Saturday, April 27, 2013

Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS: Inside The Spaceship

'It's ... bigger ...' '... On the inside. You know, I get that a lot!' Although it took the best part of ten years to become the cliché we know and love, the idea of the TARDIS being something properly extraordinary goes all the way back to Doctor Who's opening episode in November 1963. Ian Chesterton's baffled 'Let me get this straight. A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard, it can move anywhere in time and space?' set the tone for fifty years of dimensionally obtuse adventures to follow. Or, as Chesterton's most recent successor in the role put it so beautifully in The Snowmen: 'It's smaller on the outside!' But, whilst the TARDIS's interior beyond the confines of the console room and its immediate surroundings has been the subject of visits in the past on a number of occasions (as early as 1964's extraordinary two-parter The Edge of Destruction, as recently as The Doctor's Wife just a year ago), delving into it has often been merely an excuse in having a different set of corridors for The Doctor and his companions to run around in. (See, for example, The Invasion of Time, Logopolis, Terminus, or Earthshock.) It was only, really, with the opening episode of Chris Bidmead's Castrovalva (1982) that the production began to suggest that this really was more than a mere (extraordinary) time and space machine (despite dialogue references to that effect going all the way back to the previously mentioned The Edge of Destruction and, even more specifically, The Power of the Daleks). The TARDIS, then, dear blog reader. The only proper constant in the BBC's popular long-running family SF drama from its very beginnings, is long overdue an examination of her innards. We know that she's dimensionally transcendent. We know she's ever-changing. We know she's capable of thought. We know she takes The Doctor not necessarily where he wants to go but where he needs to go. We know that she's Suranne Jones-shaped. Which is nice. And now, we know what's at her heart. And that's where things start to get really interesting.
'What do you keep in here?' Reportedly, The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods Before He) gave the concept of an episode discovering the very centre of the TARDIS to his Sherlock colleague Stephen Thompson. Thompson (whose previous script for the series, The Curse Of The Black Spot got the usual whinges from the usual Special People but, them apart, appeared to be quite popular with ordinary viewers) explained that this was because Moffat was 'haunted' by the 1978 story The Invasion of Time, which was set on the TARDIS but used hastily-constructed sets. Haunted, we presume, not in a remotely good way because The Invasion of Time, whilst conceptually interesting, was crushed by its last two episodes which were, effectively, a fifty minute chase from lots of slightly different than usual corridors. An industrial strike - a frequent right pain in the dong for Doctor Who's production team in the late 1970s - which was eventually resolved shortly before production, forced the studio sets to be constructed within St Anne's Hospital in Redhill as the BBC's Christmas holiday light entertainment specials were being given priority in the regular studios. It's, perhaps, significant, that although frequently mentioned since - most, notably in The Eleventh Hour - this is the only time we've actually seen the TARDIS swimming pool. Until now. Thompson was also interested in mathematics and remarked, 'anything involving multi-dimensional geometry gets me excited.' This blogger is the same with big dirty women, personally. Anyway, Moffat left the rest of the story to be developed by Thompson. The episode finished filming in September. Guest star Ashley Walters (he is 'a popular beat combo', apparently, m'lud) got himself into loads of trouble with the producers on the first day of filming when he tweeted a picture of himself in his costume from his trailer, breaking the strict embargo that the show always has on releasing images before production has been completed. The picture was immediately removed and Ashley, one suspects, receiving a punishment beating, in da 'hood, worthy of inclusion in the lyrics of his next, if you will, rap.
'If you help me get her out, you get the machine. The salvage of a lifetime!' The TARDIS is captured by a motley two-man-and-one-alleged-android spaceship salvage team, sending its systems into total meltdown. As The Doctor introduces himself to the suspicious crew of galactic rag-and-bone men, he realises that Clara is still trapped within his malfunctioning ship, so he persuades his new acquaintances to help find her, taking them deep into the heart of his beloved time machine. But their hopes of a straightforward rescue are dashed when it turns out that Clara is not the only one down there - and if that weren't bad enough, they only have thirty minutes before the TARDIS self-destructs. Well, that last part's a complete and total lie sold, with seemingly absolute sincerity, by The Doctor despite his low opinion of his own deviousness ('it was all an act. Personally, I thought I rushed it a bit!') Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS starts with a splendidly knowing visual allusion to Red Dwarf (even the little musical snatch to accompany the ship's first appearance is pithily Howie Goodall-esque). As The Doctor and Carla bicker about the TARDIS's brilliance or lack of it ('we're not talking cheese grater, here!') the action, properly gets started. 'Red flashing light ... Means something bad.' Steven Thompson's task in creating a highly watchable episode is aided, firstly, by Mat King's assured, claustrophobic direction but, mainly, by Jenna-Louise Coleman wearing a summery red mini-dress and a pair of boots. A combo designed, no doubt, to give teenage boys everywhere the raging horn. Works on adults too. Trust me. Like The Doctor says: 'My ship, my rules!'

