Who 50: 2011:
Night and the Doctor.

TV Right then, hello, just a couple of weeks until the 50th anniversary, big Doctor Who writing moment, so I thought I’d best do something to get back into practice after the long summer gap since the last time the show was broadcast. Some housekeeping. As you can see WHO 50’s reached 2011, which leaves only a couple of years left and nearly a month before November 23rd. Rest assured that in the eleven months since I wrote the introduction, I’ve solved this surmountable problem, if not quite to the point of deciding what to include in the title after the colon instead of the year. I don’t imagine you’ll be too surprised by the solution.

Night and the Doctor is a series of linked (well four of them are) short adventures produced for inclusion on the season six home release (although there’s a strong suspicion that one of them is a deleted scene). Whereas the two pieces from the previous year’s release, Meanwhile, in the TARDIS... (reviewed here) fit solidly within the ongoing narrative of the series filling in the gap between adventures, Night and the Doctor (well four of them) are more thematically connected, though they do continue to Meanwhile’s methodology of filling in character beats which the main episodes have little time for.

The final, slightly rogue part of Night and the Doctor is Up All Night, two minutes in the company of Craig, Sophie and Alfie from Closing Time, for which it’s a direct prologue. Apart from Craig stressing about breaking his new son in much the same way as does for much of the subsequent episode and a chance to see more of the delightful Daisy Haggard, there’s not much else to it, especially in comparison to the other instalments. It works in much the same way as the official prequels to other episodes of the series as a taster to come, which is odd because it wasn’t released in the same way as them (hence the assumption that it's a deleted scene with an upgrade). But at least it’s in the right place in the box set.

Most of them are thrown together on the same disc as The Doctor’s Wife and the Ganger two-parter, even though they’re actually more naturally set later in the series when it has already been revealed who River Song is to the Ponds which means they’d be something of a literal spoiler for someone, and there has to be someone, greeting this series for the first time and who hasn’t seen A Good Man Goes To War or Let’s Kill Hitler yet. It also disrupts the narrative on, say, an epic rewatch and something I should have realised when putting together my own list (though I’ll have corrected that before you read this, I expect).

The first is Bad Night, in which Amy discovers that while she and Rory are asleep, the Doctor’s having adventures without them. The adventure he's currently having without them is ridiculous and funny and the stuff of Doctor Who Adventures from what we see of it, and Matt has great fun playing up the wilder eyed, gesticulating element of this incarnation all fish bowl farce and desperate shouting, with Karen playing the straight woman. That’s the first of its pleasures, a chance to see these two existing in a way that doesn’t really happen in the main series with Rory assuming some of her and our attention, something somewhat underscored by the ending.

The notion of (a) companions sleeping on the TARDIS and (b) the Doctor meanwhile having adventures without them hasn’t really been addressed before. There were periods in the classic series which did play up the notion of the TARDIS as a home, with rooms and kitchens and the like, notably early in the Hartnell, Davison and McGann years (whole chunks of novels about the Doctor, Fitz, Sam and whoever just hanging around place), but much of the time we were expected to believe that one adventure pretty much led to another and to another, the essential human bodily requirements sneaked in, unseen between stories.

But if we do assume that (a) companions have always slept on the TARDIS and (b) the Doctor has always had adventures without them, a whole skein of spin-off adventures in which a given incarnation is travelling alone become less problematical. No need to assume, unless explicitly stated, that all the Fourth Doctor’s solo adventures, like the early Doctor Who Weekly stories, take place between The Deadly Assassin and The Face of Evil or The Invasion of Time and The Ribos Operation. He might just as well be travelling with Sarah, Leela or one of the Romanas, nipping out while they’re getting some shut-eye.

The next short, Good Night offers a more clearer bit of narrative house cleaning, addressing the fact that somehow Amy and Rory and though he goes unmentioned Kazran Sardick from A Christmas Carol, have two different versions of their personal history in their head from before and after history was changed. Logically they shouldn’t. If history is being changed, they should change too and they shouldn’t be aware of the difference, see Donna Noble in Turn Left, though if that was case, there’d be no logical reason for Amy to remember the Time Lord’s existence and bring him into Whoniverse 2.0 in The Big Bang.

