Saturday, May 11, 2013

Nightmare In Silver: Swung From A Chandelier, My Planet Suite On A Silver Salver

'They are my oldest and deadliest enemy.'
The Cybermen, the metallic inhabitants of Earth's twin planet, Mondas, first entered the public consciousness in 1966, a year of, by and large, general euphoria in Britain (a couple of dock strikes and the devaluation of the pound notwithstanding). But, their creation was very much against the prevailing public mood. Doctor Kit Pedler (the unofficial scientific adviser to the programme) and Doctor Who's then script editor, yer actual Gerry Davis, first unveiled them to an unsuspecting world in the serial The Tenth Planet, the last to feature William Hartnell as The Doctor. Pedler was then working at the University of London, and had already created quite a stir in the media as something of an apocalyptic science pundit. A bit like a cross between James Burke and the soothsayer from Up Pompeii! In the original concept, the idea of The Cybermen was chillingly sinister and more than a touch prophetic; a race of cyborgs, originally a wholly organic species of humanoids which had begun to implant more and more artificial parts into their bodies as a means of self-preservation in a resource-strapped environment. It's Mad Frankie Boyle's routine of cities gaining sentience and raising themselves on hydraulic legs made, quite literally, flesh. Or, you know, shiny metal parts, anyway. This led to the race becoming coldly logical and calculating, with every emotion deleted from their computerised brains as an unnecessary distraction. The implication was clear for anyone looking for a subtext (painted an inch thick, let it be said) in an era of the early days of transplant surgery and the rise of computerisation. We are all in danger of becoming - conceptual - Cybermen. Not, perhaps, the most subtle of metaphors Doctor Who has ever attempted - about as subtle as a flying brick, in actual fact - but, nevertheless, one of its most memorable and long-lasting. In their first appearance in the series, the only portions of The Cybermen's bodies which still seemed to be vaguely human were their hands; by their next appearance in The Moonbase (1967), their bodies were entirely covered up in their metallic suits, with their hands replaced by two finger claws - something retained for their next two appearances in The Tomb Of The Cybermen (1967) and The Wheel In Space (1968) - but they changed back to regular five-fingered hands in The Invasion (1968), explained by the fact that this story took place at an earlier point in The Cybermen's timeline. Despite not possessing emotions (which, presumably, included things like cunning) The Cybermen, nevertheless, tended towards sneaky covert activity, scheming from hiding (in London's sewers in The Invasion, for example) and using human pawns to act in their place until they need to appear. They also sought to increase their numbers by converting others into Cybermen (a process known as 'cyber-conversion' or, in one story, 'robotisation' and 'upgrading' in post-2005 episodes), an often ruddy damn painful process as body parts are removed (one guesses without anaesthetic as Cybermen are, you know, hard) and swapped with cybernetic replacements. It is presumed (and often actually implied) that there are still organic components beneath their suits, meaning The Cybermen are actually cyborgs rather than mere robots or androids: For example, in The Tenth Planet, a Cyberman tells a group of humans that 'our brains are just like yours.' Although by the time of Attack of the Cybermen (1985), the organic parts of their brains appear to have been replaced with electronics. In this same story, two human slave-prisoners of The Cybermen on the planet Telos reveal that their organic arms and legs have been removed by The Cybermen and replaced. In both Earthshock (1982) and Attack of the Cybermen, the actors' chins were visible through a clear perspex area on the helmet clearly suggesting some kind of organic matter beneath. In The Tomb Of The Cybermen (1967), veins and brains were visible through the domed head of The Cyberman Controller and similarly, in Attack of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel (2006), the Cyber-Controller's brain is clearly visible through the dome. The first is a Mondas Cyber Controller, while the second involves alternative Earth's John Lumic. From beyond the grave, if you will. However, in Revenge of the Cybermen (1975), the Doctor says they are 'total machine creatures.' Inconsistency, therefore, is part of The Cybermen's story. Terrifying the frigging bejesus out of five year olds, on the other hand, is somewhat their raison d'être. Though it should be noted that in Closing Time they were quite prepared to make James Corden one of their number. And in Doomsday they actually did Cybertise Tracy-Ann Oberman. So, they're obviously not over picky about whom they take.
'It's hard to fight an enemy that uses your army as spare parts.' It has been widely reported that The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods Before He) contacted his old mate Neil Gaiman about writing again for the series following the success of Gaiman's acclaimed 2011 episode The Doctor's Wife. Moffat is said to have asked Gaiman, specifically, to 'make The Cybermen scary again.' Gaiman, he claims, thought back to serials like The Moonbase and The Tomb Of The Cybermen which he remembered fondly as a child and decided to 'take the 1960s Cybermen and [incorporate] everything that's happened since.' However, Gaiman then said that he 'got completely side-tracked by a mad, strange romp.' Moffat stated that The Cybermen were specifically redesigned for this story because they did so often in the original series and yet had - in terms of design - been consistent in the post-2005 series. Some location filming took place in early November 2012 at Castell Coch. During this time, a copy of the readthrough script was found in a taxi in Cardiff. It was marked as being Eve De Leon Allen's copy and had the working title of The Last Cyberman, which was subsequently amended. The script was found by one Hannah Durham, who posted a picture of the script to Facebook with the caption: 'Found Doctor Who script in the back of a taxi. Cheeky spoilers anyone?' It was then returned to the BBC where, presumably, it was rolled up and used to beat Eve De Leon Allen around the head to within an inch of her very life until she promised not to be such a clueless silly plank again. We can but dream, dear blog reader. Dreaming, as Blondie once noted, is free.