'If we're going to die here, you're going to tell me what they are.' 'I can't.' Clara's wanderings within the TARDIS begin as a veritable uber-fan's wet-dream of visual continuity references (River Song's cot, Amy's toy TARDIS, one of The Doctor's old umbrellas). But, that's just the beginning. Her Alice in Wonderland trip subsequently takes in her entrance into the library ('now, that's just showing off!'), lots of rather clever Logopolis-style recursive loops, a major raid into the series' audio archives (see how many you can spot), our first proper look at the - oft-mentioned - Eye of Harmony (and, the second reference to it in two weeks) and, what is sure by the current series end to become a major plot point, The Doctor's name and his reasons for wanting to keep it a secret from the universe. 'So, that's who ...' says Clara reading a book on the the history of the Time War (which, of course, handily opens at just the right page). 'Secrets protect us. Make us safe,' The Doctor notes when Clara threatens to reveal what she knows to Gregor and Tricky. 'Trust me, some things you don't want to know.' Mind you, here's a question worth asking; if nobody else survived the Time War and The Doctor doesn't want anyone knowing his name, why is it mentioned in a book which, if you think about it, only he can have written? Answer that and stay fashionable. Perhaps we don't need to - this is, after all, an episode which includes a, quite literal, leap of faith.
'I'm mentioned in a lot of books.' The other, really important, moment in the episode occurs when The Doctor finally confronts Clara about why she keeps dying (complete with continuity references to Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen). 'What are you? A trick? A trap?' He seems more than a little relieved by Clara's, apparently genuine, ignorance (and, not a little bit of fear) about what the hell he's talking about. So, the mystery of Clara lives to fight another day. That apart, this is a story about time anomalies and how, in its own unique way, the TARDIS manages to look after not only itself but also, indirectly, the time around it as well as within it (hence, the relatively happy ending for the salvage trio). As usual, it's also a dialogue-lover's banquet. 'Don't get into a spaceship with a mad man, didn't anybody teach you that?' And: 'Ever seen a spaceship get ugly?' And: 'Smart bunch, Time Lords. No dress sense, dreadful hats. But smart!' And; 'Good guys do not have zombie creatures. Rule number one!' And: 'The TARDIS is leaking.' 'Leaking what?' 'The past.' The 'burning zombie monsters', inevitably, turn out to be nothing even remotely close to what they seem to be, a mere echo from an aborted timeline that The Doctor renders null and void by stepping into a time rift crack and, performing a bit of necessary button pressing. 'There might be a certain amount of yelling!'

