5 things I learned from The Bells of Saint John

1. The BELLS of GROOMING

clara kiss

When the Doctor’s not busy licking leaves or running around the TARDIS with his Spirograph and a ballpoint pen, he likes to pick up girls. The prequel to the episode reminded me that it’s not exactly the first time that the Doctor’s met someone as a child who, in their later life, he’ll go on to snog.

amy kiss

Not even the second.

river kiss

I blame The Time Traveler’s Wife for all this.

reinette kiss

They’re not even safe in their prams. Especially now we know from Closing Time that the Doctor “speaks baby”.

rose kiss

It was all the other way round with Captain Jack, but there you go.

captain jack kiss

2. The BELLS of EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES CLARA

Of course, companions these days are generally predestined to meet the Doctor anyway, by dint of sending themselves messages from the future, being the future mother of the TARDIS-child or the TARDIS-child herself, and so on. Even lovely, ordinary Donna – who escaped the gallery of shame above – lived under an anvil of cosmic coincidence. And Clara’s story is the most extreme of the lot. The wireless password forming a reverse-engineered mnemonic of her deathbed catchphrase is the sort of contrivance even Jacob from Lost might have thought a step too far.

3. THE BELLS OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Kislet's tablet

Regular readers will know I like to analyse classic Doctor Who villains through a prism of businesss jargon, invoking client/agency relationships at every step. How thoughtful of Steven Moffat to save me all the work on this one, with a classic ruthless PM versus terrifying client set-up. The four key qualities that Miss Kislet controls in her employees are Conscience, Paranoia, Obedience and IQ. It’s not exactly The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but then what is? I like that she has a little weather forecast handy on her tablet of terror too.

4. The BELLS of OBSCURE CONTINUITY REFERENCES

At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if the fact that Clara nannies for a family called “Maitland” turns out to be a link-in to The Sensorites.

5. THE BELLS OF WHAT AMY DID NEXT

summer falls

Exciting to learn that Amy became a writer after leaving the Doctor! What sort of a book IS Summer Falls? From the cover it looks to be a Famous Five sort of adventure – and I wish it had been the little white dog that came to life on the stairs rather than the snooty girl – and yet Chapter 11 will have you crying your eyes out, apparently. Of course, in going from model to children’s author, Amy’s career path is closely following Katie Price’s. Did Amy ghostwrite any of Katie’s books? This Mermaids and Pirates series looks a lot like a better-lit The Curse of the Black Spot.

mermaids and pirates

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Adverts Explained: Anglia Ruskin University

I saw this poster on the tube on the other day. It couldn’t help but catch my eye. These are the happiest, most excited and fulfilled people I’ve ever seen! My future starts here, you say? I had to go in for a closer inspection.

ruskin1. Joy: Those beaming faces say more about the results of education than any prospectus ever could. Strength through learning! And the excellent teeth displayed by all the students tell us that the fees at Anglia Ruskin are not so prohibitive you’d have to forget about cosmetic dentistry for three years.

2. I have in my hand a piece of paper: But what does it say? Perhaps these students share a house and have just used university facilities to print out copies of their cleaning rota.  Perhaps they have been photocopying their arses. Perhaps they are applying to go on Deal Or No Deal. We will quite literally never know. Note however that the paper is held in the right hand for women, and the left hand for men.

3. Dress code: Women may wear any shoes at Anglia Ruskin, but otherwise a strict dress code of blue jeans and a scoop neck top should be observed. It’s not clear whether chinos and a checked shirt are as rigid a uniform for men, as we can only see one guy, but it would make good practical sense.

4. Jan 2013 Starts APPLY NOW: The thing is, when you’re buying media space, they’ll offer you all sorts. A free week here, a month’s run-on for half price there… Before you commit to anything, take a good hard look at your ad and ask yourself if anything on it would look silly if it stayed up for a couple of extra months. There.