As with all of these TARDIS based episodes, it shows Moffat at his poetic best, the Moffat of “The Panorica, that’s just a fairy tale…” and “We have until the rain stops.” You might wonder if the reason he ends up writing the same story over and over again is because he’s more interested in the stuff in between and that that same story is his way of including that kind of poetry without it seeming over-egged. The Rings of Arkanoid is an example of a story where such things can go catastrophically wrong, largely because the Doctor’s shouting them at a planet, the Who equivalent of that bizarre moment in post-Sorkin The West Wing episode Disaster Relief, which had poor Josh losing his temper with a building.

But like Bad Night, this also offers some tangential explanation for a few of the franchises oddments. When the Doctor says that time’s being rewritten all the time, and so their memories change, he’s suggesting that in the physics of the Whoniverse, causality and consciousness are somewhat disconnected, that it’s possible for someone’s timeline to change without their memories doing the same and although they themselves can’t quite put their finger on what’s missing it’s always there. The Doctor probably hasn’t delivered Rose’s red bicycle when he says it but it becomes a fond memory because he suggests it will happen.

The next two, First Night and Last Night are really one "long" story with a cliffhanger and go some way to explaining how the Doctor and River can have had so many adventures even taking into account the two hundred odd year gap towards the end of the six series. Young River, middle-aged River and old River (for want of better descriptions) at various stages of their experiences with the Doctor in just the kind of farce of which Moffat is a master, and where the cornerstone of his sitcom days, in Joking Apart and Coupling. Replace Matt Smith with Robert Bathurst, add in some stand-up comedy sequences, and replace River with a drunk woman and it’s practically the last episode of the first series.

We're watching the Doctor fulfilling his promise of keeping her entertained while she's in prison.  The young River is the version experiencing the oddness of this older man dropping and knowing everything about her, the middle-aged River is right in the middle of the excitement and the older River is just days away from her mortal death in the Forest of the Dead, though as we discover later, that’s not the last time she’ll see her beloved. These are massive, huge character moments, which another series might have worked into the main drama, thrown in as a bonus feature on the blu-ray (and as such they’re missing from most reference works).

The most significant is visit to the Singing Towers of Darillium given extra portent after the implication that The Name of the Doctor is River’s final appearance. I bet most of you, like me, assumed that we see the moment when the Doctor turned up on her doorstep with the sonic and took her on this journey, knowing the implications and the tragedy of that, and it would be in the main show, presumably right next to his regeneration, yet here it is, or at least some of it. It’s the last time she’ll see him before he has Tennant’s face, but is this the last time he sees her? Is there a sense that he’s getting the moment over with for himself?

Never mind River flirting with the Doctor, Moffat’s flirting with the viewer, all of these unseen and unseeable adventures, that by implication keep the Doctor mysterious. Perhaps in a few decades, future fans with a license and the original actors will take it upon themselves to write and produce these stories for download, a Companion Chronicle about Jim the Fish, but actually it’s the not knowing which makes them interesting and extraordinary. As the web has demonstrated time and again when discussing story arcs with a few scant implications and ideas, consumers can often be wildly imaginative.

There are some fans who suggest that River should have remained in the library, an artefact of some incarnation in the far future, her origin a mystery and that she’s been diminished through each subsequent appearance. I both agree and disagree. It’s true that the characters in Doctor Who with the greatest narrative power are those who remain enigmatic, The Guardians, the Billis Mangers and The Shopkeepers, with their ambiguous motivations. When River was just some figure from the Doctor’s future, it’s true that she had a special power within the context of her first story, which remained right up until the broadcast of A Good Man Goes To War.

Yet for all that she’s still a mighty character and now when rewatching The Silence in the Library, there’s an agency shift which thanks to Euros Lyn’s direction and Alex Kingston’s performance seems entirely planned, in which we see a River who is heartbreakingly realising that it’s the moment she’s always feared (as she mentions to Rory in The Impossible Astronaut) when she’ll look into the Doctor’s eyes and he won’t remember her. An old episode gains a sub-plot with a whole new emotional resonance. Her line “Doctor, please tell me you know who I am.” has a whole new destructive force. There can’t be many series capable of that.

Neil Perryman’s Adventures With The Wife In Space (with interruptions from Sue Perryman).