It's important, of course, to highlight the ending. No doubt some louder-voiced fans will have their foreheads nutting a keyboard in frustration right now on an Internet forum somewhere near you, dear blog reader: Because - when all is said and done - in this episode, the day was saved when 'a Big Friendly Button' was pushed and it, somehow, rewrote time. It's hard to remember another story in Doctor Who history which makes fun of an element of fandom quite so audaciously and pointedly. I mean, compared to this, the joke of the police box's windows being 'the wrong size' in Blink is nothing! 'Deus Ex Machina' someone who doesn't, actually, understand the meaning of the term will probably shout. Loudly. To anyone that will listen (and, indeed, anyone that wont). But wasn't it funny? In a sense, Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS is a kind-of sequel to The Doctor's Wife and the ship's personality is being developed very nicely indeed. From The Edge of Destruction through to last week's episode, where she was described as 'like a cat', the TARDIS is probably the most consistent character in Doctor Who. She's certainly the most well-characterised. So, Journey To The Centre of The TARDIS did what it said on the tin. 'You're telling me we're safe?' 'Apart from the monsters. And the TARDIS reconfiguring its architecture every five minutes, yes!' It's the Doctor Who episode that, in twenty years time, today's eight years olds will remember as 'the one with all the running up and down corridors and the Big Friendly Button at the end.' A bit like how older fans remember ... well, just about every story of the 1963-89 period, lots and lots of running around and a button getting pushed. It also had the best bit of dialogue exchange between The Doctor and Clara of the current series so far: 'You lot stay here, I'll check if it's safe, you can only stay for a minute in there.' 'What happens if you stay longer?' 'Our cells would liquefy and our skin would begin to burn.' 'I always feel so good after we've spoken!' 'Good. Keep this door shut.' 'That will not be a problem.'
The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat has revealed new details about the Doctor Who finale The Name Of The Doctor. The upcoming episode will introduce a new menace to the popular long-running BBC family SF drama, known as The Whispermen. 'Having brought back two of the classics, The Ice Warriors and The Cybermen, this year we wanted a brand new monster to create chills in the finale,' The Moffinator said. 'And the thought of stylish, whispering, almost faceless creatures was an idea that firstly scared me and that I thought would work well in an episode that looks forward and back.' The showrunner also promised that The Name Of The Doctor' will 'change the course of Doctor Who forever. It's full of surprises and questions that have never been answered in the history of Who, including The Doctor's greatest secret,' Moffat claimed. 'We'll also find out what makes his new companion so impossible and there's a surprise that no-one has got right so far.' Coleman previously appeared on Doctor Who as spacefaring Oswin and Victorian governess Clara, with The Doctor attempting to unravel the mystery of her multiple identities in recent episodes. Hinting at what to expect from the finale, Coleman said: 'All I can say is that Clara hasn't just met The Doctor three times before.'

TV comedy line of the week, as usual, came from Have I Got News For You on Friday evening. This time around it was straight toss-up between Ian Hislop's suggestion for an alternative Scots currency in the event of devolution ('the Mars Bar'), guest host Ray Winstone's observation that Scotland's economy does have it's advantages  their chief exports being, after all, 'oil, whisky, tartan and tramps' (to which Paul Merton added 'sometimes combined in one glorious package') and the always superb Reginald D Hunter telling fellow guest, Times journalist Camilla Long that he was very impressed with her cod-Bulgarian accent, adding helpfully, 'as I'm America, there's no subtext to my compliment!' That became a running joke throughout the episode, as, indeed, did Paul throwing water in his own face after Ian said a naughty word. There was also Ray noting that Alex Salmond's call for 'a sterling-zone' was fair enough but, 'the way the economy's going, I'd be calling it Pound Land!' And, on the report that an economist had told the Sun after the slightly better than expected GDP figures 'George Osborne can allow himself a moment of smugness', the retort: 'A moment's fine, but a lifetime's taking the piss!'
The three finalists in this year's MasterChef competition are Larkin Cen, Dale Williams and Natalie Coleman after a mad-tough climax to the semis, cooking for some of the most sour-faced food critics one can possibly imagine being under one roof (plus, Jay Rayner who, at least, is usally quite funny). Saira Hamilton, a particular favourite of this blogger, was the unlucky one of the final four to depart, a decision which, clearly, left John Tordoe in an emotional state of discombobulation. Many viewers were surprised (and some, extremely disappointed) to see Saira knocked out particularly after Larkin and Dale, both twenty eight and both from Welsh Wales, failed to impress Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing in one of the earlier challenges, in a round that Saira did very well in. Downright nasty to the lads, so he was. Almost as nasty as William Sitwell was about poor Saira's curry on Friday night. But Larkin and Dale pulled it back for the last round where they had to cook three courses for some of the UK's most feared food critics and secured their place in the final. To be fair, Saira, whose food this blogger would absolutely demolish every single time, before licking the plate clean and asking for some more, did still seem to be to the end, essentially, a home cook. A bloody brilliant home cook, let it be said - possibly the best home cook in the entire country, but perhaps not quite a practitioner of fine dining, which is what they're meant to be aiming for on MasterChef, after all. Still, she was lovely, lit up the competition and it was, genuinely, sad to see her go. Line of the night, perhaps inevitably, belongs to Jay Rayner who, when presented with Larkin's beef and black bean sauce dish opined: 'I don't know what to say about this. It's just smear with a dead thing. Lots of things have died, including my hope.' Natalie, who looked like the outsider of the four earlier in the week, now appears to be a very decent bet for the title. DJ Natalie, twenty nine, seems to be Torode's favourites, he has constantly praised her for going from strength-to-strength since she first appeared on the show. Tipped as the favourite to win because of her down-to-earth and likeable nature, Natalie's East End palare and love for cooking dishes for her beloved granddad, have made her a winner in a lot of viewers' eyes. And she said cooking her showstopper dish has been her highlight so far, telling the Digital Spy website: 'I made John cry. A lot was riding on that dish. And it's not something you cook every day, pigeon. That was something I'd never worked with before.' The three-episode finale will take place next week.
There's a very interesting interview with Larkin's proud parents at Wales Online: 'For Gong and Qiong Cen, Larkin's prowess in the kitchen is a bit of a surprise. Standing in the spotless takeaway they have run in Ely for 32 years, they are proud of their son, even if they did try to steer him away from a career in catering. Running the Mansang Chinese takeaway on Michaelston Road, Ely, since 1981, they have rarely had a holiday and know how hard it is to cook for a living. That’s why they wanted something different for Larkin and his younger brother Simon. "We tried to keep Larkin away from the kitchen and look for another career, because we know catering is long, long hours," admits Gong. "I always thought he had a talent for cooking though."' And, on a similar theme, a profile of Saira from her local paper, the Harlow Star, here.
Oh, and one final MasterChef-related comment. As regular dear blog readers will know, this blog occasionally gets hits from the most unexpected of places, sometimes seeking answers to the oddest of questions (last year's 'Anna Meares' bum' malarkey being, perhaps, the finest example). Now, this blogger welcomes all new visitors to From The North regardless of how they got here but he has been somewhat perplexed to find a number of hits on this site recently coming from people seemingly doing a Google search asking 'is Dale from MasterChef gay?' So, if you happen to have arrived here wondering that very thing, there are three answers which yer actual Keith Telly Topping can, in all confidence, give you: A) I don't know. B) I really don't care. And C) Does it, actually, matter? Next ...

