Wales Comic Con

As I recently blogged, con season is upon me at last, and my long wait was finally ended with a trip to Wrexham’s Glyndwr University to attend the annual Wales Comic Con on Sunday 28th April. This is a long post, but then, so was the day….

This event is notable as being the first proper convention I’ve managed to drag my long suffering wife along to, mainly because a) it wasn’t very far away and b) I think she wanted to get an idea for herself as to what exactly I manage to spend hundreds of pounds on every year. As an added bonus two friends of ours, Tony and Viccy, came along for the ride, as our shared love of Red Dwarf, paired with their interest in Game of Thrones, meant that there was something there for us to really get our teeth into.

In the lead up to the event I’d made a list of the guests I’d wanted to meet. On this occasion my list comprised of the following: –

Warwick Davis (he of Star Wars, Willow, Life’s Too Short and An Idiot Abroad fame, amongst others)
Frazer Hines (Jamie from classic Doctor Who)
Paul Blake (Greedo from Star Wars)
Chris Barrie (Red Dwarf)
Craig Charles (Red Dwarf)
Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf)
Hattie Hayridge (Red Dwarf)
Norman Lovett (Red Dwarf), and finally –
Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf).

On arrival at the venue, around half an hour before opening time, there was still plenty of parking, so my initial fears that we’d be running around trying desperately to find a space were alleviated immediately. We parked up and made the small walk over to the already sizeable queues gathering outside the main hall. After joining the early entry queue we were able to chat for a while and have a gander at the myriad outfits and cosplays on show from the attendees. As usual the queues were packed with Doctors, Stormtroopers, Avengers, and er……Gamers of Thrones (?), and the effort which had gone into each one again blew my mind. Cosplaying is something I’ve always toyed with in my mind but never ended up getting round to it – partly due to laziness and partly due to the fact that I don’t want to be dressed as a character when having a photoshoot with a guest, something I generally end up doing, say 99% of the time.

After a bit of a wait the doors were opened and the four of us entered the main hall. Central to the hall were the stalls, selling the usual canvas prints, jewellery, t-shirts, mugs, action figures etc. As Wales Comic Con is still a relatively young event, there were not a huge amount of stalls to browse through, and after around half an hour or so I think I’d seen pretty much everything at the stalls I’d wanted to see. I’m sure that will improve over the next few years and the vendors will increase in number and variety.

Around the walls of the main hall were the guests, and a great many of them there were – immediately to our right as we entered we spotted Warwick Davis, who already had an impressive queue five minutes in. I wanted to chat to him early doors as I had a feeling he would only get busier as the day went on. He was being assisted at his desk by his lovely family, and it was an honour to (briefly) chat to them as he signed my recently obtained gold ingot Star Wars Saga poster, which will be a long-ongoing project of mine. After signing, and having a brief chat about Life’s Too Short (I’m a fan……!) Warwick happily posed for a photograph with me at his desk, which I’m willing to bet he was doing a great many times throughout the day. Warwick has always been a highly regarded actor through his career but his recent projects certainly seem to have seen his stock rise.

Moving onto my next guest, I went over with Zo to meet Paul Blake, who played Greedo in the original Star Wars. I’ve met Paul once before, briefly, at another event – but as I was relatively new to ‘graphing’ back then, I tended to just approach the guest, quietly ask them to sign something and then thank them before walking away. Nowadays my confidence has grown exponentially and I feel much more comfortable chatting to guests. I don’t tend to talk about their roles or past work, I always end up talking about myself, or my posters etc, but I suppose these guys are so used to being asked the same questions about past roles (“Did Han shoot first or not?”) that they probably enjoy talking about something else. With Paul, we discussed the vast array of poster tubes now strewn around my flat, full of posters which will probably never be framed and on display as I’ll always be looking for new signatures on them. If you’re a Star Wars fan, and you’ve never met Paul, I highly recommend you head over for a quick chinwag. He’s a lovely fella and he clearly enjoys meeting people to talk about these things (or whether Han shot first – which he DID, by the way).

After our chat with Paul, we had a bit of a scoot around the rest of the hall to see where all the other attendees had headed over to. We soon realised that an entire wall (and corner) of the hall was devoted to the Game of Thrones cast and arguably the ‘headline’ guest of the day Billy Boyd (Pippin from Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit), who are extremely popular currently. That end of the hall was essentially a no-go area for me, as although I wasn’t intending to meet those guests, virtually everyone else was……! The queues for Billy Boyd were consistently long, for good reason, and I’m willing to bet that his writing hand was aching by the end of the day. Because of signatures, I mean. Tsk.

