the long shadow of Harry Kim

“Huge surprises!” “Massive bombshell.” “Big twist.”

TV Almost, no, in fact, every preview of this episode, from Doctor Who Magazine, through Radio Times through to Uncle Tom Cobbly with a website and a preview disc mentioned that The Almost People features one of the above that there’d be a gigantic, “game changing” revelation leading into “mid-series finale” (which doesn’t flow in the same way as “mid-season finale” because of where the stress falls but I digress). As we’ve discussed before, in a fair few ways, such things are almost as insidious as actual spoilers since we can, if we’re not careful, spend much of the ensuing episode, with the mammoth shocker, attempting to work out what the mammoth shocker is going to be.

Well, no I’d rather not have known that Amy was a ganger (despite confirming what I said last week about us all being gangers). But at various points the half of my brain that isn’t used to creepily lust after Karen Gillan on a weekly basis (I’m 36) was raging through a list of potentials which went something like: “The Ganger Doctor regenerates into River Song.” “Rory’s a Ganger. The Doctor’s replaced him Fitz Kreiner in Interference style after one of his many deaths turned out to be a bit too permanent and he’s looking for a way to stabilise him.” “Amy’s an imposter and she’s going to turn evil, kill Rory (again) and steal the TARDIS.” “It’s the Master.” (which has always been a decent back up plan in the past usually because it was).

At no point did that occur to me even though it makes perfect sense, neatly explaining the interpolation of Frances Barber not as hallucinations but interruption from the base station. It also explains why Amy didn’t see her in the bubble universe – the signal couldn’t carry out of time and space towards this ganger-host. When was she replaced? Presumably during the Day of the Moon, the Doctor having rescued the sensory-linked duplicate from the chair rather than the real Amy, who we must have last seen in that haunted care home. The Doctor says this was a “long time ago” which implies that all of the Doctor Who Adventures and spin-off novels, not mention the short Time/Space are set in this period and feature the flesh Amy.

Not that it intrinsically matters since it’s still Amy’s spirit that experienced them, even if her body was somewhere else. Rewatching this episode (as I did straight afterwards) (well, bits), now that we know about the deliberate wardrobe malfunction, we see that it was the real Doctor who treated his companion roughly, his “Why? Why? Why?” perhaps a test to see if she was the real Amy, or a pure ganger duplicate which would presumably, in the face of this brutality, undergo a breakdown, demolishing the walls around her sense of self.  As with all the episodes in this season (and the whole of franchise thanks to The Doctor’s Wife) whole scenes mean something else when watched again thanks to new information acquired later, the “continuity error” in Flesh and Stone writ large (and that's another old episode title gaining new resonances).

But you know all of this. You saw it. Unless not a fan or you’re in America and it’s on next week, in which case, what are you still doing here? It is the kind of episode in which it’s almost impossible not to drift, when writing about it, towards an “in-universe perspective” ignoring that all this chatter springs from Matthew Graham interpreting the needs of Steven Moffat’s grand narrative, ganger style. Doctor Who Confidential hasn’t really explained how this differs from the previous situation in which Russell rewrote with abandon. Are the arc elements all Graham’s work, or does he leave gaps for Moffat? This doesn’t seem to be a Pericles situation, where the quality increasing after a couple of acts after George Wilkins hands off to Shakespeare.

That’s for future scholars to decide. Instead, let’s talk about Matt Smith’s performance, since I’ve been remiss lately. In The Almost People, Matt is faced not just with challenge of playing against himself playing the same Doctor (somewhat like David Tennant in Journey's End), but also having to deal with each Doctor pretending to be the other one. Of course, he succeeds. Notice how, in the scene following the angry “Why!” moment, the being we now know to be the Ganger Doctor subtlety supports the real one as he turns his test into a way of distancing himself from Amy and the rest of the group, Julian Simpson’s direction making the most of his delicate glances and physical arrangements.

It’s another occasion when we’re thrust into the companion’s point of view and we have many of the same prejudices as Amy. The opening squee through iconic dialogue (Tom’s voice! Tom’s actual voice!) is supposed to underscore that what we’re getting is the same Doctor, yet like Amy, throughout first viewing we can’t help trying to work out which is the original, you might say, and which has just been manufactured. Unlike Amy we can watch it again and because Simpson is careful to only show us the feet and so leather shoes of the real Doctor (I think), we’re able to track and reinterpret his performance (of both the actor and character) second, third and however many more times around (see paragraph four, above).

