Doctor Who: Dawn of the Impossible Girl (Part Two)

The Impossible Girl - Silence Will Fall

Part two of a retrospective of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl. She had just over half a season to pose her riddle, so how did the ever so unaware Clara measure up?

The riddle had unravelled over half a half-season so far…

The Sharp Edge of the Roundel: Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS

“You’re an android. You don’t get bored.”

It was always going to go wrong wasn’t it? It may be the most hyped episode of Series Seven, so it’s no surprise that it’s such a let down. I feel a bit for writer Stephen Thompson. Great episodes of Sherlock, fine plays, Quatermass incoming – and he doesn’t half get a short straw on Who. The pirate episode we shall not name was rushed and edited into nonsense while here he ended up penning a sequel to Castrovalva. Remember the old days? Corridors of the same white roundels? Well in this brave new age of intricate design and multi-million pound TARDISes… Nothing has changed. The claim that we’d go further into the TARDIS than ever before may not be too inaccurate, but it’s like promising Asylum of the Daleks would feature every Dalek. We’re wise to those tricks now. Still, it starts of fairly promising… Apart from the blink and you’ll miss it shoe-horned paradox cutaway and any idea quite how Clara ended up where she did.

Amid the middling dynamics the guest cast have to work with, the only things of interest are glimpses at the swimming pool, a rather familiar telescope and at last the library!  Other than that, a curious tone is set by the Doctor’s peculiarly devious, and unnecessary, ruse of a Faustian pact. In an episode where a time limit has no meaning, impalement injuries are brushed off and characters appear from nowhere in an infinite ship the rather effective paradox monsters don’t stand much of a chance. The Doctor’s name signals its intention to steal the Impossible Girl’s thunder soon enough – though quite why the Doctor keeps a reference book on the Time War is inexplicable. Pure sadism.

The companion riddle returns when the Doctor gets the chance to go a little psycho on Clara – he’s really on edge in this episode, are things getting to him? He’s now reached that point that’s strike a chord with many: Millennium old alien meets girl who does twice and refuses to reveal how she’s alive once again.  Now needs to prove once and for all whether she’s a deliberate trap or not and the TARDIS has gone to great lengths to create a suitable atmosphere. To be fair to the Time Lord, he had run through River Song and Bad Wolf storylines in the past few hundred years. That joins the well placed misdirection of the console rooms as a high-point: alas few and far between. Somehow during these sex sticks an oar in, pretty much discounting – we very much hope – that Clara is actually Susan (or Jenny) may be his granddaughter.

It soon becomes clear – thanks to a strangely Hellraiser monster and a giant neon sign saying ‘Eye of Harmony’ that we’re back to paradox. You know, those are the ones that we were reliably told generally resolve themselves in Cold War? Fortunately in this instance they intervene to create a convenient plot resolution and repair some family damage in the meantime. It’s a mess, which is a shame for an episode that contributes a fair amount to the Impossible Girl riddle (albeit through negation). Fortunately, it’s sandwiched between two classics.

Current Clara theory: Now the Doctor knows she’s not a trap – she must be a future echo and NOT REAL.

Rockets at Dawn: The Crimson Horror

“The Wrong Hands”

Could this be the time Mark Gatiss lives up to his true potential? Yes, but it takes significant splatterings of Carry on Screaming, Frankenstein, Bond villain, Joker origin, Total Recall, Bioshock and the Doctor’ own previous scrape with The Green Death to get there. Once again in the Moffat era, too much is packed into this one-parter.  A lot sticks but thanks to the skill of all involved that it’s not overwhelming.  In particular, The Crimson Death is saved by its excellent direction. The flash-back trick – whether it’s down to Gatiss or director Saul Metzstein – works very well indeed.  If only it wasn’t quite so derivative. Homage can only get you so far.

On the Impossible Girl front, it’s the first time back in Victoriana since the Doctor actually met Clara for (yes, the second time he talked to her), or the idea of her at least.  That brings the potential of reuniting her with the so called Paternoster Gang. Unfortunately for them, they already feel tired after less than a handful of appearances. Even when Jenny makes an emphatically ninja statement of her own… the Doctor has to step in to rescue her. Strax’s humour continues to grate and amuse in equal measure, fortunately not reaching the nadir of the season finale (Repeat mantra: “They’ve ruined Robert Holmes’ Sontarans”).

It’s easy to pick at a fantastically enjoyable adventure. There’s the (deliberately) stilted dialogue, the ‘hilarious fainting gentleman’, the pointlessly anachronistic rocket technology (surely Mr Sweet, a ‘bacteria’ at the time, didn’t pick up the tech from the Silurians), and the fact that everyone survives the rocket chamber during the old school shoot out. But then you also have the Rigg dynasty on top form, gorgeous set design and fantastic quotes. “I’m the Doctor, you’re nuts and I’m going to stop you” – brilliant. Up against that lot, Clara was always going to come a cropper. In fact, it’s astonishing that any danger can be wrung from a girl we’ve already seen die twice.  Even more so that the Doctor’s new success in saving her is wonderfully realised. By the time the TARDIS crew board their craft there’s a real sense that the plot’s moved forward– perhaps accelerated by the Doctor’s lost impotence when it comes to this compulsively fatal friend. You know what I mean…

While the Doctor may appear to have more of an idea as to what’s going on with his erstwhile friend, the Paternoster trepidation reinforces that Clara’s still a live mystery and very unaware herself. Fortunately, even in the clutch of a riddle, this Doctor is insistent on having breaks from companions – only seeing Clara every Wednesday we would learn the next episode. And when Clara returns home she finds that of all things… She’s undone by the internet.