I finished up my guest encounters in the main hall by meeting Frazer Hines, who I wanted to sign my other ongoing project, a Doctor Who TARDIS poster – this poster is being reserved for signatures from either actors who have played the Doctor, or ‘legends’ from the history of the show. Frazer played Jamie McCrimmon, a companion to the second Doctor, and this meant his inclusion on the poster was more than warranted. Sadly, I forgot to ask Frazer to sign the poster in silver, which I’d wanted everyone to do, and he ended up signing it in black – a mistake I only noticed when it was too late to stop him. Not the end of the world, though, it’ll look great when it’s finished (if ever) either way. Previously I’d only had Matt Smith sign it, but this will be vastly improved upon at the end of May, when I’m meeting numerous legends and Doctors from the show at another event.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet three of the main cast of Red Dwarf before, in London – sadly Danny John-Jules had been unable to attend that day so my photoshoot with the cast (Lister, Rimmer and Kryten) was only improved due to the presence of a scale model of the eponymous craft joining us in the shot. This time, all six of the main cast were there, and it was a delight to meet each and every one of them. I’d headed over from the main hall over to a separate signing area in the Catrin Finch centre. The six Dwarfers were all situated in there – separating them from the main hall being a great idea due to their obvious popularity. Entering their signing area it was clear that Danny John-Jules (Cat) had the longest queue. This could be down to his rarity at recent events in comparison to his colleagues, but also possibly down to his tendency to wander off for a chat with the rest of the cast while his queue grew……..! It was all taken in good humour though, Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) reminding him to get back to his duties getting him back on track.

I met Robert first. I found him a very affable chap, but I didn’t expect anything less – Aside from Red Dwarf, I have followed much of his work throughout the years, not least his online interview/driving hybrid show ‘Carpool’, in which he collects interesting passengers (celebs and non-celebs) from a chosen location and gives them a lift in his car, into which he has fitted cameras and microphones. During the trip they chat, not exactly in an ‘interview’ format, but through general conversation. The wit exchanged during these conversations, and Robert’s infectious enthusiasm for his guests’ stories help to make the show very watchable indeed. I discussed the show with Robert as he signed my Red Dwarf piece, and he explained that this was something he set up entirely on his own, including the cameras/microphones, and he finds himself making phone call after phone call to arrange each guest. It’s a lot of work, but clearly something he really enjoys doing. He was proud to say that he had over 27 million views of the show on his website, and online was where he was intending to keep it in the future, despite Dave TV picking up the show some time ago. Robert seems to be one of those chaps who tends to have a smile on his face all the time, and it was an absolute pleasure meeting the guy.

I moved on from Robert over to Chris Barrie (Rimmer), a comedian/actor who’s been making me laugh since I was a nipper. I was always a huge fan of Spitting Image as a child, regardless of my total ignorance of the world of politics at the time, and it transpires that Chris was a regular voice on the show. I had also seen him doing some stand up early in his career, on what I believe was a Saturday night comedy show hosted by Ben Elton, the name of which I can’t recall. He’s also very well known for his turn as Gordon Brittas in The Brittas Empire, which, despite being a sitcom almost entirely populated by people I would ordinarily dislike, was hilariously written and acted throughout, certainly for the time. Red Dwarf of course is what Chris is most known for, and I would have to say that Rimmer is one of my favourite television characters of all time. So meeting him was quite a big thing for me, and although it was relatively brief, it was a delight to finally shake his hand. He asked about the image I was having the cast sign – a lovely hi-res image of the Red Dwarf logo on a black 12×16 background which a fellow grapher, Mark, had sourced for me a few weeks earlier. After signing the piece, Chris nicked one of my lovely brand spanking new silver pens (accidentally of course…..) but I can forgive that. Chris comes across as one of the more introvert of the crew of the Dwarf, very humble, and indeed I understand from the aforementioned Mark who spoke to him the day before, that Chris had admitted to him that “the longer this goes on, the more we realise how lucky we are”.

Sitting next to Chris, and surprisingly waiting without a queue at the time, was the lovely Hattie Hayridge (Holly MkII), who barely looks any different to how she did back in the early nineties, with the exception of a touch of cherry red lipstick (and of course, not being a disembodied floating head). Hattie was approachable, smiley and chatty – again, we didn’t head towards the subject of her career, and instead focused more on the subject of the parking at the venue…….as you do….but we had a chuckle for a couple of minutes and this time I remembered to retrieve my pen, which was a bonus.

I spotted Craig Charles (Lister) about to head out for smoke, so I thought I’d quickly leg it across the room to catch him before he disappeared. Luckily I caught him just in time, before almost showering him and his selection of images laid out on the desk with silver ink, as my pen broke in my hand. Craig took the image and signed it quickly, probably to avoid being inked, before zooming off for his fag out the back. I didn’t get a chance to really chat to Craig, which is a shame as I’d liked to have spoken to him about his work on the Funk and Soul Club he runs regularly at Band on the Wall in my hometown of Manchester. Still, Craig isn’t a rarity at these events, so it’s always possible I’ll get another chance in the future to have a proper chat.

Norman Lovett (Holly MkI) has always been one of my favourite cast members – I’ve always been a huge fan of his deadpan delivery of some of the best lines in the show’s history, and again, meeting him was quite an honour for me. I wasn’t able to chat to him for a long time, as it was one of the more brief meetings, in which he signed my image and while he did so I picked out one of his stand up DVDs, to watch upon my return home. Still, Norman is a lovely guy. Unassuming and still incredibly deadpan in real life, you’d think he barely needed to act at all to become Holly.

