Doctor Who Series 9: Influences leave a Score to Settle

Doctor Who Series 9 Heaven Sent
Something tells me Rachel Talalay’s directing this one…

 

Heaven Sent broke many rules of rule-defying Doctor Who as it paved the way for the huge series finale of Gallifrey’s return. But was it such a great departure? It drew liberally from the show’s heritage, the considerable creative talent involved and the rich canvas of science fiction. Most importantly, amid the wealth of influences, it was as much a showpiece for the show’s music as it was the Doctor himself.

Trapped in a revolving door, inspired by Heaven Sent.

WHETHER IT’S THE MIDDLE PART OF A THREE PART FINALE OR A SINGLE SLICE OF ANTHOLOGY, HEAVEN SENT WILL BE LONG REMEMBERED. And apart from the evident format breaking, immediately following the departure of one of the New Series’ longest serving regulars, many strands of influences were evident in the penultimate episode of Series Nine. What’s not in doubt is that Heaven Sent is an immaculately produced piece of television thanks to those influences. And rising to the top is the mighty Murray Gold once again. In his tenth year as the show’s music director he’s once again seamlessly provided something so perfect that it’s easily overlooked. But as much as this Heaven Sent is held up as a one-hander for the Doctor, the music was with him every second of eternity.

Influences

Inherent horror

“Every 100 years a little bird comes”

The influences that comprise Heaven Sent run thick and thin. It’s a welcome return for director Rachel Talalay. Her entrance to the Who universe with the show’s first two-parter since 2011, Dark Water and Death in Heaven, made for an iconic and memorable finale in the rather downbeat Series Eight.

Heaven Sent is another adventure steeped in horror, just as Talalay’s previous episodes were. Although this time, the action moves away from crypts, the undead and body horror to a haunted house and corridors fit for a stalking veiled slasher. Heaven Sent is slasher horror in many senses of the genre. It’s strange to think of the Doctor’s nightmare as a palace of mystery with a corridor lurking monster, when it may very well have resembled a large, ornate garden in need of tending- as he takes a moment to dismiss early on.

Talalay’s worked extensively on genre television in recent years, but high on her resume is prolonged involvement in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Production duties led to her directing debut, helming 1991’s Freddy’s Dead: the Final Nightmare. That was the deep-end: not only the closing chapter and heightened meta entry of the series but filmed in 3d.

“I’m in a fully automated haunted house, a mechanical maze”

The Veil carries the hallmarks of the slasher genre in Heaven Sent. Haunting the corridors, sticking with a never changing speed akin to Michael Myers, an unknown origin like Jason Voorhees and the product of a dream world like Krueger himself. All that was missing was the slashing, but when that arrived it did so in sizzling and quite graphic quantity. Billions of years of it. Like those single-minded icons of slasher horror, the Veil was part of a code. There was no hidden morality, but its purpose was dictated by the singular aim of unlocking the Doctor’s confession. Unlike most slasher icons, this clockwork fiend never had the capacity to rise to anti-hero.

And of course, this might well have been Dracula’s Castle. It was steeped in the gothic tradition, the bizarre camera point of view that heralded the Veil’s Ghost of Christmas Future march – an update of mirrors that catch a vampire’s likeness. Or a keen reference to ScroogedRead more…

Britpop: Supergrass and I Should Coco at 20

Supergrass I Should Coco

It couldn’t be a worse time of year, I Should Coco is all about the summer of ’95 right? But no. It’s alright. After all, Caught by the Fuzz was originally released in autumn 2004. And today’s ‘wear your old band t-shirt to work’ day. And the now sadly dis- band have chosen today to release the remastered 20th anniversary special edition of their seminal debut. So that makes this the perfect day for Jokerside to salute Supergrass’ debut! Alright?

I DON’T KNOW WHEN I RELALISED JUST HOW GOOD I SHOULD COCO IS. I REMEMBER THE SUMMER LIGHT WAS FADING. AND THOUGH I CAN’T QUITE REMEMBER THE METHOD –WALKMAN SEEMS LIKELY – I DO VAGUELY REMEMBER THE STRETCH OF A PARTICULAR PARK. NEAR A COLLEGE CAMPUS, NOT MINE. Unfortunately that memory wouldn’t place it in 1995. No, I fully switched on to Supergrass with the release of their second album In It for the Money – or the release of the first single from that follow up, 1996’s Going Out.

I remember hearing the band interviewed by Steve Lamacq during or just before those In It For the Money recording sessions. I suppose backstage at the ’96 Mercury Music Prize, when they promised a more mature sound… And for once, that wasn’t a deflecting description. I didn’t really have the comparison beyond its predecessor’s singles at the time, but every part of In it for the Money dripped quality and confidence – it had a huge, solid sound that as it happened perfectly extended their bombastic debut while sparking it off in a myriad new directions. As I soon found out.