And there on the side sits the oddest toy in a house of 21st century children – a mid-1980s Galvatron Transformer. Something’s really not right there…

Current Clara theory: She’s just a bloody Victorian or not of the 21st century anyway – there’s a Galvatron toy in her house!

Upgrading Cyberia: Nightmare in Silver

“The Time Lords invented chess, it’s our game”

After the universally praised The Doctor’s Wife, Neil Gaiman may have returned to Who a little too quickly, but what an irresistible draw: make the Cybermen scary again. After all, their non-Mondasian birth in Series Two left them on the back hydraulic foot compared to the Daleks’ first appearance.

It’s reliving to jump straight in without the extra scene explaining Clara’s charges’ arrival in the TARDIS. That’s a welcome theme this half-season.  The preceding cliff-hanger had done enough, but really, could the Doctor have chosen a more dangerous place for them? Apart from Skaro about 6,000 years ago or Vulgaria.

The little seen Cyber wars have always held a firm fascination for me. Moffat has touched on them more than most, but here they’re at the heart of the story: and it’s the old phoenix paradigm just a few episodes after the Ice Warriors tested the water. Ramping up the threat and avoiding one of Who’s curious weapons, this time Cyberia didn’t get wiped out by gold: entire galaxies were blown up to rid humans of “The Great enemy” at the cost of trillions. This is big stuff.

When the retooled Cybers appear, Gaiman makes some shrewd decisions. The upgrading instinct and ‘remote detachability’ is a modern and relevant ‘upgrade’ of the spare parts idea that everyone’s clamouring to see on screen. Quite rightly they march and don’t fly, although it’s a shame that the tombs we glimpse aren’t of a more classic design. It’s a wonderfully broad set-up, almost as though he was an expert at setting up entire comic book universes.  It’s also suitably biblical for another one of Doctor Who’s great good versus bad conflicts. Time Lord and Dalek skirmishes are increasingly too blurred.

There are some interesting character points for the Doctor here; the suggestion that he can’t be converted, that he could regenerate out of the Cyberplanner tussle. If there are any doubts about the Fenric throwback chess conceit, just look how ham fistedly Terry Nation tackled logical warfare in Destiny of the Daleks. In all, Gaiman’s goals are achieved in a creditable bordering extremely good episode… sadly after The Crimson Horror’s great advancement of the Clara/Doctor’s dynamic, this must be the least important story in the Impossible Girl arc. Not that she does do anything however; in fact Clara’s brush with power shows her rather too comfortable sending her troops to their inevitable doom. She’s quite the leader…

Current Clara theory: It’s all misdirection – she’s destined to become the Doctor’s greatest adversary. Could she be… the Rani reborn?

Standing on the Magic Carpet : The Name of the Doctor

“I’m the Impossible Girl. I was born to save the Doctor”

No, no Clara, no you weren’t. Like Rose before you, you created yourself and how much more tiring it must have been. Sat somewhere in the middle, how increasingly tragic does time-strapped, kidnapped and infertile Amelia Pond look…

The excitement when this episode aired on 18th May 2013 was palpable. Or was that just fear when some American DVDs jumped the traps a bit early?  In any event, we were possibly minutes away from learning the Doctor’s name (did anyone really think that may happen?), so close to wrapping up Clara’s inexplicable story and just 45 minutes away from the anniversary special. This is when we’d get all the answers, hurling vats of red herrings into the vortex.  But which one of these would make the episode memorable?

It kicks off brilliantly, with (logically presumed) Time Lords in the workshop on the day it all began, swearing under their breath at an idiot thief. There follows a ‘rather’ lovely montage of Clara chasing after every Doctor. If you look too deeply into it, it falls apart of course. I mean, she was there during that Dragonfire cliff-hanger? But still, it’s a nice and fan-consciously generous act.

Could there be the slightest bit of Moffat-Gaiman baiting going on here? An episode previously, Gaiman blew apart the Doctor’s attempt to remove himself from the time continuum with some cold logic dressed up as script. Here Moffat returns the grudge by contradicting one of The Doctor’s Wife’ssentiments. If it was Time Lady Clara who chose the Type 40 capsule, why the ill feeling Big Blue Box? Or is she after all a little more connected to the TARDIS than she seems..?