Finally I joined the still very long queue to meet Danny John-Jules. This was the moment he’d chosen to wander off for a natter before Robert ushered him back to his desk. I have to admit, after his cancellation of a number of previous con appearances, I was concerned that he would be one of the less enthustiastic guests at a signing show. How wrong I was – he was very funny, all smiles, up on his feet the whole time (he explained he didn’t want to sit down to sign as he felt like he was doing a thousand squats a day…..) and more than happy to share a joke and a photo with each of his happy punters. He was another guest to be interested in where I’d sourced the image he was signing. From their reactions I got the impression that they were mainly signing their own photos or copies of DVDs through the day, so being presented with something a little different made the whole thing a little more interesting…..!

After I’d met the whole cast, and in doing so completing a fully autographed piece approximately twenty minutes after starting it, I hurried back to the car to carefully store the finished product. I didn’t fancy carrying round a relatively flimsy piece which I’d just spent close to £100 getting signed. I’m delighted to report I got it home intact, and I’m now on the lookout for a decent frame for it. Ikea, here we come!

Post-lunch came the time for my photoshoot with the Red Dwarf folk – it was still unclear at this time as to whether the whole cast would be joining in for the shoot, but I was not to be disappointed. I had a photo taken with Chris, Robert and Craig last year, and although I’m very proud of it, it was always certainly lacking without Danny. This time all six took part, which was fantastic – and at £25, extremely good value for money! The one gripe I had throughout the day was the fact that something went wrong early doors with the photoshoots, so they ended up delayed by around an hour. This had a knock-on effect on the talks, as it turned out, as the plan was for the guests to head straight over for the Q&A immediately after finishing the shoot. Regardless, the Dwarfers were having a great old time during their shoot, and I enjoyed very much being amongst them.

After the shoot we headed over to the Q&A hall for the Red Dwarf talk. This was a beautiful, comfortable modern theatre, and the almost capacity 1200-strong crowd greeted the cast onstage in a manner very reminiscent of the much bigger San Diego Comic Con crowds I’ve seen (on YouTube only, sadly!). The talk itself, as generally seems to be the norm, was less a ‘talk’ than a series of questions from the audience – although the cast tended to allow the initial answer to develop into a more “In Conversation With….” type of discourse, which was consistently hilarious throughout. My only criticism was that Hattie tended to get drowned out by the rest of the cast, and as such we never really got to hear much from her. Chris was a little quiet at the outset but eventually found himself on an equal footing with the others, which was no mean feat, given Robert, Craig and Danny’s outspoken nature.

Once the talk was over there was little left to do except pick up the photoshoot images from the collection table. Luckily mine came out pretty much immediately and as such I collected it with little trouble – although my long-term gripe with these events is the frankly ridiculous people who surround the photo collection table before they are even put out to collect. They just make the whole thing a million times more difficult and awkward, and they don’t speed anything up for themselves or anyone else. I can only put it down to being new to cons, although even when I was new to these things I had a little more consideration for other people. I guess you just can’t force people to see sense.

That little gripe doesn’t even slightly put a dark mark onto Wales Comic Con 2013 – for a young event it was very well run and an enjoyable experience. As the event progresses in the future all the little issues will be ironed out, the guests will get bigger and better and it’ll be a welcome addition to my regular convention calendar.

And finally, it’s all got me into con season mode at last, and I’m looking forward to the next one in about four weeks’ time. Smashing.

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The Black Dog

Depression is different things to different people. This is what it is to me.

It’s the invisible force preventing you from looking people in the eye. It’s the voice in your head reminding you of all the times you failed, while telling you to give up trying. It’s the overwhelming sense of futility you experience even though you know, deep down, that there’s always a way out. It’s the black cloud which gathers behind your eyes, confusing your thoughts and blunting your drive to pursue your hopes and dreams. It’s a cancer, eating away at your joyful memories, leaving behind nothing but despair and regret.

Depression answers “why not” with “what’s the point?”. It’s a prison with no windows, where you’re often given parole but you always find yourself back inside. It’s the convincing argument that you are not good enough, and that you never will be. It’s the perpetual reminder of your bad decisions, and the striking from the record of your good ones. It’s the numb feeling of loneliness, even when you’re surrounded by your closest friends. It will render you cold and detached one day, and an emotional landmine the next.

It’s the conflict between a need for attention and the desperate yearning to be left alone. It’s about being curled up in the foetal position facing the wall, not wanting to turn around or open your eyes for fear of what’s out there. It’s the doubt in your own abilities and the lack of courage in your convictions. It’s the gravity you have to struggle against just to get out of bed in the morning, and it’s the reason you can’t go to sleep at night.

It’s a symbiotic parasite – your best friend and your worst enemy. It’s a familiar warm blanket in which you can wrap yourself to hide away. It hurts, and it comforts.

