Who Murderised Lucy Beale? One EastEnders Viewer Speculates

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Stuck in the West Country, with little to do but think about EastEnders’ plot and the effects of a limited gene pool on hereditary disease, I wondered who’d murdered Ian Beale’s fat-free daughter. Reasoning that the answer was hiding in plain sight and mindful that the solution wasn’t tricksy or left field, as intimated by Executive Producer and smiter of young girls, Dominic Treadwell-Collins (DTC), so not a spear of frozen urine from a passing aircraft, melted away by the time the body was discovered on Easter Monday, I’ve put together these plausible scenarios, based on close-viewing and the desire to say I told you so in 10 months time. If I’m right, what do I win? Your respect and admiration that’s what: plus my place in the pantheon of armchair detectives.

The Accidental Death Theory:

How can characters seem unperturbed the morning after Lucy’s demise, yet still be guilty you say? There are only two in-story possibilities: a) they’re psychopaths or b) they didn’t know they’d killed Lucy. Assuming B is true, a number of characters could be in the frame; characters that may have confronted Lucy over an as yet unknown issue, for example, her missing snout, injured her and left, without knowing that smashing her head with an anvil was fatal.

This scenario puts half the cast in the frame, including brother Peter, who could conceivably be Lucy’s coke dealer, or indeed Lauren 2. The dramatic irony of Lauren 2 accidentally giving Lucy a fatal gash in an argument about one thing, while unaware her best friend was riding her perverse Pa, would be soup-thick. But this theory’s tendrils penetrate so many characters in so many places that it starts to become a dead end: did Whitney beg to see Lucy to have it out over Lance Corporal Carter only to beat the stick insect with her breasts, unaware that Lucy’s skull was, like the rest of her, paper thin? Did Max give her a whack? Was Lucy seeing David on the quiet and threatened to tell cancerous Carol, necessitating a thump with a big bag of medicines? Without new information this gets us nowhere so let’s turn a stone over and examine, amongst the worms and bugs…

The Pressure Cooker Theory:

I find it hard to believe that Lucy’s death was premeditated; something in my viewer’s brain says it was a row gone wrong, but a row about what? Who’s got a beef big enough? Well here subtle clues can yield big rewards. Remember Masood whining because Jane was shackled to Ian’s litter? It could have been a throw away remark or, for the sake of this blog post, it could have been the seed of a dark thought in the increasingly demented postman’s mind – the idea that if you break the family you break the link. Ridiculous, you say? Well at least I’m trying damn it, and no, I have no idea why Masood would lure Lucy to the common. Maybe they arranged to meet at the flats, Masood’s plan being to bully Lucy into driving Jane away; perhaps he confronted her drunk, grabbed her legs for emphasis and she threatened to tell Jane he was a pervert of note? You don’t like that? Okay, then what about Abi – so bad tempered the morning after. What if she was the one tormenting her Dad with photographic evidence of his latest paedophilic fantasies, texted Lucy to warn her off and a fight ensued? If that doesn’t knead your dough what about a case of mistaken identity? Lucy’s final text could be a red herring – indeed any of Jake’s dishes. What if Abi, terrified that Jay and Lola were getting close, mistook Lucy for Lola in the gloaming? Why would she be following her and how could she make that mistake when Lucy wore a distinctive polka dot shirt and grey suit, you ask? Well don’t you have a lot of questions.

The Jake Factor:

We all saw Jake looking guilty and full of jitters the morning after the murder. Assuming this is simple misdirection, because you wouldn’t wish to tip the audience off just five minutes into a year long story, he can’t be guilty, right? But hold the fuck on. What if Jake didn’t kill Lucy but saw who did? Witnessing a murder can make a man very edgy. I know what you’re thinking; don’t I have something else to think about? Somewhere I need to be? Why don’t I try dating or something? But you’re also saying, okay Ed, why doesn’t Jake just go to the filth? Well that, my dear Watsons, could be because he’s close to the killer and doesn’t want to turn them in. Were the culprit Lauren 2, for example – Jake might think twice. He might also stop short of handing in Abi for the same reason. He wouldn’t shop Max, because of his familial association with Lauren 2, nor Alex, his womanising landlord who we currently know very little about but understand to be involved in some black market chicanery. Was Alex selling Lucy white line? I know, you’ve never seen the two have so much as a conversation have you? And now you never will, but I’m confident there’s more to Alex than meets the square eye: DTC didn’t grow him in a lab from the DNA of an ‘80s KGB agent, just to comment on the local market and ask Jake what he did the previous evening. Watch that bastard, he’s into something: dead girls and dope.

The Unlikelies:

Beyond the zone of evidence the unlikely candidates get a little more unusual but are you really going to write them off in a show that once offered a wronged wife burying her husband alive? I refer to the likes of Ronnie, a woman on the edge following her recent Lola episode, in which she smashed her with a car and conflated her victim with dead daughter Danielle. I wouldn’t want to be a young blonde woman around Ronnie, would you? Add to the mix the mirthless Mitchell’s recent promotion to murderess, the fact she’s mentally and psychologically unstable and has a nasty habit of interfering with other people’s kids, and you’ve got a suspect. What’s her motive, you cry? Well try this: Alex is banging Roxy, Alex is also plundering Lucy, Ronnie finds out, goes berserk, confronts Lucy and gives her a bit of the ol’ Carl White. But what of the photograph of Lucy and Max you say? I’m prepared to put that down to a jealous Jake, following Lucy around but also keen to get a little payback for Max’s hypocritical piousness over his ruinous affair with Lauren 2. Maybe Jake had a habit of following Lucy and this lead to him witnessing the murder. He’s got no loyalty to Ronnie of course but won’t want to implicate Alex – the man gave him a room and venue to meet women for a peppercorn rent.

Sure, that’s reaching but the rest is even more outlandish. Terry Spraggan, ladies and genitals: a character that has little reason to be now Bianca’s left him plot-inactive. She thought he was a dirty old man – a groper of Whitney, but what if it was a case of right instinct, wrong feminoid? Perhaps Terry does have a taste for young girls and his attempt at cracking onto Lucy, who reminded him of old squeeze Nikki, went horribly wrong…or right, depending on your point of view.

Okay, you hate that, what about Sharon? Yeah, that’s right – good old, drug dependent Sharon. She wouldn’t want Phil knowing she was dealing would she? He’d throw her out and she’d be back to square one with that brat Denny in tow. So what if Lucy threatened to tell Phil after a row over coke pricing? Or she threatened to tell her Dad what Sharon was up to and Sharon feared the worst? Ridiculous you bleat, but if this is a 30th anniversary reveal, DTC may want to make the perpetrator a classic cast member, and what scenario would pack a greater punch that Ian discovering his life long friend had murdered his daughter?

The So Remotes They’re Hardly Worth Considering:

We’re in ultra-mad territory when talking about as yet unseen but still very much alive Nasty Nick Cotton, the man responsible for Walford’s first ever on-screen death – a story that may tie to the mysterious Charlie (geddit, Charlie?) and his Dot Con. Less likely still is deranged War Veteran Lee, who may have PTSD and frequent flashes of as yet unseen violence.  Jane, who has no motive and no history of violence, but is played by an actress with the same initials as Lucy, is a remote outsider at this stage. Dean Wicks – just returned, but maybe a peripheral presence for longer than we know and responsible for Lucy’s coke addiction, could be one to watch. Danny Pennant – no friend of Lucy but not on screen either so not a great suspect, can’t be ruled out. Phil – Ian’s long time enemy and perhaps, spiteful shagger of Daddy’s girl, is the longest of shots but the real kick would come from finding out that the killer was from within…

The Beale Clan:

It makes a perverse sort of sense that Lucy’s killer may be a very close relative. Sure, you can take your pick from jealous Cindy, butter wouldn’t melt Jane, and reliable but controlling Peter, but of course the real shock would be an unmasking of none other than show stalwart and ever reliable paterfamilias, Ian. Impossible you say? Well consider this. DTC said he had Broadchurch in mind when plotting the bastard, but what about that other dead kid odyssey, Twin Peaks?

Now I’m not suggesting Ian’s literally possessed by a serial killer but what if he’s a Jekyll and Hyde character – reliable, boorish businessman by day, deranged, child abusing bad Dad by night? What, you ask, could be more tragic than that? Did Lucy not recoil when he spoke of the two of them taking the family forward? Did she not act like a damaged child, throwing herself at so many older men? Ian’s a bit controlling but he’s not a terrible Dad – Peter, Cindy and Bobby seem fine, so why should Lucy be so fucked up? Anyone who’s seen Tim Roth’s The War Zone knows why. A schizoid Ian Beale would be a hard sell to a nation that feels they know this fundamentally good weasel inside out, but what a story! Did you see the way Ian looked out of his kitchen window the morning after the murder? Those dead eyes as he rang Lucy’s mobile? Go down to William Hill tomorrow and put everything you have on the Christmas revelation being that Ian’s been hiding treatment for dual personality disorder: a dissociative condition that allows him to function as a normal man while hiding a monster that demands attention after lights out. Why haven’t Ian’s previous wives seen both men, you say? Well maybe Ian’s time sleeping rough upset the balance of his mind more than we thought; Mandy will do that to you. It may seem unthinkable but outing the show’s longest running character as a grade A schizoid on the night of the 30th anniversary, a man who’s spent the last ten months looking for himself, may be too much of a temptation for DTC. The biggest shock in EastEnders’ history? You better believe it.