There follows 40 minutes of explaining the why, with the standard season ending rhyme and some outrageously good acting from a rather upset Matt Smith. Overall, this marks the biggest suspension of disbelief this series.  Steven Moffat’s desire (or Doctor Who’s need) to reach an emotional peak and move the plot forward seems a little forced, again in a single episode. It doesn’t have the neat, in-built plot device of The Angels Take Manhattan. The few disappointing non sequiturs include how the Great Intelligence mastered space and (presumably) temporal travel without any craft apparent, how the Doctor touches dead and hallucinatory River Song, how the TARDIS crew even gets from a corridors to the ‘exterior’ of the craft’s front door and how everyone instantly recovers from a heart squishing. Again, pointing out plot holes in a work of fiction is sinful, but frankly the list grows like a mourning TARDIS.  Only the Great Intelligence’s suicide stands as remotely understandable: Surely because he’d created the cliff-hanging short-cut in Dragonfire in the first place!

That said, there is a resolution and a reason given for the impossible Girl, all wrapped up this single episode. The list of irregularities fades against that and the host of new reveals. Because unlike her predecessors who were robbed of their main function in one season, Clara’s drawn the really short straw and resolved herself in half that. And all the time it was contrived to get her standing there in the quiet recess of the Doctor’s lifetime and unearth a darker, deeper mystery: the only Doctor who doesn’t ignore her, and isn’t a Doctor at all.

Real Clara fact: She’s a superhero, the Impossible Girl, born to save the Doctor on Trenzalore. She’ll never, ever need to have regeneration explained to her. The show-running Bible is quickly updated. 

Dawn Arrives

At the end of this preposterous journey it’s a bit of a shock to have a resolution, but it’s an immense disappointment that it’s merely a set-up to a BBC vision mixers wet dream. Ah well. We got a good companion out of it and the following two episodes were classics, so fair enough, right?

Well not quite. The riddle of the Impossible Girl is unfortunately one of the weakest arcs to grace the new show yet. It doesn’t seem to have had anywhere near as much attention as River’s did. Perhaps it’s a shame that so much of it lives extra-diegetically. Clara wasn’t just born into the story, but, nudge, nudge wink, wink her birth date was all part of the anniversary year itself.

In the Whoniverse, any coherent explanation of her story renders it so broad and coincidental as to make it pointless. It’s clearly inexplicable in the context of the show, and that’s accepting, to stress once again, that questioning plot holes in a work of fantastical fiction is totally redundant.

Conscious Companion

Take that early stop on Gallifrey. She must be a Time Lady, one who stayed on Gallifrey and quite probably is now living on in a pocket universe saved by the Doctor. We know she didn’t fade Quantum leap style when her tasks were complete as we’ve seen her die in timelines twice before. Now that would make more sense.  True, it’s not necessarily the case that our Clara was consciously aware of what she did on Gallifrey, but the fact she uses the name Doctor suggests she is, as does the fact she chases all the classic Doctors down. Come on, the classic series didn’t move that quickly! The montage shows a Clara, time specific, actively pursuing the Doctor. All we’d known previously is that she lived entire time spans, unaware – this almost makes her another City of Death-style Scaroth, this time faceted through time and space the universe.  In future or alien places she probably bumped into herself so what happened then?  If she’s a Time Lady and a Dalek is she also a Weeping Angel or a Fendahl? If she’s actively seeking the Doctor, how does that tie into the Clara of Asylum of the Daleks or The Snowmen who are unaware.  What if on this mission she doesn’t find the Doctor?  What if she lives entire  lifetimes, starts thousands of families on every known world.  Calm down.  It’s fine: Most paradoxes resolve themselves remember.

It’s a good thing that he whole and only real, compelling dramatic purpose is to delve into all the Doctors’ time streams, thus exposing his darkest secret: The War Doctor.

It was a relatively short arc, but one that says a lot about the modern show. The need to find a modern equivalent for those classic cliff-hangers is greater than ever; the need to convolute to create viewer involvement so strong that these mysteries need to overlap and spawn each other.  No more simple bad Wolf references for us.

Perhaps the Impossible Girl’s main function was extra-diegetic.  Perhaps subconsciously it was to confirm that the show’s a phenomenon after all. One Clara may well have broken through to our universe and make that Asylum of the Daleks appearance all the more important on both sides of the camera. That means of course, the Doctor could do the same – all part of that nice world of opportunity opened up by the Land of Fiction and continued through all sorts of meta-fiction, including the IDW comic The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who. PerhapsClara is actually Jenna Colman and it simply makes no odds if she is or isn’t.

When saved from a personal time stream that’s clearly and handily name dependent, that leaves a whole other issue that should, in a right-working universe, create opportunities and challenges for writers: there’s now no surprises left for Clara. She’s seen regeneration, some classic adventures, so perhaps she could become that greatest ever companion after all. That said, having seen all that, I would leave him and the TARDIS right now, wouldn’t you?

A Neater Puzzle

Thank goodness Clara didn’t leave him, even during the drawn out events of The Time of the Doctor. For all the faults and missed opportunities of the Dawn of the Impossible Girl arc, adding bureaucracy to the Daleks, seemingly wiping out one of the show’s most enduring, rediscovered monsters and defrocking Ice Warriors, it also left us with a fantastic companion.