While In it for the Money had a slight melancholy, there it is on the cover of what’s their autumn album (released in the spring), I Should Coco was their defiantly summer LP. Although of course, that was recorded in the cold of the preceding winter in Cornwall.

“We honed the songs so they were short and full of energy and life”

That’s how Danny Goffey described it. It was some times before I took in the scrappier, more joyful, more vital and generally more pop punk I Should Coco. The moment it hit, that late afternoon, walking that path. Singles. Single after single. It was dripping in them. As much as the sun, as much as Britpop, as much as growing up, as much as sideburns.

Gaz Coombes recently declared there to be only a few great Britpop bands, and that much has been clear for a long time. But amid the heavyweight scrapping and flash in the pan chancers, wasters, lapsed shoe gazer and label hangers, Supergrass still stick out as the buzzing three piece from 95’s Summer of Britpop. In that leaner year than the fuller market of ‘96, they were the freshest and most alive during the fleeting movement that was always obtusely dipping in dolefulness. Oh, there are rock, riffs and darkness in I Should Coco, but also great peaks of vitality that brought the band crashing to widespread attention. It’s at the punk end of the spectrum – fast, three chord, break-neck – but that can’t disguise countless nods to an extraordinary number of other styles and English bands, from the rock pop of the Kinks to the ska infusion of Madness.

I Should Coco by the numbers

“1, 2… 1, 2, 3, 4”

I’d Like to know, the album opener sets the agenda, almost by accident. It’s Gaz Coombes’ extraordinary and distinctive voice that steals the show, against thundering high tempo rock, with high pass backing vocals and a tendency to reach ear-piercing peaks and then surpass them. There’s a huge amount going on in this record. In a peculiar way, before the androgyny of glam and Bowie had fully swept into to fill out Britpop’s sixties fixation, it’s not genderless but it’s rather sexless – there’s nothing that sums the band up as a macho three-piece. As the long chords hang and tempos shift up and down with incredible speed, there’s the mantra – the call to arms to follow the strange right there.

I’d Like to know break, brings the instrumental of blistering chords and percussion that really shows what Supergrass could do. It’s the third longest song on the album thanks to that long and anthemic coda. And it ends on a sample of crashing waves, percussion thumping away… Until it hits the chord wall called Caught By the Fuzz. The single that was originally intended to have I’d Like to Know as its b‑side to. On the album, the difference is instant, as if this is the point where the album begins proper. The themes of the first song will be picked up later, but now’s there’s an even more singular tune, again first person and arguably the bands most daring – all based on an incident from young Coombes’ real-life. There’s the distorted vocals until the almost unbearable, reaching chorus. It’s frenetic and immediate. This is what arrived in 1994, a little presumptuously controversial than Supergrass would prove to be. It’s what caught their first attention. From bikers, as bassist Mick Quinn once said. Alright is mildy more reserved in its sortie through teenage life, but then it’s the carefree romp that comes before the claustrophobic rock of Caught by the Fuzz. And Alright’s video did much to create Supergrass’ New Monkees image. It was the hair right? Must be the hair. Because Supergrass were far more distinctive, talented and original than that comparison or Spielberg’s pitch of a television series suggests. Read more…

The Golden Age of Cybermen Part 1: From The Tenth Planet to The Moonbase

Golden age of Cybermen The Tenth Planet and The Moonbase

For the Doctor’s 52nd birthday, a time to look at a race of monsters who would have once understood the importance of that number. Our long removed cousins, tragic victims of universal fate. Jokerside looks at the Golden Age of the Cybermen from 1966 to 1967.

The Cyberman arrived in a barrage of firsts and barely left the screen in the years that followed as they made a fair stab at replacing their pepper pot despotic rivals who’d brought Doctor Who to international attention.


Devised from science as much as drama, they collided with the demise of the First Doctor and the arrival of the base under siege story they would become synonymous with. Within three years they were only one shy of the Daleks in terms of villainous appearances. And while the Dalek’s schemes had become ever more diabolical during the First Doctor’s tenure, the Cybermen adopted an understandably more reserved approach while they continually upgraded and altered themselves. It’s a shame that the unsettling surgical mask approach of their first appearance would soon be encased in metal. But at least we’ve not seen a New Paradigm. Arguably…

The Tenth Planet (Season 4, 1966)

“They will not return”

Doctor Who The Tenth PlanetThe first words of the Cybermen. Not malicious, not a direct effect of their actions. Just a factual statement that the two spacefaring humans in question cannot possibly survive. They are proved right.

Three things began with The Tenth Planet, a serial that together with the succeeding Power of the Daleks, form the two most important in Doctor Who’s history. Those serials would test the show’s ability to survive thanks to the brilliant innovation of regeneration. But as hardly a side-line to that, The Tenth Planet marks the first appearance of recurring rogues the Cybermen and the first of a great Who staple – the base under siege story.