'Just taking advantage of local resources.' Mister Neil Gaiman his very self, of course, needs few introductions. But yer actual Keith Telly Topping - who still dines out on the fact that he once met and shared a convention panel with Neil over a decade ago - is going to give him one anyway, because he deserves it. Neil Gaiman, just in case you've been living in a cave for the last twenty years or so, is an award-winning author and scriptwriter of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre, television and films. His notable works include the acclaimed comic book series The Sandman (a particular favourite of yer actual Keith Telly Topping) and the novels Stardust, American Gods, Anansi Boys and Coraline. He has won numerous awards, including Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, Newbery Medal, and Carnegie Medal. He is the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same work, The Graveyard Book (2008). He is also, as he's never made any secret of, a massive Doctor Who fan going back to childhood. In 2011, through a friendship with Steven Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods before He), Neil was finally given the chance to write for the series. His episode, The Doctor's Wife, is amongst the recent series' most admired and critically acclaimed stories, winning him a Hugo award in 2012. Neil has admitted that he was 'terrified' of The Cybermen as a child. During a recent conference call with the press, Gaiman revealed that it was his personal goal to add new menace to The Cybermen in the latest episode. 'I was terrified of them [when I was a child]. I was much more scared of them in a way than I was The Daleks because they were sort of quiet and they slipped in and out of rooms and it was very off-putting,' TV Guide quotes him as saying. 'I started thinking, I loved the design of the clanky-clanky steampunk Cybermen, but I know that their time is coming up and wouldn't it be fun to actually see if I can make them more scary. We have a new costume. We have a new look. What would an upgraded Cyberman do? It would move pretty fast,' he suggested. 'I loved the idea of a Cyberman that was essentially so dangerous that if you find one on your planet, you blow up the planet.' He added: 'I wanted The Cybermen to be much more silent than they actually are and the only noise we would ever hear from them was the point where they pump their chests and stuff like that... I would love to reclaim the cybernetic [menace] crown The Borg.'
'No need to panic my young friends. we all know there are no more living Cybermen.' So, anyway, the last time that there was a four person TARDIS crew it all ended, horribly, with one of them - the one that couldn't act - dying, messily, at the hands of The Cybermen. Was this significant we wondered when it was announced that, for one episode only, The Doctor and Clara would be joined in their travels through space and time by Clara's babysitting charges, yer actual Angie and Artie (played by the afore-mentioned Eve De Leon Allen and Kassius Carey Johnson). Which one was likely to be the Adric? The possibilities were - potentially - endless. As it turned out, both of them were, actually halfway decent in their respective roles and survived to annoy grumpy fortysomethings like this blogger another day (the girl was rather annoying for the majority of the episode though we were never in any serious danger of a repeat of Fear Her, at least). Elsewhere, the guest cast were, mostly, very good - especially Warwick Davis whom this blogger's never been the biggest fan of (s'cuse the terrible pun) probably due to his work with the odious Ricky Gervais. Jason Watkins was also rather good in a dryly little sinister comic turn which recalled both Leslie Dwyer in Carnival of Monsters and Brian Miller in Snakedance. Tamsin Outhwaite - a perfectly capable actress - was more than a bit wasted in her virtual blink-and-you'll miss-it cameo, however. The best acting performance in the episode, in fact, came from Matt Smith his very self - a deliciously schizophrenic, over-the-top piece of camping it up which included cunning Chris Eccleston and David Tennant impressions ('hello flesh girl. Fan-tastic!' and 'you should see the state of these neurons, he's 'ad some cowboys in 'ere!' respectively).
'Get out of my head!' Nightmare In Silver's opening scenes, arriving at 'the biggest and best theme park there's even been,' struggle to strike a neat balance between humour and drama and it's only, really, once we get into Webley's World of Wonder and the chess-playing Cyberman (conceptually modelled on the real-life Eighteenth Century mechanical wonder The Turk) that the episode starts to come together. The Cyber-Mites were a nice touch as was the first of several brilliant exchanges between Clara and The Doctor. 'You Collect funny insects?' 'I'm starting to.' As you'd expect from a Gaiman script, the dialogue often sings. 'Don't let anyone blow up this planet,' The Doctor solemnly instructs Clara. 'Is that something they're likely to do?' she asks with considerable surprise. The episode's chess metaphors soon develop into a proper game. 'You're playing chess with yourself?' 'And winning!' Then there's the excellent littler closing line from Algie: 'Thanks Clara! Thanks Clara's boyfriend!' And: 'Get me to a table. And somebody tie me up!' And: 'Chess game! Stakes!' 'If he wins I give up my mind and he gains access to all my memories along with knowledge of time travel. But, if I win, he'll break his promises to get out of my head and then kill us all anyway.' And: 'Will somebody untie me?' 'Do you think I'm pretty?' 'No. You're too short and bossy and your nose is all ... funny!' 'Good enough!' And: 'Nice ship. Bit big. Not blue enough!' And: 'The impossible girl. A mystery, wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that's just a little bit too tight! What are you?'