The Dawn of the Impossible Girl had been linked to the Great Intelligence ever since Christmas 2012 served up The Snowmen, in the middle of a very drawn out series. Unfortunately that meant that, much like the Ponds’ fate was rather oddly linked up to the Weeping Angels, she was part of that entity’s story and that proved to be to her and the arc’s detriment.

The “Fall of the Eleventh” had a wealth of plotlines to tie up and miraculously it managed to do so quite well, but it just seems that it could have been so much neater. As the running theme through the Eleventh Doctor’s first two series it seems bizarre to have minimised the Silence/Silents in his last. And if you’re going to create the Whispermen anyway, why not use the Silents? Creatures with ready-made space technology would not only have solved logical issues but also dramatic problems that wouldn’t necessarily conflict with the events of The Time of the Doctor. That would surely have worked out far more satisfyingly and left the Great Intelligence as more than half-season footnote just as the Impossible Girl proved to be to the War Doctor.  Intelligence has fallen just doesn’t carry much mustard.  There’s a rather disapppointing truth in the new avatars of the GI we see in Name of the Doctor; unravelling and empty.

But then, in this new, brave age of the companion, whoever credited the Great Intelligence with being intelligent.

THE END?  OF COURSE NOT…

 

Rock ‘n’ Roll: 60 years of Rocking Around the Clock

ImpossibleRockNRoll

 

It’s 60 years today that Bill Haley and the Comet’s Rock Around the Clock was released, just the mainstream push that rock’n’roll needed…

ROCK‘N’ROLL.  IT HAD BEEN BUZZING AROUND FOR A WHILE OF COURSE… The word ‘rock’ bubbled around in song titles, instruments came and went…  In a few short years it consolidated from blues, jazz, gospel music, swing, folk and country and more, just as it would continue to evolve, consume and spawn genres for decades to come.  It was the mid 1950s that saw  guitar move to the lead, knocking saxophones and piano down the band order to the point where the Comets and their contemporaries came in.

One, two, three…

The legendary recording of Rock Around the Clock, saw Bill Haley and his Comets with customary tenor sax and piano sat alongside steel guitar, piano drums, string bass and electric guitar… With Bill Haley taking both lead vocals and rhythm guitar of course.  Sax and piano would take centre stage in some of the genre’s greatest moments in years to come, but this was the groundbreaking sign of things to come: African-American styles had fully fused with European instruments to make enough noise in just the right way to grab the world’s attention.

Rock Around the Clock was recorded over a year after it was written and would take another year to become a success.  But when it was, those decades of influences and near attempts combined in that adapted 12-bars blues structure to announce Rock‘n’Roll to the world.  With a few inevitable riots in America of course, linking the young movement to juvenile delinquency in a way it would never shake off.  And like a true classic, when it was issued in spring 1954, it was a B-side.

Its legacy can’t be doubted, selling over 1.4 million copies and becoming the first million selling single in the UK; creating myths, rumours and hanging itself out for analysis ever since.  Almost every major rock guitarist of the next three decades were influenced or forced to pick up a guitar thanks to this infectious landmark.

Join me, Hon…

I was lucky – growing up in a household that seemingly only contained two albums: ABBA’s Arrival and Boney M’s Nightflight to Venus.  As such I was free to take a leisurely stroll through rock, and inadvertently it was from near the beginning.  The Reader’s Digest and Buddy the Musical conspired in my favour, leading me from Buddy Holly to Bill Haley via Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry.  Then, as the 60s loomed on the playlist, a kindly (legendary) teacher handed me a 45 cassette tape containing all of Sgt Pepper’s and most of The White Album.  I still have that today, recorded from vinyl; that’s how I still hear those albums.

Before that, it was in the late ‘80s that I came across the Comets’ version of Rock Around the Clock.  But little did I appreciate then just how brilliant it is.  Not just how simple, nor how hypnotic and infectious nor how perfectly it all mashes together; just how it makes a great manifesto for what Rock’n’Roll (and later/simultaneously) rock music would be and is.

A statement.

“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock

Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock

Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock rock

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Love and intent.

“Put your glad rags on, join me, Hon

We’ll have some fun when the clock strikes one

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’til broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Revolution.

“When the clock strikes two, three and four

If the band slows down we’ll yell for more

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’til broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Cue brilliant guitar led interlude. 

(every sentiment from rock classics already there: From The Who to Kiss)

And then repeat

“When the clock strikes twelve, we’ll cool off then

Start a’rockin’ round the clock again

We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

We’re gonna rock, rock, rock, ’til broad daylight

We’re gonna rock, gonna rock around the clock tonight”

Round the Clock Again…

If Rock is all of those things, it’s a cycle in particular.

Of course, as many of those eager to sound its death knell point out, rock should have burnt bright and disappeared in a flash.  But it will never go away.  True, they ran out of guitar riffs and ways to fill a bar years ago, but somehow they keep digging them out.