5. Leaping: Clearly, the higher the leap the greater the joy. There are various levels of elevation on show here, from tentative to fully airborne. The most enthusiastic is the unseen fifth student – ah yes, had you noticed her*? All we see is a foot on one side of the lead student and an arm on the other, like a botched attempt at B*Witched’s Rollercoaster dance routine. Yet this shadowy figure is the one most stimulated by her degree prospects. Who IS she? (*Yes obviously it’s a woman, as the paper is held in the right hand.)

6. YOUR FUTURE STARTS HERE: It’s great to look at a poster and know that your life has changed with immediate effect. Even if you don’t apply to Anglia Ruskin University, your destiny will now take a different course, subtly or otherwise. We’ve all seen Sliding Doors. And look at me. Last week I could never have imagined myself sat here making things up about an out-of-date university poster. No actually I could.

7. Psalm 16: Intriguing. The makers of the poster couldn’t have known that someone would write “Psalm 16” on it at Upper Holloway, and yet here it is. Authorial intent aside, anyone seeing the poster will, like me, see the addendum too and then find it linked with Anglia Ruskin University in their mind. So what’s the significance of this psalm?

Well it’s a psalm of David, that’s a good start. “Keep me safe my God, for in you I have refuge,” it opens. “You are my Lord, apart from you I have no good thing.” To be honest that puts a bit of a downer on the rest of the poster. Perhaps you’ve got this far down and are already thinking how happy you’ll be starting, say, a foundation degree in Equine Science with Rehabilitation Therapies. Then Psalm 16 comes along and points out that nothing matters except God – it may as well walk into your house and shit in your bath.

“Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more,” it hectors, clearly singling out the students on the poster as they race down that corridor, hellbound. “You make known to me the path of life, you will fill me with joy in your presence” – so we can forget everything we’ve just learned about education being the path to joy. It ends “…with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” And we know what that means – a female student with a cleaning rota.

“My automatic melancholy” – the all-too-short pop career of Lara Croft

Rhona Mitra as Lara Croft

At the height of the Tomb Raider games’ success, and before a film had been made, a succession of actresses, models and promo girls — including a young Katie Price — queued up to be the real life face of Lara Croft. And somehow one of them, Rhona Mitra, ended up making an in-character pop CD with Dave Stewart.

come alive

Come Alive came out on EMI in 1998, between Tomb Raider II (the one with the Venice and sunken ship levels) and Tomb Raider III (the one where Lara keeps getting run over by a tube train). It only went on general release in France, and there’s so little about it on the web you’d think someone had tried to quietly erase it from pop history.

Most of the songs have a post-Madchester, indie dance vibe with flashes of guitar, landing on a sound somewhere between Sneaker Pimps and Chumbawamba. There’s even the occasional ragga toast. So far so 90s. But what about the subject matter?

Brilliantly, Lara sings about her own fictionality, her longings for a physical life and her confusing symbiotic relationship with you the gamer. In this way it very much picks up the metafictional baton from the ending of Tomb Raider II, in which Lara, about to undress for the shower, magnificently breaks the fourth wall by turning to face you and shooting you dead, saying “Don’t you think you’ve seen enough?”

Lead single Getting Naked follows the same template, teasing nudity while admonishing the listener “I know you want to be my lover boy, but I’ve got a lot of things going on.” And the balance between titillation and domination continues in songs like Beautiful Day where every seductive “Tell me all your fantasies and I’ll tell you mine,” is set off by a stern “I’ll do what I want to.”

The prospect of physical love rears its head in Really Real in which a somewhat listless Lara breathes “I’m real! Really real! Just like you!” While in the next song, Feel Myself, she does what any of us would after making the transition from digitised form and proceeds to “Feel myself for the first time,” complete with some little panting noises. Charmingly, she describes her self exploration in terms any gamer will understand, giggling “Moved on to level 2!”