The second episode of ITV's drama The Ice Cream Girls lost almost a million overnight viewers week-on-week. The second of the three-part series, based on the 2010 novel by Dorothy Koomson, was down nine hundred and fifty thousand punters on last week's opener with 3.9m viewers on Friday at 9pm. On BBC1, the MasterChef semi-finals was watched by 4.82m at 8.30pm and Have I Got News for You had a very similar figure - 4.77m - an hour later. Earlier, The ONE Show was watched by 3.61m at 7pm, while A Question of Sport had an audience of 2.82m at 7.30pm. To conclude the evening, The Graham Norton Show pulled in 3.2m at 10.45pm. On BBC2 The Genius of Turner: Painting The Industrial Revolution had 1.17m at 9pm. Gardener's World was watched by 1.96m half an hour earlier. Channel Four's Ben Earl: Trick Artist had an audience of nine hundred and twenty thousand at 8pm and Alan Carr's latest Chatty Man, which saw JLS member Oritsé Williams break down in crocodile tears over the band's split (due to 'musical similarities'), was watched by 1.31m sad crushed victims of society at 10pm.

Yer actual David Tennant, former national heartthrob is, according to reports, set to be cast against type and play a 'seriously deranged' serial-killer in the new US-Canadian co-production Hannibal. The hugely in-demand actor - who recently played a police detective in the crime drama Broadchurch - will switch to the other side of the law in the drama, which is based on the novels of Thomas Harris, after impressing showrunner Bryan Fuller. Fuller said: 'I love David Tennant.' Well, yeah. So do millions of squeeing fangirls the world over, matey, get in line! 'He would have made an amazing Hannibal, there's no doubt in my mind. David is such a fantastic actor that I would love him to come and do the show as a seriously deranged serial killer. That would be amazing.' David initially auditioned for the lead part of psychopath Hannibal Lecter - portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs and, fellow Scot Brian Cox in Manunter - but he narrowly lost out to Hollywood star Mads Mikkelsen. The Danish actor will appear alongside his friend Hugh Dancy - who is to play special agent Will Graham in the series - and Bryan is looking forward to seeing the chemistry between the pair unfold in front of the camera. He is quoted by the Daily Lies as saying: 'Mads already had a friendship in real life with Hugh. This show is about a bromance and a friendship that goes horribly wrong. So we thought it would be interesting to take advantage of their chemistry as friends. "It felt like a true, traditional way to cast the role.' Tennant is currently appearing in the BBC's The Politician's Husband and recently completed filming on the reprise of his most famous role as The Doctor for the forthcoming fiftieth anniversary episode of Doctor Who.