I think it was in Ian MacDonald’s indispensible Revolution in the Head that first introduced me to the concept of popular music’s 11 year reinvention cycle, all hanging from the undead carcass of rock.  The Comet’s outstanding breakout Rock‘n’Roll in 1955; the mind expansive creativity of psychedelic rock spearheaded by The Beatles and spawning progressive and metal in 1966; the veritable embarrassment of riches posed by punk tussling with disco in ’77 and; the breakout of House from its Chicago roots in 1988 while in Seattle the Sub Pop label coined the term “Grunge”.  Sadly 1999 and 2010 didn’t prove so fruitful after those blistering 40 years, but popular music just has to be awkward.

’til broad daylight…

Still, as all that splintering and evolution threatened to weigh down or overtake a movement defined by being a flash in the pan, it persists.  Every once in a while a rock band will undertake soul crushingly expansive tours, meet The Beatles’  prodigious work rate for just a few albums or issue ‘immediate’ singles – like the Manic’s Masses Against the Classes in 2000, deleted on day of release, para-quoting Gladstone complete with a Chuck Berry cover – not the latest X-Factor winner.

But overall, rock knows what it has to do, there’s a primal flame of life that refuses to be snuffed out.  That was always going to be more than a flash in the pan.

As Alex Arctic Monkey succinctly mumbled, rather amusingly I thought, at this year Brits, after Bowie had became the oldest ever recipient of the Best Male Award…

“That Rock’n’Roll, eh? That Rock’n’Roll, it just won’t go away. It might hibernate from time to time and sink back into the swamp. I think the cyclical nature of the universe in which it exists demands it adheres to some of its rules.

“But it’s always waiting there, just around the corner, ready to make its way back through the sludge, and smash through the glass ceiling, looking better than ever.

“Yeah, that Rock’n’Roll. It seems like it’s faded away sometimes but, uh, it will never die. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Doctor Who: Dawn of the Impossible Girl (Part One)

Impossible Girl 1

Today marks one year since the mystery of the Impossible Girl was unravelled like a multi-incarnation time stream in a giant overgrown TARDIS crypt… After the Doctor’s longest companion was whisked back in time, how did the riddle of the Doctor’s most mysterious companion unwind?

A look at the latest companion entrance…  Guaranteed to feature Spoilers.

IT’S A YEAR SINCE TWO MOMENTOUS THINGS HAPPENED IN THE WHONIVERSE: The riddle of the Impossible Girl was solved and a new, yet long hidden, incarnation of the Doctor was born.

Irresistible riddles

The Doctor’s had mysterious companions before of course, but not like this.  Amy came with a riddle of her wedding, the Pandorica and went on to spawn the backwards riddle of Melody Pond/River Song.  River was the incarnation of Steven Moffat’s correct assertion that a show about time travel should be just that.  She was all about the journey, a backwards that provided some great moments but as an inverted stroll it doesn’t quite add up and is unfortunate to sit so roundly during the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure.  Rose ran out of mystery after one season, but that didn’t stop the Bad Wolf riddle being stretched and redeveloped all the way up to last year’s 50th anniversary special.  Rose created herself after all.  Further back, Turlough was spy on the TARDIS, but his Faustian pact was revealed from the start and the truth of his alien roots weren’t that compelling…

Companions Only Die Twice

Few companions have had the build-up of Clara warranted; three appearances to join the TARDIS.  We’d seen her die twice before… Or had we?  That’s what this arc was all about.  Whittling down all the Whos, Whys and Hows…

Her first appearance was a wonderful cameo in the Season Seven opener.  A bold start to a season that lived up to its claim that it would serve ups a blockbuster a week.  Unfortunately, while it was a far cry from the dull, washed out Season Five but never quite reached the heights of the first half of Season Six.  In part that was down to the ‘blockbuster’ intention that manifested itself not in boldness but derivation.  Slavish copies of actual blockbusters: The Thing, Jurassic Park, Batman packed out the first half as the Clara question set-up in Asylum of the Daleks was left to stewThat was partly because, as with theWar Doctor’s later introduction, it was a riddle on-screen as off.  Jenna Colman’s appearance hung on her recently announced casting, not the experiences of the two travelling companions to be.  Fans would have to wait until Christmas for a resolution.

Von-Trapped: The Snowmen 

“Run. Run, you clever boy, and remember…”

The Snowmen was a wonderful festival special that did everything the show should do at Christmas.  Huge guest stars, snow, magic, the return of an old, old monster and utterly gruesome deaths.  While it could only improve on the haplessly dull The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe that offended screens the Christmas before, it was weakened by choosing multiple influences rather than the more streamlined plot of A Christmas Carol and The Time of the Doctor.  Unfortunately, Clara was right in the middle of that confusion.  Moffat dug deep into The Sound of Music, the Ice Queen, Edward Scissorhands and Sherlock Holmes for inspiration; far too many influences to bolster a plot in the right way.  While the governess storyline would become a valid red-herring, it wasted the unrequited Von-Trapp love of Tom Ward’s character and rendered Clara’s pub wench role pointless.