The album’s themes peak on title track Come Alive, in which Lara muses on her life as a pixellated puppet. “I see myself up on a wall,” it opens over some lovely downbeat electro. She goes on to consider her “fated path,” reflecting “all the walls that I was climbing, all the time that I spent falling… and all was fine when I was drowning.”

The whole thing’s a triumph. A very odd triumph, to be sure, but then those are my favourite sorts. It’s a rare album that lets you hear an iconic video game character sing come-hither lyrics about “fish and chips in Streatham” and “a pint of lager & lime” and somehow carry it off, but this is the one. In case you hadn’t noticed, I spend every other post on this blog deliberately muddling fictional things and real ones (with hilarious consequences etc etc), so once in a while it’s nice to find a piece of pop culture that’s managed it all on its own. And is real — really real.

Kanye West and the Diamonds of Doom

Review of Kanye West at the Hammersmith Apollo, 23rd February 2013

Pic by baradar85

Poor old Kanye. An acclaimed music career that shows no sign of slowing down, a blossoming relationship with a little babby on the way, and so very much money that he can afford to slag off corporate sponsorship now – and yet he’s still so alone and so cold. At least, that’s what we must assume when we see him, a solitary figure in white pacing a vast, bare stage like an aggrieved polar bear while projections of icebergs and blizzards and cold seas play behind him.

It’s beautiful, minimal staging. He was surrounded by writhing, body-painted women the last time I saw him, but today there’s no-one to get in his way as he lopes around his empty square in what could be either a strait-jacket or a mummy’s wrap. Sometimes he covers his face completely, singing from behind a bird mask or, most alarmingly, a sewn-up ski mask completely encrusted in diamonds – the close-ups on the giant screens make him a disturbing, abstract monster. Meanwhile on the backing track Shirley Bassey’s diamond fetish gives way to Rihanna’s and some sort of circle is closed.

Kanye’s own favourite numbers seem to be his robo-despair epics, and he milks Say You Will and Runaway for all they’re worth and more. But the dreamlike atmosphere persists even as he makes his way through the big hits, and the design choices are thrilling throughout. When the all-white-everything section has gone as far as it can go – with an outbreak of snowfall over the stalls while Kanye mopes in an icy forest – the Apollo erupts in sudden, dazzling colour for Flashing Lights and All Of The Lights. It’s a well-timed middle section that offers some relief before the icebergs return to finish him off and Kanye trudges away towards them. Poor old thing.

The Foxscars 2013

Never mind the Oscars. This year I’m launching my personal alternative to the Academy Awards – the FOXSCARS.

BEST UNSEEN JOURNEY: Doctor Who Magazine‘s The Watcher recently enthused about the great unseen journeys in Who but Bond and M’s desperate drive from Westminster to Scotland in Skyfall takes the biscuit. “It’s not very comfortable, is it?” says M, settling into the Aston Martin. “Are you going to complain the whole way?” counters Bond. And then the most extraordinary elision.

M Judi Dench Skyfall lodge scotland

Google Maps suggests just over 8 hours for a trip from London to Glencoe. That’s a long trip even if you knock off an hour or two for Bond’s reckless speeding, and M’s a septuagenarian who’s just spent hours cooped up in an inquiry. So this grim, relentless flight for their lives must have had at least one comfort break along the way. I picture M rushing into the service station toilets, cashmere coat tails all a-flap, calling out to James who’s in the queue at the shop “Get me a Twirl, Bond! Or if they haven’t got a Twirl, a Topic!”

BEST IRONIC SURNAME-BASED CASTING: Liz White IS The Woman In Black.

BEST GUYLINER: Lenny Kravitz’s gold lids in The Hunger Games. You would, wouldn’t you.