And it’s part of me.

Con Season

Over the last few years I have discovered the wonder of being able to spend my hard-earned cash on travelling across the country attending conventions. It’s something I was only introduced to in 2011, and I have been hooked on them ever since. It feels like an eternity since the last event I attended, which was the Entertainment Media Show at London Olympia on a glorious October weekend in 2012.

I should clarify that although I tend to refer to these events as ‘conventions’, purists would tend to argue that what I have attended thus far are actually ‘signing events’, which is probably a more accurate name – however I sway toward referring to them as cons myself. The signing events I have attended have thus far been limited to those organised by Showmasters, however I am now beginning to spread my wings further afield. Strictly speaking, a ‘convention’ normally refers to a weekend event devoted to one (or maybe two or three) specific fandoms, such as Starfury events in Birmingham.

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Con season is nearly upon me again, starting with the Mercury Promotions show ‘Wales Comic Con’ at Glyndŵr University, Wrexham, which is next Sunday (28 April 2013). I’ve never attended this particular event before, so I’m going into it blind, but generally speaking there is a certain format to these events which I’m sure will apply to WCC. Usually the build up to a con starts months in advance, with regular visits to the event’s forum online. Here, the organisers announce new guests on a drip-feed basis, tantalising us occasionally with “BIG GUEST ANNOUNCEMENT NEXT WEEK” posts, which both excite and frustrate in equal measures. Sometimes these guests will disappoint, when it’s a star you have either never heard of, or have little to no interest in, but it’s the times when a big guest is annnounced that really gets the excitement going months ahead of the event itself.

When buying tickets in advance (which is highly recommended, regardless of the event) you get a choice of either a standard entry ticket or an ‘early bird’. I typically go for the latter, simply due to the fact that you get to enter the venue generally about an hour before the standard entry crowds. This is worth the slightly higher price for said entry tickets, certainly if you want to ensure you meet one of the more popular guests. It’s rare that you wouldn’t get a chance to meet your guest, but the later you enter the venue, the longer you would have to wait.

I am attending Wales Comic Con for a few reasons. The entire Red Dwarf cast will be there – Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge and Norman Lovett – and although I’ve previously had a photo taken with Chris, Craig and Robert, I feel that a photo with all six of the main cast will be something I will be able to treasure for years to come. Also in attendance will be Warwick Davis, who I want to meet not only for his recent comedic exploits in Life’s Too Short, but also to be the first signature on my ongoing, long-lasting project, a poster for the original Star Wars trilogy (in which he played Wicket the Ewok). I understand that Paul Blake, who played Greedo (Han shot first!) will also be there.

In addition to the actors I want to meet, WCC boasts guests from various fandoms, including Game of Thrones – a show I have thus far managed to totally miss but is extremely popular with con attendees at the moment – and Primeval, from which the lovely Hannah Spearitt is attending. I would probably be minded to say however that the headline guest of the show is Billy Boyd, who of course played Peregrin “Pippin” Took in the Lord of the Rings films. Apparently there’s an aftershow party being held where his band, Beecake, will be performing.

These signing events work by charging attendees a sum for each autograph from a guest. This sum normally ranges from around £10 as a minimum, and depending on the event and the guest can rise up to anywhere from £50 and beyond. The higher prices are normally reserved for the big-name guests, such as Matt Smith (the current Doctor, at the time of writing) or Gillian Anderson from the X-Files, who I understand was until recently loathe to sign anything X-Files related.

The system of charging for autographs tends to divide opinion with a lot of people I’ve spoken to about conventions. Many non-con-goers consider the idea of paying an actor for an autograph is wrong, however I see it differently. The actor has been paid a fee by the organisers to attend the event – and that organiser then has to either simply make their money back through autograph or photoshoot sales, or indeed make a profit so they can book bigger and better guests at future events. I have no issue with paying for autographs, as anything is better than waiting outside theatre stage doors, something I have done myself once or twice.

Generally speaking, the actual act of meeting the guests, be it for an autograph or during the photoshoot, lasts a matter of seconds. Often (certainly with the more popular guests) you barely get an opportunity to interact with them at all, sometimes just handing a photo to their assistant, and telling them your name before it is passed to the guest for their signature in an assembly line style. This is understandable though. Although I’ve seen many complainants on social media whinge about having very little time with the guest, they have to realise that often said guest has to get through over a thousand guests in one day. I heard somewhere that Karen Gillan (Doctor Who’s Amy Pond) and Patrick Stewart did around 1500 autographs in one day at a particular event. Imagine having to sign your own name that many times in a day AND having to chat to each fan. I’m not too concerned with having a long chat to the guests. I very rarely know what to say to them, apart from the usual gushing praise, and I’m not really one for exclaiming “I loved you in Doctor Who” to Paul McGann or Derek Jacobi for example, who both have long and hugely varied careers away from Who to be proud of.