Remember I told you.

Lucy Beale’s killer will be revealed to the nation on February 19th 2015 and Ed doesn’t have a fucking clue who it is, obviously.

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Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 16:32  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Steven Moffat: The Day of the Doctor

Tennant and Bugs

Dear Steven,

As this 50th anniversary’s approached I’ve become morose. How morose? Well if you think John Hurt’s face looks like melancholy personified then imagine a puss 13 times as world-weary. Why should I be in the doldrums? Christ, don’t you read these letters? In my last correspondence I spoke of Graubünden and the clinic that’s been my home these last few months. The therapists here wanted to flog the last bit of Whovian fandom from my broken, bleeding body. It was a surprise to learn this wasn’t a metaphor and there would be cruel and unusual punishment as well as psychiatric care. If I was to get better, they said, there was no possibility of watching the anniversary show.

When a programme is being shown across the world, in the cinemas of 94 countries as well as being beamed into every television in the British Isles and you can’t join in, your mood turns. This morning I sat in the corner of my room and wept bitter, excluded tears until my eyes swelled to the size of Elizabeth Regina’s breasts. I’m not kidding, Steven – David Tennant would have titty fucked my face if he’d been in town.

Thank Omega then, that I chose to end it all by headbutting myself to death. That shrewd decision proved decisive. What no one seemed to know, and certainly not the orderlies who’d chosen this particular room for my detention, is that the corner I was squatting in was a phased area and that if you pushed through you surfaced in the BFI Southbank’s NFT1 just half an hour before the institute’s 3D screening of the episode with no less a set of VIPs in attendance than Matt Smith, Jenna Louise Coleman, Sylvester McCoy and, holy space time, you.

Steven, I’ve never seen an audience with so many hats and scarves. I’d also never sat in an auditorium with you and your family before. Sure, it was disconcerting at first – more so when I realised you and your son had the same hair and that in order to sit in on the action I’d have to discreetly kill a man sitting on his own and fold him under the seat until I could safely leave at the end, but what a feeling! The buzz when you walked in and the crowd applauded! The spark of electricity when Matt Smith took his seat! The ripple of pleasure throughout the crowd as Sylvester McCoy took his place on the left side of the cinema, reserved for those Doctors you didn’t deign to cast! The boos when a few people noticed Rufus Hound! This, Steven, is what it meant to be a Doctor Who fan on the show’s 50th birthday: taking pride of place amongst a warm congregation of mostly mentally well-adjusted people.

So I’m sure you’re anxious to know what I thought of the episode. After all this was the big one. If you fucked this up fandom would hate you until the day you died then desecrate your grave, and not just yours but that of every Moffat until the end of time. Well I’ll get to it in a moment. First of all I have to thank you for the prequel minisode. The gentleman next to me, who may have been the director Nick Hurran, as his companion wildly clapped his credit, was good enough to show it to me on his chatbox and not ask any questions about the man under the seat. Correcting the injustice that we were cheated out of the 8th Doctor’s regeneration was retconing at its finest, assuming such a thing can truly be said to exist in the Whoniverse. It tipped us off that you may be minded to undo some additional errors from the show’s shakey return to the nation’s drool boxes. With that thought held in space and time let’s get into it, starting with…

What went well

For me everything that worked about the anniversary can be summed up in two words: Elizabethan Bust. No, sorry – I mean John Hurt. Initially, like most fans of this fucking thing, I was horrified at the invention of Hurt. A forgotten Doctor? An incarnation conveniently hidden both from the audience and The Doctor himself? This seemed like retconning at its worst, Steven:  a sure fire way to destroy the series forever by doing perverse things to its chronology. But it seems you’re not a complete bastard after all because Hurt’s function was to be one big wizened Russell T. Davis remover. When he popped up in the last seconds of The Name of the Doctor we couldn’t know that he’d be the means by which you’d undo some of the worst decisions ever taken by a Doctor Who showrunner. Hurt’s character was a device to restore two things sadly missing in the show’s post-2005 incarnation: Gallifrey and The Doctor’s moral authority.

Anyone brave enough to rewatch Russell Dust’s first series will now realise how frivolous and stupid the Time War concept was. It’s clear that Davis invented it for two reasons. 1) He wanted to underline the fact The Doctor was all alone in the universe; a point that didn’t needed emphasising as it’s always been an implied dynamic and 2) it sounded cool. That’s it. “There was a time war, a trillion billion people died – the Daleks and the Time Lords – you know, the show’s two greatest staples, wiped out – oh, and it can’t be undone because it’s timelocked…oh and, er, The Doctor did it…he ended it with a mass genocide…he willfully murdered two billion kids. Anyway, never mind that, he’s lonely.”

Wait, The Doctor committed genocide?!! Holy fucking fuck. That’s the worst idea ever dropped into the show’s 50 year time line. Why not make him a necrophile too? I was heartbroken when I realised we’d never seen the Time Lords or Gallifrey again. And how could The Doctor be a true hero if he’d deliberately slaughtered his own race? I know, he did it out of “kindness and charity” or some nonsense but The Doctor’s supposed to be a genius…and a pacifist. Was Russell really telling us that mass murder was his only move? Why not let the war continue and give the odd individual a chance?

So The Day of the Doctor was important because it corrected this canon crime. Finally, belatedly, The Doctor used his famed intellect to avoid obliterating his people. Not only that, Gallifrey is saved. Sure, it’s frozen in time but it exists and it’s populated with Time Lords and that’s all that fucking matters. Not only did you undo Davis’s act of soundbite driven whimsy, but you also managed to create the preconditions for the show’s future. Saved from certain destruction by The Doctor, his people now owe him a big favour. Not just any old favour you understand; he’s earned more than the demotion Kirk got in Star Trek IV – I’m talking a fresh set of regenerations here. Anything less smacks of ingratitude in my eyes and the Doctor’s timing couldn’t be better because with Capaldi and his angry eyes imminent, he’s short on bodies. This and not the great rabbit scene with David Tennant was the anniversary show’s gift to the audience: the promise of another 50 years. Only The Doctor’s old foe, the controller of BBC1, can stop him now.

John Hurt’s non-Doctor also provided the show’s other masterstroke: its critique of New Who, with its penchant for youth, whimsy and pop culture. With Hurt comes gravitas, a quality that for all the likability of the post-2005 Doctors, has been somewhat lacking. Here was an actor crusty enough and sharp enough to arch an unamused eyebrow at the mugging and infantilism of his fresh faced successors. Delight was the only word to describe his contempt for phrases like “timey-wimey” and his serious, bullshit-free approach to the role of the war torn Time Lord. Better yet was this Doctor’s lack of grandstanding and his personification of the old show’s sobriety. His incredulity when Tennant and Smith held their sonic screwdrivers aloft like weapons, showcasing the annoying New Who confusion about what this tool is actually for (who isn’t tired of The Doctor holding it like a gun?), was perfect. Assemble a cabinet at them indeed. You had balls criticising the demographically aware iteration of the show, Steven, not least because you’re responsible for half of it, but in Hurt I saw both a statement of intent for Capaldi’s Doctor and a canny way of introducing this old school sensibility to the post-2005 audience. That’s what I took from it and if I’m wrong you’ll find out just how uncomfortable a sonic endoscopy can be.

So John Hurt worked a treat, Steven, and so too did the meshing of Tennant and Smith. What a nice, slightly antagonistic relationship they had. This was well judged on your part. Multiple Doctor stories have traditionally run with the gag that each Doctor has mild disdain for his other selves, like a grown man meeting his teenaged incarnation and groaning at the stupid shit he used to say. Keeping this dynamic showed your respect for the past, as did the episode’s major coup – the return of 4th Doctor Tom Baker…or at the very least a reprise of his face. Anyone who says they didn’t leap a little when they heard that familiar booming voice is a bloody liar – not least all the women Baker slept with at the height of his fame. Sure, he looked every one of his 600 years and I realise that getting him in it was the only way to ensure he’d watch it, but having him on screen, even for a couple of minutes, made it a real anniversary episode, not just a celebration of your work and your predecessor. Making it an ambiguous cameo (is it the 4th Doctor/the retired Doctor/someone else entirely), was a nice touch, as was foreshadowing his appearance with the scarf draped round the asthmatic. This, in viewerland, is what we call good work.

Yes, there was much to like in this episode, Steven: the door joke, the original titles, the Coal Hill school cameo, Ventolin, and the decision to end with a full set of Doctors, albeit in creepy CGI form. But inevitably not everything could work old fruit, and so reluctantly, because no discussion of the episode would be complete without it, it’s time to talk about…

What went wrong

There were lots of little things I didn’t like about The Day of the Doctor. Even when I could see the mechanics behind the decision I still wanted to climb over the few rows that separated you and I and tear out a few of those curls. These weren’t fatal flaws, Steven – the show still worked, but it’s perhaps worth noting that if you’d posted me the draft script as I requested then maybe some of these problems could have been avoided.

