Who Do You Think You Both Are?

    I suppose I should tell you what I thought of the three Doctor Who 60th anniversary specials.

    They were good. Not great, but good. My favourite of the three — and I think probably the best, too — was the middle one, ‘Wild Blue Yonder’.

    As to the ending, the ‘bi-generation’ thing was daft, but fun. It was good to give the leaving and arriving Doctors the chance to interact, and a Doctor ending without it being a death was good.

    However, let us speak of the extension of that effect, as explained in this Radio Times article. I was directed there by @BenSouthwood, via a conversation on

    As I said there, I loved the idea of the Timeless Child, and the expansion it brought to The Doctor’s past and the prehistory of the Time Lords. But this ‘every Doctor is now bi-generated’ idea just seems like it leaves things in a mess.

    Sure, you can explain it all away with branching timelines, alternative realities and all that. But it all just seems a bit too chaotic, you know? Even if they never use it, it feels unnecessary.

    And then there’s this idea of making an expanded ‘Whoniverse’, in the vein of what Marvel and Star Wars have become. Disney’s money is going to allow this, presumably. More shows, even, than when we had Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

    Trouble is, from my point of view, that I’ve lost interest in both Star Wars and Marvel exactly because there’s so much stuff. It’s all just too much.

    So I hope my favourite programme doesn’t go the same way. Or at least, if it does, that the original programme will always remain at the hearts of the franchise, and not depend on any of the expansion packs.

    Penny-Farthings and Paranoia

    Watty was wearing a badge, one of the big, old kind. Probably two inches across, round. They used to advertise them in the back of Sounds, NME, Record Mirror (and I think there was a fourth member of the British weekly music press, but I can’t recall it). They always included the size, in old-fashioned imperial units: one-inch, two-inch. Probably inch-and-a-half.

    In the early days we wore the big ones. My first one was almost certainly a Beatles one, but I don’t remember what design it had. I do recall a glittery Thin Lizzy one, when I went through my period of them being one of my faves. Wings, maybe? Probably.

    Anyway, with punk, the badge size that was considered cool, or even acceptable, reduced. Anything bigger than an inch across would lead to mockery, for sure. Although I think Brendan’s Stranglers badge, saying ‘Something Better Change’ (‘Because I like the song and I like what it says’) was of the two-inch persuasion, but that was in the early days.

    Watty’s one, the one that I’m talking about: that was probably even earlier. It was white, with the outline of what I had to get quite close to realise was a penny farthing bicycle. And a number: 6.

    ‘What’s that about, then?’

    ‘It’s The Prisoner! Do you not know about it?’ Watty wasn’t too bad in this way, but the default reaction to someone being ignorant of something you liked was mockery, back then, when we were 13, 14. To be honest, probably for a decade or more after that, too. Instead of the healthier attempt to infect the ignorant one with our own enthusiasm. Or at least inform them about it.

    I learned, though, that it was a weird programme that was on late at night, and anyway it was over now, so even if it hadn’t been on at a time that I wouldn’t have been allowed to stay up on a school night, it was finished, so there was no chance I’d ever get to see it.


    Of course, The Prisoner was originally broadcast in 1967-8, so if Watty was watching it ten years later, it does show that repeats were a thing. If only there were a way we could have our own copies of TV programmes. But what a fantastic, farcical idea!

    I know it was the early days, because the name ‘The Prisoner’ did not immediately make me think of The Clash. The B-side of ‘(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais’ shares a title with Patrick McGoohan’s paranoid cold-war ex-spy drama. I don’t think it has anything else in common with it, but you can’t be sure.

    I finally saw some episodes in the early nineties. I bought some on VHS, along with my friend Johnny, who also hadn’t seen it. But that didn’t prove very practical, as we live in different cities. And VHS was expensive. Two episodes per tape for, what fifteen quid? So that petered out.

    Much later I got the DVD box set. And it’s been one of the things we’ve been watching over the last few months. Er, years, maybe. It might have started in lockdown.

    Tonight we finally watched the last two episodes. Which were much better than I had been led to believe.

    It’s kind of amazing, saturated as it is with sixties fears about mind control, brainwashing, hypnotism. Is anything real after the unnamed main character gets gassed in the opening of the first episode (repeated in the opening credits of almost every episode)? Maybe the whole thing is a hallucination induced by the gas, you know?