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At the end of May I am travelling to Milton Keynes for Collectormania, a show run by Showmasters, who apart from the Entertainment Media Show (mentioned earlier) also organise the London Film and Comic Con, which was my first event back in 2011. I have always enjoyed Showmasters shows. The standard of guests is always consistently high and more often than not the range of fandoms catered for is so varied, there is generally something for everyone. Through Showmasters I have been lucky enough to meet Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), Karen Gillan, a number of previous incarnations of the Doctor, John Barrowman, Alex Kingston, and indeed, Matt Smith himself:

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The forthcoming event in Milton Keynes is going to be a busy one for me. It’s the first time I’ve been alone to an event where I’ve decided to stay overnight and attend both the Saturday and Sunday, mainly because there are enough guests over both days who I want to meet, but also because I want to enjoy the social side of these cons too. I’ve spoken on Twitter and Facebook to many brilliant people who share an interest in the same shows as me, and also attend these events. Some are cosplayers (they come in full outfits based on costumes from shows, books, films etc and they’re fantastic) and some are just fans who go for autographs. Everyone I’ve chatted to so far has been really friendly and I’m hoping to meet up with some of them while I’m there.

The main guest for me at Collectormania is Jenna-Louise Coleman, who of course is the current companion to the Doctor (at the time of writing). I’m very much hoping she doesn’t have to cancel (cancellations are thankfully rare, but incredibly frustrating if it’s one of the main guests you’re intending to meet). Even if she isn’t able to attend I still have a long list of guests I want to meet over the weekend, including Bernard Cribbins, who is a living legend.

Besides, at £35 an autograph for Jenna, it’ll certainly free up a few quid for other expenses!

Who’s left me feeling Cold….

This post contains spoilers for the recent Doctor Who episode “Cold War”. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, don’t read on.

I may be jumping the gun slightly here, as last week’s episode of Doctor Who took a repeat watch before I realised just how much I enjoyed it, despite the niggling little issues I had with it. Tonight’s episode, Cold War, was one I was looking forward to, due to the high regard in which it’s been held by previewers, however I must admit I wasn’t as satisfied with the finished product as I’d been hoping.

Firstly though, I’ll concentrate on the positives. This episode was the first one in a while which genuinely felt like a ‘classic’ episode of Doctor Who. Aside from the return of an old enemy, the Ice Warriors, the close-quarters nature of the submarine in which the action was set meant that we could enjoy a largely CGI-free 45 minutes. Such is the epic and grand scale of much of current Doctor Who that CGI is used frequently (albeit to wonderful effect). Cold War, conversely, gave us scale models and real sets, showing that hi-tech wizardry isn’t always required to provide the audience with a visual feast. The direction of the episode was outstanding, giving us a real tangible feeling of suspense, especially once the Ice Warrior himself discarded his protective suit and started to hunt the crew, in a style similar to James Cameron’s Alien.

It seems we have seen the Doctor’s first sonic screwdriver with a ‘red’ setting, first hinted at when we saw River Song’s screwdriver in Silence in the Library a few years ago. It seems therefore that we’re heading toward the moment the Doctor gives River that screwdriver, which I’m willing to bet happens in the final episode of this series, or perhaps the 50th Anniversary special. More importantly though, I was chuffed to see Mark Gatiss writing in a situation where the Doctor was separated from his sonic as well as the TARDIS, something I’d been hoping for in a previous blog entry. On this subject, I note that the TARDIS now has a restored Hostile Action Displacement System (H.A.D.S.), which in the classic series was created to remove the TARDIS from dangerous or violent situations. I will return to this shortly.

I enjoyed some of the performances in Cold War, not least David Warner as Professor Grisenko, the resident scientist on the submarine, and Tobias Menzies as Lieutenant Stepashin harked back to the classic days of Who – the turncoat who tries to partner up with the key antagonist of the episode a la Tekker in Timelash. And of course the return of the Ice Warriors provided the costuming department with the unenviable task of creating a new, credible look for the Martians which had the feel of the classic monster without looking hackneyed or out of date. Grand Marshall Skaldak (for that is his name) was realised very well indeed, and casting a 6’7″ actor in Spencer Wilding was an excellent move.

In general however, Cold War didn’t quite hit me like some previous episodes have. It didn’t feel like an episode which was part of a “series” – in that it could have been put in anywhere and didn’t link to anything we’d seen earlier – and the Doctor and Clara being there in the first place just didn’t seem to make any sense. According to the Doctor, they were heading for Las Vegas and clearly totally got the time and destination absolutely wrong, despite the previous episode suggesting that the Doctor had just got the hang of his aim and skill at piloting the TARDIS. What happened to the days of the Doctor checking where they were after he landed before opening the police box doors? I appreciate that Neil Gaiman established in The Doctor’s Wife that the TARDIS regularly goes where the Doctor NEEDS to go rather than where he WANTS to go, but I still feel that their presence on a Russian submarine in 1983 was a little contrived.