Such shenanigans almost make us forget that this also has to function as the back end of the two/four parter; like the Weeping Angels tale in Moffat's opening run, this is a story which at first seems like it’s going to be structured in the classical sense (for all the hints that the Doctor’s taking notes) but quickly becomes knitted into the fabric of the season. Yet unlike the angels which ultimately just became a “threat” to be “overcome”, the story of the gangers has been set up and resolved in a meaningful way and still within the Troughton/Davison mode with a moralistic ending in which the human race learns something about their follies, before the Doctor disappears back into time (albeit with a few nu-Who related caveats).

Perhaps the way in which gangers replaced humans was a bit too tidy, with Trekkers playing away noticing the long shadow of Harry Kim across the scenes in which the equally valid duplicates assume the lives of their sources (cf, Star Trek: Voyager’s Deadlock).  Like the Doctor, the universe presumably isn’t big enough for two Raquel Cassidys. It certainly isn’t big enough for three Sarah Smarts, who on being called upon to be the psychotic contrast and given lines like "who are the real monsters?" began channelling Joseph F├╝rst in the least subtle performance of the two parter at least until she's replaced by the unfortunate reminder of The Lazarus Experiment (hopefully commenting on those sorts of monsters rather than actually trying to be one), the action falling back into type with corridors and running and sacrifices.

The climax also oddly brought to mind The Waters of Mars, another story in which the Doctor uses the TARDIS to save a bunch of people from a base under siege. During the podcast commentary for that story, Russell explains that in writing the Doctor breaking all the rules, he was breaking the Who writing rules himself. If the Doctor can simply usher all of the characters into the TARDIS and whisk them away, there is no story. Graham’s get out of stormcage free lipstick here is sinking the TARDIS, making it inaccessible, yet the Doctor had already decided that would be his methodology early in the jeopardy. Perhaps, as I suggested then, such rules can only be broken if the Doctor doesn’t know the original outcome of events.

If we’re in a really unforgiving mood and want to slam Amy for being oblivious or the many men in the crew on the basis of leaving their relative bosses to do all of the thinking, about the only character who comes off badly in all this is Rory who fulfils his Jamie/Adric role rather too successfully. After finally looking like he was going to take the lead in a storyline, Arthur finds his thunder stolen again, and as was often the case with his third wheel predecessors, his character ultimately looks a bit stupid in the face of some fairly huge emotional signposting, not really excused by his empathy for manufactured beings. At least he didn’t die this week for a change. There’s always next, which’ll be the first episode in which he properly becomes the “main” companion. Expect him still to be left off the cover of the Radio Times.

We’ve been reliably informed that yet again, next week's A Good Man Goes To War will be replete with vast bolts from the blue or some other variation thereof. Given the pictures which have been floating around, I’m guessing it's going to be the Doctor and Rory flying through time and space looking for Amy, visiting some old friends and foes in the hopes that they’ll be willing to offer some clues presumably because The Silence are an even bigger risk to the cosmos than the Doctor since it was they that blew up the TARDIS and not him, Pandorica be damned. Lord knows what Amy’s giving birth to, if it’s River or the Time Lord child or something else (assuming they're not the same thing). Welcome to my thought processes for the next seven days…

Next Week: Chasing Amy

the disappearance thereof

Film Woody's next next film has a title apparently, slipped into piece in The Hollywood Reporter about Ellen Page narrating a documentary about bees and the disappearance thereof. Woody Allen's next next film is too be called:
"Bop Decameron"
Which, if the medieval Italian literary reference is anything to go by, has portmanteau film written all over it. No wonder the cast seemed to be growing exponentially. Unlike the bee population.

The revolution will be embedded

TV The revolution will be embedded and this video in particular many times today. This is the early version from the special edition of Ghetto Style which actually opens with Gil introducing the band or his "accomplices" and lists their relative bands like a rap sheet (spotify link).

"under the former Monty Python's direction"

Music Well, here's a gap in the collection I didn't expect to be filled:
"BBC Four today announces it will broadcast ENO's highly acclaimed new production of Berlioz's The Damnation Of Faust directed by Terry Gilliam, this autumn. The production, under the former Monty Python's direction, transposes Berlioz's dramatic legend to the rise of Nazism in 20th-century Germany to stunning visual and musical effect, and features a stellar cast of Christine Rice, Peter Hoare and Christopher Purves, with an inspired set by Hildegard Bechtler. ENO's orchestra and chorus are conducted by ENO Music Director Edward Gardner."
Which isn't to say I wouldn't be more interested if that paragraph began "BBC Four today announces it will broadcast the RSC's highly acclaimed new production of Shakespeare's (sort of) lost play Cardenio ..." as if that's ever likely to happen under current regimes...

especially the sections on Doctor Who and The Simpsons

TV Further to the post yesterday, I've just discovered that Off The Telly returns ... in book form and since none of my old work features I can catagorically confirm that it is some of the best tv writing around, especially the sections on Doctor Who and The Simpsons. Edited by Mark Jones from Broken TV, it's available from here.

