Me, the Kids and the Doctor (part one)

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logoDoctor Who returned to the BBC 0n the 26th March 2005. I was twenty-nine years old, and worked for Aldi in The Worst Job I Ever Had. My son had turned three years old the month before the first episode aired and it would be another year before my daughter would be born. Since Joseph had zero idea who or what The Doctor was he wasn’t as excited as I was. In order to get home in time to watch the episode I had to get a taxi rather than the bus – an extravagance that we probably couldn’t afford. I bought a bottle of wine to share with my then-fiance (who also wasn’t very excited at the prospect of Doctor Who, but I blame that on her being born in the limbo years – she was only 4 when Sylvester McCoy hung up his umbrella) and got home with a few minutes to spare. We all sat down on the sofa, with me proclaiming to Joseph that he was going to LOVE this show although, like everyone else, I was a little bit worried that they were going to fuck it up.

9th Doctor and RoseI needn’t have worried. I had a smile on my face from the moment it started and, when the Doctor finally turned up, grabbed Rose’s hand and said “Run” I knew that my worry had been for nothing and that this was going to be AWESOME. I don’t think Joseph really knew what was going on, but he got scared in the right places, which is what matters isn’t it? When Mickey was abducted by the living wheelie-bin  he was suitably terrified. When the Nestene consciousness made its appearance he was, brilliantly, hiding behind a cushion.

For the next 13 weeks I did my best to make it home in time to watch it live. You know you’re a geek when you say to your gaffer “Can I finish early today so I can get home and watch Doctor Who?“. Substitute it for “football” or “go and and get pissed” and you’re perfectly normal, but because you’re an adult that wants to watch a show about a 900 year old bloke and his adventures through time and space you’re suddenly weird. Go figure.

Are You My Mummy?There’s probably not a lot that Joseph remembers about that first series. He loved it, but obviously Eccleston only stayed for the one year. However… even to this day if you look Joseph in the eyes and whisper “Are you my mummy?” he immediately screams “STOP IT!”. Seriously: It’s like Pavlov’s dogs. He now refuses to watch either “The Empty Child” or “The Doctor Dances”. It’s quite entertaining, really.

He found the Slitheen hilarious, learned how to fear the Daleks (which resulted in the “he’s not watching THAT again” conversation after a couple of nightmares. Six or seven at the most) and, over the weeks, fell in love with the Doctor, which made me one pretty happy geek Dad. He got a little confused when the Doctor regenerated, but I managed to explain it. Even at the age of three he was a smart-arse.

Despite Eccleston being his first exposure to the character, Joseph’s Doctor was David Tennant (from the age of four to eight) whilst Grace loves the new Doctor “because he’s bonkers”, although she continues to refer to him by the name her mother coined when she first saw Matt Smith: Mister Potato-Head.

Grace came along halfway through the second series, in the middle of the two parter “The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit” – the latter being the first episode that she ever watched at the age of three days old. You can’t underestimate geek exposure, even at such an early age. She now regularly asks to watch the show and, unlike Joseph, is happy to sit down and watch the earlier Doctor’s as well.

10th Doctor and SJSThe second series had plenty to scare the now four year old Joseph: The werewolf in “Tooth and Claw” and the Cybermen in the first two parter of the year both had him covering his face or burying himself into my shoulder. The year that my daughter was introduced to the world was also the year that Sarah Jane Smith was re-introduced to a nation of kids that didn’t have a clue who she was. When The Sarah Jane Adventures began the following year Grace watched them with her big brother. When Elisabeth Sladen died in 2011 Grace was distraught. She cried her eyes out until she decided that Sarah Jane was now fighting aliens with Michael Jackson in heaven.

Unfortunately 2006 was also the year that gave us “Fear Her” and the Doctor carrying the Olympic Torch. Thankfully Grace was only a couple of weeks old at the time so doesn’t remember it and, like the Star Wars prequels and the fourth Indiana Jones movie, it’s something that’s rarely mentioned by me, unless I am making a point of mentioning Things I Don’t Mention. Which I probably do a lot.