The opening sequence too puzzled me. The Ice Warrior was sealed in thick ice from the outset. We hear from one of the crew guarding the creature that Professor Grisenko wanted to wait to return to his laboratory before releasing the beast from its icy prison, however that same crew member decides (for no apparent reason except for mere curiosity) to blatantly disobey orders and takes a blowtorch to the frozen block, allowing Skaldak his escape.

Shortly after the Doctor and Clara arrive, and are captured by the Russians (and for some reason not immediately shot) the H.A.D.S. kicks in and removes the TARDIS from trouble. I very much hope that the Doctor disables this device as soon as he returns to his craft, as this is a far too simple way for future writers to remove the TARDIS from the Doctor’s reach. We have seen a good example of how this can be done effectively in The Almost People/The Rebel Flesh, where we see the ship sucked into the ground early in the first episode, only to be rediscovered at the end of the second. Simple, but effective, and an excellent way to make things more difficult for the Doctor and his companions.

Something about Clara bugged me throughout Cold War. Assuming this episode is set after The Rings of Akhaten, we know that Clara has already been uploaded into a Wi-fi cloud and directly battled a sun-sized parasitic creature in space. I would have thought then that she would now be on the way to fully-fledged ‘companion’, especially given that they were supposed to be on their way to a jolly in Las Vegas. I sensed much more doubt in her this week, which surprised me, as she certainly didn’t seem full of self-doubt last week as she flung herself across space on a moped to save the universe from a planet-scoffing alien sun, armed with just a leaf.

I found the majority of this episode mostly forgettable, sadly. I never really believed that we were on a Russian submarine – surely an accent of some sort from the cast might have helped there – but for me Cold War was a little….dare I say it….dull. The middle 30 minutes tended to just trudge along, with a few stops for conversation, in which we learned precious little about the characters, culminating in the final showdown in which the Doctor threatens to destroy the sub rather than allow Skaldak to fire the nuclear missiles on board. The trouble with this scene was that I just didn’t believe that the Doctor would have carried out his threat, and as such it seemed far too obvious that in the end, Skaldak wouldn’t press the button. For the second week in a row, Clara stepped in to defeat the enemy where the Doctor failed, with a callback to an earlier throwaway conversation with the Martian about his daughter. It was during this scene we were shown Skaldak’s face without his helmet, which, compared to some of the special effects we’ve seen in recent years, was terribly unconvincing.

I felt that we’d seen the basic premise of this episode before. The lonely monster, the last of its kind, captured on Earth – all factors explored in the Eccleston episode “Dalek”. It’s a clever way to reintroduce a species we haven’t seen in the Whoniverse for around 40 years, granted, but it was all a little bit of a rehash. It worked in “Dalek”, as there was an obvious comparison between said Dalek and that incarnation of the Doctor, who was also the last of his kind due to his recent actions in the unseen Time War. It didn’t have the same impact here.

The ending of the episode was all a little ‘E.T. Phone Home’, featuring the inevitable return of the rest of Skaldak’s species who came to pick him up in their pretty cheaply rendered CGI spaceship. At this point we learn that the TARDIS has relocated itself at the South Pole, and not the North Pole, where the episode is set. Most amusing indeed, but it all felt a little sitcom-y. I can only guess that the Doctor has an override system built into his sonic screwdriver, because I’m not sure that he or Clara would get very far travelling on foot, given that Clara is only wearing a wet evening dress and the Doctor’s jacket doesn’t look like it will keep much of the cold out.

I have a feeling that Cold War will be one of those episodes which will be popular with a great many people, as the things it does well, it does very well. And I’m sure we’ll see Skaldak and the rest of the Ice Warriors in the future, and I must state that I’m not against this generally. It is refreshing to encounter a Doctor Who monster who actually can be reasoned with, unlike the Daleks, Cybermen, Weeping Angels et al. But the episode itself, I feel is somewhat of a let down after the building up of the return of the Ice Warriors.