    There are certainly plenty of actual induced hallucinations or dreamlike states in the series. Which is why you can’t trust the increasingly psychedelic ending.

    The whole thing is a mindfuck. I loved it.

    Did anyone else get heavy Cybermen vibes from the royal funeral parade? All the slow marching with a drumbeat on every step? Everyone in time, rocking from side to side…

    God Save Your Mad Parade

    I surprised myself, really. I, an avowed republican and atheist, watched the Queen’s funeral.

    It was a historic event, there’s no doubt about that. If only because we need reminding once in a while that we live in a militarist theocracy.

    Sure, the Prime Minister — elected, but just barely having any democratic legitimacy — was involved, reading one of the weird stories from the strange Christian book, The Bible. But look at the start of the ceremony. The military led the march to the church, surrounding the coffin throughout. Just inside the doorway they handed over to the religionists, who led them down the aisle.

    All the living Prime Ministers were there, and some other politicians too, I expect. But it was not a day for them, for the elected; nor for their electors, for ‘commoners’, except to bow their heads and throw flowers.

    I kept an eye on Twitter throughout, but it wasn’t nearly as snarky as I imagined. A few comments about dropped papers and spiders, but mostly just revelling in it.

    The Title of The Smiths' Third Album

    I’m a republican, but you’ve got to acknowledge that old Queenie had a good run. Apparently the direct descendent of Mary, Queen of Scots, which I didn’t know.

    My favourite story about her is the one about the landrover and the Saudi crown prince.

    The weirdest thing about the change of monarch for me? The King’s Speech is an Oscar-winning movie, not something to ignore on Christmas Day.

    Get Back to Christmas

    We subscribed to Disney+ last night, so that we could watch Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back. I had thought it was going to be a movie, but it turns out it’s a miniseries: three two-hour episodes. The second drops today, and the third tomorrow.

    It’s built from hours of footage that were recorded for the Let It Be documentary back in 1969. I remember watching that once and being disappointed by it. The main problem was that it was presented as a fly-on-the-wall thing, but the fly was aurally challenged.

    In other words, you couldn’t make out much of the chatter between the guys. That, almost as much as hearing them rehearsing and working on the songs, was kind of the point.

    If you were making a documentary like that today you’d probably have all the band members wearing microphone packs, as the participants in reality TV shows do, so that what they said would make it to storage. Back then, though, even if that had been practical,1 it was far from obvious that the individual Beatles would all have complied. Plus we’d want to hear from Brian,2 and Mal, and Glyn, and the other George, as well as John, Paul, George, and Ringo.

    That’s a lot of microphone packs. So of course, the original producers relied on ambient miking. It’s fine when the speaker is near one of the vocal mics, or when they’re right under a boom, but otherwise… well, as I say, Let It Be was a frustrating experience.

    However, technology has come a long, long, way in the succeeding fifty years. Every word in this is clear as a bell,3 undoubtedly with the help of modern digital audio editing. It’s slightly ironic to note that one of the first things the band say is that the place they’re working in – a warehouse in Twickenham – is acoustically bad. An odd choice of a place in which to work on writing and performing songs.

    Anyway, as of the cliffhanger ending of episode one, this series is fucking amazing! Totally brilliant!

    But only if you’re a fan. If you only take a passing interest in The Beatles, or (weirdly) none at all, you probably shouldn’t waste your time on this.

    The Disneyfication of Christmas

    Disney have made a genius move in launching this when they did. We will be far, far, from the only people who took out a subscription to watch this, with the intention of cancelling it after a month.

    A month. What’s a month after yesterday, the 25th of November? Oh yes.

    All those subscriptions that are due to renew on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? So many of them won’t be cancelled, either just to have things to watch over Christmas, or to keep the kids happy, or because people will forget with everything else going on.

    I don’t mind, I’ll probably try to catch up on some of the newer Marvel and Star Wars stuff, of which there is just far, far, too much now, in my humble opinion.

    But there’s not too much Beatles.

    1. It wouldn’t, because they would have had to be wired microphones ↩︎

    2. I don’t know what I was thinking here. Obviously Brian Epstein was dead by 1969 and isn’t in the film. My thanks to Tony for pointing this out. ↩︎

    3. The odd line is given a subtitle, but I think those are more about Scouse accents than inaudibility. ↩︎

    The Origin of Angels?