One of the Qi elves has kindly informed us - on Twitter, obviously - that series K will be broadcast in the autumn (filming got under way this week) and that the one outstanding episode from series J - Just the Job, featuring Sandi Toksvig, Jezza Clarkson and Jason Manford - will be shown on BBC2 in August. And, about bloody time too. The first three 'K' series episodes were shot earlier this week - the good news is that Bill Bailey will guest-star in all three: Kings will also feature Jimmy Carr and Jeremy Clarkson. Additionally, there's Keys with first-timer panellists Tim Minchin and Isy Suttie and an as yet untitled third episode with Jason Manford and Wor Sarah Millican. Another three episodes are due to be filmed next Monday and Tuesday. Once again, sixteen episodes are scheduled to be filmed across April and May.

Based on a short story by Ian MacLeod, Snodgrass (Thursday part of Sky Arts' Playhouse Presents series) was a blackly comic play imagining how alcoholic wife-beating Scouse junkie John Lennon's life might have turned out if he'd quit The Beatles in a strop just as they were about to make it big. We met him in 1991, aged fifty, trudging off to begin a job as an office temp stuffing envelopes. Former NME journo David Quantick's script brilliantly captured Lennon's sneering, nasty facetiousness and smart-alec wordplay. 'All right, keep your breakfast on, your corn flakes'll go cold.' Lennon's was the sort of antagonistic, spiteful humour that is tolerated, even celebrated, when it comes from young millionaire rock stars but is absolutely unbearable in a middle-aged nobody. Having walked out on The Beatles in 1962, Lennon is fifty years old and unemployed. Smoking a roll-up in a scruffy kitchen in Birmingham, he is four weeks behind on his rent when he is called to a job interview. Bitter and eccentric, Lennon hates jobsworths, yuppies and the mundanity of life and the working world and he fails to impress his potential boss (Kevin Doyle), until he is recognised as 'the guy who walked out of The Beatles over a song' and is given a temp job. Accosted by a female colleague who had a girlhood crush on Paul McCartney, he is forced to reflect on the tragedy of his decision. However, we also learn that, in Quantick and director David Blair's imagined world, The Fab Four failed to achieve the worldwide acclaim they did in real life. The reason? The band ignored Lennon's advice to release 'Love Me Do' as their début single and released 'How Do You Do It?' instead. 'We could have been bigger than The Hollies,' Lennon laments, as he watches a group of yoofs graffiti a Beatles Reunion Tour poster after walking out on his job. The Snodgrass Lennon, played by the excellent Ian Hart (his third turn as Lennon after The Hours & The Times and Backbeat), quipped relentlessly, not to entertain anyone but to keep them at bay. Pointed barbs were to him what spikes are to a hedgehog. Mainly the barbs were about what a loser everyone else was. Even at the bottom of the pile this Lennon, seemingly, felt able to look down on others. It's conceivable that yer actual Paul McCartney would have had a happy enough life without fame and riches. But, not Lennon. His type of personality meant that he had to succeed, to prove himself not only great but also superior. Since he was famous and made wonderful music, most people put up with the sarcasm. This is a different type of comedy for Quantick, who most recently worked regularly as one of the writing team on Harry Hill's TV Burp. It was funny but also strangely touching. In this parallel universe Lennon changed the course of history by leaving The Beatles, but it also meant that he was not shot by Mark Chapman. On the soundtrack Martin Carr, from The Boo Radleys, performed some wonderful pastiches that deftly imitated the dreaming melodic swirl of Lennon's solo work. In short, Snodgrass was terrific, its one flaw that it was just twenty five minutes long; a premise this promising was worth at least an hour.

For today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day, here's the natural enemy of the Clangers. 'Riddim is full'a kultcha, ya?'

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