To start with an easy one, and to illustrate in-review that there’s a flip side to every creative decision, Hurt’s Doctor. A) He really should have been Paul McGann – I think you’d have achieved many of the same dramatic effects and B) ahead of the episode you assured us that his inclusion wouldn’t change the numbering of Doctors, because he wasn’t The Doctor. Yet at the close of this episode he was. He didn’t kill the Time Lords and his future selves welcomed him back into the fold. Alright he won’t remember it but the numbering system applies in the real world, not the Doctor’s, so it’s now a given, surely, that Hurt is the 9th Doctor, the absent and too damn good for the likes of this show to return to it for the likes of us, not even for one fan pleasing regeneration scene, Eccles Cakes the 10th and so on? What, did you think no one would notice? You put it in an episode watched simultaneously in 94 countries!

So with the Time War unlocked and the Time Lords survivors we at last have an idea of how it was possible for there to be a Gallifrey sanctioned book entitled “A History of the Time War”, as seen in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS. What isn’t clear, however, is how Matt Smith’s pre-Day of the Doctor Doctor got a copy. When he ultimately gets to Gallifrey will he pick one up, then travel back in time and give it to his younger self who’ll then deposit it in the TARDIS library? We know he hasn’t read it because surely the events of this episode would all be in there and that being the case The Doctor should have known what to do from the very beginning. Seriously Steven, why did you let that idea through? It’s almost as annoying as Matt Smith’s hair continuity.

A weapon with a conscience is a good idea, I was with you there, until you decided that its manifestation would be Billie Piper. This is one of those instances where real world anniversary considerations trumped plot logic. If the device had searched through the Doctor’s time line to find a form that would make an impact on him, maybe to dissuade him from using itself, wouldn’t it choose someone who meant something to the Doctor at that stage in his life? Why should John Hurt give a fuck what Rose/Bad Wolf thinks? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to show him Ace? Or Adric? Or Susan? Anyone in fact, except a person from his future. Sure, I knew why she was there, Steven – it was for the so-called fans, but I’m a fan and if you’d asked me I’d have told you that I could happily live my entire life and never see Rose or any variant thereof, again. Still, you didn’t ask and you’ll have to live with that.

Why doesn’t the Doctor know roundels are called roundels? I know they’re called roundels, the audience knows, every fucking fan-based publication in the universe knows – why doesn’t the Doctor? “Round things” sounded silly, Steven. If you’re going to write this show do the research for God’s sake.

Why do Gallifreyian kids dance around maypoles and dress like renaissance children? Is this a stupid question? I thought Gallifrey was thousands of years ahead of us, after all the 1st Doctor, 50 years ago, made a point of telling Ian Chesterton that his people were moving though space time while they were figuring out the wheel, so does it really make sense that their kids would look and play like 16th century tadpoles?

Other than that, just little things, Steven. I don’t like Zygons really; they look like something you’d find in an oceanic trench (but the running gag it set up with Tennant insulting Elizabeth was almost worth it). UNIT: I know it had to be in there but let’s be honest, it was of a time and that time is not now. You’re not Russell Dust – why use them? Capaldi’s angry eyes: nice to see them but where was he at the end? Shouldn’t he have been there, standing amongst his selves? After all, he helped disappear Gallifrey along with everyone else. Clara’s teaching: when did she get her QTS? I thought she was a child minder? Is the Coal Hill school now one of Gove’s academies? What would Barbara say if she knew that unqualified staff were now taking lessons there? And finally, why didn’t Clara already know the backstory to Hurt’s Doctor before she and Smith were standing in front of the Arcadia painting? Are you saying that following the climax of The Name of the Doctor she neither asked for more information nor got any? Man, I miss the days when the role of companions was to ask questions.

So that’s it Steven, congratulations on your mostly successful 50th anniversary Doctor Who – probably the most difficult episode to write in the show’s history. Given the scale of the challenge and the weight of expectation you handled it well. Sure, some plot points made little sense (The Doctor spent all his lives working out how to put Gallifrey in a parallel pocket universe? Er, what?) but you managed to pack in all the Doctors, a rabbit and some tits into a 75 minute monster and come out smelling like Amy Pond. No mean feat. Above all you made a show that gave cynical bastards like me hope that the Christmas farewell for Matt Smith may be worth watching and that Capaldi’s new Doctor will mature a programme that’s always thrived on reinvention just when it needed it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a clinical suite to return to. Happy anniversary!

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

More to sate your anniversary cravings:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Doctor Who Live

Capaldi

Dear Steven,

Allegra, from the Karl Paltz Clinic in Graubünden where I’m undergoing treatment to rid me of the fanboy tendencies that have, for too long, acted as my chains. My Doctor, though I’m really supposed to use the term therapist because of the former’s sci-fi connotations, thinks that abstinence based treatment (plus drugs) will soon purge my system of fanatical tendencies. One day, she says, I’ll wake up and want to read a novel about 18th century Irish peasants coping with high infant mortality. I look forward to that day.

Strictly speaking I’m not allowed to write to you. Such a letter, I’m informed, could be construed as a relapse. However last night something unusual happened and I felt compelled to share it with you. I was recuperating in my room, a worm of drool connecting my lower lip with the floor following a particularly aggressive electroshock session, when the orderly ushered me into the common room on doc- therapist’s orders and sat me down in front of the TV. We get the BBC here and I was told that my carers had recorded something to expedite my recovery. That programme was Doctor Who Live.

Initially I was excited. Doctor Who? Live? A live episode perhaps? Had it all gone horribly wrong – fluffed lines, a man making himself sick on camera – something like that? Was it so awful that I’d never want to watch another episode? Was that their game? Watching it felt counterintuitive regardless. I’d come so far. Why, the other day I’d refused to watch The Hobbit, despite being told Sylvester McCoy was in it. I thought I making real progress.

It didn’t take me long to understand why I’d been forced to sit through it. If someone cut a hole in the crotch of my jeans, forced me to walk around with my balls hanging out; balls that had been tattooed to look like Garfield’s eyes, then I don’t think I could have been more embarrassed than I was sitting through this show. It was the oddest thirty minutes of BBC output since The EastEnders Christmas Party, moments of which – Shane Richie and Jill Halfpenny singing Fairytale of New York for instance – still give me debilitating panic attacks.

I understand that the people who make television have no real understanding of how those that watch it think, but it still surprises me that shows like this go out. Programmes like Doctor Who Live are never forgotten. Not because they’re good you understand; it’s that they’re oddities – freak transmissions – conceptually deformed. It’s elephant man television and they’ll be some who’ll argue that it was kinder to kill it at birth than let all concerned humiliate themselves in a global telecast.

Perhaps the BBC thought that Whovians were such an excitable bunch, so drunk with anticipation, that they’d lap up Zoe Ball’s impish enthusiasm – her cringe worthy chants of “brilliant” and “genius”, her non-interviews with chair fill like Lisa Tarbuck (unquizzed about the child sex abuse allegations levelled at her famous father – something that might have added some much needed tension), and her obnoxious propensity to tell the audience what they were feeling, rather than hosting a show that cleverly induced those emotions. If there was unbearable tension, as she claimed, it emanated from the gap between conception and delivery. Zoe made the nation feel like characters from The Office, agog at David Brent’s latest act of social retardation.

One had to feel sorry for Peter Davison. When he took the role in 1981 he couldn’t have imagined that decades later he’d be on live TV with Tarbuck the younger and the autistic kid from Outnumbered, trying to look comfortable as both stubbornly refused to name him as their favourite Doctor. “It’s extraordinary,” he noted, referring to the fucking weird show in which he found himself. Ball, whose face had been worked on by Jack Napier’s surgeon, tried to save the day by patronisingly confirming that Davison was her favourite but it would have been more honest to complete the humiliation, wheel on a pregnant cow and ask the 5th to shove his arm up it.

Another curio, in a night of curios, was Ball’s dogged insistence on teasing the gender of the new Doctor. This despite a pre-recorded interview with Matt Smith at the top of the show in which he confirmed his successor was male. Ball tried to outfox the nation by pretending that Smith’s use of “he” was plain assumption on his part; that a bevaginated Time Lord might still emerge to surprise viewers. This might have worked had Smith not been explicit in mentioning that he knew his successor personally and that said actor had approached him following the transmission of his debut and complimented his performance. We were left with the curious impression that Ball was questioning Smith’s ability to tell the difference between a man and a woman. Perhaps some viewers took Zoe at her word and started to google androgynous thesps; the rest simply scratched their heads.

So after thirty minutes of nothing, in which anyone who was available when the producers came knocking around Broadcasting House, including Bruno Tonioli and Jo Wiley, gave their thoughts on the new Doctor, he was finally, thankfully revealed. Ball opted for understatement, announcing him as “a hero for a whole new generation” – which oddly implied that the existing one would no longer be watching, passing said duties either down to their children or up to their parents.

Cometh the half hour, cometh Peter Capaldi: a great actor whose first awful contractual obligation was to show up on this live shithouse and answer Zoe Ball’s stupid questions for five tortured minutes. He did it with good humour and grace, parrying an oddball tribute from Smith who wouldn’t look directly at the camera nor mention him by name, such was the ganglinoid’s discomfort at being replaced by an actor who’d bring a bit of much needed heft to the role.