Writing Test

I had just killed a man. The handgun I shot him with was clasped tightly in my right hand, still aiming toward where he had stood seconds before. As my eye peered through the sight atop the weapon I could see nothing but remnants of the dead man’s brain stuck to the wallpaper, splattered around the bullet hole newly formed just above the fireplace.
I lay upon the recently varnished wooden floor of the apartment, my back resting on the soft black leather of the settee behind me. My arm grew tired, and I lowered my weapon, trembling as I did so. As my hand neared the floor I allowed the gun to slip from my fingers as I loosened my grip, and I heard the heavy crack as it fell to the ground, followed soon after by my weary hand.
I looked at the dead man across the room. His motionless body was strewn face down on the floor, the hole in the back of his head still leaking brain tissue and blood. I closed my eyes, and tilted my head back until it came to rest on the cushioned leather behind me.
My ears were still ringing, and aside from the distant sound of sirens cutting through the city streets below I could hear nothing. I became aware of a damp, warm sensation over my upper body, and raising my left hand to my chest I pinched the wet material with my thumb and index finger, pulling it away from my skin, only for it to reattach itself on release. Further exploration of my chest caused a sharp, unpleasant pain to course through my entire body, and my eyes involuntarily opened, the ceiling light directly above blinding me as quickly as the pain had done.
With all the strength I could muster, I slowly lifted my head and looked down at my torso. My shaking, crimson-red fingers were resting upon a gaping hole, dead centre in the middle of my chest, where his bullet had entered me. I realised then that I was lying in a pool of my own blood, and the adrenaline shooting through my veins was acting as a painkiller. I could feel my body gradually shutting down. I let my head drop back to rest on the settee, and lay with my eyes half open, staring lazily at the ceiling light. Dazzled by the bright beam, the fuzzy orange dots dancing in my vision, I slowly closed my eyes.
The approaching sirens I heard earlier had now reached their destination. I could hear a commotion outside at street level, and a faint clatter, before the heavy-booted footsteps entered the building and began racing up the stairs towards the apartment.
I thought of Rachel. A solitary tear welled up in my left eye, and drifted down my cheek, dripping onto the leather below my head. The noise of the rapidly ascending officers outside was gradually drowned out by the sound of the ocean, lapping at the shore. We were on the beach, holding each other as Emma played in the sea, laughing and waving. I could smell the salt in the air, and I could feel the blistering heat of the midday sun enveloping us. I tried to wave back to Emma, but I couldn’t move my arms.
My dreamworld was soon interrupted by the thunderous cracking and splintering of the apartment door, as the armed response unit flooded the room. I could not distinguish the orders being shouted at me, probably to put my hands behind my head or to get down on the floor, but I was unable to do either. I simply lay there, staring at the ceiling light above, as several gun barrels were pointed at my lifeless body.
My fingers, sticky with my own fresh blood, trembled gently as I closed my eyes a final time, and all went black.

The Difficult Third Blog Entry.

Today has been a day of racking my brain and wringing hands, as not only have I been afflicted with a lager-induced hangover, but I’ve watched The Rings of Akhaten twice now, and I keep changing my mind about it.

I’ll start by saying it’s very clear why Series 7 Part 1 was released on DVD separately. There is a tangible difference in tone between the first half of the series and the second, and not only due to the change in cast. Jenna-Louise Coleman has been a delight so far, and this incarnation of Clara has presented us with a lovely dynamic with the Doctor which I don’t feel we’ve seen before, certainly not since 2005 (my knowledge of classic Who, as I’ve stated in an earlier blog entry, is limited, but growing).

In recent history the Doctor’s companions have generally come from a background where they’ve lost their father. Rose lost her father as a child; Martha’s parents divorced and she was brought up by her mother; Donna’s father died after she first encountered the Doctor, Amy grew up with no parents at all, and even River’s father turned out to be one of her friends from school, weirdly enough. It wouldn’t be unfair to say then that they all see the Doctor as that father figure so lacking in their lives. Clara on the other hand lost her mother in 2005, and appears to still have her father around. I can only assume we will discover more about her parents as the series develops, but from what we know thus far, it would seem that she isn’t quite in need of that father figure of the Doctor than her previous incumbents. Certainly, although we are only two episodes in, it is curious to note that the Doctor has been dropping her off at home at the end of each one, before picking her up later.

The Rings of Akhaten then is an odd episode. The posters and trailer suggested to me something slightly different to what we actually got. I was happy to note, for example, that the line “We don’t walk away” said to Clara by the Doctor turned out to be not as a result of Clara suggesting that they leave (as it seemed from the trailer), but from Clara not understanding that the Doctor WASN’T walking away.

The set of the marketplace at Akhaten actually reminded me of the Roman marketplace where the Doctor took Donna in The Fires of Pompeii (albeit with slightly more aliens than Romans), and indeed, the whole episode for me had that air of a Tennant-era setting. Certainly more so than the majority of Smith’s tenure so far. I hadn’t been able to imagine Tennant’s Doctor in any of the episodes since he left, with the possible exception of Asylum of the Daleks, such is the change in tone since Moffat took over stewardship of the show.

In all honesty, on first viewing of The Rings of Akhaten I was initially a little underwhelmed. There were certain moments I wasn’t massively keen on, such as the epically cheesy moped across the stars, which was done twice for added cheese. Other little needless things bugged me slightly too, such as the total overuse, again, of the sonic screwdriver. Writers of Who generally find a clever little way to separate the Doctor from his TARDIS, to make the plot more interesting. If only they made the same effort to have the Doctor misplace his sonic more often I’d be a little happier. Moffat showed that this can be done to great effect in The Eleventh Hour.

Dor’een, the barking alien with the moped on offer, confused me slightly. Yes, let’s face it, the barking was pretty amusing, but given that the TARDIS was translating everything else, and has done for years (see: Fires of Pompeii again) why couldn’t Clara understand what Dor’een was saying? The other aliens were speaking English……

The main issue for me though was the selfishness of the Doctor when it came to the stage where one of the two protagonists had to hand over something of value to Dor’een to secure use of the moped. Eventually Clara handed over her mother’s ring, a lovely gesture which showed how much Clara felt responsible for Merry’s predicament. However, throughout the episode we had seen the Doctor wearing Amy’s glasses – suggesting that he hasn’t quite been able to let the Ponds go – and this would have been the perfect opportunity for the Doctor to hand over the glasses, which clearly mean a great deal to him. As I’ve discussed online with a fellow Who blogger/vlogger, this could have been a beautiful symbolic moment where the Doctor could have let go of the Ponds and moved on. Opportunity missed, methinks.