In particular, The Snowmen should be applauded for being so horrific.  The scared and crying family at Christmas, Clara’s prolonged death, Simeon’s demise… It’s surely the Doctor’s most melancholy festive adventure. And it was an adventure wisely telling its own story, rather than solving Clara’s.  Just as well since she faced an uphill struggle bringing this Doctor round from his hermitage after Amy Pond’s considerable efforts to avoid it.  But the end of The Time of the Angels was forgotten…  Only the Doctor’s dress sense had improved.

Current Clara theory:  With the reveal that Clara – or at least one aspect of her – was born on 23rd November, the 50th anniversary was written all over her. She’s nothing less than the show itself!

Wireless:  The Bells of St John 

“The woman twice dead. And her final message…”

Oh, and now the Doctor is an actual hermit.  But not a monk.  After three sensational season openers, it was about time to return to the Davies method of ‘season build-up’.  For the most part, The Bells of St John trod a very safe road, more Partners in Crime than The Impossible Astronaut.  It also took safety in some classic Who tropes – the hidden danger in the every day, the contemporary setting, the evil at the top of the tower as well as some light satire and the chance to kick social media.

As Clara’s third introduction – having already used one great TARDIS line – it’s not surprising that the sails weren’t catching the same wind as previous Smith openers.  Those include The Eleventh Hour, the greatest ever companion and Doctor introduction and one that Moffat must have been mulling over for decades.  Bells often comes across as a soft rehash of Blink, with Spoonheads that may as well be Smilers or… Whispermen.  There are some nice links and further red herrings in Clara’s proper first story though.  The computer literacy of Asylum is played with and solved – could we be watching the creation of the girl we saw die on her first appearance?  As well as being a modern governess, she also has a book by one Amelia Williams…  That it’s the character from the old companion’s book that tries to kill the new one is nice, dark stuff.

The rest is a tonal hotchpotch.  The little darkness there is doesn’t mesh well with the comedy, particularly the creep-filled ending and Mahler’s misjudged question to UNIT.  But having learned from the Rory misfire, it’s refreshing that Clara won’t be dying every time we meet her.  That would have been very tiresome indeed.  While Doctor’s tics when putting her to bed recall the nadir of Wardrobe, it’s helps to show that Clara will make a great companion.  Let’s hope some smaller questions are tied up in the answers to her conundrum: Just who was the woman in the shop?

Current Clara theory:  With GI infused programming skills, Clara’s a giant trap of the great intelligence’s making. Remember: “The abattoir is not a contradiction”.

Space Opera: The Rings of Akhaten

“There’s always a way”

Neil Cross was the writing revelation of the Seventh Season as you might expect.  His first episode divided the critics, but there’s a haunting newness to this episode which makes me one of its staunch defenders.   It pushed Clara the companion to the fore while the Doctor also got his moment in the sun.  For all the Mos Eisley feel and generally effective stabs at humour, it’s nicely alien and quite unlike other recent Who stories.  The homage quotient is less than recent episodes, but still include Indiana Jones and religion-baiting and really the only thing that lets it down is some sorry-budget necessitated clumsy editing.

The Impossible Girl?  She floats in on a leaf of course.  It’s a stretched and whimsical metaphor, but it holds together. It helps highlight the darker side of the puzzle as well: While this ridiculous Doctor could be taken straight out of the Beano he is actually stalking his companion – new and quite sinister territory.  But with that kind of start, it also starts to show the strain.  “She’s not possible” exclaims the Doctor, quickly reminding us of the Series Six is she/isn’t she pregnant storyline. Perhaps more tellingly for Clara, while other companions had to compete with their predecessors she has the unenviable task of competing with herself.  If the basic question of why escorting Clara through time and space will help solve her riddle remains, Akhaten isn’t going to answer it.

The root of this episode is a semantic mistake and great mythical concepts.  “Consume the seven worlds” chat is wonderful stuff and as soon as the travellers arrive on that planet, the villain of the piece is in plain sight.  Amid the good old fashioned space opera, red herrings are alive and well, along with a sneaky reference to the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan, surely not a coincidence in a story about a Queen and a “grandfather”.

The separation of Clara and the Doctor is weak, but that’s not uncommon in five decades of Who.  In fact, it allow Clara some time to breathe; her empathy with the young Queen not only develops the companion but also triggers the plot itself.  Clara just gets more and more likeable, unless you’re the TARDIS.  The arrival of the bads may knock the tone off a bit, but that adds to its off-kilter appeal.

”You don’t walk away” is the clear message here; fate is the undercurrent from the leaf to the religious aspects.  Here the Doctor becomes slightly more like his predecessor, defiant but oddly blasé when a chorister is killed.  Perhaps when the Doctor exclaims ”We don’t walk away when we are holding something precious…”  he’s justifying his stalkerish pursuit of Clara.  Although he seems a little fallible amid the tonal shifts, one question really bugs: hasn’t the Doctor met an intelligent celestial body before?  Hasn’t he read Alan Moore’s brilliant Mogo doesn’t Socialize? Even with the life lessons and themes Cross builds in here, he would get more right with his second story.