I’m pleased with your choice, Steven. You’ve opted to mature the part and cast an actor whose range allows for unpredictability: a bit of an edge. How Capaldi will play it is anyone’s guess at this point but I’d like to see a more serious, thoughtful TARDIS occupant with a drier sense of humour and by the look of it, so do you. Some, that is to say young kids and dunces, may already be squawking that he’s too old, ignoring that William Hartnell was the same age, that John Pertwee was 50, Sylvester McCoy 44, but I trust you’ve already decided to quietly ignore them. The post 2005 cohort of fans haven’t quite got used to the idea that The Doctor can, and perhaps should, be an older man; a sort of mad Uncle, whose wisdom and lack of sexual interest in his companions one can believe in. It’s time they did.

It pains me that my treatment forbids me to watch the new series, or that it was necessary to smuggle this letter out of Graubünden in a fellow patient’s rectum (apologies if they presented it thus at your front door), but the future’s looking a little more positive. Not for me you understand, but for the show. I’m also somewhat relieved that I managed to get through this entire letter without lapsing into Malcolm Tucker references.

Fuckety-bye for now,

Ed

More like this:

Dear Steven Moffat: The Name of the Doctor

The Name of the Doctor

Dear Steven,

I suppose head writers on long running TV series are like sitting Prime Ministers or Presidents. When you’re first appointed you’re so delighted to be in post that you’re content to pursue a steady as she goes policy; nothing too radical, you don’t want to scare the sheep, they’ve only just come to terms with the fact that Shep, the dog that used to bound after them with such great energy, is now buried on the hill. But one day you bolt upright in bed, realise that when it comes to your tenure there are fewer days ahead than behind, and your mind turns to your legacy. How can you leave an indelible mark? More importantly, how can you bind your successors, though strictly speaking that’s unkind, so that the Steven Moffat era becomes, well, time locked? I imagine this problem took on a special significance for you once you realised that the show’s 50th anniversary would fall on your watch. Well, you’ve done it Steven, no question – you’ve made that mark. All that remains is for us to decide whether it’s a beautiful tattoo or an acid attack to the face.

John Hurt is a hidden incarnation of The Doctor; the black sheep of the regenerative family, whose existence, rather than the Timelord’s moniker, apparently irrelevant though this will be news to the Seventh Doctor, is the man’s deep dark secret. Clever of you to get fandom frothing at the mouth with this question of The Doctor’s true identity, only to answer the question a different way. The Galifreyian ganglinoid retains his mystique while his backstory is retconed. Yes, a clever idea but, as with so many of your clever ideas, I’m not sure it stands up.

Had The Doctor forgotten his old self, one could understand why he didn’t appear in Nightmare in Silver’s Timelord montage, but he had no problem recognising him. “He’s me,” he told us, without a moment’s hesitation. So you’re telling us that the Cyberiad and every other bastard who’s plundered The Doc’s hippocampus uncovered important facts like his deletion from history but not that he’d blacklisted one of his selves? How do you even delete an iteration of yourself from the universe anyway? It’s like one of us suppressing an entire decade of our lives. We can choose to forget it but we surely can’t stop others from finding evidence of it, can we?

Which brings us to Clara. When The Doctor’s timestream was corrupted by the Withnail Virus, replacing his many victories with long drinking sessions and visits to cake shops, Clara recast herself as a sort of space-time antiviral, diving into The Doctor’s history and undoing some of the damage. It wasn’t clear how she undid all of Richard E Grant’s tinkering, but one thing was certain; this was a suicidal act – one that atomised the original companion but sent duplicates of her to thousands of points in The Doctor’s timeline. As he’s been everywhere that meant she appears everywhere, hence she can live and die many times over. Sure, this devalues life a little but that wasn’t the point: she was there to save The Doctor and consequently she got to meet all his previous incarnations, though due to residual haze from the displacing effect of the vortex, each looked like a rushed CG cut out or William Shatner’s body double.

Well congratulations on solving the Clara question so comprehensively but it’s time to execute one of those psychical crash zooms on my face: there are problems. Let’s deal with the obvious one first. Clara’s presence in the TARDIS is now an ontological paradox. I hoped, after the Pandorica unpleasantness, that we’d reached an accord on this, Steven. I thought we were cold, or whatever the expression is. Yet, here she was, the impossible girl, now officially impossible, instead of figuratively so. Of course in a time travel show effect can precede cause, we all understand that, but we now have a situation whereby The Doctor’s interest in one of his companions springs from her presence at multiple points in his timestream, an interest that lead him to her in the first place, but a presence that only occurred because he adopted her as an companion, which he wouldn’t have done if she didn’t have something distinct about her. No offence, but this makes me want to put a letter opener through your writing hand.

This multiplicity of Claras also begs another question. Why didn’t subsequent Doctors, including Smith’s, immediately recognise her? You tried to explain this away using a one line cover up – “he never seems to hear me”, but she made direct, person to person contact with the First Doctor as he went to steal the TARDIS on Gallifrey. The grumpy fuck acknowledged her. The nation saw it. As this is a pivotal moment in The Doctor’s life, don’t you think he might recognise the oddball girl with the strange turn of phrase who stood there and recommended he take the Type 40 with the “knackered” navigation that subsequently lead him to all these life and death struggles? That aside, if the same person kept showing up in my life every few years, never aging, I might start to notice her. The Doctor’s a perceptive chap. He remembers things that happened to him centuries ago. He remembered Clara’s taste for soufflés after all; it’s what alerted him to the connection between Victorian governess Clara and the one in the Dalek asylum, despite years of intervening story time. Still, it’s good that the 11th/12th Doctor finally registered her presence but why didn’t he say, “holy shit, you’re the girl from Gallifrey…and Iceworld…and Earth…and everywhere else!” This is odd, but we haven’t touched upon the biggest problem, Steven, the humdinger, so let’s do that now.

Why didn’t any of Clara’s doubles see John Hurt? One’s timestream is not something you can self-censor. The Doctor can choose to forget about the Hurt incarnation, he can suppress the memories, place him a psychical lock box and even tear the relevant pages from that mighty tome, A History of the Time War, though I’d be more concerned with who wrote it, but history is history and whereas incident may be mutable on this show, surely one unalterable aspect is who’ve you’ve been?

Why, then, did Clara not also recognise him when at last his ghost passed through The Doctor’s temporal crawlspace? I understand that in order for the episode to work it had to be a surprise for her, as she’s our proxy, but was it just pure luck that once fragmented, not a single shard of Oswald lodged in John Hurt’s part of the timeline? We don’t yet have all the facts but we can assume he was around for a while; after all, most of his incarnations get a century or two, so how did she miss him? It’s almost as if you don’t know, Steven and you’ve tried to wing it with some rhetorical slight of hand. Still kudos; at least now we know why The Doctor’s never consistent with his age.

Hurt’s Doctor didn’t go by that name, though it’s a pity no one told the person responsible for the title “introducing John Hurt as The Doctor” that appeared on screen seconds after the revelation, but it hardly matters. If I change my name to Fresno Kuntz, a time traveller, tethered to my life, would still be able to see me during this period. What you’ve done here is to give The Doctor’s timestream some weird kind of agency. It’s as though it became self-aware, felt disgusted by John Hurt’s genocide and excised him from the record. You can almost hear it saying, “I don’t want any visitors meeting him!” C’mon Steven, are you fucking kidding me?

So The Name of the Doctor had a missing word, “in”, just as it had a missing Doctor; it tried to buy off attentive viewers with references to Umberto Eco and Arthur Conan Doyle, but look closely and it was possible to see the tell-tale signs of a continuity calamity: you might just be the myopic old woman who took a brush to a centuries old fresco. Have you ruined the show? I hope not; though I’ll need to see the 50th anniversary episode to be sure, but I think you’d made a change that hasn’t been fully thought through and that you’re now going to have to pull ugly amounts of overtime to make it work. To paraphrase Scott Glen, you’ve just unzipped you fly. That, and you’ve done it in front of millions of kids.

Jumping into the Timeline of the 33rd Series:

So what kind of series has it been, would you say, a roaring success of a busted flush? I’m sorry to say Steven, though not really, that I think it’s more than the latter than the former.

The way I see it, your capitulation to those with thick ridges on their foreheads who didn’t like the previous run because it had a non-linear plot and a season long arc, upending the tired, episodic storytelling that’s dogged Who since it’s revival in 2005, was complete this year.

I read that you instructed writers to pitch movie posters instead of story lines to you, an idea so ridiculous that I immediately assumed it to be true. I understand your lazy thinking. You thought you could have it both ways, delivering the arc and the single, self-contained stories the degenerates crave. You’d keep the former firmly in the background, though just prominent enough so we don’t forget what we’re supposed to remember, while making every episode an event in itself.

This was undoubtedly a reaction to my criticism that some of last year’s episodes barely existed in their own right, being little more than idea stacks masquerading as stories. Unfortunately you misunderstood me. I wasn’t suggesting you abandon multi-episode stories, far from it; I think a return to the serial format would do wonders for this show; rather that each 45 chunk had enough of a plot, enough in the way of character progression, to work in its own right. Your self-contained “blockbusters” have been, for the most part, frivolous, fleeting and forgettable. A Town Called Mercy, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, The Rings of Akhaten – do me a favour. There’s more material in a miniaturised astronaut’s used condom.

