The Pyramid at The End of The World.

TV ... this is getting really interesting. Since The Pilot, I've seen reviews indicating this may be the best series since Doctor Who came back (you see that every season but they've been pretty intense this time around) and how from episode to episode it just keeps getting better.  Those of you who've been bothering to read this rubbish will have noticed I've been pretty warm about a few episodes, Thin Ice, Knock Knock and Oxygen particularly, but unimpressed with direction of the show overall.  Straight to social media after tonight's episode (it's the new Gallifrey Base) and the praise for The Pyramid at The End of The World is near universal, with exhalations about how great this new TARDIS team is, how thoughtful the story is and how thrillingly told right through to the cliffhanger ending.

Shrug.  Good for you.  Seriously, I'm pleased.  Because I found it to be a mostly dispiriting, tiresome  forty-five minutes filled with reheated moments of pleasure from previous stories, performances less convincing than Ed Ball's stewardship of Have I Got News For You last night (in which his delivery consisted. Of.  Many.  Pregnant.  Pauses.  Often in.  The Mid.  Le of.  Words), with a few exceptions  another group of under compelling waxworks were the secondary characters should be and a general sense of that'll do in a way which suggests the show is feeling pretty snoozy.  Those sentences may sound harsh, but Doctor Who fails when the viewer is bored and I was so, so bored.  But given your reaction, I wonder.  Am I missing something?  Is this just me?  Am I at that point in this long relationship were everything the show does is annoying and it can't win?

In order to help myself get through this, here are five things which irritated the piss out of me.  There were loads more, but I don't really have a structure for these ramblings and I'm hoping to get to bed at a reasonable hour.  First and perhaps of least importance: why the UN and not the Unified Intelligence Taskforce?  Given the latter had to change their fictional name because the former objected, it's odd seeing their acronym painted everywhere.  UNIT's mentioned within, but the army chaps seemed to be from another agency which for some reason had EU badges on their caps, uncomfortably combined with a gold star affair.  The reasonable explanation is that the production team didn't want overstuff the thing with Kate and Osgood, the actresses weren't available or too expensive for a budget which had already stretched to a foreign trip, but it's a distraction to be wondering who exactly is dealing with alien threats on planet Earth now.

Secondly, those waxworks.  The show used to be good at offering secondary characters with at least some personality or back story even when it wasn't necessarily required even in episodes with largish casts.  Often they'd be become relatable enough in a single scene that their inevitable death would be extremely poignant.  In here, with the absence of Kate or Osgood, no attempt is made to give any of the military figures from the various countries anything other than very basic, placeholder dialogue.  I don't remember the Chinese representative having many lines at all, apart from "Agreed."  The head of the UN is an exposition machine when there's a definitely a version were he has a sneaky interest in extra terrestrials or he's an old friend of the Doctor ala Churchill or worried about being away from his family (assuming he's not having an affair with someone on his staff or some such).

Apart from Bill's date (and a lesbian black couple on prime time BBC One almost forgives the ineptness of the rest of the episode), the exceptions are Erica and Douglas who have the essence of the thing I'm talking about and actually feel like they're being written by someone else (Harness or Moffat?).  About the only sections of the episode which are up to previous standards are these Outbreak-lite cutaways, with their visually interesting intercutting of symbolic flashbacks and implications.  It's great that Joking Apart's Michael, Tony Gardner, finally has a Who credit with both he and Rachel Denning capturing the mundanity of being someone who has an incredibly important but fundamentally tedious job were its easy to allow your concentration to wander.  That said, to suggest Erica as one professional writer has is "a companion who never-was-or-will-be in the grand tradition of Sally Sparrow" is quite some unnecessary hyperbole.  We wish any of these characters were as rich as anyone in Blink.

Thirdly, the monks are another miss.  As a friend suggested to me the other night over dinner, they're another iteration of the Whispermen and the Silents and as we discovered tonight they're all practically utilising the same MO of manipulating history either to control humanity or the Doctor or both.  That's compounded here, as these monastic reiterations have adopted a version of the causality strands last seen at the centre of the Doctor's TARDIS in The Name of the Doctor.  They're also not especially well designed;  even if the notion of dialogue emerging from gaping mouths is supposed to be a reference to the Mondasian Cybermen, it robs them of the potential for much personality.  Outside of the redux of old monsters, I can't remember the last time the show introduced an alien race which offered some personality variations amongst its individuals.

Plus, a protection racket?  Really?  Hand over the planet or we're going to break the causal equivalent of the crockery, or at least allow the display stand to fall over?  Also why are the monks in a pyramid other than Moffat's obsession with pyramids?  There is a Wikipedia category for Egyptian Monks, but nothing to indicate that such figures would have been around at the time these edifices were originally built.  I appreciate there's an element of simply wanting to have some cool things which look cool together ("Dinosaurs on a Spaceship!" "Monks in a Pyramid!") and that if you can have Shaolin Monks in Scotland, why not this, but there seems to be an attempt at some correlation which I find at best culturally suspect and at worst counter to the original educational aims of the series.  Yes, I know, Daleks.  But such things were still important until recently.