Books One of the more unusual Doctor Who book genres to develop in the past few years, mostly since Jane Trantor lied to Mark Thomson about the extent to which the production process on the new series could be halted because Michael Grade of all people had asked him, is the fan memoir. These are generally split into two categories. There’s the relatively straight discourse on a love affair with the programme of which Toby Hadoke’s Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf is arguably the most prominent example and the record of opinions based on watching the series in a marathon session, Hadoke and Rob Shearman’s Running Through Corridors: Rob and Toby's Marathon Watch of Doctor Who, Philip Sandifer’s multi eBook series TARDIS Eruditorum and the efforts of Doctor Who Magazine’s Time Team, efforts which have led to “Time Team” becoming a kind of weird verb when it comes to these marathon rewatches because boxsetting doesn’t seem quite right even though “I’m time teaming it" doesn’t either – for one thing it’s two words.

Neil Perryman’s Adventures With The Wife In Space (with interruptions from Sue Perryman) combines the two but it’s entirely unlike all of them. Most of the straight memoirs seem to have been written by Forrest Gumps of Who fandom, A-listers who somehow managed to have watched every episode when they were broadcast, read every Target novel on publication day, saw all of the stage shows, attended every convention including Longleat and were in the room for the first hearing of the eye-patch joke. Neil on the other hand is writing from the perspective of the rest of us, with a quite naturally oscillating interest in the series who missed out on all of these things because life intruded, discovering girls, finding a job and most importantly meeting Sue, who for much of their life together was quite happy to leave Neil to his curious interest and all of his videos (even though she was happy to put up some shelves when they moved in together and entirely tolerant of his attempts to get Nicol to stop watching The Breakfast Club in favour of Day of the Daleks.

Then and this is where Adventures With The Wife In Space, also differs from the kinds of fan commentaries about marathon Time Teaming sessions (see what I mean) – much of that commentary is provided by non-fan Sue. Almost every night for two and half years, Neil and Sue watched their way through the whole of the classic and sometimes not terribly classic series and he’d keep a record of her comments and post them up on the blog, the fan introducing the series to a non-fan experiment played out in public. Which is genius because as Neil and everyone reading quickly identified, Sue's opinion of the series was always at variance with the so-called fan consensus of which she had little or no knowledge or interest. In combining the two Neil intersperses the decades leading up to the experiment and those two and a half years with fragments from the blog and they’re absolutely hilarious. Just as the Doctor says he needs a companions eyes because he’s stopped seeing “it”, Sue allowed us to enjoy it from a fresh perspective.

At which point it’s probably worth explaining that I’m not someone who can come to the book or experiment entirely fresh. I’ve known Neil, at least online, for many years. He was kind enough to write this guest post for Review 2005 about Doctor Who coming back and 2005 in general, which will give you some idea of the tone of the book. There’s a chapter in which he lists his various blogs and online ventures pre-Wife in Space and I read most of them and even contributed to one of them, Behind The Sofa, for six years (which merits a single paragraph which is fair enough I suppose). My point is there are sections of this book which have been like revisiting old stories and will have been entirely unlike someone coming to Neil, Sue and everything else entirely afresh. Much of the time it’s been like a fond reminder of times past, all the Tachyon TV podcasts listened to, meeting his friend Damon for a coffee in Manchester and discovering that they all really did exist and of course the many hours spent reading The Wife in Space blog itself.

Yet it’s also interesting how much, despite all of that, I didn’t know, the disparity between what you find out about someone from what they post online and everything else. You don’t really know me and it seems I didn’t really know Neil and that’s probably the real strength of the book, just how emotionally raw some of it is to a point that I’m not sure I’d have the courage to reveal. For all the humour, on occasion it reads like the Who fan equivalent of Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman and although it isn’t as downbeat in places (even when we discover the fate of some parts of his boyhood Who collection) or uncircumspect in others (though there is a chapter called “I Wasn’t a Teenage Whovian”), Neil isn’t afraid to enlighten on the darker corners of what having the fan gene can sometimes mean. Time and again I found myself nodding or rolling my eyes and giggling as patterns of behaviour I could easily see myself following revealed themselves. Neil’s surprisingly honest about himself, especially in relation to how often he wanted the experiment to end.

But thanks to Sue’s determination he didn’t and couldn’t and wouldn’t and it’s Sue’s participation in the memoir which also makes the difference from others. As well as excerpts from the blog, she drops in now and then with comments about the text and even has her own chapter and what gives Adventures With The Wife In Space its crossover potential as book which isn’t just for Who fans but partners and spouses and friends of Who fans and fans in general, the ones who have to put up with tons of merchandises clogging up the living room, the VHS tapes boxed by era in the loft and dvds carefully collated in story order on bookcases, wondering why the hell someone would need to buy a few of them twice. There will presumably be many partners and spouses and friends of Who fans who’ll be receiving a copy of the book this Christmas, proffered in the hopes that they’ll understand their significant other better and perhaps, perhaps a few of them will look at the dvds carefully collated in story order on bookcases and decide to repeat Neil and Sue’s experiment to see if they can replicate the results.