The truth is Steven, this series has had its moments but for the most part it’s betrayed its considerable promise. Amy and Rory’s final run of episodes relegated two significant departing characters to the background, pushing high concept schlock front and centre. No one’s going to complain they can’t follow these instalments but, and I’m sorry to be the one to break it to you old cock, no one’s going to remember them either. You know something’s amiss when an episode written by Chris Chibnall, The Power of Three, comes closest to exploring The Doctor’s relationship with the outbound companions. By the 6th episode of the last series we were nuts deep in speculative conversation: angry, confused and partially aroused. At the same point in this series we were waiting for the conversation to start. Someone dropped the cube.

Sure, you’d planted Clara in episode one, teasing what we imagined would be the focus of the series, but it didn’t turn out that way. When the Christmas special finally arrived, all wrapping and no gift, the new companion’s much-touted introduction was obscured by an unsightly pool of conceptual scum. Those real points of interest, The Doctor and his new, mysteriously tag-along, cuddled up in the back seat as the car went over a ravine.

If the hope was that a threadbare first half could be attributed to your boredom with Amy and Rory, indifference to the latter being totally understandable, and that free of characters you couldn’t write for any longer, you’d dive in to your new project – the Oswald Conundrum, such dreams soon evaporated. Sure, there were good episodes in the second half of the year, Hide and The Crimson Horror being standouts, but two in seven isn’t much of a hit rate. Reliably unreliable writers such as Stephen Thompson, were reliably unreliable; Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS being underwritten guff, while those with normally impeccable credentials, I refer of course to Jody Schwitzer’s old boyfriend Neil Gaiman, turned in a fun but average adventure. All in all it felt like the writers lacked ambition; that each story was a tale of no consequence. I think you could have shuffled half this season’s pack and it wouldn’t have made any difference. You and your team committed the cardinal sin, Steven – you gave us an excuse to stop caring.

So this is my wish list for next year and please, I beg you, pay it some mind. Even if you’ve jumped the shark/nuked the fridge/dropped the Hurt with the latest episode, you’ll probably keep us watching if you stick to these simple guidelines:

1) Make each story about something. I don’t mean in the figurative sense; I understand that every episode has to have some ostensive purpose, I mean, make it substantial. Throw out the postage stamp pitches and replace them with story ideas. Imagine you’re sitting down to write a play, which you are. Give us some drama, something to talk about afterwards. Provoke us a little. We’ll thank you for it. No more condensed movies please. This is television. You’ve got as much screen time as you need. Use it. Which brings us on to;

2) Letting the stories breathe. Ask yourself, do they have to be 45 minutes long or would a series of two or three part stories allow for greater scope, more character exploration and an emphasis on plotting that’s been lacking this year? 45 minutes makes you lazy, because it doesn’t have to hang together too much as it’s over before we’ve got any purchase on it, but viewers notice inconsistencies and dead end characters over 90 or 130 minutes, so your writers would need to be at their best. Fans of Sherlock have enjoyed feature length stories. Doctor Who fans are no less hungry for substantial yarns. Tell your team to forget about blockbusters and start thinking about 4 top-draw feature length screenplays. They’ll be no room for filler. In other words, Stephen Thompson will have to sit this one out.

3) Have The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver destroyed in episode one. Perhaps The Doc could use his wits to get out of trouble instead?

4) Flesh Clara out. Give her lines, not quips. I’d like to see some interiority there, and not in a perverse way, before I reach through the screen and strangle her, and finally;

5) Tell Murray Gold to take some holiday. Or to put it another way, score with greater subtlety. Better yet, try out a few new composers. Let’s make the next series aurally fresh and free of intrusive music during key scenes.

That’s it, Steven. I’m now going to take six months out and try and rejoin the social world. It won’t be easy, but as Blur once observed, nothing is. I’ll return, fresh and fully prepared, on November 23rd, hoping that a bottle of ginger wine will take the edge off David Tennant and Billie Piper. Until then I bid you goodpie, as Tom Baker once said. He also said something about fisting Johnny Depp but I don’t think we need to go into that.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

Series Catch Up:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Published in: on May 19, 2013 at 13:35  Comments (3)  
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Dear Steven Moffat: Nightmare in Silver

Nightmare in Silver

Dear Steven,

I’ve endured a few difficult weeks in my time; having my groin pulped by Neil Gaiman, being shanghaied and marooned in the future, going to the cinema and watching Spock try to beat a man to death in Star Trek Into Darkness; but oh my, this seven days has been the worst.

I thought I’d found my sanctuary in the Doctor Who Commune but it was not to be. Following last week’s breakdown in the social order over a 330ml measure of carbonated water with sugar and vegetable extracts, all the old certainties disappeared. The Face of Bow, our wise old head from East London, made the position clear during the clean up, an unedifying process in which pieces of shredded testicle and gouged eyes flattened by stomps from heavy boots, had to be removed from our old home. ‘The dream of a utopian society built on the principles espoused by The Doctor is over,’ he told us, before adding, ‘not least because you’re a mondas of psychos’, Mondas – the Cybermen’s home world, being the collective noun we’d agreed upon at language committee.

Thus I found myself cast out and sans abode, forced ultimately to book myself into a hostel for Whovian refugees. This niche branch of the YHA accommodates those who find themselves at a loose end because their fan-based sub-culture has imploded. If you think about it, it’s a minor miracle that something so relevant to my circumstances exists. Today, finally able to sit down and share my thoughts on last night’s metal-march, I’m writing to you laid out on the lower bunk in my dorm room. I’m not sure what the woman above me is supposed to be but there’s a lot of overspill from her outfit hanging down. It looks to be made of rabbit fur and chewed gum. Your guess is as good as mine.

So last week we discovered that Mark Gatiss and Neil Gaiman had fallen out in the recent past. How do we know this? Because Gatiss did the writer’s equivalent of moving out of 10 Downing Street and leaving a dead rat stapled to the inside curtain of the PM’s office for his successor to deal with, bequeathing two irritating kids to Gaiman and ensuring he’d have to use them with a short but wholly implausible scene in which these precocious tykes, despite both sounding like imbeciles, had used the internet to uncover Clara’s time travelling experiences. It wasn’t clear why a picture of a Soviet nuclear Russian submarine crew would be readily available on the web, or how, unless the now retired Sub captain had tagged Clara on his Facebook, those kids would have found it (did they google ‘My babysitter in unusual locations’ and just get lucky?), but they did and used this evidence to blackmail Clara into taking them on her next adventure.

Incredibly, The Doctor agreed to this, instead of doing the obvious and using his sonic screwdriver to wipe their brains or time travel to frustrate their web search, retrospectively mopping up the evidence, so Gaiman’s second stab at Who began with a group, somewhat redolent of an annoying children’s TV serial, arriving at a creepy space theme park on a planet that was once derelict, then commercalised and was now run down and empty; a space allegory for London’s Greenwich Peninsula.

Though I wanted to believe that Angie and Artie were part of Gaiman’s grand design and been specially requested by the author in order to facilitate his plot, I just couldn’t buy it. He stuffed words into their mouths like, “put me down, I hate you” which suggested he loathed them as much as we did and they had next to no purpose, other than to give The Doctor and Clara something to rescue, though I’m inclined to believe they’d have put themselves out for anyone (as is their wont). Ah, you say, but the theme park’s a little juvenile, right? The kind of place you’d take a couple of kids that had been dumped on you for the afternoon? Possibly, but then Clara’s such a wide-eyed girl child, I could imagine she’d enjoy a few rides herself and The Doctor, clearly spurred on by fond memories of the place, obviously likes queues and overpriced food and drink as much as the rest of us. No, I have to conclude Gaiman was the victim of an attempt at sabotage, and was thus aggrieved that he didn’t show his displeasure by having both brats torn limb from limb by this new generation of upgraded cyberbastards.

In part the episode was a disappointment. It was a chock-a-block with all the quirkiness and mischief we’d expect from Gaiman’s quill, but there was none of the menace promised by this reboot of The Doctor’s old enemies. The Cybermites were an interesting addition, so too autonomous body parts – I can’t wait for the episode featuring the last cyber-cod piece in the universe, but in 45 oddball minutes the most terrifying innovation was a galaxy lead by Warwick Davis; a perverse idea when one considers that the real power behind the throne would be Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

Gaiman did have one excellent idea, however; The Doctor’s half-possession by The Cyber Planner (supported by the Cyberiad); a schzoid setup that had Matt Smith playing chess with himself for both control of his own faculties and the lives of his charges. As well as giving Smith the chance to channel Steve Martin in All of Me and do the world’s worst impression of Christopher Eccleston, this funny idea enabled us to get inside the Gallifreyian Ganglinoid’s mind as he fought a rearguard action against the nosey Cyberiad who were desperate to plunder his memories and consciousness for flaws and weaknesses. What they discovered shocked both them and us; apparently The Doctor has sexual feelings for Clara. This should have been a no no for Gaiman, who as a old fan of the series, might have been sympathetic to the view that the Timelord couldn’t see a member of an inferior species, 950 years his junior, in penetrative terms, yet he ran with the conceit, going as far as to tease a confession of love (though he pulled back at the last moment by attributing the offending words to the Cyber Planner) and closing the show with a Dirty Doctor scene in which our hero’s gaze uncharacteristically focused on his companion’s rear. As a sexually retarded viewer I’m happy to objectify Clara but it feels wrong when The Doctor does it. Was this a line added by Gatiss at a later date, Steven? Are you taking sides in this destructive conflict?