    I was surprised just over three weeks ago when I learned – from the Saturday Guardian, the physical newspaper, of all things – that Doctor Who was staring the next day. I was aware it was going to be happening this autumn, certainly, but somehow I’d missed any hype about it online.

    I was perhaps more surprised to learn that it was going to be a single story. Surprised, and pleased: a six-parter, just like the old days, like the ones I grew up with. Of course, back then you’d get a few four-parters and maybe a six, all across what felt like many weeks. In this case, the six parts will make up the whole season. But still. There would be cliffhangers.

    Now we’re three weeks in, halfway through.

    There are cliffhangers. So many cliffhangers. Cliffs hung so thoroughly that the metaphor breaks down. The whole thing even started with The Doctor and Yaz hanging upside down. Not from a cliff, but still.

    Hang those cliffs. The angels have the blue box.1 No, wait, that’s for later. Or earlier. This time haze is getting to me.

    This season, series, story, whatever you want to call it, is incredible. I am loving it. If they can hold up this quality, and especially give it a good ending – stick the landing, as people say for some (I believe gymnastics-related) reason – then it could be the high-water mark of Doctor Who.

    And even if they don’t manage a great ending, the ride will have been worthwhile.

    But I want to get something out there before we get too much further into the series, and spoilers ahead, probably, so stop reading if you haven’t seen at least up to episode 3, ‘Once, Upon Time.’ Also if you think speculations can be spoilers. I, personally, don’t.

    OK, so, we’ve seen glimpses of the Weeping Angels in these episodes. These creatures feed on time energy, and in this story, time energy is going wild, has been unleashed in dangerous ways. Whatever all that means (‘Time is evil,’ as one of the priest-triangles said).

    I think we’re seeing the origin of the Weeping Angels. Or we’re going to see it. Something that happens in this story will bring the Angels into being. No idea what, mind you. I thought the Mouri in the Temple of Atropos might end up turning into them, but I think we’ve moved away from there now.

    Anyway, all is well in Who-land.

    1. I may never even write this, but I have been completely Berenstained by this phrase. I firmly remember it as blue box, and some places on the net do say that. But most say phone box, and I just played the relevant part of Blink and, indeed, that says phone. According to the transcript on Genius it goes ‘They have taken the blue box, haven’t they? The angels have the phone box.’ So both terms are used, but not the key one in the way I remember it. ↩︎

    Our Last, Best, Hope for TV?

    You wait years for a beloved three-letter-creator to return to a beloved SF show, and then two happen in one week. After the news of RTD returning to Doctor Who, we have… JMS returning to – and rebooting – Babylon 5?

    I did not see that coming. And I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. Babylon 5was among my favourite programmes of the nineties. It was groundbreaking, in that it was probably the first such show to be planned from the start as a single long (five year) story. With many sub-stories and side plots along the way, as you might imagine.

    It was, of course, flawed, especially in the rushed completion of season 4. They thought they were going to be cancelled, so JMS tried to tie up most of the loose ends in that season. Then season 5 was saved, and ended up being slow and underpowered by comparison.

    For this proposed reboot – it’s TV, so nothing is definite till it’s in the can – he says he will ‘not be retelling the same story in the same way because of what Heraclitus said about the river’, but that ‘this is a reboot from the ground up rather than a continuation’.

    If anyone else was running it, you could count me out. Straczynski could make it great again, but I sort of wonder why he wants to. Not unlike my wondering about why RTD wants to return to Who. I suppose we’re never entirely satisfied with our creations, so getting the opportunity to go back and rework them can be tempting. But I’m not sure it’s always healthy.

    Still, we live in hope.

    Rusty's Return

    Well that answers the question I asked in July. At least the bit I described as ‘arguably more important’. Russell T Davies is going to be the new showrunner.

    That’s an interesting decision, and one I have mixed feelings about. At his best he was great, and some of the things he’s done since have been stellar. And I’m astonished to find that I’ve never mentioned either Years and Years or It’s a Sin here. Not least because I can remember recommending at least one of them online. Maybe it was just on Twitter, but I don’t originate many tweets there. Nearly everything that isn’t a reply comes from here.

    Anyway, the great RTD is coming back, like the 456 in Torchwood. And I’m sure it’ll be great. I just think it’s kind of sad if the BBC couldn’t find someone new to take over. There must be plenty of people willing to take it on. Both willing and capable? That’s another question. But hell, JMS1 offered. He’s certainly capable, and it would have been amazing.