Kravitz as hot as anything

BEST MOUTH: If you make a film expecting your audience to spend almost the entire running time staring at your heroine’s half-lit face as she stumbles through horrors in the dark, it had better be a good one. And Silent House is a beautiful, beautiful film where extraordinary technical challenges behind the scenes [it is contrived to appear as a single 90-minute shot] are matched by Elizabeth Olsen’s brilliant expressive face. I spent ages scouring the disc to get the best screenshot of her mouth opening up in atavistic terror, and realised afterwards I’d landed on the same still as is used on all the promo materials. Well there you go.

Silent House

BEST LEGO: The telekinetic teenagers in Chronicle hone their skills with some truly awesome Lego action.

BEST BREATHING:  Kristen Stewart is already famous for acting out emotion purely through the medium of languid sighs and gasps, so it was a treat that in her first scene in Snow White And The Huntsman she immediately got to blow a candle out.

BEST MONSTER IN AN OTHERWISE TERRIBLE FILM: The spider-thing made out of mannequin parts in Silent Hill: Revelation

spider mannequin

BEST IMAGINARY MUSICAL VERSION: There’s a moment in the excellent My Brother The Devil when Fady Elsayed says to James Floyd “I’d rather have a brother that’s a bomber than a homo!” Every time I’ve seen it I’ve been willing him to say “bummer” instead of “homo”. Because then it would be the perfect opening lyric to the lead song of the musical version that’s in my head.

My Brother the Devil

BEST 3D: I didn’t think I liked 3D, but Life of Pi changed my mind, so well done everybody.

BEST OPTIMISM IN A POSTER PULL-QUOTE: Quartet

Quartet poster

BEST PUNCTUATION: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

BEST FINGERS: Not to get all spoilery, but there’s a point in Prometheus where Noomi Rapace has just gone through some of the most intense physical and mental trauma that you can imagine. And how do the ship’s crew wake her up? Five sharp raps to the face with the back of the fingers. In marigolds. Makes me laugh every time.

Prometheus fingers

BEST GRATUITOUS NUDITY: Nick Sagar suddenly being forced to strip naked in the street in Ill Manors had absolutely no plot justification or character relevance at all. Plan B, we salute you.

Nick Sagar, as fit as a butcher's dog

BEST INTER-SPECIES NECROPHILIAC FRENCH KISS: Always a hotly-contested category, but this year Cabin in the Woods just edged it.

kissing in the cabin in the woods

The Project Manager’s guide to Doctor Who: The Mark Of The Rani

forest face

“I doubt the Rani ever does ANYTHING at random,” says the Doctor. But is her project management sense really as strong as her fashion sense? Let’s find out.

1. SET A CLEAR GOAL

Manic miners

In The Mark of the Rani we see a classic example of a fix-up project. A larger strategic project has gone wrong – in this instance, the Rani’s experiments on her planet Miasimiah Goria have heightened her slaves’ awareness as planned, but lowered their ability to sleep – and an offshoot tactical recovery project is initiated. Wisely, the Rani stages her subsidiary project offsite in Victorian England, where her activities will cause no disruption to the mother portfolio. Her metrical objective is to collect enough brain fluid to restore the balance at home, and from everything we see of her I’m confident in assuming she’s planned out her milestones and set a clear endpoint. A great start.

2. ESTIMATING AND PLANNING

bathhouse

Most establishments would charge you extra for this sort of thing

The Doctor’s surprised to see the Rani’s volcano screen-print as he reckons her tastes are sterile. But in fact all the indicators on her balanced scorecard expose her as a fun-lover. Her chosen methodology revolves around milking miners, for a start. And there’s an element of cosplay to the whole thing, with her man-slaves adorned in fetishwear and her own time spent dressed up as an old lady watching rugged Geordies getting naked. (Is the Doctor into that too? “When we went past the bath house that instrument of yours reacted!” squeaks Peri at one point.) She might claim she sees everyone as just “walking bags of chemicals” but I’ve heard better excuses.

Most excitingly for a Doctor Who villain, the Rani actually understands marketing too. We see her sending a child running off to the tavern with a penny and instructions to tell the men there’s still a bit of hot water left if they hurry. Crafting scarcity into your call to action is a time-honoured technique for driving footfall.