The setting is effective, fulfilling the isolation required by a good base under siege story and effortlessly shows the physical superiority of the Cyber race compared to humans. A mean trick in the first cliff-hanger reveals the Cybers to us as they assault face-covered humans – each is a distortion of the other in the Antarctic blizzard. We soon find that these are creatures of necessary logic but their chief tools are physical walloping and cumbersome chest-mounted ray guns.

Silver chic

“You will be wondering what has happened”

The design of the Cybermen is phenomenal. Bulky and inhuman. Their only appearance without metal face plating allows the simplified distortion of the human body to shine through. The eyes, holes, the mouth opening perpetually during their effective monotone, distorted speech. The face that resembles a surgical mask. The identical nature and similar voices that link all Cybermen is very effective in positing their threat and holding up a warped mirror to f humanity. In hindsight it’s touching that we see this early phase of Cybermen, where they still retain individual designations – something writer Marc Platt has developed with great success in Big Finish audios Spare Parts and The Silver Turk. And In the nicest way, this iteration of the cyber race, the Cyber Mondasians, wear their Achilles heels on their… Well, heads and stomachs. The lumbersome lamps on their heads serve to draw power from their planet, an excellently engineered short range and long range system if you think about it. And below the bulky chest unit that we’re told replaces their heart and lungs, and undoubtedly every other major organ in the torso, a large two handled weapon that are as effective when turned against them as they are plowing down humans. And their hands, their horribly human hands… Read more…

Doctor Who Series 9: Companion Closure – What’s in a Series?

Doctor Who Face the Raven
I think your work is EXCELLENT!

Doctor Who’s seasons and series have waxed and waned for over five decades. Face the Raven set a new bar, with a companion departure seemingly setting up a maybe-two part finale. Choosing statistics over grief, this essay looks at the show’s changing approach to confounding expectation and compounding the drama.

Taking 45 minutes out, inspired by Face the Raven.

THE CLOSING SCENES OF FACE THE RAVEN WEREN’T EXACTLY UNEXPECTED, BUT FEW WOULD DOUBT THAT CLARA’S INFLUENCE WILL STRETCH TO THE END OF SERIES NINE AND PROBABLY BEYOND. EVEN ADRIC MADE AN APPEARANCE AT HIS FINAL DOCTOR’S REGENERATION. AND HE WASN’T AN IMPOSSIBLE GIRL. That precocious mathematician wasn’t even the first of the Doctor’s companions to perish, it’s safe to assume that honour went to Sara Kingdom, adventuring for all too brief a time alongside the First Doctor during The Dalek’s Masterplan. But Adric’s was the most laboured and ill thought out demise. Sleep No More may have bodged the opening title replacement the week before, but it’s impossible to imagine the sapping horror if Face the Raven had rolled silent closing credits. But if the intervening 33 years between Adric and Clara’s departure have taught us anything about loss and companionship in Doctor Who, it’s that there are many fates worse than death.

Always a show of commendable contrariness, Doctor Who often celebrates what other shows consider a misfortune. The loss of a lead or many lead actors may sink other dramas, but for Doctor Who it’s very much the life juice of its longevity. Not just the most imaginative programme on the box, but one with an unquenchable thirst for change. We’ve seen huge events in the fabric of the show tie in with major occasions many times before, but somehow Face the Raven decided to fly in the face of convention and rob the New Series of its longest serving companion two episodes from the series’ end, during what might in most series form the two-part finale. That doesn’t look so strange in the eclectic structures that the New Series has adopted since 2010, especially considering Clara’s three unconventional entrances. But back to that change piece, Series Nine sees things greatly changed from not just the Classic Series years, but even the format adopted when the show returned in 2005.

And within these structures, borrowed and sometimes blue like the TARDIS, sub-even trends wax and wane, like the much coveted episode 10 rule set by Blink that burned out brightly and quickly within a few years. There’s lots to consider when plotting out the structure of a series as reliant on change as it beholden to its heritage.

The rise and fall of the Classic Series

Built on quantity as much as anything else…

Doctor Who was built on quantity as much as anything else. The first three seasons covered three quarters of the year each, back in the glorious days when almost every individual episode warranted its own title. That makes naming something like The Daleks with any accuracy particularly fraught. The seasons then simplified, but still ran from autumn through to the following summer all the way to the arrival of colour. With the appearance of the Third Doctor in 1970, the show dispensed with Christmas and ran six months from January to June until the Fourth Doctor’s arrival soon saw it tilt back to December through May and then even further to autumn through spring (with the honourable exception of the disrupted Season 17). That was a broadcasting structure that stuck until the show’s hiatus in 1985. Splattered in between were repeats, particularly during the 20th anniversary year and notably the November broadcast of The Five Doctors in 1983 – 32 years ago this week. Read more…

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