Rose left at the end of the second series. Joseph was upset and Grace didn’t really give a monkeys as long as she was fed, cuddled and people laughed at her when she farted. I’m pretty sure it’s why she likes blowing off now – buried deep in her memory is the image of her parents going “GRACE!” whenever she let one rip, which would set her off giggling.

series5weepingangelsWhen the third series rolled around in 2007, Joseph was five years old. He was full time at school and despite my best intentions his Grandad had shared an obsession with football and a love of Formula 1. I still had Doctor Who, though, and whilst football would become Joey’s first love I still remember him watching what was, at the time, the Scariest Thing He Had Ever Seen, Ever. Stuck between the “Human Nature” / “Family of Blood” two parter and the return of the Master was a little episode designed purely to give David Tennant a bit of time off. That episode was “Blink” and Joseph was petrified. The Weeping Angels might have lost some of their terror-inducing menace since then, but that first appearance was an excercise in how to scare the shit out of a family audience. He loved it, although I think he actually only saw about 60% of the episode. For the rest of it he was looking at his palms, the back of a cushion or giving me a rather tight cuddle. He did not sleep well that night.

The episode aired two days after Grace’s first birthday. She was walking around at that point, bumping into things and getting into trouble. Quite possibly she giggled at Joseph’s terror. Despite her absolute love for her brother she does have a weird sense of humour. I have no idea where she gets that from.

Sadly, new companion Martha Jones only survived one year with the Doctor. The season was half weak and half brilliant. It might have had “Blink” and “Utopia” but it also had “42” and “Evolution of the Daleks”. It wasn’t Martha’s fault: Coming after Rose was a hard job and the writers couldn’t decide if she was as brilliant as the Doctor or the traditional thicko that needs everything explaining to them in case the audience can’t keep up.

– 0 –

I thought this was going to be a single blog post, but since I’ve passed the 1,200 word mark and I’m only up to the end of series three I think I’ll be splitting this up. Next time I shall cover series 4 and those pesky specials, and then move on to the eleventh Doctor.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this, because I enjoyed writing it!

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Pilot Re-watch: Angel (1999)

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It was the year that good old Bill Clinton was acquitted of perjury, and also of the Columbine High School massacre. Jill Dando was shot dead, and Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was released. It became the highest grossing film of the year, along with (among others) Toy Story 2, The Matrix and American Beauty.

In the United Kingdom Tony Blair was Prime Minister, Harold Shipman was charged with murder and Stephen Lawrence was killed. The minimum wage was introduced: It was £3.60 per hour! Gary Glitter was jailed for downloading child pornography and, most importantly, The Gruffalo was published.

The debut album of Britney Spears was released, Bruce Dickinson rejoined Iron Maiden and it was the year that we were introduced to the vocal talents of S Club 7.

On a personal level I turned twenty-three years old. I was single, had just arrived in Oldham (and have yet to leave), was the licensee at Yates’s Wine Lodge. I had more hair than I have now and sported a pair of John Lennon glasses that I thought were really cool. I lived above a hair dressers and was, generally, having a pretty damn fine time of it.

As hard as it is to believe that Angel first aired fourteen years ago now (although if that makes you feel old how about the fact that it’s twenty-four years since Quantum Leap debuted?) it has indeed been that long. Born of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel had left the show at the end of the third season. Despite the popularity of the central love story between Buffy and Angel, Joss Whedon obviously saw that stretching it out indefinitely was never going to be dramatically possible.

So, how does it hold up in the second decade of the 21st century? Pretty well, actually. The format would drastically change over the course of the five seasons, but the pilot establishes the show as a detective series with Angel in the lead as well as fellow Sunnydale alumni Cordelia Chase and new guy Doyle. Whilst the cast would eventually grow to Scooby Gang levels the pilot, “City of”, focuses on our new trio.