So her skillset includes attention to detail AND flair. And on learning she’s been doing this sort of thing undetected on Earth for centuries, even the Doctor has to concede she’s a brilliant tactician.

3. CONTINGENCY

glitter

Peri gets glitterfaced and shafted

Theres a consequence to her removing chemicals from miners’ brains of course.  One minute they’re enjoying a friendly spot of post-bath towel flicking, the next they’re kicking potatoes everywhere and smashing machinery to pieces. But she’s factored for this resultant aggression and keeps well out of the way when the lads are getting lairy.

There’s nothing to suggest the Rani’s project wouldn’t have successfully delivered had she been left to her own devices. But even so, she’s well prepared for any eventuality with a state-of-the-art remote-controlled TARDIS, the insanely camp touch of a glittery pellet bomb built into her bracelets and of course – lying around just in case – mines that turn people into trees! Well you never know.

tree

“Hoist up your skirts, Peri, off we go!”

4. MANAGING THE TEAM

She’s definitely not a team player by choice, and the Rani’s plans are only spoilt when the Master turns up, purely to see what’s going on and what trouble he can cause. He obviously fancies her too – “Anything connected with you would undoubtedly be fascinating!’ he gushes on arrival. Sure, he goes on about some grand plan to upset history but he’s clearly just making it up as he goes along.

So she’s forced to work with someone she hates and who keeps getting in the way of her iterative dependencies. It’s basically an Industrial Revolution Apprentice special, and it’s surprising we don’t get a glimpse of Alan Sugar selling an early version of his difference engine in the town square.

sweetmeat

“Luke, I want you to swallow this very special sweetmeat” – the Master’s repertory of Victorian chat-up lines in full play here

The Master’s the worst kind of team member to be accountable for too, and spends the whole story pissing on the Rani’s baseline – threatening to break her machinery, stealing her hard-won brain fluid and her mind-controlling maggots, and even bringing the Doctor there so she’ll have no choice but to join forces. The Rani’s critical chains are completely disrupted.

5. TRACKING, STATUS REPORTING AND CHANGE MANAGEMENT

dinosaur

The Doctor uncovers the Rani’s sideline as a researcher for the value meat industry

With the Master and the Doctor in town, the Rani MoSCoWs the hell out of the earned value to date, deciding that the only sensible course is to abandon the project entirely and salvage what she can. It’s a brave choice for any project manager, but absolutely the right one. She maintains a cool sense of priorities while prevented from leaving, spying on the Master at every opportunity and commenting acidly on his own lack of business prowess: “What’s he up to now? It’ll be something devious and over-complicated. He’d get dizzy if he tried to walk in a straight line.”

When the chance comes she’s even able to give him a face-to-face appraisal: “You’re unbalanced – no wonder the Doctor always outwits you.” Such is her own composure that we don’t doubt her. Finally, with her deliverables in tatters thanks to the Master, she takes a well-earned opportunity to knee him in his own deliverables. “I don’t make mistakes,” she’d claimed earlier. And she’s right.

DEBRIEF

  • The project’s measurable goals were well-established
  • The proposed methodology combined creative flair with metrical precision
  • Every contingency was fully risk-managed
  • The project manager was forced under duress to induct additional team members, which enabled catastrophic chaos creep to the scorecard
  • The key deliverables were unsalvageable, and it is recommended that the project manager works entirely in isolation in the future
rani

Project FAIL

Martine McCutcheon’s Perfect Cheese Moment

Martine McCutcheon Cheese Moments

The other week in ITV’s Midsomer Murders, poor Martine McCutcheon was killed to death by massive cheeses. How cruelly ironic that Martine, who’s spent so many years tirelessly promoting Activia yoghurt on British screens, should meet such a vicious dairy-related death. Here’s that perfect moment in full, soundtracked at last by her biggest hit.