The scenes in which an upgraded Doctor wrestled with himself were very effective, thought I, despite the libidinous undertones. I enjoyed the anniversary tease; the shot of all previous Doctors, though it made me sad to think I won’t be seeing most of them in November’s episode, and the kid’s “thank you for having us” raised a smile, though it hardly compensated for all the tears I’d endured because of them in the previous 40 minutes. All in all it was fine; a little off the beaten track, reminiscent of an old Who story (and no worst for that) but not in the same class as The Doctor’s Wife: a classic if you ask me, so it’s a pity you didn’t.

We’re once again at that point where we look ahead to one of your finales with both anticipation and dread. Next week’s episode could be the one that breaks not just this uneven series but the show entire. Two revelations are promised, perhaps interrelated – the true identities of both The Doctor and Clara. We’ve noted that River will also be returning, it’s not clear why, but the notion that she’s somehow involved in this sharing of information makes my blood run cold. I hope you know what you’re doing, Steven. I can vouch for the instability of a lot of ex-commune members and they all have your home address on their membership cards.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: I’ll be writing to you, ahead of the finale, on Friday, to suggest pet-theories and warn you against those grievous errors you can’t afford to make. You’ll then have a few hours to re-write and re-shoot the episode before transmission, so get the gang together in preparation and make sure the technicians’ union don’t get wind of it.

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

TV Review: The Apprentice 9.1 – Container

The Apprentice 2013

The death of Margaret Thatcher on April 8th allowed the BBC to visit the vault and blow the dust off a few pre-prepared tributes, commissioned years ago when Lady T’s health did what she wouldn’t and turned. In some instances the lag between production and transmission had a few unfortunate consequences. Andrew Marr, for example, the victim of a stroke, the very thing that finally did it for Maggie, narrated one documentary, while talking heads, conspicuously younger than they are today, slipped up and referred to the dear departed in the present tense.

The one tribute to her legacy that mattered, however, didn’t include her at all. A new series of The Apprentice is a little like 21 Up focused squarely on Thatcher’s children. What became of the babies of the entrepreneurial society? Young Neil, who used to bully the weaker boys in the playground and demand protection money from their equally meek parents; that tyke Zeeshaan, the kid with a Napoleon complex, who listened intently as his history teacher spoke of military conquest and the death of millions, and dreamt that one day, he too may be responsible for suffering on that scale; little Leah, who agreed to study medicine when she grew up to satisfy her socially conscientious parents’ demand that she help others, while nurturing dreams of stockpiling banknotes and not having any contact with those from the lower socio-economic groups…

What became of them? They went on a show that promised to bridge the gap between their self-image and reality; a crossing paved with gold. But as Stella English recently discovered, their true function was to dance for a mob that craved validation for its own failure; an audience reared on cruelty. 200 years ago we’d have been turning up to watch public executions. Yesterday we gathered in virtual forums like Twitter and Facefuck, and threw out barbs instead of rotten fruit.

Still, this troupe of failed humans reminded us that Thatcher’s womb farts created a world in which happiness was only possible if you were a functioning sociopath. Everyone else would find these peons to monetarism and hubris mystifying; their values alien; and it was this tension, between narrow, self-interested bullshitter and non-industrious, dreaming audience member that the show once again ruthlessly exploited.

Lord Sucre, brilliantly cast as the self-made man from the East End who could embody the contestant’s lust for power and cash while eschewing their hauteur so that we may revere him also, was once again on hand to give one feckless, besuited chimpanzee a whopping £250,000: water for their magic beans. He was, according to the opening voiceover, “a man with the bottle to start a business from scratch”, and what bravery! With a paltry £800m in the bank, Sucre was betting the house on the winner’s venture becoming the next iPhone, and when one considered he was appearing for free, the financial risk seemed overwhelming. If he chose poorly he might have to give up part of his property portfolio, which we knew from the man in the cutting room, included The Shard and the entire Canary Wharf complex.

The same opening narration didn’t explain why the show’s series of business tasks were still necessary when the emphasis had shifted from being one of Sucre’s minions to a Dragon’s Den style would-be self-starter. Jaz, a boisterous, smiley, suffocating fuckend, who long ago made the decision to overcompensate for her lack of self-worth with a so-called larger than life personality; a woman who struggled to understand why she lacked close friends, despite exuding so much positive energy; wanted to help those with low levels of literacy. It was a hard proposition to accept from a person who couldn’t spell “Jazz”, but it was a noble idea, albeit one designed to catch the eye of a rich investor with philanthropic pretensions.

How would selling absorbent granules for cat shit or any of the other nonsense she may be asked to do over 15 weeks demonstrate she had the nous to make her idea work? No one knew. Lord Sucre certainly didn’t have a clue, nor her teammates in “Evolve”, who found her to be the unholy trinity of trying, obnoxious and useless. That she was the least effectual in a team comprised of Dr Leah, who pronounced “you’re in” as “urine” and Luisa who thought that a shop called ‘The Mutt’s Nuts’ would be in the market for a feline product, only served to make her look more ridiculous. Later, in the boardroom, Sucre, aghast at her inability to sell worthless tat to shrewd retailers, noted that her motivational schick amounted to “jack shit”. The tragedy is that Jack would have made a better project manager.

The penis set, named Endeavour after project manager Jason’s favourite television series, mirrored the ladies with terrifying precision. Both teams had a feckless leader who’d volunteered without thinking, in the hope of impressing the good Lord, only to discover they were betas in a pack of snarling alphas. The ladies had discovered that Rebecca, not Jaz, had the stuff that Sucre craved: aggression, an ability to manipulate idiots and a cold disregard for the feelings of others. Her sub-team had made all the money while poor Jaz drowned in her own tears. Amongst the males, a breakaway faction, lead by Neil, a manager so aggressive that he’d happily beat a team member to death with his dick, did the business. Karen Brady, who watched hair grow on her arms as Neil bamboozled his dumbfounded acolytes into submission, noted he had “half the boys”, neglecting to say that the half he’d gone for included all the testicles.

Ultimately, with both sides equally divided between the ruthless and the hopeless, and following near identical strategies, it was clear that only luck would decide which imbecilic clique would make it to the next episode intact. Jason and Jaz had zero business acumen between them so the revelation that the feminoid had done fractionally worse was a shoulder shrugging moment. Once in the boardroom, she adopted the age old tactic of listening intently as Sucre singled out the team members he’d marked as most culpable before selecting those self-same miscreants to face the music in the final dance to the dole queue. She even had the gall to berate her fellow teamsters for acting as though they were “perfect” and “could do no wrong” when moments earlier, thanks to the miracle that is the cut, she’d told us that she’d lost despite “doing nothing wrong”. Her sacking was therefore a welcome moment of release for an audience that had grown to despise her in a mere 58 minutes.

Sugar, delighted, returned to his lair in The Shard and thanked his portrait of Lady T that he wouldn’t have to bankroll anything as unprofitable as literacy. Perhaps, as he looked into her painted eyes, he’d have seen something like approval. In any event he went to bed secure in the knowledge that both he and several million schadenfreude-narians were locked in for another enjoyable, if spiritually desolate series.

Published in: on May 8, 2013 at 14:13  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Steven Moffat: The Crimson Horror

The Crimson Horror

Dear Steven,

The Doctor Who commune, of which I’m a proud member, has turned on itself. As I write this I resemble one of the petrification rejects from tonight’s piece of Gatiss penned Victoriana. I’m caked in blood, my muscles are stiff and I’ve been forced to disrobe down to a soiled t-shirt and pair of torn boxers. If you asked me how an argument over a can of Coke lead to Matt Morbius taking a rubber cock to the Sisters of Plenitude, with the ensuing fracas becoming an ugly free for all in which senseless, costumed violence swept the compound, Weng-Chiang’s talons ripping though flesh while Vervoid Dave watched and laughed, I couldn’t tell you. All I know is that I didn’t get that can of Coke.

With the prospect of homelessness once again all too real, my only comfort was the extent to which I enjoyed this week’s episode. If, prior to viewing, you’d told me that I’d rate an instalment in which Mark Gatiss recast The Doctor as Sloth Fratelli from The Goonies while cribbing the ‘young maidens get dipped into a plasticising vat’ sub-plot from Carry On Screaming (you could almost hear Kenneth Williams’ call of “frying tonight!”) then I’d have said I couldn’t wait to see it, while doubting its success as a Who adventure in its own right. I would have been wrong. Gatiss drew on a well-sourced love of Victorian schlock, incorporating Gothic horror and steampunk, to produce an episode that was penny dreadful in all the right ways.

Thanks to director Saul Metzstein, it looked the part. The stand out sequence was a wonderful sepia flashback incorporating jump cuts, scratches and a part closed iris. Inventive touches such as these added much to the period atmosphere. If Metzstein had enjoyed more time he might have gone further, turning it up to eleven like Coppola did in Bram Stroker’s Dracula, but in place of old technique he had other assets like the ghoulish visage of Diana Rigg.