“Once upon a time, there was a vampire. And he was the meanest vampire in all the land. I mean, other vampires were afraid of him he was such a bastard. Then, one day, he’s cursed, by gypsies. They restore his human soul and suddenly he’s mad with guilt. You know “What have I done…” You know, he’s freaked.” – DOYLE

The writing’s as polished as you’d expect from the nimble fingers of Joss Whedon, even when it comes to things like the above exposition. Doyle isn’t a greatly defined character in the pilot, but he gets a fair few of the best lines. His job here is to move the story along: To direct Angel in the beginning of his quest for redemption. If you’re judging him on the pilot alone he’s pretty much redundant. His role would just as easily be fulfilled by a letter being pushed under Angel’s door. It’s the writing that makes him appealing, as well as actor Glenn Quinn (although after first seeing him in Roseanne I was amazed to find out that he’s actually using his own accent in Angel – A bit like hearing James Marsters talk in his native tongue for the first time) who does a bang up job of making Doyle seem like an actual character.

“I finally get invited to a nice place… with no mirrors, and… lots of curtains… Hey! You’re a vampire! (…)  I’m from Sunnydale — we had our own Hellmouth! I think I know a vampire when I… am… alone with him… in his fortress-like home. And, you know? I think I’m just feeling a little light-headed from hunger. I’m just wacky! And kidding!! Ha, ha!…” – CORDELIA

Okay, so Angel bumping into Cordelia is a bit of a stretch coincidence wise. You have to love it when two characters miraculously bump into each other in a city with a population of… quick Wikipedia query… 3.8 million. Charisma Carpenter is an attractive actress and certainly adds a bit of glamour to the show, but more than that; she’s a GOOD actress. Over on Buffy Cordelia began as a one dimensional character, but Carpenter quickly rounded her out and she became an integral part of the cast. Her evolution continues here. She’s no longer the spoiled rich girl, but a destitute wannabe actress that desperately needs help. Even though Doyle points Angel in the direction of Tina, it’s Cordelia that ends up being saved: Not just from the evil vampire (Russell) that tries to eat her, but from the pathetic existence that she is now living.

The real reason that the pilot succeeds isn’t because of the main stars, but Tina, the guest of the week. Played brilliantly by Tracey Middendorf, Tina is (allegedly) the person that The Powers That Be want Angel to save. In this case it’s from an ancient vampire that likes to prey on aspiring actresses. In order to set the tone of the series, and illustrate that Angel is a much different beast from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Whedon and co-writer David Greenwalt make the bold move of having Angel fail in his mission. The woman he has been sent to protect ends up dead on the floor of her apartment and all Angel can do is avenge her. It’s an audacious thing to do in any series, but to have it happen in the pilot is astonishing. It really sets the tone for the show in the fact that this is a much more mature series that its parent.

RUSSELL: We do things a certain way in LA. I keep my name out of the paper and I don’t make waves. And in return I can do anything I want.

[Angel puts his foot on Russell’s chair and whispers]

ANGEL: Can you fly?

[proceeds to kick Russell out the window. Russell becomes dust]

ANGEL: Guess not.

Apart from the 2 “Cordelia Coincidences” of the episode (randomly meeting Angel and then being the ONE person that Russell decides to have as his next meal, just when Angel is coming to kick his arse) there really aren’t any glaring negatives to say about the show. The action’s good and well staged, the denouement is satisfying, the writing and direction are layered with quality and the actors  seemingly enjoy themselves in the roles. Apart from the size of the mobile phones and Angel visiting a library to use their computer there’s very little to date this as a show from last century.

The pilot introduces many elements that continue throughout the series. Wolfram and Hart play a large part, including an unnamed lawyer, later to become Lindsey McDonald, that faces off with our hero. Lindsey is also the only character (apart from Angel himself) to appear in both the first and last episodes of the show. The Powers That Be are introduced and continue to direct Angel for the next 5 years. In essence, what the show is about isn’t winning, losing or keeping score. It’s about fighting the good fight because that’s what needs to be done.