Current Clara theory:  She is a mystery in plain sight, and a well known one at that.  She could be the TARDIS, or an aberration like Jack Harkness…  but no, surely not – she’s Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter– why else would the Doctor have mentioned her!

Frozen Out:  Cold War 

“We’ll negotiate but from a position of strength”

The next episode was ready-made for developing Clara.  And oh dear, what hope rested on a strong, if slightly obvious return of the Who Martians?  I’m not a fan of the return of the Ice Warriors, partly because of derivative, desperate plot silliness and partly because they take their kit off.  Apart from that they wasted two Game of Thrones actors, unforgivably squandered Doctor Who Unbound David Warner and relied on a misjudged combination of CGI and poorly made rubber hands…

Still, there are moments of great direction – see the (again, wasted) David Warner in the porthole.  Just as well considering this plot is pure Thing – with added HADS-type and lost sonic screwdriver contrivance.

After the fate-obsessed Akhaten, Cold War signals the strongest indication that all bets are off when it comes to fixed time.  Ironically, that puts it in direct opposition with Waters of Mars. Surely such time-crunching has something to do with the Impossible Girl?  The Doctor’s more prominent than his companion in this simple tale, even though they are literally both in the same boat.  When Clara does offer herself as a sacrificial lamb, Jenna Colman makes the most of some great moments despite Skaldak’s escape being well signalled.  By the end she’s Clara’s role is superfluous as the Doctor appeals to Skaldak and all that remains is a lament for the missing Lego hands of these still cryptically cyber-enhanced Martians.  Not a classic for anyone.

Current Clara theory:  “Stay here, don’t argue!” “Okay”.  Clara is the perfect companion, formed and sent by the universe in readiness for the Doctor’s Day. 

Ghostbusters : Hide

“We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing”

Welcome back Mr Cross.  Hide is fantastic. On grounds of originality and confidence, content and direction, could it pip The Crimson Horror as episode of the series?  Hmm, wait and see.  With pop referencing relish, the travellers are thrust into a plot that puts the TARDIS crew in a haunted house with bizarro copy of themselves.  If anything that means romance is going to be the main comparison.  Hide contains some of the greatest moments of Modern Who, both hard science-fiction meets horror and comedy (“I’m not holding your hand!).  While the ending requires a suspension of logic, and certain plot points refuse to make any sense (the writing on the wall, how the other alien arrived…) Cross handles pace changes expertly – particularly the chat between Clara and Emma Grayling.

In the Moffat era, that skill is a must.  With some terrifying moments (what a shame it was broadcast in April), the holding hands sequence rates as one of Who’s funniest moments. Love is the main concern here, but there’s always that “sliver of ice in his heart”.  The empath works both ways of course, and the Doctor has the chance to ask about his companion.  So, Clara is a perfectly normal girl – it’s just coincidence their equivalents were made for each other all along. .?  We’ll see.

This isn’t the first time that Clara’s been made innocent of her riddle and allowed to be a companion in turmoil.  But it’s one of the most effective.  Special praise must go to the neat links built in, from the use of Ten’s orange space suit to the new pronunciation of Metabelis III.  Regarding the past, there’s another confirmation that the Whoniverse’s treatment of time has changed – could it have been after The Big Bang’s reset?  “Paradoxes resolve themselves by and large” says the Doctor at one point – a strange thing to say the more you think about it.  In any other episode, that wasn’t quite so good, that comment would have jaws on the floor.  Don’t event try to rationalise that with The Angels Take Manhattan just a few episodes earlier in the series.  Even worse, the Doctor later mentions fixed points in time which clashes horribly with with the previous episode.

If one dramatic balance comes a cropper it’s the level of fear the Doctor shows.  That’s why companions are there, so the Doctor can go on the hunt for a solution rather than be petrified.  Overall though, it’s astonishing what’s packed into Hide; brilliant sci-fi and an undeniable love story on many levels…  It’s just a shame that, in the year Jessica Raine played Verity Lambert in An Adventure in Space and Time, there couldn’t be a neat 50th anniversary link up here…

Current Clara theory:  Simple – She’s just another companion head over hills in love with the Time Lord.   

Did Clara find her purpose?  Did the Doctor chill out?  Well, if it’s good enough for a Who Series…  See how the series concluded in part two of  The Dawn of the Impossible Girl!

HR Giger: Airbrushing the Horror of Hollywood

HR Giger Alien block print

This week, several disciplines lost HR Giger, an artist whose contribution to visual arts, particularly film, will live on as more than an adjective…

“BIOMECHANICAL”.  A WORD HR GIGER WASN’T IMPARTIAL TO HIMSELF, AND FAR BETTER FIT FOR HIS WORK THAN “SURREAL”.  While not mutually exclusive, there’s something about that mild oxymoron, both repulsing and attracting, that suits his oeuvre.  It doesn’t simply disorientate.