Nightmare In Silver, then. Neil Gaiman aiming to construct an engine of destruction gets, slightly, hamstrung by a necessary over-ambition in terms of scale, but still with the required old-school construction to give the piece enough flair and quality to cover a few minor cracks. Funny too, in places, and in others, really rather scary (the Matrix-like super-quick Cyber movements, for one). And The Cybermen themselves are a big and shiny and stompy as always. Whether this one will stand the test of time as well as The Doctor's Wife is debatable but it demonstrates, again, that Doctor Who works best when it's daring to be different. Next week, we're off - at last - to Trenzalore, for a date with destiny. And The Great Intelligence. And River.
Wasn't it marvellous to see national treasure John Cooper Clarke making his Have I Got News For You début on Friday evening, dear blog reader? Dry, witty and sharp as a needle, his contributions were only bettered by Paul Merton being on outstandingly surreal form. 'There should be a whole series of jokes that end with the punchline "... And I'm Robert Mugage"' being one of Paul's finest moments. You could tell John was getting more into it as the episode progressed. He was a bit quiet at the start, perhaps somewhat overwhelmed - as many were - by the camp Tory MP on Hislop's team. But then John got the audience right on his side with his little bit about his poem I Wanna Be Yours. 'It is to modern weddings what 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' by Eric Idle is to humanist funerals. You wouldn't know about that, I'm sixty four I could go to seven a week if I wanted to. But, no man can live by vol-au-vonts alone!' 'I was a fan a long time ago,' noted Ian Hislop before hurried adding 'I still am.' 'I was gonna say,' noted John dryly, 'where did I blot me copybook?!' Tremendous. They need to have him back once per series for the rest of time.
There were also some funny shenanigans going on in Would I Lie To You? with Charles Dance, Steven Mangan and even Gok Wan being on particularly good form. But it was Lee Mack who, as so often, stole the episode with his - completely fictional - story about being made to be a bridesmaid at a family wedding when he was a child because 'the dress fitted perfectly.'
Murder on the Home Front opened to decent ratings on ITV on Thursday evening, overnight data suggests. The wartime crime drama premiered with 4.53 million viewers at 9pm. Paul O'Grady's For the Love of Dogs returned with the biggest ratings of the night outside of soaps with 4.81m at 8.30pm. Which probably says something about something. Don't come to yer actual Keith Telly Topping looking for a quick answer on that one, dear blog reader. On BBC1, Britain's Biggest Hoarders opened with 3.38m at 8pm. Question Time was watched by 2.63m at 10.45pm. BBC2's Nature's Weirdest Events attracted 1.24m at 7pm, followed by the documentary Bradford: City of Dreams with 1.32m at 8pm. David Tennant's The Politician's Husband ended with 1.95m at 9pm. Channel Five's Star Trek documentary The True Story attracted eight hundred and thirty one thousand punters at 8pm. Why do you think yer actual Keith Telly Topping goes out on the Thursday night, dear blog reader? I set the DVD for Top of the Pops (or The Sky At Night if it's one) and go out and get bladdered to try and forget what a shite night it is TV-wise.

Sky1's critically acclaimed drama Mad Dogs will return for its third series on Tuesday 4 June at 9pm, Sky1 has confirmed. Max Beesley, Philip Glenister, John Simm and Marc Warren all return as Woody, Quinn, Baxter and Rick in the latest instalment of the blackly psychological thriller. At the end of series two, the four friends believed that they were on their way to mainland Spain for the first stage of their journey back home. However, they instead found themselves in Morocco with armed guards. Series three features Jaime Winstone as Mercedes, who is another inmate with the boys. Mad Dogs launched in 2011 as part of Sky's investment in homegrown drama, and picked up a BAFTA nomination. A fourth and final series of Mad Dogs will be broadcast in 2014.
And all that brings us to today's Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. Which seems genuinely appropriate. Cue the Bunnies. (And, you know, dead sorry about the Simon Bates intro. What can you do?) That is, incidentally, a particularly fine Vox Teardrop twelve-string yer man Will Sergeant is playing there.

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