"Running orders change from minute to minute"

Radio The anatomy of Radio 4's Today:
"Taxis go to the wrong address, radio cars get stuck in traffic. Presenters are hauled urgently out of the studio during a package to pre-record an interview that will be edited and ready for broadcast five minutes later. Running orders change from minute to minute; scripts get rewritten; interviewees exhaustively prepared are politely stood down ("boshed", in the parlance. A busy news day means much boshing.).

Today can't stick on a record or take a few phone calls from the audience if things go pear-shaped. "And we have a lot of furniture," says O'Neill. "The pips, the papers, the summary, the weather, the sport, Thought for the Day . . . We have to hit all of them. We can't be 30 seconds late. The whole morning's about shaving a bit off here, a bit more there. You spend your life worrying about 10 seconds."
I still prefer PM with Eddie Mair.

"Upon reflection, it’s a bit OTT."

TV Graham Kibble-White, previously and currently of Off The Telly and TV Cream also writes some rather remarkable reviews for Doctor Who Magazine and has begun a blog to post up those rather remarkable reviews so that we don't have to go fishing through back issues to find them.

Each includes a short prologue offering some background and it's quite pleasing to see someone who's work I really respect having similar uncertainties about that work. From his take on The Waters of Mars:
"This was the first-ever Doctor Who TV story I reviewed for DWM. It displays my preoccupation with the distance between writing these things, and their publication. Dunno why I have a thing about that. Upon reflection, it’s a bit OTT. I’m a little embarrassed."
He's embarrassed? My review was structured around a recipe because the name of the story location sounded similar to a soup.

Some day I'm going to write my own process post, but it's rare when I sit down after each broadcast that I've properly thought through I'm going to write and sometimes it flows and sometimes I'm still reworking the structure at one o'clock in the morning.  I expect I'm pleased with about 10% of them.  Most of the time I'm just happy to get to the other end and hope I haven't made a total fool of myself, especially when I have the flu.

Graham also links to his colleague Gary Gillat's blog, Tachyon TV and this blog, admonishing me in the link text for calling them "timelords" rather than "Time Lords".  I'm not entirely sure when I began that habit.  I think I've been doing it forever and I can see him wincing with each incorrect usage in much the same way as I do when I see an apostrophe in proximity to DVDs on signs in charity shops.  Needless to say, I'm willing to change.

"impending imprisonment"

Radio Giles Coren was interviewed on the World at One this afternoon about his potential impending imprisonment and the result is well worth a listen (at this link on iplayer about six and half minutes in, also below).


His description of the moment when he found out is classic Giles: "The doorbell rang on Saturday. I was out in the garden barbecuing some mackerel as everyone is..."

If nothing else this whole affair has crystallised one of the things which has made me testy about the modern world. That I'm sick to death of celebrities assuming they're better than the rest of us.

Competition: Answer and Winner!


This 1962 Miro watercolour is called Personnages et oiseau.

The winner was @themardyarse and she'll be receiving the calendars soon. Thanks for playing.

"the intellectual shutters in my brain"

Art I've been a huge Magritte fan since a school visit to the famous exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1992 which also saw us blast through a Pop Art exhibition at the Royal Academy and was one of the key moments which opened up the intellectual shutters in my brain.

As you might expect then, I'm very excited to see that Tate Liverpool are giving the Belgian artist some wall space and even for the more salacious parts of his ouvre. They're just having difficulties deciding on how to display them:
"The Tate will exhibit all six explicit drawings, including a tiny man walking towards a giant vagina, and a winged phallus flying across a dawn sky. Magritte produced them in the 1940s for a proposed illustrated edition of Madame Eduarda, an erotic novella by the French philosopher and surrealist Georges Bataille. In the event, the book was never published."
The Klimt show rather let it all hang out.

"If I told you the Loch Ness monster hired me to hit the harbor, what would you say?"

Kevin Spacey, originally uploaded by The British Monarchy.