Friday, December 23, 2011

Now Showing: "The Bestiary of Sherlock Holmes"

If you've enjoyed this blog, then why not try...

Dr Watson's original tales, before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took the monsters out.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Everyone's a Destroyer of Worlds These Days

Great minds think alike, and so does Chris Chibnall, sometimes.

At the dog-end of last year, I posted my comments on Tat Wood's redux version of About Time 3. If you didn't read it, or don't know what most of those words mean, then I shouldn't worry if I were you. (If you know what I'm talking about, and weren't here at the time, then you can find it some way down this blog.) The upshot is that I made some notes on "Planet of the Spiders", particularly the essay on regeneration, and whether it means immortality or just immortality-barring-accidents.

Here's the very last paragraph of my About Time 3 notes. It's taken on an extra significance over the last ten weeks.

"Meanwhile, the ruminations on the nature of Captain Jack's immortality make me remember Pinter's poem about a cancer being 'a cell that's forgotten how to die'. This raises the possibility that if Jack's own wrongness is a threat to the health of space-time, as both the Doctor and the TARDIS seem to believe, then it may be capable of spreading. Sure enough, one of Jack's gang in Torchwood (Owen) "coincidentally" becomes almost-immortal after spending time in his presence, as a result of the most thoroughly pointless story-arc in television history. Therefore, the events of "Exit Wounds" can be thought of as a form of chemotherapy, only less entertaining. And if that's true, then it might be necessary for Time Lords to change - which is to say, to take on a new biological identity when they regenerate rather than rebuilding their bodies according to the old pattern (something which seems to be possible, if we're forced to believe "Journey's End") - in order to avoid having a carcinogenic effect on the universe. Which makes more sense of the 'cheating death' comment."

In light of "Miracle Day", can we believe that this was the plan all along, and that I cleverly pre-empted it...? Bollocks, can we. But what three people have individually picked up - Big Russell, Horrid Chibnall, and myself - is something that's been happening all across modern fiction, and fantasy in particular. The assumption is, remarkable powers aren't just for heroes any more.

Careful, now. We're told, in our good-vee-evil world, that everything is about "heroes and villains". This is a post-monotheist way of seeing the world, though: not only were other cultures less inclined to be one-or-the-other, they never would've used "hero" and "villain" so carelessly. "Hero", in the Greek sense, is one who goes to extremes rather than a goodie. Anyone reading the Iliad, expecting to find good and evil, might be surprised to discover that even the losing side - y'know, the one Homer wasn't on - is described in glowing terms. The baddies in classical myth tend to be monsters, representations of nature at its most vicious, not people with dodgy morals. "Villain" is a medieval term that suggests "peasant", i.e. it's about class, our modern use of the word as "evil" being another product of posh people re-writing histories. I've never believed in good and evil, in heroes and villains. Fiction survived without that face-off for thousands of years. Even Doctor Who was typically more about thought versus thoughtlessness, learning versus beasthood.

Extraordinary powers, whether they be granted by the gods (conventional mythology), by science (SF, including those cases where the powers are innate in aliens), or by something-in-between (comic-books, hence Spider-Man falling between "radiation" and "totem magic" as an explanation), are traditionally granted to heroes. "Heroes" meaning "extremists", which includes villains, as we now understand the term. No, let's put it like this: the chosen few. You're always given these abilities by the divine, or by science-posing-as-divine, or by history-posing-as-divine if it's Rushdie's Midnight's Children. The Doctor has always been presented as a mythic Messenger of the Gods, Hermes going on Lucifer. You can argue amongst yourselves whether you prefer him as Hartnellish Advisor, Smithfreak action-hero, or Bakeresque science-adventurer. The point remains that throughout most forms of human culture, and in most of human history, superhuman powers have been reserved for those who were specifically Touched...