Fourthly, although connected, the consent business.  You must willingly give up your planet with a sense of love, a heart as big as the girl in the Roger Sanchez video, or we'll kill you.  Except if it emerges you're giving consent for some other reason, we'll kill you anyway.  In other words, consent given under duress.  Yes, yes, the monks are evil aliens, blah, blah, blah, but just as the same writer's Kill The Moon was an inadvertent addition to the abortion debate, here we are staring something even more complicated in the face.  Again, I don't think that was the intention here, there's an in-exactitude to the elements and no clear lines in either direction but that doesn't stop me from considering the extent to which Bill's dilemma resembles Isabella's in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure from a certain, extremely loose perspective.

Finally fifthly, a more general point, but the episode has an odd lethargy to it, with scenes continuing far longer than you might expect, especially when the Doctor's expostulating and what should be huge action sequences, like the combined attack on the pyramid, never quite making the impression they should as though ambition was overtaken by the possibilities of the SFX budget.  Making the Doomsday Clock the actual ticking clock is a rather novel idea, but because increased threat level only occurs when the monks feel like it, utilising it as a way to put pressure on humanity, the notion of the deadline is fudged which odd when you consider that not knowing the deadline, at what time they'll decide doomsday will descend, should be scarier.  When the clock changed so twenty seconds to midnight, the correlation with the events in the lab are unfocused.

So there are five (ish) reasons why the episode didn't work for me.  Perhaps, as I suggested earlier, my own relationship with the show has matured to the extent that habits which seemed acceptable enough to overlook at the beginning have outstayed their welcome.  Having Douglas not wear his mask so that later he contracts the disease might at one stage have seemed like a shameless and so charming storytelling device.  Now it just seems obvious and makes the character an ideal Darwin Award nominee, nullifying our sympathy for him, the narrative equivalent of leaving the bathroom scales out where someone can easily trip over them.  All of which said, next week's episode does look exciting in a Torchwood mega arc told in forty-five minutes sort of way.  Hopefully it'll be more Children of Earth than Miracle Day.

MARVEL UK in the 90s.

Comics Channel 4's Opening Shot was a shorter version of The South Bank Show aimed at young people in the 1990s. Find above, unearthed by VHS Video Vault, the episode about MARVEL UK from 1993 in which the likes of Stan Lee and then MARVEL UK editor in chief Paul Neary, who was the second editor of Doctor Who Weekly, talk about the differences between storytelling in British comics in comparison to stateside and the success of Deaths Head and the like in the US. It's not especially depthful in terms of the history but there is a pleasingly lengthy section about women in comics.

My Favourite Film of 1898.

Film If I was taught anything useful growing up, it was the value of money, or at least I like to think so. Without much to spend, everything bought had to be accounted for. We didn’t splurge and material things weren’t that important. Clothing was bought on market stalls and the like for example and I was brought up to ignore labels, something which is still true. I simply don’t understand why anyone would want to spend hundreds of pounds on single pieces of clothing and always shop around, probably to the point that it would have been cheaper just to buy the first damn thing I saw.

My parents had to be imaginative when it came to treats and incentives. Sometimes this was easy. A sweet van would park at the top of the road every week, Mr K’s, and I’d be given ten pence to spend on chewy chocolate bottles and Sherbet fountains from the retiree in the brown overalls. None of this would happen if I’d been “naughty” in the intervening days. Not that I remember being an especially difficult child which is counter to what my parents have just told me. I have no memory. I asked what they meant by that but the details due to our relative ages now are now sketchy. I expect it was just general childhood misbehaviour.

But the one treat I do remember is being allowed to sit at the front on the top deck of the bus. This was usually either the 80 or 82 from Speke into Garston or the city centre and was one of the most exciting things I could do because it meant I could watch the bus driver through the periscope which was the way they could keep an eye on the top deck before security camera were invented (this all happened in the late 70s or early 80s). It also gave me a driver’s eye view, albeit from a higher angle, seeing the streets and landscape at the front rather than the side. Even though this would be those same journeys, there was always something new to look at.

When I was old enough to travel on buses without my parents, it still took a while before it felt ok to decide to walk up those steps by myself and even when I did, it felt illicit, like I was stealing something which I hadn’t earned or didn’t deserve. Plus by then I understood the dangers of passive smoking and it still hadn’t been banned on public transport. In my teenage years, upstairs was also were the boys and girls hung out together and since I was nervous around the latter, the bottom deck became a haven from all of that. The one occasion I did venture upstairs, I almost had an anxiety attack, I think when the girlfriend of one of my mates looked at me.

Now I’m old enough to enjoy the experience for what it is, the chance to see the world from an unusual angle, a similar thrill as View from an Engine Front – Barnstaple but live and on a road. Now I’ll sit in this position whatever chance I get, looking across tops of bus shelter and roofs, jumping out of my skin as the bus hits the tree tops. My longest trip lately was all the way to Preston although I’ll admit I did read for a bit here and there as the bus traversed the motorways. If you’re not actually driving, there’s no point subjecting yourself to the hypnotism of the monocoloured roads and embankments and street furniture. I wonder where I’ll be next.