His two-dimensional work appears as sculpture in etching and when you hear his name it’s a short field of images that immediately spring to mind – most likely they’re from Necronomicon, the book that was fortuitously passed to Ridley Scott during pre-production of Alien. Like many of those images, Giger fitted tightly and compactly into the films, production design and media he contributed to.  His distinctive designs often overcame anything else, to the point that Alien may well be described as a Giger film as much as a Scott one.  Fortunately there are many traits in his work that don’t make for such a good metaphor.

In the New York Times, Timothy Leary, a man who knew something about ‘broad overviews’ and a friend of Giger’s, placed the artist’s work not so much in timelessness but perpetual contemporaneity.  In his self-termed work, there is no doubt about the deep atavistic blood that pumped through every form; the most primal instincts of all, pretty much sex.  But perhaps one key word Leary used was ‘enormous’.  No matter how small the artwork or reproduction of an artwork, it never seems to lose its scale.  As Leary suggested, that’s thematic and chronological as well as physically true.

Perhaps one of the most iconic images in Alien is that mysterious ‘space jockey’ engineer – haunting, even in the behind the scene shots.  It’s huge, innately mysterious and possibly the only compelling reason for Prometheus to exist.

For me, Giger’s an extension the great symbolist Gustav Klimt

Of his influences, there were of course the surrealists, particularly Dali, fantastic realism, particularly Fuchs and the multi-media influence of the likes of Lovecraft, all bundled in with his strong architectural training.  In his career, Giger quickly developed from ink to oil to the airbrush technique that typifies his greatest work.  The mechanic of his biomechanics was greatly helped, if not only effective, by that airbrushing.  And where greater home than the definitive horror science-fiction franchise?  Hi association with Alien spread all the way through the franchise, although Alien Resurrection failed to credit his original work.

The result: Alien and Giger are synonymous.  Two years later, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner would become just as connected with its production design.  But while the considered focus was on a synthetic world hiding the synthetic at its heart, Alien was all about the base fear of the parasite.

Alien is a haunted house film and a pretty much perfect one, for all its slasher influences.  It had pretensions that it lived up to and Scott’s direction works seamlessly with Giger’s contribution – something horror had never seen before.  Of course, the defining touch is the Xenomorph itself.  Scott kept it in the shadows, but even by the time Resurrection infected them with CGI and Paul WS Anderson threw them at Predators, their iconic design lived on.  The Alien life-cycle helps of course, the infamous John Hurt-destroying entrance as well, but it was Giger’s design that endures – perhaps his purest visualisation of ‘homicidal sex’ on the big screen.

His second largest franchise is undoubtedly Species, although those films are all but forgotten.  Unlike the over-reaching earnestness of Alien, the four film Species (only three of which used Giger’s designs) wore their B-Movie roots on their Giger organic sleeves.  It was all deliberate; Giger’s heavyweight work joined a cast including Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina and Forest Whitaker.  All of them I hope knew what they were doing.

It would have been difficult for the Giger name to have been associated with multiple science-fiction franchises.  Still, it’s a shame that the concept art he made for it was only fleetingly picked up by David Lynch when he later came on board to direct the 1984 film.  Some of those designs would later find a home in Prometheus, his last great Hollywood contribution and in hindsight, a neat return to the film he’s most associated with and that Space Jockey.

A prescient point this week is perhaps his oddest miss – his aborted design for Batman Forever’s Batmobile in the mid-1990s.  More like Justice League opponent Starro than Anton Furst’s definitive design in Tim Burton’s two preceding films, it’s organic, leech-like cross wouldn’t have fitted in.  If you’re going to employ Giger, it has to be in everything.  And his Batmobile would have been blown up by the Riddler anyway.  A great shame.

If you’re going to employ Giger, it has to be in everything

If you wanted to use a Giger approach, it was best to get the man himself but his influence has worked directly and indirectly across multiple media.  Perhaps the most amount of Giger-esque design I’ve ever experienced was at the end of Duke Nukem 3D.  In films, he was lucky to bring his distinctive style to benefit films rather than have it adapted.  Imagine if MC Escher had lived on to actually production design Labyrinth, Nightmare on Elm Street V and The Fellowship of the Ring or Dore to tackle Dante’s Inferno in motion.

Giger also lived to see major retrospectives in his lifetime, oh and design some Giger bars that will hopefully last on for a very long time.  Not just in leisure design, his work, with its unflinching preoccupations and mechanical seediness would always have pervading links in fetishism, tattoo and alt culture music.

For me, Giger was very much an extension of the work of the great symbolist, and geographic neighbour to Giger, Gustav Klimt.  The self-confessed eroticism in both is overt, yet in Klimt’s time his work sparked more outrage.  As Klimt said, on his campaign to shake up the establishment, “All art is erotic”.  And as for Giger, well the man who will forever live on as an adjective once stated, ““If they like my work they are creative… Or they are crazy”.

There’s no better praise than seeing countless directors, game developers, bands, bar owners and The Academy have occasionally been both.

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