...until now. It'd be glib to say that in the twenty-first century, we no longer believe in heroes. But it is true, if you take it not to mean "we don't believe in good people" (we clearly do, and rightly so) but "we no longer believe in extremists". "Extremists" is a word we've come to associate with terrorism - in itself, a term that's lost all meaning - and yet, most of the people we've come to respect were extremists. Beethoven was an extremist; Gandhi was an extremist; Luther was an extremist; the Doctor, in any phase of his existence before c. 2008, was an extremist.

Yet now, in fiction, power has become democratised. It hasn't in reality, of course. It'd be absurd to claim that real-world power is somehow more sterile and corruptive than ever, but it is more sterile and corruptive than many of us ever expected to see in our lifetimes. We no longer believe in heroes because we no longer believe in extremes. Whether this is a blessing or a curse, you can judge for yourselves. What it does mean is that we no longer believe in Special Powers for Special People. Aren't we all entitled...?

Comic-books have, as ever, been ahead of the game. Super-powers have been "leaking" into the mainstream for some time: whereas old-school superheroes tended to be individuals chosen (by grace or some intelligent god-force) to be champions of the world, there's now a tendency for large-scale world-shaping events to guarantee everyone a metahuman party trick. The obvious starting-point for the new era of mass superhumanage was Alan Moore's Top Ten, although the capstone has probably been Marvel's "Spider Island", in which the entirity of Manhattan gains Spider-Man's abilities. As ever, though, the real test is what the comic-book parodies in the filmed media do. Heroes told you where this was going. And now, depending on what programme you watch and which home-cinema channel you subscribe to, anyone can turn out to be a superhero. The hapless guy who makes vacuous comments about his ex-girlfriend while defeating an extra-terrestrial enemy... the family next door, each of whom has a different power... Will Smith dressed as a tramp...

And us, all of us. "Miracle Day" makes us all immortal. There's always been something intrinsically wrong with Captain Jack, even beyond the usual wrongness of those with fantastic natures, and it doesn't just stem from the arbitrary ending of "The Parting of the Ways". For an immortal, he's not prone to act much like an immortal. For someone who's been alive for millennia, he doesn't know much that we don't know. The description of him as a "fixed point" works: he's a singularity of smiling smugness. The description of him suffering for thousands upon thousands of years (consider what his brother does to him in "Exit Wounds") doesn't work at all: he's too full of anger to have learned the zen of aeons, too happy-go-lucky to fear endless imprisonment. With "Miracle Day", the world turns inside-out, but - even if this was never part of the original design - it always had to. We don't believe in this man as a hero. We don't believe in him as a chosen of the gods, even if those gods are a weird combination of Billie Piper and an ambiguous Bad Wolf. Not just because he's indistinguishable from the Saturday-night game-show host with John Barrowman's face, not just because anyone who watches Animals at Work might expect the devious mind behind the Three Families to be Cheeky Monkey. But because we can't believe in that power any more. Especially not in him.

And not in the one who currently claims to be the Doctor, either. As Tat Wood pointed out in About Time, the Doctor is perennially "passing": since 1963, he's been a Thing From Somewhere Else pretending to be human, and getting it slightly wrong. Scripts for the modern version try to play this up (sometimes absurdly so, particularly in the case of stories like "The Lodger", where he gets it so wrong that he seems to have no memory of twenty-first-century Earth whatsoever), yet the impression we get of the Smith version is a young man being wacky in order to look alien. It's the inverse of the previous ten sub-lives. At the same time, Moffat's vision is of the Doctor as an absolute legend, as that wonderful, superhuman being who will make monsters scared and shake the universe.

In other words, he's being presented to us as a definite hero, in a sense that the Greeks would have understood perfectly... when everyone else in the world is starting to grow out of the definite. However many other sins Torchwood has committed in its Espenson phase, Russell T. Davies got that much absolutely right.

We're all getting ready to be godlike now.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Our World

(Click to enlarge.)

Monday, September 05, 2011


(Click to enlarge.)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Public Information Message

(Click to enlarge.)

Friday, June 03, 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, May 21, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 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, May 11, 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, April 30, 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? 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."