In addition to being rather wonderful as the harridan mistress of the mill who’d entered into a genocidal pact with a prehistoric worm that had affixed itself to her breasts (only on Doctor Who), she looked about 138 years old. Say what you like but a lined face with a sinister glint in two sunken eyes, plus old school discomforts like a blind woman with red raw scars across her puss, really works. This was an episode that managed to pull together these reliable old tropes and reinvigorate them with genre splicing and good humour. If you didn’t laugh when Rigg tried to dispatch The Doctor and Clara with a cry of “Die, you freaks!” while that alien grub clung to her chest for dear life, there’s no hope for you. If TV isn’t about alien-human abominations, big rockets and poisons that make people look like anger personified, then not only do I not know what it’s for, I don’t care to know.

As I share Mr Gatiss’ love of Victoriana you might think I would be predisposed to like this episode and may be giving it an easy ride; after all who doesn’t enjoy harking back to a period when eugenics was still an abstraction and so attractive to everyone from deranged Mill owners to mass hating intellectuals to alien invaders, and who isn’t a fan of period fancies such as the optigram (another, bio-ether, an invisible field in which the essence of the dead was thought to be trapped, features in my now dusty Gore Whores screenplay, the greatest movie never made)? But as your Christmas episode proved, Steven, late Victorian England is not enough. Tone and style matter a great deal and The Crimson Horror was great because both were spot on. Sure, the ending was a little rushed and there wasn’t a great deal of time to enjoy the characters, after all Rigg’s Mrs Gillyflower would have bestrode a four part serial like a crinolined colossus, but no matter, this bastard had it where it counted. It was inventive, there were surprises and what I’m told is self-deprecating Northern humour, though as a Londoner I have to take my sources at their word – I had assumed our Sontaran friend Strax was just parroting common sense.

As Gatiss is clearly more comfortable with this kind of 19th century sensationalism than you are, perhaps you could take the next step and hire him to write a sequel to Robert Holmes’ peerless, though surely not racist, The Talons of Weng-Chiang? This classic Tom Baker serial, set but a handful of years before tonight’s instalment, was concluded on the Saturday prior to my birth. In fact, it was listening to my Mother read the reviews aloud that spurred me on to be born the following Friday, just so I could catch the repeat.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: I noticed The Doctor being once again referred to as a monster. When you ruin the series and tell us who he is, will his monstrousness be a part of it? I was also upset that a couple of annoying kids blackmailed their way into next week’s story but as Neil Gaiman’s writing it, I’m hopeful that Clara’s charges will be killed.

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS


Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

Dear Steven,

If writing to you is right then why does it feel so wrong and why does every word I commit to this pixelated facsimile of parchment with my virtual quill have to be wrenched out of me like some twisted scrap of metal anchored deep in my flesh? Anyway, that aside I’ve waited for a long time to get a better look at the TARDIS’ interiors, we all have, it’s the third great tease of the programme following The Doctor’s identity and the exact number of roundels on the wall of the console room, so tonight’s tour was highly anticipated.

Of course the concept for this episode threw up a few problems. A ship of infinite size is a leap for the imagination into a bottomless void and no budget can touch the sides. In the classic series those limitations were sent up for comic effect; I’m thinking of the scene in The Invasion of Time in which Tom Baker gets lost inside the thing and ends up walking through copy after copy (or in this episode’s parlance, echo after echo) of the Swimming Pool room. I used to say that with the modern show’s embrace of computer generated effects there was no reason why we shouldn’t see more of the ship, after all it’s the boast of CGI apologists that if you can think of it you can see it, but as Stephen Thompson’s episode demonstrated, it’s the thinking that’s the tough part.

Even with those leaps in computer science it seems the bulk of the TARDIS is corridors. Fine corridors to be sure and different to those seen in The Doctor’s Wife, suggesting that the ship really does redesign everything when prompted, even the aesthetically redundant parts of itself, but bland passageways none the less. We caught a glimpse of other areas; the pool featured, so too the observatory (though what’s observed, more of the TARDIS?), a junk room, containing Pond memorabilia, and the library – an impressive collection to be sure and one that demonstrated how important it is for The Doctor to be long lived; he wouldn’t stand of chance of reading all his books otherwise. I wondered if Katie Price’s Santa Baby was in there and concluded it had to be. Oh, and there was a first look at the Eye of Harmony – or least the TARDIS’ copy of it. I’m sad to say I found this a bit underwhelming. I somehow expected to be dazzled by an artificial black hole (or similar) but I wasn’t really, it just didn’t seem big enough. I’m sure I’m not the first to say that to you.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this; I don’t know what I’d have shown in Thompson’s place. I might have had a sluice room, a massage parlour, a spike chamber, an ocean of breasts, a cubist room, an impossible room, a vast zero-g area modelled on the known universe and a puzzle room that you had to solve to exit but that’s the problem; there were just too many possibilities so perhaps the basics was a reasonable first step.

If the episode’s allure lay in the concept, with the inciting incident for embarking on the journey being of less interest, then it was good to see that Thompson was as indifferent to the means as the rest of us. It was clear as glass that he didn’t give a fuck about his family of salvage men; who could? They were dullards; blanks that straw men would have found yawn inducing.

Not only did they barely qualify as characters, they were also useless, which made me scratch my head when The Doctor trapped them in the TARDIS and compelled the threesome to help him look for Clara, threatening them with a quick death if they didn’t muck in. What did he gain by this, exactly? There was no point asking the pack to split up in order to cover more ground, because these idiots didn’t know where they were and four lost people would simply quadruple The Doctor’s problems. Perhaps it would have been worth having them along if they were resourceful, quick of thought and fleet of foot but all the evidence suggested they were slow, feckless and clueless. As they’d caused the damage to the ship and were clearly mercenary in their motives, likely to damage the TARDIS further if given greater access, surely the prudent move was to hit a button and atomise them, leaving The Doc free to find his friend unburdened?

Of course I was pleased that the self-destruct gambit was a ruse but was left wondering what good it had served. Sure, it had given these lumbering arses an incentive to go girl-ienteering but it had also made them anxious and more likely to make bad snap decisions. Thompson tried to convince us they had a function, to generate some conflict while The Doctor tried to remember the way, but he wasn’t fooling anyone. We didn’t give a sonic fuck about their family problems and we certainly didn’t care whether these grunts lived or died. Sadly, they lived.

Then there was the episode’s great tease, the chance discovery in the TARDIS library of a mighty tome – “The History of the Time War”. Therein, we learned, lay a chapter on The Doctor, referred to by, gulp, his real name. Just one question though, Steven. If the Time War destroyed Gallifrey and all of Time Lord civilisation, who wrote the book and where did The Doctor acquire a copy?

The war is time locked which presumably means that other Time Lords, hurtling themselves into the future, may have enjoyed foreknowledge of it, though they were powerless to change it; still, this wouldn’t preclude the possibility of them being able to study it and write an account. But if such a volume existed and was freely available from the Gallifrey Press, why didn’t the Time Lords just read it and take the necessary steps to avert their destruction, like deciding not to time lock it so The Doctor could save them at a later date?

If someone else wrote the history, after it had occurred, perhaps the galactic equivalent of a Gonzo journalist, who’d seen the Dalek fleet light up as he shovelled a burger into his trap from a space-diner at safe distance, how could he talk about The Doctor’s role with any authority, particularly when the universe thinks our hero’s dead and so unavailable for comment? Did he just make shit up? Piece it together from third hand refugee accounts and the odd space-drunk? In that event maybe The Doctor bought a copy for fun, just to see how sensational a history had been written, but that volume looked pretty official – it had the Rasilionian stamp and everything.

This leaves the possibility that The Doctor wrote it; after all he’s the only survivor who’s a) alive and b) not a Dalek – traditionally not a race noted for its literary prowess. But if our man’s the author then who’s the intended reader? Himself? Perhaps The Doctor wanted to get it all down for posterity but if that’s the case why contain personal information about yourself that you a) don’t want the universe to know and b) is apparently highly dangerous? This means you can never show the book to anyone and must safeguard the only copy within a ship that you alone have access to, but if you can’t share the contents why write it? Did this book exist just to foreshadow the series finale? If so it might have been better if Clara had found The Doc’s diary. That, at least, would have made sense.

So an odd and ultimately frustrating episode, Steven, that recycled many of the questions from last week. Once again Clara was referred to as deceased, “if she’s in there [the TARDIS], she’s dead”, the Cloister bell tolled for our companion and the TARDIS’ instincts about her seemed on the money as the ship was made vulnerable, with near disastrous consequences, when The Doc changed the ship’s settings to allow her a go on the controls – something the TARDIS clearly didn’t want to happen. What does it all mean, and why does being burned in the ship’s engine room turn you into an aggressive, red-eyed zombie? Wouldn’t it just make you dead? Anyway, I’m perusing The Name of the Rose now, in line with my theory; a library’s a pretty important part of that story too. I’m on to you, motherfucker.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Hide

doctor-who-hide-promo-pics-038

Dear Steven,

A violent kick in the guts: that’s the feeling you get when a word or phrase, benignly dropped, unlocks a suppressed memory, something you’ve kept in your mind’s attic for years; the door barricaded with paint tins and stacks of vintage porno mags.

Tonight’s trigger word was “Ghostbusters”. As soon as I heard it I was back there, stuck in the era of Russell Dust and David Tennant, like a wounded horse in a bog. I could see the 10th Doctor, that hyperactive show off, pratting about that fucking awful coral console room in his pin stripe suit with some object resembling a proton pack strapped to his back, giving the gormless, easily amused Rose, a karaoke rendition of Ray Parker Junior’s famous ditty. She laughed, as was her wont, and I winced, wondering now, as then, why a thousand year old time-traveller, to all intents and purposes a demi-god, wise with the knowledge of a hundred thousand civilisations and the entire sweep of the universe from birth to death, would have the same cultural reference points as a 19 year old girl from early 21st Century London.