    Also it’s a shame that RTD won’t get to work with Jodie Whittaker, because I think that could’ve been quite a combo.

    Then there’s the reaction on much of Who-related Twitter, which seems to be, ‘Doctor Who is saved!’ When it doesn’t need saving due to having been really good for the last season and pretty good the season before that.

    Anyway, I’m sure it’ll be fun.

    1. Of Babylon 5 fame. ↩︎

    Who's Next?

    Sorry, that’s, like, the most obvious title in known space. Jodie and Chris are leaving Doctor Who after the next series and specials. Late 2022, that is.

    That BBC News report is almost comically self-flagellatory. After quoting Jodie Whittaker’s hugely positive statements about the show, they say this:

    While many have praised Whittaker’s casting, some fans and critics have criticised the show’s recent narrative direction.

    The Telegraph described recent episodes as “flat, worthy and woke” despite Whittaker’s talent as an actress, while The Sun reported viewers were left furious by the show’s “unbearable political correctness”.

    – Uncredited BBC reporter, Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall to leave in 2022

    If those publications are making those criticisms, I’d say that’s a big win. Stop beating yourself up, the BBC. The programme is and remains a success, the jewel in the BBC’s crown.

    Significantly further down the report they say:

    Episodes such as Rosa, Demons of the Punjab and Spyfall thrilled audiences, and netted the show two Bafta Must See Moment nominations, along with multiple National Television Award, Bafta Cymru, TV Choice and Critics Choice nominations.

    In 2020, Whittaker was voted second most popular Doctor of all-time in a poll of 50,000 fans for the Radio Times, losing out to David Tennant.

    – As before, Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker and Chris Chibnall to leave in 2022

    So there you go. Now: who’s going to the the next Doctor? And – arguably more importantly – who’s going to be the next head writer?

    Or will they just put the show on ice for a few years? I read a piece recently that suggested that’s what it needs to revitalise itself, citing the gap from 1989 to 2005 as the model.

    I hope they don’t do that. In fact, if it needs revitalisation at all, then last season’s big revelations about the Doctor’s origins are just what they need for that. You could, for example, have a season or two of Jo Martin’s Doctor. She’d be great, though such a move would confuse people, since it would be in the past of the Doctor we know.

    We can only look forward to finding out.

    Not Killing It

    We got to the end of The Killing tonight.

    Don’t read on if you care about spoilers.


    What a disaster of an ending that was! There are ways to bring a series to a close without having the lead character act completely out of character!

    Jesus. What an utter letdown for what was mainly a really good series, if frustrating in places (call for backup! And turn the lights on!) and repetitive in others (too many politicians who might be corrupt or maybe it’s their advisors doing things without being asked).

    Anyway. The Bridge and Borgen are both better. If that’s not too alliterative.

    Turns out The Killing is a pretty good TV show. Who knew? We’re five episodes in, and I’m wondering how they can make this first season last for 20.

    It’s all on BBC iPlayer at the moment, which is nice.

    Deeply saddened to learn that Mira Furlan, who played Delenn in Babylon 5, has died. Only 65.

    Over to JMS:

    We finished Schitt’s Creek last night. Late to the party, but it was worth the wait.

    On Devs

    Just watched the last episode of Devs. Several friends recommended it after I said “What shall we watch next?" a few weeks ago. The question was intended rhetorically, but they gave answers anyway, which was nice.

    In terms of its pacing, Devs was likened to Kubrick. Fair enough. I saw some Lynchian overtones in it. Or sub-Lynchian, anyway. I enjoyed the journey, but was slightly disappointed with the destination.

    Not, however, as disappointed as I feared I was going to be halfway through the last episode. I practically cheered when Lily threw the gun away. But then poetry-quoting Stewart fucked everything up.

    Of course, as soon as you (the programme maker) introduce simulations, you (the viewer) can no longer trust that anything is “real,” so everything gets slippery and to some extent, what’s the point?

    Where it disappoints, I think, is that Forest’s incorrect determinism-based view was not actually overturned by the ending. We don’t see him and Lily living in an alternative branch of the multiverse, but in a simulation that could be entirely consistent with his belief that reality proceeds on tram tracks – thereby obviating the guilt he feels for contributing to his wife and child’s death, and also getting him off the hook in his mind for his complicity with his murderous ex-CIA security chief.

