Returned last night for a new series, following a three month gap after the Christmas special. UK newspaper reviews have not been favourable, and I read some comments on Facebook last night that expressed disinterest and boredom. The accusations are along the lines of last night’s episode not being scary enough and having a narrative that is too simple, rehashing ideas from previous episodes and other series.
When Doctor Who woke from a sixteen year hibernation in 2005 it drew acclaim. No more sets that wobbled visibly. Advances in more affordable effects, and a couple of high profile people in the lead roles, gave it some style, potentially widening its audience beyond eight year olds hiding behind the sofa from the stare of Daleks. Now it was cool for everyone to be into Doctor Who, and if you wanted something properly edgy and more explicitly adult, Torchwood came along the following year.
The Bells of Saint John grabbed and held my interest for a number of reasons. One would just be change I suppose. The Amy/Rory thing had become very tired. Time to move on. The episode was simple and very linear, for sure. But complexity and scale are not always very elegant. To remind yourself of what a narrative train wreck looks like, go back and have a look at the Torchwood mini-series Children Of Earth.
My loyalty to Doctor Who is not based on how scary it is; never was. I have some interest in the fantasy genre, but not much at all in the horror genre: somehow horror seems to revel in human dysfunction without saying very much about it. The idea of an alien intelligence with different needs to ours always appeals, as do storylines based on technology. Last night’s episode had both of these elements. It tapped very subtly I thought into prevalent fears about how our interactions with the internet are used by faceless multi-national organisations, commercial and governmental, highlighted recently by Google admitting that they had ‘accidentally’ gathered data on people’s internet habits from open wi-fi routers. In the end I think any boredom experienced while watching Doctor Who is down to the fact that straight sci-fi is just not considered generally very cool. He’s an alien who travels the universe in a spaceship. He has alien technology. Aliens might exist. The cheeky astronomer Brian Cox certainly seems to think that they probably do. Cool.
Tomorrow is Easter Day and the start of British Summer time. The temperatures are lifting incrementally although frosts persist at night. It’s good to wake on the first Saturday of the Easter break with the sun patiently etching away the lying snow, one crystal at a time. Other joys of Saturday mornings include the facility to watch BBC Breakfast in HD without the disturbing red screen that politely informs you of the unavailability of local news programming in HD. Local news seems to take a break on Saturday and Sunday. Sadly the BBC1 HD slot on a Sunday morning is usually occupied by football.
Yesterday I decided to experiment with having dual displays on the PC upstairs. This was inspired by seeing a promo for a documentary fronted by Terry Pratchett called Facing Extinction, a title that has dual significance: updating us on the fate of orangutans since he last campaigned to save them, and reflecting on his own extinction in the face of developing Alzheimer’s disease. He moves downstairs in a noticeably laboured way. I had not realised that the disease had such physical effects. Anyway, I happened to notice that in his study he has a veritable bank of monitors on his desk, almost as if he thought ‘I may be dead before long. Fuck it. I’m going to have a bank of monitors.’ So I brought a redundant monitor out of retirement and attached it to the spare VGA output on the graphics card. Up to press it’s just unused blank desktop space, but I have enjoyed dragging things onto it and back again, imagining that somehow by magic the window or icon that I’m dragging leaps through the air and lands on the other screen. Potential.
Probably off to buy a pair of jeans now. I hope to outlive them, although I guess I’m nearing an age bracket where outliving your clothes becomes increasingly less likely. Hey ho.
Effectiveness is deemed by some to have a lot to do with the ability to think in compartments. The thicker and more soundproof the walls between those compartments, the more you impress. As you sit at your desk and stare at your inkhorn in that damp bone-walled cell, you need to make sure that it’s impossible to hear the voices from the other rooms.
Sometimes I think I’ve lived from birth in an open plan mental space with no compartments at all. A flickering light bulb fifty feet away needs attention. Finish that report first? No. I think it needs attention now. On the way back from repairing that minor electrical fault I happen to notice that my collection of paperclips is no longer in strict alphabetical order, so that gets rectified. Report writing is now all the more fun because harmony once more reigns in your open plan head.
Walls can be built, taken down and moved. You can work on the soundproofing of walls. Walls can be torn down too, by events or information that will ‘blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday’. Often the effect of that is akin to gazing at clouds along the wing of a plane and then suddenly experiencing decompression as a hole is ripped in the fuselage by a capricious gremlin with long fingernails. The sea life and the cold salty waves below attain instant significance. If you make it back to the tarmac, it’s likely that no-one will believe you about the gremlin. They’ll put the scratch marks on the wing down to some rare form of turbulence.
Turbulence. There’s a thing. Perceive it only at the limits of your blurred vision and the chances are it will overwhelm you before you can say ‘life’s but a walking shadow’; but perceive it with too acute an eye and you will make of it a lumbering drunken leviathan in a field of poppies. Tough call.
In other news, stepping into the literal world for a spell, this is the Easter break. Next week there’s a family trip up to Caithness to carry on sorting out my mum’s stuff and to do some celebrating of her. I have to retrieve her ashes from the ‘rest room’ at the funeral directors in Wick. The UK weather seems determined to remain cold, with the wind originating in the East as it did when I was up there in January. Perhaps Mum is best off in a jar in a warm room, rather than being scattered to damp earth or wild sea. I think of her caravan a great deal, with its compartments, now cold and dark. I think of the chair that she died in. The compartment where she slept is as she left it, but that must change. The small but numerous ingenious tweaks she made to her environment will I believe always be evident, as will the trees she planted. I love her so very much.
There have been times when the absence of walls between the compartments has not seemed an impediment to happiness. Those times I have spent looking at the sea.