap after a routine inspection. I think we were somewhere on the M6 when I first noticed the strange, bitter smell Barry was giving off, but I just put it down to something funny in his heater. I didn’t put two and two together until we’d reached Portmeirion, some five hours into the journey: hot engine oil had by now sprayed all over Barry’s innards and was dripping off every piston, pipe and plug.

Worse than that, Barry had started making a bit of a funny noise, on account of his engine now being the only part of him not covered in oil. It was a miracle he was still moving at all. Amazingly though, the oil cap had managed to stay balanced on top of the engine for the entire length of the journey, so even though I had to replace Barry’s engine a mere month into our partnership, at least I was spared the additional expense of a new oil cap.

And so it went on. Barry, I think, forgave me for that initial fumble on my part and we went from strength to strength. Oh, the places we went, things we saw. Admittedly most of the places we went were the M1, the M6, the M11 and the good old M25, and the things we saw were predominantly traffic jams, the back ends of other cars and the mocking flash of a speed camera, but there were a few gems in there too: a French campsite during a solar eclipse, the lamb-strewn coastal paths of Islay, the precipitously narrow approach to Roslyn castle. Yes, our time together was rich and full. And oh, the miles. So many, many miles. I swear Barry could have driven the well-sworn route to Croydon and back on his own, and probably did on more than one late night. Ahem.

But the years pass so much more quickly for Barry and his kind than they do for us, and the miles hang heavily on the chassis. I tried to ignore the signs at first: the nicks and scratches, the increasingly faded bonnet, the steadily rising cost of the yearly service. Barry and I were happy together and that’s all that mattered. So his exhaust was corroded, his rocker cover leaking and his bush adrift on the wishbone - so what? They could all be fixed or replaced. He had years left on him. Didn’t he?

It wasn’t one single thing that decided it in the end, though. It was all of them. The bills, oh how they started to mount up. Never too much in a single go, but taken all together, Barry’s repairs were starting to cost me, and deep inside I began to resent the expense.

Treacherously I started looking at other, younger cars. Shiny ones with unmarked paintwork and pristine body parts. Cars that wouldn’t fail their MOT or embarrass me with their rusty patches for all to see. I tried telling myself it was just a flirtation, a flight of fancy. There was no harm in looking – it wasn’t like I was going to do anything about. It was still just me and Barry all the way. Then I noticed a knocking noise when he went over 50 mph, and we both knew the end was near.

I- I don’t think he realised where we were going that last day, three weeks ago. He may have been suspicious when I cleared out the old flapjacks and CDs from his cubby hole, the You And Your Car maintenance manual (‘Introduction by James Hunt’) from his seat pouch, the picture of Flat Eric blu-tacced to the dashboard, but I tried to distract him with one final, lovely wash ‘n’ wax at the local garage, before setting off for the part-exchange dealership. I’m not even sure he knew what was going on when I parked him on the street in front of all those new cars that bright, sunny June day in Basildon and walked over to the office to exchange papers and keys. He just sat there patiently waiting for me to finish whatever I was up to, good as gold like ever.

By the time I’d climbed in to my new car and pulled out of the dealer’s forecourt, I’d lost sight of Barry. Somebody must have already driven him round the back, out of sight. I’d forgotten to give him a final pat, and now it was too late. I hoped he’d be going to a good owner, maybe a kid who could only afford a faded old red Mondeo with a funny yellow bobble thing on his aerial and back seats you could sleep on when you couldn’t find a bed for the night. Hopefully.

RIP Barry
1998 - 2010

This is what I’m like with a bloody car. Don’t ever ask me about taking the dog to the vets that time.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

When I’m In Charge

It is a sociological inevitability that the nation, indeed the world, will soon turn to me for guidance in these trying times. And as an individual of rare vision and adamantine will, I shall respond to the people with courage, responsibility and above all dignity. How this Novel Global Regime will come to pass, I am not yet at liberty to reveal, save to say that certain schemes of my own devising have been put in motion, schemes that I expect to bear fruit in due course…

The following decrees are just some of the sweeping changes I shall enact upon my ascension to power. Do not mistake them for a manifesto requiring your approval, nor some sort of populist grass-roots Facebookery that needs the herd to ‘join’. These are my laws and they are for your own good. Trust in me.

People with one funny eye will be forced to draw a ring round 'the proper one' with an eyebrow pencil, so we all know which one to look at.

The phrase fair do’s will carry a statutory £5 fine.

The use of the lazy Marmite either/or metaphor will be replaced with the more adventurous dogging, serving the same purpose.

Passengers who disembark from mainline trains at Liverpool Street will be required to step at least one metre from the train before walking the length of the train's exterior past all the open doors to the ticket barriers, thus preventing them from catching me in a perilous flanking attack as I disembark myself.