Neil Perryman’s Adventures With The Wife In Space (with interruptions from Sue Perryman) is published by Faber and Faber on the 7th November 2013. Review copy supplied.

“Theatre-Broadcast Conversation”

TV On Monday, the Radio Theatre in New Broadcasting House hosted an event called “Theatre-Broadcast Conversation”, presented by Tony Hall and with writers like the brilliant Abi Morgan in attendance. Given the title, it might have given some of us hope that BBC drama head Ben Stephenson might have been overruled and that more filmed theatre would be returning to television or some such. But no.

Much of the conversation was about utilising theatre and a way of allowing writers to experiment and for new television writers to find their feet. The whole topic of actually showing any of this theatre of television only seems to have been addressed quickly then moved away from:
"The panel then moved to the subject of digital initiatives, like screenings of theatre events. Vicky Featherstone said that while she broadly felt this accessibility was a good thing, she warned of the danger to touring theatres and the wider “theatrical ecosystem” in the regions (who may lose out on bookings in favour of a screened event). Abi Morgan talked about the difficulties for writers when pieces written for the stage are filmed and screened, saying that if the writer knew their work was going to be screened they might have written it differently."
Same old, same old and theatre's fear that television will steal their thunder.  It's a bit of a straw man and actually very similar to the fear that film companies initially had for their stuff being broadcast and taking viewers away from cinemas.  Some notes:

(1)  The fees paid to theatre companies for the rights to show their work will surely offset fears of audiences not turning up except ..

(2)  Having their work on television will surely be a great promotional device causing people to turn up and watch more theatre because it breaks down barriers.  People don't stop going to concerts if they see a band performing the same music on television.  Glastonbury is still over subscribed.  More people have gone to see classical music because of the Proms.

(3)  Look back in time.  Were theatre box offices hit when loads of theatre was on television?  Have people in general stopped going to the Globe because they're releasing everything (almost) on dvd now?

(4)  Don't screen anything which is still in circulation, wait until tours are completed, have windows like the film industry where something isn't broadcast at least for a year or two.  Creatives seem to be under the misapprehension that we want theatre to be broadcast live.  No.  It's that we want any theatre to be broadcast at all.  Which it isn't.


Books At a time when I thought only community unrest had largely migrated to Twitter, it's heartening to read this Salon piece about protestors at Good Reads which seems to have become a bit messy in its approach and corporate since it was bought by Amazon.

Essentially it boils down the sites overlords high handedly enforcing the T&Cs of the site even on those who've effectively, voluntarily, kept the thing running whilst simultaneously not given them right to reply:
"The protesters got creative. They devised a counteraction they call “hydra-ing,” in which members reposted each other’s deleted reviews. (The practice was named after a monster from Greek mythology who would grow back two heads whenever one was cut off.) A Tumblr was created to post and discuss the deleted reviews, the shortcomings of the new initiative and the lack of clarity and consistency in how Goodreads defines “author behavior” and “off topic.” “There are plenty of ‘protected’ reviews which do precisely the same thing as being ‘off topic’ but yet remain in place,” one member wrote to me in an email about the controversy. Ceridwen undertook to contact the 21 members whose reviews had been summarily deleted to find out what sort of postings had been targeted and which books and authors they pertained to. She posted the results, complete with illuminating pie charts, to her blog. Some of the protesters are even writing their own book about the affair."

Progenitor device.

Technology Some of Paris's bridges are under threat. Not from rot or decay or the kinds of thing you might expect, but from ritual, specifically the ritual of lovers inscribing their names on padlocks, clipping them to available railings and then throwing the keys in the Seine:
"The seemingly innocuous romantic gesture also occurs at the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, the Ponte l’Accademia in Venice, and less renowned bridges in Liverpool, Hamburg and many other romantic locations in cities throughout the world.

"The situation in Paris has become more critical, though, and according to local newspapers, the Paris Council worries that so many padlocks have been snapped on the Pont des Arts that the railings risk crumbling under the weight and crashing into the river. The scenario some of them fear is not only of people tumbling into the river along with the railings but of the heavy metal enclosures landing on passengers on the many tourist boats that ply the river under the bridge."
A simple Google image search shows the scale of the problem. Aesthetically and emotionally it's an extraordinary sight but intellectually I can't not imagine the danger.