    I found the first episode quite disturbing: the music was screechingly discordant and set my teeth on edge, and that creepy statue towered over everything. And the fact that the statue was still there, still creepy, at the end was confusing. Surely he’d only had it built because his daughter died? But in the sim where his daughter survived, it was still there and the company was still named after her. Only Devs (or Deus) the project was missing. Which suggests that he had named the company and had the statue built, not as a commemoration of his daughter, but because – I don’t know, really.

    The other weird thing about the first episode was that, not having seen the cast, I spent the first ten minutes saying, “Is that Ron Swanson?” The fact that one of the first things he says was a complaint about government regulation feels like a clue. Nick Offerman does an impressive job of disappearing into the part, but he couldn’t hide his voice.

    Still, I’ll never be able to watch Parks & Rec in the same way.

    Also Katie, when explaining Devs to Lily, uses “reason” when she means “cause.” Her pushing the pen is the cause of it rolling across the table. The reason it happened is because she chose to push it. Reason (to me, at least) implies intelligence or at least sentience behind the action. Cause is the correct word to use when discussing cause and effect.

    And when she asked Lily to name a truly random event, Lily should have said, “Nuclear decay.”

    Tate and Tennant Killing It

    I see that, unlike Little Britain, Catherine Tate is still very funny when she brings back old characters for charity. Especially with David Tennant’s help.

    “Being Scottish is not an underlying condition!”

    Thing 2: Horsin’ Around

    The second of the two good things today is that Netflix now has the last few episodes of Bojack Horseman.

    It seems my only reference to it here was one allusive comment on the first episode. But it has consistently been one of the best things on telly. People dismiss it because It’s a cartoon with talking animals, but it’s so much more than that.

    Issues of addiction, depression, fame, guilt, and so much more, sit alongside the funny animals. And it can be very funny, too.

    Thing 1: How Good is the Place?

    The first positive thing about today that I was talking about earlier is that tonight brings the final episode of The Good Place.

    As this programme progressed it got hard to imagine how they were going to end it. And that remains true for me: they’ve already given us two good endings in the last two episodes, either of which would have been fine as a way to close the show. So how will they do it for real?

    We’ll find out tonight.

    Who, Yes!

    After my highly negative assessment of episode 3 (“the worst episode of Doctor Who ever“), episode 4, “Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror,” was fine, if forgettable.

    And then last Sunday, we got — wait…


    Don’t read on if you haven’t yet seen episode 5, “Fugitive of the Judoon.”

    OK. Last Sunday we got “Fugitive of the Judoon.” Which is without doubt the best episode of Chibnall’s time as showrunner, so far. And may well be the most important episode since the programme came back in 2005. Or at least, be the start of the farthest-reaching changes since Russell T Davies brought us the concept of the Time War.

    Two genuinely surprising reveals! Jack’s back; and… so is The Doctor? Whaaaattt???!!?

    Fandom is, of course, rife with speculation as to where Jo Martin’s Doctor falls in The Doctor’s timeline. Future? Past? Or an alternative universe? And what of this “Lone Cyberman”?

    Halfway through this, season, and it’s shaping up to be something very special. I just hope they don’t let us down.

    Who the What?

    You probably want to know what I think of the new series of Doctor Who so far.

    It got off to a really strong start with ‘Spyfall’ part 1. Not least with its genuinely surprising reveal at the end. And then part 2 followed up on it. Not everything made total sense, but what the hell, it’s Doctor Who. There were some complaints about the way the nazis and The Master were handled, and I get that. And it had the memory-wiping thing. But all in all, I found it a strong, promising start to the new season.

    And then we got ‘Orphan 55.’

    Oh dear. Oh dearie, dearie me. This was, for me — I’m not going to sugarcoat it — the worst episode of Doctor Who ever. At least in the modern era.

    The story was confused and confusing, the direction was incoherent, the character motivations made no sense… Oh, and the message — admirable though it was, to say it was beating us over the head with a stick is to understate how heavy-handed it was.

    I thought it must be a first-time writer and director. But no: it was written by Ed Hime, who wrote ‘It Takes You Away’ last season, which was very good. And it was directed by Lee Haven Jones, who directed ‘Spyfall’ part 2, just the week before.

    So what went wrong? Hard say, but I’ve got to hope they pick things up again on Sunday.

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