There’s no way I can talk about this episode and not discuss Matt Smith’s wonderful speech towards the end. Smith has made epic speeches before (the obvious one springing to mind is from The Pandorica Opens) but this was so beautifully delivered, so heart-rendingly honest, that you felt Smith’s tears were absolutely genuine, and although a great many recent Who moments have left me with a dry throat and a welling up of tears, this, and specifically the line “I have lost things you will never understand” moved me greatly. I was less enamoured with his use of the word “baby” in that speech, but hey, you can’t have it all.

My final issue with Akhaten is something I reckon may have actually been in the script at one point, but would not have worked, for reasons which will become obvious. When the Doctor and Clara offered up their memories for Grandfather to devour, I almost felt that this was intended as a sacrifice – that they would actually LOSE these memories forever. Certainly, given that the underlying theme of the series relates to memories, and “remembering”, this would have been fitting, and altogether incredibly tragic, for both to lose their important memories to this beast. Of course, a Doctor who’d forgotten everything he’d seen and experienced wouldn’t make for a great show, so I guess there’s no real way to have put that in. I do believe however that it would have made Grandfather a much more imposing and fearful foe.

Little niggles aside though, while Akhaten was not the episode I was expecting, it was certainly much improved second time around.

Spoiler Alert! (spoiler free)

Being a fan of several TV shows which have ‘mystery’ integral to their very nature, while at the same time being an avid user of social media, has its pitfalls. Sadly, we live in a time where patience is no longer the virtue it once was, and in the case of such shows as Coronation Street, Eastenders et al all have their storylines reported in the national press some six months prior to transmission. We know well in advance when a wedding is about to be ruined, or a key character is going to go mental and blow up the local pub, and this has unfortunately become the norm.

I myself have often been known to use spoilers to my own ends. Maybe I just can’t be bothered going to see a film at the cinema – it’s not beyond me to find the Wikipedia entry of said film, read the plot and then make a decision as to whether I’m disappointed I ruined it for myself. Obviously this is a terrible way to experience the art of the cinema, and as such I only tend to take this route when relates to a film I’m 99.9% likely NOT to go to see. I saved myself two valuable hours I could have wasted going to see Marley & Me, for example. I was never going to see that at the pictures, no bloody fear.

As you may have worked out from the layout of my page here, I am a Doctor Who fan. I love the show, I love the characters, I love the fact that the viewer can be taken anywhere in space and time, and every week it’s totally different. It’s the same reason I loved Quantum Leap back in the day – the nature of the show was that each week you’d be in a different era, anywhere from the 50s to present day.

The modern day Doctor Who series tends to follow a ‘story arc’ each year, which generally keeps me hooked until the very end of the last shot of the last episode of the series. With Eccleston we had “Bad Wolf”. With Tennant we had the return of the Master, and the stars disappearing, and with Smith we’ve had the Pandorica, the death of the Doctor, and River Song. I enjoy these arcs. In all honesty, I could happily watch the series even without them, but I do love the extra depth that they give to the series – especially those episodes where we learn just a little more……

I find it very sad therefore when I find it increasingly difficult to slalom through my Twitter timeline without slamming head first into someone else’s post giving away important plot details of a forthcoming episode, series or character. Doctor Who is one of only two programmes on at the moment where I would willingly change my social plans to ensure I watched the episode at the time of transmission. In fact, the only time in recent history I didn’t watch an episode live was Asylum of the Daleks, which was originally shown on Saturday 1st September 2012. I know that, because that was my wedding day. And despite my objections, I had to spend the time socialising.

I would have been gutted if I’d learned that night that a certain character had made her first appearance in the show without seeing it myself first. It’s that “oh!” moment of Doctor Who I love. Luckily nobody spoiled it for me and I was able to enjoy the surprise as everyone else had done the night before.

Sherlock is the other show I refuse to miss. It’s absolutely faultless, from the casting and the direction, to the wardrobe and script – everything is as close to perfection as I believe you can get. So, the Reichenbach Fall. How DID Sherlock survive? Part of what makes the show what it is, is the having to wait a year and a half to find out. It’s utterly frustrating, but it’s worth the wait. I don’t want to know beforehand. What’s the point? I want to watch it and exclaim “oh!”.

“Knowledge is power” – as the old saying goes. Maybe folk who post spoilers do so for the rush of being able to tell someone that they know the ending before their victim does. But they’re not impressing anybody.

What they’re doing is robbing their victim of that wonderful sensation of the moment the plot unravels before their own eyes. And that moment is what makes good television GREAT.