How the Doctor has now only used up two regenerations so far.

TV Tonight I caught myself up with the Doctor Who on my shelf. After nearly twelve months I've seen everything currently released on dvd in the UK, fifty years of Doctor Who part from series seven with the strange and inevitable weirdness of waking up tomorrow and not having anything "canonical" with a TARDIS, a timelord and sometimes a companion in to watch. But throughout the final three episodes, I was pre-occupied and not just with wondering if Ruby had won the Great British Bake-Off as I predicted after not watching any of it (she didn't but she did write this rather amazing column for The Guardian about the atrocity of a Twitter reaction).

Nope, as is so often the case it's with a comment from Steven Moffat, specifically about the Doctor's regenerations at the Cheltenham Literature Festival a few weeks ago, in which he said:

“He can only regenerate 12 times [...] I think you should go back to your DVDs and count correctly this time [...] "there’s something you’ve all missed.”

Right then. Having watched all of Doctor Who relatively quickly, I'm counting. Ignoring The Brain of Morbius with its many members of the production team in silly hats and beards because that's just messy and anything implied by the spin-offs and whatever the Doctor says in Sarah Jane Adventures, let's have a count shall we?

1 Hartnell into Troughton
2 Troughton into Pertwee
3 Pertwee into Baker-T
4 Baker-T into Davison
5 Davison into Baker-C
6 Baker-C into McCoy
7 McCoy into McGann
8 McGann into Hurt (we think)
9 Hurt into Eccleston (possibly)
10 Eccleston into Tennant
11 Metacrisis - uses up a regeneration
12 Tennant into Smith
13 Smith into Jayston presumably
14 Jayston into Capaldi

Oh bugger. Unless Capaldi is playing the Valeyard or, well hum. This is messy and even messier if you don't ignore The Brain of Morbius. Well hum, again.

I've read a theory elsewhere, I forget where, that what Moffat's magpie, tricksy brain is chucking out is all the different occasions when the Doctor hasn't specifically said he's regeneration or the regenerative process hasn't been the same as the others. So Troughton or Pertwee doesn't count. Or Baker to Davison because of The Watcher.

The other suggestion is that somewhere in the Time War, the Doctor's been given a whole new regenerative cycle by the Time Lords, as per their offer to the Master in The Five Doctors.

But Steven suggests we look at our dvd collection "and count correctly this time".

Except, oh except. What about River Song? What about Let's Kill Hitler?

In Let's Kill Hitler, River, or Melody as I suppose she was then, gave up her remaining regenerations so that the Doctor could live, he absorbed the regenerative energy. What if, like Mawdryn and his cohorts, the Doctor literally absorbed her remaining regenerations? In which case, having used to up herself, she's given him enough energy to power ten extra regenerations. Presumably this doesn't necessarily mean her actual potential future incarnations, he's not going to be a woman for the next ten incarnations however brilliant that might be (starting with Romola) (followed by Zawe) (then Michelle Terry), but is does mean that he's essentially back to having only used up two.


Jammie Dodger.

Food Pimp That Snack on how to make a massive Jammie Dodger:
"Picture the scene. It's Easter Saturday. It's grey and grim outside, I've just introduced my girlfriend to PimpThatSnack.com, and in a moment of inspired lunacy we decide that it looks like fun and we ought to contribute something. It takes about ten seconds for my girlfriend to suggest that the subject of our efforts should be none other than the legendary Jammie Dodger (Preservus Evasivus Maximus).

"An hour later; we have supplies; we have ingredients; we have regular and mini Dodgers standing by for reference, inspiration and sustenance, and we have a Jammie Dodger recipe courtesy of Diana's Desserts. It's Pimping Time."


People You've probably read this already as it flew about the social networks, but just in case, this week The Observer's Eva Wiseman decided to use her column as a force for love:
"Around 7.30pm during the week, the new Tesco Express at the end of my road is a pulsing heart. It throbs with students and their pasta sauces. I stood in the self-checkout queue on Thursday behind a boy in a leather jacket and saw his face the moment he made eye contact with a girl six people ahead. She looked up when a child screamed, and they saw each other, and then they looked away, and then they looked back."
Probably says more about humanity and our place in it than yet another few adversarial paragraphs. Just lovely.