Anyone dragging one of them little trolley-suitcases along will be required to wear a flashing amber light strapped to their head, much in the manner of a breakdown truck on the motorway, thus preventing them from taking me out at shin-level as they weave through a crowded train station.

All mainline trains will contain one child-free coach, the definition of child being set at 'under 25'.

All supermarkets will have one child-free evening per week. Hell, one child-free hour would do me.

All mobility scooters will be repossessed and handed over to golf courses, Bond villains and the Banana Splits. Doddery old people will once more be confined to cold lonely flats as nature intended, and shall no longer menace me by hurtling along the pavement like Sir Killalot with a Tesco's Bag For Life.

All proposed superhero sequel films will be forced to submit the script to me for approval before shooting commences. Any plot found to have more than one villain without a damn good reason will be summarily rejected.

The New Zealander who sits four rows down from me will be given voice coaching to eliminate the irritating asthmatic braying sound she emits when laughing.

British actors will be banned from playing villains until such time as we have achieved equilibrium with American actors performing the same function. With the recent death of Dennis Hopper but the continued rude health of Sir Ben Kingsley, the need to redress this imbalance has never been greater.

Vampires will be compulsorily portrayed as evil, predatory, demonic fiends who will kill you as soon as you open your bedroom window. This situation will continue until children and teenagers are properly scared of them once more. Salem's Lot will be mandatory viewing once a term in all schools, just before hometime.

The owner of any dog which has a neck thicker than the rest of its body and a lead resembling a ship's anchor chain, will be castrated and/or destroyed.

Any parent naming its child Connor, Tyler or some other name better suited to a Devil Dog or an American, will be required to rename it to Alistair, regardless of gender.

The piercing of babies' ears will be a flogging offence.

The much-lauded phenomenon of the pirate will be gradually phased out and allowed to lie fallow for a period of no less than five years, to prevent it from becoming exhausted. In its place, the highwayman craze will be resurrected from the early 80's, as well as the less popular 'masked rapist' fad from the mid 70's.

Bernard Cribbins Day will become a national holiday.

Anyone found to be talking about their football team's performance as if they themselves were a player will be referred for psychiatric treatment. You did not play well last night; that was the team you have chosen to support. There is a difference.

There will be a strict limit on the amount of pink clothing mothers can dress their daughters in. Anyone found breaking the 'two pinks or less' threshold will be required to dress their girl-child in nothing but black for a period of one month.

Traffic wardens will be retasked to identify and fine any parked cars found to be displaying a Princess On Board sticker on a car window.

Citizens of the United States will be re-educated to use terms like people and human beings instead of the overused and insular word Americans, as used in official statements such as 'Americans are in danger of losing their jobs', or 'Many Americans are concerned by the state of the economy'. See also The American People.

The reason for the RAF apparently being located in the Middle East in the film Independence Day will be properly explained by a Christmas broadcast of the 1996 radio play Independence Day: UK, starring Nicky Campbell and Patrick Moore.

Anyone found to be making lazy jokes at the expense of innocent children's animation Captain Pugwash will be given a smack.

The test card will be reinstated on BBC One and Two between the hours of 9am and 3pm, until such time as alternative programmes can be found to replace Bargain Vets Down Under, Dom's Filthiest Antiques, and Cowboy Doctors In The Attic.

Car adverts will simply show you a picture of the vehicle in question, with a Top Trumps-style fact sheet displayed to one side. The use of coastal roads, gravelly quarries and sun-kissed Mediterranean fishing villages will be forbidden.

The unacceptable diminutive Corrie will be outlawed.

The ill-advised film Constantine will be retitled Hamilton, and redubbed so that its protagonist, played by the American Keanu Reeves, will be known as John Hamilton. Should this fail to distance the storyline from the British comic character John Constantine, all negatives of the film will be incinerated, and a virus introduced onto the internet to eventually destroy all known copies. A similar approach will be taken with the films henceforth known as The Victorian Monster Squad and Immortal Scotsman…In Space.

The fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square will be permanently given over to a massive bronze triceratops, his noble head raised defiantly to the skies.

The entire current season of Dr Who will be revealed to be one big timey-wimey chrono-flange, climaxing with the retroactive erasure from history of a certain goonish bowtie-wearing, rubber-faced, girly-skipping substitute teacher, to be replaced by the far superior actor Paterson Joseph, who will proceed to devour the scenery in great Tombakery mouthfuls, such as Matt Smith could only dream of in his most sweaty Tennant-slash-Troughton fantasies. And the timeline will be as it should always have been.

The post of Royal Gorilla will be instituted.