Neil Cross’ second episode was only just beginning and already I was contemplating the appalling possibility that as we got closer to the show’s 50th anniversary and that multi-Doctor story featuring that Virgin Media sell out, the stories would veer toward the same tone and style. The condition, known medically as Tennantus, was coming back.

Well feel free to drown me with a thousand gallons of marshmallow, I was wrong. I enjoyed Hide more that any other episode this season and if arrested and forced to say why in a series of marathon interrogations without access to food, water or proper legal counsel, I’d say that it worked because it did what few other offerings this year managed; it surprised and advanced the characters.

As it began there was every reason to think this was going to be an atmospheric, yet essentially formulaic instalment, featuring a creepy house and an alien masquerading as a ghost. This being Who, we dismissed the phantasm’s spectral credentials immediately and looked to alternative explanations, knowing this universe is too rich and complexed to house anything as trite as an afterlife.

What initially seemed to be a straightforward mystery happily, delightfully, turned out to be anything but. In reality it was an investigation into our two favourite time travellers; a long overdue bit of digging while the incidental plot played out in the foreground. Dougray Scott’s solider turned scientist noted the Doctor’s deceitful side, a canny piece of observation that complemented the warning given to Clara from Jessica Raine’s psychic, that she shouldn’t trust the Galifreyian ganglinoid as he had “a sliver of ice” in his heart. She neglected to say which one but we took the point. Add to this an interesting bit of innuendo, The Doctor’s suggestion that “every monster needs a companion”, and you couldn’t help but wonder if Cross was trying to tell us something. Sure, the bow tied lank wasn’t talking about himself but this episode had more double meanings than a Carry On film. For once it was worth listening to everything everyone said.

Clara was at it too. Morbidly reflecting on her place in the universe, having seen the Earth’s final years during one of The Doctor’s experiments, she reflected that from the Timelord’s point of view she was both not yet born and long dead. “I am a ghost” she told him; words which carried extra power as they came from a woman we knew to have died twice. What did all of this mean in the grand scheme of things and why, for the love of Omega, does the TARDIS not like the precocious imp? Clara’s really noticing it now and so are we.

This after all was one of those rare episodes in which the time machine spoke, literally, using its on board projection system, figuratively, with the Cloister Bell tolling for The Doctor, assuming it’s not Clara it was bonging at, and through obstinacy, keeping its doors closed to her when she tried to effect a rescue. Yes, something’s afoot with this girl and it could be that the Doctor’s one permanent companion, his ship, is a lot closer to solving the only mystery left worth a fuck than the man himself.

So yes Steven, you can pull all my levers and twist my knobs if this episode wasn’t deeper than imagined. I enjoyed the irony that The Doctor’s true motive for visiting this haunted house was to meet a powerful psychic in the hope she’d reveal Clara’s secrets, only for the same woman to give his companion an insight into him. I also enjoyed the lashings of lore – not least the off-camera visit to Metebelis III, The Planet of the Spiders, and the action taking place in 1974, the year said serial went out. It was a bit of old series continuity that showed Neil Cross to be a paid up fan who, having got an RTD era episode out of his system with his debut, finally wrote one of his own on a superior second outing.

Indeed Cross reminded bastards like me that you can pack a lot into these 45 minute episodes if you litter your story with human (and inhuman) interest, while providing some decent questions for the viewers to chew over. Chuck in some sharp direction and a couple of nicely understated guest stars and we’re in business, Steven. It’s been a long year but tonight I finally had cause to wake up.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

P.S: Noted with dismay your decision to name the series finale The Name of the Doctor. So sure am I that this is an allusion to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, not least because the episode that follows it features Billie Piper, that I’m going to read the bastard and send you a special letter on where I think you’re going with the anniversary special and what you shouldn’t do under any circumstances, the most important of which is DON’T REVEAL THE DOCTOR’S IDENTITY. Do keep an eye on the doormat!

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Dear Steven Moffat: Cold War

Doctor Who - Series 7B

Dear Steven,

Showing the sort of prescience one might expect of a show about time travel, tonight’s mammock o’ Gatiss, Cold War, took us back to 1983; a time when, according to Conservative mythology, a bevaginated abstraction known only as The Iron Lady, was engaged in a furious battle to rid the world of isms – communism, socialism, Darwinism and my personal bugbear, minimalism.

The death of the Thatcher myth (for I don’t believe she truly existed, Steven), has got us all thinking about the ’80s: a simpler time when the world was polarised between ideological opposites, when being on the dole and having no future was chic, and you could get a Wimpy anywhere, even in a mining town. Those of us that grew up during this period of social disintegration, bitterness and spiritual desolation miss it, Steven. We also miss the very real threat of nuclear annihilation. It was a joy to see that revived in Saturday teatime.

Cold War was your archetypal monster on the loose episode, which revived the Ice Warriors; Martian menaces who were last on screen when most of us were a masturbatory fantasy between two drunk teenagers in a dingy, North London nightclub. In what was surely a visual metaphor for their long dormant status, Gatiss had Skaldak, a warmonger dating back to Martian antiquity, revived from a block of ice. He’d been frozen for 5,000 years, which is almost as long as the audience have now been waiting for an episode that carries a bit of weight.

What prevented this ‘Hunt for Red Planet October’ becoming ‘Das Bollocks’ was Skaldak himself. He was a likeable beast with a suitably monstrous voice, thanks to the vocal menace of Who veteran Nicholas Briggs. Intimidating to be sure but, we learned, also a family man who was understandably upset that his daughter was long dead and his people, if you can call them people, in absentia. When he learned he was on a boat “fat” with nuclear missiles, he was determined to initiate a holocaust.

Sure, his motive seemed to be a noxious combination of pride and spite, but no matter, it gave us something to ponder amidst the usual histrionics – running around tight corridors, The Doctor’s peacocking, some dull moralising and necessary exposition for the benefit of those who didn’t see the Warriors’ last appearance and couldn’t ask their parents because the two were in the bedroom, arguing about Dad’s affair.

Even half-conscious viewers would have asked themselves two questions, however: 1) Why couldn’t the crew all just get into the TARDIS and escape this doomed sub containing a deadly stowaway and 2) as there’s been no nuclear war, the threat of the episode is an empty one so why should I care? Fortunately Gatiss saw those two traps and took the time to side step them.

The TARDIS, once again showing its mischievous side by dropping The Doctor and Clara into the middle of a crisis, went further and disappeared. Though this was later explained as the activation of its HADS – the newly fixed Hostile Action Displacement System, viewers suspected an ulterior motive; an attempt to murder Clara, who we learned last week was not the time machine’s favourite companion. Had she grown fond of Amy and Rory perhaps or, as is more likely, did she imagine that this one was determined to sleep with The Doctor and would eventually grind him down? We’ve seen the look in her eye, we know it’s on her mind. No wonder original series man Waris Hussein complained there was too much sexuality in the show these days. Every time The Doc extends his sonic screwdriver Clara’s eyes widen. It’s becoming embarrassing. Still, at least the very real threat of mushroom clouds persisted. “History’s in flux, it can be changed” The Doctor told his drooling assistant, and a good job too or any tension surrounding the question of whether Skaldak would succeed in launching the Soviet sub’s nuclear payload would soon have dissipated.

As for the rest, well, the usual pointless observations, old fruit. If the Russians only sounded like they were speaking English spanks to the TARDIS’ translation matrix, why were the sub crew yapping in our vernacular both before it landed and after it’d disappeared? If Gatiss is a fan of The Hunt for Red October, and who isn’t, why not steal its great wheeze: starting off with Russian dialogue, only to carefully zoom in on the mouth of one officer, make the switch to English, then carefully zoom out – a neat bit of visual grammar that tells the audience that the language hasn’t changed but the way we’re hearing it has. What’s that, it would have got too complicated when the TARDIS arrived? Well, maybe but at least the first few minutes would have made sense. I’d have liked some thick Russian accents too. How I am supposed to know they’re Ruskies unless they sound like Boris Yeltsin’s Spitting Image puppet?

All in all it was a bit of an unremarkable episode; sub-aquatic you might say, in which Martian modesty was shown to be a myth as Skaldak spent most of the running time shamelessly sauntering about the sub naked. “He’s desperate,” said The Doctor and so it seemed, hoping for a bit of attention from a boatload of sex-starved Soviet sailors.

I confess I’m getting concerned that this season is just a bit, well, incidental, and that each mini-blockbuster is, like its big budget namesakes, high on concept but low on inspiration and character development. Viewing figures seem static too. Perhaps that’s an indication that you can waste time designing movie posters for each new instalment and talk up as unmissable, but most of us don’t care about the PR, we just want stories that have breadth, depth and as little screwdriver use as possible. What hope?

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and defrost the commune’s freezer. Don’t ask me what they’ve got in there.

Yours in time and cyberspace,

Ed

The Past:

The Distant Past:

Deep Time:

Published in: on April 13, 2013 at 19:13  Comments (2)  
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