New Addition to the Family…

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The one thing that’s been missing from my life was finally fixed a couple of weeks ago. After 8 months of living on my own, it finally seemed like the right time to make that commitment again.

I bought an X Box.

It’s been on “The List” (shit I WANT for the house, but have to justify the expense since I don’t really NEED it) since I moved in here, but whenever I had any spare money it was always on the month with birthdays or Christmas so it always got pushed to the back. At the end of January I decided that enough was enough and took the plunge.

My son, Joseph, has his own X Box at House #1 and, although he frequently brought it with him, it was a bit annoying for everyone concerned (apart from me) to keep lugging it back and forth.

I am not a Gamer, really. “Geek” covers such a multitude that one person couldn’t possibly do everything under the banner. It’s like saying you play “all sport”. It’s just not gonna happen. I like some games, but I’m not hardcore. It’s a rare occasion when I will buy a new game for myself, preferring to head to the pre-owned section when the fancy takes me. This usually means I am way behind the curve on what’s cool. The kids love games, obviously, but for me the X Box is my portal to watching the movies and tv shows that I have on my hard drive without having to burn them to disc or watch them on the laptop. The USB is a wonderful thing.

After wandering around Oldham checking out the prices I ended up in GAME. Since I work in retail and know how vocal people can be when they get bad service I’d like to point out that the guys there are excellent. Friendly, not pushy and smiling. I explained what I wanted, the guy helped me out, didn’t rip me off and I had a decent chat as well. I might not spend much money on games, but you can guarantee that I’ll be heading back there when I want to pick something up. He even managed to talk me into filling out an online questionnaire when I got back home!

So I bought the X Box and Joseph brought up all (which amounts to about half a dozen) of my games. He was happy just to have something new to play with, even though it’s the same as the old thing that he played with. However… it quickly became apparent that my daughter, Grace, didn’t have a lot of choice in the games that I own. She likes the Arkham games (well, she likes the running about bits, not the fighting – she’s only 6 so she gets her big brother to do that stuff) but hasn’t shown much interest in Aliens Vs Predator or Dead Rising.

I ended up buying Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes for them both, because A) Lego is cool; B) Lego games are awesome to play and C) they bought me Lego Superman and Wonder Woman keyrings for Christmas so I thought it was a nice circular thing.

Grace: Happy as a Klingon with a tasty Rokeg Blood Pie and a nice pint of Chech’tluth.

Joseph: “Lego games are for kids”. This is despite the fact that he loves playing with Lego. And he’s only 11.

It took a grand total of about 10 minutes of Grace playing the game before Joseph started paying attention to what was happening on the telly. Grace loves playing computer games, but she’s not exactly brilliant at them, particularly if there’s any form of problem solving involved. You could see Joseph gradually start to twitch more and more as he watched her play (it really IS a good game) and he really can’t stand it when he thinks that he knows what to do and Grace keeps running about, not really doing much, and bursting into fits of giggles whenever the character bursts into pieces. On Lego Indiana Jones she once spent a good 15 minutes repeatedly throwing Indy off a cliff as if it was the funniest thing she’d ever seen.

Eventually the ‘advice’ started. “Do this…” or “go over there…” or “you need to pull the lever and the gate’ll open”. It was quite entertaining to watch. Grace can only take so much advice and, in the end, launched the controller at Joseph’s head with a “YOU DO IT THEN!”. It also became apparent that Joseph didn’t really know what he was talking about, but he was methodical about not knowing what he was doing. They basically both had the same result.

It reminded me of the time I bought them Soul Caliber – Grace used to whup Joseph’s arse time after time because she was just smacking the buttons however she wanted, while Joseph was trying to do proper combinations. Some of the special moves she came out with were amazing. “How’d you do that?”; “Dunno”, and she would win 90% of the time. Poor lad, being beaten by the sister half his age.

Two weeks down the line and Joseph has admitted defeat. He’s started the game on his profile and is adamant that he’s going to get past Grace as quickly as possible. They help each other out, of course, but Grace’s version of ‘helping’ frequently involves pushing Joseph off a building.

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